Under the Union Jack, No. 11, Vol. 1, January 20th 1900

Jan, 20, igo o .]UNDER THE UNION JACK. 243 BATTLING FOR EMPIRE. IiOW THINGS STAND IN NATAL. THE gaze of every patriotic man and woman in theE m pire, for which our soldiers and their sailor comrades are battling so manfully, has been turned since these pages last appeared to the very important events in Natal, and to what Mr. Balfour describes as “the unhappy entanglement of L adysm ith, the theatre of so much gallantry upon the part of our regiments.” This “unhappy entangle­ment," it appears, was beyond any calculation that the Government formed, or could well be expected to form !Mr. Balfour described the case as a tactical misfortune, but in fact it goes much deeper, and most Englishmen are now convinced that it has arisen from a strategic error. The best course here will be to set forth the general conditions that have prevailed in that region, and then to recount, so far as is possible at the moment of writing, the events that have occurred. The line of investment was drawn round Sir George White at the end of October, and on the last day of that month occurred the unfortunate sortie spoken of as the action ofF arq u h ar’s Farm ,when two battalions and a mountain battery were compelled to surrender Nat icholson’s N ek. Emboldened b y their success, the Boers, for what was probably the first time in their history, made Lat adysm ith a general attack upon a fortified position on November gth, though they conducted it in abut half­hearted manner, and were quickly repulsed. Meanwhile, Sir Redvers B uller had reached Cape Town ,and on November 25th he arrived in Natal, and advanced the forces to the camp at Frere. On December 15th Sir R edvers moved out from C hieveley and attacked the Boers near Colenso, but was repulsed with some 1,100 casualties. A t home it had confidently been expected that he would make some turning operations, and his retirement to his camp was a complete and disheartening surprise. Lord Roberts, with Lord Kitchener as Chief of the Staff, was at once appointed to assume the general command of affairs. There was much in the situation to remind us of the time when Lord G ough had failed to inflict the expected blow upon the power of the Sikhs, and when Sir Charles Napier w assent out, ashe picturesquely describes it, “with a spare shirt and a toothbrush,” to supersede him. Before Napier could arrive, how­ever, Lord G ough had won the crowning victory of G oojerat. But Sir R edvers B u ller remained south of the Tug ela apparently inactive, and, when three weeks had elapsed, on January 6th, the Boers again made a terrific onslaught upon the gallant garrison of Lad ysm ith ,which, happily for the Empire, utterly repulsed them with great loss, awhile demonstration of conspicuous inutility was being made in the neighbourhood of Colenso. This state of things was, on the face of it, disquieting, and the country passed through a period of deep anxiety lest Ladysm ith should fall under the eyes of 30,000 Englishmen powerless to intervene. Many minds were turned to the epoch-making event of October 1 gth, 1781, when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown ,and the creation of the United States of America was assured. The gratitude of the country is therefore certainly due to Sir George White and his garrison for the splendid defence they have offered, though there is not wanting evidence, in other spheres of our operations in South Africa, that the men at the front have lost some of the confidence they felt in their chiefs, and there is avery pathetic ring in the last words of brave General W auchope on the hill Mat agersfontein, “For God’s sake, men, do not blame me for this !”The reasons for Sir R edvers B u lle r’s inactivity must be assumed to be sufficient, though they are certainly, at the present moment, far from being obvious. W ashe unable to develop his transport during the rather considerable period that had elapsed since he landed in South Africa ?Is it possible that he could have been left without an adequate supply of ammunition or other stores ?Had he received orders to make no move until the arrival of Lord Roberts ?These were questions that suggested themselves when the news came of the renewed fighting Lat adysm ith. It could not be forgotten that the General had gone to Natal to direct the operations of the “Lad ysm ith Relief C olum n,” and that vast bodies of troops had been diverted to the Tug ela who would have been of great service elsewhere, while the original and sound strategic plan of campaign had been laid aside. The Fighting Lat adysmith. After Christmas the Boers redoubled their inactivity the lines about Lad ysm ith ,and they strengthened their positions on the south side of he Tug ela Hat langw an e Hill and Springfield, and mounted additional guns at G robler’s Kloof, commanding our positions to the west. Their shellfire was very hot, and they wasted a prodigious amount of ammunition. On our part, there had been a good deal of shelling of the position of the Boers on the Tug ela, while reconnaissance had been conducted b Thorny eycroft’s Horse, B ethun e’s Horse, and the cavalry under Lord Dundonald. But, apart from such unprogressive episodes of the campaign, nothing happened until January 6th. There had been signs of movement among the Boers, and Sir George White seems to have anticipated an attack. In any case he was ready, and at a quarter to three in the morning on that day the enemy advanced against Ca2sar’s Camp and Wagon H i ',where Colonel HamiltonIan was in command. Caesar’s Cam pis upon what is known as B e ste r’s Hill, about two miles south of Lad ysm ith itself. The hill is a considerable elevation, which rises between the Tug ela and its tributary, the Fouries Spruit, and, according to the Intelligence Department map, the ascents are steep. A s the crow flies the position is not more than about nine miles from Colenso Bridge. The enemy were in very great strength, and pushed their attack with the utmost courage and energy. B y nine o’clock in the morning they had been repulsed, but the fighting continued, and two hours later reinforcements had been brought up from Colenso. A t a quarter to one the enemy had been beaten off, abut renewed attack was imminent. It was not long delayed. A t a quarter past three the assault was renewed, and there was an ominous message from Sir George White the:!n was “very hard pressed.” The fighting continued unti! 7.30p.m .,so that for something like seventeen hours the troops had been underarms inmost trying circumstances, and had acquitted themselves splendidly. The determined character of the fighting maybe seen from the fact that some of our entrenchments on Wagon Hill were taken three times by the enemy, and as many times retaken, while one point was occupied by the Boers during the whole day, until, at dusk, in avery heavy rain-storm, they were driven out at the point of the bayonet in a most gallant manner b they Devon R egim ent, led by Colonel Park. Colonel HamiltonIan rendered great service in the defence of Wagon Hill, and the troops, who had had most exhausting work, and had behaved excellently, were “elated at the services they had rendered to the Queen.” Our losses were heavy, but it is very satisfactory to know that those inflicted upon the Boers were far greater. While these dramatic events were occurring Lat adysm ith, the whole of General C le ry division’s and all the mounted THE BACK NUMBERS OF "UNDER THE UNION JACK" CAN BE HAD OF GEORGE NEWNE8, LTD.
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