IMPERIAL YEOMANRY HOSPITAL, PRETORIA. Tuesday, December 18th, 1900.
Dulce et decorum 'tis to bleed for one's country, especially to a small extent, and that is my case. So here I am taking my ease with a slightly stiff leg, caused by a flesh wound acquired during a lively rearguard action we had on the 14th, and my hand tied up in a manner to render writing rather a slow and fumbling ceremony. I always find it easier to write of the present than the past, so will get through the events of last week as quickly as possible. On Thursday last we left Krugersdorp for Rietfontein to join Clements, with the Borders, some mounted details and useless remounts. Half of our fellows were leading the latter. We, the remainder, formed the rearguard, and a long, wearisome job it was. Oh, how those waggons broke down and stuck in dongas and spruits! At last we got into camp, to my infinite relief, for the sun had, for once, given me a vile head. All through the day we heard guns firing, first near us and then distant. The next day we were again rearguard, and had a rare harassing. The end of that beastly convoy seemed to lag even more than on the preceding day! And we of the rearguard, on the kopjes and ridges, watched the enemy galloping round and up to the favourable positions, potting at them when we had a decent chance. But they knew the lay of the land, of course, and the closer they got the more invisible they became. They don't require khaki to make them indiscernible. Then a single shot would inform us as it hummed above our heads that one gentleman had got into position, and was getting the range, then others, and we knew his friends were with him, and hard at it. Once a few of us happened to be lying in front of a ridge we were holding, and at which the Boers were potting from another about 800 yards off. We got the order to retire over the crest and get better cover and had a warm time doing it. One at a time we crawled, then, crouching low, rushed back a few yards and dropped behind a rock for breath and cover. Then back again we dragged ourselves till the cover was better. Their firing was distinctly good, and several fellows were hit. On one occasion I dropped behind a small piece of rock, ostrich-like, covering my head, and almost simultaneously with my action a bullet struck the side of the rock a few inches from my face with a nasty phutt. That is what it is like on such occasions. That's the sort of game we played all day, cursing Clements for not sending out to meet us and give us a hand. We did not know what had happened in the valley the preceding day. Later we got into an ambush, some of the enemy being within a hundred yards of us; and had several horses killed. We thought that the show was over, as Rietfontein was close handy, and the last time we were there the locality was clear. It was almost dark when we entered Clements' camp. But where were the tents, the men and horses that used to be? Presently a figure with a face rendered unrecognisable by bandages, came up to us. It was Sergeant Pullar of the Fifes, and from him we had the story of the previous day's disaster. Over half the Fifes are missing, most of the Devons also, so-and-so killed, and so-and-so, and so-and-so. Kits lost, and tents burnt. From various reliable sources I have compiled the best account I can make of the affair, which we missed by the merest fluke, what men call chance, and here it is.
THE STORY OF NOOITGEDACHT.
Clements' camp was at Nooitgedacht, between Hekpoort and Olifant's Nek, where he had been for three days. Nooitgedacht is at the base of the Magaliesberg range of hills (the name means "Ne'er Forgotten"). We had camped there about a couple of months back. It lies near a large kloof. A little to the west of Clements were Colonel Legge's mounted troops, composed of Kitchener's and Roberts' Horse, "P" Battery R.H.A., and two companies of M.I., the whole force numbering, at the most, 1,400 men. Knowing that Delarey was in the vicinity with a strong force, the general had helio'ed for reinforcements, which, unfortunately, were not forthcoming, so apparently he was sitting tight, with doubled pickets, on the Magaliesberg and kopjes in the valley. Then came the eventful Thursday (the 13th). During the night Beyers' Commando made a wonderful trek from the north to reinforce and co-operate with Clements' old foe, Delarey, and just before dawn the enemy, who had crept up unseen or heard in the dark, rushed Legge's pickets on the west of the camp, shooting the sentries and many of the men as they lay asleep in their blankets, soon afterwards getting into the gallant Colonel's camp. Poor Legge, who ran out in the direction of the pickets as soon as he heard the firing, was one of the first killed. Then Clements' pickets on the Magaliesberg, which were composed of four-and-a-half companies of Northumberland Fusiliers, suddenly became aware of the close proximity