(Dedicated to the Fife, Dorset, Devon, Somerset, and Sussex Imperial Yeomanry Squadrons.)
We came from many a town and shire,
From road, and street, and alley,
And, filled with patriotic fire,
Around the flag did rally.
For many thousand miles we sailed,
Till reached was Afric's strand;
At Cape Town for some weeks we stayed,
Not yet on foeman's land.
At last we got the word to move,
To join the fighting army;
And so we left our peaceful groove,
With fighting lust half balmy.
Away we marched o'er dusty ways,
Through spruit and blooming donga,
For chilly nights and burning days,
With feelings ever stronger.
We passed Milishy on the road,
And heard their imprecations
Because they bore the Empire's load
With Hamilton and Mahon we went
Due east to wet Balmoral;
Where oh! an awful night we spent.
What ho! the victor's laurel!
Then west we rode to catch De Wet—
We thought 'twas now or never;
But he, in his particular way,
And we, go on for ever.
To Rustenburg we went with Mahon
The wily Boers to scatter;
Burnt many a farm and useful barn,
And got—our clothes a-tatter.
Then later, we did join Clements,
From him to part, oh, never!
For wars may cease, and wars commence,
But we go on for ever.
We grumble, grumble, as we roam
Beside the hills or river,
For troops we hear are going home,
But we go on for ever.
We steal (we call it loot out here)
The foeman's fowls and tucker,
And now and then we come off well,
And now and then a mucker.
We've marched by night to catch the foe,
Yet spite each bold endeavour,
Crises may come and crises go,
But this goes on for ever.
At home, first China, then elections,
Have claimed their keen attention;
Now football, crimes, and other things—
The War they seldom mention.
Soon our nearest and our dearest
Won't think our generals clever,
If we and this confounded War
Keep going on for ever.
Sunday, October 28th. Last night we ascended Avernus again, and did the usual guard on the summit. Of course, we had some rain and its concomitants. Apart from that, and the circumstance of the sergeant-major of the Dorsets, who is 6-ft. 3-ins., and scales 15 stone, treading on my head in the dark in mistake for a rock, nothing of note occurred. As regards the incident alluded to, it lends significance to my being occasionally referred to as "Peter," thanks to my suggestive initials, P.T.R. Hence it seems natural for me to be mistaken for a rock. Still, I trust these mistakes will not often happen.
On Monday (October 29th), Captain McLean, of rowing fame, and Lieutenant Wynne marched up to Blok Kloof with the ex-Policemen of the Sussex Squadron, and we, having first been paraded before Sir Elliot--who in a few kind words severed his connection with us, to our regret, as captain--rejoined our former comrades. The other squadron of the 7th Battalion of West Somerset Yeomanry, under Captain Harris, was left for duty at Rietfontein.
Colonel Browne (we were all pleased to hear of his promotion this month) having received orders to withdraw from the Kloof and rejoin Clements at Hekpoort, gave the order for us to be ready to march off at dusk. Soon after sunset, rain, which had been threatening all day, commenced to fall, and we had a rather uncomfortable night march to Hekpoort. We reached there at midnight, turned-in on the wet veldt for a few hours and were up again at four. That day we were rearguard and going in a south-westerly direction marched through Hartley's Nek (in the Witwatersberg) and encamped the other side.
DEATH AND BURIAL OF CAPTAIN HODGE.
On October the 31st we were right flank to Cyperfontein, and came in for the inevitable sniping. Mushrooms, which were very abundant on the veldt we were traversing, were collected by many of us, and on our arrival in camp cooked in a stew or fried in Maconochie bacon fat. We also came upon two Boer waggons under some trees, from which we obtained a huge loaf of mealie bread and some useful enamelled tin ware--likewise a basin of excellent custard. Several women thereupon came up from a house not far off and protested against our pillaging the waggons, as they only contained their property. "And their men?" we queried. They had none, knew nothing about any. A cock crowed in the neighbourhood, was located and promptly commandeered, and at the same moment, Boleno (not his real name) triumphantly emerged from one of the waggons with a fine pair of spurs and a quantity of tobacco; the simple Boer women had to accept us as unbelievers.
Further afield and unknown to us, the Fifes were having a warm time. It was only when we got into camp that we heard from our old friend, Sergeant Pullar, that their gallant and popular Captain (Chapell-Hodge of the 12th Lancers) had been severely wounded in retiring his men from a kopje to which they had advanced in scouting. He died the following night at Vlakfontein, and was buried the next (Friday) morning.
[Footnote 6: It was this Vlakfontein which was destined to become notorious in the later history of the war. On the 29th of last May (1901), the 7th Battalion I.Y. lost heavily in a desperate fight at this place. Of the many gallant officers and men killed, all the members of the Battalion, past and present, must specially deplore the death of Surgeon-Captain Welford, one of the kindest and most self-sacrificing of men. Also Captain Armstrong, who joined the Battalion from Strathcona's Horse, as lieutenant, in November last. Lieutenant Pullar, writing to me in reference to the above, recently remarked: "It is the same Vlakfontein where the poor 7th Battalion lost so heavily in May, and I fear there must be many other graves there now."]
