A GENERAL ADVANCE TO BALMORAL AND BACK.
DASSPOORT, OUTSIDE PRETORIA. Tuesday, July 31st.
"Good morning! Have you used Pears' soap?" No, nor any other for about a fortnight, but in a few minutes I am going to have a most luxurious shave and bath in a tin teacup. As you can see by the above, we are all back at this historic town again after a very warm fortnight of marching and fighting under General Mahon. We marched through the town past Roberts yesterday, and are now camped awaiting remounts, in order to proceed with the game in some other and unknown direction. I have not much time for correspondence, but will do my best to give a little sketch of some of our doings. To begin with, on Saturday, July 14th, the remnants of the Dorset, Devon, Somerset and Sussex Yeomanry were formed into a composite squadron of three troops under Captain Sir Elliot Lees, M.P., and served with fresh mounts--Argentines. Of course, I got a lovely beast, a black horse, which would not permit anyone to place a bit in his mouth under any circumstances. It generally takes our sergeant-major, farrier-sergeant, an officer's groom, a corporal and myself about an hour to get the aforesaid bit properly fixed. When I try to fix it myself with the assistance of a comrade, the performance usually concludes by tying him to a wheel of our ox waggon, and then, after many struggles, I manage to achieve my object all sublime (though there is not much sublimity about it). Not wanting opprobrious epithets, my steed remained nameless for the first week. I casually thought of calling him "Black Bess," but "he" is not a mare, and I thought it would be inappropriate. At length I struck what I consider a good name. Bête Noire, my bête noire, and so I called him, and as he is by no means averse to eating through his head rope when picketed, I find that the curtailment to "gnaw" is satisfactory enough as far as names go. Now you know something about my friend the horse, so to proceed. We moved out of our old camp on the Saturday afternoon in question, through Pretoria to another on the other side, where we joined General Mahon's crowd, amongst whom was the Imperial Light Horse, Australians, Lumsden's Horse, New Zealanders, "M" Battery R.H.A., and a squadron or so of the 18th Hussars, sometimes known as "Kruger's Own," being the captured warriors of Elandslaagte. On Sunday we had some good luck in the ration line, the 72nd and 79th Squadrons of I.Y., the Roughriders, had just come up and joined us, and had been served with innumerable delicacies, with which they did not know what to do, as they had orders that they could only take a certain quantity with them. No sooner did we hear of their embarrassment than, as the wolf swept down on the fold, we swept down upon them, and most sympathetically relieved them of tins of condensed milk, jams, and such like, and what we could not eat we managed to carry away with us for another day. On Monday our general advance commenced. It was a grand sight, after marching a few miles, to come on French's camp and see the lancers, mounted infantry and guns moving out in the early morning. A few miles on and our friend the enemy opened fire on us, or, rather, on a kopje on which we had just placed a 4.7. They sent a beautiful shot from their "Long Tom," which pitched within a few yards of where the gun had just been placed and close by Generals French and Mahon. We Mounted Infantry remained behind the kopje and dozed and lunched while desultory shells now and again whizzed over us. Beyond this, nothing occurred worth mentioning. On Tuesday morning we went out a few miles and took up a position to prevent the Boers retreating in our direction. We had to collect stones and form miniature sangars. We waited there nearly all day, during which I perused "In Memoriam," and posed for a libellous sketch done by our troop officer, entitled "An Alert Vedette." The laughter which this occasioned caused me to arise out of curiosity and ask to see the pictorial effort. The subject represented was a tramp-like being asleep behind three or four little stones. We returned in the evening to our camp and I had charge of the stable guard, an every three or four night occurrence. The next day--Wednesday, the 18th--we proceeded some miles further on, getting well into the bush country. I do not know the name of the place we halted at for the night; it was very picturesque but had far too many kopjes (which required picketing). The next day we were off again through the bush. Apropos of the bush, it appears to me that every tree and shrub in this land of promise produces thorns. On Friday, the 20th, we came in touch with the enemy. We were advancing in extended order towards an innocent-looking kopje, had got close up to it, and had just dismounted, when--rap! went a Mauser. Then another, and rap, rap, rap, rap, rap, rap, and the whole show started. As there was absolutely no cover to hand, we got the order to mount and clear, which order was very promptly executed by all save one. The reports of the Mausers and the whistling buzz of the bullets startled my noble steed, Bête Noire, and after several ineffectual efforts to mount the brute, he broke away from me, and I, tripping over a mound as the reins slipped out of my hands, fell sprawling on my face. This, I believe, caused some of our fellows to think I was hit. Of course, after hurling a choice malediction after my horse, I was quickly on my feet and doubling after the rest of the "Boys of the Bulldog Breed." An officer of the Dorsets, Captain Kinderslie, seeing my plight, rode up amid the whistling bullets and insisted on my holding his hand and running by the side of his horse, till we came to Sergeant-Major Hunt, who had caught and was holding Bête Noire. Naturally, the reins were entangled in his forelegs, but I soon got them clear and mounted. Away flew my beautiful Argentine, away like the wind, every whistling, buzzing bullet seeming to help increase his bounds. At last we all got out of range, re-formed, dismounted, and advanced to attack. Soon the order was changed, and we mounted again and rode to flank the Boers, who had apparently left their first position. We reached a neighbouring kopje and halted at the base. An officer rode up, and I overheard him say that it would be advisable to send a few men in such and such a direction to find out, with as small a loss as possible, the position and strength of the enemy. Here it may not be out of place to mention that acting as scouts and advance parties, and drawing the fire of the enemy, has been the vocation of the Imperial Yeomanry, also of the Colonial Mounted Troops. Then four of us were ordered to ride slowly up the kopje, which was a wooded and very rocky one, and find out if any of the enemy were there. This we did. It is a peculiar feeling, not devoid of excitement, doing this sort of thing, for our horses made much noise and very slow progress over the boulders and rocks, and the possibility of a Brother Boer being behind any of the stones in front of one with a gun, of course made one reflect on the utter impossibility of shooting him or his friends, or of beating a retreat. Still, the knowledge that the report of his Mauser would warn one's comrades below was eminently satisfactory. There were no Boers there, or I should hardly be inditing this letter. They had built sangars and left them. We were posted on this kopje for the rest of the day, and at night upon another.
[Footnote 3: From the first the mixture of cavalry and infantry terms used in connection with the I.Y. has been most amusing. As our officers from this date invariably referred to us in cavalry terms, the words "squadron," "troop," etc., will be used to the end of the volume.]
[Illustration: "Stable Guard! There's a horse loose!"]
