A week was more than enough in which to exhaust all the charms that A Company could find round about its dusty camp at Maitland. The fragrance from woodland belts of pine and eucalyptus trees soon began to pall; there was little to refresh the eye in that changeless view across unbroken flats, where a grey haze hung morning, noon, and eve, veiling the distant mountains northward; the beauty of Table Mountain, as seen from there, with kloof-fretted steeps towering up to the clouds, is not a joy for ever; and Cape Town shows its least attractive side towards Maitland, which in itself is the embodiment of suburban dreariness, having but two places of entertainment—a swimming bath and an observatory. As admission to the latter can only be gained by a special permit from the Astronomer Royal, Lumsden’s Horse had few opportunities to appreciate the wild dissipation of ascending its quaint old tower, which, indeed, most of them mistook for a dismantled windmill. And the amusements that Cape Town offers to soldiers of less than commissioned rank had few temptations for troopers of Lumsden’s Horse. Mount Nelson, with its gay crowd of fair women and maimed heroes, was to them but a vision of the life that had been. How those dainty damsels would have been shocked to see a trooper in weather-stained khaki and ammunition boots treading the glades and terraced heights of that South African Olympus! But not more shocked than a man of Lumsden’s Horse would have felt at finding himself in such a situation. Ridiculous prejudice, of course, and to be condemned by all right-thinking people in whose opinion the soldier’s uniform is a badge of honour. Yes! but like many other badges it has to be worn with a difference; and nobody knows better than those who have tried the experiment of putting it on that a private soldier’s service kit is not the garb in which one would choose to appear where fashion and beauty congregate. A man may have served through a whole campaign in the lowest ranks, obedient to every command, however humiliating or distasteful, and not have felt the yoke gall him half so sorely as it does when he first realises the social inferiority that it implies. Let us have done with cant and confess at once that a man who puts on the common soldier’s uniform for active service, whether he be Volunteer or Regular, thereby renounces all claims to the rights and privileges of a gentleman. The gay haunts of a city are not for him then, if he cherishes his self-respect, and the troopers of Lumsden’s Horse had that truth impressed upon them long before their week of rest at Cape Town came to an end. They were no more squeamish than others, and their experiences in this direction have been shared by every Yeomanry corps and Volunteer detachment, after the first burst of enthusiasm on their account exhausted itself. Cheerful endurance of these things may be counted not least among the merits of men who gave up much to serve their country in her hour of need, and to ignore them would be to misunderstand the nature of many sacrifices made by the rank-and-file of a regiment like Lumsden’s Horse. In times more propitious they would have appreciated fully all the charms that Cape Town can offer; but, as it was, the parting had no great pang for them, and A Company hailed with unalloyed delight the order for an advance northward into the land of infinite possibilities. There was to be no route marching for that detachment, the Cape Colony lines being comparatively clear of troop traffic; so that the prospect of reaching Bloemfontein by rail without serious interruption seemed almost a certainty. It was on Friday, March 30, that Colonel Lumsden received, direct from headquarters, the welcome intimation that he and his two companies were wanted at the front. Colonel Lumsden naturally felt himself very fortunate in receiving orders by which his corps was chosen for active service while Regular regiments and Yeomanry companies waited impatiently at the base in Cape Town; but Lord Roberts needed mounted troops more than infantry just then. Everybody accepted this as the first real step of the great march on which their hearts were set, and its crowning triumph at Pretoria. They were not to be out of it after all. And we may be sure that they wanted no second call when the warning came for them to get their kits packed and be ready for a start by train the next morning. This was glad news for all except four unfortunate troopers who, much to their sorrow, had to be left in hospital at Cape Town. These were James Lee-Stewart, of whose case Colonel Lumsden wrote a week or so earlier; Knyvitt Boileau, of Tyrhoot; Hubert Noel Shaw, of Palumpur; and John Canute Doyle, of the Transport Detachment. Of others, who were invalids on the voyage, Howard Hickley had quite recovered, and Clayton-Daubeny, pleading hard that he was quite fit to ride and shoot, in spite of a broken collar-bone, got permission to rejoin his section for duty. So keen were the men to be near the fighting line that they have hardly recorded their impressions of the strange country through which they passed; and but for an incidental note here and there, like the opening paragraph of the following letter, we might almost imagine that profound peace reigned throughout the country. Yet the letter was dated only three days after our troops had suffered so heavily at Sanna’s Post. Writing on the morning of April 3, a trooper whose letters were sent to the ‘Englishman’ said:—
It is wonderful to think that this very afternoon we shall be in Bloemfontein, and may see the great old man whose masterly tactics have so completely turned the tide of war.
