Rhodesians

“A good country and a cheery crowd” is almost invariably the opinion voiced by visitors to Rhodesia.

The expression is apt. Less than forty years ago it was a savage wilderness rotten with fever, a thousand miles from anywhere, inhabited by two races of natives, one a great ruthless military organisation, the other one of wretched cowardly tribes everlastingly being harried by their neighbours.

Today Rhodesia is a land of modern cattle ranches, citrus estates, tobacco plantations, maize and dairy farms and every branch of mining.

cattle ranching

Modern towns have been built, costly hotels erected and the life of the community is organised on businesslike lines.

grand hotel bulawayo

For ten out of forty years of its history, practically the whole of Rhodesia’s manhood has been engaged in the war against Black and White. Rinderpest swept the country clear of cattle, East Coast Fever has ravaged the herds again and again. Blackwater and malaria have taken a heavy toll of life and health. Gold mining, tobacco growing, and cotton planting have caused wonderful booms and disastrous slumps.

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“What I do like about the country,” one Englishman remarked to me on one of my visits to his farm ” is that there’s always a crowd arriving for a new boom so that the people have been ruined in the last month can always sell their farms and start again.”

One hears a great deal about chequebook farmers and young fools easily parted from their money. As a matter of fact, the average Rhodesian is of the type who formed Britain’s officer class in 1914, 15 and 16. Rhodesians take farming in the same spirit as they took the war. When possible the majority jump at any excuse for “a spot of leave” and whilst only they live. On their farms, however, no men could be more enthusiastic over their jobs.

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Unlike the majority of those born and bred to the land Rhodesians handle their labour and work on Army principles. It is an easy matter to be wise after an event and criticism come naturally to us all. The various booms in agriculture received the strongest possible support from not only the Rhodesian Government but all qualified to speak on the subjects.

Unfortunately, the world’s economies are not ruled by the laws of supply and demand but by great vested interests whilst in agriculture, the vagaries of weather and disease are factors impossible to foresee.

Rhodesia has proved itself to be capable of producing almost every product needed by the world. It is divided into so many different types of a country that scarcely a district can say that what suits its neighbour suits it.

Vast areas are magnificent cattle country where prime beef can and is being reared at a negligible cost. Tea and coffee have proved suitable in one or two districts, sheep in another, maize in belts, citrus in some areas, cotton in many. Tobacco equal to the finest grown in America over much of the country.

The mineral resources of Rhodesia are incalculable value – Coal of excellent quality, iron ore of the best type exist in inexhaustible supplies, and their sources as regards the second mineral have not been touched and in the first only in one area has been opened. As an asbestos and chrome producer, the country is rapidly heading the world. Mica, scheelite and other minerals abound.

scheelite

Scheelite

Naturally, Rhodesians knowing the potentialities of their country are so optimistic regarding the future that the ups and downs of the present hardly have any effect on their good humour. “Any old job will do to tide us over a bit of a slump” – the bit referred to being one that would break most hearts.

So a formal wealthy Tobacco grower cheerfully goes firing on the railways, tends a bar counter, goes lorry driving or road making. He puts up at an excellent hotel and simply refuses to admit that he’s a ruined man. “Once the tide turns there’ll be plenty of jobs where a man can make a bit of money,” he thinks “What’s the good of whining anyway.”

A race of optimists – men who have handled men – men who have faced too much to worry overmuch about financial depression.

And the government is worthy of the race. The Opposition is only an Opposition because Rhodesians being British of the British reckon that it is a fit and proper thing to have one. Few Rhodesians could give the name of the Opposition party. They know there is one and that they vote against the Government to prove that they are fulfilling their duty, and Rhodesians are content to leave it at that.

During the last election, every Opposition meeting was crammed with enthusiastic supporters – at the Poll, however, Rhodesians voted solidly against all but a few of the Opposition – these they put in just that there should be an Opposition.

Rhodesia is the only mining country in the world where any man can buy all the dynamite and detonators he wants and blow up his whole form without any qualifications regarding his knowledge of explosives.

