A REGIMENT OF THE LINE
A REGIMENTAL HISTORY OF THE 1ST BATTALION DEVONSHIRE REGIMENT DURING THE BOER WAR 1899-1902
BY COLONEL M. JACSON
London: HUTCHINSON & CO. Paternoster Row 1908
I. EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE SIEGE OF LADYSMITH 1
II. SIEGE OF LADYSMITH 30
III. EVENTS FOLLOWING THE SIEGE OF LADYSMITH, AND THE ADVANCE NORTH UNDER. SIR REDVERS BULLER 104
IV. LYDENBURG 149
V. TREKKING IN THE NORTH-EAST TRANSVAAL 176
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
MONUMENT ERECTED TO OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE DEVONSHIRE REGIMENT WHO FELL ON JANUARY 6TH ON WAGON HILL, SIEGE OF LADYSMITH. Frontispiece
EN ROUTE TO LADYSMITH 5
IN THE TRENCHES, LADYSMITH 36
TOWN HALL, LADYSMITH, CLOCK-TOWER DAMAGED BY SHELL FIRE 44
AFTER A WET NIGHT IN THE TRAVERSES, LADYSMITH 56
THE RAILWAY BRIDGE, WITH CAESAR'S CAMP IN DISTANCE, LADYSMITH 62
LIEUT.-COLONEL C.W. PARK 66
NAVAL BATTERY HILL, LADYSMITH } } MONUMENT ERECTED TO DEVONS ON WAGON HILL, } 70 ON SPOT WHERE THE CHARGE TOOK PLACE, LADYSMITH }
A PEACEFUL SUNDAY 80
DEVON OFFICERS REMAINING FIT FOR DUTY AT THE END OF THE SIEGE 102
BRIGADIER-GENERAL WALTER KITCHENER 104
RAILWAY BRIDGE DESTROYED BY BOERS, INGAGANE 108
MAKING BARBED-WIRE ENTANGLEMENT, INGAGANE 110
THE BAGGAGE OF GENERAL BULLER'S ARMY CROSSING BEGINDERLYN BRIDGE 116
TREKKING WITH GENERAL BULLER 124
DEVONS CROSSING THE SABI RIVER 140
COLONEL C.W. PARK, MISSION CAMP, LYDENBURG 148
WIRE BRIDGE, LYDENBURG 160
MISSION CAMP FORT, LYDENBURG (INTERIOR) 170
REMAINS OF BOER BIG GUN, WATERVAL 180
CROSSING THE STEELPORT RIVER 182
DAWN—AFTER A NIGHT MARCH, TRICHARDTSFONTEIN 200
DEVONS EN ROUTE TO DURBAN 208
MONUMENT ERECTED IN LADYSMITH CEMETERY 218
SIEGE OF LADYSMITH
NATAL AND S.E. TRANSVAAL
BY LIEUT.-GENERAL W. KITCHENER
Experience we all know to be a valuable asset, and experience in war is the most costly of its kind. To enable those coming after us to reconstruct the picture of war, Regimental Histories have proved of infinite value. That such a record fills a sentimental want hardly requires assertion.
My first feelings on being honoured with a request from the Devonshire Regiment to write a preface to the account of their "Work in South Africa, 1899-1902," were, I confess, How could I refuse so difficult a task gracefully? However, on further consideration it seemed to me that undoubtedly such a preface should be written by some one outside the corps itself. Onlookers, as the saying goes, often see most of the game, and, being free from personal bias, can often add something to what those engrossed in the meshes of life's details can only appreciate from a narrower point of view.
From this standpoint, and as I was the General under whom the 1st Devons served longest in South Africa, it seemed obviously my duty to attempt the task.
The "Work of the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment" is portrayed in these pages. It therefore only remains for me to add, for the benefit of coming generations, what manner of men these were, who by their dogged devotion to duty helped to overcome the Boer. Associated as one was with many corps in the close intimacy of veldt life, it was a study of the deepest interest to note the individuality that characterized each, and which was often as clearly and as well defined as that of the men with whom one daily came in contact.
During the many months of our intimate association, and in the varied situations that presented themselves, I cannot call to mind any single occasion on which the Devons were ever flurried or even hurried. Their imperturbability of temper, even under the most trying conditions, could not be surpassed.
Another characteristic of the corps was its inherent thrift. They were, in fact, essentially a "self-help" corps. When a flood came and washed away the bridge leading to the picket line, no sapper was required to show them how to throw a suspension bridge above the flood from tree to cliff. It was characteristic of the Regiment that they carried out in war their peace training, never allowing the atmosphere of excitement to distort their actions.
If we take Elandslaagte, Wagon Hill, or any of the hundred and one ticklish night operations in which they took part, this trait will be ever noteworthy, that they acted as was to be expected of them, and made no fuss of having done so.
We have all read realistic descriptions of troops on the march in South Africa, the writer using all his cunning to depict the war-worn dirty condition of his heroes, seeming to glean satisfaction from their grease-stained khaki. It must be admitted that the South African War is responsible for a somewhat changed condition of thought as regards cleanliness and its relation to smartness. No such abstraction disturbed the Devons; a Devon man was always clean. Individuals of some corps could be readily identified by their battered helmets or split boots; not so the Devons. No helmet badge was necessary for their identification, and the veriest tyro could not fail to recognize at any time the crisply washed Indian helmet cover.
It may be open to question whether it is for good or for evil that we should broaden our views of what goes to make a smart and useful fighting man, but the regimental system of the Devons was for no innovation of a careless go-as-you-please style. I thus lay stress on the individuality of the Devons in South Africa, because it was this individuality of theirs, born of their regimental system, which enabled them to claim so full a share in the success of that long-drawn-out campaign.
No one can quite appreciatively follow the story of the work of the Devons, unless he realizes the intense feeling of comradeship that animates these West-country men. To work with Devonshire men is to realize in the flesh the intensity of the local county loyalty so graphically depicted by Charles Kingsley in his Westward Ho! and other novels.
In conclusion, let me add, a more determined crew I never wish to see, and a better regiment to back his orders a General can never hope to have.
DALHOUSIE, May, 1906.
BY THE AUTHOR
The story as told is an everyday account and a record of the work of the men of the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment during the South African War.
It exemplifies the devotion to duty, the stubbornness in adversity, and the great fighting qualities of the West-country man, which qualities existed in the time of Drake, and which still exist.
A repeating of their history of the past, a record of the present, and an example for the generation to come.
EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE SIEGE OF LADYSMITH
On returning from the North-West Frontier of India at the close of the Tirah Expedition, 1897-8, the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment, which had served with distinction under the command of Colonel J.H. Yule in the campaign against the Afridi clans, was ordered to proceed from Peshawar to Jullunder, at which place it was quartered in 1898 and in the summer months of 1899, during which time certain companies and detachments were furnished for duty at Dalhousie, Kasauli, and Ghora Dakka (Murree Hills), and located during the hot weather at these places.
Towards the latter end of August, 1899, news from South Africa appeared ominous, and war seemed likely to break out between England and the Transvaal.
On the 8th September, 1899, confidential instructions were received from army head-quarters at Simla ordering the Regiment to get ready to move at short notice to South Africa, and a few days later further orders were received to entrain on the 16th September for Bombay en route to the Transvaal, which country the Regiment was destined not to reach for some months, and then only after severe fighting.
The companies quartered at Dalhousie and Ghora Dakka with difficulty joined the head-quarters at Jullunder before the 16th, and the following marches are worthy of record:—
The Dalhousie detachment marched to Pathankote, a distance of 54-1/4 miles, in two days. Major Curry, who was in command, gave each man a coolie for his baggage, and ordered the men to get to Duneera the first day the best way they could. At Duneera they halted for the night, and the next day pushed on in the same manner to Pathankote, where they immediately entrained and proceeded to Jullunder.
The Ghora Dakka detachment under Lieutenant Emerson marched to Rawal Pindi, a distance of fifty-four miles, in two days, and then entrained for Jullunder.
No men fell out in either party, and considering the time of year and the intense heat, they were fine performances.
Some officers were on leave in Cashmere, and only arrived at Jullunder as the Regiment was entraining.
On September 16th, 1899, the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment, under the command of Major C.W. Park, left Jullunder by rail for Bombay with a strength as under:—
25 officers, 1 warrant officer, and 842 sergeants, rank and file.
The following officers accompanied the battalion:—
Major C.W. Park, commanding. Major M.C. Curry, second in command. Captain M.G. Jacson. Captain J.O. Travers. Captain E.C. Wren. Captain E.M. Morris. Lieutenant P.H. Price-Dent. Lieutenant J.E.I. Masterson. Lieutenant A.F. Dalzel. Lieutenant N.Z. Emerson. Lieutenant G.H.I. Graham. Lieutenant T.B. Harris. 2nd Lieutenant G.I. Watts. 2nd Lieutenant D.H. Blunt. 2nd Lieutenant H.R. Gunning. 2nd Lieutenant S.T. Hayley. 2nd Lieutenant H.W.F. Twiss. Captain and Adjutant H.S.L. Ravenshaw. Captain and Quartermaster H. Honner. Warrant Officer Sergeant-Major G.E. Mitchell.
The following officers were attached for duty to the battalion:—
Major Burnside, R.A.M.C., in medical charge. Lieutenant E.G. Caffin, Yorkshire Regiment. Lieutenant H.W.R. Cowie, Dorset Regiment. Lieutenant A.M. Tringham, The Queen's West Surrey Regiment. Lieutenant J.A. Byrne, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Lieutenant E.E.M. Walker, Somersetshire Light Infantry.
