IMPERIAL YEOMANRY HOSPITAL, DEELFONTEIN.
We arrived here on Thursday, February 21st. Between Naauwpoort and De Aar we passed the derailed train. Mr. Boer had done his work well--from his point of view. The engine (575) was lying on its side quite smashed, as were also several broken and splintered trucks, while a few graves completed the picture. But the line was intact once again. An officer of Engineers and some men were standing by their completed task as we slowly came up and passed the spot.
Line Clear: o'er blood and sweat, and pain, and sorrow's road I ran, And every sleeper was a wound, and every rail a man.
The first person I beheld from the carriage window on arriving here was one of our Sussex fellows. He seemed very pleased to see me, and I certainly was to see him. He has been here a week or more, and in that time had acquainted himself with the ropes. Having been given accommodation in the emergency tent for the night, he took me by divers ways to a bell tent in which I found two or three men of Paget's Horse, acquaintances of the "Delphic" days, another Sussex man, and a large washing basin containing beer--obtained no matter how. Into the basin a broken cup and a tin mug were being constantly dipped. With this, cigarettes, and chatter, the evening passed very agreeably. Of course this is early to criticise the Hospital and its working, but the general impression of we ex-Arcadians is that the Pretoria shop is far superior.
As regards reaching Cape Town, one cannot say much. A good many of our fellows have been sent back to Elandsfontein, which has been styled as "the home for lost Yeomanry." In the station, a few hundred yards off, is a fine khaki armoured train, with a pom-pom named "Edward VII." mounted on the centre truck.
R.A.M.C. EXPERIENCES AND IMPRESSIONS.
WYNBERG HOSPITAL, CAPE COLONY. Monday, February 25th, 1901.
The above address may appear to you like a day's march nearer home, but it is more than likely nothing of the sort. Having once got the convalescent gentlemen in khaki down south as far as Cape Town, and raised the home yearning hearts of the aforementioned to an altitude beyond the loftiest peak of the Himalayas--the medical officers here return them as shuttlecocks from a battledore up country, and it's a case of "gentlemen in khaki ordered North."
We arrived here this morning early, having left Deelfontein at daybreak yesterday (Sunday). Ambulance carts conveyed us to the Wynberg Hospital, where I now am.
Tuesday, 26th. Wherever I go I seem to fall fairly well on my feet and meet old friends. In the next room (each ward is divided into rooms, these are barracks in time of peace) are two fellows who were in my tent at Pretoria; one was half-blinded by lightning. They are rattling good fellows. My bed chum, the man next to me, is a man of the Rifle Brigade, who has lost an eye, and, again, is a ripping fine chap. This is an R.A.M.C. show, and everything is regimental, dem'd regimental. We have the regulation barrack-room cots, which have to be limbered up and dressed with the familiar brown blankets and sheets in apple-pie or, rather, Swiss roll, order. Also, the locker has to be kept very neat and symmetrical. To drop a piece of paper in the room would be almost courting a court-martial. So, whenever I have a small piece of paper to throw away, I roam about like a criminal anxious to conceal a corpse, and am often nearly driven to chewing and swallowing it, after the well-known method of famous heroes and criminals.
[Illustration: Tommy's Spittoon.
In Hospital the bed-patients whose principal pleasure in smoking seems to be the spitting, have recourse to the above.]
I have already referred to the confounded regimentality of this place. The very red cross on our virgin white R.A.M.C. banner is made of red tape, not bunting, I am positive. It almost goes without saying that we have to don, and never leave off, in the daytime, the cobalt blue uniform and huge red tie so dear to the controllers of these establishments. The blue trousers are terrible things, being lined with some thick material and kept up by a tape at the waist. A friend of mine in Paget's Horse will not have them called trousers, but always alludes to them as leg casings.