As my horse had gone a bit lame, I was riding with the convoy that day, and so was able to wait and attend the funeral. I doubt the Fifes will ever forget that day.
With reveillé rain began to pour in torrents. The advance and flanking parties moved out of camp, the Fifes had been told off for rearguard, on account of the funeral. Presently the convoy began to get under way with a lowing of oxen and cracking of whips, mingled with the bleating of captured flocks of sheep and goats. Standing under a tree beside my horse I waited; through the blinding rain I could see the ox teams by our Yeomanry lines swinging round in response to the niggers' shouts and whips, and with a gurring and creaking the waggons one by one took their place in the lengthy procession, disappearing in the dense atmosphere. One tent had been left standing, right and left of its entrance were drawn up the firing party and the rest of the squadron; leaving my horse I fell in with them. The sergeants presently emerged bearing on a stretcher, sewn up in the ordinary brown military blanket, the mortal remains of their captain. Then through the never-ceasing rain, splashing through pools of muddy water sometimes ankle deep, we slowly made our way to the back of a farm some fifty yards away, where at the feet of some huge blue gum trees, a grave had been dug. Several of the firing party who had no cloaks had their waterproof sheets over their shoulders, I noticed one man with a corn sack. Colonel Browne read the Service, the rain splashing on his little Prayer Book. The body was reverently lowered by means of a couple of ammunition belts from a machine gun, and the three rounds cracked strangely in the rain-laden air, the water dripping from the rifles. After the firing, one of the party, a dour-looking Scot, void of all sentiment I should have thought (God forgive me!) stooped, and picking some objects out of the mud, thrust them into a handy pocket. They were his three empty cartridge cases. Then the Fifes sorrowfully marched away, leaving their beloved captain behind them. Happy Fifes to have possessed so good an officer! Unhappy Fifes to have lost him!
* * * * *
Returning to where my poor saturated horse was miserably standing, I mounted and slowly rode along with the convoy. After going some miles, I was pleased to see the waggons turning off the slippery track on to the veldt and outspanning. Seeing close by the road, lying on the site of a former camp, sheets of corrugated iron from the roofs and other parts of a few wrecked and deserted houses in the neighbourhood, I dismounted and secured two large bent ones (these placed on the ground like an inverted V form excellent shelters for tentless men), and proceeded to carry them and drag my steed towards the camp. It was a long way and an awful fag. At length through the pelting rain, there bore down upon the Sussex Yeomanry lines two large bent sheets of galvanised iron, cursing horribly and followed by a dripping horse. Suddenly the sheets fell clattering to the wet ground and his comrades beheld the writer of these immortal letters. Whiteing, Boleno, and the rest of our special clique or mess, who had arrived before me had already commenced constructing Mealie Villas (being the name given to our family residence wherever we are). The ground was, of course, saturated by the rain, which continued unceasing all day. Huddled together in the cribbed, cabined and confined space of our "home, sweet home," half-naked, but fairly cheerful, we passed the time in everlastingly patching up the leaks and defects in the construction of the Villas. The next morning we had reveillé at six, and turned out promptly to feed the wretched horses; the poor, woe-begone looking creatures, hardly one of which was properly picketed, were standing expectantly amid a perfect cobweb of muddy, tangled picketing ropes in the quagmire, which represented their lines. One of the fellows, who had passed the night under our ox waggon, on lifting his rain-sodden blanket, found to his surprise and disgust a fine iguana, about four feet long, nestling against his body. The sun began to smile upon us, and we advanced to a better camping ground a few miles further on at Leeuwfontein. Here we outspanned and soon had our wet blankets, clothes, and other articles spread out on the veldt drying. The Force remained halted on Sunday, though we Yeomanry were sent out on a foraging patrol and returned with ducks and oranges galore. Late in the day, "Nobby," sallow, and with a week's beard on him, paid us a visit. He told us he had been bad and was dying, but bucked up at the sight of our rifles, which he pronounced as being in a disgustingly dirty state. "I'd like to be yer sergeant-major. I'd make yer sit up," quoth he indignantly, and then proceeded to give us the history of his own gun, and the godliness of its cleanliness. He also related to us portions of the history of the Border Regiment. "We're the Unknown Regiment," remarked Nobby, half bitterly, "but they ought ter know us now, we was with ole 'Art's Irish Brigade in Natal," and then came anecdotes of Pieter's Hill, and other places. Of course, he told us of their great marching feats, and wound up thus: "The other day Clements said to our ole man, 'Give the Borders a new pair of boots an' a ration of rum, an' they'll march to h----." Then after a pause, "Of course, that's a bit o' bunkum to keep us goin';" but his manner showed he was proud to repeat it nevertheless. On the 5th, we advanced to Doornkom, getting a fine herd of cattle from a kloof on our way, and having sundry necessary bonfires, principally of oat hay.
