We joined the 1st Battalion at Van Reenen's Pass. We could see Spion Kop quite plain; it didn't look two miles off, but in point of fact, it was seven.
The troops told us it was one mass of rocks, and wondered that it could ever be taken. It consists of three hills, two running up to sharp points, and the other is larger and more flat.
We stayed at this camp four or five days, when we had orders to shift at two hours' notice. We packed up everything and were in readiness to start at 5 pm, when we found they hadn't sent enough transport, so we were obliged to wait while they took half of the things to another camp.
In the meantime, we had a "nice little thunderstorm", the worst I ever experienced. We were on the top of a hill with nothing but our khaki on, and our waterproof sheet; the latter wasn't big enough to cover us over, so we soon got wet through. The lightning struck some of the men that were on picquet (look-out duty) and split several of the rifles, renting their clothes, besides other minor injuries. The storm lasted about an hour, after that everything passed off all right.
We got in the other camp and pitched tents about 4 am, having marched through two or three streams, and roads more like a mud-pit than anything else. Allowing but little time for sleep, we had to be on the move again at 5.30am but we got on all right, as we have to mix up a bit of the rough with the smooth.
We found our fresh camp close to Waggon Hill; ( I dare say you remember this is where the Devons made that splendid charge at the time of the siege), it's a wonder to me that any are alive to tell the tale. They gave us a vivid description of the siege. They had always a "look out" man with glasses on Long Tom * and he used to give the tip as soon as he saw the flash, and the NCOs would blow whistles, and all would go under cover. It took the shot 17 seconds from the time it left the mouth of the gun to reach its destination and our fellows would shoot inside for cover like so many rabbits going to their holes.
We stayed in this camp two days, then marched off to the other side of Ladysmith under Observation Hill, where we spent another two days, thence to where I am now writing. From here, we supply one and a half Companies every day for outpost duty. Towards Elandslaagte, we can hear the guns occasionally, but never had a chance to see any Boers yet, but I expect that chance will come before you get this letter. We have had a good chance to see all the positions around Ladysmith.
If you were here, you would think there was not a Boer within a hundred miles, for ever since the 2nd Battalion has been down here, we have been playing cricket and football nearly every day. J. Hill, F. Holley, J. Hookway, young Chambers, G. Sorton, the two Dares, the two Parkers, and all the rest from the old place wish to be remembered to you all. Sorry to say J. Lake and Denner are in hospital but improving.
Excuse my writing as I have no table or chair.
* Four "Long Toms" plus supplies of suitable ammunition, were purchased by the South African Republic in 1897, before the outbreak of war, and set up in defensive positions around Pretoria. Each gun had a long barrel and a range of 9000 metres - hence the name. During the war, the guns were moved around as needed, though this was not an easy task. As the war progressed, in turn, each gun had to be destroyed by the Boers to prevent its capture by the British.