The Siege of Kimberley, Continued—Mule Flesh as Food— Heroism of the Women—How my Cow was Kept Going— Bissett of Magersfontein and the Boer Hundred-pounder— George Labram—Mechanical Genius, who Built "Long Cecil"—Relief of Kimberley—Two Distinguished Guests— Mortality Bill of the Siege.
Towards the end of January, 1900, matters were looking very serious. Though the population of 50,000 inhabitants (excluding Compound natives) had for some time been put on short rations, including horseflesh, there were very little provisions left with which to feed so many people. We were consequently forced to distribute mule flesh.
To me horseflesh was repellent enough, but mule flesh was altogether too much for me, so I again tightened my belt. People did not relish this new dish, but, realising the food predicament, they loyally carried on without a murmur; they knew that the best was being done for them in the existing circumstances, and all were prepared to make sacrifices in view of the seriousness of the situation.
During the siege the infant mortality was terrible, and among the natives it was appalling; ninety-three died out of every hundred born, and very few infants survived, though the death-rate among the Europeans was not as great as among the natives.
Mothers, brave and loyal, bore their sorrows in silence, refusing to add to the anxieties of their husbands and sons in the trenches. The burial of loved ones was a matter of hourly occurrence. But fathers and brothers were not told of the funerals. The women preferred to keep the sad intelligence to themselves, so that their men folk should remain on duty in the defence positions. Indeed, the heroism of the women was beyond description, sometimes most affecting. For instance, the wife of an English schoolmaster who was in the Town Guard gave birth to a boy about the end of December. On hearing the news he sent his wife a note telling her he intended applying for a few days' leave, because he was yearning to see her and the new arrival. Her reply was fine. "Your duty is to remain in the trenches; mine to look after the baby," she wrote.
In those far-off and exciting times, silk stockings, knee skirts, cocktails and cigarettes, did not enter the minds of those old-fashioned mothers, who were as keen as the men to see the war brought to a successful conclusion.
On February 10, 1900, the food position was critical. Even with a further decrease of rations, barely ten days' supply remained. To increase the hardships of the population, the Boers were bombarding the town with 100 pound shells, which inflicted many casualties, and set fire to a few houses and stores. Fortunately the Municipal Fire Brigade was augmented during the siege, and was able successfully to cope with the different outbreaks.
A few weeks after the cessation of hostilities, I obtained three months' leave of absence, and left for England to enjoy a well-earned change. I was welcomed at the other side by many friends, among whom were eight diamond merchants largely interested in different mining companies. They flattered me by arranging a dinner at the Carlton Hotel, London, and ten of us sat round the festive board. They toasted me enthusiastically, in reply to which I briefly referred to the gallant stand made by the garrison, both regulars and civilians.
I pointed out that several brave men had laid down their lives in defence of the town, leaving wives and families in a state of destitution. At the end of my remarks I expressed the hope that a subscription list started in Kimberley would be liberally supplemented by my friends round the table. The hint was quite sufficient, and within a minute I had received promises which totalled £3,600. This, together with the amount subscribed in Kimberley, raised the fund to £20,000, which sum enabled us adequately to provide for the widows and orphans of those killed in the defence.
Throughout the days of ceaseless vigil, regular communication was maintained with the military by means of white despatch riders and native runners, very few of whom were captured by the enemy. Towards the end of 1900, however, this method of getting messages through became very risky, so much so that the natives were unavailable for this particular service. Notwithstanding this fact, the white men, to their everlasting credit, stuck to their duty manfully. There were some who had hairbreadth escapes. One of them was captured, but a Mr. Milrais and Captain Cummings (now Colonel) did what was expected of them to the very end. I was present when Rhodes thanked them warmly for the services they had rendered. They were fearless men, for, if captured, they would probably have been shot.
I kept two cows in my stable. The milk they gave was very precious, as in the earlier stages of the siege I was able to distribute a few pints among my friends who had young children and infants to bring up. But after the first month I was forced to reduce the supply, and week by week it became less owing to the scarcity of fodder.
