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.

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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.

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 60 Wild, Free and Dangerous

End of 59th Entry: The new destination was Prieska in the North-West of Cape Colony where forces were being assembled to operate against the Dutch rebels.

It is now October 1914. Throughout the Union, thousands of traitor Dutch had risen in open revolt choosing the time of Britain’s need to betray their oaths, their fellow countrymen, their race and their nation.

It was not like a rebellion of Irishmen against a foreign power holding Ireland by the might of armed occupation. It was an absolute fouling of their own nest by a traitorous section of a nation. 

Beyers the Commandant General of the Union, Colonel Maritz, General Kemp, the famous De Wet with other leaders used their personal influence to lead thousands of ignorant Boers into the armed rebellion.

Fortunately, South Africa possessed honourable men worthy of the grand ancient names of Holland and France which they bore. General Botha, the Premier of South Africa, a man against whose honour, courage and wisdom no man, friend or foe has ever cast stone rallied the mass of Dutch South Africa – ably seconded by General Smuts, by many of the famous Boer generals and leaders of the old Republican forces who for three long years fought Britain’s might General Botha dealt swiftly and surely with the renegades.

Disdaining the leprous section who attempted to sit on the fence egging on the armed rebels but fearing to risk their own skins, General Botha and Smuts took the field in person.

De Wet and most of the leaders of the Free State and Transvaal rebels were soon in gaol, their bands were broken up and dispersed. General Beyers was shot whilst fleeing across a river in flood.  One or two brigands were executed and Kemp chased through the Kalahari. At Upington, he was surrounded but the loyal troops were forbidden to fire and he was allowed a chance, quickly availed of, to escape and link up with his fellow rebel Manie Maritz.

The surrender of General de Wet.
(Photo: By courtesy, SANDF Doc Ctr)

General Botha having then crushed the rebellion with the use of mostly Boer forces began to once more resume operations against the Germans.

Meanwhile, Mick’s train after six days of monotonous and wearing jolting arrived at Prieska late at night. The train had again and again been sidetracked for many a weary hour, all kinds of difficulties had been experienced in feeding and especially in watering the animals and the men were incredibly sore, tired and quarrelsome.

Their troubles ended with the journey. A fresh detail of transport men took over the offloading of the animals after their riding horses had been taken out of the trucks and guided by Head Conductor who had been in charge of Mick’s Cape Town depot, the party cantered through the town to where the whole staff of Transport and Remounts were billeted.

A smoking meal of fried steak, onions, potatoes and bread with unlimited whiskey and hot coffee awaited them at the Heat Conductor’s billet. Their wants satisfied the newcomers were then taken to billets Mick finding himself together with a companion detailed to a large house which contained a pretty daughter a girl of eighteen.

The quarters were good. The two men shared the guestroom sleeping together in a huge old-fashioned four-poster bed. Their meals were to be taken across the road at theHeat Conductor’s billet where a transport mess had been formed.

At daybreak, the morning after their arrival Mick and his mate on reporting to theHeat Conductor had a Coloured batman detail to them and were told that when not on duty they were to remain in the vicinity of the mess so as to be handy if required.

Tens of thousands of animals – horses, mules, donkeys and oxen were being concentrated at Prieska. From dark, in the morning until long after dark at night the transport men laboured feverishly.

Every horse and mule had to be caught, branded and shod – every donkey and ox branded. Then came orders to shoe ten thousand transport oxen for work in the sandy desert country. Hundreds of transport waggons had to be greased, tens of thousands of pieces of harness buckled together, teams of sixteen mules, twenty-two donkeys or sixteen oxen picked, caught and hauled out of hundreds of frightened kicking, struggling animals.

The role of the horse during WW1 cannot be underestimated. Although advances in technology meant mounted warfare was coming to an end, the cavalry were still used for reconnaissance work and carrying messages. Horses also pulled artillery, wagons and ambulances through the deep mud. By 1917, it was difficult to replace a horse and so some troops were told that the loss of a horse was more of a strategic anxiety than the loss of a soldier.

Mick found the work intensely fascinating. Now he was amongst a wild excited mob of mules selecting likely looking leaders, wheelers or couples for intermediate positions, helping to work the picked animals out of their plunging fellows into a corner – quietening them or getting them jammed until halters could be slipped over their heads –  hauling them away to be shod and branded, then escorting the animals to where a long line of waggons stood ready to have them inspanned.

It was dangerous exciting work with numerous casualties occurring through men being kicked, trodden on or savaged. Half the animals were fresh from the farms the buck wild untrained things that had never known halter or harness. What Mick enjoyed the most was the watering of the horses. Twice daily a strong body of mounted men, Conductors and Basutu rode up to the Remount paddocks. Mick himself being the lightest weight took the most perilous post.

Mounted on the fastest horse to procurable he rode before the gateway of the paddock and turned his horse into the road leading to the Orange River quarter of a mile or so away. The other mounted men meanwhile forming a line either side of the road.

The gates were flung open Mick started forward and three to four hundred horses pouring from the paddock galloped after him, with a score of mounted men riding hard on flanks and in the rear cracking stock whips and shouting.

The road was worn, full of ruts, stones and other pitfalls – behind were hundreds of horses galloping with tossing mains and streaming tails – a slip, a stumble, a fall and Death was certain; but what youth ever realises the meaning of danger.

Singing, yelling, Mick bending jockey fashion used the whip and spur without stint exalting in the wind howling past, the thunder of the great drove behind. The Orange River loomed ahead – driving in spurs, sending the long cruel lash of his short handled stockwhip curling in a vicious stinging back twist under his horse’s belly he lifted the maddened animal to face the running stream.

