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III. LAWRANCE EDWARD GRACE OATES.
BY MAJOR G. F. MACMUNN, D.S.O.
In the great tragedy of the Antarctic the passing of Captain Lawrance Edward Grace Oates has appealed to the English and to the civilised world with especial force, because of the double spirit of sacrifice that it involved. The story of the dying frostbitten soldier stepping out into the lone snow and blizzard has ' touched strong men's hearts with glory till they weep.'
The depth of character which leads men to high trespass in unexplored and dangerous lands, and to die as Oates has died, must be imbedded from their birth, awaiting opportunity to reveal itself.
Speaking before a soldier audience a few weeks ago, General Allenby, who had been in Captain Oates' regiment, the Inniskilling Dragoons, reminded them of the high courage and resource which opportunity had elicited in that officer at the very outset of his military career. The story is not generally known, and it is emphatically worth telling in some detail, to the memory of Captain Oates and the encouragement of others. It may be called 'The Tale of the Boy Dragoons.'
Early in 1901 Kritzinger and Schuipers, two daring young Boer leaders, had remained in the mountains of Cape Colony with a following when the first great De Wet hunt had passed by. Various columns had hunted them out of the Schwarzberg, through Willowmore to the hills between Murraysburg, Graaf-Reinet and Aberdeen. Colonel Sir Charles Parsons, with a column, hastily got together, of Royal and Australian Artillery, the Sharpshooters, Imperial Yeomanry, and some sixty recruits on their way to join the Inniskillings, was following them up. With this dragoon detachment was Oates, a cheery lad, just commissioned, to whom war was one vast holiday.
Arriving at Aberdeen Road by rail from Willowmore, the first train-load (with which was the writer) hastily pushed on by road towards Aberdeen some eighteen miles, to relieve the town itself, as a message had arrived at the station to say that the commando was then entering the town. With this trainload were the dragoon recruits. After a sharp scrap outside
the town, this party bivouacked till the remainder of the column marched into the little wattle-and-dab town, some time after dark. Next morning three patrols of some twenty men each were sent out to find the commando. They had not far to look. Now a patrol of that size has many disadvantages. It is too small to put up a successful fight, it is too large to escape observation. The first patrol, that on the left, was driven in, helter-skelter, on its own squadron and guns. The centre patrol was captured. The third, on the far right, consisted of boy Oates and his twenty recruits. For some time nothing was heard of them. Then, away in the veldt from across the blue shimmering scrub, came, faint yet distinct, the 'tic-toc' of the rifle, single but regular firing. Tic-toc, pac-boc,' steady and precise. Presently a couple of stray dragoons turned up, with rifles and empty bandoliers, and then another, and
, all the while Lee-Metford was answering Mauser away in the camcel-dorn scrub. The story of the dragoon boys was this : Away to the north-west, perhaps four miles out, Oates and his patrol had run into the brethren. Dismounting to fight in a spruit, he found he could not get away and his horses were shot down, so he had settled to a fire fight at close quarters, and had indignantly rejected all summons to surrender, to which had been added a threat of no quarter.' Then, as the ammunition ran out,
‘ men with empty bandoliers had been told to slip away down the spruit and make for camp. Oates himself was said to be wounded. Before troops could move to the spruit indicated, the firing had died away, and the veldt now shimmered in the noonday sun. More dragoons came straggling in with their arms. Finally the spruit was reached, and what had happened was this : Boy Oates and his boy dragoons had remained firing, sending away the unwounded men when their ammunition was finished, until not a round of ammunition nor an unwounded man was left, and then the Boers crept in to take their prize. It was not a very satisfying capture. The officer lay wounded, surrounded by half a dozen or so of his comrades in like case, a few mortally so. The horses were dead, most of the rifles were gone, and the bandoliers were empty, and the chagrin of the brethren was only equalled by their admiration for the ‘Khakis.' Giving such first aid as they could, the Boers then left them to be picked up by their own column.
Such, in brief, is the tale of the boy dragoons, and it shows how the metal had rung true from the beginning in the man we mourn. It was a fitting gambit in a great game.
But as we pay tribute to the memory of Oates, the dragoon and faithful comrade, let us realise that we do so as much to Oates the type as to Oates the individual. Let us remember that as he died in self-sacrifice, so die the English, and no doubt others-away from the limelight-every day that the sun sets in the Atlantic. In the smelting furnaces, in the factories, in the coalfields, in the coastwise trade, while the landsman sleeps o’nights, the English men and women die to save others. Let those that read of it pray that they in their time may be endowed with the strength to do likewise. That is the thought for us as we ponder in our armchair on that set figure disappearing into the unknown waste of snow, to let'the spirit return to God who gave it.'
