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LETTER FROM TROOPER WILLIAM THORNE OF TIVERTON - APRIL 1900

 

This letter was written by Trooper William Lock Thorne of the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry, son of William and Mary Ann Thorne of Tiverton. His father had built up a prosperous business as an ironmonger in the town and  became Mayor of Tiverton 1901/2 and 1911/12. 

 

Trooper Thorne was born in the December Quarter of 1877 to William and his wife Mary Ann and was educated at the East Devon School in Sampford Peverell as a boarder so one or two of the names he mentions may refer to school friends rather than young men living in Tiverton. He mentions "Bidgood" whose father had a good  business based in Chapel Street, Tiverton. 

 

Trooper Thorne was reported to have been severely wounded on 28 December 1900 at the age of 23. He survived, returned home in April 1901 but continued with his military career instead of settling down in his father's business. In the newspaper report on his father's funeral, he is described as a Staff Sergeant. He married Evelyn Sharland White in the June Quarter of 1904. 

 

Compared with some soldier's letters, the short, jerky sentences in this one give an oddly impersonal feeling to it and at the same time, offer us a glimpse into his family background - a formal household perhaps, who would listen politely to William's letter as it was read out by a father to his assembled family around the breakfast table.

 

Maitland Camp, South Africa

3 April 1900

"We came to this camp a week ago. It is about five miles from Capetown. We took 23 days coming out and had to stay five days in Table Bay. We had a splendid voyage. It was very hot crossing the Equator. We lost twelve horses on the voyage. I am glad to say my horse is looking all right. In this camp are about 12,000 troops. It is very rough round here, and they have been making us  move about a lot, I can tell you.

There are some mountains about here - among them Table Mountain, 4000 feet high and as flat as a pancake on the top. There are others like it all the way round. We are going on Saturday to the front at Bloemenfontein: it is about 600 miles from here.

Things are jolly dear here. For a 2½d bottle of Vaseline they charge 1s; for 4½d stonebreakers' glasses to keep the dust out of your eye, 1s 6d. But grapes that in England would be 2s 6d, we can get for 3d.

We have to  be up at 5.30 in the morning. There are ten in our tent. For breakfast we get dry bread and coffee with no milk; for dinner, beef or something like it - we don't know what, it's so hard; for tea, tea with no milk and dry bread which is nearly brown, with all the sand in it. It sharpens your teeth a bit, I can tell you. We all enjoy ourselves, though.

All we have to sleep on is a waterproof sheet and one blanket to cover us. But we wear our overcoats as well, as it is very  hot in the day and very cold in the night. We have all got a bit brown and we are all very well. One or two have had just a slight touch of dysentery through eating too many grapes.

I saw young Mr. Braddon last Saturday; he is a trooper in the Wilts Yeomanry. I also met Bidgood who is in the Herts Yeomanry. Last Sunday afternoon, W. Moyle came up from Capetown to see G. French and me. I saw Captain Moore at church parade.

I am writing this in a place called the Soldiers' Home, a place put up by missionaries, I suppose. They supply us with paper, pens and ink, which is very good of them. The night we came up to camp, they gave us a very good tea as we were very hungry. They are holding a prayer meeting here now."

 

 
 
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