Extract from the diary of an Officer, taken prisoner on October 20th, 1899, describing his captivity as a prisoner of war in Pretoria.
IT was originally my intention to write in the form of a diary a daily account of my personal experiences during the war. For a title " With Buller to Pretoria " might have done well, but circumstances have caused me to alter my plans as well as the title, and now my feeble attempt at recording the life of a prisoner in the hands of the Boers must henceforth go by the title of " To Pretoria without Buller."
To try and render a cheerful or even interesting account of a period devoid of all pleasure or excitement is no easy task, and beyond my faculties. Let therefore the preface to the following be taken as a humble apology.
When I first took up my residence in the Staats Model School I was one out of about fifty officers confined within its precincts. In four months our numbers had swelled to over a hundred, and " the cry is still they come." As each batch of prisoners arrives our hope of an exchange receives a rude shock. Besides, the harrowing, depressing accounts of defeat and disaster brought in by fresh arrivals are not calculated to relieve our drooping spirits. Naturally we hear the worst side; each tells his own little tale of woe, what actually came under his notice, and, naturally too, the only account he can possibly give.
We meet all types. There is the cheerful prisoner who says things are going swimmingly for us, the doleful one who predicts the downfall of the British Empire. Then we have the prisoner who knows nothing, and the one who professes to know all that is going on; all are mobbed, as they enter our prison gates, for news, which promptly is repeated with numerous embroideries. Our criticisms are then aroused, and in measure they are doubtless severe, but this excess is perhaps excusable, as we bitterly feel our present situation. Could we but have one short period of our lives to act again, now that we have thoroughly rehearsed it, we would allow no such combination of circumstances to again take place, as those which landed us, in some cases so easily, in the Staats Model School at Pretoria.
The Model School is a big stone building situated in the heart of Pretoria. It consists of a number of class rooms and a gymnasium. In the former we sleep, about nine to a room, and in the gymnasium we stretch our limbs. We have made the largest class room our dining room. In front and behind there is a verandah, or stoep as they call it in this country, and in which we sit and watch the people of Pretoria pass by.
Between the verandah and the railings, which separate us from the road, there is a ten foot pathway, which we use in our daily walks round and round the building. Nine times round, we have calculated, constitute a mile. Behind we have a, small compound, or plot of ground, which is choked up by the presence of Zarps' tents and those of the soldier servants, our two tin bath rooms and cook house. The force of Zarps which guard us is thirty strong; three are posted in front of the building, three behind, and two on the left, for we are situated at the corner of a road. Our right is flanked by Burke's hospital, from which we are separated by a wall of iron sheeting. Ropes are stretched across the road to prevent carriages or horsemen from passing, whilst those on foot are made to keep to the other side of the road.
We get exercise in various ways. A gymnastic class is very energetic of a morning; many, however, content themselves with walking round and round, and they must seem to passers-by to very much resemble lunatics at exercise. A big unoccupied room serves as a fives court, and fives is a grand game to keep oneself fit. We find it such hot work that a very light attire, consisting merely of a towel round our loins, is our costume for the game.
We breakfast at 8.30 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., tea at 4.30 p.m., and dine at 7 p.m. The intervals between meals are taken up in reading, writing, card playing, chess, or taking some form of exercise. But often we lean up against the railings of our prison and watch the passers-by, whom we have got to know quite well by sight, and whom we have christened with suitable names.
There is " Iris," a sweetly charming young fairy, who seldom fails to cast a hasty roguish glance as she sails by, and whose sweet smiles have won her the admiration, as well as played havoc with the hearts of many susceptible prisoners. A big, fine, strapping lady, much bedecked, and whose complexion gives rise to a soupcon of artificial colouring, treats us to a rather haughty stare; she we called the " Gendarme." " Marceline," the neat little dressmaker, trips across the road, displaying a dainty little foot and ankle, and whose gathered up skirt insinuate lace and frills. " Haut Ecole," an amazon of vast dimensions in trailing habit and top hat on a long-suffering, raw-boned beast, causes us a little merriment as she bumps round the corner. "Twee," a pretty little fair-haired girl, with fresh rosy cheeks, followed by her smartly trimmed poodle; "Trilby," "Annie," and " Julu," the nurses from next door; 11 John Bright,'' and many more whose familiar faces have helped to while away the time in prison.
By 11 p.m. most of the establishment has retired to bed. We have elected a committee to superintend the running of our mess. They receive our orders, and almost anything we wish to buy is procurable in the town, but at treble its proper price. Our gaoler takes the orders, and in the capacity of middleman makes his little bit. As we are supplied by the S.A.R., free gratis, with only one tin of bully beef, a loaf of bread, besides potatoes, tea, coffee, sugar, and salt per man per diem, and as this meagre fare is insufficient, we augment the diet by purchasing meat and vegetables, etc. Our rate of messing varies from 4s. 4d. to 3s. a day.
