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THE BATTLE OF DIAMOND HILL


The outlook was not a cheery one,. The enemy, split into small factions, were bent on playing havoc north and south, and horrible rumours were afloat which  contrived to annoy, perplex, and discourage those who, in the absence of newspapers and correspondence, gave rein to their imagination. General Maxwell, who was acting as Governor of Pretoria in this emergency, inaugurated a  system of official bulletins, which served to distribute what intelligence there might be, and sustain the drooping spirits of the community. The prolongation of the war, after all seemed to have been skilfully accomplished,  was depressing to even the most ardent and bellicose mortals. Still more so was it to those who had had their fill of fighting and who could not number the list of their engagements even the fingers of both hands. It was known  that Botha, after the surrender of the city, had retired with a small force to a crevice in the hills some fifteen miles east, astride the Delagoa Bay Railway, and that round him he was gathering a goodly number of burghers,  who assisted him in intimidating other burghers who might have been willing to tender their submission. As all overtures towards peaceable negQtiations failed, it was necessary to take definite action, and this on the 11th of  June Lord Roberts accordingly did. A great combined enveloping movement was planned out. General French, with Porter's and Dickson's Cavalry Brigades, and Hutton's Mounted Infantry, marched out on the left of the Chief, while  General Ian Hamilton with Broadwood and Gordon's Cavalry Brigades, and Ridley's Mounted Infantry, and General Bruce Hamilton's Infantry Brigade on his right, prepared to assail the tremendous frontage of the left of Botha's  position. The Dutchman, perched on a series of steep and irregular hills, and strongly protected in front, had placed most of his force on his flanks. These he knew by experience to be his vulnerable points, and against these  he divined that Generals French and Ian Hamilton would be operating. General Pole-Carew, in the centre, advanced his Division, numbermg some 6ooo bayonets and twenty guns, in support of General Ian Hamilton. He moved eastward  along the line and engaged in a duet with the enemy with long-range guns, a duet which lasted during the whole day. It was found that the enemy's position extended some sixteen miles, their left, the Diamond Hill, being so  strong and so extended that movement of an enveloping kind was thought to be almost impossible. Nevertheless, while General French (assisted by Hutton's Mounted Infantry), through country inimical to cavalry operations, was  perilously and vigorously engaged in making a wide detour in order to envelop the right flank of the enemy and hold him from swelling his numbers elsewhere, General Ian Hamilton on the enemy's left flank (some six miles south  of the line), his ambitions centred on Diamond Hill and the line of rail beyond, operated correspondingly. Far to right, in a somewhat crab-like fashion, moved the cavalry; Gordon's Brigade - the outer pincer as it were-wheeled  round - the almost impregnable stronghold of the Boers; to left, Ridley's Brigade and De Lisle's Corps of Mounted Infantry-forming the left or inner pincer-twisted towards Pienaar's Poort, while Broadwood's Brigade the head and  front of the creature-endeavoured to spit forth and pierce through this central gap, and if possible get behind the Boers on Diamond Hill. Early in the day the southern slopes of Diamond Hill became the scene of contest between  Ridley's Brigade and the enemy, whose rifles poured their sleet over the advancing mass and whose guns clamoured loudly in the distance. Broadwood's Brigade, meanwhile, began a bold advance-across a spruit and over a plain to a  passage towards the railway line-an advance which was hailed more boisterously than pleasantly by a converging storm from the enemy's heavy guns. Still the cavalry with two pushed forward, while Lieutenant Conolly with two  horse guns was set to clear the course. But.the Boers, inch by inch,-stubbornly contested the way. The stentorian tones of warring artillery were heard in an argument that lasted hours, while parties of Boer rifle-men  approached with such audacity with a view to the annihilation of the gunners of Q Battery and the capture of their pieces, that for protection sake the 12th Lancers were ordered to charge. Unfortunately, at this critical  juncture their commander, the Earl of Airlie, who already had had his horse shot under him, was seeking a new charger. He joined his regiment in time to lead to the attack, but taking a more northerly direction than was  intended, he found himself exposed to a murderous tornado from the southern slopes of Diamond Hill. Nevertheless, the charge of the valiant band, small though it now was, had a glorious result. Away scudded the Boers to both  sides, scattering over the distance towards Diamond Hill, while their oppressive propinquity to the British guns and Broadwood's right flank was brought to an abrupt close. This done, Lord Airlie decided, as the horses were too  jaded and overworked to engage in effective pursuit, to become no further involved.. He was about to withdraw his regiment when suddenly a bullet caught him, and, almost instantly, he fell dead. Thus the Empire lost one of its  finest soldiers, one of its most honourable, well-beloved of men. The charge cost the regiment two officers and seventeen troopers, a deplorable loss considering its diminished size since the commencement of operations. At the  same hour, while Gordon's Brigade was heavily engaged on the right, the Boers became so obstreperous that the Household Cavalry had been ordered to charge. This order was obeyed with zest. The Dutchmen, numerous as they were,  took in at a glance all that was meant by the approaching whirl-wind-a flashing avalanche of naked blades-and turned tail. Away they fled over their grassy ridges, seized their horses and made off so quickly that none of the  Liieguard~men and few of their chargers were sacrificed to the dashing exploit. It was thought that the whole body of the foe were on the move, but this was not the case. The congregating crowds of the enemy amid the  scrub-covered ridges around the main position had yet to be cleared off. Accordingly, soon after noon, the 21st Brigade (Bruce Hamilton) advanced, cleverly clambering up the crests, which had previously been scoured by  artillery, and finally succeeded in folding back the formidable wave of Dutchmen which guarded the line, and forcing them, such as could escape, amid a hurricane of bullets, to gallop to fresh cover. Dusk set in early, but the  troops, sticking to the ground they had won, covering a front of some 25 miles, there bivouacked for the night.

