The first siege-baby—An Irish-American deserter—A soldierly grumble—Boer cunning and Staff-College strategy—An ammunition difficulty—The tireless cavalry—A white flag incident—What the Boer Commandant understood—The Natal summer—Mere sound and fury—Boer Sabbatarianism—Naval guns at work—"Puffing Billy" of Bulwaan—Intrepid Boer gunners—The barking of "Pom-Poms"—Another reconnaissance—"Like scattered bands of Red Indians"—A futile endeavour—A night alarm—Recommended for the V.C.—A man of straw in khaki—The Boer search-light—Shelling of the hospital—General White protests—The first woman hit—General Hunter's bravado—"Long Tom" knocked out—A gymkhana under fire—Faith, Hope, and Charity—Flash signals from the south—A new Creusot gun
The garrison and inhabitants of Ladysmith now began to realise that they were doomed to a long period of inactivity if to nothing more serious. The days immediately following the Boer attempt of 9th November were quiet, rain and mist interfering with the enemy's bombardment. November 12 was, however, a somewhat eventful day, owing to the birth of the first siege-baby, and the arrival in camp of an Irish-American deserter from the Boers.
The baby, says Mr. Pearse in his diary (12th November), was born, not in a dug-out by the river, but at a farm on a hill in the centre of defensive works, where Mr. and Mrs. Moore, with their other children, have elected to take the chances, near where I and other correspondents have pitched our tents. Mrs. Moore made one trial of an underground shelter, and then gave it up, saying that she should certainly die in that damp atmosphere, so that it would be better to take the risk of living where one could get fresh air, even though exposed to shells. The Irish-American's story, though not to be swallowed without salt, tended to confirm some things that seemed strange in the fight of three days earlier, when, as will be remembered, Lieutenant Fisher's detachment claimed to have shot many of a body that marched into action boldly with a red flag flaunting at their head. The deserter said that the Irish brigade that day lost heavily, having now only seventy-three left of the original three hundred and fifty, and that ten Irishmen were killed by one of our shells.
It was not with a good grace that Sir George White's garrison resigned themselves to inaction. Their state of mind is shown clearly enough by Mr. Pearse in a letter written on 14th November, and describing the situation at this period.
November 14.—The British troops here have their backs up now, and grumble at the fate that chains them to a passive defence, when they would wish for nothing better than to try conclusions with their foes at close quarters. Sir George White knows best the part that he is expected to play in the general strategy of this campaign, and there may be reasons for not forcing the Boers to abandon any of their positions round Ladysmith until the time ripens for a decisive action. It is impossible, however, to ignore the effect that this produces on the temper of soldiers, who say with characteristic energy of expression that they would rather a hundred times take their chances with death in a fair fight than remain idle under a shell fire that is trying to the strongest nerves, though it does little material harm. Sir George is naturally reluctant to sacrifice valuable lives in capturing positions which we have not men enough to hold, but it would be something gained if we could attack one point at a time, seize the Boer gun there, and put it permanently out of action. Instead of that, we have allowed our adversary to increase the number of artillery works and rifle sangars, girding us about until his grip is so strong that even cavalry scouts cannot push five miles from camp in any direction without having to run the gauntlet of shells or Maxim bullets.
There are three positions which we might have held, or at least prevented the enemy from occupying, and thereby frustrated all attempts for at least a week longer, so that our communications southward would have remained open until ample supplies of war material of various kinds, much needed here, and especially appliances for long-distance signalling or wireless telegraphy, could be brought up. But the time for that went by while we were engaged in preparing positions for the passive defence of Ladysmith, and the Boers, with the "slimness" that has always characterised them in such operations, slipped round our flank to cut us off from railway or telegraphic communication with lower Natal. Even the guns of H.M.S. Powerful, on which we rely for keeping down the enemy's long-range fire, did not get their full supply of ammunition before the line was closed, and if any signalling appliances more far-reaching than those ordinarily in use with a field force were applied for in accordance with Captain Lambton's suggestion, they never came.
As events have turned out, this was the gravest mischance of all, since the next step which our wily enemies took was to close every means of egress from this camp by placing their lighter artillery or mounted riflemen on kopjes whence all open ground over which troops might move could be swept by cross-fire. In other words, they took all the rough eminences of the outer ranges best adapted for their own tactics, and left the bare, shelterless plains or ridges to us. So far, therefore, Boer cunning has proved itself more than a match for Staff-College strategy, and nothing can restore the balance now but a strong blow struck quickly and surely from our side. Against that the Boers are naturally weak in proportion to the thinness of their investing line, which stretches round a perimeter of nearly twenty miles; but on the other hand, their greater mobility, owing to the fact that every rifleman is mounted, gives them a surprising power of rapid concentration on any point that happens to be threatened. This is a factor that will have to be reckoned with in European warfare of the future, if I mistake not the meaning of lessons we are learning here. Nevertheless we might harass our enemies, giving them little rest day or night. Here, however, the ammunition difficulty comes in again. We have enough to last through a siege, but none to waste on doubtful enterprises. This reduces us to the contemplation of night attacks, and to trust in no weapon but the bayonet for capturing guns in positions which we have not men enough to hold.
