July 1st: I didn’t write such a long letter as I meant to because I was feeling seedy and had been ordered to bed. (Diarrhoea etc but we all go through it when we 1st come out). I am not ill and have the best of attention. Well! You ask me to tell you everything about ourselves.
Our lovely corrugated iron building we were crowing over is not allowed to come further than Cape Town because of its weight. You see the carriage of all transport is very much congested. Soldiers must be sent on, then ammunition, then food and lastly hospital supplies. They had to put us in Bell tents 3 sisters in each, today some of us have very neat little washstands and a small chest of drawers given us. It crowds us up terribly and 3rd July: some of our boxes have had to be put outside the tents to make room for these things. The tents are very cold during the nights and very hot through the day, but we have plenty of good clothes and my rug is a beautiful warm one.
The food is very much better than army rations, only being cooked on mostly wood fires – at any rate in coppers over open fires – tea, puddings, porridge etc. is very often smoky. We haven’t had any rain yet since we came but today it was so cold outside Miss Shannon told me to go to bed after lunch. I’ve been kept in bed 2 days. They are very careful for us, Miss Shannon asks each one of us if she is feeling well every morning and night.
They had their 1st concert last night. I was very sorry not to be able to go to it. They made a huge bonfire on a bit of the veldt, commandeered a piano, and had a fine time I believe.
3rd July: Still on the sick list and starvation diet. Yesterday was feeling very bright but don’t feel so well today. Its dysentery but a mild attack. Didn’t get up till just on lunch time. We have had a very windy day. 4 other sisters on their way to Pretoria visited our Hospital today, had tea and dined with us. They think everything perfection. Lady Roberts1 is going through in the same train as these sisters, in an armoured carriage and has sentries parade outside her carriage while in the station. She has made herself rather obnoxious by her interference in hospital affairs, I believe. (One of the plague).
There was fighting 3 miles from here yesterday. Some of our big guns have been fired yesterday and today, for Pretoria, I believe. Kitchener had all his men mounted and ready directly he heard of fighting so near. A lot of soldiers have gone out today to help control De Wet2. There are constant rumours of his capture but I believe there are so many De Wets, like Bothas and though several are captured neither the De Wet or the Botha.
We have had a convoy of wounded and sick men (90) brought in today. It was a sight. They came in bullock wagons. Poor fellows! Some of them looked awful. There was a covered wagon with Boers who had been severely wounded. Each wagon is drawn by oxen from 15-20 in a team. If it had only been fine and light what a picture I might have taken.
We have had pouring storms of rains yesterday and today but the sisters have their own mess tent now and we have a slow combustion stove fitted to it and some red art serge for a table cloth today. It makes a nice comfortable looking sitting room for us now. We are in clover here.
If the Drs. let me I am going to have my own ward or wards tomorrow, how lovely.
4th July: The Dr. came last night and has allowed me on light duty if I wear thick shoes and take my time off. I have had charge of one ward today. Don’t know if I am to keep it. Wish I might. We have a band up every 2nd day to play to us. The Oxfords were up today. I am sorry to find I had one plate in the wrong way for the bridge, and so instead of shooting the 2 ½ s they appear right hand pieces of 2. I will try to get it done and send to you.
July 5th: I am alright now, on meat again. Took photo of exterior of the Dutch Reformed Church3 and 2 interiors. They have used it as a hospital since the commencement of the enteric here, and Australian nurses look after it. Sister Gould4 of the Sydney Hospital is the Supt. We hear the next contingent is on its way out, I suppose Jackie won’t be in it. I have not had a letter from you since the 1st dated May 25th several of them have had letters dated June 5th or 7th. I may get it tomorrow and our letters have to be in by 2p.m. so I must finish this tonight.
July 11th: I don’t feel like writing. I know you will be writing to me but I have only had one letter dated May 24th. Some of the sisters have had them regularly and letters have come dated June 11th. I am alright now and enjoying life. I have been doing a bit of photography lately but have had my time pretty much taken up in the ward. I am very happy at my work.
