PART V - Trek under General Alderson
Trek with General Alderson, Middlesex Company, 14th Mounted Infantry, December16.
Turned out 3.30 a.m.; saddled up, and stood to arms. Unsaddled at 5. Stood by for orders. A fine, hot day. Received orders to trek off at once at 1.30. Rendezvoused west of Crocodile River. The column started at 2.30. We trekked due west in the valley, reached Scheedkepoort, eight miles west of Riedfontein, and went out to reconnoitre hills and bush. All clear. A lovely country, its green veldt and hills covered with farms, mimosa-trees in blossom, and blue gums. We reached our camp at 7.30.
December 17.—Turned out at 2 a.m., saddled up, and stood to arms. All clear. Unsaddled at 5. We trekked off due west at 8.45, and passed General Clements, a smart-looking, clean-cut soldier. All the country looks very beautiful, the veldt covered with long green grass and mimosas in blossom. The farms, too, are surrounded by orange groves of the deepest, richest "green, and by peach orchards. The fruit is barely ripe yet Every here and there a stream wends its way through the valley, its banks covered with trees. The birds are now in their finest summer coats.
To-day we formed part of the main body, with General Clements in command. We trekked on for ten miles to a camp called Hartebeestfontein, near the head of the valley, and twelve or fifteen miles from the scene of General Clements' last disastrous fight.
Heavy firing was heard all day to south and southeast (General French in action, probably, with Smuts). Reached camp at 1.30, and saw Major Inglefield, R.A., in command of the 47 gun which was in action at the last fight, and which was most gallantly got away under heavy fire. Everybody fought desperately, till all the ammunition gave out, against a vastly superior enemy—900 to 3,000! Very creditable. Our casualties are 80 killed, 260 wounded, and 300 taken prisoners. The Boers acknowledge to 100 killed and 127 wounded.
All the battalion went on outpost duty at 4, and formed a chain of outposts north, east, and south of camp. My section formed the south-east section of outposts. It was a very hot night, with distant heavy firing. All clear, however.
December 18.—Turned out at 2 a.m. Stood to arms. Received orders that we were to be relieved by the nth Mounted Infantry at 5. Marched back to camp. A lovely morning; my outpost had the Crocodile River as south flank.
Force consists of: Four companies of Worcesters, 5th Battery R.H.A., 8th Battery R.F.A., 47 gun R.A., Inniskilling Fusiliers, Border Regiment; Mounted Infantry Brigade (nth, 12th, 13th, 14th) under General Alderson; Colt gun battery, Canadian Scouts, 2nd Mounted Infantry (all under General Clements).
Marched off at 9.30. Very broken country, with numerous drifts. Trekked due west, General French on left flank. A slow march; we reached camp (Hestor-poort) at 2. Boers are in close proximity, holding the identical position where they attacked General Clements. Turned in at 10.
