CHAPTER XII

My first campaign for the Illustrated London News — The Bechuanaland expedition — Its origin — I see Mr. Ingram and offer to go out for the News — He agrees — First impressions as an accredited representative of a paper — Interview with Colonel the Hon. Paul Methuen — The 1st Mounted Rifles, "Methuen's Horse" — The recruiting office — A bit of a set back — Sir Charles Warren and newspaper correspondents — Suggestion that I join "Methuen's," in dual capacity as artist and soldier — Mr. Ingram agrees — I pass medical examination — Sign on as trooper — Serious reflections — Enthusiasm prevails — Getting ready to leave England for a year — The departure of the Pembroke Castle for South Africa — Composition of the regiment and pay of troopers

I HAVE always been a firm believer in the truth of the old French adage Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre, and in remarkably few instances have I found my confidence in it shaken.

My perseverance in going down so often to the Illustrated London News office on the off-chance of a travelling commission coming my way was at last to be rewarded, and at the end of the following year I left London for South Africa on my first expedition for the paper as War-Artist Correspondent with the Bechuanaland Field Force, and trooper in the 1st Mounted Rifles, otherwise known as "Methuen's Horse." The combination of War Correspondent and trooper was so uncommon, and the whole of the circumstances leading up to it so unusual, that I feel it may be perhaps of interest to give a short account of how it came about. Trouble had been brewing for some months in South Africa, a considerable body of Boer freebooters had entered the Bechuanaland Protectorate, forcibly annexed a large tract of territory, murdered the British representative, and actually proclaimed two new Boer states which they had named Stellaland and Goshen. Such a flagrant defiance of the Convention could not be tolerated, so it was decided to drive them out by force — hence the Bechuanaland Expedition, which was under the command of Sir Charles Warren.

Now was my opportunity. Melton Prior was in the Sudan, not expected back for a long while, and there was no one else at hand, so down I went to the office and offered to go out with the expedition if they would commission me. Mr. Ingram liked the idea, and told me to go and find out all about it and let him know what arrangements could be made. I remember I left the office in such a state of elation that I felt as if walking on air.

One must have represented a Paper to realize the feeling of importance one's first big travelling commission conveys. As a matter of fact, I don't think one ever loses this impression. It is, I suppose, in a measure a sense of gratification at the confidence one feels is reposed in one.

I walked along the Strand pondering what was the next step to take. Mr. Ingram had made no suggestions, assuming, presumably, that a man offering his services as War Correspondent did not require his editor to tell him what to do. I realized at once that one was entirely dependent upon one's own initiative when acting as the representative of a newspaper. I was cogitating whether the proper course was to present myself at the War Office and make enquiries, when an idea suddenly flashed in my mind.

It had been announced that in addition to the troops to be used, there was to be a strong force of mounted infantry, and an irregular cavalry regiment was to be raised in England for service in South Africa. A call had been made for volunteers who were good riders and good shots. The regiment was to be under the command of Colonel The Hon. Paul Methuen. I recollected that there had been a notice in the Daily Telegraph that morning, in which it gave particulars where to apply for all information. So to buy the paper and then to make my way to 50 Leicester Square, where was the Recruiting Office, did not take long.

I remember that it was with a certain amount of perhaps pardonable self-confidence I made my way upstairs through the crowd of men waiting to present themselves, and sent in my name to Captain Harell, who was the recruiting officer.

It was the first time I had authority to state that I represented the Illustrated London News, and I then at once realized what an "open sesame" this meant, for I was ushered in immediately, and on explaining my business, the Captain said he would take me in to Colonel Methuen, who alone could deal with the matter. I was taken in to an inner room, where the Hon. Paul Methuen received me with much cordiality, but on explaining the object of my call, he informed me without hesitation that he much regretted he could do nothing for me.

It appeared that Sir Charles Warren had given it distinctly to be understood before he left England that he would have no "travelling gentlemen," as he humorously termed War Correspondents, with him on this expedition.

In vain did I urge that an artist could scarcely come under this category, the colonel shrugged his shoulders and replied: "Those are my instructions, and I must carry them out."

