During the Siege of Kimberley October 1899 to February 1900
by Winifred Heberden
with annotations by Colonel D.E. Peddle
16 January to 21 February 1900
Jan 16th. Jack has managed to get bacon and arrowroot for his
sick troopers. The former is the remainder of the consignments for Bulawayo
that did not go bad at the station.
Hans Badenhorst brought in the instruction that all loyal inhabitants are to leave Barkly before the 22nd of this month. If true this will be a terrible time for them as there are only three carts left in the place.
Round us the enemy have thrown up earthworks and dug more trenches at Carter's Ridge. The general idea here is that they are expecting some of the 15-pounders they captured from the British at Colenso, for which, so it is reported, they have been making shells at Begbie's foundry in Johannesburg.(75) However, they bombarded us to-day from Carters, from Olifantsfontein, from Kamfersdam, and from Wimbledon with their usual guns, and did no damage worth mentioning, though the noise was annoying. Otto's Kopje had a shelling from both sides. We responded sparingly.
This evening, from the Wesselton Conning Tower, a heavy bombardment of the Boer positions between Scholtz's Nek and Magersfontein was seen to be in progress, being directed, evidently, by a War Balloon.
Jan 17th. Jack went out very early this morning with his Ambulance
men and the troops, and they got within shelling distance of the Boers
at Tollpan towards Olifantsfontein before the enemy discovered them. The
D.F.A. dropped many shells into their laager, from which they doubled round
to try and get into their trenches, where, however, one of our Maxims opened
upon them, driving them back with much confusion and probably some loss.
A Boer hoisted a piece of white rag on the end of a whip, but as his companions continued firing the Maxim turned on the sham flag of truce, and it disappeared.(76) Even when our men were retiring, the Boers, though their practice was excellent, had no luck, some of their shells not exploding at all. Jack's only 'case' was an artillery man who fell over his gun at the beginning of the sortie in a fit, and broke his nose!
Shelling of the town was going on in other parts of Kimberley at 7 a.m., and though the Boers must have fired quite 50 shells at us before breakfast, no harm was done anywhere.
In the afternoon we went to some excellent sports at the Artillery Camp, and much enjoyed some delicious large peaches and grapes sent by Mr Rhodes to the Officers' Mess Room, where tea, and drinks for the men were also provided.
Apropos of the latter, whisky has now quite disappeared in Kimberley as did French brandy some time ago, though a few gentlemen manage to produce a little on special occasions from some inner chamber known only to themselves! We still get Cape brandy, soda water, ginger-beer, and hop-beer; and the chemists make a compound they call 'Lime Juice'. Mr Labram, when implored at the Club to try and make them some whisky, instead of more guns, said he thought he might try with a few wood-shavings!
Amongst other interesting events at the Sports was the Tug-of-War on horse-back. The enormous horses of the R.A. and R.E. seemed to understand all about it and stood like rocks. The 'Dismounting Ordnance' to be accomplished against time, was quite the best thing of the day; and it much astonished the on-lookers to see how rapidly a gun could be unlimbered, taken off its wheels, and the gun and wheels carried aside, just as it has sometimes to be done on the field of battle.
Jan 18th. This afternoon a Dr van Niekerk drove in under a Flag
of Truce from Magersfontein with a letter from General Cronje to Colonel
Kekewich containing a request which the latter thought fit to decline.
It is reported, unofficially, that the request was to allow the two daughters
of a man named Bisset, now a prisoner in the hands of the Boers, to come
and nurse him as he was seriously ill.(77) This was, probably, a ruse of
Cronje's to find out from the girls how our stores, etc., are lasting out.
The Boers have armed Langeberg rebels and use them for military duties. Three out of four Coloured dispatch riders of ours were shot dead by these rebels, the fourth returning to Kimberley.(78) A great many Native servants of the Boers have deserted them and sought employment with the Column.
Jan 20th. The De Beers' 4.1-inch gun being finished and christened
'Long Cecil' (out of compliment to Mr Rhodes), fired at 11 o'clock its
trial charge of gunpowder. Mrs Pickering, wife of the De Beers' Secretary,
pulled the lanyard, and as the result was a success, the gun was partly
loaded and fired into the Intermediate Station where the Boers were seen
to be in a terrible panic.(79)
This place is about 4 miles off, but the full range of the gun is about 6 to 7 miles.(80) There was no response from the enemy's gun, which had mysteriously been placed exactly opposite our position only the night after this position had been decided upon by the authorities! 'Long Cecil' was afterwards escorted back to the workshops, unscrewed and microscopically examined, but no flaw or crack discovered.
The Honoured Dead Siege Memorial in Kimberley today, showing 'Long Cecil'
bordered by shells of the Boer 'Long Tom' which fired into Kimberley during the Siege.
Photo: D.E. Peddle
Jan 21st Eggs are now 14/- a dozen. Soup is served out daily in the Market Square at noon. People can get 1 pint instead of their quarter lb of allowance of meat. Vegetables from Kenilworth are given for the purpose, and boiled in the soup. Dr Smart and Mr Tyson organise and superintend the arrangements, and the chef from the Club overlooks the cooking, and, as they say, only ox flesh is used, this soup is very popular. From 3 000 to 4 000 people turned up with their soup cans to-day. The Mounted Troops are now to get half their meat ration cooked as usual, and the other half made into soup, the vegetables of which are invaluable to their health.
