Maritsburg, Saturday, Oct. 21.--Though yesterday's victory (Dundee or Talana) has a little relieved the tension of anxiety, so far at least as our actual safety is concerned, the excitement is still intense and it is very difficult to settle to anything in the way of sermonizing or quiet reading, except of the newspapers. And all to-day we are hearing at how dear a price the victory has been bought. Poor General Symons! We were told at first that the wound was in the thigh and was slight, but we hear now that it is in the stomach and that it is feared that it is fatal. Still he lives, and they say is brighter this morning. But we hardly dare to hope. Then there has been a very large percentage of officers killed. The Boers seem to aim at them. It is true there is not much to distinguish them in khaki; but I suppose the fact that they carry swords and wear a cross-belt is enough. A lot of the officers of the 60th are killed. Poor Barnet, my partner at golf! When I went to see them off for the front I said, "We must play our return match when you come back,"--for he and I had won one and lost one match against the Governor and Blore. Then there are many others whom we knew. And there is one of the staff officers (Colonel Sherstone) killed. Murray, the Governor's A.D.C., who has gone up as A.D.C. to General Symons, had a very narrow escape, having his horse shot under him. The ladies here are of course in terrible anxiety. Mrs. Bird had a telegram to say that her husband, the major who commanded the Dublins, was all right, but we hear that even he has a slight wound in the foot. Then there are other causes for grave anxiety. First, the squadron of cavalry (iSth Hussars) and a company of mounted infantry which went in pursuit of the Boers after the battle have not returned, and it is very much feared they have been caught in a trap. The only thing which gives us hope is that if that were the case it would be almost certain that at least one or two stragglers would have come in. It is hardly possible they could have killed every one. Then again it is true about the train that was captured on Thursday at Elandslaagte. And the Boers hold the line between Dundee and Ladysmith. They will plainly have to be turned out of that or else supplies will be cut off for the Dundee camp. They have cut the wires also. But very fortunately there is a second wire via Greytown. I almost wonder that has not been cut too, for the neighbourhood of Greytown is the stronghold of the Dutch in Natal, and even if the disloyal Dutch did not do it, there are many parts of the line that must be within striking distance of the enemy. However, so far they have not, so we still have news from Dundee.
I went into the Brigade Office to ask General Wolfe Murray for news of General Symons. All he could say was that the doctors did not feel able to give any further opinion. In the evening I went into Government House, and there I saw the Governor and had a cup of coffee with him, and heard more exciting news. It seems that all to-day there has been another big fight. We have heard nothing definite yet. It has been at Elandslaagte, and the Lady-smith force under General White have been the combatants this time. H. E. tells me they have a complete victory; but we wait for all particulars. We seem to have taken more guns and stores, and to be pursuing the enemy. This is a great blessing, as it would have been very serious if they had been able to hold their own on the line between our two forces and so cut our communications. I have no idea yet what loss this has involved, nor whether the Carbineers were engaged. But this is not all the news. There is still terrible anxiety, for another commando has appeared at Dundee, and there is to be another big fight to-morrow (Sunday).
Joubert has come down. (Why he did not attack at the same time as Lucas Meyer on Friday I cannot think.) This time the battle will be on the Imparti. I find I was mistaken in thinking that Friday's battle was on that hill. It was on a lower hill called Dundee Hill to the east of the town, between it and the Buffalo. But this time the enemy has got on to that big hill to the north, which I was referring to when I asked General Symons whether it would not be a danger to our camp. And His Excellency tells me they have brought down those two 40-pounders which we heard they had put on the Pogwani Mountain. This afternoon they have been firing on us with them. But our men have quietly withdrawn from the camp to the other side of the railway, and have sat watching them bang away at the deserted camp. How they have done this without being seen from the hill-top I do not know. But as it has been a very wet day they may have done it under cover of the mist. Very likely at times the top of the hill has been almost hidden in mist. We have not replied as yet, as it was too late to do anything effective to-day before dark; but the Governor tells me the battle will begin at daylight. It is hard on our poor chaps after a big fight on Friday to have to tackle a new enemy that comes to the scratch fresh.
