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DISASTER AT KOORN SPRUIT


On the 18th of  March a force was moved out under the command of Colonel Broad-wood to the east of Bloemfontein. The troops were sent to garrison Thabanchu, to issue proclamations, and to contribute to the' pacification of the outlying districts.  They were also to secure a valuable consignment of flour from the Leeuw Mill?. The enemy was prowling about, and two commandos hovered north of the small detached post at the mills. Reinforcements were prayed for, and a strong  patrol was sent off for the protection of the post, or to cover its withdrawal in the event of attack. Meanwhile the enemy was "lying low," as the phrase is. Whereupon Colonel Pilcher pushed on to Ladybrand, made a  prisoner of the Landdrost, but, hearing of the advance of an overwhelming number of the foe, retired with all promptness to Thabanchu. The Boers, with the mobility characteristic of them, were gathering together their numbers,  determining if possible to prevent any onward move of the forces, and bent at all costs on securing for their own comfort and convenience the southern corner of the Free State, whence the provender and forage of the future might be  expected to come. Without this portion of the grain country to fall back on, they knew their activities would be crippled indeed.

In consequence, therefore, of the close proximity of these Federal hordes, Colonel Broadwood made  an application to head-quarters for reinforcements, and decided to remove from Thabanchu. On Friday the 3oth he marched to Bloemfontein Waterworks, south of the Modder. His force consisted of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade 10th Hussars  and the composite regiment of Household Cavalry), "Q," T," and " U " Batteries R. H.A. (formed into two six-gun batteries, Q" and "U"), Rimington's Scouts, Roberts's Horse, Queensland and  Burma Mounted Infantry. The baggage crossed the river, and outspanned the same evening. On the following mornirig at 2 A.M. the force, having fought a rearguard action throughout the night, arrived in safety at Sanna's Post. Here  for a short time they bivouacked, and here for a moment let us leave them.

At this time a mounted infantry patrol was scouring the country. They were seen by some Boers who were scuttling across country from the Ladybrand region,  and these promptly hid in a convenient spruit, whence, in the time that remained to them, they planned the ambush that was so disastrous to our forces and so exhilarating to themselves. There are differences of opinion regarding  this story. Some believe that the ambush was planned earlier by a skilful arrangement in concert with the Boer hordes-the hornets of Lady-brand, whose nest had been disturbe4 by the invasion of Colonel Pilcher-who owed Colonel  Broadwood a debt. They declare that the hiding-place was carefully sought out, so that those sheltered therein should, on a given signal from De Wet, act in accord with others of their tribe, and blockade the passage of the  British, who were known-everything was known-to be returning to Bloemfontein.

According to Boer reports, the plans for the cutting 9ff and surrounding of Colonel Broadwood were carefully made out, but only at the last moment, and  if; for once, Boer reports can be believed, the successful scheme may be looked upon as one of the finest pieces of strategy with which De Wet may be accredited. The Boer tale rims thus: The Dutchman on the 28th, with a commando of  1400 .and four guns and a Maxim-N ordenfeldt, was moving towards Thabanchu for the purpose of attacking Sanna's Post, where he believed a force of 200 of the British to be. He did all his travelling by night, and found himself on  the evening of the 3oth at Jan Staal's farm, on the Modder River, to the north of Sanna's Post. Then, in the very nick of time, he was informed by a Boer runner that Colonel Broad-wood's convoy was moving from Thabanchu. Quickly a  council of war was gathered together. It was a matter of life or death. De Wet, with Piet de Wet,- Piet Cronje, Wessel, Nell, and Fourie, put their heads together and schemed. They were doubtless assisted by the foreign attache's  'who were present. The result of the hurried meeting was the divisibn of the Boer force into three commandos. The General himself, with 400 men, decided to strain every nerve to reach Koorn Spruit and ensconce himself before the  arrival of the convoy. Being well acquainted with the topography of the country, the race was possible-400 picked horsemen against slow-moving, drowsy cattle! The thing was inviting. Success rides but on the wings of opportunity,  and De Wet saw the opportunity and grabbed it! The rest of the Boers were to dispose themselves in two batches-500 of them, with the artillery, to plant themselves N.N.E. of Sannas Post, while the remainder took up a position on  the left of their comrades, and extended in the direction of the Thabanchu road.

