PART VIa - Drives under General French with Fifth Corps from Pretoria to Dundee.
Eerstefabrieken, near Pretoria, 14th Mounted Infantry.
My last letter was dated up to January 23.
January 24.—Reveille at 5.30 a.m. No. 2 (mine) and No. 1 Company on reconnaissance duty to-day. Started at 9. My section is right flank guard. We trekked off east-south-east to the same place we went yesterday. Colonel Jenner came in command. We took a Colt gun. Near Jeanfontein my right flank came into touch with a Boer picket. The Boers legged off to south-east. I reported to Colonel Jenner. We halted at Jeanfontein. The object of the march was really to select a site for a new camp.
January 25.—Turned out at 5. To-day I am corps orderly officer. We are under orders to go for a month's trek to-morrow. Most of the officers rode into Pretoria to get necessaries and stores. I took the horses to water and to graze. Visited outlying vedettes, mounted outposts and pickets. Posted same. At 10 p.m. went round all posts and got back at 1 a.m. I had to visit them twice, so started my round again at 2 a.m., and got back at 4. Stood to arms till 6 with inlying pickets. Returned to camp.
January 26.—Orders to move off at 9 with a force consisting of: 13th and 14th Mounted Infantry, two 15-pounders G Battery R.H.A.; six 12-pounders J Battery R.H.A.; one pom-pom; six Colt guns (all under Colonel Jenner, D.S.O.).
Handed to Commanding Staff Officer report for last twenty-four hours. Trekked off at 9. To-day main body. Marched six miles to Mooiplaat south-southeast. Reached camp at 12 mid-day. Maclean, the Adjutant, has rejoined. Lieutenant Pratt and twelve men Royal Scots joined, and go to No. 1 Company. Lieutenant Warnford, 44th Goorkhas, has also joined, and goes to No. 4 Company.
Object of trek: We form part of a big movement south to Ermelo to drive Boers east. We are one of six columns. Our force consists of the 14th Mounted Infantry, 400 men (Major Heigham); 13th Mounted Infantry, 300 men (Major Pratt); Canadian Scouts, 50 men (Major Howard); Canadian pom-pom (Lieutenant Hilton); (Colonel Jenner, D.S.O.). Colt guns, six; J Battery R.H.A., six guns; G Battery R.H.A., two guns (Captain Sykes); one battalion Yorkshire Light Infantry (King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry), 800 men, all under General Alderson.
January 27.—Reveille at 3. We trekked east-southeast at 4.45 a.m. To-day we are advanced guard. At 8 a.m., pushed forward with Canadian Scouts; sniping. At 9 a.m. reached crest of ridge; undulating veldt; column halted. At 9.15, in valley farms held by Boers. King sent me forward to support scouts, and to take the farm in the centre. He was in support with the remainder of the company. Galloped forward; Boers, fifty to eighty, cleared. Dismounted and sent some shot after them, then mounted, proceeded to farm, and came in for a fairly heavy fire from ridge (Rudekopjes), held by about 200 to 300 Boers. At 11 a.m. proceeded east; kept up a running fire. At 12 noon ordered forward by General Alderson to hold a hill two miles east, as Boers were threatening. King sent me forward with company in support. Galloped on, reached hill, dismounted, and started firing on a party of Boers in valley at 1,500 yards. Effective; Boers went off. Remained here for five hours keeping a sharp look-out. Column eight miles away and halted. At 5.30 p.m. orders to return to camp. Returned at 7, hungry and tired. A good day. The company did magnificently, and we had no casualties. Colt gun was, however, captured by Boers on extreme left, and two Canadians killed; Lieutenant Ryan taken prisoner, but released. The Boer force was in strength.
January 28.—Reveille at 3; started at 4.45. To-day sent out on special duty to bring in women and cattle on left flank. Company behind guns. Marched southeast, and afterwards east. Sent in 100 sheep, then was ordered back by General's orders for another duty. Trekked on with main body. At 12 noon ordered out to reconnoitre hills on our right flank and get in touch with Captain Ross. Colonel Jenner sent me out. I pushed forward and got into touch at Hectorpoort. Spotted Boers; all galloped forward. An exciting ride under fire, but we just failed to catch twelve of them. Pushed on with scouts. Burnt big grist-mill, fourteen waggons, and some thousands of tons of forage, then sent women back to column to be sent on to Pretoria. All the time we kept up a running fire with Boers hanging round on the hills. The Canadian Scouts are first-rate, and my men are doing well. We returned to camp at 6. I reported to Colonel Jenner and Major Heigham, and was congratulated on my work.
General scheme of operations: We are one of five columns—Alderson's column, Knox's column, Allenby's column, Pulteney's column, Dartnell's column.
Objective: To sweep the district bounded on the north by Delagoa Bay Railway, and on the south by the Natal Railway clear of the enemy. Column on January 27 as follows: Alderson, Moorplaats; Knox, Baps-fontein; Pulteney, Pultfontein; Dartnell, Springs.
On January 29 the following positions will be taken up: Alderson,Vangelfontein; Pulteney, Vangelfontein; Dartnell, Gejund; Paget, Vlakfontein; Colville, Witpoort.
All halt here till February 1, 1901. Columns will then move as follows: Alderson to Vlakfontein, Knox to Boschman Kraal, Allenby to Trigardisfontein, Dartnell to Vlakspruit, Colville to Megers Vlei.
