The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74102
January 9th . Tuesday
My dear father and mother,
I sent off my last on Friday the 5th and since then we have had no excitement, except a false report of our own move to Frere or Chieveley camp. On Sunday after an early morning service and a short ride afterwards I went up to near my old point advantage and took a sketch of Escort which I sent here with and hope that it will not be abstracted as it is of no use to anybody for tactical or strategic purposes. When I got back to camp about 1:00 PM I was greeted with the news that we were likely to move the next morning ( Monday) and so we packed up the waggons and got ready for a start any hour that night or in the morning . However, no orders came till next day Monday, about 4:00 PM when we definitely heard we were to March the next day Tuesday at an early hour. Our spirits were as you may imagine high and we were looking forward to be in for the biggest show in the campaign - the relief of Ladysmith- but to our absolute disgust the order as far as it concerned us was cancelled and we are left behind. You can imagine our annoyance. The place seems almost in our hands. I suppose the relief of Ladysmith will be reckoned amongst the greatest reliefs in the history of Europe - on a on a par almost with that of a Lucknow, except that we are here fighting civilised human beings and not a species of devil as at Lucknow. We still have hopes that we may form part of a column to make a flank march on Weenen and so make a detour and get around Dundee, but our chances are meagre, and I'm afraid we will be left here to guard escort on the line of communications. The siege train has arrived and should by now be beyond there are. I should have thought that it would have been more useful throw against the Boer position at Colenso. As you have probably seen in the papers it consists of a number of heavy guns including eight 6 inch and three very heavy lyddite shell , and a couple of days heavy shelling should almost make certain of some weakening and destroying the Boer trenches there that the place could be rushed by the troops we now have there; and by conjunction with White’s forces in Ladysmith it would appear that they could hardly stand against us. As you will have seen in today's news, White was attacked strongly by the Boers and successfully repulsed them, and apparently following him up almost to their own tracks near Colenso. By the way in the two sketches I forwarded to you last Mail position marked long Tom on the Umbawala Hill should be long Tom at Pepworthy farm otherwise I think that the sketch is pretty accurate.
My writing was interrupted by a sudden order to pack up and shift camp higher up and near the naval guns the 14th has ours and the body of the colonial scouts, and so make a defensible camp . Our troops here consists of the fourth mobile battery- 14 th. Hussars- two volunteer 2.5 RML “Field Artillary”, 2 12 lb QT Naval guns – 500 Colonial scouts; 5 companies of Dublin Fusiliers, 1 battalion mounted infantry; or about 5000 men. The scouts, however are going and so are the 14th Hussars, and the D 7s have only just come, Escort may now be considered stronger than ever it was; and taking into consideration our sorrow had been cut out of the relief of Ladysmith we should be quite pleased if the party of 800 Boers who are supposed to be in the neighbourhood would have a shy at us! I have just got mother's letter of the 15th of Dec. And was sorry to hear of Mrs Browns accident it is most unfortunate for her. News from the English paper reads very seriously, but the nation has not been accustomed to really heavy losses of troops such were experienced in the earlier wars e.g Franco German etc.. In them the percentage of casualties in two cases amounted to 30% several others from 10% to 25% while up to time of writing ours has only come to about 7% . We have you been used to fighting savages who have scarcely a firearm of any kind whatsoever, while in this war we are engaged with troops armed fully and as well as ours, equally good shots; and as they are they never fight in the open and nearly always lie down behind cover with a rest for their rifles their shooting power should be three to four times the value of ours when we have to attack a well entrenched position and advance on it in the open. It is really a Marvel though we have not lost more. Then their artillery is the most modern their gunners trained By superb German artillerists and many of their officers are foreigners there seems to be no doubt that their filled honours are a bit more powerful than ours! Then again- being on the defensive- are in possession of prepared positions at arrive with ‘guns of position’ - heavy guns- which need not be made light and mobile enough to manoeuvre.
These facts, coupled with the disgraceful leadership of Fitzroy Harte and Clearly - who as I pointed out in previous letters apparently absolutely ignored the information of those sent out to collect it; And he brought the men up to the position of Colenso in mast quarter columns ; and the awful hash Colonel Long made with the artillery, explain the losses at that fight when the guns were lost.
