Print

”We arrived here walking ” (by the way, I had to relinquish my steed at Zeerust) “from 10 to 15 miles a day, once 18, but I did not mind walking a bit The weather looked bad, and absence of sun, combined with wind, looked like rain, but we were not prepared for what did happen. The first night it rained cats and dogs, and lightened as bad as the night after the fight at Boshof; simply awful. As luck would have it I was on guard that night, and so ought to have been out in it all, but I stood under an officer’s tent near my beat and so kept fairly dry. The next day it looked black all day, and at about 5 o’clock three tents were served out to the squadron; that meant 15 men to a tent. We had just got the tent up when the storm began. The lightning was something terrific, ear-splitting crashes right over your head, and the rain and wind—can’t describe it, only the results. We all crowded into our tent (for the first time since Boshof) and sat down on our bundles of kit The roar of the storm was fearful, and the rain came thundering down on to our devoted tent with a continuous loud note as the tent got tighter and tighter with the moisture, so that we had to shout to each other to make ourselves heard. As the wind got stronger, we began to look doubtfully at our straining tent, and suddenly she began to sway, and we all threw ourselves on to the edges and held it down, but it was no use; it was whisked up into the air, and away into the pitchy darkness, and all of us were chucked about like ninepins, and our kit and possessions were all scattered about in different directions. I grabbed most of mine, and fell on top of them (tins of jam bought at Zeerust, camera, haversack, biscuits, mess tin, jerseys, greatcoat, blanket, waterproof sheet, bandolier, belt and bayonet, etc.), and forcibly held them down. Then having bound the lot together with my reins, and the wind abating a little, I went to help to find and bring back our erring tent. Having got it back, we made a second attempt to pitch it, but it blew away all among the horses, and carried us with it How we ever got it up I don’t know, but we did, and slammed the pegs in tight. We tried to dig a trench to drain off the rain, but only half did it. We got inside again, and sat with this hurricane raging over our heads. Of course, as no proper trench had been dug, the floor was soon flooded, and there were 3 inches of water. We sat on our islands made of kits. A candle was produced, and, after some spluttering, burned up; and then we sat and smoked and sang songs, as it was out of the question to lie down. Lawson came into the tent and stayed chatting a long time, and at about 12 or 1, when the rain had nearly stopped and the water had sunk in, we laid out our bedding and slept peacefully, wet, of course, but quite warm, as it is never cold when wet.

“Don’t imagine I feel the cold now; that was in the Free State. Now we have hot days and merely cool nights, pleasant to sleep in. So here we are at Mafeking, having the best time I have ever had out here. Lovely weather. Tents again. Plenty of grub. Two miles and a half from ‘town.’ We are getting new tunics, breeches, boots, putties, helmets, horses, and, in fact, an entire re-fit The new horses are quite different to any we have had before. They are Hungarians, and look good ones. Mine is a great big fellow, over 16 hands, and black, just like an English horse. …

“Mafeking is a funny little place, of great interest to us, of course. We noted the British and Boer trenches all round, close outside the town. I always thought there were hills and kopjes all round on which the Boers had their guns. Not a bit of it. It is as fiat as a pancake, at least it looked so to me, for miles round; just like our fens. The town lies in the least bit of a hollow. I expected to find the houses a bit knocked about by shells. I was surprised to find about one house in ten had no roof, and, in fact, the town was wrecked, walls and roofs fallen in, insides laid bare, etc. But not by shells, as we imagined, but by the previous night’s storm. One shopman told me that the storm had done more damage in one night than the Boers in six months. Two men were killed, too; so I think we had a better time of it out on the veldt, struggling with our tent, than in the town. Hurray! As I write there is a call of ‘Roll up for your mails, No. 3!’ (It is always ‘Roll up,’ for everything.) Another mail, and an up-to-date one, too. … Two parcels for me; one marked ‘Tobacco,’ and another ‘Chocolate.’ Essentials again. The only two parcels for the troop. Envious glances from every one—‘You lucky beggar, G.!’ Also a Peterboro’ paper, and a Royal Magazine. Thanks to you, I have got rather a reputation for always coming off well in mails. ...

