March 7th, 1901

Thursday March 7th, 1901.

South African Adventures.

The Eastern Province Herald, of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, handed us recently by Capt. Sam’l McBride, contains a long account of what is known as the “Hell’s Gate Fight.” This fight resulted in the capture of a train and a number of prisoners by the Boers after the British had spent their last cartridge.

The story begins with the arrival of the train bringing from the scene of the fight the survivors who had escaped capture, among whom was Corporal Audber McBride of the P.A.G.M.I. (Prince Alfred Guards Mounted Infantry.)

The reporter says: -

“Toil stained, dusty, and burnt to the hue of a walnut through long exposure on the veld, the men presented a very workmanlike appearance. They might lack the dapper dandiness of the C.I.V., or the swagger of certain other regiments, but they looked what they were – soldiers to the backbone.”

This is a fine compliment to the C.I.V. which will doubtless be appreciated.

One of the troopers, interviewed by the reporters, tells him that,

“The men had wanted to get home, for some time, and on November 28th we received orders to leave Reitz, where we were stationed, on the first opportunity. That opportunity did not come till December 8th, when we left the town with General Boyes – 500 mounted men and 1500 infantry – for the railway. The first day we left, the Boers commenced snipping, and on the second we had a little fighting. On Dec. 10 a couple of patrols were sent out to burn farms, and sniping continued every day until we reached Senekal. Prior to our arrival, Senekal was occupied by the Boers, but we received very little opposition and reoccupied the town. Then came more fighting – in fact, the whole of the distance between Reitz and Winburg we had fighting every day.

“When we burnt the farms we took the women and children under our care, and brought them along with us. As our march proceeded the number swelled, so that when, on the 22nd, we marched into Winburg, we had 45 wagon loads of women and children, beside several thousand head of cattle, sheep, and horses. Fortunately the P.A.G.M.I. had no casualties, although we did our full share of the work, but the Glamergan Yeomanry had one killed and one wounded.

“We left the women and children at Winburg in a laager where they could be safely provided for, proceeded to Smaldeel. Here we had a very vexing delay. You may hardly believe it, but the reason, as I am informed, was that the Assistant Adjutant-General at Pretoria before giving us permission to proceed wanted to know where the remainder of the P.A.G.M.I. had got to. You can guess our disgust at his not knowing the men had been disbanded at Port Elizabeth weeks ago.”

After a weary wait in compliance with red tape they started for Port Elizabeth. Though travelling by a passenger train they had to be stowed in open coal trucks because “soldiers are not allowed in these (passenger) cars”. They are reserved for a Special party. This “Special party” when it got in was seen to consist of civilians and natives.

At Naauwpoort, the truck, with its forty rained soaked troopers, was shunted and an officers’ compartment car took its place. Three hours later they left in a mixed train still riding in the coal truck.

“ At Sherborne we noticed a picket of the 1st City Volunteers on a kopje. They were watching us with interest, but did not tell us any Boers were near. About two minutes after leaving Sherborne, the train began to run down a decline in a cutting. On the right the railway was overhung by a high kopje, and on the left were a number of lower kopje, and on the were a number of lower kopjes bearing a plentiful crop of big boulders, just the sort of thing for cover. The place is called ‘Hell’s Gate.’ I was cleaning my gun, when, looking up, - still within range of the 1st City picket we had just left – I saw a lot of Boers coming in a long string down a defile. I knew they were Boers by the way they rode. Then, as suddenly as a hailstorm, came a shower of bullets from all sides. Sputter, sputter, crack, crack. Now and then in the din you heard the double kneel of the Mauser, but most of the guns were Lee Metfords. No one can mistake the sound. All of u s dropped to the floor to get to the protection of the sides. Bullets were everywhere. They went clean through.“

Then the vacuum brake was pierced and the train stopped. The little band jumped from the truck and charged. The enemy could not be seen, but bullets came thick and fast. The ammunition was soon gone.

“With no ammunition, no cover, and no chance of relief, to remain on the kopje meant destruction without a hope of inflicting damage on the enemy, and Capt. Olorenshaw reluctantly pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket, tied it to his gun, and hoisted it as a signal of surrender.

“The firing on both the P.A.G. and the trained ceased, and in a moment the hills were alive with Boers. Capt. Scheepers, of Zastron, came up to Capt. Olorenshaw, and receiving his gun, asked if there were any Rand refugees amongst the captured men, because if there were, he wou’d shoot them on the spot. A diplomatic answer having been returned, Scheepers gave orders that any Boers found rifling the pockets or appropriating the personal property of the captured men would also be shot.”

The prisoners sound that their captors had travelled 60 miles since the previous afternoon. The wounded were put in a car and sent back to Sherborne. The Boers took weapons and ammunition, led their prisoners about six miles then released them to find their own way to Port Elizabeth as best they could.