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A Handbook of the Boer War

27 Thorneycroft saw that if these wavered


Almost

simultaneously with the despatch of this not unfavourable report, and long before it was received by Warren, two companies posted in a detached trench on the right threw up their hands, but not before they had lost all their officers. Out of the crest line sprang the Boers, who having made them prisoners, endeavoured to impose the surrender upon the men in the main trench.[27] Thorneycroft saw that if these wavered, as they seemed inclined to do, all was lost; and rallying the details within reach, he succeeded in thrusting back the intruders, who, however, had already sent their prisoners below the hill. His prompt action stayed the wave of doubt which threatened to flood the position, and compelled it to break before it could do much harm.

At 3.50 p.m. Coke, who was still on the S.W. spur, and therefore not in direct touch with Thorneycroft, informed Warren that the enemy was being gradually cleared from the summit, and that he had been reinforced with the Scottish Rifles from Potgieter's Drift by Lyttelton, whom Warren, after receiving Crofton's mis-transmitted message, had ordered to co-operate. He had already forwarded a letter written at 2.30 p.m. by Thorneycroft, stating that the force on Spion Kop was being badly punished by artillery, was in want of water, and was insufficient to hold the position. To this letter he had added a note of his own which showed that he did not attach much importance to it, saying that he had ordered more

troops on to the plateau, where "we appear to be holding our own." This letter, with Coke's covering note, did not reach Warren until after he had received Coke's message sent nearly an hour later, and he assumed that the latter indicated the existing hopeful situation with which he had to deal. Of the physical features of the Spion Kop position he knew little more than what his telescope told him, and he read optimistically the meagre, inconsistent, and misleading reports which reached him occasionally from the summit. He hoped during the night to place some naval guns on the plateau: he was informed that an accessible spring of water had been discovered: reinforcements were at hand: there was nothing more to be done.

Lyttelton, when ordered to "assist from his side," acted with intelligence and discernment. Noticing that Spion Kop, whither he had already dispatched the Scottish Rifles, was full of men, he sent the King's Royal Rifles towards the flanking position on the Twin Peaks, and the battalion supported by the naval guns, and ignoring messages of recall prompted by Buller, who was watching the advance with anxiety, worked its way up and expelled a Transvaal contingent and a small body commanded by an Irish renegade, all of whom were hurled by the impact into a flight of eight miles. The position was at once entrenched and at 5 p.m. the right flank of Spion Kop was secured, but only for a time. Again, as after Lord Dundonald's movement on Acton Holmes, a promising enterprise was thrown away. Buller had from the first disapproved of Lyttelton's action, which still more widely distributed his already scattered command. He was too far away to see its bearing upon the situation, and now ordered him to recall the King's Royal Rifles, who after sunset were withdrawn from the position, which they had so gallantly captured in spite of warnings signalled from Spion Kop that it was strongly held by the enemy.


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