[Editor: This is a chapter from the novel The Australian Crisis by C.H. Kirmess.]
The second campaign
Of the second campaign, no well-ordered written record of an eye-witness exists, nothing indeed, at all comparable to Thomas Burt’s diary. That able patriot perished in the unknown. Some survivors have given their versions of different phases of the disastrous enterprise, though not always quite as lucidly as could be wished, and their reports have been pieced together as well as possible in this account, which therefore cannot be regarded as absolutely correct in every detail. Even the dates cannot be ascertained exactly. It is known, however, that the White Guard left the base in Snowdrop Creek on August 17, 1912.
The volunteers then numbered about 900 men, with 250 reserve horses, and were accompanied by 80 aboriginals. Two companies, led by the Canadian Grimpan and by Thomas Burt, consisted of 150 men each. It seems that in every other particular the organization evolved and well tried during the first campaign was adhered to. The force reoccupied the camp at the head of Liverpool River for one night. There some surplus stores were hidden away. Two days later, in the early afternoon, it arrived once more in the neighbourhood of the southern-most Japanese village. A few settlers, working in the cultivation paddocks, were cut off and killed. But though the enemy appeared to be surprised, he gave no chance. The vanguard, rushing forward in the hope of carrying the village before the inhabitants should have time to think of the defence, found itself exposed to a severe fire and had to retreat. No further attempt was made; the main corps passed by at a safe distance, as if it was not thought worth while to risk lives in an attack upon a fortified outpost.
If McPartoch had wished to convey this impression, of which there can be no doubt, his ruse proved successful for once. The Japanese seem to have allowed themselves to be inveigled into a false sense of security. They did not keep in touch with the White Guard, which, in reality, came to a stop only eight miles further on in a dense bush, awaiting the night. For it had been decided to assault the hostile position after dark. The idea was to employ fire as well as the sword against the invaders; it is, indeed, already mentioned in Thomas Burt’s diary. Then it came to nothing. But now more careful preparations had been made. A supply of kerosene and torches had been drawn from Port Darwin, and thus the execution of incendiary plans had become feasible.
The moon, past the first quarter, facilitated the task. About 11 p.m. the village was surrounded by strong detachments. Apart from these, a storming party had been formed, consisting of fifty picked volunteers. At midnight, when the moon was sinking in the west, the charge was delivered. The Japanese sentries were on their guard. But making their accustomed rounds, they had all been marked and were shot down. Before the inhabitants, startled by the noise, had time to fly to arms, the stormers jumped the low rampart, carrying light bags filled with dry twigs and grass and saturated with kerosene, which they piled against the walls of the nearest houses. In a moment the highly inflammable stuff blazed up. Among the settlers indescribable confusion reigned. Some dashed forward recklessly to fling the burning bundles aside, but they fell instantly under the massed volleys of a hundred crack shots. Within a few minutes, the sun-dried timber of the huts on the east side of the village was well alight and the inmates had to run for their lives, pursued by the bullets of the triumphant Australians. Their task was finished. They had now merely to look on while the fresh eastern breeze spread the flames to adjoining buildings and over the wooden defence works. Above the roar of the conflagration rose the frenzied cries of the victims, blinded by the glare and suffocated by the smoke, doomed to death within and without their perishing homes. As the assured success of their scheme of vengeance calmed the wild excitement of the volunteers, they began to wonder why the Japanese did not try to escape. Suddenly somebody made a remark about the shouting. Next moment all the men about him found themselves listening attentively, all struck by one idea. They could now distinguish plainly above the throaty voices of men quite different treble shrieks of agony, as of women. The surviving inhabitants were by this time huddled together at the western extremity of the village. The flames, bursting through the clouds of smoke, threw a flickering light over the several groups working away desperately to clear a free zone which the fire should be unable to overleap. In their feverish haste, they exposed themselves recklessly within easy range of the Australian rifles. But an awful hush had fallen upon the volunteers. Hardly a shot was discharged now on their part. For in the uncertain illumination they had discerned, beside the well-known, squat shapes of their foemen, other more slender forms, some crouching in wild fear, others dashing about planlessly, rending the air with high-pitched yells. They were women. But how did they get there? The question passed from mouth to mouth, sending a thrill of horror through the ranks of the White Guard. Never before had the old campaigners set eyes upon them, or known of their presence in the hostile camps. They began to understand why the Japanese had not made a bold bid for escape at the outset. It was because their womenfolk were too panic-stricken and they would not leave them behind. Now it was too late. The flames had leapt the break before it was complete. Among the doomed inhabitants a command was given in a clear, firm voice. There was a last appealing cry, cut short by a great volley. The slender forms dropped to the ground, dead. In a flash, the squat shapes jumped the rampart and threw themselves upon the aggressors. For a minute or two the rattle of pistols and revolvers was audible above the roar of the conflagration. Then the surrounding darkness of the bush swallowed the surviving Japanese. This finish cost the White Guard five lives, and as many were wounded.
