Since the Book of Job was written steadfastness in adversity has ever been considered as a virtue of high order. Indeed, what need is there in a Christian country to insist that want of success in the affairs of this world is not incompatible with an unsullied conscience and a stainless shield?

From Capetown Gatacre sent a telegram begging Lord Roberts to give some reason for his action, and in reply received a letter which (while declining to discuss the main issue) closes with the following sentence:

"This action, which Lord Roberts has felt it his duty to take, casts no slur whatever upon your honour, your personal courage, your energy and zeal, which are beyond all question."[1]

[1] For the reasons given by Lord Roberts to the War Office, see the dispatch printed at the end of this volume, p. 286; reprinted from the Official History, vol. ii. p. 614.

This was the spirit that welcomed Sir William on his arrival in England; for he came straight home and calmly awaited the verdict of the War Office in London.

The first to pour balm on her servant's wounded spirit was Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. Gatacre reached London on May 12, and on the 24th, in the Birthday Gazette, his name appeared as a recipient of the Gold Medal of a new Order, the Kaiser-i-Hind, which the Queen had just created for the recognition of Public Service in India. This first distribution of the decoration had regard more especially to services rendered in dealing with the plague and the famine of 1897 and the following years.

Only five days after Gatacre's arrival the relief of Mafeking, after 217 days' siege, was celebrated in London with much popular rejoicing. This uproarious joy jarred mercilessly on Sir William's mood, but the whole country exulted, and there was no way of escape. The daily papers too were full of South African news, so that even this source of idle distraction carried its sting. And so it happened that when an old friend came to call on the morning of May 24, and to inquire after the General's health (which to most men seemed to provide an obvious explanation of his return), he had the pleasure of informing us of the new decoration.

On the following day Gatacre received instructions to resume command of the Eastern District.

A welcome home

British hearts, ever loyal to brave men in distress, did not stop to quibble over professional responsibilities; they remembered the years of devoted service, they knew of his personal gallantry, and they trusted time to prove their faith. Colchester struck the first note: the townspeople turned out in their thousands to cheer one whom they knew and loved. During the drive from the station to the camp the crowd massed in the streets was so great and so vociferous that the wave of feeling was overwhelming, and it was with a sense of relief that we reached our destination.

In the following June the Prince and Princess of Wales (as we then spoke of Their present Majesties) honoured Norwich with a visit to open the new buildings of the Jenny Lind Hospital. The whole population of the royal borough was in the streets that lovely summer day, and made their loyalty known in the usual way; but they did not forget to keep a sharp lookout for the man who had come from the war, for the man who had so lately fought in their battles; and as the cheers died away after the royal carriage had passed out of sight, they were renewed with deafening insistence as each voice strained to make its message of love and esteem reach the ears of one who with his own eyes had seen the enemy. For I believe that in those days of popular excitement over the occupation of Pretoria, Gatacre was, to the man in the street, the personification of a successful war that had just reached its conclusion.

This burst of feeling, howsoever prompted, was very touching, but what did more to encourage Sir William than any other single event was the gracious and cordial greeting accorded to him by His Royal Highness when, as in duty bound, the General had the honour of receiving him at Norwich Station. Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales also sent for me in the course of the afternoon and was pleased to use very kindly and appreciative words about my husband's services to his country, and her sympathy with his immediate trouble.

When in the round of annual inspections the General visited the Cadet Corps of Bedford Grammar School, he had further evidence of his personal popularity in the attentions showered upon him by all the boys in the school, who insisted on dispensing with the usual mode of traction and harnessing themselves to his carriage. It was the same thing at Clacton, when the Lord Mayor of London opened the Essex Agricultural Show. Sir William had been detained in his office, and only reached the show-ground just before the luncheon assembly broke up; the speaker within the tent was at a loss to account for an untimely uproar. It was the crowd outside who had recognised "General Gatacre," and, as he entered, those inside the tent took up the strain.

However gratifying such popular outbursts may be in their spontaneity, it is the reasoned judgment of his peers that a man ultimately values. The following telegram was received by the senior officer in the station on the day after our return to Colchester.

