Under Standerton Kop.


          One of the first parades orders after our arrival at Standerton was for washing purposes. We paraded, each company having its own time, and marched down to the Vaal River a little way below the ruined railway bridge. Here we were allowed one hour to do all our washing and have a bath, after which we fell in and returned again to camp.
          This was a great advantage, as all of us were in sad need of a good cleaning. Not a minute of the time was lost; those who, because of a lack of a shirt, could not was it, assisted others in their labour. One or two more ambitious, went so far as to wash their khaki, but these were looked upon as more or less insane.
          Now that we were in standing camp, the cooks again resumed their duties, and all cooking for breakfast, diner, and tea was done by them. In the evening, however, the many little fires still glowed in the darkness, where men were preparing something hot for supper to keep out the night chills.
Railway Work at Standerton
Railway Work at Standerton
          Another advantage soon showed itself in the shape of canteens, which arrived very shortly after we had settled here. At these stores a very quantity of extras could be obtained, but at almost fabulous prices considering the pay of the British soldier. For instance, a pot of jam or a tin of condensed milk cost ninepence, three-fifths of a day’s wages. Kop’s ale was at the same price after a while, but at first a shilling a bottle was demanded.

          Taking into consideration that the ordinary Tommy of this army, the man who had overcome and endured every obstacle, had fought, starved, worked, watched, and marched by day and night, was getting for his faithful services the usual Is. 3d. per diem — far less than the “niggers” were paid who drove the waggons — it seems a pity that such prices should have been allowed. Add to this the veteran’s joy when, after giving perhaps two day’s pay for some little dainty, he finds inside (as on one or two occasions to my knowledge he did) a neat ticket on which was inscribed:

“A present to the troops in South Africa.”

