Obvious printer's errors have been corrected. All other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's spelling has been retained.
Text enclosed by equal signs was in bold face in the original (bold).
The original book did not have a Table of Contents, and one has been created for the convenience of the reader.
A YEOMAN'S LETTERS
P. T. ROSS
* * * * *
SOME PRESS OPINIONS.
DAILY TELEGRAPH.—'... Nothing better of this kind has yet appeared than "A Yeoman's Letters," by P. T. Ross.... Bright, breezy, and vivid are the stories of his adventures.... Corporal Ross not only writes lively prose, but really capital verse. His "Ballad of the Bayonet" is particularly smart. He is also a clever draughtsman, and his rough but effective caricatures form not the least attractive feature of a very pleasant book.'
STANDARD.—'In "A Yeoman's Letters," Mr. P. T. Ross has written the liveliest book about the War which has yet appeared. Whatever amusement can be extracted from a tragic theme will be found in his vivacious "Letters." He seems one of those high-spirited and versatile young men who notice the humorous side of everything, and can add to the jollity of a company by a story, a song, an "impromptu" poem, or a pencilled caricature.'
SCOTSMAN.—'The war literature now includes books of all sorts; but there is nothing in it more racy or readable than this collection of letters, what may be called familiar letters to the general public.... In spite of its subject, there is more fun than anything else in the book.... But a deeper interest is not lacking to the book, either in its animated descriptions of serious affairs or in the substantial gravity which a discerning reader will see between the lines of voluble and entertaining talk.'
CHRONICLE.—'Our Yeoman is a droll fellow, a facetious dog, whether with pen or sketching pencil, and we laughed heartily at many of his japes and roughly-drawn sketches.'
* * * * *
A YEOMAN'S LETTERS
P. T. ROSS
(Late Corporal 69th Sussex Company I.Y.)
Illustrated by the Author.
"And you, good Yeomen, Whose limbs were made in England, show us here The mettle of your pasture; let us swear That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not."
London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Limited. 1901.
Printed by Burfield & Pennells, Hastings.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
FOREWORD. The Sussex Yeomanry.
PART 1. On the Trek.
WITH ROBERTS. The Occupation of Johannesburg. Pretoria Taken. Diamond Hill and After. Back to Pretoria. Entertaining a Guest. The Mails Arrive. The Nitral's Nek Disaster.
WITH MAHON. A General Advance to Balmoral and Back. To Rustenburg. Ambushed. Heavy Work for the Recording Angel. Relief of Eland's River Garrison. Join in the great De Wet hunt. After De Wet. The Yeoman, the Argentine and the Farrier-Sergeant. Commandeering by Order.
WITH CLEMENTS. Cattle Lifting. Delarey gives us a Field Day. Burnt to Death. The Infection of Spring again. Death of Lieutenant Stanley. His Burial. Promoted to Full Corporal. Petty Annoyances—The Nigger. A Wet Night. The Great Egg Trick. Our Friend "Nobby." "The Roughs" leave us for Pretoria. The breaking up of the Composite Squadron. Life on a Kopje. Death and Burial of Captain Hodge. Camp Life at Krugersdorp. Lady Snipers at Work. Treatment of the Sick. Veldt Church Service. Comradeship.
IN HOSPITAL. The Story of Nooitgedacht. Two Field Hospitals—A Contrast. Christmas in Hospital. The Career of an Untruth. The Sisters' Albums. "Long live the King!" The Irish Fusilier's Ambition. "War without End." Invitations—and a Concert. Our Orderly's Blighted Heart. Southward Ho! R.A.M.C. Experiences and Impressions. The Mythical and Real Officer. The R.A.M.C. Sergeant-Major, and other annoyances. At the Base. Another Album!! Reasons. Home.
PAGE "A Hot Time!" 2 "A Camp Sing-Song" 7 "The Great Small Game Quest(ion)" 9 "The Mealie and Oat Fatigue" 23 "Stable Guard" 31 "A Terrible Reckoning" 44 "Some of the Pomp and Circumstance of Glorious War" 52 "A New Rig-out" 58 "Oliver Twist on the Veldt" 65 "Hate" 68 "Mails Up" 87 "I'kona" 89 "Nobby" 94 "Consolation" 112 "On Pass" 114 "A Peep at Our Domestic Life" 118 "Hymns and their Singers" 129 "A Friendly Boer Family" 141 "Well, it's the best Oi can do for yez" 144 "Sick" and "Who said C.I.V.'s?" 148 "Got His Ticket" 153 "The Thoughtless Sister" 156 "God Save the King" 159 "Tommy's Spittoon" 171
"More khaki," sniffed a bored but charming lady, as she glanced at a picture of the poor Yeomanry at Lindley, and then hastily turned away to something of greater interest. I overheard the foregoing at the Royal Academy, soon after my return from South Africa, last May, and thanked the Fates that I was in mufti. It was to a certain extent indicative of the jaded interest with which the War is now being followed by a large proportion of the public at home, the majority of whom, I presume, have no near or dear ones concerned in the affair; a public which cheered itself hoarse and generally made "a hass" of itself many months ago in welcoming certain warriors whose period of active service had been somewhat short. I wonder how the veterans of the Natal campaign, the gallant Irish Brigade, and others, will be received when they return? "Come back from the War! What War?"
And yet in spite of this apathy, "War Books" keep appearing, and here is a simple Yeoman thrusting yet another on the British Public. Still 'twere worse than folly to apologise, for qui s'excuse, s'accuse.
The present unpretentious volume is composed of letters written to a friend from South Africa, during the past twelve months, with a few necessary omissions and additions; the illustrations which have been introduced, are reproductions in pen and ink of pencil sketches done on the veldt or in hospital. The sole aim throughout has been to represent a true picture of the every-day life of a trooper in the Imperial Yeomanry. In many cases the "grousing" of the ranker may strike the reader as objectionable, and had this record been penned in a comfortable study, arm-chair philosophy might have caused many a passage to be omitted. But the true campaigning atmosphere would have been sacrificed.
As the Sussex Squadron of Imperial Yeomanry was, in popular parlance, "on its own" till the end of May, the letters dealing with that period have been excluded. However, a brief account of the doings of the Squadron up to that time is necessary to give continuity to the story, so here it is:
THE SUSSEX YEOMANRY.
The Yeomanry is a Volunteer Force, and as is generally known, was embodied in Great Britain during the wars of the French Revolution. History records that at the period named, the County of Sussex possessed one of the finest Corps in England. Autres temps, autres moeurs, and so from apathy and disuse the Sussex Yeomanry gradually dwindled in numbers and importance, until it eventually became extinct. Then came the dark days of November and December, in the year eighteen-hundred-and-ninety-nine. Who will ever forget them? And who does not remember with pride the great outburst of patriotism, which, like a volcanic eruption, swept every obstacle before it, banishing Party rancour and class prejudice, thus welding the British race in one gigantic whole, ready to do and die for the honour of the Old Flag, and in defence of the Empire which has been built up by the blood and brains of its noblest sons. The call for Volunteers for Active Service was answered in a manner which left no doubt as to the issue. From North, South, East, and West, came offers of units, then tens, then hundreds, and finally, thousands, the flower of the Nation, were in arms ready for action. The Hon. T. A. Brassey, a Sussex man, holding a commission in the West Kent Yeomanry, applied for permission and undertook, early in February, 1900, to form a squadron of Yeomanry from Sussex. The enlistment was principally done at Eastbourne, as were also the preliminary drills. We went into quarters at Shorncliffe where we trained until the last week in March, when early, very early, one dark cold morning, a wailing sleepy drum and fife band played us down to the Shorncliffe Station, where we entrained for the Albert Docks, London. There the transport "Delphic" received us, together with a squadron of Paget's Horse (the 73rd I.Y.), and soon after noon the officers and troopers were being borne down the river, and with mixed feelings, were beginning to realise they were actually off at last. Many, alas, were destined never to return.
It is more amusing than ever, now, to recall the remarks of cheerful, chaffing friends, who indulged in sly digs at the poor Yeomen previous to their departure. At that time, as now, "the end was in sight" only we had not got used to it. It was a common experience to be greeted with, "Ha, going out to South Africa! Why it'll be all over before you get there," or "Well, it'll be a pleasant little trip there and back, for I don't suppose they'll land you." Subsequent experience of troopships has dispelled even "the pleasant trip" illusion. Another favourite phrase, was "Well, if they do use you, they'll put you on the lines of communications." Sometimes a generous friend would confidentially ask, "Do you think they'll let you start?" And one, a lady, anxious on account of gew-gaws, observed, "Oh, I hope they'll give you a medal."
Eventually the slow but sure S.S. "Delphic," having stopped at St. Helena to land bullocks for Cronje, Schiel and their friends, disgorged us at Cape Town. Our anxiety as to whether the war was over was soon allayed, and we gaily marched, a perspiring company, to Maitland Camp. Here amid sand and flies we began to conceive what the real thing would be like. An extract or two from letters written while at that salubrious spot may serve to give an idea of the life there:
"This place is a perfect New Jerusalem as regards Sheenies, every civilian about the camp appearing to be a German Jew refugee. They have stalls and sell soap, buns, braces, belts, &c., and so forth. Every now and again a big Semitic proboscis appears at our tent door, and the question 'Does anypody vant to puy a vatch' is propounded."
Hungarian horses were drawn and quartered by our lines, and saddlery served out. By-the-way, I have always flattered myself there was at least one good thing about the 69th Squadron I.Y., they had excellent saddles. The first time we turned out in full marching order was a terrible affair, and the following may help to convey an idea of the tout ensemble of an erstwhile peaceful citizen:
"Please imagine me as an average Yeoman in full marching order. Dangling on each side of the saddle are apparently two small hay-ricks in nets; then wallets full, and over them a rolled overcoat and an extra pair of boots. Behind, rolled waterproof-sheet and army blanket, with iron picketing-peg and rope, and mess-tin on top. Elsewhere the close observer mentally notes a half-filled nosebag. So much for the horse, and then, loaded with the implements of war, bristling with cartridges, water-bottle, field-glass, haversack, bayonet and so on, we behold the Yeoman. With great dexterity (not always) he fits himself into the already apparently superfluously-decorated saddle, and once there, though he may wobble about, takes some displacing.
"I really must remark on the marvellous head for figures that we Yeomen are expected to have. Read this. Comment from myself will be superfluous.
"My Company number is 51.
