MARCHING AND FIGHTING—FROM MACHADODORP TO HEIDELBERG AND PRETORIA UNDER GENERALS FRENCH AND DICKSON
Before presenting as a connected whole the separate descriptions dealing with a movement which had for its object the disintegration of Boer forces that still held the high veldt and thus threatened both railway lines east of Johannesburg, it will be well to summarise briefly the experience of troopers under Captain Beresford’s command while separated from the headquarters of their corps. It will be remembered that when General Mahon set out from Pretoria to join General French in his dash on Barberton more than two-thirds of Lumsden’s Horse were left behind waiting for remounts, with instructions to follow as fast as possible, or as soon as General Cunningham, under whose orders they were placed for a time, might permit. What happened then is especially interesting as evidence of the class of horse that was being issued to mounted troops at that stage for operations against an exceedingly mobile enemy. The Boers were then practically nomads, having no fixed bases from which supplies were drawn, and therefore no lines of communication to be cut. Pursuit of them was therefore very much like hunting a fox that has been driven out of his own familiar country. If he runs the pack ‘out of scent,’ there is nothing to serve as a guide for the casts that may be made in hope of hitting off the line again, for nobody can say what the probable ‘point’ is; and unless he can be brought to hand by a pursuit that never tires and never goes wrong, we may be sure that there is no chance of running him to ground. Most of the Boer leaders at that time had their wives and families with them. Mrs. De la Rey had been living in an ox-waggon, without fixed abode, since the beginning of war, and accompanying her husband on every trek from Magersfontein to Colesberg, and thence in succession to Driefontein, Brandfort, Kroonstad, the Vaal River, then on to meet Mahon’s column south of Mafeking, back in haste for the defence of Johannesburg and Pretoria, from there to Diamond Hill (or Rietfontein as the Boers call it), then back northward through the bushveldt, and so to the Magaliesberg Range again. Against an enemy thus independent of railways or beaten tracks none but well-mounted troops with horses in the best of condition could hope to achieve much. For corps in the same plight as Lumsden’s Horse, however, nothing better could be found than under-bred Argentines or weedy Hungarians, gross from the combined effects of idleness and injudicious feeding, and soft from want of exercise, badly broken, and therefore ill-mannered. One trooper, whose comments are based on actual experience, as he was among the men to whom horses were issued for trial, only on the morning of the day when they marched from Pretoria, writes of the ‘strange exhibitions’ with this lot of remounts which, to put it mildly, had not been ridden much before. ‘They were just off the ship, fat and very soft, and full of beans. One fellow was bucked off, another dragged, and several very uncomfortable. The horses had no mouths; they wouldn’t answer to bit, rein, or spur, and it was impossible to get one away from the rest.’ When the corps returned from its long trek nearly everybody was in rags, and very unlike the ‘typical trooper’ of ten months earlier, whose smart turn-out had been a source of pride to the corps. Clothing, however, ran short, and many men had difficulty in replacing their tattered garments by new of any kind.
However, this detachment, under Captain Beresford, having cleared up its camp, marched out a day after the corps headquarters had gone and bivouacked that night ten or twelve miles east of Pretoria, near the pass known as Donker Hoek. Colonel Lumsden, having remained behind to see them off, went on a stage or two by train, hoping that they would overtake the leading company before it joined General French. The two detachments were, in fact, though they did not know it, within cannon sound of each other on September 5, when Mahon had turned back from Belfast to help the Canadians at Pan station; but, after that, every march took them further apart, the Colonel pushing on with what remained to him of A Company as part of Mahon’s brigade, while Captain Beresford’s hundred could make but slow progress on their leg-weary, spiritless horses. The latter troops, on arrival at Belfast, were inspected by Lord Roberts, who rode through their lines but made no speech to them. General Hutton, who was with the Headquarters Staff, cast longing eyes on Lumsden’s Horse, looked them over, and told Captain Clifford that he meant to take them on with him. Against such wholesale appropriation, however, Captain Beresford protested, saying that the men wanted to join their own corps and the horses were not fit yet. After appeal to Lord Roberts, Captain Beresford got his way. While at Belfast the detachment had unpleasant experience of winter temperature at an altitude of more than 6,500 feet above sea level. They tried to supply artificial fuel to the system by additional rations, but were not very successful, as the resources of Belfast at that time were low indeed, and certain restrictions had to be placed on traffic with the Dutch inhabitants, one of whom sold bread from the eating of which twelve or fourteen men of an Infantry regiment had been poisoned. So sentries were posted to warn all soldiers against buying provisions. To keep out the icy wind some men built themselves little huts of corrugated iron, in the construction of which we learn that Kingchurch and Cobb and the brothers Allardice distinguished themselves among one section of B Company. Captain Beresford came to have a look at them, and in notes of that time is the appreciative entry: ‘He is a very pleasant man and always polite to every one of us. He said our tin house was much better than the officers’ tents. He told us also that Lord Roberts had expressed himself very much pleased with the appearance of the men and horses.’ At Belfast also Lumsden’s Horse were visited by their former comrade Chartres—once a corporal in the corps, ‘who looked very smart as an Army doctor.’ Their last day at Belfast was devoted to the mild excitement of watching races, in one of which Captain Clifford came in about sixth on ‘The Mate,’ and a note is made of the fact that the Duke of Westminster, who won the long-distance steeplechase, ‘rode like a workman.’ On the whole, this brief stay at Belfast was more pleasant than first impressions of it promised, except for nightly excursions after loose Argentines, one of which drew his picket peg so persistently and got away on the open veldt so often that Robertson dubbed him Ulysses because he was such a wanderer! The next day (November 11) Captain Beresford’s detachment struck its camp on that breezy high veldt and marched across the battlefield of Bergendal on its way to Dalmanutha and Machadodorp as advance guard of General Cunningham’s brigade. No sooner had it got into camp once more than B Company was selected to furnish an escort the next morning for Lord Kitchener. The non-commissioned officer who was to be in command had no other uniform than the weather-stained and saddle-worn suit that had done service throughout most of the campaign. Luckily, however, one of the Hussars offered to sell sundry things. He was a Reservist, and knew his way about a military camp. From him a complete outfit was obtained, and the purchaser then discovered, much to his amusement, that he had been dealing with one who was a pushing commercial traveller in private life. So the non-commissioned officer was able to turn out a credit to the escort. But some mistake had been made about the rendezvous, which, however, the escort found at last by the lucky accident of meeting Major J.K. Watson, Lord Kitchener’s A.D.C. By that time the General had gone on. ‘So had to follow at a tremendous pace, galloped up every steep hill and down the other side over terrible ground, a mass of stones and such clouds of dust that you could not see the ground or whither you were going. Then caught up Lord Kitchener, who was riding with General Hamilton towards a big camp on the top of a hill, where they told us General Smith-Dorrien was in command. Very soon started back again. This time Lord Kitchener by himself, and a nice pace he led us, up hill and down, in clouds of dust. Got back before 1, having started at 10 and covered twelve miles altogether.’ During a month at Machadodorp, outpost duty and patrols towards Lydenburg or Helvetia, where Boers were often seen but never showed fight except by sniping at long range, formed the ordinary routine. This, however, was varied by football matches, for which Lumsden’s Horse furnished a strong team with Hickley in goal, Kirwan and Winder as backs, Courtenay, Brown, and G. Lawrie halves, Robertson, Luard, Holme, Tancred, and Lloyd-Jones forwards. Unfortunately, Robertson injured his knee in one of these matches and had to go into hospital. It was at Machadodorp that Sergeant Stephens, of the Indian Commissariat, who was attached to the Transport Staff of Lumsden’s Horse, distinguished himself by several solitary expeditions into the unexplored country round about. From one of these he came back with a pom-pom carriage which he had found at a farm and several ‘poor orphans,’ as he described pigs whose owners had deserted them. Once, however, he got caught himself, as narrated in Captain Taylor’s private collection of reminiscences:
We had an Indian Transport sergeant lent to us, and a very good useful man he was; but he always had a desire to kill a Boer with his own hand and to be able to swear to it. One day when he was out getting supplies he saw an armed Boer riding over an adjacent ridge, so he left his carts and cantered away to cut him off. On nearing the ridge he slipped off his horse and proceeded on foot. Topping the ridge, he saw the Boer coming towards him and had him dead practically. Suddenly something touched him. Looking up, he saw three rifle muzzles, and he was a prisoner with a party of Boers. They took his rifle and horse and told him to come along with them. He walked between them for a bit, and, being a very amusing Irishman, proceeded to explain that in his opinion it wasn’t entertaining him like a guest to make him tramp while they rode. They treated the subject at first as a joke, but he was so persistent that they at last grew angry, and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t be quiet. On this point also he was found to be so argumentative that at last in despair they told him to make himself scarce, which he did with alacrity, arriving in camp by evening none the worse for his adventure, and quite pleased, as he had only suffered to the extent of a walk, a Government rifle, and a comparatively useless pony.
