Maritzburg, Saturday, Oct. 28 (St. Simon and St. Jude--six years to-day, also a Saturday, I sailed from England in the "Scot").--Yesterday, after getting my English letters ready, I paid another visit to the sick and wounded in the camp. It was again wet. We have had a very unusual succession of wet days for this time of year. It must be very uncomfortable for those in tents and worse for those who have none. I don't fancy the Boers have many. I visited three large wards; nearly all the men in them are wounded. I took a large bundle of books which I had cleared out of my shelves--many of them the small books which the S.P.C.K. send me every year, also a lot of old "Strands" and "Idlers"--a varied assortment from the "Idler" to a tract. The men seemed glad to have them, as there was a run on them directly I put them down. They seem mostly on the mend. I went in to see the officers too. Banks I found was worse, and not allowed to see anyone. The wound being in the head, he has to be kept quiet, and they think he did rather too much the last day or two. I saw Major Wright of the Gordons again for a few minutes, and then I made the acquaintance of another who is serving with the Gordons, though he really belongs to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He is very cheerful and apparently not badly injured, but it is a marvellous escape. He is shot in three places in the legs. He has a bullet-hole right through his helmet. He showed it me. The bullet went in one side and came out the other, just behind a piece of Scotch heather he had stuck in it. He tells me also they have counted about eighteen bullet-holes in his kilt. Of course one bullet might make several holes in the folds of a kilt. But allowing for that it is a wonder he is here to tell the tale. Then I went into the cavalry mess, where there are about eight officers; three or four of them were in the Light Horse, others in the Gordons and Devons.
There is a very interesting account in tonight's paper of the retreat from Dundee by a civilian who accompanied the troops. It must have been a terrible time, what with the rain and the difficulties of the road and the want of sleep. In the evening we had a memorial service at St. Saviour's for those who have fallen. It was the burial service with a certain number of hymns and slight alterations to meet the case. I added a prayer for the wounded at the end.
This morning I went to a committee of the sick and wounded aid. We appointed a subcommittee, of which I was one (on my own volunteering), to actually buy the things needed to equip the Legislative Building as a hospital. It seems that after all the Imperial authorities want us to undertake it and to keep it for wounded Volunteers. So we set out at once to buy beds and mattresses and blankets and crockery and other things. We only got enough for twenty-five in the first instance, as it is possible that it may not be needed, though it is far more likely that it will be crowded before we have done. I am afraid the next action will be a very big one. If we should be beaten, the killed and wounded would be an enormous number, and even if we are victorious, it will probably be a large list. I suppose if we should get beaten and Maritzburg should fall, we should some of us be marched off to Pretoria as prisoners. I don't know if they would think it worth while to take a Bishop, but they would no doubt take the Governor. Perhaps I should have to go as his chaplain! However, we hope for a victory. After our shopping I went in to see Colonel Johnston to tell him what we were doing and to see that all was right. I hope we shall get the Legislative Building into working order in a day or two, as it will make such an excellent hospital. There is little news from the front to-day. It is stated that the force went out yesterday to a place a few miles from Lady-smith, where the enemy was supposed to be, expecting to have a battle to-day; but when day broke they found that the enemy had cleared out, so I suppose they did not want to fight in that position, or they were not ready, or they were waiting for the 4o-pounders to arrive from Dundee. So I fancy the battle is postponed till Monday or Tuesday.
Sunday, Oct. 29.--An unusually quiet day. I think it must be the proverbial lull before the storm.
Monday, Oct. 30.--This morning I had a good round of business in the town. I went to see if the Legislative Building was getting on in its conversion into a hospital. It seemed to be getting ready, and will make a beautiful hospital, so cool and lofty and quiet, with all the appliances handy.