“Sept 3.—There are sports on to-day. I have just got back from running (?) in the 100 yards race, but did not win anything, needless to say. The officer starting mumbled something in a low voice about ‘Are-y’-ready-go,’ and two or three got off while he was in the middle of it; I got in bad third. There was wrestling on horseback, V.C. race (racing over a ditch and barricade to pick up a sack of sand on your saddle and gallop back), 1 mile race, and half-mile. I am in for the potato race, which comes off to-morrow. You have to pick up a row of potatoes (dismounting every time) one at a time, gallop back, and drop them one by one into a tub.

“Sept 5.—I really must finish this here, in Mafeking post office. ... I have just been making myself a ‘toff’ here. I have invested in a pair of khaki riding breeches and a slouch hat, as my helmet is no longer presentable. Yesterday I was on outpost duty all day, so I could not go in for the potato race. ... There is a rumour that Kruger has surrendered, also de Wet. Don’t believe either!”

On September 8th we started off on our travels once more, and sniping began the first day we left, showirtg that the Boers had been hovering around all the time we had been at Mafeking. That night, just before sunset, a Maxim was taken a few hundred yards out in front of the camp, and played vigorously from one end to the other of a small .copse of trees which lay not far off, and in which some snipers were ensconced. That effectually stopped them, and we heard no more firing that night, but the 38th slept under arms, t.e., further out from the camp than usual, and each man fully togged up, with bandolier over greatcoat, and belt and bayonet on. This was the more necessary as it was a dark and very windy night. However, nothing happened, and Sunday, “the day of rest,” dawned uneventfully. “Revally ” at 3.15, and the 38th went out to relieve pickets, and waited till the column moved off. The column was divided into three, each division keeping in touch with the rest. We got into touch with the Boers at once, and it proved a distinctly exciting Sabbath. The 38th acted as escort to the two pom-poms. The result of the chase (same idea as after de Wet) was 60 waggons and 40 or 50 prisoners bagged, and any amount of sheep, oxen, etc. We were advance guard, the pom-poms coming right up to the front with us. I fired more rounds that day than I had ever done before, and it reminded me of a field day at Aldershot. We kept them and their convoy on the hop for several miles, and every now and then came upon waggons left behind. One Boer gunner stayed behind too far with his team, just as one did at Potchefstroom, but though the little shells from our pom-poms kicked up the dust all around him, he bent down his back and drove on the mules, and eventually got away. Of course, we got first chance with the loot, and our troop scored. Most of the waggons contained Boer families and their personal effects, of which we bagged anything that promised to be useful. We came upon a nice bottle of fresh goat’s milk, and S. and I shared it I also got some salad oil, a nice “billy” or cooking tin, and other things. R. got something too. He says—”I found a box full of tinned fish in waggon, so No. 3 troop did all right” In many of the waggons, under what corresponds to the box seat, we found a lot of sort of dried or toasted lumps of bread, hard and brittle. “We tried it, but it was not very tasty, so we left it The Boers with the waggons looked black, and protested, of course, when we sampled their contents, but I think they were jolly lucky to get off as well as they did. We then took the waggons into camp, and the prisoners walked behind.”

After that things quieted down a bit, and we did nothing but a leisurely march the next day, arriving at Ottoshoop at noon, and camping for the rest of the day. On the 11th we heard the guns of another column during the day, but did not move from camp. On the 12th we marched again, some said towards Vryburg, getting into camp after dark. Reports as to our destination were rife. “The idea of going to Krugersdorp seems to have been abandoned. Then we heard we were going to Vryburg, but that seems to have knocked up now. Now the report is that we go back to Mafeking, but I don’t think anybody knows what we are doing. Of course the usual ‘going-home-shortly ’ idea prevails; 4500 troops are supposed to be going ome the end of the month or the beginning of October. But we ‘don’t know nuffin.’ We march again to-morrow (Sunday), so to-day was made Sunday, and we had service this morning, after which Paul M. (Methuen) read us a long account of our doings since we left Mafeking.” Poor R.’s horse had given out, and he was having rather a poor time of it, leading, or rather dragging, the weary brute along. He says—”Am leading my horse. . . . Marched from 4 o’clock till 11, led my horse. Beastly tired. On outpost to-night. Our convoy got into some soft bog, and lot of waggons up to their hubs.”

