[Footnote 14: To the various courses, ranging from Balloons to Economics, which are open to British Officers, might be added a course in English Grammar and Composition, for the instruction of staff officers and others who may have to formulate battle orders and despatch important telegrams on active service. The art of composing a clear, terse, and unambiguous order or telegraphic message is not studied in the Army. Not a few telegrams of vital importance in the South African War were composed by impressionist staff officers who lightly assumed that what was present in their own minds must necessarily also be present in the mind of the recipient. The author particularly remembers a certain telegram from a staff officer of a column, in which it was impossible to discover from the context whether the word “they” in the concluding paragraph referred to British Columns or to Boer Commandos previously mentioned.]
[Footnote 15: Major-General Baden-Powell, in Cavalry Journal, April.]
The Natal Wedge
[Sidenote: Map p. 50]
The northern section of Natal before the war roughly assumed the shape of a wedge driven in between the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The Drakensberg Range on the one side and the Buffalo River on the other formed the cleaving surfaces, Majuba and Laing’s Nek were the cutting edge, and the base was the Tugela River.
In mechanics a wedge is an instrument which can be usefully employed only under favourable circumstances. It has many disadvantages. It is easily jammed. The driving power at the base must be considerable; much of the force is absorbed by the friction on the surfaces; the progress made is very slow; and if the surfaces encounter a more tenacious material they will be perforated. A wedge is intended chiefly for cleavage and disruption when less clumsy methods are not at hand.
The defects of a wedge as a mechanical power at once became apparent to the British force which occupied Natal when war became inevitable. The cutting edge was inaccessible and liable to injury which could not be easily repaired; much trouble was anticipated from the presence of Boer commandos in contact with the surfaces; the base did not appear to be sufficiently well designed to receive the impact of the propelling force; and there were grave doubts as to the soundness of the material of which an important section of the wedge, namely Ladysmith, was constructed.
It was therefore proposed by the military authorities that the Natal wedge should not be used as an instrument in the war. To this the civil government at Pietermaritzburg strongly objected on account of the evil moral effect which the abandonment of a considerable proportion of the Colony to the enemy would exercise upon the general situation in South Africa, and of the loss of prestige which the evacuation would entail in the minds of the natives, who numbered three-quarters of a million. Under pressure from the Colonial Office, and against its own judgment, the Army of Natal set itself to work upon the Wedge.