The next few days, from October 19th to 24th, were occupied in taking ox convoys half-way to Ottoshoop, outpost work round Zeerust, and other duties, and nothing worthy of mention occurred except one rather sharp fight which we had about 6 miles out of Zeerust, in which the gallant Captain Gordon Wood, of the Shropshire Yeomanry, was killed. It was said that he was wounded, and a bullet struck him while he was being carried to the ambulance on a stretcher. The Boers stuck very well to their kopjes that day, and we returned to Zeerust without having done much.
On the 25th we marched once more from Zeerust, and arrived at a place by a stream, a few miles on this side of Ottoshoop, named Buffelshoek, where some Australians had been camping for some time. Before we got there the Boers shelled the camp, and there were a few casualties. “Australians took our best horses, and went after commando, broke it up, and captured waggons. Australians keen to go out as they have seen no fighting yet. Let ‘em go by all means, say O.” - diary.
“... We are left here (all Methuen’s Yeomanry) to garrison a few kopjes round here (Buffelshoek) for a week or so, while he goes off with tne bushmen after the Boers. We have had a lot of fighting lately, mainly because this is bush veldt, and they stand better. Both our pom-poms were broken, but we have got two new ones from Mafeking, and M. has taken them. It is Delarey they are after. Most of our officers have got leave for Cape Town or Pretoria. Lord Chesham has gone to Pretoria to arrange with Roberts about our going home, it is said. . . . We have at last got some of .the ‘luxuries ’ bought with the I.Y. Fund. A box between five men. I send the list. Grand, isn’t it ? The rainy season has begun; last night and the night before it came down in torrents and washed us out. In fact, I slept peacefully in an inch of water, and rain pelting down on the blankets, as a loose horse knocked over our ‘shanty.’ But we have rigged up a ‘bivvie’ with a bamboo framework and a trench all round it, which will defy any weather, I think. This isn’t much of a letter. I have been having rather a bad time of it with ‘face-ache ’ lately. I think it must be ‘de Wet’ (?)”
R. and I had not much chance to use our carefully-built edifice, as a day or two later the camp was served out with tents, and as the weather was very rainy, we were very glad to get them. This was now the fifth time we had been under canvas since we had come out. First at Queenstown, in March, for ten days; next at Carters Ridge, Kimberley, also in March, for four days; then at Boshof, in April and May, for about five weeks; and then a long gap till Mafeking, in September, for ten days. As long as we were not on duty we kept dry, reading, sleeping, eating, smoking, and writing letters in our tents; but every third day we were out on outpost and got well soaked, having to ride out in tne early morning, remain out all day, generally in a slow, steady drizzle, sometimes enlivened by a terrific downpour, under leaden skies, and come into camp in the evening. It was this sort of weather, I think, that caused the toothache, of which I had a good deal at this time.
