The Boer War – letters from South Africa sent to The Radleian magazine. No. 2

extracts from letters published on 5th March 1900

T.S.S. ‘Bavarian,’ Nov. 14, 1899.-” Yesterday we had a little excitement. In the early morning we had sighted a large vessel in the horizon in front, and at 5 p.m. we came up with it. It turned out to be the’ Cheshire,’ with the Gordons on board, and there was tremendous cheering and band-playing. We passed within a hundred yards, and signalled to one another. The message we sent them was’ Au revoir! We’ll try and keep Kruger for you, but fear he won’t stand more Gordons,’ and so forth.”

Nov. 24.-” About a week ago I was inoculated for enteric … I felt all right immediately after, and went up to upper deck, when I suddenly became very dizzy, and fell the most awful smack on my head, and knew no more for a short time, and was very bad for some days … Very few of the men were inoculated: they said they would sooner be killed by Kruger.”

Nov. 27.-” The other day we passed the ‘Dunottar Castle.’ We signalled to her some way off to come closer, and as she passed we saw through our glasses written up ‘Big battle! Boers defeated!’ I hope to goodness it isn’t all over by the time we get there.”

Nov. 30.-” All the Foreign Attaches and General Herbert left at the Cape. They went ashore in a tug, and there was a goodish sea on. The foreigners were very quaint, waiting the moment to jump on to the tug from the ladder, looking in a blue funk. But when the Frenchman had done it he waved his brolly to encourage the others, which helped them greatly.”

Dec. 3, 1899, Maritzburg.-” We had a bad time of it disembarking (at Durban) about 2 p.m. We were kept waiting on the quay till 1 a.m. We were not allowed into the town at all, but had to look after the men-and they took a deal of looking after. Many of the Reservists knew all about Durban, and sneaked away and got royally drunk. There were sentries and pickets in the town, but they could not be everywhere. In my company there were several free fights before we started… My company had a bathing parade this morning. We marched down to the stream in the valley east of our lines. I had a very good swim.”

Brynville Hill Camp, Dec. 10.-” We are all terribly down in our luck for the following reason, which perhaps will not strike you as a grievance:  We are not at the front, and apparently have no chance of getting in at all. When we were at Maritzburg a rumour went round that some of us were to go and reinforce our 2nd Battalion now at Frere. It is true the first three companies, A B and C have gone: and weren’t they just pleased with themselves too? We were left at Maritzburg till last Wednesday, when we went on to Mooi River Station. We arrived, but our transport did not. We marched out of the station to our camping ground, and there we sat down. It was very cold.  The 13th Hussars and Somersets were in camp before us. Well, we sat and it was very cold and the tents would not come. The men had had nothing to eat since 5.30 a.m., at last their tea was just ready when some ass came galloping up with the news that there was a force of Boers four miles off, 2300 strong, advancing in our direction. Then everybody rushed about, and the company fell in, with rifles and pouches, but no greatcoats or tea. We were led up a great hill in the dark, full of holes and trees, and had to stay on the hill all night. It was soaking wet. At dawn we advanced to try and find the Boers, but not one would show. So after dancing madly round the country we went down to the station, and at last got breakfast.”

Dec. 13.-” Soon after arriving here we had another alarm: that some mounted Boers and two guns were advancing on the camp. We all went up to the high ground. I took up a very strong position with my company, with plenty of huge stones for cover. I saw about twenty or thirty mounted men coming down a hill 1600 yards off, and nearly opened fire on them, but didn’t, as I wasn’t quite certain whether they were Boers. It was very lucky I didn’t, as they turned out to be some Natal Scouts and Volunteer Artillery coming to join forces with us.”

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