A letter written by Lieut.-Colonel Gore to Lieut-General the Hon. S. J. G. Calthorpe, Full Colonel of the 5th Dragoon Guards, with a request that it might be sent round to be seen by former officers of the regiment:—
Ingogo, 2nd September, 1900.
Dear General Calthorpe,
I cannot find any record of my having answered your kind letter, written on 26th May, so I trust you will let me make up for it now, and plead hard work as my excuse. I had a fall a week ago—out reconnoitring—and hurt my ankle, so I am kept in my tent perforce, and obliged to have time to write now! We have been doing a great deal of, perhaps thankless, but nevertheless hard and necessary work for a long time past. I fancy few people in the world know the frontiers of Natal, both eastern and western, more thoroughly than the 5th Dragoon Guards ! At one time or another we have done the outpost duty almost all along the line, and there is scarcely a pass or a mountain track, a kopje or a spruit, that has not been patrolled by some of us. I will give you a brief sketch of where we have been since the siege.
From 13th March to 16th April : at Colenso, supposed to be recruiting the men's healths; as a matter of fact, the place we were camped in was scarcely healthier than Ladysmith ! It was almost on the Colenso battle-field, where the two armies had been facing each other for so long, and consequently anything but desirable ground. We got some horses, of sorts, here, and put them into training immediately. From 17th April to 17th May, we were at Ladysmith again ! We now belonged to Burn Murdoch's (1st) Cavalry Brigade—to which we had been posted as a reward for Ladysmith. (We expected this would ensure our " going on" when the advance was made, but I am sorry to say that Brocklehurst's brigade, to which we originally belonged, has after all been selected to go on with Buller : very hard luck on us.)
We at once—horsed as we were—took up our share of the outpost duty, and had one squadron, for a week at a time, at Smith's Crossing, about six miles from Ladysmith, on the railway towards Van Reenen's Pass. We now had a very busy time : everything had to be reorganized ! We had had a different system of transport before, and that had to be worked up again : until now we had been on the " Indian establishment," and we now changed to the English establishment.
During this time we were always being turned out for various alarms, but the Boers never attempted anything more than shooting at patrols. We were all heartily sick of this period !
On 17th May we suddenly received orders to march to Dundee. It was an interesting three days' march, following the destroyed railway line and seeing the Boer defences in the Biggarsberg, evacuated by them only a few days before, owing to Buller's turning movement via Helpmakaar. Arrived at Dundee, I found myself the senior officer of the force there, and appointed Commandant. I had some of the busiest days of my life at first: all the civil work as well as the military was referred to me: the rebel farmers had to be dealt with, and my instructions were not very definite for a few days. There was a nice jail standing open without a jailer, but we remedied that soon. The houses were all looted, and furniture piled about in various buildings to which it did not belong. I called a meeting of the members of the Town Council, and had the honour of presiding, and making speeches to them upon the necessary steps to be taken, in my new character of a military dictator! I hope this will be recorded in the annals of Dundee. Measures had to be taken at once for the defence of the place from an attack from the Buffalo lying to the east. Penn Symons in full confidence awaited the attack down near the town, on a flat place commanded, at what we now call very close artillery range, on all sides by hills.
He deliberately allowed the Boers to get on these unmolested. With the same problem before us, taught by his experience, we occupied all these hills ourselves.
Our advanced squadrons now had lively times. They were on ridges overlooking the Buffalo, and their patrols to the various " drifts "—De Jager's and Landman's especially —were in constant contact with the enemy. Captain Reynolds did excellent work with the scouts, sending much valuable information into headquarters. Several horses were shot at odd times. Corporal Chamberlin and another scout, after many adventures, were captured one day. Two days later I got a report, dated " Utrecht Jail," from Chamberlin ! In a matter-of-fact way he gave information about the position of some commandos and guns, part of which he had learnt from other people in the jail! I think this must be almost a " record." He got a Kaffir to bring his letter through.
We were our own masters during this period, and doing good, interesting, but very hard work: the men and everybody else enjoyed it. On the 1st of June we made a long and interesting reconnaissance into the Transvaal, and bivouacked for the night, on our return, at Landman's Drift.
We got a piano out of a rebel farm, and after an excellent concert made the rebel piano play "God save the Queen" to an accompaniment that might have been heard all over the Transvaal!
On 23rd June we marched to Dannhauser, and after making some defences there, left it, and pitched our camp at Ingagane. Here we were rejoined by Brigadier-General Burn Murdoch and the Royal Dragoons, so were in brigade again. The 5th Dragoon Guards now took the western frontier, and the Royals the eastern. The men did a lot of good work, making defences, sangars, and wire entanglements, and we had some useful practical musketry (such as my soul loveth), and not as taught at Hythe. The men shoot wonderfully well now at any object you like to point out to them in the field. My " words of command " are most unorthodox ! I say to a man, " Do you see so-and-so ? " " Yes." " Then hit it for me." And it is wonderful how they judge the distance, adjust their sights, fire, " observe " the strike, alter their sights again, and hit the mark! They didn't do this at first, though; they have never been taught to think for themselves. (I apologize for this digression !)
On 2nd July I was ordered to make a reconnaissance towards Utrecht " to clear up the situation." I had command of 5th Dragoon Guards and Royals. We crossed the river unopposed, and got right up to Utrecht. Our " C " squadron was acting as left advanced squadron, and got all the fun; the Royals, as right advanced squadron, met no enemy.
