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The Refights
Lord Methuen's March to Modder River

Figure 1 Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen, K.C.V.O., C.B., C.M.G., Commanding 1st Infantry Division

Reasons why Methuen's force was thought sufficient.
Methuen decides to march straight along the railway.
Boer preparations to check the advance.
Composition of Methuen's force. Lack of mounted men.
Nov. 20-21. The start.
Nov.22. Troops in touch with the Boer artillery at Belmont.
The Belmont position.
Methuen's plan. Unrealisable owing to faultiness of map.
Nov.23. Battle of Belmont. The night march.
3.55 A.M. Outbreak of fire. Scots and Grenadiers carry Gun Hill.
Ninth Brigade carry Table Mountain, but further advance checked.
5.30-7.30 A.M. Coldstreamers clear south end of Mont Blanc. Boers abandon position.
Weakness and exhaustion of cavalry prevents pursuit.
Discussion of battle.
Nov.24. Methuen decides to attack Boers at Rooilaagte. Bivouac at Swinkpan.
Boer position at Rooilaagte.
Nov.25. Battle of Enslin, Graspan or Rooilaagte. Preliminary movements.
Methuen decides to concentrate attack on Boer left.
8.30-9.30 A.M. Naval Brigade's attack.
Causes of the heavy losses of Naval Brigade.
Cavalry again unable to make good the pursuit.
Casualties.
Dejection among Boers at Jacobsdal.
Description of General J. H. De la Rey.
Realising value of horizontal fire, De la Rey urges Boers to hold Modder River.
The bed of the Riet. Peculiar course of Riet and Modder above their junction.
The underground fortress in the river bed.
Nov.27. Cavalry report Boer concentration. Methuen decides to march by Jacobsdal.
Nov.28. Methuen changes his mind. His lack of information.
4-7 A.M. March to Modder River.
7 A.M. Cronje moves two guns east. British guns open fire.
Methuen's astonishing conclusions as to Boer force and course of rivers.
8.10 A.M. The surprise. Colvile's description.
8.30-12 M. Guards checked by Riet. Codrington's attempt to cross. After ineffectual frontal attack Guards become containing line.
Movements of cavalry.
12 M. Ninth Brigade clears Boers from south bank on left.
Splendid work of guns in centre.
1-2 P.M. British left secures lodgement on north bank.
Timely arrival of 62nd Battery. Attack not pushed home on right bank. 2-4 P.M.
Lack of direction. Battle dies away.
Boers abandon the position during night.
Nov.29. British cross river unopposed.
Strain of the new style of fighting. Reconnaissance and frontal attacks.
General criticisms.
Mutual recriminations. Mistaken arrest of Boer doctors.

 

Reasons why Methuen's force was thought sufficient.

AT the end of a week spent in assembling and organising his forces at Orange River, Lord Methuen had what was considered to be a sufficient force with which to begin his march to Kimberley. He had over 8000 men available, and if necessary could be reinforced by the Highland Brigade, at that moment still distributed along the line of communications, and by the 12th Lancers, who had not yet come up from Cape Town. There can be little doubt that if the magnitude of the task set to Lord Methuen had been at all realised at Headquarters, Sir Redvers Buller would never have undertaken the relief of Kimberley, but would have used all his troops in order to clear Cape Colony south of the Orange River, relying on Kekewich's ability to hold out till affairs in Natal were settled and till the main army could move on Bloemfontein. But at the time the relief of Kimberley was decided on it seemed a very natural move. It was not supposed that the Boers could get together more than 4000-5000 men at the most to bar Methuen's progress. Cronje, it must be remembered, was still besieging Mafeking, three hundred miles away. The intervening country offered none of the natural obstacles which, both in 1881 and in the last few weeks, were supposed to have made the Boers so formidable an enemy in Natal. Here were no great mountain ranges or treacherous defiles, but a vast plain, with isolated kopjes studding its surface like islands on the open sea-an ideal country, as it seemed then, for the evolutions of regular troops. The greatest natural obstacle, the passage of the Orange River, was already in Methuen's hands, thanks to the forethought which had determined the retention of this key of the whole strategical situation. Besides the Riet and Modder, small rivers meandering across the open plain, the only impediments to an advancing army might be found in certain patches of hilly ground where the kopjes were closer together and sufficiently linked up by intervening ridges to enable the Boers to take up a defensive position. Of these there were only three on the direct line between Orange River and Kimberley: at Belmont, at Rooilaagte (between Graspan and Enslin Stations), and between Magersfontein and Spytfontein, almost within reach of Kimberley. The last promised to be the most difficult, but none of them were so large that they could not be turned by a comparatively short detour on either side.

Methuen decides to march straight along the railway.

Lord Methuen's plan was to move, as far as possible, directly along the railway line, repairing it as he advanced.In the first place he would thus be able to manage with smaller and less unwieldy field transport, keeping in touch with his base, and receiving additional supplies and reinforcements whenever he might require them. In the second place, as his object and instructions were not merely to get to Kimberley with his force but to re-open communication between it and the outer world, and if possible remove the greater part of the non-combatant population, he was determined to fight the Boers on his way and to beat them so thoroughly that he need have no further anxiety about the safety of the railway. The defensive positions between Orange River and Kimberley seemed admirably adapted to his strategy. They were sufficiently strong to tempt the Boers to make an attempt to bar his path-in fact his in-formation was that they were intrenching the Belmont and Rooilaagte heights for this very purpose-they were not so strong but that he might hope to drive the Boers out of them in utter rout. The most obvious lesson of the Natal campaign at that moment seemed to be that direct attacks like Talana and Elandslaagte, unflinchingly carried through, offered better prospects of success than elaborate tactical manoeuvres in face of so mobile an enemy. The spirit in which Methuen set forth is best shown in his answer to Colonel Willoughby Verner a few days later, when the latter suggested going round the Belmont position: "My good fellow, I intend to put the fear of God into these people." It was a right soldierly spirit but there were two things that Methuen's strategy left out of account: the impossibility of reaping the fruits of victory against a mounted foe without an adequate force of cavalry, and the enormous strength given to defensive positions-positions of a kind undreamt of in all previous warfare-by the flat trajectory and deadly intensity of modern rifle-fire. Nor would it seem that Methuen - or indeed any other British general at that time - laid enough stress on the profound moral effect upon an enemy of mere out-manoeuvring-of making the enemy conform to one's movements instead of conforming to his, of compelling him to choose between taking the offensive or hurriedly defending weak and unprepared positions.

Boer preparations to check the advance.

Pending Cronje's arrival from Mafeking, the task of checking, or at least delaying, Lord Methuen's advance was assigned to the Free State commandant, Jacob Prinsloo, to be supported, if necessary, by the Transvaal contingent under De la Rey, which was now on the south side of Kimberley. Prinsloo's headquarters and base of supply was Jacobsdal, a small farming centre on the north bank of the Riet River, about ten miles east of Modder River railway-bridge. Prinsloo now moved south and joined hands with Van der Merwe, who, since the skirmish of November 10, had been supposed to keep watch on the movements in Orange River Camp. The Boers unhesitatingly assumed that the British would advance straight along the railway-line, and made their preparations accordingly. Their plan was simply to hold successive positions along the railway and invite attack. If the first attack proved too strong, the force would fall back, after inflicting the maximum of damage and suffering the minimum of loss, on a new position and on the reinforcements coming up in rear. The heights at Belmont and Rooilaagte were strengthened with trenches and sangars, while in addition to the base at Jacobsdal, permanent laagers were formed at Ramdam, a farm with abundant water supply north-east of Rooilaagte, and at Winkelhoek to the east of Belmont. The position of these bases of supply along a line parallel to, and within a few miles of the route by which the British were expected, strikingly illustrates both the advantage conferred on the Boers by their mobility - for they could thus reckon upon holding their positions to the last moment, free from all anxiety as to the removal of supplies in face of a victorious enemy-and their confidence in the simplicity of their opponents' strategy.

Composition of Methuen's force. Lack of mounted men.

The force with which Lord Methuen started his march consisted of two brigades of infantry: the 1st or Guards Brigade, under Sir H. Colvile, consisting of the 3rd Grenadiers, the 1st and 2nd Coldstream and 1st Scots Guards, and the 9th Brigade, under Major-General Fetherstonhaugh, consisting of the 1st Northumberland (5th) Fusiliers, the 2nd Northamptons, 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, and half the 1st Loyal North Lancashires; the 9th Lancers, a handful of New South Wales Lancers, Rimington's Guides, and three companies of mounted infantry; the 18th and 75th Batteries, R.F.A.; 7th and 26th Companies, R.E. The Naval Brigade, composed of some 400 bluejackets and marines from the Powerful; Doris and Monarch, with four 12-pounders, under Captain Prothero, was expected on the 21st, and was to follow the column as soon as it arrived. The transport though cut down to a minimum, still extended over some five miles of road when on the march. The chief defect of the force was the lack of mounted men. On the open veld, with its enormous distances, the few hundred troopers Methuen took with him were barely sufficient for reconnoitring and Screening purposes; there was nothing left either for cavalry pursuit for threatening the enemy's rear, or for rapidly seizing advanced positions. It was not that Methuen, who had been in this same country with Warren in 1885, was himself insufficiently alive to the need of mounted troops. But he had to be contented with what he could get. One cannot help suspecting that, if Sir R. Buller had fully appreciated the value of cavalry, he would have diverted to Orange River some of the regiments now being sent up to French, and replaced them by some of Methuen's infantry battalions, or else have delayed Methuen's start till his force could be properly equipped.

Nov. 20-21. The start.

