Many families were worshipping together for the last time, for on the morrow a battle was to be fought, and all who were going to continue the fight were to be separated that night from their loved ones.
Continuing The Boer War,
with a selection from Blue Shirt and Khaki by James F.J. Archibald published in 1901. This selection is presented in 4 installments, each one 5 minutes long and another (the first one) half that. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Boer War.
Time: 1902 (ended)
Place: South Africa
When it was decided to abandon the capital, all the government stores which had been gathered for the use of the army in the event of a siege were turned over to the people for their own use. The stores, which were in large warehouses, were broken open and rifled by a wild, excited crowd from every station of society. Well-dressed men and women jostled with half-naked Kaffirs in their efforts to secure a goodly share of the stores. Every sort of vehicle was brought to carry away the plunder. Not one in a hundred had any idea that the stores had been turned over to the public by the officials in charge; they thought they were looting without permission, and were correspondingly mad with excitement.
The doors of the warehouses proved too small to admit the crowd; then they tore off sheets of the corrugated iron of which the building was constructed, so that they could get at the contents more quickly. At one door a big woman stood guard with an umbrella, beating back any of the blacks who attempted to enter, but admitting any white person. She plied her weapon on the heads of the blacks when they came within reach, and it was not long before they abandoned the attempt to go in at that entrance. The looters worked in squads, a few carrying out the plunder of sugar, flour, coffee, and other stuffs, while some stood guard over it until a means of carrying it away was found. Wheelbarrows, carts, children’s wagons, and baby-carriages were brought into service to take the provisions to the homes of the people, and for several hours the streets were alive with hurrying crowds. Cabs at last could not be hired at any price, as the cab men took a hand on their own account in the general looting.
When Lord Roberts occupied the capital and heard of that day’s work, he sent a large detail out to search for the plunder, and recovered a considerable amount, which he turned over to the use of his army.
During all this time the burghers were retreating toward Middleburg, and by the first of June not half a dozen of the army were left in the capital. Each day the British were expected to march in, but they did not come; and each day the situation became more serious, until finally a committee, appointed by a proclamation issued by General Botha, formed a special police corps for the protection of property until the British forces should arrive and take possession.
The last Sunday before the British came dawned bright and peaceful as a New England Sabbath; not a sign of war was to be seen; the streets were thronged with men, women, and children on their way to church to pray for their cause and their dead. The soldier laid aside his rifle and bandolier for the day, and not one was to be seen throughout the crowds moving toward their respective places of worship, while the bells rang summons and welcome. The day was warm enough for the women to wear white gowns, which served to make the many black ones the more noticeable. The children were stiff and starched in their Sunday cleanliness, and half the church-going crowd was composed of these little ones. In many a pew there was no father or brother, but only a sad-faced woman in somber black.
Many families were worshipping together for the last time, for on the morrow a battle was to be fought, and all who were going to continue the fight were to be separated that night from their loved ones. There was not one in the whole church who was not weeping. Near me sat a young girl of about twenty, who sobbed aloud during the entire service, as if her heart was broken beyond all comfort; and I afterward learned that her father and four brothers were all dead, and that her one remaining brother was at St. Helena with Cronje*. In the pew in front of me sat an old grizzled burgher with a heavy gray beard; he needed no rifle to show that he had been for months on command, for his face was burned by wind and sun. His arm was around his wife, whose head rested on his shoulder. She did not weep, but at frequent intervals she huddled closer to him and grasped his arm more firmly, as if afraid he would leave her. On his other side sat a little girl, who looked around with big, frightened eyes, wondering at the scene.
On the morning of the 4th of June, 1900, the British troops turned their guns on Pretoria, after hundreds of miles of weary marching, enlivened with only a few fights to break the monotony of the work. There was not much defense, as it had been decided that there should be no opposition to the enemy’s entrance; but as many of the burghers had returned over Sunday, and the panic of a few days before had vanished, they were taking away more stores than they had at first intended. Train-loads of troops and refugees were leaving Pretoria every hour; therefore General De la Rey, with a rear-guard, was detailed to obstruct the advance as long as possible, to cover the retreat that was then being made in an orderly manner. He had but fifteen to eighteen hundred men to oppose many thousands, but as he had the advantage of the positions, and as the English commander did not know whether the forts were occupied and armed, he was able to hold off the advance all day.
The fighting consisted almost entirely of an artillery bombardment by the British naval guns until noon, when the right of the Boer line was heavily engaged, and the rifle and machine-gun fire became very fast.
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