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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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This is a letter from Private William John Roach of the 2nd Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment to his wife, Maud Mary Elizabeth Roach (née Hockings) who he married  in 1891. He was born in Plymouth but brought up in Torquay.  He was a Devonshire Regiment reservist. In this letter, he catches the current mood of Army Generals and the British Press who proclaimed daily that "it would all be over by Christmas" and that the Boers had "bitten of more than they could chew". However, after Christmas 1899, those ideas began to evaporate. There were some painful set-backs for the British who were forced to accept that the Boers were skilful and determined opponents.


William Roach came back safely from South Africa and the 1911 census shows him working as a gardener at Barton House in St. Marychurch.


Frere Camp

South Africa

Sunday 10 December 1899.

"My Darling Maud,

We have been here for about a week, but expect to move tomorrow (Monday). Whilst I was at Mooi River, the Boers shelled us, but did no damage, nor hit anything, thank God! We rushed after them for about a mile, and you should have seen them run away. They left everything behind them. They didn't like to see us with fixed bayonets.

There are 1000 black men, women and children here, the Boers having driven them from their homes. One of the men can speak English well. I have just shared my dinner with one family. You should have seen me with one little girl on my leg, two boys at my feet, and the man and the woman on each side, eating out of the canteen. The Boers have taken everything these people possessed.

I have sent you with this letter some of Kruger's money - half crowns, two shilling bits and smaller coins. I should like a necklet made out of some for my little darling Flossie.

I cannot tell you very much, as you get news quicker. I have had a letter from mother with a card, and a newspaper from someone at Torquay. Give my love to all and remember me to all my friends.

There are about 40000 troops here. Our next move is to Colenso, then to Ladysmith. I expect the Boers have  had enough by this time, as we have not seen any for a week. The money I have sent you I got from the Blacks, and you should see how eager they were to get rid of same for some of mine. When they received my money they kissed the Queen's head. We are living very well - bacon or jam for breakfast, baked or stew for dinner, and jam for tea, Lights are put out at 8.30 and we rise at 5 o'clock mornings.

There is a lady named Mrs Beasley of Valetta, Watcombe, near Torquay, who has written to her son, an officer with us, asking him to look after me. It is very kind of her, and thank her for me.

I have quite a long beard, and look quite a savage, or you would say so if you saw me. I wear a Boer belt that was left behind when we chased them away from Mooi River. They have blown up the iron railway bridge, and the  Blacks and natives are constructing a wooden bridge, so that we can get on by train again. It is a lovely place, only so  hot, not many trees, all grass and hills.

I have no more news, so I must close with love to all.

Your affectionate and loving husband,

W. J. Roach


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