The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Published on the Website of the South African Military History Society in the interest of research into military history

Copyright Mary Gladstone of Edinburgh 2011.

Letters of Eyre Macdonell Stewart Crabbe, CB

Eyre Macdonell Stewart Crabbe, CB, was the son of Colonel Eyre John Crabbe, 74th Highlanders, who had fought in the Peninsular War as a very young man & whose father had been a colonel in the East India Company's army, and of Elmina Stewart, of Jamaican ancestry. EMSC was born in 1852, the only child of his elderly father who died in 1859. He was educated at Harrow School & was one of the first to profit from the Cardwell army reforms of 1870 and not have to pay for a commission. He entered the Grenadier Guards as an ensign in 1871 & as a young man served more than once in Ireland where he married Emily Jameson of the distilling and banking family. He served with the Alexandria expedition of 1882 and in the Guards Camel Corps which attempted to rescue General Gordon in 1885, and was a musketry expert. He became second in command of the 3rd Battalion in 1896 and commanding officer in 1898. After the Boer War he became a Brigadier General in charge of military administration at Aldershot. He died suddenly of a heart attack at Aldershot in 1905, his wife having died in 1904. He had four sons and four daughters; these letters are addressed to one of his twin daughters, Daisy, late Mrs Moreton Macdonald of Largie, Kintyre, born 1879, and refer to most of his other children:


The Grange,

My dearest Daisy

You will like a line of first impressions of Gibraltar altho' I have only time for a scrawl.

Well there are many one horse places in the world but this is really only a one donkey place. It is quite the rottenest hole I ever came to. Every thing is up and down hills which almost defy walking up them, there is not a decent house in the place as far as I can see except the Convent which is where the Governor lives. This is one of the best but it is only a dog kennel after all at present I am living in 2 rooms in it for which I have hired the furniture for one month for 25/- until I can see a little what is going to happen.

We made a very good disembarkation yesterday so quick that when a Telegram came to detain Grenadiers on Nubia we were on land & the 2nd Battn on the ship. Great excitement prevailed among the officers Woolley was absolutely certain the 2nd Battn were going on at once however when we awoke this morning she was not, for she had sailed at 6 a.m for England. Now we are all waiting for news, in the meantime the Governor inspects us tomorrow & Genl Colville on Monday.

Please get me & send out at once 2 more Travelling Cases with fillers for Stylograph Pens so that I may be prepared in case of a sudden move.

The Mosquitos are beginning to be bothering but the weather is charming, cool breeze & not as hot as our hottest summer weather.

I went to see the Governor this morning he is rather a dodderer. I am just going for a ride to see the beauties of the place. The scenery is really grand & if only seen for a short time would be enjoyable. Don't think this is a serious growl for it is not. As to the doings of my invaluable servant!! They will be written in Sunday's letter. Love to all.

ever your loving Father

Eyre Crabbe

The Grange,

My dearest Daisy

I am so sorry you are having so much trouble with your face. I do hope it will soon be on the mend.

I think McKenzie is sure to take trouble with you especially as you go with Ida who is a great ally of his & in time he will do you good but it is nasty tedious job I know. Do not fuss or worry but try & take life easily nothing will help it more than that. Try what being absolutely idle for a time is like & then you will be no more "Martha" but will grow into a Venus.

I am much amused at your not seeing poor old Jackson poor man he must have been very much depressed & will probably have an attack of excema [sic - I think] to keep you company.

There is a rumour prevalent here that Kruger has bought a Chilian man of war but it seems unlikely as if so he must have bought the crew with it & it would only be a waste of money. I see the Channel Fleet are coming here immediately I wish it were [?in omitted] the Mediterranean before we left. There is a queer old custom here of locking the Fortress gate at Sundown rather like the Guarding of the Keys at the Tower. If you are outside you are out for the night.

Do you see that Mr Falkner is going to be our Chaplain in S. Africa. I don't think he will like it much, he was always fond of his comforts.

I shall hope to hear a greatly improved account of you when I get to Cape Town.

I feel this is a stupid letter but it is very hard to find anything to say here, unless I gave you a dissertation on giving over Barracks & embarking a Battn which would hardly be interesting. So with best love to all Good bye for the present

Ever your very affectionate Father
Eyre Crabbe

[on paper headed The Grange, Gibraltar, but written on the boat. Dated 14.11.99 but started on 3.11.99]

My dearest Daisy

I hope long before this reaches you that you will be quite free from Excema [sic] & thoroughly reestablished in robust health you will probably have been to London to Warwick Square & had a regular dose of McKenzie who I hope on more intimate acquaintance will fulfil your latest [?]itions. Our inoculation for Typhoid has been the most exciting event of the voyage. Almost every officer has been done I led the way as an example. Sheldrake was operator. He injected the serum (I must be particular about the scientific names I know writing to you) under the ribs on the right hand side of course that did not hurt & then you were done. In about an hour it become to ache a bit & for one or two days I was rather stiff & walked very gingerly. I had a little fever the first night but nothing to signify & at the end of 2 days I was perfectly well & never had to miss any duty or meals. Some were very bad & could hardly stand & could not eat, but now Nov 3d everyone is well of it again & as the first of us were only done last Monday it is not very formidable you see. About 170 of the men have been done but they are very stupid about it & think they are going to be murdered straight off. I ordered all the drummers to be done & so of course they have been but there was a good deal of trouble with them. It is beginning to get a bit rough that is we are meeting a head wind which makes her toss a bit still on the whole we have nothing to complain of & it is quite cool and pleasant with a cloudy sky & the thermometer only about 80o. We cross the Equator tonight which was curious to think of you with damp November fogs & cold rain while we are going into another summer. All the mens black bags are being taken out of the hold today & repacked ready for a move up country but it is wonderful how little room there is on a ship when there are about 1500 men on it.

