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A Year in
Part 2 of 3- July 1st to December 31st 1901
This morning early a Boer came into our camp, under cover of a ‘white flag’ – with a note to our General from Commandant Kemp – with whom we had the tussle yesterday – asking for bandages and medicine for their wounded. These were at once sent. Column left Rudival noon, travelling over rough, but beautiful country, till 7.30 p.m. when we camped near a very large Kaffir village; the name of which I have not yet learned.
These natives do not live in such squalor, as do our Australian blacks.
Their little conical shaped huts, tho’ simple structures of mud and thatch, are kept scrupulously clean. In front of each house is a walled in area, semicircular in shape; within this area, the mistress of the house performs her household duties; does the cooking -such as it is- and feeds her little family. This latter interesting performance is simple in the extreme. The dusky materfamilias places a certain number of wooden bowls (corresponding with the number of ‘little ones’) at certain intervals around the arena. These bowls contain “mealie-meal” which forms the principal food of the Kaffir. The hungry ‘juveniles’ then “file in” in order of seniority, and without argument, apply themselves assiduously -per hand- to the apparently congenial task of reducing the contents of the wooden bowls. It is a novel sight, as pleasing as it is instructive, and I think these young gentlemen would not mind how many times a day they had to rehearse it for the stranger’s edification.
Left camp 6.30 a.m. reaching Ebenezar 3.30 p.m. A little skirmishing took place ‘en route’.
Convoy remained in camp. Mounted Column went out 6 a.m. with empty waggons to bring in Boer families from Waterval. Returned 6 p.m., with quite a large number of people, - also a fine piano- the property of one of the ladies present. Being a beautiful moonlight night it was decided that we should have a concert – the fair owner of the piano graciously giving her consent; indeed many of the Dutch ladies honoured our humble concert with their august presence. I have an idea, however, that they were not very favorably [sic] impressed with our vocal capacities. There are certain songs always trotted out on every such occasion, notable that one which deals with the pathetic subject of “Plucking a flower from my “oingil” mothers “groive”.
This doleful song is sung at every military ‘chivoo’, and generally by about the worst singer present. (On this occasion we had abundant material to choose from).
Then follows a few recitations including always a stirring rendition of “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. The “Hard Case” of the company, - whose real talents for comedy by the way– seem to be reserved for the edification of a few intimate friends, in the seclusion of his own tent– then steps jauntily forward amid vociferous cheering, and chants something in rhyme about the impossibility of a man “livin ‘appy with ‘is wife, when she’s alwis chewin’ biscuits in the bed”.
He then goes on – still in rhyme- to explain that “Biscuits has drove him off his chump”, and it appears that he “gave his darlin’ warnin’ ”, that he’d got the “bally-ooly ‘ump”, and was ‘orf to–morrow mornin’. -At this juncture someone in the audience rudely asked if it wouldn’t be better to start at once? which remark was treated with the contempt it deserved. But we had a few musicians in the company to whom the Dutch piano proved an acquisition, and to these few our hearty thanks are due for having upheld the prestige of our race in front of the strangers.
Left Ebenezar 6 a.m., reaching Elands River 4 p.m.
Column left camp 6 a.m. Early in the afternoon Boers were sighted on the hills round Wanderfontein. On coming within rifle-range we had a brisk Encounter. Our artillery got to work, and was soon pumping shell and shrapnel in thick and fast.
I have never seen such a display of artillery. The shells literally tore up the tops of the kopjes. We had no casualties. It is said the Boers lost 13 killed, besides many wounded.
The country round here is very mountainous, and affords very good shelter for the Boers, who seem to be pretty numerous in this district.
Column left Wanderfontein about dawn. Shortly afterwards the enemy attacked our Left Flank and Rear Guard; After a time they were repulsed. One of our officers, Lieut Battye – was wounded in the thigh. We also had several horses shot. In the afternoon we captured a Boer Convoy in the bush, three miles north of Magozastad. In one of the waggons were some boxes of clothing marked “Mrs P. Botha”. Besides some beautiful silk dresses, the boxes contained some jewellery.
It is quite possible that Mrs. B– will have some difficulty in getting her trinkets together again, should she require them for the grand ball which “Kruger” is going to give when they finish the war.
Column reached Kopval 9 a.m. Here we camped for the day.
Can hear heavy cannonading on our Left – probably Lord Methuen’s Column engaged. – Was made a corporal today.
We reached Zeerust this afternoon.
It is a small town, rather pretty, - also rather unhealthy. At the present time there are six columns camped here comprising in all nearly 10,000 men.
It was here, that Sir F. Carrington, - for certain reasons- burnt a greater portion of his convoy last year. He may have been in the right, but it does seem a pity to have burned so much valuable stuff, when there was (apparently) no urgent need for such a course of action.
Remained in camp today, getting in supplies for return ‘trek’ to Klerksdorp.
Several horses died this evening from the effects of a poisonous weed, which grows plentifully round here. This poisonous plant grows from a bulb, and in appearance is like the daffodil.
Local horses will not touch it.
Column left Zeerust 6 a.m. by the
There is no water for either horse
or man to-night, and a stretch of 25 miles tomorrow before we reach any.
This portion of the
Left camp before dawn, reaching Kroenhoek (and water) about noon. The poor horses were famished, and we were glad enough to get a drink.
Left Kroenhoek 6 a.m. About 9 o’clock, a little firing took place on the Flank.
Reached Leufontein 2 p.m.
Moved off camp 6.30 a.m. Outspanned at 10 for 2 hours. Reached Hartebeesfontein 6 p.m. With commendable forethought, our Colonel has selected a newly-burned piece of country for our camp. What with the tramping about, and a fine breeze blowing, we will all be like Kaffirs in half an hour.
Left camp 6.30 trekking South. Reached Klerksdorp at noon. Shortly after arriving, an Australian mail was given out. Little work is done when a mail comes, everyone is too busy reading home-letters.
Received a “Pay” – first since we
Left Klerksdorp travelling Westward (we never know were we are going) – Camped at Hartebeesfontein 4.p.m.
Left camp 6 a.m. When nearing Leufontein, Hasler’s Australian Scouts saw a party of possibly 200 men, approaching. They wore “khaki” and rode in the usual “extended order” of British troops.
Captain Hasler, being doubtful, gave the Column signal, whereon, one of the advancing party held his hat out in his left hand (our pre-arranged signal denoting “Friends”) This being considered sufficient, they were allowed to approach. When within a hundred yards the Boers – (for such they were) suddenly dismounted, and fired a volley into our men, killing Sergeant Seymour, wounding Captain Hasler, and hitting several others. Our Squadron-Officer hearing the firing gave us the order to gallop, and not needing a second telling, away we went, racing almost up to the Boers. Then the bullets began to fly. “W-h-i-n-g, whing!” how they whistled through the air, tearing up the ground with a savage “Zip!”
The Boers, however, not wishing to quarrel with our particular squadron elected to retire, and were soon tearing across the veldt as fast as their good little horses could carry them; but, five of them remained and will never ride over the great plains and kopjes of their native land again.
We are all sorry for poor
“Dulce et decorum [est] pro patria mori” sayeth the proverb. Perhaps so. It is right enough to “go down” in a fair, open fight, but not in this cold blooded fashion.
Our men have received great praise from the General, who promised to have our “Gallant fight” mentioned in his dispatches to the Commander-in-chief.
Captain Hasler is badly hit, and will probably be invalided home. He will be a loss to our Column, as no braver man ever entered the field of action.
Column reached Holfontein 2 p.m. Southern Cossack Post – under Corporal Johnson – saw 14 Boers advancing towards their ‘Post’. Lying flat down they allowed the enemy to approach within two or three hundred yards, then opened fire, killing three. The rest fled. All the afternoon Boers were seen hovering about the skyline, but they kept at a respectful distance. “Long Elsie” – our Elswick Gun – fired 3 shots at a farm house -3400 yards range-; First two struck close, the third lodged fair on the roof. Almost instantaneously Boers could be seen emerging from the house, thinking probably that it was no place for them.
Reached Doornklip 4 p.m. “Cossack Post” was attacked, and came tearing into camp about 5, overwhelmed, they said by numbers. All that could be seen from camp, however, were hardly sufficient to cause alarm.
Left Doornklip 6 a.m. reaching Rooibuilt 3.30 p.m.
Reveille 6.30 a.m. Seems like a day in camp. Out comes the “washing”.
About noon the Scouts belonging to Col. Hickeys Column, mistaking our Outpost for Boers, fired on them.
