Orange River S.A.
8th Dec 1899
With the Royal Canadians at the Front, four days at De Aar slipped quickly away with three or four daily parades and fatigues of all kinds such as helping the Royal Horse Artillery load a transport train on the completion of which piece of work the Capt. told our Sub. to thank the men & congratulated him on the way the Canadians appeared to be able to turn their hands to anything. Another compliment was paid to our Co'y in particular by the Quarter-master who had detailed a party under lance corpl. Dickson (of Nelson) to dig a trench The party was composed almost entirely of Ble. boys and after two hours good work our Corpl. reputed to the Major that we had struck solid rock after going through a few inches of shale & could not go deeper, on inspecting the work the Major said it was the only decent thing he had seen that day and congratulated us on the way we had stuck to it finishing by asking us what Co'y we were from & being told A. said "I might have known you were from the West" Thurs. @ 3 a.m. Reveille calls us out and in half an hour every tent in A Co is struck and sacked and soon after all the other Coys. At 5 we entrain and arrive at Orange River, the scene of the first battle at noon. Here we lie beside our piled arms all afternoon waiting orders and at 7 p.m. under a very threatening sky camp is ordered pitched A furious dust storm makes this work very interesting and before the first peg is in the rain is coming down in sheets.
Half the men busy on to the tent ropes while the others carry in rifles & accoutrements and in a few minutes it's a muddy looking crowd that gathers in each tent sorting out their equipments. In a short time all is right rifles cleaned & all as we are lie down on the sand in our wet Khaki & sleep the sleep of Canadians in camp.
At 10 p.m. we are wakened to be told our Co'y. is detailed for special service as outpost & we must be ready at a moments notice. Day breaks however without further alarm & coffee is served as usual. An impressive sight witnessed shortly after service is the funeral of a comrade in the Shropshire Light Infantry who had died in hospital here. The firing party & band precede the Artillery wagon carrying the body which is followed by the men of the company to which the deceased belonged. The air is full of rumours of the nearness of the enemy. Seven hundred are said to be close at hand cut off from their main body. Certain it is they tore up the Reg. four miles north of here the sight before last. Last night however the line had been repaired and the Gordon Highlanders went forward to join the Australians who had marched out the same morning. Our Royal Canadians have created a very good impression wherever they have been, the only criticism being that they are perhaps a little too ready to display the exuberance of spirits which seems to possess them. Our officers have all turned their swords into stores and carry rifles and wear the slade Wallace equipment. All non coms take their stripes off and put a pencil mark on their helmets this is a move to counteract the practice of the Boers of picking off the men in command. The Gordon Highlanders are all wearing Khaki aprons to prevent the Boers taking advantage of the good target afforded by a plaid kilt.
Our neighbours, the Shropshires have a very excellent dry canteen at which our men are able to exchange the princely & unaccustomed salary they are receiving for such articles of gastronomic luxury as Jam, biscuits and potted meats.
This morning we were ordered to fill our Bandoliers which hold one hundred rounds and the opinion is that we act as an escort to a Battery of Artillery going up the line today. Seven hundred Boers are said to be in the hills quite close to here, cut off from their main body and it is said the Australians exchanged shots with some of them on their way out yesterday. There will be no blame attachable to the winds of South Africa if the Royal Canadians are not full of "grit" when they meet the foe as you may judge from the sand on this letter.
After lying around camp all day we find that the only work to be done tonight is by all companies but A. From all the other companies men are going out on outpost but for us something else is evidently in store. Some excitement was felt this morning when it was learned that a sergeant and a private of the Shropshires had been shot the former probably fatally by one of their own sentries.
The night was very dark and on the relief guard going around they were challenged by the sentry and did not answer the first challenge, at the second given about 8 yards away the Sergt. answered "Its all right its me" and the sentry opened fire and put in five shots before he was aware of the mistake. The sentry will probably be entirely exonerated as the Sergts. reply was entirely irregular and the sentry would not have been justified allowing him to advance.
It is reported today that a battle is in progress somewhere between Modder Riv. and Kimberly but no details are yet in our possession. Our boys are buying putties from wounded men who don't expect to go to the front again.
The writer is wearing a pair of which were through the battles of Belmont, Graspan and Modder River, the wearer belonging to the Guards being slightly wounded in the last engagement. Saturday at 9 a.m. the right half of A Coy is busy loading our supplies and we entrain and start for Belmont arriving there our boys unload the transports while the remainder of the right half (consisting of A. b. C & d. Coy's) march out two miles and camp beside a splendid well the water from which is greatly appreciated by the dusty Canadians both for drinking and in the evening for a splendid bathe, the first since we landed!
At 6 p.m. orders are read for fifty men and one officer to parade at 1.30 a.m. & march to Scotts' Hill for piquet duty returning to Belmont at 6 a.m. tomorrow the 10th. The remainder to strike camp & return to Belmont. There is a force of somewhere over 1000 Boers in the neighbourhood who were cut off from their main body at Modder River. We are on the ground of the Belmont fight today and some of our boys saw a number of the enemies dead today.
Five of Kootenays men go on this piquet tomorrow morning at 1.30 so I shall close this and leave it with the boys in camp so that it will be posted tomorrow at Belmont. At Belmont today we had the honor of helping the Gordon Highlanders up a hill - with a transport wagon.
They boarded the train we came on and went further on today.
Where we are bound tomorrow is beyond our [?]. My diary for the next few days should be more interesting than formerly. Kaslos' boys are well and ready for the front and remember with gratitude all Kaslo friends.