It was wisely argued that Broadwood's transport must cross Koorn Spruit, and that if the Boers were posted so as to shell the British camp at  daybreak, the convoy would be hurried on, while the bulk of the force remained to guard the rear.

Accordingly, the conspirators, with amazing promptitude, got under way, the four guns with the commando being double-horsed and  despatched to the point arranged on the N.N.E. of Sanna's Post, while the other galloped as designed. Fortune favoured them, for they reached their destinations undiscovered; and the scheme, admirable in conception, was executed  with signal success.

Day had scarcely dawned before the Boers near the region of the waterworks apprised the convoy of their existence. The British kettles were boiling, preparations for breakfast were briskly going forward,  when, plump! -a shell dropped in their midst. Consternatiori prevailed. Something must be done. The artillery? No; the British guns were useless at so long a range. As well have directed a penny squirt at a garden hose! All that  was to be thought of was removal-and that with all possible despatch. Scurry and turmoil followed. Mules fought and squealed and kicked, horses careered and plunged, but at last the convoy and two horse batteries were got under  way, while the mounted infantry sprayed out to screen the retreat. All this time shells continued to burst and bang with alarming persistency. They came from across the river, and consequently it was imagined that every mile gained  brought the convoy nearer to Bloemfontein and farther from the enemy. They had some twenty miles to go. Still, the officers who had charge of the party believed the coast to be clear. After moving on about a mile they approached a  deep spruit-a branch of the Modder, more morass than stream. It was there that De Wet and his smart 400 had artfully concealed themselves.

The spruit offered every facility for the formation of an ingenious trap. The ground rose  on one side toward a grassy knoll, on the slopes of which was a stony cave from which a hidden foe could command the drifts. So admirably concealed was this enclosure and all that it enclosed, that the leading scouts passed over  the drift without suspecting the presence of the enemy. These latter, true to their talent of slimness, made no sign till waggons and guns had safely entered the drift, and were, so to speak, inextricably in their clutches.

Their  manceuvre was entirely successful. Some one said the waggons were driven into the drift exactly as partridges are driven to the gun. Another gave a version of very much the same kind. He said, "It was just like walking into a  cloak-room-the Boers politely took your rifle and asked you kindly to step on one side, and there was nothing else you could do!"

The nicety of the situation from the Boer point of view was described by a correspondent of The Times

"The camp was about three miles from the drift, which lay in the point of a rough angle made by an embankment under  construction and the bush-grown sluit which converged towards it. Thus when the Boers were in position, lining the sluit and the embankment, the position became like the base of a horse's foot. The Boers were the metal shoe, our  own troops the frog. At the point where the drift cuts the sluit the nullah is broad and extensive. The Boers stationed at this spot realised that the baggage was moving without an advanced guard. They were equal to the situation.  As each waggon dropped below the sky-line into the drift the teamsters were directed to take their -teams to right or left as the case mlght be, and the guards were disarmed under threat of violence. No shot was fired. Each waggon  in turn was captured and placed along the sluit; so that those in rear had no knowledge of what was taking place to their front until it became their turn to surrender. To all intents and purposes the convoy was proceeding forward.  The scrub and high ground beyond the drift was sufficient to mask the clever contrivance of the enemy. Thus all the waggons except nine passed into the hands of the enemy.

The waggons, numbering sorne hundred, had no sooner  descended to the spruit and got bogged there than, from all sides sprung. up as from the earth, Boers with rifles at tile present, shouting-" Hands up. Give up your bandoliers." A scene of appalling confusion followed.  Some cocked their revolvers. Others were weaponless. So unsuspecting of danger had they been that their rifles, for comfort's sake, had been stowed on the waggons, the better to allow of freedom to assist in other operations of  transport. Some men of the baggage guard shouldered their rifles; others, from under the medley of waggons, still strove ineffectually to show fight. The Boers were unavoidably in the ascendant. The hour and the opportunity were  theirs.

