The siege of Ladysmith had now commenced; communication to the south was interrupted on November 2nd, and on the same day the Boers had their guns in action on Bulwana Mountain and were shelling the works and town freely.
The perimeter of Ladysmith was divided into four sections, A, B, C, D, under Colonel W.G. Knox, General Howard, Colonel Hamilton, and Colonel Royston respectively.
Section A extended from Devon Post to Cove Redoubt; on the west of this was section B, extending as far as Range Post on the Klip River. Section C included Maiden Castle, Wagon Hill, and Cæsar's Camp, whilst the plain between Cæsar's Camp and Devon Post was held by the Natal Volunteers under Colonel Royston.
The battalion was ordered to take up the two posts of Cemetery Hill and Helpmakaar Hill. These were the most eastern kopjes of the defences. They skirted the Helpmakaar road and were immediately under Bulwana and Gun Hill. These were distant only some five thousand yards, and dominated Devon Post.
The battalion was distributed: three companies on Helpmakaar Hill, two companies on Cemetery Hill, with three companies in reserve near the road and river-bed immediately beneath Cemetery Hill.
Devon Post received its first shells on the morning of the 3rd. These were aimed at the tents of the reserve companies, which were rather ostentatiously pitched on the plain by the river-bed under Cemetery Hill. The shells were fired from a high-velocity 3-inch gun on Bulwana. The tents were immediately moved closer under the hill, where they were out of sight from Bulwana. The Boer guns were then trained on to the working parties, and some fifty shells were burst in the works (just commenced and affording little cover) on Helpmakaar and Cemetery Hill posts, but without doing much damage. After this, owing to shell fire, it was impossible to work except at night, or when Bulwana was obscured by fog. The fortifications and defences were, however, hastily pushed forward, and the platforms for the two large and ancient howitzers known as "Castor" and "Pollux" were soon completed.
Shortly after the commencement of the siege one of the few shells fired into Ladysmith which did any damage, burst amongst a party of Natal Carbineers on the road under Cemetery Hill, killing five men and seven horses.
On November 5th the Intombi Camp was formed, and all the wounded and most of the women and children, with a few of the able-bodied male civilian inhabitants of Ladysmith, were moved into the neutral camp.
On November 6th and 7th, with the exception of a shell or two, things were quiet on Devon Post, but on the evening of the 7th a furious bombardment began at four o'clock, the Boer guns all round firing into the town and at anything they could see moving. No damage was done.
In addition to the works on Devon Post, which were manned by the Regiment, a half-company picquet was told off nightly. This picquet extended and lay down across the main road at the foot of the forward work. It mounted after dark and was relieved before daylight in the morning. Many will remember the spot where this picquet was posted as the most ill-chosen, inconvenient, and hard platform for a bed on a rainy night.
The nights of the 6th, 7th, and 8th were occupied in making the works stronger and building additional works.
On November 9th the Boers made their first attempt against Ladysmith. The attack commenced at 6 a.m. with heavy musketry fire directed on to the northern defences; and three hours later the attack developed on Helpmakaar Post and Cæsar's Camp. Shells came very thickly from two howitzers and three high-velocity Creusot guns into Devon Post. This lasted till about 2 p.m., when the action was concluded with a royal salute from the naval batteries and three hearty cheers, which, started by the Naval Brigade, were taken up all round the defences in honour of the birthday of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. A curious ending to a battle.
During the action a well-directed shell from one of Christie's ancient howitzers, which were now located on Helpmakaar Hill, pitched with good effect into the middle of a large group of Boers who were entrenching themselves on a small rise of ground underneath Gun Hill.
Helpmakaar, which had always been a single-day post, was now turned into a three days' post, companies remaining in the fort for three days before being relieved.
On the 11th three companies of the Regiment were sent out under Captain Lafone to blow up a farm building under Bulwana, about one and half miles distant from Devon Post. After a long delay, owing to the blasting materials having been forgotten, the operation was successfully carried out, and the party returned with only some slight annoyance from the enemy's pompom and a few shots from a high-velocity gun stationed on Bulwana.
The Boer artillery on Bulwana and Gun Hill was well served, and their shooting was excellent. One morning they opened with a 40-pounder howitzer, known under the name of "Weary Willy," on to the main work at Devon Post, at a portion of the work occupied by "Walker's Hotchkiss Gun Detachment." About twelve consecutive shots pitched within a five yards' radius, and one crashed into and nearly breached the parapet, which was here about six feet thick and built of large stones.
The men worked on the 11th from dark till 1 a.m., when the works were practically completed and sufficiently strengthened to answer all purposes, although building was being carried on till the last day of the siege, and the men were still building at the actual moment when the relief cavalry were marching across the plain into Ladysmith.
The willingness and the cheery manner in which the men of the battalion worked at these defences are worthy of record. On pitch-dark nights in pouring rain the men, wet to the skin, covered with mud and filth, without a smoke, groping about in the dark to find a likely stone, carried on the work in silence; and when the word was passed along to knock off work, they "turned in" without a grumble into a wet bivouac. There was no complaining, and the men were never required by their officers to bring along the stones faster. The only noise that broke the stillness of the night was the incessant "click, click, click" of the picks at work loosening the stones, and the men, in spite of the conditions under which the work was being carried on, joked among themselves in an undertone.
Work was nightly carried on from dark till midnight and sometimes till 2 a.m., and the men turned out again to stand to arms at 3.30 a.m.
By the middle of November the works at Devon Post were from 4-1/2 to 10 feet high, from 8 to 10 feet thick at the top (the whole built roughly of stone), with the superior slope nearly flat, exterior slope about 1/1, interior slope nearly upright. The front work had a thickness at the bottom of about 18 feet, owing to the work being constructed on the slope of the hill.
Things passed quietly with intermittent shell fire till the afternoon of the 14th, when General Brocklehurst took out the Cavalry Brigade and two batteries of artillery, with the intention of turning the Boers off Rifleman's Ridge. This they failed to do, and returned to their lines about 5 p.m. well peppered by the Boer big guns, one shell from the big gun on Pepworth pitching into the centre of the road just short of a battery of artillery which was coming back into Ladysmith, near the defences on the north-west front held by a detachment of the Dublin Fusiliers—an accurate shot, and the distance measured on the map 10,500 yards. Shortly afterwards the Naval Brigade in their turn did some good shooting, pitching a shell on to the muzzle of the big gun on Pepworth, and a few moments after this shot, another on to his parapet. Boers were afterwards seen carrying litters away from the work. This big gun never fired again during the siege, but the Boers patched him up and he lived to do good work for them against General Buller in his advance north to Lydenburg, and the Boers finally blew him up in front of the battalion near Waterval, in the Lydenburg district, when engaged with a column under General Walter Kitchener.
For the next few days nothing of consequence occurred beyond the usual shell fire, varied at intervals from day to night time. It rained in torrents most of the time, and the men were continually wet through. They however kept very fit, and there were very few in hospital.
An amusing incident occurred on the 17th. Good targets being scarce the Boers continually fired shell at any moving or stationary object they could catch sight of—sometimes at a single scout. They often fired their pompom at a range of about 5000 yards at the vultures feeding on the dead horses under Devon Post. On this day they sent three 40-lb. shells at an old man named Brown who contracted for the dead horses. Brown used to take these out into the open in full view of the Boers, to some flat ground under the Post, and there skin them at his leisure. The old man would take his load out once a day in a four-horsed cart. If he was seen by the Boers he would come back at a gallop pursued by Boer shells. This time he came back on three wheels, much to the amusement of Section A of the defences; the fourth wheel had come off and he was in too great a hurry to readjust it, and it was in consequence left behind. The old man was never hit.
On November 20th the Boers mounted some more guns on Bulwana and also on Umbrella Tree Hill, which lay in the Nek between Bulwana and Gun Hill. Colonel Knox ordered a dummy battery to be made at night on the further side of the Klip River and out in the open. Wooden imitation guns and imitation gunners were erected, and these were worked with a string by a gunner concealed in the bank of the river.
