Extracts from the Journal of Lieutenant H. Frankland, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, lately prisoner of war at Pretoria.
Lieutenant Frankland was captured by the Boers when the armoured train was destroyed at Chieveley, in Natal, on the 15th of November, 1899. He was carried as a prisoner to Pretoria, where he arrived on the 19th of November, and where he remained until the 5th of June, 1900, when Pretoria fell and the greater part of the prisoners were set free by their victorious comrades.
'November 19th.--To wake up and find oneself enclosed in the space of a few acres for an indefinite period is scarcely pleasant; however, one cannot always be miserable. The monotony will, I have no doubt, become very trying, but for the first few days I have a good deal to do. The State Model School, which has been turned into a prison for the officers, is a building of rectangular shape. A long corridor runs through the centre, and on both sides of this are the rooms, where the officers sleep. They are supplied with a spring bed and two blankets apiece, while the whole place is lighted by electricity. At one end is the dining-room and gymnasium.
'In front is the road, from which the building is separated by iron railings. Behind there is a sort of back garden where the police and soldier servants live in tents, and where the kitchen and the bath-room are situated. This piece of ground is surrounded on three sides by a six-foot fence of corrugated iron, and the whole place is watched by a cordon of armed police, about fifteen being on duty always. The Government here generously supplies the officers with bread and water, half a pound of bully beef a day, and groceries. We have a small piece of ground and a gymnasium for exercise. As there are, alas! about fifty officers here, we have formed a sort of mess, and for the sum of three shillings a day we improve our scanty allowance of food. They have supplied us with a suit of clothes each, but mine was much too big for me. I began to write my diary this evening, and had a long talk with Garvice in my regiment, who told me how he had been captured. Dinner 7.30; bed, and sleep.
'November 20th.--It looks as if the rest of my diary for several months would contain each day the words, "the same as usual." I have only been here forty-eight hours, but the monotony has already begun to show itself. Not the monotony only, but the want of freedom, the want of news, the knowledge that the rest of the war will be carried out without my share in its victories, when, had it not been for some unhappy fate, I might yet have seen many an action--all these combine to oppress and irritate my mind. I tried to make a sketch of the armoured train, but it was not a success, and I must begin again to-morrow. The very length of empty time in front of me makes me quite patient.
'November 21st.--It is getting extremely hot. The lack of open space to walk in makes me feel lazy, and one gets quite tired after going a few times around the building. What one most looks forward to are the meals, and these are not very satisfying. But of course I am still suffering from the appetite of freedom, and I have no doubt that a month or so of this sort of life will make me feel less ravenous. I wrote some of my diary, and commenced another sketch of the armoured train, which I hope to be able to send to the "Graphic." Churchill has written asking to be released, but he does not expect any result. The mosquitoes here are very troublesome, and I have been constantly bitten.
'November 23rd.--The mail was supposed to go to-day, so I found occupation in a few letters. It is still very sultry. I succeeded in getting through a good deal of my diary, and, after writing nearly all day, played a game of rounders in the evening. This last occupation appears to cause much annoyance to the police, who frequently get hit by the ball. Another game here is fives, which we play with a tennis ball in the gymnasium. There seems to be some news about, but we can get nothing out of these people. By these people I mean Malan--a spiteful, objectionable animal--who ought to be at the front, were he not a coward; Opperman, a slightly more agreeable person, of large dimensions, and Dr. Gunning, a much more amiable fellow. It seems absurd that they do not allow us to buy papers. What harm could we do with them?
'Some of the restrictions are so childish, and tend to make life here so sickening, that I am sure if curses could harm the Transvaal Government it would not be long-lived.
'This morning Churchill was visited by De Souza, the Secretary of War, by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and others, and there followed a very animated discussion about the causes and the justice of the war. It was a drawn game, and they all talked at once at the end, especially Churchill. I am afraid for his sake he is not likely to be exchanged or released. The Boers have got to hear of the part he played in the armoured train episode.
'November 24th.--There is some news abroad to-day. The Free Staters have been attacked at Belmont by the British, probably under Buller, but the result is uncertain. Of course the Boers report a victory on their side, but one gets quite accustomed to their "victories." Dundee was a victory, likewise Elandslaagte. I am getting on slowly with my diary, and manage to make it occupy a great deal of time.
'November 25th.--Evidently we have won a victory at Belmont; its results are immediately apparent here. They have suddenly become much more lenient and complacent. We are actually allowed newspapers, and the President is considering the question of beer. The papers admit that the British drove the Free Staters from their position at Belmont, but with great loss, while that of the Boers is practically nil. Rumours say that General Joubert is cut off between Estcourt and Mooi River; how I hope it is true!
'November 26th.--The Rev. Mr. Hofmeyr is a prisoner here, and held service this morning, when he delivered a most eloquent address. There is a harmonium in one of the rooms, and Mr. Hofmeyr, who sings very well, gives us some very good music. He knows a lot of old English songs, which are pleasant to hear, although they rather suggest the Psalm beginning "By the waters of Babylon." Hofmeyr, though a Dutchman, is an ardent supporter of the Imperial cause, and he has in consequence been very cruelly treated by the Boers before he came here.
'It is quite touching to see how the Boers try to hide their defeat. All the accounts are cooked, but even De Souza acknowledges that if things go on as at present the war will soon be over. There have been several days' fighting south of Kimberley, and Buller is advancing steadily. On the Natal side Joubert passed Estcourt, and reached Mooi River, where he was attacked by the new division and defeated. In retiring he was attacked by part of the Estcourt garrison, result unknown. He will probably retire on Colenso.
'November 27th.--Not much news to-day. According to the "Volksstem" British lost fifteen hundred at Belmont, and the Boers nine killed and forty wounded. However, they can't deny that the Free Staters were licked, and De Souza admits that Kimberley will probably be relieved shortly. Moreover, Khama is said to have risen. This has disturbed them all exceedingly, and Opperman is highly indignant.
'November 30th.--I find nothing to record here except the scraps of news one gets in the newspapers, all else is monotonous--appalling monotony. In the evening one feels it most, and sometimes I don't think I can endure it for another month. All sorts of absurd rumours are spread about here by that intelligent paper the "Volksstem." The latest is that four British regiments have refused to fight, being in sympathy with the Republican cause. I wonder whether Buller will desert to the Boer side? The fact remains that the papers give no news whilst there must be plenty, and this looks as if the untold news must be bad for them. We hear that General Forestier-Walker has been killed, and that Lord Methuen is seriously wounded. This morning the rumour runs that our troops have occupied Colenso. The regiment is sure to be there. How I wish I were with it!
'December 4th.--No real news, but various and contradictory rumours. The Boers have begun to acknowledge their losses, and the paper have long lists of killed and wounded. Major ----, of the West Yorks, arrived to-day, having been captured near Estcourt. From him I learned that all was well there. A few days ago three battalions--West Yorks, Borderers and Second Queen's--went out and attacked the Boers. Apparently the engagement was indecisive, and the losses on either side not very great. The rumour goes that Buller is in Natal, and not in the Free State after all. Of course he is advancing to the relief of Ladysmith. We all think that his plan will be to hold the Boers in front of Colenso while he takes a large force around by the flank. The Boers have retired beyond the river, and have blown up the Tugela railway bridge. On the other side, Lord Methuen's Division is having severe fighting; he has defeated the Boers at Modder River, and the relief of Kimberley is imminent. The papers do not publish much news themselves, but occasionally publish some of the English cuttings with sarcastic editorial comments. In the Dutch version of the "Volksstem" they slate the Free Staters unmercifully for having run away at Modder River.
'Oh, that we might be exchanged. Joubert has wired via Buller to England advocating such a step.
