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The Rushden Echo, 4th May 1900, transcribed by Jim Hollis
The Siege of Kimberley

A Thrilling Letter
Received By a Rushden Resident
“Foul, Cowardly Work” By the Enemy
British Shot After Being Captured
Horseflesh or Starvation
“Long Tom’s” Cruel Missiles

We are fortunate in having secured for exclusive publication in the Rushden Echo an exceedingly graphic and deeply interesting letter just received by Mr. P. Sedgman, of High-street, Rushden, from his brother Mr. R. Sedgman, who was in Kimberley during the whole period of the siege. Mr. R. Sedgman writes:-

Porthleven, Cornwall.

You will doubtless be interested in having a few details about life in Kimberley during the siege. As I intend writing a journal shortly, I shall just now confine myself to a few personal experiences, some of which may give you some idea of what we had to undergo.

Almost up to the last day before warlike operations really commenced, I felt, somehow, that hostilities would be averted, and that in some way, or by some means, a settlement would be brought about. It transpired, however, that my ideas were entirely wrong, and the

Four Months’ Imprisonment

in Kimberley told only too clearly how well prepared the Boers were, and how stealthily their plans had been arranged.

Early on Sunday morning, Oct. 15th, a friend came knocking at my door with the news that we were cut off. Being “cut off” meant that part of the railway line had been pulled up, telegraph wires cut, and our water supply stopped. It was certainly not a very pleasant Sunday morning’s greeting. Later in the day the Water-works Company issued notices that care should be taken in the use of water, as there was only the one town reservoir to draw from until other arrangements could be made. Then the hooters began to blow just as I was going to church, and of course I went back.

The Hooters’ Dismal Noise

was the signal for all men who had any duties to perform to hurry to their redoubts or other posts, and for the women and others in the streets who had nothing to do to hurry off home as speedily as possible. The weird sound of so many of these hooters will never be forgotten by the inhabitants, and the effect it had upon the women and children was by no means calculated to strengthen their nerves. To see the women weeping, as fathers, husbands, and brothers hurried away to their duties was very touching, as none could tell what they would have to encounter before returning.

Well, as day after day went by, we got more accustomed to the

Alarms and Reports

and as the Boers had made no attack we began to feel more safe; while Kimberley itself was becoming more strongly fortified each day. The idea of being cut off entirely from the world, however was by no means pleasant, and we blessed the arrival of the relief column.

On November 7th the first shelling operations began on the town. I went to Newton the town which was being shelled, and at Jones-street saw a few people gathering around a small hole at the side of the street. Curious to know what was the matter, I was soon told that a shell had struck the street a few minutes before. It had embedded itself just below the surface and then burst. I managed to get a small piece as a curio, but some who got spades and were able to get a good way down, managed to get several large pieces. This was

One of the First Shells

that reached the town. As time went on we came in for a great deal of attention from the Boers, and the first person to be killed was a Kaffir woman, who met her death in the street on Nov. 11th. On Nov. 5th Kimberley rejoiced because there had been a brilliant sortie, when our men came off victors. I saw the greater part of the prisoners being brought to town, and a very haggard, miserable-looking lot of fellows most of them were, with slouchy manner and dirty dress – a big contrast to the men who escorted them. We were saddened by the knowledge that six of our men were killed and 29 wounded, and it was a pitiable sight to see the ambulance men bringing in the victims. November 28th was perhaps

The Most Depressing Day

of the siege. It was the day when Scott-Turner with 23 men (including those who died of wounds later) met their fate. One of the ambulance men – a very intimate friend of mine, described how they found a number of the killed, and I am firmly convinced that many of the dead were shot after being captured. One man had his arm around the soldier beside him. Evidently it was a friend endeavouring to support his wounded comrade. Another had a pipe in his mouth, which seemed to indicate that he was trying to make the best of his position; and in many other ways the positions and attitude of the poor unfortunate fellows seemed to plainly show that

Foul Cowardly Work

had been done.

Luckily for the Boers, no one on our side saw them, and so the facts are likely to remain secret.

On December 11th I was awakened by the sound of very heavy artillery firing. I went to that part of the town nearest the scene from whence the sound came, and with the naked eye could see the smoke from the bursting shells. I could also see the balloon ascending and descending. We were all very jubilant that day, as we expected Methuen was giving the Boers a finishing stroke, or, at any rate, fighting a great battle which would end in his being able to come through to our relief. Day after day passed away, however, and we could hear nothing reliable, and we began to feel we were as badly off as ever.

The Suspense

was very trying, as you can easily understand.

