On coming to my first bit of bread to-day I found it uneatable. In the fortnight it has degenerated simply to ground mealies of maize—just the same mixture of grit and sticky dough as the peasants in Pindus starve upon. Even this—enough in itself to inflame any English stomach—is reduced to 1/2 lb. a day. As I stood at the gate this afternoon taking my first breath of air, I watched the weak-kneed, lantern-jawed soldiers going round from house to house begging in vain for anything to eat. Yet they say the health of the camp as a whole has improved. This they attribute to chevril.
During my illness, though I cannot fix the exact day, one of the saddest incidents of the siege has happened. My friend Major Doveton, of the Imperial Light Horse, a middle-aged professional man from Johannesburg, who had joined simply from patriotism, was badly wounded in the arm in the great attack of the 6th. Mrs. Doveton applied to Joubert for leave to cross the Boer lines to see her husband, and bring medical appliances and food. The leave was granted, and she came. But amputation was decided upon, and the poor fellow died from the shock. He was a fine soldier, as modest as brave. Often have I seen him out on the hillside with his men, quietly sharing in all their hardships and privations. I don’t know why the incident of his wife’s passage through the enemy’s lines should make his death seem sadder. But it does. On Saturday night I drove away from the hospital in my cart, though still in great pain and hardly able to stand. I was unable to endure the depression of all the hospital sights and sounds and smells any longer. Perhaps the worst of all is the want of silence and darkness at night. The fever and pain both began to abate directly I got home to my old Scot.
[Illustration: GENERAL RT. HON. SIR REDVERS HENRY BULLER, V.C., G.C.B., K.C.M.G., K.C.B.]
RELIEVED AT LAST
Tuesday, February 27, 1900.
This is Majuba Day, and in the afternoon the garrison was cheered by the news that Roberts had surrounded Cronje and compelled him to surrender. For ourselves, relief seems as far off as ever, though it is said shells were seen bursting not far beyond Intombi Camp. The bread rations are cut down again to half, after a few days’ rise; though, indeed, they can hardly be called bread rations, for the maize bread was so uneatable that none is made now. The ration is biscuits and three ounces of mealie meal for porridge.
Towards evening I went for my first drive through old familiar scenes that have come to look quite different now. The long drought has turned the country brown, and it is all the barer for the immense amount of firewood that has been cut. It was decided about a week ago not to issue any more horse as rations till the very last of the oxen had been killed.
February 28, 1900.