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THE WAR OPERATIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA.-VII.
BY A MILITARY CONTRIBUTOR.
MISPLACED SENTIMENT -TRANSPORT DIFFICULTIES
INSTANCES have occurred when sentiment, somewhat misplaced, has crept into the more serious conduct of the war. War is always terrible, only relieved from sheer savagery by those honourable courtesies with which brave men will always meet a foe. The Boers are fighting, as they believe, for their independence, and honour them for it; our soldiers are fighting for Queen and country, and every unbiassed mind will honour them too. Both are enemies, doing all they can to kill or disable the other: the sooner one kills most of the other so soon will the killing cease, and both of them shake hands and be good friends again. But war in kid gloves is not war: at the best war is man's brutal passions let loose, contained only by the recognition that each side is fighting for what, in all honour, both confidently believe to be right. "Have it out," say the soldiers, "and don't take off your hat till it's over!"
This taking off the hat has happened several times of late, and is generally condemned. On the 8th April a French filibuster was killed: Lord Methuen gave him the somewhat magnificent title of Count de Villebois de Mareuil, colonel of the Foreign Legion of France, and General of the Transvaal. He was shot fighting against
us, and is said to have had a good deal to do in the arrangement of the trenches round Ladysmith, before which so many British soldiers lie buried. He acknowledged that he had no grudge against us, but owed much to the hospitality of England; yet he thought it no wrong to take service with the Boers, for his own interest and notoriety, without a thought of the cause he espoused. This patriot was, at the head of fifty foreign mercenaries like himself, shooting down our men, one of them deliberately killing an officer of the Yeomanry under the white flag, a cartful of dynamite accompanying them; yet Lord Methuen, in command on the spot, saw fit to erect a tombstone to this man's memory, the inscription adding, "Died on the field of honour near Boshof. R.I.P." An order for the attack on the English at Boshof found upon him reads, says the correspondent, "like portions of a comic opera," and gives us the impression that his loss will not be acutely felt by the Boers. It is strange that, when the fighting is going on, a British general should choose such a memory for an official tribute of regard and esteem, while not far off is Magersfontein, where lie, for ever, those brave Scotsmen who died to do his bidding on the
"field of honour," and are still without their tombstones.
Another case of misplaced sentiment was the release of a German count taken prisoner with Cronje, who boasted that he had been fighting against us. He was released on the mendacious plea that he was a correspondent, and on arrival in England was admitted to the House of Commons to dine with a member. Did it never occur to this patriot, over the champagne, that there were 2000 English soldiers under the turf in South Africa, some of whom may have owed the fact to his foreign friend opposite.
A shudder passed through most soldiers when they heard that Lord Roberts had shaken hands with Cronje on his surrender at Paardeberg: that an English gentleman should foul his hand with the touch of such a mass of treachery. He had not seen that tumbled mudheap, called a fort, where 200 of our soldiers sheltered themselves for three months, within 300 yards of the walls and houses of Potchefstroom, starvation diet, water only fetched under fire at night, trenches burrowed close up to them by an untiring enemy, only to be checked by constant sorties, wounds, and death; Cronje looking on without the pluck to attack, content to let the women die and to put the men out with a foul lie. To take the hand of a monster who worked such infamy is to cast a slur on the memory of brave men who fought and died as his men are fighting and dying now for him. Where, too, is that young cavalry
officer Cronje Cronje seized when carrying a white flag at Modder river, refusing insolently to give him up. Roberts will shortly have an opportunity to visit Potchefstroom, and, across the veldt, the farm of the man he shook hands with, who will not be there to welcome him.
A private of the 10th Mountain Battery deserted at Colenso last December, and fought with the Boers against us, but was subsequently expelled from the country for striking a commandant. At Durban, while drunk, he disclosed his identity, was tried, and sentenced to death-a a sentence commuted by General Buller to imprisonment for life. The crime, the first in the Army Act mark of its enormity, the punishment death without alternative-yet such a thing as this deserter is allowed to exist. Are those sad shapes that once were men, as we are, to cry mutely, for ever, "That man murdered us-why should he live?" Is there no thought for those widows and little orphans across the sea scanning the lists, with starting eyes and the terror of "no hope" within, to read that the comrade who wrote that dear name there is still to live, while they are left to mourn, perhaps starve it out? Kid gloves are out of place here. And the rank-and-file will not agree with such clemency. What endears a chief to his men is the distribution of equal - handed justice: a soldier above all things loves fair-play. "Why didn't he give him cells," says he, "when he gave them to me
for nothing? What's the good of going straight if them as does badly gets no more than I do? He thought it would be a 'district,' and he got C.B." After Koorn Spruit, if a "simple farmer" or a "loyal Dutchman," one or two of them, had been planted in front of their own door and shot dead with one of the Mausers hidden away inside, it would have put the drag on that gay raid from which they had just sneaked
On the 13th March Lord Roberts found himself at Bloemfontein with the wreck of an army and a single, narrow-gauge line of railway between himself and his base, upwards of 700 miles distant. It was very soon known in Boer headquarters at Kroonstad that he could not move beyond Bloemfontein for some weeks. The triumphal march of Generals Gatacre and Clements through the recently captured territory, accepting submissions, hoisting unionjacks, and picking up rifles of antique date, afforded much amusement to the Boers, who saw their opportunity and streamed down in large numbers on the small British posts which were scattered east and south of the railway. Wepener was laid siege to, a convoy was captured at Koorn Spruit, half a regiment was made prisoners near Reddersburg, the waterworks were seized and the Bloemfontein water-supply cut off, Ladybrand was reoccupied, and Olivier, with a commando some 4000 strong, came up from Cape Colony where we
were sanguine enough to think he had been thoroughly crushed. This incursion into territory we had settled, as we thought, had to be met, and the reorganisation of the wreck with Lord Roberts was hindered.
