14 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 1 Jun 1900

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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/2/2/4/2/14] (1)


1 June 1900

 [Salutation Redacted]

[[1]] My last letter to you was written just before we sighted Johann’burg[sic] & while fighting was going on on our left. We expected that morning to have a show but there was very little done they fell back on Elandsfontein a suburb of J’h’burg[sic] &  we had a fight for the railway station a pretty little one which resulted in the capture of several engines & a lot of waggons[sic] but before this came off we arrived at Klip Drift where we expected the stand to be made. They had dug their rifle pits but their hearts[?] failed them & [1 word struck through, illeg.] scouts reached Klip Drift station to see the last train steam out with guns etc on board. We occupied their camp a beastly place & containing trunks, pick axes shovels & old clothing. Next morning we pushed on & from the high hills on which we stood got our first view of Johannesburg or rather the gold bearing reefs. The reef runs for 60 miles & has mines all along it, as we stood on the top of the hill overlooking the saddest[?] spot in the world, the staff all cloistered together while the Chief & Kitchener scanned with glasses the whole country two prisoners were brought up one an old Dutchman with a [illeg.] the other a young Jew. The latter had been taken in a neighbouring house which contained Boers. He swore he had never been on Command & he was backed up in this by his wife who accompanied him with a child in her arms. Such a subject for a picture the man expecting to be shot at one, his wife looking distracted, the child in her arms utterly indifferent sucking a piece of chocolate. I do not know what became of him as we pushed on, but I saw General Marshall R.A. take a snap shot of the scene & I hope it may be published. If so you will see me just to one side of the prisoner standing by the side of my horse. We pushed on, paying visits to neighbouring farm houses for food but most of them had been looted by our men the fowls captured eggs & butter gone. I paid 1/- for half a loaf of dough at a house where the mother was sick & full of children, they played with their kittens & little thought what was going on. We left a guard to prevent the woman being disturbed. Would the Boers have done this for us? I set Hallet[?] to work at one

[[2]] place to catch fowls. Can you imagine the miserable[?] Knocked Kneed Hallet catching a fowl? I need [1 word struck through, illeg.] hardly say we had no fowl, but we looted forage for our horses which was very useful for the whole country was on fire, the Boers burned the grass as they went along & for miles the fires raged leaving nothing but a black mass of char [1 line illeg.] the tired dusty troops trudged for miles, the black dust mingled with the brown & their faces & clothing were a sight. At night their fires presented a very pretty appearance. I forgot to say that when we reached Klip River station the last train was going out & the station master set fire to his own house[,] how this was going to injure us was not very clear.

Finally we reached Elands fontein[sic] where the fight for the Railway I mentioned above took place, a train was in the station but could not escape, we got it free & after piled sleepers & stones on the line up & down she steamed like a mouse in a trap while Lee Metford pepper was administered in abundance, finally she gave up the game & surrendered in & the main body of the Boers returned up the hills in the direction of Pretoria there were still plenty of them in Johannesburg. It was nearly dark when the fight was over & we made for the nearest Farm house, by luck we got a nice home used as a barn[.] The owner lived in another a few yards away & here were stowed the Military Foreign attaché with Lord Downe. I slept on the verandah[sic] on a delightful bed of straw of which an abundance existed, such a lovely bed after the hard ground. Every post around the farm was in a few minutes pulled down for fire wood. We sent for the proprietor ordered bread milk & butter, but he could supply nothing. He handed in his rifle & ammunition & though he was safe, when we got there only his terrified wife was to be seen, he & the children were hiding when he found he was not to be shot, he bucked up & did all he could for us. I ordered him to bake bread in his own oven which I told him I would lend him for the occasion, but the oven was already occupied with ducks! for the attaché!

That night & all night long the 7th Division kept rolling up & every man came to this house for wood , it was bitterly cold & the men had neither cloaks nor blankets, they hammered away

[[3]] at the house all night sleep was impossible they tore off the doors, pulled out the windows tore up the floor pulled down the stable, pig styes, dairy & the next morning you never saw such a wreck, excepting the verandah[sic] in which I slept the room occupied by Savage the place was a wreck & beyond recognition, all that was left of the tin dairy was a shapeless mass of iron like a battered kerosene tin.

The whole of the forage in the house we lived in was taken for our troops, my horses lived like fighting cocks. Every particle of wire fence had been pulled down to burn the posts for fire wood. Late at night a fellow of the K O S B’s[1] came & asked whether he might sleep there I gave him a room full of straw, he said he was bitterly cold had no cover & that a brother officer recently recovered from a wound was dying of cold. He went off for their him & they slept with our servants on straw in one of the rooms they described it as delightful. I noticed over the straw bed made by the servants a lace curtain pulled down from the a window!

