THE BAPTISM OF FIRE—LUMSDEN’S HORSE AT OSPRUIT (HOUTNEK)
How often ignorant critics have sneered at that phrase ‘the baptism of fire,’ which expresses finely, with literary completeness and force, a truth of which men who have never been in the front line of battle can know nothing! However much the phrase may have been degraded by melodramatic application, it is a gem in its clearness of thought and perfection of finish. The soldier’s first fight is a plunge from which he emerges a new being. Whether the change may be for better or worse depends probably on temperament and previous associations. The fire of battle does not purify a sinner or sear the soul of a saint, but neither is quite the same after as he was before passing through it. He has seen things which, in some subtle way, unfelt, perhaps, and certainly unacknowledged, will influence the remaining years of his life. It is not only because he has looked death in the face—that is a common enough experience elsewhere and leaves no perceptible trace—but he has stood where dear comrades fell beside him in the midst of scenes that at other times would be heartrending, and, as if in a state of complete detachment from himself, he has passed callous through it all. The braver a man is, the more surely some consciousness of that strange state clings to him. To call it selfish indifference or the numbness of fear, as some insolent ignoramus might, would be to falsify the history of war. Selfish men and cowards do not walk with eyes open into the very jaws of death to help a wounded comrade, nor would dazed brains be capable of the swift thought that characterises soldiers in the direst danger. Yet men who at such times have done deeds worthy of the Cross for Valour will [Blank Page] not be able to tell you what sensations possessed them, simply because feeling in the ordinary sense was for a moment, or for an hour it may be, dead. The mental faculties were clear enough—so clear, indeed, that they took impressions, photographic in sharpness and detail, of every immediate surrounding, yet with no power of communicating those impressions in any sentient form. They knew, but did not feel. There are people who will tell you gravely that the Victoria Cross is an evil because it inspires men to do reckless things out of sheer desire for the glory of that decoration. It is all nonsense. I have known a great many Victoria Cross heroes, but not one who gained that high distinction because he tried to or was conscious at the moment of deserving it. There are soldiers of some countries in the world to whom glory and the lust of fame are incentives to valorous deeds. They love to think that the eyes of the world, and especially of its fairer half, are on them as they march to battle, and for the sake of these things they will volunteer to lead forlorn hopes; but once in the fight they behave as Nature or Fate decrees. The mere outward trappings of gallantry avail nothing then.
Of the curious duality that can only be described as detachment of mind from body, memory recalls two conspicuous examples which occurred within my knowledge, if not both within my actual range of vision, on the battlefield of Elandslaagte. One was when the Imperial Light Horse were rushing up the last slope to that wonderful rallying cry of theirs in an onslaught that rolled like a resistless wave across the shot-torn crest and crowned the day with victory. One trooper dropped out of the ranks as if a bullet had struck him, yet he knew that only his legs had given way, suddenly refusing to carry him any further. Speaking frankly of this incident afterwards, he said that at the moment no thought in his mind was so strong as the desire to be with those who were charging up the stony heights, waved on by their intrepid Colonel, Chisholm. He had no sensation that could be akin to fear, and yet he was powerless to move a limb. Then suddenly a strange thing happened. A Mauser bullet ploughed along his cheek and stung him. In another moment mind and body were leaping together up that hill, each striving to be first in the race, and behaving with a gallantry at which even brave men wondered. But for that accidental shot the trooper might have stopped where he fell and been branded as a coward. The other illustration occurred almost simultaneously, but in a different way. Some wounded men of the same dauntless corps were lying on an opposite slope exposed to a heavy fire from some Boers who had crept back to a rocky ledge from which they were raking the whole of that ground with a shower of nickel. John Stuart, of the ‘Morning Post,’ and I went to help two or three who were too badly hit to move, and succeeded in getting them from the bare veldt to comparative safety behind small boulders. One of them told me afterwards that his mind was full of nothing but profound gratitude and admiration when he saw us tucking a comrade into one little sheltered nook, and yet the words that his tongue all the while hurled at us for our folly in not taking cover were quite unfit for publication. No man can pass through experiences of that kind and be in all things the same again. The ‘baptism of fire’ has changed him, though he may never admit it to himself or betray it to his friends.
And the time was at hand when Lumsden’s Horse were to take their plunge and emerge from it with the reputation of soldiers in whom trust could be placed from that day forward. The share they had in operations that extended over a front of nearly thirty miles, from Thaba ’Nchu to Ospruit, was comparatively small. But for them it was the most eventful episode of the campaign—their first fight, their passing of the threshold beyond which was the secret of more of human life than they had ever known. In that one day they were to look death in the face, to see comrades, the friends of their youth, fall beside them, to have thoughts of sorrow in their minds but no pang in their hearts. Grief was to come days, perhaps months afterwards, when a chance word or the touch of a hand might set the pent-up currents flowing in channels that war had closed. Above all, they were to know the British soldier as he is in fight—a creature of strange impulses, of wonderful tenderness, when he might be expected to show the roughest qualities with which habit has endowed him, and of sublime endurance. Writing after the plunge, one of Lumsden’s Horse thanks God that he had seen it all:
For such is the British Tommy—taken from the lowest classes, so our sixth-class paper editors take care to blazen forth. Drunken louts in the streets, not allowed into a decent theatre, knocked about if a bit drunk by an officious policeman—everything that is bad, in fact. Change the scene, and what do we see? Mile after mile of ‘the thin red line,’ now changed to ‘the dirty khaki rag’; the battered khaki helmet, Tommy’s only pillow at night; the coarse, hard ammunition boots. Dirt and vermin cover him from head to foot—no water to drink, much less to wash with—a heavy marching kit, rifle, and cartridges, and as for food, why, not enough to feed a dog. Ay! Many and many are the dogs that would have refused Tommy’s South African menu with turned-up noses. Overhead at times a scorching sun; at others a blinding, cold, blustering rain; and at night always the bleak, cold, north-west wind. March! March! March! On they go, bravely, truly, sturdily, hardly a grumble, while safely at home you have your collar-and-tie renegade telling us of the atrocities these brave men are committing. Lies! all lies, I say. I’ve met some of those people since I came back, and my one wish has been to have them out against a brick wall with six good brave Tommies to fire a volley. Yes. I am glad, ay, more than glad, spite of wounds and hardships, that I have seen our good brothers of the khaki as they ought to be seen—no swell uniforms there, no pipeclay, no shining cuirasses and polished helmets to ‘catch on’ with a non-military public. Ye gods, no! all khaki, khaki; all one great army, be it a Colonial, be it a London slum, or a Highland bracken born lot of men. They are all brothers in arms, one in object, one in deeds of bravery and devotion to an Empire.
