Life in Camp and Bombardment of the Boer lines at Colenso—General Buller moves his army, and by a flank march seizes "Bridle Drift" over the Tugela—The heavy Naval and Royal Artillery guns are placed in position—Sir Charles Warren crosses the Tugela with the 5th Division, and commences his flank attack.
Tuesday, 26th December.—We stood to arms at 4 a.m., and shelled the Boer camp and trenches for two hours during the day. The Biograph people, who are still with us, took a scene of the Tug-of-war, our Oom Paul, and then a tableau of the hanging of Kruger! Captain Jones came to give the Sports prizes away, which greatly pleased our men; he told me afterwards that he had selected my two 12-pounders and the 4.7 guns to advance with him when ordered, at which needless to say I was very much gratified. Another heavy dust storm, followed by thunder and heavy rain. On the few following days we went through our usual cannonading, following a new practice of firing at night by laying our guns just at dusk, placing marks to run the wheels on, and using clinometers for elevation at the proper moment. All our shells burst, and, we were told afterwards, with effect, greatly disturbing sleeping Boers in Kaffir kraals at Colenso.
Friday, 29th December.—Again more firing at a new work that the Boers were making, apparently for guns. Seeing an officer on a white horse directing them, we banged at them all and cleared them off. Again a heavy (p. 023) storm, but sunshine reached us during it in the shape of boots and great-coats from Frere, for which we were all grateful. The following day was wet and cold. I went to camp to try and buy poor young Roberts' pony, but the price was too high for me. Lord Dundonald came to arrange with Captain Jones a sham night attack on the Boer lines which happily did not come off as it was a horrible wet night.
New Year's Day, 1900.—At midnight of the old year my middy, Whyte, and myself turned out, struck sixteen bells quietly on a 4.7 brass case, and had a fine bowl of punch, with slices of pine-apple in it, which we shared with our men on watch, wishing them all a happy New Year. Good old 1899! Well, it is past and gone, but it brought me many blessings, and perhaps more to come. We gave the Boers some 4.7 liver pills, which we hope did them good. All our men are well and cheery, but our Commander has a touch of fever, so that I am left in executive charge of the men and camp. Winston Churchill came up to look at our firing. During the next few days, in addition to our firing, our 12-pounder crews started to make mantlets for the armoured train; a very big job indeed, as they had to cover the whole of the engine and tender, afterwards called "Hairy Mary," as well as the several trucks. The officer in command congratulated our men on their work under the indefatigable Baldwin, chief gunner's mate of the Terrible, who was in charge. The military also started entrenchments and gun pits on the hill, which we call "Liars Kopje"; at dusk they came to a standstill over some big boulders that the General asked us to remove, which was a compliment to the powers of the Navy. We soon made short work of the boulders, much to the General's satisfaction, and got on fast with the mantlets. Still heavy rain at night.
(p. 024) Thursday, 4th January.—Again more firing. My own 12-pounder crews and those of Richards' guns hard at the mantlets for the armoured train, and doing the job very well. On the 2nd, Lord Dundonald rode up and arranged an attack on a red house 6,000 yards from us and supposed to contain some of the enemy, but we found nobody at home. We were all glad to receive letters from home to-day. I was busy all day shifting one of my 12-pounder gun wheels for a new and stronger pair of skeleton iron ones, just sent from Durban, in view of a feint to the front with the object of drawing the Boers away from Ladysmith.
Saturday, 6th January.—This feint was made and we had no casualties. Poor Ladysmith! Our men there are hard pressed and must have a bad time; very heavy firing all day, and we heard by heliograph that the Boers had made a heavy attack in three places, although, happily, repulsed with heavy loss (including Lord Ava) to ourselves. We have Bennet Burleigh, Winston Churchill, Hubert of The Times, and many others, constantly on Gun Hill looking at our firing.
Sunday, 7th January.—From Sir George White's signals we realize what a close shave they had yesterday in Ladysmith. A nice cool day and no firing; in fact, a day of rest. We attended Church Parade at 6 p.m. with the 2nd and 6th Brigades. The Boers are as usual in the trenches working hard, while our time just now is spent in rain and constant calls to arms.
