Boer War – Reservist´s War Experiences – Lord Kitchener’s Orderly

July 1900

Mexborough and Swinton Times, July 20.

Denaby Reservist´s War Experiences.

Lord Kitchener´s Orderly

Bullet through Shin, Enteric Fever and Dysentry

Corporal, E. Collins, of the 8th Battalion Mounted Infantry, has been invalided home, a victim of enteric fever and dysentery, gives the following description of his experience in the march from Cape Town to the relief at Kimberley.

Collins was formally an employee of the Cadeby Main Colliery, and next month goes on Garrison duty at Aldershot.

“We left Southampton on January 7 on board H.M.S.Britannic. Our passage out to the Cape was a most pleasurable one, and without incident we reached Cape Town on January 27 and we disembarked the same evening.

We were ordered straight away to the Orange River and we entrained and at once proceeded there and we arrived at about 11 o’clock on January 30. There was no one to receive us, consequently, we had to sleep in the open for the first night in South Africa.

Next morning, about five we heard the reveille. We trekked our way to the camp having to carry out kits and equipments, which of course, was not necessary. Out of eight companies, which we comprised, seven were ordered immediately to the Modder River, and they took everything with them, leavingus with neither tents not cooking utensils – a nice plight for us beginners.

After being three days and nights with neither cover from rain, wind, cold – and it was bitter cold at night – we got a supply of blankets and tents and so on February 3. We got our horses and saddles, and the same day we started with a convoy for Graspan, where we arrived after travelling all night. We left Graspan next morning with the convoy, and suddenly we heard our Scouts firing. They had been fired upon by the enemy, and in about an hour we were in action.

We fought from 6 am until 7pm without either drink or food, and we had only two wounded. There were two attacks in the engagement and when we’re gained a favourable position we had to stay there until dusk – neither us nor the enemy dare move.

An hour afterwards we got a drop of water, which we had to grope into underground wells for, and we found it with lighted tapers. We resumed our journey, and arrived at Belmont about 6 am. Here we “rested” for about two hours.

At Belmont we had to carry water a mile and a half for our horses and we had to grope in underground caves for it.

We resumed our journey, and we this time were travelling for four successive days without any rest, and with only a biscuit and a half per day and sometimes a drop of water.

At length we reached the Reit River, where we joined the sixth division, and they accompanied us to Jacobsdal.

At this place we came in contact with the enemy again. We were two days fighting them, and we followed them onto Jacobsdal. We arrived at Jacobsdal on 14 February, and we encamped about 3 miles and a half outside the place.

We sent a patrolling party out and they found the enemy in great force and reported to us. We received orders to go at once, saddle all, and we turned out 11 min afterwards.

The Cheshire Mounted Infantrywere first out, and Major Henry, who was in command, took us to within 600 yards of the enemy, and when we dismounte we had 27 horses shot down immediately. We made an attack on the Fort, and what horses were left we retired to safety. We started attacking, and our company were first at it, and when we dismounted we underwent a terrific crossfire. We had 11 killed, 13 wounded, and five taken prisoners (two of whom were released next day).

It was impossible to correctly locate the enemy’s true position, as they were scattered amongst the kopjes, so that we could not see the damage we did. Roberts was behind with the reinforcements and when the Boers found this out they retired.

We left Jacobsdal the same night for Klip Drift, on our way to Kimberley. We arrived at Klip Drift the next day, and we met the enemy there, and a stiff encounter took place.

French and his mounted infantry fairly routed the Boers, who left their laager behind them in their hurried retreat. Whilst we were engaged with the enemy Roberts came up, and we worked round the enemy’s flank went straight into Kimberley and thus Kimberly was relieved.

As is already known, the inhabitants went fairly frantic with joy, but no pen will describe or convey the proper idea of the sight of the relief of the place. It was a sight I shall never forget. Some cried, some laughed, some danced, some sang; in fact, they might easily have been adjudged to be mad.

Women hugged some of our troops, some put their babies into our saddles, but I think they hardly knew what to do to give vent to their joy.

We were kindly treated by Kimberley townspeople, and we were invited to dinners and public functions galore. I dined at one house, and ate quite heartily, and enjoyed my meal immensely. When dinner was over I was asked if I’d knowledge of what I had eaten of course I did not now. They told me I had partaken of cooked mule. I told them I did not care if it was double mule, and asked for another dose.

I had a bit of look round some of the bombproof shelters, and right interesting and curious they were – more like so many ant heaps. The women and children had been down the mines, but came up occasionally for fresh air. We had a nights rest in Kimberley. Some slept in the marketplace and various other places, in fact, we slept all over Kimberley, in every shape and form.

Cecil Rhodes addressed us in the marketplace, and made some very complementary marks about British soldiers, of whom he said he was most proud.

