Imagens das páginas


THE circumstances under which these bulletins were found are as follows: In July of last year, after Generals Clements's and Paget's brigades had forced Slabbert's Nek and driven the Boers from their positions in retreat towards Fouriesburg, two of us in the C.I.V. Battery were sent to see if there were any stores or provisions to be found for the battery in a deserted farm off the road on the farther side of the Nek. It was a very prosperouslooking farm, stored with plenty of horses, poultry, and grain, and situated at the entrance of a very fertile-looking valley just under the hill. A certain amount of animal comforts were obtained here for the battery, and besides, as personal loot, I secured this bundle of papers, which looked as if they might be interesting.

These bulletins, which appear to be copied from a manuscript original by some carbon process, cover for the most part one side of ordinary foolscap, though sometimes both sides are written on. They are written in excellent Dutch (not in Taal), are all headed either Bethlehem Officieel Bericht' (Bethlehem Official Report), or else Oorlogsbericht' (War Report), and are generally signed either in full or with the initials of J. H. B. Wessels, though some are signed with the initials C. J. B. In fact, they very much correspond to the old news-letters sent out to country places in England in the last century; and Wessels makes the likeness still nearer in one case by ending up with his compliments. They consist almost solely of copies of the official telegrams sent to Bethlehem about the progress of the war, without any comment or amplification of any kind. There are, however, one or two exceptions to this rule; one of the papers, for example, ends up with the announcement that subscriptions are due at the end of April, and another with a notice of some public sale by the landdrost. There are also two excellent maps-one representing the position of the Boer forces and the English round Colenso and Spion Kop, and the other representing the country in which General Cronje operated and was finally captured. Evidently these were papers subscribed for by the farmers in outlying districts, and they apparently sent them about among themselves to near relations,

One of

as can be judged from two pathetic little notes, written in bad Dutch in a childish hand on the back of two of them. these notes runs as follows-it is on the back of a bulletin of February 17 to 19:

SISTER,―The telegram is still too short. You may not know that D.... G.... is slightly wounded in the arm, and P.... Y.... in the head and shoulder. Cronje's men were surrounded, whereupon H. Stein's men went to their relief and succeeded in getting them off, but they had to give up their positions at Kimberley and also at another place. The telegram is also from Jacobsdal. I think the Modder River guns must be very destructive. Of Horman's, one is killed and two wounded. I have not read the report and cannot say any more about it. We heard from W. ... yesterday, dated Bloemfontein; he was going to Koedoesrand. The landdrost also had news. Our men are all going there. Your sister, S. N.

And another on the back of a sheet of March 7:

They say The Lord

SISTER, His telegram last night said there was a hard fight at Modder River, and our men retired to occupy other positions ten miles distant. it is just seven hours from Bloemfontein. What is to become of us? alone can help us.

Your sister, S. N.

Unfortunately, owing to the inevitable difficulties of campaigning, my collection of these bulletins is by no means complete; the earliest dates from January 25, 1900, and the last is of April 30, and there are many gaps in the series, while several of the bulletins which have been preserved have, in the wear and tear incidental to being carried in feed-bags or in wallets, been much torn and in places rendered undecipherable. However, there is enough left to get a very clear idea of their quality.

They are interesting chiefly for the light which they throw on the amount of information about the war vouchsafed to Boers in scattered parts of the Free State. It has been said and often repeated in England that the most lying accounts of what was really happening were spread about to deceive the burghers; that their own victories were enormously exaggerated, their disasters concealed; and that the Boer and English losses were always set out in a light more in accordance with the Boer wishes than with the truth. These bulletins probably afford the best possible test of the truth of this theory, as they are evidently the sort of news sent to people who lived in out-of-the-way parts and had no means of verifying the truth of the statements; and it is surprising on the whole to find how accurate is the news thus given as compared with our own sources of information. These telegrams do not of course profess to describe the battles, and it would be difficult to get a general idea of the course of the war VOL. X.-NO. 57, N.S.


from them. On the other hand, they give the bald facts unvarnished, and they prove that, at any rate as long as the Free State officials had control of the telegraph, they did not wilfully deceive their fellow-citizens as to the course of the war.

