PART I. ON THE TREK.
THE OCCUPATION OF JOHANNESBURG.
ORANGE GROVE,NEAR JOHANNESBURG. Saturday, June 2nd, 1900.
On Monday, May 28th, at mid-day, we reached the Vaal River, where we stopped and took all our superfluous kit off the horses, which left us with one blanket per man; were provided with four biscuits each, rations for two days, and so with light hearts and saddles, we forded Viljoen's Drift; into the Transvaal--at last! We had a long march to catch Roberts, but this country provides one with heaps of things to break any monotony that might otherwise exist, for it is ever "'Ware wire," "'Ware hole," "'Ware rock," or "'Ware ant hill," and now and again in the thick, blinding cloud of reddish dust a man and horse go down, and another a-top of them. Soon after dark, nearly the whole of the veldt around us became illuminated, reminding me of a colossal Brock's Benefit or the Jubilee Fleet Illuminations. As a matter of fact, the veldt was a-fire. The effect was really wonderful. At about ten o'clock we reached the main body, and being informed that Roberts was about four miles ahead with the 11th Division, our captain decided to bivouac for the night, and catch him up in the morning. After ringing our horses, we wandered round in the dark, and finding a convenient cart in a barn, soon after had a good enough fire to cook some meat we managed to secure, and then, dead fagged, turn in to sleep. [Here I would fain mutter an aside. When I was at home, a certain jingo song was much sung, perhaps is still; it was entitled, "A hot time in the Transvaal to-night." I want to find the man who wrote that song, and get him to bivouac with us for a night, at this time of the year, with an overcoat and one blanket.] We awoke well covered with frost, and the stars have seldom twinkled on a more miserable set of shivering devils than we of the 69th Company I.Y. A nibble at a biscuit, no coffee, and we were after Roberts. We caught him up after about an hour's riding; the 11th Division was moving out as we came up. The Guards' Brigade was going forward on our right, and Artillery rolling forward on our left, with ambulance waggons, carts, and general camp equipment joining in the procession. We moved smartly on, trotting past the Guards' Brigade, soldiers straggling on who had fallen out for one reason or another, or sitting by the wayside attending to sore feet, till we came up with the Staff. Our captain reported himself, and pro tem. we were attached to Lord Roberts' bodyguard.
[Illustration: "A hot time!"]
After a halt for our mid-day grub (we had none, having devoured our biscuits and emergency rations about three hours before, for which we were severely reprimanded by our captain, the Hon. T. A. B.), we proceeded again. At last we reached a ridge, and halting there, we beheld the Rand, and about six miles to our left, Johannesburg. A railway station having been captured, with about a dozen engines and rolling stock, the Army bivouacked for the night. We were in a field by a farmhouse, where we bought some meat very cheaply, and had a good supper, which would have been all the better had we had bread or even the once but now no more despised biscuits to eat with it. The next day we received orders to join the 7th Battalion I.Y., so saddled up, and passing through Elsburg and the Rose Dip, Primrose, and other mines, joined our new Battalion at Germiston. The 7th I.Y. Battalion is a West Country one, being composed of the Devon, Dorset, and Somerset Yeomanry and has seen some stiff service at Dewetsdorp. In the afternoon I had the misfortune to go out with our troop officer and another man to find our 4th troop, which had been left behind as baggage guard. Us did he lose (oh, the Yeomanry officer!) and when it was dark, we set out to find our company in the great camp the other side of Elsburg. What I said about that officer as I stumbled over rocks, ant hills, and holes, in these, my cooler moments, it would not become my dignity to record. The next day, Thursday (my birthday) promised to be an eventful one, and was. Johannesburg was to be attacked if it did not surrender by ten o'clock. With well-cleaned rifles and tightly-girthed horses, we moved out with our Battalion at nine o'clock to take up our position. Our duty was to attack the waterworks, if there was any resistance. However, as you know, the place capitulated; news was brought to us that the fort had surrendered, and we at once rapidly trotted up to it to take possession. Arrived outside, we were dismounted and marched into it, and drawn up in line facing the flagstaff on the fort wall. Suddenly a little ball was run up to the truck, a jerk and the Flag of England, the dear old Union Jack, was flying on the walls of the Johannesburg Fort. Then we cheered for our Queen, and again, when from somewhere a chromo of Her Gracious Majesty was produced and held aloft. Roberts' Raid had been successful. The Boer garrison seemed more relieved than depressed. Indeed, the commandant's servant gave us all the cold roast beef and bread that he had. Guards having been told off, and the horses picketed in the Police Barracks Yard, some of us had leave to go into the town. I was one of the fortunates. The enthusiasm of the inhabitants and their generous treatment of the men in khaki will be long remembered. The coloured population all showed great, gleaming rows of teeth, and ejaculated what I took to be meant for British cheers. Bread was given away, cigars and cigarettes forced (?) upon us, and meals stood right and left. A German girl, at a florist's, decorated about half-a-dozen of us with red, white and blue buttonholes. We were dirty and unshaven, but it mattered not, we were monarchs (Væ Victis!) and was it not my birthday? Into the shops we went. All were closed, but we persuaded some to open, and the good German Jew merchants let us commandeer within reason. Haversacks and pockets were filled. The actual prices of things were fairly high: sugar 1/6 per lb., condensed milk 2/-, golden syrup 4/- a small tin, and so on. One of our fellows, after being well fed, was sent back to us loaded with boxes of briar pipes to distribute, another with socks and vests; others were given Kruger pennies, as souvenirs. And all the day, and all the night, through the streets marched our troops, rolled and rattled our guns, our carts and waggons. And the night, oh, what a night! For seven miles I struggled on in charge of our ammunition cart, in search of our company, picking my way out of a mass of bullock waggons, carts, mules, and every imaginable vehicle; men asking for this brigade and that division on every hand; transport officers cursing, conductors exhorting, and niggers yelling and cracking whips.
