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Samuel Osborn of the Van Alen American Field Hospital 3 years 3 months ago #66134

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A picture of Samuel Osborn and brief details when he set out for South Africa.



Source: The Graphic 17 February 1900
Dr David Biggins
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Samuel Osborn of the Van Alen American Field Hospital 3 years 3 months ago #66135

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The first medal he is wearing is the Greek Order of the Redeemer. The second medal is not at all distinct.
Dr David Biggins

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Samuel Osborn of the Van Alen American Field Hospital 2 years 7 months ago #70081

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My grateful thanks to Brian Porter to finding and transcribing the final instalment, part 5 of 5.


It is only right to say that the civilian element received the greatest consideration from their professional confrères of the Royal Army Medical Corps, with whom it was a pleasure to work to be associated, it would have been impossible to have met with greater kindness from anyone than we did from Colonel Townsend, the Principal Medical Officer of our Division, and his valuable coadjutor, Major Burtchaell, R.A.M.C. The latter officer had the unique experience for a medical officer of being a prisoner for some days in the hands of the Boers, and it was with him that I visited some of the Red Cross Hospital trains. It is a greatly to the credit of everyone concerned that these trains were fitted and transformed from ordinary passenger ones in so short a time as six or eight days. This is a strong argument in favour of adaption and against special construction which may take many weeks. The arrangements of these hospital trains was everything that could be desired, and the wounded had every attention and comfort given them. The Red Cross Society gave to every invalid soldier entering them a line bag containing two flannel shirts, pocket handkerchiefs, a suit of pyjamas, a pair of socks, writing paper, a sponge and tooth brush. I said to one of the soldiers that he was, indeed, now well set up. “Yes,” he replied, “and that tooth brush will do capitally for cleaning my buttons with,” having apparently no intention of using it for the purpose for which it was intended; a tooth brush to remove the dust from the mouth after a long march being by no means one least useful of sanitary precautions.

It is perfectly justifiable to call Tommy “absent minded.” In the village of Boshof there was an excellent open-air swimming bat, which was greatly enjoyed be the soldiers, especially during the hot part of the day: but instead of using it as they would have been compelled to use such a bath at home, they used soap: and consequently, the surface of the water was never what it should have been, and made it very unpleasant to use afterwards. On the Kopje close to us a Kaffir hermit had located himself a rag and bone shelter. He had not, I think, all his senses, and fancied himself King of the Kaffir kraal some short distance off. I made him a present of a small looking glass, which pleased him immensely, for he sat jabbering like a monkey, which he very closely resembled, whilst he looked at himself in it, and was by no means a pretty object to behold.

Easter Day was properly celebrated in the camp. It proved to be a very wet morning, so, having one of our large tents empty, I offered it to the regimental Chaplin for the early celebration, at which some thirty soldiers attended. The same offer was made for the second service, but the numbers attending were so numerous that the tent would not accommodate them and the service was partly in the tent and partly in the open. So numerous indeed were the worshipper that, as there was only one clergyman to officiate, he was reluctantly compelled to do a thing he had never done before, and that was to say the prayers of administration to batches of five at a time and not each one separately. The chaplain said that he had never witnessed so large an attendance in camp before, and it was for him a matter of great delight. Unfortunately, we lost his services a short time after as he was laid up with an attack of enteric fever.

The chaplain in the British Army is distinguished by a black Maltese Cross, edged round with gold cord, on the collar of his khaki coat. He certainly looked somewhat unclerical with a khaki helmet and a surplice over a suit of khaki, whilst his legs below showed brown boots and legs encases in putties. A one of the services a rough Irish terrier stood devotedly behind the chaplain during the whole service.

Another minister, belonging, I think, to the Christian Association, once called upon me professionally wearing the arms of Oxford University on his collar. The amusing part of this was that my orderly, seeing his collar, announced him a gentleman belonging to some bicycle corps.

Our church services always ended with “God Save the Queen,” and the National Anthem, sung fervently by all soldiers, without music, whilst in touch with the enemy and in an enemy’s country, was to me, somehow, far more impressive than at any time I had ever heard it before.
I visited one Sunday the Dutch church in the centre of the town. This service was Congregational and the entirely in Dutch, even to the sermon; so, I understood nothing of it. What struck me as remarkable was that the congregation sat the whole time to pray, and even to sing, whereas to stand and to throw out the chest is one of the first principles when taught to sing, and it did not strike me a s reverential. The parson was another edition of the Vicar of Bray; at one time Boer, at another Briton. Armed with a camera, he was caught one day photographing the arrangements of the camp and he was speedily stopped by order of the General.