Generally it may be said that during the period marked by the Boer successes the reports tally very closely with the facts as related, for example, by Dr. Conan Doyle; and even after that there does not seem to be any attempt to minimise their own disasters, though occasionally there is a tendency noticeable slightly to exaggerate the English losses. Again, there is never anything like a bitter feeling displayed against England. After the wonderful success at Spion Kop there is absolutely no crowing over us-merely immense wonder and heartfelt thanks to God for allowing them to win a victory over so mighty and rich a nation as England. One of the most frequently recurring phrases, whether after a victory or a defeat, is the phrase 'The burghers are calm and confident ;' and it must indeed be confessed that this seems no idle boast. However, a few extracts translated into English will best illustrate the nature of these bulletins.

The earliest bulletin in my possession refers to the battle of Spion Kop. It is hardly necessary to remind English readers of what happened at that battle; but it may be convenient to recall that a brigade under General Woodgate marched up Spion Kop in the early morning of January 23rd, surprised a small post of burghers stationed there, and entrenched themselves as far as they could in the fog; that when the fog cleared away they found themselves exposed to murderous rifle and cannon fire on three sides, and that, though they could not be turned out, the position was an isolated and useless one; that reinforcements were sent up during the day, who only added to the tale of slaughter; and that finally, late at night, the whole force retired. On the following day General Buller took his troops safely across the Tugela without having any attack made on him by the Boers. The interest of the following extracts lies in the substantial accuracy of the Boer telegrams. It gives also the reason for what somewhat surprised the English at the time-that the Boers allowed them to cross the Tugela without any molestation. It will be noticed that the Boers do not exaggerate the English losses, which, according to our official returns, were over 1,600, and, curiously enough, even the incident related in most of the English accounts of Spion Kop, of some English soldiers offering to surrender and being stopped by

Colonel Thorneycroft himself, is here related, though without the Colonel's name.

Bethlehem Official Report.1

Thursday, 25.1.00. Tugela.-Assistant-General Burger reports to-day to head laager Ladysmith per heliograph that the enemy retired during the night. They also left the Kop. Our burghers are taking possession of the battlefields. Official report of dead and wounded will follow as soon as possible. No report has been received yet from General Botha. According to private information, our loss is not small, but the enemy suffered terribly.

Bethlehem Official Report.

Friday, 26.1.00. Spion Kop on the Tugela.-Assistant-General Botha reports under date 24.1.00 (Wednesday): Last night the enemy with a strong force overpowered the Vrijheid (S.A.R.) burghers on Spion Kop, forcing Commandant Grobler and his men to retire. This morning very early Assistant-General Burger with Carolina and other burghers stormed the kop, and from my (Louis Botha's) side I also ordered an attack, and by the grace of God we succeeded in retaking the highest points. Our prisoners of war consisted of 173 privates (soldiers) with one captain and three wounded. The enemy's loss is terrible. Ours, I regret to say, is also tolerably severe, but cannot as yet be stated as our burghers are still continuing the fight, although it is already dark. The bravery and courage of our men are beyond praise. The artillery worked splendidly. When the enemy were in a tight corner they put up their hands in token of submission, but as soon as our men showed themselves the enemy re-opened fire.

The enemy is pressing us from all sides, even at General Burger's laager. General Cronje (Uncle Andries) reports that on the 24th inst. (Wednesday) he received information that the enemy had taken possession of Spion Kop. Transvaal and Free State burghers then mounted the kop, and at about 10 o'clock they reached the top and were near the enemy. The enemy then retired a little, but kept fighting to the last with heavy cannon and rifles. The fighting began about 3 A.M. and lasted till 7 P.M. (15 hours). The enemy stormed the kop several times, but were beaten back each time. Loss of the enemy amounted to about 1,200, and we made about 200 prisoners of war. According to an ambulance report our loss (S.A.R. and O.F.S.) amounts to 120 killed and wounded. Our heavy guns did good execution. The Freestaters who were posted on a kopje behind the enemy in an oblique direction wrought terrible havoc amongst them.

