Good telescopes are most important articles to have in any land company of soldiers or sailors; they were especially useful in South Africa. The Naval Service long-telescope with its big field is very good and powerful in any light where there is no haze (at or before sunrise or when the sun is low for instance), but when the sun is well up it becomes of little use; and then comes the turn of the smaller telescope as used by all Naval officers on board ship. This is a particularly useful glass, and I myself felt quite lost, late in the campaign, when I unfortunately dropped the top of mine when riding. As to binoculars, we found the Zeiss or Ross's very excellent, and all military officers seemed to use them; but, in my humble opinion, they are not to be compared with a good small telescope.
At the start of the campaign the want of good telescopes among the military was most marked, and ours were (p. 122) generally in great request. Many military officers with whom I have talked on the subject agree with me in thinking that a certain proportion of small telescopes should be supplied, say two for every company in a regiment, for the use of those on outpost and look-out duties. It is astonishing to see the added interest which any man placed on these duties shows when he can really make out for himself advancing objects and enemy's positions without being entirely dependent on their officers to tell them. A good glass will render reports from these men reliable and valuable, instead of, as they often are, mere guesswork. At Grass Kop, where we had one Volunteer Company all armed with binoculars which were presented to them on leaving England (with the South Lancashires), the hill was always lined with look-out men on their own account; so interested were they in the matter.
Our water supply, as at first run, with one water-cart to the whole Naval Brigade, was inadequate; but later on each unit with guns got, as they should have, their own water-cart, or else made them with a cask fixed upon axle wheels, which we were obliged to do for a long time. Transport for these was either mule or ox; the former, quickest and best. A field filter for each unit should be supplied if possible.
(p. 123) A few remarks may not here be out of place as to the best fighting kit to have ready for an officer who wishes to be comfortable, and also perhaps at certain times smart, when stationary in a standing camp for some time or on lines of communication. Needless to say that when actually marching or fighting one wears anything and everything that first comes to hand. Khaki has certainly done us very well; twill at first during the heat, and serge or cord later on when the cold came on; but it is well to avoid khaki twill in cold weather as it becomes clammy and uncomfortable. Personally I should say that a serge or cord, thin for heat and thick for cold weather, is much the best for general wear.
I started the campaign with two pairs of khaki twill riding breeches and two serge tunics (thin); these supplemented by a thick pair of khaki riding cord breeches that I got made at Durban when the cold came on, lasted me well through the campaign. For camp wear one can always use the ordinary twill or serge trousers, as served out from time to time by the Ordnance to all hands if required. On one's legs one should wear ordinary brown leather or canvas riding gaiters, only not the Naval Service gaiters, as they are of no use for hard work or much riding. Many of us wore putties, and the men all did, but I don't like them myself as they are too hot in hot weather and make one's legs sore in cold.
Riding breeches should be strapped inside the knee and doubled, and perhaps to lace up at the knee would be (p. 124) more comfortable than buttoning. Here I should mention that all the Naval officers commanding guns were mounted, and eventually all got mounts in some way; so riding plays a great part and is absolutely necessary if one wishes to be useful.
I also had two pairs of strong brown boots (an emphasis on the brown), they are far the best; and the soles should be protected with small nails carefully put in so as not to hurt one's feet. A pair of rubber-soled shoes for scouting, sporting, or camp work, and a pair of warm slippers to sleep in are indispensable. Long rubber or sea-boots, on account of their weight and bulk, are a nuisance. When it rained in South Africa it so quickly dried up that we found rubber shoes quite good enough for everything.
It is useful to take three flannel shirts, and under-clothing in proportion; cholera belts also become necessary to most of us I am afraid, and are very important; it is also advisable to have plenty of socks and to change them frequently. Light silk neck-scarves are most useful and prevent sunburnt necks; and in the cold and bitter winds we experienced, and when sleeping in the open at night with heavy frosts, Balaclavas, woollen comforters, Tam-o'-shanters, and Jaeger gloves are highly desirable. Thanks to our kind friends at home we were loaded with these articles during the campaign and found them invaluable.
In the hat line our bluejackets' straw hats, smartly covered with khaki twill and with cap ribbon, did very well for the sun and are nice and shady; they also last a long time when covered well, or even when painted khaki colour which stiffens and preserves them. I found my helmet also useful till I lost it. It is as well to take one Service cap with khaki covers, and a squash hat of gray (p. 125) or khaki; these latter are most comfortable and everybody wore them in camp; but I found that they don't keep out the sun enough during the day, they stow very close however, and can always be worn if one loses or smashes one's other hats.
As to bedclothes, this is a most important matter in the freezing cold. I advise a Wolseley valise to be got at the Army and Navy Stores, with mattress and pillow and Jaeger bag inside; one should have over one at night the two Service blankets allowed, and one's great-coat. Unless one sleeps on a stretcher, which can't be always got, it is well to cut long grass and put it under the valise in the cold weather, as it makes a wonderful difference on the frozen ground and gives one a good night as a rule.
If there are means of transport, it is as well to carry a Wolseley kit bag to hold one's clothes and boots, etc. I think that every officer in this war had these two things, the kit bag and valise, although of course a great deal may be rolled up and carried in the valise only and the bag left behind if it comes to a pinch.
