We had reveille at 6.30—a more Christian hour than usual—on the morning of 9th June. There was a freezing, cold “Scotch mist” blowing, but we had to grin and bear it in camp till 3, when we moved off. We had not gone above 2 miles when “crack, crack ” began to sound at our front and left flank. We dismounted in a valley and ran to the crest of a ridge running parallel with our line of march. We could see no one, but fired away merrily at a ridge and a farmhouse over 900 yards away, where the shots were coming from. After this had gone on for about twenty minutes, the Boer fire began to slacken, all except that from the farmhouse, where we afterwards found there were nine Italians sniping away for all they were worth. We remounted, and just as we were going to trot forward to the next kopje, a staff officer came galloping up to Colonel Smith (our one-armed colonel), and said, “Send some of your men across to that farm, please, and turn those snipers out.” What he said after that I did not hear, but the staff officer rode away and we did not go to the farmhouse; but presently we heard “bang, whir-o-oo-oo,” from over our heads, on the right, and a shell plumped slap into that farmhouse first time; then another and another, till the roof fell in and the whole place burst into flames. What became of those nine I do not know, but we went on our way rejoicing.
We camped that night on the veldt, and the next day continued our march to Heilbron Road. On the way we heard some heavy gun fire, but saw nothing of the combatants, although we heard on arriving at our destination that Boers had been “messing about” with some British troops who were near there. Heilbron Road was a weird little place. It consisted of one tin shed, with an apology for a platform by the railway line, and about half a dozen houses near by. The 38th were told off as escort to Lord Methuen, and, leaving the rest of the column at a distance, we cantered up to the town behind the general. Having crossed the line at the “gates ” and halted in the road, a few men, of whom I was one, were allowed to go off to the one store in the place to buy what we could for ourselves and our friends. Commissions rained upon us from all sides, and it was somewhat difficult to remember all the various wants and to keep the money separate. The articles greatest in demand seemed to be Boer tobacco (no other could be got), pipes, candles, Keating’s powder (dread significance), handkerchiefs, knives, forks, and spoons, and matches. There was no food to be obtained, we knew. I bought some of all these, and returned loaded with more for the other men.
The Boers had been shelling the station buildings, we heard, but we could not see much of the effect, as they seemed quite intact. We stopped a night there, and moved off in the early morning down the Kronstad line.
Since leaving Boshof my bay horse had developed a sore back, and I changed to another. R. still had “Baby,” an animal which has never before been referred to, but which certainly deserves a place in this veracious chronicle. He got him (didn’t you, R. ?) at Boshof, with the same lot as that from which I got my bay. In appearance he was a short, thickset, big-boned, clumsy chestnut pony, with a light coloured mane and great ugly Roman-nosed head, about three sizes too large for him, in which rolled a pair of suspicious, obstinate looking eyes, which seemed to say, “I don’t like you or your saddle; if you think you are going to get me to go faster than I want to you are very much mistaken, my dear sir; but if you let me alone I’ll let you alone. By the way, my nosebag is not quite as full as it might be,” etc., etc. I’m sure that horse had a great mind. That he thought a great deal I am quite convinced, and he was always so very cool and self-possessed under any and all circumstances. Nothing ruffled him, even in hunger he was dignified, although what he didn’t know about horse-feeding on the march wasn’t worth knowing. No sooner had his rider drawn rein than down would go his old chuckle head, and he would go on crunching every vestige of grass he could get near, till he was forcibly compelled to resume the journey. I say “forcibly,” because a mere pull at the rein he simply ignored; nothing short of a vigorous and well-sustained tug, accompanied by sound booting in the ribs, would induce him to relinquish nis repast once he had fairly begun it
Many a laugh R. and I have had over him and his ways; as for me, the mere sight of him was enough to make me split with laughter. R. used to apostrophise him, too, in the most comical way, carrying on long conversations with him on the march. Altogether, “Baby ” was a continual source of amusement to us, and I hope he will get a good mark against him when he goes “where the good gee-gees go,” if he has not already long got there, poor old boy.
June 11th, 4.45.—Reveille and “a cold and frosty morning,” without the mulberry bush.