As I could not procure sufficient food for two cows, I was compelled to get rid of one, and handed it over to the commissariat for slaughter. Towards the end of December I had only half a bag of bran left, and I felt that I would have to give the remaining animal away—a serious blow to my friends who were relying on a small supply daily. In sheer despair, I cut open an old mattress stuffed with English straw, which I gave to the cow together with a small quantity of bran. She ate the "mixture" with avidity. When properly fed, this animal gave nearly three gallons of milk per day. Her output was now only a pint and a half, so my friends had to be satisfied with a daily ration of only a small teacupful.
If I could procure some more English mattresses, I might, I thought, continue to get the same small quantity of milk. I thereupon instructed my servant to visit the Market Square—where at the time several auctioneers were conducting Saturday sales—with the object of getting some secondhand mattresses. From time to time he succeeded in buying a few at a cost of 17s. 6d. each; in ordinary times these would have only realised a few shillings. My new supply enabled me to keep my cow alive, and get the same small quantity of milk as before. But at the end of January the milk supply completely gave out through lack of food, and the poor cow went the way of its stable companion.
For over thirty years before the war, the small farm, Magersfontein, about sixteen miles from Kimberley, was owned and occupied by Mr. Bissett, an honest and hard-working Scotsman. In the old coaching days this farm was the first outspan after leaving Kimberley. Here weary passengers were regalled with an excellent breakfast for the modest sum of two shillings and sixpence. Little did anyone realise in those distant days, now nearly sixty years back, that this ordinary farm would play such a great and historic part in a South African war.
It was on or about October11, 1899, that a big Boer Commando swooped down on Magersfontein, and disturbed the quietude of the lonely homestead. They severed all railway communication, and shut Kimberley off from the Cape Colony, and all the ports.
It was at a moment when Colonel Kekewich was having a " hold-the-line" telegraphic conversation with Lord Milner at Cape Town. Suddenly the wires ceased to function, and thus the concluding part of the conversation was rudely interrupted. This was actually the beginning of the Kimberley siege, which lasted 125 days, during which period 50,000 people had to be fed, though neither the Imperial nor the Colonial Governments put an ounce of food into the town.
For four months Mr. Bissett and family were prisoners on their own farm. The doctor attached to the Commando happened to be a Scotsman, and he became very friendly with Bissett, which made matters less unpleasant for the farmer. Before the war Bissett was in the habit of paying regular visits to Kimberley. His family were being educated there, and at the outbreak of hostilities were still at school. He had many friends in the town, including Colonel R. A. Finlayson, commanding the Kimberley regiment.
On many occasions Bissett endeavoured to secure permission for his daughters to return home. The Boers offered no objection, but Kekewich refused on the ground that innocently they might impart information to the enemy. Bissett was in a difficult position. His sympathies were all with the British, but he was unable to afford them any assistance. He, perforce, had to exercise the greatest caution so as not to arouse any suspicion on the part of the Boers.
One night he overheard a conversation. It was to the effect that the enemy had decided to send a hundred-pounder to Kimberley, via Boshof, with the intention of demolishing the town, and compelling its surrender. This news greatly disturbed him. His anxiety concerning the fate of the town was increased by fear for the safety of his daughters.
As he told me afterwards, many different ideas racked his worried brain. If he could only communicate with the military in Kimberley and let them know about the despatch of the gun, the route it was to take, and the strength of the escort, a strong contingent could waylay and capture it. It puzzled him to know how to get the information to Colonel Kekewich. So he decided to consult his doctor friend. Between them they eventually hit on a plan. Bissett feigned sickness, and gradually became "worse every day." When he was "very ill," he asked to see the Commandant. He told his military visitor that he felt he was dying, and would like to see his two daughters before the end.
Bissett pleaded with the Boer Commandant to send the doctor to Kimberley with a despatch requesting Colonel Kekewich to allow his daughters to return to Magersfontein "to be at the bedside of their dying father." The commandant agreed, for how could he refuse the last wish of a dying man?
Bissett gave the doctor all particulars about the big gun, and instructed him on his arrival in Kimberley to see Colonel Finlayson, a "brither Scot." On no account, however, was he to tell another soul. If their plot were discovered, it might cost both of them their lives.
