PART II - From Cape Town to Pretoria, under Lord Roberts.
Train No. 507, between Cape Town and Orange River.
The last letter I wrote was on Wednesday last, February 7. I posted it at 10.30 a.m.
Wednesday, February 7.—Owing to having had a lot of rain to-day, and the horse-blankets being soaking wet, we had no riding parades. We, however, packed up all our kit, and saw that each man under us had his complete. The Kinfauns Castle came in to-day, with Captain Bailey, the Adjutant of the infantry battalion and one and a half companies. Yesterday, if I am not mistaken in the dates, the Garth Castle came in with one company under Captain Shipley. Late in the afternoon it became fine. All men fit, except three men down with scarlet fever. Nesham, one of my boys—brother to Nesham in the 21st Lancers—was bucked off his horse and hurt the ligaments of his arm. I am taking him up, however. To-day his arm is much better.
Thursday, February 8.—Reveille, 4.30; stables, 5; saddle up, full marching order, at 6; breakfast, 7; parade at 7.45. We were inspected by the Governor, Sir Alfred Milner. He seemed very pleased with us, called up all the officers and congratulated them, and wished us all ' God-speed.' He is a quiet, sallow-faced man, with a determined mouth and a slight, dark moustache.
The remainder of the day we packed up our kits. I was photographed to-day on my grey, and so was all my section. I have paid for and sent home four copies of myself, four of my section, and two of inspection by Lord Roberts. The photographer has promised faithfully to send them.
Our greys are to be painted khaki colour up at the Orange River. You will be glad to hear that my section is the best mounted; I picked the horses for them, and I myself have two beauties—a grey and a capital bay.
Friday, January 9.—Reveille at 5; stables at 5.30; saddle up, 10, full marching order, preparatory to departure. At 12.30 we were all saddled up, and at 1 o'clock we left camp for the front, taken in by two bands. Both men and horses look magnificent, and I was proud of being one of them. My section—the Greys—leads the regiment We marched off, 250 strong and 260 horses, all fit. Unfortunately influenza has been running through the horses; twenty-seven had to be cast and replaced; but to-day all are well. The whole camp turned out to bid us good-bye, and cheered like mad. It is about three miles to the station. It was blazing hot, and there were enormous crowds, composed of blacks, English, Dutch, Boers, Germans, French, Turks—in fact, all sorts. When we came to the better parts of Cape Town we got an enormous reception. I shall never forget it. . . . We go up in two trains, men and horses, eleven horses to a truck, eight men to a third compartment, and four officers in first compartment. The men's carriages are very comfortable—six beds in each, two men taking turns to sit up. It was a tremendous job getting the horses in. Before leaving the Mayor made a speech, and Colonel Cholmondeley replied; every man was given lemonade and biscuits ad lib. We started at 2.30. At every station we had an enormous reception, each man getting lots of grapes and peaches. At Lady Grey all the ladies were at the station, and had tea ready for us, with fruit and cakes, mostly Dutch and English. All along the railway are patrols of Duke of Edinburgh's Cape Volunteers and Cape Highlanders. Every bridge, cutting and culvert is guarded. Each company of 100 men has 20 miles to look after. The men in both these regiments are fine and serviceable looking, and they all give us a hearty welcome as we go along. At 9 we went through Hex Pass, Blauwberg Mountains. Marvellous scenery. The moon was shining upon the river as it meandered through the pass, and light white silvery clouds were floating amongst the mountain - tops. Wonderful! The following is a summary of our force: Lieutenant-Colonel Cholmondeley, Captain Bell, Veterinary-Lieutenant Mulvey. No. 1 Company: Captain Reid; No. 1 Section: Forty-five men, Lieutenant Moeller; No. 2 Section: Forty-five men, Lieutenant Berry; No. 3 Section: Forty men, Lieutenant Brailey; No. 4 Section: Forty-five men, Lieutenant Wilson. No. 2 Company: Captain Waterlow; No. 1 Section: Forty men, Lieutenant Manisty; No. 2 Section: Forty men, Lieutenant Concannon; Second Master, Lieutenant Ridler.
I can't say absolutely for certain, but I believe we are hurried forward to form the 9th regiment of a division of 16,000 men (Mounted Infantry, cavalry, and Horse Artillery) to make a rush for Bloemfontein. I am glad I am with the mounted detachment. The remaining two sections (No. 2 Company) are being organized and equipped as fast as possible, and will be sent up shortly. They are No. 3 Section, under Lieutenant Henderson. I am almost certain this is correct The Colonel said so, and he knows. I only hope our horses will carry us, as we shall have some long marches. At 10 this evening we watered and fed the horses in the trucks. Looking after so many horses, and seeing all their various ailments, I have learnt an enormous lot; in fact, every day I am learning new things. What a good thing it is that I have passed all my exams! Everything comes in handy.
February 10.—Woke at 5. The country is bleak, rugged, yellow, green, brown, and a succession of ridges, hills, and mountains. The train curls in and out of these latter like a snake. At Matjesfontein we had a halt of an hour. Breakfast for everybody, and water and fed horses. A Mr. Logan, who owns this place, gave us our breakfast gratis, and very excellent it was, too! The men had coffee, corned beef, bread, butter, and jam.
It is blazing hot, with a clear blue sky and a marvellously clear atmosphere. I can see now how difficult it is to attack anywhere at all. The country is simply made for defence, with its succession of ridges, kopjes and brushwood, and its clear atmosphere. No wonder we lose so many men! A hundred men, well posted on a ridge, could make it pretty hot for a whole battalion 1 It is midsummer here; the sun rises at 5 and sets at 7.45. There is a cool, soft breeze. We shall probably be at our destination to-morrow evening.
Camp outside Jacobsdal, February 18.
To-day (Sunday) I occupy the first few minutes I have to myself in writing to you.
We disentrained at Enslin at 2.30 a.m. As we arrived, a large body of troops and transport were leaving for Modder River. We encamped for the night. A lot of horses got loose at 5 a.m., and followed the column. I saddled as many men as I could get, and brought twenty-one out of twenty-five back. In the evening we had orders to proceed as a left flank guard to General Macdonald (Highland Brigade). We saddled up at 3 o'clock, and as soon as we got clear of the camp we started forming the left flank guard five miles clear of the main body. My section was the first section of the flank. No enemy seen 1 Reconnoitred all kopjes, etc. We reached our next camp— Ramdam—ten miles off, at 12. A lot of my men were missing. The heat was intense. Thunderstorms and red sandstorms; everything was choked in dust.
I am anxious about Dick, Lewis, and two others. I have been out to reconnoitre for them. No sign! Heavy firing in direction of Riet River. Very anxious! Went to bed. Heavy duststorm, everything covered, terrific heat. Of course, we sleep on our blankets in the sand; we are all on half-rations; food is scarce both for men and horses, but all are cheerful. I awoke at 4, and went to my section. Dick arrived at 1.30; he had lost his way, and had been right over to Riet River, where the battle was. He had been in the saddle eighteen hours on two biscuits and his water-bottle. I was glad to see him back; fed him and his horse, etc. Left at 4 for the next camp. The C.I.V. M.I. formed advanced guard. I had the leading section as advanced line of scouts. . . . Reconnoitred everywhere. Blazing heat! Reached our next camp, Waterval Drift, at 12, and watered the horses in Riet River. We also drank out of it ourselves, for we had a big thirst on. Being Mounted Infantry we are always divisional troops, and have a tremendous lot to do. General Macdonald is our General.
Left early next morning, at 4 a.m., for next camp.
This time we are rear and baggage guard together with the Gordon Highlanders. No enemy. Reached next camp—Wegdrai Drift, Riet River—at 11 o'clock. A huge camp; Lord Roberts and staff. No sooner had we arrived than we received an order to saddle up immediately, to proceed to Jacobsdal, reconnoitre, and if possible open up communication with Lord Methuen at Modder. Jacobsdal was supposed to be flying the white flag. My section formed the advance-guard; H.A.C. skirmishing scouts with other half-section (2nd Middlesex Artillery and Queen's Westminsters) in support. We were fired at. Had orders not to return fire. Passed cavalry horses shot. More firing! My front, with advanced scouts, was about two miles. Signalled to close in and dismount, also sent back for supports, No. 3 in each subsection to hold horses. Advanced cautiously, and got under cover behind ant-heaps. Passed on word to commence firing independently as soon as enemy showed himself. More firing. We then started at about 1,200 yards and advanced. No volleys; independent firing is better. The bullets were falling fast and thick. On our left No. 1 Section, No. 2 Company, rode up too far. A perfect hail of bullets met them, and five horses were shot. Sergeant-Major Rouse fell shot in the knee (rather critical). However, we brought a cross-fire on them. The Boers were shooting well; four bullets went close by me in a second as I signalled ' Advance!' I dropped like a stone. All the men advanced, dropped, and fired lying. The artillery and machine-guns opened fire Nesham, H.A.C., was shot through the arm; only a slight flesh wound, however. He is a fine, plucky chap. The Boers retreated. At 5 o'clock we entered Jacobsdal; H.AC, first in on left, side, but Shropshires before us on right. Hoisted down Boer flag. Not a bad place. Cossack posts thrown out. Met a Boer ambulance with German doctors. Very nice men; spoke to them. We are now under General Wavell, whom we met on board ship. Next day I had orders to get in all our oxen and sheep, as the enemy is trying to get them. I got in any amount, but saw no enemy. Lewis, H.A.C., turned up. Kimberley is relieved, and the C.I.V. had a share in it! We are remaining here, our duties all day and night with outposts, reconnoitring, looking after the cattle and our enemy. Fourteen Boer ambulances came through my post, also seven Boer deserters. We have no further orders yet I hear that Waterval Drift has been attacked; fear that Lieutenant Wilson, also Hazell Watson, Harley Mason and others are left behind, prisoners.
Convoy taken with 140,000 rations; men and horses are all on half-rations, but all are cheerful and confident. Although these are hard times, I am enjoying the fun. I have lost nearly all my kit My bay horse has been poleaxed (inflammation of lungs). Cronje beaten, and retreat cut off to Bloemfontein by French. The heat is terrific!
Stinkfontein Camp, Thursday, February 22.
To-day I am camp orderly officer, so have time again to write you a few lines. The last time I wrote was from Jacobsdal Camp. At that time we were under General Wavell. The whole division got orders to move on the 19th at 9 o'clock at night. My section formed the advance-guard and scouts. This was the first night-march I have experienced. I had orders to march northeast by road on the south, taking direction by Southern Cross, and to keep a sharp look-out for the enemy. Later on, at 3.30 a.m., I had orders to march on a large kopje in the far distance. Arrived at 5.30, all sound. In all we marched twenty miles; our destination Klip Drift. Here the column halted, bivouacked, and breakfasted. It was very hot, and there was no enemy in sight. Methuen's division was close by on the other side of the M odder River. We moved off again about 1.30. I was made rear-guard to Naval Brigade, and two 47 guns and two 40-lb. guns; had also to skirmish. We came across occasional small parties of the enemy and a few snipers. No casualties. Orders were not to become engaged unless absolutely compelled to. There were duststorms, it was fearfully hot, and horses and men were both pretty tired. We reached our destination, Paardeberg village, at 7. A huge divisional camp. Battles have been fought all along here. We saw a number of dead horses and mules. Paardeberg is fertile, with trees, cactus, etc. It is the first fertile place I have seen for days. I am very weary—dog-tired! Scouting is exciting enough, but tiring work for both eyes and nerves. We encamped for the night and slept. A big battle fought; Cronje and 19,000 Boers hemmed in the kopjes at Stinkfontein by French, Gatacre, Methuen, and Colvile, all under Kitchener. Awakened by heavy gun-firing. Moved off here. Artillery battle going on. Encamped—no tents, of course; just in the open air. We are still on half-rations. Macdonald made a night attack, got wounded, and lost 1,000 men in Scotch Brigade. Seaforths several officers wounded, two killed. The Boers lost 700 killed. They throw their dead bodies in the river. Very sad to see the wounded and dead coming in all day long, and the burial-parties. We are now attached to the Headquarter Staff. Better grub! The troops are drawing nearer and nearer to Cronje. He won't surrender, plucky chap! Sure to be a big fight to-morrow. I shall probably be in it; I hope so! There are blazing hot duststorms. The men and horses are all well, and I am in the best of health, and going strong. You will probably know far more news about the war than I do, for we can hear nothing here, the camp is too large. Heavy firing all day, lyddite shells, etc. We see 'em burst. I am writing this letter in a duststorm; they are really awful! Nearly all the other men have gone out to graze horses and get grass. As orderly officer I have to remain in camp. I am looking forward to to-morrow. Nixon, who was one of the orderlies supplied by us to General Macdonald, was shot in the chest during the last battle, and has been sent to Cape Town.
February 23.—Directly after I had finished yesterday's letter a heavy thunderstorm came on with an enormous downpour of rain; everything was drenched 1 It lasted till late at night. We passed a wet night in wet blankets and clothes. To-day our Quartermaster, Ridler, with Duffit and Loder, rejoined us from Enslin, but brought no tent. All cleaned up and dried our things this morning and cleaned our rifles. Heavy artillery-firing all night. Cronje is said to have reinforcements trying to come up. It is reported that French and a flying column are on their way to Bloemfontein. No fight to-day; Modder River swollen. The Boer trenches are said to be full of water. I have been out with party feeding and grazing horses. Captain Reid is still away at Kimberley, and I am in command of No. 1 Company. The weather is fine and cooler. We forded Modder River with the horses. There was good grazing the other side. Just returned, and hear that the mail is going at once.
Stinkfontein Camp, Majuba Day, February 26, 1900.