Tommy is ready and eager to try conclusions with the enemy on these terms, if his leaders will only give him the chance, but meanwhile our movements take the form of reconnaissances that lead to no tangible advantages either in lessening the vigour of our adversary's bombardment or in loosening any links in the chain of investment by which we are bound. The situation is certainly curious and interesting historically as an event for which no exact parallel can be found in the annals of England's wars.
In writing of futile reconnaissances it is hardly necessary that I should disclaim all intention of ignoring the excellent work done by individual regiments on which the duties of patrolling have by turns fallen. Dragoon Guards, Lancers, Hussars, Imperial Light Horse, Natal Carbineers, and Border Mounted Rifles, have known little real rest for days past. When not actually scouting the cavalry have been either on outpost within touch of the enemy, or bivouacked beside their horses ready for any emergency. The extreme tension necessitating all these precautions may be relaxed somewhat now, but still we rely on the mounted troops for information of every movement among the besiegers, and so far trust in their alertness has been fully justified. The morning after last Thursday's attack Major Marling pushed his patrols of the 18th Hussars farther westward than they had been able to get since communications were interrupted. Rumours, since confirmed, that the Boers had suffered very heavily in their fruitless attack the previous day, suggested the possibility of their having evacuated some positions. Major Marling may have begun to take that view too when he saw a white flag showing above the serrated crest of Rifleman's Ridge, which is generally but too vaguely described as Blaauwbank, where the Boers have at least one powerful field-gun mounted. Under a responsive flag of truce Major Marling and a non-commissioned officer advanced to parley with the enemy, whose pacific, if not submissive, spirit was thus manifested. The field-cornet in charge said he understood there were to be no hostilities that day. The English officer knew nothing of any armistice, but agreed to retire without pushing the patrol farther in that particular direction. As he and his comrades went back to join their main body, Boer sharpshooters opened fire on them treacherously from the rocks and sangars of Rifleman's Ridge. It is difficult to understand such wanton violations of every principle recognised by civilised belligerents, unless we assume that the Boers really thought that their General had claimed a truce in order that his dead might be buried, and that our cavalry were therefore at fault. It is, however, impossible to find excuses, or give the Boers credit for good intentions always in their use of the white flag. They seem to regard it as an emblem to be hoisted for their own convenience or safety, and to be put aside when its purpose has been served, without any consideration for the other party. Even while this Boer officer pretended to think there was a general truce that forbade scouting operations on our part there was a gun being got into position by men of the same commando, and other of the enemy's batteries were being either strengthened or moved to more advantageous points. The work was, however, interrupted by a furious thunderstorm and a night of heavy rain that brought the waters roaring down from the Drakensberg ravines to flood the Klip River far above the level at which some of its spruits can be crossed without difficulty at other times.
English people, as a rule, picture early summer in South Africa as a time of heat and drought. According to the calendar this is Natal's summer, when hills and veldt, refreshed by genial showers, should be green with luxurious growth of young grass, or brightened by a profusion of brilliant wild flowers. But the seasons are out of joint just now. We get days of torrid heat, bringing a plague of flies from which there is no escape, and then a sudden thunderstorm sends the temperature down to something that reminds one of chill October among English moorlands. The sun hides its face abashed behind a misty veil, but the flies remain. Drizzling rain, with white mists in the valleys, and heavy clouds dragging their torn skirts about the mountains, also put a stop to the bombardment until an hour past noon next day.
Probably these conditions were less favourable to us than to the enemy, whose movements were completely masked, and when the clouds cleared some of his batteries on new positions were ready to join the diabolical concert that went on at intervals until dark. The concert, however, was mere sound and firing signifying nothing—except in its effect on nerves already unstrung—as we had no serious casualties that day. And the next brought peace, for the Boers do not willingly fight on Sunday, and we have no reasons at present for provoking them to a breach of the tacitly-recognised ordination that gives us one day's rest in seven with welcome immunity from shells. Their observance of the Sabbath, however, does not run to a total cessation of labour on the seventh day, and if they do not want to fight then they have no scruples about turning it to account in preparations for a fight next morning. On this particular Sunday, while we were getting all the rest that a shell-worried garrison can reasonably expect, some of our enemies were labouring hard to mount a big gun on Surprise Hill, which rises from a series of stone-roughened kopjes where the Harrismith Railway winds nearly due west of Rietfontein or Pepworth's Hill, and about 4000 yards north of King's Post—one of our most important defensive works. In anticipation of this we had shifted one heavy naval gun to Cove Redoubt, which is well within that weapon's range of Surprise Hill, but can hardly be said to command it, as the latter has an advantage in point of height. We had also, however, lighter artillery bearing on Surprise Hill, and in some measure enfilading its main battery, behind which, and in echelon with it, they had apparently placed a howitzer.
