From Boatsheds to Battlefields 54 War Time Raiders

End of 53rd Entry: Now and again a pile of newspapers reached him all full of the Wars between Montenegro, Greece, Serbia, and Turkey.

Then one day Mick woke with a rotten headache which increased as the day wore on – his body got hot and cold by turns shivering fits set in with violent spasms of vomiting. Mick fought against it but malaria needs quinine to stop its progress and the camp was bare of the vital ally.

A couple of evenings later a native passing a farmhouse near the siding casually told the owner that the new white man down the river was dying. A B.S.A. trooper happened to be at the farm. He and the owner did the nine miles in record time driving a couple of natives before them. At Mick’s camp, the hut was deserted though round a campfire Mick’s boys were singing happily. 

On being questioned they reported that their master had been very sick for a couple of days. “No! Nobody had gone in to see how he was – he hadn’t called anybody and the cook was away on a holiday.”

The trooper sent them scuttling round to hunt for signs of their master and soon a shout from the river announced that he was found. Evidently maddened for want of water, poor Mick had crawled down for a drink. He was in a mighty bad way so wasting no time the white men had a couple of poles, a blanket fastened between and four boys sent trotting off to the siding with the patient.

Fortunately, as they arrived a train came in on it’s way to Salisbury and a few hours later Mick was safely in the hospital.

Mick was pretty tough so within a few days unlimited quinine, careful nursing, warmth and cheerful pretty nurses had him on his feet again.

On his return, Mick promptly forsook his old camp transferring with bag and baggage to his new half-completed home. This he soon completed and settled down once more healthy, content and happy.

An adjoining farm was taken up giving Mick pleasant neighbours. The manager of a large ranch rode over – turned out to be a near relation of his old Constantia employer, and began to regularly send his horse for Mick to ride over to the ranch for weekends.

One day Mick feeling off-colour sent a boy over to Tom Godfrey asking for quinine – the boy returned with quinine, a newspaper and a note.

Dear Mick,
Herewith the quinine and half a bottle of brandy, all I can spare.  Also the pup. I suppose you’ve heard that the British Army has arrived in Belgium. We should hear tomorrow how it shapes against the Germans. The Belgians seem to have more guts than one would have thought. Everybody around here is clamouring for the formation of a Rhodesian force and the South Africans have already had a scrap or two in German West.
Yours,
Tom

Mick dazed, read and re-read the note, opened the papers and saw the staring headlines.

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For a while, he thought he was mad. What was the war about? It was three weeks since he had seen either a newspaper or white man and there wasn’t a war cloud insight. Now apparently Britain, France and Belgium were scrapping with Germany.

Wasting no time Mick ran the nine miles to the siding. Here he found the place in a ferment.  Dozens of hard frontiersman seemed to have come out of the wilds.

Prospectors, traders, farmers, hunters, miners and transport riders – some were Reservists waiting for the train, others ex-Army officers of regular and irregular forces – many like himself had only just heard that there was a war on and were clamouring for details – everybody seemed mad to get to the war before it finished.

Men clamoured for volunteers to look after their mining prospects, farms, and trading stores. Partners tossed as to whom should go and whom should stay.

A meeting was held at which nearly every man put down his name as willing to serve overseas, in Africa or for Home Defence and an urgent application wired to the Administrator calling upon him to immediately form a Rhodesian regiment to be placed at the disposal of the British War office.

Mick volunteered for overseas, then set off back to the farm.  Arrived there he arranged the work for the next few days and left for Salisbury. In the town he found a restless angry population swollen by the addition of men from outside all clamouring for the Government to act.

The authorities, however, seemed as much in the dark as the man in the street. The Union down South had mobilised and was pouring troops into German West Africa, but apparently, the British War office had forgotten Rhodesia’s existence. The Mounted Police left to seize the narrow strip of German territory next to the Victoria Falls.

Rumours came that in the North the Germans were sweeping all before them in Nyasaland and British East Africa. Stories came of black armies invading the Congo, of the Germans having promised their black troops all the white women captured.

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A man with an evil reputation began quietly enlisting picked men from the Bush into a regiment to dash over the Portuguese border looting the country. It was argued that it didn’t matter which side Portugal joined, and if forced onto the enemy’s her colonies and African Seaports would form most valuable acquisitions to Rhodesia and the Union.

It was rumoured that a well-known Jewish speculator was backing the enterprise, that truckloads of horses for the Raiders had already left the Free State. Each man possessed his own rifle so all that remained to do once the horses arrived was to cross the Border.