When the buggy carrying the doctor and a white flag reached the defence examining post, he was
I8Q closely questioned. He immediately showed the sergeant the despatch addressed to Colonel Kekewich, and the sergeant was at once instructed to blindfold the doctor, and send him to the Belgrave Hotel in charge of a corporal.
Colonel Kekewich, unluckily, could not see the messenger, so he sent one of his Commissioned Staff to interview him. The doctor handed his despatch to the officer, but Bissett's request was refused. The doctor next expressed a desire to get into communication with Colonel Finlayson as he had some very important news for him. " Well, you can't see him," said the officer. " If you have any particular item of news you can tell it to me." The doctor's eyes were still bandaged. He did not know exactly where he was, who was in the room, or to whom he was talking. Two lives depended on his discretion.
He appealed again to the officer to remove the bandage from his eyes, but again the request was stupidly refused. I say "stupidly," because if the doctor had perchance been a spy, he could not have gained any information in an ordinary room, and he could have been blindfolded again on leaving.
I ascertained afterwards that if the doctor's bandage had been removed, and he had seen a British officer in uniform in front of him, he would have risked giving the information concerning the Boers' hundred-pounder. In that event I believe we would have succeeded in capturing that gun. At the time we had about 800 mounted men in Kimberley, all game for an exploit of this nature. One hundred of them would have been sufficient. What a chance we missed through the crass stupidity of a single man! When Bissett heard from the doctor of the unsuccessful result of his mission, he must have thought of the lines of the Scotch Poet who wrote:
" The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley."
Just as Bissett had described, the gun arrived in due course and started firing 100 pound shells into Kimberley from Kamfersdam. As a result, many casualties were reported; much havoc was wrought to buildings, and many houses and stores were set on fire. Excellent arrangements were made for the protection of women and children. The mines were rendered available as a harbour of refuge, and the underground main tunnels accommodated several thousands of helpless people, who remained in this sheltered position right up until the day of the relief.
Meanwhile, the firing of the enemy's big weapon was causing a certain amount of alarm, and it was decided to limit, as far as possible, the number of shells which were dropping into the town. Ten of the best marksmen of the North Lanes and Kimberley Regiments were selected to take up a position at as close quarters as possible to the gun, and whenever it was observed that the Boer gunners were getting busy, they brought rifle fire to bear on the embrasure.
On alternate days these squads occupied a spot over 2,000 yards from Kamfersdam. They always left Kimberley in time to reach their destination before daybreak so as to obtain good cover in a deep water furrow. Fortunately none of the snipers was hit, though there were some narrow escapes. In one instance, the telescope of one "spotter" was knocked out of his grasp by a fragment of shell. The two squads, however, continued their activities till the offending gun was silenced and removed. It is certain that by their activities they managed to reduce the number of shells that otherwise would have been fired into the town.
The Boers afterwards acknowledged having suffered casualties. Colonel De Villebois Marueil, who was killed in an engagement near Boshof while fighting for the Republics, wrote a diary. It was published after the war, and in it reference was made to the marvellous shooting of the Kimberley men, which, on many occasions, compelled the enemy gunners to seek cover. In that diary mention was also made of the wounds received by M. Leon, an agent for Creusots, the noted French gunmakers, when directing the fire of the hundred-pounder. I have already recorded one great service rendered to the defenders of Kimberley by George Labram when he erected a Cold Storage for the meat supply. I will supplement this now by relating other remarkable achievements of this mechanical genius, and chiefly his building of the big gun "Long Cecil."
George Labram was an American who came to Kimberley about 1894 to superintend the erection of a big washing plant which was made for De Beers Company by an American firm of engineers. He was not a qualified mechanical engineer, and boasted of no initials after his name. He had simply risen from the bench, and took no offence at being called a fitter. To direct the erection of such a large, expensive and complicated piece of machinery was no mean task, and the firm in whose employ he was must have had great confidence in his ability to do the job, and do it well. It took Labram more than a year to superintend its erection, but the undertaking proved a forerunner to greater things.