While Lord Roberts remained at Machadodorp, B Company was often called upon to furnish an escort of the smartest men, and for this duty Cobb, Kingchurch, David and Hugh Allardice, Ian Sinclair, Robertson, and Biscoe, or at least two or three of them, were generally selected. But the time for more active service had come again, and with the return of A Company from Barberton to Machadodorp Captain Beresford’s command ceased to have an independent existence.
It was on October 6 that Major Chamney’s force marched into camp without horses, and on the following day Colonel Lumsden passed through Machadodorp in the Princess Christian’s hospital train bound for Pretoria. Having received a sufficient number of remounts from among horses that had been left behind by the Imperial Light Horse and 18th Hussars, the corps was ready to take its place in General Dickson’s brigade for the sweeping movement by which it was hoped that General French would clear the country between De Kaap Mountains and Pretoria. Nobody at the time thought that it would be rather more like a rearguard action, continued from day to day, than a triumphal progress. We know that from morning to night the Boers followed every movement of French’s columns, potting at them almost incessantly. No matter at what hour the British troops began their march or halted in bivouac, or how often they changed direction, the enemy was always with them, and always close enough to see, though not often seen. A more harassing march has probably never been endured by any force of similar strength in that country. All these things we know, but men kept for the privacy of their own diaries a record of the physical sufferings that came to them through hunger and thirst where food, if not scarce, could seldom be cooked because of the thunderstorms night after night and the absence of firewood. Notwithstanding all these discomforts, we find a cheery strain running through the unprinted records of Lumsden’s Horse, and quite a joyful note when by chance the means of making a fire falls in their way. Then somebody is sure to be provided with meat to cook, and we are told how Kingchurch unexpectedly produced ‘chops done to a turn,’ or Cobb’s stew ‘was a triumph,’ or how ‘the indefatigable Hugh cooked chops while it still rained, and after dark he cooked mutton for to-morrow.’ The chronicler, in his gratitude, says: ‘Such men deserve to be remembered, and to have their honoured names handed down to posterity,’ and so they find a place in this History. One night, when rain was being driven in sheets by a howling wind across the bare hillside, some of Lumsden’s Horse could find no better shelter than an ant-heap, round the lee side of which they grouped themselves, huddling together for warmth. Kingchurch, finding them there, said in his whimsical way that they had selected the ‘most epithetally uncomfortable ant-heap in all South Africa.’
It is almost impossible to follow consecutively the movements of General French’s columns, which consisted of a nominal brigade under General Mahon (the 8th and 14th Hussars and M Battery R.H.A.), a second under General Gordon (7th Dragoon Guards, Scots Greys, and guns), and a third, which included Lumsden’s Horse, a half-battalion Suffolk Regiment, O Battery R.H.A., and pom-pom section, under General Dickson. Two Cavalry regiments, the Scots Greys and Carabiniers, with a battery of Artillery, were kept under General French’s personal direction on at least one occasion, and used by him with great effect when by marching out of Bethel he induced the Boers to come in, and then pounced on them. This, however, is general history. The operations in which Lumsden’s Horse took part are described by several correspondents in the following narrative:
At the beginning the original idea was to move on a wide front through Carolina, Ermelo, Bethel to Heidelberg, and in consequence we started in the afternoon of October 11 with Dickson’s brigade in the centre, its main duty being to escort and protect the reserve convoys of all three columns, Mahon being eight to nine miles off on our right and Gordon a similar distance on our left, these two columns taking with them only necessary supplies for a few days.
The very first day Mahon got a severe check, losing some five officers and fifty men, while the next day Gordon on the left was in turn hotly engaged. After this General French deemed it politic to bring in the flank columns closer, and thenceforth we proceeded with only half our former front, thus rendering mutual assistance more easy. Although the division consisted of three brigades, so called, Mahon’s was only about 500 strong, Gordon’s 600, and Dickson’s 700, amounting in all to only three regiments on full strength.
