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 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 49 Battling Through Life

So Mick lived for nearly a year. Kotzee and himself obtained sixteen oxen from the ranch they have the use of them on condition that the oxen were trained to the yoke, and returned at the end of six months fit for use in waggon or plough.

The two with a few Mashona made bricks and built a house – a weird and wonderful erection whose chimney fell off after erection and whose corners came apart owing to lack of proper bond. Somehow they existed Mick bought a Martini-Henry rifle and 100 rounds of black powder ammunition from the police for £3 sent him by his father – he and Kotzee wore out their boots and walked the country barefooted – more and more the two grew into a pair who looked as though civilization’s breath had never touched them.

But Mick was no fool – he soon found his partner to be a man with no stability of mind or purpose – a visionary and a fanatic.

The two began to argue about Imperialism, Religion and farming. Each began to feel the other an enemy and Mick started to go off more and more to the Godfrey’s, the two English neighbours, Kruger and old Airth. All of them seemed to like him – he got plentiful food at their homes and they thought about everything in the same way that he did.

Then Kotzee’s wife arrived with two beautiful children – Mrs Kotzee proved to be a Christian Scientist and a vegetarian and came from a wealthy family.

The rains began and with it came Malaria – Mrs Kotzee refuse to take quinine or give it to the children – one child died – then Mick went down badly and Mrs Kotzee and the other child were taken ill.

For some days Mick lay delirious without a soul visiting him – he came to himself weak as a kitten and looking like a ghost.

Then came Kotzee with a shotgun practically stone mad raving that Mick had poisoned his family, put his wife against him, ridiculed him to his neighbours and that he would have Mick’s life. Mick thoroughly alarmed grabbed his Martini knocked Kotzee aside and left.

A few days later barefooted and starving he arrived in Salisbury his only possession his rifle and two shillings. At a tearoom, he ordered some soup and fainted whilst trying to eat it. On coming round he found a pretty little waitress doing all she could to help him – the girl told him at once that he had better get into the hospital as he was rotten with fever and advised Mick to interview the Anglican Clergyman who would arrange his entry.

Wearily Mick trudged up to the interview but evidently gave the worthy minister the impression he was drunk. Half delirious Mick understood that the Clergyman couldn’t do anything for him and staggered back to the tearoom for further advice.

The waitress wasted no time but helped Mick to her room and put him to bed. Three days later feeling much better the youth set out on foot for the Angwa alluvial goldfields where a younger brother of his family’s – the family black sheep was earning a precarious living from hunting and gold washing.

Advised that his route was “Follow the railway line”, Mick did – but the Fates sent him along the wrong line until he reached a farmhouse where he was advised to cut across country to the Lomagundi line the one he was on leaving to Cape Town.

That night he came to another farm – a tall bearded man took him in for a meal and hearing his name said: “Well I’m damned – not the son of William Osmond of Sea Point?”

“Yes I am,” answered Mick “Do you know Dad?”

“God Bless your soul youngster I used to live next door to you – nursed you as a baby – Hell it’s a small world.”

For two or three days Mick was kept in bed and well looked after. The Stewart’s to whose hospitable door fate had brought him laughed at the idea of the Angwa pointing out that the place was a death trap and the diggers merely making a bare existence.

The tobacco boom was in full swing and their neighbour Godfrey a brother of Mick’s Marandellas friend wanted a man. Godfrey himself came over to interview Mick with the result that a satisfactory agreement was concluded the youth as soon as he was fit enough moving over to his new employer’s home.

Mick had now had over two years of battling through life and with the exception of three months in the Struan District and six weeks near Grahamstown, his life had certainly not been a soft or easy one. He had become inured to disappointment, used to coarse scanty fare and well able to hold his own amongst any type of men.

His twenty-first birthday was past but with all his rough and tumble experiences Mick still retained the heart of a boy of sixteen with all his idealism unspoilt. A nature full of emotionalism, a strongly developed imagination and the closest possible contact with a father and a mother whose letters showed that however far from him they were in body, yet in spirit, they were always near, kept Mick from many pitfalls. His pen and his imagination were his greatest friends – if with the one he could fight loneliness with the other turn hardship and rough conditions into a game.

Early years spent on the sea and mountain certainly contributed much to his ability to accustom himself readily to any emergencies or calls on his powers of adaptability. They had given him the wiry constitution of a savage and the digestive powers of an ostrich and with Mick, a squall was past was gone – others would come but it was foolishness worrying about them and those that had struck him always left some memory to chuckle over even if only at his own damned innocence or foolishness.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 45 Letter to Dad

Dearest Dad,

At last, I am in my new home and settled for good, I hope. Kotzee is a splendid chap, but jaw! Heavens, he hasn’t stopped for three days and appears half crazy with delight at having a companion.