Yesterday at noon we suddenly got orders to saddle up, take two days' rations and ammunition, and march off at 3.15. We did so, and joined the cavalry and Mounted Infantry Brigade. Cronje and his men were supposed to try to effect an escape to join Botha, who has a large commando six miles away of 9,000 men. We reached our destination 3,000 yards south of Boer entrenchments on the Modder River, dismounted at 6 o'clock, and left our horses under cover behind a large kopje. All the men, except the No. 3's, who took charge of the horses, went out in front There were the following: Nesbitt's Horse, Kitchener's Horse, Canadians, New Zealanders, Composite Regiment of Lancers, Household Cavalry, and others. We formed a huge picket-line round Cronje from river-bank to river-bank. I reached my position at 7 p.m.; my picket was No. 5. I was awake all night; it was most exciting. At 2.30 a.m. there was heavy rifle-firing on my left. We were only 1,200 yards from Boer entrenchments. The howitzers were going all night. It was fine weather, with moonlight; there was a heavy dew, and it was cool. At 4.30—just before dawn—we got orders to retire on our horses. On our march back to camp we heard that Cronje had surrendered with 3,000 men; the remainder got away or deserted. Cronje is in camp here now. He is a fine middle-aged man, with a dark beard, seemingly about forty. He has his wife with him. He ate a huge breakfast this morning. Lord Roberts is still here. I came back to camp, and had orders to remain saddled to attack Botha and his 9,000 men. May get orders any minute. More fighting. All are in best of spirits. There is better grub now for officers and men, and all seem keen on fighting. The H.A.C. are going strong, as well as the remainder of my section. The horses are in a bad way, though, through bad water; several have died. My grey got cold. I hope he is all right. We may probably get about 100 remounts from the Boer prisoners. The life here, although pretty hard, suits me down to the ground, but we want more fighting. We can't complain, though, as we had plenty at Jacobsdal. The last three nights and days before yesterday have been soaking wet, but it is now fine, dry, and hot. Nothing to relate otherwise, except that the day before yesterday, while examining horses and men, Lord Roberts came up unexpectedly, dismounted, and came down my lines. He is a fine fellow! Kitchener, I believe, is forming a division at Naauwpoort for Bloemfontein. Just heard I have to escort the Boer prisoners to Modder River—100 men under Captain Waterlow and 4 subalterns and 4,000 prisoners.
Modder River Camp, March 2, 1900.
I wrote last on February 26; I will now continue my letter. I had command of the mounted escort for the 4,300 prisoners. Captain Waterlow, with Lieutenants Manisty and Concannon and fifty men, was in command of the mounted escort for Cronje, his wife, and seven others. I had under me Lieutenant Barry and fifty-six men. We fell in at 2.30, and I reported to the Commander of the whole escort (Lord Erroll, of the Blues, late A.D.C. to Lord Wolseley). I had orders to furnish advance-guard and escort for the mounted Boer prisoners. These mounted Boers were all the Commanders and Field-Cornets, about fifty men and horses. Amongst them were Major Albrecht, the Commander of Artillery, General Woulmerans, Lieutenant Von Ersenstein (German army). Well, we started off at 3 p.m. The dismounted Boers were escorted by the whole Gloucester Battalion. It was a marvellous sight—the bare veldt, with kopjes studded here and there; the long line of Boer prisoners in all kinds of mufti costumes, mostly in rags; their wretched horses—some wounded, some lame—and the women and children surrounded by a khaki cordon of troops, the only relief being the bayonets reflecting the rays of the sun. Albrecht was in a buggy drawn by two grey ponies, and General Woulmerans was on a white Arab pony. The former is a tall, handsome man, blue-eyed, and with a black beard. He was neatly dressed in riding-breeches. The latter is an old man with a white beard, long hooked nose, and a shabby mufti costume. We trudged along slowly, about two miles an hour. I had thrown out a scouting screen, and had remainder for support and escort combined. We marched till sunset (6.30), and then bivouacked at Klip Kraal. I had a waggon with me and ten mules, with two days' supplies. Reveille was at 4.30 next morning, and we marched on again to Klip Drift, which we reached at 11.30. By the way, I had an especial duty—to look after Albrecht, his officers, and Woulmerans, and to shoot anybody who made an attempt to escape. All my men had charged magazines. At Klip Drift camp were several battalions of Guards, and the General (Pole-Carew) received us. He had a long chat with Albrecht, and I acted as interpreter. I then drew a full day's rations for my men, and we all had grub. The Boer prisoners were each allowed 1 lb. of tinned meat and two biscuits. Albrecht and Woulmerans lunched with the General. Berry and I were invited to the Guards' mess, but we declined, as we thought it best to look after the men and horses. We started at 3, and marched till sundown to within seven miles of Modder River Camp. The escort was composed of ourselves and the 2nd Grenadiers, under Colonel Eyre Crabbe. I know him, as I have acted as galloping officer to him at home.
Awfully decent fellow, and very good to me. Everybody in camp wondered very much at our coming up to the front so soon. I also saw Wilkinson, who was Adjutant of the school when I was up. In the evening I had a heavy night's work; had charge of all the Boer horses. I was up all night, but one poor animal died —bled to death. We started next morning (yesterday) at 4.30, and reached this camp at 9.30. We had a great reception. Handed over prisoners to General Officer Commanding. Lord Erroll and Colonel Crabbe thanked me for all work done, and said it was done well. Indeed, my men worked very well, and although it was a hard time, with hardly any sleep, they stuck to it manfully. Reported myself to General Officer Commanding here, and then joined Captain Waterlow. We remain here for two clear days to rest the horses and men. The horses are rather in a poor way through having had half-rations and bad water for so long, and most of us are a bit fine-drawn. However, the rest here is sure to do us good, as we get full rations, bread and fresh milk! Besides, we can buy luxuries if we want to. The weather is hot.
This has altogether been a big experience, and a great honour for the C.I.V. Lord Roberts has done everything for us; he took an enormous interest in us, and he got us up to the front. I have now been on almost every duty imaginable. We probably return to Stinkfontein Camp on Sunday, the 4th. Good news to-day: Ladysmith is relieved, and General French has got Botha and his 5,000 men in a trap.
My groom (Roberts, 3rd Middlesex Artillery) has gone into hospital to-day with fever. I am getting quite accustomed to the smell of dead horses and cattle. Got some of my kit back from Enslin.
Osfontein Camp, March 6, 1900.
My last letter to you was from Modder River. We stayed there for forty-eight hours, rested ourselves and our horses, and fed up. I got some of my kit up from Enslin, but found a good deal had disappeared. What I miss most are my waterproofs and boots. However, I got a few things in the stores at Modder. I saw the battlefields of Modder and Magersfontein. The line of kopjes at the latter place was most imposing; they contain four tiers of fire, and the position looks impregnable. Modder is a large camp, with one or two stores and a hotel.
I don't know whether I have already written you that the night before we rejoined our regiment (March 4) I and my section were detailed to look after our bullock-waggon, which was painfully slow—one and a half miles per hour. Well, to start with, the waggon got stuck, so I had perforce to turn out all sick men and to make them foot it, and also had to unload. After an hour's work we were able to proceed, and I halted at an evacuated farm and bivouacked for the night. It was pitch-dark; the farm had been bombarded, and was roofless. At 10 o'clock a terrific storm burst over the veldt; first of all a hot hurricane, then ceaseless lightning and thunder, and the biggest downpour I have ever seen. We all got wet through; the whole place for miles was a lake a foot deep, and all our fires were out, the only grub biscuits. The rain stopped at 4, and at 5 the sky cleared and the sun rose. At 6 we made fires and had coffee, tinned meat, and biscuits. At 7 we marched off. Our regiment had shifted on to Osfontein (five miles east of Paardeberg). We rejoined them at 3 o'clock, all fit and well.
March. 5.—Comfortable quarters in a house for the officers, and the men are comfortable under cover of a high kopje. Still with 8th Mounted Infantry Brigade, under Colonel Le Gallais. All are fit and well.
March 6.—Went to graze the horses in the morning, also in the evening. I and my section went on picket. Boers in close proximity. Naval Brigade arrived, and hauled their guns up the kopje. Guns fired at about 3,500 yards from high ridge. I had orders to go on scouting—straight line in line of general direction.
March 7.—Reveille at 4.30. Marched off with New South Wales Lancers, Kitchener's Horse, and Nesbitt's Horse at 9.30. Escort to Brigade Division of Artillery (twenty-four guns). Trotted most of the way. Hard scouting. Plenty of sniping going on. We became, ultimately, the advanced scouts, two miles ahead. We found enemy near Poplar Grove; were shelled hard by battery posted on high kopje. One shell burst within 100 yards of myself and Captain Bell, but did no damage to us, though some horses were hit. Our batteries did not reply, but pushed on according to orders, as the main division had got a commando penned up further on. The guns, however, came into action at Poplar's Grove, and did great damage. Lord Roberts' idea was to halt at Poplar Grove and get the whole army encamped there en route for Bloemfontein. The result was accomplished.
March 8.—Changed camp to the other side. There is more vegetation, owing, perhaps, to recent rains. Grazed horses morning and afternoon. Better grub. No transport. I hear that another convoy—130 waggons—has been captured by the Boers. Major Brazier Cray, 9th Bengal Lancers, our Brigade Major, messes with us; nice man. Fine weather, but cold nights, particularly towards early morning.
March 9.—Took horses grazing, and tested rifles. By the way, I see from the newspapers that our rifles are considered defective. They are all right, only sighted a bit too much to the right, 3 feet in 1,000 yards, and we allow for that. My rifle is a good one, as I knocked over a vulture at Paardeberg at 250 yards first shot. Have kept a feather as a trophy. No fresh news, except that we have received marching orders en route for Bloemfontein.
March 10.—Started as baggage-guard to our Brigade Baggage Column, practically a rear-guard, while army on the move in three parallel columns two miles apart from one another—about 30,000 men. The most marvellous thing is the enormous transport, mule and oxen; it is endless, and all driven by natives. To-day is hot. This is a flat country. We halted at 12 noon, and had German sausage and biscuits (excellent, and very welcome). We marched off again at 3. A superb sunset. The sky effects in this country are really beautiful. Reached Desfontein Camp at 7, and halted for the night (fourteen miles' march). I went with my section on picket on a high kopje overlooking miles of country in the direction of the Boer retreat. It was fine weather—a moonlight night. We hear that a rear-guard action has been fought here by first column, and that the Essex Battalion lost 2 officers and 150 men killed and wounded.
March 11.—Rejoined regiment at 5.15. Started at 7, and trotted for five miles to rejoin firing-line with the Mounted Infantry Brigade. G. Battery R.H.A. here; passed them on the way. We joined firing-line at 12.30. Fifteen minutes for lunch— German sausage and biscuits. Blazing hot. All marched on. No enemy! We reached our destination at 3 p.m., and the whole regiment went on picket. No grub, but we got seven sheep, killed two and kept remainder. We had to supply pickets on outlying kopjes miles off. An uneventful night—no enemy!
March 12.—Next morning we cooked liver and kidneys—very good. We changed camp to Aasvogel Kop, a huge farm with a lake and large herds of cattle. All are camping here except Cavalry Division, which has moved on. Our transport rejoined us. A good breakfast for both officers and men. At 4 p.m. we started off for night march as advance-guard to column. A fine night. Halted at 8 for three hours. The Guards Brigade passed us here, doing a record march. We reached our camp at 3 a.m. (sixteen miles) —Vennerkley. I had three hours' sleep till 6.
March 13.—Rested here all day, and fell in again at 3 p.m. The C.I.V. were left flank guard to column, and I commanded. Have thrown out scouts. Owing to mules and oxen being done, we did not march off till 9 p.m. Awfully tiring; thunderstorms, heavy rains, and pitch-dark. In order to keep our saddles dry we had to keep mounted the whole time We marched all night. It was so dark that, owing to having to reconnoitre kopjes miles to our left, I missed our main body. However, I went on reconnoitring with my men, and ultimately fell in with the head of the column. We reached camp first at 5.30 a.m., wet and dead-beat. We simply tied our horses up, and fell to sleep as we were, on the wet ground. Others arrived at 6.30. This camp is called Brandam Kop, and is three and a half miles away from Bloemfontein. Bloemfontein was evacuated by Steyn on Monday night, and on Tuesday morning French entered with the Cavalry Brigade. Only a few shells were put in.
March 14.—Our camp is in a magnificent country— an enormous plain studded with kopjes, green grass, and just behind our camp rising ground covered with shrubs.
I have finished this letter here in Bloemfontein, or near it. We have had a good rest in camp here, both for men and horses. I believe we shall be here for another fourteen days. Troops are all round here— 50,000 men. Lord Roberts is in Bloemfontein.
I have been twice to Bloemfontein. It is only a small capital, with some 8,000 inhabitants. There is a club there, with a large bar, open only to officers. But it is an interesting place; you meet everybody there, pretty well, in the service, besides newspaper correspondents. I have bought a few useful articles. Everything now, however, is about cleared out. The train service is clear. A big Union Jack floats over the Government House. By the way, I have seen my old Adjutant, Captain Wray. I heard from Colonel Cholmondeley that he was with the First Cavalry Brigade, so I rode over and saw him. He looks wonderfully fit and well; he is Adjutant to the 1st Brigade Division R.H.A. He has his majority. I had a long chat with him, and asked him to lunch with us next day to see the H.A.C. men. He came, and all were very glad to see him. He has seen plenty of fighting, being with the First Cavalry Brigade. By the way, the Bloemfontein shopkeepers are making a fortune.
What a splendid speech Chamberlain made! I heard to-day that Lord Salisbury has declared formally that he will never give up Egypt, also that Kruger is making for peace, also that Buller has captured Van Reenan's Pass. Things are beginning to look up a bit all round. I don't think the Transvaalers, however, will give in without a good stiff fight for it.
I have been to Bloemfontein several times now. It is a wonderful sight, with the troops from all parts of the Empire, war correspondents in rickshaws and buggies, and foreign military attaches in khaki and silver lace; they are all here. General Gourko, the Russian military attache on the Boer side, was captured at Poplar Grove. Of course, he is released. Every evening there is a big tattoo in the market-place. All the buglers of a battalion sound the ' retreat' and march up and down. One evening I saw a most impressive sight. I had just had some tea with one of the officers in the club, and was coming out in the marketplace, which was full of officers' horses, held by black boys, with buggies, soldiers, and Bloemfonteiners. Right on the far side were drawn up all the pipers of the Highland Brigade—about 100—and at 6 o'clock the pipers started playing their pipes and marching up and down. On the right a company of infantry with fixed bayonets was bringing in forty Boer prisoners, and on the whole scene the setting sun cast a red, lurid glare. It was a wonderful living picture. The shops in Bloemfontein are very good and scrupulously neat; in fact, the whole place is remarkably clean.
