"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess
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Map illustrating the activities of the 1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen in South Africa, 1900.
[From: Chamberlain, M., The Australians in the South African War 1899-1902, Canberra, 1999.]
In 1911, Lieutenant-Colonel P. L. Murray, produced a marvellous Boer War reference detailing all the contingents sent from Australia to South Africa, giving a brief history of the formation and finally, listing all the soldiers who saw service in South Africa with that unit. The book was called, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa. It is now the standard reference and starting place for any person interested in pursuing information about Australian involvement in the Boer War.
Murray, P. L., Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, pp. 555 - 558.
Third (First Tasmanian Imperial) Contingent.
Paid by the Imperial Government; the Tasmanian Government acting as agents. This was a corps, consisting of one Squadron of Imperial Bushmen, of the same character as those already specified. For pay, equipment, qualification for enrolment, etc., see New South Wales Imperial Bushmen. The engagement was for twelve months or the duration of the war. This Contingent gained the unique distinction of having won two Victoria Crosses.
1 Quartermaster Sergeant,
107 rank and file.
Departure and Return
The Contingent left on 26th April, 1900, consisting of - 5 officers, 117 others, with 133 horses. Two officers, 4 others, died or were killed; 2 officers, 20 others were struck off in South Africa; 1 officer, 1 N.C.O. were commissioned in the Imperial Army; 4 officers were promoted from the ranks; 4 officers, 88 others returned.
Lieutenant A. A. Sale, to Captain, February, 1901.
Lieutenant G. G. E. Wylly, VC, received an Imperial Commission.
Lance-Corporal G. A. Douglas received an Imperial Commission.
Trooper J. P. Egan was commissioned in South African Field Force.
Corporal L. S. E. Page, promoted Lieutenant, 6th December, 1900.
Corporal R. L. Williams, promoted Lieutenant, 8th February, 1901.
Sergeant A. Stocker, promoted Lieutenant, 10th April, 1901.
Sergeant H. R. Reynolds, promoted Lieutenant, 12th April, 1901.
Sergeant G. Shaw, promoted Lieutenant in 2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen's Contingent.
Trooper L. H. Laughton, promoted Lieutenant in 2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen's Contingent.
Trooper W. K. Barwise, promoted Lieutenant, "E" Company, 1st Australian Commonwealth Horse.
Sergeant E. W. Stephens, Promoted Lieutenant, "C" Squadron, 8th Australian Commonwealth Horse.
For promotions of N.C.O.'s and men, vide nominal roll.
Embarked at Hobart on the troopship Manhattan on 26th April, 1900; arrived at Beira on 28th May, and proceeded to Durban, arriving on 3rd June. From thence the troops, which included the 4th South Australians and the 4th Western Australians, were sent to Port Elisabeth, where they disembarked on 19th June. These three Contingents formed together the corps known as the 4th Imperial Bushmen, under Lieut: Colonel J. Rowell, of South Australia.
About the middle of June, operations were commenced encircling the Boers who were in the Wittebergen or Brandwater Basin; a mountain stronghold in the North-East Orange River Colony. Rundle, with the VIII. Division, and Brabant, with the South African Colonial Division, were holding the line from the Senekal eastwards to the Basutoland border. Clement. and Paget, on the middle frontier west, were about Lindley, the south-west point of the Boor strong hold. These masses of men either could not live, or were not allowed to live, in the country; hence huge convoys of supplies wets required to be sent from the railway.
On 23rd June a very large convoy left Kroonstadt for General Paget's Force at Lindley. The escort was commanded by Colonel Brookfield, 14th Imperial Yeomanry, and consisted of 200 of that corps, 114 other Yeomanry, 900 Imperial Bushmen (namely, two Squadrons South Australians, one Squadron Western Australian, and one Squadron Tasmanians), 27 of Rimington's Guides, 98 Prince Alfred's Guards, 2 guns 17th Royal Field Artillery, 4 guns City Imperial Volunteer Battery, half-battalion of Yorkshire Light Infantry, and the 3rd East Kent (Buffs) Militia. The Australians were considered as one Regiment, under Colonel Rowell.
On the morning of the 26th June, Theron's scouts suddenly attacked the convoy near Eland's Spruit, but they were driven off. In the afternoon, near Swartz Farm, Piet De Wet attacked. The Australians were ordered to dismount, and advancing with great dash, the enemy was again driven off. On the 27th, the convoy marched 18 miles; the assort being engaged practically all day. Near Lindley, the traction engines stuck in the spruit. The 4th were the rearguard, and were hotly preened by the enemy who endeavoured to cut o$ the Tasmanians forming the rear screen, but the City Imperial Volunteer Battery did good work; and Colonel Brookfield, having sent fresh Squadrons to Colonel Rowan's assistance, he was able to keep the Boots of the convoy.
Next day Lindley was reached. In a despatch to General Kelly-Kenny, commanding in the Orange River Colony, the Chief of the Staff said that Lord Roberts was of opinion that the convoy had been conducted with skill and foresight, that no precautions were neglected, and that the behaviour of the troops was creditable to all ranks. "His Lordship is glad to observe that, besides the regular troops employed, the Militia Battalion, the Corps of Imperial Bushmen, the Imperial Yeomanry and the City Imperial Volunteers, distinguished themselves on this occasion."
Colonel Brookfield and most of his troops now joined General Paget's command. After doing some work about the Bethlehem-Winburg district, they formed part of the escort which took the Boer prisoners from Wittebergen to the railway. On the 14th august, the Contingent entrained for Pretoria; and, on the 18th, they marched past Lord Roberts, who was very complimentary. On the same day they marched out to join General Paget, under whom they were during the next three months, to see hard marching and still fighting. "We were constantly under the fire of the enemy; pretty well every day brought its contribution of experience in the shape of small engagements." (On the Veldt, by Captain R. C. Lewis, Hobart, 1902).
On 20th August, the Contingent was put into the Mounted Brigade of Colonel Hickman, under whom they acted, until he left the Column in December. He almost invariably asked them to act as his advanced guard when he expected to fight the enemy. On the 1st September, 20 men of the Squadron, under Lieutenant G. G. E. Wylly, went out after cattle; they were surrounded and retired with difficulty. Trooper Brown was killed, and Lieutenant Wylly and four others were wounded.
It was on this day that Lieutenant Wylly and Trooper J. H. Bisdee both earned the Victoria Cross. Lieutenant Wylly's conduct was thus officially recorded: "Although wounded, this officer, seeing that one of his men was badly wounded in the leg and that his horse was shot went back to the man's assistance, made him take his (Wylly's) horse, and opened fire from behind a rock to cover the retreat of the others, at the imminent risk of being cut off himself."- (London Gazette, 13th November 1900). Colonel T. E. Hickman. D.S.O., considered that "the gallant conduct of Lieutenant Wylly saved Corporal Brown from being killed or captured; and that his subsequent firing to cover the retreat, was instruments in saving the other men from death or capture." Lieutenant Wylly subsequently obtained a commission in the South Lancashire Regiment, and was wounded on the night of the 7th January, 1901, when the Boers fiercely attacked the posts on the railway about Belfast. He was appointed an aide-de-camp to Lord Kitchener. Bisdee's achievement is recorded as follows:- "On the 1st September, Private Bisdee was one of an advanced scouting party, passing through a rocky defile near Warmbad, Transvaal. The enemy, who were in ambuscade, opened a sudden fire at close range; and six out of the party of eight were hit, including two officers. The home of one of the wounded officers broke away and bolted. Private Bisdee gave the officer his stirrup-leather to help him out of action; but finding that the officer was too badly wounded to go on, he dismounted, placed him on his horse, mounted behind him, and conveyed him out of range. This act was performed under a very hot fire and in a very exposed place." – (London Gazette, 13th November, 1900.)
On 4th November, the South Australians and Western Australians joined Colonel Hickman, and the Regiment was together again. At Rhenoster Kop, 29th, the Tasmanians were escort to the guns. In December, Captain Lewis was invalided with enteric, and the command devolved upon Lieutenant Sale, under whom the Squadron, much reduced in numbers, took a prominent part in the pursuit of De Wet, through and out of Cape Colony. Captain Lewis rejoined before the march to Pietersburg took place. After the town was occupied (8th April, 1901), the Tasmanian being the first to enter, Captain Bale, with a small troop galloped to a ridge beyond ; he was shot by a Boer concealed in the long grass, a few paces to the left; and Lieutenant Walter, going to his assistance was mortally wounded.
On 25th April, Sergeant Stocker gained great distinction for his share in the capture of 35 prisoners. In May, the Squadron operated under General Plumer, through the Eastern Transvaal to Bethel and Piet Retief.
Operations, and Corps or Columns served with, may be summarised thus: Operations Eastern Orange Free State, including actions at Lindley,
Bethlehem, Twin Hills, and Slabbert's Nek, under General Paget.
Present at capture of Prinsloo's laager.
Operations in North-East Transvaal, around Sybrant's Kraal, Warmbad,
Nylstroom, Rhenoster Kop (29th November, 1900), under General Paget. Operations in Western Transvaal, Rustenburg, Scion's River.
Operations in Cape Colony, commencing February, 1901, to check De Wet's raid, under General Plumer.
With General Plumer to Pietersburg, April, 1901.
The Squadron embarked in the transport Britannic at But London on 7th July, 1901, and arrived in Tasmania on 5th August ; having visited on rouse Albany, Adelaide, and Melbourne. Disbanded 14th August.
War Service and Honours.
Lewis, Captain R. C. - Operation east of Orange River Colony North-East Transvaal, Western Transvaal, and Cape Colony, between June, 1900, and June, 1901, including actions at Lindley, Bethlehem, Twin Hills, Slabbert's Nek, Wittebergen, Sybrant's Kraal, Warmbad, Nylstroom, and Rhenoster Kop. Despatches, London Gazette, 16th April, 1901. D.S.O. Queen's Medal with three clasps. Perkins, Lieutenant R.-Operations and actions as stated. Despatches, London Gazette, 16th April, 1901. D.S.O. Queen's Medal with three clasps.
