From Boatsheds to Battlefields 56 Their Future in Their Hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All these things have duly and truly happened.

Bernard Leffler WW2

Bernard Leffler (Mick Osmond) WWII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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.

Image result for World War 1 newspaper headlines

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.

Related image

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. 

Image result for a still for making spirits 1900s South Africa

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?