Our artillery had shelled them during the afternoon, and they did not trouble us again. That night we were not allowed to have any fires and our position being inaccessible to the waggons, we had no hot coffee or tea, which by the way, is one, if not the greatest, of our treats--our milkless and occasionally sugarless evening and morning coffee or tea.
On Saturday we advanced with the main body through a good deal of bush country. Sunday was one of the hardest days we had during our little fortnight's outing. We started early as advance to Ian Hamilton's Division, and during the day covered a terrific amount of ground, got well peppered on several occasions, once, during the afternoon, pushing on rather too close to the enemy, the retreating Boers gave us some warm rifle fire and then opened on us with a couple of field guns, and we had to clear. The firing was excellent. A few of us got into a bunch, and a shell whirred over our heads and struck the ground only a few yards away on our right. That day several men were killed and wounded, but none of our crowd, though one got a bullet in his rear pack, another had his bandolier struck, and another his hand grazed. The annoying part of our work was that we were repeatedly sniped at, but never had a chance to retaliate, even when we saw the enemy, as we did on several occasions. Certainly once we prepared a pretty little surprise for them in the way of an ambush formed of our troop dismounted, but they did not come. However, two or three of our fellows saw somebody by a Kaffir kraal, and thinking it was a Boer, opened fire, and whoever it was dropped. It proved only Kaffirs were there, and two men in our troop are still quarrelling as to which bagged the inoffensive nigger, if bagged he was.
Monday, the eighth day out, the entire force rested, which means in plain English that they washed, mended their clothes and performed other domestic duties. Like the man in "The Mikado," I am a thing of shreds and patches, though there is not much dreamy lullaby for me, or any of us. The next day we marched on without opposition to Bronkhorst Spruit, of fateful memory. We reached there at mid-day, and camped, as we had to wait for our convoy to come up. As soon as we had got our lines down we went to get wood--we like to have our own fires when we can. Corrugated iron buildings there were, but untenanted. Bronkhorst Spruit, of hated memory, was a deserted village. Smash!--bang!--crash!--crack! "Far flashed the red artillery," aye? No, it is merely Mr. Thomas Atkins and his brethren of the Colonies and Imperial Yeomanry, who are overcoming difficulties in the wood fatigue line. Considering that the average Transvaal house is constructed with wood and corrugated iron, it can be easily understood that neither its erection or demolition takes much time. "So mind yer eye, there--crash!--bang! That door belongs to the Sussex! Smash! Look out, the roof's coming down," etc.
The convoy came in during the night, so we were up and off at an early hour, bound for Balmoral, the next station on the line towards Middelburg. The country we had to traverse was very rough, and on our left were ranges of suspicious-looking kopjes. Soon after we started my horse funked a narrow dyke at about half-a-dozen places, and finally, on my insisting and exhorting him with my one remaining spur, plunged sideways in at the deepest part. He came out first, soaked. I followed promptly, wet to the waist (nice black water and mud); his oats and my day's biscuits, which were in his nosebag, were spoilt; and my feelings towards him none of the best. Balmoral was reached at about noon. There, I regret to state, we did not have Queen's weather. Soon after we arrived clouds began to gather, and thoughtful men commenced carrying up sheets of corrugated iron, of which there was a great quantity near the station, and hastily constructing temporary shelters. Ours was a poor concern, and as I had to wander about in the rain some time before I turned in, I was sopping wet, and of course passed the night so. Our waggon got stuck in a drift, as usual, and so we went coffee-less that night. The next day we heard that during the night an officer and three men of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had died from exposure to the severe weather. On that march from Bronkhorst Spruit to Balmoral we lost hundreds of mules, oxen and horses. They simply strewed the roadsides all the way. On Friday, the 27th, we returned to Bronkhorst Spruit, en route for Pretoria. Leaving Bronkhorst Spruit for Pienaarspoort the next morning, we passed the graves of the massacred 94th (Connaught Rangers). First we passed three walled-in enclosures, which the officers rode up to and looked over. They were the graves of the rear guard. Then we came to a larger one, which contained the main body. The Connaughts were marching with us; whatever their feelings were, they must have felt a grim satisfaction in the knowledge that "they came again." Yesterday (Monday, July 30th,) we marched into Pretoria, past Lord Roberts, and on through the town to our present camp, which we leave at four to-morrow morning with fresh horses. We heard as we went through that one of our Sussex fellows, who was down with enteric when we left, had since succumbed. Poor fellow! It may be merely sentiment, but I must say the idea of being buried out here is somewhat repugnant to me. His bereaved relatives and friends cannot have the comforting feelings of Tennyson, expressed "In Memoriam."
"'Tis well; 'tis something; we may stand Where he in English earth is laid, And from his ashes may be made The violet of his native land. 'Tis little; but it looks in truth As if the quiet bones were blest Among familiar names to rest, And in the places of his youth."
CAMP, TWO MARCHES WEST OF PRETORIA. Wednesday, August 8th, 1900.
"Oh, darkies, how de heart grows weary, Far from de ole folks at home."
There goes somebody again! It is always occurring, either vocally or instrumentally; but to start now, when I want to pull myself together and give a further account of the doings of the remnants of what was once the Sussex (69th) Squadron of Imperial Yeomanry, and their comrades of the West Countrie, is annoying beyond all expression. To commence, I must really trace out for you our bewildering descent, or ascent, to our present state, and then you will thoroughly understand why, in all probability, the papers have been silent as to the doings and whereabouts of the 69th Squadron of Imperial Yeomanry. At Maitland we belonged to the 14th Battalion of Yeomanry, under Colonel Brookfield, M.P. Leaving that salubrious but sandy locality, we travelled on our very own, by rail and road, till we joined Roberts at the Klip River, and for a few days were his bodyguard. At Johannesburg we joined the 7th Battalion of Yeomanry, under Colonel Helyar, of whose murder, in July, at a Boer's house not far from Pretoria, you must have read. Later on, men from this battalion having entered the Police and civil berths, those of us who were left were banded together and formed into one squadron under Sir Elliot Lees, M.P. This was composed of three weak troops--Dorset, Devon and Sussex, the latter troop containing half-a-dozen Somerset men. As such we left Pretoria, and went east as far as Balmoral. On our return to Pretoria, our weak horses and sick men being weeded out, we went west nearly as far as Rustenburg, as one troop, composed of Sussex, Devon, and Dorset men, and attached to the Fife Light Horse. As I write, we are returning in the direction of Pretoria. And now, if you have skipped the foregoing I will proceed to give you as brief an account as possible of our adventures since leaving Pretoria a week ago (Wednesday, August 1st).