We are still with Le Gallais' Brigade, stationed out here three and a half miles south-west of Bloemfontein. The brigade is composed of six regiments: Kitchener's Horse, Nesbitt's Horse, Australian Horse, New South Wales Mounted Infantry, 6th and 7th Mounted Infantry (regulars).
(From March 29, 1900, to April 6, 1900, there is no record, as the steamer with the mails on board had foundered.)
Camp eighteen miles from Bloemfontein and ten miles from Glen Railway Station.
On April 6 I found the regiment was ten miles from Glen Station, and took the train at 4.30 p.m. As I was waiting, Lumsden's Horse arrived from India—a fine lot of men, and good horses (Pegu ponies). I arrived at Glen at 5 o'clock, and the Grenadier Guards here put me up for the night. They are nice, jolly fellows. They left early next morning, and I joined Le Gallais' convoy. We reached the supply park, six miles, from our camp, and at 2 p.m. our waggon came in for supplies. I joined them, and reached our camp at 5 p.m. At dawn the next morning I went out with a strong patrol, and saw the enemy far off. Returned to camp at 6.15. Alarms and excursions all day long; we are always under arms, and waggons packed. We really form part of a large outpost line round Bloemfontein.
Saturday, April 7.—Shifted camp further back (two miles). The Boers are now on our left. No excitement up to date. To-night, I have heard, we are to be attacked; we all slept with rifles, and did not undress. At 2 a.m. we saddled up all the horses, but nothing occurred.
Sunday, April 8.—All quiet. Had church parade. The weather is beautiful; there are cold nights, but hot days, with clear sunshine. The climate is perfect; we are 6,000 feet above the sea. The scenery is beautiful—big ranges of hills, and in the far distance are the mountains of Basutoland. I expect to be in the neighbourhood of Bloemfontein for another four to five weeks. There is a good deal of fever about (there always is in the autumn here). All sorts of rumours about Buller's corps are flying about; it is said he is coming round the other side of Kroonstad. There appear to be large commandoes of Boers coming up from Norval's Pont. We also have Rundle's Division coming up here. It is difficult to say how long it will take before the war is over. There is little doubt but that the Boers will fight right up to and beyond Pretoria, and the country is so difficult that there will be a guerilla war for a long time. You will know far more about the general state of things than we do up here.
Monday, April 9.—Nothing fresh; all is quiet. I hear that all the last mails went down in the Union liner outside Cape Town. I also heard that the Highlanders have recaptured the waterworks outside Bloemfontein. Our force is to be reorganized, and we go under a new Brigadier—probably Hutton. They say that the Marquis de Villebois is shot, and that fifty Boer prisoners have been taken by Methuen. All is quiet in camp. The usual duties. Last night the men gave a very good smoking concert in camp round a bonfire. The Boers are quiet, and seem entrenching.
Tuesday, April 10.—All quiet; beautiful weather. In the afternoon I took out a strong reconnoitring patrol, and went within four miles of the Boer laager at Brandfort, a town of 2,000 inhabitants. Reconnoitred right round our position, and found outposts of Boers at farms, kopjes, and Kaffir kraals. Visited all our outlying posts. We did not once draw the Boers' fire though, for I had strict orders not to get entangled from the commanding officer. Was out five hours, and returned at dusk
Wednesday, April 11.—Last night was my turn for outpost duty. I took out support and picket, and took up position on high ground east-north-east of camp. It was a cold, quiet night. Three shots were fired by Australian picket at 8.30; we discovered it was one of their sentries blazing away at a stray horse. At 10 heard another shot on our left, and found it was an Australian patrol fired upon by one of their own men. One of the patrol was hit in the leg. Remainder of night quiet. In the afternoon I rode over to the field hospital (Fourteenth Brigade, Maxwell's) to see our sick men. It is about eight miles from here, over beautiful country. All the sick men are going on well. One of my section—South, 2nd Middlesex Artillery—is down with enteric. I saw him; he is getting on as well as can be expected. Rode back, and reached camp in time for mess. During the night we had heavy thunderstorms and rain. Last night I heard that Brailey (one of our officers, No. 3 Section, No. 1 Company) is down with enteric at Bloemfontein. Lots of fever about just now, and Bloemfontein is evidently a hotbed of it.
Thursday, April12.—Beautiful day to-day; all quiet. We now belong to the 6th Corps Mounted Infantry, under Colonel Legge. I am probably going out to make a sketch of our front, if it keeps fine, for the Colonel. To-day is mail day, and as I have a lot to do I will close this letter now.
Karee Kloof, April19.
I wrote you last on April 12. Since then we have had a quiet, uneventful time here. The Boer laager is where it was before, and, with the exception of a bit of sniping on both sides between patrols, nothing exciting has occurred.
On April 13 I did an eye-sketch of our front for the Colonel.
The weather has turned bitterly cold, with rain every day. We have seldom seen the sun during the past week; in fact, the weather has been just like an English March, but rather colder. To-day, however, it has cleared up a bit.
On Easter Sunday we had Divine Service, read by the Colonel, and an Easter hymn. It was very simple, but impressive.
Easter Monday we had some sports, and very good they were, too.
I am very glad to say that Corporal Cooper and his subsection won the alarm competition, which I think was the chief event of the day. The competitors rested on the ground, dressed, wearing cloak, waterproof sheet under and blanket over them; the horse was to be picketed, nosebag on, saddle on the ground behind the man. As soon as a whistle sounded, competitors were to rise, saddle their horses, roll and put on cloak, blanket, and waterproof sheet on saddle, mount, and gallop off to a fixed point. Well, Corporal Cooper, as I said before, won this with his subsection against the whole regiment. It was a very good performance, and won entirely by Cooper's hard work. He is invaluable to me, and does a lot of work in the section.
General Wavell came to the sports, as well as several other officers. The whole affair was a great success. The officers subscribed £16 for prizes in kind, such as tobacco, butter, jam, etc., which were purchased in Bloemfontein.
On Tuesday there was the ordinary routine: patrols, pickets, and usual camp duties. I went on picket Sunday night and Tuesday night; soaking rain both nights! all in the day's work, however. No enemy seen either night.
We can see the Boer patrols all day long from our observation posts, three-quarters of a mile off. This afternoon I am taking out a strong patrol. For several evenings there has been a lunar rainbow. I have never seen one before; it is quite white, with the faintest of colours. I don't mean a ring round the moon, but a real, genuine rainbow. The horses are beginning to suffer from cold and wet; five died during the last two days. We are to be divided again: No. 1 Company (mine, Reid) to go to Seventh Division (General Tucker), No. 2 Company (Waterlow) to go to Headquarter Staff Corps. This is a great pity, as it splits us up. The Mounted Infantry of the C.I.V. have never been all together since we have been out here. Captain Reid, with fifty men, is due here to-day or to-morrow. He has fourteen of my men; I shall be glad to see them again. They have been away for over four weeks. The H.A.C. men coming with him are Corfield, Greenwell, Toynbee; also Humphreys (rejoining fit and well again) and Byron (from hospital, Modder). Corporal Murnane has had a relapse, I hear, and has been sent back to hospital at Naauwpoort. Nesham is also rejoining, fit and well, and is coming up with Captain Reid. You remember he was wounded at Jacobsdal. The information I received that he was invalided home was incorrect.
Karee Kloof, April 20, 1900.
I wrote you yesterday, April 19, and closed my letter at. 12 o'clock. In the afternoon I took out a reconnoitring patrol all round our front It was very exciting, and my only regret was that I had ten men from No. 3 Section (London Rifle Brigade and London Scottish) instead of my own men. Well, we started at 2.15. At 2.30 o'clock I arrived at De Lisle's Kop, one of the extreme advanced posts held by a company of 2nd Mounted Infantry. I dismounted here, and had, as usual, a good look round the country. All clear of Boers apparently. One gets a magnificent view from there right across to Brandfort, where the chief Boer laager is. About 4,000 yards to the right front is a large white farm. Parties of Boers go here at various times for provisions, yet this farm flies the white flag, and, what is more, signals the Boers every night as soon as our pickets are posted. I have had a grudge against the place for these reasons, but have never been able to go there, as I have had strict orders not to do so. To-day the Colonel gave me a free hand by asking me to find out as much as I could about the enemy's movements, especially as they had been reported very active fetching in cattle. This suited my book to a T. Well, as I have already written, I arrived at De Lisle's Kop, took observations, and got information that from eight to ten mounted Boers had been in the farm, but had gone away again. I proceeded, got my men in wide extended order, and halted them 1,500 yards from the farm. As I thought there might be a row if I took them any further and anything happened to them, I went on alone, very cautiously, and had a good look round. I got close up to the farm and saw two women, four children and some niggers. For safety's sake I had another good look and then galloped in. Said 'Good-day' and saluted one of the women, who was evidently the housewife. She seemed very friendly, and looked honest. I bought six chickens, two ducks, a sackful of dried peaches, and two dozen eggs for twenty shillings, then went back and called up one of my men, returned and loaded everything in two sacks. I was just taking a look round and bargaining for a pig when we were fired at from a clump of shrubs 600 yards north-east of farm. Bundled up sacks, picked up rifles, paid old woman, who was awfully excited, and galloped off. Bullets came round us like steam, but none of them hit. Reached remaining nine men, ordered them to dismount, to lie down, and await events. We were then about 2,500 yards off— well out of range. Another party of about ten to fourteen Boers started firing on our right flank, so I gave orders to mount, as I thought discretion the better part of valour, and we galloped off. It was all well worth the risk, for I got information about the farm and how it was built, and all its approaches, etc. I went round other observation posts, gathered information, and returned to camp at 6. Would have waited and had a shot at those Boers, but we were only eleven rifles against at least thirty, and besides, we were right in the open, and the Boers were sheltered by shrubs. I was only sorry I left the eggs behind; hadn't time to pack them—such infernally breakable articles, besides being very messy. By the way, I killed a fine snake on the return to camp—4 feet long, and flat-headed. I have since discovered it to be a puff adder and poisonous, but a beauty. Have got him skinned, and am bringing skin home. I could shoot plenty of buck, but it is not allowed, as it arouses the whole camp. Strict orders against it from headquarters.
Friday, April 20.—Had quiet night Cold and very heavy dew. I am orderly officer to-day; have to remain in camp and do all the camp duties—burying the dead horses, taking the horses to water, visiting the sick, prisoners, cooks, etc. In the evening I went on picket. It was a cold, fine, clear night; all quiet, except for endless visits of patrols from other regiments. At dawn (5.45) went forward to see if the enemy is active. There were only distant patrols of Boers. Returned to camp at 7 to breakfast. It was a lovely morning—clear, bright as crystal, and a magnificent sunrise. The whole veldt was covered with a white dew, and the tips of the distant hills were a rosy red. The life is unbeatable, and I am enjoying every moment of it. One lives day and night in the open fresh air, perhaps the freshest and best one can get in the world. One sees Nature in her best and truest colours, and the more one sees of her the more one loves her. The brooks and gullies are full of water, after the recent heavy rains, and the wide veldt has changed its old coat of a drab brown to a new one of fresh green.
Saturday, April 21.—To-day is a fine, hot day. All quiet.
Sunday, April 22.—A beautiful hot day, after a cold night. This morning, at 8.30, No. 2 Company moved off for Bloemfontein, to take up their duties as corps-troops to Headquarter Staff. The Colonel, Adjutant, Second Master, Captain Ryan (doctor), and vet. (Mulvey) have gone back to join staff. We (No. 1 Company) form part of divisional troops on Seventh Division (General Tucker).
We consist now of: Captain Reid; No. 1 Section, Lieutenant Moeller; No. 2 Section, Lieutenant Berry; No. 3 Section, Sergeant Vine; No. 4 Section, Lieutenant Wilson—about 120 officers and men, Colour-Sergeant Smith; two machine guns, Lieutenant Wellby.
We also shall probably remain here for the present — i.e., Karee Kloof—twenty-three miles north-east of Bloemfontein and eleven miles due south of Brandfort (Boer laager).
Everything seems quiet, except that the Boers made a big reconnaissance yesterday within five miles of our camp, 500 strong. However, they retired almost at once. To-day there is heavy gun-firing out west There has evidently been some heavy fighting lately twenty miles off, but we have no particulars here at all.
In the evening went out on picket. A fine, cold night. All was quiet till 3 a.m., when I heard distant sounds of artillery moving on my right flank. I was just on the point of going out with a reconnoitring patrol when the patrol of the 2nd Mounted Infantry came up and informed me that the Tasmanian Mounted Infantry, New South Wales Mounted Rifles, two guns (15-pounders), were moving out as a strong reconnaissance force, with two pom-poms and a battalion of infantry.
At dawn (5.30) rode ahead on a distant kopje, and saw the force deployed. There was heavy gun-firing, but I could see no trace of any Boers, except a few widely-dispersed patrols. I waited till 6.45 before bringing in picket, but nothing further occurred. It was, seemingly, a reconnaissance in force, to impress the Boers at this particular spot, due east of our position and due north of Bloemfontein, possibly part of a big scheme; but one knows so little of what is going on outside that one can only write and state what goes on in one's own little corner.
Monday, April 23.—To-day I am orderly officer.
At 2.30 an order came in from brigade headquarters to send out a machine-gun and section to drive out fifty or sixty Boers on a kopje east-south-east of our position and due south of Signal Hill. I immediately got my men ready, and started off with Wellby in command of his gun, located position, and sent out scouts. They had been sniping furthest Australian observation post.
I waited for an hour, then reported to Commanding Officer. The Australians came home again. No sport to-day; otherwise all quiet
The following two days all seemed quiet, except for distant rifle shots fired in the north-east.
Karee Kloof, April 27.
I sent my last letter off yesterday at 12 noon. In the afternoon I went off on patrol All was quiet. I did not go over to the farm, as fourteen Boers were supposed to be there; however, I reconnoitred all round it. The usual Boer patrols seen in the far distance. I arrived back at the camp at 5 o'clock.