At this time up came U Battery, with Roberts's Horse on their left. The battery was surrounded, armed Boers roared - "You surrender!" and then, sharp and clear, the first shot rang through the air. This was said  to have been fired by Sergeant Green, Army Service Corps, who, refusing to surrender, had shot his antagonist, and had instantly fallen victim to his grand temerity. The drivers of the batteries were ordered to dismount, but as  gunners don't dismount graciously to order of the foe, the tragedy pursued its course. Major Taylor, commanding the battery, however, succeeded in galloping off to warn the officer commanding Q Battery of the catastrophe.  Meanwhile, in that serene and pastoral spruit reigned fire and fury and the dash of frenzied men. Down went a horse-another, another. Then man after man-groaning and reeling in their agony. Many in the spruit lay dead. At this time  the troop of Roberts's Horse had appeared on the scene, and were called on to surrender. Realising the disaster, they wheeled about, and galloped to report and bring assistance. This was the signal for more volleys from the enemy  in the spruit, and the horsemen thus sped between two fires-that of the Mausers below them and of the shells which had continued to harry the troops. Nevertheless the gallant fellows rode furiously for dear lile on their Journey.  Men dropped from their saddles like ripe fruit from a shaken tree. Still they sped on. They must bring help at any price. Meanwhile the scene in the spruit was one of horror, for the Boers were sweeping every nook and corner with  their Mausers. Cascades of fire played on the unfortunate mass therein entangled, on waggons overturned and squealing mules, on guns and horses hopelessly heaped together, on men and oxen sweating and plunging in death-agony. The  heaving, struggling, horrific picture was too grievous for description. Only a part of their terrible experience was known by even the actors themselves. Luckily, a merciful Providence allows each human intelligence to gauge only a  certain amount of the awful in tragic experience. There are some who told of wounded men lying blood-bathed and helpless beneath baggage that weighed like the stone of Sisyphus; of horses that uttered weird screams of agonised  despair, which petrified the veins of hearers and sent the current of blood to their hearts; of oxen and mules that stamped and kicked, dealing ugly wounds, so that those who might have crawled out from under them could crawl no  more. Some guns were overturned-a hopeless bulk of iron, that resisted all efforts at removal; others, bereft of their drivers, were dragged wildly into space by maddened teams, whose happy instinct had caused them to stampede.  Seeing the disaster, they had pulled Out to left and struggled to get back to camp, yet even as they struggled they were disabled and thus left at the mercy of the foe.

Major Burnham, the famous scout, who having been taken a  prisoner earlier and at this juncture remained powerless in the hands of the Boers, thus described the terrible sight which he was forced to witness

"One of the batteries (Q), which was upon the outside of the three-banked  rows of waggons, halted at the spruit, dashed off, following Roberts Horse to the rear and south. Yet most of them got clear,. although horses and men fell at every step, and the guns were being dragged off with only part of their  teams, animals falling wounded by the way. Then I saw the battery, when but 1200 yards from the spruit, wheel round into firing position, unlimber, and go into action at that range, so as to save comrades and waggons from capture.  Who gave the order for that deed of self-sacrifice I don't know. It may have been a sergeant or lieutenant, for their commanding officer had been left behind at the time. One of the guns upset in wheeling, caused by the downfall of  wounded horses. There it lay afterwards, whilst three steeds for a long time fought madly to free themselves from the traces and the presence of their dead stable companions."

Those of the unfortunate men who were uninjured  struggled grandly to save the guns, to drag them free from the scene of destruction, but several of the guns whose teams were shot fell into the hands of the enemy. Some gallant fellows of Rimington's Scouts made a superb effort to  rush through the fire of the Federals and save them, but five guns only were rescued. These were all guns of Q Battery, which, when the first alarm was given, were within 300 yards of the spruit. When the officer who commanded the  battery strove to wheel about, though the Boers took up a second position and poured a heavy fire on the galloping teams, a wheel horse was shot, over went a gun, rnore beasts dropped, a waggon was rendered useless, but still the  teams that remained were galloped through the confusion to the shelter of some tin buildings, part of an unfinished railway station, some 1150 yards from the disastrous scene. Here a new era began. Much to the amazement of the  Boers, the guns came into action, and continued, in the face of horrible carnage, to make heroic efforts at retaliation, the officers themselves assisting in serving the guns till ordered to retire. At this time Q Battery was  assailed by a terrific cross fire, and gradually the numbers of the gunners and horses became thinned, till the ground, covered with riderless steeds and dismounted and disabled men, presented a picture of writhing agony and stern  heroism that has seldom been cqualled. But the splendid effort had grand results.