SUSSEX YEOMAN: "It don't look like clearing off."
FIFE YEOMAN (with chattering teeth): "I dinna care. It's juist the same or waur for them (the Boers). I hope they'll a' dee o' pneumonia."]
On Sunday (November 11th) we had some lively scrapping at the commencement of our march, which was towards Krugersdorp. During the day some of our Sussex fellows came upon an untenanted shanty, containing scores of packets of magnificent candles. They brought away all they possibly could, and were very generous to the rest of us with them. That evening Mealie Villas was brilliantly illuminated, and later I had the pleasure of presenting Dr. Welford and Captain Cory with a packet of these unobtainable articles. Another man who had been on a ration fatigue at the A.S.C. waggons in the afternoon managed to take away a box of four dozen tins of apricot jam, not down on our requisition. To "do" the A.S.C. is a virtuous deed. So we have dined well lately, though at the present time of writing I am rather tired of apricot preserve.
[Illustration: On Pass.
This depicts three of ours just going into the town--and the beauty & sadness of the whole thing is--they are got up to kill.]
This day, Monday (November 12th), the column marched into Krugersdorp. We were rearguard and just as we left the site of the camp, which had been in a most picturesque spot, got bullets whistling by us and knocking up the dust round our horses. Two of our men out of four, who had relieved an infantry picket at reveillé are missing. The snipers followed us about half the distance to the dorp and we had quite a warm little rearguard action. I am just off to post this in the town.
CAMP LIFE AT KRUGERSDORP.
KRUGERSDORP, Saturday, Nov. 17th, 1900.
We are still camped within about three miles of this town, and expect to remain here till Hart's Column returns. It went out yesterday after having had a five weeks' rest. Amongst the mounted men were the Wilts, Bucks, Yorks, and Suffolk Squadrons of Yeomanry. I think I told you in my last we arrived here on Monday after a lively time as rearguard, the Boers opening fire on us as soon as we had started to leave the place we had camped at. That is the worst of pitching upon picturesque spots for camps. We lost two men, who, however, eventually turned up safe and sound, although some of their captors had shown a strong inclination to shoot them, but, thanks to Delarey's brother, the bloody-minded minority were disappointed. The snipers hung persistently on to our tail, occupying each ridge and kopje as we retired from them. As soon as I had picketed and fed my horse, I obtained leave and went into Krugersdorp, passing on the way mines all the worse for want of wear, and the "Dubs" and others under canvas. In the town I dined at what I should imagine was a Bier Halle in the piping days of peace, but which in the sniping days of war is an underground eating room run by Germans, who charge a great deal for a very little, and find it far more profitable than gold-mining.
I procured some tins of condensed milk, golden syrup, and jam for our larder, and volumes by Ruskin, Meredith, Thackeray, and Kipling, for my own somewhat small library. With these I proudly staggered back to camp, aware of the royal and well-merited reception which awaited me, and which I got. Whiteing was quite overcome at the sight of Ruskin and Thackeray, while another friend implored permission to have a dip in "The Seven Seas" (which seems a big request, I doubt not, to the uninitiated).
I forgot to mention that on my return to camp I found mails awaiting me. Thus passed a pleasant day. Tuesday I spent in camp, writing replies to my kind correspondents, reading and re-reading my letters and papers. We hear the C.I.V.'s are home, good luck to 'em, and though I have not read the papers I can imagine to a slight extent the enthusiastic welcome they were accorded. The knowledge that we have done our duty will be enough for us; never mind the brazen bands, the free drinks, the dyspeptical dinners, the cheers and jingo songs. Suffice it for us if you will let us quietly alight from the train and get us home, to our ain firesides. I fear I am rather bitter to-day; but, Christmas is coming, and the date of our return no man knoweth! On Thursday we all had to turn out to be inspected by "Bobs." If the turn out was to give him an idea of our strength as a fighting force the whole thing was "tommy-rot" for we paraded as strong as possible in numbers. The halt, sick and the blind, so to speak, were in the ranks, every available horse being used to mount them. Thus we turned out, our officers anxiously making the centre guides prove, and issuing special orders to us not to crowd when marching past in column of squadrons and all that sort of thing. Then we marched to the parade ground, cow gun, field guns, pom-poms, Infantry, Yeomanry, and Colonial mounted troops. After a short wait a group of mounted beings appeared in the distance and approached the force. We carried arms, and the infantry presented them. The great little man and his staff passed along the front of the force, and then cantered away, and the show was over, after having in all occupied about five minutes. In the way of guards and pickets we are not over-worked, the regiment having to supply a picket of one officer and twenty men every night, which means each squadron comes on every fourth night. The job is, also, what Tommy would call a distinctly "cushey" one.
