5 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 7-9 Jan 1900

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[FS/2/2/4/2/5] (1)


Before Colenso

7 January 1900

[Salutation Redacted]

[[1]] I am starting this letter (on new paper) as I think it quite possible we may not be “before Colenso” much longer at least I hope not, & the moment we move from here we will be so occupied that it is likely I may not for a little time be able to write you more than a few lines instead of the wordy epistles I have sent you for the last week or two. My news is not much, yesterday morning about 2 O’clock I was awoke by the sound of heavy firing in the direction of Ladysmith it continued until 2pm & it was evident a devil of a fight was going on, about 1 O’clock came the news of an assault on the garrison with repulse of the with Boers heavy loss, the latter is still uncon-firmed[sic] at any rate we were turned out & pushed on to our old battle field to make a demonstration against Colenso which we did in our usually rotten manner, we shelled the place & the rifle pits around it & the infantry advanced but not near enough to do anything & the farce which will be known in history as the “reconnaissance of the 6′ January” & which you will be reading of in your Monday paper to-morrow[sic] as a most successful proceeding lasted until dark when we returned, we did nothing to the accompaniment of a thunderstorm & some rain. In passing over our old camping ground there was still every sign of our hasty departure of which I told you, here was a group of 7 dead horses destroyed after the battle from wounds, there was a shovel & picketing gear & even a purse (with nothing in it) a sock & other rubbish hastily dropped in our early morning retirement. Still I shall put this reconnaissance in my war services all arms being engaged & Buller present.

We have no news of any kind, the best we get comes from the Morning post of a month old [3 words redacted] which papers are in great requisition in spite of all which come out here.

[[2]] You manage to select just the very information we want & already the copies dealing with the battle of Colenso are bespoke in anticipation. I do hope you will have sent them all. We know the sensation which the defeat must have produced, but we await the papers with the greatest interest.

I received a letter from poor Lucy by last mail, it was written in very good spirits, but with what you told me I read between the lines. Still I see no reason why she should not recover.

The Record you sent was an interesting number — Our daily life does not vary much, we fight & then have a cricket or football match & some have even attempted polo such are the inconsistencies of active service. All are in good spirits & anxious to meet the enemy, we have no fear but that our luck will turn. There is a General Hart here (you may have seen his picture in the papers) at the battle of Colenso he took his Brigade in columns (viz in [1 word struck through, illeg.] masses) to the attack instead of extended order viz opened out with a good interval between the men the result was they were butchered & a man after the battle called him a murderer. For this he was made a prisoner some say he got a year for it, others that when asked what evidence he had to prove his charge said “The Whole Brigade Sir” whereupon he was let off. The fact is true but how he was dealt with I do not know.

It would seem strange to you to think of men smoking under fire, yet we all smoked on the day of the fight excepting on our return when we were two tired & down cast.

Morton is doing admirably & getting quite the old campaigner. He is able now to look after himself which he could not do at first. This evening I saw he was playing quoits, for this purpose the men use horse shoes! He tells me that his mother is allowed 5/- a week while he is away, from some local funds. This is wonderfully good. He is very pleased at it.

[[3]] I got a Xmas card to day[sic] from Dewar of Edinburgh,  very thoughtful of him. One like’s to think they are not quite forgotten outside their own family. Excuse this writing but I am in bed.

8 Jan. Gladstone rode over from Frere to day[sic] to see me, he had no news. Frere is 5 miles South of this place. I never told you how grandly these Khaki scarves worked that you made for me (I dont[sic] mean the silk ones). They are perfect & have done me great service. I have not had my Khaki washed yet & what with [1 word redacted] sweat, dirt & general filth it is rather a sight. The fact is that being waterproofed I have hesitated to wash it in case I wash the waterproof out of it. I asked Samuel Bros[2]: the question whether it would wash, but they did not deign a reply. I fear however that very shortly Mr Dobie Morton must take a turn at it.

I was disappointed last week in not seeing my Gazette with permission to wear the new decoration, but I hope it may appear next week & then up go three ribbons [1 line redacted]!!

No news from Ladysmith to day[sic] & no firing — though we are within 15 miles of the place, I am sure that you know more what is going on there than we do, it does seem absurd considering you are 6000 miles away. Here we know nothing not even what is going on on the other side of the Colony. I wish I had the running of this show. They talk of us not knowing our profession & blundering etc etc but God forgive us if we do not know more in our little fingers then they contain in the whole of their heads & bodies.

Morton is putting in his usual afternoon sleep, he has quite a good time of it[,] sleeps outside my tent under a tarpaulin on some hay in order to keep out of the tents into which they have crowded 15 men! They are very full when they hold 12 — the same size of tent never has more than 3 officers!!