In the afternoon I went to the prison to visit the Boer prisoners. All the first lot have been shipped off to Simonstown, but these are all wounded men. It was an interesting visit. They could nearly all speak English, and most of them nearly as well as Englishmen. They all came ( from Johannesburg, as they all belonged to that commando. There were very different types among them, and most of them seemed very decent fellows. In fact, there was not one who did not receive me politely, and all seemed to appreciate my visit. They were mostly the slighter wounds. The worst could not be moved, I suppose. Among them there was one who had been bitten by a snake on the campaign. He was getting better, though it was a puff-adder, which is rather a bad poison. Some of them were Germans, two were Americans, and one or two were half English or Irish. I think of the whole lot the most bellicose and the most anti-English were the Americans. They had all got it well drilled into them that this was nothing but a capitalist movement pure and simple, and that the working man ought to be on the side of the Boers. The Americans went so far as to say that the best Government for the working man was the Transvaal Government. But one could also see their bias against England, as they said we wanted to have the "Hull world put into a basket that we could carry around with us."
Some of them, on the other hand, said they had been forced into the war against their wills, and that the whole blame of it was on that old man at Pretoria. So "even so their testimony agreed not among themselves." There were several lads of sixteen and seventeen, and some oldish men; one who had been at both Laing's Nek and Majuba. They all said that our artillery fire was terrible. Many of them had shell wounds. But then they seemed to think that it was not a fair battle, and that they were very plucky to stand up against us at all. For they said we had twenty-one guns, and they had two, and those not their best. If half that they said is true, there is a poor lookout for us to-morrow, when we are expecting the biggest fight. They say that the Transvaal has 80,000 men. They also say that the commando we fought against at Elandslaagte was only 700 (some said 800; but then they all agreed that of these 200 ran away at once). Then, instead of the two guns which we fought against there, they say they have altogether ninety guns, besides those of the Free State. However, I quite expect all this is what they have been told in order to keep up their spirits. But I cannot doubt that the force we met at Elandslaagte was a small one. They said it never was meant to be there at all. That the men who took the train at Elandslaagte station were mere patrols, who were not meant to go so far. But that having done it the rest of the commando was obliged to move down to help them. Well, it is anxious work when we know that all depends on to-morrow's fight. That a defeat is by no means a very improbable thing, and that if we are defeated we shall have the Boers down here in a few days, and that as they will then have the line there is nothing to stop them. In which case we maybe prisoners, our houses may be looted, and I suppose, if there should be any opposition, we might be in actual danger. In the evening I went round to the prison again with Colonel Johnston, and then to the station to send off some ambulance supplies for the front. We hear there has been fighting to-day, but several of the ladies have had telegrams to say that their husbands are all right. We have no particulars, but it seems to have been chiefly an artillery fight.
Tuesday, Oct. 31.--The news of the fight of yesterday shows that it was anything but a small affair. But the worst of it did not ooze out till the second edition of the paper about 11. Then we were told that two regiments had surrendered and been made prisoners. There is a terrible gloom over the town at the news. It appears, as you probably know long before this, that the column comprising the Gloucesters, the Irish Fusiliers, and the 10th Mountain Battery were marching out in the night with a view to closing in the enemy's right flank, when some boulders on the hillside started off the mules which were carrying not only the guns of the battery, but also the reserve ammunition of the infantry. The mules stampeded right through the lines of the troops and were lost in the darkness. Here they waited, with the result that at dawn the enemy began to attack them, and the attack got more and more fierce, until by midday their ammunition was exhausted and they had to surrender. It is almost a second Majuba Hill. Only fortunately this time, though absolutely probably a larger number than were beaten at Majuba, it was, relatively to the whole army, a much smaller body of men.
Apart from this, the action seems to have been indecisive. They were pounding each other with shell all day, and it was only late in the action that some naval guns got into position and were able to silence the huge guns of the enemy. But the net result is to show that we have little chance of driving the Boers away from Ladysmith till more troops arrive; and meanwhile they will no doubt invest the town more and more closely, and probably sooner or later seize the railway between here and Ladysmith, in which case the latter will be cut off and soon be short of supplies, and then I suppose have to fight its way through. Meanwhile it is quite on the cards that the enemy may send down a detachment to try and take Maritzburg. I fancy our chances of holding it must be very small, and the result of trying to defend it will be to justify the Boers in shelling it. The Governor says we may get guns from the men-of-war up here. And I suppose the Rifle Association and the Home Guard will try to do the rest. But it will be a poor show, as we have not got a single regular regiment. Well, this makes the prospect rather a serious one. We are too near the camp in this house for us to be comfortable if they should shell the town. It would be terrible to have our little ones in the midst of a bombardment.
