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.

21 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 29 Oct 1900

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Kroonstad 1900

*[1]

*[2]

[No Salutation]

[[1]] yesterday morning or Monday night by a bullet in the neck while asleep. I only saw him the day before & told him how much better he was looking & he said he felt wonderfully better poor chap he is gone, another victim to our policy of humanity & civilization. I am sorry for his wife & poor little boy. I have thought of them many times to day[sic]. I wonder whether he would even have thought of mine? Prince Christian Victor’s death came in this morning[3] — flags half-mast high.

I still hope my photo by Moore may turn up but I begin to doubt it. I thought it would amuse you to read of the people who wanted my house. I dont[sic] intend they shall have it until I’ve done with it & goodness knows when that will be. The ‘washer-lady’ was an awful caution. I had no idea there was a second one in the world.

Well we are laying the whole of the Free State desolate it is necessary. every town & village is a Boer stronghold, the people feed them, hide them & keep ammunition for them. The whole place is being razed to the ground & the women & children brought in. I pity the latter poor little things what an experience. You

[[2]] can only conceive what it is by having an armed party come to the Croft[4], give you a few minutes to take out your personal property such as money & then the damage begins. All the windows are just pulled out to use the wood for firing then everything is piled up in the middle of the rooms on the table & the fire lighted below, after the whole place is burned out, the walls are blown down with dynamite & this is being done everywhere.

The whole village of Botha-ville[sic] has been levelled to the ground except the Dutch church. It was here that de Wet[5] drew his supplies from. By destroying the country we prevent the men from living, they carry no food or ammunition & therefore have no transport every farm feeds them. But where there are no farms they must give in or starve. Its horrible work thank Heavens I have to take no share in it. This morning I saw women being escorted in by Tommies[6] with Rifle & bayonet

I dont[sic] why. One had an immense woman with the hideous black bonnet like this[7] [illustration] that they all wear which hides their faces

[[3]] completely, had eight children all of a size, behind walked poor T.A.[8] hating the job most heartily, I expected any minute to see him pick up one of the tiny stragglers & carry it. It would have been a touch to have completed the picture; one child was crying & that always distresses me. All these people have Kruger[9] Steyn[10] & certain English MP’s to thank for all the untold misery they are suffering. Talk of pacifying the country. Why as long as you & I live it will be a second Ireland. Much better deport the lot, & give them a place to themselves. I dont[sic] blame the war, it was inevitable, these people made up their mind to drive us into the sea & divide South Africa between them — that is the other side of the picture. The present business will last for months, probably a year or two, we will wear them down by slow degrees, but they are very obstinate, it would not last three months if we undertook to do the job thoroughly but it is no use burning one farm & leaving its neighbours standing. The Scotch hospital has gone home & most of the sisters with it. They seemed to

[[4]] have very little else to do but boast & go about with cameras. I heard that they nearly had so many they could not employ them all. There are fewer now. I fancy there must have been many engagements for the students (who came out as hospital orderlies) nurses & doctors were very thick. I do not think they are of the same class as the Netley sisters, lots of them appeared on very friendly terms with the men. There is a Dutch nurse here who originally belonged to a Boer ambulance. She is a very fine young woman & very pretty. She has settled down here apparently as a monthly nurse — [13 lines redacted].

[Letter Incomplete — No Valediction]

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

[1] Annotated with, presumably the page number, ‘2’

[2] Annotated with ‘Majr J Hanwell RA’

[3] Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein (1867-1900) died in Pretoria of enteric fever on 29 October 1900. He was the grandson of Queen Victoria

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

[5] Christiaan Rudolf de Wet (1854 –1922) was a South African Boer general, rebel leader and politician.

[6] Slang term for soldiers in the British Army

[7] Illustration by Smith of a black bonnet.

[8] “Tommy Atkins” Slang for common British Soldier.

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

[10] Martinus Theunis Steyn (1857-1916), president of the Orange Free State from 1896 to 1902

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22 – Undated partial letters to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, c. Jul-Aug 1900

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

[FS/2/2/4/2/22] (1)

*[1]

Kroonstad 1900

[No Salutation]

[[1]] of some use to him, & in return he gave me the Chateau in which I am now living. further I can arrange with him to keep it on when I go away inspecting[2] at any time. We were talking about the destruction of the farms here by burning. We are burning 35 belonging to rebels & the poor little children & women are sent in here. Its a sad sight for war to be made on children but so it is. He told me in confidence that an officer sent out with type written orders so that no mistake could be made actually burned down the farm & home of a loyal subject!! There are some fools outside the A.V.D[3]!

Hallet does all my mending, quite good on socks. He has also put a new tail to my shirt, at first he used a piece of rough flannel belonging to an old shirt of his own, but that scrubbed the J.B off me. Then a bold plan suggested itself & that was to cut up the worst shirt in order to repair the best & that has been done with great success.

My drawers have got two big eyes in the seat of them these will also have a bit of flannel let into them. He takes quite an interest in this work, but he must not be hurried he has but one pace as you know — I have a clerk an Irish Yeoman oh! such a beauty he can neither take nor deliver a message he can write, but cannot read my copy very well

[[2]] Here is an example of his intelligence. He was copying something I was sending to Duck[4] in which I said “The A.V.D are asked to make bricks without straw: — My clerk wrote “The A.V.D are asked to make “drinks without shame”! I think that takes the biscuit. You can see what a really useful man he is.