On Friday I went into the town and succeeded in securing a fine stock of things for our larder, including a slab of Genoa cake, which I purchased at the Field Force canteen, which has just been opened. In the evening we entertained Sergeant Pullar, of the Fifes, at tea. This, though I should be modest over it, was really a grand, indeed sumptuous repast. Many a time has this gentleman given us biscuits on the veldt in our hours of need, papers also to read, and so we meant to do the thing well, and we did. In the morning a special invitation was sent from the corporals of the Sussex Squadron residing at Nos. 1, 2 and 3, Mealie Villas, requesting the pleasure of Sergeant Pullar's company to afternoon tea, parade order optional. We formed a table of biscuit boxes, which we covered with two recently-washed towels, and then I managed to obtain a fine effect in the way of table decoration by taking the spotted red handkerchief from my neck and laying it starwise as a centre-piece. Then, having begged, borrowed and otherwise obtained all the available tin plates, we covered the table with sardines, tinned tongues, pickles, condensed milk, jams, butter, and cake. Sergeant Pullar having arrived with his plate, knife, fork and spoon in a haversack, we sat down on S.A.A. Cordite Mark IV. boxes, to a rattling good feed, which guest and hosts did full justice to. Then it rained, and we had to rig up our blanket hutches in record time, while our guest sped to his tent. Thus ended an auspicious evening. The next morning we had the deluge, for it poured in torrents, our wretched blanket shelters proving far from rain-tight. But the real trouble was when we found we were being swamped, the water flowing in and sopping us and our belongings, the latter being by far the most important. Upon this I turned out and found the whole camp was a swamp, and all the shovels being used for digging trenches. Not to be done, I collared a meat chopper from the Dorset cook-house, and started constructing trenches for all I was worth, specially draining my part of the villa where the library was in great danger. The rain ceasing after a while, the other fellows emerged like so many slugs, and soon under my supervision (was I not articled to an architect once?) an elaborate system of drainage, consisting of trenches and dams, was constructed around the villas. We had a bit of a row with our neighbours, who complained that we had drained all our water on to them. A lot of unnecessary damming was indulged in. However, from our point of view the thing was a great success. Later the sun came out, and we dried all our possessions. Great institution the sun! The next day being the Sabbath, of course, we had to have a scrap, or at least try to have one. So we had a reveillé at 2 a.m., in order to surround a house where about forty Boers had been reported by some wretched being. On turning out, several of us found our horses had disappeared during the night, mine being among the number. So as not to be out of the fun, I took the first wandering brute I found, and fell in. All this took place in the dark, and later, when it became lighter, it was most amusing to see what some of us had secured. Mine proved to be an officer's charger, but no goer. When I got back to the lines, I found an infuriated officer's servant marking time in front of me till we were dismissed, when he approached and wrathfully spoke to me, stating that the horse had a sore back and was lame in three legs. As he gave me no chance to offer an apology or explanation, we slanged and abused one another for about ten minutes, to the delight of the squadron, and then parted so as not to miss other similar rows. The result of the morning's work was, I hear, two Boers captured. For this we all laid on the wet ground behind anthills and other cover for about two hours, waiting for them to come our way; while Legge's crowd pom-pommed and field-gunned them for about an hour. The Boers also used a good deal of ammunition, doing us no damage, but getting away through the usual missing link in the chain. This afternoon (Monday, 19th) we received mails, my share being three letters, and some papers.
[Illustration: A Peep at our Domestic Life.
Tomkyns de Vere B.A. 'bucking up' the fire, Boleno Soles triumphantly approaching with more fuel, the district being a woodless one. White with a soul above cooking, his not eating, reading Marcus Aurelius in No. 1 Mealie Villas.]
Tuesday, Nov. 20th. I have just heard that we are off for a ten weeks' trek to-morrow, so I must bring this to a conclusion, and get into town to post it, and also to procure some more stores. It may or may not interest you to know that of all the jams we have had out here (and we have been served out with at least a score of different brands) the very best, made from the most genuine fruit, were the conserves of two Australian firms. These two firms are head and shoulders above all other makers bar none. "Advance, Australia" is right.
Well, here we are, and here we are going to remain, for how long the Fates only know. Sometimes in my most optimistic moments I cheerfully look forward to spending the golden autumn of my life in the land of my birth. As I write this evening by candlelight, in our rude substitute for a tent, I can hear the chorus of "The miner's (why not a yeoman's?) dream of home," which comes wafted to us from the Fife lines. As you will, I hope, receive this by Christmas, I take the opportunity to wish you and all kind friends a right merrie Christmas and a prosperous new year. For us no holly will prick nor mistletoe hang. If Santa Claus comes it will probably be with a Mauser, and for some, alas! obituary cards will take the place of the coloured productions of Bavarian firms. But come weal, come woe, where'er we be on that day, I can guarantee you our sentiments will be easily summed up by the following:
"Our heart's where they rocked our cradle, Our love where we spent our toil; And our faith and our hope and our honour, We pledge to our native soil!"