In Ivan's absence I take it the fireworks which always play a prominent part just now at home will be omitted. I thought of them last night when we passed a steamer & the Captain wanting to find out what she was sent up the Union Co. private signal 6 red squibs & the 6 green ones. She turned out to belong to the Renny [recte Rennie] line from Natal.

We crossed the Equator about 8 o'c this morning but May's servant told him we had crossed at 5 o'c & that all the men had felt the Bump! in reality it was a big wave which had shaken her a bit.

Nov 7th We pursue the even tenor [sic] of our way with very little change indeed one feels rather as if one was shut up permanently in an ark only all the animals are humans.

I should think a voyage to Australia was about the most monotonous thing going & it only wants rough weather to complete the picture.

Nov 10th And now it is rough and we are all proportionately miserable but not ill. I am quite well but I hate it. I wonder how the Sunday School gets on I hope you do not go out Breakfastless to it. Remember me to the [?] Hayes.

The old Major hates the sea as much as I do & is rather amusing because he takes it as a personal insult when it is rough & gets quite X over it. Our Captain is exceedingly nice and pleasant & does everything he can to make matters go smoothly. I have a daily extract from the ship's log in my diary & you will see by that how rough we have had it.

Tomorrow (14th) we are going to play at disembarking that is we are going to get up some of the baggage & kit bags &c ready for next day when I hope this dreary voyage will be over.

Nov. 15th At last we are nearing shore & hope to be in very early tomorrow morning. Last night & tonight the moon has had an enormous circle round it which they say predicts wind so perhaps it is as well we should be out of it. Every one is very cheery at the prospect of getting on shore.

Ever Your loving Father
Eyre Crabbe

Cables Office,

[EMSC had been wounded at the battle of Belmont on 24.11.99 & invalided to Cape Town]

My dearest Daisy

I am very sorry I could not get off a letter to you by todays mail but I have been very busy ever since I came down & only just got gt the rest of my bundle cleared up last night. Thank you so much for your letters they are always very welcome & if I don't reply to them as regularly as I ought to you must forgive me. I am so sorry you are still worried with excema & I do hope Mackenzie will soon find you right it is such a bore for you having it anywhere still it is better under cover than in the open. You will all be quite happy about me I hope long before you get this. It is a great nuisance that the Telegram is 60 hours behind time so that all messages from England take at least 5 days to get an answer.

I am as bouncy as possible & having 3 days to spare have taken up temporary work as a Press censor here which is most interesting one sees all the telegrams & hears all the opinions on the war. Certainly our column under dear old Paul comes out easily first. Everyone praises him & his arrangements and they ought he has encouraged splendidly he went up with a definite object, the relief of Kimberley, & he is carrying it through as a Guardsman should. I am sorry to say he has been wounded in the thigh but they say not seriously of course you will know it before you get this but at present it is a deadly secret. Poor Sydney Earle[1] I am grieved you know he was always a great favourite of mine indeed I think you all liked him. Certainly we are having to pay dear for our Victories but that cannot be helped. We can only make peace on one set of terms (a) Garrisons in Pretoria and Bloemfontein (b) disarmament (c) a new arrangement of S. African confederated states whereby the equality of the white man is guaranteed. Anything short of this means the loss of S. Africa and of our position as a first class power. I know it is weary work for you all at home waiting & watching it is almost as bad for mother as 1885 but for you it is a first experience & I well know how hard you find it but you must try and cheer up & remember that everything is ordered for the best & we can only play our part to the best of our ability and trust. I hope this will reach you about Xmas day & I want you all to try & be cheerful & hopeful. I believe our present phase of the campaign is nearly over probably will be quite before I get back to the Battn & then we shall wait a bit at de Aar or some such place until the general advance which will not I think be anything very serious. It is the clearing of the way which is the difficult part & that is nearly done on our side. Since writing above I have been out to Wynberg [2] Hospital & got my discharge & am to go up to the front again on Sunday night I shall be truly glad to get back to my old boys again even tho' fighting is over for the present. I feel like a shepherd who has lost his flock.

I lunched at Cecil Rhodes house today with Lady Edward Cecil [3] he (Lord E) is in Mafeking but the advices from there are very good up to 21st & it seems as if the Boers were beginning to find their hands full all round. Col Goff 9th Lancers has I hear been sent home he failed to bring up the cavalry when wanted says his horses were worn out. Lady E. Cecil is sending Vi a book of Photographs &c of Capetown for the married people 3 B[attalion].G[renadier].G[uards]. both reservists & others. I enclose you a most interesting Photograph of 4 letters found on the Battlefield of Belmont shot through with one bullet & I believe to one of our men.

Today I have sent up all the spare men from the depot there remain only 8 Company Storemen 1 Sergt & young Lygon who was wounded. They will gradually increase as the men come out of hospital.

I saw N. Dalrymple today at Wynberg he is going on well but I fear will lose his arm. Leslie had his leg off this morning they hope he will do well Vaughan going on very well also Grant & Willoughby cold [?] & Balkeley [?]

Friday 1 Dec - Last evening I got your Telegram Gascoigne's & several others forwarded from the front by post. Hence delay in replies. I am sending Vi an answer today but I expect it will be Monday before she gets it. I have been Photographed here as a Xmas present to my friends & I think it will amuse you. It is quite the wounded hero!!! Old David has had great luck commanding the Battn at the Modder River I expect he will get a C.B. for it & he will thoroughly deserve it. I suppose I shall get something for Belmont so don't be jealous.