The following officers were absent from the battalion on leave in England:—
Captain W.B. Lafone. Captain G.M. Gloster. Lieutenant H.N. Field.
Colonel J.H. Yule, commanding the battalion, was appointed to the command of the Indian Infantry Brigade, South Africa, with the temporary rank of brigadier-general. Major A.G. Spratt was placed in charge of the depot and details left at Jullunder.
The Regiment arrived without incident on September 21st at Bombay, having halted, for a few hours only, at the following places:—
On September 17th at Aligarh. " " 18th at Jhansi. " " 19th at Hoshangabad. " " 20th at Deolali.
Embarkation took place immediately on arrival, the transport Sutlej taking five companies, head-quarters, band and drums, under Major C.W. Park; and the transport City of London taking three companies under Major M.C. Curry.
On the latter vessel sailed also Sir George White's Staff and the Staff of the Indian Infantry Brigade.
The Sutlej sailed at noon on September 21st, and it was reported that the ship was under sealed orders, and that her destination was Delagoa Bay.
The days on board were occupied in keeping the men fit with physical drill, free gymnastics, etc., and with instruction in first-aid to the wounded and the use of the field-dressing and the method of adjusting it.
On September 28th Agalega Island was sighted, and on the 30th the ship was off the east coast of Madagascar.
On the 2nd October the S.S. Purnea with the 60th Rifles on board was spoken, and communication by flag signal established, both vessels inquiring for news. The Sutlej was the last to leave port, but had nothing new to communicate.
At 7 a.m. on October 5th, in rough and foggy weather, the Sutlej arrived off the coast of Africa, and the fog lifting about midday, she ran down the coastline for two hours, and arrived outside the bar at Durban.
The ships conveying the 60th Rifles and the 53rd Battery arrived an hour later. The Sutlej waited till 2 p.m. to enter the harbour, and arrived alongside the quay at 4 p.m., when disembarkation commenced at once in torrents of rain and heavy wind squalls.
A deputation of the Durban "West of England" Association met the Regiment on arrival and presented an address.
The first news received on landing was that war had not yet been declared, but that it was inevitable, that President Kruger had seized half a million of money on its way from Johannesburg to the Cape, and that orders had been given by him to shoot any one crossing the frontier. This may or may not have been true; a good deal of perfectly reliable information was being circulated about this time.
On the night of October 5th-6th the Regiment left in three trains for Ladysmith. The rain and cold caused some inconvenience to the men, as they were packed into open trucks, and obtained neither shelter nor sleep. They were new to the game then, but they saw the inside of many a coal truck later.
The journey to Pietermaritzburg was in the nature of a triumphal procession, for at various points along the line small knots of old men women and children, waving Union Jacks, cheered the troops most lustily as the trains passed.
A remark frequently heard was "How glad they are to see us," and it was evident that these people at least, who were interested and possessed homes in Natal, had not underrated the power and intentions of the Transvaal. The Regiment had an enthusiastic reception, as indeed did all troops passing to the front, flags and handkerchiefs being waved from every house farm and village. At some stations where a short stop was made to allow of other trains getting on ahead, tea and refreshments were given out free, by willing hands, to the soldiers in the trucks.
Trains were running with about 500 to 600 yards distance between them.
On October 6th between 7 and 8 a.m. the trains conveying the Regiment reached Pietermaritzburg, and here the men had breakfast. Pushing on again with as little delay as possible and passing Estcourt at about 3 p.m., and Colenso about 4 p.m., Ladysmith was reached at 6 p.m.
Detraining took place at once, and the Regiment marched off to Tin Town, about two miles distant, where camp was pitched in the dark.
The infantry at this time in Ladysmith consisted of:—
The Gordon Highlanders. The Devonshire Regiment. The Gloucester Regiment. The Liverpool Regiment.
Rumours of war and warlike preparation on the part of the Boers were continually being circulated, and at daybreak on October 11th the Transvaal Boers crossed the frontier of Natal 18,000 strong with fourteen guns.
On October 12th, at 2 p.m., orders were received for the Regiment to prepare at once to go out as part of a flying column towards Acton Holmes to check the advance of the Free State Boers, who were reported to be crossing the Biggarsberg by Vanreenen's Pass; and at 2 a.m. a force consisting of four regiments of cavalry, four batteries R.A., and three regiments of infantry (Liverpools, Gordons, and Devons) left Ladysmith, and after great delay reached Dewdrop at 9 a.m.
The cavalry having been sent on to gain touch, failed however to do so, and the column returned at once to Ladysmith. The information turned out to be incorrect.
On the return march the Regiment was joined by Captain W.B. Lafone and Lieutenants Field and Green, who had arrived from England.
On Sunday, October 15th, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who had arrived about two days previously, marched out of the Tin Camp Ladysmith to entrain for Dundee, which place it was reported the Transvaal Boers were threatening; and on the same day the news was confirmed that the armoured train at Mafeking had been twice attacked.
It was said that our khaki uniform had completely nonplussed the Boers, and that they had expected to meet us coming on in red, as in the days gone by, and that they were consequently rather surprised and annoyed.
The Liverpool Regiment, 18th Hussars, and one battery left Ladysmith by road for Colenso on October 18th, the Manchester Regiment, the Devons, and Natal mounted troops covering their march from the direction of Vanreenen's Pass. Refugees continually coming through into Ladysmith from Acton Holmes during the day, reported fighting going on between Boers and Natal Carbineers.
On its return to Ladysmith the same day, the Regiment moved from the Tin Town Camp and encamped on the football ground under the convent hill, and towards sunset the whole army marched out of Ladysmith into strategical positions outside the town. The Regiment at this time was reserve battalion.
On October 19th the Boers cut the telegraph wire between Dundee and Ladysmith, and captured near Elandslaagte Station a train containing forty tons of flour consigned to the force at Dundee, and the following morning the Devons, Gordons, one battery, 5th Lancers, and some Colonial mounted infantry, moved out towards Modder Station on the Ladysmith-Newcastle road.
At about 11 a.m. news was received that a fierce battle was being fought at Dundee, and that a large force of Free State Boers was advancing towards Ladysmith from Bester's Station, having crossed the Vanreenen's Pass. The column was halted about four miles out of Ladysmith, and three companies of the Devons under Captain Travers were sent to hold Pepworth Hill on the flank threatened by the Free State Boers. But at 4 p.m. Sir George White came out and joined the force, and he ordered the column back into Ladysmith.
He gave an account of the fighting at Dundee, which he had just received. Dundee Camp was aroused in the morning by shells being pitched into its midst. The artillery came into action, and the 60th Rifles and Dublin Fusiliers were then sent to capture the position, which was occupied by 4000 Boers. This was gallantly carried. Another column of Boers was then turned on to, and at 1.30 p.m. the enemy broke. Major-General Penn-Symons was mortally wounded, and Major-General Yule had taken over command at Dundee.
By next day a detachment of Boers had reached the neighbourhood of Modder Station and had taken up a position near Elandslaagte.
This detachment consisted of some 650 Boers, with two guns, under the leadership of General Koch, who was charged with the task of cutting off the retreat of the forces at Glencoe and Dundee, and who had been sent forward for that purpose. General Koch had at the same time practically joined hands with the Free State Boers, who were in the neighbourhood of Bester's Station on the Ladysmith-Harrismith line.
In order to reoccupy Elandslaagte and to secure General Yule's line of retreat, Sir George White ordered out a force consisting of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, of which four companies of the Regiment formed a part, under the command of General French. These companies went out in the morning by train under Major Curry, and detrained near Modder Station.
One company and a Maxim gun under Captain Jacson and a squadron 5th Lancers were sent at 11 a.m. by road to Pepworth Hill to guard the left flank of General French's force against the Free State Army, which might seriously threaten General French's communications with Ladysmith.
At 1 p.m. further reinforcements were sent out to General French, and the three remaining companies of the Regiment were ordered to proceed by train to Modder Station to join the wing under Major Curry. The seven companies were then under the command of Major Park.
The Boers occupied two cones of some low hills overlooking Elandslaagte railway station. General French's artillery came into action on some high ground 4400 yards distant from the Boer position, and between the two forces was an open undulating plain affording little or no cover, and across which the attack had to be delivered.
The Gordon Highlanders and Manchesters were to attack round the Boers' left flank, whilst the Devons were to make a frontal attack.
From the nature of the position which they had taken up, no commanding positions affording flanking fire and protection to their flanks were obtainable by the Boers. These were open and could be easily threatened by the cavalry and the mounted infantry.
The Boers had two guns in position on one of the two cones, and with these guns they did good execution, knocking over a limber of one of French's batteries at the second shot, and practically before his guns came into action.
General French's force, now considerably augmented, marched off at 2.30 p.m. The 1st Devon Regiment was formed in company column at fifty paces as a reserve to the Manchester Regiment. After proceeding about a mile heavy firing was heard on the right front, direction was changed half-right, and the Regiment was then ordered to form for attack on the left of the Manchesters, and to take up a front of 500 yards.
Three companies were placed in the firing-line and supports under Major Park, and four companies in reserve under Major Curry. At about 3.15 p.m. the firing-line reached the top of a low hill, and came in sight of the enemy's position distant about 4400 yards. Here a halt of a quarter of an hour was made, and at 3.30 p.m. orders were received by the Regiment to make a frontal attack on the position, to advance to within effective rifle range, and to then hold on till a flank attack by the Manchesters and Gordons came in on the right. The ground between the Regiment and the position sloped slightly up to the foot of the low rocky hills, on which the enemy was posted. There was no cover of any kind, except a few ant-heaps, in the first half of the distance.