News in camp of how the war was progressing was very meagre, and in consequence rumours and false reports abounded. In some place notice boards with the latest telegrams were posted up by the kindness of the General Commanding, and these were eagerly scanned by a crowd of soldiers. The chief interest of the day centred in the daily issue of camp orders with the countersign or password of the day, and the time and place of the next day’s march. The initial letter of the countersign, following as it did the letters of the alphabet afforded speculation as to what it would be; for instance, “Argyle” would be followed by one beginning with B. When going out of camp or returning late in the evening it was necessary to be in possession of this password in case of being challenged by a sentry. On one occasion, being challenged, “who goes there?” “Friend”: “Halt and give the countersign,” I gave it at once by calling out “Warrenton.” Seeing the sentry advance with his bayonet fixed, and fearing I was an intended victim, I called out still more loudly, “Warrenton”, you fool don’t you know it” The sentry then still further advance, and in dulcet tones admonished me for shouting it out. “Not shout it out Indeed,” I replied, when I saw you advancing with a pointed bayonet.”

When at Schwartz Koppefontein I had a most agreeable conversation with the General upon the excellence of the Tortoise Tents and Waggons which had at our Field Hospital. There is plenty of room for improvement in the construction of the Regulation Ambulance Waggon, and that in its use by the Boars was far superior to ours. It is a mistake to supposes that an ox waggon is an uncomfortable mode of convoy for the wounded. I have tried all varieties, and although it is slow in progress, it is the most comfortable. Not to get jolting in any ambulance over such country would be impossible, which anyone would find who tried to drive, for instance, up the Valley of the Rocks at Lynton. However, something constructed on the swing principle, like cots on board a ship, would be better adapted to a country like South Africa.

It was on leaving Schwartz Koppefontein on the retune march to Boshof that we had experience of hearing the sound of the Boar pom-poms, so named from the noise which these guns make when fired. On our finally leaving Boshof two earthworks or redoubts were dug out within ten yards of my tent for protection of the town by the diminished garrison when we left it, thereby showing what I had previously said about the strategical position of the place where our hospital was located.

The Boers were up to every conceivable trick on the face of the globe. As our khaki uniform prevent their seeing us satisfactory as we advanced, they set fire to the grass so as to make a black background against which our uniforms would show up more plainly and afford a better marker for them to shot at.

As the column proceeded the dust arose in clouds, and, rising many feet above our heads, was driven in our faces by the wind. To some it was possible to ride to the windward and escape it somewhat, and well for those who could. The dust swallowed was in my opinion partly the cause of illness amongst the soldiers.

It appeared to me that much might be done in future campaigns toward the improvement of the sanitary arrangements of troops on active service, and this has led me to suggest the introduction of a “Corps Sanitaire” in our Service, similar to what is already found in the Continental armies.
I think, also, that the swagger turned up hat was the cause of much sun fever, because it was always jauntily turned up on one side and never down all the way round as worn by the Boars and Colonials. The North and South Notts and the Yeomanry, who were not supplied with helmets, undoubtable suffered more than those with.
A very wise precaution to keep any wound antiseptic was to adopted be each man having sewn in the front in the front corner of his tunic an antiseptic pad, protective and bandage. This could be immediately applied by any unskilled hand, and the wound thus early rendered and kept clean was the cause of it more rapid healing.

Between Aaronslaagte and Niekirk Kuil, some eighteen miles, there was no water to be got, and the oxen if not moved on by night would die by the roadside. Therefore, it necessitated a night march, which began after dinner at 7 p.m.

In the imperfect moonlight the moving column had the most weird effect – a veritable nocturne in black and greys, it looked like a replica of Napoleon’s flight from Moscow without the horrors, the silence being only broken by the native drivers urging on their mules with the cry of “Hut hut!” which is the equivalent to our “Gee up.” Having done a march of some fifteen miles the day before we were mostly half asleep. A horseman was rudely shaken by his comrade to keep him from falling asleep upon his horse, whilst another rolled off the top of the waggon going along in front of us. We had halted in the middle of the night for some refreshments, rum being served all round; but it was a very short rest, as the General feared that if it was to long some might fall asleep and be trouble to wake.

When we did arrive at our destination at 5 a.m. I was so tired that I fell to the ground and fell asleep at once, even though we had in our company the champion snorer of the entire column.