The bullets came whistling past them, right into the middle of our camp, one striking within a yard of where our “select” party was seated having lunch.
Fortunately we had not much furniture to shift, but what we had was removed I believe, in record time.
At 2 p.m., the convoy, with an escort left camp. We remained until dusk. After lighting fires, to make believe we were camping for the night, we moved off silently in the darkness. At midnight we halted, tied our horses up, and prepared to go to sleep. At 1 we were turned out again, the Intelligence Staff having brought in word that a Boer Convoy was close at hand.
By a quarter past one, we had saddled up, and on the move. It was a glorious moonlight night. No talking was allowed, and nothing save the steady tramp of our horses feet on the grassy veldt broke the stillness of the perfect night.
Suddenly the voice of a Boer sentinel rang out “Wei dar!” (Who goes there.) A flash of fire leapt to someone’s rifle and a bullet sped through the air, and that was the only reply the poor chap got.
We were ordered to charge, and down to the Boer’s camp we raced. – It was grand.
The march had been well planned; we had surprise them, but still some shooting took place. A lad near me was hit, and died afterwards. Some surrendered, many escaped, and a few were killed. In all we had captured 32 waggons, and 70 prisoners; besides a fine herd of cattle. A good nights work.
We went on till daylight, then camped, - glad of a rest.
It is a blazing hot day, and there is no water here- the nearest being Hart’s River – 20 miles distant.
We tried to sleep until the sun roasted us out. No shade to be got anywhere. Everyone looking “only middling”, heavy eyed, dust-begrimed, and thirsty. How is it that one is always thirsty when there is no water procurable? The Convoy rejoined us about noon. They have had a long heavy march, and the mules must have a spell. We go on at mid-night.
Reached Hart’s River at day-break and pleased we were to get there. It is over 40 hours since we had aught to drink. The poor horses I pity most. They have been dropping out at intervals throughout the night, and had to be left to their fate. More than one tired solder tramped wearily into camp, sorry enough to have left his equine companion behind him to die. Nothing is sadder than this silent parting with one’s horse. You feel, and rightly too – that you have lost a friend. What friend could be more faithful than this poor dumb creature? – Perhaps you owe your very life to the horse you leave to die by the wayside; but we have come to understand that “War” is no great picnic.
Left camp 3.30 a.m., reaching the
deserted town of
Had a cricket-match this afternoon, the townspeople having been good enough to leave the requisite utensils behind them. We appreciate their thoughtfulness.
Column left Swatz-renike 3.30 a.m. travelling through sandy, desert country until 3 p.m. Camped at “Guidplaats” which name translated into English means “Good-place” The Dutchman who named it thus, must have been of a decidedly optimistic turn of mind.
Left camp 4.45 a.m. Farewell Guidplaats!
We had a brisk skirmish shortly before noon, resulting in the capture of 15 prisoners, 12 waggons and 500 cattle. Only 1 man wounded on our side.
After a long, weary, march over barren sandy ground, we reached a place by the stylish name of Lowsblaake. No water again. A man wants to be like a camel for travelling in this country.
Left camp early, crossed the
Arived at the town of
Column left Taungs 4 p.m., travelling in a South Easterly direction till dark.
Reached Scaapfontein 6 p.m.
11 Remained in camp all day. “Dulce far niete”
12 Column left Scaapfontein 6 a.m.
The country we are passing over is rough and hilly, and -we are told- nearly all gold-bearing. It is the opinion of practical miners amongst us, that there is gold in large quantities about this district.
Re-crossed the Transvaal border 10
a.m. Passed ‘Christiana’ on the
Christiana was the first
Camped at Uitspanning 5 miles North of
Christiana, also on the
Left camp 4.30 a.m, reaching
Matlabanstad about noon, having travelled up the
The Mounted Column, taking with them one blanket, and two days rations per man left camp at midnight.
A large Boer Convoy passed here two days ago, travelling north -so the local Kaffirs say. After having travelled about 25 miles, we camped.
Reveille, midnight. Away again.
This morning we overtook six ox-waggons belonging to a Convoy. Pursued a party of Boers, but could not get a shot at them. We can see fresh tracks, as of a large convoy, so things are improving. The Boers we saw this morning were probably acting Rear-Guard.
Reveille 5.30 a.m. Rejoined our
supply-waggons at 9. They have been travelling along up the river. Drew
more rations and set off again in pursuit- of our (?) Convoy. After a long
day’s ride we halted near the town of
Left camp again, at midnight. About 3 p.m. we came up with the Boer Rearguard and our sprits rose. After a short exchange of pleasantries, we drove the enemy forward, and raced down on their convoy. Here we met with a stubborn resistance, but we have ridden so far, that we were determined not to go back without something for our trouble, and they, probably thinking that it was of no use wasting time with such unreasonable folk, kindly withdrew, leaving us in possession of 105 waggons; 1500 cattle; and 30 prisoners of war, besides many Boer famlies. This may be considered a splendid capture. Darkness was closing in on our triumph, and the return march of 25 miles had yet to be made, over unknown country. We had neither forage for our weary horses, nor rations for ourselves, so must reach our camp somehow.
I will not attempt to describe that long, homeward night march. Most of the Transport Waggons had to be driven by our men, -the Kaffir drivers having cleared out during the fight. However, all things good and bad come to an end, and we reached our camp at “Palmeitfontein” at midnight. We had ridden over 70 miles, and had been in the saddle 22 hours since our last brief halt. Most of us slept soundly, I believe, when once we got to bed.
Reveille 7.30 a.m. A day in camp.
This morning our General sent a message round, congratulating the Flying Column on its well-earned capture. Such a feat, he declares, could not have been successfully accomplished by any other but Colonial troops.
He made special reference to what [he] characterised as “marvellous powers of endurance” on our part, and expressed himself highly pleased with the manner in which we piloted the waggons along in the dark.
Amongst the Dutch families, are two young ladies, - nieces of the Boer General Delarey. –They are pleasant, refined girls, pretty, well dressed, and speak English fluently – almost too fluently, we thought.
During a conversation one remarked that we “Australians seemed to prefer making war on the ladies, to fighting the men”. What could one do but suggest that where such as they were concerned it was rather the more dangerous occupation of the two. Perhaps some of us, really thought so too, at the time.
Column left camp 6 a.m., reaching Rhenoster Spruit 3.30.
A “white flag” incident occurred here. A party of Boers holding out a “token of surrender”, on being interviewed by a member of the Intelligence staff, stated that they wished to see an Officer, to arrange with him terms of surrender. Captain Vandaleur went out to meet them. Imagine his surprise on being surrounded by armed Boers, stripped of all his valuables -including a gold watch- and even his clothes. A mean trick, and a favourite one of the Boers, but it will yet cost them dear.
Reached the Afrikander Mines 5.30. One of the richest gold mines in the Klerksdorp District, and prior to the outbreak of war, was worked by a British Syndicate. -Some splendid machinery going to ruin here.
Reached Klerksdorp shortly after mid-day. More news from home. The papers and letters are about six weeks old, but are very welcome, never-the-less.
In camp, Klerksdorp. Getting in supplies for next trek.
Column left Klerksdorp 6 a.m. trekking out in a north-easterly direction. Camped at Brakspruit 4.30.
Reached Klip-plaats Drift 4 p.m.
Column reached Ventersdorp 6 p.m.
All the gardens and fields round the town are enclosed by hedges of peach trees. These are all out in full bloom at present, and they look lovely. It is a great fruit growing place, being well adapted for peach, fig and apricot. Quinces, also, grow well, and oranges and lemons, to perfection.
Left Ventersdorp 7 a.m. camping three miles north of town. A dozen, or more of our men, have been sent into the local Hospital with “enteric”.
Aug-30 to 31-01
Remained in camp until moon rose about 6.15 p.m. Travelled north till 11; Outspanned till 3 a.m. then on again reaching Kaallaagte 9 a.m. Remained in camp for the rest of day.
Mounted Column left camp 4 a.m. reaching Cypherhoek 4 p.m. We are once again on the verge of the great valley of the Maghaliesberg.
Some of our men came in contact with
Boer Scouts this afternoon. The result of the interview was that one of
our scouts came back shortly after with a bullet in his leg.... Five other
Columns are working in conjunction with us, namely
It is said that we have Delarey and Co “hemmed in”- down in the valleys below. We are a bit incredulous, knowing how many times that gentleman has been ‘hemmed in’ before; moreover the country out here is exceedingly rough, and between our own Column, and our closest operating neighbour, is a distance of over five miles.