On Sunday proper we had a long march over a waterless plain. He says—”Reveille 3.45. Marched over plain till we got to water. Had to drag my beastly horse most of way.”

I had exchanged my Hungarian, which turned out to be a soft, spiritless animal, for a real little English mare, before we left Mafeking. This turned out to be the best mount I had yet had, and I fondly hoped I should keep her till the end of the war. It was the only English horse among the whole lot of remounts we got there, and 1 could not understand how it had got there, or why it was not snapped up by the officers. Every one thought she would develop some fatal defect, which would explain her being among such a poor lot But so far she had not, and I was delighted with her. I felt quite fresh after riding her all day, and not having to thump or kick her along. She could walk faster and trot and gallop better than any other in the troop, or squadron either for that matter. Again, I had no trouble whatever in bringing her in from grazing. Generally one had to manoeuvre round one’s horse for about five minutes, and then it was only with the help of another man that you could catch him. But with the little mare, directly she saw me coming up she would stop grazing, and when I stood close to her she would come up to me in the most obliging manner. In fact, after a few days she would follow me into camp without my holding her at all. You may be sure she got more than her share of corn and compressed nay; also any stray biscuits that happened to be about. But, alas, those halcyon days did not last.

On the 17th we marched till mid-day, halted, and marched again the same night at 11 “till about 6 the next morning. Off-saddled till 3.15, and marched till after dark. No water in camp, and no tea at night or coffee in the morning.”

On the 19th we were halting and giving our horses a drink of water at a farm when all suddenly became excitement, and we sheered off quick in extended order. The artillery also were watering, and had to limber up and follow us as quickly as possible. After cantering for about half a mile, we rounded a slight wooded rise, turned sharp to the left, and came upon a most extraordinary sight. Away in front of us, on the open plain, was a farmhouse, surrounded by the usual kraals and poplar trees. Beyond this the whole space was covered with moving dots—men galloping away, men running to their horses, niggers yoking oxen to waggons; in fact, a Boer camp preparing for full flight.

Captain Y____ with the 3rd I.Y., who were in front of us, rode straight for the bunch of poplars, and we cantered out on a detour to the left. As we neared the farm the whole commando got on the move, and waggons and horsemen streamed across the plain away from us. Still there was not a shot fired, and we began to think that the Boers were not going to make any show at all. The 3rd got nearer and nearer to the farm, and it seemed that if the Boers did give them a volley the effect would be rather disastrous at such comparatively short range. Just then our guns got into action behind and to the right of us, and a stream of pom-pom shells went crackling among the trees and farm buildings. It was a chance shot from one of these that killed the Boar gunner who was training his gun either on to us or the 3rd. He was found by his gun when we got near the farm, so that the 3rd, who were not in very extended order, probably had a very narrow escape. The gun was a British 15-pounder which had been captured at Colenso. Two Boer Maxims were also taken, and some prisoners. The 38th had
the honour of rounding up a lot of cattle which the enemy had left, and we had a taste of stock-riding which my little mare enjoyed immensely.

In the course of our operations we came upon a farm which we had not before seen, and proceeded to investigate it. An old Boer lay sick in one of the rooms, and we asked the women-folk what was the matter with him, but could not find out They were all very suspicious and frightened at us, and evidently expected to be murdered or have their house burnt down about their ears, and seemed quite relieved when we assured them that we were not going to take the old man prisoner or loot their house. Later the old chap told us that the Boers had tried to force him to go on commando, but that he was too ill to go, and showed us a doctor’s certificate to that effect 1 .tried to find out what was the matter with him, but couldn’t understand him.

