15 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 5 Jun 1900

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[FS/2/2/4/2/15] (1)

Pretoria

5 June 1900

[Salutation Redacted]

[[1]] We have this minute entered the city of Pretoria after one days fighting & are now assembling in the railway station prior to the triumphant march through the town, we have had a very good time of it campaigning with the Hd Qt Staff of a big army in a luxury compound with what I have gone through. Our march from Johannesburg, where I wrote to you last was uneventful the usual farms flying white flags & containing Dutch women & children, the dust, the want of water & the heat of the mid day sun & frost at night have been our common experience for some days[.] Yesterdays fight was remarkable principally for the amount of ammunition expended by the Artillery we shelled their trenches & one of the ports & during the night the messages of surrender arrived & we are now to make our triumphant entry. I can imagine the thrill this will cause in England & in the Croft[1] in particular it is a proud affair to be in & one of the greatest historic importance, In years to come one will be able to look back on the march into Johannesburg & Pretoria with a deep <sense> of pride & pleasure. Yesterday will give me another bar to my ribbon [2 words redacted], I hear the medal is duly approved & being mde made fast, the ribbon being red with blue &  khaki, probably you know more about this than we do. Yesterday we shelled the railway station to stop trains going out, to day[sic] one sees the curious sight of trains standing in the station, steam up & each engine guarded by Guardsmen I hope you may see a picture of this[.] As we rode into the station the word ‘Pretoria’ on the platform caused a great thrill of delight to pass through one. Yet unfortunately the campaign is not ended Kruger[2] & his army has gone & he will have to be taken before this show closes. It will add three more months to the campaign. How I wish I could be in London & with you to day[sic] to see the excitement on the capture of Pretoria yet I would not have missed this business for anything. I am writing this on the railway platform while the Chief & staff are discussing the situation having no paper I empty the book of one of the Railway officials & very nice paper it is to write on. [1 line redacted]. We are busy collecting arms & ammunition, piles of rifles are now lying on the platform, & beside me are collecting supplies 1000 bags of grain have been found here, the train which was just off North was rather sold[?] we stopped it going out of the station.

[[2]] 7 June. I left off just before we marched through the city of Pretoria, well it was a fine show at 3pm we assembled at the Railway Station, but before this we had looted the Refreshment room & obtained Coffee & cigars for nothing, Westminster assisted by the Peers of the Realm & a General officer looted a Gramophone which was in the refreshment bar, altogether we enjoyed ourselves while the arms & ammunitions of the Burghers[3] was being piled up in the station, you never saw such a collection of stuff, guns & rifles of all description from the big smooth bore guns to the modern mauser, there were also swords, a helmet & such a collection of revolvers & bandoliers. I got a mauser carbine for you & one or two other things to be mentioned presently. A curious circumstance occurred an old & very ugly woman accompanied by a Kaffir brought some luncheon for Lord Roberts done up like the dinner one sees going to the station for engine drivers it was very clean looking & had a little napkin, she insisted on seeing the Chief of the Staff & Kitchener had to say a few words to her, as a matter of fact the Chief had lunched, but I hope someone made a snap shot of the interview. At 3 pm we left all in the order we marched into Johannesburg, you will see me on the left hand side outside immediately behind the foreign attachés. As we neared the Parliament house a roar went up from the British position mainly comprised of our own prisoners (officers) who had the previous night overpowered their guards & escaped the square was lined by the Grenadiers & the Chief was met with a Royal Salute in a few minutes the flag was ready the little silk one worked by Lady Roberts & it was hoisted to the top of the staff by Westminster I think or Chamberlain, three cheers were given for the Queen & you may imagine what cheers they were. The march past now commenced no one can picture these war worn veterans but those who saw them, the men unwashed, beared[sic], black in the face from dirt & sun, clothes torn, helmets battered, & torn, Khaki black with grease & sweat men carrying firewood strapped on their backs or even in their hands, but marching magnificently & fit to go anywhere the irregular cavalry or rather mounted infantry were really too funny, one man was in a blue jersey another in blue overalls, a third a shoulder of mutton hanging to his saddle, a fourth wore a blue jersey cap & so on these men were colonials rough but good, they have done capital work, the Canadian infantry marched past to the ‘Boys of the Old Brigade’ & looked superb, they marched as well as the Guards & are if anything bigger. The Naval Brigade & C.I.V.[4] met with a great ovation, the latter are as good as regulars. The big guns of the former, which only a few hours before hand been shelling the forts created a great impressions they went by to ‘a life on the ocean wave’[5] they were from the “Monarch” & “Doris”

The cheering as each band was recognised was pleasant. The goat of the Welsh Regt met with a great reception & the stolid British infantry of the line Black & tattered cannot be equalled by any other army in the World. I was a great sight & something to live for.

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[[1]] After the review which lasted 11/2  hours we filed off the Chief leading to our respective billets, we put up at the British Residency. The two doctors Sawyer & myself were billeted on a man & his wife who have a nice but very small house. To fully appreciate the position just imagine the following occurring in the Croft, in comes 4 officers, eight servants two carts, 8 horses. The horses carts & servants are billeted in our garden, you[,] your husband & children have to put in in one room, & find beds & bedding for your unwelcome guests who walk in & monopolise everything in the place, crockery, glass, china, lamps, etc etc. I dont[sic] say we walk off with these things but we use them to the exclusion of the household we burn their oil at 20/- a tin & they have to ask whether they may enter their own room!

