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THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES




fsmnt .



-II L



LADYSMITH



THE DIARY OF A SIEGE




H. W. NEVINSON



LADYSMITH



THE DIARY OF A SIEGE



H. W. NEVINSON



AUTHOR Of "THE THIRTY DAYS WAR



METHUEN & CO.

36 ESSEX STREET W.C.

LONDON

IQOQ






k CHAPTER PAOE



CONTENTS



I. ON THE EDGE .... I

II. AT THK I'.RITlSn FRONT . 9

III. THE FIR.ST week's WAR . . .20

IV. HATTLE OF ELANDS LAAGTE 30
V. r.ATTLE OF TINTA INYONI . . -41

VI. THE REVERSE AT NICHOLSON'S NEK . 5 1

VII. HEMMED IN . . . . 61

VIII. TRAGEDY AND COMEDY . . 72

IX. INCIDENTS, ACCIDENTS, AND REALITIES . 83

X. ENNUI ENLIVENED BY SUDDEN DEATH . lOO

XI. FLASHES FROM DULLER . . . I29

XII. THE NIGHT SURPRISE ON GUN HILL . 1 38

XIII. THE CAPTURE OF SURPRISE HILL . -156

XIV. THE SEASON OF PEACE AND GOODWILL 1 76

V



3C5GS69



vi CONTENTS

eilAPTliK PAGE

XV. SICKNESS, DEATH, AND A NEW YEAR . 1 94

XVI. THE GREAT ATTACK . . . 211

XVII. A PAUSE AND A RENEWAL . -231

XVin. "WITHIN MEASURABLE DISTANCE" . 250

XIX. HOPE DEFERRED .... 265

XX. SUN AND FEVER . . . 279

XXI. RELIEVED AT LAST . . . 29I

APPENDIX .... 299



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

PAGE

PORTRAIT OF THK AUTHOR . . . Frontispiece

iMAP OF LADYSMITH AND NF.IGHBOURUOOI) . . 12

GENERAL SIR GEORGE STEWART WHITE, V.C, G.C. I.E.,

G.C.B., G. C.S.I. ... . . . iS

PLAN OF THE BATTLE OF ELANDS LAAGTE . . 32

LOMBARD'S KOI' ...... 56

IMPERIAL LU-,HT HORSE SHELTERS ... 77

THE DRIFT AM) WATERING-PLACE . . . . 80

DULWAN . . . . . 105

HOSPITAL IN TOWN HALL AFTER A SHELL . . . I27

BREECH BLOCK FROM GUN HILL . . . I48

A PICTURESQUE RUIN . . . . • iSj

HEADQUARTERS AFTER A 961.I!. SHELL . . 186

EFFECT OF 96LB. SHELL ON A PRIVATE HOUSE . . 20I

SPECIMEN OF BOER SHELLS .... 252

INDIAN BAKERY ...... 2OS

GENERAL RT. HON. SIR R. H. PULLER, V.C, G.C.B.,

K.C.M.C., K.c.B. {photograph by KXIGHT, Aldershot) 291

SKETCH PLAN OF gOUNTRY SOUTH AND WEST OF LADYSMITH 306



NOTE

This book lias been reprinted, b}- kind permission of
the Proprietors of the Daily Chronicle, from the full
text of the Letters sent to the paper.



LADYSMITH

THE DIARY OF A SIEGE
CHAPTER I

ON THE EDGE

Newcastle, Natal,

Thursday, October 5, 1899.

