The Mine of Mac of the Hills

Morag McDonald curled up beside the ancient sea chest read again the faded writing on a yellowed sheet found amongst her mother’s treasures.

Post Office
Bankwe
3rd November 1896

Dear Sheelagh,
                           A Mining Company has offered me £5000 for a twelve-month option on the reef I wrote you about. Urquhart, their engineer knows me well and was very satisfied on his visit which resulted in the Company offer. I am however doubtful for I’m certain that a good partner who has a small stamp battery would be a better proposition. A quartz reef four feet wide going 30dwts gold to the tonne is worth a lot more than a few thousand pounds.
                         I’ve my mind on a likely partner but he’s scared of coming out as the Matabele are rather threatening just now and there’s talk of a rising. Hoping a few mails hence will bring you gladsome tidings.

Your affectionate brother,
Donald

Laying down the letter the girl picked up another also faded but good stout paper headed from one of the British South Africa Company’s Administrative offices.

Salisbury
March 10th 1897

Dear Madam,
                           I regret to inform you that no further information regarding Mr Donald MacDonald, Prospector, is available other than that his name is amongst those of outlying whites who are posted as missing. It is my painful duty to inform you that no hopes can be entertained of his still being alive.
As regards your query re Mr MacDonalds’ mining claims we find that two blocks of ten claims each are registered in his name.
Enquiries confirm your statement that these claims were inspected by the Bubi Mining Company‘s engineer and that the Company offered to take them on a £5000 option. Investigations have been made but we possess only the vaguest information regarding the location of Mr MacDonald’s claims and so far the search has proved fruitless.
We will bear in mind your letter and communicate immediately if any information reaches us.

I am Madam,
Your Obedient Servant, 
John Smith.  Secretary

“Thirty-four years ago,” murmured Morag, “Father wrote several times but neither Donald’s mine or anything of him has ever been found. Now I’m alone and four hundred pounds to use as feathers for my wings. What’s the use of staying here? There’s nobody I’d like to marry and I’m sick of typing in Glasgow. If Amy Johnson can fly the Atlantic alone what’s to stop a strong healthy Hebridean lass travelling comfortably to Rhodesia to look for an Uncle’s grave and his mine.”

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Morag MacDonald was Celtic whose vivid imagination worked as impulsively as any in her cousin’s race of Erin. Born and bred in Uist two years of typing in a Glasgow Shipping office had filled her with a distaste for the crofting life of her people. I’m Hielan through and through, as Hebridean as the Tangle she would laughingly declare “but I’d rather be singing “The Road to the Islesthan taking it, except for a holiday.”

A month ago her father had been lost at sea in a fishing boat, yesterday her mother had been bedded within the stone-walled enclosure over which the storms drove the Atlantic spray; her four brothers lay in bloodstained tartan under the poppies of Loos and Longueval. “Uncle Alan can have the Croft for the hundred pounds he offered and Father MacEachern will give me letters to the priests and nuns of Rhodesia” murmured Morag closing the chest. She went into the living room where waited, her Aunt and Cousin.

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Father MacEachern as Morag had thought offered no opposition to her plans. An ex-Army Chaplain and an ex-Missionary the old priest had travelled widely about the world, a Gael who knew and understood his race the Father shrugged his shoulders when Morag’s tale was told, took snuff voluminously and patting her head told her to be of good cheer and comfort.

“There’re are aye Hielan folk wherever one goes in the world girleen and there’s always a Catholic Church.  You’re a good looking less but your head’s not an empty one. I’ve brought you up in the knowledge of right and wrong and whilst you remember that you’re Catholic and McDonald no harm will come to you. When will you be faring forth Morag?”

“Within the month, Father, I hope! Uncle Alan and I will be going to Inverness the day after tomorrow and as soon as the business of transferring the croft and settling the estate is over I will book my passage.”

“And I will be coming up to London to find Rhodesian people to talk over the country with you and help as far as an old wanderer can.” said the priest violently blowing his nose as after shaking hands he watched the slim figure face the boisterous Atlantic Wind.

So, well furnished with letters of introduction to Hebrideans and Catholic priests scattered about Africa, well-stocked chests and suitcases of goods and gear recommended by members of the Rhodesian High Commissioner staff Morag McDonald waved a cheerful farewell from the second class deck of a Union Castle liner as the tugs drew her from the Southampton Wharf.

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Morag was wholly unused to mixing with strangers a feeling that she was free to do as she liked. Her life in Glasgow had been lived with cousins whose interest was centred on their parish church and the Clan gatherings in the Highland Institute. Men had played no part whatever in her 22 years of life but Morag was quite aware that she was attractive and rich red blood flowed strongly through her veins.

Father MacEachern had seen to it that her cabin mate was one of her own Faith a Rhodesian lady of Irish extraction but Mrs O’Connor was a cheery happy-go-lucky lady still young and possessing a number of friends aboard.

She and Morag took to one another at sight. “Heaven be praised, Miss MacDonald! When Father O’Reilly asked me to look after a young Scottish girl I thought my good nature was going to land me with some uninteresting kid who’d spoil my whole voyage. You and I are going to be friends, however. Let’s wander around and see what sort of men we’ve shipped.”

A tour of the vessel proved quite satisfactory to the Rhodesian. “Three excellent bridge partners at least, Colonel Devereaux to look after our chairs and cushions, several charming boys for you to play with – and they’ll all be very nice to me or I’ll shoo them away from the bonnie wee lassie. Quite satisfactory Morag, my dear. Now let’s go and see what frocks you possess.”

Mrs O’Connor shook her head over Morag’s wardrobe – “Looks as though you let the nuns choose it, Old Dear!” she laughed “Fortunately what you have is good and I’m excellent with the needle beside possessing a few spare frocks we could alter. Jane and no-nonsense about her has a thin time these days Morag.”

Liking her new friend, feeling her judgement to be trusted and full of feminine desire to be at her best Morag made no demur to her companion’s advice and devoutly thanked her patron saint that so good at friend had come her way. Morag possessed a slim well-rounded figure, beautiful brown eyes, a mass of silky black hair, a perfect skin and firm white teeth. 

Dressed by Mrs O’Connor and finished off by the Liner’s barber, the girl proved as irresistible to the menfolk aboard as honey to bees.

Three weeks of games, dances, whist drives, and concerts, Morag ever laughing and merry, the pet of all aboard. The honour of taking tea on the Captain’s Bridge, the fun of the sitting betwixt two grinning tars helping to paint the ship, her violin and voice much in request at concerts, and her pick of partners at dances. “Heavens Mrs O’Connor just think if I’d stayed on the croft or gone back to the office.” cried Morag.

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The other laughed “It’s good fun, isn’t it? But the party’s soon over and cake gives place to bread and butter. Another fortnight and we’ll all be in harness scattered over the length and breadth of Africa. What are actually your plans, Morag, all I know of you is that you’re travelling to Bulawayo in connection with an Uncle’s mining property? They’ve shoals of MacDonalds in Rhodesia especially Bulawayo and as I don’t know many of the mining people I haven’t questioned you – this shows what an unfeminine woman I am. My husband’s ranching as you know and I’ve begged you to come to us for as long as you like. Where do you intend staying?” 

