From Boatsheds to Battlefields 74 Great Omelette Feast

End of 73rd Entry: Cautiously the fifteen men representing the five sections of the troop crept up the dune – from the summit they looked down on the Police Station standing still and ghostlike in the lunar rays.

An hour passed then slowly the night began to change to day but no signs of movement could be seen in the buildings. The sun rose flooding the desert with waves of red. The stillness of Death reigned.

“I want two volunteers to gallop up to the buildings and draw the Germans if they still there,” said the Lieutenant at last. “Rhodesia will go I know, eh Osmond?” Mick and a young Dutchman volunteered.

“Get your horses and keep well apart” ordered the Lieutenant. “If they’re still there I’m afraid you lads are going to certain death, but it won’t be forgotten. If they’ve evacuated the post they’re sure to have laid mines or set some devilish trap according to their pleasant little customs so be careful. Don’t enter the building or ride right up to them unless you’re certain the station is deserted. Gallop around and give Jerry a chance to show his hand. If you see anything or hear a sound turn and gallop like hell for the scrub or back to the Dunes.”

The Lieutenant shook hands with the two, took down the addresses of their next of kin, and whispered to Mick that Rhodesia would get full details if the worst befell him.

Returning to the horses the two mounted, said brief prayers trotted around the dune and driving in their spurs raced for the buildings.

The ground seemed to fly past beneath their galloping horses, the wind howled in their ears Mick, yelled Tipperary to the silent threatening mass before them. On the dune summit, the troopers laid fingers on triggers.

Round the buildings swept the two but it was all silent. They halted before the doorway – then carefully examining every inch of ground for suspicious signs Mick dismounting walked up and opened the door.

Once more the elusive enemy was gone.

The others now rode up and for a while, every man except two, who were sent scouting around the vicinity, busied themselves in search of loot. Ample evidence existed that the Germans had been at the station the previous day evidently departing in great haste at the news of the approach of a strong British Patrol.

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Many interesting souvenirs were collected Mick unluckily missing most as he and his mate who had been with him in the dash on the station, wasted an hour blowing the office safe open to find it empty.

After an hour’s halt, the Lieutenant once more moved the troop in the direction of a fairly large German town.

That afternoon a big encampment of half-caste Hottentots, the famous Bondelswarts was encountered. These deadly foes of the Germans, well armed and travelling with waggons, flocks of sheep, goats, and herds of splendid cattle had been moving about the Kalahari in bands strong enough to defy any but a powerful body of troops.

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The Germans with many bitter memories of former clashes had not attempted to molest them and so far the Half-castes had refrained from participating in the War. They were ready and eager to give any information regarding the movements of the Germans and to offer unbounded hospitality to British troops.

From them the Lieutenant gathered that the Germans were drawing in all small bodies of troops, clearing the country of civilians and evacuating frontier posts, concentrating on the town of Keetmanshoop. One interesting item of news given by the Bondelswarts was that a large convoy of civilians including some English was only fifteen miles away under a small German escort.

The Guide who knew several of the Bondelswarts personally found that his wife and family were amongst the refugees and earnestly pleaded for an attempt at their release. A Council of War was held but the Lieutenant though itching to have an opportunity to do something material felt it his duty to point out the impossibility of conveying civilians amongst whom were women and children back to the road the troop had come.

Eventually, after much hesitation, it was decided to abandon any idea of attacking the convoy and to resume the patrol.

Shortly after leaving the Bondelswarts a nest containing twenty ostrich eggs was found and a great feast of omelette followed.

Another day was spent in riding along the border but the farmhouses encountered were deserted and eventually the horses’ heads were turned homewards.

When the camp was reached it was found that troops, mostly Boer Commandoes were pouring in and that an immediate move was to be made.

The rebellion shattered and finished, Generals Botha and Smuts were intending to push forward the campaign against the Germans with all the rapidity and vigour they possessed.

Image result for general botha and smuts german southwest 1915The only photo of the meeting
of General Botha and General Smuts in the field

General Botha himself took command of the Northern Army operating from Walvis Bay. General Smuts directed operations from Swakopmund against the strongly entrenched German position at Aus which blocked the road to Windhoek, the Capital. Colonel Berrangé with picked men rode through the Kalahari to attack from the landward side. General Van Deventer was to advance from the South.

D Squadron hailed Mick’s return with enthusiasm for he was very popular and every man was needed. That very evening the column was advancing to the attack on Ukamas, a German strong point which was supposed to be heavily garrisoned.

