Estcourt, Saturday, Nov. 11.--Up early, breakfast at 8, started by train at 8.45. At the station they refused to give me a ticket for Estcourt, no one being allowed to go there now. I suppose they want as few civilians as possible in case of attack, and also no doubt they want to keep out all possible spies. That is one of the difficulties of this campaign: that the country is swarming with spies, or with suspected spies, every Dutchman being more or less suspected. However, I went to the superintendent and promptly got my ticket. I travelled up with Mr. Winter, the Minister of Agriculture. There has been little news for the last few days. General White is said to have fired a salute on the Prince's birthday--twenty-one guns with shells at the Boers--but there does not appear to have been any serious fighting. The Boers seem still to be holding the hills above Colenso just across the Tugela in force. I expect they are fortifying them so as to make it a terrible place for our men when the time comes to advance, and then they will also probably blow up the bridge before they leave, so that we shall have to make more or less of a new one, and meanwhile they will make it very hot for us with their guns. And if the river is in flood, as it may very likely be at this time of the year, we shall not be able to get across till we have repaired the bridge.
Sunday, Nov. 12.--Prior started about 7 for Weston, and I took the Celebration which was at that same hour. Colonel Cooper and Major Bird of the Dublin Fusiliers were there, and two sergeants or corporals and two ladies. There are not many of the ladies of Estcourt here: they have mostly left. At 9.30 there was the church parade. The troops present were the Border Regiment, the Durham Light Infantry, and a few more of other Volunteer regiments. There was no sort of music, and very little in the way of responses, which made it very cold. I suggested to Prior that he should try to get some of the men together to form a choir, who could at least lead the responses if they could not do much in the way of hymns. It was a nice, quiet, cool morning, so I hope that I was heard; but it is very hard to overcome the physical difficulties of a service where you have to shout in order to be heard at all. I preached to them from the end of Hebrews xi. At 11 I took the service in church.
Then I went to luncheon with the Dublin Fusiliers. It was very nice to see them all (no, alas, not all!) again after what they have been through--that battle of Talana Hill, and the long march back to Ladysmith through rain and watching for the enemy, with very little sleep and no dry clothes all the time. And then more fighting at Ladysmith. It be-comes more and more obvious to me that the battle of Lombard's Kop on the Monday after the Dundee column got in was very much like a disaster. Haskard was out on picket duty, so I did not see him then, though I did after. Captain Hensley had two marvellous escapes at Talana. Twice he happened to stoop down, and a fellow was shot over his head where his head would have been if he had been standing up. One or two of the officers at mess had joined quite lately, and they had one or two from other regiments attached to them.
The mess was in a big warehouse which they said they had commandeered--the table was a big- deal one, the seats were cases of wooden laths for making other cases. Their beds were spread around the walls, the beds consisting, by the way, only of a blanket. The luncheon was not bad, however. We had a dish of mince and some vegetable; there was a ham and some sardines, and some stewed fruit and cheese--so what could one want more? There was also beer and coffee after, served in tin mugs. Then after luncheon Colonel Cooper and Major Bird were going to ride round to the outposts, so I asked if they could give me a mount and let me come too. This they promised to do, so at 3 o'clock we started to ride up the hill along the main road to Colenso and Ladysmith.
About a mile up we found the first picket under Captain Romer of the Dublins; then we went further and found a cavalry vedette just near the intrenchments which have been dug on both sides of the road. If there should be an advance of the Boers the vedette would gallop into Estcourt, and the pickets would move forward to the intrenchments to hold the Boers back till the troops could come up from the town. From this point, which was on a high ridge, we could see all the country right away to Ladysmith. We could see Grobler's Kloof Hill, where the Boers are, above Colenso, Umbulwana Mountain to the south-east of Ladysmith, where their big guns are fixed, and the hollow in which Ladysmith lies, though we could not see the town itself because of the hills.
It was strange to think that this sunny and apparently peaceful stretch of country contained thousands of soldiers and guns, and that, if the bombarding were proceeding as it has been for many days past, we should actually have seen the puffs of smoke from the guns. All seemed quiet to-day. I don't know whether the Boers purposely avoid fighting on Sunday, or simply whether it did not happen to fall in with their plans. It is a strange experience to be looking out over all this country which I know so well, which already seems so homelike, which I have ridden over in search of the scattered flocks in my charge, and to find it the scene of such terrible bloodshed and of the potentialities of infinitely more, for one foresees that when the advance begins it will be a furious business. Unless the Boers are drawn off by news of our advance from Cape Town through the Free State, they will make the line of our advance through all these hills a perfect shambles.
