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Title: Tommy Cornstalk  (1902)
Author: J. H. M. (John Henry Macartney) Abbott
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Language:  English
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Title: Tommy Cornstalk (1902)
Author: J. H. M. (John Henry Macartney) Abbott

* * *

Tommy Cornstalk
Being Some Account of the Less Notable Features of the South African War
From the Point of View of the Australian Ranks

J. H. M. (John Henry Macartney) Abbott (1874-1953)

First Published: 1902

* * *


Oh, Land of Ours, hear the song we make for you--
Land of yellow wattle bloom, land of smiling Spring--
Hearken to the after words, land of pleasant memories,
Shea-oaks of the shady creeks, hear the song we sing.
For we lie quietly, underneath the stony kops,
Where the Veldt is silent, where the guns have ceased to boom.
Here we are waiting, and shall wait to Eternity--
Here on the battle-fields, where we have found our doom.

Spare not thy pity--Life is strong and fair for you--
City by the waterside, homestead on the plain.
Keep ye remembrance, keep ye a place for us--
So all the bitterness of dying be not vain.
Oh, be ye mindful, mindful of our honour's name;
Oh, be ye careful of the word ye speak in jest--
For we have bled for you; for we have died for you--
Yea, we have given, we have given of our best.

Life that we might have lived, love that we might have loved,
Sorrow of all sorrows, we have drunk thy bitter lees.
Speak thou a word to us, here in our narrow beds--
Word of thy mourning in lands beyond the Seas.
Lo, we have paid the price, paid the cost of Victory.
Do not forget, when the rest shall homeward come--
Mother of our childhood, sister of our manhood's days,
Loved of our heavy hearts, whom we have left alone.

Hark to the guns--pause, and turn, and think of us--
Red was our life's blood, and heavy was the cost.
But ye have Nationhood, but ye are a people strong--
Oh, have ye love for the brothers ye have lost?
Oh,--by the blue skies, clear beyond the mountain tops,
Oh, by the dear, dun plains where we were bred,--
What be your tokens, tokens that ye grieve for us,
Tokens of your Sorrowing for me that be Dead?

W. R. H.
JUNE 12, 1900
This book is affectionately dedicated


To so great an extent has the market been flooded with all sorts and
conditions of books relative to the war in South Africa that the author
feels constrained to introduce his with a few words of apology and
explanation, in the hope that he may perhaps justify himself for seeking
to inflict yet another upon a long-suffering public.

War Correspondents, Doctors, Members of Parliament, Lords and Lookers-on
have, all and sundry, had their say in book form as to what they have
seen and what they have thought about it. Battles, strategy, transport,
hospitals--all the varied features of both campaigns have been most
thoroughly discussed and debated in their diversity of light and shade
from almost every possible point of view. So that there would seem at
first very little left to write about. But the Australian soldier,
though frequently the subject of much literary effort, has not yet had
his say. Therefore, in these pages the author has striven to show other
Australians, who had not the good fortune to serve in Africa, what some
phases of campaigning were like, as viewed from the standpoint of the
Australian ranks, and has occasionally ventured to say, as an
Australian, how things have impressed him.

With regard to the two "Battle" chapters, it is perhaps necessary to
explain that, though the incidents and setting are actual facts, the
whole is not intended to represent any particular engagement, but is
rather a kind of composite portrait of half a dozen or more.

In conclusion, the author wishes to acknowledge the kindly assistance
and advice for which he is indebted to Mr. John Arthur Barry in the
making of this book.

SYDNEY, 1902.


VIII. THE BATTLE--(continued)
X.    THE HOSPITAL--(continued)
XI.   THE HOSPITAL--(continued)


There was a story sent from the Front by the Correspondent of a Sydney
daily newspaper, concerning a Great General, a Field Hospital and

New South Wales had a very well-equipped and well-served Army Medical
Corps, which, when troops were offered for service in South Africa by
the Australasian Colonies, had despatched two field ambulances to the
Cape. One of them was at Paardeberg whilst Cronje sullenly stood at bay
in the Modder. The Great General came to see it. Everything was good,
and complete, and well done, and of an excellence that does not show
through a binding of red tape; and the Great General had never before
seen anything quite so good, or complete, or so well done, and was
pleased and interested in all he saw.

"Who are you?" he asked, "and where do you come from?" To which the
P.M.O. made answer: "We are part of the New South Wales Army Medical

"Ah, yes," returned the Great General; "yes, New South Wales! That's
Adelaide, isn't it?"

Now the application of this little tale is, that if Great Generals do
not know that New South Wales is not a suburb of Adelaide, how much less
will the average un-Australian reader comprehend the meaning of the term

In Gippsland grow the big gum trees. It is a matter of some pride,
perhaps, to Victorians that their province should grow the largest gum
trees in all the Australias. Jealous of Victorian prowess in eucalyptus
cultivation, so to speak, the other Australians refer to the Victorian
people collectively as 'Gum-suckers'!

Because the popular banana finds the climate of Queensland suitable to
its healthy being, the inhabitants of that Colony are dubbed

It may have been that, to the early South Australians, means of
subsistence came not easily. At any rate they are called 'Crow-eaters'.

In delicate reference to the nature of their country the West
Australians are 'Sand-gropers'.

Finally, the people of New South Wales, having acquired a reputation for
lankiness and wiriness, have been named 'Cornstalks'.

That a native of the mother colony differs very greatly from the human
product of any other part of Australia is possibly doubtful, but that,
in the days of his youth at any rate, he is usually slimly built and
long of limb is a fact fairly well established. See him in his own
country--along the creeks and rivers of the eastern ranges, on the New
England and Monaro tablelands, or out in the sun-baked West--and you
will find that there is something about him peculiarly characteristic,
something of his own that marks him slightly, but still unmistakably, as
himself and no one else. Place the average bush-bred boy of eighteen beside
the same aged English lad and note the difference.

The Cornstalk is the almost immediate successor of the Hawkesbury
native--is indeed symbolical of the evolution of that physically perfect
being. Years ago, we of the present generation are told, if you should
see anywhere a particularly tall, brawny, well-made, big man, you might
be morally certain that he hailed from the farms upon the Hawkesbury
River flats. The first of the free settlers who commenced the march
westwards 'squatted' there, and owned the land by right of occupation.
If they could obtain them, they took wives unto themselves, and reared
up families. And the families subsisted principally upon pumpkin and
ground maize, and wore no boots in their childhood, and led a free,
wild, untrammelled sort of life. So they grew into tall, clean-limbed,
deep-chested men, and sturdy, comely women, and spread North and West
and South over the land--and their offspring were the fathers and
mothers of the Cornstalks of to-day.

There were, of course, other places besides the banks of the Hawkesbury
where the pioneers tilled the land and grazed their flocks, but the
Hawkesbury native is typical of the best men and women of that time.

Big and large, the Cornstalk is a good man. Like most other good men, he
has his faults--even his vices--but they are not yet the faults and
vices that bring a people to the gutter. His is not a new race--it is
rather the renewed, reinvigorated reproduction of an older one. He has
the blemishes of his forebears, the transmitted characteristics of a not
too perfect ancestry. He has developed little traits, and big traits, of
his own; and many of his leanings look alarming. But, even now, there is
promise and hope--and, if we may be permitted to say it of one's own
people--some fulfilment.

He has been spoken of in the Literature of the Hopeless as 'tired'. He
has been painted as a somewhat weary decadent--too listless, too blasé,
too worn-down by the overwhelming burden of existence to act the part of
a strong man, of a vigorous and energetic citizen. The weird melancholy
of the Bush has warped his soul. Too much meat, too much tobacco, too
little grinding poverty, have combined to unnerve and render him effete.
If we are to believe it all, he is tending towards a sort of
demoralising apathy, a listless carelessness that will make him, in
time, something akin to the more degenerate Latin type--a creature too
feeble, too vacillating and uncertain, to help himself and keep his
place near the surface in the struggle for existence. But, perhaps,
recent events have proved that this is a false view. We may thank Heaven
that he is better than he has been represented to be in this class of

He is, at times, 'flash'. He considers himself to be rather a better man
than most other men. He is said to lack reverential feeling, to respect
little that is worthy of respect. Undoubtedly he loves holiday, he
thinks more of sport than of work. He is well able to sound his own
trumpet, and he thoroughly believes in the correctness of its notes. But
these are not hopeless characteristics. Flashness is only another name
for self-confidence--merely the over development of the bump of
self-respect. It is good and healthy to appreciate oneself. He does not
really want in reverence--he is shy. Why should he not love sport and
holiday? Few of us work for fun, and if you don't sound your own
trumpet, who is likely to sound it for you? Taking him 'in the lump,'
the Cornstalk is not a bad fellow. Above all things, he is no

Curiously noticeable in South Africa were the variations in 'English as
she is spoke' amongst the troops of the Empire. From the broad dialects
of the men from the different counties of England--of the Scotch and of
the Irish--the speech and accent of the various Colonial contingents
were strangely distinct. To the newcomer from Canada or Australia, a
Yorkshire 'Tommy' was, at first, almost as unintelligible as a Chinaman.
Doubtless the reverse was true also. There were few distinctions in
dress as the campaign grew older, and most men looked alike, but one was
generally able to locate a man's habitat in the Empire as soon as he
opened his lips to speak. From the rounded, full-voiced English, the
broad Scotch, or the Irish brogue, the Canadian twang and the Australian
drawl were as distinguishable as the French language is from the German.
Roughly, the difference is this--the Englishman says all his word; the
Canadian emphasises the last syllable sharply, and the Australian slurs
the terminations. In Australia, where all people speak more or less
alike, this peculiarity of ours escapes one; but in Africa, where it
could be compared, and always was in contrast, with so many accents and
modes of expression, it was extraordinarily apparent. And of nothing was
this difference in speech more suggestive than of the wideness of the

So Tommy Cornstalk is generally a long-limbed fellow, with a drawling
twang, to whom anything in the nature of sport appeals most strongly. He
is a newer being than the English 'Tommy,' and he is pretty much, though
not quite, of the same species as the Canadian.

But we want to consider him as a soldier, and to discover what his
capacities and capabilities are for soldiering.

Above, of course, one has not considered the Cornstalk of the city. His
is another story. The Cockney is not taken as the standard Englishman.
John Bull is typically a farmer; and his son Jack Bull, of Australia, is
a bushman.

Most of the rank and file of the troops who went to South Africa from
Australia were of the Bush.

From the history of the Dutch people in South Africa--their hardships
and struggles as pioneers in the first place, and their open-air,
half-civilised existence nowadays--it was, from the outbreak of
hostilities, a matter of universal opinion throughout the Colonies that
the Boer should be met by men who resembled him in their ways of living,
in their training as horsemen, and, more particularly, in their
education as expert rifle shots.

When troops were offered by the several Australian Governments last year
(and accepted perhaps in the first place as a compliment), the movement
was regarded in Australia not as a mere formal evidencing of the loyalty
and good will of the Colonies to the Motherland, but rather as a serious
step taken to assist her with men trained to the same conditions,
if not of war, then of ordinary life as obtain amongst the
Veldt-dwelling Boers of South Africa. And, afterwards, the Imperial
Government seemed to view the matter in the same light; though at
first, before the irregular troops had proved that they were of some
worth, at least, there seemed to be in England the feeling of

The Bushman--the dweller in the country as opposed to the town-abiding
folk--the real Cornstalk, is, to all practical purposes, of the same
kind as the Boer. It is not to be supposed for a moment that he
generally possesses the meaner attributes of the Boer character. He is
not constitutionally a liar (except in the matters of horses and dogs).
However one may wish to do the Africander justice, it is difficult to
believe that he possesses the same views with regard to honour and fair
dealing as obtain amongst Englishmen. To be 'slim,' to 'verneuk' his
neighbour, is, with the Boer, a by no means bad failing. We are
certainly no better in most things than we ought to be, but, if only as
policy, we do deal more with truthfulness than do the Boers.

One does not wish to decry or make little of a people whom one has
learned to respect as a brave and hardy race, and a gallant foe, and it
is perhaps the most charitable view to take if we assume that the Boer's
ready resort to lying of a bad kind is a flaw in his nature for which he
is scarcely accountable--and try and understand that he is sometimes
unable to grasp the wrongness of falsity and crooked dealing. It is not
intended, therefore, to imply that the Cornstalk, when likened to the
Boer, is necessarily possessed of the more objectionable attributes of
the latter. Neither, moreover, is he such a slothful and retrogressive
person in his conduct of life. What we wish to point out is, that in
training, in conditions of living, in environment, and to some extent in
ancestry, the Cornstalk and the Boer have very much that is in common.

As a soldier, Tommy Cornstalk differs considerably from his cousin Tommy
Atkins. His soldiering is mainly of the present. Active service is the
first occasion upon which he has been called to obey unquestioningly in
all things since he has worn a uniform. The only discipline he really
knows is the 'discipline of enthusiasm'. He may have made many
sacrifices for his volunteering. He may have been accustomed to ride
miles to his parades. His shooting may have cost him time and money. He
may have taken pains innumerable to perfect himself, as far as was in
his power, and with the means at his command, in all his duties--but,
until he has signed his attestation paper, almost until he has embarked
upon the troopship, he has never thoroughly been 'under the whip'! He
has never known what it means to be the unthinking piece of mechanism,
the pawn in the game, which all soldiers necessarily become under a
strict and unswerving discipline.

And, at first, he does not take altogether kindly to it. He has been a
free man--within certain limits a law unto himself--accustomed in his
democratic country to acknowledge no man as being, per se, his superior,
unless a well-tested one. He may have been to school with some of his
officers, may know them intimately in civil life. It is even possible
that, in his own district, he may occupy a social position above that of
his officer. And this is where, to the average Cornstalk soldier, the
shoe pinches. It seems to him bitterly hard that he is required to
salute a man whom he may not consider at all his better. It is irk-some
and uncongenial to him to have to address him as 'Sir,' or as 'Mister
So-and-so'. It is absurd to be expected to stand 'as stiff as a gate
post' with his toes nicely turned out to an angle of forty-five degrees.
It annoys him to have to trouble himself about the paying of compliments
and such like, to his thinking, vexatious and foolish matters. And so,
when he meets the Imperial Officer he astonishes him; and when he meets
Tommy Atkins he wins that gentleman's admiration and awestruck regard by
his cool and happy neglect of the things which have been drilled into
Tommy as sacredly to be observed under all circumstances.

"What is the use of it all?" he argues; "how does it help to lick the
Boers, and get to Pretoria?"

As the Boer despises a 'voet-looper' so is Tommy Cornstalk ashamed to be
seen walking. He is essentially a horseman--and generally a horsey man.
His sphere as a soldier lies in mounted work--rather, perhaps, in the
work of mounted infantry than in that of cavalry. To be a 'toey' seems
to him almost to amount to degradation. He thanks God that he is not an
infantryman--and this not because he does not give credit for and
respect the magnificent work of the infantry, but because it is his
nature to look down upon the man who walks. In Australia the possession
of a horse carries with it something of a guarantee of respectability
and solvency. A man who cannot read is far less to be pitied than one
who cannot ride.

Generally, he is a good shot. Indeed, it is doubtful whether there is
any better shot in the world than the kangaroo-shooter--although, of
course, all Cornstalks are not kangaroo-shooters. He is quite as good,
if not a slightly better shot than the Boer. But he must fire as he
pleases. Volleys, save when delivered at long and uncertain ranges to
keep down the fire of the enemy, find small favour with him. It is not
enough for him to 'loose off' his rifle, in the vague hope of his bullet
chancing to drop where some one is; he must have a definite target to
'loose off' at.

Whatever Tommy Cornstalk may be as a fighter, he owes little of his
capacity for war to drill or instruction. He has known no riding-school,
he has not studied the care of the horse in a little red book. It is
only by painful effort that he learns to roll his coat correctly over
his wallet--in order that he may give his mount a sore wither. He would
prefer to carry it in a fashion less uncomfortable for his horse. He is
feeble in the salute. He hardly ever knows when to turn out the guard.
His concerted movements lack precision. He resents exclusiveness--even
in a General Officer.

But nevertheless he is a highly trained man of war. He has learned to
ride through pine scrubs, down mountain sides, over rotten ground, about
cattle camps. It has been his business to be a horseman. He has been
more or less of a horseman from his babyhood. He has studied marching on
the travelling stock routes; to endure thirst on the dry stages; to
sleep in the mud or the saddle. Mother Earth is a familiar bed. His
knowledge of scouting has been acquired young. You cannot teach a man to
scout in a suburb or from a text-book. To look for sheep across a plain
that quivers with mirage, or upon the steep 'sidings' in the hills, to
seek wild cattle in the scrubs, trains one's eyes. Tracks acquire a
language when a knowledge of their 'true inwardness' may mean your daily

He has been taught to forage on the road. The feeding of one horse in
war time is a simple matter compared to stealing grass for a mob of
sheep or cattle. He has had to cook for himself, to sew for himself, to
depend upon himself in his often lonely, self-reliant existence. In his
own business, his daily life, he has unconsciously been taught what is
as important a thing to know on active service as anything (and which
all the barrack training of the regular will not have taught him), and
that is how to be comfortable, how to become a good 'doer' under all
adverse circumstances.

'Looting' comes to him naturally, though apparently not quite so
naturally as to the Canadian, who is the most accomplished 'looter' in
all the world.

This is a compliment which is none the less deserved because all looting
was sternly forbidden by the British authorities; and as it happened,
therefore, neither Cornstalk nor Canadian had much scope for the
exercise of this particular talent.

Except for the fact that it is treeless, the veldt is not unlike our
plain country. It is better watered, and often better grassed.

But, altogether, the Cornstalk was at home in it. There were the same
long distances between towns. The 'dorp' represented the Bush township.
There were the familiar wire fences. The sky above was as darkly blue.
There was, as a rule, plenty of sunshine, and the wide rolling downs
quivered and danced with the same beautiful mirage-making islands of
kopjes, and long, low spits of ridges. He had to fight in a country not
altogether so new to him as it must have been to Englishmen.


Writing in the Friend at Bloemfontein, during the short but brilliant
existence of that journal as a 'commandeered' newspaper, under the
editorial direction of several of the war correspondents, a contributor
described the veldt as 'inexpressible'. And, if you come to think of it,
that is just about what it is.

Lonely, mournful, wild, mysterious--all the adjectives you may care to
lavish upon it, and something besides that you are not able to say.
There is some key-note to it all which is hard to find--something
subtle, vague, half-hidden. Lonely it is; terribly lonely in its great
distances, its broad stretches of level plain, or rolling downs, without
habitation. Mysterious, in its mile upon mile of changeless
characteristic, its very duplication of itself. Mournful, in its
apparent emptiness of most that makes a country prosperous. Wild, in its
half-savage black population, and its almost as half-savage white one.
It is beautiful or hideous, sad or bright in the sunshine, as the mood
takes you, but always, even unto the worst of its recollection, it is
fascinating, and fascinating because it is inexpressible.

You may have starved on it, shivered in wet blankets as you lay in its
clinging mud, bled on it, buried your comrade in it--but afterwards,
when you look back to it, and time shall have wrapped a haze of interest
round its sterner outlines, you will remember the charm, the
half-unconscious attractiveness, the indefinable something that was of
its very nature. At any rate, you will never forget it.

Sunrise--with dew sparkling like diamond points on the long waving
grass, the fresh breeze fanning your face, the glorious blue sky
overhead boasting of the coming day, the flat-topped purple kopjes far
away on the yellow horizon; a white farmhouse, with its deep green
setting of eucalyptus and willow, in the middle distance; and the
splendid, dry, invigorating atmosphere about you--was always beautiful.
In the noontide, the clear sunlight made lakes and lagoons before you,
clearer and more distinct even than the mirage of our Western plains. In
the evening, the sunset threw long shadows of men and horses across the
long levels. And at night, when you lay out on its wide bosom, tucked
away snugly into your brown blanket--the bright stars glittering like
electric points up in their indigo setting, while the smoke from your
pipe curled lazily into the darkness, and you thanked God for a few
hours of rest and peace--then it was that the veldt had its greatest

It might easily have been that one had to muster Sandy Flat or the Black
Mountain in the morning. There might have been branding to start on in
the daylight, or forty miles to ride through the pine scrub and belar
before you should camp again. In the drowsy interval between the last
few whiffs of Boer tobacco and sleep, it was not very difficult to
imagine oneself spending a night out on the Run, with prospect of a hard
day's work to be done on the morrow.

But it was only then, in the dreamy state before oblivion, that you
could think such things. All round were the far-stretching lines of
picketed horses, looming black and indistinct in the faint light from
sparse and tiny fires; the crouching figures of overcoated men cooking
their scanty rations for next day's march, and huddled heaps of sleepers
between the horse lines.

And if, later, you should awake when the precious fires had dwindled
down to points of light, and only the sentries on the lines sat
shivering in the early morning chill, you would find something wanting
in the veldt-night, something whose absence would strike you as
strangely unfamiliar in your experience of sleeping out o' doors.
Everything seemed to have become quiet. There were no crickets, no
frogs, no ''possums' scratching in the trees, no curlews with their
wailing notes, no plover--nothing but dead absolute silence--save the
muffled munching of an occasional hungry horse nibbling at the grass
beside his picket-leg.

Now, in the Bush there is never silence, comparatively; everything is
quiet and at rest, but all night long you hear the subdued hum of
wakeful life of some kind--the ceaseless chirping of crickets, the hoot
of a mophawk or a night owl, the wild discordant screech of plover, a
frog croaking unweariedly in the creek below you, a 'willy-wagtail'
trilling his sweet notes in the tree overhead--always some performer in
Nature's orchestra playing his little part in the ceaseless symphony of

But here, in this naked Africa, everything is stiller than the grave at
night. Once, may-be, you might have lain awake and heard the beasts come
down to water, and the lions roaring, but now the lions are in the
North--none nearer than the Zoutpansberg--and the buck are scared away
too far by the presence of all these men and horses to disturb your rest
by nocturnal wanderings. And it is this uncanny stillness that reminds
you of the fact that you are not at home in the good Bush. There will be
no branding to-morrow. It will be harder work than branding, more
exciting rides than chasing cattle through the scrubs or down the
mountain tracks. And you are never quite certain whether there will be
another nightfall for you. But that doesn't trouble you much. If you can
get some biscuits and some bully-beef, and a fairly even place to spread
your blanket in, the consideration of eternity may easily postpone
itself for the time being.

One day, it came to pass that a 'Rimington Tiger' and the writer
foregathered at the back of a battle--the one having been sent upon a
message and being unable to find his regiment again, and the other with
a dead-lame horse whose leg sinews had been wrenched by a fall into an
ant-bear hole. Both were tired, and hungry, and thirsty, and uncertain
whither to turn, or what to do in order to reach their own units--so
they decided to lunch. The 'Tiger,' who was of a meek aspect redeemed by
strong blue eyes, was the fortunate possessor of a canvas water-bag
about three parts full, and a pocketful of broken biscuit; and the
writer had a little tea and a very much smaller quantity of sugar. So,
some way behind a low ridge, along the crest of which recumbent 'khakis'
sputtered ceaselessly with their Lee-Metfords, an economical fire was
lit, and fed by little sticks and roots from the scanty bushes which
supplied the only wood available, and afterwards, when the flame was
strong enough to 'go alone,' with pieces of dry cow-dung. Little white
clouds occasionally formed in the air above the ridge, and then groups
and driblets of men came away from the firing-line to a field
dressing-station over to our right. We were too absorbed in the
contemplation of our almost boiling mess-tin to take much notice.

Suddenly a Boer shell came howling beyond the ridge, and banged up a
heap of dust and gravel just short of where our cooking operations were
being conducted. Things screamed in the air shrilly, so we concluded
that our meal would be more inviting if partaken of in some place where
such ill-timed and intrusive interruptions were less likely to inflict
themselves upon us. Therefore we moved the can and a fire-stick
laboriously to another position, and finished the brew under
difficulties. The Boer gunners, for some reason best known to
themselves, continued to shell the spot where we had been, probably with
an idea that stronger re-inforcements were sheltering behind the ridge.
After a meal, less abundant than welcome, the Rimington delivered
himself of sundry emphatic opinions concerning his native land.

"The country's no dam good," he said. "I know it from King William's
Town to Bulawayo, and it's not fit for a white man to live in. Y'd like
to try ten thousand acres? Well, y're better out of it, by a long chalk.
Locusts, rinderpest, scab, fluke, foot-rot! Droughts, floods, fires,
fever, that's what it is! Crops! What's the use of crops when there's
locusts to eat 'em? Good as Australia? Well, Australia ain't much, then.
You take it from me--keep clear of Africa, leave farming to the Kaffirs.
Mining's the on'y thing, an' y'haven't a dog's show without capital.
Rhodesia's the worst of the lot. The country's no dam good."

But, in spite of this particular Rimington Guide, himself a native of
Cape Colony and obviously a pessimist; in spite of scores of other men
who should know, and who have spoken of it in a similar strain; in spite
of one's own prejudice against a place where one has enjoyed hardship
and danger and discomfort, the writer is still of opinion, however
little such opinion may be worth, that the country is good--better far
even than the general run of Africanders give it credit for being.

Up to Modder River--when en route to Bloemfontein viâ Paardeberg,
Osfontein and Driefontein--the country is disappointing. One cannot
speak with any knowledge of the karoo after viewing it from the window
of a moving train, however leisurely that train may proceed. (And South
African trains do not hurry--especially troop trains.) It looks poor,
barren, destitute of herbage, or indeed of anything edible, but there
were glimpses of flocks of shorn sheep which were in far from poor
condition. Some were almost fat. Their only visible means of support was
apparently a small, scrubby bush, growing hardly more than a foot or two
in height, and not unlike the species of salt-bush known in Australia as

But generally, thereabouts, the country is wretchedly inhospitable in
appearance. Gradual rocky slopes, broken here and there by kopjes and
low ranges of stony hills, stretch up beyond De Aar and past the Orange
River, until you reach the Modder. Here, there is at least promise of
something better. The plains are level, and the soil more promising, and
if the surface had not been churned up into endless dust by an army it
might have been grassed.

Before the war, Modder River was a favourite 'watering place,' whither
pic-nic parties and Sunday schools came from Kimberley. In springtime
the banks were knee-deep in grass, they said, and aglow with beautiful
wild-flowers. Now they were cut up by the numberless tracks of waggons
and guns, littered with the impedimenta of a great host, scarred with
the marks of recent battle. The pretty cottages of the village were torn
and pock-marked by shell and bullet, and the drift itself--the
beautiful, lazy, tree-shaded drift--a discoloured bog.

Out from the Modder station, on the road to Jacobsdaal, the long plains
seemed more like the veldt one had read of than anything seen hitherto.
Beyond Osfontein farm--in the early year, just after the rains--it
struck one as being almost the best country one had ever seen.

Miles, and miles, and miles of rolling downs stretched away right up to
Bloemfontein. Long, waving, succulent grasses, as good as the best our
plains produce. You rode through it with the sensation of riding through
a field of ripening wheat. It seemed a pity, almost, that all these
thousands of horses should trail through it, trampling it down, and
wasting it needlessly. So thick and luxuriant was it that it caught in
your stirrup-irons, your scabbard 'swished' through it. When you lay
down to sleep at night you were in a little grass-walled enclosure. It
seemed like an ideal 'fattening' country. And it never looked better
than in the early morning, when the sun had painted it gold-green, and
the long shadows of the kopjes lay across it like dark carpets.
Sometimes we saw the fattest of fat cattle--but terribly mongrel cattle.

And yet people tell you that it is hard to live here, that farming or
grazing do not pay. There is the scab, and the rinderpest, and the
fluke; and when you're done with all of them, the locust and the drought.

Heavens! they don't know what drought is. Undoubtedly scab, and
rinderpest, and fluke, and locusts are formidable things--when you sit
down and look at them. What an utterly hopeless, deadly state a man's
soul must be in when he can calmly contemplate a visitation of scab,
rinderpest, fluke or locusts as the justly incurred manifestation of
God's wrath, with whose course it would be impious to meddle, and the
only remedy for which is a casting back for sins committed that may have
merited punishment, and a resolve to avoid such errors in the future!

According to the Boer mind, you don't get scab in your flock because you
have omitted necessary precautions in your methods of sheep-farming, but
because you have perhaps stolen a pair of boots when you visited the
dorp at Nachtmaal, or because you didn't attend Nachtmaal, or 'took
down' your neighbour over a horse-deal when you did. And it is easy to
understand how difficult it would be to bring about any concerted action
towards counteracting the effect of such visitations as the aforesaid,
or stamping out disease altogether amongst such people.

One can only, of course, speak as a tourist speaks of a country he has
run through. One's practical knowledge of the veldt and its products is
probably limited to some observance of the value or uselessness of its
ant-heaps as 'cover' and such purely warlike uses. But, in the light of
common reason, in comparison with what our own pastoralists and farmers
have to contend with in Australia, in view of its fertility and natural
advantages and rainfall, one cannot altogether accept the veldt as bad
country, or as country in which it should be difficult to make both ends
meet--not to speak of their overlapping. It is well watered naturally
and it has splendid facilities for catching rain in tanks and dams. It
is fertile--Kaffirs grow great crops of mealies almost by scratching up
the soil with a stick. Had it not been for the excellent grazing that it
was nearly always possible to obtain for the cavalry horses in the Free
State and the Transvaal it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the
rapid movements of the Cavalry Division would have been impossible.

But more weighty than all in arguing favourably to the veldt is the fact
that it has supported so large a savage population as it has done in the
past, and does still to a lesser extent. After all, the great test of a
country's fertility and value--perhaps the only sure test--lies in the
number of human beings and wild animals it will provide a living for.

Perhaps the truest light in which one may regard the veldt is in that of
a field that has lain fallow, has never been thoroughly tried, has never
yet been given a wholesale chance of showing what it can do.

Considered as a campaigning ground 'much may be said on both sides'. For
the defence, the veldt is fortified, and well fortified, by its kopjes.
Every kopje is a natural stronghold. But it is too open to really make a
stand in, unless it be on the banks of rivers where scrub and brushwood
afford 'cover,' and steep banks shelter from shell-fire. For the attack
it ought to be free from possibilities of ambuscade. Unfortunately, it
does not seem to have been always so--but that is another story--it
should have been. There can be few countries in the world where scouting
should be less difficult. Open country, a clear atmosphere, little
timber, an almost unavoidable skyline, are natural features that do not
readily lend themselves to the concealment of large bodies of men or
horses. Consider the difficulties that would present themselves in our
veldt country here--the plains. Belts of timber--some kind of cover
nearly everywhere--would render the reconnaissance of positions a task
of infinitely greater trouble than was the case in the open veldt of
South Africa.

Compared, indeed, to almost any part of Australia, the veldt possesses
features that render it much less dangerous for the attacker than would
be the case here. It is, too, a country where roads may be almost
disregarded, and where, consequently, the troubles of transport are very
much less than in timbered, hilly, or 'sticky' localities. And, in view
of its facilities for grazing, as mentioned above, it was most excellent
country from the point of view of the horse, the mule and the ox.

From the domestic standpoint, the veldt was bad--very bad. Its
timberless nature was the cause of the greatest hardship that the army
had to endure--want of firewood. Sleeping in the open air, even if the
weather be wet, is not such a very uncomfortable business, provided that
you can obtain a good fire. But when you have no means of cooking the
raw beef and flour you sometimes get by way of rations; when you are
soaked to the skin, and cannot keep warm; when you have no chance of
drying one-half of your body at a time in the glow of a cheerful blaze--
then, indeed, is war hard, and stern, and comfortless. Many times did
Tommy Cornstalk sigh wearily for just one good ring-barked paddock, for
just one big log of the many that were lying all over Australia
unappropriated to light his fire under.

On first acquaintance the veldt appears to be an ideal ground for the
manoeuvring of mounted troops. Its looks belie it, however, to a certain
extent. It is undermined everywhere by holes and burrows of a peculiarly
treacherous kind. They were said to be the work of the 'meer-cat' or the
'ant-bear'. Whatever made them, they were always pitfalls for the
unwary--and for the wary too. Unless you watched where you were going at
the 'trot' or 'gallop,' you almost always came to grief, and, if you
were not damaged yourself, the subsequent state of your horse's
leg-sinews generally necessitated your walking for a day or two, or even
'commandeering' from friend or foe, a remount of sorts, according to
your skill as a horse-thief, or your luck.


If you have the last couple of hours' 'watch' on the horse-lines, you
see it all. The long rows of picketed scarecrows, shivering with
drooping heads, each in the little bare circle where he has nibbled the
grass to its very roots during the night; the straight rows of saddles
in front of the horses; the huddled heaps of brown blankets covering
curled-up figures of men in the wet grass; away back in the rear the
dingy waggons with the tarpaulins over them, and the cooks' fires in
between. It is the half light that makes everything look dull and
comfortless just before the fresh new day comes with the promise that
seems to wait on every dawn, no matter what the real prospect may be,
and, walking up and down to keep warm, you look out on the sleeping camp
with a feeling of loneliness and chill.

Already the cooks are astir. You called them half an hour ago--according
to your instructions, so that they might make the coffee for
breakfast--and they are breaking up biscuit-boxes for fuel, and kindling
their fires round the piled up 'dixies' (a 'dixie' is a big cooking pot
used for making soup, or tea, or coffee--but why 'dixie' deponent
knoweth not). They have been filled overnight, and closely guarded by
the cooks, who have slept amongst them, lest unprincipled sinners fill
their water-bottles with the precious water they contain, in preparation
for the next day's march.

A few Kaffir transport drivers--weird figures crouching in coloured
blankets--are boiling their 'mealie-pap' in three-legged pots at little
fires of their own.

Across the grey veldt in front, a small cluster of saddled horses,
grouped close together, is silhouetted against a sky fast growing pale
and luminous. Left and right of it are similar groups, with intervals of
a mile, or more, between. They are the outposts. Farther away still, as
the light grows stronger you see occasional black specks of sentries
sitting on ant-heaps, or moving slowly backward and forward--cold,
hungry, miserable--who, the outermost line between Empire and Republics,
have spent the night on the alert, so that the Division might sleep.
Away on the right of your own brigade is another swarm of horses and
waggons and guns, apparently grouped together haphazard and without any
definite order. It is the other Brigade, all duly ordered in its
regiments and squadrons and troops, but, in the distance, looking like a
mob who have wandered together in the night and off-saddled

The world seems very still, and lifeless, and cold. As the day becomes
more and more daylike, the long dry grass shines white with frost, and
the huddled heaps of blankets are grey and stiff with it. It is on your
overcoat, and little showers of it fall upon your boots drily, as you
move through the grass.

Suddenly a hoarse voice raps out an order--there is no trumpeting at
reveille on the march. The voice seems to have no effect. Again, and
angrily, it rings out. It is a great and important voice--that of the
regimental Sergeant-Major. Single figures flit about the lines, from
heap to heap. More voices join in.

The heaps on the ground stir, and roll, and are convulsed by spasmodic
internal movements. Strange figures in woollen nightcaps emerge from
them slowly, and, one by one casting off their coverings, sit up,
blinking and sleepy-eyed. They rise to their feet, fully dressed, and
stretch themselves. A hasty shake and the buckling on of spurs is the
only toilet. A sergeant comes striding down his troop, inquiring
sarcastically whether the remaining heaps of blankets would like cups of
tea brought to them. Corporals move about kicking up the sluggards.
Slowly and stiffly man after man staggers, half-awake, to his horse, and
commences to rub him down with more or less energy. Blankets are folded,
white and wet still, and put on the horses' backs to serve as
saddle-cloths. Then the bare saddles are girthed on, carbines stuck into
'buckets,' and swords slipped into their 'frogs'. Where the heaps lay
are only left the scanty domestic utensils--men's tins and meat
cans--haversacks and bandoilers. The gun teams are being harnessed over
in the Artillery lines. Nose-bags hang to the horses' heads--a quarter
filled by two handfuls of oats.

Some one from the fires shouts "Coffee up!" and away go the corporals
from each troop to carry over the steaming 'dixies'. There is a 'tinny'
clatter, as the dregs and leaves of last night's tea are knocked out of
the mess-tin lids against boots and picket-pegs, and little knots of
cloaked figures swarm round the 'dixie' allotted to each troop, every
one anxious lest he should miss his rightful proportion, which is barely
half a pint. The great thing is to be in time when anything in the shape
of rations is being doled out. In the English regiments each man puts
his mess-tin on the ground. When all who have to share are present, the
corporal fills each receptacle up evenly, and, if anything remains over
distributes it in another round, no one venturing to touch his tin until
all are served and the 'dixie' empty. This ensures 'a fair show' and no
favour. But amongst the less well-regulated Australians it was usually a
rush and a pushing in. It was impossible, always, for the distributor to
remember each man whom he had served, and not a difficult thing for any
one to 'come the double attack,' but such meanness was rare, public
opinion being too strong upon the point. One never knew when the
exigencies of service might not render it impossible to be in the first
rush, and it was accordingly self-protection, and not an altruistic
feeling, that caused 'coming the double' to be sternly discountenanced
by all and sundry.

You drink your apology for coffee while it is hot. Heat is its only
virtue. Tasteless, almost sugarless, weak--it can rarely be regarded as
a stimulant, never as likely to affect one's nerves--and consequently
one's shooting. But 'something hot' before you start your march is as
salvation, even though it be only hot water. Occasionally it is the only
breakfast you have. If you are well looked after by your Quarter-master,
however, there is generally a biscuit and some 'bully-beef'. Whatever it
may be that you have, you eat it as you move about, between the packing
of your wallets and the rolling of your overcoat. It does not do to be
in un-ready when the 'prepare to mount' comes. The army biscuit is a
thing not to be negotiated hastily, or approached flippantly. Eaten in
its primitive hardness, without any soaking overnight in water, at least
half an hour is occupied in the mastication of one biscuit. It is hard,
tasteless, and nutritious--so nutritious that a man may at least keep
body and soul together on one per diem, provided there be a bit of
pumpkin, or a cob of mealies, to eke it out.

