When the sun rose and the rain ceased, we found ourselves crossing a high shoulder of land with a wide expanse of mountains to the south of us, and there, in every valley and on every road, stood the white tents of English camps, to bar our progress.
General Smuts surveyed the blocking forces for a while, and then led us due east across the front of the enemy posts. Our road took us through rough country and he ordered every man to go on foot to spare the horses. The English made no attempt to come after us, their orders apparently being to hold the roads and exits, so we trekked all day, seeking to turn their extreme right flank. Throughout the expedition into the Cape we had no difficulty in getting local sympathizers to act as guides, and on this occasion a young farm-hand volunteered to lead us. He picked his way so unerringly that towards nightfall we had not only succeeded in finding the end of the British line, but had even got round behind them, and could see the town of Dordrecht in the distance. We must have covered nearly thirty miles since getting out that morning, but as we were not yet out of danger of being headed back, we continued after dark, and, hungry and weary but in good cheer, we trudged all through the night, with only an occasional halt, mostly along steep mountain paths, wet and slippery from the rains. When daybreak came our young guide had done his work with such skill that we were well beyond the cordon, and there now lay before us the long mountain chain of the Stormbergen, stretching east to west as far as the eye could see. He told us that we could cross almost anywhere, so he was allowed to return home, and we made for a large farm lying at the foot of the range, where we turned our horses into the fields, and set about preparing a meal, once again hoping to spend the rest of the forenoon in sleep, for we had been on the move for twenty-four hours. But we had scarcely slaughtered a few sheep and broken our fast, when the well-known cry of 'Opsaal! Opsaal !' sent us scurrying to fetch our unfortunate animals; for coming down the slopes was a long column of English horse making our way. Near by ran a pass up the mountain, and as it seemed clear of troops, we made for it, and in an hour stood on the top of the Stormbergen, with the enemy force slewed round and following us. The summit was a grassy tableland about three miles wide, sloping gently to where the southern face of the mountain fell abruptly down to the plains below.
There was no sign of troops up here, but as those in the rear were coming after us, General Smuts disposed his men to hold them back while we of the 'Rijk Section' were ordered to ride forward to the far edge of the plateau, to see whether the way in that direction was clear. We set out in couples, making for different points from which to look down on the Karroo. My companion was Henry Rittenberg, and when we reached the rim of the plateau we saw the narrow ribbon of a railway track winding across the plain at our feet, with train after train steaming up to a small village station and disgorging large numbers of soldiers.
The British, having failed to stop us at their first barrier, were now hurrying troops round by rail to establish a second, and already several mounted columns had de-trained, and were beginning to climb up the mountain.
One body was so far advanced that their scouts were appearing on the tableland itself, so Rittenberg and I rode nearer to examine their strength. We had not gone half a mile when some two dozen troopers rode at us from behind a roll in the ground, firing from the saddle as they came. We whipped round and galloped away, but had not the balance of the 'Rijk Section' come to our aid we should have been shot or captured, for there was no cover in which to make a stand, and our horses were in no fit state to compete with the well-fed English chargers.
We now returned to General Smuts, to report what we had seen, and he looked grave enough, for, with the original column of that morning closing in behind and all those fresh troops coming up in front, we were almost invested.
A strong north wind, which had sprung up earlier in the day, had steadily increased to a violent gale, and most of the men were crouching with their backs to the storm to escape the flying grit that stung like buckshot.
General Smuts, with Commandants van Deventer and Bouwer, was, however, on the look-out, standing well forward near the head of the pass up which the commando had come. While we were explaining the situation, about three hundred soldiers appeared on foot, having left their horses below. They did not seem to be expecting us here, or, for, when our men sprang up at a shout from van Deventer, they turned and ran back.
