PART I - With the C.I.V. M.I.—the journey from Southampton to Cape Town.
R.M.S. Briton, January 16, 1900.
To-morrow morning, at 2 a.m., we are due at Madeira, where all letters are to be posted, so I am writing to say how things have been going with us since we left. The last you saw of us was early Saturday morning at Bunhill Row. We marched to Nine Elms Station— about four miles. I shall never forget that march! The streets were packed the whole way twenty deep, and we simply had to fight our way through. We got a mighty reception from the crowd, and every here and there were friends saying their last good-bye. It was a somewhat mistaken kindness, for it took us four solid hours to reach Nine Elms. At several places along the route were H.A.C. friends, who gave us a fire, which we returned. At Nine Elms Station we entrained for Southampton. We reached Southampton at 12.30, and embarked on the Briton. She is a magnificent boat, 10,000 tons, and beautifully fitted up.
Here again were many friends to wish us good-bye. I received thirty telegrams from all members of the H.A.C. and other friends. The scene when the vessel moved off was most impressive. On deck were all the passengers and troops cheering, and on the landing-stage were 5,000 people, cheering and waving their handkerchiefs till we moved out of sight.
On Sunday we were in the Bay, and most of us, men and officers, were more or less hors de combat.There was a heavy swell from the Atlantic, and the vessel rolled heavily all day. Sunday evening I recovered, and was quite fit and well, and able to enjoy my dinner. The men are all placed in the troop-deck astern. It is a somewhat rough life for them. The programme for them is:
7.30. Clean decks (swabbers).
7.45. Draw rations.
8. Breakfast (fish, coffee, bread, butter, jam).
8.30. Mount guard.
10 to 12. Parade (physical exercise).
12.30. Dinner (meat, vegetables, and pudding).
2 to 4. Parade (physical exercise).
5. Tea and supper.
8.30. Lights out.
9.30. Lie down.
We officers, of course, have a splendid time of it. We each have a cabin saloon, and live on the very best. I go and see all my men every day several times, and manage to smuggle a few luxuries over—such as apples and fruit—which are very welcome. All my detachment were more or less ill.
Monday was a repetition, except that most of us had found our sea-legs and were going strong. By the way, Lord Rosslyn is on board, going out as a war correspondent. What seems to impress the passengers is that the majority of the fellows are gentlemen.
Tuesday.—To-day the weather is magnificent. We are about due west of North Coast of Africa; blue sky, warm, and sea smooth. Everybody is fit and well, and in the best of spirits. In spite of all the hardships my men have had, I have not heard a grumble anywhere. They all seem to like me, and would really do anything for me. My fellow-officers are extremely good fellows; they are: Colonel Cholmondeley, Captain Reid (my Captain), Captain Waterlow, and Lieutenants Manisty, Wilson, and Berry. We also have Sergeant-Major Rouse, who is one of the finest instructors of Mounted Infantry in the kingdom. Two hundred and fifty of us are in the Briton, and 250 in the Garth Castle.
Altogether, I am awfully happy and in the very best of spirits. A soldier's life suits me down to the ground.
I am intensely proud of going with the C.I.V. M.I.; I feel it a great honour, and you may trust me that I will do my level best to deserve it.
S.S. Briton, January 17.
I wrote my last letter just before reaching Madeira. We arrived there Wednesday morning at 2.30 a.m. Going on deck, we saw Madeira rising high out of the water on the starboard side. It was a fine sight. The lights of the town were twinkling against a background of hills, lit up by a brilliant moon. On the port side were several steamers and yachts at anchor. Next morning was a brilliant one—clear blue sky, and a rising sun. The island presented a most beautiful picture. In the foreground the town is mainly composed of white houses with latticed windows, and then there rises terrace upon terrace of greensward, with white villas studded here and there among a mass of lovely blossoms of magnolia and other flowering shrubs. Behind all are the high hills. On deck were many native vendors of laces and all kinds of little knick-knacks. All round the ship was a regular babel of voices of people in small dinghys. We had five hours in Madeira, and we landed—men, passengers, and officers. Madeira is Portuguese, and the inhabitants are mostly Portuguese. We walked round the town, which is paved with small stones. Traffic is all on greased sleighs, drawn by oxen. It is beautiful, I believe, inland; but we had not time to go. We all got into boats again and returned to the Briton. At 11.30 p.m. we sailed off. On leaving, the Norham Castle came in on her homeward voyage. The temperature was very warm and enervating (sun rises 6 o'clock, sets 5.30). We had various drills and lectures on board during the day. All the men are fit and well, and getting as brown as berries.
