Kate Luard's Boer War Letter: 17th July 1900

No.7 General Hospital Estcourt, Natal

The letter was addressed to:

  • Fk (brother Frank William Luard)
  • T. (brother Trant Bramston Luard)
  • Home for Aunt May
  • Home for Fred (brother Frederick Bramston Luard)

Dear Rose

This is the third week of July so I suppose Birch is seething with excitement over the wedding. Give Katherine my love when you see her. What are we giving her as a present? Put me down for it, whatever it is, & I’ll send the money. Lucy’s birthday is on Tuesday2 - I will write to her. How is Douglass’s3 arm? I suppose he didn’t get near a golfball in Scotland.

I went to service this morning at 8, at the little English Church. It was exactly like being in England again: about the size of Wigborough Church4 & very like it inside: rather high & beautifully kept. The Vicar is a Mr Prior: they have hockey every Saturday at the Vicarage. Some of the Sisters go. I haven’t been yet. The Vicar has had the flu, so the Bishop of Pretoria took the service: & also Church Parade up here & service tonight at 7 at the church: small surplice choir. He is a nice old man, who toils up to the camp every afternoon in his tight black gaiters, with the newspapers. He always rests on an anthill outside my tent & offers me the paper!

Did I tell you Langshaw5 & Spankey6 are at No. 4 Hospital Mooi River about 20 miles behind us. Langshaw is perhaps coming over to see me tomorrow. (to be continued when there is something to write about).

16.7.00. Bad news this morning from the front about the Lincolns 2 guns & the Scots Greys7. The Tommies here all worship Buller, & seem quite pleased at the idea of Lord Roberts getting a reverse instead of Buller. Many of the officers though are awfully down on Buller & say he would have been recalled after Spion Kop if there had been any one at home to send out in his place. Both officers & Tommies give most ghastly accounts of Spion Kop. They were bad enough to read but nothing to what the men who were in it tell you. Col. Crofton8 went raving mad & ran about with a stick screaming “I’ve lost my regiment. I’ve lost my regiment” (Lancasters). He was sent down to Maritzburg as a lunatic next day. Some of the wounded lay about with their clothes burning from the explosions, & no-one unwounded to put it out. One boy told me he went to sleep in the trenches at the top just before Thorneycroft ordered the ‘Retire’, & didn’t wake till nearly everyone was down. They had no food or water up there all the time.

Both at Spion Kop, & with Long’s battery at Colenso, not a man could have survived if all the Boer shells had exploded: only about 9 out of 10 ever did.

The contractor was asked this morning how long was the shortest time in which he could pick up this hospital bodily, and plant it down somewhere else: so perhaps we are going to be moved up. They have 1400 enteric at Johannesburg now. How are the Bloemfontein hospital scandal enquiries getting on at home that some one is raking up?

17.7.1900. Lucy’s birthday. Many happy returns! English mail of June 22nd in today: only 3 weeks & 4 days, not bad considering how long it takes to get around the coast and up here. Many thanks Mother, Father, Nettie9, Rose & Daisy10: not a word from G11 yet? Why is that? Most exciting news about Trant12 & Fred13. How will Fred get on, I wonder? He ought to be pretty well seasoned to climate by now, though it is the worst time of year. Will he get a medal? We do. Tell me everything you hear about him. We see the Natal Witness14 which manages to scrape up a very little war news when there is any, but is otherwise strictly local except for a little bit about China sometimes.

Please send the enclosed to the new Captain15. Is he still musketry instructing? What a splendid go you all had at old Handel. I am glad Father enjoyed it so much. Aunt May16 took me once 6 years ago to the Rehearsal, it was very fine. Didn’t you & I Rose once hear Judus Maccabaeus17 there? I wonder if you will still be at Bude when you get this. How many of us are going? Go to Ponyhill Church: you’ll cycle or drive to Clovely & Tintagel I suppose. Didn’t we have a picnic at Morecambe Bay? The thought of bathing makes me as green with envy as the thought of Ladysmith does you. The water is too freezing to do much bathing in the morning & you can only get Isaac to bring you hot water in the evening about once in a blue moon.

We had an awful duststorm on Saturday: a most beastly performance. Everything in your tent gets covered, & you eat, drink & breathe dust, with a hot wind blowing it into your eyes. It has not been quite so cold at nights lately, only there was a sharp frost last night. The moon is up late now, so it is pitch dark after 6, & tent pegs & ropes get up & bite you in the leg. I have got the acute enterics to myself till the end of this week. An old Regular and I have had them together lately, & now she is off to Ladysmith etc. & they belong to me. It means being on from 8.30 to 8 all day & as hard as you can go at that, as some are very bad, & there are very few things you can let these orderlies do. Willie Bishop would be far more help. A convalescent enteric (in the 1st DG’s18) has made himself a sort of special on me, & is always on the spot when you want anyone. He is a born nurse: some of them are, but very seldom the orderlies: they would make very indifferent boot-boys. A good many men have gone off in transports this week so the lines are getting pretty empty (except mine). & the Sisters are having a very slack time till the Hospital fills up again or is moved. That being the case Sister Jayne19 & I are going to have 3 or 4 days off next Monday, so we are going to Ladysmith & shall see everything & may possibly get passes to get up as far as Volksrust if there are no Boers about. No one may go further. Spion Kop is £4 drive from Ladysmith so we may have to leave that out, but we shall go in a goods train (with concession tickets) which will stop wherever we ask it to & may get out at Majuba. We start at 5 a.m. from the siding here & reach Ladysmith at 10 a.m.

I don’t know the exact plans yet but will tell you all about it next mail. Isn’t it jolly of Sister Williams20 to let us go so soon? But it is the slack time in Hospital & she says we had better go when we can, as she happens to have no work for us. She has been off herself last week.