The firing-line advanced keeping intervals and covering a front of about 600 yards, the centre being directed on to a conical hill at the back of the enemy's camp. The reserve followed in column of companies, in single rank, at fifty paces distance between companies. The enemy's guns opened on the Regiment at once with shrapnel, but most of the shells went high, only one striking the reserve companies.
A steady advance to about 1200 to 1300 yards from the position was made, when, the rifle fire becoming rather heavy, fire was opened by section volleys. The light was bad, and it was very difficult to see the enemy or estimate the distances. In a few minutes the supports reinforced, and the firing-line then pushed on to the foot of the slope, and established itself in a shallow ditch 800 to 900 yards from the position. Here it held on, firing sectional volleys, till the flank attack appeared on the hill, apparently about 500 yards from the position.
An advance by companies from the right was then ordered, and, the reserve reinforcing, a further 200 yards was gained. Some bugling and shouting was then heard on the hill. A rush to 350 yards was now made, and, after a short pause to allow the men to get breath, bayonets were fixed and the position charged, four companies assaulting the detached hill on the left, the remaining three companies assaulting the hill on which the enemy's guns were. F and G Companies were the first to reach and take possession of the guns, the Gordon Highlanders coming up on the right shortly afterwards. The companies then moved on down the reverse slope and opened fire on the retiring enemy. On the detached hill only five of the enemy were found alive, and they showed a white flag as the hill was charged.
The Regiment was then re-formed, and held the detached hill during the night.
During the three hours it was under fire, the battalion kept line and intervals carefully throughout, and adjusted sights and fired as steadily as if on parade. It is to the perfect steadiness of the men and the absence of all crowding that the very small losses from the enemy's fire, which at all times was heavy, can be attributed.
The battalion's losses were:—
Captain W.B. Lafone, slightly wounded. 2nd Lieutenants Gunning, Hailey, and Green, severely wounded. Twenty-nine non-commissioned officers and men wounded.
Parties of men were busy during the night collecting the Boer wounded and taking them down to the laager. Among them was General Koch, who was badly hit in several places. He died of his wounds a few days afterwards in Ladysmith.
The losses of the Boers were estimated at 62 killed, 150 wounded, and 184 prisoners.
The force was moved back into Ladysmith early on the 22nd morning, the infantry by rail, and cavalry by road. The company of the Regiment and Maxim gun, which had been on Pepworth Hill during the day and the following night, got back to camp the same afternoon.
The 23rd was given up to rejoicings and congratulations over the victory, and the two Boer flags which were captured were displayed outside the officers' mess tent.
The Free State Army had by now come across to the east, and were in the neighbourhood of Modder Station, and on October 24th a column was again ordered out with the object of assisting General Yule's force in from Dundee.
This column consisted of the 5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, Natal Carbineers, Border Mounted Rifles, Imperial Light Horse, Devons, Liverpools, Gloucesters, 60th Rifles, and twenty guns, in all about 5500 men.
The enemy was found posted on Tinta Inyoni Mountain, on the summit of which they brought a gun into action and fired on to the head of Sir G. White's force, which was in column of route on the road, but without doing any damage. The action began at 8.30 a.m.
At the commencement of the action the battalion was in reserve, and was ordered to extend and lie down at the foot of the first slope facing the enemy's position, and some 300 yards north-west of the railway line, sending scouts to the crest of the ridge to watch the front. Four companies were shortly afterwards ordered to advance in attack formation, forming their own supports, and to place themselves on the left of the Gloucester Regiment, which was in front of the Regiment at the time. The Regiment was then on the extreme left of the firing-line. The four companies of the reserve worked round under cover to a small nullah about 300 yards on the left and then advanced up it. The firing-line advanced, under slight rifle fire, across a rocky plateau till they gained a small ridge overlooking the front, and opened fire by section volleys on to a ridge about 800 yards in front, from which a rather heavy fire was coming.
The Maxim gun under Lieutenant Price-Dent came into action in rear of the left of the line and fired at the enemy to the left front.
The enemy's fire from this ridge was soon silenced, and from that time the only objective the line had was a few scattered Boers and their horses on the rear slope of the high hill to the left front, some 2000 yards distant.
The reserve was deployed into two lines of double companies on and below a small ridge of rocks some 250 yards in rear of the firing-line. At about 2 p.m. the retirement commenced, and the battalion gradually followed the Liverpool Regiment and became rearguard. Ladysmith was reached about 3.30 p.m., after a sixteen-mile march in torrents of rain.
The casualties of the battalion during the day were:—
1 private killed. 25 privates wounded, none dangerously.
[Footnote 1: This private, the first man of the Regiment killed in the war, was Private Winsor. He was shot dead through the heart by a stray bullet.]
This action was known as the action of Reitfontein.
On October 26th General Yule's force marched into Ladysmith. They had had a bad time, having marched in drenching rain, day and night, from Sunday till Wednesday. The garrison of Ladysmith gave them food on arrival, the Regiment supplying the Dublin Fusiliers (officers and men) with refreshments.
On October 27th it was reported that the Boers were nearing Ladysmith and attempting to surround the place, and a large force was ordered out by Sir George White to reconnoitre.
This reconnaissance was under the command of Colonel Ian Hamilton, and his column consisted of three cavalry regiments, three batteries, and four infantry battalions, to which was added later one infantry battalion and one battery.
Having advanced beyond the Nek between Lombards Kop and Bulwana, and having crossed the Modder Spruit on the Helpmakaar road, the Regiment was sent on outpost duty to the left front, whilst the main body of the force halted on the bank of the stream.
From the outpost line large bodies of the enemy were observed advancing over Long Hill. Boers were also seen very busy on the kopjes south of Long Hill, entrenching.
At 8 p.m. orders were received from the officer commanding the column, in which it was explained that the force was to make a night march and attack, the infantry to advance at 2 a.m.
The Boer position as seen by the Regiment on the outpost line was some three miles in length, and the point of attack was to be the extreme left of their position, viz. Farquhar's Farm.
In the opinion of some the attack would have succeeded and the evil days of the siege put back; in the opinion of others the attack could not possibly have succeeded on account of the length of the Boer position, which they had had time to strengthen and entrench, and which had not been definitely reconnoitred.
At midnight fresh orders were received from Sir George White in Ladysmith. The whole force was ordered to retire and to proceed back at once into their positions in and about the town.
It was reported that the Boers were in great numbers, some 17,000 under Joubert, and that they had their big guns with them.
The Regiment commenced their retirement as rearguard to the force at 4 a.m., and reached camp at 6.30 a.m. on October 28th.
October 29th was a Sunday, and except for rumours, which were prolific, a quiet day was spent.
The Boers were reported to be entrenching themselves a mile and a half out on the Dundee road, and at the same time the Ladysmith defences were being prepared, and blasting operations were being carried out for the construction of military roads.
The battle of Farquhar's Farm was fought on October 30th, 1899.
The whole army was ordered out at 3 a.m.
The battalion formed part of the reserve brigade under Colonel Ian Hamilton. This reserve brigade took up a position under Limit Hill, and facing Pepworth Hill from the south.
The plan of the day was to have been as follows, had everything gone as it was proposed:—
Five regiments of infantry, all the mounted troops, and four batteries of artillery were to move round the enemy's left up the Helpmakaar road towards Farquhar's Farm (the direction of the proposed night attack on the night 27th-28th) to attack and drive in his left.
Two regiments of infantry with one mountain battery were to move off to the left of the British position to hold the enemy's right (which comprised the whole of the Free State Army), and prevent him from getting into Ladysmith.
The main attack was to be made in the centre by Colonel Ian Hamilton's Brigade by an assault on Pepworth Hill, where the Boer big guns were located, and which was the key of the position.
The above was the plan; the result and the way in which it was carried out is told in a few words.
The two infantry battalions and mountain battery, detailed to guard the left flank, knocked up against the Free State Army under Cronje (which was seen in the forenoon by the main body of General White's force, coming over Walker's Hoek) on what is known now as Surprise Hill, and which place is situated a little above and nearer Ladysmith than Nicholson's Nek. Cronje attacked them in the dark, scattered the gun mules which stampeded, and after some hours of hard fighting captured the lot.
The force on the right, under Sir George White's personal command, ran prematurely into Joubert's Transvaal Army, which had advanced from its previous and partly reconnoitred position, and which had formed up ready to receive them in a position somewhat nearer Ladysmith. It received a very heavy cross fire from big guns, field guns, machine guns, and musketry, and was put to confusion, the artillery and the cavalry having some difficulty in extricating themselves. General White took the Manchester Regiment and the Gordon Highlanders from Hamilton's Brigade to cover the retirement, and his force came back into Ladysmith fired into with wonderful accuracy, at a range of about 7000 yards, by the big gun on Pepworth. Of the remainder of Hamilton's Brigade, the Rifle Brigade (which had only arrived in Ladysmith that day) and a half battalion Devon Regiment were told off to bring up the rear, whilst the other half battalion of the Devons was left on Limit Hill, two miles outside Ladysmith, to act as a covering force.
* * * * *
The Naval Brigade under Lambton arrived at Limit Hill with three naval 12-pounders just as the retirement was taking place, and they were at once ordered back into the town. They returned without coming into action. As they were retiring down the road past the Piggery by the Orange Free State Junction Station, a well-aimed shell from Pepworth Hill upset one of their guns, killing some of the ox-team and a gunner who was being carried back wounded in an ambulance.
The half battalion of the regiment under Major Curry was ordered to take up a defensive position on Limit Hill and to stay there for the night.