Before this letter reaches the mailboat we, and probably you, will hear of a bigger fight - at Springfield - in which we hoped to have taken part. If successful it will mean the relief of Ladysmith the next day. If not it is hardly possible to know what we will do next. This not in a despondent tone, for all are “as frisky as fleas” and only longing to have a dash at them!
So my next budget should be full of news. I had a letter from Bert also this morning, who writes cheerily about the mine I do hope it will be an unqualified “good biz” I must now close as the mail leaves here tonight. You mentioned Pat I forgot if I told you he and all at the ILH except about one squadron are shut up in Ladysmith wish I could go and be one of the relieving party! The cigarettes were very very much appreciated by all, and the other presents most welcome.
best love to all
your ever loving son Sam R Normand
PS no sound of artillery fire towards Springfield or Ladysmith yet 4:30 PM
Dr David Biggins
The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74103
January 18th 
My dear Father and Mother,
Events during the last three or four days have followed each other so rapidly - as regards the battery and our affairs have turned out so unexpectedly that have not kept up the usual diary form of letter. I refer to our marching on here to Chieveley - we left Frere at 4:00 AM this morning, and two sections 4 guns have just gone to the camp and my Section 2 guns are here at the station. Since arriving I have been so busy though had been unable to find time to write a line, and as the post goes out tonight I must confine myself to a rough story of what is happening . Buller’s force has been advancing on Ladysmith via Springfield - he has crossed both Tugelas practically unopposed as the Boers had expected him at Acton Holmes but he made his attempt and as we hear successfully at Potgeiter’s drift and last night was only 18 miles from Ladysmith . All today we have heard distant guns, and as they have been chiefly in the direction of Springfield I for lady Smith she's likely that junction has been made or will be made tomorrow early with Sir George White as we had news of the battery long before you get this letter. I may as well tell you that my section will probably have a bit of work to do in the armoured train out of which I think we can far our guns comfortably. I want to try and get out tonight, but as we've only just arrived and have not experimented in this new phase of mountain artillery work (!) I fear we will not be allowed. I write this tonight so as not to miss the Mail which leaves almost immediately, so will send my news next Mail and I hope by then he may have been able to show that the armoured train has now developed a new string sting in its tail. Please excuse more.
With much love to all,
I am your ever loving son
Sam R Normand
Dr David Biggins
The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74104
Sunday Jan 28 1900
My dear Father and Mother,
I hope (again) that by the time you get this letter we shall have done with the verse it with reverses and that Lady Smith is relieved. At present we are as far off as ever we were and have lost Tugela again. To go back and follow the sequence of events as far as concerns us I forgot when I posted my last mail But I will begin again from January 17th when we were starting from Chieveley. We arrived at Chievely on the 18th . The next day the 19th 4MB fired their first rounds in action- the left section 2 guns under Ker (who has now got a DSO for service in West Africa) Find about 80 rounds at a party of 4 to 500 Boers who are rather too busy in their trenches about 5 miles above Colenso they was shelled successfully out of about five trenches, and one of the tents knocked down we had no casualties!
News of the Ladysmith force at last. They have got to Potgeiter’s drift unopposed and found the Boers were taking up a strong opposite across the Ladysmith Rd and that our howitzers were doing good work.
21st Sunday nothing fresh
22nd news of good work done at Potgeiter’s drift. That we are advancing and have driven the Boers out of their advanced positions. My mules which were up at the camp Chieveley were sent down to me (on detachment) at the station.
I hoped this morning to go out into action- about 7:00 AM General Barton sent down and gave me orders to proceed at once to the camp and wait for orders. I went up and found we were going out to “make a demonstration”. But before half an hour had passed orders came for us to March at once to Springfield and then to join Warren's force. This was what we had been longing for, and we lost no time in packing the transport and animals and then the order came about 11. I've got the station at 11:30 and had everything in the trucks including 600 rounds of reserve ammunition by 12:45 . The train service being for some reason horribly blocked, the other two sections did not get down till 4:00 PM and we got to Frere at 5. There we picked up our remaining mules and loaded up waggons etc and started on our March. We marched till dark, and as it was too dark to go on we bivouacked at until daylight . Now commences our real March of 34 miles in 23 1/2 hours and it worked out like this.