December 19.—Reveille at 3 a.m. Trekked off in two columns: A column under Colonel Cookson on right flank, B column under General Alderson on left flank; 14th Mounted Infantry advanced guard, with four guns, J Battery R.H.A. Trekked west. We were in A column. We had just arrived at a difficult spruit, and had watered the horses, when I heard the 'pik-pok' of Mausers. Looking up the slope, I noticed the J Battery clearing for action. I galloped up, dismounted my men, got horses under cover, and took up a position covering guns. All round were dongas and lots of brushwood. The battery fired about twenty rounds. (This was at about 5.30 a.m.) Guns limbered up; I mounted my men, and all galloped forward to take up position on a flat-topped, horseshoe-shaped, green hill due west (Yeomanry Hill). Had to cross drift at full gallop. Here we met a heavy rifle-fire from two sides. The guns galloped on. One man in the Middlesex (Private Charnley) was hit clean through the chest by a Mauser bullet. I left a man to look after him. Had another man hit through the thigh with a Martini bullet. I am sorry to say my horse (the good un) also got shot; I felt him swerve, but he stuck to it all right. Three other horses were hit. No time to stop. Galloped on up hill. Guns were un-limbered and started a real good fire. Dismounted and took up position. Pretty heavy fire. Got range (2,300 to 2,500 yards), and started long-range volleys. Second Mounted Infantry and Hilton's section reinforced us. We remained here and held the hill for two hours. Hilton had two casualties, fortunately slight. The gunners lost eight horses and two men. Meanwhile General Alderson was working round on the left flank. A little later I saw three companies of the Inniskilling Fusiliers coming up in extended order to reinforce us. We all started a heavy fire. It was too hot for our friends, who got out of their cover and legged it on their horses as hard as they could split. There must have been from 400 to 500 of them. The battery shelled them as they retired. We watered horses, then the whole force advanced to the further green hill (One Tree Hill), a long, oval-shaped hill rounded at top and covered with bush. J Battery and 8th Field Battery on extreme left shelled at a long range of little kopjes running north and south at 400 to 500 yards. After an hour or so (at 3.30 p.m.) the Boers got out of the kopjes, and legged it to west (probably Louwkop and Zandfontein). Also got a battery off. Returned to camp at 4.45. It was a soaking wet day, and everybody was wet through and through. Welcome grub at 5.30. Turned in at 8, dead-tired and very damp. It has been quite a good day's fight. General French was on our left and Gordon on our extreme right.
December 20.—Reveille at 3; raining hard. Trekked off at 4 to south-west. To-day we are left flank guard. We came into touch with the Scots Greys (French's right flank) at 7 a.m. 'All trekked on to a line of kopjes the Boers held yesterday, known as Boschfontein. Soaking wet! Reached camp (Boschfon-tein) at 4.30. Dinner. Turned in at 8. I have smoked no tobacco for three days; have none left. I miss this more than anything. Went to hospital to see my wounded men. Both doing well.
December 21. — Reveille at 3. Trekked off at 4, west-south-west. To-day we are escort to guns of J Battery. We passed French's camp on left flank at 7 a.m. The camp looked very picturesque from where we were; he had not moved. It was a lovely morning, with those wonderful mists and clouds lying in layers in the valleys. As surmised, the enemy was reported to be holding the Zandfontein-Louwkop position — pretty stiff one, too. At 7.30 a.m. the whole force halted on the reverse slope of a gentle undulation. The guns loaded up. We received full complement of ammunition. At 8.30 a.m. trekked west - south - west to crest of hill. At 9 a.m. we halted at crest of the second ridge — quite a fine position running north to south. At 9.15 trekked on. Rifle-firing heard. We took up position on a line of hills running parallel to the Boer position.
J Battery started firing in order to draw fire and disclose the enemy's position. The whole of the 14th Mounted Infantry were dismounted on the reverse slope. This went on for some time. At 11 a.m. French's batteries came into action on the extreme left. The Boers' position was almost impregnable. They were in full force, and numbered about 2,000 or 3,000 men. Watered horses. At 12 o'clock Boone and his section were ordered to go forward and occupy a hill south-west of us, and nearer the Boer position. At 12.15 I was sent nex t to support him. The remainder of the 14th Mounted Infantry followed. An exciting ride. Mighty dongas, rivers, and thick bush. A desultory sniping. The action here became general At last we reached Boone, and all lined hill and awaited events. At the foot of the hill ran a valley and river. At 2 p.m. had orders from General Alderson direct to move across the valley and reconnoitre a spur running south from Louwkop. The remainder of the 14th Mounted Infantry moved up in support. On ascending the hill I pushed out my scouts, but they had to retire owing to meeting a heavy rifle-fire. I dismounted my men and moved forward in very extended formation. On reaching crest came in for heavy fire. Luckily there was very long grass. All laid down. I spotted where the enemy was firing from, and started returning fire at 1,500 yards. Other sections here came up. At 3 p.m. I noticed Boers enveloping our left flank, and sent back message to this effect. Hilton, on the extreme left, came in for such a heavy fire that he was compelled to retire. This was a signal for a heavy cross-fire from Louwkop and our left flank. Two Boer guns started shelling us. Things did not look any too rosy. Kept up a good steady fire, however. A shell burst here so close to me and two men near me that we were all dazed for a second. Curiously enough, I was stone-deaf for the remainder of the day, and could hear nothing.