The early morning of November 21 was fixed for the start. On the 20th the troops that were to take part in the advance bivouacked on the northern bank of the river. The evening was clear and cold, and as soon as the sun set the whole stretch of the camping-ground was dotted with camp fires. To feed these, and to leave them burning high, in the somewhat futile hope of deceiving Boer spies as to tile early start of the column, huge masses of mimosa thorn had been cut in the afternoon, and the blue acrid smoke and sharp aromatic smell of the burning wood drifted down and across the river, now at its lowest, a mere series of pools connected by a narrow channel of deep water, winding among sandbanks and black dykes of slabby rock. The men, delighted with the prospect of real war, and too excited to go to sleep, gathered in groups round the fires, and it was midnight before the last choruses died away. By 4 A.M. the whole of the troops were in motion, and the two brigades moved off by the side of the line. It would be hard to find better marching-ground than the high veld. The pure, invigorating air, and the absence of all obstacles, except an occasional wire fence, with the consequent width of front available, contributed alike to compactness of the column and to steady brisk progress. The men stepped out well, but Lord Methuen was unwilling to ask too much of men and horses freshly landed from a long sea journey, and at noon, after a ten-mile march, the force halted for the day at Fincham's Farm, a great centre of ostrich breeding, lying a mile west of Witteputs siding. Here was a patch of green trees, and a large "dam," or reservoir; of good water-this last an essential point in determining the length of a march in this arid region. Long before this the news of Methuen's advance had been flashed by heliograph to Prinsloo at Belmont and to de la Rey outside Kimberley. A few hours later the inhabitants of Johannesburg were reading of it in their evening paper.

Nov.22. Troops in touch with the Boer artillery at Belmont.

On the afternoon of the 22nd another easy but hot march of ten miles brought the troops by sunset to Thomas's Farm, two miles south-west of Belmont railway-station. Here the reconnoitring cavalry came under fire from the Boer outposts, and from a gun on the western slopes of a prominent kopje, hence known as Gull Hill, south-east of Belmont station. The 18th Battery, coming up ahead of the force, replied. The chief result of this slight encounter was that Major Albrecht, commanding the Free State Artillery, withdrew his guns (2 Krupp and one or two 37m.m. "pom-poms") in rear of the Belmont kopjes during the night, and that the Boer artillery in consequence took practically no part in the next morning's action.

The Belmont position.

The position in which the Boers awaited Methuen's attack was a mass of hilly country to the east of Belmont station, rising to a height of 100-200 feet, and roughly triangular in its general outline, the point facing north and the base, some three miles wide, deeply indented by a bay of the veld, and seamed by a great forked donga running up into the centre of the position. In the western half of this bunch of kopjes two points rose most conspicuously and steeply from the veld, one a broad flat-topped hill to which the name of Table Mountain was given by the troops, and the other, Gun Hill, an irregularly-shaped crest a mile or more in length, forming the south-western corner of the complex. The eastern half; on which the generic name of Mont Blanc was bestowed, was an almost continuous mass of high ground, only broken by a nek about two-thirds of the way down. The total Free State force assembled here numbered some 1500-2000 men. The Kroonstad burghers, under Prinsloo's personal command, occupied the most advanced position on Gun HilL The Fauresmith, Bloemfontein and Brandfort men were chiefly on Table Mountain, though a detachment under Van der Merwe was stationed on some small kopjes west of the line, whence they in-effectively menaced the British flank at the beginning of the moruing's battle. The Jacobsdalers under Lubbe were in reserve on Mont Blanc. The position was strong, according to the ideas that prevailed among the Boers till after their first few encounters with British troops. The sides of the kopjes rose steeply to the well-sangared crests, and the veld below, with its short leafless karroo brush and tufts of rank grass, offered no vestige of cover for an attacking party.

Methuen's plan. Unrealisable owing to faultiness of map.

Such was the position out of which Lord Methuen was determined to drive the Boers. His own knowledge of its configuration was derived partly from the utterly inadequate information - mainly confined to the position of farm boundaries - contained in the maps with which he had been supplied before starting, and partly from a map based on a sketch drawn by Colonel Verner during the afternoon's reconnaissance. It was inevitable that such a map should be of an impressionist character, and the fact that this map divided Gun Hill into a detached conical kopje, and a second hill, or rather piece of high ground, intervening between it and Mont Blanc, was mainly responsible for the way in which a carefully planned action became a pure "soldiers' battle." Methuen's plan was to attack the western face of the position - i.e., Table Mountain - with the 9th Brigade, while the Guards simultaneously seized the south-western salient, the Scots and Grenadiers rushing the north-western and southern slopes respectively of Gun Hill, and the Coldstream battalions, under cover of the fire from Gun Hill, following round to the left of the Scots and carrying the "high ground" beyond. To diminish the heavy cost involved in an advance across the bare veld to the foot of the kopjes, he determined to carry out this operation as a night attack, so timed that the troops should be safely established on the crest of the position just before day-break. Once on the heights the 9th Brigade was, by a wide flanking movement to sweep round with its left, clearing Table Mountain, and then, under cover of the fire from the Guards, who were to act as pivot on the eastern edge of the "high ground," to carry the rear of the Boer position on Mont Blanc.

Nov.23. Battle of Belmont. The night march.

Soon after 2 A.M. the troops moved out of camp in a north-easterly direction, the 9th Brigade advancing till they struck the railway, which they then followed for a short distance northwards, while the Guards, on their right, marched straight on their rendezvous at a granger's hut supposed to be 800 yards south-east of the point of Gun Hill. Till the line was reached the oppressive stillness of the night was only broken by the soft crushing of the veld brush under the men's feet. But here, in order to get the ammunition mules and water-carts across, it became necessary to cut down the wire fences on both sides of the rails, with a consequent clanging of metal audible afar through the silent darkness. The Guards now deployed, the Scots and Grenadiers in the first line. The battalions were well extended, and Lord Methuen, with a clear insight into one of the chief features of modern warfare, had ordered the men to be deployed to at least five paces interval for the actual attack. The two leading battalions moved rapidly across the undulating plain towards the heights now dimly looming up against the north-western horizon. Haste was necessary, for the Brigade had arrived late at the granger's hut (3.20 instead of 3 A.M.) and dawn was fast approaching. The 800 yards were quickly covered, a momentary delay being caused by a stony kopje which was at first taken for Gun Hill. But the real Gun Hill still seemed as distant as even By a mistake, only intelligible to those who know the extraordinary clearness of the South African atmosphere, the sketch-map had underestimated the distance by fully a thousand yards. It was a serious error, for not only did it cause the attack to be delivered by day instead of by night, with all the disadvantages thereby entailed, but it probably prevented a complete surprise of the Boers. In the growing grey of twilight the men pushed on. As they came nearer the features of Gun Hill became more and more distinct. But instead of the detached conical kopje they expected, the Guards saw fronting them a steep and concave face, whose two horns, rising somewhat higher than the saddle between them, were nearly a thousand yards apart. The eastern horn really covered the site of the imaginary high ground, intended to be subsequently occupied by the Coldstreamers, but it was only natural under the circumstances, that Colonel Eyre Crabbe, commanding the Grenadiers, should assume it to be the face of Gun Hill he had been ordered to attack and should lead his men upon it. The critical moment had now come, and every heart steeled itself in readiness for the expected burst of fire. The Scots were already within 350 yards of the buttress frowning before them. But not a shot was heard; no sign of life could be detected on the crest. Had the Boers after all evacuated the position in the night?

3.55 A.M. Outbreak of fire. Scots and Grenadiers carry Gun Hill.

Suddenly a shot rang out a d then "there ran along the crest of the kopje quick, vivid jets of fire like jewels flashing in a coronet . . . the rim of fire beads flashed along the crest and died away, and raced along the crest again as tiny gas-jets blow out and re-ignite in a heavy wind." It was aimed fire, for the advancing line was already visible in the pale morning, and a few moments later the flash of the rifles could no longer be seen against the daylight brightening over the skyline. Welcoming the battle after the oppressive suspense of the night march, the Guards swept forward at a steady double, wave after wave of widely extended men, to win their way to the foot of the kopje where the very steepness of the slope offered a scanty zone of comparative safety. The Scots, who were nearest reached their goal first, for a time encountering a severe enfilading fire from the south-eastern bastion, diverted a minute later by the rapid advance of the Grenadiers. Their casualties had not been few, but their extended order had saved the battalions from the destruction threatened by the storm of drumming bullets. A slight pause to recover breath and fix bayonets, and the two battalions, slightly overlapping in the centre, began the steep ascent. Climbing, sometimes on hands and knees, over and round the ironstone boulders heaped on the face of the steep incline, the Guards pushed their way upwards and onwards in face or a terrific magazine fire poured down upon them. The assault was unprepared by artillery, and the efforts of the companies in rear to keep up a rifle-fire on the crest were not sufficient to prevent the Boers leaning freely over their breastworks and picking off helmet after helmet as it rose to view on the slope beneath. But the resolution of the British soldier would not be denied. The whole affair was over within twenty-five minutes from the first shot. The Boers failed, recovered themselves for a moment, failed again, and ran, while the British line heaved itself on to the crest of the ridge, only to find the position deserted, and its front exposed to a long-range but converging fire from the farther edges of the plateau that extended before it and from Table Mountain on its left. The Kroonstad men had already picked up their mounts and were disappearing behind a spur of high ground to the right, leaving behind some thirty or forty dead and wounded dotted over the hill-top. The British loss had been heavy. Lieutenant Fryer, Adjutant of the Grenadier battalion, was killed while gallantly leading the assault; Major Dalrymple-Hamilton of the Scots seriously wounded. Two more casualties among the Grenadiers occurred at this point. Lieutenant Blundell was mortally wounded by a wounded Boer to whose assistance he was going, whether from deliberate treachery or in an unreasoning agony of pain and terror it is impossible to say. In similar fashion a Boer lying on the ground with a smashed knee shot Colonel Crabbe at close range through wrist and thigh, the command of the Grenadiers consequently devolving on Major D. A. Kinloch. The Scots meanwhile very nearly suffered loss at the hands of their own countrymen, for while Colonel Paget was reforming his men under The scanty cover of the boulders strewn about the crest, the right hand companies of the Northamptons, which had been extended to face to the south, suddenly poured two or three hot volleys into the Scots from the left, mistaking them for Boers. At 4.20, Colonel Hall, commanding the artillery, came up with the 18th Battery on the right rear of the Guards, and shelled the farther ridges where the Boers were now swarming hurriedly to take up their second position. With the battery were also the naval guns under Captain Prothero, which the indefatigable sailors had all night through, with infinite struggles in dongas and sandy places, been bringing up from Witteputs.

