The advent of that splendid Christian soldier, Field-Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar, put an entirely different face upon the war. He came with a heavy sorrow resting upon him. His son had been struck down at the front, earning, however, the Victoria Cross by a conspicuous act of bravery before he died. He himself had by long service earned the right to rest upon his laurels. He was an old man, but at the call of duty he cheerfully left home and friends, and, with heart sore at his great loss, went out to win for England the victory in South Africa. His first thought was to send for Lord Kitchener, and when these two men landed in South Africa England knew that all things possible would be accomplished.
And surely their task was great. England's prestige had suffered severely. Lord Methuen had fought at Belmont, Graspan, Modder River and Magersfontein, but the enemy's entrenchments were apparently as strong as ever and Kimberley as far off.
On the other side of the field of operations Sir Redvers Buller was confronted with insurmountable obstacles, and his forces seemed altogether inadequate for the task before him. Gallant little Mafeking was holding out, but with no hope of speedy relief. How Lord Roberts' advent changed all this in a few brief weeks the country knows right well.
Lord Roberts Issues a Prayer for Use in the Army.
Perhaps the most remarkable fact in the history of this or any war is that a few days after landing in South Africa Lord Roberts issued a prayer for the use of the troops. Many army orders have been issued which have stirred the blood and fired the heroism of the British soldier as he has gone forth to fight for his country or has returned triumphant from the field.
'When on the eve of Trafalgar the signal floated out from the mast-head of the Victory, "England expects every man to do his duty," it told of the exalted courage of the hero who was about to fight his last fight and win his last victory. It kindled a like courage in every man who read it, and it ever after became a living word, a voice that is heard everywhere, an inspiration to our race.
'But an army encouraged to pray, an army order in which the commander-in-chief hopes that "a prayer may be helpful to all her Majesty's soldiers now serving in South Africa"! And doubtless many of our comrades have so used the prayer that now they know all the blessings of pardon, purity, power and comfort which it teaches them to ask of God.'
THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF'S LETTER.
'ARMY HEADQUARTERS, CAPE TOWN, January 23rd.
'DEAR SIR,--I am desired by Lord Roberts to ask you to be so kind as to distribute to all ranks under your command the "Short Prayer for the use of Soldiers in the Field," by the Primate of Ireland, copies of which I now forward.
'His Lordship earnestly hopes that it may be helpful to all of her Majesty's soldiers who are now serving in South Africa.
'NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN, Colonel, Private Secretary.
'To the Commanding Officer.'
'Almighty Father, I have often sinned against Thee. O wash me in the precious blood of the Lamb of God. Fill me with Thy Holy Spirit, that I may lead a new life. Spare me to see again those whom I love at home, or fit me for Thy presence in peace.
'Strengthen us to quit ourselves like men in our right and just cause. Keep us faithful unto death, calm in danger, patient in suffering, merciful as well as brave, true to our Queen, our country, and our colours.
'If it be Thy will, enable us to win victory for England, and above all grant us the better victory over temptation and sin, over life and death, that we may be more than conquerors through Him who loved us, and laid down His life for us, Jesus our Saviour, the Captain of the Army of God. Amen.'
We venture to speak of the issue of this beautiful prayer as the most notable fact in the history of the war. We do not remember that anything of the kind has ever been done before. It testifies to the personal trust of the British general in God, it takes for granted that ours was a righteous cause, and it recognises the fact that above the throne which we all reverence and respect there is another throne--the throne of God.
[Footnote 6: Army and Navy Messenger, April, 1900.]
The Christian Influence of Lord Roberts.
Lord Roberts had been for years the idol of the troops. It was touching to hear our Christian soldiers at Aldershot pray for 'dear Lord Roberts,' or familiarly speak of him as 'our Bobs.' All their fears went when they knew he was going to the front, and they were ready to follow him anywhere. Moreover, the Christian soldiers always remember that he was the founder of the 'Army Temperance Association,' which has become such a power for good all over the world.
He is a gentle, lovable man. The story is told that soon after the entry of the troops into Pretoria Lord Roberts was missing, and when at last he was discovered he was sitting in a humble room with two little children upon his knees. The officer who found him apologised for intruding, but said that important business required attention. Lord Roberts merely looked up smiling and said, 'Don't you see I am engaged?'
But Lord Roberts is not only a Christian man, he is a great soldier. This is what concerns the country most; only in his kindliness and Christianity we have the assurance that he will never unnecessarily sacrifice life, and that he will enter upon no enterprise upon which he cannot ask the blessing of God. To our chaplains and other Christian workers his sympathy and help have been invaluable.
