From Boatsheds to Battlefields 75 Living A Life of Utter Dissipation

End of 74th Entry: D Squadron hailed Mick’s return with enthusiasm for he was very popular and every man was needed. That very evening the column was advancing to the attack on Ukamas, a German strong point which was supposed to be heavily garrisoned.

That evening all sorts of rumours began to circulate of a fixed determination of the regiments composing the command not to cross the Border. Darkness fell.

The order came to saddle up and the 18th Mounted Rifles fell in. The bulk of the other regiments refusing to saddle or move. Troopers of D Squadron raging began to quietly slip cartridges into their magazines muttering that they were prepared to attack the others if anyone would lead.

The commands came “Prepared to Mount” “Mount” and like one man D Squadron swung into the saddle. Amongst the other squadrons, the response was varied but the bulk stood sullenly at their horses’ heads.

For an hour D Squadron sat ready to ride, every man itching to open fire on the cowardly dastards around them. Then came the order to dismount and off-saddle.

Next day new regiments rode forward to take part in Van Deventer’s wonderful ride which resulted in the Germans finding their rear threatened, and abandoning their position at Aus. Retiring with all speed the Germans were badly smitten at Gibeon by Colonel MacKenzie with the Natal Light Horse, the Imperial Light Horse, the Umuti Mounted Rifles and the Natal Field Artillery after one of the greatest military marches in the history of warfare.

Captured guns at Gibeon, German South-West Africa, 1915Captured guns at Gibeon, German South-West Africa, 1915

Meanwhile, the 18th Mounted Rifles, the Midland Horse and various other Cape Colony Boer units rode back to Upington to be disbanded.

After a long dreary ride, the troops arrived back in Upington, D Squadron in a bitter evil temper. No delay was made in disbanding the regiment each man received his pay and two months leave pending discharge.

Thoroughly disgusted with the Union Army Mick proceeded home to Cape Town to receive a wonderful welcome the joy of which was sadly marred by the feeling of absolute hatred of anything Dutch. A hatred which would never leave him.

Mick’s mother was half Dutch, many of his friends and relatives belonged to the race but to Mick, the Boer was tainted. Mr Osmond vainly argued pointing out the wonderful loyalty and courage displayed by the bulk of the Boer race – Mick sneered.

“They know which side their bread is buttered, most of them, but damned few know the meaning of the words Truth or Honesty.

For a few days, Mick hunted around for means to go overseas. He tried steamers for work as a fireman, coal trimmer or deckhand; interviewed relatives for a loan, approached the Imperial Army Officers still in Cape Town but every shipping company was flooded with applicants like himself.

Image result for ships leaving cape town with troops 1915

Then one night at the theatre he met an old friend of his Marandellas days then a B.S.A police trooper now Captain and Paymaster of the 1st Rhodesian Regiment. He proposed that Mick transfer to the Rhodesians who would shortly be proceeding overseas as a unit.

Mick welcomed the offer and next day after wiring the 18th Mounted Rifles depot at Kimberly was transferred to the Rhodesians with the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Six weeks passed – weeks that did Mick no good. He travelled to Kimberly to receive his discharge from the 18th Mounted Rifles who were being demobilized – this broke his service as the transfer was for some reason disallowed thus involving a new enlistment in the Rhodesian Regiment.

On his return Mick found himself being everlastingly dragged into bars by a fellow Staff Sergeants and a thousand and one old acquaintances. There was practically no work as the regiment was in German West Africa and with ample leisure, a high rate of pay and numerous friends Mick lived a life of utter dissipation.

Soon wearing Mick applied for and got a transfer into the 2nd Battalion of the Transvaal Scottish gladly relinquishing his rank and pay as a Staff Sergeant to become a private. 

Three days later he left for Luderitzbucht with two Officers of the battalion. A pleasant sea voyage was followed by a long but interesting railway journey and at last, Mick was landed amongst a battalion composed largely of ex-regulars of the Highland Regiments.

