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Letter from Private Samuel Coles of the 1st Devonshire Regiment to his school friend, George Mogridge of 46, High Street, Ilfracombe. Samuel was the son of James and Emma Coles and his father was a builder. In the letter, he refers to other young men from the town who he and George had grown up with and some details of these are included at the end of the letter. Samuel was born at West Down in the June Quarter of 1879 so was just 21 when he wrote this letter.


Dear George,

Just a few lines in answer to your welcome letter. Very glad to hear you are getting on all right. I am pleased to tell you I am getting on much better now. It was a very hard time for us.

We had to work very nearly all the night building sangars and traverses*, and we had to be up at half-past four every morning to stand to arms in case of an attack, and we were living nearly on nothing - one and a half biscuits and lots of horse meat, and burnt mealies for coffee, and we were smoking leaves called calves foot, bark of trees and tea and coffee grains; it was quite a luxury to get a bit of tobacco again. H Company, 2nd Devons, sent us in some the night after the relief, and we were smoking all the night.

You want to know if I was with General Yule at Dundee. There were only two of our regiment with him - that was his servant and groom. He was our Colonel before the war. It was rather hard for him to have Penn Symons shot and the garrison thrown on his hands, but he got through it all right, and we went out to engage the enemy while he was marching in.

You say the Messrs Dickinson of Ilfracombe, were hemmed in in Ladysmith, but I did not see them. I heard that George Moore was there also. We thought that Buller was never going to relieve us, and we used to call him all sorts, but we altered our tune when we went to Spion Kop for three days to have a look at the position the Boers held: it was something marvellous how ever he took it all.

Dear George, I saw Fred after the relief, but they were ordered to advance to Elandslaagte, but they have returned again. We are laying about three-quarters of a mile from each other. We have seen each other about twenty times. He was over here last night, so I let him read your letter. He laughed when he saw about the rebels. They have lost their general. He has taken over the 5th Division. We have a football match with the 2nd battalion nearly every night.

You seem to have read about the Regiment pretty well - that Captain Lafone got wounded twice before he was killed. Instead of bandaging himself, he dressed a private and tied his own wound up with a handkerchief, and led his Company through the charge of Elandslaagte. The day he got wounded in the officers' mess there were nine others hit with the same shell, the weight of the shell being 95 lbs.

Dick has arrived out here quite safe; he is out here with me, but I have not seen anything of Bill Webber or Ernie Knill. It is  not much good of me to tell anything about what is going on out here because you can see more in a penny paper than I can tell you. Of course it seems to be rather quiet out here for the last six weeks, but I suppose they will have another smash-up pretty soon.

I hope it will soon be over. I have had quite enough - not seen a bed for eight months. I think I must draw to a close, as I have some work to do.

Hoping to hear something about home from you, I remain, your old school chum,



*Sangars and Traverses

Sangars are small prepared defensive earthworks, usually around a hollow in the ground,  with a little rough stonework behind which troops can get some shelter when firing. Traverses are raised earth mounds. These provided some shelter during fighting but also absorb some of the impact of  incoming exploding shells.



Edgar and Arthur Dickinson, twin sons of Charles Dickinson, an Ilfracombe JP. Some of their elder brothers and sisters had been born in South Africa.


Not a contemporary but an older man from Ilfracombe who was a Volunteer.


One of Samuel's brothers - Fred was just a year younger than Samuel.


A local football team in Ilfracombe.


His identity has not yet  been discovered.


Son of William and Emma Webber who lived in Portland Street, Ilfracombe. He was slightly older than Samuel and George but they would have known each other at school.


Son of George and Mary Knill who lived in Church Place, Ilfracombe - the same age as Samuel and George.


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