On many farms sticks of dynamite are thrown about anywhere, are half-eaten by rats and nothing ever happens. Boxes of detonators are kept in the pantry or bathroom and though now and again a child gets killed or mutilated nobody worries.

One can buy strychnine, arsenic or cyanide anywhere with the same ease that one can buy candles.

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Any Rhodesian at any time by taking out a £1 prospecting licence is at liberty to wander over anybody’s farm, dig holes, divert water, chop down timber and go away again – if he finds anything worth finding it is shared between the British South Africa Company and himself, the owner getting nothing unless it is a big paying proposition when he received a very small royalty.

Except for buying railway and bioscope tickets money is seldom used – in ordering a drink one usually is given a card marked I.O.U. and a pencil when the drink is served.

Director Dick Cruickshanks (centre) with the Zulutown Players, from Screening the Past

When having a drink one almost certainly tosses to see who pays, a leather bottle and set of dice being supplied by the bar. If one has no friends or acquaintances to toss with the barman or barmaid is willing to oblige. He or she invariably wins and one pays for two drinks and then is introduced to other inmates of the bar and another gentle flutter follows.

The drink bill of Southern Rhodesia is £24 a head – It’s a sober country, however – with cocktails at 2/6d each, whiskey and soda 2/9 beer 1/- it costs a fortune to get drunk – one whiskey and soda per day is £36 per annum – and what about one’s friends’ drinks.

Last year the Railwaymen went on strike – why they themselves didn’t know. Anticipating trouble the Government called for special constables and paid them £1 per day. The mass of strikers enlisting was one of the noblest sights I’ve seen. 

Rhodesia’s great Southern neighbour latterly attempted to readjust the existing Customs agreement. Rhodesians demand not only the cake but jam on it as well. On their request being refused, they blithesomely arranged to turn their backs on the South and do their business elsewhere. They got their jam.

FREEDOM: JUSTICE: COMMERCE:

The old British South Africa Company’s motto is played up to in Rhodesia.

B.M.L.
Written mid-1920s

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 73 Beasts of Prey

End of 72nd Entry: His comrades sleeping below were they and himself not causing many a sorrowful heart amongst the Angels of God?

Mick fancied he could see the slumbering forms of German soldiers their spirits dreaming of; perhaps in communion with those of other sleeping ones in far-off Fatherland – mothers, wives, children, sweethearts. Mick shook himself – “Hell I’m getting soft!” he murmured to himself.

All through the world, it’s the same – there’s many a lovely moonlight picture in Rhodesia at this moment – a herd of impala perhaps drinking at a river ford amidst palms and jungle and old whiskers lying in wait next to the game path. All over the world in the most exquisite spots of Creation are lurking the Beasts of Prey and what after all is Man but the biggest Beast of the lot?”

“It’s all Written and Great as God” as old Abdul used to say in my old fishing days.

Dawn broke redly over the desert and silently the soldiers mounted following in single file behind the Lieutenant and the guide. Orders were given that at the troop left the shelter of the dunes each man was to instantly gallop at the farmhouse; extending as they went, the end files to race around either side of the house until a circle was formed.

No hesitation was to be shown regarding shooting – “Follow Osmond’s example and reckon it’s safer shooting a calf then risking making a mistake” said the Officer laughing.

The distance to the farm from the edge of the desert world was about a mile – Mick on one of the wings had nearly twice that distance to cover and the ground was rough but filled with excitement he reeked nothing of risk – the cold morning air streaming past, the sound of four score hooves thundering through the silence of dawn, the feel of powerful muscles working under him sent the wild Irish blood racing through his veins.

It would have been a glorious gallop under any circumstances it was the grandest gallop given to a horseman under these – a cloud of cavalry racing into the attack.

But German West was a war full filled with battles – as faced the charge on Zwartmodder so fared this no crash of musketry, no hastily awakened armed men pouring out to meet the charging troop – only an open doorway and a weeping wailing huddle of womenfolk and children.

The soldiers swept up to the house – every No. 1 and No. 2 leapt from his horse the bridles been caught by the No. 3s.