Every Sunday divine service is held by the Rev. Hoffmeyr, a clergyman of the Dutch Reformed Church, whose home is near Capetown. He was taken prisoner by the Boers for political reasons, and kept confined in Zeerust jail for over three weeks. He has good cause to hate the Boers, in whose hands he had been illegally detained since October 15th, 1899. Mr. Hoffmeyr is a favourite of everyone of us; he likes to look on the bright side of things, and does his best to cheer us up. He is an ardent sympathiser of the British cause, and a most loyal subject of Her Majesty's. He is a good preacher and possesses a fine strong voice, which quite smothers the effect of the harmonium.
We can join the town library by paying a subscription of 15s., half of which is on deposit, and we become entitled for one book at a time for three months. A Kaffir officiates as cook, and although no great chef, he does his best, but is handicapped by the lack of necessary ingredients which we cannot afford to provide him with. We are teetotallers, but not from choice, and water is our sole beverage. There are times when something stronger would be vastly appreciated.
A word concerning our jailer, Mr. Opperman, and his assistant, Dr. Gunning. The former is the typical low class Boer official, ignorant, narrow-minded, and indolent. Dr. Gunning is of a different stamp altogether. He is a Hollander, a harmless individual, and really ready to oblige. But he is as innocent as an unborn lamb, and quite believes the atrocities he has told him. He fills a fairly lucrative post in Pretoria, and, in order to save his own skin, must appear Pro-Boer, but, if truth were known, I am inclined to think he is not the rabid Boer sympathiser he would have us believe. He is fully conscious he lives in a land of deceit, where each suspects his neighbour, and where the actions of all citizens are closely watched. No wonder therefore he must be ever on his guard whilst this espionage is systematically carried out.
Dr. Gunning is in charge of a museum, which I should say chiefly contained rubbish, and he is also the director of the Zoological Gardens. Some time ago he got into serious hot water by imprudently accepting a lion Mr. Rhodes sent him. This was an offence which took a deal of forgiving.
Although the news to be found in the newspapers is scanty and unreliable, yet we should like occasionally to peruse the columns of these local rags. Why we are not allowed to do so beats all comprehension ! Our fate is to be kept in utter ignorance of the doings beyond our prison walls ! However, an occasional Standard and Diggers' News or Volkstem is smuggled in to us by some more friendly disposed person.
Among this community of ours are some engaged in literary productions; we have a playwriter and a poet, historians by the score and of varied merits, whilst the walls of several rooms testify to the presence of no mean artists and caricaturists. Great excitement is caused by the advent of letters. Batches of them occasionally arrive, but as the censors do not hurry themselves, it is a question of days, weeks, and sometimes months before they reach us. All English newspapers sent us, whether illustrated or otherwise, are kept by the S.A.R. authorities; none reach our prison, where they would be so appreciated. This is indeed a country of deceit and falsehood.
You have to be shut up as we are to understand the awful depression which bad news occasions. Rumours of it are most disquieting. Our reverses at Stormberg and Colenso were trying times, and it was maddening to watch the Boers rejoice over these victories. How anxiously we followed General Buller's movements. Would he ever get to Ladysmith? Would he again recross the Tugela? These were questions we anxiously discussed. Then came the Spion Kop disaster; matters looked desperate and almost hopeless, but, in spite of it all, we pinned our faith to Buller and to British pluck and determination.
The Boers themselves were cocksure we should never relieve Ladysmith. The newspapers talked of it as the " doomed city," and big head lines announced the last hour had struck. The time of the Platrand fight was the worst we experienced. It was actually given out Ladysmith had fallen, and the excitement in Pretoria was intense.
Over the way there lives an English family, the Cullingworths, to whose kindness we are deeply indebted. After a time we opened up communication with them, for it was quite evident they were strong sympathisers. In spite of the very great risk they ran, for were it known I dread to think of the consequences, the two daughters signal over to us the true and latest news which they get from the " dogman." The latter is also an Englishman, and a never to be forgotten benefactor. He is employed as a superintendent in the Government Telegraph Office, and, consequently, becomes acquainted with true and reliable news before anyone else. We call him the " Dogman " owing to his being generally accompanied by a fine St. Bernard. He it is who taught the girls over the way the " morse code.'' They regularly, every morning, signal over to us from the hall of their bungalow the latest news. It is very risky work, but they are so clever at it, and post their little brother and sister to keep watch outside, and to let them know should anyone be approaching the house, or should the Zarp on sentry close by leave his post, to stroll down the road towards the house. Whenever anyone passes the house they are thus warned in time to stop signalling, and when once more the coast is clear they start off again with the message they have to send. From the gymnasium we are able, through the window, to read the message. So now we are posted up with news two or three days ahead of the newspapers themselves !
All telegrams from the seat of war are first sent to Kruger, which, after they have gone through a process of doctoring at his hands, are dished up in as palatable a form as the cunning old man thinks judicious for the eyes of his people to see. This is often a hard job; it is not easy to turn a complete defeat into a skirmish of no significance, still 1 have seen this repeatedly done with remarkable ingenuity.
Of course the farce cannot be kept up long, and the truth gradually leaks out, and even the Volkstem, in a half-hearted way, finds itself obliged to own up. It was long after Kimberley was relieved that the news was published. It was denied at first, as was also Cronje's surrender, and when the latter information was made public every effort was made to minimise the importance of our victory. Cronje, the papers had said, had surrendered with 2,000 men after having inflicted terrible losses on the enemy! They cunningly with-held the real facts for days.
