November 30th, 1899.
The Boers continue to shell Mafeking daily, and to concentrate upon the streets of the town their customary rifle fire. At first we experienced a terror of the dangers of shell fire, but the daily and constant presence of exploding shells has brought about an unusual degree of familiarity with its attendant feeling of contempt; people now are too careless, seeming to rest under the delusion that, one and all, enjoy an absolute immunity. The folly of it is that occasionally the error of their way is illustrated by a longer list of fatalities through one shell claiming half a dozen victims. Europeans perhaps, are less careless of the consequences of shell fire than is the native population, and it is a pity that it has not been found possible to impress into the mind of the Kaffir a better appreciation of the possible result of their intrepidity. We have had many more natives killed than whites, and the element of tragedy in this becomes the greater and more acute since, as a rule, the native, employed in building bomb-proof shelters for the whites, lacks the energy to turn to his own profit his knowledge of the manner in which shell cover should be constructed. They lie about under tarpaulins, behind zinc palings, wooden boxes, and flimsy sheds of that description, and perhaps for days their shelter may escape the line of fire; but there comes a moment made hideous by the scream of shell as it bursts in some little gathering of dozing, half listless natives. At such a moment their bravery is extraordinary—is indeed the most fearful thing in the world. The native with his arm blown off, with his thigh shot away, or with his body disembowelled, is endowed with extreme fortitude and most stoical resolution. Unless he is seen, he lies where he is struck, not caring to take the trouble to make his wounds known to some one who could sympathise and assist him. When the gaze of the curious is turned upon his mangled and wounded form he attempts to laugh, makes every effort to assist himself, and even if he knows that his injuries be fatal, he makes no sign. There is thus much to admire in these natives, but for the most part, people are quite indifferent to their sufferings.
A few moments ago, indeed as I was writing the concluding words of the last sentence, a terrific explosion, a shower of gravel and leaden bullets upon my roof, foretold the fact that somewhere near at hand one of these untimely instruments of destruction had burst. As I went to the door a crowd of people could be seen running towards the Market Square, the air was filled with the strong perfume of the bursting charge. I ran with the throng to where the shell had first struck in Market Square before delivering its full effect upon the windows of the local chemist. Amid the splintered glass and the consequent disorder of the chemist's shop lay the writhing figure of an unhappy native. As an illustration of the appalling wounds which these shells inflict, I am purposely dilating upon this very pitiful scene. As the shell rebounded from the ground leaving a hole many feet long, narrow, and arrow-headed, it had come in contact with a native before it wrecked the apothecary's store. Mingled with the fragments of glass and the contents of the shop were shreds of cloth and infinitesimal strips of flesh, while the entire environment of the scene was splashed with blood. The poor native had lost an arm, a foot lay a few yards from him, and his other leg was hanging by a few shreds of skin. In an angle of the wall formed by the junction of the shop-front of the chemist and the tin protrusion of his neighbour's building, something was sticking. For the moment it had escaped the gaze of the sordid few, who, drawn by idle curiosity, were standing about without the inclination to help, or even a smattering of the first aid to the injured. When the bleeding body was put upon a stretcher, and the mangled extremities gathered together, the Hospital Orderly caught sight of the bunch which was clinging to the recess in the wall. As he went forward to seize it, the trickling streams of fluid which escaped from it revealed only too plainly its true character. So great was the force of the shell, and so near had its unfortunate victim been to the galvanised iron wall, that as body and shell met, the terrible violence of the impact had wrenched away the lump to hurl it, in the same moment, through the exterior wall of the adjacent premises. Despite his fearful injuries, which were beyond the scope of human power to aid, he was not dead, feebly exclaiming as they put him in the stretcher, "Boss, Boss, me hurt." The ruin of the building had scarcely been realised, and the vapour of chemicals from the shell, mingling with the scattered perfumes of the shop, with the scent of the ploughed-up earth, and with that curious, insidious scent of a wounded body dissipated—when a second shell screaming its passage through the air hurled itself with a terrible velocity against the other window of the same building. In effect it added a little more to the ruin of the premises, escaping by a miracle five men who had been standing in the interior of the premises, but killing an unfortunate corporal, who had gone from the scene of the death of the native to get a "pick-me-up" from the adjoining bar in Riesle's Hotel. In such a manner does the death roll pile itself up—with the impending slowness of a juggernaut and the haunting persistency of fate. If these were the actual numbers of the killed upon this date, there were also two who were wounded, one of whom has since died, thus giving to one day a terrible trio. With such a sad lesson before one it would seem that, beyond those who were compelled to be out and about, no one would venture in the streets under shell fire, much less employ their leisure in endeavouring to unload those of the enemy's shells that might have fallen into the town, yet, but two days ago a local wheelwright blew himself and two other men to an untimely end by the explosion of a shell from which, with a steel drill, he was endeavouring to extract the charge. One of these men was killed almost instantaneously, another had his leg blown off, while the third sustained terrible wounds upon his body. There is not a day now without fresh victims being claimed in different parts of the town. Almost the first question asked as the shell bursts is for the name of the unfortunate owner of the wrecked house, and the number of the killed and wounded. In the early part of the siege when people were thoroughly scared by the introduction of this new element of destruction, bomb-proof shelters became quite popular, but lately with the good luck which the people in town have enjoyed, the shelters have been rather abandoned, but there is no doubt now, that the number who have been killed in this past week has somewhat unnerved the town. If it induces people to stay beneath their shelters, from out of the fearful misfortunes which have fallen upon the few, may be derived almost universal salvation.