“Fix bayonets! Sergeant! Double inside and make a thorough search – don’t waste time on anybody who doesn’t surrender but bayonet him.” shouted the Officer. Mick and two others followed the Sargeant pushing the screaming women out of their way -the Sargeant posted one man in the passage, sent Mick into one room, the other into a second and himself taking the last.

Mick dashing the door open with the butt of his rifle rushed into a room evidently belonging to two girls. He looked under the bed, threw open a wardrobe, looked behind some hanging garment but found nothing. On the point of departing, he heard a scream from the adjoining room, charging in he saw the Sergeant with open mouth gazing at a heavy bundle of washing – even as Mick entered a form disentangled itself from a  mass of garments disclosing a white-faced elderly man.

“Hell,” said the Sargeant expectorating “I just kicked the damn bundle on the off chance and Bless My Soul found Uncle – “Any luck Mick?”

“None Sergeant.”

“Well come on Uncle! nobody’s going to hurt you if you’re a Christian.” Escorting the prisoner the two went down to report the house clean of enemies.

On rejoining the Officer they found he had quietened the womenfolks’ fears and after closely cross-examining the prisoner the Lieutenant ordered his release.

Guards were posted after which the troops were told to off-saddle and rest. It appeared that a German patrol of three men had visited the farm two days previously but that except for half a dozen men at a frontier station called Dabinab there were no enemy forces within twenty miles.

So the farmer assured the Lieutenant and the Guide vouched for him as being strictly neutral with sympathies if anything on the British side. In any case, the farm command a wonderful view of all the country except the Kalahari so two men were ordered off to post themselves on the big dune behind which the patrol itself had hidden and with one more on the lookout from the house roof the others took advantage of a golden opportunity to feast and flirt.

Mick found both the girls had been at a Cape Town school and knew many of his pals. There was a piano and the girls were only too willing to sing, dance and be friendly. Their father proved an entertaining companion to the Lieutenant and Guide and the mother busied herself in baking bread, preparing food and giving of her best to the soldiers.

At sunset once again all swung into the saddle and with laughing farewells took leave of their hospitable friends.

Fully realising that most probably their departure would be instantly taken advantage of to send a warning to the Germans, the Lieutenant wasted no time. Clattering past the stones engraved with the Prussian Eagle which marked the German Frontier the men now full of excitement were sternly ordered to keep silence, and as soon as possible the troop was turned off the road into some dunes where once again the Kalahari rolled into the land.

Straight for the Southern Cross rode the troopers ever deeper into the wild lonely desert which in great mountain waves rolled away into what seemed infinity.

A whisper from the Guide brought a stern order that every precaution should be observed regarding silence – once more the troop swung round from their route.

“We will ride straight for Nababis now,” said the Lieutenant.

Image result for Dabinab German West Africa 1915

Riding slowly and silently the troop followed the Guide through the trackless waste until behind a line of dunes a whispered order came to dismount.

Once again the No. 3s held horses whilst the others gathered around the Officer. “We will extend to four paces, crawl up the dune and the German Camp lies about three hundred yards below. Every man is to remain dead silent. When daylight comes the Germans are sure to come outside – when they do, keep as quiet as possible. I want to wait until the whole lot are moving. I believe there are five or six men there. If several come out I’ll blow my whistle – instantly give them five rounds rapid and then the No.1s and 4s fix bayonets and follow me. If I’m shot the Sergeant will take charge – whilst the No. 1s and 4s are charging the No 2s under the Sergeant will keep up rapid fire at the windows, doorway and any sign of life.”

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 ghostline in the lunar rays.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 69 An Army Surrenders

End of 68th Entry: He was sent off to a troop in D Squadron composed of Diamond Diggers, issued with the uniform, a six-millimetre rifle – Portuguese Army pattern, two bandoliers, kit and ammunition and proceeded to join his new comrades.

