The following is an account of Dr Walker's military service
in German Southwest Africa during WW1.
A DOCTOR'S DIARY IN DAMARALAND
DR. H. F. B. WALKER
LATE CAPTAIN R.A.M.C,
ACKNOWLEDGMENT. I wish to express my thanks to those who have given me photographs---
namely, Major Pershouse, Captain Osler, Captain Bosman, and Staff-Sergeant Smiles.
I. CAPE TOWN
II. TO WALFISCH BAY
IV. THE TREK
VI. THE TREK FROM OTJIMBINGWE TO WINDHUK
VIII. TO OTJIHANGWE
IX. WINDHUK TO LUDERITZBUCHT
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
1. WHAT THE NATAL CARBINEERS LOOKED LIKE AT GIBEON
2. GERMAN CAMEL CORPS
3. TRANSPORTING WOUNDED TO KARIBIB
4. SURRENDER OF WINDHUK
5. NATIVE LOCATION, WINDHUK
6. COLONEL FRANKE, IN COMMAND OF THE GERMAN FORCES
7. SCENERY NEAR LUDERITZBUCHT
A DOCTOR'S DIARY IN DAMARALAND
CHAPTER I: CAPE TOWN
LIKE thousands of loyal South Africans, I offered my services to the Government when the rebellion broke out, but for several months I heard nothing. During the last week in January, 1915, I received a wire from the Director of Medical Services, saying that, if I were still willing to serve, I must report in Cape Town to the Senior Medical Officer not later than February 1. This was rather short notice, seeing that three out of the six days would be taken up in getting to Cape Town. However, feeling that I must be required to fill some important gap in General Botha's armies, I "mobilized" within the time specified, and arrived in Cape Town the last night of January.
February 1.---Nine a.m. seems to me a reasonable hour in war-time to begin the day's work, so I approach the Castle at that hour to report myself. A very new-looking soldier in very new-looking khaki stands at the gate. He salutes like a clockwork doll. Being still a civilian and inexperienced in taking salutes, I feel rather clattered thereby, until I reflect that perhaps he is only practicing. At last he relaxes. Sentry-like, he can give no information, but he can call the sergeant, and he leaves his post to summon this dignitary. I am directed across the courtyard to the medical quarters, where a sick-parade is going on. A lot of young soldiers in various degrees of undress are waiting outside the doctor's door. They all look bright and well. A sudden silence falls upon them as a vision in khaki and red passes quickly and enters the door, tripping over its spurs as it does so. A moment's interval, and a corporal appears at the door and calls "Private Smith " Private Smith's face instantly takes on that look of settled suffering so characteristic of habituÈs of a sick-parade, and he enters the doctor's room to receive a pill or potion, looking the picture of misery. At the second or third attempt I succeed in attracting the corporal's attention. The S.M.O. does not arrive before ten o'clock.
A little after this hour I return, and am shown into the great man's office. A Lieutenant-Colonel and several Majors, all humble practitioners in civil life, seem to have nothing to do or are leisurely driving a pen. The S.M.O. himself is at the telephone. Some important business transacted, he turns to me. "Yes, I think the D.M.S. wrote to me about you"; and he looks through some papers. "No, there is no mention as to the disposal of an officer of your name; but I will send you over to the A.D.M.S. of the Northern Force, and if he has nothing for you to do, I will try to find you something at Wynberg."
Feeling hurt, slighted, belittled, insignificant, I slink off to the A.D.M.S., who officiates in another building. As I enter his office, a red Scotchman emerges, brandishing his income-tax returns. "Look herre," he was saying---"look yu herre! See what I've given up to be slighted like this!" Inside, a military-looking old Major with a very raucous voice is explaining to the A.D.M.S. that he, and he alone, is fitted for a certain billet, and that billet he means to have.
The A.D.M.S. turns to me (we had met in civil life). "Hullo ! you here ? Come to help push the cart ? What would you like to do ?"
I try to stammer out that I am willing to serve in any capacity. He seemed surprised, and said: "Your middle-aged practitioner is simply impossible. They all want to be Colonels or Majors, and are huffed at the slightest thing." Then he told me that, owing to illness of an officer, there was a vacancy in the M.B.F.A. I accepted with alacrity. Anything to avoid playing at soldiers at the base, where I hear medical officers are falling over each other. But I left the office with misgivings. Was it possible that I had made sacrifices---perhaps comparable to those of the red Scotchman---to take part in Gilbertian comedy ?