This will give you an idea of the overcrowding. They have nothing but a cloak, waterproof sheet & blanket between two. They sleep in their clothes & have done so for the past month. I noticed the infantry this morning with their shirts inside out & stripped to the waist doing something to them. I dont[sic] think they were mending them

[[4]] but picking out the charming little insect known to the soldier as a ‘grey back’. Such are the pleasure & possibilities of war. Thank God we are free up to date. My face is still sore & peeling, Lanolin borrowed from Larnder has given me relief but my ears bleed at the crack when washed so you can imagine the pleasures of shaving!!

Shall I grow a beard & then send you a photo?

Flies are a plague[,] they are in myriads & the tent black with them.

I have plenty of work to do & do it, time does not hang & the day is over before I know it. This is an excellent thing, but how the time will hang when the campaign is ended. [2 lines redacted]

I hope you are having a mild winter, it is very difficult in this grilling tent to believe that with you it is cold & fog. [5 lines redacted].

I hope these pencil letters are not too difficult to read[.] I have no pen so borrow Morton’s & even then the nib dries so quickly & the ink get[s] so thick that writing is a misery.

[14 lines redacted]

I secured some stamps for Babs the other day they are English, but their value is so high that they must be difficult to obtain. I shall enclose them in this, give them to her with my best wishes & kind remembrances.

I am glad your staff is doing so well & give you no trouble, it is a great source of pleasure to me to know you are so comfortable. I can quite imagine you all turning in early, we do the same, though I fear I get no more sleep by it[.]
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[[1]] 9 Jan. It has been raining for the last 12 hours in a perfect water spout & we are washed out I have been sitting on a bag in the drie dried part of the tent reading your excellent Morning Post, my bed is a pool, but my waterproof sheets are on it. My[?] rubber boots are a grand investment & the new waterproof likewise, Every thing[sic] very miserable, we took breakfast literally in a sea of water over ones boot tops, but the sun looks like <it is> coming out soon & we will soon be dry if it does.

There is a notion that we leave here to night[sic] for Spring field[sic] to attack the Boer flank, if so there will be heavy fighting, over long before you get this [3 lines redacted].

The rain may prevent the movement as the river is very swollen & we have to get across it. If we start, with luck Ladysmith shall be relieved by Sunday next; firing was going on there this morning but not very heavy. At dinner last night a wire from Buller was read out corroborating the victory of White over the Boers we applauded loudly & drank <to> his health. If we leave to night[sic] I will have to post this before hand as we

[[2]] go right away from the line of rail & there is no knowing when letters will leave us or reach us. The thought of the latter is distressing — you cannot imagine ones anxiety for home letters.  I devour mine. I wish you could see my tent it is most amusing the floor wet & a big drain dug across it to let out the water which insisted on coming in spite of every pre–caution I in shirt sleeves & gum boots, the bed enveloped in waterproofs, my head wrapped up in this good old red pocket hand’kchief to keep off the flies which exist in millions, outside the squelching of the sodden ground as man & horse goes over it. Morton in a terai hat[3] with cloak & red face washed out of his caboose[?] during the night but still working well the mule standing with his back arched like a camel & grumbling “horrid”. Altogether a scene not calculated to inspire mirth or laughter &yet such goes on. Its[sic] a curious life is a soldiers[sic] & no doubt it is not every man who can take kindly to it. If this were peace instead

[[2]] of war one would be grumbling dreadfully, but you hear nothing. Imagine what it is for the men & officers out the whole night on outpost duty is an absolute deluge & not even a tree to shelter them!! Outposts exist all around the camp cavalry & infantry. The Cavalry outpost can always be seen at a distance owing to the horses, but the infantry can often only be seen when you are on top of them a clay coloured figure sitting or crouching behind a pile of earth or rock of which he is the exact tint reveals nothing to the eye at a distance

On his watchfulness depends our safety — think of him last night without a particle of cover while we were in a comfortable almost palatial mansion in spite of the river [4 words illeg.] Reading of these things over the breakfast table the average Briton can form no conception what it means, a medal at the end of the show is not too handsome a recompense! I have no other news to day[sic] in fact considering we are practically cut off from [3 words illeg.] I think I find a wonderful lot of news for you, but I have no inclination to write to

[[4]] *[4] anyone else [2 lines redacted] My stable companion went out on outpost duty at 3am so I have the tent to myself[,] the poor chap will have a wretched time as they do not return until 7.30pm[,] nice long hours.

The country need subscribe liberally for the men so employed on a campaign of this sort the ‘gentleman in Khaki’ is worth every penny of it.

I hope you let Holmes know how I am getting on, [2 lines redacted]. I will close this letter & post it, if we do not go away to night[sic] I will write you another letter if possible before our mail goes out on Tuesday Thursday so you may perhaps get two in one week. [8 lines redacted]

[No Valediction]

(Please note that work on this transcript is ongoing. Users are advised to study the electronic images of this document where possible. (https://rcvsvethistory.org//archive-collection/fs-working-papers/)

[1] Annotated in red pencil with ‘January 1900’

[2] Samuel Brothers (St Paul’s) Ltd are traditional bespoke & military specialist tailors, established in 1830.