Morag laughed “You’ll think me entirely daft, Mollie, but here are the facts. I’ve four hundred pounds and one of my uncles was a pioneer who found a rich gold mine. He was killed in a rebellion amongst the natives but neither the mine nor his body was ever found. I’ve come to look for them.”

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A corner in the Laager in Bulawayo during the 1896 Rebellion. (Central African Archives)

Mollie O’Connor held up her hands. “Morag you foolish little devil buy a hundred tickets in our Unity Club and the Dublin Sweepstakes, put the rest of your money in the bank and come and live with me till I’ve found you a husband.  Rhodesia’s full of lost prospectors’ bones and gold mines and if one does find a mine one’s troubles have only begun. The country’s full of topping youngsters who’ll look on you with more favour than on any mine that’s ever been found and you’d make a bonnie Rhodesian.”

Many thanks, Mollie. I’d love to spend a few weeks with you if I might, but I’ve a queer feeling that instinct or my Uncle’s spirit will lead me to the Ben na Conn claims.”

“More likely into losing your money and getting a typist job, you goose.” announced Mrs O’Connor “anyway I’ll look after you.” 

As Mollie O’Connor said the party was nearing its end. A few more days and Morag watched a looming mass of white cloud and grey rock showing through the dawn. Table Mountain with its flanking peaks towering over the ancient Tavern of the Seas warning the happy crowd of ships’ friends that the time of parting had come.

A wonderful week at the Cape with Mollie, “you couldn’t afford to miss it, Morag.” declared her friend “I’ll wire Pat that I am unavoidably detained to look after a friend.” So a party of merry Rhodesians surfed in the long lines of smashing waves amongst the thousands of bathers at Muizenberg, climbed the dizzy heights of Table Mountain and travelled restfully down in the wonderful aerial railway; yachted in Table Bay, explored quaint Dutch Villages hidden in mountain glens amidst a wealth of oak and vine and fruit blossom; flirted, laughed and sang.

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Then ‘Bundle and Go’ on the bagpipes cried. Mollie and faces turned Northwards as she and Morag watched hills and orchards flit past the thundering mail, looked down the giddy depths of the Hex River Valley and stared wonderingly out at the wastes of the Great Karroo.

“What’s come over you, Morag?” asked Mrs O’Connor. The Highland girl shook her head “I’ll be alright soon” she whispered “but och the country is waesome and unfriendly. Nothing but graves and stones and ports and bigness. I’m seeing kilts waving, the bayonets flashing in the hills, the pipers sounding on the march and at the onset and I’m hearing nothing but Lochaber No More and Mo Dachaidh being played over poor torn bundles of tartan. Thanks be, my brothers sleep in the flowers and kindly soil of France but there’s plenty of my kin lying in the ground we’re passing.”

Mollie swallowed hard “I’d one brother – Away Morag what matters where a soldier lays his bones or a Rhodesia either. The veld is kindlier than a town cemetery.  Let’s wander into the Dining Saloon. Kimberley of the Diamonds, then grass and trees taking the place of a desolate waste of stones, hills and tiny bushes. Bechuanaland with the country growing forestlike and every halt filled with interest as the swarming hoards of scantily dressed natives strove to find customers for their toys and skins and fruit.

“Seven o’clock tomorrow, Morag and the fun’s over” laughed Mrs O’Connor. 

But at Seven next morning, Morag felt that the fun had only begun. Pat O’Connor was a denizen of the new world into which she was entering and he, large sun-blackened and picturesque in Double Terai hat, shorts and khaki shirt seemed a fitting person to introduce her into it. Laughingly Pat waved aside his wife’s suggestion of the Majestic “What’s wrong with the old Criterion, Molly? I’ve got a room there as usual and Malcolm will fix up Miss MacDonald – here’s the porter he’ll see to your gear.”

Morag liked the atmosphere of O’Connor’s choice of hotels and after a steaming bath and change set down to make an excellent breakfast with half a dozen Rhodesian men who seemed to her like masquerading schoolboys. The O’Connors were undoubtedly popular and well known. Men came from all parts of the dining room to shake hands with and tease Mrs O’Connor, brought chairs, cups of tea and plates of food to further crowd their corner, argued over cattle, mines and contracts.

Puzzled and amused the Hebridean girl listened to the gay chatter wondering how on earth so queer a collection could be found. Some seemed rich and others poor, some were owners and others workers, some employers, some employed yet all used one another’s Christian names, ignored if they possessed, any social differences and treated each other and apparently life in general as one huge joke.

“Take Miss MacDonald up to the Mining Commissioner, Joe,” called Mollie when breakfast was at last finished “She’s come out to look for a lost mine found by one of the pioneers.”

“Gosh,” said a burly individual in shirtsleeves and khaki trousers “Is Miss MacDonald one of our crowd? I’ll sell you as bonnie a mine lassie as anyone can wish for the £6000 pounds I’ve put into it.”

“And taken £2000 out.” laughed a short, unshaven tough looking specimen.

“Now Miss MacDonald I’ve…”

“No, he hasn’t – come on Miss MacDonald.” following her guide whom Morag took to be a workman, the girl was amazed to find him provided with a big expensive car amongst whose luxury fittings were tossed picks, shovels and two cases one marked gelignite and the other White Horse Whiskey.

“Push the cases out of the road Jock” ordered the burly one called Joe – the short unshaven man obeyed.

“Climb in next to me Miss McDonald, Jock can cuddle the dynamite or the whiskey – we’ve all the world’s curses in the car, Miss MacDonald.” 

“What are they, Mr… Mr…?”

Maxwell commonly called Joe answered the other “a pretty girl, a case of whiskey, one of dynamite and a bar of gold worth £2000” and he kicked at a plain wooden box – “lift it, Miss MacDonald.”

As Maxwell started the car Morag tried to lift the little box

“Oh,” she exclaimed, “It’s lead.”

“Hope the Bank doesn’t think so.” Roared the others, “It’s my month’s output of gold.” Awed Morag gazed at the box.

“Oh, I hope I find my Uncle’s Mine” she cried as the car stopped a little way above the hotel.

“Well here’s where you’ll be a regular caller then Miss MacDonald – come and be introduced to the Mining Commissioner.

Morag introduced to a quiet and courteous gentleman thought of Mrs O’Connor’s hint. Her story told, the Mining Commissioner proceeded to end the fun.

“The story of Mr MacDonald and the Ben Na Conn claims is a well-known one Miss MacDonald.” said the Commissioner “A score of prospectors have hunted over the supposed locality of the claims. We know that property well and that the claims must lie within a certain small area. Both geological formation and areas in which men still living were working, limit the locality to an area which has been industriously combed. Neither threats nor promises of reward have extracted any information from natives in and about the area. It’s heavily timbered country, badly broken by erosion and through geological causes. One might hunt for years and never find the reef for quite likely there were native lands in its vicinity and the natives ploughed or hoed over the claims concealing all signs of them ever having been worked. If you take my advice, Miss MacDonald, you’ll have a trip to the Falls and the Matoppos, take a run to Zimbabwe and  Umtali then either accept a billet or return to Scotland. If you’ll keep in touch with me I think I can safely promise you a fairly decent office post. In the meantime, if you’d care to meet my wife I’m sure she’d be delighted to call on you. May I bring in one or two experienced mining men who will undoubtedly confirm my opinion?”

