1899 - 1902



Anglo Boer War
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Of the  diminutive town of Kuruman and its gallant struggle little can be said. The garrison-consisting of seventy-five British subjects, including the men that came from Bastards-under the command of Captain Baker stood Out valiantly,  fighting with rare obstinacy, and hoping that British success elsewhere would speedily draw off the intermittent attentions of the Boers. From the 13th to the 20th of November a strong party of Dutchmen kept up incessant pressure,  but they were forced to retreat, though both sides suffered loss. On the part of the British one special con-stable was killed.

The official details of the defence showed that the Mission Station which was formerly the centre of  Dr. Moffat's long work among the natives of that part of Africa was the point of resistance to the Boer attack. When the Dutch commandant notified the inagistrate of his intention to occupy the place, the latter replied that he had  orders to defend it. Thereupon he collected twenty natives and thirty half-castes, with whose aid he barricaded the Mission Chapel, and there resisted the assault of the Boers for six days and nights, after which the Boers  abandoned the attack.

To look back on the amazing valour of the tiny garrison, unsuccessful though it was, makes every British heart swell with pride. On the outbreak of hostilities, Mr Hilliard, the Resident Magistrate, called a meeting of the  inhabitants, and eloquently urged them to remain loyal. This, as we know, they did, with the result that the place resisted the Boers and routed them, and, moreover, set a most salutary example of loyalty to the surrounding  districts of Cape Colony. The following extracts from five short letters (all dated November 24), written by Mr. and Mrs. Hilliard to relatives, will be of interest, as showing the gallant spirit that sustained these brave  people, and the love for Queen and country that was so prac-tically displayed by them. Mr. Hilliard said -"Just a short letter to say we have been fighting the Boers here from the 13th to the 18th, and have driven them  back with heavy loss. I received a letter from their 'Fighting General,' Visser, on Sunday the 12th, saying that if I did not surrender the town voluntarily, he would take it by main force. I replied that if he did he would  have to take the consequences of his illegal act, as my Government had not instructed me to evacuate the town. The enemy has drawn off towards Vryburg." In another letler he said :-" We are going strong; the brave  little garrison is so good and cheerful. The army has gone, but may return, so we are prepared." In yet another he wrote :- We are all right up to now, and shall stick to our dear old flag till the last, whatever happens.  May God defend the right and our dear Queen. Three cheers for all." Mrs. Hilliard wrote :-" On Monday, November 13, the Boers attacked Kuruman. Our men fought bravely for six days, after which the Boers departed, and  we don't know if they intend returning or not. Charlie is at the Police Camp, and looks well and happy. He is very proud of our men. Our men are still on the alert, and are strengthening their forts, as the Boers will not  return without a cannon. They quite expected this place to be handed over to them at once, as Vryburg was.

This state of affairs continued till the end of the year. On the 1st of January the plucky little garrison was at last  forced to sur render. This, they said, they would never have done had they possessed a single cannon. The Boer artillery knocked to pieces the improvised fort before the white flag was hoisted over the ruins. Four men were  killed and eighteen wounded in the splendid but hopeless effort to hold the open village against a foe provided with artillery and superior in numbers. The Boers numbered twelve hundred against some seventy-five practically  helpless men! So the unequal tug-of-war came to an end-we may say, an honourable end.

In Northern Rhodesia, British subjects were practically isolated. The telegraph to the south was cut, and the railway-some four hundred  miles of it-was damaged in various places. To show the state of remoteness in which the unfortunate inhabitants found themselves, it is sufficient to say that a telegram from London to Buluwayo took sixteen days in transit.  Letters from Port Elizabeth were received about three weeks after being posted. It may easily be imagined what dearth of news prevailed, and how even such news as it was, was falsified by rumour. But the excellent fellows kept  heart, although they were, as one of them said, "absolutely ignored by the British Government, and had not a red coat in the country." He went on to say, "We have any quantity of men of grit, and about a thousand  fellows have volunteered to fight out of a total population of men, women, and children of six thousand at most.

So little could reach us as to the doings of Colonel Plumer's splendid little force, that the following letter  from Trooper Young, a barrister, who joined at the outbreak of the war, may be quoted. It supplies some early links in the chain of the brave. history

"FORT TULI", SOUTH AFRICA, November 9, 1899

"I've had a bit of an exciting time since I last wrote-almost. too exciting at one time. Last time I wrote was when we were leaving Tuli for Rhodes Drift. We arrived there all right after much marching and  counter-marching, mostly by night. The second night of it, for the small portion we had for sleep I struck a guard; so by the third night I was in a wretched state from want of sleep. I was always dropping off to sleep on my  horse and suddenly waking up. Moreover, I began to see all sorts of strange things. Brooks and trees were transformed into houses and gardens, and then I would come-to with a start and pinch myself and try to keep awake-a very  unpleasant experience. When we reached Rhodes Drift, our squadron was quartered there alone, and we had a couple of brushes with the enemy to start with.