"The members of the Aldershot Conservative Club are delighted to read of the deservedly enthusiastic welcome accorded to General Gatacre yesterday, and wish to convey through you to the General their hearty greetings upon his safe return from the seat of war. We do not forget his services to the Empire, and we loyally reciprocate Colchester's sentiment."


It was in the summer of 1900 that the call arose for more troops for South Africa, which brought several new county Yeomanry Corps and the Volunteer Service Companies into existence; it was Sir William's business to promote the formation of all such corps within the nine counties that made up the Eastern District, and to contribute in every way to their efficiency. This brought him into personal contact with the leading men of all parts of his command, for it will be remembered how much public spirit was shown in the revival of interest in the Auxiliary Forces that marked the years 1900 and 1901. I should like here to record how helpful were the loyalty, the confidence, and I may say the sympathy (if that word can stand for an unexpressed sentiment where silence alone befitted the dignity of the personnel on both sides) that he received on all sides; and how the cordial relations established between the General and the county society of his district encouraged him to tread patiently and hopefully the path he had traced for himself. In many cases the official visit to some great man's house to inspect the corps encamped in his park led to shooting visits in the following autumn—a delightful testimony to the undiminished power of his personal charm.

On the other hand, those in daily converse with Sir William, both in his office and outside, were not blind to the sustained effort on his part that was necessary to carry him through those trying days of eclipse. One under whom he had served in India wrote, with the insight of true affection, for the guidance and inspiration of another:

"I feel that it is very difficult for Gatacre to face all that he has to bear; but I feel certain that through it all he has exhibited soldierly qualities of a high order, that must be appreciated; but his return home will be very difficult for him to accept, and I fear he will have no opportunity of justifying himself. You must, you know, be in very good heart, and feel very brave for his coming."

It was very difficult for Gatacre to bear, and he never forgot

The hopes by weakness foiled, or evil fate, The slander, the dumb heart-break, and the pain.

It was incontrovertibly the fiercest trial to which he could have been subjected.

Those who have only known suffering when it comes shrouded in the simple majesty of death can have no measure of the additional bitterness of blows dealt by the hand of man, nor the torture endured by a righteous man when his honour is affected.

Gatacre had known what it was to suffer in his private life, but then his profession had come to his assistance, and by flinging himself with all his natural vigour into its arms for shelter and comfort he had triumphed over his pain. In this case he had been given a second chance, he had been allowed to be happy again. The laurels that he had reaped doubled their value in his eyes in that there was another to share them. But his profession at all times had a far larger share of his heart than anything that contributed to his pleasure. That was the way he was made; his profession was identified with his duty, and for him there was nothing so enjoyable as those duties which taxed his endurance and his energy. His soldiering was all in all to him; it was his record; all he had to show; the building that he had built with the bricks that had been served out to him. In his own estimation he was nothing if not a soldier.

Now, recalled, rejected, the worldly hope on which he had set his heart had turned to ashes in his hand: the ambition which had been his saving grace in the days of tribulation was lost to him now. Was this the guerdon for all the years of loving toil? Was this "the reward of it all"?

Who shall say whence a man draws his reserves of strength? It seemed to some of us that in his own dauntless character Gatacre found unquenchable inspiration: his independence of the opinion of men, his own intimate knowledge of the facts of the case, his untarnished record of loyal service, and his own "triumphant endurance and conquering moral energy"—these were things of which no one could deprive him.

I will be patient and proud, and soberly acquiesce.


With a supreme effort of steadfastness and a resolute courage he forced his faith in disinterested work to come to his rescue, but henceforth he was working not to deaden the pain of outraged sensibilities, not for his own advancement, but for the work's own sake—to forward the cause of the army in South Africa, for the simple service of the country. Nothing but his accumulated powers of silent endurance, his proud indifference to his own feelings, aided by the response that his speechless loyalty won from his daily companions, could have sustained him through those three and a half long years while he silently and quietly did his duty. Borrowing the words of another we may say that "his military experience had intensified his natural horror of schism and lukewarm co-operation, and magnanimity was a stronger force than any personal consideration."