Wednesday, 10th January.—A move at last, and I received orders to join General Hildyard's Brigade with my two guns, while the others were attached to other Columns. We were all hard at work to-day loading up wagons, and I was busy copying a large map of the country which our Commander lent me. In the evening (p. 025) General Hildyard sent for me on business, and I sat down with him and his Staff to dinner, including Prince Christian, Captain Gogarty (Brigade Major), and Lieutenant Blair, A.D.C. General Hildyard was very kind, and said he was glad I was to go with him; and the next morning I moved off my guns at daylight, and arrived at the rendezvous by the hour named. It was a fine morning, although the wet and soft ground gave me doubts about getting our guns across country. But off we started; the Cavalry scouting ahead, then the East Surreys, Queen's, and Devons, and the 7th Battery Field Artillery, followed by my guns escorted by the West Yorks. About a mile from Chieveley we had to cross a drift in which my wagons went in mud up to the tops of the wheels, and one gun got upset, which I got right again with the assistance of three teams of oxen and a party of the West Yorks. It was indeed a job, because the ground was like a marsh, and our ammunition wagons, with three tons' weight on them, were half the time sunk up to the axles; but we all smiled and looked pleased while everybody helped, and in six hours we were clear and on the road. We were all done up with the shouting and hot sun, and the General ordered us a two hours' rest while he took the Brigade on to Pretorius' farm, which we ourselves reached at 6 p.m., crossing another bad drift on the way. The men were absolutely done up, and we were glad to arrive and find ourselves in a fine grassy camp with plenty of water. General Hildyard called me up and said he was pleased with the splendid work we had put through that day. On our left were miles of baggage wagons of various Brigades going into camp along a road further west of us.
Thursday, 11th January.—Shifted my ammunition to fifty rounds per gun to lighten the wagons, and moved (p. 026) off at 5 a.m., passing General Hildyard who was looking on at the foot of the camp. We marched with the whole force to Dorn Kop Nek and then halted; the General and others, including myself, riding up to a high kopje to examine the Boer position on the Tugela at about 8,800 yards off. Prince Christian Victor came and sat on a rock by me and had a good look at the position through my telescope which he borrowed. The General ordered one of my guns up this kopje, and we brought it up with a team of oxen and fifty men on drag ropes to steady her. It was an awful climb, and the ground was strewn with boulders; the poor gun upset once, but we got it up at last into position on a beautiful grass plateau on top with a clear view of the Boer positions. The Queen's Regiment, who were our escort this morning, carried fifty rounds of ammunition up the kopje for me, and I shall always remember how on all occasions we received the greatest assistance from the Queen's and West Yorks. The General pushed on with the R.A. and the rest of the troops and reconnoitred the enemy from the next kopje. Eventually we were all ordered back to camp, and I had a great job in getting my guns down the hill again. I think it was worse than going up.
Friday, 12th January.—Prince Christian (Acting Brigade Major) and I had a short talk together; we touched on a scheme of mine for making light limbers for our guns. In the afternoon I rode out to General Clery's camp, three miles to the west, to see our Naval guns, but found they had been pushed on with Lord Dundonald's Cavalry to hold ground leading to Potgieter's Drift. I dined with Captain Reed of the 7th Battery, R.A., who knew my R.A. brother well in the 87th Battery. I found I had met him last year at the Grand National, and it is quite curious that I meet out here everyone that I ever knew.
(p. 027) Saturday, 13th January.—Sent Whyte, my middy, a nice fellow and useful to me, over to Frere on a horse to see about many things I wanted for the battery, and at 9.30 a.m. read out to my men on parade General Buller's address to the troops, dated 12th January, 1900. This is the text of it. "The Field Force is now advancing to the relief of Ladysmith where, surrounded by superior forces, our comrades have gallantly defended themselves for the last ten weeks. The General commanding knows that everyone in the force will feel as he does; we must be successful. We shall be stoutly opposed by a clever unscrupulous enemy; let no man allow himself to be deceived by them. If a white flag is displayed it means nothing, unless the force who display it halt, throw down their arms, and throw up their hands. If they get a chance the enemy will try and mislead us by false words of command and false bugle calls; everyone must guard against being deceived by such conduct. Above all, if any are even surprised by a sudden volley at close quarters, let there be no hesitation; do not turn from it but rush at it. That is the road to victory and safety. A retreat is fatal. The one thing the enemy cannot stand is our being at close quarters with them. We are fighting for the health and safety of comrades; we are fighting in defence of the flag against an enemy who has forced war on us from the worst and lowest motives, by treachery, conspiracy, and deceit. Let us bear ourselves as the cause deserves."
