11 January 1902

Letter from Corporal Eric Eaton

Harrismith, Orange River Colony — November 16th
Dear mother,— As I may not get the opportunity of writing to you for some time to come, as we may go out any minute with General RANDLE for six or eight weeks, I send you a short account of our last experience. We went out 20 days ago with a fighting column under General BROADWOOD. We made a forced march to Elands River Bridge, a distance of 18 miles, in 5 hours and 20 minutes — a record for this regiment. After a rest until 9pm the same night, we started on a night march to occupy some ridges about 11 miles away. Just outside the camp was an exceedingly bad drift, and in here the mules stuck. Then the order came for the infantry to take off their equipment, and drag the wagons over the drift. Officers, sergeants, Tommies, with their tunics off, shouting, pulling, hauling, cursing and swearing like fiends.

This was carried on for five hours, and at 2.15am we were again on the move. Orders were issued that no one was to speak above a whisper, no smoking and all dogs to be tied up. Like a huge snake the column wound slowly along the tortuous route with its mounted men thrown out like feelers all around. We pounced on one farm and found that the Boar was ready to go out. His horse was ready saddled. He told Captain NOBLE that he was going shooting birds, but we thought different and he joined the prisoners. We occupied the position all the next day and night. The following morning the mounted men went out at 2am, and we left just after dawn. As we moved away a few Boers opened fire on us from a small kopje about 500 yards on our left, the Mauser rifles going flip-flop and the bullets splashing round our heels like rain for a few minutes, but no one was hit. When the mounted troops got into camp they had had a major (Major QUICKE) killed and one captain and one lieutenant wounded, all of 1st Dragoon Guards B Company. MI visited a farm on the flanks, and found one Boar, about 70, and hidden six rifles, one Cape cart, and 1,500 rounds of SA ammunition buried. That made no difference, and the next day we marched to Harrismith, camping two miles from the town. At 2pm the next day we started with a convoy to Bethlehem.

The first and second day passed as usual. On the third day we had some heavy fighting in Tiger's Kloof, but no one was hurt on our side, and we reached Bethlehem safe and sound the same night. After a day's rest we marched back, being troubled by snipers. Next morning we were escort to the wagons. Moving out early we seized a ridge just outside camp, when the Boers opened fire on sight of H Company, who were cut off. After an hour's heavy fighting we drove the Boers into some rocks, where we were firing for two hours longer, when the big guns and the pompoms came up and shifted them out. There was all the time the continuous flip-flop of the Mauser, followed by the whistle of the bullets as they passed over as we lay behind our heaps.

One of the mounted men rode across the firing line for reinforcements and ammunition, the Boers firing all the time. Two sections of F Company rode and reinforced the party already there. Leaving them there, we moved on, fighting an advance guard action. Soon after, an orderly told me that the men we had left were cut up — three killed, one officer and two men wounded, and eleven captured. One of the killed was a volunteer called BABY, and three of the captured also were volunteers. The Boers, about 150 strong, attacked the advance guard with vigour, and then moved across the plain in extended order as the pompoms opened on them.

We stopped at Elands River Bridge on our way back for the day, and there we had the worst experience in our lives, "a military funeral." I would rather be in the firing line fifty times than see those poor lads laid in the ground far from home and civilisation. The Boers had taken their boots off them and stripped the doctor at first, but returned them on finding out that he was the doctor. We sent in our prisoners — 29 in all — including an Austrian major, who was fighting for the Boers, and all our wagons, and leaving one company entrenched on a kopje near the bridge, we returned under orders to hold a line between Harrismith and Bethlehem. The same night we camped near a huge kopje on which we left another company..

We were on outpost on a ridge when a terrible hailstorm broke on us. The stones were as large as pigeon eggs, and when they hit you it was like a catapult being fired at you at a very short range. It made us dance and shout like maniacs; the pain was awful. After twenty minutes of this, during which all the horses stampeded, it slackened and finally stopped. The tents were washed out and all the beds were wet through.

