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A Handbook of the Boer War

Where he found Van der Venter waiting for him


The

allies at once determined to continue the war. Lord Kitchener had permitted a communication to be sent to ex-President Kruger asking his advice. Kruger's reply, as might have been anticipated, was in favour of continuing the war. In his comfortable sanctuary in Holland he had nothing to lose by urging those whom he had left behind to carry on the struggle. In view of the tentacles with which Great Britain was grasping South Africa and of the general situation, the decision of the Council of War was a morally courageous act. There was in it, moreover, a special as well as a general idea. Particular attention was to be given to the cultivation of the numerous germs of mischief in the Cape Colony, and this part of the plan was entrusted to the brilliant young lawyer, J.C. Smuts, who returned with Delarey to the Western Transvaal.

An almost complete reconstruction of the Free State Government was rendered necessary by an episode which occurred soon after Steyn's return to his own country. When he and his colleagues crossed the Vaal they found Elliott again engaged on a drive. On the night of July 10 they were surprised at Reitz by Broadwood, who had joined Elliott's command, and all except Steyn were captured. De Wet was away, otherwise it is improbable that a man of such infinity of resource and strength of will would have allowed his friends to be taken tamely in their slumbers.

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The task set to Smuts was, to all appearance, impossible of fulfilment. Not only had he to collect a sufficient force in the Gatsrand under the eyes of British columns, but he had also to conduct it through the whole length of the Orange River Colony, and run the gauntlet of Elliott, C. Knox, Rundle, and Bruce Hamilton. By the middle of July he had recruited 340 burghers, who travelled south in four parties with British columns at their heels and mustered near Hoopstad on August 1.

Here they entered the precincts of the area into which Lord Kitchener was endeavouring in one grand drive to sweep the Boer remnants of the S.W. Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. Elliott was wheeling round from Reitz through Vredefort and Klerksdorp and advancing on the line of the Modder River, behind which stood Bruce Hamilton.[59] A considerable amount of transport and live stock was taken; also 500 Boers, among whom Smuts and his commando were not.

He had succeeded on August 3 in wriggling by night through Elliott's driving line and was now in rear of it. He now divided his force into two commandos, one of which, under Van der Venter, made for the south by way of Brandfort. With the other he boldly trailed behind Elliott and followed him to the Bloemfontein-Jacobsdal line of Constabulary posts, through which he passed without injury. He then found himself entangled in Bruce Hamilton's columns, and although he succeeded in reaching Springfontein, he was soon forced to retreat nearly seventy miles in the direction of Bloemfontein. Nothing daunted, he made another dash for the south, and having evaded two pursuing columns entered Zastron on August 27, where he found Van der Venter waiting for him. His daring and adventurous ride ranks as one of the most notable personal exploits of the war. He had not only cut Elliott's line from front to rear, but had afterwards enfranchised himself amid the swarm of Bruce Hamilton's columns. The lawyer Smuts was the De Wet of the Transvaal.

Kritzinger after fifteen weeks' activity in the Cape Colony had returned to Zastron a few days before Smuts' arrival. His incursion into the Colony in May occurred at an opportune moment, for the local rebels were being severely worried. He made at first for the Zuurberg, but being soon expelled from it and from the adjacent mountainous district north of Sterkstroom, circled back to the Orange and snapped up Jamestown. He now flung his grenades on all sides. One rebel leader reached the Transkei districts; others prowled between Graaff Reinet and the Capetown Railway. Kritzinger himself captured a small British detachment near Maraisburg.


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