PART IV - With the Mounted Infantry company of the Middlesex Regiment attached to 14th Mounted Infantry.
Tuesday, September 11.—Left Pretoria at 12.30; reached Elandsfontein at 4. No train to-night.
Wednesday, September 12.—Started at g.20 for Newcastle in Durban train. Proceeded via Heidelberg, and halted for the night at Standerton. Slept the night in Standerton in train.
Thursday, September 13.—Standerton lies in a valley surrounded by high kopjes; it is about the size of Heidelberg. There are plenty of troops here. The railway journey through Ingogo, Laing's Nek, and Majuba Hill was most intensely interesting, historical as it has become through past fights both with the Boers and the Zulus. It is a mighty country, with its deep gorges, river beds, with the huge towering ridges running from 1,500 to 4,000 feet high. The three highest peaks are Majuba, Mount Prospect, and another. The railway curves in and out, following the watercourses, and drops some 3,000 feet gradually from Standerton to Newcastle The gradient is very steep, and varies from 1 in 80 to 1 in 120. It is built in a very ingenious way, too, with reversing stations.
I don't think I have ever seen grander country anywhere The thought occurred to me: how awful it must have been for our soldiers in 1881, who at that time were dressed in scarlet tunics and white pith helmets—a distinct mark for every Boer—in their attempt to take Majuba! It is a mighty hill, and would take between two and three hours to climb just walking up it. Well, we reached Newcastle at 3.30, and I joined my new regiment, and feel as if I had started on a fresh lease of life. A word about Newcastle. It is a nice little English town of some 4,000 inhabitants, lying in the valley, with the hills overlooking it from the north to north-west, while far away are the mighty mountains of the Drakensberg. It is very hot here. I reported myself to the Adjutant, and was introduced to my new Colonel (Colonel Hill). At dinner I saw some of the others. All very cordial. The Colonel asked me a few questions about my service, etc. At 9 o'clock the Adjutant informed me that I was posted to G Company at Umbana, under Captain Eustace, and that I was to proceed to-morrow with the rations.
Friday, September 14.—Turned out at 6. At 9 went into Newcastle and bought some clothes and boots and a few necessaries. I left Newcastle at 1, and started with our ox-waggon of rations for Umbana. It was blazing hot. Umbana is a high kopje ten miles east-north-east of Newcastle, and commands a good deal of country. The Middlesex, under Colonel Hill, are close by F Company and a squadron of the 13th Hussars; the whole are under Major Close, of 13th Hussars. After a long tramp we reached our camp on the top of the hill at 4 o'clock. No Boers are here, apparently, except a few stray parties still in the hills. General Hildyard occupies Utrecht, some ten miles east of us; Colonel Burn-Murdoch commands troops in Newcastle.
Saturday, September 15.—Got up at 6, and had a walk round to see if I could shoot a wildebeeste or paauw, before breakfast; but I saw nothing, except two buck, miles away. Game is very scarce. This was otherwise a quiet day in camp, barring the usual duties, examining rifles, observation posts, etc. Captain Eustace has handed over all the work to me. It was so hot that I sat in the shade from 1 till 3. But there is exquisite scenery, with beautiful sunsets and sunrises.
Monday, September 17.—Turned out at 6. Went out to look for some game, but only saw two wildebeeste. Could not get anywhere near them 1 Returned to breakfast at 8, and examined rifles, etc., then went down and had my daily bathe in the Buffalo. In the afternoon a Captain Simpson, Surveyor of the Natal Rifles, came up here to take bearings with a theodolite. He brought his wife, a charming woman, and his boy also. They all had tea in our tent. Went round all our posts, and turned in at 10.
