“Camp near Kimberley, 21st March, 1900.— I am going down with a small party as escort to some baggage, so shall have a chance of posting this, in answer to your first letter, which arrived yesterday, and very welcome it was.
“We arrived here last Sunday, after a three- days’ journey from Queenstown, which I enjoyed very much. We were only four in our carriage, and each had a window, so we had a good time. We passed all through the most interesting country: Stormberg, De Aar, and Naawpoort; Orange River, Modder River, Belmont and Graspan; those were the principal stations; also Theebus, a funny little way-side place, with a camp of about four tents, and a shanty or two.
“I asked if the Bedfords (Charlie S.’s regiment) were there, and the Tommy said they had gone up to Kimberley a month before.
“We saw the long, low kopje at Belmont, where one of our most hard-fought actions has been; also the Graspan kopjes. Boer trenches could be seen all along the line, and I wondered how on earth our men ever took it, as the ground they advanced over is absolutely as flat as our lawn for miles, without any sort of cover.
“Then we passed through Methuen’s great deserted camp at Modder River—bare, sandy, and hot I took several snap-shots here. There is a house there absolutely riddled with bullets, close to the line. We saw ostriches all along our route, strutting about, either singly or in herds.”
The horses, which we had with us in special trucks, had to be taken out and watered at various points along the route. They were fed by a fatigue party (of whom I was one), who walked down the line flinging compressed hay into the trucks, for which the horses, who were often very hungry, fought desperately. On arriving at Kimberley they were all brought out on to the platform, where we saddled up as quickly as possible, as dusk was approaching, and we had to get to our camp, 6 miles out, that night.
We clattered through the little town in our greatcoats, as it was coming on to rain, and soon found ourselves on the veldt in the dark. Our guide, whoever he was, lost his way, and after wandering about for four hours, without the least knowing where we were, we encamped for the night in some well-wooded country. This was our first night of sleeping in the open, and as the rain soon stopped, and a bright moon came out, we found it novel and not disagreeable.
I may as well now describe our method of camping when “on the trek.”
The site for the “lines ” is chosen by the adjutant, who rides on ahead with a few men as markers.
The four squadrons composing the regiment are placed in a line, facing the front The four (afterwards three) troops in each squadron are placed one behind the other—No. 1 in front, with Nos. 2, 3, and 4 behind.
By day the horses of the several troops are out grazing; at night they are tethered to a long rope, the saddles are placed with their backs to the front, at distances of about four paces from the horses’ heads. The trooper takes off his “clobber” and places it with his bit and reins behind the saddle and leans his rifle against the top, then puts the nosebag on his horse. On the arrival of the squadron waggon, which takes up its position about 10 yards behind the last troop, the nigger mule-drivers outspan the mules, and the quartermaster- sergeant mounts the piled-up waggon, unropes the tarpaulin cover, and throws down the bundles of blankets to the men who are waiting below.
Having found your bundle, you take it back to your saddle, and proceed to lay out your bed for the night.
These rolled blankets were the only luggage we could take with us, and in consequence it became the custom to pack up many necessary things inside them. I carried in this way a fly-flapper for nine months, which I bought for £I at Mafeking. It was said to be made of the tail of a grey mare which Baden- Powell used to ride, and the handle was a very clever piece of wire-work in which the niggers excel.
When you wished to “doss down,” which, after the evening meal and smoke, you were generally ready for, you lay down with your head in the saddle and your feet towards the horses. It is quite an art to make a comfortable bed: if the ground is stony, the stones which are not embedded in the ground must be cleared away, and many men made it a practice to dig a hole with their bayonets for their hips. I used to make my pillow of spare clothes and other articles which I carried in my blanket, and with one sack between me and the ground and another pulled over my feet, one blanket of the “bag” type, my greatcoat and mackintosh sheet, I generally slept very well.
About every third or fourth night (depending upon the number of men available) you were on guard. Each squadron found two guards every night—the “camp guard ” and the “line guard.” The guard paraded at sunset and were told off in “reliefs ”; thus two of the six men who formed the “camp guard ” were “1st reliefs,” two were “2nd reliefs,” and the remaining two “3rd reliefs.”
1st reliefs were at once marched off to their posts, where they remained for two hours, with (in the case of the camp guard) fixed bayonets. The remaining four of the camp and line guard marched on to the guard-room (the “room ” being conspicuous by its absence), a spot about 100 paces in advance of the troops, where the men composing the guard brought their blankets.
