The detachment of the 1st Batt King's Royal Rifles to which I belonged had been stationed in South Africa since January, 1896, so that when the war did come, in 1899, was no surprise to us. Indeed, on our departure from India, many men were heard to express their intention of " pulling Mr. Kruger's whiskers," and very soon after our arrival at the Cape we started field days and training in South African warfare. General Sir Wm, Goodenough fully realised the possibility of war with the Boers, and trained the troops under him particularly in stalking and shooting, which he foresaw would be so important; yet, being anxious to do nothing in the way of hurrying matters, he used the term "South African" warfare, and forbad the words "Boer" warfare.
General Goodenough was succeeded by Colonel Morgan-Crofton, and later by Sir William Butler, and they too kept the troops employed, laying particular stress on the necessity for intelligence in individuals and on good shooting and stalking. So convinced were all ranks that they were training for the real thing, that we listened keenly, and profited greatly from serving under these commanders.
On May 5th, 1899, great excitement and a feeling of a coming ultimatum were caused by the correspondence between Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Reitz. On Sunday, May 7th, we sailed from Cape Town, and joined the other four companies of the battalion at Maritzburg under Lieut.-Col. Gunning, arriving there on the night of May nth. At Maritzburg we were kept busy soldiering, and all ranks showed a keenness which could only be inspired by the conviction that war was coming. It took a long time coming. For about four months we were in a continual state of suspense. We rushed at the morning papers every day— when the news looked like peace we were greatly depressed ; when war seemed certain we were in tremendous spirits. We congratulated ourselves on being one of the regiments on the spot, and our only regret was lest someone should have to be left behind.
In June Sir William Penn Symonds, from India, took over the command in Natal. He kept us busy with constant field days, taking a special interest in the Mounted Infantry, to which I belonged. He was a keen and capable soldier, and though some of us thought that his tactics were more suited for Afridis than for Boers, yet we all felt that he was a leader of men, and all were ready to go anywhere with him.
In June and July I made expeditions to the neighbourhood of Laing's Nek, for a fight there was looked upon in those days as a certainty, and it would be a great advantage to know the ground. The historical interest of the ride along the Nek from Majuba to the Buffalo was greatly added to by the feeling that we might some day soon be either attacking the south side or resisting an attack from the north. The feeling on the border was already strained, and there was considerable uneasiness at Charlestown, where, I remember, there was a meeting of the residents to discuss what they should do in the event of war, should Charlestown not be held by our troops. A retirement on Newcastle was decided on by all the residents except one, an old soldier, who voted for forming a laager and resisting to the end.
On the night of Sunday, Sept 24th, General Symonds came in to us while we were all at mess. We all stopped talking, and felt that something was up. The General said that we were to move up next day to Ladysmith, while the Ladysmith garrison was being moved on to Dundee. This looked like business at last. The battalion went up by train, while the Mounted Infantry Company marched up the road with the 5th Lancers. The enthusiasm was tremendous, and I shall never forget the exchanges of cheering which took place when we, marching north by road, met the crowded trains of refugees coming south by rail from Johannesburg.
A fine serviceable looking lot were these troops, and, looking back on them now, I feel sure that better never started for the front than the highly-trained troops which found themselves in the country at the beginning of the war. In those days there were a few, but very few, who would shake their heads and say that the Boer was a very good fighting man, that he was well armed, and that there was room for anxiety about the result. But we felt full of confidence; we expected to have one hard fight, perhaps two; and we realised that with modern quick-firing rifles there must be-many casualties. But we were not going to make the blunders of 1880; we were dressed in khaki now, and well practiced in skirmishing. We would be in Johannesburg by Christmas.
On October 1st we reached Colenso. While we encamped there, detachments of the Natal Carabineers, Durban Light Infantry, and the Natal Naval Volunteers, with two guns, arrived to do garrison duty. All were keen for a fight, and regretting that they should be thus employed on lines of communication. It makes one smile now to think of the two old 40-pounder muzzle-loading guns, which had been solemnly brought up from Durban to Colenso to be pitted against the Boer Long Toms.
In peace time Ladysmith as a military station had always had a bad name. Officers had been known to resign their commissions rather than serve there, and when we arrived there, as we did on a typical afternoon, on October 2nd, we were well able to realise why Ladysmith was unpopular. Wherever one went the dust was ankle deep, a black, grimy dust, which was blown by strong hot winds for the first half of the day in one direction, and then, at half time, the wind would change and blow the whole lot back again. The flies were so thick that one could not eat without swallowing them, and the heat was most oppressive. Very glad we were when on October 4th orders came for us to march to Dundee next day. Colonel Gunning had been asked how long it would take him to start for Dundee, and he had answered like a good rifleman, "I am ready now, Sir," with the result that we were chosen to go instead of another regiment which had been intended for Dundee. Our last night at Ladysmith was a real bad one. All tents had been struck and packed on the waggons, and we were sleeping in the open, when a storm and whirlwind of dust came along our way, carrying off boots, helmets, and kits into the darkness. As we started before daylight we were unable to retrieve everything, and some who had taken great care to provide themselves with complete campaigning kits started at the very outset with incomplete ones.