Jan 22nd. At 3 this morning about 50 men under Colonel Peakman took
up a position at the Lazaretto. Jack, with his well-known 'beach bag' was
there, with one of the ambulance Corps in case of casualties. A few of
our men were posted on Taylor's Kopje, close to which the Boers had been
several times lately stealing iron roofing off outlying houses to make
themselves splinter-proof shelters on Carter's Ridge. About 7 o'clock they
discovered our movement and a very hot rifle fire ensued, one of the hottest
since the night Colonel Scott-Turner was killed. However, we luckily had
no casualties, but our men had to return without capturing that thieving
To console us, however, that afternoon a Boer dispatch rider on his way to Kamfersdam was caught by some of the Otto's Kopje men, and a number of letters found on him. The one about our new gun ran as follows: 'I am very glad to have been transferred here, because the day before yesterday we were still at the waterworks and were enjoying a meal when the big gun shot right in where they have never shot before. You should have seen our people run. I was busy with my sweet pap and had to leave everything behind and run. It is better here.'
There is now a new arrangement with Reuters for receiving daily or nightly messages by means of sun or flash light of at least 40 words.
Jan 23rd. 'Long Cecil' fired a few shots in the afternoon on the Intermediate Station and then turned on Kamfersdam with additional assistance from the 7-pounder at Otto's Kopje. Many Boers were seen to clear off to safer quarters till the shelling ceased.
Jan 24th. Boer bombarding woke us up at a very early hour this morning,
and there seemed to be so many guns that our first half-awake thought was
that the Relief Column had arrived! But it seems that nine Boer guns were
playing on us, and with their noise added to that of our guns from all
the different Forts it is no wonder we were surprised.
The Boer guns were placed thus: Alexandersfontein 1, Wimbledon 2, Lazaretto 3 (two cordite), Diebels Vlei 1, Kamfersdam 1, Susannah 1.(81)
I had a splendid view from my window of 'Long Cecil' and a 7-pounder firing away from No.2 Redoubt, and also one gun on the Searchlight Debris Heap. I could also see the smoke from the one on Diebels Vlei. This latter gun cannot reach much beyond the Fort where Harry Gibbs is, so it did not contribute many shells to-day. The main idea seems that the Boers intend to make things unpleasant in the town itself. We are in the direct line of fire in my room from the Kamfersdam gun, but the shells, though occasionally skimming over the roof, never fell within 60 or 70 yards from us. We are, nevertheless, some 100 yards from the magazine at the Police Barracks, and a little further on is the Ordnance Department, so these constitute our chief danger - though a girl of 18, named Maddocks, an old Barkly patient of Jack's was killed by a shell not very far from our hotel this morning.
Kamfersdam - the mine dump from which the Boer 'Long Tom'
fired intoKimberley. The shed in the foreground has been hit
by a British shell, possible fired by 'Long Cecil'.
Up to 7 p.m. it was roughly estimated that 500 shells had been fired at the town. The gun 'Susannah' had a lively duel with the Wesselton, the latter firing about 90 shells. Beaconsfield had a bad time to-day, but nobody was injured, the usual number of extraordinary escapes being quoted. Desultory shelling went on all round us till about 9 p.m.(82)
Jan 25th. The bombardment went on again this morning, a regular
fire beginning at 4 a.m. Jack went round to No.2 Redoubt to see 'Long Cecil'
firing, but found that some of the Boer guns were concentrating their fire
in that direction, so left it. At 7 a.m. they had it very hotly in the
Malay Camp from the guns on the Lazaretto Ridge.(83) In fact, all Kimberley
had its share to-day, yet with a surprisingly small amount of damage done.
A child was killed; and the mother and another child badly injured. These
Mr Rhodes sat on the verandah of the Sanatorium looking worried, but calm. The worry would be more about other people than himself. The people of Kimberley might be his children! A shell fell on the road in front of the Sanatorium while he was there.
We enjoyed peace - and a smart shower of rain at midday, but bombarding began again at about 4.30 p.m. and the first shell, a shrapnel, burst almost over Jack's head as he was mounting his horse at the door of the hotel. One this morning having done the same in the Main Street.
News by flashlight this evening came in and cheered us up about Ladysmith and Colesberg. Warren and Buller are getting closer and in better positions near Ladysmith and General French is slowly but surely closing in upon the latter.(84) Mafeking, up to Jan 6th 'All well', but still having a hot time. Sir Hector MacDonald has joined the Relief Column at Modder River. So we hope he has the 7th Division behind him and will make things begin to move again.(85)
Jan 26th. A quiet day - which some people would not enjoy, as it is said the Boers are placing 8 more guns against us, and amongst them a 100-pounder.
Jan 27th. Still quietness - to everybody's astonishment. Bomb and splinter-proof shelters have been erected in nearly all the gardens or on the verandahs of private houses. Some people try to account for the pacific attitude of the Boers by publishing a rumour that Lord Methuen threatened to no longer treat them as a civilised nation, but would drop dynamite from balloons on them if they continued to shell the town instead of the Forts!(86)
Jan 29th. Further reduction of bread to 10 ozs each person daily.
