By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: With Methuen's Column on an Ambulance Train
Author: Bennett, Ernest N.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "With Methuen's Column on an Ambulance Train" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

The Author's share of the profits arising from the sale of this book
will be given to Lady Lansdowne's Fund for the Widows and Families of






When I returned from South Africa I had no intention of adding to the
war literature which was certain to be evoked by the present campaign.
But I now publish this simple narrative because it was suggested to me
by a friend that the sale of such a book might perhaps serve to augment
in some measure the Fund established by the patriotism and energy of
Lady Lansdowne and her Committee. Lady Lansdowne has cordially approved
of the suggestion; so I trust that the profits derived from this little
volume may be enough to justify its existence.



The first view of Capetown from the sea is not easily forgotten. We
sailed into the bay just as the sun was rising in splendour behind the
cliffs of Table Mountain. The houses of the town which fill the space
between the hills and the sea were still more or less in shadow, picked
out here and there by twinkling lights. On the summit rested a fleecy
cloud which concealed the pointed crags and hung from the edges of the
precipice like a border of fine drapery. On the right, groups of
buildings stretched onwards to Sea Point, where the surf was breaking on
the rocks within a few feet of the road; on the left were the more
picturesque suburbs of Rosebank, Newlands and Claremont nestling amid
their woods and orchards; and still further on lay Wynberg, with its
vast hospital, already become a household word in English homes. The
dreary flats of Simon's Bay, where British war-ships lay at anchor, shut
in the view.

Pleasing as the picture is when seen from the deck of a Castle Liner,
disappointment generally overtakes the voyager who has landed. Capetown
itself has little to boast of in the way of architecture. Except
Adderley Street, which is adorned by the massive buildings of the Post
Office and Standard Bank, the thoroughfares of the town offer scarcely
any attractions. The Dutch are not an artistic race, and the fact that
natives here live not in "locations" but anywhere they choose has
covered some portions of the town's area with ugly and squalid houses.
Nor, as a matter of fact, does the general tone of thought and feeling
in Cape Colony naturally lend itself to aesthetic considerations. Even
the churches fail to escape the influence of a spirit which subordinates
everything else to practical and utilitarian considerations. Can two
uglier buildings of their kind be found in the civilised world than the
English and Dutch cathedrals at Capetown?

Another unpleasant feature of life in Capetown is the misfortune, not
the fault, of the inhabitants in being frequently exposed to the full
fury of the south-east wind. Sometimes for whole days together the Cape
is swept by tremendous blasts, which tear up the sea into white foam and
raise clouds of blinding dust along the streets of the town.

Nevertheless the kindness and generosity of the people are not in any
way lessened by these unpleasant features in their surroundings. The
warmth of colonial hospitality is acknowledged by all travellers, and
may be partly due to that love of the mother country which survives in
the hearts of Englishmen who have never left South Africa, and yet
recognise in the visitor a kind of tie, as it were, between themselves
and old England. Such hospitality blesses him that gives as well as him
that takes, and the host listens with deepest interest to his guest's
chatter about London, or perhaps the country town or village where he or
his forefathers lived in days gone by. Any one who is accustomed in
England to the conventional "Saturday to Monday" or the "shooting week"
in a country house opens his eyes with wonder when he receives a warm
invitation from a colonial to spend a month with him at his house on the
Karroo. And such invitations, unlike those which the Oriental traveller
receives, are uttered in earnest and meant to be accepted.

Capetown is by far the most cosmopolitan of all our colonial capitals.
Englishmen, Dutchmen, Jews, Kaffirs, "Cape boys" and Malays bustle about
the streets conversing in five or six different languages. There is a
delightful freedom from conventionalism in the matter of dress. At one
moment you meet a man in a black or white silk hat, at another a
grinning Kaffir bears down upon you with the costume of a scarecrow; you
next pass a couple of dignified Malays with long silken robes and the
inevitable _tarbush_, volubly chattering in Dutch or even Arabic. These
Malays form a particularly interesting section of the population. They
are largely the descendants of Oriental slaves owned by the Dutch, and,
of course, preserve their Moslem faith, though some of its external
observances, _e.g._, the veiling of women, have ceased to be observed. I
did my best during a few days' stay at Somerset West to witness one of
their great festivals called "El Khalifa". At this feast some devotees
cut themselves with knives until the blood pours from the wounds, and a
friend of mine who had witnessed the performance on one occasion seemed
to think that in some cases the wounding and bleeding were not really
objective facts, but represented to the audience by a species of
hypnotic suggestion. As, however, my visit to Somerset West took place
during the month of Ramazan there was no opportunity of witnessing the
"Khalifa," which would be celebrated during Bairam, the month of
rejoicing which amongst Moslems all the world over succeeds the
self-mortifications of Ramazan. Even if their external observances of
the usages of Islam seem somewhat lax, the Cape Moslems, I found,
faithfully observe the month of abstinence, and I remember talking to a
most intelligent Malay boy, who was working hard as a mason in the full
glare of the midday heat, and was touching neither food nor drink from
sunrise to sunset.

All around were signs and tokens of the war. Large transports lay gently
rolling upon the swell in every direction, and it was said that not less
than sixty ships were lying at anchor together in the bay. H.M.S.
_Niobe_ and _Doris_ faced the town, and further off was stationed the
_Penelope_, which had already received its earlier contingents of Boer
prisoners. It is very difficult, by the way, to understand how some of
these captives contrived later on to escape by swimming to the shore,
for, apart from the question of sharks, the distance to the beach was

On land the whole aspect of the streets was changed. Every few yards one
met men in khaki and putties. This cloth looks fairly smart when it is
new and the buttons and badges are burnished; but, after a very few
weeks at the front, khaki uniforms become as shabby as possible. No one
who is going into the firing line has any wish to draw the enemy's fire
by the glint of his buttons or his shoulder-badges, and so these are
either removed or left to tarnish. Nor does khaki--at any rate the
"drill" variety--improve its beauty by being washed. When one has
bargained with a Kaffir lady to wash one's suit for ninepence it comes
back with all the glory of its russet brown departed and a sort of limp,
anæmic look about it. And when the wearer has lain upon the veldt at
full length for long hours together in rain and sun and dust-storm his
kit assumes an inexpressible dowdiness, and preserves only its one
superlative merit of so far resembling mother earth that even the keen
eyes behind the Mauser barrels fail to spot Mr. Atkins as he lies prone
behind his stone or anthill.

As our lumbering cab drove up Adderley Street to the hotel a squadron of
the newly raised South African Light Horse rode past. The men looked
very jaunty and well set up with their neat uniforms, bandoliers and
"smasher" hats with black cocks' feathers. There has never been the
slightest difficulty in raising these irregular bodies of mounted
infantry. The doors of their office in Atkinson's Buildings were
besieged by a crowd of applicants--very many of them young men who had
arrived from England for the purpose of joining. A certain amount of
perfectly good-humoured banter was levelled against these brand-new
soldiers by their friends, and some fun poked at them about their
riding. Occasionally, for instance, a few troopers were unhorsed during
parade and the riderless steeds trotted along the public road at
Rosebank. But certainly the tests of horsemanship were severe. Many of
the horses supplied by Government were very wild and sometimes behaved
like professional buckjumpers; and it is no easy task to control the
eccentric and unexpected gyrations of such a beast when the rider is
encumbered with the management of a heavy Lee-Metford rifle. Since the
day on which I first saw the squadron in question it has passed through
its baptism of fire at Colenso. The Light Horse advanced on the right of
Colonel Long's ill-fated batteries, and was cruelly cut up by a
murderous fire from Hlangwane Hill.

Capetown is not well furnished with places of amusement. There is, it is
true, a roomy theatre, whose manager, Mr. de Jong, sent an invitation
to the staff of the "Pink 'Un" to dine with him and his friends at
Pretoria on New Year's Day! How the Boers must have laughed when they
read of this cordial invitation! During the few days which elapsed
before our ambulance train started for the front we paid a visit to the
theatre, but we found the stage tenanted by a "Lilliputian Company," and
it is always tiresome and distressing to watch precocious children of
twelve aping their elders. One feels all the time that the whole
performance scarcely rises above an exhibition of highly-trained cats or
monkeys, and that the poor mites ought all to be in bed long ago.
Nevertheless, this dreary theatre was, in default of anything better,
visited again and again by British officers and others. A friend of mine
in the Guards told me with a sigh that he had actually watched the
performances of these accomplished infants for no less than seven

There are several music halls in Capetown. I have visited similar
entertainments in Constantinople, Cairo, Beyrout and other towns of the
East, but I never saw anything to match some of these Capetown haunts
for out-and-out vulgarity. There was, it is true, a general air of
"patriotism" pervading them--but it was frequently the sort of
patriotism which consists in getting drunk and singing "Soldiers of the
Queen". On one occasion I remember a curious and typical incident at one
of these music halls. Standing among a crowd of drunken and half-drunken
men was a quiet and respectable-looking man drinking his glass of beer
from the counter. One of the _habitués_ of the place suddenly addressed
him, and demanded with an oath whether he had ever heard so good a song
as the low ditty which had just been screamed out by a painted woman on
the stage. The stranger remarked quietly that it "wasn't a bad song, but
he had certainly heard better ones," when the bully in front without any
warning struck him a violent blow in the face, felling him to the
ground. A comrade of mine, a Welshman, who was standing near the victim,
protested against such cowardly behaviour, and was immediately set upon
by some dozen of the audience, who savagely knocked him down and then
drove him into the street with kicks and blows. These valiant
individuals then returned and were soon busy with a hiccuping chorus of
"Rule, Britannia". How forcibly the whole scene recalled Dr. Johnson's
words: "Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of a scoundrel".

The Uitlander refugees were numerous in Capetown, and the principal
hotels were full of them. Those whom I happened to meet did not seem at
all overwhelmed by their recent oppression, and some of them contrived
out of their shattered fortunes to drink champagne for dinner at a
guinea a bottle. I do not think that the average Johannesburg Uitlander
impresses the Englishman very favourably. Mining camps are not the best
nurseries for good breeding or nobility of character, and one could not
help feeling sorry that gallant Englishmen were dying by hundreds while
some of these German Jews wallowed in security and luxury. Quite
recently an officer overheard a "Jew-boy" loudly declaring in a shop
that "after all, British soldiers were paid to go out and get shot,"
etc., and in a fit of righteous indignation the Englishman seized the
Semite and threw him out of the door.

English visitors to the Cape who, like myself, wished to contribute our
humble share towards the work of the campaign had several directions in
which to utilise their energies. The Prince Alfred's Field Artillery was
raising recruits, and on the point of leaving for the front for the
defence of De Aar. The Duke of Edinburgh's Rifle Volunteers enlisted men
on Thursday, drilled them day and night, and sent them off on the
Tuesday. This fine corps has, much to its vexation, been almost
continuously employed in guarding lines of communication and protecting
bridges and culverts from any violence at the hands of colonial rebels.
The South African Light Horse has already been mentioned. For those of
us who found it impossible to pledge ourselves for the whole period of
the war, owing to duties at home which could not be left indefinitely,
and who possessed some knowledge of ambulance work, an excellent opening
was found in one of the ambulance corps originated by the Red Cross
Society under Colonel Young's able and energetic management.

Having volunteered for service on one of the ambulance trains and been
accepted, I set off with a corporal to Woodstock Hospital to secure my
uniform and kit. The quartermaster who supplied me was justly annoyed
because some mistake had been made about the hour for my appearance, and
when he rather savagely demanded what sized boots I wore, I couldn't for
the life of me remember and blurted out "nines," whereas my normal
"wear" is "sevens". Instantly a pair of enormous boots and a
correspondingly colossal pair of shoes were hurled at me, while, from
various large pigeon-holes in a rack, bootlaces, socks, putties and
other things were rained upon me. I couldn't help laughing as I picked
them up. Here I was equipped from head to foot with two uniform suits of
khaki--which mercifully fitted well--shirts, boots, shoes, helmet,
field-service cap and other minutiae, and the entire equipment occupied
some four minutes all told. What a contrast to the considerable periods
of time often consumed at home over the colour of a tie or the shape of
a collar!

Shouldering the waterproof kit-bag containing my brand-new garments, and
saluting the irritated officer, I marched off to ambulance train No. 2,
where I speedily exchanged my civilian habiliments for her Majesty's
uniform. The "fall" of my nether garments was not perfect, but on the
whole I was rather pleased with the fit of the khaki, relieved on the
arm with a red Geneva Cross.

One of the two ambulance trains on the western side is manned entirely
by regulars, the other (No. 2) is in charge of an R.A.M.C. officer, but
the staff under him is composed almost wholly of volunteers. This staff
consists of a civilian doctor from a London hospital attached to the
South African Field Force, two Red Cross nurses from England, a staff
sergeant, two corporals, a couple of cooks and ten "orderlies" in charge
of the five wards.

Introductions to my comrades followed. We were certainly one of the
oddest collection of human beings I have ever come across. Our pursuits
when not in active service were extremely varied--one of our number was
an accountant, another a chemist, a third brewed beer in Johannesburg, a
fourth was an ex-baker, and so on. We were, on the whole, a very
harmonious little society, and it was with real regret that I left my
comrades when I returned to England. At least four of our number were
refugees from Johannesburg, and very anxious to return. These
unfortunates retailed at intervals doleful news about well-furnished
houses being rifled, Boer children smashing up porcelain ornaments and
playfully cutting out the figures from costly paintings with a pair of
scissors, and grand pianos being annexed to adorn the cottages of Kaffir
labourers. Another member of our little society had a very fair voice
and good knowledge of music, for in the days of his boyhood he had sung
in the choir of a Welsh cathedral; since that time he had practised as a
medical man and driven a tramcar. The weather was very trying sometimes
and J----, our Welsh singer, had acquired an almost supernatural skill
in leaping from the train when it stopped for a couple of minutes,
securing a bottle of Bass and then boarding the guard's van when the
train was moving off. On one of these successful forays I saw J---- send
three respectable people sprawling on their backs as he violently
collided with them in his desperate efforts to overtake the receding
train. The victims slowly got up and some nasty remarks about J---- were
wafted to us over the veldt. We had a couple of cooks. One of them was
an American who had served in the Cuban war, the other a big Irishman
called Ben. The American _chef_, being the only man out of uniform on
the train, had access to alcoholic refreshments at the stations, which
were very properly denied to the troops, and he rejoiced exceedingly to
exercise his privilege. He could sleep in almost any position, and
generally lay down on the kitchen dresser without any form of pillow, or
slept serenely in a sitting posture with his feet elevated far above his

We steamed away from the Capetown station in the afternoon. The regular
service had to a large extent been suspended, and here and there
sentries with fixed bayonets kept watch over the government trains as
they lay on the sidings. If it was thought prudent to guard trains from
any injury in Capetown itself, one can realise the absolute necessity of
employing the colonial volunteers in patrolling the long line of some
600 miles from the sea to Modder River.

