Obvious printer's errors have been corrected, all other inconsistencies are as in the original. Author's spelling has been maintained.
IMPRESSIONS OF A WAR CORRESPONDENT
Author of "The War of the Civilizations"
London: George Newnes, Limited Southampton Street, Strand, W.C. MCMIII
I. The Dance of Death................................. 1 II. The Aftermath of War.............................. 15 III. Elandslaagte...................................... 31 IV. A Glimpse of our Gunners.......................... 49 V. In the Tents of the Boers......................... 58 VI. The Fellow that felt Afraid....................... 68 VII. The Dance of Death in China....................... 79 VIII. Certain Comparisons............................... 91 IX. The Crucifixion of Christianity in China......... 107 X. Ex Oriente Lux................................... 120 XI. Night in the City of Unrest...................... 132 XII. A Street in the City of Unrest................... 142 XIII. A Glimpse of a Southern City..................... 151 XIV. The Penalty of their Pace in the City of Unrest.. 158 XV. The Million-Master in the City of Unrest......... 166 XVI. The Woman who works in the City of Unrest........ 175 XVII. The Hou-men of the Dingy City.................... 185 XVIII. Tired............................................ 196 XIX. The City of Dumb Distances....................... 210 XX. The Land of the Evening Calm..................... 217 XXI. With Some Toilers of the Sea..................... 225
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
George Lynch. Bringing Wounded Back Into Ladysmith. Advance of the Gordons at Elandslaagte. Advance of the Devons before the Attack at Elandslaagte. George Lynch Captured by the Boers. Boer Shell bursting among the Lancers at Rietfontein. General French and Staff on Black Monday. General White and Staff on Black Monday. Artillery crossing a Drift near Ladysmith. Naval Brigade passing through Ladysmith. General Yule's Column on the Way to Ladysmith. Hospital Train leaving Ladysmith for Pietermaritzburg. Boer Prisoners. Japs entering Pekin. Relief of Pekin.
We are indebted to the courtesy of the Proprietor of The Illustrated London News for permission to reproduce the illustrations facing pages 33, 48, 65, 80, 97, 144, 161, 176, and 193, and to the Proprietor of The Sphere for a similar permission with regard to the illustrations facing pages 224 and 231.
There are few people in the world who have more opportunity for getting close to the hot, interesting things of one's time than the special correspondent of a great paper. He is enabled to see "the wheels go round;" has the chance of getting his knowledge at first hand. In stirring times the drama of life is to him like the first night of a play. There are no preconceived opinions for him to go by; he ought not to, at least, be influenced by any prejudices; and the account of the performance is to some extent like that of the dramatic critic, inasmuch as that the verdict of the public or of history has either to confirm or reverse his own judgment. There is a peculiar and unique fascination about this reading of contemporary history, as it grows and develops while one peers with straining eyes through one's glasses. There is something like a first night, too, about the way the critics view things. Sometimes great difference of opinion. I recollect the afternoon of Nicholson's Nek—Black Monday, as it was afterwards called—when we returned into Ladysmith half the correspondents seemed to be under the impression that the day had been quite a successful one; while, on the other hand, one had headed his despatch with the words, "Dies Irae, dies illa!" To get to the heart of things; to see the upspringing of the streams of active and strenuous life; to watch the great struggles of the world, not always the greatest in war, but the often more mighty, if quiet and dead silent, whose sweeping powerfulness is hidden under a smooth calmness of surface—to watch all this is to intimately taste a great delicious joy of life. The researches of the historian of bygone times are fascinating—absorbingly fascinating, although he is always handicapped by remoteness; but the historian of to-day—of his day—this day—whose day-page of history is read by hundreds of readers, the day after has set to him a task that calls for all, and more than all, that he can give—stimulates while it appalls, and would be killingly wearying if it were not so fascinatingly attractive. That close contact with the men of this struggling world, and the men who do things, and shove these life-wheels round, warms up in one a great love for one's kind—a comrade feeling, like that which comes from being tent-mates in a long campaign. Two o'clock in the morning wake to the tramp, tramp of men marching in the dark—marching out to fight—and the unknown Tommy you march beside and talk to in low voice, as men talk at that hour, is your comrade unto the day's end of fighting; when returning, to the sentries' challenge you answer "A friend," and, dog-tired, you re-enter the lines, welcomed by his sesame call, "Pass, friend; all is well."
IMPRESSIONS OF A WAR CORRESPONDENT
THE DANCE OF DEATH
Death from a Mauser bullet is less painful than the drawing of a tooth. Such, at least, appears to be the case, speaking generally from apparent evidence, without having the opportunity of collecting the opinions of those who have actually died. In books we have read of shrieks of expiring agony; but ask those who have been on many battlefields, and they will not tell you they have heard them. As a rule a sudden exclamation, "I'm hit!" "My God!" "Damn it!" They look as if staggering from the blow of a fist rather than that from a tiny pencil of lead—then a sudden paleness, perhaps a grasping of the hands occasionally as if to hold on to something, when the bottom seems to be falling out of all things stable, but generally no sign of aught else than the dulling of death—dulling to sleep—a drunken sleep—drunken death it often seems—very commonplace as a rule. A smile as often as, or oftener than, any sign of pain, but generally no sign of either. Think of this, mourning mothers of England. Don't picture your sons as drowning out of the world racked with the red torture from the bullet's track, but just as dropping off dully to sleep, most probably with no thought of you or home, without anxiety or regret. Merciful Mauser! He suffered much more pain when you brought him long ago to the dentist, and his agony in that horrible chair was infinitely greater than on his bed on the veldt. Merciful Mauser be thanked!
The first man I saw badly hit during the war was a Devon at Elandslaagte, just after they had advanced within rifle-range. He was shot through the head, and it seemed quite useless for the bearers to take the trouble of carrying him off the field; yet they went back looking in vain for a field ambulance. They carried him instead to the cart belonging to a well-known war correspondent. The owner had given the driver strict orders to remain where he was until his return, but the shells were falling around the cart, which, in fact, seemed to be made a mark of by the Boer gunners—perhaps they thought it belonged to one of our generals, whom they may have imagined had taken to driving, like Joubert and some others of theirs. The arrival of the wounded man was a great godsend to the driver, who immediately, with the most humane insistence, offered to drive him to the nearest field hospital. Neither cart nor driver was again seen until long after the battle was over, about nine o'clock in the evening. Strange to say, the man recovered from his wound.
In our first engagements there was rather too much anxiety on the part of a wounded man's comrades to carry him to the rear; but it did not continue for long. The actuating motive is not always kindness and humanity, but a desire to get out of danger. It was soon evident that it was only going from the frying-pan into the fire, as the danger of walking back carrying a wounded man was immensely greater than remaining or advancing more or less on one's stomach. Sometimes it was the unfortunate wounded man who was hit again. Men carrying off a wounded comrade of course render themselves strictly liable to be regarded as combatants.
A still more absurd practice was that of sometimes attempting to carry off the dead during an engagement. An instance of this was seen at Rietfontein. A couple of men of a Volunteer regiment were coming across the open ground below the hill under a pretty brisk fire, when Dr. H——, himself one of the most fearless of men, called out to them, "S—— has been killed down there; better bring him in." They turned back immediately, and one of them, J. Gillespie, got off his horse and lifted the corpse on to the saddle, they holding it in position by hanging on to a leg on either side, and walked back, while the bullets were whistling around them, and knocking up little spurts of dirt on the ground in front of them. It was a most ghastly sight; the head of the corpse bobbed about with the motion of the horse, and the lips of the corpse were drawn back in a horrible grin, as if he were laughing idiotically at them for trying to qualify for a Victoria Cross with a corpse. I really think they deserved it just as much as if he had been alive.
A curious thing happened to a horse of one of the men who were performing this feat. The owner found when he had returned to Ladysmith that his water-bottle, which was attached to his saddle, had been perforated by a bullet. Showing it to another in the evening, they came to the conclusion, from the position of the holes, that it would be impossible for the holes to be made in the position they were without wounding the horse. The next day, on examining the horse, he found a bullet had actually passed through and through him, and yet apparently he seemed none the worse.
There was another but different instance of a horse carrying a corpse at the battle of Lombard's Kop. There was no leering and hideous grinning at us, however, as the rider's head had been blown clean away by a Boer shell. The 5th Lancers were riding out on our right, when a single horse came galloping past them, clattering furiously over the stony veldt. No wonder the men stared; it was a sight to be remembered. The rider was firmly fixed in the deep cavalry saddle; the reins tossed loose with the horse's mane, and both hands were clenched against either side of his breast; and the head was cut off clean at the shoulders. Perhaps in the spasm of that death-tear the rider had gripped his horse's sides with his long-spurred heels; perhaps the horse also was wounded; anyhow, with head down, and wild and terrified eyes, his shoulders foam-bespewed, he tore past as if in horror of the ghastly burden he carried.
