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The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74131

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Tuitangone
Modder Spruit
Nr. Ladysmith
Apl. 21st.

My dear father and mother,

As you will see by the address I am still above the mists, where I was when I wrote last Mail since then little has happened to enliven the monotony of camp life on top of a Hill covered with rocks, whose top is a Ridge and barely 100 yards long at that! I posted my last on Tuesday the 17th and the next day received the very welcome presents from you both and from Sys letters from mother and father the 16th of March. The sweater is a beauty- so light and warm. It is really most useful. The underclothing is by number means too thick, it gets very cold at night, and by 7pm one is glad of warm and cosy but the time and feels one feels it most is at 4:30 AM when we find it very difficult to leave a warm tent and go into a cold and often Misty morning. The cigarettes are also very nice, and come in very timely when one is in a place like this too far from town to send in for luxury and can only trust to canteen for an irregular supply of the” cheap and nasty” species.

On Thursday however, we had a most exciting hour. A working party on a low a copy to windward of us set fire to some long glass to destroy “cover” for the enemy in case he should come this way. I saw them - about 20 or 30 men- at this work about 10:00 AM I thought no more about it. About 12:30 or so I was in my tent writing a letter and smelled a strong smell of smoke and began to feel the air uncomfortably warm. I rushed out to find the whole Hill ablaze and the flames just racing to the top of the Ridge hyphal about 50 yards away, and volumes of smoke pouring towards us. The first thing to do was to put the ammunition in one of the trenches and strike the tents ; Then all hands turned on with spades - tarpaulins - waterproof sheets etc. to beat the fire out . We saved the camp, Luckily, but the grass is all burnt two within 10 yards of my tent! One man, unfortunately, got suffocated with a smoke and fell into the flames, but we hold him out and not much the worst, except his clothing a good deal burnt. My pony and a couple of mules I kept on the Hill; we got away only just in time. The look out man saw it coming and stupidly did not give the alarm till it was almost too late!

Sissy’s letter - 23rd March- Arrived in the afternoon. She mentions mine to Belle From Huzzar Hill- Prior to our taking over the Boer position at Pieters, So my next would be that or written after the battle. To me it all seemed like ancient history it seems so long ago now! I was very sorry to hear about the sad death of Mr Harrison. He was always very good to me at Fettes; and will I expect to be much missed. I am sorry to hear about Gerry’s rheumatism. It is very unfortunate for her. I hope to hear of successful results by the “Salisbury” care.

I have sent her a sketch of the splendid range of Hills we have facing us and daresay it may come in useful- as you will see further on in my letter. So our one and only cousin James has been and gone and done it! I wish him heartiest congratulations. Your news from the Ranch is distinctly good, and I hope the concern will turn out a successful one. On Friday we had a visit from one of the JMI who do a certain amount of scouting around and about . He told us there were no Boers within 12 to 15 miles, except an occasional patrol of four or five.

Saturday morning however provided us with some excitement in the way of heavy gunfire almost due East I(i.e. today) at 11:00 AM. Boers were reported moving - two columns of them, one from North East another party from West north west- and advancing in our direction. This is rather a hazy day and we cannot make out much beyond four miles. There is a range wall Hill in my sketch about 6 or 7 miles off where it is believed they are digging entrenchments, but we can't see anything of them.

Sunday April 12th

This morning at 10 we had a service held by a “scripture reader” . He gave a good sermon. In the afternoon I got captain Tyler to answer for me in camp , I rode over Pepworth Hill- one of the Boer positions investing Ladysmith; It was very interesting, and some of the gun positions, and rifle trenches most instructive. They generally managed to have at least one line of trenches so placed that the attackers would - at night- be silhouetted against the skyline. Immediately on the ground forming the skyline are laid a few strands of barbed wire about 6 inches to a foot off the ground. This trench was no doubt put up after the successful blowing up of one of their guns on Surprise Hill. The Boers are still reported in the rear of Pyramid Hill and visiting Carbutts farm. Mr Carbutt is a gentleman who “hunts with the hounds and runs with the hares” as he gives us a certain amount of information and harbours the enemy in his farm. One can hardly blame him. His farm His farm would be looted and probably burnt by the Boers so he keeps in with them; At the same time he is shrewd enough to know that ours is the winning side, and he naturally does not want to be branded a rebel.

Monday April 23rd.