Surely the war has been brought home to them, on the Sunday our shells which missed the fort fell just behind the home we are living in, the lady with her 2 month old baby fled to the town, the man a Hollander who had been fighting against us at Colesberg was less alarmed, though 50lbs lyddite shells are not things to play with. They (these people) certainly take our presence in very good part, perhaps for the reason that no other course is open to them, if they objected they would have to leave & we shall remain in possession.

The woman (a Hollander) is young spoke very good English & was terrified when we appeared. She expected to to[sic] <be> raped, in fact that was the impression throughout the whole country by all the women [1 line redacted]  I can only say that they wear a bright & cheery appearance now they now they are safe. They also heard that we did not wear trousers!

The first idea was that 4 of us would sleep in one room, but we soon disabused them of the idea Sawyer & I have a room together, the others have a room each that leaves one room for the lady, her husband, baby & brother, all these four sleep in one room!!

The following day I organised a hospital & by 2 O’Clock every detail was in the hands of the Chief of the Staff, the medicines I commandeered in the town a smart piece of work & I hope it may be appreciated. The Cavalry have about 800 sick & other branches in smaller proportion. I then went to the House of Parliament sat in Kruger’s chair, & made myself a present of some papers from his desk & his pen. The latter will prove an interesting relic. I could have got many things but could not cart them off I should have liked the Eagle over the President’s chair but I would have been detected.

I succeeded to day[sic] in getting a Transvaal Flag from the office of the Chief Magistrate of the City so that is something to be proud of in the future it is a great find. I hope yet to get a Free State Flag when I pass through the Orange State again, or as it is now called the Orange Colony. Our future movements are uncertain, we may remain here & send out flying colours or the army may move on. Everyone is disgusted with Buller’s inactivity, he is simply sulking & had he been energetic this business would now have ended

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[[1]] As it is the affair is not over until the President is driven out of the country or captured. Mrs Kruger is here but no one sees her. We have recovered many of our prisoners & all the officers. They tried to take them away by train & succeeded in getting a good many off including the guns, but we have recovered 3500 men & 145 officers. The officers look pale & wan, they were carefully guarded night & day they cannot appreciate they are now free men. Some had been there for seven months, they had to pay for their own food, the men were practically starved one pound of meat a week only meal from maize formed their chief diet. The officers & men are being seen by the Chief to day[sic].

 

At first the officers got news a telegraph clerk who lived near them used to signal information & they got it before Kruger, later this was discovered & the fellow was nearly shot, he was an Englishman & was helped by two girls to convey news to the prisoners. Finally he was sent to the front though not a Burgher.

The fellows described what an awful life they led in this solitary confinement. The men would have starved but for money subscribed in the town & by the officers which amounted to £800 a month. One fellow told me that the effect of his imprisonment will be to make him very careful how he sentences a soldier to imprisonment in the future.

Shaw of ours I have not yet seen, but I have a job for him when he is liberated by the Chief, for none of them fellows can return to duty until they are weighed off. [3 words redacted] he is very quiet [4 lines redacted]

To night [sic] I hear the Boers have got behind us & cut the line of rail in the Free State, this will give the Militia a chance who are guarding the line. Kitchener has gone down to conduct operations. I am writing this letter in the hope that it may get through some time, but I fear it will miss the mail. I should have wired you from Pretoria, but no private wires are allowed through. It was a disappointment to me & I know it would have pleased you to know I was in Pretoria for the triumphant entry.

During the Battle of Pretoria I was quite close to Roberts & Kitchener, it lasted all day until night. It was very interesting to hear the remarks made by the two & the messages sent. Before During the battle Bobs laid down with his coat under his head & went to sleep. Some of the shells came very close to the Hd Qtr staff so that at one time it was thought we would have to change our position. Battersby[6] the Correspont[sic] I spoke of in my last had his horse shot dead by a Martini, he was standing by its side at the time & the bullet grazed his field glass case, a narrow shave for him. He was greatly depressed at the loss of his horse.

[FS/2/2/4/2/15] (4)

[[1]] There was a rifle taken from a prisoner the other day I should have liked, he was wood carver & had cut his monogram on the stock & the name of his engagements. Estcourt, Colenso, Spion Kop & Pieters. I could not carry it with me, but it would have been worth keeping as a relic. I saw the man & had a long chat with him about Colenso.