Sunday, Oct. 22.--Another very anxious and trying day. I have been to Government House three times, till I am quite afraid of exhausting the Governor's patience. So I must try to be more patient. But at such times the thirst for news is like that of a dipsomaniac. Following on the last part of yesterday's diary, the news is small and mysterious, which makes one all the more anxious. We were told by Colonel Hime (the Premier) not to believe anything we heard, as there was no through communication since 7 this morning. But that alone makes us anxious. Why is it cut off? and why these rumours that things have gone wrong? However, after evening service, when I went for the last time to Government House, the Governor showed me a telegram from Dundee saying that the force there had moved out some miles nearer Glencoe and were intrenched on the side of the hill out of range of the Boer guns, and that they were trying to lay on a telephone in order to save the risk of journeys to and from the Dundee post-office. Now what can this mean? It may mean simply that the Boers have not begun the battle as we expected they would yesterday, and that meanwhile our men wish to be out of range of their guns. It may be that they do not like fighting on Sunday. On the other hand, why is it dangerous to send telegrams or messengers from the new camp to Dundee Post Office, unless either they (the enemy) have pickets down in the valley or they are still firing their big guns. Then another fear haunts us that the force at Dundee may be short of ammunition. Having had to fight all Friday, it is a very possible thing, and there was ammunition in that train the Boers took at Elandslaagte. It is true that has been recovered, but we have reason to believe the rails have been taken up for some distance, and it may not have been possible to get the ammunition through. And indeed we do not know that, in spite of Elandslaagte, the Boers have been quite cleared off the country between that place and Glencoe, which is, I suppose, more than thirty miles. However, the fact that our force is intrenched in a safe place is a comfort, and we cannot but hope that before further fighting begins they will have got some reinforcements and ammunition from Ladysmith.
But now to resume the account of to-day. I went to early celebration at the Garrison Church. There were very few there, but among them there was one poor young woman who was made a widow by Friday's fight--a sergeant's wife. On my way there I got a letter from H. E. asking me to come round before church and he would confide the latest news. So after breakfast, and on my way to church, I called. He gave me further news about yesterday's fight at Elandslaagte. Poor Colonel Chisholme has been killed at the head of his new Imperial Light Horse. He was a very smart officer who had just laid down the command of the 5th Lancers. H. E. tells me there are fifty Boer prisoners on their way down here. Then I was introduced to Mr. Acland Hood, a clergyman from Kimberley.and his wife, who is a sister of the Duke of Hamilton. They are refugees and could find no place in Durban. Then I went to church, as did they also (St. Peter's), where I preached on Belshazzar's Feast--as bearing on the situation--the danger of national pride, the need for humility and magnanimity. It was rather trying work with so many things to stir one's feelings--the thought of all those good fellows gone. After service I went again to Government House, and PI. E. showed me a long telegram which had come meanwhile from Sir George White, giving a full account of yesterday's battle. The total of killed and wounded is 160, but as it was dark before the battle was over that is only a rough guess. The Boers seem to have fought most bravely; again and again coming up to the scratch. It is terrible work.
Even now we do not know whether the Boers have been shelling the town of Dundee all day to-day or not. It seems to be quite at their mercy, and I tremble for poor Bailey. A single defeat might be enough to bring the Boers down on Maritzburg. Indeed they would have been here before this but for the successes of Friday and Saturday. And I fancy both were near things--might easily have been defeats. Even now we do not know that the Boers are not going to overwhelm the Dundee force; and if they do I expect the Ladysmith column would have to fall back on Maritzburg, and we should have the war in the midst of us here.
What would happen then is hard to say. One can hardly trust the Boers to act on the methods of civilized warfare. Their leaders might, but some of them are half civilized. And apart from that, the danger of shells, if they bombarded the town, would be very serious. I think I should have to try and get the women and children of this establishment off to the sea. In the afternoon I went with Colonel and Mrs. Johnston down to see the Legislative Building and to reckon out how many beds it would hold, and what rooms can be made into offices, dispensaries, surgeries, nurse rooms, etc. It is a splendid building and nothing could be better for the purpose. It is lofty and cool, and has abundant small rooms and lavatories for all sorts of purposes.