Wednesday, Nov. 1.--All Saints' Day. No-thing much new this morning. Theydonotseem to have been fighting much more yesterday. I daresay the Boers want to bury their dead, and perhaps are waiting for more troops. It is a public holiday here. It is a nuisance, because all the shops are closed, and one can do no business. At 11 we had arranged that the baby was to be baptized. The Dean performed the ceremony. We have been busy packing since. I have been packing and making a list of the silver. I forgot to mention that yesterday I went up to the College about half a mile from here to measure out the rooms for Colonel Johnston, as the Government think of offering it in certain contingencies as a hospital. I found Mr. Clark, the head master, knew nothing of such a plan. But he quite understood, and went round with me to help in the measurements. Later on Colonel Johnston arrived, and I had all the measurements ready for him so as to save his time, which is more than full with the care of all these sick and wounded. This evening he came in to tell me that all the arrangements for the Legislative Building staff, food, surgical appliances, etc., would be ready by to-morrow afternoon, and that he shall then begin sending down the Volunteers.
Thursday, Nov. 2.--A terrible day of packing. The news this morning is that they have begun to open artillery fire again at Ladysmith. But there are no details, so that we don't know which side is getting the better. But we generally know that if there is good news it comes out fast enough. So I am afraid it means that we are not making much impression on their big guns. In the afternoon I went down to do several things, and found that the wounded and Volunteers were just being moved down from the camp to the Legislative Building; so I waited to see them in, and found that there were several small things which we had not thought of, and I undertook to go at once and order them--baths, linoleum to put under them, and candles (they have electric light, but might want some candles as well). The evening paper tells us that the Boers have begun firing at Colenso and the big bridge over the Tugela, and at the train from Ladysmith. This means that Ladysmith is cut off. It is just what I supposed would be their tactics and is very serious, I do not know what stores the garrison at Ladysmith has. But it stands to reason that I a large force of ten or twelve thousand men cannot last very long without fresh supplies both of food and ammunition. So that either we shall have to detach troops enough to fight the Boers all down the line, or else the whole force will have to evacuate Ladysmith and fall back further. This would be a terrible thing, as the whole colony is gradually falling into the hands of the Boers, On the other hand, there are rumours of fresh troops arriving. But the authorities keep the movement of troops so quiet that we cannot tell whether it is true or not.
Troops were never more badly wanted. It will; be even now as much as they can do to clear the line and reopen communications with Ladysmith.
Friday, Nov. 3.--I took some of the cases up to the goods station last night and sent them by goods train. Others I took up this morning to the platform, the boys wheeling them in a hand-cart and I on my bicycle. Then at 8.30 the family went in two rickshaws, and the rest of the luggage in the hand-cart. There was a great crowd on the station, but quite as many to receive people coming down from Ladysmith and other places. This particular train seems to have got through from Ladysmith without being fired on.
The Governor's saloon, which he has most kindly lent us, was attached here, and all the luggage except the perambulator (what a lot of luggage babies involve) could be placed in the saloon, which has two large compartments. Coming back from the station, I met Colonel Johnston coming to the camp on horseback. I stopped him and said that if there were a convalescent officer who cared to picnic with me here, I should be glad to take one in and have his company. I shall keep only the two boys, sending the native girl away, so things will be a little rough. I have rather a headache with the rush and excitement of the last two days; but there is a considerable sense of relief in getting my treasures out of the way of danger. Of course I do not anticipate that the Boers will ever get here at all, as I hope our troops will at least be able to hold them till the reinforcements arrive. But the trouble is that they are so much more mobile than we are. They, being all mounted, can move about far faster and get behind us, and having little commissariat or transport they move unimpeded. Colenso is an example of this, for already they are miles beyond our men. And they are not afraid to advance, as they can at any moment break up into little parties and find their way back by many different roads. We need to mount all our infantry if we are to be a match for them. And I am afraid many of our Tommies would soon be off a horse if they got on to one. Now I think I may bring this discursive and redundant diary to an end for this week. You will excuse these faults when I mention that it is interrupted by my having to go every few minutes to see if the boys are cleaning the rooms upstairs properly after the chaos of packing.