Ninth Brigade carry Table Mountain, but further advance checked.

Meanwhile on the left the 9th Brigade, which, like the Guards, did not reach its objective before dawn, recognised the signal for attack, and advanced on Table Mountain, the Northumberland Fusiliers on the left, the Northamptons on the right, and in the centre the Yorkshire Light Infantry and two companies of Munster Fusiliers, originally intended to be in the second line. The Northumberlands were at first checked by a heavy fire from some sangars on the south-western face of Table Mountain, but the Yorkshires and Northamptons, moving across the bay between Table Mountain and Gun Hill, and seizing a spur of high ground projecting from the latter, successfully enfiladed these sangars, thus enabling the whole line to advance and, after slight resistance, to seize the crest of the hill. This was barely ten minutes after the Guards had reached the summit of Gun Hill. But a considerable pause now ensued in the action. In spite of the support of the 75th Battery, which had been ordered to move forward on the left, the fire kept up by the Boers from the broken ground on the far side of the plateau proved too strong to enable General Fetherstonhaugh to carry out the original plan of sweeping across to the northern end of Mont Blanc. A ridge on the southeast of Table Mountain, from which the most annoying fire came, was carried by the companies on the right, but the fire from Mont Blanc, as well as from a small party of the Boers who still clung to the northern edge of Table Mountain, checked a further advance. About this time General Fetherstonhaugh was wounded in the shoulder and passed over the command to Colonel Money, commanding the 5th Fusiliers.

5.30-7.30 A.M. Coldstreamers clear south end of Mont Blanc. Boers abandon position.

It was evident that the design of giving the 9th Brigade the lion's share of the day's work was not altogether favoured by the lie of the ground. A still further extension to the right of the battle now occurred which effectually disposed of whatever still remained of the original scheme. When the position originally intended to be taken by the Coldstream battalions was attacked by the Grenadiers, Colonel Codrington, instead of going round to the left, moved the 1st Coldstream still further to the right, somewhat uncertain as to his objective. Coming under fire from the southern end of Mont Blanc at about 5.30, he brought up his left flank till he faced almost due south-east. Under cover of a heavy artillery fire at 1300 yards range the 1st Cold-stream advanced diagonally on the southern extremity of Mont Blanc, and took it in brilliant style and with but slight loss, supported by half the 2nd Coldstream on their left, and by the Grenadiers, who came down from Gun Hill into the plain and across the donga, where they met with a searching long-range fire from the heights beyond. These heights were then cleared up to the nek. The obvious step now was to clear the centre of the position, between Table Mountain and the northern half of Mont Blanc before storming this, the last stronghold of the Boer resistance. The Scots Guards were already moving across the Gun Hill plateau, and General Colvile reinforced them with the left half of the 2nd Coldstream, which he had kept back from taking part in Codrington's attack. At the same time Lord Methuen sent the Yorkshires and Munsters round to the right of Table Mountain. The Northumberlands now managed finally to drive the Boers off the northern edge of Table Mountain, to which they had held so tenaciously. One small party held out till the British were within fifty yards and then hoisted the white flag. The moment the British rose to accept the signal several of the Boers fired, seriously wounding Mr. F. F. Knight, the correspondent of the Morning Post. Meanwhile the mixed force of Scots, Coldstream and Yorkshires rapidly swept the Boers out of the centre of the position, and ended their day's work with the occupation of the Boer laager in rear of Mont Blanc. The Boers on the northern half of Mont Blanc, although now reinforced by some of the Trans-vaalers under be Ia Rey, who had come post-haste from Kimberley with 800 men, did not think it worth while to dispute the position any further, and after a few shells from the naval guns abandoned the heights. By 7.30 A.M. the day was won and the last of the retreating Boers were cantering away to Ramdam.

Weakness and exhaustion of cavalry prevents pursuit.

A cavalry brigade and a battery of Horse Artillery were wanted to make good the success, as Lord Methuen regretfully pointed out in his despatch. The artillery teams, fresh from the ships, were too done up for pursuit and an attempt to get the naval guns on to a low kopje on the right proved unavailing. The mounted troops had been busy all day and every day before, and were neither fresh nor numerous enough to press home the pursuit. On the left they had little to do except to demonstrate against Van der Merwe's men, and prevent any attempt at an outflanking movement against the rear of the 9th Brigade. By the time Van der Merwe's men fell back, and the cavalry threaded their way through the kopjes, the main Boer force was well out of reach. On the right the cavalry and Rimington's moved right round till they could watch the Boer laager, from which direction they were shelled soon after dawn. But any attempt to pursue the retreating Boers, or capture their convoy, was effectually frustrated by parties of De la Rey's men who were detached to cover the retreat, and successfully ambushed the Lancers and Mounted Infantry at a point some four miles east of Mont Blanc. The British extricated them-selves as well as they could, Major Milton showing conspicuous gallantry, but there was no more question of pursuit.

Discussion of battle.

Such was the battle of Belm~nt. Originally planned with some tactical skill, it became, through no special fault of anyone concerned, a soldiers' battle, the battalions going straight ahead at whatever height fronted them, and marching up hill and down dale till the last Boer had been driven from the furthermost kopjes. A soldiers' battle in the best sense of the word, it exemplified the lasting value, even under the most novel conditions, of discipline and moral. As Sir H. F. Colvile expresses it, "the men did for themselves what no general would have dared ask of them." In view of this the losses were not heavy. Four officers and 71 men killed or died of wounds, 21 officers and 199 men wounded, was the total. Three officers and 33 men killed, and six officers and 95 men wounded, indicates the share of the Grenadiers in what was essentially a Guards' action. The Boers, according to their official account lost 12 killed and 40 wounded, but as the British burying-parties found over 30 dead, their total casualties probably amounted to 100. Besides those the British took some 40 prisoners, a few wagons, some ammunition, and a number of cattle. The moral effect produced on the Boers by the irresistible onset of the British was considerable. Prinsloo, who showed considerable lack of courage in action, described it to his Government as a "terrible fight to our disadvantage." But the mass of the Boers took their defeat more phlegmatically, consoling themselves with the thought of the enormous casualties they imagined they had inflicted, and made ready to repeat the operation at Rooilaagte, the next toll-gate on the road to Kimberley.

Nov.24. Methuen decides to attack Boers at Rooilaagte. Bivouac at Swinkpan.

During the afternoon and most of the next day the troops rested at Thomas's Farm. In the morning the armoured train moved up the line towards Graspan with the mounted patrols, but was shelled from the kopjes north of the siding, where it reported the presence of 400 Boers with two guns. Lord Methuen at once determined to attack these and, if possible, capture them. Where he supposed the rest of the Boer force to have gone to is not quite clear, but he evidently considered he had only a small force to deal with, which one brigade and his mounted troops could easily envelope. For this purpose he decided to use the 9th Brigade, under Colonel Money, which had been less severely tried on the 23rd, keeping the Guards in reserve to march with the baggage to Enslin siding, where, after defeating the Boers, he hoped to make his next bivouac. To give his troops a shorter march up to the Boer position, he marched that same afternoon to Swinkpan, leaving the Scots Guards and the two companies of Munster Fusiliers to guard Belmont Station in case of an attack from a Boer force of 500 men believed to be hovering about a few miles to the east. Skirting round the scene of the previous day's battle the column marched north-eastwards for five or six miles till it reached the pan, a small "vlei" set in an oval ring of steep kopjes, one of those peculiar volcanic formations occurring in this part of Africa, of which the most famous are the clay-filled crater pipes that hold the diamonds of Kimberley. The pan had just been evacuated by the Boer outposts, and field-glasses, ammunition and preparations for supper were found lying about. At 3.30 on the morning of the 25th the attacking column moved out the Guards, rejoined later by the Scots, and transport following some three hours later. The mounted troops were sent well out on the wings, the bulk of the 9th Lancers and mounted infantry, with Rimington's, to the east, on which side Methuen hoped to cut off the Boer retreat The field batteries went on ahead, while the naval guns on trucks followed the armoured train up the line. The infantry was headed by the Naval Brigade, to whom Lord Methuen had decided to assign the post of honour in the forthcoming attack.

Boer position at Rooilaagte.