The news of General Symons is a shade better, and seems to point to a chance of recovery. But it must be a small one, I fear. They say that as he was being carried off the field he spoke to the men, and said they were brave fellows, and told them that General Yule would take them through. I preached at St. Luke's at 7, a part of their dedication festival.
Monday, Oct. 23.--Still the same intense anxiety--all the more acute because we have no news whatever from the Dundee force. I fancy the reason is that they have had to fall back to a position out of range of the big guns on the Imparti, and that now there are Boer patrols actually down in the valley between them and Dundee, and so it is a difficult thing to get messages through to the Dundee post-office. They have intrenched themselves, we are told, so we hope for the best. But you can imagine the state of mind of the poor wives of the officers up there. There is a full description of the Elandslaagte fight in this morning's paper. It seems to have been a very toughly contested fight. The Gordons say that Dargai was child's play compared with it. And the list of our killed and wounded is much heavier than the first guess. There seem to be some forty killed and over 200 wounded. We have taken some of their leading men prisoners, among them Schiel, the German.
It is very hard to settle one's mind to any regular, quiet work. The whole place is seething. There is a perpetual crowd round "The Times" office, where the latest telegrams are posted up. In the evening, when we got the third edition of "The Times" (there are editions coming out at all hours of the day now), we found one piece of news which gave us a slender amount of comfort with regard to the force at Glencoe. It said that the troops there heard of the news of Elandslaagte on Sunday morning, and they sent out a troop of cavalry to try and cut off fugitives. Now they could not have done this if they had been very hard pressed themselves. Part of this troop (some thirty men) got cut off themselves by the Boers and could not get back to the camp at Glencoe, and had to fight their way all the way from Biggarsberg to Ladysmith, some forty miles. An ambulance train, with sick and wounded, was to come down to-night.
Tuesday, Oct. 24.--Early this morning Miss W. called out that the Boer prisoners were arriving. The jail is at the top of the street, not a hundred and fifty yards from us, and the railway runs just beyond it. So they had stopped the train at the crossing, and were marching them straight into the prison. I had a distant view of them from our gate. I hear they were a very seedy-looking lot. One has to make allowance for their having been caught in the middle of a fight, and never having got a chance of change of clothes, and having on top of this had a night journey. I don't suppose any of us would look very much like Bond Street after that. But, on the other hand, the commandeered riff-raff would be the ones who would be most likely to let themselves be taken, as being less risky than flight, especially with Lancers charging.
The news this morning is very little with regard to Dundee. There are no telegrams direct from there. So we still have this agony of suspense, not knowing whether they have been cut up, nor whether they are retreating, or whether they are holding on to their intrenched position till they can be reinforced. Last night the Governor issued a proclamation of martial law throughout the whole colony. Before, it had been proclaimed only for the northern parts. This may mean that they have some news of a reverse, and that they consider Maritzburg in danger, and therefore want power to call out every able-bodied man to serve. But meanwhile the paper this morning has a very graphic account of the flight of the civil population of Dundee on Sunday and Saturday night. And this is a little reassuring, for they say that General Yule sent word to the town that the force might have to fall back on Ladysmith in consequence of Joubert's commando being in exceptional strength, and therefore the troops were retiring from their previous camp and intrenching themselves. Now this relieves us from the fear we had entertained that the retirement from the camp was a hasty flight after a defeat. It seems to show that it was a deliberate strategic movement, calmly planned and executed. So there is no special reason to be alarmed by it.
One wonders what they did with poor General Symons and the other wounded. They could not surely attempt to take them with them from one camp to another, and yet to leave them either in camp or town would be to leave them exposed to shells. The Boers seem to have been shelling the town, though what damage they have done we shall not know yet. It will be very sad if they have destroyed the new church and parsonage which we have so lately built at considerable expense. And I don't quite see where the war indemnity is to come from if we are victorious. It was only the Uitlanders who could do anything in the way of taxes. I am waiting anxiously to know whether Bailey was among those poor refugees who had to walk some thirty miles all through the night across the wet veldt, in momentary fear of falling into the hands of the Boers.