Colonel Kekewich was signalled from the Column to know if we could hold
out another six weeks. He said we could - which roused the quiet indignation
of some of the leading townspeople, who went in a deputation to request
that their own voice, representing exactly the food supply and the health
of the town, should be sent to Lord Methuen.(87) It was refused.
Typhoid is worse than ever; and infantile diseases on the rapid increase. The Sick Report of the M.O.H. being in fact too serious to be published.(86) Everything suitable for the nourishment of sick or weakly people, except breadstuffs, meat, sugar, tea and coffee is stored in a depot and sold only to people bringing a Medical Order countersigned by the Army Service Corps here, and the doctors are pulled up by the authorities if they order more than very small quantities for each patient.
'Long Cecil' and members of the Diamond Fields Artillery with their trumpeter.
Photo: McGregor Museum
An accident happened to 'Long Cecil' this morning. She was slightly overcharged and the gun being cold it damaged some of the rings which will take a few days to repair.(89) Luckily, to-day has been another non-shelled one. News from Natal says that General Buller has only one more position to take.
Jan 30th. Jack has discovered that most of the men at the Camp keep water bags of canvas in their tents, some of these bags being years old. As typhoid has again appeared in the Camp, and it might be traced to this, he has requested the C.O. to order the destruction of all private bags, and to have large canvas coolers in frames, capable of being cleaned, erected for the men in one part of the Camp.
Jan 31st. A report via Lourenco Marques was flashed to Kimberley,
via Modder River, saying that Mafeking was relieved by Colonel Plumer on
the 23rd.(90) This splendid news, if only true, gives as much joy to some
of us as if we had been relieved ourselves; for the question always comes
up: 'If we are not relieved soon, how about poor Mafeking?'
Warren has had to evacuate Spionkop owing to a hot fire and exposed position, which, as Colonel Kekewich said, is 'a nuisance'.(91)
Feb 1st. The D.F.A. took the guns out for a little practice, and
directly they were seen on the veld the Boer guns at the Waterworks sent
a shell near them and a small duel ensued. Our guns finally silenced them
and returned without any casualty.
The Boers seem to imagine that some harmless Natives moving on the outskirts of Kenilworth are making a Fort, for they have for the past three days sent an occasional shell amongst them causing the wretched Natives to run out like rabbits.
Typhoid in the town is getting alarming. And symptoms of scurvy have appeared amongst the town guardsmen.(92) These have an allowance of limejuice and grapes - the latter a gift from Mr Rhodes' vineyards. People make use of Lucca and lard (machinery oils), instead of fat. Provisions in an ordinary way can last for another month. After that there will still be mealie meal, some horses, and the meat in the cold storage chamber to keep us going for some time if necessary.
Feb 2nd. Colonel Kekewich received a letter from Mr Beaumont of Barkly saying that the Barkly people are further ordered to appear on the 7th fully equipped to fight, and asked what they were to do. The Colonel replied that whatever they did they were not to fight.(80) He declared that he would guarantee that the Government would recompense any losses they incurred through refusing. There are some 300 men still left in the district. The bearer of this letter (who had slipped through the Boer lines) says that Mr Wright, who was imprisoned for saying that he didn't care what the President of the Free State said, or what any President said - had been released after paying a fine of UK PNDS37 l0s., and given a Pass to Orange River.
Feb 3rd. Twelve convicts working at Kenilworth managed to effect their escape while the enemy were firing in their direction. They were fired upon by their guards, and one fell, but was picked up by his companions and carried off in the direction of Dronfield Ridge where the Boers are.
Feb 4th. Went to a good concert at the Gardens given by the Combined Bands. The Kimberley Highlanders played the bag-pipes, marching about, whenever the other bands gave them a chance.(94)
Feb 5th. I found out that it was possible to buy chocolate at the Depot without a permit, so got all they would sell me - two bars! I induced a friend to lend me her nurse to buy me two more! Further shelling this afternoon.
Feb 6th. Got some more chocolate. One lives, nowadays, only to see
what one can get to eat. This is the principal topic of conversation.
'Long Cecil' made some excellent practice this morning, dropping shells amongst the Boer tents in their new laager on Diebel's Vlei. This evening we were bombarded from Carter's Ridge but no casualties occurred.
Feb 7th. This morning 'Long Cecil' had been firing a few shells
when suddenly a tremendous bang and the horrible 'whirr' of a large shell
passed right over the hotel, falling somewhere in the centre of the town.
I jumped to the conclusion that 'Long Cecil' had exploded and reversed itself and sent the shell over our heads in consequence, so I rushed up to the top room facing the No.2 Redoubt and Kamfersdam, and looked out, Reggie coming up with me. Whilst we watched I saw a big smoke rising up from Kamfersdam, and, directly after, a shell fell just over the Redoubt into some debris about 300 yards away from the hotel, scattering shrapnel all around and over us, and breaking windows on the other side.
We promptly ran down to the basement, and soon after another shell fell down the road, some 250 yards off, smashed up a Club House and killed a horse at the farrier's next to it.
