Springs, South Africa
19th June 1900
Eight months today since Kaslo's volunteers took the oath to "cause Her Majesty's peace to be kept on land and at sea" and of our doings for the past eight weeks I shall try and give you some account.
If all the details of our march from Bloemfontein to Pretoria were faithfully recorded I am afraid my readers would be as tired as we were when we reached Pretoria.
Our Regt spent some four weeks resting at Bloemfontein after their heavy marching from [?], the rest being broken by three trips out in different direction to meet supposed bodies of the enemy.
On Saturday, April 21st we left Bloemfontein "for about four days" we were told and we have not seen it since.
On the 20th we came in touch with a small body of the enemy about twenty miles east of Bloemfontein and got into action about three in the afternoon and were engaged until dark. We lost one killed and our Col. was wounded, and two men.
The following day we took possession of the little town that Thaba N'Lehn or Dark Mountain, so called from a big hill near by. This place was half way to Ladybrand for which place we were supposed to be heading. On the 28th we were under fire nearly all day & took up a position at sunset on a very steep ridge at the foot of a "young mountain" where the Boers had been all day, and retired from this position as soon as darkness allowed us and marched a long five miles to camp, getting in at 10.30
The following day we spent a quiet Sunday in camp writing letters. A mile away on one side of the church bells were ringing at Thabla N'lehn while two miles off in an opposite direction the Boer shells were equally distinct. The contrast was rather a noticeable one.
On April 30th we marched at 6 am. and were in action at 1 p.m. We soon found the enemy holding a big kopje on our left front and they had guns in good position on our right front and a long range gun on our right rear.
The situation was extremely interesting. The enemy seemed in considerable force and our Brigade alone was making the attack.
Our first formation was in extended order of double companies fronting north with 130 yds between ranks. Here we experienced our first shell fire, quite a few from the long range gun being sent over our heads at a body of Mtd Infantry.
The Royal Canadians were next ordered to group the kopje in support of the Gordons who were climbing the south half of the East side.
""A" Company will lead" were the orders and we changed ranks & made our way at 10 paces extension through the other companies, made a half right turn & faced the kopje. Our orders were slightly misunderstood and we went toward the north end of the kopje & so came into a pretty hot rifle fire from the right flank. As soon as we were observed by the Boers they devoted the attention of one of the guns on our right front to shelling our line as it advanced across the open. They fired a few shrapnel but mostly segment shells which buried themselves in the ground & threw a cloud of dust into the air. Led by Capt. Blanchard, our Company advanced with creditable steadiness through it all never appearing to falter or get any way nervous and we were shortly somewhat sheltered by a spur of the kopje behind which we climbed the hill to the Gordons support and found them just under cover of the brow of the hill.
Here we lay all evening and all night, the Gordons extending to the right and the Canadians to the left. In the morning, after a very cold night, our force gradually advanced, their movements being somewhat threatened still by the enemy's guns on our right front, which outranged ours & a few shells came over our heads as we lay on the south end of the kopje trying to get warm in the welcome sunshine.
To silence these guns our Artillery had to do some dashing work and of course with their usual pluck they did it. Three guns of the 74th Battery were got ready & galloped into action. We heard the three shots they fired from our position on the hill & the Boer gun was in a position to talk no more.
It was a grand piece of work, to see those guns galloped within range of the enemy in succession. As the first fired the second was wheeled into action and as the first retired the third was ready and no more was needed.
By 2 p.m. the kopje was ours. "B" Coy. of ours came under pretty hot fire but in doing so caused the Boers to expose themselves to a few well directed volleys from the Shropshires. The Gordons, as usual did grand work, one of their captains being recommended for the V.C. tho' the poor fellow lost his sight in doing the deed that won it.
From here we marched northward, joining Lord Roberts' main body at the battle of Zand River. Here we saw some excellent artillery work by the 5 in. guns our company was escorting.
At sunrise the enemy were found to be working a Pom-pom from a stone Kaffir hut and threatening our Mounted Infantry seriously.
An orderly galloped up to the Col. in command of the big guns with a message to "silence that Pom-pom". The big gun was slewed round the little Colonel turned on his horse & glanced at the hut, "Try 3,700" he quietly remarked. They "tried" 3700 and that Kaffir hut, Pompom & crew of 8 men in charge were seen to disappear in a cloud of dust from which emerged only a few wounded men, the Austrian officer in charge being killed and the gun put forever hors de combat.
