Thank God that you and all those with you are safe after your long and trying siege, borne with such heroism, and congratulate you and all under you from the bottom of my heart. Trust you are all not very much exhausted.
It was a woman's message as well as a Queen's, and deepened, if anything could deepen, the affectionate loyalty with which White always regarded her.
Other messages followed in rapid succession : from the heavily burdened Secretary for War, Lord Lans-downe; from White's old chief, Lord Roberts, now advancing into the Free State; from Capetown and Maritzburg and Durban, and every part of British South Africa ; from " all Scottish soldiers "; from the Army in India; from the Channel Squadron; from the " maiden city," Londonderry, and many other cities and boroughs in Great Britain ; from Canada, and Australia, and New Zealand, and Newfoundland ; from the British communities in China and Peru. Lord Roberts had telegraphed :—
The prayers that have been offered up throughout the Empire have been heard. From one end of it to the other there will be general rejoicing.
And so it proved. White must have been more than human if he had not felt his heart swell with pride. But all he said, so the story is told, when the soldiers and people of Ladysmith crowded round him, cheering madly, was this :—
I thank you men, one and all, from the bottom of my heart, for the help and support you have given to me, and I shall always acknowledge it to the end of my life. It grieved me to have to cut your rations, but I promise you that I will not do it again. I thank God we have kept the flag flying.
The great burden of responsibility and anxiety which he had borne for five months had now begun Ito tell upon him seriously. During the last weeks of the siege he had suffered at times from fever, and two days after the relief he broke down. The last sentence in the long letter to his wife from which several passages have been quoted—it could not be despatched during the siege—was written in pencil on the 10th March :—
Struck down by severe attack of fever. Cannot write more—have wired. Don't be anxious, dear.
Fortunately he had by his side a skilful medical officer and devoted friend, Surgeon-Major Treherne, who had been with him during his term as Commander-in-Chief in India, and throughout the siege; but for a fortnight he was really ill; and the result, according to Ian Hamilton, who was also attacked in the same way, was that both were left " regular skeletons." Neither of them had much to spare at the best of times. Hamilton, a much younger man, was soon fit for duty again ; but White, now nearly sixty-five years of age, was forced to recognise that for some months to come he would be unable to take the field. Though Lord Roberts had offered him a command, he felt that in his present state of health he could not stand the hard work and exposure, and was therefore not justified in accepting the offer. Acting on Treherne's advice he applied for leave to England.
Before the end of March he arrived at Capetown, accompanied by Hamilton, and was met there by his son, who was serving with the Gordon Highlanders.
Lord Bobs, " God love him " [he writes to his friend, Miss Warrender], with characteristic grace, thoughtfulness, and kindness, sent Jack here to pay me a visit.
And "Lord Bobs" had also taken care of the men who had done so much to help White in the Natal campaign.
General Ian Hamilton has a good billet, and also my exceedingly able Secretary and loyal and good friend, Colonel Duff.
" Lord Bobs" always took care of a good soldier, for he knew that to do so was to serve the best interests of the country. Immediately after the relief he had telegraphed asking for Hamilton, Ward, and Rawlinson, if White could spare them.
Lord Roberts had promised White a great reception from every one in England.
I am sure [Hamilton wrote to Lady White] he will get this, and I am equally sure no man ever deserved it more. He has proved himself once more a most gallant and splendid General. All through what was really a most trying time he kept his spirits up and insisted on everyone else keeping their spirits up likewise. No one would ever have ventured to utter the word surrender within earshot of Head Quarters, and from him radiated all our courage and patience, such as they were, during a period which has left its mark for good or evil on most of our characters and minds.
From the time of his farewell to the garrison of Ladysmith, White had passed through " a series of ovations" for Natal knew well to whom the colony owed its safety. These, as he wrote to his brother, were " not altogether joy with a temperature of 103°," but, coming from the loyal people he had shielded from invasion, they were deeply appreciated by him. He received a great welcome from Capetown also; and, though still very weak and ill, he was determined to show the gratitude he felt for it.
