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LADYSMITH, March 23, 1900.

Where all worked so well it would be a shame to say Ladysmith was saved by any particular branch of the service—the naval guns, the Army Service Corps, or the infantry soldier. But it is quite certain that without the strictest control on the food supply we could not have held out so long, and by the kindness of one whose authority is above question I am able to give the following account of how the town was fed for the seventeen weeks of the siege.

THE PROBLEM.

A celebrated French writer on military matters has said: "There are two words for war—le pain et la poudre."

In a siege le pain is of even greater importance than la poudre, for "hunger is more cruel than the sword, and famine has ruined more armies than battle." Feeding must go on at least three times a day, and every day, or the men become ineffective, and the hospitals filled.

At the beginning of November, 1899, Ladysmith, containing over 20,000 souls, with 9,800 horses and mules, and 2,500 oxen and a few hundred sheep, was cut off from the outer world, and nothing in the way of supplies was brought in for 119 days, except a few cattle which our guides looted at night from the besieging enemy. The problem was how to utilise the food supplies which were in the place, and those who had the misfortune (or, as some say, the good fortune) to go through that trying period will say that the problem was very satisfactorily solved in spite of the enormous difficulties the Army Service Corps had to contend with.

The two senior officers of that corps—Colonel E.W. D. Ward, C.B., and Lieut.-Colonel Stoneman—recognising the possibility of a siege, and also that a big margin is everything in army administration, had caused enormous quantities of supplies to be sent up from the base to Ladysmith. The articles were not even tallied or counted as received, in spite of the remonstrances of the consignors; but by means of Kaffir labourers, working night and day, the trucks were off-loaded as fast as possible, and again sent down the line to bring up more food.

STORES AT THE BEGINNING.

The quantities of the various articles in hand at the beginning of November were as follows:—

 

 

lbs.

Flour

 

979,996

Preserved Meat

 

173,792

Biscuits

 

142,510

Tea

 

23,167

Coffee

 

9,483

Sugar

 

267,699

Salt

 

38,741

Maize

 

3,965,400

Bran

 

923,948

Oats

 

1,270,570

Hay, &c.

 

1,864,223

and a large amount of medical comforts, such as spirits, wines, arrowroot, sago, beef tea, &c.

In addition to the above we had rice, ghi, goor, atta, &c., for the natives of the Indian contingent. (Ghi is clarified butter; goor, unrefined sugar; atta is whole meal.)

At the beginning of the siege the scale of rations was as follows:—

Bread, 1-1/4 lb, or biscuit, 1 lb.
Meat (fresh), 1-1/4 lb., or preserved meat, 1 lb.
{ Coffee, 1 oz.,
{      or
{ Tea, 1/2 oz.
Sugar, 3 oz.
Salt, 1/2 oz.
Pepper, 1/36 oz.
{ Vegetables (compressed), 1 oz.,
{      or
{ Potatoes, 1/2 lb.

Cheese, bacon, and jams were frequently issued as an extra, in addition to the above.

REQUISITIONING.

The above quantities of articles, large as they appear, would not have sufficed to supply our wants for the long siege. The military authorities therefore very wisely determined at a very early date to make use of the Requisition. This power of seizing at a certain price from their owners all articles required by the troops has to be used very carefully and tactfully, as otherwise the people hide or bury their goods. A civilian, commanding the confidence of the people, was appointed by the local authorities to fix the prices in co-operation with a military officer, who represented the interests of her Majesty's Government. In this way a large quantity of food, &c., was obtained at a fair price. These quantities were:—

Cattle, 1,511.
Goats and sheep, 1,092.
Mealies or maize, 1,517,996 lbs.
Kaffir corn, or a kind of millet, 68,370 lbs.
Boer meal, or coarse wheat-meal, 108,739 lbs.

All spirits and wines were taken and a fair price paid.

In December, when the cases of enteric fever and dysentery began to be very numerous, it was determined to take possession of the milch cows, and to see that the milk was used for the sick alone. So under the supervision and control of Colonel Stoneman and Captain Thompson, a dairy farm was started, and the milk was issued to civilians and soldiers alike on medical certificate. Owing to the scarcity of milk, and to the great necessity for it in cases of enteric and dysentery, the dairy farm is still going (March 23, 1900), the owners of the cows being paid 1s. per quart; a careful account being kept of the milk produced.

In connection with the requisitioning of cows by Colonel Stoneman, a quaint incident is recorded. A gentleman of Ladysmith of a stubborn temperament on receiving the requisition wrote to Colonel Stoneman in the following terms: "SIR,—Neither you nor any one else shall take my cow. If you want milk for your sick apply to Joubert for it. Get out with you, and get your milk from the Dutch." The cow was promptly taken.