The medical training camp is at Wynberg on a sandy flat known as Young's Fields, an ideal place for a camp in the summer, free from flies and dust. Several other Mounted Brigade Field Ambulances are in training here. To-day happens to be payday. Each man receives a sovereign for the month, non-coms a little more. The rest of the pay, £3 10s. or so, is allotted to wife or mother, and not touched by the men. A pound a week certain and no husband must be a godsend to many a poor woman.
With little enough to do, a nice clean tent, a personal servant, a good horse, and the whole Cape Peninsula at my disposal, the first stage of the campaign promises to be pleasant enough.
February 10.---Our medical service is being organized on practically the same lines as that of the Imperial Army. Each brigade of troops, numbering in the case of the mounted brigades between 2,000 and 3,000 men, is to have its own medical personnel, equipment, and ambulance. In the first place there are regimental medical officers, one to each 500 men. The duties of this officer, assisted by trained orderlies, are the health and sanitation of the troops. In case of fighting he is
to establish a dressing-station or first-aid post in rear of the firing line, and then to hand over the collection and care of the wounded to the Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance. To assist in the collection of wounded before the ambulance can take over, each fighting unit is to have a few men known as "regimental stretcher-bearers."
The field ambulance is organized on the following plan. To begin with, it is really two complete ambulances, each capable of acting independently. It is cut up in this way to correspond with the brigade, which consists of two wings---" right " and " left " they are called, and are really distinct and complete fighting units. Each section of an ambulance is therefore attached to a wing of the brigade, and follows it into action. A section of the ambulance has two subdivisions. One, called the "bearer division," goes out to collect wounded and render first aid, taking over the dressing-stations from the regimental medical officers. The other subdivision remains behind, and is equipped to form a field hospital. If there are more wounded than can be accommodated in the ambulance waggons, or if emergency operations have to be performed, the tent subdivision pitches its tents and establishes a field hospital. A bearer division is under the charge of a medical officer, and consists of mounted orderlies and stretcher-bearers, about fifteen men in all. It has three ambulance waggons and a motor ambulance. The tent subdivision has also a medical officer and the same number of men trained as nurses.
Now, it is not in the plan that a field hospital remain in charge of wounded for many hours, because it must follow the movements of the troops to which it is attached. It must therefore be evacuated at once. In the plan as we have it there is a missing link here, for we have no transport, no personnel, to convey wounded from the field hospital to the base hospital, and we can see it sticking out that our field ambulances will have to do this duty, and we shall thus become detached from, and out of communication with, our brigades. Another weak point, too, is the fact that the officer in command of the whole medical service to a brigade is not on the staff of the Colonel commanding the brigade, but is in charge of one of the tent subdivisions of the ambulance far in the rear, and out of touch with the movements of the troops. Further, we have no signallers, unless a couple of men carrying flags come under this category, who, of course, cannot be other than useless under the conditions in which we are likely to act. If movements are at all rapid, there can be no doubt that the ambulances will get left behind, get lost, and not be there when wanted. And, to make matters worse, it is not to be expected that irregular forces, like the Burghers, badly staffed, will always remember to give the ambulances timely warning of their intentions.
February 12.---It will be remembered that the rebellion last year delayed the preparations for the invasion of German West. But now, this being over, and General Botha having taken command, preparations for the campaign are being hurried forward. Four distinct columns are to operate against the country. General Mackenzie has his base at Luderitzbucht, the southern of the two German ports. He is held up at Aus, on the edge of the desert, and further advance towards Keetmanshoop is not practicable at present from the Luderitzbucht side. This army is known as the Central Force. Along the drifts of the Orange River from Upington towards the west is a diffuse force under Colonel Van der Venter, known as the Southern Force. Their objective is also Keetmanshoop. The Eastern Force, under Colonel BerrangÈ, is concentrating at Vryburg. They have to cross the desert through Kuruman to Rietfontein to reach the German border, 300 miles of sand. Keetmanshoop is also their goal, so that these three forces may be said to mutually support each other. If the Germans concentrate against any one of these forces, then their flank and rear will be menaced by the other two.
