"Fight the good fight."
On the pages of history is recorded in golden letters the name and deeds of Florence Nightingale, who, as the pioneer of scientific hospital nursing, did so much to mitigate the horrors of war. Her example was nobly followed half a century later by two other English ladies, who, although they had not to encounter the desperate odds connected with ignorance and old-fashioned ideas which Miss Nightingale successfully combated, did marvellous service by displaying what private enterprise can do in a national emergency—an emergency with which, in its suddenness, gravity, and scope, no Government could have hoped to deal successfully. I must go back to the winter of 1899 to call their great work to mind. War had already been waging some weeks in South Africa when the Government's proclamation was issued calling for volunteers from the yeomanry for active service at the front, and the lightning response that came to this appeal from all quarters and from all grades was the silver lining shining brightly through the black clouds that hovered over the British Empire during that dread winter. Thus the loyalty of the men of Britain was proven, and among the women who yearned to be up and doing were Lady Georgiana Curzon and Lady Chesham. Not theirs was the sentiment that "men must work and women must weep"; to them it seemed but right that they should take their share of the nation's burden, and, as they could not fight, they could, and did, work.
Filled with pity for all who were so gallantly fighting at the seat of war, it was the yeomen—called suddenly from peaceful pursuits to serve their country in her day of distress—who claimed their deepest sympathies, and, with the object of establishing a hospital for this force at the front, Lady Georgiana Curzon and Lady Chesham, on December 29, 1899, appealed to the British public for subscriptions. The result far exceeded their expectations, and every post brought generous donations in cash and in kind. Even the children contributed eagerly to the Yeomen's Fund, and one poor woman gave a shilling towards the cost of providing a bed in the hospital, "in case her son might have to lie on it." The Queen—then Princess of Wales—allowed herself to be nominated President; the present Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Connaught gave their names as Vice-Presidents of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospitals. The working committee was composed of the following: Adeline, Duchess of Bedford, the Duchess of Marlborough, the Countesses of Essex and Dudley, the Ladies Chesham and Tweedmouth, Mesdames S. Neumann, A.G. Lucas, Blencowe Cookson, Julius Wernher (now Lady Wernher), and Madame von Andre. Amongst the gentlemen who gave valuable assistance, the most prominent were: Viscount Curzon, M.P. (now Lord Howe), Hon. Secretary; Mr. Ludwig Neumann, Hon. Treasurer; General Eaton (now Lord Cheylesmore); and Mr. Oliver Williams.
Lady Georgiana Curzon was a born leader, and it was but natural that the capable ladies aforementioned appointed her as their chairman. Passionately devoted to sport though she was, she willingly forsook her beloved hunting-field, leaving a stable full of hunters idle at Melton Mowbray, for the committee-room and the writing-table. The scheme was one fraught with difficulties great and numerous, and not the least amongst them was the "red tape" that had to be cut; but Lady Georgiana Curzon took up the good cause with enthusiasm and ability, and she and her colleagues worked to such purpose that, on March 17, 1900, a base hospital containing over 500 beds (which number was subsequently increased to 1,000), fully equipped, left our shores. So useful did these institutions prove themselves, that as time went on, and the evils of war spread to other parts of South Africa, the committee were asked to inaugurate other hospitals, and, the funds at their disposal allowing of acquiescence, they established branches at Mackenzie's Farm, Maitland Camp, Eastwood, Elandsfontein, and Pretoria, besides a small convalescent home for officers at Johannesburg. Thus in a few months a field-hospital and bearer company (the first ever formed by civilians), several base hospitals, and a convalescent home, were organized by the Imperial Yeomanry Hospitals Committee, who frequently met, with Lady Georgiana Curzon presiding, to discuss ways and means of satisfactorily working those establishments so many thousands of miles away.