By the time you have broken your fast, you have put on and attached to
your horse all the immense burden which that unfortunate quadruped is
required to carry on active service. The wallets attached to either side
of the pommel of the saddle are stuffed tight with your towel, minor
effects, spare shirt (if you have one) and one hundred and fifty rounds
of ammunition. Over them is strapped the rolled overcoat--wallets and
coat together making up a weight well calculated to give the horse a
sore wither. Underneath the saddle, as mentioned above, is the rider's
sleeping blanket. Strapped to the cantle is the 'rear-pack,' which may
consist of anything from a rolled and empty waterproof sheet to a bundle
of firewood. Attached to the rear-pack is usually an oat-sack containing
from ten to fifteen, or even twenty pounds of grain--on the 'off' side
hangs a heavy carbine in its leathern 'bucket'; on the 'near,' a sword,
useless except for potato-digging, and unnecessarily heavy by reason of
its steel scabbard. From this side of the saddle also depends the
feed-bag with the day's ration for the horse in it.

Wallets and overcoat on the wither, yourself in the middle of the
horse's back, rear-pack, oat-sack, sword, carbine, feed-bag
behind--little wonder is it that we fight indecisive rear-guard actions,
that the sword is never used save as a tent-pole or a spade, that Steyn
and Kruger are able to escape from Poplar Grove, although thousands of
mounted men threaten their line of retreat to Bloemfontein. But the Red
Book--the same Red Book whose teachings are of volleys fired standing
up--has laid down the law, and so it is the law.

One cannot but pause here to consider this matter of the cavalryman's
kit, since it has seemed to be responsible for so much ill success in
the catching of commandos, in the cutting-off of the retreat of Boer
armies, and in the raiding of the enemy's communications.

If you catch a Boer scout or vedette, you will wonder how he lives--he
has so little of what seems to be regarded as the very necessaries of
existence in our own lines. There are no wallets on his saddle, there is
no heavy overcoat strapped across his pony's back. There is no
rear-pack, or, as perhaps it might be more correctly named,
'loin-compress,' to hinder the pony's action. There is no feed-bag to
drag the saddle over to one side, so that it may press unevenly on his
back. There is seldom anything but a bare saddle, without breast-plate
or crupper, and a thin blanket beneath it. Sometimes a light mackintosh
is strapped in front, with a little roll of biltong in a greasy rag.
That is almost all. It is a matter of thirty seconds with him to
saddle-up. He carries a bandolier, sometimes two, filled with the handy
Mauser cartridge clips, over his shoulders. His rifle is slung across
his back. His coat pockets contain a reserve supply of ammunition. And
there you have the complete fighting man, from the Boer point of view.
But of course he is grossly ignorant. If he only knew what was good for
him, he too would resemble a Christmas tree, his movements would be slow
and stately, his fat pony would be as like a hat-rack as ours became. He
has not enjoyed the advantages conferred by a study of Red Books.

"I," said the British troop horse (according to the Bloemfontein
Friend), "I carry the most complete kit in the world. My master can make
himself comfortable, even in your inhospitable veldt, with the kit I

"Yes," replied the Boer pony, "but I can carry my master out of the way
of yours."

And yet, if you think about it, there is nothing in the equipment of a
cavalry soldier on active service which may very well be dispensed with.
He must have his overcoat. He must have his horse-feed. He must have his
arms, and his feed-bag, and his blanket, and his ammunition. Most of the
weighty things he carries are essential to his health or his arm of the
service. They must all be somewhere within his reach. Cold or exposure
would put him 'out of action' in a very short time, if he had no
protection against wet or frosty nights. There must be occasional 'hard'
feed to keep his horse fit for any work at all, and he must be able to
get at his belongings easily when he bivouacs.

How is he to carry his necessaries along with him so that they are
always easily within his reach, and at the same time 'travel light'?
Waggons lag behind; Scotch carts get stuck in drifts. Even the
ubiquitous Cape cart cannot always go over the same kind of country that
he sometimes has to negotiate. There is one answer, one suggestion,
which is not original perhaps, but which seems to be the only answer or
suggestion which may adequately meet the want. And that is, Pack-horse.

Pack-horses, or light spring-carts--and the pack-horse has the virtue of
greater mobility to turn the scale in his favour.

It is a fair estimate, and well within the mark, to assume that one
pack-horse could carry the more urgently required effects of four
men--that is to say, one weight-carrier to each section. Not all the
rations, and horse-feed, and other things which the man may require on a
march of many weeks, but the things which he cannot do without at night,
and hardly needs in the day-time, and which are only a hindrance to his
marching and fighting ability. There would be then, instead of four,
five horses in each section--four to carry men, and one to carry
baggage. When cavalry are dismounted for skirmishing, one man of every
four--the horse-holder, or number three--is out of action. It is not
very much more difficult to look after five horses than four. In work
where there is a probability of being under fire, such as scouting or
reconnoitring, the pack-leader might be left behind. There would be
fewer men in the line of scouts, but the men who were there would be
lighter, able to travel farther and faster with their reduced equipment
than they are at present, and possessed of considerably more 'dash'--the
great essential of a successful scout. Overcoat, waterproof sheet,
cooking pots, anything beside the bare day's rations and cartridges--all
that is not absolutely of use to the fighting man--might go on the
pack-horse. And then the trooper, with an almost stripped saddle and
riding as light as may be, would have some chance of catching his enemy
and compelling him to fight. As it is now, he has very little.

So you mount your feeble steed, already weighed down by a load as great
as yourself, and lurch along to where your troop is forming up in its
squadron and regiment beside other squadrons and regiments. The advance
guard has clattered out, and the outposts are drawing in to await the
column. Other regiments form up to your left or right; the guns rumble
up to their position near the lead. Carts and waggons begin to move up
also into some sort of column formation. The bivouac-ground is deserted
save by the inevitable laggards or men with sick horses who must follow
slowly. Nearly every one is smoking. Troops are 'told off'--everything
is ready for the march to begin. In the shadows before sunrise the
dirty, travel-stained khaki figures seem dingier than ever. Dingy and
dirty, but very fit and workmanlike. You sit and shiver, and wonder why
the movement does not begin.

A little stout man on a good horse, followed by a group of red-collared
staff officers, rides slowly through the ranks and up to the front,
eyeing the troops. You sit up straight, and take your pipe out of your
mouth. That little stout man is your father, and your mother, and your
best friend just now, and he alone--may-be also one or two of the trim
staff--has any idea as to what the day is going to bring forth. In an
hour or two you may be dead, or a prisoner, or wounded, or wondering
whether the next shell is going to land under your horse. You don't know
what is going to happen, and use has made you careless. You are merely
the pawn which that cheerful little man moves in the big game, and he,
in his turn, is moved by a little slim man. It doesn't much matter what
the day brings. You have confidence in French. He never goes wrong or
makes a fool of you.

Now you are off--the horses' legs swish-swishing through the long grass;
the mess-tins rattling against the carbine-butts; bits jingling
musically; the bright sun just peeping over the edge of the world on
your right hand; white puffs of tobacco smoke drifting up into the clear
air. The veldt is turning to burnished gold. Your bridle-hand is frozen.

All round is laughter, and chaff, and quiet talk. Curious scraps of
conversation drift to you as you ride along.

"...Fifty miles to the Vaal. Bill's got a map, an' we measured it.
They're goin' ter make a stand there. Lord Roberts's over there--along
th' railway. Some one else t'other side o' him. Goin' ter be a heavy
scrap along the river...had a dog that useter walk along a top-rail
fence. One day, out a must'rin' I sez to the Dutch woman, wot
the 'ell d'yer wanter keep on fightin', an' actin' th' goat like this
for; y' know dam well yer licked, I sez, an' she sez 'Voetsak'
two cow-guns with 'em...went ter Gunnedah races, an' got took down...any
bacca?...wonder wot'll win the Melbourne Cup. Now, I reckon
...Hole!...That's Johnny French up there--him on th' chestnut.
Clever little bloke, ain't 'e? two pounds of mealie-meal, an'
some coffee, an' half a dozen bundles of hay. No sugar...presently I
begins ter twig wot they was at. So I sings out to Jimmy, 'Come on!' an'
we sails inter them with chairs an' bottles, an' gets outside inter th'
yard. Pretty willin' go it was too...Hole!...look out--y'r'
jammin' me int' him, keep over...better General than Wellington, so
he is...hope th' swine gets a bullet next time. Ain't fit ter lead
ducks, let alone...Hole!"--and so forth.

Strange lies are bandied about as to the doings of Buller. He has
occupied Johannesburg--no, Harrismith. Mafeking has fallen. Steyn is
dead. De Wet wants to surrender, if they'll promise not to send him to
St. Helena. The probability of getting full rations soon is discussed,
and negatived. The ways of officers are criticised.

The sun mounts higher and higher, and your hands and toes begin to thaw.
The little black dots of scouts who occasionally come into view on the
far sky-lines are more distinct. Odd men walk along, leading their
horses after them, to keep warm.

On, through the bright morning hours, you ride--past white-walled
farmhouses, down long, gentle slopes clothed with deep grasses, by
Kaffir kraals whose dusky inhabitants gape with wonder at the numbers of
the rooineks, and where the little pot-bellied niggers gaze out,
goggle-eyed and fearful, from behind their ample mothers. Sometimes the
column narrows into a long procession to cross a deep spruit, and forms
up again slowly into 'mass' upon the other side.

Barbed-wire fences are encountered. The cry goes up, "Wire-cutters to
the front!" and two or three men from each squadron race on ahead, and
sever the wires with their clippers, pulling them aside that the Brigade
may pass. A thankless job wirecutting, especially when the bullets are
flying. Sometimes the fences have stone posts--slabs of a slaty
sandstone which the natives quarry from the hills, and supply to the
farmers at sixpence apiece. Fire-proof fences these, and fairly lasting,
one would think. Here and there a post is broken down. Struck by
lightning, people who know the country will tell you.

A long kopje looms up over the horizon. You are riding towards it for
hours. Distance is strangely foreshortened in this clear atmosphere. A
few miles from it the column halts. The men are dismounted, and lie down
beside their horses. The scouts are riding on ahead to 'draw fire'. You
pillow your head upon your helmet and go to sleep, whilst your horse
crops the grass about you, and barely refrains from trampling on your
prostrate form. A sudden scramble awakes you. Everybody is mounting

The kopje is unoccupied, and you ride on past it. The farmhouse under
its shoulder flies five white flags. A Boer woman comes out and stares
at you stolidly. If the Provost-Marshal and his men do not seem to be
looking, you slip away from your troop, and, while your messmate haggles
with the woman at the doorway over the price of eggs or mealie-meal, you
endeavour to steal a fowl or a duck--that is to say, you seek to
'commandeer' them. Convenient word 'commandeer'. If you are fortunate,
you put the broken-necked bird in your feed-bag, and it represents five
pounds of oats, and is not too inconveniently in evidence.

At noon you halt once more, and eat some biscuits and anything else that
you may happen to have, and take a drink from your water-bottle, and
sleep again on the ground for half an hour or more.

So all day, the swarm of men and horses, guns and waggons, rolls across
the veldt--a wide-spreading oncoming--like a plague of locusts. On the
whole, it is pleasant, and enjoyable, and lazy. Sitting loose in the
saddle, you smoke and yarn, and speculate as to where you are and what
you are going to do, and how long it will be before you are in Pretoria.
You have made up your mind that Pretoria is to end it all. You are going
home then--back to the station, or the office, or the store, and the
warm welcome you know is waiting. Perhaps it will be a trip to England,
where you will be fêted and made much of, and generally given a good
time. It is days and days since you heard a rifle fired; weeks and
weeks, perhaps, since a gun boomed out over the plains. All the Boers
have fled to the Vaal--probably across it, without stopping, to
Johannesburg and Pretoria. There will be a siege, possibly, for a month.
You will sit upon a hill and watch the shelling. The lyddite will soon
bring them to their senses, once they are fairly bottled up in a town,
with the bricks and stones tumbling about their ears. It is all very
simple and straightforward now. You will be back in time for shearing.

Another kopje rises up ahead. Closer and closer you get to it, though it
is still miles away. A very long one this time--camel-backed, and with
little foot-hills and clumps of 'wacht-een-beetje' bush in front of it.
A single horseman comes galloping back from where the scouts are, and
stops at the staff. Again the Division halts, and sits down and wonders.
Ten minutes, and you see the Colonel talking to your particular squadron
leader. They argue, and point, and look through glasses, and consult
maps. Finally the Major nods, rolls his map up, picks up his loose
reins, says something sharply that is only audible in the leading troop,
and you suddenly mount, and find yourself riding out from the middle of
the Brigade towards the blue kopje in the distance. Friendly souls
advise you not to stay too long--not to get excited. "Meet y' in
Pretoria if y' don't come back to-night," calls out a humorous

"We're off to stir up th' muck agin," remarks your right-hand man


THE Brigade was halted close beside a white farmhouse. There had been
slaughter and rapine in the poultry-yard; bundles of hay had been looted
from the forage-loft. We left them sitting on the ground beside their
horses. The feed-bags with the scanty oats had been hung on the drooping
heads, and all, save ourselves and the squadron of which our diminished
two troops formed part, were resting, and seemed likely to rest for some
hours. While they rested we were to ride out and 'feel' that long, blue

Every one knew what the 'business' was from long experience. The kopje
looked peaceful and quiet in the warm afternoon sunlight. Unless one had
seen it all before, and had previous knowledge of lovely landscapes that
spat bullets from apparently nowhere in particular, one would hardly
have expected that an hour or two would bring one within touch of sudden
death. The first time it had been a riding forth without reason, a
light-hearted excursion into the debatable lands--an astonished feeling
of resentment that so harmless and smiling a prospect should merely be a
mask hiding an unknown foe. Frequently afterwards the objective had been
a mystery. Troop leaders may have known what they were required to find
out, and how they were going to set about it, and where the enemy was
supposed to be 'lying low,' but the trooper seldom had any definite
notion as to what was to be done, or what was expected of him. There may
have been Mauser-fire, or there may have been shell-fire to be drawn. He
was not consulted in the matter. He was merely sent out as a bait for
bullets. Often recurring experience of the kind of thing in question had
made it familiar. Familiarity had almost bred contempt. If bullets pass
closely by, without hitting you, on nine separate occasions, you feel
tolerably certain that you will come off scatheless on the tenth.

So you go out, with no serious apprehension as to whether you will
return to camp at night. Sometimes, to be sure, you don't--but the
chance is so small as to be barely worth consideration. Usually, you are
not even curious as to what the work in hand may be. It is vaguely
probable that it will consist of the well-known 'drawing fire,' but you
don't know for certain, and after a while you don't care overmuch.

To-day, however, there is no doubt. The wide, yellow veldt sweeps away
to the horizon--East, West and South unbrokenly. It is only to the North
that the long kopje mars the even symmetry of the sky-line. You are
riding towards it. You are well extended from your neighbour. A few
advanced scouts are in front. You know what to expect.

The plains are not quite level. Gentle slopes run down, for a mile or
more, into shallow spruits and rain-cut dongas. The waving grass is dry,
and has lost its first freshness by reason of the frosts. Up from the
further side of each donga the ground rises slowly to another low crest.
No ridge is higher than its fellow; no depression deeper than the one
before it. The air is clear and bright, but the distant landscape is
half-veiled by a gauzy, purple haze, just dense enough to render
indistinct horses and men moving about over two thousand yards away. You
might see them, but they would not be sharply defined targets.

Here and there on the slopes are the humpy, mud-coloured kraals of the
Kaffirs--'Gunyahs' Tommy Cornstalk calls them. They are quaint
structures, primitive and simple. In shape they are like hollow globes
divided into two halves at the equators, and the halves planted, pole
skyward, on the ground. Sometimes they are plastered with mud--a kind of
'wattle and daub'--sometimes thatched with grass. A tiny arched hole in
the side, through which it is necessary to crawl in order to enter, is
the only opening. There is no provision for light or ventilation. Fires,
apparently, are made outside. Round the diminutive doorway there is
usually a little wicket fence constructed of sticks from the scant
bushes of the kopjes, or of mealie-stalks lashed together--the top of
the palisading uncut and ragged. In occasional more pretentious
establishments the fence surrounds the whole hut. Three-legged cooking
pots and gourds are heaped by the doorway inside. Fowls run in and out
of the enclosure. The ground all about is trampled hard, and seems to be
kept clean and well swept.

Close beside the man-kraals are the cattle-kraals--low-walled, square or
oblong yards built of the loose, undressed, unmortared stones that
litter the veldt. Wonderfully well-built and 'plumb' are these stone-age
stock-yards--laborious of construction probably, but, without doubt,
lamb-proof and dog-proof. A single entrance at one end, closed by rails,
serves to admit the stock.

About the dwellings, as you pass by, are grouped the dusky family--the
men-kind ranging from bent and white-headed veterans, who might have
beheld the Great Trek or fought the Voortrekkers, to tiny, podgy fellows
just able to walk abroad naked and unashamed; and the women from
withered hags, toothless and wrinkled, down to bright-eyed little
maidens of few summers. In his prime, the Kaffir is a fine
man--deep-chested, sturdy-haunched, light-hearted--and the women,
broad-hipped, deep-bosomed, cavern-mouthed and flat-faced, but not
altogether unpleasing in appearance. The fat, barrel-bodied children
goggle with astonishment and run as you ride by. No bad country this,
where the babies are so fat and the mothers so strong and comely--where
the mealie crops are sown, and come up and flourish, in fields that have
been but barely scratched by way of cultivation.

Kaffir kraals are not bad places to drop into when your haversack is
empty and your wallets innocent of sustenance. That is to say, there is
generally something to be had--if a commando has not passed that way in
retreat, or if there be no Mounted Infantry ponies hanging to the
cornstalk fence, with big wooden, leather-covered stirrups, and
overcoats tied carelessly to the back of the black saddle with string or
oxhide that hang loose over the horses' flanks. If you see that kind of
pony, with that kind of stirrup, and that method of rolling a cloak, you
will know that the Canadians are within--and to go a-foraging where the
Canadians are doing likewise, or may have been, argues bad judgment and
an ill-balanced brain.

War is not a nice business, and an empty stomach has no conscience.
Orlando's method of demanding food from the Duke in the Forest of Arden
was rude and brusque, and not to be extenuated--but there were points
about it. If you have had nothing to eat since last night, and see no
prospect of anything to-night, few scruples will prevent you from
obtaining it in the most expeditious manner possible--if it is to be
obtained. You know also that, if you do not take it, some one else will.
So you ride up to your kraal. "Got any mealie, Johnny?" to the head of
the household.

"Nie mealie, baas."

"Any eggs?" (If he doesn't understand, you point to the fowls, and make
gestures.) "Nie, baas."


"Nie melk, baas."

You draw your carbine from its bucket, insert a cartridge in the breech,
and rest it across your legs. The movement is not lost on the head of
the household. "Any mealie now, Johnny?"

"Ja, baas."

"Any eggs?"

"Ja, baas!"

"Any melk?"

"Ja, baas! Ja! ja! ja!"

And mealies, and milk, and eggs are forthcoming from the kraal, with
perhaps a fowl thrown in as a voluntary peace-offering. If you have any
money, you give him some. If you have none, you ride away, and feel
sorry for the Kaffirs, and moralise inwardly on the iniquity of war and
its usages. It is brutal, but imperative.

"Sanguinary rough," says Tommy Cornstalk, "to take the poor devils'
tucker. But I was hungry." And that explains it. One must live, even at
the expense of others. It is simply the law of self-preservation
stripped of the clothing worn by it in civilisation. You do the same
thing every day at home, only you don't notice it.

The blue kopje draws nearer. Only a mile or two now. There will be
shooting and riding soon. You wonder whether that 'off' fore-shoe will
bring you to grief. You are trotting most of the time--that wretched
English trot which helps the 'Tommies' to give their horses sore backs,
and which is the only pace these London cab horses seem to know. They
were given to you as remounts at Bloemfontein, after the race thither
and sundry ridings round Thaba N'chu had used up the last of the good
Australians you shipped at Woolloomooloo a few months back. You feel
that you want a bell or a whistle, in order to get the best work out of
your over-burdened, underfed mount.

By this time you are the fourth part of a 'left flanking patrol'. The
main body of the reconnoitring squadron rides some distance to the rear
of a widely extended line of scouts. You are level with the squadron,
but half a mile further out to the left than the last of the scouts. It
is your business to prevent a possibly lurking enemy from 'nippin' in
behind,' or 'attacking sideways on'--as it has variously been put. The
squadron is a little cluster of horsemen, extended also, but not too
widely to render them an unattractive target for artillery. They will
draw the shell-fire, if there be any to be had. The scouts will count
the Mausers.

A mealie field has to be ridden through. There are possibilities about
mealie fields. The stalks are high enough in parts almost to hide a man
on horseback. They may shelter a few hidden sharpshooters, or they may
contain a commando. You open out wider as you enter, and ride through
the rustling ears and leaves with your loaded rifle ready in your hand.

There is no one there. Just on the further edge is one of those
circular, circus-ring threshing grounds, where the women beat out the
Kaffir corn--a species of millet with little round seeds tufting
together at its top, from which, when ground between stones, they make a
coarse bread. To-day there are two fat 'gins' and a girl, so busily
engaged in bagging the winnowed seed that you burst upon them suddenly
from amid the mealie crop--so suddenly that the eldest and stoutest of
the three comes near to having a fit, and can only gasp and stare at you
in an agonised, helpless way. The girl, shapely and wellmade, comes
forward laughing. But she cannot speak English.

"Where Boers?" you inquire.

"Boos!" she says, catching at the word; "Boos?"

"Ja, Boos! where you think it that pheller him go?" you reply, dropping
unconsciously into Australese. But she can only shake her head and
smilingly bare a gleaming set of perfect teeth. After much gesture, you
are not quite certain whether she means to imply that the veldt ahead is
swarming with Boers, or that they have all trekked to an indefinite
distance, hurriedly and wholesale.

Kaffir information is seldom to be depended upon when you are scouting.
Few people other than the Kaffir will probably assent so readily to any
interrogative address, if it be that he thinks that a reply in the
affirmative will be acceptable to the questioner. Similarly, if he
suppose that 'no' will gratify, he will say no. He is quite impartial.
He will give you any information you please. Whether it be correct
matters not to him, so long as it satisfies you.

"There are horses in that kraal, aren't there, Johnny?"

"Ja, baas."

"You've never seen a horse in your life, have you, Johnny?"

"No, baas."

When in doubt he says "Ja".

"Which would you sooner do or play cricket, Johnny?"

"Ja, baas."

One refers, of course, to the Kaffir whose only alien tongue is Dutch.
He is a guileless liar, and generally doesn't know when he is lying and
when he is speaking the truth. At any rate, it is the safest course,
when your life may depend upon it, never to accept information from a
Kaffir as being wholly reliable. You may usually only arrive at an
approximation to the truth by carefully comparing the lies, and putting
two and two together from the whole mass of fiction.

Half a mile beyond the mealie field and about halfway up the opposite
gentle slope, was a collection of mud huts. The main body had halted
temporarily, so it seemed to the 'left flanking patrol' an excellent
opportunity for supplementing a deplenished larder. A man remained on
his horse a hundred and fifty yards out beyond the kraal, and the rest
cautiously approached the enclosure. It might have been a trap--but

At the door was the oldest woman in the world--the oldest woman who had
ever lived in the world. Shrivelled to what might have been half her
size in youth; bent, until her head was almost lower than her hips;
almost without sight or hearing; long skinny breasts depending loosely
and hideously from her shrunken chest; spindleshanked, nearly naked,
unintelligent--she was not unlike Gagool of King Solomon's Mines.
Crouched in the sun when we rode up, she seemed hardly to notice us, and
remained squatting in the same place until we went away. It seemed
impossible that there could have been an older man or woman in

"One hundred and fifty," said the corporal, "if she's a day!"--and
indeed she looked it. A white-headed 'Uncle Ned,' who was probably her
grandson, strolled about near her. Little niggers swarmed all round.

This family seemed particularly impressed by our appearance--which was
probably picturesque, if not clean. Almost ere we could requisition
anything, a bowl of eggs was brought, and a gourd full of sweet goat's
milk, and, by signs and jabbering, they tendered the fullest hospitality
they had. No need this time for 'moral suasion,' in the form of rifle

It is perhaps uncharitable to say so, but in the light of subsequent
events their hospitality can hardly seem to have been anything but a
lure--an encouragement to ride on carelessly, and to assume that there
were no Boers in the neighbourhood by reason of the Kaffirs'
friendliness. Bullets came from that kraal later in the day, as the
reconnoitring party retired. But the eggs were good, and we sucked them.

The watcher without hailed us:--

"Come on, you fellows. The push's going on. Buck up! Wot yer got?"

So we went on up the rise. Half a mile and the crest was reached.
Keeping step with the main body, we again halted, and looked out over
the wide rolling veldt. The haze was deeper and more blue now, and the
scouts were nearing the long kopje.

From the crest where we were the ground sloped away in a series of
undulations down to a level plain. From the foot of the slope--which was
scarcely noticeable, and only so because the curtain of haze seemed to
begin there--the plain reached flat and far and unbroken, past the kopje
we were interested in, to a distant range of indigo hills. And in the
plain manoeuvred two squadrons of cavalry, moving parallel to and in the
same direction as ourselves.

Whom could they be? We sat and watched them from our saddles, whilst our
own squadron, three-quarters of a mile to the right, remained

Now there should have been no British troops so close up on our left.
The First Cavalry Brigade we had come from. To the right of it was the
Fourth. Hutton's Mounted Infantry was behind. It was just possible,
though very improbable, that a couple of companies of Hutton's men had
come up on our left, in order to reconnoitre the country further to the
west. Improbable, because they could hardly have reached there in the
time. However, as it is usual to send out reconnoitring parties without
giving each individual an intelligent insight into the 'lay of the
land,' and the whereabouts of other divisions, it still remained
possible. That they were using our troop formation, and riding in fairly
regular order--with advanced scouts out in front--lent colour to the
supposition that they were British and not Boer. That they were in a
position whither one was almost certain no British troops could have
come without our having discovered them earlier in the afternoon seemed
to point to the fact that they were Boer and not British.

We sat undecided. Up ahead, the scouts were halted--tiny specks of men
and horses in the haze--apparently right under the long kopje, really
half a mile from it. How were we to make sure of the newcomers on our
left? The strange squadrons had halted likewise by this time. Two or
three leaders seemed to be riding amongst the ranks. We knew not what to
make of them. Oh, for the field-glasses which we should have carried
rather than the useless swords. Presently some twenty detached
themselves from the main body and came riding towards us. More
mysterious still! Nearer and nearer they came. A slight depression hid
them from us.

Far away, and faintly from the long kopje, came the quick double report
of a Mauser--ping-pong. Then again rapidly, ping-pong, ping-pong,
ping-ping, pongpong--p-r-r-r-r-p--the scouts had drawn their fire.
Crack-crack, crack-crack-cr-r-rr-r-r-ack--cr-r-r-r-r-r-ack--the cordite
answered, which was contrary to wont. The scouts were retiring slowly,
covering their retreat with rifle-fire. Sometimes it died away to a
single ping-pong or crack; then again it ripped and rolled across the
veldt in a stronger medley of sound. We sat watching our uncertain
neighbours on the left. Their main body had turned as the scouts turned,
and were edging in towards our rear.

Out of the depression where the twenty had disappeared, eight hundred
yards away, came riding a single big man on a white pony. No sign was
there of the twenty who had started with him.

Said the corporal: "That settles it. They're British, and they're
sending across to find out who the devil we are. Come on! We'll go and
meet him!" So we rode slowly over.

The distance from the hollow became less than six hundred.

"Hadn't I better get down and cover the bloke?" some one queried of the
corporal. "He might be a Bore after all. Best not give him any show."

"Well, I don't know," said the corporal, "I----"

Phutt-bang! phutt-bang! (the Mauser only sounds double in the distance)
phutphut-phut-bang-bang-bang!--bullets came singing and spitting past
our ears and made little red spirits of dust beyond our horses on the
ground. Phut-phut-phut-t-t-tt-bang-bang-bang-b-r-r-r-r-ump!

"Oh, Lord!" said the corporal, "time we left. What a sell! Come on!
Files about. They're trying to cut us off!"

Back we went at a hand-gallop, the little spirts of dust and the
phut-phut-phut of the singing nickel growing less frequent and close as
the distance lessened between ourselves and the main body. The scouts
were nearly back to it also now, riding slowly, apparently out of range
of the long, blue, innocent-looking kopje. No one had been hit. A bullet
intended for the 'left flanking patrol' had sailed merrily overhead,
and, almost spent, dropped into the belly of a horse with the main body.
The horse lived and worked for a week.

That is the inexplicable thing about 'drawing fire'--how so little
damage is done. All the advantages would seem to lie with the hidden
rifleman whose fire is to be 'drawn'. The horseman is an enlarging
target as he approaches. The man in the rocks may choose the position
for shooting which he fancies best, may select his favourite range, may
pick his man--but he seldom hits him.

Once, a troop consisting of four-and-twenty men and two officers went
forth to investigate a mine superstructure and a 'tailing-heap,' close
by Roodepoort on the Rand. There were from one hundred to one hundred
and fifty Boers in a deep ditch--a 'surface drive' it would be in
Australia--which lay just before the buildings. Thirty feet in front of
the ditch stretched a barbed-wire fence, and the ditch was not visible
until the fence was reached. The troop came to the fence, and drew a
paralysing volley. They wheeled and raced. For several hundred yards,
before the slope of the ground hid them from sight, they were under the
rapid Mauser magazine-fire. There were bullets through helmets,
haversacks, clothing, saddlery and two horses--but that was all!

Yet, if you think of it, the first shot is the only one that may be
effective. And the marksman generally makes too sure--just as you are
liable to miss a kangaroo at twenty feet if you don't take the usual
pains over aligning the sights. And when once the horseman has turned,
and is increasing the range with every second, he is the poorest target
possible. You may pump lead at him, but you don't hit him. You will
probably forget to adjust your back-sight as he alters the range from
five to seven hundred yards.

Another explanation of the often very bad shooting of the Boer is that
the Mauser--a comparatively new weapon to him--is marked in metres,
whereas he has learned to shoot in yards with the old Martini or the
American-pattern rifles. But that is as may be.

The squadron was trotting back by this time to where it had parted from
the Brigade--scouts as a rear-guard. Away back, little dots were sliding
out of the long kopje and slithering over the veldt in pursuit. A
properly carried out reconnaissance entails something of the distasteful
upon the men who carry it out. It is unpleasant, and a trifle
humiliating, to be chased--more natural to stand and fight. But it is
the proper game--to run when you have drawn the enemy's fire. You are
not there to fight him. You are to find him out, and go back for your
big brother to wallop him.

The 'left flanking patrol' of the advance had become the 'right flanking
patrol' of the retirement, but the retirement was slightly oblique, and
half a mile further east than the line of advance.

Opposite the kraal where Gagool lived more bullets came spitting by.
From near the mealie field another shower. Beyond the mealie field, the
troop leader sent the writer with one man on a pleasant mission. We were
to ride out to the right, six hundred yards, and see whether there was
any donga or spruit where the enemy might be concealed in order to rake
the main body as it passed by. "Goodbye," said the troop humorously,
"see you on the Day of Judgment!" It seemed likely.

Out six hundred yards there were no bullets. Out fifty more and the air
above our heads hummed with them. But they came from a cluster of
galvanised iron huts nearly a thousand yards away.

The Division was riding up to meet us--a long line of horses and khaki.
Bang! went a Horse Artillery gun, and the shell 'whooshled' over our
heads to check the advancing Boers. Pom-pom-pom! and the little
one-pounders of the Vickers-Maxim scurried away on the same mission. A
few hundred New Zealanders from Hutton's Brigade rode out in open order
and passed through us.

The Division swung round to the right. Bang! bang!--a couple more guns.
A premature shell-burst spattered the veldt with shrapnel just in front
of the Maorilanders. We joined the regiment.

Beyond doubt it had been proved that the long kopje contained
Boers--'Quod erat demonstrandum'!

The Division moved along down a shallow depression towards a great dam.
We were to bivouac. The fight, if there was one, would come off next
day. From ahead came the rip-rip-rip! of the New Zealanders' rifles. The
Mauser bullets were splashing up the dust as they fell spent three
hundred yards from us. We came to our camping-ground. The fire died away
with the dusk.

There had been an incident which we learnt of only that evening. As the
scouts were advancing, the horse of a shoeing-smith of the 'Greys' had
stumbled in an ant-bear hole. The rider's leg was broken, and his mate
stayed with him. When we retired they had been far off our line of
retreat, and had been forgotten. The friend of the injured man, under a
hail of bullets from the on-coming Boers, had galloped back with the led
horse. Up came the Boer Commandant to where the helpless smith lay.

"What? badly hurt, old man? Sorry; hard luck! Have a drink of water.
Wish I had whisky to offer you!"--and he passed on, being in a hurry to
get in another shot at the 'verdomde rooineks'.


If you have ridden all day through the Bush with the thermometer at one
hundred and five degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, you are naturally
pleased at sundown when you dimly realise that here at last is rest, and
a temporary cessation of the overpowering attentions of the flies. You
swing to the ground, glad to stretch your cramped limbs, slip the saddle
from the hack, and the pack-saddle from the packhorse--tumbling them
anyhow on the grass--and proceed to hobble the horses. You collect
little sticks, and make a fire; spread out your blankets, and watch the
quart boil; put in the tea, and thank God that, for eight or nine hours
the small worries of life on the road will not beset you. You take your
hat off, and feel at peace with all men.

To you enter a confounded hairy man. In language less polite than to the
point he intimates that you have camped in his cultivation paddock; that
your parentage is doubtful, and your bringing-up disastrous; that he has
never in his life beheld a person so divinely dowered with impudence as
yourself; and that he will not feel obliged to you if you remove
yourself and your belongings elsewhere. He will in no wise feel hurt if
you decide to deny his paddock the benefit of your presence for the
night, in fact he insists upon your doing so.

You point out to him that nothing remains of the finest wheat crop in
the district save stubble, that the water-hole in his creek is the only
water to be met with in many miles, that you are exceedingly fatigued,
and that he is a d----d ill-grained swine. Which latter statement does
not placate him, and you are obliged to go.

It is your own fault. When you jumped that dogleg fence you knew well
that you ran the risk of subsequent ejection by a hairy man. Trespass
was writ large in barbed-wire. It is no more than you might have
expected. Nevertheless, it is the Dead Finish.

When you have ridden all day across the veldt, with the strength of your
mount at one quarter horse-power, you are not sorry when the Adjutant
demands 'markers' from your corps to align the position of your
horse-lines in the camping-ground. You may have been scouting half the
day. You may have been 'drawing fire,' or fighting a wearisome and
desultory rear-guard action. Your rations may have been in the raw, as
uncooked meat and flour; and by reason of not having had sufficient
halting space all day to prepare them for consumption, you may have gone
hungry. You may have been looking forward to getting the burden of
saddlery and kit off your weary beast, and giving him to eat what little
of oats remains in your attenuated feed-bag. You may have been fortunate
in the matter of loot, and have a fowl in your haversack, together with
a few potatoes and a little mealie-meal in your wallets. The bandolier,
with sixty cartridges, and water-bottle, and haversack will have been
cramping your shoulders. You are looking forward to a good 'feed,' and a
subsequent pipe beside the fire you are going to kindle out of the
fence-post you have carried in front of you for the last hour or more.
And then the fine sleep you will have--the welcome, friendly
forgetfulness--when you can dream that you are back again in a land of
peace once more, where there are no homes wrecked, and you must go out
of your way a little to stumble across misery and distress.

When you have found your lines, and driven in your picket-peg with the
hilt of your sword, and unstrapped your overcoat and rear-pack, and
taken off your saddle and 'dressed' it with the others in a line in
front of the horses, under the direction of a pedantically accurate
sergeant-major, you feel that here, at least, is peace, that for a few
precious hours you will be left to yourself and the attendance upon your
own very pressing personal needs.

To you enter an execrable hairy man. In brief but unanswerable terms he
warns your troop for 'outpost'. As an afterthought, he enjoins upon you
the necessity for 'looking slippery'. Your single swearword speaks
volumes. You will roll your coat again; you will strap up your
rear-pack; you will adjust the many-buckled saddlery; you will don the
harness of water-bottle, and haversack, and bandolier once more. You
will mount and ride again, and above all you will look forward joylessly
to a night without food or fire, and an interrupted sleep. This again is
the Dead Finish.

There are few colloquialisms more expressive of wearisome disgust,
dissatisfaction and discontent than is 'Dead Finish'. It is almost
synonymous with 'the Last Straw'.

The troop goes out. There are twelve men, a sergeant and a couple of
corporals with a subaltern officer in charge. Everything is carried as
on the march. The Adjutant will accompany your officer to point out to
him the position you are to take up. It is almost dark. Behind, as you
ride out over the veldt, glimmer the little fires of the bivouac, and
the subdued hum is wafted to you of thousands of men busy with the
preparation of their evening meal.

