The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal - Vol 10 No 6

(incorporating Museum Review)


The following diary was unearthed by the niece of Mr Eric Pledger whilst cleaning out the old family attic in England recently. Realising the interest that it could create, she typed it out as it appeared and sent it off to Mr Pledger, who is the grandson, on his mother's side, of Private Bell. Mr Pledger agreed that the diary should be recorded for posterity and published in the journal. To retain the original style of the diary, editing has been limited to the addition of commas and other punctuation marks where it was deemed necessary.

'Called up on 17 Oct 1899 to Newbridge. Stayed there six weeks. Came to Aldershot for remounts. Embarked on 21 December. Called at Las Palmas. Landed at Table Bay on 7 January 1900. Went in camp at Maitland for four days. Proceeded to De Aar. Stopped a week. Escorted a convoy to Orange River. Went on a detached post at a place called Zoutpans Drift. Stopped a week. Got orders to join General French's flying column for Kimberley. Left Zoutpans Drift on 6 February. Joined the 1st Cavalry Brigade, consisting of the Scots Greys Carabiniers, one squadron of 6th Dragoons. One squadron of ours was present at the battles of Kiip Drift and Dronfield (Sergeant Major Ayns wounded) and entered Kimberley with the Division on 16 February. Stayed two days. Received orders to proceed to Paardeberg, where we hemmed in General Cronje. Stayed there [until] he and his army surrendered. Was on a kopje [nine] days and nights, and it rained in torrents. Was on duty all the while. Had no supplies. All we got for rations was one biscuit and [two] ounces of mealies [sic] flour.

From there we went on with French through the Free States [sic]. We were present at the battle of Poplar Grove, where we were under fire for 16 hours, as we started at [03.00] in the morning and did not get in [until 19.00] at night. Camped in their laager; captured a lot of flour; made cakes of flour and water, which was a treat, as we were nearly starved to death. Halted the next day. Our squadron was sent to reconnoitre the front. Me and Dawes was [sic] advance scouts.

Went up to a farm house where they were hiding. They opened fire on us and in 1000 one bullet struck my horse Hoff. Next day we went on to Abraham's Kraal. Was fighting all day; got pom-pommed while we were feeding. Routed the enemy and camped when it was dark.

The next day we got to Bloemfontein; got up and cut the railway. They fired on us with big guns and pom-poms, but surrendered the town the next day. Left the 1st Brigade and joined Lord Roberts' staff. I was put in the mounted police. Escorted Sir Alfred Milner on his visit. Buried our old and respected colonel, Col Hon Hugh Gough, CB, who lost his reason through overwork and shot himself. Lord Roberts and all his staff was [sic] present at the funeral.

The regiment came from Natal where it was present at the relief of Ladysmith. It left over 100 men in Natal with fever, including my townsman and chum Jerry Hurst and also young Brand of Chesterton. We went to Donkers Hoek to join the regiment, which was attached to the 4th Brigade, which consisted of the 8th and 14th Hussars and the 7th Dragoon Guards.

After a few days there, we went, [on] 22 April on a flying column with General French and the Lancers Brigade to Thabanchu, where we lost Captain Denny, shot dead through the heart, Sergeant Cunningham, hit with a pom-pom and killed, Privates Pragnell and Amoore only lived a few hours, died of wounds. I was lying beside a chap named Smith when he was hit in the neck, and a lot of our squadron was [sic] wounded, including Corporal Spring, shot through both thighs and calf, Private Sheppard, shot through both feet, Sergeant McQueen shot in the thigh slightly, Sergeant Piper, shot through the shoulder, Private Jones, shot through both legs, Private Cotton, shot through his seat, Private Sheldon wounded.

On 2 May, Captain Miller was shot in two places and his horse shot under him and [he was] taken prisoner, and Private Lofts. We buried Captain Denny at the foot of the kopje with a Sergeant Soterton of the 17th Lancers. Sergeant Cunningham was buried in camp in the morning at daybreak before we moved off. We went on [until] we came in contact with General Rundle's column at De Wet's Dorp, where I met the Suffolk Yeomanry. I just had time to speak to Mr Heal Jnr.