I had trouble with our Dutch host for finding he was not shot he began to get above himself & the second night of our visit objected to Hallet cutting down a post for fire wood[.] I gave him a good grilling & ordered him to his house. He collapsed & went off. They are curs when tackled. We stopped here two days because on the second day we summoned the town to surrender & out came the commandment to interview Lord Roberts. They could not come to terms & were given 24 hours to reconsider, they said they could not trust the Irish Element of Johannesburg & that they might fire on us in the streets even if the town surrendered. However they thought better of it in 24 hours time but while we were waiting <for> their reply we lost a whole day. On the night of this wasted day as I was warming my feet at the camp fire I heard a voice ask the way to Hd Qts. It turned out to be Churchill who had come in with despatches from Hamilton & with news of French.[2]

We had heard nothing of the battle for two days, Hamilton we knew had been fighting but we did not know the result. The despatches allayed all anxiety. Churchill had ridden from Doornkop a place to the west of Pretoria. He is a wonderful fellow

[[4]] By 10am next day we knew Johannesburg had surrendered & that we were to march through the city & haul up the Flag we started off I on the Chief’s staff as usual & went for miles along dusty roads, such red dust & so think that at times one could not see the man in front of him. In this way I nearly had a nasty accident over two rocks that I suddenly stumbled on in the road but saw just in time as we were cantering & it was a narrow shave. We were now in the suburbs of the city, the whole place was deserted, the houses closed, the windows were nailed up with sheet iron shutters or carefully boarded up[.] The grass grew in the sheets, it was a city of the dead for miles we went & hardly met a soul, I saw a woman in white on a bike she looked at us & rode back hard. There was a black woman on her knees, rubbing her forehead on the ground clapping her hands, shouting & gesticulating. It was a hearty welcome from Boer oppression as we got into the town we went along a street 11/2 miles in length & the people now appeared an enterprising photographer took us as we rode down the street you will see one on the outside of about the tenth row of officers behind the Chief — we rode 5 abreast on my right is Colonel Bunbury[?], next Coney the Parson, then Major Headlam the Gunner I came round with from Natal & then Col. Grierson[?] chief to Kitchener — in front of them were the military attaches

At times we halted to make sure the side sheets were free from assassins as there was a good chance the Chief might be shot at, but at his side was placed the Dutch Commandant & he was carefully guarded on the other. We all kept our eyes wide open for any movement in the crowd of a horrible character but none happened at that time. Slowly we made our way on to the Court House preceded by an advanced guard & let only the City delegates in a cart, at last we arrived we left at 10 am it was now 2.30pm the Transvaal flag was flying the Chief dismounted & went into the court house I dont[sic] know what for. The crowd was now dense, it was with difficulty that it could be kept back & a way made for the troops we all formed up around the flag staff mounted, the Chief returned. The drums & pipes of the Grenadiers arrived everything was ready, at a given signal the Transvaal flag was handed down & the Silk union Jack was run up, three hearty cheers were given, helmets off. we[sic] yelled it was not cheering, a guard of honour had presented arms a God save the Queen was played it consisted of several companies of the Essex Regt. as we cheered the men placed their helmets on their bayonets & such a sound inspiring

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[[1]] sight only occasionally seen in a life time, the men tattered & torn, clothes black greasy & frowning faces black with dust & heavy with beards but bayonets bright, bearing confident & proud no one to look at them would have thought that on their feet they had marched over a large fraction of Africa. It was superb cheer followed on cheer & gradually died away. The First British Flag had been hoisted on Transvaal soil to remain for ever[sic], a second will be hoisted long before you get this letter & at that I shall also I hope be present. I had a fine position on the right of the flag staff about 20 feet away. Several photos were taken of the scene you will see me in the front row to Kitchener’s right — I also saw Melton Prior[3] taking a sketch of it. I will tell you some-thing[sic] about the latter presently. The march past now began & about 15 000 men went by the Chief to music & general exclamation, this of course does not represent [1 word illeg.] of our force but it was sufficient to impress the on looker[sic] with what he might expect if he made himself nasty.

Amid the general cheers there was plenty of subdued hooting from the Boer man, but neither cheers nor hooting had any effect upon us one would have thought we were hauling up our Flag every day in the week so completely indifferent were we in exterior, though God knows proud enough of our work within. When I thought as the business was over that in a few hours you would be reading the whole business in the paper little knowing how intimately I had been associated with the whole proceeding that had taken place. After The troops looked splendid war worn bronzed warriors [,] dusty, very dusty but fit for anything. One Regt departed so far from military discipline as to take off their helmets & cheer the Chief as they marched past him. The bearing of the men was mag-nificent[sic] they are fit to go anywhere. There[sic] appearance astonished the mob. After the review the chief rode

[[2]] to our hotel & got tea, we waited outside, the people came up & offered us cigarettes, remarks were made that now they would have liberty, one man remarked as another muttering some imprecations passed him, Ah Yes, Your day is over my gentleman you’ll now keep a civil tongue in your head. The two were evidently enemies. As the Chief made his way into the Hotel the crowd were kept back but some man forced his way forward & it was thought he was on a dangerous mission for he was soon knocked down & kicked out of the mob.