Wylly, Lieutenant G. G. E.-Operation and actions as stated. Despatches, London Gazette, 13th November, 1900. VA. Queen's Medal with three clasps
Safe, Captain A. A.-Operation and actions as stated. Mentioned in Commander-in-Chiefe's Despatches, 8th March, 1901. Killed in action at Pietersburg, 9th April, 1901.
Walter, Lieutenant C. H. - Operation and actions se stated. Killed in action at Pietersburg, 9th April, 1901.
Page, L. S. E., Williams, R. L., Sleeker, A., and Reynolds, H. R. (Lieutenants.) Operations and actions generally as stated. Queen's Medal with three clasps.
Lieuts. Page and Williams returned to South Africa in October, 1901, and were commissioned in the Cape Colony Field Force.
1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen, Nominal Roll Topic: BW - Tas - 1TIB
1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen
In 1911, Lieutenant-Colonel P. L. Murray, produced a marvellous Boer War reference detailing all the contingents sent from Australia to South Africa, giving a brief history of the formation and finally, listing all the soldiers who saw service in South Africa with that unit. The book was called, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa. It is now the standard reference and starting place for any person interested in pursuing information about Australian involvement in the Boer War.
Murray, P. L., Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, pp. 558 - 560.
Note: Each link leads to a photograph of the soldier contained in the:
Boer War, 1899 - 1902, Australian Forces, 1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen Topic: BW - Tas - 1TIB
Boer War, 1899 - 1902
Roll of Honour
1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen
Poppies on the Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial, Canberra
The Roll of Honour contains the names of all the men known to have served at one time with the 1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen and gave their lives in service of Australia, whether as part of the 1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen or another unit during the Boer War.
1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen, Bufton Account, Part 1 Topic: BW - Tas - 1TIB
1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen
Bufton Account, Part 1
Captain Richard Charles LEWIS
The following account is extracted from the book written by John Bufton called, Tasmanians in the Transvaal War, which was printed and published in Launceston in 1905.
John Bufton, Tasmanians in the Transvaal War, Launceston, 1905, pp. 270 – 302.
Chapter X First Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen.
SYNOPSIS MAJOR R. C. LEWIS OFFICERS AND MEN - MORE BUSHMEN WANTED - EXTRACTS FROM "ON THE VELDT" - THE "MANHATTAN" - FREMANTLE AND PERTH - BIERA - PORTUGUESE FLAG INSULTED - PORT ELIZABETH KROONSTAD ESCORTING A CONVOY - THIRST, AND DREAMS OF A BREWERY - BAPTISM OF FIRE - WYLLY AND LITTLE JOHN IN DIFFICULTY - PRINSLOO'S SURRENDER - BISDEE'S DIARY - THE V.C. INCIDENT - SERGEANT STEPHENS' LETTER.
ONE of the most successful of our contingents was put under the command of a young Tasmanian with comparatively small military experience, though of ample military enthusiasm.
Major R. C. Lewis is the second son of the late Neil Lewis, and was born at Hobart in 1862. His elder brother, Sir Elliott Lewis, was Premier of Tasmania during the war. The future Major was educated at the old High School, Hobart, and followed commercial pursuits. He joined the Southern Tasmanian Artillery at the age of 22, and two years later, in 1886, he was promoted Lieutenant, and Captain in 1889. Eleven years later, in 1goo, he was given the command of the First Imperial Bushmen, a squadron of 129 officers and men. These he commanded through their South African experiences. While in hospital the command devolved upon the late Lieutenant Sale (afterwards promoted Captain). He was promoted Major in 1902, and was awarded the D. S. O. The Major received a medal and four clasps.
There had been much disappointment among volunteers when the 52 Tasmanian Bushmen were selected, so great was the desire to go to the front. Consequently, when Mr. Chamberlain signified his willingness to accept and equip a further contingent of 2500 Bushmen from the Commonwealth, there was great joy amongst our Tasmanian youth. This contingent was to be maintained at the Imperial cost, and the various States lost no time in giving effect to the wishes of the Imperial authorities.
"Definite preparations were commenced at Hobart about March 15. " From Major Lewis' valuable little book "On the Veldt, " it appears that 900 men volunteered for places, where only about 116 could be accepted.
The men were selected by the Commandant, assisted by Colonel: Bernard and Colonel Evans. On April 12th Captain Lewis was appointed to the command. The men were camped at New Town, and the general arrangements were in the hands of Colonel Legge, and the Chief Staff Officer, Captain Perceval, up to time of Captain Lewis' appointment.
The other officers appointed were. - Lieutenants-R. Perkins, Bellerive; G. G. Wylly, Hobart. Second Lieutenants-A. A. Sale, St. Leonards; C. H. Walter, Strahan. Quartermaster-Sergeant-P. J. Townley, Bellerive. Troop Sergeant-Major-W. L. Shegog, Launceston. Sergeants-E. W. Stephens, Hobart; G. Shaw, Launceston; W. Cracknell, Zeehan, M. A. Summers, Queenstown; A. W. Nettlefold, Parattah. Farrier-Sergeant-J. Shaw, Deloraine. Corporals-J. Stepnell, Beaconsfield; E. S. Brown, Penguin; L. S. Page, Hobart; H. R. Reynolds, Rosevears; H. J. Lester, Parattah; R. J. Williams, Devonport. Buglers-W. H. Ward, Victoria; C. A. Turner, Hobart. Troopers-G. White, Lottah; J. Dunfield, Forth; W. M'Clelland, Bradshaw's Creek; J. Bisdee, New Town; W. K. Barwise, Sheffield; E. F. Harridine, Queenstown; W. J. Simpson, Strahan; J. Cooper, Gormanston; C. R. Storey, Colebrook; H. Skinner, Huonville; A. T. Bull, Strahan; S. Willoughby, Lymington; L. F. Lette, Scottsdale; A. V. Chester, Stanley; J. Gerrand, Hobart; W. Kenworthy, Waratah; C. W. Westbrook, Launceston; C. A. Jackson, Hobart; W. Lawford; Tasmania; W. P. Wheelan, Burnie; S. R. O'May, Bellerive; W. M'Intosh, Bridley, Burnie; G. H. Brown, Penguin; T. Walton, Huon; H. W. Hamilton, Tasmania; A. M`Quillan, Horsham; J. P. Egan, Tasmania; T. E. Mace, Spring Bay; E. B. Crosby, Hobart; D. W. Bostock, Tasmania; D. Luttrell, Zeehan; W. F. Hodgkinson, Sheffield; A. R. Adams, Zeehan; C. Heyne, Waratah; J. Griffin, Whitefoord Hills; H. G. Itchins, Cressy; E. A. Bellette, Sorell; A. A. M'Leod, Burnie; F. A. Groom, Penguin; W. G. Pilsbury, Moonah; E. J. Rye, Zeehan; N. B. Smith, Hobart; P. Clark, Hobart; L. H. Laughton, New Town; A. Wright, Evandale; A. A. Firth, Kingston; C. Simpson, Beaconsfield; A. F. Litchfield, Zeehan; H. M. Williams, Hobart; G. E. Taylor, Zeehan; W. J. Campbell, Deloraine; F. D'Alton, Queenstown; O. E. Lawrence, Launceston; L. A. Herbert, Cressy; G. A. Douglas, Hobart; R. C. Crawford, Hobart; G. H. Weber, Zeehan; J. W. Whitmore, Beaconsfield; A. M. Brown, New Norfolk; A. E. Viney, Fingal; R. Muckle, Queenstown; H. F. Davis, Deloraine; P. J. Fleming, Queenstown; L. B. Brumby, Cressy; W. L. Eddy, Beaconsfield; E. A. Garrett, Launceston; R. O. Wyatt, Dunorlan; W. J. Dawes, Forth; A. W. Simpson, Queenstown; L. D. Burbury, Oatlands; A. E. Hayes, Forth; P. Keogh, Beaconsfield; L. H. Geeves, Huon; K. Ward, Hobart; W. J. Brewer, Lilydale; M. J. Littlejohn, Launceston; W. A. M'Guire, Stanley; P. M'Laren, Oatlands; W. I. Wadley, Bishopsbourne; L. G. Butcher, Stanley; R. W. Guest, Carrick; R. Green, Waratah; D. Gleeson, Deloraine; L. Hutton, Sheffield; R. J. Humphreys, St. Leonards; A. E. Costello, Sorell; J. Cliff, Queenstown; C. A. Johnstone, Sheffield; W. W. Davis, Blackbrush; W. Berneck, Mount Nicholas; R. Green, Waratah; A. J. Gardiner, St. Helen's; J. R. Shields, Burnie; E. L. Brownell, Moonah; A. Haiz, Queenstown; G. A. Walters, Scottsdale; H. Blackaby, St Leonards; B. T. Ferguson, Hobart; A. Stocker; C. G. King, Huonville r A. A. Johnstone, Deloraine; T. Shore, Launceston.
The Troopship SS "Manhattan” embarking from Hobart
The Bushmen embarked, April 26, in the "Manhattan.” The ship was bound for Beira, and while the Bushmen were in port there, an incident termed "insulting the Portuguese flag" took place. A hawker had come aboard, and one of the troopers tendered him a sovereign in payment for some trifle, but he contended that it was only a shilling, so the troopers helped themselves to his stock to make up the balance of trade, and on his retiring to his boat, pelted him with rotten potatoes. Shortly the injured man came back in a police-boat flying the Portuguese flag, with an official aboard. Him also they pelted, which was certainly an aggravating circumstance. The police officer fumed in Portuguese, and, apart from his evident sense of something dreadful, displayed in his manner, nobody was any the wiser as to the gravity of the complication. Finally, however, the Captain and Colonel Rowell went ashore to appease the irate and injured officials. They were told that the killing of half-a-dozen bumboat men would not have mattered much, but an insult to the flag was a "casus belli.” The matter was finally settled by paying some trifling expenses, and a profound apology being made. And so the ship was permitted to proceed on her way to Durban. Having experienced great delays before setting out, they at length landed at Durban, where they went into camp for a few days, and were then ordered aboard again on the 15th June. They got away next day for Port Elizabeth, landing on the 18th. From Port Elizabeth the Bushmen proceeded by train to Kroonstad. The sameness of the journey was somewhat soothed by the joy of the prospect of going to the front. Lord Roberts had entered Pretoria, and there was a general conviction that the war picnic was over. So it was with considerable delight that the Tasmanians were started inland. The distance from the coast to Kroonstad was 577 miles. Here part of the Regiment, who were ahead of the Tasmanians, annexed some of the horses belonging to the latter. Things were much mixed, and considerable resentment was engendered all fruitless enough in such circumstances. About loo me n of the Regiment were left fuming behind at Kroonstad. Says Major Lewis, "We left Hobart on the 26th April: we moved out of Kroonstad on the 24th June. Thus we have been practically two months in going to the front, men and horses travelling all the time."