The following articles are most useful to carry always, viz.:—Service telescope, and also binoculars as well if one can afford it (Zeiss or Ross's); a knife with all implements (especially corkscrew); a light tin cylinder to hold charts, plans, intelligence maps, and private maps or sketches; also writing materials, diary and order books, can be carried in a flat waterproof sponge bag case. As luxuries which can be done without:—A collapsible india-rubber bath basin and waterproof sheet, very compact as got at the Army and Navy Stores; a small mincing machine (the only means of digesting a trek ox), and sparklet bottle and sparklets are very handy. Such other luxuries as cigars, cigarettes, pipes, etc., can always be stowed in (p. 126) some corner of the valise or bag. Carry brown leather polish, dubbing, and laces.
Leather gear as carried on one's back should be a "Sam Brown Belt" of the single cross strap kind, in preference to the Naval Service gear. On this one can carry one's revolver, water-bottle, and haversack, which with glasses slung over all and separately, complete all one requires as a gunner. Swords were not carried during this war by officers, as in cases where the rifle was substituted, they only proved an incumbrance. A stick for the marching officer, like "Chinese Gordon" had, cannot be beaten.
A hint as to food before we part. Don't go on the principle "because I am campaigning I must resign myself to feed badly on what I can pick up and on what my stomach is entirely unaccustomed to." There was never a greater mistake. On the contrary, feed yourself and those under you on the best, sparing no expense, and when you can get wine instead of muddy water, drink it to keep you going and your blood in good order. Do yourself as well as you can, is my advice and experience, after perhaps rather thinking and going the other way at first. It simply means that when others run down and go sick with dysentery, fever and other ills, you are still going strong and fit for work. Naturally advice on this point is entirely dependent on means of transport; but when this exists, as it did with the Naval Brigade who had ammunition wagons, a hundred pounds weight or so makes little difference to them if not already overloaded. Take the best advantage, therefore, of it that you can within reason, and up to a certain extent, there being of course always a limit to all good things.
Tents are a great and important feature in any long campaign. I don't hesitate to say that the single canvas (p. 127) bell tent as supplied to the British Forces, should be at once converted into double canvas tents. In the many long sweltering days when the Natal Field Force before Colenso, and later at Elandslaagte, were forced to lie doing nothing, the heat of the sun coming through the tent was very bad; one was always obliged to wear a helmet inside one's tent; and I think in the men's tents (ours with, say, ten in them, and the military who had, I am told, up to fifteen in one tent) the state of things was abominably unhealthy under the blazing South African sun, and I am persuaded that half the sickness among the forces was due to this insufficient protection from the sun. The double canvas bell tent with air space in between the two parts does very well, in both keeping heat and cold off. The Indian tents, of khaki canvas, double and generally square-shaped, are much the best ones we saw on the Natal side and should be used generally in the Army; the extra expense would be saved in the end by prevention of fever and sunstroke.
My own experience (when I and three other officers lay in a field hospital outside Ladysmith just after the relief, in a single bell tent, and saw Tommies all around us crowded into these tents with fever and dysentery, whereby all our cases, I am sure, were made much worse by the torturing sun which poured in all day on our heads), makes me very glad that the "Hospital Commission" is now sitting, and I sincerely hope that such absurd mistakes will be noticed and corrected by them for the good of the whole British Forces.
Regarding the Mauser rifle, as compared with the Lee-Metford, I personally have little experience, but I can only say that the Mauser to hold and carry is much the better balanced of the two, and that the fine sighting is superior. Also some military officers seem to say it is (p. 128) a better shooter at long ranges, and its magazine action is far quicker and superior. Revolvers, as far as I know, have had no test at all in this war. The cavalry carbine, I believe, is universally condemned by all cavalry officers out here, and is doomed to go I hope, being, if used against foes with modern weapons, only waste lumber.
I believe that I am right in saying that pouches for carrying the rifle ammunition are universally condemned in favour of a bandolier, with flaps over every ten cartridges or so. In our Naval bandoliers the want of these flaps was especially noticeable, and the wastage of ammunition dropped out was, I am sure, excessive, besides leaving loose ammunition lying about for Boer or Kaffir to pick up, as they are reported to be doing. The web bandolier is lighter than the leather, and better, so I recommend it, if fitted with flaps, to the notice of the Naval authorities.
Footnote 8: The proper filtering of water for use in water-bottles and indeed for all drinking purposes, is most important, and especially so in hot weather, when men are always wanting a drink at off times, and will have it of course. Late in the war, the "Berkefeld Field Service Filter" was supplied to us by the Ordnance Department, and is very good; it packs up in what looks like a large-sized luncheon basket, and is very portable; it is simple to look after, if directions are followed, and will make about thirty-four pints in ten minutes, or, enough to fill fifteen men's water-bottles; consequently it can easily be used on the march during short halts, and whenever water is passed to fill up water-bottles, and it is quickly packed up again. For any individual who wishes to carry a filter on his own person, I would recommend a small "Berkefeld Cylinder or porous candle" and small "Pasteur pump" with the necessary rubber tubes; this makes a very small parcel; it would only take up about one quarter of the Service haversack, and is well worth taking I am sure. The "Berkefeld Filter" should be supplied to ships in case of landing Brigades—one to every unit of 100 is the proper proportion as recommended by the firm.
Footnote 9: Since writing this about the Mauser, Captain Cowper of the Queen's tells me that on the whole he considers the Lee-Metford superior, and that the Boers he has met have told him they hold it to be a harder shooter at long ranges. However, it seems to me that the better balance and magazine of the Mauser counteract this and give it the preference.