In the Ranks of the C.I.V.
Erskine Childers

Part 1 out of 3

Produced by Clare Boothby, Ben Harris and PG Distributed Proofreaders

[Illustration: _Photo by Arthur Weston, 16, Poultry, London._]


























A wintry ride--Retrospect--Embarkation--A typical day--"Stables" in
rough weather--Las Palmas--The tropics--Inoculation--Journalism--
Fashions--"Intelligent anticipation"--Stable-guard--Arrival.

With some who left for the War it was "roses, roses, all the way." For
us, the scene was the square of St. John's Wood Barracks at 2 A.M. on
the 3rd of February, a stormy winter's morning, with three inches of
snow on the ground, and driving gusts of melting flakes lashing our
faces. In utter silence the long lines of horses and cloaked riders
filed out through the dimly-lit gateway and into the empty streets,
and we were off at last on this long, strange journey to distant
Africa. Six crowded weeks were behind us since the disastrous one of
Colenso, and with it the news of the formation of the C.I.V., and the
incorporation in that regiment of a battery to be supplied by the
Honourable Artillery Company, with four quick-firing Vickers-Maxim
guns. Then came the hurried run over from Ireland, the application for
service, as a driver, the week of suspense, the joy of success, the
brilliant scene of enlistment before the Lord Mayor, and the abrupt
change one raw January morning from the ease and freedom of civilian
life, to the rigours and serfdom of a soldier's. There followed a
month of constant hard work, riding-drill, gun-drill, stable work, and
every sort of manual labour, until the last details of the
mobilization were complete, uniforms and kit received, the guns packed
and despatched; and all that remained was to ride our horses to the
Albert Docks; for our ship, the _Montfort_, was to sail at mid-day.

Hardships had begun in earnest, for we had thirteen miles to ride in
the falling snow, and our hands and feet were frozen. As we filed
through the silent streets, an occasional knot of night-birds gave us
a thin cheer, and once a policeman rushed at me, and wrung my hand,
with a fervent "Safe home again!" Whitechapel was reached soon enough,
but the Commercial Road, and the line of docks, seemed infinite.

However, at six we had reached the ship, and lined up into a great
shed, where we took off and gave up saddles and head-collars, put on
canvas head-stalls, and then enjoyed an excellent breakfast, provided
by some unknown benefactor. Next we embarked the horses by matted
gangways (it took six men to heave my roan on board), and ranged them
down below in their narrow stalls on the stable-deck. Thence we
crowded still further down to the troop-deck--one large low-roofed
room, edged with rows of mess-tables. My entire personal accommodation
was a single iron hook in a beam. This was my wardrobe, chest of
drawers, and an integral part of my bed; for from it swung the
hammock. We were packed almost as thickly as the horses; and that is
saying a great deal. The morning was spent in fatigue duties of all
sorts, from which we snatched furtive moments with our friends on the
crowded quay. For hours a stream of horses and mules poured up the
gangways; for two other corps were to share the ship with us, the
Oxfordshire Yeomanry and the Irish Hospital. At two the last farewells
had been said, and we narrowed our thoughts once more to all the
minutiae of routine. As it turned out, we missed that tide, and did not
start till two in the next morning; but I was oblivious of such a
detail, having been made one of the two "stablemen" of my
sub-division, a post which was to last for a week, and kept me in
constant attendance on the horses down below; so that I might just as
well have been in a very stuffy stable on shore, for all I saw of the
run down Channel. My duty was to draw forage from the forward hold (a
gloomy, giddy operation), be responsible with my mate for the watering
of all the horses in my sub-division--thirty in number, for preparing
their feeds and "haying up" three times a day, and for keeping our
section of the stable-deck swept and clean. We started with very fine
weather, and soon fell into our new life, with, for me at least, a
strange absence of any sense of transition. The sea-life joined
naturally on to the barrack-life. Both are a constant round of
engrossing duties, in which one has no time to feel new departures.
The transition had come earlier, with the first day in barracks, and,
indeed, was as great and sudden a change, mentally and physically, as
one could possibly conceive. On the material side it was sharp enough;
but the mental change was stranger still. There was no perspective
left; no planning of the future, no questioning of the present; none
of that free play of mind and will with which we order our lives at
home; instead, utter abandonment to superior wills, one's only concern
the present point of time and the moment's duty, whatever it might be.

This is how we spent the day.

The trumpet blew reveille at six, and called us to early "stables,"
when the horses were fed and watered, and forage drawn. Breakfast was
at seven: the food rough, but generally good. We were split up into
messes of about fourteen, each of which elected two "mess orderlies,"
who drew the rations, washed up, swept the troop-deck, and were
excused all other duties. I, and my friend Gunner Basil Williams, a
colleague in my office at home, were together in the same mess.
Coffee, bread and butter, and something of a dubious, hashy nature,
were generally the fare at breakfast. I, as stableman, was constantly
with the horses, but for the rest the next event was morning stables,
about nine o'clock, which was a long and tedious business. The horses
would be taken out of their stalls, and half of us would lead them
round the stable-deck for exercise, while the rest took out the
partitions and cleaned the stalls. Then ensued exciting scenes in
getting them back again, an operation that most would not agree to
without violent compulsion--and small blame to the poor brutes. It
used to take our whole sub-division to shove my roan in. Each driver
has two horses. My dun was a peaceful beast, but the roan was a
by-word in the sub-division. When all was finished, and the horses fed
and watered, it would be near 12.30, which was the dinner-hour. Some
afternoons were free, but generally there would be more exercising and
stall-cleaning, followed by the afternoon feeds and watering. At six
came tea, and then all hands, including us stablemen, were free.

Hammocks were slung about seven, and it was one of the nightly
problems to secure a place. I generally found under the hatchway,
where it was airy, but in rainy weather moist. Then we were free to
talk and smoke on deck till any hour. Before going to bed, I used to
write my diary, down below, at a mess-table, where the lights shot dim
rays through vistas of serried hammocks, while overhead the horses
fidgeted and trampled in their stalls, making a distracting thunder on
the iron decks. It was often writing under difficulties, crouching
down with a hammock pressing on the top of one's head--the occupant
protesting at the head with no excess of civility; a quality which, by
the way, was very rare with us.

Soon after leaving the Bay, we had some rough weather. "Stables" used
to be a comical function. My diary for the first rough day
says:--"About six of us were there out of about thirty in my
sub-division; our sergeant, usually an awesome personage to me,
helpless as a babe, and white as a corpse, standing rigid. The
lieutenant feebly told me to report when all horses were watered and
feeds made up. It was a long job, and at the end I found him leaning
limply against a stall. 'Horses all watered, and feeds ready, sir.' He
turned on me a glazed eye, which saw nothing; then a glimmer of
recollection flickered, and the lips framed the word 'feed,' no doubt
through habit; but to pronounce that word at all under the
circumstances was an effort of heroism for which I respected him.
Rather a lonely day. My co-stableman curled in a pathetic ball all
day, among the hay, in our forage recess. My only view of the outer
world is from a big port in this recess, which frames a square of
heaving blue sea; but now and then one can get breathing-spaces on
deck. In the afternoon--the ship rolling heavily--I went, by an order
of the day before, to be vaccinated. Found the doctor on the saloon
deck, in a long chair, very still. Thought he was dead, but saluted,
and said what I had come for. With marvellous presence of mind, he
collected himself, and said: 'I ordered six to come; it is waste of
lymph to do one only: get the other five.' After a short absence, I
was back, reporting the other five not in a condition to do anything,
even to be vaccinated. The ghost of a weary smile lit up the wan face.
I saluted and left."

Our busy days passed quickly, and on the ninth of the month a lovely,
still blue day, I ran up to look at the Grand Canary in sight on the
starboard bow, and far to the westward the Peak of Teneriffe, its
snowy cone flushed pink in the morning sun, above a bank of cloud. All
was blotted out in two hours of stable squalors, but at midday we were
anchored off Las Palmas (white houses backed by arid hills), the
ill-fated _Denton Grange_ lying stranded on the rocks, coal barges
alongside, donkey engines chattering on deck, and a swarm of bum-boats
round our sides, filled with tempting heaps of fruit, cigars, and
tobacco. Baskets were slung up on deck, and they drove a roaring
trade. A little vague news filtered down to the troop-deck; Ladysmith
unrelieved, but Buller across the Tugela, and some foggy rumour about
120,000 more men being wanted. The Battery also received a four-footed
recruit in the shape of a little grey monkey, the gift of the
Oxfordshire Yeomanry. He was at once invested with the rank of
Bombardier, and followed all our fortunes in camp and march and action
till our return home. That day was a pleasant break in the monotony,
and also signalized my release from the office of stableman. We were
off again at six; an exquisite night it was, a big moon in the zenith,
the evening star burning steadily over the dim, receding island. We
finished with a sing-song on deck, a crooning, desultory performance,
with sleepy choruses, and a homely beer-bottle passing from mouth to

Then came the tropics and the heat, and the steamy doldrums, when the
stable-deck was an "Inferno," and exercising the horses like a
tread-mill in a Turkish bath, and stall-cleaning an unspeakable
business. Yet the hard work kept us in fit condition, and gave zest to
the intervals of rest.

At this time many of us used to sling our hammocks on deck, for down
in the teeming troop-deck it was suffocating. It was delicious to lie
in the cool night air, with only the stars above, and your feet almost
overhanging the heaving sea, where it rustled away from the vessel's
sides. At dawn you would see through sleepy eyes an exquisite sky,
colouring for sunrise, and just at reveille the golden rim would rise
out of a still sea swimming and shimmering in pink and opal.

Here is the diary of a Sunday:--

"_February 11._--Reveille at six. Delicious bathe in the sail-bath.
Church parade at ten; great cleaning and brushing up for it. Short
service, read by the Major, and two hymns. Then a long lazy lie on
deck with Williams, learning Dutch from a distracting grammar by a
pompous old pedant. Pronunciation maddening, and the explanations made
it worse. Long afternoon, too, doing the same. No exercising; just
water, feed, and a little grooming at 4.30, then work over for the
day. Kept the ship lively combing my roan's mane; thought he would
jump into the engine-room. By the way, yesterday, when waiting for his
hay coming down the line, his impatience caused him to jump half over
the breast-bar, bursting one head rope; an extraordinary feat in view
of the narrowness and lowness of his stall. He hung in a nasty
position for a minute, and then we got him to struggle back. Another
horse died in the night, and another very sick.

"Inoculation for enteric began to-day with a dozen fellows. Results
rather alarming, as they all are collapsed already in hammocks, and
one fainted on deck. It certainly is no trifle, and I shall watch
their progress carefully. I can't be done myself for some days, as I
was vaccinated two days ago (after the first unsuccessful attempt), in
company with Williams. We went to the doctor's cabin on the upper
deck, and afterwards sat on the deck in the sun to let our arms dry.
After some consultation we decided to light a furtive cigarette, but
were ignominiously caught by the doctor and rebuked. 'Back at school
again,' I thought; 'caught smoking!' It seemed very funny, and we had
a good laugh at it.

"It is a gorgeous, tropical night, not a cloud or feather of one; a
big moon, and dead-calm sea; just a slight, even roll; we have sat
over pipes after tea, chatting of old days, and present things, and
the mysterious future, sitting right aft on the poop, with the moonlit
wake creaming astern."

Inoculation was general, and I was turned off one morning with a
joyous band of comrades, retired to hammocks, and awaited the worst
with firmness. It was nothing more than a splitting headache and
shivering for about an hour, during which time I wished Kruger,
Roberts, and the war at the bottom of the sea. A painful stiffness
then ensued, and that was all. My only grievance was that two dying
horses were brought up and tied just below me, and dosed--lucky
beasts--with champagne by their officer-owners! Also we had the hose
turned on us by some sailors, who were washing the boat-bridge above,
and jeered at our impotent remonstrances. In two days we were fit for
duty, and took our turn in ministering to other sufferers.

