Scotch Hill war Belmont S.A.
13th Dec. 1899
Kaslo Boys at the Front
From our Camp at the Windmill we marched at 1.30 a.m. to Scotch Hill where we relieved the Australian detachment at 6 a.m. Sunday morning. Sunday we spent building stone shelters for the sentries and Sunday night A Coy enjoys sentry duty in a fierce thunder storm. The lightening is positively blinding at one minute showing our tents three quarters of a mile away the next minute the darkness can almost be felt, and the rain drops as Tommy Atkins expresses it are from the size of a shilling to eighteen-pence. Under the circumstances it is not perhaps to be wounded at that our sentries make some slight mistakes and the Regimental laugh today is on Private Todd of Victoria who, having the password "Halifax" deeply impressed upon him gives it away in the following manner. Seeing some one approaching he challenges him and being correctly answered "Friend" he replies "Advance, friend and give me "Halifax"." If it had been the Colonel who had been approaching no doubt he would have got "Halifax." At our camp at Belmont which is now garrisoned by the Royal Canadians alone we have been busy putting up some very creditable stone beastworks and tho' we are about fifteen miles from the scenes of the fearful battles of the present week we are all on the alert. We sleep dressed and armed with our rifles beside us and Reveille sounds daily at 3 a.m. immediately after which sounds the "fall in" and we man the trenches and stay there till day light. A Coy is again on piquet today 13th many of the boys having an opportunity in their four hours off duty of answering letters from home received last night. Only a limited number of letters being sorted the first night many anxious Tommies are waiting for the morrow to ascertain their luck.
Early on the morning of the 11th the Kaslo boys are greeted by an old friend and very glad they are to see the "Koorenian" of 26th Oct. Needless to say every word is read from editorials and shinning news to the old familiar invitations to visit Dan & Eds and the cheering intelligence that when our "Khaki" is worn out our old friend M. Weinstein will be pleased to have us call on him. But there is a strain of different feeling beginning to make itself felt. Here we be doing garrison duty over a water tank and half a dozen stone & brick buildings while the object for which we came seems as far as ever from being realized.
Suspicion is aroused that the sending of the Royal Canadian Regiment to South Africa is no more than a bare advertisement of Canada's loyalty and the powers that be seem to be bent on protecting the dear boys to the utmost in order possibly to avoid the almost certain recriminations of those at home should any loss of life be fatal their walking advertisement. Many of the men in the Regt. would far rather remain in South Africa that return home with the doubtful glory of a "Cease-fire Medal"
The second death in the Regt. occurred yesterday when Pte. Chappell of G. Coy succumbed to an attack of dysentery with other complications.
He was buried the same day on a rise of ground close to our encampment. A neighbouring rancher helps to make life more bearable for the boys by coming in twice a day with milk and butter, the former at Kaslo prices, butter 2s. a pound.
How good that fresh milk tastes - well ask some dusty old prospector. Dr. Barrie of Toronto our energetic Y.M.C.A. secty. has obtained for us the use of a corrugated iron building 20 X 20 where a [?] table and benches are placed and friends at home are able to reap the benefit of his work through the letters here written.
Our future movements are all unknown we may be brought gradually forward as we have been, doing garrison duty at the successive points captured and kicking our heels impatiently for our first engagement.
Sunday the 17th we have our first church service when the Regt. is divided denominationally and drawn up on three sides of a square the different congregations all carrying rifles and cartridge belts enjoy in the early morning (5 a.m.) their respective services.
The men on sentry & patrol the previous night witnessed an exceedingly fine total eclipse of the moon.
Sunday evening the sunset calls forth good many exclamations of delight at the beauty of the scene.
I have watched the sun set over the Rockies from many miles out on the Prairies and on the divide between Bear & Schroeder Creeks I have sat for an hour watching the Cooper Creek Glacier and that is a sight to remember but the sunset over the level veldt here last night had some features of beauty seemingly peculiar to the atmosphere and season. The sky directly overhead was clean, between us and the horizon hung soft grey clouds just heavy enough to land themselves very effectively to the reflection on their earthward side of the glow on the west. Close to the horizon a couple of big gaps in the clouds gave the sun a chance to pour forth a volume of quivering, molten gold colour the intense brightness of which contrasted with the clouds over head was subdued by a veil in the intermediate distance rosy fog or mist. Full fifteen minutes was this sight to be enjoyed the only grey side of the picture was the mountain like bank of clouds to the south reminding one very much of the Selkirks on a foggy winter evening. However on active service when last post goes at 9 and Reveille at 3 a.m. and one only gets a chance to take off over boats for a couple of hours every other day sunsets and reminiscences must give way to preparation for the news just to hand which is that the Royal Canadians may anticipate taking part in the next engagement at Modder River.
It is said putties and felt covered water bottles such as all the other Regts. use containing three half points will be issued in the mean time and tho' nothing is known of the date yet we hope within a fortnight to be in the third line of the attack on Spiftfontein. Monday the 18th the Regt. all moves across the Ry. to a new camp evidently to make room in the permanent camp ground for our successors which we expect to be the Essex Regt. now at Orange River and to make their famous chargers less conspicuous & thereby add largely to their chances of safety they have all been dyed a sort of "Liberty art Fabric" colour with Condy's Fluid. An artilleryman speaking about them said "You cannot say wot colour they are now".
21st Dec. From all appearances we shall spend Christmas here and enjoy the festive season as much as circumstances will admit of. A rather amusing incident occurred a few nights since when a couple of Minister Fusiliers approaching our lines were asked for the countersign: "Winni - Winni - wot is it Pat" turning to his companion; "Winnipeg" "Aw yes Winnipeg" and they passed. This morning subscriptions and being taken up in each mess and two men from each section are to be allowed to go down to Orange Riv. and purchase what luxuries may be obtained for our Christmas dinner. As the home bound mail closes two days before Christmas a description of the festivities will necessarily have to be deferred until my next letter.
Your Kaslo boys are in their usual good health and spirits and always ready to "hold up their end" for the honor of the little city by the Lake, and look forward with great pleasure to spending Christmas day 1900 in good old Kaslo: