In addition to the eight Acting Chaplains referred to in previousCHAPTERs, some forty-five or fifty Wesleyan ministers were appointed "Officiating Clergymen." These, while still discharging, so far as circumstances might permit, their ordinary civilian duties, were formally authorised to minister to the troops residing for a while in the neighbourhood of their church. Many of the local Anglican clergy were similarly employed, and supplemented the labours of the commissioned and acting Anglican chaplains sent out from England. Their local influence and local knowledge enabled them to render invaluable service, and great was their zeal in so doing. While the regular chaplains who came with the troops as a rule went with the troops, these fixtures in the great King's service were able not only to make arrangements for religious worship, but for almost every imaginable kind of ministry for the welfare of the men. They were often the Army Chaplain's right hand and in some cases his left hand too. It would be a grievous wrong, therefore to make no reference to what they attempted for God and the Empire, though it is impossible here to do more than hurriedly refer to a few typical cases that in due course were officially reported to me.
[Sidenote: At Cape Town and Wynberg.]
The very day the Guards landed at Cape Town I was introduced to the Rev. B. E. Elderkin, who in conjunction with the Congregationalists at Seapoint made generous provision for the social enjoyment and spiritual profiting of the troops. I was also that same day taken to the Wynberg Hospital by the Rev. R. Jenkin, who, on alternate Sundays with the Presbyterian chaplain, conducted religious services there for the convalescents, and ministered in many ways to the sick and wounded, of whom there were sometimes as many as 2000 in actual residence. Among them Mr Jenkin could not fail to discover many cases of peculiar interest; and concerning one, a private of the Essex, he has supplied the following particulars:--
[Sidenote: Saved from drowning to sink in hospital.]
This lad was badly wounded in the thigh on Sunday, March 11th, somewhere not far from Paardeberg, but he seems to have got so far into the Boer lines that our own shells fell around him and our own stretcher-bearers never reached him; so he lay all night, his wound undressed, and without one drink of water. Next day a mounted Boer caught sight of him, got off his horse, gave him a drink, and then passed on. On Wednesday, in sheer desperation, he wriggled to the river to get a drink, but in his feebleness fell in; was caught by the branch of a tree, and for more hours than seem credible thus hung, half in the water, half out, before he rallied sufficient strength to crawl out and up the bank. For five days he thus remained without food, and his festering wound unbandaged. On the Friday, when Lord Roberts offered to exchange six wounded prisoners, the Boers espied at last this useful hostage, took him to their laager, put a rough bandage round his thigh, and sent him into the British camp. He was still alive, full of hope, when Wynberg Hospital was reached, and responsive to all Mr Jenkin said concerning the mercy of God in Christ; but the long delay in dealing with his case rendered an operation necessary. There was no strength left with which to rally--a sudden collapse, and he was gone to meet his God. Fifteen days after he fell he was laid to rest, with full military honours, in the Wesleyan Cemetery at Wynberg. It is well that all fatal cases are not of that fearful type!
Whilst the Guards were making their way to the Transvaal, the Rev. W. Meara, a refugee Wesleyan minister from Barberton, was doing altogether excellent work among the troops at East London; and has since gone back to Barberton as officiating clergyman to the troops there, where later on in 1902 I had the opportunity of personally noting what his zeal hath accomplished for our men.
[Sidenote: A pleasant surprise.]
Concerning his army work while away from Barberton, Mr Meara sent me the following satisfactory report:--
"During the early part of my chaplaincy there were large numbers of men in camp, and we held open-air services with blessed results. The services were largely attended and much appreciated. We then established a temporary Soldiers' Home; and after a fortnight the Scripture Reader of the Northumberland Fusiliers handed me over the responsibility, as he was proceeding with his regiment to the front. The Home was on the camp ground, and so was within easy reach of the men, who availed themselves fully of its advantages. We provided mineral waters at cost prices, and eatables, tobacco, etc., and for some weeks when there was a great rush of men in camp upwards of £120 a week was taken. We supplied ink, pens, notepaper, etc., free, and we had all kinds of papers in the Reading Room. We agreed that any profits should be sent to the Soldiers' Widows and Orphans Fund, and so before I left East London we sent the sum of £43 to Sir A. Milner for the fund above referred to. Besides the Soldiers' Home, we started a Soldiers' 'Social Evening' on Wednesdays in Wesley Hall, which was largely patronised by the men. I have found the officers without a single exception ready to further my work in every way. I had also a good deal of hospital work, which to me was full of pathetic interest. I have had the joy of harvest in some instances, for some of the men have been led to Christ. When I purposed leaving, the circuit officials generously took the Town Hall for two nights at a cost of £14 for my Farewell Service on Sunday night, and the Farewell Social on Tuesday. The hall was packed with about 1500 people on the Sunday. We had a grand number of soldiers. Then on the Tuesday in the same hall there were about 1000 people who sat down to tea, including from 400 to 500 soldiers. When tea was over I was to my surprise presented with a purse of sovereigns from the circuit, and to my still greater astonishment Col. Long of the Somerset Light Infantry came on the platform, and spoke most appreciatively of my work amongst the men, and their great regret at my departure. When he had finished he called upon Sergt.-Master-Tailor Syer to make a presentation to me on behalf of the men. It was a beautiful walking-stick with a massive silver ferrule suitably inscribed, and a very fine case of razors. Then every soldier in the hall rose to his feet and gave the departing chaplain three cheers. It was really one of the proudest moments in my life."
