Berenice alerted me to this letter in the Leicester Chronicle from a Private in the Royal Scots, Alf Berridge.
LEICESTER MAN DESCRIBES THE SIEGE OF WEPENER
EIGHTEEN DAYS’ HARD FIGHTING
A VERY WARM CORNER
Mr A E Berridge, of 202, Wharf-street, has received a most interesting letter from his brother, Private Alf Berridge, of the First Royal Scots (Mounted Infantry Section), dated Bloemfontein, May 4th.
The writer says: ‘After I had posted your last letter, we got orders to start for Smithfield, where we arrived four days later. After a three days’ stay there, we got rather sudden orders to start at once for Wepener, on the Basutoland border, with all possible speed, as a large number of Boers were making for that place. So off we went, as happy as larks, and arrived two days later, after covering a distance of fifty four miles. Upon our arrival, we joined hands with one hundred and fifty of General Brabant’s Horse, and at once set to work to make trenches commanding the bridge across the Caledon River. We worked hard all night, fully expecting a large force of Boers next morning. But we were disappointed. More troops were now pouring in, including Cape Mounted Rifles with seven guns, our force numbering in all fifteen hundred men. We now took up another position, and worked for two days, making entrenchments.
Next day, April 9th, we were up long before sunrise, and had our horses and everything in readiness. Daylight came at last, but no sign of the enemy. We waited until half-past six, and then our officer gave us the order to get our breakfast. We had not sat down long, when a roar from the Beer guns broke the silence, and next moment two shells came crashing into our camp. We were up sharp, and got our horses ready, and waited a short time for orders, which seemed long, as we were all anxious to get at the enemy. The order at last came to go and join the C M Rifles, who were greatly outnumbered. Off we went, as hard as our horses could carry us. Shell after shell from the Boer guns following us. We were now within two hundred yards of the CMR position, and as we sped along shower upon shower of bullets fell amongst us. We at last reached a place of safety for our horses, so at once dismounted, and fastened our horses up, and started for the top of the hill. As we neared the top, a perfect hailstorm of bullets was poured into us. We hesitated for a moment, and well we might, but our officer sprang up, and shouted, “This way the Royal Scots” and next moment he was shot down: but we still kept on, and rushed across the open, and at last reached the edge of the hill, and flung ourselves down, gasping for breath. We then looked and saw that two of our fellows were shot dead, and five others wounded—a good start, you will think, for us, not saying much for the marksmanship of the Boers, who can't shoot for nuts. We lay there all day in the scorching sun, with parched lips. Time after time the Boers made a desperate attempt to rush our position, and it was only by sheer doggedness that we kept them back, and held our position until darkness came on. Then we crept on our hands and knees, and were then able to stretch our cramped limbs, and look around us, and it was with sad hearts that we gazed upon the dead and wounded lying about. The place was also strewn with dead horses and oxen, which threw off a beautiful and savoury smell. We now had some food, and then set to work to strengthen our position, and daylight found us strongly entrenched. The Boers again opened a terrific fire with their big guns, smashing the stone walls in front of our tranches. We began to think that our task was a homeless one, for we were surrounded on all sides by ten or eleven thousand Boers, but we were determined not to give in as long as a man remained. So the second day passed. It had been a pure Hell. Darkness fell once more, to the joy of all. We again crept out of our trenches, and were having some food, when a sudden crash of musketry broke the stillness of the night. We knew at once what it meant. The Boers were rushing our position. We sprang to our trenches and seized our rifles, and at once poured a deadly fire into them. They were now within fifty yards of our trenches, attacking from the front and flanks. Our officer now shouted “Fix bayonets” and as the click of our steel rang out, the Boers turned, and fled helter skelter. We then turned our attention to the dead and wounded, and found that the CM Rifles had again lost heavily.
It would take me a long time to give all the details of what passed during our eighteen days and nights in the trenches of Wepener, but may mention that on the 14th day it was with the greatest of joy to all when we heard the guns of our relief columns in the distance, and as the sound of the guns died away, three ringing cheers were sent up from every British trench in Wepener, for we knew that our comrades were not far off, fighting their way to our relief. Three days' later, to the joy of all, General Rundle and General Hart marched in with their troops, the Boers flying in all directions. You can imagine the joy of all to be set free again. We could not help but laugh when we looked at the holes we had been buried in for eighteen days and nights, during which time we had only one meal a day and not a drop of anything warm, and not even a wash. Time after time we were wet through to the skin. Enough to kill anyone, you will say, but Tommy is too hardy for that just now.
We are all healthy, and as happy as larks. On the 29th April we started for Bloemfontein, passing through Dewetsdorp and arrived there on the 2nd May. What a sight it is. For miles, as far as the eye can reach, there is one mass of tents. It is a beautiful place, indeed. We are now getting plenty of good food, and a new lot of clothes, and now fed in fine trim for another smash with Kruger’s motley crew. We are going to join ‘good old Bobs’ in a day or two, so look up for squals [sic] if the Boers stand. I doubt it. They are about fed up with us, and don’t they love the glitter of our bayonets!’
I am not sure that Private Burridge's statement that the Boers could not shoot straight is supported by the evidence.
QSA (4) CC Wep Tr Witt (Capt: A. S. Boardman, Cape M.R.);
KSA (2) (Capt: A. S. Boardman. Cape M.R.)
Alexander Slight Boardman was born in Manchester in the first quarter of 1860. He was the son of Samuel, a pawnbroker, and Ann. He joined the Cape Mounted Riflemen on 13 June 1883 and served until 2 January 1910.