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The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 6 months ago #73925

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I am much indebted to Jeremy Wright for sharing with us the letters written by his grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel Normand. This is a tremendous archive to add to the site.

S R Norman was born 29th May 1975, son of William Jane Norman and Isabel Fitzgerald. He was educated at Fettes college Edinburgh and the Royal Military Academy Woolwich. Commissioned into the Royal artillery in 1894, he was appointed Lieutenant in November 1895 and Captain in October 1900. He served in the Boer War with the Mountain Artillery and Pompoms (QSA (5) and KSA (2)).

Appointed Major in October 1914, he served with the coast and heavy and siege artillery during the Great War. Despatches; DSO 1918; Croix d’ Officer de la Couronne, Belgium; Croix de Guerre Belgium. He became acting Lieutenant Colonel in October 1917 and Lieutenant Colonel in 1921. He retired from the army in 1921.
Dr David Biggins

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The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 6 months ago #73926

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Nov 5. 1899

The Barracks
Newport
Monmouthshire

My dearest mother,

I got your welcome letter this morning with all the kind wishes and thoughts, which I will always carry with me. I am afraid that I can’t write what I would like to express, and you must simply read between the lines and interpret as I know you cannot fail to do. However, I feel pretty confident that you will have little feat as there is every chance of the “real show” being over before we arrive on the scene – and I hope that there will be a little work to do, as, to me at any rate it would be a little disappointing to get there and not be wanted. You see we can’t get out much before the middle 0f December – another month and a half. They have again delayed us some days – we don’t go to the 15 or 16 inst. – we have not yet heard what ship, but will hear tomorrow probably as the major has ben “hunting” the authorities at the war office.

I also got Sissy’s P.C for which many thanks – I was much obliged for the breeches and the puttees – only one pair of the latter came – so I suppose only one pair was sent – if the bag has not been relocked could the other pair be sent. The keys should arrive from Earls Court square tomorrow so I will readdress them.

I am sorry to give you the trouble, but it was quite unexpected for me to go out and that I should not get to Edinburgh. There is nothing else I think off; and have got all my service kit ready or being finished.

I had a very kind letter from aunt Peggy we enclosed a very nice testament. She only headed her letter Buxton so I send my answer to 15 L/T will you please forward it for me.

This reminds me but any letters for me requiring to be re addressed are forwarded without any extra charge I include uncle Hills letter sent by my father in case he wants it I have not much news at present, but in a few days will send you a description of our doing's getting the battery ready for service for the president goodbye and love to all I hope this is not suffering from that tiresome journey.

your loving son
Sam R Normand
Dr David Biggins
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The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 6 months ago #73927

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S.S. Narring December the 11th 1899
latitude 32 degrees 10’ S longitude 29 degrees15 E

9:00 AM

My dear Father and Mother,

If you glance at a map of the East Coast of South Africa you will be able to place our position from the above data we are about 150 miles South of Natal and so should get in tonight about 12 midnight but will not be able to cross the bar till 2:00 AM next day the 12th. This will give the men and animals a good night's rest. We will likely have to leave at once for Pietermaritzburg and stay there for two or three days to recoup and get the mules into condition etc. We may of course go down into E. Griqualand and or else are too Basutoland, I hope however we may be in time to take part in the relief of Ladysmith which will mark an era in the campaign. Nothing of note has taken place since we left Cape Town the weather has been perfect though we encountered a heavy swell at Cape Aquila though we had much better weather than we expected as it was generally pretty bad there.

Yesterday about 2:00 PM the wind began to drop, and it has been very warm ever since last night was quite stuffy. At present we are about 3 miles from the coast and get a very good view of the country; but we are gradually creeping in and the captain expects to close in to about a mile distant and will be we will just get some splendid scenery. At present it is not at all unlike the coast of Spain near Gibraltar hilly and in many places covered with scrub, and in other places, patches of trees. From what the papers at Cape Town said the rains have not yet begun in Natal, so we may well expected pretty wet time of it for a bit. Arrived in Durban 2:00 AM this morning went into dock about 7:00 AM. I'll still busy disembarking 12 noon will finish about 1:30 probably arrive at Petermaritzberg tonight and then march to Ladysmith to relieve it. Excuse more, am well in fit and will try to send a line from Pmaritzberg.

your loving son
Sam R Normand
Dr David Biggins
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The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74099

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1899 Cato Ridge station about 25 miles east of P.Maritzburg
12 December 1899

Owing to great hurry at Durban I could not get the other letter off there so take the opportunity of a stop at the above station to continue this missive. We started disembarking at about 9:00 AM and all the guns and stores equipment etc. And the 196 animals all had to be taken off and put into three separate trains. I was orderly officer and had a good deal to look after in one way or another but we managed to get off- the last train about 2:00 PM; at about 5:00 PM we got to Inchanga and had a good feed.