The position upon which the British were marching was a natural fortress of some strength. Its front, a range of low hills over two miles in length, sinking in the middle to mere reefs of piled-up boulders, and rising at its eastern end into a steep conical kopje fully 200 feet high, faced due south over the open plain. At each end the line of kopjes was drawn back sharply at a right angle, the eastern containing wall of the position stretching down towards Rooilaagte Farm, the western crossing the railway and gradually sinking away into the plain. North of Rooilaagte and east of Enslin siding was a smaller group of steep kopjes covering the left rear of the position. The chief feature of the position for defensive purposes was the ease and rapidity with which any portion of the rectangular rim of kopjes could be reinforced from any other along completely sheltered interior lines. Its weakest point was its western side along the railway. Here the Boers-not 400 men, but the bulk of the combined forces of Prinsloo and De la Rey, fully 2000 men, with five guns (including "pom-poms )-placed two guns and a considerable part of their force astride of the railway. The rest were distributed by De la Rey, who had practically taken over the command, along the rim of kopjes, the prominent eastern buttress being held by the Jacobsdal burghers under Commandant Lubbe. The Fauresmith burghers were left to guard the laager at Ramdam, but a detachment of them under Field-Cornet Venter moved out and hung on the right flank of the British all the morning.

Nov.25. Battle of Enslin, Graspan or Rooilaagte. Preliminary movements.

At an early hour the cavalry on the right had been shelled as they tried to work round the eastern flank of the position. To give a wider berth to the shells they crossed to the east of the barbed wire fence which marked the Free-State boundary. Here the Lancers suddenly came under a hot fire from some of Venter's men who had watched them from the top of an apparently isolated and untenanted ridge. Somewhat later, towards 7.30 A.M., Methuen, on receiving a report from Major Rimington that the Boers menacing the right flank were 500 strong, heliographed across to Colvile, whose brigade was now coming up in rear, to move across to the south-east to check any attempt from that flank. This Colvile did with the Grenadiers and 2nd Coldstream, and the Boers fell back without waiting for a shot to be fired. Meanwhile on the left Lieutenant Dean, R.N., had detrained two of the naval guns just before six o'clock, and had begun shelling the Boer position on the railway at 5000 yards range. A little later the 75th Field Battery came up on the right of the naval guns, which now advanced to 4000 and ultimately to within 2800 yards of the enemy's guns, which replied manfully to the intense fire directed upon them. The 18th Battery was at the same time engaged in pouring shrapnel over the eastern flank of the Boer position at a range of about 2500 yards. While the artillery duel was thus going on, on both flanks the infantry steadily moved forward in widely deployed lines. A description of this advance as seen by the cavalry on the wing gives a striking picture of the opening phase of an attack across open country and under modern conditions:

 

"A wide plain in front of me, four miles across, fiat as the sea, and all along the farther side a line of kopjes and hills rising like reefs and detached islands out of it. You might think the plain was empty at first glance, but if you look hard you will see it crawling with little khaki-clad figures dotted all over it; not packed anywhere, but sprinkled all over the surface. Meantime, from three or four spots along the sides of those hills, locks and puffs of white smoke float out, followed at long intervals by deep, sonorous reports; and if you look to the left, where our naval guns are at work, you will see the Boer shells bursting close to or even over them. The artillery duet goes on between the two, while still the infantry, unmolested as yet, crawls and crawls towards those hills."

Methuen decides to concentrate attack on Boer left.

It was not till the Naval Brigade, now extended in a single long line at four paces interval, was within 3500 yards of the centre of the Boer position, that Methuen showed his hand. While the 5th Fusiliers and Northamptons were allowed to continue advancing slowly against the front of the position, the Naval Brigade, supported by the Yorkshire Light Infantry and two companies of North Lancashires, was ordered to move diagonally to the right upon the commanding kopje which marked the eastern corner of the rectangle, and which he had selected as the key of the position and the object of his principal attack. The 18th Battery, which had been shelling the kopje for the last two hours, now redoubled its fire, while towards eight o'clock, when the infantry were closing in for the assault, Methuen ordered the 75th to come round and reinforce the hail of shrapnel now being concentrated on the crest. He at the same time ordered the two naval guns to withdraw to a safer range. But Dean, with the true fighting spirit of the sailor, thought it safer to remain and continue the duel than to attempt to remove his guns under the accurate and effective shrapnel fire that the Boer guns at once began to pour upon them. So brisk a fire did he maintain that though his guns were absolutely exposed on the plain, while those of the enemy were skilfully concealed among the kopjes, he successfully held his own till the end of the engagement.

8.30-9.30 A.M. Naval Brigade's attack.

Methuen's plan for concentrating his attack upon the Boer left showed considerable skill and mobile as was the enemy that now looked down from the crests of the hills S upon his slow manoeuvring infantry, it achieved some measure of success. Long before the infantry were ready for the attack large parties of Boers had, it is true, galloped round unseen to take up points of vantage along the boulder-strewn lower ridges nearer the centre of the position, whence they could enfilade the attack without themselves attracting the fire of the guns; but very few of them actually reinforced Lubbe at the menaced salient. The British first line was now barely 600 yards from the kopje, and as the Boers poured a searching fire into it, wheeled up its right and prepared for the attack. On the right was a company of bluejackets, 55 strong, on the left were 190 marines, and to the left of these a company of North Lancashires - 330 men in alt covering, the Naval Brigade at four and the Laucashires at eight paces interval, a front of nearly a mile. In support, but still working on round to the right, was the main body of the Yorkshires. And now the attack began - an attack that will live to all time as one of the most splendid instances of disciplined courage. Captain Prothero and his officers led the way and the men followed, rushing forward 50 or 60 yards, lying down to fire, and then rushing forward again. Behind the gunners furiously plied the heights with shrapnel; on the right the Yorkshires poured volley after volley on to the crest while away on the left the rest of the brigade advanced against the low ridges which enfiladed the attack. But nothing availed to keep down the fierce hurricane of fire that swept the open plain which the firing-line had to cross - a continuous stream of plunging short-range fire from in front, and a far more deadly cross-fire from the left. One after another the officers fell. Captain Prothero was among the first to fall down wounded. Commander Ethelston, Major Plumbe, Captain Senior were killed. Midshipman Huddart was twice wounded, but continued leading till struck by a third fatal bullet. Nearly all the petty officers and non-commissioned officers were killed or wounded. Nearly half the line were down before they reached the foot of the kopje. Here in the dead ground the survivors flung themselves down to recover breath, moisten their parched and choking throats with the muddy contents of their water-bottles, and fix bayonets for the last charge. A moment later the North Lancashires, to whom the Boers had paid less attention, and the Yorkshires, whose companies admirably covered each other's advance with rifle-fire as they crossed the fire-swept zone in loosest of open order, joined on the left and right of the line, and together tile representatives of the two services hauled themselves up the steep face in the teeth of a still heavy fire. It was not till the British were within 25 yards of the top that the Boers, first in ones and twos and then in a final rush, abandoned the sangars to which they had so tenaciously clung and fled across the broken ground in rear. Led by Captain Marchant, Lieutenant W. T. C. Jones - who had dragged himself thus far in spite of a severe wound in the hip - and Lieutenant Saunders of the Marines, and by the officers of the other leading companies, the British topped the crest, only to take cover at once on being welcomed by a fire from various spurs, ridges, and cross-walls, from behind which the Boers were covering their retreat. But the rest of the infantry on the left were now over the kopjes too, and by 9.30 or 10 A.M. the whole position was cleared. The Boer wagons were already well on their way, some to Ramdam, some to Jacobsdal and Modder River, and the burghers now leaped on their ponies and galloped off to rejoin them.

Causes of the heavy losses of Naval Brigade.

The losses of the Naval Brigade had been terribly severe. The marines lost two officers and nine men killed, and one officer and 72 men wounded, or a loss of 44 per cent. Routed or ambushed troops have suffered heavier losses, but rarely in military history have soldiers unwaveringly fought their way through such a fiery ordeal and then successfully led the assault on an almost precipitous position. It has often been said that the marines marched to the attack in close order, upright, and indifferent to taking cover, and that this was the chief cause of their heavy casualties. But this was hardly the case. Undoubtedly the original extension to four paces was less than would now be adopted over open ground, and it would seem, too, that the men, each taking his direction by the summit of the kopje rather than by his neighbour, tended to converge as they advanced. The hardihood of the officers in wearing their swords and polished "Sam Browne" belts may also have contributed to their very heavy proportion of loss. But the real cause of the losses was the intense and accurate front and crossfire converging upon the coverless stretch of open that had to be crossed to get to the foot of the position. How deadly that fire was is shown by the fact that many of the wounded lying dotted over the ground were hit again and again. The Yorkshires, a battalion that had learned every artifice of hill-fighting in the Tirah, were, no doubt, largely protected by their open order. But they did not bear the brunt of the attack, and were too far round to the right to receive the enfilading fire. The fact is that the losses at Enslin were due, not to any mistake, but simply to the unflinching and self-sacrificing heroism of the troops that led the assault, a heroism that probably saved the heavier casualties of a protracted attack.

Cavalry again unable to make good the pursuit.

The cavalry, weak in numbers, and with worn-out horses, could do little to turn the retreat to greater advantage. Though beaten, the Boers were by no means routed, and covered their retreat with skill and courage. On the left, indeed, the 9th Lancers, who were approaching Honeynest Kloof; were exposed to considerable danger. A large body of Boers, who were retreating to the east of them, suddenly turned inwards and made a spirited, and at that stage of the war most unusual, attempt to ride down the Lancers in the open, an attempt only frustrated by the coolness and gallantry of the mounted infantry and New South Wales Lancers, who occupied a fold in the ground on the line of retreat, and poured a heavy fire into the advancing Boers. The attempted pursuit on the east was not more successful. The cavalry were well round upon the main line of the Boa retreat but they were not strong enough to do anything effective. A donga in which a covering party of Boers had skilfully concealed themselves, and the sustained fire of a gun from the ridges north of Rooilaagte farm, held them back, while a bold charge on their right by a handful of Venter's men still further disconcerted them. Failing a cavalry pursuit, the only means of harassing the Boer retreat lay in the use of the guns, and a long-range fire was directed against the flying horsemen until they turned a protecting spur of the northern heights. Once again Methuen had cause to regret the absence of a cavalry brigade. Whether the mounted troops present could have done more is doubtful, but Lord Methuen was not satisfied with the leading of Colonel Gough, commanding the 9th Lancers, and that officer was succeeded in the command by Major Little.

