PART III - Under Colonel Bainbridge with the 7th Mounted Infantry; fighting at Bethlehem, Naauwpoort Neck, Golden Gate, Cox's Farm, Heilbron.
Friday, July 13.—Got my kit and baggage over to Mounted Infantry camp. Started at 8 o'clock a.m. south-west towards Lindley. Went with Major Welch and a mighty big convoy of 250 waggons, escorted by the Derbys, No. 1 Company Camerons, 76th Battery Artillery, 300 Mounted Infantry (5th and 7th); Commandant, Colonel Ewart.
Rather a small escort for so big a convoy with stores and ammunition. Just think! The length of the convoy in single file is seven and a half miles, and it takes three and a half hours for it to cross a place like a drift. We marched with advanced guard, and reached our camp (Witberg), about ten miles southwest of Heilbron, at 2.30 p.m. I lunched with Major Welch. In the evening Morris (a Lieutenant in the Berkshire Regiment and the 7th Mounted Infantry), Major Welch, and I dined together. We have fine brilliant weather, but pass through dull, undulating country; all the grass is burnt black.
Saturday, July 14.—Started at 6.30 a.m. It was really infernally cold. Marched on right flank, and had command of a section of Mounted Infantry. By the way, I got my horse again at Heilbron; he turned out a real good 'un! No enemy visible; all quiet; the country very bare. Halted for three hours in the middle of the day in order to allow oxen to feed and water, and reached Rhenoster River at 4 p.m. A very awkward drift here. We camped on the southern side for the night. The convoy took all night crossing the drift.
Sunday, July 15.—As the waggons had not finished crossing the Rhenoster till 5 this morning, we did not start till 9 o'clock. A very cold morning. I managed to roll out of my valise in the night, and woke up at about 5 o'clock, awfully cold and covered with white frost.
Marched south-west in advanced guard. In the far distance south-east of us we could see the mountains of Basutoland (Maluti Mountains). The country improves; it is more rugged. We passed sites of old battles as we marched to a drift over a small spruit about six or seven miles north of Lindley; we reached this place at 2.30 p.m., and got orders to camp here. No enemy seen or heard of; all is quiet.
Monday, July 16.—Started early this morning. It is very cold. Reveille 3.45 a.m.; breakfast by moonlight on the veldt at 4.30; march off at 5. I had command of a section to-day again and scouted on extreme right centre flank of convoy.
A magnificent sunrise, and fine, broken, rugged country. Saw positions where the first fight occurred, and also the place where the 350 Yeomanry were entrapped and taken prisoners near Lindley. We also came across the body of one of our dead. Poor fellow! be had been dead too long for identification. We reached Lindley at 11.30 a.m. It is a small village lying in a hollow, with the river Valsch flowing through it, meandering in and out of steep gorges. All round are high rugged ridges, and far away south one sees the magnificent mountains of Basutoland. We crossed the Valsch River at 11.45, aQ d camped at 12.15 p.m., about one mile south-south-west of Lindley. Found Bedfordshire Regiment in garrison here. They come with us to-morrow. No enemy; all quiet. I am personally sorry for this, as I should like to have a bit of fighting—the scouting gets so monotonous without an enemy. Mounted Infantry excellent men, not quite so intelligent as C.I.V. M.I., perhaps, but better disciplined. A beautiful day; we lunched when we got into camp. In the evening I walked round and saw all our recent trenches. A jolly dinner in the evening with Morris and Major Welch; afterwards we sat round the fire and chatted.
Tuesday, July 17. — Reveille again very early, 4.30 a.m., and march off at 5.45. Marched to-day as left flank guard and scouts; we were not far from a large farm recently burnt out, which belonged to a Boer who had come in and surrendered, and had then gone out on commando again. Got orders to keep a sharp look-out, as 1,500 Boers and a Boer convoy would probably cross our front to-day. Hunter sent this information by a despatch-rider from Bethlehem. Had several false alarms. Right flank came into touch with a few Boers and shot one. Evidently the commando came to join De Wet from Senegal, found they could not, and then scattered about in small bodies. This was confirmed by an English farmer this afternoon. We hear that General Clements had a stiff action about a week ago with De Wet, and defeated him; heard also that Paget came across the 1,500 Boers and convoy, and was unable to dislodge them; evidently he got a knock. I came across an Englishman who has twice been a prisoner of the Boers; he told me all his experiences. He is a colonial Englishman. His farm was near Lindley and his dairy in Johannesburg; he sold cattle to the English when the war broke out. Then he was taken prisoner by the Boers, escaped, and became one of our intelligence men and despatch-riders. After that he was taken prisoner by De Wet and kept chained up; he escaped again ten days ago and joined General Clements. Since then he was sent on to us. He told me De Wet occupies a strong position near Bethlehem, in the mountains, that he has 10,000 men, of which one-third are probably fighting men, and twelve cannons. All seem getting faint-hearted, except Christian De Wet and the other Commandants. He is now acting as guide and intelligence chap to our Commanding-Officer, Colonel Ewart.
We all halted for two hours to allow oxen to feed and water; then we started again at 2.30. The country is getting finer and finer, if far more rugged and broken. In the distance are the snow-covered peaks of Basutoland. All is quiet, except for a bit of sniping right away on our right flank.
Report received that an empty convoy, escorted by Roberts' Horse, was proceeding towards Senekal, eight miles on right flank. A long, tedious day; we reached camp at an unknown place, twelve and a half miles south-south-east of Lindley, at 5.30 p.m. The veldt here is covered with thick, long dry grass; there were any amount of veldt fires. As soon as we got into camp we made a huge fire, and sat round it till dinner. I had a jolly evening, and turned in at 8.30 p.m. My horse Pretorius is fit and well, and going strong.
Wednesday, July 18.—Last night we received all sorts of orders. First of all we were to march off at 12 midnight. Then that was cancelled, and we were ordered to move off at 5.15 this morning.
Reveille at 4 o'clock; bitterly cold morning. Turned out at once, washed, rolled up my valise, and my servant stowed it away. Hardly had I done this when orders came in that we were not to move before 8 o'clock, General Broadwood having sent a despatch-rider to wait for him. I lit a big fire, and sat 'and warmed myself. Had breakfast at 7. At 8 o'clock Broadwood's force arrived: 10th Hussars, 12th Lancers, Compots, Ridley's Mounted Infantry, two R.H.A. Batteries, two pom-poms.
Extraordinary news I De Wet and Steyn got through our outposts the night before last with 1,500 men and six guns, of which one is captured and one disabled. This was the force we heard of yesterday, which Paget tried to dislodge, but was unable to; and this was the lot our right-flank scouts came in touch with. De Wet and Steyn actually bivouacked five miles north-west of us without our knowing he was there, or be that we were here! Well, we all started at 9 o'clock. Broadwood went off north-west to Reitz, with his flying force, after De Wet; we just crossed two drifts over a spruit (very awkward drift for waggons), and camped within two miles of our last camp at a place called Sterpfontein. We could not proceed further, as the waggons will take all day to cross. Broadwood filled up his convoy from our supply column, and took the Derbys to guard his baggage. We lunched at 2 o'clock. A fine, warm day. In the evening 150 Mounted Infantry (7th M.I.), together with 40 of our C.I.V. M.I. (under Concannon and Manisty), joined us, the force being under Colonel Bainbridge. These came from Reitz, and were escorting Engineers who were repairing the line. Captain Lloyd of the 7th Mounted Infantry dined with us to-night
Thursday, July 19.—Reveille at 4, and march off at 5.15 a.m. We were rear-guard to-day to the convoy, consequently we did not move off till 7.30. Went over to see Concannon and Manisty. All is well with us. They have forty fit men and horses. I hear our horses are rather done up. No news! A bitterly cold morning. I went out to a farm on extreme right flank, but found the owner was on commando with De Wet, so told my men to help themselves to chickens and turkeys. I also informed the worthy lady that if her husband did not come into Bethlehem within a week to give up arms, we should be reluctantly compelled to burn the place down. Best way, now! We ought to have gone on this tack all along; we can never get the war over otherwise, we have been far too lenient. This farm in question belongs to the redoubtable Prinsloo. It has turned beautifully warm; the sun is blazing hot. I am sitting by the roadside writing this.
