A Study of Tommy Atkins, the Inscrutable--Our Dutch Compositors Arraigned.
The lady who signed herself "Miss Uitlander" was also kind enough to write for us an article on "Tommy in a Lady's Eyes." It was clever. She said that Tommy walked the streets looking as if he always had walked them--and that was true. It is also true that Tommy did everything else in the same way. Wherever you put him or he found himself he uttered no comments or exclamations, but at once adapted himself to the situation. During the seven months I was with him I never could fathom the operations of his mind. Sometimes I suspected that he had none; at other times I envied him the kind of mind he had.
Our lady reporter said that Tommy "loves to make an impression on the feminine heart--but, alas! his khaki uniform does not suit him. Like country, like dress. We now see ourselves as others see us, a khaki-coloured people in a vast khaki-coloured land." Of the officers she said, "their amiability, patience, and high breeding are a treat to come in contact with in a country such as this, where Jack is considered as good as his master; in his own estimation, a very good deal better."
"Bloemfontein is khaki-mad," she concluded; "Tommy is everywhere. The shops overflow with him--and how he spends his money! It will be an object-lesson to those who, a few short weeks ago, were sure that England was on the verge of bankruptcy. The streets abound with him. The place is a beehive of soldiery, and never again will be any other, I most fervently hope and trust."
I copy this bit of a long article because it brings strongly to mind and in full swing and colour the daily scenes in the streets of Bloemfontein. Whenever we ran out of THE FRIEND office to the hotel or the printing works or the Club, we saw the same endless parade of soldiers up and down the pavements, the same motley cavalcade of mounted men in the streets. At the sound of drums we all ran out--for civilisation was far away, and the natural man was welling up strong in us--to see a regiment marching in, or out--or, too often, to view a funeral procession leading a poor bundle of the dust of a hero strapped upon a gun-carriage.
In the shops we found a wall of soldiers before every counter. They were in swarms like flies in all except the drinking places. There they could not go; poor fellows, to whom a drink would have seemed so much more than to us, who could have it whenever and wherever we wanted it.
I will say again, here, as I have said elsewhere once before, that though we underwent more danger than many of the soldiers (who were not sent, as we were, into every battle), and though we endured hardships sufficient to break many strong men, we correspondents had this advantage over the rest--that, no matter how light was the marching-kit ordered for the troops, we were usually followed by our carts, and when these came up with us, we had abundance--and some luxuries.
It was my good fortune to be able to replenish the larder of one regiment more than once when, between battles, it entertained a general or the Commander-in-Chief. We in Roberts's and Methuen's army, were never criticised for living as well as we could, but there is a story current in army and war correspondent circles to the effect that the hero of Omdurman severely rebuked certain correspondents for living on a scale which provoked the envy of the officers, and demoralised them. One correspondent of the little mess that was thus criticised--a man who drank very little himself--is said to have utilised one camel solely to carry the champagne with which he entertained his friends among the officers. I do not say what I might have done had this story been told me earlier, but, as it was, I had no camel, and the champagne that kind friends sent me from England never reached me.
My stores consisted of poultry in tins, puddings, jams (how good those Cape jams are, by the way; they should have a great sale in all civilised parts), tinned vegetables, bully beef and bullier tongue and ham, preserved fruits, biscuits, figs, cigarettes, cigars, and a little most evanescent whisky.
But to get back to the streets of soldier-burdened Bloemfontein; how surely, as we assembled in the corner by the office, did the soldiers recognise their poet and friend. He looked at all of them in general, but all of them stared at him in particular. They passed the word from rank to rank, "There's Rudyard Kipling!" and then marched on, leaving their eyes on his face while their bodies passed along, until it looked as if they must dislocate their necks before they had their fill of seeing him.
He was like a comrade when he talked to a private, and talk to them he did. Jack tar, Colonial, regular, and Pathan, he talked to all alike.
"How are you getting on? Is your camp all right? Near here? Where was your last fight?" So he both introduced himself and set them talking and at ease--all in a breath.
But, as I have said, "Tommy" is inscrutable. I stepped one day into a German tobacconist's across the street from, and farther along than, the Club, and found it packed by soldiers who were being served by an insolent German with a portrait of ex-President Steyn in his coat lapel.
"Take that picture out of your button-hole," said I. "What do you mean by wearing a thing like that when you are under British rule, and have been both protected and generously treated?"