There is no news today from our Column I want to hear of their being in Kimberley they may have another fight Speitfontein but I don't think as bad as Modder River. Tonight I am dining with Ivor [4] & his attachés to whom I am rather an object of interest. I met a man in the Club here who said he had met mother at the Salomans[5] & he was writing S. to say he had seen me.

Dec 2nd A very pleasant evening last night with the attachés this morning met Williams 13th Hus.[sars] used to be B. Russell's A.D.C. always at Moor Park. He has just come out with mules. I have my Ticket for tomorrow night so I shall post all this mail's letters before I start.

Mind you try & keep Xmas going all right for the children. The Ghoorka was in dock yesterday & I went on board I saw Chief Officer Grey who lives at Swathling [?] he promised to see Stewart on his return & give him latest news of me. Good bye for he present. Cheer up.

Ever your loving Father
Eyre Crabbe

[1] Son of Mrs C M Earle of Godalming, Surrey, well known gardener & author.
[2] Wynberg was the military base south of Cape Town from when the British took over the Cape in the 1800s.
[3] Daughter of Admiral Maxse, wife of one of the sons of the then prime minister Lord Salisbury; Lord Edward had been in the Grenadier Guards 1887-91 & then a colonial officer in Egypt. After his death Lady Edward married Lord Milner; she had established the Victorian League in 1901 to promote Milner's imperial vision
[4] Is this Ivor Guest, son of Lord Wimborne and of Churchill's aunt?
[5] Is this Sir David Salomans of Tunbridge Wells, pioneer of use of electricity & of the automobile?

Modder River

My dearest Daisy

I know I have been rather idle about writing to you but I have as you know a good deal to do so you must excuse it & not think it is from any lack of interest in your letters which I greatly enjoy.

We have had two real bad days the like of which I never expected to see in this Campaign at all events. We have been fairly beaten & that is not a pleasant experience. I never expected to command the 3rd Battn as a rearguard to cover the retreat of the Army. The Boers have got a position at Magisfontein [recte Magersfontein] & Spitfontein which seems impregnable. I do not see how we are to take it even now. It is a line of shelter trenches all round the base so deep that men can ride in them under cover with 4 tiers of fence and fire {wire?} entanglements in front of them to trip up the unwary attackers. I hear the Hills are covered with guns & altogether it is an uncommonly nasty place. I think we shall avoid it & get round it & so cut off their supplies. It was fortunate in a way that Colville did not get out to the 71st I fear there are very few officers left alive but I have not heard the details yet. We had a harmless time of it & lay down all Monday & yesterday morning in 4 lines with very little firing going on over us. Our total loss for the two days was 1 killed & 1 wounded. Here we are back again at our old camp & nothing done of any good, only about 800 killed & wounded. It is an awful blow to the force & they will take some time to get over it. I have just heard that very few officers were killed in the 71st there were 15 off. killed & 48 wounded in the Division. Dec. 15th Yesterday brought the mail & your welcome letter of Nov. 17th our bag was lost for 24 hours & we had great fear we should not see our letters at all & that would have been a terrible disappointment as the weekly mail is our one joy to look forward to. This morning we paraded at 3.30 a.m. & went out as right flanking guard to a force escorting our batteries which blazed away for a couple of hours at the enemy's entrenchments & then we returned. No casualties our side. We were home by 8.30 & after some food & a bath & sundry work, I am settled to letters for the rest of the day. I went & saw Maj. Greenland H.L.I. yesterday evening & he said he had seen Colville since his illness & think he was all right again & I wired home accordingly. I do trust he will keep well it really would be too hard on you all at home if anything serious overtook him. His reference to the Spiritualism i.e. Tableturning is rather curious. That table was quite out of gear I think as everything has come out just to the contrary of what was said. We are building entrenchments & forts here which looks as if we were going to make a prolonged stay.

It is not a bad place & there is plenty of water which is really the most important point. It is not very hot really but we all suck up a good deal of water when we get the chance.

Mr Falkner [the regimental chaplain] now shares my tent & is very pleasant & we get on excellently it was rather a good find for him coming to us I think. I see the ?Silver's son was wounded & taken prisoner at Ladysmith I wonder whether you have any of you written to them. I heard yesterday from Col. Kelham 71st H.L.I. that Dolly Richardson your pal was coming back & coming out & that her father was going to give a ball in honour of the event. No doubt you will be there!!

I am sure Campbell would do all he can to help you in the matter of Colville & he knows a good many of the 74th. I am sorry you don't like old Clive but I am not greatly surprised altho' he fancies himself a good deal as a Lady's Man.

Mind you remember rise[?should be "to write"] to the Salomons it is so good of them keeping you posted with latest news I wonder if they sent you Belmont before you got it in the newspaper.

Now I must close as I have a lot of write.

Ever your most affectionate Father
Eyre Crabbe

Page from an original letter

Modder River

My dearest Daisy

This is the last sheet of Gibraltar paper & the last 1/2 hour for the mail & both shall be devoted to you. Thank you for your letter of 24th Nov. I quite understand it & if it is not an ideal Xmas letter still it was just what I wanted & what I liked to hear. It is impossible I think either to write Xmas letters from here or for you to write them to me here there is so much which is not Xmas like in both places just now. Vi promised to send me the Intercession Service at Wellington Bks but she did not in no hurry at the least, if it has not started will you send it. It was a very good thing you & she were in London when the news came as you were able to assure yourselves & mother that you knew all those near [sc. "near you"] to be known [sc. "known to be safe"?] & then go back to her.

I do not think from what I hear today that we are likely to move from here before you get this many preparation [sic, I think] is being made for a prolonged stay getting up our extra baggage &c. & going to settle down comfortably. I have got the last bandage off my wrist which is quite healed now. This is an excellent climate for the healing of wounds it is dry & bracing we are 3668 ft above the sea here.