Within a day or two of Mick’s transfer, the 18th Mounted Rifles rode out to take over the surrender of the Rebel Commandoes and their leader Kemp. The attack on Upington had evidently shown the Rebel General that he possessed none of the qualities of a soldier, that his followers were sick and weary of hardship and of being under arms.

The Germans had shown plainly that they neither trusted the Rebels nor believed them to be of any military value. So Kemp wisely surrendered and Maritz the Renegade fled to Portuguese Territory as the Germans declined to have anything more to do with him.

To Mick, the summit of his earthly career seemed reached. Here, at last, he rode as a trooper in a squadron of hard-faced veterans going to take over the surrender of an army. Every man riding around him was expecting treachery. The misuse of the white flag, pretending to surrender in order to draw the enemy into the open, the use of explosive and dum-dum bullets were all the well-known Rebel tricks and it did seem incredible that an army should surrender simply because it was tired or frightened of war.

“Why the Hell are they surrendering?” Mick asked the trooper riding next to him.

“The trooper laughed – “With all the British Colonials in Africa away in German West the people who reckoned they should have big Government jobs thought it a golden opportunity to start a Republic.

According to the papers the Germans were winning hands down in Europe, Kemp, Maritz, Beyers and the rest of them thought their winning tongues could raise a general rebellion and they were heavily backed by a couple of big political men who are very quiet now but found that Uncle Piet, nephew Johannes and cousin Andries weren’t quite the fools they thought them.

The ragtag and bobtail lot enthusiastically went into rebellion hoping for loot and free farms if successful. None were risking much – the country’s big, their horses were good and everyone had relatives to hide them if necessary.

The solid Boer didn’t want to rebel – he knew that under a Boer Republic Africa would once again revert to South American conditions. Take away the Union Jack and back come Native Wars, Jamieson Raids, a lot of little States all at loggerheads with one another whilst as for the bulk of their leaders, the Boers trust them as far as they can see them and then feel that they’re being diddled.

Boer Republics mean jobs for pals, a corrupt Civil Service, a ceasing of all progress – Hell Kid! The average Boer of standing is a sensible man – he’s quite content to slowly build up a nation under the protection of the old Union Jack, and not go back to Oom Paul’s days. Naturally, he’d like to have the native under his thumb and I agree with him. He knows how to handle the natives and the natives themselves were happier under the old conditions.”

“I like the old Boers” replied Mick “but I can’t stick the young ones they’re as full of wind as a child’s balloon, their manners are awful and they hate us like poison. It’s strange though – give a Boer British training and you get as fine a man has any in the world. Bring him up amongst his own people and you get a Japie. Look at the difference between a Stellenbosch jong and a South African College fellow – the one looks like nephew Andries from God knows where and the other you couldn’t tell from a decent Britisher.”

A command to charge magazines and ride to attention ended the conversation.

The regiment had left Upington shortly before sunset to ride some twenty miles to where the Rebels were encamped. Soon ambulances full of sick and wounded began to pass. These were stopped, searched and allowed to continue on their way towards Upington.

Near midnight the main body was reached and to Mick’s intense disgust the majority of the men in other squadrons began fraternising with the Rebels.

At daylight, the homeward march began – riding with a troop of tough old diggers Mick formed one of the escorts of a body of unwounded prisoners who appeared to be happy as sandboys at being in the hands of British soldiers. Many began to ask about the prospect of joining loyalist regiments whereupon Mick angrily told them that they were being sent off immediately to work underground in the gold and diamond mines.

Gloom thereupon took possession of the captives who began to curse Kemp and their own stupidity in following men who had promised them all manner of things only to prove that they were useless as leaders – most bitterly they damned the Arch Renegade whose silver tongue had seduced many, but who when the acid test came proved to have more wit than courage.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 68 Court Marshalled

The day after the battle of Upington Mick interviewed the Commanding Officers of the 18th Mounted Rifles. The interview was satisfactory and Mick return to the Transport Camp with a letter to the Director of Transport.

To his amazement, he was ordered to appear before various officers acting as a Board of Enquiry if Mick could be charged with having deserted his post in the face of the enemy.