WITHIN SIGHT OF EERSTIE FABRIKEN, E. OF PRETORIA. June 10th, 1900.
Fortunately for you in my last I left off rather abruptly in order to catch the post, or I should have bored you with a long account of my search with our ammunition cart for the company along the road to Pretoria from Johannesburg. For seven miles we--a comrade, myself, the blank Kaffir driver and mules--struggled and stumbled between long halts after our crowd, past waggons, carts, dhoolies, and chaises of all descriptions, the drivers of most of which were all inquiring for various divisions, brigades, battalions, companies, and such like. At last, at about one o'clock, having come up with the 11th Division, we halted and outspanned near the Guards' Brigade. At the first sign of daybreak I arose, and going forward about a quarter of a mile or less, came up with our company. The captain told me to get the mules inspanned and follow on. Owing to the infernal slowness of Tom, the driver, we got off late and had another terrible search, this time by daylight, to find the 7th Battalion I.Y., which at last we found camped at Orange Grove, about two miles from where we had bivouacked the preceding night. The next day (Sunday) we were looking to spending in a restful way, but this was not to be. We suddenly got the order to "saddle up," and forward to Pretoria we went. At about two in the afternoon we halted and picketed our horses not far from a farm. There rather a curious, though perhaps trivial, thing happened. Amongst the hundred-and-one little contretemps to which the Imperial Yeoman on active service is heir to, I had lost my nosebag on our night march from Johannesburg. This contained, besides the horse's feed, a tin of honey--of which I am as fond as any bear--and a pot of bloater paste, obtained (good word) at the Golden City from a "Sherman Shoe." Well, wandering in the direction of the farm, I came near a duck-pond and a clump of small trees, from which smoke was arising. My curiosity being aroused, I approached, and found that some Australians and Cape Boys were smoking out some bees. I arrived in the nick of time, and got a helmet-full of the most delicious honey in the comb I have tasted for many a day. On Monday, June 4th, we started for what we understood was to be our last march to Pretoria. We had the good fortune to be in the advance party. Soon after starting the Duke of Norfolk's horse fell in a hole and put his thigh out, so he lost the fun, for it was not long before, from the hills ahead of us, came rap, rap, and then the rat-tat-tat-tat of a machine gun. We dismounted, advanced extended, and opened fire. I aimed at the hills, so I know I hit something. The Boers retiring, we (that is the battalion) occupied one kopje and then another, the dust flicking up in front of us. Then boom! whish-sh-sh! a cloud of red dust shot up, and crack! and their artillery had come into action. One shell burst directly over our heads, then we were told to retire to our led horses, which necessitated crossing a road on which their fire was directed. Needless to say this was not an altogether uninteresting proceeding. And so the game went on, our guns coming into action in grand style. We got in for rather a warm rifle fire once; we galloped up, dismounted, and advanced to the top of a kopje which was covered with rather long grass. Buzz-buzz-buzz went the busy bullets seeking unwilling billets. They came very close there, snipping the grass tops close beside us. Here there were casualties in several of the other companies. One of our fellows was shot through the leg, and Mr. Ashby was knocked on the waist-belt by a spent bullet or piece of shell and rendered unconscious for some time. Later, in galloping across an exposed space to occupy another kopje, the captain's horse was shot under him, as well as several others. I think that is more than enough of the affair; I have no doubt you know better what really was done than we. No waggons coming up that night, we had no rations nor breakfast next day, so you see we do the thing in style, for we had started the day at four and only had a pannikin of coffee and a biscuit for breakfast. The next day we heard that the Pretoria Forts had surrendered and the Boer Forces withdrawn, and the whole army advanced at last on its final march to Pretoria, and this humble Ego, who months ago at home had thought and talked of this great event, and not for a moment anticipated participation in the same, formed a modest unit of the victorious horde. However, that day we (the 7th I.Y.) did not go into the capital, but camped outside of it. Not to be done, after we had picketed our horses, I made my way into a Kaffir suburb near us, and did well at a couple of stores, kept by German Jews, coming back with a sack of tinned edibles and some Kruger pennies. The next day a friend and I were lucky, and got leave into Pretoria. We returned to a grateful and enthusiastic troop, laden with quite a score-and-a-half of loaves, at six in the evening, and concluded a pleasant day with a high tea (very high) and a camp-fire sing-song. "Chorus, gentlemen!":
It's 'ard to sye good-bye to yer own native land, It's 'ard to give the farewell kiss, and parting grip of the 'and, It's 'ard to leave yer sweetheart, in foreign lands to roam; But it's 'arder still to sye good-bye to the ole folks at 'ome.
[Illustration: A Camp Sing Song. "They call me the Jewel of Asia."]
That night we entertained several ex-British soldier prisoners from Waterval.
My horse (late of the R.H.A.), picked up at Kroonstad, is going very strong. He is very useful to me as a means of locomotion, but otherwise no good feeling exists between us, for he is the most senseless, clumsy brute that I have ever come across in the animal kingdom. He is always treading on me and doing other idiotic and annoying acts. A few days ago he got entangled in the picketing ropes, and on my going to his assistance promptly fell forward upon me (he is the biggest horse I have seen in any Yeomanry Company) and nearly broke my instep. I have lately re-christened him "Juggernaut," which I think is not an inappropriate name. I had not much time to spare when we went into Pretoria, but could not help stopping to watch a couple of regiments go through--the Derbies with their band and the Camerons with their pipers. It was a grand sight to see those dirty, ragged, khaki-clad fellows tramping past the Volksraad, over which the Flag was flying, and note the tired but grim smile of satisfaction with which they regarded it. Quite two out of every four infantrymen I saw limped along with feet sore from marching over all sorts of roads and "where there was never a road." Some were getting along with the aid of sticks--most, if not all, of the officers march with sticks.