I am not quite so particular about my food as formerly, but the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Pretoria must have spoiled me. Then, again, there was the Deelfontein one, so I must set aside my own opinion and give you that of others. The food (in our ward) is little and poor; being one pound of bread and an ounce of butter per day for men on full rations, accompanied at morn and eventide by a purply fluid called "tea." At mid-day a tin of tough meat with a potato or two is served up, for which we are truly thankful. Amen! As regards recreation we get plenty of that--airing bedding, scrubbing lockers and floors, cleaning windows, whitewashing, washing our plates and other tinware after our sumptuous repasts, general tidying up, having rows with the sergeant-major, and a myriad other little pastimes help to while the hours away. In full view of our ward is the slate-coloured gun carriage which is used for conveying the unfittest to their last long rest. It is kept outside of a barn-like building, and its contemplation affords us much food (extra ration) for reflection. It is often used.
THE MYTHICAL AND REAL OFFICER.
[Footnote 10: An officer, for whom I have the highest esteem, whilst kindly conveying to me his very favourable opinion of these "Letters," regretted the inclusion of the following "grouse" in these words: "When I think of many cheery, dirty, ragged, half-starved youngsters I met out there, weighted into an unaccustomed responsibility for men's lives and the safety of their columns, and no more their own masters than you were, bravely trying to do a duty which many of them really loathed, I feel it is hard that a minority of 'rotters' should blacken the good name of the majority."]
As I pause, and ponder what else I can tell you in this letter, it occurs to me that I have not yet told you of the one great disillusion of this campaign for me and all other former civilians--I mean "The British Officer." The few remarks which I am now going to make are founded on the universal opinion of all the Regular soldiers and Colonial and home-bred Volunteers I have met out here. I have hesitated to give this verdict before, because it seemed like rank heresy or a kind of sacrilege; but having asked every man I have come across, especially the Regular soldier, his estimate of this person, and always receiving the same emphatic reply, I feel I can now make my few remarks without being regarded as too hasty or ill-informed.
There are officers who are real good fellows, and of these I will tell presently; but there are others--heaps of others. These latter are selfish, and frequently incompetent beings, without the slightest consideration for their men, and with a terrible amount for their dear selves. Talk about their roughing it! Most of these individuals have the best of camp beds to rest on, servants to wait on them, good stuff to eat, and, more often than not, whisky, or brandy to drink. And, oh, my sisters, oh, my brothers, when they have to commence roughing it, it is hard indeed for poor Tommy. Many a tale have I heard of thirsty tired Tommies being refused their water cart in camp, as the officers required the water out of it for their baths.
The beautiful stories, on the other hand, of the officer being troubled because his men were in bad case, and sharing the contents of his haversack or water bottle with a poor "done-up" Tommy, are generally pure fiction. To hear of Tommy sharing with a chum or a stranger is common enough. Out here one learns to appreciate the ranker more, and the commissioned man less. And when one comes across a good officer, how he is appreciated! Often when I have asked a regular what sort of officers he had, and received the invariable emphatic reply, he has stopped, and in quite a different voice, with a smile on his face, said, "But there was Mr. ----; now he was a real gentleman." And then he has waxed eloquent in this popular officer's praises, relating how "he used to be like one of ourselves," insisted on taking his relief at digging trenches, came and chatted to them round their fires at night, and in scores of ways endeared himself to their hearts.
My Rifle friend has just been telling me of such an officer, a young one they had, named Wilson (how he eulogised Mr. Wilson! "He was a good 'un, he was. A real gentleman"). He died, poor fellow, up Lydenburg way. Then he told me of another, a Mr. Baker-Carr; of him he said, "And there isn't a man of us to-day who, if he was in danger, wouldn't die for him."
As for the opinion of the Colonials of our officers, you surely know that. This little anecdote expresses pretty well how they stand one with the other:
New Zealander, just in from trek, passing, pipe in mouth, by a young officer just out.
Officer (stopping New Zealander): "Do you know who I am?"
N.Z. (removing pipe): "No."
Officer: "I am an officer!"
N.Z.: "Well, take an old soldier's advice and don't get drunk and lose your commission."