Mick indignantly asked who the accuser was and explained that he had been released from the pont the night before the battle. He also stated that the Officer in charge of the pont had given him an order to proceed to the attacked section of artillery to try and get a chance of taking a combatant part.

As proof of what he had done Mick referred the Board to the Officer commanding the 18th Mounted Rifles with whom he had taken part in the action.

The Major holding the Enquiry then asked how a box of spanners and tools and a Natal Light Horse rifle came into his possession they had been government property and not an issue to him. The box and rifle had been found in Mick’s wagon.

Mick lost his temper. He demanded to know whether he was under arrest he was told not. Mick wished to know whether he was to be placed under arrest. The answer was that he was becoming impudent.

Mick retorted that the whole damn Transport crowd were robbers and thieves and that he intended proceeding to General Van Deventer and accusing various Offices and Conductors of wholesale robbery.

He entered into specific details but was stopped and a little later left the room without a stain on his character, permission to transfer into the 18th Mounted Rifles, to transfer his horse with him and retain his rifle.

In great excitement, Mick back at the Camp told the Officer-in-Charge that he intended reporting various matters to the General and had already done so to the Major. Gaily adding that he had left the Transport Service and had permission to transfer his horse and rifle with him.

He said goodbye to the other Conductors and his Coloured subordinates. Mick rode over to the 18th Mounted Rifles and reported for duty.

He joined a Squadron composed of hard-faced Diamond Diggers, issued with a uniform and six-millimetre rifle, Portuguese army patterned, two bandoliers, kit and ammunition. Mick proceeded to join his new comrades.

Image result for mounted rifles german south west 1914

Boatsheds to Battlefields 67 Boredom to Battle

The threatened attack on Upington did not materialize and Mick was detailed to take charge of the telephone at railhead. Here for a week, he stewed in a Turkish bath atmosphere cursing his ill-luck at ever abandoning the original idea of going straight to France.

The canteen was next to the telephone and the evaporation from his body caused by the hellish atmosphere demanded counteraction, Mick’s efforts on the telephone caused dissatisfaction at Headquarters so he was transferred to the charge of the Old Town pont.

The new billet Mick found incredibly monotonous and wearisome. There was no excitement, nothing of interest. The river at the town ferry was broad and deep, the pont substantial and the hawser secure enough to tow a battleship. Sitting on the pont ferrying troops, waggons, stores, animals backwards and forwards possessed little charm for a wild young devil full of temperament and emotionalism and Mick prayed for a change.

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It came…..

One night he slept at the Army pont landing stage – it was a perfect night. There were few rumours and Mick slept peacefully tired with the long weary day. Suddenly the night was shattered by a heavy burst of rifle fire and the boom of cannon.

Mick sprang from his blankets to see the portion of the country above his resting place alive with gun flashes – as he woke a shell moaning through the air burst above him, another followed and another.

“Thank the Lord God of Battles” quoth Mick his body filled with delicious tremors “the bloody war’s started.”

So it seemed – the Cape Field Artillery battery opened a spirited reply to the enemy artillery, burst after burst of heavy rifle fire told of troops attacking and defending, a commando armed with Martini-Henry rifles gave a realistic spectacle of old-fashioned warfare, the flame from their black powder cartridges streaming in red waves along their position.

Maxims began to clatter, vicious little pom-pom guns recalled poignant memories to Boer War veterans and shrapnel began to burst over the town. The news came rapidly. Maritz and Kemp their followers equipped by the Germans and supported by German Artillery were attacking with their full force.

Their advance guard had surprised and captured a commando doing outpost and Cossack duty. This command had hardly fired a shot, had been disarmed and allowed to run back to the town. A section of the Cape Field Artillery was rushed to the attacked end of the town supported by a squadron of the only reliable mounted regiment.

The arrival of the two guns and some determined troops had instantly quelled all ardour on the Rebel’s side but our artillery was inferior both in weight and number of guns to the Rebels, few of our troops were displaying any convincing enthusiasm so the issue was very uncertain, any real attack pushed home with vigour and moderate courage could hardly fail.