We remained at Buflfelshoek, or Hock, till 2nd November, when we were on outpost till 3 in the afternoon, when camp hroke, and we left our posts and followed. “Pouring torrents rain all day,” diarist remarks. We moved to where Methuen now was, only 3 miles up the road towards Zeerust Next day some of the 38th were told off to go into Ottoshoop to fetch remounts. Never shall I forget the sights we presented that morning as the dawn broke, and showed us splashing along, drenched men and drenched horses. Never had my greatcoat hung so heavily on my shoulders since those wet marches in Griqualand West, our first experiences of campaigning. We were all wet through, and R. and I laughed somewhat savagely together over it. “Fearful night last night,” entered in the diary. We had dug ourselves “graves,” i.e., raised up a portion of ground to sleep on, with a deep trench all round; covered ourselves with mackintosh sheets, but all to no purpose; and we were all washed out before midnight, but slept on in desperation, rain or no rain. On the way in we proceeded in very open order, at least No. 3 did, as they were scouting, and I had got separated from the others in some wooded country, when I suddenly came upon a little sort of fortress not 50 yards from me. It was composed of a wall, about 5 feet high, stoutly built of rocks placed one on top of another, with branches placed along the top, the whole surmounting a slight hillock or knoll in the rocky ground. Over this wall two heads in slouch hats regarded me fixedly, seeing me long before I saw them, doubtless hearing my horse’s footsteps. I pulled up at once, my first thought being that they were Boers, but a moment’s reflection reminded me that we were now near Ottoshoop, which was occupied by our troops, and that this was probably an outpost I walked my horse up to the little fortress, and asked the two heads, whose, four eyes still regarded me curiously, if I was right for Ottoshoop? The heads nodded, and said, “Yes, straight on,” and straight on I went, and soon after rejoined my troop close outside the village. We crossed a drift, and after half an hours wait, during which we had spread our greatcoats out to try and get them dry, our new horses came up, driven by niggers. Each man took three, one to ride himself and two to lead. I got hold of a little chestnut pony, very sleek, and looking better bred than the average, which I hoped would turn out well. About a mile outside the place on our way home we halted and dismounted for some reason or another. I sat down on a rock, holding my three horses, and pulled out a piece of biscuit. In a short time I was surprised to see, on looking down, a large mouse, or a small rat, I don’t know which, calmly nibbling at some crumbs of biscuit which I had dropped, within 6 inches of my feet He did not seem in the least inclined to run away, and even when I stroked his head he only gave a little start and went on eating, though mere were men talking and horses stamping all round him. He remained there for about five minutes, and then quietly trotted back under the rock on which I was sitting.
Nov. 4th, Sunday.—Church parade and horses out to graze. 5th.—”Reveille ” at 3.30, and on outpost all day. 6th.—In camp. I wrote a letter from which I give extract:—
“The day before yesterday (Sunday) Methuen said, in his usual post-church parade address, that we were now doing more good than we ever had done before in the present campaign. He said he had always urged that the best way to deal with the Boers was not to rush about the country after them, but to demolish all the farms, crops, and land around, in fact, as he said, ‘thoroughly denude the country.’ He also said that, though it might perhaps be more irksome to him and to us to stay in one place (here a smile went round, because, as a matter of fact, a spell of camp life after 1 and 2 and 3 o’clock ‘revallys,’ and march, march, march, day after day, is much appreciated), yet we could rest assured that, by showing the Boers in this manner that we English possessed determination coupled with gentleness (ahem!), we should be most likely to end the war. He also said that de Wet, Botha, and Steyn were at Elands River, about 15 miles from here, a short time ago, but that Steyn had gone south with no followers, by himself, in a Cape cart, Botha had gone north, and there were probably only 600 or 700 men there. There were four columns round them, Clements and Paget on the Rustenburg side, and Douglas, sent by himself (Methuen), on this side, with us here. So it looks as if they ought to get collared soon.”
The mail went out in the afternoon, and the 38th turned out to escort the mail cart into Ottoshoop. When we got there we were pleased to hear that we were to stop the night, and after off-saddling in a grassy courtyard in the town, we set off to the nearest store to spend our money. Every one, I think, bought the usual things, food and tobacco, and, indeed, there was nothing else to buy. R. and I came back laden with Worcester sauce, tins of jam and sardines, bread, Quaker oats, and any amount of condensed milk. Whether it was the scarcity of sugar or what I don’t know, but all through the campaign I noticed that the great craving of the men was for something sweet, and a rush was always made for a split sugar sack on the convoy, men scraping sugar from the hole (widening it a great deal accidentally in the process, of course) and eating it out of their hands. So that jam and condensed milk formed a large part of our supplies, and that evening we sat down to as gorgeous a “feed ” as we had had for a long time. One man I saw finished off a whole tin of milk at a sitting, punching two holes in the top in the approved fashion, one to let the air in and the other to let the milk out, and sucking it down with great gusto.