The Hospital Commissioners who visited Deelfontein in November, 1900, said it was one of the best-managed hospitals in Africa. A similar opinion was expressed by Colonel A.G. Lucas, M.V.O., when he visited it in the autumn, and this gentleman also reported most favourably on the section at Mackenzie's Farm. Through Colonel Kilkelly, Lord Kitchener sent a message to the committee early in 1901, expressing his admiration of the Pretoria Hospital. In this branch Lady Roberts showed much interest, and, with her customary kindness, rendered it every assistance in her power. At a time when military hospitals were being weighed in the balance, and in some instances found wanting, the praise bestowed on the Yeomanry Institutions was worthy of note. From first to last the various staffs numbered over 1,400 persons, and more than 20,000 patients were treated in the Yeomanry Hospitals whilst they were under the management of Lady Georgiana Curzon and her committee. Although sick and wounded from every force under the British flag in South Africa were taken in, and many Boers as well, a sufficient number of beds was always available for the immediate admittance of patients from the force for which the hospitals were originally created. The subscriptions received for this great national work totalled over £145,300, in addition to a subsidy of £3,000 from the Government for prolonging the maintenance of the field-hospital and bearer company from January 1 to March 31, 1901. The interest on deposits alone amounted to over £1,635, and when, with the cessation of hostilities, there was, happily, no further need for these institutions, the buildings, etc., were sold for £24,051. The balance which the committee ultimately had in hand from this splendid total of over £174,000 was devoted to the maintenance of a school which had since been established at Perivale Alperton, for the benefit of the daughters of yeomen who were killed or disabled during the war.
There has been ample testimony of the excellent way in which this admirable scheme was created and carried out. Numerous letters, touching in their expressions of gratitude, were received from men of all ranks whose sufferings were alleviated in the Yeomanry Hospitals; newspapers commented upon it at the time, but it is only those who were behind the scenes that can tell what arduous work it entailed, and of how unflinchingly it was faced by the chairman of the committee. Constant interviews with War Office officials, with doctors, with nurses; the hundreds of letters that had to be written daily; the questions, necessary and unnecessary, that had to be answered; the estimates that had to be examined, would have proved a nightmare to anyone not possessed of the keenest intellect combined with the strongest will. It involved close and unremitting attention from morning till night, and this not for one week, but for many months; and yet no detail was ever momentarily shirked by one who loved an outdoor life. Lady Georgiana realized to the full the responsibilities of having this vast sum of money entrusted to her by the British public, and not wisely, but too well, did she devote herself to discharging it.
Her services to the country were as zealous as they were invaluable. By her quick grasp of the details of administration, by the marvellous tact and skill she exercised, and by the energy she threw into her undertaking, every difficulty was mastered. At this present time many hundreds of men, who were ten years ago facing a desperate foe, can reflect gratefully, if sadly, that they owe their lives to the generous and unselfish efforts of a brave woman who is no longer with us; for, after all, Lady Georgiana Curzon was human, and had to pay the price of all she did. Her great exertions seriously told upon her health, as was only to be expected, and long before the conclusion of her strenuous labours she felt their effects, although she ignored them. Lady Chesham was no less energetic a worker, and had as an additional anxiety the fact of her husband and son being both at the front. It was imperative that one of these two ladies, who were responsible for starting the fund, should personally superintend the erection and the opening of the large base hospital at Deelfontein, and as Lady Georgiana Curzon had made herself almost indispensable in London by her adroitness in managing already sorely harassed War Office officials, and in keeping her committee unanimous and contented, it was decided that Lady Chesham should proceed to the scene of the war. My sister gladly gave up this stirring role for the more prosaic, but equally important, work in London, and when I returned home, in July, 1900, I found her still completely absorbed by her self-imposed task. Already her health was failing, and overtaxed nature was having its revenge. During the next two years, in spite of repeated warnings and advice, she gave herself no rest, but all the while she cherished the wish to pay a visit to that continent which had been the theatre of her great enterprise. At length, in August, 1902, in the week following the coronation of Their Majesties, we sailed together for Cape Town, a sea-voyage having been recommended to her in view of her refusal to try any of the foreign health-resorts, which might have effected a cure. By the death of her father-in-law, my sister was then Lady Howe, but it will be with her old name of Lady Georgiana Curzon or "Lady Georgie"—as she was known to her intimates—that the task she achieved will ever be associated.