It was then that we heard these are 100 lb shells from a 6-inch gun on Kamfersdam, 3.25 miles off. The pieces are of great thickness. This gun has been got up in a wonderfully secret manner, owing to all the machinery and buildings on Kamfersdam obscuring the view, it has been invisible to those on the Conning Tower. It is supposed to be either the Mafeking or Magersfontein gun, most probably the latter.(95) One piece, 13.5 lbs in weight, entered the open windows of an office next to Mr Labram's in De Beers Office, struck the safe, glanced off, hit the wall opposite, finally depositing itself in the fireplace, after having completely circled round the owner of the office - who sat still in the middle of the room!
From 12 to 4 p.m. they left us in peace. Then the big gun began again. I was sitting in the hall with Jack and some others, when a 100 lb shell fell into an ironmongers exactly opposite our door across the road. An enormous column of dust arose, for the shell, making a small hole where it entered the roof, fell at an angle to the bottom corner of the store where the explosion made a hole 10 feet wide and 6 feet high, smashing an iron pole across, and doing enormous damage inside. Harry Gibbs had a narrow escape. He was coming down the Market Square and was within 100 yards of the explosion. Jack brought in a workman from the store who was injured; and on examination found him completely scarred with splinters from head to foot. His back had the appearance of that of a man who had been flogged with the 'cat'.
He had another interval of peace, during which time we managed to eat our horse-meat and pickles; and from 6 to 7 p.m. they shelled us harmlessly with their smaller guns.
Feb 8th. We had a quiet morning, but the afternoon from 4 o'clock till dark was distinctly noisy. Quite 29 shells from the 100 pounder falling in different parts of the town, with others from smaller guns, and our own guns responding at intervals. One man was killed, and a good deal of damage done to the town. All the shops were deserted and closed up. About the last shot from the big gun set on fire a large shoe shop which was completely gutted.(96) This is the first fire caused by the shelling.
Feb 9th. Our good night's rest was rudely broken by the big gun
booming in our ears, and everyone hastily dressed - Reggie performing his
'toilette' in the Smoking Room!
The unfortunate people at the Meat Market fled back to their homes without waiting for their rations.
A Miss Mallett had a narrow escape. She was lying in her bed and a servant came to her door for orders, so she turned round and sat on the edge of her bed. Hardly had she done so when a large piece of one of the big shells fell through the end of her bed to the room below.
Our hotel, being in the line of fire from Kamfersdam to the Central and principal part of Kimberley, we hear the horrid sound of almost every shell whirring over our heads, and, instinctively, 'duck', not knowing whether it is to fall on us, or perhaps a mile away.
The gun is generally turned to a fresh target after five or six shells, so when our share has dropped round us we breathe again for a while.
This excitement continued with two silent periods of about 1.5 hours till 6 p.m. When the very last shell fell it struck the roof of our hotel, passed at an angle through three walls, bursting right into Mr Labram's room, where the poor fellow had only that moment entered to dress to dine with Mr Rhodes.(97) A Coloured boy was in the room, having brought in fresh water. He says that Mr Labram came in and was taking off his coat as the shell struck him. The boy was thrown down uninjured! Nearly everybody else in the hotel was in the basement. The women and children in the Smoke Room, which is exactly two floors under Mr Labram's room; so this occurred literally over our heads.
The crash was something awful. Mr Labram's hat was blown out of the window, so Jack went straight up. He saw no sign of anyone, so came down again, much relieved, and said that Mr Labram was not there.
Presently a policeman, who was pushing out loose bricks, stepped on something and called out to say there was a man there. Jack, and one or two others, ran up again and found the poor body, partly dismembered, and quite unrecognisable, covered with bricks and mortar, and splinters of shell and wood. The wall of the room gaping with a hole 8 feet wide, the doors smashed, and windows blown outwards.
The terrible work of placing the remains in the ambulance was done as quickly as possible, whilst we remained in the Smoke Room with the blinds drawn down, and the children unconsciously playing round us.
The Boers seemed to know that they had taken the life of the one man who mattered so much to us, and who had helped us against them so splendidly with his hands and his brain for they ceased firing entirely. And the ambulance slowly went down to the Hospital Mortuary, and past the crowd of sorrowful people who had already heard the tragic news. And we are left with the sad reflection that had Mr Labram come to us for a chat and a cup of cocoa, as was his custom when returning from his office, instead of rushing up to his room to change for his dinner appointment with Mr Rhodes, his life might have been spared.
Everybody was too unnerved to sleep upstairs. So the women and children crowded into the lowest rooms and the men slept in the halls and passages or, rather, tried to sleep, for no one could feel relaxed after the last terrible shock.
Feb 10th. This morning there was comparative peace till just before
breakfast, when it began hotly again, and the shells fell 50, 80, and 100
yards from us into the Market Square. And again, further off, as the gun
turned round. Shells then fell by the Mounted Camp, cut a horse belonging
to the ambulance driver in two, and did no end of damage to different buildings.
There was peace again at lunch time for an hour, during which time people rushed up to the soup kitchen and rushed off again with their share. The shops have all been closed for the last few days, and whilst shelling is going on the streets are utterly deserted though crowds of men and little boys are lurking behind walls at the time of the report, who dash out to examine the damage done after the fall of the shell, and to pick up the inevitable pieces.
All afternoon we have been horribly bombarded, and some women are half frantic, though the majority are wonderfully 'game'. It is noticeable that those who are unable to eat horse-flesh, either from prejudice, or real dislike, are the most nervous and unstrung for these cases are living practically on mealie 'pap', tea, bread, and siege soup - and not much of these either, and such poor diet seems bound to pull them down mentally and physically.
