sea is at great liberty, and may take as much,
and as little of the war, as he wish.'
After marching through Ladysmith, the battalion proceeded with the 11th Brigade to a camp about three miles to the north of the town and on the left bank of the Klip River. It remained here until March 7th, when it rejoined the 5th Brigade, which was encamped on the south side of the Klip River, and about one mile nearer Ladysmith. On the same date, Colonel Cooper was given the command of the 4th Brigade, and accordingly handed over the battalion to Major Bird.
There was another change of camping-ground on March (p. 084) 12th, the brigade moving to the north-east of Ladysmith, under Surprise Hill. It was an uneventful time, although outpost duties were somewhat severe.
In recognition of the gallantry displayed by the Irish regiments in the Natal campaign, the Queen had directed that the shamrock should be worn by all ranks on St. Patrick's Day. Accordingly, on March 17th, every man wore a piece of green, since shamrock was unobtainable, and the tents were decorated with boughs. A telegram was dispatched to the Queen, who sent the following message in reply:—
'The Queen desires to thank her Dublin Fusiliers for their expression of loyalty.'
The battalion also received many congratulatory telegrams from Irish associations and individuals in various parts of the world.
The detachment of the 1st Battalion was sent back to Colenso on March 21st. It had been just over four months with the 2nd Battalion, and had borne its full share of the (p. 085) casualties. Originally numbering eight officers and 287 rank and file, it returned with only two officers and 92 rank and file.
The 5th Brigade moved on the 23rd to Modderspruit, and thence on the next day to Elandslaagte, where it encamped a short distance to the west of the battlefield. Here it stayed for ten days, and, as there was little to do beyond outpost work, the battalion resumed ordinary parades and route marching.
On April 4th, General Warren's Division relieved General Hunter's at Elandslaagte, and the brigade marched back to Modderspruit. The 10th Division (General Hunter), which consisted of the 5th and 6th Brigades, was to proceed to Cape Colony for the relief of Mafeking.
On April 7th, Major Tempest Hicks, 1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, arrived from Colenso, and assumed command of the battalion. The 5th Brigade began to move by train to Durban on the 9th, and we were ordered to entrain at 1.45 p.m. on the 10th. But during the morning, heavy firing broke out at Elandslaagte, and, as the enemy seemed aggressive, the troops at Modderspruit were directed to be ready to move to Elandslaagte.
We had struck camp and packed all the baggage in the train, and had, therefore, to lie out in the hot sun for several hours, and await with patience the development of events. The Boers apparently contented themselves by a demonstration, and at 6 p.m. the battalion was allowed to depart. The train reached Colenso at 9 p.m., where the 1st Battalion was encamped, and Maritzburg about 4 a.m. Here, in spite of the early hour, a number of friends, together with a band, were on the platform, and the regiment received a warm greeting. The men were given cigarettes and tobacco.
Durban was reached about 10 a.m. on April 11th, and the battalion at once commenced to embark. The headquarters (p. 086) and about six companies were carried by the Cephalonia, while the remaining two companies went in the Jamaica. They were both slow ships, but the absolute peace, the good food, the clean baths, and many other luxuries, made everybody regret that they were not even slower.
East London was reached on the 12th, and the battalion was ordered to disembark, since the 5th Brigade was urgently required to relieve Wepener, which was surrounded by the enemy. General Hart, with the Border Regiment and Somersetshire Light Infantry started for Aliwal North at once, but the battalion remained on board during the whole of the 13th, although 'H' company, under Captain Romer, disembarked in the afternoon, and was at once dispatched by train. The other companies landed on the 14th, and left East London in two trains, starting at 4 and 6 p.m.
Lieutenant Le Mesurier, who had been captured on October 20th, but had, with Captain Haldane (Gordon Highlanders), effected a plucky escape from Pretoria, rejoined us at East London. Unluckily he at once developed typhoid fever, and had to be left behind.
Aliwal North was not reached until 10.30 a.m. on April 16th. 'H' company had arrived the previous afternoon, and was encamped near the station, but the remainder of the battalion crossed the Orange River, and pitched camp about 600 yards from the bridge, with its outpost line pushed forward on the high ground to the north.
