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A Handbook of the Boer War

They had been attacked by Beyers


In

the direction from which an attack might be expected Clements' camp, which lay at the foot of the Nek, was protected by a low ridge jutting out from the main range and ending in a detached kopje. This ridge was held by mounted infantry. Another detached kopje, called Yeomanry Hill, was occupied towards the S.E.

Delarey's general idea for the day's operation was simple: an advance by himself along the low ground upon the camp, coincident with an advance by Beyers on the other side of the range. Shortly before sunrise on December 13 Delarey endeavoured to rush the mounted infantry posts on the ridge, which in anticipation of an attack had been strengthened on the previous evening. Their vigorous resistance foiled the enterprise and Delarey was driven off.

Soon, however, the sound of firing on the heights showed that the Northumberland Fusilier posts on each side of the Nek were in action. They had been attacked by Beyers, but fortunately not as had been intended by Delarey simultaneously with his own attack upon the ridge; otherwise it is probable that it would have been successful. After a desperate struggle, in which the Fusiliers lost heavily, they were overpowered, and Beyers was in possession of the high ground overlooking the camp. An attempt made by Clements to recover the Nek failed. Beyers' burghers came plunging down like a cascade and broke upon the camp itself.

Clements

anticipated that Delarey would soon return to the charge and ordered a retirement, which was effected under cover of the artillery and a rearguard of mounted infantry. Shortly before noon he formed up on Yeomanry Hill. Delarey renewed his attack, but met with such sturdy resistance that his men could not be induced to push it home. In the course of the afternoon Clements withdrew towards Rietfontein, having lost in killed, wounded and prisoners more than two-thirds of his 1,500 men. An orderly retreat was effected, and the column, which had been surprised by Beyers and had seen its camp in the possession of the enemy, brought away, in the presence of superior numbers, all its ten guns.

[Illustration: Noitgedacht Nek.]

Broadwood on the other side of the range, to communicate with whom Clements had taken up an unsound position at Noitgedacht Nek, lost touch with him, and like many a British officer before him in South Africa, was groping in the Fog of War. Two days previously he had heard that Beyers was approaching, and he knew that Delarey was not far off; yet in his ignorance of the situation he allowed Beyers to wriggle in between him and Clements and to meet Delarey. At the time when Clements was defending himself against the combined attack of the two Boer leaders, Broadwood was seven miles away, placidly patching a field telegraph cable; and when at noon he discovered that Clements was in action he made no attempt to create a diversion.

It would be inequitable to surcharge the Noitgedacht misadventure and other "regrettable incidents" to any individual: they should rather be surcharged, not to this or that responsible commander, but to irresponsible Human Nature. The British Army was, to a great extent, stale and veld-sick. It was informed that the war would soon be over, and it had become slack and careless. Convoys were sent afield with insufficient escorts to run the gauntlet of ever watchful and alert Boer commandants; Intelligence news qualified by the reports of untrustworthy native spies was transmitted circumferentially from column to column, with the result that the leader to whom it was of the most importance was sometimes the last to receive it; the scouting and patrol work was casual and rash. It is, however, but just to say that when the occasion called for it, the fighting qualities of the British soldier showed no signs of deterioration.


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