At the moment this excitement occurred I was out of my saddle talking to Roberts nephew Sherston who is in command of the escort, I at once mounted & felt for my revolver in a second the bold front we put on prevented the crowd taking advantage of the circumstances & in a few minutes everything was quiet & calm. Some curious sights were witnessed during the proceedings. Women were held up to have a view of Lord Roberts & they would ask in the shouts which he was at first one was rather shy of pointing him out in case assassination was the game, but later on as we saw the general tnor was friendly we pointed him out. I saw two women running like hares to get to the head of the procession in order to see the hero of the hour. We left J.h’burg[sic]  as the sun was setting & marched out of the town about 4 miles along a weary dusty road, at last the camp was reached at the bottom of a hill over boulders swamps & long grass & here we had to sit until late at night until the baggage arrived, it  takes a little ingenuity to find your way in the dark over a place you have never seen in daylight, to keep your 3 horses with you among the hundreds present & then to find your baggage. All succeeded however & by 10pm I had completed the first meal I had since 8 in the morning,

A fellow of the 12th turned up to dinner by name he had ridden from Bloemfontein to get in time for the show & lost his way & got into Johannesburg & was made prisoner they treated him well & he was liberated as we marched in.

Among the trains we captured was a Red Cross one full of coal! [Illeg.] will use to put a hospital train

To day[sic] we are eating jam taken from the Boers & very good it is, we are also having a day of rest, hence the opportunity I have taken of writing you this account, I am sorry I have no more paper available [3 lines redacted].

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[[1]] I spoke before of Melton Prior he is the artist for the Ill’[sic] London News[4] & was in search of a picture. I told him I had witnessed [1 line redacted]  Lord Roberts. He at once [3 words redacted] of the interview & I supplied him with the details. He was very grateful and we had a long chat. He surprised me by saying that he thought I must always be smiling. I told him that as a matter of fact I went through life with a very sombre countenance. He was shut up in L’Smith but looks very little worse for it. Another correspondent I met was Battersby[5] who corresponds for the Morning Post. He takes a great interest in the Dept & recently sent a £40 telegram home on the subject of paucity of officers of the A.V.S & the loss of horses as consequence. And I gave him my views very fresh on the reorganisation of the Dept & I hope it may do good. Lord Manners[6] is another correspondent I have met he was taken prisoner the day before yesterday & is now at Pretoria. Bennett Burleigh[7] who corresponds for the D Telegraph I see frequently we met on the other side & are quite friendly. There is also a man of the Daily Mail I see frequently I do not know his name. The correspondents are useful men to keep in with.

I have told you little about myself well my luck is on the turn I was wired for as I told you to go to Kroonstad I let Bridge know & he wired to ask by whose Authority I went up I said the Director of Transport at Hd Quarters. They then wired to Hd Qts to say I was urgently required South of Bloemfontein (I ought to explain that there is friction between the G.O.C lines of communication & Hd Quarters — I really word on lines of communication & under that General & yet I am at the front & under Lord Roberts, an anomalous position). Well the Chief of Staff wired back & asked that I might remain until the end of the operations as I was urgently required with the Army & no other officer here could take my place. So it was settled & here I am on the Staff of the Field Marshal & ride with it wherever it goes & see everything.

[[2]]  It really is great luck & I am sincerely grateful to Bunbury who I know worked it for me it is all due to the successful manner in which I tackled the outbreak of pleuro pneumonia at Bloemfontein so that business was worth the trouble.

After Pretoria falls I expect I shall go back but there is no knowing. They say Kruger has gone to Lydenburg 200 miles from Pretoria if so that lengthens the campaign considerably. We have had some bitterly cold nights in the morning the ice on my bucket of water has been nearly half an inch thick we are 5400 feet above the sea imagine sleeping in the open under these conditions no tents of course. I put saddles around my head & over it waterproof cloak to keep the heavy dew & frost off me.  The ground of course is very hard & very lumpy. I have no mattress simply the canvas of the valise beneath me. My jager[?] cap is the greatest comfort it is perfectly lovely — in spite of the cold my head and body keep warm. My warm coat is a great boon but is not as warm as I should have liked we ought to have lined it with the blanket material. It looks excellent. I take great care in turning myself out well, & am perfectly mounted one of the best looking horses on the staff. Sawyer is equally careful in his appearance & we present rather a contrast to our two medical friends neither of whom wash for days together & never shave.