On Friday we heard the line was clear, and this news was quickly followed by a warning to hold ourselves in readiness. Immediately on top came the order to be at the railway station the following day by 1 o’clock. A mighty packing up of kit and piling up of supplies resulted in a successful transference of our goods and chattels to the station by the appointed time, and at 6 o’clock we steamed out of Cape Town in two trains, one following the other. When we left camp ammunition was served out, fifty rounds a man, and the weight of it has not added to our comfort.
The railway journey has proved very pleasant so far. However, some slight description of how we are packed aboard may be interesting. We heard, with no little misgiving, that we were to be eight in a compartment, for we expected nothing but the ordinary straight-backed wooden carriage, and no chance of lying down at all during the three days to be occupied in journeying to the Free State capital. So it was a pleasant surprise to find first-class corridor carriages comfortably upholstered in leather, with sleeping accommodation in each compartment for four men at a time. There were one or two second-class carriages equally comfortable, with the additional advantage of an extra tier of berths, accommodating six sleepers, one on the floor and one in the passage, and the whole boiling of us slept the sleep of the just the whole night through. Rations consisted of tinned corned beef and biscuits, suspiciously like dog biscuits, but good to eat nevertheless—for people with sharks’ teeth and stomachs of brass. But nearly everywhere we stopped there were coffee-shops, where you paid sixpence for everything, and an ordinary chota hazri sort of meal ran up to about half-a-crown. As we travel up country we find everything very dear, and we wonder Government does not make some effort to arrange that the troops should be supplied with tinned goods at reasonable prices. If private contractors can get stuff up, certainly Government, which has first call on the railways, can too.
The horses—poor devils!—are packed ten, eleven, and twelve in a cattle-truck, and the way they kick at times is a caution. All along the train the trucks are broken and splintered. Oh! for the luxury of our Indian horseboxes. However, three times a day we manage to feed and water the poor brutes, and though their meals are somewhat scratch they don’t do so badly. Forage is of the best—splendid compressed hay, and English oats and bran.
De Aar was the first place of real interest we came to, and there we beheld a battered armoured train, covered with bullet marks. Then we touched at Naauwpoort, which was crowded with soldiers. The train stopped just opposite Rensburg, so we got out and had a game of football, with an empty tin for ball and broken saddles for goal-posts, right on the place where the battle of Rensburg had been fought a few months previously. From there we could see the flat-topped broken cone of Cole’s Kop rising from a rock-roughened plain like a huge step-pyramid, with sheer escarpments, up which the Naval Brigade hauled two fifteen-pounders by means of a wire rope, and struck terror into the Boers at Colesberg when those guns opened fire from that apparently inaccessible height. Afterwards came Norval’s Pont, where we prepared to cross the Orange River. Unluckily, we crossed at 1 in the morning, when very little could be seen. It is wonderful how the Sappers have repaired the bridge. We spun across in pontoons with the water swirling within two feet of us. Shortly after crossing the river we were halted and ordered to draw another fifty rounds of ammunition per man, and to post two sentries to each carriage; every man to wear his bandolier, have his rifle handy, and be ready to turn out at a moment’s notice. Firing had been heard that evening, and there was no doubt Boers were in the vicinity. Later, some thirty miles south of Bloemfontein, we heard that the troops stationed to protect the railway line had been out in the surrounding kopjes during the night, and that a Boer commando, 600 strong, had been seen travelling south. So we are bang in the thick of it now, and ere many more hours have passed we shall be within sound of the firing, for we hear fighting is going on steadily to the north of Bloemfontein. The men are in splendid spirits and health, and wild to get a turn at the enemy. Altogether we have every reason to congratulate ourselves on the comfortable and speedy journey we have made to the front.