Utrecht, I should say, had been visited before by a strong British force—to whom it promptly surrendered, of course. When my patrols got within 500 or 600 yards of the town, a hot fire was opened on them from the town, and some trees near it. (So much for the " surrendering " !) The rest of the squadron went up nearer and dismounted, and there was a very nice little fight for about two and a half hours. I was hoping the enemy would open with guns from the heights, as we wanted to find out about them—but they didn't. The Boers tried to draw us up into the valley beyond Utrecht —a regular trap. We didn't go, thank you !
Meantime some of our new boys who had not been in the siege were enjoying this vastly, and young Black had a great pursuit after a Boer—who disappeared into a donga—and would have got shot himself if he had had any luck ! As we, with the main body, had now made our pictures and maps, I ordered a retirement. There was a little difficulty in withdrawing, but we were off within the half-hour. We got one Boer for certain, and had no casualty ourselves after all this " popping." We got back to camp at dusk, many of the horses having done between 50 and 55 miles. The report of this reconnaissance, etc., went up to Sir Redvers, and, I am glad to say, was sent back " for information," with most complimentary remarks and a mention of some officers. I put these remarks in " Orders " for the men to see; they had all worked like bricks.
We were all intensely glad to leave Ingagane on 28th July, as we had hated the place.
Next, the regiment was indeed scattered, being broken up into five different detachments.
Kotzee's Drift - 0.5 squadron
Ingogo - 1 squadron
Laing's Nek - 0.5 squadron
Volksrust - 0.5 squadron and and headquarters
Zandspruit - 0.5 squadron.
The same sort of work still went on, so I will not repeat myself. At this time each detachment probably had out four patrols all day long, so there would be about twenty patrols always in contact with the enemy. Unfortunately, some men were wounded and some taken prisoners. I have just heard, however, from a Boer (who came in with a flag of .nice on another subject) that he was present when one patrol was captured. He said one of our corporals had got clean away himself, when he saw that the " guide" had fallen: he went back and tried to bring the guide away, and was surrounded and made prisoner. The Boer himself said, "Surely they will give him the Victoria Cross if they know it?" The Boer gave his own name, so I hope to refer to him for evidence when the war is over. (When?)
The Boers have been very active down here lately. They gave Kotzee's Drift a very smart shelling, but luckily hit no one. We had two field-guns there, but they were out-ranged (as usual) and had to go away. I am now down here with headquarters, and Laing's Nek is our most northerly post. The Boers stopped the trains running for two days, but they have not cut the line in our section—yet! Our gun (naval 12-pounder) was firing from here at intervals yesterday at stray Boers: quite reminds me of Ladysmith. I can't run away (because of my ankle!), but the shells are going the right way this time !
I wonder if the English papers have got hold of Reynolds' gallant exploit ? As the Boers had been menacing the railway, he went out by night with 22 men. They rode six miles; then left their horses, and went on with 17 men dismounted. They saw a lot of fires and " stalked" up to them. Reynolds had his men in the form of a crescent. They got within 70 yards, and saw about 100 Boers sitting round the fires making coffee. Evidently they were going to attack the railway at dawn, or they would not have been awake at that hour, or in that place.
Two Boers must have heard something. They were mounted, and rode straight towards where Reynolds was lying. He let them come close up, and then said in a low voice, " Hands up!" " Ja ! " said the Dutchmen, beginning to dismount with their rifles to shoot. Then Reynolds let them have it—right and left with his Mauser pistol: so they were all right. At this signal all our men, of course, began blazing away at the groups of Boers round the fire. The report says, "the shrieks and groans that arose were awful." This firing was kept up for a considerable time at this short range—the Dutchmen didn't know which way to run.
At last some of them got their rifles and began firing wildly; then the signal to go was given, and our men made for the horses. They returned to camp with only a casualty of " one man missing." They had fired over 600 rounds !
This was a most brilliant affair, and had a great effect. General Talbot Coke was much pleased. We visited the scene of this encounter a few days ago, and found many dead ponies, and some wounded ones also. Reports from several sources say that the Boers had between 30 and 40 casualties.
I think now that I have spun a very long yarn, and at last brought you up to date. In the six months thus briefly glanced over, there has been a steady, constant current of work, that could not be neglected or slurred over. Many alarms, and false alarms. Sham " turn outs." " Standing to horses" at 3 a.m. (Who enjoys getting up at 2.45 a.m. ?) And yet the thing I am most proud of is, that officers and men here are doing their duty as if they had only started this work a week ago. Absolutely no diminution of " keenness " whenever there is work to be done.
That, I humbly think, is a criterion of a good regiment: I am only talking to old " Fifth " men, so I don't feel shy in saying this! No newly raised regiment without traditions could have done this. It would have melted away long ago, if they had had no regular fighting to keep them together.
As I sit in my tent writing, I can see Majuba, 12 miles to my right, towering up finely. On the top of it, day and night, are a corporal and three men of the 5th Dragoon Guards, looking down on the world from that historic spot! There's a garrison for you ! (Don't tell the Boers.)
The apex of the triangle of Northern Natal is watched on both its frontiers by the 5th Dragoon Guards as far south as Ingogo; and down the spurs of the Western Berg its men are now making their way home at evening.
And close below my tent is going on as merry a game of football as may have been taking place on the afternoon on which you "joined"—my old Brother Officers !
St. John Gore.