A simultaneous whinny from the lines tells you that the feed-bags are
being put upon the horses. The metallic click-click-click of a
picket-peg being driven in sounds faint and far away. Presently you rise
over what is the skyline from the camp, and are alone in the night.
Miles and miles ahead a single starlike gleam marks some far off Boer
watch-fire. Out in the east, over the long kopje of the day's work, the
sky is paling. There will be moonlight soon.

What a deuce of a distance we are going out to-night! It seems hours and
hours since we saddled up disgustedly and left the lines--the luxurious
lines, where there is food, and rest, and sleep. There will be an issue
of bully-beef to-night, and we shall miss it. If the carts come up, it
is rum night. We shall miss that also. D----n outpost! D----n
everything! What is it all worth--this weary, worked out, unsatisfactory
old war? Why not have stayed at home, and lived the old life unbrokenly?
We would be sitting down to dinners and teas now--in clean shirts and
more or less fine raiment. There would have been a good smoke, a game of
billiards, a theatre, a dance, music, newspapers--and then, a warm bed
with clean sheets on it. Think of it--clean sheets! Clean sheets and a
full stomach--surely that is heaven!

Why couldn't England have 'bucked up' and fought her old war herself?
We're not getting anything out of it. We're losing time, and money, and
place. We have made ourselves liable to be spoken to as though we were
serfs and not free Australians by any bumptious boy calling himself
'Second Lieutenant'. Second Lieutenant! Ye gods--by any 'bounder' of a
sergeant-major, by any cocky corporal, by any new-chum wearer of the
lance stripe. We have dug latrines, and buried mules, and made graves.
We are crawling with vermin. We are tired, and stiff, and hungry, and we
are going out 'on outpost'.

Why did we ever come? This isn't charging into battle. This isn't racing
through a flying foe. This isn't getting the Victoria Cross. Where is
all the 'pomp and circumstance of war'? Where are the bands and the
martial music to play us into action? Where are the clouds of drifting
smoke we've read about? Where's that 'thin red line,' and all those
gorgeous uniforms that used to make war picturesque, and romantic, and
spectacular? Where's anything but dirt, and discomfort, and starvation,
and nigger-driving? Who wants to participate in a shabby war like this?

Oh, you growling swine, Tommy Cornstalk! If you had been rejected, been
sent home from Randwick because of your varicose vein or your hollow
tooth; fallen off your horse in the riding test, or failed to hit the
target when you were tried on the range--you know well what it would
have meant. Can't you think of how you would have gone back to the
station or the township, downcast and shame-faced? Don't you remember
how lucky you thought you were when you marched down George Street to
the 'trooper'? What about the hour or two when all the people were
howling mad over you, when the girls you didn't know came and kissed
you, when the effusive males who didn't go themselves handed you bottles
of beer to quench the magnificent thirst you had cultivated betwixt the
barracks and the boat? How did you feel then? Don't you really--deep
down in your heart--consider that you are getting your reward?

Isn't it something to be marching, and fighting, and starving with these
Englishmen? Supposing that they are the scum of England--if they
are--isn't it something for a one-horse volunteer crowd like you to be a
squadron of such a regiment as the one you are with--a regiment which
was fighting before there was an Australia, a regiment which saw
Waterloo and Balaclava? And another thing--isn't it something to have
shown a regiment like that how to scout, how to take cover, how to ride,
how to shoot; how, in short, to play this particular game as it should
be played, and in the only way by which there is possibility of success?
Isn't that something, you discontented dog?

Go--go out to your comfortless outpost. Have no supper. Make no fire.
Just take your two hours' watch, and your four hours' sleep in your
lousy blanket, and thank God that you are privileged to be here--yes,
privileged--instead of reading about it in newspapers and books, and not

The position assigned to the outpost is just below the skyline of
another ridge. One can hardly speak of these almost invisible elevations
as 'ridges'. The plain, when you ride over it, seems nearly quite level,
and viewed from afar it seems to be so also; but there are little
watersheds in it which form the ridges and the valleys, and the dongas
in the valleys. If you are on a crest, you see more land, and the
horizon is farther off than when you are below it. It is not unlike a
calm sea, with just a long swell humping it up into faintly visible
hillsides of wave and trough--level as a whole, but not in detail. An
outpost placed upon the summit of one of these 'waves' would be
conspicuous against the sky to an enemy approaching from the front.
Accordingly, it is usually stationed a hundred or two hundred yards
below the crest, and sentries are placed out far enough to command a
view of the country from which attack may be expected. When you have
come to your allotted place in the ring of outposts you are 'numbered
off' from the right.

"One, two and three--first relief; four, five and six--second relief;
seven, eight and nine--third relief," says the sergeant. That is to say,
that the first three men will furnish the first round of sentries, who
will do duty for two hours until relieved by the second group. Their
places, in turn, will be taken by the third. Thus, the first sentries
will have four hours in which to sleep before being called up again.
Each corporal will take one of two of the remaining, and patrol between
his own and the next post at three--or four--hourly intervals. The odd
man will be kept as an emergency. He is liable to be called and sent out
at any hour, but as a rule has a full night's sleep. His is the lightest
'duty' in the outpost, but may quite easily become the hardest,
according to circumstances.

From a larger outpost, 'Cossack posts' are often sent out. A
'Cossack-post' consists of a N.C.O. and three men, who picket their
horses a considerable distance from the main post, and provide one
sentry at a time. They are usually placed in isolated positions, where
it would be unwise to risk a larger body of men, or between two posts,
when the distance separating them is greater than usual.

The two first sentries are stationed some two hundred yards out in
front, and from two to four hundred yards apart. The third man of the
relief watches over the horses, and is ready to rouse his sleeping
comrades in case of an alarm. He carries a time-piece, if such a thing
is available, and, five minutes before his two hours expire, calls the
sergeant, who posts the next three men. Each of the corporals takes his
man and rides out to find the right or left-hand post--a by no means
easy task in this open veldt, where an absence of landmarks and
similarity of country tax one's powers of 'bushcraft' to the utmost.
After placing his sentries, and giving them the countersign, the officer
in charge returns to his post with the sergeant. The sergeant's duties
for the remainder of the night consist of 'marching' the reliefs every
two hours. He is also responsible to the officer for the conduct of
affairs, and the correct timing of the goings out of the 'reliefs' and

The moon has risen over the dark hump of the long kopje. The worn out,
still saddled horses cast weird shadows over the grass--one or two lying
down, the others forlornly engaged in cropping so much of it around
their pegs as the head-ropes will allow. The men have put on their
overcoats--those excellent cavalry cloaks which are the best part of the
equipment--and are busy unrolling waterproof sheets and in slipping
their blankets from beneath the saddle. Strictly, the blankets should
remain where they have been all day, but these nights are too cold to
lie down without some means of warmth other than this cloak, and so the
loss of them is risked by their owners. Should the post be rushed, or
attacked, there would be no time to remove the saddles and replace the
blankets beneath them, and they would have to be abandoned, unless
carried away on their owners' arms. Fortunately, however, for the
comfort of outposts, Boers do not often attack. When they do, there is
usually no 'get away'.

The outpost is tired to-night, and does not talk much. There has been no
tea, because it was too late to light fires. Nothing to eat, either, but
a possible biscuit. Some one was to have come from the camp with
bully-beef, but seems to have lost the way, or not to have started. So
it is a far from hilarious outpost. A man is speaking in low tones on
the subject of dealing with coloured races.

"W'en me brother Mick was in Mason's survey camp--doin' axeman--he come
across a cove out near Walgett who had a black feller with him drovin'.
This bloke useter bring cattle in from Queensland ter Muswellbrook. Went
by the name o' Kale--K-a-l-e--rum name. Useter give th' nigger a quid a
month and his rations. Good enough for a nigger, too.

"Ev'ry now 'n-then, th' nigger useter wanter be settled up with,
an' Kale'd look at a book an' pretend to be squarin' up his account.
'Well, Jacky,' Kale'd say, 'y' got a pound er terbacca on the
fifteenth?'--'Yes, that right,' Jacky'd say. 'Well, that's a pound y'
got, an' a pound y' didn't get, ain't it?'--'Yes, alright,' Jacky'd say.
'That's two pound, ain't it?' Kale'd arst him.--'Yes, that right,'
Jacky'd say. 'That's eight bob,' Kale'd say.

"'Well, Jacky, here's another item,' Kale'd say. 'You got five bob on
the twentyfirst?'--'Yes.' 'Well, that's five bob you got, an' five bob
you didn't get, eh?'--'That right.' 'Well, that's ten bob,' Kale'd say.

"'On the thirtieth y' got a dozen o' matches,' Kale'd say.--'Yes, that
right,' Jacky'd say. 'That's a dozen y' got, an' a dozen y' didn't get,
ain't it now?'--'Yes, that right, Mista Kale,' Jacky'd say.

"'Well, that's nineteen bob, ain't it?'--'Yes, that right.' 'Well
here's th' balance, Jacky. Don't get drunk on it,' Kale'd say--an' gave
the pore dam nigger a bob. The black boy'd wonder how it was he never
seemed to have anything owing to him, but he was too 'plurry plash' to
let on he didn't know all about it.

"Now, all niggers are too 'plurry plash,' so I carn't make out w'y the
English Government gives these drivers on our transport four-ten a month
w'en they could get 'em for a quid, an' dust 'em down over that too. Y'
mus' keep niggers down. If y' let a nigger think he's 's good's a white
man, y' can't do nothing with him.

"Now, there's that cove Frank on our cart. All that push that play cards
under the cart of a night lets him chip in. They say to him: 'Y' black
swine! '--an' he answers back an' calls 'em 'white swine,' an' they on'y
laugh. Frank was goin' inter Bloemfontein one day, an' he met a bloke
from the 'Carles,' an' seys, 'Hullo, you white swine!' So the bloke from
the 'Carles' up an' knocks him down. I reckon Frank was never more
s'prised in his life. He jus' lay there hollerin', an' singing out: 'All
right, baas, I didn't say it again, I didn't say it again'. But it was
their fault--those coves that'd encouraged him to reckon he could chaff
any white----" and so forth.

You may light your pipe before turning in, if you like, provided that
you do not make too great a glare of light. You must cover your head
with the blanket when you strike the match. What a blessed thing tobacco
is, after you have got past the first sharp stage of hunger! If you
smoke a pipe, and tighten your belt a hole or two, you may imagine you
have eaten a good dinner--supposing you have a very vivid imagination.

Soon every one on the post is sleeping the deep, wholesome sleep of the
thoroughly tired. You go to bed with your bandolier on, and your carbine
close at hand, on outpost. Neither do you remove boots or spurs. The
sentry on the horse lines walks up and down, and prays for relief.

Down where the other sentries are it is very still and lonely. Of all
the occupations of active service to which the private soldier is
liable, there is none so arduous and responsible as that of a sentry on
the line of outposts. He is in the front rank of the army. Nothing lies
between him and the enemy. On his alertness rest the safety and the
lives of his comrades. They may only sleep securely if he be wakeful and
watchful. If he sleep, if he relax in his vigilant outlook he endangers
not only his own worthless self, but his comrades in the outpost, the
Brigade behind him, the Army itself--even the Empire, when it only needs
another reverse or two to draw the intervention of a foreign power.

There is no offence in the calendar of soldier's crimes more heinous or
far-reaching in its possible consequences than a sentry's neglect of his
duty. No punishment can be too great for the man who sleeps upon his
post. There can be no excuse, no extenuating circumstances. Even should
he be kept awake for seven nights in succession, he should be shot
without mercy if he slumber on the eighth, whilst a sentry in a
responsible position. One may be sorry for him. His may be the hardest
and most pitiable case in the world, but his punishment should be
death--not so much because of the actual personal offence of which he
has been guilty, as for an example to deter other men from doing

And, strange as it may seem, this is the actual view of nearly every
soldier in the army. There was a story at Modder River of a man who
slumbered on his post and was awarded seven years' gaol, whilst his
friends--the men of his own regiment--clamoured for his death.

A sentry who sleeps on his post has committed the unpardonable sin. On
the other hand, it is almost as criminal for a commanding officer to
detail men who have not recently had a fair amount of rest for this
onerous duty as it is for the sentry to sleep. Sentry-duty should not
come more frequently than once in three nights.

You begin your watch heavy with sleep. That is the dangerous period,
when you are most liable to yield. You hear the sergeant and the man
whose place you have taken 'swish-swishing' through the grass back to
the post. You are hardly awake yet. The sergeant has warned you not to
stand upright as a mark for possible 'snipers,' but you feel yourself
that to sit down would be almost to court slumber. So you walk up and
down, with your carbine at the 'support' across your body, and your face
turned Boerwards half-interestedly. You stumble over tussocks of grass
and bump into ant-hills, and wonder vaguely why you are there and
whether the time will pass quickly until your turn comes for more sleep.
By-and-bye a realisation that the night is cold, and sharp, and frosty
thoroughly awakens you.

The moon, well in its third quarter, is flooding all the veldt with its
silvery illusive light. The long kopje looms up under it--black,
mysterious, ominous. Away, very far away in the distance, the range of
hills you had seen when scouting this afternoon--or was it yesterday
afternoon?--rises, light-bathed and ethereal, out of a low-lying sea of
faint white mist. To the rear, a few thinly twinkling points of light
mark a wing of the British camp--Hutton's Brigade probably. You cannot
see your own. The outpost is not visible either from where you are. On
your right, a tiny black spot shows the position of the other sentry.
The uncanny stillness of the night gets on to your nerves. You feel
terribly alone.

You see something dark and dim out in the long grass. It is vague,
ill-defined, shadowy. What can it be? For a moment it looks like a
crouching man. You half-expect the flash of a rifle and the sing of a
bullet. You watch, and watch, and strain your eyes with watching--until
they fill with tears, and you have to rub them clear again. There is
another one five yards away, and another to the other side, and another,
and another--a whole line of silently advancing Boers!

How uncertain this moonlight is! Is it time to fire? If one could only
consult with the other sentry about them. What is he doing? The silly
fool seems to be just walking up and down. Can't he see them? Won't it
be better to shoot first and challenge after?

The long range of hills afar off flickers, and curls and warps up into
the sky as your eyes swim again. They must be men, but why don't they
advance, or fire, or do something?

You kneel down in the grass and rest your carbine over an ant-hill, and
then you silhouette the square top of a stone fence-post against the
sky, and wonder why you didn't think of it before, and the other Boers
evolve themselves into stone fence-posts too.

Half an hour must be gone by now--no, three-quarters. It seems ages
since the sergeant went away. If one could only do something to keep
back the sleepiness. It is cold sitting down, too. You get up and walk

How about a smoke? Risky, reprehensible--but you must have one. It
doesn't do to show a light towards the outpost, lest the lieutenant see
you and become annoyed. It won't do to show one to the front, lest the
Boers be close at hand and fire possible volleys. So you fill your
pipe--a difficult matter when your fingers are frozen stiff. What of
matches? There are some loose in your haversack--the last of their kind.
They are wooden ones, but you have a bit of striking paper from the side
of the box stowed away in your helmet. You crouch down behind an
ant-heap. Then you lay your helmet on the ground with the apex pointing
to your front. Unbuttoning your overcoat, you pull the collar up over
your head. Kneeling, you strike the match in the helmet, and puff
vigorously at the pipe. With your hand over the bowl, you rise up
cautiously. The white smoke curls up into the frosty moonlight. You feel
more wakeful and content.

It must be freezing now. Down in Bloemfontein people had said, "Wait
until you start again in the winter. That's when you'll feel it. Why,
half the army will be frozen to death before you cross the Vaal--and
when you do cross it, and get into the High Veldt, you won't be able to
live for cold." And it is cold. But gloriously healthy. Use accustoms
you to it. Were one sleeping in a warm house every night, it would be
suicide, almost, to lie out with only one thin blanket in these white
frosts, but after three or four months of roofless, open-air living it
is no great hardship. Except when it rains.

Something is coming over the veldt up on your left--two men on
horseback, talking together in low tones. The patrol coming in. Up they
ride to within fifty yards of you. You challenge: "Halt! who goes
there?"--"Friends." "Advance one and give the countersign." One of them
rides slowly on, the other remaining where he is. "Pelican," says the
corporal; "warm weather, ain't it?" His companion rides past, and they
return to the outpost. You envy them.

Amongst the many stories which one heard of a certain well-advertised
London volunteer corps, it was related that a member of it, being on
'sentry-go,' was approached in the 'wee sma' hours' by his commanding
officer. The sentry was not able, by reason of an impediment in his
speech, to challenge properly. "S-t-t-op! w-h-o-'s that?" he inquired
nervously. "Friend," came the reply. "M-m-m-well, c-ccome up to the
counter, and sign"!

In the fulness of time, after you have been thinking that all upon the
post are asleep, and yourself a fixture until morning, you descry the
relief coming out. You challenge, and get the countersign as a matter of
form, and then go back to your downy couch. If you haven't taken the
precaution to cover up your blanket with the waterproof sheet, you will
find it wet with frost when you crawl beneath it.

Four more hours, and you are out again. It seems like five minutes since
you came in. Your first watch was from ten o'clock until twelve. You
have slept from midnight to four in the morning. And the end of this two
hours brings you to the new day. You are relieved just in time to roll
your coat and replace it upon the saddle, and to adjust your blanket and
waterproof sheet. No time to light fires--the Brigade is moving early.
So, if you possess a biscuit, you eat it as you prepare to move off, and
mount and ride again upon an unfed horse--which is the 'crown of a
sorrow's sorrow'.

Once an outpost of Australians were doing duty near Boesman's Kop by
Bloemfontein. There were no rations, nor any apparent prospect of any. A
cow at daylight passed close by a sentry on her way to water at a dam. A
happy thought came to him--that cow was probably a Boer. So he decided
to take no risks, and shot her dead. There were rations that day. They
came from the cow, in the shape of beefsteaks. How was the sentry to
know, when the cow didn't answer his challenge, that she was not a kind
of 'wooden horse of Troy'? He could risk no surprises.


This morning the place was bare, and empty, and desolate, save for the
white farmhouse beside the great stone-banked dam--and it added, if
anything, to the desolation.

Some 'Jan' or 'Piet' had come galloping across the veldt at noon with
news of oncoming rooineks, who poured over the country like a swarm of
locusts, eating up and devouring everything that lay in its
path--ruthless, overpowering, merciless alike to women, and children,
and aged people.

They were so many nothing could stand against them. Their shrapnel
searched every kopje and cluster of rocks. They had left the railway,
and were sweeping on alone in the open veldt. It was not true that the
Englishmen got lost and died when they went away from the railway. It
was not true that they had used up all the horses from England before
they had come to Bloemfontein. All those men had horses--many horses,
and waggons, and cannon. Yesterday they had fired a Maxim-Nordenfeldt
into Sarel Du Ploy's garden, and had killed Tantie Du Ploy's best cow.

It was not true that they had no Maxim-Nordenfeldts. They had one, at
any rate, for a little devil had cut his hat's rim--here, at the side.
See it!

Tantie must trek. The Kaffirs must inspan the oxen. There was no time.
Even now, their scouts were not two hours away. Yes, yes--she must go.
Would she wait to be misused by these 'verdomde rooineks'? Would she
wish to see her babies tossed on the spear-heads of the wicked lancers,
her home rent, and riven, and burnt over her head?

White flags! What of white flags? They no longer cared about them. Why,
they had had three of them over Du Ploy's chimneys when they fired upon
the English scouts--and yet the little devils of Maxim-Nordenfeldts had
come--crack-crackcrack--into the garden, and they had had to run like
Kaffirs to get away from them. The Englishmen had become 'slim'
themselves in the matter of white flags. Last week a lyddite bomb had
blown to pieces Hans Larsen and his son, as they fired from a kraal over
which they had taken the precaution to mount a white shirt. No, she must
not talk--she must trek.

It is that 'kerel' French who is coming, and, almighty, but he comes
quickly, and no one knows whence. He must be off soon to warn others.
Let her inspan at once. It was no time for waiting.

And the poor woman has inspanned, and piled her best belongings, with
her babies, on the waggons; and has gone, white-faced but unweeping,
before the vague terror of the accursed rooinek, whom, the predicant has
told her, knows no respect for wife, or maiden, or mother, or little
child. And to-night her house shelters a General of Division.

From the little farm it must seem a strangely altered scene this
evening. Where, at sunrise, a few oxen grazed quietly, and were the only
living things for many miles, the veldt is covered by a great gathering
of men and horses. Away to the left, the blue smoke of another great
camp hangs like a thin veil above the land, and, back in the rear, there
is another brigade guarding the immense convoy which keeps on coming in
until long after dark.

Our own camp is half a mile long or more; and nearly as deep as long,
with its guns, and waggons, and red cross ambulances. Mules linked
together in fours and fives are being driven to water by yelling and
screaming Kaffir boys. The far side of the big dam in the hollow is
fringed with drinking, bare-backed horses. Wild-looking men in khaki
chase squawking fowls about the huts of the Kaffir farm-servants. An
unkempt ruffian in a torn shirt is cutting the throat of a squealing pig
behind the house. Horses are tied to the big willow tree.

Red lapelled staff officers come and go from the front rooms. Now and
then a dapper little man in yellow riding boots walks out upon the
stoep, and says something that causes men to spring to take papers from
his hand, and mount, and ride away at breakneck speed. An
anxious-looking colonel dismounts stiffly from his horse, hands the
reins to a trumpeter who has come with him, and walks inside. Soon he
reappears with the dapper General, talking quickly in a low voice. The
General holds a half-unrolled map in his hand. He spreads it out on his
knee, uses his forefinger as an emphatic pointer, and appears to be
insisting upon something. The colonel smiles and nods, and seems to have
comprehended. Whereat the little red-faced, stout man is apparently
pleased. He goes inside again with a cheery "All-right. Good-night."
Johnny French must have another of those wonderful movements of his
simmering in his brain.

Somehow, French doesn't strike you with any idea of his being the smart
man he is--except when you notice the shrewd, twinkling little eyes that
seem to take in everything about him. He certainly does not look the
ideal cavalry leader. There is nothing of the Brigadier Gerard in his
appearance. Short, dumpy, jaunty--sitting a horse rather like the
proverbial sack o' flour; if you saw him booted and spurred in Cape Town
you would almost put him down as a colonel of infantry, who had learned
to ride from a Red-Book in a riding-school at considerable pains. And
yet, they say he is a hunting man, and rides straight enough. In dress
and person he is always neat. When you salute him he returns it
courteously with a smiling face. When he finds fault there is, one
hears, no mistaking his meaning. Staff-signallers will tell you that
his vocabulary does not lack of means of emphasis. They relate a
tale of how he had once spoken to a luckless Brigadier who had contrived
to mask the guns of 'French's Pets' in a certain action, and it was said
that the recipient of his address seemed to pray for the advent of a
six-inch shell by way of a change of subject. It was probably not true,
but they report him to have inquired sarcastically as to whether the
Brigadier was of any possible use whatever, whether he could lead ducks
any better than he could lead cavalry, and to have finished with a
simple statement to the effect that the youngest subaltern in the other
Brigade could lead that of the gentleman in question better far than he
could himself.

He is a wonderful little man. Except in the one matter of considering
that horses are made of iron and can thrive better on long and rapid
marches than on oats, his men give him credit for never making a
mistake. The trust and pride of the private soldier of his Division in
his infallibility and achievements pass all understanding. Whatever may
be the work in hand, every one feels absolutely confident that, though
it may not always succeed as fully as expected, it will never be bungled
so long as 'Johnny' has control of it. And if, in any of the towns, the
surrendered Boers should ask you whom you serve under, and you reply,
"French," they will gape at you as being something above the common run
of 'rooineks'.

He has acquired an almost demoniac reputation amongst the Boers for
being able to be in two places at once. "What is the use?" they say. "We
dig trenches, and place cannon, and keep the khakis back for hours; and
with our spy-glasses we think we see his cavalry lurking behind--but,
presently, round he comes on our line of retreat, and we are obliged to
trek quickly, lest we be caught and hemmed in, as was Cronje at

In the lines the horses are eating their evening oats, and the men all
busy cooking. It is a curiously interesting and picturesque scene.

When you look at a bivouac at night Modern War loses its modernity.
Smokeless powder, seven-mile ranges, unseen death--all the adjuncts of
our civilised methods of settling disputes are hidden away in the
darkness. There are only the little twinkling fires, the tired horses,
the hungry men, the smell of cooking, the quiet voices and the laughter
and snatches of song just as it might have been a thousand years ago.
Whether men kill one another with axes or with magazine rifles, they are
still men. They must sleep, and eat, and be cold. The English camp on
the night before Agincourt couldn't have been very much different to
this in appearance. It makes you feel somehow that, after all, we
haven't improved very much in the centuries. There are railways, and
steamships, and electricity, and adequate drainage in cities, and
'heaps' of other ways of making life more healthy and agreeable--but, in
the end, when we want to settle a question between individuals or
nations we come back to our own nature, and settle it still after the
manner of the beasts of the field and the fowl of the air.

There are three regiments, with from three to four squadrons apiece, in
the Brigade, and a battery of Horse Artillery. Each regiment is in
'mass' formation with regard to its squadrons--that is to say the
leading troop of the squadron is on the front line, and the others
behind it, in succession, to the rear--so that the squadrons lie side by
side, and are of about the same depth. Every horse is allowed sufficient
space to ensure him non-interference on the part of his neighbour.
Between the parallel squadrons a narrow street is left. Between the
regiments the streets are a little wider. Behind each squadron is its
transport, and behind that again the transport of the regiment as a
whole. In rear of all are the Army Service waggons, and a little
way aside of them the ambulance vans neatly dressed in line The
battery is usually on the right of the Brigade--with its guns and
ammunition-waggons in rear. Seen from a distance, the whole seems to be
a little more than a large cluster of men, horses, guns and waggons,
jumbled together anyhow--but when you come closer you will see that all
is duly ordered, that everything has its place and allotted position.

Almost in front of all are the little 'one man' green and white tents of
the officers, and just beyond them the headquarters of the Brigade,
where good 'Uncle Tom'--most popular of Brigadiers--shows his red lamp
o' nights.

The dingy saddles and arms are arrayed in order--each saddle before its
horse, and the whole line 'dressed' correctly. It is only a 'one night'
camp, and so there are not many of the tiny blanket-dwellings--built
with swords and carbines and bridlereins--such as spring up when the
march is checked for a day or two. Men are moving about with jackets
unbuttoned and puttees removed, and are a motley, shabby crowd enough.

Dreadful to contemplate, horrible to relate, but necessary to mention if
one would seek to give a truthful picture of the minor aspects of a
campaign, are the efforts of mankind in African warfare to rid
themselves of the loathsome vermin which infest clothing and blankets
and person, and every moment of existence. It is a shocking state of
affairs, and few escape--even though there are some who will not
acknowledge its existence, as far as they themselves are concerned. One
consolation men offered themselves--that the plague was of the veldt,
and therefore unavoidable.

Insecticide is no good. Neither do cleanly habits mitigate the evil.
There is but one means of keeping down the population. You must hunt,
and you must kill. And so, when you behold half-naked men seated upon
their kits, earnestly and laboriously scanning their shirts, and
grunting with satisfaction at intervals, you will understand what it
means. When a column halts in the afternoon in order to bivouac for the
night, one of the first things infested men do is to squat down on the
ground, pull off their shirts, and seek what they may find.

One feels almost apologetic for having written of such a subject, but it
is just as much a feature of warfare as are battles--more so, even, than
battles, for the battles are simply occasional episodes, but the 'Scots
Greys,' or 'Roberts' Horse,' as they have been almost universally
termed, like the poor, are always with you.

The name bestowed upon these awful insects is not complimentary to the
Second Dragoons--but it may have been the motto of that gallant
regiment--'Second to None'--which suggested the comparison to the
original libeller. The 'Greys' of the veldt are certainly 'second to

Fuel was always a problem. If you could get a post, or half a post, you
were indeed fortunate. It meant comparative luxury. You might
cook--supposing there was anything to be cooked--and after that you
could sit round the tiny blaze and feel that there really was some
comfort left in the world after all. It was cheerful, even, to look at
the warm glow of two little burning sticks. Sometimes you got part of a
door, or a window-sash, or a flooring-board. A baby's cradle, the leg of
a piano, a railway sleeper--anything that would burn was worth its
weight in transport.

The Boers themselves depend for their fire on an evil composition known
as 'mest'. It is essentially dried cattle dung, and you may see it in
process of manufacture for the market in the Kaffir locations in any of
the towns. They collect the raw material on the veldt, or in the cattle
kraals, puddle it up in tubs with water, cut it into cakes, and stack it
to dry in the sunlight. It is not the pleasantest thing in the world to
cook with, but once alight it gives out a good heat, and in a country
where wood is so scarce and valuable that stone posts are cheap for
fencing, the possibility of obtaining even such a fuel as 'mest' is
something to be thankful for.

Biscuit-boxes are excellent kindling fuel, but difficult to obtain, and
transitory and uncertain in their effectiveness. Moreover, they are the
peculiar perquisites of Quarter-master sergeants and cooks, and unless
you are a gifted thief you are not frequently able to get away with
them. Railway sleepers are solid and lasting, but, being saturated with
tar, burn smokily and with prejudicial effect upon the taste of rations
cooked in their flames.

Best of all are the wooden fence-posts. They are not 'split,' but are
the solid round trunks of blue gum saplings, and they burn with the
fragrant scent you know so well--so that if you shut your eyes, as you
sit round the fire smoking, visions of 'somewhere else' come to you
dreamily across the months.

The Netherlands Railway--or, to be correct, the Corporation that branded
its rolling-stock Z.A.R.S.M. (Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek Spoorweg
Maatschappij) thoughtfully fenced its permanent way with blue gum posts.
There are none left along the line now. What few the invading army
passed by on its way to Pretoria have been carefully culled by the
subsequent patrols that rode between the little entrenched stations
seeking dynamite cartridges. There were many posts on the farms. That
was how you were able to judge whether a farm was fairly prosperous or
not. You did not look for fat cattle or good crops. You sought wooden
fence-posts. And when you beheld them you knew that the late occupant of
the farm had been a member of the Volksraad, or a holder of Government
concessions, or a Landrost. No one but a wealthy man can afford to fence
with wooden posts in South Africa. And they were truly a Godsend to
Tommy Atkins and Tommy Cornstalk. If, towards evening, when there seemed
to be a prospect of getting into quarters for the night before very
long, a Brigade should happen to encounter a line of wire fencing with
wooden posts, such event was hailed with the utmost joy and gratitude.
Lines of men spread along it on either side of the direction of the
march, and, by the time that the last waggon had rattled through the
opening made by the wire-cutters, there was no fence remaining for a
mile or two to left and right. Should the march not come to an end so
soon as expected, men often carried heavy posts on their shoulders or
across their wallets, for hours and miles. Any labour was worth
undertaking for a fire at night.

A six-pound bully-beef tin is an excellent and providential article of
veldt culinary ware. You pick it up empty at daylight in the lines, and
fasten it to the end of your carbine-bucket, where, during the day, it
plays a picturesque and not unmusical part. At nightfall, after you are
fed, you fill it with water and boil the fat and dust out of it on your
fire, and you possess an invaluable utensil. You may carry water in it,
or you may draw your tea and coffee in it, or you may boil down your
scraggy beef, or make a curry, or a rice pudding, or the satisfying and
sustaining mealie-pap. At a pinch, you may use its flat side as a

The cavalry mess-tin is a poor thing--a simple frying-pan of shallow
make, designed rather to hang easily from the saddle than to possess any
intrinsic merit as a cooking-pot--but the infantry tin, that is indeed a
friend of man. It does not carry well on horseback. It is built to sit
upon the rolled blanket which the foot soldier bears in the 'small' of
his overladen back; but of all useful, convenient, adaptable, blessed
contrivances it is surely a prince among pots. About seven inches long
and four wide, it is oval on the one side and flat upon the other. It is
a little deeper than wide. There is a handle to the body by which you
may lift it on or off the fire. Its lid is a frying-pan whose handle
folds within, and a tin plate is fitted ingeniously into the top of the
pot. You may boil your mealies and fry your steak at the same time, and
when you have eaten the former to the last vestige, you may draw your
coffee in it. Truly, it comes next to the cavalry cloak as a good and
sensible piece of equipment. No kit, as an advertisement would say,
is complete without one.

Night comes down over the great camp--sudden, black, cold. The little
fires twinkle through the legs of horses. Over in the Artillery lines a
great group of overcoats stands out against a brighter blaze. The
gunners are burning a Boer waggon and giving a concert. Queer
barrack-room ballads--just as Kipling renders them, only more so--are
roared out into the night.

Git up, you ord'ly man!

Git up, you ord'ly man!

Carn't you 'ear the ord'ly sargint call-in'? Git up an' clean th' room,

Or the clink'll be y'r doom--

Y'll be up before old Squidgy in the morn-in'.

Their songs have many verses, and many quaint features, but they are not
the kind of songs which would be popular at tea-meetings. There is a
gracefully graceless ribaldry about the majority of them that keeps them
also from ever getting written.

There was a mess of four in that bivouac--and in many other bivouacs of
that march to Pretoria. Sometimes it shared two biscuits and a little
raw beef, sometimes it fared sumptuously on the best that the land had
to give. To-night heaven had sent a Canadian. He had ridden jauntily
into the lines, inquiring for his 'outfit'--which was the Second
Canadian M.I. No one knew where the Canadian M.I. might be. The night
was black as ink, and seemed to threaten rain.

"Say," said the 'Yank,' "kin I throw down with you boys, then? Guess you
are the Australians, ain't that so? Waal, if I carn't find any more
Canadians, I reckon th' Australians comes pretty close up. Y' don't mind
if I throw down in this hyar lo-cation, do yew now? Guess I kin
contribute my share to the festive board."

We knew not the verb 'to throw down'--but, as two fowls hung to one side
of his queer saddle and a leg of mutton to the other, we intimated that
he might, if he chose, do as he desired.

So he 'threw down'--that is to say, he untied the various knots of
buffalo-hide and string which kept the saddle in its place, picketed the
remarkably fresh pony in the lines, and disposed of his blanket and coat
amongst our kits. And we assisted in the cooking of the poultry and the
mutton, as well as in the eating thereof, and they were very good, and
after they were all gone except the bones and the feathers, we were able
to supply him with some real tobacco to chew. You cannot chew Boer

So, whilst the thin smoke of our pipes lost itself amongst the stars,
and the little flickering flame at the end of the fence-post lit up
bearded and dirty, but no longer hungry faces, an hour or two passed
pleasantly enough in yarns, and lies, and lazy anecdotes. One spoke of
cane growing on the Northern River, and waxed enthusiastic over the
great forests, and the red cedar, and the soil. Another became eloquent
as to lucerne on the Hunter. Another lied of little fish that came out
of artesian bores where he lived. Another, who was an Irishman and a
policeman, recounted some few of his adventures and misadventures whilst
in charge of a lunatic on the Macleay.

The Canadian chewed and spat royally into the fire until it was in
danger of extinguishment, and told us of his doings of the day.

"Now, I'll jes' tell yew boys what one of those something French's
Scouts had the darned hide to do, or raither to try to do, during the
day. I reckon he had a pretty con-siderable section of real, slap-up
cheek, too.

"Y' see, two of the boys, and yours truly, we slipped away from th'
'outfit' t' see what we could pick up sorter permiscuous like. We
moosied along over the darned veldt until we came to a Kaffir kral--a
pretty good kind of kral, too--mud cabin an' bamboo fixin's. Must'er
b'longed to pretty w'althy col'd gent, I guess. And we sees a lot of
ponies browsin' roun' in th' prairie. After a deal of trouble, we
corralled the mustangs in one of them stone corrals, an' calc'lated to
fix ourselves with re-mounts and a spare hoss or two to lead along to
the 'outfit'. So we sot down to make a pot of tea, before catching the
ponies an' gettin' along.

"Bymbye, up comes a leftenint of French's Scouts, with a yaller boy
ridin' behind him, a-leadin' his pack-horse. An' he sees our re-mounts.
So, without so much as having the po-liteness to ask for one, he sails
in an' commences to help himself to the pick of our private stud. We
watched him select his fancy--an' he took a deal of care in pickin' it
out. One o' th' boys re-marks to him: 'Say, mister, what are y'
calc'latin' to do with that there pony y' got roped up thar?' He allowed
he was goin' t' have it. 'Oh, no,' my friend sez, quiet like; 'oh, no,
y'r not--they jes' about b'long to me 'n my friends here.' 'My deah
fellow,' sez French's Scout, 'they do not. They b'long to the Kaffirs,
and I'm goin' ter requisition this one. I'm an off'cer,' he sez; 'I hold
Her Majesty's commission.' 'Waal,' sez Charley, 'y' might hold th' angel
Gabriel's co-mission, an' then agin', y' mightn't,' he sez; 'but I guess
y' jes' goin' t' leave that darned hoss whar he is. We've taken the
trouble to run them in,' he sez, 'and we jes' about con-clude that they
are our private prop'ty. An' what's more,' he sez, 'I guess y'r lookin'
f'r trouble,' he sez, 'an' I kin tell yew y've come right har whar you
kin git it!' he sez.

"An' at last we con-vinced him that our title was O.K., an' he left in a
dam hurry to see the provo'-marshal about it.

"But this here's what stuck in my neck--his own hoss was good, an'
fresh, an' fit for anything, but he wanted to take one of our re-mounts
to give to his nigger--yes, gentlemen, to his darned useless nigger! If
his own hoss had bin knocked up, we'd bin happy to sell him one,
supposin' he'd asked f'r it civil and nice, but he ackshally--true's I'm
sittin' right har--he wanted to give one of our hosses to his darned Jim
Crow coon! We couldn't 'low that, so we hunted him an' his darned son of
a sweep away."

