We are indebted to Gordon Everson for supplying the following article, "The Simple Man":
At the outbreak of the Boer War the Postmaster of Dundee, Natal was Mr. H.H. Paris, a Liverpudlian of some 33 years of age. Favouring winged collars and ties with knots four inches across, he was tall and a bit of a swell. Monocled, with carefully barbered curly hair, his generous moustache was neatly clipped. Educated at Liverpool College, he trained as a Telegraphist in the Liverpool Post Office where he caught the eye of the Postmaster. An opportunity arose for a Telegraphist in South Africa and Paris was offered a recommendation should he care to apply for the position in Durban Post Office. This he did successfully and spent a couple of years in Durban before being invited to take the position at Pietermaritzburg of Private Secretary to the Postmaster-General of Natal. His next step took Mr. Paris to Dundee and the position of Postmaster. After he had settled in the job he came home on leave, but he kept an eye on the political situation and returned to Dundee only weeks before the outbreak of hostilities. General Penn-Symons commanded the British forces in the district and, hoping to invest the town, the Boers arrived in strength on 19 October. In this threatening situation Paris decided to sleep in his office and early the following morning he was rudely awakened by one of his clerks to be told that the Boers had commenced operations. They could be seen crowding the hills to the east of the town and, dressing hurriedly, the Postmaster was in time to see the first enemy shells over shooting the Post Office as the Boers tried to find the range of the army camp. In a letter to his father he stated:
'From the office window we could see them [enemy shells] ploughing up the ground. Owing to bad fuses only a few of them burst. Then our artillery came out at a gallop past the Post Office and we gave them a ringing cheer ... [they] started shelling the Boer guns which [were] ... soon put out of action. Then they directed their fire on the crowded mass of Boers on the summit who could be seen running ... but time after time they returned. The shelling [lasted] seven and a half hours and how the Boers stuck to their position is a marvel.'
Paris goes on to describe the battlefield of Talana:
'Peter Smith's Hill, or Talana Hill, is very steep and is covered with great stones. .. [also] two stone walls ... [run] across the hill. I was near the artillery the whole of the day and saw a bugler's head blown off ... his brains and blood were diffused over his horse's flanks.'
Postmaster Paris continues:
'I went over the battlefield and saw the dead and wounded. I saw General Penn-Symons brought in mortally wounded in the stomach. He was suffering intense agony and craved champagne or whisky. He said "Oh! Tell me they have taken the hill yet?" ... From 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. the main street of Dundee was occupied by the Indian bearers bringing the wounded from the battlefield ... I went up the hill with the burial party ... Eight officers lay in an outhouse of Peter Smith's farm. In another were twenty-two men all lying like waxwork models but exhibiting the most frightful wounds. Some had their eyes torn away, others their jaws; ... As I was coming down the hill the Boers opened fire ... In one house lay about eighty wounded Boers with only one doctor ... they were very downhearted and said they had no idea our artillery fire was so terrible.'
Orders were given to leave the town and Paris tells of the march through torrential rain in pitch darkness. General Yule was now commanding and hoped for reinforcements. He asked Paris to return to the town and send various messages by telegraph. As the Postmaster rode into Dundee with two or three of his staff they came under fire from two 40-pounder guns. The Boers hesitated to enter the town and were content to fire at any sign of activity ... 'The shells went whizzing over the office and you may be certain I got the messages sent as soon as possible.'
One of the communications from General Sir George White made it clear to Yule that he had to prepare to retreat to Ladysmith. In consequence Paris made three more trips back into town, telegraphing Ladysmith and Pietermaritzburg, each time attracting the attention of the Boer observers. The following morning, 22 October, Yule asked him to make a final journal to his post office to destroy all military messages. Unable to obtain horses, the small party of postal workers had to go on foot, but Yule assured them that he would send a mounted Orderly to inform them should the troops march out.
'We kept up telegraphic communication with Pietermartizburg. The Postmaster-General congratulated us on sticking to our posts to the last. The Camp Field Telegraph had bolted the day before.' Shortly before midnight a military scout saw lights at the Post Office and rode up to investigate. Surprised to find civilians still in Dundee he told Paris that the troops had pulled out. Yule had forgotten all about his devoted civilian telegraphists: 'We soon had the lights out after cramming the registered letters in the safe and carrying away what cash and stamps we could, amounting to 200 pounds!
They caught up the last wagon and walked in the rain, splashing through mud and slush. On the move from Sunday to midday Thursday they were exhausted and starving, having covered about 70 miles over broken, hilly ground mostly after dark. It was hard on men from sedentary occupations and Paris managed to get a lift on a wagon every now and again. On half rations he said that he 'would not dilate on the miseries and discomfort of that jolting journey.'
In a contemporary magazine Review of the Week is an article entitled "Unofficial Heroes", by Hamish Henry: 'Figure to yourself that postmaster at Dundee, who was suddenly plucked from the sale of postage stamps to play the part of hero. He was a man indispensable, the connecting link between a field force in extreme danger and its supports at Ladysmith. Again and again he faced the shells from the enemy's guns in order to get the anxious messages over the wires to General White. Yet ... he does not dwell on the danger. His pride ... is centred in the fact that he did his duty. He did not panic on finding he and his men had been abandoned. Coolly he collected cash and stamps. There is the simple hero in action.'