No sooner were the British guns in action than the whole force rallied: the situation was saved. The Household Cavalry and the 10th Hussars were  off in one direction, Rimington's Scouts and the mounted infantry in another, making for some rising ground on the left where their position would be defensible and a line of retreat found. Meanwhile Q Battery from six till noon  pounded away at the Dutchmen, while Lieutenant Chester-Master, K.R.R., found a passage farther down the spruit unoccupied by the enemy, by which it was possible to effect a crossing Major Burnham's account of the artillery duelling  at this time is inspiriting for their commanding officer had been left behind at the time. One of the guns upset in wheeling, caused by the downfall of wounded horses. There it lay afterwards, whilst three steeds for a long time  fought madly to free themselves from the traces and the presence of their dead stable companions."

Those of the unfortunate men who were uninjured struggled grandly to save the guns, to drag them free from the scene of  destruction, but several of the guns whose teams were shot fell into the hands of the enemy. Some gallant fellows of Rimington's Scouts made a superb effort to rush through the fire of the Federals and save them, but five guns only  were rescued. These were all guns of Q Battery, which, when the first alarm was given, were within 300 yards of the spruit. When the ofi~cer who commanded the battery strove to wheel about, though the Boers took up a second  position and poured a heavy fire on the galloping teams, a wheel horse was shot, over went a gun, rnore beasts dropped, a waggon was rendered useless, but still the teams that remained were galloped through the confusion to the  shelter of some tin buildings, part of an unfinished railway station, some 1150 yards from the disastrous scene. Here a new era began. Much to the amazement of the Boers, the guns came Into action, and continued, in the face of  horrible carnage, to make heroic efforts at retaliation, the officers themselves assisting in serving the guns till ordered to retire. At this time Q Battery was assailed by a terrific cross fire, and gradually the numbers of the  gunners and horses became thinned, till the ground, covered with riderless steeds and dismounted and disabled men, presented a picture of writhing agony and stern heroism that has seldom been equalled. But the splendid effort had  grand results.

No sooner were the British guns in action than the whole force rallied the situation was saved. The Household Cavalry and the ioth Hussars were off in one direction, Rimington's Scouts and the mounted infantry in  another, making for some rising ground on the left where their position would be defensible and a line of retreat found. Meanwhile Q Battery from six till noon pounded away at the Dutchmen, while Lieutenant Chester-Master, K.R.R.,  found a passage farther down the spruit unoccupied by the enemy, by which it was possible to effect a crossing. Major Bumbam's account of the artillery duelling at this time is inspiriting :-

"As soon as the gunners manning  the five guns opened with shrapnel, the Boers hiding in Koorn Spruit slackened their fire, preferring to keep under cover as much as possible. In that way many others escaped. The mounted infantry deployed and engaged the Boer  gunners and skirmishers to the east, and the cavalry with Roberts's Horse dismounted and rallied to cover the guns from the fire. A small body was also despatched to strike south and fight north. My captors directed their attention  to Q Battery. They got the range, 1700 yards, by one of the Boers finng at contiguous bare ground, until he saw by the dust puffs he had got the distance, whereupon he gave the others the exact range, which they at once adopted.  The gunners gave us nearly forty-eight shrapnel, for they were firing very rapidly, but although they had the range of our kraal, they only managed to kill one horse. I noticed that the Boers, though they dodged and took every  advantage of cover, fired most carefully, and yet rapidly. It was the same with those in the spruit as inside the kraal where I sat. That day the Boers said to me they had but three men killed in the spruit, and only a half-dozen  or so wounded. Those artillerymen, how I admired and felt proud of them! and the Boers, too, were astonished at their courage and endurance. Fired at from three sides, they never betrayed the least alarm or haste, but coolly laid  their guns and went through their drill as if it had been a sham-fight, and men and horses were not dropping on all sides. There was a little bit of cover a hundred yards or so behind the battery, around the siding and station  buildings of the projected railway and embankment. Thither the living horses from the limbers and guns were taken, and the wounded were conveyed. When, three hours later, their ammunition for the 12-pounders was scarce, and the  Boer rifle fire from the gulch, the waggons, and ridge opened heavy and deadly, the gunners would crawl back and fonvard for powder and shell. Had it not been for those terrible cannon, the Boers told me that they would have  charged, closing in on all sides upon Broadwood's men."