Officer: "D---- you. Don't you salute an officer when you see one?"
N.Z. (very calmly): "D---- and dot you! It's seldom we salute our own officers, so it isn't likely we'd salute you."
Officer: "Confound it. If you couldn't stand discipline, what did you come out here for?"
N.Z.: "To fight."
Officer (moving on): "I suppose you are one of those damned Colonials."
THE R.A.M.C. SERGEANT-MAJOR, AND OTHER ANNOYANCES.
That very great, august and omnipotent being, the Sergeant-Major of this establishment, has just been round. His motto is, I fancy, "Veni, vidi, vici." To him nothing is ever perfect, save himself. He entered, "Shun!" and we stood at attention by our cots. A trembling sergeant and orderly followed in his train. Upon us, one by one, he pounced, this "brave, silent (?) man" at the back. My blue fal-de-lal jacket he unbuttoned and revealed, horror of horrors, very crime of crimes, the fact that I was not wearing the monstrous red scarf which, according to the laws of the R.A.M.C., which alter not, must always be worn by all patients at all times, in life, or even in death, I presume. And further, a most perspiring bare chest revealed the heinous fact that I had omitted to put on the thick flannel shirt which has to be worn under the coarse white cotton one. Why wasn't I wearing this article? I explained that I was too hot already. That did not matter a Continental. Where was it? I produced it from under a bed near by and managed to avoid putting it on in his presence, as that would have still further revealed that I was wearing a belt containing money, which is contrary to Rule No. something or other, in which it is emphatically laid down that all jewels, money, and valuables are to be given in to the staff-sergeant in charge of the pack store, who will give a receipt for the same, &c., and so forth. Verily the backbone of the Army is the non-commissioned man, but I must confess to frequently wishing to break, or at least dislocate, that backbone.
The mosquitoes here seem rather more troublesome than their Pretoria relatives. There are twenty men in the next room, and only three of us here; and we three get a frightful lot of attention from these skeeturs. They seem vicious as well as hungry. We fancy this is to be explained by the fact that they had been marked down from up country for the base and England, and are enraged at being kept here with the prospect of being returned whence they came; their hunger in this R.A.M.C. Hospital we can understand, and would sympathise with more if they did not treat us as rations. Other patients have a theory that they are the lost and much damned spirits of R.A.M.C. officers, non-commissioned officers, and men, who have gone before and come back to their old earthly billet. But of course these are all mere surmises, and hardly to be regarded seriously. On Thursday I am to be sent to Rondebosch, Tommy's oft and ever-repeated cry, "Roll on, dear old Blighty" (England), seems vainer than ever as time spins out its endless cocoon.
AT THE BASE.
MCKENZIE'S FARM, MAITLAND (once again). Sunday, March 3rd, 1901.
Of late my addresses have been many and varied. The above is the latest. I have filtered through into Maitland, which has changed considerably since last April. On Thursday last I left Wynberg for the convalescent camp at Rondebosch without any regret, for, as a matter of fact, I was getting hungry. On the afternoon of that day I found myself one of a very unselect-looking band of khaki men, parading before the terrible R.A.M.C. Sergt.-Major of the Wynberg Hospital.
Just before parading, I saw the gun carriage, alluded to in my last, being used; going past our ward, in slow time, with reversed arms, went the perspiring and, let us hope not, but I fear 'twas so, the angry Tommies told off as the escort. Then came the gun carriage with its flag-covered burden. Only another enteric, only another broken heart or so at home, another vacant chair to look at and sigh, and the small but strictly regimental and unsympathetic procession had passed; and the half-interrupted conversation in the ward went gaily on. Having paraded and answered to our names, a doctor strolled down the ranks questioning us, "Are you all right?" All those who answered said "Yes." The question was supposed to be put individually, but by the time he got to where I was, the worthy man was slurring over about three or four at a time. I didn't trouble to reply, it being obviously unnecessary. About half-an-hour later, the ambulance carts came up, which were to bear us to Rondebosch, and we were ordered to carry our kits down and get in. So the halt and the broken picked up their kits--some of them were very heavy--and staggered with them to the carts, a distance of about fifty yards.
