As a result of my inquiries I came to the conclusion that it would be more satisfactory if a senior officer on the active list of the Royal Regiment of Artillery was appointed at a fixed salary for a term of years, who would be instructed, at any rate in the case of heavy ordnance, field guns and rifles, to supply none except of a pattern passed into the Imperial Service itself. This recommendation was submitted by me to my Premier at Adelaide on my return, passed on by him to the other Premiers concerned, and finally given effect to, and Lieut. Colonel King-Harman, R.A., was appointed. Little did I think that, within ten years, I myself was to receive the appointment.
I had also intended to pay a visit to the Expeditionary Force at that time operating up the Nile. But the relief or fall of Khartoum was imminent, and the time at my disposal was not sufficient. Khartoum fell and General Gordon was murdered. Who was to blame? I wonder. Have you ever been to see and studied the statue raised to his memory in Trafalgar Square, a replica of which stands in Spring Gardens, Melbourne? If not, do so some day, and look well into his face. Its expression is one of sad thought. So might he have looked as he stood in Khartoum facing death.
I must pass over the glorious days I spent at home; they were the last I spent with my father and mother.
Taking my passage by the Massilia, a sister ship to the Valetta, I set out once more for the fair lands of the South, happy and contented, mentally and physically refreshed, and determined to rise still higher in my profession. On my arrival at Adelaide I received a right royal welcome. I found General Downes going strong. There had been no more talk of Royal Commissions. Major Lovett had settled down to his work and was a general favourite; he himself liked Adelaide immensely. More funds had been made available; my own Permanent Artillery had behaved well during my absence and were doing well. For the next two years nothing occurred out of the usual, either in South Australia or the other colonies, from a military point of view. The end of 1891 was approaching; the general decided to retire. Major Lovett had completed his term as adjutant-general and was returning home. I was asked to step into the breach once more and take up his duties as well as my own. I, of course, agreed, and I was promoted to lieutenant-colonel early in 1892.
The Premier of South Australia was then Charles Cameron Kingston, or, to give him his full title, which he dearly loved, Sergeant Charles Cameron Kingston, B Company, 1st Regiment, Adelaide Rifles. Kingston possessed a charming personality. He was a most able lawyer, could see through most things and most people, could analyse a difficult subject, select what was good, discard what was bad, quicker than most men. As a politician he was highly successful. Rough old Seddon of New Zealand might be reckoned as his closest rival. As a lawyer he was sound as a bell, a most eminent draftsman, and a mighty quick worker when he liked, though he was not a model of industry. As a sergeant he was tip-top. B Company was the best company in the regiment; he seldom missed a parade. As a "sport" he was loved by old and young. They spoke of him as "Good old Charlie."
General Downes, when leaving, made up his mind to recommend to the Government to secure the services of another Imperial officer on the active list to succeed him who should take over the command before the actual date of his own retirement. Personally I must say I was rather surprised at the general's action, for by this time I had full confidence that I could carry out the duties myself. I had not by any means wasted all my time during my leave two years before; I had got much information. Then I had been instrumental in obtaining for him his second term of command, notwithstanding that he had retired from the active list himself when he had taken up the duties of secretary to Sir Frederick Sargood. So I had hoped that, while he might express his opinion to the Government, he would not insist on it too much. I must admit that he was quite frank with me as to the attitude he was taking up. His argument was to this effect. It had been found necessary before to supersede local officers. "Surely," he said, "the same considerations that held good then hold good now. I do not say that you are not qualified to fill the position, but if you are appointed it will form a precedent, and, on the expiry of the terms of the engagements of the Imperial officers in the other colonies the claims of local officers will again naturally be put forward. Then good-bye to the system of obtaining the services of thoroughly experienced officers who have no local interests and no axes to grind." Meantime, the senior commanding officers of several branches of our forces were, without my knowledge, beginning to interest themselves to have me appointed as successor to the general.
To return to Sergeant Charles Cameron Kingston, let me tell of an incident which may give you some insight into the personal character of a remarkable man. It is one which, except for an accident, might have had fatal results. Kingston was leading the Government at the time; Sir Richard Baker of Morialta was President of the Upper House. Kingston had introduced a Bill in the House of Representatives dealing with arbitration in industrial disputes. Sir Richard Baker was the father of a Bill introduced into the Senate on the same subject. While the aims of the two were identical, the methods by which those results were to be obtained were by no means analogous. Each Bill had its supporters in each House. As the debates proceeded considerable bitterness arose, ending in correspondence in the daily Press. Finally, Kingston and Baker commenced to abuse each other in print. Kingston's temper gave out. He wrote a letter to Sir Richard which he had delivered at the latter's office in Victoria Square, together with a case containing a pistol and some cartridges. He could no longer stand what he considered the insults Sir Richard had thought fit to level at him. The letter stated that he would be on the pavement on the opposite side of the street to the entrance to Sir Richard's office at five minutes to twelve o'clock, noon, next day, Saturday, and asked Sir Richard to take up a position on the pavement outside his offices at that hour, bringing his pistol with him. As soon as the post office clock, which was close to the office, began to strike twelve, each would step into the roadway and shoot at his leisure. A quaint duel, was it not?
The accident which saved the situation was the fact that Sir Richard was not in the habit of attending his office on Saturday morning. His son, or someone in the office, opened Kingston's letter, and the police were informed. Shortly before noon Kingston was seen walking across from the Government Offices towards Baker's offices. Two constables in plain clothes followed him and watched him as he coolly took up his stand on the pavement. The hands of the post office clock pointed at three minutes to twelve. The two constables walked up to Mr. Kingston. They politely asked him what his business was. "I am just waiting for Baker to come out of his office," he answered; "then you will see some sport. I advise you to move a bit to one side. I don't think he is much of a shot. He might get one of you two." The constables, who were well known to Kingston, informed him that Sir Richard had not been to his office that morning, so that there would be no sport, but they had instructions from the Commissioner of Police to arrest him for attempting to commit a breach of the peace, and to take him at once before a magistrate. Within half an hour he appeared before a police magistrate, had his pistol taken from him, and was bound over to keep the peace for six months.
In the meantime the news had spread throughout Adelaide like wildfire, and had reached Sir Richard at the Adelaide Club. Kingston's letter and the revolver which accompanied it had been sent down to the club from Sir Richard's office after twelve o'clock. No sooner had Sir Richard been told of what had happened than he put the revolver Kingston had sent him into his pocket, borrowed another at the club, and started off to look for his challenger, who, he knew, usually lunched at Parliament House and would at this time probably be walking down King William Street from the Government Offices in Victoria Square. He was not mistaken, for after proceeding a short way up King William Street he came face to face with Kingston. "I am sorry," he said, "I was not at my office this morning, but here I am now. Stand off, and the first one who counts five aloud can shoot away."
"I am sorry," said Kingston, "but I can't oblige you; the police have taken away my revolver."
"Never mind," said Baker, "here is the one you sent me," handing it over to him. "I don't believe it will go off. I have one of my own."
It was now time to interfere. Three of us who had followed Sir Richard out from the club stepped in and good counsels prevailed. As Kingston had been bound over to keep the peace for six months no duel could take place. As a matter of fact, it was not long before the two redoubtable belligerents shook hands and had a friendly laugh over the incident.
Now comes the sequel. By the Regulations under the Military Act, any member of the forces convicted of an offence in a civil court was liable to dismissal. On the Monday morning a full report of the case appeared in the newspapers. Before this took place General Downes had retired and I was once more acting Commandant. The officer who was acting Adjutant-General brought the newspaper report under my notice officially. There was no other course but to order Sergeant Kingston to be put under arrest and called upon to make a statement, if he so wished, before he was dismissed from the forces, in accordance with the Regulations. This order I gave. The Attorney-General at the time, Mr. Homburgh, was very much concerned at my order. A doubt then entered my mind as to whether being bound over to keep the peace amounted to a conviction under the provisions of the Defence Act Regulations. I immediately referred the question to the Crown Solicitor, who said it was a difficult question I had raised, but ruled finally that being bound over to keep the peace was not tantamount to a conviction within the meaning of the Regulations. Whether this was sound law or not I cannot say, but it gave me the opportunity to let Sergeant Kingston off easily. I at once sent orders to his commanding officer to warn the sergeant to appear before me at the Staff Office the next morning, so that I could deal with the case.
I thought the incident was over, and got ready for my dinner. As I was entering the dining-room at the Club Sir Jenkin Coles, the Speaker of the House, a close friend of Kingston's, spoke to me about it. I told him the decision of the Crown Solicitor left the matter in Kingston's favour; he had been ordered to appear before me in accordance with the usual custom of the Service to be finally dealt with. Sir Jenkin asked me if this was necessary. "No," I answered; "if Sergeant Kingston signs a statement to the effect that he is satisfied with the cause of his being placed under arrest and the action taken in this matter by the military authorities I don't want to see him at the office." No sooner had I said this than Sir Jenkin rose from the dinner table to return in ten minutes with a written statement, signed by Kingston, to the effect that he was quite satisfied with the action taken by the authorities. So ended this extraordinary episode, but I was told by a good many friends that I had driven a nail in my coffin as regarded the Commandantship. The appointment was practically in Kingston's hand. But those friends of mine did not know him.
