The Defence of DUFFER'S DRIFT
Captain E. D. Swinton, D.S.O., R.E.
Major General Sir Ernest Swinton,
K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O.
US ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE
FORT LEAVENWORTH, KANSAS
Reprinted by the United States Infantry Association, 1916 from the
Infantry Journal, April, 1905
Originally printed in the British United Service Magazine (now
incorporated in The Army Quarterly) under the pseudonym N Backsight
What would you do?
Lieutenant Backsight Forethought (BF to his friends) has been left in
command of a 50 man reinforced platoon to hold Duffer's Drift, the only
ford on the Silliasvogel River available to wheeled traffic. Here is his
chance for fame and glory. He has passed his officers courses and special
"Now if they had given me a job," says BF, "like fighting the Battle of
Waterloo, I knew all about that, as I had crammed it up..."
While BF's task appears simple enough, the Boer enemy causes a multitude
of problems, but you, smart reader, with a quick mind and sharp intellect
will, no doubt, solve the problem before the first shot is fired.
About the Author:
Major General Sir Ernest D. Swinton, K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O., was a noted
English soldier, author, and professor. Considered by Field Marshal Earl
Wavell as one of the most far-sighted officers the British Army has
produced, he wrote before World War I on the effects of air warfare,
mining and of psychological warfare. In 1914 Sir Swinton completely
revolutionized warfare by his invention of the tank; he, more than anyone
else, was responsible for its introduction and development. He served as
Professor of Military History at Oxford from 1925 to 1939, and later as
Commandant of the Royal Tank Corps from 1934 to 1938 - earning the rank of
As a Captain, shortly after service in the Boer War, he wrote "The Defence
of Duffer's Drift," using the pseudonym, Lieutenant Backsight Forethought,
or BF. Duffer's Drift has become a military classic on minor tactics in
this century. In addition to Duffer's Drift, and contributing to many
journals, he authored The Green Curve in 1909 and The Great Tab Dope, in
1915, under the pseudonym O'le Luk-Oie (Olaf Shut-eye). His other works
include The Study of War in 1926 and his final publication, An Eastern
Odyssey written in 1935.
(THE BOER WAR)
The Boers, Dutch for farmer, first settled what is now Cape Province,
Republic of South Africa in 1652. After Great Britain annexed this
territory in 1806, many of the Boers departed on the "Great Trek" and
created the Republic of Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal.
Gradual commercial control by the British and discovery of gold and
diamonds, among other things, served to create hostility between the Boers
and British, resulting in the South African War or Boer War from 1899 to
1902. The Boers initially outnumbered the British and were well equipped,
scoring impressive victories in the areas adjacent to their territories.
Even though the Boer armies finally surrendered, apparent victory for the
British was retarded by extensive and coordinated guerilla warfare. The
war was finally ended by the systematic destruction of the Boer guerrilla
units and hostilities were terminated by the Treaty of Vereeniging in May
1902. The Boer territories were annexed by Great Britain and were
organized into the Union of South Africa eight years later.
ABATIS: A barricade of felled trees with branches facing the enemy.
ANT HILL: A large cone-shaped mound of earth.
BOER: Descendents of Dutch Colonists in South Africa.
DONGA: South African gully or ravine.
DRIFT: A ford, a shallow place in a stream or river that can be crossed by
walking or riding on horseback.
DUFFER: An incompetent, awkward or stupid person.
KAFFIR: A fierce black tribe of South Africa (19th Century).
KOPJE: A rocky hill or butte of South Africa usually 200- 800 meters high.
KRAALS: A village of South African natives surrounded by a stockade for
QUI VIVE: Fr., a sentry?s challenge; "who goes there?"
SUBALTERN: A British officer holding a commission below that of captain; a
VELD: A grassy plain of South Africa, similar to the Western Tableland of
the United States.
VC: Victoria Cross, highest British medal for valor.
"It was our own fault, and our very grave fault, and now we must turn it
to use. We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single
This tale of a dream is dedicated to the "gilded Popinjays" and "hired
assassins" of the British nation, especially those who are now knocking at
the door, to wit the very junior. It embodies some recollections of things
actually done and undone in South Africa, 1899-1902. It is hoped that its
fantastic guise may really help to emphasize the necessity for the
practical application of some very old principles, and assist to an
appreciation of what may happen when they are not applied, even on small
operations. This practical application has often been lost sight of in the
stress of the moment, with dire results, quite unrealized until the
horrible instant of actual experience. Should this tale, by arousing the
imagination, assist to prevent in the future even one such case of
disregard of principles, it will not have been written in vain. The dreams
are not anticipations, but merely a record of petty experiences against
one kind of enemy in one kind of country only, with certain deductions
based thereupon. But from these, given the conditions, it is not difficult
to deduce the variations suitable for other countries, or for those
occasions when a different foe with different methods of fighting and
different weapons has to be met.
Upon an evening after a long and tiring trek, I arrived at Dreamdorp. The
local atmosphere, combined with a heavy meal, is responsible for the
following nightmare, consisting of a series of dreams. To make the
sequence of the whole intelligible, it is necessary to explain that though
the scene of each vision was the same, by some curious mental process I
had no recollection of the place whatsoever. In each dream the locality
was totally new to me, and I had an entirely fresh detachment. Thus, I had
not the great advantage of working over familiar ground. One thing, and
one only, was carried on from dream to dream, and that was the vivid
recollection of the general lessons previously learnt. These finally
The whole series of dreams, however, remained in my memory as a connected
whole when I awoke.
"Any fool can get into a hole." - Old Chinese Proverb.
"If left to you, for defence make spades. " - Bridge Maxim.
I felt lonely, and not a little sad, as I stood on the bank of the river
near Duffer's Drift and watched the red dust haze, raised by the southward
departing column in the distance, turn slowly into gold as it hung in the
afternoon sunlight. It was just three o'clock, and here I was on the banks
of the Silliaasvogel river, left behind by my column with a party of fifty
NCOs and men to hold the drift. It was an important ford, because it was
the only one across which wheeled traffic could pass for some miles up or
down the river.
The river was a sluggish stream, not now in flood, crawling along at the
very bottom of its bed between steep banks which were almost vertical, or
at any rate too steep for wagons anywhere except at the drift itself. The
banks from the river edge to their tops and some distance outwards, were
covered with dense thorn and other bushes, which formed a screen
impenetrable to the sight. They were also broken by small ravines and
holes, where the earth had been eaten away by the river when in flood, and
were consequently very rough.
Some 2000 odd meters north of the drift was a flat- topped, rocky
mountain, and about a mile to the north-east appeared the usual sugerloaf
kopje, covered with bushes and boulders-steep on the south, but gently
falling to the north; this had a farm on the near side of it. About 1000
meters south of the drift was a convex and smooth hill, somewhat like an
inverted basin, sparsely sown with small boulders, and with a Kaffir
kraal, consisting of a few grass mud huts on top. Between the river and
the hills on the north the ground consisted of open and almost level veld;
on the south bank the veld was more undulating, and equally open. The
whole place was covered with ant-hills.
My orders were to hold Duffer's Drift at all costs. I should probably be
visited by some column within three or four days time. I might possibly be
attacked before that time, but this was very unlikely, as no enemy were
known to be within a hundred miles. The enemy had guns.
It all seemed plain enough, except that the true inwardness of the last
piece of information did not strike me at the time. Though in company with
fifty "good men and true," it certainly made me feel somewhat lonely and
marooned to be left out there comparatively alone on the boundless veld;
but the chance of an attack filled me, and I am quite sure, my men, with
martial ardour. At last here was the chance I had so often longed for.
This was my first "show," my first independent command, and I was
determined to carry out my order to the bitter end. I was young and
inexperienced, it is true, but I had passed all my examinations with fair
success; my men were a good willing lot, with the traditions of a glorious
regiment to uphold, and would, I knew, do all I should require of them. We
were also well supplied with ammunition and rations and had a number of
picks, shovels, and sandbags, etc., which I confess had been rather forced
As I turned towards my gallant little detachment, visions of a bloody and
desperate fight crossed my mind a fight to the last cartridge, and then an
appeal to cold steel, with ultimate victory and-but a discreet cough at my
elbow brought me back to realities, and warned me that my Colour-sergeant
was waiting for orders.
After a moment?s consideration, I decided to pitch my small camp on a spot
just south of the drift, because it was slightly rising ground, which I
knew should be chosen for a camp whenever possible. It was, moreover,
quite close to the drift, which was also in its favour, for, as every one
knows, if you are told off to guard anything, you mount a guard quite
close to it, and place a sentry, if possible, standing on top of it. The
place I picked out also had the river circling round three sides of it in
a regular horse- shoe bend, which formed a kind of ditch, or, as the book
says, "a natural obstacle." I was indeed lucky to have such an ideal place
close at hand; nothing could have been more suitable.
I came to the conclusion that, as the enemy were not within a hundred
miles, there would be no need to place the camp in a state of defence till
the following day. Besides, the men were tired after their long trek, and
it would be quite as much as they could do comfortably to arrange nice and
shipshape all the stores and tools, which had been dumped down anyhow in a
heap, pitch the camp, and get their teas before dark. Between you and me,
I was really relieved to be able to put off my defensive measures till the
morrow, because I was a wee bit puzzled as to what to do. In fact, the
more I thought, the more puzzled I grew. The only "measures of defence" I
could recall for the moment were, how to tie "a thumb or overhand knot,"
and how long it takes to cut down an apple tree of six inches diameter.