That eloquent passage, written by Trooper Burn-Murdoch, gentleman and tea-planter, should be enough to silence the tongue of calumny and convince any unprejudiced mind that whatever war may do it does not brutalise. In illustration of that truth many other instances will have to be given before this narrative runs its course to an end.
Now, however, it is necessary to describe briefly the general scope of operations whereby Lumsden’s Horse were drawn, much sooner than they had any hope of, into their first fight. Attempts had been made by Generals Rundle, Ian Hamilton, and French to surround Boer forces that were retiring sullenly from their futile siege of Wepener. But De Wet was in command there, and his mobile ‘slimness,’ aided by secret information from Free State burghers, who, having taken the oath of neutrality, were allowed to live on their farms or to move about freely without any watch being kept on them, frustrated every attempt to hem in the commandos. General Brabant’s Colonial division, following Sir Leslie Rundle’s, was still some distance off, and General Pole-Carew’s retirement to Bloemfontein for fresh orders at this juncture unfortunately left a gap open between General French’s left and the force under Sir Ian Hamilton, which was by that time extended along the Modder valley near Sanna’s Post, facing north-east. Through this opening the Boers slipped back to the high ground round about Thaba ’Nchu. Pressed hard by French, they were driven from the southern and western spurs of these hills, but still clung to the commanding mountain itself, where they gathered reinforcements day by day. Then French ceased to press, and the turn came for Ian Hamilton to strike, in the hope that he might drive a wedge across the lower ridges between Thaba ’Nchu and Brandfort, which would not only tear the chain of Boer positions asunder, but also open the way for a combined movement by which their left wing, under De Wet, should be enveloped if he attempted to prolong his stand in the Thaba ’Nchu range. It was cleverly designed; but we all know what often happens with the best-laid plans, especially when there are spies free to move about without danger to themselves. It was at this phase of the extended operations that Sir Ian Hamilton began to advance towards Houtnek, where he found himself confronted by a formidable gathering of commandos under General Louis Botha, and they were being reinforced from all directions, the Boers having regained hope and courage from the presence of a leader whose reputation then stood incomparably high among them. Though the numerical strength and boldness of his enemies were something of a surprise to General Hamilton, he had in some measure prepared for the unforeseen by calling upon General Tucker to make a diversion by which the Boers under De la Rey’s command in Brandfort might be discouraged from sending reinforcements to Houtnek. With the Seventh Division, or rather in advance of it as a covering screen, the Mounted Infantry brigade under Colonel Henry was ordered to co-operate, supported by General Maxwell’s brigade of Infantry. Of the Mounted Infantry, to which a post of honour was thus assigned, the 8th Battalion, commanded by Colonel Ross, was to form the advance guard. Thus Lumsden’s Horse were destined in their first fight to bear the brunt of the attack if it should come; and, in high spirits at the prospect, they looked with an interest they had never felt before towards the rugged line of low kopjes far away across the broad plain with light from the setting sun full upon them. That the orders were thus made known to all ranks twelve hours before they could be acted on is a proof that they had not been drawn up on the spur of sudden emergency, and, indeed, Sir Ian Hamilton was only then feeling for his enemy in the direction of Houtnek. At this point the picturesque pen of the ‘Englishman’s’ correspondent goes on with the narrative:
On April 29 we got warning to be ready to take part in a general attack early the next morning. So we bustled round and got everything ready. At 5 P.M. I and two other men of my sub-section were ordered out on outlying picket, leaving Trooper Thelwall to saddle our three horses before daybreak as well as his own, when we were to march into camp again and get mounted and ready to start with the rest. So, just having time to get half a pint of tea and some dry bread, we hurried out on picket for the night. And that was, practically speaking, the last food I tasted until 8 o’clock the next night. Not what you could call ‘’igh livin’,’ is it? It was bitterly cold, and, what with the everlasting night wind and only one blanket, we pickets were not much troubled with sleep that night. However, at 5 o’clock in the morning of the 30th we rolled up our blankets and marched into camp, and at once set to work at tightening up girths, adjusting saddles and kits. I had just time to put some bread into my haversack, and half fill my horse’s nosebag with cartridges and also two or three priceless ‘smokes,’ when we had to mount. So away went all chances of breakfast that morning. Alas! some of us had no need for food and drink in the evening. Just as old Sol began to rise up over the kopjes we marched out of camp, up over the ridge, and down the other side towards the open veldt. Here we paused for a while to allow the other troops to join us. Taking advantage of this short halt, we got into our proper sub-sections, dismounted, and had a last look at our girths, and tightened up curbs, &c. Poor old mokes! How many of them, my own included, were fated never to see another day dawn! Colonel Lumsden now rode up to us and gave us a rough idea of what we were to do, and informed us that our B Troop was to have the place of honour, and that we were to take the lead. And, knowing us as he did, he had not the slightest doubt that we would not fail to distinguish ourselves, &c. To which our gallant ‘Oirish’ Captain Chamney began to reply in his usual Indian after-dinner style, that he felt proud of his troop, and fully conscious of the great honour that was bestowed upon us in being allowed to take the lead; and he sincerely hoped that we would do justice to the confidence bestowed on us. He would no doubt have continued in this style for some time had not our good old Major chipped in with his usual ‘down-in-his-boots’ aside: ‘Oh, that’s all right, Chamney; damn it, man, of course you will.’ And these were the last words I ever heard the good old man utter in this life.
Good old Showers, gruff as they make ’em, but a true white man’s heart inside for all that. Never afraid to jump on an officer for all you were worth if you thought he deserved it; and after those long hot Indian parades, how many times have we heard your hearty laugh at the head of the camp mess-table! For seven years our Colonel, and the man who made the Surma Valley Light Horse second to none in India.
All the attacking forces being now mustered, we made a start and away we marched. For some part of the time our route lay alongside a pretty little lagoon, and then the road gradually lost itself in the great open veldt. How peaceful it all seemed that morning! The few cattle and sheep that were quietly grazing here and there on the scanty tussocks would casually lift up their heads and gaze at us, and, seeing that there were no strange dogs with us, would go on cropping the grass, though possibly a sheep or two would scuttle out of the way with a contemptuous wriggle of their tails. Time of war! one says—humbug! one could not believe it on that quiet morning. The fresh ozonised air, the soft, steady breeze, now pleasantly tempered by the bright morning sun; and there, by the doorway of the quiet little farmhouse, the farmer’s wife standing with her milk-pails all ready, while she laughingly makes passing remarks to her departing ‘guests.’