Mr. Gardner Williams, who was then general manager of De Beers Company, formed a high opinion of Labram's skill, and afterwards induced him to take the position of assistant mechanical engineer to the company. Subsequently when the chief engineer accepted another opening in Johannesburg, Labram was duly promoted, and placed in charge of operations. Nor could a better selection have been made. The man was a genius; to him nothing was impossible. The erection of defence works and redoubts, the laying of mines, the installation of searchlights and signalling, the construction of a cold storage or waterworks, the making of shells and guns—it was all the same to him, and nothing was too difficult. If he essayed to do a job, he did it, and did it well within the time limit. There were no excuses, and he was never late; he was as reliable as a chronometer.
Kimberley with its population of 50,000 drew its water supply from the Vaal River, being pumped through eighteen miles of pipe into reservoirs and filtering beds. One of the first acts of the Boers was to cut off the water supply. This was a very serious matter for the inhabitants, and caused a considerable amount of uneasiness, as the few wells in the town were insufficient, and most of them contained impure water. Visions of fever, disease, and a very high death-rate loomed largely before the authorities.
Kekewich, Scott Turner, Lieutenant Mac-Guinnes, R.E., Rhodes and Gardner Williams met to consider the position, and after some discussion Rhodes exclaimed, "Send for Labram." On his arrival the situation was explained to him. " There's nothing to be alarmed about," he said coolly. " I think I can give you a plentiful supply of good water if you give me forty-eight hours." " How i" came the general chorus. "Well," he replied, "I'll connect the pipes carrying the Wesselton Mine water with the town mains, and pump it right through to the municipal reservoirs. Here it can be filtered, and supplied to the town in the usual way. Nobody need be short of water. There's no trick in it; it's quite an easy job. I'll get about it at once." . . . And, thanks to Labram, there was an ample water supply right throughout the Siege.
I recall a very powerful searchlight on the Kimberley Floors, which invariably lit up the Boer position at Kamfersdam. It must have caused them much annoyance, for they frequently directed the fire of some of their guns in the direction of this beam of light, with the object of destroying it. From time to time their shells fell very close to the mark, and it seemed only a question of hours when they would get in a direct hit and render the searchlight useless. Labram was determined to frustrate the intention of the enemy.
The searchlight had been fixed on top of a heavy steel frame about thirty feet from the ground, so he designed a gear to lower and raise the frame, thus changing its position when necessary. The work was commenced and finished in one night, during which the searchlight was inactive. This must have given the enemy the idea that they had put it out of action, because on the day following they could not locate it. But it was in operation the next night, much to the chagrin of the Boer gunners. In the days and months which followed the searchlight was lowered before sunrise, and raised again just after dark, shedding its powerful light throughout the whole of the siege. Labram had outwitted the Boers, by no means an easy matter.
But the greatest engineering achievement of this mechanical master mind—it stamped him as a born genius—was the making of the big gun, "Long Cecil." "Labram, how long will it take you to make a gun?" Rhodes asked. Labram thought for a few minutes. "Four weeks," he replied, and the gun, " Long Cecil," actually went into action twenty-eight days after the query. It was indeed a marvellous effort, for Labram had no knowledge of artillery, and no experience of gunnery, nor had he ever seen the making of such a weapon. It so happened, however, that he subscribed to and read regularly the English scientific Journal The Engineer. It appeared that during 1899, or thereabouts, this particular publication gave a detailed description of the making of guns, together with particulars of rifling, sighting and trajectory, with ample drawings made to scale. At the time Labram did not pay serious attention to these, but when Rhodes asked him whether he could make a gun to cope with the Boer 15-pounder Creusot, his mind reverted to the drawings he had casually seen. "Well, Mr. Rhodes," he said, "this is a tall order, but I'll see what can be done, and let you know in a day or two."