Cannonading opened from many quarters soon after daybreak, the enemy's fire being mainly directed against our naval guns, one of which, however, devoted itself exclusively for a time to the Surprise Hill battery where the Boers were preparing for action.
Before they could get many shots out of the new gun, we were pounding away at it. Our first two shells fell short, but they were followed by three others, clean into the battery's embrasure, with such obvious effect that the big weapon inside must either have been dismantled or put out of action. Since then it has not spoken, and the sailors therefore naturally claim that they have silenced it for good and all. An hour later the other naval gun—"Lady Anne" by name—silenced "Puffing Billy of Bulwaan" for a time, and we have evidence that the Boers must have suffered some serious losses before noon, when General Joubert sent in a flag of truce, according to a custom which seems to be in favour with him, whenever things are going a bit awry from his point of view.
The Irish-American, who has been mentioned as having given himself up as a deserter, described how the Boer gunners, terrorised by shrapnel fire, had to be forced into the batteries under threats. But if the Boer gunners are panic-stricken they have a curious way of showing it, for some of them stood boldly on the parapets to watch the effect of a shot, and the accuracy of their return fire does not betray much nervousness. We are inclined to believe, however, that the Boer losses from artillery fire have been greater than ours, partly because their shots have been widely distributed in a speculative way with no particular object in view, while ours have been aimed directly at the enemy's batteries, or at sangars, to which their gun-crews retire between the rounds; and partly, if not mainly, because our naval guns fire common shell with bursting charges of black powder, the effect of which—though not so violent locally as that of the Boer shells, charged with melinite explosive—is spread over a much wider area. It is not much satisfaction, however, for the losses and worry we endure here to know that the investing force suffers even more severely so long as it continues to harass us while we remain inactively helpless.
The men were beginning to say that they had stood this sort of thing long enough, when the measure of their discontent was filled to overflowing this morning by a bombardment fiercer than ever. It opened with the barking of "Pom-Poms" as early as half-past five, and ran through the whole gamut from lowest bass of a big gun's boom to the shrillest scream of smaller projectiles and the whip-like whistle of shrapnel bullets lashing the air with so little intermission that within two hours no less than seventy-five shells had burst in and about Ladysmith camp. This was too much to be borne patiently, and every soldier welcomed the order for an offensive movement, their only regret being that infantry were to play no part in the affair. General Brocklehurst, with a force of cavalry, Imperial Light Horse, and artillery, moved out of camp soon after nine o'clock, taking the road that leads westward and southward through the gap at Range Post. The object of that movement was generally believed to be an attack oh Blaauwbank, or Rifleman's Hill, as it is officially called, and the capture of a Boer battery there, from which our defensive lines between King's Post and Cove Redoubt had been repeatedly enfiladed. If successful in driving the enemy back, our troops would then swing round to their left and go for the big gun on Middle Hill, against which General Brocklehurst's brilliant but futile reconnaissance of the previous Friday had been directed.
Three field batteries, posted on spurs along the line from Waggon Hill towards Rifleman's Post, covered the advance by shelling in turn all the Boer guns that could be brought to bear on the open ground across which our troops had to pass. Thus challenged, the enemy's artillery replied briskly, but their fire was a bit wild, and, regardless of shells that fell thick about them, the Imperial Light Horse, numbering no more than ninety rifles, led by Colonel Edwardes, who has succeeded the heroic Chisholm in command of this dashing corps, pushed forward to seize Star Kopje and prevent any Boer movement towards that point from Thornhill's Farm.
Hussars went forward in support of the Imperial Horse, galloping like scattered bands of Red Indians across the green veldt, where a spruit runs down to Klip River, until they had passed the zone of hostile fire, and then re-forming squadrons with a precision that was very pretty to watch. Other cavalry were in reserve, massed behind folds of the undulating slopes hidden from some Boer guns and beyond the effective range of others. There was force enough for any work in hand, but not quite of the right composition. To drive Boer riflemen off a rough ridge along which they can retire from one position, when it gets too hot for them, to another, nothing will do but infantry of some sort, and preferably with a bayonet sting left in them for final emergencies. This was an occasion of all others when infantry regiments might have changed the whole course of events to our advantage, but for some reason they had been left in camp.