The man who could regard De Aar—sun-scorched, arid, dust-stifled De Aar—as the first place of interest on that long railway journey, simply because an armoured train ‘covered with bullet marks’ was standing in the station, must have been in a very warlike frame of mind indeed. But perhaps the comfortable railway travelling, so conducive to the ‘sleep of the just,’ may account for much. Probably the slumberous heat of afternoon had caused him to doze before the train slowed down at Stellenbosch, which was a place of much notoriety at the time; and picturesque, too, with its great oak avenues, dating from a day when Commandant Van der Stel, the planter of them, was there with his young wife in the very foreposts of Dutch civilisation, not much more than thirty miles from Cape Town; and more picturesque still because of its quaint thatched houses as old as the oaks. Stellenbosch is a great centre of education, and, according to the guide-books, it has a home for the training of a limited number of poor whites. We know the ‘poor whites’ for whose training a home was provided at Stellenbosch about the time when A Company of Lumsden’s Horse passed that way and afterwards. They were mostly officers of high rank who had not distinguished themselves, and for whom a refuge had to be found where they could do no greater mischief than send useless remounts from that depôt to the front. So Stellenbosch grew in repute, and visits to it (without return tickets) were so frequent, that an expressive verb had to be coined for use in everyday conversation. The phrase ‘I’ll be Stellenbosched if I do,’ became quite familiar, and many a gallant officer knew to his cost what it meant. Rustication in that old Dutch settlement under leafy arcades, where, in ordinary times, ‘the stillness of the cloisters reigns,’ was not the only penalty. These, however, were things not known to recent arrivals like Lumsden’s Horse, who might have met and hobnobbed with the latest candidate for Stellenbosch and have been none the wiser. So they went on their way thinking nothing of the old Dutch town and its new notoriety, and in the darkness of night, when the new moon showed no more than a crescent thread of silver, were winding by sharp curves and steep gradients up the kloofs of Hex River Mountains towards the Great Karroo. Lumsden’s troopers saw little of the glorious landscape that is opened up at that height. Those who were not asleep had no light to see it by but the cold light of the stars, and that seemed to be swallowed up in the depths of impenetrable shadow, except where the lamps of Worcester Town, in the plains 2,500 feet below, twinkled like feeble reflections on a wine-dark sea. Then the swift dawn came, and when the sun rose they were crossing the Great Karroo, which at that time of year—the true winter of Cape Colony—wore its least attractive garb. Bare patches of sandy soil gaped between scattered clumps of blue-green scrub, where a month or so later it would be glowing with the purple and gold and scarlet flowers of lilies and asters innumerable, and the gorgeous crowns of mesembryanthemums of every conceivable shade, from white through primrose and orange to the deepest crimson. In its winter state the Great Karroo brings back to travellers of wide African experience clear memories of the Northern Soudan. In all chief physical features the two regions, so widely separated, are curiously alike. Here are pyramidal mountains with flat-topped crowns rising wall-like above the conical base exactly resembling the ‘Jebels’ on which one has looked with weary eyes, day after day, through the rippling heat of the Soudan deserts. In some parts of the Karroo these mountains close upon narrow gorges, along which the railway winds, and its sudden turns round rocky buttresses seem so familiar to one who knows the old military line above Wady Halfa that he can imagine himself travelling once more through the desolate Batn el Hagar towards Khartoum. To men for whom the rugged Karroo had no such associations with the land of mysterious fascination, there may well have been a wearisome monotony in the unvarying repetition of similar forms—the vast plains whereon no tree bigger than the Acacia horrida grows, and where the houses, if any, are so widely separated that they only serve to deepen the impression of melancholy solitude; the waterless rivers, the bare brown kops. For full appreciation of the Karroo one must have breathed its invigorating air from childhood, and seen it in seasons of beauty with all the glory of its summer raiment on. De Aar Junction is no more than a huge collection of railway sheds and equally hideous houses set in the most barren plain of the Great Karroo; but Lumsden’s Horse saw it busy with many signs of military preparation for a forward movement, and so it seemed to them the very gateway of the fateful future, in the shaping of which they were to have a hand. That night they crossed the Orange River at Norval’s Pont, where Railway Pioneers, mostly skilled artificers from the Johannesburg mines, under Major Seymour—‘the greatest of mechanical engineers,’ as Colonel Girouard styled him—were hard at work, night and day, repairing the broken bridge, while baggage was being transferred by the wire trolly high overhead. Lumsden’s Horse