[3] Slouch hat associated with Gurkha regiments

[4] Annotated with ‘7th Jan 00’ ‘Colenso’ and ‘Jan 00’

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6 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 10 Jan 1900

Content warning:

Please note, this archive item contains racist language and/or imagery, as written by the document’s author. This has also been preserved in the transcript of the item. Some content is highly offensive, but it is preserved here for the purposes of historical study and reflection.

Terms of Use
The copyright of this material belongs to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It is available for reuse under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-commercial license.

[FS/2/2/4/2/6] (1)

Preterion’s[?] Farm Camp

Tugela River E of Colenso

10 Jan 1900

[Salutation Redacted]

[[1]] I am a man of foresight or you would not have got the last letter I sent you until it was a week late. We left Cheveley Camp where we had been nearly a month & marched here yesterday. It had poured with rain all the previous day & night & when we started it was evident we were for a day of it, the carts sank into the ground up to their axles while simply being loaded so soft was the ground I knew from this we would have a rough time. We started at 8am the retracing our steps towards Frere & when I say us bear in mind not the 13th Hussars only but some 25000 to 30000 men with them 17 miles of Transport. which looked like a huge snake crawling over the hills The day was dry the heat great & after the rain very muggy we were performing one of the most difficult feats in strategy viz a flank march in the presence of the enemy, the miles of waggons not only represented tents & food for horse & men but the naval big guns which had been taken to pieces & into which as many as 40 oxen were placed. The first cart to turn over was one of ours a man being under & the cart on top of him, we expected to find him like a pancake but I am glad to say not a hair was off him. Our road was up hill & down hill in the valleys, between the hills rivulets were yet running & it was owing to these that our transport had such terrible experiences.

To describe it in detail I cannot suffice to say that a waggon would enter the drift as it is called with every available oxen on it [,] it would reach the water but the pull up the other side was impossible the mud reached up to ones knees, the waggon stuck in the most hopeless manner & nothing but emptying them of their contents was of the least use. You can fancy the condition of the various articles after they had been placed in the mud? To urge the animals along the Kaffir drivers use long whips & howl, gesticulate & whistle screams like fiends while they crack their whips like the report of a gun. I thought of that dear boy & how he would have enjoyed the sight especially when the mule waggons entered the water & stuck[,] the mules fell, some were dragged along, the waggon sank deeper & deeper, the whips cracked[.] English & Kaffir swear words were freely used, while I lay with my back to our cart

[[2]] heap surveying the scene while mules for Transport[sic] waggon lay behind waiting their turn. But this drift was childs[sic] play to the next which had a lead out of it placed at one angle of 45° a yard thick in mud & yet we got through guns & all. It is true that though we got through 24 Hours ago miles of transport at the present moment waiting to cross & the same yelling & screaming is still going on. We got to our camp at 7 pm viz after 11 hours marching with not a bite of anything to eat, on arrival we got some bans buns the mess Sergt. had just brought up from ‘Martizburg a piece of cake & bottle for mineral water Bus[?], not a very big dinner after so many hours fatigue, the cart containing the bully beef was miles behind, the one containing my tent was still at the drift. But I had some kit with me & that contained my kettle & tea[.] I made a fire while the horses were being looked after & made some tea for Morton the other servant & myself[,] no milk or sugar, but we all enjoyed it, the wood was wet so was the ground & it took some time to boil that kettle. The tent arrived just as the rain began to fall out when[sic] the fire in I went to the tent[,] got under my waterproof & smoked & thought of you.

Fancy how those sailors must have worked to get these heavy guns over the drift. (Sudden orders just arrived for us to leave at once so I must close this for the present, I expect we go to Spring field[sic])

13′ January (Some say 12th Some say it is Saturday others Sunday no one knows) I left off in a hurry as we had to march off to Spring field[sic], we left in the evening & did a night march there being a faint moon. The road was excellent but dusty & if you could have seen those thousands of figures tramping along smoking but rarely speaking the wind blowing big clouds of dust in our wake which occasionally hid the entire scene from view, or through which might faintly be seen the figure of the man in front of you the same colour as the dust & equally dry.