Bismarck to Springfield 4am – 9am 13 miles
Springfield to Trichard Drift 11.30 – 3 pm 11 miles
Trichard Drift to Spion Kop 6.30 – 9 4 miles
Spion Kop to Trich Drift 1.30 - 3.30 – 6 miles
Trich Drift to Gun Hill 4.30 – 5.00 – 1 mile
Or 35 miles in 23 1/2 hours. We had however been on the move with no arrest since 3:30 the previous morning, and our whole March from Chieveley to Gun Hill was 45 miles in 64 1/2 hours getting 6 1/2 hours sleep and packing our transport twice and making bivouacks five times.
We got to Trichard’s Drift At 3:00 PM on the 24th and were ordered to move at 6:30 up Spion Kop which was the Boer main Hill Anne had been taken that morning at the point of the bayonnet, but that our troops were in a very tight corner and we were badly wanted. So we had a feed and a bathe ; Fused all our ammunition - fed and watered the mules and at 6:30 started off, full of hope, and thinking of nothing but success. It was a bad Hill covered with boulders and possible only for our guns or for infantry. There was another longer Rd by which two guns 7th artillery and a naval gun went up before us. The shells were bursting higher up and about a quarter mile in front when we halted at 9:00 PM. Our orders were to hold to one and start at 1:30 so as to arrive on the top before daylight and take up our position. At 1:00 AM an orderly came, as we sought with orders for us to push on. I cannot tell you how we felt when it was a message from Thornycroft who was in command at the top he had had no support from the flanks and he therefore had to retire! So back we had to go . We marched back by the easy road and got to the Drift again by 3:30 AM .there we picketed the mules and a squared up, and hoped for four or five hours rest, but no sooner were the lines down then we got orders to go up a Koppie nearby to command the River crossing and so protect the retreat. It was a pitiful business after encouragement we got from the wounded coming down who met us on the way up – “Thank god there is cutcha (mule) battery – go up lads and give them hell”; “Hurrah for the Mounted battery- they’l settle them.” And then on the top of this, about 3 hours afterwards we were told it was no good and that we were retiring! as a matter of fact, it saved our lives as we would have been smothered by the fire that was going on. The whole thing was a trap! Imagine an almost inaccessible Hill with a small plateau on the top and a gentle slope stretching down the other side for about 300 yards. The top we thought was the main position, and we took it, and the trenches there but once in there we could go no further across this slope. It was swept by far from all sides- artillery fire and cross trenches and from trenches in front about 200 or 300 yards. This was their real position. They allowed us to get into the front trenches, which were so arranged that they and the whole ground in front was swept by this cross or enfilading fire. One of our doctors who was up there the whole of the next day had several talks with some of the Boer commanders, who said they wondered we ever got up at all and marvelled at the behaviour of our troops. They said that it was lucky for us we retired as if we had stayed through the night they would simply have shelled us out. There can be no doubt that a great deal of the blame rests with the staff officers. If an order had being sent to bring artillery to flank their position and fresh infantry to replace those who had been fighting all that day and the previous night we might have held the position and got into their real position the night we retired , especially as the blowers themselves retired that night and left the Hill expecting us to stay and be shelled out the next morning; But if we had had flank troops and flank support we might have walked straight into their second line of trenches at dawn. Now I am not blaming the staff without reason as you will see later in this letter. We stayed a couple of nights on the Hill we were sent up the next morning covering the retreat which was beautifully managed by Warren- we are getting quite good at retreating! Is partly atones for his blunders in delaying the attack at Trichard’s Drift. All his troops had crossed the Tugela, and we had taken the Boers by surprise as the expected an attack higher up at Acton Holmes; Instead of going straight on he waited till all his waggons and transports were across explanation mark thus losing about 48 hours and giving the Bowers at the same time to recover their surprise and entrench themselves and map out a plan of defence!