How wonderfully expressive are the eyes of these cavalry horses at times! There it seemed sheer horror; but often when wounded they look towards one with a world of pitiful appeal for relief; in their dumbness loud-voicedly reproachful against the horrors of war.
Two men being killed on one horse seems rather a tall order, yet it is perfectly true. It happened at the cavalry charge after Elandslaagte. Some of the Boers stood their ground with great stubbornness till our cavalry were only a few yards away. One middle-aged, bearded fellow stayed just a little too long, and had not time to get to his horse, which was a few yards away. He scrambled up behind a brother Boer who was just mounting, but almost immediately the 5th Lancers were upon them. There was a farrier-corporal, an immensely big, powerful fellow, who singled them out. They were galloping down a slight incline as hard as they could get their horse to travel, but their pursuer was gaining on them at every stride. When he came within striking distance he jammed his spurs into his big horse, who sprang forward like a tiger. Weight of man and horse, impetus of gallop and hill, focused in that bright lance-point held as in a vice. It pierced the left side of the back of the man behind, and the point came out through the right side of the man in front, who, with a convulsive movement, threw up his hands, flinging his rifle in the air. The Lancer could not withdraw his lance as the men swayed and dropped from their horse, but galloped on into the gathering darkness punctured with rifle flashes here and there and flitting forms that might be friend or foe. This poor fellow was killed a few days after at the battle of Rietfontein. How heartily the Boers hated these Lancers! They would have liked so much to have had lances barred as against the rules of war; and it would certainly have made an immense difference if our side had succeeded in getting a few more chances, especially at the commencement of the war, of using the lance.
The natives, numbers of whom were looking on at this battle, were greatly delighted with the cavalry charge. It seemed to take their fancy even more than did the artillery. "Great fight, baas—plenty much blood, plenty much blood," one of them described it. He said he was crouching down behind a sheltering rock while the Boers were running away past him, and then "the men with the assegais" came galloping after them. A Boer without his horse came running along, and, pulling him out, took his place behind the stone. A soldier galloped along and called out, "Hallo, Johnny, what are you doing here? You'll get hurt." Then, catching sight of the Boer, he stuck him down through the back as he passed. "Ah, baas, great fight—plenty much blood."
Wounds or death by Mauser bullets, or even by the thrust of a lance, are not to be compared, from the point of view of their pain-inflicting possibilities, with what may be done in that way by the fragment of a shell. That's the thing that hurts. Shell fire, speaking generally, is the "Bogy of Battle" to those not accustomed to it. The main purpose it accomplishes is to "establish a funk." When the actual damage done by shell fire after a battle is counted up and the number of shells fired, the results are most surprising. A poet in the Ladysmith Lyre wrote—
"One thing is certain in this town of lies: If Long Tom hits you on the head you dies."
You do—unquestionably; but perhaps it is worse still to get a piece of a shell somewhere else. What frightful wounds they make sometimes! what mangled butchery in their track! See some poor fellow stretched on the operating-table, stripped for the patching or trimming which half-helpless surgery can supply. Apart from head and hands, which are sure to be khaki-colour with dirt caked in with sweat, the average Tommy usually presents a fine specimen of the human form divine—what is there finer in the world than the body of a well-shaped, muscular man? I always prefer the figure of the fighting gladiator to that of the Apollo Belvedere—and then, when shell fragments tear this body, it looks like some unspeakably unhallowed sacrilege. The horribly unlucky way these fragments seem to go in—an uncouth and butchering way instead of the gentlemanly puncture of the Mauser. One afternoon a young fellow galloped past me in the main street of Ladysmith. He had just got opposite the Town Hall hospital, when a shell from Bulwana burst right under his horse. When the cloud of dust and smoke cleared away, we found the horse lying on the road completely disembowelled, and the poor fellow flung on to the footpath, with a long piece of shell sticking in his side. As he was taken into the hospital he said, "This means two more Dutchmen killed." But the wound was obviously fatal; there was no use even in removing the piece of shell. The clergyman came to him and spoke to him for some time, and told him that there was no hope of recovery for him. He seemed to get tired of his ministrations, and asked them to "send down for my chum." When this chum arrived he was unable to speak, but just pressed his hand and smiled, and went off into his death-sleep.
A boy, who could not have been more than seventeen or eighteen, was lying on the side of the hill with his head on a flat stone. He had been hit by a piece of shell, and both his legs were broken and mangled above the knee. He was done for, and his life was only a matter of lasting some minutes. Another man, wounded somewhere internally, was lying beside him. There was no sign of pain on the boy's face; his eyes were closed. He just seemed very tired. Opening his eyes, he looked downwards intently at his legs, which were lying at an oblique angle with his body, from where they had been hit. It looked as if his trousers were the only attachment. As he gazed intently, a troubled look came over his face, and his wounded comrade beside him was watching him and saw it. The tired eyes closed again wearily, and then the wounded man alongside him, cursing with variegated and rich vocabulary, bent, or half rolled over, and caught first one boot and then the other, and lifted each leg straight down, swearing under his breath the while. Then he lay back, swearing at the blankety blank young blanker, and still watching him. Soon the tired eyes opened again, and instinctively looked down at his legs. They seemed to open wider as he looked; then he smiled faintly, thinking he had been mistaken about them before, and lay back, and the eyes did not open any more. The fellow beside him chuckled and said to himself, "Well, I'm damned!" but possibly the Recording Angel has put down a mark that may help to prevent it.
Times are changed from ages past; there is no longer the mighty "shock of arms," the pomp and panoply of glorious war. Men fall to the shrill whisper of a bullet, the sound of which has not time to reach their ears, fired by an invisible foe. Their death is merely the quod erat demonstrandum of a mathematical and mechanical proposition. But with bow and arrow, spear or battle-axe, Mauser or Lee-Metford, the heart behind the weapon is just the same now as then. Probably faint hearts fail now as then, just as much—shrink to a panic that falls on them suddenly as cold mist on mountain-top; and the stout hearts wait and endure, and perhaps do more of the waiting, and have to sweat and swear and endure this waiting longer now than then before the intoxicating delight of active battle finds vent for their hearts' desire, when, under names like "duty," a monarch's voice in their souls cries "Havoc," and lets slip the old dogs of savagery lying low in every man's nature, until the veldt of this new land is manured, like the juicy battlefields of old, "with carrion men groaning for burial."
THE AFTERMATH OF WAR
Hot, sweating, dusty, and tired, with no inclination whatever to move out of camp, everybody would find all the indications of approaching disease every day if he were only to think of such a thing. The reading of a liver advertisement in one of the home papers would show all your symptoms, only they all would be "more so." But every one knew it was only the climate, the hard work, and sometimes the indifferent food, and so went on; but a day comes when the food becomes absolutely distasteful, when the appetite begins to go. A long day's riding on the veldt should leave one with a voracious appetite for dinner, but when one comes in and can taste nothing, and only just lies down dog-tired day after day, then he begins to think there is something wrong. The idea of going to the doctor is very distasteful, so he struggles on, hoping to work it off, until one day he comes very near a collapse, with head swimming and knees groggy, and then some comrade makes the doctor have a look at him, and his temperature is perhaps 102 to 104. In Ladysmith it was then a question of being sent out to Intombi Camp. To most men this seemed like being exiled to Siberia; but there was no help for it. Comrades said good-bye when it would have been more cheering to have said au revoir. The train left for Intombi Hospital Camp at six in the morning, carrying its load of those who had been wounded in the previous twenty-four hours, as well as the sick. It was a sad journey out; men could not help cursing their bad luck and wondering what would be before them as a result of the journey, wondering if they should ever rejoin their regiments or if their next journey would not be back to the cemetery they were now passing on their right, growing every day more ominously populous. The hospital camp at Intombi was a collection of tents and large marquees, civilian doctors attending the Volunteers and Army doctors the Regulars. There was also a considerable number of the inhabitants of Ladysmith, not alone women and children, but men. Hence the reason that it got christened Camp Funk by the inhabitants that remained in the town. Situated on the flat of the plain, on a level with the river banks, it was by no means an ideal situation for a fever hospital, but still it was a great thing to be out of the way of these irregularly dropping shells and to know one was away from them. "Long Tom," on Bulwana, shook the very ground when he fired, and, with the other guns there, often got on the nerves of many of the patients to a trying extent, and the Boers, as a rule, started firing at sunrise, just about the time when the poor devil who has tossed and turned through the long hours of the hot night in fevered restlessness now from sheer exhaustion is just sinking into sleep, to be startled by the terrific bang above his head and the rush of the shell, like the tearing of a yacht's mainsail, as it speeds on its arched course towards the devoted town.