[Footnote 4: This fine squadron of Yeomanry, under Captain Hodge, had also joined Mahon, at Pretoria, on July 16th.]
On that day, forming No. 3 Troop of the Fife Light Horse, we marched out of Dasspoort and proceeding due west, parallel with the Magaliesberg, quickly got in touch with the enemy, under Delarey, whom we slowly drove before us. Soon we came upon Horen's Nek, and the commencement of farms and orange groves. As we passed the first grove, with the glowing oranges tantalising us in a most aggravating manner, we cast longing eyes at them, but hastened on after the unfraternal Boer. The oranges were not for us--then. A little further on the fighting became warm, and we galloped up; then, "Halt! for dismounted service!" and the reins of three horses are thrown at me, or thrust into my hands by their riders, who double out to the left and proceed to participate in the fun of the firing line. Considering that I had only once (at Shorncliffe) acted as No. 3, you can picture to yourself the sort of entertainment which followed. The intelligent Argentines manoeuvred round me like performing horses doing the quadrilles or an Old English Maypole dance, while with the reins we made cat's-cradles, and Gordian knots. That idiot, Mark Tapley, would indeed have envied my lot, and have been welcome to it. The row made by the firing was terrific, for pom-poms and artillery were joining in, and a fair amount of bullets came by us with the led horses. Suddenly our fellows came doubling back, and with a sigh of relief I surrendered their horses to them. Then our troop-officer, Captain Kinderslie, gave us the order, "Fours, right--Gallop!" and off we went to turn their right flank. Our course lay right across the open, and as soon as the enemy saw our move they poured their fire in as hot as they could. Round to their right we flew, with the bullets whistling by, and striking the earth before and behind us, but divil a man did they hit, though the air seemed thick with them. At last our exhilarating gallop was finished, and as our small party advanced to the attack, all they saw was the last few Boers scuttling off for dear life. Colonel Pilcher, who was with Mahon, sent round and thanked our little troop for this service.
After this we returned to an orange grove, near which our force was encamped. That night we had oranges.
The next day we were rear guard and, passing through a fat land, abounding with oranges, tangerines, citrons, lemons, tobacco and good water, not to forget porkers, fowls, ducks, and the like, "did ourselves proud," to resort to the vernacular. That night we had a huge veldt fire, and the whole camp had to turn out with blankets to fight it. Fortunately a well-beaten track separated the blazing veldt from us, and the wind blew it beyond, or we could hardly have made a successful stand against the flames, some being quite a dozen feet in height. Allusion to veldt fires reminds me that the last time I had to turn out to fight one was near Johannesburg, and the man who displayed most energy in smiting the flames with his blanket, and who came away from the charred veldt with blackened face and hands, was our second in command, the Duke of Norfolk.
On Friday we continued our advance, and crossed the Crocodile River. This day we saw nothing of the enemy. Our horses have done well in the way of forage lately. Sometimes we get bundles of oat hay out of the barns we visit en route, and strap them, with armfuls of green oats pulled from the fields, fore and aft of our saddles, till we look like fonts at harvest festivals. Thus equipped, we would form good subjects for a picture called "The Harvest Home." Yet, in spite of all the feeding they have been getting, our horses are all nearly done up.
Our present troop officer is great on the commandeer, and very popular. However, the other day he gave us a severe address on parade about looting, which he wound up as follows:--"Of course, I don't object to your taking the necessaries of life, such as oranges, fowls, ducks, mealie flour, or the like, but (sternly) any indiscriminate looting I shall regard as a crime."
On Sunday (August 5th), while the folks at home were preparing for the Bank Holiday, we Yeomen of Sussex, Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Fife, with our friends "The Roughs," were continuing to advance west in the direction of Rustenburg. This day we passed through some of the best wooded country I have seen out here. The trees being quite large and at a distance very much like small oaks. At about mid-day we halted in front of Olifant's Nek, and our signallers tried to get into heliographic communication with the great "B.-P.," who was supposed to be in possession. At last, after several fruitless efforts, a dazzling dot in the pass appeared and commenced twinkling in response to ours.
"Twinkle, twinkle, helio, What a lot of things you know."
Soon we received the order to advance. Then we were halted, "files about," and galloping about a mile to the rear, were drawn up, and informed that a Boer laager had been reported under a small kopje of the Magaliesberg some distance east from the Nek, and we were to go and investigate the matter. The first three groups of our troop were sent out to locate it, I being in the centre one. We had some wretched ground to go over, and finally, without any signs of opposition, reached the small farms lying at the foot of the range of hills. There the left and centre group were stopped for some considerable time by a large barbed wire fence and, as none of us possessed any wire nippers, we finally had to go out of our way some distance in order to avoid it. I mention this trivial incident as illustrative of how some Yeomanry matters of equipment have been neglected. From my own knowledge, based on enquiry, I find that none of the non-commissioned officers or men of our squadron were provided with these very necessary implements--one or two happened to have private ones, and that is all. So much for that grumble. Now to resume. Having overcome the barb-wire difficulty, we continued our progress in the direction where we understood the laager was situated, convinced in our minds that of Boers there were none. En route we called at the few houses in the neighbourhood and made slight investigations, with always the same result. There were women and heaps of children, but of men none. Of course, you know the game. The chivalrous Boer, having deposited his arms in Pretoria and taken the oath of neutrality, has rested himself, and is now out again on the war path, either from choice or through being commandeered. At last one of our scouts rode up and told us that our right-hand group had found the laager which had been evacuated. Riding through the trees, it was rather thickly wooded, we soon came across wandering cows, calves and oxen, and at length the laager at the foot of a small kopje. In it were the four men of our right group, cattle, horses, a few donkeys, and a couple of uneasy-looking niggers, who had evidently been left behind and in charge by the Boers. It was a fine position for a laager, and well hidden away. Several of us dismounted here and lighted our pipes while we watched the fine cattle we had got, and those with bad horses haggled as to