Christian work among the troops in Natal went on apace for months prior to the advance upon Ladysmith. The Pietermaritzburg Y.M.C.A., for instance, provided two correspondence tents, which were of great service to the troops.
We have the report of No. 1 tent before us. From December to April this tent was pitched successively at Chievely, Frere, Springfield, Spearman's, Zwart Kopjes, beyond Colenso, outside Ladysmith, Modder Spruit, and finally at Orange River Junction. Its work can be divided under four heads--Correspondence, Evangelistic, Literary, and Social.
Every day saw the tent full of letter writers, and they were lying on the ground in front of it also. As a rule not more than two sheets of paper and two envelopes were given to each applicant. But in this way no less than twelve thousand sheets and an equal number of envelopes were distributed during the period named. These workers also performed amateur post office duties. They sold L25 worth of stamps, and received over nine thousand letters and three hundred papers and packages. Efforts were made to supply newspapers for the men, but the difficulties of transport proved in the end too great to be satisfactorily overcome, though whenever possible they were obtained.
Nearly every night evangelistic services were held, conducted by some member of the tent staff of workers, or by an Army Scripture Reader, or an S.C.A. man.
Various social functions were successfully carried out, and our soldiers rejoiced over the good things provided for them. They do not, as a rule, care for free teas at home. You may coax them to go to them, as some benevolent ladies do; but they can afford to pay for what they get, and they prefer that plan. The other only spoils them. But abroad things are different, and Tommy of the capacious appetite took all he could get. And so would you, my reader, had you been in his place.
The South African General Mission was also in evidence. Mr. Spencer Walton kept sending good things into the camp of all kinds, and kept up his ministry of 'comforts' even after Ladysmith was reached.
Our old friends of the Soldiers' Christian Association were, of course, to the fore. They knew just how to do the rough-and-tumble work required. Tommy could understand them, because they understood him. Throughout the campaign there was evidence of Mr. Wheeler's careful organizing. His agents seem to have been most capable and successful men, ready for every good word and work, and the work itself such as will stand the test of time.
Bivouac in a S.C.A. Tent.
Take this as a specimen of the readiness to take advantage of any and every opportunity. Mr. Fleming writes from Frere Camp:--
'We were preparing for a meeting last night, when we discovered something like Boers in the distance coming towards our camp, but they turned out to be S.A.L.H. They pitched before our tent to bivouac for the night. When they had dismounted the rain began to fall in torrents. A major came over to me, and asked me where the canteen was; of course, it was shut. I asked him what he wanted to buy, as perhaps I could help him. He wanted socks. I took him into my tent, and gave him a bath and a pair of socks--made him a drop of "sergt.-majors'." His gratitude was unbounded. He said, "Ah, this is true Christianity; you're a brick, old boy. Here's a sovereign subscription for your kindness." I refused it. "Well, I'll never forget you!" "All right," I said, "my name is on the socks"; then off I went to see about the others. Met the colonel. Offered him the freedom of our large marquee for his men to sleep in or shelter as they pleased. He was most grateful, so in the midst of a dreadful rainfall about two hundred of these fellows found shelter. All were hungry. We had five boxes of biscuits for our own use, and fifteen gallons of gingerbeer. Mr. Young, of the S.A.G.M., who was a great help to me, took a bucket of the gingerbeer and some biscuits to the men on duty on the lines.
'It was impossible to have our meeting, but we had individual dealing with several. I never shall forget the sight of those men sleeping in the marquee. Two of them were huddled up in a box like monkeys. One man was wringing out his socks; he had fallen into a gun pit up to the waist in water. I wanted to lend him a pair, but he evidently thought that the feeling of dry socks would be too great a contrast to his wet body, for he positively refused my nice warm ones. About 10 p.m. I found three men sleeping outside in the rain. I asked one of them to come and share my tent. "No, thank you, sir, we have only one blanket between us." "Come on, then, the three of you." Then the invitation was accepted, and didn't they smile as I served them with hot coffee! Mr. Hide's tent (he is at Durban) I lent to a major and a captain.
'The water ran like a river through our camp, so heavy was the rainfall. I kept lights in our marquee all night, and toddled out and in to see all was right. I was not out of my clothes all night, but my lot was a happy one compared with those dear lads--they have not been out of their clothes for months, and have never had a tent to cover them. This morning, as they left, the gratitude of both officers and men was so intense that I had to clear off the scene--could not stand it. It has rained in torrents to-day. Got wet through. Had splendid meeting to-night. Sure there was definite working of the Holy Spirit. The Rev. James Gray, who gave the address, has been a great help to us.'
