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Date: March 1st 1900
John Smith

Corporal John Smith, of Thamesford, who was killed in Sunday's battle at Modder River, wrote a letter on Jan. 5, 1900 to a friend at Thamesford, in which he says:

"This is a pretty hard life that we are living at present. I have not slept with my shoes or clothes off since we left the boat, and every other night we are out on duty, either picket or examining guard, and every morning at 3 o'clock we have to get up and march out to the trenches, and lay there till daylight, watching for an attack, but everything is pretty quiet at present.

Part of our men went into a little skirmish yesterday about twenty miles from here. At a small place called Douglas - they captured 50 prisoners, and killed a few, but we did not hear the exact number, as the Boers fled, carrying some of their dead and wounded with them. We have lost no men at all. The Australians lost three men. Two of our officers had a very narrow escape. A bullet went through Capt. Barker's trousers; another bullet fell immediately in front of another officer's foot. The fighting lasted for two hours. But as for any other war news, I am not in a position to tell you anything, because you hear more direct war news at home there than I do, as we cannot depend on anything that we hear. All I know is that we are guarding Belmont, and that keeps us pretty busy.

This is a very rough country. It is all mountains and very rocky. Whichever army gets on top of the kopjes, it is almost impossible to displace, there are such good hiding places. You can get behind a big rock and fire away at the enemy all day and never get touched. One man is as good as fifty while he is up on top of a kopje. Quite a good battle was fought here before we came. A place that is hard to take is Modder River. The Boers are so well entrenched that the British have quit firing on them altogether. They are surrounding them, and keeping them fenced in, and starving them out.

They seem to think that March will about finish the war, but of course that is only guessing at it. They are talking of making one general advance with 100,000 men about the middle of this month, and that will be a great surprise to the Boers. The British are lying very low just now for two reasons, one is waiting for General Roberts to arrive, and another for catching the Boers asleep. This is all I know about the war at present. But as mentioned before you hear all the news straighter than I do. This is a very peculiar climate, it is awful hot by day and cool at night. It is 120 degrees to-day in the sun and tonight on duty we will have to wear overcoats, and the sand blowing here will blind you. I would not live in this country, that is as far as I have seen it yet, for a salary of 1,000 a year. This is the funniest Christmas that I have put in. We remained in our tents all day half-dead with the heat, and New Year's Day I was on outline picket both day and night. I wish you would send me a newspaper; that is the only way we get news. We are used more like prisoners than men who fight for the Queen, without about half enough to eat."