Captain Kincaid-Smith, with the two Maxim-Nordenfeldt guns captured at Elandslaagte, of which he was now in charge, was to open fire from Devon Post on to the Boer guns newly placed on Umbrella Tree Hill, and as he was perfectly concealed and fired smokeless powder, it was supposed that the Boers would imagine that the firing came from the new dummy battery just erected.
Kincaid-Smith began firing at about six o'clock on the following morning. He fired some five shells in perfect silence unanswered by the Boers. He was then suddenly located by them, and shells were hurled on to him from all sides and from all descriptions of guns. This continued for a quarter of an hour and then slackened off. The Boers burst their shrapnel better than usual, and in the evening just before dark one shrapnel got into a working party on Devon Post, killing one man and severely wounding another.
There was some heavy musketry fire during the night at a reconnaissance party sent out from Ladysmith towards Umbrella Tree Hill. The party had orders to disturb the Boers and draw their fire. This they very successfully accomplished. On the 22nd night another "disturbing party" was sent out under Captain Jacson, consisting of one company of the Regiment and a party of cavalry, to "stir up" the Boers on Flag Hill. It was pitch-dark, pouring with rain, and the ground was covered with boulders of rocks. The cavalry were obliged to leave their horses behind and proceed on foot in front of the infantry; so little was gained by the enterprise and no "stirring up" was effected.
Up to this date there had been very little news from the outside world, but now the Regiment was informed that General French had fought a successful engagement at Estcourt and had got in with the cavalry. They were also told that the garrison might expect to be relieved by the 13th December by one division which was coming up from Durban.
About November 22nd the news was received that the armoured train at Colenso had been attacked, derailed, and captured.
On the 23rd Kincaid-Smith received orders to proceed with one of his guns during the following night down to the river-bed near the dummy battery and open fire if the Boers fired at it in the morning. This they had done the previous day, much to every one's amusement. At daybreak he opened fire from the river-bed. After his second shot the Boers found him and made wonderful practice, bursting shrapnel all over him. No damage, however, was done as he was well dug into the bank. They continued their shelling for an hour, after which they turned their big guns on to Tunnel Hill for a short time. This hill was held by the Liverpool Regiment, who lost two killed and twelve wounded, of whom five died of their wounds next day.
The works on Devon Post and Cemetery Hill were strengthened during the next few nights until the front walls were from twelve to fifteen feet thick. Most of this work was carried on in heavy rain, which greatly added to the general discomfort of the men.
On November 28th the garrison was encouraged by the information that the Boers had been badly beaten near Estcourt, that 3000 of them had gone off (it was not reported where to!), and that General Clery was at Colenso.
On November 30th General Clery opened up signalling communication with Ladysmith by flashing his message with his searchlight at night on to the clouds. The message, which was in cipher, could be easily read by every one, but the garrison was unable to reply as they had no searchlight.
In the early days of December, in order to keep the men as far as possible in a condition for any eventualities, the Regiment evacuated their works twice a week at dusk and went for a march twice round the town. Starting at nightfall the works were regained about 10 p.m. The exercise was good for the men's limbs and the change of scene undoubtedly nourishment for their minds, but it is doubtful if it conduced to the health of the men, as during the march they were smothered in their own dust, and also in that kicked up by the artillery horses exercising at the same time and on the same roads. It certainly gave the men something to think about besides rocks and stones and building, and the walking stretched their legs.
On December 2nd Colonel Knox, desirous of carrying on the work of building in the daytime as well as by night, ordered some canvas screens to be put up in the Post, behind which the men could work concealed from view. But although stained the colour of the surroundings, the screens were seen at once by the Boers, and the battalion was much troubled by a new gun stationed near Pepworth Hill, which opened fire shortly after they were erected. One shell from this howitzer topping the hill pitched within a yard of the guard tent underneath, which was full of men. No damage was done, however, beyond scattering the ammunition boxes and covering the men with mud. The screens were then taken down, and on the disappearance of the noxious objects the firing ceased, and the Boers appeared pacified. At 10 p.m., whilst the Regiment was at work building on Cemetery Hill, an order came to parade at once and march to a rendezvous down in the town in Lyle Street. It was given out "for operations near Limit Hill." On reaching the rendezvous it was learnt that the force consisted of two brigades of infantry, some batteries, and all the mounted troops. After half an hour's wait, a staff officer rode up to say that the operations were cancelled.
About this time the siege newspaper, the Ladysmith Lyre, came into existence. There were only four issues, on account of want of paper.
Shelling continued daily with but little or no result. The Boers were apparently much incensed with the Town Hall, upon which the Geneva red cross flag was flying, and which was being used as a hospital, for they continually fired at it till the flag was taken down early in December, when they scarcely ever fired at it again.
On December 7th General Hunter made his sortie to Gun Hill. The secret was well kept. In the evening, at dark, the battalion was sent to Abattis Hill with orders to entrench, the scheme ostensibly being that a force was to go out and stir up the Boers round Pepworth Hill whilst the Regiment threatened to attack the Boers on the other flank.
At 11 p.m. a letter was received telling the officer commanding the Devon Regiment to meet General Hunter under Devon Post at 11.30 p.m. Shortly after this hour a force of Colonial mounted infantry, with General Hunter at their head, passed the post to assault Gun Hill. This they found but sparsely guarded, and, dispersing the small picquet, they succeeded in blowing up the two big guns and a Maxim located there. The Regiment remained out till the operation was over. It had been placed in this position on Abattis Hill to act as a flank guard, with the object of preventing the Boers attacking from the left round General Hunter's rear, which was very open, and to act as a support upon which General Hunter could fall back in case his surprise failed and he was driven in.
This successful operation was accomplished with the loss of seven men wounded.
The operation that followed was not, however, so successful. Colonel Knox reported that his mounted troops had gone out eight miles up the Newcastle road past Limit Hill, and had not met or seen a single Boer. He suggested that the Cavalry Brigade should go out and capture and burn the Boer stores at Elandslaagte Station. They proceeded to carry out the suggestion, starting at 7 a.m., but they fell in with a large force of Boers under Pepworth Hill who had been in their laagers when the reconnaissance was made and had thus escaped detection. They came under heavy musketry fire as well as shell fire, and retired back to Ladysmith with a loss of three killed and fifteen wounded.
On December 10th an attack on Devon Post was expected, and precautions taken accordingly. The attack, however, did not come off.
On the night of December 10th the Rifle Brigade made a sortie and blew up a Boer big gun on Surprise Hill. This attack was admirably planned and carried out, but the losses sustained by the Rifle Brigade were heavy, being fourteen killed and fifty wounded out of the five companies employed. The Boers attacked them as they were retiring; there was a good deal of indiscriminate firing, and the bayonet was freely used. The Boers lost considerably, partly in the general mix-up, from their own fire, and partly owing to the close-quarter combat with the Rifle Brigade.
The Regiment, with other troops, was ordered out with all baggage on the night of the 12th, the rendezvous being the iron bridge on the Vanreenen's Pass road. On arrival there the order was received to go home. This was supposed to be a rehearsal for a sortie. On December 13th General Buller's guns were heard for the first time due south from Ladysmith, and at 8 p.m. the Regiment and transport were inspected by Colonel Knox to see if everything was complete and in readiness to move out, and on the 14th the Regiment was placed with other troops in a flying column formed under the personal command of Sir George White.
It was expected by all that General Buller would relieve the Ladysmith garrison on December 15th.
The following day, December 15th, a very heavy cannonade commenced at 6 a.m. in the direction of Colenso; and at 7 a.m. a heliograph message was sent into Ladysmith which told the garrison that "the Boers are suffering terribly from our thirty guns and 23,000 men." The cannonade ceased at about 1 p.m.
This day the meat ration was reduced to 9 oz. per man, but 1-1/4 lb. of bread per man was still being issued.
December 16th being Dingaan's Day, the garrison of Ladysmith was treated to heavy shell fire at daybreak.