of the enemy, who were in great force, about 3,000, and had, undetected, crept up the gradual sloping northern side of the range. The Northumberlands soon exhausted their ammunition, volunteers of the Yorkshire Light Infantry tried to take them a fresh supply, but were allowed to toil up the steep hillside with their heavy loads, only to be dropped, when near their goal, by their exultant foes. Probably never before have the Boers fought with such boldness, standing up and firing regardless of exposing themselves. Meanwhile, the Yeomanry, who had been standing to their horses in the camp, received the order to reinforce the Northumberlands on the Magaliesberg above them, and, with the Fifes leading and Devons following, commenced to ascend the precipitous hillside. Alas, the Boers were in possession of the summit, the Fusiliers having surrendered, and the Yeomanry got it hot. Of the Fifes, Lieutenant Campbell, who had only joined them a fortnight ago at Krugersdorp, was the first to fall, struck by an explosive bullet in the head. Out of less than fifty, fourteen were killed, and almost all the survivors wounded more or less seriously. At last, without a ray of hope, they were compelled to surrender, too. Many a good comrade's fate is known to me, so far, by that direly comprehensive word, missing. I have heard that the Boers threw many of the wounded over the precipitous southern side of the Magaliesberg, but do not believe it. Then they turned their full attention to the camp below; every officer of the staff was hit, the brigade-major was killed, having many wounds. Clements himself went unscathed; wherever there was a hot corner the general was to be seen coolly giving orders and apparently unconcerned amid a hail of bullets. "I'll be d----d if they shall have the cow-gun," he remarked, and, by gad, they didn't. With drag ropes it was moved down the hill for some distance, and then an attempt was made to inspan the oxen. As fast as one was inspanned it was shot, and quickly another and another would share its fate. At last, by sheer desperate perseverance, some sort of a team was inspanned and the gun moved forward, leaving dead and wounded men and considerably over half of the ox-team behind, but with the aid of the field artillery, who shelled the kopjes, was at length got on to a comparatively safe road. Of a truth, were I another Virgil and a scribe of verse, not unheroic prose, I might well have started this little account with
"I sing of arms and of heroes."
The getting away of the transport was a desperate affair; the niggers scooted, and amid the roar of the field guns, pom-poms, maxims and rifles, which between the hills was terrific, the mules stampeded. Officers, conductors and troopers rode after the runaways, and, under threats of shooting if they didn't, compelled the niggers to return with the mules. Chief amongst the Yeomanry who distinguished themselves that day, was Sergeant Pullar, who rode after the retiring convoy, called for, and returned with volunteers to the camp and helped with the guns and ammunition, and in various other ways. At last the Boers swarmed into the camp and our guns, turning on it, shelled it, containing as it did, friend and foe alike, a regrettable but absolutely necessary measure. Then our force retiring down the valley to Rietfontein fought a fierce rearguard action, the Dorset Yeomanry under Sir Elliot Lees and the remnants of the Fifes and Devons forming the rear screen, supported by Kitchener's and Roberts' Horse, mostly dismounted, and the guns. During this retirement, which I have heard wrongly ascribed to the M.I., Sir Elliot and his orderly, Ingram, of the Dorsets, on one occasion finding that two dismounted Yeomen had been left behind on a recently abandoned kopje, gallantly rode back and bore them away on their horses into comparative safety. The artillery were grand, as ever, and in spite of killed and wounded gunners and great losses in the teams, saved their guns and used them to effect. At six o'clock on Friday morning the rearguard entered camp at Rietfontein. Our casualties--killed, wounded and missing, are 640, while it is stated and believed that the enemy's losses were even more severe. It seems a strange coincidence that exactly this time a year ago at home in dear old England we were going through the black Stormberg and Colenso week, and Christmastide was coming to many a sorrowing home.
[Footnote 7: For his share in this gallant deed, Ingram was promoted by the C.-in-C. to Corporal. Several of the Devons and Fifes were subsequently mentioned in despatches. Sergeant Pullar was persuaded to accept a commission, as also were Sergeant-Majors Gordon and Cave. All three being excellent soldiers and popular with the men. A Yeoman told me lately, "It was simply splendid the cool way in which Colonel Browne and Sir Elliot Lees superintended the waggons being moved from camp."]
