December 15, 1899.
In my own mind I had always fixed to-day as the beginning of our deliverance from this grotesque situation. It may be so still. Very heavy firing was heard down Colenso way from dawn till noon. Colonel Downing, commanding the artillery, said some of it was our field-guns, and it seemed nearer than two days ago.
The Bulwan gun gave us his customary serenade from heaven’s gate. He did rather more damage than usual, wrecking two nice houses just below my cottage. One was a boarding house full of young railway assistants, who had narrow escapes. The brother gun on Telegraph Hill was also very active, not being so well suppressed by our howitzers as before. When I was waiting at Colonel Rhodes’ cottage by the river, it dropped a shell clear over Pavilion Hill close beside it. Otherwise the Boer guns behaved with some modesty and discretion.
In the morning I rode up to Waggon Hill, and found that “Lady Anne” had at last arrived there, and was already in position. She was hauled up in the night in three pieces, each drawn by two span of oxen. Some thirty yards in front of her, in an emplacement of its own, stands the 12lb. naval gun which has been in that neighbourhood for some days. Both are carefully concealed, even the muzzles being covered up with earth and stones. They both command the approach to the town across the Long Valley by the Maritzburg road, as well as Bluebank or Rifleman’s Ridge beyond, and Telegraph Hill beyond that.
While I was on the hill I saw one mounted and four dismounted Boers capture five of our horses which had been allowed to stray in grazing.
In the afternoon a South African thunderstorm swept over us. In a few minutes the dry gully where the main hospital tents are placed, as I described, became a deep torrent of filth. The tents were three feet deep in water, washing over the sick. “Sure it’s hopeless, hopeless!” cried unwearying Major Donegan, the medical officer in charge. “I’ve just seen me two orderlies swimmin’ away down-stream.” The sick, wet and filthy as they were, had to be hurried away in dhoolies to the chapels and churches again. They will probably be safe there as long as the Geneva flag is not hoisted.
December 16, 1899.