A curious passive fight the patient settles down to, with a fatal little thermometer keeping score and marking the game—a sort of tug-of-war between doctors and Disease. The ground is marked in degrees from 98.4 to 106, the former being normal temperature, the later the point at which, as a rule, disease wins the game.
Take the case of a fellow the author knows intimately. He had held out too long without going to hospital, putting down his weakness, lassitude, and general feeling of extreme cheapness to the climate instead of the real cause, with the result that he started on the real struggle with a temperature of 104.8. At the very start Disease had pulled him over nastily close to his line, and was still pulling him over, as his temperature was rising point by point. There are various methods of treatment—with him they fought it with a drug called phenacetin, and to the lay mind a wonderful drug it appears. It is not effective with every one. A man in the next bed to him might have been taking breadcrumbs for all effect it produced. With him, however, it worked like clockwork. No sooner was a five-grain dose swallowed than the temperature stopped in its upward course. Then, gradually, like in a good Turkish bath, the pores of his skin opened, and a most complete and profuse perspiration ensued, which was allowed to go on for a couple of hours. Then, with bed and bedclothes drenched, he lay weak, limp, and feeling like a squeezed sponge, but with a temperature that shows three degrees marked down towards his own line. Should there be a nurse available the patient is washed down and put into fresh clothes and pyjamas; if not, as was most usually the case, he lies in his sweat, his skin chilling in patches for a while, and feeling sticky and uncomfortable all over, but too limp to move. The drug has a strange and wonderfully clearing effect on the brain. He feels as if all his previous life had been passed in some land of twilight. Now he lives in a land of glorious light—light that pervades everything. His eyelids are closed to shut in the glorious light. He seems to have been sitting in some dark theatre when the lights have been turned on on a glorious transformation scene. He has circled the world and seen its loveliest places, but only now sees how beautiful they were. In Samoa, and the Pali at Honolulu, he sees the individual leaves shimmering in the clear air, and then on his quickened consciousness falls a great sense of the beauty of the world. Separate from the beauty of the world seems the life on it, and now for the first time his lips are pressed to her bluest veins. "I want to take your temperature, please," as he feels the little glass tube at the dry skin of his lips. "105.2," he hears whispered when it is withdrawn. They think he cannot hear as he lies motionless with eyes closed. All the three degrees have been lost, and more—it is a score for Disease. Another dose of phenacetin—surely all that glorious, untravelled, half-tasted world is too beautiful and rich with promise to leave, too full of music he has not heard, too full of pictures he has not seen, too full of unplucked laurels, of lips unkissed, of sunsets which have not yet painted the clouds in their setting—above all, along the passed path of his life are neglected flowers of love lying which he has walked on with scarce a smile of thanks for the throwers, whose hands, perchance now withering, he longs to kiss.
Temporarily the thermometer score is favourable to him again, but all he can do is to lie very still, knowing that every feather-pressure of strength will be wanted. Lying sideways, as he has been shifted round by his nurse on the pillow, he hears the pump, pump of his heart. He never noted that pumping before as he does now—quick and strenuous it is, but still strong, without the spur of stimulants. Pump on, old heart, he thought-speaks, and on it pumps through the long hours of watching and waiting; and he watches as a captain might watch the pumping of his water-logged ship. He is lucky to have a heart that works like that. The man beside him was being given brandy every three hours to help the action of his heart. Another thing he was lucky in was in being free from headache. A sufferer farther down from time to time called aloud in agony from the terrible splitting pains in his head, while his was clear to a supersensitive degree—too clear and active to allow of sleep—and soon came the time when he longed with a great yearning for the sleep that would not come. It seemed cruel and unfair that any beggar, any coolie in the fields, any convict could have this sleep that was denied him. How he tried to fix his mind on quiet scenes with the sound of falling water, or the sound of falling breakers fringing the rocks of perilous seas in fairy lands forlorn! But sleep would not come; the panorama of the world spun from scene to scene all the faster as he tossed limply and wearily. Custos, quid de nocte? How slowly passes the night, and night sleepless merges into sleepless day, and for a week the struggle hangs on the winning line of Disease. Each time the thermometer is drawn from his mouth an ever new-born hope which has risen dies with the whispered score, but still the heart pumps strenuously, telling of life and hope the while. On the morning of the sixth day the score is down a degree. Too good to believe in until confirmed by the midday record, and then very, very slowly, by fractions of degrees, it shows less than the record of the previous days. In the cool quietude of some Continental sculpture gallery—he cannot tell where—he has seen a statue of Icarus—Icarus just feeling the earth-spurning power of his new-given wings; Icarus on tip-toe, with head up and godly-moulded chest and dilated nostrils, drinking in the clear air, and extended arms towards his new possession of the clouds. The glorious embodiment of god-like life, earth-spurning, heavens-enjoying—and as such he feels—he forgets that his frame is a skin-covered skeleton, that his legs would not bear him upright. He knows only that the spirit of life has been breathed into him again, and that it is very good to be alive. The feeling of being "half in love with easeful death" has passed. The orchestra of life will play for him again. How irksomely slow the days pass until the score reaches his winning-line of normal! and in time he sees how easily it might have been otherwise. His room-mate on his right got delirious, and refused all nourishment. He struggled violently even against the stimulants prescribed for him. His nurse would spend half an hour trying to get a little down. Then he had seen an extreme attempt made to feed him one night. He was held while a tube was passed through the back of his nose and so down his throat, but no sooner was it down than the strength of fever, like that of a maniac, proved too strong for his nurses; they could no longer hold him. There was a horrible struggle, with choking coughs and dark blood flowing from his nostrils, and the brandy was spilt on his face and smarting in his eyes. He spent days dying, and more rapid and more feeble grew his pulse, and many times the nurse said there was none perceptible, and then the life would flicker up again. One morning early a bugle sounded outside. He said, "I am on outpost duty to-day; I must get up at once." He half lifted himself in the bed, repeating, "I tell you I am on outpost duty." The nurse pressed him back gently, and he died. He seemed to have no friends or relatives, no one who knew anything about him. There was a letter found in his pocket showing that he had a mother in a village in Ireland, and that he was her only son.
On the other side of our friend was a poor fellow unceasingly racked with pain either in head or abdomen. His temperature was not extremely high, but he seemed to be falling away from the pain of the poisonous disease. His pulse was weak, and had to be kept going with constant stimulants. When in the ordinary course of things the disease should have passed he got a series of rigors and shivering fits about every third day, with a cold sweat. While the shivering was on him his temperature would drop to normal or lower, and then bound up to 103 or 104. He had a terrible dread of these fits, and it was pitiful to see him watching their oncoming. Each one that came left him weaker as it passed off.
We are coming back to England in a ship laden with the human wreckage of war—the wounded, the maimed, the sick, who to their graves will carry the maiming of their sickness. There are, amongst these men, those who will crawl about the world lop-sided, incomplete cripples, or those who will be perpetually victims to intermittent or chronic disease; but there is a worse than any of these disasters to the victim. The man without a leg can get along with a crutch. We know one who lost both legs in Egypt who goes about on a little four-wheeled wooden cart, propelling himself with his hands, and haunts the precincts of a certain club, where the members, seeing the badge which he still wears in his cap, often give him enough to get drunk on. The man who loses his sight from the earth-scattering shell can at worst carry a label to tell that he was blinded in the war, and his charitable fellow-countrymen will give him enough to keep him enjoying life through the channels of the four other senses, and he will still admit that it is good to be alive. Blindness is bad, but war deals worse blows than in the eyes. It deals blows under which the reason itself staggers and is maimed. The lunatic asylum is worse than the hospital. We are carrying back nine men who have lost their reason at Magersfontein and other battles; two have been mercifully treated and have lost it completely—the padded cell must mean a certain unconsciousness; but the greatest, deepest pity of which the human heart is capable is called forth by those who are maimed in mind. Long lucid intervals of perfect sanity give them time to learn the meaning of the locks and bars. "Yes, I know; I went off my head after Magersfontein," one poor fellow tells you; another repeatedly asks, "Will they put me into an asylum when I go home?" What a home-coming! Sure enough it is to the asylum they are going. They will be lost to what friends or relatives they have in that oblivion of a living grave. When their comrades return, not the faintest echo of the cheering will reach their cells. Men do not like to talk of madness; they will point with pride and pity to chums and comrades bearing honourable wounds, but these poor wretches will just disappear, lost in the great aftermath of war. We still have the expressions "frightened out of his senses" or "frightened out of his wits," and here are instances of its actually occurring, the strain on nerves being more than the brains of these men could stand. Is it that their nervous organisation has become more highly strung and bears the strain less sturdily than in times past, or that there is for some minds a hidden terror in the sightless, invisible death that whistles over them as they lie belly-pressing the earth in the face of an unseeable foe? It is not inconceivable that this may have an effect like some horrible nightmare amid all the glare of daylight on some minds. The man is held there in terror by the worse terror of running away; a comrade on his right grows callous by waiting, and to relieve the wants of nature raises himself up and gets hit; the thirst of another overcomes him, and he runs to fill his water-bottle and falls; and all day long, through heat and hunger and thirst, he is held there in a vice of increasing terror, like a child left in the dark denied the language of a cry. It takes strong nerves to stand that strain, we all must admit who have any personal knowledge of what it means; and what a gathering up of the reins of self-control we often experience! What wonder, then, that weak nerves cannot stand it, but sometimes break down under the strain? Such a collapse has a way of being regarded as the uttermost sign of abject cowardice, which by no means follows—nervous men are frequently the bravest of the brave. The refinement of modern shooting-irons seems to call for a certain corresponding refinement of courage—the cold, steel-like courage that can stand and wait, and win by the waiting of their stand.
