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.