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A Handbook of the Boer War

Afterwards advancing to Sefetili


He

soon heard news which clearly indicated the way he should go. The railway from Buluwayo to Mafeking was held as far as possible towards the south by patrols of police under Nicholson, and the Rhodesian Volunteers under Holdsworth were also on the line. In the gap between the railhead and Mafeking, a Boer commando, said to have been detached from Mafeking by Cronje, was at Sekwani on the N.W. border of the Transvaal and within striking distance of the Western line. It was face to face with the border tribes and was soon in trouble with them. Although they were not allowed to attack Sekwani independently, they were permitted to co-operate as non-combatants in an attack which Holdsworth was about to make on it, but only on the condition that they did not cross the Transvaal border. This was a refinement of policy which they could hardly be expected to understand, and they precipitated Holdsworth's action by attacking the Boer laager, which lay but a mile or two across the border, on their own account, and the operation had therefore to be abandoned. To avenge this native attack, in which several burghers had been killed, reinforcements were brought over by the Boers from the Pietersburg line, and Holdsworth's position at Mochudi on the Western line, whither he had retired after the Sekwani failure, was endangered.

This was the news which reached Plumer at the end of the year. His original instructions were obsolescent and he readily adapted himself

to the altered situation. He saw that it was more important to clear the railway north of Mafeking than to remain where he was on the chance of a Boer invasion of Rhodesia, of which his reconnaissances south of the Limpopo saw no sign. The nearest station on the Western line was Palapye, and on December 27 he set out on his midsummer march of 170 miles to it. Within a fortnight, his little force of irregulars, which three months before had been sent out into the South African wilderness to perform duties that might have engrossed a division, passed away from Tuli beyond the Limpopo on to the visible stage of war near Mochudi.

In the middle of January, 1900, he reached Gaberones. On his left flank Sekwani was still occupied by the enemy, though in reduced numbers; in front of him the Boers were not only strongly posted on the railway at Crocodile Pools, but able to draw upon Mafeking for reinforcements, by the help of which they successfully resisted an attack on February 11. Plumer's force, though augmented by detachments he had picked up on the line, was unequal to the task of advancing along it. He therefore decided to diverge from the railway and advance by way of Kanya, a native town lying twenty miles west of the line.

On March 6 he reached Lobatsi, where he was forty-five miles from Mafeking. He found, however, that it was an awkward place to defend and soon quitted it, as Baden-Powell seemed to be in no immediate need, and was in fact averse to Plumer's small force throwing itself upon the besiegers. With the greater part of his command, the rest being sent back to hold the railway at Crocodile Pools, he withdrew to the base which he had established at Kanya; afterwards advancing to Sefetili, thirty miles from Mafeking, where he awaited the approach of Mahon's relieving column from the south. Baden-Powell, rejoicing in his siege, was not anxious that the game which he was playing so well should be brought to a premature conclusion, and was more afraid for Plumer than for himself.

Plumer filled in his two months at Kanya and Sefetili by occasional raids in the direction of Mafeking and by an expedition towards Zeerust. The column in the south, of whose movements many false reports reached him from time to time, seemed to be tarrying by the way, and it was not until May 12 that he received a message from Lord Roberts that it was nearing its destination.


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