2nd January 1900
Very hot again after four nice cool days following heavy rains last week, of which now there is little sign left; inpleasant climate. Provost-Marshall went down to Estcourt yesterday to see that L.S., who has been behaving in an extradordinary way, sent away to Durban. He found that the station master, rather a particular man, being so ashamed of seeing her "half --- over" on the station and mixing with soldiers, had put her into his house; she was found in his bed, wearing his pyjamas! I find the Corp. Nurse was a reservist living in Guernsey before he came out here.
6th January 1900
On walking this morning about 4.30, heard a lot of guns firing in the direction of Ladysmith; came to conclusion not entirely Boer guns. Went out with Gen. to Chievely and whilst ther a wire came to him from Gen. White saying "Boers had attacked at 2.45am and had been beat at all points, fighting still going on"; this was received about 10am. and we could hear a few guns up to then, when it ceased.
Another wire came, sent off 12.45 from White saying he had beat enemy off for the present but they were still in large numbers to the South and he thought another attack probable; this arrived about 2.30 and was not so reassuring. Nothing more was heard that day as sun went down. Gen. Clery went out towards Colenso with the whole of his force and made demonstration and R.A. fired at Boer entrenchments and baskers lining river but got no reply from Boers. Sir. G.Warren and staff lunched with us.
No sun except at intervals but no news, only rumours of which it was difficult to fathom the source, but on the morning of the 8th wire came from White saying that they had fought 'till 7.30 pm. on the 6th; the Boers had taken one position 3 times and as many times had been turned out; another position in his line they had occupied all day and the Devon Regiment under Col. Park had turned them out in the evening at the point of the bayonet. Thus Ladysmith held its own but the fighting must have been desperate as White had been obliged to put his reserves in the firing line; the Boers apparently fought with great valour and energy showing for the first time that they will attack a strong position; their losses stated to be large and far exceeding ours. On the evening of 7th a telegram came from the High Commissioner saying news had been received from Father Matthews at Delagon Bay that Kruger had twice wired Joubert to storm Ladysmith, which seems to have a bearing on the above.
Sir G. Warren's division minus two regiments and with a howitzer and field battery in addition arrived at Frere; a regular downpour all day and the night before, water simply streaming past one's tent and the river getting nearly impassible.
Above division marched on towards Springfield bivouaccing on their way and they had a bad time during the night as heavy rain came on again.
We started from Frere at 5 am. The roads in a dreadful state of mud and slipperyness; after going about 3 miles we came across the supply column, hundreds of ox wagons struggling along and before reaching Pretorius Farm there were two drifts which as a rule are dry but which were 3 feet deep with running water and on both sides steep banks a foot or more deep with thick sticky mud; the difficulties of transport are simply enormous under these conditions and must be seen to be believed; a regular babel at these drifts with the yelling of drivers, the cracking of whips trying to get them through and every now and then one fairly stuck and had to be double spanned (32 oxen). We stayed at Springfield the night.
Moved on at 5am. to Spearmans Farm about 3 miles from the river where we camp. Farm formerly occupied by man called Pretorius, rather a good one; he apparently has gone over to the Boers.
The Bishop of Natal (Bagnes) took the service this morning as he did last Sunday and preached another very good sermon; he is a credit to his profession coming out to the front like this and roughing it like the rest. Had quiet day both yesterday and today; went up to top of hill to see enemy's position; the hill top here has got plenty of vegetation and is quite pretty and the view glorious, the Tugela just below, a most extraordinary winding and most difficult to cross as the banks shelve straight down 30 ft to it and it is deep; they have entrenched themselves very strongly and have worked day and night at it and to a frontal attack would form a sort of horseshoe and how a flank attack is to be made is difficult to say, which can be seen from a look at the map. The S.A.L.H. (5) collared the punt at Potgeiter's Drift, some swam across and got it, a first class bit of work under fire; they did this a few days ago. One can see the Ladysmith outpost where the helio is; I wish we had got there. Got the English mail of 16th Dec. yesterday by which one learns they got news of the 3 reverses in one week, Magersfontein, Stoemberg and Colenso. Most of the war news in the way of forecasts seems rather ridiculous, for instance I read one paper stating how many troops we shall have presumably in battle array which totally ignores the necessity of keeping our lines of communication open. For this country and this class of fighting we want much more artillery.
White lost 14 officers killed and 31 wounded, 130 men killed and 240 wounded when attacked on the 6th. The distance one can see in this country is quite wonderful, 10 miles one can nearly always see quite plainly and see men, and a day like today one can see the Drakensburg 45 miles distant and with a good telescope distinguish cattle grazing; hence a gun can well be laid at a 10,000 yards range. Went out about 4.30 on to Kopje overlooking Potgieters Drift and the plain below and saw 2 regiments of Lyttleton's Brigade go down and across the drift without a shot being fired, but it was very interesting to see the Boers come in in their hundreds a long way off then leave their horses and run into the trenches.
Went to a Kopje west to see Warren's army progressing the other side of the river and on the way met 15 Boer prisoners which some of Dundonald's force captured yesterday (they also killed 20), not a bad looking lot of men at all and seemed to be rather pleased than otherwise at being prisoners; Gerard gave them a tot of brandy, a few said thanks but most didn't.
Warren, who started getting his force over the river at Wagon Drift on the morning of 17th, only succeeded in getting it over by the morning of the 19th and today he is little advanced which is a pity as the idea of the flanking movement is mainly based on speed; later on I find that his force has had to fight it's way all day and from this, spot it is difficult to see anything but our guns firing and their fire become very hot and continuous about 3pm, 6 batteries. We heard in the evening that about 280 had been wounded,
The battle on Warren's side still goes on, the guns being in the same position; the force was reinforced today by 2 howitzers from Lyttleton. Lyttleton yesterday made a demonstration on the enemy's left, had 2 killed and 12 wounded. Boers owned to 21 wounded.