crossed the pontoon ‘deviation’ to a train on the farther side, and when morning dawned they were journeying slowly—with many precautions against possible surprises by marauding Boers—to the goal of their hopes. Bloemfontein was reached by A Company in the afternoon of April 3, when they went into camp at Rustfontein, two miles from the town, and became part of the 8th M.I. Regiment, under the command of that very able leader, Colonel ‘Watty’ Ross, whose portrait appears on the opposite page. Of him Colonel Lumsden writes: ‘No better man could have been chosen to command a body of Irregular Horse. Capable, tactful, with a keen eye for a country, and a man hard to beat in the saddle, he was in fact an ideal leader at the game he had to play. We were under his command from the time the 8th M.I. was formed at Bloemfontein, early in April 1900, taking part in every action of that eventful march to Pretoria, and the 8th M.I. had the honour of scouting in front of headquarters throughout.’ After the memorable June 5, when the capital of the South African Republic fell into our hands, Lumsden’s Horse were placed for some time on communications at Irene and Kalfontein, but their Colonel, tiring of this inaction, applied to General Smith-Dorrien for more congenial employment. His wish was shortly afterwards gratified, and Lumsden’s Horse, with mutual regrets on both sides, were transferred to another column, thus severing their connection with the 8th M.I. and the leader whose soldierly qualities had endeared him to all ranks. Their respect for him found appropriate expression long afterwards, when every man of the corps, from Colonel Lumsden downwards, subscribed for a badge, the regimental ‘LH’ in diamonds, and this they presented to Mrs. Ross in token of their admiration for her husband as a commander and in appreciation of the considerate kindness he had shown to all ranks while they served under him. That the admiration was not all on one side may be gathered from an incident that occurred some time after Lumsden’s Horse were embodied with the 8th Mounted Infantry Corps, and Colonel Lumsden thinks justly that no better proof could be given of the able and smart class of men he had in his command than the following remark from Colonel Ross: ‘Lumsden, whenever I ask you to send me an A.D.C. or galloper, never mind sending me one of your officers; your troopers are just the class I want.’
Some months after the severance of associations that had been so pleasant for commander and commanded, when Lumsden’s Horse had seen their last of South African fighting, Colonel Ross had the lower part of his face shattered by a bullet while attacking a Boer position at Bothaville with the gallant dash which his old comrades remember so well. In that fight De Wet’s forces were completely routed, and lost nearly all their artillery; but the victory was not achieved without heavy sacrifices on our side. Colonel Le Gallais, who commanded the Mounted Infantry, and also Captain Williams, formerly Staff-Officer of the 8th M.I. Corps under Colonel Ross, were killed, while going to the assistance of their brother-officer; and, in the same fight, Lieutenant Percy Smith, who had gained honours as a trooper of Lumsden’s Horse at Ospruit when he went out with his Colonel to bring in a helpless comrade, was wounded in the performance of a gallant action by which he won the D.S.O.
For the sake of finishing a story events have been somewhat anticipated, and B Company may resent the interpolation, at this stage, of a flattering comment that belongs properly to a later period. In the actions from which Colonel Ross formed his high opinion of Lumsden’s troopers, B Company had taken its full share. Before resuming touch with the movements of that body, however, reference must be made to another incident in which A Company had the proud distinction of representing the whole corps. The occasion was a visit on April 4 by Lord Roberts, who, after inspecting the company, called out and shook hands with Trooper Hugh Blair, whose brother, an officer of the Royal Engineers, had been badly wounded in the Candahar campaign. The Commander-in-Chief then made a brief speech to Colonel Lumsden and his troopers. Of this no shorthand note or transcription from mental tablets seems to have been made, but its meaning is probably expressed in the following letter which Lord Roberts wrote to Sir P. Playfair, C.I.E., Chairman of the Executive Committee of Lumsden’s Horse: ‘Dear Sir Patrick,—Many thanks for your letter of February 26. A few evenings ago I had great pleasure in inspecting Lumsden’s Horse immediately after their arrival here. I sent a telegram to the Viceroy to inform him that I had done so. They are a workmanlike, useful lot. I am sure they will do splendidly in whatever position they may be placed. It is most gratifying to hear the way in which the corps was raised. The sum subscribed by the public generally is the proof of the patriotism of the subscribers, especially Colonel Lumsden himself. You will have seen in the papers that we are detained here for a while until we can refit, but when this is done we shall move northward. I am confident that during our advance Lumsden’s Horse will do credit to themselves and to India. Believe me, yours very truly, (Signed) ROBERTS.’