The Leicester Regiment, two Batteries R.F.A., and the 18th Hussars, under Colonel Moller, had already reached Dundee, and had reported being fired on in the Glencoe Pass; and there were rumours of a concentration of 16,000 Boers on the Border. Our party consisted of the 1st Batt K.R.R., Major Wing's Battery R.F.A., and our Company of M.I. (96 men under Captain Northey), the whole under Colonel Gunning. Full military precautions were taken, our Company doing the scouting, and we arrived at Dundee without adventure on the afternoon of Saturday, October 7th.
Dundee, with its beautiful climate and scenery, was much appreciated after Ladysmith. Though we knew that there were large numbers of armed Boers collected near the borders, still there was a feeling that war was by no means certain, even up to October nth, when the Boers celebrated Kruger's birthday by firing in their ultimatum, and thus removed all doubt. In those days, with the Dundee shops all open, and the civilians carrying on their ordinary pursuits, while our bands played regularly each afternoon, it was difficult to realise that fighting was so imminent.
About October 10th General Symonds arrived and took over the command ; later Colonel Yule arrived, and soon all the women and children were sent down country. Rumours grew more and more serious, till at last, on October 12th (my birthday), we heard that the Boers had declared war. Shots had been fired near Van Reenen's Pass, and large numbers of Boers were advancing from all directions. At the time I heard the news, I was writing a letter home. Though so long expected, it came as a shock. I sat up with a start and thought, "Well, now we are in for a 'big thing.'" On October 13th we woke to find that the whole battalion of Dublin Fusiliers had been sent down to Ladysmith. The Free State Boers were expected in the direction of Van Reenen's Pass. As they had already 8000 troops at Ladysmith, and we had only 3000 at Dundee, and as they had not so many Boers to deal with as we had, we grudged losing our old friends the Dublin Fusiliers. However, they soon came back; so when, on the 16th the Royal Irish Fusiliers under Colonel Carleton also joined us, we felt ready for all comers.
From the 12th to the 19th the scouting by day and the picquets by night kept the mounted troops hard at work. These parties were sent out to considerable distances, far further than would have been considered advisable later in the war however, they never came to any harm, and even the night picquet of twelve men under Lieutenant Grimshaw, Dublin Fusiliers, three miles east of camp, which was rushed at 3 a.m. the morning of Talana, had only one man wounded; the rest succeeded in falling back and warning General Symonds of the attack.
On October 18th I had been out from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m., doing a hard day's reconnoitring with four picked men of the M.I., one Natal Carabineer, a man called Spencer, with a good head and local knowledge, and one police trooper, who also knew the district We had been sent to watch the Landsman and Laffine's drifts over the Buffalo, about twelve miles from camp. To do this we had stalked up by Fojt Pine to the top of Moma Mountain, and then worked our way along the Malmgave Range, fully expecting to see something of a party of thirty Boers who were daily in those parts. There were none, however, that day, so after waiting till 3 p.m. at a place where we could see several of the drifts over the Buffalo, we left for camp, calling at the Wade's Farm on the way.
On arrival in camp I reported to General Symonds, who had trustworthy news that the Boers were all round us and intended to attack next day. He seemed relieved to hear it was all clear in the direction I had come from.
We were joined this day by Stuart Wortley, Jelf, and Johnson, who had come in a cruiser from Cape Town just in time.
The long day's reconnoitring upset me, and I spent a bad night. I had to remain in bed with fever the following day, and very glad I was that the expected battle did not come off just then.
On Friday, October 20th, the troops fell in at 5 a.m. awaiting an attack. I lay awake on my valise listening, and praying that the Boers would give me yet another day to get fit in. Dr. Julien passed my tent and told me on no account to get up. I told him the blister he had put on me had made me so sore, and the fever had left me so weak, that I didn't think I should do the Boers much harm, but that if they did come, I should certainly have a try. At 5.15 a.m. all our fellows came back much disappointed, saying the battle was "off" again. The troops had been dismissed, and it looked like another day of " armed peace." Presently I heard a rumour that Grimshaw and his picquet of twelve men of M.I. had been rushed. Next I heard the mess servants outside my tent say, "What's them 'ere bloaks on that bloomin' hill ?" and some discussion as to whether they were Boers or Dublin Fusiliers. Going out of my tent I saw them looking at the hill above Piet Smith's Farm, which is about two miles east of the town. I saw crowds of men on the sky-line, and something very like guns. The whole camp had turned out to look at them.