Dec 14. I could not write on the train owing to the shaking, and have had no time since to do anymore in that line. We got into P.Marizburg about 9:00 PM on the other 12 and the captain and I had a shakedown in the station well the others who arrived before us went up to pitch the camp- about a mile away and get the mules picketed out as well as possible. Yesterday we went on disembarking the remainder of the stores from the train, and after having breakfast at the station I was relieved By Adams the other shuffleton, and went up to camp. It is a very pretty place and we are about 100 to 150 feet above pmb and the country all round is very fine . I can't understand people saying that they do not see the good of mountain artillery here Tyler - our captain- who was in the Jirah business Says the country is very much the same and that this is perfect country for our branch we expect to stay here for about a week though of course we have to hold ourselves ready for any sudden move. There is a good deal of fighting only about 30 miles from here, between Escourt and Colenso at a place called Frere; At the moment however the birds are unwilling to attack escort as they would have to cross a large extent of open country, which is quite contrary to their particular tactics; Also because they have already made an unsuccessful advance.

General long opposed them, and by his doggie resistance practically saved in at all. It is said down here that he got orders to evacuate escort, and seeing that if he did so he could not hold a second line of defence further East positively and absolutely disobeyed orders and declined to budge. If the birds had once got beyond escort they would have had a fairly easy Rd to Durban and not all could have been in their hands. At the time of writing they are no doubt fighting heavily there; Though the bulk of the fighting is going on at Modder Bridge And today a general advance of the birds will be made to try and surmount the difficulty, Kimberly is now relieved, and does the two positions- Kimberly and lady Smith are very much alike in Kimberly are British, South of them are Boers near Modder bridge and South of the Boers are British. In the same way British are in Ladysmith ; South of them at Colenso are Boers, and south of Colenso at Frere Bridge are British again.

At Stormberg, Gateacre is endeavouring to relieve Cape Colony and is opposed in his march by a strong force of Boers. The 5th division commenced disembarking on the 10th ; The 6th division on its way and we hear that a 7th division is contemplated and maybe already now. We are most comfortable here, and have a standard standing camp and at present I share a tent with Kerr, but as we may stay here a week for things develop we are applying for more tents for men and officers and will likely have one each. When we get a bit settled down I'm going to try and take a few photos and we'll either get them developed here or send them straight home please ask lizards the optician and sandwich place to send out three or rolls eEastman or Blais sensitive films ( quarter plate for the Eastman roll holder) address I have already notified.

I think I had better close this and send it to the post as the Mail will likely leave today or tomorrow. No further news with much love to all.

I am your ever loving son

Sam R Normand
Dr David Biggins
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The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74100

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P.M.Burg
Dec 20 1899
Natal

My dear father and mother

we were all very glad to get a big Mail last night. It was really two mails, as they sent the first one up to Escourt, thinking we were there, and they had to be sent back, And by the time they got back, a second one had arrived. 2 letters from home fathers and mothers both dated 24th November for which Many thanks, and a good deal of rubbish. We also got our newspapers. By the way you should try and get the Daily Mail of the 17th November which has a flowery account of our dis embarkation I believe the times also has an article. Don't believe the absurd and ignorant remarks about our gun especially when they insist on calling it a 7 pound. This is a particular delusion, but a dangerous one as the 7 pound mountain gun is “a different kind of bird” entirely . House is the best mountain gun in existence. A new one- a breech loader- is not being experimented with but is not yet a successful stop Moreover it is an 8 pounder and its proper name is the 2.5 inch R.M.L. or as Rudyard Kipling calls it the screw gun.