The Mining Commissioner spoke truly. The three cheery gentlemen asked, expressed opinions that confirmed the Commissioners….

A Book is Born

From loose handwritten pages written in my Grandfather’s hand almost 100 years ago

cropped-img_9673.jpgDelville Wood

transcribed into a Blog by me his Granddaughter    Trish Armstrong née Leffler

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and then the pages bound in leather the colour of African soil

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by
William Harley & Son
28 Dew St, Thebarton SA 5031
Phone: (08) 8443 7515

A legacy from Bernard Meredith Leffler protected by his sons Patrick and Michael Leffler – a tale well told for future generations.

The Soldier Returns to What? Part 2

Continued…..

Few men or women today look upon the Party System in Parliament as being anything but a vast waste of National time and money. So little is done in Parliament to make homes attractive and happy, so little is done to fill stomachs and provide clothing, boots and shoes for the children.

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There is so much interest in academics, so little sense of responsibility regarding the pressing problems of Health and Welfare. Surely it is infinitely more important that a young South African should be well clothed, well fed, and well housed than that he be taught in his home language. There are two languages in general use amongst European descended South Africans.

Then let every school in the Union be compelled to teach in both languages and if necessary keep the children an extra couple of years in school; but feed them properly, clothe them properly, house them properly, discipline them properly and teach them proper manners. Teach them truth and honour; the first essentials to the building of a nation.

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There are roads to be built, afforestation to be encouraged by Private Owners and a multitude of social welfare problems to be tackled. There is easily work for a generation in purging our whole social and economic system and making it a clean wholesome scientific one.

Today few trust anybody or anything because there is obviously so much scandalous getting jobs for pals, so much waste of Public Funds, so many getting high positions and pay with obviously so few qualifications. If it wasn’t so, half the Union’s population wouldn’t be living below the Breadline.

Above portrays the Hewitt Family. The two images below are both of slums: the left  is of present day Africa, the right is of early 20th century NYC.

Above portrays the Hewitt Family. The two images below are both of slums:
the left is of present-day Africa, the right is of early 20th century NYC

Why not have a competent commission begin at the top and work down through all paid National, Provincial, Municipal and District Government employees and decide what posts could be abolished and what new ones created to increase efficiency; whether the holder of a post is competent, and whether he is earning his money or whether he would be better off somewhere else or retired.

Why not have a certain day set aside in Parliament to discuss racialistic questions on a non-party basis? Why not give the Speaker of the House power to confine members’ speeches strictly to matters in the National interest and taboo any speech calculated to provoke antagonism between sections of the Nation.

Baleke Mbete Teacher, member of SASO and the ANC, head of the Medu Arts Ensemble (Gaborone), Member of COSAW, Secretary General of the ANCWL, Speaker of the National Parliament, poet

We are all in South Africa to make comfortable happy homes; just as Up North, South Africans; White, Coloured and Black put everything into smashing the Germans and the Italians.

The Governor-General’s Fund is a source of eternal irritation to the soldier. Every soldier detests the idea of exposing his family life to committees of well-meaning but often wholly unsuitable townsmen. A magistrate, clergyman, doctor and a lawyer would be a logical committee to decide who requires assistance and in what form.

In the army today one of the commonest phrases is “What a racket” when discussing politics, the Governor-General’s Fund and a score of other national activities and enterprises.

After the War, the last thing any sane man or woman wants is social upheaval, political exploitation of the soldier, Coloured and Native unrest or the spectre of Revolution. When the War ends however if tens of thousands of young, vigorous ex-Servicemen and women are not competently handled and promises to them are not fulfilled the threat to the state will be a real one.

The strikers were backed by Afrikaner commandos,
like this group manning a roadblock ©Museum Africa

Today the business of winning the War makes men amenable to rule and regulation but after the war, the business of winning the Peace must be run efficiently and without ‘Rackets’ or there is bound to be trouble.

The general tenor of speeches made today by responsible men shows that these contentions are realised, that there will be a necessity to disgorge on the part of the wealthy, that the soldier must not be allowed to fall into the hands of irresponsible leaders, that promises are easily made but often impossible of fulfilment.

(Note in pencil in the margin see Lawrence of Arabia.)

Why then do not the leaders of the people, the leaders appointed by the people put all they know into logical solving of problems instead of talking so much about them. Tackle the obvious and tackle it with enthusiasm and confidence and it is queer how often, how smoothly, and how quickly the problem turns out devoid of concrete difficulty.

The War has shown us how to achieve results, how to handle problems, how eagerly and efficiently South Africans respond to any decent lead. In peacetime, however, we are unfortunately too tolerant, too easy going, too desirous of avoiding trouble. It is terribly difficult to work up and sustain enthusiasm in South Africans in National matters. Each wants to live his own life in his own way.

Outside the professional politician, there is very little racialism really. It can be safely said that ninety-nine Afrikaans speaking South Africans in the country will help an Englishman or a Jew in distress. During this War, it is remarkable how in the country Ossewa Brandwag supporters have helped lone English women running the farms of their husbands on Service. In every department of the huge South African army, those of Dutch or Huguenot descent and those of British descent merge and if anything it is often difficult to know which is which. 

Fusion of the two European descended races has been going on for generations, is going on and always will go on until we are all South Africans. Why worry about it as it cannot be stopped. What we must worry about is how we’re going to have decent homes, good food, excellent clothing and the very best prospects for our sons and daughters. To secure this men must be chosen as executives for their ability and their trustworthiness. We have the men and they have the material.

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It does seem so ridiculous that there should be difficulty in absorbing South Africa’s present Army and War workers into civilian employment.

When one travels through the vast bushveld, up and down the long West and East coasts, when one sees the magnificent well-equipped harbours and thinks of the millions Up North beginning to become civilised one can’t but feel that’s a poor lot who can’t find lucrative employment for a quarter of a million White, Coloured and Black South Africans.

In the reconstruction cabinet, there should be at least one seaman. Nobody can have escaped being struck with the number of South Africans who are serving in the British Navy.

There are apparently hundreds of them – and South Africa itself is employing a really large number. Thousands of South Africans seem to be working in dockyards. It seems only logical if these should be represented in the Reconstruction Cabinet and full consideration is given to the profitability of building South African ships for coastal work and engaging in South American trade.

It has often been authoritatively stated that there are large markets for South African coal and railway material agricultural implements and the like from our Iron and Steelworks in South America and in the North. From Cape Town to Dakar and from Durban to Mogadisco seem natural South African coastal trade routes as well as from the Cape to South America.

If the Reconstruction Cabinet can only adopt General Staff methods and obtain the same parliamentary support there cannot be bounds to South African employment and prosperity. For the next two generations, we should be welcoming immigrants. Let us put away pretty things, abandon childish ideas and go forward as men to Peacetime Victory.