I felt that they were Boers at once, rushed into my tent, and forgetting my fever and blister and everything else, bundled on my clothes as fast as ever I could. I had got one puttee on and was just putting on the other, when there was a loud, sharp report from the hill, a noise like a rocket travelling through the air, then a thud, and an explosion, which sounded at the next tent Never did I spend less time dressing than that morning, and yet I forgot none of the things which I should need for a long day's fighting—my difficulty was to find them. Every coat but the right one seemed to come to hand. Another shell, close to, nearly made me put on Northey's coat, but just in time I saw mine bang at the bottom of everything. " Where are my field glasses, my watch, my knife, my whistle and helmet ?" More shells tell me I must not waste time; luckily there is my haversack full of necessary articles, and my sword-belt, but of course, that is buckled up and wants a lot of undoing. * Shall I take my sword ? No, it won't be much use against Mausers. Spurs, too, can go to the devil. Well, here goes!" and I bolt across to the Mounted Infantry lines. The camp has been surprised; there is great confusion, but all are doing their best to get right. Shells are landing all over the camp—there goes one into a span of mules, but they don't seem to be killed. My men are saddling up quick as they can, some calm, some excited. " Can I help you there ? Your horse don't seem to like shells, but that's no reason for putting in the bit upside down, and that strap first—there—that's all right, up you get" What a lot of loose horses!—hope mine are not loose. " Faulkner! Oh, there you are." The good Faulkner with 'Rounie' and 'Fiddlehead' nearly ready—as cool as when saddling up in the paddock for a race; just a soupqon of excitement as he tells me my rein is twisted. " The ' Mounted' are going in that direction, Sir, I don't know what their orders are." "All right, come on!" and away we go.
As I rode through the tents of our battalion I saw men huddled in twenties behind the tents, and just as I passed Colour-Sergeant Davies and B Company, one shell seemed to land right in the middle of some men, and yet no great harm was done. The fire is very straight; how awful it would be if they fired shrapnell shells ! I felt so sorry for our men having to sit still and do nothing, and I rather felt riding away from them into comparative safety. At first, I am told, there was just the least tendency to panic, but the regiment which had faced death quietly on the Warren Hastings was soon steadied. "Now then, D Company!" from Jack Pechell, and "Steady, men!" from Johnny Campbell, and every man was sitting tight, hoping for luck and waiting for orders. The Mounted Infantry, with the 18th Hussars and all the pack and transport animals, had orders to get under cover under the rocky slope to the north side of the camp. It must have been about 6.15 a.m. when all were present and formed up. With our Company there were Northey, Jelf, Majendie, myself and about eighty men. We went round and saw that each man had his ammunition, his magazine charged with ten rounds, and food in his haversack. All the men were ready and keen. I told my lot that all I wanted of them was to keep cool and shoot straight. As we had no orders, I got leave from Northey to ask the General what our orders were. The artillery duel had begun. Our guns had got a bad start; all their horses were away watering, so that they could not choose their positions, and had to fire from where they were. But they were three grand batteries; every shot they fired was a good shot, and gave confidence to our side, while it told on the enemy.
General Symonds and his staff were standing at his tent near the guns when I galloped up. Shells seemed to be visiting this neighbourhood too. The General signed to me not to gallop, and asked, "Well, what is it?" I told him the Dublin and Rifles M.I. had no orders. He said, "You are to go with the 18th Hussars. Go and tell Colonel Moller that he is to wait under cover—it may be for one or two hours—and I will send him word to advance, but he may advance if he sees a good opportunity. Go quietly, don't gallop." I repeated the order clearly to the General to make sure I had it correctly. I trotted away to where the horses were, told Lonsdale and Northey, and then told Colonel Moller. The whole lot then dismounted.
Knowing that much larger forces were to be expected from the direction of Impati than from the Buffalo, I felt very uneasy about what was now our left flank. The early morning mists had not yet cleared from the ridge, and the top of Impati was in a cloud. I got leave to ride out, while we were waiting, to have a look in that direction.
I took one man (Swaine) with me and galloped about two miles to the top of the ridge above Seager's Farm, on the road to Hatting Spruit. Finding all clear, we turned round and headed across country towards Indumeni, and made for some mounted men a mile or two from camp, towards Glencoe. As we crossed the Sand Spruit, we watered our horses, and I took a drink, as I was feeling very dry. We found it was the Leicester M.I. we had seen. We talked to some gunners who were there with the R.A. transport, and then rode back to the Company. Perhaps this bit of scouting was rather officious, but I was young, and was just as well employed thus perhaps as doing nothing. It was from the same ridge, on the Hatting Spruit road, that Erasmus's guns and Joubert's commando attacked the next day.