On Thursday, June 7th, we were still in camp outside of Pretoria, with a hospital, containing interesting cases of leprosy, small-pox and fever behind us; and about 200 yards to our left front hundreds of dead horses and a few vultures. At mid-day the usual unexpected thing happened, and it was "saddle up," and off we rode through the captured capital, passing Kruger's house, with the two lions outside the entrance, presented to him by Barney Barnato, and a group of typical old Boers seated at a table on the stoep. We bivouacked about six or eight miles east of the town, and the next morning caught up the army and took our place in advance again. At mid-day we halted within sight of Eerstie Fabriken. Some of us were having a siesta and others eating biscuits and bully beef, or smoking the pipe of peace (peace, when there is no peace!), when--Boom! whish-sh! over our heads, and about 100 yards behind us a group of horses was lost in a cloud of brown earth and dust. Then another and another came, and we got the order to take cover to our right, which was promptly obeyed. Our guns came into action, and later an armistice was arranged, for the convenience of Brother Boer, I presume, which to-day (Sunday) still continues.
[Footnote 1: Otherwise known as the "Hatherly Distillery," owned by a chameleon millionaire German-Jew, named Sammy Marks. Oh, that fine old Scotch whisky! The labels announcing this un-fact are, I understand, obtained from the Old Country and gummed on the bottles at Hatherly.]
[Illustration: The Great Small Game Quest(ion).]
This morning (Sunday, the 10th) we had the first Church Parade we have had for a long time. The sermon was good, and from it I gathered that it was Trinity Sunday. Yesterday it was a curious sight to see us employing our leisured ease in stripping ourselves, scratching our bodies, and carefully examining our shirts and underwear. A brutal lice(ntious) soldiery! Most of us have had quite large families of these dependent upon us; a more euphonious term for them is "Roberts' Scouts." Men to whom the existence of such insects was once merely a vaguely-accepted fact, and who would have brought libel actions against any persons insinuating that they possessed such things, after having been disillusioned of the idea that they were troubled with the "prickly itch," were calmly, naked and unashamed, searching diligently for their tormentors in their clothes as to the manner born. Being fortunate enough to find an officer's servant with a bottle of Jeyes', I finally washed both myself and clothes in a solution of it, so once again I am a free man, but the cry goes up "How long?" and echo repeats it. I have been told that the best way to get rid of these undesirable insects is to keep turning one's shirt inside out; by this means their hearts are eventually broken.
DIAMOND HILL AND AFTER.
[Footnote 2: That we played a small part in the extensive operations, culminating in what is known as the Battle of Diamond Hill, was only known to most of us four or five months later.]
PIENAARSPOORT. Friday, June 15th, (?) 1900.
Dolce far niente. I am not certain about the spelling, or quite positive about its interpretation, but it means something comfortable, I am sure. And that is just what I am at present. I have lost the scanty notes on which I try to base my periodical literary outbursts, and which assist me to retain some hazy notion of the date and day of the week, so both you at home and I out here ought to feel "for this relief much thanks!" And the reason for all this contentment and satisfaction is this. We were shifted from our last camping ground yesterday afternoon, and have arrived here. We are here for two or three days at the least. That is as far as we can gather, and we "just do" hear a lot. This means a bit of rest from the everlasting early reveillé, saddling up, packing up kit, and so forth. So behold me on the veldt, leaning against my saddle in my shirt sleeves, taking things easy, after having dined well on a loaf of bread well covered with tinned butter obtained at a store some miles back owing to my having to fall out of the ranks on account of a broken girth (hem!) on our march hither. The bread a Scotch farmer, and tenant of Sammy Marks, gave me yesterday. Of course you must have noted how the principal topic with us is grub, and probably felt contempt for us, still I assure you it is the great Army question. When you meet a man out here, usually the first question is "What sort of grub are you having?" Then, after another remark or so, "Seen much fighting?" Or, again, on asking a man what sort of a general Buller is, for instance, the reply comes pat, "A grand man--he looks after your rations. Feeds you well!" Still, it must be admitted it looks rather amusing to see a big, bearded man expectantly awaiting his share of condensed milk or sugar to spread on a piece of biscuit. As regards fighting, we have been shelled over a bit lately. I think it was last Monday I had to go and see if there was anybody in a small house some distance opposite a range of kopjes occupied by the enemy. I had to kick in the door, and hitch my horse to a tree. Nobody was in the house; but the firing got very warm while I was making my visit. On Tuesday one of our patrols was ambushed, and only one man returned with the news. Later the officer in command of the troop came in with a corporal, and we heard that one fellow had been severely wounded and several horses lost. The rest eventually straggled in. All had tales of marvellous escapes to tell, some had laid low in a river up to their necks in water for many hours, others in the long grass. Yesterday we heard that the Boers confessed to three killed and three or four wounded, and as our man is progressing favourably I don't think their ambush was a great success, especially as they opened fire at a hundred yards or less, a fact which does not speak highly for their marksmanship.
Referring to grass, it is truly wonderful how inconspicuous our khaki is amidst rocks or grass. Riding along on Monday last I almost rode slap over some Guardsmen who were halted and lying or sitting in the grass. I only became aware of their presence when about ten yards from them. And they all want to get home again--
"'Ome, and friends so dear, Jennie, 'Anging round the yard, All the way from Fratton, Down to Portsmouth 'Ard."
