“Camp, Queenstown, Cape Colony, March 8, 1900.— . . . Here we are, nearly at the front, at last; only about 50 miles from Stormberg, and quite close to Naawpoort. I will tell you how we got here. We landed at East London after a three days’ journey in the ‘Dictator.’ We were much more comfortable on her than on the ‘Norman.’
“After unloading, we looked about. It was a pretty little place on the Buffalo River, quite a narrow stream, in which we were anchored. We had not been there long before we were bundled into a train, waiting by the quay-side (I am writing this in our tent), and, having bought a large quantity of pine-apples from niggers who were selling them at 3d. each, we were now very comfortable. There were six of us in a second-class carriage with cushioned seats. The officers did not seem to know any more than we did where we were going, till after a bit B. came round to our carriage and told us we were going to Queenstown, and that it was a sixteen hours’ journey. We then discovered that we could arrange the seats and backs of the carriages horizontally, to form beds. All the windows let down too, and, as it was a roaster, we kept them down. We started off, and soon got down into the country; very hilly. I here saw kopjes for the first time (also called kops or koppies)—high, irregular hills, with stones and boulders lying on them. We stopped at several stations—Cambridge, Blaney Junction, Kei Road, Chiselhurst, most of them consisting of one small shed and a name-plate. We got out and had tea at one of them. We had a good sleep at night; and in the morning at about 6.30 we came in sight of some tents and a cluster of houses with a church, which was Queenstown.
“The train took us right into camp (5th March). We unloaded, and began pitching the tents—14 in one tent. Oh, I forgot to say that coming up to the front we are only allowed to take our ‘fighting kit,’ i.e., bare necessaries, sharing one bag between six men. Where the rest of my possessions are, I don’t know!
“. . . I like this camp life very much: ten times better than on board ship.
“We all got our nags yesterday. They are American bronchos, and I was afraid they would be buckers, and play all kinds of funny tricks, but the majority of them are very quiet. They are small—smaller than cobs, almost ponies. Very sorry-looking animals for the most part, but good goers. Mine is a black one, and looks a perfect disgrace, but he steps out well, and never wants grooming, at least not proper grooming, never having had it.
“We sallied forth this morning and did a lot of cavalry drill. …”
We had considerable difficulty at first in managing our horses and their equipment, not to speak of our own. During the ten days we spent at this camp we had several times to turn out, mounted, in full marching order. It took some of us two solid hours to get ready for this parade—the amount of impedimenta strapped on and hung round each saddle was enormous. The saddles themselves were stamped with the date 1870, and were of the heaviest cavalry pattern, the framework being made of iron. In front of the saddle was fixed a pair of wallets, which hung over the withers of the horse; in these we carried a shirt, a pair of socks, sponge, towel, soap, etc., and anything else we could stuff in; outside each wallet was strapped a boot
Under the straps of the wallet were thrust, besides the boots, a hatchet and wire nippers; over all was fastened the khaki overcoat, made up into a tight roll. Behind the saddle was strapped a thick roll, consisting of blanket and waterproof sheet; a thick wooden picketing peg, tipped with iron; a string bag to carry hay for the horse when required. A white enamel mug was secured to the top of this pile by the bayonet at the left side, and two pouches, containing 50 rounds of ammunition each, in front On the left side hung the khaki haversack; behind, were the field glasses; on the right side, his water bottle; over his left shoulder, the bandolier, which held 50, and in some cases 100, more rounds. The rifle itself, a Lee-Enfield, weighed 10 lbs. Thus hampered, it was no easy task to mount. Grasping the reins and the mane in his left hand, with his foot in the stirrup, and clutching desperately at as much of the cantle of the saddle as his rifle allowed with his right hand, the unfortunate yeoman attempted (often in vain) to swing his leg over the erection behind the saddle. This frequently ended in disaster. His spur having caught the horse, he immediately started, and the result can be better imagined than described. If he was lucky enough to land in his saddle at the first attempt, it was often some minutes before he could force the butt of his rifle into the bucket, especially when the order to “trot” was given. Saddle, and all upon it, swayed and rattled at every motion of the horse; and the noise made by a squadron at the gallop was like an ironmonger’s shop let loose.
Many men who, although they could ride well enough, yet had never saddled up a horse before they enlisted, and were quite new to all these military accessories, brought down the vials of official wrath upon their devoted heads by reason of the ludicrous mistakes they made in the disposition of these various articles of equine embellishment. My next neighbour, for instance, having been engaged in talking and laughing with me while “at ease” on parade, on the order being given to “mount,” discovered to his dismay that his stirrups were not to be found. Lieutenant P., the adjutant, who prided himself on being a bit of a martinet, seeing him not mounted, rode officiously up to him and began to address him furiously—“Who is that man ? Why are you not mounted, sir ? What the deuce do you mean by not mounting? Take this man’s name!” etc., etc. It was then discovered that poor old C. had girthed his stirrups up under his saddle. Next day he surpassed himself by appearing on parade with his spurs on the wrong feet.
“Our camp is on a huge plain or veldt, miles and miles in circumference, with ranges of kopjes all round it. Besides our regiment of Yeomanry, there is one battalion of the Berkshire regiment, and a few men of the Army Service Corps, ‘Transport and Waggoners.’