They were going out to escort a convoy to Lindley. Their mounts were sadly over-burdened with impedimenta. In addition to men, accoutrements, and ammunition, they were loaded with "blankets, greatcoats, saddle bags, heel-ropes, mess utensils; in fact we looked more like travelling tinkers than anything else under heaven."
They were joined by a battery of four guns of the C. I. V., under Major M'Eacharn. There were 70 each of Tasmanians, W.A.'s, and S.A.'s. The country was the rolling veldt without any kopjes. Here is the position the first night:" Truth to tell our position was not the most comfortable in the world; and again our verdant innocence was to blame. There was not a drop of water to be had in that part of the veldt; and the drink that was not to be had we all very badly wanted. In our haste at getting away in the morning we had come away without water-carts: the fact will furnish crying comment on our greenness to any old campaigner. That kind of foolishness carries its own penalty, and you soon cease to be foolish in any such damaging way... If you want anything in South Africa you must just hustle for it. The regular forces know that, and, as I say, we learned it pretty soon. Meantime we squatted with parched throats, and had various tantalising dreams: we of Hobart, of a great mountain side u here a clear rivulet meanders through the eucalyptus to a very pretty brewery at the bottom. ("On the Veldt").
Next day they had their baptism of fire in a small skirmish with some three hundred Boers. The Tasmanians had the honour of escorting the C.I.V. guns into action; and afterwards Wylly led a small party to drive off some Boers who had crawled round to the right. Soon the Boers retired, and the British - there were some Yorkshires and Munsters with them - advanced upon their position. They found the Boer Commandant dead and two others wounded.
At 6 o'clock next morning they continued their march, and soon heard firing ahead. They were in a country abounding in small streams now, and many of the "drifts" were difficult to cross, especially for the traction engines and trucks. Soon signs of the enemy appeared, but they were unable to stay the advance of the column, as the garrison at Lindley held the hills near by, and co-operated with the escort. A Boer prisoner informed them afterwards that there were about 4000 men attacking the convoy of a little over a thousand. "About noon the boom of a distant gun was taken by the Boers as a signal for a determined artillery attack on the rear and left flank of the convoy. The Boers were making a very savage attack now, and pushing it home determinedly."
The Tasmanians were the rear screen, and in retiring the last time were sped on the way to a bit of cover by a hail of bullets from a range of three hundred yards. "In that short half-mile gallop eight of the Tasmanian horses were either killed or wounded." "On a fair estimate of possibilities, it seemed that we should all be bowled over, but we had yet to learn that rifle fire is really extraordinarily harmless, all things considered."
In this scramble Wylly's horse fell, throwing him heavily, and got away. Lewis, and Reagan, endeavoured to help Wylly, but his ex-hunter was unmanageable, and went with the crowd. Wylly regained his horse by the help of some of the men whose horses had been shot. Trooper Littlejohn's horse fell heavily, pinning his rider to the ground, and Farrier Sergeant Jim Shaw came up dismounted, and extricated him, and "placed him on his own horse, and then with great coolness and judgment, combined with a very smart piece of horsemanship, brought him safely in under that heavy fire." Major Lewis says, this act - one among many similar on the part of others - seems to him to be worthy of special notice. "Trooper Bisdee and Trooper Firth went out to try and bring Lieutenant Wylly in; but they missed him, and got back safely " Major Lewis, reviewing this fight after the campaign was over, writes: "Notwithstanding the mad rush and gallop, the men were perfectly calm and cool, and halted steadily when we took a position to stop the Boer advance." In their next half-mile retirement Trooper Firth, was very badly wounded, and was brought in by Trooper Angus Adams. Major Lewis' charger had received a wound and gradually sank. The Boers retired to laager, and the Tasmanians' first sharp fight was over. Lindley was reached as the bugle was sounding the last post. But as the Boers had shelled the town for six weeks at daybreak, the Tasmanians did not sleep till sunrise, though "dog-tired.”
After a few days' stay at Lindley, the Australians left as advance guard to a convoy at Bethlehem, but for the present the Tasmanians remained behind, and a portion went out to meet a small convoy bringing ammunition, with which was Lieutenant Perkins, having 100 of the I. B. C. , and 30 Tasmanians with him. "We were glad to be all together again.” Here two Tasmanians did a smart piece of work (elsewhere noted) in getting a despatch through to General Clements, ten miles away, during the night.
The Tasmanians picked up the convoy at noon next day. It was a day of small fighting, and several Australians were wounded; including Major Rose of the W.A.'s. "During the afternoon the Boers crept up a mealie field and poured a galling fire into the 38th Battery, being afterwards vet vv smartly dislodged by a party of South Australians and West Australians of the I. B. C. " Nearer Bethlehem General Clements was engaging the Boers. Later he junctioned with the Australians, and a big gun of the Boers had to be located, which was done by a demonstration in force. Next morning at daybreak the Boers sent shells whistling about the convoy. The Yorkshires lost heavily that day in storming the kopje where the gun was. The Tasmanians were now acting as rearguard.
In Bethlehem there were about 15,000 men camped, who had to be fed by convoy. Here Major Lewis met an old High School boy, Bobby Gordon, who was serving with the Gordon Highlanders, with the rank of Captain.
A week was spent about Bethlehem, and on the 13th July they went out to escort a telegraph convoy some fifteen miles in the direction of Lindley. Here Major Lewis had an illustration of the accurate range of the Boers-in many cases previously measured. "On arriving at the ridge I saw a Tommy squatting placidly behind a rock. He squinted up at me and said, ‘Don't look over there; they've got the range.' Of course my curiosity immediately led me to look over, and in very quick time a couple of bullets swished past so close that I could almost feel the wind of them. I dropped down at once, and went a few yards further round. Here the range had not been measured, and I could get my glasses to work with more safety."
Between Bethlehem and Twin Hills a heavy artillery duel took place, it, which the Poet guns had the great advantage of being well masked. The Tasmanians escorted the guns into action. Major Lewis records that in retiring to a better position he saw a Tommy knocked over by a shell. It was the wind from the close-passing shell that did it. "He got up again none the worse, making remarks appropriate from his point of view. This happened 20 yards or so from me; the shell passed, I suppose, four inches or so from Tommy."
The next move of the Tasmanians was to escort an empty convoy to Winberg. They were the only mounted men, and had to do all the scouting. They started with insufficient supplies, and on arriving at Senekal were able to purchase a few stores. Nothing of interest happened till they reached Winberg on Saturday. On Sunday it rained heavily, and on Monday they started on the return with a full convoy, wet and dispirited. No drink could be bought in Winberg, though Colonel Barter offered five pounds per bottle for whiskey. The precious stuff could not be procured. The men, however, got an issue of rum that morning.
On the 28th July they heard guns in the distance. On Monday they arrived at Slabbert's Nek. The Yorkshires and Munsters had forced the passage of the Nek, and had driven the Boers back. In these movements Prinsloo had got surrounded, and had surrendered to General Hunter, with 5000 Boers, the largest capture of the war. Of the prisoners 2500 went away with Clements in the direction of Kroonstad. General Paget had the remaining 2500 to take to Winberg. This surrender was on July 31, 1900. Major Lewis was taken with the Tasmanians to help General Paget with his prisoners into Winberg. On arrival there he got some of the Boer horses. The prisoners were handed over to the garrison for entrainment to Capetown. The Tasmanians then went by train to Smaldul, Elandsfontein, and Pretoria, where they marched past Lord Roberts.
This march past the Commander-in-Chief was one of the most memorable incidents in the experiences of the contingent. There had been some delay in reaching Pretoria, and speedily on arrival a staff-officer informed Major Lewis that they must hurry up, as Lord Roberts was waiting. They were in poor form as regards appearance for such a review, being unwashed, and were well begrimed from travelling in the open trucks of a troop train. They scrambled into shape by the appointed time. "We went 300 yards or so, and then halted for a minute while Lord` Roberts was informed that we were on our way. The great General, accompanied by his wife and daughter, and his staff, came down to the gate of his grounds, and at the word ‘Walk march!' my men were off as one man. The Tasmanians had no reason to fear the rivalry of any troops in South Africa; but their dress and appearance gave unmistakeable evidence that they had been on the veldt. They were not in form for church parade. There was a variety of rig as to, hats and helmets. Where a man had lost one hat he had got another, and among us we had by this time a very odd collection. Some of the men had handkerchiefs tied round their trousers to keep the useful garments together. Then our bridles were defective. In the majority of cases, the spare rein had been converted into a sling for the rifle, as proper slings were never issued to, us. In many ways we were a most discreditable lot of nondescripts."
Major Lewis further remarks: "I took up my position on Lord Roberts's right hand, and saw the men go by. I have reason to be proud of that march; every line perfect. The General questioned me briefly as to the men's health - asking where we had been, and so on. Next he admired the horses, and asked if they were the mounts we had brought out. I said, no: they were nearly all Boer horses. On this he complimented me on the soldierly appearance and steadiness of the men. I took that compliment at its value.
Of my brief interview with Lord Roberts, nothing remains to be recorded. Just as he had been described to us, we found him, a very alert and wiry little man, bearing the marks of his vast responsibility. His manner had in it everything that was admirable; you saw that his gentle courtesy and kindliness were inbred. You have only to see Lord Roberts once in order to understand the wealth of the soldier's affection for him."
In this march past of the Tasmanians the men were followed by the two waggons. After that came the Major's Cape cart, "driven by a black boy who, for the moment, fully believed himself to be the person of most consequence in South Africa."
