FARM MANAGEMENT 1930s South Africa

Two essentials to successful farm management are trustworthiness and organising ability. It is easy to select and train a Native to become an excellent foreman but can one rely absolutely on any statement he makes? No! And in consequence, nobody would employ a native as a manager even if he possessed the intellectual ability.

Unless a farm manager is able to visualise all his work all the time he is quite useless. Unless he possesses organising ability both his own and his employer’s time is being wasted. Always a manager must be asking himself – can I do with less or with cheaper labour on this, that or the other job? Can it be done better another way or with other implements? If it were my farm would I consider this worth the trouble or that worth the expense? 

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A Manager’s job is to extract the maximum of efficiency at the minimum of cost from every employee, animal, land or implement. Unless he soaks himself in an atmosphere of trying to obtain efficiency he is certainly little good to his job.

Early rising is a necessary portion of any farmer’s job. If he is the last to come on the scene of farm labour and the first to leave it is obvious that his employees won’t do their full share unless he possesses more than ordinary powers of handling labour.

Any intelligent native can carry out an ordinary farm job if shown how to do it. The white man’s task is to see that every job is done and done properly.

Excuses are never convincing and are usually irritating. Lies defeat the very object for which they’re used. Once a superior catches a junior in a falsehood it’s a good policy for that junior to look for another job – he’s lost the confidence of the man under whom he is working.

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So to gain the reputation of a good farm manager a man must needs:

(1) Be absolutely honest

(2) Be interested in his work 

(3) Be able to get satisfactory results from it.

(4) Be able to win and hold his employee’s respect regarding
            a.  his character
            b.  his personality
            c.  see his devotion to his job
d.  his results

Nothing is more irritating than working with a man in whom one hasn’t confidence. Inspire that feeling of confidence and it is amazing how quickly ones’ troubles disappear.

B.M.Leffler
Valley Farm
Pretoria
South Africa
Circa 1930s

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.

sSegregationXX

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?

iscor

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 80 Food Parcels From Home 1916-1918

Written for publication by Bernard Meredith Leffler from Wendover Farm Pretoria:

How Great War Prisoners-of-War lived on

Parcels from Home

In two and a half years of captivity, I never saw an eatable meal issued by the German authorities. once a day a thin liquid called coffee was issued. This abomination was made from ground acorns barley meal and beet molasses and contained neither milk nor sugar.

Twice a day great evil-smelling tubs of hogwash were drawn, the contents a soup of horseflesh, yellow maize meal, prunes and dried apples. For a change sugar-beet ensilage with chopped carrots and turnips, or most a beastly mess of putrid fish-roe soup with mashed potatoes.

Kitchen Limburg

The kitchen at Limberg Camp

In Winter thirteen pounds, in Summer eighteen pounds of War bread was issued per man per month – a doughy mass of rye, potato and sawdust. Thrown against the wall it stuck there.

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Until our whereabouts was known to the British War Office we devoured huge quantities of these mixtures, all thin soup. When the tubs were carried to our quarters we rushed them, fought over them and sometimes fell into them to have one’s clothes instantly wrung out into basins and drunk. We bartered our clothes to the French for biscuits – braces 5, a kilt 50, a shirt 10 – all depending on condition and amount of vermin.

Once we began to get our parcels the German rations were handed over to the Russians,  Serbians, Romanians and Montenegrins who died off wholesale, some from the food and some from want of it.

Eight funerals a day was the average in Sprottau but as we had never less than 40,000  Russians, 10,000 French and a few thousand other nationalities the Germans complained that prisoners-of-war were very tough and blamed the unsatisfactory death rate on the Order of St John of Jerusalem, the British Red Cross, Sir Edward Grey and Jannie Smuts.

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Immediately the War began, Funds were started to make captivity a little bearable – as the realisation came of the plight of the war prisoners in Germany immense efforts were made to relieve conditions.

Relatives, friends, Clubs, newspapers, Regiments, ships all began sending parcels of foodstuffs to Germany. Popular figures received as many as forty food parcels in a mail, mostly bread gone mouldy in transit, eggs broke, homemade jam oozed from broken cardboard boxes, great cakes ruined by the eggs and jam.