After dinner there was a lull, and Jack decided to ride down to Beaconsfield to try and get us rooms out of the line of fire of the 100-pounder, and in a comparatively safe position from the smaller guns.
He was particularly lucky, and found just the right place or, rather, one that, after the hotel, would be heaven; though it stood not far below the Sanatorium. We are to go into this house to-morrow with two other people and their children living here, as there are three rooms to spare.
At 8 o'clock this evening the funeral of Mr Labram took place and to the horror and disgust of everyone, the body was just leaving the hospital when boom went the big gun and a shell dropped close to the poor remains.
In some marvellous way information of the time of the funeral had been carried out to the enemy and they took this fiendish means of showing their hatred of anything connected with De Beers. They would know, of course, that an immense crowd would attend the funeral, particularly Mr Rhodes, and the De Beers people.
Whilst the sad service was being held at the cemetery another shell fell close by, and so on about every 15 minutes till Sunday arrived. They seem to respect Sunday. But they cannot respect a funeral.
Feb 11th. I spent a busy morning packing up clothing and odds and
ends for our trek to Beaconsfield. News came through that Mr Rhodes had
had a wire from Lord Roberts saying that he would be in in about four (a
few?) days.(96) This wire was handed round at the club.
After lunch the big ambulance waggon drawn by 10 mules rolled up to the door for us. Our luggage was packed in underneath, and we ourselves tucked in on the upper part of the waggon, nicely sheltered from the burning sun by the canvas cover overhead; the party consisting of four women, one old man, three children, and a servant. Jack, and one of the ambulance men as outriders.
We left very gladly, in spite of the croak of some foolish woman, who said: 'Oh, how unlucky to go in the ambulance!' I turned and scolded her, till she retired to her room.
It was delightful to get to a house where the children could play about instead of living in a cellar or a Smoking Room.
Bell-men were sent round Kimberley in the afternoon with a notice saying that women and children might go down the mines; and if they took food for 24 hours it would be supplied to them afterwards for nothing.
A gentleman came and tried to persuade us to go down the mine, and said that private information had come in to say that more big guns were to play on Kimberley to-morrow.
This, I knew, could hardly be true, as the Boers are known to have only four big guns altogether. One was blown up in Natal, and it was not likely that they would take the rest away from places where they were actively necessary.(99) So we laughed at the wet blanket and stayed where we were.
Feb 12th. Major Elliott told Jack that there were terrible scenes
at the mouths of De Beers and Kimberley Mines all last night. People were
frantic to get down by midnight, for they were certain that as the Boers
had stopped shooting on Sunday, they would begin again as soon as Sunday
Only six people could go into the Cage to descend at a time and as there were hundreds of people waiting, one can imagine how awful it was. They were not allowed to take down their luggage or blankets. These were put down afterwards, and it took till 4 a.m. to get the people down first before their belongings could follow.(100)
During the latter part of the siege, over 3 000 women and children were sent
underground for safety in the De Beers and Kinberley Mines. This photograph
was taken at athe end of the siegte at No 1 Main Rock Shaft, De Beers Mine,
and shows women and children returning to the surface
Shelling began to-day during breakfast. Several times the big gun turned
its muzzle towards the Sanatorium. We watched where the shell pitched,
after waiting for the gong which was beaten on the Conning Tower of the
Sanatorium to warn people that whenever they saw the smoke of the big gun
to quickly take cover before the shell reached its point. A bugle and hooter
did the same service in Kimberley.
Suddenly the whirr of the 100 lb shell sounded terribly near, and Jack shouted 'Lie down'! so we fell under the shoulder of some big boulders nearby, and down came the shell within 50 yards of us! The stones and smaller pieces rattled around us and fell on the iron roof of the house. This, though not quite as near to us as that last Wednesday in the shop by the hotel, is quite the most risky moment we have had, and must have been an overshot at the Sanatorium.
After this, we were not quite so bold, and when the gun seemed to be turning our way again, we went about 200 yards further down Beaconsfield, and sat on the verandah of the Magistrate's house.
There has been no newspaper to-day. A leading article last Saturday spoke strongly against the unfairness of Military Secrecy in belittling our troubles here, and, so it said, they did not even mention that we are being bombarded with a 6-inch gun - seems to have been the cause of the suppression of the paper.(101)
Feb 13th. Shells have fallen continuously since 6a.m., and Kimberley has had a very bad time of it. The Mounted Camp got a good share, but we ourselves had no more 'over shots!'
Feb 14th. To-day has been the worst in the way of shelling. The
gun from Carter's Ridge fired shrapnel all day.
People in the Kimberley Mine on the l00ft level are all right, though they have to use a ladder. But those lower down in De Beers Mine are not so happy. Two children have died already. A few people came up, but when a big shell fell near them they hurried down again.
Some Natives turned up at Beaconsfield barrier with the information that the majority of Boers had temporarily left Alexandersfontein, and believed it was to fix up a new gun on Spitzkop some 3 000 yards away. These Natives seized the opportunity and 'trekked'. Their word being believed, Major Fraser, in charge of the Beaconsfield Town Guard, at once proceeded to Alexandersfontein with his men and found it was as the Natives had said.
