As we retired the Boers kept following us up, though with great caution. Riding along the valleys, dismounting, and creeping from kopje to kopje among the stones, a large body of them came up to Brooks Farm, and began firing at our sangars and outposts at ranges of 800 to 1,000 yards, the bullets coming very thick over our heads, even after we had reached the protection of the Gloucesters’ walls and earthworks. There our infantry opened fire, while two guns of the 13th Battery near the railway cutting, and two of the 69th on Observation Hill, threw shrapnel over the kopjes, and checked any further advance.
But the Boers still held their positions, pouring a tremendous fire into any of the cavalry who had still to pass within their range. As to their number, their magazine rifles, firing five shots in rapid succession, makes any estimate difficult. I have heard it put as low as 600. Perhaps 1,000 is about right. I myself saw some 300 from first to last. By seven the whole of our force was again within the lines. Splendid as the behaviour of all the cavalry was, one man seemed to me conspicuous. Towards the end of the retirement he quietly cantered out across the most exposed bit of open ground, and went round among the kopjes as though looking for something. For a time he disappeared down a gully. Then he came cantering back again, and reached the high road along a watercourse, which gave a little cover. At least 300 bullets must have been fired at him, but he changed neither his pace nor direction. Whether he was looking for wounded or only went out for diversion I have not heard, but one could not imagine more complete disregard of death.
The rest of the day passed quietly. The Boers gathered in crowds on Gun Hill and stood around the carcass of “Long Tom” as though in lamentation. His absence gave us an unfamiliar sense of security. Some called it dull. “Lay it on where you like, there’s no pleasing you,” said the gaoler.
December 9, 1899.
The Dutch left us pretty much alone. Sickness is becoming serious. The cases average thirty a day, chiefly enteric. A Natal newspaper only a week old was brought in by a runner. It contained a few details of Methuen’s fight on Modder River, but hardly any English news. Captain Heath, of the balloon, told me he could see the Boers concentrating in much larger camps than before, especially about Colenso and at Springfield further up the Tugela.
THE CAPTURE OF SURPRISE HILL
Sunday, December 10, 1899.