The retirement was complete by 4:00 AM. I saw the finish as I was on guard over the guns from 2:00 AM that morning- and a beastly cold wet watch it was. About 5:00 AM when dawn began I heard a few shots on the ridge of Spion Kop And after about half an hour I saw a few heads appearing above the skyline (about 5 miles off ). Then in less than 5 minutes the whole Ridge- about 6:00 or 7 miles long was lined with astonished bower's- where was the British force, echo answered where? they had all vanished except ourselves- a naval gun and two howitzers and a battery of field artillery. They fired a shell at us, which burst unpleasantly close, but did us no damage. Then others came for the artillery and naval guns to retire, but no orders came for us! However- Luckily- we got ready , and waited; Went up to see if the naval guns had any orders and knew what the delay was. They had gone to, and also the infantry escort which was to have escorted us hyphal we had no orders to move and no escort to protect us! This was getting a bit uncomfortable, and that morning I had seen the Boers coming down the opposite hill. A mounted officer – a quartermaster of the Irish Fusiliers – came along and advised us to “git” as the Boers were in occupation of a farm about a mile from us. So we stated “gitting” And we had hardly started before a shell landed about 20 yards in our rear ; However we were very soon around the band in the Hill and got away safely. The officer who had been sent to give orders for the artillery to retire had forgotten all about us! If the Boers had got a gun or two down the hill We would have had a poor time and would probably have lost some men and mules. We halted in the rear of Warren's force from 2:00 to 5:00 PM and came on here – Potgeiter’s Drift - And all the troops are resting. The naval guns , and our Howitzers are sending occasional shells into the Boer trenches “when they get busy”.
Nothing fresh, except that there is good news of Matthew in advancing into the Free State; I had and hours fishing in the Tugela And got three small ones. I don't know what kind of fish they are but they are good eating though a bit soft.
Hot day, and clear. Bathed in the Tugela before breakfast And fished again and bathed in the Tugela in the afternoon With Adams- caught 9 beastly little sprats.
No further news. The Mail goes in about an hours time so I will now close. We have had no mails from home since mothers last arrived here 11th Jan so I'll still do 2 miles, which have been chasing us all over the country but we expect a large batch today.
Hope you are all well at home
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 #74122
Feb. 1st 1900, Thursday
My dear Father & Mother,
I think I posted my last letter on Tuesday, but nothing fresh has happened since, and all the troops are resting. A third rumour however has arrived that Mafeking has been relieved. This is through Reuters agency. I think it more likely the Boers have got tired of that show, as Mafeking is a little used to them and that they have given it up as a bad job. Still if true it is undoubtedly a success holding out so long.
Among our own lot here everything is quiet, except a few sudden and unexpected movements of individual bodies of our artillery , and we are expected to make a make a move to certain commanding positions near here! At present we are at the foot of a Hill on which are posted two 4.7 inch naval guns. We are in the country known as the bush veldt which commences just South of the Tugular and stretches northwards toward Natal. It is the richest soil and vegetation in Natal, the Hills are covered with trees – all thorny- and cactus and the grazing is excellent. The Garrison Gunners are now beginning to have “a look in”.
As you know a siege train went up to there are and we have here a company 16 southern with two 5 inch B.L. guns very useful weapons. Buller seems very confident and considered that the attack on Spion Kop last week has disclosed to him the key of the position and that he fully expects to get into lady Smith in a week’s time i.e. about four days from now. We have been living on the fat of the land- metaphorically- as we were put on double rations for three days, and are getting quite rotund again. The Queen sent a very nice message of congratulations to the troops on their long march and trying weeks fighting, and that and Buller’s speech has bucked up everybody wonderfully. I went out fishing yesterday but we could only get the small ones. One was caught nearly 4 pounds and I saw one about 2 pounds weight. I have a long bamboo whip for a rod and paste or dough for the bait, but most of the bait is eaten off by little minnows about the size of small parr. The cold weather will soon be coming on, and we will be glad of the comforters, socks and cardigan vests that have been sent out . In fact I found good use for the comforter this morning. I was on guard over the guns at Trichard’s drift the night Warren retired across the Tugula. In the cold weather the days are really hot but the night very cold- snow and Frost, and change the temperature vary from 60 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit between the day and night. It is rather funny having the rains and the hot weather at the same time and no rain in the cold season. We will certainly Have the advantage of the Boers in the cold season, on account of their indifferent commisariat, want of tents and bad condition of their horses - this affecting their wonderful mobility. Part of our Mail arrived yesterday- letters from father( including uncle’s kind introduction) mother, Betty and Sis. Our English papers have not yet arrived , and we are too lot short.
Three more letters arrived of the 4th and 5th of Jan from father, Betty and one from June. I wrote to Bert about a fortnight or three weeks ago. Notification or move has come, and we leave secretly at 2:00 AM tonight or rather tomorrow morning. This Is better than an idea they had for us before; a position was found about 1500 to 2000 yards from the trenches on the Ladysmith Rd for one section ( mine) of the battery fairly undercover. I think it would have been suicide going there, but we would have had to go . You see our little guns are not for this kind of fighting at all. They fire smoky powder and so disclose our position at once, their range 3500 to 4000 yards his only rather more than half the range of the Boer “guns of position” and the shell is - like the field 12 pounder useless against intrenchments. The role is of course in mountain warfare against savages.