Our task was an extremely arduous and difficult one, for the first few marches were through hilly country, and the convoy advancing in a single string covered seven miles. To protect it from surprise we had but 400 mounted troops, the Infantry being kept more or less concentrated near the waggons. You can imagine, therefore, that our sphere of operations was a very extended one, much being evidently left to the initiative of individuals, as personal control by officers was well-nigh impossible. This was the kind of fighting that brought into prominence the good points of Irregular troops, of which every man is used to act on his own responsibility as occasion demands, wherein he differs from the trained soldier, who is educated to act on orders only. The nature of the convoy added greatly to the fatigue men had to endure. Oxen formed part of the convoy and, as they are unable apparently at this season of the year to march except in the cool of the morning and evening, the working day comprised twenty-four hours. The usual marching hour for ‘ox’ was 4 A.M., necessitating réveille at 2.15 often in the rain, the ‘mule’ following an hour later. The convoy commenced packing at 8 o’clock, and a halt was observed till 2 or 3 in the afternoon. In the afternoon ‘mule’ led off, the ‘ox’ following. By this arrangement the ‘ox’ avoided all heat, but never got into camp till 9 P.M. or thereabouts. Mounted troops had far the worst of this, for while the Infantry could put in a long sleep and have a good meal, the mounted troops, broken up into small parties, were posted on hills all round, and the need to keep a sharp look-out left them few opportunities for sleeping or getting meals. This bit of country was particularly hard on the men, as it was with the greatest difficulty that one could obtain firewood and water by day; and as we often arrived in camp long after dark, it was still more difficult to get an evening camp fire. To add to the trials, half of the available men were on picket over night, and during the day we were surprised incessantly. Our picket duties brought us into constant little engagements in which the corps had the opportunity of acting on its own, and, being ably handled by Major Chamney, quite distinguished itself in a small way.
When General Dickson’s brigade, or rather huge convoy, to which we were attached as the only mounted troops, began its march en route for Carolina, the Brigadier’s method was to make an early start, halt at 10 or 11 o’clock for three or four hours, and then make easy progress on to camp for the day. The veldt was changing into its spring coat of green, so that the cattle could graze during halts; in consequence, their condition was not so bad. On the morning of the 12th the camp was aroused by the sound of big guns booming to our right front, and though the brigade was booked to start at 6 A.M. it was not till 7.30 that the convoy got on the way. Later in the day the news was heliographed that the Boers had made a determined attack on General Mahon’s camp, had driven in the outposts, and had only been beaten back after severe fighting, Mahon’s casualties being as high as fifty. On the 13th the music of big guns was again heard at dawn, but to our left front, and the news came through that the Boers had attacked Gordon, but this time received a reception they were totally unprepared for, while Dickson with the convoy had camped by 1.30 P.M. outside Carolina. As Carolina had been in Boer occupation since the time General Mahon touched there on his way to Barberton, every precaution was taken against any surprise. Rumour said the Boers had sworn to trap French or take the convoy, and therefore our escort was augmented by the 7th Dragoon Guards, Scots Greys, and O Battery R.H.A. Our experience for the second time of Carolina was a bitter one; not only was the weather intensely cold, but the whole regiment was sent out on outlying picket for twenty-four hours. On the 15th a five-mile march was made, but on the 16th at 2.30 A.M. réveille was whistled, and at 3.45 Lumsden’s had started at a gallop as advance guard, a dense fog prevailing. A midday halt of three hours was made at Krantzpan, but camp was pitched at Klipsteple after dark. Klipsteple is the highest point in the Transvaal, and a huge smooth-faced boulder stands on the highway. On this boulder visitors have engraved their names, so that it is almost covered with letters and dates, though the names, so familiar to all, of the leaders of the Boer cause are conspicuously absent. On the 17th we formed the rearguard, and were engaged in destroying a farm when a party of about 200 Boers reconnoitred our vicinity. We looked at one another, and they evidently decided against a fight, for Mahon had that morning beaten this same lot rather badly. They retired on Carolina, and we proceeded