Leaving the farm, we came upon some waggons outspanned by a kraal, and as all waggons left to the Boers only helped to prolong the war, some oxen were hitched to them and they were given over to the charge of some Kaffirs to take into camp. Just when we had finished rounding up the cattle and had got them well under way, two or three “cracks ” sounded from the rocky ground and bushes behind the farm where the old man lay, and as many bullets whistled about our ears. However, we hurried on the cattle, and though we got sniped at long range all the way back to camp, we had no casualties. No sooner had we on-saddled and begun to prepare ourselves hot drinks than we had to saddle up again, as the sniping had become more serious, and seemed likely to develop into an attempt to re-take waggons and guns. My anguish on having to pour out on to the unreceptive veldt a beautiful cup of hot cocoa, too hot, alas! to drink, which I had just brewed, must have been pitiable to witness. Of course, there was no sign of the enemy when we arrived at the place whence the firing had proceeded, and we rode peacefully back to camp.

Next day the camp made an early move, but we being rearguard, had an extra hour in bed. After a short march we camped at 10 o’clock in the morning, where we remained all that day and the next On the 21st we retraced our steps and got back to our previous camp, and at night the 38th were on picket

23rd September.—38th came off picket at daybreak. During the march the column was harassed by snipers all day. One attempt was made to surround a force of the enemy of about 200 who became too obstreperous, but they made off.

24th.—After a 4 o’clock “revally,” the column inarched till mid-day. We went on outpost duty at a kopje about a mile from the camp till dark. We stayed at the camp all the next day. On the 25th a 10-mile march brought us to a large Kaffir village hidden in a sort of ravine in very rocky country covered with thick tropical vegetation. There were supposed to have been gold mines here, but I never saw them. On the 27th all the mounted men turned out on a foraging expedition about 8 miles out, and got a good quantity of corn for the horses.

28th.—Marching at daybreak, we came in contact with the enemy about 5 miles out. We had now come into very open, woodless country, which, however, was sufficiently undulating to enable the Boers to get fairly close. A good deal of scattered fighting ensued, in the course of which a tremendous amount of ground was covered by the Yeomanry in scouting; in fact, I do not remember any day on which so much cantering about had to be done. About midday I began to notice something peculiar about my little mare’s action when cantering. Her hind quarters seemed to give way or sink down every stride she took. This got worse and worse as the day wore on, and sometimes it got so bad that I had to pull her up for fear of her collapsing altogether. She seemed much distressed, and was trying all she knew to keep up. I got off several times to see if I could make out what was wrong, but could not see anything. On arriving in camp, No. 3 were sent on outpost at a farm about half a mile from the camp, on some perfectly open rising ground. We had not been there ten minutes fore they began to snipe us. The horses were taken back to the farm, and we lay flat, as there was no cover, and tried to see something to fire at One or two rounds were loosed off at something black, which might have been a hat, showing up out of the long, yellow grass a long way off, and after about half a dozen shots had been exchanged on each side, nothing further happened. Water was short in camp, and when we got back and went down to try and get a wash we found a sentry with fixed bayonet stationed by the pond to warn us off. We managed to get one later, however, after all water for cooking purposes had been drawn. That night the mournful notes of the “Last Post,” sounded on the bugle, reached us as we were sitting round a fire just before turning in, telling of the burial of some man killed during the day. We heard afterwards that it was one of the Shropshire I.Y.