The Boers are the most gullible people imaginable. You have but to pick up the Standard and Diggers* News or the Volkstem any day to understand the ignorant class of people these vile rags have to cater for. It is inconceivable how, in this nineteenth century, so unreasoning and ignorant a race of white people exists. All the ridiculous nonsense printed finds ready believers, the shameful stories of British cruelty and injustice, and the most diabolical deed of horror, supposed to have been committed by our soldiers, find credence.
On the 16th March, 1900, our long threatened removal from the Staats Model School was accomplished. The latter place was required as a hospital for wounded Boers. It was not all to our taste being' ejected from our quarters, and we had a crude suspicion our new ones would compare unfavourably with the old. So it proved. After our breakfast our belongings were carried off to the building outside Pretoria especially built for our reception. We followed in hired carriages, escorted by the Hollander commando recently returned from the front. Many people turned out to see us " trek," and more than one English sympathiser mingled in that crowd. Our friends over the way waved us a farewell, and by their audacious display of open friendship attracted the attention of the Zarps. These latter were furious and quite unable to conceal their indignation, but had they seen the red, white, and blue ribbons and rosettes the girls displayed when their backs were turned their wrath would have been tenfold greater.
We were not impressed with our new abode. Though we had not certainly expected to find a comfortable or inviting country residence, we had still little anticipated being lodged in a tin shed fit for cattle only. A big tin building, whitewashed on the outside, a veritable whitened sepulchre, containing a dormitory eighty-five yards long, in which all of us try to sleep, and a room with four long deal tables and forms, in which we take our meals. Out of the eating room one steps into a small kitchen on one side and a pantry on the other. The flooring consists of red sand, over a part of which a narrow strip of oilcloth is stretched. The ventilation for 150 people is quite inadequate. In cold weather it will be like a vault. Windows are small, few, and placed high up out of reach. Five bathrooms are situated at the western end of the sleeping room. The whole interior of the shed is illuminated by electric light, which is switched off at 10 p.m., when we have to resort to candles.
Outside a portion of the veld is at our disposal to wander about in, but it is not a big space. There are no trees to shelter us from the sun's rays and no verandah to offer shade. We have more room out of doors than we had at the school; it is also healthier, and the air we breathe is purer. Barbed wire entanglements surround us and mark our boundaries, and rows of electric lights light up the outer darkness at night. Zarps guard us as vigilantly as ever. Just beyond the entrance gate stands the Commandant's tin shanty, around which the Zarps not on duty sit and chatter.
Whilst at the School we caught sight of the outer world, but here we have none of this harmless recreation. With nought to distract us a feeling of despondency prevails; we begin to realise we are a band of segregated confined out-casts ! What we miss most, however, is our usual supply of news, for now we know not what is happening.
On getting here a petition to the S.A.R., strongly protesting against our present treatment and pointing out many objections to this building, was drawn up and signed by every officer, but, just like many former petitions, was never favoured with an answer.
We have frequently suggested being let out " on parole." But this the Boers do not understand. The word of an Englishman is not to be trusted by people whose own code of honour is of a most elastic kind.
We are treated from our hill to a grand panoramic view of Pretoria. Partly hidden away among trees we can discern most of the public buildings. The Courts of (In) Justice, the Houses of Parliament, over which perches the emblem of Liberty, a gilded angel, who, with uplifted finger, proclaims a doctrine little practised in the halls below; the Town Hall; the Artillery Barracks with their up-to-date fittings; the Grand Hotel; the Kaffir location; Kruger's Church, where he occasionally thumps the pulpit when preaching to a congregation as fanatical as himself. In the distance, Sunny-side, a suburb of Pretoria, thickly dotted with little tin-roofed bungalows, peacefully reposes. In the foreground of this pleasing picture lie the Zoological gardens, which, I fancy, contain nothing more ferocious than a few, homely rabbits. In the background rise green hills, studded with Mimosa shrub, and on which are erected the very latest pattern forts to protect the town, but which will never be defended.
To add to other attractions, our prison grounds are infested by snakes; five venomous specimens have been slaughtered within the last four days. I fully expect one night to find some loathsome reptile wishing to share my bed. Toads, frogs, rats, and various kinds of insects have already shown a partiality for our dwelling, but a snake is an intruder whom we cannot submissively entertain.
No member of the Committee, appointed over us to administer to our wants, takes the trouble to come near us, and it is only very occasionally we get a short visit from one of them who then professes it is not in his power to assent to our demands. We are under the thumb of a most objectionable and ignorant Boer, whose hatred of the British has thus a fine chance of displaying itself. No proper censorship seems to exist, and in consequence our letters are not delivered to us till they have been several weeks, and in some cases months, in Pretoria. Cablegrams are similarly treated, and often have been kept back a long time before being posted. Letters from our men at Waterfall, which is twelve miles from Pretoria, have taken fourteen days and longer to reach us!
The food supplied us daily consisted of ½lb. meat, bread, potatoes, coffee, tea, salt, and pepper. Consequently nearly all we eat we buy. Extortionate prices are charged, and we have to submit to be systematically swindled.