In the morning, one of the missing Australians was found in the bush, with only a slight hurt on his right arm, yet dead. A Japanese, twice shot through the chest, was clutching his throat with both hands; the cold, stiff fingers nearly met in the flesh, so savage his grasp had been. No truer expression could have been imagined of the mortal hatred which inspired the fighters of both races and of the grim determination of the Asiatics; the members of the new contingent were deeply moved by the sight.
Inspection of the ruined village, where the charred timber was still smouldering and a stench of burnt flesh filled the air, left no doubt that women had fallen victims. So many female bodies, disfigured by the blaze which had consumed their clothing, were discovered, that there was only one explanation for their presence; they had been the wives of the settlers. The enjoyment of victory was spoiled completely by this untoward incident. All white instincts rebelled against the slaughter of women. And horrible as it was, the Australians could not banish the thought that it would happen again, unless they were to abandon the struggle. For if they wished to retain the offensive and to prevent the enemy from always choosing his own battle ground, they would have to strike at other settlements in the same way, regardless of the possibility that both sexes might dwell within. From a patriotic point of view the White Guard had even the right to welcome the terrible complication, because it might divert the attention of the Japanese and loosen the bonds of discipline. No feelings of repugnance could absolve the Australians from the plain duty towards their country to exploit this temporary advantage. It might not last long. The enemy, who had fought well for the sake of the young colony and from race pride in the past, was sure to surpass himself in defence of the most sacred personal possession, as soon as he should have recovered from his initial surprise. The volunteers yearned for the clash of arms in the field. Unknowingly they had been made women-slayers. That stain would have to be washed out in more blood, the blood of men and foes. And thus the second campaign became from the outset what the refined savagery of the Japanese would have it as proved by their employment of dum-dums in attack and females in defence: a merciless scramble for mastery as between primeval beasts in the tropical wilderness which fitly surrounded them.
The White Guard rode on unmolested all day. The next village had been deserted by the enemy and was burnt down. But while the Japanese kept out of sight, the aboriginals of the force began to create trouble. As usual, they had remained invisible during the night attack. Now it was noticeable that they kept much more to themselves than formerly. Their sulkiness, which since the arrival of the second band accompanying Grimpan’s corps had become more and more pronounced, caused some anxiety. The blacks of the interior were not considered to be naturally treacherous, but of course they had their price. And if the Japanese should see their way to offer better terms, larger presents of tobacco, silver, arms, and especially liquor, than were in the gifts of the White Guard, then it was conceivable that the natives might be seduced from their present loyalty. There was, however, the reassuring thought that it would not be easy for the enemy to gain the confidence of the aboriginals. Of themselves, the latter would not dare to make advances. The only danger was that the Japanese might use the coastal blacks for the purpose of establishing relations. But it was known that deadly enmity prevailed between the tribes of the interior and those of the coast. When they met, the stronger, according to all precedent, would make a meal off the weaker. Where such customs ruled, it was difficult to imagine where the chance of peaceful dealings could come in. With this consideration the Australians silenced their secret misgivings. For the natives had proved so useful in many respects that they did not view with equanimity the prospect of dispensing with their services. It seemed, however, that the blacks, with the instinct of primitive beings, felt the distrust with which they were regarded. Perhaps it was in consequence of this that their morosity increased steadily. Some of the boldest even ventured to complain that morning that their horses were no good, and to ask McPartoch that they should have the pick of the reserve horses. Needless to say, they did not get their will.
