Whilst our narrative pauses for a while beside the Vaal which served as a boundary between the two Republics, it may be well to devote oneCHAPTER to a further description of the work of the chaplains with whom in those two Republics I was brought into more or less close official relationship. Concerning the chaplains of other Churches whose work I witnessed, it does not behove me to speak in detail; I can but sum up my estimate of their worth by saying concerning each, what was said concerning a certain Old Testament servant of Jehovah:--"He was a faithful man and feared God above many."
Of Wesleyan acting-chaplains, devoting their whole time to work among the troops, and for the most part accompanying them from place to place, there were eight; and to the labours of three of them--the Welsh, the Australian and the Canadian--reference has already been made. A fourth, the Rev. Owen Spencer Watkins, represented the Wesleyan Church in the Omdurman Campaign and was officially present at the memorial service for General Gordon; but in this campaign he was unfortunately shut up in Ladysmith, so that we never met. His story however has been separately told in "Chaplains at the Front." There remain three whom I repeatedly saw, and who reported to me from time to time the progress of their work--viz. the Revs. M. F. Crewdson, T. H. Wainman, and W. C. Burgess, each of whom in few words it will now be my privilege to introduce.
[Sidenote: A Chaplain who found the Base became the Front.]
Mr Crewdson, who had for some years been my colleague in England, at the commencement of the war was compelled to leave Johannesburg, and became a refugee minister at the Cape, where on my arrival he was one of the first to welcome me. Possessed of brilliant preaching abilities and uncontrollably active, a life of semi-indolence soon became to him unendurable; and presently his offer was accepted of service with the troops, but instead of being sent as he desired into the thickest of the fray, he found himself detailed for hospital and other homely duties, at De-Aar Nauwpoort and Norval's Pont. Here for over twelve months he rendered admirable, though to him monotonous, service; when, lo, suddenly the Boers doubled back upon their pursuers, and attempted not unsuccessfully though unfruitfully, a second invasion of Cape Colony. The base became the front, and this vast region of hospitals and supply depôts became the scene of very active operations indeed, in which the Guards' Brigade, now recalled from Koomati Poort, took a prominent part. Mr Crewdson found himself at last not where wounds are healed merely, but where wounds are made, and for the moment, being intensely pro-British, found in that fact a kind of grim content.
[Sidenote: Pathetic scenes in Hospital.]
Few chaplains in the course of this campaign have had so extensive an experience in hospital work as Mr Crewdson, and in the course of his correspondence he relates many pathetic incidents that came under his own personal observation. At De-Aar he found a lance-corporal with a fractured jaw and some twenty other slight or serious wounds, all caused by fragments of a single shell. "I was one of seven," he said, "entrenched in a little sangar on a hill. Hundreds of Boers and Blacks came up against us. One of the seven disappeared, four others were killed; so to my one surviving comrade I said, 'Look here, corporal, we'll stick this out till one of us is wounded then the other must look after him.'" Presently that unlucky shell made a victim of this plucky fellow; but a hero it could not make him. He was that already.
A company of the West Yorkshire Mounted Infantry only twenty strong had sustained, in storming a kopje, no less than ten casualties. The lieutenant, shot through the base of the skull, lay in that hospital in utterly helpless, if not hopeless, collapse; and near to him was his sergeant who, while bandaging the wounds of a comrade, was shot through the bridge of the nose, and his eye so damaged it had to be removed; whilst yet another of this group, shot through the shoulder, with characteristic cheerfulness said, "Oh, it's nothing, sir. I'll be at it again in a week." Some of them would say that, brave fellows, if their heads were blown off--or would try to!
Writing from Colesberg at a somewhat later date Mr Crewdson informed me that going the round of hospitals,--where he met representatives from Ceylon, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom,--had filled much of his time during the previous fortnight. "I cannot tell the sweet brave things I have heard from tongues that had almost lost their power to speak. One was a Canadian lad, who had passed through his course as a student for the ministry, and being refused as a chaplain had volunteered as a trooper, and when the chaplain tenderly asked, 'How are you, old man?' he received in a kind of gasp this reply: 'Trusting Jesus!' Another, now nearly convalescent, said, 'I have been a Christian for twenty years, but the weeks spent in hospital have taught me more of God, and of the wonders of His grace, than years of health.' His eyes glistened and then dimmed as with faltering voice he added, 'I want to say, that it was good for me that I was afflicted.'"
[Sidenote: A battlefield scene no less pathetic.]
In the course of these incessant hospital rounds Mr Crewdson found an Australian whose leg had been shattered by an explosive bullet and who told him this strange tale. When thus wounded he fell between two rocks and found himself unable to move, but while lying there a young well-dressed Boer discovered him, and with a perfect English accent said, "Are you much hurt, old fellow?" The Australian, suspecting treachery, turned white and trembled in spite of the stranger's kindly tone.
