The first dream of The Defence of Duffer’s Drift does not end well:
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 recognised 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 hammered out the following lessons, the result of much pondering on my failure:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.