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1900 - A War hero returns home to Haywards Heath and tells of his grim experience at Ladysmith

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Charles Tucker writes: The photograph below was taken in May 1900 celebrating the arrival back home to Haywards Heath, of the injured Henry Attree from the Ladysmith Boer War. The railway station entrance at that time was in Clair Road, also known as Station Road, which currently is the road leading to the Waitrose car park. In the background you can see the Station Master's house which was demolished in the 1930s. About 2,000 local people and dignitaries attended. He was a Lance Corporal in the 18th Hussars, and was killed near Ypres on 13th May 1915 aged 37 years. He had lived at 2 Nestcott Villas, Gower Road, and his name appears on the War Memorial on Muster Green.

Corporal Attree greeted at Haywards Heath Station

Mid Sussex Times May 1st 1900

War notes

The following is an extract from a letter received by his father, Mr. H. Attree. Haywards Heath, last Saturday, from Corporal H. Attree. 18th Hussars, and dated March from Mooi River, Natal:—

“As you will see by the above address, I have shifted a bit farther down country, and jolly glad I am to get out of that horrible Ladysmith. I have seen enough of that place, and shall have memories of it for the rest of my life. I am down here after having contracted enteric fever and dysentery during the siege; but they were not able to give me proper nourishment after I had got over it. or else I should have been all right, so I had to go and do duty when I could scarcely walk, and sleep out in the pouring rain for nearly three months, living on horseflesh during the time, which I don’t think was very good diet for a man after a lot of sickness, but still I am getting on all right now. l am coming home in about a couple of months’ time.

The doctor has invalided me on account of having had so much sickness. I have seen enough fighting to last a lifetime. I have seen in the newspapers a lot of trash about General Buller, when had those reverses in crossing the Tugela, but if some of those Johnnies who sit in their offices and write such a lot of tomfoolery came out here and saw with their own eyes the Tugela heights and the country leading up to Ladysmith, I am certain they would have a different opinion of him. And then again, the war correspondents are utterly in the wrong regards certain regiments during the fighting around Ladysmith, but I will tell you all about it when get home.”

A later letter, dated s.s. Orcana, Durban, 7th April, says:—“l am coming home by the s.s. Orcana due at Southampton in about a month’s time. Am getting on first class.”

Mid Sussex Times Tuesday 8th May 1900

Mid Sussex Times Tuesday 15th May 1900






That the nation greatly appreciates the pluck and endurance shown by those who have fought under the British flag in South Africa has been manifested in no stinted degree. The soldier is the darling of the day. Small towns vie with big cities in according a hearty welcome to men who, having borne the heat and burden of the day “at the front” have been sent home to dear old England, there to be nursed back to health and strength.


on Friday evening there came to his parents and friends, cpl H. Attree of the eighteenth Hussars , who was in that never to be forgotten siege of Ladysmith, and the reception that the inhabitants gave him was one that will not soon be effaced from the memories of those who witnessed it. It was a splendid greeting. To see the hundreds of people who turned out into the be flagged as streets, eager to raise their voices in shouts of welcome, was enough to send a thrill through the most unemotional soul. The train was due at Haywards Heath about 7:30, and as the time approached the scene on the east side of the railway station was animated, not to say impressive.

There was a strong muster of the “A” and “B” companies Second volunteer Battalion Royal Sussex regiment, under Sgt instructor James, colour Sergeant Hounsell, and Sgt Kent; near them were the Haywards Heath fire brigade under capt Jerred and Lieutenant Knight, and also the church lads brigade under Captain Hatten and Lieutenant Mouncher. Haywards Heath brass band, under the conductorship of Mister L. Backshall, made bright the waiting moments by playing several popular airs. On the platform where many of the reception committee, and other well-wishers, assembled, prominent among the number being major Hodgins this, late of the 18th Hussars, the Rev. W.Gooby, Mr S.T.D.Thorowgood, Mr Bowles, Mr E.J.Waugh. It was


when the tram steamed into the station. As soon as Corporal Attree was sighted there was a rush and a cheer, and quicker than it takes to tell was surrounded, and many hands were extended towards his for “friendships grip." Corporal Attree looked every inch a soldier. He was attired in the khaki suit which did him service in South Africa, but over it wore his regimental overcoat. When asked as to the state of his health a smile lit up his sunburnt face, and be answered “Grand.” On behalf of the Reception Committee, Mr. E. J. Waugh congratulated the young soldier—he is only 21 years of age, although he looks older—upon his safe return, and further expressed the hope, amid hearty applause, that if duty should again call him to South Africa that he would bring home “the little bit of bronze.” The party then moved to the east side of the station, and when the “gentleman in khaki ” stepped into the landau in waiting, which was bedecked with bunting and flags, followed by his highly-respected father, his uncle (Mr. Bowles, of Brighton) and Major Hodgins, there arose