"I vill vear vot I shoose," said he.
I made a mental promise to see that he did not wear that emblem much longer, and then turning to the soldiers I said, "Men, did you not see what this man is wearing? Why do you spend your money on a man whose sympathies are with the Boers? Give his shop the cold shoulder, and he will soon see that he is making a mistake."
The appeal was in vain. The men instantly began to look very uncomfortable. They rolled their eyes up to the ceiling or pinned their gaze on the floor. No one said a word or even shot a glance of approval in my direction. They did not care. Tommy does not care--never cares--about anything, apparently.
I tried to keep my promise. Search was made for that tobacconist, but he never served behind his counter after that visit of mine. He saved the military the trouble of sending him to Capetown.
Lively days were those for rebels and irreconcilables. The men who had most ardently furthered the cause of the Bond and the Transvaal war party, and who had the indecency to loiter in the town, were quickly weeded out and sent to the Boer prison camp near Capetown. If we could not always tell who were our friends, these mischievous wretches were worse off, for, ofttimes, their old neighbours, tired of the war and awake to the folly of keeping it up, pointed them out to the military, and retailed their nauseous histories.
"I feel a little like a lieutenant of Fouché," said one correspondent to me. "I had pointed out to me a former editor of one of the local papers whose pen was used with vitriol and who did as much as any man to degrade and spoil this little country. I was told that he is still talking angrily and abusively of us, and I was indignant. I mentioned the case to a prominent military officer and in three hours the man was a prisoner on his way to Capetown. I feel as if I was living in Paris in the French revolution--very creepy and uncomfortable. I shall keep my discoveries of such rascals to myself after this."
In this number mine was the leader entitled, "Do we Spare the Rod too Much?" A friendly visitor, whose signature "L. D.-J." unfortunately fails to recall his full name to my mind, wrote a very interesting sketch called "Towards War," which shows with fidelity to the truth how the mere process of going to war prepares one for the war itself. Mr. Landon wrote the first true account most of us saw or heard of the mishap at Karree Siding, where four of our officers were shot, on March 23, while riding over the country on a search for forage. Lieut. Lygon, who was one of the killed, was an intimate and beloved friend of Mr. Landon, who mourned him deeply and most lovingly looked after his burial and the proper marking of his grave. Death had come too close to all of us far too often, but never quite so close to any one of us as in this instance.
Mr. Gwynne's thoughtful essays on the revolutionised science of war produced a first reply in this number, from an officer competent to discuss the subject. General Sir Henry Colvile wrote with much good humour twitting us for the blundering of our compositors, who had made a botch of the double acrostic he had so kindly sent us some days before. The fact that we were as much to blame as the compositors he managed, with extremely clever wording, to make us feel, though he did not say so. Those compositors!--were ever men so badly served as we were by them? They doubled our work, and though we corrected every error they made they often spoiled our efforts at the last by failing to carry out our corrections. They were so ingenious as to spell struggle "strxxlg," and then to insist that it should appear so in THE FRIEND. They invented the new rank of "branch colonel" to take the place of brigadier-general or lance-corporal, I cannot remember which. I used to think they made this trouble on purpose, for I knew that some were Dutch and all had been with the Boers before we came. And when secret pro-Boer circulars and incentives to disorder were found to have been printed in the town, I had a sneaking suspicion that I could guess who were the printers.
We cut the Gordian knot of one of our troubles in this number by reducing the price of THE FRIEND to one penny to men of all ranks alike.
(Edited by the War Correspondents with Lord Roberts' Force.)
BLOEMFONTEIN, TUESDAY, MARCH 27, 1900.
BY THE EDITORS.
To Correspondents.--Please do not write on both sides of your letter sheets when you contribute to THE FRIEND.
It's all right to take a kopje on both sides, but you should not send it in on both sides.
Some of the Editors are sufficiently profane already.
BY MAJOR-GENERAL SIR H. E. COLVILE.
SIR,--"We don't hexpect hart and we don't hexpect hacting, but yer might jine yer flats."
It is perhaps too much to expect that the gentleman who sets up the type of THE FRIEND should know the usual structure of a double-acrostic, or that he should trouble himself with such details as my punctuation and spelling; but he might have let my lines continue to scan and retain some germ of meaning; and, even if he did not realise that the proem was intended for verse, he might have let it stand as English prose. His statement that "according to the writer" the answer gives "the most appropriate cognomen," &c., is interesting, as anything must be that falls from his stick. It further reveals a wealth of imagination of which his previous efforts gave us no hint.