Casualties.

The total British casualties at Enslin were 3 officers and 14 men killed, and 6 officers and 162 men wounded, the Naval Brigade suffering most, and the Yorkshire Light Infantry and North Lancashires next. Of the Boer casualties it is only certain that 21 were buried by the British force, and that at least 40 were seriously wounded and abandoned in the hospital at Rooilaagte.

Dejection among Boers at Jacobsdal.

After securing a few prisoners and abandoned wagons the column moved on to Enslin siding, where a day's halt was made to replenish ammunition, the troops suffering much discomfort owing to the insufficiency of the water supply. Meanwhile the Boer leaders met together at Jacobsdal to deliberate on their next move. In a sense, both at Belmont and Enslin, the Boers had succeeded in carrying out their intended strategy of delaying and reducing the strength of the advancing column. But the ease with which the British had dislodged them from their positions, and the unexpected heaviness of their own casualties, had exercised a profound moral effect. The feeling in the laagers was one of dejection, especially among the Free Staters, to whom the weakness and irresolution of their leader, Prinsloo, had not been slow in communicating itself.

Description of General J. H. De la Rey.

Only one man rose superior to the general faint-heartedness, saw the cause of the Boer defeats in their true light, and at the same time, with a true general's insight, knew where to seek the remedy. General de la Rey's name has already been mentioned more than once, and will recur so frequently in the course of this history that it may be as well to give some description of the man who, next to Louis Botha, deserves to rank highest among the Boer leaders. Jacob, or "Koos" de la Rey, member of the First Volksraad for Lichtenburg, was already well over fifty years of age when the war broke out. Dark, with shaggy eyebrows, great aquiline nose-mark of old aristocratic Huguenot or Spanish blood-deeply lined face, and a vast bushy beard fast turning grey, he would have made a striking model for some warrior prophet of the Old Testament. Like Botha, de la Rey had been a progressive in politics, and had disapproved of Kruger's policy. But once war was declared there was no one more eager for prompt action, and no one, at a later date, set his face more sternly against the suggestion of surrender. Impulsive and passionate, he was often in the first months of the war to chafe against the stolid opposition of Cronje, whose popular reputation and political influence had won him the supreme control of the Transvaal forces in the west, and it was not till the Boer forces had been irretrievably weakened and the opportunities for successful strategy on a large scale lost, that he was to hold a really independent command. The terror of weak-kneed and timid burghers, an unyielding but chivalrous enemy, de la Rey was a born fighting soldier, Botha's strong sword-hand during the long closing struggle of the war. To compare small with great, he was the Stonewall Jackson, as Botha was the Lee of the Boer armies.

Realising value of horizontal fire, De la Rey urges Boers to hold Modder River.

De la Rey had seen enough of both Belmont and Enslin to divine that it was not so much lack of courage as lack of judgment in the choice of positions which had hitherto led to defeat. Under the new conditions of war these steep kopjes, on which the Boers had hitherto placed their reliance, so far from being impregnable, actually invited defeat. Their crests formed an admirable artillery target. The steep slopes them-selves offered cover to an attacking force that once reached their base. A position on the level would give better concealment and a far more effective field of fire for the flat trajectory of modern rifles. Such a position, directly across the line of Methuen's march, De la Rey had already mentally selected in the deep trough formed by the Riet in its course across the level, featureless plain on both sides of Modder River Bridge, so called from the river which flows into the Riet just above it. On his urgent representations, and in view of the hourly expected arrival of Cronje's main force, the Free Staters consented to make another stand at the bridge. But there were many malingerers, and even the 1000 men or so who went had but a poor stomach for fighting, as the forthcoming battle was to show. All day long on Sunday, the 26th, the Boer commandos concentrated at Modder River Station, small reinforcements from Kimberley joining them there. Sunday afternoon and Monday they spent in entrenching, building gun emplacements, and marking off the ranges along the expected line of the British advance with biscuit tins and whitened stones. On Monday evening they were joined by Cronje, who had reached Edenburg by train on the 25th and had pushed on rapidly with about 1200 men of the Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom commandos, under his brother, Andries Cronje, and with two Krupps and three "pom-poms" under Adjutant Van de Venter. The total force on the 28th amounted to, perhaps, 3500 men, with six Krupps and three or four "pom-poms," roughly half the strength of Methuen's column.

The bed of the Riet. Peculiar course of Riet and Modder above their junction.

It is essential to bear in mind that De la Rey's plan was not to dispute the passage of the river in the ordinary sense, by holding commanding points from which a heavy fire could be brought to bear on troops attempting to cross, but to utilise the bed of the river itself as a defensive position. For this purpose the Riet at Modder River Bridge was admirably suited. Like most South African rivers, especially those that traverse the soft soil of the Free State, the Riet flowed some thirty feet below the level of the surrounding plain in a deep cutting or trough-an exaggerated donga or a dwarf canyon. On either side a sloping space, varying from twenty to two hundred yards and more in width, rose from the water's edge till it was met by the sharply-cut line of severance from the veld in miniature cliffs six to ten feet high. These lower banks were covered thickly with willows and mimosas, whose tops, even at a small distance, were only visible as a line of bushes emerging from the flatness of the prairie. Of the river itself, no sight was to be gained until one was immediately upon it and could actually look over the edge of the veld behind which it ran concealed. Below the bridge for some two miles westwards, down to the dam at Rosmead village, the Riet was at that season a river comparable in width and depth to the upper Thames. Above the bridge for a quarter of a mile, up to its confluence with the Modder, it spread out, broad and shallow, over a wide bed of rock, forming a typical South African "drift." On the tongue of land between the two rivers stood the "Island Hotel," in a pleasure garden shaded with lofty trees, an oasis of verdure in the arid veld, and a favourite picnicking resort for the inhabitants of Kimberley. For two miles above the junction the line of the Riet lay roughly east and west, then bent sharply to the south for two miles more to Bosman's Drift, the first easily fordable spot, and then south-east towards Jacobsdal. The Modder, the smaller and shallower river of the two, turned off sharply to the north, then east, then south, till-but for another sudden turn to the east - it nearly joined the Riet again, to form an almost completely river-girt quadrilateral, known to the Boers as the "Twee Rivier." The peculiar course of the two rivers above their junction was destined to have an important bearing on the forthcoming battle. On both sides of the two rivers a bare sandy plain, covered thinly with veld brush a few inches in height, sloped almost imperceptibly up from the edge of their troughs, the southern bank of the Riet to the east of the railway being habitually used, for its flatness, as a racecourse.

The underground fortress in the river bed.

The whole position was one enormous natural shelter trench-a ready-made underground fortress. The southern lip of the trough provided almost perfect cover for the firing-line, while it would be difficult to imagine a better field of fire than the plain in front. Ml that the Boers had to do was individually to bank up or excavate the edges here and there to provide a more comfortable firing position, and to trim the bushes just sufficiently to get a clear view of the field and yet remain concealed. A few made shooting-perches in the tree-tops, from which they secured an even better view of the plain. The lower banks behind the firing-line offered plenty of room for their ponies and for safe intercommunication, while the prospect, unlikely, but not impossible, of a hurried retreat across the river was made less unpleasant by the thought that the British artillery were not likely to concentrate an effective fire on drifts they could not see. The guns, however, could not well be posted south of the river, and separate emplacements were constructed for these under Albrecht's supervision, those for the field artillery being at some distance back from the river, while the "pom-poms" were brought quite close to the north bank, and gaps felled through the screen of trees to give them a full view of the glacis to the south. The actual detailed dispositions made by De la Rey, with which Cronje did not attempt to interfere, were as follows. To Prinsloo and the Free Staters was assigned the right wing from the bridge westward to the dam at Rosmead, where some broken ground and a farmhouse and kraal on the south bank formed a convenient termination for the flank. The centre, on both sides of the railway, was held by De la Rey himself, with his Lichtenburgers and some picked men of the Potchefstroom commando. Here trenches were pushed forward in front of some buildings near the drift. Further east the newly-arrived Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom commandos, under Andries Cronje, held the southern, and to some extent the northern, banks of the Riet up to the point where its sudden bend to the south completely covered that flank. Albrecht's guns were on the sandy plain west of the line. Van de Venter's two Krupps were at first in the "Twee Rivier," near the Island Hotel, with the "pom-poms" east of them commanding the expected advance of the British column. The chief weakness of the position was that both its flanks were entirely in the air and could easily be turned. But the Boers had little anxiety on that score. Nothing, indeed, could be more surprising than the serene confidence with which the Boers expected Methuen to march straight along the line upon the bridge-unless it be Methuen's almost unerring gravitation into the trap prepared for him.

Nov.27. Cavalry report Boer concentration. Methuen decides to march by Jacobsdal.