Early the next day (the 12th) the Dutch overture began, the foe operating vigorously with their long-range guns.  They were evidently unappeased, and meant a dogged resistance. General Ian Hamilton was among the first to be hit, but not dangerously. The incident caused not a little concern, for this remarkably energetic officer had become,  as it were, almost hoary with fighting the Boers. From early days when he commanded the infantry at Elandslaagte to the splendid defence at Wagon Hill he had been eternally to the fore, brilliant in intellect and unfailing in  dash and daring. After his entry to the Free State he had fought his way from Israel's Poort, Thabanchu, Houtnek, and on through all the varied phases of the advance of the right wing of the army towards Pretoria. It was no  marvel that the thought of his even temporary disablement caused consternation. Fortunatly it was discovered that no bones were broken, and the gallant officer, though in some pain, refused to leave the field.

At midday  General Bruce Hamilton's Brigade made a brilliant attack on the Diamond Hill plateau. The Derbyshires to the right, the City Imperial Volunteers in the middle, the Sussex on their left, grandly advanced amid an enfilading fire  of considerable warmth, which only ceased its horrible activity when the 82nd Field Battery, under Major Conolly, by a feat of herculean energy, was dragged to the rocky heights, and vomited vengeance at a distance of 1700  yards from the stubborn enerny. But though it ultimately had the effect of silencing the Boers, it did not accomplish its arduous task without grievous loss. Gunners were hit on all sides, and horses dropped in the moment of  unlimbering, but the gallant work never ceased, and, though a scene of carnage reigned around, the guns with unflinching and heroic persistence continued to pour on the hills their cleansing fires for two mortal hours. In the  late afternoon the Guards came into action, and more guns, the Boers having rapidly taken up a position near the railway, and to the drumming of mighty pieces and the whistling tune of musketry the twilight set in. Face to face  the belligerents grew lost in mist. Preparations were then made for the complete rout of the Boers on the morrow, but when morning arrived it was found that the Dutch hordes had made -themselves scarce. Pursuit was attempted,  but the horses were to6 exhausted for more heavy work. The Westtralians, however- 150 of them belonging to Colonel de Lisle's Corps-were unappeased. They pushed on to a point whence the Boer army, a crowd of some 4000, with  waggons, cattle, and guns, could be seen crossing Bronkher's Spruit. That place of grievous memories, where Colonel Anstruther fell victim to Boer perfidy, awoke its own ghosts, for scarcely had the Dutchmen reached the fatal  area than an avenging sleet from the magazines of the West- tralians brought them to a state of panic. In an instant Dutchmen, waggons, guns, were scattering in all directions, while the Colonials, expending 20,000 rounds of  ammunition, coolly plied their rifles in their coign of:vantage till the numbers of the enemy were sensibly thinned by death, wounds, or flight. Thus was given the finishing touch to a battle which had a double purpose. It  served to clear the way for forty miles to the east and relieve Pretoria of the too close attentions of the massed enemy, and it engaged many of the Boers who had fallen back from Laing's Nek on the taking of Pretoria, thus  assisting General Buller's operations at Volkrust, which have yet to be described. Sir Redvers, in his turn, aided the main scheme by causing the Boers to feel that their rear would shortly be threatened, and that even retreat  to the east must now have its geographical limits.