Down the line we went all the morning, passing wrecked bridges and pieces of blown- up line all the way. It was the first we had seen of the results of this particular pastime of the Boers, and the twisted broken rails pointing skywards seemed grim emblems of what was really war when we looked at them. About mid-day we heard a dull, sullen thunderous “boom ” far away down the line in front of us, and, on looking up, saw a cloud of dust arising from the line about 3 miles ahead of us. It was de Wet all over, calmly trotting along in front of a large British column and blowing up the line as he went We kept an eye fixed on the line, and soon saw another cloud, and long after heard the dull sound of the second report and then a third. “The man with the tinted glasses” was doing his work well.
At Rhenoster station the convoy halted and camped, and the mounted men and guns sallied forth to do battle Then followed a sharp engagement, in which we did not take a very exciting part We were told off to keep a kopje in the right rear, and all the fighting seemed to devolve on the left and front
“We were put to hold a ridge with a Maxim gun, but as no Boers came near us it did not want much holding. Personally, I was frying pork the whole time, though the battle was going on on the plain beneath in full view and a tremendous shindy being kicked up. But I was hungry, and attended a good deal more to my cooking than to the fight”
In one look I had I saw our small khaki dots of infantry advancing slowly in open order across the veldt scarcely visible except when they moved. The Yeomanry circled round to the left in a wide sweep and came in for a very hot time, and the guns shelled for all they were worth from behind. There was a rather exciting artillery duel for a short time, and the Boer shells were cracking and banging about amongst our artillery, who were cuddled up close round the tin station buildings, and replying vigorously to the Boer fire. We drove them from their kopjes; and with all due deference to Sir Conan Doyle, who calls it “an almost bloodless move” on the part of the Boers, they suffered pretty heavily from our shell fire, but we had not many casualties. After the fight we continued our march down the line, passing a lot of ground on which the Boers had been camping. There were many evidences of a hasty flight. Blankets (some brilliantly coloured!, boots, clothes, etc., were lying about, and sheep’s bones were reposing by still smouldering fires.
We got to one of the bridges which the Boers had just blown up (Rhenoster), and proceeded to camp for the night. The place had evidently been used as a Boer camp also, and for some time. The grass was worn away, and the ground was very hard and dusty. It was also in a disgusting state and full of vermin, as we knew to our cost the next day. We had to cross the Rhenoster River to get to it, through a very deep drift, and had a terrible job to get the waggons across. The 40th waggon, I believe, upset, but ours was safely landed across by dint of men straining at every wheel and going into the river and pushing from behind, while the niggers yelled and lashed at the unfortunate mules with their long whips.
There was a large quantity of loose coal lying about by the culvert, intended, I suppose, for the supply of engines when the line was in working order, and as the night was still very cold, we were “on it like birds.” R. and I made a most artistic stove by getting hold of an empty corned-beef (8 lbs.) tin, punching holes in it with a bayonet, and lighting a fire in it a la street navvies at home. When it was fairly going we let it down on the ground between our saddles, and, rolling ourselves up in our blankets as close to our furnace as we dared, fell asleep, basking in its genial glow.
The next day we marched off at daybreak down the line after the “gentleman in the tinted glasses,” passing on the way a station (Roodeval) and train that he had shelled and smashed “to atoms,” as the diarist hath it.
It was indeed a sorry spectacle. The Derby Militia had been there, we heard. Well, we were glad we weren’t the Derby Militia, that’s all. The station buildings were knocked down in all' directions, the line torn up, and the whole veldt for literally acres was strewn, ankle deep, with burnt clothing, destroyed ammunition, and, worst of all, charred remains of letters and parcels that might have been gladdening the hearts of poor Tommy further up the line. About a ton or more lay about the place wasted and destroyed out of pure cussedness by brother Boer.
However, we didn’t fare so badly. Several men in rummaging about managed to get hold of lumps of tobacco only a little burnt round the edges, and many more got illustrated papers, etc. I secured a Sketch, and a very respectable thick serge khaki jacket, only a little burnt in places, which I promptly donned over my ordinary one and wore all through the rest of the cold weather.
13th June we spent in camp, and being orderly regiment (i.e., having to find all pickets, outposts, etc.), we “could not get a minute’s rest”—Diary.
