The Military Situation
*Story by The Sun*
Though the position of affairs will be materially altered before this sees print, a short resume of the position of affairs at the time of the arrival of the Australians should prove interesting. The Boers up to now have been steadily advancing. They have seized Northern Natal and have only been stopped from advancing on Durban by the steady resistance of Sir George White’s army at Ladysmith.
On the West they have seized Bechuanaland and Grishland, with the exceptions of Mafeking and Kimberley. South of the Orange Free State about twenty small towns have fallen to them almost without resistance. They are reported to have in the field about 60,000, of whom nearly half are under Joubert’s command in Natal*.
Though matters have been somewhat mixed in the open field with both sides claiming victories, with enormous losses on the enemy’s side the Boers have failed, despite their much-vaunted artillery, to make any impression on the fortified towns.
*Boer Numbers: (32,000 Transvaal Boers, 22,000 Orange Free State Boers, 4,000 Cape Rebels, 4,000 Foreign Volunteers creating a total of nearly 62,000. Only around 30,000 invaded Natal, however.)
This was also the case in the previous war, in which, though the Boers were everywhere victorious in the field, they failed to capture the defended towns within the Transvaal. The defence of Mafeking has been the most brilliant point of the war so far. Colonel Baden-Powell is a magnificent officer, a modern Rupert of the Rhine, daring, cool and resourceful. With thirteen hundred men he has held his post a collection of corrugated iron shanties against an overwhelming force of Boers, his men hiding in cellars by day to escape the rain of delicate shells and stealing out at night to countercheck and deal death blows wherever the enemy has pushed his works forward. Kimberley, defended by 4,000 men, has done well, but the little band far away in Mafeking has carried off the honours.
At Ladysmith the Boers stand several miles off and throw shells into the town. As caves have been excavated along the riverbank for the protection of the civilian population, and the soldiers are well sheltered behind their entrenchments, the bombardment has become harmlessly monotonous. Several of the bigger Boer guns are now looked upon by the Ladismith people as old acquaintances, and are known by nicknames, such as “Baby,” “Long Tom,” etc. “There’s a Baby crying again,” remarks someone, as a shell hurtles overhead.
The utter failure of modern death dealing weapons to commit wholesale destruction has become notorious. Artillery duels are nearly as harmless as the French duel described by Mark Twain. Of course, if the rival parties got near enough to one another, one would have to go under in very short time; but that isn’t “the game.” When one hears of so many thousand shells being fired with the force of half-a-dozen chimney stacks, and a man on the other side such phrases as streams of lead,” ” holocaust of fire,” etc., lose some of their terrors.
With rifle fire it is the same. Here the game is to be behind shelter and blaze away at the other fellow, who is consistently doing the same thing. If he is getting outflanked or the artillery begins to get the range on him, he will generally give back a little, and the game is then to follow him up a bit in case he should change his mind. The Boers generally give back when a solid forward movement takes place on the part of the British, for the glint of a bayonet has more terrors for them than all the Lee Metford in the British army. The use of the bayonet is another surprise. Military writers have been telling us for the past thirty years that it is obsolete, but here we find the same old British bayonet charge cropping up again with almost as much effect as over.
A Boer prisoner, captured after a bayonet charge on one of the battlefields of Natal, was asked what he thought of the bayonet charge. “Almighty!” he said. “You didn’t think I waited for that!”. As regards the present situation, the British have been waiting for the arrival of the whole of the Army Corps before venturing on any big movement. The Army Corps has not arrived with the celebrity expected of it, but in a short time the British will have 80,000 men in the field, and the turn of the tide may be expected to soon follow. General Lord Methuen, with 12,000 men, including the Australians, will shortly make an attack on the besieging force at Kimberley. General Gatacre will move towards the southern border of the Free State from Queenstown, and General Buller sets the ball rolling towards Ladysmith from Estcourt. Australians were vastly amused when they heard that the Boers were annexing portions of British territory in Natal, Bechuanaland and Cape Colony; but this seeming madness has its more serious side, and gives a striking indication of what Boer “slimness” is.