We were a merry ship, for the men of our three corps got on capitally
together, and concerts and amusements were frequent. They were held
_al fresco_ on the forward deck, with the hammocks of inoculates
swinging above and around, so that these unfortunates, some of whom
were pretty bad, had to take this strange musical medicine whether
they liked it or no, and the mouth-organ band which attended on these
occasions was by no means calculated to act as an opiate. Of course we
had sports, both aquatic and athletic, and on the 18th Williams and I
conceived the idea of publishing a newspaper; and without delay wrote,
and posted up, an extravagant prospectus of the same. Helpers came,
and ideas were plentiful. A most prolific poet knocked off poems
"while you wait," and we soon had plenty of "copy." The difficulty lay
in printing our paper. All we could do was to make four copies in
manuscript, and that was labour enough. I am sure no paper ever went
to press under such distracting conditions. The editorial room was a
donkey engine, and the last sheets were copied one night among
overhanging hammocks, card-parties, supper-parties, and a braying
concert by the Irish just overhead, by the light of an inch of candle.
We pasted up two copies on deck, sent one bound copy to the officers,
and the _Montfort Express_ was a great success. It was afterwards
printed at Capetown. Here is an extract which will throw some light on
our dress on board in the tropics:--


_By our Lady Correspondent._


"I don't often write to you about gentlemen's fashions, because, as a
rule, they are monstrously dull, but this season the stronger sex seem
really to be developing some originality. Here are a few notes taken
on the troopship _Montfort_, where of course you know every one is
smart. (_Tout ce qu'il y a de plus Montfort_ has become quite a
proverb, dear.) Generally speaking, piquancy and coolness are the main
features. For instance, a neat costume for stables is a pair of strong
boots. To make this rather more dressy for the dinner-table, a pair of
close-fitting pants may be added, but this is optional. Shirts, if
worn, are neutral in tint; white ones are quite _demode_. Vests are
cut low in the neck and with merely a suggestion of sleeve. Trousers
(I blush to write it, dear) are worn baggy at the knee and very varied
in pattern and colour, according to the tastes and occupation of the
wearer. Caps _a la convict_ are _de rigueur_. I believe this to spring
from a delicate sense of sympathy with the many members of the
aristocracy now in prison. The same chivalrous instinct shows itself
in the fashion of close-cropped hair.

"There is a great latitude for individual taste; one tall, handsome
man (known to his friends, I believe, under the sobriquet of 'Kipper')
is always seen in a delicious confection of some gauzy pink and blue
material, which enhances rather than conceals the Apollo-like grace of
his lissome limbs.

"At the Gymkhana the other day (a _very_ smart affair), I saw Mr.
'Pat' Duffy, looking charmingly fresh and cool in a suit of blue
tattooing, which I hear was made for him in Japan by a native lady.

"In Yeomanry circles, a single gold-rimmed eye-glass is excessively
_chic_, and, by the way, in the same set a pleasant folly is to wear a
different coat every day.

"The saloon-deck is less interesting, because less variegated; but
here is a note or too. Caps are usually _cerise_, trimmed with blue
_passementerie_. To be really smart, the moustache must be waxed and
curled upwards in corkscrew fashion. In the best Irish circles beards
are occasionally worn, but it requires much individual distinction to
carry off this daring innovation. And now, dear, I must say good-bye;
but before I close my letter, here is a novel and piquant recipe for
_Breakfast curry_: Catch some of yesterday's Irish stew, thoroughly
disinfect, and dye to a warm khaki colour. Smoke slowly for six hours,
and serve to taste.

"Your affectionate,


* * * * *

Here is Williams on the wings of prophecy:--


_(With Apologies to "Ouida.")_

"It was sunset in Table Bay--Phoebus' last lingering rays were
empurpling the beetling crags of Table Mountain's snowy peak--the
great ship _Montfort_, big with the hopes of an Empire (on which the
sun never sets), was gliding majestically to her moorings. Countless
craft, manned by lissome blacks or tawny Hottentots, instantly shot
forth from the crowded quays, and surged in picturesque disorder round
the great hull, scarred by the ordure of ten score pure Arab chargers.
'Who goes there?' cried the ever-watchful sentry on the ship, as he
ran out the ready-primed Vickers-Maxim from the port-hole. 'Speak, or
I fire ten shots a minute.' 'God save the Queen,' was the ready
response sent up from a thousand throats. 'Pass, friends,' said the
sentry, as he unhitched the port companion-ladder. In a twinkling the
snowy deck of the great transport was swarming with the dusky figures
of the native bearers, who swiftly transferred the cargo from the
groaning hold into the nimble bum-boats, and carried the large-limbed
Anglo-Saxon heroes into luxurious barges, stuffed with cushions soft
enough to satisfy the most jaded voluptuary. At shore, a sight awaited
them calculated to stir every instinct of patriotism in their noble
bosoms. On a richly chased ebon throne sat the viceroy in person, clad
in all the panoply of power. A delicate edge of starched white linen,
a sight which had not met their eyes for many a weary week, peeped
from beneath his gaudier accoutrements; the vice-regal diadem, blazing
with the recovered Kimberley diamond, encircled his brow, while his
finely chiselled hand grasped the great sword of state. Around him
were gathered a dazzling bevy of all the wit and beauty of South
Africa; great chieftains from the fabled East, Zulus, Matabeles,
Limpopos and Umslopogaas, clad in gorgeous scarlet feathers gave
piquancy to the proud throng. Most of England's wit and manhood
scintillated in the sunlight, while British matrons and England's
fairest maids lit up with looks of proud affection; bosoms heaved in
sympathetic unison with the measured tramp of the ammunition boots;
bright eyes caught a sympathetic fire from the clanking spurs of the
corporal rough-rider, while the bombardier in command of the composite
squadron of artillery, horse-marines, and ambulance, could hardly pick
his way through the heaps of rose leaves scattered before him by
lily-white hands. But the scene was quickly changed, as if by
enchantment. At a touch of the button by the viceroy's youngest child,
an urchin of three, thousands of Boer prisoners, heavily laden with
chains, brought forward tables groaning with every conceivable dainty.
The heroes set to with famished jaws, and after the coffee, each
negligently lit up his priceless cigar with a bank-note, with the
careless and open-handed improvidence so charming and so
characteristic of their profession. But suddenly their ease was rudely
broken. A single drum-tap made known to all that the enemy was at the
gates. In a moment the commander had thrown away three parts of his
costly cigar, had sprung to his feet, and with the heart of a lion and
the voice of a dove, had shouted the magical battle-cry, 'Attention!'
Then with a yell of stern resolve, and the answering cry of 'Stand
easy, boys,' the whole squadron, gunners and adjutants, ambulance and
bombardiers, yeomen and gentlemen farmers, marched forth into the

"That very night the bloody battle was fought which sealed the fate of
the Transvaal--and the dashing colour-sergeant nailed England's proud
banner on the citadel of Pretoria."

* * * * *

About once every week, it was my turn for stable-guard at night,
consisting of two-hour spells, separated by four hours' rest. The
drivers did this duty, while the gunners mounted guard over the
magazines. On this subject I quote some nocturnal reflections from my
diary:--"Horses at night get very hungry, and have an annoying habit
of eating one another's head-ropes reciprocally. When this happens you
find chains if you can, and then they eat the framework of the stall.
If you come up to protest, they pretend to be asleep, and eat your arm
as you pass. They also have a playful way of untying their breast-pads
and standing on them, and if you are conscientious, you can amuse
yourself by rescuing these articles from under their hind feet."

The days were never very monotonous; variety was given by revolver
practice, harness cleaning, and lectures on first aid to the wounded.
At the same time it came as a great relief to hear that we were at
last close to the Cape.

From my diary:--

"_February 26._--Heavy day at stables. Land reported at eleven; saw
through forage-port a distant line of mountains on port beam, edged by
a dazzling line of what looked like chalk cliffs, but I suppose is
sand. I am on stable-guard for the night (writing this in the
guard-room), so when stables were over at four I had to pack hard, and
only got up for a glimpse of things at five, then approaching Table
Bay, guarded by the splendid Table Mountain, with the tablecloth of
white clouds spread on it in the otherwise cloudless sky. I always
imagined it a smooth, dull mountain, but in fact it rises in
precipitous crags and ravines. A lovely scene as we steamed up through
a crowd of shipping--transports, I suppose--and anchored some way from
shore. Blowing hard to-night. I have been on deck for a few minutes.
The sea is like molten silver with phosphorescence under the lash of
the wind.

"_February 27._--Tiresome day of waiting. Gradually got known that we
shan't land to-day, though it is possible still we may to-night.
Torrid, windless day, and very hot work 'mucking out' and tramping
round with the horses, which we did all the morning, and some of the
afternoon. News sent round that we had captured Cronje and 5000
prisoners; all the ships dressed with flags, and whistles blowing;
rockets in evening, banging off over my head now, and horses jumping
in unison. Shall we be wanted? is the great question. We are packed
ready to land any minute."



Landing--Green Point Camp--Getting into trim--My horses--Interlude--
Orders to march--Sorrows of a spare driver--March to Stellenbosch--
First bivouac--A week of dust and drill--The road to water--Off again.

"_March 4._--_Sunday._--_Green Point Camp._--This is the first moment
I have had to write in since last Tuesday. I am on picket, and writing
in the guard-tent by a guttery lantern.

"To go back:--On Wednesday morning, the 28th of February, we steamed
slowly up to a great deserted quay. The silence struck me curiously. I
had imagined a scene of tumult and bustle on the spot where troops in
thousands had been landing continuously for so long. We soon realized
that _we_ were to supply all the bustle, and that practical work had
at last begun, civilian assistance dispensed with, and the Battery a
self-sufficient unit. There was not even a crane to help us, and we
spent the day in shoving, levering, and lifting on to trucks and
waggons our guns, carriages, limbers, ammunition, and other stores,
all packed as they were in huge wooden cases. It was splendid exercise
as a change from stable-work. Weather melting hot; but every one was
in the highest spirits; though we blundered tediously through the job,
for we had no experience in the fine art of moving heavy weights by
hand. I forgot to take note of my sensations on first setting foot on
African soil, as I was groaning under a case of something terribly
heavy at the time.

"We worked till long after dark, slept like logs in the dismantled
troop-deck, rose early, and went on until the afternoon of the next
day, when we landed the horses--of which, by the way, we had only lost
four on the voyage--harnessed up some waggons to carry stores, and
were ready. While waiting to start, some charming damsels in white
muslin brought us grapes. At about four we started for Green Point
Camp, which is on a big plain, between the sea and Table Mountain, and
is composed of soft white sand, from which the grass has long

"Directly we reached it, the horses all flung themselves down, and
rolled in it. We passed through several camps, and halted at our
allotted site, where we formed our lines and picketed our horses heel
and head. Then the fun began, as they went wild, and tied themselves
in strangulation knots, and kept it up all night, as the sleepless
pickets reported.

"After feeding and watering, we unloaded the trucks which had begun to
come in, ate some bully-beef and bread, and then fell asleep anyhow,
in a confused heap in our tents. Mine had thirteen in it, and once we
were packed no movement was possible."

For two more days we were busily employed in unpacking stores, and
putting the _materiel_ of battery into shape, while, at the same time,
we were receiving our complement of mules and Kaffir drivers for our
transport waggons. Then came our first parades and drills. Rough we
were no doubt at first. The mobilization of a volunteer battery cannot
be carried out in an instant, and presents numberless difficulties
from which infantry are free. Our horses were new to the work, and a
few of us men, including my humble self, were only recent recruits.

The guns, too, were of a new pattern. The H.A.C. at home is armed with
the 15-pounder guns in use in the Regular Field Artillery. But for the
campaign, as the C.I.V. Battery, we had taken out new weapons
(presented by the City of London), in the shape of four 12-1/2-pounder
Vickers-Maxim field guns, taking fixed ammunition, having practically
no recoil, and with a much improved breech-mechanism. They turned out
very good, but of course, being experimental, required practice in
handling, which could not have been obtained in the few weeks in the
London barracks.