At night a council of war was held. The more optimistic new members looked upon the fact that the enemy had abandoned one village as proof of his unpreparedness and surprise at the return of the White Guard. Accordingly, they recommended a rapid attack upon his capital. Though the old campaigners were less enthusiastic, they were not impervious to the pleadings of their inexperienced friends. If the Japanese headquarters should also be encumbered with womenfolk, as was probable, then the chances might not be so bad. After all, dash and daring was the life-blood of the hazardous enterprise. It was resolved to face the risks by attempting a night attack, or a day and night attack combined, against the capital. The fate of the White Guard was to be staked upon one throw of the dice. That, according to common report, was the project, the deliberate aim, the hope of the Australian leaders. Its boldness shows that the infusion of fresh blood had brought about a resurrection of high spirits. Or perhaps, as far as the old campaigners were concerned, the stage of mental depression, under the stimulating influence of the latest horrors, had been finally superseded by ferocious exultation.
About noon on the following day the vanguard approached another village. It was found to be strongly occupied. Moreover, a large detachment of the enemy had transformed a rocky ridge to the west of it into a fortification. McPartoch, foreseeing a pitched battle, gave orders to ignore the Japanese by passing to the east of the settlement. But the reinforcements, and even many of his old men, entreated him to attack the position. They proposed to repeat the strategy of incendiarism after nightfall and to make this possible, the enemy outside had to be dislodged first. He granted their request reluctantly and at 2 p.m. an action was begun. Progress was slow and its successful culmination was spoilt by a furious sally of the villagers, which rolled back the eastern enveloping lines and allowed the Japanese field force to slip through the opening into the settlement. This, too, was evacuated later in the evening and all the occupants got away. Ruddy flames, soon afterwards, informed them of the fate of their recent homesteads.
The White Guard pursued in the moonlight without much success. Four camps were formed at last, and, as usual, a full third of the force was put on watch service. Nevertheless, just before dawn some Japanese infantry managed to penetrate into the northernmost sub-camp, which was occupied by men of the reinforcements. A panic broke out among these and several were killed or wounded before relief arrived, and exterminated the aggressors. It was a most unfortunate affair, especially in its consequences.
For three men had been so badly hurt that they were unable to ride. Transport by stretcher was out of the question. The Australians could not storm the capital of the enemy and guard a hospital at the same time. That was so evident that the men, agreeing that the former should be attempted, had come to an understanding during the same council of war that the helpless wounded should kill themselves. As cases were conceivable where the energy of the doomed might not be equal to his duty, all the comrades of each squad had bound themselves that in such an extremity one of them should administer the coup de grâce. It was terrible, yet necessary. Death was the only manly way out. For such was the loathing of the coloured aliens that no member of the White Guard would have accepted mercy from their hands, even if it had been proffered. Nor would he allow his friends to do so. A sense of rough justice, perhaps, had also something to do with this determination; white men were too proud to accept from the enemy what they would not have granted him in return. And a lingering end in the wilderness, by starvation or vermin, was too cruel for contemplation. Two of the badly wounded were firm enough to shape their own destiny. But the third one faltered on the brink. He was shot through the right lung, near the heart, and could not possibly live. So a friend, drawn by lot from his squad, rendered him the merciful service which, in saner moments, he would not have refused to a comrade in his own hopeless condition. It was the first time that the stern measure had to be resorted to, and though the men had adopted the rule voluntarily and knew what it might mean to every one of them, its translation into reality had a depressing effect on all.