who should possess the best of the Boer mounts, which were being held by the uncomfortable-looking Kaffirs. Presently through a donga on the left of the laager came the leading groups of the Fife Light Horse and soon the laager contained the first troop. I remounted my horse and--rap! went a shot and over rolled a horse and rider (a Sussex sergeant) on my right; then into us rapped and cracked the rifles from the near kopje. There was only one thing to do, and that was to clear. Men and horses appeared to be tumbling over on all sides, Bête Noire swerved and I fell off at the commencement of the fusillade. Arising, I doubled after the sergeant whose horse had been knocked over by the first shot. After going about a score of yards, I saw him dash into some bushes and brambles, and following, slipped and rolled down the side of a gully till I found myself scratched and torn sitting in a small rivulet at the bottom with my pipe still in my mouth and my rifle, the barrel of which was half choked with mud, in my hand. Looking round I saw two of our fellows who had led their horses down from the other side. The place could not have been improved on for cover, and the others falling in with my j'y suis, j'y reste remark, we sat down on the moist earth and rocks and awaited developments, while the bullets whistled and buzzed through the trees over our heads. Soon a volley whizzed over us from our fellows who had succeeded in retiring and rallying behind a knoll some distance back. This went on for a time, and at length the firing ceased. A Fife man came up from lower down the gully; he had lost both horse and rifle. However, crawling higher up, he found the latter in some bushes. Presently a strange figure appeared, clad in khaki, with a dark blue handkerchief tied over his head, a stick in his hand and leading a horse. This proved to be another canny Scot. He had assumed this sort of disguise and managed to secure a horse from near the laager. He was rather apprehensive lest our own people should fire on him if they spotted him. As he told us, on our enquiring, that there were two more horses in the laager, though he advised us not to go out for them then, the Fife man and I emerged from the donga and with a wary eye on the treacherous kopjes entered the laager, which was only a score of yards from our place of concealment, and to my great delight, of the two horses quietly eating the forage there I recognised Bête Noire as one. Having now obtained horses, we leisurely proceeded to camp, calling on the way at a few of the farmhouses and an orange grove we had passed on our advance to the laager. The Boers had evidently cleared, or they would have fired on us as we rode to the farms in full view of the kopjes all the way. I cannot say that the simple Boer women seemed pleased to see us when we rode up with smiling faces and helped ourselves (with their permission) to oranges and tangerines, while one good lady gave me a couple of eggs, which I enjoyed later for tea. Then gaily bidding them Auf Wiedersehen we retraced our way and came to where the camp had been established. Arrived there, the stories we heard concerning the affair were, as you can imagine, marvellous. And, after all, what do you think the wily Boer bagged as the result of such a lovely death trap? Not a man. Half-a-dozen horses were shot, and I daresay some cattle. My rolled overcoat also had a rip suspiciously like a bullet mark. Once again Boer wiliness had been rendered ineffectual owing to execrable marksmanship. It seems like ingratitude to thus criticise their shooting, but it cannot go without comment.
On Monday, the August Bank Holiday, we did not shift camp, and had the luxury of a late reveillé (6 a.m.), and opportunities for very necessary washes and shaves, and such domestic duties as repairing rents in our breeches and tunics, and a little laundry work. Some of your "gentlemen rovers abroad" are finding that sewing the tears in one's tunic is a far different and more difficult matter than sowing one's wild oats at home. Owing to having baked the back of one of my boots in drying it at a fire, after my fourth immersion in a bog, I have had rather a bad heel, but am easier in that vulnerable part now, having cut out the back of the boot.
On Tuesday, B-P. very unwillingly evacuated Rustenburg, and we marched back in the direction of Pretoria.
I don't think, in spite of my verbosity, I have made any particular or direct allusion to our friend, the mule, so here I will make slight amends. Alas, he lost the little reputation he possessed at Nicholson's Nek, but to give the mule his due he is a hard worker--he has to be--he is born in bondage and dies in bondage (there is no room out here for the R.S.P.C.A.), and the golden autumn of a hard-lived life is not for the likes of him. He does not appear to get much to eat, though he will eat anything, as I found to my cost one night when in charge of the stable guard. A friend had lent me two Graphics, which I left on my blanket for a few minutes while I went the rounds. On my return I found a mule contentedly eating one of them--I only just managed to save half of it. When in camp, the Cape Boys, in whose charge they are, usually tie some of them to the wheels of the waggons, ammunition and water carts, the remainder being left to wander tied together in threes and fours, reminding one for all the world of Bank Holiday festivallers arm-in-arm on the so-called joyous razzle dazzle.
Out here we wandering humble builders of the Empire have no idea how the war is progressing, if progressing it is. Our noses are flat against the picture, so to speak, and, consequently, we practically see and know nothing; it is you good folks at home who have the panoramic view. Our cheerful pessimist expressed himself to this effect a few days ago. About forty or fifty years hence, travellers in this part of the world will come across bands of white-haired and silver-bearded men in strange garbs of ox and mule skin patches, and armed with obsolete weapons, wandering about in pursuit of phantasmal beings to be known in future legends as land Flying Dutchmen. Anyhow, give Private Thomas Atkins a good camp fire at night when the Army halts, round which he can comfortably sit and grumble about his rations, while he partakes of a well-cooked looted porker or fowl, and afterwards fills his pipe with the tobacco of the country, which he lights with an ember plucked from the burning, and talks of home, and the prospects, optimistic or pessimistic, of getting there some day, and at least, he is content. Oh, England, what have we not given up for thee this year, Cowes, Henley, the Derby, Ascot, Goodwood, the Royal Academy, the Paris Exhibition, the latest books and plays, all these and more--much more. And if we hadn't, what would we have done? Kicked ourselves, of course.
"Then here's to the Sons of the Widow, Whenever, however they roam; And all they desire, and if they require, A speedy return to the home. Poor beggars, they'll never see home!"
HEAVY WORK FOR THE RECORDING ANGEL.
VAALBANK, Sunday, August 12th, 1900.
I believe this place is called Vaalbank, though really I am by no means certain. Anyhow, it looks respectable to have some sort of address, so I will let it stand.