Campbell will reach Wolverfontein from Middle-burg; another column will reach Vlakfontein from Wonderfontein. Smith-Dorrien will reach Carolina. In all, eleven columns—80,000 men.
On February 4 Paget will reach Welgelegen, Aider-son will reach Ermelo, Knox will reach Witpoort, Allenby will reach Stipp, arriving February 6 and 7.
Dartnell goes to Amersfort, Colville goes to Uitkyk, on the Standerton-Ermelo road. Smith-Dorrien goes to Bothwell. All columns working together. Enemy will thus be driven east towards Swaziland.
Arrangements for supplies are made from Middle-burg, Carolina, Standerton, Balmoral, Wonderfontein. Empty waggons go to Standerton and Greylingstad. Fine scheme; all Lord Kitchener. He is a wonderful organizer! Camp to-day at Witklip Bank.
January 29.—Reveille at 3 a.m.; trekked off east-south-east at 4.45. To-day we are advanced guard. At 6 a.m. changed direction to due east. At 6.30. sent out on right flank by King to reconnoitre two farms four miles out. Found both deserted. Burnt forage, waggons, 1,000 Martini and Mannlicher ammunition, and got plenty of chickens, turkeys and geese. Knox's column revealed themselves by a long line of burning farms on the extreme right (fifteen miles). At 8.30 a.m. rejoined King and trekked on. At 9.30 a.m. scouts again came in contact with our friends, who were now visible to us. They stretched from extreme left to extreme right, about twenty miles, in bodies of from 80 to 100 each, and were about 1,000 to 1,500 strong. Here a somewhat exciting incident occurred. Davidson, one of the Canadians, about 2,500 yards ahead, was suddenly confronted with four Boers, who demanded his surrender. He replied by shooting the man and killing him on the spot. The other three legged it. Another Boer was hit, and died almost directly. We pushed on, and at 11.30, when we were two miles west of Wilge River, saw about 1,000 Boers retreating east with waggons. At 11.40 J Battery came up and shelled them with effect. At 11.50 we left scouts and pushed on towards our right flank, I finding scouting line. We came in contact with some Boers who were in a farm and occupying a ridge immediately above it. Commenced firing. The Boers retreated. We halted, by General's orders, for three hours, Knox's column being on our right. At 3.45 p.m. Barton's (?) Scouts came in touch with us. At 4.15 p.m. returned to camp (Vangelfontein); burnt forage and waggons on the way.
January 30. — Vangelfontein. Reveille at 3 a.m.; stood to arms at 4.30. All quiet. Very bad water here. To-day heard the very bad news that the Cape Dutch have risen. This is most serious; it means that all the troops are in danger of being cut off from supplies; it also means another 50,000 men out here, and a prolongation of the war for an indefinite period, possibly years! All remained saddled up and ready to move. We moved off at 3 p.m., and shifted camp, but only went two miles to a spot close to Wilge River. Good water again 1
January 31.—Vangelfontein. Reveille at 3. Saddled up and stood to arms 4.30. A lovely sunrise. I remained in camp to-day—a welcome rest! I have two ripping horses for my cart (slight sore-backs); fitted it all up and had a drive to try it. My skipper, King (Captain in Canadian Dragoons and a Colonel) is a sterling good fellow and a first-rate soldier; all the Colonials, indeed, are splendid, and real good fighters; most interesting too. Major Gat-Howard, who is in command of them, is a Yankee, and went all through the American War. He has seen much service with Red Indians, and is a typical scout leader. I have learnt a lot from his methods. I am sorry to say horse sickness is rife; we lost six horses to-day, among them my English hunter, the 'Swell' I am awfully sorry; it is a fearful disease, and there seems no cure. A horse sickens and dies in six hours. Supplied by convoys sent in as per general scheme. General Paget ordered back to railway, probably on account of Cape Dutch rising.
February 1.—Reveille at 2 a.m.; breakfast at 3. Trekked off due east 4.45. To-day main body (permanent billet of advance-guard to scouts not come off yet; expect to get it, though, every day). We furnish flank guards and 13th Mounted Infantry advanced guards. Trekked on till 10.15. The country all along rolling and undulating green veldt, studded with farms. At 10.30 came in contact with between 400 and 500 Boers. Heard guns on the right—Knox and Allenby in action. Fourteenth Mounted Infantry and J Battery went forward at a trot and occupied ridge. Battery came in action and shelled Boers, who were legging it east-north-east. All pushed forward. At 11.30 sent forward to reconnoitre and occupy a long ridge one and a half miles east. Found all clear. Got into helio communication with Knox. The Boers are all retreating east-north-east. We remained here for four hours, and at 4 p.m. had orders to return to camp just below and west of ridge. Name of camp Bom-bardy. We are losing horses every day from horse sickness. March to-day was eleven miles.
