These papers cover the time Smith spent in South Africa, as part of the Army Veterinary Department serving in the Second Anglo-Boer War from 1899-1902.There are letters written from Smith to his wife, which cover his arrival in South Africa and his movements around the various fields of battle until June 1900, when Smith started an official war diary and was stationed at Pretoria and then Kroonstad, managing Field Veterinary Hospitals. The papers record a great deal of detail about Smith’s day to day experiences. The letters provide more information about the battles, conditions, scenery, and humorous anecdotes, whereas the diary records Smith’s professional activities and responsibilities and reports on facts and figures of the hospitals.

11 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 23 Feb 1900

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23 Feb 1900

[Salutation Redacted]

[[1]] I have just arrived here, the other side of Cape Colony (just above East London) after travelling incessantly since I last wrote to you viz 19 Feb — I had intended to fully describe my journey, but the fact that the [1 word struck through, illeg.] mail goes to morrow[sic] & I only have a short time to night[sic] to write it [1 word struck through, illeg.] precludes all notion of giving you a detailed account of all my adventures – I just did a long train journey through the heart of south africa[sic] & a God forsaken place it is. Nothing but desert nothing but stones, & hills, after Natal it was positively [illeg.] dreadful & reminded one more of the Soudan[Sudan] than anything sl else. Where they have water [1 word struck through, illeg.] town & veritable oasis is constructed & here everything is green fruit abundant & a perfect garden of Eden, but the line of demarcation between  that & the desert is as absolute as anything can be for two nights & a day & a quarter did I do this scenery further towards Craddock, which was my objective, matters improved a little & here ostrich farming help[s] to relieve the monotony of the view, those dear children would have liked to see those beautiful birds running about wild, lovely plumage I must try & buy some for you, but they are very expensive.

At last Craddock was reached. It is a small town very Dutch & therefore very disloyal I found 2 companies of the Sherwood Foresters[1] here & they made me most comfortable, the Boers were expected the day before I arrived, but had not turned

[[2]] turned[sic] up. They were rather nervous about their appearance as it was impossible to hold the place with a handful of men & nearly everybody in the place was a Boer sympathiser they openly boasted of having 10,000 men ready to rise, but if they could have produced 1000 I should have been surprised. I  remained at Craddock a day & a half & then owing to the Boers being in possession of the northern part of the line I had to drive from Craddock to Queenstown over 90 miles in a Cape Cart. I took Morton & was glad of it but what a shaking up we got for 50 miles

The road was perfect h– it is impossible to describe up & down hill, in ruts over stones, boulders & rocks, through the dry bed of rivers, through streams, down places that made you gasp as you looked at them & this went on from 10 one morning until 2 am next day, by that time we had only done 53 miles, but I am anticipating.

It was a Dutchman who drove us & of course a Boer sympathiser. I had my revolver & Morton Carbine & should have blown out his brains on the spot if he had tried his games on, I was suspicious of him for a long time as he kept looking out right & left for miles, bear in mind we were within 20 miles of the Boers a distance easily covered by them on two horses. As night came on & we got no nearer our destination I still more sus-pected[sic] my man at last it got quite dark the thundereder  rolled & a heavy storm came on, it was so dark that I could not see Morton in front of me not two feet away. We got out tried to find the road on our with our hands but no use. We could hear the noise from a waggon[sic] in front & a friendly flash

[[3]] of lightning showed a bullock waggon[sic] just ahead of us. The driver confessed he could not see the road & asked Morton if he could. Well he & the driver crawled under the waggon[sic] for protection. I rolled up in my waterproof bag on the seat of the two wheeled cart hulled up like a [illeg.], the wind howled, the rain came down in a perfect deluge & this lasted for four hours, a pale moon then rose & we continued on our way & finally reached Tarkastad a very Dutch centre seething with disloyalty. After much difficulty we woke up a man in the hotel & demanded stable & bed. His idea was we would all sleep together so he took us to a three bedded room but I drew the line at that. My first experience was finding seven B flats[?][2] stuck in the candle just after they had been impaled with a pin! I at once scratched myself back & front, made a search of the bed & walls, the latter bore full external evidence of much slaughter, this was enough for Morton he elected to sleep in the cart outside. I lay as I was gingerly on the bed candle burning until daylight & I think this kept the enemy away for I was not troubled during the night.