The advance was resumed. Again it was afternoon before the enemy was encountered. He was in great strength, at the edge of the jungle country, and employed new tactics. The country was very broken; gullies and ridges alternated. His infantry formed long, thin lines as usual, but they were stationary. The rushes were left to small detachments of cavalry, which, sweeping forward from a fold in the ground where they had been hidden, drove back the Australian scouts upon the main body, and then returned to shelter while the pursuit of the volunteers was stopped by the terrific fire of the infantry, which, moreover, drew its file steadily longer, enveloping the flanks of the White Guard. After a desultory fight of about on hour, the Australians, retreating somewhat, succeeding in luring the hostile cavalry further into the open and inflicted severe punishment upon it. A little later their scouts on the western wing outflanked the Japanese files and rolled them back. Shortly before sunset the enemy began to retreat in good order into the protective jungle.
Some Australians had concentrated their fire during the final struggle upon a diminutive cairn on a ridge, the defence of which had been well sustained. As they did not notice anybody leaving this sheltered spot in the general retreat, their curiosity was aroused. They crept up cautiously and their suspicion that the occupants had remained in possession was quickly verified by several volleys, resulting in the death of two comrades. About twenty Japanese issued from the neighbourhood of the cairn, running hard to escape. Finding themselves outmatched by the horsemen, a few returned to it and resisted stoutly every attempt to dislodge them. But the Australians were the better marksmen, and soon the last defender had fallen. Their pains were rewarded by a most important discovery. The cairn, which a short distance off looked like a natural feature of the country, was artificial and served as rampart of a circular cavity staved and planked with boards. On the floor were several sleeping places, and telegraphic apparatus was mounted on a rough table against the wall. From there a cable was laid along the ground, hidden in the rubble, for over a mile to a large tree on the slope. The wire ascended its stem and was thus continued overhead. The whole cunning contrivance made it most unlikely that the subterranean station should be found even by an unusually persistent white man who might have followed the wire and even traced the cable. There being no indication of its termination so near at hand, he would very probably get tired long before he reached the cairn. Thus accidentally these volunteers had stumbled upon the true explanation of the marvellous accuracy of Japanese information. For such pits, in telegraphic connexion with the nearest village or directly with headquarters, might — and undoubtedly did — exist all over the zone of settlement, and from them an incessant watch could be kept on every movement of the White Guard, which, though perhaps passing within close range, would not be aware of prying eyes.
The enemy fell back, undefeated, his cavalry guarding the rear and keeping in touch with the Australians, who camped on the battlefield, where, in a gully, a plentiful supply of fresh water had been discovered. Each company formed a separate camp, the two largest in the centre, and three on each side. The Japanese being so near, McPartoch expected a troubled night. Exactly for this reason he had stopped the march early. While the full moon shone brightly, his sentries could be trusted to ward off the prowling scouts of the enemy. In the small hours before the dawn, it might become necessary to have every man under arms. Rest for men and horses had to be snatched while it could be had.
McPartoch’s fears were more than realized. About 3 a.m. fierce skirmishing began all along the lines of the furthest outposts. Through the dim light diffused by the moon, now low on the western horizon, lithe forms wriggled from cover to cover among the dark patches of thick scrub, a thousand times more deadly and hateful than reptiles. Steadily they moved forward against the white men, who had to gather in groups of two or three and to change places continually for protection. Not many years ago, comfortable Australians at cosy breakfast tables had been delightfully thrilled by stirring descriptions in the morning press of the patriotic daring of the little brown men, who in white Manchurian winter nights glided snakelike behind big lumbering Russian sentries and, jumping on their backs, slit open their throats or strangled them in noiseless death embrace. Perhaps none of the interested readers had thought for a moment that one day in the near future Australia’s best and most unselfish sons would be exposed to all the horrors of this applauded artfulness. Now and then flames leapt out of some thicket, followed by rattling reports. Then there was the trampling of hoofs or a heavy fall. Silence afterwards, or as often, the guttural call, in the plaintive note of the wild swan’s cry, of some Australian crouching behind the carcase of his horse and signalling for help. On the other side, the shrill whistle of the lucky Japanese marksman was heard, appealing to his mates to back him up so that his work might be finished thoroughly. A reckless abandon was over this nocturnal carnage. Life counted as nothing on both sides. Each fighter was like a tiger at bay, contemptuous of bullets, intent, with bared claws, on his chance of a murderous bound. Slowly the white scouts were driven back. After two hours they had suffered so heavily that the camps had to be alarmed. McPartoch gave orders not to prolong the skirmishing, and led his force into the jungle to the north before daylight. And the enemy was soon outdistanced.