They were out of sight almost at once, and when we reached the edge we saw them scrambling down, but the wind in our faces made accurate shooting impossible, and I do not think any were hit. The soldiers only fired a few shots in reply, and a young man standing near me, named de la Rey, a nephew of General de la Rey, threw up his arms and dropped dead with a bullet through his brain. We left him where he fell, for we had no spade or other implement, nor had we time to bury him, for looking back we could now see more and more English horsemen emerging on the tableland, until we were practically en-circled, although they were not yet strong enough to prevent us from moving freely inside the wide ring that they had formed about us.
Nevertheless we could not break out, for soon there were machine-guns at every point of vantage, so commanding the terrain that a burst-through during daylight would have cost us more men than we could afford, and our only course was to try to stave off the pressure until after dark. To that end, with the gale roaring about our ears, General Smuts led us hither and thither all the afternoon, now pushing back one portion of the enemy line, and then another, avoiding the machine-gun fire by using dead ground, and generally preventing them from hustling us too closely. With our tired horses and men the strain was great. Ammunition was at such a low ebb that some had not a round left, and when, towards evening, many more troops had come up our case seemed hopeless.
We and our horses had marched for forty hours on end, and we were all but finished for lack of sleep and rest, while the noose around us had slowly tightened, until by dusk we were at bay around a small farmhouse and kraal, lying somewhat in a hollow, where for the moment we had comparative shelter, but where our speedy capture seemed certain.
When the English troops saw us preparing to make a stand they stayed their advance, in the belief, no doubt, that having cornered us, they could afford to wait for our surrender in the morning.
General Smuts stood before the homestead in whispered consultation with his two lieutenants, while the rest of us leaned on our rifles, too weary to care very much what happened. Then out of the house came a hunchbacked cripple, who said that he would lead us through the English troops to the edge of the tableland, by a way which was unlikely to be watched, for it ran through boggy soil. His offer was eagerly accepted and orders were given to mount at once. six or seven men had been wounded during the day, two of them so badly that they had to be left behind, but the others chose to accompany us, and in a few minutes we were silently filing off into the darkness, the cripple crouching insecurely on a horse at our head. He took us along a squelching path, that twisted for a mile or two so close to the investing troops that we could hear voices and the champing of bits, but at the end of an anxious hour he had brought us undiscovered to the escarpment. From here the mountain-side fell sharply away into black depths below, how steeply we could not tell, but our guide warned us that it was very steep indeed. Dropping from his horse, he plodded off into the night on his crutches, carrying with him our heartfelt thanks, for he had risked his life and goods on our behalf.
We now began to descend what was probably the nearest approach to the vertical attempted by any mounted force during the war. I doubt whether we could have accomplished it by day, but horses are more tractable and surer-footed in-the dark, so we pulled them over the edge and went slithering down. At times whole batches of men and horses came glissading past, knocking against all in their course, but luckily the surface was free of rock, and covered with a thick matting of grass which served to break the impact, and after a terrible scramble we got down without serious damage. For the time being we had shaken free of the enemy once more. Our most insistent need now was Sleep, but this was still denied us.
Somewhere on the plain before us ran the railway line on which we had looked down that morning, and many miles beyond that lay still another track, both of which had to be crossed before sun-rise, if we did not wish to have the troop-trains hurrying up more men. So General Smuts implacably ordered us on, and, leading our horses, we tramped obediently but wearily forward, little dreaming that another twenty hours of unbroken marching lay before us, and several days of even greater trials to come.
It was about ten o'clock by now, and the storm that had been raging throughout the day was subsiding, though the aftermath still blew cold; a blessing perhaps, for it served to keep us awake, and it made us step out to keep warm. After an hour we reached the first railway, a branch line from the Indwe Coal Mines. As we approached we saw the lights of a train, but General Smuts would not allow us to pile boulders on the metals nor to fire as the engine thundered by, for fear of killing civilians, so we stood aside, catching a glimpse of officers and others seated in the dining-car, smoking and taking wine, all unaware of the men looking at them from the darkness. General French, the English cavalry leader, told us long after that he was on board that train with his staff, hurrying round by rail to control operations on the berg where he imagined us still to be, so unknowingly we missed a great opportunity.