Went to see how things were getting on with West to Warren's army and found that it must have been a difficult task to get as far as they are;
it looks from below the absolute skyline and is a steep climb up. As we were standing behind 2 batteries firing, 2 shells came in near proximity so we came home to lunch!
All staff went with General to Warren's side, came back in afternoon; position remains the same, our left front being about 1000 yards from the enemy, a continuous but slow fire going on. In the evening the Royal Lancasters and Lane. Fusiliers and some Thorneycroft's M.I. started off at 7 pm. to take Spion Kop, a high hill (about 700 ft climb) on the right of Warren's position; after a most arduous climb they arrived at the top and seem to have taken the Boers by surprise and they bolted, only 3 of our men being wounded; they arrived at the summit at 4 am. and entrenched themselves; a thick mist enveloped the hill till about 8 am. after which a very heavy fire broke out of musketry and about 9 am. shell fire began to burst over them and we could see they were beginning to retire; reinforcements were sent up which relieved them, 3 regiments, and stopped the retirement. The fight went on all day and from what we could see our poor men were getting dreadfully hit. About 12pm West was sent over to Warren, 6 miles, with a message and eventually came back saying that Warren was quite satisfied with the way things were going, but apparently he had managed to get no news from the hill except in the morning about 10am. when Col. Crofton heliographed down "send reinforcements or all is lost, General (Woodgate) dead"; it appears that the fire was so hot the signallers and their apparatus on the hill got knocked out; it seems to me strange that no messenger was sent either by Warren or down from the hill to Warren to tell real state of affairs which were most critical and our men were falling in dozens. However our men stuck on till nightfall and it was arranged to send up 2 Naval 12 prs. and 2 13pr. field guns during night. We heard heavy firing after dark. Lt. Col. Thorneycroft (to whose gallantry the taking of the summit was a good deal due, helped by Lt. Col. a Court) who had been put in command of the summit when Gen. Woodgate was hit, decided to evacuate the hill and on the morning of the 25th, to our dismay, we found the place emptied of our men. It seems to me on reading the official accounts that Col. T. had good reason for evacuating and did what was right according to his lights; his men had been exposed to a most galling fire from artillery all day, from guns which were absolutely hidden from ours where they were and so simply pouring in shells at their own sweet will; he had received no intimation of further help from Warren. (Apparently no communication had been established between Warren and Thorneycroft). I cannot think why Warren did not advance his force or do something to relieve the distress. The losses on the hill were about 200 killed and 800 wounded.
We went over to Warren early on 25th and Sir. R. took command himself and things being as they were he decided to retire Warren's army back across the river; indeed Warren had rather anticipated the order and the supply wagons had already begun to go across the pontoon bridge and the wagon drift; without seeing this sort of thing it is impossible to realise the enormous amount and length of impedimenta connected with an army, even carrying only 3 or 4 days rations. (R.Bull and B.Burleigh state our R.A. fired on own people on Spion Kop, a d........d lie!)
The bullock wagons went across at the rate of 6 an hour at each place. We left the battlefield at about 6 pm and came across the bridge where I got a telegram from Forester-Walker telling me that Gorty Mackenzie, my dearest friend, had died the day before of enteric at DeAar (24th); I didn't even know he was ill till 2 or 3 days ago before this when I got a wire from Ernest Holland saying "Gorty still improving", so I wired asking what was the matter and heard he had enteric but doing well; I got a letter from- him written on 6th last, which by carelessness of post office didn't reach me till the 27th. We slept in the open on night of 25th and at 3.15 am. on morning of 26th I was sent with a message to Col. Parsons commanding Warren's guns; in the evening went with Gen. hustling up all wagons and carts still not crossed etc. Got some food about 7.30 and. then went out again to see troops crossing river which was done by 2 pontoon bridges, one for mounted troops and infantry, and other for artillery and regimental carts etc. Was standing at top of road leading to bridge for wagons (which was cut out of bank and none too wide with river on left side) from then till 3.15 am. without even a "sit-down", directing how to go down in dark; only one accident occured, 1 ammunition wagon and mules falling into river, wagon and 1 mule undrowned recovered after. We then went and got our ponies and proceeded with messages for troops as to taking up position and defend baggage coming back towards Spearman Camp and the sappers taking bridges away.
Positions were all occupied by about 6 am; a wonderful retirement for a largish army and a lucky one, performed on a dark night; during night an alarmist came down to General saying Boers had rushed Connaught Rangers trenches and turned them out and they had had panic and fled; as matter of fact Boers evidently from seeing lights feared night attack and had fired from their own trenches; if they had followed up it would have been awkward.
The direction for troops to make for for bridges was done by having two large beacons burning on hills other side of river which when troops got them aligned showed where the point was between the two bridges and a staff officer along this line showed various troops which road to go for their particular bridge. About 7 am. (27th) when we were waiting in position and the mist cleared (but before this sniping shots from Boers were heard) we could see no sign of Boers beyond 2 or 3 on skyline looking over their trenches, they not having any reply to their sniping shots began to tumble to it that no one was there and first I saw 2 men scout forward and then go right up to where Gen. Hart's brigade had been on left, then they galloped back to their comrades and one saw Boers getting up all along their trenches. Soon after a long-range gun was fired by them and shell fell about 100 yards from pontoon bridge, removed by now; 6 men of ours came over in morning having lost themselves in dark I suppose. Thus the retirement came off without loss and we got to camp (Spearmans) about 10.30 am; I have never been so tired in my life. Warren's & Clery's division are camped not far off.
Two 5" guns on 40 pr. carriages arrived under command of Maj. Caldwell R. G. A.