Women packing food parcels for prisoners-of-war at the Australian Red Cross premises at 16 Regent Street in the City of Westminster, London, January 1917.
Packing food parcels for prisoners of war at the Australian Red Cross premises in Regent Street, London, January 1917. The organisation sent 395,695 food parcels and 36,339 clothing parcels to Allied PoWs in Germany and Turkey during the First World War.

In December 1916, the Order of St John of Jerusalem in conjunction with the British Red Cross took over and from then on all parcels were packed in properly organised depots, guarantees were given to the German Government as to the nature of the contents and day after day sealed trucks crossed the German border bearing standard packets to Dülmen, Sprottau, Holtzminden and a hundred other prisoner-of-war camps.

Kaserne B at Holzminden, with prisoners and guards

At the camps, the truck seals were broken by British or French NCOs under the supervision of a German Sergeant Major, the packets taken to an office and then issued to those in camp whilst the rest were sent by parcel post to those working on farms, in factories or mines.

Image result for food parcels checked in german POW camps ww1German censors reading through both incoming and outgoing mail at the Döberitz POW camp.

After December 1916 every British prisoner-of-war received two hundred and eighty-one loaves of bread a month from whichever neutral country was nearest his camp.

From Britain he received either 6 – 101 lbs or 4 to 15 lbs cardboard boxes per month containing:

A.   1 tin bully beef, 1 cake of soap, 1 packet tea, 1 packet bacon, 1 tin jam, 1 bar Mexican chocolate and cigarettes.

B.   1 tin McConachie’s rations, 1 packet Quaker Oats, 1 tin cocoa, 1 tin butter, I tin marmalade, 1 packet sugar, tobacco.

C.   1 tin pork and beans, 1 tin coffee, 1 tin condensed milk, 1 tin herrings in tomato sauce, biscuits, jam

D.  1 tin tripe and onions, 1 tin butter, 1 tin cooking fat, 1 shaving soap, 1 tin cigarettes and 1 tin pudding.

Image result for red cross food parcels ww1

By forming small messes, buying stolen onions, potatoes and sugar from men coming in from farm and factory work and exchanging with the French who were wonderfully supplied with parcels; we always managed to live really well to the amazement of our German sentries and NCO’s who daily saw that another million tons of British shipping had been ‘versunkt‘.

Because there was so little of it, food played a very important part in a POW’s life. The International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva provided food parcels to POWs from those countries which were signatories to the 1929 Geneva Convention.  Here men at Stalag 383 at Hohenfels in Germany prepare their lunch using food from parcels.

 

In two years I never lost a parcel and in addition to the food parcels we had monthly tobacco and cigarette parcels and every three months a complete clothing parcel –  uniform, boots, gym shoes, two shirts, two singlets, cardigan, towels, neckerchief and once a year a great coat. This issue was received directly from the British War Office.

All prisoners engaged in civilian employment were paid at current rates, farm hands a penny a day. On repatriation, we were paid out in full as regards army pay.

Working on farms, in factories, mines and other civilian employment prisoners-of-war received civilian rations; 2lbs sugar per month, bread as in the camps, a fairly liberal allowance of potatoes and as much sauerkraut as the stomach could hold. About 1lb of meat per man per week was boiled up in the sauerkraut and potatoes.

Image result for british prisoners of war ww1 working on farms in germanyA group of British PoWs in Germany, transporting hay for the troops’ straw beds

Except for bread and sugar, all foodstuffs were issued as soup. No fats of any description were given except on farms where we shared the family meals, usually contributing to them from our parcels.

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 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 47 Second Letter Home

Dearest Dad,

I have now thoroughly entered into the daily routine and must say this is an ideal sort of life. The weather being bitterly cold in the early mornings we only begin stirring about eight.

The hour seems ridiculous for a farm but neither love nor threats will get a Mashona to move before the sun begins to kill the frost and warm up the earth. At eight a picannin brings a kettle of boiling water and we make tea. Having no cows we drink it black and weak. At about half-past, we get up, have a wash outside, dress and begin the days work.

At about eleven comes a halt to set about preparing a meal which combines breakfast and lunch. This consists of sourdough bread made and baked by ourselves from rapoko and wheat meal mixed – the rapoko now and again we vary by using Kaffir corn which combined with the wheatmeal or flour makes a great sustaining bread.