At 4, a cavalry regiment was seen to come up on our extreme left, but for reasons best known to themselves they retired and legged it. At 4.15 I fired all my ammunition, and got only twenty rounds per man left, which I kept in case of emergency. Things looked bad. Could not retire without orders. Boers closing in and firing at 500 yards. At 4.30 staff-officer shouted ' Retire I' Retired one man at a time on to our horses. Heavy shell-fire. Men and horses mixed up. However, got off at length,, and galloped down the hill at full lick. Most exciting ride I have ever had. A steep descent. Every now and again Hilton, Boone and I had to stop to lift a Tommy up who had come a pearler. Galloped back to the hills where we originally were with J Battery under a running fire. Guns and Colt gun battery covered our retreat. The horses are dead done. Three of my men were missing and several horses are shot or lost. We had several casualties, amongst others Sergeant major Lane, wounded, chest and arm. The whole thing was some mistake somewhere. At 4.50 watered horses. A general action going on. The positions are enormous, and fifty men well posted can keep a whole regiment in check. Stone deaf.
December 22.—Reveille at 5.30. Trekked off at 7.30. To-day we are main body. It is a lovely day, and the country most picturesque. Mighty hills and dongas, all covered with long green grass and trees in blossom. Thick bush, but the farms are burning everywhere. Rounded Oliphant's Poort, and went through Oliphant's Nek, which is held by a garrison of two companies Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, two companies East Yorks, two guns 75th Battery R.F.A. I never saw such lovely country, the long khaki column showing a dull yellow against a brilliant red dust road amidst a deep green foliage, and on either side the towering hills with their grim, rocky tops against a blue sky flooded with sunlight, and the air clear as crystal. But high up, circling round and round, were the vultures. We trekked due east, and reached the camp the other side of Oliphant's Poort at 12.30. Turned in at 10. Not so deaf to-day. My horse getting well. I bandage him every night and iodoform him. He was shot through the hindquarters, both legs, the bullet passing slightly upwards. The entrance has healed up, but I can put three fingers in. Bones, however, intact. The horse is such a beauty that he is worth saving if possible; I think he is the best I have ever had, such a clinking good jumper.
December 23.—We march back to Riedfontein, and thence to Pretoria, where we refit Reveille at 3. To-day right flank guard. Stiff work scouting amongst hills and bush. We trekked off at 4.15—a bright, fresh morning. Moved east-south-east. Heavy firing was heard from Oliphant's Nek; probably Broadwood and his cavalry brigade. We marched fourteen miles, and encamped at Buffelpoort near the river at 12.45. Turned in at 8, bringing in with us several waggons full of women and children whose men folk are on commando, and whose farms have been burnt. Poor things! they are very miserable
December 24.—To-day is Christmas Eve—wonderful! Reveille at 2. Marched off at 3.30; main body to-day. A brilliant morning, and a blazing hot day. Fine march; to south the hills of the Magaliesberg, and to north the open veldt for miles and miles, broken here and there by chains of kopjes, and culminating in distant mountains 100 miles off. The atmosphere is so clear that each object seems to stand out separately against the blue sky. We trekked fourteen miles, then halted and camped at Volhuter's Kop near a stream, arriving here at 9.30 a.m. About half-way we passed the spot where a convoy was attacked, cut up, and burnt. For two miles we came upon burnt waggons and dead, stinking oxen. The road runs between hills and bush veldt, and the Boers attacked from both sides. It was an extraordinary sight. I rode out to forage with Maclean and Boone. We went to a big Kaffir kraal north of camp whose head is a well-known chief, Machale. We saw him: a wonderfully intelligent man for a nativej very educated indeed, speaking English well. Boone shot two guinea-fowls, and I got forty eggs and five fowls for our Christmas fare. A lovely evening. We got back to camp at 7.