Since writing the above, I have heard vague tales that a good many of the missing have turned up at Rustenburg, being either men who got through or released prisoners. This I rather anticipated and hope to be true. About the Yeomanry I have not heard any reassuring news yet; one thing is certain--they had many casualties and fought desperately.
Thursday, December 13th, 1900.
Comrades of Fife and of Devon, Dying as brave men die, Under God's smiling blue heaven, Now you peacefully lie On the hills you died defending, Or veldt where you nobly fell, Your foemen before you sending; Good comrades, fare thee well.
O comrades of Devon and Fife, Memories flood me o'er; Fierce mem'ries of many a strife In days that are no more; Full many a fast have we shared, Of many treks could I tell; Brave men who have done and dared, Comrades of mine--farewell.
And when in the great Valhalla All of us meet again; Norsemen in skins and armour And men in khaki plain; With a smile to erstwhile foemen Who 'gainst us fought and fell, I'll haste to my fellow Yeomen, Till then, dear chums--farewell!
TWO FIELD HOSPITALS--A CONTRAST.
On Friday I went before our Battalion doctor, who had lost everything, save what he stood in. However, he fixed up my leg and hand and exempted me from duty. On going before him the next day he said my leg wanted resting, and in spite of protests sent me to the R.A.M.C. field hospital. A word aside here. I suppose you have heard of this great institution of the British Army--the d----d R.A.M.C. (I seldom, if ever, have heard it alluded to without the big, big D's.) My experience of it, I am pleased to say, has been, so far, severely limited, but, slight as it is, I can quite understand why it is lacking in popularity. With three other Yeomen and my kit, I accompanied the doctor's orderly to the Brigade Hospital. The order for our admission was given in, and we were told we should be attended to at nine. The sun was hot, shade there was none, and outside the doctor's tent we waited. Nine came and went, a doctor also rode up, chatted with someone inside, and rode away. The sun was scorching, and we dare not go away to get in any friendly shade. Three of us had game legs and one dysentery, but, of course, we grumbled not, for the R.A.M.C. are all honourable men. Various squads of sick Artillery, M.I. and other regiments marched up, and finally an R.A.M.C. sergeant came to the entrance of the tent and began calling them up before the doctor. Eleven o'clock came, and in the hot sun we waited still, in spite of being half-determined to return to our lines, as it was getting rather wearisome and confoundedly hot; but the R.A.M.C. are all honourable men. A Canadian helped a chum down to the group of impatient patients, and after a few words left him with the terribly audible remark, "So long, ole man. I'd sooner blanked-well die on the veldt than go there." Which showed how he failed to appreciate the R.A.M.C., and also his bad taste, for those inside must have heard him. But there, they know that they, the R.A.M.C., are all honourable men. "Driver Neads!" calls the spic and span little dark-moustached sergeant, reading from a list of names. A ragged dirty-looking Artilleryman limps painfully up, two pills are given to him, he gazes curiously at them, then at the back of the donor, who has turned away, and then realising that nothing further is to be done for him, limps heavily back, making room for the next patient. Once in the background, he heels a small hole in the earth, turns the contents of his hand into it, methodically fills the hole up, and hobbles back with his squad. They were, of course, the celebrated "Number Nines," the great panacea out here as, of course, you know. They (are supposed to) cure all diseases, from dysentery and brain fever to broken legs and heads.
And still we, who were first, waited in the blazing sun, to be last. Finally the smart sergeant smilingly recognised us, and cheerily told us that there was an Imperial Yeomanry Field Hospital somewhere in the vicinity, and we were to go there, and with that returned us our admittance form. I pressed him for more accurate information, and had the supposed direction given me, which proved correct. So off we crawled, I, with my Bunyan's Pilgrim-like load, holding the position of a scratch man in a race. I could not have done the distance had I not procured the services of a nigger, who relieved me of my kit for a shilling. So we shook the dust of the R.A.M.C. Field Hospital from our boots, but let not an abusive word be levelled at them, for are they not all honourable men?