Bethlehem—Lindley.—Except my men, no one is in sight. A magnificent country, but all black, as the grass is burnt as far south as the mountains of Basutoland, while in the east there is a huge veldt fire. Close by about twenty vultures are feeding on a dead horse.
We proceeded on our way, and reached Bethlehem at 6 p.m. Major Welch asked me if I would remain with the 7th Mounted Infantry, and I said I would if my Commanding Officer had no objection. I went over, and found Colonel Cholmondeley and Captain Waterlow with No. 2 Company and the twenty men of No. 1 Company here in camp. I asked Colonel Cholmondeley if he had any objection to my joining 7th Mounted Infantry, and he said he had none, and would think about it. Returned to 7th Mounted Infantry. By the way, I also gave over all the mails I brought from Heilbron. C.I.V. M.I. had no fighting lately; that is the reason I want to get into a fighting lot, and 7th Mounted Infantry see nearly all. Besides, my own men are scattered about all over the country as orderlies and police. Late at night 7th Mounted Infantry received orders to rendezvous at the Kaffir town just east of Bethlehem. I thought this meant a fighting job, so decided to cast in my lot with them, and told Major Welch so. He kindly said he was awfully glad to have me
Bethlehem, Friday, July 20.—First of all, Bethlehem is a little town of about 2,000 inhabitants. It is situated at the beginning of the hills and mountains running south to Basutoland—a fine country. About a mile to the east is the Kaffir town, inhabited by about 2,000 Kaffirs. Orders: Reveille 6.30, and march off 7.45. Marched off. I had command of a section in No. 1 Company, under Lieutenant Morris (Berkshire Regiment). All rendezvoused at 8 o'clock, just south of Kaffir town. Our force consists of: 7th Mounted Infantry (Major Welch), 150 men; 5th Mounted Infantry (Major Lane), 100 men; Scottish Yeomanry, 100 men; 82nd Battery R.A. (did so well at Diamond Hill), Cameron Highlanders. All are under General Bruce Hamilton.
Marched off at 8.30. The idea seems to take a position known as Spitzkop, about ten miles south of Bethlehem, and commanding a pass (Naauwpoort Pass). The enemy is supposed to consist of from anything between 500 and 2,000 men and six guns.
We proceeded—Camerons, 82nd Battery, and Scottish Yeomanry on main road south, whilst 7th and nth Mounted Infantry went a wide detour round the left. I was on the extreme left, scouting. This is my first experience of hilly country. I watched a long valley and gorge. Received orders to close in on the right immediately. Did so, and joined our main body of Mounted Infantry on top of a huge ridge, overlooking a plateau interspersed with Kaffir kraals and mealie fields. Fifth Mounted Infantry, proceeding down the ridge and across plateau, were met with a hot fire from the kraals. I saw two men hit. At the same time we received a heavy fire from a kopje on our left; but we returned fire, and silenced our neighbours. Then we proceeded to climb down the kopje with our horses, and held a fortified kraal, whilst 5th Mounted Infantry pushed the Boers away out of the kraals south and in front of us. We—that is, 7th Mounted Infantry —held the Boers on that kopje.
We stayed here well under cover of the stone walls, and kept up a desultory fire. At dusk we all moved into camp, having got about half-way to Spitzkop. We had five casualties: Captain Hobson, 5th Mounted Infantry, two Yeomanry, two 7th Mounted Infantry, and about ten horses killed. Reached camp at dusk, 6.30, hungry and tired; had dinner and turned in at 9 o'clock.
Saturday, July 21.—Camp five miles south of Bethlehem. Our orders for to-day are reveille 5.15 p.m., move off at 7. Continuation of yesterday's work. Moved off at 7, east-south-east, guarding left flank to the Camerons and battery, who were main advanced, as before. We got clear of our camp, then extended to two horses' lengths with left scouts. We got sniped at from a ridge in front, but dismounted and took the ridge Then we came to a large plateau surrounded by hills. Here we formed a broad front, with 7th Mounted Infantry on the left, and 5th Mounted Infantry on the right. This plateau rises slightly to south-east. We left our horses near the crest under cover, and advanced in skirmishing order. Heavy firing began. From the crest the plateau fell away a bit to east and overlooked a deep, broad valley with four large kopjes opposite us, and deep gullies running up each of the high hills beyond. To our right was a gradually-rising plateau on the other side of the deep gorge. Bullets were falling fast and thick. Here I got orders to double and hold the last gorge, and prevent Boers from coming up it This was at 10.30 a.m. Doubled there, amidst a perfect hail of bullets. Reached the edge, where there were big rocks and stones, and took cover. Got out glasses and had look round. All four kopjes held by Boers. Started firing 1,700 to 1,800 yards. All lying flat behind rocks. As soon as one lifted one's head, pip-pop —pip-pop—phut! came the bullets all round. The very hottest place I have ever been in! Saw my men well under cover. At 11.30 there was a big puff of white smoke on the rising plateau to my right front, and about ten seconds afterwards I heard the report of a heavy gun. A shell burst about 100 yards behind me, where we had a pom-pom and machine-gun. A look through glasses, and I saw four guns about 5,000 yards off. Pom-pom replied, but no good—outranged. Then commenced a rare shelling. Shells burst all round us, and close by. Two burst simultaneously, so close, that dust and stones flew all over us. Every puff of smoke I saw I wondered if my last moment had come. This went on all day. I was in this gorge, watching it, from 10.30 a.m. till dusk, 5.30 at night. Although we had several near shaves and grazes, none of my men were actually hit. We used up all our ammunition—200 rounds per man. They had some casualties in the other companies. Several were killed and wounded amongst them. Captain Hamilton, our staff officer, had a shell wound on his head. We knocked over several Boers. The firing ceased at dusk, and the retire was given. Returned to camp, and camped just under a large kopje about 2,000 feet high. The Camerons took this to-day, and lost three killed, with two officers and twenty-five men wounded. Our camp is ten miles south-south-east of Bethlehem. Had dinner at 7.30, dead-tired and very hungry. Turned in at 9.
Sunday, July 22.—Reveille at 5 a.m. Moved off at 6.15. Continuation of yesterday's operations. Mounted Infantry guarding left flank again. Moved to same position as yesterday, with 82nd Field Battery to support us. To-day we first held a ridge, to cover advance of 5th and 7th Mounted Infantry, and then remained in support with the horses.
Our line was the same as yesterday, only a little further back; but the firing is not so heavy today, our guns—posted on top of hill overlooking the valley—kept them quiet. At 10.30 a.m. Boer guns came up, and shelling began again. With the exception of one or two shells and a few stray bullets, nothing came our way; our guns, though, had to shift their position. The general idea is—Mounted Infantry hold the left, whilst Camerons advance and General Hunter and Highland Brigade with two 47 guns are taking a pass to south-west of us—all to block up the Boers in the mountains. A bitterly cold day. Stayed all day, till 5.30, dusk, and then returned to same camp. Several casualties again to-day, and several of our horses hit. Had dinner at 7, and turned in at 9. Terrific hurricane and blizzard and snow, so got into Major's tent. The cold is awful. I spent most of the night holding the tent down. Went to sleep at 3 a.m. The Camerons remained in camp to-day, and sat tight.