Sept 29.—38th marched out before daybreak in advance as escort to the guns. We had left the camp about a mile behind, and half of the long string of waggons forming the convoy had safely cleared the camp, when a shell fired from some point on tne right rear of the camp lit right among the waggons, which, before they trail out of camp, are drawn up in parallel lines. From our position high up above, and in front of the main body, we could see the whole tiling plainly. Half a dozen more shells followed in quick succession, and we were halted and faced about, one troop facing ahead in case of surprises. The shells had the effect of hurrying on the convoy considerably, and the frenzied shrieks and yells of the niggers urging on the beasts and the cracking of whips, added to the volley firing from the rearguard, made a regular pandemonium. It usually happened that the rearguard had a perfectly easy time of it, with no fighting, the advance guard getting it all; but this time the reverse was the case, and the rearguard got a distinctly hot time of it for two hours, while we merely looked on. The Boer attack was pressed much more than usual, and their guns were very active. The Yorkshire Yeomanry, who bore the brunt of the engagement, had several casualties. This was our first acquaintance with General Delarey, of whom we were to see a good deal afterwards, and his presence explained the unusual determination of the attack. After the enemy had been driven off, we proceeded on our way; but our troubles were not over yet, as General Douglas, who was marching parallel with us with his column on our left, mistaking some of our Hankers for Boers, plumped one or two shells our way before the artillery found out their mistake, fortunately doing no damage. We camped at 10 a.m., and at 5 in the afternoon marched on another 8 miles and camped for the night My mare had been a little better during the early part of the day, but she now got so bad that I had to lead her, and, on arriving in camp, I handed her over to the vet I never heard what was wrong with her, but that night the poor beast had to be shot Whether the trouble from which she suffered came on then for the first time, or had shown itself before, and been the cause of her presence among such a poor lot of remounts, I do not know. It seemed a sad end to such a high-spirited and yet so gentle and sweet-tempered an animal.

Sept 30.—“Revally” at 2.30 in the dark, and being once more a “foot-slogger ” and on my own hook, I mounted a convenient ox waggon and tried to sleep, but the jolting of the cumbrous vehicle would have kept any one awake who was not comatose. We were now after Delarey, who had made for that old Boer stronghold, Oliphant’s Nek, in the Magaliesberg range, 6 miles from Rustenberg. The next four days passed uneventfully, and I and some others had a very jolly time sloping along as we pleased, marching from 10 to 20 miles a day. The country through which we passed was extremely picturesque, and quite typical of the best Transvaal scenery, and the weather was perfect On 4th October we passed through the Nek and camped on the other side.

“Oct 7, Sunday.—Here we are again at the Nek, in almost the same camp as before. You remember my writing from Orange Grove camp. It is a lovely place, trees and grass and shady nooks. We came here after Delarey, who has now gone to Zeerust, whither we follow to-morrow or the next day. I am a foot-slogger again. My poor little mare had to be shot about a week ago, ... so I am on my own hook again with two or three others of the squadron, and we plod gaily along, now wandering through woody bits and picking flowers to put in our hats (it is spring here now, you know), now walking alongside the infantry, and now trying to get a lift in a waggon, and getting turned off by a bluff sergeant, and feeling rather like little boys with a policeman. I stop at every farmhouse and talk (?) to the people, always prefacing my remarks with ‘Hab’n’y broed ? ’ by which I mean, have you any bread? But they never have anything, either milk or bread, or even coffee. They are obliged to roast maize and grind it as an imitation of coffee. We are at last beginning to realise that the only way to stop this war is to bum, and many farms we come to where the man is on commando, are burnt. There are three blackened ruins in this camp. It rained last night, so I and a pal got a lot of the corrugated iron roofing off one of the ruins, and rigged up a patent rain-proof shelter to sleep in. Some of the men sport beds, real beds, which they found in some of the deserted houses. Only bedsteads, of course, but they cover up the frame with rushes and make believe they are comfortable, and certainly they must keep them drier. Yesterday evening I went for a bathe in a deep pool near the camp, but it came on so fearfully black while I was in the water that I was afraid of getting wet (!) and ran home, only just in time to get up tne shelter and shove myself and clobber into it. I have discarded putties while I walk, and take it easy in those old football stockings you sent me at Mafeking.”