Tuesday, September 18.—An uneventful day spent in camp, doing usual camp duties. The 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment has done awfully well in Natal, and they have earned undying fame at Vaalkrantz, Pieter's Hill, Spion Kop, Van Wyk, Almond's Nek. Turned out at 7. A beautiful day 1 Had parade of company and a bathe afterwards. The Buffalo is two and a half miles off. Umbana—the hill I am on—is between 600 and 700 feet high, and rises abruptly from all sides. In the afternoon I spotted two wildebeeste in the far distance with my glass. I got my carbine and went out after them, against the wind. Got to within 1,500 yards of them and then crawled after them from ant-heap to ant-heap; but, as ill luck would have it, something startled them at 1,200 yards, and off they went 1 I got on their spoor, however, and to-morrow morning shall be up at 4 to have another try. Our waggon of supplies came up at 5. At 7 we had dinner, and after going round our posts, turned in at 10. I am beginning to think I shall not see any more fighting out here. But, after all, I can't complain, as I believe I have seen as much fighting as anyone. I have been in the following fights: Jacobsdal, Paardeberg, Poplar Farm, Karee, Brandfort, Zand River, Pretoria, Heidelberg, Bethlehem (five days' fighting), Naauwpoort Nek (two days' fighting), Golden Gate (three days' fighting), Cox's Farm, Heilbron, with 7th Mounted Infantry, besides innumerable little skirmishes which don't count. The following days till end of September were spent in camp at Umbana, and were uneventful. Umbana is ten miles east-north-east from Newcastle.
September 27.—This, Sunday, was a magnificent day, so clear that from the top of our hill we could see fifty miles—a day one never sees in Europe. I made some eye-sketches of Majuba, Laing's Nek, Mount Prospect, and Pangwana.
September 29.—Captain McEwan (Adjutant) asked me if I would ride over with him to Sikafu, where Major Lempriere and 190 men are. Sikafu is the culminating point of a ridge running north-north-east of Newcastle, and nine miles away. McEwan lent me a clinking good horse, and we had a fine ride, reaching Sikafu at 3. I never imagined a hill could be so well fortified. Splendid trenches! Bomb-proof shelters. It is a very important post. Returned to camp.
October 1.—Received orders to hold myself in readiness to proceed to Fort Macready with fifty men to relieve the Imperial Light Infantry. I hear to-day that the C.I.V.'s are all going home at once.
October 2.—A change in the weather. It is cloudy and cold, with a south-east wind. Drakensberg is a wonderful sight with all the tops covered with gray clouds. I reported myself to officer commanding Infantry Details Camp, Newcastle. Took over fifty-two men, and proceeded to relieve Captain Gordon and the Imperial Light Infantry at Fort Macready. This fort is on the rising slope running east-north-east of Newcastle, and four and a half miles from the latter. I arrived at 10, and took over the fort, stores, mules, ammunition, etc. There will be plenty to do, as the fort wants repairing. It is an important post, and not bad—being my own officer commanding after two months' service in the regulars 1 The last time I was my own officer commanding was when I was in charge of the escort to Cronje's mounted prisoners between Paardeberg and Modder. My men are a mixed lot, and are composed of Devons, Rifle Brigade, Gordons, Manchesters, and others.
Note. —From the beginning of October till the beginning of November, Lieutenant Moeller was in command at Fort Macready, and nothing of importance occurred except usual camp duties and routine work. Macready is a fort of some importance, near Dundee, Natal.
Dundee, Natal, November 4.
I had charge of the escort for a convoy to Gregory's Nek, eight miles north-east of here The convoy consisted of 150 waggons (supplies for the troops at Blood River), and the escort consisted of 30th Middlesex, 25th Royal Engineers, 15th Lancashire Fusiliers, and Mounted Scouts. I handed over the convoy at 2 p.m. to another escort which met us at Gregory's Nek, and started back at 4.30. The weather has been fine and hot on the whole, except some heavy thunderstorms. All the drifts here are flooded. I hear that some more Mounted Infantry is to be formed, and I have sent in an application to go back to the old work. Nothing beats Mounted Infantry work, scouting or trekking.
2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment, Newcastle, Natal, November 9.
Got leave off for the day. Took my carbine and some lunch with me and walked to the highest point of Indumeni (2,045 feet). I enjoyed the walk immensely. I saw no buck, but plenty of baboons —some as big as a man—as well as any amount of birds; viz., golden pheasants, plovers, partridges, and koran. There is a splendid view from the top; one can see fifty miles of country all round. It was a beautiful day. Got back at 6. . To-night orders were received that we return to Newcastle by route-march. Colonel Blomfield and Lancashire Fusiliers have come in from Blood River to garrison Dundee. Three companies of Middlesex Regiment came in as well from De Tagers.