“About 1.5 miles off lies Queenstown. We have only been allowed there once, when we went down to bathe. The Berks men have been here since October, when they came down from Stormberg, ten days before the Boers occupied it, but now they have evacuated it again. The ground is hard and dusty, and very sparsely scattered with grass; our tents are in two lines, with the horses also tethered in two lines all down the middle, looking in at the tent doors. We take them down to water at the river, close by the town, twice a day, riding them barebacked the 2 miles, a species of the most awful torture, as they are all ‘razor-backs’ of the most pronounced description. There are one or two real buckers; yesterday one sent three different men flying over its head in succession. You don’t know how useful that knife of yours is; I am using it for some purpose or other literally all day.
“It is lovely weather here, scorching hot, and I fairly revel in it. We are obliged to wear helmets from 8 to 4, for fear of sunstroke. We do all our own work; in fact, we spend our day in shirt-sleeves: we get bread, meat, tea, and coffee served out to us; if we want jam or butter or anything like that, or lemonade or beer, we have to supplement from the canteen.
“March 15.—We either have a storm of dust or locusts every day here or at least every other day. The first time I saw a locust cloud was when' some one pointed out to me a thick, dark, moving cloud, about 4 miles off on the plain, continuously coming round from behind one of the kopjes, till it must have spread for miles and miles in extent, it lasted so long. It went off about 2 miles away, but next day we had one over the camp. First come a few scattered thousands as advance scouts; some of these alight in the camp, but the main part fly on; then, with a whirring sound of billions of wings and a darkening of the air, the main body sweeps down upon the camp; the greater number of them settle on the ground if there is any grass or herbage for them to eat, while the rest pass on.
“They are exactly like grasshoppers, only about 1.5 inches long, and they fly slowly and steadily, some close to the earth, and some at any height up to a hundred feet. They are perfectly harmless, except that they eat every blade of grass wherever they settle. When there is a patch of grass you can see them clustering in millions, and at night, those that are too full and sluggish to fly after the others form themselves into heaps, about a foot high, for warmth, I suppose. This is taken advantage of by the Kaffirs, who find them extremely good eating. They go in at night with pots and pans and gather them in wholesale.
“We seem to have a good many of the plagues of Egypt, as we are also troubled by flies innumerable — the common or garden English house fly. They will not leave me in peace for a moment. In the tents—attracted there by the edibles, I suppose—in the day time and at night the inside of the tent is literally black with them.
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“This is our last day here; we go to Kimberley to-morrow. I hear it is a three- days’ journey in the train. There have been any amount of rumours about starting; in fact, we were certain (sic) to be going on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and today is Friday, and we are absolutely certain (?) to go to-morrow. We have any amount of riding, nearly all bareback. A day or two ago I was on ‘grazing-guard,’ i.e., was told off to look after our horses while grazing on the veldt I was riding (with only a blanket for a saddle) my old crock, and had a nigger with me to guard one side of the herd while I looked after the other. I occasionally rounded off a strayer, but let the nigger do most of the work, while I sat there comfortably and devoured pine-apples. By the way, that is the fruit here, and you get them for 2d. each; the amount consumed per diem must be enormous. I believe if over-ripe, or eaten in large quantities, they are apt to bring on dysentery; in fact, eight of our chaps have been down with it slightly already; one out of our tent. They are all right again now. I have had a slight attack of something, I don’t quite know what, a little fever and general seediness, but all that remains of it now is a slight sore throat, for which I go and gargle from the doctor in a lemonade bottle. I don’t have to do any heavy fatigue work in consequence.
“All that about being excused fatigue and parades because of being a signalman has been cancelled ever since we left the ‘Norman’— worse luck—and there has not been any signalling after we landed. Chesham has left us now, having been appointed Brigadier-General of Yeomanry at Kimberley; Major (now Colonel) Smith has taken over the command. He is a little, one-armed man, and I know him, as he used to be over the signallers on the ‘Norman.’ I am glad we are going away from this place; it palls after a bit.
“I asked a Durham Militiaman (they have just arrived in camp) to send off home the four films of photos which are all I have taken up to now. I gave him 3s. for the postage, not knowing in the least how much it would cost. If you care to see them, B., the chemist, develops very well; they cannot wait till I come back, as unless they are done by July they will spoil. Some of them were taken at home, at Wycombe, on board ship, and in camp: the next lot are guaranteed up to November.
“I very much wonder what we are going to Kimberley for; all is quiet there now, and there isn’t any enemy within miles.”
The points that struck me about this ten- days’ camp were (1) the extreme difficulty of getting things into working order. The officers were for the most part inexperienced; they were impatient of the men’s shortcomings, and bound down with red tape themselves. The men were apt to grumble against the officers and their work generally, and were inclined to eat too many pine-apples and drink too much lemonade at the canteen. (2) The whole regiment was much harassed at this time by the tendency to ape the regular cavalry, both in routine and accoutrements.
This was the last we saw of carrying blankets, picketing pegs, and hay nets on the horses; they were now carried on the squadron waggon instead. This greatly lessened the difficulty in mounting. The ceremony of formally mounting a guard at night, with needless restrictions on the members, was simplified, and the ancient practice of each guard singing out, “Number so and so, all’s well,” at stated intervals, was dropped.