Colesberg-Burghersdorf.Major S - , whom I mentioned above, is one of the special service officers. He is a Staff College officer and was on the same staff with me at last year's (Wareham) manoeuvres as D.A.A.G. He is a cousin of Sir Leicester S - , who was a distinguished general.
Before coming out, he was Major at the depot of his regiment, the 21st (R. Scots Fusiliers) at Ayr. He brought out a draft years ago to his regiment in Natal. The day they landed was the day the Boers cut up the British regiment at Bronkerspruit. He was hurried up with his draft to the front, and was present at Laing's Nek, where he, was employed to take ranges for the Artillery, who could not take their own, as they were not at home with the new range-finder and were really garrison gunners, not field ditto.He was in the camp the day of Majuba, and, after the armistice, went up to Pretoria, where he remained for some time with his regiment - very interesting man to be with.I hope we may keep together, but of course we have no idea of what we are going to do. We have had several tremendous tropical storms of rain, just as if all the fire brigades in the world were playing on us. To-morrow we cross the line, and then we hope to meet the head wind which will make things cooler and dryer. Your thermometer has been a comfort.I sleep with it close to my bunk; the heat has not been excessive, about 89 degree on the bridge is the most I have heard of.I have had no difficulty in sleeping soundly.The greatest misfortune I have had atpresent is withmy pyjamas.I asked Davison to geta beautiful pair of wide floppy ones washed, and they have come back like acrobatic tights. I am reading Ball's ' Story of the Heavens' out of the ship's library - excellent!I also read a good bit of ' Pot-Pourri' No. 2, and find it also excellent.I see you state that nothing grows under beech;I saw beautiful shrubs with a sweet white flower (very well known, only I can't remember the name) growing under the beeches at Ames-bury, the Antrobus' place.I find that in the 'Globe' I bought just before starting, there was a criticism very favourable and complimentary, but nothing really in it; still I was glad to see just one notice.I forgot to make any arrangementsabout having newspaperssent out. Something in time to catch the weekly mail which would give a summary of the week's news would be very acceptable.If there is a big war, a file of some daily paper would also be an interesting thing to keep for me to look at on return.
Thursday, 19/10/'99. - We are now well over the line and have met the trade winds; it has never been oppressively hot, and now it is perfect as regards temperature. I think the Government treat the men on board ship with considerable meanness ; almost all the men on board are skilled men of some kind or another, and as such receive 'Corps Pay,' the lowest rate of which is 6d. a day; this they lose from the moment they step on board. Of course the idea is that their skill is not required on board ship; but still they don't go on board of their own choice, and they feel that their loss of pay is a grievance, and I agree. They have no beer, and I believe no liquor ration on board. Now, moderation is a great virtue, but enforced total abstinence for no definite reason seems to me to be unwise. While actually on a campaign it may not only be advisable, but necessary, but it should be universal; if Pte. T. A. is compelled to be a teetotaller, so should the G.O.C. and all other officers. For future reference I am going to jot down my ideas on the conduct of a war against the Boers. A campaign of this kind necessarily forms an exception to several of the best known rules of strategy, as the advantage of rapidity of action is greatly diminished from our point of view in consequence of the English becoming stronger and the Boers weaker (owing to the consumption of supplies, the diminution of wealth, sickness of men and horses, desertion and evaporation of enthusiasm). Political reasons - i.e., the protection of both Cape Colony and Natal - oblige us to commit the gravest of strategical errors - viz., a separation of force without any possibility of mutual support. This misfortune should, it appears to me, be reduced to a minimum at the outset of the campaign by massing each of the dividing forces at such a distance from the border as to render an attack upon either a difficult and hazardous operation ; in fact, we want to gain time. We undoubtedly must expect loss of prestige by leaving places undefended and exposed to the mercy of the Boers, but that is better than the destruction or capture of one or moresmallgarrisons.Thenext move depends upon whether the Dutch inhabitants of Cape Colony rise; if they do, no forward movements should be made against the Boers, until the country has been properly policed by the soldiers ; in fact, let them (the Boers) stew a bit.The police duties must be carried out with rigour, and should consist of total disarmament and of partial confiscation of property of disloyal colonists.Arms should be given to loyal colonists, and armed local police forces raised.If there is no trouble of this kind, or if it has been put down, I should devote my attention to the establishment of an advanced base somewhere ontheline Colesberg-Bur-ghersdorf.The railway bridge over the Orange River will probably have been destroyed, but the passage of the river, and ultimately the repair of the Bethulie bridge, will probably present no very great difficulties, though it shouldnotbeattempted tillaconsiderableforce has arrived at the front (especially artillery); thegeneral advance on Bloemfontein should not be begun till the whole of the army corps and line of communication troops have arrived at the front.From this point the advance must be made in conformity with the rules of European campaigns - cavalryscreen,advancedguards, &c. If the enemy is met with, he probably would not be in great strength, as it is difficult to see how the Transvaal would be able to take many men or guns away from the Transvaal border.But whether he is strong or weak, he must be gently 'levered' out, a considerable display of artillery inhisfront, andturning movements of cavalryand mounted infantry round his flank.There may be opportunities of getting him on the run, when horse artillery and cavalry canact with boldness, but they must be carefully chosen; the one thing to avoid is running up against a selected position to be shot, as the Boer himself puts it, like buck in the open. Now the Boer, owing to being mounted, has great tactical mobility; but in order to keep the field for any length of time, he must have his waggons, which serve him as tents, kitchens, and storehouses; he has therefore very little strategical mobility, and it ought therefore to be easy either to separate him from his waggons, or at least to drive him and his waggons back on Bloemfontein. In either case it is difficult to see how he is to avoid a disaster, his inferiority, especially in artillery, is so evident. I am rather of opinion that one serious reverse to the Boers would be sufficient to stop the whole war. If not, the whole proceeding must be begun again, this time with Bloemfontein as the advanced base. Our line of communications will by this time have assumed gigantic proportions, and any advance will of necessity be a slow matter. However, as I have already pointed out, that is attended by little disadvantage except expense. We have, I believe, eleven battalions to guard our communications, and these, with all available local forces, will have their work well cut out for them. Great strictness must be enforced, and if the line is tampered with, the people of the district should not only be fined to make good the damage, but be compelled to work at it with their own hands. The further advance must be conducted on similar lines, except that immediately after crossing the Vaal River steps must be taken to remove any troops still blocking the line from Natal. Pressure upon their line of communication with Pretoria, &c, will, if they are in large force, probably effect this; if their force is small, it may be necessary to detach a force from the army corps to co-operate with the Natal force. After our forces have got within supporting distance of each other, further actions must depend upon what the enemy do. If they, as they most probably will, fall back upon the Pretoria forts, I look upon the campaign as at an end, probably without a further engagement; if they retreat in some other direction, they at best can only hold out a certain time; their best course is to take up some intermediate and, if possible, flanking position, to bar our advance on Johannesburg and Pretoria. If we avoid the frontal infantry attack, we still ought to have little difficulty. These are my views before seeing the opening moves; they will of course be modified when I see what happens. Colonel R - , our senior special service officer, tells me that he anticipates great difficulties from the fact that the Boers take women with them in the waggons to cook and look after the teams, &c. Our business will naturally be to go for the waggons and try to shell them, capture them and destroy them in all possible ways ; there is no doubt that the women will shoot and will probably get killed, and of course a howl will be raised about fighting against women. It is a serious business, as people will not accept the only rational answer, which is that the women should remain at home, where they would be safe.