Monday, July 23.—Reveille 5.30, moved off at 6.45. Continuation of yesterday's operations. Mounted Infantry took up same position as before, about three miles from camp. I was in the centre to-day; only a little firing. Bitterly cold in the snow, but a fine sight—all the mountains covered in snow, and white with the fleecy clouds blowing about them. We kept up a desultory fire. At 2.30 p.m. we got orders to leave this. All rejoined horses, and galloped to the big kopje where we camp. We here joined in a general attack on the Boer position on kopjes and plateau, due south across a wide valley, and just under the mountains. Seventh Mounted Infantry on left, Camerons centre, with 82nd and 76th Batteries, and on right 5th Mounted Infantry with machine-guns—two being the C.I.V. M.I. guns, under my old friend Wellby. All gradually advanced, we covering the left against a possible attack from the left (where we had only a company of 7th Mounted Infantry), to our original position. A heavy fire commenced from the kopjes. Our guns started, and the shells burst well on the top of the Boer positions. I could see the Boers shifting, through my glasses. The position proved too strong to take to-day, and, besides, it was getting dark. Just at 5 o'clock we came in for a heavy fire from a kopje to our front, and from about 2,000 to 2,500 yards off. All got under cover of ant-heaps and fired back. Waited here till 6.30, when dark, keeping up a desultory fire. All then retired back to camp under our big kopje. Major Welch and Malta Company 7th Mounted Infantry remained, out all night. Here Wellby did very well with our C.I.V. M.I. machine-guns, and made a Boer gun retire; in fact, he was complimented by the General (Bruce Hamilton). I am very glad, as he is a sterling good fellow, and a very keen soldier; glad also as it is the first time the machine-guns came into action. I hear that General Hunter and the Highland Brigade have been fighting all day on our right. Had dinner at 7, and afterwards went over to see Colonel Cholmondeley, who is with the column as escort to supply waggons. I asked him if he minded my being with 7th Mounted Infantry profern., and he said not at all, so long as I rejoined if C.I.V. M.I. left the brigade. Except Wellby, none of them have seen any fighting, so I am very glad I came with the 7th Mounted Infantry.
Tuesday, July 24.—No orders to-day—a welcome rest in camp. Major Welch came in at 10 this morning. Got sudden orders to move and saddle up in half an hour. We moved off just behind—or east of— our big kopje (known as Big Spitzkop) and watched all ground; in fact, were a rear-guard, whilst we and our waggons changed camp. Our force as rear-guard was 7th Mounted Infantry. Remained here from 2 till 5.30, dark, then moved off to hills west of Big Spitzkop. Moved right on to hills. Came on column, frequent halts, pitch-dark. It was very slow work, as the waggons had to cross the gorges and to go up a gradual steep incline of about 1,060 feet. The general idea seems to get together with Highland Brigade under General Macdonald. It is bitterly cold! Several waggons are disabled through broken wheels, dead oxen, etc. Ultimately we reached camp at 12 o'clock, dead-tired and cold. We had coffee and biscuits, and turned into bed.
Wednesday, July 25.—Reveille at 5; moved off at 6.15, right flank scouts to our right flank guard (7th Mounted Infantry); 5th Mounted Infantry advanced guard. Marched south-west, and halted—as observation post is on high ridge—by order to look out for Macdonald's force. Spotted his left flank scouts at 10.30 a.m. Reported, and then moved off south-east. Here joined our main body of 7th Mounted Infantry. All galloped out to a farm half-way between Little Spitzkop (the kopje we tried to take the other day) and Big Spitzkop (the distance between these two is about four miles, Little Spitzkop being due south of Big Spitzkop). Here we halted. The Malta company (part of the 7th Mounted Infantry) had orders early in the day to reconnoitre Little Spitzkop, and see if it were still held by the Boers. At 3 p.m. they had not returned. Our Commanding Officer anxious. He sent me at 3.30 to go and look for them, and to bring them in, with orders to retire as soon as fired upon. Proceeded to Little Spitz and took ten men with me. Galloped in extended order. Close to Little Spitz, and running north and south, is a donga, and 1,000 yards beyond a wire fence. Watched donga, cut wire fence, and galloped up to within 1,500 yards of the west corner of Little Spitz. Here I had a good look through glasses. Found some Boers on top, and also two Boer guns on the low fiat kopje of Little Spitz. At this point we came in for heavy fire. Mounted, gave ' Files about,' ' Scatter,' and rode off like blazes amidst a regular fusillade.
Got back Safe and sound, and luckily there are no casualties. Went back to our farm, and found that the Malta Company had gone to the wrong place altogether, but had just come in safe and sound. Been to Big Spitz 1 However, I was able to give all the information that was wanted. Returned to camp at 6 p.m. Macdonald's Brigade in company with us. A long, tiring day; but I had a jolly dinner with Major Welch, Morris, and Ferrars, a subaltern in the Welsh Fusiliers and in 7th Mounted Infantry, who has, like me, attached himself to 7th Mounted Infantry. My section belongs to the Hampshire Company. Our camp is half-way between Little and Big Spitzkop, and four miles west of these. It may seem curious that in the last twenty-four hours we have done an almost semicircular trek, but the reason was to join Macdonald's Brigade in the hills. General Hunter is, I believe, on our right. I don't quite understand the manoeuvres; I may be enlightened to-morrow.
Thursday, July 26.—Reveille 4; moved off at 5.15 am. The general idea to-day was to take Little Spitzkop and the first ridge of hills beyond. The main attack was to be on the extreme right by Macdonald's Brigade, and the centre attack the Camerons and guns, whilst the left flank attack was to be 7th and 5th Mounted Infantry. On our left flank was known to be a commando of Boers. We started two or three hours earlier than the rest, as we had to work right round Big Spitzkop and Little Spitzkop, and occupy all commanding positions on the left. Carried this out. All went well. Worked right across the Naauwpoort Plateau and Big Spitzkop to near a farm just west of Little Spitzkop. This farm lay in a hollow, but was commanded by a high ridge. From here our advanced scouts came in for a heavy Are. All dismounted, and formed a firing-line, with Yeomanry in support. Started at 1,800 yards, and fired at each halt. Hot fire from the Boers; we doubled down one slope, and then rushed the next. The Boers retreated, and as they were getting on their horses we gave it them hot. Advanced then on to the farm. Here we stayed, and formed an outpost line; cleared the farm of all forage and livestock, and burnt the outhouses. I was sent to another farm about one and a half miles southwest. Had no opposition. Stayed there till dusk, and then had orders to return to camp. I hear that the general attack was very successful. Little Spitzkop was taken, and also the ridge beyond. I have not yet heard about the casualties. We ourselves had two wounded. The main body camped just south of Little Spitzkop; we camp three miles further on, just under the first ridge of hills. I feel very sorry for the farms, but it has to be done.
Friday, July 27.—Reveille at 5. Camp stands for today. I had orders to proceed at once, and form part of an outpost line guarding the left. I had thirty men. Proceeded to Driefontein Farm (the place we took yesterday), and throughout the observation posts overlooking all the country on my left. King's Own Scottish Borderers Company 7th Mounted Infantry was on my right. All seemed quiet. I went round, and had a good look about Heavy firing on my right rear; ascertained afterwards that it was our 5-inch gun driving the Boers out of Naauwpoort Nek. There was a desultory sniping all round. I returned to the farm and had some lunch, which the good woman here cooked for me, with some coffee. I am writing this part of the letter in the garden. I have also drawn a rough map by memory to give you some idea of the position here, and to illustrate this rather mixed-up letter. At 2 o'clock Ferrars came to relieve me. I hear that our casualties are rather heavier than I thought: in Mounted Infantry six men killed, and three officers and twenty men wounded. We hold Naauwpoort Nek, Boers trekking off east. We shall probably follow them up to-morrow.
This is a grand, if rugged, country, but a very difficult one for fighting. One has to be awfully cautious. The weather is fine, but very cold at night, and the days are rather chilly as well. I am really happy; the life suits me down to the ground. The 7th Mounted Infantry are a very good lot; they are made up of the following regimental companies of Mounted Infantry: Hampshire Company (mine), Lieutenant Morris; King's Own Scottish Borderers Company, Captain Robertson; Norfolk Company, Captain Pater-son; Lincoln Company, Captain Lloyd; Malta Company, Captain Marshall (all under Major Welch); Derbys; Warwicks; Lancashire Fusiliers; Royal North Lancashire.
Saturday, July 28.—Hooray! To-day is my birthday. As there is nobody else to do it, I am wishing myself many happy returns.
