ENCAMPED ROUND LADYSMITH—MARCH TO ELANDSLAAGTE AND CAMP—RUDELY DISTURBED BY SHELLS—TWO MEN KILLED— RETIRE—REMAIN HERE WHILST PREPARATIONS ARE MADE FOB THE GREAT ADVANCE.
WHEN Ladysmith had been relieved and both the ' Terribles' and’ Powerfuls' had been sent back to rejoin their ships, the Naval Brigade, although reinforced by the crews of the 12-pounders which had remained on the lines of communication, numbered ten officers and ninety men, only just sufficient to man two 4.7's and four 12-pounders. The remaining guns were handed over to the army.
From March 8 to 19, the diminished Brigade was encamped to the north of Ladysmith, and early on the morning of this latter date marched six miles along the Newcastle road, and bivouacked close to the site of one of the big Boer laagers, used by them when besieging the town.
Trekking to Elandslaagte (ten miles) the following day, camp was pitched two miles beyond the railway station and a mile south of Sunday's River. General Clery commanded the forces here.
We were left in absolute quiet till April 10, when at 8 A.M. the enemy, quite unexpectedly, opened fire on the camp from four different gun positions, the shells coming fast and pitching right in among the wagons.
This was the first time we had known them begin the game—the trouble had always been, heretofore, to make them reply to our guns.
The six naval guns came into action with great rapidity, and quickly knocked out at least one of their opponents, and shortly managed to subdue the fire of the others.
In the meantime the Kaffir drivers and Cape boys had gone after the oxen, which were peaceably grazing some distance away, driven them in, and inspanned. This they did with the most commendable alacrity and coolness, though all the time shells were falling pretty freely among the ammunition wagons. One shell alone smashed a wheel and unfortunately killed two men of the 'Philomel’ wounding two others. These were the first men killed in this Brigade. The body of one was completely pierced by the case of the shrapnel shell.
Directly the gun teams were brought in, they were hooked on to the guns and dragged them into little emplacements which had been previously made in readiness for just such an occasion, and from these they quickly got the mastery of the Boer guns.
There were several very lucky escapes that morning. Perhaps the most lucky was that of an officer who was superintending the wagons, and heard several men shouting to him to jump aside. This he did, and a big piece of shell went whizzing by, grazing his leg as it passed. These men had seen the shell burst, had seen the fragment flying in his direction, and if he had not jumped aside when they called, it would have caught him clean in the body. A gun limber was smashed up by another shell, and a box of 12-pounder ammunition was completely perforated, the cordite cartridges being cut in two.
The Naval Brigade had, in fact, been more roughly handled than in all its severe fighting south of Ladysmith.
At dusk the force retired on Elandslaagte, and the 4,7,s took up a position on the very kopje so gallantly captured by our men at the commencement of the war.
The Naval Brigade earned General Clery's especial commendation that day, for the men showed great steadiness under a fire at times very severe, though most of them had previously formed the crews of the guns on the lines of communication, and had never been in action before.
The camp was then left in peace till the 21st, when Boers were seen swarming to the south of the river, where they had occupied a small kopje, and on both flanks. The 4.7s opened fire and two Boer guns, one on each flank, promptly replied, but one was quickly smashed up and the other soon ceased firing (range, 4,500 to 4,800 yards).
Then we went to sleep again for nearly three weeks, whilst everything was being prepared for Buller's great advance.