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A Handbook of the Boer War

Passed on and halted at Hartebeestfontein


A

movement towards the south by Cunningham, with a view of checking Delarey, soon brought Cunningham into trouble. After crossing the Magaliesberg he was entangled by the Transvaal leader, and had to be extricated by Babington before he could proceed to his destination at Krugersdorp.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 292.]

Smuts, the new leader, went to the Gatsrand. His first exploit was to snap up a weak and isolated British detachment at Modderfontein Nek, and to establish his own commando on the position. When Cunningham reached Krugersdorp he received orders to tackle Smuts. On February 2, having an overwhelming superiority in guns and a considerable advantage in numbers, he attacked Smuts; but the apprentice tactician had little difficulty in meeting the regulation frontal holding attack combined with a turning movement, and Cunningham withdrew.

In the Western Transvaal there were now three Boer leaders to be dealt with: Smuts in the Gatsrand, Delarey in the Zwartruggens, and Kemp. The latter had come down from the north with Beyers and had been with him when the line was crossed at Kaalfontein. He had lately returned to his own district of Krugersdorp. With Botha threatening in the east and De Wet raiding in the south, few troops could be spared to help the columns on the spot; but two additional columns, under the command of Shekleton and Benson, and composed mainly of details, were

assembled by Lord Kitchener. One of these went astray, but the other joined Cunningham and advanced against Smuts in the Gatsrand, only to find that he had escaped at first towards the south, and had then changed direction and had vanished in the N.W.

Methuen, who towards the end of November, 1900, had gone south from Mafeking in order to deal with apprehended trouble in Griqualand West, pushed up from the S.W. corner of the Transvaal and on February 18, 1901, came upon Delarey, who had escaped from Babington and had reinforced a gathering of weak commandos near Hartebeestfontein. Although outnumbered by more than 4 to 3, Methuen without much difficulty compelled Delarey to withdraw, and went on to Klerksdorp. Smuts reappeared and with Delarey made off to the N.W., the sanctuary to which each of them had in turn repaired. Methuen was sent south to Hoopstad in the Orange River Colony. He had hardly started when news came in that an isolated garrison seventy miles away in the N.W. was threatened.

Delarey had a definite objective in view when he disappeared, his native town of Lichtenburg. The place was one of many for which Methuen, with an attenuated force, was responsible; and now he had been called away to a town in trouble in the opposite direction. Two columns nearer at hand were called upon to relieve Lichtenburg, but in the meantime it had relieved itself; for although Delarey succeeded in winning a footing within it, the obstinate resistance which he encountered disheartened him, and he withdrew on March 4 after twenty-four hours' fighting.

The next three weeks were occupied in the pursuit of Delarey by two columns under Shekleton and Babington, at first in directions which he had not taken. They started westward from Ventersdorp, not conceiving it possible that, after the repulse at Lichtenburg, he would have the audacity to throw himself across their left front in an attempt to reach Klerksdorp. When the news that he had actually done so reached them they changed direction southwards, Delarey opening outwards to let them pass through towards Wolmaranstad, whither the Intelligence had in imagination waybilled him. The British columns, unaware that he was on either side of them, and still under the impression that he was on their front towards the south, passed on and halted at Hartebeestfontein, when a reconnoitring party sent out northwards discovered that he was in rear of the columns.


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