More than seven years had elapsed since my first visit, and nearly twenty-six months from the time I had left South Africa in the July following the termination of the Mafeking siege, when I found myself back in the old familiar haunts. Groot Schuurr had never looked more lovely than on the sunny September morning when we arrived there from the mail-steamer, after a tedious and annoying delay in disembarking of several hours, connected with permits under martial law. This delay was rendered more aggravating by the fact that, on the very day of our arrival, the same law ceased to exist, and that our ship was the last to have to submit to the ordeal. Many and sad were the changes that had come to pass in the two years, and nowhere did they seem more evident than when one crossed the threshold of Mr. Rhodes's home. The central figure, so often referred to in the foregoing pages, was no more, and one soon perceived that the void left by that giant spirit, so inseparably connected with vast enterprises, could never be filled. This was not merely apparent in the silent, echoing house, on the slopes of the mountain he loved so well, in the circle of devoted friends and adherents, who seemed left like sheep without a shepherd, but also in the political arena, in the future prospects of that extensive Northern Territory which he had practically discovered and opened up. It seemed as if Providence had been very hard in allowing one individual to acquire such vast influence, and to be possessed of so much genius, and then not to permit the half-done task to be accomplished.
That this must also have been Mr. Rhodes's reflection was proved by the pathetic words he so often repeated during his last illness: "So little done, so much to do."
Groot Schuurr was outwardly the same as in the old days, and kept up in the way one knew that the great man would have wished. We went for the same rides he used to take. The view was as glorious as ever, the animals were flourishing and increasing in numbers, the old lions gazed placidly down from their roomy cage on a ledge of Table Mountain, the peacocks screamed and plumed themselves, and the herd of zebras grazed in picturesque glades. Nothing was changed there to outward appearances, and one had to go farther afield to see evidences of the dismay caused by the pillar being abruptly broken off. Cape Town itself, I soon noted, was altered by the war almost beyond recognition. From the dull and uninteresting seaport town I remembered it when we came there in 1895, it seemed, seven years later, one of the busiest cities imaginable, with the most enormous street traffic. The pavements were thronged, the shops were crowded, and numerous were the smart, khaki-clad figures, bronzed and bearded, that were to be seen on all sides. The Mount Nelson Hotel, which had been opened just before the war, was crowded with them—some very youthful, who had early acquired manhood and selfreliance in a foreign land; others grey-headed, with rows of medal ribbons, dimmed in colour from exposure to all weathers, whose names were strangely familiar as recording heroic achievements.
At that time Sir Gordon Sprigg, of the Progressive Party, was in power and Prime Minister; but he was only kept in office by the Bond, who made the Ministers more or less ridiculous in the eyes of the country by causing them to dance like puppets at their bidding. It was in the House of Assembly—where he was a whale amongst minnows—that the void was so acutely felt surrounding the vacant seat so long occupied by Mr. Rhodes, and it was not an encouraging sight, for those of his supporters who tried to carry on his traditions, to gaze on the sparsely filled ranks of the Progressive Party, and then at the crowded seats of the Bond on the other side.
We were told, by people who had met the Boer Generals on their recent visit to the colony, that these latter were not in the least cast down by the result of the war; that they simply meant to bide their time and win in the Council Chamber what they had lost on the battle-field; that the oft-reiterated sentence, "South Africa for the Dutch," was by no means an extinct volcano or a parrot-cry of the past. It was evident that political feeling was, in any case, running very high; it almost stopped social intercourse, it divided families. To be a member of the Loyal Women's League was sufficient to be ostracized in any Dutch village, the Boers pretending that the name outraged their feelings, and that distinctions between loyal and disloyal were invidious. Federation—Mr. Rhodes's great ideal—which has since come rapidly and triumphantly to be an accomplished fact, was then temporarily relegated to the background; the Bond, apparently, had not made up their minds to declare for it, but they were hard at work in their old shrewd way, obtaining influence by getting their own men appointed to vacancies at the post-office and in the railway departments, while the Loyalists appeared to be having almost as bad a time as in the old days before the war. At the present moment, in spite of all the good-will borne to the new Union of South Africa by great and small in all lands where the British flag flies, it is well to remember, without harbouring any grudge, certain incidents of the past. A thorough knowledge of the people which are to be assimilated with British colonists is absolutely necessary, that all may in the end respect, as well as like, each other.