"My regimental number is 16,484.
"My rifle and bayonet, 2,502.
"The breech-block and barrel of the rifle are numbered 4,870.
"My horse's number is 1,388.
"There may be a few more numbers attached to me; if so, I have overlooked them."
En passant, I must mention we were with our proper battalion, the 14th, commanded by Colonel Brookfield, M.P., at Maitland. Eventually, thanks to the fact of his Grace the Duke of Norfolk being attached to our squadron, when we got the order to go up country we left the rest of the battalion behind at Bloemfontein, cursing, and proceeded by rail as far as Smaldeel, where we detrained with our horses and commenced treking after the immortal "Bobs."
His Grace's servant, rather an old fellow, did not seem to particularly care for campaigning, and, often, dolefully regarding his khaki garments, would sorrowfully remark, "To think as 'ow I've served 'im all these years, and now 'e should bring me hout 'ere. It does seem 'ard." I think a pilgrimage would have been more to his liking.
Our first experience of "watering horses" on the trek was both interesting and exciting, it occurred at Smaldeel.
"The horses we proceeded to water at once; I had the pleasure of taking two and of proving the proverb, re leading horses to the water. En route were dead horses to the right and dead horses to the left; in the water, which was black, one was dying in an apparently contented manner, while another lay within a few yards of it doing the same thing in a don't-care-a-bit sort of way. Regarded from five hours later, I fancy my performances with the two noble steeds in my charge must have been distinctly amusing to view, had anyone been unoccupied enough to watch me. Vainly did I try to induce them to drink of the printer's-ink-like fluid, water and mud, already stirred up by hundreds of other horses. When they did go in, they went for a splash, a paddle, and a roll, not to imbibe, and I had to go with them a little way, nearly up to my knees, in the mud. I have arrived at the conclusion that the noble quadruped is not an altogether pleasant beast. Still, I suppose he has an opinion of us poor mortals. In death he is also far from pleasant, as was conclusively proved when night came on, and a dead one near us began to assert his presence with unnecessary emphasis. Phew! It's all very well saying that a live donkey is better than a dead lion, but judging from my experience of dead horses, which is just commencing, I should say that the dead lion would prove mightily offensive."
The water in the Free State, as a rule, was most unsatisfactory. Marching in the wake of an army of about 50,000 men, however, one would scarcely expect water to remain unstirred or unpolluted. I always found my tea or coffee more enjoyable when the water for it was drawn by somebody else. Even though that comrade would jestingly call it "Bovril," and unnecessarily explain that the pool it came from contained two dead horses and an ox.
One more extract and I have done.
"Yesterday (Friday, May 25th) we got as far as Leeum Spruit. So far they had succeeded in getting the railway in working order, but there the scene was one of utter destruction, three or four bridges being blown up, and the rails all twisted and sticking up in the air. Hundreds of Kaffirs were at work getting things straight, which to any ordinary person would seem impossible.
"It is a marvellous sight to see the convoys toiling in the track of Roberts' army, the blown-up bridges and rails, and the deserted farms. Of course, some are still inhabited. It may interest linguists and admirers of Laurence Sterne to know that the language of the British Army in South Africa is the same as it was with our army in Flanders in Uncle Toby's days—of course, allowing for an up-to-date vocabulary.
"Sunday, May 27th.—Up with the unfortunate early worm, as usual. Our reveille generally consists of a shout and a kick, as our bugle is not used. It seems hard to realise that to-day is Sunday, and while the church bells at home are ringing, or the service is in progress, we dirty, unshaven beings, who once had part in the far-away life, are either riding or leading our horses across the flat and, in many places, charred veldt, past blown-up bridges, torn-up rails, convoys leisurely drawn by languid oxen, demolished houses, bleached bones of oxen, horses and mules, as well as the so-often-alluded-to dead beasts known by Tommy as 'Roberts' Milestones,' and all that goes to war—glorious war. We are making a fairly long march to-day, as we hope to catch Roberts at last. Anyhow, to-night should see us at the frontier—the Vaal River."
ON THE TREK.
THE OCCUPATION OF JOHANNESBURG.
ORANGE GROVE, NEAR JOHANNESBURG. Saturday, June 2nd, 1900.
On Monday, May 28th, at mid-day, we reached the Vaal River, where we stopped and took all our superfluous kit off the horses, which left us with one blanket per man; were provided with four biscuits each, rations for two days, and so with light hearts and saddles, we forded Viljoen's Drift; into the Transvaal—at last! We had a long march to catch Roberts, but this country provides one with heaps of things to break any monotony that might otherwise exist, for it is ever "'Ware wire," "'Ware hole," "'Ware rock," or "'Ware ant hill," and now and again in the thick, blinding cloud of reddish dust a man and horse go down, and another a-top of them. Soon after dark, nearly the whole of the veldt around us became illuminated, reminding me of a colossal Brock's Benefit or the Jubilee Fleet Illuminations. As a matter of fact, the veldt was a-fire. The effect was really wonderful. At about ten o'clock we reached the main body, and being informed that Roberts was about four miles ahead with the 11th Division, our captain decided to bivouac for the night, and catch him up in the morning. After ringing our horses, we wandered round in the dark, and finding a convenient cart in a barn, soon after had a good enough fire to cook some meat we managed to secure, and then, dead fagged, turn in to sleep. [Here I would fain mutter an aside. When I was at home, a certain jingo song was much sung, perhaps is still; it was entitled, "A hot time in the Transvaal to-night." I want to find the man who wrote that song, and get him to bivouac with us for a night, at this time of the year, with an overcoat and one blanket.] We awoke well covered with frost, and the stars have seldom twinkled on a more miserable set of shivering devils than we of the 69th Company I.Y. A nibble at a biscuit, no coffee, and we were after Roberts. We caught him up after about an hour's riding; the 11th Division was moving out as we came up. The Guards' Brigade was going forward on our right, and Artillery rolling forward on our left, with ambulance waggons, carts, and general camp equipment joining in the procession. We moved smartly on, trotting past the Guards' Brigade, soldiers straggling on who had fallen out for one reason or another, or sitting by the wayside attending to sore feet, till we came up with the Staff. Our captain reported himself, and pro tem. we were attached to Lord Roberts' bodyguard.
After a halt for our mid-day grub (we had none, having devoured our biscuits and emergency rations about three hours before, for which we were severely reprimanded by our captain, the Hon. T. A. B.), we proceeded again. At last we reached a ridge, and halting there, we beheld the Rand, and about six miles to our left, Johannesburg. A railway station having been captured, with about a dozen engines and rolling stock, the Army bivouacked for the night. We were in a field by a farmhouse, where we bought some meat very cheaply, and had a good supper, which would have been all the better had we had bread or even the once but now no more despised biscuits to eat with it. The next day we received orders to join the 7th Battalion I.Y., so saddled up, and passing through Elsburg and the Rose Dip, Primrose, and other mines, joined our new Battalion at Germiston. The 7th I.Y. Battalion is a West Country one, being composed of the Devon, Dorset, and Somerset Yeomanry and has seen some stiff service at Dewetsdorp. In the afternoon I had the misfortune to go out with our troop officer and another man to find our 4th troop, which had been left behind as baggage guard. Us did he lose (oh, the Yeomanry officer!) and when it was dark, we set out to find our company in the great camp the other side of Elsburg. What I said about that officer as I stumbled over rocks, ant hills, and holes, in these, my cooler moments, it would not become my dignity to record. The next day, Thursday (my birthday) promised to be an eventful one, and was. Johannesburg was to be attacked if it did not surrender by ten o'clock. With well-cleaned rifles and tightly-girthed horses, we moved out with our Battalion at nine o'clock to take up our position. Our duty was to attack the waterworks, if there was any resistance. However, as you know, the place capitulated; news was brought to us that the fort had surrendered, and we at once rapidly trotted up to it to take possession. Arrived outside, we were dismounted and marched into it, and drawn up in line facing the flagstaff on the fort wall. Suddenly a little ball was run up to the truck, a jerk and the Flag of England, the dear old Union Jack, was flying on the walls of the Johannesburg Fort. Then we cheered for our Queen, and again, when from somewhere a chromo of Her Gracious Majesty was produced and held aloft. Roberts' Raid had been successful. The Boer garrison seemed more relieved than depressed. Indeed, the commandant's servant gave us all the cold roast beef and bread that he had. Guards having been told off, and the horses picketed in the Police Barracks Yard, some of us had leave to go into the town. I was one of the fortunates. The enthusiasm of the inhabitants and their generous treatment of the men in khaki will be long remembered. The coloured population all showed great, gleaming rows of teeth, and ejaculated what I took to be meant for British cheers. Bread was given away, cigars and cigarettes forced (?) upon us, and meals stood right and left. A German girl, at a florist's, decorated about half-a-dozen of us with red, white and blue buttonholes. We were dirty and unshaven, but it mattered not, we were monarchs (Vae Victis!) and was it not my birthday? Into the shops we went. All were closed, but we persuaded some to open, and the good German Jew merchants let us commandeer within reason. Haversacks and pockets were filled. The actual prices of things were fairly high: sugar 1/6 per lb., condensed milk 2/-, golden syrup 4/- a small tin, and so on. One of our fellows, after being well fed, was sent back to us loaded with boxes of briar pipes to distribute, another with socks and vests; others were given Kruger pennies, as souvenirs. And all the day, and all the night, through the streets marched our troops, rolled and rattled our guns, our carts and waggons. And the night, oh, what a night! For seven miles I struggled on in charge of our ammunition cart, in search of our company, picking my way out of a mass of bullock waggons, carts, mules, and every imaginable vehicle; men asking for this brigade and that division on every hand; transport officers cursing, conductors exhorting, and niggers yelling and cracking whips.
WITHIN SIGHT OF EERSTIE FABRIKEN, E. OF PRETORIA. June 10th, 1900.