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 73 Beasts of Prey

End of 72nd Entry: His comrades sleeping below were they and himself not causing many a sorrowful heart amongst the Angels of God?

Mick fancied he could see the slumbering forms of German soldiers their spirits dreaming of; perhaps in communion with those of other sleeping ones in far-off Fatherland – mothers, wives, children, sweethearts. Mick shook himself – “Hell I’m getting soft!” he murmured to himself.

All through the world, it’s the same – there’s many a lovely moonlight picture in Rhodesia at this moment – a herd of impala perhaps drinking at a river ford amidst palms and jungle and old whiskers lying in wait next to the game path. All over the world in the most exquisite spots of Creation are lurking the Beasts of Prey and what after all is Man but the biggest Beast of the lot?”

“It’s all Written and Great as God” as old Abdul used to say in my old fishing days.

Dawn broke redly over the desert and silently the soldiers mounted following in single file behind the Lieutenant and the guide. Orders were given that at the troop left the shelter of the dunes each man was to instantly gallop at the farmhouse; extending as they went, the end files to race around either side of the house until a circle was formed.

No hesitation was to be shown regarding shooting – “Follow Osmond’s example and reckon it’s safer shooting a calf then risking making a mistake” said the Officer laughing.

The distance to the farm from the edge of the desert world was about a mile – Mick on one of the wings had nearly twice that distance to cover and the ground was rough but filled with excitement he reeked nothing of risk – the cold morning air streaming past, the sound of four score hooves thundering through the silence of dawn, the feel of powerful muscles working under him sent the wild Irish blood racing through his veins.

It would have been a glorious gallop under any circumstances it was the grandest gallop given to a horseman under these – a cloud of cavalry racing into the attack.

But German West was a war full filled with battles – as faced the charge on Zwartmodder so fared this no crash of musketry, no hastily awakened armed men pouring out to meet the charging troop – only an open doorway and a weeping wailing huddle of womenfolk and children.

The soldiers swept up to the house – every No. 1 and No. 2 leapt from his horse the bridles been caught by the No. 3s.

“Fix bayonets! Sergeant! Double inside and make a thorough search – don’t waste time on anybody who doesn’t surrender but bayonet him.” shouted the Officer. Mick and two others followed the Sargeant pushing the screaming women out of their way -the Sargeant posted one man in the passage, sent Mick into one room, the other into a second and himself taking the last.

Mick dashing the door open with the butt of his rifle rushed into a room evidently belonging to two girls. He looked under the bed, threw open a wardrobe, looked behind some hanging garment but found nothing. On the point of departing, he heard a scream from the adjoining room, charging in he saw the Sergeant with open mouth gazing at a heavy bundle of washing – even as Mick entered a form disentangled itself from a  mass of garments disclosing a white-faced elderly man.

“Hell,” said the Sargeant expectorating “I just kicked the damn bundle on the off chance and Bless My Soul found Uncle – “Any luck Mick?”

“None Sergeant.”

“Well come on Uncle! nobody’s going to hurt you if you’re a Christian.” Escorting the prisoner the two went down to report the house clean of enemies.

On rejoining the Officer they found he had quietened the womenfolks’ fears and after closely cross-examining the prisoner the Lieutenant ordered his release.

Guards were posted after which the troops were told to off-saddle and rest. It appeared that a German patrol of three men had visited the farm two days previously but that except for half a dozen men at a frontier station called Dabinab there were no enemy forces within twenty miles.

So the farmer assured the Lieutenant and the Guide vouched for him as being strictly neutral with sympathies if anything on the British side. In any case, the farm command a wonderful view of all the country except the Kalahari so two men were ordered off to post themselves on the big dune behind which the patrol itself had hidden and with one more on the lookout from the house roof the others took advantage of a golden opportunity to feast and flirt.

Mick found both the girls had been at a Cape Town school and knew many of his pals. There was a piano and the girls were only too willing to sing, dance and be friendly. Their father proved an entertaining companion to the Lieutenant and Guide and the mother busied herself in baking bread, preparing food and giving of her best to the soldiers.

At sunset once again all swung into the saddle and with laughing farewells took leave of their hospitable friends.

Fully realising that most probably their departure would be instantly taken advantage of to send a warning to the Germans, the Lieutenant wasted no time. Clattering past the stones engraved with the Prussian Eagle which marked the German Frontier the men now full of excitement were sternly ordered to keep silence, and as soon as possible the troop was turned off the road into some dunes where once again the Kalahari rolled into the land.