From this point we left the main Ladysmith Road and took to the veldt in the direction of the road to Weenen, a little more to the south. We passed solitary vedettes and then came to a cavalry picket. The horses were picketed under cover of a hill a little below the ridge. Then we went further, crossing the Weenen Road, and came to a picket of the Dublins under Haskard. He reported his arrangements, how many sentries he had out, how he doubled them at night, and what his plans were of communicating with Romer's picket in case of alarm. At this moment Fairleigh, who had been lunching with us, passed along the road with a considerable patrol of the Natal Mounted Police, of which he is an Inspector, with orders to patrol along the road further out towards Weenen. A messenger came galloping up a little before this to bring a message to Colonel Cooper that the General wanted him immediately, so they galloped off together to Estcourt. I left Major Bird to continue his round of the outposts with Colonel Sitwell, while I walked my horse back talking to Haskard. He tells me that he took a lot of photographs during the battle of Talana, which are now being developed in Maritzburg. I hope to see them. It sounds rather calm to be taking snapshots while men are shooting with rifles and being shot. He tells me one view showed Perreau (one of the Dublin officers) firing at the Boers over the bodies of several wounded and dead men. The fact is that in such a battle there are considerable pauses--for instance, while the artillery are shelling the position and so making it less impossible for the infantry to advance further--so that Haskard was able to utilize these with his pocket camera. Several of the Dublin officers left their swords behind them and got hold of rifles when men fell, and so were less marked as targets for the Boers, and were able to do more execution themselves than would have been possible with the officers' usual weapons--the sword and pistol. I trotted into Estcourt, as I had to get tea and prepare another sermon. There was a good congregation at night, more than half being officers and men of the troops. I preached to them from the second lesson, "Except a man be born again," etc., and said one could not help feeling that such experiences as they had been passing through must be a revelation of a new life in which the mere worldly maxims of selfish ease must be felt to be insufficient to account for our human nature, that there was a better life and a higher ideal which such times as these brought into play. Prior got back from Weston just in time for the Evening Service. We were all pretty sleepy after it, as we had had a long and busy day, so we turned in early. In the middle of the night, about 3 a.m., I heard some one knocking at the door. I got up to open it; it turned out to be a message to Major Butterworth that the new General (General Hildyard) was arriving at 5, and that he was to be at the station to meet him.
Considering that we have no artillery here it is almost a wonder that the Boers have not sent down a small force to cut us off. If they could send even a couple of large guns, I expect we should be compelled to retire from here. And we have enormous supplies here waiting to be pushed forward as soon as ever the road can be reopened to Ladysmith. At Dundee we had to leave three months' provisions for the troops in the hands of the Boers, and they might get at least as much here if they came. However, at present they have shown no signs of doing so.
Monday, Nov. 13.--Matins at 8 and breakfast after. Then I went round the church and parsonage to see the repairs and additions Prior has been enabled to make out of the profits of the Magazine. Then I went with him to meet the new General, as he had received an order asking him to do so. But I found the General very busy seeing all sorts of people, as he was going off again by the same train that I am going by, so I only just shook hands with him and said I might perhaps see him again in the train. Then I went to see a poor Zululand clergyman who passed through Maritzburg some month or two ago, on his trek in search of relief from the consumption he is ill of. He has come to what I fear is a full stop here, as he has got worse, and so he has settled down at the Roman Catholic Sanatorium, where his wife and baby are with him, and where he is, I fear, only waiting for death. The Romans have certainly bestowed a great boon on the Colony in building and running these sanatoriums here and in Durban and Maritzburg.
From there I saw the train arriving, amid cheers from the troops in camp, bringing the first instalment of the Army Corps which we have been waiting for so long and so anxiously. I hurried down so as to meet them at the station. It turned out to be the West Yorkshire Regiment. I watched them detrained and drawn up all along the village street, and then marched down to what is to be their camping ground, between the Border Regiment and the Natal Field Artillery. I called on Colonel Hinde of the Border Regiment. He was away with the General, but I chatted with some of the younger officers, and then went to call on some of the Volunteer officers. Among the Artillery I found some whom I knew slightly. Then I went across to another camp, and called on three officers of the Imperial Light Horse, the special corps which was raised chiefly from Uitlanders, and of which poor Colonel Chisholme was commander. They tell me that they have lost something like two-thirds of their officers killed and wounded already. Then I called on Major Mackenzie, who is here with a half squadron of the Carbineers. I had met him before. He is a brother of Dr. Mackenzie of Durban--both of them great riders and polo players.
By this it was time for me to go and get a snack of luncheon and catch the train. Prior and Major Butterworth saw me off. The General went in an adjacent carriage, but only as far as Nottingham Road, where Major Graham, the D.A.A.G., met him. I believe they returned shortly after to Maritzburg by a special train. He came to speak to me at the station, and apologized for having seen nothing of me, but he had had to write all the way down, which, of course, I could well understand, as he has to get hold of all the ropes and arrange a hundred details of his command.