The only signs of war, maybe, are those few fences with their wires cut down; and these you would suppose had been broken down by some restless calves or light-hearted foal. From our ranks could be seen and smelt the little clouds of tobacco-smoke which rose up in the clear air like so many stray wandering bits of cumulus clouds, while back in the rear could be heard the quaintly sad airs of ‘Bearer Ganga Dīn’ and ‘Who’s dat a-callin’?’ as some of our musically inclined troopers gave vent unconsciously to their feelings. What a lovely, jolly morning that was! All those dire hardships, cold, hunger, and wet, we had known only too well; but to-day—light, warmth, and the indescribable freshness of the open veldt, while under us were our plucky Indians, Arabs, and Walers, fresh as English daisies and keen as the air we breathed.
Some miles ahead of us—though seemingly quite close, owing to the intensely clear atmosphere—lay a long range of low-lying hills all lighted up with various shades of colouring, the hues of which kept ever changing from moment to moment as the sun rose higher in the heavens. Still further on, and filling up the whole background of this typically African landscape, lay the razor-backs and table-topped peaks of the Basuto hills, from the tops of which soft filmy wisps of cloud drifted silently away into that great blue ‘nothingness.’ All peace! Peace on earth, it seemed to us that fair morn. Nor could we poor troopers realise that ere God’s life-giving sun should set that night great Mars would look down on many of us poor mortals writhing in the agonies of cruel death-dealing wounds and the tortures of the surgeon’s knife and probe, while some poor souls, like these vanishing vapoury clouds, would have left this little world for the infinite beyond. Nor could the mind of our well-loved Major, as he rode at the head of those men he had known for long, long years, have realised that in a few short hours his true British heart would have ceased to beat, and his life’s blood would be mingled with the dust of that great continent where so many good men and true had already given up their lives for an Empire’s cause. Thank God for the impenetrable veil that He casts over our future! One scene especially struck me by its beauty, and that was when a battery of Artillery toiled over a tussocky ridge right into the blazing disc of the sun. As gun after gun topped the ridge the whole team, horses and men, were shut out from our sight by the powerful blaze of light in a most curious way; while here and there a khaki-clad helmeted Artilleryman stood silhouetted against the sky-line, over which the khaki gun-carriages disappeared into a glaring sea of gold.
As we were now approaching some suspicious-looking kopjes, we opened out into extended order as usual, and Lumsden’s Horse were told off to take, and hold, a certain line of kopjes some two miles off. So we promptly set to work, approaching them very ‘cannily,’ with scouts well out in advance.
Arriving at the base of the kopjes without opposition, we dismounted and skirmished up to the tops, but found that the Boers had cleared out, though, judging by the several ‘sangars’ built of rocks, these must have been held in force. Our scouts in the meantime had advanced along the plain on the other side of the kopjes, and just as we arrived on top the enemy opened on them with a continuous rattle of rifle fire, and I saw several of the poor beggars limping back over the plain pulling their wounded horses after them, while all around them, to use whaler’s language, the sandy plain kept ‘spouting’ as the deadly bullets struck and ricocheted. From where we were it was utterly impossible to tell from what direction the bullets were coming, so we could do little in the way of keeping down the Boer fire. However, we did our best. But as the enemy soon ceased firing we reserved our ammunition for later use.
Away to our left the Artillery were now having a great duel, while the pom-poms on both sides were making things generally cruel for the Mounted Infantry, and also for those who were holding their horses. Pom-pom-pom! pom-pom! and immediately whack, whack, whack! would echo the vile bursting shells. Then boo-m-m came the big hidden Creusot—and oh, the sound of its messenger, wo-o-o-o-ough! It would come soaring up with a dreadfully mournful sound, while the whole atmosphere seemed to vibrate with its spinning. Wugh! it would sound, as it burst far out of harm’s way, and then one could stand up in the ‘Who’s afraid?’ style, to lie down again promptly as No. 2 came along. How did I feel? you ask. Well, to be strictly honest, I didn’t like it. I don’t believe any man really does, if it comes to that. Afterwards a wounded man described his feelings very well to me; he said, ‘Do you know, I just felt as if I were outside the headmaster’s room, in for a dashed good caning.’ And I think that hits off the sensation exactly.
But now the picturesquely vague must give place to the explicit, and it would be impossible to summarise the position at this stage more clearly than in the terse words of Colonel Lumsden’s official despatch:
On the evening of the 29th Colonel Ross received orders that the corps was to make a demonstration next morning at daylight on the right flank of the Boer lines for the purpose of drawing them from their position and enabling the 14th Brigade, under General Maxwell, which was to have come up on our right, to get behind and cut them off.
The Mounted Infantry portion of General Tucker’s division, under Colonel Henry, joined hands with us at 5 A.M., half a mile from our camp. A portion of my corps was ordered to occupy Gun Kopje, a position believed to be held by the Boers, about four miles distant on our right front, the remainder extending and taking up positions on our left. I went forward with the right flank, Major Showers accompanying me. This portion consisted of the Adjutant, Captain Taylor, Captains Rutherfoord, Clifford, and Chamney, Lieutenants Sidey and Pugh, and four sections, the others having been detached by order of Colonel Ross to hold various points. Mr. Pugh was sent out in advance with the scouts, and it was when on this duty that Private Franks was shot. Mr. Pugh very pluckily assisted him in getting on his horse and endeavoured to take him out of the fire; but Franks was unable to stay on his horse, and, dropping to the ground, had to be left. Mr. Pugh and the remaining scouts were only just able to save themselves by galloping up and joining us on the kopje at the extreme right, to which we had just advanced, and which we held from 7 A.M. until ordered to retire at about 1 o’clock.
Early in the morning I ordered Corporal Chartres with eight men to occupy a kopje about 800 yards to our right and prevent the Boers turning our flank. There they held their ground until ordered to fall back. It was a small party for this important position, but in the circumstances no more could be spared, I having only about sixty men with me, twenty of whom, under Lieutenant Sidey, were detached by Colonel Ross to protect the Vickers-Maxim (commonly styled ‘pom-pom’) in the centre of the position.
The following was then the general disposition:
There were four ridges diverging northerly towards the enemy. The extreme spur of the right ridge was held by myself with four sections Lumsden’s Horse as described; the second held by Lieutenant Crane and one section, he being directed there at the outset by Colonel Ross; the third and fourth by the rest of the brigade, the two pom-poms and our Maxim being at the head of the re-entrant between the second and third ridges, with Captain Noblett and three sections on its left.
Shortly after our arrival the Boers took up a position on a kopje about 1,500 yards directly in front, and quickly opened rifle fire on our position. Fortunately the men had time to ensconce themselves behind rocks, and, consequently, though bullets fell fast about them, they were able to maintain a steady fire on the enemy without exposing themselves. It was here, I deeply regret to say, that Major Showers met his death. He was at the extreme right of the firing line and under a hot flanking fire from the Boers, who had moved a party into a donga some 300 or 400 yards to their left.