That was a little rifle fire this morning in the direction of Elandslaagte, at about 4.45 am but only for about 10 minutes or so. Probably from the outposts. Rather serious trouble seems to be brewing in Ashanti, I hope it will hold over till our present job is settled. We all read with a good deal of thankfulness the unreserved criticisms of Roberts on our Generals – especially Gateacre. All of course a liable to mistakes and costly ones to; but it is obviously right that the cause should be shown up, and incapable men relegated to positions where they will have no chance of like Gatacre - continually making fools of themselves.

Tuesday April 24th.

Todays papers say Warren has been given his old command on B, Bechuanaland – in plain English he has also been given “the order of the boot”. I suppose on account of his indifferent generalship at Spion Kop. There is also a Pretoria rumour that Lord Roberts has asked Mafeking to hold out another 2 months. I hardly believe it, but even if true I think Mafeking is not so very badly off in regard to food, though there are probably short of ammunition. I expect they had a good six month supply of food at beginning of the siege.

The gunfire near Elandslaagte referred to on Saturday, appears to have been directed at the collieries, but apparently no damage has been done. Another “shave” is that the Boers cannot replace their supplies of cordite. I suppose their manufacturing in the dynamite works is running short of the necessary chemicals for its production.

Wednesday April 25th.

Practically no news in this mornings papers. Yesterday afternoon I got letters from mother and Gerry both of 30th ult., (though written on the 28th) and saying you got no mail for me that week. I think it was to Belle or Gerry I wrote; though I more half believe I wrote a long one to mother. I remember writing a letter from our camp below Pieters Hill - probably February 28th - with an account of the fight. It should have caught the mail 3rd of March, so would likely not get it having been readdressed from Edinburgh until the 29th or 30th March; that is after you wrote . Your allusion to my major’s legs dangling from a tree is quite amusing. He Luckily evacuated that tree after the first day of fighting for on February the 6th a long Tom shell from Doorn Kop burst about 15 yards from it And the splinters went tearing through the tree next to it, and some no doubt through the branches of his tree as well. The next shell apparentl out of pure spitefulness at not getting the major burst about 80 yards beyond, and killed his pony or at least he died about 12 hours later poor little beast .

Thursday Apl 26th.

As the mail today I must close. We had a little news from the other side- but a bit scrappy We have however got possession of the Bloemfontein waterworks. Belle’s chocolate arrived last night - my best thanks. It is almost “too good to campaign on “. It makes one feel one should have China plates , glass tumblers and napkins and other such home like luxuries! I also enclosed some more stamps for Sis . There mostly duplicates of those already sent they may be useful for exchange and barter I do not know if the note all set is complete are there any still deficient except the two shilling Natal stamps we are all getting or getting awfully bored sitting still and doing nothing I've had no exercise for a fortnight or being off this Hill except the day I rode to Pepworth Hill

with much love to all.
I am your loving son
Sam R Normand

P.S. have just discovered two very ancient sketches no good for publication but may interest you.
Dr David Biggins

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The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74132

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Hospital
Modder’s Point
Ladysmith,
May 3rd.

My dear father and mother, as you see I've been and gone and done it - fever- malarial. Felt a chill on Thursday night and spent most of Friday in bed hoping to throw it off. On Saturday however when my Major came up I was still bad, so he said he would send up the doctor. That was about 9:30 AM the doctor the lazy - or thoughtless- creature did not turn up till 6:00 PM and my temperature was 103. So I came here on Sunday. The fever is practically now gone though I still have a little - but horribly weak. Very annoyed to hear you have not yet got my Ladysmith letters and can't understand it please excuse this awful scroll but is all I'm fit for.

Hope all are well

ever 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 #74141

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Princess Christian Hospital
Pinetown
Natal
June 9 1900

My dear father and mother

you must have all been delirious again at hearing of the fall of Pretoria; news now however is that the Boers are going to fight to the bitter end.

