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A Handbook of the Boer War

Led White to report to Buller soon after noon


The

normal garrison of the Platrand, which, since the attack on November 9 had been entirely included in the perimeter of the defence, numbered not more than about 1,000 men, but it was under the command of Ian Hamilton.

When the firing began he was in his bivouac near Caesar's Camp. He quickly collected what troops he could lay his hands on, and went to Wagon Hill, where he found the situation so serious that he asked White to re-inforce him. At daybreak the Boer artillery opened upon the position, and it is probable that it would have been lost, but for the action of two field batteries which, at a critical moment, came out of Ladysmith and diverged so as to protect each flank.

Already on the Wagon Point flank, the enemy had worked round and had threatened the heavy gun, and on the other flank he was holding the eastern shoulder of Caesar's Camp. Wagon Point was saved from a turning movement by one battery, while the other, though itself under artillery fire from Bulwana, opened on the Boers clinging on to the eastern shoulder, and by checking the advance of their supports, caused them to withdraw the hook with which they were grappling that flank. But more than this the British guns could not do, and the Boers holding on to the front crest could not be touched by shrapnel, and were maintaining themselves against the defenders of Caesar's Camp; while a combat of even greater intensity was being waged on Wagon

Hill.

Here an attempt made by a few companies of Highlanders to outflank the Boer line on the crest by working round the shoulder of Wagon Point, had failed, as the men were exposed to an irresistible fire as they turned the corner. On Wagon Hill the enemy was holding on to the front of the redoubt on the knoll and each attempt to dislodge him was unsuccessful.

Towards noon there was a lull in the storm. After nine hours' fighting, the combatants were face to face on the plateau and the advantage lay apparently with the attacking Boers, who, in spite of the strong re-inforcements which had been sent up by White, were still clinging to the southern crest of Caesar's Camp, and who on their left had won a footing close to the knoll on Wagon Hill, and were effectively checking the details on Wagon Point. White having used up all the infantry which he could safely spare from the other positions on the perimeter, now sent the cavalry to the rescue.

The pause in the fight, which seems to have been occasioned by the exhaustion and discouragement of the enemy, and which, perforce, had to be acquiesced in by the defence, led White to report to Buller soon after noon, that the Boers had been beaten off for the time being, but that a renewal of the attack was probable. It came at the moment when he was sending the despatch from his Head Quarters on Convent Hill, and when Ian Hamilton was preparing a counter-attack round the shoulder of Wagon Point. A small body of Free Staters rushed the summit of Wagon Point, and by their impact drove many of the defenders down the reverse slope. But those who remained were resolute. After a hand to hand fight between Boer commandants and British officers around the emplacement which had been prepared for the heavy gun, the position was recovered and a reinforcement of dismounted Hussars came up in time to secure it.

On Wagon Hill also the struggle was renewed, and here also the defence was strengthened by some dismounted cavalry which had been waiting in support in rear of Caesar's Camp. It was evident that if the enemy were not dislodged from Wagon Hill during daylight, he would be able to establish himself irremovably after dark, when all the waverers would come up under the protection of the night. At 3 in the afternoon White reported to Buller that the attack had been renewed and that he was "very hard pressed." He called the Devons to his aid from their post on the northern section of the perimeter, and in a storm of rain and thunder, themselves a resistless tempest, they cleared Wagon Hill with magazine and bayonet.


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