The Boer War – letters from South Africa sent to The Radleian magazine. No. 5

extracts of letters from the front published on 28th July 1900

“After four weeks’ inactivity the welcome order came to move camp. This we did eastward ten miles to a very large isolated kopje called Krantzkraal. Here we stayed a week, forming a portion of a vast line of outposts, with Karee on our left flank, and Thaba Nchu on our right. Whilst at this place we built a road for guns up the hill, and really made quite a good one. When we got to the place you could not ride up on horseback, so you can imagine it was a steepish place.

Then on the 30th of April we commenced a march which I certainly think will stand in military annals as a great feat of endurance on the part of the British private. Leaving Krantzkraal on the morning of the 30th April, we reached Kroonstadt on the 12th of May, halting three days out of that period, which gave us an average of nearly sixteen miles a day.

During that fortnight we were engaged three times, at Brandfort, Vet River, and Zand River … It is said that the Boers expected that we would cross the river at the Zand River railway bridge, which was about the left hand end of the field of operations, and accordingly had massed their troops and guns there. However, we crossed by a little-used drift some four miles further to the East, and our guns were over the drift before the Boers had the range of it with their hastily shifted guns. The fight then proceeded as usual; heavy shell-fire, and then our infantry advanced with flanking cavalry and M. 1. The position was taken about 4 p.m., and very cheaply too, as the Boers were present in great numbers (7,000) and the position was undeniably strong.

After that we all pushed on to Kroonstadt, where we expected a big fight, which did not come off, the Boers declining to wait even for French beyond a slight skirmish or two. It was Saturday afternoon, May 12th, when we reached Kroonstadt … On our approach His Honour President Steyn removed himself and the constitution east to Lindley, out of which he was bundled later on. I should imagine that so much rapid travelling will soon destroy so delicate a constitution. Kroonstadt, as the second largest town in the Free State, was a disappointment. No public buildings of any size or beauty, few good shops, and dirty ill-paved streets totally unlighted. There is only one good hotel, at which I saw rather an interesting visitors’ book. Almost one of the last signatures was that of Michael Davitt, ex-M.P … We all expected we should get a halt for a few days here, but late the same night as we had crossed, a message came round from Lord Roberts in which he said he meant to reach Johannesburg (85 miles) in two marches to save the town, and that he was sure his troops would back him up. It was done, though I never expected the men would stick it out so well as they did. I assure you without exaggeration, in my Company alone five men were practically walking on their bare feet. I remember being awfully pleased with one chap because I told him he might ride in a wagon, and he told me he would rather do the march, so that he might be able to say he was as good as the rest afterwards … Next day our brigade cleared the hills north of the town of a few snipers, and the day after both divisions marched through the town past Lord Roberts, which took Bome six hours. I believe our regiment was the only one that cheered “Bobs” as he went by; they were real good cheers, not made to order, but a genuine tribute of affection and enthusiasm for the splendid little man; the one man in the army beloved and trusted by us all from highest to lowest… Nearly all the shops were closed, barricaded up with corrugated iron, also the banks and public offices; some of the buildings are splendid, and the streets are well paved and laid out: but the town has a kind of half-baked look, which I suppose is natural for such a mushroom. Tin shanties are dumped down besides buildings such as you see in our biggest towns: and the smartly dressed clerk jostles the seedy-looking farmer on the pavement.”

<<<letter no. 4 >>>  <<< letter no. 6 >>>