As you make your bed so you must lie upon it. If you wake up in the
night with an impression of lying across a small kopje it is quite your
own fault. You should have kicked down the tussocks and removed the
loose stones before you spread out the waterproof sheet.

There is a good deal of art required in the making of a comfortable bed
if your only material consists of a mackintosh sheet, one brown blanket
and an overcoat. On these frosty nights you have to get the maximum of
warmth out of the minimum of material. You pull the saddle round so that
its seat faces the direction of the wind, and stand it up on end so that
the sideflaps make a small shelter for your head. Inside the saddle you
make your pillow out of haversack, towel, helmet--anything available
that may serve your needs best. To undress, you remove your spurs and
boots, and unwind the puttees from your legs. If you wrap your feet up
in your puttees they will keep them warm, but the best plan is to leave
your boots on, and pull a pair of woollen socks over them--provided, of
course, that you possess the socks. You lie down upon the waterproof
sheet, pull the blanket up to your ears, and spread out the coat
sideways over it. Then you tuck blanket and coat round your feet and
under your sides, pull the thrice-blessed 'Balaclava' over your ears,
light your pipe, and thank heaven fervently for the many luxuries it is
your privilege to enjoy.

It is a queer life this. No one at home can know it exactly as it is. No
one out here can quite describe it. It is rough, it is hard and it is
dangerous, but it is intensely interesting and exciting. The glorious
healthiness of it is its perfect charm. There are fever, and dysentery,
and pneumonia--but, provided that you can keep clear of these, you will
almost fatten on it. There is also, of course, considerable danger of
what a certain member of the much-quoted quoted Canadians termed 'darned
leadpoisoning'--meaning thereby, the chance of going under to a
bullet--but that is the element which supplies the excitement, and, as a
matter of fact, is far less a real danger than the bad water and
insanitary surroundings.

War may be immoral, and deplorable, and barbarous, but from the point of
view of the combatant (not the women and children) there are many worse
phases of existence. It is a big sport, a gamble with fate--and, as
such, while the human composition remains human, it will never cease to
exercise a certain fascination and attractiveness to man.


The long rocky ridges overlooking the road down which the Boer convoy
disappeared at dusk last evening is a bleak, windswept, unhappy place at
dawn. It has been an unhappy place all through the long darkness--a
lonely, inhospitable, barren perch upon which lost souls might roost and
bemoan their fates in the small hours and be in keeping with their
surroundings, but where flesh and blood feels that it is distinctly a
trial of patience and endurance to spend eight freezing hours.

All night the bitter wind has whined and whistled through the rocks,
moaning sadly in the long dry grass and about the scanty bushes,
thrusting its icy hand into one's very body through cloak, and tunic,
and jumper, and woollen shirt. To stand upon the summit keeping watch
had been as though one walked naked along the weather side of a ship's
deck in Southern seas. The clear brightness of the stars blazing and
twinkling in a cloudless sky overhead has accentuated the keen chill of
existence on this iceberg, glacier, snowfield--anything but good, dry,
warm, hospitable earth.

At dusk, our rifles had flamed long-range volleys into the valley, and
we had prayed for just one little field-gun, for just one handy Maxim to
reach the crawling oxen, that slowly and haltingly, but bravely and
surely, dragged the last of the Boers' waggons into safety and escape
behind the little rise that covered their crossing to the river. We had
been too few to make the sudden dash that would have given them to us,
too far ahead of the slow batteries that might have wrecked and
splintered wheels and disselbooms and covers, and mowed down the patient
oxen where they toiled laboriously to shelter. One Maxim might have done
it. One pom-pom would have captured them at five thousand yards, but our
little carbines could not check the slow escape at half that distance.

Once, as the last waggon came slowly into the field of fire, it had
halted and remained. Through glasses, the spit of the hailing nickel had
made on the ground about it a little dust squall. Two yoke of oxen fell
before it, and the cart seemed to be over. Yet brave men had come
through the storm of death leading slow oxen, and had gallantly drawn
the waggon the hundred yards that had to be crossed before it
disappeared from out straining eyesight in the fast gathering gloom.
Brave, dauntless, determined men those--whether sjambok-threatened
Kaffirs or plucky Boers--and one could hardly hold back a cheer even, as
the almost abandoned team crawled into safety round the shoulder of the
tiny hillock.

The Boer may be an unenlightened, slothful 'waster'. He may not have too
well-defined notions as to treachery and guile. He may play the white
flag trick--but he is no coward. Black-hearted Ben Viljoen had led a
team of horses to save a pom-pom on the Tugela, alone and single-handed,
and had saved it, and been credited with his brave deed; but that Boer
or Kaffir driver who brought the slow bullocks into the rain of bullets
in the cold dusk of that winter evening by the Gatsrand did something
which, had it been a gun and he an Englishman, would have won for him
the V.C. and a justly and well earned fame. In point of merit it was a
deed no whit behind the saving of the guns of 'Q' Battery at Sanna's
Post. Heaven alone knows now what the cart contained. Had it been
bar-gold instead of possible mealies, or shells, or furniture, its
salvation from us could not have been more worthy of respect, or more
admirable and gallant than it was.

Here, at daylight, as the cold sky paled and yellowed and flamed into
the crimson promise of a glorious day, we sat among the rocks and
shivered. The ridge we had occupied through the night sloped, not very
steeply, up from the valley we had been ascending all yesterday
afternoon, but dropped in a sudden steepness below us into as fair a
vale as ever man had gazed upon.

A tree-lined river meandered down a flat. White farms dotted its banks,
and little plots of 'cultivation'. Beyond it stretched a grassy plain to
the low, rocky foothills of a line of purple ranges over which towered
one great berg higher than its fellows. All about the horizon weird
spidery structures with tall smoke stacks stood out black and sharply
cut against the fresh sky. Over all brooded the calm of early
morning--the quiet peacefulness of a world not yet awake.

It was the promised land, the lost Eldorado of so many months which had
been the ultimate cause of our coming from all the quarters of the
globe--the rich, blood-bought gold-reef, which, argue as we may
concerning the enlightenment we distribute with bullet and lyddite, or
the visions of Dutch confederation which Paul Kruger and Steyn, his
dupe, might have dreamed, was, and is, the great final casus belli of
this bloody struggle between Dutch and English for supremacy in South

One could not gaze out over the quiet valley and beyond the dim ridges
to where the great mine buildings stood--some of them still sending up
thin columns of black smoke into the clear air, and still seeming to be
worked--without feeling that here, at last, was the thing we had been
marching, and starving, and getting fever, and dying for all these
months past; that here, indeed, was the great reward of toil, and
danger, and sickness, and blood that had been spilt as water over half a
year and more. This was the thing that was to pay for Magersfontein, and
Colenso, and Stormberg, and the Tugela--for the sufferings of the women
and little children of Ladysmith, and Kimberley, and Mafeking. Here it
was--a long system of a particular kind of dirt, occurring in a peculiar
geological fashion and containing a yellow metal. This was the prize,
the great bone of contention which the big dog was taking from the
little one--and taking it simply because he could not avoid doing so.

O land of gold and greed, mysterious lying and open cheating, how much
have you to answer for! The burned homes, the bullet-pocked walls, the
new graves, the pestilential hospitals, the brave lives--how great and
strong for good you will need to become ere you pay for all these!
Treasure, and Life, and Love. These are the items of your vast
indebtedness, and the last not the least. Do you think, Golden Rand,
that you will ever liquidate your liabilities?

Over there, vaguely beyond the ranges, lies Johannesburg. Somewhere not
very far across the veldt the ill-starred Jameson brought his idiotic
raid to an inglorious finish. What a finish--we have not come to it yet.

The sun rises out of the shoulder of the great berg. There are no Boers
in all the valley. Everything is still and tranquil, as it always should
be in this vale of peace. From the farmhouses on the river bends the
blue smoke curls up into the morning. Cocks crow distantly below our
feet. The road that leads behind the little hillock stretches clear and
white from out the narrow pass on our left hand. There is no sign or
trace of the convoy that trekked along it yesternight, save a couple of
black specks very far away that may be dead oxen.

They have all gone apparently--gone again as always. We march, and
march, and march day after day, week after week, and we never come to
handgrips with our wily foe. Will they ever stand and fight us? Will
they ever give us the chance we want so badly of bringing the war to an
end in one grand death-grip? Are we always to trek, trek, trek till the
Day of Judgment, and never catch and close with them? Will they defend
the city?

What a joke it would be to shell Johannesburg! From all accounts it
would be a glorious place to wreck. And then--the loot. Think of it, you
who own it--how would it be if we, the saviours of your dividends, had
had to blast your assets with common shell. Our stars--but it would have
been funny! Mayfair, Rondebosch, Durban, Delagoa--how you would have
squirmed as you read. It would well-nigh have been as comfortable for
you in the cold veldt, where you would, at least, have had the
distraction of doing, as to be biting your nails and fuming impotently
over the wires that told of your stores, and banks, and suburbs under
the blighting influence of the Four-point-Sevens.

The sun rose higher. Up on the ridge the wind that blew all night had
stopped the frost, but down in the sheltered shadow of the hills it
covered the grass in great patches like thin snow. The cold breeze had
died away at dawn, and now, though still bitterly raw to half-starved
men, the day was slowly brightening and mellowing in the golden sunlight.

They were strange figures that huddled amongst the rocks. Unshaven,
dirty, wolfish faces looked grimly out from woollen caps and mufflers as
the tired men sat in their blue-black overcoats, with the great collars
sticking up about their ears, carbines resting across knees, the thin
reek of disreputable pipes tingeing the clear air.

Last night had been supperless. No one knew where the Brigade might be,
save that it had halted somewhere behind in yesterday's valley. We could
not see back to overlook it because the ridge was flat on top, and wide
ere it fell away. The horses had remained at the foot with their holders
all night. We had had no blankets, nothing to eat or drink, and there
was going to be no breakfast. The day was bright enough, and the sky
blue, and the view magnificent--but how may you appreciate a fine day,
and an azure sky, and a glorious prospect when there is nothing in your
inside but a hollow?

A man came up on the ridge who said we were to rejoin the Brigade and
draw more ammunition. Had he mentioned biscuits or bully-beef he would
have been appreciated and popular. As it was, the message he brought got
him disliked. We had emptied our bandoliers into the convoy last
evening, so that the order to replenish them out of the ammunition-cart
hardly augured anything out of the common.

We gathered up haversacks and water-bottles, and wended our weak way
down the slope to where the poor limp horses and the profane
horse-holders hung their heads and cursed the cold night respectively.

The Brigade had camped below the ridge. The Fourth were across the
valley, upon the other side of the pass, and Hutton's Mounted Infantry
were tumbling along with their guns from behind. The long train of
transport-waggons toiled up the valley.

When the little packets had been untied, and the slim cartridges stowed
away in the bandoliers, we mounted and rode back to a farmhouse in the
rear, where there was a dam, in order to water the horses. There was
absolutely nothing left at that farm except some hay, which a foraging
Cornstalk had discovered in a loft--hundreds of bundles of it. Fowls,
pigs, sheep--everything--had been eaten up over night; so we watered our
horses, and strapped two bundles of hay apiece to the rear of the
saddles, and rode back to the Brigade, which was forming up to march.

Down through the narrow road between the hills the dingy column rolled
heavily in the dust. Sweating engineers threw gravel and rocks into the
ruts and ditches so that the jolting guns might pass by. Dragoons,
Hussars, Cornstalks, Canadians chaffed, and spat, and smoked by the
roadside. The cloud of fine white dust rose high into the air. If there
were any Boers watching from the Berg they would know, without doubt,
that the khakis were coming.

At the foot of the steep hills some sort of order evolved itself from
chaos. Batteries pieced themselves together again. Harassed mules drew
bumping Scotch carts to their rightful regiments. Troops, and squadrons,
and regiments and brigades reformed.

The Fourth Brigade drew away to the left, and rode to find a
crossing-place higher up the river. We went on down the road, past the
hillock where the dead trek-oxen lay, and a little pool of dried blood
had congealed by the side of the track--past a white house, and a
garden, and a store on to a short wooden bridge that led across the
little stream, and where the column narrowed into 'files' and crossed
more slowly, the scouts spreading out and galloping over the plains
beyond the farther bank.

The trees along the river were beautiful weeping willows, shady elms and
great Cape-mulberries. Then the flat extended before us--waving grass
that shone as a wheat-field in the morning sunlight--and stretched away
to a low line of rocky kopjes immediately in front, and a short two
miles away, sweeping round the left extremity of the tiny range and on
up into low rolling ridges. Beyond the line of rocks towards which we
moved there was another and a higher series, separated from the first by
a gently rising plain. Beyond them, again, rose taller hills, and from
their midst the great blue Berg dominated all, and seemed to frown upon
us as we came riding over the plain.

The quiet glory of a divine day rested over everything. Doves cooed
musically in the river timber, one red-brick house to the left nestled
in a bend. Six tall poplars grew before it, bare and leafless now. The
inevitable white flag flew from a chimney.

As we left the bridge and the river we spread out across the plain in
long lines twenty yards apart. Each man was fifty from his right and
left hand neighbour. Something was in the wind, but no one knew what.
Perhaps Johnny French had known, and that was why we extended so rapidly
to the most open of open order as we came on to the wide plain.

Until the guns open you never know that you are going into battle. So
many times were the usual precautions against surprise taken by the
leaders, and so many times did emptiness of event characterise the day's
operations, that we had begun to be sceptical as to whether 'opening
out' really meant anything or not--whether all preparation for possible
combat were not, after all, a mere matter of form. There were, of
course, signs and omens that might point to an engagement, as, for
instance, when the 'Pick-me-ups' (ambulance waggons) followed close up
to the firing line. But, as a rule, it was never safe to prophesy an
action until the first Boer shell came howling overhead. Brer' Boer was
so very much an adept at lyin' low an' sayin' nuffin' until the time
came when he considered he might say it with most effect, that it
frequently came about that you were in the midst of a hot fire although,
half an hour before, you would have readily betted against any
possibility of such an eventuality. And, just as frequently, after you
had been cautiously 'feeling' some 'dirty' country for half an afternoon
you would find that he was not there.

You are half across the plain now--riding loosely and carelessly through
the rich grass, the hungry horses reaching greedily for a mouthful of it
every now and then. The black dots of scouts have reached and passed the
first line of rocks. They are in the little strip of open country
between that ridge and the next.


"Hullo! what's that?" you ask yourself aloud, at the same time gathering
up the loose reins and pulling your horse together. All eyes are
straining after the specks that move across the open, but, as you ride
forward, the ridge in front just hides them.

Ping-pong! ping-pong! ping, ping, ping-pong! pong,
pong--p-r-r-r-r-r-mp!--pingpong! ping-pong! It is the overture. A
running, ripping, far away crashing of rifle-fire comes from the second
ridges. You cannot see the scouts, but you know how they are racing.
They are getting it 'pretty hot,' and somehow it seems to you rather

Ah! Now it is our turn.

Far away, on the left shoulder of the great Berg, a little white cloud,
wonderfully clear and distinct, has risen into the blue sky. You have
seen it before--that beautiful, white, woolly cloud.

For a long time nothing seems to come of it. Five, ten, fifteen seconds
slip by and the day is just as still, and calm, and beautiful as before.
Twenty seconds--and a deep, solemn, reverberating 'boom-m' trembles
through the clear air.

"It's close now. Is the dam thing coming my way?"

The great Creusot shell suddenly whistles and howls high overhead, and,
almost as soon as you have heard it in the air, it bursts with a
thunderous, sudden 'bang!' that cuts short its devilish song, throwing
up a great column of dust and dirt and stones behind you, and seeming to
blow a man and a horse who are near it into a thousand pieces. Almost
before the dust and blue smoke and smell of powder have drifted away you
see that man pulling his astonished charger on to its feet again! The
long lines of horse-men move slowly over the plain.

It is the first note of an infernal symphony which is to be played all

Again the solemn 'boom-m'--but this time from another place, and with no
white cloud. Again the shrieking flutter in the sky, and again the
crashing burst and flying stones--away to your left.

Still the steady lines move forward.

From the Berg the white tuft of smoke once more drifts up, slowly and
peacefully, into the blueness. This time you count the seconds
carefully. Between 'nineteen' and 'twenty' the great gun booms out its
note to you.

There are no sound symbols to express that rushing, howling, whining
whir-r-r, as the ninety-six pounds of destructiveness cleave their
rapid, invisible way through the air--but it is a sound which you will
never confuse with any other in your life.

The abrupt explosion again cuts it short. This one bursts just short of
the leading line. You rapidly reckon up the range. Twenty seconds
divided by five gives four. Roughly, you are four miles away from the
black-powder Creusot. It is somewhere about seven thousand yards.

Good shooting! They have put in one just too far and another just too
short. The next ought to do something.

Two more hurtling shots from the invisible Long Toms dig harmless holes
in the veldt to left and right.

The whole plain is full of horsemen now. They come on--quietly, ordered,
slow--towards the rocks. It is the wonder of discipline. Nobody enjoys
being shelled. Every one would rather be somewhere else. It is no
'picnic' to behold sudden death arriving by the hundredweight. Hardest
of all is it to walk your nervous horse, and to keep the intervals and
'dressing' of the open ranks so that you do not bunch. But just because
that cool Colonel--who is as a gentle old lady in camp--gives no order
and makes no sign you ride forward, a better man than in all your life
before, because you have learned your lesson of blind obedience, even
unto Death.

Some squadrons edge over to the open ground on the left that passes by
the end of the ridge. We are evidently going to occupy those rocks.

The Berg puffs its smoke into the sky once again. Again the long
waiting. Again the weird scream--and then--b-r-rump! bang!--the shell
plumps right into the midst of the moving swarm of horsemen, a hundred
yards to your right front and close beside a horse. Through the drifting
dust and dull smoke you see him lifted off his legs backwards and thrown
to the ground across his rider. You notice that a hind leg kicks
feebly--once, twice--and is still. The man's head and shoulders are
towards you. His left hand neighbour digs in the spurs, gallops suddenly
to where the lifeless heap of man and horse lies in the grass beside a
great new hole, and dismounts and bends over the stricken pair.

Suddenly his hand goes up, and he seems to have called, for another man
races to the spot. Together they drag, and pull, and shove--and, ere you
are past, one of them is supporting a reeling, drunken, limp-legged
figure who is, mirabile dictu, yet alive--though he himself does not
seem quite certain of the fact. He staggers back on foot, his comrades'
arms about his shoulders, and sits down on the ground with his dazed
head in his hands.

The fear of God is in your heart, but still you ride slowly forward.

From somewhere in the second line of rocks a new note reaches you. It is
closer and louder, and so close that you are able to see the faint
vapour of each discharge slowly curling above the bushes. Almost as soon
as the sound of it, comes another rending 'bang' in the air above, and a
beautiful cloudlet forms itself out of nothing and sends a sudden rush
of screeching shrapnel bullets tearing up the dust--just where no one
happens to be.

The three great guns in the background are dropping their ponderous
missiles all about the flat now. The air is full of their rushing
flight. One of them has discovered a Horse Battery as it comes out from
the river across the flat behind us. It is galloping 'for all it is
worth,' and the great shells drop closer and closer each time, seeming
to cover it with dust, but not to check it.

That Battery Commander knows what he is about. The Red-Books teach him
to bring his guns out in a clump, affording thereby an excellent target
for Long Tom, instead of sneaking them one by one into position. But he
zig-zags this way and that, to left and right, across the plain,
dodging, as it were, the range of the big fellows in the Berg.

Bang!--sudden, quick--in the rank ahead of you, right at a horse's head!

In the flash and roar of the bursting shell, you see the stricken man
throw out his arms. As the horse rears backward he comes to the ground
clear of him, and lies spread-eagled with limbs outstretched, and
blackened, bleeding face staring dumbly into the smiling heavens.

God!--it was sudden. His brother is beside him, lifting a white,
horror-stricken face, as he holds the battered head upon his knees.

"Come on, you fellows; never mind that man," cries the troop-leader,
trotting back to where you pause like a crowd at a street accident. You
ride slowly past the dead man. It makes you feel bad inside, but wild to
rush the fifteen-pounder on the second ridge which did the work.

Now, from its left, comes a sound you had been expecting.
Pom-pom-pom-pompom-pom-pom-pom--like an even succession of heavy strokes
upon a drum. Horridly screaming past, the little devils go ripping
through the lines of horsemen, knocking the dust up all about, but doing
no damage--crack-crack-crack-crackcrack-crack-crack-crack!

As the ridge draws closer the din becomes terrific. The great cannon by
the Berg boom out their solemn notes unceasingly, and their terrible
missiles keep on dropping all about the plain, throwing up huge red
spouts of dust and dirt like miniature volcanoes in eruption. From a
closer range five or six lighter pieces of artillery shell the ground
energetically to our left, as the greater part of the troops on the
plain edge that way. There is a continual screaming, rushing noise that
fills all the sky. The day shakes and trembles with the Titanic crashing
sounds. All the devils of hell are loose about the world.

As we halt below the ridge the Berg sends a messenger to the left
extremity of the rocks. It lands where they join the alluvial. Such
heaps of flying stones and clods of earth spin up from where it strikes
as to make you feel that the kopje is in danger of falling down.

The pom-pom in front is turning its attention to the right now, where a
regiment of Canadians are stretching at a gallop to seize the flank of
the ridge we occupy. The fifteen-pounder sends a message to us to quit,
but it flies overhead low down and bursts behind the horses. This little
gun means to give some trouble.

Dismounted, with carbines--we are crouching in the rocks and grass,
spread out all along the ridge. The plain stretches grassy and fair
before us to where that horrid gun works just beyond our reach. Its
almost invisible haze shows faintly among the bushes. Another shell
comes and bursts in the air lower down--a hundred yards too short--and
tears the ground with shrapnel. We seem to be in for a warm time of it
if we stay here. Another shot, and they will have our range accurately,
and will pepper us.

But suddenly the quick, loud crack of cordite seems to burst in our very
ears. Something roars overhead. A little tuft of smoke lifts above the
opposite ridge some way beyond the Boer gun. Our own batteries are
coming into action behind. We are between two fires. Long Tom howls over
us at the battery, the battery spits at the fifteen-pounder within its
reach. They lose no time.

Our vis-à-vis bursts a shell in the rocks, and a flying stone breaks a
man's arm. Quickly again comes the smack of the cordite--and again, and
again, in rapid succession.

There is a rushing wind above our heads, a diminishing roar as they
cross the flat, and the three shells seem to land right on the Boer gun.
He does not speak any more--at least, not from that position.

Heavens above! but it is good to hear the bark of our own little guns.
They are little and light, but there are none in all the world so well
served as those of the R.H.A. They snap and snarl at the great baying
Long Tom just as a terrier baits a mastiff, and they work in under his
far-reaching fire, and discomfort his gunners with shrapnel in the most
impudent way conceivable.

The battery behind continues to shell the ridge over our heads for a
little time longer. They search it with 'shrapnel,' and knock the rocks
about with 'common,' and generally seem to inflict discomfort on its
occupants. We seem to be the focus of all the sounds of war.

The battery draws all the fire from Long Tom. The shells seem to burst
between the guns. They set fire to the grass. The battery limbers-up,
and presently opens for a new place. A squadron of mounted infantry
comes out of the river and rides back and forward to draw Long Tom's
attention from the battery as it changes ground.

Great columns of smoke veil the hills behind as the fires amongst the
grass spread rapidly, leaving black patches upon the veldt.


All the fight is upon our left hand now. The great cannon of the Berg
send their plunging missiles into the soft veldt soil where no one is.
They seem to be making gravel-pits.

Assuredly, we are shelved for the day in these rocks. The Brigades are
over there, trying to edge round the enemy's right flank; but they are
getting a warm reception. Since the fifteen-pounder has become silent
our end of the ridge has remained unmolested.

Not so on the right. Ther is a rolling crash of rifle-fire, and there
had been the horrid barking of the Boer pom-pom, half a mile from us.
The Canadians are being wiped off the face of the kopje, apparently.

But only 'apparently'. In reality, the 'boys' are skilfully 'verneuking'
those past masters of 'verneukery'--the Johannesburg Police. We did not
hear of it until several nights afterward, but it was very neat.

Opposite the end of the ridge where the Canadians were a large commando
of Boers occupied a closer-sweeping spur of 'Fifteen-pounder Ridge,'
well within rifle range. For an hour or more both sides had steadily
exchanged shots. The Boers had brought up a pom-pom, and for a time,
until silenced by a section of a Horse Battery which had crept up unseen
from the river, had worried the Canadians over-much. It was evident that
the Boers greatly coveted the position of the latter, and meant to have
it if such were possible.

Then the O.C. Canadians did a clever thing. Suddenly calling upon his
men to retire, and causing them to mount their horses behind the
kopje--the while they cursed him fervently for a coward below their
breaths--he galloped his regiment along the rear of the ridge, so that
they passed between a gap in it and a smaller elevation behind, and must
have seemed to the Boers to be in full and hurried retreat. Once past
the gap, he wheeled them quickly behind the little isolated hill that
faced it, and waited there ten minutes. A single remaining subaltern
watched with his field-glasses from the rocks whence they had come.

Five, six, seven, ten minutes--the Boers kept up a hailing fire upon the
ridge, to which there was no reply. They had seen the Canadians stand up
to retire, and then ride past the gap, and by now must have felt that
the desired position was theirs for the taking. So out they came into
the open--a wildly galloping mob of several hundred horsemen. From
behind a boulder the sub. waved his pocket-handkerchief.

Now was the chance of the 'darned ol' Colonel'. Back they went at a
gallop to the kopje. The lieutenant upon its top was signalling
frantically from his rock. The racing Boers were half across the open.

Up through the rocks swarmed the eager regiment. Below the crest they
halted, and, following the example of their commander and his officers,
stole forward cautiously on hands and knees to the edge that overlooked
the plain. Great boulders, and grass, and bushes shielded them from
sight. They spread about the top, and laid their cartridges out in
convenient heaps, and adjusted sights and elbow-rests. They were to do
the thing in style this time.

On and on swept the excited Boers. Oh! but it must have been grand to
see the Zarps--the tricky, slim, patrol-getting Zarps, to whom we all
owed so much that we wished to repay--riding witlessly into Gehenna. No
one fired a shot at them--the Colonel was to judge how close they should
come. Nothing was to be done but keep on fixing the sights as the range
altered and decreased. It would be a little Bunker's Hill.

At five hundred yards the noise of the thundering hoofs was plain and
loud. At four, they were racing for who should be first into the coveted
position whence might be raked the whole ridge. It must have been
exciting for the Canadians.

On--on--on to three hundred. A fine man on a grey pony led the van, his
great beard flowing back against his chest. Now and then he waved his
rifle overhead and yelled. It was the Dutch equivalent to a cavalry

Two hundred yards away and they still galloped. The murderous blue
barrels of the Lee-Metfords poked out amongst the rocks. Keen eyes were
glancing along the steady barrels. Strong hands held men's lives in the
twitching of dirty forefingers.

A rifle cracked from the middle of the kopje, and the black-bearded
leader left his saddle with startling sudden limpness, and was merely a
bleeding heap of clothing in the grass.

Then--what a hell it must have been amongst the Boers; such a hell as
they had so often loosed on us, such a hell as must have been at
Magersfontein, and amongst the guns at Colenso. For all its length the
kopje cracked out smokeless, flameless death. Half a dozen saddles
emptied themselves, and as many horses kicked, crippled, in the grass.

On they came still, for twenty yards or so, and many more fell ere they
had all turned and were racing back for their lives, leaving a wake of
dead and wounded behind them as they fled. Five, six, seven, eight
hundred yards, and the little spirts of dust still splashed between the
reeling horses. A thousand--and two rounds of shrapnel caught them up
and hastened their scurry into the rocks and bushes. Back from the
shelter of the bushes came a patter of bullets amongst the Canadians.

The two British guns behind plentifully scattered favours amongst the
rocks whither the discomfited Boers had betaken themselves, and
presently their fire died away. Forty of them were killed and wounded
and made prisoners. Truly, the 'slim' Zarp had met a 'slimmer' than

Without pause the great guns had boomed all through the forenoon, and at
mid-day the air still trembled with their vibration. We knew nothing of
what was going on elsewhere.

A shining, dancing shimmer of mirage hid the veldt to the left. A great
voice came from the placid lake, and where the Creusot shells dropped
into its glittering bosom dust and gravel splashed up instead of water.
Our own guns were barking from the mirage, but although they may have
done good work in silencing the cannon of smaller calibre which were
shelling from a closer range they could not approach Long Tom. It was
cruelly galling to have to receive all his remarks, without having any
chance of joining in the argument.

Nevertheless, the work of the Royal Horse Artillery, as always, was the
most excellent thing about the day's operations. Often and often whole
batteries sneaked in under the long range of the big fellow--zig-zagging
to and fro, literally dodging the heavy projectiles he pelted at
them--and burst their little shrapnel in the air above, so that the
Dutch gunners found it all too hot about the breeches, and more
expedient for the time being to rest under cover at a distance. But
whilst one was temporarily out of action, the others would concentrate
their fire, and by sheer weight of metal compel the withdrawal of the
plucky twelve-pounders and their intrepid gunners.

And here it may not be amiss to remark, that of all branches of the
Imperial army none struck the amateur soldier as being so worthy of
praise and appreciation as the Royal Artillery. On the whole, the
'regulars' were a disappointment. It seemed to most of us that the army
lacked in every essential that was to be effective in such wars as the
present, save one or two. It was brave--that went without saying and as
a matter of course. It was well drilled--but what did all its training
count for here; or what will it count for in the future? It had found
'Brown Bess' very useful in the past; it had done much with the
muzzle-loading rifle. Earlier still, it had distinguished itself with
spears and bows and arrows. It had used swords with much effect in the
days when ranges were numbered, both for cannon and small arms, by the
lower hundreds, instead of thousands, of yards. And it clung to the
tradition of the smooth-bore and the sabre, even whilst it used the
breech-loading gun and the magazine rifle. Because it had found volleys
effective against, say, ten thousand men who covered a front of five
hundred yards and had a depth in formation of not very many more, it
clung to them affectionately in cases where five hundred men extended
over a front of ten thousand yards, and had no depth at all. And it made
many kinds of a fool of itself on many separate occasions simply by its
slavish adherence to systems that nowadays are effective nowhere but on
the melodramatic stage.

But the gunners--they were good, good beyond all question or doubt.
They, too, had their ancient drill to hamper their mobility and
movement. They, too, had the traditions that bands playing into action
represent. The heavy harness, the useless kit, the blundering methods of
transport were theirs as much as the Cavalry's and Infantry's. But they
knew how to use their weapons, and no amount of discouragement ever
affected their effectiveness. To silence a British gun you must kill its
gunners; even to interfere with the carrying out of its work in any
degree at all you must, at the very least, wound half its crew. The
Artillery were brave, cool, self-sacrificing, level-headed, disciplined,
devoted--altogether admirable. The last word sums them up in toto--they
were 'admirable'. Only--their guns might have been better.

Of the Field Artillery we, of French's Division, were unable to judge.
One had only heard the booming of their distant guns; but, if they be
but one-half so efficient, brave and skilful as their brethren of the
Royal Horse, they must come near to being the second 'crack' corps of
the British army.

Noon passed. There was nothing to eat. The horses had had the bundles of
hay, which they 'wolfed' ravenously, but we had only a couple of holes
in our belts--a diet which is by no means sustaining. The guns and
pom-poms dinned as loudly as ever, and, occasionally, there was a faint,
fierce crackle of rifle-fire far on the left. The mirage had faded away
by one o'clock.

Two o'clock--and we lay sleeping in the warm sunlight upon the ridge.
Officers strolled about chatting to one another, and looking through
glasses at the distant bodies of troops manoeuvring in the
haze-enveloped veldt. Below the ridge, the worn horses dozed dejectedly.
We seemed to have become mere spectators in the 'Theatre of War'.

But, at half-past three, there came a diversion. In the rising plain
that lay between our position and the opposite ledge of rocks was a
shallow spruit--a mere depression. It led out from the hills, and lost
itself in the veldt. The rocks and scrub where the Boers had had their
troublesome fifteen-pounder earlier in the day were beyond our
rifle-range. It was the same series of little hills from which the
Johannesburg Police had made their fatal raid, but, at our end, was much
much further away than where it faced the Canadians. We knew that we
were safe from rifle-fire delivered from the rocks, but the depression
in the veldt had not been reckoned with.

A lengthy trooper sat smoking on a rock. For the time being he had
ceased to be a trooper with a regimental number. He had become a
general--and a very 'swagger' general too. From time to time he removed
the pipe from his lips, and made caustic comment on the British army and
the leaders thereof. Six feet two, straight-backed, broad-shouldered,
bronzed and long of limb--sitting there in the sunlight, he struck one
as a picture of youthful grace and masculine beauty of form and figure
impossible to match. A stubbly growth of beard clouded his strong jaw.
The dark shadow of the helmet-peak lay across his eyes and brow in a
sharp, black line. His carbine was beside him on the rock. One felt
almost proud that the Western Plains could produce so perfect a specimen
of glowing manhood. Perched up there against the sky-line, he was a
goodly thing to look at. And some Dutch sharpshooter found him an
equally goodly thing to shoot at from the spruit.

He said--what he said does not matter. It had no possible reference to
the scenery, or himself, or any other person on earth. But the way he
said it made it mean a great deal.

There was a furrow cut across his shoulders from left to right. His
jacket was ruined, and his back grooved with a scar, which will only
fade as he decomposes finally.

"Damned inconvenient," he remarked as an after-thought. No doubt it was.

The Mausers rumbled in the spruit--the Mauser bullets cracked and
splashed about the rocks where we were and whined plaintively in the

It was startling--but we knew the range of the spruit, and although the
best that we could see was an occasional crouching figure or a peeping
head, and the distance was a good thousand yards, we set to to make it
too warm for them to lie in. They had themselves similar intentions as
to our kopje.

Everybody lay now behind the most convenient rock. From the whole three
squadrons a crackling din of cordite ripped amongst the stones. The two
English squadrons fired precise and admirable volleys. The Cornstalk one
fired as its individual members thought fit. The so-called 'explosive'
bullets cracked like little whips, as they struck near by where you lay.

It is a weird, blood-chilling sound when you hear it for the first
time--the whistling of those little deaths in the still air. Not exactly
a whistle is it either--something between that and a whir-r, but very
business-like and brisk. At first you think that every second of time
will be your last upon earth. A bullet flicks your ear, and you make up
your mind to take the next one as bravely as may be, and fully expect it
to come quickly. Death--sudden, and sure, and bloody--seems inevitable,
and, in your heart of hearts, you are afraid--terribly, wofully,
loathsomely afraid.

But Death passes overhead, or spits in the dust beside you; and
by-and-bye you become familiar with him, and find out that he is not
such a bad fellow at all--not nearly so keen on getting you as you had
imagined him to be. And you become a fatalist--a mere unthinking
fatalist. If you are to 'stop one,' one will be stopped by your body. If
you are to come out scatheless you will do so. In the meantime, your
life will be much pleasanter if you don't worry over your chances.

This is a kind of courage. You know that there is danger in those
whining voices. You quite realise that the next moment may be your last;
but a little custom causes you to regard it all philosophically, and,
although to most men being under fire is never a pleasant matter, it
becomes an in no wise serious one.

Some there are who have never known what fear is--but they are creatures
deficient in nervous organisation, who lack a primary instinct, and who,
not knowing what it is to be slavishly afraid, can never rise to the
height of overcoming themselves, and doing their duty in spite of the
most awful trial to which the mind of man may be subjected whilst he
holds his reason.

The cracking bullets continue to smite the rocks viciously. The air
still hums with those that pass by. Far down the line you see, as you
load, two Englishmen carrying away a limp comrade by his head and heels.
No one seems to be 'stopping one' in your vicinity.

But for the pointed rifles and the noise there is nothing visible to
indicate a fight--that is to say, nothing that you might photograph.
The flying splashes of dust alone show where the enemy's bullets are
hitting. Each time you fire there is only a very blue haze in front of
your rifle-barrel--so faint that you cannot see it before the rifle of
the next man to you.

Over the rocks behind come sweating men carrying a Maxim in their arms.
One has the gun itself, another the tripod, others the grey boxes of
belted ammunition. A clean-shaven youth directs them.

They pass through the firing-line, and go half-way down the front of the
little ridge. Here they set up their pretty toy as coolly as though they
were merely a party of surveyors erecting a theodolite to run a line.
Some one adjusts a belt of cartridges.

The bullets spit all round them and in between the legs of the tripod
and the feet of the sergeant who is laying the gun. The languid officer
walks up and down behind, holding a pair of field-glasses, a lighted
cigarette between his lips, and issuing quiet orders in a voice
indicative rather of boredom than of anything else.

Tat-tat-tat-tat!--all in one breath, but each discharge distinct and
clear, and of a note exactly similar to the one preceding it--the
sergeant tries a 'sighter'. The lieutenant raises his glasses.

The Boers must be lying low along the edge of the depression nearest us
to fire. It is not deep enough to shelter them as they walk about.

"Try nine hundred," says the officer.

Tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat!--obediently replies the Maxim.

