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THE RELIEF OF LADYSMITH


At six o'clock  on the evening of the 28th of February all the suffering, suspense, and tension came to an end. The obstinate resistance, the heroic combats, the semi - starvation, the appalling melancholy of enforced exile, all were over.

In  the late afternoon those viewing the departure of the Boers from a vantage-point at Cesar's Camp espied along the hazy blue of the valley horsemen recklessly approaching, riding at frill gallop across the open. Conjectures wild  were attempted. Hearts began to flutter, to stand still, to beat again with sharp quick thuds. Boers? Or Buller's cavalry? Yes-no-yes! Hurrah! Hurrah! They were coming-the squadron was distinctly visible-they were making direct for  Ladysmith. A roar went up from a multitude of throats. The Manchesters on Cesar's Camp, the Gordons at Fly Kraal and presently the troops in the town, broke into shouts of exultation. Soon it was known everywhere they were  coming-coming-coming-at last-at last! It was quite true. There was Lord Dundonald with Major Mackenzie (Light Horse) and Major Gough (16th Lancers), accompanied by the little column of Colonials,

Grand gallant fellows of the  Light Horse, Natal Carabineers, and Border Mounted Police, some three hundred of them, pounding across the open country as fast as horses would carry them.

In the twilight the troops sped along over boulder and rock, down donga  and ravine, reckless of every obstacle, and at last the melancholy perimeter was reached. Then from out the gloom came a challenge. A British voice called "Halt! Who goes there?" A British voice gave answer-the almost  unbelievable answer-" The Ladysmith Relieving Army." Four words, just four words! Paradise seemed to be opened. From all quarters came crowding and cheering-cheering faintly with wizened voices of the famished-men  battered and almost bootless-happy, yet for all that deplorably sad in their happiness. Tears even glistened on some cheeks and in some eyes the "unconquerable British blue eyes" of the Ladysmith "invincibles."  With a due sense of decorum, and in the determination to give none the precedence, the procession had arranged itself in special order. The Natal Carabineers and Imperial Light Horse riding two and two abreast, with Major Gough at  the head of the column, now marched in triumph into the town.

At the English church they were met by General White, the defender of Ladysmith, fevered and thin and grey-haired, yet erect with the carriage of one who, without the  strength, has the inextinguishable pride of his race, and the will to bear his country's burden to the last. With him were General Hunter and Colonel Ian Hamilton, heroes of the defence. Each instant the scene gained in colour, in  vehemence, in pathos. Cheers and tears were commingled. Women wept unreservedly. Men, to dispose of a lump in their throats, shouted with all the scanty vigour that a limited diet of horse-sausage and mule would allow. But new life  coursed through their veins. There was no glow of health on their cheeks, but the gleam of joy in their eyes rendered them young, almost hale. The Kaffins and coolies gave expression to their rapture by dances and shouts that  relieved the almost solemn ecstasy of the moment. Then General White, surrounded on one side by his pallid, worn, and wounded her6es, on the other by the bronzed warriors of the relieving force, made a brief address to the crowd:  "People of Ladysmith," he said, in a voice that wavered with the emotion it was needless to conceal-" Peopk of Ladysmith, I thank you one and all for the patient manner you have assisted me during the siege. From the  bottom of my heart I thank you. It hurt me terribly when I was compelled to cut down rations, but, thank God, we have kept our flag flying!'1 Cheers broke out afresh, and then the battered multitude with one voice rent the grey  gloom of the evening, and the strains of "God save the Queen" rang forth, till the banks, hollows, and rocks of the surrounding country gave back the glorious refrain. That night Sir George White, with his valorous  colleagues around him, gave a dinner to the newly arrived, and these sat down with a feeling of exaltation, almost of awe, to find themselves thus in the familiar company of heroes. And all were conscious of a strange sense of  unreality which pervaded the scene. It was almost impossible to realise that the drama was played, that they were about to ring down the curtain on the last act. It was scarce possible to believe that for three months the Natal  Field Force had kept at bay a force double its number, had fortified and held a perimeter of fourteen miles against the most fiendish inventions of modern artillery, had made brilliant sorties and repulsed assaults innumerable-two  of them being ferocious, almost hand-to-hand combats-had fought and watched and sickened and starved. . . . And now, all was changed. Those dire experiences were over for ever!