After crossing the rails, we went on mile after mile, dazed for want of rest. Whenever there was delay at a fence or a ditch, whole rows of men would fall asleep on their hands and knees before their horses like Mohammedans at prayer, and it was necessary to go round shaking them to their feet to prevent them being left behind. Save for occasional halts we continued thus all night, for it was imperative to cross the remaining railway. As we had no guide we travelled by the stars, and the sun was rising before we struck it at a small siding about five miles east of Sterkstroom village, where, from the activity at the station, it was obvious that our escape from the mountain was known. several trains were unloading troops, and there was no time to be lost. So mounting, we galloped as fast as we could across the rails for fear an armoured train might cut us off.
Commandant van Deventer and a few of us remained-behind to search the railway buildings for anything that might come in useful, and while we were busy at this a long goods-train came clanking up, and we brought it to a standstill by switching the points. It was an empty coal train in charge of a driver, stoker, and brakesman, whose faces were a picture when they saw what we were doing. As the train consisted of nothing but incombustible steel trucks, we let them proceed, after extracting a mail-bag from the guard's van. The letters were all private ones, seemingly written under censorship, for not one of them made any reference to the war, but the newspapers were less reticent, and in one of them was unflattering mention of ourselves, for it said that General Smuts had invaded the Cape Colony 'with the riffraff of the Boer Armies', which caused much merriment when later on I was able to read it to the men.
There was another surprising feature in the mail-bag in the shape of a Proclamation by Lord Kitchener, wherein every burgher under arms after the 15th of September was sentenced to perpetual banishment from South Africa. This was news to us, and seeing that it was the 13th of that month by now, we were left with a bare two days in which to comply. This announcement was received with equal derision, when made known to the commando, and from what I have heard since, it had equally little effect up north in the Republics where the 'paper bomb', as it was called, got treated with the scorn it deserved.( The Times History says of this Proclamation, Vol. V, 321:
Lord Kitchener made his first and last attempt to end the war by a minatory proclamation.
It began by giving in a solemn legal preamble an account of the military situation, which must have seemed strangely unconvincing to the Boers, and which, it must be confessed, was replete with unconscious humour. The fourth paragraph in particular where the Boers were informed that they were incapable of carrying on regular warfare was a strange tissue of perverted logic.... The operative art of the Proclamation demanded the surrender of all Boers before September 15th under pain of stringent penalties. The results were not encouraging: Botha, Steyn and de Wet sent defiant replies, and among the burghers at large there was a sullen silence.
After speeding the goods-train on its way, we overtook the commando at the Klaas Smits River, where we halted for about an hour, to give our poor horses a chance to pluck a few mouthfuls of grass, and to prepare a hasty meal for ourselves. Longer than that we were not given, for a column of troops with guns came up, and kept us on the move all day, slowly retiring from hill to hill, half dead with fatigue, but keeping them at arm's length until sunset, when they turned back and left us free to camp at last at a large farm, where we lay like dead men until morning after sixty hours of continuous marching.
This full night's rest was a great relief, but the strain was by no means over, and the worst was yet to come.
Towards nine o'clock next day, an English column appeared from the direction of Sterkstroom, so we saddled up and rode away, skirting the base of some hills running south. The column contented itself with following us slowly, apparently having been sent to keep us under observation, and they dogged our steps until sunset, when it came on to rain and we saw them go into camp. We halted in a patch of thorn trees and, as it poured heavily till dawn, we had another of those wet and miserable nights which had been so frequent since our entry into the Colony.
Daylight saw the troops once more coming after us, and, owing to the shortage of ammunition and the condition of our horses, we had no option but to give way. The going was heavy, and at times the swollen spruits and dongas held us up, but we were in no great danger of being overhauled, for the column had wagons and guns, which impeded them so much that we had miles to spare.
