Maritzburg, Friday, Dec. 15.--At luncheon Major Heath brought word the big fight had begun and that there was a considerable slaughter going on. As I had kept myself free for this Sunday to go to the troops somewhere, I felt I ought to go to Chieveley, as there are only the three chaplains for the four brigades. I asked for a pass, as we are entirely under military rule and no one is allowed to travel up to the scene of war without a special permit. Having secured this from General Wolfe Murray, I found that there was an ambulance train going up in the evening, so I had not much time to make my preparations. Major Heath kindly lent me his camp-kit--a valise like a big hold-all, in which one sleeps. It unrolls, and has a row of cork laths forming a mattress and a waterproof flap which comes over one if it is wet. I also took my Etna and a canvas bath and bucket. At 11 p.m. the train came up with no one in it but a doctor and several orderlies and ambulance men. They gave orders for the beds to be made up in the station, with a view to being quite ready next morning for the gruesome work. We had a long and tedious journey through the night with many pauses. Everything is disorganized. At one place we had to wait for a hospital train coming down with its sad freight.
Saturday, Dec. 16.--We reached Chieveley, where we were within a few miles of the wide-spreading British camp. The camp is in itself like a small town, and to find anyone in it is like "looking for a needle in a bundle of hay." The various brigades are at some distance from each other, and there are cavalry lines and hospital lines, and a dozen other branches of the service. As the train stopped Major Chichester came to the window of my carnage and kindly invited me to leave my kit and bicycle in his tent, while I went in search of the chaplain. Before reaching his tent, however, an officer came up to me and asked if I would conduct a funeral there and then. Lord Dundonald, who commands the Cavalry Brigade, was present, and he walked with me. All this brings home to one the sad and terrible aspect of war. The poor fellow was lying in an ambulance wagon, wrapped in his blanket, his boots exposed, the whole arrangements so hastily made, and yet already the burning heat had been doing its work with the poor body. With a firing party escorting the sad procession we marched up the hill to where the shallow grave had just been dug, and there I read the service. After the funeral the firing party went through certain movements, but did not fire, as of course it would be liable to be misunderstood by the enemy, who are within range of us on the hills which look so quiet and uninhabited over there across the Tugela. On my way back to Major Chichester's tent, Major Graham of the staff came up to me on horseback, and asked if I would take another funeral at 12.30 of seven poor fellows of the Natal Carbineers and Imperial Light Horse. ... Of course I met many people whom I knew. I was glad to get a big tin pot of tea, for already I had a burning thirst and had had very little breakfast. The thirst is awful, and the worst of it is that water is almost as precious as gold here, as it all has to be brought by train or water-cart, or dug from newly-made wells. If you have read Steevens's "With Kitchener to Khartoum" you will understand what he says about the desert thirst. I agreed with every word of it. ... When the sun goes down life in camp begins to get tolerable, and we sat outside the tent smoking and enjoying the comparative cool.
But our rest was not for long, for a few minutes after Colonel Stuart Wortley came in to say that the orders were that the whole force was to shift in the middle of the night--two brigades going back to Frere, and the rest to a camp about a mile away from here--the object plainly being to move out of range of the Boer big guns. At present we are within their reach, and the armistice for the burial of the dead expires at midnight. This was annoying, just as one was contemplating a quiet night and a good sleep to make up for about twelve hours in the train, and my servant had brought me a bath ready for the morning. The very sound of the water was refreshing. I began to pack up all the kit which I had just unpacked and to roll up my bed. I emptied the bath with great anguish of heart! And then it occurred to me that this was a very thoughtless and heartless thing to do, when there were these hundreds of stretcher-bearers outside longing for a drop. Fortunately I still had my canvas bucket full, so I took it out and said, "Do any of you fellows want a drink of water? "In a moment I was in the centre of a seething crowd trying to get a drink out of the bucket or to fill their mugs.
It was a sad sight to see the continual line of bearers with their stretchers laden with the poor wounded chaps. They had to carry them altogether about seven miles from the battlefield itself to the hospital at Chieveley station. . . . At the station I got hold of the station-master, and asked him if I could get a quiet corner anywhere to spread my bed. I was perfectly ready to sleep out on the veldt. However, he offered me a share of his room, which I accepted. The house was in a sad state of dirt and disorder. The Boers had been in possession of it a little while back, and had ruthlessly destroyed everything they could lay hands on in the most wanton and brutal manner. They had hacked down the marble mantelpiece and left the pieces in the grate, had broken his cupboards and windows, torn the locks off his drawers, and (most childish and wanton of all) had destroyed his cases of stuffed birds by pulling the heads off them all.
Sunday, Dec. 17.--After a hot and almost sleepless night, I was not sorry to get up soon after 5, at which hour my station-master turned out. I wandered about the place to see if anything in the way of water was to be had for washing, and then discovered Sir W. Mac-Cormac in the next room. We were both in flimsy costume, but I hailed him through the window, and he kindly came to my relief, sending his man with water, so that I managed a decent wash. Then I mounted my bicycle and rode towards camp, a mile from the station. It is a wonderful thing to see a camp of this size, covering two or three miles of country, completely moved in the course of a few hours. . . . We breakfasted at a small table in front of a tent, with very little shade from the more and more perpendicular sun. That is the worst feature, that one gets to dread the sun and to long for sunset again. "The shadow of a great rock in a weary land" is a very intelligible description of our greatest desideratum. We had sausages and bacon, but no bread--only biscuits which simply jeered at my teeth! Till they had been soaked in tea for a quarter of an hour they were as impregnable as the Colenso hills. There was butter, but it was a liquid yellow oil, which warned one off, and jam does not go well with tea-soaked biscuits! Then I tried to get a scrap of shade behind the tent, and sat and read, and gazed on those silent hills which seem so remote from any human life, and which yet are full of life-destroying machines. There seemed no chance of any church parades. The men had had no night's rest, and were still busy getting straight in their new camp, and as soon as that was done would need sleep.
