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 Letter from T. Kilshaw, Gunner, R,M,A,, "Active" Naval Brigade

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Petty Officer Tom

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PostSubject: Letter from T. Kilshaw, Gunner, R,M,A,, "Active" Naval Brigade   Thu Feb 23, 2017 9:16 pm

Tugela Drift, South Africa
April 14, 1879
Dear Brother
I thank you very much for your kind letter dated March 2nd , which I received yesterday, having been shut up almost three months at Ekowe, on short provisions, most of our food consisting of ground Indian corn and a little meat, such as an old ox.  Since we left the place to advance up the enemy’s country we have had a great many hardships to go through, but I will not stop to explain them now, as you will probably have a pretty good idea by this time; but I must say that although we have had hard times we have been very fortunate.  Our column has been engaged two or three time against a force from ten to twenty times the strength of our own.  In our engagement, which lasted three hours, we dispersed a force estimated at from 4,000 to 6,00,  in all directions, leaving behind them at least 800 dead, while the wounded must have been enormous.  We numbered 600 all told.  Unfortunately we had eight killed and 16 wounded.  As for myself, I am glad to say that I escaped “scot free.”  Although so lucky with the enemy, I regret to say that we have lost a large number through sickness, dysentery or diarrhea, and fever is making havoc amongst our brave fellows.  I think I am almost colonized, having got used to the climate.  I have noticed fine young fellows soon brought down:  long marches and very little time to sleep after them, and also bad water, in some places, soon tell on a fellow.  But enough of this, it will not last much longer, as I see there are plenty of out comrades coming out to help us.  You may see me tumbling into Leasgill in a month or two.  I received Captain Birkett’s address, and have made enquiries, but cannot hear anything of him; but no doubt I shall find him, and will tell you in my next.  Were it not for hearing from you I should forget I had any relations in old England at all.  Captain Campbell is the name of the officer in charge of that part of the Naval Brigade to which I belong.  Lieut. or, perhaps, Captain Dowding, Royal Marines, is in charge of the Marines; but whenever you see that the Naval Brigade have been doing anything, you may be sure that I am not far off.
Your affectionate brother,
Thos. Kilshaw

[Another letter from Kilshaw is written from Fort Pearson.]

April 25th,
The only water we have to drink is from the river Tugela.  It is so muddy as a stream would be after a heavy shower running through that quarry behind your home.  I am, however, in first rate health and spirits as I have just heard we have to advance up the country again in a few days.  So I hope in a week or two we shall have our revenge and also give as good an account of ourselves as have our comrades under that gallant officer Colonel Wood.  I cannot speak too highly of our officers, especially Captain Campbell, R.N., who is in charge of the Naval Brigade.  It was a fine sight to see him charge a large military kraal on the top of a hill and pull off the enemy who poured down a murderous fire upon us as they climbed the hill.  But after a few minutes hard fighting we had the pleasure of dislodging them without any serious casualties on our side.  I am sorry to say I have not heard a word about Captain Birkett yet, but I will make him out if possible.  As for my letters being in print I hardly think they are fit.  I will tell you all when I get home if I ever do.  

[Mr. Killshaw then gives some interesting accounts of the price of provisions as sold by auction at Ekowe.]

Tobacco per oz. 22s.; condensed milk per tin, 19s.; lobster per tin, 15s. 6d.; salmon per tin, 18s.; currie per bottle, 25s.; matches per box 9s. 6d.; clay pipe each, 2s.; wood pipes each, 5s. 6d.; jam per tin, 17s. 6d.; sardines, 18s.  The men were so hard up for tobacco that they were smoking tea leaves for at least a month.  A silver watch was offered for half a dozen small sticks of tobacco.  The price of sticks is 3d.  I myself gave 2s. 6d. for ¼ lb. of soap.  We are so short of provisions that those who had any money gave the natives (who use to go and gather them) 2d. each for mealies – Indian corn in it raw state.  We get a piece of tin, perforate it so as to act as a grater and then grind down so to make porridge.  You will hardly believe it, yet it is perfectly true.

(Source:  The Kendall Mercury, June 20, 1879)

Petty Officer Tom
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