It must have been nearly 8 a.m. when I got back to Colonel Moller and the 18th Hussars. He told me our M.I. had gone on with the i8th's maxim gun, so I galloped on after them. I soon came in sight of them working down the Sand Spruit valley, and getting round the Boer's right. There was also one squadron of cavalry. The enemy's guns on Smith's Kop, or Talana Hill, had spotted this move, and opened fire on the moving target As Swaine and I drew nearer the maxim, we got nearer the shell fire. I said to him, u Don't ride beside me; there is no reason why we should both get shot" He said he could not hold his bally horse, so I took a pull at mine and let him shoot about ten yards ahead. Immediately afterwards a shell whistled past between us and struck the bank of the stream close to us. I had hardly time to say " By Jove!" when another, and then a third fell, all so close that one felt it was a question of inches. This was their quick-firing gun, afterwards known as the pom-pom, which had evidently got the range, if not the direction, of our maxim gun. I got up to our maxim, and found that my section of M.I. were not there, only twenty-two men, under Majendie, as escort. The men of this escort were far too close together, but we got them to open out after a lot of shouting. The 18th squadron had gone on in front There were a lot of wire fences, which we cut in several places. Crossing the Sand Spruit, we halted a few minutes in the river bed, and here I got Majendie to give me half his men, so we advanced in two small sections, each under an officer. When men are excited or under fire, I should say from the experience of this day that twelve men is as many as one man can supervise.
Once round the Boer flank, the firing on us ceased, and one had more time to look to one's front and left. The front was clear enough, but the hills covered with m1st on our left might have held an Army Corps. We pushed on down the left bank of the Sand Spruit, through two farms and a kraal and more barbed wire fences, then, turning sharp to the right, we re-crossed the spruit at a bad place, and came right up under cover of a ridge of stones and boulders on the Meyer's Drift road, where it looks down on Schultz's Farm. Here we found the advanced squadron of the 18th Hussars. Soon afterwards we were joined by the remainder of the 18th and the whole Company of Dublin Fusiliers M.I., who had also been heavily fired at from Talana on their way. There was cover here for all, so we dismounted and waited. I crept up to where Colonel Moller was, and asked leave to have a look over the ridge. It was grand—here we were on the Boers' right rear, at about 1500 to 2000 yards range, with a maxim gun, 120 rifles, and a whole regiment of cavalry. The hill the Boers were on commanded us by about 500 feet, but we were out of sight and under cover from them. Their pom-pom was quiet now, and the other Boer guns did not seem so busy. Peeping up I could see fully 500 ponies, and a lot of Boers. What was the range ? Major Greville put it at 1200 yards, but I put it at 2000. We asked for a range-finder, but there was none, we had all come out in such a hurry. But we should soon get the range when we began firing. We had a grand chance if we only waited and kept out of sight The only question to my mind was whether we ought to leave our horses and go slap bang at them, or fire from where we were when the proper time came.
The ground all round our ridge was bare and open, and by shifting a few rocks and boulders, we very soon had a strong position against an attack. It must have been about 11 a.m. Our guns seemed to have nearly silenced theirs, and the time to fire must have been about ripe, when the Colonel sent out a squadron towards Dr. Schultz's Farm, and soon afterwards took the maxim gun and the whole of the rest of his force in that direction—what his reason was I can't say—it was a very great disappointment to me. We went on, cutting fences as we went, about two miles, till we came on the Landsman Drift road. There the M.I. were ordered to dismount, and extend along at right angles to the road, facing the Boers' rear. We were behind the centre of the Boer position, and about two-and-a-half miles from it The country here is open and undulating, covered with thousands of ant-heaps. We lined out across the road, every man behind his ant-heap, our whole line being about half-a-mile long. Our horses were in a slight hollow, about 400 yards in rear.
Here we lay for about an hour, doing nothing. What our object in coming was, I don't know. Hidden on a flank this small force might have been of some use when the Boers retreated, but what was the use of planting 120 men across the line of retreat of 4000 ? While waiting, I had a good opportunity of watching the Boer position and movements. They occupied three distinct hills. Their right was on Talana Hill, an isolated hill about 600 feet high; their centre on a similar hill about 700 feet high, being a spur of the Lennox Hill. Both these were steep and bare, and almost impregnable. Through the pass they form, runs the road from Dundee to all the drifts over the Buffalo River. The third hill, to the Boer left and drawn back, was the Lennox Hill itself. The Lennox Hill was occupied by about 2000 Boers; it afforded the Boers a good line of retreat, and closed our line of retreat by the Helpmakaar Road.
Looking at Talana Hill from my position in the rear, I could see a farm-house with a huge ambulance flag; this was the Boer Hospital, to which I was taken later. There were still hundreds of Boers and ponies moving about near the farm. These were probably skulking under the protection of the red-cross flag. At the same time I saw one or two of our shells burst over the top of the hill; I could not make out what had happened. On the centre hill I could see crowds of horses and men, about 2000; the horses looked like flocks of sheep or goats on, the side of the hill. I longed to see some of our shells planted among them, and all but sent a messenger round to tell the Colonel of the Artillery about them. On Lennox Hill, a large force was collecting, another 2000 I thought The whole force I put down at about 5000, and from conversations I have had since with various Boers, I think that estimate is about right.
