|The Rushden Echo, 15th February, 1901, transcribed by Gill Hollis
Soldier’s Diary of The Boer War
The Coldstream Guards, we are informed, were the first infantry brigade to enter every town of any importance in both the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal. For this information we are indebted to a private of that regiment, who has written two interesting letters to Mr. E. Pashler, Orchard-place, Rushden, and who has been in every engagement the Guards have been through. In his first letter, written in Dec., 1900, the private says he has been through the whole of this terrible war, and thanks the public of Rushden and Higham Ferrers for the kindness shown towards the reservists who have had the honour - or so-called honour - to be called up to fight for their country. He hopes the letter will enlighten the inhabitants of Rushden and Higham Ferrers district as to the way the British Soldier has been treated during the campaign. He mentions the first engagement of the Guards - at Belmont, on Nov. 23rd, 1899, after a night march of about 15 miles across a very rough country, and then goes on to speak of Modder River. After the third engagement, the worst of the three, lasting about 14 hours, they had to have an enforced rest, through
Lack of Supplies.
They had enough of fighting for one week, and were glad of the rest - if rest it could be called - as they had to work from 4.30 a.m. till 8 p.m., to get the railway bridge up again. The Boers had gently let one end into the river, and as no supplies could be brought up till it was mended, all the Britishers worked liked niggers, not caring to live for long on biscuits and bully beef. By Dec. 9th the bridge was mended, and on the following day they struck their canvas at 2 p.m. Then it came on to rain and they got their first wet shirt in South Africa, though they have had many hundreds of them since. “It started raining at 3 p.m. and there we had to sit in the wet till about 7 p.m. We had no need to strike our tents till 4 p.m. but for red tapeism. At 7 we started off, not knowing where to, but we soon found we had to cross the Modder River again. It was about up to our waists, but we were already wet through so it did not take us long to get across. It was pitch dark, as black as-------, we could not see a yard in front. After marching about two hours, a halt was called and we were told we could have three hours’ sleep. We were soaking wet, everything we had on, including our blankets rolled up on our backs. We made the best of our water bed, though. At 1 a.m. on the 11th we fell in as quietly as possible, and we started off. It was raining faster than ever, and it was so dark that you could not see your next hand man except when it lightened. Before we had been marching an hour the water was running out of the seats of our trousers like a riddle, but we had to keep on. It was very slow work; we were
All The Time Losing Men,
for there were holes big enough for a man to be completely buried in. At last dawn came, and we were all devoutly thankful. But with the daybreak we were startled with the roar of shot on our right. At first we did not know what to make of it, but we soon found out, as we had to move off at the double. We had not gone above 300 yards before we knew what was up, because, as you all know by this time, it was the poor Highland Brigade having their first christening of the Boer war. There were hundreds of them running all over the veldt without any guns or accoutrements. They had retired in the greatest confusion. We had to replace the poor Jacks, and laid down and started blazing away at the Boer trenches until all our ammunition was about gone. Then we had to lay very low some hours, only firing an occasional round just to keep the enemy in their trenches. There we had to lay till night. As I told you, we were very glad to see daylight, but I think we were more
Thankful To See The Sun Set.
We watched all night, but the Boers managed to grab a lot of our fellows who were fetching water from the river three miles distant. At dawn on the 12th my company had to advance about 300 yards to the Magersfontein Hill, and there I witnessed one of the grandest sights I have ever seen in this campaign - the retirement. It was done in perfect order, just the same as if we had been on parade. We formed the rear-guard, so we got a few shells and volleys from the Boers but never a man was hit that morning. Then we waited for a few weeks, till Lord Roberts brought out some more men. Then came the general order advance from Modder River. We arrived at Klip Drift and that was one of the worst times we have had. We were on short rations - very short indeed - for all we could get were two biscuit’s a day, and even then were sometimes robbed. Whose fault it was I cannot say, but I know we were nearly starved. To make it worse it was very wet at the time, and often we were in 2 feet of water. After Cronje was caught, we advanced to Bloemfontein, and were about killed to make a name for a certain person. We arrived at Bloemfontein
More Dead Than Alive
after marching 44 miles in 28 hours, a record march for this campaign. On Monday, May 1st we kicked off for Pretoria. As you know, we arrived on June 5th, but had some terrible times before we reached the goal. We fought our way to Kronstadt, and had to stay there as we were without supplies. As the railway bridge was blown up, we had to make a railway three miles long, and a bridge over the river. We made and finished that lot in a fortnight, after working day and night on half rations. No sooner had we arrived at Pretoria than we were hustled off on the war path again.”
The writer goes on to give minute details of the movements performed by the guards, and says : “We arrived at Naauwpoort thoroughly tired out. For breakfast we had lead pills, but had to grin and bear it. When we got our guns into position at 1 p.m. it was a smash up, I can tell you. We were very pleased when the sun went down again. We were firing from 1 till 7, without ceasing, and
Our Rifle Barrels Were So Hot
we burnt our hands if we moved them off the hand guard. I fired about 400 rounds that afternoon. We were as hungry as hunters, having had nothing but a pint of spoilt water called coffee, and it was midnight before we could get our dinners……….We arrived back in Pretoria Sept. 30, thinking we had about done. But Lord Roberts knew a thing or two - or thought he did. As the gallant C.I.V.’s started for home we thought we should not be long but we had only been in Pretoria a little while before we were started off again…..
We arrived at Naanwpoort Junction about 12 midnight on Dec. 23, and lay in the trucks all night without blankets or anything on us….Our Christmas dinner consisted of 1 lb. of bully beef, and 1 lb. very hard biscuits.”
He signs himself, “Your faithful Townsman,
A so-called Feather Bed Soldier.”