In the afternoon the English camped again, and we halted for the rest of the day at a small farmhouse standing out on the plain. The rain had ceased since morning, but it was cold and threatening; black clouds hung low in the sky, and there was every promise of more dirty weather to come.
We could see smoke curling from the English camp four miles behind, where whole streets of comfortable tents had sprung up, at which we gazed wistfully, for there were warmth and rest, whilst we stood shivering in the biting wind, wondering how it was all to end. The English numbered about a thousand, and it was useless to attempt an attack in our present condition, for we were wet, cold, and in low spirits, and our ammunition was almost finished. So, when darkness fell, General Smuts gave orders for us to saddle up, intending to make for a larger farm where there was said to be ample shelter.
As we started, hard rain came down once more, and the darkness was so intense that we could not see a yard ahead. We had not gone three hundred paces before we heard horsemen splashing through the mud in front, and ran into the tail of an English patrol or column, we could not tell which, evidently making for the same farm.
Neither side was prepared to risk a fight in the rain and dark. The troopers galloped away, and we sheered off, too, but with this difference, that they were able to continue on to the shelter of the farm, whilst we were adrift on the open veld.
The night that followed was the most terrible of all. Our guide lost his way; we went floundering ankle-deep in mud and water, our poor weakened horses stumbling and slipping at every turn; the rain beat down on us, and the cold was awful. Towards midnight it began to sleet. The grain-bag which I wore froze solid on my body, like a coat of mail, and I believe that if we had not kept moving every one of us would have died. We had known two years of war, but we came nearer to despair that night than I care to remember. Hour after hour we groped our way, with men groaning who had never before uttered a word of complaint, as the cold searched their ill-protected bodies. We lost fourteen men that night, and I do not know whether they survived, but we never again had word of them.
We also lost a large number of horses, and I remember stumbling at intervals over their carcasses. We went on till daybreak, dragging ourselves along, and then, providentially, came on a deserted homestead and staggered into shelter, standing huddled together in rooms, stables, and barns until dawn, still shivering, but gradually recovering from the dreadful ordeal. When it grew light, some fifty or sixty horses lay dead outside. My little roan mare was still alive, but both my uncle's horses died here, and he, with thirty or forty more, was now a foot-soldier. (As practically every man had crossed the Orange River with two horses, the number of dismounted men did not necessarily correspond a to the number of horses that were lost.) This night's 'Big Rain', as we named it, left such a mark on all of us that later we used to call ourselves 'The "Big Rain" Men' (Die Groot Reent Kerels) to distinguish us from those who had not experienced it, and for my part I passed through no greater test during the war.
The day was cold and wild, but the rain stopped. We - broke up the floors and windows, tables and chairs, and everything else that would burn, and made great fires to dry our clothes and blankets, and to warm our chilled limbs. Towards noon, General Smuts ordered us on to another large farm, eight or nine miles away, which had, a native told him, plenty of fodder for the horses.
No attempt was made to send back for the missing men, because we were too exhausted, and they had to be abandoned.
We plodded over the waterlogged country, a quarter of our number on foot, and the rest soon likely to be, for there was not a fit horse in the commando.
We found this farm also deserted, but there was protection for all, and a good store of oat-sheaves, as well as sheep for slaughter, so that, although the rain came down again, we at last spent a comfortable night.
Although we had managed to avoid the different cordons thrown in our way and had eluded the columns sent in pursuit, we were not yet out of danger, for local natives now told us that southward every road, valley, and outlet was blocked by English troops. This meant that they were once more trying to head us back out of the Cape; but, with so many enemies in our rear, our only alternative was to go forward. Next morning, we set out on what was to be an eventful day (September 17th, 1901).
Our road ran south down a long valley. The sky was clear, and the sun warm and bright for the first time for weeks, so that the men were cheerful again, although there was little other cause for optimism.