We got to Spring field[sic] at midnight & had something to eat, our last piece of bread (for we are now on biscuit) & pitched camp with thousands of others our camp was all rock, how we found room to picket our horses is a wonder. The men preferred to sleep in the open being too tired to pitch camp. Morton & my other henchman were very tired & soon fell asleep & the next morning was quite unconscious that it had even rained. The next day we left about 8am & crossed the Little Tugela Bridge

[[3]] & performed the shortest longest march I have ever done in my service we marched 3 miles & it took nearly nine hours, rather a record, the great delay was in crossing a river full of rocks & boulders over every inch of which the transport had to travel. I got in out of temper for the final time with a face burning as if burned with a hot iron up to that time I had not had my clothes off for three days, & I may say have not washed for 24 hours as owing to the state of my face washing was an impossibility, it throbbed & burned but I rubbed it over with some stuff called Hazeline Snow[1] & to day[sic] it is much better, still I think I will grow a beard & whiskers to protect me against a future grilling remember the sun is perfectly vertical so that nothing casts a shadow if you stand upright there is no shadow on the ground ever with this intense sun.

14 Jan I fell asleep after I wrote the above yesterday being rather tired. We spent the day doing nothing & I was glad of the rest & feel to day[sic] as fit as a fiddle the only thing is one does not feel very full I want a big ration of rice to take the place of no bread & there is none. That being so I will go without, Last evening I went down & had a wash in a stream. I found a puddle quite clean the size of a wash hand basin with a minute trickle running into it, by dint of great care I did not disturb the mud at the bottom before I washed my face & head, & then I finished the balance of my body[.] While drying three women about the first I have seen around the donga & stood & looked at my manly proportions & I think admired them for they watched for a long time & then getting on the high bank above me had a prolonged peep. Two were poorly clad but the third wore a scarlet robe with hair done up like this*.[2] I don’t[sic] know how it is done but it is very curious they were jet black & typical negroes extremely repulsive with immense figures in front & by no means deficient behind.

To day[sic] I went over to Buller’s camp which is close to ours & got introduced to Scofield who is his ASC, a gunman, he is a good pal of M’Kenzies[?] (who is at De Aar) & also of Jarvis’s & a friend of Tollman’s — I explained that I wished to let him know a V.O was in camp if one was required it he was very glad as he did not know one was near. I then saw an old patient of mine a pony belonging to Lord Serrand hit in the neck with a piece of shell at Colenso.

[[4]] Gerrard though a Yeoman is on Buller’s staff, he explained that Treeves[3] the celebrated surgeon had operated on the wound at Frere after I had seen the case (it passed from under my care as we remained at Cheveley) & that it was doing well until a few days ago. Like me Treeves could find no shell. I have operated upon it again to day[sic] & I hope to cure it. I am going to stick to Buller’s staff if I can until we get to Ladysmith when of course matters[?] will be liberated. I then went around the camp & looked up all likely to require veterinary attendance & was of some use.

I then examined the Boer position from an immense hill we hold, It is a beautiful sight we occupy the hills on the south of a winding river which looks like a brilliant serpent at our feet, in the distance we can see the mirror at Ladysmith flashing signals to us below at our feet in the drift a passage across the river [1 word illeg.] by our guns & where much blood has yet to be shed[.] The Boer position is behind some hills about 2 miles off & they have dug rifle pits for a mile or two on either side. They have a very strong place & will take a lot of turning out, every day[sic] makes their position stronger they are working like niggers entrenching themselves[,] in the distance can be seen their camp. We are not ready to attack but I can see how the attach shall be made & I should like to make it, not from the front as I fear it may be done but from two flanks. It is not as strong a position as Colenso but still a very difficult one. (I am aware this writing is bad but I am sitting on the ground writing on the back of my looking glass & this does not help one much). There is only 1 squadron of the Regt here, the others are behind about 5 miles & 10 miles respectively, we are Corps Cavalry. I hope we may stick to Bullerino[?] as it may be useful in the future.

I forgot to tell you the comical side of our march here I saw on one waggon a small kid & on another a foal! The first halt the foal was lifted off the cart & its mother nursed it on the side of the road! Fancy this & we making a flank march in the presence of the enemy.

Yesterday we bought some fowls & had a feast[?] one escaped & the whole camp chased it, I roared with laughter the hen ran towards a tent & over the tent ropes tripped the men in chase & we laughed till some sides were sore. After dinner being moonlight we saw two goats near the

[FS/2/2/4/2/6] (2)

[[1]] camp, they were chased & after a ripping run secured amid applause, the mother goat gave us milk for breakfast this morning. While the fun attended to their  captive amused us for some time. Yesterday your [5 lines redacted].


Tell them how much I liked the cards & that when I see Kruger[4] I will let him have a look at them.

Your little thought on the day you wrote your letter the calamity which was befalling our force, it was well you did not for your anxiety must be very great though personally is pleases my vanity to hear it. Strange you do not mention in your letter having received one from me sent from Durban, then I wrote a few days later from Mooi River, then from Frere & the day before the battle from before Colenso[.]