General Downes left Adelaide. The Government gave no indication of their intentions re the appointment of his successor. The mayor's official ball took place. Charles Cameron Kingston was talking to the Governor. He beckoned me and said: "I have just informed His Excellency that the Government have appointed you a colonel and Commandant of our forces." His Excellency warmly congratulated me. I thanked Kingston.
My vision was fulfilled.
THE GREAT STRIKES
In 1890 the great maritime strike had its birth in Sydney. The original strikers were the wharf labourers, who paralysed all business. The strike spread rapidly to practically all the chief ports of Australia. The Government at Sydney trusted more to the support of the merchants and producers, whose interests were being so assailed, than to the power that lay in their hands to tackle the strikers by the aid of the military forces. The police, under the able guidance of Mr. Fosberry, then Chief Commissioner, did their work splendidly, but the situation became too critical. Bank managers, insurance agents, squatters, architects and others took off their coats and waistcoats, loaded and unloaded the trolleys, and worked like common labourers. The farthest point that the Government would go towards assisting the police in keeping order was to detail a restricted number of mounted riflemen to protect the willing volunteer workers from the assaults of the strikers.
In sympathy with the action taken in Sydney the Wharfmen's Unions in all the other chief ports of Australia joined their comrades, and Port Adelaide became a head centre. Previous to this the South Australian Government had entered into an agreement with the Government of Western Australia to train some fifty Permanent Force Artillerymen to garrison the newly constructed forts at Albany. This detachment were just completing their time at Largs Fort, so that the little Permanent Force under my command in South Australia numbered some 130, of all ranks. The strikers at Port Adelaide set to work with a good will. Every vessel in the harbour was picketed, every approach to the wharves guarded. Business was at an absolute standstill. Large mass meetings of strikers were held morning and afternoon. The police, under Mr. Peterswald, reinforced by a large draft from the country districts, could do no more than just maintain order. The situation was more than serious. Mr. Peterswald ventured to appear at a mass meeting one afternoon, hoping that he might cast a little oil on the troubled waters. He came out on the balcony of a hotel, facing the huge crowd of strikers. A quaint scene followed. Some wags called out, "Take off your hat, Peter." They wanted to get authority—as personified by the Commissioner—to bow to them. Peterswald quickly recognized the position and, lifting his hat, said to them: "I am glad to meet you, men. I hope you will go back to your work and put an end to this serious trouble," and quickly left the balcony. The majority cheered and laughed. But their leaders were on the job. The word was passed on to the strikers that, about twelve o'clock that night, they would receive definite instructions from their section leaders as to their future action. All their pickets and guards were doubled that night, and specially the guard on the railway bridge across the Port River, which connected Port Adelaide with the shore and the forts.
During that afternoon I had given instructions that every available man of our Permanent Force was to assemble at Fort Glanville, with a view to a gun competition next day. Parliament was sitting. I was at Fort Glanville, much occupied in laying down the conditions for next day's gun practice. In the course of the evening Mr. Playford, the Defence Minister, telephoned me from Parliament House to be ready to march with my men under arms to Port Adelaide. As this was the first time that—as far as I knew—an order had been issued by any Australian Government to its permanent troops to march under arms to assist the police in quelling civil riots, I asked that the instructions should be sent to me in writing. The final words I heard on the telephone were, "Your instructions will reach you by a mounted orderly in plenty of time for you to act."
At about eleven o'clock that evening the mounted orderly arrived, and at three in the morning—it was summer time, a moonlight night, practically as clear as day—we marched out of the fort on our way to Port Adelaide, where I found close on 400 police, mounted and foot, all armed. The Government had, therefore, some 500 armed men to cope with the strikers if they persisted in carrying out their threats. Half-past five came. It was daylight. The inspector in charge of the police patrols which had been posted the previous evening at all important bridges and approaches to the wharves suggested that I should accompany him to view the situation. We rode out together. Nobody was to be seen; the port was as quiet as if it were Sunday morning. The strike leaders had become fully aware of the determination of the Government to deal firmly with any attempt on their part to disturb the public peace, and had deemed discretion the better part of valour. The strike was virtually over, and, after providing a good breakfast for my men, we marched back to Fort Glanville in peace and quiet. This was the only instance that I am aware of in the history of the Australian colonies when the members of the Permanent Forces were actually called out and marched under arms to the assistance of the civil power. Let us hope it will be the last.
Hardly were these troubles over when another large body of Australian workers held up one of Australia's chief industries. The shearers, the clippers of the fleeces, struck work. The shearers are a roving crowd, who move from north to south of Australia's vast territory and back again. Most of them are well known to the squatters who employ them. The same old story—more wages, better conditions of living. My own opinions as to the rights and wrongs of the shearers' claims may be of no value, but my sympathies were certainly on their side as regarded, at least, the conditions of living at the sheds.
I had had personal experience of how quickly utter ruin falls upon the squatter. It is a question often of living in affluence one day and having not a penny left within nine months. To record the names of the squatters personally known to myself who had thus suffered would be a sad task. They were many. However, their failure was not brought about by the demands of the shearers. The granting of these demands in prosperous times could not have much hurt the interests of their employers. Providence has a special gift of casting ruin at times broadcast, without, as far as we mortals can tell, any reason or rhyme. A few inches of rain, falling at the right time of the year in any part of Australia, ensures a plentiful supply of green feed and prevents the enormous ravages amongst stock of all kinds which a drought causes.
The squatters fought their battle hard against the shearers in 1891. In Queensland they had a sympathetic Government at the time. The maritime strike had left a nasty taste in the mouths of the producers. The export trade had been held up, and the necessaries of life imported from abroad had been denied to the country districts. It was decided to adopt hard, repressive measures.
The Government summoned to their aid the Mounted Rifles. These were chiefly recruited in the country districts, and most of them were producers themselves, and the strike broke down.
It was just about this time that I accompanied His Excellency Lord Kintore, an old friend and neighbour from Aberdeenshire—then our Governor in South Australia—as far as Brisbane. Lord Kintore had, some time previously, arranged to proceed by sea to Port Darwin and undertake the overland journey from there to Adelaide through the northern territory, which was then under the administration of the South Australian Government. It was a big undertaking, and by no means a pleasure trip. We arrived in Brisbane, but, owing to the breaking down of the ss. Chingtu, we had a delay of some days in that fair capital of what will undoubtedly be in the future one of the richest of the Australian States.
We rather taxed the splendid efforts of our hospitable friends by the length of our stay. But they were not to be beaten. Strike or no strike, they laid themselves out to give us as much joy as it was possible to do in the time. I laid the foundation of many lasting friendships within those few days. Then the Chingtu, with Lord Kintore on board, left for Port Darwin, and I made my way backward to Adelaide.
The Melbourne Cup Meeting of 1891 was a fateful one for me, for I had the happiness of becoming engaged to be married. I had known my future wife for several years. She had been born in Victoria. Her father hailed from County Galway, having emigrated to South Australia with his brother, the late Hon. Nicholas Fitzgerald, than whom no public man in Australia was ever held in higher esteem by all classes. The brothers made Burra Burra, then a prosperous copper field to the north of Adelaide, their first hunting-ground. From there they moved on to Victoria, in the days of the discovery of the goldfields—Ballarat, Castlemaine, Kyneton and Bendigo. At the time I married they had prospered well enough. Later on they lost—for want of food and water—some 400,000 sheep on the various stations they were interested in. My wife and I had hopes of buying old Wardhouse, in Aberdeenshire, from my Spanish nephew. These hopes went by the board. Ours was by no means a singular experience in the history of Australian pioneers in the back country. I know of many friends who—if possible—fared worse.
I was married on February 29, 1892. At the conclusion of our honeymoon, which we spent at Gracedale House, close to the Blackspur range of hills, Victoria, we returned to Adelaide, and once again I became a resident at the Largs Bay Hotel.
When I look back to those happy days I feel thankful that my term of office cost me but small worry. I happened to be successful in maintaining quite cordial relations with the successive occupants of the ministerial chair. I was not hampered by any serious reduction in our financial vote. I was not troubled by any especially adverse criticisms on the conduct of the forces, either in Parliament or in the Press. I was able to carry out reforms which led the way to the adoption of the "Universal Service System" now in vogue in the great Commonwealth of Australia.
THE INTRODUCTION OF "UNIVERSAL SERVICE," AND TWO VOYAGES HOME
From the very time that I took over the duties of my first appointment I had thought that a considerable improvement could be made in the organization of the existing forces. I had encouraged the formation of cadet corps, as far as lay in my power, and I had been splendidly supported by the Education Department in my efforts, with the result that, when I assumed the command, the cadet system was a flourishing institution. The success that attended the cadet movement, the support given to it by the parents, and the keen enthusiasm of the youngsters in their work, led me to think that the time was ripe for the introduction of a universal system of National Service, the ultimate aim of which was to ensure that every youth should, by the time that he had reached the age of manhood, twenty-five years, have undergone a course of training, which, without interfering with his civil avocation, would render him a desirable asset as a soldier. With this object in view I submitted a scheme to the Government.