Three days went by – the battalion received orders to move down to take part in the Grand Finale of the Campaign. Hemmed in on all sides the Germans were at last at bay. The same night came news of the surrender of the entire German forces.

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Mick returned with the regiment to Johannesburg via Cape Town.

After a triumphal March through the Golden City the regimental pipes skirling in front they proceeded to a demobilisation camp and a few hours later Mick walked out once more free.

Returning to Cape Town Mick found the 1st Rhodesian Regiment arrived and awaiting orders to proceed overseas – interviewing the Commanding Officer regarding reenlistment Mick was told to hold himself in readiness until definite orders had been received.

Unfortunately, a good deal of dissatisfaction existed in the regiment and a day or two later it was disbanded many of the men returning to Rhodesia which was being threatened by a German invasion – others disgusted with Colonial warfare proceeded to Europe to enlist in Imperial units.

For a few days, Mick picked up the threads of his old Sea Point life doing some mountaineering and fishing. With several friends, he discussed every phase of the situation. All were emphatic that they would not serve again in units controlled by the Union Government or engage in Colonial warfare.

Their hearts were set on Europe but funds were lacking and scheme after scheme of going to Australia, England or Canada to enlist were threshed out and dismissed as impracticable.

Then came the news that a brigade of infantry was to be raised immediately for service in Europe. The brigade was to be equipped and paid by the Imperial Government and the troops to be enlisted as units of the Imperial Army. 

The next day Cape Town awoke to find itself placarded with recruiting posters, military bands marching through the town, pipes skirling, processions of veterans of former wars exhorting the fit and young to follow in their footsteps and all the beauty of the Cape calling on men to behave as men.

Image result for enlisting posters to join the army 1915 south africa

Still in the uniform of their Union regiments Mick, his brother and a dozen chums joined the long waiting queues outside the City Hall – waited hours, fought their way into the examining doctors presence and after many hours suspense and struggling found themselves soldiers in the King’s Army.

The first year of the war was over. Mick, his brother and chums were lusty with life bronzed and well experienced in army life. All had smelt powder, were trained soldiers and now with open eyes, and sober minds had definitely chosen their future course.

They had taken a man’s share in the greatest of all wars and it was due to no fault of their’s that little of the actual clash of arms had come their way. Not one had hesitated a moment as to where duty lay. They had played a part in the land of their birth and now eagerly they went to help the land of their fathers, to the battlefields of their race.

Mick, his brothers and three school chums enlisted together. Two bore Swedish names, one Irish, two Dutch. Three were to lie beneath the poppies of Flanders, one to rest in Brighton’s Hero Corner. Mick to return a man hardly worn by suffering, hardship and captivity.

From Youth, the five entered manhood and a life which was Life, Love, and Battle and truest Comradeship – life in the service of the Red Gods.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 74 Great Omelette Feast

End of 73rd Entry: Cautiously the fifteen men representing the five sections of the troop crept up the dune – from the summit they looked down on the Police Station standing still and ghostlike in the lunar rays.

An hour passed then slowly the night began to change to day but no signs of movement could be seen in the buildings. The sun rose flooding the desert with waves of red. The stillness of Death reigned.

“I want two volunteers to gallop up to the buildings and draw the Germans if they still there,” said the Lieutenant at last. “Rhodesia will go I know, eh Osmond?” Mick and a young Dutchman volunteered.

“Get your horses and keep well apart” ordered the Lieutenant. “If they’re still there I’m afraid you lads are going to certain death, but it won’t be forgotten. If they’ve evacuated the post they’re sure to have laid mines or set some devilish trap according to their pleasant little customs so be careful. Don’t enter the building or ride right up to them unless you’re certain the station is deserted. Gallop around and give Jerry a chance to show his hand. If you see anything or hear a sound turn and gallop like hell for the scrub or back to the Dunes.”

The Lieutenant shook hands with the two, took down the addresses of their next of kin, and whispered to Mick that Rhodesia would get full details if the worst befell him.