Unluckily neither of these useful facts seemed quite to apply. Now, if
they had given me a job like fighting the battle of Waterloo, or Sedan, or
Bull Run, I knew all about that, as I had crammed it up and been examined
in it too. I also knew how to take up a position for a division, or even
an army corps, but the stupid little subaltern's game of the defence of a
drift with a small detachment was, curiously enough, most perplexing. I
had never really considered such a thing. However, in the light of my
habitual dealings with army corps, it would, no doubt, be child's-play
after a little thought.
Having issued my immediate orders accordingly, I decided to explore the
neighbourhood, but was for a moment puzzled as to which direction I should
take; for, having no horse, I could not possibly get all round before
dark. After a little thought, it flashed across my mind that obviously I
should go to the north. The bulk of the enemy being away to the north,
that of course must be the front. I knew naturally that there must be a
front, because in all the schemes I had had to prepare, or the exams I had
undergone, there was always a front, or "the place where the enemies come
from." How often, also, had I not had trouble in getting out of a dull
sentry which his "front" and what his "beat" was. The north, then, being
my front, the east and west were my flanks, where there might possibly be
enemies, and the south was my rear, where naturally there were none.
I settled these knotty points to my satisfaction, and off I trudged, with
my field-glasses, and, of course, my Kodak, directing my steps towards the
gleaming white walls of the little Dutch farm, nestling under the kopje to
the north-east. It was quite a snug little farm for South Africa, and was
surrounded by blue gums and fruit trees. About a quarter of a mile from
the farm I was met by the owner, Mr. Andreas Brink, a tame or surrendered
Boer farmer, and his two sons, Piet and Gert. "Such a nice man too," with
a pleasant face and long beard. He would insist on calling me "Captain,"
and as any correction might have confused him, I did not think it worth
while to make any, and after all I wasn?t so very far from my "company."
The three of them positively bristled with dog's-eared and dirty passes
from every Provost Marshal in South Africa, and these they insisted on
showing me. I had not thought of asking for them, and was much impressed;
to have so many they must be special men. They escorted me to the farm,
where the good wife and several daughters met us, and gave me a drink of
milk, which was most acceptable after my long and dusty trek. The whole
family appeared either to speak or to understand English, and we had a
very friendly chat, during the course of which I gathered that there were
no Boer commandos anywhere within miles, that the whole family cordially
hoped that there never would be again, and that Brink was really a most
loyal Briton, and had been much against the war, but had been forced to go
on a commando with his two sons. Their loyalty was evident, because there
was an oleograph of the Queen on the wall, and one of the numerous
flappers was playing our National Anthem on the harmonium as I entered.
The farmer and the boys took a great interest in all my personal gear,
especially a brand-new pair of the latest-pattern field-glasses, which
they tried with much delight, and many exclamations of "Allermachtig."
They evidently appreciated them extremely, but could not imagine any use
for my Kodak in war-time, even after I had taken a family group. Funny,
simple fellows! They asked and got permission from me to sell milk, eggs
and butter in the camp, and I strolled on my way, congratulating myself on
the good turn I was thus able to do myself and detachment, none of whom
had even smelt such luxuries for weeks.
After an uneventful round, I directed my steps back towards the thin blue
threads of smoke, rising vertically in the still air, which alone showed
the position of my little post, and as I walked the peacefulness of the
whole scene impressed me. The landscape lay bathed in the warm light of
the setting sun, whose parting rays tinged most strongly the various
heights within view, and the hush of approaching evening was only broken
by the distant lowing of oxen, and by the indistinct and cheerful camp
noises, which gradually grew louder as I approached. I strolled along in
quite a pleasant frame of mind, meditating over the rather curious names
which Mr. Brink had given me for the surrounding features of the
landscape. The kopje above his farm was called Incidentamba, the
flat-topped mountain some two miles to the north was called Regret Table
Mountain, and the gently rising hill close to the drift on the south of
the river they called Waschout Hill. Everything was going on well, and the
men were at their teas when I got back. The nice Dutchman with his
apostolic face and the lanky Piet and Gert were already there, surrounded
by a swarm of men, to whom they were selling their wares at exorbitant
rates. The three of them strolled about the camp, showing great interest
in everything, asking most intelligent questions about the British forces
and the general position of affairs and seemed really relieved to have a
strong British post near. They did not even take offence when some of the
rougher man called them "blarsted Dutchmen," and refused to converse with
them, or buy their "skoff." About dusk they left, with many promises to
return with a fresh supply on the morrow. After writing out my orders for
next day, one of which was for digging some trenches round the camp, an
operation which I knew my men, as becomes good British soldiers, disliked
very much, and regarded as fatigues. I saw the two guards mounted, one at
the drift, and the other some little way down the river, each furnishing
one sentry on the river bank.
When all had turned in, and the camp was quite silent, it was almost
comforting to hear the half-hourly cry of the sentries. "Number one-all is
well!; Number two-all is well!" By this sound I was able to locate them,
and knew they were at their proper posts. On going round sentries about
midnight, I was pleased to find that they were both alert, and that, as it
was a cold night, each guard had built a bonfire silhouetted in the
cheerful blaze of which stood the sentry-a clear-cut monument to all
around that here was a British sentry fully on the qui-vive. After
impressing them with their orders, the extent of their "beat," and the
direction of their "front," etc., I turned in. The fires they had built,
besides being a comfort to themselves, were also useful to me, because
twice during the night when I looked out I could, without leaving my tent,
plainly see them at their posts. I finally fell asleep, and dreamt of
being decorated with a crossbelt made of V.C.s and D.S.O.s, and of wearing
red tabs all down my back.
I was suddenly awoken, about the grey of dawn, by a hoarse cry, "Halt! who
goes. . . ." cut short by the unmistakable "plipplop" of a Mauser rifle.
Before I was off my valise, the reports of Mausers rang round the camp
from every side, these, mingled with the smack of the bullets as they hit
the ground and stripped, the "zipzip" of the leaden hail through the
tents, and the curses and groans of men who were hit as they lay or
stumbled about trying to get out, made a hellish din. There was some wild
shooting in return from my men, but it was all over in a moment, and as I
managed to wriggle out of my tent the whole place was swarming with
bearded men, shooting into the heaving canvas. At that moment I must have
been clubbed on the head for I knew no more until I found myself seated on
an empty case having my head, which was dripping with blood, tied up by
one of my men. Our losses were 10 men killed, including both sentries, and
21 wounded; the Boers? had one killed and two wounded.
Later on, as, at the order of the not ill-natured but very frowzy Boer
commandant, I was gloomily taking off the saucy warm spotted waistcoat
knitted for me by my sister, I noticed our friends of the previous evening
in very animated and friendly conversation with the burghers, and "Pappa"
was, curiously enough, carrying a rifle and bandolier and my new
field-glasses. He was laughing and pointing towards something lying on the
ground, through which he finally put his foot. This, to my horror, I
recognized as my unhappy camera. Here, I suppose, my mind must have
slightly wandered, for I found myself repeating some Latin lines, once my
favourite imposition, but forgotten since my school-days---"Timeo Danaos
et dona ferentes. . . . " when suddenly the voice of the field cornet
broke into my musing with "Your breeches too, captain." Trekking all that
day on foot, sockless, and in the boots of another, I had much to think of
besides my throbbing head. The sight of the long Boer convoy with guns,
which had succeeded so easily in crossing the drift I was to have held,
was a continual reminder of my failure and of my responsibility for the
dreadful losses to my poor detachment. I gradually gathered from the Boers
what I had already partly guessed, namely, that they had been fetched and
guided all round our camp by friend Brink, had surrounded it in the dark,
crawling about in the bush on the river bank, and had carefully marked
down our two poor sentries. These they had at once shot on the alarm being
given, and had then rushed the camp from the dense cover on three sides.
Towards evening my head got worse, and its rhythmic throbbing seemed
gradually to take a meaning, and hammeredout the following lessons, the
result of much pondering on my failure:
1. Do not put off taking your measures of defence till the morrow, as
these are more important than the comfort of your men or the shipshape
arrangement of your camp. Choose the position of your camp mainly with
reference to your defence.
2. Do not in war-time show stray men of the enemy's breed all over your
camp, be they never so kind and full of butter, and do not be hypnotised,
by numerous "passes," at once to confide in them.
3. Do not let your sentries advertise their position to the whole world,
including the enemy, by standing in the full glare of a fire, and making
much noise every half-hour.
4. Do not, if avoidable, be in tents when bullets are ripping through
them; at such times a hole in the ground is worth many tents.
After these lessons had been dinned into my soul millions and millions of
times, so that I could never forget them, a strange thing came to
pass-there was a kaleidoscopic change - I had another dream.
"And what did ye look they should compass? Warcraft learnt in a breath,
Knowledge unto occasion
at the first far view of Death?" KIPLING.