Mention of the Sea brings to mind several suggestions for interesting employment in establishing oyster beds, the resumption of the tinned Cape lobster and frozen lobster tail exports to France and the extension of the trade to French colonies, the revival of the old trade to Australia of smoked Cape Sole and the following up of former highly promising experimental shipments of fish to Billingsgate. What has often been strongly urged is the commercial development of our vast seaweed wealth.

Make South Africa a real tourist paradise and offer facilities for the exchange of Trade Missions. Related image

Take but one instance the avid reception by Canadians of South African canned pineapple. Our pines can be produced in unlimited quantity and the Union Trades Commissioner to Canada reports that at all we can send Canadians will buy.

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What the Reconstruction Cabinet needs is reliable statistics as to the following:
What types of hospital and sanitoriums does the Union require?
For what number of Europeans, Coloureds and Natives?
Are existing Military establishments convertible to civilian needs?
How many Europeans and Natives can the mining industry absorb?
What number can Iron and Steelworks employ and how soon can the industry produce agricultural implements?
Will shipbuilding of coastal Steamers pay and what number could be absorbed in building and manning?
What has the fishing industry to offer?
Can a seaweed industry be established?

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One imagines that many pages of questions could be written and it seems feasible that most would be answered satisfactorily to those seeking to place men and women in civilian employment.

We must retain an army and will very like build up a small efficient Navy. The Youth Brigade, the Physical Training Brigade can be carried on with and possibly the Kappie Commando be revived on the present Youth and Physical Training Brigades. The HMS Assegai establishment could be taken over and converted more to a merchant marine basis and that of the General Botha training school be extended.

We have the money, we have the material, the factories, the mines, the railways, harbours, trained personnel to achieve anything – Let’s get down to and do things.

Note in pencil: If we cannot satisfactorily solve our post-war problems, our victories over the Germans will have availed us nothing, and the men who died will have died for an illusion, not an ideal.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 75 Living A Life of Utter Dissipation

End of 74th Entry: 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.

That evening all sorts of rumours began to circulate of a fixed determination of the regiments composing the command not to cross the Border. Darkness fell.

The order came to saddle up and the 18th Mounted Rifles fell in. The bulk of the other regiments refusing to saddle or move. Troopers of D Squadron raging began to quietly slip cartridges into their magazines muttering that they were prepared to attack the others if anyone would lead.

The commands came “Prepared to Mount” “Mount” and like one man D Squadron swung into the saddle. Amongst the other squadrons, the response was varied but the bulk stood sullenly at their horses’ heads.

For an hour D Squadron sat ready to ride, every man itching to open fire on the cowardly dastards around them. Then came the order to dismount and off-saddle.

Next day new regiments rode forward to take part in Van Deventer’s wonderful ride which resulted in the Germans finding their rear threatened, and abandoning their position at Aus. Retiring with all speed the Germans were badly smitten at Gibeon by Colonel MacKenzie with the Natal Light Horse, the Imperial Light Horse, the Umuti Mounted Rifles and the Natal Field Artillery after one of the greatest military marches in the history of warfare.

Captured guns at Gibeon, German South-West Africa, 1915Captured guns at Gibeon, German South-West Africa, 1915

Meanwhile, the 18th Mounted Rifles, the Midland Horse and various other Cape Colony Boer units rode back to Upington to be disbanded.

After a long dreary ride, the troops arrived back in Upington, D Squadron in a bitter evil temper. No delay was made in disbanding the regiment each man received his pay and two months leave pending discharge.

Thoroughly disgusted with the Union Army Mick proceeded home to Cape Town to receive a wonderful welcome the joy of which was sadly marred by the feeling of absolute hatred of anything Dutch. A hatred which would never leave him.

Mick’s mother was half Dutch, many of his friends and relatives belonged to the race but to Mick, the Boer was tainted. Mr Osmond vainly argued pointing out the wonderful loyalty and courage displayed by the bulk of the Boer race – Mick sneered.

“They know which side their bread is buttered, most of them, but damned few know the meaning of the words Truth or Honesty.

For a few days, Mick hunted around for means to go overseas. He tried steamers for work as a fireman, coal trimmer or deckhand; interviewed relatives for a loan, approached the Imperial Army Officers still in Cape Town but every shipping company was flooded with applicants like himself.

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Then one night at the theatre he met an old friend of his Marandellas days then a B.S.A police trooper now Captain and Paymaster of the 1st Rhodesian Regiment. He proposed that Mick transfer to the Rhodesians who would shortly be proceeding overseas as a unit.

Mick welcomed the offer and next day after wiring the 18th Mounted Rifles depot at Kimberly was transferred to the Rhodesians with the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Six weeks passed – weeks that did Mick no good. He travelled to Kimberly to receive his discharge from the 18th Mounted Rifles who were being demobilized – this broke his service as the transfer was for some reason disallowed thus involving a new enlistment in the Rhodesian Regiment.

On his return Mick found himself being everlastingly dragged into bars by a fellow Staff Sergeants and a thousand and one old acquaintances. There was practically no work as the regiment was in German West Africa and with ample leisure, a high rate of pay and numerous friends Mick lived a life of utter dissipation.

Soon wearing Mick applied for and got a transfer into the 2nd Battalion of the Transvaal Scottish gladly relinquishing his rank and pay as a Staff Sergeant to become a private. 

Three days later he left for Luderitzbucht with two Officers of the battalion. A pleasant sea voyage was followed by a long but interesting railway journey and at last, Mick was landed amongst a battalion composed largely of ex-regulars of the Highland Regiments.

Three days went by – the battalion received orders to move down to take part in the Grand Finale of the Campaign. Hemmed in on all sides the Germans were at last at bay. The same night came news of the surrender of the entire German forces.

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Mick returned with the regiment to Johannesburg via Cape Town.

After a triumphal March through the Golden City the regimental pipes skirling in front they proceeded to a demobilisation camp and a few hours later Mick walked out once more free.

Returning to Cape Town Mick found the 1st Rhodesian Regiment arrived and awaiting orders to proceed overseas – interviewing the Commanding Officer regarding reenlistment Mick was told to hold himself in readiness until definite orders had been received.

Unfortunately, a good deal of dissatisfaction existed in the regiment and a day or two later it was disbanded many of the men returning to Rhodesia which was being threatened by a German invasion – others disgusted with Colonial warfare proceeded to Europe to enlist in Imperial units.

For a few days, Mick picked up the threads of his old Sea Point life doing some mountaineering and fishing. With several friends, he discussed every phase of the situation. All were emphatic that they would not serve again in units controlled by the Union Government or engage in Colonial warfare.

Their hearts were set on Europe but funds were lacking and scheme after scheme of going to Australia, England or Canada to enlist were threshed out and dismissed as impracticable.

Then came the news that a brigade of infantry was to be raised immediately for service in Europe. The brigade was to be equipped and paid by the Imperial Government and the troops to be enlisted as units of the Imperial Army. 

The next day Cape Town awoke to find itself placarded with recruiting posters, military bands marching through the town, pipes skirling, processions of veterans of former wars exhorting the fit and young to follow in their footsteps and all the beauty of the Cape calling on men to behave as men.