On the other hand, the large majority of us were old hands, our senior
officers and N.C.O.'s were from the Regular Horse Artillery, and all
ranks were animated by an intense desire to reach the utmost
efficiency at the earliest possible moment.

My impressions of the next ten days are of grooming, feeding, and
exercising in the cool twilight of dawn, sweltering dusty drills,
often in sand-storms, under a blazing mid-day sun, of "fatigues" of
all sorts, when we harnessed ourselves in teams to things, or made and
un-made mountains of ammunition boxes--a constant round of sultry
work, tempered by cool bathes on white sand, grapes from peripatetic
baskets, and brief intervals of languid leisure, with _al fresco_
meals of bully-beef and dry bread outside our tents.

Time was marked by the three daily stable hours, each with their
triple duty of grooming, feeding, and watering, the "trivial round"
which makes up so much of the life of a driver. As a very humble
representative of that class, my horses were two "spares," that is,
not allotted to any team. Much to my disgust, I was not even provided
with a saddle, and had to do my work bareback, which filled me with
indignation at the time, but only makes me smile now. My roan was
always a sort of a pariah among the sub-division horses, an
incorrigible kicker and outcast, having to be picketed on a peg
outside the lines for his misdeeds. Many a kick did I get from him;
and yet I always had a certain affection for him in all his troubled,
unloved life, till the day when, nine months later, he trotted off to
the re-mount depot at Pretoria, to vex some strange driver in a
strange battery. My other horse, a dun, was soon taken as a sergeant's
mount, and I had to take on an Argentine re-mount, a rough, stupid
little mare, with kicking and biting propensities which quite threw
the roan's into the shade. She also had a peg of ignominy, and three
times a day I had to dance perilously round my precious pair with a
tentative body-brush and hoof-pick. The scene generally ended in the
pegs coming away from the loose sand, and a perspiring chase through
the lines. I had some practice, too, in driving in a team, for one of
our drivers "went sick," and I took his place in the team of an
ammunition-waggon for several days.

Abrupt contrasts to the rough camp life were some evenings spent with
Williams in Capetown, where it already felt very strange to be dining
at a table, and sitting on a chair, and using more than one plate.
Once it was at the invitation of Amery of the _Times_, in the palatial
splendour of the Mount Nelson Hotel, where I felt strangely
incongruous in my by no means immaculate driver's uniform. But _how_ I
enjoyed that dinner! Had there been many drivers present, the
management would have been seriously embarrassed that evening.

Wildly varying rumours of our future used to abound, but on March 14,
a sudden order came to raise camp, and march to Stellenbosch. Teams
were harnessed and hooked in, stores packed in the buck waggons, tents
struck, and at twelve we were ready. Before starting Major McMicking
addressed us, and said we were going to a disaffected district, and
must be very careful. We took ourselves very seriously in those days,
and instantly felt a sense of heightened importance. Then we started
on the road which by slow, _very_ slow, degrees was to bring us to
Pretoria in August.

My preparations had been very simple, merely the securing of a blanket
over the roan's distressingly bony spine, and putting a bit in his
refractory mouth. As I anticipated, there had been a crisis over my
lack of a saddle at the last moment, various officers and N.C.O.'s
laying the blame, first on me (of all people), and then on each other,
but chiefly on me, because it was safest. Not having yet learnt the
unquestioning attitude of a soldier, I felt a great martyr at the
time. The infinite insignificance of the comfort on horseback of one
spare driver had not yet dawned upon me; later on, I learnt that
indispensable philosophy whose gist is, "Take what comes, and don't

We passed through Capetown and its interminable suburbs, came out on
to open rolling country, mostly covered with green scrub, and, in the
afternoon, formed our first regular marching camp, on a bit of green
sward, which was a delicious contrast after Green Point Sand. Guns and
waggons were marshalled, picket-ropes stretched between them, the
horses tied up, and the routine of "stables" begun again.

It was our first bivouac in the open, and very well I slept, with my
blanket and waterproof sheet, though it turned very cold about two
with a heavy dew. A bare-backed ride of thirteen miles had made me
pretty tired.

The next day we were up at five, for a march of eighteen miles to
Stellenbosch. At mid-day we passed hundreds of re-mount ponies,
travelling in droves, with Indian drivers in turbans and loose white
linen. Half-way we watered our horses and had a fearful jostle with a
Yeomanry corps (who were on the march with us), the Indians, and a
whole tribe of mules which turned up from somewhere. In the afternoon
we arrived at our camp, a bare, dusty hill, parching under the sun.

We passed a week here, drilling and harness cleaning, in an atmosphere
of dust and never-ending rumours.

Here are two days from my diary:--

"_March 18._--Still here. Yesterday we rose early, struck tents,
harnessed horses, and waited for orders to go to the station. Nothing
happened: the day wore on, and in the evening we bivouacked as we were
in the open. The night before we had great excitement about some
mysterious signalling on the hills: supposed to be rebels, and the
Yeomanry detachment (who are our escort) sent out patrols, who found
nothing. To-day we are still awaiting orders, ready to start in half
an hour, but they let us have a fine slack day, and we had a great
bathe in the afternoon. Ostriches roam about this camp, eating empty
soda-water bottles and any bridoon bits they can find. Three times a
day we ride bareback to water horses at the re-mount depot, passing
picturesque Indian camps. Williams and I are sitting under our
ammunition waggon, where we are going to sleep: it is sunset and the
hills are violet. A most gorgeous range of them fronts this camp.

"_March 19._--Worse than ever. No orders to start, but orders to
re-pitch tents. Delays seem hopeless, and now we may be any time here.
Cooler weather and some rain to-day: much pleasanter. Only two tents
to a sub-division, and there are sixteen in mine, a frightful squash.
Long bareback ride for the whole battery before breakfast; enjoyed it
very much. Marching-order parade later. Argentine very troublesome:
bites like a mad dog and kicks like a cow: can't be groomed. To-day
she tried to bite me in the stomach, but as I had on a vest, shirt,
body belt, money belt, and waistcoat, she didn't do much damage, and
only got a waistcoat button and a bit of pocket!"

We were uncommonly glad to receive definite orders on the 20th to move
up country. The Battery was to be divided. The right section to go to
Matjesfontein, and the left section, which was mine, to Piquetberg
Road. Nobody knew where these places were, but we vaguely gathered
that they were somewhere on the line of communications, which, rightly
or wrongly, we thought very disappointing. For two more days we stood
in readiness to start, chafing under countermanding orders, and
pitching and re-pitching of tents, so little did we know then of the
common lot of a soldier on active service.

We were to go by train, and the right section under the Major started
about midnight on the 20th, and we on the next day, at four o'clock.

Guns, horses, and waggons were entrained very quickly, and just at
dark I found myself in a second-class carriage, one of a merry party
of eight, sitting knee-deep in belts, haversacks, blankets, cloaks,
and water-bottles. We travelled on till midnight, and then stopped
somewhere, posted guards, and slept in the carriages till dawn.



Piquetberg Road--A fire--Kitless--A typical day--A bed--"Stableman"--
Picket--A rebel--Orders for the front, with a proviso--Rain--An
ungrateful patient--"Bazing"--Swimming horses--My work--The weather--A
blue letter.

When I woke up on the morning of the 22nd of March, the legend
"Piquetberg Road" was just visible on a big white board opposite the
carriage. So this was our destination. There was a chill sense in
every one of not having got very far towards the seat of war--indeed,
we were scarcely eighty miles from Capetown; but our spirits were soon
raised by the advent of some Tommies of the Middlesex Militia, who
spoke largely of formidable bodies of rebels in the neighbourhood, of
an important pass to guard, and of mysterious strategical movements in
the near future; so that we felt cheerful enough as we detrained our
guns and horses, harnessed up, and marched over a mile and a half of
scrub-clothed _veldt_, to the base of some steep hills, where we
pitched our camp, and set to work to clear the ground of undergrowth.
We were at the edge of a great valley, through which ran the line of
railway, disappearing behind us in a deep gorge in the hills, where a
little river ran. This was the pass we were to help to guard.

Below in the valley lay a few white houses round the station, a farm
or two dotted the distant slopes, and the rest was desert scrub and

Now that the right section had parted from us, we had two officers,
Captain Budworth commanding, and Lieutenant Bailey; about sixty men,
two guns, two ammunition waggons, and two transport waggons, with
their mules and Kaffir drivers, under a conductor. Our little square
camp was only a spot upon the hill-side, the guns and horse-lines in
the middle, a tent for the officers on one side, and a tent at each
corner for the men. Here we settled down to the business-like routine
of camp life, with great hopes of soon being thought worthy to join a
brigade in the field.

The work was hard enough, but to any one with healthy instincts the
splendid open-air life was very pleasant. Here are some days from my

"_March 23._--Marching order parade. Drove centres of our sub-division

"I have got a saddle for my own horse at last, and feel happier. Where
it came from I don't know.

"I am 'stableman' for three days, and so missed a bathing parade
to-day, which is a nuisance, as there is no means of washing here
nearer than a river some distance off, to which the others rode. While
they were away there was an alarm of fire in the lines of the
Middlesex Militia, next to ours. Bugles blew the 'alarm.' The scrub
had caught fire quite near the tents, and to windward of us. There
were only four of us in camp, one a bombardier, who took command and
lost his head, and after some wildly contradictory orders, said to me,
'Take that gun to a place of safety.' How he expected me to take the
gun by myself I don't know. However, the fire went out, and all was

"I forgot to say that on the day we left Stellenbosch, a mail at last
came in, and I got my first letters. They came by the last mail, and
we have evidently missed a lot. Also a telegram, weeks old, saying
Henry (my brother) had joined Strathcona's Horse in Ottawa and was
coming out here. Delighted to hear it, but I shall probably never see

"By the way, I am parted from all my kit at present. Having had no
saddle, I have been used to put it on the transport waggon of our
sub-division, but this went with the other section for some
inscrutable reason, or rather didn't go, for it was wrecked by a train
when crossing the line. I heard vaguely that the contents were saved
and sent on with the right section, but am quite prepared to find it
is lost. Not that I miss it much. One wants very little really, in
this sort of life. Fortunately I kept back my cloak and blanket. A
lovely night to-night: Williams and I have given up tents as too
crowded, and sleep under the gun; to-night we have built a rampart of
scrub round it, as there is a fresh wind.

"_March 28._--Marching order parade at eight. I was told to turn out
as a mounted gunner, which is a very jolly job. You have a single
mount and ride about as ground-scout, advance-guard, rear-guard, etc.
We had a route-march over the pass through the mountains, a lovely
ride, reminding me of the Dordogne. We came out into a beautiful
valley the other side, with a camp of some Highlanders: here we fed
and watered ourselves and horses and then marched home. My kit turned
up from Matjesfontein.

"It strikes me that I have given very few actual details of our life
and work, so, as I have got two hours to myself, I will try and do it
more exactly.

"Reveille sounds at 5.30, and 'stables' at six, with the first gleam
of dawn; horses are now fed, and then groomed for half an hour. From
this point the days differ. Here is the sketch of a marching order
day, from a driver's point of view. To resume, then:--From 6.30 we
have half an hour to pack kits, that is to say, to roll the cloak and
strap it on the riding saddle, pack the off saddle with spare boots
and rolls made up of a waterproof sheet, blanket, harness-sheets,
spare breeches, muzzles, hay-nets, etc., and finally to buckle on
filled nose-bags and our mess-tins, and strap horse-blankets under the
saddles. His stable-kit and the rest of a driver's personal belongings
are carried in four wallets, two on each saddle.

"At seven, breakfast--porridge, coffee, and bread, and sometimes jam.
Our tent has a mess-subscription, and adds any extras required from
the canteen. But we always fare well enough without this, for the
Captain thinks as much of the men as of the horses, and is often to be
seen tasting and criticizing at the cooks' fire.

