1899 - 1902

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War

Anglo Boer War
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CHRISTMAS IN LADYSMITH


 Prices at  Ladysmith had now gone up, but still those whose purses were plethoric could treat themselves to a few luxuries. Jam, for instance, was 3s. 6d. per lb., a possible price but a tantalising; while eggs were sold at about half a  guinea a dozen. Whisky fetched from £5 to £7 a bottle, so there was little fear of dipsomania; and small. packets of cigarettes were worth 3S. 6d. a piece. On the 23rd of December there was a grand auction. The Mayor at one time  had instituted periodical auctions for the sale of the town produce, but finding competition too brisk, and fearing prices would never return to their normal level, the plan had been dropped. However, in face of Christmas there was  a great sale, and the soldiers eagerly competed for bargains in the way of chickens and ducks and etceteras of the meal. In default of Covent Garden or Leadenhall, a long table at an angle of the main street was set out with  inviting fare tantalizing to all but the most stoical. One Gordon was seen dragging off another in act of making an extravagant bid-" Come awa, mon! we dinna want nae sour grapes." Poultry was fetching from 8s. to 10s. a  bird; while vegetables, in proportion, were more costly still. Vegetable marrows were sold for 2s. 9d. each; and. carrots, homely and almost despised carrots, fetched over 3s. a bunch! As a great luxury a turkey, a goose, a  sucking-pig now and then appeared on the Ladysmith board; but the ordinary domestic meal was composed of trek beef and "goat" mutton. But even these were becoming beautifully less.

Christmas passed off well. Hope  revived. News of Lord Methuen's earlier victories refreshed the ears of the community, and a series of sports of various kinds helped to impart to the day a suitable air of festivity. Quantities of popular people set to work to  make the day merry. Colonel Dartnell, Major Karri Davies, Colonel Rhodes-the delight of all from the Tommies to the babes-arranged a Christmas Tree. It was decorated with gifts and mottoes, "Imperial to the core," and  attended by children of all sizes and degrees, even to a siege baby aged three days! But behind the scene enteric fever and dysentery flourished, and languishing in Intombi camp, two miles out, were pathetic remnants of the hale  arid hearty regiments who had marched to the front in October. The other gallant warriors were now nothing more than a mob of badly-dressed scarecrows, lean and wizened, but, as one of them said, "good enough food for  powder." The horses, too, had grown thin and spiritless, their anatomy was grievously obvious, and in their eyes-these erstwhile fiery eyes-there seemed to dwell the melancholy foreboding of a strange hereafter-the hereafter  when sausages should be served out to the hungry, and the poor equine devotees would have spent the last of themselves to keep the British flag flying.

The message of the Queen warmed the hearts of the weary garrison. It was  pleasant to know that the Sovereign, in thought, lived in the shadows as in the sunlight of Empire. Still, none but those experiencing it could plumb the depths of monotony and wretchedness. It was enough to kill the martial spirit  of the most valorous, though none would own that bellicosity was exuding little by little from their wasted finger-ends. Far from it.

Sir George White maintained a series of night attacks or threats of night attacks, which served  to keep the Boers uncomfortably on the qui vive, and these, as a necessary return, indulged in' exasperating bombardment during the day. On the 26th as many as 176 shells were flung into the town before nine in the morning,  independently of the action carried on by the Maxim automatic guns. It was plain the Boers considered that the inactivity of Christmas Day must be atoned for, and therefore the guns were plied with additional ardour. On the 27th,  unfortunately, their murderous efforts were more than rewarded. A shell was fired from the Creusot gun on Bulwana, which dropped into the Devons' mess at Junction Hill. There, were congregated many of the officers, and of these  Lieutenant Dalziel and Lieutenant Price-Dent were killed. Many others were wounded.. Lieutenant Twist was injured in five places, and Lieutenants Scafe, Kane, Field, Byrne (Inniskilling Fusiliers), Tringham (Royal West Surrey), and  Captain Lafone-who had been previously wounded at Elandslaagte-were all more or less mutilated.

On the 28th the Naval Battery took on itself to avenge the loss of the noble fellows who had fallen victims to the Bulwana gun, and  directed at it, or rather at its gunners, six well-intentioned shots from the 4.7 inch and I 2-pounder, with the result that the voice of the aggressor was temporarily silenced. There was some satisfaction in the feeling that the  gunners who had created such awful havoc and regret had met their deserts. Both Lieutenant Daiziel and Lieutenant Price-Dent were particularly promising young officers, having both seen service with Sir William Lockhart on the  Indian frontier, the latter having also served in the Chitral Relief Force. A sentiment of gloom mingled with fury disturbed the fortitude of the gallant party, and the only satisfaction they enjoyed was calculation and speculation  as to what form Sir Redvers Buller's next move would take. "When will Buller come, and how? such were the questions which were repeated scores of times during the day.

The cessation of the fire from Bulwana was certainly  cheering, and from various sources it was discovered that the Boers were becoming nervous in fear of night attacks and the destruction of more of their big guns. Their state of mind was not evidenced entirely by their conduct, for  two plugged shells fired into the camp were found to contain a hunk of plum-pudding and the compliments of the season.

Sickness, as we know, was rife, but fortunately there were many doctors of repute in the town, members of the  Army Medical Department, and also independent practitioners. There was Dr. Jameson, whose ability was for years testified at Kimberley, and also Dr. Davies of Johannesburg; these assisted materially in giving advice, but  unfortunately medicines were now growing scarce, and milk, though some invalids could digest nothing else, was not to be had. It is too pathetic to deal with the losses that must have occurred through the lack of suitable  nourishment for those whose cases, not in themselves serious, only required care and sustenance.

The bombardment on the first day-of the New Year had tragic results. A shell crashed into the house of Major Vallentine and killed a  soldier servant named Clydesdale. Later, another shell burst near the railway station, where a cricket match between the railway officials and bridge guards was taking place, and killed Captain Vallentine Todd. The unlucky player  was in the act of bowling, and dropped with the ball still in his hand.