Fortunately for you in my last I left off rather abruptly in order to catch the post, or I should have bored you with a long account of my search with our ammunition cart for the company along the road to Pretoria from Johannesburg. For seven miles we—a comrade, myself, the blank Kaffir driver and mules—struggled and stumbled between long halts after our crowd, past waggons, carts, dhoolies, and chaises of all descriptions, the drivers of most of which were all inquiring for various divisions, brigades, battalions, companies, and such like. At last, at about one o'clock, having come up with the 11th Division, we halted and outspanned near the Guards' Brigade. At the first sign of daybreak I arose, and going forward about a quarter of a mile or less, came up with our company. The captain told me to get the mules inspanned and follow on. Owing to the infernal slowness of Tom, the driver, we got off late and had another terrible search, this time by daylight, to find the 7th Battalion I.Y., which at last we found camped at Orange Grove, about two miles from where we had bivouacked the preceding night. The next day (Sunday) we were looking to spending in a restful way, but this was not to be. We suddenly got the order to "saddle up," and forward to Pretoria we went. At about two in the afternoon we halted and picketed our horses not far from a farm. There rather a curious, though perhaps trivial, thing happened. Amongst the hundred-and-one little contretemps to which the Imperial Yeoman on active service is heir to, I had lost my nosebag on our night march from Johannesburg. This contained, besides the horse's feed, a tin of honey—of which I am as fond as any bear—and a pot of bloater paste, obtained (good word) at the Golden City from a "Sherman Shoe." Well, wandering in the direction of the farm, I came near a duck-pond and a clump of small trees, from which smoke was arising. My curiosity being aroused, I approached, and found that some Australians and Cape Boys were smoking out some bees. I arrived in the nick of time, and got a helmet-full of the most delicious honey in the comb I have tasted for many a day. On Monday, June 4th, we started for what we understood was to be our last march to Pretoria. We had the good fortune to be in the advance party. Soon after starting the Duke of Norfolk's horse fell in a hole and put his thigh out, so he lost the fun, for it was not long before, from the hills ahead of us, came rap, rap, and then the rat-tat-tat-tat of a machine gun. We dismounted, advanced extended, and opened fire. I aimed at the hills, so I know I hit something. The Boers retiring, we (that is the battalion) occupied one kopje and then another, the dust flicking up in front of us. Then boom! whish-sh-sh! a cloud of red dust shot up, and crack! and their artillery had come into action. One shell burst directly over our heads, then we were told to retire to our led horses, which necessitated crossing a road on which their fire was directed. Needless to say this was not an altogether uninteresting proceeding. And so the game went on, our guns coming into action in grand style. We got in for rather a warm rifle fire once; we galloped up, dismounted, and advanced to the top of a kopje which was covered with rather long grass. Buzz-buzz-buzz went the busy bullets seeking unwilling billets. They came very close there, snipping the grass tops close beside us. Here there were casualties in several of the other companies. One of our fellows was shot through the leg, and Mr. Ashby was knocked on the waist-belt by a spent bullet or piece of shell and rendered unconscious for some time. Later, in galloping across an exposed space to occupy another kopje, the captain's horse was shot under him, as well as several others. I think that is more than enough of the affair; I have no doubt you know better what really was done than we. No waggons coming up that night, we had no rations nor breakfast next day, so you see we do the thing in style, for we had started the day at four and only had a pannikin of coffee and a biscuit for breakfast. The next day we heard that the Pretoria Forts had surrendered and the Boer Forces withdrawn, and the whole army advanced at last on its final march to Pretoria, and this humble Ego, who months ago at home had thought and talked of this great event, and not for a moment anticipated participation in the same, formed a modest unit of the victorious horde. However, that day we (the 7th I.Y.) did not go into the capital, but camped outside of it. Not to be done, after we had picketed our horses, I made my way into a Kaffir suburb near us, and did well at a couple of stores, kept by German Jews, coming back with a sack of tinned edibles and some Kruger pennies. The next day a friend and I were lucky, and got leave into Pretoria. We returned to a grateful and enthusiastic troop, laden with quite a score-and-a-half of loaves, at six in the evening, and concluded a pleasant day with a high tea (very high) and a camp-fire sing-song. "Chorus, gentlemen!":
It's 'ard to sye good-bye to yer own native land, It's 'ard to give the farewell kiss, and parting grip of the 'and, It's 'ard to leave yer sweetheart, in foreign lands to roam; But it's 'arder still to sye good-bye to the ole folks at 'ome.
That night we entertained several ex-British soldier prisoners from Waterval.
My horse (late of the R.H.A.), picked up at Kroonstad, is going very strong. He is very useful to me as a means of locomotion, but otherwise no good feeling exists between us, for he is the most senseless, clumsy brute that I have ever come across in the animal kingdom. He is always treading on me and doing other idiotic and annoying acts. A few days ago he got entangled in the picketing ropes, and on my going to his assistance promptly fell forward upon me (he is the biggest horse I have seen in any Yeomanry Company) and nearly broke my instep. I have lately re-christened him "Juggernaut," which I think is not an inappropriate name. I had not much time to spare when we went into Pretoria, but could not help stopping to watch a couple of regiments go through—the Derbies with their band and the Camerons with their pipers. It was a grand sight to see those dirty, ragged, khaki-clad fellows tramping past the Volksraad, over which the Flag was flying, and note the tired but grim smile of satisfaction with which they regarded it. Quite two out of every four infantrymen I saw limped along with feet sore from marching over all sorts of roads and "where there was never a road." Some were getting along with the aid of sticks—most, if not all, of the officers march with sticks.
On Thursday, June 7th, we were still in camp outside of Pretoria, with a hospital, containing interesting cases of leprosy, small-pox and fever behind us; and about 200 yards to our left front hundreds of dead horses and a few vultures. At mid-day the usual unexpected thing happened, and it was "saddle up," and off we rode through the captured capital, passing Kruger's house, with the two lions outside the entrance, presented to him by Barney Barnato, and a group of typical old Boers seated at a table on the stoep. We bivouacked about six or eight miles east of the town, and the next morning caught up the army and took our place in advance again. At mid-day we halted within sight of Eerstie Fabriken. Some of us were having a siesta and others eating biscuits and bully beef, or smoking the pipe of peace (peace, when there is no peace!), when—Boom! whish-sh! over our heads, and about 100 yards behind us a group of horses was lost in a cloud of brown earth and dust. Then another and another came, and we got the order to take cover to our right, which was promptly obeyed. Our guns came into action, and later an armistice was arranged, for the convenience of Brother Boer, I presume, which to-day (Sunday) still continues.
[Footnote 1: Otherwise known as the "Hatherly Distillery," owned by a chameleon millionaire German-Jew, named Sammy Marks. Oh, that fine old Scotch whisky! The labels announcing this un-fact are, I understand, obtained from the Old Country and gummed on the bottles at Hatherly.]
This morning (Sunday, the 10th) we had the first Church Parade we have had for a long time. The sermon was good, and from it I gathered that it was Trinity Sunday. Yesterday it was a curious sight to see us employing our leisured ease in stripping ourselves, scratching our bodies, and carefully examining our shirts and underwear. A brutal lice(ntious) soldiery! Most of us have had quite large families of these dependent upon us; a more euphonious term for them is "Roberts' Scouts." Men to whom the existence of such insects was once merely a vaguely-accepted fact, and who would have brought libel actions against any persons insinuating that they possessed such things, after having been disillusioned of the idea that they were troubled with the "prickly itch," were calmly, naked and unashamed, searching diligently for their tormentors in their clothes as to the manner born. Being fortunate enough to find an officer's servant with a bottle of Jeyes', I finally washed both myself and clothes in a solution of it, so once again I am a free man, but the cry goes up "How long?" and echo repeats it. I have been told that the best way to get rid of these undesirable insects is to keep turning one's shirt inside out; by this means their hearts are eventually broken.
DIAMOND HILL AND AFTER.
[Footnote 2: That we played a small part in the extensive operations, culminating in what is known as the Battle of Diamond Hill, was only known to most of us four or five months later.]
PIENAARSPOORT. Friday, June 15th, (?) 1900.
Dolce far niente. I am not certain about the spelling, or quite positive about its interpretation, but it means something comfortable, I am sure. And that is just what I am at present. I have lost the scanty notes on which I try to base my periodical literary outbursts, and which assist me to retain some hazy notion of the date and day of the week, so both you at home and I out here ought to feel "for this relief much thanks!" And the reason for all this contentment and satisfaction is this. We were shifted from our last camping ground yesterday afternoon, and have arrived here. We are here for two or three days at the least. That is as far as we can gather, and we "just do" hear a lot. This means a bit of rest from the everlasting early reveille, saddling up, packing up kit, and so forth. So behold me on the veldt, leaning against my saddle in my shirt sleeves, taking things easy, after having dined well on a loaf of bread well covered with tinned butter obtained at a store some miles back owing to my having to fall out of the ranks on account of a broken girth (hem!) on our march hither. The bread a Scotch farmer, and tenant of Sammy Marks, gave me yesterday. Of course you must have noted how the principal topic with us is grub, and probably felt contempt for us, still I assure you it is the great Army question. When you meet a man out here, usually the first question is "What sort of grub are you having?" Then, after another remark or so, "Seen much fighting?" Or, again, on asking a man what sort of a general Buller is, for instance, the reply comes pat, "A grand man—he looks after your rations. Feeds you well!" Still, it must be admitted it looks rather amusing to see a big, bearded man expectantly awaiting his share of condensed milk or sugar to spread on a piece of biscuit. As regards fighting, we have been shelled over a bit lately. I think it was last Monday I had to go and see if there was anybody in a small house some distance opposite a range of kopjes occupied by the enemy. I had to kick in the door, and hitch my horse to a tree. Nobody was in the house; but the firing got very warm while I was making my visit. On Tuesday one of our patrols was ambushed, and only one man returned with the news. Later the officer in command of the troop came in with a corporal, and we heard that one fellow had been severely wounded and several horses lost. The rest eventually straggled in. All had tales of marvellous escapes to tell, some had laid low in a river up to their necks in water for many hours, others in the long grass. Yesterday we heard that the Boers confessed to three killed and three or four wounded, and as our man is progressing favourably I don't think their ambush was a great success, especially as they opened fire at a hundred yards or less, a fact which does not speak highly for their marksmanship.
Referring to grass, it is truly wonderful how inconspicuous our khaki is amidst rocks or grass. Riding along on Monday last I almost rode slap over some Guardsmen who were halted and lying or sitting in the grass. I only became aware of their presence when about ten yards from them. And they all want to get home again—
"'Ome, and friends so dear, Jennie, 'Anging round the yard, All the way from Fratton, Down to Portsmouth 'Ard."