On December 17th the Regiment and the Gordon Highlanders were told off as reserve battalions under the immediate orders of Sir George White.
It was officially given out that Sir R. Buller had been unable to make good his advance at Colenso, and that the garrison must be prepared to hold on for another two weeks. The orders publishing this news stated that the "Lieutenant-General regrets to have to announce that the Lieutenant-General Commanding-in-Chief in South Africa failed to make good his first attack on Colenso; reinforcements will therefore not arrive as early as expected."
On the evening of December 18th the Regiment gave over the good works they had completed on Devon Post and Cemetery Hill to the Liverpool Regiment, and moved into the latter's camp at Tunnel Hill, or, as it was otherwise known, Railway Cutting Camp.
Helpmakaar Hill, on account of being so exposed, had, at the commencement of the siege, been considered indefensible and untenable.
Under the vigorous superintendence of Colonel Knox, the commandant of the section who planned the defences, the works on this hill had by now been almost completed by the officers and men of the Battalion.
The defences were as complete as possible—flanking works, covered ways, splinter and shell-proof covers were dug or erected, and the main trenches had been turned into defensible barracks with head cover to keep off the rain.
It was possible to proceed from the reserve under Cemetery Hill up to and round the front and main works, and round the other side of the hill back to the reserve again, without once coming into view from the Boer positions on Gun Hill, Bulwana, or elsewhere, a six-feet covering wall having been built for this purpose. It was thus possible to send reinforcements to any part of the works without exposure to fire or view.
During the siege this post was never attacked or seriously threatened.
The Regiment, being now in the general reserve, was ordered to be ready to jump into mule wagons, and be carted at a gallop to any place where they might be required, at any moment, and on the 20th the manoeuvre was put into execution.
It was not altogether a success.
At dusk the Regiment proceeded to the railway station and the men were duly loaded up in the wagons. A start was then made, but as the second wagon nearly took the whole station with it in its endeavours to negotiate the first corner of the galvanized iron goods shed, no great speed was effected, for this wagon and the demolished corner of the shed blocked all further egress from the station till the road was cleared. Shortly afterwards the wagons, at last let loose, came into contact with the two city filth carts, the "Powerful" and "Terrible," which were parading about the streets on their own. These exceedingly powerful ironclads completed the defeat of the mule wagons, upset finally their order of going, and the retirement was effected in detachments. The manoeuvre was never repeated.
Wonderful tales and reports were continually being circulated from day to day. On one day there would perhaps be no news of any value, followed on the next day by the most woeful tidings; but on the third day, as if ashamed of themselves for furnishing such bad news the previous day, the tale-bearers would turn the winter of its discontent into the most glorious summer, by sending forth to the garrison shaves bubbling over with pleasing items.
On the evening of the 21st a heliograph message was received from the 2nd Battalion, which was with Sir Redvers Buller, stating that at the Colenso fight on the 15th December Colonel Bullock, Major Walter, and Lieutenant Smyth-Osbourne had been taken prisoners, and Captains Goodwyn, Vigors, and Radcliffe and Lieutenants Gardiner and Storey wounded.
After standing to arms daily at 4.15 a.m. till daylight, the Regiment was employed in building long stone traverses, behind which the men were to live, and this work was carried on again in the evening after dark by the light of candles. The dimensions of the traverses were sixty yards long, eight feet high, six feet (of stonework) thick at the top, and nine feet of stonework at the base, the earth from a ditch in front being thrown up at an angle of 1/1. They had a topping of sand-bags, with intervals for air passage; and a tent, stretched lengthways from the top down to ground, afforded the men shelter and accommodation.
On December 22nd a serious catastrophe happened to a party of the Gloucester Regiment, who were quartered in a small traverse near those occupied by the Regiment. A shell caught the whole party of twelve men as they were sitting away from the cover of the traverse. Five were killed, four died of their wounds almost immediately, and three were severely wounded.
A man with a telescope was now placed on the look-out, with orders to blow a whistle if he saw the big gun on Bulwana turned towards the lines when firing; and as the shell took about thirty seconds from the time of the discharge to reach its mark, the warning gave the men time to get under cover.
There were frequently some very amusing incidents when the look-out man blew his whistle. One morning whilst the business at the orderly-room was being conducted, and a culprit being told off, the whistle gave warning that the gun on Bulwana had fired, and in the direction of Tunnel Hill. As all could not get inside the orderly-room shelter, which was merely a hole dug into the side of the hill, there was a general scuttle and sauve qui peut. One officer, trying to get into the orderly-room from outside, ran into another who was escaping from it to get into the first traverse, and each tumbled over the other. The Quartermaster, trying to crawl on his hands and knees under the tenting of the second traverse, got blocked out, and at the same time shut out another officer flying for safety. At the same moment a man jumped from above on the Quartermaster's back, and he, fancying that it was the shell and that his end had come, gave himself up for lost. All, however, ended happily for the immediate neighbourhood, for the look-out man had made a mistake, and the shell, instead of arriving at Tunnel Hill, crashed into the town.
All these incidents and accidents, individually very serious at the time, were always amusing in the telling as soon as the tyranny was overpast, and, resulting in a hearty laugh, helped to relieve the strain.
The London Gazette of October 9th was signalled into Ladysmith by the 2nd Battalion. This stated: "Major Park to be Lieutenant-Colonel; Davies, 2nd-in-Command; Ellicombe, Major; Radcliffe, Captain."
A list of prices at this time in Ladysmith at the public auction is of interest:—
Eggs per dozen, 11s. 6d.
Small vegetable marrow, 1s. 6d.
Twelve small carrots, 2s. 6d.
Small water melon (worth 1d.), 6s. 6d.
Condensed milk per tin, 5s. 6d.
Fifty-two small potatoes, £1 10s.
Chickens, each, 8s.
Ducks, 13s. 6d.
Dutch butter in tins, 6s. 6d. per lb.
1/2d. Manilla cigars, 1s.
There was no English smoking tobacco obtainable, and one bottle of whisky changed hands at £5 10s.
December 25th, Christmas Day.
"Hark, the herald angels sing!" was forcibly brought to notice by the whistling of shells passing overhead at daylight. No Divine Service was therefore held. The garrison received the following message from Her Majesty the Queen: "I wish you and all my brave soldiers and sailors a happy Christmas. God protect and bless you all.—V.R.I." In the evening there was a soldiers' sing-song in the lines, which was finished off by three most hearty cheers for Her Majesty. Christmas Day completed the eighth week of the siege.
The losses which the 2nd Battalion sustained at Colenso were heliographed into Ladysmith. These were 15 N.C.O.'s and 10 men killed, 72 wounded, and 33 taken prisoners. This was in addition to the officers wounded and taken prisoners already mentioned.
On December 27th, shortly after breakfast, a shell from the big gun from Bulwana pitched and burst in the officers' mess shelter, where fourteen officers had taken cover on the whistle being blown. Lieutenant A.F. Dalzel was killed and the following were wounded:—
Lieutenant P.H. Price-Dent, dangerously in the head.
Lieutenant Caffin, dangerously in arm and shoulder.
Lieutenant Byrne, slightly.
Lieutenant Tringham, slightly.
Lieutenant Kane, slightly.
Lieutenant Scafe, slightly.
Lieutenant Twiss, slightly.
Lieutenant Blunt, slightly.
Captain Lafone, slightly.
Private Laycock, mess waiter, slightly.
The wounded were taken into the Railway Cutting and there cared for. They were then sent down to hospital in a church in the town. Lieutenant Dalzel was buried that night in the cemetery after dark during a heavy thunderstorm and in torrents of rain.
The men had a bad experience on the night of the 29th. The rain flooded their bivouacs, and the morning found blankets and clothes floating about in the water in the trenches. Later on, however, the weather cleared, the sun came out, and everything was soon dried.