November 12.—Marched off at 6.30, force consisting of four companies infantry, under Captain Eustace; two 47 guns, Major Guinness; one howitzer battery (86th), Major Ducrot; one field company Royal Engineers (Major Cairn); one troop Mounted Infantry; and ox convoy. I had command of G Company and was left flank guard to column. It was a fine, cold day. Stopped at Hadding Spruit (mid-day halt). Reached camp at Dannhauser at 3.30, after marching sixteen miles. In the evening all the officers dined at the local hotel.
November 13.—Turned out at 6; a brilliant, clear morning. Marched off at 9.30. To-day I was infantry advance-guard. Halted mid-day at Acton Spruit. At 2.30 started again and camped at Ingagane after marching fourteen miles. Very not day. Had dinner in camp. Very bad water.
November 14.—Marched off at 10. To-day we were rear-guard to the whole force. It was very hot and close, and shortly after the start we came in for a heavy thunderstorm, and got wet through in five minutes. After a long, weary tramp, we reached our headquarter-camp at Newcastle at 2.30. I have received intimation from Commanding Officer that I am to hold myself in readiness for the Mounted Infantry corps now being raised at Pretoria, and to start, probably, on Sunday next. The corps will be commanded by Colonel Henry—an old friend of mine from Karee, and a first-rate soldier. Mighty glad am I to get away from headquarters and to be once again in the Mounted Infantry, on the trek and guerilla fighting. So poor Gallais is dead 1 You know I was under him for some time during the war. He was a fine fellow, and a brilliant cavalry officer. Dead in the prime of life, and almost at the start of a promising career! However, such are the fortunes of war.
November 17.—Turned out at 5. Eustace and G Company had orders in the night to proceed to Umbana at daybreak. I saw them off, and said goodbye to my old skipper. Very sorry, as he is a real good fellow! To-day I have been appointed in command of the Middlesex Mounted Infantry detachment of fifty men, and my subaltern will be Hilton from Roberts' Horse. This is very satisfactory. Orders are to leave here Monday, 19th instant, at 9 a.m., entrain for Volksrust and report there to Colonel Henry; on the 20th to go to Pretoria and mobilize.
November 18.—Turned out at 6. Church parade of whole garrison at 7.30. I have just heard that, as the line is broken up, we do not leave to-morrow, but probably Tuesday. When here, with headquarters, I have always to remain in camp till 1 o'clock. After lunch I went for a ride with Willoughby (one of the subs.). A lovely afternoon. Rode over to hills north-west of here, and returned to dinner. There is very strict discipline in this regiment, stricter than any other I have yet seen. Turned in at 11.
November 19.—Yesterday I heard that Major Welch, of the Hampshires, was dangerously wounded in Le Gallais' fight at Bothaville. This morning I see he has died from his wounds.
You will, no doubt, remember he was Commanding Officer of the 7th Regiment Mounted Infantry, and asked me in August to join him. For two months I lived with him, Morris and Ferrars; we always had our meals together. He was very good to me; in fact, he was a good friend. I am awfully sorry, and it is hard to believe I shall never see him again. Reflecting on the whole war, the best time I have had so far was under Major Welch. He was a man of about 5 feet 6 inches, thin, wiry, and as hard as nails; a fine rider, good sportsman, a splendid Mounted Infantry soldier, and only about thirty-five years old. He had such kindly grey eyes! Always watchful and intrepid, he was a typical Mounted Infantry officer in the real sense of the word. I feel very sad about it. I have, indeed, lost a friend in the service. Such is life: here to-day, gone to-morrow!
Remained in camp, usual duties, etc. Went over to sappers' mess and said good-bye to Lloyd Owen, McKechnie, and Plaice, who are all off to-day; they are three of the nicest fellows I have met out here.
November 20.—Turned out at 6. After breakfast started drilling the company in Mounted Infantry work. Also took them over to artillery and gave them an hour's riding.
November 22.—Turned out at 6. Had my company out for Mounted Infantry drill from 9.30 to 11.30. Heavy thunderstorm.