LADY SNIPERS AT WORK.
KRUGERSDORP (again), Wednesday, November 28th, 1900.
We returned here on Monday, after having been out for about a week's cruise on the troubled veldt, and, in spite of the rumour that we were to be treking again this morning, we are still here. I will endeavour to give you the usual veracious account of our doings. I say "veracious" advisedly, as oftentimes, after having seen something extra strong in the Ananias-Sapphira-Munchausen-Gulliver-de-Rougemont epistolary line from some gentleman in khaki to the old folks at home, in a London or provincial paper, I feel that I must give up letter writing altogether, as by now those at home must have discovered that such effusions are often seven-eighths lies, and the remaining one-eighth truth, simply because the scribe's powers of invention have failed him, owing to the great strain. Only yesterday I saw in a certain local paper such an epistle from one of our fellows, who, owing to various circumstances, only joined us in September last, and has now joined the estimable waggon crowd. From it I gathered that we had fought incessantly for several days, on one occasion being without food or water for thirty-nine hours, etc., and afterwards for our magnificent behaviour had been called up to the general's tent, warmly congratulated by him, and presented with a pot of jam each. So my diffidence about writing will be easily understood, I am sure. And now for the celestial truth.
On Wednesday last (November 21st) we had an unexpected reveillé at 1.30 a.m., and set out with four days' supplies for Somewherefontein (where, we did not know). A "revally" at such an hour is, as you may imagine, by no means devoid of interest; I don't know whether you have ever experienced one; if you have you know all about it; if not you have a great experience lacking. There was I, collecting and packing our larder in an oat sack, my miniature Bodleian and other various possessions in another, dismantling our blanket shelter, and a hundred other things, including feeding and saddling up my Rosinante, and then--"Stan' to your 'osses!" We paraded smartly, and after a short wait, moved off as right flank. A few hours after dawn there was fighting in front of the column, but not our way, Legge's crowd working on a parallel road and some way ahead of us. At about mid-day we reached a wonderfully fertile village (Sterkfontein), and, imagining it to be unoccupied, our Provost-Marshal and his satellites rode forward to select a site for our camp, and got well sniped from some of the houses. Thereupon Number Eight came up, and at comparatively speaking short range, opened fire and 15-poundered them. To us, who were watching the show, the sight was a most interesting one. Crash through a house would go one shell, another would account for something else, and flames and smoke soon announced burning thatches and oat-hay stacks. The Mausers soon ceased from troubling, and eventually we entered the fontein. To our surprise no snipers were captured, and it was asserted that the firing had been done by the ladies, who, with children, were the only persons found there. However, as no firearms or signs of their having done so, were found, the matter, like most things where the wily Boer is concerned, remains a mystery. It is a fact that lady snipers do exist. For some time the Borders had in their guard-room, during our last trip, amongst the various prisoners, a lady sniper they had bagged while doing the Magaliesberg. There was not much of the Jeanne d'Arc about her. I saw her once or twice. She was a regular barge, and of great beam; her face was concealed by the usual kindly sun-bonnet.
(Note.--Our Regimental Sergeant-Major has just gone by, with white canvas shoes and slacks on. This is most reassuring as regards not moving off to-day).
Well, we camped near the village, which lay in a sort of saucer, being surrounded by kopjes. On one of these our cow gun, yclept "Wearie Willie," was hauled; it took fifty-six oxen to get him up there. The Boers, whom we had surprised, were very sick at our unexpected visit, and, had they only known, would undoubtedly have attempted to hold the place a bit. As it was, they hung about far off. It rained a perfect deluge that night, and my blanket roof collapsing I went to sleep with it over me as it fell, lullabyed by the soft cursings of my neighbours of 1 and 2 Mealie Villas, who were in like plight. The next morning we were to have had reveillé at 5.30 and proceed to Rietfontein 12. (They have to number these places out here. You probably have noticed the innumerable Blandsfonteins, Hartebeestefonteins, Rietfonteins, Bethanies, etc., in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony.) But Brother Boer willed it otherwise, and about an hour before the fixed time I was "revallyed" by the banging of guns distant and near. I arose to my feet and the fact that Mr. Delarey was trying to shell us, as a not far distant crack of an exploding shell testified. Near me, from under a rain-soaked blanket a sun-bronzed face appeared and a sleepy voice inquired "are the burchers (burghers) shelling us?" The seeker after knowledge was informed they were. We soon got the order to turn out, saddle up and escort the guns. This we quickly did. As we moved out a few shells skimmed over the kopjes and lobbed themselves where our lines had been. By this time our field guns and cow gun were well at it, and the Boers were shifting a bit. We dismounted, lined the kopje we had ridden up to, and watched the work of our gunners. Presently from half up the hill in front of us, I saw a flickering white flash and pom-pom-pom-pom-pom-pom went Delarey's gun of that name, followed by a whistling over our heads and half-a-dozen cracks behind, where, looking