The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74125
1 mile north of Colenso
Foot of Grobelars Kop
March 12 1900
My dear father and mother
We have been hoping for the last few days for a while from O.F.S. to join Robert’s force, but instead we left Chievely this morning at 6:30 AM for Colenso on our way to Ladysmith which is another 14 miles further on . We halted here to break the March (of about 22 miles) and I have given a rather long address at the top of this page. “Fort Wyley” would have been shorter and more accurate. About 200 yards away is the main wagonroad to Ladysmith and across it and parallel to the River runs a long trench about 600 to 800 yards long . This was the trench from which the Boers did such damage on the 15th December. Further North I have not been on this road so I'm glad we are to go by it tomorrow and see some more of their trenches. There was a “shave” last night that Buller had got a wire from “Bobs” that he had the whole force in the hollow of his hand-about 14,000 of them! But no corroboration in this morning’s paper. If it is true I expect it will break the back of the war. We start tomorrow at 5:15 AM and hope for breakfast, so should get in -going quietly- about noon .
The March was a good deal longer than was expected about 21 miles we halted after 8 miles and had breakfast. The trenches were most interesting and I do not think Buller even if he had forced the Tugela and cleared Fort Wyley could have done anything there with less than 20-25,000 men.
Spion Kop – with artillery- most people think would have been quite successful – though with heavy loss.
Vaal Kraantz – though possible with the troops then at his disposal could only have been kept open with very heavy loss.
Our successful attack - via Huzzar Hill – Hlanwangi & Pieters Hill, I do not think would have been possible with the troops we had in December they're much more likely than Colenso!
That disaster was certainly due to absolute want of knowledge either of the Boer strength or of his disposition - even of his advanced trenches.
We crossed the Klip River flowing through Ladysmith at noon yesterday, and marched about 3 miles outside to a place called Observation Hill, where we are likely to be ensconce for another week. I'm going out with Ker to have a look at the Boer positions, but at present the weather is a little unsettled and looks like heavy rain . I'm still trying to get my camera up, the box in which I thought it would was come but the camera must be in another one it is very annoying.
By the way the major saw in Durban where he was for a couple of days , a few days ago some excellent photos of four MB. In action in Schwarz Kopf and on the Hlangwani on the 27th of February. We have sent for a copy of each about 7 in all and I will send copies home. If you or anyone should care for more I will order them for you . If you have not yet sent off my serge patrol jacket please send both of them I think both are in the second drawer from the bottom of the chest of drawers which is being sent from Newport . Father has the key.
I had to rewrite this sheet, as before I had time to get things cleared away in five minutes we were sitting in a veritable bog and nearly everything soaked through.
Ker and I We're waiting for the slight rain to clear away when we heard a noise like a train in the Valley. It was a subdued roar,. Like a flash as the raw increased it struck it that the noise was the rattle of hail stones on the tin roofs of the town 3 miles away. Before we could get the tent closed and our bedding and newly washed clothes covered up with waterproof sheets etc. the storm was on us with a shout. The hail stones beat and battered against our tent and now and then made holes and came through! Whenever one of them struck the tent and there were many of them an inch and a quarter in diameter a little shower water sprayed through. In 10 minutes, the whole ground was about four inches deep in hail stones the drain round the tent was clogged with them and refused to work, so the water poured into the tent and dripped through into everything and all was chaos. When the sun came out for three seconds chuckled with delight at the mischief and vanished again, and down came the rain. However we did not mind that we were now needed we were used to wetness; so putting on clammy waterproofs over our soaking clothes rather used his process we shimed out to see the damage half of the mules and eight horses stampeded in one horse belonging to the next battery killed. Several of the horses are not found yet mine among the number however I daresay they will turn up. We had splendid news yesterday of Lord or Roberts his advanced cavalry appeared to have been on the 12th (Sunday) 15 miles only distance from Blomfontein. If you remember Steyn at the beginning of the war – probably little dreaming that such a thing could happen, said that if got within 5 miles of B’fontein he would throw down arms.
I think it's quite likely that our next news will be of something in the nature of a surrender, as the Transvaal as forming part of the same force are apparently busy. Looting the Free States cattle - just like them!
