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A Handbook of the Boer War

And the tactical victory was complete


Suddenly

a white flag was seen fluttering near the laager between the kopjes. There is no reason to believe that it was treacherously raised, but it compelled Hamilton to order the Cease Fire. Yet at once half a hundred Boers started up and rushed as a forlorn hope upon the crest: a remnant of stalwarts, who even succeeded in firing a round or two from the guns which had just been taken from them. There was a moment or two of doubt and bewilderment, but Hamilton with the help of a few junior officers rallied the waverers, and earned the Victoria Cross, which on account of his high military rank was withheld from him; the guns were recovered, the laager rushed, and the tactical victory was complete.

Elandslaagte was as unreal a victory as Talana. The troops had not rested many hours in their bivouacs on the ridge before they received orders to return without delay to Ladysmith, which was still threatened from the west by the Free State commandos; and by noon on October 22 not only had Elandslaagte been hurriedly evacuated, but stores, ammunition and even some prisoners had been left behind in the scuttle. Next day it passed without effort into the possession of a small body of Free Staters, who were astonished to find it abandoned.

Meanwhile Yule after the failure of his movement on Glencoe found his position insecure and reluctantly resolved to retire on Ladysmith, although it entailed leaving not only his supplies and

ammunition but also his wounded behind him. The victory of Talana had indeed been won but the victors were exhausted by it and unfit to stand up to Erasmus on Impati. It became necessary for Yule to disappear immediately and stealthily.

On October 23 soon after midnight the maimed and harassed force slipped quietly away and trudged wearily to the south. When the mist rolling aside next morning disclosed the evacuation the Transvaalers on Impati occupied the town almost simultaneously with the reoccupation of Elandslaagte by their allies the Free Staters; and thus the battlefields of two British victories were redeemed by the defeated. It is no reproach to Yule that military necessity compelled him to leave behind the wounded of Talana Hill. The death of Symons on October 23 was a pathetic episode of the Natal Campaign. He passed away of his mortal wound while the Boers were looting the camp in which he was lying and wondering, in the rare intervals of conscious thought, why the troops whom he had led so gallantly had been taken from him; and for half a year his grave lay lonely in the enemy's country before another British soldier could stand beside it.

The retreat of Yule's force was effected without more trouble than that which was caused by the nature of the country and the alternations of the climate. Van Tonder's Pass--a difficult defile which would have been impassable under opposition--was crossed, and a sudden spate on the Waschbank river only temporarily checked the retirement. A column was sent out from Ladysmith by White to check the Free Staters who had re-occupied Elandslaagte and to prevent them falling on Yule, and on October 24 they were engaged with success at Rietfontein. The sound of the artillery in this action was audible to Yule on the Waschbank, but he was unable to account for it.


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