“Puffing Billy” gave us his four doses of big shell as usual. Whilst I was at the Intelligence Office a shell lit among some houses under the trees in front, killed two and wounded others. The action of another shell would seem incredible if I had not seen it. The thing burst among the 13th Battery, which stands under shelter of Tunnel Hill, in a straight line with my road, less than 300 yards away. I was just mounting my horse and stopped to see the burst, when a fragment came sauntering high through the air and fell with a thud in the garden just behind me. It was a jagged bit of outer casing about three inches thick, and weighing over 6 lbs. The extraordinary thing about it was that it had flung off exactly at right angles from the line of fire. Gunners say that melinite sometimes does these things.
I rode south-west, over Range Post and a bit of the Long Valley to Waggon Hill, our nearest point to the relief column and the English mail. At no great distance—ten miles or so—I could see the hills overlooking the Tugela, where the English are. Far beyond rose the crags and precipices of the Drakensberg, illuminated by unearthly gleams of the setting sun, which found their way beneath the fringes of a purple thunder-shower and turned to amber-brown a cloud of smoke rising from the burning veldt.
January 3, 1900.
The quiet hour before sunrise was again broken by the crash of our Naval guns. “Bloody Mary” (now politely called the “Princess Victoria”) threw five shells along the top of Bulwan. A Naval 12-pounder sent three against the face of the hill. Again it was intended to catch the Boer gunners and guard as they were getting up and preparing breakfast.
January 4, 1900.
No news came in, and it was a day as dull as peace, but for some amenities of bombardment.
The Surprise Hill howitzer tried a longer range. At lunch “Bulwan Billy” made some splendid shots close to our little mess and burst the tanks at Taylor’s mineral water works. In the wet afternoon the big gun’s work was less dignified. He threw five shrapnel over the cattle licking up what little grass was left on the flat, and did not kill a single cow.
The guides boast that to-day they killed one Boer by strategy used for tigers in India. Two or three of them went out to Star Kopje and loosed two miserable old ponies, driving them towards the Boer lines to graze. A Boer or two came for the prize and one was shot dead.
At night the flash signals from Colenso were very brilliant on a black and cloudy sky. They only said, “Dearest love from your own Nance,” or “Baby sends kisses,” but the Bulwan searchlight tried hard to thwart their affectionate purpose by waving his ray quickly up and down across the flashing beam.
January 5, 1900.