If we had gone up Spion Kop - we got halfway and were sent down- we would have been annihilated in about 10 minutes. We were very lucky getting out to see active service at all, but as you know it was originally only a little political Bluff- Kruger captured a mountain battery- England doesn't care a “hang” and sends out a brand new one. Then again no one expected a war of this magnitude, which practically, on account of the natural features the country, has it resolved itself into bombarding a series of strongly entrenched positions, which with our horse and field artillery, against Boer guns of position (4.7 inch, 5 inch and 6 inch ranging to 12,000 yards) is a force. We are only now getting up our heavy guns- the naval 4.7 inch and the siege guns of five inch and a 6 inch. Storming such positions with our “little critter” is like trying to knock down a stone wall with a peashooter at a quarter of a mile range ! if we all come safe out of this Show - as pleased God we shall- our next little show will almost certainly be Abyssinia, and there a mountain battery (not one but several) will be almost more than a necessity.
Feb. 3. Saturday.
At 2:00 AM on Friday we moved up here halting halfway for breakfast and lunch and started off again at 2:30 the last part of our climb was pretty bad. Five of our mules after getting halfway up the last slope fell down about 50 feet not sheer of course but down a slope covered with big boulders, the angle of the slope being about 50 degrees. Luckily neither they nor their load were damaged. It was the admiration of the other troops to see the way they got up on their feet, and after having their load put back on again, they successfully breasted the Hill. They absolutely rolled head over heels, over and over for about 70 or 80 yards, and I really thought their backs and necks were broken but they only seemed a “little annoyed” and went up the place with renewed vigour! This with a load of about 300 pounds strapped onto their backs!
I spoke of our last place as a beautiful spot, but the sight that met our eyes once we got up was even more so. The top of the Hill is a beautiful plateau about 600 yards long and about 80 wide dotted with trees and cactus plants and thickly covered with splendid grass need. I have never seen such grand crazy- even at home- except a clover field.
The only drawback is the dearth of water. It has to be brought up by mules from a place about 300 feet below. (We are about 5000 feet above sea level.) The view is simply magnificent, and we can see many Boer trenches below us, and distant just a nice range 2000 to 3000 yards off . The opposite plateau (due east almost) is a big Boer camp and away to the North and North East is fairly level country across which stretches the Ladysmith Rd and to the North East we can distinguish one on one of the camps round Ladysmith.
Parties of Boers are collecting in the trenches below us, and we expect a good deal of sniping tomorrow. Even today a certain amount has been going on whenever we show ourselves too much. I do not suppose our troops will advance before Monday, so we will not be allowed to shell them out until then, and look forward to- I hope- some good practice then. I think therefore I will send off this letter tomorrow, as we as we may well be too busy on Monday to do so, and the Mail leaves on Tuesday.
We advance tomorrow and I hope we will get through! We have not had the expected sniping today. It has been a splendid day though hot.
Many thanks to bar for her thoughtful present of paper I have still a dozen or so sheets left. Please give my best thanks to aunt Peggy for the cap and cummerbund. They have course not yet arrived I have always worn them at night and am the only officer in the battery who has not had a days illness out here. I must now close- hoping all of you are well and having good Christmas weather.
with much love to all
your loving son Sam R Normand
Dr David Biggins
The Boer War letters of Subaltern Samuel Richard Normand, RA 1 year 5 months ago #74123
February 13th 
My dear father and mother
Here we are again at Chieveley after having to return after another attempt to get through at Schwartz Kop. One really feels ashamed to write home, but even people out here can hardly realise the difficulties of the positions. I sent off my last Mail on Sunday the 4th from Swarts kop . On Monday at 7:15 AM, the guns opened fire on the ridge in our front Val Krantz (see enclosed sketch) and we (4 MB) set to work to clear the koppies to the right below Doorn Kop and above SKIETS DRIFT. There was a Boer maxim gun there which we could not see but we kept on shelling the different ridges and in about 2 hours, put it out of action, as it was no more heard. We had a magnificent view of the action, and the Boers suffered heavily- though they reported no casualties! I send you a copy of the local paper about the battle. We on Swaartz Kop were very little worried except by a 6” gun on Doorn Kop which first annoyed us by dropping a 100 lb. shell about 30 yards from us, a shady nook where we were having breakfast! Later it sent several shells much closer but did very little damage, grazing two or three of our fellows (skin grazes from splinters) and killing the major's horse .
