1 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 4 Dec 1899

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‘At Sea Off Natal’

‘4 Dec 1899’

[Salutation Redacted]

My last letter to you was sent ashore at Cape Town to be posted. You would have judged from the hurried concluding lines that our change of destination was unexpected, we got orders to go to Durban which is a sea journey of about 1000 miles & we reach there to morrow[sic] morning. All being well this should be our last day on board ship & I am very glad of it. I take it we are intended for the relief of Ladysmith & we know a big battle is impending which will be fought & over long before you get this. For all we know it may be over before our arrival which would be crushing luck. Of our future movements we know we nothing, not even of our immediate ones, but before I close this

[[2]] letter to morrow[sic] you will know the latter & after that the information from me will be I fear most irregular. I need hardly say I have not had a letter from you yet, so you can imagine how I am looking forward to one. I have been very careful on the voyaje [sic] [5 lines Redacted] I sent you a cablegram by a man I do not know but I hope it reached you safely. I calculated it would be at the Croft on Sunday morning, it left the ship 5p.m. Saturday. I could imagine the excitement of getting news from me is in such a short time [.] What would I give to have news from you, [3 Lines Redacted]
[[3]] To day [sic] we are busy arranging our kits 30lbs for me means the valise[?] without mattress & 1 small waterproof sheet instead of my big one 1 blanket  1 shirt 1 drawers, 1 jacket, 1pair [?] boots [1 word illeg.]. not a very extensive wardrobe[.] oh I forgot towel & soap. (While I am writing this there is a constant jabber going on behind me, about what fellows are taking with them & leaving behind — it is a perfect Babel & I cannot collect my thoughts) I think my plan is to leave everything behind at Natal Durban & then send for them as I require them, but I shall not see much of it until the campaign is over. It would astound you to see the kit carried by some men, beds with brass rods, mosquito curtains [,] long arm chairs Etnas [?], Coffee urns and Lord knows what. I fear my kit is very meagre in comparison, but it is carried much very easily & that is more than can be said for theirs. The talking has become so incessant, some men sitting down & talking to one even when I am writing that I must give this letter up as hopeless for the present [.]

I gave it up &have just tackled it again after dinner [9 lines redacted]

I have put my kit together [.] I cannot take my writing case or your [1 word redacted] F.S. ink bottle & lots of other things besides. It will come to 40lbs weight which is more than we are entitled to so I will probably have to throw my Kettle away.

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[[1]] We have had a great afternoon getting ready for to morrow[sic], you cannot imagine the kits some fellows have, they are incredible enough to stock a shop. In order to get near my weight I have had to throw out my mattrass[sic] (I cannot spell it) pillow, waterproof sheet, Canteen no bag, but I have taken my rubber boots & waterproof. I have not taken my Khaki serje[sic] (I have now put it in) but will leave behind me a bag containing shirt, socks, pair[?] boots, Khaki serje[sic].

The band at special request has had to play the Belle of New York again & just outside my Cabin the yellow hearts[?] of the Regt are dancing up & down the deck over ones kit & rotting[?] generally,  I can remember being once like them, but I suppose it is dispensation of  Providence that one gets quieter as they get older.

On the whole we have had a good

[[2]] passage, though for you she would have rolled too much, there is a big sea on now but it is behind us so it rather helps us on & we do not feel it. I shall be glad to land to get the anxiety of these horses[?] off my mind. I find we have done much better in the way of horses than some other Regts [.] The Royals lost 38, the 10th about 30 & other Regts in proportion. our loss to date is 21troop horses & 1 charjer[sic].

As soon as I land I must look for a horse. I hope I may not have much trouble in this respect — I presume the cheque of the Standard Bank of S.Africa can be negotiated in Cape To[wn] Natal.

I have not mentioned money affairs to you as I know you are provided for in this respect & I am sure you will be careful [2 lines redacted]
[[3]] [3 lines redacted]. It will all be very heavy but with your assistance it will all be met. I am writing [to] the Calcutta Fund to say I am here so there will be an extra charge for this for war risks. I have just written [16 lines redacted]

Your sole letter, the one I got at Liverpool before leaving [words redacted]. I hardly expect to get another for some time [words redacted], but I will write to you (in pencil) at any & every opportunity.