Next day we remained till 3, and then took a convoy of a few waggons back to Methuen’s camp. All our private effects which we could not carry on ourselves or our horses had to be stuffed into our rolls of bedding, which were carried on the waggon. On going for mine when we reached camp, I saw at once that it had been run over, as there were great wheel marks across it, and it showed signs of having been dragged in the mud. As my whole store of good things (bought the previous day at Ottoshoop) were in the bundle, it was with some trepidation that I took it back to the lines and opened it The havoc that had been made of my larder was not beautiful to look upon. I would never have believed that two mere tins of condensed milk could have wreaked such devastation on things in general as had those I had unsuspectingly packed into my blanket a few hours previously. They were both burst open by the weight of the waggon passing over them; and socks, jersey, writing paper, and everything else were mere units in the vast expanse of condensed milk which covered everything. The funny part of it was that a bottle of Worcester sauce emerged from the wreck, sticky indeed, but unbroken. I scraped as much as I could off the blanket and laid it out on the grass. There was no means of washing it, and I wondered vaguely how condensed milk behaved under those circumstances—whether it dried, or got stickier and stickier, or set hard, or what Any faint hopes that I may have entertained that it “would make the blanket waterproof,” as one man suggested, were destined to be dashed to the ground, as it rained hard in the night, and my sticky blanket proved but a broken reed. There were some ill-timed jests about my being under the “milky way,” I remember.
8th Nov.—At 3 in the afternoon of the next day we broke camp (having struck tents the day before) and marcned once more. There was one little incident affecting me personally during our camp in this place which I have forgotten to mention. One day—the day we escorted the mail to Ottoshoop—I went across to the R.A.M.C. to try and get a tooth, which had been aching a good deal, taken out. A walk of a quarter of a mile brought me to the place where they were camped, and I asked a Tommy where I should go to get it pulled out for me. He directed me to a tent where a sergeant, or a sergeant-major, perhaps, was sitting writing. I told him I had toothache, and wanted a tooth drawn. He looked at me for a moment, and then gave vent to the following remark:—
" Are you sick ? ”
“No,” I said, “but I want a tooth pulled out.”
“Yes, but are you sick ? ”
“How do you mean sick ? I only want a tooth ___”
“Yes, but do you wish to report yourself as sick?"
“No, I want a tooth drawn.”
“You can’t have it done unless you get a corporal of your lot to report you as sick. Go and get the report and bring it here."
“But surely there is some doctor here who would pull it out for me now? It wouldn’t take half a minute.”
The worthy sergeant returned to his papers. “No,” he said; “you can’t have it done unless you do as I tell you.”
So I had to “hold my jaw ” in more senses than one, and trudge back to camp, just in time to find every one saddling up to escort the mail, as I have previously mentioned, and that tooth remained in situ. This was about the purest example of army red tape that I ever came across.
But to resume. Marching all the afternoon of the 8th, we encamped that night, with no blankets, as we were to start again at midnight This we did, and marched till 10 o’clock of the morning of the 9th, being close on the heels of a party of Boers. We stayed in camp all the rest of that day, and at 1.30 the following morning started off again, and, coming in touch with the enemy at daybreak, started a running fight, which lasted till the evening, when we rode into Lichtenberg, having captured a pompom. We were very glad when the next day we were moved into the church, as the weather was becoming very rainy again. “Slept under a roof for first time since I landed,” says the diarist.
On the 12th a few men went out as escort to some waggons.
On the 13th I formed one of an outpost which started for an outlying farm at 3 a.m. We spent a nice lazy day there, with our horses in a kraal. Some men played halfpenny nap, and others went and sat in the Boer lady’s kitchen and talked sweet nothings. I took a few photographs.
Extract from a letter of 14th November will give an account of our doings on the night of the 14th.
