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A Handbook of the Boer War

Was in possession of the Waterval Drift


appreciation of the situation was that it would have been useless to pursue De Wet's mounted troops with infantry. He therefore carried out the letter of his instructions from Lord Roberts, and, seeing that Broadwood's column was apparently safe, went on towards Waterval Drift: whither also Martyr had already sent the greater portion of the mounted infantry. Thus the brothers De Wet gained not only an actual, but also a moral success of the greatest importance to their cause, and took away the prizes they had so unexpectedly won, under the eyes of a strong British force helplessly watching the commandos trailing away across the veld.

Waterval Drift had been indicated to Colvile and Martyr as their objective by Lord Roberts, and they considered that it was their duty to make for it. They did not, however, recognize that instructions must be read in the light of the information at the disposal of the superior officer at the moment of issue, and they adhered to them pedantically.[42] Lord Roberts could not have anticipated Broadwood's plight when he ordered Colvile and Martyr to Waterval Drift.

Meanwhile, the news of the disaster had reached Bloemfontein. French's attenuated cavalry brigade, still panting with the fatigue of the Karee Siding affair, was ordered out, and Colvile was instructed to endeavour to make a turning movement, and with French's assistance to act on the Boer line of retreat. By sunset Colvile,

after some opposition, was in possession of the Waterval Drift; the enemy having despatched the prisoners, the loot, and the captured guns to the north, was still in occupation of the Waterworks; Broadwood's mangled column was on its way back to Bloemfontein; and French was expected to appear upon the stage at sunrise next morning. The approach of the cavalry, which had picked up Broadwood at Springfield, was delayed by a report, which proved to be unfounded, that a body of the enemy was on the right flank marching on Bloemfontein, and French did not come into touch with Colvile until nearly midday on April 1. After reconnoitring the Waterworks and the Boer positions on the right bank of the Modder, Colvile came to the conclusion that he was not strong enough to attack them. Next day all the troops were ordered by Lord Roberts to fall back upon Bloemfontein.

Broadwood was not wholly, not even mainly, responsible for the Sannah's Post disaster. He was unable to retrace that unlucky first false step when, rashly assuming that the ground had been properly reconnoitred and patrolled, he pushed into the angle between the Modder and its tributary; and there can be no excuse for the negligence which tossed the convoy and the guns into the abyss. But he received neither support nor information until it was too late. No serious attempt was made to let him know that a strong force was on its way from Bloemfontein. Martyr failed to report himself, and Colvile was content to be an interested spectator of the closing scene of the drama. Each leader assumed that the moves of the Kriegspiel had been correctly played and that there was nothing more to be done.

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