When the order to retire was received, Major Phipps Homby ordered the guns and their limbers to be run back by hand to where the teams of uninjured horses stood behind  the station buildings. Then such gunners as remained, assisted by the officers and men of the Burma Mounted Infantry, and. directed by Major Phipps Homby and Captain Humphreys (the sole remaining officers of the battery), succeeded  in running back four of the guns under shelter. It is said the guns would never have been saved but for the gallant action of the officers and men of the Burma Mounted Infantry, who, when nearly every gunner was killed,  volunteered, and succeeded, under the heaviest fire, in dragging the guns back by hand to a place of safety. It was while doing this that Lieutenant P. C. Grover, of the Burma Mountel Infantry, was killed. Though one or two of the  limbers were thus valiantly withdrawn under a perfect cyclone of shot and shell, the exhausted men found it impossible to drag in the remaining limbers or the fifth gun. Human beings failing, the horses had also to be risked, and  presently several gallant drivers volunteered to plunge straight into the hellish vortex. They got to work grandly, though horses dropped in death agony and man after man, hero after hero, was picked off by the unerring and copious  fire of the Dutchmen. It is difficult to get the names of all the glorious fellows who carried their lives in their hands on that great but dreadful day, but Gunner Lodge and Driver Glasock were chosen as the representatives of  those who immortalised themselves and earned the Victoria Cross. Of Bombardier Gudgeon's magnificent energy enough cannot be said. One after another teams were shot, but he persisted in his work of getting fresh teams. Three times  he strove to roll a gun to a place of safety, and. on the third occasion was wounded. The splendid discipline of the gunners was extolled by every eye-witness, and the way the noble fellows, surrounded with Boer sharpshooters,  stood to the guns was so marvellous, so inspiriting, that even the men who were covering the retirement, at risk of their lives were impelled to rise and cheer the splendid action of the glorious remnant. The correspondent of The  Times declared that "When the order came for the guns to retire, ten men and one officer alone remained upon their feet, and they were not all unwounded. The teams were as shattered as the, gun groups. Solitary drivers brought  up teams of four-in one case a solitary pair of wheelers was all that could be found to take a piece away. The last gun was dragged away by hand until a team could be patched up from the horses that remained. As the mutilated  remnant of two batteries of Horse Artillery tottered through the line of prone mounted infantry covermg its withdrawal, the men could not restrain their admiration. Though it was to court death to show a hand, men leaped to their  feet and cheered the gunners as they passed. Seven guns and a baggage train were lost, but the prestige and honour of the country were saved. Five guns had been extricated. The mounted infantry had found a line of retreat, and  total disaster was avoided. But the fighting was not over. The extrication of a rearguard in the front of a victorious and exultant enemy has been a difficult and a delicate task in the history of all war. In the face of modern  weapons it is fraught with increased difficulties. For two hours Rimington's Scouts, the New Zealand Mounted Infantry, Roberts's Horse, and the 3rd Regiment of Mounted Infantry covered each other in retreat, while the enemy  galloped forward and, dismounting, engaged them, often at ranges up to 300 yards."

The force was surrounded by the enemy on all sides, and there was no resource but to fight through-the cavalry and mounted infantry taking a  line towards a drift on the south. Roberts's Horse made a gallant and desperate effort to outflank the Dutchmen, and lost heavily; and Aldersen's Brigade, with magnificent dash and considerable skill, succeeded in holding back the  hostile horde. This retirement was no easy matter, for the position taken up by the Federals' was exceptionally favourable to them. To the north the spruit twisted in a convenient hoop, which sheltered them ; to the south was the  embankment of the railway in course of construction; from these points and from front and rear the enemy was able, in comparative security, to batter and harass the discomfited troops.

Fortunately, in the end, Colvile's Division,  which had been making its way from Bloemfontein, arrived in time to check the Boers in their jubilant advance, though some hours too late to prevent the enemy from capturing and removing the waggons and guns.

While the retreat  was being effected more valorous work was going on elsewhere. The members of the Army Medical Corps, with the coolness peculiar to them, were exposing themselves and rushing to the assistance of the wounded, many being stricken  down in the midst of their splendid labours. Roberts's Horse made themselves worthy of the noble soldier who godfathered them, and one-a trooper of the name of Tod-a prodigy of valour, rode deliberately into the melee in search of  the wounded, and returned with the dead weight of a helpless man in his arms, under the fierce fire of the foe. If disaster does nothing more, it breeds heroes. The melancholy affair of Koorn Spruit brought to light tile superb  qualities that lie dormant in many who live their lives in the matter of fact way and give no sign.