[FS/2/2/4/2/15] (5)

[[1]] I have written all this on one side of this thin paper as my I am grieved to think of the trouble you will have with the Johannesburg letter written on both sides closely, but I have no other paper convenient. This time I have commandeered some from my host. Some fighting took place near here to day[sic] I have not heard the results. Last night they blew up a culvert a few miles out & the day before yesterday they shelled our prisoners at Waterfall[7] when we were bringing them in. So you see they are all around us, but we are perfectly safe. Everyone will be glad when the business is over & the burghers more than anyone else. It is the Hollanders who are keeping up the show & these will all be deported. Over 2,000 rifles have been handed in during the last day or two. I went around the Transvaal Artillery Barracks to day[sic] they have left quantities of harness & several gun carriages but no guns.  One of ours was there but they had destroyed it. The hospital was a sight, our men had looted it, goodness knows what for. Rolls of sticky plaster & splints, medicine spill boxes all over the place, broken stretchers, tents, letters of which I have saved, piles of ammunition & shell. I have not seen our hostess to day[sic] she has fever. This place is reported to be very malarial & I should fancy with truth, there is so much vegetation there being an abundance of water. I have not mentioned the Agricultural Apptmt in my last letter, the subject is still a sore one, but I am curious to know who gets it[8]. Still [illeg.] and I am honest. I would not have missed this show for it. I am thankful I came round from Natal. Buller is sulking & will do nothing or this war would have terminated by this time. He ought to be removed. The men by his side will get very little, all the honours will fall to this army. There is some little comfort in this.

12 June we moved our house yesterday it being too small & took one with 4 bed rooms drawing & dining rooms belonging to a Hollander who is being kicked out of the country. He leaves all his furniture (beautiful) glass, crockery bed & table linens for our use, lamps, cooking utensils etc. We walk in as if the place belongs to us. The man must have been well off for his furniture is really very good & substantial. Our last hostess got very sick she was a very clean woman in her house (the very opposite of the African Dutch) & our men & horse made a beastly mess. Her lawn got worn away, her rooms go could not be cleaned[,] tobacco ash on the floor gave her a fit & the poor woman huddled up in one room was very miserable. She told me that the day we left she would sing & play all day & I believe her. I was really very sorry, but we did not make this war & are infinitely more considerate than the people who fought against us on the other hand I must say considerable looting has been done by our troops, houses have been demolished & reckless damage inflicted. Even

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[[1]] the house of Eloff (Kruger’s son in law)[9] has been broken into & things stolen I am sorry for it & ashamed. Some of the places I saw to day[sic] would have disgraced a savage. I saw a home yesterday morning I saw the same place in the evening there was nothing left of it but the tin walls even the flooring has been removed for fire wood. I had less compassion for this man he is still on commando & in his room was a life size drawing of a British Soldier about 6ft high drawn on cartridge paper & painted red & this he had used as a target, it was full of bullet holes.

I got one or two small pieces of loot the other day two crests worn by the Saps (or Pretoria police) in their helmets & an officers throat plume for his horse.

In the Grand Hotel a curious sight may be seen a sentry with rifle & bayonet doing guard over a lady who is confined there as a political prisoner, she is supposed to be a spy. I hear this morning that she succeeded in making her guard drunk yesterday. I’m sorry for the guard!

[9 lines redacted]

Yesterday there was a fight a few miles out & several Cavalry officers were killed among others Earlie. I am sorry for her, she is at Bloemfontein where she went to nurse him after his slight wound at Zand river. Much better if she was out of the country for she will feel the shock all the more having seen him recently. Lord Chesham has also lost a son, in fact the aristocracy suffered heavily yesterday. It was intended as a movement for mopping up Botha[10]’s commando, but it did not come off.

We are still cut off from the world both by wire & rail, but in the hope that this may be restored within the next day or so I intend posting this

[FS/2/2/4/2/15] (7)

[[1]] somewhat voluminous communication, you may be sure that once the postal service is established you will hear from me with my accustomed regularity. I expect Bridge will get me down country as soon as he can, but that does not matter now I have seen the show of shows & all we want now is to get the business over.

My hospital is working well, we have 1200 sick but I have arranged for everything & the veterinary part is most satisfactory. The part assigned to the combatant element is badly done & the C of Staff knows it & further that it has nothing to do with the A.V.D. we in fact shine by contrast.

Pretoria is a pretty place & when matters settle down must be quite a nice place to live in. It has an abundance of water & that is one of the essentials in a South African town. I may send you some photos of the place, several were taken of the ceremony on 5 June. [Continuation of letter missing]

 

 

[No Valediction]

 

 

(Please note that work on this transcript is ongoing. Users are advised to study the electronic images of this document where possible. (http://www.rcvsvethistory.org/archive-collection/fs-working-papers/)

[1] Smith’s home – The Croft, Little Heath, Charlton, in South East London

[2] Paul Kruger (1825-1904), President of the South African Republic 1883-1900

[3] Citizens of the South African Republic or Orange Free State

[4] City of London Imperial Volunteers

[5] “A Life on the Ocean Wave” is a poem-turned-song by Epes Sargent published in 1838 and set to music by Henry Russell.

[6] Harry Francis Prevost Battersby (1862-1949), Boer War correspondent for the Morning Post. Published poet and journalist as H F P Battersby and Francis Prevost.

[7] Waterval

[8] In April 1900, Smith was offered a position in the Board of Agriculture, but could not be excused from service in South Africa to take it.

[9] Frederik Christoffel Eloff (1850-1924)

[10] General Louis Botha (1862-1919) commander-in-chief of the Transvaal Boers, and leader of a guerrilla campaign against British forces

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