Sunday, April 29.—All is still quiet. No parades to-day, except watering and feeding horses, cleaning kits and rifles, eta In the afternoon I went out on patrol. Some way out spotted a large flock of sheep, and with great difficulty rounded them in towards camp. I was met by a Colonel and his staff, who informed me that they belonged to a friendly farmer called Maree. So there was nothing else to be done but to drive them in with the Kaffir in charge. It was hard lines, as I got them within 4,000 yards of enemy's outposts, and it would have been a fine haul. However, I determined to try my luck elsewhere, so I went over to a farm two miles east of our observation post, where Wellby raised chickens and ducks some days back. It is within two miles of the enemy's outposts. All was clear, so I went in, but only secured two chicks and shot a huge fat pig (half a boar, with tusks). Worse luck, I could not get it home, as, firstly, it was too heavy to draw, and none of the horses would stand still enough to take it strapped on; secondly, we were fired upon, miles off, it is true, but we were in a very enclosed farm—by ridges, etc.—so we retired. In the evening went on picket. A bitterly cold, fine night. A slight ground frost in early morning. It is wonderful, the enormous change in temperature here between night and day. The days are blazing hot between ten and four, and the nights as cold as a December night in London.
Monday, April 30.—This morning, at dawn, a strong force moved out, composed of Lumsden's Horse, Loch's Horse, 4th Mounted Infantry and pom-poms, and a battery to north-east and east. There was some heavy firing, but, as I am orderly officer to-day, I was unable to leave camp. This force was supported on right rear in echelon by Fourteenth and Twenty-first Brigades of infantry with artillery. According to reports the reconnaissance was not quite successful, as about 2,000 Boers came out and cut off Lumsden's Horse, who lost touch. They lost five killed and seventeen wounded, amongst the killed being their Adjutant. At ten o'clock the firing ceased, and both sides withdrew. The Fourteenth and Twenty-first Brigades, however, came up further to our right and took up a permanent position to our right rear south-east. The Boers, apparently, had severe casualties.
Zoorfontein, five miles west-south-west of Brandfort.
Tuesday, May 1.—All quiet during day. Evening went on picket. At 12 o'clock an orderly came up from camp. I was to return with my picket and support at first glimmer of dawn, as we were to move off. The night was all quiet. Returned to camp at 4.45, but found the advance delayed for twenty-four hours. A bitterly cold night.
Wednesday, May 2.—Got everything ready for departure, struck camp, etc. In the evening Wilson returned with sixty remounts, saddles, clothing, etc. Very lucky for us, he returned just in time. He also brought some sick men back recovered.
Thursday, May 3.—To-day has been a great day for No. 1 Company C.I.V. M.I., and No. 1 Section H.A.C. in particular.
Reveille was at 4.30. Saddled up at 5.30. Got into position at 6.30 as advanced guard and screen to Seventh Division, virtually in front of the forward movement and the whole British army. My section was advanced line of scouts. We started from De Lisle's Kop with Fourteenth Brigade (WaveH's and others behind us). Our direction was towards Brandfort, but north-north-west of it At 6.45 I threw out my line of scouts and advanced. We went to the right of Roodeheuvel's farm (the one I visited and got fired on), and trotted towards the first kopje in the far distance. Berry and No. 2 Section were on my left, and Wilson on the far left rear. We covered a screen of about three miles. Captain Reid, Lieutenant Wellby, the machine-guns, and No. 3 Section, were in support. Between 1,500 and 2,000 yards from the kopje my section came under hot fire from Boers lying under cover of the stones; their fire was extremely accurate, even at this distance. I was right in the open, so I ordered my line to retire, and we galloped to the nearest cover, a mile away, where I closed, handed the horses to No. 3, and took out the remainder in skirmishing order. We advanced under fire, and at 1,500 yards I started ' independent,' with fairly good effect, as it stopped the enemy's fire. We advanced again and took kopje. The enemy retreated to a kopje further back, and mounted to a high ridge one mile back. We advanced again on foot, our horses following 1,000 yards in our rear, under Corporal Cooper (Cheshire Infantry) on our left. Berry's section was further left, and Wilson also still further left. We had no further opposition, and as the infantry were coming up I ordered our horses up, remounted, and threw out scouts again. Then we trotted out in the same direction, north-north-west, Berry and Wilson on left. With the exception of some small sniping parties of Boers we had no further opposition. On approaching a high ridge of kopjes running east and west of Brandfort, and 7,000 yards from them, we encountered a heavy shrapnel artillery fire, and through glasses saw Boers right along whole succession of ridges, building entrenchments and stone sangars. Several shells burst near us, but luckily there were no casualties amongst my section. I retired at gallop to the nearest kopje, took cover, dismounted, and took up defensive position. At this point Wilson's section was also shelled and two men were killed—Sergeant Kings-ford, London Rifle Brigade, and Private Holland, London Rifle Brigade. Private Holland I did not know, but Sergeant Kingsford was a spendid noncommissioned officer, a good soldier, and a first-rate good fellow, most popular with all ranks. He was struck by the fragment of a shell over the heart, obliquely, without even breaking the skin, but the shock finished him, as he died in half an hour. Private Murray (London Scottish) very pluckily stayed with him under fire till the end. The other poor fellow was killed instantaneously, riddled with shell. We had no other casualties, but several narrow escapes. Several bullets came precious close to me, and pinged the ground within 5 yards. At this juncture I was rather detached from the main body on the extreme right. On high ground 2,500 to 3,000 yards to the left rear of us, our artillery (75th Field Battery) came up and started work at once. A magnificent sight followed. The Boers' first shell at them burst our first gun, broke up limber, and killed two horses and one man. I saw all this through my telescope. Our first shell fell short, but the next was all right, and one Boer gun after another was silenced. The Boers occupied the whole line of kopjes (500 to 1,000 feet high), and there were 6,000 of them, with twelve guns and pom-poms and one 'Long Tom.' Far away to our right the Fifteenth and Twenty-first Brigades were in action as well, and were advancing. It was blazing hot weather. At 1.15 I got fired at by rifles from the kopje close in on our right, but we returned fire, and together with one shell from our guns the Boers shut up and evidently retired. At 1.30 got orders from Captain Reid to evacuate the kopje and retire on guns. I did so. Then came a lull for about one hour. I had a biscuit and a smoke, and there was a little rest for men and horses alike. The infantry were now advancing in large numbers to our extreme right and left. The Guards Brigade was on our extreme left. At 2 our company advanced again as a screen to division. There was no opposition at all bar sniping. I had orders to scout away to a great distance on our right, so got somewhat detached. However, all was clear. I returned again to our left front and scaled a high ridge occupied by Boers. No enemy! All gone, and the whole ridge, which was a magnificently defensive position, was occupied by our troops. The Guards Brigade marched into Brandfort. We retired to our camp (Divisional Headquarters) at dusk, horses and men done up. General Tucker was very pleased with us, and I think he might well be so, as we did all that was required, and found the enemy every time for the infantry. I never saw the men scout better. Every farm, ridge, and hollow was well scouted, and every ambush turned out. That we had no more casualties is really marvellous. My section worked admirably, and I was proud of them; they kept me well posted in everything. H.A.C., Queen's Westminsters, and 2nd Middlesex Artillery all did their best. Lobb, Nesham, and White (Queen's Westminsters) were particularly good, and Cooper and O'Connell invaluable.
Wilson and Berry occupied a farm to right front for the night It was a fine day all round, the best I have had. The Boers evidently gave up this position in the face of a vastly superior force. They might, however, have held it much longer, as the ridge is an extremely strong position. They have retired—evidently towards Kroonstad.
The country is simply marvellous; from the top of the ridge you can see from twenty to fifty miles round, and far away south-west are distant mountains. The sunsets are glorious. It is a wonderful world, this!
Our transport arrived at 8, and we were all able to get supper. We have on us, each of us, two days' provisions and an emergency ration. The difference in temperature between 5 a.m. and 1 p.m. is 6o°. I received orders at 11 p.m. that no move would be made in the morning, for which we are truly thankful, as the horses are done up; they must have done between thirty and forty miles yesterday in scouting.
Friday, May 4.—Slept soundly; a very cold night, but brilliantly fine. Reveille at 5.30; breakfast at 7. All quiet. Very hot. Hear De la Rey (Boer General) is badly wounded.
Lobb, Betteley and Nesham escorted some staff officers into Brandfort and returned this afternoon. This afternoon we recovered poor Sergeant Kingsford's body, and buried him. Nearly all the regiment turned out, and General Tucker and staff were present. The Brigade Chaplain read the burial service. It was awfully impressive, and we all felt losing a good comrade, a fine soldier, and a gentleman. It cast a gloom over all, and we were very sad.
We move off at 4.45 a.m. for six miles north of Brandfort, and we continue as screen to the Division.
You will be glad to hear General Tucker was very pleased with us and said we did our work well—in fact, he has mentioned us to Lord Roberts, and in despatches.
I am posting this letter in Brandfort, on the march, so I will close it.
Osfontein on March between Brandfort and Kroonstad, May 7, 1900.
I wrote you last on May 4, but could only get the letter posted to-day.
Saturday May 5.—Reveille 3.30. I received orders my section were to go as escort to detachment of Engineers at 5.45. a.m. The remainder of No. 1 Company went as advanced guard to General Wavell, Fourteenth Brigade. I had better explain to you the composition of our division:
General Tucker, Divisional Commander.
Fifteenth Brigade (General Wavell): Artillery, Field Batteries Nos. 62, 75, and 18; Mounted Infantry, No. 1 Company, C.I.V.; Infantry, four battalions—South Wales Borderers, Lincolns, East Lancashires, Cheshires.
Fourteenth Brigade (General Maxwell): Artillery, three Field Batteries; Mounted Infantry, two companies; Infantry, four battalions.
We are really acting as divisional cavalry, but have been attached temporarily to Fifteenth Brigade.
Well, at 5.45 I reported myself to Colonel Maxwell, commanding company R.E. (No. 26, I think). We left our camp (Zoorfontein) and proceeded east-north-east to extreme right flank. I scouted for them, my orders being to locate a hostile farm. After having gone about four miles, my scouts located the farm. We found it evacuated. Colonel Maxwell and I went over the farmhouse, and found it loopholed and barricaded for defence. So he blew the house up with gun-cotton, and cut the dam of a large pond close by. Fine sight seeing the house blow up.
At 9.30 returned to Brandfort to rejoin our division. Reached Brandfort, seven miles, at 12.30. Found the division gone, so halted, fed and watered horses, and lunched. Managed to get new bread and butter from a farm; very welcome. Started on our march, went twenty miles, then picked up the division just as they were halting on a plain close to Vet River Drift. Both men and horses were rather tired. I rejoined my company at 7.30, and the carts came up at 9.30 with our grub. The men are all well, except Sergeants O'Connell and Humphreys, who have a slight touch of fever. Our division just came up at the finish of the fight; the Boers are fairly on the run now. Perhaps they will make a stand either at the Zand or Vaal River. Their strength is estimated at from 25,000 to 30,000 men, and 100 guns between here and Kroonstad.
Sunday, May 6.—Reveille 3.30. Moved off at 5.30 o'clock; dark. I furnished centre line of scouts, Wilson on left and Berry on right Magnificent country, green veldt. The whole army seems on the move. Our left flank was the Brandfort-Kroonstad Railway. On the other side was Lord Roberts with Headquarters Staff. On the right flank were the Eleventh Division. Wonderful weather now, clear as crystal; cold nights, and blazing hot days. There are more farms and more vegetation, and there is better water.
We took a wrong direction—someone's mistake— and went to wrong drift; did not And it till late (4.30). Maxwell's Brigade crossed at the first drift; our Brigade halted at the second, too late to cross. Then our carts were not up, so I and ten picked men went to a farm close by and killed twelve geese, two turkeys and chickens, and also took some butter and flour. Paid 25s. for the lot (cheap).
In an emergency it is really necessary to get what one can the best way one can. I make a point now of examining every farm. Should I find rifles and ammunition, I should naturally loot the place. Otherwise I invariably pay for everything I get. The carts did not come up till 10.30. Every man carries two days' rations in biscuits and groceries—eight biscuits, 1 oz. of tea, and 1 oz. of coffee per man. It is not much, but sufficient, especially if one has any luck at farms. No enemy to-day; all have apparently retired.
Monday, May 7.—Reveille at 5.30. Marched off about 9 o'clock. I was left flank guard, Berry right flank, and Wilson advanced guard. O'Connell and Humphreys were too ill to ride, and had to go in a cart. Very sorry for them! Weather is grand; country, fine green veldt, interspersed with high kopjes and ridges. Our march was uneventful. We passed close to Headquarters Staff, and Eleventh Division on our left flank. Rejoined Maxwell's Brigade at 12.30 in a shallow valley. We encamped on a large green plain at 5. A beautiful sight in the evening: moonlight stars, open veldt, and the hundreds of camp fires. Next morning the carts were up early. Grub, ox and biscuits, and boiled green mealies with butter and salt; the latter very good. Our camp is Osfontein, close to Winburg-Brandfort Railway. We have good water.
Tuesday, May 8.—Stayed here for the day to wait for convoys to come up; a welcome rest It is fine, brilliant weather; the men are all very fit. Our remounts are mostly Argentines—cobby horses, fit, but mulishly stupid. Perhaps they will improve in time. We shall probably march at 4 in the morning as escort to batteries. We are going for a five days' march, taking five days' provisions and fodder.
Wednesday, May 9.—Kroonstad. Started at 5.45 a.m. as escort to Divisional Artillery. A quiet march; saw no enemy. Went sixteen miles. Reached camp at 4.30 p.m., just three miles south of Zand River. Beautiful weather; all fit and well.
Thursday, May 10.—Reveille 4 a.m. Started at 5.30. I and my section were centre advanced-guard to the division. I may as well say that the section covers a front of 2,800 yards to two and a half miles. Berry was in support with his section. At 6 o'clock the enemy started firing from a ridge of kopjes and high ground north of Zand River. We pressed on, and got in touch with Hamilton's Brigade on our right (Twenty-first Brigade, which contains C.I.V. battalion). My scouts then crossed the Zand River. It was very difficult; there were steep banks, ravines, and quicksand. One or two men lost their horses. Heavy artillery firing on our left front; shells bursting all round us 1 Our division wheeled to the left, and Divisional Artillery (18th, 62nd, and 75th) got into action on a farm just across drift of Zand River, and put in capital work. Close by me occurred a casualty: a shell killed a man, knocking him off his horse. My work was done, so I watched infantry advancing under a heavy shell-fire— East Lancashires in extended order, supported by South Wales Borderers. At this point I got an order from the General's staff to gallop off with six men to extreme left, and watch left flank. Did so. I got right ahead of firing-line The fire was opened by the Boers on the extreme left of the kopje, shells bursting in the donga containing East Lancashires behind us. I sent an orderly back to General Tucker. The artillery opened fire on this kopje, and silenced them in no time. The battle was raging all along the line. Hamilton's Brigade came into action on extreme right flank, five miles off, and I believe the C.I.V. battalion were in this also.