The Boer force was within 1000 yards, and it was thought probable that they would follow up their defeated foe. Their patrols were continually coming to within 300-500 yards of the Devons' outpost line.
As the half battalion was well covered from view, it was deemed expedient and prudent not to expose their position and weakness by firing, but rather by lying quiet to trust to the Boer imagination, allowing them to think there was a larger force in position at Limit Hill than there really was. This plan was eminently successful, for except for Boer patrols the position was not threatened.
Orders were received by this half battalion at 9 a.m. on November 2nd to retire on to Ladysmith. The defenders of Ladysmith being unaware of the fact that any of their own troops were in front of them, and mistaking friend for foe, got down on their knees to fire as the companies of the Devons appeared in sight.
The half battalion which had retired with the rest of the force into Ladysmith on October 30th received orders at 10 a.m. on the 31st to strike camp, move off and form part of the garrison of section "A" of the defences of Ladysmith, under the command of Colonel W.G. Knox, C.B. The second half battalion followed them.
SIEGE OF LADYSMITH
The siege of Ladysmith had now commenced; communication to the south was interrupted on November 2nd, and on the same day the Boers had their guns in action on Bulwana Mountain and were shelling the works and town freely.
The perimeter of Ladysmith was divided into four sections, A, B, C, D, under Colonel W.G. Knox, General Howard, Colonel Hamilton, and Colonel Royston respectively. Section A extended from Devon Post to Cove Redoubt; on the west of this was section B, extending as far as Range Post on the Klip River. Section C included Maiden Castle, Wagon Hill, and Caesar's Camp, whilst the plain between Caesar's Camp and Devon Post was held by the Natal Volunteers under Colonel Royston.
The battalion was ordered to take up the two posts of Cemetery Hill and Helpmakaar Hill. These were the most eastern kopjes of the defences. They skirted the Helpmakaar road and were immediately under Bulwana and Gun Hill. These were distant only some five thousand yards, and dominated Devon Post.
The battalion was distributed: three companies on Helpmakaar Hill, two companies on Cemetery Hill, with three companies in reserve near the road and river-bed immediately beneath Cemetery Hill.
Devon Post received its first shells on the morning of the 3rd. These were aimed at the tents of the reserve companies, which were rather ostentatiously pitched on the plain by the river-bed under Cemetery Hill. The shells were fired from a high-velocity 3-inch gun on Bulwana. The tents were immediately moved closer under the hill, where they were out of sight from Bulwana. The Boer guns were then trained on to the working parties, and some fifty shells were burst in the works (just commenced and affording little cover) on Helpmakaar and Cemetery Hill posts, but without doing much damage. After this, owing to shell fire, it was impossible to work except at night, or when Bulwana was obscured by fog. The fortifications and defences were, however, hastily pushed forward, and the platforms for the two large and ancient howitzers known as "Castor" and "Pollux" were soon completed.
Shortly after the commencement of the siege one of the few shells fired into Ladysmith which did any damage, burst amongst a party of Natal Carbineers on the road under Cemetery Hill, killing five men and seven horses.
On November 5th the Intombi Camp was formed, and all the wounded and most of the women and children, with a few of the able-bodied male civilian inhabitants of Ladysmith, were moved into the neutral camp.
On November 6th and 7th, with the exception of a shell or two, things were quiet on Devon Post, but on the evening of the 7th a furious bombardment began at four o'clock, the Boer guns all round firing into the town and at anything they could see moving. No damage was done.
In addition to the works on Devon Post, which were manned by the Regiment, a half-company picquet was told off nightly. This picquet extended and lay down across the main road at the foot of the forward work. It mounted after dark and was relieved before daylight in the morning. Many will remember the spot where this picquet was posted as the most ill-chosen, inconvenient, and hard platform for a bed on a rainy night.
The nights of the 6th, 7th, and 8th were occupied in making the works stronger and building additional works.
On November 9th the Boers made their first attempt against Ladysmith. The attack commenced at 6 a.m. with heavy musketry fire directed on to the northern defences; and three hours later the attack developed on Helpmakaar Post and Caesar's Camp. Shells came very thickly from two howitzers and three high-velocity Creusot guns into Devon Post. This lasted till about 2 p.m., when the action was concluded with a royal salute from the naval batteries and three hearty cheers, which, started by the Naval Brigade, were taken up all round the defences in honour of the birthday of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. A curious ending to a battle.
During the action a well-directed shell from one of Christie's ancient howitzers, which were now located on Helpmakaar Hill, pitched with good effect into the middle of a large group of Boers who were entrenching themselves on a small rise of ground underneath Gun Hill.
Helpmakaar, which had always been a single-day post, was now turned into a three days' post, companies remaining in the fort for three days before being relieved.
On the 11th three companies of the Regiment were sent out under Captain Lafone to blow up a farm building under Bulwana, about one and half miles distant from Devon Post. After a long delay, owing to the blasting materials having been forgotten, the operation was successfully carried out, and the party returned with only some slight annoyance from the enemy's pompom and a few shots from a high-velocity gun stationed on Bulwana.
The Boer artillery on Bulwana and Gun Hill was well served, and their shooting was excellent. One morning they opened with a 40-pounder howitzer, known under the name of "Weary Willy," on to the main work at Devon Post, at a portion of the work occupied by "Walker's Hotchkiss Gun Detachment." About twelve consecutive shots pitched within a five yards' radius, and one crashed into and nearly breached the parapet, which was here about six feet thick and built of large stones.
The men worked on the 11th from dark till 1 a.m., when the works were practically completed and sufficiently strengthened to answer all purposes, although building was being carried on till the last day of the siege, and the men were still building at the actual moment when the relief cavalry were marching across the plain into Ladysmith.
The willingness and the cheery manner in which the men of the battalion worked at these defences are worthy of record. On pitch-dark nights in pouring rain the men, wet to the skin, covered with mud and filth, without a smoke, groping about in the dark to find a likely stone, carried on the work in silence; and when the word was passed along to knock off work, they "turned in" without a grumble into a wet bivouac. There was no complaining, and the men were never required by their officers to bring along the stones faster. The only noise that broke the stillness of the night was the incessant "click, click, click" of the picks at work loosening the stones, and the men, in spite of the conditions under which the work was being carried on, joked among themselves in an undertone.
Work was nightly carried on from dark till midnight and sometimes till 2 a.m., and the men turned out again to stand to arms at 3.30 a.m.
By the middle of November the works at Devon Post were from 4-1/2 to 10 feet high, from 8 to 10 feet thick at the top (the whole built roughly of stone), with the superior slope nearly flat, exterior slope about 1/1, interior slope nearly upright. The front work had a thickness at the bottom of about 18 feet, owing to the work being constructed on the slope of the hill.
Things passed quietly with intermittent shell fire till the afternoon of the 14th, when General Brocklehurst took out the Cavalry Brigade and two batteries of artillery, with the intention of turning the Boers off Rifleman's Ridge. This they failed to do, and returned to their lines about 5 p.m. well peppered by the Boer big guns, one shell from the big gun on Pepworth pitching into the centre of the road just short of a battery of artillery which was coming back into Ladysmith, near the defences on the north-west front held by a detachment of the Dublin Fusiliers—an accurate shot, and the distance measured on the map 10,500 yards. Shortly afterwards the Naval Brigade in their turn did some good shooting, pitching a shell on to the muzzle of the big gun on Pepworth, and a few moments after this shot, another on to his parapet. Boers were afterwards seen carrying litters away from the work. This big gun never fired again during the siege, but the Boers patched him up and he lived to do good work for them against General Buller in his advance north to Lydenburg, and the Boers finally blew him up in front of the battalion near Waterval, in the Lydenburg district, when engaged with a column under General Walter Kitchener.
For the next few days nothing of consequence occurred beyond the usual shell fire, varied at intervals from day to night time. It rained in torrents most of the time, and the men were continually wet through. They however kept very fit, and there were very few in hospital.
An amusing incident occurred on the 17th. Good targets being scarce the Boers continually fired shell at any moving or stationary object they could catch sight of—sometimes at a single scout. They often fired their pompom at a range of about 5000 yards at the vultures feeding on the dead horses under Devon Post. On this day they sent three 40-lb. shells at an old man named Brown who contracted for the dead horses. Brown used to take these out into the open in full view of the Boers, to some flat ground under the Post, and there skin them at his leisure. The old man would take his load out once a day in a four-horsed cart. If he was seen by the Boers he would come back at a gallop pursued by Boer shells. This time he came back on three wheels, much to the amusement of Section A of the defences; the fourth wheel had come off and he was in too great a hurry to readjust it, and it was in consequence left behind. The old man was never hit.
On November 20th the Boers mounted some more guns on Bulwana and also on Umbrella Tree Hill, which lay in the Nek between Bulwana and Gun Hill. Colonel Knox ordered a dummy battery to be made at night on the further side of the Klip River and out in the open. Wooden imitation guns and imitation gunners were erected, and these were worked with a string by a gunner concealed in the bank of the river.
Captain Kincaid-Smith, with the two Maxim-Nordenfeldt guns captured at Elandslaagte, of which he was now in charge, was to open fire from Devon Post on to the Boer guns newly placed on Umbrella Tree Hill, and as he was perfectly concealed and fired smokeless powder, it was supposed that the Boers would imagine that the firing came from the new dummy battery just erected.
Kincaid-Smith began firing at about six o'clock on the following morning. He fired some five shells in perfect silence unanswered by the Boers. He was then suddenly located by them, and shells were hurled on to him from all sides and from all descriptions of guns. This continued for a quarter of an hour and then slackened off. The Boers burst their shrapnel better than usual, and in the evening just before dark one shrapnel got into a working party on Devon Post, killing one man and severely wounding another.