Nearly every other sentence one hears out here begins with "When I get home----." Had one of the Guardsmen been inclined to assist me with a rhyme to the tune of "Mandalay," he might have sinned thuswise:
I'm learnin' 'ere in Afriky wot the bloomin' poet tells, If you've 'eard the song of "'Ome, sweet 'Ome," you won't 'eed nothin' else. No, you won't 'eed nothin' else But the English hills and dells, And the cosy house or cottage where the lovin' family dwells. On the road to London Town, Home of great and small renown, Where the bright lights gleam and glitter on the rich and on the poor. Oh! the lights of London Town, And the strollin' up and down, Where the fog rolls over everything and the mighty city's roar. Ship me home towards that city, where the best live with the worst, Where there are "Blue Ribbon" Armies, but a man can quench a thirst.
This, by the way, might allude to Lord Roberts' order, by which all the bars are closed wherever the troops go. When I went into Pretoria not a bar was open.
"'E's rather down on drink Is Father Bobs."
It is quite on the cards that we may be disbanded soon. The war is generally regarded as almost over, and candidates for the Military Police Force, which is being organised for the Transvaal and Orange Free State, are being sought for amongst the various Yeomanry Companies out here, the conditions being an optional three months' service, ten shillings a day pay and all found. About fifty of our company have volunteered, and may go into Pretoria any day now. These fifty have been supplied with the best horses we have amongst us, and we have not many now, my horse "Juggernaut," being one of the horses which had to be handed to the future slops, as the candidates are now being disrespectfully termed. This being the case, my future movements will be in the manner called "a foot slog" behind the ox-waggons.
BACK TO PRETORIA.
NEAR THE RACECOURSE, PRETORIA. (A Return Visit.) Wednesday, June 20th, 1900.
"Here we are again" at Pretoria, that is, all that is left of us, for about fifty have joined the Military Police, others are wounded, sick, or missing, and the horses now in our lines number about two dozen moderately sound ones. All of this suggests, to minds capable of the wildest imaginings, a near return to England, home, and beauty. Some experts have actually fixed the date, which varies from within the week to within the next two months.
Last Saturday (June 16th) we left Pienaarspoort in the morning, and marched for about five miles in an easterly direction, many of us doing "a foot slog," having, as I have already mentioned, surrendered our mounts to the policemen; the mounted men had only just unsaddled for the mid-day halt, and collected wood to cook coffee and in some cases ducks obtained from inhospitable farmers flying the white flag, an emblem of which the Boer has made the best use for himself times innumerable, when the order was heliographed from a distant kopje for the 7th Battalion I.V., attached to the 4th M.I., to march back to Pretoria. Then, in my opinion, a great event happened. We footsloggers determined to detach ourselves from our particular convoy and march into Pretoria, a distance of twenty miles or more, in addition to the four we had already tramped. I believe it was in my brain that this memorable (to us) march originated. We were certain that the mounted men would not reach the capital that night, as of course they had to keep in touch with the ox-waggons, and as we had to tramp, we determined to tramp to some purpose. Our goal was no cold bivouac on the hard earth outside Pretoria, with the usual weary waiting for the ox-waggons stuck in a spruit about four miles astern, but Pretoria itself, where bread and stores were to be obtained, a square meal at a table, and, oh! ye gentlemen of England, who live at home at ease, a bed. Imbued with this idea, with sloped rifle we gaily commenced our return march. Soon we came upon miles upon miles of convoys with straggling Colonials, Highlanders, Guardsmen, C.I.V.'s, indeed, representatives of all branches of the service, and all parts of the Empire, one and all toiling in the direction of Pretoria. We started at about mid-day, and reached our destination, tired and famished, at seven. After the first ten miles, behold a string of four men, tramping with never a halt, over rocks and grass, through spruits, past unutterably aromatic defunct representatives of the equine race, and through dust ankle deep, towards the city of their desire. Darkness came on swiftly, as it does out here, and past hundreds of camp fires they limped, footsore but as determined as ever, though in no good temper, for this is the order of some of their questions and answers towards the end of their march:
"How far off is Pretoria?"--"Three-and-a-half miles."
"How far off is Pretoria?"--"Seven miles."
"How far off is Pretoria?"--"Nine miles."
"How far off is Pretoria?"--"Three miles."
"Have you a Kruger penny?"--"No."
After tramping another two miles:
"How far off is Pretoria?"--"Three or four miles."
At last we beheld lights, not camp lights, but electric lights, and cheered by these, we quickened our pace. Alas! they seemed to play us a sorry game, and mocking, Will-o'-the-Wisp-like, retreated as we advanced. Then, too, we cursed those once blessed electric lights. Finally we reached the outskirts of the town, and seeing a closed store, with rifle butts and threatening tones persuaded the German dealer to open unto us. Here, speaking personally, I disposed of over half a tin of biscuits and two tins of jam. Note by the Way: These South African fresh fruit jams are, I am convinced, made of the numberless pumpkins and similar vegetables that one sees in nearly every field, and then indiscriminately labelled (I nearly wrote libelled) "peach," "apricot," "greengage," and--so help me, Roberts!--"marmalade." One of the manufacturers even has the audacity to boldly proclaim his preserves "stoneless plum and apricot";--as a matter of fact, pumpkins do not usually have stones.