Up before daybreak, but still not early enough, as the Imperial Light Horse and a battery of Natal Artillery had already gone towards Elandslaagte, about sixteen miles from here, at three o'clock.
It was bitterly cold when we started, and for a couple of hours of our journey. About half a mile beyond Modder's Spruit Station we met a man walking along the road in his socks, carrying a pair of heavy boots. He told us he had just escaped from the Boers, after having been, with thirty other miners, their prisoner since Thursday last. His feet were sore from running in the big boots, and he was nearly exhausted.
The Boers had looted the stores, station, and mining office at Elandslaagte, and in addition had looted a lot of luggage taken in the captured train. The evening before he had seen a drunken Boer strutting about dressed in a suit of evening clothes belonging to an English officer. There were a lot of low-class Boers amongst the eight hundred there who spent riotous evenings, getting drunk on the liquor found in the stores; but others of them seemed decent sort of farmers, and all the prisoners were very well treated by General Koch, and were allowed to go about on parole, being merely required to report themselves once a day.
We pushed on, and in the distance could hear the report of cannon. We soon discovered a little artillery duel in progress between the Natal battery and the Boer guns. The Natals were barking away pluckily, but quite ineffectually against their very superior opponents, who were making really excellent practice, and they struck an artillery waggon, blowing it to pieces, and missed the artillery train by barely twenty yards, a shell falling on either side of it. It was clear we could remain here no longer, so the order was given to retire. The guns limbered up, leaving the shattered wreck of the waggon behind, and the trains commenced to move back slowly, keeping pace with the cavalry and artillery. The Boer guns kept firing until out of range, and then there was a desultory pitter-patter of rifle fire at a sufficient distance to be completely ineffectual.
We retired back just behind Modder's Spruit Station and rested there. The sun had now broken through the clouds and poured down hot on the yellow veldt, where we were. A beautiful scene stretched away before us. The veldt was not all yellow, but in low-lying places, after the recent rain, was beginning to be streaked with vivid green. Opposite us, across the flat or gently undulating veldt in the middle distance, were hills and kopjes, while beyond, purple under clouds or light blue in sunshine, rose to the far horizon mountains, pointed, or of that quite flat-topped shape so characteristic of this country.
No one who has been through this day can ever forget the beautiful series of military tableaux, the gorgeous colouring, the constantly varying effects of light and shade, under clear, blue sky, or when piles of great white cumuli were passing, until, darkening with the progress of the fight, an unnatural gloom blackened the heavens, and from the inky clouds torrents of rain poured upon the combatants. The variety of colour, light, and shade was only equalled by the variety of the military movements during the day. A complete series of sketches or photographs would serve for illustrations for a handbook of modern tactics—the reconnaissance in force in the morning—engagement—orderly retreat carried out exactly according to book—march out of main body; advance of main body, cavalry on each flank, skirmishing outflanking movement on the right, etc., etc., on to the cavalry charging through and through retreating and beaten enemy.
At 11.20 two squadrons of cavalry and a battery of artillery arrive, and shortly after another train full of troops is seen approaching in the distance.
Chatting with Colonel Chisholme, of the Imperial Light Horse, I was chaffing him about calling them "light," pointing out a group of giants standing near him; but he agreed that their hearts were light, anyhow, whatever their weight might be. He had commenced his military career when eighteen in the 9th Lancers, and his Imperial Light Horse was embodied on the 9, 9, 99. He was telling how all the important dates of his life had a 9 in them, as Major Douglas Haig galloped up and told him we were going to start. I said, "All these nines clearly point to your living to ninety-nine." "Oh no," he laughed back, cheerily, "I don't wish to live to be as old as that." His wish was gratified.
"Saddle," "Prepare to mount," "Mount." We were going forward again.
At 1.30 we started, after just two hours' rest, in which the main body had come up, so that our entire force now consisted of the 5th Lancers, Imperial Light Horse, two field batteries of Royal Artillery, the Devonshire Regiment, half a battalion of the Manchester, and half a battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. At 1.55 fire opened from the tops of the line of ridges running parallel to the railway line, which were all lined with men. Some of the 5th Lancers have already gone off to the extreme right. At the foot of the first hill, from which firing proceeds, a squadron of the Border Mounted Rifles are dismounting, and now two lines of khaki figures are climbing steadily up the hill. Long before they reach the top the Boers are seen retiring. They have no idea of making a stand yet, and as the khaki figures reach the summit the Lancers, sweeping round from the extreme right flank, join them. During this time the Devons and Manchesters have been pouring out of the train, and are now crossing the veldt in dotted lines towards the ridge of hills.
2.15.—Another train now appears, bringing further reinforcements.
2.30.—Quite a hot fire now opens on the extreme left, and in a few minutes the artillery are ordered forward, and the six guns pass us at a gallop. They are soon lined up and firing shrapnel at some Boers, who scurry away over the brow of a kopje. The guns limber up and jump the railway line—a pretty stiff little obstacle—the narrow gauge metals being on top of a narrow embankment. Then across a level field of veldt, and they commence to ascend a slight depression, which is just behind a shouldering billow of veldt. It is hard work for the artillery horses over this ground, but it is fine the way they tug and strain at their work. The officers urge the men to hurry forward. Already a gun is heard from the Boers. They have opened fire. Two wheelers of an artillery waggon drop down, apparently dead, from exhaustion.
I had just been watching their heavy sweating sides and foam-streaming mouths before they collapsed. Already two spare horses are being brought round to replace them as we hurry forward.
Now, all of a sudden, things become lively, and do not slacken again until the finish. No sooner have the first of the cavalry appeared than the Dutch guns open fire. R-r-r-r rip—a shell drops amongst the artillery and cavalry just ahead of us. The cavalry wheel and spread themselves into more open order none too soon, as now the shells come fast. The Boers have got the range exactly. Bang bursts a shell amongst the Imperial Light Horse near me. A shell bursts quite close, and a piece drops between Bennett Burleigh and me. The life, vigour, and swing of movement of these few minutes when we first came under fire was magnificent, the cavalry wheeling and circling, infantry deploying, the rattle of the artillery waggons, the cracking of the drivers' whips on the backs of the straining, struggling horses, the rending sound of the shells in the air like the tearing of a great canvas mainsail; the loud report when a shell exploded, or the dull thud when they simply buried themselves in the veldt.
How lucky for us so few of them exploded! There would have been terrible damage done, especially by the first few shots, when the cavalry and artillery were massed together. It was now for a while an artillery duel, but the Devons were quietly getting forward for the front attack. The cavalry had swung out on the extreme right flank, and the Manchesters and Gordons were going on to the ridge to take them on their right flank there, while the Devons went up the face.
The Boers changed their artillery fire from time to time; first it was at our artillery and cavalry, then into the Devons as they advanced or as they lay down in the last field of veldt, waiting for the final charge; and then they sent a few shells into a body of cavalry that was on our extreme left. The very last shot they fired was a good one, just when the fight was over, right into our guns.
I saw a little rocky point ahead of me, as if made on purpose for a war correspondent. By running across some open ground I was on to it. There was good if not ample cover on the top. It was in the middle of the angle made by the line of advance of the men along the ridge and the line of the Devons' main advance, and quite close to the hill. Stretching away on our left over a level khaki-coloured sloping field (if I may so call it) of veldt, were the Devons lying behind ant-hills, placed as if on purpose to give scant but welcome shelter to troops advancing under fire. The colour-scheme of the whole stretch was perfect for concealment, and there was Tommy learning more of how to take advantage of scant cover in this half-hour, under the bitter pitter-patter of Mauser bullets, than he would learn at home in years of manoeuvres.
