The owner of the farm Van der Merwe, a most loyal colonist was not at home, but, as we learnt afterwards, had gone to Lady Grey, or to the nearest English column, to announce the presence of my commando in his neighbourhood. Of this unfriendly deed we were altogether unaware. As soon as we had off-saddled, our scouts were sent out in different directions.
On the approach of the enemy many women and children forsook their homes and wandered about in caves and woods for days, exposed to every privation and inclemency of the weather, and to the attacks of wandering bands of plundering kaffirs. Mrs. van der Merwe, whom we met here, was exceedingly kind to us, and gave us plenty of fodder for our horses.
The British shells pursued us till we were out of sight, but the only casualty was when a shell passed so close to Van der Merwe, the mining commissioner of Johannesburg, that the concussion knocked him off his horse. That evening Jonas came into camp. Jonas is quite a character in his way.
In this way he had found himself at the head of some fifteen hundred men. During his expeditions Commandant Lotter had been captured with a hundred men; this had reduced his force to only fourteen hundred. In addition to these men there was a division under General De Villiers operating in Griqualand West, and another under Commandant Van der Merwe in Bechuanaland.
The commandos were now divided as follows: 1. The district of Kroonstad: the men under Commandants Philip De Vos, Jan Cilliers and Maree. Sub-district of Heilbron: the men under Commandants F.E. Mentz, Lucas Steenekamp and J. Van de Merwe. All of these were under Vice-Commander-in-Chief Johannes Hattingh. The district of Vrede: the men under Commandants Ross and Manie Botha.
A few days afterwards Lord Roberts sent a hundred women and children down the line to Van der Merwe Station, despite Botha's vehement protests. It fell to my lot to receive these unfortunates, and to send them on by rail to Barberton, where they could find a home.
Shortly before I left Voetpad Captain Smit with his men came there from a farm in the vicinity. The name of the farm is unknown to me. Captain Smit was not under my command. He was acting independently. An advance guard is generally sent out. On this occasion I sent Wessels and some men. I do not know when Wessels left, I cannot remember. I went from Voetpad to Poortje, the farm of Van der Merwe.
But here and there, where he has been carried away by his English sympathies to use bitter and libellous language with respect to the Boers, that admiration has been changed into contempt. Dr. Conan Doyle attempts to defend the British Army by abusing the Boers. Abuse is not argument. To prove that Van der Merwe is a thief does not exonerate Brown from the crime of theft if he have been stealing.
Some of them were used for grinding grain, some for sawing lumber, and others for forcing the water up from the low ground into the river. The steamer passed from the Merwe into the Waal, and stood up the river. There was but little variation in the scenery. The wall of dikes on either side was uninterrupted.
Our party consisted of about two hundred men, composed as follows: the President, with his bodyguard of thirty men, under Commandant H. Van Niekerk, the Government, Commandant Van de Merwe, of Vredefort, my staff and myself. Whilst we were occupied there in cutting the telegraph wires, the enemy fired a few rounds on us, at a distance of five hundred or six hundred paces.