Cameron has been sent back to England one of the nerves of his eyes is damaged I fear. I am not sure if I told any of you that I looted 2 ponies last week one a dark grey is rather a nice one. Fancy Hubbage who is at Port Elizabeth writing & offering his services as Adjutant to me. I have not yet answered his very impertinent proposition.

Lygon[1] is doing excellently & I had a wire last night to say he was confirmed so I suppose he will be in the Gazette by this time [ie mentioned in Dispatches]. I wonder what Iris thinks about it all you none of you mention her often.

I enclose Col. Rutherford's letter about Colville which I omitted from Mothers.

How are your old people getting on the Bulford family who would not work & old Mrs Church at the Norbury Gate remember me to her when you pass.

Give my best remembrances to all in Mickleham & neighbourhood for a happy new year.

Ever Your loving Father
Eyre Crabbe

[1] Lieutenant The Hon. Edward Hugh Lygon, (1873-1900), son of Earl Beauchamp, later killed or died from wounds

Modder River

My darling Daisy

I feel I must send you one line before the mail goes. I have just received your letter of Nov. 30th. You will have realized before this that my explanation of my wounds as "scratches" [this must have been in a letter to his wife or Vi] was the proper one & that it was only the inflexible conscience of James Magill which induced him to return me as "Severely wounded" while the Cape authorities got it as "Slightly wounded" & so sent it home. He is the dearest fellow in the world & kindness itself but with a terrible conscience & we had awful tussles while I was in hospital at Belmont first to get out to poor Fryers funeral [?Pryer's?] then next morning to Blundells & to be present when Paul & Odger addressed the Battn (in these I succeeded) but get off Capetown I could not he would have me off by the train & I could get no one to back me up however no doubt it was all for the best & I got well all the quicker for it. I am as fit as possible now & ready to run the Battn. Handicap.

I see by the papers that there is to be a Tournament this next year the end of May who is getting it up?[1] I am so glad to hear that the exzema is better I do hope & trust it will soon depart not as the Boers do now to the next Copje [sic] but thoroughly routed as we hope they will be in the near future.

I really think you do deserve a little commiseration on the continued absence of Vi I hope you will not have so sad a tale to tell next time. Dear old Brindle he is one of the best of men, he was always in the forefront of the Battle but it is only the R. C. Chaplains who are the r-? generally with the field Hospitals where really they are more use-

Falkner is rather seedy but I take it he will be all right very soon.

Magill has just been all round the Battn & is delighted with the look of the men & their healthiness we have only about a dozen in hospital through sickness.

I expect this campaign will be a source of income to old Longhurst as I have already shed ?4 of his teeth. When we get biscuit it generally means the loss of a tooth. We get bread most days & very good it is.

Thank Gladys & Iris for their letters. I will try & send a lot by next mail. I have written Mrs Kinloch a line.

The ingredients for the men's Xmas puddings have come & I have also secured some beer so they will be able to fancy it is Xmas after all. Tell Mother the Xmas cards of the house came quite safely Of course I will answer her & Vi's letters next mail.

I think the enclosed will amuse you all. I do not know the writer or the accident referred to. I have answered it.

Ever Your loving Father

Eyre Crabbe

[1] He had been involved in running previous Royal Tournaments & was referred to in a complimentary way at this one.

Modder River

My dearest Daisy

The posts are beginning to get very erratic & false alarms as to when the mails are to be made up are frequent consequently I think it is very likely that you will get this at the same time as Mother & Vi to whom I wrote on 26th. Our Xmas dinners were quite successful I went all round with a personally conducted party & there was much cheering & general good temper. The men had 1 qt of beer each free & Rum in the evening. Cheese for breakfast Jam for tea & R Beef & plum pudding for dinner so I think they did well.

On Tuesday evening about 8 o'c the Boers got a scare that we were going to attack them & began to fire away into the darkness in a most ?luxurious way.

Last night at 10.40 we fired our two big Naval guns at them & they began again. It uses up their ammunition which is always satisfactory we have got the second naval gun up here now named Josephine companion picture to Joe [Chamberlain presumably].

I believe we have got the foundation for a capital picture of our Xmas dinner. We had Wilkinson in here Coldstream to dine on purpose to take sketches.

We have got a splendid Mess Hut built out of native mud bricks & Iron roofing all hooked. We dined 30 on Tuesday in it & now some of them are making a kitchen so you see we are making preparations for a long stay, it is a good thing to do as then you generally get ordered on as soon as your show is complete.

We had a storm yesterday afternoon which was very pleasant in laying the dust.

We are levelling a Football ground & cocoa nut matting is on the way from Capetown for a cricket pitch on Monday & Tuesday we have sports of all kinds. Lord M [Methuen or Milner?] has given a cup for the cricket & football & I should much like the Battn to win one as they will be of great interest later on when the campaign has become ancient history.

I see Winston Churchill writes that he proposes revisiting Pretoria about the third week in March that is about the time I have said all along for our getting there of course we do not seem any nearer now than we were a month ago but in reality everything is piling up & soon the ??? system will begin & that will be rapid & effectual I hope.

We find about ½ Battn each day on Fatigues & the other half of us out solemnly under Lygon at 6.30 headed by the drummers as at home & do a steady Hyde Park Drill. Consequently some of the men are beginning to remember they are Grenadiers not Irregulars & hold themselves up accordingly, but it does seem rather funny when one combines Modder & Hyde Park. We have just been ordered to send a cart for the mail so I hope it is a large one. The arrival of the mail is our chief excitement here.

This is only a sort of extra note to you [you] must excuse it's being short & it would be more amusing if there was any news.