POULTRY AND EGGS.

These soon became very scarce, and the price demanded for eggs was enormous. The highest price reached was £2 10s. for twelve eggs, but they were often sold at sums from 30s. to 44s. per dozen. As eggs were so important a food in the dietary of the sick, it was determined, under the authority of the Lieutenant-General commanding, to requisition the poultry and eggs of those persons who would not sell them at a reasonable rate. A good price was paid to the owners for their eggs and chickens, which were issued only on medical certificate.

A well-known official of the Natal Government Railway had thirty-six tins of condensed milk. At the auction which took place three times a week in the town, 6s. 6d. a tin was offered for this, but the unselfish and unsympathetic owner did not consider this price sufficient; he declined to sell under 7s. 6d. a tin. This fact being brought to the notice of Colonel Stoneman, he requisitioned the whole lot at 10d. a tin.

I have stated that 1,511 cattle were requisitioned from their owners for slaughter purposes. This was a great trial both to the officer who carried out this duty and to the owners. The Kaffir lady Ugumba did not want to part with her pet cow, which was the prop of her house, had been bred up amongst her children, and had lived in the back yard. The white owners discovered suddenly that their cattle were of the very highest breed, and had been specially imported from England or Holland at enormous cost. However, most of these cattle, except milch cows, had to be taken. The proprietors of high-bred stock were directed to claim compensation, over the meat value, from the "Invasion Losses Commission" now sitting.

FAIR SALE.

Colonels Ward and Stoneman having requisitioned considerable quantities of food-stuffs at the beginning of the siege, they determined to sell some of them, such as sugar, sardines, &c., &c., at the same price as was paid. One or two fathers with sick children were supplied with 4 oz. of brandy on medical certificate. There was no liquor to be had in the town, and the fathers with sick children grew in numbers with suspicious rapidity.

In the month of February the pinch began to be felt. Most men were without smiles, and most women were scarcely able to suppress their tears—tears of weakness and exhaustion. The scale of rations was then reduced to a fine point. Many a man begged for suitable food for his sick wife and little baby, many mothers asked for a little milk and sugar for their young children, and many sick men, both at Intombi and in Ladysmith, wrote, or caused to be written, pathetic letters for "anything in the way of food" that could be granted.

The "Chevril" factory was started to supply soup, jellies, extracts, and even marrow bones made from horses; a sausage factory was instituted; and a biltong factory was run in order to utilise the flesh of horses which would have otherwise died from starvation. A grass-cutting labour gang was organised to go out and (under fire) cut grass and bring it in for our cattle and horses; a wood-cutting labour gang went out daily and cut wood for fuel—being "sniped at" by the Boers constantly; mills were worked by the A.S.C. for the purpose of grinding maize, &c., as food; arrangements were made by the A.S.C. for a pure water supply by means of condensation and filtration; coffee was made by roasting and grinding mealies; the gluten necessary to maize to make bread was supplied by Colman's starch; and in short nothing was left undone that ingenuity could devise.

LOWEST RATIONS.

And yet, in spite, of all that human power could do, as the days dragged out the supplies grew shorter. The scale of rations, much to the sorrow of the lieut.-general commanding, had been several times reduced, and once more, on February 27, it was again found necessary to cut them down, with a view to holding out until April if necessary. On that day the ration scale was as follows per man, per day, this being the extreme limit:—

For Whites—Biscuit, 1/4 lb.; Maize meal, 3 oz.
For Indians and Kaffirs—Maize meal, 8 oz.
Europeans—Fresh meat, 1 lb.
Kaffirs—Fresh meat, 1-1/4 lbs. (Chiefly horseflesh.)
For White men—Coffee or tea, 1/12 oz.; pepper, 1/64 oz.; salt, 1/3 oz.; sugar, 1 oz.; mustard, 1/20 oz.; Vinegar, 1/12 gill.
For Indians—a little rice.

The Indian, it will be observed, would have fared the worst, much against the will of the authorities, for he does not eat beef, much less horseflesh.

We had not, however, to spend the month of March on this scale of diet, for to our great joy, about midday on the 28th, we received the following message from General Buller:—"I beat the enemy thoroughly yesterday, and my cavalry is now pursuing as fast as bad roads will permit. I believe the enemy to be in full retreat." The ration scale was at once doubled, and that evening Lord Dundonald's cavalry arrived.

 

Appendix - How Ladysmith Was Fed

LADYSMITH, March 23, 1900.