'December 15th.--"Tempus fugit," and it has not been quite so dull as usual. First, and most important of all, Churchill has escaped. Whether he has made it good or not is still uncertain; but he has now been gone two days, and I have great hopes. Besides the excitement there has been a very amusing side to the affair. Of course Churchill was the very last person who ought to have gone. He was always talking and arguing with the officials, and was therefore well known, and, indeed, scarcely a day passed without Dr. Gunning or Mr. de Souza inquiring for him. His plans for escape were primitive; but, being still in prison, I must not write anything about this part of the affair. Let it suffice that Churchill got away without any trace left behind. Next morning, as it chanced, it was the day for the barber to come and shave him, and having only just woke up I put the barber off rather feebly by saying that Churchill had gone to the bath-room, and would not need shaving. What should the detective who accompanied the barber do but wait outside the bath-room, and, finding no Churchill, began to suspect. Gunning then came upon the scene, closely followed by Opperman, both asking and seeking anxiously for their captive. Their distress at finding him gone was really pathetic. They immediately put on all kinds of restrictions. No papers, calling rolls, not allowing anyone into the yard outside the building after 8 P.M,, and stopping all beer. I am reminded of the fable "Le Corbeau et le Renard," which ends, "Le Corbeau ... jura, mais un peu tard, qu'on ne l'y prendroit plus." Curiously enough, the day after Churchill had escaped an order is said to have come from General Joubert for his release. However, I have no doubt but that this was all made up to excuse themselves for not being able to catch him. I do hope he gets away.
'Our spirits are constantly on the rise and fall. At one time we are about to be exchanged, at another nothing has been heard of it; at one time there is a brilliant British success, greatly modified, of course, by the enlightened "Volksstem" editor, at another a crushing British defeat, with all the Generals and thousands of soldiers killed and wounded. Yesterday we heard of the splendid achievement of the British troops in Ladysmith in smashing up the 84-pounder at Lombard's Kop, several Howitzers and a Maxim. Then came the defeat of General Gatacre at Stormburg, and the capture of 600 prisoners, and on the top of this the victory which the Boers claim at Magersfontein. All this is very terrible. I think I feel almost as miserable as I did the night I was captured. Are the British troops ever going to drive the Boers back? Will they ever come and take Pretoria? or will they, on the other hand, be driven back, and the people at home get sick of the war, like in '81, and--no, impossible--and yet who will dare predict? It is too awful to hear all these shocking reports, and to be able to do nothing oneself. One always imagines on these occasions one's presence at the scene of fighting absolutely indispensable if there is to be a victory. However, these miserable days cannot last for ever. Perhaps they are even now at an end. De Souza, with a faltering voice, has confessed that Buller is advancing at last in great force. He must win.
'December 19th.--Worse than ever. Buller has attacked in full strength at Colenso and has been defeated with a loss of ten guns and many hundred men. This is too awful--I could have cried. The hand of fate seems to be raised against us. The only thing to do is to wait patiently till the next disaster. The Stormburg prisoners have arrived, the Colenso prisoners are expected to-morrow. Everybody is cursing the Generals; but they always think they could do better themselves. I hear that Hart's Brigade, with our regiment in it, were caught in quarter column at close range. They must have suffered terribly. Never mind; Methuen has relieved Kimberley. The officials all deny it, but it must be true.
'December 23rd.--No more news. The authorities are getting more and more silly and disagreeable; all kinds of babyish restrictions are invented to annoy us. Churchill has got to Delagoa Bay, and has wired his safe arrival to De Souza. Hurrah!
'I have not dared until now, when all is a failure, to set down in this book any account of the one occupation that has prevented us from going mad with disappointment in these sad times. About the middle of the month Haldane devised a plan of making a tunnel from under our room across the road. The five fellows in our dormitory and Le Mesurier, who shifted his abode for the purpose, began about ten days ago. First, we thought of cutting a hole in the floor, but, on looking round, we suddenly found a trap-door already made. Beneath the floor there is a curious place. The rafters are supported by stone walls, so that underneath there is a series of compartments about twenty-four feet by four, with access from one to another by means of man-holes in each wall. We commenced digging in the compartment next to the one under the trap-door. The ground at first was very hard, but with chisels and implements taken from the gymnasium, we managed to get down four feet of the shaft in about four days. It was a queer sight to see two half-naked figures digging away by candle light, for we used to work in reliefs of two--one to dig and the other to cast away the earth in boxes or jugs. Suddenly, one day, we broke through the hard crust and came to some soft clay soil. We were delighted at this, and expected to get through it in no time; but, alas! with the soft earth came water, and without pumps, bale as we would, we could not get rid of it. Every morning the shaft was completely bilged; so, having dug down six feet, our plan was brought to an end, and we had to screw up our trap-door again in bitter disappointment. The officers of the Gloucester Regiment are digging too, but they are sure to find the same difficulties.
'Christmas Day, 1899.--I can scarcely realise that it is Christmas, the day I have hitherto spent at home with family and friends. I can see the rooms decorated with holly and "Merry Christmas" cut in white paper and pasted on red Turkish twill hanging over the doorway. A Merry Christmas! What irony! The time, of course, was bound to come when the circle at home would be broken; but little did I dream where or under what unhappy circumstances. A Merry Christmas! to a prisoner--not when his countrymen, victorious and full of enthusiasm, are marching rapidly to his release, but when the armies of his country, beaten back, lie far away; when, helpless himself, despair seizes his heart; when reverses grow into disasters and the might of the dear old land in which he trusted seems to have weakened and died. A Happy Christmas! with the New Year black, uncertain, and unknown. Of course we drank the health of the Queen at dinner--in lime-juice. 'Twas all we had; but we meant it none the less.
'December 30th.--They say there were only 1,200 casualties at Colenso; but we have just heard that ---- and ---- of our regiment have been killed. O, God! it seems too awful. To hear of all one's friends crippled or dead; all the best are picked off, and here are we tied up quite safely with our beastly skins unhurt, and not likely to run into the slightest danger while our comrades are losing their lives. We must win this war.
'January 1st.--I have had many arguments as to whether this is the commencement of a new century or not, and after much reasoning I have decided that as it is the year 1900, or the nineteen hundredth year, it is the last of the nineteenth century and not the beginning of the twentieth. Whatever it may be, this is a hateful place to spend the beginning of anything in. The "Volksstem" printed a list of casualties to-day, and I see that our regiment lost forty-two killed at Colenso. What must the numbers of the wounded have been? [Here follows a list of wounded officers.] Sergeant Gage was killed, and they say he was one of the first to cross the waggon bridge. This looks as if the regiment had stormed the bridge, which is much better than being mown down in quarter column. All these losses are terrible, but I believe that Colenso is only a reconnaissance in force. What must a battle be like?
'The last week has been, if possible, more dreary than usual. One of the fellows in our room has made himself very obnoxious lately, and has had to be sat upon severely. I have never met such an ungentlemanlike creature. It is all the more unpleasant in a place like this, where we are so closely packed. There are rumours of fighting near Colesburg, probably by General French. The Boers say the action is indecisive, which means a victory for us.
'January 7th.--Nothing of importance has occurred lately. There has been a bit of a fight with Opperman, who tried to take away from Boscher, the local grocer, his contract for the supply of our mess, on the ground that Boscher had helped Churchill to escape: Result a complete victory for us and the reinstatement of Boscher. More Zarps, as the policemen who guard us are called, and poor little Gunning have been commandeered. He prepares himself to go. His reason is peculiar. Should his children, in after years, ask him if he fought for the freedom of the State, he would like to be able to say "Yes." However, if he goes I hope he will find a large rock to get behind and so come back safely.
'This afternoon a most alarming rumour was started by somebody, namely: that Ladysmith had fallen. Though I did not actually believe it, we are always having such frightful disasters that I felt very uncomfortable. Later, however, we learned that all was well.