We had a naval fellow in charge of the 12 pns there who kept a good look out, and the moment the gun fired – we could see the flash distinctly through glasses (8,600 range, or nearly 5 miles) he shouted to us to take cover; we used to rush to the nearest rock and lie flat. The shell took 12 seconds to come and it felt like 2 minutes; we could hear it coming for nearly 3 seconds, and no matter where it went it always sounded if it was coming absolutely straight at you. They did not send many shells at us as they were too busy with the field batteries in the plane below us, and they had a real bad time of it. Luckily the shells were very bad - homemade I think in Kruger’s dynamite factory - and did not contain a big bursting charge we could not have stayed there. We got one that did not burst- it weighed over 9 pounds and must have been from a 15 cm Creusot gun.
The retirement was due I believe to the fact that although we could have gone on fairly easily right across the open country we would have been shut off and the Boers would have run through Natal. You see what a tremendous risk it is.
Neither at Spion Kop nor at Vaal Krantz were we driven back. We simply retired, as a further advance would probably have lost us Natal.
We have news that Lord Roberts having entered the Orange free state via Kaan Foort.
Possibly he will relieve pressure here. At present we do not know what is the real move but we can't stay here very long as there is hardly any water. I do not think I thank you all for the last parcel sent out namely a Tam O'shanter - the envy of all- a blue Serge cummerbund, a woollen Ditto and some safety pins and some note paper .
Last night or rather the night before the three rolls of film brackets photo arrived and also the chocolate which is most acceptable and really arrived in delicious condition. It is so good of you all to think of these things and we enjoy them to the full, especially as they are generally managed to arrive when we are far from such things as field canteen's. I'm afraid that when the clothing arrives for the battery we shall require an extra waggon to carry it! It would be most acceptable in about a months time- or less- when the nights get cold I only wish the days would get cool! For the last week it has been so hot as we have had it yet.
Between about 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM it is too hot to do anything- outside a tent- except to curse the sun and feel limp. I would gladly send you a large Cone - segment of sun for a small parcel of real cold carriage paid too!
15. Feb 00
Please excuse a horrid ending. We are just ordered off to Hussar Hill, next to Hlangwani Hill the former was taken yesterday by Buller. The mail goes this afternoon and I have no time for more.
With 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 #74124
Between Colenso and Pieter Station
Natal March 1st. 1900
(this letter has been typed)
My dear mother and father
My last written to Belle and posted some time about the 22nd of Feby.
Since then much has happened and tonight in England will be heard the welcome news that our cavalry have got in to Ladysmith. The relief of that town is not yet official, but the cavalry have reported that no opposition is now expected over the 7:00 or 8 miles country between here (Railway Hill) and the Saint George’s outposts. The Ladysmith relief is I believe now (11:00 AM) an accomplished fact. Possibly a small resistance will be made on Bulwana Hill (Umbulwana) But it is unlikely that it will amount to much, as Sir George White has reported large bodies of Boers trekking into the direction of Dundee.
To resume the narrative I will go back to Friday the 23rd. The infantry did not commence for advance but artillery have been heavily shelling at the trenches. We spotted a body of reinforcements coming down a spruit to left of railway hill, and drove them away with shell fire.
Last night a fresh Commando came down on our troops who were holding the koppies north of Colenso and below Grobblers Kloof, and under cover of darkness made three attacks, and reaching our trenches tried to wrest the rifles from our men’s grasp.
They were driven off each time, are men frequently getting home with the bayonet. Our infantry made an advance on railway Hill, got halfway up and entrenched themselves, but owing to an enfilade and reverse fire from left Hill could not hold the position.