I really pity the O.F.S. How sadly they have been deceived.
The Postal arrangements are disgracefully bad here- and we have been at other places lately - unless arrived here the same day as we did- 2 days ago- we sent down yesterday twice, giving them over 30 hours, and we have not got them yet . This is rather annoying, as the mail these here today at noon, so I will not likely have a chance of replying to any of yours till next week. We are not going to use our smoking guns anymore this war but stand a good chance of being temporarily rearmed with a 12 1/2 pounder smokeless gun which is that used in the Egyptian batteries . If they do not arrive in time for the Biggarsberg fight.
We are I believe to takeover the naval long 12 1/2 pounder which have done such good work hitherto. Hope we get our own 12 and a half pounder in time as it would be a very disheartening thing to lose our individuality as mountain batteries- I fear Esprit de corps would suffer a great deal- and has done so far especially among the men who are getting disgusted with a gun that shows up his position and obscures the view every time it fires. Today is beautifully cool but we hope for a little sun to dry our clothes and the camp which is a regular bog at present. We have all been particularly plead with the dignity and force of Lord Salisbury's reply to the communication from Kruger and Stein dated the 5th of March.
The letter is a monument of Boer sliminess.
I must now close, as we shall soon have to send letters down to the post. We are all fit and enjoying a rest, but are likely to move on to Elaandslaagte in a week or so . I think I told you I met Pat, looking very well in fit despite his meagre fare of track ox and chevril he has gone to Hilton Rd
much loved all I am your loving son
Sam R Normand
Dr David Biggins
The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74126
22. March 1900
My dear father and mother
We are still in the same camp as when I wrote last mail, and are now busy training our mules to draught work as we will almost certainly take over 6 naval guns 12 ½ pnd. as I think I mentioned in my last. We hope of course, so as to preserve our identity as mountain gunner's to get the 12 and a half pounder mountain gun, which fires are the same way to show but owing to the size of the gun, the range is considerably less it is however a mountain gun in the true sense of the word, and fires powder that is practically smokeless. The town is quickly resuming its normal appearance, and as the first train from Durban pass through from there to Elandslaagte at 7:00 a.m. yesterday the tradesmen should soon be able to have their shops for everything going swimmingly. The weather of late has been much cooler but the sun today is again terribly hot. That is the worst of this climate; the change of temperature are often very great but the heat is generally a dry one it is not trying except between 11 and three in the sun, and then it really is hot, and the glare very trying to the eyes. The English mail which arrived the same day that I posted my last and the same thing is likely to happen to this mail too - contained in addition to three letters from Bette and yourselves a copy of the Sphere and the Evening Dispatch for which very many thanks . it was very sad to hear about Frederick Tait and today we hear of the death of General Lockhart. I wonder who will succeed him people talk of Locke. I've been around the “show part” of the Ladysmith defences; that position of the defence is allotted to Colonel Knox RA they are really magnificent, and will I hope be carefully preserved.
The trenches and gun pits are splendidly chosen as to position and command and generally consist of parapets of stone about four feet to six feet high, and in many cases nearly 12 feet thick, surmounted with sandbags filled with earth and loop holes for the men to fire through and get head cover. One of our trenches on the Helpmakaer Rd is so deep, that riding along it and bending down one was quite undercover! How you must be “rolling in statistics” over the good news on all sides. The capture of Cronje – Relief of Ladysmith - and the taking of Blomfontein, all in about 3 weeks. Unfortunately the Boers on this side were not followed up at all- as undoubtedly they should have been, and of course are now busy entrenching themselves on the Biggarsberg. There is a good map you can get at Menzies for 2/6 “The Biggarsberg and Natal North of the parallel of Ladysmith” It is the one issued to us and is drawn on the scale of four miles to an inch. Still I hope that by the time this reaches you Natal will be quite free from the enemy, and that the combined forces will be on their way up to Pretoria. Bobs will, no doubt find some easy way round the Kronsdadt! And I daresay Buller of a short cut to flank Dundee. The parcel post here at present is simply disgraceful. Two parcels were sent to me from Maritzburg on the 22nd and 24th of February and neither have yet reached me over three weeks. 22nd of March Mail just off no fresh news.
much love to all
ever your loving son
Sam R. Normand
Dr David Biggins
The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74127
March 30. 1900
My dear father and mother
I have again to acknowledge more presents! Cigarettes from father to make me thirsty - tabloids from Bette to releave the thirst so that I go on smoking more cigarettes etc. etc . I also got a parcel from Gerry and a letter which suffered from a too close intimacy with a broken bottle of “healing” balm which she was good enough to send.