After about an hour a rumour came of an attack on our rear. We were ordered back to our horses, and mounted, but it turned out to be a false alarm. After this we changed our position, still more to the Boer left, and lined out as before, but facing Lennox HilL I saw a move of some kind going on on Lennox Hill. The Boers were leaving Talana and making for Lennox Hill. I can't say what time this was, but should think it was nearly 2 p.m. A party of about 200 was moving from Lennox Hill in our direction. I went along our line till I came to Lonsdale, and pointed out this move to him. He and I, with his collie dog, walked out some way to the front to look at the ground, and choose a better position to meet this advance. This open ground, covered with ant-heaps, is very deceptive—one keeps on seeing just in front of one what looks like a good position, but when you get there you find it does not command the clear view it seemed to, and that lying down you can only see a short distance ahead.
The ground we were on sloped towards a water-course or donga, about a mile distant. The Boers were advancing down to this watercourse in a straight line for us. Later the whole of the 2000 on Lennox Hill also took this line. I think now this was the beginning of the Boer retirement, but at the time I sent Faulkner to tell Colonel Moller they were going to attack us. I remember that we called for a range-finder again, but could only get one box, and that the wrong one. We moved the line up a bit, bringing the right forward. The maxim under Cape, 18th Hussars, was on the left behind two large ant-heaps, the Dublin M.I. in the centre, and we on the right I felt that we were now in for our first experience of Mauser bullets. Walking down our line, I cautioned each man not to fire unless he could see something to fire at; not to waste a single round, and to keep his magazine for an emergency. I was sorry I had not got my own men, though I knew these men pretty well. Someone called to me, " They are firing on the left, Sir," and, looking towards Lennox Hill, I could see the whole Boer force coming towards us. The Dublins had opened fire on them. They were firing very quickly on the left, "independent" The range was over a mile, which in those days was considered almost out of range. However, it was a large target and a good opportunity, so I fired a couple of volleys before they were lost sight of in the donga.
But the other Boers, whom we had first seen advancing towards us, were considerably nearer now. Bullets began to whistle past us, and the men were taking every advantage of the ant-heaps. "Shoot whenever you can see anything to shoot at!—no Hythe words of command"—I yelled. The maxim was blazing away, the Dublins were having a great fusillade, and the Boer bullets were more and more plentiful; but I could see nothing to fire at, and even standing up I could only occasionally catch sight of a Boer creeping towards an ant-heap. I could see several horses, and there were a good many galloping about loose. Our men were very cool and steady. The fire was getting very warm, very straight; this really was business. I was not the least afraid of them in front, but they were certain to work round us before long, and our horses, about 250 yards in the rear, were quite exposed enough already. I found one of our men lying behind an ant-heap, thinking more of cover than of shooting. I took his rifle. "You must shoot, man!" I said, and with his rifle I had about five shots and left him, saying, "Why can't you do that yourself?" Another man seemed much excited, and I had a shot or two out of his rifle to steady him. I knew the Boer, once ensconced behind his ant-heap, would not come nearer than a hundred yards so long as we kept up the fire, but I felt most anxious all the time about my right flank. "The Dublins have retired, sir." "All right," I answered, "hang on a bit longer; keep up the fire,"—then, after a short space to cover their retirement—"Now/" I shouted, "one volley along the ground, and then join the horses. Volleys! Ready! Alongthe ground! Present! Fire! Retire!" There was a lull in the Boers' fire, and then a perfect hail of bullets followed us as we ran back to pur horses and mounted. Wonderful that we don't seem to be getting hit, I thought, when poor Greenfield's horse carried him past me; he was hit in the middle of the back, and done for. I think it was here that Williams and Cullam were hit too. The Dublins and the maxim were well away; so, telling my men to follow them, I made for the Colonel to ask him for orders. I told him the Boers were getting round me and I had had to retire. I asked for orders. " Go and hold that ridge, and cover my retirement" he said, pointing towards Schultz's Farm. The cavalry had been doing nothing all this time, and I was hoping they would have charged.
It was at this stage that Cape got cut off with his maxim gun. It was a most unfortunate thing, the only redeeming feature being the plucky way in which Cape and his six men stuck to their gun, when they might well have got away. Four of the men were killed, while Cape and the other two men were all three wounded and taken. I saw the dead bodies lying in the dry bed of the Sand Spruit, as I was brought back in the moonlight that night. I hope that a stone may some day be put up to mark the site of this plucky stand.
I galloped back, and passing Lonsdale, shouted my orders to him. When we got to the ridge we dismounted and held it, but only for a short time. There was a strong party of Boers heading to cut us off, and we were under a heavy fire from the Boers following us up. My chief thought was to get before the Boers to the ridge we had first left early that morning, and ought never to have left* I felt that once there we could stop any number of Boers, while if they got there first we were quite cut off, and the left flank of our main attack exposed. But the Colonel, who now led the retirement, kept bearing off to the right, making straight for the north end of Impati Mountain. The retirement had a bad effect upon the men. We must have galloped a mile without a stop, and it was only with very great difficulty that Majendie and I could keep our men together and stop them going too fast. They were beginning to think they were being chased, whereas the shots were getting fewer and fewer, and there was every minute less reason for retiring.
