[Near Venters Spruit], Saturday, Jan. 20.--The fighting is continuous, but the real battle is on the other side of the hill, where Sir Charles Warren is swinging his line round. His right wing, which is only some five miles from us over the ridge of Spion Kop, is the pivot, and while that remains more or less stationary, a long line is gradually swinging round to his left, so bringing the Boers into a V. To-day, by way of keeping the Boers opposite us from going to attack him, we made a considerable demonstration. Wilson and I rode over to what we call the "island," that is, the tongue of comparatively flat land inclosed by the river on three sides and by the Boers on the fourth. Nearly all this brigade is over there, though we still sit on the wooded plateau above the river on the south side. I went across to see Hill about services.
We interviewed the balloon engineer. He made an ascent, and the wagon to which the balloon is attached moved forward, and the balloon was nearly over the Boer position.
The guns kept up a hot fusillade, and then the 60th Rifles moved out in extended order across the plain, some companies under the Colonel to a farmhouse, and others under Bewick Copley to a small kopje. They drew considerable fire from the Boers, including that of a machine gun. This is a most diabolical instrument, which sounds like a person knocking excitedly and impatiently at your door. It always goes by the name of the Pompom. The howitzers, with their awful lyddite, and the naval guns, bore down upon it, and shell after shell burst in its vicinity. Wilson, who was with the force, was very much pleased at the result of the reconnaissance.
He could see the Boers running from our shells. They abandoned the machine gun altogether for a time. But some of our own men were hit by long-range rifle fire. It seemed a pity when we were not making a real attack. A certain number of them tried to creep along the river bank, but were exposed to the Boers on the other side, or rather across two bends of the river. Two poor chaps were killed, and twelve or thirteen wounded.
For a short time I was left alone in our little camp. Telegraph men, signallers, and orderlies kept bringing me messages, as there were no officers.
In one case it was a telegraph from Headquarters asking that an escort of eight mounted men and a N. C. officer might be sent to conduct prisoners to Frere at 4 o'clock. As it was then 3 o'clock, and the General was on his way across the river, and it might be some time before I could communicate with him, I took the responsibility of sending the message on to Colonel Bethune. Most of the other messages I asked the signallers to repeat to the General or his staff across the river. Meanwhile Sir Charles Warren on the other side of the hill kept pounding away.
I arranged with Hill that he should look after the troops on the "island," and that I would hold services for General Talbot Coke's Brigade, which is two miles behind us, near the Headquarters staff. They have no chaplain. Wilson and I still share the tent. We go to bed very soon after dinner (about 9 p.m.), and we are up about 5 a.m.
Sunday, Jan. 21.--At 6.30 (after Chota-Hazri) we all mounted our horses (I have ridden half the horses in the camp by this time). The General and Wilson and Bailey rode round first to the naval guns on our' plateau, as there was information brought in that the Boers were mounting a gun on Spion Kop overlooking us. Yarde-Buller and I rode on to the Headquarters and 10th Brigade camp (General Talbot Coke's). The regiments I had to address were the Middlesex, the Dorsets, my friends the Somersets, and some of the Headquarters staff. Our General and his staff arrived before we began. We had a nice service, and I preached to them from the lesson about the house empty, swept, and garnished.
Then we all rode back, and after breakfast in the middle of the morning I got another horse (Bailey's) and rode across the river (by the punt) and paid a visit to the hospital to see the men wounded yesterday. [To show the conditions under which I write, at these points the terrific 47 gun went off over my head.] I found there were three very bad cases--one almost hopeless--the rest were slight. After some limejuice from the doctors (the heat was intense) I rode back for luncheon. In the afternoon I found a quiet, shady, and secluded spot in the hillside (there is always a chance of a Boer gun opening on our tents) and read. At 5 o'clock I started to ride back to the 10th Brigade camp for a voluntary service: which I had announced for 6 o'clock. An orderly rode with me to hold the horses and bring back my bag. He was a young fellow from Wimbledon in the 1st Royal Dragoon Guards. You would not know our smart cavalry soldiers in their dirty khaki. I was not fortunate in my congregation. For one thing, a great many were on duty, then many more were packing up for a move perhaps in the night, and the weather was threatening. I suppose there were about thirty men of the Somerset and Dorset, and a few Devons.
