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War Memorials

LETTER FROM PRIVATE WILLIAM JONES OF UFFCULME - MAY 1900

 

This letter was written by Private William Jones. He was a member of "C" Company, the 1st Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment. Husband of Emma (née Rowe) and is believed to have been born in Holcombe Rogus in 1867. He was an army reservist who was ordered to the front 10 February 1900. This letter was written in May 1900 to one of William's friends in Uffculme - in civilian life he was a postman there and returned to that job at the end of the war.

At the end of the letter, William mentions a number of local lads. Not all have been identified yet but there is some information in our Boer War Database about the following:

William Chambers

John Dare

James Hill

Fred Holley

John Hookway

James Lake

 

"Surprise Hill

Ladysmith

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.

W, Jones."

* 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.

 

 
 
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