'Bother war!' writes a guardsman to the Rev. J.H. Hocken. 'Let me get out of this lot, and never no more.' It is not a very heroic sentiment certainly, but he wrote from the hospital at Orange River, and doubtless expressed not only his own sentiments, but the sentiments of a good many of his comrades. And certainly there seems to have been reason as well as sentiment in his statement. Listen to this, for instance:--
'At the engagement of Graspans we had some food about 4 p.m. All that night my battalion was on outpost duty. Next morning we marched about 3 a.m., caught up the division, and took part in the engagement at Graspans, followed up the enemy, captured a building with forty Boers in it and a large tent filled with medical comforts, and when we thought of having some rest and some grub, we were ordered on top of some hills for outpost duty that night, and we did not have our dinner until the next day, Sunday morning, at 9 a.m. That is quite true. Forty-one hours without anything but dirty water, and yet Miss Morphew says Guards are only for show. But I don't think she meant it. No wonder I am bad.'
Work at the Orange River Hospital.
Aye, no wonder, indeed! And week by week, month by month, the Orange River Hospital has been full ever since the beginning of the war. Here Army Scripture Reader Pearce, from North Camp, Aldershot, has been in charge. For a long time he was single-handed in this great hospital camp. He performed the duty of acting chaplain to all denominations. General Wauchope before he died spoke of Mr. Pearce's eagerness for work, and verily there was enough for him to do. At one time he was assisted by the Canadian chaplain, and latterly by the chaplain of the Australian contingent. But month by month he went his weary round of hospital visitation alone. He buried the dead, wrote letters home to the friends of the dying and the dead, and performed faithfully and well all the many tasks in a chaplain's routine. At one time there were at least a hundred Canadians down with enteric at Orange River. The Australian hospital was also crowded.
The monotony of work must have been terribly trying. It was not for him to know anything of the excitement of the battle. It was only his to witness the horrors of the carnage. His pulses did not thrill at sights of deeds of daring on the field. He only saw the train-loads of wounded all smeared with dust and blood, and heard the groans that told of agony. But when the day of reward shall come, the quiet, earnest work of such as he will not be forgotten, and the great Head of the Church will say, 'Well done.' No wonder after eight months of such work as this his nerves gave way, and he was obliged to return home.
At Orange River, too, the Soldiers' Christian Association did good work. Messrs. Glover, Fotheringham, and Ingram were the means of leading scores of men to Christ. Dr. Barrie, of the Canadian contingent, who was temporarily attached to the hospital, gave several addresses, which were much appreciated, and conducted a weekly Bible Class. Later Messrs. Charteris and Bird were in charge of the tent, and tell the same blessed story of nightly effort and nightly success.
Experiences at Arundel and Colesberg.
From De Aar, Naauwport, and Arundel we have before us several graphic letters from the Rev. M.F. Crewdson, late of Johannesburg. Mr. Crewdson is a Wesleyan minister, and for conspicuous service on the field was appointed acting chaplain. His hospital stories are full of point and pathos. He tells of one man with twenty-two shell wounds, and yet living and cheerful; of another with a hole as big as a hand in his leg, and another big hole in his arm, and yet refusing to grumble, and professing himself quite comfortable. Of this man an Australian said, 'He exasperates me; he never has any pain.' He pictures to us a corporal seeing to the comfort of his men and horses, and then, by way of a change, teaching his men the ditty--
'Life is too short to quarrel.'
From Colesberg we have a graphic letter from the Rev. E. Bottrill. He refers to the imprisonment by the Boers of the resident Wesleyan minister, the Rev. A.W. Cragg, whose health suffered severely from his three months' confinement. He tells of earnest work in that town so difficult to capture, of splendid parade services, and of an extemporised Soldiers' Home in the Wesleyan Church. At Arundel there was a tent of the S.C.A. and another at Enslin, and at each of these good work was done.
Everywhere God was with His workers, and gave great success. The spirit of inquiry was present in all the meetings. Everywhere in this region, as indeed throughout the whole theatre of war, in camp and hospital, on the march and on the battlefield, our soldier lads were inquiring, 'What must I do to be saved?' and not far off was some one ready to reply, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'
An Ostrich Story.
As a variation from our long record of work in camp and hospital, we close this chapter with an ostrich story, and venture to take it intact from News from the Front for April, 1900.
'In conjunction with the Rev. M.F. Crewdson, Mr. Ingram, of the S.C.A., went to Arundel to take charge of a tent which was to be erected there. The tent not having arrived he says:--
'"We went across the country some seven or eight miles, a terrible tramp, to visit some graves. It was a lonely, hot, and trying walk, and as we were half way back, about 1 p.m., having been walking since 6.15 a.m., and having had no meal, we saw an ostrich making for us about a mile away. It was up to us in three minutes (a male bird), and had evidently seen us from its nest, where it was sitting, and thought we were going to interfere with it. It was an enormous bird, and was in a rage. It stopped some dozen paces from us, and whirled round, flapping its wings and looking truly awful. I gave Crewdson my pocket-knife, the only weapon we had, and as the wretched thing went circling round us, getting nearer and nearer, I suggested to Crewdson that if we came to close quarters, its neck would be our only chance (its body was higher than my head). He did not think it would come to close quarters, but seemed in a great state about our safety, and said, 'Keep together, old man.' 'All right,' I said; but the next moment Crewdson had turned to try and walk on. I felt to separate, or take our eyes off it, meant an attack, so walked backwards; but it no sooner saw that I was a pace or two nearer it than Crewdson than it came on me like a very whirlwind. I had been reading Psalm xci. in the rain that morning, and how grandly it was fulfilled! By a God-given instinct I dropped my haversack and your fieldglasses, and did not wait for it to reach me, in which case it would have pecked out my eyes and struck me with its claws, probably tearing my chest open, but sprang to meet it. Death seemed absolutely certain, and though my nerve was set, and, as it were, I mentally gave up my life, I met the bird with a thud. With both hands I caught its neck before it could lift a foot to strike; we both rolled over, and, with strength given me at the moment, I clung to its neck until I came up, 'top dog.' But then with full fury it began to kick, and had I received a full blow I should have probably died, but I hugged too closely to it, and then wriggled on to its back, so that it kicked into the air away from me, and I only got a 'short arm' blow, and received bruises instead of wounds.
'"Crewdson did not know whether I was alive or dead at first, but at my shouts brought my knife; and while I was gripping its throat with both hands so that it could not breathe at all, and rolling about to avoid kicks, Crewdson tried to cut its gullet. This he could not do at first, so I took the knife with my left hand, holding the neck with my right, and dug the blade under the uplifted wing. It took effect, and the wing seemed to lose force, but the blade of my knife was broken, leaving half in the bird. I threw Crewdson the knife, and he opened another blade, and managed to cut the gullet. The thing was nearly stifled, and, feeling the knife, it gave a last and awful struggle, and I really feared I should be beaten; however, I also put forth a last effort, and gradually the kicks and the struggles subsided. I loosened my grip and let the blood flow; and when I thought it was pretty far gone, I jumped off and joined Crewdson. Even then it made a wild attempt to rise, but could not. Covered with dirt and blood, we plucked a few feathers, thanked the Lord for life, and tramped to Arundel, and arrived truly tired out.
'"The stationmaster told us that in 99 cases out of 100 the ostrich would have killed me. He says there is not a man in the country who would attempt to do what I did."'
So there are in South Africa not only perils of Boors, of bullets, of shells, of snakes, and of scorpions, but perils of ostriches too! And from them one and all His workers may well pray, 'Good Lord, deliver us!'