On Tour in South Africa with the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers : Part Four

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THE LAST WICKET

This is the last letter I have from G.E.M. to the boys back home in the Liberal Club, originally published in the ‘Hinckley Times’ of 5th January 1901.  By now a difference of opinion had emerged between the two sides as to whether the war was over.  The British, having defeated the Boers whenever they could catch up with them, captured their capitals at Pretoria and Bloemfontein, as well as Johannesberg, and forced their leaders to flee, thought they had won (G.E.M clearly shared this view).  The Boers, unfortunately, disagreed and declined to surrender.  Though the war was to drag on until May 1902, becoming increasingly dirty in the process, G.E.M. finally returned home in the Summer of 1901.

One slight compensation for being stuck in South Africa, as you will see, was that he did manage to find time for a little cricket while he was there.  As a 6’3″ fast bowler on what was likely to have been a primitive wicket he must have been a testing proposition.

HINCKLEY VOLUNTEERS IN SOUTH AFRICA

A DISAPPOINTED COMPANY

Writing from South Africa, to Mr. Taylor, Derby Road, Hinckley Corporal Mustin, of the Hinckley Volunteer Service Company, says;

Germiston, Dec 4th 1900

Dear Mr. Taylor – When I wrote last little did I think we should be in this country in December.  We with other Volunteer Companies of the Brigade left our regiments at Lydenburg on October 9th, and marched the 40 miles of mountainous country to Machadadorp in three days with an empty convoy.  When we arrived we were told we were to go straight for England.  We were put on full rations at this place where we had to wait five days for a train.  Whilst at Machadodorp Gen. French’s column passed through and engaged the enemy a few miles away.  We also experienced a severe dust storm.  The dust was so thick that it was as dark as night and the wind was terrific.  After two and a half days in the trucks we arrived at Pretoria, where we were fitted out with clothing etc. and transferred from ragged and unkempt warriors into quite a smart corps.   We had plenty of opportunities of seeing the sights of this much-talked of place, Kruger’s house, museum, prison etc. during the ten days we remained.  With fifteen other companies we were present at the review by Lord Roberts and I can assure you that in the march past we did credit to the county we belonged.  On Sunday, Oct. 28th we were aroused at 11 pm, packed our traps and marched to the station, and took possession of some empty trucks, ready to move at daylight.  We congratulated ourselves we were now well on the way home.  No more short rations, no more trekking, no more outposts.  It seemed like a dream to think we should have every night in bed and be able to sleep with our boots off.  Ugh! it was a dream.  Before 8 am we reached Elandsfontein Station where we disembarked, marched through Germiston and relieved a company of the “Fighting Fifth”.  We started well, going straight on outpost, where we got 24 hours on duty and the same time off.  It would only be for a day or two we thought, but we have had nearly six weeks of it.  The first ten days over 20 men were admitted to hospital, most of them have however returned to duty now and the last week the draft which was sent out to us in May joined us.  We had a rather nasty experience one day.  The lightning struck one of the tents, partially destroying coats etc. hanging round the pole, completely shattering the butts of five rifles into splinters, and injuring several men, two of them still being in hospital.  The occupants of all the tents received a severe shock.  I was on outpost at the time, so escaped.  The place  where we are stationed is in the centre of the Gold Fields, eight miles from Johannesberg, Boxbury, Georgeton, Germiston and Elandsfontein being close to us.  Most of us have been to Johannesberg, where there are some very fine buildings.  In some streets you could see handsome business premises, equal to any in our large towns, and each side would be a small corrugated iron store; it was a practical illustration of “from the sublime to the ridiculous”.  But here is no doubt it is a fine town, much better kept that Pretoria, the late home of the slim Oom Paul.  It is a great disappointment to us being kept here, as we did not for a moment doubt that we should spend Christmas at home; but we cannot all be C.I.V.s , although we have, like them, only done our duty which is what we came for.  I do not doubt they have done good work, they have had a grand opportunity.  One thing, they have introduced a new religion into the Army.  Ask a Tommy how many religions there are in the army: he will reply Church of England, Roman Catholics and C.I.Vs.*  I am afraid Tommy is a little jealous.  We hear some amusing tales about them sometimes.  I am afraid we shall spend our Christmas on the veldt.  The other night our picquet was strengthened as it was expected a few Boers would try to get through.  It turned out a myth, however, and we failed to spot any.  We have a lot of rain and some severe thunderstorms and several times have had to sleep between wet blankets, but that is nothing.  During the days we are off duty we play cricket matches, and have a bit of sport ratting, and generally succeed in getting good bags.  I don’t suppose we shall be home before the end of January.  I am afraid if they keep us much longer we shall begin to think we are such an important company the British Army cannot dispense with our services and we shall grow vain on the strength of it.  If we are still here at Christmas I shall drink the health of “absent friends” in the strongest beverage we get out here – tea.  I hope all are in good health.  (I am glad to say I am), and will have a good old-fashioned Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.  With best wishes

From  Yours etc.