January 18.—The steward turned us out at 6 o'clock, and I saw one of the most beautiful spectacles I have ever witnessed in all my life. Fifteen miles away, on the port side, rose a magnificent mountain, 15,000 feet high, out of the water; the top was a rosy pink with the reflection of the rising sun; the sea beneath was deep blue. This was Teneriffe. I sat down and thought to myself what a beautiful world it all is! I also thought many serious things, needless to repeat here.
We drilled again, and had lectures the greater part of the day. The weather is getting hot, with a tropical sun; there are no clouds and no ships! I have begun to give my men a friendly lecture for an hour every evening on useful subjects, such as fire discipline, musketry, reconnaissance and other matters. I fancy they are popular. I make them very friendly, and allow the men to smoke and sit down. A great many fellows from other sections come as well.
January 19.—To-day is a repetition of yesterday, except that we passed the Arundel Castle on the way home, and one or two transports. Weather hotter, with a clear sky and smooth sea. Everything on board is most luxurious; the eatables are first-rate; in fact, one lives like a fighting-cock. The baths are the best of all—sea-water in white marble basins. We have our port-holes open, and I spend some time every evening looking out.
This afternoon I, three other officers, and all my men have been inoculated against enteric. We shall all be laid up to-morrow for twenty-four hours. We were inoculated at 4.30; at 6.30 we were mostly feverish and very stiff. There are some delightful people on board, amongst others Brigadier-General Wavell and Lord Algernon Lennox.
January 20.—Woke up very stiff and feverish, but got up and dressed. Excused all parades; sat about deck learning up drill and other things. All my men more or less in the same feverish condition. After dinner there was a dance, but unfortunately I and my brother officers who were inoculated had to sit still. Weather blazing hot, easterly wind off Africa.
January 21.—Woke up fit, but a little weak. All my men are much better. It is still hotter—only 12 0 above the equator. Tropical sun, leaden blue sky and light blue sea. Plenty of flying-fish. All the men and women are dressed in white ducks, also the Captain and ship's officer. At 10.30 we had service on board. It was very impressive; the Captain took the service, all the men and officers and ship's passengers being present.
Such a pity!. One poor chap in the Inns of Court Volunteers, who is with us in the C.I.V., is down with double pneumonia. He is slightly better to-day, and the doctor hopes to pull him through. Every day from thirty to forty men are inoculated. The fever starts almost at once, and lasts from twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
Every day at noon the ship's officers take bearings of the sun, to find out the exact spot the ship is in on the earth's surface. This is done by laying off angles; they also get exact time and true North and South.
Monday night there is to be a concert, Tuesday and Wednesday sports, open to the whole ship. We are all more friendly; everybody is beginning to know everybody else, and altogether it is a delightful time. I forgot to tell you that the ship's band plays after lunch, also in the evening.
January 22.—Temperature 85° in the shade. The Colonel and officers went to see the men at dinner at 12.30 to-day. All seem as happy as possible. They are divided up into messes of eighteen to twenty men. Two mess orderlies are appointed each day for each mess; they fetch rations, carve the meat, etc To-day Dick and Nesham are mess orderlies. Curious to see Dick in his shirt-sleeves fetching rations and carving away. They all feed very well: they have large mugs of soup and bread; there is a big joint for each mess (good meat), good vegetables, and pudding (plain food, but excellent and strengthening).
Woke up quite fit and well; all my men are much better, too. Had usual parades. Lord Rossryn is going out as special correspondent for the Daily Mail, probably to Kimberley. He is also taking snapshot photographs for a new illustrated paper coming out shortly, called the Sphere. You might get it.
In the evening we had a concert, which was very good. You will be glad to hear that Dick played the ' Cavatina,' and it went down very well. Unfortunately the concert was broken up, as Colour-Sergeant Gibbons, who is down with double pneumonia, was in such a critical state that he was not expected to live. This cast a great gloom over us all. I must tell you something about him. Gibbons was a barrister in London, and a Captain in the Inns of Court, but in order to come out to South Africa he enlisted as a private. Then he was made Colour-Sergeant of No. 2 Company. All this was very sportsmanlike of him. When he first came under my notice at Bunhill Row, he appeared to me to be an extremely nice fellow, a good soldier, and well up to his work. The last time I saw him was last Thursday, the 18th, when he was in hospital with a bad feverish cold. I was orderly officer for the day, and thought the poor chap looked ill then.
Tuesday, January 23.—Weather blazing hot. Drilled all the morning. Crossed the equator at 12.30 this morning. In the afternoon we had sports on board. Dick just missed the 100 yards by 6 inches. I came in second for the potato race, and got a prize. We had cock-fighting and several other things. I must tell you that my tug-of-war team won every heat, but were beaten in the final by the team representing first-class passengers. It was after a hard struggle though. They would have won, but they had pulled so often during the day against other regimental teams that they were very fagged at the final heat. They were the best team in the Mounted Infantry, and the best on board ship. I gave them all a tea afterwards.