"Queen Victoria's afternoon tea"--as we called it--was served about
five. The two orderlies for the day brought from the kitchen a huge
tea-urn, some dozen bowls, and two large loaves. We supplemented this
rudimentary fare with a pot of "Cape gooseberry" jam, the gift of a
generous donor, and improved the quality of the tea with a little
condensed milk. Fresh from the usages of a more effete civilisation I
did not feel after two cups of tea and some butterless bread that
"satisfaction of a felt want"--to quote Aristotle--which comes, say,
after a dinner with the Drapers' Company in London, and for two nights I
tore open and devoured with my ward-companion a tin of salmon which I
bought from a Jew along the line. But, strange to say, after a few days
of this _régime_, which in its chronological sequence of meals and its
strange simplicity recalled the memories of early childhood, my
internal economy seemed to have adapted itself to the changed
environment, and after five o'clock with its tea and bread I no longer
wished for more food. Exactly the same experience befalls those
inexperienced travellers in tropical countries who, at first, are
continually imbibing draughts of water, but soon learn the useful lesson
of drinking at meal-time only, and before long do not even take the
trouble to carry water-bottles with them at all.

Our destination was supposed to be De Aar, but nobody ever knew exactly
where we were going or what we were going to do when we got there.
During a campaign orders filter through various official channels, and
frequently by the time they have reached the officer in charge of a
train others of a contradictory purport are racing after them over the
wires. This sort of thing is absolutely unavoidable. Between the army at
the front and the great base at Capetown stretched some 700 miles of
railway, and over this single line of rails ran an unending succession
of trains carrying troops, food, guns, and last, but by no means least,
tons upon tons of ammunition. The work of supplying a modern army in the
field is stupendous, and the best thanks of the nation are due to the
devoted labours of the Army Service Corps. The officers and men of the
A.S.C. work night and day, they rarely see any fighting, and are seldom
mentioned in the public press or in despatches; yet how much depends
upon their zeal and devotion! Amateur critics at home have frequently
asked why such and such a general has not left strong positions on the
flank and advanced into the enemy's country further afield. Quite apart
from the fearful danger of exposing our lines of communication to attack
from a strong force of the enemy, these critics do not seem to possess
the most elementary idea of what is involved in the advance of an army.
How do they suppose hundreds of heavily laden transport waggons are to
be dragged across the uneven veldt, intersected every now and then by
rugged "kopjes" and "spruits" and "dongas"? Ammunition alone is a
serious item to be considered. Lyddite shells, _e.g._, are packed two in
a case: each case weighs 100 lb., and I have frequently seen a waggon
loaded with, say, a ton of these shells, and drawn by eight mules, stuck
fast for a time in the open veldt; the passers-by have run up and shoved
at the wheels and so at last the lumbering cart has jogged slowly on.
This load would probably in action disappear in half an hour; and when
one reflects that in one of our recent engagements each battery fired
off 200 shells, it is easy to understand the enormous weight of metal
which has to follow an army in order to make the artillery efficient,
and to realise how unwilling a general is to leave a railway behind him,
and attempt to move his transport across the uncertain and devious
tracks of an unmapped African veldt. Lord Kitchener's successful march
upon Omdurman was only rendered possible by the fact that the army kept
continuously to the railway and the Nile.

The railway journey northwards is full of interest. Between Capetown and
Worcester the country is well watered and fields of yellow corn
continually meet the eye, interspersed with vines and mealies. Yet here
and there that lack of enterprise which seems to characterise the Dutch
farmer is easily noticeable. Irrigation is sadly neglected and hundreds
of acres which with a little care and outlay would grow excellent crops
are still unproductive.

Soon after leaving Worcester the line rises by steep gradients nearly
2,500 feet. Right in front the Hex River Mountains extend like a vast
barrier across the line and seem to defy the approaching train. But
engineering skill has here contrived to surmount all the obstacles set
up by Nature. The train goes waltzing round the most striking curves,
some of them almost elliptical. Tremendous gradients lead through
tunnels and over bridges, and the swerving carriages run often in
alarming proximity to the edge of precipitous ravines. What a splendid
position for defensive purposes! Had the present war been declared three
weeks earlier De Aar would have been quite unable to stand against the
Boers, and thus the enemy might with his amazing mobility have made a
swift descent along the railway and occupied the Hex River pass. Out of
this position not all the Queen's horses and all the Queen's men would
have dislodged him without enormous loss. With the armed support of all
the Dutch farmers from Worcester to the Orange River, a Boer occupation
of this strong position would have been a terrible menace to Capetown
itself. As it is, shots are occasionally fired at trains as they run
northward from Worcester, and as a few pounds of dynamite would wreck
portions of the Hex River line for weeks the government patrols in this
locality cannot be too careful.

Our first passage through the Karroo was by night, but during the busy
days of service which followed we frequently saw this dreary expanse of
desert in daylight. Some mysterious charm, hidden from the eyes of the
unsympathetic tourist, dwells in the Karroo. The country folk who
inhabit these vast plains all agree that to live in them is to love
them. Children speak of the kopjes as if they were living playmates, and
farmers grow so deeply attached to their waggons and ox teams that Sir
Owen Lanyon's forcible seizure of one in distraint for taxes appeared a
kind of sacrilege in the eyes of the Boers.

At times nothing can be more unlovely than the stony, barren wilderness
of the Karroo. The Sudan desert with its rocky hills and the broad Nile
between the yellow banks is infinitely more picturesque than this vast
South African plain. Still, at certain periods of the day and year the
Karroo becomes less forbidding to the view. Sometimes after heavy rain
the whole country is covered with a bright green carpet, but in summer,
and, indeed, most of the year, the short scrub which here takes the
place of grass is sombre in tint. Nevertheless cattle devour these
apparently withered shrubs with avidity and thrive upon them. Again,
when the warm tints of the setting sun flood the whole expanse of
desert, there is a short-lived beauty in the rugged kopjes with all
their fantastic outlines sharply silhouetted against the glowing sky.
The farms on the Karroo, and, in fact, generally throughout the more
northern parts of the colony, are of surprising size. It is quite common
to find a Dutchman farming some 10,000 acres. Arable land in the Karroo
is of course very rare, and one would think that the "Ooms" and the
"Tantas" and their young hopefuls would have their time fully occupied
even in keeping their large herds and flocks within bounds. One
continually sees half a dozen ostriches stalking solemnly about a huge
piece of the veldt, with no farm-house anywhere in sight, and it is
difficult to understand how these people contrive to catch their

At the lower extremity of the vast Nieuweveld range which shuts in the
Karroo on the west lies the little township of Matjesfontein, a
veritable oasis in the desert. Here lies the body of the gallant
Wauchope who perished in the disastrous attack on the Magersfontein
trenches. The whole line north of this point was patrolled by colonial
volunteers, amongst whom I noticed especially the Duke of Edinburgh's
Rifles, with gay ribbons round their "smasher" hats. Nothing could be
less exciting or interesting than their monotonous routine of work. We
continually came across a little band of, say, twenty or thirty men and
a couple of officers stationed near some culvert or bridge. Their tents
were pitched on a bit of stony ground, with not a trace of vegetation
near it, and here they stayed for months together, half dead from the
boredom of their existence. Nevertheless such work was quite essential
to the success of the campaign, for the attitude of the Dutch colonists
up-country has been throughout the war an uncertain factor, and if these
long lines of communication had been left unprotected it is more than
likely that our "Tommies'" supplies would not have arrived at the front
with unfailing regularity. As it was, shots were occasionally fired at
the trains, and at one spot we passed a curious incident occurred in
this connection. A patrol suddenly came across a colonist who had
climbed up a telegraph post and was busily engaged in cutting the wires.
"Crack" went a Lee-Metford and the rebel, shot like a sitting bird,
dropped from his perch to the ground. On another occasion we heard a
dull explosion not unlike the boom of a heavy gun, and found a little
later that a culvert had been blown up a few miles ahead of us not far
from Graspan. In short, I do not think that the British public fully
realised the danger threatened by any serious and extensive revolt of
the Dutch colonists. Had the farmers in that vast triangle bounded by
the railway, the coast and the Orange River thrown off their allegiance,
it would have taken many more than 15,000 colonial volunteers to prevent
their mobile commandos from swooping down here and there along this long
line of railway, and utterly destroying our western line of
communication as well as menacing Lord Methuen's forces in the rear.
Whatever may be said or thought of some of Mr. Schreiner's actions, it
is held, and justly held, by level-headed people of both parties at the
Cape, that the continuance in office of the Dutch ministry has
contributed more than anything else to preserve the colony from the
peril of an internal rebellion. For this we cannot be too thankful!

Signs of animal life in the Karroo are few and far between. There are
scarcely any flowers to attract butterflies, and I never saw more than
four or five species of birds. There was one handsome bird, however, as
big as a crow, with black and white plumage--probably the small bustard
(_Eupodotis afroides_)--which occasionally rose from among the scrub and
after a brief flight sank vertically to the ground in a curious
fashion. Sometimes too, at nightfall, a large bird would fly with a
strong harsh note across the stony veldt to the kopjes in the distance.
Of the larger fauna I saw only the springbok. A small herd of these
graceful little creatures were one evening running about the veldt
within 500 yards of the train. On another occasion too, very early in
the morning, one of our two Red Cross nurses was startled by the sudden
appearance of a large baboon which crept down a gully near
Matjesfontein--the only one we ever saw.

Between Matjesfontein and the great camp of De Aar there is little to
interest or amuse the traveller. The only town which is at all worthy of
the name is Beaufort West, nestling amid its trees, a bright patch of
colour amid the neutral tints of the hills and surrounding country. Here
reside many patients suffering from phthisis, for the air is dry and
warm and the rainfall phenomenally small. But after all what a place to
die in! Rather a shorter and sweeter life in dear England than a cycle
of Beaufort West!

As we steamed into De Aar the sun had set, and all the ways were
darkened, so, after a vain attempt to take a walk about the camp after
the regulation hour, 9 P.M.--an effort which was checked by the
praiseworthy zeal of the Australian military police--we returned to the
train. Here I was greeted to my amazement by the notes of an anthem, "I
will lay me down in peace," sung very well by our Welsh ex-choir-boy and
two other members of the corps, who nevertheless did not lay them down
in peace or otherwise till the small hours of the morning.

Next day we rose early, but found that we should have to spend five or
six days at De Aar. This news was not at all pleasant. I have been in
many dreary and uninteresting spots in the world, _e.g._, Aden or Atbara
Camp, but I have never disliked a place as much as I did De Aar. The
whole plain has been cut up by the incessant movement of guns, transport
waggons and troops, and the result is that one is nearly choked and
blinded by the dense clouds of dust. Huge spiral columns of sand tear
across the plain over the tops of the kopjes, carrying with them scraps
of paper and rubbish of all sorts. The irritation produced by the
absorption of this permeating dust into the system militates to some
extent against the rapid recovery of men who suffer from diseases like
dysentery or enteric fever. It travels under doors and through window
sashes, and a patient is obliged, whether he will or no, to swallow a
certain amount of it daily. Nevertheless the South African dust does not
appear to be so bacillus-laden as, _e.g._, that of Atbara Camp, which,
amongst other evil effects, continually produced ulceration in the mouth
and throat.

De Aar lies in the centre of a large plain, shut in on every side by
kopjes. In fact its position is very similar indeed to that of
Ladysmith. The hills on the east and west were always held by pickets
with some field guns belonging to the Royal Artillery and the Prince
Alfred's Artillery Volunteers. A much loftier line of kopjes to the
north was untenanted by the British, but any approach over the veldt
from the north-east was blocked by several rows of shelter trenches and
a strongly-constructed redoubt with wire entanglements, ditch, and
parapet topped with iron rails. Signallers were continually at work, and
at night it was quite a pretty sight to watch the twinkling points of
the signal lights as they flashed between the tents on the plain and the
distant pickets on the tops of the kopjes. Boers had been seen to the
east and on the west; some at least of the Dutch colonists were in open
revolt; so officers and men were always prepared at a moment's notice to
line the trenches for defence, while the redoubts and the batteries on
the hills were permanently garrisoned.

Everybody loathed De Aar. With the exception of some feeble cricket
played on some unoccupied patches of dusty ground, and a couple of
shabby tennis courts, usually reserved for the "patball" of the local
athletes of either sex, there was absolutely nothing to do, and we were
too far off Modder River to feel that we were at all in the swim of
things. The heat was sometimes appalling. On Christmas day the
temperature was 105° in the shade, and most people took a long siesta
after the midday dinner and read such odds and ends of literature as
fell into their hands.

We train people, of course, read and slumbered in one of the wards,
while our comrades under canvas lay with eight heads meeting in the
centre of a tent and sixteen legs projecting from it like the spokes of
a wheel. Mercifully enough scorpions were few and far between at De Aar,
so one could feel fairly secure from these pests. How different it was
in the Sudan campaign, especially at some camps like Um Teref, where
batches of soldiers black and white came to be treated for scorpion
stings, which in one case were fatal. _A propos_ of reading we were
wonderfully well provided with all manner of literature by the kindly
forethought of good people in England. The assortment was very curious
indeed. One would see lying side by side _The Nineteenth Century_, _Ally
Sloper's Half Holiday_, and the _Christian World_. This literary
syncretism was especially marked in the mission tent at De Aar, where
the forms were besprinkled with an infinite variety of magazines and
pamphlets--to such an extent indeed that in some cases the more vivid
pages of a _Family Herald_ would temporarily seduce the soldier's mind
from the calmer pleasures of Mr. Moody's hymn book, and those who came
to pray remained to read.