In particular, I noticed one poor fellow, a gunner of the 37th Battery, R.F.A. A water cart had gone over him at Mafeking, and fractured three ribs and affected his spine. The poor, emaciated, bent figure of what had once been a smart soldier lifted a rather heavy kit and tottered towards the carts. I felt disgusted at seeing such unnecessary labour thrust on a man, who never should have left the hospital save to go home. But he had been turned out by the powers which be, and--I was going to say shouldn't, but the R.A.M.C. are all honourable men--when I saw a sprightly, well-fed R.A.M.C. Lance-Corporal walking smartly after him, and in a relieved voice I remarked to the man on my left: "The Corporal is going to carry it for him," to which my neighbour remarked: "He can't, he's got a stripe." And, begad, he didn't! He passed him, apparently not having noticed him. I shall have a little more to tell you of the gunner presently.
The drive to Rondebosch, through Wynberg, Kenilworth and Claremont, was lovely beyond words. I had a box seat, and as we drove through the avenues of trees, down the roads, with the gardens of the comfortable-looking bungalows a mass of green foliage and tropical blooms on either side of us, I felt like a gaol-bird escaped from his cage. You may laugh at me if you like, but there I sat with dilating nostrils and eyes, absorbing all I could. Often we passed English girls in white costumes, and pretty, clean-looking children. It was a real treat. Of course, they took no notice of us. We were a common and not altogether pleasing looking lot, many among us being
"Poor fighting men, broke in her wars."
At last the pleasant drive came to its end, and we entered the Rondebosch camp. I was told off with 25 others to a hut, drew bedding and blankets--which included bugs--had some tea at a coffee bar, looked about, and turned in for the night. Alas! that night and others. Rondebosch boasts of a dry canteen and another, where Tommy can obtain beer, oftentimes called "Glorious Beer," even as we allude to "Glorious War." Over the sale of this to men, fresh from the hospitals recovering from enteric, wounds, and so forth, there is no restriction. The result needs no imagination--copious libations, songs, rows, and vomitings.
The next day I was put on as Orderly Sergeant. Now, if I was Sergeant-Major and had among my subordinate "non-coms." a man I wished to get into trouble, I should make him an Orderly Sergeant at Rondebosch. About every half-hour the bugles went "Orderly Sergeants," and up I doubled. In all, I attended about a score of these summonses, and even then omitted to report a man who had been absent since reveillé.
This last sin of omission came about in this way. I was anxious to turn in early and get a little sleep if possible, but could not do so, as I had to report "all present and correct" at tattoo. Anyhow, I strolled down to our hut at nine o'clock and found that the poor gunner alluded to already was in great pain, writhing about and groaning horribly. One of his chums who was with him told me he could not find a doctor, and the chaplain, who had looked in, had said that he could not get him even a drop of hot water.
The poor fellow was really bad, and thought he was going out, and I should not have been surprised if he had. Soon a few more chums came in, somewhat beery, and commenced to buck him up. The great method apparently on such occasions is to grip the sufferer's hand very tightly, pull him about a good deal, punch him now and again, and tell him to bear up. "Stick it, mate! * * * it, you ain't going to * * * well die! Stick it, mate!" And there he lay, with his pals, fresh from the canteen, exhorting him to stick it, a poor broken Reserve man, with a wife and children across the seas. At last I went and, after no little bother, discovered an R.A.M.C. Sergeant, who found his Sergeant-Major, and the two came with me to our hut. The result was a mustard leaf, which was sent down to me to place on the sufferer. With this on the left side of his stomach, bugs biting, mosquitoes worrying, and comrades lurching in, singing and rowing, and beds collapsing, the night passed. The next day the doctor saw him, and he was returned to Wynberg.