Entry in R.’s diary about this date—”Our 125 men are now reduced to 56.” Our four days spent in this camp were very restful. On the night of our arrival the whole of the 38th went on picket in some low bush country, 900 yards from camp, with orders to keep a sharp lookout and fire at anything moving to our front When we arrived at the place somebody produced a pack of cards, and we played “banker ” for an hour. My time on guard was from 12 till 2 a.m., and passed without anything worthy of note. The moon was so bright that night that we could see to read letters. We came off picket at 6, and at 9 some mounted men, including 38th squadron, saddled up to go

out and find some cattle reported to be hidden in some kloof on the other side of the Nek. I borrowed the cook's horse. A ride of about a couple of miles brought us to the Nek; and on turning sharp to the left, proceeding up a valley parallel to the range of hills, the cattle were found. During the inevitable wait that always ensues in such cases, we found a farm perched up in a pretty ravine between two ranges of kopjes, and rode up to it. We found it inhabited by hospitable Colonials-a middle aged couple, and their little son and daughter. They seemed very pleased to see us, gave us milk to drink, and showed us their flowers. One of the children showed me her books and some pet rabbits. They said that during our fight with the commando of 900 at the Nek the June previous (soon after we had left Krugersdorp ), several of our shells came whizzing over the kopjes on their left, over their house and garden, and burst on the hillside just beyond. The girl also said she was going to school in England when the war was over. Leaving this little oasis of civilisation regretfully behind us, we returned to camp.

Entry in R.'s diary for Oct. 6.-"Parade of every horse and mule in camp. Took long time.’ I was on grazing guard in the afternoon, and read Pearson’s in the intervals of getting up and "shoo“ -ing horses back to the herd.

Oct 7.—”Revally ” late—at 6—and an easy day in camp. It was then that the above letter was written.

On Monday, “revally ” at 4, and the column marched the 6 odd miles into Rustenburg. I still unmounted. We marched through the town, or rather village, and camped on the other side, the town being put out of bounds. I remarked on passing through it that the houses were smarter and the gardens more luxuriant and better kept than any we had yet seen. While here I was supplied with another horse, and rejoined the ranks.

On the 9th we left Rustenburg, and started on a march through very mountainous country, parallel to the Magaliesberg range, making for the Marico district and Zeerust again.

10th—Entry in diary.—“‘Revally’ 3.3a Marched through pass. Expected to be held by Boers, but they did not seem inclined to play.”

11th—“’Revally’ 2.30.—While horses were grazing, my horse got away from the guard.”

We had now got into dense bush country, and every day expected our advance to be disputed. Accordingly, when the next day it came to be our turn for advance guard, we expected to have a hot time of it “Revally ” on the 12th was at 3.30, and the 38th, fortified by a special tot of rum in their coffee, cantered out ahead of the column. We rode warily all day among wooded country, dodging in and out among the trees, and keeping wide apart, just near enough to keep in touch with one’s next man, and halting and dismounting every now and then. The Argentine I had got as a remount cast both its fore shoes, and in consequence was going very tender, taking short, mincing steps, so that I had to be very careful in going over rocky ground. Kopje after kopje was passed and no Mausers cracked, and at last we arrived at our camping ground. As usual, some of the advance guard had to go ahead for a mile beyond camp to form an outpost for a few hours while the camp was settling down, and I formed one of a “cossack post” of three men and a corporal stationed on the edge of a belt of trees overlooking a long slope of flattish country, covered with bushes and mealie crops, and bounded on the far side by a farm and another belt of trees or thick bushes. We loosened girths, took out bits, and tethered horses behind bushes so as to be invisible from the clearing; one man was placed on guard, and the rest composed themselves to a smoke and slumber close by the horses. After a bit Jack H. and I strolled about, and discovered a small farmhouse and Kaffir huts close by. We went inside the hut, stooping down to get through the wretched little doorway, which was only about 3 ft 6 in. high, so that one scraped one’s back badly on going in and out. There were a few odds and ends, such as flasks made of pumpkin peel, baskets, necklaces, old sacks, and a knobkerrie lying about, the remains of a fire, and a very close atmosphere, although there was no one in the hut So we left it and went on to the farmhouse, where was a comparatively hospitably-inclined Boer woman, who regaled us on maize coffee. While we were emitting there in the parlour, asking the usual questions about how long the Boers were going to stay out on commando, etc., the man on sentry came to say that his time was up, and as it was my turn to go on, I went back, taking up my position where he had been, and leaving him and Jack H. in the house. I had not been there long before I heard the sound of heavy firing in the direction of the camp. The corporal heard it too, and he woke up and started tightening the girths while I rushed to the farmhouse to warn the other two. We all ran back to the horses, made sure that they were hidden, and kept as sharp a lookout all around us as we ever did in our lives, at least I know I did. The firing kept on, now in isolated shots, now in crackling bursts, but still we saw no sign of any Boers near us. After about a quarter of an hour it stopped, and we began to calm down again. Still there was no more snoozing that afternoon, for if there had been any Boers about, ours was hardly an enviable position, more than a mile from camp, and entirely cut off as we were. My time on guard was nearly up, and I was still crouching and squinting seven ways at once from behind my tree, when a mounted man came round the corner past the farmhouse towards us, then another and another. I thought they were Boers, but the next moment I saw from the uniform and general appearance that they were Yeomanry. Ten or a dozen were now in sight, and finally a whole squadron of the 3rd I.Y. with a pom-pom came leisurely along the edge of the plantation, looking as though they knew there wasn’t a Boer within a thousand miles. First came half a dozen men and a sergeant I kept quite still, wondering if they would spot me. ‘Only one did, and he looked startled, and pulled up his horse, evidently not expecting to see any one out that distance from camp. My companions were out of sight, just inside the bushes. The man who had seen me then said, “Hullo,” and nodded, and the others looked round. Two officers riding together behind the first lot came up to me. “Cossack post?” “Yes, sir.” “You’re a long way out Seen anything?” “No, sir.” After they had gone, I asked one of the troopers what all the firing was in camp. “Oh, he said, “that wasn’t firing. There was a veldt fire, and one of the ammunition waggons got caught, and a lot of ammunition went off. Two men wounded.”