Returning to the horses the two mounted, said brief prayers trotted around the dune and driving in their spurs raced for the buildings.

The ground seemed to fly past beneath their galloping horses, the wind howled in their ears Mick, yelled Tipperary to the silent threatening mass before them. On the dune summit, the troopers laid fingers on triggers.

Round the buildings swept the two but it was all silent. They halted before the doorway – then carefully examining every inch of ground for suspicious signs Mick dismounting walked up and opened the door.

Once more the elusive enemy was gone.

The others now rode up and for a while, every man except two, who were sent scouting around the vicinity, busied themselves in search of loot. Ample evidence existed that the Germans had been at the station the previous day evidently departing in great haste at the news of the approach of a strong British Patrol.

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Many interesting souvenirs were collected Mick unluckily missing most as he and his mate who had been with him in the dash on the station, wasted an hour blowing the office safe open to find it empty.

After an hour’s halt, the Lieutenant once more moved the troop in the direction of a fairly large German town.

That afternoon a big encampment of half-caste Hottentots, the famous Bondelswarts was encountered. These deadly foes of the Germans, well armed and travelling with waggons, flocks of sheep, goats, and herds of splendid cattle had been moving about the Kalahari in bands strong enough to defy any but a powerful body of troops.

Image result for bondelswarts namibia

The Germans with many bitter memories of former clashes had not attempted to molest them and so far the Half-castes had refrained from participating in the War. They were ready and eager to give any information regarding the movements of the Germans and to offer unbounded hospitality to British troops.

From them the Lieutenant gathered that the Germans were drawing in all small bodies of troops, clearing the country of civilians and evacuating frontier posts, concentrating on the town of Keetmanshoop. One interesting item of news given by the Bondelswarts was that a large convoy of civilians including some English was only fifteen miles away under a small German escort.

The Guide who knew several of the Bondelswarts personally found that his wife and family were amongst the refugees and earnestly pleaded for an attempt at their release. A Council of War was held but the Lieutenant though itching to have an opportunity to do something material felt it his duty to point out the impossibility of conveying civilians amongst whom were women and children back to the road the troop had come.

Eventually, after much hesitation, it was decided to abandon any idea of attacking the convoy and to resume the patrol.

Shortly after leaving the Bondelswarts a nest containing twenty ostrich eggs was found and a great feast of omelette followed.

Another day was spent in riding along the border but the farmhouses encountered were deserted and eventually the horses’ heads were turned homewards.

When the camp was reached it was found that troops, mostly Boer Commandoes were pouring in and that an immediate move was to be made.

The rebellion shattered and finished, Generals Botha and Smuts were intending to push forward the campaign against the Germans with all the rapidity and vigour they possessed.

Image result for general botha and smuts german southwest 1915The only photo of the meeting
of General Botha and General Smuts in the field

General Botha himself took command of the Northern Army operating from Walvis Bay. General Smuts directed operations from Swakopmund against the strongly entrenched German position at Aus which blocked the road to Windhoek, the Capital. Colonel Berrangé with picked men rode through the Kalahari to attack from the landward side. General Van Deventer was to advance from the South.

D Squadron hailed Mick’s return with enthusiasm for he was very popular and every man was needed. That very evening the column was advancing to the attack on Ukamas, a German strong point which was supposed to be heavily garrisoned.

 

The Feet of the Young Men by Rudyard Kipling

Bernard Leffler refers to the Red Gods fascinated I did the Google search:

The Feet Of The Young Men

Now the Four-way Lodge is opened, now the Hunting Winds are loose —
Now the Smokes of Spring go up to clear the brain;
Now the Young Men’s hearts are troubled for the whisper of the Trues,
Now the Red Gods make their medicine again!
Who hath seen the beaver busied? Who hath watched the black-tail mating?
Who hath lain alone to hear the wild-goose cry’
Who hath worked the chosen water where the ouananiche is waiting,
Or the sea-trout’s jumping-crazy for the fly?