The Roman Catholic priest, Father de Lacey, a most worthy gentleman, who showed kindly interest to the men, and to whom he offered his ministration weekly, was ultimately forbidden access to the prisoners at Waterfall, and admittance to the Model School was also denied him. He had been extremely shocked at the state he found the men in and at the way they were looked after. It was his attempt to alleviate their sufferings by small donations, and the steps he took to have their condition improved, which won him the displeasure of the Government.
The sick soldiers in hospital on the Racecourse were in such a disgraceful condition from neglect and want of proper care, that a subscription to relieve them from their miserable plight and supply them with necessary comforts and more suitable food was secretly got up by the few English sympathisers, and to which we officers contributed close upon £100.
The Zarps who guard us are a set of cruel, foul-mouthed, blaspheming brutes, who, without provocation, have repeatedly insulted us. Our own vermin infested shed I have already described, but it is more difficult to picture the horrors of Waterfall, where our men were confined, or to write about the hardships, the captivity of squalor and wretchedness our men have to endure there. That a nation of people, who take pride in ever vaunting their Christian principles, should treat their prisoners of war in so inhuman a way is a disgrace to civilisation.
The want of sanitary arrangements has made itself severely felt. Much sickness prevails. The drinking water is impregnated with disease breeding germs. The hospital is full, enteric cases predominate, and deaths frequently occur. The solitary doctor in attendance is quite unable to cope with all the work which claims his attention, consequently many of the patients have little chance of recovery. The ration of meat issued to the men is but half a pound twice a week; on the other days they must exist on mealy pap, the staple food of the Kaffirs. Soap was unobtainable for 2½ months!
The majority of the men are in great need of boots, and many are going about with hardly a covering to their feet!
Shortly after our change of quarters Mr. Opperman, the Commandant, and the Zarps who guarded us, were sent away to the front. Dr. Gunning, Assistant Commandant, was dismissed at the same time. Their places were taken by the Hollander corps, with a Mr. Westerlink as the new Commandant. The latter seems a decided improvement on Opperman, and gives us the impression of being truthful and honourable, qualities very rare among the officials here; he is civil and ready to oblige, but firm in the resolve to carry out his instructions and the strict orders the Committee have given him conscientiously and to the very letter. He obeys his orders in a straightforward manner, which is not offensive. The first day he addressed us in the following words :— " I hope, gentlemen, we will get on well together, and that the only point on which we will disagree is the subject of escapes. You can do your best to escape, and I will try my hardest to prevent you."
Opperman and Gunning had been dismissed in disgrace, for it was the opinion of the authorities that through their want of vigilance three officers had effected their escape. They were also held responsible for all the damage done to the Model School. The authorities were very wild over the state they found '' the School'' in after our removal, and considered a grave outrage had been committed. The electric light had been tampered with, a few cupboards had been burst open, and the walls of the rooms defaced by drawings and maps. But what they looked upon as an unpardonable and abominable sacrilege was a very clever and lifelike caricature of " Oom Paul." He was represented, Bible tucked under arm, in stove pipe hat and with family gingham, striding off to Bloemfontein, with coat tails flying, to encourage his burghers; and as a pendant to this was his return in hot haste, with eyes bulging out of his head, hat blown off and hair on end, closely pressed by Lord Roberts himself 1 The Boers have little sense of humour; they did not like our little joke, and showed very little appreciation of our artistic efforts.
The huge map of the Transvaal, Free State, and Natal, and also Cape Colony, embracing the whole seat of war, carefully drawn and painted on the wall of the room, was quite a remarkable piece of work. Little red flags and blue ones, pricked in, marked accurately the progress of the war from day to day, and the various positions of the relative armies.
The guard-room at Malta carefully preserves the clever and well-executed drawings on its walls, but the S.A.R. is evidently not anxious to keep any memento of her prisoners of war, so an application of whitewash quickly removed all trace of our handiwork.
Mr. Churchill's escape, followed by the miraculous disappearance of Captain Haldane, Lieut. Le Mesurier, and Mr. Brockie, and their ultimate flight from our prison, caused the authorities to keep an even stricter eye on us than before, and every precaution was taken against our holding communication with outside sources. Every single article which finds its way into the building is overhauled; everything is searched, even the milk bottles are minutely examined! Every man. whether white or black, whose business brings him through the gate of the precincts of our prison, is strictly watched to prevent any kind of communication taking place.
March 28th, 1902.—From now onwards I shall recount our doings in diary form. Last night we heard bells tolling in the town, and as to-day we noticed all flags at half-mast high, we concluded some important personage had died. We have just been informed that it is General Joubert who is dead. We hear thirty of our men have arrived at the hospital on the racecourse from Waterfall, all suffering from enteric fever, three of them being in a dangerous condition. The hospitals at Waterfall are full.
March 29th.—This afternoon we heard the booming of the guns firing the salute as General Joubert's corpse was being conveyed to the railway station. A wreath from the British officers, prisoners of war at Pretoria, was sent, " but not accompanied by a letter of condolence to Mrs. Joubert," as the Volkstem stated.
March 31st.—The papers to-day announce a Boer victory near Bloemfontein and the capture of British guns and prisoners. We do not believe this as yet.
