Nov. 14th 1901
My dear Pater.
This letter will reach you at the same time as the one I wrote to Mother the other day as I have not been able to send hers off and they will both go together. Long ‘ere this you will of course know that I have left the Police and have joined the Army again – this time as an officer. I have the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and am attached to the Army Service Corps, for Transport duties. After my month’s training at Pretoria I loafed round for a fortnight and then suddenly got orders to take the first train to Bethulie which you will see on the map is a small town on the border, that is the Orange R., between the Cape Colony & the O.R.C. This place is the headquarters of the district of which Gen. C. Knox (the De Wet man) is in command. I arrived there on the 2nd night after leaving Pretoria & reported myself to the general’s Chief Staff Officer. He informed me I was posted as Transport Officer to Copeman’s Column which is part of Thorneycroft’s brigade, which was at that moment operating or rather camping at Zastrou (where I am at present). As there was a convoy belonging to Copeman’s Column in Aliwal North getting supplies – Aliwal N. being the point on the Railway nearest to Zastrou – I was ordered to take the train early next morning to Aliwal N. I did so and arrived there that evening; stayed the night in the best hotel in the place and next morning took over my command ie the convoy. At midday we started trekking for this place and on the third day arrived here. I am now quite used to the work and thoroughly understand the handling of transport – it is not difficult and only wants a little common sense. This place is very dull and monotonous and I shall be extremely glad when we start trekking again. Trekking as a Transport Officer than whom nobody treks more luxuriously, and as a trooper are two very different things. I have a covered wagon (tented) to sleep in at night with bed, table, chair etc inside; two ponies, a Tommy servant and a nigger groom and I am my own Commanding Officer for which I get 2/6 extra a day Command Pay and I have all the powers of a C.O. to punish offenders with imprisonment or fine. I now draw about 17/- per diem with rations, forage, lights etc. I have joined the Yeomanry Officers’ Mess as being more sociable although I could live somewhat cheaper by myself. Up to the present I have not drawn a penny pay but will draw it all in a lump sum when I get to a decent sized town. My work is more responsible than arduous as I have four good Colonial Conductors who do the actual “bossing” of the niggers and they have to report to me. As they are each about twice as old as I am and probably know all about the work I do not interfere with them but draw my own conclusions on everything they do or say and make them give me the reason why. This arrangement suits them and I think it is a much wiser plan than to try and teach them what to do. They work much better.
Although from a monetary point of view I am well off and also from a social, yet I am not content somehow and wish I were settled down in a good civil billet permanently. I shall not enter the Service – this roving about is very fine for a time but I have had enough and I shall be heartily glad when the war is over.
To relieve to monotony we had sports and a smoking concert yesterday, we officers subscribed according to our rank, Major 30/- Lieut. 10/- and gave the men prizes for the different events. The concert was very good as we fixed up a wagon and put a piano on it (looted from Zastrou) and had a huge bonfire fuel being a wagon load of doors, window frames, furniture etc (from Zastrou also).
Only about a mile or so from here is the place where Colonel Murray, Captain Murray and 30 men of Lovat’s Scouts were killed in their sleep one night; the Boers rushing their camp and shooting them in their bivouacs. There is no fear of a similar fate overtaking us; our camp is under the shelter of a huge kopje on which we have very strong picquets and we have barbed wire entanglements all round and over a hundred men go on picquet every night all round; we also have two guns on an eminence trained to sweep the whole plain on the third side of the triangle, two kopjes forming the two sides. The position is impregnable against anything except guns and the Boers have none.
I had a few interesting snapshots of my comrades in Pretoria and myself to send you and was getting them printed when I was ordered away. They will come in time however.
How are all my Asansol friends? give my love to May if you see her. I know Mother won’t. I shall send it myself one of these days directly I get settled.
Good bye with love
2 Lieut J.D.W. Holmes
Copeman’s Column, Thorneycroft’s Force