'January 10th.--Ladysmith has not fallen. The news of the defeat of the Boers on the Platrand has been confirmed, and, in spite of their lies, we know their losses were heavy. At Colesburg there was a night attack, and a half battalion of the Suffolks got much knocked about. Two of their officers came in as prisoners yesterday; they say the Boers have received large reinforcements at Colesburg. There is a rumour that Dr. Leyds has been arrested in Germany for trying to enlist German Reservists. A British force is said to be at Douglas, west of Kimberley. They made a night attack and captured some stores and ammunition. The Transvaalers in their excitement succeeded in firing into the Free Staters, shooting, among others, Opperman's nephew. We offered our sympathies, but after all it is one the less. This evening we received a most excellent rumour that the Boers had lost 900 men near Colenso. I hope it is true, and that the Tugela has, therefore, been crossed. This will be a step towards the relief of Ladysmith. At Colesburg the Boers are in a critical position. Things seem to be looking up a bit. I wish that we could get just a little truth. These rumours torture and deceive.
'January 14th.--All kinds of startling rumours have been about to-day: The British fighting in overwhelming numbers around Ladysmith; Buller surprised and taken prisoner at Pieters Station. Boers in a tight corner at Colesburg. What can one believe? All men are liars--in Africa! Life is getting very unbearable. I am sure we shall be a lot of lunatics when we are set free.
'January 29th.--How we clamour for news, and how our spirits rise and fall as the rumours are favourable or bad. The other day the prisoners arrived from the Spion Kop fight. The result of the attack on Spion Kop is not known. We took the hill, but, for some reason, the rumour goes that we have left it again and re-crossed the river. Can this be another lie? We hear that the regiment did not cross the waggon bridge, but tried to swim the river at Colenso last month. Very few got over. Hensley was killed the other day at Spion Kop. One can scarcely realise these losses, and I don't think we shall until we join the mess and see the sad gaps among familiar faces.
'February 5th.--We have been getting a fair share of good news lately, or, at least, good rumours. The relief of Kimberley is an established fact. Colesburg is on its last legs, though news of its surrender to French needs confirmation. There is fighting at the Tugela, concerning which the latest bulletin is "British have taken a position--Vaal Krantz." Nor is this all, other factors are at work besides the British Army. There is considerable dissension between the Transvaalers and the Free Staters. The former complain that they are always put in the fore front of the battle, while the latter rejoin that not only are they invariably sent to the more exposed kopjes, but that while they are aiding the Transvaalers to fight in Natal they are receiving no help in the defence of the Free State.
'February 12th.--It would take too long, even when time is nothing but a curse, to record all the items of news we have lately received. So many startling rumours have been confirmed and denied that I long to know what is the real truth, but in the Capital of this doomed country--in the very metropolis of lies and liars--we shall never learn the truth until our friends come to bring it with them.
'I have just finished reading "Esmonde," which I enjoyed very much. One advantage of my forced sojourn in this country is that I may improve my education. Indeed, reading occupies the greater part of our time, though I myself cannot fix my attention on a book for very long under these miserable circumstances. The State Library has a fair selection of books, and by paying a small subscription the prisoners are allowed to take out books therefrom. The only forbidden fruits are the books of South Africa; for these volumes, recording the evil wrought by the British race on this chosen people, are carefully stowed away for fear of the English trying to destroy the histories of their crimes.
'This morning an officer of the South African Light Horse was buried. To all intents and purposes he was murdered by the Transvaal Government. Although he had typhoid fever he was thrown into prison, and not until the authorities were pretty certain he would die was he sent to the hospital. Ten officers on parole went as pall-bearers and we all subscribed for a very pretty wreath.
'Patience is played as a game here largely by ancient Colonels and Majors, and practised by us all with indifferent success as a cruel necessity.
'February 17th.--Good news at last! Kimberley has been relieved! Boers are retiring in all directions. Lord Roberts, with the British Army, has entered the Free State. Warrenton has been occupied, there is great consternation in Pretoria. Opperman is furious. Perhaps the tide has begun to turn.
To explain how we get news: Brockie, a Sergeant-Major in the Imperial Light Horse, knows a Zarp here and gets a certain amount of news from him, which is not, however, very trustworthy. When we first came here an Englishman named Patterson, employed in the Government telegraph office, used to pass by the railings and whisper the news. He only used to come when there was good news to tell, and generally ended with the words, Hurrah, hurrah! Since he was always accompanied on these occasions by a large St. Bernard, we called him the Dogman. Lately he has elaborated and improved his system of giving us news and has begun to signal with a flag from the passage of Mr. Cullingworth's house opposite. Either he or one of the Misses Cullingworth stands some way back in the passage so as not to be visible to the Zarps and sends messages, which are read by Captain Burrows from the gymnasium window. As he is in the telegraph office and sees all that passes, the Dogman sends very truthful information.
'February 18th.--More good news this morning. Cronje is lost, strayed or stolen. The Boers have been driven back at Dordrecht. The British Army is within forty miles of Bloemfontein. Buller has taken the Tugela position. All this needs no comment. "Quo plus--eo plus----." I meant to quote a Latin phrase--the only one I ever knew--but I cannot risk the tenses and moods of he verbs. It means, however, the more we have the more we want. We live, as it were, from news to news. Two officers arrived from Colesburg this morning. They say Colesburg has never been quite surrounded, only hemmed on three sides. General French began to withdraw his Cavalry about three weeks ago, sending away detachments every night until only an Infantry Brigade was left to sit in front of Colesburg, occupying exactly the same extent of front as before. The Boers never spotted this, so that French and his Cavalry succeeded in joining the Free State column, and the Infantry Brigade, by making a great show of their forces, was able to keep up the ruse until the other day, when it was decided to retire. Everything went well with the retirement except for two companies of the Wiltshire who were cut off and captured after a gallant fight. I suppose all Governments lie to a certain extent about their defeats, but this Boer one takes the cake.
'February 19th.--I have caught the patience disease. I spent most of the day at this interesting game, but found by 7 P.M. I was rather sick of it. Le Mesurier told me to-day that Haldane, Brockie, Grimshaw and he had thought of a plan of escape. The idea was to put out the electric light in the house and in the yard by cutting the wire as it entered the building in the roof above the entrance. The sudden extinguishing of the lights on a dark night would enable them to creep to the back wall and climb over unobserved by the Zarps, whose eyes would not have become accustomed to the sudden darkness, They had made small ladders, by means of which they could climb over the corrugated iron more easily and with less noise. Once outside, they were going to trek for Mafeking, which is only about one hundred and eighty miles off. They had meant to go to-night, but, though it was wet, there was too much lightning.
'February 21st.--More good news both from Stormburg and the Tugela. Our friend Opperman is getting excessively polite. I think one can best describe him as a greasy, unwashed bully, oily physically and morally, cruel to anyone in his power, cringing to those he fears.
'February 22nd.--We hear that Cronje is completely surrounded. De Wet tried to break the encircling cordon, but was defeated with great loss. Buller has taken the Boschkop and all the British troops have crossed the Tugela.
'A very amusing article appeared in one of the papers the other day, in which Napoleon was termed "the Botha of the early '10's." Botha the Napoleon of these days is presumption, but Napoleon, the Botha of the early '10's! I cannot help pitying the editor of the "Volksstem," as he is only allowed to publish good news, and must really be at his wit's-end to know what to put in now.
'Haldane and the others had arranged to go to-night, but unfortunately the sentry was walking about the place which had been chosen for getting over, so that the escape was prevented.'