G. E. Mustin



 

CRICKET IN SOUTH AFRICA

LEICESTERSHIRE VOLUNTEER SERVICE CO. v 4th BRIGADE CAVALRY DEPOT

Played at Germiston on Monday, November 20th and resulted in an easy win for the Volunteers.  Leicester, winning the toss elected to bat first, and were not dismissed until they had compiled the respectable score of 124.  Angrave (29), Firr (26), Uncas (16) being the chief contributors.  The cavalry going in were quickly dismissed for 21, Mustin securing six wickets for six runs and Firr** four for twelve runs.

* The City [of London] Imperial Volunteers.  If you visit the Guildhall Art Gallery in London there is a magnificent picture entitled “The City Imperial Volunteers in the Guildhall on their return from South Africa, October 1900” (see here).  No equivalent picture, to my knowledge, exists of the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers.

** This Lance Corporal Firr is commemorated on Market Harborough’s  memorial to those who fought in the Boer War. He may have been related to the famous professional huntsman Tom Firr.

On Tour in South Africa with the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers : Part Three

A third bulletin from South Africa, where the game of Hunt the Boer continued.

This, incidentally, is a photograph of G.E.M back home in Hinckley with his wife-to-be Rose Peto (back row) and her sisters Gertrude and Nell (all three of whom, like most in the town, were employed in hosiery factories).  He doesn’t look particularly tall in this photograph, as Rose was herself about six feet tall.

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WITH THE “L” COMPANY IN SOUTH AFRICA

THIRTY MEN IN HOSPITAL

HARD UP FOR MATCHES

The following interesting letter, from Corporal G. E. Mustin, has been received at the Hinckley Liberal Club, by Mr. A. Taylor: –

Coetzees Drift, June 12th 1900

Dear Mr. Taylor

I was very pleased to receive your letter and to hear that all old friends were going on much the usual way.  I can quite understand T.S.A. going into the wholesale rose trade, and no doubt he will be successful if his garden is as large as some of the growers who exhibit.  The parcel of tobacco came to hand a few days after the letter, and I am extremely obliged for the gift … Since writing last we have changed our quarters many times … On May 23rd we left this camp, our tents etc. being sent down country and we prepared for a rough time and we have not been disappointed.  We are now moving every day.  Loading our waggons with greatcoats and blankets we fell in at times as early as 3.30 a.m. and one day we had marched 8 miles before daylight.  On the 29th we had reached the Buffalo River, and after staying one night, we had orders to advance to Stales Drift where a commando of Boers with two guns had taken up a position.  We moved off at daybreak, the Gordons advancing on our right.  Our advance guard got in sight of the enemy but they scooted as fast as their horses could carry them.  Soon after firing was heard and it was supposed  they had come in collision with General Hillyard.  After this we crossed the river and found ourselves in the Transvaal at last.  A few days more marching about and we reached our present bivouac ground, Coetzees Drift, which is situated about 10 miles from Mujaba and about the same distance from Pogwani, where the Boers have large guns in position.  When we arrived a three days armistice was being arranged, and it was generally thought that it would result in a general surrender of all the enemy round about this quarter, as they are practically surrounded.  Wednesday morning, our hopes were doomed to disappointment, as the Boer guns started merrily.  Our artillery soon returned the fire, and we could see the shell bursting close to the Boer guns.  This was getting interesting but not so interesting as the fact that we received bread in place of the usual pound of hard biscuits on that day.  On Thursday the firing was kept up for a time, and on our left an engagement was in progress, General Hillyard forcing Bothas’ Pass.  Desultory firing has been maintained until this morning from Pogwani but, for some reason, all is now quiet.  The position the Boers hold is a very strong one, but as we have the men and the guns, I don’t think they will last long.  The nights are very cold now … Considering we have to sleep in the open with a couple of blankets only as covering, you may think it is not all honey, and you can scarcely wonder at fellows getting tired of such a life.  It is not so bad when in good health, but I am sorry for anyone out here who is not up to the mark, as no comforts are procurable.  I am sorry to say we have nearly thirty men in hospital and down the country … The remainder of us and the reserves from the town are in grand form, the beefy ones improving day by day although losing weight more rapid than you would think possible.  We are not troubled much about our personal belongings, as the whole of my kit beyond that I stand in comprises one shirt, and one pair of socks.  There is a dearth of matches now, and we find our field glasses very useful for lighting our pipes.  When a match is struck there is a general rush with paper etc. to obtain a light, which would amuse those at home who get their matches without trouble.  The other day, the sun not being very strong, we were unable to use our glasses, several of us stood about waiting to spot a light.  A non-com came strolling by charging his pipe and we made safe he would soon produce his matches.  As they are now worth 6d a box we could not ask him for one so we quietly followed him for a few hundred yards, so we quietly followed him a few hundred yards, he then stopped, we gathered expectantly, and we were thunderstruck when he asked if any of us had a light. Yesterday as I sat quietly writing, I was disturbed by the sergeant-major yelling for the battalion to fall in quick.  I felt sure that the Boers were coming at last, but it was a grass fire, which are very prevalent here … I have slept in a tent twice during the time I have been out and always sleep in boots and dressed.  When not too cold, it is not unpleasant to sleep outside, and gives one who is so inclined a splendid chance to study astronomy, not much in my line … I often wonder how it would feel to sleep in a soft bed again, but I doubt if we could sleep any sounder than we do now, even though we have 150 rounds of ammunition for a pillow, and often with our rifles by our side.  Though we have a lot of hardships and discomforts to put up with … we have had things easy compared with our comrades who were in the siege [of Ladysmith].  I should like you to see the company now, ragged and rough no soles on the boots, and bare knees and a display of shirt in the rear of their persons is a common sight, but those who are left are thoroughly fit for anything they may be called upon to do.  With best wishes to all old friends and thanking you for kind wishes.