LATE last Sunday night I found myself slowly
crawling towards the front from Pretoria in a
commandeered train crammed full of armed Boers
and their horses. I had rushed from the Cape to
quiet little Bloemfontein, the centre of one of the
best administered States in the world, where the
heads of the nation in the intervals of discussing
war proudly showed me their pianos, their little
gardens, little libraries of English books, little
museums of African beasts and Greek coins, and
all their other evidences of advancing culture.
Then on to Pretoria, the same kind of a town on
a larger and richer scale — trim bungalow houses,



2 LADYSMITH

for the most part, spread out among gardens full
of roses, honeysuckle, and syringa. But at the
station all day and night the scene was not idyllic.
Every hour train after train moved away — stores
and firewood in front, horses next, and luggage
vans for the men behind. The partings from
lovers and wives and children must be imagined.
They are bad enough to witness when our own
soldiers go to the front. But these men are not
soldiers at all. Each of them came direct from
his home in the town or on some isolated farm.
They rode up, dressed just in their ordinary
clothes, but for the slung Mauser and the full
cartridge belt over the shoulder or round the
waist. Except for a few gunners, there is no
uniform in the Boer Army. Even the officers
can hardly be distinguished from ordinary farmers.
The only thing that could be called uniform is the
broad-brimmed soft hat of grey or brown. But
all Boers wear it. It is generally very stained and
dirty, and invariably a rusty crape band is wound
about the crown. For the Boer, like the English
poorer classes, has large quantities of relations,
and one of them is always dying.

By the courtesy of the Pretorian Government I
had secured room in the guard's van for myself



ON THE EDGE 3

and a companion, who was equally anxious to
cross the Natal frontier before the firing began,
and that was expected at any moment. In the
van with us were a score of farmers from Middle-
burg wa}', their contingent occupying four trains
with about 800 men and horses. For the most
part they were fine tall men with shaggy light
beards, reminding one of Yorkshire farmers, but
rougher and not so well dressed. Most of them
could speak some English, and many had Scotch
or English relatives. They lay on the floor or
sat on the edge of the van, talking quietly and
smoking enormous pipes. All deeply regretted
the war, regretted the farm left behind just when
spring and rain arc coming, and they were full of
foreboding for the women and children left at the
mercy of Kaffirs. There was no excitement or
shouting or bravado of any kind. So we travelled
into the night, the monotony only broken by one
violent collision which shook us all flat on the
floor, while arms and stores fell crashing upon us.
In the silent pause which followed, whilst we
wondered if we were dead, I could hear the Kaffirs
chattering in their mud huts close by, and in the
distance a cornet was playing " Home, Sweet
Home," with variations.



4 LADYSMITH

It must have been the next evening, as we were
waiting three or four hours, as usual, for the Hne to
clear, that General Joubert came up in a special
train. A few young men and boys in ordinary
clothes formed his "staff." The General himself
wore the usual brown slouch hat with crape band,
and a blue frock coat, not luxuriously new. His
beard was quite white, but his long straight hair
was still more black than grey. The brown sallow
face was deeply wrinkled and marked, but the dark
brown eyes were still bright, and looked out upon
the world with a kind of simplicity mingled with
shrewdness, or perhaps some subtler quality. He
spoke English with a piquant lack of grammar
and misuse of words. When I travelled with him
next day, almost the first thing he said to me was,
" The heart of my soul is bloody with sorrow."
His moderating influence on the Kruger Govern-
ment is well known, and he described to me how
he had done his utmost for peace. But he also
described how bit by bit England had pushed the
Boers out of their inheritance, and taken advantage
of them in every conference and native war. He
was particularly hurt that the Queen had taken no
notice of the long letter or pamphlet he wrote to
her on the situation. And, by the way, I often



ON THE EDGE 5

observed what regard most Boers appear to feel
for the Queen personally. They constantly couple
her name with Gladstone's when they wish to say
anything nice about English politics. As to the
General's views on the crisis, there would be little
new to say. Till the present war his hope had
been for a South African Confederacy under
English protection — the Cape, Natal, Free State,
and Transvaal all having equal rights and local
self-government. He knows well enough the
inner causes of the present evils. " But now," he
said, "we can only leave it to God. If it is His
will that the Transvaal perish, we can only do our
best."