The people of Capetown had during the last six months felt the war so near them, and had been forced to apprehend so clearly the facts of the situation, that their statements are of value. In the course of an address presented to White on the 27th March by the mayor and councillors of the city was the following passage :—
As loyal subjects of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen Empress, we delight to honour the Commander and the small but gallant army but for whose timely arrival and stalwart; resistance of the enemy, who were greatly superior in numbers and in warlike appliances, the invaders would assuredly have effected their purpose of completely overrunning the? sister colony of Natal, and would doubtless have delivered a vigorous attack upon Cape Colony also, thereby imposing far greater hardships and losses than those already sustained: before Her Majesty's reinforcements could have arrived in sufficient numbers to afford succour to the loyal inhabitants, of the Colonies. We tender our grateful thanks to you and your brave men for having stood in the breach.
That was what all South Africa clearly saw, that during the critical period of the war, when the British1 were weak in numbers, and the successful invasion of the Colonies by a superior enemy was imminent, " White and his troops had " stood in the breach."
White's reply is of comparatively small importance,
for that was the real point, the recognition by the men on the spot of the great service done by the holding of Ladysmith. But perhaps as an illustration of White's attitude whenever he had to speak on this subject, it may be .well to touch upon his remarks. After thanking his hearers on behalf of the garrison he had had the honour to command, he went on to speak in the warmest terms of Penn Symons, of French, of Ian Hamilton, of his " gallant rescuer," Buller, of General Joubert, " a soldier and a gentleman," who had throughout treated him " with every concession of humanity and civilisation." Then he spoke of the Naval detachment, and of the Colonial volunteers, who were the " eyes and ears of the force " from the beginning of the campaign. Of one Colonial corps he had the courage and honesty to say :—
I have been a soldier of our Queen—God bless her—for now nearly fifty years, and I can confidently and sincerely say here that I never had the honour to command so fine a fighting force as the Imperial Light Horse.
The Colonial volunteers, he said, had " a higher patriotism," and " very close behind them came our own soldiers." It was characteristic of White, a soldier of the soldiers, to give the first place, when he thought it right, to men who were not professional soldiers. Many years before he had said that if he were going on service he would rather have by him Charles Bernard, a civilian, than any soldier he knew. So now, believing the Colonial volunteer to be a better fighting man than the enlisted soldier, he did not hesitate to give honour where honour was due. Yet no one could charge him with having a low opinion of the British soldier. In this same speech he told the story how, when the Boers made " their very splendid and gallant attack" on Caesar's Camp, an important corner of the position was held by sixteen men of the Manchester Regiment from three o'clock in the morning till sunset. when " fourteen of them lay dead across their entrenchments," and only two of them, one wounded were left fighting. White also told how on the same day Sergeant Bozeley of the Artillery was struck by a Boer shell, which tore off one of his legs and one arm, throwing him helpless across the trail of his gun and how from the shattered body a voice was heard to come, " Here, you men, roll me out of the way and go on working the gun." White's speech ended with some sentences which showed that though an Irish-man of Scottish blood, and no one could have been more proud of being so, he had no sympathy with the local patriotism which is so sensitive about the use of the words England and the English.
England [he said] always comes out best in the hour of adversity, and this campaign has been no exception to thaw general rule. We are all proud of being English. England is only a little dot on the map of the world, on which we balance one point of the compass while we wheel the other leg towards the Poles to mark the confines of Greater Britain. In this case, as in many former ones, we have found that this little England is the heart of a vast system whose giant limbs reach to the uttermost parts of the earth. So brave and so strong has proved the pulsation of that little heart that it has sent a current of English life-blood to the furthest extremity of the furthest possessions, and knit them together as one unconquerable whole.
The quaint simile of the compasses seems to have been a favourite one with White, for I see that in sending him congratulations upon the defence of Ladysmith, the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce sent him also a copy of a speech delivered by him sixteen years before, in which he had used almost the same words, dwelling also upon the strength and security of the Empire "while England and her giant sons stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder, for their common weal." In 1884 such a train of thought was not so usual as it is now.
After a few days in Capetown White sailed for England in the Dunvegan Castle, which arrived in Southampton on the 14th April. There, before he landed, he received a message from the Queen, ever thoughtful of the soldiers who served her :—
Wish you most heartily welcome. Trust you are better and that I soon shall have the pleasure of seeing you.