Finally we entered the town, where every shop was closed, but, thanks to the guidance of a kindly German, after about half-a-dozen unsuccessful efforts we at length obtained food and shelter at a house called "The Albion." Oh, the pleasure of sleeping in a bed and under a roof after æons (to me) on the hard earth beneath the stars and dew! The next morning (Sunday) as we were breakfasting, we beheld unseen, the 7th Battalion ride past, and later, after purchasing a few stores, joined them where they were camped near the now historic Racecourse. I omitted to mention above that as we lay in our comfortable beds that eventful Saturday night, we heard the rain pouring in torrents upon the galvanised iron roof above our heads, and grimly smiled as we thought of the other less fortunate officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the I.Y., lying out in the open, vainly trying to get shelter and protection under narrow waterproof sheets. Alas, we only had the laugh of them that night--I am writing on Friday, June 22nd--for since then we have had rain every night, and a fair amount in the daytime as well, and when it rains out here there is no compromise about it. Without tents we have had a "dooce" of a time. Of course, we have to improvise shelters with our blankets. Our place is known as "The Moated Grange,"--a trench having been dug round it for reasons not wholly connected with Jupiter Pluvius. Others are, or would be, known to the postman, did he but come our way ("he cometh not") as "No. 1 Park Mansions," "The Manor House," "Balmoral," "Belle Vue," "Buckingham Palace," and "The Lodge." Apropos of something which concerns a lot of A.M.B.'s, the following may not be devoid of interest:
Scene: Any chemist's shop in Pretoria. Enter gentleman in khaki shrugging himself. With a scratch at his chest and side.
"Er--have you any--er--Keating's powder?"
Chemist: "No, zaar, de Englis' soldiers haf bought it all. It is finish." (Exit gentleman in khaki, scratching himself desperately.)
Our numbers are now considerably reduced, over half of the Battalion have joined the Military Police, others having taken over civil employment in the Post Office and Government buildings. Many who were not desirous of joining the Police have finally done so, thanks to the innumerable fatigues, pickets on the surrounding kopjes, and the crowning discomforts of the rainy nights (now over, I am happy to say, Sunday, June, 24th). At present our particular, or unparticular, company, numbers twenty-one men, with five troop horses and some officers' chargers, all that is left of the hundred and twenty mounted men that left Maitland Camp in May. Does this sound Utopian? Those men who are anxious to obtain civil employment are allowed (or persuaded) to join the Police, while the authorities are exerting themselves to obtain berths for them at salaries ranging from £300 to £500 or more per annum. While nominally with the Police these men do no duties, but draw ten shillings a day, besides having the advantage, when it rains, of possessing a roof over their heads, and the pleasurable knowledge that their pig-headed comrades who have joined as Yeomen and elect to remain so to the end, are in the diminished lines about two miles out of the town, doing fatigues and guards innumerable, and drawing therefor the munificent sum of 1s. 5d. per diem. Every day for the last week the captain and officers have been asking the men if they wish to join the Police or would like to have civil employment found them; and the company has been more like a registry office than anything else I can think of. To-day (Sunday) we--nine of us and a sergeant--went to church with other detachments of the 7th I.Y. It was no open-air church parade, where one has to stand all through the service, but a genuine church with pews that we went to. It is called St. Alban's Cathedral, and is evidently the chief English Church in Pretoria. It was the first time we had been in a church since leaving Shorncliffe; the service was very reminiscent of a home one and exceedingly restful. The illusion was complete when, at the conclusion of the service, a collection was taken. Now that the rain is all over, we have had tents served out to us. The battalion sergeant-major came round a few days ago with "Now, then, you fellows, down with those rabbit hutches ("The Grange") and put these tents up." They are Boer tents, small and oblong in shape. Ours is very rotten, and has a big hole burnt in the top as well as a large rent at one end. These we have, however, patched up to our satisfaction and comfort. As we are here for the deuce knows how long, the beloved army red tape and routine is coming into vogue again.
ENTERTAINING A GUEST.
HOREN'S NEK, (About 10 miles W. of Pretoria). Thursday, July 5th, 1900.
Here goes for another letter, so pull yourself together. I am here with twenty others of the 7th I.Y. on outlying picket, and although the affair began rather joylessly, we are getting on very well now. By way of parenthesis, it is more than passing strange that whenever I try to write a letter somebody always starts singing. At present, a man of the Dorsets is lifting his voice in anguish and promising to "Take Kathleen home again." He has just followed on with that mournful ballad, entitled "The Gipsy's Warning:"
"Do not 'eed 'im, gentle strynger."
I cannot help heeding him, but I dare not remonstrate, as he is the cook of our party, and in the Army, as elsewhere, Monsieur le Chef, be he ever so humble, is a power. So I will desist for the present, and resume this to-morrow on the top of a kopje.
Every night we do guard on two of the near kopjes, and every other day I have to go up with a guard, to another kopje, used as an observation post, and look with a telescope and the nude optic, Sister Anne like, for "staggerers of humanity." On Sunday, the 1st, we went to church again. The preparations the young British Yeoman makes for church going out here vary considerably, like most other things, from those he is accustomed to make at home. Having shaved himself with the aid of the only piece of looking-glass possessed by the company, and a razor, which in days gone by would have been a valuable acquisition to the Inquisitorial torture chambers, washed in a bucket and brushed his clothes with an old horse brush, technically known as "a dandy," he looks like a fairly respectable tramp, and is ready to fall in with his comrades for the two or three miles tramp to Divine service. I had the pleasure of entertaining a guest at breakfast before going to kirk. He rode up to our cook-house fire (one always says cook-house and guard-room) to get a light for his pipe. The broad-brimmed hat with the bronze badge of maple leaves and the word "Canada," proclaimed whence he hailed. After a few minutes' conversation, I invited him to partake of our breakfast, and, after no little persuasion--he at first refused on the grounds that he would be depriving us of our full share--he accepted, and came and joined us. He seemed very reluctant to take much at first, and all through the meal, which consisted of mealie porridge and sugar, café sans lait, bread and jam, expressed his appreciation of our scant hospitality. He had joined the Military Police for three months, and was on patrol.