H. C. Writer of the Double Acrostic in Saturday's issue.
Bloemfontein, 24th March, 1900.
(Please don't shoot the Editors, they are doing their best.--ED., FRIEND.)
BY L. D.-J.
The crowded platform at Waterloo, the groups of men in great-coats gathered round figures in ulsters with travelling rugs upon their arms; the long train with its dirty painted boards above the carriages inscribed "Aldershot," "Basingstoke," "Southampton"; the last joke, the last catchword, the last farewell grip of parting hands; the sudden remembrance of need of newspaper or sandwich; the bustle and hurry of railway officials, servants, late voyagers, or later friends, thronging the platform from refreshment-room to bookstall: these tell little to the observer of war and its alarms. Only at either end of the platform where the great doors of the baggage-brakes yawn upon piles of valises, beneath whose white-painted rank, name, regiment, the bold initials "S.A.F.F." catch the eye, guarded by soldier servants, field-service cap on right eye, uniform hidden under collared great-coat; or on the racks of the compartments, where curiously shaped tin cases cover the cocked hat or the helmet, and where, showing through a bundle of canes, golf-clubs, and polo sticks, is seen the clumsy brown leather shape of a sword case, is there a hint of military significance, a clue to the tension of the thronged faces, taking a farewell under circumstances not of the ordinary.
The Saturday afternoon in December, yellow and dull under the bitter black frost which has gripped the heart of the land, as the ill news has gripped the heart of the people, which comes to round off a week whose despatches have announced the disasters of Stormberg, Maghersfontein, Tugela, the threefold defeat on hill and plain and river--is no day for cheerful leave-taking. Although every lip is silent on the subject of the morning's news, latest and worst of all; although the spoken word is all of a brilliant campaign, a stroke of luck, a speedy and safe return, there looms before each mind the coming list of casualties, the thought of war's inevitable chances, the possibility that here and now are some who may never be seen again firm-footed on a metropolitan causeway, whose trick of a smile, twist of a moustache, and cock of hat upon forehead must become a slowly dimming memory through the remnants of a life.
The fire blazes against the frosty draught in the hall of the Southampton Hotel. Baggage is piled upon baggage half-ceiling high in every corner. Hungry men are hurriedly moving along the corridors towards the dining-room, in their travelling suits of tweed or serge. At two or three tables family parties are dining together for the last time; the women silent, quiet-eyed, smiling but momentarily at the sally of light-hearted youth, a sigh ever held in suspense behind kind lips and white teeth. The writing-room holds a group of scrawling men, finishing final letters, re-iterant of parting phrases, enforcing last injunctions, expressing forgotten behests. And at the foot of the stairs stand two officers in uniform, both in peaked caps, one military, one naval, with white bands upon their sleeves. They are the Embarking Staff Officers; they are the first visible sign of war.
Grey fog upon the waters, grey fog hanging round the sheds upon the wharves, a grey transport with red funnels, towering above the levels of water and quay. Cranes rapidly sling guns, wagons, cases, with creak, shout and thud over the grey bulwarks. Lines of uncouth figures in grey great-coats, and blue red-banded sea-caps, pass sight-protected rifles from hand to hand up the steep gangways and along between rows of boxes and baggage to the armoury. The saloon is filled with lunching officers, their friends and relatives. The last toast is lifted in silence to the last lips; and eyes looking over brim of wine-glass are eloquent of more than speech is master of. The harsh clang of the warning bell, speaking full-voiced the words of Destiny, transfers to the grey quay groups of dispirited, saddened women, and of men stern-eyed and holding between their teeth and under the cover of moustache or beard, minute bleeding portions of their inner lips.
On the promenade deck, gay in a scarlet jumper, over-weighted a little by his large khaki-covered helmet, leans upon a stanchion a very junior subaltern. His boyish, hairless face is blue with the cold frost-fog, he is biting very rapidly and nervously at the end of a cigar that went out ere half its length was smoked. Looking up at him from the wharf below, a group isolated from other groups holds a tall lady clad in furs, heavily veiled, her handkerchief peeping from her muff, and one arm resting heavily upon that of a grey-haired military man, while son and daughter, or nephew and niece, perhaps, gather protectingly to her side.
