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Memories of Forty-Eight Years Service
Chapter 1a - The Zulu War

I WISH anyone who may chance to read these pages to remember that they are written so that my sons may have some idea of how I have spent my life ; and as, previous to the Great War of 1914-18, I had already passed many years on active service, it follows that the story must deal largely with happenings on campaigns.

Born in 1858, I was number 11 in a family of fifteen, six boys and nine girls. One of the boys had died in infancy ; my eldest brother (for some years in the 10th Hussars, and latterly of Tresco Abbey, Isles of Scilly) died at seventy-two, and my eldest sister, Mrs. Tyrwhitt-Drake of Shardeloes, at sixty-four; of my three brothers still alive, two served in the Navy, and are referred to later, and the third, the Rev. Prebendary Walter M. Smith-Dorrien, is Vicar of Crediton. He, as a young man, was a distinguished athlete, and amongst other successes won the three-mile for Oxford against Cambridge at Lillybridge. He was referred to in the Varsity Nonsense Book of the day as follows:

" There once was a young man of Magdalen Who could, run for three miles without dawdling; For three miles or one No person could run In front of this young man of Magdalen."

My father died in 1879, a few days before I landed in England on my return from the Zulu War, and my mother at eighty-five—a wonderful woman of strong personality, full of activity to within a few days of her death, an inveterate reader of every book of interest, with a facility for remembering what she read. Her power of letter-writing was inexhaustible, and this all her sons and daughters can vouch for, though how she always found time to write to all the absent ones, and never failed, I have been quite unable to discover.

I was not a nice boy, and was always in trouble, earmarked as mischievous and wild, and credited with all minor catastrophes which happened to the family.

I went to school at seven and a half—to Egypt House, Isle of Wight, where the Rev. Arthur Watson endeavoured to mould me, and later to Harrow. I enjoyed myself at both schools, but distinguished myself at neither. My contemporaries at Harrow best known to fame were W. H. Grenfell (Lord Desborough), Walter H. Long (Viscount L.), Lords Freddy and Ernest Hamilton, the Hon. John Fortescue, Punch Hardinge (Viscount H.) and his brother C. Hardinge (Lord H. of Penshurst) and the Hon. Robert Milnes (Marquess of Crewe). The last-named has reason to remember me, for I was his fag, and only noted for inefficiency.

My father, Colonel R. A. Smith-Dorrien, had served in the 16th Lancers and 3rd Light Dragoons, then for twenty-two years with his county Militia (the Herts) as Second in Command and Commanding Officer. Nice as he always was to me, I rather doubt his having entertained hope of my ever becoming a useful member of society, and I had no idea what he intended to do with me until the autumn of 1875. He and my mother and some of my family and myself were on Lake Lucerne, and one day he asked me if I would like to go into the Army. Overjoyed, and having just failed to drown myself and two sisters below the Dance of Death Bridge at Lucerne a few days before, I dashed home to a crammer, went up for the Army examination in December, passed, and joined at Sandhurst on the 26th February 1876, as a 2nd Lieutenant. My name was down on H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge's list for the Rifle Brigade, but, there being no vacancy, General Sir Alfred Horsford, who was Military Secretary at the time, posted me to the 95th as a battalion which was very short of subalterns and likely to lead to early promotion. About eight months later a vacancy in the Rifle Brigade occurred, and I was offered it, but by then, being thoroughly happy in the 95th, with excellent prospects of rapid promotion, which could not have been possible in the Rifle Brigade, I respectfully declined.

I joined the 95th as a Lieutenant in January 1877. In those days one not only joined Sandhurst as a commissioned officer, but anyone passing out with a special mention was given a year's antedate, and this I got, thus being promoted to Lieutenant.

After obtaining my commission, I took an early opportunity of attending a levee, and had the honour of kissing the hand of the Great White Queen, the name by which Queen Victoria was known to the natives of South Africa.

Cork was a lively station, and the people hospitable and attractive, but I can think of only one story of sufficient interest to record. One day an individual, looking somewhat out-at-elbows, appeared in the Mess and turned out to be rather a remarkable person. He had been an officer in the regiment and was well known to most of those then present. It seemed he had been very popular, but that shortage of the wherewithal to enjoy life had forced him to exchange to another regiment. Gibraltar had become his new station, and the dangers of the bull-ring soon proved a great attraction to his Irish nature. When, therefore, the curse of shortage of cash still pursued him, he left the Army and became a matador, and a very popular one, for to this day the skill and bravery of the famous " Matador Ingles " O'Hara is talked of in the south of Spain. I remember O'Hara showing us with pride the matador pig-tail neatly plaited and curled up on the crown of his head. The next time I met him was two years later as gymnastic instructor on the Curragh. He was a man of fine physique, had enlisted in a Dragoon Regiment, and quickly been promoted Sergeant. After that I lost sight of him.

From Cork we moved to Dublin, which was equally enjoyable what fun it was, racing, dancing, and hunting,

though not much of the latter until later. The Castle dances were a thing to dream of. The Duke of Marlborough was Viceroy, and the young American bride. Lady Randolph Churchill, was certainly the belle amongst many beautiful women.