They will I think , find that it is the only end they will reach. I am getting your letters now in any order but the correct one my last two were Sissy’s of 27th April and father’s of 26 April. Two days ago I got the Liverpool daily post of 10th may but have as yet got no letters.
Of 4th of May or 11th of May which I hope will arrive before I leave. I expect to sail by the “Assaye” on Wednesday the 13th inst. At present however she is lying and has been since the six in the outer Anchorage and cannot get over the bar and until it is dredged out a few feet more. She is to be fitted out as a convalescent ship which will likely take four or five days, but I hope she will be able to start on the 16th at the latest. Allowing her 21 days for passage and giving us two days in town, I should be with you about 8th of July; or about a week after you get this letter. She's a fairly new P&O engaged as a transport, and is a big boat of something like 8000 tonnes and should be pretty comfortable. I have made wonderful progress since I wrote to you last and expect to arrive pretty well quite myself again. I am on full diet and can get up and walkabout but naturally I've been after six weeks in bed- rather groggy on my pins. I was so glad to hear from sis that she was feeling so fit And that Mother was able to do so much and enjoying the country, and that you were all are like Bettsycoed so well. Very Many thanks indeed for all your trouble about the keys; I should have told Gerry about it, but it did not strike me at the time I wrote to you that you were all away from home the parcel however arrived safely and quite correct as to contents, about 10 days ago. They will prove very useful if we have any cold weather at sea, and for wearing in the evening at dinner on board - being dark blue. In some letters you say you wish you could hear of parcels addressed to me arriving more regularly- I think, in fact I am sure I have got, and acknowledged receipt of all parcels sent to me, of which you have given notice in the letters sent off by the same mail. I know I have been getting splendid parcels pretty well every mail- clothing- chocolate- cigarette- note paper- socks- and a sweater etc. etc ; however we can compare notes when I see you.

I will why you as soon as it is absolutely settled when I am to go and buy what ship. You will be able to trace her by the shipping news in any of the dailies. She will probably touch at Cape Town and either Madeira or Las Palmas and possibly again at Southampton . I do not however know where she will disembark her passengers, but I will wire you on my arrival in old England. I expect to hear definitely of my fate this morning, or at any rate today, but as 72 – 74 new patients arrive the day before yesterday - I forget which - the doctors have been rather busy I have just heard that the “Assaye” cannot almost certainly start on 13th and is almost possible that she may be in quarantine as there is a doctor on board belonging to this hospital, and the doctor here has not got either a letter or a wire from him . The Mail is just going so I must close

with much love to all,
ever your loving son
Sam R. Normand

ps I am addressing cablegrams Norman Dysart Scotland and up to date have only sent one
viz “Slight typhoid, will soon be up Sam
Dr David Biggins

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The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74142

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HMT Assage
Capetown
Monday 18. June

My dear Father and Mother,

just a line from the Cape to say all well. I am now quite free from fever but have had a bit of a bilious attack due to the sudden change of altitude- and dry warm air, to the sea level and accompany mist and a damp- and probably a good deal to say to a liberal rather than a wise diet! We should have gone alongside to coal here, but apparently are not going to do so but Coal instead at Saint Vincent. This will likely delay us six or seven days as we have not enough coal to go for speed; so we may not arrive till the 13th or 14th of July instead of the 7th as expected I would like my frock coat and vest and pair of “Sunday go to meeting trousers” and a pair of patent leather boots sent to me at the metropole hotel London- I do not want tall hat . I think the garments are in the travelling chest of drawers , but maybe in the drawers in the top front room. Don't send those that are in the wardrobe in my old room! I think they are Jim's! Excuse more just now, boat just going off.

hope to find all well when we meet
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 #74143

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Ladysmith
Dec 21 1900

My dear Father and Mother

you will be surprised to see I'm back in this old place after my expectations of going to Van Reenen’s. On arrival at the railway station here I was given a copy of the telegram ordering me to proceed to Tin-town - the Ladysmith barracks- which I accordingly did, and found Captain Tyler and one section - 2 guns of the battery there. The Subaltern who was with Tyler having gone to take over a naval - or “cowgun” (12 pounder).

I was detained to take his place and will likely go to Van Reenens on his return if nothing else turns up. I last posted you a letter from Pietermaritzburg the 18th inst. and a pack of war photos. I left that night for Van Reenens and got here about 5:30 AM on Wednesday as already stated. We are living in neat little tin bungalows - Three of us with another little room we use as a mess room. The 3rd is a Subaltern in the second field battery who has a section here, so we are very comfortable. The rains began about a fortnight ago, and I had a very muddy walk about 2 miles or more from the railway station, and it seemed to me that the town was as dirty and untidy as it was a week after the relief. I saw only one or two lamps in the street and they were evidently not in use, as the glass is broken and the lamp posts of hanging over about 30 degrees from the perpendicular. Up here, however, it is very different closed off Jin-town once a smallish collection of tin huts is now a pretty big place covering an extent of (about three or four times the size of Muir of Ord). There are a couple of big enclosures with barracks complete large enough to quarter 4000 Boer prisoners some of whom about 500 have already arrived .it is shut in by a terrible arrangement of barbed wire fencing outside of which is a wide Barbed wire entanglement, Then outside that again is a very high barbed wire fence about 10 feet high which is further surrounded by another four feet also a fenced sloping towards enclosure (like the fence around the rabbit warren at Ord making an obstacle of about 13 to 15 feet high. Then all round this place are sentries about 20 who have power to shoot- so I hear- any man (Boer) approaching with 100 yards of the fence.