It is impossible for a few sentries to guard such an extent of country, more especially as the nights are now dark. Patrols are being sent out tonight, but men such as the Boers are have no difficulty in evading a ‘patrol’, and making good their escape. This has been done before, and will continue to be done, so long as we stick to the present inadequate system of ‘patrolling’. Long lines of well-entrenched outposts would possibly (?) prove more effective.
Nothing occurred during the night, -at least the “patrol” ‘saw’ nothing. Moved over to Courtfontein, which place we reached at 5 p.m.
Our supply-waggons rejoined us in camp this morning. Some of the Troops -“Right Wing and Bushmen” – went out on a reconnaissance, returning 4 p.m. with half a dozen prisoners and a few waggons.
The “Left Wing”- that is, our Squadron, and “D”- went out on patrol early.
In one of the rough mountain gullies -so numerous about here – we surprised, and captured 12 Boers. These gentlemen were enjoying their noon-day “siesta” in the shade of some fine trees, and appeared to resent our unmannerly intrusion.
They had quite a variety of rifles, “Mauser”, “Krag-Jorgensen” and “Mannlicher”. These we promptly confiscated, but had to eventually hand them over to the “Provost Marshal”.
More “patrols” and more prisoners. This ‘patrolling’ is rather exciting work, and, for those who have a fancy for such things, there is an element of danger about it, which makes it fascinating. In parts, the country is so rough, that to get along, we are forced to go in “single-file”. How the Boers could ‘slate’ us in such places!
Left Courtfontein this morning early, reached Ebenezar 4 p.m. (This is where we held our concert on a recent memorable occasion.)
Troops went up 7 a.m. About 9 o’clock, as we were crossing a deep valley, the Boers opened fire on us. They were completely hidden in the crags of the hillside.
In the first volley, they killed two of our horses, and wounded a trooper.
The rapidity with which our men dismounted, (without orders), sent their horses back to shelter by the “horse-holders”- that is one man in each four- and themselves took “cover”, does them credit. I was sent in charge of an ammunition waggon to a certain spot, having to cross, what the war-correspondents call the “zone of fire”. I did not think of war-correspondents at the time.
“Ammunition Carts”, being objects of interest to Boers, I came in for a prodigious amount of attention. I never hope for a “warmer” reception than those honest burghers accorded me.
The Kaffir ‘boys’ began to show unmistakeable signs of “white feather” in spite of their natural duskiness.
Bullets were ripping up the dust in fifty places -big “Marlinis” falling with a heavy thud. One of the “boys” lay down in the bed of the waggon, while the other did a ‘break’, leaving “Yours truly” to get out as best he could. This was safely accomplished in an incredibly short space of time.
Those mules were never swung round so suddenly before, I’ll warrant. By this time our men had located the hidden enemy, and by means of a well-directed, continuous fire, were gradually shifting them.
Half an hour afterwards, we got orders to search the kopje, and up the sides we swarmed. We were rewarded by finding half a dozen “snipers”, whom we rooted out like Gorillas. These baboon-like men had made the cliffs and crags their home, and a fine home it was too, from a strategic point of view, tho’ I must admit, the comfort and refinement of an ideal home was somewhat lacking. All day long, we rode through these lovely, fertile valleys. We saw some splendid crops of barley, and oats. In one field, a stalwart Dutchman was ploughing most unconcernedly. He seemed greatly surprised when we intimated our desire that he should accompany us back to camp. Said he thought the war was over... The ignorance of these people is marvellous, and their “predicants” (or priests) cram them full of lies. To this fact their dogged persistence in continuing a hopeless struggle, can, in a measure, be attributed. The oranges down here are very fine, and though it is but early in September, many of the farms have green peas growing in abundance.
Putting the question of propriety aside, these delicacies make a very welcome addition to our limited larder.
Returned to camp an hour after dark.
Column left Ebenezar 6 a.m., reaching Eland’s River 5 p.m. We found a number of cases to-day, hidden in a small cave. These cases, were found, when opened, to contain ammunition, 33000 rounds in all. There can be no shortage of ammunition about this part.
Left camp 6 a.m., reaching Cypherfontein early in the afternoon. The wild flowers here are magnificent. I have rarely seen such a fine display.
Our supply convoy rejoined us at Leufontein 3 p.m. Glad enough to make its acquaintance again. We have been on ½ rations for the past three days.
“Intelligence” reported, late to night that a Boer Commando was camped at Tafelkop, 12 miles to Southward.
Mounted Column moved at 3 a.m. reaching Tafelkop just at dawn, but no sign of Boers. Convoy rejoined us at Witplaats 5 p.m.
Column reached Ventersdorp 3 p.m. camping within Garrison boundaries.
“Men may sleep with their boots off to-night”. (Extract from Column orders 13/9/01)
Left Ventersdorp 11 a.m. Camped at Elandskuil, -10 miles south of town. All waggons sent in to Potchefstroom for rations.
In camp. Heavy rain falling to-day. This is practically the first rain we have seen since landing. Some of the “old soldiers” are shacking their heads knowingly, and assuring us that we are “in for it” now, and telling, for our edification, how, in this country, it sometimes rains whole months without ceasing.
In camp. Still raining heavily. We have been provided with tents, so don’t care. Our camp is pitched on a fine slope, so whatever water runs in at the top side of our tent, quickly runs out again at the bottom.
Weather fine again. Squadron Target
Practice in afternoon. Eight of our men sent to
No 479 Trooper J. S----- received this day, by Field General Court-Martial, 18 months Imprisonment with Hard Labor, [sic] for sleeping whilst a sentry on duty. Being a volunteer, - and not a “Regular” – the unfortunate lad was “let down lightly”. The extreme penalty for this offence is Death.
Moved at 8 a.m. this morning to a camp 3 miles North of Ventersdorp. Sent all surplus stores back to town. Issued to Squadron, - 40 Head collars; 60 Reins; 60 Nosebags; 42 pairs Boots and 30 water-bottles, Left camp 6 p.m. travelled all night, northerly direction.
Reached Kaallaagte 8 a.m. Remained in camp rest of day.
Mobile Column left camp 6 a.m. N.W. travelling light. Halted at Ottofontein 25 miles distant. Boers were seen about 4 p.m. We had a ‘brush’ with them. Our Regimental Sergeant-Major had his horse shot in three places, simultaneously.
I was twenty paces behind him at the time, - wondering what would happen next. He merely said, (looking ruefully at his favorite [sic] ‘grey’) “No use a man having a good horse in this uncivilized country”. He is, -by-the-way- absolutely the gamest man I have seen out here, -a splendid soldier.
Left Ottofontein 6 a.m. reaching DoornKorn about noon. Convoy rejoined us here.
Troops went out reconnoitring, and ran into a number of Boers, before they knew where they were. One man was knocked over, but not killed. Deeming discretion to be the better part of valor” [sic], the patrol wisely withdrew.
I spent a very pleasant and profitable day “banging” dirty clothes down in the river.
Mounted Troops went out in force 6 a.m. taking a 15 pounder, and a “Pom-pom”. About 9 o’clock we could see Boers in large numbers, holding the kopjes in front of us. As a preliminary ‘the gunners’ sent them a few ‘messages’ by way of thanking them for the kindly interest they seemed to be taking in our movements.
Then we got the order to charge the position. The lead was flying about cheerfully, but mostly well overhead. In “extended order” we raced up the hillside, our excitement rising higher and higher as we went. When we reached the top, the Burgher gentlemen were over on the next kopje. All day long we were “taking positions”, and yet we only scored ½ dozen mean-looking and ill-mounted prisoners, but we drove them, - that is the bulk of the Boers, right into Colonel Kekewich, who was five miles in front of us.
We captured a fine herd of cattle, however, which is something.
Column remained in camp.
Left DoornKorn 2 p.m. reaching Leufontein 6 p.m.
Flying column sent out 4 a.m. Rejoined convoy at Cypherwater noon.
Troops went out on patrol. I went with Provost Staff to search farmhouses and to bring in all the families in the neighbourhood. One old “vrow” flatly refused to come with us, unless we took her wash-tubs, (3 in number) also. After a heated discussion a compromise was affected – the largest tub was allowed to accompany its affectionate owner, and we went on our way rejoicing.
Returned to camp at dusk, with over 200 women, children and old men.
Left camp 9 a.m. Country exceedingly rough. About noon, had a skirmish with enemy, resulting in the capture of 14 Boers with their rifles and horses. Later on we had a more serious engagement.