I hope all these came safely to hand, they are a record of my feelings at the time & if I dont[sic] return (which I will) will be a comfort to you in the future. I am writing this in bed on the looking glass again, as I hear the post goes out in the morning viz Monday instead of Thursday as it did at Cheveley. What a good thing I write pieces of my letter every day, or this mail would have been very scrappy[?]. [5 lines redacted] very pretty place very wild but cooler than our previous camps & water more convenient. I went to bathe with Jarvis this evening & more ladies turned up & admired him, I will get him to take a photo of the scene as he has a camera.

All the natives are tracking trecking[sic] away from here on accord of the coming battle there are not many but they carried off children goods & chattels all on their heads.

I believe we open fire to morrow[sic], the sooner the better as the rifle pits ought to be destroyed & the work stopped before we attack. Now I wish I had a hand camera, I would have had some ripping views.

In your letter you make no mention of your Aunts’ lawyer, this is good, matters much must be better than I thought — Poor old Lea[5] I am sorry for him I will write as soon as I can find time, when I can harden my heart to the task I must write

[[2]] to Lucy, M’Fadyean, & Lea. [8 lines redacted].

By the bye Elandslaagte[6] is pronounced E-Lands-lag-ter. The next battle may be known as that of Potchkeifer Sprint the sprint is a shallow part of the bed of the river & it is said to be the only part where we can cross. Right across the front of it on the Lady Smith[sic] road is a rifle trench & many a man will not reach as far as that on the Road to Ladysmith. Buller has written an inspiring order saying we are going to relieve our comrades in Ladysmith & warning all against the use of the white flag by the Boers, we are to pay no attention to it unless they lay down their arms & hold up their hands nor are we to notice bugle sounds they have copied ours and sound ‘cease fire’ when it suits them. At this moment my tent companion Wise has been aroused from his slumbers to turn out on out-post duty 4 miles off to be there by dawn & watch for Boers digging pits with orders to fire on them. He knows no more of the country than I do & has to find his way there by night fortunately he has the moon until 3am but after that he will have to blunder along as best he can. We now have maps of the country, but will you believe it that so little did the authorities suspect trouble south of Ladysmith that the country was never surveyed from a military standpoint & all the maps south of Ladysmith are locked up there!!

I am still looking anxiously for my decoration Gazette it cannot now be far off — the decoration itself may not arrive for a year, but no matter what happens mind you apply to the War Office for them if they do not turn up in good season as my son must have them [3 lines redacted].

When I return home I should be so used to the life of a gipsy that I will have to live in a tent in the back garden

[[3]] sleep on the ground & never know the use of sheets or pillows. Morton continues to do well, his backbone is improving, he marches on foot every day & though he looks tired at the end, he sticks to his work when he gets in & my other servant is a fraud & practicably useless.

The candle is going out. I will finish this epistle in the morning [2 lines redacted].

15 January. A month ago since the battle & we are now preparing for another. This letter must go this morning if I could delay it a day or two I might be able to give you an account of our second battle, for I rather think matters will open to day[sic] in which case one should be at Ladysmith before the end of the week.

Remember me to all enquiring friends my [6 lines redacted] you think fit, in fact as I have said before I was should like the letter’s kept as a record of the campaign, as I keep no diary. [4 lines redacted].

Am very glad Hayleriggs[?] asked them. Remember me to them I hope they [1 word illeg.] pleasant neighbours.

[17 lines redacted]

[[4]] I am amazed to think I cannot fill up this page for you but the letter must go to the post.

No scorpions in this camp thank goodness[.]

[No Valediction]  

(Please note that work on this transcript is ongoing. Users are advised to study the electronic images of this document where possible – http://www.rcvsve

[1]  Skin Cream created by Burroughs Wellcome & Co. Ltd, a pharmaceutical company established in London in 1880

[2] Illustration of  a Female head in side profile.

[3] Sir Frederick Treves, 1st Baronet, GCVO, CH, CB (15 February 1853 – 7 December 1923) was a prominent British surgeon of the Victorian and Edwardian eras

[4] Paul Kruger (1825-1904), President of the South African Republic 1883-1900

[5] Arthur Sheridan Lea (1853-1915), physiologist

[6] Battle of Elandslaagate

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7 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 19 Jan 1900

Content warning:

Please note, this archive item contains racist language and/or imagery, as written by the document’s author. This has also been preserved in the transcript of the item. Some content is highly offensive, but it is preserved here for the purposes of historical study and reflection.

Terms of Use
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Camp name unknown N of the Tugela & clod close to Acton Holmes.

