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Devon County

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Letter from Private Sydney Anstey to his mother written after the Battle of Elandslaagte which took place on 21 October 1899. Officially, war with the Boers had broken out on 11 October 1899, followed on the 14th by the start of the sieges of Kimberley and Mafeking. Private Anstey was writing from Natal ahead of the siege of Ladysmith which began on 2 November 1899.


The war is now raging very hot. We have had one battle  and also another engagement with the enemy and I am glad to say we came off victorious in both engagements. I went right through the battle of Elandslaagte and escaped scratchless. The fighting commenced at half past two on the 21st of October and continued with great fury until half past six the same day. I happened to be in the fighting here, and the bullets were raining down on us like large hailstones and the great Artillery shells shrieked as they passed harmlessly over our heads to a distance of about 100 yards, where they fell and played havoc with the Boer forces.

I am certain I must have possessed a charmed existence during this sharp encounter for the shots were whistling about my head and feet and some even scoured the tips of my fingers. When we were within 200 yards of their position, which was very strong, the order to charge was given, and every man rushed as for revenge  into the enemy, who did not face the bayonet, but retired as fast as their legs would allow them. Those that remained held up  white flags and begged for mercy, asking to be given a chance, the chance being that they were all taken prisoners, numbering about 200.

In storming the heights, I was one of the first to succeed and the sights which met my gaze I shall always remember with a pang of sorrow, dead and wounded lying about in great numbers. I conversed with many of the wounded Dutch and rendered what aid I could to them. As I was charging  up the hill I saw two of the Boers locked in each other's arms, not dead, but they appeared severely wounded. They called to me for assistance and I answered that I  would be back in a few minutes to help them, but when I returned they were gone. Most likely  they had received assistance from someone else.

It was very strange but not one of our regiment was killed and only 34 wounded. The Gordons lost 24  and 70 wounded; the Manchester's loss  was 10 killed and  and 31 wounded, while there were other casualties in in different regiments to a large extent. Out of one party of 850 only 230 escaped. The Devons who captured the colours were were received with great enthusiasm  on arriving at Ladysmith.

We fought another engagement on the 23rd and the Boers' losses  on this occasion must have been very great. The regiment came out with one killed and three wounded, and of other regiments engaged I could not say what they suffered. My chum in this fight got a slight wound in the leg.

I could describe volumes if time would allow, but we are pressed very closely at this period.


Sydney Robert Henry Anstey was born in Topsham in the March Quarter of 1880. He was the son of Henry and Henrietta Anstey. When this letter was written he was just 19.


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