From Boatsheds to Battlefields 48 Third Letter Home circa 1913

Dearest Dad,

Kotzee has been away nearly a fortnight with the waggon and I am feeling simply desperate. Without the donkeys and boys, I can do nothing except write, bathe and moon around. I walked ten miles over to a ranch but found nobody at home – got back utterly weary but couldn’t sleep. I’m so sick of boiled monkey nuts and beans. We’ve lived on them for weeks and haven’t had tea or sugar for a fortnight – meat I’m forgetting the taste of. Still, I’m not fed up with the life and its hardships only with the lack of anything to do.

I would like to go over more often to our nearest neighbours the two Englishmen but Kotzee hates them. Honestly, I’m beginning to think Kotzee is a bit mad. He keeps bragging about how he was a Boer spy in the Great War and was put in gaol as a rebel. Now if there’s one thing I can’t stand at any price its a beastly disloyal South African. One can understand Irish Catholics or any Irishman living in Ireland and being rebels – after all Ireland is a country inhabited by a Celtic race ruled by a foreign power in armed occupation of the land.

In South Africa, a mixed population of whites rule themselves under the protection of Britain and are themselves the Power in armed occupation of a land that really belongs to the Blacks. Kotzee, however, won’t agree only rave – I asked him what personal grievance he had – he has been born and bred under the Union Jack, has never been under its folds, his people are wealthy distinguished citizens of the Empire, his Uncle is a peer of Britain and the second citizen of Africa. Kruger I could understand being anti-British but he isn’t, though a Burgher of the Transvaal Republic he fought against Britain and was a prisoner of war at St Helena for nearly two years.

But Kotzee can only rant and rave absolute nonsense. He boasts of refusing to ride transport with an Englishman, and about a dozen other cases of cutting off one’s own nose to spite one’s face. It all makes me sick and honestly, he not only talks like a madman when on the subject but looks like one.

I’ve found all the Englishmen I’ve met to be splendid fellows and our two neighbours, in particular, have been awfully good to me. Their place has a rather gruesome history. It was owned by a pioneer one of a kind one reads of – father a judge in the Indian Civil Service, one brother a general in the British Army, another in the navy. He himself lived as a sort of unofficial king amongst the natives. One night two or three chaps including Kotzee were over there and Devereux seemed awfully depressed. He bucked up whilst playing poker and afterwards made tea or coffee for the lot.

The others slept in an outbuilding and during the night heard a shot. Nobody bothered as when dogs keep barking at night lots of fellows go out and fire a round or two to scare any intruders.

Next morning, however, when going into the dining room one of the guests found Devereaux at the head of the table with his head in his arms – thinking him asleep he went up to shake him when to his horror he found Devereux’s head in a pool of blood and a revolver grasped in his right hand. The poor chap was stone dead and had left a letter asking the others to bury him on the top of a high hill opposite the house.

He wanted his spirit to sit there and watch Wedza and the farm he had made. There’s a beautiful orchard around the house – guavas, oranges, loquats, lemons and other fruit – queerly enough looking down from Devereux’s grave the whole orchard is a huge Union Jack.

Nearly everybody about here seems queer – one chap, of good English family, has been all over the world and was blockade running during the Russo-Japanese war – now he lives all alone right away in the hills quarrelling with his only neighbour an old Highland ex-shepherd and ex-regular – Black Watch. The Highlander to is queer – he had sunstroke badly in India and gets all kinds of funny ideas.

Airth the manager of a ranch adjoining us is another Highlander – a jolly fine chap but gets awfully drunk on kaffir Beer – Hunter another Highlander is a very wealthy trader but also drinks heavily – sometimes they all get together and booze for a week.

It’s too dark to write and beastly cold.

Love to all,

Mick

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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 45 Letter to Dad

Dearest Dad,

At last, I am in my new home and settled for good, I hope. Kotzee is a splendid chap, but jaw! Heavens, he hasn’t stopped for three days and appears half crazy with delight at having a companion.

After leaving Cape Town we had a fine journey as far as Kimberley but from there the rain came in torrents. Through Bechuanaland the scenery was interesting, the country being covered with trees and grass, a great relief after the awful monotony of the Karoo.

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Once the train had to slow down to stopping point to allow a great herd of blue wildebeest cross in front of the engine. It made one realise that civilisation was behind alright.