After leaving Cape Town we had a fine journey as far as Kimberley but from there the rain came in torrents. Through Bechuanaland the scenery was interesting, the country being covered with trees and grass, a great relief after the awful monotony of the Karoo.

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Once the train had to slow down to stopping point to allow a great herd of blue wildebeest cross in front of the engine. It made one realise that civilisation was behind alright.

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It rained right through to Marandellas where I found that it was unlikely that Kotzee could bring in a waggon for months. He had left word however that I was to be taken care of and forwarded to him at the first opportunity.

I had sixpence left and hotel accommodation was twelve and six a day. The owner of the combined hotel, grocer and butcher’s shop, native trading store etc – a building which in itself practically was Marandellas – told me not to worry but stay as long as I liked. I could sign cards for what debt I incurred and pay when able – “a year hence probably” he said laughingly.

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After two days during which the rain hardly paused I interviewed the Native Commissioner and explained my circumstances. He gave me as a guide a wild-looking man who slinging my roll of blankets over his shoulder and putting my iron trunk on his head set-off.

The man was armed with a nasty looking assegai and a battleaxe. Despite the rain, his only garment was a loincloth but he seemed quite happy. He grinned cheerfully now and again talking to me in a queer sounding language not a word of it like Zulu. He looked wilder than he was but I kept my Lee Metford loaded and ready for use.

It was horrible mucky and wet. Our route was by way of narrow twisting paths through grass never less than three feet high and sometimes well over our heads. There were heaps of trees making the prospect look even more miserable with water dripping off them.

Soon after dark, we reached a big river in flood. It looked rotten in the semi-darkness but the guide walked in and I followed. It was rotten. I could just keep my feet and was full of thoughts of crocodiles.

However, we got across to find ourselves in what looked like a white man’s maize lands. Some dogs started barking and we saw a light to which we made our way. As we got near a pack of big dogs charged us but hearing a white man’s voice calling I yelled back and a giant of a man came down the path.

He turned out to be the manager of a big estate and was awfully decent. He took me into his house where his wife nearly wept to see a white man. I was given a deuce of a feed of kudu steak and a bed was made up for me in the kitchen as the house was packed with girl children of theirs. It was hours before they stopped talking to me so when I got to bed I slept like a dead man.

The next day news came that Kotzee had passed some miles away on his way into Marandellas to fetch me. Mr Godfrey, my host, thereupon insisted on my staying with them until Kotzee passed on his way back and sent a picanin in with a note to tell him where I was.

The Godfreys seldom leave the farm and hardly ever see a white man – four of the girls have been born there without a doctor or nurse ever coming near but they are all a strapping healthy looking lot.

Godfrey is an old diamond digger and Boer War veteran. He comes from the Basuto border and I spent hours listening to his tales of the Diggings and the Frontier. I’ve never heard people talk so much I suppose it’s because they are simply starving for a change from the loneliness.

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Kotzee came back three days later and sent a native over to tell us where to find him. Mr Godfrey accompanied me through the Bush and after half an hour’s walk, we heard a waggon coming along. A couple of minutes later took us onto an old transport road and as we entered it a small donkey waggon turned a corner and I saw a queer little figure of a man leading.

He was only as big as me, five feet four, had a great beard and was wrapped in a tattered filthy old overcoat below which peeped the ends of a broken pair of dungarees. a battered helmet which in its youth had been surmounted the outfit. Jove but he looked queer. He greeted me warmly however and we seemed to take a liking to one another immediately.

Mr Godfrey having delivered me safely took his departure and a little while after Kotzee outspanned and we made a meal of bully beef, fried potatoes, warmed up beans and tea.

When our meal was finished the sun had set and darkness fell rapidly so climbing under the waggon we lay down on beds made from cut grass covered with the waggon sail. Snuggling into our blankets, toes to a cheerful fire burning next to the waggon Kotzee and I talked for a while and then dropped off to sleep.

At dawn next morning the donkeys were inspanned and we moved off passing through many swamps covered with long grass and amidst beautiful park-like country.

Somewhere about ten, the waggon was outspanned near a kraal and Kotzee and I walked over to a farm managed by a Dutchman who had been a prisoner-of-war on St Helena. On the way, our road passed the ruins of a house burnt by the Mashonas during the Rebellion fourteen years ago.

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Passing into a range of hills Kruger’s house came into sight built on the slope under some chaotic granite hills overlooking a big swamp of heavy black soil – this he had drained and grows what must surely be the world’s record crops of oats, maize, potatoes, beans and onions.

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Kruger was most hospitable and we remained at his house until next morning feasting on kudu steak, roast haunch of reedbuck, red bread made from a tiny native grain mixed with flour, new potatoes and a jolly good bread pudding.

The following day our journey was resumed and that afternoon the waggon reached home.

to be continued…