Among the men of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who subsequently lost so heavily at Spion Kop, there were many conversions. And among the naval men there were many grand Christians, who were delighted to avail themselves of the privileges and opportunities which the tent supplied.
The chaplains were, of course, at the front with the men, or as near the front as they could get, sharing their fatigues and many of their dangers.
[Footnote 13: News from the Front, May, 1900.]
A Bit of Christian Comradeship.
Differences of denomination were for the most part forgotten, and the Rev. Mr. Gedge, the Church of England chaplain, and the Rev. T.H. Wainman, the Wesleyan, were the best of friends and comrades. Mr. Gedge soon became a power for good. His tent meetings were crowded, and his preaching told with great effect, many being brought to Christ. His open-air work was splendidly done. Here is a delightful bit of Christian comradeship, which we wish we could see oftener repeated in this country. The Rev. T.H. Wainman writes:--
'After watching the men who were formed for guard duties, etc., for some time, I noticed Major Gedge, the Church of England army chaplain, and several Army and Navy League workers come along, evidently intent on holding a voluntary service. I joined them, and helped in the singing of half a dozen hymns, which by this time had brought together a large number of the soldiers. Mr. Gedge asked me to give the address. I did so, and had a most happy time, the men listening for twenty minutes or more with evident interest. I interspersed my address with illustrations from my travels and experience in this country, which seemed to hold them in attention to the finish. The General Confession was then recited and a few other prayers from the Liturgy, and one of the most hearty and successful voluntary services was concluded by the singing of the hymn "Glory to Thee, my God, this night." I went to my tent thankful for the good work being done by the various Christian organizations, and convinced that many went home with new aspirations after a better and nobler life.'
[Footnote 14: Methodist Times, Feb. 8, 1900.]
The Chaplains of the Church of England.
Here, perhaps, we may refer for a moment to the services of the Church of England chaplains in general. The Church is singularly fortunate in the men it has sent to the front. The senior chaplain with the Guards, Colonel Faulkner, has set an example to all the others by his intense devotion. He has advanced all the way with Lord Roberts to Pretoria and beyond. He has returned invalided, but not until he has nobly done the work he was commissioned to do.
The chaplains sent out from Aldershot were men whom every one esteems and loves. The praise of the Rev. R. Deane Oliver is on every one's lips. Of the Rev. A.F.C. Hordern we shall have occasion to speak when we come to the siege of Ladysmith. The Rev. T. P. Moreton is an eloquent preacher and a Christian gentleman, interested in all good work. And what shall we say of the Rev. A.W.B. Watson? He is a hero, though, like all other heroes, he would be the last to believe it.
Mr. Watson in the Soudan and in South Africa.
Sitting at the tea table of a corporal of the Medical Staff Corps a short time ago, we began to talk of Mr. Watson. 'Ah!' said he, 'Mr. Watson is my hero. You know he went through the Soudan campaign. I had charge of the cholera tent. At one time I was left alone to manage it. Not another chaplain but Mr. Watson came near. Twice a day he came without fail. One day he came in, and found me lying on the floor in a state of complete prostration. He lifted me up and carried me to his tent. He then came back to the tent of which I had charge, and all day he attended to my poor cholera patients, washed them, and performed all my most loathsome duties. Love him! of course I love him. I would lay down my life for him.'
Mr. Watson has gone to South Africa at the risk of his life, but he would go. He had been through a severe operation, and was in a most critical condition. He begged permission to go, but of course the doctors could not pass him. He could not, however, bear to think of his men being there without him. And after trying one expedient after another, he, who had been refused permission on the ground of ill-health, at last got out under the plea that the climate of South Africa might be beneficial! May God spare him for many years!
The Rev. T.H. Wainman.
But this is a long digression! The Wesleyan chaplain was the Rev. T.H. Wainman, a sturdy Yorkshireman, who had spent many years in South Africa as a Wesleyan missionary. He was not new to the duties of a chaplain, for years ago he was with Sir Charles Warren in Bechuanaland. He took to his new work as though he had only just laid it down, and bullets and shells seemed to have no terror for him.
At the parade service at Chievely on the day of the advance to Spearman's Hill, Mr. Wainman took for his text, 'Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.' He might have known what was coming, for the last line of 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' had hardly been sung, and the Benediction pronounced, before rumours of the advance spread through the camp, and by two p.m. the advance had really commenced. At daylight next morning the battle began, and Mr. Wainman describes what he calls a 'cool piece of daring.'
'A Cool Piece of Daring.'