I am glad I have never yet found the want of it .The socks from Sis were also most welcome.
News is of the scantest we have none of any value. There have been many “shaves” about our friends. the enemy leaving the Biggarsberg and preparing to trek through the Revano pass.
The latter part of the news I am inclined to believe- getting their waggons and the greater part of their heavy stores out of the way; but I think they will hold on to the Biggarsberg until threatened by Buller on one side and Roberts on the other, and will probably blow up the Waggon Rd after them to try and prevent our joining hands. I am glad to hear that the Elandslaagte Coal mines are to start work almost immediately. The Boers tried to blow them up but were only partly successful. Today brings me a telegram announcing the death of Joubert. He will be a great loss; And will be so to us as well has no doubt his counsels and conduct were always considerably more temperate than that of Botha or Cronje or de Wet and Oliver. The combined working of the enemies forces will not be now so well conducted, as he was the “commander in chief” . They may be tempted to act more independently. We have practically no news from the other side- at least since the 17th or nearly a fortnight ago; but the telegrams from Maseru (Basutoland) tend to show that the Oliver commando with about 800 waggons have not moved quickly enough to avoid contact with a force trying to cut them off north of Mabanchu and Ladybrand, (presumably French’s cavalry and Horse artillery), or another force of cavalry under Col. Pilcher moving up to catch their rear. Yesterday in fact we heard that Colonel Pilcher had entered Ladybrand but was later driven out of it; but firing heard in the direction of Clocolane seems to point out that French is probably harassing their retreat northwards in the direction of Senekal.
It would be a good piece of work to hear of their capture! Here like Brer Rabbit we still lie low and say “nuffin” but it is tiresome work and we're all getting disgracefully fat.
On Tuesday we made a little party of four of ourselves and a Major Manifold of the 19th field battery to the famous Nicholson’s Neck about 6 miles or more from here it was a pleasant and interesting ride and we had a splendid view of the surrounding country including the Hills of Lombard Kop, a and Bulwana of Ladysmith fame and of Aasvogel’s Kop a rugged sheer precipice which was on our right flank at the battle of Pieters Hill . The three companies of Garrison Artillery are now alongside us. I have at last managed to get my camera up from Maritzburg and have made arrangements with Gerry and Lizzars too send any good photos to black and white.
I hope you are all enjoying England and that the change has done mother real good. I was awfully to sorry to hear she was suffering but no doubt the warm weather now coming on has put everything right. Gardez vous bien ma mere.
Much love to all and Many thanks again for the presents. (If anybody feels that they must send a parcel may I bring your notice to the awful fact that chocolate is quite UN obtainable in the colony! at present).
ever your loving son
Sam R Normand
PS I enclose for Sis some Natal stamps a set, I can’t get 2 r, 21/2 r or the 2/-but am trying
Dr David Biggins
The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74128
1st April 1900
My dear Father and Mother
I am very nearly missing the mail again. The convoy left Vryheid 2:00 PM yesterday and got here last night late, and is now all across the drift and on its way to De Jagers. I was not expected to leave Vryheid till today.
I dare say you remember how all my photos went bad last time when I was out in South Africa? Well, I am still followed by bad luck. I sent all films as soon as they were exposed to a chemist in Ladysmith to develop and he was to keep them for me until I got to safer quarters. This was when I was at Nelspruit. But when I got here I wrote to him to send them all to me; which he did, but they all went down in the point accident at the drift I wrote about last mail - about seven or eight dozen films and I cannot get them replaced, as no copies were ever taken of them! All my Ladysmith pictures, and the journey from there to Nelspruit, and all of the different scenes on the way. Rather sickening isn't it?