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Still in the uniform of their Union regiments Mick, his brother and a dozen chums joined the long waiting queues outside the City Hall – waited hours, fought their way into the examining doctors presence and after many hours suspense and struggling found themselves soldiers in the King’s Army.

The first year of the war was over. Mick, his brother and chums were lusty with life bronzed and well experienced in army life. All had smelt powder, were trained soldiers and now with open eyes, and sober minds had definitely chosen their future course.

They had taken a man’s share in the greatest of all wars and it was due to no fault of their’s that little of the actual clash of arms had come their way. Not one had hesitated a moment as to where duty lay. They had played a part in the land of their birth and now eagerly they went to help the land of their fathers, to the battlefields of their race.

Mick, his brothers and three school chums enlisted together. Two bore Swedish names, one Irish, two Dutch. Three were to lie beneath the poppies of Flanders, one to rest in Brighton’s Hero Corner. Mick to return a man hardly worn by suffering, hardship and captivity.

From Youth, the five entered manhood and a life which was Life, Love, and Battle and truest Comradeship – life in the service of the Red Gods.

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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 65 Ginger Beer and Christmas 1914

End of 64th Entry: The Imperial Light Horse had suffered several casualties and were furious as they had driven the Rebels into a circle of Boer commandoes. Kemp was in a position which made resistance impossible but through treachery or foolishness on the part of a Commando he was allowed to escape with his whole force and join up with Maritz the renegade.

General Botha finding that neither the Rebels nor the Germans appeared desirous of meeting his forces withdrew all but a garrison and returned to Cape Town to prepare for an invasion of German South West Africa from its seaboard.

Louis Botha - Project Gutenberg eText 16462 - Louis Botha - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Louis Botha

The troops left at Upington consisted of a number of Cape Colony district regiments – mostly, if not trained at all, the bulk of them, Rebels at heart and very poor war material.

One fairly good regiment stiffened by a squadron of men from the Diamond Diggings, most of them Boer War veterans together with a battery of the Cape Field Artillery – youngsters but keen and plucky as terriers – formed the only reliable force.

Diamond Mining in South Africa (Illustration) World History Ethics Disasters STEM

Diamond diggings

Had either of the two Rebel leaders possessed any qualities of leadership, had their followers shown any soldierlike spirit, if the German Command had displayed any initiative, Upington with its rich collection of military stores, remounts, transport, animals and material would have been a plum so ripe as to fall to the merest touch.

One battery of field guns, a few machine guns, a company of good regular troops with a soldier in command would have taken Kakamas, Upington and probably the Gordonia district with hardly any opposition for what had they to contend with?

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Pictured is Manie Maritz in Upington during 1914

One battery of boys armed with old-fashioned guns, one Squadron of Veteran soldiers, and a large rabble of half-hearted armed men their retreat cut off by a great river; yet no move was made by their enemy. Evidently poor as was the defence material the other side was poorer.

Yuletide came – a few days before Mick was detailed to take some waggons laden with Christmas comforts to troops garrisoning the village of Kakamas some sixty miles down the river, for some reason, Viljoen at the last moment substituted two recent arrivals in Mick’s place. These men were of a low Boer type whose looks, manners and personalities disgusted the other Conductors who regarded them with unconcealed suspicion.

A few days later came the news that the Convoy had been captured by the Rebels. Black looks were cast on Viljoen whilst open murmurs regarding his past, and whispers of his former association with Maritz ended his former popularity.

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Since General Botha’s departure, the Transport men had been gradually falling from their old happy-go-lucky life full of good comradeship and keen rivalry in work, feats of physical endurance and horsemanship – the old concerts had been abandoned and laughter or banter was seldom heard in the mess. Several causes were contributory.

Viljoen seemed to have lost interest in his men, the Officer-in-Charge was detested but the greatest factor was undoubtedly the many temptations to amass money easily.

In Prieska and Draghoender there had been no opportunity of testing the honesty of the men except that whiskey was obtained more plentifully and easily than could be accounted for. At Upington, the Conductors found scores of tiny canvas shelters advertising the sale of ginger beer. These lay en route from the rail-end dump of military stores to the pont dump.

Mick and his companions were employed in transporting the contents of the one dump to the other – a journey of about two miles. Both the loading and the offloading was unchecked – nothing was signed for, nobody tallied what was taken or delivered. It was the simplest thing in the world to husk off a bag of sugar, a case of boots, boxes of jam or bags of flour as the waggons passed the canvas shelter of the Yiddish ginger beer merchants.

The civilians were making small fortunes from the troops but found it almost impossible to get goods transported from Prieska. Every necessity was therefore at famine prices so a golden harvest awaited men who could supply footwear, foodstuffs and luxuries.

Mick though not adverse to getting an occasional bottle of whiskey in exchange for a pair of boots or any stray article, was not a thief, and the wholesale robbery going on around sickened him and one or two others. Relations became strained as each man chose his own road and became suspicious of his neighbours.

The Hangman transferred to the Natal Light Horse and departed to the German South West Seaboard, the ex-attorney was discovered in his speculations – too many seniors were involved however and he was allowed to resign and take up a civilian billet.

Then came Christmas – a concert was held at the Transport Officer’s billet, whiskey flowing in unlimited quantities until eventually half a dozen very far from sober men started back to camp. On arrival they found scores of the Coloured drivers fighting drunk, having stolen a couple of kegs of cape Brandy which the Conductors had got for the celebration of Christmas.

Viljoen began knocking the drunk men about and one, a half Bushman, half Hottentot, flung himself on the Head Conductor, a drawn knife in his hand. Viljoen full of drink staggered caught his foot against a stone and fell heavily, the Bushman on top.

Mick dived into his waggon, grabbed a rifle and ran back to see the Bushman raise the knife. Without an instant’s hesitation, Mick whirled up the rifle and brought its butt crashing down missing the Bushman’s head and shattering his thigh.

Freeing himself from the unconscious body Viljoen rose and ordered the Bushman to be tied to a tree. All night Mick shuddered as scream after scream of agony mingled with curses and threats against himself rang through the night.

In the morning the Bushman was released and handed over to the medical authorities – he was very weak, his thigh swollen enormously but he bore no grudge telling Mick that he knew he hadn’t hurt him deliberately and that he had told the doctor a waggon had run over him.

South African motor ambulance, c1914
(Photo: By courtesy, SANDF Documentation Centre).

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

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 62 A Bishop, Confession and Employment

End of 61st Entry: 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.

Next afternoon happened to be a slack one – the Conductors were sitting outside the Mess Room, some sipping whiskey, some tea. To their amazement, a real live Bishop of the Anglican Church strolled by looking hot, tired and forlorn.

Viljoen always courteous went over to the prelate and invited him to join his group. The very Reverend gentleman thankfully accepted – it was 110°F/43°C in the shade, unsuitable weather for episcopal garments.

The guest proved a man. It appeared that before taking Orders he had served as a trooper in a Hussar Regiment in the Regular Army. A son of his had recently fallen in France – he himself had spent many years in Zululand.

The Conductors at first shy and awkward began to thaw as the bishop showed a deep understanding and interest in their work, their ideas regarding the war, and their thoughts on the future. Evening fell the Bishop accepted an invitation to dinner, sipped his whiskey and kept everyone anxious to show his best side.

