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 Letter From An Unnamed Marine Aboard HMS Jumna

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Petty Officer Tom

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PostSubject: Letter From An Unnamed Marine Aboard HMS Jumna   Wed Jun 28, 2017 5:58 pm

Simon’s Town, July 14th,

 “The Jumna steamed out of Table Bay with a thousand ardent and hopeful fellows on board early on the morning of the 9th July.  She was to proceed to Durban, and her freight to advance to Ulundi with Sir Garnet Wolseley.  She had got outside Simon’s Bay, when a signal from the lighthouse went up with ‘Return; something to tell you’ following.  All was eagerness to know the ‘something,’ but body suspected it to be what it was, a message from Sir Garnet Wolseley.  ‘Marines not required to march on Ulundi.  Her Majesty’s ship Jumna to remain at Simon’s Bay for further instructions.’  Such were our orders, and of course anchor was dropped.  The excitement and disappointment which prevailed may be imagined.  Colonel Hunt telegraphed to the Commandant at Capetown, asking that the Marines should disembark at that place, pointing out the advantages Capetown has over Simon’s Town.  There are barracks at Simon’s Town, where we now are, but they hold only a company of the line, and at present are full of the wives and families of men at the front.  Unfortunately Capetown proved to be in the same plight.  There was plenty of accommodation, but there were soldier’s wives and families occupying it.  As soon as Colonel Hunt was satisfied that we could not proceed to Capetown he took steps to have us placed under canvas, and succeeded in doing so.  Since the 10th of July we have been encamped here, awaiting somebody’s pleasure.

 It is reported that the Jumna will complete coaling, repair defects in her machinery, and return to England with the same complement she brought out, excepting the two companies of the Army Service Corps.  They will be sent be sent on to Natal to do duty temporarily in Durban. I have mentioned previously that the health of the troops is good.  There was only one exception, and I am sorry to say there is not that now, as the man is deal.  This poor fellow – James Harris, of the 1st company Chatham Division R.M.L.I. – was removed to the Naval Hospital, Simon’s Town, and there died.  He was buried with military honours by the battalion, and by a subscription raised among the men something better than a regular funeral was given him.  The service provides only a bare shell, so the men decided to ornament it, and after settling the bill found there was enough in hand to place a neat tablet over the grave.
 
Our camp is situated in private grounds belonging to a butcher, who is also the contractor for mean.  The names put up in camp remind one strangely of Plymouth and its neighborhood.  We have Union-street and other thoroughfares, individual tents with the names of fashionable villas, and others distinguished by the names of various resorts in the Three Towns.

 It is midwinter, but the weather is delightful.  The natives congratulate us on it, and say that generally at this time of the year it rains night and day.  About 5.30p.m., however, it rapidly becomes dark. We get no newspapers or other means of recreation, except what we brought with us from England.  A paper I happened to have today said it was a great pity such a fine corps as the Marines should be returned to England without an opportunity of ‘washing their bayonets,’ and evidently wishing for continuance of the war a l’outrance.
 
Ever since their embarkation the conduct of the Marines has been very good and the discipline excellent.  To show the difference between military and naval stringency, I may mention that on our arrival at Simon’s Bay leave was granted the staff of all the corps on board until 10 p.m.  Four out of the small number of the Army Service Corps staff absented themselves.  They have up to yesterday been under arrest awaiting reduction; but after all the captain of the Jumna relented and let them off with a reprimand.”

(Source:  The Western Morning News (9 Aug, 1879)

Tom
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