Ever your loving Father

Eyre Crabbe


My dearest Daisy

By this time Xmas & the New Year with their joys & trials, the latter generally generally [sic] predominate as one grows up, will be over & you if your scheme has come off ,will be at Eastbourne with Ivan & Iris. The idea of the sea side sounds very pleasant to us dried up herrings here. This is called the Maidenhead of Kimberley but if you had seen it yesterday you would have thought it a queer place. It blew great guns & the dust was so thick all the afternoon one could not see 20 yards everything a mass of dust & the discomfort intense. It was a question between staying in ones tent which was blowing about full of dust most uncomfortable or going into the Mess Hut the roof of which is of corrugated iron with boughs on it fastened down by a sail cloth & the noise of the boughs & the sail cloth & the iron in the wind was appalling. It has half a mind to blow today & half a mind to rain. I do hope the latter will gain the day.

I dined with Magill last night & they had a man dining a doctor who was taken prisoner by the Boers at Magersfontein & taken to Jacobsdaal & then released. He was very interesting. He says that they give our wounded prisoners all the best of everything better than their own men. They were very good to him & as soon as they had satisfied themselves that he was a doctor they blindfolded him & put him on a horse & led him to within about 3 miles of our lines took off his bandage & let him go. He says they are getting very tired of the war & the Freestaters want very much to be done with it.

Cronje is the man who keeps them all together he is a Transvaaler & rules the army over here with an Iron hand. Albrecht is their great artilleryman who arranges where they shall put their guns & what they shall fire at he is a German.

If we could get these two I think it would end the war. Cronje's reputation is not very good he was in command of the army besieging Potchefstroom in 1881 & when peace was proclaimed he never told them but kept on besieging them until they had to surrender. One of Maude Thornhill's brothers was there in the artillery.

Major Davies has come up from Capetown on a visit but he brings very little news. I suppose next week Roberts will be out & will soon pick up the tangled threads of our skein & put all in order. I have just heard that my game yesterday morning about which I wrote to Gladys was a great success after all, that the Boers fired on each other & 36 were killed besides a lot of horses.

We have had a group of the officers Photographed & I hope to send home a copy next mail I am very curious to hear what you think of the "wounded warrier" [sic].

I cannot think of any more news this time so I will close what I fear is rather a stupid letter.

Ever Your loving Father

Eyre Crabbe

Modder River

My dearest Daisy

A line but I fear a stupid one there is little variety. Outpost last night, a lovely warm night with a splendid moon about 2 a.m. the wind sprang up & today it is vilest of the vile blowing hard with clouds of dust you cannot see 100 yds for it. We have just heard of Bullers success at the Tugela there really seems hope now that Ladysmith will be relieved in a day or two & then things will move along a bit. Our seige [sic] gunners did a clever thing on Wednesday evening, they left one of their guns loaded on Tuesday night with Lyddite & put the Tampion in, which is the plug always kept in the muzzle to keep dirt out, on Wednesday they forgot it was in & fired with the result that they blew 2 ft off the muzzle & ruined the gun we are inclined to call it carelessness. Yesterday they fired 2 shells at our Q?st [Quartermaster] ??….. very nearly hit it but not quite. It is a most complete little place with food & water for the garrison (150 men) for 2 days so that if they are cut off they can get on by themselves but no far the Boers shew [sic] no enterprise & let us do much as we like. I see there have been reports in London that Lord Methuen is ill they are utterly false he is in the best of health.

Heneage has enteric which is very sad but he is going on well.

We now have to send over a mile for the wood for our fires which is tiresome & the river has come down thick & muddy so things are rather down today still as I write a shower is laying the dust & like a barometer only contrariwise our spirits rise. I have a grand fancy that we shall soon leave here & join a column moving up the Free States [sic]. The accounts of the discussions between the Transvaal & Free Stater Boers are quite encouraging. I think the latter have had as much as they want.

I am hoping next week to get an account of your Tableaux altogether I am in great hopes that you got through Xmas without very serious difficulty. I still he we may have a midsummer party which will be more cheery.

I have not heard anything of Colville or Lewis for a long time but I take it they are flourishing. We have some Middies [midshipmen] up here with the Naval Brigade. One came to dine with the Captain & said he knew Lewis but was 2 terms senior top him on the Brittannia [sic – Britannia Royal Naval college at Dartmouth is where British naval officers have been trained since 1863, in Lewis Crabbe’s day from the age of 15].

Now alas I have no more twaddle so I must close this very uninteresting epistle.

Love to all
Ever Your loving Father
Eyre Crabbe

Modder River

My dearest Daisy

Thank you so much for such an excellent account of the Tableaux they seem to have been eminently successful both from the financial & social point. You do not tell me but other people do that your arrangement was all that could be desired & that the combined tact & firmness you displayed resulted in everyone doing what was wanted without ever losing their tempers which of itself speaks volumes.

I am so very glad you had them I like to think of my family being always active & energetic in promoting amusement as well as industry & it is good for you all to have had to get them up & look after them yourselves. You are greatly to be congratulated & I am delighted. I fear you do me too much credit in thinking that I am associated with Lord Methuen in his counsels he has his own staff & keeps his own counsel entirely. Very often I don’t see him for days together I dined with him last night & he was asking after you two & Mother he is very well but like the rest of us tired of inaction however his orders from Capetown are not to move at present so here we are & here we shall remain.

If all goes well I am going to try to get down to Belmont next week with a party of boys who were not at the battle Cooper Clive & one or two of the Juniors who have just come out & give them a personally conducted tour over the battlefield. It will be most interesting & I shall like immensely to see it all again.