Nearly every other sentence one hears out here begins with "When I get home——." Had one of the Guardsmen been inclined to assist me with a rhyme to the tune of "Mandalay," he might have sinned thuswise:
I'm learnin' 'ere in Afriky wot the bloomin' poet tells, If you've 'eard the song of "'Ome, sweet 'Ome," you won't 'eed nothin' else. No, you won't 'eed nothin' else But the English hills and dells, And the cosy house or cottage where the lovin' family dwells. On the road to London Town, Home of great and small renown, Where the bright lights gleam and glitter on the rich and on the poor. Oh! the lights of London Town, And the strollin' up and down, Where the fog rolls over everything and the mighty city's roar. Ship me home towards that city, where the best live with the worst, Where there are "Blue Ribbon" Armies, but a man can quench a thirst.
This, by the way, might allude to Lord Roberts' order, by which all the bars are closed wherever the troops go. When I went into Pretoria not a bar was open.
"'E's rather down on drink Is Father Bobs."
It is quite on the cards that we may be disbanded soon. The war is generally regarded as almost over, and candidates for the Military Police Force, which is being organised for the Transvaal and Orange Free State, are being sought for amongst the various Yeomanry Companies out here, the conditions being an optional three months' service, ten shillings a day pay and all found. About fifty of our company have volunteered, and may go into Pretoria any day now. These fifty have been supplied with the best horses we have amongst us, and we have not many now, my horse "Juggernaut," being one of the horses which had to be handed to the future slops, as the candidates are now being disrespectfully termed. This being the case, my future movements will be in the manner called "a foot slog" behind the ox-waggons.
BACK TO PRETORIA.
NEAR THE RACECOURSE, PRETORIA. (A Return Visit.) Wednesday, June 20th, 1900.
"Here we are again" at Pretoria, that is, all that is left of us, for about fifty have joined the Military Police, others are wounded, sick, or missing, and the horses now in our lines number about two dozen moderately sound ones. All of this suggests, to minds capable of the wildest imaginings, a near return to England, home, and beauty. Some experts have actually fixed the date, which varies from within the week to within the next two months.
Last Saturday (June 16th) we left Pienaarspoort in the morning, and marched for about five miles in an easterly direction, many of us doing "a foot slog," having, as I have already mentioned, surrendered our mounts to the policemen; the mounted men had only just unsaddled for the mid-day halt, and collected wood to cook coffee and in some cases ducks obtained from inhospitable farmers flying the white flag, an emblem of which the Boer has made the best use for himself times innumerable, when the order was heliographed from a distant kopje for the 7th Battalion I.V., attached to the 4th M.I., to march back to Pretoria. Then, in my opinion, a great event happened. We footsloggers determined to detach ourselves from our particular convoy and march into Pretoria, a distance of twenty miles or more, in addition to the four we had already tramped. I believe it was in my brain that this memorable (to us) march originated. We were certain that the mounted men would not reach the capital that night, as of course they had to keep in touch with the ox-waggons, and as we had to tramp, we determined to tramp to some purpose. Our goal was no cold bivouac on the hard earth outside Pretoria, with the usual weary waiting for the ox-waggons stuck in a spruit about four miles astern, but Pretoria itself, where bread and stores were to be obtained, a square meal at a table, and, oh! ye gentlemen of England, who live at home at ease, a bed. Imbued with this idea, with sloped rifle we gaily commenced our return march. Soon we came upon miles upon miles of convoys with straggling Colonials, Highlanders, Guardsmen, C.I.V.'s, indeed, representatives of all branches of the service, and all parts of the Empire, one and all toiling in the direction of Pretoria. We started at about mid-day, and reached our destination, tired and famished, at seven. After the first ten miles, behold a string of four men, tramping with never a halt, over rocks and grass, through spruits, past unutterably aromatic defunct representatives of the equine race, and through dust ankle deep, towards the city of their desire. Darkness came on swiftly, as it does out here, and past hundreds of camp fires they limped, footsore but as determined as ever, though in no good temper, for this is the order of some of their questions and answers towards the end of their march:
"How far off is Pretoria?"—"Three-and-a-half miles."
"How far off is Pretoria?"—"Seven miles."
"How far off is Pretoria?"—"Nine miles."
"How far off is Pretoria?"—"Three miles."
"Have you a Kruger penny?"—"No."
After tramping another two miles:
"How far off is Pretoria?"—"Three or four miles."
At last we beheld lights, not camp lights, but electric lights, and cheered by these, we quickened our pace. Alas! they seemed to play us a sorry game, and mocking, Will-o'-the-Wisp-like, retreated as we advanced. Then, too, we cursed those once blessed electric lights. Finally we reached the outskirts of the town, and seeing a closed store, with rifle butts and threatening tones persuaded the German dealer to open unto us. Here, speaking personally, I disposed of over half a tin of biscuits and two tins of jam. Note by the Way: These South African fresh fruit jams are, I am convinced, made of the numberless pumpkins and similar vegetables that one sees in nearly every field, and then indiscriminately labelled (I nearly wrote libelled) "peach," "apricot," "greengage," and—so help me, Roberts!—"marmalade." One of the manufacturers even has the audacity to boldly proclaim his preserves "stoneless plum and apricot";—as a matter of fact, pumpkins do not usually have stones.
Finally we entered the town, where every shop was closed, but, thanks to the guidance of a kindly German, after about half-a-dozen unsuccessful efforts we at length obtained food and shelter at a house called "The Albion." Oh, the pleasure of sleeping in a bed and under a roof after aeons (to me) on the hard earth beneath the stars and dew! The next morning (Sunday) as we were breakfasting, we beheld unseen, the 7th Battalion ride past, and later, after purchasing a few stores, joined them where they were camped near the now historic Racecourse. I omitted to mention above that as we lay in our comfortable beds that eventful Saturday night, we heard the rain pouring in torrents upon the galvanised iron roof above our heads, and grimly smiled as we thought of the other less fortunate officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the I.Y., lying out in the open, vainly trying to get shelter and protection under narrow waterproof sheets. Alas, we only had the laugh of them that night—I am writing on Friday, June 22nd—for since then we have had rain every night, and a fair amount in the daytime as well, and when it rains out here there is no compromise about it. Without tents we have had a "dooce" of a time. Of course, we have to improvise shelters with our blankets. Our place is known as "The Moated Grange,"—a trench having been dug round it for reasons not wholly connected with Jupiter Pluvius. Others are, or would be, known to the postman, did he but come our way ("he cometh not") as "No. 1 Park Mansions," "The Manor House," "Balmoral," "Belle Vue," "Buckingham Palace," and "The Lodge." Apropos of something which concerns a lot of A.M.B.'s, the following may not be devoid of interest:
Scene: Any chemist's shop in Pretoria. Enter gentleman in khaki shrugging himself. With a scratch at his chest and side.
"Er—have you any—er—Keating's powder?"
Chemist: "No, zaar, de Englis' soldiers haf bought it all. It is finish." (Exit gentleman in khaki, scratching himself desperately.)
Our numbers are now considerably reduced, over half of the Battalion have joined the Military Police, others having taken over civil employment in the Post Office and Government buildings. Many who were not desirous of joining the Police have finally done so, thanks to the innumerable fatigues, pickets on the surrounding kopjes, and the crowning discomforts of the rainy nights (now over, I am happy to say, Sunday, June, 24th). At present our particular, or unparticular, company, numbers twenty-one men, with five troop horses and some officers' chargers, all that is left of the hundred and twenty mounted men that left Maitland Camp in May. Does this sound Utopian? Those men who are anxious to obtain civil employment are allowed (or persuaded) to join the Police, while the authorities are exerting themselves to obtain berths for them at salaries ranging from L300 to L500 or more per annum. While nominally with the Police these men do no duties, but draw ten shillings a day, besides having the advantage, when it rains, of possessing a roof over their heads, and the pleasurable knowledge that their pig-headed comrades who have joined as Yeomen and elect to remain so to the end, are in the diminished lines about two miles out of the town, doing fatigues and guards innumerable, and drawing therefor the munificent sum of 1s. 5d. per diem. Every day for the last week the captain and officers have been asking the men if they wish to join the Police or would like to have civil employment found them; and the company has been more like a registry office than anything else I can think of. To-day (Sunday) we—nine of us and a sergeant—went to church with other detachments of the 7th I.Y. It was no open-air church parade, where one has to stand all through the service, but a genuine church with pews that we went to. It is called St. Alban's Cathedral, and is evidently the chief English Church in Pretoria. It was the first time we had been in a church since leaving Shorncliffe; the service was very reminiscent of a home one and exceedingly restful. The illusion was complete when, at the conclusion of the service, a collection was taken. Now that the rain is all over, we have had tents served out to us. The battalion sergeant-major came round a few days ago with "Now, then, you fellows, down with those rabbit hutches ("The Grange") and put these tents up." They are Boer tents, small and oblong in shape. Ours is very rotten, and has a big hole burnt in the top as well as a large rent at one end. These we have, however, patched up to our satisfaction and comfort. As we are here for the deuce knows how long, the beloved army red tape and routine is coming into vogue again.
ENTERTAINING A GUEST.
HOREN'S NEK, (About 10 miles W. of Pretoria). Thursday, July 5th, 1900.
Here goes for another letter, so pull yourself together. I am here with twenty others of the 7th I.Y. on outlying picket, and although the affair began rather joylessly, we are getting on very well now. By way of parenthesis, it is more than passing strange that whenever I try to write a letter somebody always starts singing. At present, a man of the Dorsets is lifting his voice in anguish and promising to "Take Kathleen home again." He has just followed on with that mournful ballad, entitled "The Gipsy's Warning:"
"Do not 'eed 'im, gentle strynger."
I cannot help heeding him, but I dare not remonstrate, as he is the cook of our party, and in the Army, as elsewhere, Monsieur le Chef, be he ever so humble, is a power. So I will desist for the present, and resume this to-morrow on the top of a kopje.