King G.O.C[5] to Hunter[6] has just been in he was going away today but could not get off, we met last night at dinner & tonight we are both dining with the same fellow. He is a bright cheery fellow full of yarns he was shut up in L’Smith with Hunter. Describing Hunter he said that his utter indifference to danger is remarkable & is in fact absolute recklessness. He would stand up on a parapet to let a pow pow get turned on him & then coolly get down on the enemy’s side of the earth work & pick up the pieces of shell. On one occasion a shell was heard screaming over head[sic]. Hunter rushed to a rock & King thought that for the first time he had seen Hunter unwilling to face the music, but not a bit of it, he jumped up on the rock, tapped himself on <the> waist &

[[3]] said “now just watch it going to hit me in the Tummy”! It passed just over his head & burst behind him. Such a man does not know what fear means; the brave man is the man who experiencing[sic]  fear, yet has so much control that he never shows or exhibits it.

McMahon (who I have mentioned to you before) told me rather a characteristic tale the other day. During a recent march he invariably went to a Farm House for the night & had a bed there rather than sleep in the open. The people were always unfriendly to start with, but in one place they positively refused to let him in. Well he said it is no use your saying that for I am both going to eat & sleep here to night[sic] & if you dont[sic] admitted[sic] me of your free will I will force myself on you. They most unwillingly consented & he had dinner. Shortly they had a song then one sister (there were only the two sisters in the house) played while the other danced with McMahon & finally he danced with both in turn! Is it possible to imagine anything more funny, after the manner in which they received him. They had very little idea they were dancing with a Baronet. If you saw this on the London

[[4]] stage you would say what far fetched rubbish.

All the women in the Free State expected to be assaulted, a man at Brandfort sent his 15 yr old daughter away for safety to Lindley — & yet at this very place the hated “rooinek”[7] turned up & yet strange to say his daughter was not molested!

Lea[8] has a relation in the A.S.C[9]. I have never met him but quite by accident I heard he was here the other day. I at once went to try & find him, but he was out & the next day had gone. I was very sorry as I should very much like to meet him as you may imagine.

Another person who is here is Gibley’s Brother with the Australian Contingent, quite by accident I was discussing affairs with a colonial officer & hearing he came from Coolgardie[10] I asked him whether he knew a doctor of the name of G. Why he replied he is out here & named the station where he is just north of Kroonstad. I sent him a message by this fellow.

A fellow sat next to me for some time before I knew him to be an Australian V.S. he came over with one of the contingents & had just returned after Typhoid. He asked me whether I knew Stanley of Warwick.

[5 lines redacted]

[FS/2/2/4/2/22] (2)

[[1]] [3 lines redacted] hear something of some time ago, I believe they all turned out well medico’s, solicitors etc. She was a Governess in an [3 lines redacted]!

So you see its[sic] a small world, & yet all the world is here. It is very interesting to hear from other fellows who are a bit more in the ‘Know’ than I am so far as society is concerned, that if a chap turns up at any function unless he has lost a leg or arm or otherwise knocked about, the universal question is “Why are you not in South Africa” “What are you doing at home”.

Scores & Scores of men I learn on the best authority came out here for the reason that they got so tired of being asked the same question — Pirie[11] the M.P. was actually driven out by his constituents, hated it, but could not remain.
We made a good bag close to here the other day 4000 odd. King was with Hunter at the time & tells some funny tales about the surrender which you will hear some day. very[sic] indicative of the ‘Slim’ Boer. Finally King had to take the Boer ‘chief of the staff’ to see de Wet[12] & tell him that the surrender of Prinsloo’s force had occurred. The C of S was a man of the name

[[2]] Of Grobler. King says he was an absolute pig at the table & in addition he had to sleep in the same tent with him as Grobler was a prisoner of war on a special job. He saw him take the following mixture, boiled fowl two helpings on one plate over which he dolloped half a dozen sardines with plenty copious oil, at that moment raspberry jam was placed on the table & he seized it & actually put it over the sardines.

King says wherever he took him he had to apologise afterwards for his behaviour. They drove here from where the force surrendered & Grobler used to blow his nose in his fingers & wipe the latter on poor Kings travelling rug which they were using as a driving apron!!! Such are the manners, customs & civilization of some of the leading Boers! I’m not having any thank you at present; I was more put off by the rug story than the filthy mass the brute compounded for himself — I dont[sic] know why it is but I have no difficulty in getting

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[[1]] [top half of page missing]

of them, they will be very interesting reading in the future. He has

 

I forgot to tell you that Theiler[13] knew me through my physiological work which is very gratifying — Mr Watkins-Pitchford a civil V.S. out here was shut up in Ladysmith, Theiler knew it & was very fond of Pitchfork[sic] so he tried to send him in some cigarettes but was not allowed, still it was very thoughtful of him & showed a nice spirit.

 

[Letter Incomplete – No Valediction.]  

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

(https://rcvsvethistory.org//archive-collection/fs-working-papers/)

[1] Annotated with ‘3’, presumably the page number

[2] Smith was inspecting field veterinary hospitals and individual units across the region at this time

[3] Army Veterinary Department

[4] Veterinary Colonel Francis Duck (1845-1934)

[5] General Officer Commanding

[6] General Archibald Hunter (1856-1936), senior officer in British Army

[7] Rooinek = an English person or an English-speaking South African (used chiefly by Afrikaners).

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

[9] Army Service Corps

[10] Coolgardie, Western Australia

[11] Duncan Vernon Pirie (1858-1931)

[12] Christiaan Rudolf de Wet (1854 –1922) was a South African Boer general, rebel leader and politician.

[13] Arnold Theiler (1867-1936), veterinary scientist

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