April 4th.—The majority here are still disinclined to believe in the Boer victory at Sannah's Post and the capture of our guns, besides eleven British officers taken prisoners. But I fear, as the report is announced so circumstantially, it is only too true. I have in fact backed my belief to the extent of a pound, which I would willingly lose! I have been a prisoner so long now that I am able to judge fairly accurately whether what the papers say is true or not by the way the announcements are made.
April 5th.—Alas! I was right. This morning early thirteen officers, mostly gunners, marched in as prisoners, and besides this numerous addition to our number, three officers, who were also taken at Sannah's Post, have been sent to Burke's hospital in the town, as they were wounded. The officers corroborate the Volkstem account of our defeat near Bloemfontein and the capture of seven guns and 430 men. It is a sorry tale they have to tell, and someone has blundered again badly.
April 6th.—More bad news. A brilliant victory for the Boers, according to the papers, and the capture of over 400 more prisoners I The enforced inactivity which now has set in has given the Boers time to recuperate, and the successes they have lately gained have had the effect of making them more uppish than ever. Their tails are up once more 1 The Volkstem talks of Lord Roberts being forced to evacuate the Free State, and compares the forthcoming retreat to that of Napoleon from Moscow !
April 9th.—The State Attorney and some of the Committee paid us a visit this afternoon. Evidently the petition we sent a few days ago brought about this visit. The usual promises were made, and of course they had the impudence to express surprise on hearing we did not get our own letters regularly, and that we were barred front getting- English newspapers. The State Attorney could not but acknowledge we were living in mat discomfort. I knew by now bow much to trust in their promises. The son-in-law of General Joubert also came to thank us on behalf of the deceased*s General's widow for the wreath we sent.
April 10th.—From several sources we have heard that the Beers have received a big defeat lately; it may though only be town rumours. A couple of English workmen, who came to see about the drain pipes, managed, when the sentry over them was not watching- closely, to whisper us the news. The Volkstem has nothing about a British victory.
April 11th.—It to quite impossible to make any sense out of the Volkstem. This evening it is quite funny reading. The British, Brabant's Horse, are reported as " surrounded on five sides." I read " it is probable General Villebois is dead; he was buried with full military honours yesterday ! "
April 12th.—Eight officers, mostly of the Royal Irish Rifles, arrived here as prisoners, having been captured by General De Wet at Moster Hock.
April 13th, Good Friday.-—The newspapers contain absolutely no war news. I was much amused to-day by the scare caused by a rough kind of sun dial, which had been made by some of us and planted in the ground. Two Hollanders, with rifles ready, very slowly and cautiously approached our wooden erection, which I suppose they took for some diabolical infernal machine of destruction. Then they suddenly summoned up courage and pounced on our ignorant toy. It was quickly demolished and flung far out of harm's way.
April 18th.—In Pretoria life is intolerable, and the English who still remain live in constant dread of expulsion, and can never consider themselves safe from tyranny.
April 20th.—Lord Rosslyn (war correspondent) was brought in to-day. He was captured along with the Royal Irish at Moster Hoek, but since his arrival in Pretoria has been kept at the Hospital on the Racecourse. From sick men's accounts, those who have lately come from Waterfall, he quite bears out all the terrible suffering there. Another subscription is being got up to help our men at Waterfall. A high wire netting is being put up all round our grounds and in front of the barbed wire fence. Spikes have been put into the top bar of the gate. Prices are rising in Pretoria, and we prisoners have to pay very high for all we buy.
April 22nd.—The total amount subscribed by us towards the Waterfall Fund is £700. 16s. 7d.
April 29th.—We hear that the Boers are getting the worst of it all along the line, and are again beginning to lose heart. The Volkstem gives absolutely no news, an ominous sign of their discomfiture. Owing to the help of certain sympathisers the prisoners at Waterfall are faring better now. The Boers are very indignant over the Johannesburg explosion, which they put down to the British. To-day the Wesleyan minister, the Rev. Goodwin, held service here in the afternoon, under the watchful eye of a Hollander sentry. Two or three days ago a Mr. Kirkwood, one of the South African Light Horse, was brought here from the Pretoria jail, where he had been confined for about 3$ months. He was taken prisoner at the same time as Mr. Grenfell in Natal. A newspaper is to be started for private circulation. Rosslyn has undertaken the duties of editor, and it is hoped the paper will make a weekly appearance. Contributions are not wanting at present, and the paper is to be plentifully illustrated.
May 6th.—Another prisoner has turned up, a subaltern of the 9th Lancers, from whom we have gleaned little news. Yesterday, however, we got great tidings. From a parson who called to see us we heard the British troops were close to Kroonstad, the enemy had been routed and smashed up, the Irish Brigade cut up, and Colonel Blake taken prisoner. The German commando existed no longer; two commandos, the Bethel and Standerton ones, had refused to fight any longer, and another was wavering. The Boers were in a panic, and a great meeting was at that moment taking place in the market square, where Kruger was to address the crowd. The British had entered the Transvaal, and were marching north of Fourteen Streams towards Mafeking. This was indeed great news, and I felt as if I could jump out of my skin for joy! The Raad meets to-day; I wonder what will be decided. In a rather half-hearted way the Volkstem rather implied that they had had a bit the worst of the fighting lately.