The Imperial Yeomanry Field Hospital was about a mile off, and on reaching it we were treated with every kindness. They had only come in the previous night, and we were the first patients. Every consideration was shown to us, and in a few minutes we were lying down in a fine tent of the marquee brand and drinking excellent café au lait and eating bully and biscuit. "The best we can do for you at present," as they apologetically remarked to us. Fomentations were applied to our wounds, and luxuriously reclining on my back, smoking a Turkish cigarette one of the orderlies had just given me, I fervently swore that the grandest institution in South Africa was the I.Y. Field Hospital. In the afternoon some sick Inniskilling Fusiliers were admitted, and for some time seemed dazed at the kind treatment they were receiving, and appeared half under the impression they were in Heaven. "What's this chummy?" queried one. "Imperial Yeomanry Hospital" was the reply. "Thank Gawd 'taint the R.A.M.C." grunted the Tommy, turning over on his side with a sigh of relief. At about ten that night we had to make room in our tent for a dozen wounded men from Thursday's fight. Ninety were being brought into Rietfontein and the I.Y. people were taking half. Soon an ambulance was halted by our tent, and wounded men hobbled or were carried in, heads, arms and legs tied up, with here and there blood showing through the bandages. They were M.I., Kitchener's Horse, Northumberlands and K.O.Y.L.I. (King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry). "Man," started a Yorkshire man before he had been in the tent a minute, "they (the Boers) treated us real well." "Ay, they was all right," chimed in a M.I. man, "they gave us to eat as much as they 'ad." "One bloke arsked my permission to take the boots orf one of our dead chaps," said a Northumberland Fusilier. And at it they went hammer and tongue, especially the latter. To follow the various speakers one needed a dozen pairs of ears at least. Several related that the Boers came up to them and told them they had made a grand fight of it. They were quickly supplied with beef tea and biscuits, and some of the necessary cases were dressed again. "See that that man has a ground sheet down there," ordered Major Stonham, "he is on the bare earth." "I've laid on it for three nights out there, sir," cheerfully vouchsafed the patient under notice.
At last I got to sleep, awaking at four, and having had a small bowl of porridge and milk, arose with the other fellows who had come in with me and the sick Inniskillings, and getting our kits, got into an ambulance waggon for the first time. The I.Y. people sent in two ambulances and the R.A.M.C. three open mule waggons filled with sick soldiers. We reached Pretoria at three, and we four Yeomen were sent to the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital, where, after once again giving in our names, regimental numbers, ranks, regiments, service, ailments, religion, and a hundred other items of general information, I was allotted a ward, bed, and suit of pyjamas, and after having had a bath, got into bed and awaited the next person desirous for my name, number, time of service, &c. It was not long before the sister in charge of our ward appeared; she is Irish (Sister Strohan), and naturally very kind. Our tent holds six men, and we were all new arrivals that evening. She asked if we had had anything to eat, and we said we had had nothing beyond a little porridge at four in the morning. Then she commanded the orderlies to get "these poor men" bread, marmalade, cocoa, beef tea, pillows and all sorts of things. And we "poor men" laid comfortably in our beds and grinned at one another. She ordered us later to go to sleep, but we could not. For myself, I had not been in a bed for so long that I positively felt restless, and almost rolled out of bed so as to have a comfortable "doss" on the ground (it seemed like a case of the pig returning to its wallowing). At last I fell asleep, and once in that state took a good deal of arousing--for night nurses and orderlies tread more lightly than stable guards, and loose horses grazing round one's head.
[Illustration: A friendly Boer family watching a British ambulance waggon, full of sick & wounded, going into Pretoria.]
Thursday, December 20th. A friend, of the Fife Yeomanry, came in here wounded last night. He went up with twenty other men of his crowd to reinforce the Northumberlands on the hill. Out of these, six were killed and nine wounded. I have already told you many of the dead and wounded were left on the kopjes for several days. He tells me it was horrible to see some of the poor fellows; the flies had got on their wounds. One fellow with a wounded jaw had maggots inside as well as out, and they were taken out of his mouth with little bits of stick. Another with a wounded side was quite a heaving, moving mass of them where he had been hit.
CHRISTMAS IN HOSPITAL.
IMPERIAL YEOMANRY HOSPITAL, PRETORIA. Monday, December 24th, 1900.