We had reveille at 4.15, and moved off at 5.30 (7th Mounted Infantry advanced guard). My section advanced scouts. Moved east-south-east, on road towards Harrismith, at the foot of high kopjes and mountains. I had orders to go on and occupy a high kopje supposed to be occupied by Boers, and to hold it till the infantry (Camerons) came up. Galloped on, dismounted at the foot of the kopje, and ascended. Awful fag; about 800 feet steep ascent. Reached the top safe and sound. All clear. Got out my glasses, and discovered Boers—about thirty of them—on a kopje opposite, about 1,800 yards off. I got my men well hidden, and opened with volleys. The Boers could not make out where the fire came from, and soon shifted. Then we came in for a heavy fire, but we were well under cover, therefore all right. The main column came along the road, and the left flank, which was open country, was crossed by the remainder of the 7th Mounted Infantry. They came in for a very heavy fire from a high ridge in front, and there were several casualties. Our guns came up at 8.30, and started shelling all these kopjes vigorously. The general firing continued for two hours; then all advanced, with the baggage coming up in the rear. As soon as the infantry came up we ascended our kopje. I got orders to rejoin my Captain. Then we trotted on, and crossed a drift, moved right across to left flank, and rejoined the main force of the 7th Mounted Infantry, who were holding a long ridge. But we could move no further, as the Boers were holding one of the stiffest positions I have ever seen, and keeping up a heavy fire. The Boer position was a succession of huge ridges, quite 2,000 feet high. Then the guns were ordered up. I was just behind the battery, and saw them work; they shelled all positions. At 12 noon my Captain received orders to seize a position about one and a half miles to our left front. We galloped on under fire, and I received orders to seize a Kaffir kraal on a ridge, and cover his advance. I did so, and met a very heavy fire; got men and horses under cover. But I could not locate the Boer fire for some time. When I at last located it, we gave it them hot We remained for two hours, and had a long palaver with the Kaffirs, who cooked me and my men some eggs, and gave us some Kaffir beer. Receiving orders to rejoin company at 3 p.m., I proceeded up an enormous kopje, and, after an hour's climbing, reached the top, and again came in for a heavy fire. We had several casualties. By Jove! it makes one think a bit when the bullets are falling, and one sees some poor fellow suddenly drop and lie kicking. The Boers retired; we held the ridge till dusk Then we received orders to remain here all night. The camp is three miles off. I sent back for blankets and grub. No fodder for the horses! Major Welch asked me if I could get some. I remembered the Kaffir kraal. Took ten men with me, proceeded down this huge kopje, reached the kraal and, after a long palaver, got 150 lbs. of mealies (maize) and firewood. I gave a receipt. In order to write this I went inside the chief kraal; thirty men, women, and children were sitting round a dried cow-dung fire. It was all clean, but the heat was awful. I wrote receipt, and took two hours to get back in the dark. Then, the blankets and grub having arrived, we had supper, and turned in at n. Patrolled our outpost line at 2 and 4 a.m. All correct and quiet. An eventful birthday, was it not ?
Sunday, July 29.—Reveille 5. At 6 received orders to return to camp, but to leave a post out. Returned to camp at 7.30, and had a hurried breakfast. By the way, heavy firing was heard far away on the right, evidently Hunter and Paget in action. Seventh Mounted Infantry received orders to gallop and take hours to get the horses up, and we reached the top at 5 p.m. Then there was more firing, with three of the Lincolns hit. I received orders to retire to camp, leaving Paterson and Lincolns on outpost. Got back at 7. It was exciting work getting down in the dark. Several horses had bullet-wounds, but happily no bad effect. Captain Robertson, King's Own Scottish Borderers, is dying in camp. I can't tell you how I feel about it—such a splendid fellow! Turned in, dead-tired, at 9. This has been about the hardest day I have ever had. Poor Robertson died at 10 o'clock; he was just conscious enough to hear letters from home read to him. We are all very down about it. He had a long chat with me only twenty-four hours ago. Such is life! One never knows whose turn will come next.
Monday, July 30.—Exciting news! I hear that Prinsloo, one of the chief Orange Free Staters, has surrendered to Hunter, with 6,000 men, on our right; also that our battery (H.A.C. and C.I.V). did marvellously good work, and knocked out a Boer battery. I am awfully glad they have done so well.
Reveille 5.30. Sent out flags of truce to inform our opponents under Grobler and Olivier, and to ask them to surrender. All stood by, ready to march off. This was at 8.30 a.m. My Commanding Officer, Colonel Cholmondeley, went with one flag to one commando, and Captain Marshall, of the Maltas, went with another.
Captain Robertson was buried this morning at 7, just in his blankets and a Union Jack. We stood by all day. The flags came back to-night. Olivier, a Cape Colony rebel, won't surrender; he commands a lot of scallywags; the other men will probably reply to-morrow at 8.30. Returned to camp and had dinner. Turned in at 9. By the way, I dined with our C.I.V. M.I. to-night. They also were in action yesterday, and had two casualties, only slight.
Tuesday, July31.—Reveille at 6.30; orders to march 7.30. All the officers had flags of truce. Proceeded east-south-east towards Hamsmith. The terms of surrender were as follows: Every man to return to his farm after giving up arms and ammunition, also to retain one horse and saddle; also that all farms would be respected.
The whole force moved forward. Curious anomaly that, an armed force moving forward with flags of truce! We (7th Mounted Infantry) met no one. Curious orders: if fired upon, roll up white flag and go for enemy. Fifth Mounted Infantry and General Hamilton came upon three commandos, who all surrendered (1,500 men and two guns). Olivier has got off with 400 men and four guns, without ammunition; these are all the scallywags who own no farms—rebels and tag-rags. We camped within three miles of a Boer laager, in Bester Valley, near Golden Gate, and within twenty-five miles of Harrismith, at 5.30. We hear that Christian De Wet has been surrounded at Vaal River. All over! I think. I had dinner and turned in to write this letter. We have had more fighting these last fourteen days than during the whole six months rolled together. I almost think the Mounted Infantry must be the hardest worked branch of the service; no thanks, though, from anybody. Captain Marshall, of the Malta's, has ridden off to-night, with a flag of truce, to Olivier at Harrismith.
Wednesday, August 1.—Reveille at 6. Had orders to proceed at 7.30, and patrol country and hills to northwest and examine farms. I therefore proceeded with ten men; saw enormous veldt fires. We reached a big farm owned by a Dutchman on commando. No arms. We got eggs, butter, and poultry, then proceeded to another farm close by, the best farm I have seen as yet out here—an ostrich farm; my first experience of one. It has fine orchards, and a good house and rooms. It belonged to a Dutchman called Jacobs, also out on commando. Hidden under a bed I found 500 rounds of Martini ammunition, as well as ammunition for Mauser and Mannlicher rifles. Destroyed these. I got breakfast here for myself, and some grub for men. Returned, after searching country, and got back at 1.30. Met no Boers. In the afternoon went over to Boer laager: a wonderful sight—between 1,500 and 3,000 men and horses. All seemed as cheery as possible, and all very sick of the war and wanted to give in. One of the guns we took is one of U Battery R.H.A. We also secured a whole convoy of ammunition. Returned to camp for dinner. Boers surrendering all day long. I bad an accident to-day on patrol—stuck a knife in my band and cut an artery. Luckily the sergeant with me had been through a course of first-aid, bound my wrist up, and stopped the bleeding. Never saw blood spurt out like it did; however, when I got back to camp, the doctor bound it up, and it is all right now. I had a jolly dinner with Major Welch, Ferrars, and Morris, also had a rum issue served out, and turned in at 9.
Thursday, August 2.—Reveille at 6. No orders to-day. Spent quiet morning in camp. We are in a huge, deep valley, with mountains and hills all round us. The whole valley is black, as all the 'grass is burnt, whilst all along the sides of the ridges the still smouldering turf is sending up smoke reddened by the sun, and every now and again one sees a huge column of smoke shoot up, followed by a mighty explosion (Boer ammunition being destroyed)—in fact, it exactly suggests the nether regions. The weather is warmer as spring advances; the nights are still cold, but the days are hot. General Hunter, who has worked all these operations, has done splendidly. I cannot help saying, and so does everybody else, that the Mounted Infantry have had a large share in the success; they have certainly worked hard enough. Received orders to move at 2 p.m.