The main body of our Regt. was highly commended for holding in check some 800 Boers, their numbers not being known to be nearly so great when the position was assigned to us. When night came our Co'y & H Co'y found ourselves lost from our Regt. As we had stayed with the guns instead of stopping at Zand River as had been intended. We were, however, made as comfortable as possible thanks to the hospitality of the Gordons and the Shropshires who supplied us with a few blankets and tea, respectively. From here we continue our way north and rest one day within 4 miles of Kroonstadt. Here we again change our direction and strike South East for Lindley change again half way & march on Heilbron which we enter as advance guard on the 22nd of May. Our Co'y leading. Again we change our course and this time strike north west crossing to the west of the main army & forging steadily on till at 3.30 pm. on May 26th we wade the Vaal & camp. At last, after all these miles marching we have crossed the Vaal and six out of the ten men from Kootenay, besides Captain Hodgins were there. The unfortunate ones were Hicks of Kamloops, Rea of Rossland, Patterson of Nelson and Wilkins of Kaslo. The last three all being left behind with fever.
About five in the evening the Gordons, who were rear guard that day, came marching in, the pipes playing "Blue Bonnets over the Border."
On the 29th we were in action near Florida, a suburb of Johannesburg. Here we had to advance across open ground which had just been burnt over by the Boers; in fact we marched "through fire and through water" some of the men getting their whiskers singed by the burning grass. The enemy's object of course being to make the "gentleman in khaki" "show up" to advantage on the black ground. Our Regt was on the right & the Gordons on the left & they, poor fellows had over 100 casualties before we got the Boer position while we got off lightly with seven wounded. The Boer artillery again doing very poor work. On the Boers' position we found two dead and a good many signs of wounded; mainly the result of our artillery fire.
Here we spent a cold night & marched in the morning, with half a biscuit for breakfast to a little place called Florida, the centre of a number of the famous Rand Gold mines. Here for a couple of days our rations were a pound of trek ox and half a pound of yellow corn meal, cook it as best you can!
On the 1st of June we camp within 5 miles of Johannesburg & on the 2nd one man from each mess is allowed a pass to go in and see the city and buy provisions for his mess. The city reminds one of a new Western American city, the little old houses of its early history standing beside the fine building of modern date.
Provisions are very hard to get and one store in the market square seems to enjoy almost a monopoly in the grocery line and charges accordingly. Tommy Atkins however roams around the outskirts and buys his provisions at some little unknown store where flour is still to be had.
On the 3rd we again move north & camp in sight of Pretoria on the 5th, after a slight engagement the previous evening. At 2 pm on the 5th we march through the city with fixed bayonets, past Oom Paul's house with its white lions and to sentry boxes, them a right wheel & we turn into the Market square, the four sides thronged with people. "Left wheel", the land of Derbyshire regt strikes up "The old Brigade" & we march past our grand old man, the Commander in-chief. Our boys march like veterans and to more than one this is the most impressive monument in the trip. It seems worth while after all to put up with long marches & short rations to be one of the 420 who take part in the ceremony. The next morning we are told that "The Old Brigade" having reached the Capital as our Genl intended it should was to be broken up & the different Regts sent to different points.
The following afternoon we left our old camp ground for one on the opposite side of the city. As we marched off we were given three very hearty cheers by our old comrades the Cornwalls, led by our Brigade Major. Twenty four hours rest, with orders to wash our clothes & get cleaned up generally, and we were told the Brigade was reformed with the Suffolks in the place of the Shropshires & we marched S.E. & 2 pm on June 8th.
On the morning of the 9th we fell in at 8 to march 3 miles east, but as the advance guard moved off orders came "The 19th Brigade will march to a point near Johannesburg " so gladly we turned our faces south and marched 17 miles on ½ lb of bread. We dropped our Cornwalls on the way & the Suffolk at various places & the Gordons, the 74th R.F.A. & ourselves camped at Elandsfontein, a busy mining centre about 8 miles east of Johannesburg from which place we marched out to Springs in easy stages, & here we are doing garrison duty, resting by day & on piquet every second night & incidentally on full rations for the first time since we left Bloemfontein. That is from 21st of April until 11th of June we never had two days rest or two days full rations in succession. During these past eight weeks we have had no mail whatever, no pay & for the first 6 weeks only two opportunities of mailing letters.
The only item of news of the outside world we have received was the name of the Derby winner. We have also heard that one of our convoys was attacked by Boers & Capt. Blanchard of our Co'y killed, Capt. Macdonnell & four men taken prisoners and all our mail burnt.
Our feelings maybe more easily imagined than described! We hope now however to be allowed to rest here in quiet until they are ready to send us home.
The 19th Brigade did some of the hardest marching of any in this part of the country and after marching through Pretoria we feel as if our work is pretty nearly done & very welcome will be the order to entrain for Cape Town.