A squadron of us made an attack on an orchard, full of ripe oranges, – and bees. Three hives had been overturned, and the plucky occupants rushed out in millions, on vengeance bent. I never saw so many bees before, - and, by the same token, I think I never felt so many-. For a while we held our ground manfully, but the enemy’s repeated and ferocious onslaughts at last caused us to beat a hasty and undignified retreat in search of cover. One senseless youth had taken his horse in. The bees made a vicious attack on the poor animal. Two others and myself rushed in to the rescue, but the poor wretch mad with pain, would neither lead nor drive, in fact, would do nothing but kick at everyone and everything. By dint of main strength, and shoving, and pulling we got him out, but he died ten minutes afterwards.
Column camped at Kopperfontein 4 p.m.
About daybreak this morning we were roused by the booming of big guns in the direction of Rustenburg. We knew Colonel Kekewich to be camped Northwards. In the first light of the sun a “helio” could be seen flashing incessantly, away in the distance. Our “signallers” were hard at work writing down the message, which was from Kekewich saying that his camp had been attacked by a large force of Boers under General Delarey, Commandants Kemp and Boshoff, and a good deal else besides, which they would not tell us. The outcome of that message was a very hurried breakfast, and shortly after we were all “under way” as we believed, to the rescue.
Owing to several large ‘spruits’, and some exceedingly mountainous country, we were obliged to take a very circuitous route. After a weary, troublesome march we reached a large Kaffir village called “Ratsegai’s Kraal”. It was nearly midnight, so we camped till morning.
At dawn we were off again, but not before we caught a glimpse of a certain black freak—(or rather “streak”) of nature, a Kaffir fully seven feet in height. He was not built in like proportion, however, being exceptionally thin. This longitudinal dusky phantom strode about the village with the air of a man of some importance. Probably he held a “high position” in the estimation of these villagers. We were also favoured with a glimpse of some great ‘chief’ – with a long name, and (it is said) 24 wives.
We did not wait to ascertain the veracity of this statement but marched rapidly to Moedwil, - the scene of the late engagement. On reaching the camp a ghastly sight met our eyes. The Field Hospital was filled to overflowing with wounded soldiers, and the dead were being buried. We saw 60 officers and men laid in the one grave.
The few horses and mules left alive were being used to drag their late equine comrades to the rear -a gruesome sight. The rocks all round were literally splashed with human blood. Poor Colonel Kekewich (himself badly wounded) was indeed in a predicament, and seemed greatly relieved to see our Column, as they were dreading a return of the Boers - and a similar attack.
It appears the Column had come into camp late on the evening of the 29th, choosing the rising ground a few hundred yards north of the river’s banks, as a site on which to pitch their camp. The position, as after events proved, was not a good one, from a defensive point view.
Kekewich, - almost out of provisions- had sent the greater portion of his convoy to Rustenburg, under a strong escort, for supplies. This of course, weakened the camp considerably.
The Boers, thanks to an excellent scout system, were aware of the British Column’s every movement, and decided that this would be a good time to make an attack on the camp. The wily Delarey laid he [sic] plans- in something of the following manner: - The attacking party- consisting of 600 men under General Kemp, were to creep quietly up the river, overpower the “outposts”, and rush the camp.
Another party went round to the rear of the camp, to prevent escape in that direction. Delarey himself, kept a reserve force of 500 men on a kopje near by in case of emergency.
Just before dawn Kemp and his men crept up the river, hidden by rocks and mimosa –shrubs, to within a few yards of where the Southern Outpost – (consisting of 13 men) was stationed. The sentry on hearing men approaching gave the alarm to his sleeping comrades. Together they made a stand, but not for long; they were soon cut down, -12 of the 13 being killed where they stood and the 13th only saved his life by lying flat down, feigning death.
On rushed the Boers, gaining a rocky ledge within 150 yards of the Camp. By this time the Camp was standing to arms... Imagine the position.... The enemy under excellent cover, within a stone throw of the camp, - the British with practically no cover at all. Volley after volley from the Boer rifles swept through our lines, riddling the tents and ploughing up the dust. Officers and men were being killed; horses and mules were falling fast. Our men were making a stubborn resistance, yet it seemed as though they must be over powered; the guns were disabled, and most of the gunners shot. Colonel Kekewich was wounded in three places. Something must be done. The Boers must be ousted out of their position, or all would be lost.
At last the order rang out “ Fix bayonets”! “Charge”! The Gallant “Derbyshires” (who saved the day for Dixon at Vlakfontein, and than whom no braver men ever left England’s shore) rushed forward with one bound, with bayonets fixed, and a fixed determination to do or die.
Down the hill they tore, right in amongst the hidden enemy. For a very short while the conflict was waged fiercely, but it is a noteworthy fact that the Boer never did relish cold steel, and soon began to find out they had a more important engagement elsewhere, - but not before they had lost heavily. Commandant Boshoff was killed within 50 yards of the camp, - riddled with bullets. Many others also met their death by steel and lead.
Thus they were forced to abandon their charitable intention of capturing the camp and guns, but they had wrought sad havoc in our lines. Over 500 horses and mules lay dead; - worse still 60 men killed and 80 wounded. On other hand, the Boer casualty list was indeed a heavy one. A few prisoners were taken, amongst whom was a young German, caught deliberately firing with a “white flag” tied to the end of his rifle. He will have to answer for his treacherous conduct, before a Court-martial tomorrow.
Column remained in camp. The above-mentioned prisoner tried by Court-martial this morning; found “Guilty”, and condemned to be shot at sunrise tomorrow morning.
A “patrol” from our column sent out to reconnoitre neighbourhood. Saw no sign of Boers.
I was up betimes this morning, awaiting anxiously the rising of the sun. Another I guess, was also watching that sun rise, which he would never see set.
Just as the fiery orb of Apollo rose slowly over the horizon, a small party of men might be seen marching solemnly out of camp. This was the doomed man escorted by the “firing party”.
I followed at a respectable distance, unseen, yet seeing. When about 400 yards from camp, the little cavalcade halted. The prisoner was placed in a chair with his back to the firing party.
This party consisted of eight men, and an officer. Of the eight rifles which they carried, four were loaded with ‘blanks’ – so that the men might not know who did the killing. Everything being ready the men were marched back 15 paces. The condemned man held a prayer-book in his hand, but did not appear to read. “Shoulder Arms! Pre-sent-arms!! Fire!!!” A volley rang out, and the curtain dropped on the life of yet another foreign traitor.
Mounted Column went out 7 a.m. returning to camp 4 p.m.
Boers reported in force at Rudival, 15 miles South-East. Troops went over 5 a.m. Saw abundant evidence of a large camp, recently vacated, -but nothing else. Returned to camp 5 p.m.
Column remained in camp to-day Enteric Fever is becoming very prevalent, and the sooner we leave this camp the better for us.
The heat, the dust, and above all, the stench from the dead horses, is almost unbearable. Ten of our men have just been sent into Rustenburg with fever. Our Field Strength is being rapidly reduced.
Column left Moedwil 6 a.m. escorting Colonel Kekewich. Reached Kostafontein 3 p.m.
Left camp early, reaching Kleinfontein 5 p.m. Some of our oxen died to-day. “Vet” says he thinks from ‘rinderpest’.
Remained in camp to-day. Heavy rain fell all afternoon, terminating in a violent thunderstorm about 10 p.m. The wind blew a hurricane, and “all-hands” were obliged to “stand to the mast” to keep our tent up at all.
Mounted Column went out in the direction of Eland’s River. Party of Boers were sighted at DoornKorn. Shots were exchanged. Saw a bullet pass clean through a large ant-hill proving that these much sort-after-mounds can not be relied on for shelter, though many people argue differently.
After half-an-hours firing Boers retired. We captured five. It was after mid-night when we got back to camp.
Column remained in camp. Heavy rain still continues. The level country is under water.
Troops went out on a reconnaissance 9 a.m. returning to camp 4 p.m. A few Boers were seen, but these kept at a very respectful distance.
Column left Kleinfontein 5 a.m. reaching Waterhoek 5 p.m.
Left camp 4 a.m. reaching Ventersdorp 10 a.m.
Boers were here last night, and took a mob of 200 cattle from the garrison. How they; of the boasted British blood, can allow such things, I know not. We were sent out about 10 miles, but saw neither Boers nor cattle. Don’t worry “Tommy”, don’t put yourselves about you “One and tuppenny” heroes of the garrison, we “blanky Orstralians” get five bob a day for gathering these cattle which you gentlemen show such an aptitude for losing.
Left camp 11 a.m. travelling as far South as ‘Klip-plaats’ Drift, which place we reached 4 p.m.
Reached Doornfontein early in afternoon.