By the way, we got a lot of remounts from the Boers, and very good horses. I have another fine grey pony —a real ripper; I have named him Prinsloo. I have two fine greys now — Pretorius, who is very fit, considering the hard work he has done, and Prinsloo. Between ioo and 150 Boers came in to-day with flags of truce and surrendered.
Left flank guard to-day. Moved off east-south-east towards Harrismith. Marched six miles and met Macdonald's force All camped here. Huge veldt fires. Everybody in camp turned out to put them out. It was extraordinary to see from 1,500 to 2,000 men rush out suddenly with their blankets and slog away at a veldt fire. Veldt fires at night are a marvellous sight, as all the ridges are lined with fire, and above it all is a huge crimson column of smoke.
I am awfully glad our battery have been in action, and have done so well; every branch of the C.I.V. have distinguished themselves now. I don't know if I mentioned it, but our C.I.V. M.I. were in action about two days ago, and had two slight casualties. I hear that Lord Roberts wants reinforcements up at Pretoria, also that our battalion have moved down from Heilbron. Several Boers sent home to their farms to-night, all very glad it is over.
Friday, August 3.—All under command of General Macdonald; had reveille at 5, and moved off at 6 a.m. A bitterly cold morning, a heavy frost Seventh Mounted Infantry advanced guard. No enemy, so moved in close formation. Four companies of Yeomanry have joined us. It was a brilliant, fine morning. We marched east-north-east on the Harrismith road; the country was not so hilly. We left the mountains south-west of us. There were some big veldt fires. Marched about twelve miles and halted, and camped about fourteen miles west of Harrismith at 1 p.m. I am orderly officer to-day, so have plenty to do—wood-fatigues, watering horses, etc.
Olivier and his commando are at Vrede; we shall probably make for there. The Highland Brigade is going to Pretoria, as General Roberts wants reinforcements. We may probably go as well. I shall try hard to remain with the 7th Mounted Infantry, as they see all the fighting there is to be had. I don't know, though, whether I shall get permission from Colonel Cholmondeley.
As I had very limited time to write a description of the four days' fighting round Naauwpoort Nek in the mountains, I will just say briefly what happened: General Hunter, with his force, was six miles south of us, and on our right, and he successfully compelled Prinsloo and 3,000 men to surrender at Fouriesburg.
Our force, under Generals Macdonald and Bruce Hamilton, had four days' stiff fighting, driving the Boers from hill to hill in an east-south-east direction, and compelling 2,000 of them to surrender on the last position, before reaching open country again. Our halts were chiefly made in those four days' hard work near farms, where the men got plenty to eat by roasting poultry, etc., and where the horses got plenty of fodder. I should estimate our casualties at 150, and the Boer casualties about 200. They suffered pretty heavily. Olivier, four guns, and between 250 and 300 men, Steyn, 500 men, Christian De Wet and 1,500 men are still at large. De Wet is reported to be surrounded at the Vaal River.
Ferrar, of the Welsh Regiment, has been out here nine months, and has seen any amount of fighting.
Saturday, August 4.—Still under General Macdonald, Bruce Hamilton remaining at last camp with Twenty-first Brigade and C.I.V. M.I. Reveille at 4.55; marched off east towards Harrismith at 6 o'clock; a bitterly cold morning, the water frozen solid. No enemy, so marched in close formation, we and the Yeomanry at the head of the column. Reached our camp, about four and a half miles west of Harrismith, halted and lunched. At 2 o'clock I rode into Harrismith with my servant to buy stores. Harrismith is a fine little town, situated at the foot of a huge ridge of hills. It has about 2,000 inhabitants, mostly English and Scotch. General Macdonald marched in with the Highland Brigade and the 82nd Battery artillery, leaving the Mounted Infantry, who have done all the hard work, and been his eyes and ears, outside. The place is nearly denuded of stores, as no trains have been there for ten months, and the Boers have very nearly cleared out everything. I got together as many useful things as I could, and returned to camp at dusk—6 o'clock. '• Sunday, August5.—Remained in camp to-day—a welcome rest. Had a tub, quite a luxury. The mails go at 2 o'clock, so I will finish this letter now. Our movements will be uncertain; we may probably go to Standerton, or, more likely, back to Bethlehem and Pretoria. General Rundle is expected to-morrow, and he will probably remain here. We expect that the war is nearly over, as hundreds of Boers come in every day and give up their arms. Christian de Wet is surrounded, and we should by now have rounded up Louis Botha. C.I.V. M.I. have gone up and joined force against Louis Botha at Lydenburg, under Wilson.
Harrismith, Sunday, August 5. This afternoon Ferrars and I rode into Harrismith to get one or two things, and met some delightful Scotch people named Parker, who asked us to have tea with them.
Two squadrons arrived here to-night from Ladysmith of 13th Hussars and 5th Lancers. They came right through in twenty-four hours. I got back to camp at 6.
Monday, August 6.—Reveille at 6; marched off for Bethlehem at 7.30. As we moved out the Rundle Division moved in. Our force consists of a brigade of Yeomanry, under Colonel Burn; 7th Mounted Infantry, Major Welch; Burmah, Captain Copeman; under Colonel Bainbridge.
The Highland Brigade are a day's march ahead of us, all under General Macdonald.
A cold day and very windy. Marched to Eland's River. Crossed the bridge, which is a very fine one, and camped on the other side. Marched about twelve miles and reached camp at1 p.m. Went out to forage, and whilst doing so at a farm General Macdonald came up and made this his headquarters; he had a chat with me, and asked how all the C.I.V.'s were getting along. Got eggs, poultry, and potatoes from the farm and returned to camp at 3.30.
Tuesday, August 7.—Reveille at 5.15; marched off at 6.30, due west on Bethlehem-Harrismith road. Had a small rear-guard composed of my company under Morris, I and my section being rear-guard scouts. A bitterly cold wind was blowing, but there was brilliant sunshine. The country to south-west, with the mountains of Basutoland, was very beautiful. We had a long march to-day to Tigerkloof Spruit, close to Bethlehem. The Harrismith Railway, which is in course of construction, is between eighteen and nineteen miles long. Owing to broken waggons we did not get into camp till 3.30 p.m. The Yeomanry cast a lot of horses to-day. Poor beasts, I had to shoot four to put them out of their misery! After that I walked round some farms with Ferrars to forage, but we only succeeded in getting some cut straw. At one farm there was a worthy Boer frau of enormous proportions, who ruled all the household, husband and all. When Ferrars and I arrived she stood in the doorway with arms akimbo. But she was a very cheery motherly old lady, and reminded me of Tante Coetze in 'Jess.' I had a long chat with her, and by no means an uninteresting one.
Wednesday, August 8.—Reveille at 5.30; moved off towards Bethlehem at 7. Again it was a very cold morning. On our left flank we saw all the hills and mountains we bad been fighting in for the past three weeks, also our old friends Big and Little Spitzkop. We were advanced guard to-day. No enemy, so we marched in close formation. Reached Bethlehem at 2 p.m., after having marched about sixteen miles, and camped on southern side. The only garrison here is composed of four companies Bedford Regiment and two guns. Much has happened since we left here three weeks ago. All the Boers except Olivier have surrendered, after the stiffest fighting I have had out here, and 7th Mounted Infantry have had more of it than any of the other troops engaged. General Hunter, who conducted all the operations, has done the whole thing splendidly.
The latest news is that De la Rey and his commando went for Smith-Dorrien and his force and demanded his surrender on the lines of communication. Whilst Smith-Dorrien was considering the matter the Boers fired upon him, so he went for them and utterly routed them. The C.I.V. battalion, who were with him, did splendidly. I was naturally very glad about this. Christian de Wet is still at large. There may be plenty of fighting yet.
I went with Ferrars into Bethlehem to get one or two things, but could not succeed, everything being sold out. Returned to camp.