"Oh, don't be afraid of me, you are hurt enough already. Shall I get you some water?" was the instant Boer rejoinder to the Australian's signs of suspicion. The water was soon produced; and next there came forth from the pocket of that young Boer a couple of peaches, which were offered to the sufferer, and thankfully accepted.
"You must be faint with this fierce sun beating on you," said this strange foeman; and thereupon he sat upon a rock for over an hour in such a position that his shadow sheltered the wounded man, and surely, as in Peter's story, that shadow must have had grace and healing in it. Ultimately an ambulance arrived, and this chivalrous Transvaaler crowned the helpfulness of that eventful hour by tenderly lifting the crippled Australian on to a stretcher, with an expression of hope that he would soon be well again.
At the close of this unnatural conflict it is our best consolation to be divinely assured that the brotherliness which thus presented peaches to a wounded foe will ultimately triumph over the bitterness which winged the explosive bullet that well-nigh killed him.
[Sidenote: Look on this picture--and on that.]
While it is undeniable that cases of chivalrous courtesy such as this occurred repeatedly in the course of the campaign, it is equally undeniable that the Boers sometimes deliberately set aside all the usages of civilized war. Mr Crewdson, for instance, says that after the Slingersfontein fight he met at least a dozen men who declared that the Boers drove up the hill in front of them hundreds of armed Kaffirs, and then themselves crept up on hands and knees under cover of this living moving wall. Such strategy is exceedingly slim; but they who make use of semi-savages must themselves for the time being be accounted near akin to them. One word from the Queen would have sufficed to let loose on the Boers the slaughterous fury of almost all native South Africa, but had that word been spoken there could have been found no forgiveness for it in this life or in the life to come. Yet Slingersfontein was not the only sad instance of this sort, for Sir Redvers Buller in his official report concerning Vaalkrantz solemnly declares that then also there were armed Kaffirs with the Boer forces, and that there also the Red flag was abominably abused, for he himself and his Staff saw portions of artillery conveyed by the Boers to a given position in an ambulance flying the Geneva flag. The loss of honour is ever out of all proportion to the help such treachery affords.
[Sidenote: A third class Chaplain who proved a first-rate Chaplain.]
It was at Waterval Boven I first met my assistant-chaplain, the Rev. T. H. Wainman, and found him all that eulogising reports had proclaimed him to be. Seventeen years ago he accompanied the Bechuanaland Expedition under Sir Charles Warren, and then acquitted himself so worthily that the Wesleyan Army and Navy Committee at once turned to him in this new hour of need, resting assured that in him they had a workman that maketh not ashamed. At the time he received the cable calling him to this task he was a refugee minister from Johannesburg, residing for a while near Durban. There he left his family and at once hurried to report himself in Chieveley Camp, where a singular incident befell him.
[Sidenote: Running in the wrong man.]
A few hours before his arrival an official notice was issued that a Boer spy in khaki was known to be lurking in the camp, and all concerned were requested to keep a sharp look-out with a view to speedy arrest. Mr Wainman's appearance singularly tallied with the published portraiture of the aforesaid spy, and all the more because after his long journey he by no means appeared parson-like. He was just then as rough looking as any prowling Boer might be supposed to be. When, therefore, he was challenged by the sentinel as he approached the camp, and to the sentinel's surprise gave the right password, he was nevertheless told that he must consider himself a prisoner, and was accordingly marched off to the guard-room for safe keeping and further enquiry. It was a strange commencement for his new chaplaincy. More than one of our chaplains has been taken prisoner by the Boers, but he alone could claim the distinction of being made a prisoner of war, even for an hour, by his own people, till a yet more painful experience of the same type befell Mr Burgess; nor did ill-fortune fail to follow him for some time to come. He was attached to a battalion where chaplains were by no means beloved for their own sake; and though one of the most winsome of men, he was made to feel in many ways that his presence was unwelcome.
[Sidenote: A Wainman who was a real waggoner.]