I forgot to say that Mr Jackson in his account of the Tableaux writes “I shall not pretend to be critic enough to tell you who looked best of the whole show; it was one of your family that is all I am going to tell”. It was very kind of Beevor to write to Mother but I fear he has exaggerated my doings a good deal, he has taken a lot of Photographs among them the corner under the Hill where the damaged articles were all collected awaiting our carriage & pair to take us back to hospital & he has promised me a copy.

Today is really writing under difficulties the wind and dust are awful –

We went for a march out this morning to get some of the beef off the reservists who joined last week & they stood it very well indeed.

Buller seems to find the relief of Ladysmith a hard nut to crack but he will do it all right I believe.

Arthur Bartlett was here yesterday he is a most bumptious prig he told me among other amusing things that the Brigade officers were not in action at Magersfontein I very quickly undeceived him lucky he did not say it to a Coldstream of course they had much the most work of our lot.

As usual dearest remember which is Iris birthday but I shall write to her for the 5th March. I hope she will get the Queens chocolate all right I hear it is fetching £5 a box lower down the line.

Thursday 1 Feb. There is a general advent of troops here & all sorts of rumours flying about but nothing definite. Good bye till next week.

Ever Your loving Father
Eyre Crabbe

[Received Feb 25th 1900]

Modder River

My dearest Daisy

I am going to begin by blowing you up for writing so late at night. I fear it is one of many bad habits you have learned from your Father & both you & Vi have caught on to it most successfully. Seriously my dear child don’t do it you want all the sleep you can get to recover you from that “horrid” excema which I am delighted to hear is better nay I hope gone altogether & if so you will soon pick up & be stronger & quite blooming but late hours will be very much against it remember. The Douglas expedition was a great success in a small way only we all wish it had been some other than Pilcher who is not a favourite anywhere. He had command of Green Point Camp at Capetown where our Base Cos were & made himself most obnoxious. I doubt if anyone at home can quite explain all the Tactics which have been used in the present war or anyone out here either. I see some people say our Artillery is inferior to the Boers whereas it is really superior & is our strong point, but no field Artillery moving about at any rate up to 10 miles an hour can carry as far as Guns of position which once fixed remain.

Macdonald does not seem to have done any better with the Highland Brigade than poor Wauchope[1] did as far as todays news goes.

I am sending you home a lot of Photographs done by Fisher Rowe I dare say they will be generally acceptable & you will do with them as seemeth to you best.

As you say Vi seems to have had a peck of troubles domestic & to have got through them most satisfactorily. The Graphics[2] & Hampshires[3] come all right but the Graphics are always a week old which is a drawback as we have already had them by the previous mail in the Mess. Will you try to rectify this I like having my own very much. I have got my air gun & already the collection of dried bird skins is in progress also the dried flowers. I am just off to call on Lord Roberts & Lord Kitchener they live in a special train in a siding & I fancy make themselves pretty comfortable. Later I believe we are to be Photographed. This is a process that is always going on either the correspondents or our own boys are always wanting just one group!! Today it is the Graphic & D. Graphic. I still have David tight he is not off yet poor Mrs David how she will hate me!!

It always seems to me when the mail is gone that I forget half I had to say.

We had a long day on Outpost yesterday & plenty of duststorms. They don’t seem over altho’ according to local prophets they ought to be.

Feb. 9th The illustrious people I went to see were all out. These are signs of a move indeed some are moving now. I got a list of all the midshipmen up here yesterday to send to Lewis I had a letter from him last week.

Tell Iris I am expecting to hear from her soon but I can quite understand that sitting down to write a foreign letter is rather an undertaking.

It is broiling hot today. No more at present from

Your loving father
Eyre Crabbe

[1] Major-General Wauchope had been killed at Magersfontein on 11 December. He had been in the Sudan campaign with Crabbe.

[2] The Graphic was a weekly illustrated newspaper

[3] Probably the Hampshire Chronicle; although the Crabbes were now living in Surrey they had previously lived mainly in Hampshire where the family had been long based


My dearest Daisy

You shall not be disappointed of a scrawl but it must be of the shortest as it is 5.30 am on the Veldt at Magersfontein & I must send it to catch the post. The Boers surrendered this place on Thursday night & yesterday morning we rode out here & had a most interesting day at 3 o’c the Battn paraded & we got here before dark. It is about 6 miles from Modder & well worth a visit.

One mass of the Copjes is wonderfully well entrenched. It does seem funny after sitting looking at it for 2 months to walk in without firing a shot. We are encamped close to the Waterwheel at which many shots have been fired. Beautiful water & plentiful. Division comes out 8.30 M. meanwhile every available Company of mine is out looting. The Boers have left everything behind them so I hope we may find something worth having but I did not see much of value yesterday.

Please tell Mrs Gascoigne I meant to write but this sudden move has prevented me. What a blessing Kimberley is relieved at last.

Now excuse this scrawl.

Ever Your loving Father
Eyre Crabbe

There is a good deal of Boer smell about the Laagers & trenches

[endorsed March 1st – when received]

Klipt Drift

My dearest Da

I want to try & write you a little more than I did on Saturday but again time presses & the bag is closing. I want first of all to tell you about Magersfontein.

The Boers were there in full force on the Wednesday evening & not a soul at daylight on Thursday. We made a reconnaissance the Scots [Guards] & 1 Cold[stream Guards] & we sent out 2 strong patrols to march along the river on the right. A man with a flag of truce came to 2?A our advanced Fort while I was there about 9 a.m. he had a letter for Lord Methuen so Lygon & I took him across (he was mounted) to Genl. P. Carew on the Railway & having sent him into camp under escort we joined Genl. P.C. & rode on with him. It was a most extraordinary sensation after having sat for 2 ½ months looking at this position to ride into it without a shot being fired.

The trenches are strong & very well planned 3 rows in some cases but generally 1 or 2. At the corner the Highlanders attacked 2 on 1 side & 1 on the other, they ought to have got in & the fire from the top of the Hill could not have been severe.