From Cape Town, where my sister transacted a great deal of business connected with the winding-up of the Yeomanry Hospital, we went to Bloemfontein, and were the guests at Government House of my old Mafeking friend, Sir Hamilton Gould Adams, promoted to the important post of Governor of the Orange River Colony. From that town we drove across to Kimberley, taking two days to accomplish this somewhat tedious journey. We stayed one night with a German farmer, who had surrendered to the English when Bloemfontein was occupied by Lord Roberts, and his case was typical of many similar awkward predicaments which occurred frequently during the ups and downs of the war. When Lord Roberts's army swept on from Bloemfontein, the Boers in a measure swept back, and our host was for months persecuted by his own people, finally made a prisoner, and was within an ace of being shot; in fact, it was only the peace that saved his life.
Next day we made our noonday halt at Poplar Grove, the scene of one of Lord Roberts's fights, and farther on we passed Koodoos Rand Drift, where General French had cut off Cronje and forced him back on Paardeberg. All along these roads it was very melancholy to see the ruined farms, some with the impoverished owner in possession, others still standing empty. A Boer farmhouse is not at any time the counterpart of the snug dwelling we know in England, but it was heartbreaking to see these homes as they were at the conclusion of the war, when, in nearly every instance, the roof, window-frames, and doors, were things of the past. When a waggon could be espied standing near the door, and a few lean oxen grazing at hand, it was a sign that the owner had returned home, and, on closer inspection, a whole family of children would probably be discovered sheltered by a tin lean-to fixed to the side of the house, or huddled in a tent pitched close by. They all seemed wonderfully patient, but looked despairing and miserable. At one of these houses we spoke to the daughter of such a family who was able to converse in English. She told us her father had died during the war, that two of her brothers had fought for the English, and had returned with khaki uniforms and nothing else, but that the third had thrown in his lot with the Boers, and had come back the proud possessor of four horses.
At Kimberley we had motors placed at our disposal by Mr. Gardner Williams, manager of the De Beers Company, and were amused to hear how excited the Kaffirs had been at the first automobile to appear in the Diamond City, and how they had thrown themselves down to peer underneath in order to discover the horse. These motors, however, were not of much use on the veldt, and we soon found Kimberley very dull, and decided to make a flying tour through Rhodesia to Beira, taking a steamer at that port for Delagoa Bay, on our road to Johannesburg. Our first halting-place was at Mafeking, where we arrived one bitterly cold, blowy morning at 6 a.m. I do not think I ever realized, during all those months of the siege, what a glaring little spot it was. When I returned there two years later: the dust was flying in clouds, the sun was blinding, and accentuated the absence of any shade.
Six hours spent there were more than sufficient, and it was astounding to think of the many months that it had been our home. It has often been said, I reflected, that it is the people you consort with, not the place you live at, that constitute an agreeable existence; and of the former all I could find to say was, "Where are they gone, the old familiar faces?" Beyond the Mayor of the town, who called to reiterate warm thanks for the Mafeking Fund, and a nigger coachman who used to take me out for Sunday drives, I failed to perceive one face I knew in the town during the siege; but at the convent we received the warmest welcome from the Mother Superior and the nuns. This community appeared to be in quite affluent circumstances: the building was restored, the chapel rebuilt and plentifully decorated with new images; there was a full complement of day-boarders, who were energetically practising on several pianos, and many new Sisters had made their appearance; upstairs, the room where was located the Maxim gun was filled by thirty snowwhite beds. It was quite refreshing to find one circle who had recovered from their hardships, and who, if anything, were rather more prosperous than before the war. We paid a flying visit to the little cemetery, which was beautifully kept, and where many fairly recent graves were in evidence, chiefly due to enteric fever after the siege. There we particularly noted a very fine marble cross, erected to the memory of Captain Ronald Vernon; and as we were admiring this monument we met an old Kimberley acquaintance in the person of Mrs. Currey, who had been our hostess at the time of the Jameson Raid. Her husband had since died, and this lady was travelling round that part of Africa representing the Loyal Women's League, who did such splendid work in marking out and tending the soldiers' graves.
