Henry Wood Nevinson (1856-1941) was a war correspondent who was present at the siege of Ladysmith in the Boer war, hence the current extract.
Christmas Day 1899
The Boer guns gave us an early Christmas carol, and at intervals all day they joined in the religious and social festivities. Our north end of the town suffered most, and we beguiled the peaceful hours in digging out the shells that had nearly killed us. They have a marketable value. One perfect specimen of a 96lb. shell from Bulwan fell into a soft flower bed and did not burst or receive a scratch. I suppose it cost the Boers about £35, and it would still fetch £10 as a secondhand article. A brother to it pitched into a boarding house close by us, and blew the whole gable end sky high. Unhappily two of the inmates were wounded, and a horse killed. But such little contretemps as shells did not in the least interfere with the Christmas revels.
About 250 children are still left in the town or river caves (where one or two have recently been born), and it was determined they should not be deprived of their Christmas tree. The scheme was started and organised by Colonel Rhodes and Major "Karri" Davis, of the Imperial Light Horse. Four enormous trees were erected in the auction rooms and decked with traditional magnificence and toys ransacked from every shop. At half-past eight p.m. fairyland opened. A gigantic Father Christmas stalked about with branches of pine and snowy cap (the temperature at noon was 103deg. in the shade). Each child had a ticket for its present, and joy was distributed with military precision. When the children had gone to their dreams the room was cleared for a dance, and round whirled the khaki youths with white-bloused maidens in their arms. It was not exactly the Waterloo Ball with sound of revelry by night, but I think it will have more effect on the future of the race. Other festivities, remote from the unaccustomed feminine charm, were a series of mule races, near the old camp, for soldiers and laughing Kaffir boys. The men's dinner itself was enough to mark the day.
It is true everything was rather skimped, but after the ordinary short rations it was a treat to get any kind of pudding, any pinch of tobacco, and sometimes just a drop of rum. Almost the saddest part of the siege now is the condition of the animals. The oxen are skeletons of hunger, the few cows hardly give a pint of milk apiece, the horses are failing. Nothing is more pitiful than to feel a willing horse like mine try to gallop as he used, and have to give it up simply for want of food. During the siege I have taught him to talk better than most human beings, and his little apologies are really pathetic when he breaks into something like his old speed and stops with a sigh. It is the same with all.