From Dublin we went to Athlone in the spring of 1878—a different sort of life, but fun nevertheless, boating, shooting, and fishing up the Shannon and sailing on Lough Ree with brother-officers, especially my great friend and cousin Charlie Jenkinson. He and I owned two boats, the one a heavy decked-in cutter which no one could sink or upset, and the other a light open boat with one enormous sprit-sail which the local fishermen called the " coffin," predicting it must be the death of someone. Imagine their " I told you so's " when one day they saw the boat, bottom up, float under the bridge at Athlone. But they were only partly right—no one was drowned. I had been sailing with Godley (now a Brigadier-General), when a heavy gust of wind came, and he leaned forward instead of back, and over we went in the middle of the river, half a mile wide. We struggled in our thick clothes to a post marking the channel, and having seen him carefully seated on the top like an old cormorant, I swam ashore to obtain another boat.

That summer (1878) we were on the verge of a war with Russia. " Dizzy " brought Indian troops to the Mediterranean, the reserves were called up, and we soldiers had a busy time, first collecting the men in England and then bringing them over to Ireland and training them. The 95th were 1,200 strong. I was Acting Adjutant in the absence of Sparkes (now Colonel Sparkes) away at some course, and thoroughly enjoyed drilling them. Our diplomats staved off that war, but troubles were brewing in South Africa with the Zulus.

An old 95th Commanding Officer and the full Colonel of the Regiment, General the Hon. F. A. Thesiger (becoming Lord Chelmsford in October this year, on the death of his father), was Commanding in Natal, and, seeing war could not be avoided and wanting to get officers from his old corps, he cabled to the War Office asking for three, Captain A. Tower, Lieutenants W. Here and H. L. Smith-Dorrien, to be sent on special service. This was wired on to the C.O. of the Battalion, and I as Adjutant asked for his orders He merely said he would allow none of us to go. We had a few words about this, and it ended in my wiring to the Military Secretary at the War Office from myself, saying I was ready to start for the Cape at a moment's notice in any capacity in which H.R.H. the Field-Marshal C.-in-C. might think fit to employ me. It really was an unwarrantable piece of cheek, and inexcusable, but it paid, for that same afternoon orders were telegraphed to the C.O. from the War Office ordering me to proceed forthwith to Dartmouth and embark in the Edinburgh Castle.

So, three days later, I was on the sea with several other special service officers in a 2,000-ton boat, which was not out-of-the-way small in those days, en route for the Cape. We crossed the line with full ceremonies, Neptune coming on board with his staff of sea-dogs, doctor, barber, etc., and we were all initiated. Lieutenant W. F. D. Cochrane of the 82nd was the life and soul of the ship. Curiously enough, I was given his vacancy, on his time being up in the Egyptian Army, twenty years later, which enabled me to take part in Lord Kitchener's overthrow of the Mahdi.

When within two days' steam of Cape Town we were met by an appalling south-eastern gale, seas mountains high, ship battened down for six days, which time it took us to get into Cape Town. The smells below, especially oil-lamps and bilge-water, cannot be forgotten; but no one complained, for such was the standard in ships in those days.

On reaching Durban I was told off for duty with transport. This consisted of working stores up to the front at Rorke's Drift, from which place the expedition against Cetywayo, the Zulu King, was to start. It was a great experience for a boy. I found myself alone controlling the convoys, along a great stretch of road, supplying equipment, purchasing oxen, and generally keeping things going.

The skilful handling of the teams of sixteen oxen made a great impression on me. The driver who wielded the long whip was usually an Afrikander ; the oxen were named and, when a pull became very heavy, were urged forward by name and pistol-like cracks of the whip. Such names as "Dootchmann," "Germann," and "Englischmann" were bestowed on them, and when a wretched animal possessed the last it seemed to me there was more emphasis in shouting it out and more venom in the lash when applying it.

A less pleasant experience was having my young faith shaken in the uprightness of certain senior officers. I had heard of some questionable dealings in regard to military contracts in former wars, and believed such days were gone forever. I was soon to learn that we had not yet reached a plane of official integrity in such matters, but shall only relate an incident which came within my own personal experience.

"There was a certain contractor who was employed in matters connected with the Commissariat. In the course of the war I found myself in temporary charge of an important centre and one day received a telegram from the Base directing me to take a lease of a local farm belonging to this contractor at a profiteering price.

Now the occupant of the farm had just cleared all cattle off it, as it was saturated with lung-sickness. This disease was most deadly for cattle, and it was a recognised rule that no oxen should be allowed near a farm where it had appeared. I therefore wired back stating these facts, and at once got a reply directing me to carry out the transaction I again telegraphed, respectfully objecting to having anything to do with the deal.

The next communication was another wire saying that the lease had been signed, and I was to take over the farm. I dutifully replied that I had complied with the order but would allow no Government cattle to graze there I heard^ no more about it, and the farm was never used-facts which speak for themselves.

Whilst negotiations were going on the contractor came up from the Base, and, presenting himself in my tent suggested blandly that he should keep me supplied with champagne. He seemed immensely surprised when I rushed at him and kicked him out of my tent. He returned straight to the Base, his arrival there being heralded by the wire saying the hire of the farm was a fait accompli.

I am bound to say that this incident gave my young mind a great shock. I have, thank goodness! had no such experience since.


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