Sir Redvers’ military career being at an end, like a good citizen he at once retired into private life and spent his few remaining years in the fulfilment of his duties as a country gentleman on his manor at Downes. The idea—more prevalent than it ought to be—that landed property is valuable only as a source of revenue to the owner was abhorrent to the General. When his country’s service no longer required him he considered it his bounden duty to live among his tenantry. It was remarked of him that there was not a blade of grass on his estate that he had not watched, not a cottage that he had not planned, not a labourer that he had not known from a boy.
His home life had always been very dear to him.
‘The baby is decent, and an addition to the household’ he had remarked in a letter written some years before; ‘ I am told that I ought to admire the Rose of Devon [a prize heifer], but I prefer the baby.’ And on a General Officer entering the War Office to take up the appointment of Military Secretary, he was greeted with the question: ‘I suppose you know who rules here? Sir Redvers Buller.’ ‘And who rules him?’ was the reply. ‘I don’t know, perhaps his little girl.’
He now had time to indulge his literary tastes, Ruskin and Bacon in prose, Tennyson and George Herbert in verse, being his favourite authors. He had always been a rapid reader, but leisure for deep study had perforce been wanting. Yet Mr. John Fortescue, the historian, observes that whereas Lord Wolseley, Marlborough’s biographer, had taught him nothing that he had not already known about the great Commander, Sir Redvers in conversation at once threw a new light upon his character.
A fine equestrian statue was erected at Exeter, an honour unprecedented in England for one still living. On the rare occasions on which he appeared in public he was received with extraordinary enthusiasm. It would be hard to find an instance of public opinion more universal, more spontaneous. His journey to Lancashire was a triumphal procession. Every station on the line was crowded with his admirers.
In February 1903 he was summoned to give evidence before the Royal Commission on the War in South Africa. His masterly parallel between the circumstances of the American War of Independence and those of that in South Africa showed how clearly he had studied and grasped the principles necessary to the conduct of the war. After examination as to the part he had personally displayed, he was questioned on military matters in general; and his replies in regard to the training of men, the Supply Service, Army Hospital administration, &c., deserve the deepest study as the result of matured experience and reflection, and bearing the impress of a master mind [Sir Redvers’ evidence has been published in pamphlet form, Longmans & Co., Paternoster Row, London.]. His words made a deep impression on the members of the Commission, who now began to realise the reason for the unbounded attachment of his men to their commander.
In the General Election of 1906 the Unionist party was scattered to the four winds of heaven. The new Government treated Sir Redvers with the respect due to him, and, it is said, would gladly have brought him back from his retirement.
The General took an active part in the work connected with the erection of the statue of his old chief, the Duke of Cambridge, at Whitehall, and at its unveiling was given a place of honour close to the King.
On the 28th February 1907 he inaugurated and presided at the dinner for the Veterans of the 60th, the association of officers and men being one after his own heart.
He was a member of the Goldsmiths’ Company, and on the 29th May 1907 began his year of office as Prime Warden. At the Livery dinner held that day Sir Redvers was greeted with loud cheers. In spite of the distance of his home from London he was indefatigable in the duties connected with his office.
In December he was present at an important county meeting in support of the Territorial scheme.
On the 28th February 1908 he again presided at the Veterans’ dinner, and, as it turned out, bade farewell to the brother officers and to the regiment which he loved so well. In the previous December it had become evident that his health was precarious. During the spring the disease gained ground, brought on, as some thought, by the contusion which lie had received at Colenso. It is hardly necessary to say that he met the approach of death in the calm fortitude with which he had so often faced it in action, and that his last thoughts were for others. In the earliest hours of the 2nd June the end was evidently at hand. ‘I am dying,’ he quietly remarked; and then, fearing the words might give pain to those dearest to him, added, ’Well, I think it is about time to go to bed now.’ A few minutes later his gallant spirit ‘ returned to God who gave it.’