With the bread, we usually have rapoko or corn porridge with an occasional change to rice or maize – all four are good but Jove do I long for milk and cream. Dry bread, milkless porridge and black tea doesn’t sound appetising, but when hungry they go down all right and anyway as long as a man feels full it doesn’t matter much what sort of stuff he puts inside himself – not as long as it is nourishing anyway.

After skoff work starts again, continuing until about five when we set to on getting the evening meal ready. This is a sort of Irish stew – potatoes, native beans, shelled monkey nuts or peas which has been simmering on the fire since noon.

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Now and again we trade a fowl for some salt or a cartridge case. Sometimes Kruger or Airth the manager of an adjoining ranch sends us a bit of buck, and once or twice I’ve shot something – If we’re lucky enough to have meat we gorge to bursting point – if we haven’t, well! we add a bit of curry powder and some powdered stuff from a soup sausage – a sort of concentrated mixture of pea-flour, bacon, herbs and stuff. This thickens and flavours the stew and it goes down rapidly enough.

After eating we play euchre or go to sleep. Neither of us has any money so candles or paraffin are unobtainable luxuries. The old Lee Metford I brought up with me is the only weapon we possess and is almost useless. At 100 yards it throws eighteen inches to the left.

At present hunting is a mug’s game for the long dry grass prevents the hunter from seeing the buck and the rustling and noise of a man moving in it is enough to frighten anything within a hundred yards. One’s only chance of securing game is by going out with a shotgun and some dogs.

A buck hearing something moving in the grass generally lies down – if a hunter is accompanied by dogs they will put it up and a charge of heavy shot provides a few days supply of meat. Otherwise, it is sheer luck coming on a buck perhaps standing under a tree or feeding in an open space where the grass isn’t too long.

In a month or two the veld fires will start and then everybody assures me I will see all the game I want to. I must get a Martini-Henry rifle then, as the heavy lead bullet doesn’t give a buck a chance of getting away. I hate wounding anything and it is marvellous the vitality shown by a wounded animal. I’ve seen one run over a mile with the whole of its entrails dragging from it.

Wild things always seem to either be killed instantaneously or to fight desperately for life against most awful wounds and it is really terrible the sort of mess a soft-nosed or a bullet with its end nicked into a cross makes. If one strikes a bone or anything but soft flesh it mushrooms and splits.

There are quite a number of people in the district but all on the other side of it. Between Marandellas and ourselves, there are the Godfreys and Kruger – beyond are two young Englishmen growing tobacco in partnership and beyond them again are two fellows living in the hills doing a bit of trading.

Behind and in front of us is all native reserve and wild uninhabited country. From Marandellas towards Wedza is where settled country is – there people are going in for growing Virginian cigarette tobacco on an extensive scale and experimenting with citrus fruits, cattle breeding and general farming.

From all accounts, there are fortunes to be made from tobacco but a lot of capital is needed. Flue curing barns are required; and with transport at 5/- per 100 lbs, carpenters and bricklayers at 30/- to 40/- per day and all found, it needs £300 at least to build and equip a standard flue-curing barn 16 feet by 16 and 20 feet high. Then one requires unlimited labour – on the other hand, the profits are big.

At an average yield of 500 lbs per acre sold at from 2/- per lb for scrap to 4/6 for best Brights, the growers base their average price at 1/6 per lb or £37-10 per acre – one barn will cure 10 acres or at least £375 worth of ‘baccy’ in a season.

We want to try and build a small flue barn ourselves and also air and sun cure a couple of acres of tobacco as a start – with wheat, oathay, barley for the brewers, potatoes, trading and transport riding we should soon be on our feet but Oh Dad its cruel work starting with nothing.

Every day we are offered maize at 2/6 per 203 lbs by the Mashona and can dispose of it at 9/- to 12/- at Marandellas. Native beans cost us 8/- per bag and sell in Marandellas at from 20/- to 30/-, ground nuts 3/- to sell at 8/-. Rice 10/- to sell at 20/- and the same with everything else.

Our waggon can take 20 bags of maize – so an eight to ten-day trip would yield only £7-10. Beans pay us best but we’ve never enough cash to buy a full load.

Ever your loving son,

Mick

Letters in Bernard’s handwriting

Here are the pages from the manuscript From Boatsheds to Battlefields that contain the letters to Mick Osmond’s Dad.  Are the letter’s real or being used as a storytelling technique?