At Mafeking we picked up the Rhodesian train de luxe, and travelled in the greatest comfort to Bulawayo, and on to Salisbury. At that town we met a party, comprising, amongst others, Dr. Jameson and the late Mr. Alfred Beit, who were making a tour of inspection connected with satisfying the many wants of the Rhodesian settlers. These pioneers were beginning to feel the loss of the great man to whom they had turned for everything. His faithful lieutenants were doing their best to replace him, and the rôle of the first-named, apparently, was to make the necessary speeches, that of the latter to write the equally important cheques.
With these gentlemen we continued our journey to Beira, stopping at a few places of interest on the way. The country between Salisbury and Beira is flat and marshy, and was, till the advent of the railway, a veritable Zoological Garden as regards game of all sorts. The climate is deadly for man and beast, and mortality was high during the construction of the Beira Railway, which connected Rhodesia with an eastern outlet on the sea. Among uninteresting towns, I think Beira should be placed high on the list; the streets are so deep in sand that carriages are out of the question, and the only means of transport is by small trucks on narrow rails. As may be imagined, we did not linger there, but went at once on board the German steamer, which duly landed us at Lorenzo Marques forty-eight hours later, after an exceedingly rough voyage.
The following day was Sunday, and having been told there was a service at the English Church at 9.30 a.m., we duly went there at that hour, only to find the church apparently deserted, and not a movement or sound emanating therefrom. However, on peeping in at one of the windows, we discovered a clergyman most gorgeously apparelled in green and gold, preparing to discourse to a congregation of two persons! Evidently the residents found the climate too oppressively hot for church that Sunday morning.
In the afternoon we were able to see some portions of that wonderful harbour, of worldwide reputation. Literally translated, the local name for the same means the "English River," and it is virtually an arm of the sea, stretching inland like a deep bay, in which three separate good-sized streams find an outlet. Some few miles up these rivers, we were told, grand shooting was still to be had, the game including hippopotami, rhinoceroses, and buffalo, which roam through fever-stricken swamps of tropical vegetation. The glories of the vast harbour of Delagoa Bay can better be imagined than described. In the words of a resident, "It would hold the navies of the world," and some years back it might have been purchased for £12,000. With the war just over, people were beginning to realize how trade and development would be facilitated if this great seaport belonged to the British Empire. A "United Africa" was already looming in the distance, and it required but little imagination on the part of the traveller, calling to mind the short rail journey connecting it with the mining centres of the Transvaal, to determine what a thriving, busy place Lorenzo Marques would then become. During the day the temperature was tropical, but by evening the atmosphere freshened, and was almost invigorating as the fierce sun sank to rest and its place was taken by a full moon. From our hotel, standing high on the cliff above the bay, the view was then like fairyland: an ugly old coal-hulk, a somewhat antiquated Portuguese gunboat, and even the diminutive and unpleasant German steamer which had brought us from Beira, all were tinged with silver and enveloped in romance, to which they could certainly lay no claim in reality.
