Letter 5

Camp Kroonstadt

17th May 1900


My dearest Mother, Dad and Sisters

I am afraid you must be anxious about me again as I have not written to you for some time, but if you have been following our movements in the papers you will see that we have been on the march now for about 16 or 17 days and have consequently had no time to write letters. In my last I think I told you about a few of the hardships we had had to undergo, but prior to my letter we had luxurious times compared with what we have had he last 17 days. When we left Speytfontein [Spytfontein – Ed.] our last camp the enemy were all round and about 9 miles away they held a town called Brantford. Lord Roberts sent a column to attack it while we were with a column sent to head off Boer reinforcements. Lumsden’s Horse were in a very warm corner and we lost 5 killed including the second in command and Major Showers, 7 wounded taken prisoners and 7 wounded brought in. I am sorry to say I was in the Mumps Hospital and my horse was lent to someone else. However in the second fight about three days after the fall of Brantford I was in the thick of it and had Boer shells falling all round me, although our section never came under rifle fire: that day we drove them from koppie to koppie and we could see them running away as hard as ever they could. We were in the saddle from 5 in the morning, or rather on the move as we always fight on foot till about 9 at night without anything to eat except a biscuit. The next day we rested and the day after we set out again on the march doing 25 miles a day to try and cut the enemy off. Of course after a few days of this both men & horses got knocked up and my poor horse got a blister in his back. This meant I had to fall back again out of the firing line and consequently when we did catch the Boers up I was not in the fight. However it was not much of a one as the Boers have completely lost heart and don’t make a bit of a stand. We lost one man killed that day – that young fellow who was standing on the steps of Spence’s Hotel that day when we were entering and who spoke to me; he belonged to the Chota Nagpur M. [Mounted – Ed] Rifles. Two days after this fight we entered Kroonstaadt [Kroonstadt – Ed.] without any opposition as the enemy have all fled leaving a lot of stores etc behind. Our casualties up to the present all told are 20. There were some marvellous escapes and I myself had a shell burst about 20 yds from me and any number of them go whizzing over my head. I can hardly describe my feelings when first I got under fire. I somehow felt none would touch me although the shells were falling all round. The pom poms are the worst as they can swing them round and follow you with them, but the big guns send huge shells which make a tremendous hole in the ground where they burst. I feel most sorry for the prisoners as they are now in Pretoria; they were wounded and could not get away, one was a young lieutenant. During this march we have had to rough it properly. When night fell we stopped near some water and after watering the horses fed them with the grain we carried in our nosebags attached to our saddles and after picketing them took our overcoats and blankets off the saddles and lay down and slept alongside our horses. During the night the wagons of the transport would catch us up and we would be roused to draw rations for ourselves and horses. We were lucky if it was not our turn to keep guard during the night. As for washing of any kind or taking our boots and leggings off we did not do so, for seven days at a time.

We should often have starved but for the farms round about where we used to commandeer all we could see fowls, ducks, geese, sheep milk butter although for the two latter articles we paid cash to the inmates. We were glad to sight Kroonstadt and we are now having a few days rest till the provisions come up by rail. The Boers blew up all the bridges on the way and a great deal of the line. We are simply sweeping the country like a wave; our front is forty miles long. Lord Roberts is here in town. The townspeople have had to sell all their stores & provisions to the Army. I think they may consider themselves lucky their goods are not commandeered. By the bye I commandeered a horse and rode it the few days my horse had a blister on his back as I don’t like walking but I have lost it again now however it doesn’t matter as my horse is well again and I am ready to join the troop when we start from here as I hear we do in a day or two’s time. We are now going to the Vaal River where we expect the Boers to make a stand. It is 80 miles from here and will take about 5 or 6 days ordinary marching although we could do it in three in forced marches.

I think I have now told you all there is to tell so will close for the present. Again I must remind you that I am not able to write often to you and certainly never on the march so don’t be anxious about me. I am in the best of health in fact as fit and as hard as possible and the casualties are remarkably small. Besides all our losses have been through the idiocy of officers and I for one will no more place a command in the same scale as my life any more than I shall ever play the coward. I always use my own discretion and I don’t think you need fear in the slightest about me. I hope you are all keeping well. I often dream of you all and you are constantly in my thoughts. from what I understand there will be some extremely good billets for us after the war and it will be strange if I can’t manage to secure one. Good bye dear ones till next time. It is bitterly cold here at night and in the early morning. Good bye

Your loving son & brother


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