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LOUIS BOTHA

A SOLDIER'S RECOLLECTIONS. [By Linesman.] How long ago it seems since I, this great man's little enemy in the- tented field, dubbed him officially " the sole link of the incoherent Boer forces,'' and. unofficially, whatever hard terms may be expected from a young officer who has not seen home, a bed, or a. square meal for three .years, regarding the author of this exile. Yet it was not so long ago hut. that even now his name, refusing to connect itself with frockcoats and Ministerial portfolios, conjures up instead visions of windy nights and blazing days on veldt and kopje, recalls sounds of battle, of thousands marching across the drumming grass, of the ticktack of the signalling lamp which so often spelt out his magic name in the silence of the sleeping bivouac. "Botha!" It was a name to conjure with in those days, leading great armies up and down, this way and that, as if they were the slaves of a mesmerist's imperious whisper. Botha is here. Botha is dead, is alive again, is utterly defeated, is terribly victorious—thus for a thousand days and more did hello, lamp, electric wire, and Rumor, swiftest and most lying jade of them all, lure the hopes and fears of an Empire, to say nothing of her troops, like a will-o'-the-wisp from one slough to another in the great dreary moorland of war. That is all over now. The Great Elusive, the. man who could never he found, has become the most—perhaps the only—fixed point in the bewildering kaleidoscope of South African affairs, and his stability to-day seems an even greater miracle than his magic vagrancy of 13 years ago. Yet there is no more miracle or magic in either than the constant miracle of greatness in a little world as consta.nl but as rare as radium in the gross matter which compounds the whole. Right or wrong—and we have no politics here—Louis Botha is a great man. a Canning, as Carlyle said, or etymologically a king, being what a king is, or ought to be, the "Man Who Can." It is one of the relics of a recently-quilted Divinity, before men and matters fade into the corrimon light of day, that youth alone is privileged to discern a hero. And only > a- youthful State is able now to "find the ablest man that exists there a.nd raise him . to the supreme place." South Africa herself will lose the knack before much more I water has flowed under the Vaal River j bridge. Prematurely forced into maturity in the hothouse of party politics, already she has shaken in his seat the ablest man, perhaps one of the ablest in the world, as never he. was shaken by the heaviest strokes of war. But should he fall in the welter of civil strife, unlike the Duke of Wellington, he would bo remembered as a , helmsman as hold and unerring amongst the shoals and reefs of peace as he was strong in the storm of battle. New stars are discovered in the heavens often by accident, often by their influences upon visible bodies, whilst they themselves are yet below the horizon. Bv both these means we early fighters in "Natal, in the autumn da3 r s of 1899, were able to forecast some powerful agent at work below the dull sky of the Boer strategy, an agent which ba/de fair at times to gather the scattered luminaries of small ! successes "into one baleful glare, which would have utterly put out the flickering British cause. Prisoners taken in the very I bosom of the colony averred that had one i man but had bis way Joubert's great raid, | instead of stopping timorously on the ■I Mooi, would have pierced the very heart 'j of the British province, and turned the ' ! sea, her pride, into her grave. That man II was Louis Botha, then a young officer . chafing under the age and illness and fears of that very Schomberg of the time, poor old Piet Joiibert. A month later he had his chance; but when the British Army