General Hutton, who had by this time been appointed Commandant of New South Wales, arranged a conference of the Commandants of the States in Sydney to discuss several important matters in connexion with the defence of Australia as a whole. Two very important agenda were: (a) the necessity for determining the nature of the heavy armaments of the forts, in point of uniformity and efficiency, and (b) the co-ordination of the several systems of enlistment then in vogue throughout the States.
I informed my brother Commandants that I intended to recommend my Government to merge our Volunteers into the partially paid force, which would be a substantial move towards the simplification of the conditions of service. Further, I suggested that if the South Australian Government carried out the proposed change it would assist them materially towards effecting a similar change in their own colonies.
I did not, however, deem it advisable to mention the plans I had with reference to the introduction of universal service, for the change was a radical one. I knew that if any suspicion arose that it was proposed to introduce a form of military service compelling citizens by law to devote no matter how small a portion of their own time to military training, such proposals would at once be looked upon as simply an insidious way of creating conscription, a compulsory system of service—a form of service absolutely distasteful and foreign to us British, and even more so to British colonists. It was therefore necessary for me to take the greatest care very gradually to prepare and school the public mind so that the term "National Service," which I had adopted for my scheme, should in no way be misunderstood for conscription, but rather that it should be looked upon simply as a personal responsibility on the part of every youth to fit himself to take part in the defence of his country, just in the same way as it was his duty to attend school or submit to any other laws governing his civil and economic life.
Kingston, with whom I had many conversations, was a most keen supporter of the Universal Service system. He agreed at once with the proposition as regarded the amalgamation of the Volunteers with the partially paid forces, and, what was more to the point, promised to find the funds required. He was very anxious to introduce and carry through Parliament, while he was Premier of South Australia, a system of National Service, which, he foresaw, would sooner or later find its way into the statutes of Federated Australia. Even so early as this Kingston was paving the way for a united Australia. He was at that time considered, notwithstanding his personal foibles, one of the ablest of the Australian Premiers.
He gave me instructions, confidentially, to draft two Bills, one embodying the provision for the adoption of the universal service, the other simply dealing with the proposed changes in organization. When the time arrived to place the proposals before Parliament Kingston had come to the conclusion that the expenditure involved in initiating National Service was greater than he could ask Parliament to vote at the time. He determined, therefore, to pigeon-hole it. The Re-organization Bill was promptly carried by both Houses and became law. The Act of Parliament fixed a date for the carrying out of the change. To avoid the clerical work involved by the carrying out of the re-attesting of the whole of the citizen forces, partially paid and Volunteer, under the new Act it was provided that every officer, non-commissioned officer and man who did not, in writing, notify his intention to sever his connexion with the forces owing to the new conditions, would continue in the service, and the date for the beginning of his period of service under the new Act, namely, three years, would be entered in his existing attestation papers by the respective commanding officers. If I remember rightly, not one and a half per cent. withdrew.
The eventful day arrived on which every member of the force ceased to be a soldier. The next day all willing to do so would be soldiers again. That night we were dining at Government House. After dinner it happened to strike the Governor that there were no soldiers in South Australia that evening with the exception of myself. So lifting up his glass he said, "Behold our army! Every soldier except one has been disbanded to-day. He is our army. Good luck to him." And "The Army" I became to all my friends in Adelaide, and, later on, right throughout Australia.
Jubilee Year, 1897, was now close at hand. I had been steadily at work since my trip home in 1889, and was now finishing my fifth year as Commandant. Everything was working smoothly, and I was asked by Kingston if I would like to take a trip home and attend officially the Jubilee celebrations in London. I talked it over with my wife. Our two children were then just four and three years old. My wife thought that it would be more enjoyable for her and for the children if we let alone the Jubilee festivities and got six months' leave, reaching London later on in the early summer, so that we could enjoy the autumn in Scotland and return to Australia at the end of the year. Kingston fell in with this suggestion, and I was granted six months' leave of absence and reappointed Commandant for a further period of five years.
We sailed in the Damascus, myself and wife, little Eileen and Carlos, my youngest sister-in-law, Geraldine, and my wife's companion, Miss Ryan, who was specially in charge of the children. The Damascus, an Aberdeen liner, was a comfortable boat; she had been a short time before fitted up to take Sir Henry Loch to South Africa. We had chosen the Cape route to avoid the Red Sea in the very hot weather. We spent a couple of days at Durban and another two at Capetown, and reached London about the middle of September. My mother and father had both passed away, and the family properties had gone to my nephew, Rafael, who was living in Spain. Wardhouse and Kildrummy Castle were let. My sister, Magda, Mrs. Lumsden of Clova, which marches with Kildrummy, had asked us to stay with her. Our plans were to go to Clova on our arrival in London, put in a couple of months shooting, visit our old friends, then move up to London, where my wife and the others would stay while I went to Egypt. There I hoped to see as much as the time at my disposal would allow of Kitchener's campaign along the Nile.
All went well, and I left Clova for London, on my way to Egypt. I arrived at Morley's Hotel on a Saturday. Next afternoon I received an urgent telegram to return at once, as my wife had been taken suddenly very ill. I took the first train. The telegrams I received on the journey north were very disquieting. The news on arriving at Aberdeen made me lose all hope of seeing her alive again. Providence was, however, kind. The crisis passed, and the doctors assured me she would recover in time. My plans, of course, had to be altered. I gave up my intended visit to Egypt. My wife's recovery was very slow. We had to make our journey south in stages.
One of our stopping-places was Newcastle-on-Tyne. An amusing incident happened there. Both my wife and myself had met in Australia that charming and graceful actress, Grace Palotta. On our arrival at the hotel on a cold, dark, winter's afternoon, I left my wife in a sitting-room and went off to attend to the rest of the family. On my return she said, "Who do you think came in just now? Grace Palotta. She is looking as pretty as ever. She quite astonished me by telling me she is staying here with her friend, the prince. Do try and find out who he is. It is quite exciting." I thought surely there was some mistake, and told her so. "No," she said, "that is just what she said. Do go to the theatre to-night, find out and let me know all about it." So, after an early dinner, I went off to the theatre. As I arrived there, I noticed the big posters announcing the name of the play. The name of the play was My Friend the Prince. After the performance Grace had some supper with us and a real hearty laugh when we told her, and, in her pretty foreign way, said: "Oh, I am afraid, Mrs. Gordon, you thought I was a very naughty girl." We met Palotta afterwards in Australia, where she had often told this little story to her friends, much to their amusement.
On arrival in London I took a house close to South Kensington Station. As time passed it became evident I would have to return to Australia alone. My wife's health still caused me grave anxiety. My leave being up, I was obliged to depart and leave the family to follow me. I took my passage by the P. & O. ss. Himalaya, Captain Bruen, and left London at the end of 1899, once again bound for Australia and returning to my old command in Adelaide. This was my third voyage to the other end of the world. It was, as usual, full of pleasant memories. Once again I was elected president of the sports and amusement committee. With a good ship, a good captain, a full passenger list, the hearty co-operation of all, and right good weather, it was almost a record passage for comfort and enjoyment. Up to schedule time we arrived at Albany in Western Australia.
I went ashore to call upon some of my old friends, bought an evening paper, and went into the club. Whilst enjoying a pipe I glanced at one of the headings: "Death of Colonel King-Harman, Military Adviser and Inspector of Warlike Stores in London for the Australian Colonies." You may remember that he had been appointed as a result of my visit home in 1889. He was an old Gunner friend of mine, and I had seen a good deal of him before I left London. Only the day before my departure he had written me a note to say that he was sorry he had taken a severe chill and would be unable to come and see me off the next evening. Poor Harman never recovered from that chill. It was something more serious that carried him off in five weeks.
The possibility of my succeeding him temporarily struck me. What a chance to return home to my sick wife at once! It was the opportunity of a lifetime. A convention of delegates from all the colonies was at the time sitting in Melbourne. Every Premier was attending the convention. I hastened to the post office and wired to my old friend, Charles Cameron Kingston, still South Australia's Premier, notifying him of King-Harman's death, and asking him to arrange with the other Premiers to postpone the appointment of King-Harman's successor until the Himalaya reached Melbourne, requesting permission at the same time to continue my journey in her to Melbourne, instead of landing at Adelaide. Our steamer sailed from Albany before I could receive an answer, so I also asked him to wire to me at Adelaide. I felt somehow that another streak of good fortune was coming my way. Sure enough, on arrival at Adelaide, a telegram awaited me from Kingston, instructing me to proceed to Melbourne.