That night, while walking about the camp looking for the water barrel, I suddenly found myself by the general’s waggon. Outside, standing by a blazing fire, was the tall figure of Lord Loch, the general’s chief of staff. The voice of the general sounded from within the covered waggon. Thinks I, “They are discussing their plans for future operations no doubt I can’t help hearing it, as I must pass the waggon, so I hope it will be something startling.” But, alas, for the news-thirsty one! What were the weighty words that issued from the waggon in his lordship’s gentle tones? … “Let’s see,” said the voice, “how many eggs did you say we had to-night ? ” “Seventeen,” replied the tall figure silhouetted against the fire. “Good! ” said the voice in the waggon. And the news- seeker passed on marvelling. The old, old topic!
The next day we hoped for a peaceful day in camp with nothing to do, but this hope was not realised, as big-gun fire was heard at a station up the line, and it was found that the Boers were shelling it. So we had to saddle up and go after them, and, getting into touch with them at dusk, a skirmish took place, after which we rode back to the camp.
“June 15th, reveille at 6.30.—Very cold till about 9. Messed about and shifted camp at 2 o’clock to better place and better waters. Probably stop here a day or two.”—Diary.
We (about 20 of us) had 4.45 “revally ” and started out on outpost duty. We wandered about all day patrolling the district, stopping a short time at various kopjes and peering about to see if we could see anything of our friend the enemy. On one kopje we found the erection behind which de Wet had perched one of his guns in the action four days before, and, deeming it worthy of a snap-shot, I took one.
Under the lee of another kopje from which the Boers had fought there was a farmhouse unoccupied, which we set fire to. I thought it would be rather fun to light my pipe at the burning edifice, and, like an idiot, tried at first to approach it from the lee side and nearly got frizzled up for my pains. However, I accomplished my heroic deed by going round behind and rushing in and grabbing a burning straw from the doorway.
At mid-day we halted at a farmhouse which belonged to de Wet and his brother, and after picketing our horses outside, we went on collecting chair legs, window frames, etc., and we soon had a fire crackling merrily in the kitchen grate, on which we proceeded to cook our various delicacies. Mine, on this occasion, was something quite recherche. I had used up all my cocoa, Quaker’s oats, etc., and was ruefully watching the evident satisfaction with which the other men were stirring the contents of their “billies,” when I suddenly remembered a tin of beef lozenges which I had carried for weeks in my wallets, unused. Thinks I, “that will make first-rate soup,” so I went to my saddle and fished him out from between a piece of soap and a pair of socks, and, prizing out the congealed contents with a knife, I speedily had the felicity of watching them slowly melt in the boiling water. An alarm of “Boers! ” caused us all to leave our dinners somewhat hurriedly and rush out to the nearest piece of rising ground, but it proved to be a false one.
We left soon after, and made towards camp. It was one of the coldest days we had had; no sun, a biting cold wind, and therefore three men (of whom I was one) and a corporal did not rejoice when they were told off on the way back to remain on the open veldt as cossack post till dusk.
A “cossack post” means a small party of men dismounted and holding their horses, with one of their number placed at a suitable distance away as sentry. Often this was far from unpleasant, as, when not on guard, one could tie up one’s horse and sleep, eat, or read comfortably. But on this occasion it was not so, as, there being no bushes of any sort within miles, we could not tie up our horses, but had to hold them and had not the smallest shelter from the wind. However, by lying down in our greatcoats and wrapping the reins round our wrists, we managed to pass the time away till evening, when we returned to camp.
Item from diary—“June 16th.—Rumour has it that the I.Y. mobilise shortly. Rot!”
Poor old R.! What would you have thought if you had known that you had exactly another year to go through when you wrote that ?
Diary continued—“June 17th. — Reveille 5.30. Wet night and wet day. Few fatigues, and got new boots served out Short grub. Bid farewell to ‘Baby ’ and take him to kraal, with other rejected horses.”
On 18th June we shifted camp at mid-day, and on 19th June, after a cold night, we had early “revally,” but did not move off until midday, when the whole column, bag and baggage, trekked northwards, destination unknown, with twelve days’ supply. We camped that night in a thunderstorm, which continued nearly all night (much to our disgust), and moved off in the morning, but returned (also much to our disgust) and camped in the same place.
