The capture of Alleman’s Nek rendered Laing’s Nek untenable, and Clery closing up from Ingogo next day found it abandoned. The enemy had evacuated the whole of the Majuba-Laing’s Nek-Pougwana position, leaving scarcely so much as a wagon behind him, and was retreating northwards. The westward turning movement was tactically a success but strategically a failure. With three brigades of mounted troops under his orders, including some regiments of regular cavalry which were lying idle at Ladysmith and elsewhere, Buller made no attempt to cut off the retreating Boers. A daring raid, such as had been twice made by French on the Modder four months before, concurrently with the Botha’s Pass operations would have had a good chance of crushing C. Botha; and Brockleburst’s cavalry, which during the attack on the Nek was working somewhat widely on the left flank, might well have been sent to bar the way. The ponderous movements of Buller were in strange contrast to the activity of his ally Lord Roberts. The Natal Army made its way through the country like an elephant trampling through a sugar-cane plantation.
On June 13 Buller entered Volksrust and next day established his Head Quarters at Laing’s Nek. Wakkerstroom, a town which threatened his right flank, surrendered pro formâ to Lyttelton on June 13, and again to Hildyard four days later; and no doubt would have been equally ready to accommodate itself to the wishes of any other column sent to it, but after each surrender it reasserted itself, and Buller was obliged to leave it in charge of the commandos.
With the occupation of Laing’s Nek the Natal campaign, which had lasted eight months, came to an end, and Buller, having left a strong force under Lyttelton in charge of Natal, passed up the railway to Heidelberg; where on July 4 he for the first time came into physical touch with the main Army under Lord Roberts. By a curious coincidence he here met Hart’s Brigade of the Xth Division, which had left his command three months previously at Ladysmith, and which had in the meantime marched up from Kimberley.
[Sidenote: Map, p. 292.]
Lord Roberts’ plan for the Natal Army was that it should march across the veld to the Delagoa Bay railway and co-operate in his movement to clear the Eastern Transvaal. The Brandwater Basin surrender relieved the railway in Natal from immediate danger and allowed the ample force holding it to be reduced. At the end of July Buller was instructed to lead 11,000 of his men across a sparsely populated country where no railway was. It was for him a novel phase of warfare. Hitherto he had hardly dared trust himself out of sight of a culvert. But he was a man from whom the terror of the unknown very soon passed away when he had no choice but to face it. In Natal he would have stood aghast at a suggestion that he should cut away his moorings and be wafted by the winds of war for ten days or more across a strange ocean. If hitherto he had been nec