I personally begged him not to expose himself, as also did Captains Chamney and Rutherfoord; but he would stand erect, using his field glasses and presenting a most conspicuous mark for the enemy’s fire, which resulted fatally to him shortly after noon, a Mauser bullet entering his right side half way down and coming out through his left arm above the elbow. In risking his own life he had drawn a heavy fire on the spot where he fell, and it was with much danger and difficulty that Captain Powell, with Captain Chamney and others, succeeded in removing him from the summit of the hill to a place of safety about thirty yards down. I should like to take this opportunity of adding a few words by way of tribute to the memory of Major Showers. When he heard of the corps being raised, he was in command of the Surma Valley Light Horse in Cachar, with the rank of Colonel, and was looked upon as one of the smartest commanders of Volunteer Cavalry in India. He wrote me and said, ‘If you will take me as your second in command, I will gladly forfeit my rank and come as Major.’ I may have made many fortunate selections in choosing my officers, but I never made a wiser one than in selecting Colonel Showers. A better or a braver man never breathed, and his loss to me so early in the campaign was irreparable.
Shortly after the commencement of the Boer attack the whole of the left were forced to retire owing to their flank being turned, taking one pom-pom and our Maxim with them. Captain Noblett was consequently obliged, at about 11 A.M., to conform to this movement, having no support, and took his men out of the shell fire with great difficulty but had only a few casualties.
Lieutenant Crane, receiving no orders to retire, and being detached from me and unable to communicate with me or I with him, deemed it his duty to retain his position as long as possible, which resulted in close fighting and the loss of nearly half his section.
One pom-pom and Lieutenant Sidey had been sent to the neck of the right ridge to support us, we having been instructed to hold our position until further orders. This pom-pom retired at about 12.30, and at 1 o’clock Lieutenant Sidey and I both received our orders to retire. This was carried out very deliberately, and the last of our men got out of a most trying position within twenty minutes of having received our orders, by moving away under cover of the ridge.
As we had kept up a decreasing fire until the men got mounted, the Boers, fortunately for us, did not discover our retirement before we were out of range, otherwise we should have suffered heavily. While retiring, Private Burn-Murdoch’s horse was brought down by a stray bullet, causing him a heavy fall and a nasty wound in his head. Captain Chamney, who was near by at the time, with some assistance got Murdoch on to his own horse and pluckily rode with him off the field.
Captain Taylor, with much gallantry and coolness, remained with the led horses, and saw the last of the men mounted and clear away before he himself left, bringing up the rear with Captain Clifford and some late stragglers, including one man who would stay for a last shot.
The whole brigade rendezvoused at 2 P.M. behind a kopje about three miles in rear and waited till 3, when we returned to our various camps.
For some reason the main attack on our right under General Maxwell had not been delivered, and the object of the day was not achieved. My corps alone had the regrettable number of eighteen casualties out of about 180 engaged. This was mainly accounted for by the position we held. The Maxim under Captain Holmes did good service, coming into action at 1,000 yards at a critical moment and checking the Boer advance for some time. The enemy’s ‘Long Tom,’ however, soon found the Maxim out, and, as the shells were bursting among the men with the gun horses, they were ordered to retire only just in time, all the team being more or less wounded.
I cannot speak too highly of the gallant behaviour of my officers and men throughout the day. Individual instances of heroism were numerous, and I much fear that, especially in Mr. Crane’s section, many of the casualties were caused by men endeavouring to assist their wounded comrades. Mr. Crane himself was wounded in the groin, and I understand Private Daubney’s and Private Case’s deaths were due to their declining to leave their wounded officer. Judging from the number of empty cartridge cases found beside them, they must have kept up a fire on the advancing Boers to the last. Here Corporal Angus McGillivray, Privates Leslie Gwatkin Williams, Firth, and R.N. Macdonald were taken prisoners, along with Lieutenant Crane. Here fell Private H.C. Lumsden.
The same evening about 4 o’clock Dr. Powell, with the ambulance tonga, and Private Godden went out under the Red Cross flag to search for the wounded, but in the gathering darkness were only able to reach the body of Major Showers, who died previous to the retirement from our position on the right where he fell. Captain Powell, in endeavouring to return to camp, lost his way and had to remain during the night on the veldt, reaching camp soon after daylight next morning. Shortly after his arrival he returned with another search party, but found that the Boers had already buried the bodies of Privates Case, Daubney, and Lumsden, after having read the burial service over them. A stone had been put over the head of Private Lumsden with his name scratched on it. The reason for this, as narrated by Transport-Sergeant Stephens, is interesting. When drivers were sent out with carts the following day, they met several English-speaking Boers, ‘who would not talk much about the fight, but said they were sorry our Colonel was killed. They had found some papers in the pockets of young Lumsden, whom they took to be the Colonel.’ The remains of Major Showers, being found still unburied, were brought back and interred with military honours at the foot of the kopje behind our camp. Private Franks, whose wounds had been dressed by Captain Powell, had to be left on the hill near the body of Major Showers, where he was found by the Boers shortly afterwards and received every attention, but died during the night and was buried by them in the morning. The Boers, subsequent to the fight, were most courteous in their attentions, and returned papers, rings, watches, money, &c., found on the bodies.
I wish specially to mention a very plucky action done by Private C.A. Walton, who is wounded and a prisoner in Pretoria. He was one of the men in charge of the led horses in the No. 3 Section of A Company when Sergeant Walker took temporary command of the section in Lieutenant Neville’s absence on sick leave. On the order to retire Sergeant Walker had to run some distance to his horse, and came back much exhausted. The enemy being quite close on them, and Sergeant Walker’s horse having been lost, Private Walton insisted on giving up his own horse to the Sergeant, saying that he could run. While doing so he was shot twice, and had to be left on the ground, although Sergeant Walker did his utmost to take him along with him.
After our return to camp I was much gratified to receive from Colonel Ross, the Corps Commander, and Colonel Henry, the Brigade Commander, congratulations on the behaviour of my officers and men throughout the day, and on the morning following General Tucker, the Divisional Commander, came over in person for a similar purpose; but at the same time read me a lecture on the inadvisability of allowing my men to attempt to bring off their wounded comrades when under fire. He pointed out that it only drew fire on the wounded men and endangered their own lives for no adequate result, as the Boers were a very humane foe, who treated the wounded carefully. The troopers, he said, must remember that their first duty as soldiers was to their Queen and country.
With deep regret I append a list of the casualties:
Killed: Major Eden C. Showers—buried at Spytfontein; Privates R.J. Clayton Daubeny, H.C. Lumsden, R.N. Case, Alfred F. Franks—buried by the Boers.