Thursday, August 9.—To-day I have been six months at the front. No orders, so we remain in camp here. It is a frosty morning, but there is bright sunshine, and it is sure to be hot later on. The Twenty-first Brigade, with the C.I.V. M.I., have gone on to Winburg with the prisoners. In all probability we go to Kroonstad. I spent a quiet morning in camp. In the afternoon I went with Ferrars to Bethlehem foraging. We could get nothing except two pots of jam from a German named Von Seidel, who had married an Englishwoman.
Friday, August 10.—Reveille at 5; started at 6.30 for Lindley. To-day we are left flank guard to the main column. We had an uneventful if lengthy march of eighteen miles, and reached camp (Stinkfontein) at 4. o'clock. It is the place we camped at before when we met Broadwood's flying column. We had dinner at 6, and I turned in at 8.30, rather tired.
Saturday, August 11.—Reveille at 5.30; marched at 6.45 as left flank guard. To-day's march was remarkable for a hurricane. It started to blow at 8 o'clock. The sky was a clear blue, but it did blow! We could scarcely sit on our horses; it was bitterly cold, too, and there were enormous clouds of dust. I never imagined such a wind-storm—a new experience. We passed an old camp, and the empty tins strewn about were blown here and there like straw. After a long weary march of fifteen miles we reached Lindley at 3.30. Lindley is absolutely deserted except for two stores, which still keep open. This place really looks like war—houses demolished and dead horses lying in the streets, besides broken-up furniture and waggons.
Sunday, August 12.—Reveille at 6. Received orders to stand by. I hear that De Wet has again escaped from Methuen at the Vaal River, and is marching south; also that Olivier is marching on Bethlehem, and that there is a commando of some 400 to 500 close by here under Ashbruch. All sorts of rumours are afloat as to our destination. At last the orders have come for the whole force to march to Kroonstad. Started at 9.30. I think I have already mentioned in what a broken country Lindley lies. I believe there has been more fighting in this place than any other. Well, the column moved out west of Lindley. The 7th Mounted Infantry were rearguard to the main column on the left flank. I and my section occupied a high kopje southwest of Lindley for two hours, till the main column had left. We saw a few Boer scouts on horizon north-east of us. At 11.30 we moved to another high kopje four miles west, known as Yeomanry Hill. Here we waited again for two hours. This is the hill where 350 of the Imperial Yeomanry under Colonel Spragge surrendered, after being surrounded for five days and being starved out. Had they held out for another twenty-four hours Methuen's column would have relieved them.
A terrible sight awaited us on this hill. We found three poor fellows unburied and several others only partially buried. One of them Ferrars identified by a ring. He was a man from Belfast, called Blomfield. We did all we could for them—buried them all, and put stones over them, and a cross of stones at their head. The southern, or steep side of the hill, was covered with discharged cartridge cases. Down below in the valley were between eighty and one hundred dead horses. The men had all made a good fight for it. It was sad and very terrible.
At 1.30 we got orders to move into camp, about three miles off.
Monday, August 13.—Reveille at 6. To-day we were rear-guard to the ox convoy—i.e. rear-guard to the whole column. Instead of going to Kroonstad the column had orders to move on to Heilbron, to intercept Olivier and his commando. Morris went off with a small column of details to Kroonstad to get stores and clothing for us. We did not march off till 11.30, being rear-guard, a very long column with the ox convoy. We saw a few Boer scouts and had a bit of sniping; no serious attack, however. We passed an Englishman's farm; the daughter was shot dead during an action six weeks ago. I shot a guinea-fowl with my revolver for our mess; got him at 30 yards. We crossed Rhenoster River at 4 p.m., and saw the camp on the other side. We got into camp at 6.
Tuesday, August 14.—Reveille at 5; moved off at 6.15 as part of the main column advanced guard in front of infantry, Yeomanry to-day being advanced guard and scouts. Every man was ordered to take 200 rounds of ammunition, as fighting was expected.
Our right front was a succession of ridges. At 9.30 we heard a great deal of sniping on our right. The advanced guard halted. The whole of the 7th Mounted Infantry and the Burmahs had orders to go out and extend and reconnoitre the long ridge east and on right flank. All accordingly moved out; but we had barely got out of our cover and moved across the plain when we came in for a terrific shelling from eight guns posted all along the ridge. Ferrars and I had orders to gallop forward and occupy a kopje about 1,000 yards east We galloped forward and occupied the kopje, getting well ahead all the way. Luckily, only one horse was killed. The remainder of 7th Mounted Infantry proceeded to occupy a ridge to our right, south-east of" us. We were shelled all the time, but we are accustomed to it now: see a puff of white smoke, wait ten seconds, hear report, then shell arrives and bursts—bang! Then comes a shower of stones and dirt. We waited here one hour. The Highland Brigade on the right started to take the big ridge. The Boer guns moved further south-south-east along the continuation of the ridge. The 7th Mounted Infantry got orders to gallop right to the south-east and prevent the infantry advance from being enfiladed. So we all galloped out in extended order, and came in for a terrific shelling. Several horses were hit as well as three of the Lincolns. After going for half an hour's most exciting ride we reached a ridge. All dismounted and took up a position facing another ridge 2,500 yards off, held by Boers. This was at 2 p.m. We started firing at them, and came in for a heavy Mauser fire. Our artillery had taken up a position behind us and the infantry, and there were shelling the Boer guns, but they were not very effective. The Boer front was about five miles. To our dismay one solitary Boer gun opened fire on us on our left at 4,000 yards. We were powerless, as we had to keep the Boers in front of us held, and we could not move. This blessed gun shelled us every five minutes till 5 o'clock. We all got well extended and took the best cover we could get. Only one man was hit—one of my men, Cousens of the Hampshires, hit through the neck by a bullet. The man who had his horse killed was riding my second horse. At 5.30 the firing ceased, and we had orders to retire to the ridge which the Boers had first held, and which was taken by our infantry. Here I and Roberts (a subaltern in the Norfolks) got orders to report ourselves to General Macdonald. We did so. We got orders from his A.D.C. (Captain Wigan, of the Warwicks) to go to Spitzkop, about four miles off, and find out officer commanding Highland Light Infantry; also if this Spitzkop was taken by them. Roberts was to go then to General Hunter for orders for the Highland Light Infantry, whether to retire or not. I was to return to General Macdonald and say where Highland Light Infantry were. Well, it was getting dark when we started. We galloped over the plain to the long kopje. It was pitch-dark, except for veldt fires. We rode over the long kopje, passing several wounded Highland Light Infantry men and one poor chap lying with a shell wound through his neck and back, some Highland Light Infantry men being with him. None of them knew where the battalion was, however; they had taken the ridge, but apparently not little Spitzkop. They said the Colonel of the Highland Light Infantry was wounded. Well, Roberts and I rode on and looked everywhere. All was silent as the grave, after the battle. We shouted for Highland Light Infantry; no answer. Then we rode right up to Little Spitzkop, but found no trace of them. Evidently they had retired. Well, here Roberts and I parted. He went back to find the camp and General Hunter; I went back to find Wigan. I had taken the bearings of the direction I had come, so by aid of the Southern Cross I got back to the first ridge, where I had left Wigan, our guns, and our Mounted Infantry. Got back at 8. No sign of anybody anywhere! Evidently whilst I was gone all had received orders to retire to camp. I had no idea where the camp was, so I climbed up to the top of the kopje. There I could see nothing except veldt fires all round me. It was pitch-dark. I thought the best thing I could do was to strike north-east, which must certainly bring me somewhere near them. The horse and I were absolutely done; I had had nothing to eat since 5 except a biscuit. It was a bitterly cold night. I trekked till 1 o'clock up and down the kopjes. At last I thought it best to lie down and go to sleep and wait till morning, as I did not want to walk into a Boer laager totally unarmed—no cartridges left. So I unsaddled my horse and lay down. It was, however, far too cold to sleep, so I lit a pipe and waited till dawn. At 5 o'clock I saddled up and started, luckily coming across a new spoor—wheels and hoofs, our artillery waggon marks. I followed these up, and at 6 o'clock saw our camp at Cox's Farm, Kaal-fontein, four miles north-west of Little Spitzkop. I rode on, and went straight to report myself to General Macdonald. Found Colonel Bainbridge there, and very glad to see me. The General very kind. I was able to give this useful information: that from the place I had slept at I had seen no Boers this morning, and that all seemed clear. The General thought it was occupied by Boers. The place where I slept was Ventersburg. The Highland Light Infantry had retired, and so also had all others, back to the camp, four miles away from action. Roberts also slept on the veldt, but managed to get into an empty farm. Colonel Bainbridge was awfully angry that two of his officers were sent on such an errand. It was the luckiest thing in the world that I did not walk into a Boer patrol! The force is halting here till 11.30. The result of yesterday's action was not over creditable to us. We took the Boer position, it is true, but had over 100 casualties, of which the Highland Light Infantry lost sixty-seven in one of those doubtful patrol attacks; and, besides, Olivier has got away with all his guns and waggons again. The Boer strength was about 2,000 men, with ten guns and one pom-pom; ours, 4,000 men, eight guns, one pom-pom, and one 5-inch gun. By the way, I was pom-pomed yesterday for the first time. It was the hardest day I have had so far, even harder than the Golden Gate fight at Bethlehem.
