“God bless you” - VRE

Victoria, by the grace of God, Queen and Empress, and worthy of her Empire, has revealed an Empire worthy of its Queen an Empire in arms, nations south and east and north and west arising to defend her honour and maintain her cause.

“It is out of the question,” declared the Queen’s High Commissioner in May, “that any invasion of Natal should be tolerated by Her Majesty’s Government. . . . Natal would be defended with the whole force of the Empire if it occurred.”

Invasion followed Ultimatum in October. Vandals poured down through the mountain passes, across the river drifts of the frontier, into pleasant peaceable Natal. England was surprised, unready, unprepared, and the burden of war was upon us.

Thousands of Volunteers, hundreds of whom never yet had heard a shot fired in anger, rose at the menace to resist the inroad and protect their homes. Many were but lately school Cadets, and of these at least a score were consumed of famine, fire, and fever—the three-fold furnace of Death, that separated the opposing forces, through which most inert passed.

Britons of Natal, a goodly company, (Natal had lost about 1 in 500 of white population; the United Kingdom about 1 in 5,000) laid down their lives- to stay the foul despoiler’s-foot, and vindicate the name of Imperial race; and. by their deeds, the living and the dead have spelled out for us a line of honour in the Roll of Empire: Natal has renown in the earth for the patriot valour of her sons.

The brave boys at the front garrisoned our hearts and fortified our hopes, and proved not unworthy of the best of them; and those who went not forth bore the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with silent endurance, like good true soldiers, at home—or whereto the enemy had driven them, awaiting return of the remnant (older, greyer-grown men now), weeping for the slain that come not again.

Those who weep, proud bereaved ones: “They know now the strength of sacrifice, and that its-flames can illumine as well as consume; they are bound by new fidelities to all that they have saved—by new love to all for whom they have suffered; every affection which seemed to sink with those dim life-stains into the dust has been delegated, by those who need it no more, to the cause for which they have expired; and even- mouldering arm, which will never more embrace the beloved ones,-has bequeathed to them its strength and its faithfulness.”

“You will fulfil a noble destiny,” remarked Lord Roberts at Maritzburg (11th December 1900) “in teaching your children, and children’s children, those maxims of loyal devotion and courage you have so faithfully upheld.”

"Natal, that little Colony little because it has but a small white population,” said the Secretary of State at Bilston, “but great in its honourable determination and courage, great In the sacrifices it has made, in the number of sons it has sent to the front, in the personal losses its people have sustained.”

“When the Colonists gave us freely of their bravest and best,” wrote the Agent-General to Mr. Chamberlain, “it was not only for the love of the Queen, not only for the purpose of wiping out the dishonour put upon the British flag, but for the sake of the British Empire.”

“Natal Volunteers,” declared Sir Geo White after the Gun Hill surprise, “ are a credit not only to their own colony, but also to the Empire.” And the leader of the sortie, General Hunter, wired three months after to the Governor- “Your Colony has reason to be-proud of the fighting men she produces. I never wish to serve with better.”

Natal did her part; and Natal was “defended with the whole force of the Empire.” During the past fifteen months 75,000 troops, 30,000-horses, 120 guns, 90,000 live stock, and 300,000 Ions of supplies were received and forwarded; and 25.000 men—Natalian and Uitlander, Zulu and Hindu have for various purposes been raised within the Colony itself. The Empire gave 200,000 men—100 corps; South Africa gives 100 corps—perhaps 100,000 men. The war will cost a hundred millions sterling, and a city of heroic souls—who influence history.

These short and simple annals of the war deal with the fortunes of but a small percentage of
the entire Natal Field Forces—1,100 besieged in Ladysmith, 2,200 with the Column of Relief. Still, the following pages, in which the Roll contains 3,500 names, are the product of a hundred pens, dipped in official records, illumined from private diary—the record of men who have known “dangerous days and watchful weary tedious nights.”

“Thank God we have kept our flag flying!” cried Sir Geo. White, who had in Colonel Ward the “best supply officer since Moses.”  Eighteen thousand souls were committed to his care - over 13,000 soldiers, and almost as many horses, mules, and oxen, with 73 guns. During the four months' investment the deaths numbered 850 (50 being Volunteers), due almost equally to shot and shell, dysentry, and enteric fever. Over 11,000 passed through hospital; and on the Relief 2,800 lay sick and wounded, of whom 228 were Volunteers. The loss of horses totalled 2,000. And of how the flag was kept flying all the while we learn something here; till the troops marched in at last, five hours long, with the swing of conquest, and 700 telegraphed congratulations greeted the united consummation of heroic endurance and inflexible persistence.

General Bullet's great achievement—“ the most important thing in British history since Lucknow”—cost the Empire 5,000 lives. It was the end of ten weeks’ tireless fighting, feeling for the enemy through an unknown country, faced by hostile mountains, belching iron, fire, and lead, fortressed by invisible foes, a river running deep and wide between. Distinguished service was here rendered by the Volunteers; heroic episodes and glorious moments atoned for days of dulness and the commonplace of duty.  But “All service ranks the same with God” – all duty is equally honourable, equally essential, if not equally conspicuous; the line of communication was as necessary as the line of battle.

Thus was the tide of war rolled back on the impious invader, by an Empire in action, that made itself both greatly feared and highly respected. Nature rapidly repairs the ravages of war. The scarred bills, the blasted bush take soft lines and fresh hues from the seasons. Hawthorn blows on the Zwaartkop, frowning over Tugela, where our guns blew the breath of hell.  The veld teems with flowers, trees spring afresh, things are as they were: but the dead sleep where they fell. The blood of the sons is the seed of the Empire. They die not in vain.  From their bones arise the larger patriotism of the greater Briton of the broader lands in wider seas.

“So we stand, and please God, will continue to stand, a united world-wide dominion, bound together by ties of blood and brotherhood, and equal love, and liberty, and justice, ready to carry out the destiny of our race.” (Lord Roberts at Capetown, 19th December 1900)

“God has given into our hands a great heritage, and we have had to pay a heavy price for it in the loss of our dearest and our best. We must give to God an account of our stewardship.

"That which alone makes war justifiable and conquest laudable is the benefit of the many, the better governing of the conquered country, and the establishment within its borders of justice, mercy, liberty, and truth.”

“God our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung' battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!

“The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart’.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

“Far called, our Navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Ninevah and Tyre!
Judge of the nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

“If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not thee in awe,—
Such boasting as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law,—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget —lest we forget!

“For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard.—
All valiant dust that builds on dust.
And guarding, calls not thee to guard,—
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy mercy on thy people, Lord!


H. V. P.   Christmas, 1900.

* Rudyard Kipling, in The Times, after Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee. 1897.