"Too short; make it a thousand."
Tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat--into one long volume of
speedy firing, the little gun raps out its stream of bullets--four
hundred to the minute. The empty cartridge-cases, flying from the breech
in a continuous stream too swift to see, tinkle on the ground
ceaselessly. The belt empties itself--the spitting tube ceases its
energetic babble for a moment or two, as a new belt is fitted on; then
begins again. The sergeant sweeps the barrel about, pauses, tries new
ranges--handles the gun as one who knows its every whim. He is a fine
cool man that sergeant, and a very handsome one. Under the hailing
nickel he sits and works that invaluable weapon deliberately, steadily,
competently. He is the very centre of a little dust-storm raised by the
pelting bullets. The Boers are making a target of the gun. Yet he is
never scratched. One of the detachment is shot through the chest as he
bends over a box of cartridge-belts. He sits in the grass, coughing out
his lungs.

There is something brisk and inspiriting about the cheerful tapping of a
Maxim in action. It has the air of one who says, "Keep it going, lads.
Keep it going--we're knocking spots out of them!"

The edge of the depression from which the Boers had opened fire must
have been a 'warm' spot under that pouring torrent of bullets, both from
the machine gun and the carbines of the three squadrons. Under their
combined influence the Boer fire slackened and died away gradually, a
few lone whistles in the air, long after the main body must have
evacuated the spruit, telling of the few brave men who were the last to
leave--the Commandant and Field Cornets probably, staying behind after
the men had refused to face it longer, to fire a parting shot or two at
the hated English, in bitterness of soul and disappointment. It must be
a hard thing for a gallant man, ready to sacrifice his own
life--nominally commanding troops who have such liberty to use their own
discretion as the Boer armies had--to contain his soul in comfort when
his men refuse to carry out his orders.

We are left in peace again. The damage with us is slight--one man's coat
ripped, and one man with a bullet through his forearm--but down the
ridge one can see a doctor hurrying from heap to heap, and a few limp
forms being carried down to the foot of the ridge. Their position was
more exposed and less adapted to taking cover than was ours. Also, they
probably did not possess quite such an aptitude for 'taking cover' as
the Cornstalks.

The man of the Maxim detachment who was wounded ten minutes ago is dead.
He lies face downward in the grass, with his head resting on his folded
arms and one leg crossed over the other--just as though asleep. Some one
rolls him over to feel his heart. His eyes are half closed, and he is
smiling through a hideous slobber of blood about the mouth. In his chest
is a tiny hole, but in his back--a gaping, spongy rent. The kind of
wound the soft-nose makes.

They buried him presently behind the ridge; and the ground was so hard
that they could only dig the grave eighteen inches deep. So they had to
pile stones above him. A friend belonging to the gun detachment had
laconically remarked: "Puir old Jock--he wasna' a bad bloke". That was
his obituary; and, if you come to think of it, you and I will not have
done so badly if some one can say that of us when our time has come.

It was four o'clock now, and the sun was getting low. The silly convoy
was crossing the river behind us, and coming over the plain after the
Division. That is just the senseless way of convoys--they never know
that there are any shells to be drawn until one lands in an
ammunition-waggon. It is very amusing to see a convoy getting shelled.
We watched anxiously from the ridge in expectation of some

The fighting was all very far to the left front now. The Division seemed
to have been trying to sneak round the right flank of the Boer position
all day. At one time, by pushing the Horse Batteries up under the fire
of Long Tom, they had succeeded in silencing one of the great bullies;
but the other two had spoken with such good effect that the batteries
had been compelled to withdraw to a safer distance, and our friend of
the tufting smoke, who had been also temporarily withdrawn, came back
again and sang his song as merrily as ever.

It was an extraordinary sight that we beheld from our ridge late in the
afternoon. The main part of the three brigades were massed upon a
slope--or seeming to be massed--three miles away. In front of them, and
hopelessly outranged, were the little 'twelve-pounders,' vainly replying
to the big guns of the Boers. All the time the huge shells were dropping
amongst our fellows, throwing up great spouting splashes of red dust
plainly visible from where we stood. The far away boom of the cannon was
ceaseless, regular, ominous. And it seemed to us that the slaughter in
the Division must be awful. But it was not so. All the afternoon--we
learned next day--they had had but two men killed and some twenty

Ah! Long Tom had espied the convoy. The shell burst close beside the
line of waggons. The column of transport halted as if undecided what to
do or how to do it. Another great burst seemed to tear up the veldt,
even in the midst of all the crowded waggons. From our far-off position
we could hear demoniac yells and screaming of the Kaffir drivers and the
volleying creaking of their whips.

Another explosion just beyond the line. All seemed to be in a hopeless
confusion, but at last we could see that the teams were turning about
and beginning to literally race back over the way they had come. Of
course it was all they could do.

But, vividly as one might realise how very unpleasant a thing it must be
to drive a waggon with those howling hundred-pounders dropping all
about, one could not help laughing at the way in which the Kaffirs
bestirred themselves to reach a safer position. The long string of carts
and waggons had come crawling up from the river, as though protesting
against being dragged along until so late an hour in the day--the very
slowness of their march seeming to say, "See how tired we are!" Now,
their teams galloped. It was a scurry back to safety. They had barely
come within the range of the big gun when he opened on them, but the
first half-mile of their retirement was as a chariot race.

Right up to dark the Division clung to its uncomfortable position. The
cannon on the Berg boomed without pause. As the red sun went down behind
the purple hills, and the short twilight merged into darkness, the
flashes of their guns and ours were distinct and clear, and the quick
flame of the bursting shells looked like a mammoth firework display.
Shrapnel crashing in the darkness has a very fine effect. You see the
flash of the gun, sudden and quick, as it is fired; then, as the
'boom-m' comes to you, the shell explodes in the black sky like a great
cracker flung high aloft. A pom-pom winks as a signal-lamp, and the
little shells striking on the ground are a series of sharp bursts of

At dusk the two Cavalry Brigades retired across the river. One by one
the great guns ceased to fire. Last of all to stop work was the
energetic pom-pom.

Hutton's Brigade stayed to hold the position. We rode back--tired,
dejected, hungry--unable to comprehend it all, and believing, though
none liked to say it, that we had at last sustained a reverse.

However, it was not a reverse. We did not know until next day that we
had simply been keeping Louis Botha and his guns employed whilst Lord
Roberts came to Elandsfontein and threatened Johannesburg.

In the camp that night no one was noticeably cheerful. But there was an
issue of bully-beef and biscuits, and to men who had fasted and worked
hard for more than thirty hours on end, these delicacies were more
acceptable than would have been the finest dishes gourmand ever dreamed

So we lay down to rest--battle-stained, weary and unreflective. The cold
night closed over the camps by river and Berg. The blessed sleep and
rest came welcomely alike to Boer, and Briton, and Tommy Cornstalk.

All the following morning, when we had returned to our places, we drew
their steady artillery-fire; but at noon came Ian Hamilton with many men
and, best sight of all, his two great 'cow-guns'--six-inch naval giants
drawn by thirty-two bullocks apiece, and having another thirty-two to
each timber. Four rounds from them and Long Tom was silently employed in
getting himself down to the threatened railway, as were also his
brethren of the other positions.


So much has been said, so much written in magazines and newspapers upon
the hospital arrangements in South Africa during the war that one may
well hesitate before venturing to criticise, or even to speak of one's
experiences in, the Military Hospitals. Members of the Commons have
risen up and made statements, to which Generals and heads of departments
have made quite opposite statements in reply. Civilians and Soldiers,
Society Women and Clergymen, have all argued so much, in this way and in
that, upon the good and bad points of the whole Army Medical
organisation, that a mere Cornstalk Tommy may well ask pardon for
diffidence in approaching a subject upon which the fierce glare of
public criticism has, on the whole, shone so adversely. It is a cowardly
thing 'to kick a man when he is down'. And nothing in the world has ever
been so 'down' in the public estimation as the medical arrangements in
South Africa.

In all matters where sins of omission may be charged to the defaulters'
sheet of the powers that be, there will always be found ready listeners
to any tale of wrong. If you throw enough mud some of it is sure to
stick. If you wish to advertise yourself, there is no better or safer
way of doing so than by attacking somebody who may not hit back.

One would like best to have written of life in the hospitals as a new
experience, as a state of being with which one's readers are not
familiar. Life in an hospital ward would present as varied and
picturesque sides as in the bivouac and battle. The strange wounds, the
queer diseases, the grisly deaths--would all go to form a narrative as
interesting, as many-sided, as harrowing or ennobling as the most
vividly recounted tale of march and fight. There are stories of as great
a heroism amongst the men and women who wrestled with the fierce
pestilence of Bloemfontein, Kroonstad and Pretoria, and who laid down
their worn-out lives in the disgusting atmosphere of lazarette
surroundings, as there are of those who died in open veldt from bullet
and shell. There are stories, too, of as great wickedness, as bad and
evil affairs as one may ever shudder to hear. Whispered tales, many of
them, that you hear as you walk about the lines of marquee tents, in the
ships coming home, in divers places where you meet the men who know and
have no object in lying. There is good to be told, and evil to be told.
There is much that, for the credit of all concerned, should know the
light, and very much that, for utter shame of telling, should never in
all the after time be spoken.

There is a temptation to air one's views, to grow prolix regarding the
manner in which men should have been tended--to suggest, to point out,
to dabble in matters which none but professional men may properly
comprehend. It is 'cheap' and easy to criticise; it is difficult to have
sympathy with a popularly abused state of affairs--to extenuate, to
excuse. One desires, of course, to speak without bias or ill-feeling and
to suggest, from experience of the actual working of the system, how it
may be improved. But the lay ignorance of cause and effect, of undoubted
difficulties in transport and supply, and of the circumstances
generally, together with the wanton and ignorant manner in which the law
has been laid down by all and sundry compel one, in simple fairness to
those who may be responsible, to refrain from all but the most
deliberate and well-advised statement.

One would, for instance, have the pleasant feeling of doing a public
service were one to propose in print that the Royal Army Medical Corps
should be better paid than it is. One might point out that the ranking
of doctors according to military usage is a pernicious and ill-advised
system. It would be delightful to demonstrate that the scum of England
are not the class from which tender and devoted nurses of fever patients
can be reasonably expected to be drawn. It would be gratifying to show
that the equipment of the Peninsular period should give place to that of
the finde-siècle, state-aided establishment; that amputations and liver
pills are not the justifiable curealls that army doctors might be
supposed to consider them to be in all surgical and medical cases. In
short, it would be the easiest thing in the world to publish one's own
humble opinion as to the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, the
wisdom and the foolishness in the organisation, equipment and management
of Field, Stationary and Base Hospitals.

But--and this is a very important 'but,' which it might have been wise
of certain M.P.'s, critical civilians, and correspondents to
remember--is it quite fair to do so? Is it right and just to set down an
opinion at all about anything, until one knows well and intimately all
the details concerning the case under discussion? Is it proper for a
mere 'casual' to criticise the work--in all its shortcomings and many
excellencies--of a system which men of great professional experience
and large knowledge have built up in years of practical hard work? One
remembers too well that awful period of waiting at Bloemfontein whilst
the army rotted inactive, and the little cemetery under the old fort
filled and overflowed; when officer, and comrade, and inferior went down
alike before the sickle of that grim reaper--Enteric. There is too sad a
memory of the delirious, dying men who babbled, in the close wards, of
far-off places where there were peace and love. There is no forgetting
the carts that rumbled through the streets loaded with those stiff,
blanket-shrouded shapes which had been vigorous men--the dwindling
squadrons, the crowded sick-tents, the unfed, unwashed, unhappy men who
filled them, will never cease to linger in one's memory. And, if one
thinks of all these things, one may be bitter, too, against a
system which, rightly or wrongly, has had much of the responsibility of
them laid at its door.

So, all things considered, it is not well to write as one would perhaps
have done unthinkingly, to venture too emphatic opinions as to men and
methods, lest one do unwitting injustice to those to whom all the credit
they can claim will not come amiss. Wherefore, the writer proposes to
merely recount some of his own personal experiences as a patient in
various military hospitals between Pretoria and the Cape, and to leave
the reader of these pages to form his own opinion as to the right and
wrong, the folly and the wisdom of it all.

We were nine miles from Pretoria when it happened--almost north-east.
The Brigade was hurriedly saddling-up in the cold darkness before the
dawn of a July day. The carts were being loaded. Some one had sent the
writer to the top of one of them to assist in the stowing of oat-sacks
and biscuit-boxes. The work finished, an eight feet jump from the top
had been rashly negotiated. There had been a little stone, that rolled
beneath one's foot upon the ground. And the little stone was responsible
for a damaged ankle that prevented one from walking, and pained enough
for two broken legs. And then, because orders were hurried and
imperative, the squadron had ridden away and left one lying upon one's
kit in the open veldt.

The long and the short of it was that there was no ambulance van to
carry us into Pretoria. Beside the writer there were two sick men of his
own corps and some twenty of the three English regiments that made up
the Brigade. An old 'spider'--a four-wheeled waggonette, commandeered
from some farm--had been left behind, and, with a couple of
debilitated mules as motive power, the various kits and possessions of
the dismounted men who remained were to be carried into Pretoria on it.
Kindly arms lifted the writer to the top of the piled-up baggage, and by
dint of prodding with naked swords, butts of carbines, and other
impromptu goads the worn out animals were induced to commence their
unsteady trek into the Transvaal capital.

But the rolled kits fell off at intervals, the waggonette jolted
mercilessly, and the ride was so comfortless and painful that, after
half a mile had been traversed and the roadside that led into town from
Kamiel Drift reached, we were constrained to beg our conductors to leave
us there, on the faint chance of being conveyed into Pretoria by some
Army Service waggon going in to get supplies for the troops that held
the hills by Derdepoort. And so we were left lying on the grass--and
there seemed to be every likelihood of our staying there indefinitely.

The red road stretched out to the gap in the hills where the infantry
camp was, and, in the other direction, round the end of an intermediate
ridge, to Pretoria. Men came by on horseback and in Cape carts, and
there was one on a bicycle; but that day the Army Service Corps seemed
to be resting. The sun went up into the deep blue, and the beautiful day
grew older by two hours. Specklike on the sky-line one could see the
black dots of pickets who were watching Louis Botha from the hills.

From seven until eleven we lay by the roadside, and no good Samaritan
passed by. Once there came a mule-cart with a Kaffir driving, and one of
the two who were able to walk begged him for a ride into Pretoria and
the hospitals.

"Nie, baas," he replied; "mule too tire. No can carry some more."

"You black beast!" remarked his interlocutor; "you black swine!--if I
felt a bit stronger I'd commandeer your dam team and make you walk!"

Nevertheless, the Kaffir was quite in the right. The welfare of his team
should have been, and was, his first consideration. He merely smiled,
and passed on.

It grew to be dreary waiting for what might never come. Had we had any
rations and not been ill and crippled, to stay there would not have
troubled us overmuch, but as it was--far from water, one of us seeming
to sicken for fever, another hardly able to walk, and the third quite
incapable of standing and whose only means of locomotion lay in what he
could do by hopping, the outlook was alarming and miserable enough.

But at length, in a cloud of red dust, there came a slate-coloured empty
waggon along the road. A brick-faced sergeant with a flaxen beard sat
upon the box beside the black driver. Languidly the prospective enteric
case shuffled into the road, and took up a position in such a place that
the team of mules must either run over him or stop. They stopped.

"Now then, laad," said the sergeant, "what for be ye blockin' t' road?
Doan't y' know we be in a dom hurry t' git some bre'd from P'toria?
Stan' a won soide--there's a good laad!"

Wearily our envoy explained the situation.

"Who be ye?" asked the sergeant.

"'Stralian Horse," said the sick man.

"Oa, aye--ye be t' Orsetrailyans, be ye? Well, kom along, laads. Rackon
there's room f' ye, if ye kom from Orsetrailyer. Me brother Dick went
there. Whaat!--can't th' laad walk? Bide a bit, naow, an' I'll gie ye a

So, finally, we came into the Market Square--shaken and tired and sick
with pain--and were left upon the pavement by the new hospital in the
Law Courts. We lay upon our kits on the red tiles, and contemplated the
Dutch Church, and the pedestal that had been built to hold Paul Kruger,
and the magnificent Raadzaal with the gilt angel soaring from its roof,
and the flapping Union Jack mocking it in the breeze. And it seemed that
we might lie there also indefinitely. No one came to ask us whom we
might be or why we sat there waiting. Generals and Tommies,

Colonels and Burghers walked past and hardly looked at us. There was no
room for sick men in the world of war.

They had put a square of galvanised iron fencing about the front of the
Law Courts, between the high steps and the Church.

"I think we'll go in there," suggested the man with the headache; "we
might have more of a show to get to bed if we go in there."

So we went in and squatted upon the lowest step, and an orderly came and
looked at us, and went away into a corner to smoke. The thought came to
one: "And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus...moreover, the
dogs came and licked his sores".

The clock in the Raadzaal front marked the quarter, half,
three-quarters--and no one came. Just before the hour was reached a
medical officer strolled out on to the terrace above and surveyed us.
"What are you men doing theah?" he queried, shaking a surgical knife at
us; "why don't you come to attention?"

He of the aching head and stomachic pains climbed up the steps. He
seemed to be trying his best to stand to attention, but it was a dismal
failure, to say the most of it. The nonchalant surgeon conversed with
him awhile, and the two of them came down to us.

"Er--you men," he said, "you men, you know, you ought to have gone to a
Field Hospital. Why didn't you go to a Field Hospital? What? Can't
possibly take you in heah unless they send you from a Field Hospital,
you know. 'Gainst all rules. Quite irregular, you know. What? No, we
can't possibly admit you. Beds all full, you know. Quite out of the

"We don't want beds, sir. Can't we come in and camp on the floor? We're
used to sleeping on the ground."

"Oh, deah, no! We don't do that kind of thing heah, you know. Don't know
what you had better do, I'm suah. Don't ask me. Can't you go to the Rest
Camp?" And he strolled inside. We felt that we were the scum of the
earth. But our turn was to come.

A man came riding through the iron gate on a fine bay horse, and
instantly the orderly sprang to attend him. He alighted as one who knows
all about a saddle, and handed the bridle reins to the obsequious
'Tommy'. It seemed to us that there never could have been so soldierly
or so fine a man to look at. 'Gentleman,' too, was written all over him.
He was a tall, dark-complexioned man--well-preserved, and somewhere
between fifty and sixty. A black moustache and a tuft of hair upon his
chin, after the manner of Lord Roberts, gave him a somewhat foreign
aspect. He wore the flat, German-pattern staff-cap of khaki with the red
band round it, and the red lapels upon the collar of his tunic that
indicated staff rank. As he ran actively up the steps into the hospital
he glanced curiously and keenly at us, half-paused, and went on inside.
We must have been a picturesque trio enough to turn the gaze of any man
who had not a soul enmeshed in red tape. The sick man was gaunt,
unshaven, hollow-eyed and pale; the man with the blistered feet was
slim, larrikin-like and alert; the writer was minus boot, and spur, and
puttee, as regarded his right extremity, and dirtier and more unkempt
than he had ever thought he would become. We had been out getting
shelled all the day before--on a big reconnaissance--and had come in
late, so that there was no chance of washing or shaving before the
morning's daylight start. Therefore, it was nearly three days since we
had used soap and water.

Twenty minutes, and the handsome staff-colonel was striding down the
stone steps. As he came to the bottom one on which we sat forlornly he
stopped, and spoke:--

"Well men, what is your trouble? Why don't you go inside? Wounded, eh?"
"No, sir; twisted ankle--can't walk."

"And you?"

"I feel very sick, sir. Headache--weak."

"And you?"

"Skin orf one foot, sir. Can't walk or ride. Blood-pois'nin', I think."

"Well, why don't you go in and get attended to? Who are you?"

We told him that we were Australians, and that we had sought admission
unsuccessfully, and had not the least idea now as to what we should do.

"Oh, you're Australians, are you? Well, your fellows have done some good
work. Stop here. I'll go and see what can be done." And he went up the
steps two at a time.

To be an Australian seemed to be something of a distinction here. But it
is curiously true that no matter with whom, if you said you were an
Australian you had a much easier time and got what you wanted more
readily than before it was known from whence you hailed. Perhaps they
made allowance for our ignorance.

Down he came again, followed by three anxious-looking medical officers,
chief amongst whom was the tired individual who had been unable to give
us room.

"Now," said that angel in disguise, "now why are these men left here?"

"We really have no room for more, sir. The waggons are still at Nitral's
Nek, and we expect another convoy in to-night. It is quite impossible to
take them in."

"Well, what are you going to do about it?"

"I really do not see how the matter affects us, sir."

"Do you not? Ah!--well, sir, it should affect you! And it will affect
you. Do you think it a very creditable thing to your Hospital that these
men should have been sitting here for nearly two hours without food or
water or any apparent chance of ever obtaining any? Do you not consider
that, since you have become aware of the case, you would have done
rightly if you had passed them on to another Hospital where there might
be room for them? I think that you have been very remiss in your duty,

"Now will you kindly write a note to the P.M.O. of some other Hospital
where you think they may be taken in--explaining the case to him. Where
do you think they would be likely to find room?"

The man who disliked irregularity seemed to have become quite contrite
by this time. Evidently the Staff Officer was a great gun, since all
stood so much in awe of him.

"I think they might get into the Racecourse Hospital, sir. They can
expand their quarters there--plenty of sheds and buildings, you know. We
cannot here." "Well--give them the note."

He strode out of the enclosure, and presently reappeared with a cab.

"Jump in, men," he said. "Up to the Racecourse, driver. You'll be all
right now, eh?"--and he was on to his horse and gone almost before we
could thank him.

It is unlikely that that officer will ever see these pages. We never
heard his name, nor did we meet him again, but if he be alive and should
chance to drop across this book and does not forget the incident, he
will know that three sick Cornstalks were very, very grateful to him for
his kindness that morning by the Law Courts. His courteous care for the
welfare of three dirty vagabonds is one of those things which only the
Recording Angel books to a man's credit. He was in this, and doubtless
always, following in the steps of his great leader, and ours--the
soldier's warmest friend--Lord Roberts.

So down Church Street, past Paul Kruger's lion-fronted dwelling, past
his beloved Dopper Church with the unfinished clock in the steeple, up
towards the railway, across some open ground, and we came to the
Racecourse, which, having been in the early war time a prison, was now
an hospital.

It was a good course--one could see that with half an eye--but it made a
wofully bad hospital.

Here, also, it seemed that we exhibited the usual bad taste in not
applying for admission in the regular and pre-ordained form. A fat
sergeant-major of the R.A.M.C. was for turning us away again--which
would have been awkward, seeing that we had dismissed the cab. But the
embryo enteric flared into righteous wrath; wished to know whether we
were luridly qualified stray dogs, or what; claimed personal friendship
with the P.M.O., and demanded that he should be shown where that officer
abided, so that he might himself present our letter of introduction.

Such a queer place for sick men to go in--such a quaint, unconventional,
singular kind of hospital--you never saw! What the conditions of life
were in the grand stand, or the saddling paddock, or in the big pavilion
where the luncheons might have been, none of us could say. We lived in
loose-boxes in the stables--and to this day one of us pricks up his ears
when he hears corn rattle in a box, or beholds horses feeding out of
bins. It was a long galvanised-iron shed. There was a passage down the
middle, with a door at either end, presumably for ventilation. Sick
Kaffirs dwelt in the passage, and rendered both night and day hideous
with their chatter. Widely projecting eaves made a kind of verandah all
round the building. The doors of each stall were in two halves, after
the kind of stable-doors. In front they looked out across the level
ground about which lay the course, and in rear on to a tidy garden
shaded by gum and wattle. We were assigned quarters in the front.

Many days we lived there, not getting overmuch attention medically, but
still living--which was something. If you had good luck you obtained a
bag or two to spread out ere you laid your blankets on the ground. This
was the ward where slight wounds, rheumatisms, sprains, mild
dysenterics, and ripening enterics 'most did congregate'. Here, also,
were the malingerers. It was astonishing, and rather appalling, to note
the number of hale beings who lived in hospital. Sad and humiliating as
it must seem, any man who has been through the Military Hospitals can
quite easily testify to the truth of this. 'Fed up' often seemed to be
about to assume just as alarming proportions as enteric. How they did it
was a mystery. One can only assume that, in many cases, the medical
officers, though morally certain that a man might be shamming, were too
disgusted to take the necessary steps towards 'bowling him out'. And,
indeed, dealing with the typical 'old soldier,' hardly any measures in
the world, severely preventive or otherwise, would keep him out of
hospital were he desirous of staying in. If a man steadily persist in
having a pain in his chest, and be fairly consistent in his symptoms,
you cannot, without very great difficulty, prove him a liar. And as the
doctors had always very much more to do than time to do it in, they
could not afford the almost detective-like vigilance necessary to
properly meet the cases of such wily characters.

A résumé of the day's doings in our stable may perhaps give the reader
some idea of what life in this most rudimentary of hospitals was like.
It is well to bear in mind, however, that these were the first months of
the British occupation of Pretoria, that De Wet was blowing up the
railway every day on the other side of the Vaal, that fever and
dysentery were rife in all the camps about the town, and that it was
utterly impossible to obtain many of the most essential supplies
required by an hospital. When you come to consider these points it is
wonderful what the Medical Staff did even so primitively well as they

Soon after daylight a bugler sounded the 'reveille'--most beautiful, if
most unwelcome of 'calls'. Half an hour later an aggressive individual
walked hurriedly along the stable front, and rattled a stick against the
corrugated-iron doors. If that did not bring your slumbers to an end
nothing would do so. If you could stand, or hop, you arose and opened
the doors of your compartment, and yawned in the fresh air. There was a
pump by the side of the track whereat you might perform your toilet. You
folded up your blankets, and tidied the den as well as might be. Then
came another orderly with a basket full of cut loaves of bread. You
received a piece, supposed to weigh one pound, which was to last you all
day. Sometimes he threw it at you--and on those occasions you were not
quite certain as to whether your habitation were a loose-box or a
kennel. Humourists used sometimes to request to be supplied with a bran
mash, complaining pathetically that they felt 'a bit out of condition'.

At half-past seven buckets of tea arrived in the open before the sheds.
Cripples, and ill, and shams hobbled, and slouched, and rushed with
empty beeftins, mess-cans, jam-pots--anything that would hold water.
Eating and drinking utensils were not supplied in that part of the
hospital. You somehow got some tea and ate some bread. Every second day
a pot of jam was served out to each four men. After breakfast the stalls
were still further tidied, the pots polished and hung up on the wooden
partitions, and the front of the shed swept and garnished.

And at 9 a.m. there came the P.M.O.--the Great Finality of the
establishment. At the Racecourse he was a very popular person--a man
with a face that you might trust, the quiet air of one who knew his
task, and the kindly sympathy of a good physician, even yet unspoiled by
the years of narrowing army service. Everybody liked the Major--we did
not hear his name--and he seemed to like every one. In spite of the fact
that his hospital was probably as rough and primitive as any you might
come to in all Africa, the mere fact of there being so likeable a man at
the head of it atoned for very much in which it fell grievously short of
perfection. One can still think with affection of the man--his grave,
clean-cut, kindly face, with the iron-grey, close-cropped hair about the
temples; the slightly stooping figure and the pleasant laugh. And the
remembrance of his quiet courtesy of speech, and the close attention
with which he listened to what you had to say is a gleam of sunshine
over a retrospective outlook that is dreary, and sordid, and commonplace
enough. He was cruelly handicapped by want of the most necessary things
in carrying out his work, but no one left that disreputable place who
had not, at least, a good word for the Major.

At noon the buckets brought soup with raggy meat in it. There was milk
for those who were nominally on 'milk diet,' but as everything was much
in common the patients ate, as a rule, what they considered best suited
to their tastes, diseases, or constitutions. All the afternoon was a
long 'loaf'. You slept, or read, or wrote letters home, and at 4.30 came
more tea, with which you finished the remainder of the bread and jam.

Night came--and you smoked, and yarned, and went to bed in the dust. And
byand-bye, when the long-winded ones had ceased to talk in dialects, and
brogues, and twangs, and all--even the vociferous Kaffirs--were asleep
and still, rats ran about over your head, and nibbled your hair.

Ten days of this, and the writer was one morning, with some thirty
others, conveyed in ambulance-vans to the Pretoria railway station, and
started off in a bullet-marked carriage to Cape Town, with five days'
rations of bread, and bully-beef, and jam. At least, we thought we were
being sent to Cape Town--but when you start upon a journey at one end of
a military railway which runs through an only partially subjugated
hostile territory, you do not really know whether it will be a week, or
a month, or a year, or all eternity before you reach your journey's end.
This time the journey took two months.


THE train ran through the hills between two of the silent forts, which
had cost so much money and had been of so little use to their builders,
and out from the valley of Pretoria into the open veldt. The track of
the invading army still lay beside the line. The traffic of the convoys
had worn the grass away, and the road was mile-stoned by the parched
hides and whitened bones of horses, mules, and oxen, and, less
frequently, by the red-mounded, final resting-places of men. Many had
remained to 'settle on the land,' but the tenure of their occupation was
probably more permanent and abiding than most of the poor fellows had
expected it to be.

Past the little wayside stations of Kaalfontein, Zuurfontein, and
various other fonteins--and about three o'clock we arrived at
Elandsfontein, the junction of the Cape and Natal lines to Pretoria and
of the short six-mile one which ran into Johannesburg.

The train waited ten minutes, twenty minutes--an hour. Coffee was
brought to us in the carriages--drunk--the bucket taken away again by a
Kaffir, and still we moved not--no one knowing why.

At length we went on. Somehow it seemed to us all wrong. We should have
been rolling across the open veldt again, but we were instead passing
through the suburbs of a great city, and every moment the houses grew
larger and denser. It was like coming into Melbourne in the
afternoon--except for the tall smoke-stacks of occasional mines, and the
stampers, and the big cyanide vats. Past little suburban stations--as
'Zimmer and Jack' and Jeppestown--in through gardens, and trees, and
pretty suburban streets, along a cutting and below a bridge, and we ran
in under a high domed roof of glass, and came to a standstill beside one
of the platforms of a great railway station, much larger and finer than
Redfern, or Flinders Street, or the North Terrace.

It was Park Station--and then we remembered having seen it before, when
the illustrated papers made pictures of the refugees crowding into open
trucks, in the mad rush of September to get away. And we remembered
another picture of a commando going to the Front, and wondered vaguely
where all those bandoliered and booted warriors were now. They were in
graves, and at Simon's Bay and St. Helena, and in the veldt still; and
we held their towns and railway systems--but had we finished yet? How
long was it to be before those silent streets of the outskirts should
fill again, before this great station should hum with the busy life of
the resurrected city, before the black smoke lifted above the chimneys
of the mines, and the great town should have recovered from the
paralysis of war?

As we waited there we heard the wherefore of our waiting. The line had
again been blown up, just beyond the Vaal. Popular rumour credited
Christian De Wet with the deed, and probably rumour, for once, was
right. Most of us had a sneaking regard for De Wet, and looked upon him
as a great, though sometimes inconvenient man--but this afternoon upon
that train he was exceedingly unpopular.

By-and-bye they shunted us into a siding, and commanded us to 'get out,'
and so we alighted as well as we could, and sat upon our kits beside the
carriages and trucks. As dusk settled down over the town,
ambulance-waggons came and carried us away to the Amblers' Club, where
was located Number 'K General Hospital. There they put us into
bell-tents, pitched on the football-ground--four in a tent--and they
fed us on bovril and bread, and we slept upon stretchers, which was the
nearest approach we had made to sleeping in beds for nearly a year, and
was a decided improvement upon the litter and dust of our late quarters
in the horse-stalls. It was dark when we arrived, and beyond the fact
that great buildings within high trees and park-like grounds loomed
vaguely in the blackness, and the faint white showing of many marquees
and bell-tents glimmered obscurely about us, we could make little of our
situation and environment.

Next morning was beautifully cold, and clear, and fresh. No wind stirred
the tops of the tall blue gums that, hedge-like, surrounded all the
enclosure. The buildings of the Club stood up amidst them, picturesque
in their setting of green leaves. Part was unfinished, with the scaffold
poles and ladders still erected about its raw and new-looking brick
walls. There had been a fire before the war, and the outbreak of
hostilities had left the work of restoration incomplete.

The tents we occupied were pitched upon a grassless square of recreation
ground. Tiers of wooden seats surrounded the enclosure. Below it was
another square, and, in the front of the building, an excellent cycling
track and cricket ground, and still more excellent tennis courts. The
great concert hall of the Club was used as a ward for the more serious
cases. It contained beds with real sheets and real pillows. They struck
one as being useless, unnecessary adjuncts of an effete civilisation,
after so many months of doing without them. Even the loose-boxes at
Pretoria had seemed at first to be commodious residences. It is only
afterwards that you look back and shudder. Comfort is a matter of
comparison. To the sick soldier lying in the veldt on a wet night a
hollow log, or the lee of a paling fence, would seem the very acme of
luxury. But when you get to civilisation again the reputation of
necessary insecticide will hopelessly damn an hotel in your estimation,
and you will quite easily turn up your nose at food for which, in
bivouac or on outpost, you would have bartered your last 'fill' of

On the whole, the hospital in the Amblers' Club was an improvement upon
that of the Pretorian Racecourse. In the first place, the condition and
location of the buildings and grounds were in every way suitable for an
hospital. Centrally situated as to the city, not fifty yards from the
principal railway station, amply large in its grounds for the exercising
of convalescent patients, surrounded on all sides by wide streets, and
with a high galvanised-iron fence having but two main entrances--both
from the points of view of its administration and of its patients no
site or arrangements could possibly have been better adapted for the
successful treatment of sick and wounded and the maintenance of
necessary discipline than were those of the one in question.

We were more comfortable in the little tents, though it was strange how
full four stretchers and their occupants made them seem, even after the
usual dozen or fifteen human beings who smothered in them in the
ordinary standing camps. The food, although practically the same as
supplied to us at the Racecourse, was better cooked and better served,
but in this bracing climate of cold, clear, winter weather, to men whose
naturally fine appetites were in no wise impaired by their physical
injuries, the ration scale was wofully insufficient.

A very excellent thing was the fact that for the most part the hospital,
or at least the division of it in which we were, was served by orderlies
of the St. John's Ambulance Association.

There is no branch of the Imperial Army so generally unpopular with all
other branches as the Royal Army Medical Corps. This is a large, loose
statement apparently, but it is unfortunately none the less perfectly
true. Were one to account for it by stories heard in and out of the
hospital one might possibly be merely repeating calumnious untruths, but
there is much, apart from hearsay, that one has seen oneself, and which
all Colonial soldiers have seen also, to render fairly evident Tommy
Atkins' dislike as a class to the privates and non-commissioned officers
of the corps. He seems to regard the men of the R.A.M.C. as being
essentially on a lower plane than himself. He has bestowed upon them
contemptuously the appellations of 'Poultice Wallopers,' 'Linseed
Lancers,' and other insulting and more ribald designations too
Atkinesque to mention. As a primary reason for having incurred Tommy's
bitter dislike it may be that the rank and file of the R.A.M.C., being
technically non-combatants, are unreasonably looked down upon by men who
are. And, when he 'goes sick,' Tommy has to do just what he is told by
these despised beings--which is, doubtless, very galling to Tommy. "So,"
says he, "w'en we meets the swine artside, we breaks their bleedin'
'eads. If they sees yer comin' darn the street, w'y they bloomin' well
dodges hup a halley."

Personally, one is almost ready to excuse many of the shortcomings of
the much-abused orderlies, by consideration of the fact that you cannot
expect the services of a perfect being when you pay him something that
comes to a little more than a shilling a day. If a good personnel is
required, then it will have to be paid for. And you won't get 'much of a
man' to do the kind of work the R.A.M.C. are called upon to do under

Now the men of the St. John's Ambulance Association were volunteers and
enthusiasts, besides being, in ordinary life, men of a very much higher
social grade than the class from which the private regular soldier is
usually drawn. They therefore took more interest in their work than did
the men of the R.A.M.C. They may not, perhaps, have been quite so well
trained and disciplined, but they were certainly kinder, gentler, and
more sympathetic in their treatment of patients than were the regular
orderlies. And so they incurred Tommy's gratitude and esteem--since
Tommy is a gentleman who is nothing if not just in his estimate of
superiors and equals.

The routine is much the same as at the Racecourse. 'Reveille' sounds
early, and presently there comes the ward-master, usually a sergeant, to
turn you out. Blankets are folded, and stacked neatly at the head of
each stretcher. The walls of the tent are rolled up, and its interior
and immediate vicinity swept and cleaned, after breakfast has been
served, so that the resultant crumbs may not meet the eye of the
visiting medical officer. In the meantime, if you are physically capable
of so doing, you go for a wash.

Now here is the worst one has to say of this otherwise--considering the
circumstances and the times--exceptionally well-regulated and
administered establishment. At one end of the main building of the Club
stood a long wooden trough, raised some three feet above the ground on
trestles. Each morning it was filled with water from a stand-pipe, and
in it scores of men performed their ablutions. One may imagine that the
water became fairly 'thick' after a little time each morning. Well, that
did not matter so much. You cease to be over-particular as to small
details of this nature after you have learned what it is to go seven
days without any kind of 'wash' at all.

This was the thing that mattered--sufficient care was not taken by the
authorities to isolate cases of infection or contagion, so that the
unrestricted use of this common washing-place might--and in one instance
known to the writer actually did--endanger the health of all the
inmates of the hospital.

But--to return to our routine. Breakfast over, and the lines garnished
as aforesaid, the medical officer in charge of the ward to which you
belong goes his rounds. His advent to each tent is heralded by the
sergeant poking his head through the canvas door-flap and thunderously
yelling, "Shunmedcalorfcer!"--which use has accustomed you to translate
as "Attention! Medical Officer". So you turn out, and stand with your
diet-sheet--a mysterious document whereby you obtain varieties of the
scanty rations that are going--one of a row before the tent. You must
stand there, even if it be only on one leg and a stick. The sergeant
snatches the sheet from your hand, the swift physician glances keenly at
you out of the corner of his eye as he initials it, does the same for
your three companions, and hurriedly passes on to the next tent, where
already the war-cry of his satellite has preceded him.