Very early that morning some scouts on the extreme western wing made a strange discovery. They had a glimpse of a strong Japanese detachment on the march. But it did not proceed north, as might have been expected, while the White Guard was threatening the capital so closely, but actually hurried south as fast as due precaution against possible surprise permitted. Cavalry covered its advance. Apparently, McPartoch and his subleaders did not attach much importance to the reports. Perhaps they thought that it was a belated relief corps. At any rate, they refused to turn out of their way in pursuit of this isolated detachment and thus to waste time. Nevertheless the singular fact was talked about a good deal, as the survivors testify. Considered retrospectively, it throws a flood of light on subsequent events which have never been explained fully.
The Commander-in-Chief had really no leisure for abstract speculations on the meaning of some particular hostile move. He was kept busy attending to immediate difficulties. During the night skirmish, several coastal blacks, who had actively engaged in it on the side of their Japanese masters, had been killed. They, at least, had not vanished from the danger zone as was the habit of the natives of the interior, who were nowhere to be seen, as usual. But it seemed that the latter had been audible. Several Australians stated that they had heard a call peculiar to the loyal aboriginals, which had not been included in the signal code of the White Guard, and which, moreover, the coastal blacks had never been known to employ. This might mean that the loyal natives had merely warned each other. On the other hand, it might mean that they had been bought over. At any rate, on former occasions they had either not hovered round the battlefield or they had at least remained silent, for nobody had heard their call before under similar circumstances. The change of habit aroused the latent suspicions anew. Had they turned spies? No doubt the Japanese could offer better inducements. The only question was whether they had succeeded in establishing relations. But perhaps the blacks had met half-way. Even a black might see, as somebody remarked bitterly, that the White Guard was playing a losing game.
During the first hours of the march, and afterwards while the Australian had a hasty, belated breakfast near a small pond on the foot of a hill — for they had now entered the jungle country where water was met with throughout the year — a good many natives rejoined the force. They kept apart, however, showing pretty clearly that their temper had not improved much. Some were smoking. This was certainly uncommon, as the last dole of tobacco had been handed out to them more than twenty-four hours ago. Natives do not hoard their possessions in this way as a rule. One of the whites, struck by an idea, went up and managed to get a piece of tobacco from them. On comparison it was found to be different from any brand in the Australian stores. The blacks were examined, but they sheltered behind the sulkiness affected by them ever since the opening of the second campaign, and no explanation was coming forth. This untimely obstinacy settled their fate. Such subsidiaries could be tolerated no longer. They might make away at any moment with the horses they were riding, or they might even steal more horses. A few volunteers, remembering their good services in the past, advocated simple dismissal. But it was too risky to let these cunning aboriginals go forth as open foes; they knew too much of the organization and resources of the White Guard. Some sterner Australians, who had been through the war in South Africa, remembered how the Boers used to deal with Kaffir boys who had become dangerous or superfluous. Necessity demanded a similar course. The unfortunate blacks, whose horses had been watched closely during the discussion, were suddenly surrounded and shot down. And like punishment was meted out to every absconder who returned later.