At about 11.30 firing ceased. At 12 o'clock the infantry took possession of the line of ridges. I went forward again, and saw the Boers retiring at a gallop in the north-east direction. The Headquarters Staff and the Eleventh Division were then coming up on our left rear, south-west of us, marching due north to northeast. I halted and took up observation post.
Wilson and Wellby, with their rations, came up, as well as Nesbitt's Horse. It was a decisive victory for us, the Boers being routed all along the line. We had no casualties, but I have several men missing, amongst them being Toynbee, H.A.C., my orderly. His horse sank in the mud, but I stayed with him till he got it out, and saw him safe and all right, then I left him with one of our fellows to help him.
Friday, May11.—Reveille at 4. A cold night-frost; dark till 6 o'clock. Marched off again at 5.45. Acted to-day as support to Berry's left flank; guard to division. A quiet march through fine grazing country. There were plenty of farms. Headquarter Staff, Eleventh Division were on our left. Marched all day, and covered twenty-four miles (from Zand River to Venter's Road Siding Station.) The infantry marched splendidly, —this being their third day's hard work in succession.
They really are magnificent, keep splendid line, and don't straggle; they had hard marching, too, through mealie-fields, over kopjes, and through ravines. We came across an English farm, where we were kindly treated and given dinner. Would you send Mrs. Duprey, Eendorn, Venter's Road Station, near Kroonstad, some newspapers ? This is the name of the lady who owns the farm, and she was good to my men as well, and gave them tea and bread-and-butter. She and her husband have been badly treated by the Boers, and I should like to repay a little the kindness she showed me. Heard from her that a large force of Boers had retreated early in the morning with about twenty-four guns. They are very sick of us, can't make out how our infantry march so far in so short a time. We reached camp near Venter's Road Station at 5.45. Men and horses fit and well; H.A.C. going strong.
Saturday, May 12.—Reveille at 4. Marched off at 5.45. To-day I was in front, and left flank advanced-guard to division, with Berry as support, Nesbitt's Horse being right, and the centre advanced-guards. A blazing hot day; a fine country; high kopjes. We expected to find the enemy as we were approaching Kroonstad, so overhauled kopjes, farms, and ravines; but no enemy appeared, and most of the farms are evacuated. Came into touch again with Headquarter Staff and Eleventh Division on our left, and reaching a high ridge of kopjes, saw Kroonstad lying beneath us. It is a small town, with one bridge well blown up, and one bridge left intact. At 2.30 p.m. Lord Roberts and Headquarter Staff entered Kroonstad. A magnificent sight from our kopje (about 800 feet high). Came across Major and Captain of the 17th Lancers, very nice fellows. They informed me that General French defeated the Boers yesterday, and had left this morning at 8 for Vaal River. Reached camp 6.30, close by. I had no instructions to come in earlier. An enormous quantity of troops here: Headquarter Staff with corps-troops, three Cavalry Brigades, Eleventh Division, Seventh Division, Twenty-first Brigade, and others (40,000 men).
Sunday, May 13.—A bitterly cold night, with a white frost in early morning; stayed here for to-day, the rest most welcome. A blazing hot day; had a welcome bath in the river Valsch, close by us. We encamped with the Fifteenth Brigade; the Fourteenth is on our left. All the men are fit and well, in spite of their long march. We really have done a big march in nine days (from Karee Kloof, near Glen, to Kroonstad), 115 miles —an average of thirteen miles per day, with two days' halt—a fine performance for an Army Corps. The C.I.V. battalion are two miles from us; I have not been over to see them, as I am orderly officer to-day. I heard, however, they were in a fight at Zand River, as supports to the Suffolks, but had no casualties. We have had splendid weather all along—cold nights and blazing hot days.
Camp, two miles south of Kroonstad, Tuesday, May 15, 1900.
Sunday, May 13, was a quiet day spent in camp, and a rest for men and horses. I was orderly officer. The battalion of the C.I.V. encamped about three miles west of us this side of Kroonstad. We are encamped close to the river Valsch. I had a most luxurious bath in it; the water was delightfully cool. It is a very picturesque river; its steep, rugged banks are studded with trees. By the way, I might tell you we have had every possible type of oats for the horses—fine English oats, American white clipped, a mixture of Russians and Americans, white clipped, also English and Americans; no mixed clipped or black oats. All the oats we have had have weighed a good 42 to 45 lbs. For a whole week at Karee Kloof we had heavy, sweet Turks, of all oats in the world!
Monday, May 14.—No move will be made at present, as we are waiting for convoys to come up with provisions and fodder, and secondly, till the railway is fairly intact. I went into Kroonstad to-day with Wellby, and sent you a telegram, saying Dick and I were fit and well, and all safe after our recent experiences. I could not post letters, as the post-offices were closed, and the only way is through the divisional field post . Kroonstad is a town somewhat resembling Bloemfontein, not so large, naturally, and certainly not so well kept. One really noteworthy feature of the place is its approach from the southern side across the Valsch River. It is a very wide drift, cut out of stone, and a very fine piece of work. Most of the shops were closed, and those which were open were entirely cleared out I returned to camp at 4.30, and had a welcome surprise. Taffy was in camp to see me; I was awfully glad to see him; he looks fit and well. He told me he had cabled Lord Denbigh about Murnane and O'Connell I never cable about casualties, as they may be well in a week or so, and it only alarms their relations unnecessarily. I had a long chat with him. All his men seem fit except one or two. His column—t'.«.,Twenty-first Brigade, with 9th Lancers—is a composite regiment. The Household Cavalry and Hussars, all under Smith-Dorrien, proceed early on Tuesday to Lindley.to try and collar Steyn.
Tuesday, May 15; Wednesday,16; Thursday,17.—All these were quiet days in camp. I spent nearly all my time foraging and collecting horses. Very good work, scouring farms! Am mess president pro tem getting first-rate grub—plenty of fresh butter, milk, eggs, poultry, bread, etc. The scale of prices which I pay is:
Geese and ducks 2s.
Butter 1s. per lb.
Milk 6d. per quart.
Bread 1s. per loaf.
Eggs 20 for 1s.
Honey 1s. per bottle.
On Wednesday our broken-down officers' cart returned repaired. I am very glad to get it back, as it contained a lot of stores, Cobbell's cases, etc.
Horses I give receipts for, which Government pays for at the rate of from £1 to £5 each. It is magnificent weather; we have hot days, but clear, cold nights, with early morning frost I sleep outside, having got accustomed to cold! All are fit and well, and getting fat on good country produce. The men are also doing very well, as they get plenty of poultry, etc.
To-day is Thursday, 17th. Colonel Cholmondeley and staff have come up, and proceed to Kroonstad; they are on Headquarter Staff.
Friday, May 18.—No move yet. Went out again for foraging to the same two farms, and several Kaffir kraals in the morning. I got eggs, honey, vegetables, potatoes, milk, and butter. Magnificent weather. In camp during the afternoon. Colonel Cholmondeley, Adjutant, and staff have gone twenty-five miles on with convoy. General Hamilton is at Heilbron. General French has returned—I believe under orders—back to Kroonstad.
Saturday, May 19.—Sent cart foraging to these farms again; went myself, as well, to make arrangements for next week. These two farms lie close together; one is owned by a Free-Stater called Botha (the son fought all through Ladysmith battles, but has given up his arms and returned to the farm), the other belongs to an Englishman called Penny.
Young Botha is a rather decent chap, and I had a long chat with him about the war. His views are somewhat singular. Penny is the real type of the colonial Englishman. It is not half bad work foraging, especially buying from the native kraals, for they sell things for next to nothing.
Camp, two miles off Kroonstad, Sunday, May20.
Am not posting my letter till to-day. We all went to divisional march parade; it was very impressive— about 5,000 troops in a big square, the officers in front of their commands, General Tucker and staff in the north-east corner, and in the centre the divisional Chaplain, with all the regimental drums piled up in front of him. He is a young, handsome man about thirty-five. He gave us a simple, impressive service, and one could see it went home with the Tommies, as they were all attention, which is somewhat unusual on these occasions. The division probably marches tomorrow, the 21st, or Tuesday morning latest.
Nesbitt's Horse and Tucker's Scouts have been disbanded, as their time is up, so we shall have all the scouting to do for the division, which will mean pretty stiff work, as we are only 135 men all told in No. 1 Company.
As regards things out here, I anticipate the hardest fighting across the Vaal River. Scouting will be far more exciting, as the Transvaalers hate us bitterly; there will be some sort of resistance at every farm, and we shall have to be continually on the look-out for snipers. In fact, it will be a regular guerilla war. As far as I can make out, the man who has come out best in this campaign is Tommy Atkins, particularly as regards the artillery and colonial and volunteer mounted infantry. Some of the leaders have been thought at fault, and the cavalry at times next door to useless. One leader, who was singularly successful at first, has become very sticky lately, and is rather inclined to rest on his past laurels. He allowed 3,000 or 4,000 Boers to get clean away from him near Bloemfontein, at or close to the Waterworks; in fact, neither he nor his force ever located them, and then he made a blunder at the Zand River fight in allowing the thirty-six guns (Boer Artillery) to get away as they did. Considering what a splendidly mobile force he has, he has been very slow. I myself saw the Boers retiring at the Zand River from the extreme forward left flank. You will remember I went out with General's orders to go forward and watch extreme left flank, and was the first to locate a new battery on the extreme left high kopje which threatened to enfilade advancing infantry (East Lancashires).
However, our side of the campaign has been beautifully handled. Meanwhile, as far as I can gather from gossip here, the tactics in other fields of operation were bad. Had it not been for the undaunted pluck and splendid solidity of the much-despised foot-soldier, ' Tommy,' Ladysmith would never have been relieved. In spite of contradictory orders, taking useless positions, and then abandoning them, fighting an invisible enemy hidden away amongst the kopjes, our Tommy was ' always there.' I have the most profound admiration for him; he is a wonderful chap! At the Zand River fight, when the Tommies of the East Lancashires were lying in the donga preparatory to the advance, with shells and bullets flying all round them, they were lying there, some smoking, some eating biscuits and a bit of jam, and some even playing a game of stones in a ring, all as unconcernedly as if they were taking part in manoeuvres at Aldershot. I saw this myself, and wondered. Half an hour later they advanced, and drove the Boers out of a good stiff kopje with the point of the bayonet. Then his marching is wonderful, as you know; on several occasions during the heat of the day, and very cold nights, he has done his forty to forty-five miles in twenty-four hours. This is an opinion of mine—a subaltern in Mounted Infantry—not worth much 1 I don't think it is far wrong, but it does not do for me to air opinions, as you can well understand.
Pretoria Racecourse, Friday, June 8.
At last I have an opportunity of writing to you! My last letter was, I think, written on May 20, from Kroonstad, the day before we left.
Monday, May 21.—I received orders early in the morning to march. Moved at 11.30, and only changed camp. Rode at the head of the division through Kroonstad to a camp on the slope of a high ridge, about three miles north-east of Kroonstad. There was one rather amusing incident. We were moving parallel with our brigade division of artillery (62nd, 75th, and 18th) about one mile apart, before reaching Kroonstad; there was only one big drift to cross before getting into the town. Well, about two miles from the drift we started trotting to get to the drift first. I was ahead with my section. As soon as we started trotting the rest did the same, and the whole way to the drift it became a regular race. The last three hundred yards we were still abreast, and we both broke into a gallop. We just got in front by about ten to fifteen yards. It was rather fun, especially as they got the benefit of our dust. We had two cases of glanders amongst the horses yesterday; both cases were destroyed, and twelve horses which were picketed close to them were sent into quarantine at Kroonstad; horses and saddles were confiscated. I tried hard to get remounts, and Wellby managed to get ten good Basuto ponies from the remount depot. I was orderly officer, and took our horses to water. It really was a remarkable sight at the big drift at Kroonstad. We reached the drift at five o'clock, and pretty well all the horses and mules of three divisions were being watered at the same time. It made a fine living picture, with the crimson rays of the setting sun on the men, horses, rocks, and water.
Tuesday, May 22.—To-day we started on the great march. But, before going any further, I will explain to you again that Nesbitt's Horse and ourselves covered the left flank of the division, the right flank being covered by the Eleventh Division, whilst our front was covered by a brigade of Mounted Infantry —the 4th and 8th. By the way, General Wavell, who commands the Fifteenth Brigade of our division, was left behind at Kroonstad, ill. Well, we had reveille at 4.30, and started at 6, marching northeast. Berry's section was left flank, scouts and I were in support of him, Wellby's section and Wilson's being the same for the rear part of the division. We had an uneventful march through a fine, open, grazing country, very similar to the Sussex Downs. We marched about seventeen miles, and reached camp at 3.30 p.m. We cover about double this distance, of course, as we have to scout two to three miles on the left flank. Our camp was called Honing's Spruit, and we camped beyond the spruit (small river). Tommy Wilson shot a fine buck, and we had fresh venison chops for dinner; very good they were, too! It is fine, hot weather, with cold, frosty nights.
Wednesday, May 23.—Reveille at 4; marched off in north-east direction at 6. We were all very grateful that our direction was always north to north-east, as we had the sun in our faces the whole day instead of at our backs. To-day I and my section were left flank front scouts, with Berry in support. We had a quiet march of thirteen miles through undulating, open, grazing country. There were plenty of farms, so we always could get abundant provisions in the way of eggs, poultry, and fresh butter, at pretty low prices. We camped at a place called Roodeval.
Thursday, May 24.—Reveille at 4; started at 6 a.m., north-east again. Marched as far as the Rhenoster River—about five miles. We were on the extreme left flank—quite four to five miles west of the division. The division crossed by the main drift, and we crossed by a horse and foot drift. The Rhenoster River is worthy of note, as it is not to be seen until you are almost on it. The banks on both sides are almost perpendicular, and drop between 60 and 80 feet. There is not much water, but what there is is beautifully clear, and icy cold. We could see our division far away on our right, and far away on the horizon we saw the balloon of the Headquarter Staff, with the Eleventh Division and Lord Roberts.