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[[1]] You ought soon to be making Enquiries about that house in St Johns’ Park so as to secure the refusal. In fact go to Dyer & Hilton at once & see them about it but do not commit your-self until you see how matters go but secure the refusal, this is important to you. We know very little at present of the war excepting that the Guards got a hammering at the Modder River.

I have said all along that the campaign would be a big business & not a walk over as some thought. I feel for you in your anxiety, but remember you are not the only one so placed, there is a comfort in that, there are hundreds of wives & mothers situated as you are [word redacted]. You must be proud that England is so anxious for us all. It is I who am anxious [2 lines redacted]
[[2]] 5 Dec. We are in Durban but not yet landed we disembark this evening afternoon & go by rail to Maritzburg & from there it is said to Escourt. Buller[1] is at Maritz’bg[sic] & the big fight comes off in 10 days time. The result of it you will know long before this letter reaches you [,] one cannot forecast events [.]

You will have the satisfaction of knowing that Buller will be in command, for we hear rumours of a great demoralization among the Generals or at any rate some of them. They do not appear to know their own minds.

You will have heard of the loss of the Ismore[2] with the 10th Hussars on board. Very bad luck. a battery of RA also appears to be on board. Altogether we do not appear to have had much luck up to date, but our luck will turn. We were glad to hear the fight at Modder River was more of a British success than some of the other victories. All this is fresh news to us though very stale to you I fear.

[[3]] The fighting in Natal has not been conspicuous for its success, but we can last longer than the Dutchman. In my next I will give you an account of my journey up to Pietermaritzbourg[sic] & the preperations for our advance. You will it best to work out all the movements on the map.

We are at present lying in Durban outside the harbour [.] we cannot enter until high tide at 3pm[.] the sea here is always rough, we rolled most uncomfortably this morning after dropping anchor & fancy “fiddles”[?] being on the table of a ship at anchor? I will leave the remainder of this paper to close up with after reaching the shore. By the bye Javis knows the Mackenzies well & has often stayed with them. Mrs is much older than him & was the daughter of a big furniture man, the Maple of some years ago he did tell me the name but I have forgotten it


We are now in & disembarking. Horses go off to night[sic] while we all leave by train to morrow[sic] for Mooi River to a place called Weston 50 miles only from Ladysmith & from here Buller will advance & a battle will take place between Weston & Ladysmith for the relief of the latter place. I shall therefore be right up at the front this time. One cannot predict the result of the fight or whether I shall come out of it safely, but [13 lines redacted]
[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] General Sir Redvers Henry Buller (1839-1908), Commander-in-Chief of British forces in South Africa during the early months of the Second Boer War and subsequently commanded the army in Natal until his return to England in November 1900

[2] S.S. Ismore a British ship

10 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 10 Feb 1900

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The copyright of this material belongs to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It is available for reuse under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-commercial license.

[FS/2/2/4/2/10] (1)


S.S. Braemar Castle off East London S. Africa

10th February 1900

[Salutation Redacted]

[[1]] Had it not been that I spent 32/- on sending you a cable, the heading on this letter might have puzzled you much has happened since I wrote you last Sunday & now for my story[.]

On Sunday night it became pretty generally known that we were to attack the Boers early next morning 5th Febry at Potgieters Drift, I slept in my things [illeg.] being at 3am & we were in position for the battle by 6.0 the first gun being fired at 6.30.

The fight lasted all that day & found us at night very nearly where we began cer-tainly[sic] no nearer Ladysmith. It was dark but the fighting continued right into the night even as late as 10pm.

One hill of the boer[sic] position was on fire & added to the weirdness[?] of the scene.

I got separated from the regt[sic] & the road being blocked by transport I determined to sleep in a neighbouring field for the night. I did so after making an excellent repast off[sic] biscuit & tinned beef & some tea I thank your excellent Mazawattee[2]. A dinner fit for a King & the tail end of which I was able to share with Jarvis as I recognised his voice in the dark calling out to his carts which were blocking the way. He said next day that I had saved his life. I soon turned in on my native heath & slept like a dog, when I awoke it was daylight & found by my head the car of the big balloon which had come up during the darkness, while we were saddling up I localized[?] the Cavalry about 1/4 mile away & while getting ready to rejoin them the Boers opened fire with shell so vigorously that Cavalry & transport were glad to seek a safer haven. Jarvis had a big ‘find’ of shell which fell near him. All this second day was an artillery duel the sound was deafening, the wounded kept coming in but no sign of our advancing[,] night fell & the fight continued throughout the night at intervals. I slept under a bush & the next morning made a sumptuous repast off[sic] biscuit & tea

On this the third day of the fighting — I was relieved of the 13 Hussars by Houston

[[2]] about 2pm & at once got orders to proceed at once to Maritzburg. I left immediately after introducing my successor & I must say that the chorus of regret at my leaving was most satisfactory.