I remain

yours truly

G. E. Mustin

P.S. The Boers are hard at work sangar building on Pogwani, which accounts for their silence.  Have just heard of a reverse farther north.  I don’t believe it.  G.E.M.

_______________________________________________________________

OLD FALSE TEETH BOUGHT

Many ladies and gentlemen have by them old or disused teeth, which might as well be turned into money.  Messrs. R. D. & J. B. Fraser of Princess Street, Ipswich (established since 1833) buy old false teeth.  If you send your teeth to them they will remit to you by return of post the utmost value; or, if preferred, they will make you the best offer, and hold the teeth over for your reply.

[n.b. I can offer no guarantee this offer is still available.]

On Tour in South Africa with the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers : Part Two

More from my Great-Grandfather in South Africa.  This piece of what we would nowadays call “citizen journalism” was originally published in the ‘Hinckley Times’ of 2 June 1900, two months after it was written, having, presumably, been brought home by sea.  I think I can detect a hint of asperity creeping into his tone at times.

WITH THE “L” COMPANY IN SOUTH AFRICA

HOW THE EASTER HOLIDAYS WERE SPENT

[By one of our own correspondents]

Lombard’s Kopje, April 3, 1900

I expect Easter holidays are over now at home, but with us they have not yet begun, nor do we expect they will until the war is over.  It is very kind on the part of the Brigadier, or whoever it is, that is responsible for the moving about we have had.  It is done, no doubt, with the intention of showing the service company as much of the company around Ladysmith as possible.  We have made another move, close by Gun Hill, to a place pleasantly situated on the plain, but there is a scarcity of water which seems the usual order of things wherever our camp is situated.  On the Thursday before Easter, we marched straight from outpost duty to Surprise Hill camp, to find our regiment about to march off.  We trudged away through Ladysmith round to the left, over the Klip River, and away towards Bulwana.  We arrived in time to pitch our tents before dark, feeling tired, thirsty and fairly disgusted with old Kruger and things in general.  Having had no dinner, tea was thoughtfully served out about eight o’clock, and we relieved our parched thirst with one pint of that beverage to about five men.  After drinking this enormous quantity, of course we could not find room for eatables, and even in this matter, and considering our tired feeling, we were saved all trouble in drawing rations by the thoughtfulness of the Commissariat Department, who had provided none to draw.  However, we lay down and slept the sleep of the just.  The next day being Good Friday we had a holiday and indulged in the luxury (perhaps not for the officers but the men) of a good wash, and some, more daring than others, even had a shave.  But all things come to an end, and so did our holiday, for at three o’clock we had orders to fall in with blankets in addition to our usual marching order, to go out on 48 hours’ outpost duty.  As soon as were ready, we fell in, after trying to swallow the scalding liquor, and marched for a mile or so through a country full of prickly shrubs, then up and down and across ravines for another mile or so, round Gun Hill, then up to Lombard’s Kopje, stumbling over loose stones, clambering over loose rocks, until we reached the top, sweating and panting with the beneficial and much-needed exercise under the burning sun.  We never had the unnecessary privilege of taking our kit off for a few minutes.  Then again we fell in, and, carrying our blankets under our arms we marched to the places allotted to us for outpost duty, we remained for the night, on the look out for our friends who did not come.