We moved off early in the morning, and only marched four miles, fighting heavily all the way. We Occupied ridge after ridge, fighting all the time, the big guns and pompom going like mad. When we reached the last ridge under a big, strong kopje, we lay there for two hours, firing all the time. Captain NOBLE galloped through our line towards the next ridge, which the infantry had occupied once and retired from, being unable to see any of the enemy about. After about half an hour the sound of heavy firing came to our ears and soon after a Volunteer called FERN galloped back to us with Lieutenant HOLBARTON in his arms; he had been hit in the chest, but his bandolier saved him. Two more came in sight galloping like mad; one was a regular who was hit in the shoulder, and the other a volunteer called RUSHTON, hit in the elbow. They told us Captain NOBLE was mortally wounded.

Just then the remainder of the party retired, the Boers being not 30 yards behind them. As they appeared on the ridge we proceeded to get a little of our own back, and opened a heavy fire on them, driving them back in confusion. The ambulance and doctor went out to bring in Captain NOBLE and Jack CONNERY. The Boers, 150 strong, surrounded them, but did not hurt any of them. PRINSLOO, who was in command of them, sent word to the Colonel by the doctor that we must surrender by 6pm, or he would give us socks. Captain NOBLE died as soon as he reached the hospital, and Jack CONNERY was reported dangerously wounded.

We pitched camp and settled down for the night. We were on outpost on one ridge, and on the same kopje that Captain NOBLE was killed we could see the Boers doing sentry-go just like ourselves. About 11pm out of the darkness came a volley right into our midst, the bullets falling all round and amongst us.

For a few minutes everything was confusion in the extreme; men running all over the place, dogs barking, horses dashing about. The Boers drove some horses over the ridge into the midst of us to draw our fire, but it did not come off. After the first few minutes' excitement everybody recovered their composure and lay down, most of us without any cover. Every nerve was strained and quivering with excitement, and in every chamber was a round of ammunition waiting. Oh! Would it never be daylight! What a terrible suspense, and how long would it be to daylight. Flip-flop going like mad on the right; they were firing into the column that was moving.

When everything was quiet we retired from our ridge, and moved on to the one in rear. It seemed as though we were lost, and G Company with us. We could hear nothing but the whispering of the men and the occasional neighing of a horse in the distance. We were lost to all intents and purposes. Captain LUPTON was walking along the line as cool as a cucumber, with a revolver in his hand, encouraging his men.

We went back to the ridge we had left, and lined the ridge all night, waiting for daybreak. When morning dawned Captain LUPTON was asleep on the ground with Captain KING, both without a blanket, starved, and nearly frozen stiff. When it was properly light we found that the column had not gone more than 11/2 miles. We retired safely and got away, the Boers fighting a rear guard action. For five hours they fired at us continually, the bullets splashing round our heels like hail and whistling round our heads. One of B Company was hit in the chest by a bullet that passed over our heads, as they were in front of us all retiring.

The mounted rearguard was driven like a flock of sheep. We got away safely into camp. The next day we fought another rearguard action to Elands River Bridge. That night we received a congratulatory message from General RANDLE, and a s a reward we were actually allowed to ride on wagons for about three miles the next day. When we reached Harrismith we were paraded to go to Captain NOBLE's funeral. About 200 infantry, 300 mounted men, and Generals RANDLE and DARTWELL, with their staffs — a perfect sea of ribbons — and about 50 officers of all ranks, with two bands and the drums of our regiment. I was glad when it was over, and we were marching back to camp.

All the sergeants are in hospital except myself, so duty is pretty thick. We are going out again under RANDLE, so it looks like Christmas on the veldt. I received your three parcels just as we came in, and they could not have come more opportunely. If I have not time to write again for Christmas, give my best wishes to all. — Your loving son, Eric

At the Ashton County Police Court on Wednesday, Benjamin BENNETT was fined 5s for being drunk and disorderly at Waterloo, to which charge he pleaded guilty.

A CHARGE OF BEING DRUNK.— James JOHNSON was fined 2s 6d at the Ashton County Police Court on Wednesday for being drunk at Barsdley on December 15th, to which charge he pleaded guilty.