At the latter end of December marksmen were sent out daily to the hill-tops some 1000 yards in front of the line of forts to act as countersnipers to the Boers, who continually fired at the grazing guards. One man was hit twice in one day by a Boer sniper, but only slightly wounded. It would appear from a letter written by a Boer that these marksmen made it very uncomfortable for the Boer snipers. In the letter, which was afterwards published in a Boer newspaper, the correspondent, writing to a friend in Pretoria, said: "I and my two comrades went out this morning to fire into the English position. We had only just got to our hiding-place when one of my comrades was shot dead; shortly after, my other comrade was badly wounded, and I lay down and hid the whole day till dark, when I got back to the laager." This would go to prove that, comparing him with the Boer, the British infantry soldier is not such a duffer with his weapon as some of those in authority were in the habit of asserting.
There was a good deal of musketry fire whilst the scouts were out, and it was supposed that shots were being exchanged with the Boer snipers; but when the marksmen, who were posted on the hills near the Orange Free State Junction Station and just above the abandoned piggery, came back with portions of the carcasses of pigs, it was evident that all the firing had not been at Transvaal Boers.
Lieutenant Price-Dent died at 6 a.m. on the 31st December in the Intombi Hospital. It was found that a piece of shell had penetrated his brain and lodged there. He was buried in the Intombi cemetery.
Up to the end of December things had been going fairly well with the besieged. The Regiment had had plenty of hard work to keep them fit, although they had been exposed to the elements and had had to rough it considerably. But nothing in the way of disease had troubled them. With the advent of January, however, whether it was from want of exercise or from the surroundings of their new camp, disease in the form of fever and dysentery became rife. They had been situated formerly for the most part on a well-drained kopje, whereas now they were down on the flat, and in a position that was not altogether healthy. There were no longer any comforts in the shape of tobacco, etc., and the news given to them from the outside world in the place of food was of so poor a quality that the men's minds as well as their bodies were becoming affected.
The Regiment kept heart under the depressing circumstances in a wonderful manner, and when Sir Redvers Buller kept putting off his arrival from day to day and week to week, the news that he was coming at last was generally received with a smile as if it was rather a joke.
The Boers were very busy on New Year's Day, 1900. It was supposed that a number of excursion trains filled with the youth and beauty of the Transvaal had arrived, and consequently the young Boer blood was all for showing off. The big gun on Bulwana threw in the aggregate during the day 1-1/2 tons of iron into the town, with the result that two men were killed. There was likewise a good deal of sniping, chiefly at the Indian "grass cuts."
One shell thrown into Ladysmith on New Year's Day had engraved on it "Compliments of the season," and contained a bursting charge of liquorice in the place of melinite, and a paper on which was written:—
"Good morning Mr. Franchise, don't be so cowardly to stay in holes, ye brave hero.
"Your faithfully, "SMALL LONG TOM."
Another blind shell picked up was full of sweetmeats.
Messages of good wishes to the garrison were received from Her Majesty, from Sir Redvers Buller, and from the soldiers, sailors, and civilians of Hong Kong.
Sir George White came round to see the Regiment in the evening, and informed the officers that Sir Redvers Buller would make no move for a fortnight. This was definite news, at any rate.
At dawn on January 3rd most of the naval guns fired off a large amount of shell, and there was considerable guessing amongst the uninitiated as to what was or were the targets. Shells fell at the foot of Bulwana, near the searchlight on the top, and also near the big gun. It was afterwards learnt that all the shells were meant for one particular spot on Bulwana, viz. the big gun.
On occasions it was the duty of the Regiment to send one company to dismount the 4.7 gun known as "Lady Anne" and place it on carts preparatory to its being shifted elsewhere. This was easily accomplished at the commencement of the siege in one night by 100 men. At the end of the siege, however, owing to the weakness of the men, the task was never completed under two nights, and then by 200 men.
About this time one company of the Regiment was ordered down to the railway station as a station and bridge guard. This was a three-days' post, and was much appreciated, as the men, being quite concealed amongst trees, had more freedom, and the officer in command had a railway carriage to sleep in.
On January 5th the following moves took place, and as the position of companies is important, they are given in full.
Three companies proceeded under Major Curry to Observation Hill to relieve the companies of the 60th Rifles ordered to Cæsar's Camp. One company was ordered to the railway station as bridge guard. A half company was sent to form the Bell's Spruit picquet, the other half remaining at the Railway Cutting. In the early hours of January 6th three fresh companies relieved those on Observation Hill, the latter returning to the Railway Cutting; the two companies at the railway bridge and at Bell's Spruit stood fast in their positions of the previous day.
The Boer attack of January 6th on the positions round Ladysmith commenced on Wagon Hill at about 2.45 a.m., and the Boers were not finally repulsed till after dark on the evening of the same day.
As the great attack has been so ably described by various authors, it will suffice here to give a rough outline of what took place on Cæsar's Camp and Wagon Hill prior to the companies of the Regiment reaching the latter place.
The Boers attacked Wagon Hill at about 2.45 a.m., and amidst a good deal of confusion on the top, where 4:7 gun was in the act of being mounted, gained possession of the front crest. Their attempt to take Wagon Hill itself failed. Reinforcements consisting of two companies Gordon Highlanders and three squadrons of I.L.H. were sent to assist the 60th Rifles, the men of the I.L.H., and the detachment of Sappers already engaged with the Boers.
An hour later the attack on Cæsar's Camp developed. The Manchesters were prepared for them, and one company Gordon Highlanders was sent to reinforce. The Boers, unable to advance against the front crest of Cæsar's Camp, attempted to turn the flank of the Manchesters along the northern slopes. This attempt was foiled by the advance of the one company Gordon Highlanders, assisted by the 53rd Battery which had come into action on the plain below. The Rifle Brigade reinforced Cæsar's Camp at about 7 a.m., and two more companies of the Gordons were sent there at about 2 p.m. By 10 a.m. the Boers had been pushed back off Cæsar's Camp, and Wagon Hill was reported nearly clear.
Wagon Hill was further reinforced by the 18th Hussars at 10 a.m.
At 1 p.m. the Boers, who had always hung on to their crest line, again attempted to rush Wagon Hill point, and though they gained a temporary advantage failed to establish themselves.
Sir George White ordered that the hill should be cleared of Boers at all costs before nightfall, and he sent the 5th Lancers and 19th Hussars to support the troops already at Wagon Hill, and at the same time three companies of the Devons were ordered to proceed there with all dispatch.
At 10 a.m. the three companies of the Devons, which were in camp, commanded respectively by Captain W.B. Lafone, Lieutenant Masterson with Lieutenant Walker, and Lieutenant Field, the whole commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Park, had been ordered to proceed to the camp near Iron Bridge vacated that morning by the Gordon Highlanders, to be ready as a reserve if wanted.
At about 3.30 p.m. these three companies received orders to proceed at once to Wagon Hill to reinforce Colonel Ian Hamilton's command and to push on, as help was urgently required. The Adjutant, Captain H.S.L. Ravenshaw, was sent back to camp to order rations and water to be sent out. Wagon Hill was reached at 4.45 p.m., and it was then ascertained that the 5th Lancers and 19th Hussars had already been merged into the firing line, and that a party of forty or fifty Boers were still in possession of the hill some 100 yards in front of the ridge held by the Imperial Light Horse, and directly in front of where the three companies were then halted under cover, that these Boers had been holding on all day there and inflicting great loss, and that our troops had been unable to dislodge them. Colonel Park was asked if he could turn them out by rushing them with the bayonet. He answered, "We will try." After the three companies had been formed up in column with bayonets fixed and magazines charged, Colonel Park gave the order to advance at fifty paces interval in quick time, and when the top of the ridge was reached to charge the position occupied by the Boers.
The charge took place in a blinding hail-storm, a time well chosen, as the hail was beating into the faces of the Boers. The men, before reaching the place where they formed up for the charge, were wet through, and had put on their warm coats which they had carried strapped on to their belts.
