INCIDENTS, ACCIDENTS, AND REALITIES
LADYSMITH, November 9, 1899.
A day of furious and general attack. Just before five I was wakened by a shell blustering through the eucalyptus outside my window, and bursting in a gully beyond. “Lady Anne” answered at once, and soon all the Naval Brigade guns were in full cry. What should we have done without the Naval guns? We have nothing else but ordinary field artillery, quite unable to reply to the heavy guns which the Boers have now placed in position round the town. Yet they only came up at the last moment, and it was a mere piece of luck they got through at all. Standing behind them on the ridge above my tin house, I watched the firing till nine o’clock, dodging behind a loose wall to avoid the splinters which buzz through the air after each shot, and are sometimes strangely slow to fall. Once after “Long Tom” had fired I stood up, thinking all was over, when a big fragment hummed gently above my head, went through the roof and ceiling of a house a hundred yards behind, and settled on a shell-proof spring mattress in the best bedroom. One of the little boys running out from the family burrow in the rocks was delighted to find it there, and carried it off to add to his collection of moths and birds’ eggs. The estimate of “Long Tom’s” shell has risen from 40lbs. to 96lbs. and I believe that to be the true weight. One of them to-day dug a stupendous hole in the pavement just before one of the principal shops, and broke yards of shutter and plate glass to pieces. It was quite pleasant to see a shop open again.
So the bombardment went on with violence all the morning. The troglodytes in their burrows alone thought themselves safe, but, in fact, only five men were killed, and not all of those by shell. One was a fine sergeant of the Liverpools, who held the base of the Helpmakaar road where it leaves the town eastward. Sergeant Macdonald was his name, a man full of zeal, and always tempted into danger by curiosity, as most people are. Instead of keeping under shelter of the sangar when the guns on Bulwan were shelling the position, he must needs go outside “to have a look.” The contents of a shell took him full in front. Any of his nine wounds would have been fatal. His head and face seemed shattered to bits; yet he did not lose consciousness, but said to his captain, “I’d better have stopped inside, sir.” He died on the way to hospital.
A private of the Liverpools was killed too. About twenty-four in all were wounded, chiefly by rifle fire, Captain Lethbridge of the Rifle Brigade being severely injured in the spine. Lieutenant Fisher, of the Manchesters, had been shot through the shoulder earlier in the day, but did not even report himself as wounded until evening.
After all, the rifle, as Napoleon said, is the only thing that counts, and to-day we had a great deal of it at various points in our long line of defence. That line is like a horseshoe, ten to twelve miles round.