I believe that Bernard did write and send these or similar letters to his father William Frederick Leffler telling him about life as a pioneer in Rhodesia. There is evidence that father and son exchanged letters on a regular basis.

It is lovely to picture William reading his son’s descriptive letters of adventure to his mother, brothers and sisters gathered around the dining table in Cape Town.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 41 Going Hunting

End of 40th Entry: Mr. Tracey after a month called the lad into his office.

Quite kindly, he held a post-mortem on the past month as regarded Mick’s share – told him he was a likable lad, abounding with energy and with a fair amount of ability at handling stock and implements.

However he had engaged Mick as an assistant manager on a big business proposition – Mick knew absolutely nothing of bookkeeping or clerical work, had no control over native labour, had shown no initiative and was far too young.

He was sorry but he did not want a pupil, had no position as a farm foreman and his only requirement was that of a fully qualified farm manager.

In accordance with their agreement, he would pay Mick three month’s salary and thought if convenient Mick might leave the day after next when he would be going into town and could give him a lift in.

Mick stumbled out his eyes misty and his heart like lead. He had revelled in the life – plenty of riding, chasing cattle and ostriches, the perfect scenery in which it was a neverending delight to work – friendly charming people and the best of meals and comfort.

In his bedroom the lad throwing himself on his bed mournfully reviewed the position – in a couple of weeks there was going to be a big springbok hunt – hours of wild excitement with galloping like blazes over the soft springy turf after a herd of bounding flying buck – shooting from the saddle, pulling up to leap off for an opportunity to pick off some of the herd driven down by a line of racing horsemen.

Then there were a couple of Bushbuck drives coming with plenty of risk from a savage devil of a wounded ram and chances of seeing a bush pig and perhaps even a herd of Kudu.

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Apart from the hunting, he loved the work especially the luncheon hour which he generally spent at the lands miles from the homestead – here along the river fringed with massive trees half buried in monkey ropes, wild mistletoe and ivy one often saw the Springbok gazing in the luscious river grass or spotted a duiker or steenbuck daintily nibbling at some choice titbit.

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Then the wind crags, the sea of bush stretching down to the Fish River – the native kraals perched on the steep hillside – he simply couldn’t leave it all.

Early next morning Mr. Tracey with kindly thoughtfulness told Mick to take a rifle and get into the bush to see if he could find a buck.

Armed with a double-barrelled combination gun – one barrel fired, the other smoothed bored, Mick plentifully supplied with ammunition went forth. At Carnarvon, he had done some shooting but hares and Namaqua partridges had been the only game on the farm whereas now he was venturing into the heavy bush which was known to contain leopards, Cynx, kudu, bushbuck and a score of other species of game – even buffalo had been seen now and again.

Taking off boots and socks Mick stole from tree to tree thinking every Red Indian tale he had ever heard. Sometimes he lay for what seemed hours on the fringe of a tiny glade – other times he crouched long in the shadow of a tree – again and again, an opportunity presented itself – a tiny blue buck, smallest of all the antelopes, a troop of guinea fowl, bush partridges, innumerable pheasants even red steenbok and grey stealthy duiker.

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But Mick scorned the small fry. He was going to get a leopard, kudu or bushbuck or perhaps a buffalo – nothing less would content him and his heart’s desire came to him – all of a sudden he found himself almost in the act of treading on a sleeping bushbuck ram.

It speaks volumes for the lad’s scouting ability that he was ever able to get as close – but to actually catch the shyest of all game and the most sensitive of forest creatures asleep was an almost unparalleled feast.

Mick saw the bushbuck at the same time that the bushbuck saw him – up went the gun and as the cartridge exploded one hundred and sixty pounds of pure undiluted devil armed with two curved pointed horns charged in one desperate leap – Bang! spoke the other barrel and with a heavy bullet and a charge of buckshot at a range of perhaps three yards the beautiful black bodied, white-bellied antelope driven out of his course by the heavy impact crashed head down a few yards from Mick.

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Mad with excitement the foolish lad dropped his gun and drawing a heavy sheath knife flung himself on the animal – fortunately it was stone dead or Mick’s career would have ended there and then.

Filled with joy and pride, full content to once more place himself in Fate’s hands Mick returned to the homestead no longer worrying about anything.

