These letters were written by Smith to his wife, Mary Ann, during the early days of his service in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War. Smith describes his daily life, including details of his living conditions, diet, kit, the manouevres of the British forces, and the loss of human life he witnesses. Key events of the War are described first hand, including the Battle of Colenso, the Battle of Spion Kop, the Battle of Vaal Krantz and the Battle of Johannesburg. Later letters are written whilst Smith is stationed in Kroonstad, the site of British concentration camps to accommodate Boer women and children. Smith describes the destruction of farms and home wrought by both British and Boer forces, and is critical of the decisions made by Generals and leaders of both sides of the conflict.

These letters appear to have been kept as they cover the period of time before Smith started his official war diary. In the letters, Smith requests that Mary Ann keep the letters as historical record. At some point, either Smith or his wife has redacted sections of the text with black ink. It is assumed that these sections included discussion of personal matters, or comment that Smith did not want read after the fact. There are also whole pages, and whole letters missing.

Content warning: A number of items in this archive contain derogatory language and/or imagery regarding ethnicity and other characteristics, which has been preserved in the transcript of the item. A warning is present on the relevant pages. Some content is highly offensive, but it is preserved in this archive for the purposes of historical study and reflection.

1 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 4 Dec 1899

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.

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‘At Sea Off Natal’

‘4 Dec 1899’

[Salutation Redacted]

My last letter to you was sent ashore at Cape Town to be posted. You would have judged from the hurried concluding lines that our change of destination was unexpected, we got orders to go to Durban which is a sea journey of about 1000 miles & we reach there to morrow[sic] morning. All being well this should be our last day on board ship & I am very glad of it. I take it we are intended for the relief of Ladysmith & we know a big battle is impending which will be fought & over long before you get this. For all we know it may be over before our arrival which would be crushing luck. Of our future movements we know we nothing, not even of our immediate ones, but before I close this

[[2]] letter to morrow[sic] you will know the latter & after that the information from me will be I fear most irregular. I need hardly say I have not had a letter from you yet, so you can imagine how I am looking forward to one. I have been very careful on the voyaje [sic] [5 lines Redacted] I sent you a cablegram by a man I do not know but I hope it reached you safely. I calculated it would be at the Croft on Sunday morning, it left the ship 5p.m. Saturday. I could imagine the excitement of getting news from me is in such a short time [.] What would I give to have news from you, [3 Lines Redacted]
[[3]] To day [sic] we are busy arranging our kits 30lbs for me means the valise[?] without mattress & 1 small waterproof sheet instead of my big one 1 blanket  1 shirt 1 drawers, 1 jacket, 1pair [?] boots [1 word illeg.]. not a very extensive wardrobe[.] oh I forgot towel & soap. (While I am writing this there is a constant jabber going on behind me, about what fellows are taking with them & leaving behind — it is a perfect Babel & I cannot collect my thoughts) I think my plan is to leave everything behind at Natal Durban & then send for them as I require them, but I shall not see much of it until the campaign is over. It would astound you to see the kit carried by some men, beds with brass rods, mosquito curtains [,] long arm chairs Etnas [?], Coffee urns and Lord knows what. I fear my kit is very meagre in comparison, but it is carried much very easily & that is more than can be said for theirs. The talking has become so incessant, some men sitting down & talking to one even when I am writing that I must give this letter up as hopeless for the present [.]

I gave it up &have just tackled it again after dinner [9 lines redacted]

I have put my kit together [.] I cannot take my writing case or your [1 word redacted] F.S. ink bottle & lots of other things besides. It will come to 40lbs weight which is more than we are entitled to so I will probably have to throw my Kettle away.

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[[1]] We have had a great afternoon getting ready for to morrow[sic], you cannot imagine the kits some fellows have, they are incredible enough to stock a shop. In order to get near my weight I have had to throw out my mattrass[sic] (I cannot spell it) pillow, waterproof sheet, Canteen no bag, but I have taken my rubber boots & waterproof. I have not taken my Khaki serje[sic] (I have now put it in) but will leave behind me a bag containing shirt, socks, pair[?] boots, Khaki serje[sic].

The band at special request has had to play the Belle of New York again & just outside my Cabin the yellow hearts[?] of the Regt are dancing up & down the deck over ones kit & rotting[?] generally,  I can remember being once like them, but I suppose it is dispensation of  Providence that one gets quieter as they get older.

On the whole we have had a good

[[2]] passage, though for you she would have rolled too much, there is a big sea on now but it is behind us so it rather helps us on & we do not feel it. I shall be glad to land to get the anxiety of these horses[?] off my mind. I find we have done much better in the way of horses than some other Regts [.] The Royals lost 38, the 10th about 30 & other Regts in proportion. our loss to date is 21troop horses & 1 charjer[sic].

As soon as I land I must look for a horse. I hope I may not have much trouble in this respect — I presume the cheque of the Standard Bank of S.Africa can be negotiated in Cape To[wn] Natal.