Another important item in diary — “June 21st—On outpost in afternoon; had my two biscuits stolen during night—D___n! ”
The following day the 38th saddled up early and started out by themselves to meet an empty convoy coming from Heilbron and escort it to Heilbron Ford. This we did, finding it very much as we had left it twelve days before. In the evening, or rather afternoon, I took a snapshot of a couple of our officers shaving, much to Mac’s amusement.
“June 22nd.—We have been taking convoys up and down the line; de Wet is the man that is worrying us. I believe it is pretty well over in the Transvaal; and if it wasn’t for this idiot, who must know the game is up, we should be on our way home by this time. As it is, there are vague rumours about us starting on the 9th of July from Cape Town, but I am afraid it is too good to be true.
“I had to sell my revolver to buy grub shortly after leaving Boshof, but now I feel very well on the rations—four hard biscuits a day, stew mid-day, coffee morning, tea evening. In fact, a chap asked me the other day if I had the toothache, my face was so fat (on the last day’s march into Heilbron).
“We must either go home or else get fresh horses and clothes. We are all in rags and tatters, elbows out; and as for our nether garments, mine are right out at the knee, in spite of three sewings up on my part, and two huge rents behind mark the place where they were. We have had new boots served out, and about time too. Most of our horses are absolute wrecks; it is hard work to kick mine along.
“Left S. sick in hospital at Heilbron Road; he is going to be sent up to Johannesburg.”
I went up to the corrugated iron building used as a hospital to see him. He had a touch of fever, but was able to sit up and talk all right.
Next morning the 38th took it easy, having "revally” at 6.30; but “reveille at 6 for me,” says the diarist, “as I have to fetch water for morning coffee: met a lot of half-dead hospital patients getting some too. Nobody to help them.
“Stopped in camp till just as sun was going down, when had orders to take convoy back to Methuen. Got to old camp at dark, starved and frozen.”
The next day (Sunday) we started off again for Heilbron (we were beginning to get tired of the word) early in the morning, and after marching all day in a perfectly arid, flat, and waterless country, we camped in the dark. Our tempers were not very good on our arrival, as camping in the dark is always a joyless proceeding. No one knows where to go or where the waggon is. You cannot see to put the lines down properly, and have to go and fish about the camp for the water barrel for the squadron coffee and probably get lost in the process. Therefore, I say, our tempers were not of the best, and were certainly not improved by the fact that the cooks, mistaking salt for sugar in the darkness, salted our evening potation most beautifully for us.
" Ugh, it’s salted! ” yelled an indignant sipper, flinging the contents of his mess tin on the ground, his example being speedily followed by the rest of the squadron. Salt is all very well in its way, but—in coffee / well, try it yourself, gentle reader, and see. There was an angry rush to the cooks’ stronghold (the waggon) to demand satisfaction, or sugared coffee. The cooks had discovered their mistake in time to sugar their own and the sergeants’ coffee, but never a bit could be got out of them, and we had to find what comfort we could in nibbling hard biscuit. However, the much-maligned cooks made it up to us by giving us an extra brew of tea in the middle of the following day, when we continued our march towards Heilbron.
It was at this mid-day halt that I saw a nigger publicly flogged, and it was not a pleasant sight. He had been thieving, and he was tied up by wrists and ankles to the wheel of a waggon and whipped by another nigger with a cat-o’-nine-tails. What the prescribed number of blows was I don’t know, but he bore them without uttering a sound.
The next day we marched into Heilbron, arriving there at noon, after shelling some Boers in kraals on the way.
On the morrow off again with a 4.30 start, this time back to the same place we were at two days before where I saw the nigger flogged.
All the next day we were marching on the banks of a long, steep, running spruit. The stream itself was shallow, but the bed was very deep, and flanked by precipitous banks. The 38th were flanking far out on the right and got very much scattered. Some of us crossed and some didn’t, and I and a few others spent the whole afternoon scampering along the bank of this river trying to find a drift We camped on the side of a rise in the ground, so that we overlooked a considerable area of country.