Next day a precious pair of beautiful horns safely packed Mick said goodbye and two days later laughing with happiness climbed the gangway of a Union-Castle Line in Port Elizabeth saying to himself, “Anyway I’ve seen the Eastern Province, shot a big bushbuck ram and have a good sea trip in front – I’ve bags of clothes, a damn fine riding kit, and five quid over.”

“I guess I know a bit about the world now so I’m going to Rhodesia and I don’t care a hang what anyone thinks.”

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 25 New Beginnings

A month of fishing and mountain excursions had passed when once more Mick’s face was turned Struanwards. His friend Zach had moved heaven and earth to find congenial employment for Mick and had succeeded.

So primed with good advice, filled with good intentions Michael Osmond alighted at Struan to be met by Peter Van Der Walt an old school friend and co-partners with his brother Mathew in one of Struan’s finest estates.

Now followed a happy period. The Van Der Walt’s two young brothers and a schoolgirl sister who was fair to look at and pleasant to know owned twelve hundred ostriches which brought in a regular stream of gold. There was a vineyard of eighty thousand vines which yielded large quantities of rough country wine and brandy – pedigree merino sheep, purebred Hackney horses, Friesland cattle, breeding ostriches and great crops of wheat, peas, oats, and barley all contributing to nearly double the income derived from feathers.

Sharing a room with Peter, treated as one of the family, allowed to work more or less where and when he wanted Mick’s sea longings vanished and all his heart and soul went into farming.

Sometimes he drove with Peter or rode with Mathew, other times worked with the field gangs. There were horses and mules to be broken in and saddle and harness, ostriches to be plucked, vineyards and orchards to be pruned and dug, stumping, irrigating and a hundred other works – all interesting.

At daybreak the Reveille bell rang and immediately all hands except irrigation boys fell in at the door of the wine cellar where each man was issued with a cup of claret – then followed milking, cream separating, feeding stock, cutting firewood and all the manifold farmyard jobs.

Meanwhile, those coloured men engaged on irrigation had left long before dawn to open furrows and flood the lands they were working on. Oxen and mules were driven up to ploughs, harrows, leveling machines and wagons, whilst the farmyard tasks were in swing and shortly after sunrise everybody was working smoothly and rapidly.

At Reveille Mick took well made freshly roasted coffee with the two brothers, helped issue the wine ration and then either rode around the lands with Peter or Accompanied Mathew on a tour of Dairy, byres, and stables.

At 8 o’clock the breakfast bell sounded. Work stopped automatically and a second wine ration was issued – those already in the lands drawing theirs from a can which had been sent out to them.

Breakfast at the Van Der Walts was a serious business worthy of the ancient Holland traditions of the family. Maize kernels boiled in milk were followed by omelette of ostrich egg, tender mutton cutlets from a freshly killed sheep or its liver and kidneys, white and brown farm made bread of their own grown and milled wheat, newly laid eggs – delicious butter, honey, jams, and preserves of fruit – everything produced on the farm except the fragrant coffee and sugar.

At 8.30 the farm bell sounded – again an issue of wine was given to the labourers after which work restarted. Where a gang laboured a white foreman set the pace with spade, sickle or scythe – any man who could not keep the pace knew that the end of the day was the end of him as regarded employment with the Van Der Walts.

At eleven a halt was called a fourth wine issue was made and for ten minutes the men lay smoking and drinking. Again came the call to work, once more scythe swung or sickle gleamed until noon, when the old slave bell tolled from the house and work ceased for an hour – once more wine was issued and the men lay under monster pear trees eating and resting.

At the house, lunch consisted of thick bean soup boiled with diced bacon, rissoles or curry, cold mutton and bread and butter. Four o’clock brought wine and a breathing spell after which work continued until sunset when the field labourers drew their last lot of wine and received a supply to help them through the evening. Boys on irrigation received a little Brandy and their ration of wine for the morrow and a little later the farmyard tasks having been completed peace reigned over the estate.

Shortly before sunset when the work in the byre, stable and dairy commenced Peter and Mick would visit the pantry where Mrs Du Toit the housekeeper would supply them with bread, butter and thick milk although an hour earlier they had made a hearty meal of cake, coffee, and the far farmed Cape Konfyt or preserved fruit.