I have not mentioned money affairs to you as I know you are provided for in this respect & I am sure you will be careful [2 lines redacted]
[[3]] [3 lines redacted]. It will all be very heavy but with your assistance it will all be met. I am writing [to] the Calcutta Fund to say I am here so there will be an extra charge for this for war risks. I have just written [16 lines redacted]

Your sole letter, the one I got at Liverpool before leaving [words redacted]. I hardly expect to get another for some time [words redacted], but I will write to you (in pencil) at any & every opportunity.

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[[1]] You ought soon to be making Enquiries about that house in St Johns’ Park so as to secure the refusal. In fact go to Dyer & Hilton at once & see them about it but do not commit your-self until you see how matters go but secure the refusal, this is important to you. We know very little at present of the war excepting that the Guards got a hammering at the Modder River.

I have said all along that the campaign would be a big business & not a walk over as some thought. I feel for you in your anxiety, but remember you are not the only one so placed, there is a comfort in that, there are hundreds of wives & mothers situated as you are [word redacted]. You must be proud that England is so anxious for us all. It is I who am anxious [2 lines redacted]
[[2]] 5 Dec. We are in Durban but not yet landed we disembark this evening afternoon & go by rail to Maritzburg & from there it is said to Escourt. Buller[1] is at Maritz’bg[sic] & the big fight comes off in 10 days time. The result of it you will know long before this letter reaches you [,] one cannot forecast events [.]

You will have the satisfaction of knowing that Buller will be in command, for we hear rumours of a great demoralization among the Generals or at any rate some of them. They do not appear to know their own minds.

You will have heard of the loss of the Ismore[2] with the 10th Hussars on board. Very bad luck. a battery of RA also appears to be on board. Altogether we do not appear to have had much luck up to date, but our luck will turn. We were glad to hear the fight at Modder River was more of a British success than some of the other victories. All this is fresh news to us though very stale to you I fear.

[[3]] The fighting in Natal has not been conspicuous for its success, but we can last longer than the Dutchman. In my next I will give you an account of my journey up to Pietermaritzbourg[sic] & the preperations for our advance. You will it best to work out all the movements on the map.

We are at present lying in Durban outside the harbour [.] we cannot enter until high tide at 3pm[.] the sea here is always rough, we rolled most uncomfortably this morning after dropping anchor & fancy “fiddles”[?] being on the table of a ship at anchor? I will leave the remainder of this paper to close up with after reaching the shore. By the bye Javis knows the Mackenzies well & has often stayed with them. Mrs is much older than him & was the daughter of a big furniture man, the Maple of some years ago he did tell me the name but I have forgotten it


We are now in & disembarking. Horses go off to night[sic] while we all leave by train to morrow[sic] for Mooi River to a place called Weston 50 miles only from Ladysmith & from here Buller will advance & a battle will take place between Weston & Ladysmith for the relief of the latter place. I shall therefore be right up at the front this time. One cannot predict the result of the fight or whether I shall come out of it safely, but [13 lines redacted]
[No valediction]

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[1] General Sir Redvers Henry Buller (1839-1908), Commander-in-Chief of British forces in South Africa during the early months of the Second Boer War and subsequently commanded the army in Natal until his return to England in November 1900

[2] S.S. Ismore a British ship

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2 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 18 Dec 1899

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Cheveley Camp Close to & South of Colenso

18 Dec. – 1899

[Salutation Redacted]

[[1]] The events leading up to the Battle of Colenso must form the subject of a future letter, in this I will give you an account of the Battle itself which occurred on Friday 16th Dec —

We arrived at Cheveley early the previous day from Frere, as we got in to camp the

Bombarding of the Enemy’s Earth works was going on & lasted all day. I wrote to you that night

[[2]] as soon as I learned that it was decided to fight next day. We bivouacked that night sleeping ready dressed & moved off at 3am. [2 lines redacted] Knew nothing of what was in store for us. I handed all my money over to Morton & wished him good bye[sic] for he was remaining with the baggage. On we went with the first early streak of light, getting off as far as possible to the right under the cover of a hill so as to avoid drawing the enemy’s fire. The arrangement of the ground was simple[,] we were on a long exposed plain[sic], they were in

[[3]] rifle pits backed up by heavy batteries in hills opposite to us between the two positions was the River Tugela, the bridge over which was the object of the attack.

Now everyone knew that a direct attack of the enemy’s front was a hopeless business owing to the extraordinary strength of their position & that the only attack which could succeed would be one from the flank. We were placed opposite to the enemy’s left flank they holding a big hill full of rifle pits & the Kopje[2] (pronounced Koppies) or ditches surrounding it. The general idea of the battle you will have learned from the papers[.] I will tell you what occurred in our

[[4]] part of the Field & any incidents of importance or noteworthy facts in connection with the general engagement.