I found the house was kept by a Polish Jew but all S. African hotels are the same, even the one in Cape Town where I lived. One amusing scene occurred earlier in the day. We stopped at a wayside home for tea, it was a shanty of the first water kept by a Dutchman who tried to appear very loyal[,] tea was amassed & I had previously asked Morton whether he would like some & he replied in the affirmative. [“]This way gentlemen[“] said the landlord leading the way to the tea room.

[[4]] Morton followed at a respectful distance — [“]You can sit here & the other gentleman there[“] said the landlord. Morton not yet hearing got in I said, [“]the other gentleman is my servant, you can put him at the end of the table[“]. Profuse apologies from the landlord, who explained that he did not recognise master & servant & otherwise gave himself away, however he wound up by calling out, [“]Come on Mr. Morton & sit here[“]. Cant’[sic] you imagine the colours of Morton’s face!

In this blessed country every hotel Keeper[sic] his wife, children , etc shake hands with you including also Morton who distinguished appearance gains him great attention.

Well, our second days journey was 42 miles, better going but rained heavily passed through flights of locusts which resembled a huge dust storm, never saw anything like it, saw buck had a shot & nearly got it, equids [1 line redacted] & other beasts of sorts) & finally got to Queens town[sic] at 4 OClock[sic]. The place was in great rejoicing they had the news that Cronje[3] had surrendered & that Ladysmith had been relieved, the loyal inhabitants had hung out flags[,] bicycles with flags & other ornaments invaded the streets & every evidence of rejoicing on the part of the loyal inhabitants but they are few, very few. all[sic] wear a festoon of ribbons on the hat red white & blue, all who dont’[sic] & they are numerous are ached[?].

I made up my mind not to stay in a S.A hotel again if I could help it, so worked there show to live in the station & I am now put in a post office railway van, with a plank up it to walk

[No Valediction]





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[1] Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment of the British Army

[2] B Flats? Could be Bed Bugs?

[3] Pieter Arnoldus Cronjé, (1836 –1911) was a general of the South African Republic’s military forces during the Anglo-Boer wars of 1880-1881 and 1899-1902.

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12 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith,18 Mar 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/2/2/4/2/12] (1)

Norvals Pont

Orange River. SA

18 March 1900


[Salutation Redacted]

[[1]] I am in a fit lest the letter I posted to you yesterday is late for the mail, I quite forgot that the section of this line to Nauport[2] had been damaged by the enemy & that progress is slow in consequence & as you know I brought my Craddock letter with me to post here. I do hope it was in time for you, as I shall like to say I never missed a mail all the time I was away.

Well, I left Craddock the night before last, & though so late in life I really seem to make friends, the fellows appeared to be very sorry at my leaving & the Colonel particularly so as he & I have been on most friendly terms[,] a most cordial farewell at the station occurred, & that night I slept on the floor at Naaupoort station. At 5 am I got into the guards van of a luggage train & after passing Arundel, Reusberg[?] all scenes

[[2]] of recent fighting I got to Colesberg which I intended for my destination, but there were no troops there so I went on to Norvals Pont[sic] where I knew a big force existed. I did not get here until 3 in the afternoon as at most places on the line not more than 5 miles an hour could be done & sometimes we waited for two hours, every bridge & culvert had been blown up, the rails had been bodily torn away & cast on one side, one big iron bridge was lying in the dry bed of the river blown up with dynamite. We crossed in a very dodgy manner. Here is the bridge with the centre spar gone[3] [illustration] How would you have got over. Well they ran the line over the dry bed of the river & up again on the other side to the level of the bridge, but it took two engines to get us up the steep bank. On arrival here I looked out a place to bed down for the night, but the whole place was indescribably filthy the Boers had used the houses to stable their horses in

[[3]] Dung inches in thickness existed on the floors, the whole of the walls were scribbled over with Dutch & English filth, the platform was inches thick in manure & in this mess onions & indian[sic] corn were growing. The whole place was a vast latrine & the filth beyond description. An English store (or shop) had been looted & the shelves & fittings bodily pulled from the wall a billiard table in a bar near the station had the whole of the cloth torn off the rubber cushions torn away & the place full of filth manure & indian[sic] corn. The houses used by the railway people were in the same shocking condition even the kitchen stoves pulled out. The ground was littered with straw[,] filth, sheep skin & entrails, no one can picture the state the place was in. We are now disinfecting & cleaning out the rooms & I am writing this in one of them at present. The filth brings a plague of flies there are myriads where I write this, they get in ones food meat drink everything flies.