Dinner, a cheerful meal, came to an end.  The Bishop pleaded for an opportunity of hearing the camp orchestra – the same coloured men who had accompanied Mick on the Port Nolloth voyage – the orchestra greatly flattered came and gave of their best.

The setting was perfect – overhead a sky of the desert nights rich with stars, low hanging warm, mysterious – about them the vast, sparsely inhabited, treeless country running into the unknown Kalahari.

Around the fires of dried sheep dung lay or sat the band of wild looking Conductors, the Bishop in the midst. Further away the orchestra squatted, surrounded by a mass of light-hearted, music-loving coloured folk; with here and there the black face and stalwart body of a man of one of the warlike tribes, Xhosa, Zulu, Basuto, Swazi.

Plantation melodies, Irish ballads, Dutch songs – all but forgotten ditties of the Boer War days – hymns beloved by children and Coloured people the world over. Then came God Save The King – a pause – and Viljoen the deep religious strain of the South African Dutch strong within him asked the Bishop to say a few words to offer up a prayer for the souls of a band of sinful men.

A short direct address was given – a man knowing the frontier folk and frontier lives, to frontier men. A brief appeal to the Lord God, The Creator of the World to judge kindly those He had sent into the rough wild places.

The Bishop shook hands all round – Mick who had been very quiet the evening and who had tried to drown a thousand emotions of homesickness, regrets, and memories fell down as he shook hands – enraged he clapped saddle on his horse and with a mate insisted on escorting the Bishop to his quarters.

Early next morning Mick went to Confession.

After a fortnight or so at Prieska orders came for the Transport and Remount Depot to be moved by road to Draghoender, the railhead of the railway line in course of construction to Upington.

In pre-war days, Prieska had been the rail end from which the territories adjoining the Kalahari were served by donkey transport. After the outbreak of war the railway had been continued towards Upington a hundred miles away. A town which served as a centre to a chain of irrigation settlements along the Orange River as well as the great Gordonia district,  a land where sheep farms of a quarter of a million acres were not uncommon.

For the first time since joining the Transport Service, Mick was now employed on the service for which he had been engaged. Each Conductor had charge of ten waggons drawn by mules, donkeys or oxen.

Mick was with the mule column in command of twenty Coloured men, a hundred and sixty mules and ten heavy transport waggons each carrying a load of nine thousand pounds. The roads were knee deep in fine floury dust, the temperature in the sun averaged 160°F/71°C – water was scarce along the road, what there was of it being brackish as to be almost undrinkable whilst grazing was non-existent. A drought had lain for some years on the land whose appearance vividly recalled to Mick his life at Carnarvon.

Most of the travelling was done at night the day being given to resting men and animals, greasing waggons or overhauling harness.

Four days were spent on the road all of which time was one of intense enjoyment to Mick as he galloped up and down his train of waggons, superintended the negotiation of stretches of heavy sand or badly worn patches of road.

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There was plenty to do, seeing that every animal pulled its weight, or was inspanned in the position which build and temperament suited it best, in keeping the waggons well up to one another, in getting through bad places, in having waggons kept greased, their bolts tight, the gear oiled and in order.

Draghoender was reached at last and once more the routine of Prieska was resumed – not for long, however, for a few days after their arrival, a body of troops rode in from the Front. They turned out to be the Natal Light Horse who had spent months chasing rebels amongst the sand dunes of the Orange River.

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Since taking the field the regiment had been everlastingly on the move far from any stores – their clothing was in rags and taters, few had shaved for weeks and the once spick and span squadrons appeared more like bands of brigands than British soldiers.

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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.

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 59 Disaster at the Front.

End of 58th Entry: Ships officers and Chinese sailors gathered around smoking, listening and joining in the choruses. From the Artillery Transport, from the rolling sailing ships came echoing back the strains as soldiers and sailors took up the well-known songs.

At daybreak next morning the barges were alongside but to the consternation of the Head Conductor, a message came that the only winchmen were employed in discharging the artillery batteries.

Whilst regretting his inability to supply a professional winchman the Transport Officer’s orders were that the Head Conductor was to do the best he could under the circumstances as somehow or other his material and animals had to be landed at once.

A bewildered, unhappy Dutchman interviewed the ship’s Captain but he refused to take the responsibility. None of the Conductors had worked a winch or knew anything of machinery. A few Coloured men admitted to a working acquaintance with winches but confessed their knowledge to be scanty.

A start was made with these men under the voluntary help of the Chinese Bo’sun. As an experiment, a waggon was hauled from one of the holds, hoisted high in the air, swung outboard and lowered into the waiting barge.

There was a considerable amount of swell which caused the steamer to roll heavily whilst it’s effect on the barges was to keep them rising high to the crest of a mighty roller then sinking far into the trough between the passed and incoming surge.

As the ship rolled towards the land the barge would be rising towards the ship – for a brief space of moments, the barge’s hold would be directly under the crane giving an experienced winchman time to skillfully drop his load into the barge.

Any misjudgement meant that the load either dropped into an ever-widening space between the two craft or into a rapidly narrowing one. In the former case, the load would probably strike the sea, in the latter being crushed between the rolling, rising and sinking vessels.

For a while, all went well then the Bo’sun leaving one Chinaman in charge of the forward and one at the after winch, hurried off to his own duties.

The forward winch crew were discharging donkeys slung in pairs and the after winch waggons. Mick going below took charge of hitching waggons to the iron hook of the after crane, another Conductor from the hatchway signalled to the winchman when to hoist, hold, lower or swing across, whilst a third from the ship’s side directed the lowering into the barges. Forrad the same procedure was observed.

The Bo’sun had directed both crane crews without apparent difficulty and with great success. On his departure, all manner of complications began.

The Chinese winchman could not understand the Conductor’s signs, the Conductors were not good at judging time or distance nor at all good at signals.

Unfortunate donkeys hitched to the crane-hook were suddenly yanked into the air in the middle of the roll of the ship. This, nine times out of ten meant them being swung from the hatchway to under the deck and being caught there – a wrong signal would drop them hard into the hold – after two or three attempts, a pair of stunned, bleeding, half dead animals would be triumphantly hoisted high into the air swung outboard, to hang a moment before being dropped into the sea, hauled furiously up, jammed between ship and barge and squashed flat.

The same happened to the waggons. When twenty-nine donkeys had been killed and a dozen waggons reduced to matchwood the Chief Officer stepped in. The Bo’sun was reinstated and immediately the work proceeded rapidly, methodically and successfully.

Well over half the cargo had been discharged when orders came to immediately reload everything. The vessel was to proceed at full steam back to Cape Town.

A most terrible disaster had occurred at the Front.

Colonel Grant dispatched by Colonel Lukin to seize the waterholes of Sandfontein twenty miles beyond the Orange River had been surrounded by a vastly superior force of Germans. After fighting to the last cartridge he badly wounded had surrendered with what was left of the famous Cape Mounted Rifles, two companies of the Rand Light Infantry and a section of the Transvaal Horse Artillery.

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German sergeant shortly before the Battle of Sandfontein.