To grasp the position you must understand that we hold a commanding Hill (Hlwangwi) and most of artillery and naval guns are disposed along its ridges; Below our feet runs the Tugela and opposite us the Boer trenches are seen on three commanding Hills which I have called the left Hill the railway Hill below which the railway runs and Pieter’s Hill just this side of Pieter’s station. These ridges run round in front in the form of a horseshoe with the concave side towards us. Our infantry could not stay on railway hill as a heavy enfilade fire came in from the left Hill which was nearer to us and really not part of the same ridge. We got news that Roberts has surrounded Cronje and 10,000 men. If this is true and he can hold them, it will no doubt weaken the force opposing us, who are to a great extent free staters.
Our troops had to leave their hasty trenches (i.e. Hart’s brigade on Railway Hill now called Hart’s Hill) last night.
An Armistice was held for burying a dead and takeaway wounded - our casualties heavy, but few dead and the wounds generally not dangerous. The doctor (Captain Crawford Rawl) went up to attend to the wounded and had a talk with one of the field coronets they had heard of Cronje’s repulse, but laughed the idea of his surrender; but said that fresh commandos had been sent to relieve Cronje from his tight place and that Roberts had suffered a defeat. They brought our winded and dead sufficiently far down the Hill, so that we could not see their trenches and threatened to shoot anyone who went beyond a certain line. Our casualties heavy.
Last night the Armistice was ended at 9:00 PM and the birds suddenly opened a heavy musketry far on our left, but our men had orders to make no reply but remain in their trenches with fixed bayonets in the hope that the birds would rush down on them but they did not do so , and the fire ceased in about 1/4 an hour.
Orders were issued today to the artillery to maintain a slow and steady fire on the trenches- guns to fight 15 minutes interval come. This with eight batteries - the howitzers – 5BL and Naval guns, Would work out to about one shot every 10 seconds or less. The Boers replied by some sniping and a couple of guns on the pontoon and on our hospital and ambulances.
Today a pontoon was erected over the river at the foot of Hlwangi and below Waterfall.
Majuba day!- and we have taken the position! It was a most magnificent sight. The plan of attack was absolutely successful, and the infantry advanced with a glorious sight. it would be impossible for me to explain it, one would have to see it to realise the awful so far the Boer trenches were kept under, during the advance which lasted about 3 hours. The infantry were to have massed near the pontoon at 8:00 AM but we're not ready till 12 noon there were three brigades in the advance, And you will have already read in the papers a much better account than I could hope to give besides it will be all old news. The first I knew of the real advance was seeing a signature with a Blue Flag on Pieter’s Hill; I tried to signal back but he was not looking our way. He was soon seen by his own regiment and the message came (it was from Barton’s Bde) ‘Send my supports to the right’. Before the message was through the skirmishers appeared coming over the Ridge, they dashed across a piece of open ground about 100 yards or so, and occupied the two empty sangers and took some shelter. Then we saw long lines of skirmishers toiling up the opposite Bank of the Tugela and artillery fire commenced in earnest, the whole of the two ridges and the trenches and Koppies below were searched out with the tremendous fire of shrapnel -heavy common- and lyddite. This fire kept down the enemy in their trenches, but the moment a shell burst near trench up to jumped a few of those fellows and standing up fired down on the advancing lines. Then they would hear a shell come singing towards them and down went all the heads till it burst then up they bobbed again. This went on for about an hour are infantry gaining cover bit by bit and the Boers contesting every step. At last our fellows reached the Ridge and the Boers fled even then a few remain and found that those who got first to the trenches, but I men kept pouring on and the position was ours. It was a magnificent sight.
The artillery kept up the shel fire directing it on the trenches until our own men were hardly or 60-70 yards off, at the moment the Hills were as the guns ceased except to hastened the flight of small parties of Boers crossing the dongas on the left running for dear life.
The advance was magnificent, and from . The whole battle took place like a Panorama, clear and distinct. We saw the whole thing beautifully, as the moment the real advance began we had to cease firing, as our guns become useless being too light to attack strong trenches so we simply sat and watched. Half an hour longer and we would have been too late as it was then 6:30 PM and the light was beginning to go. Within 1/4 an hour after 24 hours , little fingers appeared all over the Ridge and slopes - Tommy was boiling water in his mess tin for tea.
The rest is not worth telling- our guns went back half a mile to our camp, and after an early meal, we turned in at 8:30.
At 2:30 AM we got orders on the 28th of February to cross the River and take up a position commanding the Valley in rear of left Hill. It was however unnecessary as the Boers had gone. Cavalry and RA have gone in pursuit and got to Ladysmith this morning .- no one allowed within 4 miles of town on account of the disease.