February 2. —Bombardy. Reveille at 2; breakfast at 3. Trekked off at 4.45. Fourteenth Mounted Infantry are advanced guard and main body. Thirteenth Mounted Infantry furnish flank and rear guards. Today I am orderly officer. My duty is to be in charge of led horses and keep with waggons; we each have to do our share of this work. There were seventy-two led horses (all sore-backs and stiff uns). As far as I could gather it was an uneventful march for all. Several farms cleared, but met no Boers; evidently all have retreated. We shall probably have an engagement in a day or two, when we encounter more hilly country. We have a monotonous trek of sixteen miles to come just east of Riet Spruit (Dap Spruit ?), a tributary of Oliphants River, really Steenkool Spruit. A hot day; we reached camp at 1.30 p.m. Nearly all out watching front and flanks, and all returned in small commandos between 3 and 4. To-day we got 2,000 sheep and 500 oxen. It is a rich grazing country. We have cool, moonlight nights.
February 3.—Riet Spruit (Steenkool Spruit). Reveille at 2.30; breakfast at 3; parade and march off at 4.30. To-day I am escort to guns. We trekked about eight miles east-south-east to Boschkaans by Oliphants River, arriving at 9. A hot day. We were in touch with Colonel Knox on right flank, and scouts in touch with retreating Boers. Heavy firing to north-east. Campbell in action, probably twelve to fourteen miles north of us. All our company are on outpost to-night. We trekked off at 3.15 and occupied a high oval-shaped hill south of camp, Boone's company being one mile east of us. At 5 posted sections and sentries; my section at the bottom of the hill at Kaffir Kraal facing ridge occupied by enemy's pickets. A brilliant moonlight night; dinner in open. Brought cart with plenty of provisions. Our outpost four miles from camp. At 7 p.m. posted sentries and told off patrols. All quiet. Visited posts twice. A wonderful night.
February 4.—Reveille at 3; breakfast at 3.30. We had orders to occupy ridge, and if possible drive out the Boers holding the ridges south-east of us. I was to guard extreme right and occupy a farm called Rensburg Hoop, also, if possible, get into touch with Knox. All started at 4 a.m. by moonlight. At 5 am. reached farm at Rensburg Hoop. Boers all cleared. Sent twenty horses and forty cattle back to main body. At 5.30 a.m. got in touch with Major Innes, 12th Lancers, left flank guard to Colonel Knox's column (2nd Cavalry Brigade).
General French is close by. Sent message to General Alderson to this effect. Remained here for orders. At 7 a.m. orders to return to my company and all to join main body. Did so. Trekked nine miles east-north-east and halted and camped at Schurvekop, arriving here at midday. Captain Ross and Canadian Scouts were sent out on left flank to get in touch with Campbell's column, Warnford in support. Failed to do so owing to opposition. Lost three men killed (including their sergeant-major), and eight men missing, three being selected scouts from my company. Captain Brass, with No. 1 Company, was rearguard, and had a scrap, having one man wounded (leg shattered) and one taken prisoner. We have now about 10,000 oxen and 15,000 sheep and goats.
February 5.—Schurvekop. Reveille at 2.30 a.m.; trekked off about due east at 4.45. To-day I got the billet I like—support to the Canadian Scouts. King, my skipper, I am sorry to say, has gone sick with dysentery, so I get command of the company again. Trekked off. All pretty quiet. Trekked fifteen miles through the rolling, undulating veldt, with many long halts owing to oxen and mules being done up. It was a hot day. Reached Witbank, just south of Nooitgedacht, and halted, as we probably encamp in this place. At 6 p.m. received orders that I and my company were to remain where we were, and form an outpost line for the night No waggons up, consequently there is no food for the men and no forage I sent out a party to forage and get wood and water; also sent in for my cart. At 10 p.m. got a few things. A clear night. I was awake most of the time, as the Boers are in fairly close proximity on the right flank. In touch with Campbell's column about eight miles north, and Knox's column ten miles south by helio. All clear.
February 6.—Witbank (Nooitgedacht). Stood to arms at 3 a.m. Breakfast at 3.30. Column passed us at 5 going due east. Got sent on special duty by General Alderson himself to push out with my company on right flank and keep touch between our column and his. Had signallers with me. At 5.15 a.m. started off. Country becoming more hilly. Got seven miles out south-south-east, and at 7 a.m. got into helio communication with Colonel Knox and French's columns (the latter about fifteen miles south-south-east of us). All clear of enemy. A long and interesting trek; the column marched about sixteen miles; my company did about thirty. We halted and camped at 5 p.m. at Mooifontein, the column having travelled east-southeast, east, and north-east. Dinner at 7. Turned in at 10. Very glad to get to bed. Horses rather done.
February 7.—Mooifontein, five miles north of Ermelo. Reveille at 3.30; trekked off east at 5. To-day No. 4 Company are support to scouts, and we are main body with guns. We only marched three miles and halted. Had orders for No. 2 (my company) and No. 3 to go off and escort a convoy of Boer women, empty waggons, oxen and cattle to Bothwell by Lake Chrissie, nine miles north-east of here, to leave at 4 p.m. Tbe remainder of our force is remaining here till we return; we bring back supplies. Campbell's guns heard at 7.30 a.m. The whole force, except Nos. 2 and 3 Companies and Colt guns, went out to support Campbell Shocking bad luck to be out of this; however, we must take the good with the bad. This place is called Welgelen. At 2 the force returned, having failed to come in contact with the enemy. However, they succeeded in getting in touch with Smith-Dorrien's advanced guard from Bothwell (nine miles north-east of us) and also Campbell's column. The latest information is that Smith-Dorrien had a night attack from the Boers, and lost one officer, nineteen men killed, and 115 wounded; that the Boers attacked the West Yorkshire Regiment by night somewhere near Belfast, and that the latter had many casualties; also that the Boers have broken through.