"At 7.30 'boot and saddle' sounds, and in half an hour your horses
have to be ready-harnessed and yourself dressed in 'marching order,'
that is to say, wearing helmet, gaiters, belt, revolver, haversack,
water-bottle, and leg-guard.

"At eight 'hook in' is ordered; teams are hooked together and into the
guns and waggons. 'Mount the detachment' and gunners take their seats.
'Prepare to mount' (to the drivers) followed by 'Mount,' 'Walk March,'
and you are off. We always go first to the watering-place, a sandy
pool in the river, unhook and water the horses. Then we either march
away, and drill and exercise over the veldt, or go for a route-march
to some distance. The weather is always hot, and often there is a
dust-storm raging, filling eyes, ears, and mouth, and trying the
temper sorely.

"We are back at camp about 1.30, form our lines again, between the
guns and waggons, unharness, rub down horses, and then have dinner.
There is fresh beef generally (that unlovely soldiers' stew), and
either rice, duff, or, now and then, stewed quinces, which are very
common in the country. We can buy beer at a canteen, or, better still,
draught ginger-beer, which is a grand drink. At three 'stables'
sounds, with grooming first, and then (I am choosing a full day)
harness cleaning; that is to say, soaping all leather-work, and
scouring steel-work. Harness-cleaning is irksome work, and, as far as
appearances go, is a heart-breaking task, for the eternal dust is
always obliterating every trace of one's labour. I have none of my own
to look after yet, but help the others.

"At 4.30 or five 'Prepare for water' sounds. You put a bridoon on one
horse, and, if you are luxurious, a blanket and surcingle to sit on,
lead the other, and form up in a line; then 'file right' is the order,
and you march off to the watering place, wearing any sort of costume
you please. And very slight and _neglige_ some of them are. In the
cool of the evening, this is a very pleasant three quarters of an
hour. After watering comes the evening feed, followed by tea at six
o'clock, and then the day's work is done."

The evenings in that climate are delicious; we could sit in our
shirt-sleeves until any hour, without any perceptible chill in the
air, playing cards, or smoking and talking, or reading by a lantern.
Williams and I found picket a great resource; and many a good game of
whist have I had sitting in a crowded quartette in our ramshackle
battery Cape-cart, with an inch of candle guttering among the cards.

Most of us slept in the tents, but I preferred the open, even in
dust-storms, when choosing a site required some skill. The composition
of a bed was a question of sacks. There was one very large variety of
chaff-sack, which was a sleeping-bag in itself; with this and your
blanket and cloak, and under the lee of some forage or scrub, you
could defy anything. The only peril was that of a loose horse walking
on you.

On some afternoons we were quite free till the stable-hour at four.
Till then we could bask in camp, or go for a bathe in the river, where
there was one splendid deep-water pool, whence you could hear the
baboons barking on the hill-sides, and see the supply trains for the
front grinding heavily up the pass.

Rumours of a move never lost their charm. At first we used to take
them seriously, but gradually the sense of permanence began to pervade
our camp. Solid tin shelters rose for the guard and the sergeants; a
substantial tin canteen was erected close to the lines by cynical
provision-dealers. Those visionary rebels declined to show themselves;
nobody attacked our precious pass; and, in short, we had to
concentrate our minds upon the narrow circle of our daily life.

A recurring duty for drivers was that of "stableman." There were two
of these for each sub-division, who were on duty for the whole day in
the lines. Their function, in addition to the usual duties, was to
draw forage, watch the horses, and prepare all the feeds in the
nose-bags, ready for the drivers. The post was no sinecure, for in
addition to the three standard oat feeds, there was oat straw to be
put down after dinner, and, at eight o'clock at night, a final supper
of chaff, except for invalids, who got special feeds. A list of these
was given you generally at the last moment, and it was a test for your
temper to go round the lines on a windy night, lighting many futile
matches, in order to see the number on the off fore hoof, so as to hit
off the right ones. There was generally a nose-bag missing at this
stage, which was ultimately found on a C horse (my sub-division was
D), and then there was a lively five minutes of polite recrimination.
At 8.30 the nose-bags had to be taken off, and muzzles put on--canvas
affairs with a leather bottom, strapped on by the head collar--as a
preventive against disease from the chill morning air. Every man,
after evening stables, was supposed to leave his muzzles on the
jowl-piece of his horses, but a stableman was quite sure to find two
missing, and then he would have to scour the tents, and drive the
offender to the lines to repair his neglect; then he could go to bed.
Another extra duty was that of picket at night, which came round to
gunners and drivers alike, about every ten days. "Two hours on and
four hours off" was the rule, as on all sentry-duty. I rarely found
the night watches long. There was plenty to do in watching the horses,
which are marvellously ingenious at untying knots, and in patrolling
the camp on the look-out for imaginary rebels. By the way, the only
live rebel I ever saw was the owner of a farm, near which we halted
during one sultry dusty route-march. He refused to allow us to water
our horses and ourselves at his pond, defying us with Lord Kitchener's
proclamation enjoining "kind treatment" of the Dutch!

As the days passed without orders for the front, impatience and
disappointment grew. We were fit and well, and were not long in
reaching the standard of efficiency which carried us successfully
through our campaigning later. We used to "grouse" vigorously over our
bad luck, with what justice I do not pretend to say; but no one who
has not experienced it, can understand the bitterness of inaction,
while the stream of reinforcements is pouring to the front. Scraps of
news used to come in of the victorious march of the army northward,
and of the gallant behaviour of the C.I.V. Infantry. Companies of
Yeomanry used to arrive, and leave for destinations with enticing
names that smelt of war, and night after night rollicking snatches of
"Soldiers of the Queen" would float across the valley from the
troop-trains, as they climbed the pass northward.

As early as April 15th, the word went round that we were under orders
to go to Bloemfontein--"as soon as transport could be ready for us."

"_April 15._--Amid great delight the Captain to-day read a telegram
saying we are to go to Bloemfontein as soon as the railway can take
us. We had just come in from the ride to water in drenching rain and
ankle deep in mud, but a great cheer went up. The railway limitation
is a rather serious one, as I believe the line is in a hopeless state
of block; but we'll hope for the best. The rainy season has begun in
the most unmistakable fashion. It has poured so far in buckets for
twenty-four hours; I slept out last night, but daren't to-night;
outlying parts of me got wet, in spite of the waterproof over me.
Thank goodness, we have good boots, gaiters, and cloaks. We rode to
water at eleven in various queer costumes, and mostly bare legs, and
afterwards dug trenches through the lines. The rest of the day we have
been huddled in a heap in our tent, a merry crowd, taking our meals in
horrible discomfort, but uproarious spirits.

"I still have the roan, but have lost the Argentine and got a bay mare
instead; it's not a bad animal. There was a false alarm of glanders
the other day. One of the gun-team had a swollen throat, but it turns
out to be something else. I was told off to help foment him with hot
water the night it was discovered. He kicked us all, and completely
floored me with a kick in the chest, which didn't hurt happily.
Yesterday I had to take him down to the station and foment him from
the kitchen boiler of the station-master's wife. I enjoyed it, as I
had plenty of rests, and the station-master's wife made me delicious
tea, served to me by a sweet little white-frocked girl. By the way, on
the road to water the other day a caravan full of people stopped us,
and small maidens went down the line, giving us apples and cigarettes
and cakes."

Little we understood that ironical "railway" proviso of a harassed
general staff. We had been reviewed the day before, and the good
practice of our guns had been praised by the inspecting officer. Now
was our chance, we thought. Nevertheless, we had to live on that
guarded "order" for another month.

But in spite of our disappointment I believe all of us will look back
with real pleasure to that time. There was no monotony in the life,
thanks to our officers, who continually introduced variety into our
work. "Marching order" days were the commonest; but there were others
of a lighter sort. On one day we would go for a long expedition in
drill-order with the guns, taking cooks and our dinner with us, and
have what we used to call a picnic by some pleasant river-side. On
another the guns would be left at home, and we would ride out for
exercise, often through the pass, which led through a lovely ravine to
a pretty little place called Tulbagh, where there was another small
camp of troops. Sometimes "bazing" was the order, a portmanteau-word
describing a morning spent in grazing the horses, and bathing
ourselves. My diary of April 8th says, "Yesterday about twenty of us
went out to practice swimming with horses. We rode about seven miles
to a deepish river, stripped, off-saddled, and swam them across. Some
wouldn't do it at all, but most of them swam across and back. You
buckle the rein up short and leave him alone. It's a very queer motion
at first. One of those I took declined to go in, in spite of half a
dozen chaps goading him on in various ways, and finally bolted away
over the veldt, carrying me naked. He soon came back though. The
horses have got the habit now of sticking together, and if they get
loose in camp never leave the lines. It is a nuisance sometimes, if
you have to act as a single mount, and ride away on some errand. My
Argentine greatly resents such a move, and tries to circle like a
clockwork mouse. She has grown as fat as a pig, though some horses are
doing poorly. The oats are of a very bad quality."

That brings me to my horses and my own work. We all of us changed
horses a good deal in those days, and I and the roan had several
partings and re-unitings. As a spare driver, my own work was very
varied, now of driving in a team, now of riding spare horses, and
occasionally of acting as a mounted gunner. Williams was a regular
mounted gunner, his mount being a wicked, disreputable-looking little
Argentine (called "Pussy" (with a lisp) for her qualities), to whom he
owed three days in hospital at one time from a bad kick, but whom he
ended by transforming into as smart and peaceable a little mount as
you could find. My own chance came at last; and when about the end of
April one of our drivers was sent home sick, I took his place as
centre driver of an ammunition waggon, and kept it permanently. I said
good-bye to the roan and Argentine, and took over a fine pair of bays.

My chief impression of the weather is that of heat and dust, but there
were times when we thought the dreaded rainy season had begun; when
the camp was a running morass, and we crouched in our tents, watching
pools of water soaking under our harness sheets, and counting the
labour over rusted steel. But it used to pass off, leaving a wonderful
effect; every waste oat seed about the camp sprouted; little green
lawns sprang up in a single night round the places where the forage
was heaped, and the whole veldt put on a delicate pink dress, a powder
of tiny pink flowers.

By the middle of May we began to think we had been forgotten
altogether, but at last, on the morning of the 17th of May, as we were
marching out to drill, an orderly galloped up, and put a long blue
letter into the Captain's hand. We had seen this happen before, and
our discussions of the circumstance, as we rode along, were sceptical,
but this time we were wrong.



The railway north--Yesterday's start--Travelling made easy--Feeding
horses--A menu--De Aar--A new climate--Naauwport--Over the frontier--
Bloemfontein--A fiasco--To camp again--The right section--Diary days--
Riding exercise--A bit of history--Longman's Hospital--The
watering-place--Artillery at drill--A review--A camp rumour--A taste
of freedom--A tent scene.

From my diary:--

"_May 20._--_Sunday._--I write this on the train, on the way up north,
somewhere near Beaufort West; for the long-wished day has come at
last, and we are being sent to Kroonstadt, which anyway is pretty near
to, if not actually at, the front. Our only fear is now that it will
be too late. All day the train has been traversing the Karoo, a desert
seamed by bare rocky mountains, and without a sign of life on it, only
vast stretches of pebbly soil, dotted sparsely with dusty-green dwarf
scrub. But to go back. We started yesterday. All went smoothly and
simply. At eight, kit was inspected; in the morning, bareback
exercise; at twelve, tents struck; at 12.30 dinner; at one, 'boot and
saddle.' When we were hooked in and mounted, the Captain made a
splendid little speech in the incisive forcible voice we had learned
to know so well, saying we had had for long the most trying experience
that can befall a soldier, that of standing fast, while he sees his
comrades passing him up to the front. He congratulated us on the way
we had met that experience. There had been no complaining or slackness
in our work on that account. He hoped we would have the luck to go
into action, and his last advice to us was 'to keep our stomachs full
and our bellies warm!'