Here it was that I took my knock. We halted behind a ridge, about one mile from Jordaan's Farm, dismounted, faced about and advanced in extended order, the Dublin Company on our right. At the top of the ridge we came under fire. I suppose there were some thirty firing at us now, but the Boers are so clever behind ant-heaps that there might have only been two or three. I took the two men on the left, and with them crept round the flank of the only two Boers I could see. We got well round them. I took a rifle from one of the men, and was standing up to take a steady aim at a Boer behind a heap not fifty yards away, when from another heap still closer a man fired and got me plump in the right shoulder. The rifle dropped with a thud, "Take the bally gun and shoot/' I said, and turning back made straight for Faulkner, who held my pony three hundred yards in rear. As I went the pain was very great; I thought my arm had been shot clear off, and was only hanging by a few threads of my khaki jacket.
I seemed to be carrying in my left arm an enormous heavy bolster. The fingers were twitching and dancing, and seemed to be far away. I caught at them, and said goodbye to them affectionately. I realised that in this steeplechase of war I had come down at the first fence. When I reached Faulkner, he got his field-dressing at once, and tied it up as tight as he could pull at the shoulder joint. I was feeling very giddy. A doctor turned up almost immediately, a jolly good doctor too. He put me under the cover of an ant-heap, and disregarding all cover himself, cut off my jacket and shirt and dressed my wound. Just after this the order was given to retire, and they retired, leaving Dr. Hardy, his orderly (Private Jose, 18th Hussars), and me.
There were still occasional shots coming over us, and if we stayed where we were, the chances were that we should get between two fires. It was quite likely, too, that some Boer coming up might in his excitement have a shot at us. It was a job shifting out of our unsafe position, but once out of the fire and in Hardy's hands I felt much better. In the meantime the Boer advance seemed to have stopped—they never came beyond the point where I was hit Why then were our people still retiring ? I could see them disappearing over the ridge to the north of Impati, right into the arms of General Joubert's commandos which were known to be in that direction. About 220 strong they went on past the Impati, and lost their way in the direction of Hatting Spruit. They were attacked by the Ermelo and Pretoria commandos, and after a stand of two hours at a farm, against heavy guns and mausers, the white flag was put up. No men could have behaved better than our twenty-two M.I. men did that day, eight of their number being hit; they deserved a better fate.
When Hardy had patched me up, he went back in the direction we had come from to look for more wounded, and I was left with Jose to try and reach the nearest farm. All that day and the following night Hardy was working hard with the wounded, and whether it was a British soldier or a Boer Burgher, he treated all with the same care and kindness. Many of our men and many of the Boers, among them Drs. Van der Merve and Molloy of the Dutch Ambulance, have spoken to me since of Dr. Hardy and the good work he did.
With some difficulty Jose and I managed to reach the farm-house. We were met by a most unsympathetic looking Dutchman, who at first seemed to have no intention of taking me in, but as I had neither the ability to go a yard further nor the intention of doing so, and as Jos6 ordered him to go and fetch some rugs for me, I was soon lying on the floor of his kitchen. It turned out to be Jordaan's Farm. He and his wife, a grown-up daughter, and two small children were the occupants. They could not speak English. Later a trooper of the 18th Hussars (Masters) was brought in. He had a broken arm too, and a bullet in his inside somewhere, and seemed very bad. Under Josh's instructions he too was put on the floor next to me, and so close that I was always afraid of his touching my wounded arm.
The Boer family did nothing but stare at us, but there was one little chap called Hans, about six years old, who was very good in fetching water for the trooper and me, and we spent our time in drinking water and vomiting most of the afternoon. My arm began to bleed again; there was no one to stop it for me. I began to feel very weak, and felt that I did not mind if I bled to death, more especially as I had quite settled that my arm was lost It was dark and raining when Dr. Hardy turned up. He had commandeered a spider with six mules and a Boer driver. He had also brought with him Reade, Colour-Sergeant Davies and some men. The first question I asked was as to how the day had gone, and it was a great joy to hear that we had turned them out of that hill, and that they had retired across the Buffalo. But what terrible losses! Colonel Gunning, Jack Pechell, Barnett, Taylor, and Hambro all killed, and many wounded, including Oliver Nugent, Boultbee, Johnson, Martin, General Symonds, and all his staff.
I will not attempt to describe what happened on the other side of the hill; how the General went straight at the hill with three battalions, and after a short but wonderfully accurate fire from our guns, carried it with frightful loss (over 250 killed and wounded); how our guns shelled our own troops by mistake, and killed many of our bravest and foremost men; and how we lost more than the other two regiments together, including five officers killed and seven wounded. All the details are well known.