This news was bad but there was worse to come, Colonel Manie Maritz in command of a large body of Union Defence Force troops had forsworn his allegiance and joined the Germans, handing over to the enemy large supplies of war material. The bulk of his troops, young Dutchman of the Kenhardt and Gordonia Districts had gone into rebellion with him.

A Scandinavian winchman came aboard and under his skilled management the ship was soon loaded, the anchor was weighed immediately and the ship steamed seawards.

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The return voyage was perfect. A strong breeze kept the air keen and invigorating, the sea gave of its best behaviour, everybody white or coloured had gained his sea legs whilst appetites were simply voracious.

A day off Cape Town the smoke of two vessels appeared on the horizon. Whispers spread that one was a warship resulting in much uneasiness as it seemed very possible that the ships might be a German cruiser escorting a prize. Soon fears were set at rest when the Captain identified her build as British and her companion as a Union Castle liner.

The two were overhauling the Queensland rapidly and soon a flutter of signal flags broke from the cruiser’s yardarm. The Queensland replied and news came around the decks that the two were British cruisers escorting a Union Castle liner filled with Portuguese troops.

As the troopship passed the soldiers lining the ship’s sides cheered and waved evidently pleased at any break in the monotony of their long voyage. Mick with all a Rhodesian’s dislike of the race who barred Rhodesia from the ocean sniffed.

“Wish they’d join the Germans,” he remarked. “In 1893…” – and he told of a war discreetly omitted from history books.

On arrival in Cape Town, the donkeys were disembarked, driven to Maitland and Mick with two of his fellow Conductors took over four hundred mules and two hundred horses. These were immediately entrained, a work entailing a vast expenditure of blasphemy and energy, and without delay, the long line of laden trucks were hauled out from the siding. Mick with his companions taking their places in the guard’s van a number of Coloured men being distributed amongst the trucks.

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The new destination was Prieska in the North-West of Cape Colony where forces were being assembled to operate against the Dutch rebels.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 57 Legion of Frontiersmen Recruits Wanted

End of 56th Entry: That summed up the situation Mr Osmond telling the three Rhodesians that during the day their best course was to go into town and investigate conditions before attempting to decide on their future policy.

After a good sleep and hearty breakfast, the trio proceeded to Cape Town where Mick, arranging to meet his companions later, began a round of interviews.

Calling at the Castle he endeavoured to enlist in a Defence Force Unit. The Colonel, an old family friend took his details but had no authority to enlist anyone – so fared Mick in half a dozen other attempts – calling at the Drill Hall he found a British Battalion just arrived from the North. Here he was informed that recruits were being accepted and was told to report at 9am the following morning.

Mick turned away feeling as though on the brink of a precipice. He intended going overseas and here was his chance, but he felt incredibly lonely at the thought of going as a private soldier in a battalion of utter strangers, felt too, the Colonial’s instinctive prejudice against the stern discipline of a regular line battalion and craved to be with mounted men of his own type.

Shrugging his shoulders Mick went off to be attracted by the painted words “Legion of Frontiersmen” over a doorway and beside the door “Recruits Wanted” calling in Mick interviewed a hard-faced citizen who after taking his particulars – Cadet training – four years Bush life – excellent education etc. ushered him into an inner office where half a dozen tougher citizens were grouped around a table. Introducing Mick the hard-faced man retired and a grizzled old veteran put the Rhodesian through a searching catechism.

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“All, right Son, we’ll enlist you in the Legion,” he said at length – “As yet we have not been officially recognised, but we’re expecting a cable any minute accepting our services as a unit to act in any capacity, mounted, infantry or special services. Parade at 5 p.m.” Filling in and signing a form, Mick felt infinitely better.

A couple of days went past. Mick put in some hard drill with a crowd that reminded him of the Anglican prayer for “All sorts and conditions of men.” but no acceptance came of the Legion’s offer of service which had been communicated to both the Imperial and Union governments. Mick inwardly grinning at the thought wondered if both Governments considered letting loose the crowd he had met on a civilized nation was contrary to the rules of the Geneva Convention.

Meanwhile, the South African Labour Party were enlisting men on behalf of the departing Imperial battalions. Mick’s agreement with the Legion allowed him to join any fighting unit in the interval before the services of the Legion were accepted. After he had passed without apparently being any nearer the firing line, Mick with Taffy, (the third having joined the Garrison Artillery),  put his name down for the Essex Regiment and came home with an armlet which in bold blood red the words Labour Legion were emblazoned on a white background.

It was September 1914. Michael Osmonds’ parents, relatives and friends belonged to the old world of ancient families to whom their order was their religion. Labour men were classified anarchists, nihilists, vagabonds and rogues and even Mick himself when out of sight of the Labour Party’s recruiting table took off the fatal armlet, and gazed upon it  with deep suspicion mixed with feelings that he had committed sacrilege, sold himself to the Evil One, and become a member of a Secret Society. 

Putting the armlet in an inside pocket Mick proceeded to have a drink then went home wondering how he was to break the news. He felt that had he simply enlisted as a private soldier in a British battalion the family would not have offered the slightest opposition, only have sympathized with him and regretted his being companionless in his venture. To, however, join via a back door such as the Labour Legion would convince him that he had lost his reason.

“Wonder why the blazers I did,” he remarked to himself “I wish that I’d joined up with that last regiment –  I’ve a damn good mind to push off to the Docks and work my passage over.” This determination was greatly strengthened by the reception his step met with at home – a reception which more than fulfilled his expectations.

Now, most of Mick’s spare time since arriving from Rhodesia had been divided between his fianceé and the Transport Office. Here he with various friends became an absolute pest in their endeavours to find acceptance of their services in the transport conveys.

On Mick’s plunge into the Labour Legion Mr Osmond aroused himself to find a loophole of escape for his son – armed with letters of introduction, Mick interviewed various influential men, then once again turned his face towards this Transport Office and sending in a letter to the Commanding Officer he waited a while, was asked to follow an orderly into the Presence and after being asked a few questions came out wreathed in smiles.

He was engaged as a conductor of Transport at 7/6 per diem and rations. A uniform would be issued if required, on the Repayment system. Duties were to commence immediately.

For three days Mick lived next to the Dock gates working on unpacking and fitting harness, trucked a few mules and generally having an easy time. From Ordnance stores, he was issued with Bedford cord riding breeches, brown boots and leggings, a slouch hat and khaki tunic with stiff cardboard lined green collar and cuffs. He also drew a big Webly Revolver with ammunition, so felt himself a last to be a member of the armed forces of the Crown.

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Meanwhile Mick’s love affair came to an end – in many ways still only a schoolboy all Mick’s thoughts and attention concentrated on his new life – he hoped the German West business would be over in a week or two and that then he would get a chance to get Home with either or South African or Rhodesian Expeditionary Force or with some chums.

Three days after receiving his appointment Mick was ordered to proceed early next morning to the Maitland main transport depot, as one of a detail of conductors who would take charge of a large number of transport waggons and animals. On receiving the animals the conductors would drive them to the docks, ship them and proceed to one of the Theatres of War.