Wounded: Lieutenant Crane; Paymaster David S. Fraser; Sergeant-Major Cyril M.C. Marsham, bullet wounds through shoulders and thigh; Lance-Sergeant J.S. Elliott, shell wound of right foot; Sergeant F.S. McNamara, bullet wound in thigh; Private J.H. Burn-Murdoch, fracture of frontal bone by fall from his horse, which was shot under him during retirement.
Of these Sergeant-Major Marsham, Lance-Sergeant Elliott, and Private Burn-Murdoch are in hospital at Karree Siding, and Sergeant McNamara rejoined for duty at Kroonstad.
Though General Tucker was constrained, by the wisest military considerations, to rebuke men who, while displaying magnificent qualities of courage and self-sacrifice in attempts to save their wounded comrades, might have endangered the lives of others, we may be sure that he made a mental reservation and wished in his heart that he might have regiments of such men to lead. If the records of his own gallant career have been truthfully kept, he won promotion in the Bhootan expedition of 1866 and in fights against the Zulus twelve years later, and paved the way to a Knight Commandership of the Bath, not so much by obeying the dictates of caution as by brilliant leadership and by conspicuous valour that was almost reckless in its disregard of personal danger. But he knew, with the intuition of a soldier’s quick sympathies, that the corps to whose Colonel his words were addressed wanted no incentive to boldness, but rather a lesson in self-restraint. He had seen a great deal of their gallantry in that action for himself, and his brigadiers had told him more. Lumsden’s Horse, at any rate, had no reason to be ashamed of the way in which they had taken their ‘baptism of fire.’
The devotion of Corporal Firth in sticking to his wounded officer, Lieutenant Crane, under a withering fire was a deed of valour that should be famous throughout the Empire.
All the men with Lieutenant Crane behaved very well. Two non-commissioned officers and eleven troopers went with him to hold the isolated kopje on the right flank. Of this gallant party of fourteen, three were killed, four were wounded and taken prisoners, four escaped with their clothes riddled with bullet-holes but otherwise unhurt; one, Corporal Firth, could have escaped, but preferred to remain with his wounded officer, to bind up his wounds if possible, to go with him into captivity perhaps, to share death with him if need be. Troopers Reginald Macdonald and Leslie Gwatkin Williams also performed deeds of splendid self-sacrifice. Of those who escaped, Sergeant-Major Marsham (wounded), Bugler McKenzie, Sergeant Walker, Lance-Sergeant J.S. Elliott (wounded), and Trooper Radford, whose parting shot while he sat in the saddle brought a Boer down, are deserving of the highest praise for the way in which they stuck to the led horses and rode off with them under heavy fire.
These men were not tried veterans; they were taking their parts in the first battle of their first campaign. But several of them had been friends from their youth up, and all of them were Anglo-Indians—men whose exile from the land of their birth serves but to intensify their love for England and her greatness. Loyalty to friend and country! This is the magic touchstone of the soldier’s discipline and heroism.
Should any cynic dare to say that the men who did these deeds were thirsting for glory, or inspired by a hope of winning the Cross for Valour, or even conscious of doing more than a common soldier’s duty demanded, let him read the narrative of their actions, as told by themselves or their comrades, and be answered! In the whole literature of war I know nothing more realistic than Trooper Burn-Murdoch’s description of the incident in which he was a half-unconscious participator; when lying wounded he was taken from under fire by Captain Chamney, and finally carried out of action on horseback in that officer’s arms. The story is too characteristic of the battlefield to bear mutilation. For the sake of space, though with reluctance, some picturesque passages must be sacrificed; but, for the rest, as Trooper Burn-Murdoch told it originally in his letters to the ‘Englishman,’ he shall tell it again here:
The kopje which we had to hold looked down on a sloping plain, and at a distance varying from 700 to 1,100 yards off, and running nearly parallel with our kopjes, was a deep dry river bed or donga. This donga ran right up towards the Boer position. In my humble opinion we should have done better to have placed some dismounted men in this donga, and so prevented the enemy using it as a zigzag trench or covered way towards our position. Instead of this, we literally stuck to the kopje. And in the early part of the fight I noticed, and drew my mates’ attention to the fact, that a lot of Boers were riding towards this river bed, but never seemed to cross it.
As the day wore on our position on these kopjes became somewhat too warm to be pleasant. And, judging by the whistle of the bullets, we seemed to have the enemy on our left flank as well as in front. It was about this time that our gallant Major, who scorned to take cover, got two mortal bullet wounds through his lungs; our doctor very pluckily set to and cut off his tunic and plugged the bullet-holes, quite regardless of the heavy fire he was subjected to. But it was of no use; in a few moments the brave old soldier breathed his last. All he said was, ‘Ah, well, I’m done for ... it’s not so bad as I should have expected.’ But there was no time now to think of him or any other poor wounded comrade.
On we went, blazing away for dear life at the well-hidden enemy. Flat on our empty stomachs, wriggling from one stone to another, never daring to raise one’s head above a few inches from the ground. Whish! whish! phew! phew! came those deadly nickels, then ping-r-r-r would sound the ricocheting shots as they struck the stones and rocks a few inches from our faces, and shot up into the clear blue sky behind us with a shriek of unquenched bloodthirstiness. Thicker and thicker they came—and now we saw that the enemy were straight in front of us, having, as I had expected, ridden up under the cover of the river bed. Orders now came for us to retreat slowly from the right. So as soon as my turn came I let blaze a few rapid parting shots, and then ‘sniped’ back over the ridge to where Trooper Ducat was holding my sub-section’s horses. I can tell you that was an exciting little bit of a sprint, and the bullets striking all around me did not tend to retard my movements. However, I got back all right, and a few seconds later Trooper Stevenson turned up. As Trooper Thelwall had not joined us, I waited a few minutes with his horse. And rather an anxious wait that was. As he did not, however, arrive, I presumed that some Boer bullet had found him out. But I tied his horse to a stump in case he did come, and then, mounting, I galloped after the rest. It was uncommonly lucky that I did tie up his horse, as he afterwards, during a slight lull in the firing, managed to make a bolt over the kopje and down to his horse. One often hears it said that Mounted Infantry do not need to be much of riders so long as they can shoot straight. All I can say is, let a bad rider try to mount a fresh horse, with a large kit on the saddle and a heavy rifle in his left hand, and bullets and pom-pom shells whistling and cracking around, and he will agree with me in saying that every Mounted Infantryman ought to be a very fair rider before he can be of much use in a fight.