We received orders to wait until the division had crossed before proceeding further, and had to wait four hours until it got across. Whilst we were halting Captain Reid and I went out buck-shooting, but we had no luck. There were several herds about, but they never let us get within 1,000 yards of them, as we were always to windward, the wind being south-west. The division halted two miles north of the drift, and we rejoined them and formed a camp at a place called Nooitgedacht. We reached camp about 6.30, and called at several very interesting farms.
Friday, May 25.—Reveille at 4; started at 6. The left flank are scouts to-day, with Berry in support. One day I do scouting and next day support, turn and turn about with Berry, whilst we take turn and turn about with Nesbitt's Horse for scouting on left front.
A long, dull, uneventful march. Very hot. Open country for miles and miles, slightly undulating, with good grazing. I forgot to mention before, that far away on the right flank was Ian Hamilton's division. Well, this division crossed Lord Roberts and Eleventh Division at 1.30, thus bringing Ian Hamilton on our right. We reached camp at Wittepoort at 2.30, after having done about fifteen miles. No wood anywhere for fires, only barbed-wire fences! This is a great characteristic of the country—the miles and miles of good barbed-wire fencing, which marks all farm boundaries.
Saturday, May 26.—Reveille at 4; started at 6—northeast, as usual. To-day we are extreme left flank scouts. Received orders to get information about the Vaal River (which was on our left flank) redrifts, water, and enemy. Very important this, and Captain Reid came with me and my scouts. Pushed on for some miles north-west of division. No enemy 1 Flat, undulating country, with a high ridge of kopjes northwest. At 12.30 we caught a first glimpse of the Vaal River and Transvaal beyond, a magnificent sight it was, too 1 Right below us was the Vaal Valley, and meandering in and out was a broad river, 200 to 250 yards wide, shimmering in the sun against a dark background. We found our Mounted Infantry Brigade already on the other side (4th and 8th). We heard from farms that the Boers had retired on the previous Wednesday. No opposition at all; and I don't wonder at it, as there was no defensive position for the Boers to take up, the country on the other side of the Vaal being as flat as a billiard-table. At 1.30 another noteworthy incident occurred: Ian Hamilton's Division, containing Twenty-First Brigade and C.I.V. battalion, crossed our front, so now our division was in the centre, with Ian Hamilton on our left, and Lord Roberts and the Eleventh Division on our right. I sent several messages in to Captain Reid, who sent the same on to the General, re drifts. We came across a river unmarked in any map, called Leeuwspruit, and followed it back for a mile or so. I made a sketch of it, and sent that in—in fact took it myself to Colonel Hegan, our D.A.A.G. Rejoined our division at 5.30 p.m., and camped just on this side of Vaal River at a place called Taibosch Spruit, a river which runs nearly parallel to Leeuwspruit, very narrow, but very deep. We had a mighty day to-day: the division did twenty-four miles, and we scouts did every bit of forty-five miles. Horses and men were thoroughly done up. My boys did thundering well to-day, and stuck to their work like Britons; it was a hard day, and we had really responsible work to do. Our work was not over, for, as already mentioned, the Taibosch Spruit was narrow and deep, and the drift was almost impassable for waggons. We waited till 9 p.m., hungry and tired, for our waggons; then the company, men and officers, went down to the drift, found our waggons, and helped them through. You have no idea what a scene that drift was in the dark! Waggon after waggon—and there are about five miles of them to a division—rushing down one bank of the drift and toiling up the other side, with their teams of sixteen or eighteen mules or oxen, with yelling Kaffirs armed with long whips. There were several men hurt, and any amount of dead horses and mules. Perkins was run over; luckily for him, it was only in a very sandy part, and he got off with a graze. We got our waggons into camp at 11.30, and had our grub (very, very welcome I). Slept like tops.
Sunday, May 27.—Reveille at 5.30; marched off at 7. To-day we are supports to Berry on left flank. At 9 o'clock I and my section crossed the Vaal River, following Berry's section at a horse drift about two miles west of the main drift, where our division and Lord Roberts and Eleventh Division crossed. At last we were in the Transvaal! We. all took off our hats and shouted and sang out of sheer joy. It was a lovely morning, too! The water was fine, clear, drinking water. Arrived at Vereiningenstadt, and there came across the first really cultivated farm I have yet seen, with orchards, vineyards, and orange-trees. Halted here, to wait for our division, for five hours. We got some good potatoes in a field, but no fruit, of course, as winter is on. At 3 we moved on and joined our division on a plain about three miles north of Vaal River and two miles west of Vereininung.
Monday, May 28.—Reveille at 4; marched at 6. I was extreme left flank scout, proceeding along a high ridge running parallel to division, and about five miles from them. This ridge was quite 1,500 feet high. In the valley were the two divisions marching side by side, and on the other side of the valley was another big ridge running parallel to the one I was on. The valley was quite ten miles wide, and ran in a north-east direction. You have no idea what a sight it was. Right below, in the valley, were the troops, and round the tips of the kopjes were layers of white mist tipped with red from the rising sun; the ground was covered with white frost. With the clear air, it reminded me strongly of winter in Russia. For the first time we came in contact with big veldt fires, and several times we had to dodge them and keep to leeward of them.
To-day, too, we heard heavy firing on our left and front; but I, personally, on the extreme left, saw no enemy at all. Evidently Ian Hamilton's column were in action. We halted and camped at the head of the valley at a place called Witkop, after having marched seventeen miles. Horses are getting done up. Did not get our waggons up till late; but luckily one of the sergeants managed to pick up a whole venison, and they gave us officers some, which kept us going. It was a curious sight, the fires of the two divisions (30,000 men) camped together, and all round us huge veldt fires still burning. It was a bitterly cold night, and my water was nearly frozen solid in the morning. Just think! we sleep on the veldt with quite 20° of frost at night, and move in the day with the thermometer over 90° —an enormous contrast! Were it not for the wonderful air, we should all, I think, be dead uns.
Tuesday, May 29.—Reveille at 4; marched off at 5.40, more dead than alive with cold. At 6 there was heavy firing on left again. We reached Klip River at 9 a.m., finding the railway bridge intact. There were huge ridges of kopjes due north. We heard from a Boer deserter that Kruger has left Pretoria, and is making Lydenburg his capital, also that he will continue the war in the bush country.
A very bad bridge was built by Engineers for the troops to cross; it was twice broken, and there was great delay—a halt, indeed, of four hours. Berry and Wellby sent out to watch left flank, and report on firing in that direction. They returned, but missed us somehow or other, and crossed drift at 12.30. We waited and waited until 3, and then Reid decided to go on. We marched and marched till 12.30 at night, walking dismounted nearly all the way. Most extraordinary! Owing to that delay the troops got mixed up, and there were any amount of bodies moving about in the dark, not knowing the way. Besides this, there were miles and miles of waggons and different columns of convoys wandering in different directions over the veldt. Then there were big veldt fires all over the place, and we kept on mistaking these for Johannesburg or Elandsfontein, as we knew we were not far off either place. Well, we wandered along till 1.30 through disused mines and mine-shafts, and then decided to halt where our lost Engineers and ammunition column (Seventh Division) had bivouacked. We had hardly settled down before a Colonel of artillery came up to us and told us we had better shift, as a large commando of Boers were in the vicinity. Accordingly the whole lot of us turned out and rejoined the convoys, which were still wandering about. We marched till 3.30, and then I got definite information that the camp was within five miles of us. We were all so tired that convoys and all turned in, and outspanned there and then. Luckily I had some of our stores with me, and we made some coffee and had biscuits. The men had nothing except a biscuit apiece, which I and Reid gave them from a Huntley and Palmer's wheaten biscuit-box that we had brought with us. It was bitterly cold; but we were all so tired, I believe we could have slept in an ice-bath! We were close to the railway. It was a night that simply baffles description. The confusion was all owing to the delay over Klip River.
Wednesday, May 30.—Reveille at 6.30. A scratch breakfast, and we all marched off at 7. I got on ahead and found where the camp was. It was a beautiful fresh morning. At 8 we got sight of Johannesburg, with Rand and Simmer, and Jack and Guildenhuis mines. A wonderful sight! Johannesburg is a big city on a high ridge. As far as the eye can reach there are mines. At 8.30 we reached our camp (on Boksburg), and here we found an Army Corps of 30,000 starving, breakfastless men! All the lost convoys came in at 9 and 9.30, also all detached bodies. I found Wellby and Berry already in the camp with their sections. We had orders to saddle up at 10.30, but could not move till 1.30, and then moved to a high ridge west of Johannesburg, close to Vogel's Deep Mines. It was very interesting going through the different mines one has heard so much about in London. I had a magnificent view from the other side of the ridge. Heavy firing was heard ten miles north-east. It is rumoured that French had a reverse yesterday. We camped here. Waggons late up. My men and horses dwindling every day—done up!
Thursday, May 31.—Reveille at 6. Orders to march at 9.30, and to occupy post in Johannesburg. Then order countermanded. Troops to march through Johannesburg, which surrendered this morning. We marched in, and watched Headquarters and Eleventh Division go past. Then we went in at head of Seventh Division. A most interesting march. The streets were deserted, except for quantities of Kaffirs, Zulus, Polish and German Jews, a very rag-tag-and-bob-tailed lot! Passed the iron factory, which Begbie blew up with dynamite—an extraordinary wreckage to be seen of houses all round. It is a fine city, all electric light and quantities of telegraph wires (a new American apparatus). In the town we marched past Lord Roberts and staff. At the other end we had a marvellous view, as the country to the north, north-west and north-east drops all round. Here was the fort commanding the country around. We had a long march after this, and reached our camp, Orange Grove, at 5*30 p.m. We have all been on half and quarter rations for some time, and it was the irony of fate for hungry troops to pass shops lined with appetizing stores! The waggons were very late again in coming up, the convoys getting mixed on the road; they ultimately reached us at 11 o'clock. Dined off trek-ox steak and one biscuit. Mighty fine! Heard this evening that Brice of the Queen's Westminsters in my section died this morning from enteric fever. He was buried where he died by Sergeant Loder and a burial party. Brice was very plucky, as he had not been well for some time; but he stuck to it, and only went into hospital the day before yesterday. Everything possible was done for him, but he died, poor chap! in perfect peace.
Friday, June 1.—Reveille at 6. Got orders to saddle up and hold ourselves in readiness. We then got orders to join a force to round up some Boers southwest of Johannesburg. As our horses were very done up, Captain Reid only sent me and Wellby and thirty picked men and horses. We had orders to meet the combined force at Park Station, Johannesburg. Met a force consisting of Nesbitt's and Roberts' Horse, in all 250 mounted men, with Wellby's machine-gun, the whole being under the command of Major Mayne, K.O.S.B. All marched off at 12.30 to a dam near Mines, south-west of Johannesburg. In front of us was a ridge of kopjes overlooking cross-roads—Heidelburg, Johannesburg, and Kroonstad. At this point the convoys had been sniped the previous day. Major Mayne gave orders to round up this ridge, Roberts' Horse on left, C.I.V. in centre, and Nesbitt's Horse on right, all to start at 2.30. Proceeded, and my boys scouted extremely well over a difficult country. No enemy, however, either visible or audible. Reached the top of the ridge at 4.30.
Camped just under ridge. Wellby and I dined with Nesbitt's. Very good fellows! Nesbitt is a first-rate soldier, and pretty cool, too. A very cold night.
Saturday, June 2.—Reveille at 6. Our Scotch cart, with provisions, turned up with two days' full rations. Had breakfast. Major Mayne rode back to report to headquarters, and to ask for further orders. He returned at 11.30, with orders for all of us to rejoin our commands. Had lunch, saddled up, and left at 1.30 to rejoin. Went through Johannesburg, and halted there for one hour to allow the men to buy a few things. I saw Waterlow, also Concannon of No. 2 Company. Hear that a battalion of the C.I.V. were in action the other day and had twenty-two casualties, Captain Barkley hit in the mouth and neck. But they got into the Boers with the bayonet! Very glad they got a show at last. All the ground for some way round is marked out in claims, white marble pillars marking each. Tried to wire you and Lord Denbigh, but the telegraph-office was closed, the post-office ditto. Well, we marched on about, eight miles north-east of Johannesburg, but could not find our division as it was getting dark; so we picked out a nice spot and bivouacked for the night. I had a very jolly evening with Wellby. We dined off Maconochie, ration biscuits, jam, and chocolate. By the way, on our march back, as we passed Headquarters Staff at Orange Grove, Colonel Grierson came out and asked me how we had got on. I told him, and we had a chat. He seemed a very good sort, and is covered in ribbons! You know he was military attache in Berlin.
Sunday, June 3.—We had our reveille at 5, and breakfast at 6. At 6.30 we noticed cavalry advancing towards us. They proved to be the Third Cavalry Brigade, and we heard from them that the whole army was on the march again for Pretoria. We followed after them, and struck our division and Captain Reid at 8.45. Proceeded east to north-east as left-flank guard to division, Ian Hamilton's Division being right away on our left, and Headquarters and Lord Roberts on our right. Nesbitt's Horse returned this morning to Johannesburg for police duty. After marching about twelve miles we crossed a small drift, and camped on a high ridge overlooking the country all round, called Leeuwkop. We ourselves occupied a high kopje, one and a half miles north-west of our division. Reached camp 1.20, and remained till next morning.