At Zandspruit, the scene of the old Sand River
Convention, the whole Boer camp crowded to the
station to greet the national hero, and he was at
once surrounded by a herd of farmers, shaking his
hands and patting him warmly on the back. It
was a respectful but democratic greeting. The
Boer Army — if for a moment we may give that
name to an unorganised collection of volunteers —
is entirely democratic. The men are nominally
under field cornets, commanders, and the General.
But they openly boast that on the field the
authority and direction of officers do not count for



6 LADYSMITH

much, and they go pretty much as they please.
The camp, though not in the least disorderly, was
confused and irregular — stores, firewood, horses,
cattle, and tents strewn about the enormous veldt,
almost haphazard, though the districts were kept
fairly well separate. Provisions were plenty, but
the cooking was bad. It took three days to get
bread made, and some detachments had to eat
their meat raw. I think there were not more than
10,000 or less than 7,000 men in the camp at that
time, but the commandeered trains crawled up
every two or three hours with their new loads.

By a piece of good fortune we succeeded in
crossing the frontier in an open coal-truck. The
border-line runs about six miles north of Majuba
and Laing's Nek, the last Boer village being
Volksrust, and Charlestown the first English.
The scenery changes rapidly ; the high, bare
veldt of the Southern Transvaal is at once left
behind, and we enter the broad valley of Natal,
sloping steadily down to the sea and becoming
richer and more tropical as it descends. All
regular traffic had stopped three days before, but
now and then a refugee train came up to the
frontier and transhipped its miserable crowd.
Fugitives of every nation have been hurrying to



ON THE EDGE 7

the railway in hopes of escape. The stations far
down into Natal arc constantly surrounded with
patient groups, waiting, waiting for an empty
truck. Hindoos from Bombay and Madras with
their golden nose-rings and brilliant silks sit day
and night waiting side by side with coal-black
Kaffirs in their blankets, or " blue-blooded " Zulus
who refuse to hide much of their deep chocolate
skin, showing a kind of purple bloom like a plum.
The patient indifference with which these savages
will sit unmoved through any fortune and let time
run over them, is almost like the solemn calm of
nature's own laws. The whites are restless and
probably suffer more. Many were in extreme
misery. Three or four young children died on
the journey. One poor woman became a mother
in the train just after the frontier, and died, leaving
the baby alive. At the border I found many
English and Scotch families, who had driven
across the veldt from Ermelo, surrendering all
their possessions. All spoke of the good treat-
ment the Boers had shown them on the journey,
even when the waggon had outspanned for the
night close to the Boer camp. I came down to
Newcastle with a Caithness stonemason and his
family. They had lost house, home, and liveli-



8 LADYSMITH

hood. They had even abandoned their horses
and waggon on the veldt. The woman regretted
her piano, but what really touched her most was
that she had to wash her baby in cold water at
the lavatory basin, and he had always been
accustomed to warm. So we stand on the perilous
edge and suffer variously.



CHAPTER II

AT THE BRITISH FRONT

Ladysmith, Natal,

Wednesday, October 1 1 , 1 899.

LADYSMITH breathes freely to-day, but a
week ago she seemed likely to become
another Lucknow. Of line battalions only the
Liverpools were here, besides two batteries of field
artillery, some of the i8th Hussars, and the 5th
Lancers, If Kruger or Joubert had then allowed
the Boers encamped on the Free State border to
have their own way, no one can say what might
have happened. Our force would have been out-
numbered at least four to one, and probably more.
In event of disaster the Boers would have seized
an immense quantity of military stores accumu-
lated in the camp, and at the railway station.
What is worse, they would have isolated the still
smaller force lately thrown forward to Dundee,



10 LADYSMITH

so as to break the strong defensive position of the
Biggarsberg, which cuts off the north of Natal,
and can only be traversed by three difficult passes.
Dundee was just as much threatened from the
east frontier beyond the Buffalo River, where the
Transvaal Boers of the Utrecht and Vryheid
district have been mustered in strong force for
nearly a fortnight now. With our two advanced
posts " lapped up " (the phrase is a little musty
here), our stores lost, and our reputation among
the Dutch and native populations entirely ruined,
the campaign would have begun badly.