There was some heavy musketry fire during the night at a reconnaissance party sent out from Ladysmith towards Umbrella Tree Hill. The party had orders to disturb the Boers and draw their fire. This they very successfully accomplished. On the 22nd night another "disturbing party" was sent out under Captain Jacson, consisting of one company of the Regiment and a party of cavalry, to "stir up" the Boers on Flag Hill. It was pitch-dark, pouring with rain, and the ground was covered with boulders of rocks. The cavalry were obliged to leave their horses behind and proceed on foot in front of the infantry; so little was gained by the enterprise and no "stirring up" was effected.
Up to this date there had been very little news from the outside world, but now the Regiment was informed that General French had fought a successful engagement at Estcourt and had got in with the cavalry. They were also told that the garrison might expect to be relieved by the 13th December by one division which was coming up from Durban.
About November 22nd the news was received that the armoured train at Colenso had been attacked, derailed, and captured.
On the 23rd Kincaid-Smith received orders to proceed with one of his guns during the following night down to the river-bed near the dummy battery and open fire if the Boers fired at it in the morning. This they had done the previous day, much to every one's amusement. At daybreak he opened fire from the river-bed. After his second shot the Boers found him and made wonderful practice, bursting shrapnel all over him. No damage, however, was done as he was well dug into the bank. They continued their shelling for an hour, after which they turned their big guns on to Tunnel Hill for a short time. This hill was held by the Liverpool Regiment, who lost two killed and twelve wounded, of whom five died of their wounds next day.
The works on Devon Post and Cemetery Hill were strengthened during the next few nights until the front walls were from twelve to fifteen feet thick. Most of this work was carried on in heavy rain, which greatly added to the general discomfort of the men.
On November 28th the garrison was encouraged by the information that the Boers had been badly beaten near Estcourt, that 3000 of them had gone off (it was not reported where to!), and that General Clery was at Colenso.
On November 30th General Clery opened up signalling communication with Ladysmith by flashing his message with his searchlight at night on to the clouds. The message, which was in cipher, could be easily read by every one, but the garrison was unable to reply as they had no searchlight.
In the early days of December, in order to keep the men as far as possible in a condition for any eventualities, the Regiment evacuated their works twice a week at dusk and went for a march twice round the town. Starting at nightfall the works were regained about 10 p.m. The exercise was good for the men's limbs and the change of scene undoubtedly nourishment for their minds, but it is doubtful if it conduced to the health of the men, as during the march they were smothered in their own dust, and also in that kicked up by the artillery horses exercising at the same time and on the same roads. It certainly gave the men something to think about besides rocks and stones and building, and the walking stretched their legs.
On December 2nd Colonel Knox, desirous of carrying on the work of building in the daytime as well as by night, ordered some canvas screens to be put up in the Post, behind which the men could work concealed from view. But although stained the colour of the surroundings, the screens were seen at once by the Boers, and the battalion was much troubled by a new gun stationed near Pepworth Hill, which opened fire shortly after they were erected. One shell from this howitzer topping the hill pitched within a yard of the guard tent underneath, which was full of men. No damage was done, however, beyond scattering the ammunition boxes and covering the men with mud. The screens were then taken down, and on the disappearance of the noxious objects the firing ceased, and the Boers appeared pacified. At 10 p.m., whilst the Regiment was at work building on Cemetery Hill, an order came to parade at once and march to a rendezvous down in the town in Lyle Street. It was given out "for operations near Limit Hill." On reaching the rendezvous it was learnt that the force consisted of two brigades of infantry, some batteries, and all the mounted troops. After half an hour's wait, a staff officer rode up to say that the operations were cancelled.
About this time the siege newspaper, the Ladysmith Lyre, came into existence. There were only four issues, on account of want of paper.
Shelling continued daily with but little or no result. The Boers were apparently much incensed with the Town Hall, upon which the Geneva red cross flag was flying, and which was being used as a hospital, for they continually fired at it till the flag was taken down early in December, when they scarcely ever fired at it again.
On December 7th General Hunter made his sortie to Gun Hill. The secret was well kept. In the evening, at dark, the battalion was sent to Abattis Hill with orders to entrench, the scheme ostensibly being that a force was to go out and stir up the Boers round Pepworth Hill whilst the Regiment threatened to attack the Boers on the other flank.
At 11 p.m. a letter was received telling the officer commanding the Devon Regiment to meet General Hunter under Devon Post at 11.30 p.m. Shortly after this hour a force of Colonial mounted infantry, with General Hunter at their head, passed the post to assault Gun Hill. This they found but sparsely guarded, and, dispersing the small picquet, they succeeded in blowing up the two big guns and a Maxim located there. The Regiment remained out till the operation was over. It had been placed in this position on Abattis Hill to act as a flank guard, with the object of preventing the Boers attacking from the left round General Hunter's rear, which was very open, and to act as a support upon which General Hunter could fall back in case his surprise failed and he was driven in.
This successful operation was accomplished with the loss of seven men wounded.
The operation that followed was not, however, so successful. Colonel Knox reported that his mounted troops had gone out eight miles up the Newcastle road past Limit Hill, and had not met or seen a single Boer. He suggested that the Cavalry Brigade should go out and capture and burn the Boer stores at Elandslaagte Station. They proceeded to carry out the suggestion, starting at 7 a.m., but they fell in with a large force of Boers under Pepworth Hill who had been in their laagers when the reconnaissance was made and had thus escaped detection. They came under heavy musketry fire as well as shell fire, and retired back to Ladysmith with a loss of three killed and fifteen wounded.
On December 10th an attack on Devon Post was expected, and precautions taken accordingly. The attack, however, did not come off.
On the night of December 10th the Rifle Brigade made a sortie and blew up a Boer big gun on Surprise Hill. This attack was admirably planned and carried out, but the losses sustained by the Rifle Brigade were heavy, being fourteen killed and fifty wounded out of the five companies employed. The Boers attacked them as they were retiring; there was a good deal of indiscriminate firing, and the bayonet was freely used. The Boers lost considerably, partly in the general mix-up, from their own fire, and partly owing to the close-quarter combat with the Rifle Brigade.
The Regiment, with other troops, was ordered out with all baggage on the night of the 12th, the rendezvous being the iron bridge on the Vanreenen's Pass road. On arrival there the order was received to go home. This was supposed to be a rehearsal for a sortie. On December 13th General Buller's guns were heard for the first time due south from Ladysmith, and at 8 p.m. the Regiment and transport were inspected by Colonel Knox to see if everything was complete and in readiness to move out, and on the 14th the Regiment was placed with other troops in a flying column formed under the personal command of Sir George White.
It was expected by all that General Buller would relieve the Ladysmith garrison on December 15th.
The following day, December 15th, a very heavy cannonade commenced at 6 a.m. in the direction of Colenso; and at 7 a.m. a heliograph message was sent into Ladysmith which told the garrison that "the Boers are suffering terribly from our thirty guns and 23,000 men." The cannonade ceased at about 1 p.m.
This day the meat ration was reduced to 9 oz. per man, but 1-1/4 lb. of bread per man was still being issued.
December 16th being Dingaan's Day, the garrison of Ladysmith was treated to heavy shell fire at daybreak.
On December 17th the Regiment and the Gordon Highlanders were told off as reserve battalions under the immediate orders of Sir George White.
It was officially given out that Sir R. Buller had been unable to make good his advance at Colenso, and that the garrison must be prepared to hold on for another two weeks. The orders publishing this news stated that the "Lieutenant-General regrets to have to announce that the Lieutenant-General Commanding-in-Chief in South Africa failed to make good his first attack on Colenso; reinforcements will therefore not arrive as early as expected."
On the evening of December 18th the Regiment gave over the good works they had completed on Devon Post and Cemetery Hill to the Liverpool Regiment, and moved into the latter's camp at Tunnel Hill, or, as it was otherwise known, Railway Cutting Camp.
* * * * *
Helpmakaar Hill, on account of being so exposed, had, at the commencement of the siege, been considered indefensible and untenable.
Under the vigorous superintendence of Colonel Knox, the commandant of the section who planned the defences, the works on this hill had by now been almost completed by the officers and men of the Battalion.
The defences were as complete as possible—flanking works, covered ways, splinter and shell-proof covers were dug or erected, and the main trenches had been turned into defensible barracks with head cover to keep off the rain.
It was possible to proceed from the reserve under Cemetery Hill up to and round the front and main works, and round the other side of the hill back to the reserve again, without once coming into view from the Boer positions on Gun Hill, Bulwana, or elsewhere, a six-feet covering wall having been built for this purpose. It was thus possible to send reinforcements to any part of the works without exposure to fire or view.
During the siege this post was never attacked or seriously threatened.
The Regiment, being now in the general reserve, was ordered to be ready to jump into mule wagons, and be carted at a gallop to any place where they might be required, at any moment, and on the 20th the manoeuvre was put into execution.
It was not altogether a success.
At dusk the Regiment proceeded to the railway station and the men were duly loaded up in the wagons. A start was then made, but as the second wagon nearly took the whole station with it in its endeavours to negotiate the first corner of the galvanized iron goods shed, no great speed was effected, for this wagon and the demolished corner of the shed blocked all further egress from the station till the road was cleared. Shortly afterwards the wagons, at last let loose, came into contact with the two city filth carts, the "Powerful" and "Terrible," which were parading about the streets on their own. These exceedingly powerful ironclads completed the defeat of the mule wagons, upset finally their order of going, and the retirement was effected in detachments. The manoeuvre was never repeated.