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It rained right through to Marandellas where I found that it was unlikely that Kotzee could bring in a waggon for months. He had left word however that I was to be taken care of and forwarded to him at the first opportunity.

I had sixpence left and hotel accommodation was twelve and six a day. The owner of the combined hotel, grocer and butcher’s shop, native trading store etc – a building which in itself practically was Marandellas – told me not to worry but stay as long as I liked. I could sign cards for what debt I incurred and pay when able – “a year hence probably” he said laughingly.

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After two days during which the rain hardly paused I interviewed the Native Commissioner and explained my circumstances. He gave me as a guide a wild-looking man who slinging my roll of blankets over his shoulder and putting my iron trunk on his head set-off.

The man was armed with a nasty looking assegai and a battleaxe. Despite the rain, his only garment was a loincloth but he seemed quite happy. He grinned cheerfully now and again talking to me in a queer sounding language not a word of it like Zulu. He looked wilder than he was but I kept my Lee Metford loaded and ready for use.

It was horrible mucky and wet. Our route was by way of narrow twisting paths through grass never less than three feet high and sometimes well over our heads. There were heaps of trees making the prospect look even more miserable with water dripping off them.

Soon after dark, we reached a big river in flood. It looked rotten in the semi-darkness but the guide walked in and I followed. It was rotten. I could just keep my feet and was full of thoughts of crocodiles.

However, we got across to find ourselves in what looked like a white man’s maize lands. Some dogs started barking and we saw a light to which we made our way. As we got near a pack of big dogs charged us but hearing a white man’s voice calling I yelled back and a giant of a man came down the path.

He turned out to be the manager of a big estate and was awfully decent. He took me into his house where his wife nearly wept to see a white man. I was given a deuce of a feed of kudu steak and a bed was made up for me in the kitchen as the house was packed with girl children of theirs. It was hours before they stopped talking to me so when I got to bed I slept like a dead man.

The next day news came that Kotzee had passed some miles away on his way into Marandellas to fetch me. Mr Godfrey, my host, thereupon insisted on my staying with them until Kotzee passed on his way back and sent a picanin in with a note to tell him where I was.

The Godfreys seldom leave the farm and hardly ever see a white man – four of the girls have been born there without a doctor or nurse ever coming near but they are all a strapping healthy looking lot.

Godfrey is an old diamond digger and Boer War veteran. He comes from the Basuto border and I spent hours listening to his tales of the Diggings and the Frontier. I’ve never heard people talk so much I suppose it’s because they are simply starving for a change from the loneliness.

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Kotzee came back three days later and sent a native over to tell us where to find him. Mr Godfrey accompanied me through the Bush and after half an hour’s walk, we heard a waggon coming along. A couple of minutes later took us onto an old transport road and as we entered it a small donkey waggon turned a corner and I saw a queer little figure of a man leading.

He was only as big as me, five feet four, had a great beard and was wrapped in a tattered filthy old overcoat below which peeped the ends of a broken pair of dungarees. a battered helmet which in its youth had been surmounted the outfit. Jove but he looked queer. He greeted me warmly however and we seemed to take a liking to one another immediately.

Mr Godfrey having delivered me safely took his departure and a little while after Kotzee outspanned and we made a meal of bully beef, fried potatoes, warmed up beans and tea.

When our meal was finished the sun had set and darkness fell rapidly so climbing under the waggon we lay down on beds made from cut grass covered with the waggon sail. Snuggling into our blankets, toes to a cheerful fire burning next to the waggon Kotzee and I talked for a while and then dropped off to sleep.

At dawn next morning the donkeys were inspanned and we moved off passing through many swamps covered with long grass and amidst beautiful park-like country.

Somewhere about ten, the waggon was outspanned near a kraal and Kotzee and I walked over to a farm managed by a Dutchman who had been a prisoner-of-war on St Helena. On the way, our road passed the ruins of a house burnt by the Mashonas during the Rebellion fourteen years ago.

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Passing into a range of hills Kruger’s house came into sight built on the slope under some chaotic granite hills overlooking a big swamp of heavy black soil – this he had drained and grows what must surely be the world’s record crops of oats, maize, potatoes, beans and onions.

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Kruger was most hospitable and we remained at his house until next morning feasting on kudu steak, roast haunch of reedbuck, red bread made from a tiny native grain mixed with flour, new potatoes and a jolly good bread pudding.

The following day our journey was resumed and that afternoon the waggon reached home.

to be continued…