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I believe this was JOHN REAY son of William Reay who was station master at Keswick  from 1874 until his death in 1908.


The following letter has been recieved by Captain Broatch

 Private Reay

 Commando Nek

 Aug 15th 1900

    Dear Sir, - About every letter I receive from home they tell me you very often ask kindly after me, also being a late member of E (your) company of volunteers, and hoping to return to them if I am spared, I thought it my duty to write you a few lines from the front. In the first instance, will you kindly thank Sgt-instructor Brown for the very good and heavy overcoat he gave me to come out here with, I have found it a great benefit in the cold nights.

    For the last six weeks we have been without tents , just laying our blankets down and sleeping in the open, also tell Sgt Gardiner I must congratulate him on his success at Cummersdale, it was a great pleasure to read it in the papers. It would take me too long to write to give you all the particulars since we came out here; but you will see from the Carlisle paper where we have been and what we have been doing plenty of hard work I can tell you.

    When we left Carlisle we started with 116 men; now we can only muster 67. Almost every place we came to we left some in hospital, but most of them will be alright by this time. As we are a flying column, any that are left behind seldom join us again; for we are almost everywhere and generally where there is no railway. When I do see a railway I am always happy, because it means full rations, 4 biscuits and 2 ounce of jam per day, and mail with letters and plenty of papers to read. Up till now we have heard of five deaths, we had a sad case just before we reached Pretoria coming from Johannesburg. One of our company fell out on the march and we have not seen or heard of him since; but of course he may turn up all right , he had a brother who came out here with the Cumberland & Westmorland Yeomanry.

    We have been under the personal command of Lord Roberts, Generals Hart, Brabant, Hutton Hamilton and Baden Powell he is a fine man we see him almost daily. It seems strange to tell you, but you know more about what is going on out here than we do, we are never told what we are going to do.

    When we know the enemy is near at hand and there is likly to be a scrap we are told to load magazines and  to get into extended order,  then We have to look out for rifle bullets and cannon balls flying about we have become quite used to them now.  One day a shell fell within 30 yds of our company but fortunately it did not burst one fellow said he did not care a button as long as it did not hit his canteen,  when under fire you would not believe how cool the men keep , I would not myself had I not experienced it

 Just over a month ago we started from Pretoria we fought and drove the enemy as far as Balmoral , general French gave orders for our division to return to Pretoria  ( he would settle up with them very likely) that is what the Border Regiment are doing all the hard work and others getting the credit for it.  Our casualties on that journey were two scouts killed , three wounded, one native had his head blown off and six mules were killed.

    When we marched into Pretoria our company was the advanced guard , Lord Roberts , his staff and a large group of spectators were there to see us march past all the other regiments but ours had previously recieved new clothing so that we were very conspicuous owing to our tattered condition.

    On that march our brigade consisted of The Kings Own Scottish Borderers, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders , the Royal Berkshire and the Border Rgt with scouts. The column extended 12 miles on the march -    We had the finest big guns in the world with us, so we were like doing some damage.   

A volunteer in the ” K.O.S.B ” came to see me, some of the Keswick men will remember him, his name is Munro from  Dumfries and three years ago he worked for Mr Welsh coach-builder Keswick he knows John Rigg very well and I believe he played in the band for a short time

    On July 25th we had a terrible experience , at  3pm it commenced to rain in torrents and did not cease till next morning , the consequence being convoys got stuck so we could not get our greatcoats , blankets and rations until noon next day we had to just stick out in it - The Argylls  lost one officer and two men from exposure and also three hundred bullocks and mules dropped dead on the road

    When we got back to Pretoria we expected to have some rest,  but no rest for the Border Rgt , the next day we were supplied with new boots and clothing and were out again the following morning fighting and driving the enemy over the hills we arrived near Rustenburg and relieved Baden Powell then we came back here , the Regiment stopping for what they call a rest ,  to hold the position It is a very strong one , the division went on I don’t    know where to but not to Pretoria. If we go there I think we will be about finished. 

This is the first rest we have bad since we left Vryburg over ten weeks ago, in that time we have marched something like 1,000 miles, we carry with us full equipment,  150 rounds of ammunition, waterproof sheet, water bottle, haversack, mess tin, one days rations , rifles and side arms. The transport carry our blankets and greatcoats with one shirt and a pair of socks in the pockets.

 I believe I will be right in saying our Regiment holds the record for the longest march without a rest in the country, and that I am the only Keswick man serving in it, so it is something to be proud of, Excuse writing as we are not supplied with writing desks
     

    J  Reay

No 7284 Active Service  Company, 1st Border Rgt

 

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