In order to deal with them, a pause in the operations became necessary. A series of night raids was instituted. In the first of these Botha, who was lying twenty miles west of Ermelo, was nearly taken. He succeeded in escaping towards the S.E., but was headed by a column under Pulteney operating from Wakkerstroom and was forced towards the upper waters of the Vaal. The raid upon P. Viljoen in the Bethal district was so far successful that in it 200 of his burghers were made prisoners, and one of the guns taken at Bakenlaagte was recovered: while he himself not only escaped, but succeeded in putting 300 of his followers under J. Prinsloo across the recently established Brugspruit-Waterval line of Constabulary posts and in planting them in the “protected area” as seeds of future mischief.
Bruce Hamilton now resumed the general operation eastwards with fair success. Botha at Beginderlyn was faced by the columns supporting the right flank of the advance, and had the Ermelo-Standerton blockhouse line behind him. One of his lieutenants named Britz went out and ambushed a night raid sent out from the line on December 19 at Holland, making nearly 100 prisoners; and a few days later he squeezed through an enveloping movement in which he lost somewhat heavily, but he eventually succeeded in rejoining Botha.
It was now necessary to drive on to Bruce Hamilton a compact little force of over 800 burghers, which on New Year’s Day, 1902, Botha had under his command; and this task devolved upon Plumer and the other column commanders operating from the S.E. corner of the Transvaal. Botha was engaged at Bankkop, between Ermelo and Amsterdam, by a strong scouting party acting in advance of the main columns, which he was on the point of overwhelming when it was reinforced. He escaped without difficulty, taking with him eighty prisoners. The plan of throwing him into Bruce Hamilton’s arms had failed.
Bruce Hamilton returned to Ermelo, and late in January again swept the country, with scanty results. His operations had been successful to the extent that they finally denied the high veld to Botha, who in February withdrew to the Vryheid district, and secreted himself among the mountains. Bruce Hamilton was sent after him and hunted him for a month. His next appearance was neither as a prisoner of war nor as an opponent in battle, but as the representative of his country on the way to attend the Peace Conference which assembled at Pretoria on April 12.
P. Viljoen, as soon as Bruce Hamilton was out of the way, discussed the situation with his followers. It was decided that he should take action in what was apparently the direction of greatest risk. With 400 men he burst through the line of Constabulary posts, and on January 24 joined J. Prinsloo in the Wilge River Valley, within the so-called “protected area.” Prinsloo, even before Viljoen’s arrival, had maintained himself without difficulty; and for some weeks after February 24, when an unsuccessful effort was made at Klippan to crush them, they were practically left to roam as they willed, no British troops being available to deal with them effectively.