There is a beautiful iron bridge over the Orange River

[[4]] At Norvals Pont[sic], they have blown out the two centre spars & we have a railway corps busy day & night repairing it temporarily. It seems such a sin to see two immense spars of this bridge lying in the river, but we have got a pontoon over it & have our troops now in the Free State I crossed by the pontoon this morning it is just under 400 yards long & set foot in the enemy’s territory & then returned.

But the pontoon is 4 miles from here & having no horse I walked the distance in a sun none too cool. I saw Clements the G.O.C this force & had a five minute chat with him. He is a very young man & was originally in the 24th Regt & a friend of Miss Wilkinsons [sic] if I rightly remember.

I have picked up here with a Mr. Gotto who is reporting for the Daily News, he met with an accident on the railway last night & I picked him up & looked after him until a doctor came. He seems a very wise man a gentleman, has lots of good things with him which I do not take, but I have had two cigars

[FS/2/2/4/2/12] (2)

[[1]] [Beginning of page missing] call on her in order to get to known she calls on him & settles the matter. He told me old Admiral Keppel many years ago was bringing home in his ship Governor of Cape Colony [3 lines redacted]
[[2]] [Beginning of page missing] Morton is busy at present cooking my dinner it is not very elaborate only bread meat put into water & steamed down with neither potatoes onions or anything else, but it is <an> excellent diet for a hungry man. He is doing very well but I think prefers the comforts of Craddock to the flies of Norvals Pont[sic].

[[3]] The Free State appears to have had enough of fighting yesterday lots of them gave up their arms & ammunitions from the different farms close by. I think Kruger will fight, but if he does not the game is up.

By the bye it may be interest you to know the Dutch pronounce his name as if it were spelt “Kreer” not as we do. A train yesterday came in from Bloemfontein with Carew[4] & some of his Guardsmen. We hold the country up to that point & captured at Bloemfontein 900 tons of coal & 30 Railway Engines an excellent haul.

There is a rumour to day[sic] that Brabant[5] at Aliwal North about 80 miles to our right has met with a reverse, if this is true there shall be fighting somewhere between here & there & we ought to box them up. I told Clements I wanted to see him fight if it came off, but of course I cannot remain here long doing nothing.
My present idea is to get up to Bloemfontein in three or four days time & get back again.

[[4]] I hope it will come off — good way of seeing the country. I wish you could see this room my belt, bag, valise & Morton’s bundle all flies. on the wall my clock sword revolver & water bottle in the corner his Carbine & ammunition. I sit on a form renewal for the school, my writing table being a three legged iron wash bowl stand with a piece of board on it. He sits outside stoking the fire & making my hash truly a gipsy life.

Did I tell you that Wise of the 13th told me when I was with them that he had written to his wife to have a rockery made in the back garden as the only place he could possibly sleep on in the future! Well I feel rather like this myself comfort demoralizes one!

We had a 9lb Boer gun here captured from them — it is going to Cape Town, there will be a great demonstration I expect

19th March. Last night I spent with my correspondent of the Daily News friend his name is Gotto, he is a man

[FS/2/2/4/2/12] (3)

[[1]] of great culture & can discuss on any subject. He is also an artist, I hope I may see his pictures. He tells me he is a great friend of Whistler’s & other big art men & entertained me for hours with stories of them & other celebrities. He has a pistol given him as a parting present from Cyril Maude the actor. Among other things he possesses a small yacht & is quite a man of the world. I breakfasted with him this morning on steak & onions he did me well in fact if I chose I could go there to every meal. In his cart this morning I drove out to the camp & appreciated the change from yesterdays walk very much. I have wired to find out whether I should go out to Bloemfontein. I hope they say yes. I shall then be content to return to Craddock for a week or so. As to news I have none to day[sic] excepting that our meat is very tough & our bread mouldy.  We tried to buy some rice but they had none, then sago was asked for but they were not having any so that our diet of Morton’s stew of very tough & tasteless draught ox with some jam will form our dinners plus some soup tablets.

[[2]] I picked up a Boer letter in their camp this morning & will have it translated in case it contains any useful information.