“We had all turned in after being on outpost all day, when they came round waking the men up, and shouting ‘Parade 12.40. Parade 12.40!’ So I knew it was one of our usual surprise packets, and that something was up. We rode about 12 or 15 miles, and came upon their picket in the (this) morning. They fired three shots (at us, I suppose, but I did not hear any bullets) to alarm the commando, and then rushed off. The mounted men (there were no infantry, of course) spread out to the left and right (I was left), and on galloping up a small rise we saw them about a mile off in an open plain. Some were already scooting away, but the majority were absolutely paralysed, and we saw them as a black mass, moving to and fro. I suppose they were saddling up for all they were worth and getting their kit together. They hardly fired a shot. But our guns were late—very bad. We cantered more round to their left, and then dismounted, and fired at them to give the guns (especially the pom-pom) time to get on to them. But five precious minutes were wasted, and in those five minutes they had all got on the move, and were going away like greased lightning. The guns put one shell into them, and then at last the pom-pom came up and had a try, but did no damage that I saw. So we galloped on and left the guns behind.
“Then began the longest chase (without a break; of course it was nothing to de-Wetting) we have ever had. We had them in sight all the while, and as we were just behind the advance, and soon worked up level with them, we had a free run. After going about 2 miles we all got higgledy-piggledy. There was one troop of the 37th in front, then came the 38th, with 43rd, Paget’s Horse, and Bushmen a long way behind. We got all amongst / the 37th and went through them, and had no one but the Boers in front of us. We went grandly, and I had a good horse. It was a survival of the fittest Many horses dropped back, and we got in front of Mac., our lieutenant, and finally left him behind. There were about 20 of us trailing across country. We put up a covey of them from a farmhouse down in a hollow, and one fellow galloped off by himself over a rise across to my right. So I got off and had a bang at him, but missed, and he went on and disappeared over the rise; but it was at a long range. We ‘pushed the pursuit,’ as they say in the papers, for 5 miles, and then came back. It is no good, you know, they can do two to our one; besides, we had had a long night march, and they were fresh. We only got two prisoners, I hear. That is the second ‘surprise,’ both for ourselves and the Boers, that we have done since I wrote last. The first time we were more successful; got a pompom and some waggons” (this was a different occasion to that mentioned under date Nov. 10th) “and 30 prisoners. We were out scouting on the right, and passed over their camp. They couldn’t have been gone half an hour, because I got off to sniff about and see what I could find, and found their fires all alight, and by one of them a ‘billy ’ full of hot coffee which the owner had left hurriedly. Now this was just what I wanted. The coffee was awful; made of maize corn burnt and ground up as a substitute for real beans, so I threw that away, but appropriated the ‘billy,’ which I now always use to make my cocoa in. By the way, we are quartered in a church here. We came in from the camp outside the town because it began to rain again. There was a concert here in the church the day before yesterday, when Methuen took the chair. Of course, nothing is destroyed or damaged in the church, and it has a nice boarded floor and green baize doors, so we are very comfortable and dry. … We remained “in church” all day, and at night a picket, including R. and self, were sent out 800 to 900 yards beyond the outskirts of the village. We were on a flat plain near a spruit, and it rained incessantly the whole night through. This so delighted the bull-frogs in the spruit that they filled the air with the sound of their croakings all night, and if the enemy had come, I am sure we could not have heard him; and as we could not see 10 yards before our noses, we could not have seen .him either. We got back to our church before dawn, and saddled up for a long march towards Ottoshoop. The diarist records a thunderstorm at 5 in the afternoon.
On the 17th a start was made at 3.30 a.m., and the mounted men made a flank movement, but did not find. We arrived at Ottoshoop in the evening. R. and I made a “booby-hutch ” or “bivvie” of blankets supported on a framework of rifles and reims, in which we lay all the next day.
19th.—Start at 3.30 a.m. We marched out of Ottoshoop to Botha’s farm on the way to Zeerust, and R. and I were on fatigue duty all day.
“Revally ” at 6 on the 20th, and a march to Zeerust, where we again took advantage of a church (that church I was to know so well afterwards) to stow ourselves and our kits.
21st.—A smoking concert held in the church. One of Paget’s Horse distinguished himself in some very good sketches, imitations of actors, etc.