Gathering up my reins, I kept up a good gallop towards our next kopje, and was just congratulating myself that I was too skinny a target for any Boer bullets when poor old Demon came down with a fearful crash, shot by a Mauser bullet. I suppose I must have been stunned by the fall, as I have no recollection of seeing him again. When I came to, I found that my neck was fearfully stiff and sore, likewise all the left side of my head. And pain—by Jove! pain was no word for it. I lay there cursing and crawling about for some time, and was momentarily expecting to have a ‘sighting shot’ into me, when, bang! and I remembered no more. I have since heard that after this two of our chaps came along and, dismounting, turned me over and left me as a ‘green ’un.’ I remember dimly wondering what time of day it was, as all things seemingly were so dim and dark that I could not see. I then thought of tying up my head with my field dressing; but whether I did so or not I could not swear, as I was more or less ‘silly.’ It must have been a pom-pom or some other kind of shell bursting near me that did the damage. Recovering a certain amount of sensibility, I was endeavouring to get under some cover when Captain Chamney rode up. He shouted out to me apparently from a long distance off, as I could just hear him, ‘Hello, Mud’ook, what the tivil are you doing here? Badly hurt are ye? Come on, then, get a hold of my stirrup an’ I’ll take ye along wi’ me; ye’r far and away too good a man to leave behind.’ I told him, of course, to go on, as I was all right and would get behind a rock and have a rest; but the good old ‘Oirishman’ told me to get up at once as he ordered. And a good job it was, too, he did order me to do so, or I’d have been resting there now. Just then Trooper Ducat came galloping up, and the two of them got me between them and trotted me along some hundreds of yards—it seemed miles to me. At last I got nearly unconscious, merely rolling along in a sort of mechanical style. But, try as much as I could, what with loss of blood and giddiness I could go no further, and as I was a mere dead weight on my two companions they halted, and I next remember myself sitting behind Captain Chamney with my blood sopping down his neck and khaki tunic, my head resting on his shoulder, and my hands locked round his body. How I got there I don’t know. I suppose they lifted me up somehow. Anyhow, there I was, and the good old commandeered Free Stater carried us well. I don’t remember much of that ride. Somebody else rode up alongside of me—I think it was Trooper Stevenson—and he, being Scotch, and therefore ‘economical,’ had pluckily picked up my rifle. So, with Ducat on one side and Stevenson on the other, alternately digging me in the ribs, I managed to hold on until we got to cover; and here Ducat, who, luckily for me, was a doctor, bound me up and gave me a drink. Gad! I was thirsty. Shortly afterwards one of Danjeboy’s Nepaulese ambulance tongas, which we had brought over from India with us, galloped up, and I was put inside. I don’t think that worthy Ghoorka driver liked the sound of Mausers any better than I did, for he simply galloped the whole way. Over stones, over scrub, over ruts. I shall never forget that ride. However, I got to the camp all right, and willing hands carried me to my tent, where I lay till dark with only a greatcoat for a pillow and a good solid piece of natural veldt for a bed. Towards evening Ducat came in, and with great kindness went and made me some cornflour, which I was able to eat. This was the first food I had had, barring three or four mouthfuls of stale bread, since 5 o’clock the night before.
Dr. Powell came back from the fight later. He had been tending the wounded and dying there. Tired and weary as he was, he at once set to and tied my head up, first shaving off some of my hair. I don’t remember much after this. I remember Sergeant Elliott (of Edinburgh) was brought into the tent with his foot shattered by a pom-pom, and we groaned out a duet throughout that night. In the fight Elliott was holding some horses when a pom-pom shell burst in their midst, shattering Elliott’s foot and finishing off several horses, including his own. Managing to get hold of another mount, he rode up and reported himself to Captain Noblett, by whom he was of course ordered to the rear. So, badly wounded as he was, Elliott rode those five miles back to camp unaided. Next day or the day after—I do not remember exactly, as I was unconscious for two or three days, off and on—the ambulance waggons drove up, and into them we were shoved. Colonel Lumsden, Captain Noblett, Captain Chamney, and Sergeant Hewitt, I think, all were there, seeing us off and helping us to ‘keep our peckers up.’ My one complaint was that Captain Chamney wanted to shave off my moustache when he was doing the V.C. trick on the veldt. I asked him why he wanted to. He was much surprised at the question, and told me in answer that ‘there were too many Boers doing the shaving for him to think of it himself.’ I must have imagined the whole thing, I suppose, when I was lying ‘silly.’
Another incident which was referred to briefly by Colonel Lumsden, who for obvious reasons did not make much of it, is thus described in detail by Trooper Preston:
Lumsden’s Horse was to do the work of advance guard and scouts. No. 2 Section, B Company, was chosen for the scouting, and immediately sent out, and very soon the whole of the 8th Mounted Infantry was spread over the plain. One sub-section (Troopers Franks, Were, Powis, and myself) were scouting ahead of everyone else. For the first three or four miles the ground was fairly level, with a few small kopjes with trees on them. Then there was a ridge of kopjes with a steep valley behind, and then another ridge. The scouts got to the first ridge of kopjes before seeing anyone, then two shots were heard in the distance, and a man on a big roan horse was seen galloping away. As the scouts rode between two kopjes on the first ridge, about sixteen men were seen to come out from the top of the ridge; immediately the scouts halted, looked at them through their field-glasses, and saw they were dressed in khaki. Before the scouts started they had been told to look out for some of General French’s men on their right. One of the officers coming up then (Lieutenant H.O. Pugh) looked at them, and saw the same as the others—that they were dressed in khaki. The scouts then rode round the kopje, intending to meet them. By this time the sixteen men had got down into the valley, and were making up the steep hill on the other side to the top of the kopje. Trooper Franks and I then went down the valley, intending to see who they were, while the other two went on to the right. The men had by this time got on to the sky-line, some dismounting and others sitting still. We rode half way down the valley (which was about two hundred yards across), and then halted and looked through our glasses. The men on the top then shouted out something and began to fire at us, so we turned and galloped for our lives. Trooper Franks, after riding about three hundred yards, began reeling in his saddle and tumbled off. Lieutenant Pugh and a few men then galloped up to him and found he was shot through the back and stomach. The bullets meanwhile were raining about them. Franks begged us to leave him, saying that as soon as we were gone the Boers would stop firing; so Lieutenant Pugh gave the order to leave him and return to the others, who by this time were lining the ridge behind, Lumsden’s Horse having the highest kopje to hold. As soon as our Colonel heard Franks was wounded he started off on foot, with Troopers Betts, Percy Smith, and Chapman, to fetch him. The Boers immediately advanced down their side of the valley, and began firing at the Colonel and his party. However, they were prepared for this, and after a few shots the Boers retired, the Colonel bringing Franks in on his own horse and walking beside. Then we got the word passed to retire from the right. Perfect order was maintained, the men retiring one by one, the others keeping up a continuous fire until their turn came. At last everyone had got away except Lieutenant Crane and three or four more, whom the order to retire never reached. The Colonel and Adjutant were among the last to go away. The behaviour of the men was just as if they had been accustomed to that kind of thing all their lives, smoking, and firing at the same time, others lying behind rocks and writing letters to their relations and sweethearts. The Boers did not follow us up, and we reached camp safely, but very sad for the losses we had sustained.
