To-day (February 15th) is almost too good to write about. Yesterday we were very sceptical about French's advance, and to-night he is here, having brought his men along one hundred and twenty miles in four days. It is almost too good to believe, and no one can realise what it means yet, it has been so unexpected. But I had better finish the story of the siege properly, having got so far. Last night at about ten o'clock we heard heavy rifle firing out at Carter's Farm and Otto's Kopje, and a Maxim got to work too. The Maxim is easy to identify at a distance. It sounds like a street boy running along your freshly painted garden railings with a stick. We wondered what on earth was happening. Had the Boers at last plucked up courage to attack? The rattle only lasted about half an hour, so evidently there was nothing very serious. In the morning we found that it had just been a little ruse to divert the Boers' minds, and keep their attention fixed whilst our men brought in the captured provisions from Alexandersfontein. We wanted them too badly to risk, losing them for want of a little strategy, and that which we practised was quite successful. I got my share of yesterday's loot in the shape of three very large onions and a couple of vegetable marrows, and they were just lovely.
The big gun started at about ten o'clock, and the cordite gun at Carter's put in a good deal of work too. This latter scared me badly during the morning, as I had to see a lot of patients in the district to which it was paying particular attention. I somehow felt that relief was close at hand, as the rumours of French's advance were very persistent this morning, and yet, though no shell came near me, I could not get over a horrid feeling that it would be just my luck to get bowled over at the last moment, after going scot-free for so long. At one house where I called I could not make any one hear at the front door, so I went round to the back-yard gate, where I found all the children busy digging out a shell which had dropped there a few minutes before, but the patient was safe in the house fort. This was the last shell that small gun fired, and I think the big gun only put one more in before it retired from business altogether. All the morning we kept hearing that the Boers were trying all they knew to rout our men out of Alexandersfontein, but they did not seem altogether big enough for the job, and we hoped to let it stay at that, but were anxious all the same.
At about half-past three o'clock in the afternoon a man told me that French's column could be seen from the Beaconsfield debris heaps, but I did not believe it until I went over to the club and found that it was quite true. Then I went straight away and bought the largest Union Jack I could get hold of, and Agnes tied it on a long stick and stuck it out from the end of our second-story verandah for all the world to admire. We ourselves admired it more than anything else on the face of the earth just then.
After that I drove up on to the veldt about a mile, out to a place where one could get a view of the surrounding country, and had a good look round. In several directions there were clouds of dust, showing that big bodies of men were on the move, but though the relief-work natives there declared they were English, it was impossible to be sure.
(Somehow I have forgotten to mention those relief works. They were started by Mr. Rhodes quite early in the siege. The roads of one part of the town, which had only been acquired by the De Beers Company a few months ago, were shockingly bad, so when it became necessary to find something for natives, and others who had "got no work to do," to make a living wage at, they were turned on to these roads, and several thousands of them have been working ever since, and besides making a living for themselves, have wonderfully improved that part of the town.)
Finding that nothing could be seen from where I was, I came home to fetch Agnes, and started for Beaconsfield, in which direction it seemed most probable that our troops would arrive, but when I was passing the hospital gate I saw the ambulance go in. As my post was there when there were any wounded around, I went to see what was happening, and found two fresh wounded cases. I told Agnes where to get the best view in Beaconsfield, and sent her off alone. Both the wounded were shot in the head. One had a depressed fracture of the skull, and I had to trephine and remove some splinters of bone that were driven in, but it was quite a simple, straightforward case, and the man will probably recover without a hitch of any sort.
The other was a most interesting case. The patient, a boy of twelve, had been playing about on the outskirts of the Alexandersfontein fighting, picking up bits of shell and other unconsidered trifles, and generally having a good time. But at last I suppose he got too venturesome and went to pick up some shell within range of the Boer rifles, and they potted him right through the head, from above the right eye to above and behind the left ear. He was very collapsed, and brain was oozing out of both wounds. If it had been six months ago, I should have said he would certainly die, but I know Mauser bullets better now, and should not be surprised if he pulled through all right.
By the time I had fixed him up, it was nearly dark, and I had missed the actual entry of the relief column, but I was in time to see the arrival of General French and his staff in the town. Agnes had seen the whole thing down in Beaconsfield, and had been one of the group of ladies who nearly pulled the first man in off his horse, they were so delighted to see him. The scene in the town and at the club can't be described. I am not going to try to do it, but it was quieter than you would have expected; everybody was far too deeply moved to be noisy.
Directly the relief was an established fact, they began to haul up the people from the mines, and they were all up by about midnight, none the worse for their four days' stay down below.
And so our siege is over, and though we have had nothing like so bad a time as Mafeking and Ladysmith, if all we hear about them is true, still it was quite bad enough. We all feel just what a friend said to me to-night: "If ever I am in a country where they begin to talk about war again, I shall take the first boat to the far side of the world, and stop when I get there."
We have been shut up for one hundred and twenty-four days (from October 14th to February 15th), and during the whole of this time the Boers have never once attacked the town, or even been within rifle shot of it. Through their friends in town, they must have known almost to a man the strength of our defence forces, and yet they have contented themselves with shelling us from a distance.
It is funny to see in the Dutch papers how every general is alluded to as "Fighting" General Snyman or De la Rey, or whatever his name may be. We wonder whether there are other classes of generals—"praying" generals, or perhaps even "funking" generals.
I spoke of our defence forces just now; it will interest you to know who and what they were: — Mounted men: Kimberley Light Horse, 335; Cape Police, about 300; Diamond Fields Horse, about 150. This makes a total of 785, but what with sickness, guards on barriers, cattle guards, etc., we could never turn out more than 550 for any offensive measures against the Boers, and as they were all mounted, infantry was not of much use against them. Next came the artillery: — Diamond Fields Artillery, 118; Royal Artillery, 95—213 in all; then the infantry:—Town Guard, 2794; Lancashires, roughly, 500; Kimberley Rifles, 380— a total of 3674.
Out of the total number of available defenders (4,672), only about 600 were Regulars, or 900 including the police, and therefore we feel proud of ourselves, as our own men have done so much towards the defence of our own town. But the two men of whom we are most proud are Colonel Kekewich and Mr. Rhodes—of the colonel for the even-handed justice with which he has administered everything for the benefit of rich and poor alike, and of Mr. Rhodes for the magnificent way in which he has acted as a guardian angel to us all.