Mick’s gold-digging Uncle driven from the Alluvial Fields over a threat of prosecution in connection with the distillation of rice spirit in a home-made still with a rifle barrel as worm, had gone prospecting and elephant poaching in North Eastern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. 

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He had returned destitute but cheerful, and for a week stayed with Mick. Now he was one of the leading spirits amongst the Raiders and through his influence, Mick was enlisted in one of the troops of a squadron.

However, some of the filibusters waxed eloquent over their whiskey which resulted in a stern threat from the Administration that any unauthorised raids would be treated as piratical and immediate steps were taken to prevent any possibility of this organised one from materializing.

Mick interviewed his employers begging to be released from his duty and advanced money to take him to England but was told not to be a fool. The War would be over long before he got there while in any case, it was a war of regular armies, not one for untrained men or Irregular forces.

A question arising from the text:

What does “with a rifle barrel as worm” mean?

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 53 Taming the Wilderness

On returning from a long holiday in Cape Town;

An ox wagon deposited Mick,  four natives, their worldly goods and an assortment of agricultural implements on the banks of a broad river flowing between high banks. Having brought the new manager and his assistants the waggon departed leaving its former passengers to their work of taming the wilderness.

Mick’s first work was to put one man onto collecting wood, making a fire and getting a kettle of water on. Meanwhile, the other three were sent to chop saplings, strip away pliable tough inner bark for tying purposes, cut grass for thatching and to generally busy themselves in preparing for the erection of the Estate Manager’s residence.

Having got the staff at work the Manager armed with his Martini set off along the river to survey his domain. Some months previously two spans of oxen each with a four furrow disc plough had been sent down to break up as much as they could of the rich alluvial riverbank.

The estate had nine miles of river frontage which gave them almost that length of twenty-foot deep chocolate soil varying in width from three or four yards to a couple of hundred. This was the actual bank – beyond lay swamps of heavy black soil of inexhaustible fertility which years after bore enormous crops of wheat. From the swamps, the ground rose in a gentle slope to a heavily timbered ridge beyond which lay the broad watershed of forest country.

Walking down the river bank Mick was gratified to find large acreages of rich soil broken up and amazed at the plentiful signs of big game. Soon he paused in wonder at some enormous footprints a thrill running through him as he remembered that the river was full of hippopotami. A little further on he came to a sight which made him realise that a farm alive with game was not an unmixed blessing.

Quite a fair acreage had been rushed into maize which had grown splendidly. Its growth had surprised and pleased Godfrey but his pleasure and appreciation was nothing to that of a family of hippo.

Cursing at the destruction before him Mick walked through a large field of what had seemingly been a ten bag to the acre crop. Hippo paths ran everywhere – waterbuck, Kudu, sable, wild pig and small buck appeared to have been as attracted as the hippo and Mick groaned as he wondered how on earth he was going to grow crops for markets instead of feed for a teeming game reserve.

Coming through the further end of the field he reached the ploughs – congratulating the natives on the work they had done, he spoke of the quantity of game he had seen. The natives instantly began to explain that this was indeed a Paradise for big game and proposed accompanying him to begin the work of destruction at once. “It was a long time since they had had meat,” remarked the spokesmen

Taking one of the boys Mick pushed on but though signs were plentiful game itself was not and eventually, he returned empty-handed to his camp

The next few weeks gave him little leisure – cattle and more boys arrived, his hut was built. What the game that left of the maize crop was reaped, shelled and dragged on the rough sledge to a siding nine miles away. Cattle kraals – rough log and bush enclosures were made – a strip of land broken up for tobacco seed beads, lands selected for tobacco and all the time hard ploughing of the rich maize lands went on with four four furrow disc ploughs.

Realising that his hut had been built in a death trap – a great swamp on two sides, the river a few yards in front – Mick pushed on the construction of a Robinson Crusoe building at the edge of the forest. From here he commanded to truly wonderful view hills, river scenery, bush country and the Umvukwe Mountains.

Though with little leisure on his hands quite a lot of game fell to the old Martini. Apparently, no hunting had taken place for years resulting in the game being quite unafraid of man. Elephants passed through on their way from Hartley to Lomagundi reports came of lions – once a herd of magnificent sable antelope black bodied, white-bellied under a forest of curved horns trotted curiously up to the very building he was erecting – hardly a day passed without a seeing game and the camp was seldom without meat sometimes shot from the door or window of Mick’s hut.