We had stolen into our position just as the sun was rising, it was a glorious sun rise & I turned to our Adjutant & remarked the words of Napoleon “it is the sun of Austerlitz” but unfortunately it was not, but of that hereafter. Our force consisted of the Cavalry Bgd. under the Earl of Dundonald consisting probably of 1200 horses of which the 13th were their only regulars as we had with us one battery RA. & an immense hill full of the enemy stood to our front towards which we advanced.

The name of the hill is Hlambalma[?].

Taking advantage of a dip in the ground the whole Bgd halted & the order was given to load carbines & ten rounds were put

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[[1]] put in & revolvers also loaded.  A few words of advice were given to the men about shooting steadily & only using the point of the sword & we advanced up the rise in the ground into position on the ridge[.] at[sic] that moment the first gun was fired & I looked at my watch it was 5.30 am & I thought of you & the children being fast asleep (2.30am) & unconscious of the game about to be pladed played.

The guns belonging to us soon came into action & in a few minutes the Artillery duel began in earnest we pounded the earth works of the hill in front of us with shell after shell, they all burst beautifully heavy firing against our centre was

[[2]] going on the guns bounding vomiting forth an incessant shower of shell the latter making a peculiar shreak[sic] as they appeared of the most alarming character, then they fall, up goes the earth to the height of 10 feet or more, & bang goes the shell dealing death all around as pieces of iron a pound or two in weight are hurled through the air. One shell exploded quite close to where a group of us were standing & a fragment the size of a racquet ball came buzzing along the ground in a straight line for me, but its velocity had been destroyed. I should have picked it up & sent it home to you but was frightened that another shell would fall at the same place.

[[3]] So with commendable discretion got under cover & lost my shell. Where we were fighting it was all dismounted[?] rifle fire, the bullets came in like hail on our men who all belonged to a local volunteer corps. The 13th being kept under the cover of a hill. This local corps lost 25 men killed in a very short time & I do not know how many wounded. They were about 400 yards in front of us & yet so accurate was the Boer fire that none of their bullets intended for them reached us. One came over with a peculiar whistle just over our heads but immediately in front of us death & destruction was being most liberally dealt out. At last a battery was sent for & the hill shelled[.] This had very little effect on the fire & we had to retire gradually after being in this position for about 3 or 4 hours!

Now the fact that we lost no men gave

[[4]] considerable confidence & one exposed themselves unnecessarily [4 lines redacted]. As a matter of fact the hill & ground in front of us was positively alive with Boers & they could have shot any of us over & over again who stood up to examine the position. I declared there was not a Boer on the hill, I could not see one through my glass (borrowed) no more could anyone else but they were there[,] as the men below us found to their cost, but so perfectly concealed that nothing whatever could be seen of them not even a hat or rifle and as smoke-less powder was used it was impossible to locate a single spot from which their fire proceeded.

While all this was going on the centre & left of our force advanced under fire of our artillery then commenced

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[[1]] musketing[?] fire over our devoted artillery & infantry. It was one incessant rattle & roar, above all could be heard the pounding of the big machine guns used by the enemy as shell after shell & a hail of bullets fell among the infantry. In spite of it all you might have thought the men were on parade so steadily & without excitement did they advance. A shell would fall in a battery, (a sickening sight) down would go the gun team & men, loose horses would trot away mangled, the horses were cut loose & the guns taken on. Oh that magnificent man Tommy Atkins[3], I could have taken off my helmet to him, he never budged

[[2]] while passing through this hell fire but followed his officers & went where he was told. He is a splendid magnificent fellow, he was well hammered that day but I never heard one complaint.

Hunt’s division of Artillery got too far forward & were all shot down men & horses & the guns captured — From my hill I could see all this in the valley bellow & saw gun teams galloping about followed by shell the fall of horses & men on its explosion & the subsequent retirement

[[3]] Fellows volunteered to recover the guns but were nearly all shot[,] one man took  17 horses men with him to drag them back he returned with seven. Young Roberts volunteered for the task & got six bullets in him, he was buried close to where I am writing, this last night[.]

The battle began at 5.30 by about 2.30 the firing discontinued[?] & we all returned crest fallen to hear the sad news of the loss of the guns & of the devoted men. Hunt was badly shot & taken prisoner & dozens were killed[.]

There were lots of plucky acts & one man Buller on his own account gave the V.C before he died. I saw some very curious wounds & the Ambulance

[[4]] was a sight no man complained many smoked & were utterly indifferent.