That was a trying wait for Mr. Atkins; yet how steadily he stood it—or not exactly stood it, but crouched it, lay it, or mother-earth-hugged it! On our right was the level sky-lined hill, ending in a rounded, precipitous point, on which the Boer guns were stationed. Under that heavy-hanging bank of clouds, yet just behind it, a clear steel-like light was showing. Against this, upon the top of the hill, silhouetted with most delicately accurate sharpness, were the figures of the Manchesters. The Gordons were in the same line over the rounded top of the hill. They advanced at a run, crouched, then swarmed forward again, and again lay low. Then the little runs became shorter, the rests longer, and the fire hotter and more continuous. Were they going to take that hill before complete nightfall, or was it going to be a two-day job, notwithstanding the five hours' hard fighting we had had already? A man near me said to me, "Do you hear the steam escaping? I expect it is the Boers letting it off from the colliery which they took on Thursday." It was the sound of steam, of escaping steam, right enough, but that sound was made by bullets. It went on continuously from the time the final infantry advance took place, and rose in a crescendo of hissing vehemence as we neared the supreme climax of the struggle. How eagerly we watched these creeping figures going forward! Would they succeed? Would they ever reach the point of the hill? How slow it seemed, but steadily, steadily on along the ridge they went.
Now all the great orchestra of battle was playing—from behind us on the right our artillery were firing at the hill in advance of the Manchesters and Gordons—in one minute that I timed with my watch I counted sixteen discharges. How the shells shrieked and whirled over us! I found myself somehow humming the "Ride of the Valkyrie," which these shells had suggested; then the Maxims would play a few bars, or a sharp volley ring from the left. The rocky kopje was vocal with rattling echoes, while with piccolo distinctness the air above and about us sang with the sharp Mauser notes.
It was now a quarter to six. Rapid movements could be seen amongst the Boers on top of the hill; some were beginning to gallop off, over the sky line, but others galloped in the opposite direction. Our artillery fire had now reached a nicety of deadly accuracy. They were firing impact shells. I had my glasses on one horseman who appeared to me to be firing from his saddle, and fighting stubbornly. There was no sign of running away about him. As I looked the figure became a little cloud of smoke—the smoke cleared—horse nor rider was any longer there. Chancing to look at another, who was darting about irregularly, as if confused and not knowing which way to fly, a fountain of smoke flew up in front of his horse as a shell burst. When the smoke cleared he and the horse were lying on the ground, and immediately after to a third exactly the same thing happened.
The crescendo of battle had now reached a climax in a perfect roar of sound. The bugles sounded the charge. God bless the man that wrote these heart-cheering notes. Forward—rattling, stumbling, falling over the rocks, cheering, swearing, forward anyhow—formation be hanged!
How the Devons climbed these rocks! Following in the right of the Devons' wake, passing their wounded across that slopy field of veldt, and the flat to the base of the hill, it was a sweating, breathless climb up; the men were already cheering on the top above my head. The first sign of mortality on the Boer side I encountered was a hairy little black pig lying on his side bleeding proverbially—then a tall Boer lying headlong down the rocks. On the top—what confusion! Tommy, drunk with delight of battle. Prisoners, wounded, Gordons, Manchesters, Devons—all mixed inexplicably. A Boer gun still in position was a centre for gathering. In another place the ground was strewn with rugs, broken provisions, empty and half-empty bottles, saddles galore.
"'Av a 'oss, guv'nor, 'av a 'oss?" said a dirty-faced, sweaty, but generous Tommy to me, as he led a black Boer steed by the bridle. Not liking to take his capture from him, I went off to where he told me several were standing, and picked out a likely-looking grey. Darkness was now rapidly falling. A Tommy came up and led off another horse.
"I'm taking this for the Colonel; me and the old man don't get on well. The old buffer is always down on me whenever I takes a drop, but I'm going to make him a present of a 'oss this night, that I am." He went off in the darkness, towing the present by the bridle.
At this moment very few officers were at this point of the hill; the Gordons, for instance, had lost thirteen. I came then upon General French, who had come along the ridge in the fighting line with the Manchesters and Gordons, and was glad to have so early a chance of offering him my heartiest congratulations on the day. The last time I had met him was when the artillery on both sides were hard at it; he appeared then more like a man playing a game of chess than a game of war, and was not too busy to sympathise with me on the badness of the light when he saw me trying to take snapshots of the Boer shells bursting amongst the Imperial Light Horse near us.
General French is deservedly very popular with officers, men, correspondents, and all who meet him, and we were all glad at the brilliant ending of this hard-fought day.
The 5th Lancers and 5th Dragoon Guards were now pursuing the retreating Boers. The Dragoons carried lances, which may account for the credit which was equally due to them with the Lancers being unduly given to the latter. Another hour or half-hour of light and they would have played the very mischief with the retreating Boers. The Dragoons chased them past a Red Cross tent, where a man was waving a Red Cross flag. They respected those gathered about the tent; but one ruffian, waiting until they came abreast, shot point-blank at a private. As he fell dead from the saddle Captain Derbyshire rode at his slayer and shot him dead with his revolver. A big Dragoon would put his foot to the back of a Boer and tug to get his lance out. Some of the Boers stood firing till the cavalry came within twenty yards. The ground was broken veldt with patches of outcropping stones, which, added to the fading light, made it terrible ground for charging over. Already Tommy on top of the hill and down its sides was groping for the wounded. Tommy had behaved magnificently throughout the long fight, and now Tommy was finishing the day by behaving well to the Boer wounded. A rug here and a drink there, and later on the best place near the camp fire. In the previous five hours, Tommy's respect for the enemy had risen enormously; now he was treating his wounded with a rough but genuine kindness positively chivalrous. One might write for days upon the incidents of this glorious day, into which the events of a stirring lifetime seem crowded. Our artillery got a good chance, and showed up magnificently. The dauntless bravery of English officers we seem to take for granted as a national heritage; but in something stronger than admiration—in positive love—my heart goes out to Tommy Atkins—sweating, swearing, grimy, dirty, fearless, and generous—Tommy is a bit of "all right."
A GLIMPSE OF OUR GUNNERS
Go with the gunners if you want stirring scenes of modern war. You will not, as so often happens when one goes with an infantry regiment, spend a day lying on your belly in the scorching sun, while the air is vocal above you with the singing of bullets from an invisible foe, whose position is vaguely located on some quiet and deserted-looking kopje in front. Go with the gunners, and every time you go you will come back with an increased admiration for them. It is impossible to tell the result of rifle or even Maxim fire unless, as at Omdurman, the enemy stand up to be massacred; but with the guns you can at least see where the shells fall or the shrapnel burst. For this reason the Vickers-Maxim automatic—or pom-pom, as it was christened at Ladysmith—must be a most delightfully interesting weapon to the gunner who operates it. Each little shell on impact throws up a small fountain of smoke as it explodes, so that he sees at once if his fire is short or too high, and gets his range immediately; then he can follow cavalry about and tickle them up, or play around a patch of veldt where he knows the enemy are lying, just as a gardener would sprinkle with a watering-pot. It is a most demoralising weapon, but the explosion is so small that it does much less harm than would be expected.
Let us take a typical day with the gunners. Photographs or cinematographs are entirely unsatisfactory in giving any idea of the "movement" of a battery going into action. There is the rattle of the gun-carriages, like a running accompaniment of rifle fire; the jingle of the harness; the splendid, strenuous, willing pull of the horses straining against their collars. They know all about it, these bright-eyed beasts quivering with life and work, and want no whip or spur until the work of tugging over the broken ground under a sweltering sun staggers them under the strain.
There could not have been a more beautiful day than that of Elandslaagte for watching the gunners in action. Before the main part of the action was entered on, two batteries were ordered to reply to some fire coming from the left of our line of advance. They went forward at the gallop, bounding, jolting, and swaying over the uneven veldt, and, on a slight rise of ground showing out against the deep blue background of some hills, unlimbered and opened fire. A few horsemen were seen galloping over the ridge of a hill in front, and that was all. Then they limbered up and were ordered across to our right; a low but steep little embankment of the narrow-gauge railway was in front of them. It was a pretty sight to see them negotiating this obstacle—the jolting of the springless wheels up and down the stony sides and across the rails on top ought to have been enough to shake the teeth out of the men sitting on the limbers, and gripping hard to keep their seats. By the way, how loudly the nether part of a gunner's anatomy must sometimes cry out for a cushion!
No sooner had they got clear of this jump than the Boer guns opened and began to make excellent practice. How every gunner felt longing to reply and silence them! Bang, burst, or spinning with whizzing hops, the shells came dropping in rapid succession. The Boers had been careful to get the exact range the previous day, and were not now wasting time or ammunition. Our guns had to go up a sloping depression at right angles to the Boer fire before getting into a position for opening. Every instant was of value, as the Boer shells were now dropping amongst the Imperial Light Horse and the infantry, who were just beginning to deploy. Under whip and spur they galloped up the slope—Gad! it was a sight to see how these artillery horses pulled; there was no taxpayers' money wasted there. One drops down, and the sharpness with which he is replaced by one of the spare horses would have drawn ringing rounds of applause at an Islington tournament. They take up a position at the top of the rising ground, monopolising the attention of the Boer gunners as they unlimber.