Do you know what hospital Neville21 was in? What a pity he missed getting onto Uncle N’s staff. I’m not surprised he got enteric: everybody seems to have had it, or be having it. Some of them are most hopeless wrecks of men who look fifty or sixty you find are 22: & skin & bone with fearful coughs, & too weak to speak almost, but they all smoke. They had condensed milk today instead of cows, much to their indignation. Nearly all are on brandy, port, whisky or champagne: & they have a lot of arrowroot & Benger22 & Brand23’s & chicken etc.

Our meals seems more weird now we are not so hungry. The conversation consists chiefly of “What is the meat today? Oh, trek ox, but I can get my knife through it this time: doesn’t the dentist come tomorrow?” (It is a mercy I got Mr Ayers to patch up my teeth that last week: they really do get awfully worn out on trek ox). “Have you tried the pudding? Yes, it is some sort of soft soap: don’t venture if you want to stay for bread & butter.” The cheese lately has simply howled aloud, but you can buy eggs & Maria24 cooks them for you. She found some banana in Estcourt today.

Goodnight. Bed call. KEL

19.7.00. The ghastly news of the massacres of the Foreign Legations at Pekin came in this morning’s paper. Many people think we shall all find ourselves in China before long. It would be exciting to go there. Is there any chance of Frank or Trant going? The paper here never has a word about Kumassie25. I think father said he’s send me the Weekly Times. I should like it awfully, as we hear nothing about England here: a very occasional Spectator would be welcome too, if there happens to be an interesting number, only don’t send it every week: about once a month would do. There is very little time for reading so far. My people have been pretty bad today so I haven’t been off.

Thank G very much for her pc and letter which I will answer next mail as it is late now & very cold. All abusive epithets withdrawn with apologies to G! I hope father’s ague was only temporary. Bude ought to blow it away. How long are you going for? This letter ought to arrive before you get home again. Aunt May asked to see my letters, so you might send them to her last will you?

Best love to all

Yrs

K.E.L.

Context

At the time Kate Luard wrote this letter the three sieges of Kimberley, Mafeking and Ladysmith had all been lifted. The major towns of Bloemfontein, Pretoria and Johannesburg had all been occupied, and the war was entering the 'guerilla' phase. The battles leading up to the relief of Ladysmith were still in people's minds (she mentions Colenso and Spion Kop) and it is likely that some of the wounded from these battles were still in the hospital system, awaiting return to their units or repatriation.

Notes

  1. Rose: Kate's sister Rose Mary Luard
  2. Lucy: Kate's sister Helen Lucy Luard (born 17th July 1871)
  3. Douglass: Douglass Round whom Lucy married in 1898, the only Luard daughter to marry. (The Rounds were another Birch family and connected to the Luards by two marriages).
  4. Wigborough Church: St Stephen's Church, Greater Wigborough, Essex
  5. Langshaw: Sister Adeline Louisa LANGSHAW, who also trained at King's College Hospital, and was also the daughter of a clergyman.
  6. Spankey: Not yet identified
  7. Sister Luard is referring to the setback at the battle of Silkaatsnek on the 11th July 1900. (Copley, IB. (1993) The Battle of Silkaatsnek - 11 July 1900. Military History Journal 9(3), published by The South African Military History Society  http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol093ic.html)
  8. Col. Crofton: Lieutenant Colonel Maltby Crofton was Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion of the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.
  9. Nettie: Kate's sister Annette Jane Luard
  10. Daisy: Kate's sister Margaret Annie Luard
  11. G: Kate's sister Clara Georgina Luard
  12. Trant: Kate's brother Trant Bramston Luard
  13. Fred: Kate's brother Frederick Bramston Luard, serving with the 3rd Battalion, The West India Regiment, in Sierra Leone (The Annual Army List, Militia List and Yeomanry Cavalry List, for 1900. London: John Murray).
  14. The Natal Witness is the oldest continuously published newspaper in South Africa
  15. ... new Captain: This is probably Trant Bramston Luard who was an 'Instructor of Musketry' in the Royal Marines Light Infantry (The Annual Army List, Militia List and Yeomanry Cavalry List, for 1900. London: John Murray).
  16. Aunt May: Mary Eliza Bramston 1841-1912 (unmarried) the younger sister of Kate's mother Clara Isabella
  17. Judas Maccabaeus (HWV 63) is an oratorio in three acts composed in 1746 by George Frederick Handel based on a libretto written by Thomas Morell.
  18. 1st DGs: 1st King's Dragoon Guards. The regiment became part of the Royal Armoured Corps in 1939. The regiment merged with The Queen's Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) in 1959 to form 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards.
  19. Sister Jayne: This is Sister Elizabeth WILSON-JAYNE.
  20. Sister Williams: This is Superintendent Florence Ellen ADDAMS-WILLIAMS.
  21. Neville: probably a reference to Neville Talbot, a friend of the family. He was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade in 1898 (The London Gazette June 3, 1898, p.3448) and served in the Boer War. He later became a clergyman and was Bishop of Pretoria 1920-1933.
  22. Benger: Benger's Food for Infants, Invalids, and the Aged
  23. Brand: Brand's Essence of Beef, and Essence of Chicken
  24. Maria - Maria Williams (The National Archive: War Office 100/229 p51-54) was employed as a maidservant. E. Williams was also a maidservant but had left for England before Kate arrived. Both maidservants shared the same home address so may have been sisters.
  25. Sister Luard is referring to the third Ashanti Expedition (the Ashanti Uprising) which was taking place in West Africa at this time.
Lieutenant Colonel Maltby Crofton (mounted) and the 2nd Battalion of the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, parading at Whittington Barracks, Lichfield, prior to departing for South Africa


Transcribed from D/DLu 55/13/3, Essex Record Office