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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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War Memorials



Colonials - people from the UK who had emigrated to South Africa - rallied to the cause of the British Empire by creating dozens of small, regional regiments to fight the Boers. Jack Bell, the subject of this letter joined one of these, known as Kitchener's Horse, and became 3365 Trooper John Bell.


His father, a carpenter, had emigrated to Capetown, South Africa from Brixham sometime around 1890, preparing for the arrival of his wife Bessie and their family some months later. The family seems only to have had one daughter so we've presumed that "Miss Bell" who wrote the letter in the November 1900 was Jack's sister Daisy.


Their connection with Mr and Mrs Elliott to whom the letter was addressed is not known though both families lived in close proximity in Milton Street, Brixham.



"Jack was out patrolling on the flank of his men, when he was surrounded and captured by a party of Boers. He was the only one too. The Boers took him away to the top of a kopje*, and there mounted guard over him. They took away his arms and ammunition, helmet, boots, socks, rations, in fact everything he had except his coat, trousers and putties**. Of course, he had no food since daybreak ( he was captured just before dinner time, about eleven o'clock) and was starving hungry, but they gave him nothing to eat and took away what he had.


You know the Boers are especially hard on those of the Colonial Forces that they capture, so when Jack was asked to which regiment he belonged, he said "Imperial Yeomanry". They searched him and found a letter addressed to "Kitchener's Horse", and then they said he would be shot at daybreak next morning. There he lay waiting for time to pass and thinking of home until eleven o'clock at night, when the Boer who was guarding him, dozed off to sleep.


While he slept, Jack began to creep away, and managed to escape. It must have been awful for him, for he had to walk 18 miles barefooted and bareheaded to the nearest camp, which was the Yorkshire Light Infantry outside Pretoria. All this time he had no food. After he got away from the Boers, he took off his putties** and wrapped them round his feet to walk with, but before he had gone half the 18 miles, they were worn out.

When he got into the camp, he was so hungry that he made such a tremendous meal he was laid up for several days, partly on account of having eaten so much on an empty stomach, and partly because of his feet. 


He was caught near Krugersdorp, by Boers under Delarey***"


*A small, isolated piece of hilly ground.

**Fabric protectors for the lower part of the legs.

***General Jacobus de la Rey was charged with the task of  reclaiming  Western Transvaal from the British. He scored a decisive victory over the British a few days after this letter was written when he led the Boers in capturing 126 British supply wagons, laden, among other essential items, with clothes, boots and food.


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