Every night we do guard on two of the near kopjes, and every other day I have to go up with a guard, to another kopje, used as an observation post, and look with a telescope and the nude optic, Sister Anne like, for "staggerers of humanity." On Sunday, the 1st, we went to church again. The preparations the young British Yeoman makes for church going out here vary considerably, like most other things, from those he is accustomed to make at home. Having shaved himself with the aid of the only piece of looking-glass possessed by the company, and a razor, which in days gone by would have been a valuable acquisition to the Inquisitorial torture chambers, washed in a bucket and brushed his clothes with an old horse brush, technically known as "a dandy," he looks like a fairly respectable tramp, and is ready to fall in with his comrades for the two or three miles tramp to Divine service. I had the pleasure of entertaining a guest at breakfast before going to kirk. He rode up to our cook-house fire (one always says cook-house and guard-room) to get a light for his pipe. The broad-brimmed hat with the bronze badge of maple leaves and the word "Canada," proclaimed whence he hailed. After a few minutes' conversation, I invited him to partake of our breakfast, and, after no little persuasion—he at first refused on the grounds that he would be depriving us of our full share—he accepted, and came and joined us. He seemed very reluctant to take much at first, and all through the meal, which consisted of mealie porridge and sugar, cafe sans lait, bread and jam, expressed his appreciation of our scant hospitality. He had joined the Military Police for three months, and was on patrol.
"Where did he hail from?"
"The North-West Frontier."
"Had he ever been to England?"
"No; but would like to, I guess."
Here was a man who had never seen England, roughing it and fighting for her out here, side by side with us, the home-born; and he only one of many.
"Hang it, have some more jam, old chap?"
He told us all about the life (cow-boy) he led at home, and wished he could have our company at a "rounding-up," it was rare fun.
* * * * *
"Now, then, turn out, and get everything packed on the waggons at once, and fall in in marching order!" How would you like to be awakened out of a comfortable sleep at 3 a.m. in the above manner? Still, we are pretty well accustomed to that sort of thing by now. Having fulfilled the above injunctions, we stood to arms for about three hours and were then dismissed. Some of us, I being one, were told off for the outlying picket we are now doing. Just as dinner was served up, we had to fall in and march off, so, despite a ravenous appetite, I had to throw the contents of my pannikin, which I had just filled, away, and with smothered curses on the usual "messing about" which the Imperial Yeoman always has to suffer, fell in and marched away. When we reached this place at about five o'clock, we found that, owing to the usual somebody blundering, sufficient rations had not been put on the waggons for us. The men we relieved seemed very unhappy and were delighted to hear they were to go back. They had had one or two alarms, and had to retire on a fort one night. Almost immediately we were sent off to our kopjes, where we spend our nights. The kopjes round here are really horrible things: to ascend and descend them one requires legs of flexible iron, and the amiability and patience of Job. At night one has to pick and choose a little, before getting a satisfactory "doss." To arrange your couch you must, of course, remove all the movable stones, and as regards the fixtures it is strange how in a short time one's body seems instinctively to accommodate itself to the undulations of the chosen sleeping ground. It is strange also how a rock with a few handfuls of grass makes a fairly decent pillow.
Near here there are numerous orange groves lying in the shelter of the kopjes. Yesterday I had charge of a Dutchman who wanted to go through the Nek on business, and on the off chance I went provided with a nosebag. I came across a magnificent orange grove, owned, as it proved, by an Englishman who had been, he told me, out here for twenty-five years. This Englishman sent one of his sons off to fill my bag with the best oranges, and another to fill my red handkerchief with mealie meal to make porridge with. The red-handkerchief-with-white-spots alluded to above is the last "wipe" I have left me out of a large number, and has been invaluable to me on numerous occasions for carrying various articles, usually edible. On the whole, the time I have spent on this outpost has been rather enjoyable. Having only one officer with us, and being a reasonable distance from headquarters, we have been spared a great deal of the "messing about" which seems to be the special fate of the Imperial Yeomen. When you get your British Yeomen home again, many a tale of incompetent officers and needless hardships will be retailed, unless I am much in error. Here is apparently a small fact, which may help to show why the Yeoman has often fared worse than his regular brother. The quartermaster-sergeant of a certain I.Y. company I know of, is, like most others, a man absolutely unaccustomed to and unqualified for the job. Added to this, the disposition of the man is of such a nervous nature that he is afraid to try and work on his own initiative, and consequently when requisitioning for his company's rations, he not only fails to do what his regular brother non.-com. would do, viz.: get as much as he can for his company, but fails often to requisition or obtain their bare allowance. Once I met and asked this man if he had drawn any jam for his company's tea, and his sleepily-drawled reply was, "No-o, we were entitled to it, but I forgot to draw it." He forgot, and a hundred hungry men were dependent on the energy of such a man. Compare this amateur quartermaster-sergeant to the professional one, and you can plainly see one way in which Thomas Atkins scores over his Yeoman brother. Again, the two cooks of the same company were admittedly the slackest and dirtiest men of the lot (the only qualification necessary for a Yeomanry cook is the capability to boil water, and some seldom achieve records even in doing that). Thanks to their dirtiness, the thirsty troopers more often than not, had their tea or coffee spoilt owing to the greasy state of the dixies (cooking pots), which had not been cleaned after boiling the trek ox stew in them.
I am almost baking on the top of this kopje, as I sit with my back against a rock and indite these little records. It seems hard to imagine that early every morning muffled-up, shivering forms wait anxiously for King Sol to stick his dear, red, blushing face above yonder range of kopjes to warm us with his genial presence. Yesterday we had some of Plumer's men in our little camp. They were rattling good fellows, and had had a very hot time. They assured us that when they entered Mafeking, so tired and gaunt were they, owing to their living on short commons for so long, that any stranger might well have mistaken them for the relieved garrison, and the garrison for the relieving force. They also said the fellows there did not look half so bad as one would have imagined, though they had eaten nearly every horse and mule in the place. The idea which seemed general, that Plumer had a big force with him, was very amusing to them, considering they actually only numbered a few hundreds, and had, I think they said, two old muzzle-loading guns only with them. Having been enlisted a month before the war, they are the oldest Volunteer Force out here.
THE MAILS ARRIVE.
NEAR THE RACECOURSE, PRETORIA. Sunday, July 8th.
Back at the Racecourse, Pretoria. The excitement of Friday has not worn away yet. I hardly know how to describe it, especially as I must be brief, having such a lot of correspondence to get through. The men who relieved us on Friday afternoon said they had good news, and then gave it to us in these magic words: "The mails are in!" "Thirteen bags!" At first I could hardly believe or grasp it. The mails were in! I never expected to see a letter again. The other companies had been receiving their's for the last fortnight or more, but our whereabouts seemed unknown to the postal authorities. At last, however, we had got them. We had not had a word from our other world for over two months. It seemed over two years. The men who relieved us had come away without their's, but before we left for camp an officer, Mr. Cory, with bulging saddle-bags rode up, and they had them. We went back in the mule-waggon, and did not half exhort the nigger drivers to hurry, you can be sure. "Hi, hi! Hi-yah!! Tah!!! Nurr! Crack-crack!! Hamba!! Hi-yah!!!" &c. At last the ten miles were covered and our camp reached. Out of the waggon we leaped, and "Where are my letters" was the cry. Oh, the thrilling excitement of seeing the sergeant diving his hand into a sack and producing letters, papers and parcels galore. "Trooper Wilson—Wilson, Corporal Finnigan, Lance-Corporal Ross," and a big, dirty paw pounces on an envelope addressed by a well-known hand. Then another, and once again a familiar hand is recognised, then another and another. In all I had over a score of letters and about a dozen or more papers, so you can guess I have my work before me in answering them. Of course, some have been lost, especially the papers. The earliest date was April 21st, and the latest June 8th. Absolute peace and goodwill toward men reigned in our camp that night. We have all been like so many children at Christmas-time, asking one another "How many did you get?" And then on hearing the reply, probably boastfully saying, "Oh! I got more than you," and so on. It seems so pleasant to be in touch with one's world again. All the next day the fellows were poring over their letters and ever and anon, unable to suppress themselves one would be annoyed by "Ha! ha!! I say, just hear what my young sister says," or "my kiddie brother," or some such being, then an uninteresting (to other men) extract would follow.
THE NITRAL'S NEK DISASTER.
HOREN'S NEK, NEAR PRETORIA. Wednesday, July 11th, 1900.
Here I am again on the outlying picket racket, and renewing my studies of kopjes. I am now up on them every day as well as night. When we arrived here last night, the party we relieved told us that a Russian doctor's house, about five miles out, had been raided and sacked by Boers, and no waggons were being allowed through the Nek, as the enemy were evidently waiting to catch any they could, and take them on to their commandos. Since daybreak a big action has been in progress. From the west heavy guns have been banging, and the fainter sound of volleys and pom-poming have reached our ears as we lay drowsily smoking, writing, reading and (one of us) watching on this, our observation post. In the middle of a letter to a friend a short while ago, a machine gun, apparently very close, rapped out its angry message, rat-tat-tat-tat! which startled us immensely. The whish-sh-sh of the bullets also was undoubtedly near, but as smokeless powder has usurped the place of villainous saltpetre, we failed to locate the gun, which has fired several times since.
The distant firing still continues, and as Baden-Powell is (or was) in that direction, I should imagine he is in action. It seems curious that though we are here and may at any minute be involved in the affair, yet you at home will know all about it, and we here little or nothing. But so it is. Huge vultures, loathsome black and white birds, keep flying past us from the west. Now and again, some of them pause and circle slowly over us, as if to ascertain whether we are dead or not. A small piece of the kopje jerked at them by the most energetic member of our party, usually assures them of the negative, and with a few flaps of their wings they go whirring on. Ugh! I forgot to mention for the edification of any of our lady friends that at night rats emerge from beneath the various rocks and sportively run over one's recumbent form. So, for guarding kopjes, no Amazons need apply.
