ARRIVAL AT QUEENST0WN— WORK OF THE BRIGADE THERE— S0ME AMUSING INCIDENTS—RECALLED TO OUR SHIPS—INTENSE DISAPPOINTMENT—ARRIVAL AT SIMONSTOWN—LEARN THAT WE ABE TO LAND AGAIN.
QUEENSTOWN was reached at 7 P.M. on November 2, and a large and enthusiastic crowd of inhabitants welcomed us. They seemed to look upon the arrival of the Naval Brigade as their salvation. Camp was pitched that night, and next day the remainder of the Stormberg garrison arrived and all necessary precautions for defence immediately taken in hand. Before leaving Stormberg all stores were loaded up and those burnt for which no room was available, and the defences destroyed. The Naval Brigade had their first experience of the real discomfort of camp life on active service soon after their arrival here, for suddenly a gale (or dust storm) sprang up and blew most things away.
News of the progress of the campaign was very hard to get, especially from Natal; the wildest rumours flew round, and very sinister were some of these. We were much amused at getting letters from Simonstown saying that the Naval Brigade at Stormberg was surrounded on all sides, and likely to be out up. We also heard of the Naval Brigade's doings in Ladysmith and the death of poor Egerton.
A remount depot had been formed at Queenstown. and the officers of the Brigade were promptly fitted out with all necessary horse equipment, and occasional riding parties did much to pass the time. Cutlass drill on horseback as tried by two of the officers one day led to a most amusing, and quite unintended, cavalry charge into the middle of the tents, their frightened steeds not being used to such treatment. Though we begged them to go through their interesting performance again, they were much too modest to do so.
Queenstown itself is a charming little town lying on a plain with a range of hills to the north. The inhabitants treated us well, and we were eventually very sorry to leave. The Berkshires' band used to play inspiriting tunes, and the fair inhabitants, many of them Boer sympathisers, no doubt, enjoyed the unusual treat, and often were to be seen in our camp, as guests. But we were very suspicious of everybody, and the men were instructed never to give any information whatever to strangers, and taxed their imaginations to give ingenious and misleading replies. To one visitor, who, on being shown the guns, asked: ' What do they fire ?' the private of marines, remembering his orders, had a brilliant inspiration, and replied: ' Oh, them there guns ? Well, you see, when our fellers 'ave to go away from camp on dooty we fires biscuits after 'em. It saves a deal of trouble.'
The duties at Queenstown were very heavy for our men, and there was plenty of digging and building for them to do; the weather being bitterly cold at night, and exceedingly hot during the day. Sometimes there was as much as forty-five to fifty degrees variation in temperature, varied by occasional gales of wind, and dust storms, quite enough to spoil one's ' stretch off the land’ and temper. It was very amusing on one night, when the top-gallant halyards of the mess tent carried away, to see officers in varicoloured night garments running about trying to keep the marquee from travelling heavenwards. However, by dint of hard work, hard language, and a number of strong men the situation was saved.
Some reinforcements were sent up to this garrison, but when the railway west of Queenstown was cut it was decided to withdraw the garrison altogether, and with bitter expressions on all sides, and much sympathy from the Berkshires, the Naval Brigade was entrained for East London. This disappointment was awful to us, as we quite thought that all our chances of being in action had gone. We returned horses, saddlery, water-cart, and all army stores, and actually handed over the guns to a second lieutenant of Royal Artillery. To return without their guns was an exceedingly great blow to our men, and the night before we left it is vouched for that two of the gun's crew approached an officer, and, after a good deal of scratching of heads and shuffling of feet, asked permission to disable their guns. When asked 'what the devil they meant?' they answered, 'Well, sir, seeing as how we can't take 'em back ourselves, we don't want 'em to fall into the hands of nobody else.' There were heavy hearts when the good-byes
were said to our friends in the garrison. The Berkshire band played us away, and a big crowd assembled at the station to see the last of the Naval Brigade, who during their short stay in garrison had become exceedingly popular. Every one hoped to meet us again, and still hoped to meet us fighting.
At East London we were met by the senior naval officer, who said it was quite true that we were to rejoin our ships. We had fondly hoped that Natal might be our goal. Here the 'Terrible's' men of the Naval Brigade embarked on board a transport for passage to rejoin their ship, and to see some fighting in Natal, and the remainder embarked on board the 'Roslin Castle,' and left immediately for Simons-town. Champagne to drown one's sorrows and quench one's thirst was the order of the night, and after a good dinner, a smoke and sing-song, we, to a certain extent, forgot our sorrow and took a more cheerful view of the situation; but the disappointment and disgust at being sent back, bloodless, to our ships may be better imagined than described. At East London we heard how well the Natal Naval Brigades had been doing, and wished and hoped for our chance to come.
On the way round to Simonstown there was deep-seated anger at the thought of being on the point of rejoining the fleet without having a chance of fighting, and we wondered if we should be badly chaffed. Imagine our joy on arriving on Sunday, November 19, to see men in khaki parading on board the ships, and to receive a signal that a new Naval Brigade was being organised, that we were to form part of it, that we were to be entrained at four o'clock that same afternoon, all under the command of Flag Captain Prothero, and that we were going to join Lord Methuen's column for the relief of Kimberley. Bound after round of cheering rent the air, and there was a good deal of hand-shaking and congratulations. Those of us whose wives were living at Simonstown were lucky enough to be able to get ashore for a few hours, and then off to the front again.A. E. MARCHANT.