The horse dashed into the water and almost simultaneously the following drove sent the spray flying as they to galloped furiously into the river. Swimming his horse around the mob Mick regained the shore, lit his pipe and chattered with his Mates until the drove was ready to once again gallop back to its camp.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 59 Disaster at the Front.

End of 58th Entry: Ships officers and Chinese sailors gathered around smoking, listening and joining in the choruses. From the Artillery Transport, from the rolling sailing ships came echoing back the strains as soldiers and sailors took up the well-known songs.

At daybreak next morning the barges were alongside but to the consternation of the Head Conductor, a message came that the only winchmen were employed in discharging the artillery batteries.

Whilst regretting his inability to supply a professional winchman the Transport Officer’s orders were that the Head Conductor was to do the best he could under the circumstances as somehow or other his material and animals had to be landed at once.

A bewildered, unhappy Dutchman interviewed the ship’s Captain but he refused to take the responsibility. None of the Conductors had worked a winch or knew anything of machinery. A few Coloured men admitted to a working acquaintance with winches but confessed their knowledge to be scanty.

A start was made with these men under the voluntary help of the Chinese Bo’sun. As an experiment, a waggon was hauled from one of the holds, hoisted high in the air, swung outboard and lowered into the waiting barge.

There was a considerable amount of swell which caused the steamer to roll heavily whilst it’s effect on the barges was to keep them rising high to the crest of a mighty roller then sinking far into the trough between the passed and incoming surge.

As the ship rolled towards the land the barge would be rising towards the ship – for a brief space of moments, the barge’s hold would be directly under the crane giving an experienced winchman time to skillfully drop his load into the barge.

Any misjudgement meant that the load either dropped into an ever-widening space between the two craft or into a rapidly narrowing one. In the former case, the load would probably strike the sea, in the latter being crushed between the rolling, rising and sinking vessels.

For a while, all went well then the Bo’sun leaving one Chinaman in charge of the forward and one at the after winch, hurried off to his own duties.

The forward winch crew were discharging donkeys slung in pairs and the after winch waggons. Mick going below took charge of hitching waggons to the iron hook of the after crane, another Conductor from the hatchway signalled to the winchman when to hoist, hold, lower or swing across, whilst a third from the ship’s side directed the lowering into the barges. Forrad the same procedure was observed.

The Bo’sun had directed both crane crews without apparent difficulty and with great success. On his departure, all manner of complications began.

The Chinese winchman could not understand the Conductor’s signs, the Conductors were not good at judging time or distance nor at all good at signals.

Unfortunate donkeys hitched to the crane-hook were suddenly yanked into the air in the middle of the roll of the ship. This, nine times out of ten meant them being swung from the hatchway to under the deck and being caught there – a wrong signal would drop them hard into the hold – after two or three attempts, a pair of stunned, bleeding, half dead animals would be triumphantly hoisted high into the air swung outboard, to hang a moment before being dropped into the sea, hauled furiously up, jammed between ship and barge and squashed flat.

The same happened to the waggons. When twenty-nine donkeys had been killed and a dozen waggons reduced to matchwood the Chief Officer stepped in. The Bo’sun was reinstated and immediately the work proceeded rapidly, methodically and successfully.

Well over half the cargo had been discharged when orders came to immediately reload everything. The vessel was to proceed at full steam back to Cape Town.

A most terrible disaster had occurred at the Front.

Colonel Grant dispatched by Colonel Lukin to seize the waterholes of Sandfontein twenty miles beyond the Orange River had been surrounded by a vastly superior force of Germans. After fighting to the last cartridge he badly wounded had surrendered with what was left of the famous Cape Mounted Rifles, two companies of the Rand Light Infantry and a section of the Transvaal Horse Artillery.

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German sergeant shortly before the Battle of Sandfontein.

This news was bad but there was worse to come, Colonel Manie Maritz in command of a large body of Union Defence Force troops had forsworn his allegiance and joined the Germans, handing over to the enemy large supplies of war material. The bulk of his troops, young Dutchman of the Kenhardt and Gordonia Districts had gone into rebellion with him.

A Scandinavian winchman came aboard and under his skilled management the ship was soon loaded, the anchor was weighed immediately and the ship steamed seawards.

Image result for loading donkeys onto a ship ww1

The return voyage was perfect. A strong breeze kept the air keen and invigorating, the sea gave of its best behaviour, everybody white or coloured had gained his sea legs whilst appetites were simply voracious.

A day off Cape Town the smoke of two vessels appeared on the horizon. Whispers spread that one was a warship resulting in much uneasiness as it seemed very possible that the ships might be a German cruiser escorting a prize. Soon fears were set at rest when the Captain identified her build as British and her companion as a Union Castle liner.

The two were overhauling the Queensland rapidly and soon a flutter of signal flags broke from the cruiser’s yardarm. The Queensland replied and news came around the decks that the two were British cruisers escorting a Union Castle liner filled with Portuguese troops.

As the troopship passed the soldiers lining the ship’s sides cheered and waved evidently pleased at any break in the monotony of their long voyage. Mick with all a Rhodesian’s dislike of the race who barred Rhodesia from the ocean sniffed.

“Wish they’d join the Germans,” he remarked. “In 1893…” – and he told of a war discreetly omitted from history books.

On arrival in Cape Town, the donkeys were disembarked, driven to Maitland and Mick with two of his fellow Conductors took over four hundred mules and two hundred horses. These were immediately entrained, a work entailing a vast expenditure of blasphemy and energy, and without delay, the long line of laden trucks were hauled out from the siding. Mick with his companions taking their places in the guard’s van a number of Coloured men being distributed amongst the trucks.

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The new destination was Prieska in the North-West of Cape Colony where forces were being assembled to operate against the Dutch rebels.

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.