Early on the 27th the British column left Enslin and after a 14-mile march camped at Klokfontein and Witkoplaagte, barely six miles from the river. The cavalry, ex-tended over a front of seven or eight miles, patrolled ahead to within two or three miles of Modder River. Here they were fired at and two of Rimington's men were wounded. But they had gained as much information as cavalry can be expected to gain in open country. They reported that the Boers were concentrating on Modder River Bridge from every direction, but principally from Jacobsdal, where an uninterrupted stream of horsemen and wheeled Conveyances could be seen moving westwards along the Riet. Later in the day Lord Methuen himself, with two of his staff, went out reconnoitring from Witkoplaagte further to the east and saw nothing but the low lines of dark green foliage masking the course of the rivers, the open rolling plain, and the blue hills of Magersfontein and Spytfontein beyond-the hills where he hoped to fight his last engagement on the road to Kimberley. Messages sent out from Kimberley indicated that it was at Spytfontein that the Boers intended to make their next stand, and this view was confirmed by other information which reached his field intelligence. So strong was this impression in Lord Methuen's mind that he preferred to interpret the reports of his cavalry as merely showing that a number of Boers were trekking to Spytfontein by way of the drift at Modder River. On this assumption he made his plan for the next march. This was to leave the Northamptons, Naval Brigade, Engineers, and three guns entrenched at railhead, and then take his force with five days' rations via Jacobsdal and across the Modder to Abon's Dam, in the open country east of Spytfontein, a total distance of about 30 miles. From Abon's Dam he would take the Boer position in flank, and the successful conclusion of his attack would leave him practically in touch with Kimberley.

Nov.28. Methuen changes his mind. His lack of information.

But before daylight on the 28th a native brought the information that the bridge was strongly held, thus confirming the report of the cavalry. The prospect of marching to Jacobsdal leaving a watchful enemy on his flank to attack his communications alarmed Lord Methuen, and he decided before proceeding any further to establish himself at Modder River, and gave orders for the force to march there at once. The soundness of the decision is open to doubt. If the Boers really were in force at the bridge, it was obvious that they expected him to march there and intended to dispute his passage. If so the march to Jacobsdal would surprise them, and by cutting them off from their base would create a state of alarm in which they were not likely to undertake active operations against his communications. If they were not in force the troops left at railhead could be trusted to look after themselves. These are general grounds, but there was a still stronger reason of which Methuen was entirely unaware. By a prompt flank march Methuen could, if he had only known it, have fallen upon the rest of Cronje's force with its long convoy slowly trekking up from Fauresmith. Nothing can be more typical of the ignorance under which Methuen laboured than the unperceived and unmolested passage of Cronje's army across his flank and front, separated by less than ten miles of open country. Possibly the cavalry ought to have discovered more on this flank. But ordinary cavalry are only of limited use in securing information. A few highly-trained scouts-men capable of moving singly for several days at a time-might, at this moment, have made all the difference to Methuen's operations. But such men are not improvised in a moment, and the parcimony or lack of imagination of the War Office was now paid for by the loss of precious opportunities. And not in the matter of scouts only, for Methuen was hardly less ignorant of the conformation of the country through which he was moving than of the movements of his enemy. The only detailed map of Modder River which the intelligence at Cape Town had supplied him with was a hasty sketch once made by an intelligence officer to accompany a scheme for defending the bridge with one company of infantry. Accurate and extensive enough for its purpose - it did not even reach to the first bends of the two rivers - it only served to mislead Methuen's staff, who drew from it inferences which were soon to be disproved by the facts. But badly though Methuen was treated in the matter of information it still remains a matter for surprise that he did not attempt to do more on the 27th to discover the exact course of the river, and to explore the country between Modder River and Jacobsdal.

4-7 A.M. March to Modder River.

It was soon after four when the infantry were turned out and ordered to march straight to Modder River Bridge. The position was to be carried by an enveloping attack by both brigades. The 9th Brigade, now commanded by Major-General Pole-Carew, and reinforced on the previous evening by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, moved off about 4.45 on the left, the Guards, on the right, starting half-an-hour later. The cavalry had already gone ahead, and their advanced patrols had drawn a heavy fire from the Boers near the bridge at 1500 yards range. Once more they reported the river strongly held. Whether the message reached Lord Methuen in time, or whether he disregarded it on the strength of his own observation, is not quite clear. The sun was already well up when the long lines of the infantry breasted the last fold of veld south of the river and altered direction slightly to the left as Soon as the exact position of the bridge was made out. Nothing could have been more peaceful than the view across the wide flat plain scored with long lines of dark bushes, broken here and there by a few groups of taller poplars, the white walls of a farm building, or a kraal nestling in the cool green foliage that the column had not seen since leaving Witteputs. Half a mile north of the bridge, of which the broken spans could clearly be seen, a line of eucalyptus trees marked the station and one or two houses that lay near. Of the three thousand grim, stubborn riflemen hidden in that nearest band of green not a trace revealed itself. So close indeed were the Boers now lying that even from the centre of their own position not a man was visible except the few attached to the guns.

7 A.M. Cronje moves two guns east. British guns open fire.

A little later, about 7 A.M., the first signs of the enemy were discovered on the right. Cronje, breakfasting with his staff at the Island Hotel, had watched the British advance. Fearing, from the original direction of the column, that the British intended crossing the Riet at Bosman's Drift and thus outflanking his left, he hurriedly withdrew a Krupp and a "porn-porn" from the Island Hotel to the east. Just as Cronje and the gunners were crossing a large donga which runs north-east from the bend of the Riet they were marked down by the 18th Battery, which at once galloped forward towards Bosman's Drift and at 4000 yards range burst several shells right over the little party. Cronje quickly brought his guns into action on the open veld south of the Jacobsdal road. He was assisted by a small body of men who had been holding a white farmhouse further east, and now advanced and set up a sputtering long-range fire which only seemed to emphasise the stillness of the rest of the landscape. Both the British batteries and the bulk of the cavalry were now concentrated on the right flank. The fire of the former soon proved so effective that Cronje withdrew his guns about 1000 yards to some rising ground behind the white house.

Methuen's astonishing conclusions as to Boer force and course of rivers.

This preliminary skirmish had a most important effect on what followed. Rejecting all other evidence for that furnished by his own eyes, Methuen at once jumped to the conclusion that the handful of men with Cronje composed the whole of the Boer force which had been reported to him as holding the river in great strength, and assumed that these were now retiring on Jacobsdal after fulfilling their object of covering the general Boer retreat on Spytfontein. Another assumption, hardly intelligible except to those who have actually seen the ground, was equally momentous in its consequences. So far from wishing to outflank the Boers by crossmg the Riet at Bosman's Drift, as Cronje imagined, Methuen, though almost on its banks, was, as it seems, quite unconscious of being near any river whatever, and imagined that the course of the Modder above the great "Twee Rivier" loop, where its south bank was lined with a row of tall poplars, was the continuation of the Riet directly in front of him. In other words he thought that the Riet ran due east and west for five or six miles above the bridge, and that a small Boer force was retiring before him across the plain on the south bank of this imaginary composite river. In this belief he made his dispositions. The Guards were to advance to the attack in widely extended order, and drive away, or, if possible, envelope the retiring Boer force. For this purpose the Scots on the right of the brigade were to swing their right well out, while the cavalry were to operate beyond them on the flank. The Grenadiers and 2nd Coldstream prolonged the line to the left, eventually extending up to and even across the railway, while the 1st Coldstream were held in reserve. The centre of the brigade was to direct its advance on the line of poplars supposed to be on the Riet River. On the left of the Guards the 9th Brigade were similarly extended. The 5th Fusiliers, Yorkshires, and North Lancashires were in the firing-line, the Highlanders in reserve, and the Northamptons in rear guarding the transport, while Rimington's Guides patrolled the left flank. The whole line was intended to cover a front of five or six miles, to cross the river, which Methuen believed to be fordable at most points, wherever it struck it, and when all was clear to collect at Modder River Station for breakfast. The 9th Brigade was extended purely as a precaution - a fortunate precaution indeed - in case of snipers, but resistance, if any, was only expected on the right. The cavalry indeed knew, but they had sent in their report and could only assume that Methuen was acting with full knowledge. How little Methuen knew is shown by his action at this moment (8 A.M.). Turning to his aides-de-camp, he pointed out one of the distant white houses round the station as the one he selected for his own headquarters. Two of them at once cantered ahead to make arrangements, and were in the act of passing through the Guards, now, on their right, within 1200 yards of the river, when suddenly the whole line was met by a terrific continuous volley from four miles of apparently untenanted river bed.

8.10 A.M. The surprise. Colvile's description.

Sir H. F. Colvile has well described the completeness of the surprise:

 

"At eight o'clock I found Lord Methuen and his Staff looking at a clump of trees some 1500 yards to our front, which he said was on the Modder Riven It had been reported that this was held by the enemy, but he thought they had gone. He, however, ordered me to extend for the attack. . . . After all our tough work on the kopjes . . . it seemed as if we should make short work of the enemy over this nice level ground . . . I think that every man felt that if the Boers perched on the top of kopjes were no match for him, they simply had not a chance on the flat. . . 'They'll never stand against us here,' was said more than once in my hearing. . . . As we watched Arthur Paget and his Scots Guards moving ahead to the right, Lord Methuen said to me, 'They are not here.' 'They are sitting uncommonly tight if they are, sir,' I answered; and, as if they had heard him, the Boers answered too with a roar of musketry."

 

The whole British force had walked straight into the ambush so skilfully laid for it. Had but the Boers possessed the nerve to hold their fire a few minutes longer, the result would have been sheer massacre. Even as it was, in spite of the distance and the extended order, the casualties of those first few minutes were heavy enough. For a mile or more from the river the air was full of bullets flying horizontally "in solid streaks like telegraph wires." The men could do nothing but throw themselves down on their faces behind scattered ant-hills or the low leafless scrub, just high enough to conceal a man from an enemy whose eye was almost on the level of the veld, and attempt to reply to the deadly, invisible fire proceeding from the dark green belt before them. The left of the 9th Brigade was somewhat protected from the first burst of fire by a slight fold of ground. But the battalions in the centre, Northumberlands, 2nd Cold-stream and Grenadiers, who attempted to move forward across the unbroken level of the racecourse, were severely punished. Colonel Stopford, of the 2nd Coldstream, was killed by one of the first shells fired as he tried to lead his men forward. On the right a single well-directed string of shells from one of the "pom-poms" annihilated the entire crew of the Scots Guards' Maxim, which was left alone all day, the one object visible above the plain to the crawling men.