We returned to Donkers Hoek, where we heard of the death of a lot of my old comrades from fever, including 2922 Woods, Underhill, Hawkes, Akin, Private Hyde, Corporal Hyde, Kenworthy. Private Watson was drowned at Mooi River. Private Alpin died of fever in Natal, also Private Coe and Sergeant Stones (Sergeant Bottomley of fever at Maritzburg). In returning to Donker's Hoek we had only been back a day when we got orders to join French's column for the march on Pretoria.

My horse was done up, so had to wait [until] the next day for a horse, and I caught the regiment outside Kroonstad. On the way up, met the Suffolk Regiment and had an evening with my old chum George Coulson. Saw a lot of Cambridge chaps including Louis Stockley. They had got there that day and were on line of communication putting the railway straight.

We marched on to the Transvaal. We marched on, and crossed the Vaal River without opposition, but found them about fifteen miles from Johannesburg on some kopjes, but drove them back without loss into the town. The next morning we advanced on the town, but could not take it, as they had long toms and pom-poms with a 7 mile [11,2 km] range, and all we had was our Horse Battery's GT with a 2.5 mile [4 km] range, so we stuck to them all day. I was on the left flanking patrol with Mr Tilney. He sent me with a message to the general. My horse came down in a bog, but I got it up again. As I was making for the brigade, when I got up to the batteries the shells were falling like rain. Four fell within a yard or two of me, and as I was handing my note to the Brigade Major, a pom-pom fell right against us. I join [sic] the regiment, and rode in rear of C Squadron when Major Brown's horse was hit with a shell and killed, a young soldier named Nutting, hit with a shell, poor lad, and smashed to atoms.

We went in camp for the first night, and they put their long range gun into us as we retired, but they did not do much damage, as the division all day only lost five killed and nine wounded. The next morning we moved out again, and we found them on the kopjes where they cut up the Jameson's Troopers. Our guns got to work, and we and a squadron of the 7th took a kopje under heavy rifle and shell fire, for which we got great praise from our general. We held the hill [until] General Ian Hamilton's Brigade, the Derby Regiment and two naval guns got up, and they opened fire on Doorn Kop while we went to the left and took it. Next morning Lord Roberts entered the town, and 2 000 of them surrendered, but we did not go into the town but went 10 miles [16 km] north of it, and went into town for rations.

The next day we went on for some miles, but we did not find them [until 16.00] in the afternoon. They were in laager, and they shot dead two advance scouts of the carabiniers, and our general put us all on the hills dismounted, and he put the big guns on them and the maxims, and General Hutton's mounted infantry, including the Canadians, came up and dismounted to fire as well, and for an hour the lot of us simply poured fire into them. I was on picquet that night, as our regiment held one of the hills, and the next morning our people buried 31 Boers which [sic] they had left behind in their flight. They admitted losing 2 300. They left their convoy along the road, including the hospital waggons, which were stocked. We went on the next day [until] we came to the Crocodile River bridge, which is about 13 miles [21 km] from Pretoria, and we camped there but saw no enemy, but got bags of oranges, as there are acres of them in the Transvaal.

The next morning we went on over hills, not making for the town, as our orders were to take the western fort, but when we got there the fort was empty, so General French sent the 1st Brigade to Watervaal to get the prisoners while we covered their advance, and they came in with 4 500, but they got 900 away including most of the Suffolks, but we captured a convoy of several waggons and 70 prisoners. We halted outside of the town [until] Lord Roberts with the army corps entered, which he did very easily, as they gave little opposition. We went right through the town and camped 12 miles [19 km] to the north of it at a place called Koodersdorp Drift where we rested a day, but were off again next day and had another fight at a place called Elands River.

