13 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 10 May 1900

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Masonic Hotel. Bloemfontein O.F.S*[1]


10 May 1900

 [No Salutation]

[[1]] I am receiving papers regularly from you but belated this I do not mind, I read every word of the papers & learn from them what has been occurring under my very nose without my knowing it. Those letters from L’Smith are beautifully written. I have lent them all to Matthews. Strange to say I saw a review on Beaconsfields letters addressed to Lady Dorothy Neville.[3] You may remember this was the lady I wrote to you about who was sweetheart of the Duke of Wellington.

Read Steevens book from Cape Town to L’Smith.[4] It is his letters to the Daily Mail collected, the account of his death is very touching. Speaking of death this place takes the merry biscuit, no less than nineteen to day[sic] including an officer[,] one hospital lost 9 men in 12 hours!! All enterics[sic].[5] How I wish I had been inoculated. I should have been but for the selfishness of the Colonel! In spite of all this everything goes on as usual & the mixture is incongruous. In one street is met several funeral parties, the corpse sewn in a blanket, the face & nose showing through with painful distinctiveness, carried on a stretcher by his comrades, or rolled along in a mule cart, string upon string of these processions approaching from the dozens of hospitals to be found in this town, & the next minute one meets say a wedding or something equally the opposite. Here babies & children are to be met dancing to the music of the pipes & drums in the market square, while in the road is a batch of prisoners, probably their father or some relation, being marched off under a strong escort; here is a school, all the boys sitting at their benches the impatient voice of the master being heard above their shrill noise, while rolling past the school windows are the dismal ambulance waggons[sic] with red cross flags carrying the mutilated remains of brave men straight from the Field. From this house comes the tin kettle note of the Dutch piano being inflicted either with the fine finger exercise or a selection from the Belle of New York, while in the yard opposite are men lying on the ground in all attitudes waiting for admission to the hospital. The extremes meet everywhere, but no where[sic] so marked as in war. One tries to see the funny & ridiculous side in everything & in spite of its horrors, its suffering & its ghastly wretchedness [1 word struck through, illeg.] there is always something to smile at & someone to chaff[6].

[5 lines redacted]

[[2]] [4 lines redacted] perfectly true story — just look him out in the Army List.

I dont[sic] see much of Matthews, but I think he is friendly — he tells me Gladstone[?] is down with Enteric, so that the expected rupture between him & [1 word redacted] may not now come off.

I expect almost any day now to hear that Rament has gone sick — The Boer shells etc I sent down by him to Cape Town are now in my luggaje[sic] so they are safe. I must next send down the coat of arms from President Steyn’s[7] carriage for it is impossible for me to carry it about. I have not got a Free State flag yet but hope to. Has my Queen’s Medal for the Soudan yet been received? I saw the 21st Lancers got theirs the other day — [5 lines redacted].

I saw a fellow last night just out of Wepener he was there the whole time of the siege & a hot time they had. The boers[sic] shelled them day & night as they were most anxious to capture the garrison who consisted principally of Colonials & they hate the loyal colonists, the last two shrapnel shells they fired had an inscription scratched on, one was “Good bye Cape Mounted Rifles we’ll have you yet” the other shrapnel bore the name of all the Dutch gunners who served this particular gun[.] I am going to see these curiosities. The garrison had little to eat & nothing to smoke, so for the latter they fell back on hay & tea leaves!!!

Brabazon[8] leisurely came to their relief & in his lordly manner told them he did not know they were hard pressed & he could have relieved them a fortnight earlier!! The garrison could not leave their trenches the whole day any man who attempted it was at once shot. They could only go for food & water at night, & even by moonlight several were picked off.

[No Valediction]

(Please note that work on this transcript is ongoing. Users are advised to study the electronic images of this document where possible)


[1] Written on hotel paper, Masonic Hotel, B.Levy & Son

[2] Also annotated as page 4 however this is the only remaining page.

[3] Lady Dorothy Neville, (1826-1913) English writer, hostess and horticulturist

[4] G. W. Steevens, From Capetown to Ladysmith: An Unfinished Record of the South African War

[5] Enteric fever or typhoid

[6] To tease

[7] Martinus Theunis Steyn (1857-1916), president of the Orange Free State from 1896 to 1902

[8] General Reginald Le Normand Brabazon, Lord Ardee (1869-1949)

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