I suddenly found myself dumped down at Duffer's Drift with the same orders
as already detailed, and an equal detachment composed of entirely
different men. As before, and on every subsequent occasion, I had ample
stores, ammunition, and tools. My position was precisely similar to my
former one, with this important exception, running through my brain were
As soon as I received my orders, therefore, I began to make out my plan of
operations without wasting any time over the landscape, the setting sun,
or the departing column, which, having off-loaded all our stores, soon
vanished. I was determined to carry out all the lessons I had learnt as
well as I knew how. To prevent any strangers, friendly or otherwise, from
coming into my position and spying out the elaborate defenses I was going
to make, I sent out at once two examining posts of one NCO and three men
each, one to the top of Waschout Hill, and the other some 1000 meters out
on the veld to the north of the drift. Their orders were to watch the
surrounding country, and give the alarm in the event of the approach of
any body of men whatever (Boers were, of course, improbable, but still
just possible), and also to stop any individuals, friendly or not, from
coming anywhere near camp and to shoot at once on non-compliance with the
order to halt. If the newcomers had any provisions to sell, these were to
be sent in with a list by one of the guard, who would return with the
money, but the strangers were not to be allowed nearer the camp on any
Having thus arranged a safeguard against spies, I proceeded to choose a
camping ground. I chose the site already described in my former dream, and
for the same reasons, which still appealed to me. So long as I was
entrenched, it appeared the best place around. We started making our
trenches as soon as I had marked off a nice squarish little enclosure
which would about contain our small camp. Though, of course, the north was
the front, I thought, having a camp, it would be best to have an all-round
defence as a sort of obstacle. The majority of the men were told off to
dig, which they did not relish, a few being detailed to pitch camp and
prepare tea. As the length of trench was rather great for the available
number of diggers, and the soil was hard, we were only able by dark, by
which time the men were quite done up by their hard day, to make quite a
low parapet and shallow trench. Still we were "entrenched," which was the
great thing, and the trench was all round our camp, so we were well
prepared, even should we be attacked during the night or early next
morning, which was quite unlikely.
During this time one or two strangers had approached the guard of the
north from a farm under Incidentamba. As they had eggs and butter, etc.,
to sell, these were brought in as arranged for. The man sent in with the
stuff reported that the elder of the Dutchmen was a most pleasant man, and
had sent me a present of a pat of butter and some eggs, with his
compliments, and would I allow him to come in and speak to me? However,
not being such a fool as to allow him in my defenses, I went out instead,
in case he had any information. His only information was that there were
no Boers anywhere near. He was an old man, but though he had a museum of
"passes," I was not to be chloroformed by them into confidence. As he
seemed friendly, and possibly loyal, I walked part of the way back to his
farm with him, in order to look around. At dark the two examining posts
came in, and two guards were mounted close by the object I was to watch,
namely, the drift, at the same places as in my previous dream. This time,
however, there was no half-hourly shouting, nor were there any fires, and
the sentries had orders not to challenge but to shoot any person they
might see outside camp at once. They were placed standing down the river
bank, just high enough to see over the top, and were thus not
unnecessarily exposed. Teas had been eaten, and all fires put out at dusk,
and after dark all turned in, but in the trenches instead of in tents.
After going round sentries to see everything snug for the night, I lay
down myself with a sense of having done my duty, and neglected no possible
precaution for our safety.
Just before dawn much the same happened as already described in my first
dream, except that the ball was started by a shot without challenge from
one of our sentries at something moving amoung the bush, which resulted in
close-range fire opening up to us from all sides. This time we were not
rushed, but a perfect hail of bullets whistled in from every
direction-from in front of each trench, and over and through our parapet.
It was sufficient to put a hand or head up to have a dozen bullets through
and all round it, and the strange part was, we saw no one. As the
detachment wag plaintively remarked, we could have seen lots of Boers, "if
it wasn?t for the bushes in between."
After vainly trying until bright daylight to see the enemy in order to do
some damage in return, so many men were hit, and the position seemed so
utterly hopeless, that I had to hoist the white flag. We had by then 24
men killed and six wounded. As soon as the white flag went up the Boers
ceased firing at once, and stood up; every bush and ant-hill up to 100
meters range seemed to have hid a Boer behind it. This close range
explained the marvelous accuracy of their shooting, and the great
proportion of our killed (who were nearly all shot through the head) to
As we were collecting ourselves preparatory to marching off there were one
or two things which struck me; one was that the Dutchman who had presented
me with eggs and butter was in earnest confabulation with the Boer
commandant, who was calling him "Oom" most affectionately. I also noticed
that all male Kaffirs from the neighbouring kraal had been fetched and
impressed to assist in getting the Boer guns and wagons across the drift
and to load up our captured gear, and generally do odd and dirty jobs.
These same Kaffirs did their work with amazing alacrity, and looked as if
they enjoyed it; there was no "back chat" when an order was given?usually
by friend "Oom."
Again, as I trudged with blistered feet that livelong day, did I think
over my failure. It seemed so strange, I had done all I knew, and yet,
here we were, ignominiously captured, 24 of us killed, and the Boers over
the drift. "Ah, BF, my boy," I thought, "there must be a few more lessons
to be learnt besides those you already know." In order to find out what
these were, I pondered deeply over the details of the fight. The Boers
must have known of our position, but how had they managed to get close up
all round within snapshooting range without being discovered? What a
tremendous advantage they had gained in shooting from among the bushes on
the bank, where they could not be seen, over us who had to show up over a
parapet every time we looked for an enemy, and show up, moreover, just in
the very place where every Boer expected us to. There seemed to be some
fault in the position. How the bullets seemed sometimes to come through
the parapet, and how those that passed over one side hit the men defending
the other side in the back. How, on the whole, that "natural obstacle,"
the river-bed, seemed to be more of a disadvantage than a protection.
Eventually the following lessons framed themselves in my head some of them
quite new, some of them supplementing those four I had already learnt:
5. With modern rifles, to guard a drift or locality does not necessitate
sitting on top of it (as if it could be picked up and carried away),
unless the locality is suitable to hold for other and defensive reasons.
It may even be much better to take up your defensive position some way
from the spot, and so away from concealed ground, which enables the enemy
to crawl up to very close range, concealed and unperceived, and to fire
from cover which hides them even when shooting. It would be better, if
possible, to have the enemy in the open, or to have what is called a clear
"field of fire."
A non-bullet-proof parapet or shelter which is visible serves merely to
attract bullets instead of keeping them out the proof of thickness can be
easily and practically tested.
When fired at by an enemy at close range from nearly all round, a low
parapet and shallow trench are not of much use, as what bullets do not hit
the defenders on one side hit those on another.
6. It is not enough to keep strange men of the enemy's breed away from
your actual defenses, letting them go free to warn their friends of your
existence and whereabouts even though they should not be under temptation
to impart any knowledge they may have obtained. "Another way," as the
cookery book says, more economical in lives, would be as follows: Gather
and warmly greet a sufficiency of strangers. Stuff well with chestnuts as
to the large force about to join you in a few hours; garnish with
corroborative detail, and season according to taste with whiskey or
tobacco. This will very likely be sufficient for the nearest commando.
Probable cost some heavy and glib lying, but no lives will be expended.
7. It is not business to allow lazy men (even though they be brothers and
neutrals) to sit and pick their teeth outside their kraals whilst tired
soldiers are breaking their hearts trying to do heavy labour in short
time. It is more the duty of a soldier to teach the lazy neutral the
dignity of labour, and by keeping him under guard to prevent his going
away to talk about it.
By the time the above lessons had been well burnt into my brain, beyond
all chance of forgetfulness, a strange thing happened. I had a fresh
"So when we take tea with a few guns, o'course you will know what do
do hoo! hoo!" KIPLING.
I was at Duffer's Drift on a similar sunny afternoon and under precisely
similar conditions, except that I now had seven lessons running through my
I at once sent out two patrols, each of one NCO and three men, one to the
north and one to the south. They were to visit all neighbouring farms and
kraals and bring in all able-bodied Dutch men and boys and male Kaffirs,
by persuasion if possible, but by force if necessary. This would prevent
the news of our arrival being carried round to any adjacent commandos, and
would also assist to solve the labour question. A small guard was mounted
on the top of Waschout Hill as a look-out.
I decided that as the drift could not get up and run away, it was not
necessary to take up my post or position quite close to it. especially as
such a position would be under close rifle fire from the river bank, to
which the approaches were quite concealed, and which gave excellent cover.
The very worst place for such a position seemed to be anywhere within the
horseshoe bend of the river, as this would allow an enemy practically to
surround it. My choice therefore fell on a spot to which the ground gently
rose from the river bank, some 700 to 800 meters south of the drift. Here
I arranged to dig a trench roughly facing the front (north), which thus
would have about 800 meters clear ground on its front. We started to make
a trench about 50 meters long for my 50 men, according to the usual rule.
Some little time after beginning, the patrols came in, having collected
three Dutchmen and two boys, and about thirteen Kaffirs. The former, the
leader of whom seemed a man of education and some importance, were at
first inclined to protest when they were given tools to dig trenches for
themselves, showed bundles of "passes," and talked very big about
complaining to the general, and even as to a question in the "House" about
our brutality. This momentarily staggered me, as I could not help
wondering what might happen to poor BF if the member for Upper Tooting
should raise the point; but Westminster was far away, and I hardened my
heart. Finally they had the humour to see the force of the argument, that
it was, after all, necessary for their own health, should the post be
attacked, as they would otherwise be out in the open veld.
The Kaffirs served as a welcome relief to my men as they got tired. They
also dug a separate hole for themselves on one side of and behind our
trench, in a small ravine.
By evening we had quite a decent trench dug, the parapet was two feet six
inches thick at the top, and was quite bulletproof, as I tested it. Our
trench was not all in one straight line, but in two portions, broken back
at a slight angle, so as to get a more divergent fire (rather cunning of
me), though each half was of course as straight as I could get it.
It was astonishing what difficulty I had to get the men to dig in a nice
straight line. I was particular as to this point, because I once heard a
certain captain severely "told off" at maneuvers by a very senior officer
for having his trenches "out of dressing." No one could tell whether some
"brass hat" might not come round and inspect us next day, so it was as
well to be prepared for anything.