First of all he studied closely the drawings and descriptive articles in The Engineer. He felt that if only he had the materials and tools at his command his efforts might be rewarded by making a serviceable gun at De Beers Workshops. Here everything was up-to-date so far as lathes, furnaces and machine tools were concerned, but he was puzzled to know from where he could obtain the many other requirements for the carrying out of such a big undertaking. He remembered, fortunately, that there was in store a spare steel shaft of a powerful mine pump. This was ten and a half inches in diameter, and he thought it would make a good foundation for the gun. He then made the necessary calculations, gave the fullest instructions to the Company's chief draughtsman for the design and detailed drawings, and set about making the necessary implements to bore and rifle the shaft. This he strengthened by winding and welding wrought iron bands round the breech. At first only half an inch hole was bored through the centre of the shaft. This was gradually increased to the required calibre so as to project a 29-pound shell a distance of 10,000 yards.
How he contrived to rifle the gun I cannot explain, but after starting operations on December 26, 1899, "Long Cecil" went into action on January 23, 1900. While the gun and carriage were in course of construction the shells were being made —quite an achievement by a man who had never before had any experience in the manufacture of war weapons. This was the crowning work of one who did so much to assist in the defence of Kimberley, but who, by the cruel irony of fate, was not destined to see the relief of the town by the force under the command of General French.
A week before the Relief of Kimberley Labram returned to the Grand Hotel one afternoon after a hard day's work spent in directing the fire of "Long Cecil." Entering the building, he was invited by some friends to partake of a cup of tea. He accepted, but asked to be excused for a few minutes to wash his hands. He bounded upstairs to his bedroom, but as he was in the act of pouring the water from the jug into the basin, a 100-pound shell came hurtling through the window and killed him instantaneously. He had rushed to his fate. Had he stopped a minute to drink his tea he would have escaped an untimely end.
When the tragic occurrence became known a gloom was cast over the town, as it was recognised by almost every citizen that Labram had not spared himself in his efforts to keep the enemy at bay. His inventive genius and untiring energy had contributed largely to a successful resistance, and had lessened the privations of a beleagured population, who will never forget his invaluable services in time of great need and peril.
To-day the memory of this great man is engraven in the hearts of the people, whose gratitude will never diminish. We buried him the following night. Many thousands attended the last sad rites, and as we lowered him into the grave there were very few dry eyes among the mournful crowd. His last resting place is in the Honoured Dead Memorial, on the platform of which stands the gun he made, the pride of Kimberley and a fitting monument to a man of undoubted genius. America can be proud to claim him as her son.
As February wore on there was a feeling of confidence among the people that relief was soon coming, but how this conviction got abroad it is impossible to say. Many cast their eyes in the direction of Modder River, for it was known that General Roberts had collected an immense force there, and it was expected that an advance would be made from that quarter.
On the afternoon of Thursday, February 15, 1900, it was reported that clouds of dust were visible on the horizon. The opinion was hazarded by some that it was a big force of the enemy advancing with the intention of capturing Kimberley; others believed that it was General Roberts' army coming to our rescue.
I jumped into the saddle of my horse, and galloped to the Belgrave Hotel. From the look-out post on the roof I saw through my field glasses clouds of dust rising over a very wide front. At first I could not determine whether a British or a Boer army was approaching, but about a half an hour later when some of the dust cleared I concluded that it was the approach of the relief force. As it got nearer I was able to observe its formation with my field glasses, and then made certain it was composed of regiments of the British Army—no such big body of Boers could have marched in echelon with such precision.
I immediately telephoned the news to my headquarters and a few friends, and then raced to the farthest Redoubt, which was occupied by a Lieutenant and thirty men of the North Lancs. Just as I arrived, a helio message flashed out the letters, "K.E.K.," "K.E.K." This was an endeavour to get into communication with Colonel Kekewich, but as he had already started out to meet the relief force, we could not communicate the signal to him.
The letters "K.E.K." were repeated several times, but as no reply was received, the Officer Commanding the advancing column must have become impatient. He was now about twelve miles from Kimberley, and was undoubtedly thirsting for information. A little later we commenced to operate the helio in the Redoubt, and we flashed the query "Who are you?" The answer was unaltered, " K.E.K.," " K.E.K." We signalled again, " Cannot find Kekewich. Who are you?" We now received the following message: "I am General French advancing to the relief of Kimberley with 14,000 men." We thereupon told him by helio that we had captured and were occupying Alexandersfontein (six miles from the town and quite near to the relief force), where there was a good supply of water. On the receipt of this news, General French inclined his force to the left. One brigade advanced direct on Alexandersfontein, which it occupied the same night. With the remainder of his men, he advanced direct on Kimberley after an artillery duel with a Free State battery, which was quickly put out of action.