Straight for the Southern Cross rode the troopers ever deeper into the wild lonely desert which in great mountain waves rolled away into what seemed infinity.

A whisper from the Guide brought a stern order that every precaution should be observed regarding silence – once more the troop swung round from their route.

“We will ride straight for Nababis now,” said the Lieutenant.

Image result for Dabinab German West Africa 1915

Riding slowly and silently the troop followed the Guide through the trackless waste until behind a line of dunes a whispered order came to dismount.

Once again the No. 3s held horses whilst the others gathered around the Officer. “We will extend to four paces, crawl up the dune and the German Camp lies about three hundred yards below. Every man is to remain dead silent. When daylight comes the Germans are sure to come outside – when they do, keep as quiet as possible. I want to wait until the whole lot are moving. I believe there are five or six men there. If several come out I’ll blow my whistle – instantly give them five rounds rapid and then the No.1s and 4s fix bayonets and follow me. If I’m shot the Sergeant will take charge – whilst the No. 1s and 4s are charging the No 2s under the Sergeant will keep up rapid fire at the windows, doorway and any sign of life.”

Cautiously the fifteen men representing the five sections of the troop crept up the dune – from the summit they looked down on the Police Station standing still and ghostline in the lunar rays.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 71 Smoke and Mirrors

End of 70th Entry: Within a few minutes, every chord and note of fear, anxiety and unhappiness had been sounded in his being.

Clenching his teeth, abandoning all hope, tensed to meet a storm of bullets Mick tore like a  whirlwind up to the steps of a tumbledown hotel. His horse stopped suddenly shooting Mick almost over his head.

And from the hotel, a stout Jew armed with a large bottle of ice cold beer appeared to wish Mick and the arriving Squadron a very good morning.

Amidst roars of laughter, the Squadron Leader cross-questioned the Jew meanwhile detailing patrols to ride around and scout for anything suspicious.

The Jew seemed quite willing to afford all information in his power – a small German patrol had visited him the previous day but there were no strong enemy forces in the vicinity. Everything was quite safe and he was well stocked with spirits, beer, tobacco and cigarettes.

Messages came in from the patrols that no signs of enemy troops could be found and the remainder of the regiment was riding in.

Strong guards were posted; scouts sent out and orders given to the remainder of the troops to dismount and make camp.

Zwartmodder, the resting place occupied was to be shut in to allow a Commander on the heels of the enemy’s forces to dally a while, so after a short rest the troops, having bought out practically the whole of the Jew’s stock of goods, remounted to ride forward to the head of the valley where there was open country, a farmhouse and ample supplies of water.

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When the new camp was reached the troops for the first time in over a week were given an opportunity to bathe, shave and rest and there was much delay in availing themselves of the luxuries. A couple of restful days past. A strong patrol rode over to the German post of Nakop and exchanged long-range shots with its small German garrison.

Three days after the new camp had been made Mick was ordered to take Girlie the fastest horse in the squadron and ride back with dispatches to the main body of troops some fifty miles away.

Full of thrills Mick started off knowing that there was every likelihood of excitement for the regiment was completely out of touch with the remainder of the Southern Command. No connecting posts had been established, there was nothing whatever to stop German patrols riding all over the country and around the encampment of the 18th Mounted Rifles. The German border was only a few miles away.

Riding down the valley Mick kept a keen lookout redoubling his caution as he approached the Zwartmodder Hotel. All of a sudden he saw a horse tethered in the trees before the building.

Instantly Mick swung his horse off the road and as he did so a man leapt from the hotel verandah ran into the trees and dropped. Mick tumbling out of his saddle sought the cover of a friendly looking boulder, cocked his rifle and cautiously looked around the rock to see a rifle muzzle pointing straight at him.

Mick withdrew his head at a speed which the lightning might have envied and a voice yelled out in Dutch “Which side are you on?”

“British” shouted Mick

“Same here” returned the other “Get up and let’s have a look at you.”

“You get up first” answered Mick suspiciously.

After a moment’s hesitation, the other rose holding up his hands and walked towards Mick. He turned out to be a trooper in Mick’s regiment who had slipped away to get a drink but Mick felt very insecure in his company.

There were too many Rebel sympathisers in the Boer squadrons and it behoved a dispatch rider to be cautious in his dealings with strangers. So Mick confessed that he to had ridden over for a drink and the two went into the bar.