Under the direction of Sergeant-Instructor James a procession was formed, the landau being drawn by a number of Mr. Jessie Finch’s employees. The procession, headed the Band, which led off with that stirring melody “Soldiers of the Queen,” marched along Station Road and down Perrymount Road and Commercial Square, then past Market Place up to the west side of the station, the crowd, at intervals, singing and cheering. The decorations from the station to the Station Hotel were very imposing, and at this point the immense gathering again gave vent to their patriotic enthusiasm, which Corporal Attree acknowledged waving his khaki helmet.

As the Procession made its way up Boltro Road there was handed to the young soldier a fine bouquet of arum lilies and yellow marguerites, which he received with much pleasure. A little farther along he had put into his arms from the roadway his sister Nellie, a little maiden of four or five summers, and as he kissed her and placed her on his knee the crowd gave a ringing cheer. What the child’s feelings were we cannot say, but she will probably never forget the memorable moment. The throng passed along Muster Green and returned to the cross-roads by St. Wilfrid’s School, where numerous flags waved in the breeze, and the home of Corporal Attree was soon reached, its door being adorned with a large Union Jack and laurels. When the carriage halted, Major Hodgins stood up and


for the honour they had accorded to Corporal Attree, who had served under him in the 18th Hussars, and he especially thanked the Volunteers, the Fire Brigade and the Church Lads’ Brigade for turning out to welcome him home. (Loud applause). Mr. Bowles then thanked the Committee for the splendid reception they had organised. He thought they did it as a compliment to the whole British Army, and it must be a great encouragement to young men to join the Volunteer force at Haywards Heath. Corporal Attree next rose, and in a voice which was remarkable for its clearness and strength said “Ladies and gentlemen, words fail to express my heartfelt gratitude for the way in which you have received me. I have only done my duty, the same as every man at the front has done, or is doing. (Loud applause). I thank you for the reception you have given me.” Hearty cheers were raised as Corporal Attree proceeded from the carriage to the steps of his home, where his mother, sister and brothers were standing to greet him. As Mrs. Attree embraced her soldier boy the Band played ‘‘Home, sweet Home,” and it would not be incorrect to record that


Later, the Band struck op the merry “Absent-minded Beggar” and finally the National Anthem. At the call of Corporal Attree cheers were given for the prominent fighting leaders at the front, also for Sir George White.

Sir George White (1)

Someone called out “How about Kruger?” and the crowd demonstrated what they thought of him by groaning and hissing. It is worthy of mention that although the throng most have totalled something like 2,000 persons, not a single mishap occurred, and the Reception Committee, together with Superintendent Smith, Sergeant Suter and the P.C’s. on duty, are to be complimented on the very successful way the whole proceedings were carried through. The following formed the Reception Committee: Messrs. Pannett (Chairman), E. J. Waugh, Alwen, G. Austen, Bolton, Balchin, A. Finch, Griffin, H. Plummer, S. Pierce, Horrobine, Mouncher, Jennings. Jerred, Turner, A. Vincent, A. G. Cripps. E. Plummer, H. Finch. Perl, Beeny, Jupp, Finn and W. Goaring (Hon. Secretary).


Our representative had an interview with Corporal Attree on Saturday afternoon. The young Hussar seemed in excellent health and spirits, and proved himself an able conversationalist. After speaking about the reception of the previous evening, which greatly surprised, as well as delighted him, Corporal Attree touched upon Army life. His grandfather and uncle had worn the Queen's uniform, and from his schoolboy days he had a strong desire to do likewise. Therefore, in October, 1895, he bid farewell to Haywards Heath and joined the 18th Hussars, at Canterbury. During the first six months he had some “jolly hard work’’ and very little glory, but having become acquainted with his duties, things grew less irksome and he began to love the life. His first experience of foreign service was in 1899. He left England in May for South Africa. After a stay at Durban he proceeded to Ladysmith, and it was at this place that he was promoted to rough-riding Corporal. On September 25th the 18th Hussars went to Dundee, and did patrol duty right up to the border of the Transvaal.

