ONCE A RHODESIAN ALWAYS A RHODESIAN

Published in Chambers circa 1930s.

Perhaps the witchery lies in Rhodesia‘s sunshine, tempered as it is with cool winds from a myriad of hills. It may be the call of the Wild or the lure of pioneering; perhaps it is largely due to the easiness of life in a most hospitable land. Whatever the causes, few ever come to Southern Rhodesia and leave without regret or intentions of returning.

There are many thousands of Britons either in the homeland or in the Empire’s Possessions who are seeking a kindly land in which to find homes for themselves and their children. To those who have lived in the East, Rhodesia presents unequalled advantages for her climate is superb, native labour is cheap and plentiful, and there is an abundance of social life such as appeals to those accustomed to the Straits, Burma and India.

Related image

But to those who have never been out of Britain before, Rhodesia can also offer whatever they crave for in a life of the open. Mines to discover, big game to hunt, farms, plantations, ranches and industries to develop. The Colony is twice the size of Great Britain yet her white population is hardly that of a small English town. She has millions of acres of rich unsettled soil and only 3000 farmers and ranchers.

These few thousand men possess almost a million cattle, 85 000 sheep, 24 000 pigs and a quarter of a million head of poultry. They are developing half a million acres of agricultural and several million acres of ranching land.

It has been stated that Rhodesia will stand or fall on the success of her tobacco. Such has been said at various times of her mining, cattle and maize industries. Experience has proved that Rhodesia will never be dependant on one support. Her diversity of climate, altitude and soils, her mineral resources and the surrounding markets in which live 50 million potential cash customers, place the colony in a unique position.

Ploughing-by-Oxen-c-1925_final3LR-685x500

Breaking up the stubborn but remarkably fertile soil of Rhodesia.

Almost every known agricultural product can be grown on a commercial scale. This is amply borne out by the crops produced by 3000 scattered farmers. For 1929 the year of the Rhodesian tobacco slump the Government returns show 1 826 345 bags of 200 lbs of maize; 361 173 lbs of cotton delivered to ginneries, 18 830 bags of potatoes, 4 986 tons of onions, 12 901 bags of wheat, 7 143 tons of edible beans, 567 tons of oats sold by farmers. Many other crops also feature in the list wattle bark, coffee, tea, lucerne hay, fruit and almost 30 000 tons of ensilage amongst them.

The previous year 1928, Virginian tobacco had boomed and no less than 45 711 acres were planted to the crop. In consequence of the slump resulting from overproduction, the acreage was immediately reduced by 29 000 and the yield consequently fell from
24 491 464 lbs to 6 704 986 lbs. Increased plantings of Turkish tobacco were made but owing to a poor season the crop yielded only 337 479 lbs in 1929 as against 451 580 lbs in 1928.

turkish

The last two years have not seen much development in agricultural activity owing to the prevailing depression in Rhodesia’s chief markets. Farmers have been more or less marking time as regards production, endeavouring to improve their farms and to hold their own until the clouds of financial stringency pass.

Rhodesia is fortunately in a remarkably good position. Her 1931 Budget showed only a £25 000 deficit on the previous year’s working. Government and people have co-operated loyally to solve the problems forced on various industries. None of the problems has proved insoluble and the result is that today Rhodesians are facing the future waiting eagerly to launch Rhodesian products on the world’s markets.