Here is a story of one of them, yesterday he went into Johannesburg to buy tobacco, a lady served him & as he was leaving the shop she said is that all you want he said yes thanks, she replied are you sure there is a bed in the next room. This to the Professor of Military Surgery at Netley — married man with family & 56 years of age[.] Can you imagine his & our amusement [5 lines redacted]


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[[1]] [10 lines redacted]


There are rumours to day[sic] of peace & we all look happy but I am sure it is only one of the many camp lies which are truly legion. At Craddock I met a man a foreigner named D’Angers. I disliked & suspected him as a spy. I saw him again at Bloemfontein & being now wanted over a cheque for £800 I endeavoured to get him arrested but he had gone. One of the first men I saw at Johannesburg was my friend D’Angers talking earnestly with the Transport Marshal. I touched the latter on the shoulder & whispered to him that he was speaking to a scoundrel who was wanted. D’Angers at once recognised me & turned pale I asked him what he was doing at J’H’burg[sic]  & why he left B’f’tein[sic] he replied that he had gone to Basutoland to buy horses & was captured by the Boers. I denounced him as a spy & he was at once arrested. He is in our camp now with a batch of prisoners awaiting removal south I hope he will get a long term imprisonment.

This is our second day in this camp, we hope to move tomorrow morning & be at Pretoria in two days after. From there I will send you a wire if it is possible to get one through, but I doubt the possibility. Amongst the loot taken at Parredeberg was Mrs Cronje’s stays, some fellow has them & I believe sent them to Mdme Tussaud[?]. The story is that they were still warm! I forgot to tell you that in the march past [7 lines redacted]

[[2]] to swim, I shall never forget the sight at the seq Court House square of Johannesburg to the longest day I live.

The Chief’s Staff is an expanding one it is built up of the English Peerage a few feet from where I am writing this after lunch is the Marquis of Westminster[8] with his income of £100 per [illeg.] he has no side with him Lords Dudley[9] & Stanley[10] they form one mess & all of us are grouped in messes of four. You cannot turn without rubbing noses with the peerage. Norfolk[11] I have lost sight of since we crossed the Vaal he has gone to Hamilton’s force. He is a most extraordinary man in uniform most unmilitary looking, looks like a sack in Khaki & no neck.

[11 lines redacted] a mail has just brought No 23 of 27 April from you describing your visit to the Palace & your disappointment at not getting a letter from me. Of course it is the fault of the Mexican & not of yours truly I do not think I have ever yet missed a mail. Think of the time I have taken over this communication, the hundreds of interruptions & yet I plod on, as we march to Pretoria to morrow[sic] & I may miss the next mail I hope not I shall endeavour not. A letter also [3 lines redacted]


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[[1]] much fun in sending cryptic message to two persons! Pity you let on that you knew of it. Orders just recd  that we march in the morning for Pretoria so I must close this letter at once as I want to post it to night[sic] as we leave very early in the morning. It is not known whether they will fight or not.

A Corporal in the Grenadiers has just turned up & says he is Mortons[sic] Brother in law. I was sorry to tell him Morton was left behind sick & that up to date I had not heard how he was going on.


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[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] The King’s Own Scottish Borderers was a line infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Scottish Division

[2] Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres  (1852 –1925), known as Sir John French from 1901 to 1916, and as The Viscount French between 1916 and 1922.

[3] Melton Prior (1845 –1910) was an English artist and war correspondent for The Illustrated London News from the early 1870s until 1904.

[4] The Illustrated London News first appeared on Saturday, 14 May 1842, as the world’s first illustrated weekly news magazine

[5] Harry Francis Prevost Battersby (1862-1949), Boer War correspondent for the Morning Post. Published poet and journalist as H F P Battersby and Francis Prevost.

[6] Lord Cecil Reginald John Manners (1868 –1945), was a British Conservative politician.

[7] Bennet Graham Burley (1840–1914) was a Scottish-born pirate, Confederate spy and journalist. Later in life, he changed his surname to Burleigh and became a celebrated war correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.

[8] Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, (1879 –1953) was a British landowner and one of the wealthiest men in the world

[9] William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley (1867 –1932), styled Viscount Ednam before 1885, was a British Conservative politician.

[10] Edward George Villiers Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby (1865 –1948), styled Mr Edward Stanley until 1886, then The Hon Edward Stanley and finally Lord Stanley from 1893 to 1908, was a British soldier, Conservative politician, diplomat and racehorse owner. He was twice Secretary of State for War and also served as British Ambassador to France.

[11] Henry Fitzalan-Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, (1847 – 1917) was a British Unionist politician and philanthropist. In 1900 he served as a lieutenant colonel in the Imperial Yeomanry in the Second Boer War until he was wounded near Pretoria and returned back to Britain.

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15 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 5 Jun 1900

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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.