For the Boers it was a fine strategic opportunity,
and they were perfectly aware of that. But " the
Old Man," as they affectionately call the President,
had his own prudent reasons for refusing it.
" Let the enemy fire first," he says, like the famous
Frenchman, and so far he has been able to hold
the most ardent of the encamped burghers in
check. " If he should not be able ! " we kept
saying. We still say it morning and evening, but
the pinch of the danger is passed. Last Thursday
night the ist Devons and the 19th Hussars began
to arrive and the crisis ended. Yesterday before
daybreak half the Gordons came. We have now
a mountain battery and three batteries of field



AT THE BRITISH FRONT ii

artillery, the 19th Hussars (the i8th having gone
forward to Dundee), besides the 5th Lancers (the
"Irish Lancers"), who are in faultless condition,
and a considerable mixed force of the Natal
Volunteers. Of these last, the Carbineers are
perhaps the best, and generally serve as scouts
towards the Free State frontier. lUit all have
good repute as horsemen, marksmen, and guides,
and at present they are the force which the Boers
fear most. They are split up into several detach-
ments — the Border Mounted Rifles, the Natal
Mounted Rifles (from Durban), the Imperial Light
Horse, the Natal Police, and the Umvoti Mounted
Rifles, who are chiefly Dutch. Then of infantry
there are the Natal Royal Rifles (only about 1 50
strong), the Durban Light Infantry, and the Natal
Field Artillery. As far as I can estimate, the
total Natal Volunteer force will not exceed 2,000,
but they are well armed, are accustomed to the
Boer method of warfare, and will be watched
with interest. Unhappily, many of them here are
already suffering from the change of life and food
in camp. That is inevitable when volunteers first
take the field.

But Ladysmith has an evil reputation besides.
Last year the troops here were prostrated with



12 LADYSMITH

enteric. There is a little fever and a good deal of
dysentery even now among the regulars. The
stream by the camp is condemned, and all water is
supplied in tiny rations from pumps. The main
permanent camp is built of corrugated iron,
practically the sole building material in South
Africa, and quite universal for roofs, so that the
country has few " architectural features " to boast
of. The cavalry are quartered in the tin huts, but
the Liverpools, Devons, Gordons, and Volunteers
have pitched their own tents, and a terrible time
they are having of it. Dust is the curse of the
place. We remember the Long Valley as an
Arcadian dell. Veterans of the Soudan recall the
black sand-storms with regretful sighs. The thin,
red dust comes everywhere, and never stops. It
blinds your eyes, it stops your nose, it scorches
your throat till the invariable shilling for a little
glass of any liquid seems cheap as dirt. It turns
the whitest shirt brown in half an hour, it creeps
into the works of your watch and your bowels. It
lies in a layer mixed with flies on the top of your
rations. The white ants eat away the flaps of the
tents, and the men wake up covered with dust, like
children in a hayfield. Even mules die of it in
convulsions. It was in this land that the ostrich




MAP OF LADYSMITll AND NKIGH tiOL'RHCOO



AT THE BRITISH FRONT 13

developed its world-renowned digestive powers ;
and no wonder.

The cam[) stands on a barren i)lain, nearly two
miles north-west of the town — if wc may so call
the one straight road of stores and tin-roofed
bungalows. Low, flat-topped hills surround it,
bare and rock}-. But to understand the country it
is best to climb into the mountains of the long
Drakensberg, which forms the Free State frontier
in a series of strangely jagged and precipitous
peaks, and at one place, by the junction with
Basutoland, runs up to 11,000 feet. Last Sunday
I went into the Free State through Van Reenen's
Pass, over which a little railway has been carried
by zigzag " reverses." The summit is 5,500 feet
above the sea, or nearly 2,000 feet above Lady-
smith. From the steep slopes, in places almost as
green as the Lowlands or Yorkshire fells, I looked
south-east far over Natal — a parched, brown land
like the desert beyond the Dead Sea, dusty bits of
plain broken up by line upon line of bare red
mountain. It seemed a poor country to make a
fuss about, yet as South Africa goes, it is rich and
even fertile in its way. Indeed, on the reddest
granite mountain one never fails to find multitudes
of flowering plants and pasturage for thinnish sheep.