At dusk the guard on Waschout Hill, for whom a trench had also been dug,
was relieved and increased to six men, and after teas and giving out the
orders for the next day, we all "turned in" in our trenches. The tents
were not pitched, as we were not going to occupy them, and it was no good
merely showing up our position. A guard was mounted over our prisoners, or
rather "guests," and furnished one sentry to watch over them.
Before falling asleep I ran over my seven lessons, and it seemed to me I
had left nothing undone which could possibly help towards success. We were
entrenched, had a good bulletproof defence, all our rations and ammunition
close at hand in the trenches, and water-bottles filled. It was with a
contented feeling of having done everything right and of being quite "the
little white-haired boy," that I gradually dozed off.
Next morning dawned brightly and uneventfully, and we had about an hour's
work improving details of our trenches before breakfasts were ready. Just
as breakfast was over, the sentry on Waschout Hill reported a cloud of
dust away to the north, by Regret Table Mountain. This was caused by a
large party of mounted men with wheeled transport of some sort. They were
most probably the enemy, and seemed to be trekking in all innocence of our
presence for the drift.
What a "scoop" I thought, if they come on quite unsuspecting, and cross
the drift in a lump without discerning our position. I shall lie low, let
the advanced party go past without a shot, and wait until the main body
gets over the side within close range, and then open magazine fire into
the thick of them. Yes, it will be just when they reach that broken ant-
hill about 400 meters away that I shall give the word "Fire!"
However, it was not to be. After a short time the enemy halted, apparently
for consideration. The advanced men seemed to have a consultation, and
then gradually approached Incidentamba farm with much caution. Two or
three women ran out and waved, whereupon these men galloped up to the farm
at once. What passed, of course, we could not tell, but evidently the
women gave information as to our arrival and position, because the effect
was electrical. The advanced Boers split up into two main parties, one
riding towards the river a long way to the east, and another going
similarly to the west. One man galloped back with the information obtained
to the main body, which became all bustle, and started off with their
wagons behind Incidentamba, when they were lost to sight. Of course, they
were all well out of range, and as we were quite ready, the only thing to
do was to wait till they came out in the open within range, and then to
shoot them down.
The minutes seemed to crawl five, then ten minutes passed with no further
sign of the enemy. Suddenly, "Beg pardon, sir; I think I see something on
top of that kopje on the fur side yonder." One of the men drew my
attention to a few specks which looked like wagons moving about on the
flattish shoulder of Incidentamba. Whilst I was focusing my glasses there
was a "boom" from the hill, followed by a sharp report and a puff of smoke
up in the air quite close by, then the sound as of heavy rain pattering
down some 200 feet in front of the trench, each drop raising its own
little cloud of dust. This, of course, called forth the time-honoured
remarks of "What ho, she bumps!" and "Now we shan't be long," which proved
only too true. I was aghast, I had quite forgotten the possibility of guns
being used against me, though, had I remembered their existence, I do not
know, with my then knowledge, what difference it would have made to my
defensive measures. As there was some little uneasiness among my men, I,
quite cheerful in the security of our nice trench with the thick
bulletproof parapet, at once shouted out, "It's all right, men; keep under
cover, and they can't touch us." A moment later there was a second boom,
the shell whistled over our heads, and the hillside some way behind the
trench was spattered with bullets.
By this time we were crouching as close as possible to the parapet, which,
though it had seemed only quite a short time before so complete, now
suddenly felt most woefully inadequate, with those beastly shells dropping
their bullets down from the sky. Another boom. This time the shell burst
well, and the whole ground in front of the trench was covered with
bullets, one man being hit. At this moment rifle fire began on Waschout
Hill, but no bullets came our way. Almost immediately another shot
followed which showered bullets all over us; a few more men were hit,
whose groans were unpleasant to listen to. Tools were seized, and men
began frantically to try and dig themselves deeper into the hard earth, as
our trench seemed to give no more protection from the dropping bullets
than a saucer would from a storm of rain, but it was too late. We could not
sink into the earth fast enough. The Boers had got the range of the trench
to a nicety, and the shells burst over us now with a horrible methodic
precision. Several men were hit, and there was no reason why the enemy
should cease to rain shrapnel over us until we were all killed. As we were
absolutely powerless to do anything, I put up the white flag. All I could
do was to thank Providence that the enemy had no quick-firing field guns
or, though "we had not been long," we should have been blotted out before
we could have hoisted it.
As soon as the gunfire ceased, I was greatly surprised to find that no
party of Boers came down from their artillery position on Incidentamba to
take our surrender, but within three minutes some fifty Boers galloped up
from the river bank on the east and the west, and a few more came up from
the south round Waschout Hill. The guard on Waschout Hill, which had done
a certain amount of damage to the enemy, had two men wounded by rifle
fire. Not a single shell had come near them, though they were close to the
Kaffir huts, which were plain enough.
What an anti-climax the reality had been from the pleasurable
anticipations of the early morn, when I had first sighted the Boers.
Of course, the women on the farm had betrayed us, but it was difficult to
make out why the Boers had at first halted and begun to be suspicious
before they had seen the women at the farm. What could they have
discovered? I failed entirely to solve this mystery.
During the day's trek the following lessons slowly evolved themselves, and
were stored in my mind in addition to those already learnt:
8. When collecting the friendly stranger and his sons in order to prevent
their taking information to the enemy of your existence and whereabouts,
if you are wishful for a "surprise packet," do not forget also to gather
his wife and his daughter, his manservant and his maidservant (who also
have tongues), and his ox and his ass (which may possibly serve the
enemy). Of course, if they are very numerous or very far off, this is
impossible; only do not then hope to surprise the enemy.
9. Do not forget that, if guns are going to be used against you, a shallow
trench with a low parapet some way from it is worse than useless, even
though the parapet be bulletproof ten times over. The trench gives the
gunners an object to lay on, and gives no protection from shrapnel.
Against well-aimed longrange artillery fire it would be better to scatter
the defenders in the open hidden in grass and bushes, or behind stones or
ant hills, than to keep them huddled in such a trench. With your men
scattered around, you can safely let the enemy fill your trench to the
brim with shrapnel bullets.
10. Though to stop a shrapnel bullet much less actual thickness of earth
is necessary than to stop a rifle bullet, yet this earth must be in the
right place. For protection you must be able to get right close under
cover. As narrow a trench as possible, with the sides and inside of the
parapet as steep as they will stand, will give you the best chance. To
hollow out the bottom of the trench sides to give extra room will be even
better, because the open top of the trench can be kept the less wide. The
more like a mere slit the open top of the trench is, the fewer the
shrapnel bullets will get in.
While chewing over these lessons learnt from bitter experience, I had yet
"O was some power the gittie gie us, To see oursels as others see us!"
Again did I find myself facing the same problem, this time with ten
lessons to guide me. I started off by sending our patrols as described in
my last dream, but their orders were slightly different. All human beings
were to be brought into our post, and any animals which could be of use to
the enemy were to be shot, as we had no place for them.
For my defensive post I chose the position already described in my last
dream, which seemed very suitable, for the reasons already given. We
consequently dug a trench similar in plan to that already described, but,
as I feared the possibility of guns being used against us, it was of a
very different section. In plan it faced north generally, and was slightly
broken forward to the front, each half being quite straight. In section it
was about three feet six inches deep, with a parapet about twelve inches
high in front of it; we made the trench as narrow as possible at the top
compatible with free movement. Each man hollowed out the under part of the
trench to suit himself, and made his own portion of the parapet to suit
his height. The parapet was about two feet six inches thick at the top and
quite steep inside, being built up of pieces of broken ant-hill, which
were nearly as hard as stone.
The patrols returned shortly with their bag of a few men, women and
children. The women indulged in much useless abuse, and refused to obey
orders, taking the matter less philosophically than their mankind. Here
was evidently an opportunity of making use of the short training I had
once had as an A.D.C. I tried it. I treated the ladies with tons of "tact"
in my suavest manner, and repeated the only Dutch words of comfort I knew
"Wacht een beetje", "AI zal rech kom", but to no purpose. They had not been
brought up to appreciate tact; in fact, they were not taking any. I turned
regretfully round to the Colours-sergeant, winked solemnly and officially,
and seeing an answering but respectful quiver in his left eyelid, said:
"Which do you think is the best way of setting alight to a farm?" "Well,
sir, some prefer the large bedstead and straw, but I think the armonium
and a little kerosene in one corner is as neat as anything."
There was no need for more. The ladies quite understood this sort of tact;
the trouble was over.
The Dutchmen and Kaffirs were at once started digging shelters for
themselves and the women and children. The latter were placed together,
and were put into a small ravine not far from the trench, as it was
necessary to place them in a really deep trench, firstly to keep them
safe, and secondly to prevent their waving or signaling to the enemy. The
existence of this ravine, therefore, saved much digging, as it only
required some hollowing out at the bottom and a little excavation to suit
All dug with a will, and by night the shelters for the women and children,
men prisoners, and the firing trench, were nearly done. All arrangements
for the guards and sentries were the same as those described in the last
dream, and after seeing everything was all correct and the ladies provided
with tents to crawl under (they had their own blankets), I went to sleep
with a feeling of well-earned security.
At daybreak next morning, as there were no signs of any enemy, we
continued to improve our trench, altering the depth and alignment where
necessary, each man suiting the size of the trench to his own legs. In the
end the trench looked quite neat,"almost as nice as mother makes it," with
the fresh red earth contrasting with the yellow of the veld. As one of my
reservists remarked, it only wanted an edging of oyster shells or
gingerbeer bottles to be like his little broccoli patch at home. Upon
these important details and breakfast a good two hours had been spent,
when a force was reported to the north in the same position as described
in the previous dream. It advanced in the same manner, except, of course,
the advanced men were met by no one at the farm. When I saw this, I could
not help patting myself on the back and smiling at the Dutch ladies in the
pit, who only scowled at me in return, and (whisper) spat!