I was a strange scene, at any moment the Regt might have been ordered into action over head the shells flying like hail from the respective artillery, the sound & roar of which we forgot or became so used to that one failed to notice it, here was an individual bidding fond bye to the Regt actively under fire. Well I rode into Spearmans followed by Morton on the mule & got there just in the nick of time[.]

The Camp Commadt had been ordered to Zululand & was starting with a wagon & 12 mules mules in 10 minutes to join the rail at Frere 30 miles away, the very place I wished to get to. We soon settled details he was only too pleased to take my kit & Morton had a waggon[sic] ride the whole way. I rode my horse. Our first stop for the night was at Springfield 10 miles off. Here we found a detach[sic] of the R.I. Fusiliers & they gave us dinner & a tent, leaving next morning at 5.30 I wrote to Frere 17 miles off & got there at 10am found the train was due in ten minutes, being a mail train they could not take horses, these must follow in an hour or so. In short I got off by this train after making desperate efforts to catch it & was soon on my way to P.M’burg[Pietermaritzburg]. At Estcourt I had the first meal of the day it now being 1 O’clock & such a meal. There is an excellent railway restaurant & 2 helpings to everything going soon filled me up. I got to P.Mb. at 5 O’Clock & Rutherford met me he is in charge here & acting DVO [3 lines redacted] he made himself most agreeable, did everything in his power for me was most anxious I should dine with him at the Club & so on, but I knew what a beast I looked coming straight from the battle field & had not been out of my clothes for four whole days.

I got an excellent dinner at the station & in the evening left for Durban en route to Cape Town. I got to Durban early in the morning looking a veritable beast after all my travelling & previous experience. A poor woman

[[3]] in deep mourning came up to me at the station apologised for speaking but could I tell her whether Ladysmith had yet been relieved. I told her I could tell her definitely it had not been. She sighed, clasped her hands, thanked me & went off. Poor creature! her[sic] son or perhaps her husband shut up. I soon found myself at the point of embarkation & arranged with the steward about a bath, it was now Friday morning & ever since Sunday I had neither had a bath or things off. [1 line redacted] & when I changed after tubbing[sic] hid my clothes until I could give them to Morton to wash.

But what an entire transformation seemed in a few hours. I had come from hell to paradise from misery & human suffering to happiness & health from poverty to riches, from war to peace, I saw white women who all looked lovely, white children that I seemed only to have heard of long long ago, tables, beds, curtains, white bed linen! I could scarce believe my eyes at the sudden transformation to fairy land. No wonder that I woke up last night & unable to realise the situation, thought I had been placed in a hut & wounded, I felt the wall of the cabin & finding it wood settled that I had been carried there off the field & placed on a bed through I could not remember either being wounded or carried there.

I have had such feeds on board, excellent diet. Bread after not seeing it for weeks[,] butter[,] everything. I stuff stuff stuff & need it, for I have lost flesh though in the best of health & you could count every rib. I was surprised when I saw myself in a glass, my face is still peeling but I am in clean clothes, clean everything & having an excellent time of it. There is a baby & a little boy much younger than either of our beauties on board & it is a pleasure & delight to see them & play with them. I keep fancying this may be a dream & dread it ending — We have 40 wounded on board for Cape Town & home. The only other officer is a Captn RHA Headlam[?] who gets off at Port Elizabeth to morrow[sic] for Modder River. I go to Cape Town for orders & then to De Aar.