The Middlesex have come over to our camp. The smallness of the congregation made me change my subject.
Then my orderly and I rode back to dinner. All this afternoon there has been incessant rifle and artillery fire over the hill. We hear that Sir Charles Warren is pressing on. We are sending four howitzers and General Talbot Coke's Brigade to reinforce Sir C. Warren, while we hold on here and continue to demonstrate.
Monday, Jan. 22.--Another blazing hot day. In the middle of the morning the General rode round by our old camp to the top of the hill, to the 47 naval guns, to view the situation from there. I rode so far with them and with Colonel Stuart Wortley, who had ridden over from Frere, and then turned off to the Stationary Hospital (No. 4), which is now near the Headquarters camp. This is the one to which Mr. Treves is attached. All our wounded were moved there last night, and more than a hundred of Sir Charles Warren's men, wounded in Saturday's fight. I saw Mr. Treves, Nurse McCaul, and the two Army Sisters, and then I started for a round of the tents. They have a number of large marquees with double awnings, as well as a whole lot of double bell-tents.
The first news I got was the grievous announcement that Captain Hensley of the Dublins was killed. He had come safe through so many fights--Dundee, Lombard's Kop, Colenso, and many journeys in the armoured train, in one of which he rescued a party of Durban Volunteers who were nearly cut off--that it seems doubly sad he should be killed after all. And his poor little wife, to whom he was married only a year or so ago, will be heart-broken. I saw Major English of his regiment, who was wounded, and heard all there was to hear, and promised to write to his poor wife. English asked me to tell her that he had collected all his kit and belongings, and was bringing them down. He told me that Hensley was buried with others by Father Matthew at Fair View Farm.
Colonel Bruce Hamilton, Chief of the Staff to General Clery, and Major Macgregor, another staff officer, were among the wounded whom I saw. I visited every tent--over a hundred men--though as a rule one can do no more than ask how they are and have a chat. I got back rather late for luncheon. We have lately been reduced to ration biscuits, which are as hard as dog biscuits. Even soaked in tea I can make nothing of them. But yesterday we got a loaf of bread, and to-day some buns and a present from Colonel Bethune of a cake and some pineapples and bananas!
I don't mean we have no meat--though it is nearly all tinned. But the open-air life makes us wonderfully well, and there is marvellously little sickness among the men--hardly any, in spite of the fact that none of our brigade have had tents since last Wednesday. They sleep in the open, wet or fine, and are really better than when they are fifteen in a tent. Sir Charles Warren seems to have come rather to a standstill to-day, which makes me a little anxious. It may be that after three days' fighting he feels he must give his men a rest, but every day's delay means that these mobile Boers will have thrown up new intrenchments in front of him; and intrenched positions are almost impossible to take except by outflanking. Our big guns still boom from time to time, and we hear Sir C. Warren's behind the hill.
Bethune has some very smart fellows among his Mounted Infantry (raised in Natal). They have been waylaying Boers on the road from Colenso here, and shot eight this morning and six the other day. One of them strolled across the river and right up to the top of Spion Kop, a mountain opposite us in the centre of the Boers' position. He went up with his pipe in his mouth and had a good look at their intrenchments. They fired at him, but he got away all right.
I am afraid I really must go back this week. I did want to get to Ladysmith with the troops, but at the present rate of progress it does not look as if there were much chance of that this week.