November 23.—Turned out at 5.30. Afterwards I gave my men two hours' riding, drill, and stables.
To-day I received orders to start to-morrow for Pretoria. My company consists of one subaltern (Hilton) and fifty men. I am to pick up twenty-six men of the York and Lancaster, and twenty-four men from Dorsets (all for Mounted Infantry) at Volksrust, and then proceed with the whole batch to Pretoria. Terrific storm—several of our tents blown down. Received orders at 11 o'clock that we were to move at 5 a.m.
November 24.—After a wet night we turned out at 4 a.m. I marched off with my company at 5.45. Entrained at 7, started 7.30. Fine morning. Picked up seventeen York and Lancasters, and twenty-five Dorsets at Volksrust. Here we changed trains, and got tacked on to the mail; the men got on trucks. Reached Standerton at 6, got tea for men. Had dinner at 6.30. Slept in the railway carriage.
November 25.—Turned out at 5.30. Train left at 6. Breakfasted at Heidelberg, and got tea for the men. Had three most interesting passengers with us—Trevor (on intelligence staff; he was with Baden-Powell all through Mafeking), Lockston (guide to Buller), and Struben (one of Lord Roberts' guides). Had a long talk with these. Reached Elandsfontein at 2.30. All detrained here. Found we could get no train for Pretoria till 5 next morning. A beautiful day. I am once more on old familiar ground.
November 26.—Turned out at 4. Train left at 5; reached Pretoria at 8. Everything looks beautifully green after recent long rains. Started off for Mounted Infantry depot, just west of racecourse, at 9.30; reached camp at 10.30, and reported to Major Handcock in charge here. Got the men put in tents. There are a good many different detachments here. I am personally in command of a company of ninety-two men, viz.: fifty Middlesex, seventeen York and Lancasters, and twenty-five Dorsets. Had dinner at 7, and turned in at 11. Very jolly fellows in mess, but the food is very bad.
Ferrars (my old friend, who was attached with me to 7th Mounted Infantry) has turned up here to-day, and I was very glad to see him. I got a good horse to-day, an English bay cob, 16 hands. On the ride back from Pretoria I saw a terrific storm coming on. Over the hills to the south-east were enormous black columns of clouds, also clouds of red and white dust. The storm struck me near the camp; I was nearly blown off my horse, the fences and trees were blown down, and stones, biscuit-tins, and wood were flying about like straw. The horse refused to face it. Ultimately, however, I reached camp, and found several tents blown away all over the place. Luckily ours was still standing. Then came a mighty rain, with thunder and lightning, a fine sight. The camp is now a lake, everything soaked through and through. Turned in, in wet blankets, at 10.
Pretoria, November 27.
Bad news to-day—garrison at Dewetsdorp had to surrender. This is disquieting, as it will encourage the Boers to go on. I see that Lord Roberts has handed over the duties of Commander-in-Chief of the forces here to Lord Kitchener.
November 28.—Turned out at 6. Had my company out for Mounted Infantry drill from 9 till 10.30. Afterwards rode into Pretoria, and dined at the Transvaal Hotel with some old friends from the East Lancashires.
November 28.—To-day 500 lots of saddlery are coming up complete; we shall probably get them to-morrow. Next week we get horses, and the week after I shall probably go to my old corps, 7th Mounted Infantry, under Colonel Bainbridge. The general idea seems to be to get as many Mounted Infantry as possible, and to send them to districts permanently, making them responsible for clearing out and killing off all the remaining commandos and marauding parties. Real guerilla warfare I
November 29.—Intense heat. Took my men to ordnance stores and started drawing kit. Rode to Pretoria and saw Paymaster (re pay for company). To-day a man of the King's Royal Rifles was thrown off his horse and killed just by my tent—fractured skull.
November 30.—Turned out at 6.30. Had my lot out for Mounted Infantry drill; then rode over to ordnance to see if saddlery had turned up. From there rode over to Dasspoort Camp, and reported myself to my new Commanding Officer. We go to 14th Regiment Mounted Infantry. In the afternoon there was another terrific storm. Dinner at 7; turned in at 11. My new Commanding Officer and the other officers seem to be a very good sort.