Other regiments stationed with his were the Irish Fusillers, King’s Royal Rifles. Leicester Regiment, and the 13th. 67th and 69th Batteries of Field Artillery., Pickets and outposts were posted all round Dundee for the purpose of keeping an eye on the Boers, who were thought to be planning an attack on the camp. the morning October 20th a heavy rifle fire was heard, which meant that the pickets and outposts were engaged with the enemy. It started at two o’clock, and continued till twenty minutes part six, at which time the first Boer shell was landed into the British camp. It was fired from Talana Hill; and was followed in quick succession by others. The Artillery horses being at water at the time, the gunners had to get the guns into position without the horses’ aid. The second shot got the range, and the whole three Artillery Batteries . shelled Talana Hill that Boers thought it wise to rightabout face and clear off. The 18th Hussars gave chase, but as the Boers kept close to the hills their retreat could not be cut off. On October 20th battle was given to Lucas Meyer’s commando, which was strengthened next day by of Joubert’s, the two making a fighting force of about 30,000 strong. The British strength was about 5000 and finding it impossible to hold their position retired on to the borders of Zululand.

A seven days’ march from Dundee brought them to Ladysmith. And it was a march! it rained heavens hard all the time. Having lost all at Dundee, the men had to sleep in their wet clothes—hardly an agreeable sensation. The “inner man,” however, lacked little. Bully beef and biscuits were plentiful, the men made themselves “a drop of tea” whenever an opportunity offered itself. Notwithstanding the roughing of it, the men were in the pink of condition, all their fat having been worked off into muscle.” Shaving being out of the question, the men had tremendous beards, and they were very proud of them.

On October 27th they joined Sir George White's force at Ladysmith. The soldiers and inhabitants welcomed. them most heartily. They were allowed three days in which to recruit their health. On October 31st the British went to find out the Boer position and strength and drove the enemy from Lombard's Kop to beyond Modderspruit. Having acquired the desired information, Sir George White’s order to retire back was acted upon. On the British retirement the Boers got their guns into position and shelled them with terrible effect. Corporal Attree saw two men all the 19th Hussars and their horses blown to pieces by one shell, also an ambulance wagon laden with wounded.” It was a terrible sight.” Speaking of Nicholsons Nek, corporal Attree described it as a very bad affair.

Nicholson's Nek north of Ladysmith

The 14th mounted battery and the Gloucester Regiment were sent out by Sir George White to protect the armies left flank, and on going through Nicholson’s nek towards a kop in front of them they were not aware that the Boers were in force on the kopje to the left. The Boers let the men get through the Nek and then started firing at short range. The mules stampeded, and being without ammunition, and to save further bloodshed, the officers surrendered.

Having been reinforced from the free State, the boers surrounded Ladysmith, and it was on November 2nd that the first Boer shell entered the the town from Bulwana Mountain. They had guns mounted at all favourable points, but the British didn’t care a rap tor all the Boor shells sent in as the artillery was so bad. Seeing that the enemy had got them in a hole, the British troops endeavoured to make the best of the situation, believing that they would be relieved in about a fortnight. But when it came to weeks, and no signs of relief being at hand, the men began to pull long faces, and to jokingly enquire of one another “If Buller had returned off furlough yet." When the rations began to run short, the men pulled longer faces still! At last they had to shoot their horses, and they had to do duty on a biscuit or two a day, with 3lbs. Horseflesh thrown in. One soldier who had seen his horse, to which he was much attached, shot, rejoiced that he had got its heart and liver to eat! Every day except Sundays, the Boers used to shell the camp. The civil portion of the community were placed on neutral ground (under cover of the Boer guns) and therefore were not subjected to fire.

Ladysmith Town Hall 1900 during the siege with Boer shell damage to the bell tower

The infantry soldiers used to keep themselves merry by playing cricket and football, but very often a game had be stopped because the Boers used to send in their “balls.” In the evening smoking concerts were organised. Every man had to bring his own tobacco—cadging was not allowed— and his drink, which consisted of a bottle of Klip River water!

Through exposure and lack of good water and food, Corporal Attree, on January 28th, was laid up with enteric fever, and on recovering from that he had an attack of dysentery. During the siege he was in hospital ten weeks. The hospital authorities ran out of medicine, and the doctors used to out on the veldt and collect herbs to treat sickness. The sick were allowed three pints of “horseflesh soup" a day. It was this or nothing, and those who had no constitution died.

After the battle of Spion Kop

From Ladysmith they saw the whole of the Spion Kop fight, but some of the soldiers who knew the country said from the first that Buller would not be successful. When on the evening of the 28th February some troops were seen advancing towards Ladysmith, it was little thought that they were “Soldiers of the Queen.” On finding out that they were, there went up such mighty cheers as could have been heard for miles around. The news of the capture of Cronje was also received with great rejoicing. Tho soldiers threw their helmets up in the air and jumped upon them in their delight.