Column reached Klerksdorp noon.
Oct-17 to 22-01
In camp. Horses are rather low in condition, and we are using every endeavour to get them fit again. Plenty to eat, plenty [of] rest, and good attention is what they require, and what they are getting.
There is a very large Concentration Camp a mile from here. (I have made mention of it before)
Being anxious to see for myself, how these camps are conducted, I got past the sentries to-day (no matter how) and took a stroll through the lines.
As far as I could see, there was absolutely nothing to complain of, and I think it is only people of the “Miss Hobhouse” type – coming with the intention of finding fault – who can pass disparaging remarks about the management of these camps. The “site”, is generally the best procurable, and the drainage good. The occupants of each tent are made to keep their canvas house clean and tidy, and if the infant mortality is great, it is not due to negligence on the part of the British Authorities, who spare no pains to make these unfortunate Dutch people as comfortable as possible under admittedly trying circumstances.
Let it be also remembered that the death rate amongst Boer children has ever been abnormally high, accelerated, no doubt, by a lack of medical knowledge. Now that medical aid is within their reach, their natural aversion to using anything British prevents them from making use of it; their narrow-minded prejudice is stronger than their love for their own children. Thus, in many cases, a Boer mother has seen her child die, unaided, sooner than take it to the English camp-doctor.
It is to be feared, that the mortality among the children, -regrettable as it is- will continue, in spite of all efforts to reduce it, on the part of the authorities, while ever the little ones are unavoidably kept in these Concentration Camps.
Miss Hobhouse (and others) have said that the people are being slowly starved. There is no truth, whatever, in that odious statement. Indeed, these Dutch women, have themselves told me that they have plenty to eat, in fact, some of them admit they never lived so well before.
Certainly, their liberty is in a manner curtailed, in-as-much as they are confined to the limits of the camp, but could they be allowed to roam about at will?
I came away, like many others, with the impression that England is treating these people with more consideration than is usually the case in warfare, and twenty times more, than these Boers would treat our families, if similarly situated.
At 6 a.m. this morning, orders came from Headquarters for the column to entrain at 7, and shortly after that time we were all aboard, rolling away towards the Eastern Transvaal.
All unfit men, and weak horses have been left behind at the Depôt in Klerksdorp, So we anticipate some excitement ahead.
Travelling through the night, we passed Potchefstroom, Krugersdorp, Johannesburg and Pretoria, reaching the small town of Erste-Fabrieken, (15 miles east of Pretoria, on the Delagoa Bay Line) just at daybreak. Here we detrained and camped, -awaiting supplies from Pretoria....
Left Erste-Fabrieken at midnight, reaching Twefontein 9 a.m. We were here, joined by a detachment of Gordon Highlanders and the “Canadian Scouts”; under Major Ross – a welcome addition to our small column. The ‘Gordons’ have a reputation second to none, and the hard-faced, wiry looking Canadians look fit for anything.
Combined Column, - under our Colonel – left Twefontein at midnight. Reached Kalfontein 10.30 a.m.
Mounted Troops went out Westward on a reconnaissance, returning to camp at noon, with 14 prisoners. Prisoners all belonged to the now-disbanded ‘Staats Artillerie’, and are all smart, soldierly-looking men.
A large number of Boers have been camped here recently.
While down at the creek bathing this afternoon, we saw for the first time the South African frog, and were astonished at its size, for they are three times as large as our ordinary ‘big green frog’. When a number of them start croaking in the marshes, the noise is deafening.
We have been warned that there is an important move on to-night, and to get as much rest as possible. This we are always willing to do, if given the opportunity.
At 9 p.m. we got the order to “saddle-up” and leaving the gallant Gordons to guard camp, we moved silently out, carrying one blanket and a day’s rations each. We marched rapidly all night.
About an hour before dawn, we ran on to a small party of Boers, probably an “outpost” of a Commando. These gentlemen gave us a volley, by way of salute, and raced away for their lives.
We guessed they would “give the alarm” to their mates, so lost no time in following them. Just at dawn we came in sight of a Boer ‘Laager’ (Müller’s), and rushed down on it with shouts of “Hands up, you Dutchmen, hands up!”
Their Mausers rang out in reply, and the bullets whistled cheerfully about our ears. The enemy appeared to be preparing for a stubborn fight, but our artillery sent a few shells crashing down amongst them which seemed to have a wholesome effect on them, inasmuch that they promptly left their convoy, and made for the shelter of the hills. We quickly annexed the abandoned waggons, together with 47 prisoners, 500 cattle, and many Dutch families. Taking these along with us we pushed on over rough, picturesque country, camping at noon under some trees on the cool, shady banks of Kamelsford Spruit. We ‘offsaddled’ and let the tired horses graze about. The men, -weary, with their long night’s march, were not slow in availing themselves of the chance to snatch a few hours rest. By 1 o’clock most of them were asleep, - “dreaming of home faces; of the old familiar places, of the gum trees and the sunny plains, ten thousand miles away”. A few others and myself had just made a successful attack on a pot of tea, and with feeling of great content, - such as one feels after having performed his duty manfully– we were about to join the drowsy “Somnus” sleeping host, when -K-r-r-r-bang! came a shell from a Boer Gun on the hillside 2000 yards away; then another, and another, fair into the camp.
The sleeping camp was quickly in motion. Tired men, and habitually lazy fellows, sprang up with the agility of athletes. By this time the shells were coming thick and fast, and our guns were replying. A couple of our men went down, and a few horses were killed. For a time nothing could be heard but the scream of shells as they tore through the air. Over 80 fell in, and around our camp. The horses became frightened, and stampeded, not away, -but towards the fire. My old horse, strange to say, came up to the saddle, and stood there trembling. I volunteered (in a reckless moment) to bring the stampeders back, and in so doing, had a few very narrow shaves; --once a fragment of shell grazed my face- but that’s a detail. Our guns, however, - being more powerful perhaps, besides being well-directed -soon silenced the barking on the hillside, and we could see the Boers retiring to the kopjes further back. Our General gave the order to saddle up and follow on. This we did, finding the enemy shortly after, holding a fine position at the head of a remarkable pass, known as Wit-Nek.
They allowed us to approach to within 800 yards, then opened a heavy cross-fire on us. Fortunately there was plenty of ‘cover’ available.
For about an hour the firing was tremendous. The Canadians showed great dash and gallantry, in taking a kopje held by the Boers, but they lost a Serjeant – killed – and several wounded in doing so, more’s the pity.
While the men from Canada were engaged with the Boers “Left”, we rushed their Right Flank, successfully taking the position. Being dislodged, on both sides, they retired, and we went on through the “Nek” untroubled, camping on open country 8 p.m.
Our rations are all gone; we cannot even get water enough to make tea of, but we are tired, and glad enough to lie down beside our saddles, and go to sleep, trusting the Boers will not trouble us tonight... We have been nearly 22 hours in the saddle, and started out with only a pound of biscuit, but it is generally supposed by the British Authorities that we Colonials live exclusively in the saddle when at home, and as far as getting hungry, -well, most of us wear belts, and we can pull them up a few holes, when we feel that way. Pshaw! the very thought of hunger and fatigue is discreditable to the true Australian. The “wiry Colonial” never gets tired.
Left camp 3.30 a.m., rejoining convoy at Kaalfontein 10.30 a.m.
Left camp same night at 10 o’clock. Surrounded a farm-house about midnight. Capturing Commandant Wolmarans, and a few others who were hiding therein. Wolmarans, by-the-way, is the head of a “train-wrecking” gang out this way, and ‘wanted’ on several charges.
Column reached Waggon Drift noon.
Left camp 3 a.m. reaching Erste – Fabrieken 9 a.m.
The late “trek” has been the hardest we have yet done, but we succeeded in breaking up Müller’s Commando, for which purpose we set out.
Marched to Pretoria. Commander-in-chief Lord Kitchener inspected column as we came in, expressing his satisfaction in his characteristically brief language. “Splendid men, and very good horses” was his ‘summing up’. He is a big man with keen, grey eyes, and character written in every feature of his face. It takes but one glance to tell he is a great man. He paid us the high compliment of sending a Military Band out to meet us, and we marched into camp to the stirring sounds of martial music – the first we’ve heard since leaving Randwick.
In camp... A general view of the surrounding country gives one the impression that the Boers might easily have held Pretoria, much longer than they did. The town, with lofty chains of mountains running completely round it, with the aid of a few pieces of heavy artillery, could be made almost impregnable. At the present time there is a ‘fort’ every half-mile round the chain of hills, and I think an enemy would have the greatest difficulty now, in effecting an entrance to the town.