The advanced party of the enemy came on, scouting carefully and stalking
the farm as they came. As they appeared quite unwarned, I was wondering if
I should be able to surprise them, all innocent of our presence, with a
close-range volley, and then magazine fire into their midst, when suddenly
one man stopped and the others gathered round him. This was when they were
some 1800 meters away, about on a level with the end of Incidentamba. They
had evidently seen something and sniffed danger, for there was a short
palaver and much pointing. A messenger then galloped back to the main
body, which turned off behind Incidentamba with its wagons, etc. A small
number, including a man on a white horse, rode off in a vague way to the
west. The object of this move I could not quite see. They appeared to have
a vehicle with them of some sort. The advanced party split up as already
described. As all were still at long range, we could only wait.
Very shortly "boom" went a gun from the top of Incidentamba, and a
shrapnel shell burst not far from us. A second and third followed, after
which they soon picked up our range exactly, and the shell began to burst
all about us; however, we were quite snug and happy in our nice deep
trench, where we contentedly crouched. The waste of good and valuable
shrapnel shell by the enemy was the cause of much amusement to the men,
who were in great spirits, and, as one of them remarked, were "as cosy as
cockroaches in a crack." At the expenditure of many shells only two men
were hit in the legs.
After a time the guns ceased fire, and we at once manned the parapet and
stood up to repel an attack, but we could see no Boers though the air
began at once to whistle and hum with bullets. Nearly all these seemed to
come from the riverbank in front, to the north and northeast, and kept the
parapet one continual spurt of dust as they smacked into it. All we could
do was to fire by sound at various likely bushes on the riverbank, and
this we did with the greatest possible diligence, but no visible results.
In about a quarter of an hour, we had had five men shot through the head,
the most exposed part. The mere raising of a head to fire seemed to be
absolutely fatal, as it had on a former occasion when we were attempting
to fire at close range over a parapet against the enemy concealed. I saw
two poor fellows trying to build up a pitiful little kind of house of
cards with stones and pieces of ant-hill through which to fire. This was
as conspicuous as a chimney-pot on top of the parapet, and was at once
shot to powder before they had even used it, but not before it had
suggested to me the remedy for this state of affairs. Of course, we wanted
in such a case "head cover" and "loopholes." As usual, I was wise after
the event, for we had no chance of making them then, even had we not been
otherwise busy. Suddenly the noise of firing became much more intense, but
with the smack of the bullets striking the earth all round quite close it
was not easy to tell from which direction this fresh firing came. At the
same time the men seemed to be dropping much oftener, and I was impressing
them with the necessity of keeping up a brisker fire to the front, when I
noticed a bullet hit our side of the parapet.
It then became clear, the enemy must evidently have got into the donga
behind us (to which I had paid no attention, as it was to the rear), and
were shooting us in the back as we stood up to our parapet.
This, I thought, must be what is called being "taken in reverse," and it
By the time I had gathered what was happening, about a dozen more men had
been bowled over. I then ordered the whole lot to take cover in the
trench, and only to pop up to take a shot to the front or rear. But no
more could be done by us towards the rear than to the front. The
conditions were the same-no Boers to be seen. At this moment two of the
guard from Waschout Hill started to run in to our trench, and a terrific
fusillade was opened on to them, the bullets kicking up the dust all round
them as they ran. One poor fellow was dropped, but the other managed to
reach our trench and fall into it. He too was badly hit, but just had the
strength to gasp out that except himself and the man who started with him,
all the guard on Waschout Hill had been killed or wounded and that the
Boers were gradually working their way up to the top. This was indeed
So hot was the fire now that no one could raise his head above ground
without being shot, and by crouching down altogether and not attempting to
aim, but merely firing our rifles over the edge of the trench, we remained
for a short time without casualties. This respite, however, was short, for
the men in the right half of the trench began to drop unaccountably whilst
they were sitting well under cover, and not exposing themselves at all. I
gradually discovered the cause of this. Some snipers must have reached the
top of Waschout Hill, and were shooting straight down our right half
trench. As the bullets snicked in thicker and thicker, it was plain the
number of snipers was being increased.
This, I thought, must be being "enfiladed from a flank." It was so.
Without any order, we had all instinctively vacated the right half of our
trench and crowded into the left half, which by great good luck could not
be enfiladed from any point on the south side of the river, nor indeed by
rifle-fire from anywhere, as, owing to the ground, its prolongation on the
right was up above ground for some 3000 meters away on the veld on the
Though we were huddled together quite helpless like rats in a trap, still
it was in a small degree comforting to think that, short of charging, the
enemy could do nothing. For that we fixed bayonets and grimly waited. If
they did make an assault, we had bayonets, and they had not, and we could
sell our lives very dearly in a rough-and-tumble.
Alas! I was again deceived. There was to be no chance of close quarters
and cold steel, for suddenly we heard, far away out on the veld to the
north, a sound as of someone beating a tin tray, and a covey of little
shells whistled into the ground close by the trench; two of these burst on
touching the ground. Right out of rifle-range, away on the open veld on
the north, I saw a party of Boers, with a white horse and a vehicle. Then
I knew. But how had they managed to hit off so well the right spot to go
to enfilade our trench before they even knew where we were?
Pom-pom-pom-pom-pom again, and the little steel devils ploughed their way
into the middle of us in our shell-trap, mangling seven men. I at once
diagnosed the position with great professional acumen; we were now
enfiladed from both flanks, but the knowledge was acquired too late to
help us, for- "We lay bare as the paunch
of the purser's sow,
To the hail of the Nordenfeldt. "
This was the last straw; there was nothing left but surrender or entire
annihilation at long range. I surrendered.
Boers, as usual, sprang up from all round. We had fought for three hours,
and had 25 killed and 17 wounded. Of these, seven only had been hit by the
shrapnel and rifle-fire from the front. All the rest had been killed or
hit from the flanks, where there should be few enemies, or the rear, where
there should be none! This fact convinced me that my preconceived notions
as to the front, and its danger relative to the other points of the
compass, needed considerable modification. All my cherished ideas were
being ruthlessly swept away, and I was plunged into a sea of doubt,
groping for something certain or fixed to lay hold of. Could Longfellow,
when he wrote that immortal line, "Things are not what they seem," ever
have been in my position?
The survivors were naturally a little disheartened at their total
discomfiture, when all had started so well with them in their "crack."
This expressed itself in different ways. As one man said to a corporal,
who was plugging a hole in his ear with a bit of rag?
"Something sickening, I call it, this enfilading racket; you never know
which way it will take yer. I'm fairly fed up." To which the gloomy reply,
"Enfiladed? Of course we've been enfiladed. This 'ere trench should have
been wiggled about a bit, and then there would not have been quite so much
of it. Yes, wiggled about that's what it should have been. " To which
chipped in a third, "Yes, and something to keep the blighters from
shooting us in the back wouldn't have done us much harm, anyway."
There were evidently more things in earth than I had hitherto dreamt of in
As we trekked away to the north under a detached guard of Boers, many
little points such as the above sank into my soul, but I could not for
some time solve the mystery of why we had not succeeded in surprising the
enemy. There were no men, women, children or Kaffirs who, knowing of our
arrival, could have warned them. How did they spot our presence so soon,
as they evidently must have done when they stopped and consulted in the
morning? It was not until passing Incidentamba, as I casually happened to
look round and survey the scene of the fight from the enemy's point of
view, that I discovered the simple answer to the riddle. There on the
smooth yellow slope of the veld just south of the drift was a brownish-red
streak, as conspicuous as the Long Man of Wilmington on the dear old
Sussex downs, which positively shrieked aloud, "Hi! Hi! Hi!--this way for
the British defence." I then grimly smiled to think of myself sitting like
a "slick Alick" in that poster of a trench and expecting to surprise
Besides having been enfiladed and also taken in reverse, we had again
found ourselves at a disadvantage as compared with the concealed enemy
shooting at close range, from having to show up at a fixed place In order
Eventually I collected the following lessons-
11. For a small isolated post and an active enemy, there are no flanks, no
rear, or, to put it otherwise, it is front all round.
12. Beware of being taken in reverse; take care, when placing and making
your defences, that when you are engaged in shooting the enemy to the
front of your trench, his pal cannot sneak up and shoot you in the back.
13. Beware of being enfiladed. It is nasty from one flank - far worse from
Remember, also, that though you may arrange matters so that you cannot be
enfiladed by rifle fire, yet you may be open to it from long range, by
means of gun or pompom fire. There are few straight trenches that cannot
be enfiladed from somewhere, if the enemy can only get there. You can
sometimes avoid being enfiladed by so placing your trench that no one can
get into prolongation of it to fire down it, or you can "wiggle" it about
in many ways, so that it is not straight, or make "traverses" across it,
or dig separate trenches for every two or three men.
14. Do not have your trench near rising ground over which you cannot see,
and which you cannot hold.
15. Do not huddle all your men together in a small trench like sheep in a
pen. Give them air.
16. As once before, cover from sight is of often worth more than cover from
bullets. For close shooting from a non-concealed trench, head cover with
loopholes is an advantage. This should be bulletproof and not be
conspicuously on the top of the parapet, so as to draw fire, or it will be
far more dangerous than having none.
