On train en route to de Aar
1st December 1899
From Cape Town to the Front
From our Troopship Sandman we disembark at 8 a.m. Thurs. 30th Nov & march in form through the principal streets of the city to the music of the pipers band of the Cape Town Highlanders to our camp at Green Point.
Arriving here a few men are detailed to construct our Canvas city.
In a short time we have sixty good Canadian tents pitched & feel at home. We have then leave to roam about the grounds of the encampment and refresh ourselves with root-beer and ginger ale, biscuits, scones etc. etc.
At 6 p.m. we get leave to go to town for short leave half of each section going for the first half of the time and the remainder going later. Our trip to town was very short but enjoyable and a good steak and cup of tea of coffee was much enjoyed. We were all ready for Reveille this morning and enjoyed a wash in unheated fresh water a treat we had been derived for four weeks.
Breakfast was soon over and orders read to parade in light marching order at 11 to leave Cape Town at [?] for de Aar write to Kimberly.
The country through which we pass the first day is one of great beauty. High mountains not unlike the smaller of the Rockies shelter some very pretty farm homesteads, wheat fields reminding one of Marntober spread their broad acres on each side of the track. Mule teams hauling old fashioned drays are seen taking in the crops and some very well built stacks are seen.
At Wellington we get out & fall in for a few minutes and receive a ration of very good tea a ship biscuit and some canned mutton. The night is spent as comfortably as maybe in out limited quarters.
At every station and at every bridge on our way we are cheered along by our brothers in arms the Duke of Edinburgh's Own volunteers from the Cape who are guarding the Ry Dec. the 2nd we are all day in the dreary country known as the "Karoo" hot and barren it looks and very little of interest is to be seen except an occasional distant view reminds me of the Western plains of America and towards evening we see a couple of Ostrich farms and wherever any wells or springs exist there is a green spot surrounding the farm houses which one's eyes delight to rest on.
At a stop for breakfast we are told that in a few minutes a hospital train will pass taking the wounded to Cape Town and that not a word must be spoken while the train passes. As the train stops at the Station we see the body of an officer who died en route carried into the baggage car which sight impresses on our men the reality of the work that lies before them.
At Beaufort West we get lunch and have the pleasure of seeing quite a number of Britishers. Our train jolts so that writing is impossible except at our brief stops.
At almost every siding we meet a train either an empty goods or troop train or a trail load of refugees on their way to the Cape. Sunday morning early we are at De Aar and I am writing this kneeling in the sun beside our line of stacked arms where we are waiting for our breakfast and marching orders. In leaving Cape Town our hearts were cheered by a sight of our Canadian Building.
From the handsome offices of the Mutual Life of New York hung the stars & stripes & never did the writer feel a "fellow feeling" towards them before but they did look quite neighbourly. We do not yet know which direction we move in, it may be by rail seventy five miles to the Orange River or by road towards the relief of Kimberly. The Royal Canadians are all in great spirits and A Co'y. from the wild & wooly west is the crack Co'y of the Regt.
There are something like 30,000 troops under canvas in this vicinity.
We are now in light marching order carrying only the following articles all the rest having been left at the Cape: Overcoat, extra flannel shirt & sox, mestin, haverpack containing towel & soap, knife & fork dubbing for boots and Bandolier which holds one hundred rounds of ammunition. We carry the Oliver equipment minus the great coat straps, pouch with forty rounds and water bottle filled. We have the regular British Army boot now & they are splendid. For a heavy boot I never wore a more comfortable one, being made in four widths one can get a comfortable fit. In the distance a squad of Cavalry are to be seen drilling, in another direction I see our two maxim guns coming up on one of which Privates Lee & Paterson of Nelson are detailed. We are camped on a sandy barren stretch East of De Aar which is said to be one of the dustiest places in South Africa. As we have no definite information as to our next move I shall delay closing this until we are aware of our next orders. We have spent this Sunday resting as well as we could in the worst dust storm many of us have ever seen. No place was secure from it and it was just a question of patient enduring until now with the sun the wind seems to be dropping. We expect to hear the orders for tomorrow read in a few minutes and expect they will be marching orders.
Our orders are to parade in field service order at 6 a.m. tomorrow. We shall probably move to the front by train about seventy five miles and expect to be in action on Wednesday the 6th of Dec.
I am now writing in a large tent put up for the troops to write in and by my side sit men of the Royal Horse Artillery, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, Army Ordnance Corps, Gordon Highlands and representatives of other famous regiments.
We have not received any mail yet but hope for it daily.
Our Y.M.C.A. man Dr Barried has his tent pitched on our lines and to him we are greatly indebted for mailing all letters written on the voyage out.
As yet we have had a very good trip and have no hardships as yet to complain of.
A Boer sympathizer in attempting to cut the telegraph wires was shot by one of the sentries on the Ry. track shortly after we came and this morning one of our men on sentry duty about six miles out was wounded by a Boer spy. Tommy Atkins as we have seen him is a pretty good fellow and fully up to the best that Kipling has written of him. At here Sir Redness Buller is nobody here knows but on every hand nothing but the greatest confidence is expressed in his ability. A late order of his is to the effect that in order to checkmate the Boer sharp shooters in their constant plan of picking off the officers and non coms, in future, in action all officers and non coms shall dress exactly as the rank & file and carry rifles.
The battle of Modder River was a telling but rather costly victory. In my next I hope to give you an account of our first actions.