A few days after that inspection the Commander-in-Chief sent to Colonel Lumsden a telegram he had received from the Viceroy. Lord Roberts’s secretary wrote as follows: ‘Dear Colonel Lumsden,—The Field-Marshal asks me to send you the enclosed telegram from the Viceroy, and to say that he fully agrees with the last sentence of it.—Yours sincerely, H.V. Cowan, Colonel, Military Secretary.’ Lord Curzon’s telegram said: ‘Lord Roberts, Bloemfontein.—We are delighted to hear of your kind reception of our Indian Volunteer contingent, and hope that they may have a chance of going to the front, where we are confident of their ability to distinguish themselves.—VICEROY.’
Carrying on the narrative from this point, but leaving the lighter incidents of life in Bloemfontein for other pens to chronicle, Colonel Lumsden deals briefly in his diary with the remaining period of A Company’s isolation, and brings it down to the day when the corps was to be reunited under his command. With natural gratification at the position assigned to him, he says:
General Ian Hamilton is to command a division of 10,000 Mounted Infantry, of which Colonel Ridley’s brigade forms nearly a half, consisting of four corps of about 1,200 strong each. We are embodied with the 8th Mounted Infantry Corps, consisting of Loch’s Horse, ourselves, and various companies of Mounted Infantry from Regular battalions, under the command of Colonel Ross. Both Colonels Ridley and Ross are well known in India, and we are fortunate in being under their command and in having such a dashing divisional commander as General Ian Hamilton. Our first camp in Bloemfontein proved a sickly one, water being scarce owing to the Boers having blown up the waterworks and cut off the main supply. This, no doubt, has been the cause of numerous cases of dysentery, and our camp was shifted yesterday to a healthier locality, with a more plentiful water supply. Strange to say, we have had an attack of mumps among the men, emanating, we believe, from a native servant who developed that disease on board ship. I regret to say that Captain Beresford had to be taken to hospital yesterday, suffering from an acute attack of dysentery; but a few days of careful dieting will enable him to rejoin us, I hope. B Company, owing to the congested state of the railway traffic from Cape Town to Bloemfontein, was landed at East London, to proceed thence by rail to join us. Transport, however, was found to be equally difficult by that route, and in consequence the company had to march the greater part of the way.
What meanwhile had befallen that force under the command of Major Showers may be told in the words of a trooper whose lively contributions to the ‘Indian Daily News’ do not seem to have been regarded as an infringement of a rule laid down in the mobilisation scheme by which volunteers for Lumsden’s Horse were warned that they would on no account be allowed to act as special correspondents for newspapers. This regulation, like many others, seems to have been more honoured in the breach than the observance. Taking up the broken thread where it was dropped some pages back, he writes:
At Queen’s Town we had a fairly pleasant time, except on nights when it simply rained cats and dogs and hailed as well. Most of our tents leaked badly, so we were rendered thoroughly uncomfortable. The horses and the unfortunate stable pickets (I was one, and speak from personal experience) were in a wretched plight, without shelter of any kind. When the storms were at their worst, and picketing pegs would not hold in the soft ground, we may have used words that were not endearing to horses that got loose. On April 2 we were told that the company would start on the 4th, marching to Bethulie, waggons for our horses not being available then, but that we should probably entrain a few stations further up. We were informed that all superfluous clothing, &c., would have to be packed up and returned to East London, and each man would only be allowed to take one kit bag, weight not to exceed thirty pounds. We therefore set to work, and cudgelled our brains trying to decide what to take and what to leave behind—no easy task, I can tell you. However, the die was cast at last, and we were ready for kit-bag weighing next morning. Several of the men had evidently rather vague ideas on this point, and, after filling their bags to a weight of forty or fifty pounds each, had to repack them, much to their disgust. We left next day, our destination being Baileytown, a small place about thirteen miles distant. We were all, of course, in full marching order—supplied with water-bottles, haversacks, bandoliers, rifles, and corn-bag. The first three were hung round our shoulders, the rifles in the bucket on the off side of the saddle, and the corn-bag