For nearly three hours our batteries shelled the Boer kopjes, expending much ammunition with perceptible effect on the brown boulders and presumably on anything animate that might be hidden behind them; we watched many Boers gallop away in haste across the plain, as if unable to stand the leaden hail longer, and one of our batteries advancing boldly got into position, whence it should have enfiladed that of the enemy and wrought havoc among their horses if any were concealed in the adjacent hollows. What effect the terrific shrapnel fire really produced we had no means of knowing. Hardly a Boer showed himself while that hurricane of bullets fell, but when General Brocklehurst meditated an assault on the hill his troops were met by a furious rifle fire. The ninety Imperial Light Horsemen of Colonel Edwardes's command were obviously too few to dislodge the Boers from the ground they had held so stubbornly. Further waste of artillery ammunition seemed useless, and the time for employing cavalry to any purpose had not come. We therefore had the chagrin of watching another force retire without accomplishing its object, and most of us felt from that moment grave doubts whether another such chance of breaking the bonds that envelop us could come again until reinforcements were at hand for the relief of Ladysmith. As our troops withdrew they were shelled right and left by Boer guns that had been almost silent until then. Our batteries, aided by Captain Kinnaird-Smith's two Maxim-Nordenfelts, covered the retirement, but they could not put Surprise Hill out of action, or even attempt a reply to the redoubtable "Long Tom" of Pepworth's Hill, who on this occasion surpassed himself by throwing three shells in succession on the road by Range Post Gap from a distance that must be well over 9000 yards. The bit of hilly road where these shells fell and burst is no more than fifty yards long by fifteen wide, and could not have been visible to gunners five or six miles off without the aid of telescopic sights. Yet the aim was so accurate that one shell fell between two hussar squadrons and another just in rear of a battery, but without hitting man, horse, or gun. "Long Tom" has done better in long-distance shooting, having thrown one shell nearly to Cæsar's Camp, and the range-finders make that out to be 11,500 yards from Pepworth's Hill, but these three shots to-day hold the record for range and accuracy combined.
During the following three weeks the already wearisome progress of the siege was broken by no large event. The Boers, discouraged by their want of success on 9th November, went on from day to day shelling the town with the guns already in position, and mounting others on the hills with which to make the bombardment more effective. They hoped to do slowly at a safe distance what they had failed to accomplish by a more daring procedure. The period, notwithstanding, is full of minor incidents, the record of which must be read with the greatest interest. Mr. Pearse wrote:—
November 15.—Half an hour after midnight all Ladysmith woke from peaceful slumber on troubled sleep at the sound of guns, from which shells came screaming about the town and into camps that had not been reached by them before. What it all meant nobody could say, but the firing did not cease until every Boer cannon round about our position had let off a shot. Some of us began to dress, thinking that the misty diffused moonlight was the coming of dawn. Women, huddling in shawls and wraps, rushed off with children in their arms to "tunnels" by the riverside, and there would have been something very like a panic among civilians if soldiers had not reassured them. The staff officer, who had been upon the watch for possibilities, until he heard the first Boer gun fire, and then got into pyjamas for a good night's rest, saying, "There will be no attack now," was a philosopher. Everybody cannot look at things in that cool way when shells are flying about, but a good many of us went back to bed again on discovering what the time was, puzzled to account for the evening's extraordinary freak, but confident that it would not be repeated until daybreak. That brought drizzling rain and mists that have veiled the hills all day, putting a complete stop to all hostilities. We know nothing yet that can account for the firing of so many guns, and only attempt to explain it on the supposition that our enemies, being apprehensive of a renewal of yesterday's attack, were startled by some false alarm. Not knowing from which direction the expected blow might be struck, they fired guns all round to keep everybody on the alert.
November 16.—We are becoming accustomed to the daily visitation of shells that do not burst, and perhaps familiarity is beginning to breed carelessness. If so, the 40-pounder on Lombard's Kop gave us timely reminder this morning that he is not to be ignored with impunity. One shell thrown over the railway station burst in air, as it was intended to do, and scattered its hail of shrapnel bullets about that building. One guard, a white man, was killed on the spot or only breathed a few minutes after being hit, and two Kaffir labourers were wounded. Scores of bullets went into the station-master's office, and the desk at which he generally sits was perforated like a cullender. In these times of siege that official would not be always on duty, and he was just then taking a lucky hour off. A Boer movement, probably of some convoy with loot from down country, was going on along the road froth Bulwaan towards Elandslaagte. Boer field guns covered it, keeping our scouts in check on the plain, and riflemen created a diversion with pretence of an attack on Observation Hill, which spluttered out slowly. Major Howard, 5th Dragoon Guards, has been recommended for the Victoria Cross in recognition of his gallantry on "Mournful Monday," when, seeing a trooper fall, he walked back where bullets were falling thick, and brought the wounded man back on his shoulders in full view of several regiments. The Boers, inappreciative of pluck in that form, kept up a steady fire on the wounded trooper and his heroic officer until they were safe out of range.
November 17.—The 5th Lancers, who, with a company of King's Royal Rifles, are holding Observation Hill, have hit upon a happy idea for drawing Boer fire by deputy. They keep a man of straw for that purpose with khaki coat and helmet. By showing this now and then, they not only find out exactly where the Boers are, but get occasional chances of putting in a pot shot with effect. The suggestion probably came from Devonshire Hill, where Colonel Knox, who commands all divisional troops on that defensive line, had a dummy battery mounted. This drew fire from Boer guns at once, and gave Colonel Knox a good suggestion as to the sort of earthworks best adapted to resist the artillery fire that could be brought to bear upon them. At three o'clock this afternoon rain began to fall steadily, and mists crept about the hills, putting a stop to further bombardment.