Yet the effect or them remained. As a consequence  of the close confinement of some 20,000 persons, disease was stalking abroad, even attacking those who but an hour ago had neared the place. Away at Intombi camp, too, where drugs were scarce, many of the patients-convalescent  patients-were sinking for want of the sustaining food which was necessary to recovery. There was regret, poignant and newly awakened, in this moment of relie4 regret standing dry-eyed, yet with a grievous ache at the heart-regret  that before had learnt to bear and be still. it was impossible to see the glad side without also remembering the deeply pathetic one. The pestiferous atmosphere breathed of fever and disease, and those coming into it realised only  too well what havoc such an atmosphere must have had on the sickly and the starved. Besides this there were gaps-woeful gaps. Namesthat dared not be mentioned, spots that could scarce be looked upon with dry eyes. The bronzed  warriors, who day after day had shown tough fronts to the enemy, and whose ceaseless struggles should have hardened them to emotion, now turned aside to conceal the agony of bleeding hearts.

Outside the town, in a sheltered  hollow below Waggon Hill, was a pathetic garden of sleep. Here, under the shadow of cypress trees, lay the honoured remains of brave fellows who had given themselves to save the town, and with the town the prestige of their  motherland. The earth barely covered them, but for all that their peace was perfect. They had struggled to save Natal, and Natal through them and the survivors was saved. If there is a loophole whence those who have passed on to  the Invisible can peer down and observe the issues of mortal deeds, surely in that great hour, those splendid, those self-abnegating ones, who had given their heart's blood for the glory of The Empire, must then have gazed their  fill, and in the general rejoicing have reaped their beatific reward.

The effect in England of the news of the relief was truly surprising. The spectacle was unique in the annals of Victoria's reign. On Thursday the 1st of March  the whole City of London by one consent burst into jubilation. Every human being, however hard-worked, wore a smile; every heart, however sore, throbbed with a sense of reflected triumph; for all, if they had not been at the front  in the flesh, had been there in the spirit these many, many days. Never was such a spontaneous outburst of rejoicing! A nation of shopkeepers indeed! Why, shopkeeping and work of all kinds were forgotten, and in front of the  Mansion House crowded the delighted multitudes, oblivious of everything save the glorious fact that British bull-dog tenacity had withstood the most fiendish warfare, and wiles, and wickedness that vengeful Dutchmen could invent.

From north, south, east, and west the people flocked, springing as it were from the very earth. The news came in at Jo A.M. By eleven the City was alive with drama. Hats were being waved or flung into the air, regardless of the  effect upon the nap; flags from here, there. and everywhere fluttered-in default of these, other brandishable things were seized. Sometimes handkerchiefs did duty, newspapers, and even parcels and commercial bags; and from tongues  innumerable came cheers and shouts and snatches of patriotic song, till an ignorant spectator; if one such there could have been, might have imagined Bedlam to have broken loose. "Rule Britannia," "God save the  Queeii," "Tommy Atkins," "The Absent - Minded Beggar "- all tunes poured forth to. an accompaniment of cheers. The Lord Mayor was called out, and appeared on his balcony. He was forthwith invited to speak.  The great man opened and shut his mouth-he was much moved with the general emotion-but no sound penetrated the uproar Cheers loud and vehement tore the air, and the walls of the civic domain literally shook with the inspiriting  fracas. Then for a moment or two there was a lull, and taking advantage of the Opportunity, in a short Sincere speech the Lord Mayor expressed himself.

"Fellow-citizens, this news of the relief of Ladysmith makes our hearts  leap with joy. We are now satisfied that at last our sacrifices of blood arid treasure are not in vain!"

Upon that the crowd roared itself hoarse, sung "For he's a jolly good fellow," and never with better cause,  for Sir A. 5. Newton had put the best of himself into the launching of the glorious C.I.v.'5 By-and-by came, with banners and much ceremony, a deputation from the Stock Exchange, and after them waves on waves of shouting  enthusiasts - a spectacle so un-English, so genuine, so unrestrained, that the gloomy decorous regions of the City seemed suddenly to have become things apart, card-houses to fill in the background to a Soul-stirring scene.  Everywhere, in the alleys of "'Arriet," in the haunts of the "wild, wild West," at the Bank, in Leadenhall Market, and along the Thames, went up the jubilant echo-"Ladysmith is relieved!" Whereupon  windows and balconies were dressed, flags, red, white, and blue, and the green of Erin with its romantic harp in the corner, fluttered wings of ecstasy from every British nest, and from every British household there rose  unanimously a rapturous cry that was almost a sob, a cry of thanksgiving that the end had come, and that Ladysmith and the honour of the old country were saved!