22nd.—The 38th went out as escort to an Intelligence officer to a farm where there was a steam mill. The Boers were turning over a lot of flour here, so the mill was rendered useless, and the safety valve was taken away, which R. carried. At midnight we went out on a reconnaissance in force, heard guns, and came back, having seen no enemy. Diarist says— “Mounted men at 1.30 midnight went to Jacobsdal. Heard Hart’s guns quite near, but Boers would not come our way, so returned to Zeerust”
Extract from letter dated 23rd November.— “I am writing this in the funny little parlour of a private house, where you can get tea here. It is ripping to sit in a cane-bottom chair again. It is perfectly roasting to-day. We are in a church again, and have been here for four days, and are likely to stop another day or two.” (I little thought as I wrote that that I was going to stop there six months.) “There are sports on Saturday, and I am down to play three- quarter back in a Rugby match, 38th v. 39th and 40th squadrons, to-morrow. We had another midnight parade last night, and marched about 8 miles towards Buffelshoek, our old camp between here and Ottoshoop. I know this district by heart now, we have been pottering about here for so long.
“I had the misfortune to either lose, or (as I am almost certain) have stolen, my purse, containing £2 10s. and a lot of Kruger coins. We have pay due to us, and I am likely to get a couple of pounds again shortly, so I am all right, but still, it is annoying. ... As to our midnight escapade, when we got near Buffelshoek we stopped in a little village, Jacobsdal, and remained there four hours, and then came back. We heard some guns going in the distance, I suppose, of some other column.”
This letter was written in a very shaky hand, as I had just had a tumble. On returning from Jacobsdal I set out on foot for a store on the other side of the village. On the way I bought a loaf of bread at one of the houses, and was walking along the middle of the road hugging my precious loaf (I had not tasted bread since 6th October at Ottoshoop) when I was overtaken by some loose horses which came cantering along behind me with only head-ropes on. I chose the likeliest-looking one and grabbed his arm as he passed, but I soon found I had more than I bargained for, for I had only one hand, as the other was holding the loaf, and when at last I did succeed in mounting him, and tried to control him with the head-rope, he quickly shot me off on the other side. I alighted with all my weight on my right hand and gave it a nasty jar. I picked up myself and my loaf, which I dusted carefully, and walked on to the store a sadder and a wiser man. My wrist and hand had even then begun to swell, and were very painful, and I remember the difficulty I had in getting my hand into my pocket to fish out the change. I bought the usual necessaries and came back, and showed my now useless hand to a doctor, having written the above letter in a house on the way back. It was the front room of a small house kept by an old Irishman, Mills by name, who gave you what we considered an excellent dinner for 2s., and was much patronised. I was handed over to the tender mercies of an R.A.M. sergeant, who bound up my wrist very tightly with an atrocious splint of a sort I have never seen before or since, with an iron-wire framework. This he bound on, with no padding between it and the wrist, and the end jammed tightly against my swollen palm, leaving the hand free. However, I bore this instrument of torture all night, but, of course, did not get a wink of sleep. Then the next afternoon, when my hand was swollen to about twice its normal size, and of a sort of dull, blackish grey, and the pain perfectly unbearable, I went to hospital and demanded that the doctor should see it.
Luckily it was not the same man as I had seen before, and when the sergeant conducted me to his presence, he had the splint unbound, said I had a very bad hand, and must come to hospital. A man was sent up for my blankets, etc., and I slept in a bed for the first time for nearly a year.
The next day I had to keep my hand in a sort of tin-bath arrangement for a long time, and had evaporating lotions applied. In the morning I asked the man who attended me, who seemed a decent sort, when I should get back to my lot. " What lot’s that ? ” he asked. I told him I was with Methuen’s Yeomanry. “Well,” he said, “I expect you’ll rejoin them in a few days when they come back.” I asked him where they had gone, and he said that the whole of Methuen’s column, with the exception of a few troops he had left as garrison, had gone the night before.