There was very little wire fencing & no regular entanglement & the trenches are not 30 years[yards?] from the base of the Hill. The guns were very well & cunningly arranged but there was nothing but plain embrasures after all.

The strongest part of the position was W of the Railway where they thought we should attack, here they had 3 rows of trenches running E to W & beginning about ¼ mile in front of Koptje [sic]. Then a line of Koptjes all thoroughly defended & when those were taken you faced a large plain about 1½ long by a ½ mile wide running gently up hill to N to the main position on Spytfontein

They are calling for the letters so you must I fear go short. I am sending into Modder on Friday if we are still here & tell Vi she shall have her letter then. I purposely wrote yours first because you came off short last time.

Ever Your loving Father
Eyre Crabbe

In the 3rd Grenadier Guards Mess Hut. Crabbe is seated extreme right,
Lygon is behind him, two in, no headdress. Trotter - who last an arm when
Lygon was killed and Crabbe wounded - is beyond Lygon.

Klip Drift

My dearest Da I must send you a few lines altho’ things are somewhat hurried today owing to the arrival of 4000 prisoners whom we have to escort to Modder & they are rather a charge particularly in the dark, however I dare say we shall get back all right somehow.

Mrs Cronje is a thin wizened faced looking old lady about 60 Cronje is rather a fine face but sly & crafty. It is a curious idea taking one’s wife & family with one to the wars & must be inconvenient for many reasons but it is rather the fashion in these parts. Living in a river bed & being shot at every day seems an odd fancy for a lady.

There are about 30 wounded men among the prisoners & I am told these are all the horses they had left & as originally every man had one & some two there has been a great destruction of them which will impede the movement of the remainder. Wolverans is the name of the Commander not B[?] as I wrote to Vi.

The officers are just like the men there is no pretension to any better breeding. We hear that De Witt is preparing to meet us on the road to Bloemfontein, but this last affair will shake their nerves a bit I expect.

We go in light marching order tonight but take one blanket. Lord Erroll who used to command the Blues is in charge of the prisoners & comes with us. There will be at least 8 train loads which will rejoice the hearts of the Capetown people. I believe they are going to Simon’s Bay.

We hear a lot of stories of Rhodes & Kekewich in Kimberley they don’t seem to have got on at all together. By the time you get this the Birthday week will be on I hope you may have Colville home for his & brother’s it is a great change their coming home instead of out here. The 71st are here I believe they are going up to the Highland Brigade again but there are changes every day & one cannot tell where anyone will go. We have got to stop at Modder until all these prisoners are packed of so I hope they will be quick with the trains.

I had a photograph from Lewis last mail it is a very good one & just like him as he was.

Tell Gladys I will try & get a letter off to her during the week.

I wonder how old Lloyd (1) likes my effusion for his magazine I must try & do another as soon as I can. I have a few more flowers to send home but no time to arrange them just now.

Mr Falkner has developed the most awful habit of making bad puns on all occasions it is really too bad. He sleeps in a tent in the hospital here & is very happy. May has also wriggled in there he is a loud snorer his presence is not too welcome.

I saw a cyclist in camp this morning & went at once to see if it was Cecil but it turned out to be an R.E. Now goodbye for the present I must go & look after my motley crew.

Ever your loving Father
Eyre Crabbe

(1) "Llyod" was Rector of Mickleham church, Surrey, where Crabbe lived.

Klip Drift

My dearest Daisy

All my letters are written in a hurry today as we are on the move & I do not know when I may have another opportunity of writing any.

I think a casual inspection of the Boer prisoners would have amused you very much bit you would soon have found them rather scrawny (?) They were all sizes and all sorts. Old men of 60, a lot of good strong well grown men & again some boys. A few women were with them & their children. They were very quiet & well behaved & did not make any fuss. They were very carefully paraded & so could not escape even if they had tried to. They sang their hymns for about 10 minutes when we rested for the night & a little but very little when they started in the morning but rising in the dark & having no breakfast is not conducive to singing.

They washed at the river about a mile after we started & then had biscuit served out to them. When they got to Modder they had dinner & were really very well done.

It was a very interesting experience & I am glad to have been through it but I don’t want it again.

There is a good deal of responsibility & one has to be up nearly all night & it is hard on the men 1 out of every 3 on sentry all night.

Next time I think it will take some other Battn.

When I was out riding yesterday I saw 2 Secretary birds they are enormous birds nearly as large as ostriches, black & white with Red heads. They eat snakes & there is a fine of £40 for killing them anywhere in Cape Colony or the Republics. We saw some Springbock [sic] also a kind of deer but too far to get one.

You will soon be making preparations for Easter the time is really getting on & now one feels it slip along because we are beginning to make a show. I hope Iris is good at her reading I am very glad you have begun it again with her it is the best thing you could do.

Tell Gladys I am very sorry not to write to her today but my next letter shall be to her & I may get a chance on the road. I have written to Lewis I like his Photograph very much it is just what he was only much taller.

Tell Freeman I got his letter safely & will write to him again some day when we are quiet for a bit. I also had a letter from Hall & S. Stoneham[1] & old Carruthers at Aldershot the fat old man who used to help at the Rifle meetings[2] & was Gatekeeper at the Pavilion. Graham constantly corresponds.

No time for more now

Love to all
Ever Your loving Father
Eyre Crabbe

[1] Near Southampton; EMSC had inherited property there.

[2] As District Inspector of Musketry at Aldershot before the war EMSC had had much responsibility for rifle shooting meetings.