50%of the United kingdom’s tobacco requirements can be supplied by Rhodesia. Tea is proving a satisfactory and payable crop, large acreages can grow excellent coffee, wattle bark is an easily grown and very saleable commodity, rice growing offers many opportunities and the possibilities of fruit growing are undoubted, especially in view of the increasing markets opening in the mineralized belts of Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo.

tea

The Settler can choose his home among the wild Inyanga and Umtali mountains and grow apples, cherries, plums and pears in the terraces made by forgotten race who left Rhodesia one of the most wonderful irrigation schemes in the world. Whilst irrigating his orchards from aqueducts thousands of years old the Rhodesian may watch the flocks of merino sheep dotting the hillside, see his dairy cows dripping milk as they walk byrewards, rejoice over the rapid growth of wattle plantations and gloat on the fatness of his beef herds.

cattle

He has Chipinga to pick a farm in and there grow tea or coffee, produce the best of citrus fruits, devote himself to pineapple or banana growing, or combine any one or all with wool and mutton, beef and cream production on as large a scale as his finances allow.

oranges

In other districts, there are great belts of a level country along the railways where maize fields are reckoned by 1000 acre standards – there are wide and fruitful valleys running for a hundred miles and more where maize and cotton yield the heaviest of crops.

Much of Rhodesia is sandsoil and here tobacco can be grown equal to any produced by Virginia and the Carolinas. Immense yields of groundnuts also given by the sand and to those direct from European latitudes but the scenery and climatic conditions always make an irresistible appeal for these are more densely settled areas. there is no malaria and the amenities of civilized life are always at hand.

Image result for groundnuts

Ranching country and its conditions must be known to be appreciated. In rearing beef cattle Rhodesians usually allowed 20 acres per beast, so ranches run from 20 000 to
2 500 000 acres in area. One white rancher with native assistance is supposed to be able to manage 5000 head of cattle so naturally cattlemen lead Robinson Crusoe existences.  To rear beef cheaply, land must be cheap and such is not found close to settled areas. Cattlemen go further afield and their lives are such that only the young and adventurous you are not encumbered with dependants are usually fitted for the loneliness and strain of ranching.

Mining and trading or other activities which one wonders so few newcomers ever attempt to engage in. Rhodesian Government Departments are filled with men who know the country, who absolutely trustworthy advisors and who are always anxious to assist whoever comes to them.

There are wonderful opportunities in the mining industry for level-headed men possessed of small capital and the Government offers not only advice practical and financial assistance. There are literally hundreds of abandoned gold mines scattered about Southern Rhodesia which are worth doing further prospecting work on. Many were abandoned in days when working costs and machinery were far higher than they are today.

mining s.jpg

Most whilst not offering any attractions to companies yet afford possibilities for small syndicates or single owners. In many cases, former owners tried to make the mines pay their own development work and gave up immediately serious obstacles presented themselves.

Mine owning is naturally no occupation for those who know nothing about mining but its science and art can be learnt equally as easily as those of farming and ranching. There is no more reason to fear losing money in developing a promising gold reef than there is in farming. True a reef might pinch, values go out, ore become refractory or one of a dozen other mights occur but with farming bad seasons, flooded markets, disease and many other enemies may rob a farmer of all he has worked for. But as the tobacco farmer turns to cotton or maize when his tobacco fails so the disappointed miner goes looking for chrome, asbestos, mica or a new gold reef. A knowledge of prospecting and mining is a most useful asset to anyone settling in a country like Southern Rhodesia.

Most of the maize belt lies in a gold-bearing country and many a farm has a little two to five stamp battery pounding away on a small mine which is often the property of the farmer. In the granite, there is a good deal of corundum and in some districts, the country is full of chrome. The romance of Rhodesia’s mineral deposits has yet to be written but few imaginations could yield the material which the Umvukwes, Hartley, Gwelo and other districts offer the writer.

corundum

Native trading offers perhaps a greatest of all opportunities to energetic business men. The native responds readily to any real interest shown in his welfare and though thousands of native stores are established throughout Rhodesia few traders really trouble to study the natives growing wants. As a general rule, the trader is simply out to make as much money as he possibly can in the shortest possible time. His stock is limited to what he considers will yield him immediate profits and his trading principles are usually those of pioneer days.

shop

But African natives today travel throughout the Continent, education is causing them to develop new wants and to appreciate good value for their money; quite a number are beginning to use C.O.D. system and import goods from Britain or the South African Union. So there is little doubt but that well-stocked shops offering attractive goods would soon take away the customers of the old-fashioned trading stores with their uninteresting shelves.