The gunners jump from their seats sharp as sailors, unhook the limbers, leaving the guns pointed towards the enemy. Then the drivers trot off about fifteen yards, wheel round, and sit motionless on their horses, facing the fire. One cannot but admire the courage required to sit coolly like that with nothing to do but watch the enemy firing deliberately at them—see the discharge, and then await the arrival of the shell as it comes whirring and hurtling through the air. With what critical interest they must watch improvement in the enemy's shell-bowling! One was forcibly reminded of cricket bowling at Elandslaagte. Many of the shells did not burst, and those that were not full-pitched came in the manner of swift bowling along the rounded, almost flat-topped surface of the rising ground; and these gunners sat as steady as if they were the wickets just stuck in the ground, with never a duck of the head or a blink of the eye. The men working the guns are kept busy all the time, and have no time to think of or watch the enemy's shells; but the drivers have nothing to do but wait and watch. The horses, with still heaving foam-streaked sides, stand panting and tossing their heads. The Boers have got the position of our batteries accurately, as it must have been previously obvious that it was the one we would have taken up. Three of the gunners have already been badly hit; immediately after, with a terrific crash, a shell hits an ammunition-waggon fair. Those around hold their breath for a still greater explosion, but, wonderful to say, the ammunition does not explode. When the dust has cleared, however, the wheel of the waggon is found smashed to matchwood, and the vehicle lies helpless and useless on its side. But still steady as rocks sit the drivers facing the music. This is courage—the real article—and the market price of this kind of British pluck is one and twopence a day!
Three days later I was photographing these boys behind their guns on the hill at Rietfontein, standing just as quietly under a hot rifle fire at 1200 yards' range, which the enemy kept up persistently, although we had silenced their guns and actually set fire to a long line of grass on the hill from which they were firing. An innocent, harmless-looking hill it seemed, with not a Boer visible on it, yet the bright summer air simply sang with the notes of Mauser bullets—clear and musical notes when they pass high overhead, but with a sharp and bitter ping when they pass close.
But the best sight of all is to see our gunners going out of action. They go in at a gallop, and retire at a walk. There is something so delightfully contemptuous of the enemy's marksmanship in this. One day outside Ladysmith was typical. A couple of batteries went out with some cavalry for a small reconnaissance in force, located the Boer gun, and quickly drove the gunners to cover. The vultures had gathered as usual at the sound of their dinner-gong, but there was no fight, and soon the guns limbered up, and turned back across the plain. Immediately the Boer gunners were back at their gun, and, serving it with wonderful rapidity, sent shell after shell at our retiring batteries. The first was just short, then the two next went over; but on they went quietly, never breaking out of the walk. Then a shell fell between a gun and a limber, and did not burst. The great vultures wheeled and circled lower, waving their shadows below them on the parched plain; but there was no dinner for them that day—not even a horse was hit. And so always, when these field guns stop barking and limber up, it reminds one of pulling a dog out of a fight by the tail as they are dragged slowly, as if reluctantly, away; while the drivers don't bother to look round, and don't look a bit like heroes full of courage at the magnificent price of one and twopence a day.
Rattle of iron on stones—clear, sharp words of command—clink of breech action—coldness of iron will warming the steel throat that voices its thoughts—hard, scientific, inhumanly mechanical; yet there is a subtle, attractive feeling that draws together the living elements that serve the gun. I barely escaped being knocked down one day by an artillery horse galloping furiously over the veldt. He had got badly torn by a shell; wild with the pain, he raced around until exhausted, and then, managing to stagger up to a gun, fell dead, with his head against the trail.
IN THE TENTS OF THE BOERS
Late in the afternoon of a day in the early part of last December I had ridden out from our lines in Ladysmith towards a certain position usually occupied by a Boer outpost, trusting by my going out deliberately and unarmed to get one of the men there to have a talk, just as one of the Lancers had a few days previously. For some time we had been on short rations of "copy" as well as food. I rode along the edge of an empty spruit, into the bed of which my spurs would have propelled my horse in the unlikely event of a shot being my first greeting. The spot where I expected to see the outpost was where the veldt, from being bare, commenced to be thickly covered with mimosa trees; but there was no one there—no living thing, except a little springbuck that started up as I arrived, bounding away over the long tufted grass, its little white rump showing like the flutter of a girl's petticoat. It stopped and, turning its pretty head, regarded me with great brown frightened eyes, as if I were the first human apparition to invade its sylvan solitude. It was clear there were no Boers immediately about; equally clear that this was a great chance unexpectedly offered of having a try to get south to Clery's or Buller's force, and be the first white man to bring the news from Ladysmith out of the beleaguered town. I was already started on the shortest route to the Tugela. I went on, and for about a mile no sign whatever of the enemy, and I thought of the theory more than once put forward that we were all the time being besieged by a ridiculously small but extremely mobile force. It was not until I was well in between Bulwana and Lombard's Kop that I caught sight between the trees of a laager of miscellaneous tents on the lower slope of the latter. Dismounting and going cautiously, I passed it and passed a man cutting wood, who was fortunately too industriously intent on his work to notice me. Bearing to the right, I was soon south of Bulwana and past the Boer lines. The rest would be comparatively easy, as an open stretch of country lay before me, where darkness would soon give me cover now that I had reached the edge of the trees. While waiting, I heard a voice behind me shout something in Dutch. Looking round, I found a Boer covering me with his rifle at ten yards, and the dream of a journalistic "beat," as they call it in America, vanished as he escorted me to his field cornet's camp. After some questioning by the field cornet, they gave me supper of meat, bread, and coffee—the bread arrived down every morning by train from Dundee, where it was baked by a Frenchman at what a short time ago had been our bakery. Then, as we sat round the big tent smoking, I gradually learned from them the first news of the outer world and the war, after being five weeks cut off in Ladysmith. As a running commentary on the news, we drifted into a series of discussions on the conduct of the war, and the observance of the usages of war by both armies. Audi alteram partem, and here I was hearing it with a vengeance. Two-thirds of them spoke English, as nearly all in this laager were from Heidelberg. They had about five charges against us of unfair fighting, and there was not the slightest doubt of their complete conviction that each of these charges was well founded and true. The worst of it was that in every instance they had some circumstance, the result of mistake, misconception, or individual wrongdoing, on which to raise a formidable superstructure of generalised accusation. "We fired on the Red Cross"—they instanced Elandslaagte and the battle of Nicholson's Nek; in both instances their waggons were behind kopjes that our gunners could not possibly see through. I threw them back their similar offences—the afternoon of Nicholson's Nek and their firing on the Town Hall hospital at Ladysmith. In the first instance, they said our waggons were too far off to be distinguished, which I knew was the case; and as regards the second, they argued that we had no right to continue to fly the Red Cross over the Town Hall when they had given us a neutral hospital camp outside at Intombi. Then had we not a right to fly a Red Cross over our sick and wounded while they had to wait for the next morning's train to bring them out to hospital? I urged. "No; put them in your holes underground," was the reply. We drifted into a discussion about dum-dum bullets, which they claimed to have found in our abandoned camp at Dundee, and, from seeing our doolies bearers, had fully made up their minds that we were using Indian troops against them. I then let them have it straight about their misuse of the white flag, which they denied.