Dinner, a long stately meal of endless courses was followed by evening prayers when Mathew read a chapter of the Bible and a psalm and prayer ended the day.

One of Mick’s first places of work was the helping to round up some six hundred ostriches which during the winter months had been turned into bush country away from cultivation.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 22 Learning to Farm

End of 21st Entry: Shortly after sunset the farm was reached where the two were welcomed by a large stout lady of fair complexion.

“We will first take the cart round and outspan, Mick, then have some coffee and look around the buildings.” said Van Zijl as he handed out the luggage.

At the stables Mick was shown how to unharness the horses, sent off with them to walk about until cool, told to water them and at last thankfully helped bed them down and feed them. Returning to the homestead Mrs Van Zijl had coffee, bread and sheep’s tail dripping ready for them, but Mick who was accustomed to select what he fancied from a large choice of food made a wry face at the dripping, felt the doughey half cooked bread suspiciously and grimaced at the lukewarm coffee.

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After the meal Van Zijl took the youth round to look at the byres and stables, showing him a handsome young stallion which he told Mick would be his mount, to be watered, fed, groomed and ridden by only the boy. Cheering up somewhat from a fit of depression into which he had fallen Mick returned to the house with the owner and was shown into a well furnished guest room.

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“Tomorrow you can shift into your own room Mick” said van Zijl “it has only been whitewashed today, but we will have it put in order tomorrow.”

Tired out, Mick after washing and changing went back to the dining room where he found Van Zijl reading a newspaper and his wife scolding two native girls who were setting the table.

After a vainlook around for a book Mick began talking to Van Zijl who proved quite pleasant and apparently anxious to interest the lad. Mrs Van Zijl too seemed friendly and joined in the conversation until supper was announced as ready.

Mick was ravenously hungry and found a dish of stamped maize boiled in milk very appetising – the dish following aroused his distrust however – it seemed good, it smelt fine but it looked queer – turning over the contents of his plate Mick’s disgusted eye saw the cold dead eye of a sheep looking at him – Mick felt as though lying out at sea in a heavy swell.

“What’s the matter Osmond – Don’t you like affal? asked Mrs Van Zijl.

Offal – Jove! it looked it, thought Mick miserably. “What is it made of Mrs Van Zijl” he enquired.

“Sheeps brains and eyes with all the tit bits of the stomach” answered his hostess.

“I’m not feeling very hungry” he said “I’d a jolly big plate of stamped mielies so I think I’ll just finish off with a bit of bread and jam.”

“I hope you’re not full of fads and fancies” retorted the large lady tartly “We’ve no time for nonsense on a farm. People eat whats put before them and thank the Lord for his kindness.”

In his heart Mick answered, “I wouldn’t thank anybody not even the Lord for offal.”

The meal over the table was cleared but as Mick tempted to rise Van Zijl checked him, “We will first read a chapter from The Book, say a prayer and sing a psalm to our Lord” he said.Image result for the Dutch bible 1910

A great Dutch Bible was put before Van Zijl and psalm books in front of his wife and Mick – the two coloured girls crouched next to the doorway and Van Zijl striking a tuning fork against the table sang Doh, Ray, Me, Fah, So, then in a sonorous voice exclaimed in Dutch – We will now sing psalm – another blow of the tuning fork and he burst into melody Mrs Van Zijl following a bar or two behind, whilst Mick fought hard to restrain from bursting.

A long chapter of the Bible followed, then a longer prayer and a final psalm after which the Van Zijls rising began to make preparations for their departure to bed.

At dawn next morning Mick was roused by Van Zijl and dressing joined his employer in the dining room to partake of a cup of steaming coffee. Warmed and refreshed the lad accompanied Van Zijl to the stables to be initiated into the mysteries of grooming horses, feeding them and milking an Ayreshire cow, one of the byrefull of Kerrys and Aryshires.

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Ayreshire Cows

The milking over Mick was shown how to put a cream separator together, and after half an hours sweating at turning its handle was put on to taking the machine to pieces, putting the parts in cold water and accompanying a coloured man to feed a dozen calves and some pigs. Returning to the dairy an hour of washing utensils followed and then to Mick’s relief came breakfast.

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A large plate of maize meal porridge, a couple of freshly laid eggs and heavy meal of course brown bread put Mick on excellent terms with himself.