If only this victory had been followed up, these terrible losses might have been less hard to bear, for a day which seems to me to have only been drawn in our favour would then have been one of the most decisive and important victories in the history of South Africa. But as it was, after the brilliant assault of Talana, the infantry soldier was deprived of his turn with rifle and sword-bayonet; the artillery, who were brought into position on the captured heights, were forbidden to fire at the mass of Boers, guns, and waggons, which were retiring in the open in great confusion within their range, while the cavalry and M.I. were being led in the opposite direction, to be made prisoners by 7000 Boers under General Joubert.
Trooper Masters and I were got into the cart somehow. Hardy put his coat on me, and a rug on the trooper. It was raining hard and very cold, and it was a five-mile drive to the farm on Talana, which the Boers had made into an ambulance hospital. The driver walked himself and drove the mules at a walk ; he drove well, and did all he could to save us, but the road was bad, and we both felt it a great deal, groaning and vomiting at every bump of the cart. Crossing the spruit, where we saw the bodies of the poor maxim gun detachment, the cart nearly upset, and we cannoned into each other. Hardy rode just in front, picking out the best road. It must have been about 10 p.m. when we got in, and a place was found on the floor for the two of us, side by side, in an outhouse.
There were three men also sleeping in the place, Irishmen of a low type, who had been commandeered, and who wore red cross badges, for they were by way of being hospital assistants. Their Doctor told them to look after us. My feet were very cold; one of the men took off my boots and rubbed them, for which I was most grateful. The only other attendance we got was brandy and water, of which I was very glad too. There was a liberal supply of brandy, and I thought the "hospital assistants" did themselves pretty well. The night dragged on; it seemed to have no end. The hospital assistants turned in and had a snoring match. Poor Masters seemed to be dying, and kept asking for water, but I couldn't help him.
At last day came, and they said our ambulance carts would come for us soon, but no carts appeared to be coming. The place was full of men with red crosses on their arms, all loafers, who knew nothing of ambulance work, and who were there for their own safety. They ate all the food intended for the wounded. There were about sixty wounded Boers, and a few English, among these Cape, of the 18th Hussars. Many of the slightly wounded Boers came in and looked at us. They shook their heads gravely, as if it was all up with us. Some came and talked to me; all were kind and sympathetic Our shrapnel seemed to have done terrible work among them, and we quite agreed that modern warfare was "not ghut." They kept leaving in large numbers with rifles, ponies, and waggons; and all seemed agreed that they did not intend to fight any more. The force we had met came from Vreiheid, Utrecht, and Krugersdorp, and were under Lucas Meyer, "the Lion of Vreiheid," about 4500 strong. They had crossed the Buffalo at de Jaeger's Drift, and occupied the Talana position after a long and quick night march.
Still the time dragged on, and we at the farm seemed to have been forgotten. The thought of being deserted, and the feeling that my arm wanted dressing, made me fretful and feverish. About 12 noon some of the Dundee Town Guard came up and found us, I told them how we stood, and one of them rode back for the ambulance. The Boers had nearly all cleared now except the badly wounded.
About one o'clock the ambulance turned up, and at last we got away. Hardy, who had turned up again, put Cape and me into the same waggon. The jolting was very bad, and I don't know how I should have stood it but for Cape holding my shoulder for me. We got into camp about 2 p.m. Cape and I were put into a hospital tent together ; there were no beds or mattresses available, so many had been wounded. General Symonds was lying next to us, hit in the stomach. The ground was wet and muddy. Someone, however, got my valise and a rug for me, and I lay on that. The troops were out somewhere, and we could hear firing in the direction of Glencoe.
About 3 p.m. we had just got fairly settled, when from Impati ridge, about 4000 yards away, there was a bang, and we heard a shell whizzing over in our direction. It exploded near the stores in Camp, about two hundred yards away. Another and another! They were shelling the camp. One struck the ground seventy yards from us, and sent the mud splashing all round our tent. It was the most unpleasant experience I had yet gone through. This bombardment came to an end after about twenty shells, but it left a very uneasy feeling. Why did our guns not answer ?
The next day guns were heard again towards Glencoe; we got the rumours of the victory at Elandslaagte, and we heard that Sir George White was coming up, and with us was going to go for Joubert and that beastly Long Tom on the ridge. But soon the truth came out. General Yule was going to retire from Dundee, and was off via Help-makaar, leaving us to our fate.
I lay in the Camp for forty-eight hours in the tent with Cape. I had fever and a lot of pain, so I fear I must have been a nuisance to him. The army doctors were very busy; they never dressed my wound, or looked at it; the attendance was very bad, and we had to call for hours before we could get anyone to answer.
Under these circumstances I was very anxious to get to the civilian hospital in the Swedish Mission buildings in the town, where many of the worst cases were. I managed to work this, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 22nd, was, with very great pain, transferred in a dhoolie. Now it seemed to me that the Boers had a special grudge against me, for only one shell was fired from the Impati ridge this day, and that landed within a hundred yards of my dhoolie while I was being carried half-way between the Camp and the town.