We came back & on the road got some water at the station[,] what a sight! Oh if some painter had only been there to copy the expressions on the men’s faces. It was a fearfully hot day & no water what we got at the station had to be brought by rail we swarmed around the tanks like flies, but there was no shoving or pushing all willing to take our turn while thirst was printed on the face of men & horses. The men’s faces shewed no sign of defeat all were as unconcerned as if it were the end of a field day instead of a severe battle. Oh he’s a grand man!! Our camp was only a mile or two from the battlefield

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[[1]] & you can imagine the eagerness with which the whole question was discussed & how for the first time we learned of our heavy losses & what had occurred in other parts of the field. Bear in mind the field of battle was nearly 10 miles in length this will give you a notion of the difficulty of describing the fight. On the extreme left of our force (you will remember we were on the extreme right) the infantry tried to cross the river. The ford was filled with barbed wire, crow’s feet (which are large three legged spikes) & every form of fiendish ingenuity for rendering a passage difficult.

[[2]] here several men were lost by drowning & the others driven back or killed by rifle fire. However we got back having been repulsed & the next morning an armistice until midnight was pro-claimed[sic] to enable the dead & wounded to be collected in the mean time the Boers had removed our ten guns from the Field. During the Armistice I rode towards the fated artillery field to have a nearer look at it accompanied by Jarvis. When about a mile or so beyond our outposts I spied three Boers mounted carrying a white flag.

[[3]] I said to Jarvis we must face this by riding straight up, we have no right here spying about but we can say we have been looking for wounded fortunately we had a name of a man to enquire after. We approached the group three little men riding ponies one with a stick & white handkerchief tied on it. I at once saluted the group & wished them good day which was replied to in perfect English & perfect accent.

The leader of the pack was a Transvaller the two other belonged to the Free State, they were dressed in ordinary civilian clothes & wore a rosette in the hat or button hole. I tacked myself on to the Transvaal Boer who turned out to be the Secretary of General

[[4] Botha commandynding the Boer army at Colenso his name was Steniberg & was most civil & interesting. He had been living in Holland & leaving his wife & children there[,] had come back to the Transval[sic] for the war. In Holland he was Secretary to Reitz or whatever his name is the European representation of the Transval[sic] State. He was most enthusiastic over Kruger[,] described him as a grand old man & that in spite of his years he would rule the Transval[sic] for another 10 years at least.

I avoided discussing any subject which might sound unpleasant, but I sometimes saw a puzzled look pass over his face at some of my questions at which I remarked at once that I should not feel offended if he were unable to give any answer to my question.

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

[[1]] I ought to have told you that after we met he said he had a letter for Gen’ Buller from Gen’ Botha & I offered to escort him to our outpost fearing all the time that I should get snuff[?] for being where I was. It was on our way that our long conversation took place[,] we discussed Transval[sic] politics, the wide and narrow minded Boer, the British soldier, Kruger, Jameson Rail. With regard to the latter I assured him that I did not think one person in England could be found to support it[,] that it was unjustifiable & we severely condemned it. Respecting the British Soldiers I pointed as we approached our outpost to the ‘man in brown’ & said there is

[[2]] the man you affect to despise, are you satisfied that he is no coward? They all three at once interposed most energetically protesting that Tommy A was a brave man & that they had never held any other view. I drew their attention to the way he had advanced under terrific fire the previous day as quietly as on parade[,] they acknowledged it was very fine. I paid a compliment to the Boer Army, he returned it by paying a compliment to our Artillery fire, we paid a compliment to the Boer Rifle fire, Steinberg’s only reply to that was [“]Oh! We always shoot straight![“]

[[3]] He had a pipe of my tobacco & I was quite sorry to leave him as we reached our outpost. Jarvis & I cordially shook them by the hand, & I could see our men looking on in the most curious & intended manner, also the fellows from the naval Brigade Battery which overlooked where we were standing. Handing them over to the officer on outpost duty we left, but Jarvis secured a snap shot of the group & I have promised him the most severe penalties if he does not print and send me one, it will be an interesting feature in the campaign the delivery of Botha’s letter to Buller after the latter’s defeat!! On return to camp the ominous news of a retrograde

[[4]] movement met me. We had ascertained during the day that the Boers had moved two guns to higher hills so as to shell our camp, Buller determined to move the camp back 4 miles & this could not be done until after 12 o’clock we struck camp at 10pm & slept on the ground until 2[.] I got no sleep whatever gradually the whole force with its 8 miles of Transport guns, carts, bullock & mule wagons were placed in motion we were favoured by a lovely moon up to 2am when suddenly a complete eclipse of the moon occurred & we stumbled on in the dark over stones, into holes took the wrong way some went too far others not far enough it was orderly chaos clothed in a dust as dense as a Novbr. fog & in this way we reached our present camp which is 4 miles beyond the one

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[[1]] for which we fought the battle of Colenso. Now what are we going to do here is the question, some say Buller has gone back to the Cape & will attack them through the old Colony everyone agrees that the Boer position is impregnable to Frontal attack but it might be turned this morning however & this is the 19 Dec. a fellow of the naval Bgd tells us Buller is going to have another shot at them & I think it must be so for this fellow went  up to the Naval Batteries, at the top of our camp which very shortly afterwards opened fire on the Boers & has been firing

[[2]] ever since. I expect he will pound them for a week & then attack. In the early morning we can hear the guns at Ladysmith firing[.] They must have some very heavy guns there to hear the report 20 miles away.

