A Handbook of the Boer War eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 415 pages of information about A Handbook of the Boer War.

On September 29 Kekewich took up a position at Moedvil near the right bank of the Selous River.  He was compelled to place all his westward outposts, except one double picket, on the right bank, as the veld on the left bank was bushy and rose gradually from the river and would have absorbed more men than he could spare for outpost duty.

Delarey was accurately informed of Kekewich’s movements, and it is said had actually reconnoitred the camp unobserved a few hours after Kekewich’s arrival.  He quickly formulated his plan of attack, in which he seems to have followed, on a smaller scale, the familiar tactics of the British leaders whom he had met in battle, notably at Diamond Hill, but with a certain innovation of his own.

He divided his force into four columns, two of which were told off to grapple Kekewich’s flanks and command his line of retreat, and two to make a frontal but not merely holding attack on his centre.  Early in the morning of September 30 Delarey put his columns in motion.  He started with certain points in his favour.  All Kekewich’s outposts save one were on the right bank and in the vicinity of the camp, and in fact Delarey took him by surprise.  The movements of the Boer columns were, however, not well co-ordinated.  The flanking columns were not in position when the centre columns, which do not seem to have been challenged by the post on the left bank, reached the river and concealed themselves in the deep bed.  This might not have marred the success of Delarey’s plan if the columns in the river-bed had not been discovered by a patrol which gave the alarm and brought them prematurely into action.

The situation now resolved itself into an attempt to storm the position.  The centre columns sprang out of the river while it was still dark, mounted the steep bank and opened fire up the slope on to the camp on the skyline above.  A stampede of the horses ensued, but a resolute front was quickly formed and the attack was checked.  An alarm that the enemy was threatening the rear of the camp was proved to be unfounded by a scratch gathering of details which was hastily mustered; it then wheeled round, and picking up reinforcements on the way charged the Boer left at the river.  The charge was irresistible, and the sun had hardly risen when Delarey’s whole line fell away.

No limit can be assigned to the British soldier’s power of resistance when he finds himself in a tight place, but it would probably have gone hard with him if Delarey’s tactical scheme had been accurately carried out, and if the flanking columns, one of which was under the command of Kemp, had been further in advance when the centre columns were discovered.  A panic among the horses which threw the camp into confusion, supervening on an unexpected attack while the dawn had scarcely shown above the Magaliesberg, was soon followed by a cry that the position had been turned.  Yet at that critical moment of the dark hours, when animal courage is supposed to be at its lowest ebb, Kekewich’s men never wavered, and although they were only called upon to deal with a blundered manoeuvre, yet it exacted from them a toll in casualties of nearly one fourth of their strength.  Kekewich was wounded, and the loss of horses and transport pinned him to the ground until he was relieved by a column from the south, which had marched to the sound of the battle.

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A Handbook of the Boer War from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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