In the evening about 5 o'clock, when the rays of the setting sun were
less vertical and the cool of the evening was not yet merged in the
chill of the night, we sallied out for a stroll. Everybody walked to and
fro and interchanged war news--such as we had!--and mutual condolences
about the miseries of our forced inaction at De Aar. Canteens were
opened in the various sections of the camp, and long columns of
"Tommies" stood with mess-tins, three abreast, waiting their turn to be
served, for all the world like the crowd at the early door of a London
theatre. The natural irritability arising from residence in De Aar,
added to the sultry heat and one's comparative distance from the canteen
counter, frequently caused quarrels and personal assaults in the swaying
column. But those who lost their temper generally lost their places too,
and the less excitable candidates for liquor closed up their ranks and
left the combatants to settle their differences outside.
Non-commissioned officers enjoyed the privilege of entering a side door
in the canteen for their beer, and thus avoided the crush: and one of my
comrades cleverly but unscrupulously secured a couple of stripes somehow
or other and, masquerading as a corporal, entered the coveted side door,
and brought away his liquor in triumph.

Apart from these liquid comforts, which were, very properly, restricted
in quantity, those of us who possessed any ready money could purchase
sundry provisions at two stores in De Aar. The volunteers were paid at
the rate of 5s. a day, which seems a very high rate of pay when one
remembers that the British soldier, who ran much greater risk and did
more actual fighting, received less than 1s. Of course there were
volunteers here and there like myself who possessed some means of our
own and so thought it right and proper to return our pay to the Widows'
and Orphans' Fund, but nevertheless I fail to see why we should be paid
at this exorbitant rate. The most glaring instances of over-paid troops
were the Rimington Scouts, who actually received 10s. a day and their
rations. One trembles to think of the bill we shall all have to pay at
the close of the campaign!

The articles most in request at De Aar were things like "Rose's lime
juice cordial," Transvaal tobacco, cigarettes, jam, tinned salmon,
sardines, etc. Now it happened that the entire retail trade of the place
was in the hands of two Jewish merchants. The more fashionable of the
two shops took advantage of our necessities and demanded most exorbitant
prices for its goods. "Lime juice cordial," _e.g._, which could be got
for 1s. 6d. or 1s. 3d. in Capetown, was sold for 2s. 6d. and 3s. at De
Aar, and the other charges were correspondingly high. Nemesis, however,
overtook the shopman, for the camp commandant hearing of his evil deeds
placed a sentry in front of the store and so put it out of bounds. He
held out for a couple of days, while his more reasonable if less
pretentious rival flourished exceedingly, but a daily loss of £200 is
too severe a tax on the pertinacity of a Jew, or indeed of anybody, so
the rival tariffs were arranged on similar lines, and the sentry sloped
rifle and walked off. The mission workers at De Aar--some excellent
people--dwelt in two railway carriages on a siding. There were, I think,
two ladies and a gentleman. They worked exceedingly hard and their
mission tent was generally well filled. It is astonishing what keenness
is evoked by evangelical services with "gospel hymns". We all sang a
hymn like "I _do_ believe, I _will_ believe," with an emphasis which
seemed to imply that the effort was considerable, but that nobody, not
even a Boer commando, could alter our conviction. Many of the
hymns--poor doggerel from a literary point of view--were sung to
pleasing tunes wonderfully well harmonised by the men's voices. Then
there was a brief address by a young man with a serious and kindly face,
and this was succeeded by a series of ejaculatory prayers taken up here
and there by the men. It was a strange and impressive spectacle to see a
soldier rise to his feet, his beard rough and unkempt, his khaki uniform
all soiled and bedraggled, and forthwith proceed to utter a long prayer.
Such prayers were largely composed of supplications on behalf of wives
and families at home, and one forgot the bad grammar, the rough accent
and the monotonous repetition in one's sympathy for these honest fellows
who were not ashamed to pray.

Would we Churchmen had more enthusiasm and courage in our teaching and
our methods! This was the quality that enabled the infant church to
emerge from its obscure dwelling in a Syrian town and spread all the
world over. It is this warmth of conviction which lent fortitude to the
martyrs of old time, and at this moment breathes valour into our brave
enemies. But where is such vital enthusiasm to be found in the Church of
England? In one of our cathedrals we read the epitaph of a certain
ecclesiastic: "He was noticeable for many virtues, and sternly repressed
all forms of religious enthusiasm". History repeats itself, and for
manly outspeaking on great questions of social and political importance
the laity are learning to look elsewhere than to the pulpit. Oh! for one
day in our National Church of Paul and Athanasius and Luther, men who
spoke what they felt, unchecked by thoughts about promotion and
popularity and respectability. Enthusiastic independence is as unpopular
in religion as it is in politics; and the fight against prejudice and
unfairness is often exceeding bitter to the man who dares to run his
tilt against the opinion of the many. The struggle sometimes robs life
of much that renders it sweet; nevertheless it may help to make history
and will bring a man peace at the last, for he will have done what he
could to leave the world a little better than he found it. These good
mission-folk looked after our physical as well as our spiritual
necessities. They had annexed a small house and garden just opposite
their tent, and here we could buy an excellent cup of tea or lemonade
for one penny, as well as a variety of delectable buns, much in request.
So pressing was the demand for these light and cheap refreshments that
the supply of cups and glasses gave out, and the lemonade was usually
served out in old salmon or jam tins. Very often, after a couple of
hymns and, perhaps, a prayer, we went across and finished up the evening
with a couple of buns and a cup of tea. One of my ambulance comrades,
an ex-baker from Johannesburg, was extremely good in helping on the
success of the refreshment bar, and frequently stood for hours together
at the receipt of custom. The returns were very large. One day, I
remember, they amounted to £22 in pennies: this would mean, I think, on
a low estimate, that something like 1,500 soldiers used the temperance
canteen on that evening. Apart from this enterprising work, private
gifts in the way of fruit occasionally arrived on the scene, and I well
remember one day when almost every "Tommy" one met carried a pine apple
in his hands. In addition to such pleasures of realised satisfaction we
enjoyed the pleasures of anticipation; for was not her Gracious
Majesty's chocolate _en route_ for South Africa? The amount of interest
exhibited in the arrival of these chocolate boxes was amazing. Men
continually discussed them, and a stranger would have thought that
chocolate was some essential factor in a soldier's life, from which we
had, by the exigencies of camp life, been long deprived! As a matter of
fact, portable forms of cocoa are extremely valuable in cases where
normal supplies of food are cut off. Every soldier on a campaign carries
in his haversack a small tin labelled "emergency rations". This cannot
be opened unless by order from a commanding officer and any infraction
of the rule is severely punished. At one end of the oblong tin are "beef
rations," at the other "chocolate rations," enough to sustain a man amid
hard and exhausting work for thirty-six hours. The chocolate rations
consist of three cubes and can be eaten in the dry state; once, however,
I came across a spare emergency tin, and found that with boiling water a
single cube made enough liquid chocolate for ten men, a cup each. People
make a great fuss in England if they don't get three or four meals a
day, but a healthy man can easily fight with much less nourishment than
this. I have seen Turkish troops during the Cretan insurrection live on
practically nothing else than a few beans and a little bread, and on
this meagre and precarious diet they fought like heroes. In the Sudan a
few bunches of raisins will keep one going all day. At the same time,
these things are to some extent relative to the individual. I have known
huge athletic men curl up in no time because they couldn't get three
meals a day on a campaign, whereas others, of half their build and
muscle, may bear privations infinitely better. It is annoying to find
here and there in the newspapers querulous letters from men at the front
complaining that plum puddings and sweetmeats haven't reached them, and
that their Christmas fare was only a bit of bully beef and a pint of
beer. These men don't represent the rank and file of the army a bit. The
English soldier is better fed and clothed and looked after than any
other fighting man in the world, except possibly the American, and the
manly soldier is not in the habit of whining after the fashion of these
letters because he doesn't get quite as good a dinner on the veldt as he
does in the depôt at home.

The military authorities at De Aar exercised the utmost stringency in
refusing permission to unauthorised civilians to stay in the camp or
pass through it. These regulations were absolutely necessary. The
country round De Aar was full of Dutchmen, who were, with scarcely an
exception, thoroughly in sympathy with the enemy, and throughout the
campaign, at Modder River, Stormberg, the Tugela, and even inside
Ladysmith and Mafeking spies have been repeatedly captured and shot.
Some of the attempts by civilians to get through De Aar without adequate
authorisation were quite amusing. I remember a particularly nice Swedish
officer arriving one night, equipped after the most approved fashion of
military accoutrements--Stohwasser leggings, spurs, gloves, etc., but
his papers were not sufficient for his purpose, and charm he never so
wisely, the camp commandant politely but firmly compelled him to return
to Richmond Road, which lay just outside the pale of military law.
Another gentleman, well known in England, failed in his first effort to
penetrate the camp on his way northwards, but succeeded finally in
reaching De Aar by going up as an officer's servant!

The run from De Aar to Belmont is about 100 miles. The ambulance train
arrived there on the evening of the battle, and the staff on board
found plenty of work ready for them. The wounded men were all placed
together in a large goods' shed at the station. They lay as they were
taken from the field by the stretcher-bearers. Lint and bandages had
been applied, but, of course, uniforms, bodies and even the floor were
saturated with blood. Such spectacles are not pleasing, but nobody ever
thinks about the unaesthetic side of the picture when busily engaged in
helping the wounded. "The gentleman in khaki," poor fellow, has often
precious little khaki left on him by the time he reaches the base
hospital. When the femoral artery is shot through one does not waste
time by thinking of the integrity of a pair of trousers--a few rips of
the knife and away goes a yard or two of khaki. If the cases had not
been so sad we should often have laughed at the extraordinary appearance
of some of the men. One soldier, for example, was brought into our train
with absolutely nothing on him except one sleeve, which he seemed to
treasure for the sake of comparative respectability! Wounded men
frequently lose so much blood before they are found that their clothes
become quite stiff, and the best thing to do is to cut the whole uniform
off them and wrap them in blankets.

Perhaps it is worth while writing a few words about the general method
pursued in the collection and treatment of our wounded men. In a frontal
attack upon a position held in force by the enemy, our men advance in
"quarter column," or other close formation, till they get within range
of the enemy's fire. They then "extend," _i.e._, every man takes up his
position a few paces away from his neighbour, and in all probability
lies or stoops down behind whatever he can find, at the same time
keeping up an incessant riflefire on the enemy. Far behind him, and
usually on his right or left, the artillerymen are hard at work sending
shell after shell upon the trenches in front. Every now and then the
infantrymen run or crawl forward fifty or sixty yards, and thus
gradually forge ahead till within two hundred yards of the enemy, when
with loud cheers and fixed bayonets they leap up and rush forward to
finish off the fight with cold steel.

Even from this skeleton outline it is easy to see that the wounded in a
battle like Belmont and Graspan are all over the place, though the
motionless forms grow more numerous the nearer we get to the enemy's
lines. Now, strictly speaking, stretcher-bearers ought not to move
forward to the aid of the wounded _during the battle_. The proper period
for this work is two hours after the cessation of hostilities. But
in almost every engagement of the present campaign our stretcher-bearers
with their officers have gallantly advanced during the progress of the
fighting and attended to the wounded under fire. Such plucky conduct as
this merits the warmest praise. In the non-combatant, who has none of
the excitement bred of actual fighting to sustain him, it requires a
high decree of courage to kneel or stoop when every one else is lying
down, and in this exposed position first to find the tiny bullet
puncture, and then bandage the wound satisfactorily. Many and many a
life has been saved by this conduct on the part of our medical staff,
for if an important artery is severed by a bullet or shell-splinter a
man may easily bleed to death in ten minutes. I have myself on one
occasion in Crete seen jets of blood escaping from the femoral artery of
a Turkish soldier, without being able to render him any assistance. In
short, it is believed that quite three-fifths of those who perish on a
battle-field die from loss of blood. In some cases a soldier may, by
digital pressure or by improvising a rough tourniquet, check the flow of
blood from a wound, but the nervous prostration which accompanies a
wound inflicted by a bullet travelling nearly 2,000 feet a second is so
great, that most men seriously wounded are physically incapable of
rendering such assistance to themselves, even if they understand the
elementary amount of anatomy requisite for the treatment.

At the same time it is only fair to point out that stretcher-bearers who
advance during an engagement and render this gallant assistance to the
wounded do so entirely at their own risk and must take their chance of
getting hit. Complaints have been from time to time made, by persons who
did not know the circumstances, that our stretcher-bearers have been
shot by the Boers. If this took place during an action no blame can
fairly attach to the enemy, for in repelling an attack they cannot of
course be expected to cease fire because stretcher-bearers show
themselves in front. The hail of bullets comes whistling along--ispt,
ispt, ispt--and everywhere little jets of sand are spurting up. Can we
wonder if now and then a stretcher-bearer is struck down? To put the
case frankly--he is doing a brave work, but he has no business to be
where he is. It is easy to see why the usages of war do not permit the
presence of ambulance men in the firing line. Quite apart from the
serious losses incurred by so valuable a corps, advantage might be taken
by an unscrupulous enemy to bring up ammunition under cover of the Red

It is no easy task in the dark or in a fading light to find the
khaki-clad figures lying prone upon the brown sand. But when the wounded
are discovered the ambulance man finds out as quickly as he can the
position and nature of the wound, and a "first aid" bandage or a rough
splint is applied. The sufferer is raised carefully upon a stretcher or
carried off in an ambulance waggon to a "dressing-station" somewhere in
the rear. If there are not enough stretchers, or the wound is merely a
slight one, the disabled soldier is borne away on a seat made of the
joined hands of two bearers. A second row of ambulance waggons is loaded
from the dressing-station--each waggon holds nine--and goes lumbering
off to the field hospital. Here the men are laid on the ground with
perhaps a waterproof sheet under them and a blanket over them. The
R.A.M.C. officers come round, select certain cases for operation, and
see to the bandaging and dressing of the others. Finally one of the
ambulance trains arrives, about 120 men are packed in it and it steams
off rapidly to some base hospital at Orange River, De Aar, Wynberg or

Any detailed account of Lord Methuen's battles lies outside the scope of
this little volume, and the British public know already practically all
that can be known about the general plan of such engagements as Belmont,
Graspan and Modder River.