Now I contend that in achieving this triumph of discipline Gatacre reached a loftier level in the sight of God and man than any to which high appointments could have raised him; and I believe that his example and his memory in this respect alone will outlive the story of many battlefields, and that he will thus have transformed a story of momentary defeat into an everlasting victory.

This attitude implied a rare simplicity and a profound knowledge of the world. He preferred to accept misconstruction and misrepresentation rather than betray the lofty promptings of his own soul; and he was at the same time perfectly conscious that any attempt (even though successful in the main) to set himself right in the eyes of the world would alienate his friends and make enemies. These words are something more than a speculative analysis of what might have been his frame of mind; for the latter argument was the ground of his refusal to accept any of the several offers he received from writers who asked his sanction for the preparation of articles throwing light on the events in which he had taken part.

As the General recovered his balance and settled down to the routine of his work, his natural buoyancy returned, and he once more took a pleasure in all that went on around him. Hopes that things might work out all right in the end arose to cheer him, and there was much to foster such an idea.

When the South African War Commission was initiated, he hoped that this would give him a chance to explain matters, imagined that it would be a confidential court of inquiry, a sort of hearing in camera, where, without insubordination or disloyalty, he would be encouraged to speak. In May 1903 he was summoned to give evidence. On their arrival all the witnesses are taken aside by one of the Commissioners and formally cautioned not to say anything that might be used against them. To Gatacre these words carried a personal meaning, though the phraseology completely puzzled him. He failed to see how anything that was true could be so used, and could find no purpose in the warning. The Commissioners, however, confined their attention to questions of efficiency and other generalities, and no interest was shown in his personal affairs. And thus this hope of salvation vanished. One touch of character showed itself: he tells the Commissioners how he raised companies of mounted infantry from the battalions in his command, and goes on to say that as soon as the men had learnt to ride and to perform their special duties, he was ordered to send them forward to Army Headquarters, so that his own force was constantly denuded of mounted troops. In the proof submitted for correction his reply to an obvious question appeared as "I never complained." He struck out the past tense, and it stands as his motto: "I never complain."[2]

[2] South African War Commission, vol. iii. p. 277.


Another circumstance in the last year of his command revived his hopes of re-employment. This was a visit by the Commander-in-Chief to Colchester and other places in the Eastern District. Everything had gone very well, the Commander-in-Chief had expressed himself highly satisfied with all that he had seen, and on the last day, at a garden party at Chelmsford, the Chief Staff Officer handed on the encouraging message that Lord Roberts had been much pleased with his visit, and that he had remarked a higher tone amongst officers and men at Colchester than at any other camp. This was, of course, said in private conversation, but it was taken as "inspired."

In August of the same year, 1903, when preparations were being made for extensive manoeuvres to be held on Salisbury Plain, Gatacre was appointed as Umpire-in-Chief of the Blue Army. This was a good omen, for it seemed incredible that a post of such importance in the training of the troops engaged should be given to an officer who was likely soon to be struck off the active list, who was, so to speak, already cast.

That he had a genuine belief that his services might yet be utilised by the State in some capacity is shown by his decision to go on half pay. In the summer of 1903 he called on the Secretary of State for the Colonies and asked him to consider his name for any suitable post in that Department. I believe that he would have taken the Governorship of any island, regardless of its size or climate, just for the love of the service of the State—just for the pleasure of using powers that he knew himself still to possess unimpaired.

The term of the command ran out on December 8, 1903. That he should vacate the post without immediate prospect of re-employment was in itself a bitterness to him, and chilled the expectations that had contributed to the harmony of his days.

His memory hung about Colchester for many years. It was not merely that his portrait hung in the Soldiers' Institute that he had opened, nor that he had won many extra comforts for both officers and men in the new barracks that were built under his direction. It was more than this; it was the weight of his name, the tradition of love and esteem that the name revived. When the men were decorating their rooms for Christmas 1906 they made a banner which carried these words: "To the memory of Major-General Sir William Forbes Gatacre—one of the best." This spontaneous tribute was set up nearly a year after his death, and four years after he had left Colchester, a time long enough for the reliefs to have removed all the battalions that had known him there; but there was scarcely a regiment in the service that had not known him somewhere in his thirteen years' service as General Officer.