From Boatsheds to Battlefields 70 Appetite for Blood

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

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

Image result for general van deventer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 69 An Army Surrenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

PT-Manie_Maritz-Upington-1914

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.

11Rebels

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 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 60 Wild, Free and Dangerous

End of 59th Entry: The new destination was Prieska in the North-West of Cape Colony where forces were being assembled to operate against the Dutch rebels.

It is now October 1914. Throughout the Union, thousands of traitor Dutch had risen in open revolt choosing the time of Britain’s need to betray their oaths, their fellow countrymen, their race and their nation.

It was not like a rebellion of Irishmen against a foreign power holding Ireland by the might of armed occupation. It was an absolute fouling of their own nest by a traitorous section of a nation. 

Beyers the Commandant General of the Union, Colonel Maritz, General Kemp, the famous De Wet with other leaders used their personal influence to lead thousands of ignorant Boers into the armed rebellion.

Fortunately, South Africa possessed honourable men worthy of the grand ancient names of Holland and France which they bore. General Botha, the Premier of South Africa, a man against whose honour, courage and wisdom no man, friend or foe has ever cast stone rallied the mass of Dutch South Africa – ably seconded by General Smuts, by many of the famous Boer generals and leaders of the old Republican forces who for three long years fought Britain’s might General Botha dealt swiftly and surely with the renegades.

Disdaining the leprous section who attempted to sit on the fence egging on the armed rebels but fearing to risk their own skins, General Botha and Smuts took the field in person.

De Wet and most of the leaders of the Free State and Transvaal rebels were soon in gaol, their bands were broken up and dispersed. General Beyers was shot whilst fleeing across a river in flood.  One or two brigands were executed and Kemp chased through the Kalahari. At Upington, he was surrounded but the loyal troops were forbidden to fire and he was allowed a chance, quickly availed of, to escape and link up with his fellow rebel Manie Maritz.

The surrender of General de Wet.
(Photo: By courtesy, SANDF Doc Ctr)

General Botha having then crushed the rebellion with the use of mostly Boer forces began to once more resume operations against the Germans.

Meanwhile, Mick’s train after six days of monotonous and wearing jolting arrived at Prieska late at night. The train had again and again been sidetracked for many a weary hour, all kinds of difficulties had been experienced in feeding and especially in watering the animals and the men were incredibly sore, tired and quarrelsome.

Their troubles ended with the journey. A fresh detail of transport men took over the offloading of the animals after their riding horses had been taken out of the trucks and guided by Head Conductor who had been in charge of Mick’s Cape Town depot, the party cantered through the town to where the whole staff of Transport and Remounts were billeted.

A smoking meal of fried steak, onions, potatoes and bread with unlimited whiskey and hot coffee awaited them at the Heat Conductor’s billet. Their wants satisfied the newcomers were then taken to billets Mick finding himself together with a companion detailed to a large house which contained a pretty daughter a girl of eighteen.

The quarters were good. The two men shared the guestroom sleeping together in a huge old-fashioned four-poster bed. Their meals were to be taken across the road at theHeat Conductor’s billet where a transport mess had been formed.

At daybreak, the morning after their arrival Mick and his mate on reporting to theHeat Conductor had a Coloured batman detail to them and were told that when not on duty they were to remain in the vicinity of the mess so as to be handy if required.

Tens of thousands of animals – horses, mules, donkeys and oxen were being concentrated at Prieska. From dark, in the morning until long after dark at night the transport men laboured feverishly.

Every horse and mule had to be caught, branded and shod – every donkey and ox branded. Then came orders to shoe ten thousand transport oxen for work in the sandy desert country. Hundreds of transport waggons had to be greased, tens of thousands of pieces of harness buckled together, teams of sixteen mules, twenty-two donkeys or sixteen oxen picked, caught and hauled out of hundreds of frightened kicking, struggling animals.

The role of the horse during WW1 cannot be underestimated. Although advances in technology meant mounted warfare was coming to an end, the cavalry were still used for reconnaissance work and carrying messages. Horses also pulled artillery, wagons and ambulances through the deep mud. By 1917, it was difficult to replace a horse and so some troops were told that the loss of a horse was more of a strategic anxiety than the loss of a soldier.

Mick found the work intensely fascinating. Now he was amongst a wild excited mob of mules selecting likely looking leaders, wheelers or couples for intermediate positions, helping to work the picked animals out of their plunging fellows into a corner – quietening them or getting them jammed until halters could be slipped over their heads –  hauling them away to be shod and branded, then escorting the animals to where a long line of waggons stood ready to have them inspanned.

It was dangerous exciting work with numerous casualties occurring through men being kicked, trodden on or savaged. Half the animals were fresh from the farms the buck wild untrained things that had never known halter or harness. What Mick enjoyed the most was the watering of the horses. Twice daily a strong body of mounted men, Conductors and Basutu rode up to the Remount paddocks. Mick himself being the lightest weight took the most perilous post.

Mounted on the fastest horse to procurable he rode before the gateway of the paddock and turned his horse into the road leading to the Orange River quarter of a mile or so away. The other mounted men meanwhile forming a line either side of the road.

The gates were flung open Mick started forward and three to four hundred horses pouring from the paddock galloped after him, with a score of mounted men riding hard on flanks and in the rear cracking stock whips and shouting.

The road was worn, full of ruts, stones and other pitfalls – behind were hundreds of horses galloping with tossing mains and streaming tails – a slip, a stumble, a fall and Death was certain; but what youth ever realises the meaning of danger.

Singing, yelling, Mick bending jockey fashion used the whip and spur without stint exalting in the wind howling past, the thunder of the great drove behind. The Orange River loomed ahead – driving in spurs, sending the long cruel lash of his short handled stockwhip curling in a vicious stinging back twist under his horse’s belly he lifted the maddened animal to face the running stream.

The horse dashed into the water and almost simultaneously the following drove sent the spray flying as they to galloped furiously into the river. 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.

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.