Passing over several months, the experiences of which are recorded elsewhere, I come to Major Lewis's notice of the "Warmbad affair." "On September 1st 20 of our men, under Lieutenant Wylly, assisted by 20 men of the Army Service Corps, with Captain Brooke in charge, were out after cattle. They got into a tight corner in very difficult country out in the direction in which we Tasmanians had been two or three days previously. The guide of the party, a Hollander named Cooper, was shot through the body and taken prisoner. We got him back nine months after at Pietersburg apparently not much the worse, although he had a pretty rough time. Unfortunately, the losses we sustained did not end with Cooper. Trooper Walker had his horse shot dead under him, was pinned to the ground as the beast fell, and so became a prisoner of the Boers. At the same time, Trooper Jeff Brown was mortally wounded, and his brother, Corporal Brown, sustained severe injuries. Captain Brooke, Lieutenant Wylly, Sergeant Shaw, and Trooper Willoughby were also wounded. Troopers Blackaby and Campbell had their horses shot. Campbell had an extraordinarily narrow escape. A Boer bullet struck him on the bandolier, exploding a cartridge. This served to turn the Boer bullet, and Campbell suffered no hurt. Trooper Clark gave up his horse to Willoughby, and took his own chance on foot with Blackaby. They got safely into camp under cover of the darkness. Meanwhile Trooper Bisdee, of Tasmania-afterwards a Lieutenant of the Fifth Contingent-succeeded in bringing in Captain Brooke under an exceptionally heavy fire. Bisdee's personal risk was extreme, and the act won him his VC. Lieutenant Wylly also gained a VC in that nasty little affair. Wylly was himself wounded, but he stayed in that fire till he got Corporal Brown into a place of safety. Wylly subsequently covered the retreat of the patrol by using his rifle, and was in turn helped out by Trooper Groom, who came back for him. "Groom, one is glad to know, afterwards received the DCM.
"There were sad faces that night around our camp fire, and much speculation as to the hope of seeing some of the missing ones again, but they struggled in one by one. Clark, who had so generously given his horse up, wandered in presently plucking a fowl, which operation he continued while he chatted with his comrades. Clark had stayed around to gather in that bird on the way home, and he ate her with every evidence of satisfaction a little later.
"Trooper Walker was still among the missing, and we scarcely expected to see him again for some time to come, but he appeared as the night wore on. The Boers had stripped him of whatever they considered valuable, and now sent him with a messenger inviting us to send over an ambulance for poor Jeff Brown. We sent the ambulance; but it was stopped half way by a Boer officer, who would not allow it to proceed. As to Brown's fate we were left in uncertainty until we met the guide, Cooper, at Pietersburg in April of the following year. Then we learned that Brown died of his wounds the night of the capture. He was a great favourite, and his loss was deeply regretted by every man of us."
The main events of the First "Tibs" are recorded in Trooper Bisdee's notes which follow, and in letters, so that it is not necessary to make further extracts from Major Lewis's interesting narrative.
"The events which follow I believe you have, and should begin with our arrival and detraining at Kroonstad. The chief item of interest there was the fact that we had to go straight `on trek' to guard a convoy taking supplies to Lindley, although our horses had only just landed after eight weeks' voyage, and four days in the train. The consequence was inevitable, that in a very short time we had practically none of our Tasmanian horses left, and were mounted on Boer ponies captured from Prinsloo's surrender."
Diary continued from June 22, 1900. –
"We eventually arrived at Kroonstad after four days' journey, arriving late at night, and remained in the train until daybreak next morning, when we had to get our tents and baggage out and carry about a quarter of a mile to where our camp was to be pitched. This long gap in the record has been caused by my inability to get another book, and must be filled up in detail by the letters written home, in which I have described everything up to date. [It should be mentioned here that this diary was written for the sake of private and family interest, and the above explanation was not intended for the compiler of this record. I have, however, thought it best to quote it. - J. B.]
"It is now six weeks since we camped at Kroonstad, but we were not allowed to stay there long. Indeed most of the SA's started off the same day to escort a convoy, and we were obliged to boot and saddle up at daybreak on the next day (Sunday), and started away with only a cup of coffee, and rode one mile out of the town, and there halted for about five hours, expecting every minute to be ordered to start, and having had no breakfast we were hungry. There was a great rush for horses, as only half of them had been sent up, and consequently one troop had to remain.
Lieutenant Perkins being unwell, this lot fell to No. 1 troop. My horse did not come up from Port Elizabeth on account of a running at the nose, and several others of the best were kept also. Lieutenant Walter laid me on to a cream pony which was wandering about the lines, and had come from an adjoining camp (Roberts' Light Horse). I secured him, and he has since turned out "trumps," being one of the few that have stood the racket. There are very few of our own horses left now, and what there are wrecks. They had no chance, coming straight from off the ship on to the train, and straight off the train on to a long march. They only get oats when on the march, and sometimes not much of that. There is plenty of grass about here, but it is dried up, and the horses do not care to eat it. As soon as there is a spring they will do well with it. Our chief occupation since our arrival at Kroonstad has been escorting convoys of provisions from the various Government depots to where the troops are stationed, and also empty convoys, thence to the depots and back. Our first convoy was from Kroonstad to Lindley, and turned out the most eventful that we have experienced yet. De Wet was hovering about Lindley, and was determined to stop it. On the third day out we were attacked at the front, our advance guard being fired upon, but not hurt. Our squadron was told off to escort the guns, and we were soon under fire. Almost the first thing that happened was a bullet striking Corporal Stocker's hand just in front of me, and grazing the wrist passed on through the jaw of the next horse, and was cut out of his cheek. This, and the loss of a horse, were the only casualties as far as we were concerned, and there was one SA wounded, and I think a gunner. We soon drove them back, or rather the guns did, for we only looked on and watched on the flank. The CIV infantry did some firing under cover of the guns. The Boers lost four or five men. We were not attacked again until the next day, about midday, when they attacked us in the rear, and made a most determined attack. We were rearguard on this occasion, and got the full brunt of it, being very soon supported by the SA's and WA's. We managed to keep them off, and get our convoy to Lindley safe, but had a very hot time of it on several occasions. Once a shower of bullets hailed all round us as we retired, and Mr. Wylly being missing, Lieutenant Sale and I turned back to see if we could find him, his batman, Firth, following with a spare horse. Wylly, however, had managed to get away all right, although he had a fall, and we got it hot as we galloped back. It is astonishing that we were not perforated. Firth got a bullet through his ribs, and was only just able to get away, and has been away from us ever since, although he soon got over the wound, which, however, was a near thing just touching his heart. We arrived at Lindley on a Monday, as usual, and stopped there several days, escorting the empty waggons back. The remainder of the squadron, except 27, joined us before we left Lindley. Our first experience of fighting was not at all what I expected. One does not see any enemy at all, as a rule, and the artillery does most of it. We generally have to skirmish about, or draw the enemies' fire so as to show their whereabouts. The Tommies get their full share, however, very often marching straight through the firing line. Our first experience of camping out in the open was not at all pleasant, as for the first few days we did a starve, not being up to scouting about for ourselves, and our Quartermaster-Sergeant being new to his work. The frosts, too, were very severe, and the early hours of the morning were by no means warm. It did not take us long, however, to find out how to keep off Jack Frost, and we nearly always have a bit of mealie on hand, and make a fire of cow dung when wood is not available, and manage to do fairly well. We also now have another QMS. who knows his business well.
From Lindley we went on to Bethlehem after the rest of the squadron had joined us, driving the Boers back as we went. There was fighting every day, but we did not get a great deal of it, being chiefly in the rearguard. There were several sharp engagements, and on one occasion our guns were nearly taken owing to the escort being too far away under cover. The CIV, however, averted this, but we lost several gunners. The day before we arrived at Bethlehem we joined a force under General Clements, who proceeded to take the town while we drew the fire elsewhere. All the Australians, with a strong force of Yeomanry and other cavalry, made a detour round the right flank, and got properly shelled, and retired without casualty. It was a splendid sight to see all the horsemen (about 1000) altogether. We remained for about a week at Bethlehem doing little except foraging for wood and tucker, then started off one day to find where the telegraph line had been cut. About Io miles out we were greeted with bullets from a kopje standing out on the plain. The Boers were completely hidden by large stones, and although we shelled and fired at them, we were unable to shift them, and were obliged to return home without having done anything. The next day a larger force went out after them, but the wily Boers expecting this had cleared. After this a general movement was made against the Boers. The first day saw a fair amount of fighting, but with no decisive result. Some of our men were under very heavy shell fire, several shells falling within a few feet of them, but they were quite unharmed. It seemed as if we were specially guarded. The fighting was continued afterwards, and the Boers were eventually surrounded near Friesburg, but we were sent to Wynburg with an empty convoy, and back with a full one under Colonel Barter, and by the time we had returned, the Boers had been given 12 hours in which to surrender, and wisely surrendered, 5200 of them, with 200 waggons and 11 guns. De Wet and Scheepers. however, had cleared as usual. The journey to Wynburg and back was an eventful one. We were chiefly in the advance guard, and in that capacity were often able to secure a little wood, bread, and mealie, which conduces very much to a soldier's well-being on the road. There were farm houses all along the road, and I noticed one especially, Clark's farm, which was beautifully planted out in trees, chiefly gums and wattles, which were in a very flourishing condition, the latter almost bursting with blossom. In this country a few good trees are a welcome change from the everlasting plains.
