Delagoa Bay Line
15th Sept. 1900
My dear dear ones.
I am afraid you must all be very disappointed at not getting longer letters from me lately, but the fact is that for the last two months that is ever since I came out of Johannesburg hospital we have been continually on the move and I have hardly had time to send off the few lines I did manage to once from Commandoe’s Nek & the other from Pretoria. However as we are once again having a rest I’ll give you an account of all that has befallen me since I last wrote at length. I came out of hospital about the 25th July and joined the Corps at Irene. I was there about three days when we all railed to Pretoria 8 miles away and given remounts. We were then put in Gen. Mahon’s Brigade in Ian Hamilton’s division. We left Pretoria on the 1st Aug to go after a large commando of the enemy who were in a position at Commandoe’s Nek about 20 miles from Pretoria. In the fight that ensued we (Lumsdens Horse) being convoy guard that day took no part although we could hear the firing. After having driven them from their positions we went towards Rustenberg to relieve Baden-Powell who was in straits there. This march took seven days. On the next day we went out after the enemy who were preventing Carrington from getting to Rustenberg and returned again the same day without hearing a rifle fired doing a distance of 30 miles in about 7 hours. This ride lamed and otherwise rendered useless a large number of horses, my black remount included. Next day we started back for Pretoria but on the way got orders to go towards Mafeking to relieve someone or other; we got within 40 miles of Mafeking when these orders were countermanded and we were told to go to Krugersdorf to relieve Col. Hore. We were within 4 miles of this place when these orders were also countermanded and we were told to go to Commandoe’s Nek again after De Wet who had just come there. Here we met Baden-Powell, Hamilton and the Nek had 10000 troops encamped there. Here it was I wrote you. We then went after De Wet in earnest; we chased him to Oliphants Nek & had a big fight there although much to our disgust we were placed on a kopje as guard to the big 5in guns and consequently we had no real fighting to do although we could see everything, the shells bursting, the Boers falling and running away and our infantry after them, we then reoccupied Rustenburg which was a few miles away. The next day we again started for Pretoria and arrived one evening at a place about 15 miles away from Commandoe’s Nek and had just off-saddled and were settling down to cook our food when orders came to saddle up. It seems that De Wet was encamped on the Nek (or Pass) and we were to make a night march and attack him. We swore and fumbled a good deal but all were glad at [sic] have a chance of a fight at last and we started off at about 7 in the evening in high spirits. All talking loudly and smoking was forbidden and we went along as quietly as possible. We camped about 12.30 and at 3 the next morning were on the move again. The fight started about 5 and although we drove them from the position we were nearly caught in a trap. We had several casualties (not our Corps) and they captured our Ambulance with our wounded in it. The next day we attacked them again and they retreated. We then went to Waterval (where all our prisoners the Boers took had been confined) and from there marched to Pretoria. We were away 28 days on this march and only had two days rest the whole time. We did over 800 miles including two night marches and had about seven engagements large & small to say nothing of outpost affairs. Gen. Mahon is a splendid man. His brigade was a flying column. We were on ¾ rations nearly the whole time and would have starved but for the loot. We used to get chickens, flour, meal etc every day almost. At Pretoria I managed to send you a postcard, although we were very busy the whole time refitting with clothes boots, saddlery etc & new horses. I killed two on the last march the black one and a huge chestnut I got after her. Directly we were refitted & remounted we started away on this march along the Delagoa Bay Line and we are now at Machadodorf where Kruger was a long time. This has been made the base & from here we start again shortly. I am at present on Observation Post about 3 miles out of the town and hence at my leisure. I have a nice pony a dark bay an American or English horse & it suits me very well but I have not seen more like my dear old Jimmy which had to be shot at Commandoe’s Nek as its lameness was past curing.
I am feeling like a horse as strong and well as possible can’t get enough to eat here, no loot. My face is as round as possible. The fellows here twit me about my fat. Everybody has put on flesh. Lords Roberts and Kitchener are here, the former inspected us at Belfast, the coldest place I have ever been to. Can you send me a little chocolate a few cigarettes and some tobacco as they are hard to get in fact impossible. I don’t know what we are going to do whether we go on or go back to Pretoria. At any rate the war is nearly over now and I hope we shall soon be free again. Now as regards my future. I think I told you about 30 men from the Corps have had commission given them. Not because they were in any way better than the rest of the men (in fact about ten of them were the most utterly lazy and dirty fellows we had) but because there are plenty of commissions going and there are vacancies yet for any number and these men wasted them and got friends of theirs to write to some Colonel or other out here to ask for them. Now I know that I can get one too if only I can [get] anybody to recommend me to Lord Roberts. I am as fit to take up a commission as most of the fellows who have got them I can assure you and I have been with the Corps the whole time which is more than about 150 of the fellows can say and I mean to go to the Colonel and ask him to recommend me for a commission. And yet I have my doubts as to a commission being the best thing for me for the pay of an officer is very small whereas I should get 30/- a day at the least in the mines as surveyor or on the Railway and a great deal more as an A.E. The lowest pay is £1 a day in the mines and this the overseers of labour get; the men who look after the natives. If only I could get disbanded now I should have no difficulty in getting a post but if they are going to let people in from England the Continent and our Colonies before they let us go then my chances will be very much lessened. However there will be so much work going on that I do not believe there will be any difficulty. I have already told the Colonel I intend staying out here and trying to get a billet. He did not say anything but inquired what I should do & he is always very nice with me.
The climate of this country is simply marvellous. We are all heartily sick of this knocking about. If we could see some fighting there would be some excitement and it would not be so bad but this everlasting running away on the part of the Boers is most annoying. Buller got in amongst them the other day and gave them a good thrashing. I have received a lot of your letters and the papers you sent me. I do hope you all go home in March. Give my salaams to all Asansol friends. Six of us (my mess) are going to be photographed in Pretoria to show you all the difference between us now and when we left Calcutta. I suppose you have the rains on now in India. It was my birthday on the 8th and I was thinking of you all for about two hours after I had wrapped myself in my blankets that night because I knew you all would be thinking of me. I don’t know how I shall sleep in a house again or under shelter after watching the stars above me every night just before sleep for so long, and I am sure I have forgotten how to eat at table, we eat à la Roman reclining on the ground. For all that it is a happy careless life and if we could only have more fighting and loot I should be quite content. I wish they would take us to China, as I believe we should have as much as we wanted there. Gen. Mahon is the man, he burnt every farm almost on the way to Rustenburg. If only I had had a wagon I should be a rich man most valuable things burnt and destroyed. It was very sad to see elegant drawing rooms with beautiful furniture bric á brac, pianos etc all being destroyed and bed rooms where the women folk had been and had left all their belongings behind in their hurried flight, clothes toilet articles scents everything, and then the children’s clothes perambulators dolls toys etc. I always went first to the pantry and often found food. But this I can say I never once took a thing from a house where a woman was, I’m hanged if I could bear to see the poor things crying. Sometimes we would come to a house where two or three women, young girls & children would all be crying their eyes out as all their possessions had been looted by brutal Colonial soldiers (S. African Colonial I mean) and British soldiers also sometimes and these poor things would be in mortal terror that they were going to be killed as the lies which were told about were something too fearful. The Government told them these so as to make the men fight. Well good bye now dearest ones. With all love to all dearest Mother
Your loving son