17. To surprise the enemy is a great advantage.
18. If you wish to obtain this advantage, conceal your position. Though
for promotion it may be sound to advertise your position, for defence it
19. To test the concealment or otherwise of your position, look at it from
the enemy?s point of view.
"A trifling sum of misery
New added to the foot of thy account. " DRYDEN.
"Jack Frost looked forth one still clear night, And he said, 'Now I shall
be out ot sight; So over the valley and over the height In silence I'll
take my way." GOULD.
Again I faced the same task with a fresh mind and fresh hopes, all that
remained with me of my former attempts being 19 lessons.
Having detailed the two patrols and the guard on Waschout Hill as already
described, I spent some 20 minutes?whilst the stores, etc., were being
arranged in walking about to choose a position to hold in the light of my
I came to the conclusion that it was not any good being near the top of a
hill and yet not at the top. I would make my post on the top of Waschout
Hill, where I could not be overlooked from any place within rifle range,
and where I should, I believed, have "command." I was not quite certain
what "command" meant, but I knew it was important, it says so in the book,
besides, in all the maneuvers I had attended and tactical schemes I had
seen, the "defence" always held a position on top of a hill or ridge. My
duty was plain: Waschoiit H ill seemed the only place which did not
contravene any of the 19 lessons I had learnt, and up it I walked. As I
stood near one of the huts, I got an excellent view of the drift and its
southern approach just over the bulge of the hill, and a clear view of the
river further east and west. I thought at first I would demolish the few
grass and matting huts which, with some empty kerosene tins and heaps of
bones and debris, formed the Kaffir kraal; but on consideration I decided
to play cunning, and that this same innocent-looking Kaffir kraal would
materially assist me to hide my defences. I made out my plan of operations
in detail, and we had soon conveyed all our stores up to the top of the
hill, and started work.
Upon the return of the patrols with their prisoners, the Dutchmen and
"boys" were told off to dig for themselves and their females. The Kaffirs
of the kraal we had impressed to assist at once.
My arrangements were as follows: All round the huts on the hilltop and
close to them, we dug some ten short lengths of deep-firing trenches,
curved in plan, and each long enough to hold five men. These trenches had
extremely low parapets, really only serving as rifle rests, some of the
excavated earth being heaped up behind the trenches to the height of a
foot or so, the remainder being dealt with as described later. In most
cases the parapets were provided with grooves to fire through at
ground-level, the parapet on each side being high enough to just protect
the head. As with the background the men's heads were not really visible,
it was unnecessary to provide proper loopholes, which would have
necessitated also the use of new sandbags, which would be rather
conspicuous and troublesome to conceal. When the men using these trenches
were firing, their heads would be just above the level of the ground. Once
these firing trenches were well under way, the communication trenches were
started. These were to be narrow and deep, leading from one trench to the
next, and also leading from each trench back to four of the huts, which
were to be arranged as follows, to allow men to fire standing up without
being seen. Round the inside of the walls of these huts part of the
excavated earth, of which there was ample, would be built up with
sandbags, pieces of anthill, stones, etc., to a height that a man can fire
over, about four and a half feet, and to a thickness of some two and a
half feet at the top, and loopholes, which would be quite invisible, cut
through the hut sides above this parapet. There was room in each hut for
three men to fire. In three of them I meant to place my best shots, to act
as snipers, as they would have a more favourable position than the men in
the trenches below, and the fourth was a conning-tower for myself. All the
tents and stores were stacked inside one of the huts out of sight.
That evening, in spite of the hardness of the work, which caused much
grousing among my men, we had got the firing trenches complete, but the
others were not finished, hey were only half the necessary depth. The
earth walls inside the huts were also not quite completed. The Kaffirs and
Dutch had deep pits, as before, in three of the huts. Ammunition and
rations were distributed round the trenches the last thing before we
turned in. I also had all water-bottle and every vessel that would hold
water, such as empty tins, Kaffir gourds, and cooking-pots, filled and
distributed in case of a long and protracted fight. Having issued orders
as to the necessity for the greatest secrecy in not giving away our
position should Boers turn up early next morning, I went to sleep with
confidence. We had, anyhow, a very good position, and though our
communications were not perfect quite, these we could soon improve if we
had any time to ourselves the next morning.
Next morning broke; no enemy in Sight. This was excellent, and before
daylight we were hard at it, finishing the work still undone. By this time
the men had fully entered into the spirit of the thing, and were quite
keen on surprising Brother Boer if possible. While the digging was
proceeding, the "dixies" were being boiled for the breakfasts inside four
grass screens, some of which we found lying about, so as to show nothing
but some very natural smoke above the kraal. I picked out one or two of my
smartest NCOs, and instructed them to walk down the hill in different
directions to the riverbank and try if they could see the heads of the men
in the firing trenches against the sky. If so, the heaps of earth, tins,
bones, grass, screens, etc., should be rearranged so as to give a
background to every man's head.
To review the place generally, I and my orderly walked off some half-mile
to the north of the river. As we were going some distance, we doffed our
helmets and wrapped ourselves in two beautiful orange and magenta striped
blankets, borrowed from our Kaffir lady guests, in case any stray Boer
should be lurking around, as he might be interested to see two "khakis"
wandering about on the veld. It was awkward trying to walk with our rifles
hidden under our blankets, and, moreover, every two minutes we had to look
round to see if the sentry at the camp had signaled any enemy in sight.
This was to be done by raising a pole on the highest hut. The result of
our work was splendid. We saw a Kaffir kraal on a hill, and to us "it was
nothing more." There were the heaps of debris usually round a kraal,
looking most natural, but no heads were visible, and no trenches. There
was only one fault, and that was that a few thoughtless men began, as we
looked, to spread their brown army blankets out in the sun on top of the
huts and on the veld. To the veriest new chum these square blots, like
squares of brown sticking-plaster all around the kraal, would have
betokened something unusual. To remedy this before it was too late I
After we had done our breakfasts, and some three hours after dawn, the
sentry in one of the huts reported a force to the north. We could do
nothing but wait and hope; everything was ready, and every man knew what
to do. No head was to be raised nor a rifle fired until I whistled from
conning-tower; then every man would pop up and empty his magazine into any
of the enemy in range. If we were shelled, the men in the huts could at
once drop into the deep trenches and be safe. Standing in my
conning-tower, from the loopholes of which I could see the drift, I
thought over the possibilities before us. With great luck perhaps the Boer
scouts would pass us on either side, and so allow us to lie low for the
main body. With a view to seeing exactly how far I would let the latter
come before opening fire, and to marking the exact spot when it would be
best to give the word, I got down into the firing trenches facing the
drift and the road south to see how matters appeared from the level of the
rifles. To my intense horror, I found that from these trenches neither the
drift nor the road on the near bank of the river, until it got a long way
south of Waschout Hill, could be seen! The bulging convexity of the hill
hid all this; it must be dead ground! It was. The very spot where I could
best catch the enemy, where they must pass, was not under my fire! At
most, the northern loopholes of the conning-tower and one other hut alone
could give fire on the drift. How I cursed my stupidity! However, it was
no-good. I could not now start digging fresh trenches further down the
hill; it would betray our whole position at once. I determined to make the
best of it, and if we were not discovered by the scouts, to open fire on
the main body when they were just on the other side of the river bunched
up on the bank, waiting for those in front. Here we could fire on them;
but it would be at a much longer range than I had intended. It was really
a stroke of luck that I had discovered this serious fault, for otherwise
we might have let the bulk of the enemy cross the drift without
discovering the little fact of the dead ground till too late. I reflected,
also (though it was not much consolation), that I had erred in good
company, for how often had I not seen a "brass-hat" ride along on
horseback, and from that height, fix the exact position for trenches in
which the rifles would be little above the ground. These trenches,
however, had not been put to the test of actual use. My error was not
going to escape the same way.
Meanwhile the enemy's scouts had advanced in much the same way as detailed
before, except that after coming past Incidentamba Farm, they had not
halted suspiciously, but came on in small groups or clumps. They crossed
the river in several places and examined the bushy banks most carefully,
but finding no "khakis" there, they evidently expected none on the open
veld beyond them, for they advanced "anyway" without care. Several of the
clumps joined together, and came on chatting in one body of some 30 men.
Would they examine the kraal, or would they pass on? My heart pounded. The
little hill we were on would, unluckily, be certain to prove an attraction
for them, because it was an excellent vantage ground whence to scan the
horizon to the south, and to signal back to the main body to the north.
The kraal was also a suitable place to off-saddle for a few minutes while
the main body came up to the drift, and it meant possibly a fire, and
therefore a cup of coffee. They rode up towards it laughing, chatting, and
smoking quite unsuspectingly. We uttered no sound. Our Dutch and Kaffir
guests uttered no sound either, for in their pits was a man with a rifle
alongside them. At last they halted a moment some 250 meters away on the
northeast, where the slope of the hill was more gradual and showed them
all up. A few dismounted, the rest started again straight towards us. It
was not magnificent, but it was war. I whistled.
About ten of them succeeded in galloping off, also some loose horses; five
or six of them on the ground threw up their hands and came into the post.
On the ground there remained a mass of kicking horses and dead or groaning
men. The other parties of scouts to east and west had at once galloped
back to the river where they dismounted under cover and began to pepper
us. Anyway, we had done something.