Collapse of cossack post!

Camp looked very dreary when we got back to it that evening, with its broad patches of blackened grass and here and there an isolated strip of unburnt veldt.

13th.—Some man in the 37th reported that he had seen some waggons hidden in a sort of natural pit some way from camp, and with this man as guide the 38th went out, found the waggons, and burnt them. Coming back we found a farm which had been the headquarters of some Boer red-cross hospital. There were some boxes marked with the red cross, and some red cross flags lying about. Whether there were any wounded men in the place at the time I don't know. Some excellent oranges from a grove close by the farm were rather freely sampled. It rained in the night, and as usual R. and I “tented,” i.e., by fastening our waterproof (?) sheets together longitudinally, and propping them up at each end by a rifle kept in the perpendicular by reins pegged down with a bayonet, and shoving our saddles under one end to put our heads in, we managed to keep ourselves and kit fairly dry.

“Revally ” at 2.30 on Sunday morning, followed by a 7-mile march in bush country. Still no enemy.

Another early start the following day, getting into thicker country every mile. A splendid place for an ambush if the Boers had been so inclined.

On the 16th we had camped at mid-day in a well-wooded spot, and were just doing a few odds and ends, cooking, washing, Keating- sprinkling, rifle-cleaning, etc., when orders came to get horses in at once and saddle up. A rush for horses followed immediately, and as they were grazing half a mile from camp I was a good deal blown when I reached mine (which had lately been cold-shod by the squadron farrier). A scamper back to camp bare-back ensued, and a saddling up in quick time. A box of ammunition was dragged off the waggons and plumped down in the Tines, and each man helped himself to as much as he wanted. We were soon all galloping along a narrow sandy lane with the guns behind us. After about a mile’s ride we broke into a walk, and extended into open order. One troop rode one way and one another, but no enemy appeared, at least I did not see any. No. 3 troop went straight on to a clump of trees in the middle of a patch of fairly bare veldt and dismounted. I then saw that we were escort to a Maxim which had come rattling up behind us. 800 to 1000 yards ahead of us on the other side of the area of bare veldt was dense bush country again, and on looking across I just caught a glimpse of a mounted man dashing back into cover. The Maxim was quickly turned on to the spot and a hail of bullets was sent over the intervening space into the bush, the Maxim being moved slowly from side to side so as to cover a pretty big area. One could fancy how those bullets would tear and rip among the trees, thudding into tree trunks and nipping off leaves and twigs. One thing I noticed, and that was the echo of the firearms among the hills, which I had never heard so plainly before. The fact was, though we did not know it, that we were now in the Marico valley, with hills on each side of it leading up to the little town of Zeerust. After ten minutes’ more waiting about we mounted and rode back to where a battery of guns was now in full working order. Shells went flying over our heads from all the six guns, and the noise was terrific. We could see shrapnel bursting amongst the trees and on the hills to either side of the valley. Some Boers on a kopje close to our end of the valley replied with Mausers, and the guns were turned on them. A good many bullets flew over our heads, and one I noticed in particular. Whether it had a bit cut out of it, or was a ricochet, or what, I do not know, but it made the most peculiar combination of metallic ring and whistle I had ever heard. After a little more cannonading we all returned to camp.