Where all worked so well it would be a shame to say Ladysmith was saved by any particular branch of the service—the naval guns, the Army Service Corps, or the infantry soldier. But it is quite certain that without the strictest control on the food supply we could not have held out so long, and by the kindness of one whose authority is above question I am able to give the following account of how the town was fed for the seventeen weeks of the siege.

THE PROBLEM.

A celebrated French writer on military matters has said: "There are two words for war—le pain et la poudre."

In a siege le pain is of even greater importance than la poudre, for "hunger is more cruel than the sword, and famine has ruined more armies than battle." Feeding must go on at least three times a day, and every day, or the men become ineffective, and the hospitals filled.

At the beginning of November, 1899, Ladysmith, containing over 20,000 souls, with 9,800 horses and mules, and 2,500 oxen and a few hundred sheep, was cut off from the outer world, and nothing in the way of supplies was brought in for 119 days, except a few cattle which our guides looted at night from the besieging enemy. The problem was how to utilise the food supplies which were in the place, and those who had the misfortune (or, as some say, the good fortune) to go through that trying period will say that the problem was very satisfactorily solved in spite of the enormous difficulties the Army Service Corps had to contend with.

The two senior officers of that corps—Colonel E.W. D. Ward, C.B., and Lieut.-Colonel Stoneman—recognising the possibility of a siege, and also that a big margin is everything in army administration, had caused enormous quantities of supplies to be sent up from the base to Ladysmith. The articles were not even tallied or counted as received, in spite of the remonstrances of the consignors; but by means of Kaffir labourers, working night and day, the trucks were off-loaded as fast as possible, and again sent down the line to bring up more food.

STORES AT THE BEGINNING.

The quantities of the various articles in hand at the beginning of November were as follows:—

 

     

lbs.

Flour

 

979,996

Preserved Meat

 

173,792

Biscuits

 

142,510

Tea

 

23,167

Coffee

 

9,483

Sugar

 

267,699

Salt

 

38,741

Maize

 

3,965,400

Bran

 

923,948

Oats

 

1,270,570

Hay, &c.

 

1,864,223

and a large amount of medical comforts, such as spirits, wines, arrowroot, sago, beef tea, &c.

In addition to the above we had rice, ghi, goor, atta, &c., for the natives of the Indian contingent. (Ghi is clarified butter; goor, unrefined sugar; atta is whole meal.)

At the beginning of the siege the scale of rations was as follows:—

Bread, 1-1/4 lb, or biscuit, 1 lb.
Meat (fresh), 1-1/4 lb., or preserved meat, 1 lb.
{ Coffee, 1 oz.,
{      or
{ Tea, 1/2 oz.
Sugar, 3 oz.
Salt, 1/2 oz.
Pepper, 1/36 oz.
{ Vegetables (compressed), 1 oz.,
{      or
{ Potatoes, 1/2 lb.
 

Cheese, bacon, and jams were frequently issued as an extra, in addition to the above.

REQUISITIONING.

The above quantities of articles, large as they appear, would not have sufficed to supply our wants for the long siege. The military authorities therefore very wisely determined at a very early date to make use of the Requisition. This power of seizing at a certain price from their owners all articles required by the troops has to be used very carefully and tactfully, as otherwise the people hide or bury their goods. A civilian, commanding the confidence of the people, was appointed by the local authorities to fix the prices in co-operation with a military officer, who represented the interests of her Majesty's Government. In this way a large quantity of food, &c., was obtained at a fair price. These quantities were:—

Cattle, 1,511.
Goats and sheep, 1,092.
Mealies or maize, 1,517,996 lbs.
Kaffir corn, or a kind of millet, 68,370 lbs.
Boer meal, or coarse wheat-meal, 108,739 lbs.

All spirits and wines were taken and a fair price paid.

In December, when the cases of enteric fever and dysentery began to be very numerous, it was determined to take possession of the milch cows, and to see that the milk was used for the sick alone. So under the supervision and control of Colonel Stoneman and Captain Thompson, a dairy farm was started, and the milk was issued to civilians and soldiers alike on medical certificate. Owing to the scarcity of milk, and to the great necessity for it in cases of enteric and dysentery, the dairy farm is still going (March 23, 1900), the owners of the cows being paid 1s. per quart; a careful account being kept of the milk produced.

In connection with the requisitioning of cows by Colonel Stoneman, a quaint incident is recorded. A gentleman of Ladysmith of a stubborn temperament on receiving the requisition wrote to Colonel Stoneman in the following terms: "SIR,—Neither you nor any one else shall take my cow. If you want milk for your sick apply to Joubert for it. Get out with you, and get your milk from the Dutch." The cow was promptly taken.