"Then we marched to the station, unharnessed, packed harness, boxed
the horses, put the guns and waggons on the trucks, and were ready.
But the train didn't start till about eight o'clock in the evening.
One box was reserved for kickers, and you should have seen their
disgust when they found nothing to bully! We had, and have, a vague
idea that the journey was to last about a week, so Williams and I
bought a large box of provisions and a small paraffin stove.
Accustomed to delays, we quite expected no engine to turn up or
something like that, but finally a whistle blew and we were off, and a
delirious shout went up, and then we all sighed with relief, and then
got doubly merry, shouting vain things over a long untasted beverage,
whisky and water. One hears so much about the horrors of war that I
scarcely dare to describe the men's accommodation on board this train.
It is strange, but true, that I have never travelled more comfortably
in my life, and probably never shall. Most compartments have only four
men to them, and by great good luck, and a little diplomacy, Williams
and I have one to ourselves, though we form our mess with the four
chaps in the next one. Now the beauty of it is that no one can get
into our train, so, if you get out at a station, you need have no fear
of finding a nurse with twins in your special corner seat. You live
without these terrors, and have room to stretch, and sleep, and read,
and have meals, with no one to ask you to show your ticket. In fact,
things are reversed; we are not herded and led, and snubbed by porters
and officials, but the train belongs to us, and we ignore them.

"We sat up late last night, and then Williams and I slept in great
comfort, though it felt quite odd to have something between one and
the stars. It's true there was a slight break, caused by the door
being flung open, and sacks of bread being hustled in from the
outside. But a soldier's training takes no account of these things,
and you instinctively jump out half-dressed, and help to shovel more
sacks in, you don't know why, or what they are. Being woken up, we got
on to the platform over an intervening train, and sent cables home
from an office standing invitingly open. Then to bed again. Later, in
my dreams, I was aware of a sergeant and an irascible little
station-master coming into the carriage with lanterns and throwing
most of the sacks out again, which it seemed had been annexed
feloniously by our Captain, at the last station, in his zeal to keep
our 'stomachs full.' I was glad to get rid of the sacks, as they
filled our carriage up completely. The train has to stop for about
three-quarters of an hour or less, three times a day, for feeding and
watering the horses. The first stop to-day was about 6.30 A.M. We
tumbled out in the delicious fresh air, and formed into pre-arranged
feeding and watering parties. I am on the feed party of our
subdivision, and we climbed like beetles up the sides of the trucks,
which are open, and strap on the nose-bags. Then we washed at a
friendly tap, and had our own breakfast which the cooks had
cooked--coffee and porridge. Then we climbed back and took off
nose-bags, and then the train went on. At this station we
'commandeered' a splendid table in the shape of a large square tin
advertisement of a certain Scotch whisky, and played whist on it after
breakfast. The train wound slowly through a barren stretch of brown
plain and rocky wild. Stations happened now and then, little silent
spots in the wilderness, their _raison d'etre_ a mystery, no houses,
roads, or living things near, except a white tent or two, and some
sunburnt men in khaki looking curiously at us. There are troops in
small bodies all up the line in this 'loyal' colony. At one station
the Kimberley mail caught us up, and the people threw us magazines and
biscuits from the windows. All engines and stations were decorated
with flags in honour of the relief of Mafeking, the news of which came
through yesterday. A hospital train bound to Capetown also passed,
with some pale faces and bandaged limbs in evidence.

"At 1.30 we stopped again for feed and water, and when we went on our
mess sat down to the following lunch, which I think does credit to our
catering powers.


Emergency Soup.
Cold Roast Fowl, with Stuffing.
Bully Beef, with Mustard.
Whiskied Biscuits.
Desserts Varies. Chocolate. Ginger. Bonbons. Oranges.
German Beer.
Cigars. Cigarettes.

"I wrote the _menu_ out in French first, but it seemed not to suit.

"All the afternoon the same desolation, like pictures one sees of the
moon's surface. About six, water and feed at Beaufort West, and horses
led out, trucks mucked out, and tea served out.

"The night was very cold; in fact, the climate is quite different on
these high table-lands. I woke up about six, looked out, and saw, just
opposite, the legend DE AAR, which for the first time seemed to
connect us with the war. We stopped a moment, and then moved on
through lines of tents, loaded waggons, mountains of ammunition, etc.
Then I saw a strange sight, in the shape of ice on puddles and white
hoarfrost. Soon out on the broad, brown veldt, far-distant hills
showing finely cut in the exquisitely clear air. Such an atmosphere I
have never seen for purity. The sun was rising into a cloudless sky
from behind a kopje. The flat-topped kopje is now the regular feature.
They are just like miniature Table-mountains, and it is easy to see
how hard to capture they must be. Water, feed, and breakfast at a tiny
roadside place, with the inevitable couple of tents and khaki men. We
were at whist when we steamed up to a big, busy camp-station, the Red
Cross flying over a dozen big marquee tents, and a couple of hundred
sorry-looking remounts (by the look of them) picketed near. This was
Naauwport. We stopped alongside a Red Cross train full of white,
unshaven faces--enterics and wounded going back to the base. They were
cheerful enough, and we shouted inquiries about one another. They were
unanimous in saying we were too late, which was very depressing news,
but I don't suppose they knew much about it. We washed ourselves in
big buckets here. As we were steaming out I saw a long unfamiliar
sight, in the shape of a wholesome, sunburnt English girl, dressed in
short-skirted blue serge, stepping out as only an English girl can.
She was steering for the Red Cross over the tents, and, I daresay, was
nursing there. Off again, over the same country, but looking more
inhabited; passed several ostrich farms, with groups of the big,
graceful birds walking delicately about; also some herds of cattle,
and a distant farm or two, white against the blue hill-shadows. Soon
came the first visible signs of war--graves, and long lines of
trenches here and there. At a stop at a shanty (can't call it a
station) a man described a fight for a kopje just by the railway.
Coleskop was in view, a tall, flat-topped mountain, and later we
steamed into the oft-taken and retaken Colesberg Junction, and were
shown the hill where the Suffolks were cut up. All was now barren
veldt again, and the strangeness of the whole thing struck me
curiously. Why should men be fighting here? There seemed to be nothing
to fight for, and nothing behind to get to when you had fought.

"_May 22._--_Tuesday._--As I write we are standing just outside
Bloemfontein; cold, sunny morning; the Kaffir quarter just on our
right, a hideous collection of mud houses with tin roofs; camps and
stores on the left; boundless breadth of veldt beyond; the town in
front under a long, low kopje, a quiet, pretty little place.

"We reached the frontier--Norval's Pont--at 6 P.M. yesterday, and
after a long delay, moved slowly out in the dark, till the shimmer of
water between iron girders told us we were crossing the Orange river.
Once off the bridge, a shout went up for our first step on the enemy's
country. Then all went on the same. We made ourselves comfortable, and
brewed hot cocoa, for all the world as though we were travelling from
Boulogne to Geneva. The only signs of hostility were the shrill
execrations of a crowd of infant aborigines.

"We woke up to a changed country. The distances were still greater,
low hills only occasionally breaking the monotony of flat plain, but
the scrub had given way to grass, not verdant Irish grass, but sparse,
yellow herbage. Ant-hills and dead horses were the only objects in the
foreground, except eternal wreaths and tangles of telegraph wire along
the tracks, and piles of sleepers, showing the damage done, and now
repaired, to line and wire. The same pure crisp air and gentle

"_May 24._--_Thursday._--I write in our tent on the plateau above
Bloemfontein, and will go on where I left off on the 22nd. To our
utter disgust, after standing for hours in a siding of the station,
chatting to all sorts and conditions of the species soldier, the order
came to detrain. We drivers took the horses first to water, and then
picketed them on an arid patch of ground near the station, where the
gunners had meantime brought the guns and waggons. It was now dark,
and there were no rations served out; very cold, too, and we had no
kit, but it wasn't these things we minded, but the getting out instead
of training on. 'Kroonstadt' is redolent of war, but, 'Bloemfontein'
spells inaction. However, there was no help for it. We slept on the
ground, and precious cold this new climate was. I hadn't my Stohwasser
blanket, and spent most of the night stamping about and smoking. At
reveille next day rations were still lacking, but we all trooped off
to a tin hut and had tea, given by an unseen angel, named Sister
Bagot. 'Boot and saddle' sounded at nine, and we marched off to the
camp, about two miles away. There was a very nasty ravine to cross,
and we had to have drag ropes on behind, with the gunners on them, to
steady us down the descent. I was driving centres as usual, and saw
the leaders almost disappear in front of me. At the bottom we crossed
a stream, and then galloped them up the other side. Soon after we
passed through Bloemfontein, a quiet, dull-looking place, like a
suburb of Cape Town, mounted a long hill, and came out on to another
broad plain, kopjes in the distance, and tents dotted far and wide.
The first moving thing I saw was a funeral,--slow music, a group of
khaki figures, and the bright colours of a Union Jack glinting

"Our right section, that is, the other half of the Battery, from which
we had been separated ever since Stellenbosch, had trained on a day
ahead of us, and were now already encamped, so we marched up and
joined our lines to theirs, pitched our tents, and once more the
Battery was united. And what a curious meeting it was! Half of them
were unrecognizable with beards and sunburn, as were many of us, I
suppose. What yarns we had! All that day, in the intervals between
fatigues, and far into the night, in the humming tents. Jacko was with
them. He had been lost on the journey, but came on by a later train
very independently."

We all had a presentiment of evil, and, as it turned out, we were kept
nearly a month at Bloemfontein, while still reports of victories came
in. Yet news was very scarce, and had we known it, the period was only
just beginning, of that long, irregular warfare, by which the two
provinces had to be conquered, when the brilliancy of Roberts's
meteoric march to Pretoria was past. We were to take our small share
in work as necessary and arduous as any in these latter stages of the

Meanwhile we were now a complete battery, and worked hard at our drill
as such, though there was very little to learn after our long training
in Cape Colony. We kept our spirits up, though the time was a
depressing one. Mortality was high in Bloemfontein at that time, in
spite of the healthy, exhilarating climate. A good many of us had to
go into hospital, but we were fortunate enough to lose no lives
through illness.

Here are some extracts from my diary:--

"_May 24._--_Queen's Birthday._--The guns went to a review, and got
high praise for their turn out. The rest of us exercised on stripped
saddles, trotting over bare flat ground, with sparse grass on it, the
greatest contrast to the Piquetberg Road country.

"In the evening Williams and I and some others wandered off to try and
get a wash. We prowled over the plain and among the camps asking the
way to water, and carrying our towels and soap, and finally stumbled
over a trough and a tap. The water here is unfit for drinking, and we
are forbidden to drink it except boiled.

"_May 28._--Riding exercise again; a long and jolly ride round the
country. Half-way we did cavalry exercises for some time, which, when
every man has a led horse, and many two of them, is rather a rough
game. I was riding Williams's Argentine, Pussy, a game little beast,
but she got very worried and annoyed over wheeling and forming fours
and sections. Directly we got back and had off-saddled we fell in, and
one out of four was allowed to go down to town and see the
Proclamation of Annexation read. I was lucky enough to be picked,
tumbled into proper dress, and hurried down just in time. The usual
sight as I passed the cemetery, thirteen still forms on stretchers in
front of the gate, wrapped in the rough service blanket, waiting to be
buried. I found the Market Square full of troops drawn up, and a
flag-staff in the middle, with a rolled-up flag on it. Soon a band
heralded the arrival of the Governor, Colonel Pretyman, and the
Staff-officers. Then a distant voice began the Proclamation, of which
I couldn't hear a word except 'colony' at the end, at which every one
cheered. Then the flag was unrolled, and hung dead for a minute, till
a breeze came and blew out 'that haughty scroll of gold,' the Royal
Standard. Bands struck up 'God save the Queen,' a battery on a hill
above the town thundered out a royal salute, everybody cheered, and I
was standing on British soil. I saw not a single native Dutchman
about, only crowds of the khakied of all ranks and sorts. After this
little bit of history-making I hurried back to the commonplace task of
clipping my mare's heels, an operation requiring great agility on the
part of the clipper.