We got an urgent letter from the office yesterday asking if we were ready to go up to the front, so we may be off now at anytime, to Estcourt -The will probably not take a very violent part in the show as our guns do not “throw heavy metal”, And we are not much use above 3500 yards range. It is however a very healthy place 1600 feet above this And about 4000 feet above the sea it will be a good deal cooler. Not that we can complain now as on Monday afternoon we had a most magnificent thunderstorm, which cleared the air and it really now feels cold though generally about 75 in the shade. I was returning with the whole battery from taking the mules to water and about halfway back, we were regularly enveloped in a dust storm . We struggled on as best we could through the cloud baccata camp, and I found I had left a whole section behind . They turned up about 10 minutes afterwards as they were unable to see where they were going. The wind kept on and blew away all the available dust , and so we went on with “stables”. We had just a time to blanket up and put down the feeds when on came the rain- with a big R.
the lightning was magnificent and there seemed to be five or six different storms going on at the same time. This lasted for about 2 hours, till about 7:00 PM and then cleared off as rapidly as it came I've had a little more heavy rain during the night but no more Thunder. All yesterday was cloudy and much of today though we have had about 3 hours strong son; But it feels so Jolly and cool. You have no doubt better news than we have here of the last fight at Tugela River Although you are about 120 times further off than we are. We have, I regret to say absolutely No idea of the Boer losses . The most extraordinary part of it is that none of our side can describe what about fighting man is like. They are never seen! Their position on the Heights above the Tugela River appeared to be almost impregnable. The whole action- from all accounts seems to have been one big mistake. It should have been, and I believe was intended to be merely a reconnaissance in force to try and make the enemy disclose their position, And so we might find their strong and weak places but a number of the regiments who are there being all frightfully keen and all mad to take part moved off and one regiment in particular had been ordered three times to or retire. There was no development of the attack, and his method of advance was almost suicidal. They advanced in column instead of being opened out and in skirmishing order, straight at the enemy's position in three places; Without really knowing the position of the enemies trenches the result was that the 56 battery of 7th artillery marching along at ease with pipes in their mouths suddenly found themselves in a hail of bullets from guns and rifles only about 1000 yard distant. they came into action at once and did some splendid work- they filed all their ammunition and lost about half their men. One single man managed to keep up a supply of ammunition for the whole 6 guns. The officers were all lost killed and wounded and the battery Was led out of action by a Corporal - the Sergeant major was killed in the first 5 minutes. All of the men did splendid work and two guns were recaptured. Colonel long - who as I have already written you saved that all by refusing to leave Eastcourt, Is likely to bear most of the brunt of this disaster, though there is little doubt that the higher men were the real offenders, I mean bulla himself - Clery and his staff officer ; though they will try and put most of the blame on poor Long. If he- the latter- had only been properly supported by infantry - and had the position been properly scouted the attack properly developed this would never have happened. These are of course only impressions based on the news we receive from the front, but we have all discussed the engagement freely with a couple or more of those who actually took part in the affair. The position is extraordinary strong naturally so and has of course been so artificially strengthened that it is practically impregnable . Only one plan would have been likely to succeed, and that is to have sent off after battle in the dark all available multi troops of which we have not nearly enough around to the left West to try and get to a place called Springfield about halfway to Ladysmith. If we could have got that position before the Boers awoke to our plan and anticipated has lady Smith would have been relieved by now. The Boer tactics are quite unique . Although they are almost devoid of any discipline whatever, and literally each man fights entirely pro. se- Yet they work together that they appear to be absolutely under control. They have thrown up on their positions absolutely invisible trench work, they remain hidden till their enemy get within about 800 or 1000 yards, and often less and then open far . If driven back they run like mad for their ponies - everyone is mounted- which is about half a mile behind and gave off to a new position we never got a chance of a charge and bayonet work at close quarters a method of fighting the Boers has no stomach for. Unfortunately our troops could never fight like the boers they are not trained to independent fighting, and would lose all touch with each other.

The other night I met a fellow in the Imperial light horse Maclaglan by name Who knows Pat well - the latter being now shut up in Ladysmith.

P.M.Burg Is not a very interesting place ; And as we are over a mile from the town we do not see very much of it except when we go down to dine in the evening . It is also a good deal hotter than in the camp which is about 100 feet higher. I forgot to tell you that the day before the thunderstorm we had it 120 in the shade! Estcourt however will be much cooler and pleasanter.
Tonight- Thursday at 21st December we were informed that we should March there - Estcourt On Saturday - 23rd inst- this is about 75 miles or about 5 1/2 days March. It will be ever so much pleasanter than the train, and we will see a good deal of very interesting country. It is of course just possible that this may be a Bluff and that we may nip into Basutoland, which will be still better; my reason for this opinion being that we are too march; Instead of going by the simpler and more expeditious method of railway travel; But you will know in a week’s time if I can catch the next Mail - though I expect you hear of movements in the London papers long before you receive this letter. In case I do not have a chance of writing anymore this Mail which leaves on Saturday at 3:00 PM the day we March I will close now as tomorrow we go a short route March of about 6 miles towards Horwick (NNW 12 miles) And will be pretty busy the rest of the day packing up etc. the ink in my stylo is now giving out . I include the receipt for the last packet from Mackenzie and a Logan and return Patch letter. By the way please keep my letters for me as I would like to have them.