Campbell ? French
? Puzzle, find the Boers!
Of course, we get no reliable information whatever, and one knows nothing. We started with convoy at 3 p.m., Major Heigham in command. Force: two companies 14th Mounted Infantry, two companies 13th Mounted Infantry, two Colt guns and 100 infantry. It is cold, and raining like blazes. We marched nine miles northeast through the dark for eight weary hours, and halted at Campbell's camp. I had a scratch meal, and turned in. I slept in our tonga. Smith, my subaltern, has not turned up at all. I think his cart must have broken down, and he is trying to get it along. It has our tent on.
February 8.—Bethel. Turned out at 5.30. It is still raining hard. I fed the horses and looked after things generally. Full waggons came back from Smith-Dorrien at 11 with nine days' supplies, also with forty-nine Boer women, ten wounded Boers, and fifteen prisoners, who were handed over to me. I called a roll, checked them off, and signed for them. That attack on Smith-Dorrien occurred the night before last here at Bethel. He arrived late at night, and, in unconsciousness of the fact, actually encamped within two miles of a big Boer force and its laager of waggons. The Boers attacked by night to cover the retreat of their waggons. Did so successfully, and trekked towards Carolina. That affair with the West Yorkshires was one and the same thing, this battalion belonging to Smith-Dorrien's column. The Boers had twenty killed, whom we buried, and there were many wounded. The general idea now is that Smith-Dorrien makes a detour round the hills north-east and then east: that Campbell, Alderson, Knox and French go east, and all converge towards Amsterdam. Objective: to round up two commandos known to be east of us and a large convoy and laager. French is at Ermelo, and is very pleased with operations.
I met Callahan (officer, Canadian Scouts), Davis (Canadian Scout, and really a Red Indian), and another, who rode forty miles through the Boers with despatches from Kitchener via French and Alderson to Smith-Dorrien. They had a marvellous ride: one had to bury the despatches and dodge the Boers. Davis, the redskin, was taken prisoner, but escaped by shooting several Boers with his revolver. At night Callahan dug up the despatches and got them in safe. It reads like Fenimore Cooper. I have no time to write details, but it was a wonderfully exciting ride.
We trekked back with convoy to Mooifontein (Alderson's camp), and got there safe and sound at 7 p.m. It was raining hard all the time and was very cold. Dinner at 7. I turned in with my stable-companion, Hilton, in my own welcome tent at 9.
February 9.—To-day I have been a year on the trek on actual active service. Stood to arms from 3 a.m. till 5.30. Breakfast at 7. The force rests to-day; that means only usual camp duties, and the looking after horses, etc.—a welcome rest! We trek to-morrow. King, my skipper, has gone sick altogether, and goes to Standerton Hospital, so I take over my company again. All the Boer women, the sick, etc., have gone to-day to Ermelo.
February 10.—Mooifontein. Reveille at 3. Marched off east-south-east at 5. To-day I had to furnish half-company rearguard and half-company foraging duty. I sent Smith with rearguard, and I took the foraging party on left flank as ordered. On the whole it was an uneventful march; no enemy anywhere I was fairly successful, sending in 3,000 sheep, 700 oxen, and about 1,000 goats. We marched ten miles. I have got ten new horses, and have broken each one in myself. I am learning how to lasso with a lariat — good, exciting work. Owing to the horses, I reached camp very late—5 p.m. There was a drizzling rain in the morning, but it was fine and hot later on. I turned in at 9. Every man was to sleep fully equipped, as a night attack was expected. French is now in command. Only a few Boers—about 1,000—broke through; 3,000 are still in front of us. All is going well apparently. Our camp is at Goedehoop.
February 11.—Goedehoop. The night passed quietly. Reveille at 3.30; marched off east-north-east at 5. To-day we are main body with guns. We had a quiet, uneventful march. The day was fine. To the south one could see the Drakensberg Mountains 100 miles off. We marched six miles, and halted and camped at Dreifontein. There are big lakes or pans all round— in fact, it is a beautiful country: the veldt is wonderfully green. Our camp is by a lake quite a mile square; these lakes are only shallow depressions in the ground, and fordable right through. I am sorry to say five men are under sentence to be shot for sleeping on their posts. Examined horses. Dinner at 7. Half my company on outpost under Smith. Turned in at 9. On special duty to-morrow.
February 12.—Dreifontein. Reveille at 3. The column started east-south-east at 5 a.m. I, with half my company, went with No. 4 Company (Boone's), under Captain Brass (No. 1 Company), right out on the right flank, to get in touch with Knox's column. There was a thick mist, just like good old England. At 6 a.m. the fog lifted, and it was a glorious morning. It was wonderful, seeing the layers of mist and the brilliant sunshine, while the lakes and the veldt were covered with a silvery dew. We trekked south-south-east by south to Fox Hill, then on to some high ground at Bothman's Loop, and then on to still higher ground at Schimmelhoek, our destination. We arrived at 11 a.m., having marched sixteen miles. Drove out twenty Boers; desultory sniping on both sides; no casualties.