Since writing the above I have been out and met a man from Dundee, a correspondent who has a long account of their flight in to-day's paper. I find from him that Mr. Bailey has remained at the hospital in charge of the wounded men. It is plucky of him, and I am very glad he has. They don't seem to have fired more than four or five shells at the town. And I suppose they were justified in doing this, inasmuch as the town guard were called out and were at their posts, and so far Dundee was a fortified town and had to put up with the consequences. But as soon as they knew that there were no fighting men there, I think they stopped firing. This man tells me that poor General Symons was not at the hospital but at the camp, and that he believed they moved him with the troops. And he tells me that it is believed he has already passed away. In spite of our fight of Saturday it is reported that the Boers are in stronger possession of Elandslaagte than before, many having come down with Joubert's column. So either General Yule will have to fight his way through them to Ladysmith, or General White will have to fight his way through to relieve General Yule. I presume the former will be the plan. I trust a simultaneous movement will be made from both sides, and so the Boers may be caught between the two. I was glad to have the chance of asking him exactly where the troops are now. They seem, from his description, to be nearer Dundee than I thought. It is anxious work waiting for news. Meanwhile we are told that they are continually on the look-out around here, as if they thought that at any moment we might have a descent of Boers upon us.
About 6 General Wolfe Murray came to call. He told me there had been another engagement to-day, a smaller one than the other two, and fairly successful. It seems to have been in the same direction as that of Saturday, only a little nearer Ladysmith than Elandslaagte. He also tells me that the Dundee force has been heard of as far on their way to Ladysmith as Waschbank. This clears up the obscure question of their movements, and it is a great relief, as when there is no news coming through people imagine all sorts of disasters. I asked for permission to visit the 188 Boer prisoners. I should like them to feel they are well treated, and that we look after them. They have certainly fought most pluckily. I must also go and see our wounded, as Twemlow will have his hands more than full. I went in to see Colonel Johnston for a minute after dinner, but found him trying to get a nap on the sofa, as he was up till 3 this morning, and may be again to-morrow, meeting the wounded and seeing them conveyed to the hospital.
Wednesday, Oct. 25.--The news this morning is that there was a considerable fight yesterday, at which again a good many men were killed. It would appear as if it had not been a very decisive affair; but as I suppose our object was to do no more than was necessary to keep the Boers engaged, so that they might neither attack Ladysmith nor the Dundee column on its march, I suppose one may take it as satisfactory.
In the middle of the morning came the splendid news, if it is true, that General Symons has been brought into Ladysmith, that the bullet has been extracted by means of the Rontgen rays, and that he is doing well. It seemed hardly possible after what we had heard before, and a few hours later I went to the Governor and found that it is not true. He could not have got to Ladysmith, seeing the Dundee column is not there yet, and from a letter which has got through from Murray (A.D.C.) to the Governor there seems to be very little hope.
The Governor told me that he had had a telegram from General White to say that he was already in touch with General Yule and his Dundee force. This is so far good news. But it is a bad business having had to retire from Dundee. I am a good deal afraid of what the effect may be on the natives all over South Africa. They will certainly say: "It is no good your talking of victories. Who is master of the country? Have not the Boers actually got half Natal?" And then all those poor wounded fellows--about 170, I believe--will be prisoners; as they get better, I suppose they will be carried off to Pretoria, or else have to be exchanged for those that we have taken. After luncheon I went to the camp hospital to visit some of the wounded. First I went into the huts where some of the officers are. I heard there was young Danks, a nephew of Archdeacon Danks, whom I used to know well in Nottingham. His father was a clergyman in Lincolnshire, whom I also know, though less well. He is in the Manchester Regiment. He has been hit in the head and has had a very narrow escape. The bullet has grazed the skull all across, but has not penetrated it at all. He hopes to be right again before very long.
He tells me he was unconscious for some time, and, like many more, spent the night on the field. I wonder how they survived to tell the tale. It was a dark, cold, wet night. He was in the Boer camp, and he got a blanket over him. The fellow in the next room was a young subaltern in the Devons. He had only joined ten days before--an early acquaintance with fighting. He had only a wound through the fleshy part of the left arm. He was out of bed and able to write. He was very full of the battle. He said that directly they made a rush and lay down the Boers ceased firing. But the moment they rose again for another rush the bullets came as thick as hail, bang! bang! all over the place. He said the ant-heaps were the greatest blessing. The men rushed forward in short runs and then dropped down and crawled to an ant-heap, and that gave them just cover enough, and they got their shot from there before making another rush.
