After Colenso, No. 4 Stationary Field Hospital returned to the same quarters at Frere, and at Frere we remained until January 13th, 1900, nearly a month. The wounded who fell on the unhappy 15th of December had been satisfactorily disposed of, thanks to the admirable arrangements made by the Principal Medical Officer, Colonel Gallwey, C.B. Not a single wounded man was left out on the field on the night of the battle. On that particular Friday every man had been attended to before midnight, and on the following Sunday all the wounded who had fallen on the 15th were comfortably housed in one or other of the hospitals at the base.
Our tents, although emptied of the wounded, soon began to be filled up with cases of sickness, and especially with cases of dysentery. Those who presented the slightest form of the disease could be sent down to the base, but when the type was severe the patient did better with as little movement as possible. Those, therefore, who remained in our lines presented a large proportion of examples of serious illness.
Provisions were ample, medical necessities abundant, and the ladies of the Colony were infinitely kind in forwarding to Frere comforts of all sorts. Our tents were by no means filled, and yet, in spite of what may be considered favourable circumstances, there were a good many deaths.
Deaths mean the need for burial, and a little burying ground was marked off in the rear of the hospital, close to the railway line. As weeks went by the little enclosure needed enlargement, and so the engineers came and fenced it round afresh with a wire paling, and gave it a fit aspect of formality. The names of the dead were indicated on tablets of wood, and now and then the comrades of a man, or the survivors of the tent he died in, would erect over the mound a wooden cross.
These crosses were made usually out of provision boxes, or perhaps from a whisky case, and many were very admirably finished and very cleverly carved, and many were curious of design. They represented long hours spent in tedious hacking at a tough slab of wood with a pocket-knife, and, after that, infinite patience in the cutting out of the letters of the dead chum’s name. Finish would be given to the lettering by means of a tin-opener.
These crosses will be found all over the land of the war. Few of them will long survive the wind and the rain and the blistering sun, and the hand of the Kaffir who is lacking of fuel. So long, however, as they dot the solitary veldt they will be symbols of the tenderest spirit of good comradeship, of the kindly heart of men who are supposed to be little imbued with sentiment, and of that loyal affection for his friend which is not among the least of the qualities of the British soldier.
Here and there some elaborate monuments with some promise of permanency have been erected. There is one, for example, in which the inscription is fashioned out of empty cartridge cases stuck into cement. There is another carved with some art out of stone.
I think, however, that those sleep best who lie beneath the wooden cross fashioned with labour and some occasional dimness of eye by the pocket-knife of an old "pal."