recoiled in one broken wave after another from the cliffs of Colenso, only a few knew that it was Botha who had laid out that tremai do us line of defence; that it w"s he \ ho risking flat revolt, had ordered e\ei\ Lier pony off the field, and -with them t»n temptation to "retreat"; that it us lib iron will alone which kept 12 000 fe\cnsh Mausers silent until "the lhdis bad crawled from distant to long i nige fiom long to medium, from me hum n ch se from close to "decisive.' The sm H h gun which spoke then wai not moio Botha's voice than the feaiful <liiioi which burst in obedience to it Another month, and behold the burgh rs crouching defeated behind the hump-, i f Spion Kop, " utterly exhausted lm] ing away one by one. four whole comi ndc actually riding for the passes I -uh smith as good as lost, and with it, the whole campaign. But who i-, tint hi "apparently appearing firm in where gallops, like Stonewall J;uk mi, at Bull Run. bearded, jack-booted, his cm bla/ ing beneath his big slouch hat -unniigs' the faltering ranks, commanding shouting threatening, until at last, to the infinite credit of the Boer soldiery he pic\eiils upon them to a last desperate attempt to storm Spion Kop." As all the % mid knows, no storm was needed the hill a a abandoned: and we, who, hi 0 the win i | had had the glory and angui hj of \ u nessing that day's "fighting, 1 ne \ no* then | what Promethean fire, had inn a nonot i j 1 he commandos, which had been lumrd to clay, until they burned foi a feai fi 1 redemption of that pledge np\f dn\ n Wo know now, however; it w I om Botha. Two months elapse this time and we =< the. whole, Boer army rushing p 11 mcll from Ladysmith and the stncl en full of ■ Pinter's Hill, flying so fast on the hiiij*i of defeat that the Briton?, who hid n n j i so long opposite their rifle biin' no (barely catch sight of their hi Is J n, • gorge and drift is choked with tun j ir j every hill and dale alive with binning i horsemen. A semblance of pursuit would | dash the. Africander cause to fragments, , for the bond of discipline, frail enough, is J j broken, and with it the patriotism which ] had largely supplied its place. Not quite. j On<* man amidst the welter keeps up a, soldier's heart, and a soldier's eye clear. " Luckily General Botha had deemed it his duty to form a rearguard and cover our retreat," and instead of troops of prisoners, " only a few tons of stores fell into the. hands" of the pursuing cavalry. In war, unlike peace, genius is as impossible to conceal as folly. Next day, in a. council of war hurriedly convened by Joiibert, there are loud calls for the instant nomination of Botha as second in command. The old general's formal acquiescence was almost his _ last public act. Soon after, worn out with worry and illness, ho died, and Botha took the reins, "with the confidence and esteem of the whole Beer army." But the team was bolting harder than that of Achilles, and for the moment deaf even to their hero's reviling. The fugitives were everywhere; the Free State was running fast before Lord Roberts as the Transvaal before Sir Red vers Buller. Consequently, Botha was everywhere too; and it is from the far west that leaps out a little speech of his like a match struck in a dark room, an answer to a wavering officer despairing of the Republic: "You keep your spirits up and do your duty !" At the* very height of this debacle—when, above all, something sensational seemed wanted to stay the rout—there is a plot toward to blow up every gold mine on the Rand. To the Boers these mines had always seemed the head and front - of the British offending, for well they knew that, but for the gold, there would be no English in South Africa at all, least of all the exploiting, Semitic English, f whom they so hated and despised. De- ( ttroy the carcass and the howling of the 1 j