I'm afraid there is little more news since I wrote last. We had a little excitement about 3 days ago. All the mounted infantry, 2 field guns and one company of the Lancs. went off to clear five or six farms near here, and so Johnny Boer thought that he would come and worry us.
You see they (the column) All available waggons to bring back the Boer families and their goods and chattels in so it looked as if a big column had gone out and it also left the father point of the Hill with only two tents on it.
It is a double Hill, as shown, my guns being with the big camp on the left.
“Brother” Boer, About four of them, came from the northwest as shown by the arrow, and wounded one man in the leg slightly, and the next morning we found one of their horses dead - a mans riding whip and his boot , so much have given them a bit of a scare. This was about 9:00 PM. And misty so we did not see them till quite close to the sentries. It only lasted about half a minute! Babington seems to have given De Wet rather a knock, And French has managed to collect a good deal of stock on his little trek. General Hildegard only gives about one more month to the completion of the war, and many with him are also pretty hopeful. Later news reports De Wet near Standerton and in a very bad way.
You will by now have got my mails from Doornberg and so will have been able to place me fairly near most of the later operations this side.
I got mothers welcome letter of the 21st ult. In which you say you are likely to go to time early in March, so I picture you there now and hope you having good weather. Here it is splendid- except for a bad hail and Thunder storm which we had on Friday it blew several tents flat! Please remember me to Nellie when you see her again or right for of course you have now left Edinburgh . I hope sis is well and that you will all have a good time abroad.
with much love to all
I am ever your loving son
Sam R Normand
Dr David Biggins
The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74129
My dear father and mother
I have just recollected that the Mail goes this afternoon and as I am going out to lunch you must excuse only a few lines. As nothing was going on at Ladysmith I came down to Durban - Primarily to see the dentist and also to get a few “things”.
Our old captain- Patch- of the battery is also here .it is much cooler at Durban by day nights are warm and damp. I have got some splendid photos here and will probably Mail them to you in next week please excuse more
all well here
with much love your ever loving son
Sam are normand
P.S I suppose your letters await me at Ladysmith
Dr David Biggins
The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74130
April 10 1900
My dear Father & Mother,
I wrote a very hasty letter from Durban on Saturday morning why I had gone primarily to see a dentist and also for a bit of a change. I only had five days however two of which was spent in travelling and managed to put in a very pleasant time chiefly occupied and shopping and looking at photographs. I have got some 30 or more very interesting photos - notably a set of seven views showing I've been serially to- 7 different periods of the final attack at Pieters Hill from the massing of the troops along the River to the final assault on the trenches. Those I selected from were specimen copies which I could not take away, but fresh ones are to be sent to me soon, and when they arrive and they have been duly admired and thumbed I will post them to you! I left Ladysmith at 9:30 AM on Wednesday morning, and the first part of the journey was very interesting - passing as it did through the very Hills that we had that last and successfully attacked , and through country we knew almost every inch of. Crossing the Klip River near Ladysmith itself we went along the open valley toward Intombi where the hospital was. It is of course now or removed, but a graveyard now marks the place which it was. About a quarter mile further on leaving Umbulwana (or Bulwan) Hill on the left and Wagon Hill and Caesars camp on our right, the railway followed the course of the river, we went slowly past the dam – now called “Botha’s folly” – by which the Boers had intended to flood out the hospital and part of the town.
It is a wonderful piece of work- as work- but do not require very much skill about it. Hundreds and hundreds of sandbags were piled up in the riverbed, in a place where the River was narrow , and the banks steep and high. The erection was about 20 to 25 feet high and- I suppose- about 30 yards or more across from bank to bank. Further down was the place where the kaffirs filled the bags ready to put on trolleys and run them along the rail to be put on the dam. There were hundreds of full bags there ready and hundreds of empty ones waiting to be filled; And close by the remains of a regular Kaffir camp for of course the dam- like the Boer trenches was almost entirely Kaffir work.