Business opportunities are unlimited in Rhodesia. One is apt to consider the country solely from the viewpoint of a settler who wishes to take up farming, to think of mining and trading as being prerogatives of people born in mining camps or trading stores, to overlook the possibilities of exploiting knowledge gained in one’s past.

Homilies are seldom appreciated but when a man’s life is spent rushing about a country settling men of all trades, professions and occupations into a life they have chosen without any experience of it; it may be permissible to express a candid opinion. A hairdresser well on in years arrived in a district which was rapidly filling. With the savings of many years, he bought a small farm and through a slump lost all he possessed. Had he started a hairdressing establishment when you arrived, the probabilities were that within twelve months he would have doubled his little capital and gained sufficient knowledge of the district to pick up a choice little farming investment.

Another an auctioneer by profession had this same experience and the same opportunities. Others again would have saved the loss of time and money by availing themselves of the many openings awaiting at every turn, yet as men are obsessed in a gold rush so settlers coming to Rhodesia seem obsessed with the idea of farming and farming only.

Any gold or diamond digger will vouch for the fact that there is more money in running a business on the diggings than there is in digging. A few diggers are lucky just as a few farmers are lucky, but generally speaking, it is more profitable to be a lawyer, a dentist, a butcher or hotelkeeper when in a community which is spending cash freely. In Rhodesia, a man can pursue any occupation without loss of social status. As long as he is making good and pulling his weight with his neighbours his business is purely a matter for his own concern.

On the surface, there is much of the Gertrude Page atmosphere about Rhodesian life. Underneath there is always steady progress being made. Year after year more country is being settled, new industries are established and old ones are developed. The great concessions being granted mining countries will certainly lead to increased spending powers amongst the native population, and to more marketing available to farmers and business people.

Rhodesia surrounded by countries which will buy largely from her as they develop.  Bechuanaland, Angola, Portuguese East Africa and the vast Northern territories will look likely to Rhodesia for many products which it is hardly likely they themselves will produce commercially for a long time to come.

The late D.M. Stanley one of the Rhodesia’s pioneers describes most eloquently the Eastern districts to which he and a score of other gallant frontiersmen devoted their lives.

“North and Mid Melsetter are the Highlands of the district and Highlands of a perfect kind. To the east, the towering Chimanimani marks the boundary. These run to the Lucetti River, there cutting into Portuguese East Africa, to reappear as the Sitatunga Mountains. These Highlands are watered by what is almost as a superfluity of perennial streams. Riding over the mountains, one off-saddles for a rest. Listen and you can hear the muted roar of some distant cascade;  as the wind rises or falls the sound reaches you in varying cadence. Then comes the realisation of the meaning of Tennyson‘s words: ‘The beauty born of murmuring sound.’ “

inyanga

The ever-changing panorama of the hills, the changing colour of the mountains, the vivid green of hilltops and valleys are bound to hold in a lasting thrall the minds of all who know it. The numerous cascades have not only a beauty for the lover of nature and the artist but also for the agriculturist, who dreams of the wastewater turned into irrigation channels and fertilising hundreds of acres of the richest soil in Rhodesia.

Again it has its beauty for the industrialist. He sees the many thousands of horsepower running to waste and dreams of the time when such, harnessed by modern methods shall be able to work, at a minimum cost, half the manufactures of South Africa.

There is another vision that may strike him who rides down our larger valleys. He sees kloof after kloof, valley after valley, unfolding as the turned leaves of some vast book. One out of three of such hold permanent water, and the imagination runs riot as to the possibilities for the establishment of smallholders – men who would own their little farms and be the forefathers of a race of small yeoman farmers. That would be the most valuable asset Melsetter could give to the Colony of Southern Rhodesia.