The 1st relief of line guard went off to the lines which they had to look after for two hours till the 2nd relief came. The duties of the line guard were—
(1) To see that no horses got loose, and to tie up all found wandering about; in fact, to look after the horses generally.
(2) To challenge all suspicious-looking people seen walking about the lines at night, as niggers, etc., etc.
(3) To report anything unusual.
(4) To call the cooks a short time before reveille in the morning, to give them time to prepare the men’s coffee.
In addition to these duties, there were several little things which a man, up and about while others were in their blankets, would be required to do—e.g„ if your blanket persisted in coming untucked, on calling the line guard he would tuck you up.
"I say, you might give me a tuck-up, will you ? ”
“All right!” And your refractory mackintosh sheet, which would not stay tucked under your feet, was firmly fixed for the night; and with a sigh of relief, and a “thanks awfully,” you drew your blanket over your head, and sank into blissful repose.
Their two hours done, the two line guards were relieved by the two sleepy 2nd relief men, who had just been dragged out of their beauty sleep, when, probably, dead tired after a long day’s trek.
Suppose the 1st reliefs came on at 7 and remained till 9, the 2nd would have from 9 to 11, and the 3rd (who, meanwhile, had been enjoying four hours’ uninterrupted slumber), from 11 to 1. 1st reliefs came on again from 1 to 3, 2nd reliefs from 3 to 5, and 3rd reliefs from 5 to reveille, which, in a standing camp, such as we were at Kimberley, Boshof (five weeks), Mafeking (two weeks), would be at 6 a.m., which was considered very late, and was, consequently, extremely popular.
But on trek, as we were for the greater part of the time, reveille might be at any time from midnight to 5 a.m., depending upon the proximity of the enemy, the length of the march before us, and the time of year.
Thus, 3rd reliefs nearly always had only one turn on guard, and were able to sleep uninterruptedly from the time their guard finished to reveille; hence, 3rd relief was a coveted one, and the men first on parade always had the right to it if they wanted it.
Camp guard was managed on exactly the same principle, but the duties were different The beat was outside the camp, instead of in the lines, so that it was a much lonelier business than line guard. The camp guard, walking slowly up and down his beat with sloped rifle, or standing motionless looking out to the front, was away from the hum of voices, the horses, the men, and the cheerful fires, and found the time pass more drearily; and on dark, cold, and rainy nights it was proportionately disagreeable.
There was also another kind of guard which we were liable to have to find, though this was more often done by the infantry, which was, I think, only fair to us, as by far the greater part of the fighting and commando-clearing which took place in the ensuing nine months was done by the Yeomanry and guns, while the infantry walked comfortably along the road with the convoy, and only on rare occasions, when the enemy stood better than usual, was their active help required. I am talking, of course, of Methuen’s column.
This other kind of guard was "picket” About a dozen men were told off to take their blankets and proceed after nightfall (so that the enemy should not be able to see where they were) to a point five, or six, or nine hundred yards distant from the camp, and mount guard, in reliefs, all night, coming in again at reveille the next morning.
This was always a very lonely job, as one man only was on at a time, and whether the night was pitch dark or brilliantly moonlit, you were, when Boers were known to be about, in a perpetual state of tension, expecting a sudden attack, and imagining that you saw creeping forms advancing upon you from the darkness ahead.
“I am writing this on my saddle, just ready to go. I like this camp very much better than Queenstown. The news has just come in that Kruger has surrendered unconditionally! I don’t know if it is true or not Lawson has left our company and is in command of the regiment, while Lieut. G____ takes his place as captain of our squadron.
“Kimberley is not a big place. Outside are native kraals made of brushwood and galvanised iron, with crowds of piccaninnies scuttling about
"All the houses in South Africa are roofed with corrugated iron; a great many larger temporary buildings are entirely made of it “All the country round is covered with the great shafts of the diamond mines, from which the women and children have just lately emerged, having been sent down for safety during the siege. This camp (it is called ‘Carter’s Ridge ’) was one of the Boers’ up to a few weeks ago. Some of their ammunition is lying about, and we use the horse-watering trough and the well that they fitted up.
“It is rather a pretty place, with semi-bush, semi-tree kind of country, not bare veldt I believe we move on from here in a few days, but where to I don’t know.
“I hear that some of the C.I.V.’s got rather badly cut up near here the other day, the cyclist’s division I think it was. … Please send me some more films.”
The letter breaks off here without any signature. Presumably the order to mount was given, and I had to catch the mail.