March 27, 1900 Ladysmith
Dear Aunt Clara,
I have only just received you nice letter of the 25th January! I fancy that it has been in every camp and hospital in Natal
I have seen such a lot of interesting things during the last few weeks that I hardly know how to begin to tell you all about it. Things move very quickly here and it is only three months since I made up my mind to come out here. But in that short time I have spent three weeks at the front and have been wounded and thank heaven I have also found time to recover. I have just rejoined the regiment and am perfectly fit and well and hope to soon march into Pretoria and so home.
But to tell you a little of what has happened to me I must 'hark back' about 2 months.
I arrived in Capetown about the same day you wrote to me (25 Jan) and found Mama about to leave for Durban with the “Maine.” And so finding that my instructions were to proceed to Natal as soon as possible I became a passenger. We had a very nice voyage round the Cape - but it is always rough and the Maine is very light hearted. ? never appeared at all and I think had he stayed on board for the home trip he would have been useless. At Durban we found Winston. And so we three met all together again; about 7000 miles from where we expected each other to be. The next day Winston and I left for the front and I said goodbye to the Maine little knowing that I should be carried on board three weeks later.
I joined the 'Cockjollybirds" as the S.A. Light Horse are called at 'Spurman/Spearman? Camp' and found the army preparing for another attack after Spion Kop. I soon got knocked into the methods of living in camp and after a few days I managed to get used to sleeping on the ground and having a bath (rarely) in a nosebag! On the Sunday after I joined all the Infantry camps struck and the men marched out I stood with Winston on the road and watched them. There were 22 battalions about 22,000 men and they took a long time to go past. Then followed the attack on Vaalkranz which lasted three days and ended in another retreat, and put everybody in a very bad temper. You will probably have had the opportunity of reading some 10,000 descriptions of that little battle and so I will not say anything about it. I saw it from a kopje some three or four miles away from the shooting, although a few shells came our way. I was very glad when we moved away and were able to get to water and soap again. For from Sunday night to Thursday morning I did not either, nor did I even take my boots off. After about a weeks marching we arrived back at Chievel[e]y and I had a good opportunity to see the position and the ground on which the Battle of Colenso was fought. Three days after we arrived at Chievel[e]y we were sent out on reconnaissance and told to take Hussar Hill - a small kopje near Colenso. We had quite an exciting day, and it was very amusing as we were by ourselves, that is, only the Irregular Brigade under Dundonald. After skirmishing about all day we were ordered to retire and it was then that some 300 Boers galloped round our flank and opened a very heavy fire at a very long range. I happened to be in the last squadron and soon after we had dismounted to return their fire I was hit in the leg. Thank goodness it has turned out to be nothing, but it hurt a good deal at the time. I mounted again as the squadron continued to retire, but after going about a mile Winston made me get into an ambulance; and so my military career ended rather abruptly. It was very bad luck being hit the first time I was under fire. But I saw a very 'good day' and while it lasted I heard as many bullets whiz past as I ever want to.
I went straight on to the Maine and there I remained until she sailed for the Cape. I then stayed one week with Lady Sophie Scott on her yacht - and here I am back again.
And so here I am back again in this camp just out side Ladysmith with (Umbulwana?) and Waggon Hill and all the celebrated kopjes in sight. The camp has stood here sometime and is getting rather smelly. There are a large quantity of dead horses in the water and on the plain near us, and these (attractive lively beings?) do not ? the health of the regiment. But I am very well and do not seem to worry much about health. However, you can never boast in this horrible country. Only a week ago in Durban I saw a young Rose who you may have met. He was telling me how the open air life suited him and how well he felt etc. - Three days afterwards he died…?..!
Well goodbye - do write me again. Mama will have arrived home long before this does. Remember me to Mrs. Ronald and tell her that I wash every morning out of her nose bag bucket. My love to Hugh and all the family
John Spencer Churchill
Excuse pencil - I shall have to direct this at the post office with pen.