Major Hicks became commandant of Aliwal North, and had no easy task. The town was General Hart's base during the operations for the relief of Wepener, and there was consequently much to be done. Moreover, the surrounding country was disturbed, the Dutch population had to be watched, and there were constant rumours of the approach of (p. 087) commandoes. In the early hours of the 21st, a report reached the commandant that a large body of Boers was marching on the town. He therefore decided to bring the regiment back to the south side of the river, only leaving the piquets on the north bank. We therefore at once struck camp, and, crossing the river, bivouacked near the bridge. But as the report proved to be misleading, camp was re-pitched on a square in the middle of Aliwal North. The outskirts of the town were put into a state of defence, and a series of trenches covered the approaches to the bridge. Although this necessitated much labour, everybody enjoyed their stay at Aliwal. It was a pretty place, with trees and gardens full of roses, with plenty of water, including a hot stream running through the camp, with a well-stocked library, and lastly, but by no means leastly, with a hotel possessing excellent lager beer.
The time passed, in fact, too quickly, for on the 26th news was received of the relief of Wepener, and orders were issued for our movement to Kimberley. We started at once in two trains, the first leaving at midnight (p. 088) the second at 1 a.m. on the 27th. It was a long and monotonous journey, the only breaks in which were stops for the purpose of cooking meals. Kimberley was reached at 10 p.m. on the 28th, and the train stopped the night in the station, going on at 6 a.m. on the 29th to Doornfield, about eight miles north of Kimberley, where the Connaught Rangers and the 6th Brigade were already encamped. Since General Hart, with the Borders and Somersetshire Light Infantry were still near Wepener, Colonel Brooke assumed the command of the brigade.
General Hunter's division had been ordered to relieve Mafeking, and the General decided to cross the Vaal near Windsorton with the 6th Brigade, and to advance up the right bank; while General Paget with the Royal Munster Fusiliers, Connaught Rangers, and Royal Dublin Fusiliers, faced the Boer position at Fourteen Streams. Colonel Mahon's mounted column was to move by Barkley West, and reach Mafeking by sweeping round the Boer flank.
The battalion accordingly left Doornfield by train at 9 a.m. on May 2nd, and about mid-day reached Content, where it detrained and encamped. The next day it marched with the Connaught Rangers to a position about two miles south of Warrenton. The opposite bank of the Vaal was held by the Boers, who were strongly entrenched and had field-guns. On the south bank of the Vaal were the Munster Fusiliers, a battery of field artillery, a six-inch gun mounted on a railway truck, and a balloon, the whole detachment being under Major-General Paget.
As all tents had been left at Content, the regiment bivouacked, and remained more or less idle. The Munsters were holding Warrenton, and there was constant sniping between their posts and the Boer trenches. The balloon ascended daily, and the six-inch gun fired an occasional shot, while the enemy's field-guns came into action at intervals. It was a monotonous and unpleasant time for the Connaught (p. 089) Rangers and ourselves, since there was nothing to do, while it was very hot by day and cold by night.
A little excitement was afforded on May 6th, when the Connaught Rangers and half the battalion made a demonstration against a drift to the east of Fourteen Streams. The object apparently was to draw the Boers' attention from the 6th Brigade, who, after a victory at Rooi Dam, were moving up the right bank. The movement caused a slight amount of sniping, and the detachment returned to the bivouac soon after 2 p.m.
The approach of the 6th Brigade, aided, perhaps, by this demonstration, caused the enemy to evacuate hurriedly their trenches during the afternoon of the 6th. Early on the morning of the 7th, the Connaught Rangers and the right half-battalion started to ford the Vaal at Warrenton.
The river at this point was broad and swift. The ford was a difficult one, being beset by rocks and holes, and it took a considerable time for the column to cross, since the water was up to the men's waists. The left half-battalion under Major Bird moved one and a half miles up the river (p. 090) near Fourteen Streams, where there was a ferry-boat. The latter had been rendered useless by the Boers, but as they had left the wire hawser, it was easy for the Royal Engineers to construct a raft, on which the left half-battalion crossed comfortably and quickly.
