The two most important ports of disembarkation A were Capetown and Durban. East London and Port Elizabeth necessarily came in for their share of the troops, but that share was only small.
It was therefore at Capetown and Durban that Christian workers specially prepared to receive our soldiers and do all that was possible for their comfort ere they departed for the front. These towns had already thousands of refugees from the Transvaal upon their hands. Many of them were absolutely destitute. They had left the Transvaal at almost a moment's notice, and large numbers had only the clothes they were wearing. But the generosity of the colonists knew no bounds, and gladly they gave of their abundance and often of their poverty to help their poor distressed brethren. Daily relief was granted where needed, and all things possible were done for their comfort.
South African Generosity.
And now the coming of the army gave fresh opportunity for the display of generosity. Not only were the soldiers received with hearty cheers, but lavish gifts were showered upon them. Flowers, fruits, tobacco, dainties of all kinds were handed to them as they departed to the front, and in many cases sent up after them.
A gentleman from 'up country' wrote to Capetown to ask when any troops would be going through a certain railway station, and he would undertake to supply with fruit all troops passing for the next two months.
At Christmas a number of ladies at one of the stations up the line had all sorts of good things for the men who had to travel on Christmas Day. Another gentleman accidentally heard that a certain train was going to stop at the railway station nearest his house, and hastily collected twenty-four dozen new-laid eggs for the men to have for breakfast! Such Christian kindness as this appeals powerfully to Mr. Thomas Atkins, as it does to most men, and he deserved all that South Africa could give him.
The Soldiers' Christian Association in South Africa.
At Capetown the Soldiers' Christian Association was specially active. This enterprising and successful Association was inaugurated seven years ago as the direct result of a series of recommendations submitted to the National Council of Young Men's Christian Associations. It has its branches in most military centres and is exceedingly popular with the men. In connection with this war the S.C.A., as it is familiarly called, has taken an entirely new departure. It has taken a leaf, and a very valuable leaf, out of the book of the American Young Men's Christian Association. That enterprising Association did a great deal of tent work during the late war with Spain, and such work proving of the greatest value, the S.C.A. has followed the same course during the war in South Africa. At first there was considerable difficulty in getting permission from headquarters; but at last it came, and on Saturday, Nov. 11, 1899, Messrs. Hinde and Fleming sailed. A further band of seven workers accompanied Mr. A.H. Wheeler, the General Secretary of the Association a fortnight later, and on their arrival they found that a general order had been issued to the following effect--'Permission has been given to the Soldiers' Christian Association to send out tents and writing-material for the troops. Facilities are to be accorded to the Association to put up tents at fixed stations, as far as military requirements will permit.'
How well the work of the Association has been done has been told in the organ of the S.C.A.--News from the Front.
'Eight tents, fully equipped and capable of seating two hundred and fifty men, made of green rot-proof canvas, and ten smaller ones made of the same material for sleeping purposes, besides four iron buildings to take the place of tents in the colder districts, have been sent out from the mother country The tents have been stationed at Wynberg (No. 1 General Hospital), Orange River, Enslin Camp, Sterkstroom, Dordrecht, Kimberley (after the siege), Bloemfontein, Ladysmith (after the siege), Dewdrop Camp, Arcadia, Frere Camp, and other places. It was Lord Roberts' special wish that two of the iron buildings should be erected at Bloemfontein and one each at Kimberley and Ladysmith.'
Lord Roberts himself opened the first S.C.A. tent pitched in Bloemfontein, and the late Earl of Airlie, whose death none more than his gallant lads of the 12th Lancers mourn, opened the tent at Enslin. These tents became the Soldiers' Homes, and are free to men of all denominations. In them stationery, ink, and pens are all free; and there are books to read and games to play.
Occasionally they have been put to other uses, such as hospital depots, shelters for refugees, and temporary hospitals. Generals and their staffs have been quartered in them for the night, and, in fact, they have accompanied the British soldier to the front as his 'home from home' wherever he has gone.
But to return to the work of the S.C.A. at Capetown. When this work began it was found that there was no post-office at the south arm or jetty where the troops disembarked, and thousands of the troops were proceeding to the front without the opportunity of posting the letters they had written, or sending home the money they had received during the voyage. With his usual carelessness, 'Tommy' was leaving his letters with any one he saw on the jetty, and even confiding his money to be sent home by any chance passer-by.