December 22nd we leave at 6:30 AM tomorrow to start on our March 2 escort, everything is now pretty well packed up. I took my section out about four miles at this morning, and everything went satisfactorily- except the first trumpeter who is rather a poor horseman and not much of a leaper over water . I was trying to get up a Hill called the “Buffs Puzzle” At that requirement took two days getting to the top! There is only one road and that is pretty rough; As we were only allowed to be out about an hour and a half I could not get very far, but came back by the botanical gardens, which we skirted. It is a lovely place and we benefited by being under the shade of the trees and followed a most beautiful glade through the wood. The weather is cooler now, as the sun is occasionally obscured with passing a clouds and we should have a pretty pleasant March , as we are seldom on the move after about 10:30 AM marching in the cool of the day. There is report that there was a bigoted attack today by the buzz on lady Smith but that it was repulsed I'm also glad to hear with reference to our scouting, that it is splendidly done but that our Chiefs pay little attention to the scout reports. By this time they have now doubt learned a salutary lesson - though with loss to our troops- I hope this may not be true- one is always hearing curious reports, and generally contradictory for! I must now close with much love to all this hope. I will keep up correspondence as well as I can and catch a weekly Mail, but you must not get anxious if you do not hear even for three or four weeks because we may get into Basutoland or E. Griqualand and often get no chance of sending a letter- it will be all the longer when it comes.

hope all are well at home

I am your loving son
Sam R Normand
Dr David Biggins
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The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74101

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Estcourt
Natal
Dec 30th. 1899

My dear father and mother this afternoon the very welcome parcel arrived, containing 3 boxes of cigarettes- the socks and the comforter; All first class and it is most kindly with all to think of them. I forgot where I left off in my last, but I think it was on the afternoon of the day we arrived here; And that the rain had begun. That was yesterday but we get so quickly settled down that it really seems as if we had been here for two or three days. The rain continued heavily on till about 11 at night under then stopped. I had rather an experience 2 early this morning about 3:30 AM or four in the early hours I was suddenly awakened by a loud or report a heavy blow on my leg and the tent falling in on me and the bed broken under me. I hobbled out as quickly as I could and shouted to Ken who was showing the tent wondering if the Boer artillery had sent a reminder into our midst show but saw no sign of any alarm or excitement. This little better fun was caused by a horse, belonging to the field battery 78th .Encamped next to us, being of an enquiring turn of mind, who had broken loose and tripping over the tent ropes fell onto the tent near the foot of my bed . Being only a field artillery horse and not well schooled in courtesy he departed without even murmuring an apology- I did the murmuring and cooled myself by driving in the tent pegs again in the rain the bed is now mended, but has now no right to be called a folding one As it refuses to fold; The ironwork having assumed the most beautiful curves; and is the most beautiful specimen of twisted ironwork. Really horses are so careless. Try and get a copy of the army and Navy illustrated of the 11th of November it contains a photo of the captured 10th.MB and also some very good photos of mules carrying the four chief portions of the gun. Besides these four there is another carrying the axle and a couple of small store boxes two others with ammunition boxes complete the “first line” ; the “2nd line” Is a relief align with similar saddles to relieve the first line at three barebacked mules to make good any casualties. Thus each of the six subdivisions in a battery consists of 21 mules. Including the transport mules which draw the waggons we have 177 mules.

Sir Charles Warren is here and intends that officers kit shall be only one blanket and one waterproof sheet but as it was a bit wet last night he thinks of taking a few tents. Mounted officers will score as they can carry in wallets an extra pair of boots socks and a shirt or the equivalent in bulk. All officers will need swords behind; And they dress is to be assimilated as near as possible to that of the men sergeants and other NCOs to wear badges of rank on the shoulder straps, instead of on their arms, and the mounted officers will as far as possible copy the dress of the men in the cavalry. The Boers have such a nasty trick of picking off officers.

We are also allowing all metal work - buttons- Spurs- sword hilt and scabbard etc. to get dull.

Sunday 31st. dec.
A big church parade for all arms was held today and in the afternoon I went with Adams up to one of the neighbouring Hills about 2 miles off and had a splendid view of the portion of the country now the centre of interest to us namely Frere Chieveley and the Boer positions on the other side of the River Tugela. Though the air was not particularly clear for this country, it was really wonderfully distinct, and at a distance of about 25 miles I could see it with the naked eye, the single tent which contains the detachment who worked the famous Long Tom or Bo a 4.7 inch gun. The Boer camp Was not so distinct as it was in the shadow but Frere and Chieveley camps were easily seen from our side, though probably concealed from the Boers. I took a couple of pencil sketches of the positions and if I'm allowed to send them will try and get them into one of the papers, if not I will send them to you. We all of course too far off to see the real configuration of the ground .

