[Sidenote: Map, p. 260.]
The Orange River Colony did not receive its incorporation into the British Empire with a display of gratitude for the honour conferred upon it.
The urgent message sent by Botha to De Wet on May 27 after the British Army had crossed into the Transvaal was hardly necessary to incite that free lance into action after his own heart, and he at once quitted Frankfort for Lindley.
When Lord Roberts entered the Transvaal he left behind him a considerable force to teach the New Colony its duties. Besides the stationary troops at Bloemfontein and on the railway, the VIIIth and Colonial Divisions under Rundle and Brabant were at Senekal and Ficksburg; Colvile with the IXth Division, who had been taken off Ian Hamilton’s lead and allowed to run alone, was near Lindley; and Methuen had come into Kroonstad from Bothaville, the line of his march, which was originally towards the Transvaal, having been changed by orders from Lord Roberts.
Such were the forces against which De Wet was ready to fling himself. Early in June he was faced by another opponent. Lord Kitchener had come down from the Transvaal with a strong column.
Lord Roberts, on leaving Bloemfontein for the north, instructed Rundle to “exercise a vigilant control east of the railway.” In co-operation with Brabant, he worked up through the fertile district along the Basuto border, slowly but steadily; his immediate object being to prevent the enemy breaking back towards the south. No serious opposition was encountered, and by the middle of the month the Divisions had advanced to Clocolan and Winburg, where Rundle came in touch with the IXth Division.
Colvile received orders to advance to Lindley and Heilbron. He was instructed to reach Heilbron with the Highland Brigade on May 29, and was informed that a force of Yeomanry under Spragge would on May 23 join him at Ventersburg, which he would pass through on his march.
Spragge was unable to be at Ventersburg on the date fixed and was ordered on to Kroonstad, where he received telegraphic instructions to join Colvile at Lindley on May 26 at the latest. It has never been ascertained by whom this fatal message was despatched. No British staff officer has ever acknowledged himself the sender of it, and it has been suggested that it was sent by a Boer sympathizer who was better informed of Colvile’s movements than the Intelligence Staff.
Colvile believed that his presence at Heilbron on May 29 was imperatively required in connexion with the advance, and, although very weak in mounted troops, he pushed on from Ventersburg without waiting for Spragge. On May 26 he reached Lindley after some resistance outside the town, and next day resumed his march to Heilbron, which, though checked on the way, he reached on the appointed day.
Meanwhile, Spragge was doing his best to deliver himself to the IXth Division, to which he was waybilled. He moved a few miles out of Kroonstad on May 25, and next evening was in bivouac within eighteen miles of Lindley. Next day he resumed his march on the town, about the same time that Colvile was quitting it for Heilbron. The two commanders were in entire ignorance of each other’s movements.