 

By
B. M. Leffler
Formerly: Tobacco Adviser Southern Rhodesia (Govt)
Contributor to S.A. Farmer’s Weekly, Farmers Advocate, Argus Newspapers, Feedstuffs U.S.A., Textile Weekly etc.etc.

The Mine of Mac of the Hills 2

The Mining Commissioner spoke truly. Three cheery gentlemen asked, expressed opinions that confirmed the Commissioner views evidently looking upon Morag’s expedition as a glorious joke. All agreed that even if the claims were discovered they would require a large expenditure in development work to justify a modern company looking at them.

“I tell you what Miss MacDonald,” said one whose voice proclaimed him a fellow countryman “If you trust yourself with me I’ll run you out and look at the country – where the claims supposed to be Mr Anderson?”

Sending for some files the Commissioner studied them a while then turned to a large scale map. “Here’s Taba Mhlope a solitary hill about fifteen miles from the main railway line. It’s on the edge of the granite and the claims are somewhere about it slopes or adjoining them.”

Matabeleland1897c_final2_001

“Is there a road to the hill?” asked the mining man. “Sure to be Mr MacGregor it’s on a big ranch.”

“Fine then Miss MacDonald if you like I’d run you out tomorrow. Better give her a couple of licences Mr Anderson. It’ll be quite in order won’t it?”

“Oh Lord, yes Miss MacDonald as heir to Mac’s estate and intending to remain in Rhodesia can I have all the licences she wants – you are twenty-one I hope Miss MacDonald and intend to remain in Rhodesia?”

“I’m twenty-two Mr Anderson and as regards Rhodesia, I honestly don’t believe I could leave it.” Spoken like a man Miss MacDonald” laughed Mr MacGregor well if you’ll pay Mr Anderson £2 you’ll become a full fully-fledged prospector entitled to hunt for minerals and oils in any part of Rhodesia. Complying with a few formalities Morag was given two licences each entitling her to peg ten mining claims.

Example of a mining licence

“Come along Anderson let’s adjourn to drink the new prospector’s health,” called MacGregor’s seizing the protesting official and leading the way to a large but battered car.

Early next morning Morag sitting beside Mr MacGregor drank in the freshness of a Rhodesian dawn as she listened to tales of the ups and downs of prospecting and mining.

Image result for cars rhodesia 1920s

“You’re on an absolute wild goose chase Miss MacDonald,” she was told “if your Uncle had left any definite information and you had a couple of thousands to risk in a mining venture it would be an exciting experience looking for and perhaps finding and developing a lost reef. Mind you if it looked good I myself would mind helping you and Anderson is a valuable friend that way, but I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.

“Oh well,” laughed Morag “I’ve come out to a happy friendly country where apparently jobs that easy to get and everyone is nice.

McGregor granted “I’m not wishing to belittle Rhodesia its folk but mind you when Joe Maxwell owner of the Try-Me-Again brings a bonnie lassie into the Mining Commissioner that gentleman is wishful to be friendly to the girl apart from whether she’s pretty or a newcomer. An old fool like Duncan MacGregor again would perhaps like to do the Commissioner a favour even if by doing so he risked his reputation for canniness and propriety.”

Gurgling the girl shook her head “Confess Mr MacGregor that it’s my Hielen tongue that’s won you to your deed of kindness.”

“Which is no kindness but a very great pleasure Miss MacDonald but this’ll be where we turn off – I’ll be asking the road to Taba Mhlope.”

Enquiry at the combined trading store and bar which courageously a notice board claiming that it was also an hotel showed they were on the right road. Some eighty miles from Bulawayo. 

“Take that road to the right Mister said the Storekeeper “It’ll bring you to The Shamrock Ranching Company’s Main Camp. They’ll put you on the road to Taba Mhlope from there.”

Half an hours spin brought the car into the wilderness of heavily bushed hills and great stretches of park-like country.