FAILING TO APPEAR.— Henry ORMSHAW failed to appear at the Ashton County Police Court on Wednesday to answer a charge of being drunk and disorderly at Waterloo on December 21st.— Evidence was given by a constable of seeing defendant drunk and misconducting himself in Oldham-road.— Defendant, who had been ten times previously before the court, was fined 10s and costs, or 14 days.

THE CARTER AND THE CANDLE.— At the Ashton County Police Court on Wednesday, John RODGERS pleaded not guilty to a charge of having no light on vehicle at Bardsley on December 19th.— Constable NEWTON proved the case, and deposed to seeing defendant without light in Oldham-road at eleven o'clock at night.— Defendant said he saw that his light was going out, and he went and purchased a candle. The light was not absolutely out when the constable came on the scene.— Fined 2s 6d for costs.

THE DANGER OF THE MINE.— On Thursday morning Isaac BURGESS, a wagoner employed at the Copperas House Pit, Bardsley, met with a singular and serious accident. He was engaged in his usual occupation at the time stated, and had the misfortune to come into collision with a tub of coal, the result being that BURGESS had his nose split so seriously as to necessitate the attention of a medical man. It is hoped the injury may not prove of a permanent character.

Technical Breach at Hurst

A Hurst tradesman, George FOOTE, was charged at the Ashton County Police Court on Wednesday with exposing a package of margarine for sale on November 11th without having a printed label on as required by the Food and Drugs Act. Mr Wingate SAUL appeared to prosecute and said he was instructed not to press for a penalty in this case, as it was more a mistake than anything. Defendant pleaded guilty and stated that the label was not properly on the margarine. It was a tin label which he thought would be sufficient to cover two margarine dishes. Inspector PARKINSON stated there were two labels for three dishes of margarine. Defendant was fined the costs 5s 6d, and the analyst's fee 8s 9d.

The body of a man, apparently about 47 years of age, was taken from the canal near Valley Bridge, Bardsley, about four o'clock on Thursday afternoon. The body was at once removed to the Dog and Pheasant Inn, where an inquest will be held. Constables BARBER and NEWTON searched the body and found a card bearing the name of "w LLOYD." Nothing further, however, was found to lead to the identity of the deceased.— On Friday morning the body was identified as that of William Henry LLOYD, spindle maker, of 2 Hathersage-street, Werneth, Oldham. The deceased was in the employ of Messrs Platt Bros and Co, and he had been suffering for some time from depression caused by the death of his wife and daughter about two years ago.

Remarkable Revelations

At Ashton County Police Court on Wednesday, James TWIST, of Hurst, was before the magistrate charged with committing a breach of the Food and Drugs Act. Mr Wingate SAUL, who appeared to prosecute, stated that there were two charges, consisting of the selling to the prejudice of William James PARKINSON, an inspector under the Lancashire County Council, a pound of butter which was not of the nature, substance, and quality demanded, at Hurst, on November 11th; also selling a pound of margarine without delivering the same in a printed wrapper.— Defendant pleaded not guilty to the first charge, and guilty to the second charge.

Mr SAUL stated that when Inspector PARKINSON went to defendant's shop he asked for the price of butter, and Mrs TWIST, wife of the defendant, said they had none of the best in, and that they had only one shilling butter, and Mrs TWIST lifted up a cloth which was over a dish and disclosed two different kinds of butter. She said, "Oh, here's some of the best butter." He purchased it, and she only charged him 1s for the butter. Inspector PARKINSON told her it was for analysis, and he divided it in the usual way. The analysis disclosed 91/2 per cent of water and upwards of 80 per cent of fats other than butter. What was asked for was butter. Defendant was selling margarine as butter.

The Magistrates' Clerk: He must be guilty of the first offence, if the inspector demanded butter, because he admits he sold margarine without a label, and this is the very sample taken..— Continuing Mr SAUL referred to the enormous profit made. He said that the value of the margarine sold was 5d, and so to charge 1s 3d or 1s for this butter the magistrates would see that the purchaser was very highly prejudiced, and that he was being charged at least more than twice the value. He would ask the bench to impose a penalty which would deter people from making money in this fraudulent way, for it was fraudulent and nothing else. He would ask for a penalty which would deter shopkeepers of this character from swindling the public as he submitted had been done in this case.