"I missed the first, in which we had much the best of it. We only  had one man hit, and that only slightly, and in return we bowled over a couple of Dutchmen (others may have been wounded), stampeded their horses, over a hundred in number (we surprised their grazing guard), killed or wounded  twenty of the horses, and jumped seven. The next fight was warm for a bit. We had only half the squadron -about forty-five men-who were reconnoitring round the enemy & fort dismounted. This was only three miles from our  camp and in British territory. We had four men wounded, and did an equal amount of damage to them, if not more. We got off very cheap, for their fire was very hot, and very close too. The third fight came off on November 2, and  that was a scorcher. On the night before it I was on guard. It was a beastly night, raining and blowing hard, so I got very little sleep when it was my turn off. In the day I was in charge of the grazing.guard with three other  men.

"About one o'clock I got orders to bring in the horses, which I did, and ha,d just got all the horses tied up when the Dutch started firing on us. I'd just got into a nice position behind a good big rock when I was  ordered to ride out to warn our outlying pickets. There were three of them, four men in each, about a mile or a mile and a half away. A risky job it was too. Two of us were sent. I asked the other man which he would go to. He  chose the one I had wanted, so I had the worst job-two pickets to warn, and had to ride right through the line of fire. As I started one of our officers shouted, ' Don't spare your horse; ride like h-Il;' and I did too.  Directly I got out, ping-ping came two bullets, a bit high, but others soon followed much closer. I got out, though, all right, warned the two pickets, and came in with them. We got a bit of a fusillade on us when we got near  the fort, but had no casualties. The man who rode to the other picket had his horse shot under him; so I scored-not for long, though, for my own horse was shot soon after.

"When I got back, I found we were having a very  hot time. Our position was a couple of small kopjes close together. On two sides there was an open space for about 6oo or 700 yards. On the other two sides there was a lot of bush and a ridge running round us, which we were not  strong enough to occupy. The Boers had in the field between 300 and 400 men, so we thought; we afterwards found that that was not overstating their number. Moreover, they had 250 men and one gun at Brice's Store, about six  miles away on the Tuli road, and strong reinforcements at their camp. They gave us the devil of a time. At first they fired mostly at the horses. They, poor beasts, had no cover, and nearly every one was hit. A few broke loose  and bolted. Later, they turned their attention to us. Luckily, their shell-fire was very wild, or we should have suffered heavily. As it was, we had not a man even wounded; but it was a miracle we did not, for at times their  rifle-fire was very heavy, and now and then they got a good shell in. I had a narrow shave. A shell burst just near me, and one of the splinters struck a stone and sent a piece of it bang against my leg. It cut right through my  putties, three folds of them. I made certain I was wounded, and was much relieved to find there was no damage done.

"When the evening came, we had two alternatives-to stay where we were and wait to be cut up, or try to  go through to Tuli. It was finally decided to do the latter, and it was undoubtedly the right thing to do. If we had remained, we should have been surrounded the next day, and every one slaughtered. With ninety men against a  thousand we should have had no show; still, it was a very bitter pill having to sneak off at night, leaving everything hehind (including the few horses left alive), our kit and waggons, even the ambulance waggon. It was  horrible saying good-bye to our horses. My poor little Whiskey was wounded and very unhappy; we were not allowed to shoot the wounded ones, as we had to sneak off as quietly as possible. It was very sad work. Luckily we had no  man hit. I don't know what we should have done if we had. I suppose we should have remained there and taken the inevitable consequences, as we would not have left them. We left at 8 P.M., and arrived at Tuli at I P.M. next day,  only two halts, one and a half in the night for sleep, and another of half-an-hour for breakfast, which for me and most of us consisted of water. I had nothing to eat except one small cookie from 8 A.M. the morning of the fight  to 2 P.M. the next day.

"Altogether, we marched forty miles through awful country, for a long way through brushwood called the 'wait-a-bit' thorn, and in the night, too; it tore our clothes, hands, arms, and faces to  bits then through sand, over kopjes covered with thick brush. Altogether it was equal to sixty miles of English roads, and we went pretty fast when the way allowed. We had one pleasant surprise; one of our officers left us and  rode on to Tuli when we were about ten miles. off, and reported that we were only a few miles out, pretty dead-beat~ as we were. Until Captain Glynne arrived, they believed we were all cut up, and one of the squadrons rode out  to us and lent us their horses, for which we were very grateful. They met us about three miles out, and I'm blowed if I know how we could have crawled in without them; we were absolutely dead-beat. I was never so glad of a ride  in my life. When we got into camp, we found that three or four of the men of E squadron, who had been left behind at Tuli sick, or had come in riding with dispatches, had prepared food for us, which was also very grateful, for  we wanted it. We had left most of our kit behind at Tuli, so we were able to have a change of clothes and a wash, both very much needed, and then I must say I did enjoy myself. It was simply delightful to lie down and loaf  about and do nothing but smoke cigarettes. All the bitterness of the defeat and the loss of our horses seemed to disappear, and I. thoroughly enjoyed myself that afternoon.