Belmont is an insignificant railway station lying in the middle of as
dreary a bit of veldt as can well be imagined. A clump of low kopjes run
almost parallel to the railway on the right, and to ascend these hills
our men had to advance over an absolutely level plain devoid of any
cover save an occasional big stone or an anthill (precarious rampart!)
or the still feebler shelter of a bush two feet high. In their
transverse march our men had to cross the railway, and lost considerably
during the delay occasioned by cutting the wire fences on either side to
clear a way for themselves and the guns.

The Boers did not apparently intend to make any serious stand against
Lord Methuen's column at Belmont. The fight was little else than an
"affair of outposts" on their side and it seems very doubtful if more
than 800 of the enemy had been left for the defence of the position.
Their horses were all ready, as usual, behind the kopjes, and when our
gallant men jumped up with a cheer and for the last 100 yards dashed up
the rough stony slope in front, very few Boers remained. Most of them
were already in the saddle, galloping off to Graspan, their next
position. The unwounded Boers who did remain remained--nearly all of
them--for good; rifle bullets and shrapnel and shell splinters are
deadly enough, but deadliest of all is the bayonet thrust. So much
tissue is severed by the broad blade of the Lee-Metford bayonet that the
chances of recovery are often very slight. As volunteer recruits know
sometimes to their cost, the mere mishandling of a bayonet at the end of
a heavy rifle may, even amid the peaceful evolutions of squad drill,
inflict a painful wound. When the weapon is used scientifically with the
momentum of a heavy man behind it, its effects are terrible. Private St.
John of the Grenadiers thrust at a Boer in front of him with such force
that he drove not only the bayonet, but the muzzle of the rifle clean
through the Dutchman. St. John was immediately afterwards shot through
the head and lay dead on the top of the kopje, side by side with the man
he had killed.

When our train, after its journey to Capetown, next returned to Belmont,
few signs of the recent engagement were visible. The strands of wire
fencing on either side the line were cut through here and there, and
twisted back several yards where our fifteen-pounders had been galloped
through to shell the retreating Boers. Now and again the eye was caught
by little heaps of cartridge cases marking the spot where some soldier
had lain down.

Less pleasant reminiscences were furnished by the decomposing bodies of
several mules, and four or five vultures wheeling over the plain. Some
enthusiasts on our train had on the previous journey cut off several
hoofs from the dead mules as relics of the fight. Our under-cook had
secured a more agreeable souvenir of Belmont in the shape of a small
goat found wandering beside the railway. This animal now struts about a
garden in Capetown with a collar suitably inscribed around its neck, and
the proud owner has refused a £10 note for it. Before their abandonment
of the position the enemy had hurriedly buried a few of their dead, but
it is very difficult to dig amongst the stones and boulders, and the
interment was so inadequate that hands and feet were protruding from the
soil. In fact several of our men whose patrol-beat covered this ground
told me it was terribly trying to walk among these rough and ready
graves in the heat of the day.

Along the whole line from Belmont northwards and to some distance
southwards the telegraph lines had been cut by the Boers. Not content
with severing the wires here and there, they had cut down every post for
miles along the railway. I wondered what the grinning Kaffirs thought of
such a spectacle; here were the white men, the pioneers of
enlightenment, engaged in cutting each other's throats and destroying
the outward signs of their civilisation! Perhaps it is worth mentioning
that native opinion in Cape Colony has, as far as can be judged from the
native journal _Imvo_, been decidedly against us in the present war.
This is a factor which must be reckoned with as regards the question
whether or no blacks shall be armed and permitted to share in the
fighting. Of course it seems at first sight perfectly fair to give the
Zulus or Basutos the means of defending themselves from cattle-raiding
Boers, but if you once arm a savage there is a very real danger of his
getting out of control, and Zulus might make incursions into the Free
State or Basutos into Cape Colony. From such things may we be preserved!
There is an intensely strong feeling amongst colonial Englishmen as well
as Dutchmen--much more intense than anything we feel at home--against
the bringing of natives into a quarrel between white men.

The train soon traverses the distance between Belmont and Graspan. None
can wish to linger on this journey, for the surrounding region is dreary
and forbidding. The everlasting kopje crops up here and there, looking
like--what in fact it is--a mere vast heap of boulders and stones from
which the earth has been dislodged by the constant attrition of wind and
rain. The hillocks in the Graspan district are by no means lofty--none
of them seemed to get beyond a few hundred feet--but beyond Modder River
the big kopje on the right which was seamed with Boer trenches must be,
I should guess, well over six hundred feet from the plain. A large
proportion of the kopjes in this part of the country have absolutely
flat tops--why, I cannot imagine--and the whole appearance of the
country suggests at once the former bed of an ocean. _A propos_ of
geology, I once in camp came across a sergeant who was surrounded by a
little band of privates, deeply interested in his scientific remarks,
which began as follows: "Now, some considerable time before the Flood,
Table Mountain was at the bottom of the sea, for sea shells are found
there at the present day, etc." It is quite a mistake to suppose that
the soldier cares for none of these things. As a "Tommy" myself I had
some unique opportunities of learning what they talked about and how
they talked, and certainly the subjects discussed sometimes covered a
very big field. I have heard a heated discussion as to the position of
the port of Hamburg, and was finally called on to decide as arbitrator
whether this was a Dutch or German town. Theological discussions were
also by no means infrequent. One of my comrades insisted with a fervour
almost amounting to ferocity upon the reality of "conversion," and was
opposed by another whose tendencies were more Pelagian, and who went so
far as to maintain that no one would employ the services of a
"converted" man if he could secure one who was "unconverted". The amount
of bad language evoked in the course of this theological argument was
extraordinary. Such acrimonious discussions as these acted, however, as
a mere foil to our general harmony, and a common practice on an evening
when we had no wounded on our hands was to start a "sing-song". The
general tone of these concerts was decidedly patriotic. "God save the
Queen" and "Rule Britannia" were thrown in every now and then, but
seldom, if ever, I am glad to say, that wearisome doggerel "The
Absent-Minded Beggar". It is quite a mistake, by the way, to suppose
that Mr. Kipling's poetry is widely appreciated by the rank and file of
the army. From what I have noticed, the less intelligent soldiers know
nothing at all about Mr. Kipling's verses, while the more intelligent of
them heartily dislike the manner in which they are represented in his
poems--as foul-mouthed, godless and utterly careless of their duties to
wives and children. I remember a sergeant exclaiming: "Kipling's works,
sir! why, we wouldn't have 'em in our depôt library at any price!" Of
course it would be ridiculous to maintain that many soldiers do not use
offensive language, but the habit is largely the outcome of their social
surroundings in earlier life and is also very infectious; it requires
quite an effort to refrain from swearing when other people about one are
continually doing this, and when such behaviour is no longer viewed as a
serious social offence. As to Mr. Atkins' absent-mindedness I shall have
a word to say later on.

In addition to the National Anthem and "Rule Britannia," we had, of
course, "Soldiers of the Queen," and a variety of other less known
ballads which described the superhuman valour of our race, and deplored
the folly of any opposition on the part of our enemies even if they
outnumbered us by "ten to one". One of our cook's greatest hits was a
song entitled "Underneath the Dear Old Flag". In order to furnish a
touch of realism the singer had secured a small _white_ flag which
floated on the top of our train; but he never seemed to realise the
incongruity of waving this peaceful emblem over his head as he thundered
out his resolve "to conquer or to die".

Just below Graspan Station the Boers had made one of their many attempts
to wreck the line. They had torn up the metals and the sleepers, and a
good many bent and twisted rails lay beside the permanent way. But this
sort of injury to a railway is very speedily set right. In an hour or
two a party of sappers can relay a long stretch of line if no culverts
or bridges are destroyed. Mishaps to the telegraph are still more easily
repaired, and already, side by side with the wreckage of the original
wires, the piebald posts of the field telegraph service ran all along
the lines of communication.

Here and there Kaffir families sat squatting about their primitive huts,
or kept watch over flocks of goats and sheep. Ostriches stalked solemnly
up to the railway and gazed at the train, and sometimes their curiosity
cost them the loss of a few tail feathers if we could get a snatch at
them through the wire railings. On one occasion a soldier attempting to
take this liberty with an ostrich was turned upon by the indignant bird,
and a struggle ensued which might have proved serious to the man; he
was, however, lucky enough to get a grip on the creature's neck and
succeeded by a great effort in killing it. Ordinarily, however, the
ostriches, despite an occasional surrender of tail feathers, lived on
terms of amity with our men, and at Belmont they were to be seen walking
about the camp and concealing their curiosity under a great show of
dignity. During the fight one of these birds took up its quarters with a
battery, and watched the whole battle without taking any food, except
that on one occasion when a man lit his pipe the bird suddenly reached
out for the box of lucifers and swallowed it with great gusto.

It was curious to notice a variety of chalk marks upon some of the ant
hills on the battle-field. The Boers had carefully measured their ground
beforehand, as we did at Omdurman, and knew exactly how to adjust their
sights as we advanced against their position. The battle of Graspan
consisted, as at Belmont, in a frontal attack upon a line of kopjes held
by a much larger force of the enemy than was present at the earlier
engagement. Lord Methuen succeeded in working his way to the foot of the
kopjes, and a final rush swept the Boers away in headlong flight. His
victory would have been much more complete had the cavalry succeeded in
cutting off the enemy's retreat, but this was not done.

We brought back a load of wounded men from this fight. The corps which
suffered most heavily was the naval brigade, composed of 200 marines and
50 bluejackets. It is worth mentioning the numbers here, because I have
seen several accounts of this fight in which the gallantry of the
"bluejackets" is spoken of in the warmest terms with absolutely no
mention of the marines. Correspondents, some of them without any
previous knowledge of military matters, repeatedly single out certain
regiments and corps for special mention, even when these favoured
battalions have not taken any leading part in the battle. We have, of
course, had the case of the Gordons at Dargai--who ever hears of any
other regiment popularly mentioned in this connection? Again, at the
battle of Magersfontein the Gordons were not amongst the Highland
battalions which bore the full brunt of that awful fusilade, yet various
English newspapers singled them out for special mention. I speak in this
way not because I am at all lacking in appreciation for the valour and
dash of both Gordons and "bluejackets," but simply because other
regiments who have often done as good or even better work--in special
cases--bitterly resent the unfair manner in which their own achievements
are sometimes slurred over in the press. Needless to say these
thoughtless reports are due almost entirely to journalists and would be
repudiated by none more keenly than the gallant men of the Gordon
Highlanders and the Royal Navy.

At the battle of Graspan the marine brigade left their big 47 guns in
the rear and advanced as infantry to the frontal attack. At 600 yards
from the Boer lines the order was given to fix bayonets: the brigade
then pushed forward for fifty yards further, when it was met by a storm
of Mauser bullets, which had killed and wounded no less than 120 out of
the 250 before the survivors reached the foot of the kopjes. It is
extremely difficult to clamber up the rough sides of an African kopje.
To do it properly one needs india-rubber soles or bare feet, for boots
cause one to slip wildly about on the smooth, rough stones. By the time
our men had got to the summit of the low ridge the Boers had leapt upon
their horses and were already nearly 1,000 yards away. Our gallant
fellows were out of breath with the arduous climb, and as it is almost
impossible to do much effective shooting when one is "blown," and the
cavalry had not appeared on the scene, the enemy got off nearly scot

Amongst a number of wounded men brought down by our train from Modder
River was a private of that fine corps, the R.M.L.I., who had, after
passing through the perils of Graspan, suffered an extraordinary
casualty at the Modder River fight. He was standing near one of the 47
guns which was firing Lyddite shells at the enemy's trenches. Suddenly
the force of the explosion burst the drum of his right ear and, of
course, rendered him stone deaf on that side. He was an excellent
fellow, very intelligent and well informed, and I hope by this time the
surgeons at Simon's Bay naval hospital have provided him with an
artificial ear-drum. This marine had, as said above, come out of the
awful fire at Graspan unscathed, but I counted no less than _five_
bullet holes in his uniform; two of them were through his trousers, two
had pierced his sleeves, and the other had passed through his coat just
to the left of his heart!

The kopjes which were ultimately carried by the gallantry of our troops
at Graspan had been subjected to an awful shell fire before the infantry
attack. Nevertheless, the enemy was able to meet the advance with a
rifle fire which swept our men down by scores. On the right of the naval
brigade there was a little group of nineteen men, of these one only
remained! The Boers exhibited here, as elsewhere, the most marvellous
skill in taking advantage of cover. These farmers lay curled up behind
their stones and boulders while shrapnel bullets by thousands rained
over their position, and common shell threw masses of earth and rock
into the air. Then at the moment when the artillery fire was compelled
to cease, owing to the near approach of our infantry, the crafty
sharp-shooters crawled out of their nooks and crannies and used their
rifles with deadly precision and rapidity.

On this point--the general ineffectiveness of artillery fire when the
enemy possesses good cover--the history of modern warfare repeats
itself. The Russian bombardments of Plevna were quite futile, and
General Todleben acknowledged that it sometimes required a whole day's
shell fire to kill a single Turkish soldier. At the fight round the
Malaxa blockhouse in Crete, at which I was present, the united squadrons
of the European powers in Suda Bay suddenly opened fire on the hill and
the village at its foot. In ten minutes from eighty to one hundred
shells came screaming up from the bay and burst amongst the insurgents
and their Turkish opponents. We all of us--on the hill and in the
village--bolted like rabbits and took what cover we could. The total net
casualties from these missiles--some of them 6-inch shells--were, I
believe, three, all told.

Some of those amateur critics at home who write indignant letters about
the War Office labour under a twofold delusion. They frequently ask
indignantly how it is that our guns have been outclassed by those of the
Boers? As a matter of fact in almost every engagement of the present
campaign our artillery has been superior to that of the enemy; but, of
course, the artillery of a defending force, well posted on rising
ground, possesses enormous advantages over that of the assailants, who
have frequently to open fire in open and exposed positions easily swept
by shrapnel fire from guns, which, hidden amid trenches and rocks, are
often well-nigh invisible.