At 12 noon got into touch with Knox 6 miles south-south-east. Helioed back to General Alderson. The latest news is that Smith-Dorrien has captured, at a small loss, 80 waggons, 300 oxen, and 50 Boer prisoners. Went to farms all around. In one I found hidden 2,000 rounds Mauser ammunition, which I burnt.
At 2 p.m. returned to camp, a long, weary march of fitfeen miles. A very dangerous march this in the valleys—all vleis (bogs). We lost four horses and nearly lost two men; just saved them in time. Reached camp at 7.30 (camp is at Tolderia). What with scouting, etc., I must have ridden forty miles. I had to change all my clothes, as I was wet through.
February 13. — Tolderia. Reveille at 3; trekked east-north-east and then east, and then south-southeast, at 5 a.m. To-day my company were supports to scouts. A lovely morning. We trekked ten miles, then halted and camped at Klipburg at 10.30 a.m. An uneventful march. The enemy seem to have cleared out thoroughly demoralized; they won't stand to fight. Fine scenery here. The country is getting rugged, and far away to south and south-east are the mountains of Swaziland. We are in touch with Knox at Spitzkop to south of us, and with Campbell eight miles northeast of us.
February 14.—Klipburg. About 8 miles east of us we can see Amsterdam, a small townlet. Reveille at 3; marched off south-east at 4.45. At first we were main body; Smith I detailed as rearguard, according to orders. All plans changed. Our column changed direction to south-south-east by south. I, with four sections, went out on extreme right advanced flank in line with scouts. Our orders were to push on to Hartebeestefontein. No. 3 Company (Warnford) on extreme left of scouts. Pushed out. Rugged country; rather difficult, owing to ravines and vleis. Hilton came with us; he scouted with his section for me on the right.
At 9 a.m. captured 2 Boers, 10 horses, 150 oxen, and 2 waggons, at a Kaffir kraal; I sent back the same under escort to main column.
At 9.30 a.m. came into helio communication with Colonel Knox's column eight miles south of us. We crossed two big rivers, Usutu and Umbemque, difficult to ford on extreme right. Trekked on. Magnificent country; blazing hot day.
At 11 a.m. column changed direction to east, so I altered direction and made for Morgenstand and Pambatt Farm (vide map).
At 1 p.m. reached Morgenstand and halted. Column five miles behind.
At 4 p.m. column moved on to Morgenstand and encamped.
February 15.—Morgenstand. Reveille at 3 a.m. Moved off due south. Alteration again in the general plan. To-day we are main body. A lovely morning; later on it was tremendously hot. We had an uneventful march: trekked seventeen miles, then halted and camped at 5.30 p.m., three miles north of Derby, at a place called Rost. My company was on outpost duty to east of camp, holding a long ridge and the river. Found four posts. Then came a terrific thunderstorm. However, got mealies for horses and killed four sheep for the men at a Kaffir kraal. I was about all night visiting my posts. It was pitch-dark and raining hard.
February 16.—Camp near Derby. Stood to arms at 3 a.m., and pushed out reconnoitring patrols. All clear. At 5 a.m. orders to return to camp; relieved by vedettes. At 6 a.m. breakfast, very welcome. At 7 a.m. went to kraal with twenty of my men and caught fifteen horses. Great sport; all wild. I got a beautiful chestnut mare for myself. She was a nailer to catch, saddle up and ride, for she bucked like steam. At 9 a.m. the whole force trekked off to Derby, and camped on high ground, reaching here at 10 a.m. We may probably remain here for two days. General French is at Piet Retief, eight miles south of us. Boers at ? ? ?. In the afternoon I examined horses, and broke in some of our newly-captured ones. Dinner at seven. Turned in at 10. Drizzling rain all day; cold.
February 17.—Derby. Stood to arms at 3 a.m.; orders to go out at 6 a.m. east, then proceed southeast towards Swaziland border, to round up 200 or 300 Boers shut up in the hills with their waggons.
The force consisted of 14th Mounted Infantry (Captain Brass); 13th Mounted Infantry (Major Pratt); four guns J Battery (Captain Sykes); two Colt guns; Canadian Scouts (Captain Ross). All under Major Gat-Howard, Royal Canadians.
Singular that a British force should be commanded by a semi-American officer! There is a cold drizzling rain, and it is very misty. We started at 8.30 a.m. I was support to scouts and advanced guard. Trekked eight miles east and south-east, and halted in the hills owing to the rain and thick white mist. Dick's force is also moving, as well as Campbell and Smith-Dorrien. Objective of all: to round up these Boers and waggons.
Waited till 3 p.m. Still misty. Suddenly the scouts moved forward at a trot, and I followed on their heels. It is an extraordinarily difficult country, with its hills, valleys, and deep gorges. Heard rifle-fire and Mausers going off, so pushed forward; dismounted my men and again pushed forward. Found Canadians holding a rocky ridge immediately in front of a huge kopje, which was steep and covered with bush. In the valley were four Boer waggons; pushed on and joined them. I am sorry to say Major Howard and his orderly were found killed, and a native scout shot.