Assvogel Kop.
{Webmaster's note - Aasvogel is vulture in old Dutch - the hill [Kop] must have looked like one!}

My dearest Daisy

I am wondering very much whether & what letters you will have got from me by the last mail. I am not sure whether you will have got only some flowers or whether you will have got my last letter too. We are very busy on the move just now rather a second desert march sort of business we are on the move about 18 hours out of the 24 & sometimes all the 24 but everyone is tremendously well & in exuberant spirits at the idea of nearing Bloemfontein. I am rather writing under difficulties lying on my face under the Cape Cart with my upper part in the shade & my legs in the sun, but so long as one can get ones head in the shade it is all right, the only thing if you go to sleep is that you wake up with the sun burning your feet through your boots. We had a very hot march yesterday. Walked most of the way with Mr Falkner for a change & the grass was so slippery. We have got into real good pasturage now green Veldt which is much more pleasant to the eye than the everlasting brown desert.

It is so pleasant to think this letter will go via Bloemfontein & Norval's Pont, {the crossing of the Orange River on the direct line south from Bloemfontein}& that we have done with the western position altogether. All our heavy baggage is at de Aar & we hope to get it & our tents up when we get to Bloemfontein.

Some part of the army is in action every day but we have escaped it altogether & it looks as if we should now up to the end.

I have great hopes Kruger as well as Stein will chuck it at Bloemfontein but of course we cannot tell yet, if Kruger don’t we shall stay at Bloemfontein about 3 weeks or a month to refit cavalry &c & then march to Pretoria which will take another month & say a fortnight to finish them up brings us to the end of May so at least we ought to be on our road home in June or possibly before.

March 17th in train near Bethany
I think my prophecy of our return bids fair to be fulfilled. We have taken Bloemfontein & pacified the whole of the South of the Orange Free State having made a little expedition by train for that purpose.

You would have been immensely amused if you could have seen Lygon ? & myself on the night of my birthday at Edenburg we started off about 10 pm having commandeered the Cape Cart belonging to the Railway Hotel & armed with the keys of the Court House & the Gaol. Drove to the C. House where we had a Guard & unlocking the door Lygon began a systematic search through all the Government papers, drawers, boxes &c while I examined & made a list of all the Ammunition & got it removed out of the building by cart loads to a place outside the town ready for destruction. Lygon did not find very much. The town flag & a couple of stamps with the O.F.S. arms. A few letters with Photographs of criminals &c. Then we moved on to the Gaol & there found a quantity more ammunition & 500 Rifles.

I got up a fatigue party & we got all the arms out & the boxes opened & some straw & set fire at 5 a.m. & there was one of the fiercest ?? you ever heard.

Meanwhile about 2 a.m. we called on the Landroost or Mayor & informed him that he was responsible that a lot of Waggons loaded with forage in the market place which had originally been collected from us were not removed. Poor Landroost… {the Landdrost was the Magistrate}

[rest of letter missing]

Glen Bridge

My darling Daisy

Thank you so much for the photographs of you & Vi they are delightful I like the one together best but the three make a charming set, the case is very nice pictures of home are very acceptable always but especially when you cannot see the originals. I am trying this week to answer your last 3 letters Feb. 8.12.21 as lately I have been obliged to write in a hurry & without having them by me to read over..... [personal matters omitted]

You shall have your own envelope this time but I beg to call your attention to the fact that the thin envelopes are finished & that those I have got here are thick & opaque. The others were a great trial but I determined to finish them. I am afraid you are rather hard on poor Jackson you put him on the back one day & then tell him to stands off the next however as I think he perfectly understands you & can well take care of himself I don’t mind!!

I think as you seem by all accounts to be making a collection of reproductions of my ugly mug you would like the one in the “Transvaal War Album”[2] Part 3 the Guards Brigade published by George Newnes & Co 7 Southampton St W.C. I think the whole thing would be worth keeping it is about 12 parts 6d each.

I also hear there is a little book called “Modder River with Methuen”[3], indeed it is now before me, by Alfred Kinnear & published by Simpkin Marshall Hamilton Kent & Co London.

You see we do get a little literature out here.

The weather has got quite cool now as summer in England in daytime & cold at night & my poor men badly want their tents which we hope to get up in a few days.

Poor ?Ampery is very seedy with a sort of paralysis & ?Buckle has a sort of fever otherwise they are all pretty well & I am still (umverhufen [this word does not exist in German; had Crabbe a memory of verhüten, forfend, so meaning “touch wood”?]) robust but I fear putting on weight with this idle life. We are just off to Glen Bridge which is the bridge over the Modder destroyed on Monday by the Boers about 12 miles N of this. The men to work on the Railway at the repairs & so I expect we shall have lots of time to scour the country & perhaps get a little loot.

Glen Bridge 23/3 it is very late but I must end this tonight as I know I shall be busy tomorrow. This is a charming place & I expect to enjoy it very much.

Good bye Dieu vous garde

Ever Your loving Father
Eyre Crabbe

[1] Soldiers & Sailors Family Association. The Dorking branch was organised by Lady Lawrence of Burford; after her death in 1916 it was taken over by Iris, by then herself Lady Lawrence of Burford. After Iris’s death in 1955 it was taken over by her daughter, Barbara Gordon Clark

[2] Ed. Commander Charles N. Robinson

[3] “To Modder River with Methuen: Briton, Boer, and Battle” reprinted 2010, pb

The next day, March 24 1900, Crabbe was severely wounded, when he and 3 other officers, including Lygon who was killed, accompanied only by one trooper, rode some miles from Glen Camp to make arrangements about forage. They were captured, well looked after, and taken back to camp. He was out of action for about a month, and remained in South Africa till the end of the war. He died suddenly from a heart attack in 1905, a Brigadier General working at Aldershot.

Copyright Charles Gordon Clark

South African Military History Society /