Daylight was breaking and Mick itching to join in the battle scornfully watched scores of local Burghers finding safe hiding places in the stacks of hay. He was on the South bank and immediately the pont laden with refugees from the town came over he went aboard and crossed to the North bank.

Here a comic interlude was provided by a thousand excited chattering Zulus, Amaxhosa and Swazi who crowding the bank watched with eager interest the progress of the fight. Now and again a shell bursting overhead spat its shrapnel viciously amongst them to be received with a deep-throated “Wow” followed by thunders of laughter, as a score of all but stricken natives leapt high in the air alarmed by the angry smacks and spurts of dust next to them.

“Wow, M’hlega!” roared one burly excited native to Mick “Ask the great Chief to give us sticks and we will hunt the rock rabbits.” A roar of applause rent the welkin – just then Mick saw a cloud of Rebels gallop furiously out of the dunes and ride at the guns –  through the streets of the town rode a regiment hell-for-leather to the support of artillery. 

Mad with excitement Mick begged permission to go up to the guns, it was granted and leaping on his horse which was already saddled, Mick raced up with a loaded rifle across his saddle.

The guns were only a few hundred yards away but by the time Mick arrived the spurt of bravery on the Rebels part had ceased. Once out of the dunes into the open country with shrapnel bursting overhead and a great body of horsemen galloping towards them the charge swerved and the Rebels raced back for shelter in spite of leaders flogging them mercilessly with sjamboks.

German South-West Africa, 1915. South African mounted troops prepare to advance into German Southwest Africa. Some South Africans opposed supporting the British and launched a short but unsuccessful rebellion.

Once again a long-range rifle and artillery duel started. The Cape Field Artillery got a direct hit on a Rebel eighteen-pounder. The loyalist commandoes encouraged by the results so far began to take an interest in the battle it was to end. Twelve hours of an enormous noise, of vast expenditure of ammunition, had ended – some twenty-six loyalists were killed and about the same number of Rebels.

Two thousand desperate traitors were in full retreat and two thousand gallant loyalists pursued them hotly – until the Rebels stopped – when the pursuit ended.  Mick’s first battle with over.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 66 Lightning and Maddened Horses

End of 65th Entry: Shortly afterwards the Orange River came down in flood. When it came the mass of water arrived like a tidal wave.

Many of the troops were encamped in the dry river bed and islands. The men got away with their horses but their equipment, great quantities of stores and much of the bridge material together with some of the half-built piers went downstream.

The Rebels now began to threaten the town. Several bodies of Defence Force men were captured outside Upington without them firing a shot, the Rebels laughingly stripping them of their horses, rifles and equipment sending them back to Upington to be re-equipped.

PT-Manie_Maritz-Upington-1914-2

Pictured is Manie Maritz and his force entering Upington 

The congestion of transport supplies, owing to the flood had made the ford impassable, was now tremendous – the river rose day after day and it was known that weeks would elapse before it would be fordable again.

The water too was running in two great, and half a dozen lesser channels cutting the big town pont off from its southern approach. It was just possible to cross the new big stream though the danger was great.

Mick had now a new honour bestowed upon him. Donkeys drew loaded waggons to the brink of the stream, where they were unhooked, teams of picked mules taking their places. Mick mounted on a powerful horse, himself stripped to nature’s garment, fastened a rope from the leading off mule of a team to his saddle and rode into the stream.

The Coloured driver his leader holding the reins, himself wielding the long bamboo whipstick with its twenty-five-foot lash urged on the sixteen mules. Encouraging the horse with voice and rhinoceros hide sjambok, Mick swam his mount across keeping the rope taut and helping with all his power to hold the mules’ heads slightly upstream.

Boer sjambok whip, 1901 (c)

Boer sjambok whip, 1901 (c)

In one hand he gripped a keen-bladed knife ready to instantly sever the rope if the mules once allowed the force of the current to turn their heads down. If this happened, nothing could save the mules, waggon or the natives as the stream would instantly carry them into the boiling mill race of water.