It should here be pointed out that the strength of the force under General French was only 6,000, but fearing the Boers might intercept the message if he gave the correct number, he indulged in a little exaggeration—a cute and profitable idea.
Delighted at the spectacle of seeing this advancing column, composed entirely of mounted men, I rode out to meet them. Half-way to Alexanders-fontein, I met a British officer, Captain Gale, of the Royal Engineers, who was the first Englishman to enter Kimberley when the siege was practically raised.
The three Brigades having been quartered for the night, I intercepted several officers on their way to town. I introduced myself, and invited them to accompany me to the Kimberley Club. There I ordered several bottles of champagne, which were relished by the men, as the big bottles were cold—manufactured ice was then plentiful —and a good vintage.
While partaking of this welcome refreshment, a senior Colonel said to me, "It is very good of you to entertain us like this, and we are very grateful for your hospitality. All along we have been under the impression that the town was on the verge of starvation, so we have come to your assistance by a series of forced marches in this terrible heat. This has resulted in the breakdown of half our horses. They will require several days of rest and food before they are fit for service again."
I assured him that they had come in the nick of time. All the alcohol, I said, had been consumed before the end of December, since when the town had been living on half rations, which were subsequently again reduced. Consequently, champagne tasted like vinegar to us, and we could not drink it for fear that it would turn sour in our "tummies." "Well," retorted the Colonel, "I never knew this. The longer one lives, the more one learns. This is a unique experience."
On his entry into Kimberley, General French went direct to the Belgrave Hotel, where he shook hands with Rhodes, and thanked him for the great assistance he had rendered. The General made the hotel his headquarters during his short stay.
That same afternoon I was standing at the gate of my house in deep meditation, when two officers galloping past smartly pulled up their horses. They enquired for General French's headquarters, and I told them that he had left with a contingent, and would probably not return until sundown. "What a pity," they said, "for we have very important despatches from Lord Roberts." They both looked very tired and dusty as if they had been riding hard. They gladly accepted an invitation to a whisky and soda, and were then directed to the Belgrave Hotel.
I afterwards learned that this despatch ordered General French to proceed to Paardeberg to intercept General Cronje's army. Only about one-third of the horses belonging to the relief force were fit for the march. French, therefore, left Kimberley on the Saturday before daybreak with only one brigade of mounted men, and several guns. The second brigade left the following Monday, and the third departed on Wednesday. These, together with a large contingent from Modder River Station, completed the envelopment, and secured the ultimate surrender of Cronje and some 4,000 burghers.
Four or five days after the relief, railway communication was restored between Cape Town and Kimberley. The Boers had destroyed the bridge across the Modder River (some twenty-four miles distant), but the Royal Engineers had laid a temporary track on the bed of the river, allowing trains to cross slowly over. The first train to arrive was met and cheered by thousands of the inhabitants, who correctly concluded that it was laden with foodstuffs.
A little later the Town Guard was disbanded, and a large number of these men joined the Remington Scouts, and other irregular corps.
In addition to Rhodes, many distinguished men took part in the defence of Kimberley, among whom should be mentioned the Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas Smartt, the Hon. Rochefort Maguire, Sir Charles Coghlan, Mr. Louis Reyersbach, Mr. G. A. L. Green (present editor of the Cape Argus), Mr. Howard Pirn, (the noted accountant), Mr. Gardner Williams (then General Manager of the De Beers Company), Mr. W. Lawrence, Mr. R. H. Henderson (the present Member of Parliament for Boksburg), Mr. Moses Cornwall, and Mr. H. A. Oliver, the then Mayor, who after- wards represented Kimberley in the House of Assembly.
Kimberley was relieved on a Thursday afternoon. Early the next morning the news arrived that Cronje had hurriedly evacuated Magers-fontein. I knew there were several sutlers at Modder River where Lord Roberts' main force was concentrated, and, as the route between Kimberley and Modder River was now clear, I sent a reliable man on a pack-horse to buy as much provisions as the animal could conveniently carry.