On arrival at Melbourne I at once went to Parliament House to see him, and told him of my wife's severe illness, which had compelled her to remain with the children in England, and I asked him to assist me in getting Harman's appointment. He handed me a copy of my own report of 1890, recommending that an officer on the active list of the Royal Artillery should hold the position, on which recommendation the Premiers had acted. "Now," he said, "you are not on the 'active list of the Royal Artillery'; how can I possibly assist you?" I had had plenty of time on the way from Albany to Melbourne to think over this difficult point, which I had foreseen. I had my answer ready. I suggested to him that I should be appointed on loan, as it were, from Australia, for a term of one year, during which time I should be granted leave of absence from my appointment of Commandant of South Australia, to which position I would return at the end of the twelve months, and then an officer of the Royal Artillery on the active list could be selected. It was a big concession I was asking for, and I knew it. I said no more. I knew my man. Kingston grasped a point quicker than any man I have ever known, except perhaps Kitchener. Both disliked superfluous words. Well, Kingston just smiled and said: "Come and lunch with me to-morrow. Good morning."
At lunch next day there were four of us—Kingston, Sir Edward Braddon, Premier of Tasmania, Sir John Forrest, Premier of Western Australia, and your humble servant. Both Sir Edward and Sir John were old friends of mine. After lunch Kingston asked me if I knew the Premiers of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland well. I told him I knew George Reid (New South Wales) very well, but I knew nothing much about the Premiers of Victoria or Queensland personally. "Well," he said, "see George Reid at once, tell him what you want and the reason why, and let me know what he says about it." I saw George Reid during the afternoon, explained the situation to him, and asked him for his support. He informed me that he had already been approached on behalf of another officer by some of his supporters, but had not given a definite answer, and he felt that he could not very well support me, who was in no way connected with New South Wales. "You see," he added, "there are six colonies concerned. Now, have you got three Premiers to support you?" I said "Yes." (My three friends at lunch.) "Well, then," he went on, "if I remain neutral and decline to vote you will have three votes to two in your favour, and thus carry the day, even if the other two vote against you." With a hearty shake of his hand and grateful feelings I left him. In the evening I reported to Kingston the result of my interview with George Reid. I felt I had succeeded as regarded the inspectorship of stores. But what about retaining my appointment as Commandant of South Australia while I was away? I had just returned after an absence of six months. Was it likely that the important position of Commandant was to continue to be filled by a locum tenens for a further period of one whole year? Kingston did not keep me long in suspense. "Well done, Reid!" he said. "That settles your going. I will see that you do not lose your appointment of Commandant as long as I am Premier. Get straight back to Adelaide and say absolutely nothing to anyone. Act as if you were going to stay, but be ready to get on a steamer homeward bound as soon as you hear from me. Good-bye and good luck." So we parted, and I found my way back to Adelaide by the first coastal boat.
The day after my arrival there the mail steamer Victoria was due to leave, homeward bound, at midnight. In the afternoon of that day I got an official letter from the office of the South Australian Premier notifying me that I had been appointed Military Adviser and Inspector of Warlike Stores for the Australian Colonies, Queensland being the only objector. You can imagine the surprise my departure caused, but I was away in the ss. Victoria, well into the Australian Bight, making westwards, when the news of my new appointment appeared in next day's morning papers. This was now my sixth voyage to and from Australia, and was as pleasant as its predecessors.
MILITARY ADVISER TO THE AUSTRALIAN COLONIES IN LONDON
On my arrival in London I found that my wife was not well. As a matter of fact, she was anything but well. I at once removed her and the children to Richmond Hill and set to work at my new duties. I was not prepared for the consternation which my arrival in London caused amongst the Agents-General of the Colonies which I was to represent. Kingston had evidently thought it advisable not to cable, with the result that the official notification arrived by post practically at the same time as myself. Not having any idea that their Governments in Australia intended to send anyone home to fill the appointment, the Agents-General had accepted the services of another Royal Artillery officer on the Active List to carry on pending a definite appointment being made, in accordance with the conditions which had held when Colonel Harman was appointed. This officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Baker, was as much surprised as anybody when I arrived to take up the duties which he naturally thought would devolve upon himself. My position therefore was not a very pleasant one, but I saw no reason why, with tact and care, the unpleasantness should not be removed. I was right in my forecast, and, before two months had passed, my official relations with all concerned became quite satisfactory.
There is no need, nor would it be of any special interest, to enter into details of the many and varied duties which appertained to the appointment. I had to buy anything, from a submarine or destroyer to brass instruments for bands, and from the largest of guns to carbines and bayonets and officers' whistles. The question of advising the Government on making inquiries as to inventions was not part of my duties, but yet hardly a week or a fortnight passed that some persistent inventor did not find his way into my offices. The question of getting new inventions fully considered and tested by the War Office was always a difficult one to those who did not know the ropes, and there seemed to be a general idea amongst these clever gentlemen that, if they could get some of the Colonies to accept what they had to offer, it would be an easy road to the War Office. During my time in London, however, I must say that while several clever and very ingenious devices were brought to me, none proved good enough to enable me to recommend their adoption.
It had been decreed by the War Office that manoeuvres on a much larger scale than had as yet been held in England should take place during the summer, and I looked forward with a great deal of interest to being present thereat. There appeared to be three principal objects in carrying them out, to give senior officers an opportunity of handling large bodies of men actually in the field; secondly, to test the departmental services; and thirdly, to test the possibilities and reliability of a system of hired transport.
The invited visiting officers were quartered at the Counties Hotel, Salisbury. Its situation was fairly convenient and it was quite a comfortable hotel. There were to be two armies, the Northern and the Southern, the two together numbering somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 men and commanded respectively by the Duke of Connaught and General Sir Redvers Buller. The period of manoeuvres lasted some eight days. Salisbury Plain and the surrounding country was the headquarters of the Northern Army, while the Southern Army was camped beyond the Downs to the south-west.
From the very start of the concentration of the troops the weather promised to be of a very trying character. The sun shone with almost tropical force. The large bodies of troops, moving through the narrow roadways and lanes, hemmed in by the high hedges, churned up clouds of dust. Moving in the rear of the troops thousands of wagons of the hired transport made matters worse. I doubt if ever a more extraordinary collection of vehicles and beasts of burden was ever got together anywhere in the world. Big furniture vans, drawn by four or three wretched-looking horses, would be seen just in front of two-wheeled carts drawn by a couple of powerful Clydesdales. The majority of the drivers, being civilians, did much as they pleased. Once a section of the transport was committed to a long piece of road or narrow lane without cross-roads it simply had to go on; it couldn't turn round; it trusted to Providence to reach its destination. I think it was the third or fourth day that the task set to the armies was the occupation of a long ridge of the Downs, some eight or ten miles south-west from Salisbury.
Operations were to begin at six in the morning and cease at two p.m., and the visiting officers were attached that day to the Northern Army. The starting points of the two armies were at about equal distances from the objective. The point at issue was—who was to occupy the long ridge position first? It was frightfully hot; I have never known it hotter in England. I was glad of my Australian hat and light khaki uniform as I rode along the ranks of the sweltering infantry; the Scotch in their small glengarrys, the artillery with their old-fashioned forage caps, all were smothered in dust.
As the Northern Army advanced commanding officers anxiously sought for news of the enemy. About half-past twelve the visiting officers decided to ask permission to push forward to the head of the advance guard and see what was happening, for the hour to stop the battle was getting close at hand and no enemy was in sight. We pushed forward right to the slopes of the rising downs. Still no signs of the enemy beyond a few small cavalry patrols, which promptly retired before those of the Northern Army. We were taken up to the crown of the ridges.
On arrival there we could plainly see large bodies of the enemy, evidently resting, and camping in some beautifully wooded, shady country about three or four miles away. Apparently something had gone wrong somewhere. While the Northern Army marched some nine or ten miles in that awful heat, their enemies had probably not done more than three or four miles. But the Northern Army had won the day. It had also been arranged that—no matter which side did win the battle that day, on the next morning the Northern Army was to retire again, fighting a rear-guard action. Lord Wolseley was by no means pleased with the day's work. It was reported that after listening at the usual pow-wow to what the officer commanding the Southern Army, Buller, had to say about the movements of his troops during the day, he expressed his opinions in fairly forcible terms.
Operations were to commence again at six o'clock the next morning. A few captive balloons were being used for observation purposes by both sides. It was presumed that the Southern Army would take the opportunity, after the comparative rest of the day before, of showing their mettle, and a fairly ding-dong fight was expected. So we were early in the field, back to the old ridge on the Downs, where the battle had ceased the day before. We were not disappointed.