It was strenuous, exciting work crammed with thrilling moments and Mick loved every minute, especially when on one occasion, a little more decently clad he conducted an ambulance filled with hospital nurses across the stream.

Within a few days of the coming of the flood, several whaleboats with Malay crews arrived. The military pont was now in full working order so something of control was established.

Then one night in the pouring rain came the news that an immediate attack was being threatened on Upington. Supplies of ammunition were rushed up to the pont and whaleboats, but there the loading gangs of Amaxosa refused to carry on saying that they were weary.

Mick tried blandishment in vain, resorted to commands and was laughed at, grew furious and drawing his revolver threatened them instantly a jeering angered mass of men belonging to the finest warlike race in the world surged down on Mick. Sticks were brandished, stones flung and only the quick action of an overseer who gave Mick’s horse a cut with a stick saved bloodshed for the Rhodesian was on the point of firing.

The horse a spirited one in perfect condition reared, swerved and bolted. Mick losing his revolver barely managed to retain his seat, and on recovering control and returning to the scene was ordered to take charge of the pont.

It was his first experience of the work and the night was black, pouring with rain, split by pillars and jagged zigzag flashes of lightning – the river roaring past an angry dark flood crested with white, neither sounded nor the flashes of lightning, looked as though venturing on it could be possible. To add to Mick’s disquiet he was ordered to be very careful as a strand had gone in the hawser.

The first load was a section of Mounted Infantry with their horses Mick – Mick his marrow turning to water gave the order to pull off the shore, hauled up the nose of the pont and tried to slacken off aft. Something jammed and the pont already in the current began to tip whilst in an instant water came flowing over it.

The horses frightened started to rear and plunge, the Burghers terrified clinging to the bridles began to shout and their officer dropping on his knees prayed loudly to his God, sparing intervals to curse Mick, the war and the Orange River.

horse rain

Mick worked feverishly at trying to free the jam in the block but he was in pitch darkness broken only by terrific lightning flashes. Working on a raft filled with half maddened horses and men, lying out in pouring rain amidst roaring welts of rushing, angry water, one could only go by sense of touch nor was it easy to move on the packed pont. 

The jam was for’rad but the difficulty was to thrust a way through the rearing plunging horses and shrieking men. Mick crawled along the hawser his body waist deep in water succeeded in freeing the jam, and the current catching the stern drove the pont flying into the darkness ahead.

Landing his men Mick returned but in midstream, a second strand parted. The trips were now almost suicidal but Mick succeeded in making three more crossings before the third strand went.

Orders were then given to stop further work and luckily so for a few minutes later the hawser parted.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 65 Ginger Beer and Christmas 1914

End of 64th Entry: The Imperial Light Horse had suffered several casualties and were furious as they had driven the Rebels into a circle of Boer commandoes. Kemp was in a position which made resistance impossible but through treachery or foolishness on the part of a Commando he was allowed to escape with his whole force and join up with Maritz the renegade.

General Botha finding that neither the Rebels nor the Germans appeared desirous of meeting his forces withdrew all but a garrison and returned to Cape Town to prepare for an invasion of German South West Africa from its seaboard.

Louis Botha - Project Gutenberg eText 16462 - Louis Botha - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Louis Botha

The troops left at Upington consisted of a number of Cape Colony district regiments – mostly, if not trained at all, the bulk of them, Rebels at heart and very poor war material.

One fairly good regiment stiffened by a squadron of men from the Diamond Diggings, most of them Boer War veterans together with a battery of the Cape Field Artillery – youngsters but keen and plucky as terriers – formed the only reliable force.

Diamond Mining in South Africa (Illustration) World History Ethics Disasters STEM

Diamond diggings

Had either of the two Rebel leaders possessed any qualities of leadership, had their followers shown any soldierlike spirit, if the German Command had displayed any initiative, Upington with its rich collection of military stores, remounts, transport, animals and material would have been a plum so ripe as to fall to the merest touch.

One battery of field guns, a few machine guns, a company of good regular troops with a soldier in command would have taken Kakamas, Upington and probably the Gordonia district with hardly any opposition for what had they to contend with?