BOOKS AND READING: A RETROSPECT. Of making many books there is no end.' Of books and their increase I am moved to jot down some reminiscences, especially of early Victorian days; my memory in this kind certainly reaches back seventy-five years. Being one of a scholar's family, I was among books from the very first. I still possess a Prayer-Book given to me on my fifth birthday in 1837; it bears my name and the date in my mother's handwriting. Also, outside a Latin Accidence (still with me) stands the same date written by my father. And I must have been able to read some time before that. Many of our earliest childish books I well remember. There were 'Cobwebs to catch Flies,” Come hither, Charles,” Harry and Lucy,'' Rosamond, or the Purple Jar,' ' Frank,' and 'Sequel to Frank.' Early versebooks were 'The Peacock at Home,' 'The Butterfly's Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast.' There were the Miss Taylors' “ Original Poems.' Rather later came Mrs. Trimmer’s ‘ Fabulous Histories.' Oh, those delightful robins! They fostered in our quartet (three brothers and a sister) a love of Natural History which our country life encouraged. “Rural Scenes' was a verse-book given to my younger brother. We mostly called it' Agoing ! agoing!’; because this was written outside on its paper cover, being the first words of the first poem, about the sale of an old one-eyed horse :
Agoing ! agoing ! who wishes to buy,
Though he's lame of one leg, and blind of one eye ? One or two of the pieces still stick by me almost entire-e.g. the following dialogue between a customer and a poulterer : C. “Pray, my good man, how do you sell these ducks a pair ? P. “ Four shillings, ma'am, and very fine ducks they are. *C. “ Four shillings ! I wonder you're not ashamed to ask it.
Pray put those fine ducks back again into the basket.
. Come, will you let me have the pair for three and three ? ' *P. Can't do it, ma'am : assure you they cost me more.
They're none of your skinny poultry, fed at the barn door.
'C. “Well, send them home quick, or I'll never deal here again ;
To Mrs. Smart's, Tailor and Habit-Maker, Button Lane.
Of books specially meant for children there were far fewer then. The present race of boys and girls may congratulate themselves ; and no doubt they pity us. Yet it is pity thrown away. For we enjoyed what we had just as much ; we read things over and over again ; and that, mind you, is, at the learning age, no disadvantage. Probably there are twenty times as many books for bairns as there were seventy years ago; one may even grant them better for special ages : but, on the other hand, how much poor trash is now accessible. On such, as non-existent, we children of those days were not tempted to feed, to the wasting of our time and the spoiling of our taste,
New books came to swell the nursery library at such times as Christmas and birthdays. To myself our naval uncle gave ‘Poor Jack.' We all read it. It was the first edition, copiously illustrated. It delighted all our family group, of whom the youngest brother eventually went to sea.
But our early reading was not only of children's books. Scott's ' Lady of the Lake’and ‘ Lay of the Last Minstrel’ were much in our hands. We learnt by heart parts of them. The first canto of the former,' The Chase,' I used to know by memory; I retain much of it even now. Then there was an old seven-volumed Pope's 'Homer's Iliad,' which we eagerly devoured. Achæan combats we acted in the garden ; dry Jerusalem-artichoke stems made excellent evenly flying spears. Thus the tale of Troy became familiar to me before I knew it in Greek. On our shelves was a bound-up volume of the Penny Magazine,' containing articles which took me much. Among them was an ascent of the Peter-Botte mountain, with a picture of the climbers just at the last rock of the summit. Interesting, too, was an account of the Chinese method of fishing with cormorants. The picture in this has been reproduced in several books on Natural History : something like it is to be seen in a Dutch book about the Netherlands Mission to China in the seventeenth century, a book which I possess. Of course we had and read the general favourites, “ Robinson Crusoe ' and 'Pilgrim's Progress '; but I do not remember that the theology of the latter impressed me much-probably I skipped just what Bunyan most meant to teach.
We used to get hold of a new set of books when staying at Bromley, in Kent, where lived my two grandmothers and a sister of my mother. Miss Edgeworth’s ‘Popular Tales' we read there; and ‘ Brambletye House,' by one of the authors of the ‘Rejected