The enclosure is further surrounded with electric arc and incandescent lamps so that the place can be well under observation on the darkest night. Today we took the section out for a 12 mile walk and toward Lombards Kop - - which is a big Hill closer to Bulawana and I think a bit higher than that. It was pretty hot as yesterday was heavy rain and the ground was consequently rather steamy. I'm rather pitying the major and Kerr on the top of Van Reenens at this moment as there is a big thunderstorm raging, and even here the wind is rising to a gale. I doubt if they are able to keep their tents up and are likely being flooded out. I find the presents sent out to the battery by Mrs Blunt have never arrived yet. I'm going to try and trace them I know that in many cases during the last three or four months, boxes have not been forwarded beyond Durban or perhaps Pietersmaritzburg but anyhow their arrival there should have been notified. I have of course written and told him this, I'm going to try and wake up wake some of these people up. I must now close this as it will have to go this evening. I got your letter of the 23rd of November on arrival here. I am numbering mine now starting with this one she will be able to tell if you got the mall. I hope all are well. I was sorry to hear Bert had been seedy, but I'm sure bunnies Crawford will put him Oak again. I hope this is keeping fit, and that the weather is not very trying. I am in splendid condition and am already the colour of my own Brown boots except my nose which is decidedly of the danger signal shade with heaps of love,

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 #74144

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Tin-town
Ladysmith
Dec. 26 1900

My dearest mother,

your two very welcome parcels of buns and shortbread duly reached me on the 23rd but as Tyler got a plum pudding from home, my “good” have not yet been opened and all being kept for our journey North on which we embark tomorrow . We are off I believe to Machadadorp - via Pretoria - My section only, two guns; And we all are glad to get out of this place where it is very hot and always - except early morning, blowing half a gale ; Every time one goes out one gets mouth and eyes and is full of dust.

Jan 4th

This is the first real chance I have had of posting you a letter, that I should have posted the foregoing at Ladysmith the day we left, but we were very busy all that day, and only arrived here , Nelspruit On the 1st inst. My last sentence on the previous page is a stern rebuke to me; and only proves the truth of “don't holler till you're out of the wood “ and people never know when they are well off. This is quite the worst spot we have run up against hitherto. It is about four hours from Machadadorp along the railway to Kourali port. The country is very hilly and really beautiful- in many places the scenery is quite magnificent- subtropical vegetation but it is very hot - malarious- a mosquito den, damp climate, and what is worse horses and mules cannot live - generally dying in the first 4 to 10 days of horse sickness. Truly a delightful spot! However, I must not grumble any more or we may be sent to a worst one. Laying aside the unavoidable discomfort of a six day railway journey, partly in a luggage van, partly in a disused cattle truck, and partly in a low sided coal trucks also standing an even chance at about 20 places along the line of being attacked or even the joyful anticipation of getting blown up crossing a bridge or a culvert, at such places along the line as you have no doubt read of since I left- Graylingstadt – Alkmaar – Vaal Pan – Godwin River etc. etc.; Laying laying aside these annoyances had a most interesting journey. We left Ladysmith at about 4:00 PM on the 27th and soon reached the ORC junction beyond which I had never been. Then came Elandslaagte – Dundee. We passed through Lang’s Nek about 3 am on the second day the 28th and had a glimpse of Majuba. We did not expect to get beyond Newcastle, as trains can't travel safely by night, but we went straight on. At Volksruist, Where we arrived about 5:00 AM we got an escort of about 74 men of the “Dubs” under a Subaltern called Mcnee who came with us as far as Pretoria.

