The Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate printed this letter from James Walsh (son of Francis Walsh, J.P., of Wauchope) on Saturday 19 April 1902. His mother, Catherine Walsh, was the sister of John Barrie, husband of Mary Anne Clarke. James was ‘serving under the flag’ in the Boer War in South Africa.
I must write you a few lines in haste, as long before this reaches you the account of Methuen’s disaster on the 7th inst. will have reached you, and I know you will be anxious about me. Am happy to state that I came out of the fight without a scratch.
We went out with Lord Methuen from Vryburg on the 2nd inst. (it was in reality Major Paris’s column, but Lord Methuen was with us, as his column was at Klerkadorp, to which we were supposed to be going. All went well until the morning of March 6, when our rearguard was attacked; we had a sharp fight, but succeeded in driving the Boers off, with the loss of a few men. We camped for the rest of the day near a farmhouse, and, strange to say, an old Dutch woman, who was living there, told us that we would catch it on the morrow. We were laughing at it on picquet that night; but if we could only have foreseen the morrow! We left camp as usual about 4 o’clock in the morning; at daylight the attack commenced on the rearguard. The Advance Guard was halted. (The Special Police formed the Advance Guard; there are three troops – A, B, and C – of 60 men each; I am in B troop.) Would you believe it, they sent our pom-pom to support the rear, and we could see the Boers charging down on us in hundreds, firing as they came. About 20 of us were ordered out to try and check them; we galloped to within 300 yards of them and then dismounted, but our fire took no effect on them. I managed to hold my horse, so I made for our main body about 500 yards away; how they fired on me as I galloped off. I dismounted again and fired for all I was worth; my rifle burned my hands. We checked the Boers a little, when, to my astonishment, we received the order to return.
I mounted and galloped back, but had not gone 50 yards when I was grabbed by two Boers, who took my horse, rifle and bandoliers. They were around me in hundreds, and as most of them were dressed like our men, I did not know that they were Boers. Some of our men were halted near by with two fifteen-pounders and a pom-pom. The Boers charged them in splendid style, but were driven back by the rifle fire. The much-vaunted pom-pom fired 5 shots and then jambed, the gunners at the fifteen-pounders were all killed or wounded in a few minutes. I do not think they fired six shots, so that will give you an idea what the rifle-fire was like. Guns are useless if they get within range of the rifle. If we had had a maxim, it would have been worth its weight in gold. The Boers now fell back a little, I picked up a rifle, and caught a Boer horse near me, and galloped for the guns. They had a pom-pom and fifteen-pounder with them, which they turned on us, and we would have been all blown to atoms had we not surrendered. It was awful to see the guns they took off us and turned on our men who still held out about a mile further off.
It was a horrible sight after it was all over – dead men and horses, mangled Kaffir drivers and bullocks. I assisted the Boer doctor to bandage up our wounded, he was a German and could not speak English, but he was very good. Lord Methuen was wounded. We had to walk about forty miles to the railway – we found it below Mafeking. How we suffered in the walk! My feet are sore yet. Will try and come home as soon as my time is up. War is all right to read about, but I can assure you that being in it is another thing, and getting beaten is worse. All the other fights I have been in we have beaten the enemy easily. Do not run away with the idea tha the Boers will not come out in the open to fight; our fight took place on a vast plain, with not a tree within miles of us, but plenty of ant-heaps. We had a troop sergeant-major killed, A and B troops lost half their men, killed and wounded. The Boers lost 300 men. De la Rey had command; he is a great leader, and I cannot help wishing he was on our side. Would like to meet him again. Perhaps there will be a different tale next time.
Trooper James Walsh, Cape Special Police, Vryburg, March 15.