'February 24th.--Haldane and Co. have tried again. This time they were determined to go. Clough, the servant, was sent up via the gymnasium on to the roof to cut the wire. I gave the signal by going into the room under the main switch and asking for a map. The light went down temporarily but came up again almost immediately. We were much alarmed lest Clough should have got a shock, but he came down all right, surprised that the lights had not gone out. Of course the escape was off.
'February 25th.--We were all sure that Clough had not cut the wires at all last night. He had received a slight shock and then left it, so it was arranged that Cullen should try. However, the position of the sentry again prevented any attempt.
'February 26th.--Best, of the Inniskilling Fusiliers, arrived to-day from the Tugela. He said that all were well down there, though the fighting had been very severe, and that the troops were beyond Pieters. Cronje had no food and must surrender shortly.
'This evening the lights went out without any mistake. Opperman was greatly alarmed, and the electrician could not find out what was up. They all believed a football must have hit the wire outside and put the light out. Probably Clough had partially severed the wires, and the football had completed the damage. Now, however, the wire being broken before it was quite dark, the advantage of surprise would be lost. It was, moreover, a bright night, and we noticed that the light in the streets shone on the wall where we had meant to climb over it. The sentries were doubled, so we finally gave up the plan and tried to think of another. We are told that they will remove us to a new place on the 1st of March, and, perhaps, this will give us a better chance.
'When I went into my room at about 9.30 I found that Le Mesurier, Haldane, and Brockie were having a discussion. As we were to move in two days to the new prison they argued "why not go to earth now." The authorities would think they had escaped under cover of the light going out and would, if anything, hasten the removal of the prisoners, leaving these three under the floor to depart in peace when opportunity offered.
'February 27th.--This morning Opperman came into our room as usual to count the number of prisoners in bed, and on seeing three beds empty he fairly staggered with astonishment. I was looking at him with one eye and chuckled to myself at his dismay. He went and asked Brett if he knew anything about it. Brett asked innocently, "About what?" Then I pretended to wake up and ask Opperman what the hell he meant by disturbing us at this hour. He left the room in a fury, but presently returned with Gunning and later with Du Toit, the Chief of the Police, who examined everything à la Sherlock Holmes, and expressed, with a smile, his confidence in the recapture of the flown birds. After breakfast the whole house was cleared and searched. The rooms, the cupboards, the roof--everywhere except under the floor. Then they brought in a dark lantern, and I really thought they had discovered the fugitives at last, but Sherlock Holmes never thought of the floor; his reasoning did not carry him there. He found Haldane's saw made out of a table knife, and connecting this with the hole in the roof of the gymnasium, and the wires cut, he was sure they had gone away in the darkness. The rest, such is their mutual trust of one another in this country, were quite sure somebody had been bribed. The theories of the other officers in the prison are diverting. The discussions as to how the escaped had got out and where they had gone were full of imagination, but quite off the mark. In the afternoon Opperman and Sherlock Holmes came in with a hat and said the prisoners had been seen going over the hills towards Mafeking and had dropped the hat in question. By nightfall they had been tracked to Koodoosburg, about thirty miles out; and, indeed, the remains of their midday meal had been found. O wise detectives! This evening the Dogman went into Cullingworth's house in a great state of excitement and lit a candle at the verandah--a sign of good news, and on Majuba day too!
'February 28th.--We received the good news which the Dogman's excitement last night portended. Cronje has surrendered. This was received through the British Consul at Delagoa Bay. Buller has also driven back the Boers, and Botha wired: "No use; Burghers here won't face British." In the afternoon we received the following wire: "Cronje's surrender unconditional. Boers retreating on the Biggarsburg," and in the evening we heard that the British were entering Ladysmith.
'Three more officers replaced the three escaped in my room. We did not let them know about those underground, but I managed to send food, news, and water down as usual, also some hot cocoa at night.
'March 1st.--Ladysmith is relieved. Joubert wires: "On Lancers coming out of Ladysmith my mounted men retired leaving waggons and stores behind them." This afternoon the Cullingworths signalled over: "No more news, furthest telegraph station Elandslaagte." Kruger has gone to the front to exhort his burghers with texts. He was preceded by a telegram which was sent to all laagers. It is too long and too profane for me to copy out. Nothing but texts and psalms, showing that they are bound to win "though the enemy compass them about," as the Almighty is their own exclusive and peculiar property. The "Volksstem" says: "There seems to be some foundation for the rumour that Cronje has surrendered, but the report that Ladysmith has been relieved is quite untrue, our burghers are still fighting bravely south of that town. Should, however, Ladysmith be relieved, the war will only enter upon a new phase. We will then have to defend our borders against the greedy grasp of an unholy race. Now will the British see what fighting with the Boers really is. Now will the war begin in earnest."
'(Sherlock Holmes & Co. are completely off the track and all is well below.)
'March 2nd.--There are no signs of our moving into our new prison. This is very disconcerting as our friends cannot stay below much longer without getting ill. The Zarps' tents have been moved into the road. Opperman says because the yard was damp, but I fancy they are afraid of an attack on the Zarps. With the dumbbells in the gymnasium it might be possible to overpower them. The day was wet and dreary; I wrote letters, Mr. Hofmeyr prayed for the escaped. I have had to divulge the secret to No. 12 room, owing to one of them unfortunately seeing the trap-door open. They were very nice about it, and will do nothing to compromise the chances of success.'
'March 6th.--Our signals this morning informed us that the President had wired to Lord Salisbury, "Is it not time bloodshed ceased? Will send peace proposals." These people have got some nerve. First they declare war against an Empire, and then they expect that when they have had enough they can demand a cessation of hostilities. There are no signs of moving.
'March 7th.--The Ides of March, but I don't expect Kruger will be murdered in the forum of Pretoria. Those below are still all right, though their condition is not enviable.
'March 8th.--The following telegrams were received to-day by our signaller-in-chief Burrows: (1) Fighting with De Wet; (2) Occupation of Bloemfontein on the 6th. I busied myself in drawing a picture of Kruger going to the front to exhort his burghers, on the wall my room. There seems no chance of moving. Opperman says they have not even put down the floor in our new abode. Haldane wants to try to make them move. He thought that if Grimshaw vanished too it might alarm the authorities, and make them anxious to move us to a more secure place, but I feel sure--and Grimshaw agrees with me--this would only lead to the discovery of everything.
'March 11th.--I drew another large picture on my wall, a sequel to the first. It represents Kruger just escaping from Lord Roberts, who with drawn sword appears to be running after him at a good pace. My picture No. 1 is entitled "President Kruger goes to front to exhort his burghers;" No. 2 "But returns on urgent business."
'As chances of a move seem so uncertain and they are all determined below not to give in, it has been decided to try to get out by making a shallow tunnel, roofed in with cupboard shelves, into the hospital. Haldane is making arrangements with No. 12 room, who, it appears, are following the same plan.
'March 12th.--The man who came for grocery orders reported this morning that Bloemfontein had fallen, but our signal was that the British were within seven miles of the Free State capital. Opperman saw my portraits of Kruger this morning; I am afraid he did not appreciate them as he should have done. However, I told him that with a pail of whitewash and a brush he might obliterate them if he chose. (N.B.--Such is the procrastinating nature of these Boer-Hollander people that Opperman never had the pictures removed, and this with other things had, I believe, a good deal to do with his own eventual removal.)
'No. 12 decided to have nothing more to do with the digging plan. We have therefore arranged that Grimshaw, Garvice, and I shall take part in the operation. Garvice has not been informed of Le Mesurier's whereabouts, but has decided to dig. The Colonials in No. 20 room are also digging, but theirs is to be a deep tunnel and I doubt if they can master the water question.
'March 13th.--Tragedy. The Dogman and Cullingworth have been commandeered as undesirables, but intend, I fancy, to escape to the British lines. We signalled to him, "Good-bye, eternal gratitude, God bless you!" The Dogman replied, "British twenty miles north of Bloemfontein; Good-bye; speedy release; will return with Bobs."