"Where did he hail from?"
"The North-West Frontier."
"Had he ever been to England?"
"No; but would like to, I guess."
Here was a man who had never seen England, roughing it and fighting for her out here, side by side with us, the home-born; and he only one of many.
"Hang it, have some more jam, old chap?"
He told us all about the life (cow-boy) he led at home, and wished he could have our company at a "rounding-up," it was rare fun.
* * * * *
"Now, then, turn out, and get everything packed on the waggons at once, and fall in in marching order!" How would you like to be awakened out of a comfortable sleep at 3 a.m. in the above manner? Still, we are pretty well accustomed to that sort of thing by now. Having fulfilled the above injunctions, we stood to arms for about three hours and were then dismissed. Some of us, I being one, were told off for the outlying picket we are now doing. Just as dinner was served up, we had to fall in and march off, so, despite a ravenous appetite, I had to throw the contents of my pannikin, which I had just filled, away, and with smothered curses on the usual "messing about" which the Imperial Yeoman always has to suffer, fell in and marched away. When we reached this place at about five o'clock, we found that, owing to the usual somebody blundering, sufficient rations had not been put on the waggons for us. The men we relieved seemed very unhappy and were delighted to hear they were to go back. They had had one or two alarms, and had to retire on a fort one night. Almost immediately we were sent off to our kopjes, where we spend our nights. The kopjes round here are really horrible things: to ascend and descend them one requires legs of flexible iron, and the amiability and patience of Job. At night one has to pick and choose a little, before getting a satisfactory "doss." To arrange your couch you must, of course, remove all the movable stones, and as regards the fixtures it is strange how in a short time one's body seems instinctively to accommodate itself to the undulations of the chosen sleeping ground. It is strange also how a rock with a few handfuls of grass makes a fairly decent pillow.
Near here there are numerous orange groves lying in the shelter of the kopjes. Yesterday I had charge of a Dutchman who wanted to go through the Nek on business, and on the off chance I went provided with a nosebag. I came across a magnificent orange grove, owned, as it proved, by an Englishman who had been, he told me, out here for twenty-five years. This Englishman sent one of his sons off to fill my bag with the best oranges, and another to fill my red handkerchief with mealie meal to make porridge with. The red-handkerchief-with-white-spots alluded to above is the last "wipe" I have left me out of a large number, and has been invaluable to me on numerous occasions for carrying various articles, usually edible. On the whole, the time I have spent on this outpost has been rather enjoyable. Having only one officer with us, and being a reasonable distance from headquarters, we have been spared a great deal of the "messing about" which seems to be the special fate of the Imperial Yeomen. When you get your British Yeomen home again, many a tale of incompetent officers and needless hardships will be retailed, unless I am much in error. Here is apparently a small fact, which may help to show why the Yeoman has often fared worse than his regular brother. The quartermaster-sergeant of a certain I.Y. company I know of, is, like most others, a man absolutely unaccustomed to and unqualified for the job. Added to this, the disposition of the man is of such a nervous nature that he is afraid to try and work on his own initiative, and consequently when requisitioning for his company's rations, he not only fails to do what his regular brother non.-com. would do, viz.: get as much as he can for his company, but fails often to requisition or obtain their bare allowance. Once I met and asked this man if he had drawn any jam for his company's tea, and his sleepily-drawled reply was, "No-o, we were entitled to it, but I forgot to draw it." He forgot, and a hundred hungry men were dependent on the energy of such a man. Compare this amateur quartermaster-sergeant to the professional one, and you can plainly see one way in which Thomas Atkins scores over his Yeoman brother. Again, the two cooks of the same company were admittedly the slackest and dirtiest men of the lot (the only qualification necessary for a Yeomanry cook is the capability to boil water, and some seldom achieve records even in doing that). Thanks to their dirtiness, the thirsty troopers more often than not, had their tea or coffee spoilt owing to the greasy state of the dixies (cooking pots), which had not been cleaned after boiling the trek ox stew in them.
I am almost baking on the top of this kopje, as I sit with my back against a rock and indite these little records. It seems hard to imagine that early every morning muffled-up, shivering forms wait anxiously for King Sol to stick his dear, red, blushing face above yonder range of kopjes to warm us with his genial presence. Yesterday we had some of Plumer's men in our little camp. They were rattling good fellows, and had had a very hot time. They assured us that when they entered Mafeking, so tired and gaunt were they, owing to their living on short commons for so long, that any stranger might well have mistaken them for the relieved garrison, and the garrison for the relieving force. They also said the fellows there did not look half so bad as one would have imagined, though they had eaten nearly every horse and mule in the place. The idea which seemed general, that Plumer had a big force with him, was very amusing to them, considering they actually only numbered a few hundreds, and had, I think they said, two old muzzle-loading guns only with them. Having been enlisted a month before the war, they are the oldest Volunteer Force out here.
THE MAILS ARRIVE.
NEAR THE RACECOURSE, PRETORIA. Sunday, July 8th.