round, I saw the same number of puffs of smoke and earth arise from the ground. This went on for a while, they were trying to get on our led horses, I believe. I afterwards heard some went fairly close, also that the general had one very near. Apropos of this pom-poming, our colonel, who had had their missiles all round him and had quite ignored them, as is his invariable custom, strolled up to one of our officers and the conversation turning on to pom-poms, languidly remarked: "Ye-es, I don't think they do much weel destwuction--er-er--it is pwincipally their demowalising effect." The demoralising effect on himself having been so very non-evident, this remark struck me as being distinctly good. Our "Wearie Willie" snapped out a remark now and again, and apparently always to the point. Later, Legge's men occupied the ridge opposite and chivvied the enemy for several miles; we, returning to camp, watered our horses and, twenty minutes later, set out on a reconnaissance with the guns in hopes of finding some snipers in the vicinity of Hekpoort. We returned bagless. That night it rained, as usual, and as we had not had time to rig up any shelters, or even dry our blankets, we came in for another good wetting. At two o'clock the next (Saturday) morning we had to turn out and stand to our horses. "Steady, boys, steady, we always are ready"--afterwards; you know our good old British style. But Frater Boer had had a belly full the preceding day, his losses in killed and wounded being considerable, I hear. Legge's men swear to have buried eight, and Clements said one of our shells hit a gun of their's. That night we had the fashionable and seasonable rain again. (Please, in future, remember we have this every night, and so I will refrain from too many references to it). On Sunday we moved off for Rietfontein, No. 1001. We formed the rearguard and expected a bit of harassing, the country being most favourable for such operations on the part of the enemy. But they left us alone, though they were undoubtedly about unseen. As several waggons broke down, and had to be mended or burned, we had to grill on the kopjes for hour upon hour, cursing the convoy with all our might. Presently the inevitable question "What's the date?" elicited the fact that it was the 25th. (You can imagine the chorus "A month to Christmas!" and Sunday.) Sunday, and you probably in your frock coat and patent boots, luxuriously reclining in an upholstered pew, listening to promises of peace and rest, or standing up half thinking of the good meal to follow, and singing
"I came to Jesus as I was, Weary, and worn, and sad; I found in Him a resting place, And He hath made me glad."
And I, there on those hard rocks, with a perpendicular sun above me, mechanically watching the distant hills, but seeing with strong mental eyes a church porch with roses and creeper over it and noting the Sabbath silence which presently would be broken softly by the voices of the worshippers within:
"Come unto Me, ye weary, And I will give you rest."
I think to stand outside a church and hear the worshippers within is to get one of the most pleasant impressions possible; somehow it always strikes me that one imagines the people within to be so much holier, indeed more spiritual, than they really are. But all this looks either like preaching or scoffing, and it is neither. It is really the result of a desire to push myself into the home life you good people are still leading, somehow or other. An excusable offence after all, my Masters! Having re-cursed the tail of the convoy, it at last moved forward, and we, having allowed it so much grace, did the same. At the outskirts of the village, which the column had moved through, the last waggon--an overloaded one--collapsed, and once again we manned the heights. I was sent out with a couple of men to a post a little in advance of the rest of our troop, and, after an hour, about a mile off saw four Boers nonchalantly riding toward the other side of the dorp. These were followed by two more. I sent in and reported this, and shortly after we moved off, unsniped. Undoubtedly these beggars had been waiting for the column to pass, so that they could return and have a Sunday dinner and a quiet evening, having had rather a rough week, and it was only owing to the above-mentioned waggon breaking down that we had a glimpse into the ways of our enemy. Our camp was not far off, and we go there at about six; some of the column were in by eleven in the morning. The amount of burning done en route was almost appalling. The next day we marched into Krugersdorp once again, passing several marshy spots where arum lilies were blooming in rich profusion. We reached here at noon; the Dorsets and Devons who formed the rearguard had a bit of scrapping, and, thanks to a straggling convoy, did not get into camp till close on midnight, and so, of course, got a rare soaking from the usual rain. Here I have received a few belated mails, and live in hopes of getting the latest. I have also read in some of the papers of the welcome home of the C.I.V.'s.
"You've welcomed back the C.I.V.'s, Back from their toil to home and ease; The war is going pretty strong, We've bade adieu to 'sha'n't be long'; And you at home across the seas, Don't quite forget us, if you please."
The following poetic outburst requires a little explanation. We have had the khaki this and the khaki that, and it has just occurred to me a khaki Omar Khayyam would not be out of place, for of a truth one needs a soupçon of philosophy out here occasionally. With this idea in my head, and having a little leisured ease, I have set out to minister a long-felt want. Not, however, having my Persian "Fitzgerald" by me, I must ask your indulgence for any grave discrepancies in the text.
THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM.
(For the use of British Soldiers on the Veldt.)
THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM.
(For the use of British Soldiers on the Veldt.)
The night has gone, the golden sun has riz,
The khaki men have all begun to friz,
Cleared is the mushroom camp of yesterday,
And forth they go upon the Empire's biz.
Oh! fool to cry "The Boer is on the run,"
He is, we know, and ain't forgot his gun;
And often from the rocky kopje side
He stops and pots—your mess is minus one.
I sometimes think that nought whiffs on the wind
As strong as where some dying steed reclined;
That any casual stranger passing by
The place, if asked, again could eas'ly find.
Alas! that Mausers are not turned to hoes,
That Christmas comes, and with the pudding goes;
And we stick here for ever and a day,
When we return (or if) who knows—WHO KNOWS?
Oh! Pard, could thou and I with Holmes conspire
To round De Wet up with his force entire;
Would we not smash it all to bits—and then
Get somewhere nearer to our heart's desire.
A pipe o' baccy 'neath a leafy tree,
A recent mail from far across the sea,
No one to worry for an hour or two,
And veldt, indeed, were Paradise to me.
And, lo, 'tis vain the generals to blame,
Keep boldly sticking at the ancient game;
And if to-day you are upon the veldt,
To-morrow it will also be the same.
Each morn's reveillé comes like some nightmare,
Sleepy you rise and pack your kit, and swear;
Then mount your saddled steed with gun in hand,
And hasten off, you know not why or where.
Some in the fighting let their hearts rejoice,
For some the waggons are the patriot's choice:
Oh! loot the farm, don't let the chickens go,
Nor heed the roaring of the sergeant's voice!
They say the gentlemen in khaki keep
The courts where Kruger once did plot so deep;
That great Oom Paul across the sea has trekked,
Before the Courts of Europe now to weep.
We are but pawns, first front, then flank, then rear,
Moved by the Master Players there and here
Upon the veldt and kopje (that's the board),
Sans tents, sans beds, sans pudding and sans BEER.
The above extract will, I am sure, suffice to show the general tone of the khaki Rubaiyat, and be more than enough to damn my poor but honest reputation.
TREATMENT OF THE SICK.
KRUGERSDORP, December 5th, 1900.
As the English mail leaves this benighted place to-morrow at mid-day, I am dropping you a few lines, though I feel in anything but a scribbling humour. Clements moved out on Monday for about a week's jaunt, and left us, the Sussex Squadron and sick men, behind in charge of about a hundred remounts, mostly Argentines; and with the pleasant task of doing pickets and such like, about two miles out from the town. As I write I am very wet, it having been raining for the last two days. This morning the other four occupants of Mealie Villas had to clear off at 3 o'clock to do a picket, and so, as they naturally withdrew the support of their rifles from their blankets, there was not much shelter for me. I wonder what your opinion was on the statements of Mr. Burdett-Coutts, M.P., as regards certain hospitals out here, and also what you think of the Army doctor? It was my duty to parade the sick men before one of these august beings this morning. I received the order at a quarter past nine from our Squadron Sergeant-Major to parade before the doctor's tent, in the lines of Marshall's Horse, at 9.30. So at that time, behold me with fourteen sick men in the driving, drenching rain waiting in puddles of water outside the well-closed tent of the disciple of Esculapius. There we waited till at last an officer entering the tent, in response to my inquiry, as to whether I was at the right place or not, replied in the affirmative and informed an unseen being that there was a sick parade outside. Apparently without even rising, the great unseen was heard to remark shortly, "Sick parade is at seven o'clock every morning," the tent was again closed, and the men with fever, dysentery, colds and sores wended their ways through the rain and mud, back to the damp interiors of their leaking blanket hovels. They were men of the Fife, Devon, Dorset, and Sussex Yeomanry Squadrons, and that is how some of your dear patriotic volunteers get treated occasionally by certain doctors out here. Our Battalion doctor (the 7th) is a very good sort, and if you are bad will see you at almost any time.
On Wednesday (November 29th) a friend and I went into the 'Dorp and got a few stores (alas! the Field Force canteen is almost empty and the prospects of its being replenished are drear). Afterwards we strolled up to the station to see if there were any mails, and to see a train again. The Johannesburg train came in while we were there, and a sergeant-major of Kitchener's Horse shot an officer of the same corps soon after alighting from the train. The officer had put him under arrest for misbehaviour in Johannesburg. I had my choice of a dozen yarns as to the real cause of the tragedy. The officer was buried the next day. The fate of the sergeant-major I have not heard yet, though it is not difficult to guess. Mr. Wynne, our troop leader left us this day for England, having applied for leave on business. A statement of the losses among our officers may not be uninteresting. All of the following, save the last, are home or on their way: The Duke of Norfolk, injured thigh; the Hon. T. A. Brassey, elections; Mr. Ashby, reasons unknown, but undoubtedly excellent; Mr. Williams-Wynne, business reasons; Mr. Cory, still out here but working with the transport--hard.