“Oh but this is the sort of country I always thought Africa was like” cried Morag “Oh but its beautiful.”

“Aye, one sees the wrong side of Africa from the train Miss MacDonald – you see the railway follows a high and narrow watershed. Twenty miles either side and one is in a different country altogether. We’re in good prospecting country now – see there’re quite a number of abandoned mining properties about.

gold75 (1)

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.

Image result for on guard duty WW1 south africa

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 63 Confusion and Excitement

End of 62nd Entry: On arrival, the Natal Light Horse were issued with fresh horses and rode to the railhead to entrain for Cape Town on their way to join the troops operating in Germany West itself. Mick with a few waggons was at the station eagerly chatting to some of the troopers when a spare clean-shaven man accompanied by two Dutchman galloped in.

“That’s Gill the Intelligence man,” remarked one of the troopers turning to gaze at him.

“What does he do?” asked Mick feeling his pulses throb.

“Scouts, guides, hangs about on the skirts of enemy forces. Damned exciting, but mighty risky life” answered the trooper.

Mick gazed with awe on the Scout who was talking animatedly to Colonel Royston. Finishing his report the Scout accompanied by his two men walked over to a tent which served as a canteen. Mick following him in received a nod and summoning up courage asked the others to join him in a drink this proposal was promptly acquiesced in and the Intelligence man entered into conversation with the Rhodesian.

RoystonColonel Royston would later lead the 12th Light Horse Regiment, Australian Imperial Force

To Mick’s amazement, he found the Scout another of his father’s numerous acquaintances, while excitedly he learnt that a large force of rebels was sweeping down on Draghoender.

“Lucky thing the Natal Light Horse have turned up,” said the Scout. “Old Kemp would have found a treasure store here – tens of thousands of fresh well-fed horses, mules waggons, oxen, stores of every description. He’s probably hard pressed by troops who have driven him through Bechuanaland and would look on a big Transport and Remount Camp as a gift from heaven.”

“You think then that there’s a chance about being attacked?” enquired Mick flushing with excitement.

“It will be a little short of a miracle if you aren’t.” Answered the Scout. “It’s a big country and though I hope we intersect them its long odds he’ll dodge the Natal Light Horse, sweep through the Transport; and off to join Maritz the other side of Upington. However, I must be a must be off.”

Swallowing another round of drinks the four left the tent to find the Natal Light Horse already detrained and in the saddle. As the Scout appeared Colonel Royston was in the act of moving off so with a wave to Mick, Gill vaulted into his saddle, his followers mounted more soberly and the three dashed off to the head of the column.

Losing no time Mick got his waggons loaded and returned to the Transport Camp some three miles away. Here he found all in confusion and excitement. The news has already arrived but no troops were available except a few hastily collected farmers all of whom were almost certainly rebels.

Viljoen with the Head Remount Conductor issued Mick and half a dozen others with rifles and ammunition bidding them ride to Draghoender, to place themselves at the disposal of the Transport Officer there. The Hangman was ordered to take a lightly loaded convoy after the Natal Light Horse.

At Draghoender a couple of score of armed Boers were leisurely making sandbag Defences round two huge dumps of stores brought thus far by train to be transported to Upington, Kakames and other places by road.

Mick though thirsting for an opportunity to see something of real warfare found little comfort in the appearance of his mates. Except for his few Transport Companions, the Defence Force looked hopeless as a fighting unit.

“Guess the moment they hear Kemp arriving they’ll turn us on.”  remarked one  Conductor grinning, “nasty looking crowd of bloody Rebels they look.”

The others agreed and an uncomfortable night past. With rifles loaded and cocked the Transport men watched their fellow defenders who in turn kept well in the shadows. Nothing happened however until late in the morning when Gill with his two attendants galloped in seeking reinforcements.

It appeared that Kemp during the night had ridden into the Natal Light Horse who badly knocked up by hard riding was snatching a brief rest. The Rebels had galloped through the camp killing and wounding a few of the Natal men but losing several themselves.