Poor Gibbons died at 6.30 this evening, after a fine struggle to live. This is our first casualty. He was very popular with officers and men, and we are all very cut up.
Wednesday, January 24.—Poor Gibbons was buried this morning with full military honours. We were all in review order, officers with black arm-bands. The troops lined the hurricane-deck on both sides. The General and his A.D.C. also came in uniform. At 10 o'clock we were called to attention. The ship's band played the funeral march. Right from aft six sailors brought the body, sewn up in a hammock with the Union Jack wound round; on top were belt, hat, and side-arms. All the non-commissioned officers were bearers. Then came the Colonel, also the General, then the firing-party, composed of the dead man's comrades from his own battalion (the Inns of Court), then the remainder of poor Gibbons' company, also all unattached troops coming out. As the body passed (the troops lining the sides, of which my section formed part), we came to attention, and the officers paid their last respect to the dead by saluting the body. The firing-party went with reversed arms. In the centre of the ship, on the port side, the body was placed on a sliding-board. Then the funeral service was read by the Colonel. At 11.30 the body was dropped overboard, during which sad function the engines of the ship stopped, and the firing-party fired three volleys. All was then over. The band struck up a lively military march, and everyone marched off.
January 25.—The weather keeps beautifully fine, not too hot, and the sea is very smooth. In the morning we had various drills. In the afternoon we finished the sports. I went in for the sack-race, and came in second only in my heat. O'Connell won an event called 'slinging the monkey.' We are all well on board. In the evening we gave a select dinner-party, and invited the General, Lord Rosslyn, and several ladies on board. Amongst the ladies is Lady Douglas Straight. One of the nicest fellows on board ship is Captain Davidson, A.D.C. to the General. I have had a lot of chats with him. After the dinner, which was a great success and very jolly, we had the remainder of the concert. Dick played again on the violin, Handel's 'Largo,' which went down very well. He played it A1. After the concert the prizes were distributed; I got a pocket-knife and 10s. (the latter I returned for Orphans and Widows' Fund). I don't know whether I have told you or not, but our Adjutant's wife is on board. She is a jolly little woman and a regular sportswoman. She only came to see her husband off, but suddenly, on the spur of the moment, she made up her mind to come with us. She always sits with us at mess; in fact, she belongs to the regiment.
January 26. — Had usual parades this morning. Sighted the Manchester City, heaved to, and received the welcome intelligence that Ladysmith was relieved 1 A mighty cheer went up over the ocean from our boat. This is really good news! Of course I hope everything will go well for us, but I should like to see some fighting, and it would be a pity if everything is all over by the time we reach Cape Town on Monday afternoon. This evening we had a fancy-dress ball, which was rather fun. Most of the passengers except the officers turned out in all kinds of fancy-dress, got up on the spur of the moment.
January 27. — To-day was a competition of subsections (four men) for a prize of £10 given by General Wavell. I had trained all my eleven sub-sections for the competition for the last three days. The competition was to fire volleys at a certain place on the ship; then to double to another place and fire again; then double to a saddled horse, mount and dismount; then go to another place and answer questions on bugle-calls and Baden-Powell's book on scouting. Unfortunately my section were ordered to parade first. The whole eleven sub-sections did fairly, but not well enough to win. I had nothing to do with it after, they had paraded, as it lay with each sub-section commander. I was a judge at one place, and timed each sub-section. The winning sub-section comprised four London Scottish men, who were first-rate; they were, however, the last to go in the afternoon, and, of course, had all the experience of seeing where the others had failed. First, second, and third all came from the last sub-sections------ Confound! there goes the fire-alarm! . . . Just returned. Fire-alarm went on high, ship's fire-bell went, and syren sounded; everybody— soldiers, crew, ship's officers, stewards—all darted to their stations. Our station is on the starboard side of main-deck, abaft of the second-class saloon door. Glad to say it was only a false alarm, done for practice.
There are several war-correspondents on board.
This evening after dinner the C.I.V. M.I. gave a smoking concert to the ship on the first-class saloon deck. This was a great success, for we have a lot of talent amongst our fellows. Everybody thought it was one of the best concerts they had ever heard. A good many fellows in my section performed. The weather remains beautifully fine—smooth and warm. It is summer here. The sun rises at five o'clock and sets at seven. The stars are very different. One cannot see the Great Bear, or Polar Star. However, what we can see is the Southern Cross, which gives true South.
It is this shape: [ed Star shape given]
There are also some large brilliant stars whose names I don't know.