Presently, however, there came an opportunity which he so skilfully used as to become the hero of the hour, and in the end one of the most popular men in the whole Brigade. When on the trek one of the transport waggons stuck fast hopelessly in an ugly drift, and no amount of whip-leather or lung-power sufficed to move it. One waggon thus made a fixture blocks the whole cavalcade, and is, therefore, a most serious obstruction. But Mr Wainman had not become an old colonist without learning a few things characteristic of colonial life, including the handling of an ox team. He therefore volunteered to end the deadlock, and in sheer desperation the Padré's offer was, however dubiously, accepted. So off came his tunic; this small thing was straightened, that small thing cleared out of the way, then next he cleared his throat, and instead of hurling at those staggering oxen English oaths or Kaffir curses, spoke to them in tones soothing and familiar as their own mother tongue. Some one at last had appeared upon the scene that understood them, or that they could understand. Then followed a long pull, a strong pull, a pull altogether, and lo as by magic the impossible came to pass. The waggon was out of the drift! "Brave padré," everybody cried. His name means "waggoner," and a right good waggoner he that day proved to be. This skilful compliance with one of the requirements of the Mosaic laws helped him immensely in the preaching of the Gospel. He became all the more powerful as a minister because so popular as a man. In many ways his mature local knowledge enabled him to become so exceptionally useful that he received promotion from a fourth to a third class acting chaplaincy, and the very officers who at first deemed his presence an infliction combined to present him with a handsome cigarette case in token of uttermost goodwill. You can't tell what even a chaplain is capable of till you give him a chance.
[Sidenote: Three bedfellows in a barn.]
When Mr Wainman first reached his appointed quarters, the wounded were being brought in by hundreds from the Colenso fight; later on he climbed to the summit of Spion Kop, "The Spying Mountain," to search for the wounded, and to bury the dead that fell victims to the fatal mischance that having captured, then surrendered that ever famous hill; and at night he slept in a barn with a Catholic priest lying on one side of him and an Anglican chaplain on the other--a delightful forecasting that of the time when the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The Christian Catholicity to which this campaign has given rise is one of its redeeming features.
While the Rev. Owen Spencer Watkins, the Wesleyan chaplain from Crete remained shut up in Ladysmith, Mr Wainman remained with the relieving force, ultimately accompanied General Buller into the Transvaal, where I frequently met him, and finally, on the approaching conclusion of the war, resumed charge, like Mr Crewdson, of his civilian church in Johannesburg. No man learns to be a soldier by merely watching the troops march past at a royal review; neither did Mr Wainman acquire his rare gifts for such rough yet heroic service while sitting in an easy chair. He endured hardness, as every man must who would serve his generation well according to the will of God.
[Sidenote: A fourth-class Chaplain that was also a first-rate Chaplain.]
The Rev. W. C. Burgess was a refugee minister from Lindley, in the Orange River Colony, and like Mr Wainman, was early chosen for service among the troops, joining General Gatacre's force just after the lamentable disaster at Stormberg. He was attached to the "Derbys," and found among them a goodly number of godly men, as in all the battalions and batteries that constituted that unfortunate column. Some of these were Christian witnesses of long standing, including no less than five Wesleyan lay preachers, and some were newly-won converts. Hence, at the close of Mr Burgess's very first voluntary service, one khaki man said to him, "I gave my heart to the Lord last Sunday on the line of march before we met the enemy"; while many more, though not perhaps walking in the clear shining of the light of God's countenance, yet spoke freely of their religious upbringing and relationships. It was possibly one such who, at the close of a little week-night service, where nearly all the men were drenched with recent rain, suggested the singing of "Love divine, all loves excelling." The character of that man's upbringing it is not difficult to divine. Another said, "I have a wife and four children who are praying for me"; while yet another added, "For me an aged mother prays." It would be strange indeed if such confessors were not themselves praying men. They were to be found by hundreds, probably by thousands, among the troops sent to South Africa. Never was an army so prayed for since the world began; and seldom, if ever, has an army contained so many who themselves were praying men.
[Sidenote: A Parson Prisoner in the hands of the Boers.]
Nearly four months after the Stormberg tragedy, but only four days after that at Sanna's Post, Mr Burgess found himself, with three companies of the Irish Rifles and two of the Northumberland Fusiliers, cooped up on a kopje about three miles long not far from Reddersburg. With no water within reach, with no guns, and an almost exhausted store of rifle ammunition, this small detachment found itself indeed in evil plight when De Wet's commando of 3200 men put a girdle of rifle barrels around it, and then began a merciless cannonade with five guns. That cannonade indeed was merciless far beyond what the rules of modern war permit, for it seemed to be directed, if not mainly, certainly most effectually, on the ambulances and hospital tents, over which the Red Cross flag floated in vain. In the vivid description of the fight which Mr Burgess sent to me, he says that several of the ambulance mules were killed or badly wounded, and it was a marvel only one of the ambulance men was hit, for in one of their tents were four bullet holes, and a similar number in the Red Cross flag itself. Some of the occupants of the hospital were Boer prisoners, some were defenceless natives, so all set to work to throw up trenches for the protection of these non-combatants, and among the diggers and delvers was the Wesleyan chaplain with coat thrown off, and plying pick like one to the manner born. To that task he stuck till midnight, and oh, that I had been there to see! A chaplain thus turning himself into a navvy is probably no breach of the Geneva Convention, but all the same it is by no means an everyday occurrence; and those Boer prisoners would think none the worse of that Wesleyan predikant's prayers after watching the work, on their behalf, of that predikant's pick.
