We received orders to invade Natal, and crossed the frontier that very evening. I, with a patrol of 50 men, had not crossed the frontier very far when one of my scouts rode up with the report that a large British force was in sight on the other side of the River Ingogo.
We then broke into scatered formation an carefully proceeded into Natal. After much reconnoitering and concealment, however, we soon discovered that the “large English force” was only a herd of cattle belonging to friendly Boers, and that the camp consisted of two tents occupied by an Englishmen and Kaffirs who were mending a defective bridge. We also came across a cart drawn by four bullocks belonging to a Natal farmer, and I believed this was the first plunder we captured in Natal. The Englishmen who said he knew nothing about any war, received pass to proceed with his servants to the English lines, and he left with the admonition to in future to learn when war was imminent. Next day our entire commando was well into Natal. The continuous rain and cold of Drakenbergen rendered our first experience of veldt life, if not unbearable, very discouraging.
One of my acting field-cornets and the field-cornets of the German commando, prompted by goodness knows what, pressed forward south, actually reaching the railway station at Elandslaagle.
In the grey dawn of the 21st of October a number of scouts I had dispatched overnight in the direction of Ladysmith returned with the tidings that the “khakis were coming.” “where are they, and how many are there of them?” I asked. “Commandant,” the chief scout replied, “I don’t know much about these things, but I should think that the English number quite a thousand mounted men, and they have guns, and they have already passed Modderspruit.” To us amateur soldiers this report was by no means reassuring, and I confess I hoped fervently that the English might stay away for some little time longer.
It was at sunrise that the first shot I heard in this war was fired. Presently the men we dreaded were visible on the ridges of hills south of the little red railway station at Elandslaagle . Some of my men hailed the coming fight with delight; others, more experienced in the art of war, turned deadly pale. That is how the Boers felt in their first battle. The awkward way in which many of my men sought cover, demonstrated at once how inexperienced in warfare we youngsters were. We started with our guns and tired a little experimental shooting. The second and third shots appeared to be effective; at any rate, as far as we could judge, thy seemed to disturb the equanimity of the advancing troops. I saw an ammunition cart deprived of its team and generally smashed.
When the British found that we too, strange to say, had guns, and, what is more, knew how to use them, they retired towards Ladysmith. But, this was merely a ruse; they had gone back to fetch more.