We came off outpost duty at 6.30 on Saturday morning, and feeling much benefitted by our climbing on Good Friday, we entered heartily into the agreeable pastime, so popular with soldiers in Natal, of sangar building.  [A sangar is a temporary fortified position.] This is a very simple form of amusement.  All the requisites you need for this game are a few picks, shovels, and a crowbar or two, the larger the crowbar the more exciting the game … When three men lift a stone large enough for six, and get it within a foot of the top, and cannot get it any further, excitement runs high, and it is most amusing … but the most amusing part of this programme is just at the time of finishing, you get placed offside by the referee, generally an officer, and you pull the sangar down and commence as before.  Well, we started playing on Saturday morning at one o’clock, and went on, with interval, until twelve o’clock, when we had breakfast.  We resumed until dark with a few minutes for meals.  We then went on outpost duty, but resumed the game early on Easter Sunday with vigour until tea time, when we shouldered our belongings, and went for a pleasant stroll down the hill to the camp, where we stopped for the night.

At 5 am on Bank Holiday, we were on parade with our rifles and ammunition in case our neighbours should pay us a holiday visit.  We waited for them until the sun rose, about 6 am, but they failed to come, so we had breakfast.  We then proposed to go on with the sangar building and proceeded to our recreation ground at the top of Lombard’s Kopje, where we remained all day, and strolled down to the camp for the night.

On Tuesday our friends again disappointed us, and we set off up the hill for another sixty hours’ outpost duty, relieved by sangar building, and as the night was very wet, and we were not provided with waterproof sheets, it was quite funny to feel the water trickling down our backs and over our faces, and was even more laughable still, to get up and shake the water from our one and only blanket, and then lay down, again.  The odds were ten to one you had a sharp stone in the centre of your back, or in a more tender part of your anatomy.  The next night there was even more rain than usual, and the greater part of the time was spent in watching the rain, which presented this pretty sight.  We had the opportunity of washing our faces with the raindrops as they beat down.  As long back in the dim past as three months ago each of the service company were served out with 2 pairs of boots, not the common or garden boot, as served out to the troops.  Oh, dear no, a far superior article to those, as thanks to the Equipment Fund, which was so generously subscribed to by the good people of Leicester and Leicestershire, it was determined to send out the company as well-shod as possible, regardless of expense.  That they have succeeded in doing so is beyond all doubt, as there are several pairs of boots which have not worn out, notwithstanding that they have travelled some thousands of miles, truly, mostly on sea, where they were not worn.  However, it is a fact that one man has completely worn out both pairs of boots issued to him, but it is reported he did not take the necessary care of these, the most important and valuable part of his outfit.  That is quite possible, but I, myself, cannot believe it, as I saw him on parade when he had taken the precaution to tie the souls [sic] on with a piece of string.  If that is not being careful I should like to know what is.  One of our men declares that there must have been a mistake made, and that he had secured a pair which had been made for wearing when riding only, and as he had worn each pair for quite a month for marching, he may consider himself lucky in being allowed the privilege of paying for a new pair out of his own income.  Notwithstanding such pleasures of which the above are but a few, we all have our serious moments, and realise that we are out on active service and when we hear the boom of the guns, but a few miles from us, we are all determined to show that if it comes to fighting, we will prove ourselves worthy of the regiment to which we belong.

G. E. M.

When asking for Cocoa, insist on having CADBURY’S – sold only in Packets and Tins – as other Cocoas are often substituted for the sake of extra profit.

[I assume this postscript is an early piece of advertorial, rather than another complaint about the rations.]

To be continued …

On Tour in South Africa with the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers : Part One

(n.b. This series will – rest assured – eventually prove to contain some cricket …)

G.E. Mustin

When time is short and inspiration runs low, it helps to be able to call on the services of a guest blogger, so let me introduce my Great-Grandfather (my Mother’s Father’s Father), George Mustin, or, as he was at the time of the above photograph, Cpl. G. E. Mustin of the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers.