8.30-12 M. Guards checked by Riet. Codrington's attempt to cross. After ineffectual frontal attack Guards become containing line.

And now a new surprise awaited the force. No sooner had the Scots Guards begun to move out to the right to outflank the Boer line, than they found themselves brought up against the Riet, running between steep, thickly-wooded banks - wide, muddy, and, as all attempts seemed to show, unfordable. The banks here were not held by the enemy, though they were searched from the northern cliffs of the bend and from scattered sharpshooters on the open ground to the east, and under cover of the trees most of the Scots managed to creep forward and reform behind a disused reservoir close to the river. The best chance of success on the right, had anyone known the ground, now lay in withdrawing the greater part of the Guards and using them to cross at Bosman's Drift, a mile higher up, thus outflanking the Boer position on the "Twee Rivier" and eventually the bridge itself. But though a plainly-marked track indicated the presence of a drift, and though the mounted troops had been skirmishing quite close to the drift for some time, its existence was not realised either by Methuen or by Colvile. Unwilling to fall back himself, Colvile sent to Colonel Codrington, commanding the 1st Coldstream, in reserve, to try to find a ford higher up stream. Codrington went a little way up stream, and very pluckily made his way across the river with a handful of men, partly by wading chin deep along a ledge of rocky bottom and partly by swimming. But several of the men were nearly drowned, and it was evident that there was no question of getting troops across at this point. Hearing this, Colvile ordered the attempt to be given up, and made no further effort to discover a means of getting across or of extricating himself from his cramped position. On the contrary, a determined attempt was now made to advance directly on the Boer trenches. Along the front the 2nd Coldstream and Grenadiers advanced by short rushes to within about 1000 yards of the Boer trenches. On the right Captain Lowther, of the Scots, had gathered a hundred men together and advanced along the river in the hope of enfilading the Boer trenches. And now General Colvile and Colonel Paget, with a further reinforcement of the Scots and the greater part of the 1st Coldstream, supported this movement and pushed up towards the bend. But the force soon found itself exposed to a fire from its right flank as well as from its front, and when the Boer guns on the right discovered it and began to shell it freely, the attempt was abandoned. The fight now became perfectly stationary on the right, and the Guards, from this time forward, acted purely as a containing force. It was impossible to advance, but the men, unwilling to retreat, tenaciously held their ground for the rest of the day. Prostrate on the burning sand, with a fierce, blinding sun beating down upon their backs, lying upon their rifles to keep them cool enough to handle when required, hungry and thirsty, the men that day went through an ordeal that tried their stubborn quality to the utmost. Many, overcome by heat and exhaustion, fell asleep. There was no human interest; not a glimpse of a Boer or even a puff of smoke. Only a dark-green line of bushes, and the certainty that to raise one's head or one's arm was to provoke an instant volley of bullets. It was with the greatest difficulty and danger that ammunition and stretcher-bearers could crawl up to the firing4ine. Now and again the action died away, partly because the Boers were unable to get the range.

Movements of cavalry.

The cavalry, who were to have swept round the right flank of the Guards, were equally held up by the Riet. They were not strong enough to force a passage at Bosman's Drift unaided, even if they had thought of it. As it was they contented themselves with acting as a flank-guard. They were freely shelled by Cronje's guns, and sniped at by Boer skirmishers across the river, whose numbers grew steadily during the day as fresh detachments of Cronje's force arrived from Jacobsdal. At one time during the morning the Boer guns brought a most effective fire to bear on a white house and kraal, a mile above Bosman's Drift, in which a company of mounted infantry had ensconced itself, at the same time sweeping the line of retreat. Seeing that the little garrison would soon be annihilated, Major Little promptly created a diversion by advancing two squadrons of dismounted Lancers towards the river bank, and drawing the Boer fire till the mounted infantry had effected their retreat.

12 M. Ninth Brigade clears Boers from south bank on left.

Meanwhile in the centre and on the left things were going no better. The 9th Brigade soon reached a point, varying from 600-1000 yards from the trenches, which seemed for hours to mark the limit beyond which it was impossible to advance. An especially galling fire was kept up on them from the entrenched house and kraal which stood on the ridge a few hundred yards south-east of Rosmead dam, and from the broken ground to the west of it. The North Lancashires and Yorkshire Light Infantry were most exposed to it, and Majors Earle and Ottley of the latter battalion were both wounded. Pole-Carew soon saw that the farm was the key of the situation, and in order to take it in flank sent a party of Argylls to charge down a little gully leading to the bush-clad bank east of it, where there was a gap in the Boer lines. About 11 A.M. Lord Methuen came across to see if the 9th Brigade might still retrieve the failure of the attack on the right. Pole-Carew was just sending down another party of Highlanders to the river. Methuen at once joined these and charged right at their head down the open bank. Fortunately he escaped unscathed. But a little later Colonel Northcote, of his staff, was mortally wounded while conveying orders for more men to come up to support the left. Eventually, about noon, two companies of Yorkshires, gallantly led by Lieutenant Fox, rushed the farmhouse, while almost at the same moment the North Lancashires, by a spirited advance, cleared the Boers out of die broken ground to the left. The Free Staters on this section of the south bank now fell back across the river, or made their way up stream under cover of the bank. The shallow stretch of water below the dam could now be seen, and the idea of forcing a passage at once suggested itself. A mixed body of men from every regiment or corps on the western flank, led by Pole-Carew, now made their way down to the river bank below the dam, and prepared to fight their way across.

Splendid work of guns in centre.

The main work of the battle during all these hours really fell upon the guns. At the first outburst of fire, Lord Methuen had ordered both batteries up to the centre of his front. They came into action east of the railway at about 2500 yards from the river, the 75th a little before the 18th, and, in default of any precise object indicated to Colonel Hall by Lord Methuen, vigorously shelled the line of trees, the Island Hotel, and the buildings round the station. A little later they advanced to 1700 yards, coming under a severe fire. Major Lindsay was here wounded in the hand, but later on resumed command of his battery (75th). But even at this range the guns seemed unable to keep down the Boer fire from the trenches, though they pretty effectively cleared all the Boer sharpshooters from the tree-tops. Colonel Hall now rode up and ordered the 75th to advance. In the teeth of a terrible fire the guns trotted right up to the very front of the Coldstream line and unlimbered within 1200 yards of De la key's trenches. Somewhat later the 75th were joined on their left by the 18th, and together the two batteries kept up all day an intense and continuous rain of shrapnel on the centre of the Boer position. It was a magnificent piece of work. Towards 9 A.M. the four naval guns unlimbered west of the line, and at about 3000 yards range added their fire to the volume of shrapnel concentrated upon the enemy's defence. But though every building visible was riddled through and through, the leaves stripped off the trees, and the ground round the station and the Island Hotel pitted all over with shrapnel bullets, the Boers behind the steep bank and in the advanced trenches suffered little, and no efforts of the British artillery seemed to make it possible for the infantry to advance. The Boer guns, in spite of the advantage of prepared cover, were quite unable to hold their own against the volume of fire brought to bear on them, and lost heavily in men and horses. At one time Cronje attempted to send back to De Venter the gun he had moved early in the morning, but the heavy rifle-fire this provoked compelled the gunners to abandon the project.

1-2 P.M. British left secures lodgement on north bank.

Towards 11 A.M. a section of the 18th Battery, under Captain Forestier-Walker, was sent across the line to the west to support the flank movement of the 9th Brigade. bout an hour later Forestier-Walker pushed his two guns right up behind the North Lancashires on the extreme left and vigorously shelled Rosmead village and the farmhouse and adobe garden wall which commanded the dam and now formed the extreme right of the Boer defence. This proved the turning-point of the battle. Two companies of North Lancashires, under Major Churchward, reinforced by a handful of Highlanders, were the first to plunge into the shallow water some way below the dam, careless of the hot fire that greeted them. The Free Staters on the extreme right did not wait for their approach. They had entered on the battle with a faint heart, shaken by their previous defeats and conscious of their general's incapacity; they had abandoned the south bank without a very serious struggle, and now the shell-fire suddenly directed upon their crumbling defences and the sight of the advancing infantry completed their discomfiture. They abandoned Rosmead village and retreated in disorder upon the 'centre of theft' position. The Lancashires at once pushed into the village, clearing the houses and taking a dozen prisoners, but meeting with little opposition. The Boers made no attempt at house-to-house fighting. The actual passage of the river, under cover of the six-foot dam, was no longer hazardous now that the Boers below the dam had gone. Led by General Pole-Carew and Colonel Barter, details of the Lancashires, Yorkshires, Argylls, and 5th Fusiliers, scrambled across the 300 yards of shallow water, slipping and struggling over the slimy stones and floundering waist deep into the pools.

Timely arrival of 62nd Battery. Attack not pushed home on right bank. 2-4 P.M.