I personally spent some unprofitable hours up in the air. One of the captive balloons, in charge of an engineer officer, was just being prepared ready to ascend when the officer, whom I knew well, invited me to go up with him. I handed my horse to the orderly and jumped into the basket, and we were soon up some hundreds of feet in the air. It was an interesting sight to see the southern force making its way to the attack through the valleys between the ridges. It was not pleasing to notice a half-squadron of cavalry suddenly emerge from under cover of a farm near by and charge straight for the wagon of our captive balloon. I wondered what was going to happen. Could the wagon get away out of reach in time? It didn't seem possible. My host had no intention of being captured; he cut off the balloon from the wagon, which was duly taken. The day turned out as hot as the day before. There was hardly a breath of air and our balloon hung poised over the enemy's troops now passing under it. If we came down we would, of course, fall into their hands as prisoners. My host was determined not to be caught and refused to come down. A couple of batteries of the enemy's artillery quite enjoyed themselves firing at us. I suggested to him that, if it was real business, we were in a very awkward position, but he didn't mind. He thought his balloon was good enough for anything except to go down, and he didn't intend to do that until the fighting for the day was over, two o'clock in the afternoon. And up in the air we stayed. As I had neither pipe nor tobacco and we had nothing to eat or drink with us, I was not sorry when we set foot on Mother Earth again. I think it was that night, if not the next, a Saturday night, that we received a message from the headquarters of the Duke telling us of the defeat of the Khalifa at Omdurman by the forces in Egypt under Kitchener. It was welcome news.
Everyone knows the plight our War Office was in re the supply of small arms ammunition at the beginning of the South African War. Early in 1899 I received two orders, large in their way, totalling some five million rounds, for the .303 magazine rifle, from Sydney and Melbourne. The rifle ammunition Mark V was then in use, and very good ammunition it was too. The introduction of Mark VI was under consideration, and there was a probability of its replacing Mark V at an early date. I had been watching with considerable interest the experiments that had been taking place with the Mark VI, and I was personally far from satisfied that it would be a success. I decided to supply the order with Mark V, notwithstanding my general instructions that all stores were to be of the latest up-to-date pattern introduced into the Service at home. As the first consignments of the Mark V were shipped, I notified the Victorian and New South Wales Governments of the steps I was taking. I did not hear anything further in the matter for some two or three months when, to my surprise, I received a cable from Victoria, asking me upon what grounds I was sending out Mark V ammunition and not Mark VI, which, they pointed out, they understood had been adopted at home. At the same time a member of one of the firms which were supplying the ammunition called and informed me that his firm had received an order direct from the Government of Victoria for two million rounds of Mark VI ammunition, requesting them to cease forwarding any more Mark V. I immediately cabled to Victoria that I was not satisfied with the Mark VI ammunition, that I expected it to be withdrawn at an early date, and that, if they chose to place orders direct with the contractors on their own, I would accept no responsibility of any kind in the matter. In the meantime, what was to be done with the still very large balance of Mark V ammunition which was ready for shipment? My friend, the member of the firm, was just as aware as I was that Mark VI ammunition which they had then begun to supply to the War Office was not by any means likely to prove satisfactory. He actually seemed rather pleased that the large balance of Mark V was now practically left on his hands and would be replaced by the Mark VI. As the inspection of the Mark VI would naturally take some considerable time before it could be passed and dispatched to Australia, there was no hurry, as far as I could see, to communicate further by cable with Victoria. I may mention that the Government of New South Wales had accepted the situation and were content to receive their regular supplies of Mark V, having accepted my suggestion.
Then my day came. The National Rifle Meeting was held in Scotland. I voyaged up to watch for myself. It was not long before serious complaints began to be made, not only as regards the actual results of the shooting on the targets, but, what was much more serious, the bursting of two or three barrels and the blowing out of several breech-blocks. I was quite satisfied and returned to London. Courts of Inquiry were ordered by the Government, but, what was more important, similar happenings occurred later at the Bisley Meeting. The Council immediately took up the matter with the Government. Result: Mark VI ammunition condemned. Then went a cable to Australia through the Press Association:
"Mark VI ammunition condemned by Government.—The information sent to the Colonies by the Inspector of Warlike Stores confidentially has proved correct."
Next day I received the following from Melbourne: "Is the cable published here to-day with reference to Mark VI ammunition true? If so, please rescind as soon as possible the order for two million rounds placed with the contractors." There was nothing more to be done but to try to induce the contractors to forgo their order for two million Mark VI and let us have the Mark V. I think it is to their credit to state that they at once met my wishes in this respect, and an awkward situation was saved. This happened only some two months before the declaration of war against South Africa. The War Office, having decided earlier in the year on the adoption of the Mark VI, had placed very large orders with the contractors, probably for some forty to fifty million rounds, and these orders had been, to a large extent, executed, while, naturally, the stocks of Mark V had been practically depleted. The result was that the War Office found itself in the critical position of entering upon a war with actually a shortage of rifle ammunition. It will be remembered that the Government of India came to the rescue.
I had now been in London over a year. The question of my return had not been raised. Kingston was still Premier, and my locum tenens, a Colonel Stuart, continued acting for me as Commandant in South Australia.
OFF TO THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR
Towards the middle of September, 1899, rumours of war began to spread. Early in October war was declared. At that time a squadron of the New South Wales Lancers, which had been sent home by voluntary subscription, was undergoing a course of training in England under the command of Captain Cox. The officers and men volunteered, and they were the first Australian mounted troops to land in South Africa.
I was naturally very anxious to go out myself, so I cabled to the Governments of the several colonies for the necessary leave. They refused, for the very good reason that as war had been declared it was just the very time when they required the services of their military adviser in England. I could not quarrel with their decision. I thought once more of my old friend, Charles Cameron Kingston, cabled to him explaining the position, and suggested that I should resign my appointment as Inspector of Warlike Stores, return to my dormant appointment as Commandant of South Australia, and on my arrival in Adelaide obtain permission to proceed to South Africa as a special service officer, if this could be arranged without my having to give up the Commandantship. I felt fairly certain of securing a position on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief in connexion with the mounted contingents of the Australian colonies, which were being so freely offered by all of them to the Mother Country. Kingston once again met my wishes. I cabled my resignation to the Governments I was serving, and, being fortunate enough to secure first-rate accommodation for the wife and family, set sail for Australia a few days after war was declared, in the middle of October, in what was then the finest passenger boat to Australia, the German ship the ss. Bremen. And so began my seventh journey across the world.
Our passage in the Bremen was as usual a fair weather one, but it was fraught with much anxiety as regarded the progress of the war. The ports of call of our ship were Genoa, Port Said and Aden, Colombo, and then Western Australia. As we arrived at each of these ports the news from South Africa became graver and graver. Siege of Ladysmith, siege of Mafeking, siege of Kimberley. Rebellion in Cape Colony. Then Colenso and Spion Kop. We felt somewhat relieved on arrival at Freemantle, where the news met us that General Buller was to be superseded in the command by Lord Roberts. On reaching Adelaide I saw Kingston, my friendly Premier, and told him that it was my intention, if he approved, to take my family on to my wife's relations in Melbourne, return at once to Adelaide, raise the first mounted contingent, and sail with it for South Africa. Once again Kingston fell in with my views. I took the family to Melbourne and returned to Adelaide.
The excitement throughout the Australian colonies at that time, the middle of December, 1899, was intense. Just previous to leaving England by the Bremen I had been informed by the War Office, and by the Australian Governments I then represented, that they had offered contingents for service in South Africa to the Home Government. I had called at the War Office and had been told that the offer had been accepted, but that it had been decided to accept infantry and not mounted units. I pointed out to those in authority at the time that they had quite failed to appreciate the temper of the offer of the Australian colonies. The men who wished to volunteer were not in the least anxious, in fact, they really had the strongest objection, to walk about South Africa; they and their horses were one, and even if they couldn't shoot or be drilled in time to fulfil the conditions of a trained cavalryman, at any rate they could ride like hell and shoot straight.
The War Office people thought I was rather romancing. I tried to disabuse them of this idea and ventured a step farther. I said that I almost believed that the refusal of the War Office to accept mounted troops might be taken absolutely as an insult. I was told that they valued my opinions and wished they had heard them before their final decision had been cabled out, but it could not be altered. The War Office had its way. The first contingent, therefore, raised in the colonies were trained as infantrymen, dispatched to South Africa, and on arrival there were formed into one regiment, every member of which was a first-class rider but a bad walker. They were shifted about hither and thither, gained no particular laurels, and rested not until the day came when they were turned into a mounted regiment, shortly before the arrival at Cape Town of the first mounted units. No more infantry units were dispatched from the colonies. The War Office had repented.
One of the reasons given to me for their preference for infantry had been that it had been considered inadvisable to put upon the Australians the extra expenditure that would be incurred in equipping mounted corps. To say the least of it, a very childish one.