Yesterday, at Commando Nek, we were rejoined by the rest of the Composite Squadron, and remounts were brought up from Pretoria (about 300); on account of the latter I am glad that I did not commence this letter the same evening, for we Yeomanry had to lead them. The brutes were Hungarians and Argentines. Niggers had brought them from Pretoria, and then we had to take them on, while the men in need of horses toiled along on foot. Why they were not allotted on the day they were received is only accounted for by the fact of our forming part of a British Army. During the "telling-off" of our fellows to the various groups of sorry nags, a comrade known as "Ed'ard" and I loafed in rear of the squadron in hopes of coming last and finding no horses left. We did come last, but there being eleven horses over, poor Ed'ard had six and I five Argentines to lead, and the Recording Angel had a big job on. Half-a-dozen rapid type-writers on his staff would have failed to cope with the entries entailed by that day's work and discomfort. Some people boast that they can be led, but not driven. The boast of my Argentines was that they could be driven but not led. For about three hours I led, or tried to lead them, at the end of which time my right, or leading arm, was about four inches longer than my left, and once or twice quite six. This was when a ditch or some such obstacle had to be overcome. My own steed, having nobly negotiated it, two of the others would follow his excellent example, and then the remaining three would pause on the bank, irresolutely at first, and then quite determined not to "follow my lead," in fact to never "follow me," would pull back a bit. Then a lovely scramble would result, in which I would be hauled half-way back, horse and all, and my rifle, instead of remaining properly slung, would become excitable, and manage to hang round my neck or waist. Finally a fairy godmother, in the form of a dirty, unshaven Tommy Atkins of the line, would come to my assistance, and with a wave of his wand--I mean rifle--and a thrust with the butt, my troubles for the moment would be overcome. At last, with my right hand cut and sore, and a temper which would have set the Thames a-fire, I let go the leathern thong by which I had been endeavouring to lead them, and started driving them. Other fellows also commenced to do the same, and after the brutes we raced, inhaling dust, expectorating mud, and cursed by every transport officer. Happy men, without horses to look after, were looting fowls and porkers, for the district was a good one; but such was not for us luckless Yeomen. Even when we got into camp we had to stand for nearly two hours in the dark, looking after the brutes till some more Yeomanry, the Roughs, relieved us, I cannot help it--it's the twelfth, and I must grouse!
[Illustration: A terrible reckoning! Binks (who has just had a row with a burly Sergeant and got an extra stable guard, and is also 'forit'): "By Heavens! Wait till I get home and meet him in civvies and he has no stripes to protect him!"]
Listen to this! When at home in barracks, and on the transport, the orderly officer always went through the army routine of going round at meals and asking "Any complaints?" Now that we are campaigning, divil an officer asks if we have any complaints to make, or is in any way solicitous as to our welfare or wants. And the consequence is this: we are at the mercy of our quartermaster-sergeants, who are sometimes fools, and more often the other thing as far as we are concerned, and beings known by us as "the waggon crowd," i.e.: the cooks, and divers other non-combatants. What they don't want, or dare not withhold, is given to the poor Yeoman, who has to march, fight, and do pickets and guards. The man who marches and fights is the worst paid and worst treated out here. This, it appears, is a way they have in the army. It is, however, distinctly amusing to hear the common troopers proclaiming how they will get equal with their officers, especially the non-coms., when they meet them in the sweet by-and-bye as civilians.
The night we stopped outside Pretoria before coming out this way, our curiosity was aroused by suddenly hearing three hearty British cheers from some lines not far from ours. On making an enquiry as to the cause of this outburst of feeling, we were informed that the battalion had just received the news that their adjutant, who was absent on leave, had been made a prisoner by the Boers. Of course, some officers, especially the Regular ones who have seen previous service, are decidedly popular, our present General--"Mickey" Mahon--being an instance. There is no gold lace or cocked hat about him. He is, in attire, probably the strangest figure in the campaign. Picture to yourself a square-built man of middle age, wearing an ordinary brown cap (not a service one), a khaki coat with an odd sleeve, breeches, and box-cloth gaiters, carrying a hooked cherrywood stick, and smoking a briar, and you have General Mahon.
And now listen to this little story about him. A few days ago a Tommy was chasing a chicken near a farm on the line of march. Suddenly the cackling, fluttering, feathered one dashed in the direction of a plainly-dressed stranger. "Go it, mate; you've got 'un!" yelled the excited Tommy. Then, to his horror, he recognised the general, and, confused, tried to apologise. "Not at all," said the chief, and helped him to kill the bird. Then telling him if he liked he could take it to his colonel and say the general had helped him to kill it, he sauntered away.
His favourite corps is the I.L.H., and he seems quite pained when they miss an opportunity of obtaining good loot, which, once or twice they have done, owing to a stringent order from someone else against it.
Routine and red tape, though probably not so bad as "once upon a time," are still rampant, and we Yeomanry get our full share of them, the Colonials being more exempt. When we are on the march it is always "dress up there" or back as the case may be, and the following extract from a comrade's diary can be regarded as absolutely veracious.
"August 6th. On advance party again. Tried to look for Boers and lost my 'dressing.' Severely reprimanded."
It appears to me that our way for locating the enemy is absurdly simple. We advance in approved extended order, so many horses' lengths, not more nor less, if any Boers are about, and we get too close to them, they pot at us. Then we take cover, if not bowled over; and it is generally known that there are Boers about.
This (Sunday) morning, I am writing a few lines during a halt--we passed various farms on our way, which is in the direction of Krugersdorp. We are in hopes of rounding up De Wet (don't laugh!) At one of these farms, as we passed, a regular old Rip Van Winkle Dopper Boer was seated by his door scowling at us, and a trooper who had evidently been sent to ask for arms presently received, and rode away with a sword. It was really most amusing, probably the dear old man had three Mausers under his floor boards, and perhaps a bathchair was to be found somewhere on the premises, in which he could be conveyed to the top of a kopje now and again, to enjoy the pleasure of sniping the verdommte Rooineks, or their convoy as it passed along.
Monday, August 13th. On this day we made a reconnaissance in force, but had no fighting. In the evening we had to do an outlying picket on a near kopje, some long range and ineffective sniping going on as we took up our position at sunset. The waggon having been left behind (no unusual occurrence), we went tea-less to our night duty.
Tuesday, August 14th. Off, without any coffee, on advance guard. As we moved out of camp, revolvers and rifles were banging in all directions. However, it was not sniping, but merely the usual killing of sick horses and mules. Along the road the defunct quadrupeds hummed dreadfully (if any tune, "The place where the old horse died").
RELIEF OF ELAND'S RIVER GARRISON. JOIN IN THE GREAT DE WET HUNT.
Wednesday, August 15th (in the vicinity of Eland's River). Another day without tea or coffee, and in a district lacking in wood and water. At about mid-day we came upon Kitchener, Methuen, and others with their respective forces. Colonel Hore's gallant Australians and Rhodesians had just been relieved. The various columns halted and camped here. That afternoon a couple of commandeered sheep were served out to our troop; I dressed one, and obtained the butcher's perquisites, viz.: the heart, liver and kidneys. On these, with the addition of a chop from a pig, at whose dying moments I was present, and a portion of an unfortunate duck, I made an excellent meal. That night was rather an uneasy one for me, for I had Eugene-Aram-like dreams in which relentless sheep chased me round farmhouses and barns into the arms of fierce ducks and avenging porkers. But reveillé, and then daylight came at last, and peace for my burdened mind and chest.
Thursday, August 16th. Off in the direction of Olifant's Nek. At noon we came in contact with the scouts of the enemy who were holding the Nek. After being under a heavy rifle fire, we retired to camp and waited for the morrow. Ian Hamilton arrived in the evening with his infantry and cow-guns.