14 LADYSMITH

Across the main range, Van Reenen's is the largest
and best known pass. The old farmer who gave it
the name is living there still and bitterly laments
the chance of war. But there are other passes too,
any of which may suddenly become famous now —
Olivier's Hoek, near the gigantic Mont aux
Sources, Bezuidenhaut, Netherby, Tintwa, and
(north of Van Reenen's) De Beer's Pass, Cundy-
cleugh, Muller's, and Botha's, beyond which the
range ends with the frontier at Majuba. Three or
four of these passes are crossed by waggon roads,
but Van Reenen's has the only railway. The
frontier, marked by a barbed wire fence across the
summit of the pass, must be nearly forty miles from
Ladysmith, but from the cliffs above it, the little
British camp can be seen like a toy through this
clear African air, and Boer sentries watch it all
day, ready to signal the least movement of its
troops, betrayed by the dust. Their own main
force is distributed in camps along the hills well
beyond the nine-miles' limit ordained by the
Convention. The largest camp is said to be
further north at Nelson's Kop, but all the camps
are very well hidden, though in one place I saw
about 5CXD of the horses trying to graze. The
rains are late, and the grass on the high plateau



AT THE BRITISH FRONT 15

of the Free State is not so good as on the Natal
slopes of the pass. The Boer commandoes suffer
much from want of it. When all your army
consists of mounted infantry, forage counts next
to food.

At present the Van Reenen Railway ends at
Harrismith, an arid but cheerful little town at the
foot of the great cliffs of the Plaatburg. It boasts
its racecourse, golf-links, musical society, and some
acquaintance with the German poets. The Scotch
made it their own, though a few Dutch, English,
and other foreigners were allowed to remain on
sufferance. Now unhappily the place is almost
deserted, and Burns himself would hardly find a
welcome there. In the Free State every resident
may be commandeered, and I believe forty-eight
hours counts as "residence." You . see the ad-
vantage of an extended franchise. The penalty
for escape is confiscation of property, and five
years' imprisonment or ^^^500 fine, if caught. The
few British who remained have had all their horses,
carts, and supplies taken. Some are set to serve
the ambulance ; a few will be sent to watch
Basutoland ; but most of them have abandoned
their property and risked the escape to Natal,
slipping down the railway under bales or built up



i6 LADYSMITH

in the luggage vans like nuns in a brick wall. In
one case the Boers commandeered three wool
trucks on the frontier. Those trucks were shunted
on to a siding for the night, and in the morning the
wool looked strangely shrunk somehow. Yet it
was not wool that had been taken out and smuggled
through by the next train. For Scot helps Scot,
and it is Scots who work the railway. It pays to
be a Scot out here. I have only met one Irishman,
and he was unhappy.

But for the grotesque side of refugee unhappiness
one should see the native train which comes down
every night from Newcastle way, and disappears
towards Maritzburg and safety. Native workers
of every kind — servants, labourers, miners — are
throwing up their places and rushing towards the
sea. The few who can speak English say, " Too
plenty bom-bom ! " as sufficient explanation of
their panic. The Government has now fitted the
open trucks with cross-seats and side-bars for their
convenience, and so, hardly visible in the darkness,
the black crowd rolls up to the platform. Instantly
black hands with pinkish palms are thrust through
all the bars, as in a monkey-house. Black heads
jabber and click with excitement. White teeth
suddenly appear from nowhere. It is for bread