He must go — go — go away from here!
On the other side the world he’s overdue.
‘Send your road is clear before you where the old Spring-fret comes o’er you,
And the Red Gods call for you!

So for one the wet sail arching through the rainbow-round the bow,
And for one the creak of snow-shoes on the crust;
And for one the lakeside lilies where the bull-moose waits the cow,
And for one the mule-train coughing in the dust.
Who hath smelt smelt-smoke at twilight? Who hath heard the birch-log burning?
Who is quick to read the noises of the night?
Let him follow with the others for the Young Men’s feet are turning
Too the camps of proved desire and known delight!

Let him go — go — go away from here!
On the other side the world he’s overdue.
‘Send your road is clear before you where the old Spring-fret comes o’er you,
And the Red Gods call for you!

I

Do you know the blackened timber — do you know that racing stream
With the raw, right-angled log-jam at the end;
And the bar of sun-warmed shingle where a man may bask and dream
To the click of shod canoe-poles round the bend’
I is there that we are going with our rods and reels and traces,
To a silent, smoky Indian that we know —
To a couch of new-pulled hemlock, with the starlight on our faces,
For the Red Gods call us out and we must go!

They must go — go — go away from here!
On the other side the world he’s overdue.
‘Send your road is clear before you where the old Spring-fret comes o’er you,
And the Red Gods call for you!

II

Do you know the shallow Baltic where the seas are steep and short,
Where the bluff, lee-boarded fishing-luggers ride?
Do you know the joy of threshing leagues to leeward of your port
On a coast you’ve lost the chart of overside?
It is there that I am going, with an extra hand to bale her —
Just one able ‘long-shore loafer that I know.
He can take his chance of drowning, while I sail and sail and sail her,
For the Red Gods call me out and I must go!

He must go — go — go away from here!
On the other side the world he’s overdue.
‘Send your road is clear before you where the old Spring-fret comes o’er you,
And the Red Gods call for you!

III

Do you know the pile-built village where the sago-dealers trade —
Do you know the reek of fish and wet bamboo?
Do you know the steaming stillness of the orchid-scented glade
When the blazoned, bird-winged butterflies flap through?
It is there that I am going with my camphor, net, and boxes,
To a gentle, yellow pirate that I know —
To my little wailing lemurs, to my palms and flying-foxes,
For the Red Gods call me out and I must go!

He must go — go — go away from here!
On the other side the world he’s overdue.
‘Send your road is clear before you where the old Spring-fret comes o’er you,
And the Red Gods call for you!

IV

Do you know the world’s white roof-tree — do you know that windy rift
Where the baffling mountain-eddies chop and change?
Do you know the long day’s patience, belly-down on frozen drift,
While the head of heads is feeding out of range?
It is there that I am going, where the boulders and the snow lie,
With a trusty, nimble tracker that I know.
I have sworn an oath, to keep it on the Horns of Ovis Poli,
And the Red Gods call me out and I must go!

He must go — go — go away from here!
On the other side the world he’s overdue.
‘Send your road is clear before you where the old Spring-fret comes o’er you,
And the Red Gods call for you!

How the Four-way Lodge is opened — now the Smokes of Council rise —
Pleasant smokes, ere yet ‘twixt trail and trail they choose —
Now the girths and ropes are tested: now they pack their last supplies:
Now our Young Men go to dance before the Trues!
Who shall meet them at those altars — who shall light them to that shrine?
Velvet-footed, who shall guide them to their goal?
Unto each the voice and vision: unto each his spoor and sign —
Lonely mountain in the Northland, misty sweat-bath ‘neath the Line —
And to each a man that knows his naked soul!

White or yellow, black or copper, he is waiting, as a lover,
Smoke of funnel, dust of hooves, or beat of train —
Where the high grass hides the horseman or the glaring flats discover —
Where the steamer hails the landing, or the surf-boat brings the rover —
Where the rails run out in sand-rift . . . Quick! ah, heave the camp-kit over,
For the Red Gods make their medicine again!