He at once occupied it without waiting to communicate with Colonel Kekewich. There they were, reinforced by half our Mounted men, the big gun from Kamfersdam hysterically bombarding the Camp as they were leaving it.
A good many of the Lancashires, also two field guns, some maxims, and last, but not least, the ambulance, all went off to the scene.
When Jack got to Alexandersfontein three guns were playing on our men there, one a Hotchkiss. They had a very hot time of it, though the excellent cover already prepared by the Boers for themselves, saved any loss of life.
Their shelter was literally crammed with vegetables, food-stuffs, and many luxuries, such as butter, that we have so long done without. Two waggons and spans of oxen were captured also 20 more fat beasts. About 20 horses, and many mules and donkeys besides 10 rifles and a waggon load of ammunition.
A Dutchman ran round and round the waggon firing at our men, so they had to shoot him. The shot passed also through the shoulders of a woman and her child who were in the waggon. She remarked, afterwards, that it served her husband right for getting in the way! When Jack dressed her wound she smiled at him, and the baby appeared to feel no pain at all. Six prisoners were captured, two of them being wounded.
We saw the ambulance coming in with our three wounded and the two Boers.(102) The prisoners looked very surly, and were glancing around to see what damage their shells had done but could have got poor satisfaction from what they saw.
A large number of waggons had to be employed to bring in the most welcome addition to our food supplies. Jack dashed in during the afternoon and brought a pillow case full of new potatoes and onions, some of the feathers of the ripped-open case still sticking to the vegetables. These, with some marrows, constituted Jack's share of the 'loot'.
Later, however, Major Gorle, A.S.C. had to stop all food-stuffs that our men were bringing in for themselves at the Barrier, and commandeered them for sale.(103) They had already brought in ducks, geese, and fowls. Even pigs had been hoisted on to carts and waggons.
Jack received orders to go out to the scene again, which the Boers had begun to assail more hotly, and there he stopped all night. Woodruffe, of the Ambulance Corps, coming in for blankets, cooked food, and brandy, late in the evening, left a plateful of butter on the verandah, without saying anything so we only found the plate!
Feb 15th. This morning only six 100 lb shells were fired in and
a few shrapnel from Carter's Ridge. Poor Jack arrived in the afternoon,
having been relieved by Surgeon-Lieutenant O'Gorman at Alexandersfontein.
He had about 2 hours rest when Woodruffe rode up to say that they were
all ordered out again and were to proceed to Kamfersdam. At the same time
the glorious news was confirmed that General French's Column was in sight,
and advancing fast to the relief of Kimberley. But Jack had to go the opposite
way with his men.
I went off to the Debris Heap with many others to view the approach of General French from the far end of Beaconsfield. Here we could see the long trail of dust stretching for miles across the veld far away below us, and a large body of horsemen riding in quite close to the Barriers. The place was alive with people in the most excited state and presently we saw a single horseman riding in alone, being greeted enthusiastically by everyone, who laughed and cried alternately.
This man, who had the honour of first entering beleaguered Kimberley, is Lieut-Colonel Paterson, a retired Australian Officer who is accompanying the Queensland Defence Force for reporting purposes.
The next man to ride in was Mr Beresford of the 'Daily Telegraph', who also came in for a great ovation.(104)
The excitement was intense - and indescribable. People did all they could to welcome any soldier they could get hold of - who, poor fellows, were in far greater need than ourselves at that moment, of rest and comfort, and food and drink after their brilliant and intensely fatiguing dash to our rescue.
Bread and cigarettes seemed to be most valued. One man told me that 50 of them had only had one box of matches between them for the last 4 days. They expected to find us, however, in a much more desperate condition than our appearance showed and some of them went so far as to empty their wallets of 'bulley beef' amongst a group of 'Poor Whites' alongside the road who certainly did not scruple to gobble it up as though they were literally starving.
The main body of troops encamped in the vlei (low ground) outside Kimberley, so we only saw very few of them in the town.
Lt-Gen J.D.P. French.
At about 5 p.m. General French and Staff rode in via the Wesselton Mine,
just missing Colonel Kekewich and Staff who went to meet them at the Barrier.
The Mayor of Kimberley, however, met the General at the boundary of Kimberley,
and with a few grateful words tried to express our feelings to him. He
answered that he supposed we were as glad to see him as he was to see us
and after a further exchange of compliments, he rode on to the Kimberley
Here, we were told, his reception was tremendous One lady, almost hysterical with reaction after the terrible time we have gone through, falling on her knees and attempting to obtain a little portion of General French's boot-lace as a momento of to-day's great gladness!
After shaking hands and listening to further demonstrations of gratitude from everyone at the Club, the General retired to the Sanatorium for a well-earned dinner and rest with Mr Rhodes and Party.
In the meantime, a portion of our local Mounted Men had proceeded to Kamfersdam and Dronfield to reconnoitre. They approached the Waterworks to within 250 yards without a shot being fired, when the Boers suddenly opened fire on them. They promptly got off their horses, putting them behind the best cover they could, and lying down themselves, till there was a chance of a retreat to the Debris Heap below Kamfersdam.