August 15. - We stayed at Slabbert's Nek until Sunday, 5th, when we again started for Wynburg, this time to help escort the prisoners to the train, whence they were going to Capetown, and thence to Ceylon. They were very quiet all the way, except for singing songs every evening, and sometimes also during the march, so that there was nothing exciting to liven the march, which was as slow as a funeral, following one after the -other in single file on each flank. We arrived at Senekal on Tuesday, and at Wynburg on Thursday, when Stocker and I paid another visit to the widow who supplied eggs and bacon. We found ten others there, and we fairly ate her out. On Tuesday we again set out for Smaldeel, arriving there on Saturday afternoon in a terrible dust-storm, which nearly blinded us. Sunday, however, turned out a beautiful day, and we had a good rest doing mending, etc. Monday, the 13th. - Left Smaldul at about 4 p.m., after waiting about all day since 6 a.m., putting the horses and our stores on the train, which went about 30 miles, and then stopped for the night. Here we found water ready and boiling, which was very welcome, and is a regular institution at the stopping places along the line. Trains do not run at night north of this place yet. An early start was made next morning, after a night spent in being squeezed like sardines in the Quartermaster's tent, and we got very little sleep that night. We arrived at Kroonstad in good time, and stopped there for the rest of the day. From here I forwarded a piece of empty shell to the Cape for transmission home - I wonder if it will ever reach there - and also got a lot of OFS stamps to send home. Kroonstad is in a state of emptiness of everything except army stores, of which there are stacks. No jam, or anything of this description, no matches, and very little sugar. I managed to get a little at 1s per lb. We were transferred to an open truck to sleep and travel in, and the night being warm, it was not at all bad. We started soon after 6 a.m. on Wednesday, and had a lovely day for our open-air travelling, getting a good view of the surrounding country which, however, was of the usual O. F. S. stamp. We arrived, Wednesday, August 15, at the Vaal River just before 6 o'clock, and went on to Elandsfontein, which we reached about 9, and stayed there the night. We camped as usual in the trucks, but at 3 a.m. we were rudely awakened and turned out of ours, as it was the front truck, and was being taken to Krugersdorp, while the rest of the train was bound for Pretoria. We were very nearly taken off in it, leaving the rest of the squadron behind. It is not half so bad sleeping in open trucks as one would imagine, or else we have become hardened to such trifles. We slept well, and were very loath to turn out. It would be different, however, if a cold wind were blowing.
At Elandsfontein one begins to see the effect of the mines, things being in a more up-to-date style. The station is well fitted up, and lighted with electric light all through. At 3. 30, being turned out of our bed, we made some early morning tea, finding some coppers with hot water. The water, however, took some time to boil, and we had to make a rush for the train at last, although it really did not start until after 5 o'clock. This was said to be about 40 miles from Pretoria, although miles are very variable here.
Friday, August 17. -Pretoria-And now we've marched into Pretoria. We arrived here at about 9 a.m., not sorry to be at our journey's end, Pretoria is certainly a beautiful town. People seem to have tried to make up for the bareness of the plains by planting trees all over the town. Pines, gums, and wattles, the latter in bloom, line the streets and gardens. There are also thickets of trees planted in about 5o acre blocks, chiefly gums, planted at about two feet apart. They are apparently nurseries, but unfortunately they have omitted to transplant them, and so they have grown up slender and long (like our lime kiln). I expect some of the Uitlanders are responsible for the trees.
Almost the first person I ran against here was A.H., of the First Contingent. He has fallen into a good billet on account of being a good telegraph operator. He starts with £15 a month, and as soon as he gets under way he will get £20 per month. We were soon lined up from the station, having got everything together, and marched through the town and past Lord Roberts. I fear we did not present a very smart appearance, but what could be expected when we had just finished a four days' journey on open trucks. I, for one, was black. The town, like nearly all the others, is quite empty of luxuries of life, and is just kept going by the army supplies. We camped for a few hours just outside the town, and then started off on horse back to a camp about 3 miles out. We were in the rear with Mr. Wylly, and, unfortunately, missed the others, and wandered about armed until about 8 o'clock at night, and at last camped near where we had started, and the others came back to us all thoroughly tired.
Saturday, August 18, 1900. - All went out skirmishing yesterday looking through houses, etc., several of which were burnt down on account of containing something suspicious. Nothing else occurred until about 3 pm, when we on the right heard shots on the left. It appears that a party of Boers came within range of some of our left hand rear, and they had a bit of a duel. The pom-pom guns, however, soon sent them to the rightabout. To-day we started out from camp at 8 am, expecting a bit of a scrap, and it was not long before we got it. I, unfortunately, am horse holder, having got into a No. 3, but I can hear them hard at it on the hill in front of us, and several Boer shells have come over the hill and lobbed not far from us. We are now N. E. of Pretoria, near the railway to Pietersburg.
Sunday, August 19. - We have been continuing our march about the line. To-day we went out skirmishing to the right, and had a few shots, but nothing much. We are now camped at a place called Waterfall [Waterval ?] where the Boers kept their prisoners. Most elaborate arrangements had been made to prevent escape. The enclosure was fenced with a network of barbed wire, interlaced in a most wonderful way about seven feet high and four feet wide. Electric light was also laid on all over the place, so that there was no darkness to aid an escape. Arriving in camp the first sight that greeted our eyes was the mail. Letters! Letters! Who can realise the value of letters until he has been cut off from all news of home? It is the next best thing to the home-coming itself. I got a very fair proportion, in fact I believe the largest, and read on late into the night, drinking in the news like some one starving with thirst. They were all very interesting, especially R's. and H's. Hope to get letters more regularly now.
Monday, 20th. - Roused out early this morning, 2.30, and made a night march, still following the line. We come into contact every day with the Boers, but they always retire after a few shots. Sometimes they manage to get at us at short ranges, and do some damage, but not often. One of our men (Cooper) was badly wounded to-day. We had a bit of a scrap, but with no casualties, except that my pony ran a nail into his foot, and is very lame. I had to follow the waggon for the rest of the day. We arrived in camp late.
Tuesday, 21st. - We made only a short stage to-day, and, our men being in the right rear, did not get any fighting. I was obliged to follow the waggons again, my horse being very lame. Very steep drifts to cross over Pinto River, or some such name, in which most of the waggons got stuck, and had to be pulled out by a lot of Tommies pulling on two long ropes. This caused some delay, and I took the opportunity to have a good bathe, washing my underclothes at the same time. I was obliged to put them on before dry, having no others with me, but being a very hot day there was no evil result. Got a fine feed for my horse out of a "green stuff" paddock, and also caught two guinea fowl. Camped at Eland's River. I forgot to mention that Baden-Powell, with a lot of Colonial Mounted Troopers, passed us yesterday, but he had no Tasmanians. The Tasmanian Bushmen are somewhere about Zeerust, having had a very bad time of it at Eland's River (not the place where we camped, but further up the river).
Wednesday. - Still following the waggon until midday, when we arrived at a bridge on the line which had been broken down by the Boers (called Pienar's Bridge). Here there was the remains of a fairly large store and hotel, which had been looted by the Boers and thoroughly gutted. Here we heard that all the mounted men had to push forward and join Baden-Powell's column, which is following up the Boers, and expected to press them hard, their horses and cattle having been reported as nearly knocked up. Hearing that, I determined to make a desperate effort, and be in the swim, so borrowed a horse, and with Lette started off in pursuit of our squadron at about 4.30 p.m. We had to go a long way, and fortunately picked up a scout before dark, and he accompanied us to the camp, which we did not reach till very late. He was a most interesting companion, telling us how be did the scouting. He knows every inch of the country, and speaks all the languages perfectly. His work is most exciting at times, and often dangerous. Our men were camped at a place called Warmbad, which is famous for its hot springs, and we revelled in delicious hot baths to our heart's content, and for once in a way became clean. Our squadron arrived just an hour or two too late, B. P. having driven the Boers out of the place and away through the passes, capturing some of their waggons, and releasing a lot of their prisoners.
Thursday, 23rd. -Did nothing much to-day except outpost duty.
Friday. - All mounted men away again after the Boers in hot pursuit. I was not able to get a mount, and my pony was still very lame, so had to remain behind with the waggons, consoled by the thoughts of good baths daily.
1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen Parade at Hobart
Saturday, 25th. - Put in charge of the waggons while here, and having an easy time of it. Splendid bath this morning, and did a good read and some writing. I took my horse for a good feed on some Boer' s greenstuff. Land irrigated about here, and beautiful gardens in consequence. Sublime lime or citron trees, not sure which - wish they were oranges! The latter have all been taken.
Sunday. - Had a quiet day, and followed our morning service as far as possible in the Prayer Book, which makes one feel in touch with those at home. Had a long talk with Quarter-master-Sergeant Williams on things in general and psychology in particular. He has evidently thought a lot about it and on matters of religion. It is pleasant to be able to have a talk with someone who talks sense and not obscenity. [I heartily -concur in the sentiment and in the expression of it. J.B.]
Tuesday, 28th. Our squadron returned last night, and we got orders to inspan and go to meet them, which we did, but had to roam about until after two o'clock before we found a camping place.
Wednesday, August 29. Another lazy day which, however, was full of rumours of De Wet surrendering, and Grober also, and that Steyn had surrendered at Pretoria. These rumours generally bring forth a cheer, but always lacked confirmation, so that we have given up believing them. General Baden-Powell left by train this afternoon on his way home to England. He received an immense ovation as he went away, and told his men that the war was nearly over, and Kruger was expected to surrender within 48 hours. I hope he may, but doubt it. A good alteration was made in the mess arrangements. We were formed into seven messes of 10 to 12 men each to do their own cooking, etc. It will work very well.
Thursday, 30th. –Thirty-six of us went out patrolling the district. We came across over 60 Kaffirs armed with Martinis. They all met at a kraal, and had a great confab with the guide, which was very amusing, and evidently so to them, for there was great hilarity over it. They are going to bring in their rifles, and a lot of cattle and corn. No breakfast until we came in at 4 p.m. Fairly hungry.
Saturday, August 31st. Roused at 3 a.m., and sent out on a wild goose chase. Like the famous Duke of York' s men, we marched up to the top of the hill and marched back again. It appears that some Boers were known to be in a certain house, and we were going to surprise them. Daylight, however, came too soon and spoilt our little game.
Sunday, September 1st. - Warned last night that we should be called at 2 a.m. to repeat the day before's movement, but this was countermanded during the night. I expect Boers were lying in ambush for us. Twenty of us sent on patrol in the afternoon under Captain Brooke and Lieutenant Wylly to secure some cattle. Had a terrible experience, which I shall never forget. We were led through a narrow neck into a veritable death trap. I cannot understand how the officers did not realise the danger. This neck led into a sort of basin with steep rocky hills rising in front. They opened fire on our five advance guardsmen at short range, and then upon all of us, and how we got away at all is most wonderful. As it was we hail four wounded, Wylly slightly, and Sergeant G. Shaw and Willoughby and Corporal Brown rather worse, and J. S. Brown very seriously, and the guide also severely wounded. The two latter fell into the hands of the Boers, and we fear they are in a critical state. The others are being attended to by the ambulance. The bullets came round us as thick as hail, and exploded with loud report as they struck. Captain Brooke was unhorsed.