PT-Manie_Maritz-Upington-1914

Pictured is Manie Maritz in Upington during 1914

One battery of boys armed with old-fashioned guns, one Squadron of Veteran soldiers, and a large rabble of half-hearted armed men their retreat cut off by a great river; yet no move was made by their enemy. Evidently poor as was the defence material the other side was poorer.

Yuletide came – a few days before Mick was detailed to take some waggons laden with Christmas comforts to troops garrisoning the village of Kakamas some sixty miles down the river, for some reason, Viljoen at the last moment substituted two recent arrivals in Mick’s place. These men were of a low Boer type whose looks, manners and personalities disgusted the other Conductors who regarded them with unconcealed suspicion.

A few days later came the news that the Convoy had been captured by the Rebels. Black looks were cast on Viljoen whilst open murmurs regarding his past, and whispers of his former association with Maritz ended his former popularity.

11Rebels

Since General Botha’s departure, the Transport men had been gradually falling from their old happy-go-lucky life full of good comradeship and keen rivalry in work, feats of physical endurance and horsemanship – the old concerts had been abandoned and laughter or banter was seldom heard in the mess. Several causes were contributory.

Viljoen seemed to have lost interest in his men, the Officer-in-Charge was detested but the greatest factor was undoubtedly the many temptations to amass money easily.

In Prieska and Draghoender there had been no opportunity of testing the honesty of the men except that whiskey was obtained more plentifully and easily than could be accounted for. At Upington, the Conductors found scores of tiny canvas shelters advertising the sale of ginger beer. These lay en route from the rail-end dump of military stores to the pont dump.

Mick and his companions were employed in transporting the contents of the one dump to the other – a journey of about two miles. Both the loading and the offloading was unchecked – nothing was signed for, nobody tallied what was taken or delivered. It was the simplest thing in the world to husk off a bag of sugar, a case of boots, boxes of jam or bags of flour as the waggons passed the canvas shelter of the Yiddish ginger beer merchants.

The civilians were making small fortunes from the troops but found it almost impossible to get goods transported from Prieska. Every necessity was therefore at famine prices so a golden harvest awaited men who could supply footwear, foodstuffs and luxuries.

Mick though not adverse to getting an occasional bottle of whiskey in exchange for a pair of boots or any stray article, was not a thief, and the wholesale robbery going on around sickened him and one or two others. Relations became strained as each man chose his own road and became suspicious of his neighbours.

The Hangman transferred to the Natal Light Horse and departed to the German South West Seaboard, the ex-attorney was discovered in his speculations – too many seniors were involved however and he was allowed to resign and take up a civilian billet.

Then came Christmas – a concert was held at the Transport Officer’s billet, whiskey flowing in unlimited quantities until eventually half a dozen very far from sober men started back to camp. On arrival they found scores of the Coloured drivers fighting drunk, having stolen a couple of kegs of cape Brandy which the Conductors had got for the celebration of Christmas.

Viljoen began knocking the drunk men about and one, a half Bushman, half Hottentot, flung himself on the Head Conductor, a drawn knife in his hand. Viljoen full of drink staggered caught his foot against a stone and fell heavily, the Bushman on top.

Mick dived into his waggon, grabbed a rifle and ran back to see the Bushman raise the knife. Without an instant’s hesitation, Mick whirled up the rifle and brought its butt crashing down missing the Bushman’s head and shattering his thigh.

Freeing himself from the unconscious body Viljoen rose and ordered the Bushman to be tied to a tree. All night Mick shuddered as scream after scream of agony mingled with curses and threats against himself rang through the night.

In the morning the Bushman was released and handed over to the medical authorities – he was very weak, his thigh swollen enormously but he bore no grudge telling Mick that he knew he hadn’t hurt him deliberately and that he had told the doctor a waggon had run over him.

South African motor ambulance, c1914
(Photo: By courtesy, SANDF Documentation Centre).

Shortly afterwards the Orange River came down in flood. When it came the mass of water arrived like a tidal wave.