Friday, August 17th. We moved out early in anticipation of a big day, for amongst the various rumours was one to the effect that De Wet's laager was on the other side of the Nek, and Baden-Powell and Methuen were going to attack him from that quarter. Oh, the rumours about this slim individual, they are legion! Here are some of the hardy perennial order:
1. De Wet is captured at last. 2. De Wet is surrounded and cannot escape. (The modification brand.) 3. De Wet has escaped with eleven men. 4. De Wet has 4,000 men with him. 5. De Wet has only 300 men with him. 6. De Wet has heaps of stores and ammunition. 7. De Wet has no stores, etc.
This is supposed to be the dry season, but it appears to me to be De Wet, and our "Little British Army which goes such a very long way" (quite true especially here) seems like the British Police, who always have a clue, and expect shortly to make an important arrest, but don't. We took up a position on a kopje opposite to the right of the Nek, and for a few hours had a rare easy time. Divesting ourselves of our tunics, belts, bandoliers and other top hamper, we lounged about in our shirt-sleeves, smoking and dozing, only rousing ourselves a bit later when the double-rapping reports of the Mausers over the way told us that our scouts were being fired on. Soon the R.H.A. came into action, and were quickly followed by the banging of the cow-guns. It was most interesting to see where the shells struck, and how soon the kopjes and Nek opposite became blackened, smoking rock and earth, and the spiteful Mausers ceased from troubling. Meanwhile, the infantry, Berks and A. and S. Highlanders, advanced and the Nek was ours, and the Boers, De Wet's rearguard--vamoosed. Then we all marched through the Nek, which was a wonderful position, and possible of being held after the manner of Thermopolæ. Our Sussex farrier-sergeant was shot in the arm. Going through the Nek we passed three graves by the roadside--graves of Royal Fusiliers who had died of wounds and enteric during B.-P.'s occupation of the place a short time previous. A soldier's grave out here is a simple matter, a rude cross of wood made from a biscuit case, with a roughly-carved name, or perhaps merely a little pile of stones, and that is all, save that far away one heart at least is aching dully and finds but empty solace in the pro patria sentiment. When one passes these silent reminders of the possibilities of war, it is impossible to suppress the thought "It might have been me!" But more often than not any such morbid reflections are effaced by the sight of a house and the chances of loot. Which reminds me that we ravaged with fire and sword a good deal in the vicinity of Rustenburg, numerous houses being set a-fire by authority--in most cases the reason being because the owner of the domicile had broken his oath of allegiance and was out again fighting us. We reached Rustenburg at about six o'clock, and had to go on outlying picket on a terribly-high kopje, known as Flag Staff Hill, at once. So just as it became dark--tired and tea-less, with overcoats and bundles of blankets--a little band of wearied, cussing Empire builders set out on their solitary vigil, with none of your "Won't-come-home-till-morning" jollity about them. Oh, that thrice, nay seventy-times-seven, execrated hill! Up it we stumbled with a compulsory Excelsior motto, staggering, perspiring profusely, with wrenched ankles, cut and sore feet, cussing when breath permitted, dropping exhausted, and resting now and again. Thus we ascended Flag Staff Hill. On the top we found strong sangars with shell-proof shelters, which had been built by the indefatigable Baden-Powell during his occupation of Rustenburg. That night passed at last.
AFTER DE WET.
Saturday, 18th August. We set off again in the direction of Pretoria, and unsaddled and formed our lines at about four, and were congratulating ourselves on getting camped so soon when the faint but unmistakable cry of "saddle up" was heard afar off, then nearer and nearer, till we got it. De Wet (thrice magic name) was not very far off, and we were to push on at once after him. So off we set on a forced night march, on which no lights were allowed, and mysterious halts occurred, when we flung ourselves down at our horses' feet on the dusty road and took snatches of sleep. Then a rumbling would be heard, and down the column would come the whisper "The guns are up"--probably some obstacle such as a drift or donga had delayed them--then forward. We halted at twelve and were up again at four. The day being Sunday we, as usual out here, rested not, but proceeded on the warpath. A few miles down the road a scout passed with a Boer prisoner (Hurrah! one Boer less!). Leaving the Pretoria road soon after daybreak, we made for some low-lying ranges of hills, known as the Zwart Kopjes, and after going forward a couple of miles our guns, M Battery, trotted smartly forward in line, halted, then like wasps cut off at the waists, the fore parts flew away leaving the stings behind. In plain military words, the R.H.A. unlimbered, busy gunners laid their pets, others ran back for ammunition, an officer gave directions, then a roll of smoke, a flash, a cracking bang, a gun runs back, and intently-watching eyes presently see a small cloud of smoke over the top of a distant kopje, and a faint, far-away crack announces that the well-timed shrapnel is searching the rocky ridges; then bang, bang! bang, bang! and the rest quickly follow, firing in turn and now and again in twos or threes. Then it's "limber up" and forward, and their attention is paid to another little range further on. Soon, having cleared several kopjes, we, the Fife Light Horse, New Zealanders, our Composite Squadron, and others, crossed a drift and leisurely advanced, passing on our way a deserted Boer waggon loaded with corn, mealies and other stuff. At a farmhouse we naturally managed to halt, and tried to secure edibles. Colonel Pilcher, however, came and ordered us to form up in a field further on, and as we proceeded to obey this order, Mausers began rapping out at us from a range of hills which we had supposed (usual fallacy!) were unoccupied, our guns having shelled them well. Thereupon the colonel immediately told us to retire behind the farmhouse and outbuildings with the horses. I soon found myself lying behind a low bank with Lieutenant Stanley, of the Somerset Yeomanry, on one side of me and a New Zealander the other, blazing away in response to B'rer Boer opposite. My Colonial neighbour's carbine got jammed somehow or other, and his disgust was expressed in true military style, for the keenness of the New Zealander is wonderful. One of our pom-poms and M Battery joining in, after a time the firing slackened, and chancing to look round at the side of the farmhouse, I beheld two of our fellows helping themselves to some chicken from a three-legged iron pot over a smouldering fire. Thereupon, I promptly quitted the firing line, and joined in the unexpected meal. It was awfully good, I assure you. While finishing the fowl, a New Zealander, pale-faced, with a wound in his throat and another in his hand, was brought in by two comrades, and a horse, which had been shot, died within a few yards of us. I am sorry to say that in this little affair we lost an officer and a trooper killed, and several wounded, not to mention a considerable amount of killed and wounded horses.