Went into Pretoria this morning with two other “non-coms”. The town is very pretty; - the ornamental green trees, the bright flower–gardens and the pretty, clean little pink–and–white cottages looked beautiful, after the monotony of the great, far-stretching, silent veldt.
We first went to the Public Baths, -a very necessary step to take-, then to the Raad-Stad (Parliament House) which place we were shown through by an obliging official. Everything remains exactly as when the last Parliament (a Boer one) sat. Kruger’s chair is still in its old place. From here we went to those magnificent public buildings, known as the “Palace of Justice”. We were also shown over these, - by one of the clerks, - an ex-Victorian Contingenter.
We next explored Kruger’s (or as it is pronounced here Kreer’s) residence. The building itself is a low, and unpretentious structure; the two great ‘lions’ in the front forming the most note-worthy feature of the ex-President’s house. We saw Lord Kitchener’s residence, (got a few roses from his garden, in fact) and also the little cottage in which Rider Haggard wrote his book “Jess”.
It was noon by this time, and imagining we had earned lunch, we went to the ‘English’ Restaurant (kept by a Jew) and had a very fair dinner. One of our party tendered a sovereign for payment asking for the change in ‘silver’. Imagine his surprise when the gentleman from Jerusalem politely informed him that it was “de gorrect amound” for three dinners. War!! We other two consoled our ‘would-be-generous’ companion by taking him to a photographer’s to have his photo taken. The result I fancy, will not be very good; our friend did not appear to have his most cheerful expression on; he appeared to be thinking of something.
During the afternoon we saw a cricket match played. “Johannesburg – V – Pretoria”, resulting in a win for the latter.
After tea we took a ‘cab’, and got back to camp well pleased with our day’s outing. (Cabs, by the way, are worth 7/6 an hour, and not over comfortable at that.)
Column entrained for Bronkhorst Spriut 7 a.m., which place we reached 4 p.m. Camped near Railway Station.
Left Station 8 a.m. travelling West. Reached Blesbokfontein 1 p.m.
Convoy remained in camp. Mounted Column went out 4 p.m. Patrolled all night in a South Westerly direction visiting many houses, but found no Boers. Rejoined convoy 8 a.m.
Column left Blesbokfontein, returning to Bronkhorst Spriut – Heavy rain falling 6 p.m.
Reveille 2 a.m. this morning.
Travelled East, along the Line, camping at Wilge River noon.
9 p.m. Most vivid lightning I have ever seen in my life. Down South a ball of electric fire hangs stationary for, sometimes, 30 seconds, and the chain lightning is grand. Flash after flash lights up the heavens to such an extent as to cause our nervous tent-mate (usually a typical Australian as regards language) to solemnly suggest that we should discontinue swearing – till the storm was over at least. – We did, (because we went to sleep).
Left Wilge-River 4 a.m., reaching Balmoral 9 a.m. A very appropriate place to be on King’s Birthday. Outspanned till 1 p.m., reached Brug Spruit 5 p.m.
Left camp 4 a.m. in heavy rain. Had much difficulty in crossing several ‘drifts’ now running “bankers”. Reached ‘Groot Oliphant’s Rivier at dusk.
8 p.m. Real tropical rains falling to-night.
Column reached Middelburg 5.30 p.m. Lieut. Griffiths, with 18 men, arrived from Detail Camp, Klerksdorp, 6 p.m.
In camp. Recvd a good many “remounts” from the Depôt here.
Eight men sent to local Hospital with fever; 5 rejoined, from hospital.
Force left Middelburg 4 a.m., travelling South-East. Reached Bankfontein noon.
Shortly after leaving camp this morning our Rear-Guard was attacked by a small force of Boers. There were no casualties. Reached Leufontein noon.
Column left camp 6 a.m. Again Boers, -this time in greater force – came on to our Rearguard. Our artillery opened fire, and the enemy retired. Reached Middel Kraal 5 p.m.
General Botha is reported to be in this district with a large force.
Reveille 3 a.m. Mounted Troops left camp 4 a.m. to reconnoitre surrounding country, leaving Convoy in charge of the Gordon Highlanders. We did not come in contact with any Boers -though we saw plenty in the distance.
“C” Squadron sent out on patrol 3 a.m., returning to camp early in afternoon.
Column remained in camp. Heavy rain falling to-day.
Left Middel Kraal 8 a.m. The ground is saturated with rain, and it is with difficulty that the Convoy can get along at all. Camped at Wolmefontein.
Column reached Middelburg at noon.
Left camp early this morning going out as far as Wolmefontein.
Reached Middelkraal 5 p.m. Boers were seen on the Right Flank but did not approach within rifle range.
Blockhouses are being built out here connecting the “Pretoria – Delagoa Bay Line” with the Elandsfontein – Natal Line.
The Boers are swarming out here, doing their utmost to retard building operations.
Mounted Column went out on patrol at midnight. About 9 a.m., we surprised and captured a small party of Boers.
Left Middelkraal 6 a.m., travelling East, over magnificent grazing country. This is said to be the finest horse-breeding district in the Transvaal, and judging by some we have caught, running wild it certainly would seem well adapted for that purpose. Some cattle we have captured about here show, also, some quality, and are in excellent condition. Camped at Klip-fontein 5.30 p.m.
Left camp 5 a.m. Boers attacked Rear Guard, - capturing one of Major Carrington’s Bushmen.
Camped at Kaal –Spruit 4 p.m. The captured Bushman strolled into camp 6 p.m. minus horse, saddle, rifle and most of his clothes; his feelings hurt, otherwise uninjured.
Column reached Wanderfontein, a railway station out on the Delagoa Bay Line.
Remained in camp, taking in Supplies. Six of our men sent to Hospital – four rejoined, -convalescent. “Gordons” left for Belfast this morning. They will be replaced by the Shropshire Light Infantry. We are sorry to lose the Scotchmen -they are fine fellows.
Left Wanderfontien 3.30 a.m., reaching Lilliefontein 4 p.m.
Reached the pretty, but now deserted town of Carolina 2 p.m. The Boers, it said, held a dance here last night. Quite romantic. Very mean of them not to have invited us. Perhaps they will dance to the music of our rifles ‘ere long (and maybe, we to theirs).
Column left Carolina 3 a.m., reaching Smutzhoog about noon. Got a fine mob of sheep to-day, - some of them quite recently shorn, (and carefully shorn too, judging by the “even cut”). A better class of sheep too over this side, than in the Western Transvaal.
The wild flowers here are magnificent, and together with the vivid green of the veldt, make a lovely picture, - a veritable “Fairy-land”. One could never tire of the great plains of S. Africa at this season of the year.
Our mounted men, and the Canadians left camp 2 a.m. this morning. By 9 o’clock we had reached the high country looking down upon Trichard’s Fontein. Here we met with a surprise. Down in the valley below lay a big Boer ‘Laager’ guarded, (it is said) by Botha’s 2000 men. We didn’t find out their full strength, until after we had received orders to take the convoy. Racing down, in our usual wild fashion, with the Canadians close by on our right, we succeeded in getting 50 or 60 waggons away for a few hundred yards, getting a pretty warm time in doing so. The Boer women in the vans were firing at us as we approached. Fortunately, their aim was not equal to their enthusiasm. But now the Boers let us have it. The hills all round seemed alive with armed men (and artillery too).
The shriek of their15 pounder and the deep incessant growl of a “Krupp” on our ‘Right’ was enough to strike terror into the hearts of most men, to say nothing of the cracking of a thousand Mausers, and the horrid thud of bullets as they tore up the dust about us.
At times the very air seemed to sing with the rushing and whistling of lead. It seems marvellous how bullets can miss you. One of our fellows had one pass through his coat; the pommel of another’s saddle was cut away; a third got his hat ear-marked, and so on.
Our Squadron alone -comprised as it was of less than 60 horsemen- had eight horses shot, and yet not a man of us hit. But it was getting too hot. With a few regrets (very few) we abandoned all the waggons, (excepting eight, which were well forward and almost out of range of the Boer rifles) and ‘cut’ for our lives. My word we did ride. . When our little column was well out of range of Boer fire, our General coolly ordered a halt, and, -securing a good position quietly offsaddled. This admirable bit of coolness, on the part of our Commander, probably saved our Column from a severe “cutting up” or capture, as the Boers seeing us camp must have taken it for granted, that we were awaiting re-inforcements, or else, sufficiently strong to repel an attack. As a matter of fact, our strength was but one quarter of theirs, and our horses tired. The enemy gradually retreated and at
4 p.m., we started on our homeward march, camping shortly after dark at Leu-Kop.
