As we were talking, up galloped General Brocklehurst, Ian Hamilton, and the Staff, and I was called upon to give information about certain points in the country to our front—names and directions, the bits of plain where cavalry could act, and so on. The Intelligence Department had heard a large body of Free State Boers was moving westward from the south, as though retiring towards the passes. The information was false. The only true point about it was the presence of a large Boer force along a characteristic Boer position of low rocky hills about three miles to our front. There the General thought he would shell them out with a battery, and catch them as they retired by swinging cavalry round into the open length of plain behind the hills. So at 11 a.m. out trotted the 19th Hussars with the remains of the 18th. Then came a battery, with the 5th Dragoon Guards as escort In half an hour the guns were in full action against those low hills. The enemy’s one gun there was silenced, but not before it had blown away half the head of a poor fellow among the Dragoon Guards. For an hour and a half we poured shrapnel over the rocks, till, except for casual rifle fire, there was no reply. Then another battery came up to protect the line to our rear, across which the Boers were throwing shells from positions on both sides, though without much effect. Soon after one, up cantered the Volunteers—Imperial Light Horse and Border Mounted Infantry—and they were sent forward, dismounted, to take the main position in front and occupy a steep hill on our left. To front and left they went gaily on, but they failed.
At their approach the rocks we had so persistently shelled, crackled and hammered from end to end with rifle fire. The Boers had hidden behind the ridge, and now crept back again. Perhaps no infantry could have taken that position only from the front. I watched the Volunteers advance upon it in extended lines across a long green slope studded with ant-hills. I could see the puffs of dust where bullets fell thick round their feet. It was an impossible task. Some got behind a cactus hedge, some lay down and fired, some hid behind ant-hills or little banks. Suddenly that moment came when all is over but the running. The men began shifting uneasily about. A few turned round, then more. At first they walked and kept some sort of line. Then some began to run. Soon they were all running, isolated or in groups of two or three. And all the time those puffs of dust pursued their feet. Sometimes there was no puff of dust, and then a man would spring in the air, or spin round, or just lurch forward with arms outspread, a mere yellowish heap, hardly to be distinguished from an ant-hill. I could see many a poor fellow wandering hither and thither as though lost, as is common in all retreats. A man would walk sideways, then run back a little, look round, fall. Another came by. The first evidently called out and the other gave him a hand. Both stumbled on together, the puffs of dust splashing round them. Then down they fell and were quiet. A complacent correspondent told me afterwards, with the condescending smile of higher light, that only seven men were hit. I only know that before evening twenty-five of the Light Horse alone were brought in wounded, not counting the dead, and not counting the other mounted troops, all of whom suffered.