I found on reaching Adelaide that there were enough applications already handed in at the military staff office to organize five or six squadrons, instead of one. It became a question simply of selecting the best. Married men were at once barred. Our unit was one squadron, a hundred and twenty officers and men. The remark which had been made to me in the War Office, previous to my leaving London, with reference to putting the colonies to extra expenditure in sending mounted troops, came back to my mind. I called on my old friend, Mr. Barr Smith, and I suggested to him that it would be patriotic on his part if he permitted me to notify to the Government that he was willing to bear the expense of supplying some of the horses required for the contingent. "Most certainly," he answered. "You can tell the Government that they can draw upon me for the amount required for the purchase of the whole of the horses." This was a winning card in my hand. I called upon Kingston next morning and told him of the offer. I further told him that I had already heard whispers of probable opposition to my so soon relinquishing my position as Commandant after my long absence from Adelaide. "Don't bother," said Kingston. "You are now going to fight for us; leave it to me. I am announcing to the House this afternoon the Government's decision to send this first mounted contingent. You have put in my hands a trump card—Mr. Barr Smith's generous offer. It will be received with the greatest enthusiasm by the members. I shall tell them your part in it and then immediately announce that I have selected you to proceed at once to South Africa as a special service officer, representing South Australia."
It all happened that afternoon just as he had told me. The House cheered and cheered as Mr. Barr Smith's offer—following on the notification to members that it was the decision of the Government to send the mounted contingent—was announced. Then followed the singing of "God Save the Queen." Before they had time to settle down Kingston told them I had been selected as a special service officer for duty in South Africa. More cheers. All was well. My long absence was forgotten. All were glad to see me back. All pleased that the opportunity was being given me to go on active service. I was presented with two splendid chargers, a bay and a blue roan, a sword, revolver, binoculars, and enough knitted mufflers, Crimean helmets, housewives and the like to last me a lifetime. The only thing to be done was to select the men, purchase the horses, and get ready to embark as soon as a transport could be secured. Those selected were first-class riders accustomed to the care of horses—most of them members of the Mounted Rifles, and men who could shoot straight. Within three or four weeks we should be on board the transport, and could polish up a little their drill and discipline during the voyage.
We arranged with the New South Wales and Western Australian Governments for the ss. Surrey to convey our three contingents to Cape Town. We totalled some three hundred and eighty officers and men and four hundred horses. One squadron from a New South Wales cavalry regiment, one South Australian Mounted Rifles squadron, and a similar one from Western Australia. The Surrey, with the full complement on board, left Fremantle, in Western Australia, in January, 1900. I can still shut my eyes and see the immense crowds that wished us "God speed," and hear the continuous cheers of the people of Adelaide on the day when we marched through the principal streets of the city on our way to embarkation. It was one of those events that one does not forget. Once more I was on my way across the seas to the other side of the world. My eighth voyage.
Fine weather across the Indian Ocean. I was not in charge of the troops on board the ship. I was merely a passenger, as a special service officer. Lieut.-Colonel Parrott, a New South Wales engineer officer, was in command. I had particularly arranged for this, as I had heard of the difficulties that had arisen in connexion with the transport of the first infantry units, and had considered it more advisable to act as a sort of support to the officer commanding than to be actually in command myself. This plan turned out quite successful.
A finer lot of sports I shall probably never travel with again. Among them we had men of all classes—judges' sons, doctors' sons, squatters' sons, bootmakers' sons, butchers' sons, all happy together, and all more than ready for their job. Amongst our South Australian lot was one Jack Morant. He was not an Australian born, but had come out from the old country a few years before, and had an uncle at a place called Renmark, up the River Murray, where the Chaffey brothers, the irrigation experts from California, had established a fruit colony and had induced several retired officers from the old country to settle. Amongst these was Lieut.-Colonel Morant, Jack's uncle. The latter had been promoted to the rank of corporal, and had been christened by his comrades "Corporal Buller," from the somewhat extraordinary likeness he bore to General Sir Redvers. I will tell you more about Jack Morant and his unfortunate end later on. Those of you who read the Sydney Bulletin in the days before the South African War may remember several typical Australian poems that appeared in that clever journal over the name of "The Breaker." "The Breaker" was Jack Morant.
WITH LORD ROBERTS IN SOUTH AFRICA
It was on February 25, 1900, that the Surrey anchored in Cape Town Bay. As soon as the usual formalities were completed I was taken off in a special launch, and on landing proceeded to report myself to General Forestier Walker, at the time G.O.C. Lines of Communication.
Lord Roberts, who had superseded General Sir Redvers Buller as Commander-in-Chief, was, I think, at that very date hammering Cronje at Paardeberg. On the voyage over in the Surrey I had prepared a scheme to submit to Lord Roberts for the organization and employment of the numerous mounted contingents that had been offered by Australia and New Zealand. We little thought then that over 16,000 officers and men and horses would land in South Africa from Australia alone before the end of the war. General Forestier Walker, after talking over with me the details of the scheme, thought that it would fit in with Lord Roberts' future plans, as confidentially known to him, and he at once telegraphed to the Commander-in-Chief, notifying him of my arrival, as well as of the fact that I had an important proposition to put before him. We were not long awaiting the answer. It came that evening. It was short and to the point: "Chief will gladly see Colonel Gordon at Bloemfontein as soon as railway opens."
A few days afterwards a further telegram arrived to the following effect: "Colonel Gordon will proceed to Naauport as soon as possible en route for Bloemfontein. Four horses for the above-named officer and two grooms to be sent on after him the very first opportunity." I at once left Capetown and, passing through Naauport, reached Norval's Pont, where the railway crossed from the Cape Colony to the Orange Free State. A really magnificent railway bridge had been completed a few years before, but just previous to my arrival the Boers, retreating northwards across the river, had blown up the fine piers supporting the two centre spans. The bridge was useless. However, the South African Railway Pioneer Corps had with extraordinary rapidity thrown a pontoon bridge across the river.
Though Lord Roberts had by this time taken Bloemfontein, having marched across and fought his way from the west at Paardeberg to the east at Bloemfontein, the southern portion of the Orange River State from the bridge-head at Norval's Pont to Bloemfontein was still in the hands of the Boers, and it was through this country that the railway line made its way northwards to Bloemfontein. On my arrival at Norval's Pont the railway officer in charge informed me that I would have to wait until a train came to the other side of the river from Bloemfontein. I had to wait two days only. In the meantime, Lord Kitchener, accompanied by the general manager of the Bank of South Africa at Capetown, reached Norval's Pont, and crossed the river. A fourth passenger turned up. It was Rudyard Kipling, if I remember rightly.
The journey to Bloemfontein did not occupy many hours. We arrived in the evening, just before dark. I made my way to one of the hotels. Curiously enough, somehow, I caught sight of a flagstaff over the hotel. It had a flag on it but it was evidently tied down to the pole. After arranging for my room at the hotel I got on to the roof to see what the flag was, and found it to be an Orange River Colony flag, which had evidently been overlooked by the authorities. I took possession of it.
Next morning I reported myself at headquarters. In the train journey from Norval's Pont I had had an opportunity of describing my proposition to Lord Kitchener and talking it over with him. As a result, when by appointment I saw Lord Roberts, he had had the matter put before him and had agreed to its being carried out, with a few alterations as regards detail. The chief points of the scheme were as follows:—
(1). That it was desirable to concentrate the strongest possible force of mounted men then available in South Africa at Bloemfontein.
(2). That all further arrivals of mounted units from over the seas, or raised locally in South Africa, should be sent on to Bloemfontein without delay.
(3). That these units should be equipped as mounted infantry—that is to say, that their chief arm should be the service rifle.
(4). That to each corps formed a strong unit of Imperial Mounted Infantry should be attached.
(5). That these corps should be of sufficient numerical strength to act as independent columns if desired.
(6). That whatever might be the strength of the contribution of any individual Dominion or Colony, it would form one unit, under the command of its own senior officer.
(7). That, in grouping together the units of the Colonies, care should be exercised in their selection, so as to avoid any possible likelihood of friction.
(8). That the officers selected to the commands should be the most experienced in mounted infantry work, and young enough.
(9). That a special staff officer should be appointed to organize the proposed mounted corps.
(10). That such a staff officer should be charged with the provision and maintenance of the horses required and deal directly with the officers in charge of remount depots.
(11). That such staff officer should be entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining the units in an efficient state as regarded arms, equipment, saddlery and clothing, and that, in order to successfully carry out these duties, he should be permitted to draw all supplies necessary in bulk direct from the Ordnance Depots at Capetown.
(12). That, in order to carry out this last suggestion as to supplies, etc., the staff officer in question should have authority to arrange with the General Officer Commanding the main Line of Communications for such train services as might be required and establish his own depots wherever necessary, and detail the personnel for the efficient service thereof.
Lord Kitchener recommended the propositions. Lord Roberts gave them his approval and requested me to see him again on the next day, when he desired me to submit to him in writing all details of the proposed organization for his future consideration. In the meantime it was necessary to find some suitable premises to be the headquarter offices of the new corps. In the afternoon I looked round Bloemfontein and was fortunate to secure quite a large residence belonging to a near relation of President Steyn.
In preparing the tables of personnel as desired by the Commander-in-Chief, I restricted myself to the contingents that had already arrived and those on their way from the Australian Colonies. Next day I submitted the details I had worked out. They were approved, and I was asked if I had sufficient knowledge of the units already in South Africa and those expected to arrive from Canada and New Zealand. If so they were to be included in the scheme. I had not any particular difficulty in carrying out Lord Roberts' wishes in this respect as, during my few days' stay in Capetown, while I was waiting to proceed to Bloemfontein, I had asked for and had been supplied with that very information by General Forestier Walker's staff officers.