(Ventner’s Sprint Camp River Tugela)

Just found out the name of camp 24.1.00

[Words Redacted] of 19 January 1900

[Line Redacted]



I fear you may have some difficulty in reading certain parts of this letter

[Salutation Redacted]

We left the camp of Spearman Hill when on the day I last wrote to you, at night & made a night march to some point about 6 miles due East. It was not quite dark but the road in places was awful impossible to describe up & down hill through stormy weather how the transport got over is a miracle. not[sic] a word was spoken nor a pipe allowed as we were making a flank march to cross the Tugela above the position occupied by the enemy[,] about 11 pm we halted & down came the rain, fortunately it did not last long, but I had my waterproof & well gummed boots on, for hours we stood on the side of the road in a field of long grass which was soaking wet & at daylight we expected to cross the river by pontoon, but the operation was delayed all day the enemy was in occupation of the ford & had to be driven out ours was a very strong position & about 2pm we advanced advanced to the river

We had nothing but biscuit & broth all day & water from the nearest ditch, we waded in water like soup & drank the same[.]

The delay in crossing was considerable, miles of transport, during the pontoon operation a man was killed by a long shot through the neck, the cavalry forded a river & here a chapter of accidents occurred, some men were carried away Tremayne our Adjutant jumped in & tried to save him & Wise my tent fellow jumped into to save another, he got his man out but Tremayne’s man was drowned & Tremayne was only got out with difficulty though both expert swimmers. Tremayne was unconscious but has recovered the river is most dangerous & awful currents.

I crossed by the pontoon but I thought my little horse was lost, he nearly fell over through fright here also two mules we lost by drowning. We bivouacked again that night & of course it again rained though not heavily. Though our kits were kept down to 20lbs I carried on my mule all I wanted my [illeg], valise & w’proof sheet. I was thankful a saddle for my head, or a tin of bully beef or waterbottle[sic], all equally soft to lie on did not keep one awake, others were so cold at 3am they could not sleep & had to walk about. Breakfast was light but I have since found the way of tackling biscuit which renders it palatable & quite easy to bite.

[[2]] Before leaving this camp I got a wire to say Crawford was dead, he died at Maritzburg the previous night — Poor fellow I am very sorry I only saw him a fortnight before & he then said he was better than he had been for years. His poor wife & children have my heartfelt sorrow[.]

Gladstone being close with the Royals I went over & showed him the wire. He is the next Senior, until we get to Ladysmith & relieve Matthews. This day being later the 18th we moved off to the left towards the Orange Free State to cut off the retreating Boers should the attack which is being made at three different points on the river succeed. The fight we expected would take place on the 18th but it did not we had so much transport to get over, we continued advancing slowly to our left to get round the Boers & our advance party came in with some of them killing & wounding 30 including a Free State General killed & taking 20 prisoners. We lost a few men (not of the 13th) but on the whole the day though slow was useful. You cannot imagine the country we crossed streams with rapid current (another horse drowned) hills at an angle of 45° up which every waggon[sic] had to be drawn by hand & places which one would have said it was impossible for wheel transport to get over. We got to the camp at dusk the 13 being left behind on a Kopje[2] a mile or so to the rear.

Got an excellent dinner of bully biscuit & marmalade & again bivouacked there was a very heavy dew soaked everything but my waterproof saved me & I got up from the grass quite dry. All this time I have not shaved & my face is so sore I can only sponge it lightly[.] You might recognise me but I doubt it with nearly a weeks[sic] growth on my face. I ought to have said I left Morton behind & my other servant at the old camp opposite Potgieters drift but I have the [2 words illeg.]. I left them behind as they have to march & I knew we were going to Ladysmith by a circuitous route. Close to this camp is a kraal[3] [1 line redacted], there I found a woman stark naked sitting on the ground, she was about 16 years of age & took no notice of us [2 lines redacted] she & a decrepit old woman were the sole occupants[.] The young woman I think was an imbecile

[[3]] I got Jarvis to take 2 photos of her [1 line redacted] & hope to show it to you some day. She was an absolute animal. Before we left Spearmans Hill I got Jarvis also to photo Morton asleep his usual occupation. To day[sic] we expect a fight if the other attacks along the river can be pushed home. Imagine the extent of our operation when I tell you our front is not less than 10 miles in length & probably much more. Firing has been going on more or less all night & again this morning but not in our vicinity. This brings me up to date[,] more later as events occur.

24 Jan. What events have occurred since I last wrote we moved on the evening of the day I made my last entry to a place called Acton Holmes not far from here. The place is one mass of rocks & boulders & these we had to move on one side before we could find a place for the horses. As for ourselves we dug out & removed all the rocks & stones we could but many went so far into the ground that their removal was impossible. We passed a pleasant night & as I looked up at the stars over my head I wondered whether that the same could be seen from the Croft.[4] It was the last sleep many had for in the morning the battle began, the first indication we had of it was a shell which exploded in a kraal to our front we had no conception where it came from probably fired 5 miles away & with smokeless powder. One of the most terrifying features of modern warfare is the destruction wrought by a foe who cannot be located, he may be near or far, but he continues to pump in his iron & lead while escape from it is impossible in asmuch[sic] as one has no idea which direction is a safe one