He was given £20, with instructions to purchase a varied assortment of provisions, such as German beer, Huntley & Palmer's biscuits, sardines, Oxford sausages, marmalade, bacon, coffee, tinned salmon, sugar and butter.
He returned early the following morning, bringing with him a fair quantity of what were then regarded as luxuries. The bill, I know, came to £33. The sutler, a Mr. Smith, who was formerly in Parliament when I was a member, gave me credit for the balance. I was glad that he did so, as I was able to assist many personal friends and their families, who were by now feeling the pinch of having to live on quarter rations. I sent them three-quarters of the supply soon after it arrived, for which they thanked me in most profuse language.
That day my servants and I enjoyed the best breakfast we had had for months, and we looked forward with much relish to enjoying more good meals. At the end of this glorious repast I mounted my horse and started out on a visit to some defence positions.
As I reached the Kimberley Club, I noticed two British officers approaching. They pulled up their horses and saluted me (at the time I was wearing the field uniform of a full colonel). I stopped and returned the salute. The junior officer proved to be Prince Alexander of Teck, who at once recognised me, as we had met before, and had spent some days together. He introduced the other officer to me; he was no other than Major Allenby (now Field Marshal Viscount Allenby). We conversed for a few minutes, and before parting I invited them to lunch with me at my house the following day. They readily accepted, and turned up with military punctuality. With the aid of the Modder River supplies, my cook excelled herself on this occasion. My guests thoroughly enjoyed their meal, and washed it down with cold German beer. At the finish of the repast Prince Alexander of Teck remarked, "Well, Major, we have had many good dinners together at the 'Rag', but never have we enjoyed anything like this." The Major assented by a nod of his head. I am sure the menu at the Army and Navy Club must have been much more elaborate than mine, but it was enjoyed under different circumstances, and not after a long march of several days on short rations under the fiery rays of a burning sun.
Their brigade was leaving the next morning for Paardeberg, so I offered to fill their saddlebags with some of my remaining Modder River purchases. They did not hesitate to accept, and carefully stowed away the food in their holsters and saddlebags. I was only too delighted to be of some assistance to two such gallant officers who had risked so much by taking part in the relief of Kimberley.
I noticed that the Prince, through hard riding, had worn the seat of his breeches almost threadbare. I persuaded him to accept one of my new spare pairs, after trying them on in my bedroom. He was then a young slender man about six inches taller than me. He was as hard as the proverbial nail, without an ounce of superfluous flesh—the beau-ideal of a well-seasoned soldier. They both left, and joined their Brigade. I did not see the Prince again until he became Governor-General of the Union of South Africa.
Field Marshal Viscount Allenby visited Kimberley during 1928. He was good enough to pay me a return visit, and took tea with me in the same room where he sat on that memorable 18th of February, 1900, at my Sunday luncheon, which he joyfully recalled.
During the first three weeks of the siege the death-rate was normal, but it subsequently increased to an alarming extent, reaching the peak point in February. During this particular month the deaths totalled 609, as against 133, 302 and 585, respectively, for the preceding months of November, December and January. The mortality among European infants amounted to 50 per hundred, and among the coloured people to 93 per cent. As many as 483 white infants, and 935 coloured and native children succumbed through want of proper food and nourishment. Deaths from all causes during the siege numbered 1,629, which almost equals the number in any complete year. There were 1,500 cases of scurvy, 483 of which proved fatal.
A great deal of political capital has been made out of the mortality in the concentration camps during the Boer War. Even now, the subject is often referred to by some irrecon-cilables to influence voters and to maintain racial feeling. I doubt, however, if the deaths in any concentration camp reached anything approaching the Kimberley figures for the four months during the bombardment.
But we never squealed; it was the fortune of war, to which all had to submit and both sides had to suffer. We bore our troubles in silence, willing and anxious to forget for the sake of peace and harmony, which we all hoped was in the offing. For 125 days we kept the British Flag flying —no mean achievement in the face of overwhelming odds.