[[4]] 11th Feb Sunday — We have just left Port Elizabeth & Headlam[?] has gone. We get to Cape Town on Tuesday so this letter will be in time for the English mail which leaves the next day. I hope before I close this letter to give you an account of my interview with Rayment & what he requires me for — I told you that Buller would not get through to the Relief of Ladysmith & news has come on board this morning that he has retired, if so perhaps I am lucky getting away, as the interest in the fighting will now be transferred to the Cape Colony side & further any honourss for the campaign are now more likely to fall to the Cape Colony side than to the defeated troops under Buller. I am sure the latter never sufficiently realized the difficulties of the position — he could only have taken it with 100 000 men & the loss of 10,000 lives.

There was a very fat woman of 50 on board for Durban, she left us this morning [3 lines redacted] we had a most interesting conversation, she is Dutch but married an Englishman, she hated the Dutch & her daughters (who came to see her off & of whose beauty she never tired of dwelling on) were well educated & all married Englishmen. She could not speak English until 12 years of age but had she not told me the fact I could not have detected she was a foreigner. She has had 19 children & was very proud of it she hoped I should have the same number but I told her that I was ignorant of South Africa & its peculiarities but that certainly in England & other countries with which I was acquainted it was the women & not the men who bore the children. She laughed so heartily that I feared impending apoplexy.

Her width of [illeg.] surpasses all description she was wonderfully made & her arms were much bigger than my legs. The two children I mentioned yesterday have not their mother with them the parents & children had to leave Dundee at an hour’s notice & get in the train to escape the Boers, They left in what they stood up in. The father is consumptive & has gone to Las Palmas to die accompanied by his young wife. The two children are on board under the care of a companion lady’s help & a nurse. The latter has a husband (an art master) shut up in Ladysmith now a naval volunteer, she is about 40 years of age

[No Valediction]

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[1] Annotated by Smith with ‘Keep’

[2] The Mazawattee Tea Company, founded in 1887 was one of the most important and most advertised tea firms in England during the late 19th century.

15 – Letter to Mary Ann Smith from Frederick Smith, 5 Jun 1900

Content warning:

Please note, this archive item contains racist language and/or imagery, as written by the document’s author. This has also been preserved in the transcript of the item. Some content is highly offensive, but it is preserved here for the purposes of historical study and reflection.

Terms of Use
The copyright of this material belongs to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It is available for reuse under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-commercial license.

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5 June 1900

[Salutation Redacted]

[[1]] We have this minute entered the city of Pretoria after one days fighting & are now assembling in the railway station prior to the triumphant march through the town, we have had a very good time of it campaigning with the Hd Qt Staff of a big army in a luxury compound with what I have gone through. Our march from Johannesburg, where I wrote to you last was uneventful the usual farms flying white flags & containing Dutch women & children, the dust, the want of water & the heat of the mid day sun & frost at night have been our common experience for some days[.] Yesterdays fight was remarkable principally for the amount of ammunition expended by the Artillery we shelled their trenches & one of the ports & during the night the messages of surrender arrived & we are now to make our triumphant entry. I can imagine the thrill this will cause in England & in the Croft[1] in particular it is a proud affair to be in & one of the greatest historic importance, In years to come one will be able to look back on the march into Johannesburg & Pretoria with a deep of pride & pleasure. Yesterday will give me another bar to my ribbon [2 words redacted], I hear the medal is duly approved & being mde made fast, the ribbon being red with blue &  khaki, probably you know more about this than we do. Yesterday we shelled the railway station to stop trains going out, to day[sic] one sees the curious sight of trains standing in the station, steam up & each engine guarded by Guardsmen I hope you may see a picture of this[.] As we rode into the station the word ‘Pretoria’ on the platform caused a great thrill of delight to pass through one. Yet unfortunately the campaign is not ended Kruger[2] & his army has gone & he will have to be taken before this show closes. It will add three more months to the campaign. How I wish I could be in London & with you to day[sic] to see the excitement on the capture of Pretoria yet I would not have missed this business for anything. I am writing this on the railway platform while the Chief & staff are discussing the situation having no paper I empty the book of one of the Railway officials & very nice paper it is to write on. [1 line redacted]. We are busy collecting arms & ammunition, piles of rifles are now lying on the platform, & beside me are collecting supplies 1000 bags of grain have been found here, the train which was just off North was rather sold[?] we stopped it going out of the station.

