Saturday, Oct. 14, 1899.--We still wait for startling developments. Yesterday there was a telegram to say that large numbers of Free State Boers had crossed the border from Harrismith by Tintara's Pass, and were advancing towards Ladysmith or Colenso. Our troops went out from Ladysmith to try and get at them, but they seem to have thought better of it and slipped away back again to the Berg. I am afraid this is what will happen: they will not face a general engagement, but will try and raid and cut off transports and cut the railway line, of course, if they can, though I hope they will not be able to get at it. Our troops will try their best to be there first if they are heard of as approaching the line. In one way perhaps it is the best thing that can happen, for if they play that game for another month, we shall have troops enough to begin the advance into their country. To-day there is sad news of the loss of an armoured train between Vryburg and Mafeking.
I met Mr. Edwards (Vicar of Newcastle) this morning. He has been obliged after all to leave Newcastle, though he waited till the very-last. It has been entirely deserted, Mr. Jackson, the magistrate, alone remaining, though Mr. Edwards thinks he may have since left on horseback. Our General felt that we should be running a too serious risk in trying to hold Newcastle. We have not forces enough to divide up between so many places. It is a particularly unfortunate border-line for us, as Natal runs up between the Transvaal and Free State in a very narrow point: we have the border close to us everywhere, and may be attacked all down the line. So we have had to tell the Newcastle people that we cannot defend them, and the result is that all of them have thought it safer to clear. They have left their houses just as they are, so either Boers or Kaffirs are having a good time.
I met Mr. Crawford, at whose house I have often stayed. He has left all his goods, and it is a very well-furnished, comfortable house. Mr. Edwards must have been a sight to see when he left. All his boys (natives) had already cleared for fear of the Boers, so he had to wheel his goods to the station himself on a wheelbarrow. On the way he found two old coloured women toiling under the burden of two big bundles which they could hardly carry, so he took their bundles on board too. A funny sight, but a pleasant one as far as that last episode goes, in this country, where as a rule the coloured people receive so little consideration. If all the stories I hear are true, or even half of them, about the Boers' treatment of the natives, they deserve to lose their power. Mr. Edwards was telling me some bad stories. Living so near the border in the midst of the Dutch, he hears a good many such.
Sunday, Oct. 15.--As no one had asked me to preach to-day, I thought I might have a day off, especially as I know there are plenty of clergy about from the Transvaal and Newcastle. However, when I went to the early service at the Garrison Church, Twemlow asked me if I would preach to the men at n, as he was asked to preach to the Imperial Light Horse at a special parade at St. Saviour's at 9.30. I felt rather guilty in doing nothing, so I said "Yes," though it was rather short notice. The Rifles were there--the 2nd Battalion, which has just come out. I preached to them from the words in the second lesson, "With singleness of heart, fearing the Lord." Things are very quiet today. I suppose the Boers would not choose Sunday for operations unless they were obliged. After luncheon I went in for a little chat with the Governor.
We live in a state of feverish excitement, waiting for each scrap of news and surrounded by startling rumours which turn out as a rule to be pure inventions. We rush for the morning paper and hail everyone we meet for news. There are rumours to-day of various kinds, but all untrue as it turns out. We cannot tell, and probably shall not know for some days, what is happening on the western border, about Mafeking and Kimberley. There are rumours of fighting, and we know that they are more or less isolated.
It seems as if the next five weeks would be a very serious risk. If we can hold out, it will take us all our time; and the Boers know that it is their only chance, so they will strain every nerve to overcome us before the Army Corps arrives.
In the afternoon I went to a meeting of the committee about the sick and wounded. We had a telegram from Dundee to say that the military authorities had given orders for all the women and children to leave to-day in consequence of the probability of attack. There may be as many as six hundred coming down, and probably many of them having nowhere to go to. The Mayor and Dr. Scott went straight off to the shops to see how many mattresses Maritzburg could produce. I heard afterwards that they got about fifty, but a great many more blankets and sheets. It is likely to be a very hot night, and if there is a crush I daresay they can manage one night sleeping in blankets.
In the evening I went to the station to see the first of the trains come in from Dundee, thinking that, if there was any lady I knew who was in difficulty about a house, we might offer a bed for the night. I went to the station at 7.15 and was there till 9,30 before the train came in! I should not have stayed all that time, but there was a good deal going on. Some squadrons of the Imperial Light Horse had just gone off amid great cheering. The half battalion of the 60th Rifles were to start. And all the men were sitting on the ground outside the station and the officers pacing about the platform. It was a lovely hot moonlight night--so bright that one could distinctly see the red houses, red a thing which I have always thought impossible in England. It always seemed to me that one did not see colour by moonlight, but only light and shade. But there was no doubt about it last night. I got one of the subalterns to introduce me to Major Gore-Browne, one of the senior officers of the regiment. I found he was a nephew of the late Bishop of Winchester, Harold Browne. I noticed him at the celebration yesterday morning. Then also there was a train full of mules and Indian followers just disembarked and on the way to the front. So the station was a lively place. When at last the train came in, I found one or two whom I knew, but none who needed hospitality.