When the storm was at its height, Colonel Park gave the order to charge. Lieutenant Field, who commanded the leading company, rushed forward up the slope, shouting, "Company, double charge!" He was immediately followed at a distance of about ten yards by Masterson's company, which was immediately followed by Lafone's. As they got to the top of the crest they came in view of the sangar of rocks held by the I.L.H. At the corner of this they had to change direction half right, and the moment they reached it came under fire from the Boers. There was necessarily some crowding at this corner, owing to the change of direction, and the fact that the companies in their eagerness had followed so soon the one behind the other. There was, however, no halting, no dwelling here. On they went to reach their goal, 130 yards away, over perfectly flat open ground, fired into at short range from right, left, and front. Three-parts of the way across Park directed the rear company more to the right, the position the Boers occupied being in a semicircle.
Lieut.-Colonel C.W. Park
The enemy held on, firing most heavily, until the charging lines were within fifteen yards of them, and then ran down the slope and disappeared behind a ridge of rocks some forty yards ahead, beyond which the ground was dead and fell steeply away to the front. Almost before the men could be secured in the position they had won, bullets began to come in quickly from the right and left, and the cover of the rocks had to be sought as several men were hit. A few of the Boers who had been dislodged also crept back to the low ridge of rocks in front and began firing, and it was at this time that Captain Lafone and Lieutenant Field were hit. Lieutenant Walker, Somerset Light Infantry, and about thirty-five men were hit during the charge. Colonel Park was then the only officer left, the three companies being commanded by non-commissioned officers.
Lieutenant Walker was one of the last shot dead in the charge. He was shot through the head (as were most of the killed) within fifteen yards of the kopje held by the Boers.
Lieutenant Field rushed forward beyond this kopje and lay down in the open and commenced firing at the Boers at the crest just in front. He was very shortly afterwards shot through the head.
Captain Lafone was shot shortly before Lieutenant Field. He was in the act of firing at the time, taking aim, and was shot by a Boer lying in the grass some twenty-five yards away on his right rear. Before he was killed he had suggested to Lieutenant Masterton that some one should go back to the I.L.H. sangar to ask them to direct their fire on to some Boers on the left front; these were firing into the dead and wounded who had been hit during the charge and left out in the open.
Lieutenant Masterton at once volunteered, and started to run back over the 130 yards. He got most of the way across when he was hit in the legs by a bullet, but he continued his course, and being struck again fell, and was dragged behind cover by the I.L.H. He delivered his message.
The position won was held until the Boers retired under cover of darkness. The men were then placed in defensive positions, and picquets told off.
The wounded were subsequently cared for, and the dead left where they had fallen till daylight. Colonel Park described the fire of the Boers as like the crackle of a piece of gorse in a blazing fire. Colour-Sergeant Palmer, who so greatly distinguished himself both during and after the charge, said the air was hot with bullets. His rifle was shot in two at the lower band as he was taking aim, splinters grazing his face and hands. Half the survivors had their clothing shot through, and the majority of the killed were found to have been hit two or three times.
The strength of the force was 5 officers and 184 non-commissioned officers and men, of whom 3 officers and 14 men were killed and 1 officer and 34 men were wounded.
Although the loss was great, viz. nearly one-third of the total number, it is a matter of surprise that more were not hit during the run of 130 yards, exposed as they were for about three minutes to magazine fire at a point-blank range. It can be accounted for by the fact that the Boers crouching behind the rocks were rather below than above the level of the men, and their fire being consequently directed upwards, the bullets passed high and over the heads of the charging companies. This would explain why the majority of the killed were shot through the head. Lieutenant Walker was hit in the chin, the bullet cutting his chin-strap and passing out at the back and top of his head.
The following morning, as the men were collecting and parading preparatory to marching back to the railway cutting, Sir George White rode up and addressed them. Shaking Colonel Park by the hand he said: "I congratulate and thank you for the splendid work you and your men did yesterday. It was magnificently done. I am afraid you suffered very heavily, but you must remember that such work as that cannot be done for the Empire without loss."
Whilst the three companies were performing such gallant deeds on the southern defences, the three companies under Major Curry were holding their own on the north-west defences at Observation Hill.
The Boers attacked this post heavily in the morning, and were supported by six field-guns, which were supposed to have been the Colenso guns of General Buller's army, shrapnel being continually burst with excellent precision over the defences.
Naval Battery Hill, Ladysmith
The account of the fighting which took place is told in Major Curry's own words:— "The battle of Ladysmith commenced between 2 and 3 a.m. on Cæsar's Camp and soon we were engaged all round. The three companies which had proceeded to Observation Hill originally had just been relieved by three fresh companies. At about 4 a.m. Lieutenant Emerson reported to me that there was a party of Boers to his front, that he had fired on them, and that they had retired. I thought it was the usual picquet and that they had gone right back (it was too dark to see much); but such was not the case, for they had concealed themselves in a fold in the ground about 300 yards to our front. Their strength must have been between seventy and eighty.
"The enemy brought fire to bear on us from a 40-pounder howitzer, a field-gun, and a hotchkiss on Surprise Hill, and from one or two field-guns on the hill to our right over Hyde's Farm. They pounded away all the morning, and brought a continuous rifle fire on our position as well. At about 9.30 a.m. I heard a rattle of musketry from our centre work, and when I went up there I found that the enemy, who had concealed themselves in the fold in the ground in the early morning, had advanced right up the hill and had got within a few yards of our sangars before being seen. We killed nine and wounded twelve. They retired again to their cover, where they remained for the greater part of the day, slipping away by ones and twos back to their position. At about 4 p.m. a tremendous thunder and hail storm came on, which blotted out everything. The fire, which had ceased as the storm came on, was not renewed. Our loss was two killed by rifle fire, when the Boers made their attack. Our sangars were frequently breached by the 40-lb. shell during the day, but there was no loss from shell fire."
These three companies were relieved by the Leicesters the next evening.
Lieutenant Masterson was rewarded with the Victoria Cross, and the following is the official account of his gallant deed:—
"During the action at Wagon Hill, on the 6th January, 1900, Lieutenant Masterson commanded with the greatest gallantry and dash one of the three companies of his regiment, which charged a ridge held by the enemy, and captured the position.
"The companies were then exposed to a most heavy and galling fire from the right and left front. Lieutenant Masterson undertook to give a message to the Imperial Light Horse, who were holding a ridge some hundred yards behind, to fire to the left front and endeavour to check the enemy's fire.
"In taking this message he crossed an open space of a hundred yards, which was swept by a most heavy cross fire, and although badly wounded in both thighs managed to crawl in and deliver his message before falling exhausted into the Imperial Light Horse trench. His unselfish heroism was undoubtedly the means of saving several lives."
The gallant conduct of Colour-Sergeant Palmer was brought to notice under the following circumstances: When three companies of the Regiment were ordered to charge the ridge held by the enemy on Wagon Hill on January 6th, 1900, Colour-Sergeant Gilbert Palmer was with the leading company, and he at once dashed out to the front with most conspicuous bravery, and went straight for the point from which the heaviest fire was coming. The enemy ran before they were reached, but the three companies were exposed to a galling fire from the right, left, and front. Colour-Sergeant Palmer got behind a rock and shot several of the enemy, at the same time keeping a constant eye upon his own men, telling them when and where to fire, and when to take cover. When all the company officers were either killed or wounded, he at once recognized his position as senior non-commissioned officer, and was invaluable in getting orders passed to the other companies, and in superintending the men till dark, when the enemy retired. He then, acting under orders, personally placed the outpost line, saw to the collection of the dead and wounded, and, in fact, rendered invaluable assistance in every way.
His dash and pluck during the bayonet charge, his coolness and steady courage under a heavy cross fire, and the power of command and of quick and correct judgment displayed by him were most brilliant. Colour-Sergeant Palmer's name was previously brought to notice for gallant conduct at the battle of Elandslaagte on October 21st, 1899, so that this made the second occasion on which he conspicuously distinguished himself.