onward to camp. From this point our further progress was slow, as the Boers hugged the flanks and persistently attacked the rearguard. It was a new light to view the enemy in, and it came somewhat as a surprise. Hitherto the Boer had adopted the running game. It was very gratifying to hear that the enemy possessed neither guns nor big-gun ammunition. On the 18th A Company were doing advance guard, supported by B Company, when they suddenly encountered the fire of thirty Boers strongly entrenched at point-blank range. They fell back, and No. 4 Section, B Company, advanced and, opening volley fire under Captain Sidey’s orders, soon cleared the front, while O Battery sent shell after shell into the fleeing horsemen. Captain Kenna—well known in India—Dickson’s Brigade Major, was good enough to speak favourably of us. It was the first ‘scrap’ we had had under his leadership. During the cannonade a funny incident occurred. A rifle and bandolier were found in a farm where only women were to be seen. As this meant burning the farm and seizing all stock, the Boer’s wife, riding on a man’s saddle, sought out the General, who chivalrously acceded to her request, and the burning was countermanded. The next day passed quietly as far as we were concerned, though Mahon’s guns could be heard in rear from time to time. Hitherto the enemy had employed guns, but to-day the welcome intelligence was passed along that they were completely out of gun ammunition. The camp was pitched at Bethel, a town containing only some six families, three of them English. On the 20th (morning) the regiment paraded for inspection by General French, who took advantage of the day’s halt at Bethel to say a few words of encouragement to each regiment. Addressing Lumsden’s Horse, he said ‘that the reputation of the corps stood very high; their behaviour and gallantry were spoken of by everyone, and, though he had no personal knowledge of the corps, he had heard of their splendid work and the good service they had done. There was no doubt that everyone of all ranks was anxious for a rest, which was well deserved. There was no saying, however, what might happen, but he hoped the onward march to Heidelberg would be an easy one, and he trusted to Lumsden’s Horse maintaining to the end that reputation for gallantry they had worthily earned.’ At the conclusion of the address, Major Chamney called for three cheers for General French. As the Boers were hovering all round us, the entire regiment spent the night on outlying picket; and it was a night!—wet, cold, and miserable. At 3 A.M. on the 22nd the brigade stood to arms, and by 4.30 Bethel had been left behind. The Boers were most persistent, and tenaciously hung round us, losing no opportunity of sniping. About 2 P.M. we were caught in a terrific hailstorm, the hail lying an inch thick upon the veldt, when it ceased, leaving us shivering and drenched, though cheerful enough as we resumed our onward course at the gallop to restore circulation in men and horses. Before camping we did some distant shooting at the enemy, but gave it up as too long a range. The water at this camp was inky black, but in the absence of better had to be used for tea and coffee, though many decided to defer a wash till next day. The whole regiment were again put on duty as pickets, and in their exposed positions had a bitter experience of a typical South African hailstorm during that afternoon. The next day the réveille whistle sounded at 2.30 A.M., and the different brigades were on the move by 4.15. The enemy kept up sniping systematically on the flanks, while the guns in rear were in action some half-a-dozen times during the day. During the afternoon a terrific hailstorm burst over us, saturating our garments and making everybody very miserable. The hail lay inches deep on the veldt. Prisoners were taken daily, and a few refugee women were under our protection. A singular incident occurred on this day. One of the prisoners who had surrendered handed in a Lee-Metford rifle belonging to Lumsden’s Horse, which has since been identified as belonging to Corporal Macgillivray, of A Company, who had been taken prisoner at Ospruit, our first fight. The 25th, however, was a great day. No. 4 Section B Company was rearguard left flank, the 7th Dragoon Guards in the centre-rear, and A Company right flank. Immediately we had taken up positions the Boers pressed home an attack on the left, and No. 3 Section B Company, acting as support, was engaged. The Carabiniers had retired some ten minutes when the left flankers rose from cover and moved towards their led horses. As they mounted, the Boers reached a ridge commanding our position and within range; they peppered us very smartly as we galloped out of range without a single casualty. In the meantime O Battery had come into action, doing excellent practice.