Today we went to some military sports in the town. They were very good. Capital. We had some flat races, tugs of war, artillery race was fine, 5 gun carriages with their guns mounted drawn by 6 or 8 horses each pr having a postillion, and the whole (preceded by a leader on horseback) went a roundabout course at the gallop and through pieces of wood set up like nine-pins which only allowed 2 or 3 inches – at most- on either side of the wheels as they went through. It was wonderfully clean driving. One lot went through without touching any. 2nd prize lot knocked one down. Then there was some buck jumping. Officers race on horseback. There were a lot of Bengali soldiers there in their native uniforms. They looked wonderfully picturesque with their turbans etc and they ride perfectly. They gave us tent pegging. One of their number didn’t miss once. Then there was some wrestling on bare-backed ponies which was very interesting.
Fancy biscuits that would be 4d 1b are 2/6 here and there is no soap in the shops. We have run out of it because a lot of stores have not been sent on. Personally I could stand a siege of 6 months or so. Mother’s chocolate is delicious, I have a bit occasionally. Today we went up to Gun Hill where the fort is but we were not allowed to take photographs. However, I went a bit further down and managed to get what I hope will be a good birds-eye view of the town and another of No. 3 Hospital5 the figures in are Lieut. ? [her query] Lieut. Gee and their Capt Harrington.
Two days ago the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders were set to watch a train. They discovered it contained whisky, so broke it open. 2 were found dead. Alcoholic poisoning, and one died yesterday “from exposure” nothing in his stomach but whisky. Mail Time. Au Revoir.
July 17th: Have had no letters, isn’t this sickening! The mails have been stopped both in and out since last Thursday, so my last to you will be late. We have had one sand-storm; they say it was not so bad as it is sometimes, but it lasted much longer. Anyway our beds were khaki colour and the floor had to be swept constantly and even then there was quite enough depth of sandy earth to grow mustard and cress on. It was terrible. All tent pegs had to be knocked in more securely and the place shut up and then the faces got brown with dust. We ate more than our share towards the ‘peck o’dust’ that day.
Yesterday I found out that we had one of the Yeomanry belonging to Col. Broughfield’s lot and that Hugh Pomfret is their Quartermaster and must have been visiting one of his men in the tent that is now mine since I came to Kroonstad …..
We gave a tea-party on Sunday which was quite a success. I photographed them. We had a lovely walk to the bridge and I photographed from the opposite side after scrambling across on stepping stones and climbing up the opposite bank. It is a very pretty negative. I have printed a lot but as you know, I have no toning sol. so I just fix them and they go a most awful colour. A yellowish tinge. Keep all the stamps you get on my letters as they will be very valuable later on.
20th July: Received your 2nd letter. I didn’t dream but what I should get the usual weekly letter. Don’t do it again. Thank you very much indeed for photographs. Everyone nearly has asked to see them and think them splendid. Could he send another of them, the one with the ship’s officer standing at head of gangway. Sister Thornton6 got engaged to him on the way out …
I had 2 wards given to me, one a perfectly new one which I fitted up as near perfection as any are, the old medical ward was almost equally well got up too. I had had 3 changes of Drs., Dr. Stirling, Dr. Graves and lastly Dr. Boyd who complimented me on my charts and hoped I would keep them like that.
I didn’t get off duty until 10 that night as we had cases and the Drs. visit was late. Miss Shannon had been looking for me so I went to her tent and that was to tell me to go to D.1. and D.2. two fresh wards. I was wild the more I thought of it the worse I felt. I worked myself into a perfect rage. Consequently couldn’t sleep and had a violent headache in the morning. No one can quite appreciate what this means to me unless they were here. One has to worry and bother and go again and again for things to the store, and just take things when you see them and forth. Everything is more or less commandeered by sisters etc. However, I felt a bit better when Dr. Hodge whose wards I now have told me the reason for the change. He had refused to have Sister Murdoch7 in his wards any longer, as she did not do her work properly and had been rude to himself.
I have one medical and one surgical tent each with 10 beds. I make the dressings myself so I find plenty to do. I have 3 Boer Prisoners of War and one German prisoner, a law student, all in the surgical tent. One Boer has a bullet wound , entrance front of chest below collar bone, exit left shoulder between scapula and head of humerus. It shattered and splintered the bone. One piece was taken out the other day in the Theatre before I had the ward.