Here, as "I laye a thynkynge" (to quote dear old Ingoldsby), it occurs to me that we of the Imperial Yeomanry are, in many respects, far wiser, I don't say better, men than we were six months, or even less, ago. To commence with, we know Mr. Thomas Atkins far better than we did. Now we know, and can tell our world on the best authority (our own) that he is the best of comrades, many of us having experienced his hospitality when in sore straits. That he will do anything and go anywhere we are certain. As regards ourselves, we have learnt to appreciate a piece of bread and a drink of water at its true worth, a thing probably none or few of us had done before—"bread and water" being usually regarded as a refreshment for the worst of gaolbirds only. And, finally, to sum our acquirements up roughly, we have learnt to shift for ourselves under any circumstances. We are hewers of wood, drawers of water, cooks (though, may be, not very good ones, our resources having been limited), beasts of burden (fatigues), and exponents of many other hitherto unknown accomplishments. Allusion to fatigues reminds me of that known as "wood fatigue." It has been a usual jest of those in command to halt and bivouac us for the night at some place where there is no wood procurable, and then send us out to get it. Another of their little jokes has been to serve each man with his raw meat for him to cook when wood has been unobtainable. One really great result of this war already is the dearth of wood wherever the troops have been. All along the line of march, and especially where there have been halts, the wooden posts used in the construction of the various wire fencings have been chopped down or pulled up bodily and taken away, deserted houses have been denuded of all the woodwork they contained—the tin buildings collapsing in consequence. It was only a short time ago that an elderly non-combatant complained to me when I asked if he had any wood, "No, they haf take my garten fence, my best trees, and yestertay dey haf go into my Kaffir's house and commence to pull down der wood in der roof!" I am sure it is a fortunate thing that the telegraph posts are of iron. Were they wooden ones I fear stress of circumstances would have been responsible for innumerable suspensions in the telegraphic service. A scout has just been in down below with the information that we shall be attacked to-night or early to-morrow morning. The machine gun which was fired a short while ago, was one of our Colt guns at the entrance to the Nek, getting the range of a kopje opposite. These scouts (I refer to the few attached to us) are really wonderful (the battalion sergeant-major invariably alludes to them as "those d——d scouts"). Their information is always startling and mostly unreliable—still it is interesting and usually affords us vast entertainment. The scouts referred to are Afrikanders, and really chosen because they know Dutch and Kaffir. The fellows will call them interpreters, and they don't like it. On Monday I went into Pretoria to take the man of ours, who was so nearly done for in an ambush near Hatherly last month, his kit. He is now well enough to go home. He is a curious, good-natured old fellow, and in his account of the affair amused me not a little. After he had been hit and lain on the ground some time, the Boers cautiously advanced from their cover, and standing on a bank near where he laid, fired a few shots in the direction of his long-since departed comrades and then called out to him, "Hands up!" His reply, as he told me, struck me as quaint and natural, "'Ow can I 'old my 'ands up?" And seeing the reasonableness of his remark, they took his water bottle and left him where our surgeon found him. From Pretoria I have acquired quite a number of books, including half-a-dozen of Stevenson's. At present I am re-reading his "Inland Voyage."
Thursday, July 12th.
We were not attacked last night, although expectation ran high. We had about a thousand rounds of ammunition between the six of us, and at two o'clock in the morning had the various posts strengthened by a party of Burma Mounted Infantry (a composite corps from Burma, of Durham, Essex and West Riding Tommies). Fifteen of these were added to our small number, and between us occupied four sangars at the most suitable parts of the kopje. Had we been attacked, we ought to have given a good account of ourselves, as it was a lovely moonlight night. Poor Tommy Atkins! You should have heard some of our reinforcements express themselves on the social, military, political and geographical phases of the situation. They had been rushed up from Kroonstad, and, after various vicissitudes, had been despatched to us—without rations, of course. This one wished that the By'r Lady war was over By'r Lady soon; and his next cold, hungry, tired comrade agreed with him emphatically, and consigned the whole By'r Lady country to a sort of perpetual Brock's Benefit; also the By'r Lady army, and their By'r Lady military pastors and masters, and so on. After Burma they found this country cold, especially the nights, and with them the British soldier's wish to get back to Mandalay, as expressed in the song, was a veritable fact. As usual, their experiences were worth listening to. Amongst other things, coming up from Kroonstad, they had found the burnt remains of the mails destroyed by some of De Wet's minions a little while ago (some of mine were there, I know), and had amused themselves by reading the various scraps. Some of these, they told me, were very pathetic. In one, for instance, a poor old woman had apparently sent her son a packet of chocolate, bought with her last shilling, (she was just going into the Workhouse), and she hoped that it would taste as sweet as if she had paid a sovereign for it. Had they had any mails? No, not since they had been here. They thought all their people must be dead, and "it does cheer one up to get a letter." In Burma they always give a cheer when the English mail comes in. I gave four of them some pieces of stale bread, a handful of moist sugar, and four oranges; while another of ours gave the others some bread and the remains of a tin of potted bloater. The latest news, which I believe is quite authentic, is that the remnants of the Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Sussex Yeomanry, about seventy in number, are to be remounted and attached to the 18th Hussars. This looks like more marching. I have bought, and intend bringing home with me, a few sets of the surcharged Transvaal stamps. I am doing this in a self-defensive way; my reason being that among my friends and acquaintances in the dear homeland I number certain strange beings commonly known in earlier and ruder days as stamp collectors, but now politely known and mysteriously designated philatelists. Now I know for a fact that these persons will, on first meeting me, demand at once, "Have you brought any sets of surcharged Transvaal stamps back?" and if I answer "Nay," what will they think of me? All the vicissitudes of the past few months, my travellings by land and water, my fastings and various little privations and experiences, will have been stupidly borne for naught in their opinion. And why? Because I have not returned laden with Transvaal stamps.
PRETORIA. Friday, July 13th.
Back in camp again. At sunset, yesterday, when we came down from the observation post to get a little tea, preparatory to occupying the kopje we had been guarding at night, we found everybody on the move, and were ordered to mount and clear at once. This meant rushing up to the kopje, getting our blankets and other impedimenta, and down again, flinging them on the first horse (already saddled), and dashing away, orders having been given to abandon the post, as the Boers were in strong numbers, and between us and the town sniping. A staff-officer had told our captain that he was in charge of the valley, and wanted it to be a happy valley. We being a source of anxiety, he requested us to withdraw. I fear it had not proved a happy valley for the Lincolns and Greys, who were at Nitral's Nek, some eight miles to westward of us, and had been attacked and suffered badly in the morning. (The explanation of the heavy firing already alluded to.) Near the town we came on a broken-down ambulance waggon in a donga, out of which the wounded were being assisted as well as the circumstances permitted. Close by, on the ground, was something under a blanket, which we nearly rode over. A man close by, lighting his pipe, revealed it to us. It was one poor fellow who had died on the way. Further on, we came on numerous pickets and bivouacked troops, and men of the Lincolns and Greys at frequent intervals, asking anxiously where the ambulance waggons were, and if any of their fellows were in them. On arriving here we found our horse lines full of remounts, which looked like business. We join Mahon's Brigade on Sunday, so we are very busy looking out and cleaning up saddlery and such like.
Well, I do not feel in a letter-writing mood this morning, so shall as far as possible arrange my kit and possessions for the next move on the board, on which this poor Yeoman is a humble pawn. I have just finished the "Inland Voyage," which you may remember concludes thus, in the final chapter, "Back to the World":—
"Now we were to return like the voyager in the play, and see what re-arrangements fortune had perfected the while in our surroundings; what surprises stood ready made for us at home; and whither and how far the world had voyaged in our absence. You may paddle all day long; but it is when you come back at nightfall, and look in at the familiar room, that you find Love or Death awaiting you beside the stove; and the most beautiful adventures are not those we go to seek."
Good, isn't it?
A GENERAL ADVANCE TO BALMORAL AND BACK.
DASSPOORT, OUTSIDE PRETORIA. Tuesday, July 31st.
"Good morning! Have you used Pears' soap?" No, nor any other for about a fortnight, but in a few minutes I am going to have a most luxurious shave and bath in a tin teacup. As you can see by the above, we are all back at this historic town again after a very warm fortnight of marching and fighting under General Mahon. We marched through the town past Roberts yesterday, and are now camped awaiting remounts, in order to proceed with the game in some other and unknown direction. I have not much time for correspondence, but will do my best to give a little sketch of some of our doings. To begin with, on Saturday, July 14th, the remnants of the Dorset, Devon, Somerset and Sussex Yeomanry were formed into a composite squadron of three troops under Captain Sir Elliot Lees, M.P., and served with fresh mounts—Argentines. Of course, I got a lovely beast, a black horse, which would not permit anyone to place a bit in his mouth under any circumstances. It generally takes our sergeant-major, farrier-sergeant, an officer's groom, a corporal and myself about an hour to get the aforesaid bit properly fixed. When I try to fix it myself with the assistance of a comrade, the performance usually concludes by tying him to a wheel of our ox waggon, and then, after many struggles, I manage to achieve my object all sublime (though there is not much sublimity about it). Not wanting opprobrious epithets, my steed remained nameless for the first week. I casually thought of calling him "Black Bess," but "he" is not a mare, and I thought it would be inappropriate. At length I struck what I consider a good name. Bete Noire, my bete noire, and so I called him, and as he is by no means averse to eating through his head rope when picketed, I find that the curtailment to "gnaw" is satisfactory enough as far as names go. Now you know something about my friend the horse, so to proceed. We moved out of our old camp on the Saturday afternoon in question, through Pretoria to another on the other side, where we joined General Mahon's crowd, amongst whom was the Imperial Light Horse, Australians, Lumsden's Horse, New Zealanders, "M" Battery R.H.A., and a squadron or so of the 18th Hussars, sometimes known as "Kruger's Own," being the captured warriors of Elandslaagte. On Sunday we had some good luck in the ration line, the 72nd and 79th Squadrons of I.Y., the Roughriders, had just come up and joined us, and had been served with innumerable delicacies, with which they did not know what to do, as they had orders that they could only take a certain quantity with them. No sooner did we hear of their embarrassment than, as the wolf swept down on the fold, we swept down upon them, and most sympathetically relieved them of tins of condensed milk, jams, and such like, and what we could not eat we managed to carry away with us for another day. On Monday our general advance commenced. It was a grand sight, after marching a few miles, to come on French's camp and see the lancers, mounted infantry and guns moving out in the early morning. A few miles on and our friend the enemy opened fire on us, or, rather, on a kopje on which we had just placed a 4.7. They sent a beautiful shot from their "Long Tom," which pitched within a few yards of where the gun had just been placed and close by Generals French and Mahon. We Mounted Infantry remained behind the kopje and dozed and lunched while desultory shells now and again whizzed over us. Beyond this, nothing occurred worth mentioning. On Tuesday morning we went out a few miles and took up a position to prevent the Boers retreating in our direction. We had to collect stones and form miniature sangars. We waited there nearly all day, during which I perused "In Memoriam," and posed for a libellous sketch done by our troop officer, entitled "An Alert Vedette." The laughter which this occasioned caused me to arise out of curiosity and ask to see the pictorial effort. The subject represented was a tramp-like being asleep behind three or four little stones. We returned in the evening to our camp and I had charge of the stable guard, an every three or four night occurrence. The next day—Wednesday, the 18th—we proceeded some miles further on, getting well into the bush country. I do not know the name of the place we halted at for the night; it was very picturesque but had far too many kopjes (which required picketing). The next day we were off again through the bush. Apropos of the bush, it appears to me that every tree and shrub in this land of promise produces thorns. On Friday, the 20th, we came in touch with the enemy. We were advancing in extended order towards an innocent-looking kopje, had got close up to it, and had just dismounted, when—rap! went a Mauser. Then another, and rap, rap, rap, rap, rap, rap, and the whole show started. As there was absolutely no cover to hand, we got the order to mount and clear, which order was very promptly executed by all save one. The reports of the Mausers and the whistling buzz of the bullets startled my noble steed, Bete Noire, and after several ineffectual efforts to mount the brute, he broke away from me, and I, tripping over a mound as the reins slipped out of my hands, fell sprawling on my face. This, I believe, caused some of our fellows to think I was hit. Of course, after hurling a choice malediction after my horse, I was quickly on my feet and doubling after the rest of the "Boys of the Bulldog Breed." An officer of the Dorsets, Captain Kinderslie, seeing my plight, rode up amid the whistling bullets and insisted on my holding his hand and running by the side of his horse, till we came to Sergeant-Major Hunt, who had caught and was holding Bete Noire. Naturally, the reins were entangled in his forelegs, but I soon got them clear and mounted. Away flew my beautiful Argentine, away like the wind, every whistling, buzzing bullet seeming to help increase his bounds. At last we all got out of range, re-formed, dismounted, and advanced to attack. Soon the order was changed, and we mounted again and rode to flank the Boers, who had apparently left their first position. We reached a neighbouring kopje and halted at the base. An officer rode up, and I overheard him say that it would be advisable to send a few men in such and such a direction to find out, with as small a loss as possible, the position and strength of the enemy. Here it may not be out of place to mention that acting as scouts and advance parties, and drawing the fire of the enemy, has been the vocation of the Imperial Yeomanry, also of the Colonial Mounted Troops. Then four of us were ordered to ride slowly up the kopje, which was a wooded and very rocky one, and find out if any of the enemy were there. This we did. It is a peculiar feeling, not devoid of excitement, doing this sort of thing, for our horses made much noise and very slow progress over the boulders and rocks, and the possibility of a Brother Boer being behind any of the stones in front of one with a gun, of course made one reflect on the utter impossibility of shooting him or his friends, or of beating a retreat. Still, the knowledge that the report of his Mauser would warn one's comrades below was eminently satisfactory. There were no Boers there, or I should hardly be inditing this letter. They had built sangars and left them. We were posted on this kopje for the rest of the day, and at night upon another.