Sunday, November 19.—Just after midnight Boer guns again fired from every position round Ladysmith. What this may mean nobody knows. Perhaps it is a device for keeping Boer sentries on the alert, or there may have been a false alarm causing the enemy's batteries to boom off a shot each by way of signal, or probably the guns, fired at certain intervals, were sending on a code message to Colenso. Rumours, having their origin in the fertile imaginations of those who think that British troops can achieve wonderful things for our relief, crowd fast upon us. Now we hear of a column marching into Bloemfontein and an hour later men tell gravely of a force under General French having captured Dundee But by some means ill news travels faster even than these absurdly impossible rumours. A Boer doctor has been to Intombi Camp this morning and told the people there that our armoured train was captured yesterday of on Friday near Colensa, and many prisoners taken, including Lord Randolph Churchill's son. That was the doctor's way of cheering up our sick and wounded. We might have doubted the story, but circumstances confirm it, and we have so little faith in armoured trains that it seems quite natural for them to fall into the enemy's hands.
November 20.—Dense white mists rising from the river-bends, and spreading across the plains to hang in a thinner haze about the shady sides of hills, put a stop to bombardment most of the morning. Up to noon there had been practically no shelling, but only an exchange of rifle-shots between Bell's Spruit by Pepworth and Observation Hill. The enemy, however, made up for lost time later by sending several shells into town and camp. One fell near Captain Vallentin's house, where Colonel Rhodes and Lord Ava shared the brigade mess; another, passing close to Mr. Fortescue Carter's house, where several officers of the Intelligence Staff live, shattered the church porch beyond; from Surprise Hill several came into the 18th Hussar camp, where three men were hit, one so badly that his leg had to be amputated; one into the Gordon camp, wounding Lieutenant Maitland and a private; and one from "Long Tom" of Pepworth's into the little group of tents that now serve for all that are left here of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. This shot must have been fired at a range of over 11,000 yards. It came down like a bolt straight from the blue overhead, penetrated the stiff soil to a depth of five feet seven inches, and rebounded on impact with some more solid substance at the bottom so quickly that it left the mark of its penetration perfect, and only broke up on reaching the surface again. In this case there was no burst, but only a detonation of the fuse. After nine at night we were astonished to see the beams of a searchlight sweeping Observation Hill. Our foes apparently had got an engine on the railway between Surprise Hill and Thornton's Kop with an electric light attached to it. They are evidently prepared to bring against us all the scientific appliances of modern warfare. Two hours later artillery and rifle fire began, and continued for nearly an hour, but apparently nobody was any the worse for it.
November 21.—The cannonade begins again at daybreak with some shots at our scouts, who are trying to feel their way out through the scrub between Bulwaan and Lombard's Kop. The Boers have mounted a 40-pounder high-velocity gun on the spur of the latter, and give us a taste of its quality by throwing several shells into the Fusilier camp at Range Post and bursting shrapnel over the town. The bombardment finishes about dusk with some vicious shots from Bulwaan. After this we sit and watch the lightning which plays in forks and zig-zags and chains about the hills between us and Tugela River. For such picturesque effects there is a great advantage in being encamped on a height, so that the whole panorama of rugged kopjes, deep ravines where spruits or rivers sing, silent camp, and sleeping town stretches round one, bounded only by an amphitheatre of higher hills.
November 22.—From half-past eleven last night there was heavy musketry fire near the north-eastern line of our defensive works, and we thought the Devons were being attacked hotly, but it turned out to be nothing more than a fusilade from Boer rifles at some unknown objects. Our foes are evidently getting a little jumpy and apprehensive of a surprise by night. Sir George White sends out later a flag of truce to protest against the persistent shelling of the Town Hall, where our sick and wounded are lodged temporarily under the protection of a Red Cross flag. Commandant Schalk-Burger is said to have replied somewhat insolently that he understands the Geneva flag is being used by us to shelter combatants. At any rate Intombi is the place for our sick and wounded, and he will not respect any other hospital flag. Curiously enough we accept this humiliation, so far as to remove the patients and provide for them a camping-ground where the tents cannot be seen; but the Red Cross flag still flies on the Town Hall. Again we watch the beautiful effects of almost continuous lightning, brilliant as moonlight, and then turn in before black clouds break in a terrific thunderstorm. I have remarked before on the advantage of being on a hill to watch the picturesque effects of a storm such as we have here. But there are some disadvantages, especially if you have to sleep in a patrol tent no higher than a fair-sized dog-kennel, and a tent-pole happens to give way. Then you wake with wet canvas flapping about you. The rain pours down in a deluge that makes you shiver at the mere thought of turning out to put the tent-pole right. Let the rain drift and the canvas flap with sounds like gunshots. It is better at any rate than lying as Tommy does on the hillside yonder with only one blanket to roll himself in, and with that thought, perhaps, you may be able to cuddle yourself off to sleep again in spite of the storm.