Back at the Racecourse, Pretoria. The excitement of Friday has not worn away yet. I hardly know how to describe it, especially as I must be brief, having such a lot of correspondence to get through. The men who relieved us on Friday afternoon said they had good news, and then gave it to us in these magic words: "The mails are in!" "Thirteen bags!" At first I could hardly believe or grasp it. The mails were in! I never expected to see a letter again. The other companies had been receiving their's for the last fortnight or more, but our whereabouts seemed unknown to the postal authorities. At last, however, we had got them. We had not had a word from our other world for over two months. It seemed over two years. The men who relieved us had come away without their's, but before we left for camp an officer, Mr. Cory, with bulging saddle-bags rode up, and they had them. We went back in the mule-waggon, and did not half exhort the nigger drivers to hurry, you can be sure. "Hi, hi! Hi-yah!! Tah!!! Nurr! Crack-crack!! Hamba!! Hi-yah!!!" &c. At last the ten miles were covered and our camp reached. Out of the waggon we leaped, and "Where are my letters" was the cry. Oh, the thrilling excitement of seeing the sergeant diving his hand into a sack and producing letters, papers and parcels galore. "Trooper Wilson--Wilson, Corporal Finnigan, Lance-Corporal Ross," and a big, dirty paw pounces on an envelope addressed by a well-known hand. Then another, and once again a familiar hand is recognised, then another and another. In all I had over a score of letters and about a dozen or more papers, so you can guess I have my work before me in answering them. Of course, some have been lost, especially the papers. The earliest date was April 21st, and the latest June 8th. Absolute peace and goodwill toward men reigned in our camp that night. We have all been like so many children at Christmas-time, asking one another "How many did you get?" And then on hearing the reply, probably boastfully saying, "Oh! I got more than you," and so on. It seems so pleasant to be in touch with one's world again. All the next day the fellows were poring over their letters and ever and anon, unable to suppress themselves one would be annoyed by "Ha! ha!! I say, just hear what my young sister says," or "my kiddie brother," or some such being, then an uninteresting (to other men) extract would follow.
THE NITRAL'S NEK DISASTER.
HOREN'S NEK, NEAR PRETORIA. Wednesday, July 11th, 1900.
Here I am again on the outlying picket racket, and renewing my studies of kopjes. I am now up on them every day as well as night. When we arrived here last night, the party we relieved told us that a Russian doctor's house, about five miles out, had been raided and sacked by Boers, and no waggons were being allowed through the Nek, as the enemy were evidently waiting to catch any they could, and take them on to their commandos. Since daybreak a big action has been in progress. From the west heavy guns have been banging, and the fainter sound of volleys and pom-poming have reached our ears as we lay drowsily smoking, writing, reading and (one of us) watching on this, our observation post. In the middle of a letter to a friend a short while ago, a machine gun, apparently very close, rapped out its angry message, rat-tat-tat-tat! which startled us immensely. The whish-sh-sh of the bullets also was undoubtedly near, but as smokeless powder has usurped the place of villainous saltpetre, we failed to locate the gun, which has fired several times since.
The distant firing still continues, and as Baden-Powell is (or was) in that direction, I should imagine he is in action. It seems curious that though we are here and may at any minute be involved in the affair, yet you at home will know all about it, and we here little or nothing. But so it is. Huge vultures, loathsome black and white birds, keep flying past us from the west. Now and again, some of them pause and circle slowly over us, as if to ascertain whether we are dead or not. A small piece of the kopje jerked at them by the most energetic member of our party, usually assures them of the negative, and with a few flaps of their wings they go whirring on. Ugh! I forgot to mention for the edification of any of our lady friends that at night rats emerge from beneath the various rocks and sportively run over one's recumbent form. So, for guarding kopjes, no Amazons need apply.
[Illustration: The Mealie + Bad Fatigue (What the Patriot did not altogether take into his reckoning.)]
Here, as "I laye a thynkynge" (to quote dear old Ingoldsby), it occurs to me that we of the Imperial Yeomanry are, in many respects, far wiser, I don't say better, men than we were six months, or even less, ago. To commence with, we know Mr. Thomas Atkins far better than we did. Now we know, and can tell our world on the best authority (our own) that he is the best of comrades, many of us having experienced his hospitality when in sore straits. That he will do anything and go anywhere we are certain. As regards ourselves, we have learnt to appreciate a piece of bread and a drink of water at its true worth, a thing probably none or few of us had done before--"bread and water" being usually regarded as a refreshment for the worst of gaolbirds only. And, finally, to sum our acquirements up roughly, we have learnt to shift for ourselves under any circumstances. We are hewers of wood, drawers of water, cooks (though, may be, not very good ones, our resources having been limited), beasts of burden (fatigues), and exponents of many other hitherto unknown accomplishments. Allusion to fatigues reminds me of that known as "wood fatigue." It has been a usual jest of those in command to halt and bivouac us for the night at some place where there is no wood procurable, and then send us out to get it. Another of their little jokes has been to serve each man with his raw meat for him to cook when wood has been unobtainable. One really great result of this war already is the dearth of wood wherever the troops have been. All along the line of march, and especially where there have been halts, the wooden posts used in the construction of the various wire fencings have been chopped down or pulled up bodily and taken away, deserted houses have been denuded of all the woodwork they contained--the tin buildings collapsing in consequence. It was only a short time ago that an elderly non-combatant complained to me when I asked if he had any wood, "No, they haf take my garten fence, my best trees, and yestertay dey haf go into my Kaffir's house and commence to pull down der wood in der roof!" I am sure it is a fortunate thing that the telegraph posts are of iron. Were they wooden ones I fear stress of circumstances would have been responsible for innumerable suspensions in the telegraphic service. A scout has just been in down below with the information that we shall be attacked to-night or early to-morrow morning. The machine gun which was fired a short while ago, was one of our Colt guns at the entrance to the Nek, getting the range of a kopje opposite. These scouts (I refer to the few attached to us) are really wonderful (the battalion sergeant-major invariably alludes to them as "those d----d scouts"). Their information is always startling and mostly unreliable--still it is interesting and usually affords us vast entertainment. The scouts referred to are Afrikanders, and really chosen because they know Dutch and Kaffir. The fellows will call them interpreters, and they don't like it. On Monday I went into Pretoria to take the man of ours, who was so nearly done for in an ambush near Hatherly last month, his kit. He is now well enough to go home. He is a curious, good-natured old fellow, and in his account of the affair amused me not a little. After he had been hit and lain on the ground some time, the Boers cautiously advanced from their cover, and standing on a bank near where he laid, fired a few shots in the direction of his long-since departed comrades and then called out to him, "Hands up!" His reply, as he told me, struck me as quaint and natural, "'Ow can I 'old my 'ands up?" And seeing the reasonableness of his remark, they took his water bottle and left him where our surgeon found him. From Pretoria I have acquired quite a number of books, including half-a-dozen of Stevenson's. At present I am re-reading his "Inland Voyage."