Our regiment, in fact the Brigade, nearly got cut off. They used every bit of shot they had. They had several wounded, including Sergeant McQueen, shot through the nose, Sergeant Taylor through the chin, and Trumpeter Myers through the seat. Corporal Elkins had a shell hit his helmet, but [it] never hurt him. Several horses were shot dead and wounded, including our Regimental Sergeant Major's. We then came hack to camp, where we were told by General French that we were to rest, as Lord Roberts had told him to thank his division for the share we had taken in this campaign, as he said we had been to the front all through, and had won a name which anyone could be proud of, and which had opened the eyes of the world, and had proved that British cavalry was still the envy of all Europe.
I am sorry to say that by this time my horse was done, as it had a tumour in its back. In fact we had lost 150 horses. We only had 100 or so left, so they decided to store saddles in town, so I went in charge of them at a stores at the side of Avenue Hotel, with a great chum named Middleton. Whilst we were there, we came across a lot of U Battery, which [had been] in our Brigade [until] we [had] reached Bloemfontein, but [had gone] out with the 2nd Brigade in a column under Colonel Broadwood with the l0th Hussars and Life Guards, and Lord Roberts says in his report that it was bad cavalry rear guard that [had] got them cut up and captured. They lost 5 guns and several men, and so did 6th Battery. The Gunners blame the cavalry; in fact, General French would not have them with him in the Transvaal. They marched with the infantry.

Pretoria is a nice town, as it has a lot of splendid buildings. The Government buildings are a treat. The workmanship is splendid, and so are the shops, quite up to our big towns in England. There is a museum and splendid swimming baths, and a lot of fine-built hotels, of which the Officers make good use, as there [are] a lot of big toffs here now. There is the 7th Regiment of Yeomanry, which is the only yeomanry up at the front. It has Lord Brassey's son and two MPs, Hon Guest and Sir Joseph Leeses, and in its ranks it has Lord Crofton's son and a lot of rich fellows, and its colonel is Col Henry, who went with Roberts to Kandiaarn, so I expect it is a favoured lot. So both the Suffolk Yeomanry and regiment are left behind, so I have not got any townsmen up here, as Corporal Driver of the Carabiniers is left in Kroonstad with a sick horse and poor Jerry is down with fever. We have here now the hero of Mafeking, Baden-Powell, and Lady Sarah Wilson who has been shut up there with him; in fact all the big toffs are here. Buller has gone after Kruger with his force, so I hope we have one our bit. We have not had a letter since we left Bloemfontein, which is now six weeks, and they say the mails are lost.

July 1st: heard today of the death of my old and respected comrade Chris Wilson and the death of Private Gordon, a reservist of the Scots Greys called up to ours, and a young soldier of ours named Prescot, and a chap named Leggett, a reservist of the l0th Hussars attached to ours. July 3rd: received from Mr Aronowitz of Cambridge a handsome present of a tin of tobacco and cigarettes which I prized very much indeed. July 4th: heard today of the death of young Hemmings of Brighton, reservist, and also a reservist of the Royal Dragoons attached to us named Private Johnston. July 5th: heard today of the death of an old comrade by the name of Corporal Battson, whose brother is now fencing instructor in the regiment. I also today got letters from my wife and H Peck, the first from home since Bloemfontein, over 2 months [ago].

July 6th: received today [two] papers from Kate and also a letter, and a letter from home, and also got a parcel from H Peck which was a great treat, as I was in want of socks. I shall always respect him for this kindness.

Sunday 8th July: went to the Wesleyan Chapel in Pretoria - splendid preacher and choir and organ, and nicely decorated. July 11th: heard today of the death of Captain Robinson, who had left the regiment [nine] years [ago], and [had] volunteered to come out, and died of enteric in Kroonstad. Draft of 80 men from the depot joined the regiment at Kaamel Drift, Pretoria.

