“The assault on our eastern defenses is a feint,” the Colonel says, “the real attack will be on the Native Stadt. Get your horses ready for action and we will wait for the Boers to make their move.”
Standing around waiting in the early morning cold is not pleasant. The cold seeps through the soles of his boots and turns his feet into unfeeling lumps. He stamps them to keep the blood flowing.
Cadet Richard Johnson is overflowing with excitement, his face young and shining in the dim light. Robert’s heart swells with pride as he contemplates the useful role in defending the town that these young English cadets, aged between nine and eighteen years old, are playing. The troops have come to rely heavily on their help in delivering messages between the various town defenses and acting as lookouts to warn them of impending attacks.
“Coffee’s ready.” Trooper Watson’s call is welcome and Robert and Richard head over to get their cups of coffee or cocoa. Robert wraps his hands around his cup, its blissful warmth in his icy hands almost outweighing the pleasure of the drink itself.
“When are they going to begin?” Richard asks eagerly. Robert opens his mouth to reply when the sudden red glow in the west catches his eye.
“I think it just started. Let’s go and see what’s happening.” He leads the way over to a nearby single-story house and they climb up onto the corrugated iron roof. They watch the fire fan out like a destructive burning spider-web. The flames from the Baralong huts that have been deliberately fired by the Boers, jump in fiery tendrils from one to the next. Within minutes the Stadt is a conflagration. Behind them the sun starts to rise, throwing its cheering rays across the horizon. The sunlight gradually creeps across the sky until it embraces the glowing red haze of the fire and merges into one.
Unease at the burning washes over Robert, but he is the only one. In the square below, his fellow troopers hurry across the square. “We’re going to have a good fight,” the shout rises above the medley of excited voices and sounds. The eighty-one men of the Bechuanaland Rifle Volunteers, under the direction of Captain Cowan, follow hot on their heels in the direction of the gunfire.
Robert sees the B.S.A.P. fort, which lies between the Stadt and the town and is occupied by Colonel Hore and a squadron of the Protectorate Regiment, looming up ahead, and only then hears the warning shouts that it has fallen into enemy hands. Squinting at the men running across the front of the fort, Robert can hardly believe they are the enemy until he realises that shots are being fired in his general direction. The two sides meld together in a turbulent mix, making differentiation between the opposing sides virtually impossible.
On his left side, a man falls, his chest exploding in a spray of blood and shattered flesh and cloth. In the melee, it takes a few moments for Robert to realise it was Trooper Thompson, a personal friend of his from back home. The shock barely registers as he continued running towards the fort.
Thank you to Sue Vincent for her amazing inspiration. You can join in her photo prompt here: https://scvincent.com/2019/10/31/thursday-photo-prompt-web-writephoto/