The river yielded quite good fish and gave some exciting sport shooting at crocodiles or watching a family of monstrous hippo at play.

So Mick shot sable, kudu, waterbuck, tsessebe and reedbuck, went to look at elephant, watched hippo, found alluvial gold in small quantities and spent Sundays panning the river bars or fishing. He was never lonely, but always full of content.

Now and again a pile of newspapers reached him all full of the Wars between Montenegro, Greece, Serbia, and Turkey.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 52 Taking a Holiday

End of 51st Entry: Filled with delight Mick went into Salisbury, cashed a handsome cheque booked his passage to South Africa and went up to the old Commercial Hotel for a drink.

At the hotel, two pleasant spoken men got into a conversation with him. Both were from Cape Town, appeared to know his father well and one was the son of a Volunteer Colonel.

Mick unaccustomed to spirits had a couple of whiskies and became instantly interested in their talk of Insurance. His ideas were very hazy on the subject but apparently paying in £50 a year for twenty years he would draw a lump sum of nearly £2000. If he died his heirs would get over £1000 even if he died just after taking out the Endowment Policy – Mick fell.

What he liked about it was these fellows didn’t want cash – “sign a three months bill old chap – your dad would reckon it a darn good investment – £4 a month only.” So Master Michael interviewed a doctor put his name to some papers and stood a couple more drinks.

There were various people Mick knew in Salisbury and Salisbury was not a Y.M.C.A. abode in 1912. Mick too owed a debt of gratitude to a little girl once a waitress now a pretty barmaid. Who got Mick to the train was a mystery to him forever but someone did in a wheelbarrow.

Next morning Mick on awakening found his head feeling like a balloon filled with red-hot irons – he was fully dressed moreover and felt it. A wash and shave freshened him up a little but he felt an intense longing for cold winds so proceeded to the balcony between two carriages.

Here a rather prepossessing damsel smiled winningly at him. Entering into conversation with her Mick was accused of having all but bumped her overboard the previous evening. Deep apologies were made by a bashful blushing young farmer and accepted by the lady who thereupon suggested that after the night before a hair of the dog that had bitten him would undoubtedly help Michael to view life through more pleasant spectacles.

Mick agreed, a steward was hailed and in the girl’s coupè the two settled comfortably down to enjoy the Rhodesian eye-opener of milk and whiskey. During the long four day journey, the acquaintanceship progressed rapidly. The lady was a hospital nurse not very young but slim and charming and of vast experience in dealing with the sterner sex.

She was going to Cape Town for a serious operation and Mick’s ready sympathy glorified the woman into something divine, she was a good sort and made the trip pleasant and entertaining.

On arrival home, Mick found a wonderful reception awaiting him but for the first two days and evenings he spent his whole time with his Rhodesian lady friend – she went into the hospital the third day to be operated on immediately.

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Calling around in the afternoon Mick heard most awful moans proceeding from a tiny private ward opening from the hallway. A pretty nurse being asked if he could see his friend gaily nodded at the closed door – “You can hear her anyway” she remarked “She’s just coming round. Call around tomorrow afternoon perhaps you’ll be allowed to see her then.”

Sick at heart Mick left. He called the next day, saw his friend and though love vanished friendship remained. Mick called daily but gradually became aware that a rather jolly looking probationer nurse was attracting his fancy.

Mick’s friend recovered but found Mick’s youth and unsophistication bored her, his passion, on the other hand, was dead so Mick once again sought his old friends the St Julien’s, the chums of his boyhood and the sea and the mountain.

A lot of time, however, was devoted to the hospital so that when at last Michael Osmond turned his face Northward he was an engaged man with youth behind him and manhood before him.

Months passed – the insurance agents called to be received by a wrathful sulky young man who dared them to do their worst. the one adopted a bullying tone and attitude – Mick’s Irish temper flared. It happened that their visit took place as he was about to go on a hunting trip and the offensive man immediately found a rifle butt raised ominously in the air whilst a young savage dark with passion threatened to smash his ……. head if he delayed immediate departure – he did not.

Shortly after Mick’s return Godfrey was persuaded to take as a pupil a young Englishman, the heir to a considerable fortune and with very important connections.

The pupil duly arrived his luggage filling the large Government waggons. He turned out to be a rather prepossessing youth with any amount of self-assurance. Invited into his room Mick wide-eyed gazed upon a large gallery of autographed photographs of picture postcard beauties – upon a varied assortment of saddlery, polo sticks and a simply marvellous collection of pipes.