slung to the saddle. I was not accustomed to it; the strain on the shoulders is pretty severe; and we were all glad when Baileytown drew in sight. This march gave us a very good opportunity of examining the country, and as we passed kopje after kopje it was very easy to realise how difficult a task it is to dislodge the Boers from their veritable strongholds. Arriving at Baileytown about 5 p.m., and finding no tents there, we bivouacked, and found the bare veldt no such uncomfortable bed after all. We spent the whole of the next day there, and as very good grass was plentiful on the slope of the hills the opportunity was taken of knee-haltering and grazing the horses. Resumed our march next day; did about twenty-two miles by 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when a halt was made at a place called Sterkstroom. Here, to our delight, orders came for us to be sent off at once by train. We spent a very busy afternoon unloading kits from the transport carts and reloading them into railway waggons, and entraining horses. The animals seem to be getting reconciled to this constant training and detraining, and behaved very well indeed. By 8.30 we were all ready to board the train. No more luxurious second- and third-class carriages for us poor privates now. We were packed like sardines in a box into three covered trucks, about forty or fifty men in each. It was quite dark, and no lanterns were given us, or, rather, there was an apology for a lantern in our truck, but it hardly made darkness visible; kits and men all over the place, and little, if any, room to sleep—a very weary night indeed for most of us. We arrived at Burghersdorp at 11 A.M. next day, and stayed there about two hours. All sorts of rumours were current about the close proximity of the Boers. We were informed that fighting was expected at a station north of Bethulie. At this latter place the troops had slept in the trenches all night in momentary expectation of an attack. There were said to be three or four thousand Boers hovering round in the hills adjacent to these places, having been cut off in an attempt to retreat beyond Bloemfontein. We did not reach Bethulie till 8 o’clock that evening, having to wait at various sidings for down trains, of which there were a good many. Not expecting to detrain till the following morning, we had made ourselves as comfortable as circumstances permitted for the night when orders were issued to get out and encamp close by at once. In a moment all was excitement, orders ringing out constantly, and men hurriedly getting their kit together—an almost hopeless task in the darkness.
However, it was not long before all the men, horses, and kit were out and on their way to camp. Arrived there, we picketed the animals, and by 2 A.M. had quite settled down for the night. No peace for us, however, as orders went round that we must be ready saddled by 4.30, in case our services should be required. It turned out to be a false alarm, however, so after waiting till 8 o’clock we took the horses out to exercise. Bethulie, straggling along the northern bank of Orange River, is just on the borders of the Free State. The railway bridge, an eight-span one, has been completely destroyed by Boers, and I must say they have done their work very cleanly; five out of the eight spans have been cut right through by charges of dynamite. Fortunately, however, there is a waggon bridge here also, which reinforcements, coming up in time, were enabled to save from destruction, and, lines having been placed across this, one truck at a time is taken over. This important point of communication is now very strongly guarded by regiments of Infantry on each side of the river. Nearly all of us took the opportunity of having a glorious bath in the river, and did a little amateur clothes-washing. Practice will make perfect, no doubt, but at present we don’t take very kindly to it. At 3 in the afternoon we got orders to saddle up in readiness to march as an escort to 600 transport mules for Bloemfontein. The rearguard came on with our own transport, and, as the latter only move very slowly, they marched all night and did not arrive at Spytfontein—the halting-place, nineteen miles distant—till about 3 A.M. Fortunately, there was brilliant light from the new moon; otherwise the slow progress with refractory mules would have been dreary indeed. As it was, we marched along as silently as possible, and had the feeling that we might be attacked at any moment. The Kaffir drivers, however, could not be restrained from shouting in shrillest notes and cracking their long rhinoceros-hide thongs with sounds like rifle-shots as they ran to head off wayward stragglers. All night long the red dust rose from the hoofs of those 600 mules in stifling clouds.