December 25 (Christmas Day). — Reveille at 2.30. Trekked off at 4 due east. A lovely, warm day. To-day I am orderly officer, so I had to look after baggage waggons and dismounted brigade. Marched through Commando Nek, and camped at Riedfontein, close to where we camped a week ago. General Clements camped west of Crocodile River, and we east of same. We reached here with the waggons at 10.30. Breakfast at 12.30, then took horses to water and sent them out grazing.
December 26.—Reveille at 2 a.m. Stood to arms. Trekked off for Pretoria at 9. Clements remains here, and so do the 13th Mounted Infantry. We had to hand them over seventy fit horses. We marched seventeen miles to our old camp at Dasspoort, and reached here at 3. A very hot day. We probably refit and go to Johannesburg and district.
December 27.—Turned out at 6. Went to ordnance with Boone and drew all the kit I could for the regiment.
December 28.—Turned out at 5.30. To-day I drew horses for all my men and served them out. Very glad to get them mounted at last. My own good horse I have sent to hospital. Pretoria is very hard up for stores; hardly anything to be had at any price.
December 29.—Turned out at 5. At 9 received orders to go out and join Clements at Volhuter's Kop as soon as possible. I was given command of No. 2 Company; Hilton has No. 4. Trekked off due west at 11.30. Marched sixteen miles and reached Riedfontein at 5.30, where we encamped for the night. Colonel Jenner, D.S.O. (Rifle Brigade), is our corps.commander. Our corps is 5th Mounted Infantry; 13th Battalion (Major Pratt), 14th Battalion (Major Heigham). Our column consists of J Battery R.H.A., two Colt guns, 14th Mounted Infantry. (N.B.—Severe thunderstorms and heavy rains.)
December 30.—Reveille at 3.30. Trekked at 5 through Commando Nek to Volhuter's Kop. My company is as follows, in three sections: 2nd Middlesex Mounted Infantry, 52; Cameron Highlanders Mounted Infantry, 25; Highland Light Infantry Mounted Infantry, 12. Total, 89. Quite a little force to have! Reached Volhuter's Kop at 9.30 a.m., after having marched fourteen miles, and camped here for the day. General Clements here awaiting us. General Clements' force consists of 13th Mounted Infantry, 400 men; 14th Mounted Infantry, 400 men; J Battery R.H.A., 198 men; two Colt guns, 50 men (all under Lieutenant-Colonel Jenner, D.S.O.); Lincoln Regiment, 2nd Battalion Worcesters, Border Regiment, Inniskilling Fusiliers; 8th Field Battery; Royal Engineers (2,500, under Colonel Payne).