Splendid actions followed one another with amazing persistence, man after man and officer after officer attempting deeds of  daring, each of which in themselves would form the foundation of an heroic tale. Lieutenant Maxwell of Roberts's Horse, from the very teeth of the enemy dragged off a wounded man-a lad who, by the time he was rescued, had fainted.  But the young subaltern promptly got him in the saddle, and the pair sped forth from the fiery zone alive. The Duke of Teck also rushed, to the succour of Lieutenant Meade, who was wounded (a bullet cutting off his finger and  piercing his thigh), gave up to him his horse and removed him from the scene of danger. At the same time Colonel Pilcher was gallantly rescuing Corporal Packer of the ist Life Guards. Major Booth (Northumberland Fusiliers) lost his  life through doggedly holding a position with four others, in order to cover the retreat.

When the Queenslanders arrived they too showed the stuff they were made of; the best British thews combined with the doughtiest British  hearts. They. plunged into action-so dashingly indeed that the Boers very neary mopped them up. But Colonel Henry was equal even to the skittish foe, and contrived to entertain the Dutchmen by leading them so active a dance that  eventually the Colonials were able to fight out their own salvation.

At last the guns got away and followed the line of retreat taken by the cavalry. The troops then conducted their retirement by alternate companies, each company  taking up its duties without fluster, and covering the other company's retirement with great steadiness until they reached Bushman's Kop. The marvellous coolness of the force was particularly amazing, as every man, with the Boers  still at his heels, believed himself to be cut off, yet in spite of this belief showed no signs of concern. In one regiment, consisting of 11 officers and 200 men, two officers were killed, four wounded, and sixty-six men killed  and wounded.

Strange scenes took place duriug those awful hours in the donga, and wonderful escapes were made. One trooper was seized on by a Boer. "Surrender," cried the Dutchman, but before another word could be  uttered, the trooper's sabre whistled from its sheath and the Boer was dead. Another who was wounded got off, as he said, "by the skin of his teeth." He had become jammed under a waggon in company with a Boer-who had  crept there for cover-and the hindquarters of a dying mule. Over the cart poured a rattling rain of bullets, to which he longed to respond. The Boer, believing the wounded man to be his prisbner, made himself known. "Hot work  this," he said. The next instant the Boer. was caught by the throat and knocked insensible, while the Briton promptly cxtricated himself and vanished from the seething, fighting mass. Another of the Household Cavalry, when  summoned to surrender his rifle, threw it with such f6rce at the head of his would-be captor that he was able to make good his escape.

The following interesting account was given from the point of view of an officer of the Life  Guards who was present

"We heard firing at 6.30, and while we were saddling bang came two shells a little short, followed by three others. The firing went on for half-an-hour incessantly. The convoys got under way very  quickly, followed by Mounted Infantry and Life Guards. Luckily only two shells burst, and only one mule was killed. We moved on to the spruit and were shot at by Mausers from our right flank. The convoys were on the brink of the  drift. Some of the waggons were actually crossing, and our artillery close on to them, when a terrific fire came from the spruit. The U Battery was captured-the men and officers being killed, wounded, or prisoners. We went about  and retired in good order in a hail of shot, being within 120 yards of the enemy. It is wonderful how we escaped. Two of our men were shot-one in the thigh and the other in the shoulder~and we had altogether 32 missing. Cur leading  horses and baggage were within nine feet of the fire; vetmanyofthemgot oif, including my servant and horse. I lost, however, my saddlebags, with change of clothes, trousers, shoes, iron kettle, and letters which I grudge the Boers  reading. We got out of fire and lined the river banks, firing shots at the Boers, who were, however, too distant. We were well hid in a position like what the Boers had held themselves, and we hoped to enfilade them; but the river  twisted too much, and it is impossible to locate fire with smokeless powder. We then followcd the 10th Hussars for four miles towards Bushman's Kopje. The Ninth Division Infantry, under Colvile, came over the ridge with eighteen  guns, and we heard a lot of heavy firing."

