A few shells came in early, and by nine o'clock there was so much firing on the north-west that I rode out to the main position of the 60th (King's Royal Rifles) on Cove Hill. I found that our field battery there was being shelled from Surprise Hill and its neighbour, but nothing unusual was happening. The men were in a rather disconsolate condition. Even where they have built a large covered shelter underground the wet comes through the roof and trickles down upon them in liquid filth. But they bear it all with ironic indifference, consoling themselves especially with the thought that they killed one Boer for certain yesterday. "The captain saw him fall."
Crossing the open valley in front I came to the long ridge called Observation Hill. There the rifle fire hardly ever ceases. It is held by three companies of the K.R.R. and the 5th Lancers dismounted. It looks out over the long valley of Bell's Spruit; that scene of the great disaster where we lost our battalions, being less than three miles away at the foot of the rugged mountain beyond—Surprise Hill. Close in front is one of the two farms called Hyde's, and there the Boers find shelter at nights and in rain. The farm's orchard, its stone walls, the rocks, and all points of cover swarm with Boer sharpshooters, and whenever our men show themselves upon the ridge the bullets fly. An immense quantity of them are lost. In all the morning's firing only one Lancer had been wounded. As I came over the edge the bullets all passed over my head, but our men have to keep behind cover if they can, and only return the fire when they are sure of a mark. I found a detachment of Lancers, with a corporal, lying behind a low stone wall. It happened to be exactly the place I had wished to find, for at one end of the wall stood the Lancer dummy, whose fame has gone through the camp. There he stood, regarding the Dutch with a calm but defiant aspect, his head and shoulders projecting about three feet over the wall. His legs were only a sack stuffed with straw, but round his straw body a beautiful khaki tunic had been buttoned, and his straw head was protected by a regulation helmet, for which a slouch hat was sometimes substituted, to give variety and versimilitude. In his right hand he grasped a huge branch of a tree, either as rifle or lance. He was withdrawn occasionally, and stuck up again in a fresh attitude. To please me the corporal crept behind him and jogged him up and down in a life-like and scornful manner. The hope was that the Boers would send a bullet through that heart of straw. In the afternoon they did in fact pierce his hat, but at the time they were keeping their ammunition for something more definitely human, like myself. As I retired, after saluting the dummy for his courage, the bullets flew again, but the sights were still too high.
On my return to the old Scot's house, I found an excited little crowd in the back garden. They were digging out an enormous shell which had plumped into the grass, taking off the Scot's hat and knocking him down with the shock as it fell. The thing had burst in the ground, and it was as good as a Chinese puzzle to fit the great chunks of iron together. At first we could not find the solid base, but we dug it out with a pick from the stiff, black clay. It had sunk 3 ft. 8 in. down from the surface, and had run 7 ft. 6 in. from the point of contact. It was a 45-pounder, thrown by a 4.7 in. gun—probably one of the four howitzers which the Boers possess, standing half-way down Lombard's Kop, about four miles away, and is identical with "Silent Susan." But with smokeless powder it is almost impossible to say where a shot comes from. "Long Tom" and "Puffing Billy," with their huge volumes of smoke, are much more satisfactory.
Rain fell heavily for the rest of the day, and the bombardment ended, but it was bitter cold.
Our despatch riders and messengers seem unable to get through now; those sent out daily 12th inst have returned. This is much to be regretted as I fear it may cause much anxiety for our safety.
Enemy very quiet this morning, and have shown up very little. 15 of their cattle were driven in this morning.
I think what myself and staff suffer most from is shortage of sleep. Constant references day and night, and the large amount of office work with such a small staff keeps us all very hard at work.
In the afternoon strong reconnaissance with all mounted troops available was made in the direction of Alexandersfontein, under command of Lt Col Scott Turner, in order to ascertain strength and position of the enemy and his guns, and also to keep him on the move. The movement was supported by the Beaconsfield Town Guard under command of Major Fraser. It would appear there is only one gun, at the work near Jacob Schotz’s farm.
Enemy fired 24 shells in all from various positions to-day. A work is evidently being made at Kampersdam.
1899 - From the diary of Trooper A J Crosby, Natal Carbineers
Just about sunrise while on watch a few shots were Fired on our piquet. I had no sooner taken cover in a cattle kraal than a bullet struck in the centre of same, about 5 yds. from where I was lying. We were then ordered to retire back among the thorns where we breakfasted. Took it easy till afternoon, when within an hour of our retirement the rain came down in a torrent giving us a thorough soaking to go home with. Relieved by N.M. Rifles.
1899 - From the letters writer by Lt Col Park in Ladysmith
No fresh news. Weather fine and the enemy fairly quiet on our side, though a good deal of firing is going on over to the West. I suppose two or three more days will bring some change in our affairs. If only it will bring a letter from you I shall be fairly happy. I do so crave to know you are well, and it is five weeks now since I heard last and seems more like six months. I hear that carrier pigeons have been sent between here and Durban, as well as runners to the relief column; so that I hope you will at least know from telegrams in the papers that we are all well. There is no news here of Sir R. Buller; but his main force must be mostly in the country now, and should soon be making itself felt. When once the general advance begins, I think the Boers will very soon give in.
1899 - From the diary of Miss Bella Craw in Ladysmith
All quiet today. Only about a dozen shells fell, and we have heard of no damage done. This is fearful, no one knows anything, living on rumour. I suppose the General and his Staff do manage to get a message through by kaffir boys, but they take good care to keep it all to themselves, for we only hear all sorts and conditions of rumours. We long for news of our friends and relations. We know they must all be very anxious about us, and if they believe and hear all the rumours that we hear, the Boers are spreading about us (we hear it from the Kaffirs) they will be in mourning for us now. They are suffering more than we are. We long for the pest and papers. Here we are cooped up not able to go further than from one end of the town to the other, and everyone you see has some fresh tale to tell. We heard yesterday that "Oom Paul" was down visiting, advising and cheering his men, that he was seen five miles from here in a silk hat, and I suppose dressed accordingly, arriving in a coach and six. Another was that General Joubert had sent in to our General for a change of clothing.We hear today too that our.reinforcements are not likely to be here for ever so long as the Artillery has not arrived yet, and they can do nothing without it. General Joubert is, they say, waiting with a large commando just on this side of Colenso, so there will be a big day there. Every man is getting tired of this long delay and inaction. They don't know what to do with themselves. This afternoon Dr. Hyslop, Dr. Buntine, Dr. Currie, Mr. Varty, Mr. Rodwell, Capt. Lucas, Capt. Foxen, Mr. Townsend and Colonel Royston all came round, some with their racquets (commandeered I am afraid from some of the deserted houses, to say nothing of the shoes) to have a game of tennis. It was very jolly and we were beginning to enjoy ourselves, when it began to rain, so we had to give up after two sets, but if it is fine tomorrow and nothing unforseen happens in this uncertain time of siege, we are going to play again tomorrow.
We hear today that we still have enough flour to last twenty days and as many biscuits, so perhaps we will be relieved by then. Mr. Crompton has lent me his fountain pen, so I feel I must go on, but can't think of any more rumours.