Oct. 17.—“Revally” 2.30. We marched up the Marico valley towards Zeerust over the ground we had traversed the day before. Soon after the advance guard penetrated the dense bush mentioned above, fighting began, and lasted all the morning. At one time the Shropshire Yeomanry, who were doing the advance that day, suffered heavily, and were driven back on the convoy. A half troop of them had advanced to within 40 yards of a low, bushy ridge, when a volley came from behind it, and many riderless - horses galloped back amongst the survivors. The 38th were halted at the time with the artillery, and just as the news came that the Shropshires had retired, Major B. of the 37th battery, who was standing close to us, put up his glasses, and said he could see some niggers, headed by a white woman, running up a slope among some trees from the place where the ambush had been; so we made no doubt that they were the ones who had shot the Yeomen.

While we were sitting by our horses on this occasion, an old Boer kept sniping us from the bushes to our left. I say “old ” because R. and I settled at the time that it must be some hoary-headed old reprobate lying comfortably among the rocks and taking pot shots at us, the shooting was so regular. “Crack—uph! ” and then “ping ” over our heads about every two minutes. But no notice was taken of the shots, as we hadn’t a ghost of a notion where the old chap was, and no damage was done. About 2 o’clock in the afternoon we camped. The camp was on rather an exposed place, an elevated clearing with bush country all round, and the hills forming the sides of the valley in the middle distance on each side of us. The 38th were at the foremost edge of this clearing with the North Lancs (infantry) and artillery behind us, and Lord Methuen’s tent not far behind, and to the right of these. After picketing and feeding horses and having lunch ourselves, we retired to various shady spots for the usual siesta in which every man indulges on trek whenever he possibly can. I took Pearson's and my blanket and retired under a low tree at the edge of the clearing, and after reading a bit I dropped off to sleep. I don’t know how long I had been sleeping when I awoke suddenly without knowing what woke me, and looking towards the camp saw a cloud of dust and a kicking, struggling crowd of half- awakened men in the North Lancs lines. A shell had lit right amongst the “bivvies ” of the sleeping infantry. A few seconds and then the well-known “boom! ” from the kopjes in front of us, the scream of a shell over our heads, and another “thud” in about the same spot We all rushed back to our horses, rolled up our blankets, hurled them on the waggon, and saddled up. Meantime about five or six more shells had crashed into the camp, every one passing over the 38th. Two or three burst among the artillery and four horses were killed. One was said to have passed through the general’s tent At last our artillery recovered from their surprise, and when they once began they found the enemy in a marvellously short space of time and silenced him. What the damage was I never knew for certain, beyond that two or three of the North Lancs had been killed, some wounded, and four artillery horses killed. Whether any of the artillerymen were touched I don’t know. Some infantry were “sent out in extended order to reconnoitre, and we led our horses, and incidentally ourselves, off the more exposed clearing into the shelter of the trees beyond. But mere was no more firing that night

The next day we marched on towards Zeerust, expecting another fight, but we arrived there without opposition, and once more camped outside that town. I do not know whether General Douglas’ column had joined us the day before, or was already at Zeerust, but he was in camp with us.

Parent Category: Books
Category: Gaskell: With Lord Methuen in South Africa
Hits: 177