Here's to the doc's an' the nusses, The bloomin' ord'lies too, Who tend to us poor worn cusses, All of 'em good and true. Fightin' with death unceasin', With ne'er a word of brag, Sorrow an' anguish easin', Under the Red Cross flag.
Extract from forthcoming "Orspital Odes."
Christmas Eve! Forsooth! And it falls on a homesick British Army in South Africa, home-yearning and longing for a sight of the sea (our sea!) like the famous Grecian host of old. If you ask a British soldier, "How goes it?" he promptly growls, "Feddup." I wonder what the Grecian warrior's equivalent for "fed up" was. He had one I am sure.
Christmas Eve, forsooth! Where is the prickly, red-berried holly? Where, too, the mistletoe with its pearly berries? And where, most of all, queries your enforced member of a Blue Ribbon Army--where is the Wassail Bowl?
The weather is fine, and under our tents we don't feel the heat of the sun. After the monotony of khaki here, there and everywhere, to which one gets accustomed on the veldt, the colours one sees here are quite enlivening. To begin with, place aux dames the nurses are arrayed in grey, white and red, and the patients who arrive in torn, worn, dirty or bloody khaki, surrender all their warlike habiliments to an orderly, have a bath and then "blossom in purple and red"--pyjamas, or in pinks, stripes or spots.
The food is very good here, and, as Tommy says, there is bags of it. "Bags" is the great Army word for abundance. It is used apparently without discrimination, and so one hears of bags of jam, bags of beer, bags of bags, bags of fun, or anything else in or out of reason.
For a student of dialect this hospital opens a large field. It is a regular Babel at times, our Sister speaking a superior Irish and the orderly an inferior brogue. In our tent are a Scotch, two Welsh, a Dorset and a Sussex Yeoman. In the next tent are some regulars of the Northumberland Fusiliers and Yorkshire Light Infantry, and a true-bred cockney Hussar, and their speech requires careful attention if the listener wishes to understand it, I can assure you. A few Kaffirs talking a bastard Dutch and an old Harrovian, who stutters like an excited soda water syphon, completes the Babel in my immediate neighbourhood.
The Irish orderly, Mick, by the way, is one of the most wonderful and plausible fellows I have met out here. To say he could talk a donkey's hind leg off would be a mild way of describing his excessive volubility--he would chatter a centipede's legs off. Often when he comes in, with another orderly's broom, to make a pretence of sweeping the tent out, and leaning on the stick, starts retailing stories of mystery and imagination, I lay down the book I am trying to read, and closing my eyes, drift into the land of true romance.
[Illustration: Owing to the great wear and tear on the Hospital garments and the large influx of fresh patients--pyjama suits are very rare in a perfect state or satisfactory size. Slippers also are excessively scarce. The above is a common scene.
ORDERLY (to complaining new patient): "Well, it's the best Oi can do for yez."]
It is a land uninhabited by ladyes fayre in the general way, for the dramatis personæ usually comprise "th' ortherly corp'ril"; "th' sargint of th' gyard"; "th' qua'thermasther, an' a low blaygyard he waz"; "th' gin'ril o' th' disthrict"; "a lif'tint in 'H' Company"; and other military personages, with "th' ortherly room" or a "disthrict coort-martial" thrown in. If I had only had a phonograph I would preserve them, and when I get home, have them set up in type, tastily bound, and announced as "Tales from the Ill, by R--. K--.," and then live a life of opulent ease on the proceeds thereof.
"Th' sisther," as he calls her, says he is a dreadful man, and from her point of view I don't think she is far away from the truth. He argues about everything, and is always blaming his fellow orderlies. Still, it is the dreadful men who are invariably so entertaining.
I have just heard that a friend, Trooper Bewes, a cheery fellow of the Devons, has succumbed to his wound. Christmas Eve, forsooth! His chum was shot through the stomach, and died on the veldt. Poor fellow, he (the chum) was always swallowing with avidity any rumour about our going home--perhaps he was too keen, and ironical fate stepped in. It's a hard Christmas Box for his poor people, is it not?
We are debating whether to hang our socks up or not. If I do, and get something inside, it will probably be a scorpion. I found one in my boot a few days ago. The latest from our cheerful town pessimist, is "Don't be surprised if you are out another twelve months." Our Harrovian friend has summed up our feelings very aptly by stuttering, "If I had a bigger handkerchief I'd weep."
