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A Handbook of the Boer War

On April 8 he joined Kekewich at Middelbult


Cookson

soon found himself in presence of 2,500 Boers with four field guns, his own strength being 1,800 with the same number of guns. The position was a bad one as the ground rose on each side of the river; the bush offered cover to the attack, and the only cover available to the defence was the almost dry bed of the river. He threw out screens and proceeded to entrench and form a laager; while the screens faced in the open the fire of the enemy under cover in the bush on the high ground. Liebenberg made one attempt from the south to charge the main position, but was driven back by the southern screen which had been brought into the river bank; and after a second unsuccessful attempt, this time from the east, withdrew to the high ground on the north.

When the work at the laager at the farms, which was impeded by artillery fire from the S.W., was sufficiently advanced, the northern screen was withdrawn. Some confusion ensued, as the Boers in the bush immediately fell upon it, but their attempt to get at the main position on the river, though supported by artillery, failed. It never attained the crisis of an assault; and late in the afternoon it was called off by Delarey, who arrived from his Head Quarters near Hart's River.

Meanwhile the sound of the action had reached the ears of W. Kitchener, who twenty miles away was laying out his entrenched camp. He hurried to the rescue, but the cessation of the firing and the

reports of stragglers led him to the conclusion that Cookson had been annihilated. He reported to that effect to his brother, Lord Kitchener, and returned to camp. Next day he again went out, and found to his satisfaction that Cookson was still a military asset.

Kekewich, meanwhile, was searching for Delarey elsewhere. He had bespoken at Head Quarters W. Kitchener's co-operation in the quest and was relying on it; but a column commander on trek _in partibus Boerum_ is hard to find, and no instructions reached Kitchener.

The need of a General Manager on the spot to co-ordinate the activities of the syndicate of column commanders who had so signally failed to bring Delarey to book was now manifest; and Ian Hamilton, who had greatly distinguished himself in two of the early combats of the war, was now chosen to bring it to an end. On April 8 he joined Kekewich at Middelbult.

Ian Hamilton quickly formulated a plan of using the three columns, 11,000 strong, of Kekewich, W. Kitchener and Rawlinson, who had lately been in pursuit of De Wet in the Orange River Colony, as a scythe to sweep over the country with a swing at first grazing Hart's River, then the Vaal, and finally coming to rest at Klerksdorp. Only four days were allotted to the movement, which began on April 10 and called for a daily march of more than forty miles. Delarey had been summoned to take part in the negotiations for peace, and Kemp was in charge of the Boer commandos, which numbered about 2,600 burghers.

It happened that Kekewich, whose force was detailed as the right of the advance, bore too much to the left on the first day's march, and found himself in rear of Rawlinson. Kemp was observing the movement, and assumed that he had located the British right, whereas Kekewich had partly regained his position by moving towards Roodeval, where Kemp was hovering for a chance to fall on the rear or the flank of Ian Hamilton's columns.


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