August 3, 1900
I am just wondering how those predictions tallied that I made in my letter of July first regarding the regatta. I had five letters written on about July 9th. But I found when I took them from my pocket to mail, that I had lost two -- one of which was for you, all sealed and addressed. I have not had the chance to write again until today. But if I can't repay your letter through the mail, I can bring you a war souvenir from South Africa if I come through all right. I also lost one partly written for Bill Hedges, but I will write him today. I have some Boer arms and Kruger coins and pennies, which I may be able to bring back to Canada at some future time when the CMRifles go home. This seems very indefinite just now, as we are in much the same position as Moses when the light went out, as regards to the finish of the war.
I am not giving you much description of our movements, as I expect you are sick of reading about the continual chase after the enemy, who must know their case is hopeless, but continue to fight and run. Our battalion doesn't muster anything like one half of our original strength. Our squadron A only muster 50 men out of the150 that left Halifax; the balance are sick, wounded, and a few dead. And there were about 20 who joined the mounted police and the railway, which was voluntary to all colonials. The pay rate is at seventy shillings per week including rations and clothing -- in fact, everything under the army system. You may think the pay large, but it is the regular wage in this country, which appears to be the finest money-making country in the world. The mines are nearly all working, and I believe the average wage is one pound per day.
The towns are small and have the appearance of having sprung up quickly. As regards to the country, it is a great pastureland with a few acres cultivated in the vicinity of the house. The land doesn't require manuring and is easily worked. But the Dutch don't cultivate the one one-hundredth part of their farm, being content with the fruit of the Kaffirs' labour. These niggers don't hurt themselves working. I expect they don't do more than 3 months labour in a year. Their work is mostly driving the herds to the pasture and back. Most every Dutch farm has its Kaffir kraal or family of niggers on the farm who grow their own mealies.
Each Kaffir male is allowed two or three wives, and I don't think the black population will run out for a year or two. They are not a fierce or wild race by any means; in fact, they appear to be the natural servant or slave of the whites who they look upon as a very superior being. And they seem to take pleasure in serving him. They haven't adapted the custom of weaving clothing yet, with the exception of a blanket when the weather is cold. And when 'old sol' comes out strong, the family's clothing could be put into a matchbox. Here and there, throughout the veldt, are villages of Kaffir kraals. These niggers live independently and own their own herds, etc.
Almost every Dutch farm is deserted by the family, leaving all their stock, poultry, forage, furniture, and best of all, pigs, to take care of themselves. The army is allowed in written orders to commandeer all food or forage required from deserted farms, so that just at present, we are well-off as far as grub is concerned.
You have read of our fight on the 16th of last month in which the Lieutenant of my troop, Mr. Birch, and Private Mulloy, a schoolteacher from Ottawa, also in 3rd troop, fell. And Lieut. Borden of B squadron and Private Brown of second troop A, were shot.
Reveille was at half-past four in the morning, with march-off at six. We fed and saddled our horses, then had a quick breakfast and packed saddles. At six the column was moving; Colonel Lassond(?) in command of the Canadians. We soon got the order to escort a battery of artillery, and we moved off with the guns to the right.
It appears the Boers had driven in our outposts and were advancing in force to attack us. After riding a couple of hours, that old familiar boom was again heard to our front. They aimed a few fifteen-pound shells at us before we reached the shelter of a small rising of rocky ground ahead. One shell dropped between the first and second man on my left, throwing a complete cloud of dust which covered us from sight for a moment. And poor Mr. Birch said afterwards he thought he had lost a couple of his men that time.
Our guns, the Royal Horse Artillery, were in action in a flash, and it was not long until the enemy ceased shelling us. The second battalion was then sent to the left with one troop of A, and the balance of the B squad were sent to support the Royal Irish Fusiliers who were being hard-pressed on a kopje to our right. We soon came under heavy rifle fire from a force of the enemy in a farm to the front. We dismounted, and going through the knick and around the front of the kopje, we had to face hot rifle fire.
The Boers used explosive bullets mostly, and they were whistling and cracking like firecrackers in all directions. In a little while, Brown fell wounded through the chest. He may recover. Soon after, Lieut. Borden fell exclaiming, "I'm done for boys", and expired. They were both behind me, a little higher up the kopje. The bullets must have gone over our heads (of third troop). Some Boers had advanced and were among the rocks at the foot of the kopje and were killed or taken prisoners. But not before Lieut. Birch of our troop was killed, and Mulloy fearfully wounded - the bullet entering the temple, tearing out one eye and part of his nose, and damaging the other eye. He may retain the sight of one eye, the doctor says, but is very doubtful.
The Boer force on the farm retired, and our battalion received a letter from the commanding officer of the Royal Irish thanking us for saving them, etc. Our column has since moved to Middleberg without much resistance by the Boers, who I think have continued on to Laydenberg (??).
On account of being with the troop, it is almost impossible to write. Of course, those with the wagons and the hundred-and-one other jobs in the rear, have more time and opportunities to mail letters. There is a large number who never enter the hard fighting, but stay with the horseholders or in camp. And between you and me, there is a lot of shell fever or manseritus (??) especially among the non-coms from the RCD's from Stanley barracks. In the fight on the kopje on the 16th, there was only one sergeant from the RCD's, Sergeant Fuller. The other ten officers and Sergeants were either with the ammunition wagon, water cart, or with led horses. Most all the credit is done to the volunteers.
I will have to write Sandy soon. I would like to know how the regatta came off, (I'll bet there were two or three surprises), and how the club is doing. I hope Ernie Morissette's(?) arm is all right again. I often think of what old Jack Clarke said to me about being foolish for volunteering -- especially when I was seasick or when doing guard or outpost on a cold night. But it must agree with me, as I stand it all right and I weigh 165 lbs. -- which is a lot more than I have ever done before. I am not sorry I came, but you can bet I'll never do it again.
We don't receive any papers now, and I'm sure a lot of our mail is lost and destroyed. Every man of the six that left Toronto for Montreal with me to make up the third troop of A, are still at the front. They have not missed a day. Out of 13 men from Ottawa in our troop, 6 have gone back sick; also 4 men from Montreal out of 5 went back sick. There is 1 man left to represent Peterborough district out of 8. All those men cut quite a figure with their braid and brass buttons and swords and spurs, while we 6 from Toronto were pure civilians, unattached. They were a nice lot of fellows alright, but they don't cut any ice up here. I guess it's too hot.
How are all the boys doing? I can't name them all. I would like to hear from them although I haven't written them myself. How are all the old heads? I dreamed last night that I saw Mr. Meany, the ex-pres and I forget who the other man was, in South Africa working on the railway with greasy blue jeans on and bustling around as natural as life. But as dreams are contrary, I suppose they are doing well. Wherever the regatta was held I'll bet the men did not enjoy themselves going and coming as they did to Brockville last year. I'll leave it to the chairman. I haven't come across the second Somersets yet. I can't finish but I will write you again before leaving this camp as I think we will have to wait for remounts here.
So good bye
Reg'l number 188
3rd troop A squad