Chapter 5

Chapter 5

I must now return to the events after landing in Cape Town on (I think) March 20th 1900. We were ordered to march out to Maitland Camp some miles outside Cape Town and this we did slowly as the horses after three weeks standing in the ship were still weak. Maitland Camp was then a dusty desert like place with sand flying over everything when dry, and a morass when wet, both of which we experienced there. On March 30th we received orders to entrain to join Lord Roberts at Bloemfontein and it is not difficult to imagine with what joy these orders were received. We entrained, first horses and then ourselves and then we were on our way to Lord Roberts’ Army gathered together in Bloemfontein; we were however doomed to stay there two or three weeks before the march began, while all supplies and transport were brought in, much to our disappointment as we were all anxious to be in the actual fighting line. “B” Company had not yet joined us as they crossed in another transport and were disembarked at East London and were camped somewhere there being no trains available at the time to bring them to Bloemfontein. At last Col. Lumsden called a parade to inform us that we were to start out a few days hence and that Lord Roberts had done us the honour to place us in the vanguard as the Scouts of the Column, being the best trained body of horsemen for this duty. Now I do not propose to write of the day by day activities of the Army as this can be read in many well written books of correspondents and others, but only to mention anecdotes and special incidents of the march. Before we actually started a few men fell sick and had to be evacuated to a hospital in the rear, and it was rather a joke amongst us, that many of those going sick had up to then been the most conspicuous fire eaters of the Company and curiously enough they were all rather older men than the average and in many cases big men physically; this latter condition was more especially noted on the march and it was probably due to the fact that they required more food than the smaller and lighter men which was not obtainable, the rations being cut down to the minimum owing to want of fast transport to keep up with the fighting troops; on the march our daily rations were 2 ½ Army biscuits (only eatable after being hammered with our bayonets), a ¼ of a pound of bully beef in tins, an ounce or so of jam, very little else. The rum ration was given only after a very hard days march and some fighting or on cold nights; I made an arrangement with a trooper of my subsection to give me his ration of jam for mine of rum, I being at that time completely unused to alcohol and not requiring it; I smoked a pipe and very seldom a cigarette, so that my ration of cigarettes came in useful to exchange for more jam. Of course there were many of us younger men who did the same.


Whenever we came to a farm if it were unoccupied, we being well forward of the main body were able to catch a hen or goose and sometimes sheep left behind by the Boer farmer. On one occasion we came to a large farm with a pond almost like a lake covered with ducks and in a very short time, they were captured and handed to the sub-section cooks; the officers’ batmen took care to get them their share for their officers and of course for themselves. I put it this way as the orders were strictly against looting of any sort, and so the officers had to be looking the other way. There is a story that a trooper about to plunge his bayonet into a sheep, saw over his shoulder an officer and he shouted to the sheep “that will ‘learn’ you to bite me”. Another time Col Mahon who rescued Baden Powell at Mafeking and under whose orders we came at a later day and who used to be dressed in a sort of Norfolk jacket and wore a civilian cloth cap carrying only a cane was walking on the edge of a large pond saw a trooper carrying several ducks and he called him; the trooper was of course frightened beyond measure as he had not recognised the commanding officer of the column and knew that the penalty decreed by Lord Roberts for looting was death or any lesser penalty. Col. Mahon looked at the man and said “Where are you taking those ducks?” the man replied “to my mess Sir”; “Well” said the Colonel, “this time you can take them to my mess”, which was of course done.

October 26th 1961


I am afraid nearly a year has passed since I wrote the last lines of the foregoing chapter and many events have occurred during this period; the reason I was not inclined to write more when I stopped was that one of my grand daughters (my son’s eldest) came to Mexico to spend some months with us and as she occupied the bedroom adjoining my study, she and my daughter were in and out of this room at all odd moments and it was not possible for me to concentrate on my work; then later after some months when she left for England, I had got out of the way of writing and kept postponing re-starting. The time passed and we began to make arrangements to go to England for our holiday it being the second year since my last journey. We left in May of this year and were away nearly five months returning in the third week of September. While in England our daughter Stella got married and now my wife and I are alone in our house, as she and her husband live in London. It happens that her husband Alan Lesser is being sent to Buenos Aires for a few months on business of his company (Borax Ltd) and he and my daughter will be passing through Mexico in a fortnight’s time staying with us for three days, to which we are looking forward with great joy.


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