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THE BATTLE OF PAARDEBERG


On Sunday, the  18th of February, the most exciting action of the war took place. It was costly as it was momentous, for it served to decide the fate of the fleeing Dutchman. The scene of the drama was not unpicturesque. From the Paardeberg to the  Koodoosrand Drift the Modder flowed along a deep hollow from thirty to a hundred yards in depth. To either side the forks of small dongas radiated, while the high banks were fringed with the feathery foliage of the mimosa and  willow. Donga and tree stump afforded excellent cover for the slim adversary, sniper or scout. The river travelled from Koodoosrand Drift west-south-west, deviating southwards on either side of the Wolveskraal Drift. A vast expanse  of veldt, some two thousand yards wide, shelved down towards the south bank of the river, fringed by higher ground; and this grassy plain extending eastwards joined a circle of kopjes now known as Kitchener's Hill. On the opposite,  the north bank of the river, was another similar plain, dotted with minor kopjes to within a thousand yards of the river, and beyond them was the higher hump of Paardeberg Hill.

The action began at dawn. Firing grew h6tter and  hotter with the growth of the morning, and soon pandemonium was let loose. While part of the mounted infantry was forcing the rearguard up the river another part was manceuvring on the right front and flank of the enemy. The  Dutchmen meanwhile from King's Kop turned on a quick-firing Hotchkiss gun, which swept the flat country from the kop to the southern bank of the river. The antagonists had both posted themselves on the north bank of the river-both  banks of which were level, and this expanse afforded no cover for movements. Over this expanse the Ninth Brigade had to move, struggling through a zone of fire towards the concealed enemy.

Cronje by this time had realised that  his position was critical-almost hopeless. Bringing his fine military qualities to bear on the situation, he decided to make the best of a bad job, and entrench himself with all the skill possible. He had about one square mile of  the river-bed on either side of Wolveskraal Drift, and beyond that he knew were encircling kopjes, each one concealing its multitude of roomeks. On the east, slowly creeping up, were the menacing numbers of Tucker's Division; on  the west the vast crowds of the mounted infantry and the Sixth Division; on the south were field-guns little more than a mile threatening to shower destruction from Gun Hill, while on the north were Naval guns and howitzers.  Indeed, everywhere was fate frowning, obdurate, vengeful. But the Dutchman retained his pluck and his wits. He even believed that with everything against him he might yet employ the same tactics which had nonplussed Lord Methuen at  Modder River. He still retained a poor opinion of his adversary, and his delusion lent him confidence. He hurriedly built trenches, that in themselves were masterpieces of defensive art, and took up his headquarters in the centre,  in a red brick house-a species of travellers' hostelry, which may be found near all drifts in South Africa. Here at night Mrs. Cronje joined him. During the day she was placed in the women's shelter at the east side of the area,  which shelter was protected by waggons and trenches all along the bed of the river. Talking of these trenches, the correspondent of the Times declared that "the skill with which they were constructed as defences against both  rifle and shell fire was worthy of the highest praise. All except those of the outer lines of pickets were made so narrow and deep that it seems as though they were in many cases entered from one end rather than the top, as any  such ingress must even in a week's time have considerably widened the neck of the excavation. At the top they were perhaps eighteen inches wide, at the bottom about three feet, and by crouching down the most complete protection was  afforded from bursting shell.

"Every natural protection, such as the ramifications of the dongas which eat into the banks on both sides of the river, had been utilised, though the bombardment from both sides compelled them  to abandon their first hasty breastworks cut into the actual top of the bank, which was here from about fifty to a hundred yards from the river itself, and thirty feet in height.

"For the first time here the 'T' trenches, of  which much has been said during the present campaign, were used. They did not seem to present the least advantage over the ordinary shapes, except that in an exposed angle they may have provided additional protection against an  enfilading fire."

Cronje's first object in entrenching himself in the bed of the river was to arrest the further advance of the mounted infantry, who had taken possession of the bed of the river west of his position. In this  he was successful. Worn, harassed, and almost helpless, he determined to make a desperate stand, hoping against hope to gain time till some help from without should arrive. But this help never reached him. A grand enveldping  movement commenced, and Cronje; brought to bay, found himself face to face with what proved to be his Sedan.