Jan 3rd.
Nothing of any note has taken place since the 31st. ult. On the 2nd. I again went up to view the position; This time the whole battery went up and we showed the general position to the men who were greatly interested. This morning about 11:30 AM our old Newport friends ; Some of the Welsh Fusiliers came down from Chieveley camp - 14 miles or more up the line and gave me a good deal of information about the position in detail. It is quite true That our staff and presumably its generals took no notice of the information given by the scouts. One of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers saw part of the report in writing, that this particular position - I refer to the Boer’s position across the Tugela River Was strongly entrenched and occupied by- at any rate- 5000 Boers and 4 guns. Yet our advance was made in “massed quarter columns” ( a dense formation) And that the commanding officers of regiments and batteries were unaware that there were any enemy anywhere near. It is impossible to get any idea of our probable moves, but this position is realised to be so absolutely impregnable, that it is unlikely a second attempt will be made to dislodge the enemy. It would mean the probable loss of nearly 3000 men. The position is a series of intrenchments , tier upon tier; each one strongly fought fortified and loopholed. In many places the ground is tunnelled out and loop hold through and on such an enormous scale that horses and waggons can go in and remain comfortably undercover . If we managed to take the first position we would only find that the Boers had got a 2nd and a 3rd and even a 4th position. Similar to the others , and so strong that we would probably be driven out of the first. These positions are also flanked on both sides by artillery positions, and a fairly heavy guns mounted there. The plan of operations - though of course nothing is known- except by the chief movers , and “they weren't split on a pal”- Will probably be to leave the position alone. For obvious reasons I cannot say more- especially as two of Kerr's letters have been opened before a delivery! We have a fair idea of what the probable plans will be, but even though there are not divulged in any way to us , there are few alternatives at the present situation unfortunately our own little gun has been greatly discredited of late, and it received a great blow - almost is deathblow- in this country by the fact that the Natal Field artillery are armed with our mountain gun. That is to say they have put our gun on two wheels - horsed it- and called it field artillery; result was this:- at the engagement at Elandlaagte They were ordered to take up a position which they did and the Boers opened fire on them at 5000/6000 Yard range- now our mountain gun is of little use beyond 3000/3500 yards And a so the Natal Field Artillery were completely outclassed. The whole mistake being, then making them field artillery. You might just as well put a field gun on a big carriage and called it a “siege gun”. Our role is not mobility or long range or heavy metal; but our whole raison d'etre Is that we can go where wield artillery - filled in horse- cannot go - ie into almost inaccessible artillery positions, and attack infantry as ranges outside their maximum distance (say 2000 – 2500 yards). As our old friend Rudyard Kipling puts it …………..

“Sometimes we go where the roads are but mostly we goes where they aint.we can climb up the pole of a sign board and hang on by the stick of the paint “……………

CHO
For you all love the screw guns . The screw guns they all love you so when we come along with a few guns of course you know what to do. Just sending your Chiefs and surrender . It's worth if you fight or you runs you may go where you please you may shin up the trees but you can't get away from the guns.”

Our rate of March is about four miles an hour, and we can do longer distances than infantry as the mules carry the men's coats etc. and we do not carry a rifle ammunition as our drivers are armed with swords, so we March lighter, and the mules can go over any country that a foot soldier can.

Jan 5th.
Nothing of any note happened yesterday. It was a bit dull though no rain, and as we heard firing Colenso way Ker and I and the doctor walked up to our point of vantage about 2 miles off to see if we could see anything of it; But the atmosphere was too misty.

The 19th and 28th Field battery arrived yesterday, Of whose officers we know and bits of the siege train also keep passing along behind my tent - which is next to the railway - on the way to the front as you see I include two sketches of the position I spoke of above will you try and get them into some of the papers for me? I will send more as things turn up- and would have sent you a sketch of Estcourt - Better I flatter myself then those I have seen in the papers!- but as the post goes out in an hour I will have to put it off till next Mail. I got father's later this morning (of 5th December) But our proper Mail is still a weak- nearly- inner ear. Please excuse more I have no time for further news or chatter.
much love to all

I am your loving son
Sam R Normand
Dr David Biggins

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