We have neither forage, blankets nor rations. Our Colonel expected to be back to camp tonight. He didn’t calculate on having to sit four hours on a hill-side waiting for the horrid Boers to go away.
Reached camp 10.30 a.m. Picked up a fine herd of cattle as we came in.
Force left Smutzhoog 6 a.m. travelling South-West. Reached Nooitdecht 3 p.m. 9 p.m. outposts fired on some figures, - probably Boer spies – creeping stealthily through the long grass, towards the camp.
Reached Kalabashfontein 6 p.m.
Column remained in camp. Supply waggons, escorted by 3rd Bushmen went over to Colonel Fortesque’s Column -12 miles distant-, for 3 days supplies.
Our mounted Coloum, in conjunction with the W. Australian Mtd. Rifles and 19th Hussars (Col Wing’s Column) left camp 4 p.m. on a big move. Sir H. Rawlinson with his 2000 M.I. is to operate 10 miles to Westward. We travelled all night in a Southerly direction. ‘Dark’ would not covey any idea of what the night was. The inky blackness was such that one could not even see the outline of the man riding next [to] you, though he may have been only a few feet away.
The troops, as may be imagined under the circumstances, got very much mixed up on one or two occasions. At intervals a tremendous flash of lightning would flash over the scene, and then there’d be a rush for places. The Hon-Rupert was kept busy riding up and down our lines enquiring if there were any of his “Bushmen” there, and so on.
At 4 a.m. our advance struck a Boer outpost. A mile behind lay a fine ‘laager’. (Grobelaar’s) and a large herd of cattle. We could hear the latter bellowing like cattle will do when being hurriedly mustered. We bore down on the camp at full speed, the Canadians yelling and riding like madmen, the Hussars quiet and determined, like the ‘old soldiers’ they are. The Boers were, no doubt, surprised. They stood for a while, then retired hurriedly, leaving us in possession of 30 waggons, and all the cattle 5000 head; besides nearly 100 prisoners.
We had not quite finished with them yet, however. They had doubled back and were attacking our Right Flank.
In the action which ensued, one of our best officers (Lieut. Forster) was killed; Lieut. Eyre and two troopers wounded. The Boers lost more heavily.
At 9 a.m. we halted; offsaddled; had breakfast and two hours rest.
At 11 a.m. started on our long, homeward march, taking our fine mob of bovines along with us. Most of us have travelled with cattle out in Australia, but never under such novel conditions.
The Boers followed in up the rear, sniping, which made the ‘tail-end’ drovers desirous of putting up a pace record.
We reached our convoy at Bethel a small garrison town, 20 miles North of Standerton – at 5 p.m., having been 25 hours away, 23 of which were spent in the saddle. I think this is about a record, even for Colonial Troops.
Column remained in camp today. Buried poor Mr Forster at noon. Officers and men feel that they have lost friend, and spare no pains in making a neat enclosure round the popular soldier’s last resting place.
Our Column has been officially attached to Major- General Bruce Hamilton’s Brigade.
Left Bethel 5 a.m. travelling East. Halted at Spion Kop 8.30 a.m.
Mounted Brigade left camp again 6 p.m. travelling through the night in an Easterly direction. Information has been received that Viljoen, with a strong Commando, is at “Bushman’s Hoek”, - 35 miles distant.
At dawn, we reached Bushman’s Hoek. As we approached, the enemy, -probably 500 strong- retired, taking up a strong position 800 yards in front, on a range of hills. Orders were given to charge the position. Our Squadron was in front. As we raced across the plain, in extended order, the hill in front seemed ablaze with fire, made more apparent by the peculiar half-light of the misty, early morning.
For the first time, I heard bullets cracking like stockwhips. Whether these are “explosive” bullets, I know not, but certainly they make a most peculiar noise, and by no means a pleasant one. The “Hussars” were on our Right and the West Australians on our Left, and forward we raced.
Some of the Boers, we noticed, were beginning to leave their positions; some remained too long, and were captured.
Flying Dutchmen could be seen, in small groups, riding for dear life. Three others (- who were a trifle in advance of the rest-), and myself followed one of these groups, 13 in all, an unlucky number. -For whom? – It was a fine chase. Five miles, or more we pursued the flying burghers. Three of them surrendered to us. Leaving them in charge of one of our number, we raced on after the others, firing as we went. “It was grand to see those practiced horsemen ride”. Through meer-cat-holes, and boulders, over rough and broken ground, down the hillside at a racing pace they went. Once we got within a hundred yards of them, - so close in fact, that some of our fellows away behind took us for Boers also, and were emptying their ‘magazines’ at us with marvellous rapidity and zeal.
Finding we could not gain on the well-mounted men in front, we dismounted, fired a few volleys and succeeded in “winging” three of them as they raced over the brow of the hill in front. Having had enough chasing for one day, we rejoined the column at 8 a.m., where a halt was made, and breakfast partaken of.
One hundred and eight prisoners fell to our lot, besides a “Field Gun”, one of three captured by the Boers from Colonel Benson a few months back at Braken-laagte. We had one man killed, and several wounded. At noon, our march was resumed, campwards. I Shall never forget the overpowering Sultriness of the afternoon. I Sneaked off to an orchard en route, and got some green peaches – which revived my drooping Spirits. Others were falling asleep in the saddle.
Heavy masses of black clouds loomed up to Southward. Long low rumbles of distant thunder might be heard now and then. This, and the occasional “click-clock” of a hidden ‘sniper’, were the only sounds which broke the awful stillness. But shortly after dark, a thunderstorm- the heaviest I have ever experienced – broke overhead, coupled with the most terrific lightning. During one ‘flash’ almost every man in the column, felt he was lightly struck; some of the horses fell on their knees. It was one of those storms which Rider Haggard, describes so well. We could see the lightning actually running round in circles, where the most ironstone abounded.
Our convoy had moved on to the Garrison town of ‘Ermelo’, which place we reached at 8 p.m., - tired hungry and wet. I don’t think I was ever more truly thankful for the sight of camp in my life. Little wonder that we feel weary, for during the last 26 hours, we have only had four hours rest, and that under a scorching sun, on the shadeless plain at Bushman’s Hoek.
The horses look bad this morning after their recent hard work. We hear the Column is to remain in camp for three days, in which case they’ll have time to pull round a bit.
Australians are lost with out their horses, and I must say they look after them well, when they have the chance. There is a forage depôt less than a mile away, and the quantity of the oats that finds its way into our lines, unaided -, is surprising.
Message from Lord Kitchener received this morning, congratulating Colonel E.C.Williams and his column, on the splendid work they have recently done. Since December 1st over 300 prisoners have been captured besides 30 killed; 21 wounded – 7000 cattle; 290 horses; 60 wagons; 80 carts; 8000 rounds of ammunition, and 1 Field Gun.
So many captures, he (Kitchener) thinks, are due to the manner in which the Colonials charge when once they sight the enemy.
This the first Sunday we’ve had in camp for a very long time. We celebrate it by a church parade in afternoon.
Shifted camp to fresh site, the one on which we have been is damp and unhealthy. More men sent to Hospital today. The Field Strength of our Squadron is now barely 70, when we landed in Africa it numbered 125. All the other Squadrons of the Regiment have suffered in a like manner.
Our Mounted Column, in conjunction with Colonels Rawlinson and Wing, left Ermelo 6.45 p.m., travelling South–East, towards the Swazi-land Border. We crossed the ‘Vaal’ at midnight. Shortly after heavy rains fell, delaying us considerably. We reached Smutz-farm ½ an hour after daylight, only to see where a fair sized Commando had been camped a few hours prior to our arrival. No Boers now in Sight. The country around is rocky and exceedingly rough and rugged.
Returned to Onverwacht, where our convoy awaits us, noon. Heavy rain still falling.
Column left camp again at mid-day going again Eastward. Reached Brank-Kop 6.15 p.m. Had supper; saddled up, and left camp 7.30 p.m.
Daylight found us amongst the great gloomy mountains which form the Swaziland Border. There is a certain rugged picturesqueness which we cannot help but admire, in spite of the fact that we are wet to the skin, cold, and hungry. Such is Natures power over poor mortals.
Great masses of rock, hundreds of feet high, rise up on every side, - excellent places for Brother Boer to hide.
At 8 a.m. we had breakfast, and rested until noon, then home by a circuitous route. About 3 p.m. we ran on to a fine herd of cattle, guarded by a few hundred Boers. After a sharp little skirmish we succeeded in annexing the bovines (nearly 800); a small mob of sheep; four waggons, and 11 prisoners.