By this time he and his followers were snugly ensconced in bush and donga and scrub round the laager, and from the trees  around they vigorously sniped and poured volleys at the advancing troops. In the advance to the attack the Highland Brigade was on the left, General Knox's brigade in the centre and on the right, while General Smith Dorrien's  brigade, after crossing the river by Paardeberg Drift, moved along the north bank. The Highland Brigade had a terrific duty. The Boers, from their position in the bed of the river and on both sides of it, commanded the left of the  Brigade, and as the kilted mass moved forward in the open poured upon them a deadly fire, which forced them to lie prone for the rest of the day. Here at noon, when bullets were humming their loudest, General Hector Macdonald was  wounded. He had dismounted, and was directing the movements of the brigade, when overtaken by a shot which penetrated thigh and foot. Despite this unlucky accident and a tremendous spell of hard fighting, the brigade exhibited  splendid pluck and tenacity. They were destitute of cover, but maintained their position with astonishing fortitude,. and this after the long forced march they had made from Jacobsdal, and while enduring the tortures of maddening  thirst, which could not be assuaged. A heavy thunderstorm mercily overtook them in the course of the afternoon and raindrops large as gooseberries clattered down their relieving moisture on the parched and exhausted troops.

On  the north bank of the river was Cronje's laager, an environment of waggons, carts, ammunition, and stores. While General Smith Dorrien's force, among which were the Canadians, Gordons, and Shropshires, attempted to charge into the  laager, they too were vi~orou shelled by the enemy,

valiantly to a kopie on the south bank of the river. Here they held on undefeatable, posted a Vickers-Maxim and other deadly weapons, and in a measure divided our force in two.  The Seaforths and the Cornwall Regiment made a splendid charge with the bayonet, and drove the Boers from their cover round the drift, but in the glorious rush both the Colonel and Adjutant of the Cornwalls were stricken down.  Ninety-six of the men were wounded, but they now held the north-west side of the enemy's position.

On the east the Sixth Division was hard at work tackling a horde of Boers, who made a last despairing lunge in order to burst

through the entangling forces and push for the south bank of the river. The effort was stubborn as it was desperate,, but they were defeated by the dash of the West Riding Regiment, who pressed forward with the bayonet and  succeeded in seizing the drift. Many splendid fellows were wounded and slain in the collision. Mean-while the artillery continued to direct their incessant thunder against the laager, pouring in a deluge of destruction from all  quarters, and forcing the Dutchmen to shrink within the space, little more than a mile square, into which they had so hurriedly scrambled.

General Kelly-Kenny having possessed himself of both Klip Drift and Koodoosrand Drift, the  Boers were now enclosed east and west. But here, crunched in a veritable death-trap, they fought tenaciously. Worn, harassed, and weakened by their hurried march, they yet held a stubborn front to our assau]ting troops, and from  the cramped region of their laager did as much damage as it was possible to do. The Canadians, who had behaved with conspicuous gallantry in the attack on the laagcr, lost nineteen killed and sixty-three wounded. A description of  the fight as seen from their point of view was given by a private in the 1st Contingent :-

"We left KIp Drift on the Modder River at 6 P.M. Saturday, and marched

all night until seven on Sunday morning, covering 23 miles.  During the march we could hear the guns ahead. I was orderly man for Sunday, so, removing my pack, I went to the river for water. Just a little way up the river a brisk fire opened up. When I got back to our lines I found them  issuing a ration of rum. I had mine, and it just braced me up.

"By this time the engagement was pretty brisk. Our brigade was ordered on the left of the river, which we crossed at a ford just in rear of the camp. The  Shropshires crossed first, then followed the Canadians and Gordons. The water was up to our necks. Some went deeper and had to swim. We crossed in fours, holding on to each other, formed up in column and advanced a short distance,  when we extended to seven paces in skirmishing order. C Company formed to support A Company.