Sunday, 14th January.—Church Parade at 6 a.m. with the West Yorks, Devons, East Surreys, and Queen's. About 8 a.m. a wagon and team crawled up to our camp; this turned out to be the light trolley I had sent for and which Lieutenant Melville had kindly hurried forward from Frere. I was awfully pleased to see it as our load (p. 028) before was absurdly heavy. The General was also quite glad to see and hear of the new trolley. At 2 p.m. in came my new horse from Frere, and a bag of excellent saddlery; the horse was in an awful state; he had apparently bolted on getting out of the train at Frere and injured two Kaffirs who tried to stop him; then the Cavalry chased him and caught him ten miles from Frere towards the Drakensberg mountains. The poor animal was very much done up and I found him afterwards a fine willing beast.
Monday, 15th January.—Struck tents and limbered up ready to march at 6 a.m., and moved off in rear of the 7th Battery R.A.; they have been very good to us all along, shoeing ponies and giving us water. A nice cool morning, and all in good spirits. We soon passed the first drift across a spruit about four feet deep; my guns just grazed the top of the water but luckily we had taken care to stuff up the muzzles with straw. The bullocks had a very hard pull, more especially as my men were obliged to ride across the gun wagons. The General looked on and we got on very well; all working, laughing, joking, and helping, especially our good friends the Tommies. We marched across a green veldt, with the usual kopjes at intervals; and after about eight miles passed through the camp of the Somersets who came out to see us go by and were very cordial; about a mile further on we crossed the Little Tugela Bridge, and had a very heavy pull shortly afterwards across our last drift, which was a bad one. Countless bullock wagons, mule carts, and transport of all descriptions of the Clery, Hart, and Coke Brigades extended for miles along the two roads leading to our advanced position. We were delighted to see a river at last, and men and horses had a fine drink. After a meal in pelting rain I rode on to report to General (p. 029) Hildyard, and had tea with him and his staff, including Prince Christian; they are all always very nice to me.
Tuesday, 16th January.—A stream of transport wagons is still crossing the drift this morning, and the Drakensberg mountains look very grand and beautiful in this clear air. We drew fresh meat to-day in our provisions. What a surprise and a treat! The Boer position on the Big Tugela lies six miles off; and here Dundonald and his Cavalry, with one 4.7 gun, are watching the enemy who are working day and night at their trenches. About noon, Colonel Hamilton, of General Clery's Staff, rode into our camp and told me that orders had come for my guns to proceed at once into position with Lieutenant Ogilvy's battery. He asked me how long I should be. I said two hours to collect oxen and pack up, and so we were ordered to march at 1.45 p.m. I was very sorry to be suddenly shifted again out of General Hildyard's Brigade, and I asked him to intervene if we were again detached, which he promised to do. We marched up to time, and got to camp about 5 p.m., escorted by a troop of the Royal Dragoons. As usual, it came on to pour; everything was quickly a sea of mud, and the men in their black great-coats, marching along with the horses and guns mixed up with them, reminded one strongly of scenes in pictures of Napoleon's wars. We found that we had to move on in an hour's time with Ogilvy's guns to a plateau further on. I rode out to see Captain Jones and the 4.7's in position, a grand one on top of a very steep cliff kopje some 1,000 feet above the Tugela; the plateau selected for our 12-pounder guns was some 600 feet lower down and 2,000 yards nearer the enemy. We had a tough march out, and did not get to our plateau till 11.30 p.m. I had a snack and gave the others all I could, and the great Maconochie ration and beer will never be forgotten, that night at any (p. 030) rate. I myself turned in to sleep under a trolley, just as I was, and very tired we all were after our hard day.