Wednesday, August 15.—As written above, I reached camp safe and sound. Orders to move off to Heilbron at 11.30. Started. Seventh Mounted Infantry had orders to move in formation of a cavalry screen and go on ahead to see if Heilbron was occupied. All quiet; no Boers about anywhere. I and my section were on extreme left flank. I reached Heilbron at 1.30, and the 7th Mounted Infantry took up a position on high ground, north-east and north-west of the town. Was called into camp at dusk (5.30). Thoroughly tired to-night.
Thursday, August 16.—No orders. Ferrars took out a patrol towards Lindley. I was orderly officer, and had to take the horses to water, and to do other necessary duties. At 10.30 7th Mounted Infantry received orders to move to Gotenburg, halfway on the railway line between Heilbron and Wolvehoek, and guard line. Luckily the line was intact and the two bridges unbroken. Our little force consisted of 7th Mounted Infantry (Major Welch), Burmah Mounted Infantry (Captain Copeman), one 15-pound gun, and one Pom Pom, under Colonel Bainbridge. Proceeded at 1.30, and reached Gotenburg at 5.30. We took one day's rations with us. Captain Lloyd and the Lincoln Company 7th Mounted Infantry go on another three miles with three days' rations. The country here is as flat as a billiard-table. Far away on the south-west the kopjes can be seen which marked our advance with Tucker's Division up to Pretoria. To the north-east tower the high ridges on the other side of the Vaal, close to Johannesburg. The days are longer: the sun rises 6.15 and sets 5.30. The nights are cold, but the days are getting very hot. There is nearly always brilliant sunshine, and we have had no rain since July 20.
Friday, August 17.—Reveille at 6. I had orders to take out an officer's patrol at 6 in a westerly direction, and to take up an observation post I had breakfast at 5.30 and started at 6. All was quiet. I received orders to return. All started back for Heilbron at 1.30, and reached here at 4.30. I understand that we remain here for a week or so to refit and get fresh horses. Morris is bringing up fresh clothing for the 7th Mounted Infantry. I received a telegram from him this evening. This move is very necessary, as the men are literally in rags.
Saturday, August 18.—A quiet day in camp to-day; only the usual duties. The camp is very unhealthy, as so many dead carcasses are about, and they make one conscious of their presence on hot days. Had welcome tub and general clean up, and in the afternoon went with Ferrars to the town to try and buy a few necessaries. We went to the hospital and saw our wounded men. As we reached there a funeral came out; it was that of a poor Highland Light Infantry fellow. He was escorted to his last resting place by his company and bagpipes; it was very sad and solemn. Our men are doing well. There are several awful cases, though the saddest of all is, I think that of a young gunner with the whole of his jaw shot away. He can't possibly live, poor chap! As he can't eat, and, what is worse, he can't say a word; nor can he write, as he has become semi paralyzed. I heard from some of the 6th Mounted Infantry men in hospital with wounds (Ferrars' men) that Broardwood had an indecisive action with De Wet about a month ago, and that the 6th Mounted Infantry lost heavily. I could get nothing in the town except Boer meal; everything was sold out-in fact, the whole place is as bare as possible. I returned to camp in time for dinner, and turned in at 19. No train in yet from Wolvehoek, although one is expected every minute.
Sunday, August 19.—I don't know whether you will have received my last letter, but I enclosed a map showing or giving you an idea of the country where we had five days' continuous fighting. I hear that thirty mailbags are coming by this train, but I shall not get anything for some time, as all letters will go to the C.I.V. M.I., who are all over the country. Their whereabouts are, I believe, as follows: No. 1 Company at Pretoria; No. 2 Company at Winburg. But lots of men are all over the country as police, orderlies, sick, etc. I hope to see the C.I.V. M.I. soon again. I have now a good section of Tommies, all excellent soldiers; half of them are reserve men called up for the war. Major Welch (my Commanding Officer) is a first-rate soldier; I would go under him anywhere. Ferrars and Morris, too, are real good fellows. The Colonel is Bainbridge, of Egyptian fame— I believe the youngest Colonel in the army; you may have heard of him.
I suppose you know that there is no regiment of regular Mounted Infantry, but that each foot battalion supplies one company or two which have had Mounted Infantry training at Aldershot. All these companies have been collected together out here, and are divided into corps and Mounted Infantry. There are eight corps, and ours is the 7th, composed of one company each of Lincolns, Norfolks, Hampshires, King's Own Scottish Borderers, and Maltas, under Major Welch.
Ventersburg. Sunday and Monday, August 19, 20.—Two uneventful days spent in camp at Heilbron.
Tuesday, August 21.—Received orders to march to Kroonstad at 2.30. Our force was: 400 Yeomanry, Colonel Burn; 7th Mounted Infantry, Major Welch; Burmah Mounted Infantry, Captain Copeman (under Colonel Bainbridge); and about 200 empty ox convoy. Marched six miles and reached camp at 5.30.
Wednesday, August 22.—Continued our march; a dull, undulating country, but brilliantly fine weather. Reached camp near Paarde Kraal, after having done eighteen miles. No enemy; all quiet.
Thursday, August 23.—Continuation of march to within eight miles of Kroonstad. Nothing worth writing.
Friday, August 24.—Started at 7. Brilliant crimson sunrise. At 8 a cold wind sprang up, and the sky got covered with clouds. Then we came in for cold, driving snow and rain. Yesterday we had tropical heat; marvellous change! It cleared up when we got near Kroonstad at 11. We camped close to the town, and east of it.
Major Welch asked me if I would draw clothing, ammunition, horse-kit, and all field articles for the 7th Mounted Infantry corps. I set about this at once, got a buck waggon, proceeded to the ordnance stores close to the railway-station, and drew as much as the waggon would carry. Did not get back till dinner-time.
Saturday, August 25.—Got up early and ordered another waggon, then proceeded to ordnance stores to get the remainder of stores, blankets, rifle-oil, medical stores, dubbin, etc. I had to wait for a longtime, so I went into Kroonstad to find Captain Carmielli (in command of our Brigade transport), in order to get some 280 nosebags out of him. I went all over Kroonstad, but could not find him. I hear we are all moving with Cape-cart transport (two-wheeled buggy), and leaving heavy waggons behind.
Sunday, August26.—Got orders to move at 8, with 300 Cape-carts as transport. Had to leave some of my kit in store here; don't suppose I shall see it again.
We go after Olivier, part of a big movement all round. Force: Burmah Mounted Infantry, Captain Copeman; 7th Mounted Infantry, Major Welch; 8th Mounted Infantry, Colonel Ross (all under Colonel Bainbridge).
Four hundred Yeomanry have been sent by train to Winburg under Colonel Burn. We proceeded southwards towards Winburg. I had command of the extreme left flank scouts. We went twelve miles, then halted and camped at Rietspruit. No enemy in sight; all clear.