POULTRY AND EGGS.

These soon became very scarce, and the price demanded for eggs was enormous. The highest price reached was £2 10s. for twelve eggs, but they were often sold at sums from 30s. to 44s. per dozen. As eggs were so important a food in the dietary of the sick, it was determined, under the authority of the Lieutenant-General commanding, to requisition the poultry and eggs of those persons who would not sell them at a reasonable rate. A good price was paid to the owners for their eggs and chickens, which were issued only on medical certificate.

A well-known official of the Natal Government Railway had thirty-six tins of condensed milk. At the auction which took place three times a week in the town, 6s. 6d. a tin was offered for this, but the unselfish and unsympathetic owner did not consider this price sufficient; he declined to sell under 7s. 6d. a tin. This fact being brought to the notice of Colonel Stoneman, he requisitioned the whole lot at 10d. a tin.

I have stated that 1,511 cattle were requisitioned from their owners for slaughter purposes. This was a great trial both to the officer who carried out this duty and to the owners. The Kaffir lady Ugumba did not want to part with her pet cow, which was the prop of her house, had been bred up amongst her children, and had lived in the back yard. The white owners discovered suddenly that their cattle were of the very highest breed, and had been specially imported from England or Holland at enormous cost. However, most of these cattle, except milch cows, had to be taken. The proprietors of high-bred stock were directed to claim compensation, over the meat value, from the "Invasion Losses Commission" now sitting.

FAIR SALE.

Colonels Ward and Stoneman having requisitioned considerable quantities of food-stuffs at the beginning of the siege, they determined to sell some of them, such as sugar, sardines, &c., &c., at the same price as was paid. One or two fathers with sick children were supplied with 4 oz. of brandy on medical certificate. There was no liquor to be had in the town, and the fathers with sick children grew in numbers with suspicious rapidity.

In the month of February the pinch began to be felt. Most men were without smiles, and most women were scarcely able to suppress their tears—tears of weakness and exhaustion. The scale of rations was then reduced to a fine point. Many a man begged for suitable food for his sick wife and little baby, many mothers asked for a little milk and sugar for their young children, and many sick men, both at Intombi and in Ladysmith, wrote, or caused to be written, pathetic letters for "anything in the way of food" that could be granted.

The "Chevril" factory was started to supply soup, jellies, extracts, and even marrow bones made from horses; a sausage factory was instituted; and a biltong factory was run in order to utilise the flesh of horses which would have otherwise died from starvation. A grass-cutting labour gang was organised to go out and (under fire) cut grass and bring it in for our cattle and horses; a wood-cutting labour gang went out daily and cut wood for fuel—being "sniped at" by the Boers constantly; mills were worked by the A.S.C. for the purpose of grinding maize, &c., as food; arrangements were made by the A.S.C. for a pure water supply by means of condensation and filtration; coffee was made by roasting and grinding mealies; the gluten necessary to maize to make bread was supplied by Colman's starch; and in short nothing was left undone that ingenuity could devise.

LOWEST RATIONS.

And yet, in spite, of all that human power could do, as the days dragged out the supplies grew shorter. The scale of rations, much to the sorrow of the lieut.-general commanding, had been several times reduced, and once more, on February 27, it was again found necessary to cut them down, with a view to holding out until April if necessary. On that day the ration scale was as follows per man, per day, this being the extreme limit:—

For Whites—Biscuit, 1/4 lb.; Maize meal, 3 oz.
For Indians and Kaffirs—Maize meal, 8 oz.
Europeans—Fresh meat, 1 lb.
Kaffirs—Fresh meat, 1-1/4 lbs. (Chiefly horseflesh.)
For White men—Coffee or tea, 1/12 oz.; pepper, 1/64 oz.; salt, 1/3 oz.; sugar, 1 oz.; mustard, 1/20 oz.; Vinegar, 1/12 gill.
For Indians—a little rice.

The Indian, it will be observed, would have fared the worst, much against the will of the authorities, for he does not eat beef, much less horseflesh.

We had not, however, to spend the month of March on this scale of diet, for to our great joy, about midday on the 28th, we received the following message from General Buller:—"I beat the enemy thoroughly yesterday, and my cavalry is now pursuing as fast as bad roads will permit. I believe the enemy to be in full retreat." The ration scale was at once doubled, and that evening Lord Dundonald's cavalry arrived.

 

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Category: Nevinson: Ladysmith - Diary of a siege
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