The inspection over, there remains naught to do but smoke, if you have
tobacco; read, if you possess any literature; sleep, if you think you
can, or otherwise put in the time until the bugle sounds the
dinner-call. Dinner consists of the same boiled cubes of leathery meat
floating in thick soup and a few potatoes in their jackets, served up in
the little enamelled-tin basins in which you draw your morning and
evening tea.

The long afternoon passes monotonously. The best that you may do to
while away the hours is to sit still in your own or another tent, and
listen to the bloody and hair-raising accounts of side-lights of the
war. Many of them, though couched in simple and profane language, and
not for publication, are true and real beyond question--a great many of
them are untruly and gloriously sensational enough for the 'copy' of the
most unveracious correspondent of the average London Daily Shocker.

There was a Cornstalk who came to a marquee in which certain of us were
sitting one rainy afternoon. Most of those present were Englishmen and
Canadians. One little group of four or five sat in a dark corner, and
smoked silently--content for the most part to listen to the stirring
tales to which, we felt, we could never hope to approach in interest of
adventure and startling detail. Our compatriot was a member of a certain
famous Australian corps, which had distinguished itself all through the
Western Campaign. It would be unjust to him to say that he was boastful.
He was not. He merely told his tale in a dignified and simple manner
that took it straight to the hearts of his listeners.

The writer had not the good fortune to share in French's dash to
Kimberley. He knows no more about it than what he has been told by men
who were there, and what he has since read in the newspapers, and
magazines, and books. But he is quite sure that he will never in all his
life read such a graphic, nerve-stirring, sympathetic narration of that
great cavalry march as he heard from the guileless lips of his gifted
fellow-countryman that winter afternoon in the dark interior of the
fourth marquee, of the second row, in the upper football-ground of the
Amblers' Club Hospital at Johannesburg.

It was not merely immense; it was 'epic'. He told us of the gathering of
the host at Ramdam; of the organisation; of the setting forth; of the
fighting near Klip Drift; of the miles of waterless veldt beyond the
Modder. In harrowing manner he recounted the sufferings the men had
endured, the awful thirst that killed horses by the hundred, the running
fight. Clearly and lucidly he made plain to us the magnificent
generalship of Johnny French. We could not but suppose that, in rare
occult fashion, the plans of that 'deep' customer had been evident to
him from the very beginning of the operations, and that for our
benefit--there, right there in that humble place--he was letting us peep
along the quiet backways where the unseen elements of history walk

We felt elated and triumphant that we--we dozen or so of common
soldiery--should learn these things, first-hand and hot, from one who
knew. It would be something to talk of through all our uninteresting
after-lives. It was a dreadful march, it was a wonderful march, it was
the military movement of the ages; it was a soul-stirring and ennobling
recital, such as we had never looked to hear from mortal lips. Kinglake
might have approached it in stately minuteness, Archibald Forbes or
Steevens could not have come near it. What a pity, we thought, that he
had not lived before, so that he might have been with Caesar in Gaul, or
with Napoleon from Moscow or across the Alps into Italy!

As though we saw it all, we rode with him into the shell-battered
Diamond City. He showed all the happiness and sadness of the welcome of
the lately besieged. We saw the Kaffirs ravenously swooping upon the
entrails of the worn-out horses shot at the completion of the march,
little white-faced children, and the anaemic women, coming from the
mine-shafts. We saw and heard Cecil Rhodes; beheld the wonderful gun
Labram the American had built in the De Beers workshops. He took us to
the scarred trenches, the littered Boer redoubts and gun emplacements;
and next morning we went out with him to rout the remaining Boers by
Dronfield. Bill Adams at Waterloo was as a Policeman at a Botany 'push'
fight compared to this hero.

And when he stopped, and went away to get tea, a man of his own corps,
who had gaped with us, unseen, from the darkness of that corner in the
marquee, could only gasp brokenly, "Wonderful, wonderful! Oh, dam

And that expressed the feelings of us all.

"Yes," continued his comrade, "it's the wonderfullest yarn I've ever
heard. Why--the blarsted liar!--we went to Kimberley in Febroory, an'
he didn't leave Sydney until April!"

None the less, it was the finest story ever told--and although it was
sadly true that the narrator had never been to Kimberley in his life,
had never seen the Modder (save at the Glen, north of Bloemfontein), had
never been under fire during the war, and was 'a consistent and
shameless pom-pom dodger' all his days--he was gifted with an
imagination and power of expression that Virgil or Dante might have
coveted. One had the inclination, but not the power, to run after him,
as he strolled modestly away, in order to grasp him by the hand and say,
"My brother, you are the most gifted and accomplished liar that
Australia ever produced!" And, when you come to think of it, that would
be saying a great deal.

At night they gave us candles, and we lay upon our stretchers, smoking
and reading, until the time came to 'turn in'; or wondering whether we
were to stay for ever in Johannesburg, and what the town might be like;
or speculating as to how they must be thinking soon of shearing out at
home in Australia. Everything seemed very quiet out in the
soldier-ridden city. One could make out, beyond the top of the lower
fence and through the straight stems of the bordering eucalypti, the
bright globes of incandescent light that shone over the empty streets.
Later, there came the far, faint challenges of the sentries about the
Market Square--and once, about midnight, we heard a rifle-shot, and a
scream of pain, and, turning over drowsily, wondered what the poor devil
had done.

There was a week of this--each day exactly a reproduction of the one
before it, no evening that differed from the last--and then one mid-day,
in the sudden fashion by which things are carried on on active service,
the writer was warned amongst others to be ready for the train at one
o'clock, in order to start again for Cape Town.

Of the journey down one need not speak at length, although it was the
most exciting train journey the writer has ever taken. There was never
any chance of being bored for lack of interest in those days between
Pretoria and Kroonstadt. Every culvert and bridge over which we passed
seemed to have been blown up, at least once. The engine that drew our
train was bullet-marked about the cab and boiler; the closed trucks in
which we travelled nearly all had little round holes somewhere through
their walls. The first night we stayed at Vereeniging, just beside the
Vaal, and waited there until morning.

When we had crossed the river, and come to Viljoen's Drift upon the
southern side, news came that the line had been again interrupted
further down. It was noon before we recommenced our journey, and by the
next evening we had not come to Honing Spruit. We had passed the Kopjes
Siding where De Wet had nearly caught Lord Kitchener in person; and
Roodeval where he had unmistakably caught the Fourth Derbyshires, and
had blotted out everything of the station save one shell-torn iron tank
and a steel safe, and where the mails and winter clothing lay
half-burned over acres of veldt.

Honing Spruit was but eighteen miles from Kroonstad, but no train ever
travelled in the darkness over that part of the new colony. So we waited
beside the little entrenched station, and about eight o'clock were
turned out of the trucks into the trenches to assist in repelling an
expected Boer attack, which, however, never came off.

At Honing Spruit there was a quaint but doubtful story of a stray
Canadian, who, somehow, was somewhere along the line with various other
details in a little entrenched post, guarding communications. It was his
duty to ride out each morning along a length of line, in order to find
out whether all was clear for the trains to proceed. One morning, having
sallied forth as usual, at some distance out he espied five industrious
beings busily employed in levering up a rail. They were so intent upon
the work in hand that they did not perceive their avenging Nemesis, and
he was able to approach them within two hundred yards of the scene of
their exertions, still unnoticed. At first, he thought of riding back
and reporting his discovery in the orthodox way, but being a Canadian,
and therefore dowered with a delightful freedom from all the restraining
trammels of Red-Book rules, he decided 'to score off his own bat'. So he
dismounted, tied his horse to a telegraph-pole, rested his rifle over an
ant-heap, took careful aim, and shot a Boer. As the startled men sprang
to their feet in astonishment he shot another, and, whilst they were
hurriedly seeking to mount their horses, he 'bagged' a third. The
remaining two escaped.

The Canadian strolled over to the three bodies, and found each one of
them quite dead. Doubting whether his comrades at the post would believe
his unsupported story of having singly engaged five Boers, killing
three, and putting the other two to flight, he--what do you think?--he
took their scalps!

We reached Kroonstad for breakfast, remained there until nearly noon,
and arrived at Brandfort in the evening. On the railway bridge near the
latter town, a sentry had recently been 'sniped' by some enterprising
sportsman, from the bed of the river, on a moonlight night. Accordingly,
nowadays, the more representative burghers of Brandfort paraded with the
guard on the bridge, and took turns of 'sentry-go' in military
overcoats. There had been no more 'sniping'.

Bloemfontein we came to in the 'wee sma' hours of the next day, and were
immediately taken from our trucks, given a drink of hot milk and bovril,
and placed in the bell-tents of the big canvas hospital under the long
kopje where were mounted the Naval guns, and which since the British
occupation has been known as Naval Hill. And next day, as a further
stage of our progress to the coast, we were drafted off in batches to
the various hospitals about the town and its vicinity.

One has written at greater length of hospital experiences than at first
intended, but, as they would be incomplete without some account of the
five weary weeks at Bloemfontein, we shall speak of the great hospital
in the veldt, westward of the town, whither we were sent, in another

Moreover, the writer had opportunity of seeing, as it were, the Military
Hospitals in three very representative stages. First there were the
primitive arrangements, typical of the extreme Front, at Pretoria, where
you slept in stables and fed like pigs. Then came the Amblers' Club,
which was a sort of intermediate stage between inferiority and
tolerability. Thirdly, we come to Number 'N' General, at Bloemfontein,
which, at the time when we were inmates of it, was a good type of the
Stationary Hospital, so located that every necessary thing might easily
be procured; and which, therefore, had to stand or fall in one's
estimation upon its own merits, and could shelter behind no excuse of
interrupted communication--for then, and for many months, the lines to
Port Elizabeth and Cape Town were both open to traffic, and supplies
were coming through regularly, and in sufficiently large quantities to
meet all requirements.


Number 'N' General Hospital stood to the west of Bloemfontein, on the
rising veldt that stretched away to Kimberley. You came out past the
white-columned Raadzaal, through the bushes that fringed the outskirts
of the town, kept northward of the great clump of willow trees that had
been so cool and shady when we came before--but were bare and leafless
now--crossed a deep spruit, and arrived at the wide-spreading city of
snowy canvas. On the higher skyline were redoubts and trenches, infantry
and artillery camps, and, standing up clean and sharply-cut against the
bluest of all blue skies, the gloriously purple, far-off peaks of
conical and sugar-loaf kopjes--miles, and miles, and ever so many miles
away through the clear, dry, closer-bringing atmosphere.

And if you stood, ere you entered the lines and streets of gleaming
tents--stood just on the threshold of the suburbs of that
strangely-peopled city--and looked back across the intervening veldt,
your eye took in a picture of such sunlit beauty, such clear and smiling
sweetness of earth, and sky, and distant glowing hills, as you will
never in all your 'afterwards' remember but with pleasure and delight.

Across a mile or more of bare, brown veldt the buildings of brick, and
stone, and iron nestled in their beds of evergreen eucalyptus and
leafless oak and elm. Spires, and walls, and gleaming iron roofs studded
the deep-green and gold-grey beauty of their lovely setting. The dome
above the Raadzaal, the steeple of the Dutch Church, the floating Union
Jack over the Presidency, lingered in one's vision beside the rest. At
one end the old fort rose above the clustering roofs on its little
kopje, at the other there stretched away from us to eastward the long,
flat bulk of Naval Hill. Away behind, forty miles away, yet clear and
sharply showing in every curve of outline, lay blue Thaba N'chu--the
great historic mountain of the brave old Voortrekkers. Down to
southward, in the rolling ridges, were the little groups of shining
distant tents that marked the outposts in the wide perimeter of possible
defence. Between them and us, beside the road that had led in the march
from Driefontein, was the great Rest Camp--a bewildering massing
together of bell-tents.

If you have gazed long enough across the open to beautiful Bloemfontein,
and have drunk in all the loveliness of scene we used to sit and watch
through many afternoons for hours unweariedly, it will be worth your
while to turn and look at what is close to you--the trim orderliness,
and clean regularity, and manifest respectability of Number 'N'.

It is a wonderful place, a kind of new world of weird beings in bright
new clothes, and spurred and booted surgeons who never rode a
horse--and, above all, it is the kingdom of 'Mad Jack'.

There were streets and lanes of stately marquee tents--one great
group upon the right hand, and another upon the left, and, in between,
an open space with galvanised-iron huts for stores, and kitchens,
and washing-places. In the background there were acres of
bell-tents--tenantless now, but once upon a time (which the orderlies
speak of yet shudderingly as 'the fever time') full to overflowing.

Each marquee is dressed in its line, correct and level to the quarter of
an inch. Every guy-rope is uniform and symmetrical with regard to every
other, every peg is driven into the ground at the same angle as every
other peg, and all are whitewashed. Along each broad highway are
whitened stones, set evenly in rows upon the ground, and, at the
corners, little heaps of boulders, also of a glowing whiteness.

There is nothing here that stands out from its surroundings. All is
uniformity and monotony of sameness. The patients are dressed with an
exact similarity--blue flannel trousers, ill-fitting flannel jackets of
the same vivid hue, red neckties, and yellow slippers; and each man
blows his nose upon a red cotton handkerchief with a white border. The
orderlies are all in khaki serge, the officers in uniform, with puttees
or leggings, and sometimes spurs. The Nursing Sisters glide from tent to
tent, in their neat grey gowns with the red capes about their shoulders,
and white muslin headdress--pleasant to behold, and generally pleasant
to speak to and be nursed by, and always, one thinks, good, brave

In our marquee there were five Tommies and the writer. There was a
private of the West Riding who had been a colour-sergeant--but was
'smashed'--suffering from rheumatism, and so bad that he was unable to
bear the coldness of sheets upon his bed. Next to him, one of the Scots
Guards, badly wounded in the groin. Then a Fourteenth Hussar, who said
his heart was weak. It was--but not in the way he sought to impress the
doctor with. Beside him lay a little lance-corporal of the Essex
Regiment, whose trouble was synovitis of the right knee. Opposite the
writer's bed was that of a broken-jawed private of the Oxfordshire Light
Infantry. The writer was the only un-English resident, and, being an
Australian, was a person of some consequence in the community.

Comparatively all the appointments of the marquee were on a scale of
unexampled luxury. There was a tarpaulin on the earthen floor by way of
carpet. We slept on beds--real iron beds with spring mattresses and
sheets--think of it--sheets! There were counterpanes, too, and pillows
with pillow-cases, and they were changed as soon as ever they began to
get dirty; and we had night-shirts, and day shirts, and all manner of
fine things. There were little bedside tables for each man, and there
was a bigger table by the door of the tent with a looking-glass on it,
and plates, and knives and forks, and enamelled bowls to drink from. And
we had an orderly to attend on us--(only he didn't, he got us to attend on
him)--and we were quite suddenly become as millionnaires and princes,
who have everything they want and a good deal they don't want--which we
had too.

But a bed--a real bed--just think of it! You may laugh if you like, you
who read this enthusiastic boastfulness of beds, but just you sleep upon
the bare ground under the stars, wet and dry, every night for seven
months, and when you get into a bed again--a real, soft, comfortable
bed--you will never want to leave it. The good Captain B----, who
visited ours and two other marquees, felt the writer's ankle, and put it
into plaster-of-Paris, and sent him to bed for three weeks, and the
writer knew himself that, if it had been for three years, he would have
borne it cheerfully. My goodness! but it was fine. The luxury of it!

And so, for those restful weeks one was in bed, and there were
opportunities afforded Tommy Cornstalk of studying Tommy Atkins at close
quarters, such as he had not had before--and the little Sister, and Mad
Jack, and Keen the Orderly, and the Boy Chaplain, who served out funny
little prayer-books with swords, and guns, and lances printed on their
covers--and all the other variously interesting types of humanity who
moved about the hospital.

It was a curiously interesting experience. It would be just as
interesting to an inmate of a pauper asylum or a gaol. One found new
types of men, of whose existence one had merely read before. There were
tales of strange lives and of a different world to the one we knew of in
Australia. There was the quaintest profanity in language, the most
singular and notable slang to be met with outside the chronicles of
Mulvaney and his allies. There were anecdotes of life in barrack-room
such as we would not repeat to a Chinaman; there were stories of
garrison towns that would shock Beelzebub. Robbery and rape were homely
topics amongst those delightful army types. Getting drunk was never such
a glorified feat as one heard it spoken of in Number 'N'. One has lived
and worked with all manner of outcast men to whom obscenity was wit and
blasphemy the salt of conversation, but never has one, or never will
again, perhaps, encounter such strange gifts of foul-mouthed loquacity
as one lived through in that five weeks at Bloemfontein.

And yet--one never will meet again five kindlier souls, or more
generous, or better disposed, or more unselfishly ready to assist a
helpless comrade. One may never forget the quiet little helping ways
they had, whilst one lay in bed unable to assist oneself. The red-headed
Guardsman, who was the foulest souled of all, swept the floor about
one's bed in the mornings, or walked painfully to the reading tent and
brought back books, out of sheer good-heartedness. The little Dublin
guttersnipe who graced the Essex mended one's trousers, and refused so
much as half a fig of black tobacco by way of repayment for his trouble.
And they were all just as kind and helpful to one another. Sampson, who
talked with difficulty by reason of his bandaged jaw, moved silently
about the tent doing perpetual little jobs of tidiness. They were the
tidiest men in the world. But most soldiers of the regular army are
that. Imagine the same class in a shearer's hut!

The day commenced with the arrival of Keen from his quarters. Keen was a
Cockney-Scotchman--at least, that is how West Riding described him. He
was always desirous of buying things from you, which he would sell to
some one else at a higher figure. "Yah! blinded, bloomin' Sheeny--vat
you dinks!"--he of the Guards would remark by way of 'riling' him. The
Hussar sold him a coloured blanket--the cheap sort you may purchase
anywhere for a few shillings, and the design upon which was a most
startling combination of all the cardinal colours. Keen traded it to the
little Sister as having come from Cronje's laager. The amount of stuff
which Cronje must have had stored in that laager was simply enormous.
You certainly never buy any Boer curios or relics except upon the
understanding that it was salvaged from Paardeberg. It cannot be genuine

Shortly after the coming of Keen, a man brings the day's allowance of
bread--a very liberal one here. Nobody gets up much before
breakfast-time. A bucket of water and basin are the means of toilets.
The buckets are beautifully clean and polished in Number 'N'.

One pot of jam was given to us each day, and one ounce of butter for
every man. Besides these delicacies there were, as 'extras,' a tin of
cocoa paste, two pineapples, twelve oranges, four bottles of stout, and
two ounces of whisky in common amongst the tentful. The broken jaw and
the 'rheumatism,' also, had special diets of their own.

Immediately after breakfast those who were able to move about assisted
Keen in sweeping out the tent, making the beds, and generally cleaning
and polishing all the plates and utensils in use, so that everything
might be neat and 'shipshape' against the coming of the Doctor at ten
o'clock. If the weather were fine, the canvas sides of the marquee were
looped up all round, so that the air might circulate freely and keep the
atmosphere of the tent fresh and sweet.

Just before the advent of the Doctor, the little Sister who had charge
of the row of marquees in which ours stood came to see that all was
right. If it wasn't she bullied Keen unmercifully. It was almost
ludicrous to see the compact little woman, with the firm chin and tender
eyes, ordering about great, hulking men who could have carried her in
their pockets, so to speak. She always had her way--which, however, is
not unusual with her sex. She, too, was Scotch, but her speech was much
prettier than Keen's.

When the Doctor came we all lay in, or upon, our beds with our
board-mounted diet-sheets in our hands, and he took a lot of cheerful
trouble over each of us, and was civil, and witty, and alert--much more
alert than the Hussar desirous of heart-disease supposed. Every one
liked Captain B----. He was not a regular R.A.M.C. man, but belonged to
some volunteer medical corps in London, and had a good practice
privately, Keen said. Keen knew everything.

'Extras' were drawn from the Quartermaster's stores at eleven o'clock,
and we drank the drinks immediately--by way of diversion--and kept the
fruit until the afternoon. The cocoa paste was made use of after dinner
and at night, making a couple of bowls apiece, with hot water from the
cookhouse, which Oxfordshire procured by reason of possessing a 'towny'
amongst the cooks. We lived well in our marquee, principally owing to
the pushing ways of Keen--who levied commission on all he obtained for
us--and the kindness of Captain B----.

Dinner was mainly 'roast varied'--which is meat, gravy, vegetables,
salt, mustard and pepper, in a little flat tin. The tins were carried
from the cookhouse in a hot-water tray, so that they kept warm.

The afternoon was a time of sleep, of lurid conversation, or reading, or
draughts, or chess, or dominoes, or cards. At four o'clock little
niggers came through the lines selling the Bloemfontein Post, which we
always bought. There was little enough of news in it, and its leaders
were obviously inspired, but there was occupation and interest in trying
to read the Dutch pages, and any news was better than none. Its
telegraphic items relative to the war were probably much more reliable
than those of the big papers in England and Australia at the time, but
they were usually many days old. The Post was the successor of the
Friend, which had been a so bitterly anti-English journal before the
British occupation, and a so brilliantly edited news-letter for the few
weeks immediately after that event, when it was under the control of the
war correspondents.

Tea was at four-thirty, and sleep came about nine o'clock. Every day was
as the one described. They never varied to a quarter of an hour. You ate
the same thing and did the same thing every day as you had done
yesterday and the day before, and, after a week of it, the monotony of
existence was unspeakable. One seemed to have become a machine. After
the activity of life at the front, the lack of exercise and change was
the most trying experience of all the war. At times it affected men's
spirits strangely, and one has heard of cases of melancholia arising
from the enforced idleness of hospitals coming in so sudden contrast to
a mental state that pulsated with interest and excitement.

One must make further mention of 'Mad Jack'. To speak of Number 'N' and
pass that worthy over would be as though one told of the sea and ignored
the fact that its fundamental element was water. 'Mad Jack' was the
fundamental element of Number 'N'. He had the sending of patients to
Capetown, and as most men wished to get to Capetown, if only for a
change, most men came into contact with him, and most men wished
subsequently that they had rather come in contact with the Evil One
himself. It was amusing, but disastrous to your chances of a trip down
country, to go before 'Mad Jack,' and let him see what your inclinations

He was in charge of a large part of the hospital, and held army rank as
a Lieutenant-Colonel, and was a most curious and interesting character.
Short, wiry, slightly knock-kneed, with legs very much shorter than his
long, flat-backed body, and dressed in a khaki uniform that did not fit
him well, and with leggings some sizes too large for his calves, he was
a strange figure as he stood outside his office-tent making fiery speech
to the luckless patient or orderly who might have chanced to incur his
wrath. A keen, square-jawed, sun-tanned face peered at you through gold
glasses, as though he sought to probe your very soul with his choleric
gaze. Popular report credited him with having been in the Army Medical
Service for more years than most of us could count to our ages. He had
been previously in Africa in '81, in India, in Malta--in all, or nearly
all, the many places where British soldiers go.

But it was of Ireland of which he seemed to wish you always to bear in
mind that he was a son. Should it happen that you were Irish also--Cork
for preference--then, indeed, was your bed a bed of roses and your path
an easy one. They said that he had done good work down about Colesberg
in the early year, and that he had been mentioned in despatches for
conspicuous gallantry. And they told all manner of stories about
him--his sayings became proverbs, his quaint wit and quainter wrath
subjects of laughing talk in the marquees at night. No one who has
sojourned in Number 'N' can possibly forget 'Mad Jack'.

A civil surgeon, doing duty at the hospital, had, at his own request,
sent a certain man before him whom he (the civil surgeon) had
recommended for Capetown.

"Phwat ails ye, me man--phwat ails ye, phwat ails ye? Can ye not
sphake--what, what, what!"

"You told me to come and see you, sir, and Mr. S----sent me up this
morning." "Shtand up sthraight, ye scoundthrel--shtand up sthraight in
y'r boots! I didn't tell ye anything av the sort--what, what, what!"

"But, sir, I----"

"Shtop y'r 'buts,' me man. I tould ye nothing av the koind. Kape shtill,
now! Phwat d'ye mane by comin' here thryin' to tell me I said such
nonsinse? I niver said it!"

"Well, Colonel D----"

"Now phwat d'ye mane by y'r insubordination? I'll get ye two years, me
man. Phwat ails ye, I tell ye? For why do ye not answer me? Is it dumb
ye are? Come here--come here into the loight, till I look phwat koind av
a man ye are, at all. Why don't ye tell me phwat's the matter wid ye?
What, what, what!"

"Well, sir, I've had enteric, and the Doc----"

"Ye've had no such thing at all. Phwat d'ye know about enteric? Who
tould ye ye'd had enteric. Ye've not! Ye got a bullet now, didn't ye?

"Yes, sir, but I had enteric after in----"

"'Twas a bullet, ye Irishman! Phwat soort of an elephint ye must
be not to know the difference betwane a gunshot wound an' faver?
D'ye want to go to Kep Town? Now shpake the truth, me man.
Do-ye-want-to-go-to-Kep-Town? What, what, what!"

"Yes, sir, I'd like----"

"Well, ye won't! Ye'll not go to Kep Town! Rist Camp, Rist Camp, Rist
Camp! Mark him 'Rist Camp,' sargint. Sure ye're just the bhoyo for th'
Rist Camp!" "But, sir, I'm feeling very weak, and----"

"Wake, is it? Ye fale wake. Ye don't, ye don't, ye know well ye don't!
Go along wid ye, me man--isn't it the tickey beer in Kep Town an' the
Dutch gurls ye're thinkin' of? What! Look here, me lad, ye were never so
well off in yer loife as ye'll be in the Rist Camp. Sure, the Colonel
'll thrate ye loike his own son. Aw, yis, ye'll go to th' Rist Camp.
Sure, it's a grand place entirely. Kep Town!--Kep Town!--what, what,
what! Now, I'll just tell ye what, me bhoyo--a fortnight in the Rist
Camp an' two years in China 'll jist put ye roight. Ye'll be a new man
afther it--what, what, what!"

"Oh, damn it!--won't you let me speak?"

"Phwat's that, phwat's that? Who are ye, who are ye? Phwat d'ye mane be
comin' here shwearin' an' cur-rsin' loike that? Who are ye, who are ye?
Phwat rigimint do ye belong to?"

"Oh, Second New Zealand Contingent."

"Aw--these dam Colonials! Mark him 'Kep Town,' sargint--get out, get out
o' me soight! Sure, I get no pace at all wid you Austhralians, an'
Canad'yan's, an' New Zealanders! Go on--get away off to y'r marquee!
Y're not fit t' thravel! Mark him 'further tratement,' sargint. Alright,
alright--go away! Go away--out o'--me soight. Aw, yes, yes, yes! Ye'll
go to Kep Town--anywhare t' get rid av ye!"

The above is only a sample of the style and manner of this quaint
creature. He strolled about the Camp, stopping and questioning men on
all kinds of astonishing subjects. He was, without doubt, the greatest
feature of Number 'N'. An encounter with 'Mad Jack' kept you laughing to
yourself for twenty-four hours. No one could ever forget him.

But under the quaint, eccentric manner and the quizzical fury of his
denunciation there beat a good heart, and he was, in his own way, a
kindly, honest gentleman enough. He may have been a singular curiosity,
but he was a rough diamond also.

Sometimes, at night, neighbours would drop into your marquee. And there
had come one who was a 'bleeder'--at any rate that is what he of the
Fourteenth said of him. It seemed to be a pet name for a typical
low-class Londoner--a slum-dragger, one of the very much 'submerged

There were other Hospitals down the line--there were Wynberg and
Woodstock, for example. But has not the voice of the M.P. been raised in
the land, and has he not told you all about them from the fulness of his
knowledge and vastness of his experience? And when you are told a thing
isn't it wise to believe it always--if you want to? There was, too, the
wonderfully perfect ambulance train that bore us Capewards, but if you
wish to become learned as to ambulance trains read "With Number

[1] Rudyard Kipling.

Personally, after the lapse of months, one has dreary memories of life
in hospital; but it was very much better than one had expected it to be.


It was a hot morning in the veldt, somewhere between Abraham's Kraal and
Aasvogel Kop, in what was, as yet, the Orange Free State. We cooked a
pumpkin beside a ransacked farmhouse, and felt bitterly resentful of the
fact that a belted Staff Officer was chasing a fowl in the background
with a drawn sword, and were fiendishly delighted when he tripped over
an old wheelbarrow, and got his well-fitting khaki clothes lamentably
dusty. He saw us laughing, and looked very angry, and then laughed
himself and went inside, leaving the hen to whom she might concern. We
were too weakly hungry to be concerned about her.

The mirage shone in the valley, and swallowed up a train of
transport-waggons slowly lumbering out of the haze behind. Mile after
mile the long procession had staggered by, the cries of the Kaffir
drivers came shrilly to us through the clear morning, the cracking of
their whips sounded like far-off rifle-shots. A low cloud of reddish
dust floated into the blue sky beside the line of march, stragglers
drifted past on foot and horseback--weary, boot-worn, mulish, patient
Tommies, whose rifles seemed to weigh them down; sweating, cursing,
disgusted 'flash' colonials leading lame horses; sickly boys belonging
to Cape regiments, whose worn-out 'chargers' had given in at last and
were dead behind--all the strangely assorted flotsam and jetsam that
struggles wearily and perfunctorily to keep pace with an army marching
forced marches.

They were hungry days those--when the army left its base by Modder
Bridge, and dived suddenly through the enemy's country in a swift dash
for his capital. They were exciting, eventful days. Osfontein had been
followed by Driefontein; Driefontein was to be sequelled by the siege
and surrender of Bloemfontein. The great battle for which we all looked,
but which did not come, was still looming in front of us. Each day
brought us closer to what, we thought, was to be the bloodiest struggle
of the war. When, three mornings after, we left the regiment upon the
Cape-Pretoria railway, and, scouting forward in the uncertain dusk of
dawn, from the top of a low ridge beheld the pretty town below us, heard
the homely crowing of cocks, and saw the peaceful blue smoke ascending
from beneath the early morning coffee-pot, we hardly could believe our
eyes. The great final struggle, from which we were to emerge conquerors
of all South Africa, and which was to bring Paul Kruger suing hastily
for peace, had again eluded us--but here, two days before the expected
fight, we watched divisions and brigades and guns and teams go past, and
cursed fervently the luck that had lamed our horses, and left us,
rationless and forlorn, in the tracks of the advance.

My friend was of Roberts' Horse--a full-bearded, tweed-trousered
Victorian--for all the world like a Boer, and having nothing soldierly
in his make-up, save a worn and faded khaki tunic, a bandolier, a slung
rifle, and a straight back. We had foregathered earlier, in a mealie
field, and quarrelled over the possession of a pumpkin; but a compromise
had established amicable relations, and, at noon, we roasted the
heaven-sent vegetable in a fire of shelled mealiecobs, beside that
white-washed, abandoned farmhouse.

In the house we had foraged unsuccessfully for food, but everything
seemed to have been removed, or destroyed, by its recent tenants. In a
barn was a great heap of unthreshed Kaffir corn, but some one had
thoughtfully anticipated the coming of hungry rooibaajes by emptying
over it a drum of tar.

Upon the stoep without lay an old book--a Dutch Bible, clumsily bound in
leather, printed in curious ancient type, and bearing upon its
title-page the date sixteen hundred and eighty something in Roman
numerals--a veritable treasure and priceless relic for any book lover.
In the front was written in faded yellow characters "Gert van somebody,"
and a few lines of Scripture. In the back cover was a long list of
family names, with dates that ranged from 1690 to the end of the
seventeenth century--a kind of genealogical tree. Poor people--their
terror-stricken flight had been so hurried and hasty that, though they
had taken everything beside, they had left what was probably their most
beloved heirloom to the spoiler--the accursed bogey of a rooinek, who
might have helped them to load it up also, had they only waited.

The Bible was carried in the writer's haversack for three long hours,
and it was large and heavy. Then Providence sent another pumpkin into
his path, and, there being but room for either food or Gospel, Gospel
had to be left in the veldt, and food transported to the camping-ground
in place of it. We were very hungry--but now that that hunger is a
memory and not a stern reality, regret has taken its place. You never
know what manner of a depraved creature you may become until you are
really hungry.

As we stood beside our miserable fire eyeing the blackening slices of
pumpkin with starving impatience there came another great Staff Officer,
trotting hideously, to whom spake the hunter of fowls, emerging from the
house. We caught faintly the words "Commander-in-Chief" and "coming,"
and in reply--"No; next house--lunch is ready there," and he of the
misshapen riding-trousers trotted back again--a moving eyesore as he
bumped upon his uneven way.

And soon after, down from behind the stone cattle-kraal to our left, a
group of Staff Officers rode at a walk. Behind them came a body-guard of
bearded Cape Colonists and Uitlanders. At their head rode a little old

He was just as he looks in the portraits that have overrun all the
papers of the last two years, and was quite the kind of man one had
expected to behold, except in this one particular--that he was even more
diminutive than we had expected him to prove. In the Headquarters Staff
there were many big men, and this fact may possibly have emphasised the
smallness of his stature, but by himself, or in a crowd, he can never be
anything else, so far as physical development goes, than 'little Bobs'.

It was a never-to-be-forgotten morning for the writer--that of the 11th
of March, 1900. It was one of those rare times to an Australian when the
lump of enthusiasm comes up into your throat, and you can say nothing,
and think of nothing, and do nothing--only feel. It seemed impossible to
realise that one was really gazing upon one of the idols of one's
boyhood, and that, unlike most idols, this one had not proved to have
'feet of clay'. One thought hurriedly and vaguely of the homesick boy
going out to join the Bengal Artillery, years and years ago; of the
footnote below his own modest telling of the gallant deed that won him
the V.C.; of the Siege of Delhi; of the Kashmir Gate; of John Nicholson;
of Cabul and Khandahar; of the dead son lying in Natal; of Paardeberg,
of Osfontein, of yesterday--of everything about him that could flash
through one's mind in half a second.

He barely halted to say a word or two, inaudible to us, to the
fowl-hunting Staff Officer, who had mounted his horse and was awaiting
the arrival of the Staff before they came--and then he moved on,
speaking earnestly to a handsome younger man who rode beside him.

"Who's that crowd?" laconically inquired the Victorian. "Who's the ole
feller?" Ignorant swine!

There was little time in which to notice very much before they had come,
and passed by, and were out of sight upon the other side of the
farmhouse--but one impression, stronger than all others, remains. Of all
the Staff he was the freshest and most active-looking by a very great
deal. It was not hard to realise that, since the Army had left the camp
by Osfontein, it had been a time of great strain and long hours for all
of them. The tired, weary figures, sitting their horses stiffly, spoke
eloquently enough of the state of being of the Staff as a whole. But the
little man at their head rode as a 'flash' shearer who has just 'rung
out' a shed--alert, springy, vigorous, and very fit. Excuse the
comparison, you who know flash shearers. It merely refers to deportment.

One has written of him above as a 'little old man'. 'Old' he is--one
knows it; and 'little'--one has seen it. But he is the youngest old man
you might come across in a thousand years. His figure is slim, and
straight, and active. The scrupulously neat khaki uniform fitted him as
a glove. The puttee leggings encased the trimmest little legs
that ever pressed against stirrup-leathers. His brick-red face had
been fresh shaven that morning--one would swear. His was the most
graceful form you might ever chance to behold, and he carried himself so
bravely, and modestly, and handsomely, that one felt as though some old
knight had stepped from a bygone century into this, endowed with all the
best attributes of the 'age of chivalry'. It came across one's thought
that here, indeed, was a man of whom it might be said again--'sans peur
et sans reproche'.

He went on, and, full of pumpkin, we, too, went on later in the day;
and, in course of time, he led a procession of Guards and other tattered
foot soldiers through Bloemfontein, whilst we camped five miles outside,
at Wessels' Farm.

The next occasion of the writer seeing the 'great little man' was in the
Market Square of Bloemfontein as he walked across on foot towards the
Club, attended by the beetle-browed Kitchener, and two less important
personages who followed a little way behind.

One could not but comment upon the striking contrast presented by the
appearance of the two great soldiers--a contrast which is not only of
appearance, but of every deed and the manner of its doing. They were
both great men--one had but to see them to recognise that fact. Even had
one never heard of them before it would have been apparent at a glance.
But between the stern, relentless, sphinx-like countenance of Kitchener
and the kindly humanity that looks from behind the features of Lord
Roberts there is a great difference. Only in one characteristic is it
possible to compare the two faces--and that is the indefinable something
that spells 'success,' the strong, steady, sure look that speaks most
eloquently of great mental power, of unswerving purpose, of a will
before which other wills must bend or break.

In physique every one knows how greatly they differ. Kitchener is a big
man, even amongst big men; Lord Roberts is a little man amongst little
men. But each of them, according to the scale of his construction, is a
splendid specimen of vigorous manhood. The one is comparatively young,
straight-formed, sure of step, and long of limb; the other is very old
for an active General, and short of limb--so short that were Kitchener
to walk with his usual stride, 'Bobs,' one thinks, would need to trot,
in order to keep pace. But he is just as straight, just as erect, just
as imperiously commanding in his looks. Both of them are men of steel.

In course of conversation with an engine-driver on the railway between
Kroonstad and the Transvaal capital, the manner of the two men was
strikingly exemplified by his words.