"By this time the bullets were coming pretty thickly, and we had some very narrcw squeaks. We reinforced A Company at 500 yards and  opened fire. The Boer fire was heavy, and some of our boys had been hit, but we soon subdued the fire. Their position was in the river, and we were lying out in the open, no cover of any kind except a few anthills. We could see  very little to fire at except the fire from their guns. Our line was in a crescent shape, the right on the river, and the left extended along about 500 yards. In the afternoon our troops were ordered to cease fire. As soon as we  stopped they started sniping, which made us hug the ground.

"Shortly after joining the firing line Captain Arnold of A Company was struck. The Boers started a murderous fire on the stretcher-bearers who carried him away, a  trick they did all day long. Towards evening the left was ordered to reinforce the right. It was a daring move, but we did it by running down in threes and fours. At dark all the forces retired, and quite a few men volunteered to  search for the wounded. I was out all night until four the next morning, when I laid down played out. I never want to witness such terrible sights as I saw that night again. Whenever we showed ourselves in the moonlight the  sharpshooters would fire at us.. We were all up early next morning, but the Boers had retired farther up the river. So we collected our wounded and buried the dead. I was helping a hospital.sergeant, and he sent two of us up the  river to search for wounded. We found a few, and also came across a wounded Boer, whom we bandaged and took back to camp. We also came across a few dead. We questioned the Boer, and he said that tl]ey had retired during the night,  carrying their wounded and throwing the dead into the river. After dinner, which we had about four, we went out on outpost duty. During the night there was quite a little firing going on. This morning we advanced towards the  position again, and about ten o'clock retired for some breakfast and advanced again. Although tinder fire all day we did not fire, but the artillery certainly played Cain with them.."

Captain Arnold's wound was mortal, but  Lieutenant Mason, who was also shot, was not dangerously hurt.

A Colonial, writing from the front at Paardeberg, said that fighting "went on during the day until about five o'clock, when the Cornwalls arrived in support. The  officer comnianding this battalion seemed to think that too much time had already been spent in fighting the Boers, so ordered the charge. The result was fatal to the Cornwalls, as they had to retire. The Canadians, acting under  the orders of the commanding officer of the Cornwalls as senior officer, also charged, and with a like result; but the Canadians, in place of retiring, simply lay down and remained. It was during this charge that most of the  fatalities occurred. The unfortunate commanding officer of the Cornwalls was killed, and Captain Arnold and Lieutenant Mason of the Canadians wounded. The Brigadier subsequently expressed his regret that the charge took place, but  at the same time warmly congratulated the Canadians on their behaviour, as did Lord Roberts also."

Of gallantry and daring there was no end. From dawn till sunset raged a battle of appalling fierceness, of magnificent  persistency. From drift to drift the hollows reverberated with the perpetual roll of musketry, the brawling of multifarious guns, the hoarse cheers of charging troops, the shouts of the unflinching enemy. Curling smoke burst in  wreaths and garlands from the sides of the hills and rose against the purple of thunder-clouds; flaring tongues of vengeful flame danced and forked their reflections of heave n's lightnings ; spouts and torrents of water poured  from the sky, mingling with the heroical blood of Britain's best, that trickled in rivulets, north, south, east, and west of the scene, and traced far and wide the history of sacrifice on the now sacred ground. For all this, the  position of the contending parties remained unchanged-Cronje defiant and enclosed, the British lion crouching, watching.

At dusk the scene was weirdly, terrifically picturesque. From the south and north sides of the river shells  hurtled through the air, falling and exploding along the river-bed, now setting fire to a waggon. now a cart, and filling the gloom with lurid panoramas of flame and an awe-striking, ceaseless din. Once an ammunition waggon was  struck. Then the blaze and crackling which followed, intermingling as they did with the roar of artillery and the rattle of rifles, made a fitting concert for Hades. And to the tune of this demoniacal intermezzo the cordon round  the enemy was gradually closing, his last chances of escape were one by one being sealed, the last links in Lord Roberts' strategical chain were being forged.