Monday, August 27.—Left at 5, and marched to Ventersburg (about fourteen miles). Reached there at 2 o'clock. Commanded left flank scouts—i.e., outside left flank guard. Hear Olivier and his three sons and twenty-five Boers have been captured by Captain Smythe, 5th Mounted Infantry. Haasbruck, his fighting man, is, however, still at large with 1,000 men and six guns. Bruce Hamilton is close by, probably at Ventersburg Road Station, six miles west of Ventersburg. It is a fine hot day. I got some fowls and six dozen eggs for our mess at two Kaffir kraals. Oh, by the way, Ferrar left us at Kroonstad. He is under Broadwood. We hear De Wet is coming south.
Tuesday, August 28.—Marched at 6. To-day we are advanced guard. We went as far as Zand River. The country is very hilly and broken up. Saw no enemy; all clear. I hear that Major Welch received orders to reconnoitre east of Zand River, and then return to Ventersburg to camp. I was extreme left flank. All clear; no vestige of Boers. After a long march round of between thirty and forty miles we reached camp one mile west of Ventersburg at 8 o'clock, both horses and men dead-tired. Two of my men had to leave their horses. Luckily I was able to catch two other ponies on the veldt. The Kaffirs told me that Haasbruck has trekked south towards Wepener. Had a welcome dinner, and turned in at 9. But it was impossible to sleep. There was a terrific thunderstorm, and it rained like blazes, with vivid and continuous lightning from 11 till 3 o'clock.
Wednesday, August 29.—No orders; remained in camp. Very glad, as it literally poured with rain all day without cessation. Everything is rather damp, and I had no dinner in the evening, as it kept on raining hard, with terrific thunderstorms. Turned in at 8. At 11 o'clock I was very fortunately awake, for a regular hurricane sprang up and struck our tent. I jumped up, lit my lamp, got outside, and called a servant. Together we managed to hold the tent down and fasten the pegs with ammunition-boxes. I shall never forget it; it took us an hour and a half. It was a truly terrific hurricane, with sheets of rain, pitch-dark, and every five or ten seconds vivid lightning. Marvellous! All the other tents were blown down and flying about; luckily ours stood fast. It was very exciting. I turned in again at 1, but could not sleep. The rain stopped about 3, but the wind kept up. Major Welch and Morris sat on the tent inside. To give you an idea of what the night was like would be impossible; it beats anything I have ever imagined.
Thursday, August 30.—A fine morning after the storm; still somewhat gusty and threatening. We had a welcome breakfast at 7, and at 8.30 shifted camp. Several horses are lost. The men, too, had a bad night. We have orders to move to Ventersburg Road Station at 1 o'clock. Had some lunch, and started, reaching Ventersburg Road Station at 5.30 p.m. Camped here.
We hear that about 5,000 Boers are advancing on Bloemfontein. We go south—in all probability to Bloemfontein—by train.
I don't think the end of the war is far off. Buller and Roberts have defeated Botha at Machadodorp, and driven him out. De Wet—a marvellous chap—and 1,000 men, also Haasbruck, 1,000 men, and a few odd commandos are still to be rounded up. I think September will see the finish. C.I.V. battalion, Mounted Infantry and battery, are all mobilizing at Pretoria. This may either be preparatory to an advance, or most likely getting ready to go home. Am fit and well.
Bloemfontein Club, September 2,1900.
Friday, August 31st.—No orders to move. Went over to station to hear latest news. De Wet still coming south. I bought a few stores. At 5 o'clock we had orders to shift camp and get ready to train south; the Yeomanry had already gone. We marched off about 6 to railway-line. At 11 o'clock we had sudden orders to train south at once, so I got up and saw my men saddled up. We left at 12 o'clock, taking Cape-carts with us, and waited at the station till 3 a.m. before the train came in. The Malta Company had already left. From 3 till 6.30 all were busy training horses and with the carts and saddlery. I was in command of one half of the Hampshire Company. All our horses and Morris follow to-morrow- It is rather hard work. We left at 7, all loaded up in cattle-trucks. The weather was beautifully fine. We passed through the country of our advance under Tucker, which was very interesting; we also passed Zand River and Vet River, coming across some really marvellous new and hasty bridges built by the Royal Engineers, the permanent way being quite 200 to 300 feet above the river level.
Brandfort, Karee, and Roodeheuvel Farm brought back many pleasant experiences of old fights and skirmishes. We arrived at Bloemfontein at 1.30, and found that the Burmah Company have already gone to Thaba 'Nchu with Bruce Hamilton's force. I hear that Boers under Haasbruck and another (about 3,000 men and four guns) have re-occupied Thaba 'Nchu, having forced four companies of militia to evacuate it.
Unloaded our train, watered and fed horses. Meanwhile, I rushed round for remounts, and got some new horses for the corps. Major Welch and remainder of 7th Mounted Infantry came in at 4 p.m. in the third train, with the Cape-carts and the rest of the men. All moved off to camp east of Bloemfontein, and we all dined at the club here in the evening. At 8 p.m. an orderly brought me the following wire:
To Officer Commanding 7th Mounted Infantry.
Inform Lieutenant B. Moeller that he is required to rejoin at once at Pretoria.
Sunday, September 2.—Bloemfontein is really much improved. Electric light is installed, as well as better drainage, and the whole place looks cleaned up.
Spring has fairly started, and it is very refreshing to the eye to see the fresh green and the blossoms coming out. It is getting hotter every day. I turned out early, and made all preparations to leave and rejoin C.I.V. M.I. at Pretoria. Went to C.S.O. and got my pass up to Pretoria. The train goes at 5.40 p.m. Said good-bye to Major Welch and Colonel Bainbridge; both kindly said they were very sorry to lose me. I am very sorry, in a way, to go, for I have had a nailing good time with the 7th Mounted Infantry, seeing lots of fighting and soldiering. I have also made great friends with the officers.
Monday, September 3.—Still here. There is a train up north to-night at 1.15 a.m., and I am looking after my last saddlery and saddle-bags. General Hunter is here, and there is a general big movement to round and collar Haasbruck and his 2,000 men between Thaba 'Nchu and Dewetsdorp.
Umbana, eleven miles east-north-east of Newcastle, Natal, September 15, 1900.
I wrote last from Bloemfontein on Sunday, September 2. On Tuesday, September 4, I left for Pretoria at 7.30 a.m. to rejoin C.I.V. M.I. Arrived at Ventersburg Road at dusk. Here the train stopped for the night, for so many trains have been burnt and held up recently that no trains run after sunset and before sunrise.
Wednesday, September 5.—Left at 6.30 a.m. Reached Kroonstad at 10. Took four other C.I.V. M.I. men with me to Pretoria. Left at 1.30. Reached Viljoen's Drift, this side of Vaal River, at 5.45, and halted here for the night. We passed remains of the burnt-up trains. I had a scratch dinner at a house here, where there was a very cross-grained old Dutch woman, who would not do anything at first; however, after much persuasion—gentle, but firm—she condescended to give us some coffee and meat.
Thursday, September 6.—Left at 5.30 a.m. Passed several burnt-up trains, and saw Roodeval, where the 4th Derbys were cut up. Reached Elandsfontein at 12 and Pretoria at 3.30.
We found Pretoria garrisoned by C.I.V., and Mounted Infantry camped four miles west of the town. A battery further north with Paget.
Colonel Cholmondeley glad to see me. All No. 1 Company are here; no horses, however. Concannon and most of the No. 2 Company have gone up north to Lydenburg with all fit horses. Tommy Wilson is here, also Wellby. I was very glad to see them. Wellby is awfully cut up about the death of his brother, and has applied to go home. His brother was a distinguished soldier. I believe most people know about him.
Friday, September 7.—I rode over this morning and saw Colonel Mackinnon, who informed me that I had been selected by Lord Roberts for the honour of a commission. The military secretary informed me I was gazetted for the Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own).
September 8 and 9.—Nothing of consequence, except on Monday, September 10, I got orders from the military secretary to join the regiment as soon as possible, and that the regiment was at Newcastle, in Natal. I returned to camp and had a final dinner with all my comrades. Very sorry to leave them.