December 1.—Turned out at 6.30. Took my men over to ordnance and drew a lot more kit. Late in the afternoon I received orders to move over to Dasspoort at 9.30 to-morrow morning; orders cancelled.
December 2.—Turned out at 5. Drew from ordnance all saddlery and remainder of kit. Church parade at 9; at 11 fitted saddlery together; at 2 had another parade for fitting saddlery. Rode into Pretoria. A lovely afternoon and a beautiful sunset. Lord Roberts has gone home, and Lord Kitchener is Commander-in-Chief out here. I hear that Paget fought an indecisive action near here and had ninety casualties.
December 3.—Turned out at 6. To-day the orders are to march to Dasspoort Camp. Marched off with my commando and two waggons at 10. Reached camp at 11.30; got my men put into tents, and settled down. All my men are well equipped and have first-rate new saddlery, half colonial and half Indian saddles. Reported to my new Commanding Officer (Major Heigham, of the East Yorks).
My new regiment is 14th Regiment Mounted Infantry. It is composed of 2nd Middlesex, Manchesters, Gloucesters, East and West Yorks, Essex, and East Lancashires; more yet to come. I am glad to tell you that I am in command of my own company.
December 4.—Turned out at 5.30. As my men have no horses yet, they are all on fatigue duty for the day. So I spent the morning riding all sorts of horses. Just before the dinner hour Major Heigham came to inspect my men and lines.
December 5.—I am orderly officer to-day, with plenty to do. Turned out at 5. It was raining hard; in fact, it rained all night. Stables, 6; breakfast, 8; camp duties, etc; stables, 12; grazing, 3; stables, 5; dinner, 7; turned in, 11.
December 6.—Turned out at 6 a.m.; had my men out for dismounted drill. In the afternoon walked into Pretoria and got some necessary kit.
December 7.—Turned out at 5. Borrowed forty horses to-day, and had my men out for riding drill. I gave them an hour before breakfast without stirrups. At 10 gave my men some more riding drill. They got on awfully well, and took to riding at once. They are a very good, keen lot, averaging twenty-three years old and 5 feet 6 inches high, typical chaps for this game. My Commanding Officer came and had a look at them, and was so pleased that he tacked us on to the remainder of the battalion for battalion drill. Quick work this!
December 8.—Turned out at 6. Brigade drill under General Alderson (our future General) at 10. As my men have got no horses they are all on fatigue. The Commanding Officer, however, gave me a section to look after. This seems the general idea: enemy lurking about hills north-west and south-west of Pretoria. The whole force (800 Mounted Infantry) moved off at 10.30. I was detailed as extreme right flank guard and scouts to main body. Moved off. Came into touch with enemy (men with white flags) at 1.30. Sent in report, got reinforced, and drove them off. A lovely, hot, clear day. I am perfectly happy, and in my' element. Lots to do. My horse is a beauty, the best in the Brigade, very fast, and a real gentleman in looks.
December 10.—Turned out at 6. Marching order: parade for all at 10. Commanding Officer very pleased with appearance and saddlery of Middlesex Regiment. Walked into Pretoria. Very hot.
December 11.—Turned out at 6. Mounted parade 10 to 12. Walked to Pretoria. Dinner 7. Two officers of West Yorks, Porch and Barlow, came in to-day from that convoy fight near here. West Yorks had forty-three casualties. Both these fellows, although they were compelled to surrender owing to having no ammunition left, did very well.
December 12.—Turned out at 6. Early morning parade at 6.30. Breakfast at 8. Parade at 10. Walked into Pretoria. Band played to-day in the park. It is really very jolly to listen to a band again!