Then I went into another hut and made the acquaintance of a man whom I found to be Major Wright of the Gordon Highlanders, who (with his Colonel Dick-Cunyngham) had been on the top of Majuba in the last war. They are the only two in the regiment left who were there. He is the first man I have ever met (except Carter of the newspaper correspondents) who was actually there, and what he told me has slightly corrected my idea of the battle. I find they went some little way over the crest to repel the Boer advance, and it was there they came in for such a hot fire from the ridges below. I hope I shall get another talk with him some time. He is hit in the foot, and they say (though he did not tell me this) that it is the very same place he was hit on Majuba. Then I went up to the hospitals of the men. In the first I found a Wesleyan parson, so after speaking to one or two I left him in possession there and went on to another ward. It would take too long to recount all the conversations. The majority of the men I talked to were Gordon Highlanders: one from Huntley, where the regiment was first raised, one from Aberdeen, one from Perth, one from Banff, one from Glasgow, one from Newcastle, and so on. Of course these are mostly the slighter wounds. The gravest could not be moved down. Still some were pretty bad. Many of them were shot in the leg, and a great many in the arm or shoulder. One man had had a bullet right through his chest, and yet was walking about. They all talk of it as precious hot work--much worse than Dargai, at which many of them had been present. One man had been all through that campaign, and the Chitral as well, and had not been hit at all till this time. Several of them had spent the night on the field, though one who was hit in the arm described how he saw a lantern in the distance, and took a pistol in his hand and made straight for it, determined to get to the train if he could, in spite of his wounded arm. The terrible thing is that we have all this bravery and loss of life with so little apparent result. And I quite expect we shall find the Boers claim all these actions as really victories for them, as I fear they have killed nearly as many as we have; and though they were driven off, they were able in both cases to come back again, as we have not men enough to hold the positions. However, we have so far checked their advance, and possibly made them a little more afraid of English troops than they were before. As an example of how bad things are with the refugees, I have a letter from a clergyman dated from a tent in the Park at Durban asking if I can get him anything to do. And yet, though there are people camping out in all sorts of wretched places, we find it hard to get a girl to help as under-nurse. So many of them consider this infra dig.
Thursday, Oct. 26.--A pouring wet day. We are having much more rain than is usual at this time of year. Many of our poor fellows, and the Boers too, must be suffering from it, I fear. I should think there would be a good deal of rheumatism and colds. The day was without much excitement. There was little that was new. The Governor sent for me in the morning and told me he had news that poor General Symons had passed away. He died last night, and news seems to have been sent to Sir George White by General Joubert. It is a great grief to me, especially after the false hopes that had been aroused by the news that the bullet had been extracted. I shall hear from Bailey some day whether it was the operation that killed him, or whether the case was hopeless from the beginning, as I imagine. A more courteous, kindly, bright and genial man you could not find. I liked him very much and he inspired one with confidence. I had many long talks with him before he left Maritzburg. He was so high-minded about the war, deprecating strongly the mere vulgar desire to avenge Majuba, yet feeling intensely that England's prestige must not be allowed to suffer. Then the Governor asked if I would serve on a small committee to consider the claims of other places besides Durban and Maritzburg for a share of the fund for the relief of refugees which has been raised by the Lord Mayor--a part of which we are to have here. I also called on General Wolfe Murray to ask him if he would come to the memorial service to-morrow night for those who have fallen. We hear that the Dundee column has safely reached Ladysmith and joined General White; but we are afraid that the missing squadron of Hussars and the company of mounted infantry who went in pursuit after the battle of Talana Hill are either killed or prisoners. Nothing seems to have been heard of them. I hope they may be prisoners. In the evening I went in to Colonel Johnston, where we again discussed the whole position. I never remember a time when we talked so much! Everyone is eager to review all the possible issues.