When they got there they could distinctly hear heavy waggon traffic going in the direction of the Free State border, and were certain that it meant that the big gun was being carried away. However, Colonel Murray, in charge of the Lanc. Regiment refused to allow them to chase it. Night had fallen, and their horses were already too done up to risk the certain great loss of life to the men. Therefore, they bivouaced where they were till dawn.(105)
Friday 16th. In the morning Kamfersdam was found to be deserted
and the gun had gone. The plate on which it had rested was still in its
place, also the elevator and ramrods and swabs. About 200 shells for the
big gun were found, and a large quantity of rifle ammunition. Kamfersdam
was strongly fortified, and there was also an excellent Redoubt between
the road and the Mine, with a very good bombproof shelter. Holes were also
tunneled into the debris in the same manner that Mr Rhodes had arranged
for cover for the people of Beaconsfield. A quantity of provisions and
loot from stores was found. But they had buried most of the coal belonging
to the Mine.
Jack, last night, went with a good many of our Mounted men in the direction of Dronfield where they found the enemy in strong position. Early this morning, therefore, General French moved out with a Cavalry Division; one Brigade making a wide turning movement, and the other two Divisions (sic), with our men, practically surrounding the Boers on Kimberley side.(106) Eventually, after heavy shelling of the Ridge, and much Maxim and rifle firing, the enemy was driven from point to point of their position, and finally completely out of it, with evidently heavy losses. We took six prisoners and 78 head of cattle. The New Zealanders and Queensland Mounted Infantry drove off a party of Boers who were firing on General French and Staff, as the former advanced from the West.
At the end of the day our men were quite fagged out and unable to go in pursuit of the big gun. So they remained at Dronfield, holding the position. Our casualties were 27 killed and wounded.(107)
News has come in that a large body of Boers have left Magersfontein, and are endeavouring to return to the Free State.
Feb 17th. Twelve more prisoners, and a 9-pounder taken; also much
booty - is the report this morning.(108) Jack came back this morning about
6a.m., very done-up and very dirty, having had much hard work and very
little food. However, after being duly ministered to and left to rest,
and a bath, he looked quite fit again, though very sun-burnt.
We all left the kindly shelter of the house in Beaconsfield and returned to our hotel, looking in very much better condition than some of the others there who had been 4.5 days down the Mine. They told us they simply reeled about in the fresh air when they were brought up.
The hotel was full of soldiers of all sorts and conditions. Those from the Colonies looking quite the most picturesque with their Emu feathers, and other strange decorations in their soft hats. Rimington's Scouts wear a strip of tiger-cat skin round the crown, and a short tail holding up the side of the hat.(109)
We found an old friend amongst them who told us that Hector Heberden (Jack's brother) had joined these scouts in Rhodesia at the beginning of the campaign. So Jack rode off to the Camp to find him, and heard there that he was still some distance out scouting for the Column behind 'Susannah'. I asked every scout I could see for information about Hector and though they all seemed to know him, no one could exactly state where he was. They took numerous messages from us, which was all we could do, night having fallen.
Feb 19th. Sunday. Last night, it seems, that Ted King (Jack's cousin)
dined at our hotel, and neither he nor Jack recognised each other! Unfortunately,
he is not to be found to-day, though we have ascertained that he is in
Roberts' Horse, so he has probably gone with General French, who made an
early departure this morning.
General French left with a large body of troops and artillery to co-operate with Lord Kitchener in an attempt to arrest the enemy's progress from Magersfontein to the O.F.S., and to compel Cronje to fight. Hector, we hear, has also gone, so we have been most unlucky.
A dispatch rider has come in from Modder River and says that 120 waggons have been captured from us at Riet River.(110)
Lord Wolseley sent the following message to General French: 'Warmest congratulations to you and all your Command. Scheme well-planned and ably carried out.' The pumping arrangements at the Waterworks are found to be in good order, and also the machinery of the same at Riverton, from which place the Boers have disappeared entirely. The Boers seem to have been so certain of taking Kimberley that they, according to the official at the Works, decided to keep everything intact.
60 head of cattle, 300 sheep and goats, and a large number of bags of flour have come into Kimberley to-day. If it goes like this every day, we shall soon be able to buy without permits again.
Monday, 20th. At 4 o'clock to-day Jack got an official message saying
that the Colonel had given permission for him to join a Column going out
to Barkly at once. Off he went, attended by Bamford (Batman) and Woodruffe
After dinner news came that the first train had arrived in Kimberley.(111) It proved to be a Construction one with a party of Royal Engineers on board. Having only left Modder River at 2 p.m. on Friday last week. It shows how quickly the work of re-laying the line, etc., can be carried out.
Some people have already left for Modder River in carts, so we have been able to send off letters by them to be posted there.
Tuesday 21st. I heard this morning from Captain Davis of the Cape
Police that the Barkly Column had received orders to turn aside at the
Barrier and go to Schmidt's Drift, as fresh information had come in that
500 Boers were in Barkly and more were returning to Riverton to blow up
the pumping engines there.
As Jack had not come back I was afraid he had gone on to Barkly expecting to catch up the troops. However, Harry Gibbs, who had a 'day off' and went on a looting expedition to the Intermediate Station, came back in the afternoon and said Jack was there waiting for further orders.
At 6 p.m. he came in on his own account to report to the Colonel that the water had been left in such a horribly filthy state by the Boers that the troops would soon be ill if a better plan could not be arranged for their water supply. Jack had commandered an ox for the men there so they had a tremendous meal from it, and also some excellent beef tea.