The day after we sallied forth, Yeomanry and guns (we had not had any infantry with us for weeks), leaving the convoy in camp with a few men to guard it, on a reconnaissance in force. This meant, as far as I can see, that Mr. Methuen said to Mr. Boer, “Here I am, come out to fight you. If you come, we’ll have a fight, and if you don’t, it’s all the same. I snail go back to camp in the evening anyhow.”
Being near our old friend Spitz Kop again, we naturally made towards him. The events of that day have always been a puzzle to me. I never understood what happened, where the Boers were supposed to be, or what we thought we were doing. All I know is we galloped about a good deal, and my horse, an Argentine of the first water (and you cannot say much worse), distinguished himself by coming a lovely “purler,” for the tenth time at least, without hurting me at all (why was no one ever hurt by the scores of falls we had ?), but making a beautiful dent in the back of my silver watch, which refused to go for ever after. Also I know we cut a lot of wire, and clambered up the Kop, and clambered down again, and the Boers sniped, and we sniped, and the last thing that happened was that we suddenly seemed to be transported to the edge of a hugely steep, almost precipitous descent, overlooking a vast tract of wooded country. Here our guns poked their noses over the edge and banged away to their hearts’ content, sending shells roaring down among the trees, and especially into the “back garden ” of a farm nestling temptingly amongst thick bush under the above-mentioned noses. As the afternoon drew on the guns drew off, and the 38th were left to stop behind for a bit, and then come on as rearguard. On the way back we sighted a nice barbed-wire fence, with wooden posts, and those who had hatchets quickly clattered off to secure the coveted fuel. The custom was for each man to go for a particular post, and a race between two men would often ensue, the winner jumping off and commencing operations at once, and the loser galloping on to the next post I secured two posts this time, and having successfully manoeuvred them on to the front of my saddle and got into it myself (no easy task with a rifle and a horse that will move on directly your foot touches the stirrup), made off after the rest I think every member of No. 3 had at least one post to show, so we had a fine blaze that night. One of our men was missing, we found when we reached camp, from No. 2 troop. He turned up some weeks later, having got lost on the veldt, and wandered about for some days, living at farms till he reached Heilbron. A few men had been killed or wounded, mostly from the Shropshire Yeomanry, I fancy. The poor fellows who were killed were buried with military honours the following day.
“June 30.—My hair is right down over my ears now, and I mean to keep it so, as it is warm at night E.’s was like that, but he had it close cropped, and now when there is a wind at night he says his head aches with the cold.
… But the days are getting a bit warmer, and by hook or crook we always manage to raise a fire behind the saddles now. We commandeer the wood from anywhere we can, but generally by pulling down barbed-wire fences. They have miles of barbed-wire fencing, stretched from post to post, and we cut the wire and pull up or chop down the posts, which make splendid firewood. So now the I.Y. generally manages to come into camp with a huge log across the front of his saddle, sometimes two. The other day we went out on a ‘reconnaissance in force,’ all the I.Y. and some guns, and found the enemy about 12 miles out, who fired on our advance guard, and then, as per usual, bolted. Coming back I spotted a fence in the distance, while we were still 6 miles from camp. Asked leave to go, and galloped off with one of our mess, and each bagged two posts. But it was a ghastly job lugging them back, and my old nag dead tired. We generally raise something to cook on the fire, too. For instance, last night, while reading your letter round our private fire, I fried and devoured a whole sheep’s heart and liver which I had commandeered, and also a huge lump of fat, which I melted down into dripping and poured into two empty cocoa tins. Now that will stand me in good stead for many a day, spread on biscuits. Besides extras which we get hold of in this way, all we get per diem is—Coffee in the morning while saddling up, four biscuits and nominally I lb. of either stewed beef or bully about mid-day, and a drink of tea at night. Certainly we have jam once, and sometimes twice a week, but what is jam to fill a man ? and yet we thrive and grow fat on it, together with hard work all day. We haven't seen bread for eight or nine weeks. I read an article in the May Pearson's which caused me much amusement. It tells you that we out here have per day-
1 lb. of meat. (Not nearly; sometimes none, or uneatable.)
1¼ lbs. bread. (Never.)
1 1b. biscuits. (Our usual ration, four, weighs a little over ½ lb.)
1/6 oz. tea. (Right.)
3 oz. sugar. (Doubtful.)
