The sequel to the Colenso disaster was a suggestion that White after burning his ciphers—a precaution which he naturally would take—and firing away his ammunition, should negotiate with the enemy for the surrender of the town. To this White made the manly and dignified reply that there was no thought of surrender; and to his own men he issued a soldier-like order of the day, in which he told them that they must not expect relief as early as had been anticipated, and expressed his confidence that the defence would be continued in the same spirited manner in which it had hitherto been conducted; and dutifully he applied himself to his task.
A few days later he was bidden by Buller to “boil all his water.” From Potgieter’s Drift, Buller heliographed that “somehow he thought he was going to be successful this time”; that it was “quite pleasant to see how keen the men were”; that he hoped to be “knocking at Lancer’s Hill” in six days’ time; but after Spion Kop it was, “we had awful luck on the 25th.”
[Footnote 31: As the officer in command of the Naval Brigade neatly put it: “the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The cavalry soldiers did excellent service in the lines—and we ate their horses.”]
[Footnote 32: The Boer name for Caesar’s Camp—Wagon Hill Position.]
[Footnote 33: This instruction was not included in the original heliogram, but was annexed to it as an afterthought in a supplementary message.]
Deus ex Machina, No. II
On January 10, 1900, Lord Roberts reached Capetown in the Dunottar Castle, the ship which ten weeks previously had brought Buller to South Africa, and resumed the task which he was not allowed to finish in 1881. The terms of peace imposed upon the British Government by the Boers after Majuba Hill resulted in an armistice of eighteen years, and he was still the soldier to whom the nation instinctively turned when it was again in trouble in South Africa.
With one unimportant exception all his war experience had been gained in India or near its frontiers; but India is a spacious arena where spacious ideas can be freely developed. His mind had not been scored into grooves by years of desk duties in Pall Mall, or subjected to the necessity of accommodating itself to obsolete methods and House of Commons’ views. The Indian Army, of which he obtained the command after serving in it in each commissioned rank, more closely approaches in its training, organization, and readiness for active service, the military standard set up by the chief continental nations, than the British Army; of which a distinguished German officer said at the time of the Boer War that it was meant for detachment warfare only and not to win great battles.