Another version of these incidents, with such minor differences as help to give a clear conception of the whole scene, is furnished by the Special Correspondent of the ‘Indian Daily News,’ who, after describing the lucky escape of one scout, writes:
Trooper A.F. Franks, of the same sub-section, the very best of fellows and liked by everyone, was not so lucky, poor fellow. He accompanied Lieutenant H.O. Pugh in advance, but, seeing nothing, Franks suggested that he should go forward to the top of the donga or nullah in which they were standing; but on reaching the top he was confronted by thirty or forty of the enemy about three hundred yards away. They beckoned to him and spoke to him in Dutch, presumably inquiring who he was; without waiting for a reply, however, they opened fire, and Franks then turned and retired. He had not gone far before he was struck, the bullet going through his back and coming out just below the heart. He managed to stick on his saddle till he reached Lieutenant Pugh, who caught his horse by the head and led him towards the kopje above mentioned as occupied by us. Franks was in such pain that he was unable to bear the jolting of the horse, and so he had to be laid down on the plain for the time being. Lieutenant Pugh and other men who had come up in the meantime then retired to the kopje to report the state of affairs to Colonel Lumsden. All this time, of course, the bullets were whistling about, and the wonder is that not more of us were shot. Two men were then sent in search of our doctor, and Colonel Lumsden, as soon as he heard what had happened, immediately ordered his horse and, accompanied by his orderly, Percy Smith, of A Company, and Private H.N. Betts, of B Company, on horseback—Private Chapman, of B Company, having previously gone down on foot on the same errand of mercy—rode forward to the spot. On reaching it our gallant Colonel insisted on dismounting and placing Franks on his horse, saying the animal was a quiet one, and, notwithstanding the urgent requests of the others that he would allow them to give up one of their horses to him, he insisted on walking the whole distance, quite regardless of the hail of bullets round him. Progress was naturally slow, as Franks complained of severe pain, but at last the kopje was reached, none of the party getting a scratch. They had a narrow escape; the Boers had evidently got the range to a nicety. They then started a brisk rifle fire on the kopje we were on, which we returned at every opportunity, but they kept themselves so well under cover that we had very poor chances of doing them any serious damage from our side. They gradually crept up closer and closer, coming down by twos and threes from a kopje about two thousand yards away, and taking up their position eventually behind a slope eight to nine hundred yards distant. A regular artillery duel, several of their shells bursting among the pom-poms and our own Maxim, but not doing much damage. I fancy our guns did a bit of killing, though the Boers afterwards acknowledged to four wounded only; our Maxim gave a very good account of itself. I understand our only casualties in this direction were two or three wounded horses. We were told afterwards that the day’s operations were only intended to be a reconnaissance in force to find out the enemy’s strength and position, after which large forces from the left and right would attempt to surround them. This being the case, at about 12 (we had been under fire for about four hours) a general retirement was ordered from the right. The Boers, seeing us retiring, were evidently emboldened to throw aside their usual cautious tactics, and advanced on us rapidly, very nearly rushing the kopje on which we were before we could get away. The writer’s horse, which had been tied to a tree, got away, and he would have been badly left, as in the hasty retreat we were obliged to make it was impossible to say who had gone on and who was left behind, but fortunately ‘Molly Riley,’ Mrs. Barrow’s well-known paper-chaser, was standing near a bush close by, and Private Were, who was just going off, stopped behind and helped to get hold of ‘Molly Riley.’ We then started to gallop off, but just then another man came running towards us much exhausted with scrambling down the kopje, and Were, saying he was quite fresh, pluckily got off and lent him his horse. Fortunately at that moment Captain Taylor, our Adjutant, galloped up with a spare horse, and, Were getting mounted, we all made away for our lives. We halted at a place some distance off, and it was only then we heard of our long tale of casualties. A Company suffered very heavily on the left flank, where part of them were lying in an exposed position. Besides this, there were several men missing, and it was not till we got into camp in the evening after roll-call was taken that the exact extent of our loss was known. Franks was left on the kopje with an orderly, as it was impossible to move him, and we heard next day that he was taken to the Boer hospital, and died there at 12 o’clock the same night. Among the wounded was Paymaster-Sergeant D.S. Fraser, well known in sporting circles in Calcutta. He had his horse shot under him, and was himself wounded in the thigh and captured by the Boers. Our ambulance went out next day and found that the Boers had buried all the dead, except Major Showers, whose body was brought back to camp and buried there. The service was a very impressive one, and was conducted by the Military Chaplain attached to the regiment camped close by. It was calculated to bring home to us all the stern realities of war.
Yet in a trooper’s diary immediately after the most pathetic entry we find it recorded that when rations were to be distributed by a process of division and subdivision ‘B—— argued at great length that one-fourth of two-thirds could not be the same as two-thirds of one-fourth,’ and the discussion took a heated turn. Such are the trifles that seem important to men who have just come out of a battle in which perhaps they were more than once close to the jaws of death. ‘Linesman,’ in those brilliant impressions of the war in Natal—always truthful in fact, but not invariably just in deduction—has recorded a very similar incident at Vaal Krantz, when, from a fire that was deafening, bewildering in its intensity of concentration on the British front, some died, some were carried away on dripping stretchers before they could learn the full gamut. And the survivors? The few within the writer’s ken—quarrelled! During a lucid interval in the shelling, the regimental cooks had contrived to make and distribute tea to the men lying prone in their shelters. The distribution was not perhaps impartial. The menace of a 94-lb. shrapnel would make a liquor-measure uncertain with the eyes of a hundred Government inspectors glued upon it! So there arose a bickering. Tom down below must obviously have taken more than his share, else how came it that Mick above had to content himself with less? ‘Peace!’ yelled the monstrous shrapnel at the height of the argument; ‘Shut up!’ snapped the pom-pom shells; ‘Silence!’ boomed the far-off 40-pounder. Not a bit of it. No foreign-made projectile ever fired shall stop a Briton well under way with a grievance. That argument flourished amazingly under the shower, and only died away when the glaring sun overhead began to induce an unforgiving slumber.