Defendant said he was an overlooker, and that he was in the mill at the time. The butter was got for their own confectionery; they did not sell it at all.— The magistrates imposed a fine of 1 and costs for the first offence, and 5s for costs in the second case.

A Black Eye for a New Year's Gift

At the Ashton Borough Police Court on Monday, Mary WALKER, of Wellington-street, Ashton, summoned Isaiah LAMBERT for an assault alleged to have been committed on January 1st.— Mr J B POWNALL appeared for the complainant, and Mr J S EATON defended.— From the evidence it appeared that LAMBERT's wife had some disagreement with Mary WALKER, who it was stated, was about to become the wife of Mrs LAMBERT's father, or the man she had always called her father. The fact that this marriage was about to take place seems to have led to unpleasantness and ill-will between the women.

On New Year's Day LAMBERT came home from work, and found his wife bathing her head under the tap. She had a wound there which was bleeding. She complained to him that Mary WALKER had struck her. He went over to a house in Wellington-street and knocked at the door. A woman named Amelia McCLUSKY opened the door. He asked to see the complainant, and when she came it was alleged defendant struck her a violent blow over the eye with his closed first. He "let the peg go" without saying a word, one witness averred. Both the women concerned showed their bruises to the bench.— The case was dismissed after hearing evidence on both sides.

At the Ashton Borough Police Court on Monday, Emily CALLAND summoned her husband, Joseph CALLAND, for desertion. The complainant was represented by Mr J B POWNALL, whilst for the defendant Mr SHIMOLD appeared.

The parties concerned were young people, both being well dressed. Mr POWNALL said his client alleged that she was deserted by her husband in November last. They were only married in December of the previous year. They started house keeping together in Turner-lane, but defendant got out of work, and they went to live with his parents. The case seemed to arise out of quarrelling through the interference of defendant's parents. She had tried to persuade him to take another home, but he would not leave his parents.

On the 10th November the defendant made an appointment, and after his client had waited for him some time, she went to the house of her husband's parents, but they told her there was no home for her there. She went down for some of her furniture, and she was told he had left the town. It was afterwards ascertained that he had never been out of Ashton all the time. He was a bricklayer, and could get from 2 to 2 10s per week wages.

Emily CALLAND, the complainant, said she was married in December 1900, and there was one child born of the marriage, now seven months old. She was employed at Wellington Mills, and her wages averaged 10s a week. She had not had regular work. On November 19 he asked her to meet him at the corner of Scotland-street at six o'clock, but he failed to turn up. Her husband's family had not treated her very well.

Cross-examined by Mr SHIMOLD: He put his age on his marriage certificate at twenty, but he was not yet nineteen years of age. As a matter of fact he was only just turned 17 when he was married. He will not be 19 till next May. When they were living together he treated complainant well. When he got out of work his parents wanted to help them and they went to live with them. They had borrowed the money to get the house furnished. Complainant denied that she had behaved badly whilst she was living at the defendant's parents. Her sister lived at the Blue Bell, but she was not always trying to get defendant to go there. When they parted, she did not go to defendant's parents and create a row. It was the defendant's sisters who nagged at her and when she went to pack up her things they made a bother in the street,

The Magistrates' Clerk here interposed, and said it would be better if the young couple could be could be got together and an amicable settlement come to. The solicitor might retire and try to negotiate a settlement.— Mr SCHIMOLD said he only too glad to arrive at a settlement, but it was a question of the amount defendant would have to pay. He was out of work, and had no home to take his wife to.— The Chairman: There is plenty of work for bricklayers in the town.— Mr SHIMOLD said that had not been his client's experience. He had tried, and although he was the son of a brickmaker, he had not been able to get constant work.— The Bench made an order for defendant to pay 5s per week towards the maintenance of his wife, and to try and get a house for her to go to.

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