The firing was going on this morning but our own firing at the present moment is so heavy that I cannot tell whether it is still going on.

The weather is hot thirst intense, water bad & scarce — we send two miles for it. Last night we had a sharp thunderstorm & such lightening, Crums!![?] you[sic] would have enjoyed it

[[3]] Evening a great change since the morning the weather is cloudy & very cold[.] They say the rains which are very late are approaching.

Last night brought your [1 word redacted] letter of the 17 Novbr the final I have had from you since leaving Liverpool [4 words redacted]. There was also one you sent to Aldershot with enclosing one from old Clery[?]. He no doubt is out here by this time [.]

This afternoon I was going out some distance from camp to see an ox opened & who should I meet but a solitary horseman who turned out to be Bramhill! Isn’t it strange how one meets[.] I reminded him the order was Cairo, Charlton & Cheveley[.] He desired to be remembered & enquired kindly after you.

[[4]] I know his camp now & will look him up — [6 lines redacted]

I am sorry this letter is in pencil[,] I have written it on my pocket book resting on my knee & it has taken some time but I hope you will keep it as the record of a big though unsuccessful battle. God knows how the campaign will turn out. It looks to me as though Lady smith[sic] would fall, this would be a shocking catastrophe & will cost us South Africa.

This place is very dusty we are like niggers, in addition my face is like raw beef from the sun, lips

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[[1]] Cracked, Khaki filthy & altogether very unlike the man you know. I have been on the hard ground for days, but there are so many scorpions & centipedes here that I have borrowed a stretcher & placed them on my medicine chests for to night[sic]. This may save a sting.

I have lost weight – the food is fair but I like more bulk. They have asked me to pay £10 contribution to the mess but I have put it off, it only represents two months keep & this is too high for a non drinker, it is the liquor which is so expensive & I dont[sic] see why I should pay for other fellows[.] However we shall see – I had an egg this morning it cost fourpence[sic]!!

[[2]] The country is all hills & rocks grass but no trees, no place where an atom of shade can be obtained [,] no water but the climate is good & the place will be very nice when the war is over. The people are all unfriendly to us, their sympathies are purely Boer. They wont[sic] sell us bread or give us water if they can help it.

I feel I have rather inflicted you with a long letter, but I have placed on record for our own perusal in the future a very important period in my life & that of the history of the country.

Do you remember a young fellow coming home from Egypt with me who I got into

[[3]] the service Bouston[?] by name. Well he is here with the RA & has done very well, he brought back the day after the battle several dead R A officers & has made himself generally useful he told me he brought two of the guns, but I have not heard it confirmed. At any rate he has identified himself with the corps & is no disgrace.

I met yesterday Parsons an old pal of mine when at Lucknow, he was then a subaltern in my battery, he is now a LtCol he was very pleased to see me & introduced me to several of his officers[.] He is very enthusiastic about my Manual of Saddles & made repeated references to it of a complimentary character.

Now this letter must close. I will post it in the morning as we have a camp post office here & there may not be another forward for some time.

[[4]] I hope Crawford sent you my telegram from Pietermaritzburg I wired to him almost immediately after the battle to cable to you & I hope he did it. I will send you a wire after the next battle I may be in, but ever should you not hear do not be alarmed as it may not be possible to cable. I will make my next cable cheaper by sending one word viz “Safe” this will come 4/-[4]

[5 lines redacted]

P.S. Morton is fit & well & doing me admir-ably[sic]. I gave him Kajne’s message.

[4 lines redacted] 

[No Valediction]

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[1] Annotation ‘Keep 29/5/23 Battle of Colenso’

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

[3] Tommy Atkins is a slang term used for a common British soldier.

[4] Abbreviation for monetary shillings

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3 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 24 Dec 1899

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[FS/2/2/4/2/3] (1)

In front of Colenso

24′ December 1899

[Salutation Redacted]

[[1]] My letter to you this week will describe our journey from Durban to this place, it would have formed the subject of last week’s letter only more important matters cropped up. We landed at Durban at night & for the first time for many days saw the faces of white women who crowded around in spite of the rain to watch proceedings. The place was under martial law <with> no one allowed out at night after 11 O’clock & everything looked very warlike soldiers & sailors alike being armed to the teeth. In the early morning we loaded up & left Durban in seven trains amid the greatest enthusiasm, people crowded around[,] women were there providing the men with writing material & stamps, food & fruit[,] everything in fact done for the soldiers convenience which they heartily appreciated. Every station we stopped

[[2]] at 30 miles from Durban there were women & girls on the platforms, supplying the men with tea, water[,] fruit & food, the enthusiasm was intense the cheering tremendous, one very pretty girl did me the honour of kissing her hand so excit[sic] to me so great was her excitement.