"Oh, yes," he said, "Bobs an' Kitchener comes along sometimes. My
colonial, y' oughter see the difference at the stations, though! W'en
'Bobs's' train pulls up, he gets out an' strolls along the platform, an'
everybody knocks off work so's to come up an' have a look at him. He
jes' walks about among the crowd, talkin' to 'em like me an' you would.
Asks 'em how they're gettin' on for rations, an' so on. 'Course, he's
never familiar, or anything like that--y' can always see he's Boss--an'
if he notices anything wrong he lets 'em know, quick an' lively--but he
seems to be more of a friend to everybody than anything else. But w'en
'Herbert' steps out of his carriage there's hardly a soul to be seen on
the platform--they're all away diggin' trenches, or mountin' guns, or
scoutin' roun' the country--any blessed thing, so long as he can see 'em
workin'. Lord help 'em if they ain't! W'y I b'lieve if Kitchener was to
be given command of heaven's gates he'd jes' as soon Stellenbosch Peter,
spite of all his long service, supposin' he caught him nappin' any warm

On another afternoon, we had been up Maitland Street to where, it was
said, a baker baked bread in a little lane that opened from it. We had
found the place, and there had been a clamouring queue of Tommies from
all the world, so that it seemed one might wait indefinitely on the
'off' chance of a loaf of hot bread, and the possibly full chance of
getting none. So we had come away mourning, and were leisurely walking
down the street on the right-hand side as you come towards the Post
Office, when we noticed a throng of officers, and tattered privates, and
sweating Dutch civilians seeking entrance to the Town House.

"What's on inside?" we asked a military policeman near the door.

"Dunno," he replied, with the customary ignorance of the British soldier
as to what may proceed beneath his nose. "Dunno. Specs it's a meetin' o'
they blarsted Christians."

We went in. Even should they prove to be 'blarsted Christians' we were
anxious to see what they were about. It was long since we had sat for an
hour beneath the roof of a public hall or place of entertainment. It
would be almost refreshing not to feel the blueness of the sky overhead
for a little while. And so we entered--there were difficulties about
doing so. We had to squeeze in through the throng, heedless of protest;
and, finally, we stood against the wall under the gallery of a large
hall. At the further end was a stage. In the midst of a setting of scene
that might have stood for Dunsinane Wood, or the Forest of Arden, or
Eugowra Rocks in Robbery under Arms, was a little table with a
water-bottle upon it, and a little man--the Little Man--beside it.

All the hushed audience strained its melting faces towards the stage.
There was a greasy smell of perspiring men, of new bread, of
tobacco-laden breaths. Clumsy feet sometimes shuffled on the floor. But,
though the hall was packed as tightly as it might be with hotly living
soldiery, there was a hushed, exciting silence of the kind you only find
when there speaks publicly to a great gathering some one whose most
trivial word the gathering does not wish to lose, whom it is worth their
while to listen to, and who knows what he is talking about.

He was speaking. We stood upon tip-toes to see him, and strained also so
that we might not miss any word he said.

It was a meeting of the Army Temperance Association--apparently
organised by the big-bearded chaplain who sat upon his right hand, and
who also subsequently said something that was not interesting--and of
which, we learned for the first time that afternoon, Lord Roberts was
the President.

He spoke quietly, and distinctly, and to the point--he was like a little
Maxim, tapping out its emphatic arguments rapidly, unmistakably. There
was nothing of the 'Great-I-am' or the 'this-is-so-because-I-say-it'
style of oratory about his speech. It was direct, conclusive, and to the
point; and he spoke as one grown man speaks to another. He was not to
us, that afternoon, the Commander-in-Chief, telling us what we must
do--he was simply our friend 'Bobs' suggesting, in all kindliness, what
we should do.

He spoke of the march up the Modder. It seemed that it was a greater one
than the march to Khandahar. He enlarged upon the privations the troops
had had to endure, the footsoreness, the weariness, the difficulties of
Driefontein. He said how sorry he had been when it was wet, and what a
fine thing it was that we had been unable to get drunk. (Well, it
possibly was a fine thing.)

He said he had never led such an army as ours, and that he very much
doubted whether any one else had done so either. We marched well, we
fought well, above all we behaved ourselves well. Under the clear-cut
eloquence of the little man we almost managed to believe that we were
models of good behaviour. We felt glad that he did not seem to have
realised how very dearly we would have liked to loot Bloemfontein, how
much we would have enjoyed but half a day of the swashbuckling license
that other armies had enjoyed in other wars. We felt sneakingly glad
that he had such a good opinion of us. We almost realised what 'whited
sepulchres' feel like.

But when he went on to enlarge upon the sobriety and steadiness we
displayed in the streets of the conquered Free State capital, the
absence of crime, and the lack of defaulters, and attributed it all to
the temperance principles that actuated the army, we wondered whether,
possessing as he did all the elements that go to make a good man, he
really lacked in what has been spoken of as the 'saving grace of

For this was the state of affairs. You went to the Bloemfontein Hotel
and demanded beer. "Are y' an orficer?" asked the dissipated ruffian who
served the bar.--"No." "Well, git out quick's yer can." You went to the
Royal Hotel, and the ubiquitous military policeman threatened to run you
in. You went to the 'Masonic,' seeking refreshment, and, though your
tongue hung out a yard by reason of your dryness, they ejected you
summarily. One recollected these experiences, and felt almost inclined
to call loudly from the back of the hall: "Oh, Bobs, go slow! It wasn't
our fault that we were temperate--you funny little man. You seem to be
pulling our legs!"

None the less, although he seemed to credit the army as a whole with
virtues it did not possess, no one who has ever seen war can fail to
realise how much wisdom the commander of an army displays when he
prohibits the use of intoxicating liquors to his troops upon entering a
town. War is terrible and brutal enough when conducted by sober
combatants. What it would be when waged to its logical conclusion by
drunken fiends one's imagination almost fails to picture.

One could not say that the speech was a triumph of oratory. It was not.
There was nothing dramatic in all its length, nothing whatever that
might appeal to the emotions. But it was lucid, clear, forcible--and the
manner of its delivery was the manner of the man. It may have been as
when a schoolmaster jokes, and all the little boys laugh heartily, but,
glancing round the hall at times, it struck one as being extraordinary
the way in which the 'Tommies' hung on to every word that dropped from
beneath the grizzled grey moustache, noted every point of the quick
discourse, applauded every telling argument brought forward. And
most of them seemed to be telling arguments. Never once was there
the slightest sign of the air referred to above as that of the
'it-must-be-right-because-I-say-it' class. The greatest soldier of the
Empire was speaking to some of the meanest, yet at no time did he seem
to be conscious of their, and his, relative positions. Always, it was as
man to man--never as Commander-in-Chief to Tommy Atkins or Tommy
Cornstalk, or any other humble 'pillar of the Empire'.

He sat down, and the meeting spent ten minutes cheering him. From what
one knows of Atkins it is almost safe to say that there could have been
scarcely a score of men amongst the soldier audience who were
enthusiastic advocates of temperance. In all he saw of them the writer
cannot recall one single instance where the British soldiers were not
enthusiastic advocates of beer--plenty of beer, unlimited beer. That is
one of 'Tommy's' faults. He will sell his soul for beer. It was not, one
grieves to say, that Tommy applauded the manly and wholesome sentiments
of the speaker. It was his fanatic love of the man that prompted him to
cheer so heartily. One does not sit in a hot building all through an
afternoon to hear the kind of thing, good though it be, that one may
hear any Sunday afternoon in any park at home. It was to hear the Little
Man speak, to listen to his kind voice, to see him, and to look what
manner of man he might be, that brought us mostly there.

While he had been speaking one almost fancied that beneath the quiet
earnestness of all his words, the clear-cut, hard-hitting sentences,
there lurked a vein of sadness, a quiet undertone of grief, which might
never come in words to the surface, but which, one still fancied, might
nevertheless be there. One thought of the dead son at Colenso, and of
the guarded houses, and the lenient proclamations, and the scowling
people, and wondered whether there could be many men like this one at
our head--who would bear no malice, and evidence no iron hand towards
the people who had slain his only son. Of course, he should not have
allowed personal feeling to sway his actions in such a manner, but most
men would have done so.

Once again, at the Vet River, our Brigade was drawn up on the northern
bank, just after crossing, and we were told that the Commander-in-Chief
wished to inspect us. We all looked upon it as a privilege, and were
eager to have the Little Man ride through our ranks. For we were proud
of our Brigade. And then, just as he was coming, the writer and four
others of his troop were sent out scouting all the way to Smaldeel. We
were infinitely disgusted, but we had to go.

Months afterwards, as we lay encamped one morning beneath the guns of
Daspoort Fort without Pretoria--having been hunted thither by De la Rey
from Nitral's Nek during the best part of the previous night--some of us
had seen him ride away at noon, and we knew that there had been bad
trouble for some one, that some one had felt 'the heavy hand,' and
congratulated ourselves that we were but simple troopers, having only to
obey, and not to take responsibility of failure. There was a set
expression of unfeigning anger that boded ill for some one. The iron
jaws were close set, and the seamed face hard with an expression that
few men would willingly encounter in their superior.

A sentry by the cottage at Sunnyside, of whom one day we asked
directions as to the office of the Military Secretary, had spoken of
another phase. Lord Roberts stood in the verandah above the garden,
talking to some one earnestly and at length. We had asked the sentry
jestingly did he know the Little Man?

"Know 'im!" he replied; "w'y, yuss, I jes' do know 'im. Friend o' the
fam'ly, 'e is. Day afore yestiddy, 'e comes along the street on foot,
an' w'en 'e gits ter the gite, er course I stan's ter ther 'present'. 'E
comes bowlin' in, 's chippy 's if 'e'd bin to a bloomin' dawg-fight.
'Good arternoon, sentry,' 'e sez, 'any one bin arskin' arter the ole
man?' Blime! I was that took back I 'ardly knows wot ter s'y to 'im.
Anyw'y, I manages ter git out as I didn't think no one 'ad called.
'Wot's yer nime, sentry?' 'e sez. So I tells 'im--nime, an' number, an'
regimint. 'Wasn't yer farther with me ter Khanderar?' 'e sez. Well, Lor
lumme! yer could er knocked me hover with a bleedin' swipe--me ole man
'ad bin there, but I didn't think Bobs 'd er mide 'is acquinetance.
Well, 'e did. Remembered 'im fer bein' 'colour' in a comp'ny wot 'd done
somethink or other. Ain't 'e a nobby little bloke? 'E knows crowds an'
crowds er blokes, too--an' yit 'e remembers me ole man, jes' w'en 'e
'ears 'is nime!"

This is quite a true story--at least, if it is not, it is the sentry's
lie, not mine. But that is one of the many ways by which Bobs has won
the love and esteem of all the army. He never forgets a face or a name,
they say, of any one he has had to do with, however humble.

And it is the most wonderful thing in all the world--the way they do
love him. To the regular army he is almost a god. One sees his influence
everywhere, and one never sees it without some good effect. Of course,
we Cornstalks and other outlanders of the Empire only knew him as we saw
him in South Africa. A few had read his book, a few had worshipped him
afar off always.

But it is Tommy Atkins who knows his true worth best. It is Tommy who
speaks most gratefully of the life-work of the Little Man.

For not alone has he been a fighter, though he has seen more fighting
than any man alive. There are two rows of ribbons across his jacket. It
is not far short of fifty years since he went into action first--since
he first heard those whistling noises in the air whose grim import we
have learned to recognise but as yesterday, and he has been hearing them
ever since.

It is his peace-work, however, as much as his war-work, that has won him
the love of all the army. All who read must know of what he has done.
We, who have got to know Tommy in some minor aspects of his varied
being, can only testify to his grateful appreciation of the efforts of
'Bobs' on his behalf. The common soldier at home must have a bad time of
it enough even to-day; but the 'haversack-bred' men whose fathers were
in the ranks before them will tell you how much the conditions of
barrack-life have improved, even in their remembrance. Especially will
you hear this from men who have served in India. And, even in Africa,
the Soldiers' Homes he opened--most excellent of institutions upon
active service--in each conquered town were of incalculable benefit to
all of us. His first and last efforts always seem to be directed towards
the amelioration of the conditions under which his soldiers live. And
that is one reason why we all loved him so much.

In the fulness of time he will die. He is an old man now, and in a few
years--ten or twenty at the very utmost--the hardships of a hardly spent
life will have told upon him, iron of brain and constitution though he
be. His wars have been wars that have not, at first sight, involved the
deaths of mighty empires. There has been no Waterloo for him to win,
there has been no lusting ambition in his nature to prompt him to make
an Armageddon of his name.

But there is this that may be written in his record--he was a faithful
servant of his country, he was a kind master, a humane conqueror, and he
was the saviour of the British Empire. Had we lost South Africa we had
lost much beside, and it was 'Bobs' alone who saved Africa to us. In his
time he has held powers that no king or president of to-day may possess
and live. He has held lives in the hollow of his hand; he might have
poured out blood in fertile lands as a child pours water from a vessel.
But always he has been merciful, always just, always loved by any who
have had to do with him--even by his country's enemies--and therein lies
his greatness.


In the week after the battle of Diamond Hill there were few places in
the world where so many varieties of English, so many outlandish men of
the Empire, met together and jostled one another as in the streets of

After the short armistice immediately subsequent to the evacuation of
the capital by the Boer army and its occupation by that of Lord Roberts,
the troops had gone out to surround Louis Botha. It had seemed, at one
time in the two days' fighting, that Louis Botha had almost surrounded
the troops, but finally, at the expense of many good lives, he had been
compelled to retire a little further toward the bush-veldt, northwards.
And then the great bulk of the army in the Transvaal sat down in its
positions to await the remounts hurrying from the south as fast as the
single line of narrow-gauge railway, the exploding culverts, and the
ubiquitous De Wet would permit. North, south, east and west, Divisions
and Brigades bivouacked in the surrounding veldt. The kopjes about the
town were hurriedly fortified and guarded by the invaders against sudden
attack. The surrendering of arms, and the merry granting of permits to
return to farms, went on as briskly as it had done in the first days
after the surrender of Bloemfontein.

Nothing of very much importance was doing anywhere. Baden-Powell from
Mafeking, and Methuen from Fourteen Streams, were riding through the
Western Transvaal. Paul Kruger administered his vague Government from
the migratory saloon carriage on the Laurenco Marques line, and hurled
Scriptural exhortation at his dubious burghers. It was a time of
stagnation in the north. Below the Vaal the Free Staters were alarmingly
active, but here, in our part of the 'Theatre of War,' nothing more
serious went on than the occasional sniping of pickets, and the
intermittent cutting-off of small British patrols by the hovering Boer

And so driblets and details of men 'on leave' from the great chain of
outposts about the town were continually coming in to see Pretoria and
buy provisions, and the peaceful Dutch capital seemed to have taken on
the cosmopolitan air that of right belonged to Johannesburg, thirty
miles down the line.

It was a kind of reunion of the army. The many elements that had been
drafted off into Brigades and Divisions and composite regiments of
sorts--each constituted after its kind--had, as it were, sent delegates
to meet informally in Church Street. Groups of men representative of the
four quarters of the globe strolled about the quiet streets, filling
their haversacks with costly purchases of groceries; raiding the 'Post
Kantoor' for stamps of the (almost 'late') South African Republic;
visiting the State Museum; peeping into the empty church in the centre
of the Market Square; seeking Paul Kruger's house to gape at the Vrouw
Kruger; aimlessly wandering all about the town, from the barracks of the
Staats Artillerie to the late prison of the English officers in the
bird-cage--just as though the place were a resort of excursion trains,
and they curious tourists, come for a day to stare about the 'sights'.

Upon the pavements, and in the shops, or gazing curiously into the
booksellers' windows where the priceless last issues of the Volkstem and
the Standard and Diggers' News were for a little while displayed, were
all manner of strange beings, most utterly dissimilar in every aspect,
save the outward one of dingy, tattered, march- and battle-stained
khaki. There were English Tommies from the counties--sturdy fellows,
slow of speech and ponderous of thought; Cockney Tommies from the East
of London--slack of manners and gamin-like in bearing; Scotch Tommies
who were broad and sturdy, and altogether veritable towers of massive
strength; Irish Tommies, whose brogue preceded them round corners;
straw-hatted 'handy-men' of the 'Four-point-Sevens,' who seemed to look
with contempt upon the benighted 'soldiers' with whom Fate, for a time,
had cast in their lot. There were dainty men of the City Imperial
Volunteers; wealthy men of the Yeomanry; men who knew Collins Street;
men who had a nodding acquaintance with Sydney, but a close friendship
with the Western Plains; Tasmanians, New Zealanders, Queenslanders,
Manitobans, men of the North-West, some of Ceylon, Indians, Burmans--all
the queer mixture that the Empire had been pouring ceaselessly into
South Africa since the war began.

There were little impromptu tea-rooms and hastily improvised
coffee-shops, where you might sit at table with them all, where the rich
brogue of Limerick mingled with the drawl of Canada and the twang of the
Australians--expensive places in which late members of the Boer Army
Service Corps and Commissariat departments rapidly grew rich by selling
boiled eggs for sixpence, and beef-steaks for half-crowns. In them you
might hear the jargons of the trades of nearly all the known universe.
Station overseers exchanged views as to grazing with farmers from the
Eastern Province. Miners of Kalgoorlie discussed the cyanide process
with engineers of the Rand. Policemen of the Klondyke lied against those
of Little Bourke Street. Scotsmen fra' Edinboro' 'cracked' wi' those of
Otago. Troopers of Cape regiments argued in open Dutch with the
proprietors. It was as it had been at Bloemfontein in March, and at
Kroonstad in May.

Never again, until the Great War comes, will so many different types of
the Empire's soldiery gather together and behold one another. Never
again, until then, will there be such an opportunity of comparing the
men of the Old with the men of the New World.

Pretoria, in those days, was as a kaleidoscope. All the shifting colours
of the race to which we belong blended, and parted, and massed in
strange groups, as the bits of glass blend, and mass, and fall apart
within the toy. It was a chance to see the world as one had never before
seen it, and as one will have a great deal of good luck if one ever sees
it again. And, always forcing itself upon one's mind, as one strolled
about the streets, was the consciousness of Empire, the vague
realisation that we, the English, and the Canadians, and the
Australians, were a race that overran the globe, and that its
inheritance was ours. Bumptiousness, if you will--but in the midst of
that coming together of the Four Corners it was a smugly satisfactory
thought that one could not well keep from one's mind. And there was
another one, too--less agreeable, but scarcely less forcible--Heavens!
Does it take all of us to crumple up two little Dutch Republics lost in
the middle of a great continent? This last idea seemed to come as a kind
of unpleasant but healthy mental tonic.

To many of us who had never seen him in the mass before, the Englishman
was something new. Our ship had come to the South Arm at Capetown Docks,
and lain beside a boat-load of Yeomanry. As we drew into the wharf, and
lined the taffrail to get a closer view of the land which was to give
some of us our graves, there came strolling about the pier strange
people in khaki hats and clothing. They were sturdier, fresher
complexioned, plumper men than ours--neater in their dress, and less
self-assured in bearing. Glancing along the ship's side, one saw a few
hundred 'hard' faces peering curiously at all they looked upon, chaffing
a sturdy Zulu who deftly manipulated a steel hawser, calling to one
another to notice new and striking things, and generally indicating by
their manner and bearing that they had assumed ownership over all South
Africa, from the Cape Peninsula to the Zambesi, and were just about to
take formal possession by stepping ashore. The hardness of the average
Australian face had never before come to one so vividly as it did that
morning in the docks, when one saw, for the first time, so many ruddy,
smooth-faced, flaxen Englishmen beside our lantern-jawed, long-limbed,
bark-featured Cornstalks, Crow-eaters and Sand-gropers.

And this is a point amazingly noticeable all through the army of South
Africa--that though dress be the same to every button and grease-spot,
though arms and equipment may in no wise differ, you will never have the
least difficulty in distinguishing a Colonial from an Englishman of
England. By 'Colonial' one refers not necessarily to the 'native born,'
but as much to the men who have lived with them for years, and learned
their ways and habits in their new land. We had many amongst us who
probably had once been as pink and white of countenance as were the

This is the difference--the Colonial has lived a free life, has had to
shift for himself, has been, with more elbow-room, rather more of his
own master than has the average Englishman of the same class. In short,
the Colonial has had to 'battle' for himself in all respects more than
has the Englishman of his kind. And he shows it in his carriage, in his
manner, in his very aggressive bearing, and his hardly veiled excellent
opinion of himself. He is one of the 'old hands'. The latter is a

Not that he remains a Jackaroo always. There is no one in the world
better gifted by nature to become an 'overseer,' but here, at the
starting-point, in the first experience of open air, he is almost
without exception what is known in Australia as a 'New Chum'. And it is
so of all the 'Tommies,' of all the Yeomanry Corps, of all the
Volunteers and Militia of England, when good scouting, intelligent
dependence upon self, and resource are imperatively required

One does not say this in any spirit of ill-feeling. Than the Yeomanry
one would not wish to meet better fellows, or more agreeable company,
and as fighting men--good old English fighting, not the Africander
pattern--they are no whit behind (it is even doubtful whether they are
not a little ahead of) their brethren of Greater Britain. But in this,
and this again--the exercise of what we term 'bushmanship'--until they
have learned by bitterly bought experience, they are for ever wanting.
Show them their enemy, and they will fight him and 'lick' him--but don't
trust them to go and find him themselves, or he will inevitably discover
them first, and possibly 'lick' them by sheer wilyness.

As to 'Tommy' himself--who shall speak? He is a class apart, a different
species of mankind to any other upon earth. For the sort of man he is,
if you wish to learn, you must read Kipling. He knows him, and he has
described him as no one else may hope to do.

We had never encountered him before, but we had read our Kipling and
were anxiously upon the look-out for what he had taught us to expect.
And we found him exactly as described. There were all the strange
expressions and twists of speech of Soldiers Three, and many more
beside, which no one might render into print. You may trace his origin
in his language, and generally it must be low enough. But what seems to
one most singular about him is that, out of such material as the
recruiting sergeant starts upon, the system makes him into so good a
production as it does. It may be stupidity, it may be carelessness, but
he is as cheerfully willing to die as any man who lives. It is not his
fault that he has no individuality. It is the fault, and at the same
time the perfection, of his education--an education which for two
hundred years has sternly schooled him not to think, not to suppose that
he is even capable of thinking. He is foul-mouthed, he is dull, he is
brave, he is patient--he is exactly as one of his own officers is
recently reported to have described him--bovine. That word seems to sum
him up better than all the pages one might write.

But there is another thing--he has a good heart, he is kind, he is
generous, and his public opinion is usually healthy and correct. The
following may illustrate his kindliness of heart. Whether it be
typical of the whole one is not quite certain, but is almost inclined
to believe so.

A few nights after the surrender of Bloemfontein a group of Australian
cavalrymen, who were attached as a squadron to a famous dragoon
regiment, stood talking about a little fire in the lines at Wessels'
Farm. With them were some few of the regiment of which they had the
honour to form a temporary part. Some one inquired of another whether he
meant to apply for a 'pass' to go into town. "No," he replied, "what's
the use? I'd like to have a look round, but I've got no money!" Nothing
more was said at the time, but later, as the group broke up to seek its
blankets, one of the 'Greys'--an utter stranger--touched the penniless
one upon the shoulder, and whispered to him: "Hey, chom, a can len' ye
ten shillin', gin ye wush tae gang t' the toon!"

Could anything have been much kinder? To his credit, the Australian
refused the proffered loan.

Of our own immediate kindred there were divers sorts. The men of New
South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and Western
Australia were all much of a class. One has written of them all
practically under the heading of 'Tommy Cornstalk'. They are all mainly
sprung from the parent stock of the Hawkesbury and the Hunter, or a
common English ancestry, and have the same traditions and
characteristics in the main as one another.

The Tasmanians differed, perhaps, a little from the men of the
mainland--as Tasmania herself differs from the larger and more modern
island continent. One heard of them always as having done good work.
They had a commanding officer who seems to have been perpetually
'looking for fight,' and who kept on looking for it after having been
wounded at least twice, if not more often. Tasmania, smallest of all the
Australian States, has the distinction of having carried off, so far,
all the V.C.'s granted to Australians.

Some Queensland Bushmen who visited our camp near Pretoria had a quaint
story of the Victorians, which one would like to believe, but which is
scarcely probable. It was to the effect that this particular lot of
Banana-landers had gone round to Beira to join Carrington's Rhodesian
Column. When they arrived there a steam-launch had come off to the
troop-ship, carrying a fat official clothed in white duck. He stepped on
deck with all politeness, and inquired beamingly what particular portion
of the Empire these so fine soldiers might grace with their presence
when at home.

"We're Queensland Bushmen," they told him.

"Ah--yes--Queenslan'," he said meditatively. "Vell, good morning. I
cannot permit you to make to disembark 'ere. You are as ze
Veectorians--of Australia, is it not so? I regret ver mooch, but ze
Veectorians, zey lan'--zey do what you call sketch--paint ze town red.
Not ze bloodshed, I mean. But zey seize ze hotel, drink up all ze beers,
an' ze vines, an' ze viskeys. My police expostulate--but zese wild
Booshmen, zey seize zem by force, an' place zem in ze preeson, an' make
to release all ze preesonaires. No, it is not possible to have more of
ze Booshmen of Australia in Beira. Zey are fine fellow, zese
Booshmen--but too wil', too wil'. I regret. I sorrow. I wish you a so
pleasant voyage back to Capetown."

The Queenslanders, indeed, returned to Capetown from Beira, and joined
in the chase of De Wet, but the reason given as to the Victorians was
probably the subsequent production of some fertile brain.

The New Zealanders differed very materially from the 'Cornstalk' troops,
however. New Zealand has her own traditions of a fierce and bloody war,
which, even though it be of the last generation, is still fresh enough
in the memories of the people of to-day to give added soldierly
qualities to her sons. They themselves come of a good stock. The climate
of the islands is a healthy one. There is something solid and abiding
about her people--some stability and sturdiness that, in the smallest
degree, is wanting to our possibly more mercurial temperament and

We of the Australians may all claim proudly that, even apart from our
troops having possibly distinguished themselves upon occasion, there has
never yet been anything of the wholesale-surrender kind to bring down
our average. But the writer does not think than any Australian who has
served in Africa will quarrel with him for stating what he honestly
believes himself to be true--namely, that of all the troops engaged in
this arduous war, none were quite so good as the 'Maorilanders'. Never
once, in all the annals of it, did they fail to do the right thing at
the right time. Always they were ready when wanted, always to be relied
upon in 'tight corners,' always sure and constant in everything they

Not that the others ever wanted either. That was an opinion of Generals
and lesser lights in the English army. There was a cossack-post of the
writer's own corps, doing duty one day in early April east of
Bloemfontein, which was suddenly attacked by a number of Johannesburg
Police, who sought to isolate the four men from their main post. They
briskly responded to the Boer fire, but, whilst so engaged, their
'linked' horses broke loose, and wandered, all unwitting of danger, to
feed upon the scanty grass in front of the little kopje upon which the
post was stationed. One of the men thereupon walked down the hill and
led the horses round to the back, neither they nor him receiving a
scratch though under a fairly hot, if long range, fire. Presently
reinforcements came and drove the Zarps away. The English officer in
charge of the main post had seen through glasses the risk the men of the
cossack-post ran of losing their horses and being themselves cut off,
and had come, hot-foot, to their assistance. He was much surprised to
find that the horses had been saved. "Ah!" he remarked to the corporal,
"you Australians always do well!"

And, though one says it as shouldn't, that was fairly true--but the New
Zealanders did, in the humble opinion of the writer at any rate, just a
little better.

Of the South African irregular regiments there was one corps to which
all others must yield pride of place--that splendid and gallant body of
Rand volunteers, the Imperial Light Horse. No corps in all the war has
seen quite so much, or done such distinguished service, as this one.
They began at Elandslaagte. Some went through the Siege of Ladysmith,
and some who had been shut out helped to relieve the beleaguered town
with Buller. Then they came round from Durban, and went up to assist
Mahon in his notable march to release Mafeking. They came across the
Western Transvaal and lost heavily in the fighting about Pretoria in
July. Then they went on again towards Delagoa, and, for all the writer
knows, may still be riding on the trail of Botha or De Wet. At the end
they will have a record second to that of no regiment which has
participated either in the Natal or the Western Campaign--and they
should never be disbanded. Give the present members of the regiment
their discharges, if they wish, but, for the honour of its deeds, keep
the I.L.H. upon the shoulder-straps of a body of men in the garrison of
South Africa--which, if it comport itself as excellently as did the
originally constituted corps, will rival, for efficiency and usefulness,
that fine body, the Cape Mounted Rifles itself.

The 'Horse' regiments seemed to be without limit. There were Roberts'
Horse, Kitchener's Horse, Marshall's Horse, Brabant's Horse, Nesbit's
Horse, Lumsden's Horse, Strathcona's Horse, Paget's Horse, Australian
Horse--and many others too numerous to mention. The generality of them
were South African corps, formed at the commencement of the war, and
supplied with drafts of men from depôts in Capetown and Durban, as it

For some reason or other the Africander regiments were not popular with
the troops from over sea--neither Tommies, Australians, nor Canadians
seeming to care overmuch about them. That they did splendid service no
one can deny. Rimington's Guides, Roberts' Horse, Kitchener's Horse,
were always at the front. But there was something that seemed to tell
against them in the estimation of their colonial cousins. It may have
been that, instinctively, no one quite trusted the Cape Colony. We had
come through their people after landing--for the front--and had seen the
railway line guarded and patrolled, even into the suburbs of Capetown
itself. We had met black looks and ill-concealed dislike at every
station on the way to Modder River where the populace were allowed
access to the platforms. And so, possibly, there was some feeling
regarding these regiments--recruited in what was really an enemy's
country, and many of their members having Dutch names--that had given
rise to what was, one believes, an wholly unmerited distrust and
dislike. Not in any other corps would you hear manifested a so bitter
and general dislike of the Boers of both Republics as in these; and
there were no troops whom the Boers themselves loathed so venomously as
those of the sadly distracted colony. The siege of Wepener, the disaster
at Sanna's Post, and half a dozen other hot and unhappy actions, had
proved conclusively their loyalty and devotion, and shown beyond any
shadow of doubt how well and bravely they could fight and bear
themselves. And yet, the Boers hated them with a hatred of
disappointment, and the Tommies distrusted them with a pig-headed and
unreasoning distrust. Whatever their merits or demerits may have been,
the fact remains, however, that they took their fair share of all the
burdens of the campaign.

Of all the interesting groups of men who helped to form this strange
medley of an army there were none who, for picturesque interest and
fascinating detail of exploit, could approach within helio-range of the
Canadians. And in this connection the writer has recently been doubting
very much whether, in a book that purports to be written by a Cornstalk
about Cornstalks, he has not already at various times devoted too much
space to the doings of these remarkable men--whether the beguiling
shadow of the maple-leaf has not rested too long and frequently upon
pages that ought, more properly, to have been chronicles of gum-tree and
she-oak men. But, through all the length and breadth of the land,
campfire, and hospital, and railway station echoed their weird
deeds--they made a name and recollection for themselves within South
Africa which will not be forgotten until the race-feud dies out and men
cease to speak of nineteen-hundred. Wherever you went, whomsoever you
might hold converse with, you heard mention of them. "Have you heard the
latest about those hard-cheeked Canadians?" became almost a stock
question when conversation flagged, or a new topic were needed. And
there was always something fresh or new to tell and hear of them. One
seemed to fall, almost unconsciously, under the curious charm of their
quaint collective personality. And every one liked them. Undoubtedly
they were the most interesting and picturesque figures of the war. Their
dashing actions, cool ferocity, quiet 'slimness,' and guileless
'verneukery' of the Boers themselves--and their pure hard
cheek--rendered them famous and fascinating wherever they went.

One has told so often of their prowess and their quaintly serious modes
of expression, that there is little left here to explain--but this story
of one of them, who out-Canadianed the Canadians, may be worth
recording, even though, possibly, it has been told in print before. It
is of a man whose renown travelled through all Africa, who, though he
was but a corporal of Mounted Infantry, attained a degree of local
fame such as some Brigadier might even have envied. It was related
to the writer by a Highland officer in Wynberg Hospital, who, having
allowed a bullet to pass clean through his head somewhere in that
neighbourhood, had been a patient in the hospital at Vredefort, and had
himself heard it from both Boer and English sources.

"Well, it seems that this Corporal Clarkson, of the Canadian Mounted
Infantry, you know, was rather a noted character in Hutton's Brigade.
They used to give him all the hard jobs to do--ridin' out reconnoitrin'
by himself, you know, and so forth--and he generally managed to do
whatever he was instructed to, and a good deal beside. Sort of 'handy
man' at scoutin', you know.

"Well--when French's crowd were just thinking about crossing the Vaal,
they camped a few miles outside a little place called Vredefort--typical
'dorp,' an' all that--you know the kind of thing. Expected a big fight
somewhere about, but it didn't come off. So, just to make sure, French
thought he'd send some one out to reconnoitre Vredefort. Accordingly,
the M.I. were told to find a patrol to do the job.

"Whoever it was had the sending out of the expedition I don't know, but
I really think that the man who picked Clarkson to lead must himself
have been a born leader of men, you know--sort of chappy who recognises
the qualifications of his men, you know, when he wants anything done.

"So, this fellow Clarkson was paraded with five of his 'darned out-fit,'
as those chappies call themselves, you know--and instructed to go and
find out whether Vredefort was occupied or not. So out he went.

"When they got to within about a mile of the town, they came quite
suddenly over a ridge on to a Boer outpost, or picket, or
something--consistin' of eight or ten lusty Dutchmen. Clarkson arrived
so very abruptly in their midst, that they hardly knew what was the
right thing to do--to shoot or run. Quite flabbergasted 'em, you know.
The gallant corporal took in the situation at a glance--let on he was
the General himself, you know, and demanded their arms. I think they
must have been a lot of awful Johnnies, you know--kind of town guard of
Vredefort or something, because they just did as he told 'em. He took
their ponies, remounted his men fresh, sent the Boers away on foot, and,
leaving two men to guard the loot, continued his advance on Vredefort.

"Well, when he rode into Vredefort, he found the Dutch people fairly
scared, you know. They knew French was pretty close, and had been
filling one another up with lies about what would happen if he entered
the place. There were white flags up on every chimney-pot and gate-post.

"Clarkson simply rode straight up to the office of the Landrost--sort of
civil magistrate Johnnie, you know. By this time he was Commander-in-Chief,
vice Lord Roberts, resigned; if you give a Canadian an ell he'll take as
far as his rifle can carry.

"Our friend simply demanded the surrender of the town--nothing less!
Well, the Boer Johnny was so very overcome, you know, and so very much
afraid of losing his billet, that he thought perhaps he'd better do as
requested, seeing also that Clarkson must undoubtedly be a General of
very great standing. So, actin' under orders from Field-Marshal Lord
Clarkson, he summoned all the available burghers who had arms to deposit
'em immediately in the Market Square, an' come an' listen to what the
great officer of General French had to say. Course, you know, they think
French has seniority of God Almighty. Altogether Clarkson collected
between forty and fifty Mausers and Martinis, stacked 'em in a waggon,
an' sent 'em into Hutton's camp with a note and one of his remaining
three men--having previously invited himself to lunch with the Landrost
at the hotel. I heard about the note; it was something like this, you

"'Dear General,--Please receive accompanying armament of one commando.
I am pleased to state that I have this day captured the city of
Vredefort (fancy Vredefort a "city") and taken a large number of
prisoners, whom I propose, subject to your approval, to release upon
parole. You will be glad to hear that I am at the present moment
enjoying an excellent luncheon with the Mayor of this city. We're havin'
champagne! After lunch, as to-morrow will be the birthday of Her Most
Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, I propose to formally annex the city to
the British Dominions. Hopin' this will find you well, and in good
spirits, as it leaves me at present,--I am, dear sir, yours faithfully
Duncan Clarkson, Corporal, Canadian M.I.'

"Well, after lunch, he had 'em all called up into the Market Square
again. Some English lady had had a flag hidden away all the time, and
she produced it for the occasion. So Clarkson commanded the Free State
Flag to be hauled down, and ran the Union Jack up in its place.

"Then he made 'em a great speech. Pointed out all the benefits that
would accrue to Vredefort under British rule, you know, an' all
that--and finally worked 'em up into quite a pitch of enthusiasm, you
know, so that they gave three cheers and sang 'God save the Queen,'

"But the best of it, you know, was a snap-shot which that English lady
took with a kodak, an' which I saw afterwards. There were all the old
Boer Johnnies, you know, cheerin' away like anything, an' throwin' up
their hats into the air--our brave boy, seated on his pony in the middle
of the crowd of 'em; smilin' like a Cheshire cat, and--with one hand on
the butt of his revolver!

"Well, now, I call that 'moral suasion,' don't you?"

And now we will leave the Canadian, and the Africander, and the
Yeomanry, and the Tommies, and all the great gathering of the Empire's
outmost outposts in all their diversified glory, and consider briefly
another matter that is of some moment to us who helped to earn it--the
reputation of the army.

In Pretoria, one morning, the writer had an opportunity of conversing
with an Irish-American who had served under the redoubtable Blake,
'Colonel' of the Boer-Irish Brigade, and, being disgusted with that
worthy person, and 'full-up of fighting, annyway,' had surrendered his
Mauser and was for compulsory deportation shortly. Had been, he said, a
burgher of the Transvaal. Had been, also, at Ladysmith, Colenso, and on
the Tugela, and was, on the whole, rather a decent fellow--very
different to the stray prisoners of Blake's disreputable command whom
one had hitherto encountered. It was not "Go to hell!" with him to every
question asked.