What, then, is the significance of a small force of infantry collected at Swakupmund, the Germans' other port. They are the nucleus of General Botha's Northern Force. There are collecting at Kimberley, Potchefetroom, and I think Bloemfontein, four large brigades of Mounted Burghers, a total of close on 12,000 men. These are to be shipped to Swakupmund, or rather to Walfisch, quite near, when ready. Colonel Britz commands the 1st Brigade, Colonel Alberts the 2nd, Colonel Myburg the 3rd, and Colonel Marnie Botha the 5th Brigades, who are Free Staters and all volunteers. The 4th Brigade belongs to the Southern Force under Colonel Van der Venter.
Now, mounted men mean movement, and we foresee a rush from Swakupmund to Karibib, Okahandya, and Windhuk, which, if it can be done suddenly and unexpectedly, may result in General Botha's catching the Germans between the Northern Force on the one side and the Central, Southern, and Eastern Forces on the other. As far as one can gather, the Northern Force will be about 20,000 strong, the other three together amounting to a like number.
February 14.---A good deal of time is taken up in lecturing to the men on first aid, hygiene, and so on. Some of our men are very expert, having had long experience in bandaging and ambulance work. The stretcher drill is also very good, and you can teach them nothing in the way of lifting and carrying wounded. In the------we have ten or twelve Germans. They come from a German colony in the neighbourhood of King William's Town. They will no doubt be very useful as interpreters, and as far as one can judge their sympathies are with their adopted country.
February 16.---A little to the east of our lines a large camp is being erected for the Burghers. Kitchens, shower-baths, and sanitary accommodation, are being built of wood and iron on a very lavish and extensive scale. Horse-lines are being made by pegging long thick ropes to the ground at intervals. We calculated that this one camp was prepared to receive 4,000 men and a like number of horses.
February 18.---The 3rd Mounted Brigade have arrived in camp here. Their tents, horses, and transport, seem to fill the whole plain. They are men chiefly from Northern and Eastern Transvaal and Northern Natal. There are a good many men of British descent among them, but these are mostly Africanderized and regard the Taal as their mother-tongue. They are of all ages---some mere lads, others are grandfathers no doubt; but on the whole they are a likely-looking lot of men well above average size, and inured to camp life and hardship. The oldest among them fought at Majuba, and most of them remember the Tugela. One boyish-looking Burgher told me he was at Spion Kop, aged eleven. Being so young, he was left behind with the horses. A shell burst near and killed the horse he was on, and several others. Consequently he says he is rather nervous about the big guns, but is not afraid of rifle-fire.
They are dressed in khaki shirts and breeches, leggings, a soft felt hat with pugaree. A feather or a piece of coloured cloth on the hat alone distinguishes the commandoes. There is nothing uniform about them, for the Government have bought up all the makes and shades of shirts, breeches, leggings, and hats, that they could lay their hands on. Many of the men wear a coloured handkerchief about the neck, which, with the shirt collar loose, is useful and comfortable, if not very military-looking. Bandoliers are carried over each shoulder, and under the opposite arm. They hold 120 cartridges, but the latter are not arranged in clips. The rifle, for which they have a cover, is carried in a bucket attached to the saddle. They have no bayonets. An overcoat, a large waterbottle, a mess-tin, a haversack, and one blanket, constitute their equipment. Each man has brought his own horse and saddle. Consequently, the horses, if useful, are a very miscellaneous lot as regards colour and size.
Most of the officers, however, look very Anglicized in khaki drill tunics and breeches, irreproachable leggings, boots, and spurs, with helmet and Sam Browne belt complete. They are thus easily distinguished from their men, which is not a very wise arrangement for men going on active service.
February 27.---The Governor-General reviewed Myburg's brigade this afternoon. We were drawn up in squadrons. The whole thing was very impressive, and the march-past, which had been rehearsed in the morning, was very well done. The fine marching of the ambulance men and their military appearance seemed to receive special recognition.
March 4.---The powers that be have at the eleventh hour ordered a medical examination of the Burghers. For the last two days several of us have been engaged in this work. As we had no instructions to go upon, we just threw out a few who on account of defect or decrepitude were obviously unfitted to undertake the rigours of a desert campaign. On the whole these men from the Northern Transvaal are a well-set-up lot. We passed several tough old boys well into the sixties.
Just before starting this work, somebody told us the yarn that a man with a wooden leg had been
accepted somewhere or other; but, although we did them at the rate of something like a hundred an hour, I don't
think a man with this defect escaped us.
to chapter II
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