Saturday, Nov. 4.--I went to Government House, and Murray gave me a very definite and detailed account of the battle of Talana Hill, and of General Penn Symons's wound, and of the subsequent retreat from Dundee to Ladysmith. He himself had a marvellous escape, as he was again and again under hot fire as he rode about taking the General's messages, Let me see if I can make it plain to you. First of all picture the position of Dundee.
There is a wide flat strath, though that name hardly applies strictly, as the surrounding hills are not continuous ranges, but more or less isolated hills. On the north is the Imparti, a steep hill about 1,200 feet high, with the usual flat top. It slopes away to the west to let the Newcastle Road and the railway pass north. On the south of the strath and about four miles away is a bigger mountain, called Indumeni, about 2,500 feet above the plain. To the '< east lies a hill called Dundee Hill or Talana, on which is Mr. Smith's farm, called Dundee, from which the town has taken its name. The road to the Transvaal on the east of the Buffalo lies I more or less over this hill, though it finds its way through a dip or nek between this hill and a kopje (smaller conical hill) to the south of it.
It was on this hill and kopje that the battle took place. At daybreak the Boer guns from the top of it opened fire on our camp. In a few moments our guns were got into position to reply, and before long had for the time at least silenced the enemy's guns. Immediately the infantry regiments were got out. First the Dublin Fusiliers, then the 60th Rifles, and then the Irish Fusiliers were to cross the flat between the town and the hill in extended order. This flat is a slight decline to a donga with a little stream in it, and then a slight rise to the foot of the hill. A little way up the hill is the plantation of gum-trees belonging to Smith's farm. This wood and a wall at the top of it gave a certain amount of cover to our infantry. But all the way the fire from the enemy's rifles was hot. There was a certain delay in getting through the wood, and the General, who was a little anxious lest a flank attack from the Imparti should begin (he knew that the enemy had been dragging guns up it), sent Murray across the flat and up to the wood to see why they did not get on. Murray found that the fire on the upper side of the wall was so hot that he galloped back to the General, and said he thought the artillery must continue to pound the Boers on the top a bit more before the infantry could charge up the last and steepest part of the hill above the wall bounding the wood. Then the General sent him away to the left to find out where the cavalry were. When Murray came back he found that the General had ridden forward right up to the wood, had dismounted, and had actually crossed the wall at the top with a view to encouraging the men to make the attack, hot as the fire was, so that at this moment the General of the whole army must have been actually leading it. This was too brave, and immediately he got over the wall he was shot. Murray got to him in time to help him back. He had managed to mount his horse in spite of the wound and its pain. They got him to Oldacre's store in the town, where he was seen to.
Meanwhile the Dublins had made one advance and found the fire too hot for them, and had to fall back. Directly they crossed that wall they were exposed to a cross fire from the kopje as well as from the top. Another place where they suffered badly was a little more to our left, where there was a sort of donga running up the hill, which seemed to give a certain amount of cover, and so our men had got into rather closer formation in it. But unfortunately it was commanded from the top, where the enemy had made a sort of sangar. So the artillery went on at the Boers on the top and cleared this sangar. Then a second assault over the last and steepest part was begun, and a second time our men had to fall back a bit as a shout was raised that our own artillery was about to reopen fire, and so our men would have been in danger from it. However, finally the position was rushed, and the Boers fled behind the hill.