Our own men numbered 63 so we were three officers and 137 strong, and felt exceedingly confident of giving the Bowers a good show if they cared to see what we were worth. From here onward the line is dangerous so we had to take every precaution against attack. The line itself is guarded by small outposts about 3 to 8 miles apart according to the nature of the country, and every bridge and culvert is also watched. The Boers like few things better than a chance to put a stick of dynamite under a covered and so or wreck the train; another amusement of theirs is there chance of hiding in ambush along each side of the line in this condition. The contents of each truck in the train was piled up along the sides and ends thus forming a sort of bullet proof protection, the men lying or kneeling behind this wall of baggage (kits – rations – ammunition, forage etc.) Our guns too were placed loaded opposite the folding doors , so that if the train should only be “held up” not derailed we could get in a couple of rounds at least, on either side of the train. These trains are provided with “vacuum breaks”. The brakes on each Wagon are provided with a vacuum pipe wwhich is brought up from under the wagon and connected to the pipe of the next wagon by a screw valve. As soon as any of these connections is loosened air is thus admitted into the system thus destroying the vacuum and putting the brakes on each wagon simultaneously. A favourite trick of the Boer was to ride up behind the train while it was going slowly up a steep gradient and one man to disconnect the pipe at the rear of the train, the other to fire along the side of the train to prevent any one getting out. We avoid this by disconnecting the brake entirely from the rear wagon so the remaining brakes cannot be tampered with. Another amusement of theirs is to watch their chance to hide in the broad trenches either side of the line and wait for the train; arrange a couple of charges of dynamite about 200 yards apart on the line and wait for the train. On the train getting to this place The line is blown up in front and behind so the train can either advance or retire . Each section line however is carefully patrolled every morning and no train proceeds till all clear is reported of course small things like a couple of bolts or a fish plate removed, or even a charge of dynamite is quite sufficient to derail an engine would seldom be seen . The “all clear “signal of course refers to bodies of the enemy, Or that the bridges and culverts are not mined. From here (Volksrust) onward as far as Machadadorp the whole country is simply a vast elevated plain, studied here and there with low detach koppies. The train climbs up to the pass at Lang's Nek through the height of the Drakensberg but does not just descend again. The greatest part of the country there is simply a tableland at an elevation of 4000 to 5000 feet. Little farms and the railway stations, which are blessed with perhaps 50 to 100 lives, are the only thing that relieve the eye from the eternal monotony of grassy veldt and stony kops - Miles and miles of flat country. A hill the size ours at Muir of Ord is a landmark for some hours travelling . Between Volksrust , where we arrived about 6:00 AM on the 28th of December and Standerton is the Zandspruit which is one of the “anxious places”. I got hold of a kettle and fished out my tin of spiritine and we managed to make some cocoa; But the spirit in it seemed rather a poor thing after all - he took the whole tin to boil the kettle- or rather it was not even boiling, and the operation ran into something like half an hour. After this experience we got water from the engine driver. At Standerton and at about 11:00 AM I got breakfast in the restaurant- which consisted of cold mutton and washy tea ; still it was good as we are we were hungry . This fortified us for another anxious spot called Graylingstadt, But nothing happened there to disturb our Peace of Mind. From here we ran on, ever through the same old country till we reached Heidelberg about 7:00 PM where we had afternoon tea. As trains are seldom allowed run after this hour, the engine driver “struck”. (Poor man! He had already been twice derailed by the Boers and left lying minus coat and boots.) However he was persuaded to go on to the next station – Rietoli where we are “struckile” in the shape of the officer in command of the outpost there who gave us the use of his room in the station to feed and told us many things of interest.

Meanwhile we wired for instructions as to whether we should go on. The decision being left us, we said we would stop especially as the engine driver had banked his fire and flatly refused to budge.

We left about 4:30 AM the next morning getting to Elaandsfontein - the junction for Johannesburg and Pretoria about 7:00 AM. And got a bread and jam breakfast at the restaurant. Here butter is unobtainable, and matches cost a shilling a box, with about 15 matches in the box. Here also we watered and fed the mules- and operation which takes place about three times a day, the animals of course will remaining in the trucks all the time. Pretoria was then reached about 10:30 AM where we waited about an hour and a half for orders. Colonel Slater is commanding the RA here. We lunched at the RA mess which is the home of a Major Erasmus of the Boer artillery ; One of several houses of the semi detached Villa type, and of a fair size occupied by these transvaal artillery officers. They are fitted with electric bells and electric light, have little gardens in front and are really very pretty. Each officer has his own house . The artillery barracks about 150 yards behind are really very fine- built of red brick and a kind of white sandstone. The building must be close to on 100 yards or possibly 120 yards long and several storeys high . The mails from here (Nelspruit) is very irregular an uncertain they may not go they may not go today, but I must post it or may miss the bag. However you must not be anxious if the matter is missed or does not arrive as no letters or parcels are guaranteed. For the same reason please don't forward me or send me any parcels. I believe Kitchener has said he will end this war by the end of Febr! But this but of this more by next Mail. All well here and fully prepared to give any adventurous bodies of the enemy an exceedingly warm reception. I hope all are well at home and that Bert is having good hunting, and that you may have good news from the mines. With best love to all and heaps to yourself

Love
your loving son
Sam R Normand
Dr David Biggins

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