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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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War Memorials



In the Spring of 1899, Ernest Howard Farr married Susan Jane Andrews in Exeter - she was a local girl while he was a Londoner serving in the Guard Bearer Company of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Less than six months after their wedding, Ernest found himself in South Africa, in the thick of the fighting. These four letters were written between November 24th and December 10th 1899.


Belmont Camp

24 November 1899

I must tell you that I was in my first engagement yesterday and I shall never forget it. I was right up in line with the Royal Artillery and their cannon were like thunder.

The Boers were on the top of a great hill and sheltered  by huge boulders, while we poor fellows had no protection whatever. It was awful. I don't want to look at it again, but I shall have to before I see you again.

The scene was heart-rending, the  hill  being covered with dead and wounded. They were just as they fell, English and Boers. Of course, we attended to our own first, dressed their wounds and took them to the field hospital. We buried 17 last night and 14 this morning, besides those we buried on the battlefield.

I trust God will spare me to come back to you.


30 November 1899

We have had two more engagements, one on Saturday at Gras Pan and one on Tuesday at Modder River. Both of them were awful affairs, the last one especially, They (the Boers) are brutes. They fire on the Red Cross deliberately.

We have  had to fly with what wounded we had for their  safety, otherwise we all stood a chance of getting blown to pieces with their shells, The bullets were flying around us like peas, as if we were the fighting regiment instead of the Hospital Corps. One of our men was wounded, and a poor fellow who was being laid on a stretcher was shot dead.


1 December 1899

We have arrived on the other side of the Modder River. It is a very pretty spot where we are encamped. We are about 18 miles from Kimberley.

I am keeping in splendid health - for me. Eat like a trooper; in fact I don't get enough because we cannot always get it.

The last battle we were 28 hours without food, except that I happened to have two biscuits that I had saved.


10 December 1899

We are still at Modder River, but expect to move tomorrow. I have just received your second letter -  you don't know how welcome a letter is; it does cheer one up.

I was in another battle last Monday and Tuesday. I had no sleep from the Saturday night to the Tuesday night. All Monday I was bringing in the wounded out of danger. I cannot imagine how I escaped being hit. One of the bullets took a piece out of a spoke in one of the wheels just as I was picking up a wounded man. I tell you it makes one think of home and those they love.

I pray to God nightly that I may come through safely for I am face to face with Death every engagement I am in. This is my fourth and unfortunately we have to fight the last one over again, as the enemy are still  holding the same position. The before we can get into Kimberley, we have to fight at Spyfontein.

I shall be thankful when it is all over but I am still in splendid health. I am on guard tonight, not a very pleasant job with the enemy only three miles away.


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