Every pause in our talk was filled by the sound of deep, loud chanting coming from a tent hard by. Presently I went out to see them at their evening service. A big tent was full of men squatting around, the short twilight was fast darkening into night outside, and the interior of the tent was lit by two candles stuck in the necks of bottles. Except a couple of old men, they were all in the prime of life, and a splendidly strong-looking set of fellows they were. They sang, without any drawl or nasal intonation, straight out from their deep chests. The chant rose and fell with a swinging solemnity. There was little of pleading or supplication in its tones; they were calling on the God of Battles; the God of the Old Testament rather than the Preacher of the Sermon on the Mount was He to whom they sang; and sometimes there was a strain of almost stern demand about it that gave it more the ring of a war-song than a prayer. Entering the door of that tent seemed like going into another century. It could not be but luminously evident to the onlooker that these men were calling on an unseen Power whose actual existence was as real to their minds as that of their Mauser rifles stacked around the tent-pole. One could not help contrasting this obvious sincerity with the perfunctory church parade on our side, and this religion with that of two-thirds or three-fourths of our army of careless agnostics. Barring a very small minority, principally Irishmen, there is no place for religion in Tommy's intellectual kit. It has just degenerated into being an old magazine from which he draws his swear-words—a sort of bandolier of blasphemy. It was hot in that tent, and the sweat made the foreheads of these deep-voiced choristers shine against the dark shadows cast behind them on the canvas. It was curious to notice how the knees and elbows of their clothes showed signs of wear from their favourite shooting attitude, and there were many with buttons missing from their waistcoats that had been scraped off by the stones on the kopjes, or with buttons of different patterns that had evidently been sewn on by the wearers in place of those worn off. All the Boers appear to give up shaving when on the warpath, which adds to the wild picturesqueness of their appearance. I found the hymns they were singing were old Dutch ones. "We keep this up every night in camp," one of them said to me, "just the same as at home." When they had finished, they all lit their pipes, and then I was put through a catechism, which was the same at every camp or with every group of Boers I met for the next week. "What did I think of the Boers?" "Did I not expect to meet a lot of savages?" "Was I not surprised to hear them speaking English?" And then they were everywhere keen to learn if we appreciated the way our prisoners were being treated in Pretoria, and equally curious to know our opinion of how they were fighting. As I thought the siege of Ladysmith, since they would not assault, had become dolorously monotonous, I suggested, so that things might be enlivened a bit, that a race meeting or a football match might be got up between teams from each army on the neutral ground at Intombi. The younger men received the idea of a football match with acclamation. "Ya, goot," said a young giant beside me, rubbing his big hands enthusiastically, "it will be the greatest football match that ever was played;" but an old burgher, with his left hand in a sling, bound up in dirty-looking bandages, interposed: "No; the only game we like to play now is the one with cannon-balls." No; these dour, stolid men take their fighting sadly and sternly; there is none of the "frolic welcome" with which our Irish Tommies, for instance, enjoy their fighting or endure the waiting for it. When I was a prisoner in Pretoria they used to keep us awake at night with fireworks after news such as that of Colenso and Magersfontein, but, except amongst the young boys, they were not given to exultation over what they had done or to any boasting. Then they talked about lyddite, and it was quite clear that it had been a terrible bogy in their minds, and that they had imagined it was to have an effect like throwing earthquakes at them, and it was equally evident that the result of actual experience had fallen short of their apprehensions.
We went out from the stuffy hot tent into the clear sharp air of a starlight night on the hills, and from a lighted tent, high above us on the slope of Lombard's Kop, came the chant of a psalm taken up by many voices outside. "Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered," they sang, like Cromwell's soldiers at Dunbar. As I laid down in the field cornet's tent, with his son, a boy of fifteen, at one side of me, and a man over sixty on the other, I could not help thinking of the great tragedy of all that was yet before these people when they would begin to realise that they called in vain on their God, that they had no monopoly of the Almighty, that the God of their fathers fights no longer on the side of the Boers, but on that of the big battalions. This will be the desolation of downfall.
THE FELLOW THAT FELT AFRAID
He was just a common or garden ordinary sort of chap. He was lying on hot, pointed, uncomfortable stones through which long tufts of coarse grass protruded. Drops of sweat were trickling down his face, and his hands left wet marks where they came into contact with the stock or barrel of his rifle. With elbows, with chest, with stomach, with legs, he was trying to press hard against the ground. It is a curious feeling, that lying down and trying to press against the ground. He wished to reduce himself to the substance of a postage-stamp. This was the day of his first fight, but since he had got up everything was unaccountably unlike his expectation. The reveille had sounded in the dark at three o'clock in the morning. It was bitterly cold outside the tents, and his hands trembled as he fumbled with his putties. He had had a hard struggle to turn out from under that warm rug where he had been dreaming the real soldier's dream. Detaille's picture is all rot—the soldier's dream is not the picture of victorious battalions with banners flying, marching through the clouds. He had been dreaming of tripe and onions. Visions of past good meals in comfortable quarters washed down with deep cooling draughts of bitter floated in procession through sizzling clouds of vapour smelling of invisible kitchens. As he fumbled with his putties the rumble of waggons came out of darkness from a road hard by, mingled with the sharper rattle that tells of the gunners already on the move. The vague rumours of last night, he felt, were going to shape into the actuality of fight; but what an hour to go out fighting! Why should they be hauled out to fight in the dark? Why could not men wait for light? Wait until the world was aired? He was thirsty and uncomfortable, with the taste of stale tobacco in his mouth, and joined in the variegated imprecations muttered by the men when he found there would be only a few minutes to get anything to eat and no time for hot coffee. Presently he is a unit in a long snake-like column of men that winds along the road through the dark into the unknown. As he plods on he speculates how the fight will start. Perhaps the kopjes on either side of the road may be already full of Boers. Perhaps the beginning of the fight will be to find that they have marched into another ambush. It was a nasty uncomfortable feeling, that tramping through the darkness into the unknown. He felt better as the light spread from the eastern hills, and felt companionship and security in being part and parcel of that great mass of men that extended before and behind him on the road as far as he could see. Suddenly there is the boom of a gun, and he comes into collision with the man in front of him, who has stopped dead at the sound. A strange tingling feeling goes up his spine. There is a hush! No one speaks. The whole essence of vitality strains to listen. A faint whir crescendoes rapidly into the shrill whoop of a steam-siren, and a great balloon-shaped cloud of smoke and dust has already arisen from amidst the marching mass of men ahead. There is no sign whence came the shot. Nothing can be more peaceful-looking than the shoulders of these hills lying bathed in the quiet morning light. There is no sign of an enemy. Sharp words of command ring out while the cloud of smoke and dust is still hanging in the air, and in a dazed and mechanical way he finds himself deploying over the ground, which shakes with the gallop of cavalry as they spread out fan-like on either side of the road. The artillery rattle and jolt over the stones, and the limbers toss like little punts towed through a choppy sea. His company advances in extended order across the stony ground tufted with grass, and are ordered to lie down. The captain says, "Any men who have got anything to eat, let them eat it now." He has a piece of bread in his haversack, but feels no inclination to eat that dry and crumby stuff; but he is thirsty, and takes a long and deep pull at his water-bottle. The sun has already become very hot. The artillery has already got into action on the left, and is engaged in a duel with the Boer gunners. The minutes of waiting seem hours to him. Then all the men watch with keen interest an officer with a red-banded German cap galloping towards them. The result of his arrival is an order for them to advance up the gradual slope of this rounded hill. Just as he starts there is a light keen whistle in the air overhead like the call of a bird, then another and another. Instinctively he feels that these are made by bullets flying overhead. As he goes on an occasional one rings with a sharp bitterness in its tone, and he ducks his head as one might duck to the swish of a riding-whip near the face. They go with knees and backs bent, and he longs for the order to halt and lie down again. A fellow drops out alongside of him, but he does not look to see what has happened—he is afraid to look. Just when they have reached the crest of the hill, and when the whistling sounds have become more plentiful than ever, they are ordered to lie down again. Looking through the streaky stems of grass immediately in front of him, he can see a similarly shaped hill about 1200 yards away. It looks absolutely deserted. Nothing moves upon the skyline. Little puffs of smoke momentarily appear above it, which he knows are caused by the bursting of our shrapnel. He begins to feel he is really in the fight, but it is just altogether opposite to what he expects. It is commonplace and disappointing to a degree. He sees the gunners busy on the left, the horses standing behind them as if all the whistling sounds are only a rain-shower. There is a small stone in front of him, just half the size of his helmet. He knows it is not half big enough to cover him. All his preconceived ideas of a fight are crumbling away. Here they are being led out to lie on the grass to be potted at, and not allowed to reply. But then, as he looks at the opposite hill, he sees nothing to fire at. A group of red-capped officers walk their horses along the line left behind them. He recognises the General in command. They stop, and one of the General's aides-de-camp dismounts and opens a paper parcel, from which the General takes a sandwich and bites a big semicircular piece out of it. He finds it hard to realise that this is a battle and that this is the General commanding. In all pictures of battles that he has seen from his youth upwards the General is seated on a horse poised on two legs, and waving a sword or pointing with a marshal's baton. And here is a General with a sandwich with a big bite out of it, who points with the sandwich-hand instead. And then he begins to wonder, with all this multitudinous whistling, that nobody seems to be hit. Then the order is given to advance again. He feels a tremendous disinclination to leave the stone, and waits to see the other men around him get up. They all get up except the fellow on his right. Reaching over with his rifle, he pokes him in the ribs. He then hits him on the shoulder with it. Thinking he is asleep, he tips off his helmet from behind. His eyes are quite open; and then, like a douche of cold water, comes the consciousness that this man is dead. A feeling to get away from that corpse more than any other brings him amongst his comrades a few yards in advance, who are already firing and lying flat. He keeps blazing away mechanically at the innocent-looking hill opposite. His rifle is hot in his moist hands. An order to "cease fire" is given, and then there is another long interval of waiting. The whole business seems waiting. It isn't a bit like a proper sort of fight. There is nobody to fight; but still the bird-like notes are in the air above, and bitter little sounds against stones, and tiny little fountains of dust spurt from the ground around. And then a great feeling comes to him that he would like to be out of it all. There is no glory in it. The sun is hotter than he ever felt it before. His water-bottle is finished, and his mouth is clammy. A young subaltern with an eye-glass, no end of a toff, walks along the front of the line, and he watches with interested delight microscopic ducklets of his head, synchronising with whistles. Just as the toff is opposite him, he spins round suddenly, exclaiming, "By Jove!" and falls down like a sack of potatoes all of a heap. He begins to feel a strange sickness in the stomach, just the same as coming out on the transport. He feels it coming on. He knows he is going to be sick, and as he is going to be sick he wants to go away. There is no use in a sick man remaining in the fighting line. But then he feels as if he were held down there by the weight of the whirring air. There is no room in it for him to get up safely. There is no room to go away. Momentarily the noises increase. Men are firing about him, and he strains his eyes on the opposite hill to see something to shoot at, and empties his magazine at what looks like a man but may be a tree-trunk, and then stops again and gets sick. Another long period of waiting follows. All the water is gone from his water-bottle; an intolerable thirst is scorching his throat. He does not reload his magazine, and makes up his mind to say that his rifle is jammed, so that he need not go further with any fresh stupid advance that may be ordered. This is no time to care about what any one may think of him, it is just too awful for anything.