'At the same time the firing of cannon to our right was fast and furious, the shells dropping and bursting right among our field artillery. I watched with breathless anxiety, expecting all our guns to be abandoned, and half the men killed, when to my astonishment the men rode their horses right among the bursting shells, and hooking them to their guns rode quietly away, taking gun after gun into safety. In some instances a horse fell, and this necessitated the men waiting in their terrible position until another horse could be brought, harnessed, and attached to the gun. Eventually all were brought out of range, but a more plucky piece of daring and heroism I have never witnessed, and never expect to witness in my life. The officers rode up and down directing their men as though heedless of danger, and the only casualty I heard of, excepting the horses, was a captain having his foot shattered.'
He himself showed many a cool piece of daring before he got to Ladysmith, and when, after the fight at Spion Kop, some one had to go and bury the dead, he bravely volunteered, and performed this last ministry for his dead comrades under heavy fire. For his bravery on that occasion he was promoted to the rank of major. Those associated with him in this awful task were Major Gedge, the Church of England chaplain, and Fathers Collins and Matthews (Roman Catholics). This was the Father Matthews who was captured with his men at Nicholson's Nek, and afterwards released.
There was now but little opportunity for ordinary Christian work. The last struggle for the relief of Ladysmith had commenced, and was to be carried on in grim earnest to the end. The men were ready to follow their leaders anywhere, but could not understand the frequent retreats. This much every man knew, however, that when he marched out with his regiment in the morning it was very doubtful whether he would be alive at night. This thought sobered every one, and many a man prayed who had never prayed before.
[Footnote 15: Methodist Times.]
General Lyttleton's Brigade Formed up for Prayer Before Going into Action.
One of the most remarkable facts of the campaign is this. Before General Lyttleton's brigade marched out from its camping ground for its desperate task it was formed up in close column--formed up not for an inspection, but for prayer. We have never heard of anything else like it in the history of war. The Bishop of Natal was with the troops, and he suggested to General Lyttleton that the best preparation for the battle was prayer. He himself led in prayer for the other regiments, while at the request of the colonel the Army Scripture Reader attached to the Scottish Rifles offered prayer. With prayer rising for them and following them, they marched to the conflict. It was to many a Sacrament. It was their Sacramentum--their oath of allegiance to the King of kings.
Strange things happen in war. Perhaps this is one of the strangest. And yet if there were more prayer there would be less war. May be the voice of prayer rising from our British army to the throne of God--rising also from friends in the homeland far away, is another Sacrament--a sign and a seal of the blessings foretold when the Prince of Peace shall reign.
The Struggle for Spion Kop.
Potgieter's Drift, Spion Kop, Pieter's Hill--these are names that will live in the memory of every British soldier with Sir Redvers Buller. Of all fights Spion Kop was perhaps the most terrible, as it was the most disastrous. It was called Spion Kop, or Spying Mountain, because it was from this eminence the old Boer trekkers spied out the land in the days gone by. It was more than a hill--it was a mountain, and a mountain with a most precipitous ascent. To climb it meant hauling oneself up from one rock to another. It was a task that required all a strong man's strength. Yet up it went our men without a moment's hesitation. It was almost like climbing a house side. But one man helped another, the stronger pulling up the weaker, until they halted for a moment breathless at the top. 'Charge!' and away they went. The bayonets were covered with blood after that awful charge, and then, their work for the moment accomplished, they lay down, for the bullets were whistling around them. In the dense darkness they began to build sangars as best they could. All night long they worked, and never for a moment were they allowed to work in peace. When morning broke they saw that their entrenchments were far too small, and though they held out all day, their position was commanded by the Boers on higher ground, and so became untenable. Shells burst behind every rock. Bullets like hail rained upon them, and although they fought as all true Britishers can, they were at last withdrawn--withdrawn, perhaps, when victory was almost within their grasp.
It is not our purpose to describe the fight; that we leave to others. What we have said serves but as a reminder. The question that concerns us is, How did our men hold themselves through that awful day?
Touching Incidents at Spion Kop.
We read of one, a Wesleyan local preacher,--Mr. W.F. Low,--wounded by a bullet through his collar bone and shoulder blade; wounded again by a fragment of shell striking his leg, worn out by excitement and fatigue--so worn out that he actually slept, notwithstanding the pain of his wound, until awoke by sharp pain of his second wound. We read of this man crawling over to the wounded lying near him, passing water from his water-bottle to one and another, gathering the water-bottles of the dead men round about, and giving them to those yet living. And yet the cry of 'Water,' 'Water!' was heard on every side, and there were many to which he could not respond. He tells how many of the men were praying, how their cries of repentance seemed to him too often cries of cowardice; though who would not fear to enter the presence of God all unprepared and unforgiven? Well might many of them cry for mercy.