A couple of orderlies have just passed our tent, bearing an inanimate blanket-covered form on a stretcher--the last of my poor Devon friend, beyond a doubt. Another was carried by about two hours ago, while we were having tea. Christmas Eve, forsooth! Well, I will resume this to-morrow, or on Boxing Day.
There are not many people who would do any letter-writing on the afternoon of this day. But out here one does marvellous deeds, which one would never dream of attempting at home. So here I am, my dinner finished, adding a few lines to this letter, commenced yesterday.
Last night, in lieu of the festive carol singers, our waits (pickets) entertained us nearly all the night with volleys and independent firing. Whether the foe was real or imaginary I have not yet heard, but I believe the former. At four this morning I was awakened to have a fomentation on my leg, and drowsily realised it was Christmas Day. Then I fell asleep again, and dreamed of horrible adventures with Brother Boer. When we all awakened, we tried hard to convince one another it was indeed Christmas Day; one man actually going to the length of looking in his sock with a sneer, and all through the day "this time last year" anecdotes have been going strong amongst us of the I.Y.
"And a sorrow's crown of sorrows Is remembering happier things."
After breakfast I strolled up to the post-office tent on a forlorn hope for letters. There were none for me, but one and a fine Scotch shortbread for the wounded Fife man in the bed next to mine. The cake, the beauty of which we quickly marred, was tastefully decorated with sugared devices, and the inscription, "Ye'll a' be welcome hame!"
Another fomentation, a visit from the doctor, who put us all on stout, and dinner was up. This consisted of the roast beef of Old--oh, no, it didn't, it was roast old trek ox, and I was unable to damage it with my well-worn teeth, so left it. The "duff" was not bad, and the quantity being augmented by a cold tinned one, which our Harrovian friend produced from his haversack, we fared very well, finishing up the repast with shortbread and a small bottle of stout each, with a diminutive pineapple for dessert.
Everybody I meet seems agreed on one point, and that is there has been no Christmas this year. Well, let us hope we shall have a real old-fashioned one next year.
New Year's Eve. "The year is dying, let him die."
Them's my sentiments--"let him die." Despite the nil nisi bonum sentiment, I can't find it in my heart to say (at this present time and in my present humour) a good word for the dying year, his last days having been ones to be remembered with--er--oblivion only, so to speak. Since writing last, I have been flying high--that is to say, my temperature has--having registered 104.4 (don't omit the point) for a couple of days. I was rather proud of this, for, as you know, I didn't swagger in here with a fever or anything like that. No, I simply and quietly waited about a week, and then let them see what I could do without any real effort. And that is the right way to do things.
Look at Kitchener. People out here have been saying: "Wait till Kitchener is in command," and "Kitchener will do this and that." I sincerely hope he will. Mick, our day orderly, has just told me that "to hear people spake, ye'd think he cud brake eggs wid a hard stick,"--which I believe is his sarcastic way of summing up hero worship. I suggested most men could do that; whereupon Mick retorted: "Ye don't know, they might miss 'em." You never catch Mick napping. I only wish I could record the story of how he chucked the kits of "the Hon. Goschen and a nephew of the Juke of Portland's" out of one of the tents in 22 Ward, because they didn't choose the things which they wanted kept out, and let him take the rest away to the store tent. Needless to say, he was unaware at the time that he was entertaining angels.
Kitchener visited the Hospital some time ago but I missed seeing him. I was sleeping at the time, and was awakened by his voice inquiring how we were, and turned round just in time to see a khaki mackintosh disappear through the door. Of course, I had met him before. He turned me out of a house at which the C.-in-C. and staff had luncheon the day we were marching on Johannesburg. My luncheon on that occasion consisted of a nibble at a small, raw potato.
"Who said 'C.I.V.s'?"
(With apologies to the talented painter of "Who said 'Rah'?")]
(Only one verse.)
When you've said "the war is over," and "the end is now in sight," And you've welcomed home your valiant C.I.V.'s, There are other absent beggars in the everlasting fight, And not the least of these your Yeoman, please. He's a casual sort of Johnnie, and his casualties are great, And on the veldt and kopjes you will find him, For he's still on active service, eating things without a plate, And thinking of the things he's left behind him.
