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Wednesday, 8 April 2009
Driefontein, South Africa, The Times, 20 March 1900, Item 5
Topic: BatzB - Driefontein


South Africa, 10 March 1900

The Times, 20 March 1900, Item 5


The Times, 20 March 1900, p. 9.


The account is transcribed below.



Following up his successful turning movement the 7th, Lord Roberts advanced on Saturday ,  Driefontein, a position about seven miles early due south of Abraham s Kraal and 17 ilea from the main road leading from Jacobsdal through Petersburg to Bloemfontein. Although residents Kruger and Steyn, who were present at the enemy's camp on the 7th, "did all in their power to rally the troops the rout was complete, the men declaring that they could not stand against British artillery and such a formidable force of cavalry." The routed Boers were said to have retreated to Abraham's Kraal, about 12 miles east of Poplar Grove, their further flight sing arrested by a strong body of Bloemfontein police. On the 8th two cavalry brigades, with ores artillery and the 6th Infantry Division, were ordered, according to the official telegram, march ten miles eastward.- Either the Boers, who were believed to have retreated to Abraham's Kraal, must have moved southwards, or a fresh ores must have come up from Bloemfontein or .he Orange River, and the British advance was, a consequence, deflected southwards. The War Office map shows a group of kopjes and a large nester pan at Driefontein, and the position appears to have offered some defensive advantages. In any case, Lord Roberts reports that the enemy opposed the advance and " from their intimate knowledge of the country gave us considerable trouble." The fighting appears mainly to have occurred at Driefontein, where the kopjes were tenaciously held. The 2nd Cavalry Brigade made a turning movement to the south pending the arrival of the infantry. According to our Special Correspondent, the 13th Brigade, led by the Buffs, and the 18th, led by the Welsh Regiment, then proceeded to clear the kopjes, the latter specially distinguishing itself. The 9th Division with the Guards is said to have arrived at 4 p.m., too late to join in the attack. There is some difficulty in regard to the troops engaged, since the 18th Brigade must apparently belong to the 9th Division, while the Welsh and Essex battalions referred to in the despatch as turning " the Boers out of two strong positions at the point of the bayonet " do not belong to Lieutenant-General Kelly-Kenny's (6th) Division as it was originally constituted. The Boers are reported to have "suffered severely," leaving 102 killed and losing about 20 prisoners, but succeeding in the withdrawal of their guns. Lord Roberts reports three officers killed and 11 wounded. The advance was continued yesterday, and further opposition seems to be expected. At Driefontein Lord Robert s was about 45 miles from Bloemfontein, and the date of his occupation of the Free State capital now depends only on the solution of the problem of supply.

From this point of view the progress which has been made in the north of Cape Colony is extremely satisfactory. The Boers have every where fallen back to or across the Orange River.

In a despatch dated Poplar Grove, 1.10 p.m. on Friday, Lord Roberts reported that Major - General Clements, operating from Colesberg, had; "occupied Norval's Pont and the adjacent drift," and would cross the river as soon as his pontoon train arrived. Two spans of the railway bridge were blown up on the 6th inst., but as soon as the northern bank is in our possession the work of repair will be taken in hand. In about a fortnight, therefore, it is possible that there will be through railway communication across the Orange River. The Boers on the further bank are said to be not in force, and if, as our Special Correspondent at Poplar Grove telegraphs,  the submission of the Free State is being demanded of an unwilling President, there will be no serious opposition on the Orange River and the railway northwards can be repaired with little difficulty. The distance from Norval's Pont bridge to Bloemfontein is about 120 miles.

Further east, General Gatacre occupied Burghersdorp, 25 miles north of Stormberg, on the 8th inst., and thus holds the junction of the railway to Aliwal North with the line crossing the Orange River at Bethulie and joining the Free State railway at Springfontein. We must expect that the bridge at Bethulie, like that at Norval's Pont, will be cut by the Boers as soon as they have crossed the river, and here also repairs will be required. Major-General Brabant with his colonial forces occupied Jamestown - erroneously reported to have been previously captured - on the 8th, and left for Aliwal North, 35 miles distant, on the 10th. The general result of these movements is that the important railways connecting East London and Port Elizabeth with the Orange River and the cross line from Rosmead Junction to Stormberg are now in our hands, and that the south bank of the Orange River for 200 miles from the confluence of the Vaal to Aliwal North will shortly be completely clear of the enemy. Sir George White has left Ladysmith alter a touching farewell speech to his gallant troops, and is expected to reach East London on Tuesday. If, as we may hope, he quickly recovers from his attack of fever he will probably assume direction of the operations northwards from the Orange River, and 10,000 men from Six Redvers, Buller's force can apparently be spared to share in the advance into the Free State. The battalions which were engaged in the successive attempts to break through the Boer lines north of Colenso have, however, suffered severely. Our Special Correspondent estimates the loss between February 14 and 28 as 110 officers and 1,500 non-commissioned officers and men killed and wounded. These losses have fallen heavily upon some of the battalions, and reinforcements will be needed at once to bring them up to normal strength. On the 7th the Naval Brigade under Captain Lambton, from her Majesty's ship Powerful, left Ladysmith. The opportune arrive of this force on October 30, with long-ran g Bans, 12-pounder and 4.7in. on carriages hastily extemporized by the resourcefulness of the navy officers, averted a dangerous situation. The Boer artillerymen, with their heavier ordnance were no match for the seamen gunners, and while ammunition lasted the latter were always able to hold their own. During the later stages of the long siege it became necessary to consider the expenditure of every cartridge; but to the last the enemy seem to have retained their respect for the naval guns. Remembering the performance of the Naval Brigade before Sevastopol an in Central India, the work of the Powerful contingent cannot be regarded as unique; but never probably in our history has the ready aid of the Navy been of greater venue to the sister service than at Ladysmith, ' and that aid has certainly never been more promptly forthcoming.