December 31.—New Year's Eve—last day of the year and the century. Reveille at 3. Stood to arms at 4. A most lovely morning. We expect to get some stiff fighting in a day or two. Darius Magale (Kaffir chief) reports that 1,000 Boers passed through Sterkstroom (ten miles north-west of here) yesterday. They were coming from north, and occupied hills at Buffelspoort (sixty-six miles east) with the intention of attacking the Rustenburg convoy. The native scouts confirm this, and report that many Boers came from the south, crossing Buffer's Nek last night, and that they joined the Buffelspoort commando. Rustenburg also confirms these reports, and states that the Boers are under De la Rey, Schoman and Boschman, and that they have two guns. It is also rumoured that Steyn is with this force. A native deserter from the Boers at Warmbad states that they are very short of food, and that the cattle are dying in large numbers from long sickness. Jacobus Magale — another Kaffir chief—of Bethame, sent in to say that a further large force, which he estimates at 7,000 men, had come down from the north, passing Bethame on the evening of the 27th, and going towards Sterkstroom. Many local natives confirm this, and all state the country to be thick with Boers. Two native scouts from Rustenburg who arrived here this morning confirm the above report, and state they met a Cape boy on his way to Rustenburg who had run away from the Boers. This boy stated he was a servant of Steyn's, and had just come up from Heilbron, where his master had left De Wet. Major Vandeleur, who went out north to Louwkop, reports that his left flank saw about 200 or 300 Boers in the direction of Swartkop, and that all the local natives confirm the report that a very large force of Boers was holding the hills at Buffelspoort and Swartkop up to Bethame. Colonel Cookson, who went to Elands River, saw no Boers, but heard the same report of Major Vandeleur from the natives. The Boers—as usual before they mean fighting—are keeping very quiet, and not showing themselves at all. Of course, the native reports are exaggerated, but there is evidently a very large force in front and on our right flanks. Colonel Hickman, from Waterval, reports that natives have told him a large laager is forming at Sterkstroom. General French (Kutersdorp) reports all Boers in that vicinity to be moving north, and says that a captured despatch from the Boers to Smuts discloses that it is their intention to attack Krugersdorp and Johannesburg in the hope that we will evacuate the smaller towns such as Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom. This despatch may be a blind.
To-day I am orderly officer with a great deal to do. I have to look after 500 horses. I took them to water at 8.30 at a small stream two miles off, then grazed them from 9.30 to 12.30. The country is bounded by Magaliesberg Hills. To the north it is open, but is broken by chains of small kopjes, which are said to be held by Boers. We all waited up to let the New Year in and to drink the health of parents and friends.
January 1, 1901.—Volhuter's Kop. Remained here for the day. Lincoln Regiment arrived from Pretoria. Reports come in from all sides stating that the Boers are in large numbers from Buffelspoort to Sterkstroom. Orders to move to Elands River tomorrow at 5 p.m. Turned in at 10.
January 2.—Reveille at 3 a.m. Stood to arms at 4. All movements are cancelled for the present. Firing was heard about thirty miles north. Horse-sickness is rather prevalent—I have lost six horses up to date— otherwise all seems quiet. The weather is very hot, and rather trying.
At 9 o'clock no sign of any enemy. Apparently all gone; recent traces, though, of Boer camps.
It is raining hard, and we have had heavy thunderstorms; all getting wet through. After scouting the surrounding country, hills, and passes, we returned to camp, due east of Elands River, at 2.30 p.m. Terrific rains! The camp a marsh; all cold and wet through. Trekked between thirty and forty miles. Turned in at 10, and slept as best we could.
January 4.—Reveille at 3; stood to arms at 4; marched back due east at 4.45. Trekked twenty miles and halted near Riedfontein, west of Crocodile River. Arrived here at 12 noon and camped. Lunch at 1; dinner at 7. Turned in at 10. Lost seven horses; shot three of these.
January 5.—Reveille at 4. Trekked at 5 for Pretoria. Marched nineteen miles, and got back to Dasspoort camp at 1.30; inspected horses, etc. All are rather done up. My Scotch section returned to their unit; they were a very good lot, and I was sorry to lose them. They were old Mounted Infantry men from Egyptian service.
January 6.—Turned out at 6. To-day am orderly officer. I spent a very busy day making up deficiencies for things lost on service, and also doctoring horses. Lunch at 1. My horse, Tommy, getting better; probably be fit soon.
January 8.—Usual duties. To-day there were sports for the men. The prizes (money) were given by the officers. It all passed off very well.
A tropical downpour, and thunderstorms all night. We are soaked through and through.
January 10.—The battalion had orders to move off at 5. It was my turn to remain behind and look after the headquarters. Last night at 12 o'clock I rode over to camp, west of Pretoria, and fetched ninety horses. A beautiful moonlight ride 1 I got them safely back at 3 a.m.
Reveille at 3. The battalion marched off at 5. I spent a very busy day getting mess stores and sending them out, also drawing stores from ordnance.