[Sidenote: The Soldiers' Reception Committee.]
Of the Durban Soldiers' Reception Committee the chairman was the Rev. G. Lowe, also a Transvaal refugee Wesleyan minister; and in a letter from him now lying on my table he states that he was sometimes on the landing jetty for fifteen hours at a stretch. He adds that he was the first to begin this work of welcoming the troops on landing at Durban, and obtained the permits to take in a few friends within the barriers for the distribution of fruit, tobacco and bread to the soldiers, on the purchase of which nearly £300 was expended. Twenty-five thousand troops were thus met; over £2000 sent home to the friends of the soldiers; more than 8000 letters announcing the safe arrivals of the men were dispatched, many hundreds of them being written for the men by various members of the committee. This work was most highly appreciated by General Buller; and Colonel Riddell of the 3rd K.R. Rifles left in Mr Lowe's hands £208, 18s. belonging to the men of his regiment to be sent to the soldiers' relatives. Then, only a few days before his death at Spion Kop, he wrote expressing his personal thanks for the excellent work thus done on behalf of his own and other battalions.
[Sidenote: The other way about.]
About the same time that the Guards reached the Vaal their comrades on the right, under General Ian Hamilton, arrived at Heilbron, and here the Rev. R. Matterson at once opened his house and his heart to welcome them. In face of the dire difficulty of dealing satisfactorily with the sick and wounded in so inaccessible a village, Mr and Mrs Matterson received into their own home two enteric patients belonging to the Ceylon Mounted Infantry, one of them being a son of the Wesleyan minister at Colombo; but here, as in so many another place, while the civilians did what they could for the soldiers, the soldiers in their turn did what they could for the civilians. At Krugersdorp, so our Welsh chaplain told me, he arranged for a crowded military concert, which cleared £35 for the destitute poor of the town, mostly Dutch. So here at Heilbron the troops, fresh from the fray, and on their way to further furious conflicts, actually provided an open-air concert for the benefit of a local church charity in the very neighbourhood, and among the very people they were in the very act of conquering. It is a topsy-turvy world that war begets: but most of all this war, in which while the kopjes welcomed us with lavish supplies of explosive bullets, the towns and villages welcomed us with proffered fruit and the flaunting of British flags; the troops, on the other hand, seizing every chance of entertaining friends and foes alike with instrumental music, comic, sentimental, and patriotic songs. Even on the warpath, tragedy and comedy seem as inseparable as the Siamese twins; in proof whereof here follows the programme of one such soldierly effort to aid a local church charity in the Orange Free State:--
POPULAR PROMENADE CONCERT TO BE HELD ON SATURDAY, 22nd DECEMBER 1900, at 4.45 P.M.
By the kind permission of Lieut.-Col. the Hon. A. E. DALZELL and the Officers of the 1st Oxfordshire Light Infantry.
1. GRAND MARCH--"Princess Victoria" O'Keefe BAND.
2. SONG Serg. COX, 1st O.L.I.
3. COON SONG Trooper GREENWOOD, I.Y
4. OVERTURE--"Norma" Bellini BAND.
5. SENTIMENTAL SONG Corp. ASHLY, 1st O.L.I.
6. RECITATION Corp. SAMPSON, R.G.A
7. CORNET SOLO--"My Pretty Jane" Bishop Band-Serg. BROOME.
8. SONG Mr J. ILSLEY.
9. DESCRIPTIVE SONG Corporal COOKE, 1st O.L.I
10. SELECTION--"The Belle of New York" Kerker BAND
11. SONG Gunner HIGGINBOTHAM, R.G.A
12. SONG Gunner M'GINTZ, R.G.A.
13. VALSE--"Mia Cara" Bucalossi BAND
14. PATRIOTIC SONG Serg. GEAR, 1st O.L.I.
15. COMIC SONG Corporal CROWLY, 1st O.L.I
16. GALOP--"En Route" Clarke BAND.
"GOD SAVE THE QUEEN."
Admission to Ground--ONE SHILLING. Refreshments at reasonable prices.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Our near Kinship to the Boers.]