Ridiculous, of course, such a scene must seem to civilians who have been fed on the heroics of a melodramatic school, or on the still falser ‘revelations’ of writers who, having never seen a battle, mix their own pusillanimous imaginings with so-called ‘psychological’ studies and ironically brand that mixture with the ‘red badge of courage’; but it is true to the nature of soldiers who are not always thinking great things while they do them, and who have often a laugh or an oath on their lips when their thoughts take a flight too serious for words. Burn-Murdoch has told us how, in the midst of a duel that was practically for life or death between some Boers and Lumsden’s Horse in this fight at Ospruit, men laughed outright at something that seemed to them ‘tearfully funny, coming as it did like the comedian’s joke in the middle of a tragedy.’ A soldier should make the best of valets because he is never a hero to himself. Yet he has a firm and never-to-be-shaken faith in the heroism of others. Lumsden’s Horse, many of them in imminent peril at the moment, watched their Colonel’s action in going out to bring the wounded Trooper Franks from a shot-withered slope to some place of comparative safety, and they afterwards declared it to be a valorous deed well worthy of the Victoria Cross. To that conclusion Sir Patrick Playfair also came when the story was told to him, and he said so. Thereupon Colonel Lumsden was much upset lest somebody might say that he, too, had been trying to win the coveted distinction. So he hastened to write a ‘disclaimer’ in these words:
What Sir Patrick really means, and heard about from some of my men, referred to the death of poor Franks, who was lying wounded on the veldt about 800 yards from the point we held on the extreme right of the fighting line. We could see him plainly through our glasses writhing evidently in great pain; and, as I asked for some volunteers to ride down and bring him in, I did not care to request them to do a thing I would not do myself, so rode down with my galloper, Trooper Percy Smith, now a captain in the Middlesex Regiment and a D.S.O., and Trooper Betts and Trooper Chapman, the latter of whom afterwards obtained a commission in the Johannesburg Police.
On reaching the spot we found Franks lying in great danger and pain. Having a quiet pony, ‘Harry Stuart,’ I dismounted, and we placed the wounded man on my horse, and while he was held by two of his comrades we walked back to camp under a pretty heavy fire from some Boers who were galloping on our left rear and firing at us. It was a foolish thing on my part to have done, but, as I said, we were all new to the game together, and I did not care to ask my men to risk their lives in an action in which I would not chance my own. That is all. There was nothing in it.
Yes, that is all! But let England, mother of nations, thank God for the sons who, doing such a deed, can say and think ‘there was nothing in it’!
Cold reason may bid us approve General Charles Tucker’s words of wise caution, but all the time our hearts will be beating time to a noble refrain, the notes of which have thrilled the nerves of British soldiers in all ages, urging them to risk their own lives rather than forsake a stricken comrade, and to die like gentlemen before they would let the stain of dishonour rest on them or their regiment. People who talk glibly of the necessity for encouraging initiative among junior officers may hold that Lieutenant Crane should have conformed to the general retirement, instead of holding his isolated post with untimely resolution, waiting for the orders that could not reach him, when the Boers began to close in on his front and flanks. Apparently no blame attaches to anybody for neglecting to recall Lieutenant Crane and his party at a time when they might have extricated themselves without serious loss. Colonel Ross says that the orderly whom he sent with the message was either killed or wounded, and so the recall never reached Lieutenant Crane. That it was sent both Colonel Ross and his Staff officer, Captain Williams (who has since been killed), were quite positive. In justice to Lieutenant Crane, it must be remembered that a company officer can know very little of what is going on at other points of a fighting line beyond the immediate limits assigned to him, and the privilege of initiative might be strained to a dangerous extent if every section-leader should consider it discreet to retire directly he found himself pressed sorely or somebody else giving way on either flank. In Colonel Lumsden’s words—so eloquent because of their undemonstrative simplicity—Lieutenant Crane ‘deemed it his duty to hold his position as long as possible.’ How many thousands of times in the course of our ‘rough island story’ has the Empire had cause to be thankful to the men who could thus interpret duty as a thing above all personal considerations, calling for self-sacrifice to the end! It was part of the white man’s burden which Lieutenant Crane and his comrades of No. 2 Section had taken upon them long ago, when they settled as indigo-planters in the wilds of Behar, Mozufferpore, and Saran, where Europeans are few and natives many. In such districts the Sahib’s lot may be to face a riotous multitude of frenzied fanatics at any moment, and he must fight it out single-handed, dying if need be under cruel torture, but never showing fear. That was the training-school from which No. 2 Section of A Company came. They were indigo-planters to a man, self-reliant and imbued with a high sense of the Sahib’s responsibility to the race from which he springs. Knowing this, we cannot wonder that the leader deemed it his duty to fight for the ground he had been ordered to hold rather than give way an inch, no matter what odds were against him; or that, when he fell wounded, with Clayton Daubney, Henry Lumsden, and Upton Case dead beside him, others chose to share his fate instead of leaving him to the tender mercies of their enemies. To such men no thought of surrender could have come. Corporal Firth had a chance of getting away, but he went back to where his wounded officer and some old comrades from Mozufferpore were lying under heavy fire, and elected to stay with them as they held the Boers in check until nearly every cartridge was expended. Not before Daubney, Case, and Lumsden had been killed, Cyril Marsham, Stewart McNamara, Helme Firth, Gwatkin Williams, McGillivray, and Macdonald wounded did the Boers succeed in making any prisoners among the little band of indigo-planters, whom they had by that time practically surrounded within point-blank range. No white flag was hoisted and there were no ‘hands up,’ but rifles dropped from the nerveless grip of men who had fought till they were faint with loss of blood and there was no power in the numb fingers to press a trigger. Others laid down the weapons that were useless when their last cartridge had been fired; and then the Boers, closing in upon them, made prisoners of all who survived. If anybody blundered, the mistake was nobly atoned for. It is a story of which Lumsden’s Horse and the whole Empire may be proud.
An early version of this incident, not quite accurate in some details, furnished a noble theme for the pen of Sir A. Conan Doyle, who, in his history of ‘The Great Boer War,’ writes, with a patriot’s enthusiasm and an enthusiast’s glorious disregard of fettering figures, as follows:
Before entering upon a description of that great and decisive movement (the advance on Pretoria), one small action calls for comment. This was the cutting off of twenty men of Lumsden’s Horse in a reconnaissance at Karree. The small post under Lieutenant Crane found themselves by some misunderstanding isolated in the midst of the enemy. Refusing to hoist the flag of shame, they fought their way out, losing half their number, while of the other half it is said that there was not one who could not show bullet marks upon his clothes or person. The men of this corps, Volunteer Anglo-Indians, had abandoned the ease and even luxury of Eastern life for the hard fare and rough fighting of this most trying campaign. In coming they had set the whole Empire an object-lesson in spirit, and now on their first field they set the Army an example of military virtue. The proud traditions of Outram’s Volunteers have been upheld by the men of Lumsden’s Horse.