Troops on the way up were diverted, and some of the force recuperating at Bloemfontein had again to take the field. Brabant's division, with Hart's brigade, which had come across by sea from Natal, was brought up in front of Wepener, to be joined by General Chermside's division from Reddersburg, and General Rundle's from Dewetsdorp. Another under General Pole - Carew was pushed out south-east to Leeuw Kop; the mounted infantry under General Ian Hamilton retook the waterworks, and Maxwell's brigade stormed the kopjes commanding the Modder at Krantz Kraal; the 9th Division under General Colvile, and the cavalry division with General French in support of Ian Hamilton. Thus nearly five infantry and two cavalry divisions were diverted to undo the mischief which our kindness had developed. Still it was hoped that so large a force would be able to surround the Boers, or at all events to capture their guns and waggons. But the raiding bodies moved without waggons, carrying eight days' "biltong" on their ponies, supplemented with food, forage, and rifles supplied by the inhabitants who were able to take an active share in the fighting, return to their farms, and reduce themselves to the "simple farmer once more. So their assistance, the absence of transport, and an intimate knowledge
The mobility of an army depends on this last consideration. It moves, as has been said, on its belly, at a rate calculated by that of the slowest waggon; and it was the organisation of the transport sufficient to ensure the mobility of 100,000 men that was trusted to Lord Kitchener as soon as Lord Roberts set foot in Bloemfontein. He found a vast amount scattered widely, in large and small groups over the country, all of which, and whatever else could be raised from every end of Cape Colony, he swept together. All distinctions of transport, regimental, departmental, ammunition, or ambulance, were done away with and swamped in a single general corps-a gigantic undertaking, only to be attempted by a man of the most unswerving determination. In an army each unit is allowed by regulation its own transport: regiments, staff, departments are allotted waggons "by scale," laid down in many red books, which is pertinaciously stuck to by those to whom it applies. For example, the waggons told off to a battalion are arrived at as follows: the colonel, the adjutant, and orderly room get a tent each, every three officers have another,
VOL. CLXVII.—NO. MXVI.
fourteen men cram into one more; staff-sergeants, bat-men, and other details have claims to more; mounted officers are allowed 80 lb. baggage, smaller fry 40 lb., each company puts in another 80 lb. for cooking pots, giving a transport allowance, roughly speaking, of 15 waggons-a brigade asking for 70 and a division for perhaps 180 so that an army of 100,000 men would be entitled, for combatants only, to about 2000 waggons, with 30,000 oxen and 4000 native drivers, and would occupy road-space for each division of nearly six miles.
It was to cut down this that Lord Kitchener set to work. Each unit was tackled separately the regiments, as the most tractable, coming first, to be told, probably, that instead of the regulation fifteen waggons they must do with ten. Then came staff and departments, supply, transport, medical, pay, and what not, each of them being liberally supplied on paper "by regulation," according to the relative rank of the members, bristling with field-officers, every one of them most tenacious about the substantial rights which his unsubstantial rank allows him to demand. And it is here that the difficulty of "cutting down" becomes acute: the transport department, which is in possession, has to be delicately handled; the quantity of forage, stores, extra wheels, and so on, to be carried is not easy to check; supply-well, the troops must be fed, and "bully beef" when ticked off in tins, the numbers rippling off the supply 3 L
officer's tongue in thousands, requires calculation. Staff are men of position, and can always bring in the general, who "will have things comfortable"; while the doctors, who exact their rights to the last ounce, can always shelter their demands under reference to the sick, and to the pills and other hospital comforts which must accompany them.
No wonder that with all these discordant elements, each one determined to fight reduction to the bitter end, Lord Kitchener received full measure of abuse from regimental officers, from artillery officers, and from the doctors. But he was not a man to be thwarted by rank, although relative, nor by regulations, although approved by a Secretary of State and the entire staff of the War Office; and so we are told that he effected a great economy in the number of waggons employed, without which the march to Bloemfontein and the farther advance on Pretoria might never have succeeded. He was fortunate in being assisted by Colonel Richardson, in charge of the supply and transport branch -a most efficient officer, with a long and varied experience in South African methods.
Transport arranged, there remained a redistribution of commands, the consolidating of units into bodies capable of combined action; fresh generals to be appointed, others to be got rid of. General Warren was put in civil charge of Griqualand West; General Nicholson took charge of the transport, where a strong
man was wanted; Chermside assumed command of the Third Division, in place of General Gatacre, ordered home; General Hunter, with Barton's brigade, was brought over from Natal; Generals Pole-Carew, Rundle, and Colvile got divisions; and, most important of all, the Mounted Infantry was collected together in one division of some 11,000 men, under General Ian Hamilton. This division was split into two brigades, each of four corps, with batteries of horse artillery attached. It is hoped that this concentration will put a stop to using small fractions of mounted infantry as cavalry, to be frittered away in patrols, scouts, and advanced guards. To ask them to do so is to lose good infantry and to turn out inferior cavalry. Cavalry has its special functions
reconnoitring, the charge, and pursuit: mounted infantry can ride rapidly to a distance in advance of the army, anticipating the enemy there, holding him to his ground till their infantry support marches up to complete his defeat. Ponies are given to infantry instead of carts, for facility of transportnothing more. As long as the men are in the saddle they cannot fight; out of it they are good infantry, who can fight with the best of their kind. But they must be taught to "stick on,"-not, as Colonel Albrecht says of them, "to be all the time holding on their hats."
But it was in the lower ranks that the winnowing process was most needed. There are men
1 Vide supra, p. 767, "Concerning our Cavalry."