Monday, June 4.—Reveille at 5, and started north-east as left flank guard as usual. Had not proceeded far over Leeuwkop before we heard heavy artillery-firing due north, about eight miles off. We pushed on for some hours, and found a general action proceeding along the ridge of hills running east to west three miles south of Pretoria, between the entrenched Boers and Broadwood's cavalry with horse artillery. The 4th and 8th Mounted Infantry were also engaged. Our infantry pushed on and occupied first line of hills opposite, the second line, which the Boers were holding, being about 3,000 yards distant. Our scouting work being over, we closed in, and halted under cover, waiting orders. I went up as far as the firing-line to have a look. It was a fine sight. Our infantry (South Wales Borderers, King's Own Scottish Borderers, and Lincolns) occupied the first ridge in extended order, with the batteries in action on right centre from commanding kopje The Eleventh Division were apparently not in action at all. Their batteries and ambulance had, however, to retire, owing to being heavily shelled from one of the forts on the right. I saw all this. This fort was, however, silenced half an hour later by two 47 naval guns. Firing continued, and whilst the Seventh Division were holding the front Broadwood's cavalry and the advanced cavalry of Ian Hamilton's Division, which had just come up, worked round to the left of the Boer position, which was immensely strong. The ridge the Boers occupied was about 600 or 800 feet high, and extremely steep. Firing continued till 5, and then ceased. A general advance was ordered, and at 6 we occupied the Boer position outside Pretoria. We camped here for the night. It was very cold, and the waggons came up late. A curious characteristic of the country here is that all the grass is burnt up. It is apparently done purposely to show up the khaki of the British uniforms. We had only a few casualties. I saw two men hit whilst I was up in front. I must say that, considering the strong position the Boers held, they made a very poor show.
Tuesday, June 5.—Reveille at 5; started again at 6, and scouted amongst hills to the left of our division. Only desultory sniping. At 7 o'clock we were as far as the last ridge, and here I got the first sight of Pretoria lying below in the valley. It lies beautifully surrounded by hills. To the left was the big leper hospital. A general halt was ordered here, as Lord Roberts was waiting for the formal surrender. It was a marvellous sight seeing column after column of troops emerging out of the hills. All three divisions are concentrated here. At 9.30 Pretoria had surrendered. The troops are in great spirits. I went into the town with my servant and a led horse to get some provisions, whilst we and the Brigade Division Artillery waited for orders. The Eleventh and Ian Hamilton's Division marched into Pretoria. Pretoria is a fine town—small, but containing some good buildings. Who do you think was the first man I met in Pretoria? Captain ------ in a cab. He was very glad to see us again. He looked very fit, and has grown stouter, but is in Burk's Hospital with a bad leg. He asked me to come and see him there as soon as I could. I got a few pro visions together for our mess, and returned, finding our company encamped on the now historical racecourse, where all our prisoners have been for so long. This is a big racecourse, enclosed by trees, iron fencing, and a wide barbed-wire entanglement.
Wednesday, June 6.—At last we have arrived at our destination, and I think for the present we shall stay here, as the batteries have gone into the barracks. I went into the town again to buy provisions for our mess. There are three good hotels and some fair shops. I went with Wilson into the Raadsaal, and it certainly is a fine place for this country, and for so small a town as Pretoria. Botha, I hear, is still at large, and there are several commandos of Boers and paid mercenaries knocking about the country. All the prisoners came in except 900. The officers are free. I don't think the end is far off now, but it is difficult to form an opinion, as one gets so little trustworthy information. I enclose a detailed list of my section, how many are with me, and where the others are.
Thursday, June 7.—Fallen again into usual camp routine; nothing interesting to write about. Went to see a comrade, and he gave me a most interesting account of the affair at Sannah's Post, near Bloemfontein. His batteries were with Broadwood. As the Boers were too strong for them, they retired, and camped for the night 1,200 yards from a drift. This drift was supposed to be held by Mounted Infantry, and outposts were presumed to be posted all round. They started early next morning, with the ammunition column in front, crossing the drift. It was quite dark, and there seemed to be some delay in getting across, so the Colonel sent an officer down to shove them along. He went, but had hardly got to the drift when he was told he was a prisoner. The whole column had moved into a commando of Boers within 2,000 yards from where they slept. Well, all the prisoners were taken to Kroonstad on foot, and entrained from there to Pretoria. He told me that when they were marched through Kroonstad the British Tommies sang 'God Save the Queen' and ' The Soldiers of the Queen' at the top of their voices. After being in Pretoria for some time, the Major went into Burk's Hospital with a bad leg, which had troubled him for long. The last night must have been a great one for the prisoners (officers). The guard was composed of Hollanders. Well, on the last night, the commandant walked into the enclosure where our officers were, and he was immediately informed he was a prisoner. After some time the second in command came in to look for his chief, and he was made a prisoner. After this, all the officers made a dash for the guard, and told them their commandants were prisoners. The guard fled, and left their rifles. Our officers armed their servants and themselves with these rifles, and turned out. I had forgotten to say that the commandant had had orders to take the whole lot to Waterfall. As luck would have it, next morning the British troops marched in, otherwise they might all have been shot! Awfully plucky!
Have got back some of our prisoners (C.I.V. battalion) taken at various places. They have had a very rough time, badly clothed and half-starved.
I will give you a few figures of the great march, which may be interesting, in Lord Roberts' own words:
On May 12 Kroonstad was entered.
On May 17 Mafeking was relieved.
On May 31 Johannesburg was occupied.
On June 5 the British flag waved over Pretoria.
During these thirty-five days the main body of the force marched 300 miles, including fifteen days' halt, and engaged the enemy on six different occasions. The column under Lieutenant-General Ian Hamilton marched 400 miles in forty-five days, including a ten days' halt. It was engaged with the enemy twenty-eight times. The flying column under the command of Colonel B. Mahon, which relieved Mafeking, marched at the rate of nearly fifteen miles per day for fourteen consecutive days, and successfully accomplished its object, despite the determined opposition offered by the enemy.
' The newly-raised battalion of the City of London Imperial Volunteers marched 500 miles in fifty-one days, only once having two consecutive days' halt. The regiment (C.I.V.) took part in twenty-six engagements with the enemy.'
Pretoria Racecourse, June 11, 1900.
I quite forgot to mention in my last letter from here that I wired you:
' Safe, Pretoria, Bertie, Dossie';
and Lord Denbigh:
'Arrived Pretoria with eighteen H.AC, fit; only four sick. Seen Wray (fit).— Moeller.'
The battalion C.I.V. only stayed here one day, and then went on with Ian Hamilton's column to Irene, six miles from here, on the Pretoria-Delagoa Bay Railway.
Last Saturday (the 9th) I was orderly officer, and had to stay in camp. In the evening a Major Grant, of the Royal Engineers, came to dine with us. He was at Ladysmith, and got wounded at one of the minor engagements. He knows Michael Hodges (Lieutenant on the Powerful) very well, but said he was in hospital a great deal of the time with enteric fever. He spoke awfully well of him, however. It was extremely interesting to hear his account of the siege.
Sunday, June 10. — Went for a long walk with Wellby. It reminded me quite of being at home and having a Sunday walk. We went north-east of Pretoria to the highest peak in the Magaliesberg Range. It took us an hour to climb up to the top (between 1,000 and 1,500 feet), but when we got there we had the most marvellous view. South-east of us lay Pretoria and the Appies River; south was the Daspoort Range, a fine ridge of rock running parallel to the range we were on; north of us the country was fairly flat, with a few minor ridges here and there; whilst far away on the horizon was a ridge of mountains quite fifty miles off. Ten miles east we could see the camp of Broadwood's Cavalry Brigade. It was a magnificent sight, this huge stretch of country.
Well, after resting on the top for an hour, we went down the other side—a very steep descent. We went back by the Pietersburg-Pretoria Road, through Pretoria, and then back home, reaching camp at 5.
Monday, June 11.—Lord Rosslyn lunched with us to-day, and gave us an account of all his experiences.
I won't write them down, interesting as they are, as you will read them all in the paper long before you get this letter.
Tuesday, June 12.—Quiet, uneventful day in camp; weather continues beautifully fine.
Wednesday, June13.—Orderly officer to-day. At 11 o'clock I received orders from Divisional Headquarters for six more orderlies, and to proceed at once to guard and patrol railway between Koordespoort (five miles east-north-east of Pretoria) and Silverton. Captain Reid sent Wellby and myself, with thirty men, on our fittest horses, and with a machine-gun. Left camp at 1.30 in full marching order. Arrived at Koordespoort, a cleft in the kopjes where the railway (Pretoria and Delagoa Bay) and main road run through, at 2.30. Wellby halted here, and I proceeded to patrol the line with Corporal Cooper and four men, and also to endeavour to get into touch with troops further east. Scouted the country for four miles, then arrived at a big bridge over the river, and a little further to a siding known as Silverton Siding. At this important point we were totally unguarded, as there were no troops within five miles; and as the enemy were known to be all round in small bodies sniping, I left Corporal Cooper and the four men to guard the bridge and siding for the night, while I myself returned to our little bivouac. We have a Scotch cart with us, with two days' rations. After having some supper, I and Sergeant Bradley, of No. 2 Section (an excellent, reliable man), proceeded to visit Cooper, who was four miles off, and very isolated. It was a brilliant moonlight night. We walked there, and found all quiet. I examined the bridge, and found it all right. It seems incredible that this place was unguarded for two nights, as not only does Lord Roberts use this line every day to watch operations of the Eleventh Division and Botha, but stores go out as well. I think it speaks well for us that they gave us this important bit of work. Returned to camp at 12, and arranged for patrols going out during the night.
Thursday, June 14.—Found out from last incoming patrol at 7 o'clock that all was well. Recommended Wellby to send back to Captain Reid for four more men and increase detached post at the bridge. He agreed. Proceeded after breakfast with eight men and a corporal to relieve Cooper. Two trains with provisions passed us. Arrived at bridge and siding, and found all intact. Patrolled line three miles farther, and found Eleventh Division encamped six miles south of the line and Fourth Cavalry Brigade three and a half miles north of the line at Verbringen Station. Returned back to camp by road. Got in at 12.30, and lunched with Wellby. This afternoon remained in camp whilst Wellby patrolled country and kopjes due north of here. Hear that Little, of the C.I.V. Battalion (H.A.C.), was shot through both lungs at the action they were in some little time back. Botha was said to have been surrounded, but he seems to have gone away again.
In the afternoon sent out patrols and kept watch from our look-out post, where we had a machine-gun placed. After having a jolly little supper with Wellby, turned in for the night.
Friday, June 15.—Turned out at about 7. Found any amount of troops coming in—Eleventh Division Mounted Infantry and Cavalry Brigades. Unnecessary to go out on patrol. Sent message in to this effect, and asked if we could rejoin. Got word back late in the afternoon from our General Staff that we were to come in at once. Returned to camp on the racecourse at 7.30, and found everything at sixes and sevens, owing to having 300 remounts to look after. It appears that everybody who owned a horse in and about Pretoria had all their horses commandeered.
Saturday, June16.—I am orderly officer to-day, and a very busy day it was, too. When I looked over the horses this morning I found every type of the equine race. There were Cape horses, Basuto ponies, Argentines, Spanish and Russians, English hackneys and thoroughbreds, about a dozen stallions, and a few racehorses. It was a rare job to get them all watered and fed. At 11 o'clock Major Smith, the principal veterinary officer, came to classify them, either for cavalry, artillery, Mounted Infantry, or transport, according to their build. Each horse was marked. All day long, too, the various owners came for the receipts. I enjoyed it, and so did most of us, as we got a good deal of pretty rough riding. In the afternoon the army remount people fetched the majority away.
Sunday, June17.—Still had about 100 horses left, and these were fetched away. I managed to bag a ripping gray English gelding. It took six men and myself two hours to catch him, and I spent another two hours breaking him in. A fine horse. I named him Pretorius. Although it was great sport having these horses, we were very glad to get rid of them, as they were a royal worry, especially at night. Several times I was woke up by horses careering over my bed. Major Smith was a good fellow! He really looked much like a German officer, with his blue eyes, fair hair, and well-turned moustache. He used wonderful tact to all the owners. We had a visit to-day from two very distinguished Boer ladies, who came, with an order signed by Lord Roberts, for their horses— Mrs. Lucas Meyer and Mrs. Botha. Both were better dressed and better looking than the usual run of women out here, who are ugly, stout, and untidy to a degree, and both spoke English fluently. Mrs. Botha informed us that her husband would hold out to the very last.
Monday, June 18.—A quiet, uneventful day in camp. Several of the C.I.V. infantry came over to see us. They have done very well, and have been in two very stiff engagements. Lieutenant Alt was killed in the last. Rode over in the evening to see Treffry. Found him out. Met my Captain at the infantry camp, and he told me I was to hold myself in readiness to move the first thing in the morning with as many fit men and horses as I could get with the Twenty-first Brigade, so I galloped back to camp and got all my kit together. On the way I met Treffry, and was very glad to see him.
Tuesday, June 19.—Started with twenty-one fit men and horses at 7 o'clock. Wellby came also, with his machine-guns. Reached Twenty-first Brigade at 8. Our C.I.V. battalion are in this brigade, as well as Captain Waterlow and No. 2 Company. Most of my H.A.C. boys are either without horses just now or they are unfit. Reported to Captain Waterlow with my section, and joined his company. Had to leave Dick behind, as his horse's back was sore. I was very sorry. This is the first time we have been separated. The general idea was that the Twenty-first Brigade, under General Bruce Hamilton, together with the Mounted Infantry and Broadwood's Cavalry (composite 12th Lancers and 10th Hussars), were to march and take Heidelberg, which was held by the Boers, the whole force being under General Ian Hamilton. General Hart, with a detached brigade from Buller, was to meet us near Heidelberg.
Well, we started south-east, and marched at the head of the infantry. Marched through kopjes, and east of the railway between Pretoria, Irene, Elands-fontein (eleven miles), and halted at Irene—quite a new lease of life for me again, and most enjoyable 1 My new comrades are Waterlow, Concannon, Manisty, and Henderson, all first-rate good fellows. I saw Treffry in the evening, and we told each other all our experiences. By the way, Greenwell of the H.A.C. has got a commission in the C.I.V. battalion; I saw him to-night as well.
The only H.A.C. men I have with me are Corporal Cooper, Lance-Corporal Lobb, and Lance-Corporal Perkins, the rest being from all regiments.
Wednesday, June 20.—Started at 6.45, and marched to a place called Kaal. A quiet, uneventful march. Reached camp 2.30. No enemy, no news!
Thursday, June 21.—Started at 7.30, and marched east of Johannesburg to a little mining settlement called Springs. The weather turned bitterly cold. Thunderstorms, with hail and sleet—hailstones as big as sixpences; they sting like blazes when they come on your face! Everybody got soaked through and through. I never was so cold in all my life. The first battalion are thoroughly done up with their past long marches. We reached camp at Springs at 3 o'clock.