"For a 'stableman,' as I am now, the evening is rather a busy one. At
seven you have to make up the feeds for the last feed; at 7.45 put
them round the harness-sets behind the horses; at eight feed, for
which all hands turn out; at 8.30 take off nose-bags and put on
muzzles; and after that make up another feed ready for early next
morning. You can't finish before 'lights out,' and have to go to bed
in the dark, to the loudly expressed annoyance of your neighbours in
the tent (I sleep in a tent these nights), on whose bodies you place
the various articles of your kit while you arrange your bed, and whose
limbs you sometimes mistake for materials for a pillow, when you are
composing that important piece of upholstery.

"_May 30._--_Wednesday._--In the afternoon Williams and I went to
visit a friend in Langman's Hospital. Bloemfontein is a town of
hospitals, red crosses flying at every turn. The mortality is high,
even, I was surprised to hear from our friend, among sisters and
hospital orderlies. Out of six sisters in his hospital, which seemed a
very good one, four had enteric at the time, and one had died of it. I
was on picket duty this night, and had a lively time chasing loose
horses in the dark. A new sort of head-rope we are using seems very
palatable to the horses, as they mostly eat it for supper, and then
get loose.

"_May 31._--Out at riding exercise we came to a fortified kopje, where
we dismounted, and were allowed to examine a beautifully made trench
running round the top, very deep, and edged by a wall of stones
arranged to give loopholes. Some one found a Boer diary in the dust,
the entries in which seemed to alternate between beer and bible
reading. We always water at the common trough, the last thing before
return. Such varieties of the horse species you could see no where
else; thick, obstinate little Argentines, all with the same Roman
noses and broad, ugly heads; squab little Basuto ponies, angular
skeletonesque Cape horses, mules of every nationality, Texan, Italian,
Illyrian, Spanish; here and there a beautiful Arab belonging to some
officer; and dominating all, our own honest, substantial 'bus and tram
horses, almost the only representatives of English horseflesh. There
are always a few detached horses stampeding round ownerless, or
limping feebly down with a lost, hopeless look in their eyes, tripping
at every step over a tattered head-rope, and seeming to belong to
nobody and care for nothing. We always ride down in strict order, each
man leading one or two.

"_June 3._--Marching-order parade. We had a good morning drill over
what is perfect artillery country, with just the right amount of
excitement in the shape of ditches to jump, and anthills, which are
legion, and holes to avoid. I am delighted with my pair, which are
both very fit now; and our waggon team has been going very well.

"_June 4._--Riding exercise and sham-fight; an enemy supposed to be
attacking a convoy. Being in the convoy, I haven't a clear idea of
what happened, but only know we were kept dodging about kopjes, and
bolting across open places uncaptured.

"_June 5._--Another field-day, with guns and waggons, before Colonel
Davidson, the Brigadier of Artillery here. We went out to some distant
kopjes, and went into action at two different points. I believe the
shooting was very good; they had targets of biscuit-tins stuck up on
the kopjes. Some of you who read this at home may not know how
artillery work, so I may as well roughly sketch what happens on these
occasions. There are four guns and five waggons. A waggon is built on
the same plan as a gun, that is, in two parts, the waggon-body and the
waggon-limber, the limber being in front, and having the pole for
draught, just as the gun-carriage and the gun-limber form the two
parts of the 'gun.' Both waggon-body and waggon-limber carry
ammunition, as does the gun-limber. There are four gunners on the gun,
and four on the waggon. When suitable ground has been selected by the
Major, and thoroughly scouted first by the mounted gunners, the order
is given to advance into action. The guns trot up in line; 'Action
front, right about wheel' is given, and each swings round, thus
bringing the muzzle of the gun to the front. The limber is then
unhooked from the trail of the gun, and the teams trot back with the
limbers to the rear, leaving the guns to be worked by the gunners. At
the same time the signal is sent back to the waggons, who, meanwhile,
have been halted in the rear, if possible under cover, to send up two
waggons. Two are told off, and they trot up to the firing line.
'Halt,' 'Unhook!' The wheelers are rapidly unhooked, the team trots
back again to the rear. Presently two more are called up with more
ammunition. These do the same thing, but after unhooking trot round
and hook into the other two (now empty) waggons, and trot them back.
The empty waggons are refilled from the mule-waggons, which follow the
battery with the reserve shells, and their black crews and all.
'Limber-supply,' that is, use of the shells in the _gun_-limber, is
only ordered in the last resort or in exceptional cases. Finally, when
the firing position is to be changed, the gun-limbers trot up; 'Limber
up' is given. The gun is hooked to the limber, and the re-united
machines trot away to the new position, followed by the waggons. In
some cases, too, when the waggons come up to the firing-line, they
only leave the waggon-body there, trot away with the limber, and come
back and 'limber up' later, in the same way as the gun. It all depends
on how much ammunition is wanted. Of course, there are many variations
of movement, but this is an average specimen.

"_June 10._--_Sunday._--I and Williams are stablemen, and the rest
have gone to church parade. We have just had an icy wash with
far-fetched water in an old ammunition box. The weather has turned
very cold again at nights, with considerable frost. I have been
sleeping out again though since the first week of our coming here,
finding snug lairs under the quartermaster's stores. We have marching
order parades most days now, and are pretty hard-worked. Yesterday we
were reviewed by General Pretyman, together with another field-battery
and a pom-pom battery. We trotted about in various formations, and the
guns went into action once; and that was all. Our guns got into action
quicker than either of the regular batteries. A message was
communicated to us by the General from Lord Roberts, saying we must
not be disappointed at not having gone to the front; that there was
plenty more work to be done, and that meanwhile we were doing very
useful work in helping to guard this place. I am afraid we are not
very sanguine, but we never entirely lose hope, and a wild idea that
this review and the other day's inspection might be preliminary to an
order to go up, cheered us up a lot for the time. Camp rumours, too,
are just as prolific and as easily swallowed as before. Latterly there
have been all sorts of mysterious reports about the Boers having got
behind Roberts, re-taken Kroonstadt and cut the railway, massacring
various regiments, whose names change hourly. A camp rumour is a
wonderful thing. Generally speaking, there are two varieties,
cook-shop rumours and officers' servants' rumours. Both are always
false, but there is a slightly more respectable mendacity about the
latter than the former. The cooks are always supposed to know if we
are changing camp by getting orders about rations in advance. Having
this slight advantage, they go out of their way to make rumours on
every sort of subject. How many scores of times the cooks have sent us
to the front I shouldn't like to say. Officers' servants of course
pick up scraps of information from their masters' tents; in the
process of transmission to the battery at large the original gets wide
variations. We are often just like kitchenmaids and footmen discussing
their betters. You will hear heated arguments going on as to the
meaning of some overheard remarks, and the odd thing is that it no
longer seems strange.

"_June 13._--... The moon was full this day, and to see it rising
sheer out of the level veldt was a thing to remember. For ten minutes
before there is a red glow on the horizon, which intensifies till a
burning orange rim shows above, and soon the whole circle is flaming
clear of the earth, only not a circle, but seemingly almost square
with rounded corners. Round its path on the veldt there is a broad
wash of dusty gold. A lot of us came out of the tents, and were
spell-bound by the sight. Every evening the sun goes down plumb into
the veldt out of a cloudless sky, and comes up just so in the morning.
While he is gone it is bitterly cold now, always with hard frost, but
in the middle of the day often very hot. I have never known such
extremes of temperature before.

"_June 16._--Yesterday was a red-letter day for me and Williams. We
got leave off afternoon stables, getting gunners to water and groom
our horses, and had from after dinner till 8.30 P.M. to ourselves.
That was the first time I have ever missed duty from any cause
whatever since I enlisted on January 3rd, so I think I deserved it. We
started off, feeling strangely free, and hardly knowing how to use our
freedom, for two hours is the longest interval from work one usually
gets. We determined to visit the Irish Hospital Camp, where four of
our chaps were sick. The Irish Hospital came out with us in the
_Montfort_, so we knew them all. We hired a carriage in the town(!)
and drove the rest of the way feeling like lords. We had a long talk
with the invalids, who were mostly doing well, in most comfortable
quarters, large roomy tents, with comfortable beds, and clean white
nurses going about. Pat Duffy turned up as a hospital orderly, looking
strangely clean. The air was heavy with rich brogue. Later we strolled
off, and shopped and shaved in the town, had afternoon tea, and then
went to a hotel and wrote letters till 6.30, when we dined in
magnificent style, and then sauntered back, feeling as if an eternity
had passed, and lay down in the dust to sleep.

"_June 17._--_Sunday._--A night and day of rain, in spite of the fact
that everybody was clear hitherto that the rainy season was over
months ago. Exercise at eight, and a smart trot round the country
warmed horses and men, for it is very cold. Meanwhile, the horse lines
had been shifted, for they were ankle-deep in mud. Once or twice in
the day we were called out to rub legs, ears, and backs of the horses.

"I am now lying on my back in our tent on a carefully constructed
couch of sacks, rugs, and haversacks, with a candle stuck in a
Worcester sauce bottle to light me. Most of us are doing the same, so
the view is that of the soles of muddy boots against strong light, the
tentpole in the middle hung thick with water-bottles, helmets, and
haversacks, spurs strung up round the brailing, faces (dirty) seen
dimly in the gloom beneath. Some write, some sew, some read. One is
muttering maledictions over a tin of treacle he has spilt on his bed
(he thought it was empty and stuck a candle on the bottom); one is
telling stories (which nobody listens to) of happy sprees in far-off
London. The air is thick with tobacco-smoke. Outside there is a murmur
of stablemen trying to fit shrunk nose-bags on to restive horses,
varied by the squeal and thump of an Argentine, as he gets home in the
ribs of a neighbour who has been fed before him."

On the day after this was written our long period of waiting came to
an end with orders to go at once to Kroonstadt.



We were off for the front at last, and I shall now, making a few
necessary alterations, transcribe my diary, as I wrote it from day to
day and often hour to hour, under all sorts of varying conditions.

_June 21._--_7 A.M._--I am writing this on the seat of a gun in an
open truck on the way by rail to Kroonstadt. I have been trying to
sleep on the floor, but it wasn't a success, owing to frozen feet. Now
the sun is up and banishing the hoar-frost from the veldt, and the
great lonely pasture-plain we are travelling slowly through looks
wonderfully pleasant.

But I must go back.

Yesterday afternoon things looked profoundly settled. I walked down to
town with a lot of clothes, and left them to be washed by a nigger,
and also left my watch to be mended. But when I got back to "stables"
it was announced that we were to leave for Kroonstadt that night.
There was great joy, though I fear it means nothing. It's true De Wet
and some rebels have been giving trouble round there, and even held up
a train, and captured a battalion of militia not long ago; but I
believe it's all over now. It was soon dark, and camp had to be struck
and horses harnessed in the dark. I got leave, ran down to town and
fetched up my unwashed clothes, and put most of them on there and
then. There was the usual busy scene of packing kit, striking tents,
drawing rations, filling water-bottles; the whole scene lit up by
blazing bonfires of rubbish. In leaving a camp no litter may be left;
it has to be left as clean as the surrounding veldt. At nine hot
coffee was served out, and at 9.45 "boot and saddle" went. Harnessing
in pitch dark is not very easy, unless you have everything exactly
where you can lay your hand on it.