The ground has ceased trembling with the cavalry, who have dashed to the front. There is no longer any whizzing in the air. The "cease fire" is already sounding right along the line. The man who was afraid stands up with his comrades, who are already on their legs. The old Colonel trots along the line, mopping his red face with his handkerchief. "That was a hot business," he says to his Captain, and calls cheerily to us, "Well done, C Company! You are damned steady boys under as hot fire as I have ever seen." The man who was afraid opens his shoulders and pulls out the collar of his tunic and stoops down to wipe off the cakes of dirty earth that are sticking to his knees.
THE DANCE OF DEATH IN CHINA
"A wind of blight From the mysterious far North-west we came, Our greatness now their veriest babes have learned."
It was the day after Tung-Chow had been occupied by the Allies. I was riding along a sunken road between the city wall and some high ground on which houses were built. There was a sheer drop of considerable height between the walls of the houses and the stony road below. The shouts of Russians mingling with screams could be heard proceeding from the houses. At the base of the cliff two Chinese girls were lying. Their legs were bundled under them in a way that showed they had jumped from the height above. From their richly embroidered silken tunics and trousers, their elaborate coiffure, and their compressed feet, they were evidently ladies. They were moaning piteously, and one of them appeared to be on the point of death. Their legs or hips had apparently been broken, or dislocated, by their jump. As I went towards them, the one who appeared least injured shrank from me with an expression of loathing and horror until I offered her a drink out of my water-bottle. Her delicate, childish little hand trembled violently on mine as she drank eagerly from it. The other was almost too far gone to swallow. The hoarse cries of the soldiers, mingled occasionally with a sobbing scream, came from the houses above, telling what they had tried so desperately to escape from. They lay there helpless, evidently in excruciating pain, under a brazen sun that beat down on the deserted dusty road. There was no one within reach to come to their assistance. And there was nothing for it but to leave them there, as many under similar circumstances had had to be left during our previous march of several days. This scene was typical rather than singular. In a large number of Chinese houses in the villages we passed through on our way up, at Tung-Chow, and in Pekin itself, it was no unusual sight to see an entire family lying dead side by side on the Kang, where they had suffocated themselves, or to see them suspended from the rafters of their houses, where they had committed suicide by hanging.
In the burden of corpses which the river Pei-ho carried downwards from Pekin towards the sea were to be seen the bodies of many Chinese girls and women. One day I myself counted five. There is no question whatever that they had committed suicide. And close to Tung-Chow girls were actually seen walking into the shallow water and deliberately holding their heads under the surface till they were drowned. Such a tale seems very terrible. But to any one who had the opportunity of judging of the conduct of portions of the Allied troops it was not in the least surprising. Under similar circumstances our sisters and wives would have done likewise.
The Russians and French carried off the palm for outrages on women during the original march, and subsequently the Germans similarly distinguished themselves. This was more particularly the case with small bodies of men who were detached from the main force. In a village on the way to Paoting-fu, for instance, through which a body of Germans had just passed, three girls were taken by our troops out of a well, into which they had been thrown before the Germans left. They were still alive. This method of disposing of their victims was frequently adopted by the soldiers as the safest way of hiding their misdeeds and escaping the consequences.
News travels fast in China, and in advance of our march the people seemed to be thoroughly aware of the fate that probably awaited them. Although nearly the whole population cleared off before our advance, there were many, especially women, who could not get away, and who were unable to travel with their tiny compressed feet except in carts or on the backs of their servants. And it was principally these who finally, in the last extremity, committed suicide.
As the Chinese have agreed to erect a monument to Baron von Ketteler in Pekin in commemorative apology for his murder, it appears to me that there is an opportunity for the Allies to erect one also. It might be of pure white jade, which the Chinese women love, which in its translucent depths seems to hold the bright Eastern sunlight with the detaining lingerage of a caress, and might bear an inscription saying that it was erected in honour of the memory of the women and girls of the province of Pechili who had sacrificed their lives to save their honour.
All the way from the sea to Pekin, and for miles around Pekin itself, the whole country was deserted by the inhabitants. A wave of fear and horror preceded the advent of the Allies to such an extent that hundreds of miles of what was the most thickly populated part of China was absolutely deserted. After the relief of the Legations, the people who ventured timorously to return were inspired with fresh fear owing to the conduct of the Germans, who made up for being late for the original expedition by availing themselves of every possible opportunity of starting punitive expeditions on any possible pretence. Coming at the time of the autumn harvest, the actual loss of money to the inhabitants has been enormous.
From August to November a great tract of country was left deserted by the inhabitants, who should have been employed in gathering in the harvest. When I came down from Pekin in November there was no sign whatever of life across the plains on either side as far as the eye could reach. Thousands of acres of millet lay prone on the ground, and their carefully-tended vegetable gardens were scored with black lines, showing where the produce had rotted. When the Germans arrived in September I heard one of their officers saying to Major Scott, who was in charge of the river station at Tung-Chow, pointing to the fields of millet which surrounded the camp, "Why don't you burn down all these crops?" Major Scott replied that, besides not wanting to make life harder for these unfortunate farmers, they wanted the fodder for their own cattle. But, as a matter of fact, the destruction effected by the absence of the people was just as great as if the wish of that German had been carried out.
In all the discussions of the question of the amount of indemnity we never hear anything of the amount of counterclaim which the Chinese might rightfully make against us. The greater part of all this destruction was absolutely contrary to every rule of civilised warfare. In a district of about the extent of from London to Oxford the inhabitants have lost the entire produce of the harvest, all the villages and towns on either side of the river have been burned, so that on the march up our path at night was literally torch-lit with burning villages.
As was natural to expect, and as we have subsequently learned, many of the inhabitants have been forced by the absolute necessities of subsistence to band themselves together in companies of brigands, whose depredations afford a fresh excuse to the Germans for continuing hostile operations. The losses inflicted on the country in this way are entirely outside the irreparable losses which were inflicted by the destruction and despoiling of temples and innumerable works of art which it will be impossible to replace. As regards these last outrages, there was no officer in command of any section of the Allies who personally exerted himself to a greater degree for the preservation, or at least to prevent the destruction, of the art heirlooms of the country than did General Sir Alfred Gaselee.
Some curious things happened in his efforts in this direction. On the Paoting-fu expedition, for instance, when the troops were to pass in the neighbourhood of the Imperial Tombs, a few British soldiers were sent on in advance, and quietly informed the custodians that the Germans were coming. Readily acting on the information, they removed all the jewels and easily portable valuables from the tombs, and they were kept concealed in a village on the other side of the hill under the guard of a few Bengal Lancers until the Germans had passed. In recognition of this friendly message the Chinese wanted to make a present of some magnificent strings of pearls to Captain Maxwell, a nephew of Lord Roberts.
In civilised warfare there is generally some little respect shown for the priests and places of worship of the conquered people, but here there was none whatever. Horses were stabled in the temples, and the art heirlooms of thousands of years of the nation's life to be found therein were frequently mutilated and destroyed when they were not stolen. In the street where I lived in Pekin for a whole week were to be seen, day by day, carts passing backwards and forwards laden with books which were being brought to be consumed in a huge fire kept burning in a yard outside the palace wall. Thousands of books were thus treated, so that the whole street was littered with their fluttering leaves to such an extent that I could not get my little Chinese pony to pass there without getting off and leading him, for he shied continually at the fluttering papers. Day after day this literary holocaust continued. When the wind was in the direction of my house a fine black snow kept perpetually falling, and covered the roofs and courtyards with these ashes of dead thoughts. Hundreds of the books were written in the quaint characters which showed that they belonged to, and were written by, Lama priests; many of them had probably found their way there from the bleak steppes of far Tibet.