January 28.—Again it is beautifully fine—blue sky, deep blue sea, and warm. To-day being Sunday, we had Church parade, otherwise I have nothing much to tell you. To-morrow afternoon we reach Cape Town. Since sighting Teneriffe Peak, we have not seen a vestige of land for over a week, and precious few ships. All my boys are fit and well; some of us are much more round the chest with the physical exercise we have done, and we mostly look bronzed and well.
January 29.—Had early morning parade at 6.30 for packing up kits. All getting ready for departure. At 10.30 a.m. we saw the first strip of land of South Africa. We shall probably be in between two and three this afternoon. I am in command of the baggage guard, so shall have plenty to do. Beautiful weather, hot and clear. The coast is getting more defined and looks rugged. For the first time we see plenty of sea-gulls and other water-fowl flying about. All are well on board. I shall close this letter now. It has been a most enjoyable voyage, and I have made several friends. I am sending you a photograph of the officers; it is not good, but you may like to have it. We passed the Gascon yesterday evening at 6 p.m., and she signalled,' No news of any importance.' So, apparently, there is nothing fresh.
Greenpoint Camp, Cape Town, February 6. On January 31 we sighted Cape Town at about 2.30. At three o'clock we were close in, and the scenery was marvellous. Cape Town lies at the bottom of Table Mountain, a huge precipitous rock 4,000 feet high. On the left are several peaks; on the right was the harbour full of ships. There were the Umbria, Germanic, Majestic, Nomadic, Tantallon Castle, and many others. We dropped General Wavell and his A.D.C. on a special tug; three hearty cheers accompanied him as he left. It was altogether a wonderful sight, with the ships, the blue sky, and the burning sun. At four o'clock we got into harbour, and I immediately got my men out and commenced unloading our stores. They worked with a will. While we were unloading Lord Roberts came along and had a look at us. (You remember he gave me those seven razors.) At eleven o'clock we turned in.
February 1.—At 9.30 we landed and marched to our camp. It was a sight worth seeing—all our boys fit and well and bronzed up. We reached camp, and immediately started pitching our tents. We finished it all by five o'clock. We are camping on a common between the sea and Table Mountain. I tell you, it is extraordinary—the air is most invigorating, and although it is blazing hot one does not feel it. Table Mountain is a sight! Whenever the wind is southeast great white clouds come over the top and envelop it like a table-cloth over a table. When the sun sets the clouds flush rose-pink. Far away on the east are the Blauwberg Mountains, which are magnificent; in front is the harbour with all the ships.
February 2.—We live in tents. Officers have one apiece; for the men, twelve are in one tent. Feeding, plain but good; men and officers fare almost alike. There are plenty of rats and snakes. Last night a snake was curled up in one of my fellows' bed, but he got his bayonet and slew it. They are not poisonous, however. Meanwhile, we are infested with rats everywhere!
February 3.—Drew horses to-day; fine, good horses. My section are all mounted on greys. I have a good horse myself.
February 4.—Had riding parades. The men are working hard, and getting fit. Routine:
Mounted parade, 9.
Water and feed horses, 12.
Mounted parade with rifles, 2.30.
Water and feed horses, 5.
Everybody works from 5.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. By the way, Lord Roberts inspected us yesterday. He was delighted with our appearance, and told Colonel Cholmondeley that we are to go to the front as soon as we are ready. We go up to the front next Friday, in all probability to the Orange River. Lord Roberts made a long speech, which you will see in the papers. He is splendid, as hard as nails; all' the soldiers love him. He meets every ship that comes in, and inspects the troops arrived. Lord Kitchener was with Lord Roberts when he inspected us. He is doing all organization and transport, etc.
All the officers carry rifles and bayonets on horseback, the same as the men. All are in the pink of condition and ready for anything. We are the best mounted of all the Mounted Infantry going up to the front; in fact, it is a record for troops. We were enlisted early in January, and we shall be up at the front within five weeks of enlistment—7,000 miles from home, and all a good fighting lot! We shall render a good account of ourselves, I am certain of that. Colonel Cholmondeley said to me last night that, had it not been for my hard work, we should never have got off so early, nor would they either. Lord Roberts has told us we shall get plenty of fighting. We are not waiting for the artillery or infantry, but going on alone, to be brigaded with a Mounted Infantry Brigade. Lord Roberts is going up to Orange River, I believe, as well, with a flying column. The idea, I think, is to go straight on to Bloemfontein, then higher up, in order to draw the Boers away from Modder River and Ladysmith. You can imagine my surprise when I arrived in Cape Town and found that Ladysmith was not relieved after all; that Warren had crossed the Tugela, but had had to recross with a heavy loss—1,700 killed and wounded. I am trying to send you a photo of Lord Roberts inspecting us. My section came out well.