We marched down to the station, and unharnessed near the platform in a
deposit of thick mud. Entraining lasted all night, the mules and
buck-waggons giving a lot of trouble. Some exciting loose-mule-hunts
round the station in the dark. Hours of shoving, hauling, lifting,
slamming. At last all was in but ourselves. There were evidently no
carriages, so we hurriedly shovelled our kit and ourselves into the
open gun-trucks, squirming into cracks and corners; and at 6.30 A.M.
to-day, with the sun just topping the distant veldt, the whistle blew,
and we started. It was a piercing frosty morning; but we were all so
tired that we slept just as we were. I found myself nestling on the
floor of a truck (very dirty), between a gun-wheel and the three foot
high side with feed-bags for pillows. Cold feet soon roused me, and I
got up on to the gun in the sun, and saw we were slowly climbing a
long incline through the usual veldt and kopjes, only more inhabited
looking, with a tree and a farm or two. A lovely scene with the sun
reddening the veldt in the pure crisp air. I smoked a cigarette in
great content of mind. Soon shapeless heaps of blankets began to move
down the trucks, muffled heads blinked out from odd corners, and
gradually the Battery woke, and thawed, and breakfasted on biscuit and
bully beef. We have said good-bye to bread.

We rumbled slowly on all the morning, past the same sort of country,
with dead horses and broken bridges marking Roberts's track, and at
Brandfort stopped to feed horses, which, by the way, is a nasty
dangerous game when you are dealing with closed horse-boxes. You have
to climb through a small window, get in among the horses, and put the
feeds on as they are handed up. The horses are not tied up, and are
wild with hunger. You have simply to fight to avoid being crushed or
kicked in that reeking interior, for they are packed as thick as

At Vet River we got the first news of fighting. Boers under De Wet had
been breaking bridges, and cutting wires. A very seedy-looking
Guardsman gave us the news, and said they were cold and starving; and
they looked it. What regiment was there? "Oh, we're all details 'ere,"
he said, with a gloomy shrug. At Zand River infantry were in trenches
expecting attack. A fine bridge had been blown up, and we crossed the
river, which runs in a deep ravine, by a temporary bridge built low
down, the track to it most ingeniously engineered in a spiral way. An
engineer told us they had had hard fighting there a day or two ago. We
reached Kroonstadt about dark; but remained outside all night,
supperless and freezing.

_June 22._--I walked about most of the night, and got an engine driver
to squirt some hot water into a mess-tin to make tea with out of
tablets. In early morning a train disgorged a crowd of men who had
been prisoners with the Boers at Pretoria, some ever since the first
battle. When Roberts came they all escaped, under shell-fire from the
Boers as a final _conge_. They were a most motley crew, dressed in all
manner of odd clothes. At 7 P.M. coffee and porridge, and at 7.30
orders came to detrain and harness up sharp, the sections to separate
again. Then followed a whole series of contrary orders, but we
ultimately harnessed up and hooked in; the right section marched away,
and soon after we of the left section did so too, about two o'clock.
About three miles off, after climbing a long hill, we unlimbered the
guns in a commanding position, and remained there till dark, in the
close and fragrant neighbourhood of about twenty dead horses. I
believe we had something to do with some possible or probable fight,
but what, I don't know. A very dull battle. We marched back at dark,
and bivouacked near the town, close to some Lancers. Of course tents
are said good-bye to now. I slept by my harness, very cold.

_June 23._--I woke early and chatted to the Lancers' cook over a
roaring wood fire till reveille. Orders came to start at two, as part
of the escort of a convoy going to Lindley, distant about fifty miles
east. Something real to do at last. Quiet morning; sewed buttons on.
At one "boot and saddle," and at two we started and joined the convoy,
a long train of ox-waggons, with some traction engines drawing trucks.
Our officers are Captain Budworth (in command) and Lieutenant Bailey,
just as at Piquetberg Road. The troops with us are some Buffs Militia,
Yorkshire Light Infantry, Australian Mounted Infantry (Imperial
Bushmen Contingent), and some Middlesex Yeomanry. Went through the
rambling white desolate town, forded a broad river, mounted a steep
hill, and came out on the open, rolling veldt. Here we halted till
near sunset, waiting for some waggons, and many and eager were our
speculations on what was in store for us on this first step into the
field of war. For the first time we saw and talked to infantry on the
march. Our escort (there is always an escort for guns) is a company of
Buffs, lean, stained, ragged, and very _blase_ about this journey
which they have made twice before. They are short of most things, and
pitifully clad. I saw two with no breeches, only under-pants. All say
they are "fed up," a phrase always used out here to mean "sick and
tired of the war." The Bushmen seem a pleasant set of fellows. It is
their first campaign too.

When the truant waggons came up we marched on a few miles, following
the road, which is just a hard track across the veldt, and bivouacked
for the night, the out-spanned waggons ranged in rows in a rough
square, as far as I could see, but it was very dark, and we had plenty
to do ourselves. After unhooking, we drivers had a long ride over the
veldt to a watering-place, losing the way in the dark two or three
times. It was late when we got back to camp, guided by the fires. We
unharnessed, fed the horses, swallowed some tea and biscuit, and laid
down as we were to sleep.

_June 24_--_Sunday._--Up at 3.45 A.M. and harnessed; very cold. We
started at five, in the dark, and marched over rolling switchback
veldt till 9.30, and then halted to let the convoy oxen get their
day's graze and chew. Unharnessed our horses. Coffee and porridge. I
went on fatigue to fill water-bottles at a filthy pond, and afterwards
laboriously filtered some in a rather useless filter, which is carried
on the gun. The water was so foul that the filter had to be opened and
cleaned every four strokes.

At 12.45 we harnessed up and started again. I am writing now at one of
the periodical halts, when every one dismounts. A soft, mild sunset is
laying changing tints of colour on the veldt, rose, amber, fawn, with
deep blue shadows. When I speak of _veldt_ I mean simply grass-land,
but not a hint of green in it. The natural colour at this season is
buff, with a warm red undertone. When the setting or rising sun
catches this the effect is exquisite.

There is a rumour that a Boer patrol has been sighted, and a prisoner
captured. I believe there is no doubt that De Wet and his force are
between us and Lindley, and will have a shot at this convoy. We were
warned that we might be attacked to-night. At dark we bivouacked, and,
soon after, our right section, under the Major, whom we parted from at
Kroonstadt, marched in. They had been sent out with a relief column to
Honing Spruit, where a train had been attacked and the troops in it
hard pressed. The Boers cleared off just before the Battery came up,
which then had followed and overtaken us. Another bothersome hunt
after water for the horses in the dark. All we could find was a
stagnant pool, which ought to poison those that drank of it. Some more
troops also joined the column. Colonel Brookfield (M.P.) is in command
of the whole force.

_June 25_--_(My birthday)._--Up at 4.15 A.M. Off at 5.15, as part of
the advance guard of the column, the Bushmen and Yeomanry scouting far
ahead, and the infantry on either flank in a widely extended line. We
all admired the steady regularity of their marching, heavily weighted
as they were. Our own gunners also have a good deal of walking to do.
"Dismount the detachment" is the order at all up-grades, and at
difficult bits of the road. Drivers dismount at every halt, however
short, but on the move are always safe in the saddle. We marched over
the same undulating land, with occasional drifts and _spruits_, which
are very hard on the horses. The convoy behind looked like a long
sinuous serpent. Watered at seven at a farm. Williams was sent out to
forage, and bought a sheep for 15s., chickens at 1s. 6d., and a
turkey. Gunners were sent out to pillage a maize field. Then we
marched on some miles to the top of a steep ridge looking down upon a
lower plain, the road crossing a deep ravine at the bottom by a big
steel bridge. We took up a commanding position at the top, overlooking
the bridge, so as to cover the convoy while it descended and crossed.
An attack seems likely,--a curious birthday treat!--4 P.M.--Nothing
has happened. An interminable procession of ox and mule-waggons files
down the pass; it is a much larger convoy than I thought, and must
have received additions since we started. At this rate we shall be
ages getting to Lindley.

One no longer wonders at the slowness of an army's movement out here.
The standard of speed is the trek-ox, lurching pensively along under
his yoke, very exacting about his mealtimes, and with no high notions
about supreme efforts, when he has to get his waggon out of a bad
drift. He often prefers to die, and while he is making up his
ponderous mind he may be blocking up a column, miles in length, of
other waggons in single file. We talk of the superior mobility of the
Boers; but it puzzles me to know how they got it, for oxen and mules
are their standards of speed too, I suppose.

At dark, when all had passed, we followed ourselves down an abominably
dangerous road, and over the bridge to camp, which looked and sounded
like a big busy town, scintillating with fires and resonant with the
yells of black drivers packing their waggons.

_June 26_--_Eight A.M._--We are in action, my waggon at present halted
in the rear. We harnessed up at 3.45 this morning, and marched some
miles to the top of another hill, overlooking another plain, a
crescent of steep kopjes on the left, occupied by Boers. The convoy
halted just as a spattering rifle-fire ahead struck on the still
morning air (it was just dawn), and the chatter of a Maxim on the left
flank. We were all rather silent. A staff-officer galloped up,
"Walk,--March," "Trot," rang out to the Battery, and we trotted ahead
down the hill, plunged down a villainous spruit, and came up on to the
level, under a pretty heavy fire from the kopje on our left. For my
part, I was absorbed for these moments in a threatened mishap to my
harness, and the dread of disgrace at such an epoch. My off horse had
lost flesh in the last few days, and the girth, though buckled up in
the last hole, was slightly too loose. We had to gallop up a steep bit
of ascent out of the drift, and to my horror, the pack-saddle on him
began to slip and turn, so I had to go into action holding on his
saddle with my right hand, in a fever of anxiety, and at first
oblivious of anything else. Then I noticed the whing of bullets, and
dust spots knocked up, and felt the same sort of feeling that one has
while waiting to start for a race, only with an added chill and

The guns unlimbered, and came into action against the kopje, and we
and the limbers trotted about 300 yards back, and are waiting there
now. A gunner and a driver slightly wounded, and some horses hit. One
bullet broke our wheel-driver's whip. Our shrapnel are bursting
beautifully over the Boer lines.

_(Later.)_--We have just taken our waggon up to the firing line, and
brought back an empty one with our team.

_(Later.)_--We have been back to the convoy, and refilled the empty
waggon from the reserve, and are back again. The Boers seem to be
dislodged from the ridge, and infantry have occupied it. I hear some
Boers made for a farm, but we plumped a shell right into it, and they
fled. The convoy is now coming on, and crossing the drift with
discordant yells. Infantry and mounted infantry pressing on both
flanks. Our guns have taken up another position farther on. The
Captain asked after the broken whip, and told us we could not have
gone into action better. He has been riding about all day on his
stumpy little Argentine, radiant and beaming, with his eternal pipe in
his mouth!

_(Later.)_--We marched on a few miles, and bivouacked, while the whole
convoy slowly trailed in, and formed up in laager. This operation, and
the business of posting the troops for the night, is horribly tedious.
It has to be done in the dark, and one is continually mounting and
dismounting, and moving on a bit, and making impossible wheels round
mules and waggons. Probably we get too small a space allotted, and the
horses are all jammed together in the picket-lines, causing a vast
loss of temper at unharnessing. After unharnessing and feeding horses,
which you have to look sharp about, or you will miss coffee, every one
crowds round the cook's fire, and looks with hungry eyes at the pots.
Coffee or tea, biscuits and tinned meat, are served out. You are
ravenous, as you have lived on chance scraps during the day. Then you
make your bed, stretching your blankets behind your harness, standing
a saddle on end, and putting a feed-bag behind it for a pillow. Next
morning's feeds have first to be made up, and then you sleep like a
log, if you can, that is. I generally have to get up at least once,
and walk about for the cold. Fellows who are lucky enough to have fuel
make small fires (an anthill provides a natural stove), and cook soup,
but it's hard to spare the water, which is as precious as gold in this
country. Besides, drivers are badly placed for such luxuries; their
work is only begun when camp is reached, while gunners can go off and
find beds under waggons, etc. It is the same all day, except, of
course, in action, when the gunners have all the work. At all halts we
have to be watching a pair of horses, which have manifold ways of
tormenting one. To begin with, they are always hungry, because they
get little oats and no hay. One of mine amuses himself by chewing all
leather-work in his reach, especially that on the traces, and has to
be incessantly worried out of it. The poor brutes are standing all the
time on rich pasture, and try vainly to graze. They are not allowed
to, as it involves taking out big bits, undoing wither straps, etc.,
and you have to be ready to start at a moment's notice. There are
thousands of acres of rich pasture all about, vast undeveloped wealth.
Farms are very few and far between; mostly dismal-looking stone
houses, without a trace of garden or adornment of any sort. There was
a load off all our minds this night, for the H.A.C. had at last been
in action and under fire. All went well and steadily. My friend
Ramsey, the lead-driver of our team, brushed his teeth at the usual
intervals. I don't believe anything on earth would interfere with him
in this most admirable duty. He does it with miraculous dexterity and
rapidity at the oddest moments, saying it rests him!