Lord Methuen and Staff arrived in Kimberley to-day, and it is understood that he is to remain as Administrator of the Kimberley Districts.(112)
Colonel Kekewich has sent very grateful printed messages round to all the men who have helped to defend Kimberley, which have been much appreciated.
Jack was 'Mentioned in Despatches', and in Lord Roberts' First Honours List for the D.S.O.
END OF DIARY
(81) Although these positions were correct on that day, the Boers did occasionally
shift the positions of their guns.
(82) The approximate figure of 500 shells is confirmed by Lt-Col Kekewich's own diary entry. Throughout the siege some 8 500 shells were fired into the town; the heaviest shelling being during the last week, and 2 141 shells were fired out by the garrison.
(83) The Malay Camp no longer exists.
(84) Gen French was in the Noupoort area at this stage.
(85) Maj-Gen Sir Hector Macdonald was the new commander of the Highland Brigade. The 7th Division was commanded by Lt-Gen C. Tucker.
(86) This was just a rumour!
(87) On 30 January Lt-Col Kekewich advised Lard Methuen that the absolute limit to which the town's food supplies could be stretched was the 28th February. There does not seem to be any record of his having been asked the question, or that he gave the answer quoted.
(88) Infantile diarrhoea was, in fact, causing far more concern and resulting in a high death rate, particularly amongst the non-Whites. On 31 January, Kekewich signalled Lord Methuen to say that there were over 500 cases of scurvy in the town, mainly amongst the non-Whites. A week later this figure exceeded 850, of which over 600 proved fatal.
(89) Several similar accidents occurred until the charge used was reduced slightly.
(90) Mafeking was relieved on 17 May, 1900!
(91) The Battle of Spioen Kop, 24 January, 1900.
(92) Scurvy was by far the greatest killer-disease throughout the siege.
(93) There is no reference to such a letter in Lt-Col Kekewich's papers, but his diary entry on 1 February quotes the following message sent to Lord Methuen as result of information received from Barkly West:- 'Large numbers of Englishmen commandeered at Barkly have refused to fight for Boers and have been ordered to leave for Hope Town before February 7th under Boer escort.'
(94) The Kimberley Regiment had two bands, a military brass band and a pipe band. It still has the latter. There was no Kimberley Highlanders.
(95) This was the 155 mm Creusot 'Long Tom' damaged at Ladysmith on 8 December, 1899. Repaired in the railway workshops in Pretoria, it was sent to Kimberley in response to Gen de la Rey's earlier request for heavy artillery to bombard the town. Positions were prepared for it at Magersfontein, and also at Kamfersdam where it arrived on 6 February. It was moved into position that day and opened fire the next under the supervision of two Frenchmen, Col de Villebois-Mareuil and M. Leon. It was not used by the Boers at Magersfontein.
(96) Messrs Cuthbert's Shoe Store, forerunner of a well-known chain of stores in South Africa.
(97) The Grand Hotel is still a well-known hotel in Kimberley.
(98) There was no telegraphic communication to Kimberley, nor was a message sent by Lord Roberts to Rhodes. The diarist is obviously referring to Roberts's signal of 10 February to Kekewich saying:- 'You can assure all who are apprehensive that we shall strain every nerve to relieve you which will I hope be in a few days time.' Kekewich was instructed to show this signal to Rhodes.
(99) Two 'Long Toms' were still in action in Natal, one was at Mafeking, and the fourth was shelling Kimberley. See Note 95.
(100) Nearly 3 000 women and children went down the De Beers and Kimberley Mines for safety.
(101) The newspaper was not suppressed, it went into 'voluntary suppression'
following a strongly worded letter written to its editor by Lt-Col Kekewich
as a result of an outspoken and critical leading article condemning, inter
alia, British delay in relieving the town, military press censorship, and
the dearth of military news. The Diamond Fields Advertiser kept itself
in suspended animation until after the end of the siege.
(102) The casualty figures are correct.
(103) Maj H.V. Gorle, Army Service Corps, was responsible for rationing and food supply arrangements throughout the siege.
(104) According to the Diamond Fields Advertiser of 17 February, 1900, Mr Beresford of The Daily Telegraph was first into Kimberley, closely followed by Capt Gale of Rimington's Guides. Patterson is not mentioned.
(105) Lt-Col Murray was, in fact, ordered by Kekewich's headquarters in Kimberley to remain where he was.
(106) There was only one Cavalry Division! On this occasion Gen French used three of its brigades and the mounted troops from the Kimberley garrison.
(107) British losses amounted to 5 killed and 30 wounded; Boer losses are unknown.
(108) This gun, a 9-pr RML field gun, was captured at Dronfield and now stands in front of the Cape Police Memorial in Kimberley.
(109) Rimington's Guides was a small Colonial volunteer unit whose principal role was reconnaissance. It was raised and commanded by Maj M.F. Rimington of the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards.
(110) Referring presumably to Gen de Wet's capture of 176 British supply wagons at Waterval Drift (on the Riet River south of Jacobsdal) on 16 February.
(111) The train arrived in Kimberley during the evening of 19 February.
(112) Lord Methuen arrived in Kimberley on 20 February. The announcement was made in the next day's newspaper.
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