Sunday, 6 March 2011



Here it may be as well to review the geographical position of this now famous place. Ladysmith, as a position for purposes of defence, is very badly situated. It lies in the cup of the hills, and stony eminences command it almost in a circle. Towards the north is Pepworth's Ridge, a flat-headed hill fringed at the base with mimosa bushes. Click picture to close
North-east is Lombard's Kop, which is flanked by a family of smaller kopjes. South of this hill and east of Ladysmith is a table-headed hill called Umbulwana. South of this eminence runs the railway through the smaller stations of Nelthorpe and Pieters towards Colenso. To the west of Pepworth's Ridge is Surprise Hill, and other irregular hills which rise from four to five hundred feet on all sides. The place is watered by the Klip River, which enters the valley between the hills on the west, twists gracefully in front of the town, and turns away among the eastern hills before making its way to the south. The position, commanded as it was on every hand, was not an enviable one, but the glorious fellows who had fought in two brilliant engagements were in no wise disconcerted.

OFFICER OF THE NINTH LANCERS. Photo by Gregory & Co., London.

Photo by Gregory & Co., London.

Yet all were on the alert, for the Boers had now closed in round the town, and an engagement was hourly expected. A little desultory fighting took place, but when the British troops advanced, those of the Orange Free State at once retired towards the border.
 The town, however, was somewhat harassed for want of water, owing to the Boers having cut off the main pipes. The inconvenience was merely temporary, as the Klip River, which runs through the main position, was fairly pure, and there were wells which could be made serviceable. A captive balloon was inflated by the Royal Engineers, and was used for the purpose of making observations, much to the annoyance of the Dutchmen, who had securely perched themselves at points of vantage on the surrounding hills.
They were at this time on the north and east, having laagered south-east of Modder Spruit and Vlaak Plaats, some seven miles from Ladysmith, and were preparing to arrange a closely-linked chain of earthworks that should effectually surround the garrison. An exchange of shots now and then, however, was all that took place for a while between the contending parties, though both sides were evidently gathering themselves together for some definite move. The situation was thus described by a captive in Ladysmith:—


"Saturday and Sunday have passed without any demonstration being made by the enemy. The camp has again assumed its condition of readiness and watchfulness. On Saturday afternoon it was rumoured that General Joubert, with the commando encamped at Sunday River, was experiencing difficulty in transporting the 40-pounders across the spruit, which was swollen after the heavy rains. Small parties of Boers are constantly on the alert, and are harassing the British outposts.

"Scarcely a day passes without the outlying pickets being fired upon. The latest reports say that the enemy are gathered in considerable force on Dewdrop Farm.

remains of boer rig gun

"Great excitement has been caused in the Artillery camp by the capture of a supposed spy, who was caught in the act of tampering with the guns. The man had eluded the vigilance of the sentry, and had opened the breech of one of the 15-pounders when he was noticed. He was promptly arrested. When asked what he was doing, he said he was a lieutenant in the 18th Battery. Questioned further, he contradicted himself, and said that it was quite by accident that he opened the breech. He admitted that he belonged to Johannesburg. He was marched off in custody of the guard. The sequel of the story has not been made public.

Huns fighting for the boers at ladysmith
"No camp followers are allowed, and all here have been ordered to leave. The enemy are now undoubtedly closing round Ladysmith. A large commando is reported to be on the Helpmakaar road, and a large camp has been formed between the Harrismith Railway Bridge and Potgieter's Farm. The camp on Dewdrop Farm extends for four miles. The enemy have an exceptional number of waggons. The Boer patrols are very venturesome; they have approached within three and a half miles of the town, and one party actually removed carcasses ready dressed for consumption from within the slaughtering lines."

The prospect was far from cheering, particularly as Sir George White was well aware that his field-guns were ineffective against the powerful guns of position which the enemy were handling with unpleasant dexterity. At this critical period the united forces of Ladysmith and Glencoe only amounted to some 10,000 men, more than half of whom were infantry. The General, however, put the best face he could on the matter, telegraphed home for big guns—and waited!

boer uniform

General Joubert now expressed his opinions on the causes of the war. His ideas, published in the German journals, were of interest as showing the sentiments of the opposite camp:—

coombe hill wendover memorial

"It was evident to our Government after the Jameson raid, that Great Britain would be forced in time by various sordid elements into a war of extermination with the Boers. It was equally clear that this danger could only be averted by armaments on a most extensive scale. We were conscious that the impending war of annihilation would incur the sharpest condemnation on the part of the other European Powers, but history had taught us that not one of these Powers would be roused to intervene in our favour. In these circumstances we had to rely on our own strength.

all the queens men

"By indefatigable zeal and heavy sacrifices to augment our forces, and yet to secrete them from the observation of the British—these were the objects of our noblest exertion. Well, we succeeded, and hoodwinked the British. Spies were permitted to obtain glimpses of our obsolete artillery, but until the war was on the point of breaking out they had no suspicion of the formidable extent of our stores of modern material.

great scratch figure by christos pandapopolous

"We counted on the unreliability of the British announcements concerning their own preparedness, and attended as little to their cries of 'To Pretoria!' as did the Germans in 1870 to the Parisian boasters who shouted 'À Berlin!' Without completely denuding her colonies of troops, Great Britain cannot possibly despatch more than about 85,000 men to South Africa. Of this imposing force, only half will be available for the chief battles. It may be possible for Great Britain to effect the landing in various places of these troops by the middle of December. I estimate, however, that the losses in prisoners, killed, sick, and wounded will amount in the meantime to some 10,000. There will thus remain 75,000 men.

"Even should we fail to prevent the junction of the British troops under Sir Redvers Buller and be compelled to retreat, the British army would become from natural causes so debilitated that it would represent a force for operative purposes not exceeding 35,000. The remainder would have to be employed in protecting lines of communication extending some 700 miles.

"Our lines of depôts, on the contrary, are in home territory. They are constructed at regular distances in three directions, and barely 500 men are necessary to cover them. Excellently-organised communications have been established between them, and if any one of them be seriously threatened, the stores—if rescue be impossible—will be destroyed.

"Moreover, defensive warfare—to which we need not think, however, of resorting for a long time to come—is fraught with far greater advantages to us than offensive operations. With a change of terrain there will be a change of tactics. In Natal and the south we have to deal with unfamiliar conditions. On the high plains of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State we shall be at home, and the British will meet opposition from us and from Nature at every step of the way, and at all times be prepared for action on two or three fronts. In this way will be developed a guerilla warfare of a most inconceivably bloody character, such as the British will be unable to endure for more than a few months."

General Joubert then protested that the Boers were fighting merely for the freedom of their own "narrower" Fatherland, and not with a view to the destruction of British preponderancy in South Africa. He acknowledged the bravery of the British soldiers, but imagined that hardships and deprivations would so demoralise them that they would be unable to hold out against an enemy superior in numbers.

"In these circumstances," he continued, "do not accuse me of boasting when I frankly say that victory will be ours. Every one of us is filled with the same conviction and unshakeable faith in God, that He will remain as true to us in this as in former wars, and that He will not allow the blood shed and to be shed in this struggle, that will probably last yet a year, to extinguish us and our children."

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