As soon as our immediate enemy were disposed of, we opened fire on the
main body some 1500 meters away, who had at once halted and opened out. To
these we did a good deal of damage, causing great confusion, which was
comforting to watch. The Boer in command of the main body must have
gathered that the river-bed was clear, for he made a very bold move; he
drove the whole of the wagons, etc., straight on as fast as possible over
the odd 400 meters to the river and down the drift into the riverbed,
where they were safe from our fire. Their losses must have been heavy over
this short distance, for they had to abandon two of their wagons on the
way to the river. This was done under cover of the fire from a large
number of riflemen, who had at once galloped up to the river-bank,
dismounted, and opened fire at us, and from two guns and a pompom, which
had immediately been driven a short distance back and then outwards to the
east and west. It was really the best thing he could have done, and if he
had only known that we could not fire on the ground to the south of the
drift, he might have come straight on with a rush.
We had so far scored; but now ensued a period of stalemate. We were being
fired at from the riverbank on the north, and from ant-hills, etc., pretty
well all round, and were also under the intermittent shellfire from the
two guns. They made most excellent practice at the huts, which were soon
knocked to bits, but not till they had well served their turn. Some of the
new white sandbags from inside the huts were scattered out in full view of
the enemy, and it was instructive to see what a splendid target they made,
and how often they were hit. They must have drawn a lot of fire away from
the actual trenches. Until the Boers discovered that they could advance
south from the drift without being under rifle fire from our position,
they were held up.
Would they discover it? As they had ridden all round us, by now, well out
of range, they must know all about us and our isolation.
After dark, by which time we had one man killed and two wounded, the
firing died away into a continuous but desultory rifle fire, with an
occasional dropping shell from the guns. Under cover of dark, I tried to
guard the drift and dead ground to the south of it, by making men stand up
and fire at that level; but towards midnight I was forced to withdraw them
into the trenches, after several casualties, as the enemy then apparently
woke up and kept up a furious rifle fire upon us for over an hour. During
this time the guns went through some mysterious evolutions. At first we
got it very hot from the north, where the guns had been all along. Then
suddenly a gun was opened on us away from the southwest, and we were
shelled for a short time from both sides. After a little while the
shelling on the north ceased, and continued from the southwest only for 20
minutes. After this the guns ceased, and the rifle fire also gradually
When day dawned not a living soul was to be seen; there were the dead men,
horses, and the deserted wagons. I feared a trap, but gradually came to
the conclusion the Boers had retired. After a little we discovered the
riverbed was deserted as well, but the Boers had not retired. They had
discovered the dead ground, and under the mutually supporting fire of
their guns, which had kept us to our trenches, had all crossed the drift
and trekked south!
True, we were not captured, and had very few losses, and had severely
mauled the enemy, but they had crossed the drift. It must have evidently
been of great importance to them to go on, or they would have attempted to
capture us, as they were about 500 to our 50.
I had failed in my duty.
During the next few hours we buried the dead, tended the wounded, and took
some well-earned rest, and I had ample leisure to consider my failure and
the causes. The lessons I derived from the fight were:
20. Beware of convex hills and dead ground. Especially take care to have
some place where the enemy must come under your fire. Choose the exact
position of your firing trenches, with your eye at the level of the men
who will eventually use them.
21. A hill may not, after all, though it has "command," necessarily be the
best place to hold.
22. A conspicuous "bluff" trench may cause the enemy to waste much
ammunition, and draw fire away from the actual defences.
In addition to these lessons, another little matter on my mind was what my
colonel would say at my failure.
Lying on my back, looking up at the sky, I was trying to get a few winks
of sleep myself before we started to improve our defences against a
possible further attack, but it was no use, sleep evaded me.
The clear blue vault of heaven was suddenly overcast by clouds which
gradually assumed the frowning face of my colonel. "What? You mean to say,
Mr. Forethought, the Boers have crossed?" But, luckily for me, before more
could be said, the face began slowly to fade away like that of the
Cheshire puss in "Alice in Wonderland," leaving nothing but the awful
frown across the sky. This too finally dissolved, and the whole scene
changed. I had another dream.
"Sweet are the uses ot adversity. "
Once more was I fated to essay the task of defending Duffer's Drift. This
time I had 22 lessons under my belt to help me out, and in the oblivion of
my dream I was spared that sense of monotony which by now may possibly
have overtaken you, "gentle reader."
After sending out the patrols, and placing a guard on Waschout Hill, as
already described, and whilst the stores were being collected, I
considered deeply what position I should take up, and walked up to the top
of Waschout Hill to spy out the land. On the top I found a Kaffir kraal,
which I saw would assist me much as concealment should I decide to hold
this hill. This I was much inclined to do, but after a few minutes' trial
of the shape of the ground, with the help of some men walking about down
below, and my eyes a little above ground level, I found that its convexity
was such that, to see and fire on the drift and the approach on the south
side, I should have to abandon the top of the hill, and so the friendly
concealment of the Kaffir huts, and take up a position on the open
hillside some way down. This was, of course, quite feasible, especially if
I held a position at the top of the hill as well, near the huts on the
east and southeast sides; but, as it would be impossible to really conceal
ourselves on the bare hillside, it meant giving up all idea of surprising
the enemy, which I wished to do. I must, therefore, find some other place
which would lend itself to easy and good concealment, and also have the
drift or its approaches under close rifle fire. But where to find such a
As I stood deep in thought, considering this knotty problem, an idea
gently wormed itself into my mind, which I at once threw out again as
being absurd and out of the question. This idea was to hold the riverbed
and banks on each side of the drift! To give up all idea of command, and,
instead of seeking the nearest high ground, which comes as natural to the
student of tactics as rushing for a tree does to a squirrel, to take the
lowest ground, even though it should be all among thick cover, instead of
being nicely in the open.
No, it was absolutely revolutionary, and against every canon I had ever
read or heard of; it was evidently the freak of a sorely tried and worried
brain. I would have none of it, and I put it firmly from me. But the more
I argued to myself the absurdity of it, the more this idea obtained
possession of me. The more I said it was impossible, the more allurements
were spread before me in its favour, until each of my conscientious
objections was enmeshed and smothered in a network of specious reasons as
to the advantages of the proposal.
I resisted, I struggled, but finally fell to temptation, dressed up in the
plausible guise of reason. I would hold the riverbed.
The advantages I thus hoped to obtain were:
1. Perfect concealment and cover from sight.
2. Trenches and protection against both rifle and gunfire practically
3. Communications under good cover.
4. The enemy would be out in the open veld except along the riverbank,
where we, being in position first, would still have the advantage.
5. Plentiful water supply at hand.
True, there were a few dead animals near the drift, and the tainted air
seemed to hang heavy over the riverbed, but the carcasses could be quickly
buried under the steep banks, and, after all, one could not expect every
As our clear field of fire, which in the north was only bounded by the
range of our rifles, was on the south limited by Waschout Hill, a suitable
position for the enemy to occupy, I decided to hold the top of it as well
as the riverbed. All I could spare for this would be two NCOs and eight
men, who would be able to defend the south side of the hill, the north
being under our fire from the riverbank.
Having detailed this party, I gave my instructions for the work, which was
soon started. In about a couple of hours the patrols returned with their
prisoners, which were dealt with as before.
For the post on Waschout Hill, the scheme was that the trenches should be
concealed much in the same way as described in the last dream, but great
care should be taken that no one in the post should be exposed to rifle
fire from our main position in the river. I did not wish the fire of the
main body to be in any degree hampered by a fear of hitting the men on
Waschout Hill, especially at night. If we knew it was not possible to hit
them, we could shoot freely all over the hill. This detachment was to have
a double lot of waterbottles, besides every available receptacle collected
in the kraal, filled with water, in anticipation of a prolonged struggle.
The general idea for the main defensive position was to hold both sides of
the river, improving the existing steep banks and ravines into rifle-pits
to contain from one to four men. These could, with very little work, be
made to give cover from all sides. As such a large amount of the work was
already done for us, we were enabled to dig many more of these pits than
the exact number required for our party. Pathways leading between these
were to be cut into the bank, so that we should be able to shift about
from one position to another. Besides the advantage this would give us in
the way of moving about, according as we wished to fire, it also meant
that we should probably be able to mislead the enemy as to our
numbers-which, by such shifting tactics might, for a time at least, be
much exaggerated. The pits for fire to the north and south were nearly all
so placed as to allow the occupants to fire at ground level over the veld.
They were placed well among the bushes, only just sufficient scrub being
cut away to allow a man to see all round, without exposing the position of
his trench. On each side of the river, just by the drift, were some
"spoil" heaps of earth, excavated from the road ramp. These stood some
five or six feet above the general level, and were as rough as the banks
in outline. These heaps were large enough to allow a few pits being made
on them, which had the extra advantage of height. In some of the pits, to
give head-cover, loopholes of sandbags were made, though in most cases
this was not needed, owing to the concealment of the bushes. I found it
was necessary to examine personally every loophole, and correct the
numerous mistakes made in their construction. Some had the new clean
sandbags exposed to full view, thus serving as mere whited sepulchres to
their occupants, others were equally conspicuous from their absurd
cock-shy appearance, others were not bulletproof, whilst others again
would only allow of shooting in one direction, or into the ground at a few
meters range, or up into the blue sky. As I corrected all these faults I
thought that loopholes not made under supervision might prove rather a
The result was, in the way of concealment, splendid. From these pits with
our heads at ground level we could see quite clearly out on to the veld
beyond, either from under the thicker part of the bushes or even through
those which were close to our eyes. From the open, on the other hand, we
were quite invisible, even from 300 meters distance, and would have been
more so had we had the whiskers of the "brethren." It was quite evident to
me that these same whiskers were a wise precaution of nature for this very
purpose, and part of her universal scheme of protective mimicry.