As a fighting force we were on our last legs. In front walked those who still had horses, dragging scarecrows behind them; then came a trail of footmen in twos and threes, their saddles slung across their shoulders, and in the rear rode the wounded in charge of their friends.
However, the sun was shining after the wet and cold and we went hopefully along. After a few miles General Smuts ordered the 'Rijk Section' to scout ahead of the commando, so those of us who still had horses mounted and rode forward as fast as our weakened animals could carry us. When we got to where the valley widened into more open country, a Dutch farmer rushed from a cottage beside the road and, in a voice hoarse with excitement, told us that English cavalry were waiting for us lower down. He said that they had mountain- and machine-guns, and he estimated their strength at two hundred men, with over three hundred horses and mules, all of which proved substantially correct.
Edgar Duncker was sent back to report, and before long he returned with General Smuts, accompanied by Commandant van Deventer and a dozen men. General Smuts immediately decided to attack, and I heard him say that if we did not get those horses and a supply of ammunition we were done for. He ordered van Deventer forward with the men who were with him and the 'Rijk Section', to locate the British force, while he himself waited here to bring up the rest of the commando. We set off at once, and in a few minutes reached the banks of a small river which we crossed. As we were going through the fringe of thorn trees on the other side, we rode straight into fifteen or twenty troopers cantering towards us. Most of our men were still among the trees, but four or five of us were in advance, and when we leaped to the ground the soldiers were not more than ten yards away. Opening fire, we brought down several, and the rest turned and galloped back along the road. I fired my last two cartridges here, and my first thought was to run to a dead soldier and seize his rifle and bandolier, abandoning my own rusty weapon, then I rushed for my mare and joined in the chase.
The troop-horses were in much better condition than ours, but the soldiers were delayed by a gate, so we got close again, dropping two or three more from the saddle.
At the gate van Deventer himself and half a dozen men turned aside to a kopje for observation, but the rest of us, about twelve in number, followed the retiring patrol to a low stony ridge farther down the road.
They got there several lengths ahead of us and, abandoning their horses, took to the rocks. It was too late for us to retire back across the open plain behind, so we galloped on.
Before we reached their outcrop the soldiers opened fire almost point-blank, and worse still, a mountain-gun unexpectedly fired on us from a point to our left, not thirty yards off, and a machine-gun rattled into action close by.
So near was the mountain-gun that smoke from the discharge billowed over us although the shells went wide. It was astonishing that any of us escaped, but, owing no doubt to our sudden appearance behind the flying patrol, the firing was wild, and only three men and some horses went down before we reached the rocks in which the soldiers were. Here we, in turn, loosed our horses and ran up, to find ourselves within a few feet of our original quarry and a number of others, who had been posted here before.
Now that we could look over to the far side, we were surprised to see a large English camp less than a stone's throw away, buzzing like a disturbed ant-heap. Officers were shouting orders, and men tumbling out of their tents, some running towards us; others going to the right and left to take their stations.
This placed us in a remarkably tight corner, as we were so far ahead of our main body that they could not help us, for the English, having recovered from their first surprise, were sweeping the plain with gun- and rifle-fire. The result was that our little party was stranded on the very edge of an armed encampment, and practically mixed with the English soldiers. Fortunately General Smuts had hurried the commando on, and in a few minutes they opened fire from a hill in the rear, thus preventing us from being over-whelmed, for our opponents were forced to take cover and could not surround us.