'We started our shaft under the big room No. 16. Apparently we made a good deal of noise, for the old Colonels were very much alarmed and threatened to stop all digging, though they did not know who the culprits were. Opperman came into the room when mining was in full swing below, and it was all the occupants could do to hustle him outside, drowning the noise of the pick by stamping. We were rather distressed and decided to wait a few days. Garvice was very much startled when he saw Le Mesurier. He describes his feelings vividly. On going down by the trap-door he remarked what an awful hole it was. Suddenly, in the flickering candle-light he saw a gaunt, bearded, unwashed face, and a half-naked body. At first he could not make out what it was, but when he at last realised it was a brother officer he said you could have knocked him down with a feather had it not been that he was already crawling on his stomach. The new shaft is a long way off; when I went down I had to crawl on hands and knees along passages and through man-holes, backwards and forwards in a regular maze of compartments, and, indeed, had the candle gone out one could easily have been lost. Haldane looked very ill, but the others, except for being covered with dirt, seemed well enough.
'March 14th.--Grimshaw went down this evening to hold a confab. They have managed to dig without making a noise by wetting the earth. Grimshaw and I made the trap-door into one piece by securing the planks together and also made it so as to batten down from underneath. I sent them down jugs of water during the day to wash in.
'March 15th.--All went as usual this morning. Grimshaw descended and did a little digging. In the afternoon Opperman brought the news that we were to be moved to-morrow! Most of the officers were very annoyed, but Grimshaw and I sent the information below with gladness. Well, there was no time to be lost. Food enough to last them a week, all the bottles filled with water, and everything that could possibly be of any use to the cave-men was sent down. We heard, however, and not to our surprise, that others were thinking of going into their respective holes so as to escape after we had moved. As this could have had no other effect than to cause the discovery all, we were determined if possible to stop it. We told Colonel Hunt, and he managed to persuade all concerned to abandon their schemes.
'This settled, we set to work, after final good-byes and handshakings, to putty up the cracks between the boards of the trap-door, which had already been fastened down from underneath. This we succeeded in doing to perfection, and after covering the place well with dust, the trap-door could scarcely have been located by anyone; certainly not by those who did not know of its existence.
'March 16th.--The Staats Model School at an early hour was more than usually busy. We were all packing up such belongings as we had. I rolled everything in my mattress and rugs, and secured with rope. Then the gates were opened and all baggage was moved out on the road ready to be packed on the trolleys provided for the occasion. To be outside those gates was to breathe fresh air; to pass those barriers which had so long defied our efforts and our wits was like going out into another world. I went back into my room, and by prearranged taps on the floor Grimshaw signalled that all was well. I then sang "For Auld Lang Syne" as a parting farewell.
'The Government had generously provided cabs for the convenience of the officers (who afterwards found they had to pay), and at about 10 A.M. the first cabs rolled off amid the friendly farewells of many neighbours. The long column of vehicles was escorted by a motley guard, consisting of very old men and tiny boys armed with Sniders and sporting guns of ancient pattern.
'We soon passed out of the town and, crossing a small river, began to crawl up a steep hill. The roads outside of Pretoria appear very much neglected, but, of course, the money that should have been devoted to general improvements was all spent in secret service or in preparations for the war. We soon arrived at our destination. The building stands halfway up the side of a hill, and is probably a much healthier place than the Model School. Besides, the view is really pretty. To the north, indeed, it is limited by the tops of two hills. Southward lies Pretoria, a collection of large Government buildings and of small villas amid masses of trees, nestling beneath a high range of hills, along the crest of which rise the famous forts. The view on the west is merely a vast plain which reaches to the horizon, and a large hill obliterates any view to the east.
'The place itself consists merely of a long white shanty with a fairly large compound enclosed by formidable barbed-wire entanglements. Outside are Opperman's house and the Zarps' tents. There are electric lights all round the enclosure, making escape a matter of considerable difficulty. Inside, the place looked more like a cattle-shed than anything else. A long galvanised-iron building, divided into a servants' compartment and kitchen, eating rooms, sleeping room, and four small bath-rooms. The sleeping-hall is eighty-five by thirty yards long and accommodates 120 officers, our beds being, roughly, a yard apart. There is no flooring. The drains consist of open ditches, while the sanitary arrangements are enough to disgust any civilised being. A strong protest was at once sent in to the authorities, but I doubt that it will have any effect.
'March 18th.--The greatest disadvantage of this place over the Staats Model School is that we can get no news.
'March 22nd.--Gunning gave us a small baboon the other day, which was very fierce at first, but has tamed wonderfully. There are many different kinds of curious insects here, not curious for this country, of course, but which I have never seen before. The "Praying Mantis" or "Kaffir God" is one of the queerest. The whole place seems to be a large ants' nest, and we have often witnessed great fights between the different kinds. Snakes also abound. A night-adder was killed the other day. It was about thirteen or fourteen inches long and very poisonous, so Gunning says.
'We hear Gunning and Opperman are going to the front to-morrow. I am very sorry for the former, though the departure of the latter is a great advantage.
'March 23rd.--The Zarps and Opperman departed for the front this morning. Their place was taken by a new guard selected from the Hollander Corps. The Commandant is a pleasant fellow and a great improvement on Opperman.
'March 25th.--We had service as usual this morning. This evening an attempt to escape was going to be made by Ansell and Co., but it never came off. There has been no news of Haldane and the others, so I suppose they are well away by now. This evening the new Commandant had roll-call. We call him "Pyjamas," because he wears a suit of clothes for all the world like a pair of pyjamas. His real name is Westernant.
'March 30th.--There has not been anything very important to record for some days. On Tuesday an attempt to escape was made by Best. While one sentry was gossiping with another he crept under the barbed wire. As luck would have it, when Best had got half way through, the sentry finished his tête-à-tête and returned to his post. At first he thought Best was a dog and called out footsack,[#] but seeing he was a human being, merely told him to go back. He might have shot him with some excuse, so Best was lucky in striking a kind-hearted man.
[#] Be off.
'On Wednesday Joubert died. In respect to him we sent a wreath. I don't think this will have any effect on the war, as (and the papers say as much) his moderate attitude in the recent crisis had taken away much of his popularity.
'April 3rd.--Hurrah! the papers this evening report the safe arrival of Haldane, Le Mesurier and Brockie at Lourenço Marques, having travelled through Swaziland. We were so glad to hear this news. Alas! We also hear that sixteen officers arrive to-morrow, and that seven guns were captured with them.
'The Cullingworth girls came up this evening and signalled with a handkerchief that Mafeking had been relieved. I hope it is true. We all admire the pluck of those girls. We have already collected a large subscription to get them and the Dogman handsome presents.
'There was a large swarm of locusts yesterday. So thick was the cloud that it quite obliterated the view of the distant hills. They continued passing over nearly all day.
'April 5th.--The prisoners arrived this morning. They mostly belong to U Battalion, R.H.A.; some to the M.I. and Cavalry. I have not quite gathered the circumstances of their capture, but they seem to have been caught in a trap, owing to the want of the ordinary precautions. The convoy and one battery were practically held up without firing a shot, but the other battery got away. When marched off they heard that another British force was pursuing so that the guns may be recaptured.
'They bring very little news; apparently they have heard nothing about the relief of Mafeking, though Warren was on his way thereto. Roberts has been delayed in his advance for the want of horses, but as this has been remedied the forward movement should begin shortly. Had the horses not been so done after Abram's Kraal, they say De Wet would have been caught and the war over. Such is the fashion of war. If so-and-so had happened--always "if"!
