DEATH OF LIEUTENANT STANLEY.
Monday, September 17th. There is a funeral to-day--an officer's--and we (the Composite Squadron) are stopping in camp for it, as it concerns us. So I will tell you all about it. Yesterday was Sunday, seldom a day of rest out here. We, the three squadrons of Yeomanry attached to Clements' force, were sent out early on a reconnaissance. Without any opposition we advanced in a westerly direction towards Boschfontein, almost the same way as on Monday last, for about four miles, the Devon and Dorset troops of our squadron being on the right, our Sussex troop on the left, the Roughriders (72nd I.Y.) in reserve, and the Fife Light Horse scouting ahead. The Fifes had reached the foot of a high grass-covered kopje, and were about to ascend it, when the enemy opened a hot fire on them, causing them to scoot for their lives, which they managed to do successfully. We then galloped up, dismounted, and opened fire on the hill-top, the Devons and Dorsets doing the same on our right, and the Fifes falling back on our left. Where the Roughs were we never knew, probably their officers did. Taking into account the absence of the Nos. 3, with the led horses, and one group of our troop being sent some distance to the left, we only numbered six and our officer, Mr. Stanley, well-known in the cricket world as a Somerset county man. Our led horses were in a donga in the rear. The position we occupied, I should mention, was at the base of a kopje opposite to that held by the Boers. We were sighting at 2,000, when our captain, Sir Elliot Lees, rode up and said he could not make out where the Devons and Dorsets who should have been on our right, were. As a matter of fact they had retired unknown to us. This the wily Boers had seen and quickly taken advantage of, for Sergeant-Major Cave, of the Dorsets, rushing up to us crouching down, told us to fire to our right front, where some trees were about three or four hundred yards away, and from which a heavy fire was being directed at us. Sir Elliot Lees then came up again from our left. Mr. Stanley, seeing the hot corner we were in, retired us about a dozen yards back to the deepest part of the donga, where our led horses were, and ordered the fellows with the horses to retire, and later, gave the command for us to do the same in rushes by threes. Meanwhile our bandoliers were nearly empty, and the Boers were creeping round to our right, which would enable them to enfilade our position. The first three retired, and we were blazing away to cover them, with our heads just showing as we fired over the top of the donga, when the man on my right said, "Mr. Stanley is hit," and looking at him, for he was close to me on my left, I saw he was shot through the head, the blood pouring down his face. Sir Elliot, the other man, and myself were the only ones left in the donga then, so the captain, taking hold of poor Stanley by his shoulders, and I his legs, we started to carry him off. As we picked him up, he insisted, in a voice like that of a drunken man, on somebody bringing his carbine and hat. "Where's my rifle an' hat? Rifle an' hat!" The third man took them and gat--I heard this later. You have no idea what a weight a mortally-wounded man is, and the poor fellow was in reality rather lightly built. On we went, stumbling over stones, a ditch, and into little chasms in the earth. Once or twice he mumbled, "Not so fast, not so fast!" The bullets buzzed, whistled, and hummed by us, missing us by yards, feet, and inches, knocking up the dust and hitting the stones and thorn bushes we staggered through. We, of course, presented a big mark for the Boers, and were not under any covering fire so far as I am aware. The captain, who is grit all through, soon found it impossible to carry the poor fellow by the shoulders, the weight being too much for him, so I offered, and we changed places, Sir Elliot taking his legs and on we went, pausing, exhausted, perspiring and breathless, now and again, for a rest. At last, turning to our left, we reached a little bit of cover, thanks to a friendly rise in the ground, and falling into a kind of deep rut with Stanley's body on top of me, I waited while the captain went to see if he could get any assistance. Presently he returned with a Somerset man; and a minute or so later a Fife fellow, a medical student, came up. The former and I then got him on a little farther. After a few minutes' deliberation, the captain said, reluctantly, "we must leave him." We all three asked permission to stay. To which Sir Elliot replied, "I don't want to lose an officer and three men. Come away, men!" We then moved the poor fellow into a cutting about two feet deep and three feet wide, and arranged a haversack under his head. As we loitered, each unwilling to leave him first, Sir Elliot thundered at us to come on, saying, "I don't know why it is, but a Yeoman never will obey an order till you've sworn at him." Then reluctantly we set off in single file, working our way back by the bank of a stream, and still under cover of the rise in the ground, a little way up which we found one of our Sussex men, with his horse bogged to the neck. Further on we paused a moment, and the Fife man, saying that he thought the wound was not mortal, suggested that it would be well for somebody to be with Stanley so as to prevent him from rolling on it, and then asked permission to return. My Fife friend had not seen what I had. He had only seen where the bullet went in, not where it came out. Seeing that the captain was about to give him permission, I said "Mr. Stanley is my officer, sir, and I have the right to go," and he let me. I gave one my almost-empty bandolier, and another my haversack, telling him it contained three letters for the post, and--if necessary, to post them. My rifle I had already thrown into a ditch at Sir Elliot's command. Then I worked my way back, hoping that I should not be shot before reaching him. I got there all right, and evidently unseen; lying down by him, I arranged my hat so as to keep the sun off his face, and cutting off part of my left shirt-sleeve, with the water from my bottle, used half of it to bathe his temples and wipe his bubbling, half-open mouth. The other I moistened, and laid over the wound. He was quite unconscious, of course, and his case hopeless. Once I thought he was gone, but was mistaken. The second time, however, there was no mistake.