Wednesday, 17th January.—Out at daybreak to bring our 12-pounders into action. The drift over the Tugela, about half-a-mile to our right front, had been seized by Dundonald, and a howitzer battery had been pushed across some 2,000 yards nearer than ourselves, supported by the King's Royal Rifles, the Scottish Rifles, the Durhams, and the Borderers; to our right front was also to be seen the Engineer balloon, under Captain Phillips, R.E., being filled with gas. About 10 a.m. a message came up from General Lyttelton to bring four guns into action on our left flank, which I did at once under Ogilvy's orders, and a little later Captain Jones rode down to us and told us to support Sir Charles Warren's advance to our left across the river. I opened fire with my right gun, and got the range in two shots, after which the whole four guns opened fire and burst several shells over the correct spot. I heard that Sir Charles Warren signalled in the evening to say we had by our fire put two Boer guns out of action and made them retire, and we were all delighted. His force was plainly to be seen occupying the ridge about 6,000 yards to our left front. The firing of the howitzer battery was very fine to-day; also our 4.7 guns did well. The howitzers landed salvos of their shells, six at a time, all bursting within fifty yards of one another and right on the Boer works on the sky-line, where our Naval 4.7's were also working away at a greater distance off. As no tents were allowed us I again slept in my clothes under a wagon.
Thursday, 18th January.—A beautiful morning, and we were all up at daybreak commencing a slow firing at the Boer trenches, and many fine shots were made; the howitzers, during the afternoon, pushed on about 500 yards (p. 031) nearer the enemy under cover of three small kopjes. Looking at the position from our plateau one wondered how the Boers could have allowed us to get here and cross the river unopposed. If we had been resisted we must have had an awful job, both here and at the Little Tugela. All our army experts are surprised, and we think we must have caught them on the hop, as they don't reply to our artillery fire. Still, they are opposing Sir Charles Warren's advance as well as they can, and very hard fighting is going on to our left, although we only hear the shots and see the flashes of our guns, with volleys of musketry, while the enemy are hidden behind a high hill called Spion Kop. The panorama before us is magnificent; and the Tugela, our bugbear at Colenso, lies before us, beautiful, meandering, and apparently conquered. At 5 p.m. a demonstration in force against the trenches at Brakfontein was ordered, and we commenced rapid firing with eight guns, making very fine practice and sending off some 600 shells to cover our Infantry advance which was pushed on right up to the foot of the Boer kopjes and about 1,500 yards from their trenches. The Engineer balloon floated proudly in the air watching the operations. We retired at dusk, the object being to draw the Boers to their trenches and to relieve Sir Charles Warren's left attack which was advancing very slowly. We laid our guns at dusk and fired them every half-hour during the night.
Friday, 19th January.—We began firing again at daybreak, General Lyttelton and Staff looking on. They told us that our guns had shot very well the evening before. A very hot day. The fighting on the left seems to be heavier and more distant, and all sorts of rumours are current as to demonstrations and successes.
Saturday, 20th January.—Firing as usual. We hear again heavy firing on the left. About 3 p.m. our balloon (p. 032) went right out over the Boer trenches, while our Infantry attacked in force on the right and demonstrated in front in extended order; we kept up our firing, while James's guns which had been pushed across the river took the right hills, and with the howitzers put a Boer Pom-pom out of action. The balloon did well; it was fired at by the Boers with Maxims and rifles, and was hit in several places; in fact, Captain Phillips, in charge of it, had his forehead grazed by a bullet. During the afternoon my right gun trail smashed up and I had to employ all the talent near at hand to repair it. With a baulk of timber from the Royal Engineers we finished it, and at the same time shifted the wheels to a beautiful pair of gaudily-painted iron ones from Durban. I now call it the "Circus Gun."
Sunday, 21st January.—A very hot day. The armourers and carpenters still hard at work on my gun trail. Orders came for two guns to advance across the river, and Ogilvy told me off for that honour. By dint of hard work my right gun was finished by 11 a.m., and I inspanned and went off two hours afterwards. A very steep hill was the only thing to conquer going down, and we successfully crossed the Tugela in a Boer punt—guns, oxen, and my horse. We got the guns up to our new position by 6 p.m., and found ourselves about 4,200 yards from the enemy's trenches, with James's guns on our right. We had a cordial meeting with the Scottish Rifles; they had been a week in their clothes, with no tents or baggage, so I put up one of our tarpaulins for their mess tent and we enjoyed a real good dinner. At 9 p.m. up came Ogilvy to our position, to my surprise, as he had received sudden orders to bring the rest of the guns on across the river; the road and river must have been very nasty in the dark, but Ogilvy is a clever and capable fellow, who is always determined, sees no difficulties, and invents none.