I gave him mine, running alongside myself, as he also received a slight wound in the leg. Corporal Brown's horse was shot, and Wylly gave him his horse, as he was wounded badly in the foot. Groom then picked up Wylly on his horse, and we rode for our lives. Two men, Clark and Blackaby lost their horses (Clark gave his to Willoughby), but managed to evade the Boers, and arrived in camp late. Walter ' s horse was shot, and he, stopping with J. S. Brown, was captured by the Boers, who let him go to report upon Brown 's case, and send an ambulance in. Altogether it has been a terrible experience, and seems so utterly foolhardy to go into such a place without scouts well out in front and good supports behind. All for the sake of a few cattle!
Monday, September 2nd. - Heard to-day that the Commandant was irate at Walter's being let go, and does not intend to give up the other two, men. Good news in one way, as they would hardly want to keep dying men. Some of our men and the Yorkshire Yeomanry, and all Hickson's Horse went out to-day reconnoitring, and found the Boers in large force, but did not engage them.
Tuesday, 3rd. - Roused at 4 a.m. All available mounted men to turn out. We just reached the General's quarters when the Boers sent us greeting with several shells into the camp, rousing up the lazy ones in double quick time. This is a new experience. They did no damage except kill a bullock for us, which, being "meaty," was promptly skinned for the supply department. The Boers appear to be nearly all round us. We dismounted amongst the scrub for some time, waiting for developments, and about 9 a.m. we were sent down the line to escort the engines and railway men, the line having been torn up, and the telegraph cut about six miles out. The train last night was derailed, engine topsy-turvy. I believe no one was hurt. We arrived on the scene of the accident without opposition, and are now guarding it whilst it is being repaired.
Wednesday, 5th. - Rest to day. Prepared for Boers, but they were kept in check and driven back by our friends, the guns.
Thursday, 6th. – Reveille at 4 a.m. Started patrol round by Bush Kop at 5 a.m., arrived home at about 9.30, and rested for the remainder of the day. Got orders to saddle up and prepare to move camp, bag and baggage at 6 p.m., and started for an all night march.
Friday, 7th. - Marched all last night, with an hour ' s rest at about midnight, and arrived at Pienar's River at 6 a.m. Were glad of a rest for the day. Very hot. Read letters received on Thursday, brought up by Lieutenant Perkins and the rest of the men from Pretoria. They no sooner arrived at Warmbath than they had to return straight back. Burbury and Brown, and all those we left behind at Kroonstad, joined us again. Started again at 5 p.m. for another night march.
Saturday, 8th. - Marched till 1 o'clock this morning, then had a rest for three hours, when we were sent off again patrolling after some Boers supposed to be in the vicinity. Some of our men came across two of them and gave them a hot time, but they got away, leaving bandoliers and meat bag. We stopped most of the afternoon at Saltpan, a large salt factory close by a salt lake, which lay in a deep basin. It looked like a lake frozen over. Started again at 5.30, and marched on to Waterval, which we reached at about midnight, very tired.
Sunday, 9th. - Very glad of a rest to-day. Shifted camp to a cleaner place, and pitched our tents. We scarcely knew ourselves in tents, and in fact the first night slept outside. Too much joy at once may be dangerous. There is a great idea about that this move is the beginning of the end, and that the war is practically over. I hope it may be so.
Monday, 10th. Another day of rest. Had a splendid bathe.
Tuesday, 11th. Reveille at 5 a. m. A party of 20 went out on patrol to burn a house. My pony' s back is inclined to be sore, so stayed in camp. Orders came for a corporal and six men to go with waggon for wood to make a bonfire. No reason given, but it looks like some joyful event to come off. Is it peace? No, it did not mean peace, but only a concert!
S. S. "Waiwera, " November 30, 1900. - Many things have happened since the above was written. I am now on my way home, where I hope to arrive in about a fortnight, but will try to remember what have been our movements in the meantime. After a day or two at Waterval, during which we enjoyed the luxuries of tents, we started on the march again, leaving Brumby in charge of the tents and spare baggage. This time we proceeded N. W. of Pretoria, and in three days arrived at Crocodile or Limpopo River, a fine stream in which we daily had a most delightful bathe, in spite of warnings against crocodiles, one of which was said to have been seen while we were there. The weather, however, being hot, the water could not be resisted. On our way to the Crocodile River we stopped at a native village called Hebron, a most interesting little place-little mud houses, all built in rows, and very neat little walled-in gardens in front of each, with small gaps just large enough for anyone to get in. Some of those yards have very neat designs painted on the walls with a red and white mud. There was also a little church, with a good cabinet organ which I used to go and play, glad to get a little music. The Mission House was close by; but the Missionary, whose sons were fighting with the Boers, had disappeared, leaving his wife and children. There was a Bible in the church in the Kaffir language, which was very peculiar. We also passed another native village (Jericho), but this was not built in streets; although, to my fancy, much more picturesque with the round huts, the thatch roof extending beyond the walls, making a low verandah. I noticed here a man washing a baby while the woman crushed the mealie.
We stayed at Crocodile River for a couple of days, being chiefly occupied in burning houses on account of some Australians having been fired upon in the vicinity. This is a horrible phase of the war, but seems to be necessary, although I should be inclined to think it would exasperate the Boers rather than bring them to their senses. We were then ordered to return to Waterval, but not to stay more than a couple of days. We then marched in open order towards Hammaan' s Kraal, and camped just beyond, meeting with no opposition. On the following day we turned to the right, and scoured the country NE of Pretoria, but without firing a shot. We secured a lot of sheep and cattle, and after a very long march were very glad of a fat lamb for tea, which I had commandeered from the sheep. The following day we again went scouring the country, going north, and drove some Boers before us into the hills, but still no shots were fired, and eventually we returned to a place called Simon's Kraal, or Abraham's Kraal, and stopped there for about ten days while General Paget "parleyed" with Erasmus with a view to getting him to surrender. Some arrangements were come to between them that neither army was to move in certain directions for six days, while the Boers sent delegates to Delagoa Bay to see if Kruger had really cleared out, and if Komati Poort was really in our hands. This move gave them plenty of time to have a rest and then clear out, and, of course, upon Erasmus ' s return he had not any intention of giving in. The time we spent here was very slow, and I did not feel at all well-too listless to do anything. The heat and inaction did not suit me.
Some sports were got up, in which the Tassies came off with flying colours. Captain Lewis won the Steeplechase on Brewer's chestnut (one of the SA horses); Guy Wylly won the tandem, with the captain second. The latter should have won easily, but was pulled off by his leader swerving just at the winning-post. Barwise and Peter Clarke ran first and second in the 100 yards flat race, and J. Hutton, Barwise, and Clarke first, second, and third in the 440 yards. The day's sport, altogether, went off very well.
I was very glad when we got orders to boot and saddle and proceed on the march again. We went from here to a place called Rhenoster Kop, a most picturesque little settlement, with the country around somewhat broken to relieve the monotony, and apparently very fertile. Here we stayed for two days, sending out the usual patrol parties to be fired on by Boers in ambush. On one occasion two of our men were wounded - Fleming and Smith. The latter was caught by the Boers while watering his horse. After they had slightly wounded him in the arm, firing at him at close quarters, they robbed and buffeted him and let him go. His nerves have since been quite upset. From thence we proceeded to within six miles of Pretoria, halting for one night at a most dismal place on our way. We did not arrive there until dark, and it was almost impossible to find wood or water. However, we weathered this, and were very glad to camp again next day in good time.
All this time we had been under Colonel Hickman, with the 49th Yeomanry, with General Paget in command, who had also Plumer's column - chiefly Australians and South African colonials-under him. We often wished that we were under Plumer instead of Hickman. General Paget had also with him on foot the Munster Fusiliers, a splendid regiment, who had to be carted about in mealie waggons, as we were a flying squadron, and went too fast for infantry. During the last march I got a nasty shaking up. Wishing to give my pony a spell, I rode an Argentine which was not being used. The brute fell into the first hole he came across, and rolled over me, and then galloped with my foot in the stirrup and head on the ground between his legs. He was kicking about in all directions, but fortunately missed me, and plenty of help was at hand to lift me up and extricate my foot. It was a very nasty experience, and I felt the effects of it for some days. Having arrived near Pretoria, I rested a day. The captain got orders to march again, but I was such a wreck by this time that he sent me, together with several wounded or lame men, viz., Burbury, Smith, and Garrett, to Pretoria to go out and stop at Waterval with Brumby and Joe Lester until they should come back there. On the way to Pretoria we passed the First Tasmanian Contingent's camp, and called in to see them. I soon found the two Chalmers, who looked very well, and had some "afternoon tea" with them, which was most acceptable. I also looked up the two Collins, and had a chat with them. Lord Roberts was coming out to them on the following day to try and get them to stay on a bit longer, their time being up; but they are all too eager to get home, and thought they had done their share. I little thought I should be following them up so closely. We got to Pretoria in good time, and sent our horses back by some of the men who were in town, and then managed to get a bit of tea, and laid our weary limbs on the hard metal at the railway station and slept well, no train going to Watenval before 5 o'clock next morning. Smith, Burbury, and Garrett went by this, but I stayed to help Groom, who was to get some goods from the Army Store and take to Waterval. He and I roamed about the town all the morning, getting a good breakfast for 2s 6d, and then set to work at what turned out to be a fairly big job, as we had to pack all the things in boxes and get them ready for the train next day. We eventually got to Waterval safely with all our things. Here we proceeded to make ourselves comfortable in a tent; but the next day, having a bad cough on my chest, I went to see the doctor, who promptly sent me-back to Pretoria, and I was soon installed in No. 2 Model School Hospital. Here I remained in bed for nearly three weeks, most of the time on milk diet, and I became a skeleton. However, everyone was most kind, especially the Sister, and I was quite sorry to leave when the doctor suddenly announced to me that I was to be sent down to the Cape, en route for England. He had previously told me that I should not be able to join active service again, and that I should be sent home, and at first I really did not know which I would rather do, but came to the conclusion that it would never do to miss a chance of going to England like this. On arrival at the Cape, however, I found there was no intention of sending any of us to England, or, in fact, anywhere just at once. The hospital officials there pay no heed whatever to the recommendations from Pretoria, and one of our men (Taylor), who is with us now, did not in the least wish to come out here, as all his people are in England. We are hoping to be sent home in May.
