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LETTER FROM ARTHUR BOWDEN - 2 JANUARY 1902

 

Arthur Bowden wrote this letter to the Rector of Butterleigh, a tiny village not far from Cullompton. He must have felt quite alone out in South Africa because his family at home had dwindled to a very few over the long years he had been a soldier. Born in 1863, he had already served for two years in South Africa when he wrote this letter.

 

He describes how the 11th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry was caught off guard at Tweefontein on December 25, 1901 when the Troopers were attacked as they slept in their tents.

 

Harrismith

2 January 1902

 

"We have had a very nice Christmas under the circumstances. It was marred on the following day by news of a fight between here and Bethlehem on Christmas morning. It appears De Wet rushed a camp of ours, consisting mostly of the Imperial Yeomanry with one 15 pounder of the 79th Battery, and one pom-pom*. He got into the camp before our troops were properly alarmed and shot them down in and around their tents. Our casualties were very heavy. We had 7 officers killed, 1 officer wounded, 75 men killed and  62 wounded out of a total of about 300. there must have been something wrong with our camp but it is difficult to say who was to blame. I believe they served our officers very cruelly, the  heavy casualties among them speaks for itself, I don't think any more than two or three got away without being hit.

 

De Wet is still in the neighbourhood, it would considerably shorten the war if we could capture his force. A lot of columns are operating against him, and we shall give him a rough time, no doubt, if we don't capture him. The war promises to last some time yet, although if we caught De Wet's and Botha's forces, the others would not be able to do much, a couple of good captures would take a year off the time it is likely to last.

 

Everyone in the Army sympathises with General Buller. I don't think those meetings in Hyde Park and other places will do his cause any good. It may be a consolation to him to know the relatives of men who fought under him have such confidence in him, and that is all the good I can see they do. No doubt his troops had every confidence in him during his attempts to relive Ladysmith, and after a reverse he had only to make a speech to them, and they were willing to do anything, for, I  believe, the universal opinion among the men was: if Buller can't do it no one can. It is easy for people to point out his mistakes now, but at the time they could not tell him what to do. He is one of the best generals we ever had, and will always be remembered by the rank and file of the Army.

 

I enjoy very good health here and have nothing to complain about. I expect to be leaving the ammunition column shortly, they are reducing the establishment from the first of January and most probably I shall be sent to a battery."

 

* An extra powerful quick-firing type of Maxim gun introduced in the Boer War when it got its "pom pom" nick-name.

 

 
 
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