It is outside the purpose of this book to follow the general in his movements, or to discuss the scheme which turned the victorious Cronje into a vanquished and captured foe. Suffice it to say that that great flanking movement--perhaps the greatest on record--has won the admiration of all military critics, and, brilliantly conceived, was as brilliantly carried out.
There was a stir at the Modder River for some little time before the actual advance took place. Lord Roberts had come and gone. Various little attacks on some part of the enemy's position--some real, some only feints--had taken place. Every one wondered, none knew what would be the next order of the day. For two months they had been waiting at the Modder River, and they were heartily tired of their inaction. Even the shells from Magersfontein, which had fallen every day but Christmas Day, had become a part of the daily monotony. It had been a glorious time for Christian workers, and that was all that could be said.
But even the Christians were longing for an advance. By-and-by came the summons to the cavalry, and off they went, not knowing whether it was for an ordinary reconnaissance or for something more serious, and little dreaming what they would be called upon to do. For them until Bloemfontein was reached all definite Christian work was at an end. All that the Christians could do was to get together for a short time among the rocks, when the long day's work was done, to talk and pray. And yet these cavalry men look back upon those few moments snatched from sleep as among the most precious in the whole war. They had been in the saddle for many hours at a stretch; on one occasion at any rate the saddles had not been taken off the horses for thirty-six hours.
Religious Meetings while on the March.
It seemed as though General French would never tire. He rode on far ahead of his men--stern, taciturn, resolved--as they rushed across the veldt to Kimberley, or hastened to the doom of Cronje. Our soldiers did their best to follow, and did so till their horses dropped dying or dead upon the veldt. It says much for their Christian enthusiasm that after such days as these, and knowing that only two or three hours' sleep was before them, they should step out of the lines and meet behind some rock to pray. They talked of the old home, of Aldershot, of Sergeant-Major Moss and his class. They pictured to themselves what we should all be doing at home, and then they knelt in prayer. Very touching were those prayers, very sweet that Christian intercourse. Its precious memory is cherished still. And then they would sing a verse--one of the soldiers' favourites--perhaps:--
'Some one will enter the pearly gate, By-and-by, by-and-by; Taste of the glories that there await-- Shall you, shall I?'
Or may be that soldiers' favourite par excellence would be rung out--the 'Six further on,' of which they all speak:--
'Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine; Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.'
And then a verse of 494:--
'God be with you till we meet again.'
And then back to the lines for rest and sleep. 'Good-night, Jim.' 'Good-night, my boy.' '494.' 'Aye! and "Six further on."' And so they part. A delightful picture! a sad one too! Who knows whether they will ever meet on earth again?
The March to Paardeberg.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Feb. 17, 1900, the Guards had been suddenly ordered to follow the cavalry from Modder River. At the mess that evening the chaplains had been positively assured by the officers present that there would be no move until Wednesday at the earliest. Little they knew what was in the mind of the great general! But late at night the summons came, and within two hours the whole brigade of Guards, suddenly roused out of sleep and called in from outpost duty, were marching out into the darkness. Whither they did not know. They took with them neither blanket nor overcoat, but, as their chaplain says, 'only an ample store of pluck and smokeless powder.' They did not stop till they had covered about twenty miles, and before their destination was reached hardly a man of them fell out. They too were part of the great movement--a movement that would continue until they marched into Bloemfontein with Lord Roberts.
The Chaplains on the March.
The chaplains were not allowed to accompany them. They followed with the doctors and the baggage. Whether they were considered impedimenta or not they hardly knew. Certainly their work was over for a short time, to be renewed all too soon when the first batch of wounded came down from the ever-advancing front.
So the senior Church of England chaplain and the senior Wesleyan chaplain trudged off side by side, and marched steadily through the night until, about sunrise, they set foot for the first time since they had landed in South Africa on hostile soil. A few miles further on they passed a deserted Boer camp, and among the debris strewing the floor of a farm-house found two English Bibles.
About nine o'clock in the morning Jacobsdal was reached. In England it would be called a village, for it had only seven hundred inhabitants; but it was quite an important town in those parts.
Here a halt was called and a few hours' rest permitted. Mr. Lowry climbed into a captured Boer ambulance, and found lying on the floor of it a Dutch Reformed minister, the Rev. T.N. Fick, who had been General Cronje's chaplain, and who only the night before had joined in the general flight from Magersfontein. These two, both ministers of the Gospel, had been for two months on different sides of the famous kopje. One had been praying for the success of the Boer arms and the other for the success of the English! And yet here they lay side by side in amicable Christian converse. Strange are the ways of war!
