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A Handbook of the Boer War

The spruit was shelled with little effect by Q Battery


equally confident that the whole force of the enemy was on his flank on the right bank of the Modder, marched heedlessly into the ambush which De Wet had laid for him in the Korn Spruit, on the direct line between two adjacent British posts, and which neither of them had discovered, although the usual patrols had been sent out. When the patrol from the Waterworks to Boesman's Kop did not return in due course on the morning of March 31, its absence seems to have caused no anxiety to Amphlett.

Broadwood, groping in the Fog of War, believed that the force on his flank was Olivier's, who had driven him out of Thabanchu, and who now, as he thought, had overtaken him. The possibility of a raid from the north did not occur to him. He pressed on towards Boesman's Kop and carelessly approached the sunken and treacherous cutting through which the Korn Spruit trickles to the Modder, between banks of even height which almost up to the brink make no perceptible break in the surface of the veld. His ground scouts and advanced guard were Cape carts full of refugees followed by the wagons of his convoy. Next in succession came U Battery of Horse Artillery with its mounted escort of colonial troops.

Preceded by the Cape carts, which De Wet, in order to disarm suspicion, allowed to cross to the left bank, the column lumbered down the slope into the spruit and was quickly sucked into the trap. In silence broken only by the rumble

of the wheels and the Kaffir cries of the drivers, and unseen by the gunners close behind the leading wagons were seized by quiet, determined burghers and placed under guard. The approach to the drift was soon blocked, and in the heart of the entanglement was U Battery. When it reached the incline, men sprang up out of the spruit and lined the bank, and without firing a shot made prisoners of the gunners, who, jammed by the transport, could neither fight nor retire, and were easily taken from their teams and guns, and conducted by their captors down to the bed of the spruit. Only the Major commanding the Battery and the Serjeant-Major got away. Q Battery and its mounted escort narrowly escaped being drawn into the ambush, but were warned in time and galloped back to the railway station buildings.

Up to that moment not a shot had been fired, but as Q Battery wheeled the Boers lining the bank opened upon it, and in the scrimmage another gun was lost.

The derelict and riderless teams of U Battery at the spruit were shot down by the Boers to prevent the escape of the guns, but not before one gallant team had wrenched its gun out of the enemy's grasp and had broken away. The Boers were now in possession of five guns of U Battery and of one gun of Q Battery. The spruit was shelled with little effect by Q Battery, which unlimbered near the station buildings. Only a plunging fire could have harmed the enemy hidden in it.

It is hard to say whether De Wet or Broadwood was in the greater danger at 9 a.m. on March 31. The former had, it is true, just obtained a dramatic and most encouraging success. He laid a trap for a convoy and found himself in action with a force numerically equal to his own. He had made many prisoners, and almost without striking a blow had captured not only Broadwood's convoy but also six of Broadwood's guns. His force, however, was divided. The portion of it under his own command could not be effectively supported by his brother's command, and was confined in a spruit out of which he could not move, and which was commanded in rear by higher ground.

Broadwood had been outwitted by De Wet and very roughly handled. With a crippled and maimed force he was lying between the jaws of a vice which might at any moment close and crush him. The loss of the convoy was, from a tactical point of view, not an unmixed evil, as he gained thereby greater freedom of action, but the loss of half his guns was for the time being irremediable. The careless and haphazard scouting from the Waterworks and Boesman's Kop, in which he complacently trusted, had lured him on.[40] When it was reported to him that the spruit was in possession of the enemy, he could scarcely believe it possible. Whether he or the officers in command of the artillery and the mounted escort were responsible for the extraordinary omission to send out ground scouts in advance of the column is not known, but the guns and wagons would not have been lost had this simple and customary precaution been taken.

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