THE FORMAL ENTRY

It seemed but artistic that Lord  Dundonald and his brave irregulars should have met the keen edge of joyous welcome, that the burst of enthusiasm which greeted them should have been the heartiest of which Ladysmith, after a siege of 118 days, was capable. it was  right, almost beautiful, that the staunch Colonials, who so well had fought for the Empire, should be the ones to throw open the doors of the dolorous prison, and deliver those who had been not only victims to the devilish  machinations of the Boer, but had suffered from the active ache of suspense and the passive one of starvation, from their hellish bondage. Their informal coming was part and parcel of the unrehearsed and the splendid that appeared  at every corner in this absolutely incomprehensible war.

The next day things were more decorously done-more English in their reserve. Etiquette and custom resumed their sway, and General Sir Archibald Hunter straightened out the  limp backbone of the army, and made soldierly preparations to welcome the relief column. There were cleansings and polishings, washings and brushings up, of a ramshackle kind, it is true, but they savoured of the old parade days  returned. Poor skeletons of horses were groomed down, Sunday best was smoothed out, everything was done that the slender resources of the melancholy perimeter would allow. Shortly after noon on the 3rd of March Sir Kedvers Buller  made his formal entry. His arrival was somewhat unexpected, and there was little effervescent demonstration. Sir George White and Sir Redvers Buller meeting with a handclasp, said at first little more than the familiar " D'ye  do?" of saunterers in Piccadilly. What else could be done? There was much to say, so much that must remain ever unsaid, and throats to-day were too tightly compressed in strangling the large and unspeakable emotion to give  vent to the infinitesimal resource of speech. Meanwhile the forlorn streets had begun to £11. They were margined by the garrison, and with them were collected such of the sorry civilians as were able to stand exposed to the  tropical glare of the sun in its zenith. They came out wondering, almost diffident. Was it possible that the morning message of melenite was no longer to be heard? that the hoarse cadence of hostile artillery was silent for good?  Was the open distance really innocuous-clear and peaceful as a Swiss landscape? They scarcely recognised themselves or their surroundings, and looked dazedly to right and left as on a changed world. Sir George White, with his staff  now took up a position in front of the Town Hall, where, backgrounded by the ruined tower-it had been battered, as it were, by the whole armoury of Satan-the broken blue tin houses and the parched trees, the group made an  appropriate picture of noble wreck-of aristocratical exhaustion. The relievers, though physically hale, were externally scarcely more presentable than the relieved. The outsiders, it is true, were begrimed and tattered, though  robust and swarthy; while the Invincibles, rigged up in honour of their deliverers in Sunday best, and washed and scrubbed to a nicety, seemed-soap-like-to have dissolved in the very process of ablution. No joy of the moment could  alter the tale of shrinkage that was printed on man and beast. But jubilation expressed itself in the best way it could. From windows and balconies soon hung strips of colour, national emblems, gathered from hither and thither to  mark a rapture that it was impos sible for human tongue to describe. From hotels and habitations the citizens began to pour forth and to congregate. And then, when all were collected, the curtain drew up on the most wondrous scene  that the nineteenth century has witnessed-the march past of the Ladysmith Relieving Column! Sir Redvens Buller, imperturbable of visage as usual, accompanied by his staf£ rode at the head of his magnificent warriors, and leading,  in the place of honour, were the valorous Dublin Fusiliers, the poor but glorious remnant, consisting now of 400 of the oricrinal battalion who had so grandly acquitted themselves in many battlefields. Next came Sir Charles Warren  and the Fifth Division, and afterwards General Barton and General Lyttelton's Brigades-goodly fellows all, who had proved themselves deliberately brave and doughtily undefeatable. Meanwhile the pipes and drums of the Gordon  Highlanders, with such vigour as was left them, made exhilarating music, to which was united the clanking and clamping of the Artillery Howitzer Battery and Naval Brigade as they flied past with uproarious martial rampage. Each  section was greeted with admiring cheers. The regiments moved along in review order, a superb throng, bronzed, and battered, and brawny, a curious contrast to the pallid and emaciated coinrades-in.arms-morally superb too, but  physically degenerate-who welcomed them. The spectacle was unique in soul-stirring grandeur as in unspoken pathos.