And we go — go — go away from here!
On the other side the world we’re overdue!
‘Send the road is clear before you when the old Spring-fret comes o’er you,
And the Red Gods call for you!

From the Rudyard Kipling Society

Notes on the text 

(by Mary Hamer drawing on various sources, in particular
Ralph Durand, “A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling” 1914.)

 

Fourway Lodge

‘They were constituted by adherence to the basic rules of the cosmic system, with sunken hole as receptacle for the hot stones, seating protocols, spirit directions, tobacco thank offerings, prayer flags and special songs to the spirit helpers of the owner. The sweat progressed through four sessions of sweat, appropriately to the spirits of the four directions in the cosmic structure, each of which ended by opening the flaps of the lodge to allow for the spirits to leave and the devotees to cool.’Earle H. Waugh,Dissonant Worlds, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1996 pp 56-7.

 

The Red Gods

‘The Trues in the verses are – well, the Trues – the old original four or five head-deities of the Red Man’s mind –the old Beast Gods I think they were – Buffalo –Beaver – Elk/Coyote – or something of that nature. At any rate they are the Red Gods of the hunting grounds – earth spirits waking man up in the spring.’

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 55 Heading off to War on the Mail Train

End of 54th Entry: 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.

Returning to the estate Mick received a visit from his friend the Ranch Manager who took a different view. The war would last, Britain required every man and the sooner one joined up the better for his honour – he himself was half crippled so stood no earthly chance of being accepted, but as his initial share he would pay Mick’s fare to Cape Town.

Mick’s duty lay beyond the seas – plenty of men unfit for service could take over the carrying on of the Country’s usual business. He would send over a horse for Mick that afternoon and he could catch the mail train South two days after.

Mick filled with joy accepted immediately – the cattleman galloped off leaving Mick to write a letter to his employers explaining the circumstances, to arrange with the natives about carrying on until the new manager arrived to dispose of his kit.

Mick went up deciding where he sold his rifle – returning he gathered his staff together held an auction sale of his belongings and with a blood horse between his knees dashed off towards the fourteen-mile distant ranch.

Next day Mick spent in a last happy day amongst the big game. Waterbuck, Zebra and Sable were very plentiful but with a mind aflame on the coming days Mick’s shooting was vile, eventually after missing numerous easy shots he secured a fine Sable Antelope cow – his pleasure vanished when the baby calf came bawling round its dead mother, remaining next to the body to later follow the waggon back to camp. Attempts to catch it proved fruitless.

Next day the Ranch Manager rode with Mick to the siding, unforeseen circumstances delayed their departure from the ranch so that when nearing the station they saw the fast approaching smoke of the train. A wild race ended in Mick flinging himself from the saddle to dash at an already moving train.

Helped by friendly hands he scrambled aboard amidst a thunder of cheers from a densely packed trainload and a knot of district folk at the siding. (Sixteen years later a lady then present laughing over the incident mentioned that throughout the war the incident had often been remembered and held as the way a man should respond to the Call of the Flag.)

Mick found the train crowded to suffocation point with Rhodesians, 90% of them on their way to the Colours – every class, every type was represented. There were men who had not seen civilization four years, family Black Sheep, younger sons – men who made good; men who had not.

Some came from lonely prospecting camps, others from the cattle ranches. Many were home born, many Colonial Old Pioneers, ex-Royal North-West Mounted, men who had been sailors. Men who had held commissioned rank in the Regulars. Paying his fair to Bulawayo and being told by the guard to get a ticket to Cape Town at Bulawayo Mick was shoved into a Second Class compartment with already five occupants.

One turned out to be a young Welshman mining down the Mazoe, another an ex-captain of the Royal Field Artillery and Indian Army, now a mining man, the other three being nondescripts.