Well, Christmas came round, and to keep in touch with its customs as nearly as possible, we had a Christmas pudding. Like so many other kinds of food-stuffs, however, it was tinned, and had been laid aside for this festive occasion. We also had a duck, and were fortunate enough to get a small tin of peas, so you see we did not fare so badly, after all. That was a “good-bye” dinner, though, as we could not get another so elaborate (?) at any price, until relief came.

The obtaining food and permits became a daily business. No one could get more than the proper ration, and as time went on, it got to be

A Very Limited Ration.

Never, however, was a thought of surrender entertained. All felt desperately in earnest, and the Boers would have found in the people of Kimberley a most stubborn and determined foe, had they dared to approach the town.

When the rations got down to 10½ounces of bread per day, ¼lb of horseflesh, 2ozs. of samp (crushed mealies), 2ozs. sugar, ¼oz. tea or coffee we all began to feel the pinch, and although I am not one of the biggest, I lost about a stone in weight. However, I felt more for the women’s and children’s suffering, and the effect on their nerves of the continuous bombardment, than from my own short commons. I could manage to live and put up with a great deal more inconvenience than many people who looked more robust, and I many times felt how much rather I would be on the open field in the fight, or with the ambulance, than be at

My Monotonous Duty

of fetching permits and looking after the women and children, who were constantly sighing for relief. However, they bore it very bravely on the whole, and I heard some of them say they would much rather stay in Kimberley while their husbands were there, than be taken to any other place with all its comforts of life at their disposal. If we could have got anything like a regular supply of vegetables we should have got on much better, and to show you how we prized anything of the sort when we could get them I will relate one of my little experiences. Having heard some vegetables were to be sold at Kenilworth on Saturday morning, I thought I would try to get some. I went to the Police Station on Friday morning to get

A Permit to Pass The Barrier

and after being questioned, the pass was made out. I had to call for it in the afternoon after it had been signed by the town commandant. That represents a four mile walk. On the Saturday morning I started off, as soon as martial law allowed us out, for Kenilworth. There was quite a crush when my turn came, but I managed to pass in my shilling (no person was allowed to have more than a shillings-worth) and received my allowance, which consisted of four small carrots and three onions, none of which measured an inch in diameter. I then returned, having walked nine miles for my purchase.

At other times I have gone to the market-house when the meat rations have been

Two-Thirds Horseflesh

and one-third beef, and after waiting an hour-and-a-half, standing in line waiting my turn, have come away with a quarter-pound beef for three persons for two days. I could have had the horseflesh also, of course, but up to that time we had not reconciled ourselves to the idea of taking it, and we just managed to exist on what we could get, and the time dragged along drearily enough, I can assure you.

On the morning of February 7th the big gun situated at Kamfersdam opened fire upon Kimberley. We had heard of this monster having been used at Mafeking, and now we were to have a share of its death-dealing 100lb. shells. Never shall I forget the

Blank Look of Dismay

on the faces of each and all, as with boom and bang and burst, “Long Tom” hurled its dreadful missiles into the town. This gun was situated about three miles, in a straight line, from the market square, and the time occupied by the shells in coming that distance was 15 seconds. At the coning-tower a look-out was kept, and when the smoke was seen, a bugle was sounded, so that the people had time to run to their shelters. From our veranda we could see the gun fire, and many weary hours I spent in that spot, watching for the smoke and giving the alarm. One day I was sitting reading – the Boers having given us a good long rest – when I was suddenly aroused by the report of the gun, and almost immediately afterwards, with a terrific noise, the

Shell Dropped Into Our Garden

about 11 yards away from where I was. I soon recovered from the shock, however, and when the dust had cleared and the shell had had time to get cool, I took a spade and began to dig for it. It was annoying, however, to discover that it was not there. It had rebounded and went flying away over two or three streets, finally dropping without bursting, or doing any damage some 400 or 500 yards away. It went quite close to our roof, and could only have missed it by a few inches. Many of these dreadful projectiles came in our direction, whizzing over our heads, and no one could tell where they would drop. One splinter crashed through the roof of our next-door neighbour’s house and landed on the table. I examined one of the shells. It measured 19 inches long, and 6 inches in diameter.

Now I will come to

The End of The Siege.