The names of the following non-commissioned officers and men were also brought to notice for gallantry on the occasion:—
Lance-Corporal Gilbert Young.
Frank John Rowe. Private Henry Brimmicombe.
The following message from Her Majesty the Queen was received by Sir George White for promulgation:— "To Sir George White, "Ladysmith.
"Warmly congratulate you and all under your command on your brilliant success. Greatly admire conduct of Devonshire Regiment.
The following telegram was also received:—
"O/C Devon Regiment, "Railway Cutting.
"G.O.C. directs me to convey direct to you the following message from Sir R. Buller:— "'Congratulate all troops on gallant defence, especially Devon Regiment.'"
The losses sustained by the garrison of Ladysmith on the 6th January were:—
Officers 18 25
Men 150 224
Total killed and wounded, 417.
By the death of Captain Lafone the Regiment lost one of the kindest-hearted and best officers that ever led a company.
The Boers' losses are estimated at 64 killed and 119 wounded. This estimate may be considered low, for the Standard and Diggers' News, copies of which were found later on in the war, gave six full-length columns of killed and wounded amongst the various commandos.
A large donga was utilized by the Boers as a dressing station. The violent storm on the afternoon of the 6th filled all the dry dongas and turned them at once into mountain torrents. It is said that all the wounded Boers in this donga were swept out into the Klip River and drowned. The dead of the Regiment were buried with those of other regiments, in a grave under Wagon Hill. Captain Lafone and Lieutenant Field were buried in the cemetery in Ladysmith.
On the morning of January 8th all the wounded were sent by train to Intombi Camp, including Lieutenant Masterson, who was doing well.
On January 9th the Regiment was concentrated at the railway cutting, the company at the railway station having been permanently relieved from the post by a company of the Liverpool Regiment. The battalion was thus ready to be moved to any portion of the defences requiring assistance, in case of attack.
The estimation in which the battalion was held at this time by the Ladysmith garrison was well borne out by a remark made by Sir George White. "The Devons," he said, "have never failed me yet. On the 6th they held one place and took another."
A scare in the evening that the Boers were to attack again in the morning caused various preparations to be made for their advent. The garrison stood to arms at 3.15 a.m. awaiting the attack.
It is a curious fact that the Regiment was never ordered to stand to arms in the morning before three o'clock at any time previous to or after the 6th January, and the only time the Boers made a night attack they did so at 2.15 a.m. This was on January 6th, on which day the Regiment was ordered to stand to arms at 4.15 a.m.
During the night of January 9th-10th the naval guns fired in the direction of Surprise Hill, and whilst this was proceeding the mountain battery's two remaining guns also threw some star shell in the same direction. The Boers were hugely elated at the sight of the star shell. This was probably the first time they had seen them. They turned their searchlight on to the stars when they fell on the ground, and cheered lustily. They evidently considered that it was a performance got up for their special entertainment by Messrs. Brock and Co., direct from the Crystal Palace.
The cause of all this shell fire was not known, but it would appear as if information had been received that the Boers had been collecting at the back of Surprise Hill the evening before, with a view to a renewed attack. Nothing, however, in the shape of an attack occurred, and at 3 a.m. firing ceased, and the sun rose in the morning in tranquillity.
On the 11th three messages were received by the garrison congratulating them on their good work of January 6th: one from the Governor of Natal, one from Valparaiso, and one from General Buller. The last named stated in his telegram that he would relieve Ladysmith as soon as possible.
It was stated that Sir George White had heliographed to Sir Redvers Buller informing him that there were over 2000 sick and wounded in Intombi Hospital Camp, that he could not hold out for much longer, and that he must not expect any assistance from him when he made his effort. Sir Redvers Buller had replied that he was sparing no effort to push forward, and that he hoped to be ready soon.
The number of patients in the Intombi Hospital Camp had increased by January 10th to over 400 cases of dysentery;
600 cases of enteric fever;
200 cases not yet diagnosed, but probably enteric fever;
800 cases wounded and various.
The daily rations of the garrison now consisted of 1/2 lb. of tinned meat and 1 lb. of bread per man.
Had it not been for the Indian Contingent there would have been no flour at all in Ladysmith. All the flour, all the rum, in fact almost everything that the garrison lived upon with the exception of meat, was brought from India with the Indian Contingent, which carried with it six months' supply of every description.
From January 12th, another duty assigned to the Regiment was the sending of two companies every morning at two o'clock to the examining guard on the Newcastle road, which was situated just under the 4.7 naval gun "Lady Anne." They had orders to stop there till 4.30 a.m. to check any rush of Boers into Ladysmith down the Newcastle road. Later on, the ground in front of this post was covered with barbed wire entanglement, but up to this time there was nothing at this point to prevent the Boers galloping right into the town.
A Peaceful Sunday: Klip River and Camp of the Imperial Light Horse, Ladysmith
As these two companies went to their places on the 12th, the Boer searchlight on Bulwana was flashing everywhere, and the mountain guns throwing star shell. It looked as if both sides expected an attack. The officer commanding the two companies had orders to operate on the flank of any attack made on the northern defences.
On the following morning the garrison was told that General Buller was moving round by Springfield; in the evening it was given out that he was moving west of Chieveley and Colenso, and was twelve miles from Ladysmith; and on the 14th the news came in that he was at Potgieter's Drift, and that General Warren was across the Tugela River; and in confirmation of this last information heavy gun fire was heard on the 17th in the direction of Potgieters, and the relieving army's balloon was seen on the following day in the same direction.
As an attack was expected on the night of the 19th on Observation Hill, three companies of the Regiment under Major Curry proceeded there in the evening and bivouacked, the remainder of the Regiment being under orders to hold themselves in readiness to proceed there at a moment's notice. The night, however, passed quietly, and the companies returned to their camp before dawn.
On January 20th better news was received from Sir Redvers Buller; his advance had been very satisfactory. Reports stated that he had reached Acton Holmes, and that four brigades had crossed the Tugela. His shells were seen falling thickly on Thabba Nyama mountain.
The tea and sugar rations were, however, cut down to half. The health of the men began now to generally improve, probably owing to better drinking water which was obtainable from the condenser, recently arranged for, at the railway station.
Very heavy gun fire, night and day, was continually heard from the direction of Spion Kop and Acton Holmes, and on the 23rd a demonstration was made from Ladysmith, the mounted troops going out under cover of the fire of all the guns. The Ladysmith guns on all the fronts opened, but were answered only by the Boer guns on Gun Hill and Bulwana. There was but little musketry fire from Pepworth direction, and Surprise Hill seemed deserted.
Still no relief appeared, and the rations were:—
12 oz. of beef,
1 lb. of bread. Half ration of sugar. Half ration of tea.
An order published on the 23rd gave hope:—
"Sir George White has received further satisfactory news as to Sir R. Buller's advance. The relief of Ladysmith may be said to be within measurable distance."
Very heavy gun fire was heard from 3 a.m. on the 24th till 2 p.m., and in the evening further encouragement was circulated:—
"Reassuring news has been received from Sir R. Buller."
No news from the relieving army was received on the 25th. Heavy firing continued, and in the evening the Boers were seen trekking from the direction of Spion Kop, all the laagers on the rear slopes of the mountain clearing off and making for Vanreenen's Pass and Newcastle. In fact, the whole country round Spion Kop seemed about to be hurriedly abandoned by the Boers. Great excitement prevailed in Ladysmith.
An investigation of the slopes of Spion Kop through the glasses at daybreak on the following morning proved, however, disappointing, for the laagers which had cleared off the night before were back again in their places. Moreover, the Boers round Ladysmith were very truculent on the morning of the 26th, which necessitated the garrison standing to arms till 6 a.m.
Prices at the weekly auction had gone up considerably.
Two vegetable marrows were sold for 5s. 6d.
Pumpkins fetched 2s. 6d. each.
A small plate of potatoes reached 11s.
Whilst four sticks (4 oz.) of black tobacco, "Fair-maid" brand, changed hands at £5 10s.