The right half-battalion joined the left half at the ferry, and breakfasts were cooked. Before leaving the river-bank everybody made an inspection of the Boer trenches, which formed an exceedingly strong position. They were very deep, and so well adapted to the ground, that it was no easy matter to discover them from the opposite bank. Evidences of the hurried Boer retreat were plentiful in the shape of full ammunition-boxes, half-cooked food, blankets, and kettles. One Boer, who was too ill to march, was captured in the trenches.
After breakfasts, the battalion moved through a piece of ground thickly covered with bush, and eventually bivouacked about one mile from the Vaal, near the railway line. The 6th Brigade halted near the same place, and the whole force was occupied for the next fortnight in covering Fourteen Streams. The important railway bridge at this point had been destroyed by the Boers, and the Royal Engineers, aided by large working parties from the infantry, at once commenced to construct a deviation bridge. This necessitated a great amount of labour, and since, in addition, defensive works had to be made, we were all kept very busy.
The stay at Fourteen Streams was interrupted on May 15th by a movement on Christiana, a town in the Transvaal, reported to be held by a strong party of Boers. The whole of the 10th Division took part in the operations, and were thus the first regular troops to enter the Transvaal. The frontier was crossed at 9 a.m. The advance was through an undulating country, at times thickly covered by bush. Towards the afternoon the brigade halted, as news was received that the mounted troops had entered Christiana. A (p. 091) bivouac was formed in a clearing among the bush, and dinners were cooked.
The next day the brigade marched back to Fourteen Streams, and reached that place early on May 17th, having done some twenty-six miles in nineteen hours. Work on the railway bridge was resumed, and, as the 6th Brigade had not returned, the battalion had to watch a more extensive area. Each company was given a section, and constructed a redoubt.
About May 24th, Second Lieutenant Bradford, with twenty-nine men, was sent up the line to garrison Border Siding, where they were picked up three days later.
The deviation bridge over the Vaal having been completed, the battalion was sent forward by train to Vryburg, travelling in two trains. Camp was pitched just outside the station, and for the next two days every one spent their time in buying karosses and in shooting partridges.
The 10th Division, when Mafeking had been relieved by Colonel Mahon, was ordered to march to Johannesburg viâ (p. 092) Lichtenburg. As the first part of the route lay through a country very deficient in water, the division marched in several columns, which followed each other at a day's interval. The battalion left Vryburg on May 30th at 7.30 a.m., and proceeded to Devondale, and on the next day made a march of twenty-two miles to Dornbult, where Captain Mainwaring, with Second Lieutenants Newton and Smith, joined.
Their wanderings before they succeeded in doing so are sufficient evidence how little was known, even to our own staff officers of the whereabouts of the several columns. On arrival at Cape Town in the s.s. Oratava, they were transhipped to the s.s. Ranee and sent to Port Elizabeth. On reporting themselves there they were entrained and sent to Bloemfontein. No one there seemed to know where the regiment was, but at that very time the report arrived of the march on Christiana. Captain Mainwaring then met Captain Carington Smith of the regiment, who was at that time serving in Roberts' Horse (which he later on commanded), and as that officer was shortly going north with some men of his corps, it seemed to both that the speediest way to get to the Dublin Fusiliers was for Captain Mainwaring to be attached to Roberts' Horse. An application to that effect was made to the staff and granted, but shortly afterwards the news of the Christiana column's return to the railway came to hand, so the three officers once more entrained, and proceeded viâ De Aar to Kimberley.
Although Captain Carington Smith did not serve with either battalion during the war, it would not be out of place here to mention the great part he took in it. He commenced by serving in Roberts' Horse, and was with them throughout Lord Roberts' advance to Bloemfontein. In the action at Sanna's Post he was shot through the knee, but resolutely refused to be invalided home. His recovery from this severe wound was little short of marvellous, and he actually managed to rejoin the headquarters of his corps in time to share in the (p. 093) entry into Pretoria. Shortly after this he was again shot at Heidelberg, this time through the other knee, and again made a second and equally marvellous recovery. Towards the end of the war he commanded Roberts' Horse, and later on the South African Light Horse, and his trekking during the campaign amounted to no less than 9000 miles.