AWAITING REINFORCEMENTS AFTER COLENSO—BOER SIGNALS— NAVAL GUNNERY—LIFE IN CAMP.
ON December 17, two days after the big fight, the 4-7's and six 12-pounders—unobserved by the enemy —moved back early in the morning to Gun Hill at Chieveley, and at 7 A.M., from this position, the 4.7's opened fire on the Boer trenches.
Ogilvy's six 12-pounders had retired to Frere with the larger portion of the army, and for the next three weary weeks, waiting for reinforcements to arrive, had nothing whatever to do. We with the 4.7s worried the Boers nearly every day, chiefly at sunrise and just before sundown, for then there was no mirage; occasionally we loosed off a few rounds at night, and at other times were usefully employed covering reconnaissances—seldom were we altogether idle.
The Boers made many facetious signals, such as : ' How did you like your licking on Friday ?' ‘ How is Mr. Buller?' 'What has Mr. Buller done that Roberts is coming out?' 'Let us know when you intend attacking again,' &c, &c.
In two months' time they had, however, forgotten to be funny!
On the 19th the 4.7's were ordered to destroy the foot-bridge at Colenso, and one gun plugged at it –it was 7,500 yards off—for half an hour, without any result, so the second gun was turned on, and William Bate, the captain of the gun, with his third or fourth shot, dropped a lyddite shell on top of it and completely wrecked one span; exceedingly good gunnery it was.
With this bridge destroyed, the Boers occupying Hlangwani Hill, to the south of the river, were isolated from the north bank and would find themselves cut off, if the river rose.
On the 22nd a spare 4.7 arrived from Durban to replace one showing signs of wear. The railway brought it to the foot of Gun Hill whilst the guns were in action. The crew of the damaged gun ceased firing, dismounted it, rolled it down to the railway truck, hauled the spare one up, and had it mounted in less than an hour. No shears or tripods were used, and many soldiers took a lesson in impromptu naval repository drill.
A small party of bluejackets from the ' Philomel’ and ' Forte' also arrived about this time to join the balloon section, and soon made themselves indispensable.
For three weeks the usual camp life was lived; very little to do, and a great deal of time to do it.
To fill up spare hours, the 4.7 crews, when not firing, worked 2,000 fathoms of 6-inch rope into mantlets for an armoured train, and kicked a football about in the cool of the evening.
Crowds of Tommies used to stand by for an opportunity of looking through the long ships' telescopes at the Boer trenches, and often came asking to be shown a Boer, for though many of them had been in the firing line at Colenso, they had never yet seen one.
Long Tom of Bulwana, twelve miles away, could be seen from here firing into Ladysmith, with the shells from the naval guns in the town occasionally bursting close to him. Through the telescopes we could even see men walking about near this gun position; so little wonder that, with the 4.7's sometimes firing and with our telescopic peep-show, Gun Hill became a very favourite resort.
It soon became christened Liars' Kopje, for among the officers and men who came to look on, most extraordinary yarns, as to what the Boers and ourselves had done, or were going to do, were spun.
Thunderstorms and sandstorms were frequent, and the rapid changes of temperature, sometimes as much as 85°, were very trying; but the greatest trouble of all was the great scarcity of water, and what there was—an insipid khaki-coloured liquid—had to be brought daily from Frere.
Christmas Day was spent in peace; even the Boers left off their ceaseless digging.
Sports were organised in the afternoon, and two of our bluejackets, made up to represent John Bull and Mr. Kruger—Old Krugger the Tommies called him—caused much amusement. These two eventually had a tug-of-war, Kruger getting the better at first, but John Bull calling for reinforcements, and being backed up by Tommies and bluejackets, Oom Paul was rushed away with merry cheers.
The Boers watching through their glasses must have thought we English took war very lightly.
January 6.—From the earliest hours of the morning till seven o'clock at night incessant and very heavy firing could be heard in the direction of Ladysmith.
This was the desperate attack on Caesar's Camp and unfortunately little could be done to help the garrison; the force certainly did advance and threaten Colenso, and may possibly have kept a few Boers in the trenches there, but that is all. Knowing, as all did, that enteric and dysentery were raging in Lady-smith, and that the troops there were naturally enfeebled, it was very galling to be unable to assist them more; and, as the firing died fitfully away in the evening, anxiety as to the fate of the town was very great. The good news next morning was therefore very cheering and an intense relief.