Another fundamental error in many of the indignant letters about the
alleged defects of our artillery arises from a misunderstanding of the
real value of guns in attacking a fortified position. The most sanguine
officer never expects his shells actually to kill or disable any very
large number of the enemy if they are protected by deep and
well-constructed earthworks. Of course, if a shell falls plump into a
trench it is pretty certain to play havoc with the defenders, but, when
one considers that the mouth of a trench is some five or six feet wide,
it is easy to realise the difficulty of dropping a shell into the narrow
opening at a range, say, of 4,000 yards. Moreover, some of the more
elaborate Boer trenches are so cleverly constructed in a waving line
like a succession of S's, that even if a shell does succeed in pitching
into one bit of the curve it makes things uncomfortable only for the two
or three men who occupy that portion of the earthwork. No, the real
value of artillery in attack is to shake the enemy and keep down his
rifle fire. If shells are accurately fired the tops of trenches may be
swept by a constant rain of shrapnel bullets, under which the enemy's
riflemen will of necessity suffer when they expose their heads and
shoulders to take aim over the parapet. But even in this case the shell
fire must be extremely accurate if it is to be of any great use. If
shrapnel shells burst well, some thirty yards in front of the enemy, the
force of the bullets released by the explosion is terrific; if, on the
other hand, the shells burst high up in the air, 150 yards in front, you
might almost keep off the bullets with an umbrella; and one sometimes
hears of these missiles being actually found in the pockets of
combatants. At Omdurman our shells played tremendous havoc with the
dense masses of the enemy; but here the Dervishes advanced to the attack
in broad daylight and over a flat plain absolutely devoid of cover, and
with its "ranges" well known and marked out beforehand.

In one of our southward journeys with a load of wounded men we passed, a
little below Graspan, through the midst of a swarm of locusts. We pulled
up the windows and so kept the wards free from these clumsy insects. At
one period they seemed to almost shut out the daylight, and it was easy
to realise how unpleasant it would be to meet a flight of locusts when
walking or even riding on horseback. Some odd stories are told about
these creatures. I have heard it gravely stated that occasionally a
train is stopped by the accumulated masses which fall on the metals. My
informant evidently believed that the engine in these cases was
absolutely unable to force its way through the piled up insects, in the
same way as trains are sometimes blocked by gigantic snowdrifts! This,
of course, is ridiculous; what really happens is that the rails become
so greasy from the crushed bodies of the locusts that the wheels can
secure no grip on the metals and spin round to no purpose.

The attitude of the Boers towards the locust is very quaint. If a swarm
of these insects settles on a Dutchman's land, the owner will not
attempt to destroy them because he regards them as a visitation of
Providence. But I have heard that he does not scruple to modify slightly
the schemes of Providence by shovelling the unwelcome locusts upon any
of his neighbours' fields which may adjoin his own estate!

On this same journey we pulled up, as usual, for a brief interval at De
Aar, and just opposite our train was a carriage containing seventeen
Boer prisoners, returning to the front. At the battle of Graspan a
number of Boer artillerymen were found with the Geneva Red Cross on
their arms, and it seems pretty clear that these men had deliberately
slipped the badge on the sleeves in order to avoid capture. They were,
of course, at once secured and treated as ordinary prisoners of war. But
in the hurry of the moment, and very naturally under the circumstances,
some seventeen of the Boers who were _bonâ-fide_ ambulance men were
arrested on suspicion and despatched with the crafty gunners to
Capetown. Here they were examined, and when the authorities realised
that they were genuinely entitled to the protection of the Red Cross,
and were not combatants fraudulently equipped with this protective
badge, the seventeen were forthwith sent back to General Cronje. As they
were returning we met them and had a chat with them. Five at least of
the number were Scotchmen or Irishmen; two more of them did not speak,
and I rather think from their appearance that they too were of English
race, and preferred to remain silent. Several of them complained of
ill-treatment at our hands, but I must say their complaints appeared to
resolve themselves into the fact that on their journeys to and from
Capetown their meals had not been quite regular. Three of us gave them
some bread, jam and cigarettes, for which they were extremely grateful.
They wore ordinary clothes much the worse for wear, and told me that
they left their "Sunday" suits at home. On the whole I was most
favourably impressed by these fellows, with one exception. The exception
was a Free-Stater who spoke English volubly. He loudly declared that he
was sick of the war and intended the moment he secured an opportunity to
desert and go home to his farm. I felt rather indignant at this person's
remarks, and with an air of moral superiority I said: "We don't think
any the better of you for saying that; although you are an enemy you
ought to stick to your General, and not sneak away from the front". But
the Free-Stater was not a bit impressed by my rhetoric, and simply said,
"Oh, skittles!"

Some of the prisoners were from the Transvaal and they seemed to me much
more keen and enthusiastic than their Free State companions, and evinced
no signs whatever of despondency or depression. There was a very
pathetic note in the conversation of one of the Transvaalers, a mere
boy of seventeen. He said to me in broken English, "It is such a
causeless war. What are we fighting for, sir?" and I referred him for
his answer to three Johannesburg Uitlanders who were standing by.
Accursed as war always is, it is thrice accursed when young boys and old
men are called upon to fight. At present every man in the Republic from
sixteen to sixty years of age is at the front. The authorities intend as
their losses increase to call out children from twelve to sixteen, and
every old man from sixty onwards who can still see to sight a rifle.
Last and most terrible thought of all, it is an undoubted fact that
wives and daughters are everywhere throughout the Republic engaged in
rifle practice! May God preserve us from having to fight against women!
At present entire families are fighting together. I know one Dutch lady
who has no less than six brothers amongst the burghers who have been
fighting round Ladysmith, and another who has already lost four sons in
the war. In one of our engagements a Boer boy of seventeen was struck
down by a bullet; the father, a man of sixty, left his cover and went
to the succour of his son, when he himself was shot, and the two lay
dead, one beside the other.

A little to the north of the kopjes which formed the scene of the
Graspan engagement lies the station of Enslin. Here one of the pluckiest
fights of the campaign took place. Two companies of the Northamptons
occupied a small house and orchard beside the line. They had thrown up a
hurried earthwork and placed rails along the top of the parapet. In this
position they were suddenly attacked by a force of apparently 500
Boers--so it was supposed--with one or two field guns. The small
garrison lined their diminutive trenches and succeeded in keeping the
enemy off for several hours; but had not some artillery reinforcements
come up the line most opportunely to their assistance it might have
fared badly with the plucky Northamptons. As it was, the Boers finally
withdrew with some loss. On December 10th we were delayed for some time
at Enslin by an accident and I had a careful look at the position held
by our men in this minor engagement. There was scarcely a twig or leaf
in the orchard which was not torn by shrapnel and Mauser bullets. The
walls of the house were chipped and pierced in every direction, and one
corner of the earthwork had been carried off by a shell. Yet in the two
companies there were only eight casualties! An almost parallel case was
furnished by Rostall's orchard at Modder River, which was held by the
Boers, and swept for hours by so fearful a fire of shrapnel that the
peach-trees were cut down in every direction and scarcely a square foot
behind the trenches unmarked by the leaden hail. Nevertheless, when the
guns had perforce to cease fire on the advance of our infantry, the
Boers who held the orchard leapt up from behind the earthwork and poured
such a murderous fire upon our men that they were forced to withdraw. It
was the old story over again--that shell fire, unless it enfilades, does
not kill men in trenches.

As everybody called the river crossed by the railway the Modder, Modder
let it be. Its real name, however, is the Riet, of which the Modder is a
tributary flowing from the north-west and joining the main stream well
to the east of the line. As a stream the river does not impress the
visitor favourably: its waters were yellow and muddy, and the vegetation
on its banks was thin and scrappy. There are no respectable fish in
either the Modder or the Orange River; even if the fish could see a fly
on the top of the liquid mud, they haven't the spirit to rise at it.
Some of our officers, it was said, had managed to land a few specimens
of a coarse fish like a barbel which haunts these streams, but I should
not think any one, even amid the monotony of camp rations, was very keen
about eating his catch, for a good many dead Boers had been dragged out
of the river. It was, in fact, a rather grisly joke in camp to remark,
_à propos_ of our water supply, on the character of "Château Modder, an
excellent vintage with a good deal of body in it"! There was a tap at
the station, which by the way is some distance north of the river, but
on attempting to fill a bucket I found the tap guarded by a sentry,
because, apparently, the water came from the river and was thought to be

The water question is always a difficult one in exploring or
campaigning. One can do a certain amount with alum towards rendering the
water less foul. Rub the inside of a bucket with a lump of alum, and in
ten minutes most of the mud sinks to the bottom, and the water is
comparatively clear. But besides producing a nasty flavour in the water,
if used in any quantity, the astringent alum tends to produce
disagreeable effects internally. Of course the only absolute guarantee
against the bacilli of enteric fever or other diseases which may be
admitted into one's system by drinking, is to boil the waters for five
minutes; but it is very provoking, when the thermometer stands at 90° in
the shade, to wait until the boiled water cools, and as it is impossible
to boil a whole river a few thousand bacilli may quite well get into our
food through "washing up".

The Boers have almost raised trench digging to the level of a fine art,
and on every occasion when their commandants have found it necessary to
withdraw they have had an entrenched position ready for them at some
distance in the rear. At Modder River the trenches on either side of
the stream were, as far as I saw them, a series of short ditches holding
about six riflemen. These small trenches were separated from each other
in order possibly to avoid that appearance of continuity which would
have rendered their detection more easy to our scouts. In the Modder
River fight a new factor is noticeable. For the first time in the
campaign the Boers fought on level ground. Hitherto their bullets had
come from the summits of the hills, and for this reason had not proved
nearly so effective as a sustained fire from rifles raised, say, about
four and a half feet from the ground. It is of course very much harder
to hit a moving enemy when you aim from above at a considerable angle
than when you merely hold your rifle steadily at the level of his chest
and fire off Mauser cartridges at the rate of twenty a minute. The
enemy's fire was very deadly at the Modder. As Lord Methuen said in his
despatch, it was quite unsafe to remain on horseback at 2,000 yards'
range. The result was that our infantry were compelled to lie prone on
the ground, and, without being able to do much by way of retaliation,
were exposed for hours to a scathing fusilade from the trenches beside
the river. One poor fellow, of whom I saw a good deal, had been through
the battle despite the fact that he was suffering great pain from
dysentery. He, together with two friends, lay on the veldt for no less
than fourteen hours. They had fortunately descried a slight hollow in
the ground some 500 yards from the Boer trenches, and between them they
"loosed off" quite 1,000 rounds of ammunition. "Well," I asked him, "did
you hit anything?" "I don't think we did," was his reply, "because we
never saw a Boer the whole day." When the enemy are firing smokeless
powder behind their splendidly constructed earthworks they are
practically invisible, a fact born witness to by Captain Congreve, V.C.,
in his account of the first reverse at the Tugela. Now of course when
you can't see your enemy you can't very well hit him, so when we clear
our minds of fairy-stories about Lyddite and the universal destruction
wrought by concussion, it seems highly probable that there is much more
truth in the Boers' returns of their casualties than has been believed
at home. Take, _e.g._, the lurid account sent by one of our
correspondents about the awful effects of our shell fire upon General
Cronje's laager. We were told in graphic language of every space in the
laager being torn and rent by the deadly fire of more than fifty field
guns, of the trenches being enfiladed and the green fumes of Lyddite
rising up from the doomed camp. Cronje emerges with a casualty roll of
170 men, and the only inconvenience from our bombardment experienced by
the ladies was the slight abrasion of a young woman's forefinger!

The fact that so many of our Generals have been struck by bullets during
the campaign would seem to corroborate what I have heard on good
authority, _viz._, that some of the best shots in the Transvaal forces
have been told off for long range shooting, and the picking off of our
leaders. One of these fancy shots--a German--was captured in Natal and
told an officer that he was glad to be a prisoner, as he heartily
disliked the task imposed upon him. Some little distance north of the
Modder bridge is a small white house. Within this was found a Boer lying
on a table stone-dead, with a shrapnel bullet in his skull. His Mauser,
still clutched in his stiffened hands, lay on a tripod rest in front of
him and the muzzle pointed through a vertical slit made in the masonry
of the cottage. Every house in the neighbourhood was more or less
injured by shrapnel, and one of them was the scene of a sanguinary
conflict which was utterly misrepresented by one of the Cape papers. The
misrepresentation was to the effect that at the battle of Modder River
the house in question was occupied by a number of Boer wounded from
Belmont and Graspan in charge of several attendants. It was alleged that
two of the attendants deliberately fired upon our troops, who forthwith
entered the house and bayoneted every occupant, wounded and unwounded
alike, the bodies being afterwards weighted, with stones and thrown into
the river. This terrible story spread like wildfire through the Colony,
and Lord Methuen despatched an official denial of the alleged
circumstances to Capetown. The Boer General never, as far as I am
aware, brought any such charge against our troops, but as it undoubtedly
gained considerable credence in the Colony it is perhaps worth while to
mention the real facts of the case. The house in question was occupied
as an outpost by thirty-six Boers, who fired upon some companies of
British troops. About a dozen of our men, chiefly Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders with a lieutenant of the Fifth Fusiliers--for an
extraordinary intermingling of various units took place in this
engagement--rushed the house. Two of the Highlanders were shot down but
the rest took a speedy revenge. The thirty-six Boers clubbed their
rifles and fought pluckily, but they were crowded together and could do
little against our bayonets. Every man of the thirty-six perished. "I
didn't like to see it, sir," said one of the Highlanders to me. This is,
of course, a very different story from the disgraceful tale alluded to
above. None of the Boers in the house were wounded before our men
appeared on the scene, and it is clear that the Boer corpses in the
river, with stones tied to their ankles, were put there by their own

Fair-minded and thoughtful men who have followed the events of the
present campaign must long ago have come to the conclusion that
non-official news must frequently be received with great caution. Before
the war began misrepresentation was rife on both sides, and it has
continued ever since. Mr. Winston Churchill may well call South Africa a
"land of lies". Various slanders against ourselves have emanated to some
extent from the Dutch papers in Cape Colony and the Transvaal, but in a
much fuller and more substantial form from the Continental papers,
notably the Parisian Press. On the other hand, our own journalists have
not been altogether free from this taint. Let us take one or two
concrete instances, _e.g._, violation of the white flag, firing on
ambulances, the use of "explosive" bullets, looting. Just after the
first reverse at the Tugela, a correspondent wired home that the Boers
were "shooting horses and violating all the usages of civilised
warfare". A man who would write such tomfoolery about horses ought to be
kept in Fleet Street, and not sent out as a war correspondent; and as
to his sweeping accusations in general, it is worth noticing that he was
publicly and severely rebuked by Sir Redvers Buller, who denied his
statements, and said that it was dishonourable to malign our brave
opponents in this fashion.