The next day we advanced under a heavy fire from our guns, but met with no opposition. Our objective this time was the Zoutpan District, which is principally composed of bush veldt.
Here I must pause, and give a veracious account of a certain not uninteresting episode, which happened during our march after De Wet in the Zoutpan District, and which I will call
THE YEOMAN, THE ARGENTINE AND THE FARRIER-SERGEANT.
On Tuesday, August the 22nd, we were advance guard through the bush veldt, and shortly after starting, Bête Noire, who had gradually been failing, gave out, so behold me, alone to all intents and purposes, bushed. Of course I immediately took careful bearings, and assuming that we should not be changing direction, slowly marched straight ahead. After going a considerable distance I got on to a small track, and finally, what might be termed by courtesy, a road, and was carefully studying it when one of our sergeants and a staff officer rode up. I told the latter that my horse was done, and the noble steed bore out my statement by collapsing under me as I spoke. The officer advised me to wait for the main body and lead my horse on after them, which I did, dragging him along for about a dozen weary miles, till I reached the camp at dark, just in time to participate in a lovely outlying picket. The next morning, having reported the case to the sergeant-major, he told me to lead the horse from the camp with the convoy, and instructed the farrier-sergeant to shoot him a little way out. So, having put my saddle on our waggon and asked the farrier if he had been told about the shooting, I proceeded to drag the poor beggar along. After toiling forward some considerable distance, I looked around for the man whose duty it was to shoot him, but could see him nowhere. So on I pushed, inquiring of everybody, "Where is the Farrier-Sergeant?" I lagged behind for him, and then toiled, perspiring and ankle deep in dust, ahead for him, but found him not. Even during the mid-day halt I could not find him, and as the beast had fallen once, I was getting sick of it. Everybody I accosted advised me to shoot the brute myself, the same as other fellows did in most of the Colonial corps, so at length, to cut this part of the story short, giving up all hope of being relieved of my burden by the farrier-sergeant, who somewhere was ambling along comfortably on a good horse--having again had the sorry steed fall--I led him aside from the track of the convoy and ended his South African career with my revolver. Alas, Bête Noire! Had we but understood one another better the parting would have been a sad one. The case being otherwise, I felt, it must be admitted, no regret whatever. And now the interesting part of the episode begins. Hearing my shots (I am sorry to say I fired more than once in accomplishing my fell deed) the farrier-sergeant galloped up. "Who gave you permission to shoot this horse?" "Nobody; I couldn't find you, and couldn't lug the brute any further." "I shall report you." "I don't care." Then followed high words, involving bitter personalities and we parted. After tramping a good dozen miles further, I arrived at our camp in the dark, and had the luck to find our lines soon. To an interested and sympathetic group of comrades I related in full my adventures. Our sergeant-major, who is a very good sort, was telling me that it would be all right, when the regimental sergeant-major came up and told me that he must put me under arrest for shooting my horse without permission, destroying Government property (Article 301754, Par. 703, or something like that). There was none of the pomp about the affair which I should have liked to see--no chains, no fixed bayonets, or loaded rifles. Our sergeant-major, without even removing his pipe, said "Ross, you are a prisoner," and I replied "Righto," and proceeded to inquire when the autocrats of the cook-house would have tea ready. A few days later, I was brought before the beak--the officer in command of our squadron. "Quick march. Halt, left turn. Salute." This being done, the case was stated. The farrier-sergeant told the requisite number of lies. I denied them, but of course admitted shooting the beggar. Dirty, unwashed, unkempt, unshaven, ragged wretch that I looked, I daresay on a charge of double-murder, bigamy and suicide, I should have fared ill. The captain gave me what I suppose was a severe reprimand, told me that probably in Pretoria I should have to pay something, and said he would have to take away my stripe, so down it went, "reduced to the ranks." "Salute! Right turn," etc. Thus, did your humble servant lose the Field Marshal's bâton which he had so long been carrying in his haversack. Alas, how are the mighty fallen! Tell it in Hastings and whisper it in St. Leonards if you will, like that dear old reprobate Mulvaney, "I was a corp'ril wanst, but aftherwards I was rejooced," Vive l'Armée! Vive la Yeomanrie! All the fellows were intensely sympathetic, and indeed, one or two particular friends seemed far more aggrieved than myself. I ripped off my stripe at once, and tossed it in our bivouac fire, and joined the small legion of ex-lance corporals of the Sussex Squadron (five in number).
[Illustration: Some of "the pomp & circumstance of Glorious War."]
"Or ever the blooming war was done, Or I had ceased to roam; I was a slave in Africa, And you were a toff at home."
Hullo! When it comes to poetry it is time to conclude.
P.S.--My costume is holier than ever. Still, I find every cloud has a silver lining (though my garments possess none of any kind, unfortunately). The great advantage of the present state of one's clothes is this, if you want to scratch yourself--and out here on the warpath one occasionally does--say it's your arm, you need not trouble to take your tunic off; you simply put your hand through the nearest hole or rent, and there you are; if it's your leg you do the same, and thus a lot of trouble is saved.
COMMANDEERING BY ORDER.
NEAR THE RACECOURSE, PRETORIA. Friday, August 31st, 1900.
We arrived here on Tuesday last (28th), and since then have been camped almost on the very spot where we were in June, and are expecting every moment to receive further marching orders. These we should undoubtedly have got long ere now, if we had only obtained remounts, which are very scarce. General Mahon has gone on to Balmoral with the I.L.H., Lumsden's Horse, and other corps with horses, and this morning Colonel Pilcher paraded us, New Zealanders, Queenslanders and I.Y., and bade us good-bye. He has been connected with the Colonials from the beginning of the campaign, and took the Zealanders into their first fight. I am feeling awfully fagged to-day, so hope you will, in reading this letter, make allowance for extenuating circumstances. If you only knew, I think you do, what these letters mean, the self-denied slumbers and washes, fatigues shirked, books and papers unread, and other little treats which comrades have indulged in when the rare and short opportunities have occurred--you would forgive much. On Tuesday (August 21st) we had five Sussex men and three Somerset in the ranks of our troop of the Composite Squadron of Yeomanry, the rest being either in the ambulances or leading done (not "dun") horses with the waggons. In this district we came across numerous Kaffir villages, from which we drew mealies and handed in acknowledgments for the same payable in Pretoria. Reference to these papers reminds me that some of the Colonials in commandeering horses from peaceful Boer farmers have given them extraordinary documents to hand in to the authorities at Pretoria. For instance, one paper would contain the statement that Major Nevercomeback had obtained a roan mare from Mr. Viljoen Botha, for which he agreed to pay him £20, others of which I have heard and since forgotten were intensely amusing. On Wednesday (the 22nd) I had to do a footslog, owing to my horse giving out. Later I shot him, but I have made a special reference to this tragic event and its sequence already. That day we did about 25 miles through the bush veldt bearing about N.W. On the line of march not a drop of water was to be got. Though thirst is by no means a new experience, it is always a disagreeable one. On we trudged with dry, parched mouths and lips sticking together as though gummed, the dust adhering to our perspiring faces and filling our nostrils and ears. It is quaint to note how little on the march men converse with one another. On they stolidly tramp or ride hour after hour, side by side, and often exchange never a word. On they go, thinking, thinking, thinking. It is not hard to guess each other's thoughts, because we know our own. They are of home, home, home, nine times out of ten. At dark we reached our camp, and from the water-cart, for which we all, as usual, rushed, we filled our pannikins and bottles with water, thick, soapy-looking water, but to us, cool, refreshing nectar.