Poor Major Howard no doubt met his death by going too far ahead alone. He spotted the waggons, went to them, and got shot. A little later I heard that he actually surrendered, and the Boers shot him afterwards. He was hit in three places—arm, jaw, and stomach—all expanding cartridges. His orderly had a terrible wound through the back and stomach. Well, we burnt all the waggons, put the two dead men in sheets, and sent for an ambulance. I only saw the Major in the morning, and he gave me all instructions about following his scouts up. He was fifty-five yesterday; a splendid scout and soldier, his one and only fault being his daring, if it can be called a fault. Beattie, the General's A.D.C, was the first to find them. He had his horse shot, and had a narrow escape as well, as they were potting at him at 200 and 300 yards. Major Pratt took the command and sent back word that we were to retire as soon as we could, as it was getting dark, besides being more misty. The fact is that Major Howard and his orderly were foully murdered after surrendering and laying down then-arms.
I was detailed as rearguard; rather a ticklish job in this country. Tongas came up with our doctor (Ingall). As an ambulance is always safe, I left him with the dead and wounded. I was some way behind the column.
At 6.30 p.m. it was pitch-dark, raining hard, and very cold. I pushed on as I best could, trusting to luck. I had thirty-eight men with me as rearguard. We picked up several stragglers with done horses.
At 8 p.m. struck what looked like our round; no stars—nothing for direction. Pushed on. It was raining; the men were very miserable, all being on half-rations.
At 10 p.m. struck our camp after a long, weary trek. I saw the horses and men fed, and had my own welcome grub. Turned in at 11.30 p.m. It is clear that the day was too misty for us to achieve our object. What the other forces did will come out later. By the way, Dick's force is Captain Dick of the 13th Mounted Infantry, who took a little force from this column a few days ago, consisting of two guns J. Battery, 100 men King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 100 men 13th Mounted Infantry, twenty Canadian Scouts, two Colt guns, to keep connection between our force and Campbell's on our left or about north of us. Hilton went off this morning to fetch a convoy of Boer prisoners and women from Dick's column, sent in by Campbell and Smith-Dorrien.
In to-day's manoeuvres the Boers cleared off into a valley; we did not go after them as night was approaching, and it was far too foggy.
February 18—Derby. Stood to arms at 3 a.m. Raining hard still, and cold. Men and horses are on quarter rations, and nobody in over-good spirits. Remained in camp all day and looked after horses, etc. Doctor and tongas not come in yet. Sent out foraging parties and obtained mealies from surrounding farms. Turned in at 10. It rained all day; the ground is very swampy.
February 19.—Reveille at 5. Boone and 100 men escorted empty waggons, Boer prisoners and children to Piet Retief, and bring out convoy of supplies. The whole force turned out at 9 a.m. to the same place we went to the day before yesterday under Colonel Jenner, to round up Boers in the hills; Smith-Dorrien, Dick, and Campbell's forces all working together. The weather is a bit finer, but we have had heavy showers. Trekked out, but found no enemy. I and my company were sent out to occupy a high ridge, which was actually over the border in Swaziland. We proceeded very cautiously, but found all clear. I had a Colt gun with me. Got into helio communication with Smith-Dorrien's pickets eight miles north-east of me. He reported 'No enemy.' Evidently all have decamped towards Piet Retief, where French will get them. The Swazis are a fine race, and were very glad to see us. They hate the Boers. Three days ago they actually had a fight with a Boer commando which had crossed the frontier, and they drove them out.
All returned back to camp at 7. Horses very done. I lost six, owing to their being worn out from lack of forage. I was unable to get mealies for them to-day, sad to say.
February 20.—Rained like blazes all night. Reveille at 5. Turned out all horses grazing. Twenty-five of my men went on patrol to-day to Piet Retief, under Nye. All others remained in camp. Weather fine, but very showery. Eighteen Boers came in and surrendered to-day. The doctor came in yesterday with the remains of poor Major Howard and his orderly. They were near camp while we were away. It is still raining. I hear that 500 Boers have surrendered to French. I lost six horses again to-day from exposure and exhaustion.
February 21.—It rained all night. The ground is a swamp. There are no rations at all to-day for man or beast, except plenty of meat and grazing for horses. The convoy is not expected in till the evening of the 23rd instant. Turned out horses grazing. Sent out foraging parties in all directions for mealies, flour, sugar, salt, coffee, and whatever they can get. It is still raining; there is not a dry thing in the camp. All right, however, as it hardens one, and one always has the comforting thought of good times to come. The duties are pretty heavy, as six of our officers are sick: Adjutant MacLean; Captain Whylock, No. 3 Company; Gledhill, No. 4 Company; Campbell, No. 4 Company; Hext, No. 3 Company; Captain King, No. 2 Company. I am personally fit and well, and going strong.
At 4.30 I turned out with my company for outpost to ridge and cross-roads (Piet Retief) two miles south of camp. It is raining hard still I posted my groups. Spent a wet, cheerless night. To improve matters we camein for a heavy thunderstorm at 10 o'clock. All this is a great hardship for the men, who have nothing to eat. It is too wet to cook meat. I curled myself under a wet blanket and smoked and smoked and smoked. Well, all things have an ending, and ultimately, at 4.45, came the gray dawn, but bringing with it more rain. I had previously stood to arms at 3 a.m. It was a desolate enough scene: the gray sky, the sodden veldt, the cross-roads full of water reflecting the sad light of a dreary dawn, the tired men, and the poor starved horses; a few score of yards to our left a broken-down waggon, and with it all the unceasing rain.
Relieved at 6 a.m. by the vedette post, and returned to camp. No rations for the men, no forage for the horses!