The battalion returned at 6.30 p.m., after doing a reconnaissance in force twelve miles south-west of Pretoria. J Battery and Colt guns exchanged a few shots with the enemy.
January 11.—My company is now 160 strong. Sixty Manchesters arrived with horses. Company now consists of: 2nd Middlesex, 50; 2nd Manchesters, 60; East Yorks, 50. Total, 160 (under Hilton, Middlesex); and three subalterns — Irvine, Smith (East Yorks), Waters (Manchesters).
Turned out at 6. Breakfast at 8. Inspected horses, men, and saddlery, and assorted the whole company into three sections. A beautifully hot day.
January 12.—Reveille at 5.30. I paraded all my company for dismounted Mounted Infantry drill. Heavy firing was heard about twenty miles off, in the north-east direction. At 10 o'clock had a mounted parade for my two new sections (East Yorks and Manchesters). At 10.30 I received orders to return to camp immediately and get saddled up. We moved off at 12 noon through Dasspoort south-south-west towards Quagga's Poort. My company consists of three sections, ninety strong; the remaining seventy men could not ride well enough, so were left behind. Gun-firing heard to south-east.
Passed through Quagga's Poort, and then proceeded east-south-east Gordon in action south-east of Irene. Plumer and his column supposed to be due south of us. We marched about sixteen miles, scouting the country all round. No enemy visible. Camped near Oliphants-fontein, on Pretoria-Johannesburg railway. Reached camp about 6 p.m., my company finding all outposts. Put them out, then returned to camp at 9. Welcome grub! Turned in at 11, and just slept as we were, on veldt. No waggons up till 1 a.m. A fine night.
January 13.—Reveille at 3 a.m. Marched off at 4.30. I find flank guards. Sent Smith and his section on left flank, and Hilton on right flank. Marched due west; the object being to get into touch and communication with Plumer. After marching and scouting all round got into touch with Plumer on our left flank. Halted and camped at 1.30 p.m. about sixteen miles west-south-west of Pretoria. At 4 p.m. received sudden orders for whole force to return to Dasspoort immediately.
Our force, by the way, consisted of: 14th Mounted Infantry, 400 (Major Heigham); 13th Mounted Infantry, 350 (Major Pratt); J Battery (Captain Sykes); Colt guns (Lieutenant Hilton); under Colonel Jenner, D.S.O. Trekked off at 5 p.m. for Dasspoort (advance-guard); Got sniped at on right and left flanks. Sent out Smith and his section to right, while I took another section to the left. Reported to Commanding Officer. We only came in for some desultory sniping. Kept up a fire till dark and till the whole column had passed the Boers in hills and bush on left flank. There were about twenty or thirty of them. Then I returned and pushed forward again. We had a long, weary march, through a pitch-dark night. The waggons stopped at different drifts. Pushed on. Met Colonel Jenner. Rode together, and I reported to him about left flank experience We had a long chat. I reached Dasspoort at 1.45 a.m., and found that all bad returned. Smith and his party are back. No casualties.
January 14. —Turned out at 5.30. Inspected horses, and sorted out fit from unfit; otherwise only usual camp duties. I have an enormous lot to do, and have to look after everything.
My routine in camp is: Stables, 6; see prisoners and defaulters, 8.30; parade, 9.45 till 12; stables, 12 till 1; check stores and make up company deficiencies in afternoon; stables, 5 to 6; besides all the many things one has to do when one has 170 men and 150 horses on one's mind. I have a good sergeant-major and three good subalterns to help me, fortunately.
January 15.—Turned out at 5. The usual duties. I drew stores and refitted company. In the afternoon I went to Pretoria and bought some necessaries. Tonight I received orders to move the whole camp, and to march to Eerstefabrieken, ten miles east of Pretoria— probably to-morrow.