There is little fresh news as to the rising of the Dutch in Griqualand. On the 5th inst. an advanced .guard of New Zealand Mounted Infantry reached Carnarvon after a 'march of SO miles from Victoria West. Lord Kitchener, after a flying visit to Kimberley and Carnarvon, has arrived at Victoria Road Station, about 30 miles from Victoria West, to organize a small field force, and we may therefore expect that prompt measures will be true. Ignorance of the truth as to recent events appears to be the only explanation, of this rising, which has occurred only when the rebellion in the north-east of Cape Colony shows every sign of collapsing.

There is no further news from Mafeking, for which great anxiety must now be felt. The latest telegram, dated February 19, stated that "dysentery and stomach evils" were.. "rife among the garrison," and that "the cheerfulness characteristic of the early days of the siege has almost deserted us." We may be certain that anything that is possible will be done to, sate the gallant garrison, whose endurance and resource will shed a bright light .on the history of the campaign. If an effort is being made it would certainly be concealed, and the report of a movement from Kimberley may prove to be true, although at present unconfirmed.

The possibility that the loose organization of the Boers, their scant of real discipline, and the unscrupulousness of some of their leaders might lead to a general disregard of the laws of civilized war seems unhappily in danger of being realized. Lord Roberts has been obliged to address a stern warning to Presidents Kruger and Steyn in regard to "a gross abase of the white flag and of the signal of holding rep the hands in token of surrender" which he, personally witnessed during the action of Driefontein on Saturday. At the same time he draws attention to the fact that "a large quantity of explosive bullets of three different kinds" were found in General Cronje's laager on the Modder River. The boxes containing ammunition of this class are said to have been labelled by the Boers "manufactured for the British Government." It is difficult to understand how this paltry device could be expected to deceive any one, as ammunition boxes are, of course, never thus inscribed. There is some evidence that actual explosive bullets have been used by the Boers; but they could only have been fired from comparatively large-bore sporting rifles, since the calibre of the Mauser is too small to allow of the introduction into the bullet of an effective amount of explosive substance. The bullets referred to by Lord Roberts are probably those of sculled "expanding" type made with an exposed and hollow nose, or extemporized by filing off or slitting a portion of the envelope. Mr. Treves, the eminent surgeon who has visited the hospitals in Natal has stated that "a considerable proportion" of the wounds received by our soldiers in the recent actions were made by bullets of the expanding type. He is, however, reported to disbelieve the graver rumour that poisoned bullets have been used, and to think that the greasy substance employed is intended only to lubricate the rifle barrels. The use of expanding bullets by the Boers is, however, now fully established, and it is to be remembered that the same thing occurred in 1891. General Cronje before Potchefstroom having written to Colonel Winslow, "We from our side wish to follow the law established among civilized nations" and to "adopt the principles laid down at Geneva," the latter forwarded on February 4 a certificate from. a military and a civil surgeon that bullets of "an explosive character" had been employed. While resorting freely to this unworthy practice during the present campaign, the Boers have not scrupled to assert that our troops have used "Dum Dum" bullets, implying that the latter are of expanding type. It is hardly necessary to point out that Dum Dum is a general factory for small arms ammunition for the Indian Army, and that the locality of manufacture does not indicate the nature of the bullet. Mark IV soft-nosed ammunition has been made at Woolwich as well as at Dum Dum ; but none of it has been used in South Africa. It is evidently desirable, it possible, to prevent false statements on a matter of much importance, and Lord Roberts has asked that a copy of his telegram to the two Presidents may be sent to all neutral Powers.



Further Reading:

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Driefontein, South Africa, The Times, 20 March 1900, Item 5

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 22 April 2009 11:11 PM EADT

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