"At Tuli every one believed we were cut up. A  party from there, twenty-five in number, when escorting some waggons to us, were attacked by a much superior force at Brice's Store and badly defeated. They had to take to the bush and abandon the waggons.. They brought four  men wounded back, while seven were missing, including the parson, who was coming to see us,he was wounded in the leg. According to the men who were there, he was taking a. distinctly active part in the fight. A squadron of some  of the police, about 120 in all, were sent out to try and relieve us, but near the store were met by some of the boys who had bolted from us, and who reported that we were already wiped out, every man killed; so they returned  without trying to force their way through to us. In Tuli they were much relieved to hear of our safe arrival. It was. certainly a very narrow squeak for us; it is still a wonder to me how we managed to escape without losing a  man. Certainly we had very good cover, and took advantage of it; it was the only thing we could do. We managed to silence their rifle-fire once or twice, but could do nothing against their long-range shell-fire. Since then we  have had very little to do, but expect to have some more fighting before long, when we hope to get a bit of our own back. One thing I think I may say without boasting-we all behaved very well. There was not a sign of funk, and  every one took it coolly. As a matter of fact, more than half of E squadrori had been under fire before, either in Rhodesia or elsewhere."

To understand the effect of war upon Rhodesia at this time, we must read the  following extracts from a letter written by a "Son of the Manse" in business near Buluwayo, dated 11th November 1899

"We have been cut off from the south for more than five weeks, and are very badly off for  news. Such news as we get comes by Beira, and as there is no cable between Delagoa Bay and Beira, this makes things worse. We have heard nothing from Mafeking since its investment by the Boers except a couple of messages sent  out by a native runner to the nearest telegraph office still in touch with Buluwayo. A number of men from here are oh the southern frontier keeping the Boers in check, so as to prevent them making a raid in this direction. They  have had several skirmishes, but the Boers are not in any great force, as they appear to have concentrated their men. on the Natal border, where most of the fighting will probaly take place. Business is so slow here that  numbers ~an get leave from their offices for the asking, and there were lots of fellows in town doing nothing who were only too sad of the chance of earning los a day,. which the Government are paying the Volunteers. The local  newspaper here is of little use at present, as it has not funds to get direct news from Natal, and the only reliable information we get is published by the authorities. The Chronicle here came out with a special edition  yesterday, describing a serious reverse to the British (two thousand men and forty-six officers captured), but it turned out to be taken from a German paper published in Zanzibar and sent to Beira, and I trust it may prove  false. We won't get any newspapers, I fear, as long as the mails come via Beira, owing to the cost of bringing them from Salisbury by coach, tut we hope there will be a change for the better soon. When the newspapers come they  will be interesting reading. . . . The stoppage of the railway has had a serious effect in Buluwayo, as it has caused a tremendous rise in the prices of everything, and if most of the merchants had not laid in immense stocks in  anticipation of what was coming, things would be very much worse. Some articles are very scarce. Potatoes are about £5 a sack, and of very inferior quality. Sugar is 9d. to 1s. per lb.; and a 200-lb. sack of flour costs 50s. to  60s., cheaper than most things, as there was an enormous stock stored. Everything is likely to go up still higher before supplies can reach the town, and fresh meal will soon be practically unattainable, and every one will have  to depend on tinned meat. There are no colonial eggs coming up, so we are getting about 5s. a dozen for ours, and the price will probably rise, as with everything else. Some of the restaurants and hotels have had to close their  dining-room, as so many men have gone to the front. The demand for eggs and fuel (wood) is, therefore, some what decreased. Several storekeepers talk of getting things from Salisbury, and if prices rise very much perhaps it  would pay. The average rate per waggon to Salisbury lately was nearly 255. per 100 lbs. weight. The mines are still working fairly, and may be kept on. The Kaffirs round here seem to take little interest in the war, and the  most of them have not the remotest idea where Natal is, although the Matabele came from there less than seventy years ago. Of course they all know the Boers, and thoroughly detest them, as they have very good reason to do. We  have only had a few showers of rain here so far, and the grass is very poor. We can work our donkeys much at present on that account, as I want to have them in good order, as transport will be very high when communications are  again established."

In Southern Rhodesia the Boers were kept in check by the activities of Colonel Holdsworth. In order to reconnoitre, and, if possible, attack the Boer laager at Sekwani, he started on the 23rd of  November with seventy-five mounted men and ten cyclists on a night march over sandy roads in a region where water was extremely scarce. At daybreak they reached the Dutch laager and caught the Boers napping. Lieutenant  Llewellyn wished them an energetic "Good morning" by means of a Maxim gun at 1000 to 1200 yards range, with the result that the enemy, about eighty strong, were routed from their position among the kopjes. The Boers  retired to other kopjes, and from thence offered resistance, but as storming them would have entailed considerable loss, the British force returned to camp. They, however, burned a large store of -ammunition and captured some  rifles. Therefore their hundred-mile march, accomplished in twenty-three hours, was not profitless.