It was after the battle that our misfortune took place. The i8th Hussars had sent out some squadrons under their Colonel (Moller) to get behind the mountain and so cut off the Boers. They seem to have pursued several parties of fleeing Boers, though we cannot be exactly sure of their movements. But at one or two places they seem to have got into difficulties, such as having their Maxim stuck in a donga within fire from the enemy. And ultimately they seem to have pursued the enemy too far to the north, till they could not get back again to the south of Imparti, but had to try and make their way round it. It was here, I suppose, that they fell into the trap, and probably rode right into General Joubert's commando, a larger force than that which had been engaged and quite fresh. So they had no chance at all and had to surrender. The party included the mounted infantry company of the Dublins and a few of the 60th Rifles. In the Dublins was my young friend Lemesurier, our next-door neighbour here. However, report says they are being very well treated in Pretoria. I think you know that Murray himself had a very narrow escape at Talana: he had his horse shot under him, I think, in the wood. It was so badly hit that he had to finish it with his pistol.
Sunday, Nov. 5.--Holy Communion at the Garrison Church at 8. At 11 I went to St. Saviour's. After church I went to Government House and sat in the garden to have a chat with Brooke, the wounded A.B.C. of General White, who has come down. He is shot in the upper joint of the leg, and has had a splash of bullet off a rock in his eye. He is getting better and hopes the eye will not have suffered permanently.
Still rumours of big successes on Thursday and Friday, but I fear they are exaggerations. They all come from natives, and natives always like to tell you what they think will please you. In the afternoon the two A.D.C.'s came to tea with me. I got them both to give further particulars of the battles they were in. Brooke was shot after they had carried the position of the enemy at Elandslaagte. He was with the Gordons on the ridge they had taken; but when they advanced to the edge of it towards other ridges beyond, he was shot from the neighbouring height, and a good many men were shot at the same time. They put him behind a rock, and then the Boers came on again and our men were driven back a bit, and it looked as if he would be left alone to be taken prisoner. It was at this time, as he sat behind the rock, that he got the splash of a bullet which hit the rock and glanced against his face in the neighbourhood of the eye. The officers rallied the men and they advanced again and cleared the Boers off. It was about this time, he tells me, that Tatham, who was acting as Colonial A. D.C. to General White, pointed out to him that there was a Boer who had got behind the line of the Devons and was deliberately potting at General White. Two or three bullets went very close to him--very plucky on the part of the Boer, but luckily for us he missed. In the evening I went to the Garrison Church. To-day we have the English mail, which brought me an unusually good lot of letters.
Monday, Nov. 6.--In the evening I went in to the Johnstons, and met the two Boer doctors who are attending the Boer prisoners. One of them is an Englishman. It was rather interesting to meet them and hear their view. They were quite sure that the Boers were treating people well at all the places which they had occupied.
I have a letter from Prior this morning to ask for help for Weston on Sunday. I have telegraphed back to say that I will come and preach to the troops at Estcourt if he will take Weston. I have been wanting to preach to the Volunteers, and a certain number of them are at Estcourt. I have preached to the regulars, but I do not want the Volunteers to think that I am indifferent to them. They have done splendidly, working side by side with the Imperial troops, sharing all their dangers and doing as well. And they include lots of men who are leaving their businesses to go to pieces. Major Taunton, who was killed the other day, was a leading accountant in the town; agent for this house and also for the Union Company.
Friday, Nov. 10.--This has been an unhappy day. First there is the dreadful blank of this deserted house and the constant want of the touch of a vanished hand; then, to add to my sorrow and loneliness, I have lost my little fox terrier. Since the family left he has been allowed into the house, and has been my constant companion. I took him out with me this afternoon, and he follows the bicycle like a leech; but in Timber Street a bigger dog made a rush at him and rolled him over, and so we got separated. Just at the end of the street I met Murray on horseback and stopped to speak to him. Then I said I must go back and look for my puppy. I went back and saw him a little way down the street, and seeing him lingered a minute. Then when I went he had turned the corner. I looked everywhere and bicycled up and down the street, but all in vain. I felt quite disconsolate. A little later I went down the town again to have another look, and failing to see him I put an advertisement in the paper; but as I have to go away to-morrow morning I am very much afraid I shall not see him again.