I waited by the brave man--who had been our troop leader for the last fortnight, and who had, I am sure, never known fear--for some time deliberating what to do. Shots were still being fired from somewhere in my vicinity, while our firing I had gloomily noted had receded, and finally ceased. By-and-bye, all was silent, then a bird came and chirped near me and a butterfly flitted by. At length, as it appeared to me useless to wait by a dead man, I determined to get back to camp, if possible, instead of waiting to be either shot in cold blood, or made a prisoner. After carefully going through all his pockets, from which I took his purse, watch, whistle, pipe, pouch, and notebook, and, attaching his glasses to my belt, having arranged him a little and laid my bloody handkerchief over his face, I got up, and worked my way along by the river bank till compelled to go into the open. I trusted to a great extent to my khaki on the dry grass, and daresay it saved me from making much of a mark; but spotted I was, and from the right and left the bullets came very thick and unpleasantly close. For about a mile I was hunted on the right and left like a rabbit. At first I ran a little, but was done, and soon dropped into a staggering walk. After a while I came on Dr. Welford and his orderly behind some rocks, just coming out, but when he heard my news he turned back, and, as I refused to use his horse, which he offered me, at my request rode off, and got potted at a good deal. Further on, he waited for me. He is a brick, our doctor; and when he learnt I was thirsty, and he saw my tired condition (the sun on my bare head had been most unpleasant) he offered me a drop of whisky and water, adding, "You'd better have it when we get round the bend of the kopje ahead." I thanked him, and said I thought it would be more enjoyable there. Enjoy it I did. Finally I reached the camp and told the captain the sad news, at the same time handing in the gallant officer's belongings. His watch was at 12.5 when I left him. Sir Elliot was most kind to me, and said I had acted gallantly, and he had told the major (commanding us). Then Major Browne came up, and he was also very complimentary. Of course, there was nothing in what I had done that any other man would not have done, and I told them so, especially as the example set by the captain made it impossible for a man to be other than cool. Lieutenant Stanley, who took command of us when we left Pretoria a fortnight ago, had soon become very popular, for he was a thorough sportsman, keen as mustard, quite unaffected and absolutely fearless. I feel pleased with myself for taking everything off the poor fellow before I left him; for when, late last night, the ambulance came in with him, the doctor's orderly told me that they found him stripped of his boots, gaiters, and spurs--which was all that were left worth taking.
"And far and wide,
They have done and died,
By donga, and veldt, and kloof,
And the lonely grave
Of the honored brave,
Is a proof—if we need a proof."
Tuesday, September 18th. We buried Lieut. Stanley yesterday at mid-day, the sergeants acting as bearers, we Sussex men (of the dozen of us, two were with him at Eton and one at Oxford) composed the firing party, while the whole squadron, officers and men followed. About three-quarters of a mile from our present camp, in the garden of a Scotchman, named Jennings, by a murmuring, running stream, and beneath some willows, we laid him. By the side of the grave was a bush of Transvaal may, covered in white blossom, at the end were roses to come, and away back and front were the white-covered pear trees and pink-covered peach, perfuming the clear, fresh air, while on the sides of the babbling stream were ferns and a species of white iris. Sewn up in his rough, brown, military blanket, he was lowered to his last resting-place, the major reading the Burial Service.
