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THE FIGHT AT DRIEFONTEIN


On leaving Poplar Grove, Lord Roberts' force, rearranged and divided into three, advanced on Bloemfontein via Driefontein, a place about six miles south-west  of Abraham's Kraal and some forty miles from the capital of the Free State. Along the Petrusberg Road, to the right, moved General Tucker's division, with the Gordons and a cavalry brigade. The central column, composed of  General Colvile's division, the Guards Brigade (General Pole-Carew), and Colonel Broadwood's brigade of cavalry, accompanied Lord Roberts, while on the left, advancing along the Modder River, was General French with Colonel  Porter's cavalry brigade and General KellyKenny's division. The ranks had been filled up by detachments from the Modder and Kimberley, which latter place had been converted into the advanced depot. Among the additional troops  were the Ceylon Mounted Rifles, a soldierly lot and much admired by those who saw them. At 10 A.M. the brigade of cavalry under Colonel Broadwood, which was marching in advance of the central column, came in touch with the  enemy. Their position was a strong one, an open, crescent-shaped group of kopjes, with the centre a plateau, dropping on all sides to flat ground. At the extreme end of the semicircle (on the crescent at the north-east) was  posted a formidable gun, and this weapon, perched on a commanding kopje at Abraham's Kraal, protected the position from advance from the north-west. It also provided the Republicans with a loophole for escape. Colonel Broadwood  had no sooner discovered the enemy in his snake-shaped array of kopjes than he commenced to shell him and drive him forth from the lower projections of the position. 'Phat done, he there planted his mounted infantry till  reinforcements should come to his aid.

On the right colonm Porter had now come in contact with the foe. General French's orders were to avoid imbroglio with the enemy and to keep in touch with the centre. On a message being  sent by Colonel Porter to inform General French of the presence of the Dutchmen, the infantry division changed its course. They now marched twenty miles to the south, reaching the Position about one o'clock. The march was an  achievement. Twenty miles across the blistering, blinding veldt, as a commencement to a fighting day six hours in length, was a feat of endurance of which the infantry division might well have been proud. The change of course  had the effect of avoiding the necessity to attack Abraham's Kraal, though at the same time it unfortunately left open the enemy's line of retreat to the north, which, later on, he was not slow to make use of.

With the  arrival of General French's force, Colonel Broadwood was free to continue his movement to the left of the enemy's position, and working round it, found himself assailed by the 9-pounder of the enemy. He nevertheless pursued his  course, gaining ground very slowly but surely, and by nightfall the brigade of cavalry had worked eight miles to the rear of the Dutchmen's position. This flanking movement, though not concluded at dusk, resulted in the  eventual retirement of the enemy.

Meanwhile in the centre of the plateau hot fighting was taking place, General Kelly-Kenny's division having made a bold attack on the north of the stronghold, whence the troops were greeted  from behind a screen of boulders with a storm of shot and shell. The Dutchmen, safe and invisible, could not, however, succeed in arresting the dogged advance of the Welsh Regiment, who formed the first line of the attacking  force. They went on and on despite the fierce fusillade of the Federals, their numbers growing momentarily thinner, but their nerve and perseverance showing no diminution. The Boers, ingenious as ever, offered a skilful and  stubborn resistance, pouring a heavy enfilading fire from kopjes both east and south-west, while they plied two 12-pounders with intense vigour.

From the south now came the artillery, T Battery R.H.A. sweeping the way for the  infantry advance. But they had no easy task. Before they could get into action the Vickers-Maxim of the Federals commenced its deadly activities, and while the gunners were unlimbering killed first one man then another, and  laid low several horses. But the brave artillerymen undauntedly pursued their work, and presently, with the loss of very few minutes, exchanged hearty greetings with the weapon which had wrought such havoc among their numbers.  At this time U Battery, at the north of the Boer centre, was active, but later on, when the 76th Field Battery moved towards the enemy with a view to clearing a way for the rush of the infantry, U Battery joined T, and together  they blazed away at the ridges held by the Dutchmen. But throughout the whole period they pursued their work under showers which unceasingly rained down from the rifles of the foe. Meanwhile the Welsh Regiment, supported by the  Essex and Gloucesters, moved on and on till they reached the shelter of the crest of the ridge. Here, at 500 yards range, a crackling concert of musketry was heard, the Boers firing with great ferocity and stubbornness, the  British with coolness and accuracy. From the centre of the position the Yorks, supported by the Buffs, did magnificent work, and they, together with the Essex Regiment, later on in the afternoon began doggedly to ascend towards  the stone sangars of the enemy; which yet vomited forks of flame.