There is still delay. The gangways are removed, but still the hawsers hold. The cold compels the watchers on the wharf to take a few hurried, swiftly-turned paces up and down its length. The voyagers stamp upon the deck, or beat a furtive arm across a swelling chest. But they do not turn even for a second from contemplation of that shore they may never see again.... A whistle blows, there is the sound of a cable slipping through the water, the lady in the furs comes hastily forward, puts up her veil a little way and tries to shout. The youthful subaltern leans out perilously over the side. The words come faintly up.... "Goodbye! Rex.... God bless you!... I know I shall see you again...." The lady beats her hand desperately upon her muff, and dabs her handkerchief unknowingly against her veil....
The band aft is playing "Auld Lang Syne," a stretch of greenish water spreads between ship and shore, a few half-hearted cheers are rising through the grey fog, and the sound of a melancholy chapel bell in the distant town tells of a half-forgotten Sabbath.... The subaltern's eyes no longer see things clearly, and the handkerchief he waves as answer to those fluttering along the grey length of the quay is heavy and damp....
So we come a little closer to the realities of war.
Lights flicker and gleam in the dark shade of the poplar trees fringing the platform. There is a hush over those who hold space upon the gravel before the station-master's office. In the darkness it is difficult to see who one's neighbour may chance to be. But voices betray the presence of the P.M.O. and half a dozen officers from the Field Hospital behind the church. At the other end of the platform lie the sinister stretchers of a bearer company laid out in an interminable row. Up to the line comes the low melancholy whistle of the armoured train....
All day from far beyond the ring of hills that cages the camp upon the plain has come the dull booming of heavy guns. There has been a battle and there have been losses: this we know. The approaching train is bringing in the wounded from the scene of action, but who they may be who suffer we have yet to learn. As the light comes round the bend above the water-tank, there is a stir among the waiting groups. A command rings out, and is followed by the shuffle of feet as the bearer company stands to its stretchers. The train glides slowly, looming up in its solid armoured squareness between the goods sheds and the rolling-stock upon the sidings. It draws into the little colonial wayside station with a flash of its headlight that renders the platform darker than ever. The form of its commander drops from the rear carriage, with its maxim-portals, and its loop-holes for rifles, all sliding by dim and grey and sinister. In a low voice he tells the P.M.O. "six killed, fourteen wounded. I have brought down eight." "Any officers?" questions some one in the background. "Jones is killed, and Spindrift missing," comes the response, "and young Michael is here, shot in five places." ...
Lanterns swing back and forth, the doctors get into the carriage, there is a low, subdued murmur of voices from within; a breath of some antiseptic comes from the interior; a groan is audible. Then the Bearer Company marches slowly along the edge of the platform. Four men enter with their stretcher, and after a painful lapse of time, the lanterns swing again, the group stands back a little, and slowly, carefully, feet foremost, the first wounded man is brought out, and lowered upon his stretcher to the ground. While his blankets are being arranged there is time to see him indistinctly: a bandage round his head with a dark, tell-tale patch soaking through it, a pale face with closed eyes and a pale moustache disarranged across his mouth. Last night we dined and drank together. Now, as he is borne off out of hearing, the medical officers whisper, "poor chap, there is no hope for him; he cannot last the night."
Gradually the armoured train disgorges its unhappy load, the stretchers receive their burdens, the marshalled procession goes slowly over the line towards the hospital, the medical officers in close attendance, and the engine pushes and pulls its bullet-proof trucks back through the night to fetch another cargo.
War and its horrors are with us now, and are scarcely so terrible after all. Our gradual approach has softened them or possibly hardened us--who shall say which?
BY PERCEVAL LANDON.
There has been so much misrepresentation of the facts connected with the unfortunate incident at Karree Siding on the 23rd that the following brief description of what actually occurred may be of interest.
A military camp had been formed at the Glen--the point at which the railway crosses the Modder River, thirteen miles north of Bloemfontein--on the previous day, and Colonel Eyre Crabbe, of the Grenadier Guards, had been appointed commandant, with his adjutant, Lieutenant Edward Lygon, as his staff officer.