The Jew was nervous and earnestly besought his guests not to linger therefore after a couple of drinks the two left. Mick telling his companion that he had received orders to scout around the valley thus finding an excuse for getting away.

Once out of sight Mick made good progress and arrived late that night at his destination where he found the Cape Field Artillery amongst whom he numbered many acquaintances. 

Next afternoonMick had been given a return lot of dispatches and left with orders to spare no time on the road. Girlie refreshed and well fed responded gallantly, and in the early hours of the next morning, Mick rode back into Camp. To his infinite grief, the beautiful mare foundered the result of being left standing in the chill night air whilst Mick was kept waiting until the dispatches were read.

Weary as he was Mick with a couple of chums wise in horse-lore worked for hours on the mare. Never will Mick forget the agony of seeing the brave sweet-tempered animal hobbling along on her knees no power left in her forelegs.

He learned a lesson that night which would never be forgotten, as he lay next to Girlie sobbing and praying to the Creator of man and beast to lessen her suffering and restore her to health. Girlie recovered eventually but for weeks she was unfit for service.

Two nights later rumours were busy that a German attack was to be made on the Camp  – extra guards, picquets, and Cossack posts were posted. Mick was stationed on a rather exposed position. All went well until his second guard soon after midnight.

Half dozing Mick was peering into the inky darkness when suddenly he heard a rustle. Instantly awake he silently cocked his rifle every faculty alert. Again came the rustle and a stick cracked in the night – a shadowy form slowly moving like a man on hands and knees appeared.

“Halt! Who goes there?” bellowed Mick and simultaneously his rifle spurted stream after stream of red flame into the night.

The figure crashed headlong into the bushes and lay kicking and struggling – a trumpet blared in the camp from which rose stentorian shouts of “Stand to arms! Stand to arms !”

An officer accompanied by a sergeant and strong-armed guard galloped up the line of outposts towards the scene of the alarm.

“What did you fire at?” he yelled to Mick as the picquet pulled their excited horses onto their hind legs.

“A man crawling on me Sir! I got him and he’s still struggling just over there,” shouted Mick quivering with a dozen racing emotions.

“Get out to him” answered the officer “Be careful he doesn’t get you or hasn’t any mates.”

With bayonet advanced, Mick charged valiantly at the figure now lying still.

A moment of silence “Is he dead?” called the officer.

“Please Sir it’s a wee calf,” came a woebegone voice from Mick.

Wildly yelling with laughter the piquet galloped off and their route was followed by an ever-rising roar of ironical cheers.

Next day a troop of picked men from one of the other squadrons was detailed for a long scouting expedition along the edge of the Kalahari Desert and into German West.

The Lieutenant in charge was a Rhodesian pioneer – a man of many frontier wars. Mick went to him with earnest entreaties to be included in the troop and to his joy his request allowed.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 70 Appetite for Blood

End of 69th Entry: … most bitterly they damned the Arch Renegade whose silver tongue had seduced many, but who when the acid test came proved to have more wit than courage.

As the convoy neared Upington Mick’s Squadron was advanced to form an escort to the Rebel leader. General van Deventer riding out from the town received the formal surrender and returning Kemp his revolver shook hands.

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“Hell Jock!” whispered one Digger “Fancy treating the damned traitor like an honourable foe – wish they’d treat him as any other nation would and put him up against a firing party.”

“Dog doesn’t eat dog” answered the other.

“It isn’t that” said Mick “Boer’s don’t look on Rebels as being traitors – they reckon any man has the right to take up a rifle if he’s fed up with the Government, or his life; and when he’s tired of riding about the country he surrenders and goes back to his farm.”

“I’d send him back to the farm alright” growled another Digger – “but he’d go in a nice little wooden box he would.”

For a few days, Mick lived the ordinary routine life of a trooper of Mounted Infantry. A spell of guard duty over wounded prisoners, outlying picquet, squadron drill, enjoying every moment of the new order of things. Officers, N.C.Os and fellow troopers were an extraordinary good crowd with strangely enough no grievances whatever.

Then came stirring news. A strong German force had appeared outside Kakamas lower down the river and was attacking it.  The 18th Mounted Rifles were to proceed immediately to the relief.

“Now we’ll see some real fighting Thank God,” said Mick’s troop Sergeant, a grizzled old veteran. “No more chasing Rebels and comic opera battles. Pull up your socks boys it’s the German regular troops you’re going to meet.”

“I wonder why they’ve done nothing so far,” remarked Mick “The War’s been on for five months and except for Sandfontein they’ve not shown any inclination for a scrap.”

