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A Handbook of the Boer War

48 its destination being Belfast on the Delagoa Bay line


Lord

Roberts' plan for the Natal Army was that it should march across the veld to the Delagoa Bay railway and co-operate in his movement to clear the Eastern Transvaal. The Brandwater Basin surrender relieved the railway in Natal from immediate danger and allowed the ample force holding it to be reduced. At the end of July Buller was instructed to lead 11,000 of his men across a sparsely populated country where no railway was. It was for him a novel phase of warfare. Hitherto he had hardly dared trust himself out of sight of a culvert. But he was a man from whom the terror of the unknown very soon passed away when he had no choice but to face it. In Natal he would have stood aghast at a suggestion that he should cut away his moorings and be wafted by the winds of war for ten days or more across a strange ocean. If hitherto he had been _nec celer nec audax_ now he became at least _audax_. Lord Roberts had imbued him with the progressive spirit. He raised no difficulties of his own, and he encountered those arising out of the situation resolutely and successfully. His army was strung out upon the railway from Ladysmith to Heidelberg; his transport was still organized regimentally, a system which had hampered Lord Roberts' movements and was soon abolished in the main body; and oxen, mules, and wagons were scarce. For infantry he chose the IVth Division under Lyttelton, and for cavalry the brigades under Brocklehurst and Dundonald.

On August 7 Buller's

column quitted the Natal line;[48] its destination being Belfast on the Delagoa Bay line, along which Lord Roberts was now advancing.

Its progress may be compared to the course of a steamer across an unquiet ocean. The waves raised by a fresh gale on the starboard bow were cleft by the stem, only to reunite behind the churn of the propeller. They were powerless to abridge the day's run by many miles, but they could still swing forwards to the shore. On one occasion the ship was slowed down to a standstill by a fog.

The waves were the commandos of the district, most of which had retired under C. Botha from the Laing's Nek positions. Buller had not much difficulty in dealing with them as obstructions to his advance, and in succession he occupied Amersfort, Ermelo, and Carolina; but they soon returned to their stations. His own inclinations would probably have persuaded him to halt and smash them, but he was marching against time between two widely separated bases. Near Carolina on August 14 he came in touch with French, who was acting with Lord Roberts' eastward movement from Pretoria, and from that date the operations of the Natal Army were merged in those of the main Army, and came under the immediate direction of the Commander-in-Chief.

A scheme proposed by French and sanctioned in substance by Lord Roberts, for an immediate cavalry turning movement round the left flank of the enemy, who was strongly posted astride the railway near Belfast; in conjunction with a central infantry advance to be made by Buller and Pole-Carew, whose Division was within reach, was discountenanced by Buller, and a simple frontal movement was substituted for it. Its practicability was doubtful owing to the marshy character of the ground.


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