12th July: holding a hill called Surprise Hill when we had to retire outnumbered. Corporal Lewis [was] shot through the arm in [two] places, Private Mason wounded severely. Naval guns came up and, with the first shot, upset the Boer Long Tom.

July 13th: met today with two Cambridge men, Goode of the Engineers and Litchfield of the Suffolks, who is on the staff of the Engineers.

July 14th: heard today of the death of Private Mann, who was wounded at Surprise Hill; also heard of the death of Lieutenant Pilkington, a young officer of the 1st Royals who was attached to us at one time.

July 15th, Sunday: went to chapel and heard of the capture of my chum Jock Foster by the Boers. July 18th: the regiment moved up country and left me in Pretoria in charge of kit, of which I was very pleased. I heard today of the death of a young fellow of ours named Moore, who died of fever at Kroonstad.

July 19th: heard today of the death of a reservist of the 7th Hussars attached to us, named Maton, killed in action with our regiment.

July 24th: met today in Pretoria Mr Taylor Jnr, son of Alderman Taylor who is serving on the police here as a private in the Sussex Yeomanry.

July 25th: Buff's band on Church Square and visited my chum Nobby Grace who was down with enteric in the Palace of Justice Hospital, Pretoria.

July 30th: went to chapel and visited the hospital. July 31st: 5 000 Boers surrendered to General Hunter. August 1st: saw my chum Herbert Shenton off by train, invalided home with enteric fever.

Sunday, August 4th [probably meant to be 5 August]: went to chapel in the evening.
Bank Holiday, August 6th: was present at the opening of the Soldier's Home at Pretoria by Lord Roberts.

Wednesday, August 9th [probably meant to be 8 August]: went to a cricket match at Beira Park Pretoria, between a Pretoria and Major Poore team; band of Buffs was there.

Friday, August 11th [probably meant to be 10 August]: concert at Soldier's Home. Saw Boer prisoners off, awful sight, women and children crying.

Saturday, 12th [probably meant to be 11 August]: heard today of the death of Private Lambell of ours.

Sunday, 12th: went to chapel morning and evening.
16th: received two letters from home, the first for six weeks.
17th: my old chum Nammy Woods went down country and saw the Derby Militia come into Pretoria, those who [had been] taken prisoner by De Wet and Stryen.

19th: went to chapel morning and evening. Saw Captain Whitmore of the Cambridge Volunteers in Pretoria.

24th: town all of an uproar as this morning a German named Cordua was shot for getting up a plot to kill Lord Roberts and officers of our army.

27th: saw Mr Bulman of Cambridge; he is serving in the Suffolk Yeomanry. Went to a boxing contest at the Soldiers' Home.

Sept 1st: heard today of the death of a fellow of ours named Day; he was missing [ten] days, and when we found him he had bullet wounds through him, and the vultures had pecked out his eyes and torn the flesh from his bones.

Sept 2nd: today Lord Roberts annexed the Transvaal and he declared it British Territory.
Sept 5th: heard today of a man's death of ours named Nairns.
Sept 9th: heard today of the death of a fellow of ours named Barrett of fever at Pretoria; heard today of [two] fellows of ours, one named Ford, and the other my old and respected comrade Jack Foulkes of Stafford. Both of them died of fever.

Sept 14th: saw Mr Bullmer today; had been down with fever. I never saw a man look so bad: got the news of Kruger going to Europe.

Date sent: Mon, 17 Jul 2000

I would like to comment on the diary of HORACE BELL being on-line, and say how much I appreciate this documented history of my GG uncle. The sister of HORACE BELL is CAROLINE BELL, my Paternal GGgrandmother& I have been researching the family history. His father was DAVID WILLIAMSON BELL of Harrison Co., IN. I have a Bio. on him as well as the siblings. I would be interested in communicating with any living relatives! Thank you, Mary Postma 1030 Old Trail Road Rockaway Beach, MO 65740

In July 2008 the following e-mail arrived from Dennis Bell in British Columbia, "the Canadian representative of the Clan Bell":
Are you absolutely positive that the military diary you've posted and attributed to Horace Bell belongs to the son of David Williamson Bell of Pennsylvania/Indiana? His son Horace Bell was born in 1830 in Floyd County, Indiana and I tend to doubt that he saw any action halfway around the world in South Africa at age 70 with the 14th Hussars. This Horace was a pioneer in California, a well-known American writer, and I've yet to see any reference in his biographical material indicating he went overseas for the South African conflict.