Thursday, July 12th.
We were not attacked last night, although expectation ran high. We had about a thousand rounds of ammunition between the six of us, and at two o'clock in the morning had the various posts strengthened by a party of Burma Mounted Infantry (a composite corps from Burma, of Durham, Essex and West Riding Tommies). Fifteen of these were added to our small number, and between us occupied four sangars at the most suitable parts of the kopje. Had we been attacked, we ought to have given a good account of ourselves, as it was a lovely moonlight night. Poor Tommy Atkins! You should have heard some of our reinforcements express themselves on the social, military, political and geographical phases of the situation. They had been rushed up from Kroonstad, and, after various vicissitudes, had been despatched to us--without rations, of course. This one wished that the By'r Lady war was over By'r Lady soon; and his next cold, hungry, tired comrade agreed with him emphatically, and consigned the whole By'r Lady country to a sort of perpetual Brock's Benefit; also the By'r Lady army, and their By'r Lady military pastors and masters, and so on. After Burma they found this country cold, especially the nights, and with them the British soldier's wish to get back to Mandalay, as expressed in the song, was a veritable fact. As usual, their experiences were worth listening to. Amongst other things, coming up from Kroonstad, they had found the burnt remains of the mails destroyed by some of De Wet's minions a little while ago (some of mine were there, I know), and had amused themselves by reading the various scraps. Some of these, they told me, were very pathetic. In one, for instance, a poor old woman had apparently sent her son a packet of chocolate, bought with her last shilling, (she was just going into the Workhouse), and she hoped that it would taste as sweet as if she had paid a sovereign for it. Had they had any mails? No, not since they had been here. They thought all their people must be dead, and "it does cheer one up to get a letter." In Burma they always give a cheer when the English mail comes in. I gave four of them some pieces of stale bread, a handful of moist sugar, and four oranges; while another of ours gave the others some bread and the remains of a tin of potted bloater. The latest news, which I believe is quite authentic, is that the remnants of the Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Sussex Yeomanry, about seventy in number, are to be remounted and attached to the 18th Hussars. This looks like more marching. I have bought, and intend bringing home with me, a few sets of the surcharged Transvaal stamps. I am doing this in a self-defensive way; my reason being that among my friends and acquaintances in the dear homeland I number certain strange beings commonly known in earlier and ruder days as stamp collectors, but now politely known and mysteriously designated philatelists. Now I know for a fact that these persons will, on first meeting me, demand at once, "Have you brought any sets of surcharged Transvaal stamps back?" and if I answer "Nay," what will they think of me? All the vicissitudes of the past few months, my travellings by land and water, my fastings and various little privations and experiences, will have been stupidly borne for naught in their opinion. And why? Because I have not returned laden with Transvaal stamps.
PRETORIA. Friday, July 13th.
Back in camp again. At sunset, yesterday, when we came down from the observation post to get a little tea, preparatory to occupying the kopje we had been guarding at night, we found everybody on the move, and were ordered to mount and clear at once. This meant rushing up to the kopje, getting our blankets and other impedimenta, and down again, flinging them on the first horse (already saddled), and dashing away, orders having been given to abandon the post, as the Boers were in strong numbers, and between us and the town sniping. A staff-officer had told our captain that he was in charge of the valley, and wanted it to be a happy valley. We being a source of anxiety, he requested us to withdraw. I fear it had not proved a happy valley for the Lincolns and Greys, who were at Nitral's Nek, some eight miles to westward of us, and had been attacked and suffered badly in the morning. (The explanation of the heavy firing already alluded to.) Near the town we came on a broken-down ambulance waggon in a donga, out of which the wounded were being assisted as well as the circumstances permitted. Close by, on the ground, was something under a blanket, which we nearly rode over. A man close by, lighting his pipe, revealed it to us. It was one poor fellow who had died on the way. Further on, we came on numerous pickets and bivouacked troops, and men of the Lincolns and Greys at frequent intervals, asking anxiously where the ambulance waggons were, and if any of their fellows were in them. On arriving here we found our horse lines full of remounts, which looked like business. We join Mahon's Brigade on Sunday, so we are very busy looking out and cleaning up saddlery and such like.
Well, I do not feel in a letter-writing mood this morning, so shall as far as possible arrange my kit and possessions for the next move on the board, on which this poor Yeoman is a humble pawn. I have just finished the "Inland Voyage," which you may remember concludes thus, in the final chapter, "Back to the World":--
"Now we were to return like the voyager in the play, and see what re-arrangements fortune had perfected the while in our surroundings; what surprises stood ready made for us at home; and whither and how far the world had voyaged in our absence. You may paddle all day long; but it is when you come back at nightfall, and look in at the familiar room, that you find Love or Death awaiting you beside the stove; and the most beautiful adventures are not those we go to seek."
Good, isn't it?