_June 27._--Up at 3.45 and harnessed, but it was almost dawn before
our unwieldy convoy creaked and groaned into motion. We are rearguard
to-day, with some Yeomanry, Australians, and Buffs, but just now we
were ordered up to the front, trotted past the whole convoy, and are
now in action; limbers and waggons halted behind a rise. The Boers
have guns in action to-day, and a shell of theirs has just burst about
400 yards to our right, and others are falling somewhere near the guns
ahead. It seems to be chiefly an artillery duel so far, but a
crackling rifle fire is going on in the distance.

_(Midday.)_--The convoy is closing up and getting into a sort of
square. We have changed positions several times. Shells have fallen
pretty close, but have done no damage. Some of them burst, others only
raise a cloud of dust. We are already getting used to them, but the
first that fell made us all very silent, and me, at any rate, very
uncomfortable. Later we relieved ourselves by a rather overstrained
interest in their probable direction and point of impact. We were
standing waiting, of course, with no excitement to distract our minds.

_(2 P.M.)_--A curious feature in the scene is the presence of veldt
fires all over the place, long lines of dry grass blazing. Possibly
the Boers start them to hide their movements. The Boers evidently want
this convoy; they are right round our rear and on both flanks; all our
troops are engaged. The convoy is being moved on, and my section is
left as rear-guard. The smoke of burning grass has blotted out the
sun, and it is cold. The sun is a red ball, as on a foggy day in
London. Shells have ceased to fall here, but a hill on the left is
being heavily shelled by the enemy, and the infantry on it are in

_(4 P.M.)_--We are slowly getting on, covering the convoy's rear, the
enemy pressing hard. Our guns are now firing over our dismounted
troops. Williams has just ridden up. He has been orderly to the
Captain; a shell fell just by his horse without bursting. I have been
fearfully sleepy, and have snatched a few minutes of oblivion, during
halts, on the ground by my horses, who are as tired as I am, poor

_(Written later.)_--The Boers, as it seemed to me (but what does one
know?), had us in a very tight place, but they never pressed home
their attack, and the convoy was rushed through the remaining seven
miles to Lindley. We covered its retirement till dark, and then
followed it with all speed. I shan't forget those seven miles. They
included the worst drifts of the whole journey, and getting up and
down them in pitch-dark was unpleasant work and a pretty severe test
of driving. Three mule-waggons of the convoy had to be abandoned at
one place, but the rest of it reached Lindley safely, as did we. It
was rather like making a port after a storm when the lights appeared
and a bugle blowing "first post" was heard. We passed some silent
houses, groped into an open space, picketed horses, chucked off
harness, and slept by it, dog-tired. We had hoped for a good night's
rest, but, the last thing, orders went round for reveille at four.

_June 28._--It was icy cold at 4 A.M., and one's fingers could hardly
cope with straps and links. I had done one horse, when welcome orders
came that my waggon was not wanted. So I sat by the cook's fire and
cooked in the lid of my mess-tin a slice of meat I had hastily hacked
from an ox's carcase at our last camp. Also some Maggi soup. About
sunrise the limbers returned, having left the guns and gunners in
position on a hill somewhere, where they shot at any Boers they saw,
and were sniped at themselves. A slack day for the rest of us, and I
had a good sleep. Of course we are all delighted that the days of
waiting are over, and that we have had fighting and been of use.
Everything has gone well, and without a single hitch, and we were
congratulated by the Brigadier. As for De Wet, the plucky Boer who is
fighting down here, now that his cause is hopeless, we have sworn to
get him to London and give him a dinner and a testimonial for giving
us the chance of a fight.

Of course the whole affair was trivial enough, and I don't suppose
will ever figure in the papers, though it was interesting enough to
us. I should be sorry to have to describe what went on as a whole. I
just wrote what was under my eye during halts, and to grasp the plan
of the thing, when distances are so great and the enemy so invisible,
is impossible. But, as far as I could see, it was pretty well managed.
We had no casualties yesterday, chiefly owing to shells not bursting.
The Infantry and Yeomanry had some killed and wounded, but I don't
know the numbers. Some of the Boer practice was excellent. Once we
watched them shell some Infantry on a kopje, every shell falling clean
and true on the top and reverse edge of it. The Infantry had to quit.
But on the whole I was at a loss to understand their artillery
tactics, which seemed desultory and irresolute. They would get our
range or that of the convoy and then cease firing, never concentrating
their fire on a definite point. Their ammunition too was evidently of
an inferior quality. I saw no shrapnel fired. It is all very novel,
laborious, exciting, hungry work, and perhaps the strangest sensation
of all is one's passive ignorance of all that is happening beyond
one's own narrow sphere of duty. An odd discovery is that one has so
much leisure, as a driver, when in action. There is plenty of time to
write one's diary when waiting with the teams. One pleasant thing is
the change felt in the relaxation of the hard-and-fast regulations of
a standing camp. Anything savouring of show or ceremonial, all
needless _minutiae_ of routine, disappear naturally. It is business
now, and everything is judged by the standard of common-sense.

The change of life since we left Bloemfontein has been complete; no
tents, no washing, no undressing, only biscuit and tinned-meat for
food, and not too much of that, very little sleep, etc.; but we have
all enjoyed it, for it is the real thing at last. The lack of water
was the only really trying thing, and the cold at night. We had fresh
meat for supper this night from a sheep commandeered on the march, and
weren't we ravenous! Another very cold night, but the joyful orders
for reveille at 7 A.M.

_June 29._--"Stables" and harness-cleaning all the morning. In the
afternoon we were sent to graze our horses outside the town with a
warning to look out for sniping. As I write I am sitting under a rock,
the reins secured to one of my legs, which accounts for bad writing.
Lindley is below, a mere little village with a few stores, which
nevertheless was for a proud week the capital of the Free State. For
some time past it has been closely besieged by the Boers, and entirely
dependent on one or two armed convoys like ours. The Boers have been
shelling the town most days, and fighting goes on outside nearly every
day. The day before we relieved it the Boers made an effort to take
it, and our Infantry lost heavily. There was a garrison of about a
thousand, I think, before we came. There is nothing eatable to be
bought at any price, and no communication with the outside world,
except by despatch-riders. I was talking yesterday to two Yeomanry
fellows who had escaped from one of the Boer commandos. They had lived
entirely on fresh meat, and were devouring dog-biscuit by our cook's
fire like famished terriers. They said they had been well treated.

_June 30._--Not much rest was allowed us. Reveille was at 4 A.M., with
orders for our section, under Lieutenant Bailey, to march half-way to
Kroonstadt again, as part of an escort for a return convoy carrying
sick and wounded.

Started at five with Yeomanry, Bushmen, and Buffs, as before, but were
delayed two hours outside town, waiting for some traction-engines,
which puffed asthmatically at the bottom of a drift, unable to get up.
Marched rapidly for sixteen miles (most of the country burnt by veldt
fires), over the same difficult road, and (for a luxury) encamped
while it was still light. Washed in a river with great zest. Fresh
mutton for supper. Turned in with orders for reveille at 4 A.M. But at
11.30 P.M. we were all awakened by "Come on, get up and harness up."
"Why, what's the time?" "11.30." However, up we got, not knowing why,
tossed on harness, and started straight away back for Lindley,
supposing they were being attacked. It was a hard march over those
detestable drifts, in pitch dark and freezing cold, with one halt only
of ten minutes. The centre driver has a trying time in bad places of
the road, for at steep bits on the down grade, if the wheelers get at
all out of control, he has the pole bearing down on him, either
punching his horses and making them kick, or probing for vulnerable
places in his own person. He has the responsibility of keeping his
traces just so that they are not slack, and yet that the horses are
not in draught and pulling the gun or waggon down. The lead-driver has
to pick the road and, with one eye on the gun just ahead, to judge a
pace which will suit the wheel-driver, who at such moments must have a
fairly free hand. All three live always in a fierce glare of criticism
from the gunners riding behind, who in their nasty moments are apt to
draw abusive comparisons between the relative dangers of shell-fire
and riding on a waggon. By the way, there is always a healthy
antagonism between gunners and drivers. When one class speaks of the
other there is generally an adjective prefixed.

_July 1._--_Sunday._--We marched into camp before dawn blear-eyed and
hungry, to find to our disgust that there was no hurry after all. It
seems an order had been received for the whole Battery to march away
this morning, to join some column or other, so they sent a messenger
to recall us. Meanwhile a countermanding order came to "Stand fast."
So here I am, at 8 A.M., sitting against my harness in the blessed
sunlight, warm, fed, sleepy, and rather irritated. What is going to
happen I don't know. It's no use writing the rumours.

_(Later.)_--A sudden order to harness up. Did so, and were all ready,
when we were told to take it off again. It seems General Clements has
come up near here with a division, and they want to finish off De Wet
at once. A quiet day. I foraged in the town in the afternoon, but got
nothing, though I heard of mealy biscuits at one cottage.

Later on we found a cottage kept by an Englishwoman, who gave us
delicious tea at 6d. a cup, and again in the evening porridge at 6d. a
plate. There was a number of mixed soldiers in there, all packed round
the room, which was dark and smoky, and full also of squalling
children. The way she kept her temper and fed us was wonderful. It is
safe to say that nowadays one can always eat any amount at any time of
day. The service biscuit is the best of its kind, I daresay, but not
very satisfying, and meat is not plentiful. We have never yet been on
full rations. Five is the full number of biscuits. We generally get
three or four. Sometimes the meat-ration is a "Maconochie," which is a
tin of preserved meat and vegetables of a very juicy and fatty nature,
most fascinating when you first know it, but apt to grow tinny and
chemical to the palate.



_July 2._--Reveille 5 A.M. Harnessed up, and afterwards marched out
and joined a column of troops under General Paget. We have with us
some Yorkshire Light Infantry, Munster Fusiliers, Yeomanry, Bushmen,
and the 38th Field Battery. Where we are going we don't know, but I
suppose after De Wet.[A]

[Footnote A: Without knowing it at the time, we were joining in
General Hunter's big enveloping movement, by which all the scattered
commandos in this part of the Free State were to be driven into the
mountains on the Basuto border and there surrounded. Paget's brigade
(the 20th) was part of the cordon, which was gradually drawn closer by
the concentric marches of columns under him, and General Clements,
Rundle, Boyes, Bruce Hamilton, and Hunter himself. The climax was the
surrender of about 5000 Boers under Prinsloo at Fouriesberg on July
29, a success much impaired by the escape of De Wet from the
fast-closing trap. For the sake of clearness I append this note; but I
leave my diary as I wrote it, when our knowledge of events rarely went
beyond a foggy speculation.]

_(8.30 A.M.)_--We have marched for about two hours to the top of a
range of hills which surrounds the town; there is firing on the right
and left, and the Infantry are advancing in extended order. Our right
section has just gone into action. A big drove of wild-looking Boer
ponies has come stampeding up to the column with some of our mounted
men vainly trying to corner them.

_(1.30 P.M.)_--The battle is, as usual, unintelligible to the humble
unit, but the force is advancing slowly, the Yorkshire Light Infantry


Back to Full Books