February 22.—Still raining. Remained in camp all day. No news, except that our convoy of supplies is delayed at Luneberg owing to the flooding of the drifts and the heavy rains. This is rather depressing news. Turned in at 10. Raining hard.
February 23.—Reveille at 5. The weather looks like clearing, thank Heaven! I managed to get a bit of forage for the horses and mealy meal for the men. I have a lot to do just now to keep the men cheerful under very depressing circumstances, and to coax them to do their duties, which are very heavy. A large proportion of my company are mere boys, and a kind word goes a long way—further than threats and punishments. Tommy has many faults, but he is all right all the same, and I like him! I sent out foraging parties again to get grub and mealies for the company. The weather is becoming fine, so everybody's spirits are rising. At 2 we shifted camp about half a mile west; good move this! It is now a lovely evening with a glorious sunset, also a new moon. Hope it brings us all good luck! I do think the last week has been the hardest week I have undergone during the war—taking in the responsibility of the whole company and the horses. I had a very jolly and welcome dinner at 7, and turned in at 9.
February 24.—By the way, although we are within three miles of Derby, our actual camp is at Roodeplat.
Reveille at 4.45. Inspected horses and rifles. Sent horses grazing at 7. Church parade at 10. By the way, the Rev. Mr. Mercer (missionary from Swaziland) took the service. He is a refugee in our. camp, with his wife and family, as the Boers have compelled him to quit his place. It was very welcome having Divine service again. For the first time the prayers were for His Majesty King Edward VII., and for the first time we all said ' God save the King!' at the end of the service. A most lovely day. In the afternoon we invited Mr. Mercer and his wife to tea. She is a most interesting woman. She has been out here since 1872, and is the daughter of a staff-officer (she was a Miss Pitt-Dean), and seems to be a pretty courageous woman, too. When we appeared here the Boers threatened her and her husband, and also threatened to shoot off all the Christian Kaffirs. What do you think she did? She sent a message to the Queen Regent of Swaziland for an impi. She got it, too, and kept them to guard her house. The Swazis hate the Boers, and would give anything to go for them. Turned in at 10.
February 25.—General French has sent a message that he is very pleased with the work General Alderson has done in the way of clearing up the country.
Reveille at 5 a.m. Half my company furnished vedettes on outpost; otherwise only the usual camp duties. A beautiful day. I managed to get two days' supplies of mealy meal for the men— ¾ lb. per head.
February 26. — Reveille at 4.45; breakfast at 7. Went out for the day foraging with Warnford, of the 44th Goorkhas (No. 3 Company). Took four men with me and three led horses. We started at 10. Went south-south-west. Had a fairly successful day, and got 40 lb. flour, 60 lb. potatoes, 30 lb. peaches, one sack green figs, 20 lemons, 8 chickens, 10 ducks, 4 wild geese (which we shot), 20 eggs, 200 lb. mealies, and 100 lb. bran. We visited about twenty kraals and eight farms, and returned to camp to dinner at 7.
February 27.—Reveille at 4.35. There is a thick white mist, and very wet. At 7.30, all of a sudden, the whole mist rolled away. There was a startling transformation; everything became clear, with a cloudless blue sky and a brilliant sun, all the more wonderful by its suddenness—a morning to make one feel what a glorious thing it is to be alive.
Successes of all columns co-operating: Boers killed and wounded, 292; Boers captured, 363; cannon, including Maxim, 4; rifles, 606; ammunition (small-arm), 170,000 rounds; horses and mules, 7,000; trek oxen, 5,000; other oxen, 20,000; sheep, 160,000; waggons and carts, 1,700; mealies and oat-hay, 500,000 bushels.
At 9 a.m. Colonel Campbell's column passed through here en route to Piet Retief. General Smith-Dorrien's column is just behind.
The usual camp duties. At 2 p.m. the advanced guard of Smith-Dorrien's column passed through our camp. His force consists of three infantry battalions, 3rd Mounted Infantry, 2nd Imperial Light Horse, one naval 12-pounder, one 5-inch gun, 5th Irish Lancers, 84th Field Battery, 16th Field Battery, and two Pom Poms.
As the Colonel of the 5th Lancers rode by I asked him one or two things, and Anally asked him to our mess, which was just close by. He came in and had an interesting chat.
Our latest news: Smith-Dorrien goes to Derby. The Boers have all trekked south, along the Swaziland border towards Vryheid. French and all columns are going after them, and hope ultimately to round them up near Zululand and Natal. Allenby's column and Knox's column are at Piet Retief, Dartnell's column at Lune-berg. We shall all probably trek to Marienthal Lieutenant-General French is in full command of all forces operating in the Eastern Transvaal.
At 4 p.m. I and my company went on outpost duty to north of camp. Put out all my posts. A brilliant moonlight night. All quiet. Stood to arms at 3.30. A thick white mist
February 28.—Returned to camp at 6 a.m.; orders to move at 9 a.m. Moved at 9 am. due south to Piet Retief. My company supplied right, left, and rear guard.
At 10.30 a.m. Sergeant Mucock, in command of my rearguard, sent up to me to report that he was fired upon by Boers at close quarters, and that one man in 13th Mounted Infantry was shot.