'There was great excitement this evening caused by an attempted escape. The electric wires had been tampered with, and at about 10.30, by some device, Home, a colonial, who is also an electrician, made the current travel on a shorter circuit, thus blowing out the main fuse and extinguishing all the lights round the building. Hardly had this happened than two shots were fired in quick succession, and then another. The escape failed, but all got back into the building unwounded. Apparently the lights had gone down, then up for a second, then finally out.
'During the momentary flash Hockley, of the escapees, had been seen and fired at. However, "All's well that ends well," though some say that two bullets went through the dining-room. Sentries were doubled for the night and patrols sent out.
'April 6th.--How the fortunes of war vary! We seem to be going through a series of small disasters. To-day the papers have the report of a "Brilliant Boer Victory, thirty-six miles south-east of Bloemfontein; 450 prisoners!!!" The only hope is that the account is not "official." But we must be ready for the worst. The leading article says: "Within a few days Roberts will be forced to evacuate the Free State. His retreat from Bloemfontein will be like Napoleon's retreat from Moscow."
'April 11th.--The prisoners reported captured some time ago have not arrived yet. They always seem to be "expected to arrive somewhere," but apparently have not yet been actually seen by anybody. On Saturday their capture was reported officially. On Thursday English wires said that 300 Royal Irish were surrounded. To-day they say the prisoners are expected at Pretoria to-morrow! Well, we shall see.
'The last few days we have had many good rumours about the capture of Boers and British victories. To-day the papers say that Lord Methuen is advancing on Boshof (he must be there by now), and that Colonel de Villebois has been killed. He apparently and his men (100, so they say--probably 500) were all killed, wounded, or taken prisoners. A distinguished ex-French officer and his foreign legion is a good bag.
'The next piece of information is, quoting from Boer paragraphs or head lines, "Fifteen hundred English in a corner;" "Brabant's Horse in a trap." Then, again, "There is every hope of their surrender." So much for this. But on the Dutch side we read that all telegraphic communication with Ladybrand and the south has been cut, so I rather fancy the Boers have over-reached themselves for once.
'The Boers have attacked our camps at Elandslaagte, and because, when they shelled, our camp tents were struck, they report that the British fled. I wonder if Le Mesurier was in this show.
'In all these fights, as usual, the Boers "By the grace of God had (about) one man killed and four wounded." This is heavy; generally it is one horse and three mules. "The enemy," of course, "must have lost heavily." So the paragraphs run on. Many are the funny expressions. "One brave burgher succumbed to the explosion of a bomb." "One of our guns in firing damaged its sight and one of its wheels!" They always end up with "Our burghers are full of courage, and determined to withstand the enemy to the last."
'Various officials came up the day before yesterday to inquire into the causes of the protest we had sent in, signed by all the officers here. They promised that everything would be seen to; but they are all--well they are Boer officials, and I doubt if our lot is to be in any way improved.
'The weather is getting much colder now, though the sun is still hot by day. A few stray shots whistled over the building to-day, probably "accidentally on purpose." I hope they do not begin sniping regularly.
'April 12th.--Alas! my hopes were doomed to disappointment. Eight prisoners arrived. They are mostly of the Irish Rifles; unlucky regiment, twice the victims of misfortune! There is among them a gunner who was on the staff. As usual, they bring little news, except a vivid account of their own "show," which happened when they were on a bill-posting expedition.[#] A cart-load of packing cases came in to-day for the prisoners of war. Seven tons have already been sent to Waterval. These cases contained papers, books, cigars, cigarettes, tobacco and groceries, for which we were very thankful, the more so to feel that the people at home had not forgotten the unhappy prisoners of war.
[#] Distributing the proclamation.
'Since the new year one of the chief topics of discussion and bets has been: "When the war will be over." We have, alas! always underestimated the length of our stay here; had the prophecies of the more sanguine come true, we would have been free long ago. Some put the date of our release at the Queen's birthday; others later, and a few earlier. Personally, I have learnt since I have been here the impossibility of predicting what the future has in store. The day will surely come, though would that we knew the date, be it months hence, for we might then cross off the days as they passed.
'April 17th.--The papers have given no news for a considerable time. But rumours of the wildest description have been spread. Ever since Friday last rumour has persisted in De Wet's capture, and, indeed, it seems possible, even probable; having succeeded in two captures, General De Wet was not likely to be allowed to take another bag without some counter move on Lord Roberts's part. The papers to-day say nothing on the English side about De Wet, except that no news has been received from him for a considerable time; but the Dutch columns express anxiety as to his whereabouts. He had surrounded Brabant, they say, but strong columns came out of Bloemfontein, and to-day no news has been got, or, indeed, can be got, from the lost General. Rumour also has it that Lucas Meyer has been captured on the Natal side.
'I have been continuing my sketches and caricatures pretty regularly. I have also been reading more lately. Being Easter week, Mr. Hofmeyr held a service on Good Friday, and administered the Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday! If somebody had told me when first captured that I should still be in prison on Easter Sunday, I should have thought him mad, or expected to go mad myself. 'Tis well we know not the future, but always live on hopes of early release.
'I have written and received a good many letters. I think I am quite reforming in the way of letter writing--that is, I am getting into the way of writing four pages of tolerably sensible stuff on nothing at all, which is a sure sign of a good correspondent.
'Talking of being a prisoner, we have heard more of those fortunate escaped Fortunate! One cannot but think them lucky, and envy them, now they are free, with the just credit for their escape. But how many hardships had they to suffer? Well, to come to the point. Davy has just returned from hospital, where he saw Haldane's account of his escape in the "Standard and Diggers' News." The trains did not seem to fit in, and our friends had a lot of walking to do. Le Mesurier sprained his ankle; food ran out, and they had to live on Kaffir food. Finally, getting into a coal truck, where they were nearly discovered, they crossed the border at Komati Poorte. I envy them; but such success cannot be got without daring. Luck has certainly followed them, but I think their patience underground won Fortune's favour.
'We hear from Davy that the Dogman and Cullingworth are prisoners, having been arrested when trying to escape to the British lines. Poor fellows! Though, as our friends at home say of us, "They are safer in prison than at the front." This saying always irritates me. Every letter hints at it, as if safety were the chief reward one hoped to get during a war; one cannot help feeling bitter, though our imprisonment is only the payment for our very lives.
'April 19th.--Roulette is in full swing here. The arrangements are most ingenious, and the dining-room after dinner is a regular Monte Carlo.
'We had a large mess meeting to-day to appoint a new mess committee, and to discuss various questions as regards the expenses, etc. It was a very amusing assembly, rather too frivolous to carry any real motions. Most of the speeches wandered off the point, and we finally dispersed without deciding anything of importance. One thing was, however, serious. Colonel Hunt appealed for further subscriptions for the sick soldiers in hospital. They are apparently entirely supported by charity, and by our subscriptions. The Transvaal Government (although boasting to be civilised) does not even supply beds! This fact might, perhaps, disillusion some who are so taken in by Boer cant.
'May 8th.--We have had an immense amount of news lately. Roberts has begun his big advance. Brandfort is in our hands, also Winburg. The force advancing via Boshof has reached Hoopstad, while the British have crossed the Vaal at Fourteen Streams. De Wet has not been heard of for a considerable time. So much is acknowledged in the papers. Rumours say that we are behind Kroonstadt!! That De Wet, Steyn, and 8,000 Boers have been taken!! The English in the town think we shall be released by the 24th of May. A panic seems to have seized the Boers, and excited meetings have been held. Kruger summoned the Volksraad on Sunday, and addressed them in stirring words, which, while acknowledging the serious nature of the situation, exhorted the burghers to continue the struggle trusting in the Lord. General Schalk Burger, while addressing the townspeople, said that a stand might yet be made, if not, the independence of the Republic was at an end. The Church of Pretoria has addressed petitions for peace to the Churches of Great Britain and of Europe and America. They pray that this unholy bloodshed may cease. Kruger says "Continue the struggle to the end." Is it for England or for Kruger to give in?