Bethlehem Official Report.

Friday evening, 26.1.00. Tugela.—Commandant-General, Head Laager, Ladysmith, wires this afternoon, 12.38: A complete official report of the fighting of the last few days on the Tugela is not yet to hand, but only the following from Assistant-General Botha. The fighting now finished, and by the grace of God we gained a splendid'victory. The enemy driven from their positions with great loss. On the battlefield there are still at least 600 killed and a great many wounded. The enemy asked permission to bury their dead and remove their wounded, which I allowed. The battlefield is therefore ours. We made 187 prisoners, and the officers of the Lancaster Regiment are all either dead or wounded. It breaks my heart to say that so many of our brave heroes are also dead or wounded. It

It will be noticed in these Boer accounts that the fighting on Spion Kop is dated on the 24th instead of the 23rd January, which is the correct date.

is incredible how such a small body of men has been able to resist the might of Britain during six days' fighting and even to force it back with such heavy loss. We took about forty cases Lee-Metford cartridges and a nice lot of rifles.

Assistant-General Burger wires to-day: I have just come from the hills; it is a terrible spectacle, an evident wonder of God, to see the enemy's fortifications, and how great their power is, whilst ours is so insignificant. Their loss is at least 1,200 or 1,300 killed and wounded. Our guns certainly did more execution yesterday than theirs. During all these days their force on the hill, in addition to their reserve, was at least 2,400 according to experts. The enemy is now retiring across the Tugela. We had a good opportunity to attack them, but our burghers were too exhausted. Our loss is about 120 killed and wounded. Although this is to be regretted, we must praise and thank God for this victory, and our country and people are to be congratulated on the heroic feats of our burghers.

Colenso.-Assistant-General Botha at Colenso wired yesterday: Acting-Commandant Pretorius, who had orders to count the number of killed on the hill, reports 650 killed, not including the number removed by the enemy during the night, and those killed at the foot of the hill and against the Spitzkop. Although it was a heavy fight for us, it was fearful for the enemy. It is a magnificent victory for us and very discouraging for the enemy, who have become very shy in consequence.

Bethlehem Official Report.

Monday, 29.1.00. Spion Kop.-The leader of the report riders wires from Veld near Ladysmith: I was yesterday on the battlefield of Spion Kop. From information received it appears that on Tuesday (23rd January), in the night, the enemy marched to the west of Spion Kop, the force consisting of Lancashire Fusiliers, the Lancasters, and half a company of engineers. At one o'clock they reached the hill and at once commenced to make entrenchments. The fire brigade of Vrijheid, 60 strong, took to flight. There was a thick fog which lifted at about 7 A.M. on Wednesday, 24th January. Our burghers meanwhile had mounted the hill, and immediately on the fog disappearing the fighting began on Spion Kop and lasted till Thursday, when the enemy fled. The enemy was repeatedly reinforced until their force had increased to about 4,000 men. We were about 500 strong. It is difficult to state the enemy's loss, but it is estimated at 800 killed, whilst the number of wounded can only be guessed at. Yesterday there were still about 200 unburied. Major-General Woodgate, who commanded the brigade, was killed. The Lancashire Fusiliers were totally annihilated with the exception of 110 who were taken prisoners. Of their forty-three officers only one remains, the others being killed or wounded, amongst the latter being the commander, Lieut.-Col. Bloomfield. According to an English officer, Buller is unhurt, and he further said that he had never experienced such firing as that of the Boers. Ten of Thorneycroft's mounted infantry took up a good position behind a kraal, and, when the burghers noticed them, six of them ran to a position from which they could fire at them, and in three minutes all ten were dead. He (the officer) disapproves of night attacks and attributes their defeat to fog. They had intended to surround the fire brigade. The enemy has now again taken his wagons across the river.

The Chief Telegraph Department, Pretoria, reports that yesterday only a few shots were heard near the Tugela. It seems the enemy intend retiring altogether after their fruitless efforts to get through. On one of the kopjes General Cronje (Uncle Andries) still found seventeen unburied corpses, whilst at Spion Kop there are still many bodies which the enemy evidently do not intend to bury.

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