About this time I made the acquaintance of Major Lenehan, officer commanding the Bushveldt Carbineers, and had a conversation with him regarding a commission in his corps. He told me that he was about to get a gun section attached to it, and if I could raise a detachment of men he would give me command. I recruited a number of time-expired Australians, and several Imperial Royal Horse Artillerymen. On several occasions I applied for my discharge to enable me to take up my commission, but this was not permitted until my regiment returned home for disbandment.

In June, 1901, I embarked on the "Orient" at Capetown and rejoined my regiment at East London. There I received a temporary discharge from the Victorian Imperial Bushmen. I received a telegraph message from the O.C.B.V.C., Pietersburg, informing me that my appointment as lieutenant had been confirmed, and directing me to proceed to Pietersburg with any men I could get together there. I prevailed upon thirty returning Australians to remain and join the Carbineers and form the gun detachment. I had them sworn in and equipped at the local recruiting depot.

The saddlery issued to these men was practically useless. How any man or body of men could pass such worthless shoddy is beyond comprehension, and reflects sadly on the judgment of the Supplies Board. The saddles were without a vestige of stuffing, and the stirrup-irons were cumbersome pieces of ironwork, weighing over 7 lbs., and so narrow that an ordinary-sized boot would not fit into them—just the kind of equipment to cripple the rider and ruin the horse at the same time. As soon as it was taken into camp at Pietersburg the whole of it was condemned and returned to the ordnance stores.

While at East London with a few others, I went one day into a cafi for lunch. We met a young fellow there who had come from Gippsland, Victoria. He had been drinking rather heavily during his stay in the town. He sat down at the table, and was served with soup; when he had finished he got up to pay for it and go out. He was not hungry, and did not care for anything to eat; he only felt thirsty. "How much for the soup?" he inquired. "Half a crown for the dinner," was the reply. "But I only had a plate of soup!" "That makes no difference; you pay for the dinner." So he sat down again and called for more soup. Another and another was called for, until six plates had been served; then he paid for the dinner, and went out satisfied that he had had his money's worth, and had not been "taken down."

On 4th July I left East London en route for Pietersburg. During the day United States citizens were to be seen in gay attire driving through the town, displaying little flags of the Stars and Stripes. They were celebrating their national holiday.

Leaving by the evening mail train with the troops I had recruited, we reached Queenstown the following morning. Branching off at Stormberg Junction, we went on to Nauupoort, where the train stabled for the night. The following day we reached Norval's Pont; we travelled then only in the daytime, and reached Pretoria on the afternoon of the 11th.

As there was no train to Pietersburg until the following day, I spent a little time looking round Pretoria, visiting the church square, which is surrounded by the Government buildings of the late Republic, and in the centre of which stood the unfinished statue of President Kruger, a striking parallel to the nation of which he had been the head. I then visited Kruger's church and residence, with its two white lions guarding the entrance with silent irony.

Close to the railway station is the public market square, which in days before the war would be crowded with the waggons and teams of the Boer fanners, who came to sell or barter their odds and ends of farm produce. Near by was the Pretoria Museum, containing much-prized relics of their old voortrekkers, of their earlier wars and Jameson's raid, and specimens of South African game. This was a great resort of the Boer farmer to instruct the rising generation in the history of their country. After admiring the old guns with which they had fought so bravely and so well, they would turn to a model of one of Donald Currie's liners—"There is the big ship that brings the rooineks over the sea water." Then, pointing to an assvogel—"There is the bird that eats the rooineks when we shoot them like bushbuck on the veldt."

Leaving Pretoria on the morning of the 12th July, we passed Hainan's Kraal, where the previous night there had been some sharp fighting, and the Dutchmen had got away with a number of cattle; the armoured train picked us up here and escorted us to Nylstroom, where we remained for the night. Kitchener's Fighting Scouts were lying alongside the station, having come in to refit. In the morning I met Major Lenehan, who had arrived by train from Pietersburg. I paraded my men for inspection, and was complimented for my efforts in getting together such a fine troop of men.

Leaving Nylstroom for Pietersburg, we passed a spot at Na-boonspruit which was marked by nineteen fresh graves. Only a few days before a train had been wrecked there by Boers; an officer, Lieutenant Best, of the Gordon Highlanders, a personal friend of the late Captain Hunt and Lieutenant Morant, had been killed, also eighteen men, including the driver, firemen, and guard of the train. I saw the truck at Warm Baths Station in which these men were shot down; the iron walls had been about as much protection from Mauser bullets as a sheet of paper; the truck was riddled like a sieve. On arrival at Pietersburg, I was met by Lieutenants Edwards and Baudinet; the latter I had known for some time at Capetown, and a few months previously I had acted as best man at his wedding.

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Category: Witton: Scapegoats of the Empire
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