Thursday (the 23rd). There was a rumour (there always is) that we were to return to Pretoria. But the direction we took on marching belied it. Of course, I was "footslogging," but this day, having no horse to drag after me, was able to wander more at leisure. A few miles on the way a comrade and myself found a lovely flowing stream of the thick water before alluded to. Here we had a grand wash, and refilling our water bottles set on our journey refreshed. Some miles further on we came upon a freshly-deserted Boer store and farmhouse. Near the house we found some clips of explosive Mauser cartridges which had been buried by some bushes, and probably unearthed by some of the wandering porkers in the neighbourhood. Said I to a Tommy of Hamilton's column, as I took a handful of cartridges, "These will do as curios." Quoth Thomas scornfully, "Curios be blowed, put 'em in the beggars!" Of course, you can guess he did not exactly use those identical words, but they will do. Then having joined in the destruction of a monster hog, and obtained my share of his inanimate form, I, triumphant and perspiring, continued to follow the convoy.
Friday (the 24th). This day we expected a big fight, but, as usual, because it was expected, it did not come off. Baden-Powell the day before had hustled them pretty considerably. We were so close on the Boers, that we got half of their ambulances, one being a French presentation affair, and driven by a woman, also some waggons. This day we did not go very far, our objective being a place known, I believe, as Warm Baths (the Harrogate or Sanatorium of the Transvaal). It lies due north of Pretoria, and about 40 miles from Pietersburg. Of course, here we struck the railway. After picketing the horses, a sick sergeant's horse was handed over to me. Most of us got permission to go and get a wash. The place was empty--save for some of Baden-Powell's men, who had got in at the enemy the day before--a desolate, wind-swept, sandy plain on the edge of the bush veldt and at the base of a range of kopjes, comprised of about thirty large corrugated iron bath houses (each containing two bath rooms), a fairly large hotel and small station--such is Warm Baths. The baths were well patronised. Some of our fellows, prisoners the Boers had been obliged to leave behind in their flight--the rogues had taken the linchpins out of some of the Boer waggon wheels to impede them as much as possible--were using them as sleeping apartments. As about a score of men were after each bath and the doors had no bolts, a bath, though luxurious, was not an altogether private affair, the person bathing having continually to answer the question of a string of "the great unwashed," "How long shall you be?" and having the uneasy knowledge that about half-a-dozen impatient beings were waiting, sitting on the door-step and exhorting him "to buck up!" A couple of us managed to secure a fine bath, which we enjoyed without interruption worthy of mention. The water, which is naturally hot, was grand, and so hot that we had to use a lot of the cold, which was also laid on.
The next day, Saturday (25th), we rested at Warm Baths, and I think we deserved it. If "early to bed and early to rise, make a man healthy, wealthy and wise," excepting occasionally the first clause "early to bed," I consider we ought all to live the health and longevity of Methuselah or Old Parr, the wealth of Croesus or Vanderbilt, and the wisdom of Solomon, blended with the guile of the Serpent. Mention of the guile reminds me of a simple little incident which occurred to-day, and which, months ago, we simple Yeomen would never have perpetrated. A terrible thing happened during the night; the sergeant-major's horse had got loose from our lines and was missing. Down came that indignant officer and sent the whole troop out to find it. Months ago I should have gone and searched diligently, and then been cussed for not finding the animal. But now, what does the fully-fledged Imperial Yeoman do? Grumbling and scowling (you must always do this, as it shows how successful the powers have been in delegating a distasteful task to you, and pleases them accordingly) with razor, soap and shaving brush in my pocket, and a growling, sullen comrade with a towel and sponge in his, we two set out in search of the noble steed. However, once out of sight, we hied us down to some running water, where we shaved and washed, then, filling our pipes, we sat down for an hour and chatted. Finally, we returned disconsolate and horseless, only to find that the great man had found it himself.
[Illustration: The Government has yet to strike the happy medium in the sizes of the uniforms etc. which it provides for its troops.]
Sunday (26th). We got definite orders to march to Pretoria, the sick and horseless men having left by rail the previous day in trucks drawn by bullocks, till they could get on a more unbroken line. We paraded at 3 o'clock, and very shortly after starting my new horse became bad and I had to again join the convoy. To-day we marched to Pienaars River, the bridge here representing a badly-made switchback railway, and those marvels of energy, the Engineers, working away merrily at it, with the assistance of Kaffirs.
On Monday (27th) our reveillé was at five, and we marched to Waterval, where we saw the fine, large aviary in which the Boers kept the British prisoners till June, and the next day (Tuesday) we were up at 2.30, and marched into Pretoria and camped on the Racecourse at 11 o'clock. No sooner had I dragged my horse in and picketed him in our lines, than I managed to obtain town leave, and, having hastily washed, I boarded a mule waggon and was soon jolted into Pretoria. There I got Mails galore, found my kit bag had come up from Cape Town, and met dozens of old comrades in the Police, who insisted on making me have tea with them (with condensed milk in it, oh, ye gods!) and jam on real bread, and generally made a fuss of me, and listened with amused attention to a truthful account of the death of Bête Noire and my subsequent Dreyfus-like degradation. Rattling good fellows they were to me, and under their benign influence the petty trials and inconveniences of the past seven or eight weeks faded away like a dissolving view. The authorities have also served us out with clothes. I have received a lovely khaki tunic with beautiful brass buttons stamped with Lion and Unicorn, "Dieu et mon Droit," and a' that. And the fit is a wonderful fit; it is truly marvellous how they can turn out such a well-fitting coat for--a big boy of twelve. And I have boots! A grand fit for a policeman. Only I am neither a boy of twelve nor a policeman.