There were sufficient companies of the Imperial Mounted Infantry scattered about in the country to form four regiments of four companies each. So that, by forming four separate corps, a regiment of Imperial troops was available for each. In working out the distribution of the Overseas Contingents it was found that by allotting (a) to the First Corps the whole of the Canadians; (b) to the second the New South Wales and Western Australian contingents; (c) to the third the Victorian, South Australian and Tasmanian contingents, and (d) to the fourth the Queenslanders and New Zealanders, each corps would number some fifteen hundred officers and men without the departmental troops attached.
The above distribution was approved. I was then appointed Chief Staff Officer for Overseas Colonials on Lord Roberts' Staff, and ordered to assemble all the units concerned and organize them at Bloemfontein with as little delay as possible into corps as above. Distinguished mounted infantry officers were selected to command the four corps which were to be known as a brigade, namely, Alderson, Henry, Pilcher and De Lisle. Shortly afterwards orders were issued for a similar organization to be carried out in the case of the mounted units raised in South Africa to be likewise called a brigade, the two brigades forming a division. General Hutton was selected for the command of the Overseas Brigade, General Ridley for the South African, and General Ian Hamilton for Divisional Commander.
Quite three-fourths of the proposed strength of the Overseas Brigade was encamped on the lower slopes of Signal Hill within four weeks of my receiving my instructions.
By May 7 I had established my depots at Capetown and Bloemfontein and had succeeded in re-equipping our brigade as well as obtaining the greater portion of the horses required. The remainder were arriving in batches each day, and I had accumulated sufficient stores of all kinds to attend to their wants on arrival.
Hutton arrived and took command of his brigade; a real fine lot of men they were, too. The horses were good and in fine fettle. When on parade it was quite difficult to differentiate between the four corps. They were an equally strong, hardy lot of men, clear-eyed, sitting their horses as only the Colonials can.
I had known Hutton well, as you know, during his period of command in New South Wales. After leaving New South Wales he had put in three years as General Officer Commanding in Canada. If there was one branch of the Service which he dearly loved, it was the mounted rifles. I don't remember any general ever looking so happy and contented as he did on the day he took command, and I was not surprised. I was proud enough of them myself. What valuable work they did afterwards in the field was fully appreciated by the Commander-in-Chief and the other troops alongside of whom they fought during the campaign.
During our stay at Bloemfontein I had several opportunities of discussing with Lord Roberts and Kitchener the scheme for universal service which I had years before prepared at Adelaide. They were both very keenly interested in it, and we talked it over from every point of view. Lord Roberts considered it eminently suitable and most desirable, especially when remembering the deep-rooted objection that existed to military conscription at home and in the Colonies.
IN COMMAND OF A MOUNTED COLUMN
On the day before he left Bloemfontein Lord Roberts sent for me and asked me how many of the Overseas Brigade had been unable to march out of Bloemfontein. I informed him that taking into account the sick and convalescent, two or three units which had only just arrived, and some for whom I was awaiting delivery of horses from the Remount Depot, in all somewhere between seven and eight hundred men. He also asked me to ascertain as soon as possible how many had been left behind belonging to General Ridley's brigade. I did so, and found that they had left behind somewhere about a thousand. He said: "Very well. I now want you to put all those details together, organize them into a mounted column, equip them, and get the requisite number of horses within a week or ten days if practicable. I have given instructions that your wants are to be attended to by all the parties concerned as early as possible. You will then leave Bloemfontein; the column will march, passing to the westward of Karee Siding, to Brandfort. Then, with a wide sweep to the westward, returning to the railway line at Small Deel. You will receive further orders at Small Deel as to what route to take from that place to Kroonstad. I shall be looking for your arrival, if all goes well with you, and I am counting upon your arriving with between twelve and fifteen hundred horses, in good condition, to replace the losses in horseflesh amongst the mounted troops in my advance. I fully anticipate that as we drive the Boers northwards on our broad front—the centre of which will be practically the main railway line—numbers of them will break away to our flanks, clear them, and then close in backwards in our rear to attack our lines of communications. I don't think that they'll be expecting any mounted columns of any strength to be following up behind. So that you have got to watch for them and deal them a nasty blow if you come across them.
"So you understand. Your two special duties are: first, to watch the lines of communications, and secondly, so to nurse your horses that they may arrive as fit as possible. By the by, I don't think I have told you that I have appointed you to command the column. I don't think it will interfere with your other duties, as I know you've got them well in hand."
I thanked him, but I pointed out that my greatest difficulty in equipping the brigade had undoubtedly been to obtain suitable transport. I very much doubted if, after the general advance from Bloemfontein, there remained a single decent wagon or cart behind.
"Well," he said, "I know that. You must travel as light as you can. Make use of the railway line as much as possible, and collar whatever vehicles you can get. Good luck! I'll see you at Kroonstad."
My column altogether numbered about seventeen hundred. The night we arrived at Brandfort the officer commanding was glad to see us. He was expecting a surprise attack that night, but nothing happened. No doubt the news of our arrival had reached the Boers and they had thought better of it. On our sweep from Brandfort to Small Deel we met a good many small parties of Boers as we went through the ranges, but they gave us no trouble except a lot of sniping. We got a good many surrenders, and arrived at Small Deel hale and hearty. There I received my orders to march on to Welgelegen and thence to Kroonstad, watching the country to the left of the railway line. As we were camped at Welgelegen two nights afterwards I received a message from Lord Kitchener to the effect that it had been reported that some five hundred Boers and four guns had been seen moving in the direction of Welgelegen and that I was to do my best to intercept them, and, in any case, in moving on to Kroonstad to proceed on both sides of the railway line on as broad a front as the numbers at my disposal would allow. We could hear nothing of the five hundred Boers and four guns, so after a thorough search of the country round Welgelegen we marched on to Kroonstad.
On arriving there I reported at headquarters. Lord Roberts informed me that he would inspect the column next morning at 10 A.M. The Commander-in-Chief arrived up to time. His inspection was a very short one, his chief anxiety being the condition of the horses. Fortunately they were in good fettle, and their condition met with his approval. He thanked me and gave instructions to his staff officers for the future disposition of the several units.
Before 4 P.M. that afternoon the bivouac ground was empty and my composite column dispersed. I at once set to work to gather up the threads of my own especial work. The first thing was to establish a depot at Kroonstad for my brigade supplies. The next, to bespeak horses at the Remount Depot, just established at Kroonstad. I was busy at this work the next day when I received a message to report myself at headquarters. On arrival there General Grierson, the Quartermaster-General, told me that he wanted me to take up a special job at once. He added that the arrival of my horses in good condition had enabled the Commander-in-Chief to move on, and that he had decided to advance to Pretoria straight away. It had been anticipated that there would not be any great opposition on the part of the Boers, at any rate as far as the Vaal River. The advance would be a very rapid one, especially on the part of the mounted troops forming the two enveloping wings on both sides of the railway line.
It was therefore necessary that the transport for their supplies should not fail during their advance. It had been arranged that General French's cavalry, with Hutton's mounted riflemen, should advance to the westward of the railway, and that he wanted me to take charge of their combined transport and supply columns. I told Grierson that I was doubtful whether I had enough experience for that sort of work. Didn't he think that someone better fitted should be selected? Grierson told me that Lord Roberts had suggested my name, and that he thought that was quite enough. There was nothing more to be said.
I asked for instructions. He said "Go and see Ward and you will get them." I went across to Colonel Ward, at the D.A.Q.M.G.'s quarters, and saw him. He told me that the troops were advancing early next morning, that General French's supply column was last heard of as about to leave Welgelegen, and he had no intimation of any kind as to Hutton's supply column.
The situation, then, was shortly this. The two mounted brigades were leaving early in the morning of the 22nd, and expected to advance during the day somewhere between twenty and thirty miles. One of the two supply columns was timed to reach Kroonstad, the starting point of the two troops, on the evening of the day of the departure of the brigades, and required a rest, and there was no information available as to the whereabouts of the second supply column. The outlook was not cheerful. Having gathered a small staff I dispatched a party to hunt up Hutton's column, with orders that they were to be hustled up to Kroonstad without delay.
I spent the rest of the day making the necessary arrangements for the provision of escorts for the columns, which, owing to the existing circumstances, would be unable to move on together. It was quite evident that French's column would have to leave Kroonstad before Hutton's, and that owing to the rapid advance of the troops in front it would be impossible for the two supply columns to join up en route. The only practical solution that came to my mind was to hurry on French's column, feed Hutton from it, and trust to be able to push forward Hutton's column, when I got hold of it, in time to make up French's deficiencies before he actually fell short.