Well this the first day of the battle lasted from about 7 am to 7.30 pm, & more or less throughout the night. We did not again come under fire until about 11am when a little circumstance of intent to me occurred. The Regt.was hidden in a nullah[5] n ot only out of sight but to keep it away from an infernal gun the position of which we could not locate. I was letting my horse graze with the bit out of his mouth when I saw a Maxim gun hurrying up to the front, leaving my bit hanging on my the

[[4]] hilt of my sword I slipped the snaffle into his mouth girdled up & cantered forward about 100 yards or so. I halted put up my glasses when I suddenly heard the hissing of a shell it came nearer & nearer & just as I thought it would hit me on the head I ducked down I heard it strike the ground & explode & looking behind we saw a column of dust 20ft in height about 100 yards behind me & exactly where I was grazing my horse only a minute before — I wish you could have seen yours truly scuttle back, I had no time to put my glass back in their place as shell after shell was falling, then I remembered I had hung my bit on my sword & that the reins were probably dragging along the ground & might bring me down in addition the ground was stony rocky & very difficult to get over so that my position for a few minutes was not comfortable. Of course bear in mind they were not firing at me but were only anxious to locate the position of the cavalry.

Later in the day they dropped two shells into a squadron of the Royals as they crossed a field close to this place I was watching the advance of the squadron from a hill some distance off at the moment for they were well on our left. You cannot imagine the startling effect of two shells dropped one after the other into a mass, they scattered like chaff before the wind is in all directions men without horses, horses without men, some the right others to the left & strange to say as we subsequently learned without the loss of a horse or a man. To recount all the operations of this day would be impossible I could only see what was occurring over about 4 miles of country[.] Our fire was terrific & we set fire to more than one of their positions. I ought to have explained before that their positions were well chosen the tops of high hills while nothing but the valleys below were left for us. The irregular Cavalry took one hill a very steep one I could not believe my eyes as I saw the men some with & some without horses crawling up the side of this sugar loaf hill[6]

[FS/2/2/4/2/7] (2)

[[1]] now known as Childe’s Hill from the name of the man who led the assault & was killed, of him later. The game went on all day & night found us tired & sleeping close to the base of Childe’s Hill having previously to get all our animals & waggons through a river. Fortunately I had a good dinner that night even though the night of a battle & slept in a ploughed field, at any rate if not so clean it is softer than the velt[sic]. I must have been tired as I fell asleep soon & [3 lines redacted].

On the following day (21 Jan) we moved early from the ploughed field & went back over the drift & river to our old camp about 1 mile further back as we were exposed to the fire of a long range gun, we got back after a short time & had settled to breakfast when suddenly there was a hissing sound of an approaching shell & one dropped not far from where we were sitting, a second came still nearer & it was evident our position was known, we moved a little further forward under cover of a hill & there we have been for two days the battle going on day by day with monotonous regularity. There are 12 guns on our right which pump in shrapnel all day. Hitherto both sides have observed Sunday as a day of rest, but last Sunday we fought all day & it is now Tuesday & we have not yet got their position. It was confidently believed that we would get to Ladysmith by Wednesday (to morrow[sic]) but that is impossible.

Major ChildeLate R H Guards came out to one of the Regts of irreglar cavalry or Mtd infantry. He was originally Childe-Pemberton but dropped the P. He led his men up the steep hill in gallant style & soon after they got to the top a shell hit him on the head & killed him. Now it is a curious fact that the night before at dinner Childe said he knew he would be killed the next day, & though the fellows chaffed him he persisted in his statement & dictated his own Epitaph which he directed to be placed on his grave. It was as follows: —

[[2]] “Is it well with the Child? It is well!” Now this is a most extraordinary coincidence & worth telling to people. The man was killed as he said he would be, he was buried early the next morning & by evening a simple wooden cross with his rank name & regt, date of death, & the above Epitaph upon it was erected  No parson buried him, he was buried by a brother officer nothing but his belts were taken off even his spurs were buried with him & I knew him by sight, he leaves a wife but no family. There is no telegraph officer here so that no one can send her a wire.

There he is in his grave two days (he is buried 100 yards from where I am writing this) & his friends ignorant of the fact but perhaps it is just as well so. Great sympathy is felt for him, it is [3 lines redacted].

He was buried on the 2nd day of the fight & since that we have not had very active employment the Artillery hammering is incessant but it does not interfere with our movements. Yesterday I went & had a bath in the river & washed my clothes, I only have those I stand up in & they have not been off since last Monday week viz 9 days today boots the same. So I determined to wash everything Jarvis & I proceeded to the River & we did it well I washed shirt, drawers[,] socks, cholera belt[7]

It took 3 hours for the things to dry during which time we sat on the rocks or in the water shaved & otherwise wasted time while the clothes dried. It would have been a sight for a photograph[,] I in the water up to my neck with a cascade playing on me my helmet on my head & smoking my pipe, Jarvis sitting on the rocks shaving, while a short distance behind was a battery of howitzers[8] pumping in 50lbs Lyddite shells into an enemy 2 miles off a curious scene for a quite[sic] South African river.