"A march of lions," said Mr. Churchill, who had played his part with Lord Dundonald's force, and was now  looked on as a critic. "A procession of giants," said some one else, who watched the lines and lines of heroes greeting each other with wild huzzas! Friends, kindred, comrades-in-arms-from either side the yawning gulf of  destruction, from even the voracious maw of death-they came together again, all jubilant, all generously appreciative, all self-respecting, and glowing with honest and honourable emotion. The Gordon Highlanders cheered the Dublins,  the Dublins, with little sprigs of green in their caps, responded right royally to the greeting of the Scotsmen. One battalion of the Devons met its twin battalion the men of doughty deeds, large-hearted and large-lunged, accosted  with zest the men of equally doughty deeds but dwindled frames, whose deep bass notes cracked with the strain of rollicking intention and futile realisation.

While all this was going forward, from the balcony of the gad a  wondering crowd of Doer prisoners looked on agape. They could barely believe the evidence of their eyes: the town was free. Had their compatriots at last turned tail and bolted? They stared down on the vast interminable avenue of  men and guns winding through what only the day before yesterday was a fiery concave-watched a continuous moving multitude, tattered and begrimed, saddle-brown and burly-and little by little began to fathom the meaning to themselves  of this mighty display. The despised rooineks had, after all, not even been thrust into the sea: in fact, it appeared that the sea had cultivated a trick of casting up rooineks by the thousand, to be killed in scores only to come  up in swarms!

By-and-by, when the military parade was over, the Mayor of the town, Mr. Farquhar, presented Sir George White with an address, in which the corporation and inhabitants expressed their appreciation of all that he had  done for them in those dark days of durance. Flattering reference was also made to the services of General Hunter and Colonel Ward (A.A.G.). To these officers the General, in reply, alluded gratefully, eulogising the work done by  the former, and describing the ]atter as the 'a best supply officer since Moses." ne then called attention to the stubborn patience of the civilians of Ladysmith, "who had borne themselves like good and true soldiers  throughout a very trying time." These remarks were followed by three hearty cheers for the civilians of Ladysmith. The Mayor expressed his pride in the manner the civilian population had comported itself, and the excellent  feeling that had existed between both civil and military authorities. He then presented an illuminated address to Sir Redvers Buller, of which the following is the text.

"We, the Mayor and member's of the Town Council of the  borough of Ladysmith, Natal, and as such representing the inhabitants of the said borough, beg most respectfully to welcome with great joy the arrival of yourself and your gallant soldiers at our township, and to express to you our  most sincere and heartfelt appreciation of your noble and courageous efforts in the relief of this long-beleaguered borough. As members of the great British Empire, as loyal subjects of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen, and as  colonists of Natal, we beg respectfully to tender you our most hearty thanks, realising as we do the magnitude and difficulty of the work you have accomplished. At the same time our sympathies are great for the heavy losses among  your gallant troops that have occurred in your successful efforts to relieve us."

The following telegrams were sent to Sir Redvers Buller and Sir George White by the Queen.

To Sir Redvers Buller

"Thank God for news you have telegraphed to me.

"Congratulate you and all under you with all my heart.

To Sir George White

"Thank God that you and all those with you are safe after your long and trying siege,  borne with such heroism.

"I congratulate you and all under you from the bottom of my heart.

"Trust you are all not very much exhausted.

Reply from Sir George White to the Queen

"Your Majesty's most gracious  message has been received by me with deepest gratitude and with enthusiasm by the troops.

"Any hardships and privations are a hundred times compensated for by the sympathy and appreciation of our Queen, and your Majesty's  message will do more to restore both officers and men than anything else.

'GENERAL SIR GEORGE WHITE, Ladysmith."

The following telegram was received by the Queen from Sir Redvers Buller

"Troops much appreciate your Majesty's kind telegram.

"Your Majesty cannot know how much your sympathy has helped to inspire them.

"GENERAL BULLER."

An additional telegram was sent by the Queen to Sir  Redvers Buller on the 2nd inst.:-"Pray express to the Naval Brigade my deep appreciation of the valuable services they have rendered with their guns.

"V.R.I."

Later on a special Army Order was issued as follows

GALLANTRY OF IRISH REGIMENTS IN SOUTH AFRICA-DISTINCTION

TO BE WORN ON ST. PATRICK'S DAY.

Her Majesty the Queen is pleased Co order that in future, upon St. Patrick's Day, all ranks in her Majesty's  Irish regiments shall wear, as a distinction, a sprig of shamrock in their headdress, to commemorate the gallantry of her Irish soldiers during the recent battles in South Africa.