As to the _vexata quaestio_ of the white flag, it seems clear that in
some instances the Boers have used this symbol of surrender in an
absolutely unjustifiable way. Such a misusage of the flag occurred, for
example, at Belmont.[A] But, as a Boer prisoner said to me, there are
blackguards in every army, and it is utterly unfair to represent the
whole Boer army as composed of these treacherous scoundrels--who, by the
way, in almost every instance have paid the penalty of their treachery
with their lives. Moreover, a white flag--which is sometimes merely a
handkerchief tied to a rifle--may, in a comparatively undisciplined
force like that of our opponents, be easily raised by a combatant on
one side of a kopje, without being ordered or being noticed by his
officer or the bulk of his comrades. How easily this may happen can be
seen from what occurred amongst our own men at Nicholson's Nek. Here the
white flag was raised, according to the published letter of an officer
present, by a subaltern, without the knowledge and against the wishes of
the officer in command. The officer who raised the flag may quite
well--we do not know the circumstances accurately--have wished to save
the lives of the men immediately round him, or may have been unable to
see what was happening elsewhere on the kopje, and so have imagined that
he and his men alone were left.

Something very similar to this appears to have happened at Dundee. A
body of Boers standing together raised a white flag when our men
approached and were duly taken prisoners, but the rest of their commando
were, according to Boer accounts, already engaged in retreating with
their guns, and, being either unaware of this unauthorised surrender or
completely ignoring it, continued their flight.

I have already spoken of the risks incurred by stretcher-bearers and
ambulance waggons which approach close to the firing line. Wounded men
have told me again and again that the Boers at Magersfontein did not
fire wilfully on our ambulance waggons, except when our troops got
behind them in their retreat. Moreover, excitable people in England, who
greedily swallow any story about such alleged occurrences, have probably
the vaguest idea of what a modern battle-field looks like, and of the
enormous area now covered by military operations. It may be extremely
difficult to see a small white or Red Cross flag a long way off. At
Ladysmith, _e.g._, one of our guns put a shell clean through a Boer
ambulance, and Sir George White, of course, at once sent an apology for
the mistake. If mistakes occur on one side they may occur on the other.
Reuter's agent at Frere Camp reports on 4th December:--

"After the evacuation of Dundee the Boers shelled the hospital and the
ambulance until the white flag was hoisted, when their firing ceased.
Captain Milner rode with one orderly into the Boer camp with a flag of
truce, and was told that the Boers could not see the Red Cross flag.
This statement he verified by personal observation."

As to the use of "explosive" bullets, which makes the "man in the
street" so indignant, it is worth mentioning that, as far as I am aware,
not a single instance of the employment of such a missile came under the
notice of our medical staff with Lord Methuen's column. I do not for one
instant deny that occasionally such bullets may have been fired at our
troops, but it is clear that the utmost confusion prevails about the
nature of these projectiles. The Geneva Convention prohibits the use of
explosive bullets, _i.e._, hollow bullets charged with an explosive
which is fired by a detonating cap on coming in contact with a resisting
surface. Now it is almost impossible to render a Mauser bullet
"explosive," owing to its extreme slenderness, so that any explosive
bullets which may have been used by the enemy must have come from
sporting rifles, which are--as all evidence goes to show--extremely rare
in their commandos. Expansive bullets are made by cutting off the
rounded tip of the bullet, scooping out its point, constructing its
"nose" of some softer metal, or simply making transverse cuts across the
end. These missiles are not prohibited by the Geneva Convention:
nevertheless their employment against white men is altogether
unnecessary and reprehensible.

As to looting, we must not forget that all commandeering of goods on the
part of the enemy has been so described. But, of course, it is perfectly
legitimate according to the usage of modern warfare to seize any
property necessary for an army provided receipts are duly handed over to
the persons from whom the goods are obtained. The Germans invariably
acted in this way during the Franco-Prussian war, and no historian has
ever described them as "savages" for this reason. Of course the wanton
destruction of property which appears to have been perpetrated by the
Boers in Natal is absolutely indefensible.

If any one on reading the above thinks the writer "unpatriotic" he can
only say that many British soldiers serving their Queen and country are
"unpatriotic" in the same way. I hold no brief for the Boers, and I
feel sure that here and there one may find an unmitigated scoundrel in
their ranks who would fire on white flags, loot houses and use explosive
bullets. On the other hand wounded and captured soldiers have repeatedly
testified to the great kindness shown them by the enemy. In short, I
have invariably found soldiers more generous and fair towards the enemy,
and less disposed to blackguard them recklessly and unjustly, than
newspaper writers and readers. Men who have faced the Boers have learnt
to respect their courage and devotion, and I feel sure that British
officers and soldiers deprecate much of the atrocity talk anent foemen
so worthy of their steel, and however little they may sympathise with
some portions of Dean Kitchin's sermon, they would at any rate desire to
support his wish that the "quarrel should be raised to the level of a
gentlemen's quarrel".[B] Quite recently Lord Methuen spoke like an
honourable and chivalrous British soldier when he declared that he
"never wished to meet a braver general than Cronje and had never served
in a war where less vindictive feelings existed between the two opposing
armies than in this."

One more word on a kindred topic and we will leave criticism alone! The
tone adopted by some sections of the Colonial and even British Press
with respect to the religious feeling of the Boers is very painful. Some
correspondents have described with evident glee how Boer prayer-meetings
have been broken up by Lyddite shells. I feel sure that no British
General would think for a moment of deliberately shelling any body of
the enemy assembled for prayer, and the vulgarity and wickedness of such
paragraphs would certainly not commend itself to the best sentiment of
the British army. Again and again the Boers are described in the Press
as "canting hypocrites" or their thanksgivings to God as
"sanctimonious". What right have we as Christians to bring such
wholesale charges against our Christian enemies? Several thousand
burghers advanced from Jacobsdal to reinforce Cronje, and as it marched
the entire force sang the Old Hundredth in unison. There is something
splendid and majestic in such a spectacle as this. Let us as Englishmen
fight our best against these men and defeat them thoroughly, but do not
let us sneer at their religious enthusiasm!

On December 10th, as we were standing on a siding at De Aar, a telegram,
arrived ordering us to leave for Modder River in the morning. We were
delighted at the prospect of getting rid of our enforced inaction at De
Aar. The air was full of rumours about an impending attack on Cronje's
position, and we fully expected to be in time for the fight and probably
to be employed as stretcher-bearers during the battle. Alas! our hopes
were all in vain. Next day, some miles below Modder River, our engine
with its tender suddenly left the metals. The stoker jumped off, but the
engine fortunately kept on the top of the embankment and nobody was
hurt. We none of us knew how or why the accident had occurred, but one
of the officials suspected very strongly that the rails had been
tampered with.

At any rate, there we were within a few miles of a big fight, off the
metals and quite helpless! We were all perfectly wild with vexation and
disappointment. But up flew a wire to Modder River for a gang of sappers
with screwjacks. Pending the arrival of their assistance I climbed up to
the top of a neighbouring kopje with a lot of Tasmanians. From this
point the flashes of the guns above Modder River were visible, and the
dull boom of Lyddite was borne to our ears. Methuen's artillery was
still doing its best to avenge or retrieve the disaster of the early
morning. The sappers at length arrived. We all helped--pushing and
digging and lifting--and at length after several hours' delay steamed
off to Modder River, too late for anything, except to wait for the
morning and the wounded. We knew by this time that at 3:30 that morning
the Highland Brigade had made a frontal attack on the Magersfontein
lines and had been repulsed with terrible loss. The accounts which were
vaguely given of the disaster were frightful, but accurate details were
still lacking. Yes, here we were within four miles of the nearest point
of Cronje's lines and we did not know half as much about the fight as
people in Pall Mall 7000 miles away!

On 12th of December I woke at four. The sun was just beginning to rise
and the raw chill of the night had not yet left the air. In the grey
light a long string of ambulance waggons was moving slowly towards the
camp from the battle-field. Parallel to the line of waggons a column of
infantry was marching northwards, perhaps to reinforce some of our
outlying trenches against a possible Boer attack. I shall long remember
the sight--the column of dead and wounded coming in, the living column
going out, and scarcely a sound to break the silence.

The wards of the train were all ready for the wounded, so I went off
with a couple of buckets to replenish our water supply. Wounded men are
generally troubled with thirst, and the washing of their hands and faces
always refreshes them greatly. I found the station tap, however,
guarded by a sentry; no water was to be drawn for the use of the
troops, as the pipes--so it was said--came from Modder River, which was
contaminated by the Boer corpses.

We were soon busy with the wounded Highlanders and well within an hour
we had safely placed some 120 men in our bunks, and some on the floor. I
am afraid the poor soldiers often suffered agony when they were lifted
in or rolled from the stretchers on to the bunks. It was sometimes
impossible to avoid hurting a man with, say, a shattered thigh-bone and
a broken arm in thus changing his position. We however did our best and
lifted them with the utmost care and gentleness, but they often, poor
fellows, groaned and cried out in their cruel pain.

At 6 P.M. we saw the funeral of sixty-three Highlanders--all buried in
one long trench close to the line. No shots were fired over the vast
grave, but tears rolled down many a bronzed cheek and the bagpipes
played a wild lament. Surely there is no music like this for the burial
of young and gallant men. The notes seem to express an almost frenzied
access of human sorrow!

Soon after this my old Sudan acquaintance, Frederick Villiers, passed
through the train. He did not recognise me in my uniform and I did not
make myself known to him as he was with an officer and I was only an
orderly. I wonder if he remembers that dreadful night, 31st August,
1898, when we lay side by side in the desert at Sururab, soaked to the
skin from a tropical downpour, and, to make his misery complete, he was
stung in the neck by a large scorpion.

We ran down to Orange River with our first load of wounded men, and just
as we were crossing the sappers' pontoon bridge over the Modder a trolly
or small waggon broke loose and rushing down the incline in front met
our engine and was broken into matchwood. Most of our cases on this
first run were "severe" or "dangerous". Some of the men had no less than
three bullet wounds, and several were still living whose heads had been
pierced by bullets. During a former journey, after Belmont, poor ---- of
the Guards lived for several days with a bullet through his brain; he
was apparently unconscious or semi-conscious and struggled so
desperately to remove the bandages from his head that it took three
orderlies to hold him down. When he died the wounded soldier next him
burst into tears.

Amongst some cases peculiarly interesting from a medical point of view
was that of a Highlander who had three of his fingers shot off with the
result that his arm and side were paralysed; in another case a bullet
tore its way through and across the crown of a soldier's head and caused
paralysis of the opposite side of the body. Another man had, so it was
said, been hit on the shoulder; the bullet passed right through his body
piercing his lungs and intestines and coming out at the thigh. Yet,
strange to say, the poor fellow was in excellent spirits and complained
only of slight pain in the abdomen.

There was one death at Magersfontein which seemed especially painful to
ourselves. It was that of a young officer in the Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders who, after the fight on the Modder, came into our train and
had a kindly word for every one of his wounded men; he walked along the
wards shaking hands with them and giving them little money presents as
he passed. His voice was full of sympathy, and at length he broke down
utterly in his compassion for some of their terrible wounds. His tears
did him credit, and we heard with genuine sorrow that he had fallen at
Magersfontein. So good a man was indeed worthy of a longer life and a
kindlier fate.

Almost all the wounds inflicted by the Mauser bullets seemed to be quite
clean and healthy, with no signs of suppuration. It has been suggested
that the satisfactory condition of such wounds is partly due to a
species of cauterisation produced by the heat of the bullet. But I
hardly think this can be so, for it is extremely doubtful if a bullet
ever gets hot enough to cauterise flesh. I once picked up a spent
Martini bullet which dropped within a yard or two of where I was
standing; it was quite warm but not nearly hot enough to hurt my bare
hand. A Mauser bullet fired at a fairly close range, say, 500 yards,
travels at such a tremendous velocity that it generally splinters any
bone it meets; on the other hand at long ranges--1,000 yards and
upwards--the bullet frequently bores a clean little hole through the
opposing bone and thus saves the surgeon a great deal of trouble.

The wounds from shell fire were not numerous in our wards. It seems
likely that if a one-pounder shell from the Maxim-Nordenfeldt hits a man
it is pretty sure to kill him. Some of the wounded men told me how
terrible it was to hear the cries of a comrade ripped to pieces by this
devilish missile.

The condition of the Highlanders' legs was terrible. Many of the poor
fellows lay in the open for hours--some of them from 4 A.M. to 8
P.M.--and the back of their legs was, almost without exception, covered
with blisters and large burns from the scorching sun. Very many of those
who had escaped bullet wounds could not, I should think, have marched
ten miles to save their lives. The Highland Light Infantry wore trousers
and their legs were all right. How much longer are we going to clothe
our Highland regiments in kilts on active service? Every man I spoke to
was dead against their use in a subtropical campaign like the present
one. Besides, even as it is, our men have to put up with a compromise in
the matter of kilts which makes their retention almost ridiculous,
_i.e._, in order to screen his gay attire from the keen eyes behind the
Mauser barrels every Highlander wears over the tartan a dingy apron of
khaki. The war pictures we occasionally see in illustrated papers of
Scotch regiments charging with flying sporrans are probably drawn in
England. Even when the apron is used, the khaki jacket, the tartan kilt
and the white legs offer a good mark when the wearer is lying on the
ground. At Omdurman I stood with the Seaforths and Camerons in the
firing line and I noticed that they appeared to lose more than any other

On arriving at Orange River we carried our load of wounded to the base
hospital. I wish some of those well-meaning enthusiasts in Trafalgar
Square who clamoured for war could have viewed the interior of these
hospital tents and seen the poor twisted forms lying on the ground in
every direction. What a stupid and brutal thing war is! Certainly the
alleged "bringing out of our nobler qualities" is dearly purchased! If a
superior national type is the outcome of all this death and pain and
misery, War, like Nature, seems at any rate utterly "careless of the
single life"!

