Through this district, which is intersected by ranges running generally east and west, and which contains some towns of importance, the troops set free by the relief of Mafeking advanced in two columns towards Pretoria and Johannesburg. The southern column was Hunter’s Xth Division, which after easily occupying Potchefstroom and Krugersdorp, passed through Johannesburg, and on Hunter’s being sent into the Free State was broken up at Heidelberg. The northern column, under Baden-Powell, occupied Rustenburg and met with little opposition during the month of June. It was intended by Lord Roberts, if all went well, that this column should eventually take up a position on the Pietersburg railway, north of Pretoria, which was unprotected in that direction.
The inactivity of the Boers seemed to show that they had really lost heart, and that an awakening such as that which came a few weeks after the entry into Bloemfontein was improbable. Earlier in the month of June there had been negotiations for peace, not only between subordinate leaders in the Free State and Natal, but also between the two Commanders-in-Chief in Pretoria; and although they were broken off, the fact that they had occurred made the silence more significant and gave hope that the enemy was reconsidering his position.
The illusion was soon dispelled. Whether owing to the natural resilience of the Boer character after a brief phase of doubt, or to the news of De Wet’s successful attacks on the railway in the Free State, the smouldering fires broke out anew early in July. Delarey, who had checked French at Diamond Hill, came out of the east to quicken the west; the baffled burghers of Snyman, released from the siege of Mafeking, were trickling vaguely into the district; a force under Grobler of Waterberg was reported north of Pretoria; an incursion was made across the Vaal from the Free State; and commandos appeared south of the Magaliesberg near Olifant’s Nek and Commando Nek, thus threatening the movements of Baden-Powell, who was operating north of the range and who had occupied Commando Nek and the adjacent Zilikat’s Nek on July 2, leaving only a small force at Rustenburg. Five days later the Boers failed in an attempt to recapture the town, which was saved by a detachment of the Rhodesian Field Force.
This force, which was under the command of Sir F. Carrington, was composed mainly of mounted contingents from the Colonies. It had been raised a few months before at the instance of the British South Africa Company to hold the northern frontier of the Transvaal, which after Plumer’s departure for the south was unguarded, and to deny Rhodesia to the Boers should they attempt to break out northwards. It was from the first under a sort of dual control which militated against its efficiency. The Company made the arrangements for its enrolment and equipment, while the War Office provided the staff. It was in difficulties from the first. By a somewhat strained