I was naturally very disappointed, and I must have shown it; however, there was nothing for it but to give up the idea of going, and I was leaving the room, when Colonel Methuen stopped me, and asked somewhat abruptly, as though an idea had occurred to him: "Are you in the volunteers?" I told him I was a corporal in the "Artists' " Corps. "Are you a good rider?" "Yes," I replied, wondering what on earth he was driving at. "A good shot with the rifle?" "Fairly," I answered, still more perplexed. "Well, then," he continued, "the best thing you can do is to join my regiment and come out with me as a trooper, and I will use my influence so that you will be able to go about, see, and sketch everything, and at the same time you will no doubt find your military experiences extremely interesting. Besides which," he added, with a laugh, and as an extra inducement, "you will get a medal when it is all over — if you are not killed."

The suggestion was a tempting one to me, but it was so unexpected that I naturally hesitated; moreover, it quite altered my program, so I replied that I thought I had better go and see Mr. Ingram and ask what he thought of it first. "Well, you'll have to decide quickly, because we're nearly full up," he told me. I said I would be back during the afternoon, and hurried off.

I felt I must have a few minutes to myself quietly to think it over, so went into the Square, lit my pipe, and had a walk round and turned it over carefully in my mind. Whilst thus cogitating, I recollected how one of my old schoolfellows, Walter Sullivan, had enlisted in South Africa under somewhat similar circumstances, and had gone through a recent campaign, and how this had fired my imagination at the time.

Now was my opportunity, and before I had smoked my pipe out, I had come to the conclusion to try and take advantage of it. Moreover, my time was up at the studio and I had absolutely not a tie in the world. No one could have been freer than I was just then, so I decided, therefore, to join if Mr. Ingram approved of it.

Without further hesitation I jumped into a cab and was fortunate in catching him still at the office. Although somewhat surprised, he thought Colonel Methuen's suggestion a capital one, and in a few moments it was all settled that I should go, and I received my credentials signed by him. Within an hour I was back again in Leicester Square, passed by the doctor, entered as a trooper in "D Troop" of "Methuen's Horse" for one year certain, and informed that I was in the first detachment that was leaving in the Pembroke Castle ten days later. Nothing could have been quicker. I had scarcely had breathing time, yet all this had happened since I left home in the morning.

As I made my way back to St John's Wood it gradually dawned on me the seriousness of the step I had taken. What would my people say to it? Probably they would call me an arrant fool, but that did not trouble me, for I was a free agent. I felt there was no going back, anyhow. The die was cast, and I was no longer my own master, but a soldier, and at the call of my commanding officer.

It was indeed a strange transformation, and I must admit that for a short time I felt a pang of regret at my impetuosity. The thought, I remember, flashed through my mind that I was giving up painting, and that all the pleasant times of my studio life and so forth were at an end for many months — perhaps for ever — for I might get bowled over and never come back. My heart beat wildly for a moment at the thought. But I was young and enthusiastic, the love of adventure, so characteristic a trait of my temperament, asserted itself, and I soon recovered my equanimity, for there was no time to lose, only ten days to make all my preparations for leaving England, giving up my studio, storing my furniture, etc., getting my kit together, and the hundred and one things that my long absence would necessitate.

The next week was spent in feverish preparation, and I was at length glad when the time approached for my departure. The excitement of it all was so wearying.

At last the eventful day arrived, and on a typically gloomy November day I left for South Africa with the first detachment of the "1st Mounted Rifles."

It may be of interest to add that of the unique regiment raised by Colonel Methuen for the Expedition, two hundred were gentlemen volunteers who had served in the Militia, and who had competed for, and failed to obtain, commissions in the regular Army. Another three hundred were selected from the Volunteer Force, and from gentlemen who had unsuccessfully competed for admission to the Military College, Sandhurst, and about one hundred men of the Army Reserve. The pay for troopers was 4s. per day, with 1s. deferred pay — the horses and accoutrements being found by the Government.

My experiences whilst serving as a trooper in Bechuanaland, interesting as they were, can scarcely be considered as coming within the scope of a narrative of "One's Bohemian Days in London," so the year I was away must therefore form a hiatus in my life of that time. Suffice it to add that I was fortunate in going through the campaign without any serious mishap, and returned to England the following year all the better physically for my strenuous life out on the veldt.




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