4 oz. jam. (We may get a fourth share of a 1-lb. pot twice a week if lucky.)
½ oz. of salt. (Right; we had it in our coffee one night in mistake for sugar.)
1/36 oz. pepper.
1 lb. compressed vegetables. (Lucky to get it once a week.)
Lime juice and sugar when no vegetables. (Never had any at all.)
1/2 gill of rum. (Only after fights and wet days.)
So you see when the B.P. fondly imagines its soldiers having all that every day it is labouring under a delusion. But I didn't expect much better, and home fare will seem all the nicer."
The general took it into his head to have a look at our horses, I suppose, for he had a grand equine parade, and each and every one of us led his horse before the general and staff for inspection. The only other important events of that day were that E. had a shave (an almost unheard-of event) and I had my hair cut I had been requested to several times, but had refused on the ground that it kept my head warm, which it undoubtedly did, as it was right down over my ears.
On 1st July we were off on the march again, arriving at Waai Hoek (or Paarde Kraal) and capturing two Boers on the way. We were destined to make a longer stay here than we had yet made anywhere, or would make till we arrived at Mafeking the following September. The day after we arrived we spent peacefully doing nothing, an drying our clothes and blankets, which had been wet through for two days and unable to be dried. At night, when the usual “Orders by officer commanding ” were read out, we were told to be ready to parade at i a.m., so we knew that something in the nature of a night march was going to take place. We slept (those of us who were not on guard) till half an hour before time, and then saddled up at midnight (freezing hard, ye gentlemen of England who dwell at home at ease!) but without lighting up fires again, so as not to warn the Boers that anything unusual was up. The men were well used to sudden starts at all hours now, and there was no confusion and no noise as they silently fell into rank and marched off in fours. No pipes or smoking of any kind permitted for the same reason. Talking went on in whispers, and it got about that we were to surround a farmhouse with 40 Boers. We rode on and on, and still on, but nothing happened. At last we saw lights and a building about half a mile away to our left Was this the house ? We halted and rolled coats, an invariable sign of business ahead; mounted, rode on, halted again, and still nothing happened. This kind of thing went on for about another hour, and we seemed by the end of that time to have come in a circle; talk got louder, and we soon heard that the guide had lost his way, and that we were going back to camp. Was that the farm ? and were the Boers there after all, I wondered ? I wonder still.
By the time we arrived home again, hardly feeling, like the Village Blacksmith, that we had “something accomplished, something done,” day was breaking, and we made up our fires and sipped our coffee, and lay down to sleep in the waxing light. After this we remained a week in camp without doing much except the ordinary camp duties, such as fatigues, grazing guard, camp and line guard, etc. We were lucky in getting all our mails up to date here; and for the time, what with the advent of warm clothing, chocolate, tobacco, letters and papers, we felt like the proverbial pigs in clover. The weather still left much to be desired, and during the day time the veldt was covered with blankets drying in the sun; but though wet, it was getting perceptibly warmer, and we seemed to be slowly but surely leaving the time of frozen morning fingers behind us. We had time to write letters too.
“July 6.— … Having a day’s rest in the camp the other day I was able to change my socks. The other pair you sent will do splendidly for gloves. … The little red woollen vest is very useful, though it took me about a quarter of an hour to decide where and how to wear it! … The other fellows offered various suggestions, but as it turned out, we got it right, with the frilled end round my neck and buttoned in front I wear it every night, sandwiched in between two blue jerseys, and shirt underneath, and warm tunic on top, then greatcoat, then blanket, with feet in one corn sack and lying on another, the whole covered by mackintosh sheet well tucked in, as warm as toast, and my head shoved right up in between the flaps of my saddle. …
“We shall be on our way home any time now as soon as de Wet is collared.
“July 9, at same place. ... We have been having a glorious time of it the last four or five days. They say de Wet has retreated east towards Bethlehem, that he is surrounded, and that either he has chucked it, or may be expected to do so any day. We are a very small force here; I don’t know even that Methuen is with us: I haven’t seen him for some days now. They took the names of those wishing to enlist in the Free State Police this morning, and out of our squadron, already diminished from 120 to about 56, 22 men sent in their names, and may go off any day to the Pretoria district and join their new corps.
