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 Doug Baird June 2010.

A Letter of Robert Frederick Page, Southern Rhodesia Volunteers
From Elands River 6-11 September 1900

Elands River
Detachment Mafeking
6th Sept 1900

My own darling wife

I did not think that I should ever again have the pleasure of writing again to you but thank God I was one of the lucky ones who came through the Elands River siege all right. In my last letter from Wonderfontein I told you that we were recalled to Eland{s} River with the intention of waiting for Carrington to come on and take us all to Rustenburg to join Baden

[p.2] Powell but on the morning of the 5th August we were attacked by the Boers about 4,000 of them with 10 big guns. All together we numbered 350 in two camps about a mile apart. 80 of the S.R.V.(1) were told off to the detached post holding the only water supply and we bore the brunt of the 13 days fighting. It was terrible over 5000 shells fell into our little camp and twice under cover of shell fire the Boers tried to storm us but we beat them back. They got within 150 yards of us but no further. That was the first 3 days.

[p.3] After that they surrounded us and their sharpshooters sniped us incessantly day and night but each night we fought our way to the water and held the{m} away until the base camp had also got enough for the next day. One shell came into the trench I was in and went into the ground under my feet & exploded. We were all smothered in smoke & dust but with the exception of a few cuts from splinters on my hand and a slight wound in leg we all had a miraculous escape.

[p. 4] Our trench held only 5 men, was about 12 feet long and 2 1/2 feet broad. This we had to fight in for 13 long days. We were glad when night came when although the boers never slackened fire much we could stretch our legs and walk about. Everything that was outside the trenches was shot to pieces. All our horses, mules & oxen were killed the first two days and so we had nothing to run away with. We knew we must stay while there was a man left we had no white flag on our Kopje.(2) Captain Butters was in command of us and [p.5] 10th I had no more writing paper so I had [to] finish this morning afier I had borrowed this sheet. Poor Arthur Eyre died at one o'clock this morning is to be buried at 4.00 today. I am going to his funeral. He was greatly respected up here and they are giving him a public funeral. I will conclude this tomorrow. 11th I went to Arthur's funeral. I would say that quite 500 people were there all the police and police band. It would have appeared a queer sight in England as not more than half a dozen were wearing black. People here go in whatever clothes they happen to have. So the

[p.6] mourners followed in clothing of all shades & colours of the rainbow. Some in shirt sleeves, all in large felt hats of divers colours. The Bishop of Mashonaland (3) gave a very impressive address over the grave which seemed to affect all gathered round. People of all denominations attended Jews, Roman Catholics, dissenters &c. and what I was glad to see was that all differences of creed & religion were forgotten. All seemed deeply impressed by the solemn funeral service and all seemed united and earnest in their sympathy

[p.7] & sorrow for the loss of so popular & good a man and sincere in their endeavour to fittingly pay their last token of respect & farewell to the departed. He was just going home to be married to a young lady in Ireland. Poor thing. what must she feel? he was 39 years of age and such a fine handsome fellow. I have seen the gentleman I mentioned about going to the Zambezi and he has engaged me. We are only now waiting for the nice{?} mail. when the necessary funds and final instructions will come and then in a few days we shall be off as soon as all is arranged.

[p.8] I shall ask for an advance and will send you it at once if I can afford it. I will wire it to you & then you will get it at once before this letter. Everard has left his old rooms & I have not seen him since Xmas. I hear that he is a teatotaler{sic}& cant understand his not writing. Work is very slow in town & I don't think he has been doing much. I am so glad to hear you are all so much better and hope & trust you will continue so. Thank all who have enquired for me and remember me to them. I am sorry to hear of Edith's serious illness and hope that long ere this she will have recovered health & strength. I do wish to see you all & hope to do so this year. God bless your loving self the sweet children & dear Auntie with fondest love.

Well I am ever your own loving husband

(1) SRV: Southern Rhodesia Volunteers
(2) Kopje: a term given by the Dutch colonists (Boers) to a small hill raising out of the African veld .
(3) On the web page, William Thomas Gaul is identified as the Bishop of Mashonaland at that time.
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Second page of the letter. Note the beautifully regular writing...

Copyright Doug Baird
South African Military History Society /