November 23.—Notwithstanding Sir George White's protest, Boer guns are still laid to bear on the Town Hall, and shells frequently fall in the enclosure near it, and have hit the building, sending splinters in all directions, by one of which a dhoolie-bearer was killed. This seems to me a scandalous violation of all the rules of civilised warfare, which certainly entitle us to a field-hospital in addition to one at the base. If Schalk-Burger had objected on the ground that the Town Hall so long as it was used for sick and wounded came in the line of fire from his guns to our batteries or defensive works, he would have been within his rights, but all the same there would have been no truth in that contention, and at any rate it rests with him to clear himself from the charge of having fired on a Red Cross flag without warning. Meanwhile other guns on Surprise Hill have been searching for the 18th Hussars in their bivouac where Klip River runs through a deep ravine, and "Long Tom" of Pepworth's has thrown a shell into Mrs. Davy's house, opposite Captain Vallentin's, wounding its owner, who is the first woman hit, though numbers of them, having got over their first panic, go about their domestic duties all day as if there were no such thing as a bombardment, and never think of taking shelter in a riverside cave now. This shot brought upon "Long Tom" the vengeance of oar Naval Battery, which must have battered him or his gunners severely.
All the afternoon Boer rifles have been dropping bullets into posts held by the Rifle Brigade and Leicesters. Perhaps the men were showing signs of being harassed when General Hunter visited them. With a laugh he stood bolt upright on a rock, saying, "Now let us see whether these Boers can shoot or not;" and there he remained in full view of them for nearly a minute, while Mauser bullets hummed about him like a swarm of wasps. Such an act may seem like senseless bravado, but those who know Archibald Hunter well know that he had an object in giving this example of coolness and pluck.
November 24.—The Boers made a clever cattle-raid this morning. Twenty spans of trek-oxen had been sent to graze on the veldt between our outposts and Rifleman's Ridge in charge of Kaffir herd-boys. Slowly they grazed towards better pasturage, nearer and nearer to the Boer lines, from which shells in rapid succession were sent to burst just in rear of the herds. Mounted infantry of the Leicesters attempted again and again, to herd the cattle back, but they were met each time by heavy rifle-fire, and at last two or three Boers dashing down the slope rounded up herd after herd with the dexterity of expert "cow-boys." Thus no less than 250 valuable trek-oxen fell into the enemy's hands, and we had the humiliation of looking on helpless while it was being done.
The bombardment has been going on at intervals all day, from seven o'clock this morning until dusk, when Bulwaan sent several shells on to Junction Hill, killing three men of the Liverpool Regiment and wounding eight. This is the most fatal half-hour we have experienced since the siege began, but there was one lucky escape from a shell which burst in the guard tent among four men without hurting any of them. For the depression caused by these serious casualties there is some consolation in the rumour that "Long Tom" of Pepworth's has been knocked out for good and all. At any rate his last shot into the town was answered effectively by the naval 4·7, which sent a shell straight into "Long Tom's" embrasure, and he has not spoken or given any sign of life since. Without wearisome iteration it would be impossible to do justice day by day to the good work of the Naval Brigade under Captain Lambton. Without the heavy guns of H.M.S. Powerful our state here would be much worse than it is, and everybody in besieged Ladysmith appreciates the bluejackets, who are always cheery, always ready for any duty, and whose good shooting has done much to keep down the fire of Boer artillery.
November 25.—No hostilities disturb the quietness of morning or early afternoon, but it is never safe to count on this, and look-out men are kept constantly on the alert in each camp to give warning by sound of high whistle or gong when one of the big guns has been fired. Against "Silent Susan" such precautions avail nothing, for she wears no white-cloud signal—the flash of discharge can only be seen if you happen to be looking for it intently in the right place. Close upon the heels of her report comes a shrill, fiendish whisper in the air, and by the time you hear that, the shell is overhead or has burst elsewhere. The Gordons and Imperial Light Horse, however, are not to be debarred from sport by considerations of that kind. They take all reasonable precautions and leave the rest to chance, with the result that they snatch some amusement out of circumstances that seem unpromising. This afternoon the Gordons had a Gymkhana, and got through it merrily to the entertainment of many friends before a discordant note was heard from Boer batteries. The bombardment did not begin until half-past six, and lasted only until dusk, the final shot being fired by our naval gun into some new works on Bulwaan.
November 26.—The Boers are busy preparing an emplacement for heavy artillery on Middle Hill, south of and flanking Bester's Ridge. Apparently they suspect us of doing similar work on the plain in front of Devonshire Hill, and their strict regard for the Sabbath does not run to toleration of Sunday labour on our part, so they send three shells in among some Kaffirs who are digging trenches with the harmless object of burying dead horses there.