[Footnote 11: I met him again looking much better and in the best of spirits on the Aurania, being invalided home.]
In the afternoon we paraded and came on here. In the evening I slipped off to Cape Town and met a friend, with whom I dined at the "Grand." Having a decent dinner and amongst decently dressed people made me feel quite a Christian, though as a matter of fact, most of the diners appeared to be Jews. The sheenie man refugee is still very much in evidence, and though he sells things at ruinous prices (for himself, he says) seems to do well.
Tuesday, March 6th. After being kept outside the doctor's bureau from 9 till 12.30, the great man, the controller of fates, the donor of tickets, the Maitland medicine man, has seen me, and, whatever he has done, has not marked me for home.
To weary you with a further continuation of the experiences of a forlorn Yeoman, who, having drifted from Pretoria, now finds himself on the sands of Maitland, with a distant and tantalising view of the sea and its ships, seems an unworthy thing to do. But, alas! I have acquired a terrible habit of letter-writing. News or no news, given the opportunity, I religiously once a week contribute to the English mail bag; so here goes for a really short letter.
On Thursday, having endured as much toothache as I deemed expedient without complaint, and goaded on by a sleepless night, I paraded before the doctor, and having borne with him moderately and half satisfied his credulity, obtained from him a note to a Cape Town dentist for the following day. I am now in that being's hands, he has considerately assured me that no man is a hero to his own dentist.
In Cape Town there are two topics--the town guard and the plague, known as bubonic; owing to the latter, great is the stink of disinfectants.
I have already made allusions to the "Sisters' Albums" and the contributions which they levied. Here at McKenzie's Farm, I have struck another style of book. This is run by Sergeant-Major Fownes (10th Hussars) who is in charge of all of the Yeomanry at the base. It is a "Confession Book," containing reasons "Why I joined the Imperial Yeomanry" and "Why I left." It has been contributed to by members of nearly every I.Y. squadron in South Africa. Thanks to the courtesy of its owner, I am able to give you a selection from its contents, omitting the names and squadrons of the contributors only.
WHY I JOINED THE YEOMANRY.
1. To escape my creditors.
3. Because I was sick of England.
4. Could always ride, could always shoot, Thought of duty, thought of loot.
5. "England Expects ----" (you know the rest).
6. To injure the Boers.
7. (All Excuses used up.)
8. I considered it was the right thing for an Englishman to do.
9. Because I thought it was my duty.
10. A broken heart.
11. Anxiety to get to South Africa.
12. For the sake of a little excitement, which I can't get at home and didn't get out here.
13. Patriotic Fever!!!
14. I did it during the Patriotic Mania, 1899-1900. Under like circumstances believe I'd do it again.
15. Sudden splash of Patriotism upon visiting a Music Hall.
17. "Married in haste."
18. Because I did not bring my aged and respected father up properly.
19. To kill Time and Boers.
20. Because I am Irish and wanted to fight.
21. Love of War.
22. For Sport.
23. My Country's call my ardour fired.
24. Because I was tired of the Old Country.
25. Old England's Honour, Glory, Fame,
Such thoughts were in my mind.
To die the last but not disgraced,
A V.C. perhaps to find.
To sound the charge, to meet the foe,
To win or wounded lie,
My firstborn son and I should fight
And, if the needs be, die.
26. Hungry for a fight.
27. Drink and Drink.
29. Because I thought:
1 'Twas a glorious life on the veldt, So unrestrained and free. (Note. Read opposite page.)
2 'Twas grand to lie 'neath the star-lit sky In a blanket warm and nice.
3 'Twas exciting to gallop over the plains To the music of the Mausers.
4 Bully beef and biscuits are all very well, And so, for a time, is jam.
30. To have a lively time.
31. Wanted to see a little of South Africa.
32. Came out on Chance.
33. To escape the Police at home.
34. Had always preached Patriotism and thought it was the time to put theory into practice.
35. Because I had nothing to do at home Bar drinking whiskies and sodas alone, And shooting pheasants which is beastly slow, So I thought I'd give the Bo-ahs a show.