[[2]] 7 June. I left off just before we marched through the city of Pretoria, well it was a fine show at 3pm we assembled at the Railway Station, but before this we had looted the Refreshment room & obtained Coffee & cigars for nothing, Westminster assisted by the Peers of the Realm & a General officer looted a Gramophone which was in the refreshment bar, altogether we enjoyed ourselves while the arms & ammunitions of the Burghers[3] was being piled up in the station, you never saw such a collection of stuff, guns & rifles of all description from the big smooth bore guns to the modern mauser, there were also swords, a helmet & such a collection of revolvers & bandoliers. I got a mauser carbine for you & one or two other things to be mentioned presently. A curious circumstance occurred an old & very ugly woman accompanied by a Kaffir brought some luncheon for Lord Roberts done up like the dinner one sees going to the station for engine drivers it was very clean looking & had a little napkin, she insisted on seeing the Chief of the Staff & Kitchener had to say a few words to her, as a matter of fact the Chief had lunched, but I hope someone made a snap shot of the interview. At 3 pm we left all in the order we marched into Johannesburg, you will see me on the left hand side outside immediately behind the foreign attachés. As we neared the Parliament house a roar went up from the British position mainly comprised of our own prisoners (officers) who had the previous night overpowered their guards & escaped the square was lined by the Grenadiers & the Chief was met with a Royal Salute in a few minutes the flag was ready the little silk one worked by Lady Roberts & it was hoisted to the top of the staff by Westminster I think or Chamberlain, three cheers were given for the Queen & you may imagine what cheers they were. The march past now commenced no one can picture these war worn veterans but those who saw them, the men unwashed, beared[sic], black in the face from dirt & sun, clothes torn, helmets battered, & torn, Khaki black with grease & sweat men carrying firewood strapped on their backs or even in their hands, but marching magnificently & fit to go anywhere the irregular cavalry or rather mounted infantry were really too funny, one man was in a blue jersey another in blue overalls, a third a shoulder of mutton hanging to his saddle, a fourth wore a blue jersey cap & so on these men were colonials rough but good, they have done capital work, the Canadian infantry marched past to the ‘Boys of the Old Brigade’ & looked superb, they marched as well as the Guards & are if anything bigger. The Naval Brigade & C.I.V.[4] met with a great ovation, the latter are as good as regulars. The big guns of the former, which only a few hours before hand been shelling the forts created a great impressions they went by to ‘a life on the ocean wave’[5] they were from the “Monarch” & “Doris”

The cheering as each band was recognised was pleasant. The goat of the Welsh Regt met with a great reception & the stolid British infantry of the line Black & tattered cannot be equalled by any other army in the World. I was a great sight & something to live for.

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[[1]] After the review which lasted 11/2  hours we filed off the Chief leading to our respective billets, we put up at the British Residency. The two doctors Sawyer & myself were billeted on a man & his wife who have a nice but very small house. To fully appreciate the position just imagine the following occurring in the Croft, in comes 4 officers, eight servants two carts, 8 horses. The horses carts & servants are billeted in our garden, you[,] your husband & children have to put in in one room, & find beds & bedding for your unwelcome guests who walk in & monopolise everything in the place, crockery, glass, china, lamps, etc etc. I dont[sic] say we walk off with these things but we use them to the exclusion of the household we burn their oil at 20/- a tin & they have to ask whether they may enter their own room!

Surely the war has been brought home to them, on the Sunday our shells which missed the fort fell just behind the home we are living in, the lady with her 2 month old baby fled to the town, the man a Hollander who had been fighting against us at Colesberg was less alarmed, though 50lbs lyddite shells are not things to play with. They (these people) certainly take our presence in very good part, perhaps for the reason that no other course is open to them, if they objected they would have to leave & we shall remain in possession.

The woman (a Hollander) is young spoke very good English & was terrified when we appeared. She expected to to[sic] raped, in fact that was the impression throughout the whole country by all the women [1 line redacted]  I can only say that they wear a bright & cheery appearance now they now they are safe. They also heard that we did not wear trousers!

The first idea was that 4 of us would sleep in one room, but we soon disabused them of the idea Sawyer & I have a room together, the others have a room each that leaves one room for the lady, her husband, baby & brother, all these four sleep in one room!!

