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.
Click here for full transcript of letter
‘At Sea Off Natal’
‘4 Dec 1899’
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
[] 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]
[] 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.
[] 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
[] 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 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.
[] 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]
[] 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 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 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.
[] 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]
(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/)
 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
 S.S. Ismore a British ship