In this way we reached Maritzburg & here again the women pressed forward doing all they could for the men, taking charge of their letters & looking after them like sisters. They were splendid women all done without any expectation of remuneration everything free, all they asked for were the badges the men wore in their helmets with the number of the regiment on. After leaving Maritzburg it soon got dark & we arrived at Mooi River at 3am to learn that 300 Boers were in the vicinity, our camp was 11/2 miles from the station, an armoured train was waiting with steam up & we expected a row, but none came,

[[3]] in the pitch dark night (which thanks to my lamp was no trouble to me) I determined to bed down in the station & wait for daylight. I did so <and> found a corner & bedded down Morton also. He snored & slept soundly, I got a rest but no sleep. Next morning I went up to our Camp where we remained three days. It was at this place the Boers opened fire only the week before, a tin hut on a hill near (strange to say occupied by a colonial V.S[1] & his wife) was a sight, they had evidently cleared out in a hurry, the bed on the floor was made on it was lying a hat without trimming a veil & petticoat, on the wall was a faded ball dress body & skirt & behind the door a cloak. The other room was full of drugs instruments & appliances[,] everything deserted. I wish I had had a camera the place defies description. The Boers were reported all round so we kept piquets out day & night

[[4]] I wish I had Our train experiences as far as Mooi River were very trying the line runs up & down hill there are no tunnels the rail winds round the hills runs at the edge of precipices that make you sick to look on, the carriages shaky & rotten (though I believe they have good ones) the horses fell down some even fell out at every station we had to get one or more up which meant unloading the whole truck & altogether I was very glad when Mooi River was reached[.]

The camp was a good one but Egypt could not beat it for flies, ones tent was black with them myriads. It was here I was able to demonstrate my usefulness as D.V.O!! Glanders had broken out in the Scottish Rifles & the whole of their Transport (57 animals) were isolated & no good to the Rgt. A Colonial V.S was in charge & as Matthews is shut up in Ladysmith with 14 other A.V.O men the work was being done by Crawford. No attempt had been made to Mallein the remainder & at Mooi River

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[[1]] they would have remained indefinitely but for me. I wired Crawford, got the Mallein, inoculated half the number found them free from disease & they were sent on & in time for the battle [of] Colenso!! There was an officer of the S. Rifle charge & he was so pleased at being liberated & getting up to the battle that he lent me a mule which I now have & which is going to carry my kit in the future — Crawford finally came up & I saw him just before we marched from Mooi  — I did not know him not having seen him for 22 years. He is a nice quiet fellow, before we parted I gave him the copy of a wire to you to be sent after the fight on hearing from me. I hope you got it.

We marched from Mooi River by easy stages to Esctcourt & thence to here we met the Royals at Frere & with them was Gladstone. I cannot remember having met him before[.] He is very Scotch. The Royals lost more horses coming out then we did.

[[2]] The fight here I gave you a description of last week so I have now brought myself up to date[.]

25th Dec. A merry Xmas to the children, it would be affectation to wish you the same with your husband on Service [2 lines redacted].

It is a boiling hot day. I have to sit in my tent with my helmet on owing to the heat coming through the tent. I got my Xmas box however [words redacted], it was a letter from you [2 words redacted] enclosing the ribbon bar. That reminds me that I have not yet mentioned the decoration to you. I took the news quietly but in my heart of hearts I am most delighted — I at once wrote to Sir E.W.[2] & poured out my thanks. I feel amply recompensed for my labours — You are wrong [2 words redacted] over the ribbon, until you know exactly what the decoration is you cannot

[[3]] determine the colour of the ribbon, it may be a Medjidie or Osmanieh & of these there are five classes each[3]. The ribbon will I expect will be green with red edge or red with green edge — You can get it at Hawkers when you know exactly what to ask for & this you will know from the Gazette, it will be published in the London Gazette — Mind you let Lea[4] know.

The blue ribbon you sent is that belonging to the Khedive’s star a totally different concern. Now when you get the proper ribbon measure it against the blue one & if they are the same size you will know the bar I have is alright, but if it is wider than the blue ribbon (& my belief is that it is) you will then kindly have another bar made for me. Oh, I am so delighted about it. [2 lines redacted]


[[4]] [1 line redacted] What years I have wanted for these, & now I get three in about 12 months. The permission of the S. of State is a mere formality. Sir Wood ascertained before hand[sic] that no refusal would be offered.

There are two fellows of the 21st Lancers in the 13 Hussars & they both remarked when I told them of my luck that it was strange & a curious coincidence that the conferring of the decoration should have co–incided[sic] with Blenkinsop’s absence from Egypt. I dont[sic] say much, but I think a lot about it.

