The armistice lasted all day, except that the enemy threw two shells at a waggon going up the Helpmakaar road and knocked it to pieces, and, I hear, killed a man or two—I don’t know why. The townspeople were very busy building shelters for the bombardment. The ends of bridges and culverts were closed up with sandbags and stones. Circular forts were piled in the safest places among the rocks. The Army Service Corps constructed a magnificent work with mealy-bags and corn-beef cases—a perfect palace of security. But, as usual, the Kaffirs were wisest. They have crept up the river banks to a place where it flows between two steep hills of rock, and there is no access but by a narrow footpath. There they lie with their blankets and bits of things, indifferent to time and space. Some sort of Zulu missionary is up there, too, and I saw him nobly washing a cooking-pot for his family, dressed in little but his white clerical choker and a sort of undivided skirt. A few white families have gone to the same place, and I helped some of them to construct their new homes in the rocks amidst great merriment. The boys were as delighted as children with a spade and bucket by the sea, and many an impregnable redoubt was thrown up with a dozen stones. What those homes will be like at the end of a week I don’t know. A picnic where love is may be endurable for one afternoon, when there are plenty of other people to cook and wash up. But a hungry and unclean picnic by day and night, beside a muddy river, with little to eat and no one to cook, nowhere to sleep but the rock, and nothing to do but dodge the shells, is another story. “I tell you what,” said a serious Tory soldier to me, “if English people saw this sort of thing, they’d hang that Chamberlain.” “They won’t hang him, but perhaps they’ll make him a Lord,” I answered, and watched the women trying to keep the children decent while their husbands worked the pick.
In the afternoon the trains went out, bearing the wounded to their new camp across the plain at Intombi’s Spruit. The move was not well organised. From dawn the ambulance people had been at work shifting the hospital tents and all the surgical necessities, but at five in the afternoon a note came back from the officer in camp urging us not to send any more patients. “There is no water, no rations,” it said; “not nearly enough tents are pitched. If more wounded come, they will have to spend the night on the open veldt.” But the long train was already made up. The wounded were packed in it. It was equally impossible to leave them there or to take them back. So on they went. In all that crowd of suffering men I did not hear a single complaint. Administration is not the strong point of the British officer. “We are only sportsmen,” said one of them with a sigh, as he crawled up the platform, torn with dysentery and fever.
In front of the wounded were a lot of open trucks for such townspeople as chose to go. They had hustled a few rugs and lumps of bedding together, and, sitting on these, they made the best of war. But not many went, and most of those had relations among the Boers or were Boers themselves.