Next day the detail of six transport conductors and one head conductor proceeded out to the Remount Camp on the Cape Flats some six miles from Cape Town where they were issued with horses – with lively curiosity they then rode to the Transport Camp and to their disgust took over one thousand three hundred and twenty sad looking donkeys together with a hundred and fifty Cape Coloured men to act as drivers and leaders.

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Mick had drawn a really good grey horse with a beautiful action. The horse seemed to have been a pet as it was particularly well cared for, especially considering it to have been issued from a great heard of Remount horses running loose in open paddocks.

The Rhodesian, therefore, felt that drive from Maitland to the Cape Town Docks as one of the greatest events in this life. The huge grey drove of donkeys herded by shouting Coloured men, himself with half a dozen others in picturesque army dress riding around the drove heavy revolvers slung over their shoulders, short handled 25ft lashed stockwhips in their hands all made his mind bring back boyhood memories of wild Argentine Cowboys driving up the mobs of mules, horses and cattle from the Docks in the now distant Boer War days.

Then he had been one of the onlookers watching with lively curiosity and interest what appeared denizens from another world. Now he felt that hundreds watched him with the same feelings.

“Damn shame we’ve got donkeys,” he thought “Jove it would have been thrilling driving a thousand mules or horses through Cape Town.”.

At the Docks, animals were shipped into an old cargo steamer. A northerly gale was blowing with a heavy see running outside the Breakwater, and Mick grinned as he looked at his fellow conductors all of whom were typical Bush countrymen. From these men, his eyes wandered to the gay chatting coloured folk bidding farewell to numerous relations of either sex, all colours, shapes and sizes. Guitars, banjos, concertinas and fiddles were wailing, tears flowing mixed with laughter as the brown people all their feelings, surface ones, revelled in the emotions of the moment.

The Queensland had already loaded sixty transport waggons each of which would be pulled by twenty-two donkeys. Immediately the donkeys and men had been shipped hawsers were cast off, the tugs busily hauled her into the fairway and with the threshing screw, the tramp began her voyage.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 56 Their Future in Their Hands

End of 55th Entry: Twisting and turning like serpents the long procession of heavily laden trains crawled round the cutting powerful engines before and behind holding their burdens of precious freight.

“That’s the place! Hell! Just look at the Smash!” called out the Welshman.

From the windows, thousands of curious eyes gazed at the awful mass of wreckage. Railway carriages smashed to matchwood, telescoped into half their length, capsized to leaning drunkenly on the verge of toppling over.

The mail stopped – a shaky looking Corporal of the Kaffarian Rifles entered Mick’s compartment and asking whether the others minded his coming in dropped on a seat.

“Isn’t it a Hell of a Smash?”  he said, lighting a cigarette with trembling hands.

“I was reading a chap’s palm just as we came round the bend, most fellows were looking out of the windows. I saw my chum’s lifeline ended –  isn’t it damned funny? I was just going to look again – I’m good at that sort of thing, been studying it all my life – then the whole blasted train went over – it was hell – the fellows whose hand I was reading had his head crushed into his body.”

The others gazed at him entranced. Mick’s Celtic blood grew cold as he stared at this man who, still fresh from under the shadow of Death; still with the chill of the ghosts upon him had the power of reading the future.

The Corporal evidently finding that the use of his tongue drew his thoughts from the horrors and scenes he had just left began to speak of palmistry.

Mick gathered that a man’s brain in use left its impressions on his body through the working of nerves, that particular trains of thought, of emotions, caused particular nerves to be used more often than others, whereby a man studied in the art could read from the lines whether Passion, brooding, love or what other emotions were the ruling ones in a man’s life; and that the Future could likewise be read by lines left by subconscious brain action obeying the dictates of Fate.

Offering to read their hands the Corporal began on the Welshman, continued with the ex-captain, and finished with Mick. His reading of each man’s character and past more than fulfilled his boasts – covering all three with confusion and undisguised disquiet.

Then came the future – Taffy’s hand he glanced – Celtic eyes met South African ones –  without a word the Corporal dropped the hand and the Welshman with set hard face looked out into the great grey mountains. Six weeks later Taffy’s torn body lay on the road to Ypres.

To the ex-Captain, he foretold disappointment, love, disgrace and at the end redemption. The Captain married a barmaid, joined a South African Defence Unit, deserted – was arrested and in the end finished high on the staff of the Imperial Army.

To Mick he foretold a breaking of his engagement, a deviation from his course; War – months of physical agony – and then the continuing of his long road, many disappointments, many losses, War again, a long break in his life then blow after blow would all but shatter him, but in the end he would win almost all of his heart desire.

All these things have duly and truly happened.

Bernard Leffler WW2

Bernard Leffler (Mick Osmond) WWII

Late at night, the Mail arrived in Cape Town. Nine days had passed since it had left Salisbury, well over twice it’s usual time, and though the journey from Kimberley to Touws River had been full of excitement and interest the tragedy of the Pass had sobered and saddened everyone.

It was therefore with a feeling of deep satisfaction that Mick and his comrades detrained. All three were destitute, so leaving their kit at the Cloakroom paying away their last shilling in doing so, they set out to tramp the four miles to Mr Osmond’s home at Sea Point.

At two in the morning the three men now ravenously hungry, but otherwise fresh and vigorous swung from the Main Road into a broad street leading to the dark mountain bulk looming through the night. Only one light showed from amongst the houses and Mick localising it said “Jove that’s our place! Hope nothing’s wrong.”

A few more yards brought them into the garden gate and as they climb the verandah steps the door opened and Mr Osmond called

“Come in Dear Son and bring your friends. Mother will be in in a few moments – you must all be ravenous.  Walk in Gentlemen!”

Divesting Taffy and the Captain of hats and overcoats Mr Osmond led the way to a large well-furnished dining room whose long mahogany table was well supplied with cold food, covered and waiting.

Meanwhile Mick had waited behind in the hallway to be received with a warm loving hug from his mother. To his infinite distress, his mother appeared to have aged terribly and to have become very frail and worn looking whilst her manifest emotion brought a lump to his throat and the tears welling to his eyes. A few brief seconds of close embrace then the two went in to join their guests.

Mick eagerly inquiring for news heard that his brother was already on active service with a Defence Force unit and that many of his chums had left for overseas. The Permanent Forces of the Union together with the Defence Force were being poured into German South West Africa, but no new units had up to the present been formed, nor were volunteers being enlisted.

Under the Defence Act, all men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one were trained and organised whilst in the country districts. The men between the ages of sixteen and sixty were under the Burgher Law, liable to be called out on twenty-four hours notice.

The Union therefore within a few hours of the Proclamation of General Mobilisation had not only a large army of Infantry, Artillery, Naval ratings and Mounted Infantry under arms but could command an immense body of mounted irregulars, the bulk of whom were veterans and sons of veterans of the Boer and Native Wars.

The Union Government had accepted full responsibility for Conquest of German South West Africa and the defence of the Union itself; thus releasing the British Garrison of regular trips who have been rushed off to France.


Mounted units, such as the Witwatersrand Rifles (above),
faced considerable challenges in the desert.
(Photo: By courtesy, SANMMH).

That summed up the situation Mr Osmond telling the three Rhodesians that during the day their best course was to go into town and investigate conditions before attempting to decide on their future policy.