Tuesday, Oct. 17.--Still the same intense excitement and nothing to appease it. There is still no fighting. We thought that the removal of the women from Dundee meant that the Boers were very near and that an engagement was imminent. I heard from the General (Sir George White) this morning in answer to a letter from me about a chaplain for the camp at Dundee. As the military chaplains still do not arrive, I feel I ought to send a chaplain to be with the men, not merely to preach on Sunday, which Mr. Bailey can still do. He replies that they will appreciate a visit from me. But that is not quite what I mean. I want some one to live in camp with them. The Romans have got a priest with the Dublin Fusiliers, and much more ought we to have one with our men, who are a far larger number. So I have written to General Penn Symons, who is commanding at Dundee, to say that either I or Twemlow will be glad to come if we can have accommodation in camp. This only means a third of a small bell-tent. That is all the officers have.
In the afternoon our committee for the sick and wounded met again at 3. It meets every day. There was not much to do; but we sent off to the camp a few things which the medical officer had mentioned as needed.
Wednesday, Oct. 18.--The tension remains--still there is no decisive action. But this morning we had a new excitement. We were told that Boers had been seen not very far from Maritzburg, and that the authorities at least thought sufficiently gravely of it to send down a regiment from Ladysmith, and we heard that the 60th Rifles had actually arrived. This was startling. However, in conversation with Mr. Shepstone I found that it is quite possible that the Boers in question are a party of our own Natal (Umvoti County) Boers, and that their gathering had something to do with a new church. Still, even so, it may possibly have some connection with the movements of the enemy. Without committing themselves to any hostile action, this might have been a prearranged thing on purpose to accomplish that which it has accomplished, viz., the drawing away of a part of the Ladysmith force, and so preparing the way for an attack on the force there. Anyhow, we have gone on quite comfortably as usual here, and have seen and heard nothing of any enemy.
In the afternoon I again attended the committee for the sick and wounded.
Thursday, Oct. 19.--The war news gets more and more exciting and ominous. The Carbineers seem to have been more or less seriously engaged with the enemy at Bester's yesterday. This is to the west of Ladysmith, between it and the Berg. They say that Taunton (who is the agent for this house and for the Union Co.) was off his horse with young Rodwell, when big volleys were suddenly fired on them. They mounted and galloped and got away, but young Gallwey, the lawyer, son of the Chief Justice, is missing. His horse turned up, but not himself.
They tell me that there is a flying column of about half the troops at Ladysmith under orders to come down here by road, with a view to protecting Maritzburg. But why it comes by road instead of train I cannot understand.
I also heard later on that there is a Boer commando marching for Maritzburg by the middle drift over the Tugela, that is, Greytown way. So I am beginning to think we may see more of the fighting here than at the front--so called.
What with Natal Dutchmen possibly joining the enemy, or even if they do not do so openly, helping them by cutting the railway or the telegraph, we don't know where we are. Later on news came to me privately that the enemy have got hold of one of our trains at Elandslaagte. That is the station north of Lady-smith, and between it and Glencoe. They say they have attacked the train and taken it, and in it one of the officers of the Hussars. The worst of this seems to me, too, to be that they may intrench themselves in a strong position on the line, and so stop our communications and compel us to come out and attack them; and then with inferior numbers and in a place of their choosing, where they had the advantage of the ground, we might have a very tough job, like the taking of Laing's Nek in the last war.
However, we can but wait. Then the next piece of news which came was that Gallwey's body had been found with seven bullets in it. This I am specially sceptical about, as he was said to have been attacked at an outlying place, where it is very unlikely we could go to get his body. Indeed, a report was published that an attempt had been made, but the Boers fired on the Red Cross.
We are all in such a state of excitement that we cannot sit still long, and all day long everyone repeats the same question to everybody else--"Any news? "
Friday, Oct. 20.--A pouring wet day--the poor chaps on the veldt must have a bad time. I don't know which are most likely to suffer from it, their men or ours. As they are advancing they cannot have their tents with them, and so far our men are better off. The first news after breakfast (there was little fresh in the paper) was that a battle had begun at Dundee, and is now proceeding. If it is true I think it is good news, as what we wanted was that they should attack us rather than go on cutting our communications and running away again and such like. By a curious coincidence Miss W. had shopping to do directly after breakfast, and came in with a special edition of the paper with this news. Then I found that I too had business down the town, though I ought to be preparing sermons (not an easy thing to do in these times). When I went down there was a later telegram to say that after fifteen minutes our artillery had silenced theirs, and that the infantry under cover of the guns were advancing.
But I believe nothing until it is officially confirmed. So I have to try and possess my soul in patience for a few more hours. ... No details yet, but we seem to have had a great victory--taken their guns and killed many. But my dear General (Sir W. Penn Symons) is wounded, some say slightly, but some mortally--God forbid. This victory relieves our tension here, as I don't think Maritzburg will be in danger of attack now.