24 March. Here I am again at Craddock the evening of the last day I wrote you I received a wire directing me not to cross the Orange River but to inspect Burghersdorp[sic]. So I packed up & on the 20th placed myself at Norval’s Pont[sic]  station for a train timed to leave at 11am. It left at 4pm during which time we had nothing to eat & moreover could get nothing from the supply depot, they had neither bread nor biscuit a lively prospect! However at 4 the train started & Gotto not feeling well returned with me as far as Colesberg. We got to the latter place when it was dark & I determined to feed. The train waited about 2 hours, but no one knows why, & in the interval Morton managed to get a loaf of bread. I then proceeded to my repast in the coal truck where he was lying with my kit & sitting on the floor of this I managed by the pale light of a bad moon & a flickering candle to

[[3]] to pick out the meat from the fat in a tin of bully, get some cocoa from the Engine & wind up with marmalade Excellent repast. The train moved on later & we got landed in Naaupoort [Noupoort] at 12 midnight. [Continuation of page missing]

[[4]] yelled with delight when our wounded were brought into Colesberg. The effect was electrical between them they arranged to burn & scarify her. They fervently prayed she might lose her train at N’poort (for that meant she would have to

[Continuation of page missing]

[FS/2/2/4/2/12] (4)

[[1]] It was made at Norval’s Pont[sic] waiting for the train & towards the end was interrupted by some-one[sic] turning up. However you may care for it & I send it by this mail. I think it a good likeness. You can imagine how well he sketches when I tell you this was done in a few minutes & not a simple erasure was made.

To resume my narrative — [1 word struck through, illeg.] Naaupoort [Noupoort]  being reached at midnight & my train not leaving until 8 am next morning & with no place to sleep I rolled my valise open on the platform & got inside. There was a very heavy dew but I kept dry & slept well excepting when men in the dark fell over my feet, for other trains conveying troops & stores were pouring in all night & there was very little standing let alone sleeping room on the platform. It was bitterly cold so cold Morton could not sleep & had to walk up & down all night. In due course (6 hours late) the train arrived which was to take me to Burghersdorp[sic]. This is the centre of Dutch disaffection & passes through

[[2]] many miles of country belonging to us from which the Boers have only just cleared out. The railway bore evidence of their presence every bridge, every culvert was destroyed, they are now temporarily repaired & traffic is slowly carried on. It is most interesting to see how they temporarily build up the piles of a bridge by means of sleepers or rails arranged on one another in a square & piled up to the required height. In this way the train is carried over. [6] [Illustration]

The iron girders of all the bridges are torn into fantastic shapes like so much paper & lying all over the place. It is a shameful waste of property. Well I travelled the whole of this day the (21st March) & in the evening arrived at Stormberg the scene of Gatacre’s disaster –from here I went by train to Burgersdorp where I arrived at 7pm. The whole of this place was up to a day or two ago occupied by Boers. In contrast to Norval’s Pont[sic] there was not the slightest destruction of property

[[3]] effected the station was clear & altho[sic] the telegraph wires were cut there was no damage of importance

I slept in the station that night Morton not far off how he snored! but[sic] then he always does.

The reason why Burgehersdorp[sic] station was not destroyed was because the whole place is Dutch & full of Boer sympathisers. In fact not a telegraph form or label in English could be got in this place. The Free State had taken the place over & had left behind them all Free State material. I send you with my photo one of their labels & telegraph forms a very simple bit of loot. At 3am on the 22nd we proceeded to Bethulie on the Banks of the Orange River, only a Guards van was obtainable & several of us were packed in there with the mails. We got to Bethulie Camp just south of the river by 9am progress very slow wit owing to the bridges being all blown up, even the signal posts had been shot at part of their arms being cut off which the lamps & coloured glasses were smashed by bullets[.]
[[4]] At Bethulie Camp there is no station I tumbled not in the direction of the tents & soon found a man who directed me to the Transport offices, here I found [word redacted] A.V.O who gave me some breakfast which I greatly appreciated & after I had done my work I went & saw Bethulie Railway Bridge which the Boers had just destroyed. It is a sad sight, a fine iron bridge with five of its spars blown out some lying in the water others drooping like a faded flower. Two miles away is the iron waggon[sic] bridge connected Cape Colony with the Free State, they tried to blow this up but failed. [1 word redacted] in the course of conversation dwelt so incessantly on the hard work that he had performed that I was compelled to remind him that I had heard differently of him at Cape Town where he was in bad odour, for not putting his shoulder to the wheel & ‘bucking’ up a bit. I fear I gave him rather a shock, but I dont’[sic] suppose it will do him any good. [Words redacted]

[No Valediction]

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[1] Annotated by Smith with ‘Keep but re read’

[2] Noupoort, South Africa

[3] Illustration by Smith of broken bridge.

