Just as we were lazily washing our clothes and otherwise enjoying the Sabbath rest and security at about eight in the morning, “Puffing Billy,” of Bulwan, began breaking the Fourth Commandment with extraordinary recklessness and rapidity. He sent nine of his shells into the town, as fast as he could fire them. “Bloody Mary” flung two over his head and one into his earthwork, but he paid no attention to her protests. The fact was, the 5th Dragoon Guards, trusting to Boer principles, had left their horses fully exposed to view instead of leading them away under cover as usual at sunrise. The gunners, probably Germans, thought this was presuming too much on their devotion to the Old Testament, and set their scruples aside for twenty minutes under the paramount duty of slaughtering men and horses. Happily no serious harm was done, and the rest of the day was as quiet as Sunday usually is.
On our side we were engaged all day in preparing a new home for “Lady Anne” on Waggon Hill, south-west of the town. The position, as I have often described, gives a splendid view of the country towards Basutoland and the Free State mountains. It also commands some four miles of the Maritzburg road towards Colenso and the guns which the Boers have set up there to check the approach of a relieving force. By late afternoon the enormous sangar was almost finished. The gun will be carried over on a waggon at night. I watched the work in progress from Rifleman’s Post, an important outpost and fort, held by the 2nd K.R.R. (60th). It also commands the beginning of the Maritzburg road, where it passes across the “Long Valley,” between Range Post and Bluebank.
The doctors and ambulance men who went out after the brief cavalry action on Friday morning report they were fired on while carrying the dead and wounded in the dhoolies. The Boers retaliate with a similar charge against us in Modder River. Unhappily, there can be no doubt that one of our doctors was heavily fired on whilst dressing a man’s wounds on the field.
December 11, 1899.
Soon after two in the night I heard rifle-firing, then two explosions, and heavier rifle-firing again, apparently two or three miles away. It was too dark to see anything, even from the top of the hill, but in the morning I found we had destroyed another gun—the 4.7 in. howitzer on Surprise Hill. For weeks past it had been one of the most troublesome guns of the thirty-two that surround us. It had a long range and accurate aim. Its position commanded Observation Hill, part of the Newcastle road, Cove Hill, and Leicester Post, the whole of the old camp and all the line of country away to Range Post and beyond. It was this gun that shelled the 18th Hussars out of their camp and continually harassed the Irish Fusiliers. It was constantly dropping shells into the 69th Battery and on the K.R.R. at King’s Post. Surprise Hill is a square-topped kopje, from 500 feet to 600 feet high, between Thornhill’s Kopje and Nicholson’s Nek. It overlooks Bell’s Spruit and the scene of “Mournful Monday’s” worst disaster. From Leicester Post, where two guns were always kept turned on it, the distance is 4,100 yards—just the full range of our field guns. From Observation Hill it is hardly 2,500 yards. The destruction of its gun was therefore of the highest importance.