January 17.—Reveille at 4. Breakfast at 6.30. Packed up. Trekked off at 9.30. Force consisting of: 14th Mounted Infantry (Major Heigham); 13th Mounted Infantry, (Major Pratt); four guns J Battery (Captain Sykes); Colt gun battery.
A fine hot day. Reached Eerstefabrieken at 1. This country I know pretty well, as the last time Wellby and I were here with a machine-gun and forty men to keep line clear between Roodepoort and Eerstefabrieken. The place brought back many pleasant memories. We settled down to our new camp and got our tents pitched.
We are in a fine, open country; our camp is on high ground. The river runs west of the camp in north direction. We are probably here to form an extended line of outposts round Pretoria. Some move on, as five battalions came into Pretoria yesterday.
January 18.—Fourteenth Mounted Infantry received orders to go off at 1.30 with stripped saddles, on a foraging and reconnoitring expedition to four deserted farms, six miles south of camp, and twelve miles east-south-east of Pretoria. We started at 1.30, 250 strong, with eighteen empty waggons. Scouted out. All clear as regards enemy. Got four waggon-loads of forage, and returned to camp at 6. Turned in at 10.
January 19.—Reveille at 5. A heavy storm was coming up from west. All stood to tents. The storm was truly terrific; but the tents all stood.
The usual camp duties. There are an enormous number of fatigues to do, as they are building trenches and blockhouses all round. Half the regiment is on duty every day. At 12 Colonel Jenner came round and had a look at the horses.
Sunday, January 20.—Turned out at 7. Church parade at 10. Inspection of lines at 11. A fine, hot day. Something is going on east, as twelve trains have passed here full of troops. At 4 I took a party of thirty men and went on building the blockhouse; it is on a low hill one mile north-east of camp, and commanding a long stretch of country as well as the railway. Returned 6.30. Turned in at 11.
January 21.—Turned out at 5.30. A lovely, cold morning. Riding parade with my section. I am sorry to hear, in the army orders, that the Queen is seriously ill. It would be a great disaster for the country if she died just now.
Riding parade 11 to 12.30. Turned in at 10.
January 22.—Reveille at 5.30. Turned out. Made up deficiencies of company from store. At 11 o'clock we had battalion drill under Commanding Officer. My company drilled splendidly, and were complimented.
In the afternoon I took out a reconnoitring party of forty men and three waggons for foraging and wood. We had to go to a farm six miles north of camp. All was clear. We got a fine haul of timber, and twenty sacks of peaches, potatoes, quinces, green figs, and apples, and returned at 6 to camp. The weather is perfect, and there are most brilliant sunsets. Our tent faces the west, and every evening I watch the glorious sun, and write a bit of my letter to you. Hilton was bitten by a venomous little snake, and I spent an anxious night with him. Poor chap! He was in great pain. I sat up all night and so did the doctor. He recovered at 3.30 a.m. and slept.
January 23.—Hilton is not fit for duty to-day, so I took his place in No. 1 Company, which was ordered to do a reconnaissance in force to Jeanfontein, ten miles east-south-east of us. We started at 6.30 a.m. Fryer was advanced guard, I main body. We scouted the country. At 9.30 a.m. we reached Jeanfontein, and found that Boers were reported, so we pushed on. We saw between twenty and fifty 4,000 yards east-south-east, going off helter-skelter. Pushed on, and exchanged shots. Halted. Brass sent me forward then to push on and reconnoitre. Shoved along at trot. Went three miles. All clear. Enemy evacuated. All returned to Jeanfontein. At 2.30 p.m. we returned to camp. All clear. Reached camp 5.30 p.m. Here heard that the Queen died yesterday at 12 o'clock. It is a great shock to all the troops, and has cast a gloom over everybody. What a loss to the Empire! For years and years every Englishman in every part of the world has looked up to her, the Sovereign, with both reverence and devotion. She has been part of his creed and religion, and now she is no more! Perhaps the greatest Sovereign—certainly the foremost lady— the Empire has ever seen. ' Long live the King!' Hilton is much better.