When we worked round the enemy’s flank previous to entering Kimberley the enemy were about 40 to 1 and they captured 80 of our wagons, which they little thought we should so soon recover

Next morning we left Kimberley for Beaconsfield, and there we worked a cross counter movement, and recaptured our last waggons whichhad only a small escort, between Kimberley and Paardeburg. It took us two days to go from Kimberley to Paadrdeburg, where we arrived on February 18. Lord Roberts, having arrived overnight. Roberts had already engaged Cronje and when French came up he got to the other side of the worthy Boer, and thus it was he was surrounded – due to a very fine strategical movement by Lord Roberts, which took the Boer commandant by surprise.

Cronje was now like a rat in a trap, and had no chance of escape unless he could receive larger reinforcement. During the time that he was thus hemmed in, Cronje telegraphed for Bloemfontein for 6,000 reinforcements, but General French had his telegraphic instruments attached to the wire, and he received the same message, and consequently he set out to meet the reinforcements, who did not get nearer than 6 miles of Cronje, French scattering them. Cronje was ending from 18 to 27 February and port all the time.

I was orderly to Lord Kitchener, and he ordered me to take a message to the Colonel of the Essex Regiment, who, being short of rations, had asked leave to shift his men, but theGeneral would not consent, and I had to carry the message for him to stay where he was.

The distance between the British lines and Cronje’s laager was about 750 yards, and I had to ride between these lines. Never shall I forget that ride; both Boers and British fired on me – our own men could not recognise me, and thought I was trying to run the gauntlet – shots rang out, and scores of bullets whizzed by me. I had one bullet through my water bottle, and another passed through my helmet, whilst a third severed my reins, but I was unhurt. When I got back Lord Kitchener was quite surprised to see I got safely through, and he complimented me and promoted me to the rank of corporal.

During the siege it rained hard for three days and nights. Two days and nights we were stood up, but the third night I laid down in a pool of water, with only my overcoat as covering, and I slept soundly. During the night before Cronje surrendered, everybody was on outpost, firing all the time, until daybreak. At seven o’clock next morning Cronje capitulated. I saw him and his wife coming, and they looked sadly in need of soap and water, and they were a sight. I heard Lord Roberts say to him “You have made a grand stand,” but Cronje seemed unemotional.

At Paadrdeburg we had to drink water from the river in which the dead bodies of Boers and their horses and cattle floated, and I might say it was this which caused so much enteric fever. I was next in section at Osfontein, and then at Abrahams Kraal, where a very big fight took place, the enemy losing very heavily.

We then went on to Bloemfontein which was recaptured. Outside Bloemfontein it was distinctly hard luck for us thatour horses were done up, as we should certainly have captured Messrs Kruger and Steyn, as we got in Bloemfontein we saw the train leave in which is these worthies travel. We shelled the fleeing train, but without success. Natives welcomed us to the town, and the feeling against Steyn was very bitter.

We stayed there while supplies came up with re-mounts and reinforcements. We reconnoitred and engaged the enemy at Bramford, and the next day we took the town in full force. At this place I had a shell burst under my horse, and it blew his hindquarters completely away – a very own narrow escape for myself.

We fought at Bramford from shortly after 6am until dusk and we inflicted heavy losses on the burghers, whilst we also lost somewhat heavily. We left Bramford, and proceeded to Wynberg, and on our way had an engagement at a place on the Zand River, where we had a good few horses killed.

Our mounted infantry were subject to a heavy shellfire, but only six were wounded. On their retirement from the Zand River to the Venderberg Road siding, the Boers set fire to the veldt to cover their retreat. The 8th mounted infantry, along with the 4th gave chase, and a running fight for 6 miles ensued. They succeeded in forcing the 4th Battalion back with a shellfire, and we (the eighth) took their place. It was in this engagement that we lost Captain Head. Our position was so difficult that we could not get any guns, and we consequently lost rather heavily, but we made the enemy retire.

At the Venderberg Road siding, I got a bullet through my shin, which knocked me out of action, but I did not go to the hospital. I had it dressed, and mounted my horse. I went into camp with the rest, as though nothing had occurred.

We were quiet, but the night following the enemy fled, leaving all their entrenchment tools, and had apparently retired hurriedly. In their retirement they destroyed a lot of railway bridges, and we could not get supplies.

We went on to Kroonstad in pursuit, but when we arrived they had gone back to the Vaal River, and we passed into Kroonstad unopposed. We had a 10 days rest at Kroonstad, but, owing to the destruction of the railway bridges we could not get supplies other than by convoy, and we were on half rations.

I was taken ill at Kroonstad with enteric fever and dysentery, and I was sent to the Bloemfontein , Hospital, where I was well treated.

When I improved I was sent to Wynberg, where we could have almost anything we wished for. I was invalided home from Wynberg, and I left Cape Town on board the “Umbria,” on June 6, and, reached Southampton after a 25 days voyage.

I eventually reached Denaby Mainon June 29, after visiting the Netley hospital.”