There was little to mark the day beyond the steady shelling of snipers by the Natal Navals, and a great 96lb. shell from Bulwan which plunged through a Kaffir house, where black labourers live stuffed together, took off a Kaffir’s foot, ricocheted over our little mess-room, just glancing off the roof, and fell gasping, but still entire, beside our verandah. I rode up to Caesar’s Camp in the morning sun. It was a scene of sleepy peace, only broken by the faint interest of watching where the shells burst in the town far below.
THE GREAT ATTACK
January 6, 1900.
It has been a commonplace of the war that the Boers could cling to a position of their own choosing from behind stones, but would never venture to attack a position or fight in the open. Like all the comforting commonplaces about the Boers, this is now overthrown. The untrained, ill-equipt farmers have to-day assaulted positions of extraordinary strength, have renewed the attack again and again, have rushed up to breastworks, and died at the rifle’s mouth, and have only been repulsed after fifteen hours of hard and gallant fighting on the part of the defence.
Waggon Hill is a long, high spur of Caesar’s Camp, running out south-west between Long Valley and Bester’s Farm. At the extremity, as I have described, are the great gun-pits prepared for “Lady Anne” and a Naval 12-pounder some weeks ago. “Lady Anne” was for the second time being brought up into position there last night, and ought to have been fixed the night before, but was stopped half-way by the wet.
The Boer attack was probably not merely an attempt on the gun, but on the position, and the gun is being taken back to her usual position to-night. Besides the gun-pits, the hill has no defences except a few low walls, only two or three stones high, piled up at intervals round the edge, as shelters from long-range fire. The place was held only by three dismounted squadrons of Imperial Light Horse, but the 1st K.R.R. (60th) were in support in a large sangar about three-quarters of a mile along the same ridge, separated from Waggon Hill proper by the low “nek” where the two howitzers used to stand. From the 60th the ridge turns at an angle eastward, and becomes the long tableland of Caesar’s Camp, held by the Manchesters and 42nd Battery (Major Goulburn). The top is broad and flat, covered with grass and loose stones. The whole position completely overlooks the town to the north, and if it fell into the enemy’s hands we should either have to retake it or quit the camps and town. The edge measures 4,000 yards, and the Manchesters had only 560 men to hold it.
At a quarter to three a.m., while it was still dark, a small party of Boer sharpshooters climbed up the further (south-east) face of Waggon Hill, just left of the “nek.” They were picked men who had volunteered for the exploit. Nearly all came from Harrismith. We had posted a picket of eight at the point, but long security had made them careless, or else they were betrayed by a mistake which nearly lost the whole position. From the edge of the hill the whole face is “dead” ground. It is so steep that an enemy climbing up it cannot be seen. It was almost a case of Majuba again.