May 10th.—A selling lottery was got up yesterday on the date of our release. The winner will get about £$o or over. The dates put up for sale ranged between May 15th and August 15th. The average price of dates put up fetched 105. The 24th May went for twenty-three shillings. Kruger and his clique are trying their hardest to inspire the Burghers to further resistance, but they are beginning at last to get rather tired of his exhortations and of listening to his biblical quotations, which in vain he tries to render applicable to the present state of things. The Boers are being commandeered everywhere, and under escort forced away to fight. Their ranks must now be filled with very unwilling partisans. In Pretoria everybody has been commandeered, and of late raids have been made in the middle of the night, citizens woken up, taken away then and there, and marched to the front. The other evening there was a performance given in the theatre here, and at the close of the play a number of policemen entered the building and commandeered a great many out of the audience. The general opinion is that the British will be here in a month's time. I hear we are in Kronstadt, but the Volkstem does not own up to it. There are now hardly any British subjects left in Pretoria; only quite a few have been allowed to remain, and over 400 have lately been put over the border.
May 20th.—Yesterday we had athletic sports. Three times round the running track within our birdcage constitutes a mile. Considering how very unfit we all are, I wonder greatly anyone was able to run at all. There is a very disquieting rumour abroad that we prisoners may any day be, with practically no warning, suddenly removed north, to either Lydenburg or Barberton. The mere thought of it is too awful. To think that almost within the hearing of our own guns we should be taken away to a spot fifty miles from a railway station. It is too horrible to contemplate. What an obstinate, pig-headed, fanatic old man Kruger is ! The lady burghers are urging their husbands and the young bloods to fight to the last, and they even seriously suggest going to the front themselves. A corps of Dutch amazons ! Think what is in store for our men when confronted by these furious viragoes.
May 25th.—Yesterday being the Queen's Birthday, we drank the Queen's health with great enthusiasm. I hope they heard us away in the town. The Commandant told me all the men at Waterfall fell m at 11 o'clock in the morning and sang the National Anthem. It must have been an imposing sight, 4,000 men assembled together singing for all they were worth. In the afternoon we had athletic sports. We sent the following telegram to Her Majesty:—" The officers, non-commissioned officers, and men and civilians, prisoners at Pretoria, offer your Majesty their loyal and dutiful congratulations on your birthday."
May 28th.—I have felt quite miserable to-day. The Commandant told us that it was quite possible we might be suddenly moved up north to Pietersburg, about 150 miles north of Pretoria. He advised us to lay in a store of provisions in case it was decided we should be moved. We hear a report that our scouts have entered Johannesburg and that our forces are at Krugersdorp, which is thirty miles west of Johannesburg. I doubt very much our being at Johannesburg yet, but fighting is certainly going on this side of the Vaal. This afternoon I clearly heard guns in the far distance ; it was a beautiful calm day for hearing, and the slight breeze was in the right direction.
May 29th.—To-day we could hear guns quite distinctly. We are all very excited in hopes of our coming release. Our advanced guard entered Johannesburg yesterday, and the morning train from Pretoria went half-way there to-day, but had to return. Our troops may arrive any moment. ' The men who guard us are nearly all on our side, and it would not be very difficult to gain their help in escaping now, but it is hardly worth it, as our hope of freedom is so high.
I hear there has been great excitement in the town all day, and many are leaving to trek north. There is a report Kruger himself is leaving. The American Consul came today to see us. It appears that on the Queen's birthday the men at Waterfall raised a Union Jack which had been smuggled in, and there was some row and commotion when it was pulled down by the authorities. As the Boers fear the men breaking out and wrecking Pretoria, the authorities decided to remove them to Middelburg, but the men have openly declared that they refuse to be moved, and would rather die first.
The authorities are in a dilemma and fear bloodshed, as they say they will have to employ force to move the men. So they sent the American Consul, as head of a deputation, to request that we officers should use our influence with the men and get them to go quietly, and that a few of us should go with a guard to Waterfall for this purpose. Colonel Hunt, who is the senior officer, after consulting with other officers here, sent back word that he could not comply with the demand, and that he strongly urged the authorities to allow the men to remain at Waterfall, for we thought it more than likely that the men would overpower the guard and that blood would certainly be shed; but if on the other hand the men were left where they were, some of us would be ready to proceed to Waterfall to restore order there, and we should be responsible for their behaviour. The Government took our hint, and have requested us to send twenty officers to Waterfall to preserve order there. The officers immediately went to get ready, and left on " parole " by special train.
We heard the following startling news, viz., that Kruger and the Government had hurriedly left Pretoria for Lydenburg, that the town was not to be defended, and that Lord Roberts was expected to march in with his troops tomorrow ! The Commandant, who also came in, said a few words; he asked us to help him in doing his duty, and that he hoped we should understand his extraordinary position. He had to be responsible to his Government for our safety, and to-morrow he would be responsible to Lord Roberts. It was a wonderful evening, and one I am likely never to forget. We are practically, to all intents and purposes, free men, but we mean to stick to our word and remain under the Commandant's care until the British troops arrive. I don't expect I shall sleep to-night for excitement I I hear that Kruger addressed the people in the market place to-day, and declared he would die fighting in streets of Pretoria. He must have changed his mind, however, as he left shortly afterwards, taking with him every bit of gold handy.