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As a worked the new addition was not a success, as a companion he was delightful and for the first time since leaving school, Mick found himself with a mate of his own age.

Then an old mountain and fishing chum wrote him from Gatooma. He was anxious to start farming.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 51 Thrilling Encounters

One of Mick’s most thrilling encounters with game however was, when accompanied by two half-grown dogs, a cross between red setter and water spaniel, he put up a full-grown reedbuck ram and let it have a charge of birdshot. The buck stumbled and like a flash the two dogs were on him – he threw them off but Mick with a wild yell flung himself on top of the now seriously annoyed buck who with a vicious swing of his horns caught Mick a glancing blow sending him bruised and winded in the river – the dogs half frantic with joy had taken full advantage of Mick’s assault and rushing in secured holds.

The reedbuck now on his feet attempted to plunge forward but the dogs held – with a quick twist the maddened animal knocked one dog away with his horns tearing a long gash in the pups flank – as the reedbuck struck at the other Mick panting and wet once again dived at him only to get a hind hoof fair and square in the chest – down dropped Mick but the wounded dog again fastened on – the other dog let go – the reedbuck dashed forward and the free dog having got his breath again sprang for a hold whilst Mick undauntedly hurled himself for the third time on his quarry.

A desperate wrestling match ended in an exhausted antelope, two dogs and a man lying sobbing for breath the buck watching his enemies they keeping wary eyes on him – once again he made a plunge forward – down he went with three frenzied tacklers on top – again all rested and Mick stealthily drew a hunting knife – at his movement the buck again attempted a dash but this time the long cruel knife bit deeply into his throat – madly he struggled but with the ferocity of a savage Mick sawed and with a gurgling moan the noble beast began to weaken as the streams of blood spurted from severed vein and artery. Another powerful slash of the keen knife and with glazing eyes the buck rolled over conquered.

Hunting either alone, accompanied by a native or with Tom was Mick’s ruling passion though once having tasted the joys of dropping a bird on the wing he became less enamoured of the rifle. Redwing partridge, wild duck and geese were his favourite shooting and during the maize harvest, he was seldom without a gun.

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For a thoroughly enjoyable morning, however, Mick yielded the palm to a big drive – the long line fo guns and beaters advancing through the maize and dense reeds – the barking of a hundred dogs mingling with the shouts of their owners. The cries of Mark Right – Mark Left accompanied by a blaze of rifle and shotgun fires as buck or bird dashed along or whirred over the line kept him in roars of laughter and thrills of tension. Many of the guns would blaze away out of sheer excitement or devilment whether there was a chance of a hit or not.

Mick was receiving a small salary and a percentage of profits. The tobacco and maize yielding well Mick found that for the first time since leaving Grahamstown he was possessed of quite a handsome sum.

On engaging him Godfrey had arranged credit terms in Salisbury so that Mick had been enabled to stock his wardrobe and later buy a bicycle – besides keeping himself supplied with ammunition, tobacco and little luxuries.

After the second crop, eighteen months had passed on the estate and two and a half years since he bade his last farewell to the sea. The crops had not only been heavy but had realised high figures the tobacco realising an average of well over two shillings a pound. Godfrey well satisfied with his year’s results gave Mick a holiday and advised him to go off home for a month or two.

Filled with delight Mick went into Salisbury, cashed a handsome cheque booked his passage to South Africa and went up to the old Commercial Hotel for a drink.

Photo 2 Manica Rd

 

 

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 50 Growing Tobacco in Rhodesia

End of 49th Entry: … 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.

Now with a busy interesting life, a large civilised home filled with cheerful prosperous people Mick found himself brimful of joy o’ life. He and a younger brother of Godfrey’s shared a comfortable well-furnished room – Tom Godfrey his roommate had served throughout the Boer War, was frontier born and reared, had read largely and was a companion such as Mick had always longed to have.

The two went hunting together, exchanged life histories, discussed men and matters, played the gramophone and split the farm supervision between them. There were friendly neighbours close at hand – tennis, shooting parties and the owner and his wife was father and mother to Mick.

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The tobacco work fascinated him. First, the seedbeds were most carefully prepared the ground being ploughed, cross ploughed and worked up by hand to the finest possible tilth. Then waggon load after waggon load of timber, heavy tree trunks, brushwood and branches being packed into a mess four feet high – this was set fire to and when burned out the ground was roasted to at least four inches killing all seed of weeds or grass or any insects and their eggs.

