Tuesday, February 27, 1900.
This is Majuba Day, and in the afternoon the garrison was cheered by the news that Roberts had surrounded Cronje and compelled him to surrender. For ourselves, relief seems as far off as ever, though it is said shells were seen bursting not far beyond Intombi Camp. The bread rations are cut down again to half, after a few days' rise; though, indeed, they can hardly be called bread rations, for the maize bread was so uneatable that none is made now. The ration is biscuits and three ounces of mealie meal for porridge.
Towards evening I went for my first drive through old familiar scenes that have come to look quite different now. The long drought has turned the country brown, and it is all the barer for the immense amount of firewood that has been cut. It was decided about a week ago not to issue any more horse as rations till the very last of the oxen had been killed.
February 28, 1900.
From early morning it was evident that the Boers were much disturbed in mind. Line after line of waggons with loose strings of mounted men kept moving from the direction of the Tugela heights above Colenso, steadily westward, across the top of Long Valley, past the foot of Hussar Hill, out into the main road along the Great Plain, over the Sandspruit Drift at the foot of Telegraph Hill, and so to the branching of the roads which might lead either to the Free State passes or to Pepworth Hill and the railway to the north. All day the procession went on. However incredible it seemed, it was evident that the "Great Trek" had begun at last.
Soon after midday a heliogram came through from Buller, saying he had severely defeated the enemy yesterday, and believed them to be in full retreat. Better still, about three the Naval guns on Cove Redoubt and Cæsar's Camp (whither "Lady Anne" was removed three days ago) opened fire in rapid succession on the great Bulwan gun. The Boers were evidently removing him. They had struck a "shearlegs" or derrick upon the parapet. One of our first shots brought the whole machinery down, and all through the firing of the Naval guns was excellent.
About six I had driven out (being still enfeebled with fever) to King's Post, to see the tail-end of the Boer waggons disappear. On returning I found all the world running for all they were worth to the lower end of the High-street and shouting wildly. The cause was soon evident. Riding up just past the Anglican Church came a squadron of mounted infantry. They were not our own. Their horses were much too good, and they looked strange. Behind them came another and another. They had crossed the drift that leads to the road along the foot of Cæsar's Camp past Intombi to Pieter's, and Colenso. There was no mistake about it. They were the advance of the relief column, and more were coming behind. It was Lord Dundonald's Irregulars—Imperial Light Horse, Natal Carbineers, Natal Police, and Border Mounted Rifles.
The road was crammed on both sides with cheering and yelling crowds—soldiers off duty, officers, townspeople, Kaffirs, and coolies, all one turmoil of excitement and joy. By the post office General White met them, and by common consent there was a pause. Most of his Staff were with him too. In a very few words he welcomed the first visible evidence of relief. He thanked his own garrison for their splendid service in the defence, and added that now he would never have to cut down their rations again, a thing that always went to his heart.
Then followed roar after roar of cheering—cheers for White, for Buller, for Ward, for many others. Then, all of a sudden, we found ourselves shouting the National Anthem in every possible key and pitch. Then more cheering and more again.
But it was getting dark. The General and Staff turned towards Headquarters. The new arrivals had to be settled in their quarters for the night. Most were taken in by the Imperial Light Horse—alas! there is plenty of room in their camp now! To right and left the squadrons wheeled, amid greetings and laughter and endless delight. By eight o'clock the street was almost clear, and there was nothing to show how great a change had befallen us.
About ten a tremendous explosion far away told that the Boers were blowing up the bridges behind them as they fled.
And so with to-night the long siege really ends. It is hardly credible yet. For 118 days we have been cut off from the world. All that time we have been more or less under fire, sometimes under terrible fire. What it will be to mix with the great world again and live each day in comparative security we can hardly imagine at present. But the peculiar episode called the Siege of Ladysmith is over.