Those before us were in rough alignment along the bank of the ledge, so we were able to form a similar front, with a space of two or three yards separating us, while along the perimeter of the camp lay the rest of the troops in a half-moon. A young Transvaaler named Muller and I lay at the end where the rocks ran dead, and from here we could see the mountain-gun close by, busy shelling our commando. The gunners could not fire on us as they would have to hit their own men, and in any case they did not seem to realize that we were so near, for they were unconcernedly loading and firing at our men on the hill six hundred yards back. Standing behind the gun was a tall man handing shells to the three at the breech. I fired at him, and he spun round and sank in a sitting position against the wheel, where I found him dead when the fight was over. The other three ran for the camp at their backs. I fired at one, and he pitched forward dead, while Muller brought down a third, but the last man got away among the tents. Having disposed of the gun-crew in a matter of seconds we turned to the other work on hand. The place we were fighting in was an outcrop of loose rocks, jutting up like a reef, nowhere much higher than a man, although the rear slope fell somewhat more steeply into the English camp. In this narrow space, where we were facing each other almost at handshake, a grim duel began. As the soldiers raised their heads to fire we brought them down, for they were no match for us in short-range work of this kind, and we killed twelve or thirteen and wounded several more, at a distance of a few yards. We did not suffer a single casualty, except for the three men hit as we rode in. Of these, one was Edgar Duncker with a bullet through his foot, and another a Jew named Cohen, with a smashed - ankle. These two had been able to crawl forward to the firing-line and were taking part in the attack, but the third man, Raubenhemer (a brother of Vera, Countess of Cathcart), lay out in the open with his thigh broken, and his dead horse pinning him down.
Before he could reach his men, I hit a sergeant who came running up from the camp, a big heavily built man. He doubled up like a knife, and rolled about, shot in the stomach; then he died.
Nicolas Swart by my side shot two other soldiers in quick succession, as they tried to join those in the rocks. There was a young lieutenant a few feet from me. I found out afterwards that his name was Sheridan, and they said he was a cousin of Winston Churchill. Twice he rose to -fire at me and missed, at his second attempt I grazed his temple, and he dropped out of sight, but only dazed, for in a moment he was up again, swaying unsteadily on his feet, with his face streaming with blood, but still trying to level his rifle at me. While I was hesitating what to do, Jack Borrius shot him through the brain. Another soldier fired several hasty rounds at me, and I put a bullet into his heel, which was protruding from behind the rock near which he was lying. The sudden shock made him leap up, and again Jack Borrius, who was wonderfully quick, shot him dead as he rose.
In this manner the fight went on, until a mile beyond the camp we saw a small force of English troops approaching from the south. There were not many of them, but for all we knew they were the advance-guard of a relief force and, should sufficient reinforcements arrive to drive off our commando, those of us here in the rocks would be marooned, so we decided to clear the rocks by charging. After a whispered consultation from man to man, Jack Borrius gave the signal, and, rising together, we leaped in among the surviving soldiers. There were only ten or fifteen left, and so far as I can remember not a shot was fired on either side. Our sudden onslaught took them unprepared, and they surrendered at once. Without troubling about our prisoners we ran down shouting and cheering into the camp, before the rest of the defenders knew what had happened. When they saw us among the tents in their rear, something like a stampede set in. Soldiers went running in all directions, some making away into the thorn trees, others coming towards us and throwing down their arms. One man rushed to the horselines, and mounting barebacked, flourished a revolver and tried to ride off. I shouted to him to halt, but as he gave no heed I shot him dead. When the commando saw us enter the camp, they came galloping across, and the fight was over.
I took part in a final episode, for William Conradi and I, walking through a patch of trees to disarm some soldiers, came on a stone cattle-kraal, in which a dozen men were holding out. When we looked into the kraal, they were leaning on their rifles on the far wall and firing at some of our commando men moving in the distance. We called out 'Hands up! Hands up!' but they turned instead and blazed a volley into our faces. Only our eyes were showing or we should both have been shot.
Conradi killed one man and wounded another with a single bullet, and I wounded one, but even now they did not surrender, for, rushing across the kraal, they ranged themselves against the near wall, which alone separated us, and one of them thrust his rifle so near my face that his shot scorched my cheek and neck with cordite, fragments of which had to be picked out for days afterwards, -with the point of a knife. When I seized the muzzle he gave an oath and jerked it back so forcibly that the sharp foresight gashed the ball of my thumb and the palm of my hand, and I had to let go.