May 30th.—All day we have been listening to guns, but no British troops have yet arrived! From a newspaper correspondent, captured yesterday at Johannesburg, and who arrived here to-day a prisoner, we hear that the Boers are running away in every direction and that no fight is left in them. Lord Roberts, he says, will arrive to-morrow. Pretoria is a city of the dead I I have been watching all day ox waggons, piled up with furniture and household goods, leaving the town, and crowds are trekking north in a great hurry, driving herds of oxen before them.
May 31st.—Another disappointment, as the British troops have not arrived, but they are not far off, and this evening I hear they are but six miles away. We have heard no guns to-day, but we have on the other hand been treated to the sight of numerous fleeing commandos. All the morning we saw them streaming through Pretoria, and through field glasses we could occasionally catch sight of guns. One commando passed quite close to our prison grounds. They took little notice of us; only one man said " Your friends are quite close." It was marvellous to me none of these Boers had a single bad word for us. How would other beaten armies have behaved under similar circumstances? I daresay a shot or two would have come our way, and we should certainly have been jeered at. I hear the town this morning was looted by German Jews; cartloads of Government stores were taken and carried away. Four looters were shot, and we heard the shots quite distinctly.
June 3rd.—We have been in a fever of excitement for several days ! It was last Tuesday, five days ago. we heard guns so plainly and thought the British forces would enter Pretoria the next day. Pretoria was in a panic, shops were being broken open and the contents thrown about the streets, the Government stores were looted, and the people helping themselves to everything they could lay their hands on. Men and women, Kaffirs and boys, were busily engaged, heaping up in carts, wheelbarrows, and every mode of conveyance all manner of loot, and quarrelling noisily over the proceeds of their robbery. The town was full of armed Boers coming and going, all very scared and anxious to get away from the front.
The inhabitants of Pretoria, not engaged in looting, were flying from the town. Clouds of dust denoted a general trek north was taking place. Ox wagons, loaded up with every conceivable piece of household property, great herds of cattle, mounted men, women dragging children along after them, were streaming out of the town travelling north and eastwards.
The Government had fled the previous night quite unexpectedly. Kruger had bolted with two millions of gold 1 He had driven to the first station out of Pretoria, where he had taken train, but outside his house the two sentries still remained, unconscious of the President's departure. Boxes containing bars of gold had formed part of his baggage, and been thrown hastily into the train after him. The officials were furious on finding that the President had decamped without settling their salaries, and that the cheques he had left behind for the purpose were worthless.
Everybody was quite certain that Lord Roberts would make his entry into Pretoria the next day. But we were a little too premature, and our days of captivity were not yet at an end.
Things have now calmed down, and the town resumed its normal aspect, though the frequent appearance of the Boer warriors riding about the place hints to the presence of commandos in the neighbourhood. We are told that Lord Roberts made his entry into Johannesburg on Thursday, but where he is exactly at present is only conjecture. Rumours are more plentiful now than they have ever been.
The twenty officers who went out to Waterfall are not having a very lively time of it I expect. They took no kit with thern, as they expected to be free men the next day. I hear that the cause of the men at Waterfall being obstreperous was owing to no food having been supplied them for two days. They tore down the posts and wire entanglement and seized some oxen which were outside, and in a few minutes the latter were cut up and rationed out, the posts being used as fuel to roast the meat.
We are now daily, I may say hourly, expecting a big fight to come off. Imagine the suspense we are going through ! Any day, any moment, we may be free! I have been waiting thirty-two weeks for mat day 1
June 4th.—At eight o'clock this morning we first heard guns firing very close, and then, in spite of a strongish wind, could distinguish the sound of rifle fire and the spit of a Maxim. Soon afterwards we saw a shell, a good British shell, burst on a hill the other side of a valley about seven miles from our tin house. This was followed by many others, chiefly shrapnel, directed at a redoubt lately built by the Boers, which we saw was occupied by a number of the enemy. Bigger guns, either Howitzers or Naval guns, opened fire on the forts, and we had the pleasure of seeing lyddite shells bursting all over the hills, several falling clean into the fort on the hill overlooking the racecourse. What an exciting day we have had! Picture to yourself anxious, yet jubilant prisoners, sitting in camp chairs in the confines of their prison, surrounded by wire entanglements, calmly smoking while watching the furious bombardment going on a few miles off.
We could discern numbers of spectators on the nearer hills watching the bombardment, and they must have been running no small risk. The Volkstem appeared for the last time early to-day, and contained a tissue of lies. It is quite funny reading.
June 5th.—It was with a feeling of supreme contentment and intense happiness we went to bed last night, for we felt certain that Lord Roberts and his forces would enter Pretoria on the morrow. The town, we heard, would not be defended. The Boers had evacuated their positions at nightfall, and retired with all their guns in a north-easterly direction. We were a happy band of captives last night; the thought of being liberated on the following day was quite intoxicating. I could hardly realise I should be free, free after being over eight months a prisoner. The thoughts of coming happiness crowded through my brain as I laid my head on the pillow, and so excited was I that it was some time before I dropped off into a blissful slumber.