November 27.—The Boers, grown bold with the success of their first raid, try another—this time with the object of cutting out horses that graze loose on the plain towards Bulwaan. But they have to do now with Natal Carbineers, many of whom, like themselves, are veldt farmers, familiar with every trick of rounding up horses or oxen. In vain do the gunners of "Puffing Billy" throw percussion shells to drive the herd towards their lines. In vain are shrapnels timed to burst in a shower where Carbineers sweep round like Indian scouts to herd the startled horses back. The Volunteers do their work neatly, coolly, quickly, to the chagrin of Boers who wait in kloofs beyond Klip River for a chance of carrying off some valuable horses. In their disappointment the Bulwaan battery tries to get some consolation by shelling the camp of the Carbineers. The new gun which Boers were mounting yesterday on Middle Hill opened to-day, shelling first the Rifle Brigade piquets on King's Post and then the sangar of the Manchesters in Cæsar's Camp. It enfilades both positions with equal ease.
The Rifles had a narrow escape as they were at work on a wall, the top of which was struck by a shell, and splinters flew all round without hitting anybody. The Manchesters were not so fortunate, having three men wounded, but none seriously. While I write, smoking concerts are being held in the camps of Imperial Light Horse and Natal Volunteers, from whose strong lungs the notes of "God Save the Queen" roll in a volume that can be heard a mile off. Perhaps some faint echoes of it may stir the air about sleeping Boers on Bulwaan.
November 28.—A misty morning with rain, which does not prevent the enemy from sending a few shots into town. Middle Hill, Rifleman's Ridge, Telegraph Hill, with its three 9-pounders, which the Rifle Brigade men, for quaint reasons of their own, name Faith, Hope, and Charity, all have a turn at us, and our batteries reply; but there is not much vigour in it on either side until Middle Hill, with its Creusot 94-pounder, and the howitzer on Surprise Hill, begin to shell our naval 12-pounders. There they touch Captain Lambton on a tender point, and he lets them have it back with a will. To-day we have been cheered by news of the victory over the Boers near Mooi River, but for Natal people satisfaction is dashed by the thought that if Boers are so far down they have raided the most fertile part of the Colony, and probably carried off pedigree cattle that are priceless.
November 29.—The night has been passed in preparing a surprise for the big Creusot gun on Middle Hill, which, because of his propensity for throwing shells into everybody's mess, has come to be known as the "Meddler." Deep gun-pits are dug on the northern slope of Waggon Hill, where on a nek they are screened by the higher spur from view of Middle Hill. In these pits two old-fashioned howitzers, throwing shells with sixty pounds of black powder for bursting charge, are mounted. Captain Christie, R.A., takes command of them and waits his chance, which does not come for a long time, the cannonade being at first confined to a duel between Captain Lambton's pet, "Lady Anne," and "Puffing Billy" of Bulwaan. At length, however, the "Meddler" chimes in, and Captain Christie immediately looses off his two howitzers in succession. They cannot be laid by sights on the object aimed at, which is hidden from view. All has to be done by calculation of angles, and a fraction of error may make all the difference. So we watch anxiously while the shell—a long time in flight—follows its allotted parabola. One bursts just short of the work; but its companion, a second later, goes over the parapet and sends debris flying upwards in a mighty cloud. Thereupon the howitzers are christened promptly "The Great Twin Brethren," "Castor and Pollux," and "Puffing Pals," everybody selecting the name that appeals to his imagination most strongly. It matters little by what name men call them, so long as they can throw shells truly into the enemy's battery, and this they do steadily. The "Meddler" cannot reply to them effectively, and other Boer guns try in vain to reach them. At night a curious palpitating light on the clouds southward attracts attention. One Rifle Brigade man who has a smattering of the Morse Code watches it for some time and mutters to himself, "X.X.X. Why, they're calling us up"; and before a signalman can be roused we see clearly enough these palpitations resolving themselves into dots and dashes. It is a signal from the south, flashed by searchlight across miles of intervening hills, but in a cypher which only those who have the key can read.
November 30.—Day breaks across white mists on the plain, and then comes gorgeous sunshine, with a glow of colour all round, brilliant orange in the east above Bulwaan, deepening to blood-red in the west behind the rugged crest of Mount Tintwa and the pitted peaks of Mont aux Sources. From daybreak onward there is heavy artillery fire on camp and town from every gun the Boers have mounted. Our howitzers and the "Meddler" began it with a merry little set-to between themselves, doing no harm. Then Surprise Hill, Telegraph Hill, Rifleman's Ridge, Bulwaan, and Lombard's Kop joined in, the last aiming straight for the hospital, with its Red Cross flag. Two shells had fallen close to that building, from which all haste was made to remove the helpless patients. Most of them had been got out when the third shot came crashing into the largest ward, and from among the ruins one dead man and nine freshly wounded were taken. Rifle fire quickened then about Observation Hill, and bullets flying overhead made many think that the Boers were coming on, but it all died away into silence without further casualties on our side. At night the column southward flashes another long signal on the clouded sky, and Boer search-lights try to obliterate it by throwing their feeble rays across the beam that shines like a comet athwart the darkness above Tugela heights.