          A present! At ten times its value in England!
          But let it rest. It is with us a thing of the past now.
          The duty now was extremely light, the object being for the men to thoroughly rest after the arduous work of the past seven weeks. Tents were inspected every morning, after which we were free, but were not allowed beyond a mile from camp. The town, of course, was out of bounds, and such of us who ventured in, except on duty, did so at our own risk.
          The railway south of Standerton had been left almost untouched, and ere many days had passed a regular train service for stores was established.
          We had captured a very fair number of trucks and engines at the large station here on entering the town, and these were tested and repaired where necessary, and on Tuesday, July 3, the first British train left for the north, taking supplies to such parts of our force as had pressed on to Heidelberg and Greylingstad.
          Owing to the broken railway bridge, the official were obliged to make a terminus on each side of the river, and transport the goods by waggon from one to the other. This was found very inconvenient, and engineers were requisitioned to build a branch line over the stream. The troops were set to work, our own company taking its turn with the rest, and in less than a fortnight a train was run round the new cutting and over the river on a wooden trestle bridge. During these operations one of our men found a new Martini rifle concealed in the ash-heap of the pumping shed whence water was supplied to the station tanks.
          Guards were plentifully established round the town, and all the roads had a post at which the passes of everyone travelling along them were examined.
          A Corporal of “I” Company is reported to have stopped a staff officer on one of these road guards, and demanded his pass.
          “Do you think me a suspicious character?” asked the officer.
          “Well,” replied the corporal, dubiously, “you never know.”
          Among other guards, we had to provide for the gaol, railway sidings, and traffic bridge.
          Our first railway siding guard the right-half company will not forget, as it was the occasion (thanks to Lieut. Longstaff) of our first taste of bread, which, except the half-pound at Ingogo, we had not sampled since May 7, and it was now July 4. Some kind fellow offered to get us a further supply at 1s. a loaf, which we gladly accepted. Plenty of money was forthcoming, and he left us in the pleasant anticipation of a feed, which never came off, as this good gentleman forgot to return. Every time a party went round the town after that, one of its chief duties was to keep a look-out for this man, and administer summary justice to him. Luckily for him, he was never seen again.
          Two captured Kaffirs were the result of our watch, and these were handed over the guard at the gaol, where both civil culprits and prisoners of war were lodged. One of the much-sought-after jobs was carrying the rations round to the different posts in the morning, the opportunity being used to further explore the town. The roads are broad, but only in a few places have they been prepared, the majority of the streets consisting of the spaces between the opposite houses being left in its natural state.
          Several large shops are established here, and, as far as we could see, a fairly thriving business had sprung up, though of course at this time comparatively little was doing.
          Outposts were established round the camp at a considerable distance. Standerton Kop was really the stronghold of the place, and here the Naval guns were established in gun pits, while all round the hill sangers were constructed and nightly manned. This was not considered sufficient, and a chain of posts was stretched across the plain so as to completely surround the town and camp. “I” Company had the pleasure of raising one of these covers. We paraded for outpost with burdens equal to those of pack-mules. In addition to our ordinary equipment and rifle were added our blankets and overcoats, and, as the “final straw,” a pick or shovel. With this little collection we marched about two miles out, took off our things, and went to work at about 3 p.m., eventually finishing the trench in the dark.
          Another night a little excitement was caused by the arrival of an officer about 10 p.m. with a mule bearing an extra supply of ammunition, and the information that an attack was expected at dawn. We were also to double our sentries, and half the post to be always awake. At 4 a.m. the whole picquet was aroused, and sat enveloped in their blankets and with fixed bayonets till broad day-light, when we retired to camp, the Boers having failed to put in an appearance. This was not the only time, while here, that we enjoyed a false alarm.
          A regular church parade was now held every Sunday, at which all who were off duty attended. On one occasion those who cared to volunteer were permitted to attend a Church of England service held in the Town Hall. We who went were well repaid by an extremely nice service, as well as the unparalleled novelty of being under a roof, sitting on a seat, and hearing an organ, these things we had not done since we left the base.
          On Tuesday, July 10, the draft to the Company arrived in camp, and was accorded a very hearty welcome. These men had been accepted on April 24 for service, medically examined on the 25th, and finally attested on the following day, when they were also measured for their uniforms.
          After this date they were allowed to remain at their homes until everything was ready. On May 14 they assembled at the Regimental Depot at Kingston, and were then supplied with their full outfit for the field.
          The rest of the week was spent in marking clothes, inspections, and the other necessary duties. Saturday, 19th, saw them on their way to join the Company. After a good breakfast at 6 a.m., they marched to Surbiton Station and entrained for Southampton, arriving there at 11 o’clock, when they immediately embarked on board the “Avondale Castle,” sailing at 2 p.m.
          The voyage was spent very similarly to that of our Company. A concert was held in aid of the Absent-Minded Beggar Fund, and 10 pounds 10s. was subscribed amongst the troops.
          Las Palms was reached on the 24 May, the Queen’s Birthday, and this fact was brought home to our men by twenty-one guns being fired by a British warship at anchor in the bay.
          Leaving this beautiful place at 6.20 p.m. the same day, good progress was made, and the equator was reached on the 1st June. This being pretty well the hottest day possible, the officer in charge seized the opportunity to have “a full marching order” parade at 2 p.m. I believe a similar thing was done on a corresponding day on board the “Tintagel Castle,” but I suppose it is only a little bit of red tape.
          Sports were instituted and the draft won the volley-firing contest. This occurred on the 8th June, when we were also having a firing contest with the Boers, each other being the targets and the heights of Inkweloane the prize. Concerts were frequently organized, and by all accounts the draft had quite as enjoyable a voyage as the company.
          At midnight on June 9 the “Avondale Castle” came to anchor in Table Bay, but the men were not landed until the 12th, when they changed their quarters to Green Point Camp. An opportunity was afforded them for seeing Cape Town, as they did not embark again until 15th June.
          On this day they boarded the “Britannic,” sailing for Durban at 7.30 a.m. the following morning. Port Elizabeth was their only place of call on the way round, and they reached this town on the 18th, leaving at 10 p.m. the next day. Their voyage came to end at 1.30 p.m. on the 21st, when they anchored in the roads off Durban and landed, entraining almost immediately for Pietermaritzburg, where they arrived at midnight. Their stay here last till the 27th, when they set out to join the company, leaving all spare kit behind them. Newcastle was reached at midday on the 28th. The following morning they enjoyed their first day’s tramp to Ingogo, where they arrived at 8 p.m., and spent a wet night in the open. Next day they again pressed forward to Mount Prospect, endured another wretched night, and the following morning resumed the tramp over Laing’s Nek, reaching Charleston at 1.30 p.m., and camping their for the night.
          Most of them seized the opportunity, denied to us, of inspecting the place and examining the destruction done by the Boers. In the morning of the 2nd July, the draft mover their quarters to Volksrust, and here spent a few days waiting until a convoy they were to escort was ready.
          On the 7th they again resumed their march, and spent the following three nights at Zandspruit, Paardekop, and Platrand, and on the 10th marched into Standerton, where they were joyfully received by the company. From this date their doing became identical with out own, and they were soon as efficient and trustworthy soldiers as the oldest men amongst us.
          These new men received a shock almost as soon as they arrived. On the night of the 11th we had all turned in, and most were asleep, when the sound of hurrying footsteps became audible to those who had not yet reached dreamland. This was followed by the violent banging of the tents and loud demands to turn out immediately. Though we ourselves had not been disturbed we were, of course, anxious to know what was “in the wind,” and a comrade, more energetic than the rest, donned the remnants of his unmentionables and sallied forth to ascertain the reason of all this unseemly hubbub.
          He returned after a short while with the information that three companies were under immediate marching orders, and were getting equipped with all speed. Also that a messenger had been sent round to the different posts with instructions for them in the event of an attack.
          This was enough for the more experienced of us, who promptly turned over and got to sleep lest, ere long, we should ourselves be wanted. The companies returned about 11 nbext morning, after a march of over fourteen miles, without having come into touch with the enemy. Shortly afterwards we were sent on a similar, though more successful, surprise expedition. But I must not anticipate.
          On 16th July, the Brigade Sports were held. General Buller and several Staff officers were present. It was a pleasant sight to see the face of our veteran leader wreathed in smiles as he watched the various contests, paying more attention to the boxing. The great event of the day was the obstacle race, and this proved a most severe trial for those who entered. There were beside these fixed contests, periodical inter-Company matches of football and cricket, held by the Battalion, leading to a most friendly rivalry between the different companies. “I” Company was fortunate enough to hold its own, though not always gaining the palm.
          The weather, which on our arrival had been very cold during the night, now showed signs of improvement. In place of frosts, heavy mists hung over the camp during the mornings, and these very frequently detained the picquets at their posts long after the usual time of withdrawal. But this was a trifling affliction, for once the fog cleared away, a fine warm day invariably followed. Now and again heavy sand and dust storms swept through the camp, covering everything with grit, and finding the weak parts of the tent ropes, upon which a heavy strain was imposed by the terrific gales that swept these earth-clouds along.
          The greatest benefits of a standing camp was attained on July 27, when a pint of beer was served out to us, for which we paid the modest sum of fourpence. It was a colonial brew, and a purely chemical mixture, but it had a distant resemblance to the beer of good old England, and was very much enjoyed. Of course the issue was limited to the above quantity per diem, but there was no great difficulty in obtaining the services of a teetotaler should more be desired.





© Copyright Christopher John Garrish. All rights reserved.