This is a most desolate-looking country, miles beyond miles without passing a single human habitation. Towards the end of the march, whether through sheer exhaustion or from the effects of the moonbeams (one of our sages started this theory next day), half the men went to sleep in their saddles. I was one of the somnolent ones, and my horse took me several yards in front of the main body, and I awoke with a start to hear my companions silently chuckling at the situation. The only remedy was to get off and march alongside our horses, and several of us did this. Natives told us afterwards that Boers had been hanging on our flanks all through that march, and the only thing that saved us was our water-cart, which they mistook for a gun-carriage. The Boers must have changed a good deal since then if they could be so easily deceived.
We left Spytfontein about 7 o’clock that morning and arrived at Springfontein at 3 in the afternoon. Here the orders were for us to start again next morning, escorting a Maxim battery of four guns to Bloemfontein, in addition to the 600 mules we already had under convoy. I may mention that one section of our company always acted as advance guard, throwing out scouts in front and on the flanks; the duty of these scouts being to search the kopjes on either side of the road, and communicate with the main body by hand signals should any enemy appear in sight. Starting from Springfontein early on April 10, we did a march of fifteen miles to Jagersfontein. Here Jim, having pity for my lameness, took my horse to water while I, in return, prowled round and found a little house where the womenfolk agreed to let us have tea. I was shown into the drawing-room, which looked very cosy by comparison with the dreary veldt. Ordered tea for six and went to gather my pals for the feast. After I had groomed my horse, fed him, and put his jhool on, we went off to the small house. But, alas! the tea was all gone. Six other men had been there and declared that I had ordered it for them. This is the first example of ‘slimness’ recorded to the credit or otherwise of Lumsden’s Horse. At 4 o’clock next morning a party of us went out on patrol duty among the surrounding hills. We had our magazines loaded and in the dim morning light it was rather exciting work marching silently along with the chance of meeting the enemy at any moment. We stayed out till about 7 o’clock, having thoroughly examined the surrounding country from the top of a high kopje, without discovering any traces of Boers. After half an hour for breakfast, we started on the day’s march, which it was intended would be a short one of fifteen miles; but it rained so heavily about noon, and for an hour or two afterwards, that on arrival at the camping-place we found it to be a mass of liquid mud and grass, and the Major decided to keep marching on for Edenburg, about eight miles distant, in the hope that it would be drier there. But it continued to pour steadily all the afternoon, and we arrived to find our camping ground at Edenburg inches deep in water. We had no tents, so simply wrapped ourselves in our blankets and slept where we could. Many of us woke an hour or two afterwards, and found ourselves wet to the bone, and in preference to trying to sleep again we made a good fire and sat round this all night. There were a few men of one of the New Zealand Volunteer regiments encamped here also, in charge of sick horses, and they very kindly supplied us with hot cocoa—a most grateful and comforting drink on such a night. They gave us very graphic descriptions of hard times in the field. They had seen lots of fighting, being used mainly, if not entirely, as scouts. They told us how difficult it was to find the enemy, who kept hidden among rocks on the kopjes and never fired till our men were within about a hundred yards. As soon as the first shot was fired, the scouts turned and galloped for their lives, and the artillery then began to shell the kopjes. Next morning we saw several Boer prisoners, among them being a lad of about eighteen, who had killed a Major in one of our regiments while coming towards him with a flag of truce in his hand. Near the place where we had bivouacked quantities of buried Boer ammunition and guns were discovered. We continued our march at about 1 A.M., and encamped in the afternoon at a small place called Bethany. Here a night attack was expected, a Boer commando of several thousand men being reported in the vicinity. The men of the Maxim battery stood to their guns all night on a kopje close by, and about thirty of us accompanied them as an extra precaution. Cossack posts were also thrown out. Locusts, of which we had already met several swarms on our march up, literally covered the hill-sides here, and, getting down our backs and up our sleeves, took some dislodging. No alarm was given, so we passed the night in peace. We resumed our march on Good Friday, and, reaching Kaffir River in the afternoon, encamped there for the night with Regular regiments—Guards, Highlanders, and several others. Camps were fairly far apart, and after picketing horses, drawing forage, and eating our frugal meals, we had no time for exchanging visits or getting any news from the various regiments we met at our stopping-places. However, there was consolation for us when we received our first budget of home and Indian letters, one of the men from A Company, then at Bloemfontein, having been sent down with them.