He went on to say "Why we are alive I can't say. Many of the bullets were explosive, as I heard them burst when they hit the ground. The shelling was most trying, as we had to  stand quite still for twenty minutes a living target."

A laughing philosopher, a Democritus of the nineteenth century, gave to the world, via the Pal Mall Gazette; his curious experiences. Among other things he said

"Roberts's Horse was ordered to trot off to the right of the convoy. 'Oh! those are our men, you fool,' said everybody. Two men came up to the Colonel. We've got you surrounded, you'd better surrender,' say they; and heads  popped up in the grass forty yards from us. Boers appeared all along the ridge a hundred yards ahead. 'Files about, gallop !' yells the adjutant. (They dropped him immediately.)

"I was carrying a fence-post to cook the  breakfast of my section (of four men). I turned my horse; there came a crackling in the air, on the ground, everywhere; the whole world was crackling, a noise as of thorns crackling or the cracks of a heavy whip. My gee-gee  (usually slow) went well, stimulated by the horses round it, and actually took a water-jump; I had to hold my helmet on with my right hand, which still held the fence-post, and I thought my knuckles would surely get grazed by a  bullet. They were pouring in a cross-fire now as well, and once or twice I heard the s-s-s-s-s of the Mauser bullet (the crackle is explosives, you know). It was very exhilarating; the gallop and the fire made me shout and sing and  whistle. I jumped a dead man, and almost immediately caught up B.; who is one of my section.

"The fire was slackening, and we were half a mile away by then, and we looked round to see whether anybody was forming up. The  plain was dotted with men and many riderless horses. Everybody was yelling, 'When do we form up?' You feel rather foolish when running a way. At about one mile we formed up again. From the rear, and from the place we had come from,  and from the river bed, there came a noise as of thousands of shipwrights hammering. Nine (?) of our guns were captured; the remaining three fired at intervals. My squadron was sent into a depression on the left of the New  Zealanders. Here we dismounted (No.3 of each section holding the horses), and went up as a firing line, range 1200, 1400, and 16oo yards. The General passed. 'Ever been in such a warm corner ?' says he to the bugler. 'Oh yes,' says  the little chap, quite cheerfully and untruthfully. The General remarked, laughing, that ize hadn't. I felt sorry for him, and heard the newsboys shouting, 'Another British disaster!' and the Continental papers, 'Nouvelle de'faite  des Anglais! Yah!' It was the greatest fun out, barring the loss of the guns and men. For we were not losing a situation of strategic importance or anything of that kind. The Boers had collared our blankets and things, but we  chuckled at the thought of what they would suffer if they ever slept in 'em." Sergeant-Major Martin, who, with Major Taylor (commanding U Battery), was incidental in warning Colonel Rochfort and Major Phipps Homby of their  danger, and thus assisting to save Q Battery, described his experiences

"A Boer commander stepped out and confronted the Major with fixed bayonet; all his (the Boer's) men stood up in the spruit ready to shoot us down if we  had attempted to fight, ordered the Major to surrender, and also the battery. The battery had no chance whatever to do anything. As the trap was laid, so we fell into it.. Now, as the Major was talking to the Boer commander, I  turned my horse round (I was then three yards from him) and walked quietly to the rear of our battery. When I got there, putting spurs to my horse, I galloped for all I was worth to tell the Colonel to stop the other battery, as U  Battery were all prisoners. I then looked towards the battery; the Boers were busy disarming them. I went a little distance in that direction to haye a last look. By this time the Household Cavalry had come up, and the 14th  Hussars; they halted, soon found out what had happened, and turned round to retire. As they did so the Boers opened fire on us. The bullets came like hail-stones. It was a terrible sight. One gun and its team of horses galloped  away; by some means or other it was pulled up. I took possession of it, still under this heavy fire, and, finding one of our drivers, I put him in the wheel, and drove the leaders myself. We had between us 14 horses. I drove in the  lead for about six miles, following the cavalry, who bad gone on to see if we could get through. Eventually, after several hours, I got into safe quarters."