Royston was now hot on their tracks but freshmen were needed to intercept them on their right ride towards Upington. No men were available, however, and Gill after sending off various urgent telegrams once more took the direction from whence he had come.

Next day the troops passed in thousands train after train went cautiously along the line which was being laid at the rate of three to four miles a day. The country presented few natural obstacles so sleepers were simply flung down the rails, bolted on, and the trains crawled along the new line. Where riverbeds or watercourses appeared the banks were cut out and the train ran down one side and if lucky climbed the opposite one.

Last rail before Kalkfontein - Transnet Heritage Library (1)

Artillery, infantry, mounted men and Commandoes of Boers went by the Prime Minister General Botha in command.

At the Gate of Windhuk. General Botha discusses matters with the Governor of Windhuk

Prime Minister Louis Botha in the white suit

Amongst the passing troops, Mick found scores of old friends and acquaintances, with whom he exchanged a few brief greeting and experiences as the trains halted or crept by.

The same night the Transport Column by road for Upington, the Hangman had returned from his expedition with Royston full of enthusiasm for a soldier’s life. He and Mick though hardly bosom friends got on well together for the rough creature was unable to write his own name had attached himself like a dog to the young Rhodesian.

He had been very repentant over the Prieska incident, humbling himself into the dust. Mick’s temperament was not one which made it possible for him to bear a grudge nor was Mick particularly sensitive regarding either the character or appearance of his friends.

To Mick throughout his life, a man was to be judged purely by frontier standards. Given courage, endurance, ability to be a cheerful comrade, and to be moderately honest in dealing with his own mates there was no reason why one shouldn’t go partners with him, whether he was the Public Hangman or a Missionary.

So Mick listened avidly to the Hangman’s Tales of the fight on the Newbury Estate, accepted a Natal Light Horse rifle one of the two the Hangman had picked up on the battlefield and made up his mind to join a fighting unit on the first opportunity.

And old friend McLeod had been sent to join the convoy. Mick greeted Mac’s advent with joyous glee. The newcomer was a typical example of the British Adventurer having spent practically all his life in wondering about the world doing anything which came to his hand.

He had been a Secret Service Agent, a Trooper in the Cape Mounted Police, had fought through the Boer War in an Irregular Corps, had gone through the Zulu Rebellion and had received a war medal from the German Government for services in connection with the rounding up and capture of Hottentot rebels.

BATTLE OF BHAMBATHA AND THE DEATH OF BHAMBATHA ZONDI

The coming of McLeod, a man of gentle birth, classical education and great charm made a great difference to Mick for Mick was becoming a bit weary of his life and companions.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 61 War, Whiskey, and Women

End of 60th Entry: Swimming his horse around the mob Mick regained the shore, lit his pipe and chattered with his mates until the drove was ready to once again gallop back to its camp.

Mick found no members of a Young Men’s Christian Association amongst his fellow conducters. 

The Head Conductor, Vijoen, a huge hard bitter man had been a secret service agent of the Old Transvaal Republic. The story had it that on the day Lord Roberts entered Johannesburg, Vijoen had shot two Australian officers whilst an Armistice was on. For this, he had been sentenced to death, to be later reprieved and banished from South Africa. He had gone to the Argentine which had eventually found him too desperate a character for even that tough country.

Returning to Africa Viljoen joined Colonel Maritz then a transport conductor in the Germans Service. The Germans were at war with the Hottentots and the rough conditions suited Viljoen to the ground. Some trouble arose between him and Maritz which resulted in Viljoen being fastened to a waggon wheel and mercilessly flogged. Forsaking the German Service Viljoen wandered into Bechuanaland where he traded and hunted until the Great War broke out.