Soon we emerged from the hills and entered the open country between Pieters and Bulwana, where (at Netthorpe or near it) the Boers opposing Buller had their big Laager.
After crossing this, the railway now passes through the Hills forming the Boer line of defence against Buller, and going between what are now called railway Hill and Pieters hill, the train runs along the north bank (right) of the Tugela – passing close to the waterfalls and the Boer foot bridge below Hlangwani, and so round into Colenso leaning Fort Wylie on the left. This I am sure will be a terrible terrible place for tourist etc after the war! After leaving Colenso there is very little of interest except the broken bridge at Frere, which is now well on being repaired. I have a good photo of this in its most interesting a condition. Soon one comes into some very beautiful parts of the country- notably about Howick and Eastcourt – splendid- trees – pines etc. and beautiful grass – standing often three and four feet high- course in comparison to home grass but splendid for horses- especially those bread out here- as it does not make them soft like grass at home does.
P.Maritzburg we reached 4 or 4.30 pm and reached Durban 8.45 pm after a good dinner en route at Inchanya.
I had fortunately engaged a room at the Royal, as Durban is very full at present. As I was getting out of the rickshaw I met Patch our former captain and we have arranged to breakfast the next morning after a visit to the swimming baths. Alas for good intentions! I went to bed early like a good boy about 9:30, and owing to a severe attack of ‘B flats’ and did not get to sleep to well on for 3 in the morning. I caught eight of them! First class hotel! The result was I woke up about 8 in a fearful state of temper, and I well discomfort! However I joined Patch after breakfast, and managed to get a room at the Marine, which the less pretentious- is really more comfortable- airy- and distinctly cleaner!
We then went out shopping and strolled around hunting for photographs etc.
In the evening (Thursday 5th.) we happened to pass the town Hall and saw there was a crowd outside and evidently “something on” inside we went to investigate it was pretty hard work getting in, and the atmosphere was stifling- The “show’was a lecture given free to refugees etc. and Uitlanders Driven from their towns , illustrated by limelight photographic views of incidents during the war, and what we could see of it was very good. The next day Friday still found it full of shopping and we also went down to the docks to see about some boxes that were supposed to have arrived for Patch. In the evening we dined with a captain Prescott-Decie who was down on sick leave also a Subaltern Hemming in the 73 Field Battery, who that afternoon went to hospital with enteric but as he's been inoculated you will only likely have it very mildly. Next day was Saturday - so we finished our shopping- ordered eggs and vegetables etc to meet us at the train. I got a dozen eggs at three and nine pence they pay 6/- a dozen in Ladysmith.
We went out to lunch with a Colonel Barton A.O.D at the Oceon View Hotel in the Benea. The Benea Is a very beautiful suburb situated on a lovely wooded Hill and commands a splendid view of the Bay and town post office after lunch we strolled down to the racecourse and saw the April races which were very good, and we both came off successfully in the betting (of a mild type!).
Sunday morning we were busy at the docks trying to get some parcels out of the sheds for a fellow in Ladysmith, but after a lot of trouble we were unsuccessful . We then got back to lunch which we had at the Royal with a man Watson a surveyor and a bit of an engineer who was going next day to East Africa. He was pretty reticent about his plans and destination but I fancy his business leads him Abyssinia way. Our train left that afternoon at 6:00 PM allowing 20 minutes for dinner at 9:00 PM at Inchanga and we got back to Ladysmith at 5:30 AM.
Bad news from the other side. A small force of Gatacre – 3 Companies of the 60th. Were surrounded, and being short of ammunition and water, had to surrender. It appears also that Robert’s are in a bad way for forage and water supply that has been cut off from Blomfontein. I arrived in camp to find that Ken was in hospital, and that Adams the other Subaltern was also sick. The mail was waiting for me and letter from father and one from mother, and papers from the former and Belle (Black and White) for which very many thanks.
