I apologise for being repetitious ....... Park's assessment and optimistic hope that it "is an easy country to advance over on that side, and good for cavalry and guns, so I hope that the worst of his task is over" only applied if Buller and Warren had followed the road from Acton Homes to Ladysmith. It turned out to be impossible when they tried to take short cuts over Tabannyama, and then Spioekop, followed by Vaalkrans. In each defeat the donkeys in charge had expected miracles from the lions they commanded,
1899 - Diary of the siege of Mafeking by Edward Ross
Saturday, 20 January
Late last night and early this morning until a little after daylight, heavy Maxim and rifle-firing could be heard (about 2 000 yards away) round about Major Godley’s. It was afterwards known that we had been letting rip at the enemy who were endeavouring to dig trenches close in to the town. They were eventually driven off after they had returned our fire. This is the second time they have attempted the same thing, retiring in exactly the same manner previously. B.P. to be on the safe side had the Volunteers turned out and stood to arms waiting eventualities, but the men were not required.
At 5 a.m. the enemy began sending in 5-pounders and 1-pound Maxims.
Had a bit of a narrow squeak this morning. At 5.30 having just obtained our rations, I was crossing the square on my way back, when a five-pounder came, as it appeared to me at the moment by the noise, straight for me. I immediately dropped flat on the ground, but before I touched solid, the whistling projectile passed over me harmlessly and struck some little distance beyond. Just that moment, only probably two or three seconds, seemed to be an awful long time when you are anxiously waiting for the shell to burst and wondering if one’s name and address are written on it. The big shell is even more deceiving than the small ones. At times you think and could almost swear that it passed immediately over your head, when after the burst you find that it must have gone at least 50 to 100 yards to the left or right of you. And when down in the dugouts, it is simply impossible by the sound to locate, after bursting, the place where the shell struck. Very often one hears quite heated arguments as to even the direction of the noise. Everybody has his opinion and probably at the finish we are all wrong.
Three or four shells sent right over us this morning, landing somewhere near Fort Ayr. The Boers I suppose are very much annoyed at the last named place, owing to them having to retire this morning under the fire of that fort, and are now trying their best to retaliate.
Native killed this morning just outside English church, struck by a piece of Big Ben’s shell.
Native runner in this morning from Kimberley; he is a boy originally sent down by B.P. and who in the most artful manner possible went over to the Boers at Kunana and got a pass out of them, saying his wife was ill down at the Vaal River and he wished to go and bring her up. He was searched by the Boers, but only taking verbal messages nothing of course was found on him, and his story was believed by the Boers to be true and so he managed to get through. He returned by some circuitous route, telling other different yarns. He left Kimberley on the 26th Dec. last and brings no particularly late news, nothing at all from beyond there. He states that after leaving Kimberley the next day he heard a lot of heavy firing and thinks there must have been a heavy battle going on down south. We shall not get any news of this for some considerable time.
Coolness under fire is no doubt an admirable thing, but Major Panzera takes the biscuit for callousness. I noticed him walking across the square yesterday when a piece of shell, which had burst some considerable distance away, struck the ground immediately behind him, and within two or three feet. All he did was to slew round, seemingly in his stride, swing his fly whisk at the spot on the ground where the piece hit and walk on quite unconcernedly, totally unconscious that anybody was watching him.
I hear this evening that Beasley, Standard] Bank clerk and chief clerk under martial law to B.P. has this evening been suspended at the instance of Captain Ryan. I think the "bottle” is at the bottom of the trouble. It is presumed also that he will be suspended from the bank.
From different tallies I average that up to this evening Big Ben has fired over 800 94-pound shells into our little village, besides the thousands of other deadly missiles they have hurled; it is really astonishing and almost miraculous that any of us are still alive.
The look-out at the telescope watching the big gun tells me that it is very amusing to watch every time the gun is fired. A guard of about 40 Boers march up to the gun and when the gunner is ready he holds up his hand, and then the guard run to earth as if Old Nick was after them - they seem almost as anxious and afraid of that gun as we are. It is also noticed that when some presumably high positioned individual, who rides a white horse, comes visiting their 94-pounder, we are in for a hot time. Suppose the gunners are just showing him what they can do.
Our casualties up to date from shell and rifle-fire are as follows:
Whites dead 58
Very quiet evening. No good-night shell.
Dr David Biggins
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On this day on the Upper Tugela:
- Three Tree Hill taken unopposed
- Bastion Hill taken with the loss of Major Childe
- Three Boers - Hindon, de Roos, and Slegtkamp - make their heroic stand on Platkop
- General Hart takes the spur above Fairview Farm but with the loss of 365 men.
The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.
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