But though the chaplains were denied the privilege of proceeding to the front with the soldiers, two Christian workers at any rate--we have not heard of more--managed to secure that privilege. By the kindness of Lord Methuen, and as a token of his appreciation of their efforts for the men, Mr. Percy Huskisson and Mr. Darroll, of the South African General Mission, were attached to the Bearer Company of the Highland Brigade. 'On Monday, February 12th, they went out, not knowing whither they were going. Their luggage was limited to changes of socks and shirts and rugs, but at the last moment they managed to get permission to take a little box of food also. At about five o'clock on Monday afternoon they entrained in open trucks, which were shared alike by officers and men; at about eleven o'clock at night they got out at Enslin, and slept on the veldt surrounded by horses, oxen, and mules. At four in the morning the whole camp was astir, and by half-past seven the entire force was on the march.'
Then followed the capture of the British convoy, consisting of some two hundred waggons, and meaning to our army the loss of about a million pounds of food. Every one was put on quarter rations, consisting of a biscuit and a half a day and half a tin of 'bully' beef. On such a food supply as this were our troops expected to perform their terrible march. Until they passed Jacobsdal they thought they were going to the relief of Kimberley, but all unknown to them General French's cavalry had already performed that feat, and the direction of their march was changed. It was theirs to follow in pursuit of Cronje instead. In one terrible twenty-four hours they marched thirty-eight miles, and on Sunday morning, February 18th, they reached Paardeberg. Thoroughly exhausted, the men flung themselves upon the ground to sleep, but after two or three hours the artillery fire roused them from their slumbers and the order came to advance. There was no time for breakfast, and from five o'clock in the morning until late at night they had to go without food.
The battle of Paardeberg is not likely to be forgotten by any of those who were engaged in it. The Boers commanded the left of the Highland Brigade, and as it advanced on level ground, and destitute of cover, it was exposed to a terrible fire.
Messrs. Huskisson and Darroll went into the firing line with the Highlanders. Men fell on all sides of them, and they had numberless chances of helping the wounded. Of course they had many hairbreadth escapes during this awful day, but they were abundantly rewarded by the privilege of straight talk and prayer with the wounded men, who were thankful indeed for such ministrations as they could offer.
[Footnote 7: The Surrounding of Cronje.]
Relief of the Wounded at Paardeberg.
We venture to quote a few paragraphs from a little booklet published by the South African General Mission, entitled The Surrounding of Cronje. It sets forth in vivid language the heroic work done by these two in the midst of the heat and fury of the battle, and Christian men in all churches will honour the brave men who fought so nobly for God in the interests of those who were fighting so nobly for their country.
'During the day, as Mr. Huskisson was helping a wounded man back to the hospital, he had a very narrow shave of being shot. The wounded man had his arm round Mr. Huskisson's neck for support, and as they were walking back to the rear a Mauser bullet shot off the tip of the man's finger, as it was resting on Mr. Huskisson's shoulder. Had there not been the weight of the man's arm to depress the body this would have resulted in a nasty wound in the shoulder. At another time the case of field glasses hanging by his side was hit by a bullet.
'Our workers could often see that they were specially aimed at by the Boers, as the moment they raised their heads a small volley of bullets would fly all around them. Sometimes they had to lie down for long periods, on account of this. At one stage of the battle, one of our men was lying down behind a tree, and a sharpshooter was perched in another tree. If even the foot was moved an inch or two beyond the tree a bullet would come with a "ping," and a little puff of dust would show how keenly every movement was watched.
Singing though Wounded.
'While helping one wounded man, Mr. Huskisson heard his name called out, and looking round, saw the face of one of the men who had been converted in our Soldiers' Home at Wynberg, some years ago. Going up to the lad he said:--
'"Are you wounded?"
'"Yes," said the man, "but praise God it is not in my head."
'A bullet had gone right through the back of his neck, and though he was bleeding profusely he was humming a chorus to himself.
'Later on a Major came up and said to Mr. Huskisson--"Do you know that lad?"
'On hearing that he did, the Major said, "He is the most chirpy man that has been in the dressing-room to-day; he was brought in singing a hymn."
'When Mr. Huskisson turned away from him, he left him still humming one of our favourite choruses; and an unconverted man was heard to say later on, "A chap coming in like that to the dressing-room does more good than anything else, as he keeps the fellows' spirits up so."
'There were, of course, many terribly sad sights--enough to make our men feel as if war could hardly ever be justifiable. One poor Highlander was lying dying, and on our men asking him if he knew God, received no answer; but on repeating the question the dying man said that he did once, but he had evidently grown cold in his love to Christ. It was such a cheer to be able to point out, that though his feelings towards God had changed, yet God's feelings and love toward him had not changed!'