Now they crawled and now they wormed themselves along through the grass, dripping with gore and covered with sweat, many of their officers gone, comrades  dropping to right and to left of them, while the fire of the enemy continued to rattle down in their midst. Then, as the fusillade slackened, they leapt up and made for the ridge, taking it, going over the crest with glittering  steel and ringing cheer, and finding not one single Boer had awaited their coming. The Dutchmen had vanished into thin air! It was a magnificent deed-the finest that had been witnessed for a long time-but it was dearly paid  for. The way was paved to Bloemfontein, but with the corpses of the honoured dead. The brunt of the fighting fell on the Sixth Division, more particularly on the Welsh and Essex Regiments, the Ninth Division, with the Guards,  arriving too late in the day to take part in the fight. A great number of officers were put out of action-so many, indeed, that some of the leading companies were led, and admirably led, by their colour sergeants. A  characteristic feature of the engagement was the Dutchmen's slim and ingenious mode of firing a big gun from amid a group of red houses, each floating a white flag, an arrangement which served to cover the retirement of the  enemy, and on the success of which he doubtless complimented himself not a little.

At dusk a splendid sight was visible. In the last glimmer of day Lord Roberts and his staff entered the central plateau, followed by degrees  by all the troops-an imposing force, which evidently determined the Boers in their resolution to make themselves scarce. This they did, guns included, with really creditable and surprising rapidity. They were much disheartened  by defeat, however, and though they had offered most stubborn resistance, the character of their defence was lacking in evidence of the determination which had hitherto been noticeable. Among the mortally wounded was the  gallant officer commanding the Royal Australian Artillery, Colonel Umphelby. The Boers lost over 100, but the list of our own killed and wounded was a long one. Amongst the killed were

Captain Eustace, the Buffs; Lieutenant Parsons and Second Lieutenant Coddingt9n, Essex Regiment; Captain Lomax, Welsh RegiI Lieutenant-Colonel C. E. E. Umphelby.

Wounded-Colonel  Hickson, the Buffs, Lieutenant Ronald, the Buffs; Captain Jordan, Gloucesters; Second Lieutenant Torkington, Welsh Regiment; Second Lieutenant Pope, Welsh Regiment; Second Lieutenant Wimberley, Welsh Regiment; Captain  Broadmead, Essex Regiment; Lieutenant Devenish, Royal Field Artillery; Major Waite, Royal Army Medic~ Corps; Lieutenant Berne, Royal Army Medical Corps; Colonel Umphelby,3 R6yal Australian Artillery (since dead); Lieutenant C.  Berkeley and Second Lieutenant Lloyd, Welsh Regiment; Second Lieutenant G. H. Raleigh, Essex Regiment.

The Australians came in for a heavy share of the  fighting. The 1st Australian Horse, brigaded with the Scots Greys, were fiercely fired on by the enemy as they advanced to within 8oo yards of the wide bend of kopjes. The New South Wales Mounted Infantry, under Colonel Knight,  and the Mounted Rifles, under Captain Antill, engaged in animated pursuit of the enemy as they fled towards the north, their fleet horses showing a marked contrast in condition to the jaded steeds of the English cavalry.

Lord  Roberts expressed his satisfaction at the brilliant work performed by the Welsh Regiment in the storming of Alexander Kopje, a feat in which they displayed consummate skill as well as amazing pluck. Some heroic actions took  place during the day, particularly in connection with the supply of ammunition, which ran short owing to the necessity of relieving the infantry for their heavy march, of fifty rounds apiece. Some dastardly ones were also  practised by the Boers, who, finding themselves in a perilous situation, the artillery in front and a squadron of mounted infantry hovering on their flank, hoisted a white flag and threw up their hands in token of surrender.  Naturally the British accepted the sign, and, while they were approaching the Dutchmen, some others of their number hastened to pour a volley into the British ranks. Lord Roberts himself having been a witness of this  treacherous act, remonstrated with the Boer leaders, and ordered that in future if such action were repeated the white flag should be utterly disregarded. The following protest was made by the Commander-in-Chief

"To their Honours the State Presidents of the Orange Free State and South African Republic.

"Another instance having occurred of a  gross abuse of the white flag, and of the signal of holding up the hands in token of surrender, it is my duty to inform your Honours that if such abuse occurs again, I shall most reluctantly be comp~led to order my troops to  disregard the white flag entirely.

"The instance occurred on the kopje east of Driefontein Farm yesterday evening, and was witnessed by several of my own staff-officers as well as by myself, and resulted in the wounding  of several of my officers and men.

"A large quantity of explosive bullets of three different kinds was found in Cronje's laager, and after every engagement with your Honours' troops.