"---- Is cut down like a flower."
He could not have been more than twenty-five. Then, "Fire three volleys of blank ammunition in the air. Ready! Present! Fire!" Again and again, and the obsequies of a brave officer and true English gentleman and sportsman were over.
I am sorry to say that we have a Sussex sergeant missing--killed or prisoner. We are most anxious to know his fate, poor fellow. So, out of the seven of us in that hot corner, one is dead, one is not, and Heaven only knows how the others escaped, myself in particular.
Wednesday, September 19th. This morning we advanced about half-a-dozen miles, and pitched our camp here--Doornkloof is the name of the place, I believe.
Thursday, September 20th. Ridley's column has gone back in the direction of Pretoria to Rietfontein, as escort to a convoy, principally composed of waggons loaded with oat hay. I hear, and hope it is true, that he has our letters.
Friday, September 21st. Had to do a picket on an outlying kopje. The stable guard, who should have reveilléed us at three forgot to do so, and later, when we were aroused, we had to saddle up and clear off at once. I had to go off sans café (which is breakfast), and worse still in my hurry sans pipe. Oh, how that worried me, my pipe which I have kept and smoked through all till now. Somebody might tread on it and break it, or find it and not return it. On the kopje a friend lent me his emergency pipe, over which a lot of quinine powder had been upset, so I had a few smokes, in which the flavour of quinine prevailed unpleasantly. Still, I have no doubt it was healthy. But, oh, where was my pipe, should I ever see it again? "There is a Boer outpost over there." "Yes, but I wonder what the deuce has become of my pipe," and then I bored my vigilant fellow sentinel with the history of that pipe. With the sun pouring down on us without shelter, without any grub, and not a drop of water (my bottle I left by Stanley), we were stuck up on that kopje till past sunset. Where was my pipe, should I get it all right? At last we got back to camp, and, overjoyed, I received from a friend my pipe, which he had picked up in the lines. Then, having partaken of tea, I found myself in for a sleepless night as stable picket. But it didn't matter, I had got my pipe.
Saturday, September 22nd.
"There is a foe who deals hard knocks,
In a combat scarce Homeric:
It's not the Boer, who snipes from rocks,
But fever known as Enteric."
The idea I have partly expressed in the above lines, is as you know, correct. The Boer from behind his rock snipes you at a distance, but Sister Enteric, though unseen, as Brother Boer, is nearer to us. She is with us in our camps, when we eat and when we drink--often parched, recklessly drink--and close, unseen and unheard, deals her blows. And when they are dealt, the nervous ones amongst us think. For common report hath it that the illness takes roughly about three weeks to develop, and the nervous man thinks back what did he drink three weeks ago, or thinking of what he ate or drank the day before, dreads the developments three weeks may bring. When we came in last night we heard that a poor fellow of our squadron had succumbed to it, and was to be buried the next morning at 5.30. We bury soon out here. So once again this week, I formed a unit of the firing party, and did the slow march with reversed arms. We clicked the three volleys at the grave. Later, we had two more funerals, the result of Brother Boer's handiwork. They were two men of Kitchener's Horse, who had dropped behind Ridley's force at Hekpoort, and had ridden to Mrs. Jennings' farm to buy some bread. These two were shot by over half-a-dozen concealed Boers at about twenty yards range. No attempt was made to make them prisoners, and they were practically unarmed, having revolvers only. Their bodies were riddled.
Sunday, September 23rd.
"Oh, happy man in study quiet,
On data and statistics,
Making copy of our diet,
Please soften our biscuits!"
