29th March 1900
My dearest Mother, Father & Sisters.
I hope you have not been unduly anxious about me during the long time I have been away from you all as I can assure you that I am once again beginning to take an interest in life. I am in perfect health and strength and am feeling splendid and the life I lead is just to my taste – in fact I wish for nothing better all my life than to be as I am now. Although any number of the fellows have been ill since they joined and three or four have been invalided, I have never felt sick or sorry since I left India and the voyage did me a world of good. I have sent you a long letter describing all that happened to me from the day I left to the day we entered Cape Town bay, so will now give you a short resumé of the events occurring from that day till now. We were kept in the bay two days and two nights before we were allowed to come up to the jetties as there were so many transports unloading. We came up in the early part of the evening and had to work all night, at least till 2 o’clock, unloading the ship, starting again at 5.30 and keeping on till about 1 o’clock in the day by which time we had got everything off horses included. I was never so tired in all my life. We had to work like slaves! We then had to march here to Maitland Camp where there are at present about fifteen thousand troops of all kinds encamped, including Australians, Canadians + New Zealanders. This is about 5 miles from Cape Town and you can imagine the state we were in when we arrived here and to crown all there was a terrific gale blowing which at times blew so terribly hard that for ten minutes or so one had to stand still with the back to the wind as the sand actually cut into one’s face. Yes our first acquaintance with S. Africa was not by any means pleasant, I can assure you, but after we had pitched our tents and picketed our horses we all lay down and slept. The next day it rained the whole day and half the next day after that but strange to say very few of us felt any the worse for it; for my own part I was as fit as anything although I did not have a square meal the whole of this time. On the fourth day things were put right and we began to make ourselves comfortable again. The weather is delightful, cool all day with a fresh breeze and extremely cold at night. I am awfully happy. The country is a glorious one and I am feeling as I have not felt for years. Of course everything is done very strictly now and we are all armed with ball cartridge at night with orders to fire at any one who refuses to answer the third challenge at night. I have been on sentry-go twice and in fact am at present in the guard room writing this letter. We are very busy, the bugle calling us almost every half hour throughout the day till six in the evening. I have not been out in the town once so hard is it to get a pass. Next to us on one side are encamped the New Zealanders and on the other The Imperial Yeomanry. As regards drill and general turn-out we are much smarter than the Imperial Yeomanry and it has already been discovered that we are a corps of gentlemen, as I saw it in one of the Cape papers.
We were to have started for the front last Monday but it was put off and we expect to go in a day or two. We are going to join Lord Roberts at Bloemfontein. We brought his cook out with us and we have sent him up there in charge of one of our non-commissioned officers who has taken a letter from the Colonel to Roberts asking him to take us up at once. Most of the troops stay here in camp a month or so before they are allowed to go but we expect to stay about ten days at the most. There is a block in the traffic on the line hence the delay. The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (the Corps of English Gentlemen) went up the day before yesterday. I hear they are an utterly useless crowd & most of them medically unfit, but owing to their influence they managed to get up. Of course we have all earned the medal now as we are at the base.
My horse is a little beauty; he has not been either sick or sorry the whole time and is as lively as ever; the dear chap knows me awfully well now and tries to be playful with me just as a dog does; he is as fast as any horse in the troop and as strong (constitutionally I mean). We are encamped just under Table mountain and the scenery is very fine about here. We are taken out every day to practise manoeuvres over a most difficult country; we go at breakneck speed over ruts and ravines and rising ground covered with bushes so that one can’t see a bit where one is going; three quarters of the men then dismount (one quarter remaining behind to hold the horses) and crawl slowly into ambush where they stay & fire into the supposed enemy independently. Of course I am one of the scouts and it will be my work to go ahead of the main body independently to discover where the enemy are and what sort of ground they are in. This is both an honour and an advantage as I think my life is infinitely safer trusted to my own intelligence and resources than to the knowledge and common sense of some of our non-coms who are without a doubt totally unfit both in knowledge and sense to take charge of their men. They have been picked almost altogether through influence; one man a perfect fool and the laughing stock of the corps has just been made a Sergeant because he happened to know the Company Commander.
“B” Company has arrived and disembarked at East London and will most likely join us at Bloemfontein. I am awfully thankful we have not arrived too late for the fighting as we were afraid we should. The only disagreeable part of this camp life is the not being able to bathe regularly. One gets a bath perhaps once in a week and sometimes has to do without a wash for two days. In fact I was not able to wash even my face for four days although I managed to get a splendid bath and a clean change on the fifth. Native washerwomen (Kaffirs) wash our clothes which is better than washing them one’s self. We are fed very well here on shore fresh meat & fresh bread every day also tea coffee sugar and potatoes and jam every other day; far better than on board; besides which there is a dry canteen here where everything in the way of eatables can be obtained on payment. The sun does not seem to affect one a bit as everybody wears the small caps as in England the whole day long. It tans one a deep brick red colour and I am already very much sun burnt.
How are all the Asansol people? Remember me to Mrs Jordan and the others. How is May? and what is she doing?
Rachel must still be with you; give the dear girl my love & tell her to write me. Also dear Grace. And the little ones are they quite well? Is the work bothering the “governor” now or has old H. quieted down a bit. This is the country for you all plenty of room with everything to hand, food and raiment. I shall certainly get something to do here after the war. Good bye with love have to go on guard at once ta ta will write again next week. Good bye
Your loving son