Early in the morning of the next day we left for Johannesburg. The line proved most interesting, especially after passing the almost historical British frontier town, Koomati Poort. It winds like a serpent round the mountains, skirting precipices, and giving one occasional peeps of lovely fertile valleys. During a greater part of the way the Crocodile River follows its sinuous course in close proximity to the railway, while above tower rocky boulders. To describe their height and character, I can only say that the steepest Scotch mountains we are familiar with fade into insignificance beside those barren, awe-inspiring ranges, and one was forced to wonder how the English soldiers—not to speak of heavy artillery—could have safely negotiated those narrow and precipitous passes. For the best part of twelve hours our train slowly traversed this wild and magnificent scenery, and evening brought us to Waterfall Onder, where, at the station restaurant, kept by a Frenchman, we had a most excellent dinner, with a cup of coffee that had a flavour of the Paris boulevards. This stopping-place was adjacent to Noitgedacht, whose name recalled the unpleasant association of having been the home, for many weary weeks, of English prisoners, and traces of high wire palings which had been their enclosure were still to be seen. From Waterfall Onder the train puffed up a stupendous hill, the gradient being one foot in twenty, and to assist its progress a cogwheel engine was attached behind. In this fashion a two-thousand-feet rise was negotiated, the bright moonlight enhancing the beauty of the sudden and rocky ascent by increasing the mystery of the vast depths below. We then found ourselves at Waterfall Boven, in a perfectly cool atmosphere, and also, as regards the landscape, in a completely different country, which latter fact we only fully appreciated with the morning light, as we drew near to Pretoria. The stranger landing at Delagoa Bay, and travelling through those bleak and barren mountains, might well ask himself the reason of the late prolonged and costly war; but as he approaches the Rand, and suddenly sees the rows and rows of mining shafts and chimneys, which are the visible signs of the hidden wealth, the veil is lifted and the recent events of history are explained. At that time, owing to the war, there were no signs of agriculture, and in many districts there appeared to be absolute desolation.
At Johannesburg we stayed at Sunnyside, as the guests of Lord Milner. This residence is small and unpretentious, but exceedingly comfortable, and has the advantage of commanding wide views over the surrounding country. Our host was then engrossed in his difficult task of satisfying the wants and desires of many communities and nationalities, whose countless differences of opinion seemed wellnigh irreconcilable. During our stay the visit of the Right Hon. J. Chamberlain was announced as likely to take place during the next few months, and the advent of this distinguished Colonial Minister was a subject of great satisfaction to the harassed High Commissioner. As at Cape Town, his staff was composed of charming men, but all young and with no administrative experience. Among its members were included Colonel W. Lambton, who was Military Secretary; Captain Henley and Lord Brooke, A.D.C.'s; and Mr. Walrond.
The Golden City itself was, to all outward appearances, as thriving as ever, with its busy population, its crowded and excellent shops, and its general evidences of opulence, which appeared to overbalance—or, in any case, wish to conceal—any existing poverty or distress. Among many friends we met was a French lady, formerly the Marquise d'Hervé, but who had married, as her second husband, Comte Jacque de Waru. This enterprising couple were busy developing some mining claims which had been acquired on their behalf by some relatives during the war. In spite of having been deserted at Cape Town by all the servants they had brought from Paris, this clever lady, nothing daunted, had replaced them by blacks, and one night she and her husband offered us, at the small tin-roofed house where they were residing, a sumptuous dinner which was worthy of the best traditions of Parisian hospitality. Notwithstanding the fact of her having no maid, and that she had herself superintended most of the cooking of the dinner, our hostess was charmingly attired in the latest Paris fashion, with elaborately dressed hair, and the pleasant company she had collected, combined with an excellent cuisine, helped to make the entertainment quite one of the pleasantest we enjoyed during our stay. Among the guests was General "Bully" Oliphant, who had just been recalled to England to take up an important appointment, much to the regret of his Johannesburg friends, with whom he had made himself exceedingly popular; and the witty conversation of this gentleman kept the whole dinner-table convulsed with laughing, to such an extent that his colleague-in-arms, our quondam Mafeking commander, General Baden-Powell, who was also of the party, was reduced to mere silent appreciation. This impromptu feast, given under difficulties which almost amounted to siege conditions, was again an evidence of the versatility and inherent hospitality of the French nation, and the memory of that pleasant evening lingers vividly in my recollections.
The duration of our two months' holiday was rapidly approaching its close. My sister was recalled to England by social and other duties, and was so much better in health that we were deluded into thinking the wonderful air and bracing climate had effected a complete cure. After a short but very interesting visit to the Natal battle-fields, whither we were escorted by General Burn-Murdoch and Captain Henry Guest, we journeyed to Cape Town, and, regretfully turning our backs on warmth and sunshine, we landed once more in England on a dreary December day.
Lieutenant the Hon. C.W.H. Cavendish, 17th Lancers, was killed at Diamond Hill, June 11, 1900.
Peace had been declared in the previous June.