Startled by the firing, Captain Clifford’s horse took fright, and, galloping away, was lost in the distance, Clifford being then on foot controlling the firing. ‘General’ Parks gallantly offered to ride out and catch the beast, and was allowed to do so. He quickly vanished from sight, and nobody knew whither he had gone. As the convoy had moved on, orders came for the rearguard to do likewise, and our corps, together with the 7th Dragoon Guards, retired in extended line to the next ridge, an observation post, to endeavour to show Parks the way in. As there was no sign of him for a considerable time, Captain Taylor, the Adjutant, who had been indefatigable all the morning, exposing himself to encourage us while we were in a really tight corner, took out a subsection and scoured the country round searching for Parks, but without success. The sections (Nos. 4 and 2 of B Company) had to move on, but Corporal Graves and Troopers Morison, Maxwell, and Betts, on their own responsibility and in a Quixotic spirit of chivalry, resolving not to abandon Parks, stayed behind to assist him. There was danger in that decision, as it exposed those men to the risk of getting mixed up with, or, at any rate, mistaken, for the enemy. Captain Sidey noticed their absence, and, being certain they were in danger from our own guns, sent Trooper Behan to order the adventurous troopers back. In a sporting spirit, however, the men who had made up their minds to see Parks through refused to come in and remained on the observation post. Shortly after, another messenger was sent, with threats of instant arrest if orders were not obeyed. Just as this man arrived, Parks was seen through a glass leading the Captain’s horse about two miles away to the left rear and close to the flanks of the former position from which the Boers had been firing. He was making a very bad line to rejoin us, so Morison offered to gallop down and endeavour to show him the way, despite the half-company officer’s orders. This he did and succeeded in bringing in Parks, but directly our small party, retiring, crowned the rise, O Battery, from a distance of 4,600 yards, being informed that we were most certainly Boers, plumped a shell into the middle of us, the wind of the shell knocking off Graves’s hat and bursting a horse’s length behind the party, and, needless to say, we galloped in for all we were worth. Luckily for us, the gunner was informed who we were before sending a second shot along. He remarked, however, that he thought it was a jolly good shot.
Captain Taylor gives a slightly different version of the incident:
We were acting as rearguard to Dickson’s column, when Captain Clifford’s horse took fright and ran away while his master was dismounted. One of our sailors, Parks, went after it, and followed it for two miles at right angles to our line of advance. We saw him catch the horse and begin leading it back, and then saw him no more, though we waited half an hour. As messages were coming from the rearguard commander to us to follow more quickly, we had to leave, all fully convinced that our poor Parks had been ambushed.
After a mile or so, our widely extended line came down a long, fairly steep incline, on the top of the opposite slope of which we saw our Battery O in position. As we neared the bottom of the intervening valley the battery opened fire with one round, which burst on the top of the slope we had just left, and looking round we saw a party of six men riding down at a gallop, waving a handkerchief. They turned out to be some of our own men, who, having at the last moment seen Parks coming in, waited for him. The battery had seen the heads of mounted men in slouch hats advance quickly, and, mistaking them for Boers following us, had ‘laid’ for them. The shot was such a good one that it knocked off the hat of Sergeant Graves, and the Adjutant’s office went near to losing its clerk, and the Bank of Bengal one of its rising staff.
Another correspondent continues the narrative:
On the 26th the united brigades reached Heidelberg by sundown, but sustained two casualties in the rearguard. The safe escort of the convoy is locally reported as a creditable performance, and there were no fewer than 150 casualties in the united brigades since leaving Machadodorp. It was a very trying march, as rain fell nearly every day in torrents. Sleep was out of the question in deep pools of water, and réveille daily at 2.30 A.M. gave us little rest. We had taken 109 prisoners and brought on some twenty refugee families. Heidelberg is the prettiest town we have yet seen in the Transvaal, nestling as it does at the base of a rugged kopje in a perfect tope of eucalyptus, willow, peach, and oak trees. The majority of the houses are above the ordinary type—flowers abound in the gardens, and the surrounding veldt has donned its spring coat of green; the fruit trees are loaded with fruit, which in another month should sweeten our rations of dry biscuits. But—there is a ‘but’—the stores are absolutely barren. Foodstuffs and provisions of every kind are badly needed by the residents themselves. A Wesleyan clergyman informed the writer that he hadn’t tasted meat for a week.