“The one subject of discussion here, as you may guess, is ‘When do we start for home?’ Officers and men vie with each other in spreading reports and conjectures; but the general opinion seems to be that we shall be kept fooling about here, with convoy, etc., for another three weeks; then train down, and start about the 4th of August, and first see the cliffs of old England about the end of August or the beginning of September; but no one knows anything, really. Still, we had jam yesterday and again to-day, which we have never had before, two days following; and also cheese to-day for the first time since leaving England, and five instead of four biscuits, so it looks as if they wanted to use up the stores. To-day is Monday, and we had church parade yesterday. I really believe we have passed the oddest part of the winter; the days are certainly hotter, and at night the frost is not so severe. It does seem funny waking up in the morning to find the long grass absolutely white with hoar-frost, on a level with one’s head, and one’s mackintosh sheet frozen as stiff as cardboard. . .. The other day I went as usual down to water, riding one horse bareback and leading two others, and on the way we had to cross a deep ditch, or nullah. I spurred my animal across, but nothing would induce the two led ones to budge. Mine went on, and I pulled and wrenched at the rope but I could not pull him back, stretched out as I was, and at last had to let go my grip of his back and slide gracefully over his tail, keeping hold of the head-rope, but letting him go; then I administered a couple of sound hoofs in the ribs, and the brutes had to go, and my own waited for me on the other side. These horses make one angry sometimes, they are so utterly brainless and obstinate. . . .
“It must be lovely in England now, with cool twilights. Just fancy, here you can tell to the second when the sun sets, even with your back turned, by the sudden chill in the air. Directly we feel tnat (when in camp we are iust about having tea) we get up and begin lighting a fire. . . .
“Send tobacco in old cocoa tins. ... That chocolate was good! ” …
Three things happened to break the monotony of camp life. The first was the arrival of a consignment of new clothes, which we badly wanted; the second was a veldt fire, the biggest I had ever seen. One afternoon we were lying down, slumbering or reading, by our saddles, when the cry “Turn out with sacks” was raised, which meant that every man grabbed the nearest weapon in the way of a sack, rug, or overcoat, and rushed off to do battle with the flames. The fire was about 400 paces from the camp, and soon every one was running to the scene of action, brandishing their sacks. These fires travel with great rapidity, depending on the strength of the wind and the growth and dryness of the grass. Here it was long and dry, and the wind was strong, so that it was all we could do to keep the flames under. The fire runs along in a long, wavy line, and the smoke and heat when one gets near it are prodigious. The mode of action is as follows:— You hold your sack by one corner and rush in on the flames, and, holding your left arm in front of your face, proceed to beat out as much of the fire near you as possible. It is a remarkable sight to see two or three hundred men outlined against the fire all whirling their sacks. On this occasion it was lucky the wind was blowing across the camp, as the fire proved too much for us; and although we managed to extinguish the part slowly creeping towards the camp, we could not stem the fiery rush driven by the wind behind it, and had to leave it to follow its course unchecked across the veldt The results of such a fire are dreary in the extreme. Every blade of grass and plant is reduced to black ashes, and the whole aspect of the country is changed from green or yellow to black. In marching over burnt grass, too, as one often had to for miles at a time, one would get covered with a grimy black dust, and in a short time the whole squadron would look like a corps of sweeps. Such conflagrations may be started by accident, as when a man, having lit his pipe, throws away his match, and the grass immediately flares up and gets beyond control; or by design, as on the part of the Boers, who constantly fired the veldt with the double object of hiding their own traces and so getting off under cover of the smoke, and rendering our khaki more conspicuous against the black ground.
Event number three was the escorting of a convoy half-way to Lindley. We had a peaceful ride, with no sniping. R. and I were on cossack post at mid-day, and after we were relieved, and another column had taken on the convoy, we started homewards, No. 3 acting as rearguard. On the way back “Fighting Mac. ” indulged in a little springbok shooting with his revolver. We rode the animal down into a spruit, and he blazed away from the bank till he rolled it over. On the way back we heard a shot on our right flank and a bullet sang over our heads, but it turned out to be one of our own men, also having a shot at a bok. We got back to Waai Hoek in the evening.