The horses in South Africa suffered largely, but whether it was due to their not being properly understood it is difficult to say. Those brought from home suffered more than those Colonial bred. Sore locks were the grate trouble, probably arising from heat generated during the day and the cold when at rest during the night. It was said by one who ought to know that instead of taking the saddles off at night they ought to have been left on and the girths loosened. I personally had three remounts owing to sore backs, one, a Basuto pony that in appearance really more resembled a sheep than a horse. Some horses, however stood the campaign well, notably a very bad-tempered beast that was named “Boshof,” but a great favourite, nevertheless with owner. The kindness of Tommy to his horse was proverbial, and if the animal was wounded or derelict a bullet ended his suffering.

The fact will be appreciated by those who took interest in this matter at home, and asked me to give it my attention before I left the Cape. The price of these in South Africa was needlessly raised by the multiplicity of agents buying one against the another. An animal that could have been procured for five to ten pounds was run up to thirty or forty.

It was awfully difficult, being in khaki, to recognise of what regiment you happened to be abreast when on the march. The Staffordshire knot, fastened on the side of the helmet and below collar at the knap of the neck, was the most easily picked out of all. There were some very distinguished infantry regiments joined with us notably the North Lancashire under the command of Colonel Kekewich, and the Yorkshire Light Infantry, under the command of Colonel Porter.

Riding ahead, I entered the town of Hoopstad before the main body of the column, and whilst awaiting their entry got into conversation with an Englishman resident in the town. He proving to be an old bluejacket from H.M.S. Blanche, my heart immediately went out to him and I immediately got him to supply us with milk, butter and bread. At our midday mess his character was aspersed without knowledge, which I resented, though the charges afterwards proved to be correct. This renegade Englishman, who had deserted from the Navy, had been excused by the Boar commander of his district from fighting against his own countrymen, and having got his letter of exemption, excepted the sum of two hundred and fifty pounds from an old Boer farmer to in his stead. No wonder they had a bad opinion of Englishmen in that town. My quondam friend the following day found himself in the local gaol, with a court-martial hanging over him. What his ultimate punishment was I don’t know – shooting was too good for him.

The Boars now began to come in daily to surrender and give up their weapons and ammunition. A large bonfire to destroy the latter was burning for two whole days. Some prisoners, Generals Daniels and Dupree amongst the number (the notorious General Pretorius unfortunately escaped capture), wrapped up in vary loud coloured rugs and riding on an ox waggon, were taken along with us.

It was at the house of General Daniels in Boshof, which was occupied as a residence by some officers, that I had the pleasure of dinning. Our march continued along the south of the Vaal River, which in some places reminded me very much of the Thames scenery. We then proceeded south to Bothaville and thence to Kroonstad. The entry to Bothaville was marked by some looting on the part of our soldiers, but not to any great extent. The taking of some 2 ½ d fans was brought one man, and there was a supposed order that anyone found looting was to be hanged and his regiment sent down to the Cape, we were all very fearful that the order would be carried out for this offence, although it was actually so trivial. Stellenbosch, a camp not far from the Cape, was the corner to which those were sent who had done wrong. “To be Stellenbosched” was synonymous to being reprimanded or punished, it became a familiar expression.

Of wild flowers there were but few; a bright red ranenclus was the most conspicuous as well as the most beautiful. Now and again we heard in camp we heard the most tremendous outcry like that made by on lookers at a football match. This was due to some poor rabbit getting up and the soldiers giving chase with sticks or anything they could get hols of so as not to lose this addition to their stockpot. Of other animals beside rabbit, the mere cat the gnu and occasional springbok were seen; the ant bear was unhabitually there in plenty but never visible, and an occasional snake and some very beautiful orange and green coloured chameleons were met with. One of the last-named I obtained and put into a bucket with the hope of bringing it home with me for the Zoological Gardens in London. Unfortunately, when we were crossing a river, the water was sufficiently high to upset the bucket, suspended under one of the waggons, and my chameleon got washed out.

Such were some of the pleasurable incidents of my campaign War has also another side, the painful and terrible one. Tragedy and comedy walk together. Of this other side I have intentionally said nothing. It is not right to those loved ones at home to raise the curtain of that picture. Those out there never realise it, and in the excitement of the battle do not think of the horrors of war. A piece of looking glass passed round by a soldier before the battle, with joking remark to have to have the chance of one more look at oneself, is sad and sorry jest, and anything but a joke to those who are at home. To those who have to sit at home thinking and knowing what war really is, come the sorrow and distress. Why, then, harrow their feelings? Look on the bright side. We fight for honour and glory of our country.
Dr David Biggins

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Samuel Osborn of the Van Alen American Field Hospital 1 year 11 months ago #74696

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This information was really great. Thank you.
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Samuel Osborn of the Van Alen American Field Hospital 1 year 11 months ago #74754

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Opcom,

There is continuing research into Samuel Osborn with one person I know researching a book on his life.
Dr David Biggins
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