The defence of Reddersburg was one of the least heroic in the whole record of the campaign, and the troops early next morning surrendered, not to resistless skill or rifle fire on the part of the Boers, but to the cravings of overmastering thirst. A relieving force was close at hand when they ran up the horrid white flag, and had they been aware of that fact we may be sure no surrender would have taken place. It requires scant genius to be wise after the event, and still scantier courage to denounce as lacking in courage this surrender of 500 to a force six times as large. That was on April 4th, and among those taken captive by De Wet was the Wesleyan chaplain. His horse, his kit, and all his belongings at the same time changed hands, and though he was solemnly assured all would be restored to him, that promise still awaits redemption.
[Sidenote: Caring for the Wounded.]
Mr Burgess, though stripped of all he possessed, except what he wore, received De Wet's permission to search for the wounded as well as to bury the dead; and in one of his letters to me he tells of one mortally wounded whom he thus found, and who, in reply to the query, "Do you know Jesus?" replied, "I'm trusting Jesus as my Saviour"; then recognising Mr Burgess as his chaplain, he added, "Pray for me!" so, amid onlooking stretcher-bearers and mounted Boers, the dying lad was commended to the eternal keeping of his Saviour. It is this element which has introduced itself into modern warfare which will presently make war impossible, except between wild beasts or wilder savages. Prayer on the battlefield, and the use on the same spot of explosive bullets, is too incongruous to have in it the element of perpetuity.
The number of soldiers that thus die praying, or being prayed for, may be comparatively small; but even the unsaintly soldier, when wounded, often displays a stoicism that has in it an undertone of Christian endurance. A lad of the Connaughts at Colenso, whom a bullet had horribly crippled in both legs, shouted with defiant cheerfulness to his comrades--"Bring me a tin whistle and I will play you any tune you like"; and a naval athlete at Ladysmith, when a shell carried away one of his legs and his other foot, simply sighed, "There's an end of my cricket." Pious readers would doubtless in all such cases much prefer some pious reference to Christ and His Cross in place of the tin whistle and cricket; but even here is evidence of the grit that has helped to make England great, and it by no means follows that saving grace also is not there. The most vigorous piety is not always the most vocal.
After nearly four and twenty hours of terrific pelting by shot and shell, Mr Burgess tells me our total loss was only ten killed and thirty-five wounded. Not one in ten was hit; and so again was illustrated the comparative harmlessness of either Mauser or machine-gun fire against men fairly well sheltered. This war thus witnessed a strange anomaly. It used the deadliest of all weapons, and produced with them a percentage of deaths unexampled in its smallness.
[Sidenote: How the Chaplain's own tent was bullet-riddled.]
Late on in the campaign Mr Burgess was moved, not to his own delight, from near Belfast to Germiston, but was speedily reconciled to the change by the receipt of the following letter from an officer of the Royal Berks:--
"Truly you are a lucky man to have left Wonderfontein on Monday; and it may be that it saved your life, for the same night we were attacked. It was a very misty night; but we all went to bed as usual, and at midnight I was awakened by heavy rifle fire. Almost immediately the bugle sounded the alarm, and everybody ran for their posts like hares. From where I was it sounded as if the Boers had really got into camp; but after two hours of very heavy firing they retired. Yesterday morning, when I went over the ground, the first thing I saw was six or eight bullet holes through your tent; and one end of our mess had twenty-three bullet marks in it. Nooitgedacht, Pan and Dalmanutha were all attacked the same night at exactly the same hour, causing us a few casualties at each place."
It may perchance be for our good we are sometimes sent away from places where we fain would tarry.
[Sidenote: A sample set of Sunday Services.]
The following typical extract is taken from Mr Burgess's Diary:--
"Sunday, January 20th.--Rode out to Fort Dublin for church parade at 9 A.M. Held parade in town church at 11. Then rode out to surrendered burghers' laager and held service in Dutch, fully a hundred being present. Conducted service for children in town church at 3.30 P.M., and at 4.30 rode out to Hands Up Dorp; two hundred present and ten baptisms. Managed to ride back to town just in time for the evening service in the church at 6.30, which was well attended."
"Oh, day of rest and gladness!"
As the war was nearing its close, I sent Mr Burgess to labour along the blockhouse lines of communication, which have Bloemfontein for their centre. Here the authorities granted to him the use of a church railway van, in which he travelled almost ceaselessly between Brandfort and Norval's Pont, or beyond; and thus he too for a while became chaplain to part of the Guards' Brigade.