DIAMOND HILL—EFFECTS OF OUR FIRE—THE PHOTOGRAPHER— MARCH TO KOODOOSPOORT—A LITTLE SPORT—OCCASIONAL FIRING —MARCH TO BRONKER'S SPRUIT—A TERRIBLE NIGHT—THE ENEMY STILL RETREAT.
AT daylight we found that the ridge on which we had been placed was nearly eleven thousand yards distant from the enemy's position; and as our extreme range with the field-carriages was only 9,500, we were of hardly any use the whole day—-in fact, we only fired five rounds, and those at some snipers who had come down to the bottom of the hills and were firing at our mounted infantry, who were occupying Marks's Farm.
During the whole of the two days the engagement lasted we saw very little of the fight itself, as our Division was engaging the centre of the enemy's position and the main attack was on the flanks. But the Boers, knowing Lord Roberts's tactics and wishes to surround them, also had very few men in their centre, which was practically unassailable, and had massed their main body on their flanks.
Having camped on the ridge for the night, early next morning we moved to another one, which was only about seven thousand yards from the range of hills. Here we opened fire, and, if report can be believed, did considerable damage amidst the enemy's 'sangars,' the station-master who lived at the ‘Poort' railway station telling as afterwards that he himself saw seven dead and several wounded taken out of one ' sangar,' the effects of one lyddite shell.
Our principal endeavours were to prevent the big gun, which was trying to come out along the railway and return our fire, from doing so. At last a lucky shot tore up a piece of the line, and all danger from that quarter consequently disappeared.
During the day we fired fifty-seven rounds from the two guns.
We encamped where we were for the night, and were up at the usual hour before daybreak next morning, anxiously awaiting news, as we knew nothing of what had been happening on the flanks. At 10 A.M. Lord Roberts rode up with his Staff, and smilingly remarked that our last shot had cleared the Boers out altogether, and that they had gone on further east. He stayed talking some time with our Captain, and made some very complimentary remarks about our work.
That evening we got orders to 'trek’ back to Koodoospoort, and sorrowfully thought that this retiring on the town was a sign that we were not amongst those who were to follow up the Boers further east; fortunately we were mistaken.
While at luncheon, a photographer, belonging to a well-known firm, photographed the Naval Brigade; and not only us, but he also photographed our Highland escort, in a most wonderful selection of striking attitudes—'Charging a Kopje' (enemy left to the imagination), 'The Last Cartridge,' ‘The Last Bugle-Call,' ‘ Carrying off the Wounded' (who were specially bound up for the occasion in handkerchiefs dipped in mud and wound round their heads)—altogether a magnificent and true series of pictures of the war!
Moving on the next day, we halted at Koodoospoort, which was only two miles east of Pretoria; and spent here a peaceful time till the 21st. We replenished our larder as best we could from the scanty resources offered in the shops in the town, for, as most of the useful stores had already been taken by the Boers and no fresh supplies were allowed up yet, there was very little left, and the little there was, was sold at exorbitant prices. Postage stamps were, of course, the great rage, and every one hoped to make the fortune he had omitted to make at Bloemfontein, where one bought, one day, a 'sixpenny red' for sixpence, and found to one's delight that it was minus a D or had an extra dot, and was consequently worth fifty pounds, the next. The Pretoria stamps were, however, uncomfortably devoid of errors.
On the 21st we again moved camp, to Marks's Farm, some sixteen miles east of Pretoria. Here we stayed till the 24th. Our mess stock was greatly replenished on the first day of our arrival here by a party of officers, who, going out shooting, came across some coverts full of guinea-fowl, and proceeded to beat them. Hundreds of apparently confiding birds arose, Borne of which were promptly added to the game-bag, as many more would undoubtedly have been, had it not been for a lack of cartridges, and a message from the General, that they were not to shoot Mr. Marks's tame guinea-fowl.
On Sunday, June 24, we moved our camp again about half a mile, so as to get our guns into a position commanding the ' poort' in the hills.
