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 70 Appetite for Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 69 An Army Surrenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 68 Court Marshalled

The day after the battle of Upington Mick interviewed the Commanding Officers of the 18th Mounted Rifles. The interview was satisfactory and Mick return to the Transport Camp with a letter to the Director of Transport.

To his amazement, he was ordered to appear before various officers acting as a Board of Enquiry if Mick could be charged with having deserted his post in the face of the enemy.

Mick indignantly asked who the accuser was and explained that he had been released from the pont the night before the battle. He also stated that the Officer in charge of the pont had given him an order to proceed to the attacked section of artillery to try and get a chance of taking a combatant part.

As proof of what he had done Mick referred the Board to the Officer commanding the 18th Mounted Rifles with whom he had taken part in the action.

The Major holding the Enquiry then asked how a box of spanners and tools and a Natal Light Horse rifle came into his possession they had been government property and not an issue to him. The box and rifle had been found in Mick’s wagon.

Mick lost his temper. He demanded to know whether he was under arrest he was told not. Mick wished to know whether he was to be placed under arrest. The answer was that he was becoming impudent.

Mick retorted that the whole damn Transport crowd were robbers and thieves and that he intended proceeding to General Van Deventer and accusing various Offices and Conductors of wholesale robbery.

He entered into specific details but was stopped and a little later left the room without a stain on his character, permission to transfer into the 18th Mounted Rifles, to transfer his horse with him and retain his rifle.

In great excitement, Mick back at the Camp told the Officer-in-Charge that he intended reporting various matters to the General and had already done so to the Major. Gaily adding that he had left the Transport Service and had permission to transfer his horse and rifle with him.

He said goodbye to the other Conductors and his Coloured subordinates. Mick rode over to the 18th Mounted Rifles and reported for duty.

He joined a Squadron composed of hard-faced Diamond Diggers, issued with a uniform and six-millimetre rifle, Portuguese army patterned, two bandoliers, kit and ammunition. Mick proceeded to join his new comrades.

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