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A Handbook of the Boer War

He doggedly stared at the words Heilbron


On

May 28 the Boers took up positions which practically surrounded Spragge, but he held his own that day and the next; and although the enemy was reinforced on the 29th, he was not so closely invested that he could not have broken out. Firing was heard in the S.E., and Spragge, believing that it was Rundle in action, endeavoured without success to communicate with him.

So long as the investing force was without guns, Spragge was confident of being able to hold on. But on May 30 a further reinforcement came in. Martin Prinsloo joined his brother with three guns and a strong commando. The Prinsloos, who were acting under the orders of De Wet, had originally been detailed to look after Colvile, but were drawn away by the attraction of an easier prey at Lindley.

On May 30 a kopje on the west, from which the Boers were sniping into the position, was captured by Spragge, but soon fell again into the hands of the burghers. It was recovered next morning, but pressure elsewhere squeezed it finally out of the grasp of the re-captors. The Boers had brought their guns into action. The key of Spragge's position was two kopjes on the S.E. of the defence. The outer kopje was rushed by the enemy, the detachment occupying it being driven back towards the inner kopje. A panic-stricken non-commissioned officer in the connecting post between them raised the white flag without authority, and, it is said, was immediately shot for having

done so. The officer in command on the inner kopje considered that he was bound by the act and recognized it, and only hastened the inevitable end. There was a last wriggle or two, and then Spragge, who was surrounded by 2,000 Boers with artillery, gave in.

Nearly 500 yeomen were added to the panel of British prisoners of war by the hawk-like swoop of De Wet and the brothers Prinsloo almost under the eyes of three Divisions of the British Army. For not only were Colvile and Rundle aware of Spragge's predicament, but as soon as it was reported to Lord Roberts, Methuen was ordered to the rescue.

Methuen, who only arrived at Kroonstad from the west on May 28, was already on the move to help Colvile, from whom a disquieting message had been received at Head Quarters. Colvile's safe arrival at Heilbron next day rendered assistance unnecessary, and Methuen, under instructions from Lord Roberts, turned towards Lindley. He was, however, too late, for as he approached the town the news of Spragge's surrender reached him on June 1. He ran into the rear of the Boers hurrying away with their prey, and even intercepted two guns and some wagons, but was unable to retain them.

The Lindley affair sent Colvile back to England in the wake of Gatacre. The responsibility of the surrender was fixed upon him and he was deprived of his command. He had no doubt been in a false position during the first fortnight of the advance from Bloemfontein when he was kept trailing behind a junior officer, and this slight perhaps affected his judgment, but he was constitutionally incapable of viewing a situation synoptically and perspectively. As at Sannah's Post, so again at Lindley the halation of a word or two in his orders fogged the image on his retina. He doggedly stared at the words _Heilbron, May 29_, as if the whole issue of the campaign depended upon them. There was nothing in the context to show that they were more than the details of an itinerary which he was expected to follow if circumstances permitted. He was urgently in need of the very mounted troops with which he made no effort to put himself in touch. _Bis peccare in bello non licet_. Lord Roberts could forgive once, but Colvile was superseded for having twice shown a "want of military capacity and initiative."[44]


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