This afternoon having borrowed a magazine from a Rough, in exchange for an old one I picked up in the Fife lines, I have in common with the sharer of my blanket shelter derived infinite entertainment from an article therein contained, entitled "Feeding the Fighting Man." Of course, it is illustrated with photographs, the first one depicting a sleek and stiff Yeomanic-looking, khaki-clad being standing by the side of a swagger little drawing-table covered with a fringed tablecloth, and obviously groaning under what we learn are the gentleman's daily rations. Apart from the article, this picture alone is calculated to make one's mouth water. The article opens with an extract from that great book, "The Soldier's Pocket Book." Here it is, "It may be taken as an accepted fact that the better the men are fed the more you will get out of them, the better will be their health and strength, the more contented will they be, and the better will be their discipline," all of which is gospel truth. The article, as I have already remarked, is very entertaining. Here is a little extract--"fresh meat and bread have been issued daily, almost without a single exception, to troops at the front." We know the fresh meat, good old trek ox! Always delightfully fresh--and tough. And the bread, yes, the bread, well-er-the bread, yes, the bread! If I had read this article at home, being somewhat of a gourmand, I should certainly have rushed off and enlisted directly after reading as far as the middle, where we learn that every soldier is allowed daily--oh, the list is too long to give you. There is one little thing the scribe overlooked, and that is the waggon crowd, the quartermaster-sergeant and his satellites. It may also be of interest to you to know that certain non-coms. and men of the A.S.C. have made large sums of money out here. I have heard of one who made three or four hundred pounds in a few months, hem! Of course, they are exceptions in a corps which has, as everyone knows, done grand work. Our running commentaries as I read the article through, would have made excellent marginal reading, if such notes could have been added for a future edition.
Yesterday, a fresh epidemic visited our camp--football. Some person, evilly disposed I presume, produced a football which after a "good blow out" (oh, happy football) was kicked in the midst of a crowd of wild enthusiasts. We soon had a casualty, a sergeant stubbing his big toe badly on a boulder; now he can hardly walk. I believe there were a few other minor casualties. Thirty enteric cases were taken into Pretoria with the last convoy. I am slowly but surely learning to spread jam very thinly on biscuit, one of the most difficult accomplishments I have had to learn out here. My jam spreading having hitherto been at once the scandal and horror of my messmates.
On Monday morning one of Bethune's Horse came into our camp, he had been a Boer prisoner, and had escaped from Rustenburg, which they are at present occupying (I think it is their turn this month). He had been wandering for fourteen days, or rather nights, for it was then he travelled--a native chief had supplied him with a guide, who piloted him about, and kept him going on berries and such like. He said to me, "I was glad to see English faces again," and I, who in a small way know what it is to be hunted, believed him, you bet.
PROMOTED TO FULL CORPORAL.
Tuesday, September 25th. Yesterday we moved out to meet and escort Ridley in with the convoy from Pretoria. About a couple of miles out we heard guns, and I thought probably we should have a bit of scrapping, but we did not beyond some half-hearted sniping. To my surprise and delight Ridley brought mails, my portion being eleven letters. Some had the home post mark of May 25th, and the others August 7th. I must leave off for a space here, as I have to carve an epitaph for the poor fellow who died a few days ago. You see one's occupations out here are many and varied.
Yesterday evening the orderly sergeant came down to my wigwam, and asked for my regimental number, which I gave him without asking the reason why. Soon he returned and congratulated me, saying I had been promoted to full corporal over poor Stanley's affair. My many comrades also have warmly congratulated me on my return to my former state, or rather above it, for it is a case of wearing two stripes now.
Wednesday, September 26th. On this day we advanced. Our column did not come in for the usual amount of attention from our friend the enemy, the reason being that a gentleman friend of ours, General Broadwood, was pounding away at them from one side, and Ridley from another. All the same we had a very busy day, scouting and occupying kopjes. Our guns fired at some Boer waggons, causing their escort to clear, and leave them for us. Our infantry got them and had a good time. They are fine fellows, are our infantry, and deserve all they can get in the loot line. Late in the afternoon we surrounded a suspicious-looking kloof, full of thick undergrowth, and captured a couple of the peaceful peasants of the Arcadian dorp (fontein, kloof or spruit) we were then occupying. A man in quest of loot found them, to his great surprise. They were of the genus snipa. One had an elephant gun and the other a Martini. We had had reveillé at 2.30, and breakfast a little later. From then till about six in the evening I had only a few bits of biscuit, and once a drop of water, but felt none the worse for my little fast.