One man spent his last moments in writing a letter to his chum, who had led him to Christ but the day before. 'Dear brother in Christ Jesus,' he wrote, 'I owe my very soul to you. If it had not been for you, I should not have been ready to die now. It seems hard only to give the last few hours of my life to His service, but I must say "Good-bye." The angels are calling me home. I can see them and the glorious city. Good-bye, and may God bless you!'
Says the one who in rough-and-ready fashion had so recently led his chum to Christ, 'It cheered me to know he was all right with the Master. Now I must look out for more work for Him.'
The Tortures of the Wounded.
Then started that sad procession to the rear--the procession of ox-waggons containing the poor mangled bodies of our wounded. Oh! the horrors of it! 'How much longer will it be?' 'Will the road soon be smoother?' cried the longsuffering lads. Who shall tell the tale of agony? Aye! who shall tell the heroism then displayed? Who shall describe how rough men became as gentle women, and how those racked with pain themselves yet tried to minister to the wants of others? Oh! war is devil's work; but surely at no time do human love and human sympathy show themselves so often, or prove themselves so helpful, as amidst its horrors.
Of all hospitals that at Mooi River was the best. This is the testimony of one and all. 'You went in there,' said one lad, 'a skeleton. You came out a giant.' And at Mooi at last, many of these poor wounded soldier lads found themselves, and amidst comfort that seemed to them luxury and rest that was heaven itself they were many of them wooed back to life.
But what of the men still at the front? Effort after effort! Retreat followed by advance! Misunderstanding and mistake here and there. And then Pieter's Hill! Ask the soldier who has come back wounded from Pieter's Hill--and how many of them are there?--what he thought of it. He can give you but a confused picture of the fight. He has no idea of the plan in the general's mind. But ask him of his experiences. His wound was nothing; he will not dwell upon that. But the time spent upon the ground after the wound was received--twenty-four hours, forty-eight, three days, and in one case, at any rate, so the poor fellow told us, four days--before the stretcher party carried them to the rear. It could not be helped. There was no reaching the wounded. They were scattered far and near. They lay where they fell, starving for want of food, dying of thirst under a South African sun. Oh! the horror of it! But your soldier cannot describe it. It will be a nightmare to him for life. You speak to him on the subject 'How long did you lie there?' You want to inquire a little further; but he shakes his head,' Don't ask me, 'twas too awful,' and he turns his head away.
'Men, Christ can Save Me even Now.'
Seated in the Buckingham Palace Soldiers' Home the other day, some men from Pieter's Hill were chatting together. 'And what was your experience?' said the chaplain. 'Oh! I just realized how God could save, and God could keep. It was terribly hard, but all through those fearful battles I had always peace--always joy.'
And then he continued, 'I never think of Pieter's Hill but I think of Armstrong. You did not know Armstrong. He used to be in the orderly room every week--a bad lad was poor old Armstrong. But when we were in India he gave himself to Christ. He was never in the orderly room after that. One day his major met him. "Armstrong," said he, "what's the matter? we never see you in the orderly room now."
"No, sir," he said, "old Armstrong's gone. A new Armstrong's come." "What do you mean?" queried his officer. "Just this, sir; I've given my heart to God, and chucked the sin."
'So he lived until he went to the war, and so he died. He passed through Spion Kop unscathed, but on Pieter's Hill a bullet went through his head. As he fell he cried, "Men, Christ can save me even now! It's all right, I'm going home," and he died.'
The Guardsmen came thronging round while this man of the Royal Irish Rifles told about his chum They listened with tears in their eyes; they listened to tell the story again to others. And so the good news that Christ can save upon the battle-field is sent flying through the British army.
'Were you in that night attack at Ladysmith?' asked one turning to another. 'Yes, I was there.' 'Did you see Lieutenant Fergusson when he fell?' 'Yes, I was close to him. I went up to him and said, "Are you much hurt, sir? Can I take you in?" "No thank you, my lad; I'm done for," replied the dying officer. "Take some fellow you can save.'" And so he, too, died like a hero.
The officer inside the besieged town and the private soldier outside attempting to save him--are one in this, that they know how to die; and England calls each 'hero'!
And so through blood and fire, over heaps of slain, General Sir Redvers Duller passed into Ladysmith--passed in just in time; passed in to see men with wan cheeks and sunken eyes--an army of skeletons; but passed in to find the old flag still flying.