[10 lines redacted]

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[[1]] Your Xmas day I know will be miserable & if [5 lines redacted]

I shall be glad to know you have secured the refusal of that house or some other equally moderate & convenient. You will not forget that my expenses in this country both during & especially after the war will be very heavy I only get English pay with 1/6 per diem colonial allowance my pay at £1 per diem with the above equals 21/6 per diem or £32-5 a month, out of which I give you £20 leaving me £12/5 a month to live on[,] less than I had the first day I joined the Service, [4 lines redacted].

[[2]] This Regt will prove very expensive they drink a lot of Champagne & propose to divide the cost!! Nice for me — Keep a careful eye on the pence the pounds will take care of themselves.

Now a little about our position here & our prospects. We are 5 miles from the enemy & have been here ever since the day after the battle. We do nothing but sit tight, no one has the slightest confidence in the Generals, they are condemned in the most open manner by everyone. We send out patrols by day & picquets by night. One patrol the other day was fired on & two men killed & 7 horses, there is no doubt the men were lying down asleep at the time, it is difficult to impress them with the idea that they are on service & not in the long valley[5] — One of the men killed was a Reservist, his wife had a baby three days before we sailed, her Xmas will be a sad one[.]

[[3]] One man had two, the other seven bullets in him. The Boers are all around even close up to our camp, they captured two officers yesterday in broad daylight both belonged to a Colonial corps, they are so emboldened by success that they are capable of doing anything — In return we do positively nothing. I have suggested night attacks ambushes etc but everyone in authority seems afraid to move its[sic] positively sickening. The only people anxious for reprisals are the younger element, I would put all young men into the place of our Generals.

You can fancy our position when I tell you we cannot send our horses to water without the men taking carbines & ammunition.

The Boers of course will nor attack us in force, that is not their game, we would be glad if they would, it would draw them out of their rifle pits into the open

[[4]] & there we could deal with them, their plan is to harrass (I cannot spell the word) us & get around our flank & so cut us off like Ladysmith. Still feel no alarm, if we get them in the open we can crush them. We have some good naval guns, they fire on them every day[sic] & you can imagine what they are like when I tell you they hit the mark at five miles. The Boers are very angry with the sailors in consequence & threaten to crucify the first they catch.

Our camp is very dusty & full of scorpions, dozens are killed everyday big black ones. We get plenty to eat & bread not biscuit. The water is bad & very scarce. I have plenty to do go all around is the morning early & then do the Regt. The afternoons are

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[[1]] very hot, but we may look for cooler weather in a month or so.

I have a very nice horse from the Remounts nearly an Arab. Col. Stevenson of our Remt Dept was in Durban when we landed & he sent me a horse up[,] he did me well being in the show. I have it on the hire system £10 per annum which is a great pull. Besides this I have the mule & I hope to commandeer a Boer pony if we have any luck in dealing with them.

To day[sic] being Xmas day we let them off a bombardment, ‘peace & good will’ I suppose nor have we heard them bombarding Ladysmith. I do not know what to morrow[sic] will bring forth but I expect they will get their Xmas box from our 47 guns. We have a nice meeting to morrow[sic] & hoped to have invited the Boers over for it, but the latter idea fell through, you see we are both Protestant races. In spite of everything we are perfectly cheery

[[2]] if it were not for the guns & the fact that every–one[sic] is armed to the teeth you might imagine we were on peace manoeuvres.

Every day Boer spies are captured & sent through here south. I saw some Boer prisoners the other morning, only one was white, the others were niggers.

This afternoon a very interesting person turned up young Churchill. You will remember he was captured in the armoured train fight when we were on the high seas. He managed to escape from Pretoria & to day[sic] he told us all about it. It took him 9 days to reach Delagoa Bay, he had no money no food excepting what he stole, hid by day & jumped into the passing train by night.

For 60 hours he remained under some sacks in a railway waggon without food & water he wished himself at the time back in Pretoria, they reached the waggon as they

[[3]] were looking for him, but he was near the bottom & escaped detection!! When he got to Delagoa he went by ship to Durban & is once more on the scene[.] He is a fine plucky fellow, the wound in his head was slight & has healed but he looked very pale. He did not escape in womans[sic] clothes as reported. He says that so certain are the Boers of capturing Ladysmith that they have prepared a camp for the reception of White’s force — Every inch of the coast between Colenso & Ladysmith is difficult & full of rifle pits. There are 7 miles of wire entanglement around Colenso & full of mines. A pleasant prospect. Buller will do well to avoid a direct attack, he ought to cross the Tugela higher up & get around their flank.

I am writing this by night after quite

[[4]] an excellent Xmas dinner including a lovely plum pudding sent [to] the Colonel from home with [1 word illeg.] steak & turkey! from Maritzburg. While I am writing the “Scalliwag” continued as we call the Colonial forces are singing & cheering

themselves horse hoarse — Some of these men are the refuse of the Transvaal  they steal whatever they can find ones horses and kit go in a remarkable manner.