The battle of Magersfontein has been frequently described in the Press
and the main outlines of the fight are already well known to the public.
The Highland Brigade, consisting of the Black Watch, Argyll and
Sutherland Highlanders, Seaforths and Highland Light Infantry, had
dinner on Sunday at 12. They then marched from 2 to 7.30 P.M., when they
bivouacked. They advanced again at 11 P.M. in quarter column through the
darkness, using ropes to keep the direction and formation intact. At
3.30 the order to extend had just been given when a murderous fire was
suddenly poured into the Brigade from the first line of Boer trenches at
the foot of a large kopje. Our men had already seen two red lanterns
burning at either extremity of this entrenched position. All at once the
lamp on the left of the line was extinguished, and this seemed to be
the signal for the Boer riflemen to commence fire. The light was so
bad--in fact there was scarcely any light at all--that it was impossible
to see the foresight of a rifle clearly. How were the Boers able to
discern our approaching columns? One very intelligent boy in the Black
Watch told me that he thought the "wild-fire"--the summer lightning
which plays over the veldt--showed up the approaching troops. Others who
were present stated that the Kimberley flash-light did the mischief, and
a sergeant who marched in the rear of the brigade told me that he could
see the whole line of helmets in front of him illumined by these
electric flashes. Apart from this, it is quite possible that some
treacherous signals from Dutchmen near Modder River camp may have
apprised the Boers of our approach.

Be this as it may, the first volleys from the opposing trenches swept
through the crowded ranks of the Black Watch with deadly effect. Great
confusion ensued, our men could do little by way of retaliation,
contradictory orders were given, and the Brigade, unable to hold its
ground under the murderous fire, fell back. The fusilade was fearfully
severe and what added to its severity was its unexpectedness. It is
especially the case in war that the unexpected is terrible. This has
been exemplified again and again. On one occasion during the siege of
Paris a body of Zouaves had fought splendidly all day in a sortie under
a hot fire from the Prussians. They were at length ordered to withdraw
some distance into a hollow which would shield them effectually from the
Prussian shells and bullets. The Zouaves ensconced themselves in this
excellent bit of cover and after their exertions prepared to get a
little rest. Suddenly, to their astonishment, a Prussian shell fell
plump into the hollow, and although it hurt nobody the entire company
leapt to their feet and never stopped until they found themselves within
the ramparts of Paris. Yet these men had faced a deadly fire all day
when they expected it.

No troops in the world could have done anything in face of the
Magersfontein fire: some of the Highlanders, however, lay down and
maintained their position actually within 200 yards of the Boer lines
throughout the day. They had scarcely any cover, and if they showed
themselves by any movement they were picked off by the enemy's
sharp-shooters. Several of our wounded told me that they had seen one
Boer, got up in the most sumptuous manner--polished jackboots, silk
neck-cloth and cigar--strolling leisurely about outside the trenches and
firing with extraordinary accuracy at the recumbent figures which dotted
the ground before him.

As the Brigade fell back various units were, in the darkness
inextricably mixed up, and our losses became more severe as the accuracy
of the enemy's fire increased. The booming of our artillery and the rush
of our shells upon the Boer trenches put fresh heart into our
temporarily disheartened troops, and rallying lines were formed in
various directions. Occasional rushes were made towards the almost
invisible enemy over the slope already thickly dotted with the bodies of
our dead and wounded, and at the close of the disastrous day several
gallant Highlanders were found lying dead across the wire entanglements
within 150 yards of the Boers, riddled with bullets. The 12th Lancers
dismounted, and at one moment, advanced as infantry right up to the Boer
trenches. Every one I spoke to expressed the warmest admiration for
their coolness and pluck.

A sergeant in the Black Watch, when all the officers had apparently been
struck down, cried out to the Highlanders near him: "Charge, men, and
prepare to meet your God!" He rushed forward at the head of a few
comrades and fell dead with a bullet through his brain within a yard or
two of the trenches. There is something truly sublime in this man's
devotion to his duty. Many and many an individual act of heroism was
displayed during those awful moments in the semi-darkness when the enemy
opened fire on our crowded battalions. British officers stood upright,
utterly regardless of self, doing their best to rally the shaken troops,
and then falling beneath the pitiless hail of bullets. Later on the
hillside was littered with field-glasses.

Almost 1,000 yards from the line of kopjes three lines of wire had been
placed, which were cut during our advance, and other entanglements were
stretched just in front of the trenches. Several men in each company
carried wire-cutters with them, but to stand up and snip through lines
of barbed wire when the Mauser bullets and the deadly shells of the
Pom-Pom gun are tearing up the soil around is perilous work. Some of
these entanglements had already been removed after the bombardment on
Sunday night, for E Company of the Black Watch and a company of the
Seaforths went forward about 7 P.M. in skirmishing order and pulled up
the iron stakes and knocked over three parallel lines of barbed wire.

Some of the Highland Brigade very sensibly withdrew towards the right of
the Boer position with the idea of outflanking and enfilading the enemy.
They succeeded for some time and actually captured some prisoners, but
were soon afterwards themselves enfiladed and compelled to retire. Eight
men of the Seaforths, however, when the frontal attack failed, retired
towards the left instead of the right and suddenly found themselves, to
their dismay, well inside the enemy's trenches! The Boers took away
their rifles but forgot their side-arms, whereupon one of the
Highlanders drew his bayonet, leapt to his feet and stabbed the sentry
who was guarding them in the neck. The whole eight then jumped over the
earthwork and decamped, escaping unhurt through the bullets which
followed them from the enraged burghers.

Many of our wounded lay on the ground from early morning till seven or
eight in the evening, exposed all day to the scorching rays of an almost
tropical sun. Some of the men brought away in the ambulances were, in
fact, suffering from sunstroke, in addition to their wounds, and, as was
said above, the bare legs of the three kilted battalions were terribly
burnt. The Boers were very kind to our wounded. They came out of the
trenches and gave them water. They did not in any case shoot at our
wounded men, but frequently shot at any one who came forward during the
fight to bandage the wounded. The slightest movement, however, of the
_bonâ-fide_ combatants in our ranks drew a hail of bullets from the
trenches. A Scotch sergeant, Gilham by name, a most kindly and
courageous man, noticed that a comrade near him had been shot through
the abdomen. He raised himself up from his recumbent position and began
to bandage the wounded man. "Lie down you ---- fool," said the friend;
"can't you see you are drawing the fire?" As he spoke a bullet passed
between Gilham's knees and struck the wounded man. Soon afterwards an
officer called out for a stretcher, so Gilham jumped up and put on his
best "hundred" pace in a slanting run towards the ambulance waggons.
Several other wounded men leapt up and joined him. One of them was
immediately shot through the shoulder, and the good sergeant again
stopped and bandaged him. The Boers had been watching him, and as he
recommenced his devious course they sent two bullets through a bush two
feet in front of him. These small bushes formed very inadequate cover,
and the enemy, taking for granted that men were lying concealed behind
them, fired repeatedly into the shrubs. In one case no less than eight
Highlanders were shot behind one bush.

I have made no attempt to give a detailed account of the day's
fighting. If I did I should naturally speak of the excellent work done
by the Guards on the right, where the Scandinavian contingent was almost
annihilated, and, later on in the day, by the Gordons, who left their
convoy work on the left and advanced gallantly towards the Boer
position. No praise can be too high for our artillery. It was their
excellent shooting that helped our men to rally after the first shock,
and which ultimately succeeded in driving the Boers from their first
line of trenches. These trenches were admirably constructed in long deep
parallel lines connected at the ends so that a force could advance or
withdraw from any point without being noticed by ourselves. Shell fire
could do little against troops so splendidly entrenched. The Boers, like
the Turks at Plevna, crept under their _épaulements_ while the shells
screamed overhead or swept the parapets with shrapnel bullets, and then,
when this tyranny was overpast, crept out and poured in one of the most
terrific fusilades of the century's warfare.

When we returned to Modder River with our carriages ready for a fresh
load we found all our troops and guns back again in camp. The trenches,
however, were manned, and every one on the alert. The armistice to bury
the dead expired on the 13th, and a Boer commando had been sighted to
the west. In a brief interval of leisure I took a short stroll, and I
noticed how much more plentiful tobacco was now than a month ago when a
Mauser rifle was offered for a sixpenny packet of cigarettes. One
soldier told me that he had actually paid three shillings for a single

We loaded up with 120 fresh cases and steamed off for Capetown. The
armoured train was moving fitfully about as we left, but the poor
thing's energies were rather cramped as the line disappeared about 300
yards north of the station.

Just before we crossed the river we saw the two war-balloons floating
above the camp, and our cook informed us with a great show of expert
knowledge that these balloons were absolutely proof against bullets or
even shells, "for," said he, "if anything hits them it rebounds from
them like my fist does from this 'ere pillow". A rather similar story
was told me by a wounded Highlander. He declared that a pal of his had
been struck in the stomach by a shell at the Modder River fight. "Oh,"
said I, "there wasn't much of your poor friend left, I suppose?" "He
wasn't much hurt," was the reply, "though he did spit blood for a few
hours." "Great Scot! what became of the shell?" "Oh," said my informant,
"I didn't notice, but it must have bounced off Bill's stomach." The
soldier quite believed that this marvellous incident had occurred. What
had happened was probably this: a shell had passed so close to the man
that the concussion of the air had "taken his wind" and ruptured some
small blood-vessels. I remember at the capture of Malaxa in Crete that
three insurgents were hurled to the ground by the air pressure of a
Turkish shell which passed within a yard or two of their heads.

Several of our cases on this downward journey were interesting. Corporal
Anderson of the Black Watch lay in our ward, struck deaf and dumb from
the bursting of a Boer shell, though he was otherwise uninjured by the
explosion. Wounds through the intestines were to be found here and
there. Such injuries in the larger intestines, if left to themselves and
not operated on, have--when inflicted by the humane Mauser bullet--a
fairly good chance, and that is all that can be said. One man had been
shot through the elbow as he lay at the "present". The bullet had
shattered the bone, but there was every prospect of the arm being saved.
How different would have been the probable effects, in such a case, of
the big Martini bullet!

One incident which seemed to amuse the men very much was this. During
the Modder River battle a bullet struck a corporal on the back; it
glanced superficially across his shoulder and then piercing his
canteen-tin remained inside. The corporal, imagining himself _in
extremis_, fell to the ground and called for the ambulance. Somebody ran
up to the prostrate man, and after a diligent but fruitless search for
the wound at length discovered the bullet in the canteen-tin. The
apparently moribund corporal, seeing this, instantly recovered, and
leaping briskly to his feet told them to countermand the
stretcher-bearers and pressed forward to the attack with renewed

Just as we left De Aar a train full of Queensland Mounted Infantry was
entering the station _en route_ for the front. The occupants were in the
highest spirits and cheered loudly. "Ah!" said some of our poor fellows,
"we were like that when we went up!" The contrast between the two
trains--there, life and vigour: here, weakness and death--was very

So far from being "absent-minded" about their people at home, the
wounded soldiers were continually thinking about their sweethearts,
wives and families. Several soldiers in my ward, _e.g._, had lined their
helmets with ostrich feathers. "My eye," said they, "won't the missus
look fine in these!" One of the reservists asked me: "Do you think I
shall lose my thigh? You see, I want to do the best I can for my family,
and if I do lose my leg I shall be useless, as I work in the pits in
Fife." Another Scotchman, a shoemaker, was full of anxiety about the
future support of his wife and children. "If only my wound," he said
dejectedly, "had been below my knee instead of above it! Because
this"--pointing to the wounded spot--"is just the place I use for my

Yes! to mix with the rank and file of an army as one of themselves is a
great privilege. One understands them in this way far better than
through the medium of books. Many little acts of unostentatious heroism
are casually spoken of--noble deeds done by humble soldiers who live
without a history and often perish without a memorial--as, for instance,
the devotion of a private at Modder River who applied digital pressure
to the severed artery of a comrade for hours under fire and so saved his
life. Again, the soldier's religion, where it exists, is often very
genuine indeed. Just after the Magersfontein reverse a wounded
Highlander entreated me to find his rosary for him which was hidden
under a pile of accoutrements. On another occasion we picked up on the
floor of the train a piece of paper which proved to be the will of a
poor private, a Roman Catholic, who left "all he possessed" to the
Church. I need not say that this will was forwarded to the proper
quarter. The wounded men too were frequently very grateful for any
little services one could render them, and made us odd little presents
by way of return. One H.L.I. man gave me the badges from his ruined
khaki jacket, and an Argyll and Sutherland Highlander bestowed upon me a
pair of goggles he had taken from the face of a dead Boer.

By the time we reached Richmond Road the usual influx of private
offerings for the wounded had, as usual, begun. We always left the front
with the ordinary comforts of an ambulance train; by the time we reached
Capetown we looked like a sort of cross between a green-grocer's stall
and a confectioner's shop. We simply didn't know what to do with the
masses of fruit and flowers, puddings and jellies, which the people
along the line forced upon us. These kindly folk--men, women and
children--thrust their various offerings through the windows; then they
peeped through themselves, and the women would say "poor dear" to some
six-foot guardsman, who smiled his thanks or told them how he got hit.
As I say, the train was, by the time we reached Wynberg, simply choked
with luxuries--some of them quite unsuitable for wounded men--a
veritable _embarras de richesses_. We used to begin the journey with
moderation and end it with a species of debauch! But it was most kind
and thoughtful of these colonists all the same.

By the time we reached Wynberg on 16th December it was quite dark. A row
of ambulance waggons stood ready beyond the platform, and in front of
them a line of St. John's Ambulance men, fresh from England, looking
very spruce and neat. The wounded were speedily conveyed to the waggons
and safely lodged in the hospital. On a former occasion one poor fellow
died at the moment he was being lifted out of the train. My comrades and
myself had had about six hours' sleep in three consecutive nights, and
after we had remade the beds and swept the train we slept soundly. Next
morning we were on duty till twelve, when we were allowed a few hours'
leave. A warm bath and a lunch at the Royal Hotel with a good bottle of
wine was very welcome, and we were all in excellent spirits when the
whistle sounded and we steamed away once more to the north with 600
miles before us.