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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/2/2/4/2/15] (1)


5 June 1900

[Salutation Redacted]

[[1]] We have this minute entered the city of Pretoria after one days fighting & are now assembling in the railway station prior to the triumphant march through the town, we have had a very good time of it campaigning with the Hd Qt Staff of a big army in a luxury compound with what I have gone through. Our march from Johannesburg, where I wrote to you last was uneventful the usual farms flying white flags & containing Dutch women & children, the dust, the want of water & the heat of the mid day sun & frost at night have been our common experience for some days[.] Yesterdays fight was remarkable principally for the amount of ammunition expended by the Artillery we shelled their trenches & one of the ports & during the night the messages of surrender arrived & we are now to make our triumphant entry. I can imagine the thrill this will cause in England & in the Croft[1] in particular it is a proud affair to be in & one of the greatest historic importance, In years to come one will be able to look back on the march into Johannesburg & Pretoria with a deep of pride & pleasure. Yesterday will give me another bar to my ribbon [2 words redacted], I hear the medal is duly approved & being mde made fast, the ribbon being red with blue &  khaki, probably you know more about this than we do. Yesterday we shelled the railway station to stop trains going out, to day[sic] one sees the curious sight of trains standing in the station, steam up & each engine guarded by Guardsmen I hope you may see a picture of this[.] As we rode into the station the word ‘Pretoria’ on the platform caused a great thrill of delight to pass through one. Yet unfortunately the campaign is not ended Kruger[2] & his army has gone & he will have to be taken before this show closes. It will add three more months to the campaign. How I wish I could be in London & with you to day[sic] to see the excitement on the capture of Pretoria yet I would not have missed this business for anything. I am writing this on the railway platform while the Chief & staff are discussing the situation having no paper I empty the book of one of the Railway officials & very nice paper it is to write on. [1 line redacted]. We are busy collecting arms & ammunition, piles of rifles are now lying on the platform, & beside me are collecting supplies 1000 bags of grain have been found here, the train which was just off North was rather sold[?] we stopped it going out of the station.

[[2]] 7 June. I left off just before we marched through the city of Pretoria, well it was a fine show at 3pm we assembled at the Railway Station, but before this we had looted the Refreshment room & obtained Coffee & cigars for nothing, Westminster assisted by the Peers of the Realm & a General officer looted a Gramophone which was in the refreshment bar, altogether we enjoyed ourselves while the arms & ammunitions of the Burghers[3] was being piled up in the station, you never saw such a collection of stuff, guns & rifles of all description from the big smooth bore guns to the modern mauser, there were also swords, a helmet & such a collection of revolvers & bandoliers. I got a mauser carbine for you & one or two other things to be mentioned presently. A curious circumstance occurred an old & very ugly woman accompanied by a Kaffir brought some luncheon for Lord Roberts done up like the dinner one sees going to the station for engine drivers it was very clean looking & had a little napkin, she insisted on seeing the Chief of the Staff & Kitchener had to say a few words to her, as a matter of fact the Chief had lunched, but I hope someone made a snap shot of the interview. At 3 pm we left all in the order we marched into Johannesburg, you will see me on the left hand side outside immediately behind the foreign attachés. As we neared the Parliament house a roar went up from the British position mainly comprised of our own prisoners (officers) who had the previous night overpowered their guards & escaped the square was lined by the Grenadiers & the Chief was met with a Royal Salute in a few minutes the flag was ready the little silk one worked by Lady Roberts & it was hoisted to the top of the staff by Westminster I think or Chamberlain, three cheers were given for the Queen & you may imagine what cheers they were. The march past now commenced no one can picture these war worn veterans but those who saw them, the men unwashed, beared[sic], black in the face from dirt & sun, clothes torn, helmets battered, & torn, Khaki black with grease & sweat men carrying firewood strapped on their backs or even in their hands, but marching magnificently & fit to go anywhere the irregular cavalry or rather mounted infantry were really too funny, one man was in a blue jersey another in blue overalls, a third a shoulder of mutton hanging to his saddle, a fourth wore a blue jersey cap & so on these men were colonials rough but good, they have done capital work, the Canadian infantry marched past to the ‘Boys of the Old Brigade’ & looked superb, they marched as well as the Guards & are if anything bigger. The Naval Brigade & C.I.V.[4] met with a great ovation, the latter are as good as regulars. The big guns of the former, which only a few hours before hand been shelling the forts created a great impressions they went by to ‘a life on the ocean wave’[5] they were from the “Monarch” & “Doris”

The cheering as each band was recognised was pleasant. The goat of the Welsh Regt met with a great reception & the stolid British infantry of the line Black & tattered cannot be equalled by any other army in the World. I was a great sight & something to live for.

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[[1]] After the review which lasted 11/2  hours we filed off the Chief leading to our respective billets, we put up at the British Residency. The two doctors Sawyer & myself were billeted on a man & his wife who have a nice but very small house. To fully appreciate the position just imagine the following occurring in the Croft, in comes 4 officers, eight servants two carts, 8 horses. The horses carts & servants are billeted in our garden, you[,] your husband & children have to put in in one room, & find beds & bedding for your unwelcome guests who walk in & monopolise everything in the place, crockery, glass, china, lamps, etc etc. I dont[sic] say we walk off with these things but we use them to the exclusion of the household we burn their oil at 20/- a tin & they have to ask whether they may enter their own room!

Surely the war has been brought home to them, on the Sunday our shells which missed the fort fell just behind the home we are living in, the lady with her 2 month old baby fled to the town, the man a Hollander who had been fighting against us at Colesberg was less alarmed, though 50lbs lyddite shells are not things to play with. They (these people) certainly take our presence in very good part, perhaps for the reason that no other course is open to them, if they objected they would have to leave & we shall remain in possession.