'We have started a newspaper; it is progressing. We call it the "Gram," because at the Staats Model School all our news came in under the popular names of signal-gram (when news was signalled), Kaffir-gram (when brought through the Kaffir). Brockiegram (when Brockie succeeded in getting information from the Zarps), and so forth. Rosslyn is editor; Major Sturges sub-editor. White, R.A., Wake, 5th Fusiliers, and I, are the artists. The paper has been all written out by Rosslyn, and is now being hectographed. We hope to bring out seventy good copies of the first number.
'May 13th.--Though two or three prisoners have arrived lately, we can get no particular details of the news. There is no doubt that a general advance has been begun, but what point our troops have reached is uncertain. Also, it is still a question whether De Wet is captured or not. This morning the most serious rumour came in, to the effect that Mafeking had fallen, but I can scarcely believe it.
'Yesterday Mr. Hofmeyr received the welcome order to pack up his things and go. He seemed very affected at saying good-bye and nearly broke down. We all liked him very much, and bade him a hearty farewell, cheering him as he left the enclosure, and singing "He's a jolly good fellow." We shall miss him as well as his services.
'Our paper came out yesterday and was a great success. We hope to bring out a new one on the Queen's Birthday, though it is an awful labour.
'Life has not been so bad lately. Buoyed up with hope of a speedy release, and occupied with the "Gram," time has passed, in my case, more quickly. We had a selling lottery the other day for the day of our release. The dates ranged from the 15th of May to the 15th of August. The Queen's Birthday was much in request, while "the field" (any day after August 15th) went for six pounds.
'The "Volksstem," of course, progresses as usual. Having exhausted all other insults on England, they commenced lately on the Queen! During the present British advance the mendacious powers of the editor are once more brought to trial, and once more he has not been found wanting. The burghers are full of courage (running everywhere); even the women wish to fight! There was, indeed, a rumour that our present guard was to be commandeered and the women put here to look after us. Poor time for us! I fancy we should be all shot! The Volksraad sat the other day, and after Kruger and others quoting a few scriptures the session of 1900 was closed after sitting two days!
'May 14th.--So much news has arrived to-day, that I think I had better inscribe it, while I remember. This morning came the rumour that a good many Boers actually did get into Mafeking, but, being unsupported, still remain there. This evening's "Volksstem" is truly a wonder. It gives more news than it ever has given before. An attack was made on Mafeking. The Boers took a "fort," but were attacked by night, and lost seven killed and "some" wounded and prisoners. At present Carrington and Plumer are proceeding to Mafeking by train, so that it must have been relieved. Everywhere the Boers fly, and the British troops entered Kroonstadt on the 11th inst. Hunter, with his 25,000 men, drove the enemy back at Warrenton, and "the Boers are unable to resist the advance of the forces at Vryburg."
'"But," says the "Volksstem," "the fact that Kroonstadt is in the hands of the enemy need create no alarm. As we retire our line of defence becomes less and our commandos can be concentrated to resist more effectually the advance of the British forces. Besides, many things may happen which will put an entirely new face on the war. Our delegation has reached America, &c., &c. Lord Roberts' hastened advance is said to be caused by his desire to reach Pretoria on the Queen's Birthday, but might not the real reason be the fear of foreign intervention? Lord Roberts wishes to strike a decisive blow before his forces are needed elsewhere. Every day's delay is, therefore, an advantage to our cause. Courage is all that is needed, &c., &c."
'The above is a précis of the "Volksstem" leading article. Still they harp on foreign intervention, but from what I gather from recent Continental criticisms on the war, I fancy their chances in this line are less than at the beginning of the war. As to the burghers' courage, I doubt if the majority of them have much left. For many months the Transvaal Government have whipped their subjects to the fight; but even the worm will turn, and to the simplest, or the most ignorant, the Government promises and hopes must seem vain.
'The day of our release is, perhaps, approaching; but it does not do to be too sanguine; one never knows where a check may occur. Still I "plump" on the end of the present month.
'May 20th.--The month is drawing to a close, and the day of our release is still a matter of speculation. News is pretty plentiful; even the "Volksstem" tries to hide nothing. Roberts has made a great advance, but whether he has halted at Kroonstadt or not is uncertain. We all hoped he would not stop until he had reached Pretoria.
'We have been very much alarmed lately at the rumoured intention of the Government to move us to Lydenburg, but at present it is only a rumour. If we are moved we shall have every prospect of being shunted about the country with guerilla bands of Boers who would keep us merely as hostages, if, however, we are kept here we shall have every chance of being released during the siege of Johannesburg. The Boers, it is said, have decided to hold that place and are not going to blow up the mines. The defence of Pretoria would be impossible with the troops at their disposal.
'Life goes on as usual. The only diversion that has lately occurred was the athletic sports, which were got up by some energetic people. The event took place yesterday, and, on the whole, was a decided success. The chief feature, however, of the day was the betting. Several enterprising officers kept books, but Haig, of the Inniskilling Dragoons, cut the best figure in that line, and it was chiefly owing to his amusing performance that the day was a success. White has made an excellent sketch of "Our Bookie" for the next "Gram" number.
'The sermon this morning is worth recording. The Rev. Mr. Bateman delivered a most extraordinary speech as part of his service. Whether it was meant for our spiritual edification, or merely intended to convey news to us under the disguise of a text, was not quite certain; but, by preaching on the text that begins "as cold water is to the thirsty soul, so is good news, &c.," he led us to believe that we were to be released in a very short time.
'Roulette has been going very strong. Large sums have been lost and won.
'May 25th.--Yesterday we, prisoners of war, joined with the British Empire all over the world in the celebration of the Queen's Birthday. In our little enclosure we have quite a representative British Empire--English, Scotch, and Irish soldiers, Colonials, South Africans, Australians, and civilians, and, indeed, we only require a Canadian to complete the list.
'Yesterday evening we drank the Queen's health in light port (rather nasty). The first drops of wine or spirit I had tasted since the 18th of November. This was followed by "God Save the Queen," sung by all with a heartiness and feeling that I never heard before. It must have sounded very well outside. To us it was as it were "giving vent" to our imprisoned feelings, while we also found in it a link with our country, from which we have for so many months been severed.
'It is now pretty certain that Roberts is resting his troops, and rumours have it that the Boers have asked for an armistice. Whether Lord Roberts celebrated the Queen's Birthday by a victory or a peaceful armistice remains to be seen.
'The "Volksstem" considers that it would be a graceful act on the part of the State President if he were to wire the Queen and offer her as a birthday present the unconditional release of all the British prisoners of war. As the "Volksstem" is the official organ, this may quite possibly be merely a feeler to the public (if public there be in this country). At any rate it would be an act worthy of the wily Boer. He finds it a source of trouble and expense feeding and guarding 5,000 prisoners, so he gives them away with a pound of tea--I mean as a graceful act. Whether the offer would be accepted is uncertain. But we at any rate will be very happy if the Transvaal Government puts us over the border.
'The weather (by day) is simply perfect. Every morning the lovely air makes one long for a walk or ride, and causes one to chafe at the inability to roam beyond the one hundred yards' enclosure. We are henceforth to be allowed to have wine, but personally I shall wait for freedom before I indulge in that luxury again. The second number of the "Gram" came out yesterday, and, I believe, was much appreciated.'