Our journey down in the train took us nearly six days owing to delays on the way. We were fortunate in not being attacked by the Boers, as they had been very active along the line of late, and we quite expected to have to stand to arms at any time. Of course there were no arms, as it was purely a hospital train, and so should be free from attack at any time, but there is no trusting some of these Boers. We were all well looked after on the way down, and the tea we got was excellent-the best I have tasted since leaving home. Everywhere else it has been horrid, with the exception of some I made from tea and milk sent by E. The scenery on the way down was varied. The plains on the ORC. were looking very pretty and green a great change from when I last saw them; but further south they still kept the same brown look, having evidently not got the rain which they had in the north. The northern part of Cape Colony was very barren and useless-looking country, and remained so until we came through the mountain passes, which were lovely. The mountains rose on each side of the line in a most precipitous manner to the height of about 3000 ft., and the sight was a glorious one, as we passed for miles through a regular gorge. After passing these the country gradually improved in appearance, until about zoo miles or so from the Cape we saw cultivated fields, with crops already cut, waiting to be carted in. They seemed to be very fair crops.
We arrived at Salt River in the evening, and were sent back to Wynburg, where we spent the night in the train, and in the morning were hurried off to the Wynburg Hospital, which was nicely situated in a sort of park, with a beautiful avenue of tremendous gum trees leading to it. The only patient from No. 2 Model School Hospital who came down with me was an English Artilleryman named Cross, who had been in the hospital just three days longer than I with rheumatic fever. The poor fellow's agonies at first were dreadful to behold, but he mended wonderfully quickly, and was out of bed before I was. I did not expect to be in bed long, but it seems that besides the cold which had got on my lungs I had a fever, which kept my temperature going up and down in a most wonderful way, and also kept me in bed. I always thought that three weeks in bed would be a terrible thing, but I felt the third and fourth day more than any, and after that I got quite used to it. This man Cross and I became quite chummy, and made all sorts of arrangements as to what we would do in England; but we were divided at Wynburg, all Australians being sent to Woodstock, near Capetown, and we are not likely to meet again as things have turned out.
At Woodstock we soon found that we might have to wait for weeks before getting away. We were fairly well looked after, especially myself, as I was still looking very thin, and had all sorts of extras. We had a splendid lot of men in our ward. I especially admired a Canadian Sergeant, who had a great stock of "yarns,” and kept us alive with his stories. I met at Woodstock two of our men who had been sent down some time before-Taylor and Corp. Brown, the latter having been wounded in the ambush at Warmbad, but has quite recovered now. He rushed into my ward-room one evening in great excitement, and pointed out to me a paragraph in the "Cape Argus"-
"A GALLANT BUSHMAN.
"The V. C. has been awarded to Private Bisdee, of the Tasmanian Bushmen, for rescuing officers at Warmbath."
[Lieutenant Bisdee did not intend this entry for publication; but my apology to him for using it, and his observations thereon, is that fame must endure its penalty, and it would be a wrong to my readers to deprive them of one of the most interesting items in this whole history. - J.B.]
I was utterly dumbfounded, and could not believe my eyes, but there it was sure enough, and I can scarcely realise yet what it means. I knew, of course, that Captain Brooke had recommended me to General Paget, but I only expected to be mentioned in despatches. I could not sleep for thinking of it. What excitement it will cause at home ! I shall be almost afraid to land, but I expect all enthusiasm will have been exhausted on the arrival of the First Contingent a few days before. I hope I shall not have to make any speeches. [You just will, then. ]
On Sunday, November 18, all Tasmanians and New Zealanders were ordered to get their kits and be ready to start on Monday by the “Waiwera," which was due that day. So we considered ourselves fortunate, but she did not arrive then, nor yet on Tuesday until late at night. I got leave to go into Capetown on Tuesday to get something I wanted, such as deck shoes, etc. Capetown is not a bad city for the capital, but the streets are very narrow and crowded. Nearly everything is very dear; but, nevertheless, we got as much lunch as we could eat for 9d, which was certainly not expensive. The place is crowded with refugees from Johannesburg, who are very anxious to get back, and also with immigrants from everywhere, especially Australia, who want to get up to the mines, but will have to wait some time yet.
Monday, December 3. We all got on board on Wednesday afternoon, and started at 6 p. m. The "Waiwera" is not a very large boat, but is a splendid sea boat, as steady as possible; so much so that I have never yet missed a meal ! I was only sick once. To-day she is pitching more than she has all through, and f confess to a rather uncomfortable feeling. We were all lined up to-day, and asked if there was anything we wanted in the shape of money, etc. , as the paymaster was on board; but when reminded that it was usual for each man to receive a gratuity of (5 upon leaving they acknowledged that, but said that they had no money to pay it on board! I wonder why the paymaster was there? Each of the hospital patients received an Absent-Minded Beggar parcel, which was very acceptable, containing a suit of pyjamas, a shirt, vest and pants, handkerchief and cap, and pair of socks. We were then escorted to the steerage, and shown our cabins. The cabin accommodation seemed to be rather close, but has turned out very fair -a Paradise to what we had on the "Manhattan" - but that was an inferno. The food is also very fair, and the passengers a much better class than I expected; in fact, there are many ladies and gentlemen who were unable to go first class on account of its being full, This is not a passenger boat, and has only seven or eight first-class berths, and all the rest are steerage. Taylor and I enquired if we could not pay the difference and go first; but, as mentioned, it was full. So far we have had very good weather, and have averaged 28o knots. The last day or two, we had a strong wind behind us, which drove us along well, and raised a tremendous sea, which, however, did not seem to affect the boat much, and was a magnificent sight. Such waves, curling over with splendid crests of spray! We have now a strong head wind, which is quite a different matter, and she is rolling and pitching a good deal, so will finish up for the present.
S. S. "Waiwera,” Monday, December 10. - We are now getting nearer home, and expect to arrive on Wednesday. We have so far had a very smooth passage, as far as the pitching and rolling is concerned, but most unpleasant weather all the same, always cold and rainy. We have been fortunate, however, in seeing several icebergs, which looked very majestic and grand, but would have been more so if the sun had shone upon them. The most noteworthy thing that has happened to me is the breaking of my Swan Fountain pen, which has been a great friend all through the campaign. It is a most unfortunate occurrence.
We have a very good lot of passengers on the whole, especially for the steerage, many ladies and gentlemen amongst them. The "khaki" members of the passengers are mostly first-class men, but there are a few from each who make fools of themselves, and keep other people awake at nights. It is a favourite pastime of this set to throw empty tins about the saloon by way of music. There are two newly-married couples and one young lady, who, I believe, is coming out to be married, and stacks of children, who kick up a great row at times, but, on the whole, are very good; and one very large family of Poles, mostly very pretty children.
Our chief amusements are reading, for which I procured some of Dickens's and Thackeray's works, and also Kingsley's "Yeast" and "Hypatia," and Mrs. H. Ward's "Marcella;" whist, chess, deck billiards, and glee-singing in the evening. I find the books I got more than enough to keep me going. Most of them required a good deal of reading. Some sports were also got up, and have not yet been quite finished. A tug-of war between the military "invalids" and civilians was won easily by the former, who ran away with their opponents. Cock-fighting, pillow-fighting, and potato races, egg and spoon, etc, etc, were all run yesterday. Every Sunday a Mr. Heyn, from the first saloon, reads the service, which consists of the prayers and hymns, as he does not rise to a sermon. We have some very fair songsters, but no stars. The Mr. Heyn mentioned above is coming out to inspect a large order from the Admiralty for blue gum piles, which a firm in Tasmania has undertaken. He says that if this contract is satisfactory there is a very large business to be done with the Admiralty. So I hope that the timber merchants in Hobart will rise to the occasion and only offer the best timber.
Sunday, March 10, 1901. I have now been home just three months, and feel as if I had never been away, except for a sort of dream. We arrived at about 3.30 on Wednesday, December 12. The passage up the river was most delightful, more especially to us who were returning home. The geraniums at Lower Sandy Bay were the admiration of everyone. One could imagine that we had been away for five or six years by the eagerness with which we recognised various places. As Hobart drew in sight we looked to see if anyone was on the wharf to meet us; but Mr. Richardson (Commissioner of Police) came on board with the harbourmaster to see if his son was with us, and informed us that no one had any idea that we were coming. Young Richardson was on board, and told his father who the rest of us were. He told us the glad news of Guy Wylly's having also got the VC, at which I was more than delighted, and we also heard how the First Contingent had just arrived about four days before us, and what a great reception they got. I was rather relieved to hear that we were not expected, as I did not quite know what was going to happen.
As we came alongside a small knot of people gathered to see who was there. Among them were Jimmy Counsel, Alfred Holmwood, and young Crosby, and I was soon recognised, and found myself the centre of observation. Those on the wharf gave three cheers, and I was urged to make a speech. I did not, however, rise to the occasion, and, fortunately, we soon had to bundle off with our luggage. When we got off everyone wanted to shake hands at once, and I began to feel uncommonly glad that there were not more people there.
We were then lined up and marched to the Town Hall, leaving our baggage to the mercy of a parcel delivery van, and when I got mine again it was minus some beautiful ostrich feathers and deck shoes which I had got at the Cape. In the Town Hall we were entertained with light refreshments and a welcome from the Mayor, and, to my horror, I was asked to return thanks. This was the beginning of my troubles! I got up and said something-goodness knows what! I was not sorry when it was cut short by the order to line up again and proceed to the Coffee Palace. I was not, however, to be let off thus lightly, as the news had spread over Hobart, and a crowd had collected in front of the Town Hall, and as soon as I came out more cheering started, and, of course, this time there was no getting out of it; so I had to stand up on the steps and harangue the multitude. It is a most queer sensation to find oneself suddenly famous, and I must own to an uncanny sort of feeling when I saw everyone eyeing me, and a lot of inquisitive individuals following me everywhere. [They did the same, my dear fellow, with Scipio Africanus at Rome.]