I'll spare you the chorus.
The accompanying sketch, perhaps, needs a little explanation. To be brief, the British Army feels aggrieved at the praise bestowed on the C.I.V. Regiment, and its early return to England. To hear a discussion on our poor unoffending and former comrades is to have a sad exhibition of envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness.
Any amount of fellows have got bad teeth, and when one considers the trek-ox and the army biscuit, one cannot be surprised. A lance-corporal of ours went before the doctor last week on this score; he had practically no teeth, and has been sent into Pretoria on a month's furlough. It is generally circulated in the squadron that the authorities expect fresh ones to grow in that time.
Tuesday, January 1st, 1901.
I saw the New Year in--in bed. There is little or no news, when we do get some it is usually unsatisfactory. I suppose you know we have no paper in Pretoria; the best they can do for us is to let us buy for a tikkie the Bloemfontein Post, always four days old, and its contents! The same brief, ancient and censored war news, the inspired leading article, a column on a cricket match between two scratch Bloemfontein teams, a treason trial, advertisements for I.L.H. and other recruits, and that is about all. Well, here's "A Happy New Year to us all."
There are some terrible dunder-headed beings in this world of ours. I saw one the day I came through Pretoria to this hospital. We were acquaintances in London, and with the eye of a hawk he picked me out of a load of dirty, khaki-clad wretches, and pounced on me with "What on earth did you come out here for?" I told him "to play knuckle bones."
In the tent next to this is a quiet man with a gun-shot wound in his knee. He is Vicary, V.C., of the Dorset Regiment. You may remember he won it in the Tirah campaign for a deed immeasurably superior to that of Findlater's; he saved an officer's life by killing five Afridis, shooting two and bayoneting and butt-ending the rest--a messy job. He is a small, quiet man, and wild horses could not induce him to talk of the winning of his V.C. He won't say a "blooming" word on the subject to anyone, not even an orderly.
We have a small library in the hospital (Mrs. Dick Chamberlain's). I got Max O'Rell's "John Bull and Co." from it a few days ago. It concludes with the author's reply to a question asked him the day before he left South Africa.
"Well, after all these long travels what are you going to do now?"
"What am I going to do?" he replied; "I am going to Europe to look at an old wall with a bit of ivy on it."
And, by the Lord Harry, that's just what I want to do myself.
* * * * *
I'm getting rather tired of my prolonged loaf in Arcadia, for that is the name of this part of Pretoria, and although it is really not my fault, still I feel ashamed of myself for not being with the company. Still, even if I were out of the hospital, I should merely be able to join a number of details of Sussex, Devon, Dorset, Fife, and other Yeomen who are waiting in Pretoria an indefinite time for remounts and fresh equipment. I daresay my last letter, if it arrived at all arrived later than usual, as the day the mails left here there was a biggish fight a few miles down the line at the first station (Irene), and the train had to return. It is also rumoured that the home mails due were held up and collared, a hardy perennial this.
All last Friday we could hear big guns pounding away, and we heard on Saturday that the enemy had pulled up a good deal of the line, but the fort, or forts, at Irene had held their own. In addition to this, rumour hath it that Delarey and eight hundred (or 500, or 1,000) have been killed or captured, also that Clements has been killed. But all this, as usual, needs confirmation. So inaccurate or vague is actual news when we do get it, that a big fight might take place in the nearest back-garden, and we should be absolutely ignorant of the real details of the combat.
I have just heard that the news that General Clements is dead is correct. He died of a wound received some days ago I am told. If it is true, we have lost another good officer and brave man.
We certainly have made every use of our privilege as Englishmen to grumble since we have been out here. A certain Bill Fletcher, erstwhile a Cockney pot boy, now of Kitchener's Horse, has just taken a bed in our tent, and has announced that he is tired of the "blooming" country, where the "blooming" flowers don't smell, the "blooming" birds don't sing, and the "blooming" fruit don't taste (this latter charge is not quite correct), and he wants to get back to the "blooming" fog and smoke of London; all this, and he has only been at it five months.