“Reckon they’ve been as much misled as those poor devils of Kemp’s we brought in. There are men sitting in fat Government jobs, and in Parliament; besides the Rebels who came into the open who’ve promised the Germans a general revolution, the sun, the moon and the stars, and Jerry’s been waiting for their promises to materialize into deeds. Now he knows all their talk was wind so he’s taking over things himself.”

There was no time to be lost if the village was to be saved. The defence was weak, so weak that there did not appear to be any probability of the Garrison putting up any resistance. Riding hard the regiment had made good progress when suddenly their direction was changed – for a while there was keen speculation as to the reasons, then rumours spread that after violently bombarding Kakamas the Germans had abandoned the threatened assault and were in full retreat.

The 18th Mounted Rifles were now riding to try and cut them off before they reached the German border.

Mick’s troop Sergeant cursed heartily, “This is my sixth campaign,” he said “but I’ve never seen, heard or read of another like it – everybody seems dead scared of the other fellow. The whole damned business is like a Chinese War – lots of noise and plenty of stinks. Ever hear of the Barber’s cat Sonny?”

Mick grinned “That’s what I’ve been thinking.” he answered, “Looks as though the war as far as South Africa is concerned is being treated as a glorious opportunity of picnicking and making money.”

“You’re right Son – the Germans have about 4000 troops, the Union about 60 000 the bulk of whom are mounted men who can travel on nothing. A bit of biltong on the saddle and every Burgher could ride for weeks without troubling the commissariat. If German West was held by 4000 British troops and the Union was a Dutch Republic with every Boer’s heart and soul in the conquest of South West Africa the whole business wouldn’t take a week – the British would have been besieged in a couple of the towns.

As it is we’ve thousands of men lying at Swakopmund and Lüderitzbucht, thousands behind us training and more staff officers than the British Army has in France. Had the Rebels been shot down mercilessly, that business wouldn’t have lasted long. I’m surprised at the Germans though – they must surely have the scum of their country in West Africa – either that or there’s an arrangement between them and the Union people to carry on the comic opera war as long as possible.”

Botha-inspects-troops-Lüderitz_SA-War-Museum
General Botha inspects the South African troops in Lüderitzbucht.
(South African War Museum)

For a couple of days, the regiment rode hard, Mick finding that soldiering was not quite as pleasant as he had thought it.

“Hour after hour in the saddle until every muscle ached – the leg muscles from the riding., the body ones from the weight to the two heavy cartridges filled bandoliers. Then when barely able to sit upright, scarcely able to swing from the saddle to the ground horses had to be fed and watered and cruellest of all, guards and pickets of dead weary men were forced somehow or other to keep alert and awake.

During the day the heat was terrific a merciless sun burning through the felt hat, clothing and skin – water was strictly ration and tepid, brackish and unsatisfying. The roads were a foot deep in floury dust which penetrated anything. Green finely meshed veils and dark goggles had been issued but they made little difference.

The pupils of mens’ eyes floated in pools of blood. Every man was covered with layers of white dust – there was no water to wash or even sponge face and hands. To add to the misery the rations issued were tins of salt bully beef and biscuits as hard as stones. Fuel there was none – not a stick, not even a scrap of dry dung so neither tea nor coffee was to be had.

D Squadron never grumbled – their appetite for blood had been whetted at Upington – they were finished with civil war and now the squadrons were riding towards the territory of a foreign foe.

The line of march brought them on the tracks of the German retreat – too late by a few hours to intercept the enemy. From now came new troubles. The retiring Germans had poisoned some wells and infected others with enteric and other diseases. The men and horses mad with thirst were kept back by a row of glittering bayonets whilst the water was purified.

At last the tracks of the enemy turned Westwood towards Nakop, a German border station. To the surprise of the regiment instead of a direct pursuit, the route of the column continued North. The morning after leaving the German line of march the 18th Mounted Rifles entered a broad valley and instantly came the order to D Squadron to change magazines – the command to trot followed and then as the squadron broke into the open ahead of the remainder of the regiment orders were given to extend – the information passed that ahead was a station and they were to attack immediately.

A trumpet blared, the long thin line quickened from a trot into a canter – again the trumpet sounded and driving in their spurs, crouching low along their horses’ necks the squadron raced madly round corner and straight up the valley towards a few ancient buildings next to a great dam.