[4] Lieutenant-General Sir Reginald Pole-Carew, KCB, CVO (1849 –1924) was a British Army officer who became General Officer Commanding 8th Division.

[5] Major-General Sir Edward Brabant, commanding the Colonial Division

[6] Illustration by Smith of the railway repair technique

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13 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 10 May 1900

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Masonic Hotel. Bloemfontein O.F.S*[1]


10 May 1900

 [No Salutation]

[[1]] I am receiving papers regularly from you but belated this I do not mind, I read every word of the papers & learn from them what has been occurring under my very nose without my knowing it. Those letters from L’Smith are beautifully written. I have lent them all to Matthews. Strange to say I saw a review on Beaconsfields letters addressed to Lady Dorothy Neville.[3] You may remember this was the lady I wrote to you about who was sweetheart of the Duke of Wellington.

Read Steevens book from Cape Town to L’Smith.[4] It is his letters to the Daily Mail collected, the account of his death is very touching. Speaking of death this place takes the merry biscuit, no less than nineteen to day[sic] including an officer[,] one hospital lost 9 men in 12 hours!! All enterics[sic].[5] How I wish I had been inoculated. I should have been but for the selfishness of the Colonel! In spite of all this everything goes on as usual & the mixture is incongruous. In one street is met several funeral parties, the corpse sewn in a blanket, the face & nose showing through with painful distinctiveness, carried on a stretcher by his comrades, or rolled along in a mule cart, string upon string of these processions approaching from the dozens of hospitals to be found in this town, & the next minute one meets say a wedding or something equally the opposite. Here babies & children are to be met dancing to the music of the pipes & drums in the market square, while in the road is a batch of prisoners, probably their father or some relation, being marched off under a strong escort; here is a school, all the boys sitting at their benches the impatient voice of the master being heard above their shrill noise, while rolling past the school windows are the dismal ambulance waggons[sic] with red cross flags carrying the mutilated remains of brave men straight from the Field. From this house comes the tin kettle note of the Dutch piano being inflicted either with the fine finger exercise or a selection from the Belle of New York, while in the yard opposite are men lying on the ground in all attitudes waiting for admission to the hospital. The extremes meet everywhere, but no where[sic] so marked as in war. One tries to see the funny & ridiculous side in everything & in spite of its horrors, its suffering & its ghastly wretchedness [1 word struck through, illeg.] there is always something to smile at & someone to chaff[6].

[5 lines redacted]

[[2]] [4 lines redacted] perfectly true story — just look him out in the Army List.

I dont[sic] see much of Matthews, but I think he is friendly — he tells me Gladstone[?] is down with Enteric, so that the expected rupture between him & [1 word redacted] may not now come off.

I expect almost any day now to hear that Rament has gone sick — The Boer shells etc I sent down by him to Cape Town are now in my luggaje[sic] so they are safe. I must next send down the coat of arms from President Steyn’s[7] carriage for it is impossible for me to carry it about. I have not got a Free State flag yet but hope to. Has my Queen’s Medal for the Soudan yet been received? I saw the 21st Lancers got theirs the other day — [5 lines redacted].

I saw a fellow last night just out of Wepener he was there the whole time of the siege & a hot time they had. The boers[sic] shelled them day & night as they were most anxious to capture the garrison who consisted principally of Colonials & they hate the loyal colonists, the last two shrapnel shells they fired had an inscription scratched on, one was “Good bye Cape Mounted Rifles we’ll have you yet” the other shrapnel bore the name of all the Dutch gunners who served this particular gun[.] I am going to see these curiosities. The garrison had little to eat & nothing to smoke, so for the latter they fell back on hay & tea leaves!!!

Brabazon[8] leisurely came to their relief & in his lordly manner told them he did not know they were hard pressed & he could have relieved them a fortnight earlier!! The garrison could not leave their trenches the whole day any man who attempted it was at once shot. They could only go for food & water at night, & even by moonlight several were picked off.

[No Valediction]

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[1] Written on hotel paper, Masonic Hotel, B.Levy & Son

[2] Also annotated as page 4 however this is the only remaining page.

[3] Lady Dorothy Neville, (1826-1913) English writer, hostess and horticulturist

[4] G. W. Steevens, From Capetown to Ladysmith: An Unfinished Record of the South African War

[5] Enteric fever or typhoid

[6] To tease

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

[8] General Reginald Le Normand Brabazon, Lord Ardee (1869-1949)

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