[Footnote 3: From the first the mixture of cavalry and infantry terms used in connection with the I.Y. has been most amusing. As our officers from this date invariably referred to us in cavalry terms, the words "squadron," "troop," etc., will be used to the end of the volume.]
Our artillery had shelled them during the afternoon, and they did not trouble us again. That night we were not allowed to have any fires and our position being inaccessible to the waggons, we had no hot coffee or tea, which by the way, is one, if not the greatest, of our treats—our milkless and occasionally sugarless evening and morning coffee or tea.
On Saturday we advanced with the main body through a good deal of bush country. Sunday was one of the hardest days we had during our little fortnight's outing. We started early as advance to Ian Hamilton's Division, and during the day covered a terrific amount of ground, got well peppered on several occasions, once, during the afternoon, pushing on rather too close to the enemy, the retreating Boers gave us some warm rifle fire and then opened on us with a couple of field guns, and we had to clear. The firing was excellent. A few of us got into a bunch, and a shell whirred over our heads and struck the ground only a few yards away on our right. That day several men were killed and wounded, but none of our crowd, though one got a bullet in his rear pack, another had his bandolier struck, and another his hand grazed. The annoying part of our work was that we were repeatedly sniped at, but never had a chance to retaliate, even when we saw the enemy, as we did on several occasions. Certainly once we prepared a pretty little surprise for them in the way of an ambush formed of our troop dismounted, but they did not come. However, two or three of our fellows saw somebody by a Kaffir kraal, and thinking it was a Boer, opened fire, and whoever it was dropped. It proved only Kaffirs were there, and two men in our troop are still quarrelling as to which bagged the inoffensive nigger, if bagged he was.
Monday, the eighth day out, the entire force rested, which means in plain English that they washed, mended their clothes and performed other domestic duties. Like the man in "The Mikado," I am a thing of shreds and patches, though there is not much dreamy lullaby for me, or any of us. The next day we marched on without opposition to Bronkhorst Spruit, of fateful memory. We reached there at mid-day, and camped, as we had to wait for our convoy to come up. As soon as we had got our lines down we went to get wood—we like to have our own fires when we can. Corrugated iron buildings there were, but untenanted. Bronkhorst Spruit, of hated memory, was a deserted village. Smash!—bang!—crash!—crack! "Far flashed the red artillery," aye? No, it is merely Mr. Thomas Atkins and his brethren of the Colonies and Imperial Yeomanry, who are overcoming difficulties in the wood fatigue line. Considering that the average Transvaal house is constructed with wood and corrugated iron, it can be easily understood that neither its erection or demolition takes much time. "So mind yer eye, there—crash!—bang! That door belongs to the Sussex! Smash! Look out, the roof's coming down," etc.
The convoy came in during the night, so we were up and off at an early hour, bound for Balmoral, the next station on the line towards Middelburg. The country we had to traverse was very rough, and on our left were ranges of suspicious-looking kopjes. Soon after we started my horse funked a narrow dyke at about half-a-dozen places, and finally, on my insisting and exhorting him with my one remaining spur, plunged sideways in at the deepest part. He came out first, soaked. I followed promptly, wet to the waist (nice black water and mud); his oats and my day's biscuits, which were in his nosebag, were spoilt; and my feelings towards him none of the best. Balmoral was reached at about noon. There, I regret to state, we did not have Queen's weather. Soon after we arrived clouds began to gather, and thoughtful men commenced carrying up sheets of corrugated iron, of which there was a great quantity near the station, and hastily constructing temporary shelters. Ours was a poor concern, and as I had to wander about in the rain some time before I turned in, I was sopping wet, and of course passed the night so. Our waggon got stuck in a drift, as usual, and so we went coffee-less that night. The next day we heard that during the night an officer and three men of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had died from exposure to the severe weather. On that march from Bronkhorst Spruit to Balmoral we lost hundreds of mules, oxen and horses. They simply strewed the roadsides all the way. On Friday, the 27th, we returned to Bronkhorst Spruit, en route for Pretoria. Leaving Bronkhorst Spruit for Pienaarspoort the next morning, we passed the graves of the massacred 94th (Connaught Rangers). First we passed three walled-in enclosures, which the officers rode up to and looked over. They were the graves of the rear guard. Then we came to a larger one, which contained the main body. The Connaughts were marching with us; whatever their feelings were, they must have felt a grim satisfaction in the knowledge that "they came again." Yesterday (Monday, July 30th,) we marched into Pretoria, past Lord Roberts, and on through the town to our present camp, which we leave at four to-morrow morning with fresh horses. We heard as we went through that one of our Sussex fellows, who was down with enteric when we left, had since succumbed. Poor fellow! It may be merely sentiment, but I must say the idea of being buried out here is somewhat repugnant to me. His bereaved relatives and friends cannot have the comforting feelings of Tennyson, expressed "In Memoriam."
"'Tis well; 'tis something; we may stand Where he in English earth is laid, And from his ashes may be made The violet of his native land. 'Tis little; but it looks in truth As if the quiet bones were blest Among familiar names to rest, And in the places of his youth."
CAMP, TWO MARCHES WEST OF PRETORIA. Wednesday, August 8th, 1900.
"Oh, darkies, how de heart grows weary, Far from de ole folks at home."
There goes somebody again! It is always occurring, either vocally or instrumentally; but to start now, when I want to pull myself together and give a further account of the doings of the remnants of what was once the Sussex (69th) Squadron of Imperial Yeomanry, and their comrades of the West Countrie, is annoying beyond all expression. To commence, I must really trace out for you our bewildering descent, or ascent, to our present state, and then you will thoroughly understand why, in all probability, the papers have been silent as to the doings and whereabouts of the 69th Squadron of Imperial Yeomanry. At Maitland we belonged to the 14th Battalion of Yeomanry, under Colonel Brookfield, M.P. Leaving that salubrious but sandy locality, we travelled on our very own, by rail and road, till we joined Roberts at the Klip River, and for a few days were his bodyguard. At Johannesburg we joined the 7th Battalion of Yeomanry, under Colonel Helyar, of whose murder, in July, at a Boer's house not far from Pretoria, you must have read. Later on, men from this battalion having entered the Police and civil berths, those of us who were left were banded together and formed into one squadron under Sir Elliot Lees, M.P. This was composed of three weak troops—Dorset, Devon and Sussex, the latter troop containing half-a-dozen Somerset men. As such we left Pretoria, and went east as far as Balmoral. On our return to Pretoria, our weak horses and sick men being weeded out, we went west nearly as far as Rustenburg, as one troop, composed of Sussex, Devon, and Dorset men, and attached to the Fife Light Horse. As I write, we are returning in the direction of Pretoria. And now, if you have skipped the foregoing I will proceed to give you as brief an account as possible of our adventures since leaving Pretoria a week ago (Wednesday, August 1st).
[Footnote 4: This fine squadron of Yeomanry, under Captain Hodge, had also joined Mahon, at Pretoria, on July 16th.]
On that day, forming No. 3 Troop of the Fife Light Horse, we marched out of Dasspoort and proceeding due west, parallel with the Magaliesberg, quickly got in touch with the enemy, under Delarey, whom we slowly drove before us. Soon we came upon Horen's Nek, and the commencement of farms and orange groves. As we passed the first grove, with the glowing oranges tantalising us in a most aggravating manner, we cast longing eyes at them, but hastened on after the unfraternal Boer. The oranges were not for us—then. A little further on the fighting became warm, and we galloped up; then, "Halt! for dismounted service!" and the reins of three horses are thrown at me, or thrust into my hands by their riders, who double out to the left and proceed to participate in the fun of the firing line. Considering that I had only once (at Shorncliffe) acted as No. 3, you can picture to yourself the sort of entertainment which followed. The intelligent Argentines manoeuvred round me like performing horses doing the quadrilles or an Old English Maypole dance, while with the reins we made cat's-cradles, and Gordian knots. That idiot, Mark Tapley, would indeed have envied my lot, and have been welcome to it. The row made by the firing was terrific, for pom-poms and artillery were joining in, and a fair amount of bullets came by us with the led horses. Suddenly our fellows came doubling back, and with a sigh of relief I surrendered their horses to them. Then our troop-officer, Captain Kinderslie, gave us the order, "Fours, right—Gallop!" and off we went to turn their right flank. Our course lay right across the open, and as soon as the enemy saw our move they poured their fire in as hot as they could. Round to their right we flew, with the bullets whistling by, and striking the earth before and behind us, but divil a man did they hit, though the air seemed thick with them. At last our exhilarating gallop was finished, and as our small party advanced to the attack, all they saw was the last few Boers scuttling off for dear life. Colonel Pilcher, who was with Mahon, sent round and thanked our little troop for this service.