36. Thought I would get the V.C.
37. A soldier's son and a volunteer Heaps of glory, bags of beer.
38. To become acquainted with Colonials before settling.
39. For adventure.
40. Northumbria's reply, "Duty."
WHY I LEFT.
1. The old man stumped up and I am in no danger of receiving a blue paper.
2. Captured at Lindley. Too much mealie porridge and rice.
3. Because I have changed my mind.
4. Gammy leg, couldn't ride, Sent to Cape Town, had to slide.
5. "Go not too often into thy neighbour's house, lest he be weary of thee!"
1. Imperial Yeomanry Field. 2. Johannesburg Civil. 3. No. 6 General. 4. No. 9 General. 5. No. 8 General. 6. Deelfontein. 7. Maitland.
6. Because they injured me.
7. Love of my native land (England).
8. I did not get enough fighting, but too much messing about.
9. "FED UP!!!"
10. A broken leg (more serious and imperative).
11. Anxiety to get away from it.
12. Joined B.P.'s Police Force to still search for the impossible.
13. Enteric Fever!!!
14. Ill health.
15. Bathing one day, found varicose veins much to my delight. Invalided.
17. "Repented at leisure."
18. To see if he has improved.
19. Because Time and Boers wait for no man.
20. Because I want to do more fighting and am joining the S.A.C.
21. Love of Peace.
22. Time for close season.
23. The "Crisis" o'er, I've now retired.
24. Because I was sick of the New.
25. Alas, no Glory have I earned,
No Trumpet's Requiem found,
Altho' I've laid upon the veldt,
With scanty comfort round.
My son has seen more fights than I,
Tho' he is scarce fifteen,
Whilst I must sound my trumpet at
The Yeoman's Base-fontein.
SERGT.-TRUMPETER (McKenzie's Farm).
26. Appetite appeased.
27. Drink and Drink.
28. Vexation of Spirit.
29. But I found:
1 That after twelve months of the same I felt It was not the life for me.
2 That when you wanted to go to sleep, You're scratching and hunting for l--ce.
3 That 'twas very unpleasant to ride all day When you'd lost the seat of your trousers.
4 That to get nothing else for more than six months, Would make any fellow say "D----!"
30. What with Mausers by day and crawlers by night. I had it.
31. Have seen enough.
32. Going home to a Certainty.
33. Same reason here.
34. The Patriotic Fever has run its natural course.
35. Because the Bo-ahs shot me instead, And the papers (confound them) reported me "dead," That sort of game is rather too bad, So the prodigal now returns to his dad.
36. Got C.B. instead!
37. Bags of biscuits hard as rocks, Smashed my teeth and gave me sox!
38. To join the Bodyguard for same reason and--better pay.
39. To go back to a hum-drum life, which is better than a Dum-Dum death.
40. Novelty somewhat worn off, and military discipline not being at all adapted to my temperament.
In a few days all the men marked for home will be leaving, and to those they will be leaving behind them the yearning to be on the sea once again, seems stronger than ever,
"Can you hear the crash on her bows, dear lass, And the drum of the racing screw. As she ships it green on the old trail, our own trail, the home trail, As she lifts and 'scends on the long trail--the trail that is always new?"
ENGLAND-FONTEIN April 22nd, 1901.
"We're goin' 'ome, we're goin' 'ome,
Our ship is at the shore,
An' you must pack your 'aversack,
For we won't come back no more."
So from going up to Elandsfontein, which is by Johannesburg, it came to the above cheerful sentiment. And this is how it happened. An order came from somewhere to our doctor, who had of late so hardened his heart, to "invalid convalescents freely," and, to be brief, within a few days nearly every man at Maitland was marked for home, wore a smiling face, and drew warm clothes for the voyage.