Here we remained till July 22. Nothing exciting occurred during this time. We occasionally were ordered to fire some rounds at the kopjes to our front, as we were given to understand that there were Boers there; but we did not do much damage, only setting the furze alight. On one occasion, after some firing a witty officer asked our Captain why he had expended quite thirty rounds of lyddite when a halfpenny box of matches would have done as well.
We were given large quantities of corrugated iron and wood, and made huts for officers and men. The Mess hut was a great masterpiece, and although the wind—an uncommonly cold one—would whistle through it, it was a great improvement on biscuit boxes on the open veldt.
We bought a certain amount of cricket gear in Pretoria and played several matches; but the pitch could hardly be called a good one, and the scores were consequently small; however, it helped us to pass the time away. We also made several excursions into Pretoria in search of food, &c, by the train which ran in and out with stores. Going in was quite easy work, but coming out was more difficult, as the engines had seen their best days and used to jib at the steep inclines when they had a large load behind them, and often it was necessary to get out and help the engine do its work.
The nights were bitterly cold while we were here, but the days were very fine— a warm sun and a cool breeze, and the air magnificently fresh. The climate played havoc with the oxen and they lost condition rapidly, giving us much trouble when we eventually moved on. During our stay the senior major of marines was sent to hospital and invalided.
On the morning of Tuesday, July 22, we received orders to ' trek' again in the afternoon, so at 1.30 we started off, leaving behind us the huts we had built with such skill, for some other fortunate persons to use.
We marched that day as far as Donkershook, about seven miles off, and encamped there for the night. On the following morning we were ready to start by 6.30, but did not move till 10, as the enemy had hastily retired, and instead of surrounding them and cutting off their retreat eastward, we were left again in the unfortunate position of having to follow after them as fast as possible. Our hope that they would stand and give us a fight was not fulfilled; but there must be, we thought, an end or corner to the country, where at last we should bring them to bay, so we cheerfully plodded on after them. On Tuesday, the 24th, we marched fifteen miles, and arrived at Bronker's Spruit, the scene of the disaster to an English regiment, marching in to garrison Pretoria, during the first Boer war. We saw the graves of the men who had been killed. They were sadly in need of repair, and this has since been done.
The next day was one of the most unpleasant we had ever experienced. All went well till noon, when the wind got up and rain commenced to come down in torrents. We marched on and on in the blinding rain and against a howling wind, until we came within a stone's-throw of our camping-ground. It was nearly dark then, and our tempers were not improved by getting one of the guns stuck in a small drift. After half an hour's work we got it out and started to bivouac for the night. The ground was like a snipe-marsh, and torrents of rain still fell. However, we got fairly comfortably settled under our tarpaulins, and changed our clothes, if we could find any to change into, and retired between blankets, the officers' mess wagon being also the shelter for our favourite ox, an animal called ' Bantam,' who was extraordinarily tame, and would answer to his name and follow you like a dog (if you had a biscuit in your hand). The Captain, however, was not so fortunate. He had the luxury of a tent—the only one we carried with us. Perhaps on this night it had not been pitched with as much care as usual, owing to the wet and the men being very ‘ done up.' Anyhow, the whole thing blew down, and our CO. was suddenly awakened by finding the tent-pole pinning him to the ground. He crawled out, clad in a shirt, having taken his breeches off to dry, and called for men to pitch the tent again. No one heard him, and so he had to pull the wet canvas over him and sleep like that for the rest of the night; but, marvellous to relate, he was not a bit the worse afterwards.
The next day turned out bright and sunny, and we were given till noon to dry ourselves, and then only marched four miles. Most people had come off worse than we had, and we heard afterwards that it was daring this night that the young officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and three men had died from exposure.On the 26th the Gunnery Lieutenant, who had been detached with two 12-pounders, rejoined. He had been away a month defending the north-eastern portion of the outer range of hills surrounding Pretoria, and had had only a few opportunities to do a little long-range shooting—mostly without much result.