I ought to explain before I go further that I have shaved. I know this will be a great relief to you & it was to me, I now protect my face with that valuable red silk pock’ h’chief[sic] & so prevent it from getting burned though in the effort I am more like a Guy Fawkes than a reasonable being. If only my little son could see me, he would laugh for a week[.]
[[3]] *[9] this is the appearance I present from the side. I find the manoeuvre an excellent one.

Last night we got 5 minutes notice that a convoy of sick & wounded were going back to Frere & that the Medical officers would take back letters for England. I tore out a page from a book & wrote you a few hasty lines, this letter had been started but was very incomplete so I thought it best to send you a short note to show you I was fit & well rather than send you an incomplete letter — I was sorry for the haste in which it was written, but the man was standing waiting for it, I sent a scrawl & without a stamp. I do not know when this letter will go, but I will keep it addressed & ready to close at a moment’s notice.

The place I sleep in would greatly amuse our two dear mites, there is a pack saddle & a Field pannier, the one forms the head of my bed the other the side. *[10] Across the pack saddle & pannier I stretch my waterproof & this keeps off the rain & wind from my face & the heavy dews. Close to my head is my revolver waterbottle[sic] & haversack. I sleep in clothes, boots woollen waistcoat (if very cold sweater also) & Ulster[11]. So you see I am well protected at night. The ground of course is hard & one rises in the morning very stiff & sore from contact with such an unyielding surface.

Of course I have received no letter from you for last week, it is said that our mail got as far as the Tugela & was sent back, if so it is very rough on us. I hope to receive from you the newspapers containing a full account of all our movements, for as you truly say though on the spot we know the least excepting of things occurring in our immediate vicinity.

This battle will be the most remarkable in History, it is now in its fourth consecutive day, & though we are pushing on slowly still progress is not rapid. The people in Ladysmith are we hear suffering great privation eggs are 30/- a dozen. Even here things are at famine prices which are scarce. Soldiers are offering 5/- for a packet of 10 cigarettes!! I will soon be out of tobacco so must nurse what little I have. — I shall certainly be glad when Ladysmith is relieved.

[[4]] *[12] I hear Crawford died from dysentery. Poor fellow. Will it improve my prospects!!!

24 Jan. Last night or rather at 3 am to day[sic] we made a night attack on the enemy. The artillery pounded away for an hour & then the infantry went in. In the still night air the streams of lead as the infantry fired volleys was exactly like the escape of steam from a steam engine[.]

It was most curious one does not notice the sound during the day. A battle by night is a very weird sight. I am glad I did not lose it.  The result of the night attack we do not yet know, though it is possibly available to the city clerk on his[?] way to London this morning, but the fact remains that this is the fifth day of the battle & we have got very little further ahead. Really the Boers are very serious antagonists. They have a gun which fires eight times in succession a one pound shell[,] each shell is dropped at a different range. The noise it makes is exactly like Pow Pow Pow & so on repeatedly for eight shots. Its[sic] a devilish contrivance & we cannot locate its position. Yesterday we lost in one regt alone 1 officer & 15 men & I think Pow Pow has some thing[sic] to say to it.

I hear this morning that letters are being sent in so to atone for the shabby note which was sent you a day or two ago I will send this off up to date. I trust to you keeping all these letters as they are my diary of the war.

Firing is still now going on against the hill we tackled last Saturday, so that I judge the night attack had not the fullest measure of success. [3 lines redacted].

Nearly a fortnight since I heard from you the letters are in the country but we cannot get them. Ten days since we started on this show & I have never been out of my clothes & boots except to bathe. You can imagine how we look [5 lines redacted].

[No Valediction]




(Please note that work on this transcript is ongoing. Users are advised to study the electronic images of this document where possible. http://rcvsvethistory.org/archive-collection/fs-working-papers/)

[1] Annotated by Smith with ‘Keep’

[2] South African Dialect, a small hill in a relatively flat area.

[3] Either a village of huts enclosed by a fence, or an enclosure for cattle or sheep

[4] Smith’s home – The Croft, Little Heath, Charlton, in South East London

[5] A watercourse, riverbed or ravine

[6] Comparing the hills to the Sugar Loaf, Monmouthshire which are mountains in South Wales

[7] a flat strip of flannel or knitted wool worn around the abdomen under a shirt as a preventive measure against cholera

[8] A short gun for firing shells on high trajectories at low velocities.

[9] Caricature by Smith of his self-fashioned technique to protect his face from sunburn

[10] Drawing by Smith of his sleeping arrangements.

[11] A long loose overcoat

[12] Later annotations added to the top of the page ’19th Jan Tugela’ and ‘January 00’

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