Wonderful tales and reports were continually being circulated from day to day. On one day there would perhaps be no news of any value, followed on the next day by the most woeful tidings; but on the third day, as if ashamed of themselves for furnishing such bad news the previous day, the tale-bearers would turn the winter of its discontent into the most glorious summer, by sending forth to the garrison shaves bubbling over with pleasing items.
On the evening of the 21st a heliograph message was received from the 2nd Battalion, which was with Sir Redvers Buller, stating that at the Colenso fight on the 15th December Colonel Bullock, Major Walter, and Lieutenant Smyth-Osbourne had been taken prisoners, and Captains Goodwyn, Vigors, and Radcliffe and Lieutenants Gardiner and Storey wounded.
After standing to arms daily at 4.15 a.m. till daylight, the Regiment was employed in building long stone traverses, behind which the men were to live, and this work was carried on again in the evening after dark by the light of candles. The dimensions of the traverses were sixty yards long, eight feet high, six feet (of stonework) thick at the top, and nine feet of stonework at the base, the earth from a ditch in front being thrown up at an angle of 1/1. They had a topping of sand-bags, with intervals for air passage; and a tent, stretched lengthways from the top down to ground, afforded the men shelter and accommodation.
On December 22nd a serious catastrophe happened to a party of the Gloucester Regiment, who were quartered in a small traverse near those occupied by the Regiment. A shell caught the whole party of twelve men as they were sitting away from the cover of the traverse. Five were killed, four died of their wounds almost immediately, and three were severely wounded.
A man with a telescope was now placed on the look-out, with orders to blow a whistle if he saw the big gun on Bulwana turned towards the lines when firing; and as the shell took about thirty seconds from the time of the discharge to reach its mark, the warning gave the men time to get under cover.
There were frequently some very amusing incidents when the look-out man blew his whistle. One morning whilst the business at the orderly-room was being conducted, and a culprit being told off, the whistle gave warning that the gun on Bulwana had fired, and in the direction of Tunnel Hill. As all could not get inside the orderly-room shelter, which was merely a hole dug into the side of the hill, there was a general scuttle and sauve qui peut. One officer, trying to get into the orderly-room from outside, ran into another who was escaping from it to get into the first traverse, and each tumbled over the other. The Quartermaster, trying to crawl on his hands and knees under the tenting of the second traverse, got blocked out, and at the same time shut out another officer flying for safety. At the same moment a man jumped from above on the Quartermaster's back, and he, fancying that it was the shell and that his end had come, gave himself up for lost. All, however, ended happily for the immediate neighbourhood, for the look-out man had made a mistake, and the shell, instead of arriving at Tunnel Hill, crashed into the town.
All these incidents and accidents, individually very serious at the time, were always amusing in the telling as soon as the tyranny was overpast, and, resulting in a hearty laugh, helped to relieve the strain.
The London Gazette of October 9th was signalled into Ladysmith by the 2nd Battalion. This stated: "Major Park to be Lieutenant-Colonel; Davies, 2nd-in-Command; Ellicombe, Major; Radcliffe, Captain."
A list of prices at this time in Ladysmith at the public auction is of interest:—
Eggs per dozen, 11s. 6d. Small vegetable marrow, 1s. 6d. Twelve small carrots, 2s. 6d. Small water melon (worth 1d.), 6s. 6d. Condensed milk per tin, 5s. 6d. Fifty-two small potatoes, L1 10s. Chickens, each, 8s. Ducks, 13s. 6d. Dutch butter in tins, 6s. 6d. per lb. 1/2d. Manilla cigars, 1s.
There was no English smoking tobacco obtainable, and one bottle of whisky changed hands at L5 10s.
December 25th, Christmas Day.
"Hark, the herald angels sing!" was forcibly brought to notice by the whistling of shells passing overhead at daylight. No Divine Service was therefore held. The garrison received the following message from Her Majesty the Queen: "I wish you and all my brave soldiers and sailors a happy Christmas. God protect and bless you all.—V.R.I." In the evening there was a soldiers' sing-song in the lines, which was finished off by three most hearty cheers for Her Majesty. Christmas Day completed the eighth week of the siege.
The losses which the 2nd Battalion sustained at Colenso were heliographed into Ladysmith. These were 15 N.C.O.'s and 10 men killed, 72 wounded, and 33 taken prisoners. This was in addition to the officers wounded and taken prisoners already mentioned.
On December 27th, shortly after breakfast, a shell from the big gun from Bulwana pitched and burst in the officers' mess shelter, where fourteen officers had taken cover on the whistle being blown. Lieutenant A.F. Dalzel was killed and the following were wounded:—
Lieutenant P.H. Price-Dent, dangerously in the head. Lieutenant Caffin, dangerously in arm and shoulder. Lieutenant Byrne, slightly. Lieutenant Tringham, slightly. Lieutenant Kane, slightly. Lieutenant Scafe, slightly. Lieutenant Twiss, slightly. Lieutenant Blunt, slightly. Captain Lafone, slightly. Private Laycock, mess waiter, slightly.
The wounded were taken into the Railway Cutting and there cared for. They were then sent down to hospital in a church in the town. Lieutenant Dalzel was buried that night in the cemetery after dark during a heavy thunderstorm and in torrents of rain.
The men had a bad experience on the night of the 29th. The rain flooded their bivouacs, and the morning found blankets and clothes floating about in the water in the trenches. Later on, however, the weather cleared, the sun came out, and everything was soon dried.
At the latter end of December marksmen were sent out daily to the hill-tops some 1000 yards in front of the line of forts to act as countersnipers to the Boers, who continually fired at the grazing guards. One man was hit twice in one day by a Boer sniper, but only slightly wounded. It would appear from a letter written by a Boer that these marksmen made it very uncomfortable for the Boer snipers. In the letter, which was afterwards published in a Boer newspaper, the correspondent, writing to a friend in Pretoria, said: "I and my two comrades went out this morning to fire into the English position. We had only just got to our hiding-place when one of my comrades was shot dead; shortly after, my other comrade was badly wounded, and I lay down and hid the whole day till dark, when I got back to the laager." This would go to prove that, comparing him with the Boer, the British infantry soldier is not such a duffer with his weapon as some of those in authority were in the habit of asserting.
There was a good deal of musketry fire whilst the scouts were out, and it was supposed that shots were being exchanged with the Boer snipers; but when the marksmen, who were posted on the hills near the Orange Free State Junction Station and just above the abandoned piggery, came back with portions of the carcasses of pigs, it was evident that all the firing had not been at Transvaal Boers.
Lieutenant Price-Dent died at 6 a.m. on the 31st December in the Intombi Hospital. It was found that a piece of shell had penetrated his brain and lodged there. He was buried in the Intombi cemetery.
Up to the end of December things had been going fairly well with the besieged. The Regiment had had plenty of hard work to keep them fit, although they had been exposed to the elements and had had to rough it considerably. But nothing in the way of disease had troubled them. With the advent of January, however, whether it was from want of exercise or from the surroundings of their new camp, disease in the form of fever and dysentery became rife. They had been situated formerly for the most part on a well-drained kopje, whereas now they were down on the flat, and in a position that was not altogether healthy. There were no longer any comforts in the shape of tobacco, etc., and the news given to them from the outside world in the place of food was of so poor a quality that the men's minds as well as their bodies were becoming affected.
The Regiment kept heart under the depressing circumstances in a wonderful manner, and when Sir Redvers Buller kept putting off his arrival from day to day and week to week, the news that he was coming at last was generally received with a smile as if it was rather a joke.
The Boers were very busy on New Year's Day, 1900. It was supposed that a number of excursion trains filled with the youth and beauty of the Transvaal had arrived, and consequently the young Boer blood was all for showing off. The big gun on Bulwana threw in the aggregate during the day 1-1/2 tons of iron into the town, with the result that two men were killed. There was likewise a good deal of sniping, chiefly at the Indian "grass cuts."
One shell thrown into Ladysmith on New Year's Day had engraved on it "Compliments of the season," and contained a bursting charge of liquorice in the place of melinite, and a paper on which was written:—
"Good morning Mr. Franchise, don't be so cowardly to stay in holes, ye brave hero.
"Your faithfully, "SMALL LONG TOM."
Another blind shell picked up was full of sweetmeats.
Messages of good wishes to the garrison were received from Her Majesty, from Sir Redvers Buller, and from the soldiers, sailors, and civilians of Hong Kong.
Sir George White came round to see the Regiment in the evening, and informed the officers that Sir Redvers Buller would make no move for a fortnight. This was definite news, at any rate.
At dawn on January 3rd most of the naval guns fired off a large amount of shell, and there was considerable guessing amongst the uninitiated as to what was or were the targets. Shells fell at the foot of Bulwana, near the searchlight on the top, and also near the big gun. It was afterwards learnt that all the shells were meant for one particular spot on Bulwana, viz. the big gun.
On occasions it was the duty of the Regiment to send one company to dismount the 4.7 gun known as "Lady Anne" and place it on carts preparatory to its being shifted elsewhere. This was easily accomplished at the commencement of the siege in one night by 100 men. At the end of the siege, however, owing to the weakness of the men, the task was never completed under two nights, and then by 200 men.
About this time one company of the Regiment was ordered down to the railway station as a station and bridge guard. This was a three-days' post, and was much appreciated, as the men, being quite concealed amongst trees, had more freedom, and the officer in command had a railway carriage to sleep in.
On January 5th the following moves took place, and as the position of companies is important, they are given in full.
