1899 - 1902



Anglo Boer War
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Life in camp continued as usual until the 7th of February, when an escort proceeding with the post from Newcastle to the General's camp, having encountered the enemy, been fired at,  and forced to return, Sir George Colley thought a demonstration in force would be sufficient to deter the further interference with the line of communication. Consequently the next morning, the 8th of February, he marched the five  Companies of the second battalion of the 6oth Regiment, four guns and thirty-eight men of the Mounted Squadron. The force crossed the river Ingogo, then only knee deep, and gained a plateau like an inverted L, the base being the  side nearest Newcastle. On arrival here an orderly suddenly reported that the enemy, concealed among boulders and large blocks of granite, was waiting in great force. Almost immediately afterwards about a hundred Boers became  visible on the right. The order was given to prepare for action, and, just as the guns were on the point of firing, the Boers wheeled round and went off. They galloped away to the bottom of the ravine, followed by a shell which,  unfortunately burst among them. The Rifles were also firing, but unsuccessfully, at the retreating riders. Soon it became apparent, however, that the British party was surrounded on all sides by the enemy comfortably screened by  the tall tambookee grass and the immense boulders that were to be found in clumps all round the position. Our men were also hiding behind rocks and boulders, and firing whenever a Boer head became visible.

Soon after, the  engagement opened in earnest. A hot fire was kept up by the 9-pounder in charge of Lieutenant Farsons, R.A. to which the enemy replied directly the gun was discharged, by a hail of bullets aimed at the gunners while they reloaded.

In order to rout the Boers from their cover, an order was given to the mounted men to charge. At that moment the Boers fired a heavy volley , which incapacitated most of the horses and forced Major Brownlow to retire to the  plateau. Fortunately only one of the men was wounded. The artillery men now suffered considerably having no shelter but the doubtful shelter of their guns, afforded a convenient mark for the Boers. As soon as the General who was  going from Point to point with his usual coolness, saw the state of affairs - ammunition and even gunners having run short - he sent to Mount Prospect camp for reinforcements. Still the fight continued. The Boers now steadily and  surely crept to close quarters, while the British columns became rnomentarily thinner and thinner. Yet every man continued to hold his ground till hopelessly struck down. Hopelessly is a word used advisedly, for many who were  struck down rose several times and continued to fire till mortally wounded.

Of the splendid gallantry of the force it is impossible to say enough. The fighting continued for six terrible hours through rain that fell literally in  torrents, in an arena where wounded and dying lay thick, their despairing cries mingling with the continued growl of thunder interspersed with the roar of artillery. Then a white flag was displayed by the Boers. But, when the Rev.  Mr. Ritchie in return displayed the British white flag, he was instantly fired upon.

The object of the use of the white flag on the part of the Boers was to enable them to take advantage of the temporary inaction to make rushes  to cover nearer to the British lines than that they had previously occupied ! The fighting began, and, for the small body of British troops, continued disastrously. At last, when darkness came on, both sides were forced to cease  firing. Now and then, only when a flash of lightning lit up the terrible scene, the firing of bullets demonstrated that the Boers were still thoroughly on the alert.

The darkness descended, and in the middle of the pouring rain  and the murky obscurity the noble British dead were counted. The wounded were also tended as well as it was possible to tend them when water and restoratives were wanting, and the only relieving moisture had to be sucked from the  storm-drenched grass. Finally, the General, viewing the deplorable state of the men, decided to withdraw the force from the field. It was plain that any renewal of attack on the morrow by the reinforced Boers could but mean  annihilation or surrender. So the remnants of the force started on their return journey. This was now a terrible task, the Ingogo, which had been crossed at knee-depth, had swollen dangerously ; the gentle stream had become a  torrent. The bed of the river being full of holes, it was in some places some ten to twelve feet deep.

Of the perils by field and flood it would be impossible to speak at length. Mr. Carter, who was present at the melancholy  fight and a witness of all connected with the reverse, gives in his wonderful narrative of the Boer war an interesting description of the misery of that return march :-

" Knowing that moments were precious in the then state  of the river, I went ahead with the advance guard and crossed the stream ; it was then nearly up to my armpits, and running very swiftly. By holding my rifle aloft, I managed to keep it dry, but every cartridge in my pockets was  under water. Only with the greatest care, and thanks to a knowledge of the whereabouts of the treacherous hole in the drift, did I manage to keep on my legs. On gaining the opposite bank, I scooped up and drained off a helmet full  of the precious fluid, and then urging on through the next ford-an insignificant one compared to the first- gained admission at Fermistone's hotel, after being duly cross-questioned through the keyhole of the door. Some hot tea and  whiskey was recommended by the host, and palatable it was. In a short time the other "Correspondent" arrived, minus his rifle. He had been carried down the stream like a cork, and only saved from drowning by being washed  against some reeds at a bend of the river. He decided that he had had enough of the march for that night and elected to go to bed. Next came in the General, and a gentleman who claimed to be a surgeon (a Transvaal surgeon) escaped  the Boer lines. He had been allowed free access to the camp at Mount Prospect, and had accompanied the Ingogo expedition, but not as a surgeon. From the General. I learnt that there had been some men washed down the stream in spite  of the precaution adopted of joining hands,"

The return to camp was more trying. The roads were slippery as glass, and men and horses, thoroughly worn out, dropped exhausted by the way.