It was an anxious moment as I heard the report and then the shell whirring over in my direction. The dhoolie bearers stopped short, and I expected they would drop the dhoolie and bolt. I caught hold of the top pole with my left hand, ready to break the fall. I shouted to them u Chelo !" (go on) and said the shells would never hit Hospital " log " (people), but I was expecting another shell every moment, though none came.
The Hospital I was taken to was originally intended for the wounded of the Town Guard, and was under Dr. Galbraith ; after the battle, however, it became so full with wounded soldiers and Boers that it was put under an Army doctor.
On reaching the Hospital I was moved very scientifically into a most comfortable bed in the Swedish Mission buildings. This being the first time I had been under a roof or in a bed for a month, the luxury was the more appreciated. So what with this, and the kind attention of the Doctor and his staff, I soon felt quite well again.
Soon after my arrival, the door opened and in walked a most attractive young lady—a nurse as I thought at the time. " By Jove," I said to myself, "you will have to watch it when you are getting better." However, to my relief, this turned out to be a married lady, none other than Mrs. Galbraith, who proved herself a heroine indeed that afternoon, and whose subsequent nursing and cheerfulness were such a help to all.
Soon after we had got settled down I heard yells and hooting, and the sound of a lot of horses coming down the street towards the hospital. " Ce sont les Hollandais," I heard the Italian lady say, as she rushed to the door. I could not move myself to look, but I knew she was right, and that the Boers had come into the town. " Well," I thought, " these are the chaps who have been threatening to shoot the first 'rooibatchi' they see, or indeed any 'rooinek.' These are the people who shell our hospital when the Red Cross flag is flying. How are these ignorant Boers going to deal with me ?" I must confess I felt a bit uneasy, and had visions of Boers coming and pointing rifles at my head. It was not till afterwards, when they used to come in and sit on my bed filling my pipe for me, and showing me other attentions, that I learned that the Boers are as civilised as we are. [And I take this opportunity of saying that all the Boers I have met up till now, December 1900, have been kindness itself, and that their dealings with our wounded have been everything one could desire.]
Elated by their success, excited with drink, and under the impression that there were still some troops in Dundee, the Boers rode into the town, each with his rifle cocked, and ready to shoot the first British soldier he saw. Anyone will realise the risk of meeting men in such a mood—it was Mrs. Galbraith, while others hung back, who went out to meet them. She told them the English had left the town, that this was a hospital, and that it would be bad for the wounded to be disturbed.
It was a great relief to me when, after examining my arm, Dr. Galbraith, with his more up-to-date knowledge, told me that the amputation of my arm, which had been threatened, was not likely to be necessary.
After three weeks of comparatively good health—during which in spite of my arm I was able to write my diary—my temperature on November 13th went up to 1050, remaining there or thereabouts until November 20th. During this time I developed erysipelas, and could neither sleep nor breathe freely, being only half conscious. On the 30th some bone came out of the wound, I suddenly felt well again, and had a normal temperature. All through this crisis I was saved by Dr. and Mrs. Galbraith, of Dundee, who fought for me without resting.
There were at the Swedish Mission Hospital besides myself, Major Nugent, D.S.O., Lieut. Carbery, Sergeant-Major Burke, R.D.F., and about thirty men who had been wounded too badly to be moved with the remainder to Ladysmith—and I am sure there is not one of them who will ever forget the good work done by the Galbraiths.
Towards the middle of December I was coming to life again, and beginning to take an interest in what was going on; but what a time it was to come back to life! The siege of Ladysmith and the invasion of Natal had been shocks, but the worst time of all for us, was when we heard of Magersfontein, Stormberg, and Colenso. We only got the Boer versions, and only half credited them, still we knew we had been badly beaten all along the line; we could not hear what they were doing at home, or what the response of the nation would be. I for one, even in my weak state, swore to become a Frenchman, a Russian, anything but a Briton, if we did not see the war out, and I shall not easily forget the feeling of great relief when I did hear how the nation joined by the Colonies, the United Empire, was rising to the occasion. Gradually we all began to get better, I shared a house with Nugent, and we used to listen to the guns, which we could hear distinctly at Ladysmith and Colenso. Some days the sound seemed to come from the east, and some days from the west, and on some it seemed to grow nearer and nearer. This change in the sound would cheer us up, leading us to picture successful flanking movements and general advances on Dundee. But the days dragged on and no good news ever reached us. At last, on Christmas Day, just as I was beginning to feel well enough to think about escaping to Greytown, the order came that the whole hospital was to be moved to Pretoria.
It was a sad day, December 31st, when the time came to part with the Galbraiths and Pastor Nauranius of the Swedish Mission, for, cut off as we had been from all friends and from all correspondence with our people at home, we had become great friends, and even situated as we had been, had had a happy time together.