From now till the end of the siege two companies of the Regiment were moved to a healthier spot, known as the "Convalescent Camp." It was situated at the eastern end of Convent Hill. This post was relieved weekly, and as the men were concealed and in a healthier position the change was much appreciated.
On the morning of January 27th a native runner brought in news. His account was:—
"Boers lost heavily from artillery fire on Wednesday, and say that the British artillery is too much for them. I saw six field cornets dead on one wagon. Some English were taken prisoners, and they were from the left flank attack. The English attacked Spion Kop and surrounded the base of the hill, and the Boers lost heavily from the English shrapnel fire. When the English got to the top of the hill the Boers ran down the other side. The Boers are much disheartened by their losses."
Judging from the above, the native must have then run away and not have waited to see the finish, for in the evening the following news came in:—
"Buller attacked Spion Kop, seized and occupied it, but was driven off again the next night. Our loss is estimated at 200 killed and 300 wounded."
With the knowledge that history has given the world about the battle of Spion Kop, further comment is needless. The news above is given as it was received by the garrison of Ladysmith, who of course knew nothing but what was sent in in scraps by Sir Redvers Buller, and what came in to the Intelligence Department by native runners.
On the 30th the daily ration was further cut down to 1/2 lb. of meat, 2 biscuits, 1/6 oz. of tea, and 1/2 oz. of sugar per man. Horses, except those belonging to the artillery, went rationless.
On January 31st horse-flesh was issued for the first time as a ration.
One dozen whisky was raffled in the town, and fetched £144—£1 10s. per wineglass!
The only news received from the outside world on February 2nd was that—
"Sir R. Buller has retired behind the Tugela to rearrange, and Sir John Lubbock has been made a peer."
The question asked is, Who is Lubbock, and is he connected in any way with the evacuation of Spion Kop?
Some say that the news is the wrong way about, and that Lubbock has retired and Sir R. Buller been made a peer. Confirmation of the news was anxiously awaited.
Whichever way it was, in the face of the evacuation of Spion Kop it was poor news to feed a half-starved and anxious garrison on. However, in the meantime the big gun on Bulwana had fired his great shells into the Railway Cutting Camp and killed the doctor's horse.
About this time a decoction called "chevril" was issued to the men. It was supplied by the 18th Hussars' horses, whose bodies were boiled down for the purpose. It was nourishing and the men liked it, which was a good thing. There was nothing else by which to recommend it. The men were also allowed to go down to the chevril factory, which was close to the station, and buy the flesh of the horse after it had passed through the boiling process. This did not appear appetizing, but again the men liked it, and when cooked up with wild spinach which grew about the lines it was considered very tasty.
Two items of news were received on February 4th, one being that General Buller had again crossed the Tugela in three places and was to be expected shortly, and the other that the garrison of Ladysmith was to be attacked again next morning by 10,000 Boers. Arrangements were made to meet the latter, the arrival of the former being considered hypothetical. The garrison stood to arms at three o'clock the following morning and anxiously awaited the dawn, but everything went off quietly, and at 5.30 a.m. General Buller's guns commenced in three different directions. The sound of the heavy gun fire increased in intensity, till at 2.30 p.m. the noise could be compared to a heavy storm with incessant thunder.
The Regiment was now told off as part of a flying column. This was hopeful, as it was supposed that arrangements were being made to co-operate with the relieving army.
At 5.15 a.m. on the 5th Buller's guns began firing again and continued the whole day.
For the next few days there was no news from the outside world. Buller's guns were heard incessantly, and one Boer big gun was seen firing on Dornkloof, south of Manger's Hill. A few of Buller's lyddite shells were bursting near him, and one shell was seen to strike his magazine and explode it.
On the seventh night 100 men of the Regiment were again engaged in shifting the 4.7 gun "Lady Anne."
On the 9th nothing was heard of Buller's guns—perfect silence!
This gave rise to all sorts of reports, one actually given out being that Buller had taken his position and could come in at any time he liked, but he had been stopped by a telegram from the Cape in order to allow of Lord Roberts pushing up through the Free State; and then both Buller and Roberts would relieve Ladysmith and take Bloemfontein respectively on the same day. And this on the very day on which Buller was retiring south of Tugela again from Vaal Krantz.
It was now considered advisable to strengthen the defences held by the Regiment by an additional work, and the men were kept hard at it from 7.15 p.m. till 10 p.m. A dish of chevril was served out to each man of the working party before turning in.
On February 13th information was received that Buller had taken two positions on the north side of the Tugela with small loss—one Krantz Kloof, and the other Vaal Krantz Spruit. This information seemed somewhat belated. A message was also received from Lord Roberts in which he stated that he had entered the Free State with a very large force, chiefly of artillery and cavalry, and hoped that the pressure on Ladysmith would shortly be reduced. Heavy gun fire commenced in the Colenso direction on the night of February 14th, and continued with slight interruption till the 18th; and on the 15th the Boer pompom was heard in action, which went to show that the opposing forces were not very far from each other.
At the last public auction ever held in the town, i.e. on the 14th evening, the prices were:—
Eggs, 48s. per dozen.
Vegetable marrows, 28s. each.
Mealies, 3s. 8d. each.
Pot of jam, 32s. 6d.
Crosse & Blackwell's piccalilli, 19s. 6d.
Tin of ox tongue, 20s. 6d.
2 oz. stick of cake tobacco, 22s.
Fifty cigars, 10 guineas.
As much as 25s. per stick was paid about this time for two ounces of cake tobacco. No Kaffir leaf tobacco was to be bought in the town, although as much as £5 per leaf was offered.
On the 15th the Railway Cutting Camp again received the attention of the Long Tom gunners on Bulwana, who pitched some shells into the lines, but without doing damage.
The news of the relief of Kimberley was received by the garrison on February 17th, and it was reported that General French had captured five laagers.
On Sunday, the 18th, the battalion and 13th Battery, the remains of the Gloucester Regiment, and the Mountain Battery assembled as usual under "Liverpool Castle" for Divine service. The Reverend J. Tuckey officiated. The usual "extermination" service and prayers for the "Right" were said, the hymns chosen being—
There is a blessed home
Beyond this land of woe;
There is a green hill far away,
sung sadly to the accompaniment of Buller's guns.
He appears to be nearer, and his shells have been bursting on a hill and ridge in the distance, Colenso way.
The following statistics are of interest:—
Early in November the garrison of Ladysmith numbered about 13,500 men. During the siege there were over 10,500 admissions to hospital.
Thirty-eight men had been killed by shell fire, and 430 men had died of disease. Four shells only had accounted for nearly all the thirty-eight.
On February 19th news was sent in that General Buller had captured Cingolo Mountain and Monte Christo, and that excellent progress was being made by him. The Boers were seen trekking north all day; and in the evening Buller's heliographs were seen flashing from Monte Christo, and two guns on the same hill firing at the Boers. With the exception of Buller's heliograph and balloon this was the first occasion that the relieving army was seen from Ladysmith.
On February 22nd, with the intention of finding out whether there had been any reduction in the investing force, the Regiment with some mounted infantry were ordered to reconnoitre in the direction of Flag Hill. A start was made at 3.30 a.m. Some sixty Boers were encountered, and the Regiment was ordered back to camp at 6.15 a.m., fired at by the sixty Boers.
Buller's guns were heard firing incessantly all day and every day. His shells were now seen bursting on a southern spur of Bulwana and near Intombi Camp.
During the siege the Boers conceived the idea of flooding the Ladysmith plain and the town by damming the Klip River below Intombi Camp. This dam was commenced
towards the end of the siege, but was not completed when Ladysmith was relieved. It was a good target for the naval 12-pounder guns on Cæsar's Camp, which frequently fired at it. These in their turn received on such occasions a good deal of attention from the Boer big gun on Bulwana.