AT THE BRITISH FRONT 17

and tin-meats they clamour, and they are willing
to pa}'. But a loaf costs a shilling. Everything
costs a shilling here, unless it costs half-a-cro\vn ;
and Natal grows fat on war. A shilling for a bit
of bread ! What is the good of Christianity ? So
the dusky hands are withdrawn, and the poor Zulu
with untutored maw goes starving on. But if any
still doubt our primitive ancestry, let them hear
that Zulu's outcries of pain, or watch the fortunate
man who has really got a loaf, and gripping it with
both hands, gnaws it in his corner, turning his
suspicious eyes to right and left with fear.

The air is full of wild rumours. A boy riding
over Laing's Nek saw 1,000 armed Boers feeding
their horses on Manning's farm. The Boers have
been seen at a Dutch settlement this side Van
Reenen's. Yesterday a section of the Gordons on
their arrival were sent up to look at them in an
armoured train. It is thought that war will be
proclaimed to-day. That has been thought every
day for a fortnight past, and the land buzzes with
lies which may at any moment be true.

Half the Manchesters have just marched in to
trumpet and drum. When I think of those ragged
camps of peasants just over the border the pomp
and circumstance seem all on one side,
c



i8 LADYSMITH

Friday^ October 13, 1899.
So it has begun at last, for good or evil. Here
we think it began yesterday, just at the very
moment when Sir George White arrived. Late
at night scouts brought news of masses of Boers
crossing the Tintwa Pass, and going into laager
with their waggons only fifteen miles away to the
west. The men stood to their arms, and long
before light we were marching steadily forward
along the Van Reenen road. First came the
Liverpools, then the three batteries of Field
Artillery with a mountain battery, then the
Devons and the Gordons. The Manchesters
acted as rear-guard, and the Dublin Fusiliers,
who were hurried down from Dundee by train,
came late, and then were hurried back again.
The column took all its stores and forage for
five days in a train of waggons (horses, mules, and
oxen) about two miles long. When day broke we
saw the great mountains on the Basuto border,
gleaming with snow like the Alps. Far in front
the cavalry — the 5th Lancers and 19th Hussars
with the Natal Volunteers — were sweeping over
the patches of plain and struggling up the hills
in search of that reported laager. But not a Boer
of it was to be seen. At nine o'clock, having




GENERAL SIR GEORGE STEWART \\-HlTR, V.C, G.C.I.E., G.C.B., G. C.S.I.



AT THE BRITISH FRONT 19

advanced eight or nine miles, the whole column
took up a stroni; position, with all its bac^gage
and train in faultless order, and went to sleep.
About one we began to return, and now just as
the mail goes, we are all back again in camp
for tea. And so ends the first day of active
hostilities.



CHAPTER III

THE FIRST week's WAR

• Ladysmith,
Thursday, October 19, 1899.

IT is a week to-day since the Boers of the
Transvaal and Free State began their com-
bined invasion of Natal. So far all action has
been on their side. They have crept down the
passes with their waggons and half- organised
bands of mounted infantry, and have now ad-
vanced within a short day's march of the two
main British positions which protect the whole
colony. It will be seen on a map that North
Natal forms a fairly regular isoceles triangle,
having Charlestown, Majuba, and Laing's Nek
at the apex, the Drakensberg range separating
it from the Free State on the one side, and the
Buffalo River with its lower hills separating it
from the Transvaal on the other. A base may



THE FIRST WEEK'S WAR 21

be drawn a few miles below Ladysmith — say, from
Oliver's Hoek Pass in the Drakensberg to the
union of the Tugela River with the Buffalo,
Newcastle will then lie about thirty miles from
the apex of the triangle, nearly equi-distant from
both sides. Dundee is about twelve miles from the
middle point of the right side, and Ladysmith
about the same distance from the middle point
of the base. Evidently a " tight place " for a
comparatively small force when the frontiers to


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