Thursday, September 27th. We got us up at 3.30. On going to saddle up I found that my horse was gone. However, after a careful search, I found him, though he had changed colour and size. When in the Yeomanry, do as the Yeomen do. So having got a mount I was soon on parade. We then ascended a big kopje and were placed at various observation posts till such time as the convoy should move off. On the top of this kopje were numerous tree-locusts, these are far more swagger in appearance than their khaki-clad brethren, being green and yellow, with a crimson and purple lining to their wings; but their whole appearance is so artificial, that my first impression on seeing one was that it had flown out of a Liberty Shop. From the various uncomplimentary remarks one hears passed on the locust, I imagine the name must be derived from the expression "low cuss." At 3.30 the tail of the beastly but necessary convoy had succeeded in negotiating the usual non-progressive drift, and we left our kopje to form its rear guard. My horse and I went a lovely howler soon after starting--my first spill. I got up feeling all the better for the experience, and soon had another. In this my rifle got broken.
Friday, September 28th. We arrived at Olifant's Nek with the convoy at 3.30 a.m. a bit tired, found lukewarmed-up tea, bully and biscuits awaiting us, and then turned in, and just and unjust slumbered soundly till a late reveillé, 6 o'clock, bundled us out to feed our horses. My latest acquisition I found had vamoosed or been vamoosed. In searching for it, I found my old one. Then, having foraged around at our waggon and secured a Lee-Metford, I was once again fully equipped. At about 10, we advanced through the bush veldt as far as our present camping ground, which is called Doornlaagte, I believe.
Saturday, September 29th. As we are resting here to-day I will continue my diary-like letter.
My fell intentions of writing this morning were knocked on the head, as we had to go out on a patrol. Our latest rôles being that of resurrectionists, or grave desecrators. The reason was that certain tombs had been regarded with grave suspicion (I beg your pardon) our "intelligence" people imagining them to contain buried arms, ammunition, or treasure. However, on our arrival at the spot, a close inspection made it evident that they were bonâ-fide affairs, not Mauser-leums, and by no means new as reported, so we left the rude forefathers of the hamlet undisturbed.
Sunday, September 30th. We have just marched back from Doornlaagte through Olifant's Nek, and are camped here, a mile beyond. To-day is a regular Sunday-at-Home day. It has been quite a record day, especially for a Sabbath, for we have not heard a single Mauser go off.
Monday, October 1st. Another month! Actually a year ago this month the war commenced, and there are still corners on the slate unwiped, and we, the poor wipers, are industriously wiping, and certainly cannot complain of a lack of rags. We moved out from the Nek through Krondaal and camped at Sterkstrom. Amongst the latest reports, false and true, we heard in the evening that the C.I.V.'s were off--homeward bound.
Tuesday, October 2nd. The previous night we heard that the camp would not be shifted, nor was it. But we, of the Yeomanry, were. At 3.30, therefore, we had to arise and go out with the guns to co-operate with Ridley and Broadwood. After manoeuvring about, we were finally posted on what at first appeared a kopje of no importance (in height and composition), but kopjes were deceivers ever, and when we had got half-way up, those that had sufficient breath and energy left to express their opinions on kopjes in general, and this one in particular, did so. However, once up aloft, we were left undisturbed for the remainder of the day. On return to camp we found our missing sergeant (of September 16th, at Hekpoort). He had been a prisoner in Rustenburg and had got his liberty when Broadwood occupied or rather re-occupied the town. Whenever we go out one way the Boers come in the other, and vice versa. Though we had not played an active part in the day's operations, the others had, and the outing was rather a success, Ridley's men capturing fourteen waggons with ammunition and other stuff and a few prisoners.
Thursday, October 4th. Once again our fond hopes of a day's loaf were crushed, for it was "up in the morning early," and hie for Bethanie. This little native town we reached and surrounded, and then destroyed a mill. On the way there we came on a recently-deserted waggon (a pot of coffee was boiling over a small fire). This and its contents we destroyed; and back, which was by a different road, we came upon and destroyed four or five waggons by burning them.