Mick riding a long-legged, hard-mouthed brute found he was far in advance of the line  – anxious as he was for the shock of battle he had little wish to charge a regiment of German soldiers single handed. The country he was galloping over was broken, filled with rocks, bushes and holes making it all he could do to cling to the saddle and retain his grip on his loaded rifle. Death seemed certain, either by breaking his neck or by an enemy bullet. Within a few minutes, every chord and note of fear, anxiety and unhappiness had been sounded in his being.

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 69 An Army Surrenders

End of 68th Entry: He was sent off to a troop in D Squadron composed of Diamond Diggers, issued with the uniform, a six-millimetre rifle – Portuguese Army pattern, two bandoliers, kit and ammunition and proceeded to join his new comrades.

Within a day or two of Mick’s transfer, the 18th Mounted Rifles rode out to take over the surrender of the Rebel Commandoes and their leader Kemp. The attack on Upington had evidently shown the Rebel General that he possessed none of the qualities of a soldier, that his followers were sick and weary of hardship and of being under arms.

The Germans had shown plainly that they neither trusted the Rebels nor believed them to be of any military value. So Kemp wisely surrendered and Maritz the Renegade fled to Portuguese Territory as the Germans declined to have anything more to do with him.

To Mick, the summit of his earthly career seemed reached. Here, at last, he rode as a trooper in a squadron of hard-faced veterans going to take over the surrender of an army. Every man riding around him was expecting treachery. The misuse of the white flag, pretending to surrender in order to draw the enemy into the open, the use of explosive and dum-dum bullets were all the well-known Rebel tricks and it did seem incredible that an army should surrender simply because it was tired or frightened of war.

“Why the Hell are they surrendering?” Mick asked the trooper riding next to him.

“The trooper laughed – “With all the British Colonials in Africa away in German West the people who reckoned they should have big Government jobs thought it a golden opportunity to start a Republic.

According to the papers the Germans were winning hands down in Europe, Kemp, Maritz, Beyers and the rest of them thought their winning tongues could raise a general rebellion and they were heavily backed by a couple of big political men who are very quiet now but found that Uncle Piet, nephew Johannes and cousin Andries weren’t quite the fools they thought them.

The ragtag and bobtail lot enthusiastically went into rebellion hoping for loot and free farms if successful. None were risking much – the country’s big, their horses were good and everyone had relatives to hide them if necessary.

The solid Boer didn’t want to rebel – he knew that under a Boer Republic Africa would once again revert to South American conditions. Take away the Union Jack and back come Native Wars, Jamieson Raids, a lot of little States all at loggerheads with one another whilst as for the bulk of their leaders, the Boers trust them as far as they can see them and then feel that they’re being diddled.

Boer Republics mean jobs for pals, a corrupt Civil Service, a ceasing of all progress – Hell Kid! The average Boer of standing is a sensible man – he’s quite content to slowly build up a nation under the protection of the old Union Jack, and not go back to Oom Paul’s days. Naturally, he’d like to have the native under his thumb and I agree with him. He knows how to handle the natives and the natives themselves were happier under the old conditions.”

“I like the old Boers” replied Mick “but I can’t stick the young ones they’re as full of wind as a child’s balloon, their manners are awful and they hate us like poison. It’s strange though – give a Boer British training and you get as fine a man has any in the world. Bring him up amongst his own people and you get a Japie. Look at the difference between a Stellenbosch jong and a South African College fellow – the one looks like nephew Andries from God knows where and the other you couldn’t tell from a decent Britisher.”

A command to charge magazines and ride to attention ended the conversation.

The regiment had left Upington shortly before sunset to ride some twenty miles to where the Rebels were encamped. Soon ambulances full of sick and wounded began to pass. These were stopped, searched and allowed to continue on their way towards Upington.

Near midnight the main body was reached and to Mick’s intense disgust the majority of the men in other squadrons began fraternising with the Rebels.

At daylight, the homeward march began – riding with a troop of tough old diggers Mick formed one of the escorts of a body of unwounded prisoners who appeared to be happy as sandboys at being in the hands of British soldiers. Many began to ask about the prospect of joining loyalist regiments whereupon Mick angrily told them that they were being sent off immediately to work underground in the gold and diamond mines.

Gloom thereupon took possession of the captives who began to curse Kemp and their own stupidity in following men who had promised them all manner of things only to prove that they were useless as leaders – most bitterly they damned the Arch Renegade whose silver tongue had seduced many, but who when the acid test came proved to have more wit than courage.