Jan Kemp, unknown rebel, Manie Maritz at Keetmanshoop in “German West

Another was an ex-attorney who had been struck off the Rolls for some reason and had led a shadowy life ever since. A third was a racecourse man whose life was regarded with suspicion, and a fourth, Mick’s billet mate was a cab driver who, the story went added the post of Assistant Hangman to his more prosaic occupation.

By some means or other, the Transport men seemed to have an arrangement with a hotel proprietor by which whiskey was supplied free apparently without limit. Mick until then had rarely drunk except out of bravado but now he fell easily.

He liked the company. Rough and wild though they were, unsavoury characters perhaps in civilian life they might be, yet all were old campaigners of the Boer and Frontier Wars and made good companions in the present type of life. They fed well, handled natives and animals with uncanny skill, shirked nothing in the way of danger or work and lived entirely for the day.

Mick found he could drink glass for glass with the others, work unafraid with them amidst a chaotic mass of wild frightened animals, handle natives, mules or horses with the best. The young Rhodesian, therefore, dropped readily into the life.

Related image

There were no troops actually in Prieska – the Transport men as yet ranked as civilians and Viljoen was apparently the Commander-in-Chief. Discipline was practically non-existent except as regarded the actual work in the Transport camp itself.

In spite of very heavy drinking scarcely any untoward incidents occurred for the work taxed every fibre and muscle so that the alcohol was sweated out almost as soon as it entered the system. The heat was terrific, the work was not only heavy physical labour but work that needed all a mans’ wits to be ever on the alert to preserve his life.

A drunken man would not have lasted five minutes working in the midst of a few hundred untamed mules or horses. Death or at best, broken bones would have been his portion immediately. Most probably the very act of concentration required to preserve mastery over an inflamed brain caused the alcohol to act purely as a stimulant.

In any case, sober men would never have continued at the pressure demanded of Transport Conductors at that time. Nerves and muscle would have wilted under the strain but as it was the alcohol acted as paraffin cast at intervals on steadily burning fires.

Mick had one or two narrow escapes from disaster. He and his mates were accustomed to race through Prieska as hard as their horses could gallop. Several children and civilians thereby escaped death by the fraction of an inch.

One night shortly after Mick’s arrival, the daughter of the house had a visitor, a civilian policeman. The two retired into the sitting room and a good many hours past. Now the ex-cabby and supposed hangman was not a man whose moral character was above fear and reproach. He thought the girl easy game and made a suggestion that on the departure of the policeman he and Mick should, in turn, share the lady’s favours.

Mick held rather high ideals but the life was having a wearing effect upon them. Although he felt repugnant he yet dallied with the idea, protesting as a matter of conscience, but not taking any decisive stand.

During the early hours of the morning, the policeman departed and the hangman immediately slipped into the sitting room to be received with screams of fear and anger. Mick instantly ran in to find a weeping girl, the hangman in his shirt and the girl’s mother violently protesting.

The hangman ordered the woman to clear out, cursed Mick and caught hold of the girl. Mick jumped in but received a blow which half stunned him. Instantly the Rhodesian ran into his bedroom, returned with a loaded revolver and the hangman seeing murder blazing in his comrade’s eyes loosened the girl and delayed not in his return to his bedroom.

Mick followed him seething with rage to be met by a roar of laughter from the immoral one who produced a bottle of whiskey. The two speedily dismissed the past event from their minds and apparently were the best of friends.

That evening there was some particularly hard-drinking which ended in the hangman becoming fighting drunk. He cursed Mick, insulted him and finally left with the avowed intention of riding the hell out of Mick’s horse – an animal Mick worshipped.

Mick started after him protesting and threatening – turning the hangman sent the lash of his stockwhip hissing through the air, gave a quick turn of the wrist and the cruel hide cut the Rhodesian’s face to the bone – instantly Mick howling with rage and pain drew his revolver. The hangman leaping into the saddle dashed off. Mick emptied three chambers after him sending the dust spurting around the galloping horse. The Head Conductor leaping forward knocked Mick senseless and the affair was over.