Another one has one finger carried away by bullet and practically useless and I am afraid will have to be amputated, another bullet wound in leg. The German, it looks as if the bullet went in the front of neck, just above the bird’s nest (he did say it has altered his voice and made it hoarse) and came out back of shoulder. They are all getting on very well.
We had a fine lot of surgical cases in from Lindley the other day, have had a lot of operations lately. I went to one the other day. Major Beatson, the oldest brother of Dr. Beatson of Glasgow and Mr Graves. Uncle. He had a gunshot wound in shoulder which paralyzed his arm. They operated expecting to find a splinter of bone interfering with nerves in the brachial plexus – I was present at the operation and held the arm – what they actually found was that the cicatrix of shot wound was almost adherent to them and too much so to the subclavian for them to extensively dissect the scar out. They removed a good bit however and tied up the vessels and are hoping some good my be the result.
There has been a concert given in No. 3 Military Hosp. I was on orderly duty, so I couldn’t go.
July 22nd: I was going to write last night but I had put some glycerine jelly on my hands and gloves over and found I could not write in them. We all of us nearly, Drs. and Sisters suffer with cuts in our hands. You know we have been rising in the morning to find ice in the water and thick hoar frost outside the tent, but I had my dear little rubber bag, so was all right.
Miss Shannon said that the other day in her tent in the afternoon and in the shade it was 90o. Our single bell tent gets terribly hot. The nights are getting warmer now though. My! What a time we had of it yesterday. Sister McLeod8 and I asked a pass to go to Church in the evening (our 1st pass) but in the afternoon we heard a convoy was expected, and as I had 4 empty beds in each tent of course I could not go out. One of the Drs. went some days ago on horseback on his way to Lindley to bring sick from there. However De Wet was in the way and Dr. Garrow and train were sent after and ordered back. But there had been fighting between De Wet and some of ours involving 17th Lancers – about 12 miles this side of Lindley and their Colonel was bringing wounded and 33 sick on to us, so Dr. Garrow brought them on, and now some from No. 3 Hosp. have started for Lindley again.
Sir Burdett9 was the 1st to arrive in a Cape cart with his arm in a sling, there are 2 other officers who are more seriously wounded. We got 2 ‘death or glory’ boys who are sick. One has something wrong with his eyes another slight fever. Then we received a case of synovitis one of Robert’s Horse. We have a new case tonight, rheumatism, Suffolk Regt.
Well before the convoy arrived the rain came (not De Wet) and my it does rain when it rains, there’s no doubt about it. The winds descended and the floods came and beat upon our tents and some of them fell. Some with patients in, but some with orderlies, one of my ward tents was in danger, but they were able to knock in pegs and loosen the ropes in time. What a terrible night it was. Sister McLeod and I had to pull our beds into the middle of the floor and then we kept nice and dry but the elements were making such a noise we couldn’t sleep till after 1 a.m.
July 26th: Got your 3rd letter today. Hope I shall get them regularly now. How I have enjoyed myself today! I have been for my first ride on horseback. Oh! it was lovely. I shall soon be able to ride well I believe. We have had 2 side saddles lent us and Sister Smith10 and myself went for a ride with Dr. Kinmont and Fisher a ‘Tommy’ who is a splendid riding master. The horses never will trot much they either canter or gallop and I must say I rode far better than I ever have before. I felt thoroughly happy. I am beginning to suffer from the after effects now. I expect to be very stiff tomorrow; but shall hope to go again soon.
You will have heard all about the train that was burnt the other day up the line. It was brought into Kroonstad the day before yesterday and I photographed it. It reminded me of the Norman Rd Church. I brought a bit of charred wood away with me and a screw. There were only 5 trucks with any kind of wood left on them. The others not a scrap of wood left, nothing but the ironwork, wheels, screws etc.
Yesterday we most of us attended a Bazaar in the Presbyterian Church here. We hoped to be able to get some curios. They had a Kruger penny, sold for £2 and 4d stamps, selling for 5/- each.
The papers have come in today – hope the letters will be here soon. We hear our hospital will not be here more than 2 months more. We also hear De Wet was wounded in right arm and taken with 4 or 500 men. Also that B.P. has taken Botha and 1400 men and that B.P. is mortally wounded. Don’t believe any of this. So sleepy must wish you goodnight.