I rode round the Boer trenches to see them and got any amount of ammunition for the rifle I bought for a sovereign from a S.F. It is a beauty, and almost knew, and had only a small knock on the stock , but otherwise it is in perfect condition. I hope it will be found useful for sporting purposes in “piping times of peace”.
Still waggon loads of food and comfort are toiling on to Ladysmith. I hope I shall get some chance of seeing Pat.
As I missed the Mail on the 1st of March I must send this off tomorrow. Nothing of any note had happened since the previous date - March 2nd on Sunday I rode with Crawford to Colenso- I went over Fort Wiley and the Boer trenches across the Ladysmith Rd via Groblors Koof, the Boer main stronghold, also the trenches between Hlangwani and Monte Cristo.
One can only Marvel the two things- first how Buller ever delivered a frontal attack at Colenso - except that you would not believe that there were any Boers near- and Secondly having become there heavily engaged, how he was not more deeply entangled and succeeding withdrawing his infantry and guns. It was lucky the naval guns were not lost too. On Sunday night and on Monday night we had the first night A.T. Turner who had been at Ladysmith (78th FB) and second night Street ( second div. Am Col.) who also brought news from there. I gave each of them notes for Pat saying where I was and hoping to see him. I do not think that I have mentioned that we are now back at Chievely having marched here from near Pieters early on Saturday morning.
The flies are terribly bad, and we are trying to get to camp at Colenso. That would be a very pleasant spot, as it would be on the River, instead of three miles from it, and would be closer to a good canteen, and only i/4 of a mile from beautiful Bush country with plenty of shade.
It is certainly getting cooler now, but the sun is still very hot and from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM one generally feels if life were a bit trying but in the early morning and evening are delightfully delightful if short .
Yesterday your papers arrived (February 2nd) and were most welcome. In the evening- sent back from Ladysmith- we received our letters. I got fathers, Belles and mothers all of the second Feby.
The Standard has an account of our getting up Spion Kop – the only paper I think. The papers are just full of blame about are being sent this country with smoky powder, if it were not(1 ). either we are beneath the enemie’s contempt(though I I think we did good work I think on Schwartz Kop) or (2) they think it a trick of the “verdomnede rooinek”, To draw their fire of our heavy guns; we should have suffered heavy casualties. My major, I know, is writing a very strong letter on the subject .
Many, many thanks for all your offers to send out anything I may want, but I have no room for more things. Belle asks how we get things mended - kept up- and washed. The bat retailer does the 1st - as the second, I have spare clothes (and by the same token have had to start a second pair of riding breeches, At climbing over and sitting on sharp rocks is detrimental to that portion of the anatomy which more frequently comes into contact with the self same rocks. I've also worn out two coats, and so have had to send for more. As for the third, my servant generally keeps my clothes clean by the application of ordinary common or garden soap and the bucket for the water from the turbid Tugela or from or from somewhere as we always must be near water of sorts, as mules- though hardy require a good drink, at least twice a day. In fact I have- except once for nearly a week- managed a Matitudinal tub daily though the water displays more frequently the characteristics of pea soup then puree naturelle.
I have been trying very hard to get my camera up, but I think it should come tonight by Ker who had to go down to pm Berg to see a dentist.
He broke 3 teeth over ration biscuits, and got a real bad dose of toothache .
By the way his DSO was got for West Africa (Benin and the Niger protectorates).
No further news accepted rumour of rebellion in Prieska. I hope it will be utterly squashed and the ringleaders shot- little else will really settle the country, and prevent further risings.
I would like father to read the article on Mr JS Bloch’s book “Is War Now Impossible” in the review of reviews. For Jany 15th.It is a modest prognostication on the conduct of Modern Warfare, and is corroborated in a most extraordinary manner by the conduct of the war in South Africa.
I'm writing to Newport to ask them to forward my luggage to 15 L.T I would like the Chest of draws opened and in one of the drawers you will find a blue Serge regimental jacket (or two) please send me one. The carriage will be forwarded and perhaps father could kindly debit my account with the amount. There are also a number of white linen regimental colours (for wear with the jacket) which I would also like . I'm writing to the mess Butler RA Barracks- Newport, ( Mon) for them .
Please excuse more as the Mail leaves here tonight.
Dr David Biggins
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