Boatsheds to Battlefields 67 Boredom to Battle

The threatened attack on Upington did not materialize and Mick was detailed to take charge of the telephone at railhead. Here for a week, he stewed in a Turkish bath atmosphere cursing his ill-luck at ever abandoning the original idea of going straight to France.

The canteen was next to the telephone and the evaporation from his body caused by the hellish atmosphere demanded counteraction, Mick’s efforts on the telephone caused dissatisfaction at Headquarters so he was transferred to the charge of the Old Town pont.

The new billet Mick found incredibly monotonous and wearisome. There was no excitement, nothing of interest. The river at the town ferry was broad and deep, the pont substantial and the hawser secure enough to tow a battleship. Sitting on the pont ferrying troops, waggons, stores, animals backwards and forwards possessed little charm for a wild young devil full of temperament and emotionalism and Mick prayed for a change.

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It came…..

One night he slept at the Army pont landing stage – it was a perfect night. There were few rumours and Mick slept peacefully tired with the long weary day. Suddenly the night was shattered by a heavy burst of rifle fire and the boom of cannon.

Mick sprang from his blankets to see the portion of the country above his resting place alive with gun flashes – as he woke a shell moaning through the air burst above him, another followed and another.

“Thank the Lord God of Battles” quoth Mick his body filled with delicious tremors “the bloody war’s started.”

So it seemed – the Cape Field Artillery battery opened a spirited reply to the enemy artillery, burst after burst of heavy rifle fire told of troops attacking and defending, a commando armed with Martini-Henry rifles gave a realistic spectacle of old-fashioned warfare, the flame from their black powder cartridges streaming in red waves along their position.

Maxims began to clatter, vicious little pom-pom guns recalled poignant memories to Boer War veterans and shrapnel began to burst over the town. The news came rapidly. Maritz and Kemp their followers equipped by the Germans and supported by German Artillery were attacking with their full force.

Their advance guard had surprised and captured a commando doing outpost and Cossack duty. This command had hardly fired a shot, had been disarmed and allowed to run back to the town. A section of the Cape Field Artillery was rushed to the attacked end of the town supported by a squadron of the only reliable mounted regiment.

The arrival of the two guns and some determined troops had instantly quelled all ardour on the Rebel’s side but our artillery was inferior both in weight and number of guns to the Rebels, few of our troops were displaying any convincing enthusiasm so the issue was very uncertain, any real attack pushed home with vigour and moderate courage could hardly fail.

Daylight was breaking and Mick itching to join in the battle scornfully watched scores of local Burghers finding safe hiding places in the stacks of hay. He was on the South bank and immediately the pont laden with refugees from the town came over he went aboard and crossed to the North bank.

Here a comic interlude was provided by a thousand excited chattering Zulus, Amaxhosa and Swazi who crowding the bank watched with eager interest the progress of the fight. Now and again a shell bursting overhead spat its shrapnel viciously amongst them to be received with a deep-throated “Wow” followed by thunders of laughter, as a score of all but stricken natives leapt high in the air alarmed by the angry smacks and spurts of dust next to them.

“Wow, M’hlega!” roared one burly excited native to Mick “Ask the great Chief to give us sticks and we will hunt the rock rabbits.” A roar of applause rent the welkin – just then Mick saw a cloud of Rebels gallop furiously out of the dunes and ride at the guns –  through the streets of the town rode a regiment hell-for-leather to the support of artillery. 

Mad with excitement Mick begged permission to go up to the guns, it was granted and leaping on his horse which was already saddled, Mick raced up with a loaded rifle across his saddle.

The guns were only a few hundred yards away but by the time Mick arrived the spurt of bravery on the Rebels part had ceased. Once out of the dunes into the open country with shrapnel bursting overhead and a great body of horsemen galloping towards them the charge swerved and the Rebels raced back for shelter in spite of leaders flogging them mercilessly with sjamboks.

German South-West Africa, 1915. South African mounted troops prepare to advance into German Southwest Africa. Some South Africans opposed supporting the British and launched a short but unsuccessful rebellion.

Once again a long-range rifle and artillery duel started. The Cape Field Artillery got a direct hit on a Rebel eighteen-pounder. The loyalist commandoes encouraged by the results so far began to take an interest in the battle it was to end. Twelve hours of an enormous noise, of vast expenditure of ammunition, had ended – some twenty-six loyalists were killed and about the same number of Rebels.

