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LETTER FROM PRIVATE JAMES SETHERTON - 21 DECEMBER 1899

 

This letter was written to John Setherton of Bishops Nympton by his son James in 1899. James was born in 1877 and at the time of writing was 22. At the end of the letter, he refers to giving a fuller account when he returns home - happily, he made it safely back in 1900.

He mentions James Boundy of Bishops Nympton and George Courteney of Knowstone.

 

"Chieveley Camp

December 21st 1899

Dear Father and Mother,

 

No doubt you have read in the papers an account of the battle of Colenso. Our men had to attack the Boers, who were entrenched by the side of the river. We were in the first line, and the Boers lay quiet until we were nearly upon them. Then they poured in a fire like a hailstorm.

 

We were quite out in the open, and having no place for shelter, we had to lie flat on the ground, which was as level as a floor. Our men were dropping all around and I expected to be shot every second. I had been lying on the ground for about two hours when a bullet struck me in the shoulder, but it did not hurt me much, only slightly ripped my haversack. Soon five of us retired towards the railroad, but only two got there safe. I lay in a gutter for some time, and we got back to camp two or three at a time, having been under fire for eight hours.

 

The rest of my comrades got back safe, with the exception of James Boundy who was hit in the ear - a narrow escape for  him - but Courteney of Knowstone was taken prisoner, as was also the Colonel and several officers of our regiment, who, I suppose, have been sent to Pretoria.

 

Out total loss in this battle numbered 1147. It was a terrible sight to see the Boer trenches, which were filled with dead and dying; there were legs and arms scattered all over the place. Our enemies were good shots, but we are not only fighting against Boers; there are men of various nationalities in their ranks.

 

The next time we attack Colenso we mean to take it if we lose half of our Division, so I expect we shall have another big battle in a few days. Our naval guns are shelling the town every day, beginning about 4.0am to prevent the Boers from reconstructing their trenches. They seem to know all our plans, and at the present moment there are several spies in the camp, for whom we are keeping a sharp look-out, When I was on the battlefield the other day I met with an Irish Fusilier who was shot through the chest; I tried to carry  him back to camp, but he was such a big heavy man that I had to leave him for the ambulance party to bring him in.

 

General Buller was in the battle, and kept in the thick of the fight the whole of the time. We have not had a change of clothes since we landed, as we have only the garments we stand up in. The living, however, is very fair. This is the second engagement I have been in, and if I live to get home again, I shall be able to give you a fine account of the campaign."

 

J. Setherton

 

 
 
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