The S.C.A. got permission to undertake this work and soon had an amateur post-office in full working order. In this way thousands of letters reached anxious friends at home which might otherwise have been delayed for weeks. And more than this, thousands of pounds in money were received by the workers and safely transmitted home, one regiment alone, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, committing to the care of the S.C.A. workers no less than L800. Large quantities of writing-material and religious literature were also distributed amongst the troops before they proceeded on their long and tedious journey up country.
[Footnote 1: Our Soldiers.]
Work Among the Refugees.
It will be remembered that when the war broke out the missionaries were, with very few exceptions, compelled to leave the Transvaal. The General Superintendent of Wesleyan Missions in the Transvaal District, the Rev. Geo. Weavind, had been so long resident in the country as to be able to take up his rights as a burgher. He therefore stayed to look after his few remaining people, and four other Wesleyan missionaries remained by special permission with him. For the rest, the missionaries were scattered: some to Capetown, some to Durban, some to obtain appointments as acting-chaplains, or officiating clergymen; but all of them to work in some way or other for the Master, to whose service they had given their lives.
At Durban, similar work was done. The Transvaal Relief Committee (a sub-committee of the Durban Town Council Relief Committee), with the Rev. Geo. Lowe as chairman, did splendid work among the refugees, of whom at one time there were 21,000 in Durban alone. This relief work was splendidly organized and most effective.
The Sisters Evelyn and Miriam, who organized much of this work, were Wesley deaconesses employed in South Africa. Sister Evelyn Oats was resting in England after five years' most exhausting and successful work, but hurried back to South Africa on the first news of the outbreak of war, and was soon hard at work among the refugees. Sister Miriam had been employed at Johannesburg, and remained there until nearly every one had gone, and she was left alone in the house. And then she also left and found her way to Durban, where her nursing skill was of the utmost value among the poor women, homeless and destitute, in the hour of their deepest need.
The rate of relief was one shilling per day for adults, and sixpence for each child under fourteen; and the utmost care was taken in the distribution of the money. Funds were most generously provided, but it was a great relief when an application for 1,500 stretcher-bearers came from the front, and thus the congestion among the men was rendered less severe How eagerly the poor fellows accepted the offered employment, and the drill hall was in a few minutes crowded with those eager to go!
Welcoming the Troops at Durban.
At Durban also the heartiest of hearty welcomes was given to the incoming troops. In connection with the Transvaal Relief Committee there was a commissariat department for the purchase of bread and fruit, etc., and a Welcome Committee to receive the soldiers as they came.
At first the idea was only to provide bread and fruit for the men on landing, but it was soon found, as at Capetown, that the men had letters to post and money to send home. It was also found that the men wanted some one to write letters for them, and this work also was undertaken, young ladies gladly giving of their time to this work; and thousands of friends by their assistance heard of the arrival of their dear ones at Durban.
Christmas cards were also freely given to the men, who wanted in this way to send Christmas greetings home; and, in fact, Tommy Atkins had hardly been so spoilt before--not even by some good ladies in England--as he was during these eventful weeks at Durban. The letters and messages sent home were in many cases of a most touching and tender character, and once more Tommy Atkins proved himself to be anything but an 'Absent-minded Beggar.'
As at Capetown, money in large sums was entrusted to the workers to send home, and quite a large number of watches were handed over for the same purpose. In this work ministers and members of all Churches took part. The military authorities cleared as many difficulties as possible out of their way, and all who took part in it found it a labour of love.
There was no time to do much direct spiritual work at either Capetown or Durban. The troops were hurried to the front as fast as possible. But whenever it was possible to speak a word for Christ that word was spoken, and the kindly act was a sermon in itself.
Thus were our soldier lads welcomed by our children across the sea. And by their kindness to our men they have forged another link in the chain of love which binds the colonies to the homeland.
'Britannia's piccanini,' as Natal loves to call herself, has proved worthy of the old mother; and the old mother who is making such sacrifices for her children in South Africa will not forget that they are striving hard to show themselves worthy of her care.