Which leaves us Mr. McLean, of rowing fame, as our captain and only officer.
Saturday, apart from lifting us into December, was I believe, uneventful.
VELDT CHURCH SERVICE.
On Sunday we had a Brigade Church Service--we had not had one for a long time. We also had a real padre, who wore a surplice, cassock, and helmet, and who preached an indifferent sermon. I don't suppose we deserve a real good man.
[Illustration: Hymns & their Singers (At an I.Y. Veldt Church Service). "I was not even thus" Lead kindly Light.]
The great event of Tuesday was the fate of my Christmas pudding, which I had received from my Mater. Having handled and examined it carefully for some time, I thought I could detect signs of decomposition about it. I communicated my fears to my comrades, who shared them, and said they didn't think it would last till Christmas. It didn't; for we ate it that evening. It was good, and I suppose we ought to feel ashamed of ourselves for eating it out of season, but really our excuses are many, principal among them being it is not wise trying to keep edibles, as they have a way of getting lost, and if the pudding managed to last to Christmas it is just on the cards we might not.
To show you how civilised we are at the 'Dorp, we, when in standing camp, occasionally have a chance of getting a drink of beer. This afternoon a barrel was brought into our camp, and to-night we shall be able to buy pots of it at sixpence a pint. You should see those pints! We may be Imperial Yeomanry, but they don't give us Imperial Pints. Teetotallers will be interested and pleased to hear that out of our princely stipend of 1s. 3d. per diem (unpaid since July) we don't buy much of the beverage.
I have drawn a fresh horse from the remounts we are in charge of; my last gee-gee I called "Barkis," because he was willing, this brute I shall have to dub "Smith," because he certainly is not--Willing.
N.B.--Our mounts are always known as "troop horses," those belonging to the officers though, however Rosinante-like, are invariably, politely and with dignity alluded to as "chargers."
Thursday morning. We had to turn out and stand to arms this morning at three, an attack being expected on the railway. I, happening to have the stable picket, had the pleasure of arousing the recumbent forms of the sleepers with the joyous Christmas carol of "Christians, awake! come, salute the happy morn." You ought to have seen the "Christians" awake; to have heard them would have been too awful.
So from three till six we stood to arms, a thick fog enveloping us, making it impossible to see more than fifty yards to our front or rear. But they did not come. I understand that we may have "the stand to arms" wheeze every morning now, so we have something to look forward to.
KRUGERSDORP. Wednesday, December 12th, 1900.
As we are under orders to leave here and join Clements to-morrow, I am writing so as to catch the mail which goes out on Thursday.
On Sunday we had a Church Service, and in the afternoon had a visit from Nobby--the Border Regiment has been resting at Krugersdorp for a few weeks--who entertained us till, what out here we should term a late hour, about nine.
On Monday I heard that another of our Sussex fellows had died of enteric at Pretoria.
Nobby has just looked in again, he is rather a swell, wearing one of our new war hats we had served out, and which I gave him, preferring to keep my old one; in his words, he looks as if he belonged to the "Yeomandry." It is wonderful how all our fellows get on with our professional brethren. Take for instance one of our men, a 'Varsity man, hight Pember, he is a dry, self-contained beggar, and lives his own life. Into this life has come a man of the Northumberland Fusiliers. They both hail from the same county. After the day's march, when the Infantry not on picket are in camp, a dark figure often slouches up our lines, and a voice inquires, "Is Pem 'ere?" and Pember of ours, late of Trinity Hall, calls out from the darkness, "Here you are, mate," and forthwith the man of the Fighting Fifth and the Imperial Yeoman sit down together and chat of Heaven knows what, and the latter gives the former half of his prized hard tack ration (he wouldn't give me a biscuit for his soul's salvation), for the Northumberlands do not fare well at their quartermaster's hands, at least they did not the last time we were on the trek. Then, at about the same time Nobby is leaving us, the Fusilier also arises and disappears with a "Good night, chummy," into the darkness.
The dry canteen, for the troops, in the town, is now quite empty. Fortunately, we still have some of the Great Candle Loot left, otherwise we should be very much in the dark after sunset. To save our candles from draughts and get a good light, we always burn them in biscuit tins, a practice I can recommended highly if ever you go out campaigning and lack a lantern. A convoy going to Rustenburg from Pretoria was attacked and part captured a few days ago by Delarey's crowd. I had expected that to happen soon, the length of the convoy and insufficiency of its guard, having frequently struck me as very tempting for Brother Boer.
Well, I must conclude, as I have nothing of note to narrate, and must begin to pack my possessions in a manner to circumvent our quartermaster-sergeant when packing our kits on the waggon.