One forse was raised by Byng of the 10th Hussars. He is known by his Regt as “Bungo” & his men are known to us as Bungo’s Burglers[sic]!! another force is Thornycrofts “Thieves” Another useful force are the “Body Snatchers” viz the men who pick up the wounded & dead. Altogether we are not dull nor wanting in spirits all we want is to meet the enemy in the open.

I am now sleeping on a hospital stretcher

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[[1]] placed on two medicine chests – quite comfy; on it is my valise, on the top of the valise is my kit & things including kettle tin pot se. I sometimes in the night find something hard under the small of my back, on examination it turns out to be a nail brush, or my knife or kettle or something equally soft, but it all comes in the days work.

My candle would amuse you, they all melted into one mass & they had to be cut apart, they are twisted & flat like tape, but they burn quite well in the neck of a beer bottle, though very drunken & distorted from the perpendicular[.]

Please send me one pound of tobacco a month, difficult to get, here, while on service we pay no duty. I think a pound is what I smoke, but you will know best. I smoke the pipe those beloved children bought me from Earls Court

[[2]] [14 lines redacted]

I am not surprise to hear about Ingram your brother always had a difficulty in getting money out of him. I should not be surprised if your aunt is left a poor woman after all — He may have made away with everything — I am most anxious for further news on this point. It is a very serious matter.

Willoughby House[?] affairs seem in a bad way incompatibility of temper [2 lines redacted]

[[3]] [3 lines redacted]

Jarvis last night said he did not suppose it was much use hanging his stocking up as he would only find a scorpion in it in the morning. Strange to say he found one in his bed so his fore cast was verified.

[14 lines redacted]

[[4]] we know each day we are safe, whereas you have no idea what has happened or is happening. But cheer up old girl all will be well[.]

Morton amuses me, he does nothing but sleep all day & all night, but he is an excellent chap & I am very glad I brought him. He has had no letter from home since he left.

It is a good thing young Hayduff[?] has left home[,] he is very late in joining the service but I hope he may do well. [4 lines redacted]

Tell the former to send me a letter which you can enclose with yours telling me everything about the children & their education & all the news she can think of — I know she is fond of writing — I will now go to bed & write you more to morrow[sic].  

[2 lines redacted]

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[[1]] 26 Dec. The Boers got their Xmas Box very early this morning. I was awoke about 5am with the thunder of cannon & 40 Lyddite shells were thrown with their work before 7 am. I went up to the Battery & on the way met Churchill, I was able to introduce him to Commander Limpus[6] of the “Terrible” who is my pal up there. Everyone is anxious to meet Churchill after his exciting adventure. The latter told me Ladysmith cannot hold out after the 15th January, its fate will be settled before you get this letter & being a pessimist I think it will be against us. The Boers in anticipation have prepared near Pretoria a large [1 word illeg.] for the reception of the prisoners!! Further all their trains from Pretoria are labelled Durban! I have this on the authority of Churchill.

[2 lines redacted]

Poor Lucy I am so grieved, do write & give my love & best wishes.

[[2]] I am glad you had a mild november[sic] & hope it will last throughout the season.

The ‘Morning Posts’ you sent me are excellent & although abundant picture papers have come out to the men, your Morning Posts are in great requisition

[1 word illeg.] will be Gazetted in Adams place until the war is over & then it will be [5 lines redacted]

I regret to say I did not remember our 20th wedding day, but that was not due to thoughtless or neglect, dates as you know do not impress me I never thought of it in the midst of my work which you know on the ship was very heavy. — [1 line redacted]

I doubt if you would know me if we met burnt red & brown, dirty clothes ( a plate of soup was spilt down my Khaki jacket

[[3]] & left a lovely grease stain) Everything dirty — I am sure I am not recognisable & that is after 3 weeks what will I be like at the end of 3 months.

I knew Mercer years ago when he was a subaltern. Is Stanford still next door or has he started for S. Africa? [4 lines redacted]

[4 words illeg.] I have now answered all the points in your letters. [4 lines redacted]. Had we won the battle of Colenso you would have had only a bare line for we would have been [2 words struck through, illeg.] day by day — The mail goes on Thursday, but to make sure I will post this to morrow[sic] as our postal arrangements are not of the best & trains break down far too frequently.

[[4]] Dont[sic] believe all the tales you hear of Boer butchery — they treat our prisoners & wounded very well & we do the same to theirs. At the Colenso show they gave our men water etc & some of them gave money to the wounded. Today something is on, some of our troops have gone back to Frere & a flank movement is on the cards. We may be left at Colenso to mark the movement higher up, but cannot say. I will write every week that is possible, but again remember no news is good news

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[Valediction Redacted]



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


[1] V.S – Veterinary Surgeon

[2] Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood (1838-1919)

[3] Military decorations of the Ottoman Empire

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

[5] The Long Valley at Aldershot

[6] Admiral Arthur Henry Limpus (7 June 1863 – 3 November 1931) was a Royal Navy officer

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