The hospital in these times, is the centre of melancholy interest to the town. It is perhaps a quarter of a mile beyond the outskirts of the town, but so situated that apart from the flag under whose protection it should lie, it would be impossible for the enemy not to be unaware that it was a natural shelter for the sick and wounded. Much as the town in general, the Convent which adjoins the hospital, and the hospital itself show the stress of the bombardment. The walls of the hospital have been riddled with Martini and Mauser bullets, while shells have perforated the galvanised iron roofing, torn holes in the walls of the ward, wrecked outstanding buildings, and in brief, played such direful havoc as would be considered impossible in a war with any nation that has subscribed to the articles of the Geneva Convention. Only the most strenuous opposition from Colonel Baden-Powell, who threatened the severest pains, penalties, and reprisals upon Commandant Cronje and Commandant Snyman, for their neglect of the Red Cross flag, has saved the building in its entirety. Nevertheless that degree of consideration, which we secured from the Boers for our hospital was denied by these infamous barbarians to the Convent and its gentle inmates. Their home has tumbled about its foundations, the wall which faces the enemy's fire has been hit in numerous places. Shells have ruined the children's dormitory, burst with a magnificent effect in the interior of what would have been the operating room, shattered a corner stone to pieces, and rendered rotten and wholly impossible for any further habitation our subsidiary hospital. The sisters, however, still stick to their posts and minister the comforts of religion, though seeking their share in the task of nursing, and setting, by their subdued heroism, an example to the entire community. Never has any hospital been saddled with such a work as the local one in Mafeking. War had taken every one so suddenly that like everything else in Mafeking at the crucial moment, it was wanting in much which was cardinal to its existence. The corps of nurses was made up of those ladies from the town who were willing to volunteer, and if there was an absence of the professional nursing service, there were equally a dearth of dressers, of surgical appliances, of medical comforts. The Victoria Hospital in times like these possesses no Rontgen Rays, and many times indeed have the medical staff regretted that so important an instrument should not have been sent in good time. Indeed all that the Director-General of Hospitals has done for Mafeking was to send Surgeon-Major Anderson out from England, and had it not been that this gallant officer supplied, at his own expense, a large quantity of medical stores which he believed to be necessary, with the best intentions in the world, it would have been impossible to cope with the requirements of the wounded.
It has been interesting, however, to observe from the point of view of the medical profession the nature of the wounds caused by the Mauser and Martini rifles and shell-fire. The Mauser perforates, the Martini splinters, the shell pulverises. The point of entry of the Mauser bullet is somewhat smaller than the circumference of a threepenny piece, and if it passes through the bone it does not appear to set up any undue amount of splintering. The hole through which it emerges is usually, except where the path of the bullet has been deflected, as small as the point of penetration. The Mauser does not, as a rule, set up in the body, and in the greater number of cases passes clean through. It is a humane wound, and infinitely less injurious than the Martini and Dum-dum. A Martini destroys a large internal surface making beneath the point of contact a wound between two and three inches in diameter, with an even greater area of exit. It sweeps everything before it, shredding arteries, shattering the bones, while its process of recovery is, in consequence, the more protracted. I have already described the wounds from shell-fire, adding to that account, however, the fact that the merest fragment of a shell is as capable as the shell itself, of making most terrible injuries.