Three companies proceeded under Major Curry to Observation Hill to relieve the companies of the 60th Rifles ordered to Caesar's Camp. One company was ordered to the railway station as bridge guard. A half company was sent to form the Bell's Spruit picquet, the other half remaining at the Railway Cutting. In the early hours of January 6th three fresh companies relieved those on Observation Hill, the latter returning to the Railway Cutting; the two companies at the railway bridge and at Bell's Spruit stood fast in their positions of the previous day.
The Boer attack of January 6th on the positions round Ladysmith commenced on Wagon Hill at about 2.45 a.m., and the Boers were not finally repulsed till after dark on the evening of the same day.
As the great attack has been so ably described by various authors, it will suffice here to give a rough outline of what took place on Caesar's Camp and Wagon Hill prior to the companies of the Regiment reaching the latter place.
The Boers attacked Wagon Hill at about 2.45 a.m., and amidst a good deal of confusion on the top, where 4:7 gun was in the act of being mounted, gained possession of the front crest. Their attempt to take Wagon Hill itself failed. Reinforcements consisting of two companies Gordon Highlanders and three squadrons of I.L.H. were sent to assist the 60th Rifles, the men of the I.L.H., and the detachment of Sappers already engaged with the Boers.
An hour later the attack on Caesar's Camp developed. The Manchesters were prepared for them, and one company Gordon Highlanders was sent to reinforce. The Boers, unable to advance against the front crest of Caesar's Camp, attempted to turn the flank of the Manchesters along the northern slopes. This attempt was foiled by the advance of the one company Gordon Highlanders, assisted by the 53rd Battery which had come into action on the plain below. The Rifle Brigade reinforced Caesar's Camp at about 7 a.m., and two more companies of the Gordons were sent there at about 2 p.m. By 10 a.m. the Boers had been pushed back off Caesar's Camp, and Wagon Hill was reported nearly clear.
Wagon Hill was further reinforced by the 18th Hussars at 10 a.m.
At 1 p.m. the Boers, who had always hung on to their crest line, again attempted to rush Wagon Hill point, and though they gained a temporary advantage failed to establish themselves.
Sir George White ordered that the hill should be cleared of Boers at all costs before nightfall, and he sent the 5th Lancers and 19th Hussars to support the troops already at Wagon Hill, and at the same time three companies of the Devons were ordered to proceed there with all dispatch.
At 10 a.m. the three companies of the Devons, which were in camp, commanded respectively by Captain W.B. Lafone, Lieutenant Masterson with Lieutenant Walker, and Lieutenant Field, the whole commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Park, had been ordered to proceed to the camp near Iron Bridge vacated that morning by the Gordon Highlanders, to be ready as a reserve if wanted.
At about 3.30 p.m. these three companies received orders to proceed at once to Wagon Hill to reinforce Colonel Ian Hamilton's command and to push on, as help was urgently required. The Adjutant, Captain H.S.L. Ravenshaw, was sent back to camp to order rations and water to be sent out. Wagon Hill was reached at 4.45 p.m., and it was then ascertained that the 5th Lancers and 19th Hussars had already been merged into the firing line, and that a party of forty or fifty Boers were still in possession of the hill some 100 yards in front of the ridge held by the Imperial Light Horse, and directly in front of where the three companies were then halted under cover, that these Boers had been holding on all day there and inflicting great loss, and that our troops had been unable to dislodge them. Colonel Park was asked if he could turn them out by rushing them with the bayonet. He answered, "We will try." After the three companies had been formed up in column with bayonets fixed and magazines charged, Colonel Park gave the order to advance at fifty paces interval in quick time, and when the top of the ridge was reached to charge the position occupied by the Boers.
The charge took place in a blinding hail-storm, a time well chosen, as the hail was beating into the faces of the Boers. The men, before reaching the place where they formed up for the charge, were wet through, and had put on their warm coats which they had carried strapped on to their belts.
When the storm was at its height, Colonel Park gave the order to charge. Lieutenant Field, who commanded the leading company, rushed forward up the slope, shouting, "Company, double charge!" He was immediately followed at a distance of about ten yards by Masterson's company, which was immediately followed by Lafone's. As they got to the top of the crest they came in view of the sangar of rocks held by the I.L.H. At the corner of this they had to change direction half right, and the moment they reached it came under fire from the Boers. There was necessarily some crowding at this corner, owing to the change of direction, and the fact that the companies in their eagerness had followed so soon the one behind the other. There was, however, no halting, no dwelling here. On they went to reach their goal, 130 yards away, over perfectly flat open ground, fired into at short range from right, left, and front. Three-parts of the way across Park directed the rear company more to the right, the position the Boers occupied being in a semicircle.
The enemy held on, firing most heavily, until the charging lines were within fifteen yards of them, and then ran down the slope and disappeared behind a ridge of rocks some forty yards ahead, beyond which the ground was dead and fell steeply away to the front. Almost before the men could be secured in the position they had won, bullets began to come in quickly from the right and left, and the cover of the rocks had to be sought as several men were hit. A few of the Boers who had been dislodged also crept back to the low ridge of rocks in front and began firing, and it was at this time that Captain Lafone and Lieutenant Field were hit. Lieutenant Walker, Somerset Light Infantry, and about thirty-five men were hit during the charge. Colonel Park was then the only officer left, the three companies being commanded by non-commissioned officers.
Lieutenant Walker was one of the last shot dead in the charge. He was shot through the head (as were most of the killed) within fifteen yards of the kopje held by the Boers.
Lieutenant Field rushed forward beyond this kopje and lay down in the open and commenced firing at the Boers at the crest just in front. He was very shortly afterwards shot through the head.
Captain Lafone was shot shortly before Lieutenant Field. He was in the act of firing at the time, taking aim, and was shot by a Boer lying in the grass some twenty-five yards away on his right rear. Before he was killed he had suggested to Lieutenant Masterton that some one should go back to the I.L.H. sangar to ask them to direct their fire on to some Boers on the left front; these were firing into the dead and wounded who had been hit during the charge and left out in the open.
Lieutenant Masterton at once volunteered, and started to run back over the 130 yards. He got most of the way across when he was hit in the legs by a bullet, but he continued his course, and being struck again fell, and was dragged behind cover by the I.L.H. He delivered his message.
The position won was held until the Boers retired under cover of darkness. The men were then placed in defensive positions, and picquets told off.
The wounded were subsequently cared for, and the dead left where they had fallen till daylight.
Colonel Park described the fire of the Boers as like the crackle of a piece of gorse in a blazing fire. Colour-Sergeant Palmer, who so greatly distinguished himself both during and after the charge, said the air was hot with bullets. His rifle was shot in two at the lower band as he was taking aim, splinters grazing his face and hands. Half the survivors had their clothing shot through, and the majority of the killed were found to have been hit two or three times.
The strength of the force was 5 officers and 184 non-commissioned officers and men, of whom 3 officers and 14 men were killed and 1 officer and 34 men were wounded.
Although the loss was great, viz. nearly one-third of the total number, it is a matter of surprise that more were not hit during the run of 130 yards, exposed as they were for about three minutes to magazine fire at a point-blank range. It can be accounted for by the fact that the Boers crouching behind the rocks were rather below than above the level of the men, and their fire being consequently directed upwards, the bullets passed high and over the heads of the charging companies. This would explain why the majority of the killed were shot through the head. Lieutenant Walker was hit in the chin, the bullet cutting his chin-strap and passing out at the back and top of his head.
The following morning, as the men were collecting and parading preparatory to marching back to the railway cutting, Sir George White rode up and addressed them. Shaking Colonel Park by the hand he said: "I congratulate and thank you for the splendid work you and your men did yesterday. It was magnificently done. I am afraid you suffered very heavily, but you must remember that such work as that cannot be done for the Empire without loss."
Whilst the three companies were performing such gallant deeds on the southern defences, the three companies under Major Curry were holding their own on the north-west defences at Observation Hill.
The Boers attacked this post heavily in the morning, and were supported by six field-guns, which were supposed to have been the Colenso guns of General Buller's army, shrapnel being continually burst with excellent precision over the defences.
The account of the fighting which took place is told in Major Curry's own words:—
"The battle of Ladysmith commenced between 2 and 3 a.m. on Caesar's Camp and soon we were engaged all round. The three companies which had proceeded to Observation Hill originally had just been relieved by three fresh companies. At about 4 a.m. Lieutenant Emerson reported to me that there was a party of Boers to his front, that he had fired on them, and that they had retired. I thought it was the usual picquet and that they had gone right back (it was too dark to see much); but such was not the case, for they had concealed themselves in a fold in the ground about 300 yards to our front. Their strength must have been between seventy and eighty.
"The enemy brought fire to bear on us from a 40-pounder howitzer, a field-gun, and a hotchkiss on Surprise Hill, and from one or two field-guns on the hill to our right over Hyde's Farm. They pounded away all the morning, and brought a continuous rifle fire on our position as well. At about 9.30 a.m. I heard a rattle of musketry from our centre work, and when I went up there I found that the enemy, who had concealed themselves in the fold in the ground in the early morning, had advanced right up the hill and had got within a few yards of our sangars before being seen. We killed nine and wounded twelve. They retired again to their cover, where they remained for the greater part of the day, slipping away by ones and twos back to their position. At about 4 p.m. a tremendous thunder and hail storm came on, which blotted out everything. The fire, which had ceased as the storm came on, was not renewed. Our loss was two killed by rifle fire, when the Boers made their attack. Our sangars were frequently breached by the 40-lb. shell during the day, but there was no loss from shell fire."
These three companies were relieved by the Leicesters the next evening.