'May 26th.--Two prisoners of war arrived this morning. They were caught at Lindley, which the Boers have apparently reoccupied. They were taken across country to the Natal railway, and then conveyed straight to Pretoria. They say they have heard firing at the Vaal, so I suppose Lord Roberts is there. The Boers hold a strong position south of Johannesburg, and they also intend defending that town. One of the De Wets is still on the right rear of our army, but will be dealt with by Rundle's division which is coming up that way. It is said that De Wet at one time offered to surrender on condition that he himself should not be made a prisoner. But Roberts would receive none but an unconditional surrender. Buller has been ordered to force Laing's Nek at all costs. The "Volksstem" says that Lord Roberts's headquarters are at Honningspruit, some way north of Kroonstadt, but this is probably news of some days' standing. There is also a rumour that our troops have occupied Potchefstroom.
'May 19th.--At last our release seems near at hand. Yesterday and to-day big guns were heard plainly in the direction of Johannesburg, which is now in our hands. Boscher, the grocer, has just arrived, having come up by the last train. He says that the Dragoons were actually in the streets when he left. I fancy to-morrow or next day will see us out. Everybody is in the best of spirits and full of excitement.
'Greatest excitement during dinner. Mr. Hay and Mr. Wood came in and asked Colonel Hunt to send twenty-four officers to Waterval to look after the men. Kruger has gone to Holland. The British are expected here to-morrow, and we shall be free! We sang "God Save the Queen" and cheered Hay and the Commandant, who made a very nice speech, saying he hoped to shake hands with us outside. Oh! how I longed to see the old regiment once more! The Commandant says that there is still fighting at Klipdrift, but a force of 4,000 men has broken through and come here. I believe there is a lot of looting going on in the town now. Roulette is at an end. I can scarcely write coherently, so excited am I. Fancy being free; I can scarcely believe it! Six and a half months' imprisonment, and about to be freed! Thank God!
'May 31st.--Too premature were our hopes. Yesterday and to-day have been spent in awful suspense. Distant guns have been heard, Boers have been seen riding about, and rumours of all kinds and descriptions are rife. It is too awful this final suspense. We do nothing in hope of a speedy release, and we pass the day anxiously scanning the horizon for the approach of troops.
'All day commandos have gone through the town, and one was seen on the plain coming in from Mafeking. One commando came up our way, and we were rather surprised that they made no attempt to shoot us. Indeed there was nothing to prevent them. Three prisoners came in. They were caught in or near Johannesburg. That town was officially surrendered at 10 A.M. this morning. The Boers intend making a sort of stand (one of their usual ten-minute affairs I suppose) at Irene, a place six miles south of Pretoria, and a fight is expected there to-morrow. Their line of flight is past our abode and Waterval, and I should not be surprised if, unable to face and shoot armed men, some of these foreign ruffians shoot a few prisoners.
'The town is evidently to be handed over quietly. The "Volksstem" is still covering a sheet of paper with print, but seems to take not the slightest interest in the war. They speak of giving up Pretoria as one of our papers might of a concert. Well, I suppose it will come at last, but I shall heave a sigh of relief when it does!
'June 1st.--No sign of the British! But we expect to hear guns to-morrow. There are plenty of rumours about--Roberts captured, French killed, &c. There was a good deal of looting in the town yesterday, and five men were shot. Our hopes of a few days ago have been somewhat damped, and most of us put our release down at a week hence.
'The "Volksstem" is remarkable. The editor is evidently wishful to avoid his tarring and feathering, and scarcely speaks of the war at all.
'June 3rd.--I have almost given up looking forward to our release, and have fallen back into the ordinary monotonous life. No guns have been heard, and therefore no serious fighting can have taken place anywhere near Pretoria. Rundle has been reported as having received a check in the Free State, and Lord Roberts is said to be still in Johannesburg; otherwise there is no news at all. Botha has taken matters into his own hands, has kicked out the officials appointed by Kruger, chosen a committee of his own, and has arranged the defence of the positions outside the town. He has therefore made himself practically President of what remains of the Transvaal. Kruger went off with a million of hard gold, paying the Government officials with dishonoured cheques on the National Bank, from which he has removed all the money. Every one of his ministers thirsts for the old man's blood, and perhaps it were best for him to go further than Middelburg.
'June 4th.--At about 8.30 this morning firing was heard at no great distance, in the south-west direction--field-guns, "pom-poms," Maxims, and even musketry. At about nine o'clock a shell was seen to burst on an earthwork on a ridge of hills south of the town. Field-glasses and telescopes were immediately brought out, and we were well entertained for the rest of the day. Shrapnel burst all along the ridges, and presently lyddite shells were planted on the hills. The firing seemed very unmethodical, and the Boers made little or no reply. On the western kopjes shrapnel was seen bursting all over the place, and we expected the Infantry to attack them. But the lyddite shells were certainly the most interesting. They burst with a tremendous noise, throwing up clouds of brownish earth. For some time the forts seemed the mark our gunners were aiming at, and these costly erections certainly received their share--four shells pitching well inside the west fort; but, later, the shells were directed on the eastern outskirts of the town. Whether these were intended for the railway station, we could not make out; but, otherwise, they seemed to have no object. At about 4.30 the Boers were seen leaving the western ridges and trekking at a remarkable pace across the plain, disappearing along the northern road. The day's action was ended by a kind of feu de joie of lyddite shells, which struck the two forts and the surrounding hills. Then peace ensued. The last few shots seemed to have been fired by guns which were much closer than at the commencement of the bombardment, and the flight of the projectiles, which we could distinctly hear, passed from west to east, so that we hope our troops have occupied the hills on the west.
'The hills are burning to-night, and the scene is strangely illuminated in honour of our approaching rescue.
'June 5th.--A day of strangely mingled hopes and fears. This morning at about 1.30 the Commandant awoke us and ordered us to pack up at once and prepare to march to the railway, whence we were to be transported by train down the Delagoa Bay line to some station beyond Middelburg. All were filled with consternation. To be hurried away when release was so near at hand seemed too awful. Words cannot express my feelings. At last we decided to refuse to go. Let them massacre us if they dared. We reminded the Commandant of the promise made to the officers the week before that if they restrained the men in Waterval neither they nor the men should be transported. The Commandant replied that he had his orders and must execute them, and he rose to leave the building, but we refused to let him or his lieutenant go, and held them both prisoners. The Commandant said that the guards would soon come in to rescue him, but he eventually promised to do his best to save us from being deported, if we set him free. Then, by Colonel Hunt's advice, for we did not know when a commando might appear, we returned to bed--you cannot shoot men in their beds. And so passed the anxious hours away till dawn. With the first streaks of daylight we scanned the hills anxiously for the British troops. We could see lines of men moving on the race-course, but it was impossible to make out what they were. Presently, at about half-past eight, two figures in khaki came round the corner, crossed the little brook and galloped towards us. Were they Boers come to order our removal?--The advance scouts, perhaps, of a commando to enforce the order! or were they our friends at last? Yes, thank God! One of the horsemen raised his hat and cheered. There was a wild rush across the enclosure, hoarse discordant yells, and the prisoners tore like madmen to welcome the first of their deliverers.
'Who should I see on reaching the gate but Churchill, who, with his cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, had galloped on in front of the army to bring us the good tidings. It is impossible to describe our feelings on being freed. I can scarcely believe it, after seven months' imprisonment; the joy nearly made up for all our former troubles, and, besides, the war is not yet over.
'To close the scene we hoisted the Union Jack which Burrows (one of the prisoners) had made by cutting up a Vierkleur, on the staff whence the Transvaal colours had so long reminded us of our condition. I will not write about the triumphal entry of Lord Roberts and the army into Pretoria, because that has been already told by so many others.
'The Dogman and Cullingworth shared our good fortune, both being speedily released from the gaol where they had languished since their attempt to get through to the British lines, and with this happy fact let me end my record of so many weary days passed in uncertainty, disappointment, and monotony, but borne, I hope, with patience, and ending at last in joy.'