In connection with the requisitioning of cows by Colonel Stoneman, a quaint incident is recorded. A gentleman of Ladysmith of a stubborn temperament on receiving the requisition wrote to Colonel Stoneman in the following terms: “SIR,—Neither you nor any one else shall take my cow. If you want milk for your sick apply to Joubert for it. Get out with you, and get your milk from the Dutch.” The cow was promptly taken.
These soon became very scarce, and the price demanded for eggs was enormous. The highest price reached was L2 10s. for twelve eggs, but they were often sold at sums from 30s. to 44s. per dozen. As eggs were so important a food in the dietary of the sick, it was determined, under the authority of the Lieutenant-General commanding, to requisition the poultry and eggs of those persons who would not sell them at a reasonable rate. A good price was paid to the owners for their eggs and chickens, which were issued only on medical certificate.
A well-known official of the Natal Government Railway had thirty-six tins of condensed milk. At the auction which took place three times a week in the town, 6s. 6d. a tin was offered for this, but the unselfish and unsympathetic owner did not consider this price sufficient; he declined to sell under 7s. 6d. a tin. This fact being brought to the notice of Colonel Stoneman, he requisitioned the whole lot at 10d. a tin.
I have stated that 1,511 cattle were requisitioned from their owners for slaughter purposes. This was a great trial both to the officer who carried out this duty and to the owners. The Kaffir lady Ugumba did not want to part with her pet cow, which was the prop of her house, had been bred up amongst her children, and had lived in the back yard. The white owners discovered suddenly that their cattle were of the very highest breed, and had been specially imported from England or Holland at enormous cost. However, most of these cattle, except milch cows, had to be taken. The proprietors of high-bred stock were directed to claim compensation, over the meat value, from the “Invasion Losses Commission” now sitting.
Colonels Ward and Stoneman having requisitioned considerable quantities of food-stuffs at the beginning of the siege, they determined to sell some of them, such as sugar, sardines, &c., &c., at the same price as was paid. One or two fathers with sick children were supplied with 4 oz. of brandy on medical certificate. There was no liquor to be had in the town, and the fathers with sick children grew in numbers with suspicious rapidity.
In the month of February the pinch began to be felt. Most men were without smiles, and most women were scarcely able to suppress their tears—tears of weakness and exhaustion. The scale of rations was then reduced to a fine point. Many a man begged for suitable food for his sick wife and little baby, many mothers asked for a little milk and sugar for their young children, and many sick men, both at Intombi and in Ladysmith, wrote, or caused to be written, pathetic letters for “anything in the way of food” that could be granted.