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A Handbook of the Boer War

The fight for Talana Hill encouraged each belligerent


It

seemed now that the victory was won, but an unfortunate mistake postponed it. The two field batteries on the plain, which had ceased fire before the final infantry rush, changed position and came under a heavy fire from the Boers who were still in possession of a section of the Talana ridge. The light was bad and the guns re-opened upon the crest line in the belief that the whole of it was still occupied by the enemy. The practice was excellent, and in a brief space both sides were driven off the hill by the shrapnel. A subsequent attempt to take it was successful. The result of the battle, which lasted from sunrise until 2 p.m., might have been reversed but for the inaction of the main Boer force posted on Lennox Hill under L. Meyer, and of another force on Impati under Erasmus, who, though he could hear the noise of battle pealing through the mist which lay upon the hill, abstained from intervening.

The whole Boer force was now in full retreat along the line by which it had advanced so silently the night before, and Yule ordered the two field batteries up to the nek between Talana and Lennox to pound the retreating burghers as they slowly trekked towards the Buffalo River; but again an unfortunate misapprehension intervened. The officer in command, being under the impression that an armistice asked for by Meyer two hours before had been granted, refrained from opening fire and the Boers escaped untouched. A serious misadventure marred the success

of the day. The 18th Hussars, who at the commencement of the action received orders to hold themselves in readiness to advance when occasion offers, soon appeared to the restless general to be losing their opportunity, and were hustled into activity. They charged in various directions and even made some prisoners; but one squadron lost its way and was captured in an attempt to ride round Impati by a detachment of Erasmus' force at a farm where it had taken refuge.

The fight for Talana Hill encouraged each belligerent. In England it was received as an indication of the early and successful termination of the struggle. The Boers regarded it as a reconnaissance in force from which they had returned with slight loss, and they could boast that they had reaped the first fruits of the harvest of war; a squadron of British cavalry which, with the commanding officer of the regiment, was at once dispatched into captivity at Pretoria, where its arrival was accepted as a proof of a great Boer victory in Natal.

Talana Hill regarded as an isolated event in the Natal campaign was a distinctly successful encounter, the credit of which is due entirely to the infantry engaged in it. Twice the artillery blundered, and the cavalry was inoperative. The extent of the loss suffered by the Natal Field Force in the death of Symons must always be a matter for speculation. But it is at least probable that if he had survived to take part in the subsequent operations, his ardent, impetuous, Prince Rupert like temperament would have beneficially impregnated with greater audacity the stolid and ponderous tactics and strategy of the Natal campaign.

The unreality of the Talana Hill victory soon became apparent. The threat of Erasmus sitting on Impati still impended, and Yule moved his camp next day to a site which he believed to be out of range. But in the meantime Erasmus awoke from his trance and, on the afternoon of October 21, opened fire with a six-inch gun,[18] and again Yule was compelled to shift his camp. He had already asked for reinforcements, but White was unable to spare them, and recommended him to fall back upon Ladysmith. Next day Yule was encouraged by the news of a British success at Elandslaagte; and with the object of intercepting the Boers who were reported to be retreating on Newcastle, he endeavoured to seize Glencoe, but Erasmus on Impati forbade the movement.


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