The first news was that poor young Roberts, the brave leader of one of the forlorn hopes to recover the guns on Friday, had died at 12 o'clock last night. The whole camp seemed to grieve for him, and for his father. I went to consult the principal medical officer about the funeral, and we arranged that it should be at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, when other poor fellows who had succumbed to their wounds would be buried too. I bicycled back to the camp, which was now only a mile from the station, in order to tell Mr. Gedge about this arrangement. I met him riding over, and while he went on to the hospital, I went for breakfast to the camp. It was a strange Sunday. Church parades were out of the question, as the men had been up all night, and there was still much to be done to settle into the new quarters, and then the men needed rest. So I employed the time in going to seek out men whom I had been asked to look out for in some of the regiments. I remembered the refrain of Rudyard Kipling's latest song as I passed from the son of a Hampstead omnibus driver, whom my sister had commended to me, to the tent of Prince Christian and of General Hildyard, to whose brigade both are attached.
Then I went back to Chieveley to have a look round the hospital, and to see the entraining of another load of wounded men in the ambulance train for Maritzburg. At the station I was introduced to Mr. Treves, whom I was the more interested to meet, as last year I had been specially urged to visit him as an umpire, in my own case, between Dr. Bland Sutton and Sir William Broadbent. The medical officers were kind enough to give me some sandwiches for luncheon, and then later on came the sad ceremony at the grave-side. A large number of officers, including General Clery, General Hildyard, and Lord Dundonald, came to pay their last respects to Lord Roberts's son. The bearers were his Colonel (Colonel Buchanan Riddell), Colonel Stuart Wortley, Prince Christian, Major Bewick Copley, and two others. Mr. Gedge and I together read the service. The graves lie about 200 yards this side of Chieveley station, and within about 60 yards of the line on the east.
After the funeral we walked back together, and an officer of the Surrey Regiment told us of his marvellous escape. The clasp-knife hanging from his belt had been hit, and the blow had given him a nasty knock, but the knife had saved his life. He saw something bright at his feet, stooped down, and picked up the bullet. . . .
One cannot help thinking of the sinking of heart of those poor people in Ladysmith, who have been pounded with shot and shell for nearly two months, and who hoped that this Sunday was to see an end of their danger and anxiety--and now the end is still remote, and no one knows as yet how or when it is to come. . . .
Next morning, at 5 punctually, we were awakened by the sound of the big guns. I was sleeping on the floor of the station-master's sitting-room beneath the open window, and sitting up I could distinctly watch the flash of the gun, and see its column of smoke, and hear its roar. It seemed the more startling in the perfect stillness of the cloudless dawn, with the hills wrapped in a pink haze against a saffron sky.
Tuesday, Dec. 19.--Back in Maritzburg for the quarterly meeting of our Finance Board. We discussed the kind proposal of the Home Association to make a special appeal for a "Clergy Distress Fund." There is no doubt there will be great distress, and so anything our friends at home can do will be most acceptable. Wednesday, Dec. 20.--Ember Day Chapter meeting. Celebration of Holy Communion at 7. Meeting at 10.30. Both Archdeacons absent, Barker in Ladysmith and Hammick in bed. Several subjects had to be put off in conse-quence; but we got through some business, especially making arrangements for a consider-able celebration of the Bi-centenary of the S.P.G. next year. In the evening I dined at Government House with the foreign attaches who are on their way to the front. It is always interesting to meet intelligent foreigners, but especially at this time, when we are all a little anxious that they should not lose their heads about this war, and should understand that we are not the land-grabbers and bullies which their papers represent us. I sat between the German and the Frenchman. I ventured to represent to the German that this was a remarkable result of our unique magnanimity in 1881. I told him I knew from my own experience in Germany that many of his countrymen did think we were dreadful hypocrites, who talked piously while we were emptying our neighbours' pockets; but that this was a pretty good proof of what we suffered from really letting conscience work out our policy. He frankly admitted that personally he was in favour of a healthy selfishness. No wonder people who deliberately tell you that there is no place for magnanimity in politics, and that the only safe and rational policy is that of "healthy selfishness "(what constitutes the "healthiness "he did not explain), cannot understand that any talk about conscience can be other than cant. The Governor had the Russian on his right hand and the Italian on his left, and at each end were the Austrian and the American with Colonel Herbert, their conductor, and Colonel Hime, our Premier, and General Wolfe Murray and secretaries, and Brooke, the wounded A.D.C. It was a pleasant and interesting evening, though our defeat at the Tugela was an unpleasant recollection in the presence of these military critics. Major Heath came back to-night, but I have not yet heard much about his trip to New Hanover.