The list of loss was terrible :-

Brevet-Major A. W. C .Booth,  Northumberland Fusiliers; Lieutenant P. Crowle, Roberts's Horse; Lieutenant Irvine, Army Medical Service (attached to Royal Horse Artillery), were killed. Among the wounded were: Brevet-Colonel A. N. Rochfort, Royal Horse  Artillery, Staff. Q Battery Royal Horse Artillery.-Captain G. Humphreys, Lieutenant E. B. Ashmore, Lieutenant H. R. Peck, Lieutenant D. J. Murch, Lieutenant J. K. Walch, Tasmanian Artillery (attached). Royal Horse  Guards.-Lieutenant the Hon. A. V. Meade. Roberts's Horse.-Major A. W. Pack Beresford, Captain Carrington Smith, Lieutenant H. A. A. Darley, Lieutenant W. H. M. Kirkwood. Mounted lnfantry.~Major D.. T. Cruickshank, 2nd Essex  Regiment; Lieutenant F. Russell-Brown, Royal Munster Fusiliers; Lieutenant P. C. Grover, Shropshire Light Infantry (since dead); Lieutenant H. C. Hall, Northumberland Fusiliers.

Wounded and Missing.-Captain P. D. Dray, Lieutenant  and Quartermaster flawkins. Missing- Lieutenant H. R. Home. Royal Horse Artillery.- Captain H. Rouse, Lieutenant G. H.A. White, Lieutenant F. H. G. Stanton, Lieutenant F. L. C. Livingstone-Learmonth. 1st Northumberland  Fusiliers.-Lieutenant H. S. Toppin. 2nd Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.-Lieutenant H. T. Cantan. 1st Yorkshire Light Infantry.~Captain G. G. Ottley. Royal West Kent Regiment.-Lieutenant R. J. T. Hildyard. Captain Wray, Royal  Horse Artillery, Staff; Captain Dray, Roberts's Horse; Lieutenant the Hon. D. R. H. Anderson-Peiharn, ioth Hussars; Lieutenant C.W. H. Crichton, 10th Hussars.

The casualties all told numbered some 350, including 200 missing.  Reports differ regarding the strength of the enemy. Lord Roberts estimated it at 5000 to 10,000, while De Wet declared he had only about 1400 men.

All that remained of U Battery was one gun, Major Taylor, a sergeant- major, a  shoeing-smith, and a driver!

In Q Battery, Captain Humphreys, Lieutenants Peck, Ashmore, Murch were wounded, and the latter two reported missing.

The whole of the grievous Saturday afternoon was spent by the gallant doctors in  tending the ninety or more of our brave wounded who lay helpless in the spruit. They were carried to the shelter of the tin houses, and the work of bandaging and extracting bullets was pursued without a moment's relaxation. The  removal of the sufferers from the neighbourhood of the spruit on the day following was a sorry task, and the sight that presented itself to the ambulance party was one which was too shocking to be ever forgotten. In the spruit  itself the wreckage of waggons which had been looted by the Boers covered most of the scene, and, interspersed with them were horses and cattle, maimed, mutilated, and dead. With these, in ghastly companionship, were the bodies of  slain soldiers and black waggon-drivers. The living wounded were conveyed from the disastrous vicinity in ambulances and waggons brought for them under the covering fire of the guns, which swept the length of the river and deterred  the enemy from attempting to block the passage of the melancholy party. The Republicans, however, fired viciously from adjacent kopjes, but without disturbing the progress of the operations.

At noon General French's cavalry, with  Wavell's Brigade, had left Bloemfontein to occupy a position on the Modder between Glen and Sanna's Post, and keep an eye on further encroachments of the Boers. The enemy, on the fatal Saturday night, had destroyed the waterworks,  thus forcing the inhabitants of Bloemfontein to fall back on some insanitary wells, as a substitute for which the water-works had been erected. Here, on their departure for Ladybrand, they left 12 offcers and 70 men, who had been  wounded in the fray, and whom they doubtless considered might be an encumbrance to their future movements. These were conveyed by ambulance to Bloemfontein.

As an instance of Boer treachery, it was stated that the 'Free State  commandant Pretorius, whose farm overlooked the spruit wherein the ambuscade was arranged, had given up arms and taken the oath to retire to his farm. Yet on the day of the disaster he led the Boers to the attack, while the members  of his family were prominent among the looters of the wrecked waggon~ Other tales of cruelty and ill-treatment and treachery on the part of the Boers were well authenticated. It is useless to repeat them, but the circumstances are  merely noted to give an explanation for a change of policy which was necessitated by the actions of the enemy-a change which was, unfortunately, adopted only when many martyrs had been made in the cause of forbearance.