Up to this point the march had been across monotonous veldt, mostly flat, treeless, and uninteresting. Here and there, where the ground held moisture, little pink flowers of a wood sorrel showed, and nearly every mile one came across some fresh variety of aster or daisy-like flower with composite crown shining brightly in the coarse grass. Occasionally the ridges were rich with clumps of heath, scarlet, yellow, and white, but not enough to relieve the general dreariness of distances across which one often looked in vain for any sign of cultivation. Ant-hills and the burrows of ant-bears were on all the veldt, and we had to wind our way among them, following no well-defined road, but only a track, the general direction of which was marked by a browner thread running across the tawny veldt. Several horses blundered into the bear-holes and brought their riders to grief, much to the general amusement. One trooper who rode ahead waving his hand and warning those who followed by frequent cries of ‘’Ware hole! ’Ware hole!’ suddenly disappeared, and we heard him groan as his horse rolled over on top of him, ‘Here’s one, and I’m into it.’ It was nearly dark then; but dead horses, mules, and dying oxen marked the track by which other convoys had gone. We felt glad that our transport ponies were not to share their fate. They had proved quite useless for drawing the heavy loads in this country, so we left them behind at Sterkstroom, sending all our baggage-carts on by train, while we marched and bivouacked with only the blankets and supplies that could be carried on our own horses. It was at Edenburg, I think, that after a wet march we got leave to go into the town, hoping it might be possible to get something better than the perpetual ‘bully beef’ and biscuits, but the only room we could find in the only decent hotel was wanted for officers. However, a little man of the Derby Militia came and showed us a small Boer ‘Winkel,’ where we got excellent tea, bread, and jam. The Derby man said he knew where he could buy some butter, which was all we wanted to make us happy. C—— gave him 2s. to go and get it. We finished our meal without that butter, and the Derby man didn’t return. So we went back to find everything in camp wet, muddy, and beastly. To add to our misery, a thunderstorm came on, and while we wallowed in slush there were empty houses with roofs to them not half a mile off. From Kaffir River we might easily have done the distance to Bloemfontein in one march, as it was only nineteen miles; but there was apparently no reason for hurrying, so we spent one more night in bivouac at Kaalspruit, and on Easter Sunday, in the afternoon, marched through Bloemfontein to our camp, which was three miles beyond. We only got a glimpse of the town in passing through its central square and along the main street, but, considering it was the capital of the Free State, I don’t think any of us were very much struck with it at first sight. Colonel Lumsden and A Company welcomed us very warmly. Our tents were already pitched and food prepared, so we soon settled down in our new quarters, A Company’s men receiving us as their guests and treating us most hospitably.
There the trooper’s narrative ends, and Colonel Lumsden follows with a well-deserved tribute to Major Showers and the men of B Company, saying:
They made a very plucky march up, the officers and men carrying nothing but their greatcoats and blankets, and sleeping out every night in the rain. It was too much of a trial for the ponies to pull their carts over the hilly and heavy going; and, as I said before, this method of transport had to be abandoned, and their carts and baggage railed up.
Considering the long and trying marches they had undergone, I consider both men and horses looking wonderfully fit. A certain proportion of them, however, were not in condition to resume immediate work. Therefore, to replace these and in lieu of thirteen casualties on board ship and en route, I have procured from Prince Francis of Teck, the remount officer, twenty-six Argentine cobs, which, although not up to the standard of our Indian mounts, are nevertheless a boon to us in the circumstances, in a situation where horseflesh is at a premium. A certain amount of kit and necessaries had been lost by both companies during our journey here; but, it being our first demand on the military authorities for such, we had no difficulty in getting our requirements satisfied.
We are now (April 18) under orders to move to-morrow for Spytfontein, five miles to the east of Karree Siding station, halting for the night at Glen. There has been heavy rain for the past four days, and it will be bad travelling, especially crossing the drift at Modder River. I have been fortunate in being able to retain the whole of our transport, which privilege has not been granted to any other unit, and shall to-morrow be complete in every respect. The men are in keen spirits, as our post is to be an advanced one and within range of the Boer outposts.
I regret to say that Captain Beresford is no better, and will, I fear, have to be invalided home.