July 27th: Can’t stop for more today, mail goes at 2. Several contused wounds result of ride.
July 28th: Yesterday we went down to the wrecked train. I took it again a much better one this time proved, also the bomb shelter outside No 3 Hospital. I took one inside and the outside.
Heard Piet de Wet had been in to see my Boer prisoner. The day before a Presbyterian Chaplain to forces had been to my tent and had an arm set which he had got broken through a kick from his horse. Today we had sports. They were very good began at 2 and finished the prize-giving at 5.30. Having entertained all visitors to tea, scones, buns and bread and bitter previously.
General Knove, Captain Mausescaux, Piet de Wet, his son Jacobus, a brother-in-law and another prisoner came. I asked the aide-de-camp if I might tale a photograph of Piet, he asked him and getting his permission I flew off for camera. I took one and got his signature and that of his son in my birthday book. When people saw me getting them he got besieged on all sides. He wrote dozens. You will know before you get this that these 4 gave themselves up, it sems Christian kept his brothers prisoner for some time because he told him he should do so as he thought it very foolish to keep on any longer. These however managed to escape and surrendered. The Captain tells me he will go to Cape Town for St Helena, possibly on Monday. They want to see a proof. I have developed tonight and think it will be pretty fair.
Unfortunately in the officers race 2 of our men’s horses collided and are rather badly hurt I am afraid.
We are going to ask a pass to go to Church of England service tomorrow night.
July 31st: Didn’t go to Church on Sunday on account of bad cases in the wards. Yesterday we went out begging saddles, we got 2 sent up this morning – one for a few days only, and another is coming Tuesday morning. The man at the Scotch Stores made us go to his private house and have some tea with his wife. It was so good.
The Bazaar realized over £250. I haven’t had your letter this week. Had 2 from Pretoria, from 2 sisters we met at Bloemfontein. We had a convoy in tonight received 5 cases and have packed 2. Am rather tired tonight. Hope to go a run tomorrow afternoon on the new saddle.Notes:
Lady Roberts circa 1860
Nora Henrietta Bews was the daughter of Captain John Bews. She married Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, V.C., on 17 May 1859. After her marriage, Nora Henrietta Bews was styled as Lady Roberts. She died on 21 December 1920.
- Christiaan Rudolf de Wet (7 October 1854 – 3 February 1922) was a South African Boer general, rebel leader and politician.
Modern view of the Dutch Reformed Church, Kroonstad
By Leo za1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]
- Ellen Julia (Nellie) Goulde was asked in February 1899 to help form the New South Wales Army Nursing Service, and become one of Australia’s first Boer War nurses. In May of the same year the first 26 official military nurses were sworn in, hand picked by Nellie Gould herself. Miss Gould had chosen her nurses only from those who had had more than seven years of nursing experience. The New South Wales Army Nursing Reserve was the first women’s military nursing body, officially formed in August 1899. Each of the other colonies sent nurses either privately funded by business men of the era or self funded by the nurses themselves.
- No. 3 General Hospital (592 beds) opened at Rondebosch on the 22nd December 1899, moving to Kroonstad on the 1st June 1900 where it was located for the remainder of the war. (Prime, P (1998) History of the Medical and Hospital Services of the Anglo-Boer War 1899 to 1902 London: Anglo-Boer War Philatelic Society
- Sister Annie THORNTON, trained at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, and joined Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service (Reserve) on May 4th 1900 (service Number 512).
- Sister Isa MURDOCH trained at the Oldham Infirmary, and joined the Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service (Reserve) on March 23rd, 1900 (Service Number 478). She was already in South Africa when the Scottish National Red Cross Hospital embarked.
- Sister Annie McLEOD trained at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, and joined the Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service (Reserve) on May 4th 1900 (Service Number 516).
- Sir Francis Burdett, 8th Bt. was born in 1869. He was the son of Lt.-Col. Sir Francis Burdett, 7th Bt. He was educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge University. He gained the rank of Lieutenant in the 4th Dragoon Guards and the 17th Lancers. He succeeded as the 8th Baronet Burdett, of Bramcott, co. Warwick on 31 May 1892.
- Sister Edith SMITH trained at the Royal Infirmary, Perth, and joined the Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service (Reserve) on May 4th 1900 (Service Number 518).