The Modder might have been the along between fringed and sloping But there was none to admire the

At night there was peace. placid purling Thames winding banks to ~he bosom of the sea.

pretty scene. All were worn out, and glad  to drop to sleep where they had fought, while the bearer~parties~" body~snatchers," as they were Jocosely styled~picked their way in the darkness, doing their deeds of mercy with zealous, unflagging perseverance. During  this time many deserters from the enemy came in. They had seen the hopelessness of their case, and had been urging, uselessly, the implacable Cronje to surrender.

The following is the list of those who were killed and wounded during the fight :-

Killed -Mounted Infantry-Colonel Hannay. 2nd Warwick-Lieutenant Hankay. Duke of Cornwall's Light Infanty~Lieutenant-Colonel Aldworth, Captain E.  P. Wardlaw, Captain Newbury. Seaforth Highlanders-Second Lieutenant M'Clure. Argyll and Sutherland High1anders~Lieutenant Courtenay. West Riding Regirnen t-Lieuten ant Siordet. 1St Yorksh ire-Second Lieutenant Neave. Oxford Light  Infantry-Lieutenant Bright, Second Lieutenant Ball-Acton.

Wounded..-Staff-Major-General Knox (i3th Brigade), Major-General Hector MacDonald (3rd Bngade). Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry-Captain J. H. Maunder, Lieutenant H. W.  Fif~ Second Lieutenant J. W. C. Fife, Second Lieutenant R. M. Grigg. Seaforth Highianders-Captain G. C. Fielden, Captain E. Cowans, Captain G. M. Lumsden, Lieutenant J.

P. Grant, Second Lieutenant D. P. Monypenny (died of  wounds), Second Lieutenant A. R. Moneneff. 1st Gordon Highianders-Second Lieutenant W. B. J. Nutford. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders-Lieutenant C. N. Macdonald, Lieutenant G. Thorpe, Second Lieutenant G. A. Akers-Douglas, Second

Lieutenant F. G. S. Cnnningham. Black Watch-Lieutenant-Colonel A. M. Carthew-Yorkstoun, Major Hon. H. E. Maxwell, Major T. M. N. Berkeley, Captain J. G. H. Hamilton, Lieutenant J. G. Grieve (N.S.W. forces attached). West Riding  Regiment-Captain F. J. de Gex, Captain H. D. E. Greenwood.

1st Yorkshire-Lieutenant-Colonel H. Bowles, Major Kirkpatrick, Lieutenant C. V. Edwards, Captain A. C. Buckle (South Stafford attached). Oxford Light Infantry-Major Day,  Captain Watt, Lieutenant Hammich. East Kent Regiment-Captain Geddes. Shropshire Light Infantry-Captain Gubbins, Captain

Smith, Lieutenant English, Second Lieutenant Kettleweli. Canadians-Captain H. M. Arnold (since died of  wounds), Lieutenant J. C. Mason, Lieutenant Armstrong. R.A.M.C.-Captain J. E.~C. Canter. Lieutenant G. H. Goddard. East Surrey-Captain A. H. S. Hart. 2nd Lincoln-Second Lieutenant Dockray

Waterhouse. 1st Yorkshire-Second  Lieutenant W. G. Turbet. 2nd Oxford Light Infantry-Captain Fanshawe, Lieutenant Stapleton. 2nd Bedford-Captain R. W. Waldy, Lieutenant Selous. 2nd Norfolk-Lieutenant Cramer- Roberts. 1st Welsh-Lieutenant-Colonel Banfield, Major  Ball. 2nd East Kent

-Captain Godfrey-Faussett, accidentally shot (died February 21Y 1st West Riding-Captain Taylor, Captain Harris. Roberts' Horse-Lieutenant A. Grant. Argyll and Sutherland-Captain N. Malcolm, D.S.O. 1st Gordon  Highlanders-Lietitenant Ingilby. 1st Welsh Regiment-Major Harkness, Lieutenant F. A. Jones, Lieutenant Veal. Mounted Infantry-Lieutenant- Colonel Tudway (1st Essex). 1st Essex-Captain Milward, Second Lieutenant Thomson.  Missing-Captain Lennox, 8ist Field Battery R.A.