On the night of the 24th the 4.7 gun "Lady Anne" was again moved; this was for the fourth and the last time. On the same night very heavy rifle and Maxim gun fire was heard on the hills south of Cæsar's Camp. This continued for about one hour, when the firing was taken up by the Boer outposts all round Ladysmith, a few bullets reaching the Convalescent Camp on Convent Hill.
February 27th being Majuba Day, the garrison, expecting a demonstration from the Boers, stood to arms at 4.15 a.m., but, much to the astonishment of everybody, not a shot was fired. General Buller sent the garrison in the following message:—
"Colenso rail bridge, which was totally destroyed, is under repair; road bridge partially destroyed; am doing very well, but the country is difficult and my progress is slow; hope to be with you soon."
Official news was also received that Lord Roberts had surrounded Cronje, who had surrendered with 4000 Boers, the English losses being given as 1700 killed and wounded.
On the 28th rations were further cut down to one biscuit and three ounces of mealies, with one pound of horse as before per man. This was perhaps the most distressing circumstance connected with the siege, and it had a most depressing effect. It was not so much the reduction of the ration that was of consequence, as the reason for the reduction. This could not be guessed at, and it gave rise to conjectures, the chief being that Buller had again failed, and could not get through. His shells had been seen bursting on the hills, and that had encouraged the garrison; but the garrison had been encouraged before by the sight of Buller's shells bursting on Thabba Nyama. Three days previously, owing to the good news received from Buller, the garrison had been put on full rations, but now, after further good news, the order was promulgated:—
"Highly satisfactory reports have been sent from General Buller as to his advance, but the country is difficult and progress slow, therefore I am obliged to reduce the ration, etc. etc."
This sudden cancelling of the increase of the ration, and its still further reduction in the face of the news received and in the sight of Buller's shells, was disappointing. Having ascertained that the garrison could exist till April 15th and not longer, and that then there would not be a horse, ox, or mule left, Sir George White, much against his will, but to make things certain in case General Buller was again checked, gave the orders for the reduction on the day before the relief.
During the day the big gun on Bulwana made an attempt to reach Observation Hill Post, which were the furthest works from him in that direction. His attempt succeeded, and he put many shells into the works. His record for the siege was an attempt to reach Wagon Hill. He failed in this, but his range, as measured on the map, was 11,560 yards, or 6 miles and 1000 yards.
February 28th, the last day of the siege, was very hot and oppressive; everybody seemed depressed, trying to guess at some reason for the ration reduction. At about 2 p.m., however, Major Riddel, brigade-major to Colonel Knox, came up to the officers' mess smiling all over, and said that excellent news, the very best, had come in, but that "it is confidential, and I am not allowed to say what it is." He called for volunteers who were willing and able to march seven miles and fight at the end of it. The whole Regiment, officers and men, volunteered, but after a medical examination had been made of the battalion, only one hundred men were found to come up to requirements.
At about 3.30 p.m. the news was distributed that General Buller had gained a complete victory over the Boers, who were in full retreat. Hundreds of wagons were seen going off north towards Modder Station and Vanreenens, and at 4 p.m. a derrick was seen hoisted over the big gun on Bulwana, and the naval guns opened fire on him. The Boers dismounted him under a heavy fire from one 4.7 and two naval 12-pounders, and got him away.
At 6.20 p.m. a welcome sight greeted the eyes of the weary garrison, for suddenly out of the bush appeared two squadrons of mounted men, riding leisurely in across the plain from the direction of Intombi, and the truth dawned on the garrison that Ladysmith was at last and in reality relieved.
The siege had lasted four calendar months to the day.
Frantic cheering greeted them as they crossed the ford and reached the town.
On the following day a column, consisting of the Devons, Gordon Highlanders, three batteries of artillery, all the cavalry who had horses, and the two mounted colonial corps, the whole under the command of Colonel W.G. Knox, sallied forth at 10 a.m. towards Modder Station to pursue and to stop the Boers getting their big guns away by train. On arriving abreast of Pepworth Hill, which the Boer rear-guard had occupied, the advanced troops, consisting of Devons and the batteries, came under rather a sharp fire. All further progress was stopped, and the column returned to camp. The Devons had two men wounded. Camp was reached at 4.30 p.m. The battalion was met on the way home by Major Davies, Captains Bols and Vigors, Lieutenants Lafone and Munro, all of the 2nd Battalion. These had ridden in from their camp, and brought with them tobacco, whisky, rum, and milk. The companies of the 2nd Battalion sent in to their corresponding companies tea, sugar, tobacco, matches, etc. These were all most eagerly accepted.
Sir Redvers Buller and his staff rode into Ladysmith in the afternoon.
Explosions at Modder Station and on the railway could be heard, signifying that the Boers were making good their retreat by blowing up the bridges.
On March 3rd General Buller made his public entry into Ladysmith at the head of his army. The march of Buller's army through Ladysmith was a pageant which those who took part in the siege will never forget.
The garrison of Ladysmith lined the streets. Sir George White with his staff took his stand mounted, under the damaged clock tower of the Town Hall—the Gordons on the one hand, the Devons on the other—the Gordon pipers facing him on the opposite side of the road.
It was a great sight, and those who had been through the siege and had heard the words of their leader at the end, "Thank God we have kept the flag flying," knew it for a great sight.
General Buller rode at the head of his army, and received an immense ovation, as did all his regiments and artillery as they passed through the lines of the weedy, sickly-looking garrison. These with their thin, pale faces cheered to the full bent of their power, but after standing in the sun for some time they became exhausted, and Sir Redvers sent back word for them to sit down, which they gladly did, whilst the relievers, as they passed along, chucked them bits of tobacco, ready cut up, from their small store, small because they themselves were also hard put for luxuries.
The tramp! tramp! of these men, who to the weakly garrison appeared as veritable giants, will never be forgotten, as they hurried past to the strains of the Gordons' pipes, cheering with the utmost enthusiasm the figure of Sir George White as they passed him. They were almost to a man reservists, well covered, hard, and well set up. They were filthy, their clothes were mended and patched, and most of them had scrubby beards. Tied on to their belts in almost all cases was a Boer blanket, telling that they had been busy in some Boer laager; on the top of this a small bundle of sticks for each man to cook his own tea, and by his side, attached to his belt, hung his black tin pot. But how well they looked—the picture of vigour, health, and strength, as they "tramp, tramp"—"tramp, tramp" through the town.
A corps that came in for a good deal of notice was the Bearer Company. They were at first taken for Boer prisoners, but when it became known who they were they were much cheered. Clad in worn-out "slops" they slouched along, in each man's hand a pot of sorts, enamel or china, and a bundle of something over each man's shoulder.
The meeting of the two battalions was not quite so emotional as has been depicted by some authors. The 2nd Battalion, the relievers, came through late at the rear of Buller's army, and by that time the 1st Battalion, the relieved, had been in the sun, standing or sitting down on the curbstone, for some hours, and a great many men had fallen out exhausted. Still the meeting was very hearty, officers recognizing men and men old comrades. There was little time to enact the scene so graphically described by one author "which would make old men weep." Buller's army was straggled out a good deal and the rear had to catch up, so if a pal was seen he was gone next moment to give way to another pal. Most of the reservists had been through the ranks of the 1st Battalion, and with it through the Tirah Campaign; almost all were hurriedly recognized, and a hearty and hasty shake of the hand was all the greeting exchanged. Old jokes came to the fore, and were bandied from one to the other as the 2nd Battalion hurried along. There was no time for more—one battalion was in a hurry and the other exhausted.
It was well on in the day before the 1st Battalion got back to its camp at the Railway Cutting.
On Sunday, March 4th, a Thanksgiving Service was held on the flat ground between the Convent Hill and the Naval Brigade Hill, which was attended by Generals Buller and White, and on its conclusion the battalion moved into tents outside the works and in front of Gloucester Post.
It was a strange experience moving out into the open, away from the protection of the works. The nerves of most had had a severe strain from want of food and continual anxiety.
It was the anxiety which killed. There is nothing more conducive to the deterioration of men's minds than false alarms on an empty stomach.