Lieutenant Masterson was rewarded with the Victoria Cross, and the following is the official account of his gallant deed:—
"During the action at Wagon Hill, on the 6th January, 1900, Lieutenant Masterson commanded with the greatest gallantry and dash one of the three companies of his regiment, which charged a ridge held by the enemy, and captured the position.
"The companies were then exposed to a most heavy and galling fire from the right and left front. Lieutenant Masterson undertook to give a message to the Imperial Light Horse, who were holding a ridge some hundred yards behind, to fire to the left front and endeavour to check the enemy's fire.
"In taking this message he crossed an open space of a hundred yards, which was swept by a most heavy cross fire, and although badly wounded in both thighs managed to crawl in and deliver his message before falling exhausted into the Imperial Light Horse trench. His unselfish heroism was undoubtedly the means of saving several lives."
The gallant conduct of Colour-Sergeant Palmer was brought to notice under the following circumstances: When three companies of the Regiment were ordered to charge the ridge held by the enemy on Wagon Hill on January 6th, 1900, Colour-Sergeant Gilbert Palmer was with the leading company, and he at once dashed out to the front with most conspicuous bravery, and went straight for the point from which the heaviest fire was coming. The enemy ran before they were reached, but the three companies were exposed to a galling fire from the right, left, and front. Colour-Sergeant Palmer got behind a rock and shot several of the enemy, at the same time keeping a constant eye upon his own men, telling them when and where to fire, and when to take cover. When all the company officers were either killed or wounded, he at once recognized his position as senior non-commissioned officer, and was invaluable in getting orders passed to the other companies, and in superintending the men till dark, when the enemy retired. He then, acting under orders, personally placed the outpost line, saw to the collection of the dead and wounded, and, in fact, rendered invaluable assistance in every way.
His dash and pluck during the bayonet charge, his coolness and steady courage under a heavy cross fire, and the power of command and of quick and correct judgment displayed by him were most brilliant. Colour-Sergeant Palmer's name was previously brought to notice for gallant conduct at the battle of Elandslaagte on October 21st, 1899, so that this made the second occasion on which he conspicuously distinguished himself.
The names of the following non-commissioned officers and men were also brought to notice for gallantry on the occasion:—
Lance-Corporal Gilbert Young. " " Frank John Rowe. Private Henry Brimmicombe. " R.G. Hansford. " E. Norman. " H. Cox.
The following message from Her Majesty the Queen was received by Sir George White for promulgation:—
"To Sir George White,
"Warmly congratulate you and all under your command on your brilliant success. Greatly admire conduct of Devonshire Regiment.
The following telegram was also received:—
"O/C Devon Regiment,
"G.O.C. directs me to convey direct to you the following message from Sir R. Buller:—
"'Congratulate all troops on gallant defence, especially Devon Regiment.'"
The losses sustained by the garrison of Ladysmith on the 6th January were:—
Killed. Wounded. Officers 18 25
Men 150 224
Total killed and wounded, 417.
By the death of Captain Lafone the Regiment lost one of the kindest-hearted and best officers that ever led a company.
The Boers' losses are estimated at 64 killed and 119 wounded. This estimate may be considered low, for the Standard and Diggers' News, copies of which were found later on in the war, gave six full-length columns of killed and wounded amongst the various commandos.
A large donga was utilized by the Boers as a dressing station. The violent storm on the afternoon of the 6th filled all the dry dongas and turned them at once into mountain torrents. It is said that all the wounded Boers in this donga were swept out into the Klip River and drowned. The dead of the Regiment were buried with those of other regiments, in a grave under Wagon Hill. Captain Lafone and Lieutenant Field were buried in the cemetery in Ladysmith.
On the morning of January 8th all the wounded were sent by train to Intombi Camp, including Lieutenant Masterson, who was doing well.
On January 9th the Regiment was concentrated at the railway cutting, the company at the railway station having been permanently relieved from the post by a company of the Liverpool Regiment. The battalion was thus ready to be moved to any portion of the defences requiring assistance, in case of attack.
The estimation in which the battalion was held at this time by the Ladysmith garrison was well borne out by a remark made by Sir George White. "The Devons," he said, "have never failed me yet. On the 6th they held one place and took another."
A scare in the evening that the Boers were to attack again in the morning caused various preparations to be made for their advent. The garrison stood to arms at 3.15 a.m. awaiting the attack.
It is a curious fact that the Regiment was never ordered to stand to arms in the morning before three o'clock at any time previous to or after the 6th January, and the only time the Boers made a night attack they did so at 2.15 a.m. This was on January 6th, on which day the Regiment was ordered to stand to arms at 4.15 a.m.
During the night of January 9th-10th the naval guns fired in the direction of Surprise Hill, and whilst this was proceeding the mountain battery's two remaining guns also threw some star shell in the same direction. The Boers were hugely elated at the sight of the star shell. This was probably the first time they had seen them. They turned their searchlight on to the stars when they fell on the ground, and cheered lustily. They evidently considered that it was a performance got up for their special entertainment by Messrs. Brock and Co., direct from the Crystal Palace.
The cause of all this shell fire was not known, but it would appear as if information had been received that the Boers had been collecting at the back of Surprise Hill the evening before, with a view to a renewed attack. Nothing, however, in the shape of an attack occurred, and at 3 a.m. firing ceased, and the sun rose in the morning in tranquillity.
On the 11th three messages were received by the garrison congratulating them on their good work of January 6th: one from the Governor of Natal, one from Valparaiso, and one from General Buller. The last named stated in his telegram that he would relieve Ladysmith as soon as possible.
It was stated that Sir George White had heliographed to Sir Redvers Buller informing him that there were over 2000 sick and wounded in Intombi Hospital Camp, that he could not hold out for much longer, and that he must not expect any assistance from him when he made his effort. Sir Redvers Buller had replied that he was sparing no effort to push forward, and that he hoped to be ready soon.
The number of patients in the Intombi Hospital Camp had increased by January 10th to—
Over 400 cases of dysentery; " 600 cases of enteric fever; " 200 cases not yet diagnosed, but probably enteric fever; " 800 cases wounded and various.
The daily rations of the garrison now consisted of 1/2 lb. of tinned meat and 1 lb. of bread per man.
Had it not been for the Indian Contingent there would have been no flour at all in Ladysmith. All the flour, all the rum, in fact almost everything that the garrison lived upon with the exception of meat, was brought from India with the Indian Contingent, which carried with it six months' supply of every description.
From January 12th, another duty assigned to the Regiment was the sending of two companies every morning at two o'clock to the examining guard on the Newcastle road, which was situated just under the 4.7 naval gun "Lady Anne." They had orders to stop there till 4.30 a.m. to check any rush of Boers into Ladysmith down the Newcastle road. Later on, the ground in front of this post was covered with barbed wire entanglement, but up to this time there was nothing at this point to prevent the Boers galloping right into the town.
As these two companies went to their places on the 12th, the Boer searchlight on Bulwana was flashing everywhere, and the mountain guns throwing star shell. It looked as if both sides expected an attack. The officer commanding the two companies had orders to operate on the flank of any attack made on the northern defences.
On the following morning the garrison was told that General Buller was moving round by Springfield; in the evening it was given out that he was moving west of Chieveley and Colenso, and was twelve miles from Ladysmith; and on the 14th the news came in that he was at Potgieter's Drift, and that General Warren was across the Tugela River; and in confirmation of this last information heavy gun fire was heard on the 17th in the direction of Potgieters, and the relieving army's balloon was seen on the following day in the same direction.
As an attack was expected on the night of the 19th on Observation Hill, three companies of the Regiment under Major Curry proceeded there in the evening and bivouacked, the remainder of the Regiment being under orders to hold themselves in readiness to proceed there at a moment's notice. The night, however, passed quietly, and the companies returned to their camp before dawn.
On January 20th better news was received from Sir Redvers Buller; his advance had been very satisfactory. Reports stated that he had reached Acton Holmes, and that four brigades had crossed the Tugela. His shells were seen falling thickly on Thabba Nyama mountain.
The tea and sugar rations were, however, cut down to half. The health of the men began now to generally improve, probably owing to better drinking water which was obtainable from the condenser, recently arranged for, at the railway station.
Very heavy gun fire, night and day, was continually heard from the direction of Spion Kop and Acton Holmes, and on the 23rd a demonstration was made from Ladysmith, the mounted troops going out under cover of the fire of all the guns. The Ladysmith guns on all the fronts opened, but were answered only by the Boer guns on Gun Hill and Bulwana. There was but little musketry fire from Pepworth direction, and Surprise Hill seemed deserted.
Still no relief appeared, and the rations were:—
12 oz. of beef, 1 lb. of bread. Half ration of sugar. Half ration of tea.
An order published on the 23rd gave hope:—
"Sir George White has received further satisfactory news as to Sir R. Buller's advance. The relief of Ladysmith may be said to be within measurable distance."
Very heavy gun fire was heard from 3 a.m. on the 24th till 2 p.m., and in the evening further encouragement was circulated:—
"Reassuring news has been received from Sir R. Buller."
No news from the relieving army was received on the 25th. Heavy firing continued, and in the evening the Boers were seen trekking from the direction of Spion Kop, all the laagers on the rear slopes of the mountain clearing off and making for Vanreenen's Pass and Newcastle. In fact, the whole country round Spion Kop seemed about to be hurriedly abandoned by the Boers. Great excitement prevailed in Ladysmith.
An investigation of the slopes of Spion Kop through the glasses at daybreak on the following morning proved, however, disappointing, for the laagers which had cleared off the night before were back again in their places. Moreover, the Boers round Ladysmith were very truculent on the morning of the 26th, which necessitated the garrison standing to arms till 6 a.m.