Our brigade consists of Camerons, Derbys, Sussex, C.I.V., and C.I.V. M.I. I managed to get an empty room for our little mess, where we made a fire and dried our things. Luckily we had three fowls, and our host's wife cooked us a good dinner. There was plenty of beer, too, and very welcome it all was! My men made themselves comfortable, and built themselves shelters of corrugated iron.
Friday, June 22.—Started at 7.30, and marched to within five miles of Heidelberg. I did plenty of scouting to-day, but, beyond a bit of sniping, there was no serious resistance. The country all along is undulating, with kopjes, but nearly all black, as the grass is burnt everywhere. We reached camp at 2.30, after having marched about twelve miles. Our camp faced several ridges of very high kopjes, which are between us and Heidelberg. At 4 o'clock two of our 47 guns silenced these kopjes at about 8,000 yards.
Saturday, June 23.—Started at 7, and marched at head of infantry. Hear that the Boers have evacuated Heidelberg. Well, it was a lovely morning, and we galloped all the distance to clear the way. It was a most enjoyable ride. Heidelberg is a small place, but most picturesquely situated. Most of the inhabitants seemed delighted to see us. We stayed here for a few hours, bought stores, had some lunch at a butcher's (hot beefsteak and potatoes out of a frying-pan), and then proceeded to our camp. The whole brigade are encamped on the railway—Pretoria-Heidelberg-Durban. The C.I.V. battalion are quartered in a large engine-shed. We personally have occupied an empty village My men seem all very fit and well, and are in the best of spirits.
Heidelberg, Sunday, June 24.
Beautifully fine weather again, but nights colder than ever. I bathed this morning in ice and water. Our next-door neighbours (Dutch people) have lent us lamps and all sorts of little luxuries. The Boers here have gone south; they are sure, however, to be caught by either Buller or Rundle.
By the way, General Hart's column has not turned up yet. Buller is at Standerton. Christian De Wet collared a convoy with the mails, and burnt 40 tons of mails and parcels for the troops! It is very probable you may not have received my letter. I wrote long ones from Kroonstad and Pretoria Racecourse Let me know if you have received them. The remainder of No. 1 Company, under Captain Reid, is to rejoin us with the Twenty-first Brigade as soon as they can get remounts. They would have had these before, only it was at first settled they were to remain in Pretoria with the Seventh Division for garrison duty; but owing to Colonel Cholmondeley applying at headquarters for the whole of the C.I.V. M.I. to be reunited, Captain Reid got orders to rejoin the Twenty-first Brigade. The latest news in orders is: Archibald Hunter is due here to-morrow with a division, together with Colonel Mahon; two regiments are to remain in Heidelberg for garrison duty (probably Sussex and Derbys), and then a fresh force will be constituted under Hunter to trek further south, and round up all the isolated commandos of Boers. General Ian Hamilton was thrown from his horse the other day and broke bis collar-bone, besides having internal injuries, so he won't go down with us. I am getting a pretty varied experience one way and another; have been in several divisions, and any amount of brigades, and have been on every duty imaginable. You would be surprised to see us quartered in a beautiful little villa with really fine country all round us, and doing ourselves well!
The day we got in here Roberts' Horse had a brush with the enemy, and lost four officers (one killed) and twenty men. So far I have been singularly lucky, and so have my men—as we have had a thousand and one brushes and skirmishes with the Boers, scouting on extreme flanks right through the campaign, and have not yet lost a single man.
Villiersdorp, Vaal River, June 30.
We left Heidelberg on Wednesday morning at 8.30 on our southward track. Our new General is Archibald Hunter. The force consists of: two cavalry brigades, under Gordon and Broadwood (Eastern Force); Twenty-first Brigade, with two other regiments, 5th and 7th Mounted Infantry (Western Force); C.I.V. M.I.; three batteries R.F.A.; one battery R.H.A.
We marched about eleven miles to a mine called Oceana, and halted there. The enemy is supposed to be about in small commandos, but we have not yet seen them. We went at the head of the infantry brigade; Mounted Infantry and cavalry cover the west of left flank, that flank being all kopjes and ridges.
Thursday, June 28.—Started at 8.30. Same order of march. Undulating, open country. General Hunter marched part of the way with us. He is young-looking, with a clean-cut face. Everybody likes him. A quiet, uneventful march. We halted and bivouacked for the night at a farm near a large lake called Bierlaagte, about fourteen miles from our last bivouac. We heard that Russia and Japan are at war, and that we are sending out troops from India to look after our interests. No enemy so far.
Friday, June 29.—Started at 8.30. Long march (seventeen miles). Scouted right out on right flank. No enemy. Flat, uninteresting country. A very cold wind. We reached Villiersdorp, Vaal River, at 3.30, and found Broadwood's and Gordon's cavalry brigades ready bivouacked on the southern side. At present there is no enemy, and all is quiet. We shall probably proceed to-morrow towards Frankfort, then on to Heilbron, and from thence to Kroonstad, where this force will be broken up. The C.I.V. will possibly, after that, proceed to Cape Town by rail, and then go home. Large quantities of Boers come in every day and give up their arms, and it seems to us as if we have reached the end, that only police-work is left.
Saturday, June 30.—We had reveille at 6.30, but no orders to move A bitterly cold morning. Received orders to move at 1.30. The whole column and convoy of our supplies (fourteen days), about seven miles long, really started at 6.45 this morning to cross the drift of the Vaal. We ourselves did not make a start till 3.30 p.m., and we acted as flank guard to the Sussex battalion. We marched for three hours, and reached camp about six miles south of Frankfort. Concannon and his section were on the left flank. Our rear-guard, composed of Mounted Infantry with a pom-pom, had a bit of skirmishing with a few sniping Boers.
Sunday, July 1.—Marched off at 8 o'clock. Same order as yesterday, except that I was right flank guard and scouts to the Camerons. Open, undulating country. Soon after I started I spotted a flock of sheep about two miles on my right. I went out and rounded the whole lot in, about 300 or 400, and we drove them along with us. We marched about twelve miles and reached Frankfort, a small village lying in a hollow depression on the banks of the river Wilge. It is mostly composed of corrugated iron shanties, but the river is fairly broad. There is a fine road-bridge of six spans across the Wilge. We managed to get all the sheep into camp. I reported to our D.A.A.G., and handed them over to supply officer. Mutton will be very welcome, as we have had nothing but trek ox for some time. We are encamped right on the river bank. The weather is very cold, the winds biting; in fact, it is only warm when the sun comes out. I hear that Buller is at Vrede.
All the men I have with me are fit and well. We have very jolly dinners in the evenings, although it is so very cold. It would amuse you to see us at dinner in the open air round a table, all with overcoats or sweaters, and even blankets on!
Monday, July2.—A very cold morning, everything covered in white frost, and the water frozen solid. No move to-day. I remained in camp and rested. In the evening the battalion gave a very good smoking concert. Taffy recited, and recited very well too.
Tuesday, July 3.—No move to-day. Hector Macdonald expected with his Highland Brigade, details for P, Q, and R Batteries and 1,100 remounts, and perhaps mails. We all look forward to get the latter! This column comes from Heilbron. In all probability we shall go to Bethlehem, and then Standerton, instead of Heilbron. Nobody knows anything, however, for certain. Christian de Wet and his force are supposed to have retired to the Drakensberg Mountains. Steyn is at Bethlehem. Mails going out now (9.30 a.m.).
Cattle-truck between Wolvehoek and Pretoria, Saturday, July 7.
I wrote last, I believe, from Frankfort, on Tuesday, July 3. On Wednesday morning, July 4, we all got orders rather suddenly to saddle up ready to go. Colonel Mackinnon and C.I.V. battalion and 175 Mounted Infantry (Eastern Provinces Horse) were escorting an empty convoy to Heilbron. I joined this column with Perkins and my servant Croxon. We took our horses as well. We had a bit of a rush getting our kits transferred. I had to go back to Pretoria to give some evidence at a court-martial on a soldier. Reported myself to Colonel Mackinnon. The column marched at 2.30 p.m. Made myself useful to Colonel Mackinnon by being galloper for him, scouting and doing odd jobs. Our Mounted Infantry rearguard exchanged a few shots with some Boers who were trying to harass our rear, but it was mere sniping. We crossed Frankfort Bridge safe and sound covered by a section of artillery. Our force consisted of: 600 Infantry (C.I.V. battalion), 150 Mounted Infantry (Eastern Provinces Horse), three guns (R.F.A.), 120 waggons, under Colonel Mackinnon. We marched nine miles west-south-west, and halted. A bitterly cold night. Messed with the infantry. All sterling good fellows.
Thursday, July 5.—Reveille at 6. Frightfully cold water —solid blocks of ice. Twenty degrees frost. Breakfasted and started at 8 o'clock. Same as yesterday (galloper, etc., to Colonel Mackinnon). The Colonel is a delightful man, and is loved and respected by everybody in the battalion; he is a fine soldier, leader, and friend. Enemy again reported on our right front by Mounted Infantry. Saw them, between twenty and thirty men, near a farm four miles off. Our guns plugged them while the convoy was shoved along. This happened during lunch. I had a long talk with the Colonel. Bailey is a first-rate Adjutant and a good fellow. Very long march—twenty-one miles. Reached Heilbron at 6.30 p.m. A bitterly cold night again 1 Hear our battery is at Kroonstad, and that they have been in action. I was very glad to hear it. We could not move any further that evening.
Friday, July 6.—Reveille at 6. A very cold, fine morning again. Breakfasted at 8, then went over with Colonel Mackinnon to the station. Wired General Officer Commanding Seventh Division saying I should arrive at Pretoria late Saturday night, and asked for my evidence to be taken at once, as I had to return to my regiment as soon as possible. I also found about fifty mail-bags for the C.I.V., including twenty-one bags for the Mounted Infantry. Colonel Mackinnon asked me to sort the mails for the Mounted Infantry, and take No. 1 Company's mails with me, and to leave the rest. I returned to camp, and, with the assistance of Corporal Perkins and my servant, sorted the mails. Mighty hard work it was; it took four hours! My train started 5.20 p.m.
I took all my kit, but left horses. Lord Albemarle came with us. He is second in command of battalion. One word about Heilbron. It is a small town, of about 2,000 inhabitants, and is very prettily situated. We found large stores at the station—about 40,000 bags of oats, besides quantities of boxes of biscuits and bully. Our train consisted of empty cattle-trucks.
There was only room for one in the guard's van, and I kept that for Lord Albemarle. I travelled with my servant and Perkins. It was a bitterly cold but a brilliant moonlight night. We went on till we got to Wolvehoek, on the main-line Pretoria-Bloemfontein-Cape Town. Reached there 10.30. All had to clear out. Next train was full up of stores for Pretoria. Had supper and cocoa—the hot water was drawn from the steam of an engine; a novel way of making cocoa this 1 Slept in the station—only a tin hut.
Saturday, July 7.—Turned out at 6.30 by station-master. Found train of remounts going north. All got into the guard's van. The cold is simply awful; it reminded me of Russia—the flat country, white frost, and the brilliant rising sun. A young subaltern in the Canadian Mounted Infantry was taking his horse up, with about 250 men. Very decent fellow and highly interesting; he came from the Canadian Mounted Police. Went slowly on and reached Vaal River (Vereeniging) at about 10 o'clock. Got to Elandsfontein at 12.30—a large station, being the main-line junction for Johannesburg. Watered horses and started at 2.30. Two Majors joined us here, one in the Highlanders and one in the Gordons. We travelled very slowly and reached Pretoria at 7 o'clock. Went to Transvaal hotel. What luxury! I had a good dinner and a gorgeous bedroom. This is the first time I have slept between sheets since I left England!
Sunday, July 8.—Got up at 6.30; had bath and breakfast. Then reported myself to D.A.A.G. Seventh Division. Court-martial was held at once, at the artillery barracks. I was very glad I sent that telegram, as they were only waiting for mine and Perkins' evidence. The court-martial was held in the new artillery barracks, and very fine ones they are, too! There is nothing to touch them in England; a huge pile of red-brick buildings with a splendid installation of electric light. I went and gave my evidence, which was not much. The court consisted of a Colonel and two Captains. I was not cross-examined. Returned to hotel and sent off some telegrams and did various things for Colonel Mackinnon and Colonel Cholmondeley. Several of the men out of my section are still on duty as orderlies to General Tucker.
A big forward movement is going on in Pretoria to catch Botha; Seventh (Tucker's) and Eleventh Divisions are mobilizing.
General Hutton seems to have had a severe knock at Erstefabriken, the place near Silverton which I patrolled some little while back, near Pretoria (you remember, where an important bridge was left unguarded). General French has gone out with a brigade to assist. General Buller is here. His train was shelled coming up. I understand that the Pretoria-Natal line is now open.
Monday, July 9.—A lovely cold morning. Started after breakfast for station. We left at 10.45, and reached Elandsfontein at 2.30 p.m. I picked up here with the most delightful man I have seen for some time, Lieutenant-Colonel Capper, R.E., a fine fellow and, I should think, a fine soldier. I had long talks with him about China, Royal Marines, etc. Doing all bridging along the line and has command of all sappers north of Bloemfontein. He travelled with us as far as Wolvehoek. He has been through the Tirah campaign. We reached Wolvehoek, where we had to turn out at 7.30, and managed to get supper and a fairly comfortable room to sleep in.
Tuesday, July 10.—A magnificent morning, but very cold. Got up at 6 and all breakfasted. We left for Heilbron at 7.30, and reached here at 10 o'clock. I am very glad to get back.
July 12.—A big empty convoy came in yesterday, which is to fill up from stores here, and then proceed to Hunter's column at Bethlehem. The convoy was escorted by the Derbys and 5th and 6th Mounted Infantry. I am going out with this column. The C.I.V. battalion remain at Heilbron for the present.
A beautiful day. I got a few stores for the march, also had my clothes washed, and enjoyed a jolly dinner in the evening with all the fellows. Captain Bailey, the Adjutant, made a fine rum punch. There is no news otherwise. Colonel Mackinnon has got me attached to the 7th Mounted Infantry, under Major Welch. I went over to see him this afternoon; he asked me to join his mess. I got Croxon and Perkins attached as well. I am very sorry, though, in a way, to leave the battalion; I have had a ripping good time with them, and they have all been good to me—Colonel Mackinnon absolutely one of the best.