The woman (a Hollander) is young spoke very good English & was terrified when we appeared. She expected to to[sic] raped, in fact that was the impression throughout the whole country by all the women [1 line redacted]  I can only say that they wear a bright & cheery appearance now they now they are safe. They also heard that we did not wear trousers!

The first idea was that 4 of us would sleep in one room, but we soon disabused them of the idea Sawyer & I have a room together, the others have a room each that leaves one room for the lady, her husband, baby & brother, all these four sleep in one room!!

The following day I organised a hospital & by 2 O’Clock every detail was in the hands of the Chief of the Staff, the medicines I commandeered in the town a smart piece of work & I hope it may be appreciated. The Cavalry have about 800 sick & other branches in smaller proportion. I then went to the House of Parliament sat in Kruger’s chair, & made myself a present of some papers from his desk & his pen. The latter will prove an interesting relic. I could have got many things but could not cart them off I should have liked the Eagle over the President’s chair but I would have been detected.

I succeeded to day[sic] in getting a Transvaal Flag from the office of the Chief Magistrate of the City so that is something to be proud of in the future it is a great find. I hope yet to get a Free State Flag when I pass through the Orange State again, or as it is now called the Orange Colony. Our future movements are uncertain, we may remain here & send out flying colours or the army may move on. Everyone is disgusted with Buller’s inactivity, he is simply sulking & had he been energetic this business would now have ended

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[[1]] As it is the affair is not over until the President is driven out of the country or captured. Mrs Kruger is here but no one sees her. We have recovered many of our prisoners & all the officers. They tried to take them away by train & succeeded in getting a good many off including the guns, but we have recovered 3500 men & 145 officers. The officers look pale & wan, they were carefully guarded night & day they cannot appreciate they are now free men. Some had been there for seven months, they had to pay for their own food, the men were practically starved one pound of meat a week only meal from maize formed their chief diet. The officers & men are being seen by the Chief to day[sic].


At first the officers got news a telegraph clerk who lived near them used to signal information & they got it before Kruger, later this was discovered & the fellow was nearly shot, he was an Englishman & was helped by two girls to convey news to the prisoners. Finally he was sent to the front though not a Burgher.

The fellows described what an awful life they led in this solitary confinement. The men would have starved but for money subscribed in the town & by the officers which amounted to £800 a month. One fellow told me that the effect of his imprisonment will be to make him very careful how he sentences a soldier to imprisonment in the future.

Shaw of ours I have not yet seen, but I have a job for him when he is liberated by the Chief, for none of them fellows can return to duty until they are weighed off. [3 words redacted] he is very quiet [4 lines redacted]

To night [sic] I hear the Boers have got behind us & cut the line of rail in the Free State, this will give the Militia a chance who are guarding the line. Kitchener has gone down to conduct operations. I am writing this letter in the hope that it may get through some time, but I fear it will miss the mail. I should have wired you from Pretoria, but no private wires are allowed through. It was a disappointment to me & I know it would have pleased you to know I was in Pretoria for the triumphant entry.

During the Battle of Pretoria I was quite close to Roberts & Kitchener, it lasted all day until night. It was very interesting to hear the remarks made by the two & the messages sent. Before During the battle Bobs laid down with his coat under his head & went to sleep. Some of the shells came very close to the Hd Qtr staff so that at one time it was thought we would have to change our position. Battersby[6] the Correspont[sic] I spoke of in my last had his horse shot dead by a Martini, he was standing by its side at the time & the bullet grazed his field glass case, a narrow shave for him. He was greatly depressed at the loss of his horse.

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[[1]] There was a rifle taken from a prisoner the other day I should have liked, he was wood carver & had cut his monogram on the stock & the name of his engagements. Estcourt, Colenso, Spion Kop & Pieters. I could not carry it with me, but it would have been worth keeping as a relic. I saw the man & had a long chat with him about Colenso.

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[[1]] I have written all this on one side of this thin paper as my I am grieved to think of the trouble you will have with the Johannesburg letter written on both sides closely, but I have no other paper convenient. This time I have commandeered some from my host. Some fighting took place near here to day[sic] I have not heard the results. Last night they blew up a culvert a few miles out & the day before yesterday they shelled our prisoners at Waterfall[7] when we were bringing them in. So you see they are all around us, but we are perfectly safe. Everyone will be glad when the business is over & the burghers more than anyone else. It is the Hollanders who are keeping up the show & these will all be deported. Over 2,000 rifles have been handed in during the last day or two. I went around the Transvaal Artillery Barracks to day[sic] they have left quantities of harness & several gun carriages but no guns.  One of ours was there but they had destroyed it. The hospital was a sight, our men had looted it, goodness knows what for. Rolls of sticky plaster & splints, medicine spill boxes all over the place, broken stretchers, tents, letters of which I have saved, piles of ammunition & shell. I have not seen our hostess to day[sic] she has fever. This place is reported to be very malarial & I should fancy with truth, there is so much vegetation there being an abundance of water. I have not mentioned the Agricultural Apptmt in my last letter, the subject is still a sore one, but I am curious to know who gets it[8]. Still [illeg.] and I am honest. I would not have missed this show for it. I am thankful I came round from Natal. Buller is sulking & will do nothing or this war would have terminated by this time. He ought to be removed. The men by his side will get very little, all the honours will fall to this army. There is some little comfort in this.