* * * * *
The effect of Army, or rather Yeomanry life, its fatigues and worries, big and small, on men hitherto unaccustomed to such things, has been marvellous, and productive of a topsy-turvy dom of character, after Mr. W. S. Gilbert's own heart. To commence with, it is curious to note that in many cases men who claim to have roughed it in various parts of the world have been amongst the worst to stand the roughing here, and while weak-looking striplings have developed into fine hardy men; brawny, massive-looking fellows have shrunk to thin and useless beings. As regards character, after about four to six months out here one seems to see his fellows in all the nakedness of truth. I have seen the genial man turn irritable, the generous man mean, the good-tempered man quarrelsome, the smart and particular man slovenly, the witty man dull, the bow-and-arrow ideal (looking) sabreur anything but dashing in action, the old-womanly man indifferent to danger, and the objectionable man the best of comrades. These and other changes have I noted, and often fearfully thought how have I changed, how has it affected me, but
"There is no grace the giftie to gie me, To see mysel' as ithers see me."
and perhaps it is as well.
PETTY ANNOYANCES--THE NIGGER.
[Illustration: "Mails up for the Devons, Dorset & Fifes! None for the Sussex!!!" (Please observe the Sussex men on the right.)]
Friday, October 5th. We marched into Commando Nek this morning, and are now camped here (when I use the word "camped," I hope you do not think I mean tents and such-like luxurious paraphernalia, because I don't). Our lines have by no means fallen in a pleasant place, being on dusty ground by the side of the road which goes through the Nek, along which for the last two hours about half-a dozen miles of convoy has been proceeding en route for Rustenburg, and what with the yelling of the black man and (a hundred-times-removed) brother--I allude to the blooming niggers--the lowing of the oxen, and the dust--well, "it ain't all lavender," neither is it conducive to letter-writing or good temper. But to own up, the above would not trouble us a bit, if we had only received our mails, which we have not. I had been looking forward to a fine batch and relying on getting them with a faith which would have removed kopjes, and now I am disappointed. The bitterness of the whole thing is that some one has blundered, for the Fifes in front have theirs, and the Rough Riders behind have theirs, but we, the Composite Squadron, are without ours. Donnerwetter und Potztausand! There, I had intended writing and telling you how much I am really enjoying myself, of the beauties of the veldt, its pretty little flowers, the multi-coloured butterflies and insects, the glorious open-air life we are leading and a' that; and here I am like a bear with a sore head, grumbling, grumbling, grumbling. And now the companion of my shelter and sharer of my mealie pap--I call him Coeur de Lion (I don't mind him having the heart of a lion, but I object to him having its appetite)--is growling, and wanting to know "when the Yeomanry are going home. We came out for a crisis, and if the authorities call this a crisis may he be--" etc., etc., as he certainly will. I have tried to pacify him with the following offering of the muse--but failed:--
"Great Bugs of State. Imperial Bugs,
The time grows heavy on our hands;
Are the recruiting sergeants dead?
Does khaki fail, or martial bands?
Oh, teach the vagrant how to ride,
The orphan boy to meet the foe;
May Heaven melt your stony hearts,
To let the foolish Yeoman go."
Being under the impression that I have not made any direct reference to the nigger, of whom, of course, one sees a great deal, I will here give you my condensed opinion of this being. Left in his true state, he is, I believe, unobjectionable, but we have spoilt him. Our fellows have been too familiar with him in camp and on the march, and you know what familiarity breeds. He has sat or stood idle and watched with indifference we white men in khaki doing work he should have been set to do (I have borne huge sacks and other burdens, and cursed the officers, who have not made use of the niggers standing idly by). He has had the satisfaction of knowing that while he is earning three or four shillings a day, Thomas Atkins is earning thirteen pence. The general result is that he has become deucedly independent and occasionally confoundedly cheeky. As a remedy, I would suggest at the conclusion of this war--that is, assuming it does conclude--97 per cent. of the niggers employed by the British Government be jolly well kicked and then set in bondage for half-a-dozen years, more if their case requires it.
Our horses are nearly all done. Mine is very lame in its hind legs. As far as horseflesh goes, he is the least objectionable brute I have had, though his ignorance and lack of appreciation of kindness is appalling. We have drawn horseshoes for five weeks, so it does not look like returning to Pretoria just yet. If we had drawn horses it would have been more to the purpose. We are having tea now, and have just drawn our biscuits for the next 24 hours. They number four thinnish ones, and represent three-quarter rations. Even as regards biscuits, one learns a good deal out here. I myself know four kinds of biscuits, all as like as any of Spratt's gold medal ones in appearance, but varying greatly in taste, and consequently, popularity.