Soon after this came the transformation scene.  Seventy-three waggon-loads of supplies, eleven of which contained hospital comforts, began to wind into the town. Major Morgan and Colonel Stanley, like fairy godmothers in the story-book, waved the wand of office, and promptly the  machinery began to revolve, and manna in the form of nourishing food-stuffs poured into the famished regions. The Doers, too, in the precipitate retreat had left welcome loads of grass, herds, and ammunition-the ammunition of the  besieged was well-nigh exhausted-besides individual necessaries which came in handy. But of course, the machinery of relief, well as it worked, could scarcely work fast enough to make an appreciable result, and save invalids who  were sinking from the protracted trial. It was amazing how the sick list swelled. Many who had come into the town jocund and jaunty. found themselves in a few hours clutched by the fell fever. It was enough but to breathe the  tainted atmosphere to fall sick, and those who were seized at once discovered all the horror of helplessness in an area where provision for the comfort of the suffering was well-nigh exhausted. Looking back on the past from the new  standpoint, the gaps became more than ever remarkable; for, despite incessant fighting, shot and shell were responsible for less lives than famine and fever.

Ladysmith at the commencement of the siege held some 13,496 fighting  men and over 2000 civilians. Owing to sickness and hard fighting, the number had diminished to 10,164 men. There were about 2000 in hospital, but the death-rate practically increased only when, after January, food, nourishment of  all kinds, and medical appliances grew scarce. At that time sickness of whatever kind assumed an ominous aspect; there was no chance of relief. It was impossible for languishing men to apply themselves to the soup made of old horse  and mule, which was gladly devoured by those who had still the appetite without the means of appeasing it. From the r5th of January death stalked abroad uncombated; later he held carnival. Many died from wounds, very slight wounds,  received on the 6th of January, from which they had not stamina to recover; the fevered and weakly dropped off from sheer starvation and famine; the gaunt talons needed scarcely to touch them, for they were exhausted, and some of  them were glad to go. The deaths as a result of fighting were 24 officers and 235 men, while those attributed to sickness numbered six officers and 520 men, exclusive of white civilians.

The following special Army Order was issued

"The relief of Ladysmith unites two forces which have striven with conspicuous gallantry and splendid determination to maintain the honour of their Queen and country. The garrison of Ladysmith for four months held the  position against every attack with complete success, and endured its privations with admirable fortitude. The relieving force had to make its way through unknown country, across unfordable rivers, and over almost inaccessible  heights, in the face of a fully-prepared, well armed, tenacious enemy. By the exhibition of the truest courage, which burns steadily besides flashing brilliantly, it accomplished its object and added a glorious page to our history.  Sailors, soldiers, Colonials, and the home-bred have done this, united by one desire and inspired by one patriotism.

"The General Commanding congratulates both forces on their martial qualities, and thanks them for their  determined efforts. He desires to offer his sincere sympathy to the relatives and friends of the good soldiers and gallant comrades who have fallen in the fight. BULLER."

Less formally and with more warmth the Chief addressed himself to his friends in England. He said

"We began fighting on the 14th February, and literally fought every day and nearly every night till the 27th. 1 am filled with  admiration for the British soldiers; really, the manner in which they have worked, fought, and endured during the last fortnight has been something more than human. Broiled in a burning sun by day, drenched in rain by night, lying  but 300 yards off an enemy who shoots you if you show as much as a finger; they could hardly eat or drink by day, and as they were usually attacked at night they got but little sleep; and through it a]l they were as cheery and  Willing as could be."

Telegraphic wires and cables wore themselves out in repeating congratulation on the relief of Ladysmith. Veritably all the winds of heaven seemed to repeat them. From north, south, east, and west came  the chorus of acclamation, a chorus most reviving to the magnificent multitude both inside and outside the place, who had been ready to offer up their heart's blood on the altar of patriotism. Though the haunted and worn look could  not die out of the faces of the sufferers in a moment, they had already begun to mend; though the shrunken and emaciated forms could not at once be relieved from the starvation and disease which had wasted them, there was over all  a soothing glow of hope that acted magically, beatifically, as the mists of sunrise over a squalid landscape.

On the 9th of March Sir George White, looking much worn, he having suffered from Indian lever brought on by the  malarious surroundings, left with his staff. The General addressed the Gordon Highlanders who formed the guard of honour, and in few and affecting words bade them farewell.