At about 1 a.m. I was woken up by hearing our Commandant shouting out to us to get up and dress at once, as we were to pack up our belongings and be ready to march off in two hours time to a railway siding four miles away. Never as long as I live shall I forget that night. Imagine our feelings of horror on hearing that we were to be moved at the last moment and be taken off by the retreating Boers. What would be our fate! No doubt it meant trekking from place to place, having to put up with every kind of discomfort and hardship, and leading a life of utter misery for months.
It was more than we intended to stand, and we therefore determined not to submit passively to be removed. So accordingly, when the Commandant came into our dormitory to hurry us up, we plainly told him we had no intention of obeying his orders, that rather than be moved we would be shot, and, in short, he and his men could do their worst, but, whatever happened, we were resolved to resist. The Commandant began by trying to persuade us, he ridiculed our offering any resistance, and told us he had received his orders and would see they were carried out. We then made the Commandant a prisoner, and a few of us acted as guard over him to prevent his leaving the building. When his assistant came in we also made him a prisoner. Then we talked matters over with them, and plainly showed we were very serious in our intentions, and quite resolved not to be removed.
We gradually talked them over to our way of thinking, and explained that the next day British troops would set us free, and that by standing by us now their own position would be considered in a better light by our own authorities. I think he only really wanted a loophole to get out of complying with the orders he had received from General Botha.
At last the Commandant said that if we let him out on " parole " he gave us his word of honour he and his guard would in no way assist at our removal, and that he would go outside to the twenty mounted Boers, who were waiting to escort us to the railway siding, where the train to take us away was, and tell them that he had given us his word not to let us be removed. After considering the matter over we trusted him and let him out. On his explaining the above to the Boers drawn up outside, they abused him in very forcible language and then galloped off in the direction of the town, shouting out as they left that they would soon return with a Maxim gun and a commando to take us away. What an anxious night we spent! Every moment we expected to hear Boers approaching.
Under the circumstances it was well-nigh impossible to sleep, though most of us went back to bed. I had dressed myself in uniform, over which I had slipped my suit of mufti, for I had every intention of making a bolt for it on the first opportunity had the worst come off. In the darkness and confusion in removing us I might perhaps have slipped away unperceived and hidden until the Boers had passed by, when I intended to find a refuge in the Kaffir location just outside Pretoria.
It seemed an interminable night; would morning never come? Had our Commandant really played fairly, or would our hopes of liberty be shattered at the very last moment? How I welcomed the first streak of daylight J Safety now seemed assured, and most probably only a few hours separated us from liberty!
At about eight o'clock we thought we could see troops away in the distance, and through field glasses we thought they were men dressed in khaki, but it was a misty morning, and it was hard to distinguish what was really causing so much dust. From the formation they were moving in I thought they must be British troops, but we were by no means certain, and still entertained fears of Boers coming to take us away.
It was whilst we were still speculating over this column of men, moving far away towards Pretoria, that we suddenly caught sight of two officers in khaki galloping up the road which led to our "Birdcage." Then, and then only, we knew that our deliverance was at hand. In a moment hats were flying in the air, and we were all shouting and cheering like madmen. As the two horsemen approached we recognised them to be Winston Churchill and the Duke of Marlborough, and instantly the gate of our prison flew open and we 180 imprisoned officers were streaming out and flocking round our two deliverers. We learnt from them the town had surrendered the previous night, and British troops were now entering Pretoria. A few seconds had sufficed to produce a complete transformation scene!
Our guard we disarmed, and they and the Commandant were placed inside our prison grounds, whilst our soldier servants slipped on the bandoliers and picked up their rifles, and were acting as sentries over them. Both sentries and our former guard seemed quite satisfied with their lot; the former, with broad grins on their faces, were posted all round, where our former Hollander sentries had stood. We then, amidst great cheering, ran up on the flagstaff outside the Commandant's house the Union Jack, which some officer had cleverly manufactured out of a Transvaal flag found in a cupboard in the Model School, and which he had kept concealed for this happy day.
We were free! Free to walk about and go where we pleased ! It seemed too good to be true. How often I had wondered how our deliverance would come about. In the end it reminded me of the Gilbert and Sullivan order of things, the situation was so extremely comical. From our prison we made our way to the square in the town, to view there the state entry of the British troops into Pretoria, and to meet many old friends we had been separated from for so long. Among the crowd I noticed many faces which had become so familiar to us in the Model School. Pattison, the dogman, the Cullingworth family, were all there with beaming faces, and with them numerous others whom we cordially greeted. Those like Bridal, Malan, and Opperman were no longer in Pretoria, those whom we had good cause to hate, and who merited severe punishment, had fled with the Government. Mr. de Souza, the Secretary to the Commandant-General, one of the chief members of the S.A.R. Prisoners' Committee, but one who had really done us no harm, had remained in Pretoria, and Dr. Gunning, our Assistant-Commandant in the Model School, was also in town ready to welcome the advent of British troops.