I rode back at once, taking Hilton and twenty-five men in support. Rode back to rearguard and took up position on a ridge, keeping the horses behind Kaffir kraals. Sent Hilton to cover my left rear (due north) on another ridge. Spotted our enemy trekking off from farm 800 yards north-east. Opened fire, and got two Boers, both killed. Hilton also opened fire. The Boers were 200 to 300 strong. Remained here three hours, keeping up fire, until the column got fairly well away. Hilton did good work on left rear. Retired on main column by sections alternately. Although under fire all the time we had no casualties, except two horses.
Marched back on main column, and reached Piet Retief at 6 p.m.
A big camp, about 20,000 troops: French's column, Allenby's column, Knox's column, Alderson's column, Campbell's column, Smith-Dorrien's column.
We are under orders to proceed to Marienthal tomorrow, my company to be escort to scouts. We lost six horses to-day. No forage or rations. All the troops are in the same boat. The convoys with supplies have been stopped by the flooding of the river.
A wonderful sight seeing a big camp again; it reminds one of old times.
March 1.—Piet Retief. Reveille at 5 a.m.; marched off due south at 7.30 for Marienthal To-day my company was support to scouts. At 8.30 crossed Assegani River in flood. It is curious to watch the animals crossing the drift—horses up to their girths and almost carried away by the stream. We had a long, uneventful march through a tremendously rugged country, strong kopjes, road strewn with dead carcasses of horses, oxen, and mules, bare veldt, and in the distance to south-east the mighty spurs of the Drakensberg, 5,000 feet high. Reached Marienthal—a collection of houses burnt down—at 5.30 p.m., right at the top of a high ridge. It was a desolate scene, this site of a recent camp of Allenby's and of a recent fight. Here and there were a few graves with wooden crosses, some broken-down waggons, and dead animals. General Alderson bad an interview with General Dartnell here to-day. By the way, Pulteney's, Allenby's, Knox's, Campbell's, French's, and Smith-Dorrien's columns were all at Piet Retief yesterday. Dartnell's column is close to this. Convoys are coming in one after another from Intombi, eight miles south.
The road we came by was so bad that no waggons are expected in to-night, so there is no food for anybody. It is raining hard—thunderstorms. Spent a fairly miserable night.
March 2.—Marienthal. Turned out at 4. All wet through! Every available man in camp sent out to help the waggons along. I had four men left to look after horses of my company, and I worked like a nigger all day with them. There was no food for anybody. Boone and his company rejoined to-day from Intombi (convoy escort duty). General Burn-Murdoch is guarding lines of communication between Newcastle and Intombi, where all convoys come from. One thousand five hundred infantry, of which my regiment supplied 400, are escorting convoys from Newcastle to Intombi.
I hear from some of my sick men, who are rejoining me to-day, that MacLean, our Adjutant, has been thrown from his horse and is in hospital. Major Savile is in command of the 400 Middlesex men coming up with the convoy. I also heard that Kitchener is in communication with Botha re unconditional surrender. It may possibly come off. At 5 to-night some waggons came in. They were very welcome! Part of convoy for us came in also; so two days' rations were served out, the first food for us all for thirty-six hours. Very, very welcome I Hilton and Waters return to my company for duty. Smith becomes battalion quarter-master.
We have lost thirty-six horses; it has been a pretty stiff time, in fact, the horses are absolutely done. We lost fifteen to-day; I shot seven myself. Awful 1 However, I have got twelve new remounts from convoy. There are very heavy duties, too, in the way of outposts; one-third of the force is always on outpost. The country is rugged and difficult.
March 3.—Turned out at 5. Thirteenth and 14th Mounted Infantry, with pom-pom and two Colt guns, went out at 7 to make a demonstration in force towards Piet Retief to cover two convoys. On going out I was main body. It was a lovely day. We went out twelve miles, finding the country all clear. On our return I furnished right, left flank, and rear guard. The horses are utterly worn out; I lost twelve again to-day. I returned to camp at 8 o'clock, very tired; we must have done thirty to forty miles to-day. Farms all cleared by Pulteney's force. We officers are living on half-rations now, just like the men, our stores having given out altogether.
March 4.—Reveille at 5; breakfast at 7. Two new subalterns have joined us from the Devons at Lyden-burg—Maxwell and Kayne—both very decent fellows. At 8.30 we shifted camp just a mile south-south-west on some cleaner ground. To-day I caught four fairly good horses in a kraal, all wild.
March 5.—Turned out at 3, as I had orders to send out twenty-five men and an officer as escort to convoys going to Piet Retief. Sent Hilton. Waters and his section have gone on permanent outpost for some days. I shall probably remain here for a week or ten days and await supplies, etc. This is a cold, misty day, with fine drizzling rain. Very heavy duties all round. One o'clock, raining hard. Usual duties. Dinner, or I should say half-rations, at 7. Turned in at 10. Very wet and damp.
March 6.—Rained hard all night. Turned out at 5. Usual camp duties. Good news to-day: De Wet utterly broken up and Louis Botha making terms of surrender at Middelburg. Hilton's party returned safe and sound. It is still raining like blazes. Amongst my duties every day is to tell off the prisoners, which is always unpleasant. Marienthal is a little German colony, and has a small church. All the country round is very broken and hilly. To the south-west are the towering Verzamelsberg and Ilangaapiesberg; but we can't see much, as everything is covered in clouds. Still, the scenery is very beautiful, even covered in by gray clouds.