The ash having been raked off the beds were bordered out with bricks each bed four feet two inches wide and twenty yards long. The tobacco seed mixed with wood ash was then carefully sown and cheesecloth laid over a wire eighteen inches from the ground running the length of the bed – the cheesecloth was then securely fastened down onto the brick side and end walls thus making the beds insect proof.

Twenty square yards of seedbed were allowed per acre of estimated planting and Mick had 800 square yards of beds to look after. For weeks the seed and seedlings were watered two or three times a day until the plants were strong vigorous ones ready for transplanting.

Meanwhile, the lands had been well ploughed and harrowed work continuing until the first rains when all hands were set on planting out the seedlings three feet between plants in the row with the rows some distance apart.

Shortly before the rains, the land had been marked out a straw being stuck where a plant would come a later – a tablespoonful of artificial fertiliser had also been scratched in at each straw so that when the first planting rain came there was no delay. The plants set out in well worked up land caught immediately – no sooner had the roots taken than they found their food available and began a steady growth at once.

Later the lower leaves were primed to keep the stem clean and allow a free passage of wind and air the great foes of moulds and some plant diseases – then, at last, the fields of broad tobacco leaves began to turn from dark rich green to the colour of Australian gold – flower heads appeared and were nipped out so as to preserve the strength of the plant in the leaves – the plants striving to obey their natural function, the production of seed send shoots out from each junction of stem and leaf each shoot a potential seed head – these were instantly ripped out and though still sending out suckers the plant began to ripen.

Africa's bread-basket: Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia, was once seen as a powerhouse on the continent. Pictures show a tobacco farm in the country in around 1900

Now came the harvest. The bottom leaves were stripped from each plant and carted to the flue-curing barns, here they were strung in batches of three on sticks each stick taking roughly thirty-four bunches strung alternately on the right and left sides. As the sticks were completed they were handed into the barn and strung on tiers seven tiers going to a barn.

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When full the barn closed, made as airtight as possible and a fire’s started in two outside furnaces the heat of which ran down great fourteen-inch iron pipes which ran into and around the barn escaping into a chimney between the furnaces.

For twelve hours the temperature was held at 90°F. The as the leaves began to yellow the temperature was slowly advanced until at 110°F the leaves reached a perfect lemon colour. Ventilation both in the roof and on the ground level was then begun and the temperature and ventilation kept slowly an steadily increasing driving off the moisture content of the leaf as rapidly as the clammy heat brought it to the leaf’s surface.

At 120°F, the leaves began to show signs of drying and both temperatures and ventilation were increased more rapidly until 140°F was reached and the leaf on the bottom tiers was as dry as tinder. At this stage, the temperature was held steady until the top tiers were almost dry and then came full steam ahead and at 5°F per hour the mercury rose until 190°F was reached – all ventilators were then closed and the temperature held until the butts and stems of the leaves were as brittle as dry sticks.

The fires were now drawn – doors, ventilators and windows opened and the barn cooled – then everything was closed wet steam was run in until the leaves were supple, the sticks being taken down and unstrung the leaves were then packed in great bulks until time allowed their being sorted out into the odd fifty-four grades demanded by the buyers.

A barn took from seventy to ninety hours to cure and with three barns in different stages, one responsible man had to be on duty day and night.

A sudden drop or rise in temperature during the first fifty hours was quite capable of ruining a whole barn which might mean a loss of up to £70.  A log was therefore kept and the temperatures entered every half an hour.

The owner, his brother and Mick divided the shifts between them so that there was always one man in charge of fieldwork, one curing and one off duty.

The first frosts ended the curing season and began the maize harvest which was followed by shelling the maize grain from the cobs. This dome came the manuring and ploughing of lands, the planting season and once again the curing.

The Godfrey’s possessed a large circle of influential friends and shooting drives were constantly being held – these were never stale to Mick – apart from them, he and Tom Godfrey did a good deal of shooting securing a regular supply of oribi, duiker and steenbuck for the larder and now and again a tsessebe or reedbuck.

Tsessebe.

Tsessebe

The feathered game was plentiful the river banks and pools yielding many a partridge, pheasant, wild duck or goose – crocodiles infested the river and now and again gave a chance of a quick shot.

One monster Mick caught properly napping and with lightning, quickness let have two barrels – the distance was just right to allow the shot to spread nicely and apparently, one or more pellets entered the eye – the scaley brute, in any case, was badly hurt – it slid into the large pool and then swam madly up and down and round often leaping out of the water and lashing the surface into foam and waves.

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