The following day I organised a hospital & by 2 O’Clock every detail was in the hands of the Chief of the Staff, the medicines I commandeered in the town a smart piece of work & I hope it may be appreciated. The Cavalry have about 800 sick & other branches in smaller proportion. I then went to the House of Parliament sat in Kruger’s chair, & made myself a present of some papers from his desk & his pen. The latter will prove an interesting relic. I could have got many things but could not cart them off I should have liked the Eagle over the President’s chair but I would have been detected.

I succeeded to day[sic] in getting a Transvaal Flag from the office of the Chief Magistrate of the City so that is something to be proud of in the future it is a great find. I hope yet to get a Free State Flag when I pass through the Orange State again, or as it is now called the Orange Colony. Our future movements are uncertain, we may remain here & send out flying colours or the army may move on. Everyone is disgusted with Buller’s inactivity, he is simply sulking & had he been energetic this business would now have ended

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[[1]] As it is the affair is not over until the President is driven out of the country or captured. Mrs Kruger is here but no one sees her. We have recovered many of our prisoners & all the officers. They tried to take them away by train & succeeded in getting a good many off including the guns, but we have recovered 3500 men & 145 officers. The officers look pale & wan, they were carefully guarded night & day they cannot appreciate they are now free men. Some had been there for seven months, they had to pay for their own food, the men were practically starved one pound of meat a week only meal from maize formed their chief diet. The officers & men are being seen by the Chief to day[sic].


At first the officers got news a telegraph clerk who lived near them used to signal information & they got it before Kruger, later this was discovered & the fellow was nearly shot, he was an Englishman & was helped by two girls to convey news to the prisoners. Finally he was sent to the front though not a Burgher.

The fellows described what an awful life they led in this solitary confinement. The men would have starved but for money subscribed in the town & by the officers which amounted to £800 a month. One fellow told me that the effect of his imprisonment will be to make him very careful how he sentences a soldier to imprisonment in the future.

Shaw of ours I have not yet seen, but I have a job for him when he is liberated by the Chief, for none of them fellows can return to duty until they are weighed off. [3 words redacted] he is very quiet [4 lines redacted]

To night [sic] I hear the Boers have got behind us & cut the line of rail in the Free State, this will give the Militia a chance who are guarding the line. Kitchener has gone down to conduct operations. I am writing this letter in the hope that it may get through some time, but I fear it will miss the mail. I should have wired you from Pretoria, but no private wires are allowed through. It was a disappointment to me & I know it would have pleased you to know I was in Pretoria for the triumphant entry.

During the Battle of Pretoria I was quite close to Roberts & Kitchener, it lasted all day until night. It was very interesting to hear the remarks made by the two & the messages sent. Before During the battle Bobs laid down with his coat under his head & went to sleep. Some of the shells came very close to the Hd Qtr staff so that at one time it was thought we would have to change our position. Battersby[6] the Correspont[sic] I spoke of in my last had his horse shot dead by a Martini, he was standing by its side at the time & the bullet grazed his field glass case, a narrow shave for him. He was greatly depressed at the loss of his horse.

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[[1]] There was a rifle taken from a prisoner the other day I should have liked, he was wood carver & had cut his monogram on the stock & the name of his engagements. Estcourt, Colenso, Spion Kop & Pieters. I could not carry it with me, but it would have been worth keeping as a relic. I saw the man & had a long chat with him about Colenso.

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[[1]] I have written all this on one side of this thin paper as my I am grieved to think of the trouble you will have with the Johannesburg letter written on both sides closely, but I have no other paper convenient. This time I have commandeered some from my host. Some fighting took place near here to day[sic] I have not heard the results. Last night they blew up a culvert a few miles out & the day before yesterday they shelled our prisoners at Waterfall[7] when we were bringing them in. So you see they are all around us, but we are perfectly safe. Everyone will be glad when the business is over & the burghers more than anyone else. It is the Hollanders who are keeping up the show & these will all be deported. Over 2,000 rifles have been handed in during the last day or two. I went around the Transvaal Artillery Barracks to day[sic] they have left quantities of harness & several gun carriages but no guns.  One of ours was there but they had destroyed it. The hospital was a sight, our men had looted it, goodness knows what for. Rolls of sticky plaster & splints, medicine spill boxes all over the place, broken stretchers, tents, letters of which I have saved, piles of ammunition & shell. I have not seen our hostess to day[sic] she has fever. This place is reported to be very malarial & I should fancy with truth, there is so much vegetation there being an abundance of water. I have not mentioned the Agricultural Apptmt in my last letter, the subject is still a sore one, but I am curious to know who gets it[8]. Still [illeg.] and I am honest. I would not have missed this show for it. I am thankful I came round from Natal. Buller is sulking & will do nothing or this war would have terminated by this time. He ought to be removed. The men by his side will get very little, all the honours will fall to this army. There is some little comfort in this.