The bulk of the men travelling on the train had converted all easy negotiable securities into ready cash and filled with excitement, unaccustomed companionship and the herd-feeling spent their money like water. The result was that soon a large percentage were in anything but a sober condition – few were drunk, but at the same time hardly any preserved any semblance of caution in dealing with chance companions.

Mick and the Welshman returning from the dining salon saloon found the ex-artillery Captain half dazed trying to explain to a sceptical conductor and a crowd of amused onlookers that he’d been drawn into a card game, drugged and robbed by the other three inmates of the compartment. As it happened a couple of passengers, men of standing, recognised two of the accused as being well-known Crooks and the Artilleryman proved that he was a man of substance well known in mining circles. The crooks all three of them were promptly subjected to severe hustling and the train stopping at a Bechuanaland siding were put overboard into the dark and lonely night.

As far as Kimberly the journey was uneventful but when the Rhodesian mail steamed in, it was to find station packed with troop trains –  The Natal Field Artillery, Kaffarian Rifles and a dozen other units. From then on the mail crept slowly along continually being sidetracked to allow troop trains to pass. Every minute was a delight to the Rhodesians – batteries of artillery, trainloads of soldiers, truckloads of horses – bugles and trumpets sounding, with everywhere the sharp bark of army commands.

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It brought the first taste of war to the eager nostrils of the men from the Rhodesian bush going to war in defence of life, liberty, hearth and home. The wolfhounds of a warrior nation hungering, thirsting for the wild clamour of battle, the pomp and panolpy of war – Children of the Red Gods hastening to harvest. Throughout the wide wide world, others of their kin were rushing homewards from the ice floes of Labrador, the Savage Klondyke, the scorching Australian deserts, the fever jungle of New Guinea.

“God! but this is good”, remarked a grizzled old veteran to an eager strapping youth “These Union lads are young but excellent material. Keen as mustard and fine physique”

“You don’t think Dad you’ll have any difficulty in getting into a regiment?” asked the other.

“Regimental age, thirty-six me lad – a wee touch of hair dye, thank God my teeth are sound, thirty years of soldering all over the world – Dammit if the army is troublesome I’ll join the French.”

Food gave out on the train, drink came to an end, Mick and many others finished their last penny – the train was already a couple of days late but at station bars and stores, from the boyish troops of the Union Defence Force – lads eighteen to twenty-one came help and hospitality.

Then came a whisper through the long train – the German spies or Dutch rebels had blown up two troop trains on the Hex River Pass. Hundreds of lads were killed, the trains halted and the rumours increased – there was a possibility of attack at any moment – most of the inhabitants of the surrounding country were red hot rebels and what a glorious chance to wipe out old Boer War grudges, thousands of sons of English and loyal Dutch without ammunition penned like sheep in the many troop trains.

The more authentic news came – an accident had happened, one troop train had left the rails resulting in a heavy casualty list, but luckily in a portion of the Pass where a brow had stopped the train from landing in the Hex River a thousand feet below.

Image result for Hex River Pass train crash 1914

The trains steamed on into Touws River where already poor mangled bodies were being carried from railway carriages. The few white women of the neighbourhood – young girls, matrons, old women, all kindly Dutch, laboured like trained nurses, freely putting their cottages and houses at the disposal of the Commanding Officers.

Image result for touws river train disaster september 1914

“By God, the lads are proper cubs of the Old Lion,” said a Rhodesian whose life had been passed leading men in Frontier Wars. “Only schoolboys and they’ve the discipline of veterans – none rushing to look at the casualties, everyone cool, calm and collected, the poultice wallahs working like R.A.M.C. men – they’ve passed their preliminary test with honours – rotten thing thousands of children straight from their homes, all singing and happy to suddenly be flung into a mass of Death and mangled bodies – good training though as for casualties – killed and wounded on active service – counts just the same as actual battle casualties.

Late the next afternoon the line cleared the trains moved on,  through the tunnel and out of the vast lonely Karoo into a glorious world of mountain peaks, smiling valley and brawling hill burns. 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.