The numerous small dongas and rifts lent themselves readily to flanking
fire, and in many places the vertical banks required no cutting in order
to give ideal protection against even artillery. In others, the sides of
the crooked waterways had to be merely scooped out a little, or a shelf
cut to stand upon.
In one of these deeper ravines two tents, which, being below ground level,
were quite invisible, were pitched for the women and children, and small
caves cut for them in case of a bombardment. The position extended for a
length of some 150 meters on each side of the drift along both banks of
the river, and at its extremities, where an attack was most to be feared,
pits were dug down the riverbanks and across the dry riverbed. These also
were concealed as well as possible. The flanks or ends were, of course,
our greatest danger, for it was from here we might expect to be rushed,
and not from the open veld. I was undecided for some time as to whether to
clear a "field of fire" along the river-banks or not, as 1 had no wish to
give away our presence by any suspicious nudity of the banks at each end
of our position. I finally decided, in order to prevent this, to clear the
scrub for as great a range as possible from the ends of the position,
everywhere below the ground level, and also on the level ground, except
for a good fringe just on the edges of the banks. This fringe I thought
would be sufficient to hide the clearance to any one not very close. I now
blessed the man who had left us some cutting tools. Whilst all this was
being carried out, I paced out some ranges to the north and south, and
these we marked by a few empty tins placed on ant-heaps, etc.
At dusk, when we had nearly all the pits finished and some of the
clearance done, tents and gear were hidden, ammunition and rations
distributed to all, and orders in case of an attack given out. As I could
not be everywhere, I had to rely on the outlying groups of men fully
understanding my aims beforehand, and acting on their "own." To prevent
our chance of a close-range volley into the enemy being spoilt by some
over-zealous or jumpy man opening fire at long range, I gave orders that
fire was to be held as long as possible, and that no man was to fire a
shot until firing had already commenced elsewhere (which sounded rather
Irish), or my whistle sounded. This was unless the enemy were so close to
him that further silence was useless. Firing having once started, every
man was to blaze away at any enemy within range as judged by our range
marks. Finally we turned in to our pit for the night with some
complacency, each eight men furnishing their own sentry.
We had about three hours next morning before any enemy were reported from
Waschout Hill (the prearranged signal for this was the raising of a pole
from one of the huts). This time was employed in perfecting our defences
in various ways. We managed to clear away the scrub in the dry riverbed
and banks for some 200 meters beyond our line of pits on each side, and
actually attained to the refinement of an "obstacle"; for at the extremity
of this clearance a sort of abatis entanglement was made with the wire
from an adjacent fence which the men had discovered. During the morning I
visited the post on Waschout Hill, found everything all correct, and took
the opportunity of showing the detachment the exact limits of our position
in the riverbed, and explained what we were going to do. After about three
hours work, "Somebody in sight" was signaled, and we soon after saw from
our position a cloud of dust away to the north. This force, which proved
to be a commando, approached as already described in the last dream; all
we could do meanwhile was to sit tight in concealment. Their scouts came
in clumps of twos and threes which extended over some mile of front, the
centre of the line heading for the drift. As the scouts got closer, the
natural impulse to make for the easiest crossing place was obeyed by two
or three of the parties on each side of the one approaching the drift, and
they inclined inwards and joined forces with it. This was evidently the
largest party we could hope to surprise, and we accordingly lay for it.
When about 300 meters away, the "brethren" stopped rather suspiciously.
This was too much for some man on the east side, who let fly, and the air
was rent by the rattle as we emptied our magazines, killing five of this
special scouting party and two from other groups further out on either
side. We continued to fire at the scouts as they galloped back, dropping
two more, and also at the column which was about a mile away, but afforded
a splendid target till it opened out.
In a very few moments our position was being shelled by three guns, but
with the only result, as far we were concerned of having one man wounded
by shell-fire, though the firing went on slowly till dark. To be accurate,
I should say the river was being shelled, our position incidentally, for
shells were bursting along the river for some half-mile. The Boers were
evidently quite at sea as regards to the extent of our position and
strength, and wasted many shells. We noticed much galloping of men away to
the east and west, out of range, and guessed that these were parties who
intended to strike the river at some distance away, and gradually work
along the bed, in order probably to get into close range during the night.
We exchanged a few shots during the night along the riverbed, and not much
was done on either side, though of course we were on the qui vive all the
time; but it was not till near one in the morning that Waschout Hill had
As I had hoped, the fact that we held the kraal had not been spotted by
the enemy, and a large body of them, crawling up the south side of the
hill in order to get a good fire on to us in the river, struck a snag in
the shape of a close-range volley from our detachment. As the night was
not very dark, in the panic following the first volley our men were able
(as I learnt afterwards) to stand right up and shoot at the surprised
burghers bolting down the hill. However, their panic did not last long, to
judge by the sound, for after the first volley from our Lee-Metfords and
the subsequent minutes of independent firing, the reports of our rifles
were soon mingled with the softer reports of the Mausers, and we shortly
observed flashes on our side of Waschout Hill. As these could not be our
men, we knew the enemy was endeavouring to surround the detachment. We
knew the ranges fairly well, and though, as we could not see our sights,
the shooting was rather guesswork, we soon put a stop to this maneuvre by
firing a small volley from three or four rifles at each flash on the
hillside. So the night passed without much incident.
During the dark we had taken the opportunity to cunningly place some new
shite sandbags (which I had found among the stores) in full view at some
little distance from our actual trenches and pits. Some men had even gone
further, and added a helmet here and a coat there peeping over the top.
This ruse had been postponed until our position was discovered, so as not
to betray our presence, but after the fighting had begun no harm was done
by it. Next morning it was quite a pleasure to see the very accurate
shooting made by "Brother" at these sandbags, as betokened by the little
spurts of dust.
During this day the veld to the north and south was deserted by the enemy
except at out-of-range distance, but a continuous sniping fire was kept up
along the riverbanks on each side. The Boer guns were shifted - one to the
top of Incidentamba and one to the east and west in order to enfilade the
river bank but, owing to our good cover, we escaped with two killed and
three wounded. The enemy did not shell quite such a length of river this
time. I confidently expected an attack along the riverbank that night, and
slightly strengthened my flanks, even at the risk of dangerously denuding
the north bank. I was not disappointed.
Under cover of the dark, the enemy came up to within, perhaps, 600 meters
of the open veld on the north and round the edges of Waschout Hill on the
south, and kept up a furious fire, probably to distract our attention,
whilst the guns shelled us for about an hour. As soon as the gunfire
ceased they tried to rush us along the riverbed east and west, but, owing
to the abatis and the holes in the ground, and the fact that it was not a
very dark night, they were unsuccessful. However, it was touch-and-go, and
a few of the Boers did succeed in getting into our position, only to be
bayoneted. Luckily the enemy did not know our strength, or rather our
weakness, or they would have persisted in their attempt and succeeded; as
it was, they must have lost 20 or 30 men killed and wounded.
Next morning, with so many men out of my original 40 out of action (not to
include Waschout Hill, whose losses I did not know) matters seemed to be
serious, and I was greatly afraid that another night would be the end of
us. I was pleased to see that the detachment on Waschout Hill had still
got its tail well up, for they had hoisted a red rag at the masthead.
True, this was not the national flag, probably only a mere handkerchief,
but it was not white. The day wore on with intermittent shelling and
sniping, and we all felt that the enemy must have by now guessed our
weakness, and were saving themselves for another night attack, relying
upon our being tired out. We did our best to snatch a little sleep by
turns during the day, and I did all I could to keep the spirits of the
little force up by saying that relief could not be very far off. But it
was with a gloomy desperation at best that we saw the day wear on and
morning turn into afternoon.
The Boer guns had not been firing for some two hours, and the silence was
just beginning to get irritating and mysterious, when the booming of guns
in the distance aroused us to the highest pitch of excitement. We were
saved! We could not say what guns these were-they might be British or Boer
but, anyway, it proved the neighbourhood of another force. All faces
lighted up, for somehow the welcome sound at once drew the tired feeling
out of us.
In order to prevent any chance of the fresh force missing our whereabouts,
I collected a few men and at once started to fire some good old British
volleys into the scrub, "Ready, present, fire!!," which were not to be
mistaken. Shortly afterwards we heard musketry in the distance, and saw a
cloud of dust to the northeast. We were relieved!
Our total losses were 11 killed and 15 wounded; but we had held the drift,
and so enabled a victory to be won. I need not here touch upon the
well-known and far-reaching results of the holding of Duffer's Drift, of
the prevention thereby of Boer guns, ammunition, and reinforcements
reaching one of their sorely pressed forces at a critical moment, and the
ensuing victory gained by our side. It is now, of course, public knowledge
that this was the turning point in the war, though we, the humble
instruments, did not know what vital results hung upon our action.
That evening the relieving force halted at the drift, and, after burying
the dead, we spent some time examining the lairs of the Boer snipers, the
men collecting bits of shell and cartridge cases as mementos-only to be
thrown away at once. We found some 25 dead and partly buried Boers, to
whom we gave burial.
That night I did not trek, but lay down (in my own breeches and spotted
waistcoat). As the smoke from the "prime segar," presented to me by the
Colonel, was eddying in spirals over my head, these gradually changed into
clouds of rosy glory, and I heard brass bands in the distance playing a
familiar air: "See the Conquering Hero comes," it sounded like.
I felt a rap on my shoulder, and heard a gentle voice say, "Arise, Sir
Backsight Forethought"; but in a trice my dream of bliss was shattered-the
gentle voice changed into the well-known croak of my servant. "Time to
pack your kit on the wagon, sir. Corfy?s been up some time now, sir."
I was still in stinking old Dreamdorp.