“Well, mother, it is a mystery to me how I am alive to-day. On the day of the battle (Colenso) I had many a narrow shave. I was knocked over twice by the bursting of cannon balls at my side. My helmet was knocked off by a piece of shell, but I came out of it without a scratch. As for bullets, they were flying round us like hailstones for hour after hour. When we were lying down you could see the dirt that the bullets knocked up. I shall never forget the day as long as I live. The first few minutes of action makes you queer, I can tell you. Then you don’t take any notice of it. I was laughing and joking just the same as if I was sitting down in that dear old corner at No. 14, Alexander Road [his home].
I risked my life that day. I went for the reinforcements and I dressed the wounds of fellows in the firing line while the shot and shell were flying. I was near being taken prisoner, only the Boer who had me was a decent sort of chap. He was able to speak English, and we had a few words together.
Well mother, I am highly recommended by my colonel to the general officers commanding for my services that day on the field. I don’t know what my reward will be. Perhaps I won’t hear anything about it for a year or so. The colonel told me he could not express in words what he thought of me for my coolness under fire and the way I assisted him in every possible manner that day in the carrying out of his orders. I stuck with him everywhere.
Even if I get nothing it is all right to know that the colonel and all the officers think of me as a brave lad. I will die contented on the battlefield as long as I have done honour to the old name of Fitzgerald, and kept up the credit of the drummer-boys of our Army. Although I am only a drummer-boy I have shown them that the good old Irish blood is in my veins.
When the battle was over I went down to the Tugela, and could have drunk it dry — I was so thirsty! I had given away by own water-bottle to a poor chap who was dying and he said ‘God bless you!’ It was an awful sight to see the men dying on the field, some praying, and others saying a few farewell words to chums. One poor fellow said to me, ‘Tell my mother I am dying like a soldier.’ Everybody died bravely fighting. Out of fifteen in my tent only six of us came out of the battle safely.
I remain, your loving son
December 30th 1899
Just a few lines to let you know how I am getting on. I have been promoted corporal. The General said I was too young to made sergeant. I may be able to distinguish myself again some time during the war. I cannot make it out – it did not seem as if I was on a battlefield at all that day. When we were coming in the Colonel said, ‘I don’t know how you escaped so well, Fitzgerald.’ I was such a mark for the Boers running about the field with the C.O. that I had to put my bugle in my haversack because it shone so in the sun, and I had to throw my canteen away.
Your loving son