The Queen's message was an index of the enthusiastic welcome White was to receive from his countrymen. As the Dunvegan Castle came up to the quay a roar of cheering broke out from the ships in the river, and was taken up by the thousands who had gathered on shore. From that day forward, wherever he went, the same reception awaited him. Addresses, swords of honour, invitations to all parts of the country and of the Empire, bore witness to the esteem in which his services were held by English-speaking people throughout the world. Perhaps, as he said, the honour done to him was far greater than he deserved. He was the first of the prominent' leaders in the war who had returned to England, and the nation had just passed through a long period of defeat and suspense. It was natural enough that when success came the reaction should be vehement. But the fervour of White's reception was not wholly due to the fact that he came as a herald of victory-" His personal character had impressed itself upon the minds and hearts of his countrymen. The courage and dash with which he had attacked a superior: enemy in the field, the chivalry he had shown in taking upon himself all blame for defeat, the steadfastness with which he had held out when shut up and besieged, all these had been recognised; and now the admiration which they had called out was increased by the unfailing modesty with which he bore himself under a storm of popular applause that might) well have turned his head. It did not do that, but it was pleasant to him. He knew when he left South Africa that some of his measures had been sharply criticised, and he expected that on arrival in England he would find it necessary to justify his action in certain respects, if not to, defend himself against severe attack. He was confident of his ability to do so, and he faced the prospect without any fear; but it was a relief and pleasure to find that, far from blaming him unfairly, every one in England seemed disposed to give him the fullest credit for all he had done, and indeed to give him, as he thought, more credit than he deserved. Some criticism was to come later, and vex him sorely ; but for the time it was silent; so with health rapidly improving, and his wife and children once more about him, he spent some thoroughly happy months.
It would serve no useful purpose to describe the various complimentary ceremonials with which these months were filled; but White was specially pleased by one of them, a great dinner given in his honour by the Ulster Association in London, under the presidency of Lord Londonderry, who presented him with an address and a piece of plate, and congratulated him upon the way in which he had acted upon the motto of Ulster, " No surrender." Broad as his patriotism was, he was an Ulsterman to the core of his heart.
If [he said] I am to he prized at a value which my own conscience tells me is much in advance of my merits, I am proud that it should occur in this assembly; for I can say most sincerely that I value the high opinion of my fellow Ulstermen more highly than that of anybody else in the world.
Yet while he dwelt upon the character and courage of an Ulsterman, Lord Ava, who was, he said, " as kind as he was brave," White did not forget to bear witness to the merits of others who had served at Ladysmith. It is interesting to see that here in London, as before in Capetown, he spoke with special warmth of the South African forces, and in particular of the Imperial Light Horse,
who lost five commanding officers in succession—although I never saw men who wanted less leading. I think I may say they were the bravest men I ever had under my command. On the 6th January, which has been referred to as a tight day, had it not been for them Joubert might have been spending his Sunday where I spent mine.
White ended his reply by commending to the remembrance of his hearers the natives of India who, as regimental camp-followers and coolies, had also served in the siege. He told the story of one of them, a man who constituted himself the special watcher of the great Boer gun on Bulwana, and used to sit all day in the open waiting for the flash, in order that, with a shout of " Lang Taam," he might warn the soldiers about him to take cover. At one time White gave orders that this man was not to expose himself any longer, but he appealed against the order in such moving terms that White had to give way, and for the future he carried out his self-imposed task in untroubled happiness, sheltered only, if the sun was hot, by a large cotton umbrella.
A few days later White was in Ulster itself, where a tremendous welcome awaited him. For a week the cities and villages of his native county poured out their people in tens of thousands to greet him wherever he went. It was one long triumphal progress, only marred at times by the treachery of the Irish weather. On the 18th June he writes from his own house:—
To Miss Warrender.
I have had the most magnificent and most cordial receptions everywhere. There is an enthusiasm for the integrity of the Empire that I never expected to see even in this part of Ireland.
White was specially rejoiced by this welcome, and nothing perhaps touched him so deeply as the part taken in it by Lord Dufferin, who, setting aside his own personal sorrow at the recent death of his brave son, came forward to greet his old lieutenant in public, and insisted upon receiving White and Lady White as his guests at Clandeboye.
On return to London White set about his preparations for taking up his new post. A few months before the outbreak of war he had been offered, and had accepted, the Governorship of Gibraltar. Now, his health restored by his sea voyage from the Cape and three strenuous but pleasant months in England, he felt equal to the duties of a charge which, compared with others that he had held, was not a heavy one. He would have preferred a few months of rest at home; for in the last twenty years he had not had much of it, and South Africa had tried him severely, but this would have involved difficulties.
Early in July 1900 he sailed from England, and on the 11th he was sworn in as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the City and Garrison.