After this act of red-handed justice, a roll-call was held, which revealed that the losses in battle had reduced the White Guard to 753 men. Though the percentage was enormous, it compared very favourably with the death-rate during the first campaign and the old hands were accordingly elated. Before the count-out had been finished, there came from the north, very faintly, yet very unmistakably, the sound of a steamer’s siren. The effect was electric. The sea had wafted greetings to them on the breeze. It was near, the goal was at hand. All minds turned to the great task immediately before them. Every one agreed that the signal must have proceeded from a vessel in the inlet, probably a Japanese steamer, and that they were at most a dozen miles inland. If the Australians wished so, the decision must fall that night. And many powerful reasons urged them to strike the supreme blow at once. Behind them, large, unbeaten forces of the enemy were massed. But these had been outdistanced and were therefore useless for the defence of the capital. The slightest hesitation would give them a chance to come up, and then the outlook for the White Guard, caught between two fires, would be black indeed. It was true that failure of the attack would probably mean extinction, for in that case the White Guard, defeated and demoralized, would be driven right back upon the army in its rear. That terrible alternative, however, could not be evaded by Fabian tactics. The only way to escape from it was by a rapid diversion either to the east or west, in both of which directions the enemy did not seem to be in great strength yet. Instant advance or instant diversion — that was the real question before the volunteers. And there were not wanting voices who recommended the latter. A calm survey of the position could, indeed, only lead to one conclusion: that the odds against the success of a direct assault upon the Japanese headquarters were too tremendous to be faced. But the overwhelming majority regarded the suggestion to turn aside within sight of the goal as nothing less than disloyalty against the fallen comrades whose self-sacrifice had enabled the survivors to penetrate thus far. The worst that could befall them was to die as those heroes had died. To the everlasting glory of Australia, its White Guard scorned the counsels of cowardice at this frightful crisis and decided that the only alternative before it was Victory or Death.
The volunteers made every preparation during this halt. Two companies were appointed storming parties and two more for each of these were told off as special support, while the remaining two largest companies, under Grimpan and Thomas Burt, were to form the reserve under the direct command of McPartoch. Every stormer received two bags filled with dry twigs and grass, two tins of kerosene about half full, and a dozen torches. The surplus horses and stores were divided equally among the six companies, barring the storm parties. It was past midday when the march was resumed.
Of the great assault no detailed description can be rendered with any claim to accuracy. None of the survivors have been able to give more than a medley of personal recollections confined within narrow limits, owing to the fact that the main action was fought in the night and extended over a wide stretch of country. The White Guard followed a rough road leading straight north. Its advance was slow, with a very broad front, for scouts were pushed out for miles east and west on either wing. About 3 p.m. Japanese infantry contested further progress, but the Australians burst through its lines in a splendid dash. At sunset they reached the border of the jungle, within two miles of the capital, the buildings of which, dominated by the fort, could be discerned plainly across the cultivation paddocks. They remained under cover until it had grown quite dark. Then the scouts pushed forward: they were met by outposts of the enemy and the battle waxed fierce at once. The Japanese had drawn several lines of barbed wire across the paddocks, about a foot from the ground. These had to be cut, in spite of swarming multitudes of the brown men, before a general attack was possible. A company dismounted and went to the assistance of the scouts. Fighting with the courage of despair, they gained their end under terrible hardships and losses. By 9 p.m. the remnants were right in front of the rampart of the south-eastern quarter; a passage had been cleared for the storming parties. Just as the moon rose these advanced at a terrific pace. But a determined sally from the south-eastern quarter drove them back. For an hour the wildest struggle raged round that locality. For the Australians wanted to set fire to the settlement at the eastern end, whence the breeze would spread the flames. Again and again they tried, and always without success. The defenders of the western quarters left their fortifications in large numbers and pressed upon the flank of the White Guard. At last three companies had to turn against them to stop the enveloping movement. The western Japanese lines were broken and hurled back. Close behind them, and mixing with their rear, poured the aggressive volunteers, and among them a number of stormers. These, seizing the opportunity, penetrated into the eastern corner of the south-western settlement, piled their bags against the nearest buildings, and applied matches. Before the enemy was well aware of it the conflagration had made good headway. Every attempt to extinguish it failed. As the flames towered up, cheer after cheer rose from the decimated ranks of the White Guard. With renewed ardour the men returned to the attack upon the south-eastern quarter. But the enemy, recognizing the impossibility of saving the burning section, hastily withdrew the troops from there and used them for the defence of the other threatened position. At the same time the infantry, which had been scattered in the afternoon, opened fire upon the Australian reserve from the jungle. Front, flanks and rear of the White Guard were assailed simultaneously by overwhelming Japanese forces. It did no longer fight for victory, but for life. About midnight McPartoch gave the signal for retreat. By the light of the moon and the reflections of the conflagration, now at its height, the survivors cut their way through the opposing hordes. The supreme effort had been defeated.