Tuesday, Jan. 23.--Sir Charles Warren still continues his fighting and his slow progress. Yesterday I saw one of the shells from his howitzer burst right on the sky-line of the ridge to the west of us, and one can see some of his troops with a glass from our naval gun hill--and the firing continues pretty briskly. This morning I had a more or less quiet time: the General rode over to see the men in hospital. I thought I would not go at the same time, so I climbed the hill and sat up there. When the General came back it seemed likely that there might be some move this afternoon or tomorrow morning. I had now made up my mind that I must be back before Sunday. Captain Yarde-Duller reported that he had made arrangements for me to sleep at the Stationary Hospital a mile or two from here and to go down in the morning with the ambulance convoy to Frere. I was very sorry to leave, and it is a great disappointment not to have got to Ladysmith. Still, it did not seem right to put off my Umzinto Confirmation again, especially as I am not really doing very much here. So I packed up soon after luncheon and rode to the hospital, which, by the way, is Mr. Treves's, to which I am by way of being attached. A pony carried my kit on a pack-saddle, and a mounted orderly went with me to lead the pack-horse and to bring them both back. When I reached the hospital I found that Major Kirkpatrick, the P.M.O., was unwell and asleep, and the others had not heard of my coming. So I had rather to act the beggar and go and hunt out accommodation for myself. However, they were just erecting a hundred more tents, so I got one of them and unpacked my own kit, and then went to visit a few of the worst cases in the hospital. I saw Corporal Etheridge, the man in the 60th Rifles who was shot in the spine. He does not seem to know how bad his wound is, and as he may live for some time I did not feel that I was called to tell him plainly that they considered it hopeless. I saw a good many more, but it was getting dark and they were going to sleep. We dined under a tarpaulin between two wagons, and then I turned in, as we have to make an early start.
Wednesday, Jan. 24.--Up at 5; we were supposed to start at half past, and as I had to pack all my kit (bed, table, and chair, as well as clothes), and to get some tea, there was not much time. However, we did not actually get off till 7, though long before that I was in the wagon. Our convoy consisted of about 18 wagons, containing, I think, about 150 men. The men were in open ox and mule wagons, and the officers in ambulance wagons with a tented cover. I was on the box seat of one of these with a young fellow in the Lancaster Regiment who had a bad eye. We were not allowed to go faster than a walk, and the walking pace of oxen is little more than two or three miles an hour. So it was a tedious progress. I might have got a pony, but then I should fl have had to leave my kit, and one never knows If when one will see it again. We outspanned at Springfield Bridge for breakfast, which we ate under the wagon. The doctor in charge was an Australian who had brought enough for himself and me, and I made tea in the ever-useful Etna. Then, after two hours, we went off again, and after a long and tiring day (the heat and the flies were very bad), we reached Frere at 6 p.m., eleven hours from the start. I was not sure whether we were going to be put straight in the ambulance train and sent off that night or not. It turned out that the officers were to sleep in the train and the men in the hospital tents, and the train was to start in the morning. I was not sure where I should put up, but in the nick of time Colonel Stuart Wortley turned up and offered me a bed and dinner in his camp. He is in command of a mixed battalion of reservists who have come out to join the Rifle Brigade and the 60th Rifles now in Ladysmith.
Thursday, Jan. 25.--I brought my diary down to my tea and a bath in Colonel Stuart Wortley's camp last night, I think; and there I was interrupted, and broke off in the middle of a sentence. I was much taken with some of his young officers. They were such gentlemen and good fellows. We dined at 7, and had a pleasant evening, and I was quite ready for bed after thirteen hours on the road (including the two, 5 to 7, waiting to start). This morning, after an early cup of tea in their mess--which, by the way, was an erection of wood and iron, open on one side, so that it looks like a doll's house, where you see into all the rooms--we breakfasted about 7.30, as they were going out for a sort of reconnaissance--not that they are likely to see any Boers, as we do not believe there are any this side of the river, or at all events this side of Chieveley. Then I went to the station to make sure about my train, and then to the hospital, where I visited a good many of the wounded men--many of them those who came down with me yesterday, though one ambulance train full has gone off this morning.
Then at 10.20 my train left. I travelled down the first part of the way with Colonel Hamilton of the 14th Hussars. He was looking after an army doctor attached to their regiment, who had been wounded at Chieveley while tending a wounded man. He is badly hit. They carried him laid out in the guard's van. But I am afraid the shaking of the train must have been very bad for him. He was taken to Mooi River, but we had an hour and a half's stop at Estcourt. There I went across to see the Priors, and they gave me some luncheon. At Mooi River a doctor got in who represents the Red Cross Society; he talked a good deal, and told me some things I was glad to know. The Red Cross Society has unlimited funds, and does things in a handsome way. Glad to be back again in a house with clean sheets on the beds. Major Heath is back from his Greytown trip, and we were glad to meet again. Still they have no news of the result of yesterday's night attack. A great heap of things awaiting my attention.