French’s movement was a splendid one. The relief came quite as a surprise, and the forces were in the town before the majority of the inhabitants knew of their movements. The people living in that part of the town by which they entered cheered very heartily, as was natural, but as comparatively few folk knew of the arrival of the relief parties, there was nothing approaching the nature of a public demonstration. When the news spread, what relief everybody felt! It would be impossible for me to describe the pleasant sense of freedom which we instinctively felt. When we realised that we were again able to breathe freely, we wanted first of all to hear some news of the outside world, and very eagerly did we crowd around the soldiers to hear all they could tell us. The story of their going around from the main column at Modder River, and, by a clever dodge,

Out-Doing The Boers

was very eagerly listened to, and many were the cheers given for French and the men under him. This was on Thursday evening, Feb. 15th. On the 16th a large number of these same men, with some of the Kimberley garrison, went out to Dronfield, and cleared the Boers away from there. There must have been 50 of the latter left dead on the field. The men and horses were quite exhausted after the three or four days heavy work and many of the horses were utterly unable to go any further. One of these poor animals fell down just as it entered the town, and the Lancer to whom it belonged took his water-flask and poured the contents down the horse’s throat. More water was quickly fetched and the poor creature was able to move slowly again. On the Sunday I went with a friend to Dronfield. Our men who were left in charge were patrolling the battle-field,

Burying the Dead

and picking up the valuables which were left by the enemy in their hurried flight. I saw two of the dead Boers, and several dead horses.

We found it very difficult to get about with our bicycles, and often had to carry them on our shoulders, as the place was very rocky. I managed to bring away a few relics, which may be interesting to show to your friends. When we left Dronfield we made our way to the Intermediate Pumping Station, which had been in the possession of the Boers. We had to push our bicycles nearly all the way, about four miles over a very sandy road, and over which the enemy had only two days before gone with their big gun when hurriedly leaving the position at Kamfersdam. Arriving at the pumping station we found some of the Cape Police in charge, and they showed us all there was to see. The machinery had not been injured by the enemy, but everything was in

An Awfully Dirty State.

Parts of the adjoining buildings had been used as a hospital, and medicines, bandages, etc., were there in abundance. After leaving this place we had a good road to Kamfersdam, where we go on the heap from which “Long Tom” had so recently been striking terror into the hearts, and playing havoc with the homes, of Kimberley citizens. The bed-plate on which that cruel gun has stood was still there. It seemed that, in their hurry to clear away, the Boers had no time to remove such a strongly fixed article. They had evidently tried to do so, as some of the nuts had been removed from the bolts, and it was clear that force had been used in an attempt to lever it up, but it was too firmly fixed to be hurriedly removed. I found a piece of

“Long Cecil” Shell

here, and a few other relics as well. From Kamfersdam we rode back to Kimberley thro’ West End Barriers and felt very tired after a long and hard day’s journey.

On Friday, February 22nd, I went with three friends to Magersfontein, having first secured a pass from Major O’Meara. What a position the Boers had held there! On either side of the railway were ranges of hills, miles in extent, covered with boulders of all sizes, beside which miles of entrenchments had been dug out, making the place a most formidable position for the attacking party. We saw the place where the Highland Brigade got

So Terribly Cut Up

and I was surprised that our men did such good work as they did, seeing the overwhelming advantages of the enemy, both in numbers and position. In my opinion, it would have been absolutely impossible for Methuen to have come through to our relief, even if he had had a much larger force; and only a big party of cavalry such as French commanded could cope with the position by a circuitous movement. It was most interesting to wander over the hills and view the positions, and anyone who would like to learn a little about military movements would be well repaid by their spending

A Day or Two on This Battlefield.

Before I left Kimberley for England Lords Roberts and Kitchener visited the town, and at a meeting in the Town Hall they had addresses of welcome presented to them. Mr. Cecil Rhodes and Sir E. Ashmead Bartlett were also present, and in addition there were the foreign attaches with Lord Robert’s force, and several Generals and Colonels who were in Kimberley at the time. I cannot finish without a word of praise and admiration for Mr. Rhodes. I was much surprised when I reached home, to find that a certain section of the Press had anything but good to say of him; but those who denounce him must know very little indeed about him. In Kimberley, both Briton and foreigner cannot speak of him highly enough, and he lives in the hearts of all classes. To his unselfish and

Untiring Devotion

and to the characteristic liberality by which he is best known. Kimberley, in a great measure, owes its orderly holding out during the four weary months of siege. It was he who was responsible for all the De Beers employees being paid full wages during that time. He also devised ways and means for providing for the poorer white and black population, and arranged for the women and children to be taken down into the mines for protection, and by this generosity they were well looked after while they were there.

He Fed Even His Enemies

and never turned away a deserving case. Let those who do not know Mr. Rhodes, and are therefore misjudging him, seek to discover his true character, then they will be sorry for having charged him with motives of which he is entirely guiltless. If Britain had more of the Rhodes stamp of men, justice and truth will prevail, and the enemies of freedom be more quickly put down. Many people have yet to learn the value of Mr. Rhodes’ life-work, but the day will come when those who to-day are denouncing him will be amongst those who shall most loudly sing his praises.

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