The Dutch of the Republics stand to lose the control of government, and temporarily, perhaps, political rights, if they are beaten. The Dutch of Cape Colony and Natal, on the other hand, under a special law enacted in 1882, and recently promulgated afresh for their special benefit, are liable to have their property forfeited, and even to be hanged, if they commit treason.
To remove the responsibility from their sympathisers, the Republican Boers annex the country as they pass through it, set up land dress and then commandeer male inhabitants as citizens of the Transvaal or Orange Free State, according to whichever of the two the territory happens to be annexed to. When the war is over, if the Boers are beaten, and they are cute enough to see that such a possibility may be in store for them, the Cape Dutchmen will set up the plea that they were forced to fight and couldn’t help themselves.In all probability they will revile the British for not protecting them from the invaders.
The Boers were very confident till they met a snag at Ladysmith, and talked of stabling their horses in the Durban Town Hall within a month. A wife of one of the Commandants had a magnificent dress specially made to wear when the Natal capital was formally taken over. For the sake of the lady, it is to be sadly feared that the dress will have ceased to be a la made before the occasion for wearing it rises.
The Boer women are showing tremendous spirit in this affair. Nearly all the country women are armed, ready to make short work of the Kaffirs if they attempt any hanky-panky tricks, and every Boer crew’s house, when an excuse offers, is converted into a nursing establishment. When a position of the enemy was surprised and captured during a night attack in Natal, two side-saddles were captured, showing that two women had been among the defenders and in a Boer camp, that means that they came to fight.
Another surprise of the war is the way the Free Staters are fighting. Hostile critics had repeatedly declared that it was only the Transvaal Boer who was to be feared, the Free State was become too torpid, too peaceful and timid from lack of fighting practice, according to these prophets. Now we find the Transvaalers acknowledging that the best fighting and shooting has been done by the Free Staters, and British officers endorse this opinion.
In the colonial districts that have been added so confidently to the Republic, many thousands of Dutchmen have meekly bowed the head to the commandeering law and are now engaged shooting Britishers with an enthusiasm that will do their mentors credit here, also that women are foremost in anti-Imperial manifestations. When news arrives that a commando may shortly be expected, the ladies work day and night making orange sashes and puggarees, in order to deck themselves and the expected heroes in the colours of the conquering Free State.
Then, when the unkept horde arrives, roses are strewed beneath their horse’s feet, and songs sung in praise of their prowess. It is not the uneducated youth who takes the lead in these triumphs, but the boarding-school Miss, who a few short weeks ago was playing tennis and flirting with British officers and curates. In Capetown the same feeling is also very strong among the Dutch women, though it lacks opportunity for free expression, the Boers not having as yet added this city to their already expanding area of control
The much-talked-of Irish Brigade found in the Transvaal turns out to be a rather sorry affair. Its numbers in its ranks include many who are not Irishmen, and if it were described as an “International Brigade” the term would be much more suitable. Altogether it amounts to less than 100 men. Its commander (Colonel Blake) is, however, a man to be reckoned with. He was at one time Colonel of the Sixth United States Cavalry and is a noted Indian lighter. Some of the other officers, too, have held commissions before. The Irish Brigade is too small and too polyglot in its composition to add another Fontenoy to the list of British battles.
The German corps is more substantial in its nature, numbering some 4,000 men, and commanded by scientifically trained German officers. A portion of it was decimated at Elands Laagte, where the Natal and British cavalry charged thrice through its retreating ranks. Many Imperial German officers are also accompanying the Boer forces in order to study actual effects of up to date arms and strategy. Russian, French, and Dutch officers are also reported to be present and to be supplying information in a manner irritating to the British As a matter of fact, Turkey is the only country in Europe that is showing a friendly spirit towards the Old Country in the present struggle.