December 13 and 14.—Turned out at 6. Woke up at 4, and was surprised to hear continuous heavy firing between twenty and thirty miles due west of Pretoria. Early morning parade. Firing still going on. Mounted parade 10. At 11 all got sudden orders to return to camp at once. Did so. Orders to saddle up in full marching order, and be ready to move off by 1. We had no horses, but I got twelve of my men horses. The Commanding Officer gave me command of a full section of forty men. Twelve (noon), I hear that General Clements has had a severe reverse from De la Rey at Nooitgedacht, by Rustenburg, and that he is hemmed in on all sides. Moved off at i. Our force consists of: 900 Mounted Infantry, battery Horse Artillery, battery Colt guns, two battalions infantry; (General Alderson). General idea: to relieve Clements or cover his retreat. I was again detailed to look after right flank, and had to find support and extended scouts. Mobilized four miles due west of Pretoria. Moved off again at 4 p.m. Marched by road, Pretoria-Riedfontein-.Commando Nek-Rustenburg. This road runs due west hi a valley bounded on the north by the Magaliesberg and on the south by Dasspoort Rand. Marched steadily on for eighteen miles to Riedfontein, at which place we arrived at 10 p.m.- Halted here for two hours till the moon got up. Fed and watered horses. Moved off again at 1 a.m. Crossed Crocodile River at 2 a.m.; fine road bridge of iron, four spans 40 feet high. Marched on for five miles more. At 3.30 a.m., about four and a half miles west of Commando Nek, met straggling groups of Clements' force. Regret to say bad news! General Clements was surprised this morning at Nooitgedacht, near Rustenburg, at 4.30 a.m. Outposts rushed four and a half companies of King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, one and a half companies of 'Fighting Fifth,' one section Horse Artillery (P Battery ?). Two companies of Mounted Infantry are wiped out either killed, wounded, or surrendered. All waggons and transport taken by De la Rey, who had about 3,000 Boers. Clements had only 900 to 1,000 men.
Orders at 3.45 a.m. for whole force to return to last camp (Riedfontein). Heard later that Colonel Legge is killed, besides many other officers. General Clements wounded slightly in leg.
What was left of Clements' force came in anyhow— without blankets, some without rifles, all without having had a taste of food for thirty-six hours, and with the bitter recollection of a defeat and of their comrades who are no more. At the point where we met them they had marched for twenty-four miles, all night Several waggons had wounded men—poor chaps 1
We all marched back to Riedfontein, very sadly and very heavy of heart. Dawn appeared at 4.15, and we all trudged on. We reached Riedfontein at 4.45, and halted for orders from Lord Kitchener. There is only one feeling right through officers and men, and that is the firm determination to win at all costs. We shall, depend upon it! It is the first time I have ever seen a British soldier or force retiring, and I hope it will be the last! It is not a pleasant sight! The Boers are not playing the game fairly now; they use explosive Martinis and expanding bullets only, which give cruel wounds.
All are dead-tired. Picketed and fed horses. Had a very welcome breakfast at 7. Are awaiting orders. Lord Roberts at "Pretoria. Probably we may move out to meet De la Rey any moment. Lovely day. Men fit and ready for anything. De la Rey's force 3,000 men, four guns, increasing every day. General Clements' force 900 men.
Clements' camp was in a kloof. On the hill he had six companies of infantry. At 4, outposts were fired upon. Colonel Legge was sent round on left; he drove the Boers back, and returned to camp. The six companies on the hill were now engaged. They were apparently surrounded, but held out till all ammunition gave out. Clements was unable to relieve them. The camp was then fired upon, and gradually surrounded. The position became untenable, so Clements had to retire as best he could. All behaved splendidly. They lost all ammunition, pom-pom shells, and 15-pound shells also.
In the afternoon I looked after my horses, etc. Our camp is very pretty, covered with mimosa-trees in bloom. We mess under a huge tree (huge for Africa), and Hilton and I have rigged up a fine little shelter to live in with our waterproof sheets. Turned in at 10. . December 15.—Turned out at 5. Had a swim in the river. A lovely day, and the river is very picturesque. All kinds of birds hover about—kingfishers, frog-hawks, golden pheasants, and many others.
Orders received to stand by first thing to-morrow morning to trek off under Clements. Inniskilling Dragoons and 5th Lancers have arrived to strengthen our column. We probably'go after De la Rey. General Broadwood is between twenty and thirty miles southwest from here. He has had a fight; 1 heard guns in that direction early this morning. I am very sorry I have not got my own men, but should not have horses for them. We are only 250 strong, instead of 450, the remaining 200 being left behind. I hope they will join us later on. However, the men I have now are pretty useful.