The Ladysmith garrison were sent to Blaauwbark to recruit their health, and while here Corporal Attree had another attack of dysentery, and was sent into hospital, where he remained seven days. He was then sent down to Mooi River, and later invalided home. The side of the railway from Ladysmith to Mooi River is lined with the graves of British soldiers, a little wooden cross being at the head of each. Corporal Attree was never wounded, but had many narrow escapes.

On one occasion he had his water bottle shot away, and on another a bullet went right through his khaki jacket across his back. He has brought home some bullets as relics. Questioned as to the scenes on a battlefield, Corporal Attree said the cry of a wounded man was terrible. Shrieks for water were frequent. One fellow threw up his arms and said “Good-bye, chaps, I’m done for," and dropped down dead. Others died with the name of “Father" and “Oh! Mother" upon their lips. Horses never trample upon a man when he is down. If galloping they jump over him and if walking they pick their way. A riderless horse will follow another with a rider, and keep with it until it rejoins the ranks, when it will instinctively form in almost its own position. There is many a feeling of surprise and regret expressed when the roll is called.

Corporal Attree does not think Tommy Atkins an “absent-minded beggar.” He maintains that he thinks of all those he has left behind him, and if he does not write home very frequently it is because he is not much of a scholar. Often has Corporal Attree heard a soldier say I wonder how my poor old mother is getting on? I bet she is thinking about me to-night.” And more than once has he seen a soldier on the veldt, or by his tent, draw from his pocket the letter from home, and, as has been reading it, glance around to see if anyone looking, and, if not, raise his arm to his eyes and brush away a tear. Kipling's poem pleased the soldiers immensely, and they are deeply grateful for the generous way in which the public have come forward to aid them.

Questioned as to the Boers, Corporal Attree said he came across some “jolly goodhearted” fellows amongst them, and some just the opposite. He says that very bitter feeling exists between the Free Staters and tho Boers. He has heard the former say to the latter, “See what you have done for us. Our farms have been taken away, our houses wrecked and we are rendered homeless.” When at Ladysmith the British very often at nighttime heard the Free Staters and Boers fighting one another, and the rifle shots sounded in the still air. Tommy Atkins used to say “They are at it again, good luck to them. There will be no Boers left for us to fight presently.”

Corporal Attree was favourably impressed with South Africa, and thinks there is a fine opening out there for men who are willing and able to turn their hands to anything. The Boers, he says, are aware that they are playing a losing game.

They know that Great Britain will win in the end, but they are determined to give all the trouble they can before that is reached. “ Nothing would please me better than to be in the march to Pretoria,” said Corporal Attree “and I would willingly go through all I have suffered again to see country’s flag waving there instead of that of the South African Republic.

To the Editor of The Mid-Sussex Times.

Dear Sir, ____ I trust you will pardon me for troubling you, but I should feel very thankful if you would allow me, through your columns, to express to the inhabitants of Haywards Heath and district my most sincere and heartfelt thanks for the splendid welcome home they gave to my son on his return from South Africa. I am sure it is a source of the greatest gratification to him to know that the humble services rendered by him have been so splendidly recognised by his fellow townsmen, it will be for him a lifelong remembrance. He feels that the great compliment paid to him was equally meant for his brave comrades in the Army, and especially those from Haywards Heath, who are still fighting the battles of their country in South Africa, or engaged in the equally dangerous hospital work, and sincerely hopes that when the time comes for their return home, which I trust will be very soon, they will meet with an equally enthusiastic reception, which they indeed deserve.

I wish also to tender my sincere thanks to the Committee who so kindly undertook and so ably carried out the arrangements for the Reception, to Captain Nix, Sergt.-Instructor James and the Volunteers, Captain Jerred and members of the Fire Brigade, Captain Hatten, Lieutenant Mouncher and members of the Church Lads’ Brigade, Bandmaster Backshall and the members of the Haywards Heath Town Band, who so kindly honoured the proceedings with their presence and assistance, and contributed so greatly to their success.

I also desire to thank Mr. E. J. Waugh, Mr. Gooring, Messrs. Golding, Mr. Ellis Turner, Mr. Hilton, Mr. Jesse Jones, and Mr. Finch and his employees and all other ladies and gentlemen who did all in their power to make the home-coming of my son an event to be ever remembered by my wife, myself and family with joy and gratitude.

I beg to remain, dear Sir,

Yours obediently, H. ATTREE, 1 Clifton Terrace, Haywards Heath, May, 1900.

Many thanks to Charles Tucker for the top photograph.




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