12 June we moved our house yesterday it being too small & took one with 4 bed rooms drawing & dining rooms belonging to a Hollander who is being kicked out of the country. He leaves all his furniture (beautiful) glass, crockery bed & table linens for our use, lamps, cooking utensils etc. We walk in as if the place belongs to us. The man must have been well off for his furniture is really very good & substantial. Our last hostess got very sick she was a very clean woman in her house (the very opposite of the African Dutch) & our men & horse made a beastly mess. Her lawn got worn away, her rooms go could not be cleaned[,] tobacco ash on the floor gave her a fit & the poor woman huddled up in one room was very miserable. She told me that the day we left she would sing & play all day & I believe her. I was really very sorry, but we did not make this war & are infinitely more considerate than the people who fought against us on the other hand I must say considerable looting has been done by our troops, houses have been demolished & reckless damage inflicted. Even

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[[1]] the house of Eloff (Kruger’s son in law)[9] has been broken into & things stolen I am sorry for it & ashamed. Some of the places I saw to day[sic] would have disgraced a savage. I saw a home yesterday morning I saw the same place in the evening there was nothing left of it but the tin walls even the flooring has been removed for fire wood. I had less compassion for this man he is still on commando & in his room was a life size drawing of a British Soldier about 6ft high drawn on cartridge paper & painted red & this he had used as a target, it was full of bullet holes.

I got one or two small pieces of loot the other day two crests worn by the Saps (or Pretoria police) in their helmets & an officers throat plume for his horse.

In the Grand Hotel a curious sight may be seen a sentry with rifle & bayonet doing guard over a lady who is confined there as a political prisoner, she is supposed to be a spy. I hear this morning that she succeeded in making her guard drunk yesterday. I’m sorry for the guard!

[9 lines redacted]

Yesterday there was a fight a few miles out & several Cavalry officers were killed among others Earlie. I am sorry for her, she is at Bloemfontein where she went to nurse him after his slight wound at Zand river. Much better if she was out of the country for she will feel the shock all the more having seen him recently. Lord Chesham has also lost a son, in fact the aristocracy suffered heavily yesterday. It was intended as a movement for mopping up Botha[10]’s commando, but it did not come off.

We are still cut off from the world both by wire & rail, but in the hope that this may be restored within the next day or so I intend posting this

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[[1]] somewhat voluminous communication, you may be sure that once the postal service is established you will hear from me with my accustomed regularity. I expect Bridge will get me down country as soon as he can, but that does not matter now I have seen the show of shows & all we want now is to get the business over.

My hospital is working well, we have 1200 sick but I have arranged for everything & the veterinary part is most satisfactory. The part assigned to the combatant element is badly done & the C of Staff knows it & further that it has nothing to do with the A.V.D. we in fact shine by contrast.

Pretoria is a pretty place & when matters settle down must be quite a nice place to live in. It has an abundance of water & that is one of the essentials in a South African town. I may send you some photos of the place, several were taken of the ceremony on 5 June. [Continuation of letter missing]



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

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

[3] Citizens of the South African Republic or Orange Free State

[4] City of London Imperial Volunteers

[5] “A Life on the Ocean Wave” is a poem-turned-song by Epes Sargent published in 1838 and set to music by Henry Russell.

[6] Harry Francis Prevost Battersby (1862-1949), Boer War correspondent for the Morning Post. Published poet and journalist as H F P Battersby and Francis Prevost.

[7] Waterval

[8] In April 1900, Smith was offered a position in the Board of Agriculture, but could not be excused from service in South Africa to take it.

[9] Frederik Christoffel Eloff (1850-1924)

[10] General Louis Botha (1862-1919) commander-in-chief of the Transvaal Boers, and leader of a guerrilla campaign against British forces

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16 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 15 Jun 1900

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15 June 1900

[[1]] [First half of page missing]

A few days ago Grierson (Kitchener’s right hand man) told me he was going suddenly to commandeer the whole town for horses & to help this by supply V/O’s etc for examining them.