He had fought with the Boers because he had believed, and still
believed, in the justice of their cause. And then he told the horrible
story which one fancies that delightful gentleman, Mr. Michael Davitt,
was the first to 'father' in print. It was the old Boer anecdote about
the patrol of brutal lancers in Natal, who, being in the debatable lands
foraging, had incontinently misused a farmhouseful of Dutch women and
girls to such a dreadful extent that some of them had lost their reason,
and one had died. And he believed it.

Well, there have been stories printed in our own papers as to frightful
Boer atrocities--wretched crimes such as you would not book to black
fellows--which have received only too ready credence in the public mind
of England and the Empire. And if you get files of last year's Standard
and Diggers' News, you will find that just the same kind of stories were
served out, hot and smoking, to the people of the late Republics. You
may believe them or not, as you please. No one can actually dispute them
now, even if one wished to take the trouble. It is one of the most
miserable features of war--the malevolent lying that takes place upon
both sides--not so much among the actual combatants as between the
skulkers behind each respective army. Personally, one believes no worse
thing of the Boers than of our own people. There are blackguards in
every army, but in most you will find, if you look below the surface,
that public opinion is astonishingly healthy.

But this much one may say, and say with no fear of contradiction by
those who are competent to judge--that the British Army, as a whole, was
precisely what Lord Roberts described it as being--"an army of

If you do not judge a man by the fit of his clothes, or whether he eat
appallingly with his knife, or make weird noises as he absorbs soup, you
will look to the broad principles of his larger actions when you wish to
classify him as either 'gentleman' or 'blackguard'. And, regarding the
whole mass of the soldiery of the Empire, both regular and volunteer,
who fought in South Africa--one may say unhesitatingly that they
certainly did not behave as 'blackguards'. We may have used bad
language, we may have done a little looting, or used 'moral suasion'
when we starved, but never once did the writer, in all the marching
between Paardeberg and Nitral's Nek, see, or hear of, one case of a
woman, black or white, being maltreated or mishandled in any way. And it
was not for lack of opportunity. It was not, perhaps, because there were
not men amongst us who would stick at nothing in the satisfaction of
their more brutal inclinations. But it was because of this--that an
Englishman is an Englishman, a Canadian a Canadian, an Australian an
Australian, a White Man a White Man all the world over, and that,
wherever the leader of any army sets his face sternly against brutality
or inhumanity, then there will be little or none of either.

And so, again, writing as one of the humblest 'rankers' in it, one may
agree with the Great Little Man who led it, that the South African Field
Force was an army of gentlemen.


"Fetch us Kruger's scalp!" said the crowd that lined the streets, as we
struggled hotly to Woolloomooloo Bay on a sweating afternoon in January.
"Don't take any notice of white flags; play 'em at their own game; wipe
'em out; give 'em hell!"--they cried as we led our horses up the
gangway. "Good-bye, boys," screeched an excited lady on the wharf; "put
their blanky lights out!"

There had been Stormberg, and Magersfontein, and Colenso--and Spion Kop
was to come. The facile pen of the paragraphist had described the
incidents of treacherous ambush. The tame leader-writers of the most
respectable morning paper in the wide world had, with all deference to
possible varieties of opinion--which they would not for all the riches
of Mount Morgan unwittingly offend--given it as their unalterable dictum
that the Boer was an excrescence upon the fact of all humanity, that he
should, without doubt, be made to feel the 'iron hand,' that this war
was none of your common, bloody, uninviting struggles, but a holy
crusade against infamous wrong, and injustice, and unreasonable tyranny.
Most touchingly symbolical of its righteous approval of our going, the
enthusiastic crowd had given us to drink of raw whisky, as we shoved,
and pushed, and panted thirstily through it. And doubtful damsels, to
whom one would never before have attributed any of the broad feeling
that leads to publicly expressed emotion, had clung weepingly about our
necks, and kissed us lovingly, as they implored us to go forth and
battle for what was right, and good, and noble, against oppressive wrong
and wretched, heartless cruelty.

And so, by the time that we were up the shrouds, and the crowd was a
mere blur along the shore, expressive only by points of waving white and
a murmuring roar that lost itself across the widening waters, we really
did feel enthusiastic admiration for ourselves. We honestly understood
ourselves to be, as it were, knights-errant of no mean order, going
forth to wrest the fair maiden of African freedom from the vile clutches
of the Boer dragon.

It was a splendid feeling to possess--you can have no idea as to how
very noble and estimable our souls felt themselves to be. The Holy Grail
itself was in Pretoria, or Johannesburg, and we were going to get it.

In Adelaide the people had again gone mad. Men of the Stock
Exchange--fat, worthy members of Society--had clutched us frantically by
the arms, and given us to drink of choice vintages. The North Terrace
and the railway station had farewelled us with more delightful fervour
than even if we had been an Australian Eleven driving round in drags,
ere it sought Largs Bay and the track to victories in English
cricket-grounds. Fremantle had been a little madder. Truly, it
was something to be a soldier.

And we sailed away knowing all about everything. There was no
possibility of our having made any mistake as to the Boer. We had him at
our finger ends. He was a low liar, a cunning, unscrupulous cheat, an
oppressor of the unfortunate philanthropists who had come to make his
country rich.

The Uitlander, for whom we were going to do battle, was indeed a
long-suffering, overburdened martyr. Purely for philanthropy he had
sought to do the Transvaal a good turn. He had toiled, with some
success, to wrest the golden treasure of the unwilling Rand from its
hidden depths. He had made a bankrupt State into a rich one. He was the
kind of man who shoved the world along. And they wouldn't give him a
vote. So we were going to get it for him. The Boer had been weighed in
the balance and found wanting. We would adjust the scale.

And even as we thought we were right, and just, and ethically correct in
assisting the mother country to make war in Africa, so do we still
to-day--after we have been, and learned what war really is, and sobered
ourselves in scenes of misery from the drunkenness of the 'hurrahing'
streets, and the hysteric quays, and the lying newspapers. But it is
upon other grounds that we so justify ourselves. And we have learned to
think a little differently of the Boer.

There is a dreadful crime against all moral decency, a hopeless offence
against all that is right, and just, and proper. It is so serious an
offence that one may reasonably hesitate before laying oneself open to
the charge of having been guilty of it. In its most abandoned state of
depravity and perversion it does not merely suggest, it confirms and
makes positive the fact that the offender against all good and worthy
codes of political thought is a treasonable plotter and outcast
conspirator against his country too. He is an enemy of England, an
insidious foe to the welfare of the Empire. He has committed the
unpardonable sin. Henceforth he should be treated mercilessly as a
pariah. He is an 'Ishmael' amongst his fellows. He is incapable of
reason--he is hopelessly insane. We should 'cut' him in the street, if
he be an acquaintance. We should bestir ourselves to put him down, to
expose him, to hold him up to ridicule, to make his life a weary burden.
He is not even worth reforming.

And so the writer hopes, and prays, and ponders within himself as he
writes--almost overwhelmed by the nightmare fear that he may be
charged, too, with this unspeakable wrong-doing, that little boys, and
old women, and worthy men may arise and point the finger of scorn at
him, and damn him, soul and body, with the awful accusation of

It is so easy to have this cry hurled at you. You have but to say that
the African Dutch do not all live in pig-styes, that some few of them
can read and write, that there are even some who do not play with white
flags perpetually. To assert that the Devil is not so black as he is
painted is wicked and untrue--because every one knows that he is as
black as black can be, even though no one has ever seen him.

Well--but it can't be helped. With a full knowledge of all the dreadful
meaning of 'Pro-Boer,' and what he lays himself open to by reason of his
saying so, the writer cannot but state that, as we found him, the Boer
was not such a bad fellow after all--not nearly so black as he has been
painted. He was, indeed, not one whit better than he should have been,
but, in the actual waging of war, he was not nearly so bad as he might
have been.

Books, and magazines, and newspapers had almost taught us to believe
that we should meet in Africa some kind of a sub-tropical Esquimo--a
hairy, primitive 'loafer,' with the manners of a cave-dweller and the
principles of a gorilla. We had looked for a species of debased creature
unpossessed of any powers of thinking, with no perception of anything
that lay beyond the narrow horizon of his straitened intellectual
outlook. We had taken 'Boer' to be synonymous with 'boor'. We had been
unable to understand why, or how, he had made matters so uncomfortable
at Magersfontein for such men as the Highlanders, led by such skilled
and quick-witted men as we had supposed the English officers to be. It
was inexplicable to us how such a creature could possibly have 'enough
in him' to make the Empire look so foolish as he had undoubtedly been
doing for the few months in which it had waged war with him. Buller was
to have eaten his Christmas dinner in Pretoria. It seemed to be rather
by good luck than anything else that Joubert was prevented from eating
his in Durban.

Now, how could it come about that such a people as these were said to
be--a so slow, dull, unprogressive, shiftless people--could give our
armies so much trouble, could kill our men by the hundred, and capture
them by the thousand? When we made the better acquaintance of the Boer
we learned why it was.

It is a far cry from Fremantle to the Orange River. You have time to
think and consider matters, with a good deal of attention to detail, in
the time that elapses between your departure from one and your arrival
at the other. There is the blue solitude of the Indian Ocean, for two
clear weeks at least, and after that the speedless journey in the train.
But it was first at Orange River station that we made the acquaintance
of the Boer in any quantity, and it was there that we first began to
doubt the fixity and unchanging nature of our ideas about him. There,
too, we first had a glimpse of insight as to the reasons why he had
given our Generals and their armies such a deal of trouble.

When our long string of cattle-trucks containing horses, and
second-class carriages containing Cornstalks, had jolted and bumped into
the station, they had relegated us to a siding, and left the main line
beside the platform clear and open--evidently for a more important train
than ours. In course of time it had rolled in beside us, and from our
windows we looked out upon an excursion train-load of shearers, or
'cockies,' or ordinary 'bush hands' going down, en masse, with their
coats off, to 'blue their cheques'. But in each carriage was the glimmer
of bayonets, and, as the train stopped, more bayonets came along beside
the carriages and took up positions of vantage in the space between us.

Who were these people? Ah! possibly the poor of Kimberley just relieved,
and being taken to Capetown for a change. No, that couldn't be correct.
Were they Boers? we ventured to ask the supporter of a bayonet below our

"Yes, they be Cronjy's men--seven hundred of 'em, an' they stinks

Boers!--Boers!--these men Boers? Oh, no; they could not be, surely!
Where were the brutal faces of the English illustrated papers? There
were a few, a very few, who came up to our conception of a Boer, but the
majority seemed decent, intelligent men enough. Their clothes were dirty
and clay-stained. They wore moleskins, and riding breeches, and
weather-worn tweed coats, and their beards were mostly untrimmed, but
where were the 'wild-men-from-Borneo' kind whom we knew well were the
only genuine Boers? A great proportion of their train-load were
beardless boys or venerable greyheads. Where were the savage beast-like
creatures whom we knew we should expect? These men could not be the real
Boers. They were not at all like the pictures we had seen.

But, yes--there was no doubt. These were the men from Paardeberg. These
were the ferocious creatures who had lived for more than a week upon the
smell of lyddite fumes, in a place that was the first cousin to the Hobs
of Hell. These boys, and patriarchs, and smaller proportion of
able-bodied men, had indeed seen more than ever we had done of war, and
felt its cruel weight more heavily than we hoped would fall to our lot
to feel. These quiet, orderly, rather good-humoured people! We watched
their train roll away with a curious feeling of having been somehow

Yes, those were the Boers of Boerdom--Transvaalers mostly, who were
reputed to be even more wild and unkempt than the Freestaters, who lived
very close to the Basutos, and might reasonably be supposed to have
acquired their ways. Somehow we were disappointed in them. It was rather
like going to see some much advertised entertainment, and finding, when
you had paid your money and gone inside, that the reality fell very far
short of the posters. We had seen infinitely better specimens of the
real Boer in some of the back creeks and dark gullies at home on the

And so we went on, and finally, at the end of months, we came to
Pretoria--much more educated people than when we had shipped ourselves
at Woolloomooloo. We had fought him, chased him, taken him prisoner,
narrowly escaped from the tricky snares he set for us, seen him in his
home, drawn his fire from his own beloved kopjes, played him at his own
game, looked upon his dead--and our opinion of him was quite a different
matter altogether from the ideas with which we had equipped ourselves
before leaving Sydney. We had seen how he lived; we had learned what
manner of slothfulness had kept him from using aright the good land
which God had given him, and recognised how little he deserved to keep
it therefore--since no man has a right to any good thing unless he use
it well. We had talked and argued with him, had got to know his peculiar
ways of thinking, had faintly understood his mental state, had
discovered for ourselves some of his many faults, had seen how the white
flag trick was played--and--one confesses it almost apologetically in
view of the possible charge of 'Pro-Boerism' referred to above--had come
to respect him, in the mass, as a very gallant man, and to envy in him
the possession of hardy virtues such as we had never expected to find,
and which we would not mind feeling quite sure that we possessed

There lives upon the outskirts of Pretoria, in a little iron cottage, a
gaunt old Boer of many years and much experience, with whom the writer
chanced to become, in a measure, friendly--as friendly as any hated
rooinek may become with one of his uncompromising sort. He was a tall,
dark man, grizzled and iron-grey, with the whipcord neck muscles that
you see in thin old men who have lived much in the sunlight. He was as
spare, and lank, and brown as any Queenslander. And he loved his country
with a fervent love that would hear no evil of it. He seemed to like
speaking about its troubles to any one who would listen, and was
pitiably anxious to make at least one 'Englander,' as he included all of
us, think less hardly of his people than he supposed they did.

Sitting in the shade of a paling fence, we discussed many things through
rank clouds of Transvaal tobacco. He had been a fighting man all his
life, but had come home when Pretoria fell--stiff with rheumatism--to
find his wife but just recovering from the shock of his reputed death
whilst on commando, and his little daughter seven weeks dead of typhoid.
So there was to be no more war for him, though he never would admit the
overthrow of his beloved Republic. Were not the Russians at war with
England over China? Would they not bombard Capetown and Durban? Were not
the Cape Dutch about to rise, and cut us off from the sea?

He had been at Bronkhurst Spruit in '81, and over the crest of Majuba in
time to see Colley fall. His story of the storming of Majuba was
curiously interesting.

"Ja! in the morning, there were the English above us. We could see them
walk about and stand against the sky. The Boers they were all frighten'.
It was bad, very bad. Piet Joubert was angry. He call us young men to
him, and he say: 'This is not good. You have not done well. I am angry
for it. You have let rooibaatjes come up there, and now you must drive
them down again.' Ja--he was very angry--the so careful Piet. So we went
up. No, there were not so many tree--a few bushes, and many rocks, and
the grass was long. We take a long time, and it was very steep. But we
go so carefully, so very slowly, from rock to rock. They stand up to
shoot us, and we shoot them--so. Ah, you do not have the white hats now,
or red coats! It is not so easy. We get up close, very close--the
officers come and stand against the sky to shoot their pistols at us. We
laugh, and shoot them. It is so funny, what you English did in that war.
You play bands when you fight. That is wrong. It is not hard to hear the
bands coming. And the flags to shoot at! It is not so now. But we come
to the top of the kop, and they are all together like frightened
buck----" But it was not a pleasant story. And Bronkhurst Spruit was
less so.

There was much to learn from the old man. He would admit many things.
Personally, he deplored the white flag incidents, but stoutly maintained
that our guns had shelled their ambulance waggons. He was willing to
admit that distance does not sometimes help to distinguish an impromptu
hospital van from an ammunition cart, but claimed the same reason for
occasional lapses on the part of the Staats Artillerie. For the white
flag he shrugged his shoulders. "If I steal oxen, it is not that every
one in the country will steal oxen too. There are bad men always. I know
the commandants do not like it. Louis Botha it has sometimes make very
angry. But the Boers have not orders like the English. Every burgher
does as he wishes. It is not always possible to watch them all. I have
not done it."

As to expanding ammunition, he made a statement which startled the

"Ah, yes," he said, "you say we have used it! So--we have done so--but
why? I will tell you why--and then you shall tell me what you think.
When we drive the English from Dundee, to shut them up in Ladysmith,
they go so very quick that they have not time to take all with them.
They do not even have time to burn all that they leave behind. So, we
find biscuits, and beef, and whisky--ja!--plenty of things that are very
good for us. And also there is much ammunition in boxes--what you call
it, sof' nose, eh? Dum-dum? Almighty! I tell you, the Boers are very
angry. They say, 'If the English use it, we shall use it too! Why not?
It is right for us, if it is right for you.' I think myself it is bad to
use--but if you, then the Boers also. We know you use it first of all,
because we find it in Dundee when the English have trekked away so
quickly. What of that, tell me, mine friend?"

His friend could not explain. Was it that, in the hasty retreat of
Yule's column, the possible Dum-dum ammunition brought from India by the
troops which came from there at the earliest outbreak of hostilities,
and withdrawn from them, as we know it was, had been by some oversight
left undestroyed in store at Dundee? That seemed to be the only
explanation, but, unfortunately, it did not find ready acceptance with
the Boers. The writer rashly questioned a Commandant in Wynberg Hospital
as to the same thing, and, to his humiliation, heard the same depressing

Expanding ammunition, one is quite certain, was never countenanced by
the British authorities; but it is always possible to suppose that our
own men, finding it in the bandoliers of dead Boers, may have used an
occasional cartridge without their officers' knowledge.

Of Boer inhumanity we have heard many stories. Some of them may possibly
be true. Any story is true until it is disproved, despite the English
maxim as to a man's innocence being taken for granted until his guilt be
clearly established. That may hold good in law, but it does not in
scandal-mongering. But this much the writer can unhesitatingly
affirm--that, though he read many accounts in English and Australian
newspapers of dastardly acts committed by the Boers upon prisoners and
wounded, he never once, whilst at the front, could learn of any genuine
instance where such things happened. Indeed, men of his own corps, who
were wounded and taken prisoners at Zand River in May, speak gratefully
of the kind treatment meted out to them by their captors. One is
inclined to believe that much of the odium cast upon the Boers arises
from the unfortunate lying that seems to be engendered in a war, upon
both sides.

But, even admitting that there may be a foundation of truthfulness in
much that has been charged against them, there is one unhappy fact which
it would be well for us to recollect, and that is that to the average
Boer an Englishman is a being who ranks lower than a Kaffir. He is one
to whom, if you may do so safely, you may quite permissibly extend the
harshest treatment. No one who has not spoken with them, and had
opportunity of gathering some notion as to the hatred and contempt and
distrust with which they regard everything English, can quite realise
this in its full significance.

One day a patrol of Australians, riding through the country between
Boesman's Kop and the Bloemfontein waterworks, called at a farmhouse to
see whether its members could purchase anything in the way of
provisions. There were no menkind there except a couple of Kaffir
'boys'. The mistress of the house could only sell them a glass of milk
each, which they were glad enough to get. Afterwards, in course of
conversation, she admitted that she was sick of the war, and expressed a
fervent wish that it would soon be over. Her husband was away on
commando, and her eldest son--a boy of fifteen--had been killed at
Modder River. Of her husband she had had no word for three months. He
had gone northward in the flight from Bloemfontein, and, for all she
knew, might be dead also. Some one asked her how she thought the English
and Dutch would get on with one another--would they forget all past
ill-feeling, and settle down quietly and happily together for the good
of the country when once the war was over? Had she herself anything
against the English? "Ah, no," she said bitterly; "I have not anything
against them--oh, no--they have only killed my little Piet! That is
nothing. My man's oxen are all gone--that also is nothing!" Then, with
sudden fierceness, pointing to the child on her lap, "You see my little
girl here; well, if I ever thought she would grow up and marry one of
your English, I would take her now and dash her brains out against the

That is how they hate us. And it will be many years before the hatred
dies away. Blood is a hard thing to forget. The smell of it remains with
you afterwards. Wives who have lost their breadwinners, mothers who have
lost their sons--be they Dutch or English--do not reason overmuch about
the ethics of their losses. It is nothing to them whether the war was a
just one, whether their beloved died for a righteous cause. They only
know that the cruel English, or the cruel Dutch, have robbed them of
some one whom all the fine arguments in the world will not bring back,
and so, for years and years, the sad women of those countries will
loathe and detest all things English more bitterly than before. Their
hatred of us already dates from before the Great Trek, from before the
hanging of Slachter's Nek, and comes across the war of '81. Now it will
have all the hard misery of this war to add to its rankling bitterness.
There is a difficult task before the coming rulers of the two late

And so, when we hear that the Boers have been unduly lax in honourable
dealings with our kinsfolk, we must remember how they regard them. What
an invasion and conquering of our country by Chinese would mean to us,
the invasion and taking of theirs by the English means to them.

A state of war does not usually exhibit the non-combatants of an invaded
country to their best advantage, although naturally there are many
opportunities for the display of heroism and self-sacrifice of a high
order. The type of Boer with which one came in contact was not always
the best. He was usually a prisoner, or sick or wounded in hospital, or
one of those not very noble beings--a burgher-on-parole. One cannot but
feel the highest personal respect for the men who have uncompromisingly
kept the field, as contrasted with those who have surrendered early, and
are busily employed in making money out of their country's enemies. But,
as a rule, one finds them such an interesting and many-sided people,
that there is some regret at not having made their acquaintance years
ago in peace-time, so that one might be the better qualified to judge of
them. They have, one suspects, been frequently the victims of too hasty
judgment. It would possibly have been easier to understand them better,
had one been able to mix with them in their laagers. But, in
the marching and fighting of the war itself, one was really able to make
only a superficial acquaintance with them. Their habits of cunning
warfare were really their most striking characteristic. And these taught
you, that in Africa one must always be ready to distrust the obvious.
Perhaps, indeed, that is one explanation of their noted 'slimness'.

Of Paul Kruger, and the Pretoria clique, and Dr. Leyds the writer knows
little save what he has read. Better informed people have dealt with
them. But this much is quite certain--that no matter how the Pretorian
party plotted, or the Africander Bond dabbled in treason in the Cape
Colony, the commoner Boer knew only that he fought for his independence.
And Boer independence in South Africa does not merely mean autonomy for
the two Republics. It means one Dutch State, and no English, save on
sufferance. Knowing this, can we not extend some generosity of feeling
towards brave men, who have fought pluckily against overwhelming forces
in what was, to them, a sacred cause?

The writer hopes sincerely that this chapter may not draw upon him the
reader's scorn and contempt as being another of those strange
people--the 'Pro-Boers'. But possibly the fact of having 'chanced one's
hide' a few times in action with them will render apology needless. One
has small sympathy with Englishmen who, once the country having been
involved in war, wilfully admire and encourage the enemy. 'A long rope
and a short shrift' for those who are traitors to their country is
unfortunately out of date. This much he would be glad if he could feel
that he may possibly have made clear in the foregoing pages--that
because you are at war with a people it makes your case no better to
libel them; that there are as likely to be justice and reason upon their
side as yours; that, even if you kill a country, there is no reason why
you should traduce its memory also.

One might write indefinitely as to the Boers. From the point of view of
the picturesque, at least, they are worth ten volumes, rather than one
meagre chapter. But here space forbids.

Let us, however, try to remember so much as this. These people are much
of the same kind as we. They have the open air to live in just as we
have. They are not monsters of iniquity and treachery altogether. They
have fought bravely and well against odds that might have well
overwhelmed them in the contemplation--and it was not because they were
ignorant. They may be liars by nature, they may be cunning, they have
not used their country as they might have done. We were quite justified
in fighting them to a finish--but let us at least act the manly part of
giving them what credit is their due, of refusing to believe the cruel
lies which interested parties have put forth. Let us be fair, and just,
and generous--if we can.


"An unhappy land"--no phrase or words could possibly sum up the
situation of South Africa to-day better than these, none could have a
deeper or sadder meaning to any one who has seen recently the bitter
distraction of all the country there. It is a land drenched with the
best blood of its people, and with the best of ours; a land ravaged, and
wasted, and made empty; a land afflicted with the curse of the soldier
from end to end. It is as a grievously sick man, who is incapable of
earning his own living, and has to be supported by some one else. There
is nothing there. Its industries are man killing and maiming; its
exports are human lives.

Take the train at Kroonstad and journey to the Vaal. It is not very far,
but you will not travel so quickly that you may not look out and see for
yourself how the land lies. You will pass out of Kroonstad with a great
canvas hospital upon your left. Blue-clad, miserable men will listlessly
take stock of your train as it passes by. Up above the white tents, on a
little slope of open veldt, you will see rows of mounds. Perhaps the
grass has grown over some of them by now. They were bare and new when
the writer came by six months ago. You will run past America and Jordaan
Sidings--empty voids, where nothing but a station signboard notifies the
fact that they have been stopping-places for trains in some other age.
You will pass over culverts and little bridges that have been blown up
with dynamite, and rapidly repaired out of old sleepers and nondescript
material of all kinds by that wonderfully efficient Railway Pioneer
Regiment. At frequent intervals there will be twisted rails and
partially burned sleepers beside the tracks--no, on second thoughts,
there will be no sleepers, because the patrols will have garnered them
up for fuel. Sometimes you will come across wrecked and burned railway
trucks and other rolling-stock.

At little stations, such as Honing Spruit, you will find all manner of
curly and angular entrenchments and gun emplacements, and redoubts, and
far out sangars for the outposts, and a bewildering entanglement of
encircling barbed wire. And there will be harassed officers, and empty
tins of bully-beef, and discontented 'Tommies,' and a demand for news.

At Roodeval you will see the row of seven graves beside the line--each
one ornamented with its wooden cross, and caps and sides of nine-inch
shells, and little surrounding borders of stones. And, out across the
veldt, you will see the places where Christian De Wet planted his guns,
and shelled the Fourth Derbyshire beyond all endurance. By this time the
half-burned letters from the captured mail-bags will hardly be so much
in evidence as they were in August of last year, and the acres of
fire-destroyed khaki clothing will not be at all noticeable.

At the Kopjes Siding you may possibly come across an armoured train,
with its 'pom-pom' on the leading truck, and its steel-lined trucks for
men, and boiler-protected engine, and air of readiness for sudden call.
Its crew will be playing football in the veldt. But they won't be very
far away from their rifles and bandoliers of cartridges. It is
inexpedient to be overdistant from your rifle in this part of the world.

But one common feature of the landscapes which you pass through will
probably strike you much more forcibly than any other. You will wonder
what may have become of the population, the dwellers in the veldt, the
obviously inevitable inhabitants whom such a good country should
support. You will perceive that the veldt is dotted at intervals with
white houses, which are sometimes shaded by the blue-green gum leaves
you know so well. You will be at a loss to understand why no one lives
in them, why there are no flocks of sheep about the downs, or herds of
cattle drinking at the dams. It will strike you that the only stock in
this country are Mounted Infantry ponies.

Sometimes, however, as you pass a house that is closer to the
railway-line than usual, you will perceive the reason of this dearth of
population. The windows are empty and gaping. The roof is gone. Broken
pieces of furniture and household effects litter the ground in front and
rear. There is nothing left. To live in such a place would not be at all
comfortable. One or two will have shell-holes in the walls. If you get
out of your carriage and look very closely you will be able to find
little chipped holes in the white-washed mud plaster of the walls, where
the bullets have struck.

And that is the way it is everywhere. These places along the line have
been burned and destroyed in accordance with the warning Lord Roberts
gave the inhabitants as to raids upon his communications. It is quite
fair and legitimate, generally speaking. We must establish British
rule--gently, if possible, but it must be established. Away from the
line, too--if you have not seen enough to prove to you that this is 'an
unhappy land'--you will find the burned and empty houses, the
impoverished farms. It cannot be helped. We have tried lenient
measures--a leniency which only returned to us in derision. These people
are obstinate. We mean to have our way. They must be made to feel that
the yoke will weigh heavily until our way is theirs also.

But it is cruel--bitterly, heartrendingly cruel!

It is not only in the gutted dwellings that you will see the cruelty and
horror of it all. Go back from the Vaal to Bloemfontein, and walk to the
cemetery below the old fort and beside the barracks of the late Free
State Artillery. You will find some graves of British soldiers which
have been occupied since the early fifties, but you will find them
vastly outnumbered by the graves of those who found a resting-place
there in 1900.

Of coming from a visit to some sick comrades in the Artillery Barracks,
which were then occupied by the Australian Hospital, the writer has one
very vivid recollection. Walking beside the graveyard wall, we had
paused to watch the burial of some officer, which was a little more
noticeable than the generality of funerals for the reason that his body
was enshrouded in a Union Jack instead of a brown blanket. We mounted
our horses, and rode round the corner of the stone enclosure. At the
gate were lying on the grass six stiff shapes, sewn tightly up in their
blankets--probably the blankets they had died in. The fatigue parties
within were so busy that, for a few minutes, they had not had time to
come out and carry the dead men in, and the cart, probably being
required to go to another hospital for a similar load, had had to
deposit them outside. It was a grim reminder of the brisk business Death
was doing amongst the enteric wards.

In course of time the pretty burial-ground was filled to overflowing.
There were long trenches in which the dead were laid in layers. A
separate grave was a luxury to which none but an officer might aspire.
And before very long the trenches were being dug in the veldt without
the town.

Ride up the Modder and track the march of the army by the graves. Note
the little mounds along the advance to Pretoria. Chance on quiet
beautiful places like Nitral's Nek, and find them sown with dead men.
Everywhere there are dead men. It is as if the whole country were soaked
in blood, and planted with little wooden crosses. Truly, it is 'an
unhappy land'.

Now, if you consider all these matters of graves, and burned farmhouses,
and how very greatly women influence the lives of men in their capacity
of motherhood, you will see quite plainly what an exceptionally curious
state of mind South Africa must be in at present, and how difficult it
is for any one to predict what the finality of it all may ultimately be.

Have you ever seen a somewhat spoiled and wilful child, strongly
desirous of doing or obtaining something which is not good for him
(there are so many things), finally restrained from the attainment of
his end by sheer physical fear? The moment authority relaxes, the
instant the back of the power that overawes him is turned, you may feel
quite certain that he will attempt the fulfilment of his wish. In the
meantime, while he is watched and guarded, and because he dare not do as
he would, he has an attitude of sulky acquiescence--he is sullen. There
you have a simile that may stand for the mental state of the people of
the two late Republics, and for their kinsmen of the Cape Colony as
well. And there, too, you have the great difficulty of future government
in South Africa.

We have taken the country again. We are about to rule it again, and as
we rule it so will it prosper. One does not use the word 'prosper' to
signify that there will be a larger output of gold from the Rand, or
that the De Beers Company will get bigger dividends out of Kimberley,
but that the country may become a country of good citizenship, of
healthy public spirit, of fellowship of the two almost kindred races
which will have to live together in it. And, to this end, we must be
firm yet kind, strong but gentle, just if stern--but, above all,
consistent in our dealings with these people from whom we have taken
their nationhood in open fight.

We have the mistakes that brought about the Great Trek, and the
humiliations of '81 and '99, to guide us towards better things--to show
us, at the least, 'the way not to do it'. And if you know that, the rest
is not so very difficult of attainment--only, you must first of all know
that. Before everything, one thinks, the watchword should be

And what a hope there is for a new, a 'reconstructed' South Africa!
Blood has been spilt as water, treasure scattered lavishly as lucerne
seed, brain energy dissipated as a spendthrift's money. Are we not to
have a return? To those of us who have seen the misery of the country as
it is to-day--the empty void the war has made of it--it seems impossible
that there can be any blacker depth to reach. The tide has sunk to its
lowest ebb. Of the very nature of things it must soon begin to rise
again. In the earlier chapters of this book, the writer has hazarded it
as his insignificant opinion that the country is a good one--he is even
doubtful whether, if the matter were to be fully considered by people
more competent of judging its merits than he is, it might not almost be
ranked, for many purposes, as a better one than Australia. It is, as has
been said before, even as a field that has been uncultivated. It has its
disadvantages and drawbacks, but one is very doubtful, indeed, whether
it has so many or such appalling ones as we have encountered and
overcome here, or as confront us even now. It has a soil that is, best
for best, as good, and it has a rainfall that is better. So, let our
châteaux d'Afrique be pleasant ones if we may do so. After having seen
the poor rent and riven land wallowing in such depths of misery as it
has lain in, it is at least a cheerfully optimistic feeling to possess
about it 'that there is a good time coming' for the Cape, the Orange
River Colony and the Transvaal. They will surely need it to compensate
for the bad one they have had. Let us hope, therefore, that out of much
evil there will come good for South Africa, that, in the future, one may
think of her less sadly than in the present--that in the end she may be
'a happy land'.

To us of Australia this has been the first experience of war. Far away
from the complications of European politics, we have been permitted, for
the century or so of our existence, to develop our country upon peaceful
lines, and beyond, 'for the look of the thing,' mounting obsolete
artillery at a few points along our shores, where no one is ever likely
to attempt to invade us, we have not thought it worth our while to give
overmuch attention, in a serious way at any rate, to the possible
contingency of having to fight for our country, in just as desperate and
bloody a fashion as the Boers have had to fight for theirs.

But we are nearer to the centre of the whirlwind now than we were in
'54--just a little nearer than we were in '85. And though, knowing now
what W-A-R spells, one has the devout and fervent hope that we may never
more fully realise the significance of the word in our own good land, it
is absolutely necessary, for the sake of our existence as the Nation
which we became a few months ago, that we should be at all times fully
competent to maintain our position in the wider arena within which
peoples and races shape their destinies in the struggle for existence.

If the reader shall have done the writer the honour of wading through
these pages of chaotic scribbling so far as this one, the latter is not
going to take any mean advantage of him by seeking to inflict his views
as to the superiority of Mounted Infantry to Cavalry, the moral effect
of quick-firing guns and the mobility of artillery, or the faults of
present systems of military organisation and equipment upon him. Many
more competent, and many quite as incompetent people have already laid
the law down as to all manner of military matters. It is easy to
criticise, as has been before remarked with regard to the Hospitals, but
very hard to suggest reasonably.

But, if he may be permitted here, in the last pages of his book, to
point out one obvious lesson that may be drawn for Australia from the
history of the English struggle with the Boers, he would very much like
to set it forth. Without overmuch wearisome preamble it may be suggested
by the one word--Ammunition.

If we have cartridges we have men who can use them effectively; but if
we have none, then we are 'a gift' to the first hostile Power who may
seek to take us.

So, this is the lone suggestion which the writer ventures to make,
knowing that he is too ignorant and impracticable to fully elaborate the
scheme. That we build ourselves a small-arm ammunition factory somewhere
by the Canoblas, and make some cartridges, and keep on making them,
until we have so many millions that we may afford to bury them in handy
places about the country, after the manner of Christian De Wet and other
gifted Generals who know what they are about, and whose heads are
'screwed on the right way'. And then, when the Great War comes suddenly
(as it will come when it does come), we shall feel safe, and happy, and
content to rely upon ourselves, even though all those slim, untried
ships in Farm Cove strew the beaches from Byron Bay to Gabo.

Of course, we need rifles also--plenty of them--and would be all the
better off did we make them, too--but we should have, first and above
all, enough cartridges to make our supply inexhaustible, and the means
of keeping it so when we shall have been cut off from English
importations. Cannon, also, and shells, we might make--but that is too
vast a dream, perhaps; and, after all, if we have cartridges and rifles,
and men who know how to shoot, we may laugh at all the 'shrapnel' and
'common-shell' that were ever made for Krupp or Creusot guns. While we
can arm such men as those who defied De la Rey at Eland's River we need
have little fear for the safety of our country, but if we cannot arm
them, and keep them supplied with ammunition for their arms, we might as
well attach ourselves to whatever Power we may consider likely to be
'top dog' in the event of the overthrow of England. We have been very
ready to assist her. It might be as well to make sure that we can help
ourselves. We don't want uniform factories, or gold lace contractors,
but we cannot do without cartridges.

And now we come to the end. The suns rise and set over the grey fields
and the blue kopjes out there across the Indian Ocean, and the glorious
days of the 'high veldt' are as divinely blue and clear as ever they
were for us. The same dirty, yellow-coated men loaf about the streets of
the quiet stads and dorps; the same dingy guns still point menacingly
half skyward; the same steady rifles still rest over ant heaps and
rocks; the same long trains puff slowly over the Karoo towards De Aar
and Naauwpoort. But the end of it is in sight. The guns and the rifles
will point, and the provision trains crawl about the country for a while
longer. In a year or more the rifles will be carried at the 'shoulder'
instead of at the 'ready'--in God's own time they will be laid down, and
there will come the five-furrowed plough amongst the graves, and the
noise of the stamper battery will supersede the noise of the
field-battery. For us who have come back, the end is here. Black coat or
shirt-sleeves instead of khaki--stock-whip and shear-blade instead of
rifle. Cattle or sheep to herd instead of worn-out horses--prospecting
drives to dig instead of trenches. Kangaroos to hunt instead of men.

Some of us have 'gone drovin',' some of us have 'humped bluey'. Most of
us have 'roughed it' somewhere in Australia at some time--but none of us
as we did in Africa.

And yet there was something about it all that calls you back again--some
devilish fascination in the life of war-time that will never leave you
without a hankering for more of it. "There is no hunting like the
hunting of man!"

The end for us is the drafting-yard, and the farm in the river bend, and
the shearing floor, and the stripped saddle of peaceful avocation, and
the office. The end for Africa is yet to shape itself. But the days of
war, in spite of what he might have thought at the time--in spite of
whatever may become of him in the after years--will always return with
something of indefinable pleasure in their remembrance to 'Tommy


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