General French was unable to fulfil his part of the programme, firstly, because the Boers saw through his plan, and secondly, because his Division was merely the shadow of  the goodly Division that had flown to Kimberley in February, and his operations were entirely handicapped, not only by the nature of the country, but by the nature of his tools. General Ian Hamilton was little better off.  Broadwood's Brigade, which once had numbered 1800, was now reduced to 400,,while the Household Cavalry mustered only 63, the 12th Lancers 120, and the 10th Hussars 200. Not only were the regiInents reduced in numbers, but their  mounts were now of the most -heterogeneous description, Basuto, Argentine, and Cape ponies doing duty for chargers, and in many cases utterly unequal to the exertion expected of them. Without this explanation it would be  difficult to comprehend why so apparently large a force should have been unable to do more than rout the enemy. But when it is once understood that a considerable part of Lord Roberts's army was now represented merely on paper,  the dilficulties of the latter part of the campaign may be better conceived.

The C.I.V.'s had two days of stiff battle. A private, giving an account of his experiences, declared that they were the heaviest days' fighting he  had seen. "The C.I.V.'s were in the firing line both days, and our casualties were about sixty. One of our lieutenants had a very sad death just in front of my company. I have heard two names given to the action, but I  don't know which is correct; they are Diamond Hill and Donkerskoek. Our General said it was a second Spion Kop, the Boer position being so fine, and the firing from the trenches so heavy. Our regiment had got to within about  400 yards of the position, and had fixed bayonets, but had to give up the idea of charging, for if we had half the regiment would have been swept away. One of the Boer doctors was down at our hospital after the first day's  fight, and he told us that the Boers had lost about 6oo that day. They must have lost another 6oo the next day, as our artillery was much nearer, and simply poured shells into them all day."

The total losses were about  200, but most deeply deplored by all ranks was the gallant commander, the Earl of Airlie. He was as brave as he was popular, and, like all his famous fighting race, was a soldier born, not made. Besides his record of previous  service, he- had distinguished himself in the Modder River battle, and was twice mentioned in despatches by Lord Methuen. On one of these occasions he made himself notable for the splendid dash with which he dismounted a  section of his men and drove back a party of Boers who were enfilading the British force. In May he was wounded in the fighting round Welkom, was nursed to health at Bloemfontein by Lady Airlie, and went again to the front  just. before the surrender of Pretoria. Two other distinguished officers fell: Major the Hon. L. Fortescue, and Lieutenant the Hon. C.. Cavendish, 17th Lancers.

Besides those already noted the list of casualties during the  various engagements contained the names of:-

Killed -

I 2th Lancers-Lieutenant G. C. de C. Wright. 82nd Battery-Royal Field Artillery-Second Lieutenant W. S. Luce. New South Wales Mounted Infantry-Lieutenant Drage. 1st  Royal Sussex Regiment-Captain~

C.J. K. Maguire. City Imperial Volunteers-Lieutenant W. B. L. Alt

Wounded:-

12th Lancers-Second Lieutenant H. R. Milvain. F Battery- Royal Horse Artillery-Captain R. England. Royal Lancaster  Regiment-~ Mounted Infantry-Captain J. M. Graham. Indian Staff Corps-Captain E. Barnes.- New South Wales Mounted Infantry-Captain W. Holmes, Lieutenant W. R. Harrison. Kitchener's Horse-Lieutenant J. S. Cape. 1st Royal Sussex  Regiment-Second Lieutenant G. C. Morphett. 1st Derbyshire- Captain T. H. M. Green, Lieutenant A. S. Murray. 2nd Canadian Mounted. Rifles~Captain A. C. Macdonald. 8th Hussars-Captain E. A. S. O'Brien. 1st Coldstream  Guards-Lieutenant Brett. Royal Army Medical Corps- Major H. G. Hathaway.

Missing:-

12th Lancers-Captain F. Egerton Green.