It rained in torrents all the afternoon, and showed little signs of abating when we reached our camp about midnight. Once in the blankets, “our troubles!!”
A day in camp.... The sheep captured yesterday are the best I have yet seen in South Africa; large framed; well-woolled, and in good condition. They appeared to have been breed by some-one with a knowledge of sheep-breeding.
The cattle are also above the average Transvaal breed, which generally develop tremendous horns, and (tho’ large) are narrow, ill made brutes, and judging by the coarse, low set heads and high withers, - have a big dash of buffalo in them.
A Transvaal butcher told me once, that a bullock in this country, when ‘dressed’, rarely exceeds 800 pounds in weight. This, - considering their huge frames, - is a very poor weight, indeed, and may be attributed to the breed, not the country.
Column left camp on return to Ermelo 5 a.m.
Our Squadron formed the Rear-Guard. The country is rough and treacherous. To avoid surprise from the rear, I was sent, with 3 men to the top of a big kopje to act as “Observation Post”. Our instructions were to stay up there until every man of the Column had crossed the difficult spruit at the foot of the hill... When we reached the summit we could see numbers of Boers coming across our late camp, and making for the kopje which we held.
A vigorous rifle-fire from our little party kept them for a while in check, but not for long. The Column appeared to be crawling along. On came the Boers. We were watching them with one eye, and the spruit with the other. By the time the last of our men had crossed, the “Jackies” were within 400 yards of us.
I thought we had remained long enough, (and I fancied a little to long) so mounting our horses with commendable alacrity, we commenced our descent. By the time a distance of 200 yards was traversed, fully 20 Boers had raced across the level ground on top and were now on the brink of the hill, giving us a practical demonstration of their marksmanship, which, - fortunately for us – is not faultless. Some bullets went close, - very close-, but we did not stop to argue with the shooters about such trifles as “windage”, “fine sight” and “coarse sight”, but were content in just showing those poor ignorant fellows how we could ride.
Soon after our “pom-pom” got to work on them, and they scattered in all directions. We had, however, to fight a rear guard action all the way to the ‘Vaal’, which we reached at noon.
Owing to recent heavy rains, the river is in flood, so we must camp till the Ermelo Pontoon Bridge Section is sent for, to construct a bridge across the muddy waters. The message was sent by means of a Field Telegraph line, which General Hamilton always lays on his marches. The innocent-looking little wire runs through the long grasses often unnoticed by the enemy, and proves a blessing in emergencies such as the present.
It has turned out a lovely day, and this is a pretty camp. To Eastward, as far as the eye can reach lay the great plains, (now covered with waving grass) stretching away to the Swazi border.
The mighty mountains of Natal, - the giant, snow-capped Drakenbergs loom out dimly in the Southern haze; in front like a great grey snake, glides the silvery Vaal, and beyond the river lies the great expanse of the Transvaal.
It is Christmas Eve. “Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men”. Two thousand years ago when “Herod-the-Great” ruled, and there was strife throughout the Land of Egypt, the shepherds of Judea saw the wondrous Star hanging low in the sky above Bethlehem, and first heard those oft-repeated words; and “they were afraid at the things they saw and heard, but the Angel Gabriel came down to them and said “Fear not”! For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” “ Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, [sic] which is Christ-the-Lord”. The herald spoke not again, but departed in a ray of light. The shepherds on the hillside standing mute could hear “voices as of a multitude chanting in unison. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men”!!!
The great blue vault of heaven overhead; the glorious wild flowers; the flutter of bright winged butterflies, and the vast expanse of Solemn, silent veldt, all seem to whisper words of “peace and goodwill to men”. It is pleasant to stretch out, in the warm sunshine, and think (for awhile) of better things than a despot’s pride, a Nation’s quarrel, war and strife.
Who would think to look at the peaceful scene beyond, that for 3 consecutive Christmas Eves, the gloomy clouds of war have been hanging like a pall over the once bright and prosperous Transvaal? Who would think that even a few hours ago, we were engaged in actual warfare with a stubborn, brave and resourceful enemy, who are even now lurking in the vicinity of this camp? But then who would think to look at yonder river, that beneath its placid surface, runs a wild fierce undercurrent, - wilder and stronger than any other in South Africa? So taking no notice of outward appearances, we will sleep, as usual, with our boots on to-night, and our rifles close by. “Santa-Claus himself, if he should visit us, will need to have the proper “Countersign”. *** We are on ¼ rations tonight
A merry Christmas to you all! If not a very merry one, it certainly possessed the charm of novelty. Up at 5.30. Half through a breakfast of fried meat, army biscuit and black coffee, when orders came down from Head Qts. to saddle up at once, as the Pontoon Bridge was completed and we were to cross first. We were soon on the move. The bridge, we found, was a simple construction; - three large punts with planking laid on top. It carried our whole column over, however, and that too in good style, waggons and all.
Here by the banks of the rushing ‘Vaal’ we ate our Christmas Dinner, untroubled with visions of antiquated turkey and sodden pudding. One burglar-proof and fire-resisting biscuit and a pot of “café-noir” was the extent of our festive board. We enjoyed our modest repast, and I don’t think any of us will be sick after it. Our Scouts were in action about mid-day.
After a long, heavy march, we reached Ermelo about dusk. So ended XMAS.1901-
In Camp. No Boxing-Day celebrations to attend, so spent most of the day quietly writing to friends across the sea.
Our magnanimous Commander-in-chief has ordained that the British Army in South Africa , and members of over-sea Contingents, shall not be deprived of Xmas luxuries.
The said luxuries, reached our Column about noon, and were quickly issued to the clamorous soldiers.
1 lb of plum-pudding, and a pint of beer per man. That’s what it was. The pudding was exceedingly rich, -and the beer – well, it was exceedingly poor, and the two together, swallowed as they were, then and there, did not prove an unmixed blessing, and tarried not with the receiver. There were, however, some with cast-iron constitutions, who repressed, - by dint of firmness, and courage -, any rebellious risings, and were able to show their appreciation of the Kings goodness.
I was among their limited ranks and was duly respected, by my less fortunate comrades for my valiant conduct.
General inspection of horses by O.C. who expressed himself satisfied with their condition. No 698 Trooper---- was this day awarded by Field General-court- martial, 42 days Imprisonment with Hard Labor, [sic] for stealing rations belonging to his Squadron. When “Hard Labor” [sic] is given, the recipient forfeits his wages for the whole term of imprisonment, -which in this case, means a forfeiture of £10.10
Column left camp 7.30 p.m. going East. We reached the ‘Vaal’ at dawn, and found it still in high flood. As time appeared of more importance than the feelings of the men, we had to do a “swim”. It was fine, - after you had crossed – to see others take their bath in the swift cold waters. All safely over, we pushed on. (The waggons will follow later by pontoon.) Visited some farm house in a secluded valley, bagging 15 armed Boers. Reached Brank-Kop mid-day. .... 6 p.m. Heavy rain falling. No sign of convoy coming; no horse-feed, no rations, and no blankets; every prospect of a pleasant night, - sitting on the side of a wet hill, holding our horses till morning.
Ugh! Never so glad in all my life to see daylight. We have been alternately lying, sitting and standing in 6 inches of water throughout the long, cold night.
The other fellows look pictures. I expect I do too, but I’ve got no mirror, to see.
Convoy came up at noon. They too have had a rough time, travelling, or trying to travel all night.
Up went the tents. With the sanguine temperament, characteristic of the soldiers, we fully expected a snug night in camp. The rain, which has been hanging off all day, is again coming down in an incessant grey drizzle, but, with the exception of the poor chaps on outpost, we are comfortably ensconced in our canvas homes, and what care we?
Imagine our surprise, when at 11 o’clock the “turn-out” sounded; also imagine the ‘language’ as the men reluctantly saddled up, in the inky blackness of the drizzling, murky night. I expect our General knew what he was doing, but the general concessus of opinion was against that idea. Had a vote of censure been taken at the time, The Opposition would have had a glorious victory, but it was not to be.
Away we went creeping along through the evil blackness of the night, - our hearts too full for utterance. Peal on peal of thunder echoing on the ironstone hills, like the dull booming of heavy artillery; terrific lightning, dancing fantastically along the barrels of our rifles, showing in ghastly relief the weird procession creeping over the silent veldt, and to finish all the pitiless rain streaming down, as tho’ there was no restraining power in heaven. Most of us, I fancy, were busy making mental comparisons about seeing New Years in happier times, and better places. So passed the Old Year-01
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