Kekewich, meanwhile, was searching for Delarey elsewhere. He had bespoken at Head Quarters W. Kitchener’s co-operation in the quest and was relying on it; but a column commander on trek in partibus Boerum is hard to find, and no instructions reached Kitchener.
The need of a General Manager on the spot to co-ordinate the activities of the syndicate of column commanders who had so signally failed to bring Delarey to book was now manifest; and Ian Hamilton, who had greatly distinguished himself in two of the early combats of the war, was now chosen to bring it to an end. On April 8 he joined Kekewich at Middelbult.
Ian Hamilton quickly formulated a plan of using the three columns, 11,000 strong, of Kekewich, W. Kitchener and Rawlinson, who had lately been in pursuit of De Wet in the Orange River Colony, as a scythe to sweep over the country with a swing at first grazing Hart’s River, then the Vaal, and finally coming to rest at Klerksdorp. Only four days were allotted to the movement, which began on April 10 and called for a daily march of more than forty miles. Delarey had been summoned to take part in the negotiations for peace, and Kemp was in charge of the Boer commandos, which numbered about 2,600 burghers.
It happened that Kekewich, whose force was detailed as the right of the advance, bore too much to the left on the first day’s march, and found himself in rear of Rawlinson. Kemp was observing the movement, and assumed that he had located the British right, whereas Kekewich had partly regained his position by moving towards Roodeval, where Kemp was hovering for a chance to fall on the rear or the flank of Ian Hamilton’s columns.
Kekewich reached Roodeval early on April 11, and at once pressed forward to Hart’s River. His advanced guard almost immediately discovered a large body of mounted men on the left front, who, until they opened fire, were by some strange misconception taken to be a portion of Rawlinson’s column. They were in fact more than a thousand Boers under Potgieter, who as soon as he had disposed of the advanced guard, made for the main body, which was not yet formed up, and by which Potgieter’s men were again mistaken for a portion of Rawlinson’s column. The error was discovered, but not too late. The Boer attack, which for sheer reckless bravery could hardly be surpassed, and which has been compared to the Dervish charge at Omdurman, was made in the open against a considerable force, was repelled; and Potgieter fell dead at the head of his commandos. Rawlinson hurried up to the sound of the firing and drove away the enemy, who retired, but not in disorder, to the south. A remnant, however, broke back and even sniped the main body. In less than three hours after the first shot had been fired by Potgieter, Kekewich and Rawlinson started in pursuit. Kemp, however, saved himself, and escaped with what was, under the circumstances, the inconsiderable loss of the two field guns which Delarey had taken from Methuen at Tweebosch.