  However, he did himself have a son named Horace Bell, born in California in 1870. Might this be the right Horace -- a grandson of David Williamson Bell, rather than his son?

There is also in England another Horace Bell that might fit the bill:

Horace Bell (born June 17, 1839 St. Pancras, London died April 10, 1903 Lexham Gardens, London). He was a railway construction engineer in India for most of his working life, son of George Bell and Frances Dade.

  Here's the bio I have in my databank for David Williamson Bell's son:

Horace Bell (born Dec. 11, 1830 New Albany, Floyd County, Indiana died June 29, 1918 Los Angeles, California). Born in southern Indiana a few miles from Louisville, Kentucky, Horace Bell attended school on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. He left Indiana in 1850 to seek gold in California, crossing the American plains and arriving in Hangtown (Now Placerville) in mid-August of that year. He spent two years at the diggings, with little success and In 1852, he moved to Los Angeles to visit an uncle (Alexander Bell) who had moved there 10 years earlier.  Horace found the little pueblo which had a population of only 1,600 when he arrived, an exciting but dangerous place, often classified as the most violeng community in America at the time. Los Angeles County, despite a total population of only 8,500, recorded 54 murders in the fist year of the 1850s. In 1853 Horace became a founding member of a new law enforcement unit, the Los Angeles Rangers, a company of mounted volunteer police funded by the state legislature.  Bell had many adventures as a Ranger and became deeply immersed in the local culture, learning Spanish and mingling with the elite ranchero class of Los Angeles citizens through the help of his uncle. In 1856, looking for even more adventures, Bell joined William Walker’s force for the invasion of Nicaragua. He achieved the rank of major, a title he held for the rest of his life. When the U.S. civil war broke out, he went back to Indiana, joined up and was initially a quartermaster sergeant with the Sixth Indiana Infantry in the Union army. The regiment was organized at Camp Morton, near Indianapolis, on April 25, 1861.  However, the regiment was broken up and the troops reassigned in August, 1861. Bell ended up as a scout for General Lew Wallace just before the Battle of Shiloh in April, 1862. He encountered the main Confederate force advancing on the Union positions just before the battle. Bell reported this to Wallace, recommending that the latter inform General Ulysses S. Grant of the fact immediately. But there is no proof that Wallace followed through on Bell's recommendation, and Wallace and Grant soon became bitter political enemies. Bell eventually  saw service as a major in the Union Army before returning to Los Angeles after the war to become a lawyer and newspaper publisher.  A biography written by Benjamin S. Harrison is entitled  Fortune Favors The Brave: The Life And Times Of Horace Bell, Pioneer Californian and was published in 1953. Horace was publisher of The Porcupine newspaper, and author of two books himself - On The Old West Coast, and Reminiscences Of A Ranger in 1881, which includes anecdotes of Bell's experiences as a Los Angeles Ranger pursuing Joaquín Murietta in 1853, a soldier of fortune from Latin America. Bell provides lively ancedotes of Los Angeles and its residents under Mexican and American rule, emphasizing cowboys and criminals as well as native Americans. Throughout, Bell gives special attention to the fate of Hispanic Californians and native Americans under the United States regime. He married Georgiana Herrick Dec. 14, 1862 in New York City. At the time of the 1880 U.S. census he listed himself as a 49-year-old lawyer living in the 5th Ward of Los Angeles with his family.

Please direct enquiries to:
 "Dennis N. Bell"

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