December 1.—"Long Tom" of Pepworth's Hill, which has not fired since "Lady Anne" silenced it days ago, is now reported to be cracked and useless, but the Boers are preparing emplacements for another heavy piece of ordnance on a flat-topped nether spur of Lombard's Kop, where they have a persistently disagreeable 40-pounder already mounted. We do nothing to prevent this increase of hostile artillery, but content ourselves with inventing new names for the batteries, so that the intelligence map may be kept up to date with fullest details. This spur henceforth is to be known as Gun Hill, probably because the weapon already in position there has made itself conspicuously unpleasant by shelling the headquarters and intelligence offices. From it three successive shells were fired this morning into or near the convent where Colonel Dick-Cunyngham, Major Riddell, and other convalescent wounded have their quarters. Middle Hill gun only fired a few rounds to-day, and was promptly silenced by our "Great Twin Brethren," the howitzers of Waggon Hill.
December 2.—We are not left long in doubt as to the meaning of those new works on Gun Hill. A Creusot 94-pounder has opened from there, shelling in rapid succession Sir George White's headquarters camp, the Royal Artillery, and the Imperial Light Horse, who have their parade and playground pitted by marks of this fire. People say that "Long Tom" has been shifted from Pepworth's to the new position, but the shells, with their driving-bands grooved deep and sharp, tell another story. It is a new gun, or little used, and probably fresh from Pretoria. Its range is great, and gives easy command of the ravine in which our cavalry are bivouacked by the riverside. One shell has already burst there, wounding a man of the 18th Hussars, but fortunately the enemy cannot see the result of this fire, the river for a mile in length being screened from his view by intervening hills.
December 4.—One may skip Sunday when it is uneventful in its perfect peace, as yesterday was, and be deeply thankful for the rest that is given to us once a week when shells cease from troubling. The weather has changed suddenly from brilliant sunshine and almost tropical heat to cloudy skies that send the temperature down to shivering point. Few shells fell in the town this morning, when groups gathered at street corners discussing rumours of Lord Methuen's victory on Modder River, which are now officially confirmed. General Clery is also said to have defeated the Boers near Estcourt, but if so he did not get back the cattle they had looted, for we have watched them for hours driving great herds from southward up the roads that lead to Van Reenan's Pass.
Our batteries here have for once been most aggressive, shelling the enemy's position at Rifleman's Ridge vigorously, while the howitzers directed their fire on Middle Hill without drawing a reply from the 6-inch Creusot, which Captain Christie and his gunners believe to have been put out of action completely. His twin brother, "Puffing Billy" of Bulwaan, was also silenced for a time, but has come back to quite his old form this evening, and threw several shells into the town and camps, where troops assembled to cheer the news of Lord Methuen's victory when it was read out in general orders.
December 5.—The bombardment has been slack again to-day: all the enemy's big guns silent. But there is great movement among the Boers, who are apparently holding a great council of war at General Joubert's headquarters. This may account for rumours of dissensions between the Free State and Transvaal commandos.
December 6.—Now we know what the firing of Boer guns all round Ladysmith at midnight of 19th November meant. It was a night alarm magnified by imagination into a desperate sortie from Ladysmith, and a correspondent of the Diggers' News telegraphed his version of the affair in glowing terms to that paper, giving full details of things that never happened. A copy just received in camp causes much amusement. Reference to my notes for the 19th of last month will show that we were at perfect peace here. Not a man of this force except the ordinary patrols moved on the night when we are reported to have made that strenuous but futile effort to break through the enemy's lines, and not a shot was fired on our side. The Boers must have been startled at their own shadows or at the movements of a subaltern's patrol which they magnified into an army, and having beat the big drum they perhaps tried to justify themselves by sending that cock-and-bull story to Pretoria.
To-night our troops are out for exercise, marching through the streets, and singing or whistling merrily as they march. If the Boers get word of this they may have another scare. The daily bombardment is now so much a matter of course that one hardly makes a note of it unless some casualty brings home to us the fact that nobody is safe while shells fly about.
December 7.—During a heavy cannonade in which our naval batteries engaged Gun Hill and Bulwaan from six o'clock until ten this morning, women and children were walking about the streets quite unconcerned. Hundreds of shells have already fallen in the town, and there are some zealous statisticians who compile charts showing exactly where each shell struck and the direction from which it was fired, but the majority of us do not concern ourselves much about any that burst beyond a radius of fifty yards from our own camps or houses, and so many fall harmless that we seldom ask whether anybody has been hit, and it sometimes happens therefore that one does not hear of serious casualties except by accident. It comes rather as a surprise to find that our losses since the siege began, thirty-six days ago, amount to thirteen killed and one hundred and forty-eight wounded. A battle might have been won at less cost.
This evening the 6-inch Creusot on Gun Hill was very active, directing its fire toward headquarters at first, and then turning it on a building which has just been selected for the new Post Office, to be opened when communications are restored. It had a narrow escape of being blown to ruins by a shell that entered through the roof and exploded inside.