We halted again at De Aar, where we remained till Christmas. The weather
grew hotter and hotter. The whirling dust, the stony plains, the glaring
heat, the evening coolness, the glowing sunsets, the bare rocky hills,
how it all recalled the Sudan! Train after train lumbered by with stores
and guns and ammunition for the front, the whole of this enormous
traffic being run on a single line of rails. Amongst the most
troublesome items to deal with were the mules. Sometimes a mule would
suddenly produce a violent uproar in a waggon by beginning to kick, his
hoof against every mule and every mule's hoof against him. Even if these
beasties were taken out of the waggon to be watered their behaviour was
unseemly. A soldier would with infinite patience marshal the mules in
line with himself, their halters all tied together. The march would then
begin, but within half a dozen yards the mules in the centre would press
forward till the whole thing looked like a Pyrrhic phalanx. The wearied
soldier would then smite the aggressive animals, and, after a few more
strides, the centre mules would hang back while the wings would close
in, and then, as confusion became worse confounded, some of the restless
brutes would commence to roll, and the group finally resembled a sort of
mulish "scrum" with the soldier on his back as football.

There were, of course, various camp services on Christmas Day: most of
my comrades on the train went to the little Episcopal Church in De Aar.
The Church of England community in this out-of-the-way village numbers
some fifty all told. Nevertheless these churchmen had contrived to build
a pretty little church and their services were very hearty. Officers,
men, and two Red Cross sisters formed the bulk of the congregation and
we listened to a delightful sermonette written and delivered in
excellent style by the good Vicar, an old Corpus man at Oxford. We sang
the old familiar hymns, "While shepherds watched" and "Hark, the Herald
Angels sing," which took our thoughts away to distant homes and
services in England, 7,000 miles away. At the close of the service came
that hymn of prayer, "O God of peace, give peace again;" and as we
walked back to the train a sergeant said to me: "If there is a God who
will listen to prayer, my prayer for peace went straight to Him". I
think he spoke for all of us. Most people who love war for war's sake
are not soldiers.

Our Christmas dinner was a most gorgeous affair. We were determined to
do everything in the best possible style, and everybody helped. We first
rigged up a trestle table beside the train and stretched a tarpaulin
above it to shelter us from the fierce heat. Three of our number were
then despatched to secure all the green stuff they could for decorative
purposes, and as the good people of De Aar were quite ready to give us
some of their scanty flowers and allow us to dismember their shrubs, our
envoys returned with armfuls of material. The outside of the train and
the surface of the table were gaily decorated, and two photographs of
her Majesty which we had cut out of magazines were framed in leaves and
flowers and bits of coloured paper, the very best we could do! We had
secured an order for some beer and a couple of bottles of whisky, and
when these adjuncts had been duly fetched from the canteen we sat down
to our Christmas dinner. Towards the end of it our kind and deservedly
popular C.O. Captain Fleming, R.A.M.C., paid us a visit, with a civilian
doctor and the two nurses. The Captain made us a little speech and
informed us that the Queen had sent her best Christmas wishes to the
troops. We then cheered her Majesty, and Captain Fleming and Dr. Waters
and the nurses, and our visitors left us to enjoy the rest of the
evening as we liked.

After various toasts--the Queen, our General, Absent Friends and so
on--several comrades from other corps dropped in and every one was
called upon for a song. It is curious to find the extraordinary
popularity amongst soldiers of lugubrious and doleful songs. The
majority of our songs at that Christmas dinner dealt with graves and the
flowers that grew upon them, on the death of soldiers and the grief of
parents. One song, I remember, was almost ludicrously sad. It told how
a young soldier on active service in the Sudan or some other distant
region hears, apparently by telepathic means, that his mother--the
conventional grey-haired mother--is in some distress. The soldier at
once, without any attempt to secure leave of absence, sets out for
"home" on foot. He is brought back, and, as the excuse about his mother
is very naturally discredited, the deserter is sentenced to be shot.
Just as his lifeless body falls back riddled with bullets the mother
arrives--how, it is not explained--so, as the refrain has it, "The
Pardon comes too late". There were also several pauses in the
conversation for "solos from the band," to wit, a flute and a fiddle.

After dismantling the marquee and dinnertable we started through the
darkness for Modder River. We had thoroughly enjoyed our Christmas fare,
and K----, a Scotchman, attempted with some success to perform a
sword-dance on two crossed sticks, and when we pulled up at some station
with a Dutch name his fervid patriotism broke loose in an attempt to
address the people on the platform, whom he apostrophised as "rebels"
and threatened with dire vengeance. Our cook was equal to the occasion.
He dragged K---- back and apologised to the aggrieved colonists,
explaining--by a pious fraud--that he was K----'s father and so
responsible for bringing him out that evening. Our gleemen now stepped
into the breach with "Ye Banks and Braes," and we left the station amid

Another of my friends under the excitement of song and mirth frequently
clutched my arm and pointed to imaginary batches of Dutchmen standing
suspiciously near the line and presumably intent on wrecking the train.
These were usually prickly-pear bushes. When we approached Modder River
he exclaimed that we were now within range of the Boer guns, and
accordingly pulled up the windows as a sort of protection against shells
and bullets.

As we steamed into Modder River station the 4.7 gun called "Joe
Chamberlain" loosed off a Lyddite shell at the Magersfontein trenches.
Some desultory shelling continued on both sides at 7,000 yards, chiefly
in the early morning and evening--a kind of "good day" and "good night"
exchanged between "Joe Chamberlain" and "Long Tom,". During our stay on
this occasion some excellent practice was made on both sides. On the
26th a shell from our gun struck a Boer water-cask and smashed it to
bits; next day a Boer shell fell plump into a party of Lancers and
killed four horses. On another occasion more than fifty shells--so I
heard--fell round the 4.7 gun, and although the gunners were compelled
to seek cover the gun was absolutely uninjured.

Apart from this interchange of artillery fire the camp was undisturbed.
The trenches were of course manned day and night, but spare time was
filled up to some extent by various games. Goal posts were visible here
and there, and Lord Methuen had offered a challenge cup for "soccer"
football, the ties of which were being keenly contested.

We took on board a fresh load of sick and wounded men--chiefly the
former--bound for Wynberg hospital. Just before we left I walked a
hundred yards from the line and saw the graves of Colonel Downman,
Lieutenant Campbell, Lieutenant Fox, and a Swede called, I think, Olaf
Nilsen. The graves were marked by simple wooden crosses: those who were
enemies in life lay side by side in the gentle keeping of Death, the
Healer of Strife, for so the Greeks of old time loved to call him.

Soon after leaving the Modder the sky grew black with clouds, the birds
hid themselves from view and the veldt-cricket ceased from his
monotonous chirrup. Then all at once the storm burst upon us. The
lightning played incessantly and sheets of rain blotted out the kopjes
and the veldt from view. It was in weather like this that our poor
fellows advanced through the darkness upon the Magersfontein trenches!

At Orange River we halted for some time, and somebody suggested a snake
hunt in the scrub, but no one seemed very keen about this form of sport.
The "ringhals" in the veldt are very deadly. I remember speaking to a
Kaffir about them and asking him if he had known of any fatal bites. He
replied, pathetically enough: "Yes, sah, a brudder of me--two hours, he
was dead--mudder and sister and me was there".

Near Enslin a most unhappy accident had occurred. A sentry of the
Shropshire had seen two figures advancing in the evening towards his
post, had challenged, and, failing to get the prescribed reply, had
fired off seven bullets into the two supposed Boers, who turned out to
be a sergeant and private of his own regiment. By a miracle both these
wounded men ultimately recovered, but while we were at Enslin we heard
that the poor sentry was absolutely prostrated by grief and horror over
the unfortunate affair.

At a station lower down a lighter incident took place. A corporal from
our train, a Johannesburg man, in taking a short stroll came across
three Uitlander volunteer recruits. They did not for the moment
recognise their quondam acquaintance in his uniform, so he called
"Halt!" The recruits became rigid. "Medical inspection," cried the
corporal--"Tongues out!" Three tongues were instantly thrust out.
"Salute your general," was the next order. This was too much. In the
middle of a spasmodic attempt at a salute a dubious look began to
spread over the faces of the three victims, which broadened into
certainty as with a yell they leapt upon their oppressor and made him
stand them a drink.

At Richmond Road we came across a detachment of Cape Volunteers who were
practising the capture of kopjes in the neighbourhood of the line. In
condoling with one of them on the dreariness of the place, he remarked
that they occasionally shot a hare with a Lee-Metford bullet. This is
pretty good shooting if the hare is moving. I remember hearing a Boer
say with apparent _bona fides_ that he invariably shot birds on the wing
with Mauser bullets. Some of his birds must have looked ugly on the

As we passed through the Karroo somebody remarked that a Cape newspaper
had suggested that our yeomen should ultimately settle in the country
and continue their pastoral life in the veldt-farms of South Africa.
Evidently the journalist who wrote this article imagines that our
gallant yeomen were all tillers of the soil. Even if they were, few
Englishmen will care to exchange the green fields and leafy copses of
England for the solitude of these dreary, sun-baked plains. Moreover,
where is the land to come from for any considerable number of such
settlers? Practically all the land which is worth cultivating in the
colonies of South Africa and the two Republics is already occupied. Even
if we confiscate the farms of those colonial rebels actually and legally
proved to be such, I doubt very much whether the land thus obtained
would provide for more than three or four hundred settlers. Enthusiasts
in England who write to the papers on this topic seem often to take for
granted that the farms of the burghers in the two Republics will at the
close of the war be presented to any reservist or yeoman who wishes to
settle in South Africa. But is there any precedent in modern times for
the confiscation of the private property of a conquered people? Are the
burghers who survive the struggle to be evicted from their farms and
left with their wives and children to starvation? This would be a bad
beginning towards that alleviation of race hatred after the war which
all good men of every political party earnestly desire. There is, it is
true, a certain amount of land owned by the State in the Transvaal, but
if we distribute this _gratis_ to a few hundred individuals we shall be
depriving ourselves of one of the few sources from which a war-indemnity
could accrue to the nation as a whole.

Nothing, of course, could be more desirable than the planting in South
Africa of a large body of honest, hard-working English settlers with
their wives and families. But there are many difficulties to be overcome
before the idyllic picture of the reservist surrounded by the orchards
and cornfields of his upland farm can be realised in actual fact. The
Dutch farmers of South Africa are as a rule very poor. They rise up
early and take late rest, and eat the bread of carefulness, but their
life is one of constant poverty. If we talk of "improvements" we must
remember that irrigation in such a country is sometimes difficult and
costly, and light railways demand considerable capital. Who is to
provide the money for these? I doubt very much if many Englishmen or
Australians or New Zealanders _who have seen South Africa_ will
exchange their present homes for the dreary and unproductive routine of
an African farm.

During the latter part of our run the kindly enthusiasm of the colonists
was as much in evidence as ever. Offerings of flowers and delicacies
were again showered upon the wounded. It was amusing to notice how
truculent some of the ladies were. One of them, as she put her welcome
basket through the window, remarked _à propos_ of Kruger, Steyn, etc.,
"Yes, bury them all, bury them all!"

After our sick men had been duly conveyed to the hospital we stayed in
Capetown till the close of the year. A plentiful supply of English
newspapers were lying about in the smoking-room of the hotel and it was
exceedingly painful to read of the violent criticisms passed upon our
Generals. If journalists in England wish to criticise the behaviour of
our Generals, let them do so over their own signature when the war is
over and these servants of the Government can defend themselves fairly.
During the progress of a campaign a General has practically no
opportunity of defending himself against newspaper attacks. Military
success amid the surroundings of a South African campaign is often so
difficult: criticism in Fleet Street is so easy! Very frequently the
same man who cheers wildly at Waterloo and labels the outgoing General's
luggage "To Pretoria" is the first to vituperate the same officer if
amid the vicissitudes of warfare some measure of defeat falls to his
lot. Military success does not depend entirely on the devotion or
capacity of a commander. How cruel were those of the paragraphs which we
read directed against our own General, Lord Methuen--the only British
commander who had, if we except Elandslaagte, won any successes up to
the present. Let the public wait before they so freely condemn a General
who drove back the enemy in three successive engagements. That
Magersfontein was a bad reverse is patent to everybody, but the causes
of that defeat are not nearly so apparent.[C] It is disgraceful that
English newspapers should, during the progress of a campaign, print
letters from soldiers at the front which asperse the character and
conduct of their commanding officers. Publicity of this sort strikes at
the root of military discipline and common fairness too, for the public
can scarcely expect a British General to reply in the public Press to
the letter of a private serving under him!

The bells of the Cathedral tolled mournfully as the old year died. Would
that its bitter memories could have perished with it! And then from
steeple and steamship, locomotive and factory, a babel of sound burst
forth as sirens and bells and whistles welcomed the birth of 1900. Yet,
as the shrill greetings died away, one heard the tramp of infantry
through the streets. The Capetown Highlanders--a volunteer
battalion--were under arms all that night, as a rising of the Dutch had
been anticipated on New Year's Day. May the new year see the end of this
cruel strife, and the sun of righteousness arise upon this unhappy land
with healing in his wings! As one sits in the dimly-lit wards while the
train tears through the darkness, and nothing breaks the silence save
the groan of a wounded man or the cries of some poor fellow racked with
rheumatic fever--at times like these one thinks of many things, past,
present and future. An ever-deepening gloom of military disaster seemed
to be spreading itself around us--Magersfontein, Stormberg and the
latest repulse on the Tugela, a veritable [Greek: trikumia kakôn]! Of
course, in the long run, we _shall_ and _must_ win. But what afterwards?
Will the vanquished Dutch submit and live in peace and amity with their
conquerors, or will they preserve the memory of their dead from
generation to generation, and cherish that unspeakable bitterness which
they at present feel for England and her people? Verily all these things
lie on the knees of the gods!



[A] Since these lines were written Lord Roberts has personally testified
to the misuse of the white flag in the Paardeberg fighting.

[B] Cf. _The River War_, by Winston Spencer Churchill, vol. ii., p. 394.
"It is the habit of the boa-constrictor to besmear the body of its
victim with a foul slime before he devours it; and there are many people
in England, and perhaps elsewhere, who seem to be unable to contemplate
military operations for clear political objects, unless they can cajole
themselves into the belief that the enemy is utterly and hopelessly

[C] _Cf._ Tacitus, _Agricola_, xxvii.: Iniquissima haec bellorum
condicio est; prospera omnes sibi vindicant, adversa uni imputantur.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "With Methuen's Column on an Ambulance Train" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.