The situation was fast becoming dangerous, when, to our relief, we heard the sound of voices through the trees, and a number of our men came running up to see what the firing was about. The soldiers now threw their rifles over the wall, but even this was not the end, for, as I hastened round to the entrance of the kraal to receive the prisoners, I collided with a soldier who came crouching along to get us in the flank. He did not know that the fight was over, and if I had not rammed him when I did, in another moment he would have been round the corner, shooting us down while we were engaged with the men inside. He said- I was a 'surprise packet', offered me a cigarette, and came with me to join his captured companions in the kraal with his hand amicably on my shoulder. The whole incident had not lasted five minutes, but it had been sharp enough, and Conradi and I reckoned ourselves well out of it as we hastened back to the camp to take part in the looting. The commando was up and there was a great ransacking of tents and wagons. The small relieving force that had given us cause for alarm turned out to be only a patrol, and it had the doubtful satisfaction of watching us from afar as we turned the camp inside out.
When we had done we were like giants refreshed. We had ridden into action that morning at our last gasp, and we emerged refitted from head to heel. We all had fresh -horses, fresh rifles, clothing, saddlery, boots and more ammunition than we could carry away, as well as supplies for every man.
Moreover, we had renewed confidence in our leader and in ourselves, a factor of considerable importance to a body of men in a hostile country.
In the fight we lost only one man, who was killed when we rushed the camp, and six wounded, whereas the enemy had thirty killed, many wounded, and many taken prisoners.
I did not count the number of soldiers opposed to us, but there must have been about two hundred. They belonged to the 17th Lancers, one or the crack regiments of the British Army- Among their wounded was their Commander, Captain Sandeman, and Lord Vivian, whom I found among the rocks where we first rushed them. He it was who told me the fate of the three men killed and mutilated by the Basutos, the day that we crossed the Orange River. He pointed out his little bivouac tent, and said that it would be worth my while to have a look at it I was not slow to take the hint, with the result that having started that morning with a grain-bag for my chief garment, a foundered horse, an old rifle, and two cartridges I now appeared in a handsome cavalry tunic, riding- breeches, etc., with a sporting Lee-Metford, full bandoliers and a superb mount, a little grey Arab, which his coloured groom said had been the property of Lieutenant Sheridan.
I also selected a strong riding-mule in preference to another horse, for my experience during the past fortnight had taught me that a good mule for long marches and a light nimble pony for use in action were the ideal combination.
After I had completed my equipment, commissariats and ammunition supply, I walked around the camp.
We considered that the taking of it was chiefly the handiwork of our original storming party, for while we could not have done it without the protection and covering fire of the commando, yet by riding in on the heels of the English troopers and taking post on the very edge of the camp, we had served as the spearhead that made success possible. I also saw the dead gunners and other men whom I had shot, and I looked on them with mixed feelings, for although I have never hated the English, a fight is a fight, and though I was sorry for the men, I was proud of my share in the day's work.
Lastly, I went to see what had become of my roan mare. She was still patiently standing where I had left her at the ledge. On each side of her lay a dead horse, but she had escaped unharmed. The gallant little beast was, however, so exhausted that when I tried to lead her away she could scarcely put one foot before the other, so I unsaddled her, throwing the saddle aside, for it was old and worn with much use since I had taken it from (general Clements's camp ten months before. Removing the bridle and halter, I turned her loose in the hope that some neighbouring farmer would look after her, for she too had shown the mettle of her Free State pasture, and the marvellous endurance of the South African horse.
General Smuts now ordered us to set the tents and wagons on fire, and to destroy the mountain- and machine-guns, as well as such surplus ammunition and other supplies as could not be removed. Then, leaving the prisoners, mule-drivers and native servants to shift for themselves, we rode off in triumph.
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