My dearest Mother
I was not able to write you last week as I was on trek but as I am again in a standing camp I am dropping you a letter or rather writing it as Heaven alone knows when I shall be able to send it.
A great change has taken place in my fortunes. I was suddenly ordered away from Pretoria to take the first train to Bethulie. I reached Bethulie (on the border between ORC & Cape Colony) two days afterwards and reported myself. The next morning I took the train to Aliwal North which I reached that night. I was then given charge of all the Transport belonging to Copeman’s Column of Thorneycroft’s Brigade and at midday the next day started on the trek with a large convoy of provisions & stores. It took us three days to reach here the camping place of the column and here I have been ever since. I am Officer Commanding Transport Copeman’s Column and get extra allowances being a C.O. I also have all the powers of a C.O. in punishing, etc and have to do all my own administrative work hold parades, inspections, keep books and send in returns to the A.AST. It is most responsible work and I shrank from having to do it but one never knows one [‘s] capabilities till they are tested and I now find I manage very well. I did hope I should have been sent as a subaltern to some other C.O. a Captain or a Major where I should have had no responsibility, but being one’s own C.O. has its advantages; nobody to give you orders, do as you like, the extra pay, I now draw 17/- a day, besides having a Tommy servant and a native groom, a pony, a tent or wagon to sleep in and rations & forage. I am a member of the Yeomanry Officers mess and it only costs me 2/6 a day. We don’t live badly. We have the Burma M.I. [Mounted Infantry] here 3 Squadrons of Yeomanry and 2 guns, also a couple of doctors with ambulances.
We have a well fortified camp here and we are pretty safe. We are only half a mile from the kopje where 30 of Lovat’s Scouts a Colonel Murray and a Captain Murray were killed about six weeks ago. Their camp was rushed during the night and every man slain in his sleep.
Zastrou is the name of a village close by, but as in all these towns & villages in the O.R.C. (late Free State) there is nobody living all the people having been cleared man woman & child into refugee camps near the large garrison towns. Some of these villages are just the same as they were when the people were moved, fine churches & town halls hotels shops beautifully furnished houses gardens everything but others have been looted by the troops pianos organs and splendid mahogany furniture being broken up for firewood. We all have iron spring beds washstands carpets etc and we have a piano in the Mess on which a Tommy plays every evening while we are at dinner. We try to imagine it is the band. I have an excellent servant a regular soldier from the Army Service Corps. He is quite a young chap and superior to the ordinary Tommy. He does everything for me and I never have to ask for anything, it is always there, of course he makes the nigger do all the fetching & carrying and cleaning up and grooming my pony.
I expect we shall soon be going on the trek again the rumour is to Thabanchu [Thaba Nchu] near Bloemfontein where we (Lumsden’s) had our first fight. I hope not however but should like to go down into the Cape Colony since I cannot be in the Transvaal. I wish I were on the Randt again; Pretoria was too hot and this is not much better. I have been seedy the last two days and was very bad this morning, the first time I suppose for about 15 months. My head swam I felt sick and as weak as a kitten. The doctor has given me some medicine and I feel better now. Will be all right to-morrow. I should never be able to stick India again at least the plains the heat kills me and it is only in the cold I flourish.
How are all the Asansol people? quite well I hope. Give them my kind regards.
2 Lieut J.D.W. Holmes
Your loving son
Give my love to the pater WH