A letter from the front; by a Guernsey City Imperial, June 1900

From the Star, June 7 1900. Sent from Wynburg, Orange Free State, and dated May 5, 1900. The author of this and other letters was Roland W. Mourant, of the City Imperial Volunteers (C.I.V.). He was son of James Mourant, of Gloucester House, High Street, a funeral director.

My dear,

Since leaving Bloemfontein we have marched over 100 miles, fought a battle and taken two towns. This one (Winburg) is the most important, and Roberts has congratulated us and said we deserve a rest, but that it was of national importance that we smash up the Boers and ours was the only brigade which could do it. I believe we get a bar for this work. The Boers left here just as we, the leading regiment, came over the hills. We have had an awfully stiff time, 20 mile marches the rule, and at night it is ice-cold. We have no tents, in fact we have not seen them for months, and the dews here are very heavy, simply soaking one's blanket. This is the first time I've had for writing, and as it is going down with a convoy of wounded I don't know if it will ever reach. Any how it is my only chance. If you don't hear from me for a month or more don't be surprised. We are the 21st Brigade (the special Brigade) attached to no division; we are moving up the east side of the Orange Free State. We expect to take Kroonstadt in the next fortnight or so. I am in the best of health. I was at the Glen Hospital and got 4d. per diem for four days. We live on biscuits only, and I have not seen tobacco for weeks. I'd give anything for a cake, also something to eat with one's biscuit. At present we get three biscuits a day, but when we start on the forced march tomorrow we shall only have three for two days. We captured any amount of stores at Winburg, and all the people left behind (English) gave us a rare welcome, cheers and shouts of 'Good old City Imperials!' on all sides! I wish I were in the City now, I should be able to get a good feed. I've not had a wash for a week, and we loot all over the place. I killed two sheep the day before yesterday, and we have been busy cooking in our mess-tins since then. I can fry and boil meat a treat! But you should see how clean we are! My hands and face are ingrained black. In fact the [blacks] are as white as we are.

In all probability the war will be over in less than a month, as the Boers won't make a stand in front of us, not even when they are three to one in number. You should see them ride off. Our cavalry can't keep up with them. They kill their transport animals trying to get away. We pass ΒΌ-mile stones every few yards. We have little transport so as to move quickly. A pot of jam here would fetch 10s in camp, and the there'd be a 'Donnybrook' to get it. When I get back I'll be half a savage. By the way, we had no letters since we left Bloemfontein, so I suppose there are several from you waiting for me somewhere.

You know we've never seen any of the stuff that the big firms presented to us. I hope there'll be an enquiry into it held at the close of the war.

I have no time to write more as the convoy is off.

PS. French's Division is just coming in. The 14th, 15th, 19th, 21st and Highland Brigades are here now, and these others will make about 30,000 men here. The hills and plains are full of regiments and details cramped up. I never saw such a sight.

Yours ever, R W M.

NB. Roberts' telegram to us is public and will have been printed in all the papers.

From 'Random Memories', by 'J. de G.', Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society, XIII (2), Summer 1957:

Early one morning during the Boer War of 1899-1902, I saw Harry Turner of Mill Street busy decorating Mr James Mourant's front steps in Mount Durand with flags of all sorts. He had heard that young Mr Mourant was returning from South Africa, where he had served with the City Imperial Volunteers, as a member of which corps he was the first Guernseyman to receive the Freedom of the City of London since Lord de Saumarez. Roland Mourant duly arrived, took a look at the flags, and much embarrassed, bolted down the area steps. When the 1914 war broke out he joined up again and must have been among the first Guernseymen to be killed.

[Attended Elizabeth College. His obituary is to be found in The Star of January 8th, 1915; died January 1st 1915, serving with the British Expeditionary Force.]

Pretoria called upon to surrender by a Guernseyman.

[In the same newspaper.] 'To a Guernseyman remains the honour of calling upon Pretoria to surrender, as Lord Roberts in a dispatch says: 'De Lisle then sent an officer with a flag of truce into the town, demanding its surrender in my name.' Captain De Lisle is in the Durham Light Infantry, and is a son of Mr R V De Lisle, of Vauvert.'

General Henry De Beauvoir De Lisle, DSO, (1884-1955) despite having the ancestry of a thoroughbred Guernseyman, was actually born in Jersey and was son of R F V De Lisle, who had retired to Jersey in 1867, having been born in London in 1818. See Gillam, A., 'For Valour', Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society, XVIII (1), pp. 3-4, re Sergeant G E Nurse of the Royal Artillery, who won the Victoria Cross at Colenso in 1899; another Guernseyman called Clark was awared the DCM in the same action.