The enemy did not pursue closely. Mutual exhaustion had the effect of a short truce. A few miles away in the jungle the Australians gathered once more. They snatched a short rest before dawn, and continued their retreat at sunrise. Their position was truly hopeless. They did not number over four hundred. All the leaders, with the exception of McPartoch, Thomas Burt and Grimpan, were missing. As the death of half the sub-lieutenants and sergeants had broken up the organization completely, and as there was no time to restore order, these three divided the command — Thomas Burt led the van, McPartoch the centre, Grimpan the rear. For about two hours the White Guard rode on swiftly. Only the most necessary scouting was done. Everybody knew that the Japanese forces, which had been outdistanced during the three previous days, would be encountered again. The one chance of the volunteers lay in their speed, which might yet carry them through the hostile lines, before the enemy to the south had been fully informed of the events of the night and had perfected his plans for the annihilation of the fugitives.
About 10 a.m. the first shots were exchanged. The Australian vanguard immediately headed off to the west, as had been arranged between the leaders. But it was subjected to a furious fire and fought to a standstill. Meanwhile, the centre, under the intrepid McPartoch, threw itself right forward and was soon at close quarters with Japanese infantry, the foremost lines of which it scattered. Already McPartoch had given the signal for the other divisions to follow him through the opening, when he noticed that some of the scouts broke down with their horses, while others parried theirs and turned back. The animals had become entangled in coils of twisted barbed wire, which had been hidden in the long dry grass. A little further on several lines of wire were stretched from tree to tree one above the other, thus forming an insurmountable obstacle, behind which the enemy lay in wait. And away to the north signals could be heard more and more plainly, leaving no doubt that the garrison of the capital had started in hot pursuit.
A New South Wales man, named Terry, who had been wounded in the night and was half dead from loss of blood, here sacrificed himself to save his comrades. Urging his horse forward at a terrible pace, he burst right through the iron fence. Man and horse tumbled to the ground on the far side, cut to the bones by the wires. But the end had been gained. The centre of the White Guard poured through the gap, riding down the astonished enemy. Immediately after it followed Thomas Burt’s company. Unfortunately the rear, under Grimpan, had moved far to the east, where it was engaged in a fierce fight so deeply that it did not respond to the calls. Rather than leave it to its fate, some brave fellows volunteered to ride back. Meanwhile the main body hovered round the opening to prevent the enemy from repairing the breach.
An anxious quarter of an hour flew by, giving the Japanese time to recover from their surprise and to hurry reinforcements to the critical point. Before these were in position, however, Grimpan’s company had come up. With cheers the march was resumed, among a thick hail of bullets. Suddenly McPartoch was seen to fall. A few comrades rode to his side to carry him off. He stumbled to his feet, only to collapse again in violent pain. A dumdum had struck him in the hip. His parting words were a command to his men to look after themselves and to follow Thomas Burt as the leader whose experience and circumspection might still save them. Then he drew his revolver and killed himself, true to the last to the rules of the White Guard.
C.H. Kirmess. The Australian Crisis, George Robertson & Company, Melbourne, 1909
coup de grace = (French for “stroke of mercy”) a deathblow, or shot, used to end the misery of someone who is mortally wounded
morosity = being morose (gloomy)
[Editor: Corrected “settlers indescrible” to “settlers indescribable”; “scheme of vengence” to “scheme of vengeance”.]
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