I met several relatives and people I knew, who were very astounded to see me. Mr and Miss EL I found looking for me at the Coffee Palace, and I at once took refuge at "Ellerslie," after having seen a number of those who had returned of our contingent at the Coffee Palace. Needless to say, I received a most hearty welcome on all hands. E. and B. and L. and Z. had been in town to see the First Contingent arrive, and had just returned home. The two first immediately came back and met me at Ashfield. The other returned men were taken to the theatre on Wednesday night, and saw a biograph representation of scenes at the war. I stopped in town all Thursday to see Colonel Legge, and get through any other departmental business, and went off home by the 10.30 train on Friday, E. and B. going with me.
We here take our leave of the gallant trooper with a keen sense of the truth of the maxim that bravery is always modest. These notes, especially those written after his return, were intended to complete a private record for family reference; yet, considering the distinguished honour which he brought to Tasmania, there is no word that suggests an undue estimate thereof, or that renders them unsuitable for publication, My readers will, I am sure, be delighted to read something of our hero's sensations under a sudden exposure to the light and huzzas of fame. When I begged to be allowed a free hand with his diaries he very modestly expressed his "alarm" at the use I proposed to make of them.
Edward Williams STEPHENS
EXTRACTS FROM A LETTER
Received from Sergeant E. W. Stephens, of the First Tasmanian Imperial Contingent.
"Rhenoster, December 2, 1901. - Hobart is probably reading to-day the news of a big engagement we (Paget's Brigade) have just had here. I fancy it will be called the Battle of Rietfontein. Soon after the date of my last letter we came through Pretoria to the east, and joined the Fourth Regiment again; that is, the South and West Australians, with whom we came out. We had been out here before, through Sybrand's Kraal, and on to Rhenoster. This time we met Erasmus and Viljoen close to Sybrand's, and have had three days' hard fighting, finishing up with a desperate "go.” We left camp at 2 a.m. on Friday, and had a long slope clear of trees to mount, and over the top into the Rietfontein Valley, which is also clear of trees, but full of rocky knolls and small kopjes. We got a few stray shots from the Boer 9lb. gun as we were going up the rise, and then there was a lull. We dismounted about 400 yards from the top of the hill, and advanced on foot, and when we got on to the sky line - whiz! bang! - we did get it hot. We all had to drop down flat, and there we were for fourteen hours, firing and getting fired at. If you raised your head you would get a volley into you. The Boers had a Maxim, which they turned on the West Riding Tommies, and cut them down wholesale, killing their Colonel. The Boers had a grand position behind these rocks at 200 yards distance, and we could not shift them until late at night. We retired a few hundred yards at dusk to get something to eat and drink, and then out again, and were hard at work digging trenches until 3 o'clock next morning. However, at daylight we found the enemy had retired into the valley. We have been having a bit of sniping since Friday, but nothing to speak of. Our casualties on Friday numbered about 100, and 25 killed among them. Out of that number New Zealand 6, South Australians (lying alongside of us) 2, Queensland 1, Victoria 1.
So you see our luck was in again. Most of the fatalities were caused by the fellows getting up to see better where the Boers were, which was foolhardy under the circumstances. The Boers certainly made a fine stand against our fire, which must have been deadly at times, as we picked up and buried 30 of them. Letters seem to come all right now, as the postal authorities know our whereabouts better than they did. I got ten letters and various papers. I am fairly well, though a bit run down. "
Our War Letters, Town and Country Journal, 23 December 1899 Topic: BW - Boer War
Our War Letters
The Town and Country Journal, 23 December 1899
The Imperial Light Horse detachment that fought at Elands Laagte.
[From: The Town and Country Journal, 23 December 1899, p. 21.]
The following piece is an extract from The Town and Country Journal, 23 December 1899, pp. 21 - 22.
OUR WAR LETTERS.
(FROM "'TOWN AND COUNTRY JOURNAL" SPECIAL ARTIST AND WAR CORRESPONDENT. )
LIFE AT THE FRONT.
NATAL'S NARROW ESCAPE.
BOER WOMEN SPIES.
ESTCOURT, November 10. - After seventeen days of weary waiting, in absolute ignorance of the happenings In South Africa, we are at last at Durban - picturesque, easy-going Durban, with its semi-Oriental population, its rickshas, and its debilitating fever-laden heat. Not alongside, though, for all the wharfage accommodation is required for her Majesty's service, and nothing so commonplace as a merchantman or a mere passenger ship can obtain a berth for love or money.
In vain did our genial captain implore, cajole, fume, and storm in turn. Even the promise to evacuate the berth the moment it should be required by the Imperial authorities availed him nothing, for Durban is in the hands of naval and military potentates, and martial law is as immutable as the law of the Medes and Persians. It is no game of bluff this time. Riding at anchor, the Terrible, the Forte, the Thetis, and the Spartan, (the latter converted into a hospital ship) are pitching lazily in the open roadstead about a mile distant, and almost abreast of the Bluff lighthouse, their pennants streaming, and the good old flags flapping lazily astern. Plying to and from Capetown are others of H. M. ships conveying wounded and prisoners, and stores and forage for the troops that are sadly needed, and will arrive when that tardy machine - the British War Office - commences to work in earnest. We signal for a tug, but the ball is up at the semaphore at the Bluff, and our flags seem likely to blow to shreds before our request is complied with.
At last, after two hours' pitching and plunging, the Natal, a well-found Government tug, is seen crossing the bar, over which the white-crested breakers are tumbling in the sunlight. It is alongside, and we are dumped overboard in the basket that takes ten at a trip, and will comfortably hold about half that number. Her head is turned away from the good ship Wilcannia, which has carried us so comfortably, albeit so slowly, from Australia.
A ringing cheer for the captain and officers, and the few passengers left to continue the journey and we steam shorewards. "'Got to wait for the call," snaps the Natal's skipper when we mildly suggest that we are not on a yachting cruise – and wait for a call it is, the little craft gaily bobbing about the while off the Bluff like a bladder in an artesian bore. At last the call drops, and making a graceful curve to the south'ard, we run straight for the narrow opening between the wooden break-waters. A squish, a plunge, and an equilibrium-destroying bump, and we are inside and moored in a twinkling. After the elements, we have to settle with the Customs. Firearms have to be registered and stamped, cameras, saddles, etc., passed and paid for. Then hey for a gliding, exquisitely comfortable ricksha, and a cool, fresh shower before a tardy lunch. At the port are more signs of the despotic reign of the War Minister. Kaffir boys are howling and croning over iron-bound cases of ammunition, blue jackets are superintending the transit of stores, and everywhere, blended with the gay colouring of native dress, the horned and bewinged - ricksha "boys" and the white turbaned coolies, is seen the quiet-toned, business-like khaki uniforms of officers and men shouting orders and hurrying to and fro.
Thanks to that confounded call, we just missed a eight worth seeing, the significance of which will strike everyone, An hour before .we landed a company of 250 gunners and bluejackets from the battleships had rattled through the town, accompanied by no fewer than 35 guns, 18, 12-pounders, four 4.7 in 46-founders, one 9-pounder; one 9 pounder, two Nordenfeldts, and nine Maxims. There were four bullock - wagons with big guns and ammunition, and one waggon with the carriage of the biggest gun, which was carried in a trolley. These were followed by 13 trolleys of ammunition, with a gun trailing behind. The procession extended fully a mile, and marched to the inspiriting strains of the band from H.M.S. Terrible, which was stationed at the Town Hall. The guns were mounted on the hills at Berea, the fashionable suburb, and along the way to Umbilo, while others were sent by rail to Umgeni. In fact, Captain Scott, of the Terrible, who has succeeded Colonel Bethune as commandant of the port, has made arrangements to command the whole line from Tugela Drift downwards, a this would be the probable route of raiding Boers.
That the occupation of Natal was the enemy's original intention they now make no secret of. And had they started hostilities about a week before they did they would have done it. It was a fine strategic move, it would have carried the brunt of the fighting beyond their own territory, and to have dislodged them we should have been compelled to destroy Maritzburg. That they did not do so was no fault of ours.
On arrival at the hotel we received the first authentic account of the fighting that had taken place while we were on the water - how there had been some very hard fighting; how two whole British regiments had disappeared; how the force 22,000 had been driven from Glencoe, leaving numbers of horses and enough provisions for 20,000 men for months; and how the Gordons and the Imperial Light Horse wiped out Majuba at Elands Laagte; all of which, of course, you know.
Owing to she very strict censorship of all press messages, the people of Durban were perhaps kept in more complete ignorance of the details of the fighting than were the people in Australia. For every press message was subjected to the closest scrutiny, and even letters were opened if it were suspected that they contained details of the war. No cypher code was allowed to be used across the Natal telegraph lines, and even code addresses were prohibited. Everything was absolutely under Control of the military.
Natives were all expected to be out of the streets by 9, when all the public houses closed, and any European out after 11 who could not give a satisfactory account of himself got into serious trouble. The inspired cable messages were of the most meagre description, and the authorities were absolutely dumb. One thing, however, was certain. The Boers had completely surrounded Ladysmith, and had cut White's force off completely.
The nearest point to the fighting it was possible to get at present was Estcourt, and to Estcourt, as fast an the train would carry me, I accordingly went. Here was stationed a force of about 3,000 men, eagerly awaiting reinforcements to relieve Ladysmith, and General Gatacre was expected in about four days. Everything was quiet when I arrived, but shortly after a prolonged cannonading could be heard further up the line.
The voice of "Long Tom" could be distinctly heard, answered by the deeper boom of the 54-pounder from the Powerful, which, after fruitless attempts to mount it on sleepers, had at last been accommodated with a concrete bed. The firing was continuous for some hours, and it was estimated that a big artillery duel bard been fought.
A somewhat startling development was reported to have occurred the other day. A young lady, a, leader of fashion, in Maritzburg, and the daughter of a Boer millionaire, was said to have been arrested with dispatches for the enemy concealed about her. And it is whispered that during the season several Boer ladies had held open house in the Natal capital, which is a favourite holiday resort for the burghers, and had pumped our gallant officers to their hearts' content. This, however, is mere rumour. It is anticipated that little will be done before General Gatacre arrives, when one of the bloodiest battles ever seen in Africa will probably take place.
(Evidently at the last General Buller decided to go to Natal himself, instead of sending General Gatacre. Ed.)
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Horse Studies Centre would be happy to hear from copyright owners at any time to discuss usage of this item.