The British had now got a footing on the right bank. But more artillery support was needed to complete the demoralisation of the Free Staters, who still hung round the outskirts of the village and among the bushes to the east, and to make possible any advance up the bank. It was at this juncture (at about 2 P.M.) that a battery, men, horses, guns, alike smothered in dust, crawled up behind the left flank. This was the 62nd, which had come the whole way from Orange River in the last twenty-eight hours. Major Granet had pushed on from Belmont at the first streak of dawn and found himself at Honeynest Kloof at 11.30 A.M., hardly knowing whether he had not overshot the column. But the sound of guns ahead determined his course, and with tired horses and more tired men, who had walked alongside the limbers to save the struggling teams, he moved on again at once, and now brought his battery into action most opportunely, first on the left, and then nearer the railway, coming under a heavy fire from the trenches as he pushed right forward in a line with the batteries on his right. Meanwhile Pole-Carew collected together 300400 men of all battalions and pushed up the bank towards the bridge to within a few hundred yards of Albrecht's guns. But here his advance was checked by a cross fire from De la Rey's Lichtenburgers on the north bank, and the men could not be got any further. Unfortunately, too, the persistent and well-aimed fire of Granet's guns, which were engaged in searching the wood on the north bank, added no little to the dangers to which the little force was exposed, and a sharp counter-attack from the left rear by a small party of Boers who had worked round their flank compelled them to retire upon the village again. This counter-attack was easily disposed of as more men came across the river. If Pole-Carew had been strongly supported by any considerable part of the 9th Brigade, and any other troops, mounted or unmounted, that might have been extricated from their positions, it is more than likely that he might now have been able to turn the Boer defeat into a complete rout and capture Albrecht's guns. For the Free Staters, utterly cowed and demoralised by the shell-fire, were now retreating right off the field, in spite of all the efforts made by Cronje and De la Rey to rally them. But, with the exception of four companies of the Royal Engineers, a stray half company of the 2nd Coldstreams, and some of Rimington's Guides, no further supports were forthcoming and Pole-Carew was unable to do more than to eintrench himself, and hold the village securely.

Lack of direction. Battle dies away.

The fact is that from the very first almost the battle was fought in a number of detached engagements on a wide front, with no general direction or control. Methuen in his despatch declared that the fire to which a mounted orderly was exposed even at 2000 yards range made communication impossible, and that he himself was therefore, for most of the day, in positions he had no right to be in. It is true that the difficulty and danger of conveying orders across the level plain was very great, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Methuen's presence in various parts of the fighting line, instead of at his nominal headquarters by the granger's hut, was as much the cause as the effect of the difficulty of communication. Practically no orders reached either brigade for the greater part of the day. In a desultory fashion the firing continued for the rest of the afternoon, the British being much too exhausted to force the fighting. Methuen was wounded in the thigh at about 4.15, and half-an-hour later Captain Nugent officially reported to Colvile that he was in command of the division. After 5 P.M. the left of the Guards was withdrawn some distance, a movement admirably covered, under a terrific fire, by all three batteries. On the right Colvile had before this collected a large number of his men at the reservoir, which he had made his headquarters, in readiness for a rush on the trenches soon after sunset. This attack was to be prepared by a bombardment of the whole Boer position which was to last till dusk. Colonel Hale notified Pole-Carew on the north bank of this, and this warning was the first news the latter received of Methuen's wound or of Colvile's intended attack. Pole-Carew had meanwhile collected some 1200 men together, and, but for the prospect of being again shelled by our own guns or of charging into the Guards in the dark, might have made another attempt to advance upon the Boer guns. The Highland Light Infantry arrived by train just before dusk. As darkness set in the firing gradually died away.

Boers abandon the position during night.

Night fell upon a scene of the greatest indecision and uncertainty. Beyond the fact that Lord Methuen was wounded and that Pole-Carew held Rosmead village, Colvile knew little of what had happened on the rest of the field. Yielding to the advice of Colonel Paget, who had taken over the command of the Guards Brigade, he decided to abandon his projected night attack, and renew the action in the morning, marching his whole brigade except one battalion, which was to hold the reservoir, round by the Rosmead dam. In view of the exhaustion of the men and the absence of information as to the ground, this was, no doubt, the wisest decision. But it was unfortunate that Pole-Carew was not at once informed of it, for in that case his men might still have captured the Free State guns that night. Next morning it was too late. For among the Boers too that night counsels of prudence prevailed. At a krygsraad held at 8 P. M. Cronje decided, in view of the defection of the Free Staters, that it was necessary to evacuate the position and retire on Jacobsdal to meet the strong reinforcements which were still coming up. This decision, approved by the rest of the commandants, met with the bitterest opposition from De la Rey. That stern old warrior had seen his eldest son mortally wounded during the day, but, as he declared afterwards to a friend, that loss did not affect him as keenly as the abandonment of the position. In his view the British would not only fail to dislodge the Boers from their position, but would be compelled in consequence, for want of water, to fall back all the way on Orange River. For once Cronje's judgement was perhaps the sounder, for it is doubtful if the Boers could have withstood 'a strong attack pushed up both banks of the river from Rosmead. The retreat began before 10 P.M. and was so hurried that Albrecht's guns, whose teams had mostly been shot down by the British shell-fire, were left behind, and were only recovered, some hours after, by the personal exertions of Albrecht and De la Rey.

Nov.29. British cross river unopposed.

So all night through the Boers rode off to Jacobsdal, while the British collected in the reservoir and round Rosmead dam. Before the earliest sign of dawn the Guards marched off by the rear across the railway towards Rosmead. While they were doing so the naval guns opened fire at 4.30 and threw three shells at the station buildings. There was no response, and a few minutes later the force realised that there was to be no second day's battle, and that the Boers had abandoned the contest. The buildings and gardens near the station and on the island bore eloquent witness to the severity of the British artillery fire. Dead horses were lying about everywhere. Most of the Boer wounded had been removed, but some twenty dead were buried by the soldiers. The total Boer casualties may perhaps have amounted to 150, mainly due to shell-fire. The British casualties had been 4 officers and 66 men killed and 20 officers and 393 men wounded. The Argyll and Sutherlands suffered most heavily, both in the attempts to fight their way down to the river bank by the dam, and also later when an attempt was made to move to the left the companies left behind in the firing line near the railway. They lost in all 15 men killed and 2 officers and 95 men wounded.

Strain of the new style of fighting. Reconnaissance and frontal attacks.

Heavy as these losses were compared with what British troops had suffered in recent years, they hardly in themselves - amounting to little over 7 per cent. of the force engaged- justify Lord Methuen's description of Modder River as "one of the hardest and most trying fights in the annals of the British Army." But casualties are not the only teat of the impression a battle produces upon those who take part in it. The intense physical strain of lying a whole day under a burning sun without food and with very little water, and the no less intense moral strain created by the danger attending the slightest motion, and by the paralysing intangibility of the enemy, were really new features in war, and account for the exaggerated language employed. But though new, as an actual experience these features of modern warfare ought not to have been unexpected. Modder River only confirmed what students of war had long been declaring would be the result of the improvement in fire-arms. Only a few months before, at the Irish Manoeuvres of 1899, Lord Roberts had clearly summed up both the new conditions of attack, and the consequences which a general was bound to draw from them - "Under the existing conditions of war, which render a frontal attack over open ground impossible, reconnaissance is, perhaps, the most important of the many important duties that devolve upon commanders."

General criticisms.

Here was the exact confirmation of Lord Roberts' warning - complete ignorance of the enemy's strength and position leading to an impossible frontal attack. Lord Methuen's despatch, indeed, would seem to assert that the frontal attack was deliberately chosen because the position allowed of no wide detour, and that the frontal attack eventually succeeded. But Lord Methuen hardly did himself justice in this rather incoherent document, penned under the influence of a painful wound. His whole action at the opening of the battle shows clearly that the formation he adopted referred to an impression as to the course of the rivers, and as to the strength of the enemy, quite at variance with ascertainable, and, indeed, partly ascertained facts. The frontal attack failed completely from the very outset, and the position was only carried by a successful turning movement on the left. But so completely had the whole force, including the artillery, been committed to the frontal attack, that the control of the battle almost immediately passed out of Methuen's hand, with the result that, in spite of the providential arrival of the 62nd Battery, not enough weight of support could be got together to enable Pole-Carew's flank attack to be pushed home; while no really determined effort was made to cross the river on the right flank where such a move might have been even more successful. But whatever criticisms may be passed on the direction of the battle, one must also acknowledge the splendid doggedness with which the whole force, from highest to lowest, stuck to the fight all day, leaving off at night with every intention of renewing the struggle in the morning. Coming at the end of a week of marching and fighting, Modder River was a severe test of the British soldier's mettle, and it proved him equal to the strain.

Mutual recriminations. Mistaken arrest of Boer doctors.

Like several of the earlier battles of the war Modder River was followed by mutual charges of wanton firing upon ambulances and stretcher-bearers. The simple fact was that the ambulances on both sides ventured into the fire-swept zone, and had to take the consequences. There is no reason for suggesting that the Boer leaders, any more than ourselves, intended to conduct the struggle otherwise than in the fairest spirit. A purely fictitious story spread in the Boer laagers, to the effect that Pole-Carew's men had bayoneted some twenty wounded burghers in a temporary hospital at Rosmead, is of interest only as being one of the first of the alleged "atrocities" perpetrated by British troops which were freely used to embitter Dutch feeling and promote sedition in Cape Colony. The Boers, however, had one genuine grievance due to a regrettable mistake on the part of Lord Methuen's Staff; by which the whole personnel almost of the Boer ambulances were seized on the battlefield on the 29th and sent down to Cape Town as prisoners - a mistake whose origin is, perhaps, to be sought in the fact that after Enslin a number of combatant Boers had fraudulently assumed red cross badges in the hope of avoiding capture. When the mistake was discovered at headquarters at Cape Town they were sent back and reached the Boer lines at Jacobsdal on December 9, but without their ambulances, which were never returned.

The news of the battle at Modder River was followed at home by the announcement that a Sixth Division would be mobilised and sent off without delay.







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