Two thousand desperate traitors were in full retreat and two thousand gallant loyalists pursued them hotly – until the Rebels stopped – when the pursuit ended.  Mick’s first battle with over.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 66 Lightning and Maddened Horses

End of 65th Entry: Shortly afterwards the Orange River came down in flood. When it came the mass of water arrived like a tidal wave.

Many of the troops were encamped in the dry river bed and islands. The men got away with their horses but their equipment, great quantities of stores and much of the bridge material together with some of the half-built piers went downstream.

The Rebels now began to threaten the town. Several bodies of Defence Force men were captured outside Upington without them firing a shot, the Rebels laughingly stripping them of their horses, rifles and equipment sending them back to Upington to be re-equipped.

PT-Manie_Maritz-Upington-1914-2

Pictured is Manie Maritz and his force entering Upington 

The congestion of transport supplies, owing to the flood had made the ford impassable, was now tremendous – the river rose day after day and it was known that weeks would elapse before it would be fordable again.

The water too was running in two great, and half a dozen lesser channels cutting the big town pont off from its southern approach. It was just possible to cross the new big stream though the danger was great.

Mick had now a new honour bestowed upon him. Donkeys drew loaded waggons to the brink of the stream, where they were unhooked, teams of picked mules taking their places. Mick mounted on a powerful horse, himself stripped to nature’s garment, fastened a rope from the leading off mule of a team to his saddle and rode into the stream.

The Coloured driver his leader holding the reins, himself wielding the long bamboo whipstick with its twenty-five-foot lash urged on the sixteen mules. Encouraging the horse with voice and rhinoceros hide sjambok, Mick swam his mount across keeping the rope taut and helping with all his power to hold the mules’ heads slightly upstream.

Boer sjambok whip, 1901 (c)

Boer sjambok whip, 1901 (c)

In one hand he gripped a keen-bladed knife ready to instantly sever the rope if the mules once allowed the force of the current to turn their heads down. If this happened, nothing could save the mules, waggon or the natives as the stream would instantly carry them into the boiling mill race of water.

It was strenuous, exciting work crammed with thrilling moments and Mick loved every minute, especially when on one occasion, a little more decently clad he conducted an ambulance filled with hospital nurses across the stream.

Within a few days of the coming of the flood, several whaleboats with Malay crews arrived. The military pont was now in full working order so something of control was established.

Then one night in the pouring rain came the news that an immediate attack was being threatened on Upington. Supplies of ammunition were rushed up to the pont and whaleboats, but there the loading gangs of Amaxosa refused to carry on saying that they were weary.

Mick tried blandishment in vain, resorted to commands and was laughed at, grew furious and drawing his revolver threatened them instantly a jeering angered mass of men belonging to the finest warlike race in the world surged down on Mick. Sticks were brandished, stones flung and only the quick action of an overseer who gave Mick’s horse a cut with a stick saved bloodshed for the Rhodesian was on the point of firing.

The horse a spirited one in perfect condition reared, swerved and bolted. Mick losing his revolver barely managed to retain his seat, and on recovering control and returning to the scene was ordered to take charge of the pont.

It was his first experience of the work and the night was black, pouring with rain, split by pillars and jagged zigzag flashes of lightning – the river roaring past an angry dark flood crested with white, neither sounded nor the flashes of lightning, looked as though venturing on it could be possible. To add to Mick’s disquiet he was ordered to be very careful as a strand had gone in the hawser.

The first load was a section of Mounted Infantry with their horses Mick – Mick his marrow turning to water gave the order to pull off the shore, hauled up the nose of the pont and tried to slacken off aft. Something jammed and the pont already in the current began to tip whilst in an instant water came flowing over it.

The horses frightened started to rear and plunge, the Burghers terrified clinging to the bridles began to shout and their officer dropping on his knees prayed loudly to his God, sparing intervals to curse Mick, the war and the Orange River.

horse rain

Mick worked feverishly at trying to free the jam in the block but he was in pitch darkness broken only by terrific lightning flashes. Working on a raft filled with half maddened horses and men, lying out in pouring rain amidst roaring welts of rushing, angry water, one could only go by sense of touch nor was it easy to move on the packed pont. 

The jam was for’rad but the difficulty was to thrust a way through the rearing plunging horses and shrieking men. Mick crawled along the hawser his body waist deep in water succeeded in freeing the jam, and the current catching the stern drove the pont flying into the darkness ahead.

Landing his men Mick returned but in midstream, a second strand parted. The trips were now almost suicidal but Mick succeeded in making three more crossings before the third strand went.

Orders were then given to stop further work and luckily so for a few minutes later the hawser parted.