At the time he was (topically) in South Africa, having joined up to fight in the Boer War with some friends from the Hinckley Liberal Club.  The Liberals were split into pro- and anti-Boer factions: he cannot, I imagine, have been particularly pro-Boer, given that he had volunteered to try to kill them, but he mainly seems to have joined up in search of more dramatic excitements than Hinckley could offer him.

The first letter dates from 4th April 1900, when he had just arrived in South Africa.  The first phase of the war had gone badly for the British, who were, as usual, outnumbered and unprepared.  They responded by attempting what we would now call a “surge”, shipping in troops in from other parts of the Empire, calling up the Yeomanry and making a general appeal for volunteers.  This usefully revealed that 40% of the would-be recruits were physically unfit for service, due to the appalling condition of (in particular) the urban poor.  George Mustin was made a Corporal, partly, I think because he was an excellent shot, but also, perhaps, because he was unusually tall for the time at about 6’3″, and, presumably, in good health.

The Volunteers arrived shortly after the relief of Ladysmith by Sir Redvers Buller (who was widely criticised for the length of time it took him to get there and shortly sacked).  The letters were addressed to a Mr. A. Taylor (a “prominent local Liberal”) and published in the ‘Hinckley Times’ under the heading “Correspondence from the War”. What strikes me most is how frank he was able to be about his experiences, which consisted mainly of hunger, thirst, discomfort and boredom, though the tone is leavened with late-Victorian facetiousness.  The general impression is of the front-line sections of “Homage to Catalonia”, as re-written by Jerome K. Jerome.

“Mr. A. Taylor, a prominent member of the Hinckley Liberal Club, has just lately received the following letter from Corpl. G.E. Mustin, a member of the Club and who is one of the “L” Company Volunteers at present serving with the colours in South Africa.

Camp, near Ladysmith April 4th 1900

Dear Mr. Taylor, – as I promised to write to the Club, I hope you will pardon me troubling you in addressing this letter to you.

We arrived at Durban after a five weeks voyage, and were very pleased to set foot on land again. … We went by train to Colenso where the regiment was stationed and arrived there just before dark, to find all our kit had gone astray.  We received a good welcome from the whole of the troops in camp, and many of the men who had been in the siege of Ladysmith were found to have friends or someone they knew amongst us.  There were nearly fifty in camp who were natives of Hinckley or the immediate neighbourhood. The camp was situated near to the Tugela River not far from the place where Col. Long lost the guns. We had to go a good one and a half miles for a wash, so you may guess we did not wash many times each day.  … On Sunday the camp was struck and before daylight appeared we were on the way to Modder Spruit about nine miles north of Ladysmith.  This was our first taste of active service. The road was all uphill, inches deep in dust and loose stones lying about in all directions.  Before we arrived at the camping ground, scores of the men fell out, the King’s Royal Rifles being the greatest sufferers.  A great many of the men are suffering from dysentery, and I am sorry to say some of our fellows have the same complaint.  I was told off to bring in those of our company who had fallen out, and a lively time I had, and did not reach camp until two hours after the regiment.  To improve matters, after dinner a storm set in and for a short time the rain came down in torrents.  You may imagine what a storm is in Natal when I tell you that a spruit, which was so dry before the storm we had to dig holes in the sandy bed to obtain water for a wash, was in less than an hour like a rushing river.  As we had no tents we lay on the damp ground with one blanket on the ground and the other over us.  The next day we were up and off at daybreak and arrived at our present camp by ten o’clock.  It was expected we were going on to Mudder Spruit this morning but the order was cancelled at the last minute …

I have often heard men complain of the delay by General Buller in relieving Ladysmith and wish that those who complained could see the country and the difficulties that the transport had to contend with and they would be astounded.  It is the general opinion in Natal that General Buller has had the brunt of the work, and has performed it as well, if not better than any other man could do … I may say that our men are in the best of health and spirits.  It is very hot here until darkness sets in, which is as soon as the sun sets.  We cannot get drinking water and anything wet fetches a good price – one shilling for a quart of poor tea; sixpence for 1/2d bottle of pop.  We are now on soldiers’ rations – biscuits and bully beef for breakfast, the same for dinner, and what is left for tea.  Please remember me to friends at Club.  I should like just one hour there to-night.  With best wishes from

Yours sincerely

G. E. Mustin

P.S. You must excuse writing (pencil) as all my materials are at Pietermaritzburg.

To be continued …