Roses abounded in the gardens attached to the picturesque villas, and altogether a feeling of peace and security seemed to prevail. Our stay was a limited one, and on the 30th (morning) the trek was resumed through Nigel to Springs. The country we had to traverse is rich in mineral wealth, gold and coal mines being already in existence, while hundreds of claims are pegged out against the setting-in of peace and the advance of the capitalist. At Springs, on the return journey to Pretoria, we were saluted by Colt guns, which were repeatedly fired at us as we approached the trenches, manned by British troops. Our men were naturally very irate, and wanted very much to fire back. They considered it particularly hard lines, since we had been marching in the open and heliographing from a distance of ten miles. The 31st was a great day, as a parade before His Excellency Lord Roberts was fixed for 10.30 A.M. The Commander-in-Chief was punctual to time, and during the inspection addressed himself to the several companies as he met them. The various regiments then went past in order of brigades and returned to camp. Major Chamney, before dismissing Lumsden’s Horse, paraphrased what Lord Roberts had said to him for the benefit of the regiment. Briefly, it was to the effect that the disbandment of the corps was at the present time impossible, but Lord Roberts had telegraphed to His Excellency the Viceroy asking him to use his influence in keeping appointments open as far as possible.
Lumsden’s Horse had requested disbandment on the reasonable grounds of pressing business in India, and the fact of local Colonial and other Volunteer corps—notably the C.I.V., Loch’s Horse, and others—having been disintegrated. At first an abrupt refusal was given, but yesterday General French telegraphed to Lord Kitchener and strongly recommended our case. A reply has been received that only those having business of an urgent nature in India may return, but they must pay their own expenses back, only a railway ticket to port of embarkation being provided. Needless to say, many are going even on these conditions, but those who desire to go to England have to hang on for an indefinite period of time still. Only from Machadodorp three Surma Valley men were allowed to leave, as their appointments were in jeopardy. These men had free passages back given them. Again, a fortunate few have been given employment in South Africa, and they were permitted to leave as their appointments were secured. These number altogether about twenty. Colonel Lumsden is unfortunately still away from the regiment, sick at Pretoria. Major Chamney, officiating in command, finds his hands tied to some extent, and cannot do much for us in matters of such moment. But the feeling in the regiment is very strong, and the term ‘Volunteer’ is sneered at as a misnomer. If the war was not over it would be quite another matter; but it has been announced that the war is practically ended, and the duties now to be performed are in the nature of police work.
All round Springs was a hotbed of Boers, and patrols proceeding two or three miles from camp were invariably sniped at. Just outside Springs we had great luck in finding a brewery which, despite the war, had not ceased to brew, and we regaled ourselves with limited quantities of Colonial stout in a vain endeavour to keep out the eternal rain. The Boers, who were used to dealing with a garrison armed with carbines, were rather surprised one day when going to round up some cattle they ran into a small patrol of our corps, and Trooper Consterdine fetched one of them out of the saddle with a good shot at 1,800 yards, and thus gave them a lesson which will probably make them more careful.
The weather now became absolutely vile. There were hailstorms every afternoon, just late enough to spoil any chance of getting dry for the night. The roads were very heavy, and horses could not get on. We hoped and concluded the Boers were in the same fix. From Springs the Boers ceased to give trouble, but this was more than atoned for by the abominable weather and going. For forty-eight hours it poured torrents without ceasing, and there was not a dry skin or blanket in the division. To remove misapprehension, it is necessary to say men had seen no tents for practically eight months. Bad it was for us and the horses, but worse for the Transport, the animals dying daily to such an extent that it was all they could do to drag empty waggons into Pretoria. Pistol-shots every morning latterly had announced the death of animals that had dragged our carts for many miles, and to save the waggons from falling into the hands of the Boers there was nothing to do but burn them. It was no uncommon sight to see cattle lying in the last stages of exhaustion on the road, and ere death ensued being cut up and looked upon as a great treat by the local Kaffirs.
Everybody was struck by the formation of our Transport when out of hilly country; the waggons moved along in a dense mass with a frontage of about a quarter of a mile and depth of half a mile, the whole mass forcing its way over nullahs and obstacles irresistibly. It will be obvious to all that this formation of the convoy lent itself much more easily to protection than a stream of waggons seven miles long.
At 5 A.M. of November 1 the trek was resumed, the direction being Pretoria. A heavy drizzle of rain was falling, and without intermission it continued for three days, only ceasing when Pretoria was seen in the distance on the morning of the 3rd. Every garment, whether on the person or in the kit bags, was wet, and never was sunshine more welcome than on that morning. By 11 A.M. the regiment had camped on the far side of the racecourse, and for the first time since April experienced the shelter of tents.