12 June we moved our house yesterday it being too small & took one with 4 bed rooms drawing & dining rooms belonging to a Hollander who is being kicked out of the country. He leaves all his furniture (beautiful) glass, crockery bed & table linens for our use, lamps, cooking utensils etc. We walk in as if the place belongs to us. The man must have been well off for his furniture is really very good & substantial. Our last hostess got very sick she was a very clean woman in her house (the very opposite of the African Dutch) & our men & horse made a beastly mess. Her lawn got worn away, her rooms go could not be cleaned[,] tobacco ash on the floor gave her a fit & the poor woman huddled up in one room was very miserable. She told me that the day we left she would sing & play all day & I believe her. I was really very sorry, but we did not make this war & are infinitely more considerate than the people who fought against us on the other hand I must say considerable looting has been done by our troops, houses have been demolished & reckless damage inflicted. Even

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[[1]] the house of Eloff (Kruger’s son in law)[9] has been broken into & things stolen I am sorry for it & ashamed. Some of the places I saw to day[sic] would have disgraced a savage. I saw a home yesterday morning I saw the same place in the evening there was nothing left of it but the tin walls even the flooring has been removed for fire wood. I had less compassion for this man he is still on commando & in his room was a life size drawing of a British Soldier about 6ft high drawn on cartridge paper & painted red & this he had used as a target, it was full of bullet holes.

I got one or two small pieces of loot the other day two crests worn by the Saps (or Pretoria police) in their helmets & an officers throat plume for his horse.

In the Grand Hotel a curious sight may be seen a sentry with rifle & bayonet doing guard over a lady who is confined there as a political prisoner, she is supposed to be a spy. I hear this morning that she succeeded in making her guard drunk yesterday. I’m sorry for the guard!

[9 lines redacted]

Yesterday there was a fight a few miles out & several Cavalry officers were killed among others Earlie. I am sorry for her, she is at Bloemfontein where she went to nurse him after his slight wound at Zand river. Much better if she was out of the country for she will feel the shock all the more having seen him recently. Lord Chesham has also lost a son, in fact the aristocracy suffered heavily yesterday. It was intended as a movement for mopping up Botha[10]’s commando, but it did not come off.

We are still cut off from the world both by wire & rail, but in the hope that this may be restored within the next day or so I intend posting this

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[[1]] somewhat voluminous communication, you may be sure that once the postal service is established you will hear from me with my accustomed regularity. I expect Bridge will get me down country as soon as he can, but that does not matter now I have seen the show of shows & all we want now is to get the business over.

My hospital is working well, we have 1200 sick but I have arranged for everything & the veterinary part is most satisfactory. The part assigned to the combatant element is badly done & the C of Staff knows it & further that it has nothing to do with the A.V.D. we in fact shine by contrast.

Pretoria is a pretty place & when matters settle down must be quite a nice place to live in. It has an abundance of water & that is one of the essentials in a South African town. I may send you some photos of the place, several were taken of the ceremony on 5 June. [Continuation of letter missing]



[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] Smith’s home – The Croft, Little Heath, Charlton, in South East London

[2] Paul Kruger (1825-1904), President of the South African Republic 1883-1900

[3] Citizens of the South African Republic or Orange Free State

[4] City of London Imperial Volunteers

[5] “A Life on the Ocean Wave” is a poem-turned-song by Epes Sargent published in 1838 and set to music by Henry Russell.

[6] Harry Francis Prevost Battersby (1862-1949), Boer War correspondent for the Morning Post. Published poet and journalist as H F P Battersby and Francis Prevost.

[7] Waterval

[8] In April 1900, Smith was offered a position in the Board of Agriculture, but could not be excused from service in South Africa to take it.

[9] Frederik Christoffel Eloff (1850-1924)

[10] General Louis Botha (1862-1919) commander-in-chief of the Transvaal Boers, and leader of a guerrilla campaign against British forces