This morning we woke up to hear heavy gunfire in direction of Elandslaagte and have got orders to be ready to turnout at a moments notice. The report have been greatly exaggerated the Boers, it appears, have been known to have been mounting guns on Jonono’s Kop – a high hill above Elandslaagte. They fired a few shells at the station but were quickly put out of action by the 12 pounders. I forgot to mention that the 1st box of clothing etc. for the battery arrived in camp on Monday ( yesterday). The present are really splendid and everything is of such good quality. We also hear that the other boxes are closely hunting us , and we should soon be opening a second lot. It is really most kind of everybody and the men are most grateful for all your kind thoughts and trouble. The distribution is most Kathy made so that each man gets his share and usually what he wants!
Wednesday April 11th.
This morning an orderly came with orders for all troops to stand to arms at 5:30 AM he came at 2:30. The reason was that Warren had heard- from a very unreliable source- that an attack was expected. However it never came as we had sent away about 50 men and a number of mules consequent on our taking over the naval 12 pounders we had this morning as we have again taken back our own mountain guns the redistribution of the battery as a four gun battery. The news from Roberts is still bad it now seems certain that the free Staters and others who were (nominally) disarmed and sent back to their farms are rising in his rear. No doubt he strongly suspected this, as practically nothing but old pattern rifles were handed in - hardly any Mausers! The latter and the ammunition we're in no doubt buried. They have now proved themselves deserving of no lenience whatever.
Friday April 13th.
On Thursday I posted a letter to Gerry and one to Lizzars the photographers about some films, but unluckily missed posting this; as we are suddenly get got orders to march. We left at 5:45 PM for Petworth's farm about 6 or 7 miles north of Ladysmith under a mounted escort and was handed over to an escort consisting of a company of the Liverpool second battalion regiment under Captain Hislop an Edinburgh man . We stopped at the farm for about 2 hours for our waggons etc. (Adams and myself with the two sections) Captain Tyler bringing on the waggons after riding to headquarters camp for orders.
We found two officers and their wives staying there . They very kindly plied with drinkables and cigarettes. We then marched about 2 miles to an outpost camp of the Liverpool's at the base of Tintangone Hill where we bivouacked for the night. This morning we started at 5:00 AM for Tintangone North; or rather my section did . The centre section went with Tyler and Adams up Tintangone south. We arrived after a stiff climb about 6:45 AM and soon settled down beyond this I can tell you nothing of my own doings or intentions or what troops are here though I daresay the wily Boers have a pretty good idea of our movements. We have a splendid view of the Biggarsberg, the right hand hill of which is called Jonono’s Kop.
You will see it marked on that map I spoke of in my letter of the 23rd ult. If I have time I will enclose a sketch of the view. This may be useful in case any engagement takes place in near here. The names of the Hills are our own with the exception of Jonono’s Kop which it is recognised name for that Hill . It stands about 1000 feet nearly above Elandslaagte and some behind it or about 14,000 feet above Elaandslaagte. The height above sea level being about 5000 feet. The consequence is that the days are beautifully cool except that the sun is pretty hot and the nights and early mornings especially very cold. However I have a good supply of blankets and thick clothing. For the next two months or rather from now for two months, the weather is supposed to be the best in the whole year. Hardly any rain at all cool breezes and cold nights .
No news Boers reported visiting “Wall Hill” about 6 miles from here.
Expected an alarm last night, or in the morning. A very large force of Boers (said to be number 20,000 but this is probably rot) reported advancing from north west. This would be through the Branchoek or else the Van Renan’s passes. However nothing unusual occurred.
We had church service and communion in the afternoon.
Monday April 16th
no news excepted report that Kruger has been shot by a free stater , this though unlikely it far from impossible as they must feel pretty sore against him for many reasons.
Tuesday April 17th.
We had a few showers of rain last night and some Thunder and as I write it is raining now . On second thoughts as the mail leaves this camp at noon tomorrow I will close this letter and send it off today so as to make sure of getting this Mail- having missed the last one. The sketch I will send straight to Gerry as you I dare say are still Wanderers upon the face of the earth and she has very kindly undertaken to send all sketches to black and white for me. I hope all are well at home and that you are now having good weather. By the way this semi ultimatum to Portugal may stop the war. Possibly that is the “slim Boers” intention.
much love to all
ever your loving son
Sam R Normand
Dr David Biggins
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