The next burning questions were "What boat will it be and when does she sail?" Needless to say, these interrogatories were answered at least thrice a day, and were always wide of the mark. Still, we were booked for home, and could afford to wait cheerfully. Our hut (No. 1), inhabited by the thirty best men in the camp (any man of that hut will tell you this assertion is correct), thereupon blossomed forth as the publishing and editorial offices of a camp newspaper known as the
"Latest Developments Gazette,"
with which is incorporated
"The Cookhouse News."
In this journal shipping intelligence was a speciality, and topical cartoons a great feature. We claimed the largest circulation in the camp. The various articles, stop-press news, and cartoons, were stuck on the walls of the hut and afforded much entertainment. Of course, B.P. was very unpopular in Cape Town and with us, and had to be dealt with severely. (Note.--Not the Mafeking man or the "worth a guinea a box" lot, but the Bubonic Plague).
A few days before sailing I caught sight of a well-known name in the dread casualty list: "69th Co. I.Y., 16,424, Trooper R. Blake, (severely wounded, since dead). Hartebeestefontein." "Poor Blake!" He used to sing at our concerts on the boat coming out, at our bivouac fire when we indulged in an impromptu sing-song, and at Pretoria, when in the police, he often appeared at the various musical entertainments held in the town or hospitals. His mimicry of a growling or barking dog, big or small, was marvellous and notorious. I remember once how a fellow on one occasion, accustomed to Master Blake's games, on hearing a persistent yapping at his heels, at length said "Oh, shut up, young Blake!" and turned round to see a live terrier there. A verse in the last issue of our paper, expressed, in a humble way, every man's feelings on such matters.
We are leaving them behind us,
'Neath the veldt and by the town,
The men who joined and fought with us,
Who shared each up and down.
We are going home without them,
But our thoughts will on them dwell,
We shall often talk about them,
Good comrades all, farewell!
The day before we left, the sketches and other matter were sold by auction, it having been previously decided to devote the proceeds of the sale to the last No. 1 Hut annual ball. By way of explanation, it must be noted that the hut had an annual ball once a week, "dancing strictly prohibited." To be explicit, the annual ball was a weekly dinner. The auction was a great success, a real auctioneer presiding, well over £10 being realised.
The farewell dinner was a grand affair and very convivial. To my surprise I was presented with a handsome silver cigarette case by the so-called staff of the "L.D. News" as a token of good will and their appreciation of my humble efforts to relieve the monotony of camp life.
The next day, Friday, March 29th, we embarked on the transport "Aurania," and, as the sun was setting, bade a sarcastic good-bye to Table Mountain.
As regards the voyage home, which was accomplished in three weeks, much might be said, but probably little of particular interest. A transport is not a very luxurious affair for the common soldier, though the accommodation for the officers amply atones for what may be lacking for the ninety-and-nine, as it were. But what on earth, or sea, did it matter, we were going home.
Good Friday was not a success, an officer committed suicide, a sergeant in the Royal Sussex died of dysentery, the engines broke down, and we had no buns. At St. Vincent we stopped two-and-a-half days to coal, and flew the yellow flag at the fore, being in quarantine on account of the Bubonic outbreak at Cape Town. In the Bay of Biscay a Yeoman comrade died of enteric, and was buried two days from home. Friday, the 18th, on a lovely spring morning, the sea being as smooth as glass, we sighted the cliffs of England once again.
"England, my England."
Then we commenced passing shipping; a man at the tiller of a Cornish fishing boat waving his cap to us made it clear that we were getting back to our real ain folk once more. At eight in the evening we were lying off Netley Hospital, and taking in the proffered advice of a large board in a field by the waterside to eat Quaker Oats, and by twelve o'clock the following night I was home once again.
The treking, the fighting, the guards and pickets, the hospitals are done with now. My small part in the game has been played, and, with a slight and permissible alteration, the concluding lines of a favourite poem must end these simple records.
"But to-day I leave the Army, shall I curse its service then? God be thanked, whate'er comes after, I have lived and toiled with men!"