jackals would be heard no more in fche land. _ What a temptation to a Httls. shortsighted man—aye, oven to a patriot, Ta a nation in the throes of dissolution car anything matter, ought anything to ma*. | ter, but, that which may stave off death, ; even at the risk of perpetual paralysis ! t-ftercatier: But amid the excited Babel I which aa-rxse at this proposition on© stern, j calm voice made itself heard, forbidding this thing, the voice of Carlyle's "noblest I man . . . tellmg us to do precisely the • wisest, fittest"—the.voice of Louis Botha. ; We shall hear it again in circumstances of l even greater stress. Should not South ; Africa rejoice that she heare it still, and i take caro lest, as men do with their con- ! science, she banish it, to the wilderness ,of | disregarded things, a voice and nothing ! more? | Nor is this the only plot which the j General has to overturn at this time. j Away in Natal the British request an | armistice for negotiation ; with some | subtlety seeing that they are full in face | of the most tremendous fortress on the j Continent, the historic and to them illi omened Laing's Nek. Thereon, after : their precipitate flight, the commandoes ! seemed about to steady themselves, and it | required a bold soldier indeed to warn j them, as Botha promptly did by telegram, [ that there must be no truce, since such j could only cover some " deep stratagem " I on the part of the enemy. i Space compels us to "hasten over the I three, years of heavy and incessant fight--1 ing which followed. Great battles there ; were—Doonikop, Diamond Hill, Bergen--1 dal, Belfast, Rhenoster Kop—extending j over 20, 30. and 40 miles of front, with ! danger to the outnumbered burghers in j every yard of every mile. When examinj ing, as it was once the writer's duty to ! do, the multitudinous Boer accounts of j these actions, it was remarkable to notion j how many minor commanders seemed to j have had speech at one. time or another i with the Commandant-General at th.j | height of the fray. "He was in our j immediate neighborhood," writes one: | " here he took command in person " ; " it j was then that Botha persuaded the burghers to return"; heavy is the task of the " one man who restores the State." Nor is the beaten leader always on the defensive; seldom, indeed, is he so. j Long after the great campaign had broken 1 up into a thousand jarring fragments, wo j catch a glimpse of the Commandaut- | General asleep beneath a mimosa tree ' after an all-night ride. With a view to j combining for a grand assault, upon 20 miles of fortified railway, he is awaiting the arrival of an approaching colleague. The latter's aide-de-camp greets .-o boisterously the Commander-in-Chief's own staff officer that Botha, is awakened Little men, especially weary and worried little men, arc excusably cross on such occasions. But Botha ■" rose immediately, and with his usual genial smile," welcomed the new arrival. Small wonder, then, that the latter " does not hesitate to call him a bosom friend, with due respect to His Honor as his chief." There is another glimpse, and again the sound of a manly voice when far-off Nylstroom hears "a stirring speech," a speech like the hoisting of an ensign on a sinking battleship. Poor Botha! Not knowing what, impertinence, it would be to pity a great and prosperous .Minister of the Crown, we pitied him then, and still do so: for we warrant that that wound in his great heart is not yet healed, will never heal. And be st remembered that the very keenness of his vision at that time rendered his agony the 'greater—" he, almost alona amongst his compatriots, had an pye to measure the disaster which had overtaken his country." But as that country weakens, he goes on from strength to strength. From the great commander he voluntarily resigns himself to be the leader of forlorn hopes. We see- him storming at midnight into the very heart of SmithDorrien's entrenched camp at Lake Chrissie; we see him at Bakenlaagte leading 2,000 furious horsemen across the op-jn. to < ash in hideous rum the colum l of Lm on i hro lil e unto himself \\ ° s-w him utuilly oircnp? sing the reconquest of \it il vnen h< possessed not m n< n < f hj s mtivc so 1 \ huh he could 11 hn own ("oinnnndint Botha w ptill at 1 i_,e Did uiioind dbj dheients ho o n inline al veil less is nevei to b d spisen -w> hrg as thry % ere in»pn d bv hj s piesrnc 1 But \\ > t at length he Bar that p»ica bee in eii tb 1 i tie omy iltei im > niioinl <\ met rn Botha did ino thin \<i btfu > s-ne his <ruiui\ \-t\or lad in i nii ]<r than i tocu at *hf _,i u of the two Pep ibl Jlo \ nt ihf in this ther er spin i noni as hj m It iho od hj hm in < t mbV coifst uh th< i f! lulr In f-h 'in m 101 is oi th >\ hi d an 1 l ik (it i i how dr p > it" < 1 i_u -w1 o nr d t l 3ur r i tr e<l ihl jMinlih ui < nth lather th mie ~11 t i n r lii nit* 1\ hr j p 11 1 to \v first fn htir trriL to th' 1 1 t l to thi! J (t ti i i tinti-"t not them* hj \nd \he i the d r<i do ie t i I i t-ad an 1 no 1 n uie 1 ch rodr fr>m mm did 1 in tnrr ill 1 Ik> r hiddi ih m Ml tn rifles Ich Ii 1 si ot n inn nn lin tot \ I'rn i nii oid wort c H l>idclni„ th i irj nc lorK \m. I('\ i d \ll a thnrl-niul il ii nr wi" <"\cn "i fi thin i > tr th i a nun mi lay k n i i I<s m (4 md t 1 < ( \h< ino fhr *u'l luMon oi Joins B >tha, of \hi 11 tHi is 1 lit i iitr ll ] lii hiw mnet niT t n hi Jk ar rimed on that in pr il 11 Is* ijt<-| € with hi' iefc rm It frm rv] i liti'e i\ ful to (hml tl i I u i \ r-, 1 u t \<> « juld lm <h< n 1 to i tn i mm stir*ched }-i J -)t n i

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19150107.2.2

Bibliographic details

LOUIS BOTHA, Issue 15694, 7 January 1915

Word Count
2,498

LOUIS BOTHA Issue 15694, 7 January 1915

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