"Such breaches of the  recognised usages of war and of the Geneva Convention are a disgrace to any civilised Power.

"A copy of this telegram has been sent to my Government, with a request that it may be communicated to all neutral Powers."

The Boers had now entirely disappeared. It was nevertheless hinted that they might be collecting in some new and unexpected region. The column,  however, resumed its victorious march, proceeding twelve miles without coming upon the enemy. The beating of yesterday had produced a good effect, for the Dutchmen kept their distance, though in the kopjes all along the direct  road to Bloemfontein, which lay due east, they were said to be swarming. It was also reported that Transvaalers and Free Staters had fallen out, and that the former, under Joubert, were determined to make a stand behind a  magnificent entrenchment that they had built. The advance was supposed to come from the west, and consequently the Boer line of entrenchments extended some six or eight miles from the town facing towards Bam's Vlei; There were  shelter trenches, made not on the kopjes, but about a hundred yards out on the plain beneath. They used sandbags, and had gun epaulements besides. In addition to all this, they had made sangars and piles of stones on the  kopjes. Unfortunately for them, our troops made a cunning detour, which again dislocated the Dutchmen's programme, and forced them in their mountain fastnesses to sit inactive, while the cavalry was wheeling south to the  outskirts of Bloemfontein! Here there were no fortifications and very few Boers.

Mr. Steyn now secretly left Bloemfontein for Kroonstad, as, in spite of Mr. Kruger's representations, it had been decided to surrender the  capital of the Free State. Lord Roberts, who had sent in a formal demand for surrender, received no reply. General Joubert made preparations, with some 3000 men, to avert the surrender, but his approach, veritably at the  eleventh hour, was barred by the clever manoeuvres of the British. This splendid piece of work was executed by Major Hunter-Weston, R.E. He was sent by General French to cut the railway north of Bloemfontein, and thus preclude  any chance of Boer interruption to the triumphal progress into the town. In the dead of night the Major, with seven men of the field-troop, all mounted on picked horses (a precaution that was very necessary considering the hard  work done by the troops both before and after the relief of Kimberley), started on their hazardous expedition. Darkness cramped, though it cloaked their movements, and the ground over which they sped was seamed with dongas and  many impediments; and, moreover, a wide sweep had to be made to avoid Boer pickets. Before the peep 'O' day they reached their destination. Then they began to search for a place suitable for demolition. T hey came on a culvert  supported with iron girders, one of wh~ch was hastily but cautiously prepared by placing two io-lb. charges of gun-cotton against the web, which was fired within twenty minutes. Then, with a detonation that seemed to shake the  day into dawning, the line was completely wrecked and rendered impassable, and Joubert, whose "special" was timed to arrive at Bloemfontein at 8.10 A. M., lost his last chance of interfering with the proceedings! This  in itself was an excellent COUP, and particularly serviceable, since it secured to the British the use of twenty-six locomotives at a time when they were much needed.

General French had also seized and destroyed some portions  of the railway south of Bloemfontein. His headquarters were made at the house of Mr. Steyn's brother-who had tried unsuccessfully to get away, and was forced to remain at his farm-while the troops were now posted at different  points outside the town, and were, in comparison with their former state, in clover.

Early on the 13th the 1st Cavalry Brigade moved slowly towards some kopjes to the east of Bloemfontein and occupied them. All knew the great  day was come when Lord Roberts with Kelly-Kenny's and Colvile's divisions, the Guards Brigade, and the Mounted Infantry would be presently marching into the Free State capital. Whereupon the adventurous Journalist, determined  there should be no pie without the impress of his finger, put his best leg foremost and decided to lead the way. The correspondents of the Sydney Herald, the Daily News, and the Daily Telegraph were seen like madmen spurring  over the plain. There was ten to one on the favourite, the Burleigh veteran, and the Colonial was only backed for a place, yet he it was who won! They were received in the Market Square with beams. There was a shade of relief  even on the most surly countenances. Mr. Fraser, a member of the Executive, the Mayor of Bloemfontein, and others, "bigwigs of B.," as somebody called them, came out and did the honours. These gentlemen were invited  to take carriages out to welcome the British force, which-diplomacy being the better part of hostility-they accordingly did. In starting they encountered the first of the British victors, Lieutenant Chester-Master, with three  of Remington's scouts. At last they came to the Chief's halting-place, and the surrender of the town was made known. The medival ceremony of delivering up the keys of Parliament and Presidency was gone through. Formalities  over, Lord Roberts made the gracious assurance that, provided no opposition was offered, the lives and properties of the Bloemfontein public were safe in his hands. Having notified his intention to enter the capital in state,  the Mayor, Landrost, and others departed to acquaint the townspeople.