Knowing that the supplies of a commanding officer in the field are always looked upon as actually his own property, I deemed it most advisable to obtain a written order from headquarters to carry out this plan, if necessary. I saw Colonel Ward, and he was good enough to give me a written order to that effect. This relieved my mind. As a matter of fact, when we picked up the mounted brigades it did become necessary for me to supply Hutton from French's supply column. Lieut.-Colonel Johnson, an artillery officer, who was in command of this column, protested most strongly against parting with any of his supplies, but, on my handing him a copy of the D.A.Q.M.G.'s order to me, he, of course, complied. But I knew right well what to expect next morning. I was not disappointed. I had camped down that night between French's and Hutton's Brigades. Up to that I had had no news of the whereabouts of Hutton's supply column, but I knew that French would send for me very early in the morning. About four in the morning I got news of Hutton's column. It had reached Kroonstad from Welgelegen the evening before, and would move on as per orders.
I need not say that it was a great relief, as it enabled me to look forward to my forthcoming interview with French with less concern. Just at daylight I saw a couple of lancer troopers galloping along towards my little camp. I rode out to meet them. I knew what they wanted. They told me they came from General French, who wished to see the officer who had borrowed his supplies the evening before. Could I tell him where they would find him? I told them it was all right, that I was the officer they wanted, and they could lead the way. I shall not forget that morning. We were in the vicinity of a place called Essenbosch. It was a typical South African fine weather morning. The frost was on the ground. The sun was just rising, but not a cloud in the sky. A big plain. Not a tree; all clear veldt for miles. The two brigades were on the move. It was as pretty a sight as any soldier could wish to see.
After three or four miles' ride I reached General French and his staff. Our conversation was brief but to the point.
"Are you the officer by whose orders supplies were taken from my column last evening?"
"I am, sir." And, pulling out my pocket-book, I produced Colonel Ward's written order.
"Just understand that I allow nobody to borrow or take my supplies in the field. If my troops go one hour short of supplies you will hear from me again. Good morning."
"Good morning, sir," I said, and rode back to my camp.
I had noticed a staff officer looking hard at me under his helmet. I suddenly recognized him. It was my old school chum at the Oratory, Edmund Talbot, the Duke of Norfolk's brother. I had not seen him since I had left school. We were glad to meet again. The world is small. Then off they went, and I was left behind to work out my problem.
At the time Hutton's column was some forty miles in the rear. I had two days' more supplies left in French's column. The question was whether I would succeed in hurrying up Hutton's column sufficiently fast in four days to pick up the advancing troops.
I had information from headquarters that Lord Roberts intended to get at any rate some of his troops across the River Vaal from the Orange Free State into the Transvaal on May 24, Queen Victoria's birthday, as he particularly wished to cable to her, on that day, the news of the complete occupation of the Orange Free State and the entry of his troops into the Transvaal. This meant an advance at the rate of some twenty-five miles a day on the part of French's and Hutton's brigades. Fortunately Hutton's column was enabled, but, indeed, at very heavy loss in oxen and mules, to reach French's as it emptied its last wagon.
By selecting the fittest of the draught animals left belonging to the emptied column, and the fittest of those in Hutton's column, we were able to push on, and, four days afterwards, on the evening of May 24, when a few cavalry actually did cross the River Vaal, at a place called Parisj to the westward of the railway line, the last two days' rations reached French's brigade headquarters half an hour before scheduled time. The job was over. I should be sorry to say how many animals were left on the road and how long it took the empty wagons, of which there were some eight hundred, to return to the base with their sorely depleted teams. For the previous four days and nights I just rested and slept when and where I could, sometimes for an hour, sometimes for two or three, but you may imagine what a good night's rest myself and my much harried and worried staff enjoyed that night after drinking the toast of the day, "God bless our Queen." I didn't think it necessary to go and see General French again.
Next morning I started across country towards Vereeniken, the border station of the Transvaal. I reached there in safety, though I had to cross a portion of the country in advance of our own troops. I reported myself at headquarters, saw Grierson and asked him, as a special favour, not to give me the charge of any more supply columns in the near future. He was kind enough to give me a short note from Lord Roberts, personally thanking me for the good result of the two special jobs he entrusted to my care from the time he had left Bloemfontein.
After the Battle of Belfast, about August 25, the organization of the brigade was practically broken up, and there was no further necessity for the special post to which I had been appointed as Chief of the Staff for Overseas Colonials. On Lord Roberts' departure for England I left in the ss. Moravian for Adelaide, making my ninth voyage across the world.
SOME SOUTH AFRICAN REMINISCENCES
I never enjoyed better health than I did during the twelve months when the hard veldt was my bed and the deep, dark, starry night was the roof over my head. No one can wish for a more healthy climate than that of the Orange River Colony during the dry season. I was only twice hit; once near Karree Siding when a pom-pom shell burst just under my horse and took off the heel of one of my boots; the second time a sniper's bullet went through my coat sleeve without touching me. But I was unfortunate otherwise. One night I was riding along the veldt on a horse which had been presented to me when I left Adelaide by a friend of mine, one of the best horsemen in South Australia, Stephen Ralli, which we had christened Bismarck. We suddenly came to the edge of a dry donga with, of course, rotten sides. Down we had to go, and down we went. For a moment I had no idea whether we were being flung into a river or into a dry channel. It happened to be a dry channel, some sixteen feet deep and about the same width. We hit the bottom hard. I was sent rolling off, Bismarck fell on his head and broke his neck, turning over on his side. I picked myself up and could find no bones broken, and I called out to some of my men who had seen us disappear and had halted on the edge. They were glad to hear me call out. The question was then, how to get out of the donga. The banks were steep. So, unhooking the horses out of one of the Cape carts, they joined up the traces and I was safely hauled up. I did not for some time afterwards really feel any ill results from my fall. In fact I had forgotten all about it. But, later on, I found that I suffered a good deal when riding and that I had received an internal injury which afterwards caused me considerable trouble.
I shall never forget the constant and uniform kindness which I met at the hands of Lord Kitchener. Many and very different opinions of Lord Kitchener's capabilities as a soldier and of his temperament as a man have been expressed. I formed my own opinion in both capacities from actual and continuous contact with him in his work. He was a silent man. Talk was of no value to him when it wasn't to the point. He possessed a peculiar but very useful gift of getting at the kernel of a subject, seizing its meaning and promptly making up his mind what action he was going to take. If he wanted any further information on any point he asked you for it. If he didn't want it, he did not thank you for volunteering to give it. He was a master of detail. He was forceful in his opinions—too forceful for those who disagreed with him. He may not have been too generous in giving open praise, but he never forgot those who had done him good service. As to whether he was a great general I have no opinion to offer, but he could always be depended upon to carry out whatever he took in hand.
During his trip to Tasmania, years later on, at the time of his inspection of the Forces of the Australian Colonies, a Light Horse Camp was being held at a place called Mona Vale belonging to Major Eustace Cameron who commanded the Light Horse. The homestead was a fine modern house. Mrs. Cameron had arranged for a large party of young people during the period of the camp. Lord Kitchener was the guest of Cameron for the day and night of his inspection. After dinner that evening a small dance was held. Songs with choruses were sung between the dances, and perhaps nobody enjoyed himself so much as Lord Kitchener. Later on in the evening, or rather in the early hours of the morning, he told us several good stories and much hearty laughter filled the smoking-room. Lord Kitchener was no woman-hater.
War has not always a grave side. Interesting events, and sometimes even amusing ones, intervene. Some of them now come to my mind. In the early part of the war Capetown had become overrun with men in officers' uniforms and many ladies, most of whom were by way of being attached to voluntary and other hospitals. Most of these ladies were amateur, not qualified nurses. Mount Nelson Hotel was their chief resort. While a very large building it was unable to house the majority of them. They were scattered about throughout the city in other hotels and boarding-houses. Yet Mount Nelson was the place where all met.
Each night the resources of the Mount Nelson were strained. Dinner parties, music and dancing were the order of the day. Tables had to be engaged for days previously. A night arrived when the festivities were at their height. Dinner had begun. The large dining-room was full to overflowing, with the exception of one small table set for two in the middle of the room. The entrees were being served and the band had just finished a spirited selection.
The babble of tongues was all over the room when in walked two gentlemen in uniform, preceded by the manager of the hotel, making their way to the empty table set for two. The babble of tongues began to subside. The first officer following the manager was a tall man with rather a severe look in his eyes. It happened to be Lord Kitchener, followed by his personal private secretary. For a moment there came a dead silence, immediately relieved by the strains of the band beginning an operatic overture and the dinner proceeded. At the end of dinner all officers in uniform were notified to interview a staff officer previous to leaving the hotel. Within two days the number of officers frequenting the Mount Nelson Hotel was reduced to a minimum. A couple of days afterwards the manager informed me that he had been instructed the night of the fateful dinner to give notice to all officers in uniform then staying at the hotel who could not produce a permit to vacate their rooms. Steps were also taken to inquire into the positions held by many of the amateur lady nurses, and those whose services were deemed to be superfluous were provided with return passages to Europe. Thus ended this episode.