Forage was scarce, and it became necessary to collect a small amount from the neighbouring farms. Colonel Crabbe, accompanied by Colonel Codrington of the Coldstream Guards, Lieutenant Lygon, Captain Trotter, and one orderly, set out after luncheon on Friday for this purpose, and, moving out in a northerly direction, visited three farms, and then, finding themselves close to the railway office at Karree Siding, entered the telegraph room at that place and found that the instruments had been removed.
On riding out from the station they saw on a ridge to the north four mounted Boers against the sky-line, and Colonel Crabbe, calling out "Come on, let us round them up," set out at once in their direction, followed by Colonel Codrington and the others. A slight protest was made against the danger of the attempt.
The Boers had ridden away to the west, but were still in sight, and they were seen attempting to double back over a slight rise in the ground strewn with boulders that scarcely deserves the name of a kopje.
Believing that the enemy had ridden over and away, the small party moved on and divided at the base of this fold, Captain Trotter and Lieutenant Lygon moving off to the right, the two Colonels and the orderly keeping to the left.
The Boers, however, leaving their horses at the back of the rise, took up positions behind the rocks, and opened a well-aimed and constant fire upon our men. Colonel Crabbe, whose horse had fallen at the first shot, was struck through the forearm and thigh, Colonel Codrington received a bullet as he lay on the ground attempting to return the fire, and the orderly was wounded in the ankle. Meanwhile firing on the other flank continued for two or three minutes, until Lieutenant Lygon, who had dismounted and was running forward to gain the cover of an anthill, was shot through the heart. Death was instantaneous, even Captain Trotter being unaware of it until he turned round, receiving at the same moment an expanding bullet through the elbow.
Thus the whole of the small force was now either dead or wounded, and Colonel Crabbe surrendered. The Boers instantly came down into the open, and, expressing their regret, did all they could to dress the wounds, Captain Trotter undoubtedly owing his life to the tourniquet applied to his arm.
The wounded men were afterwards carried by the Boers with great care to Mr. Maas' farm, and the news was sent back to the Glen by a Kaffir.
Lieutenant Lygon's body was borne back on the following morning, and was buried near the small white kraal a hundred yards to the east of the railway bridge. The funeral, which took place at sunset on Saturday, was most impressive, the entire battalion attending the voluntary parade and lining the path between the camp and the grave.
Little comment is needed. Clearly the virtue that runs to a fault has here been to blame. The same unquestioning pluck that impels an officer in leading his men on the field of battle prompted this careless enterprise, with the miserable result we have recorded. We have lost--and the loss is the loss of the whole force--one of the best and most popular of our younger officers, and of the other casualties one at least may prove more serious than was anticipated; but at least it is a compensation to remember that, however unfortunate the issue, the quiet pluck and discipline of the army have been once more tried and not found wanting.
Advice to Looters.
BY H. A. GWYNNE.
Don't call on the Provost Marshal with a couple of live chickens on your saddle bow.
Don't attempt to carry off a grand piano on an ammunition waggon; it might be noticed.
Don't cook sheep's kidneys ostentatiously in camp; you may be asked where you found the sheep.
Don't load your horse with flannel petticoats when carrying a message to a general; flannel petticoats are not a part of military equipment.
Don't swagger about camp with an air of repletion when the force is subsisting on quarter rations.
Don't try to stuff a pillow into your helmet; it only spoils your appearance and gives the show away.
Don't "pick up" anything with the broad arrow on it.
Don't steal a horse from the Club railings when its owner is having a whisky and soda; it is distinctly dangerous.
Don't "steal" a horse at all, but let it "wander into your lines."
Don't drive a flock of sheep across the pond of the Headquarter Staff; they might delay the Commander-in-Chief and make him angry.
Don't wear a bunch of false hair in your hat; it was never served out to you.
Don't carry ladies' silk stockings in your wallets; they won't fit you.
Don't shout out in camp, "Who's stolen my silk umbrella?" People might ask you where you got it from.
Don't avoid ostentatiously the Provost Marshal as he rides along; greet him kindly and openly and perhaps he will not suspect you.
At Colesberg, in one of the numerous cavalry fights, an old Boer was held at mercy by a lancer who had his lance ready to strike. "Moe nie! Moe nie!" cried the old man, which, being translated, means "Don't, don't!" The lancer, however, didn't understand Dutch, and replied, "I don't want your money, I want your life," but the renewed appeal was too piteous, and the old man was taken prisoner.