It was done suddenly at 1 o’Clock[sic] every horse ridden or driven was stopped, soldiers at

[[2]] [Continuation of page missing] not think it can be overlooked & it possibly [sentence continuation obstructed by pasted corner] promotion — but suppose that promotion took me to India! In that case we would be worse off than ever. However it might take me home through where I have no idea excepting it be Dublin in which case joy & rapture. I would put in my Three

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[[1]] land for the purpose lent willing help to take them out of harness etc & tie them up in spite of all remonstrance. Fares were left sitting in their cabs unable to proceed, carts left in the streets without horses, even a hearse was commandeered on its way back from a funeral & both horses taken, by night we secured about 200, but we do not steal them we give receipt for their value & this not being done at the time owing to the hurry[.] for three days I held a pandemonium of enraged owners asking for receipts, others unable to find their horse & so on. I was glad when it was over but I had one little ex-perience[sic], two enraged ladies turned up with a written order from Lord Roberts to return their horses, one was Mrs Commander General Botha[1] the other Mrs General Lucas Meyer[2]. To make matters worse we could only find one horse belonging to Mrs Meyer, whereas we had taken two. I shall never forget the look of scorn & disdain with which she put Lord Roberts order into my hand, remarking that her position as

[[2]] a defenceless woman had been taken advantage of to take her horses away & so on, I did not pay too much attention for she was not the first woman by many who had visited me that day but most of them were quiet & in tears, she was furious & showed it. When I learned who my distinguished visitors were I unbent, of course we apologised for our soldiers having taken the property of two such distinguished Generals, that no stone should be left unturned to find the horse etc etc & the hope she would accept the assurances of my profound considerations. But after a long search it became evident that only one of the horses could be found & I had to break the news to her, at the same moment a happy thought struck me & that was to offer her another & I did so, asking whether there was any other horse she would select in its place, for the first time her face relaxed & looking at me she said in a half incredulous manner, Yes I should like that one — Then, I said, Madam please regard him as yours! But do you really mean it she said smiling sweetly

[[3]] I never was more serious in my life I replied, & in case he does not suit you take another, in fact I will send you up two & you can take your choice.

The victory was won, we talked chatted she came & sat down in a tent with us we sent for her carriage & parted the best of friends.

To day[sic] I made my offered call to know which horse she preferred, she hesitated to ask me in & I chatted to her in the verandah, she then apologised & said what would the people of Pretoria say if she the wife of a Republican General was seen entertaining a British Officer against whom her husband was fighting! I said that but for that remark I had intended paying both Mrs Botha & herself  a formal visit but that for the present I must postpone the pleasure & in this way we chatted for the best part of half an hour, during which time Roberts with Baden Powel[3] rode past (B.P. had just that moment arrived from Mafeking[)]. He returned my salute with it possible extra courtesy knowing not only a lady was there, but who she was for her house is next to his. So all is well that

[[4]] ends well Mrs L Meyer had found at least one British officer who treats her with consideration her idea was that we are all brutes & full of condescension .

There is a little boy by her husbands previous marriage, she told him to repeat his creed to me, it was to the effect that he would wage war against & shoot all Englishmen until his country was free again I told him the sentiment was excellent & in return I would come & play with him at horses in the garden the first spare day I had. She is as bitter as gall & would have liked to enter into a long discussion on the war, she said you are simply fighting for the gold & the Capitalists, I replied no Mrs Meyer the question is a much narrower one that[sic] that, we are fighting to decide who is to be the ruling race in South Africa the English or the Dutch. Still in spite of our differences in political faith we shall get on well together I am sure & I hope to see more of her & Mrs Botha before I leave Pretoria, they are certainly very interesting people to meet. She complained that Black & White[4]

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[[1]] Had described her husband as a Hungarian Jew & over this she was most indignant. Still when I come to look at her she in not Dutch, she is spare & tall with a good figure which no Dutch woman has, they have fat round faces big bust & tummy, she has a long narrow face & a suggestively long nose. On the whole though she impressed upon me that she was born in the colony & was therefore originally a British subject she is somewhat Jewish in appearance & her hair is black


[Continuation of page missing]

[[2]] fate would put him under me especially as I was on the Natal side & he on the colony show.

We have a big hospital here being badly run by young [Name redacted] lately a prisoner, he tries but has no sense or go [3 lines redacted]. I hear Rayment is sick at Wynberg with dysentery. I am sorry to learn it. Matthews is still at Bloemfontein I keep him posted up as well as possible, but only got my wire off to him to night[sic] relative to Pretoria affairs owing to [Continuation of page missing]

[No Valediction]

(Please note that work on this transcript is ongoing. Users are advised to study the electronic images of this document where possible)


[1] Annie Emmett, wife of General Louis Botha (1862-1919), commander-in-chief of the Transvaal Boers, and leader of a guerrilla campaign against British forces

[2] Petronella Burger, wife of Lucas Johannes Meyer (1846-1902), President of the Nieuwe Republiek from 1884 to 1888

[3] Lieutenant General Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, (1857 – 1941), was a British Army officer, writer, author of Scouting for Boys, founder and first Chief Scout of The Boy Scouts Association and founder of the Girl Guides.

[4] Black and White: A Weekly Illustrated Record and Review was a British periodical founded in 1891. It merged with The Sphere in 1912.

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