Events like these differentiate this war from many other wars. They are an eloquent testimony to the force of Christianity. They disclose the power of a supreme affection towards Christ. They declare that the most toilsome duty can be transformed by love into the most blessed privilege. They show that there is no compulsion but the compulsion of love in the Christian workers' orders, so often sung,--
'Where duty calls, or danger, Be never wanting there.'
The Chaplains at Work.
And now came the chaplains' work! It is not in the firing line that war seems the most dreadful. It is when the wounded are gathered from the field, and the results of the battle are seen in all their ghastliness. And in this case the wounded could not be tended where they were. It was onward, ever onward, with our men. Only two hospitals, instead of at least ten--the number the doctors thought necessary--had been sent to the front, and the wounded must be got back to base hospitals as quickly as possible.
Back they came, a ghastly procession, in heavy, lumbersome ox-waggons, with no cover from the sun or rain. Oh! the terrible jolting; oh! the screams of agony. 'Better kill us right out,' cried the men, 'than make us endure any more!'
It is not for us to say that all this was unnecessary. It is for others to judge. You cannot conduct war in picnic fashion. The country ought to know its horrors and get its fill of them. But we will not attempt the description. Already others have done that. Suffice it to say that the baggage camp, in which were the chaplains and some of the doctors, seemed an oasis in the desert to these agonized travellers.
The day for parade services had gone by, and all days were now the same; but there was other work the chaplains could do, and this they attempted to the best of their ability.
The Rev. E.P. Lowry wrote:--
'Yesterday a long convoy arrived bearing over 700 sick and wounded men. They were brought, for the most part, over the rough roads in open waggons (captured from the Boers) from the fatal front, where days before they had been stricken more or less severely. They still had a long journey before them, and it so happened that they set out from here in the midst of a thunderstorm; but as I passed from one waggon to another I found them bearing their miseries as only brave men could. About 300 of them belonged to the unfortunate Highland Brigade. One of these had been shot through the wrist of his left hand at Magersfontein, and he was now returning shot through the wrist of his right hand. The next, said he, with gruesome playfulness, will be through the head. Corporal Evans, of the Gloucesters--one of two brothers whose name is much honoured at Aldershot--I found in the midst of this huge convoy stricken with dysentery. The Cornwalls seemed to have suffered almost as heavily in proportion as the Highlanders, and it was to me no small privilege to be permitted to speak a word of Christian solace and good cheer to men from my own county.
The Wounded Canadians.
'But I was struck most of all by the number of noble-looking Canadians among this big batch of wounded soldiers, all of them proudly glorying in being permitted to serve and suffer in the name of so great a Queen and in defence of so glorious an Empire. Among them I found Colour-Sergeant Thompson, the son of one of our American Methodist ministers, Rev. James Thompson. Resting against the inner side of a waggon-wheel was a most gentlemanly Canadian, shot through the throat, and quite unable to swallow any solids. To him, as to several others, I was privileged to carry a large cup of life-renewing milk. Lying on another waggon was a middle-aged Canadian, shot through the mouth, and apparently unable at present to swallow anything without pain; but he begged me, if possible, to buy for him some cigarettes, that he might have the solace of a smoke. But there is nothing of any kind on sale within miles of this camp. Yet the cigarette, however, was not long sought in vain; and a word of Christian greeting was made none the less welcome by the gift. Lying by this man's side was a wounded French-Canadian, who could scarcely speak in English, but had come from far to defend the Empire which claimed him also as its loyal son; and yet another sufferer told me that he had come from Vancouver, a distance of 11,000 miles, to risk, or, if needs be, to lay down his life for her who is his Queen as well as ours. As in the name of the Motherland I thanked these men for thus rallying around our common flag in the hour of peril, and tenderly urged them to be as loyal to the Christ as to their Queen, the meaning look and hearty hand-grip spoke more eloquently to me than any words. In almost every case the responsive heart was there. Of these Canadians--the first contingent--our generals speak in terms of highest praise; but already some twenty have been killed and nearly seventy severely wounded. The Dominion mourns to-day her heroic dead as we mourn ours. They sleep side by side beneath these burning sands; but thus are forged the more than golden chains which bind the hearts of a widely-sundered race to the common throne around which we all are rallying.'
The scene here depicted is one which must be imagined not once but many times during that terrible march from the Modder to Bloemfontein. It tells in simple but eloquent language how Christian kindliness tried to assuage human woe.
[Footnote 8: Methodist Times.]