After this we returned to an orange grove, near which our force was encamped. That night we had oranges.
The next day we were rear guard and, passing through a fat land, abounding with oranges, tangerines, citrons, lemons, tobacco and good water, not to forget porkers, fowls, ducks, and the like, "did ourselves proud," to resort to the vernacular. That night we had a huge veldt fire, and the whole camp had to turn out with blankets to fight it. Fortunately a well-beaten track separated the blazing veldt from us, and the wind blew it beyond, or we could hardly have made a successful stand against the flames, some being quite a dozen feet in height. Allusion to veldt fires reminds me that the last time I had to turn out to fight one was near Johannesburg, and the man who displayed most energy in smiting the flames with his blanket, and who came away from the charred veldt with blackened face and hands, was our second in command, the Duke of Norfolk.
On Friday we continued our advance, and crossed the Crocodile River. This day we saw nothing of the enemy. Our horses have done well in the way of forage lately. Sometimes we get bundles of oat hay out of the barns we visit en route, and strap them, with armfuls of green oats pulled from the fields, fore and aft of our saddles, till we look like fonts at harvest festivals. Thus equipped, we would form good subjects for a picture called "The Harvest Home." Yet, in spite of all the feeding they have been getting, our horses are all nearly done up.
Our present troop officer is great on the commandeer, and very popular. However, the other day he gave us a severe address on parade about looting, which he wound up as follows:—"Of course, I don't object to your taking the necessaries of life, such as oranges, fowls, ducks, mealie flour, or the like, but (sternly) any indiscriminate looting I shall regard as a crime."
On Sunday (August 5th), while the folks at home were preparing for the Bank Holiday, we Yeomen of Sussex, Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Fife, with our friends "The Roughs," were continuing to advance west in the direction of Rustenburg. This day we passed through some of the best wooded country I have seen out here. The trees being quite large and at a distance very much like small oaks. At about mid-day we halted in front of Olifant's Nek, and our signallers tried to get into heliographic communication with the great "B.-P.," who was supposed to be in possession. At last, after several fruitless efforts, a dazzling dot in the pass appeared and commenced twinkling in response to ours.
"Twinkle, twinkle, helio, What a lot of things you know."
Soon we received the order to advance. Then we were halted, "files about," and galloping about a mile to the rear, were drawn up, and informed that a Boer laager had been reported under a small kopje of the Magaliesberg some distance east from the Nek, and we were to go and investigate the matter. The first three groups of our troop were sent out to locate it, I being in the centre one. We had some wretched ground to go over, and finally, without any signs of opposition, reached the small farms lying at the foot of the range of hills. There the left and centre group were stopped for some considerable time by a large barbed wire fence and, as none of us possessed any wire nippers, we finally had to go out of our way some distance in order to avoid it. I mention this trivial incident as illustrative of how some Yeomanry matters of equipment have been neglected. From my own knowledge, based on enquiry, I find that none of the non-commissioned officers or men of our squadron were provided with these very necessary implements—one or two happened to have private ones, and that is all. So much for that grumble. Now to resume. Having overcome the barb-wire difficulty, we continued our progress in the direction where we understood the laager was situated, convinced in our minds that of Boers there were none. En route we called at the few houses in the neighbourhood and made slight investigations, with always the same result. There were women and heaps of children, but of men none. Of course, you know the game. The chivalrous Boer, having deposited his arms in Pretoria and taken the oath of neutrality, has rested himself, and is now out again on the war path, either from choice or through being commandeered. At last one of our scouts rode up and told us that our right-hand group had found the laager which had been evacuated. Riding through the trees, it was rather thickly wooded, we soon came across wandering cows, calves and oxen, and at length the laager at the foot of a small kopje. In it were the four men of our right group, cattle, horses, a few donkeys, and a couple of uneasy-looking niggers, who had evidently been left behind and in charge by the Boers. It was a fine position for a laager, and well hidden away. Several of us dismounted here and lighted our pipes while we watched the fine cattle we had got, and those with bad horses haggled as to who should possess the best of the Boer mounts, which were being held by the uncomfortable-looking Kaffirs. Presently through a donga on the left of the laager came the leading groups of the Fife Light Horse and soon the laager contained the first troop. I remounted my horse and—rap! went a shot and over rolled a horse and rider (a Sussex sergeant) on my right; then into us rapped and cracked the rifles from the near kopje. There was only one thing to do, and that was to clear. Men and horses appeared to be tumbling over on all sides, Bete Noire swerved and I fell off at the commencement of the fusillade. Arising, I doubled after the sergeant whose horse had been knocked over by the first shot. After going about a score of yards, I saw him dash into some bushes and brambles, and following, slipped and rolled down the side of a gully till I found myself scratched and torn sitting in a small rivulet at the bottom with my pipe still in my mouth and my rifle, the barrel of which was half choked with mud, in my hand. Looking round I saw two of our fellows who had led their horses down from the other side. The place could not have been improved on for cover, and the others falling in with my j'y suis, j'y reste remark, we sat down on the moist earth and rocks and awaited developments, while the bullets whistled and buzzed through the trees over our heads. Soon a volley whizzed over us from our fellows who had succeeded in retiring and rallying behind a knoll some distance back. This went on for a time, and at length the firing ceased. A Fife man came up from lower down the gully; he had lost both horse and rifle. However, crawling higher up, he found the latter in some bushes. Presently a strange figure appeared, clad in khaki, with a dark blue handkerchief tied over his head, a stick in his hand and leading a horse. This proved to be another canny Scot. He had assumed this sort of disguise and managed to secure a horse from near the laager. He was rather apprehensive lest our own people should fire on him if they spotted him. As he told us, on our enquiring, that there were two more horses in the laager, though he advised us not to go out for them then, the Fife man and I emerged from the donga and with a wary eye on the treacherous kopjes entered the laager, which was only a score of yards from our place of concealment, and to my great delight, of the two horses quietly eating the forage there I recognised Bete Noire as one. Having now obtained horses, we leisurely proceeded to camp, calling on the way at a few of the farmhouses and an orange grove we had passed on our advance to the laager. The Boers had evidently cleared, or they would have fired on us as we rode to the farms in full view of the kopjes all the way. I cannot say that the simple Boer women seemed pleased to see us when we rode up with smiling faces and helped ourselves (with their permission) to oranges and tangerines, while one good lady gave me a couple of eggs, which I enjoyed later for tea. Then gaily bidding them Auf Wiedersehen we retraced our way and came to where the camp had been established. Arrived there, the stories we heard concerning the affair were, as you can imagine, marvellous. And, after all, what do you think the wily Boer bagged as the result of such a lovely death trap? Not a man. Half-a-dozen horses were shot, and I daresay some cattle. My rolled overcoat also had a rip suspiciously like a bullet mark. Once again Boer wiliness had been rendered ineffectual owing to execrable marksmanship. It seems like ingratitude to thus criticise their shooting, but it cannot go without comment.
On Monday, the August Bank Holiday, we did not shift camp, and had the luxury of a late reveille (6 a.m.), and opportunities for very necessary washes and shaves, and such domestic duties as repairing rents in our breeches and tunics, and a little laundry work. Some of your "gentlemen rovers abroad" are finding that sewing the tears in one's tunic is a far different and more difficult matter than sowing one's wild oats at home. Owing to having baked the back of one of my boots in drying it at a fire, after my fourth immersion in a bog, I have had rather a bad heel, but am easier in that vulnerable part now, having cut out the back of the boot.
On Tuesday, B-P. very unwillingly evacuated Rustenburg, and we marched back in the direction of Pretoria.
I don't think, in spite of my verbosity, I have made any particular or direct allusion to our friend, the mule, so here I will make slight amends. Alas, he lost the little reputation he possessed at Nicholson's Nek, but to give the mule his due he is a hard worker—he has to be—he is born in bondage and dies in bondage (there is no room out here for the R.S.P.C.A.), and the golden autumn of a hard-lived life is not for the likes of him. He does not appear to get much to eat, though he will eat anything, as I found to my cost one night when in charge of the stable guard. A friend had lent me two Graphics, which I left on my blanket for a few minutes while I went the rounds. On my return I found a mule contentedly eating one of them—I only just managed to save half of it. When in camp, the Cape Boys, in whose charge they are, usually tie some of them to the wheels of the waggons, ammunition and water carts, the remainder being left to wander tied together in threes and fours, reminding one for all the world of Bank Holiday festivallers arm-in-arm on the so-called joyous razzle dazzle.
Out here we wandering humble builders of the Empire have no idea how the war is progressing, if progressing it is. Our noses are flat against the picture, so to speak, and, consequently, we practically see and know nothing; it is you good folks at home who have the panoramic view. Our cheerful pessimist expressed himself to this effect a few days ago. About forty or fifty years hence, travellers in this part of the world will come across bands of white-haired and silver-bearded men in strange garbs of ox and mule skin patches, and armed with obsolete weapons, wandering about in pursuit of phantasmal beings to be known in future legends as land Flying Dutchmen. Anyhow, give Private Thomas Atkins a good camp fire at night when the Army halts, round which he can comfortably sit and grumble about his rations, while he partakes of a well-cooked looted porker or fowl, and afterwards fills his pipe with the tobacco of the country, which he lights with an ember plucked from the burning, and talks of home, and the prospects, optimistic or pessimistic, of getting there some day, and at least, he is content. Oh, England, what have we not given up for thee this year, Cowes, Henley, the Derby, Ascot, Goodwood, the Royal Academy, the Paris Exhibition, the latest books and plays, all these and more—much more. And if we hadn't, what would we have done? Kicked ourselves, of course.