Of another important fact which grew upon us later on, we gained our first glimpse during these early days. The Boers we found were in many respects startlingly near akin to us. They sprang originally from the same liberty-loving stock as ourselves. Hosts of them spoke correct and fluent English, while not a few of them were actually of English parentage. Moreover, the Hollanders and the English have so freely intermarried in South Africa that at one time it was fondly hoped the cradle rather than the rifle would finally settle our racial controversies. They are haunted by the same insatiable earth hunger as ourselves, and hence unceasingly persisted in violating the Conventions which forbade all further extension of Transvaal territory. As a people they are more narrowly Protestant than even we have ever been. The Doppers, of whom the President was chief, are Ultra-Puritans; and they would suffer none but members of a Protestant Church to have any vote or voice in their municipal or national affairs. Jews and Roman Catholics as such were absolutely disfranchised by them; and their singing, which later on we often heard, by its droning heaviness would have delighted the hearts of those Highland crofters who, at Aldershot, said they could not away with the jingling songs of Sankey. "Gie us the Psalms of David," they cried. The Dutch Reformed Church and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland are nearer akin than cousins; and when after Magersfontein our Presbyterian chaplain crossed over into the Boer lines to seek out and bury the dead, he was heartily hailed as a Reformed minister, was treated with as much courtesy as though he had been one of their own predikants, and as the result was so favourably impressed that an imaginative mind might easily fancy him saying to Cronje, "Almost thou persuadest me to become a Boer!"
Of all wars, civil wars are the most inexpressibly saddening; and this terrible struggle was largely of that type. Neighbours who had known each other intimately for years, members of the same church, and even of the same family, found themselves ranged on opposite sides in this awful fray. When Boer and Briton came to blows it was a brother-bond that was broken, in sight of the awestruck natives. It was once again even as in the days of old when Ephraim envied Judah and Judah vexed Ephraim! Nevertheless, times without number, a concert in the midst of strife, such as that described above, sufficed to draw together all classes in friendliest possible intercourse, and seemed a tuneful prophecy of the better days that are destined yet to dawn.
[Sidenote: More good work on our right flank.]
We can only linger to take one more glance at this type of service by this type of worker before we proceed with our story of the Guards' advance. Winburg, like Heilbron, lay on our right flank, and was occupied by the troops about the same time as we entered Kroonstad. The Wesleyan clergyman was the only representative of the Churches left in the place; and the story of his devotion is outlined in the following memorandum to the D.A.A.G. with the official reply thereto:--
WINBURG, O. R. C.
Dec. 21, 1900.
To MAJOR GOUGH, D.A.A.G.,
Kindly allow me to state a few facts in order to show the exceptional character of my position and work, both before and since the time of my appointment.
1. Previous to the occupation of Winburg by the British troops, I was employed in attending to the sick and wounded English soldiers who were brought here as prisoners of war by the Dutch Forces.
2. During a period of at least five months--as no other chaplain or clergyman was living within a distance of about fifty miles--I was the only one available for religious services, either parade or voluntary, for hospital visitation and burial duties, which were then so urgently and frequently needed. We had six hospitals, and occasionally as many as three funerals on the same day.
3. From the date of the British occupation, May 5th, my knowledge of the country and people--acquired during twenty-five years' residence in various parts of the O. R. C.--has been at the disposal of the military authorities. I have often acted as interpreter and translator, and as such accompanied the Commandant of Winburg when, a few weeks ago, he went to meet the leader of the Boer forces near their laager in this district.
4. As almost all the English population left the town before the war, our nearly empty church was then, and still remains, available for the garrison troops. About nine-tenths of both my Sunday and week-day congregations are soldiers, for whom all the seats are free.
5. Immediately after the arrival of the British forces, our church was utilised for an entirely undenominational Soldiers' Home, and books for the emergency were supplied from my library. Colonel Napier, who was then C.O. of Winburg, expressed his appreciation of this part of our garrison work, and assisted in its development. By his direction, the Home was removed to the premises it now occupies. It consists of separate rooms for reading, writing and refreshments; also rooms and kitchen for the manageress. It is still under my superintendence.--Yours, C. HARMON.
(Copy.) Colonel Napier's Recommendation.
To STAFF OFFICER, Bloemfontein.
I strongly recommend that the Rev. C. Harmon be retained as an acting chaplain to the troops. I can fully endorse all the reverend gentleman has stated in the above memorandum. He has been most useful to the Garrison and Military Authorities at Winburg, and his thorough knowledge of the Dutch language makes his services among the refugees and natives indispensable.
JOHN SCOTT NAPIER, Col.
WINBURG, Jan. 3, 1901.
It is a supreme satisfaction to know that our men were thus in so many ways well served by the local clergy of South Africa, to whom our warmest thanks are due.