A DOCTOR'S DIARY IN DAMARALAND
Nothing but sheer necessity would ever make anybody build a town in such a god-forsaken spot as this. As the name implies, the place is situated at the mouth of the Swakup. It is on the north bank, the south bank being British territory. Recently this river had been in flood, and had washed away the railway, which crosses it on trestles. This is a very unusual occurrence, for this river had been dry for fifteen years. Nevertheless, although the river is practically always dry, it is the only reliable source of water all through the desert in this region. At Swakupmund a plentiful supply is obtained from the river-bed by pumping, but it is very "brak " and nauseous. It also contains a large percentage of Epsom salts. It is really horrible water to drink, and strong coffee is the only thing which covers the taste of it. Tea made from it is vile and "mineral" waters are not much better. I suppose the Germans made beer from it, for there are several breweries in the place.
There is not the slightest shelter for vessels here, and even the anchorage is not good. An attempt on a large scale has been made to build a harbour by making an enclosure with walls, but it has been a costly failure; for it silted up immediately, and has been abandoned. There is a large wooden pier about 300 yards long, and close to it is a fine iron one in process of construction. The Germans made some attempts to destroy these piers, but a few rounds from a British cruiser drove the would-be dynamiters away. But at the best landing at Swakupmund is a doubtful business, for the sea is always rough, and it often happened that passengers could not disembark for several days, and that merchandise was lost. The Woermann Linie had ten or a dozen lighters specially constructed for this coast, but they blew the bottoms out of them before evacuating the place, rendering them utterly useless and beyond repair.
It is difficult to give an impression of this town. It is very un-English, big, and pretentious. I should say it is the whitest and largest of white elephants extant. The German spirit in it seems to say to us: "You British have taken all the tidbits of the earth; but for all that, and in spite of you, we will have colonies, even if we have to make them out of nothing." I am sure the Kaiser said to his colony manufacturer: "Build me a port and harbour in Sud-west Afrika. Make it complete with customs, barracks, and railways. Make a town for 5,000 of my people. Take these 50,000,000 marks. Apply to the Imperial Chancellor when you require more." Result: Imperial Swakupmund.
There is plenty of room here for such schemes, with the endless desert to fall back upon when the sandbank is filled with fine buildings, wide streets, squares, promenades, and monuments of Imperial achievements in the Hinterland. What high pressure in the Teutonic boiler, what energy craving for outlet, with the British fleet and British repressive policy sitting on the safety-valve! Little wonder that something has had to burst somewhere ! The streets are arranged at right angles, and are very wide; but they are useless for traffic, consisting of the deepest and loosest sand imaginable. The Germans must have quickly realized this, for in all the principal streets they have constructed side-walks of wood, raised well above the sand, and are said to have brushed them every day. Now the sand, since they are neglected, is rapidly covering them. There are miles and miles of this paving, and the Burghers are finding it very good firewood. Down the middle of each street runs a two-foot gauge railway laid on metal sleepers, on which all the wheeled traffic must have moved; for there is no evidence that there were any waggons or carts, and the most powerful motor in the world would not be able to move a yard in this sand.
There is a great sameness and tameness about the streets, and with the exception of Post Street, which is at the north end of the town, running down to the sea, they do not merit description. At the top of Post Street stands the fine new Lutheran Church, and it contains one or two other fine buildings, notably the new school, the Antonius Hospital, the post-office, and the public buildings. Near the sea is a little promenade leading round to the lighthouse, and dust above this is a diminutive ornamental garden, where, as the result of much labour, a few sickly shrubs maintain a precarious existence. In this garden is the only really nice thing in Swakupmund, a monument erected to the marines who fell in the Herero War. On a great rough block of granite are two figures in bronze, weathered to a bluish colour. A marine, hatless, and with a bandage round his head, stands with fixed bayonet awaiting death, and protecting to the last a helpless comrade at his feet. The inscription on the table below reads as follows: " Mit Gott für Kaiser und Reich, kampften Angehörige des Marine Expeditionkorps in folgenden Gefechten. . " [translation: " With God for Kaiser and Empire, Members of the Marine Expeditionary Corps fought in the following fights . . .] "The names of the battles are given, also the names of the fallen, numbering ninety-five.
Before taking a photograph of a large and impressive-looking building, I asked a soldier standing near what building it was. " The D.L.I.,[note: The Durban Light Infantry] sir." " Yes; but before we came here what was it ?" " I don't know, sir. It is the headquarters of the D L.I " It turned out to be the railway-station. So much for the curiosity of the man in the ranks.
The camp of the Transvaal Irish is really a quaint sight. It occupies a hollow space in the middle of the town. As the men had no tents, they have used all sorts of material taken from the stores. A hut is made as follows: A framework of wood, cubical in shape, and about 7 feet high, is covered with any material which comes to hand, rolls of cretonne, print suiting, etc. This material is just nailed to the roof, and the ends hang down at the sides and back like curtains. The huts are crammed with furniture. I saw a large double bed in one, and a whole bedroom suite. Most have chairs, tables, looking-glasses, and often large clocks. The huts are all different colours, white, pink, green, and blue. predominating. It looks more like an Oriental bazaar than the quarters of His Majesty's soldiers.
March 20.---There are three lines of advance from Swakupmund into the interior. The one to the north is along the Otavi railway, through Ebony and Usakos. In the middle there is the old railway through Jackalswater to Karibib. The third line is alone the Swakup River. North and south of these lines the country is impassable for large numbers of troops, as there are neither roads nor water. And not only is the country waterless desert, but in many places there are mountains so steep, rough, and intricate, that any idea of finding a way through is out of the question.
Of these three routes, the one along the Swakup must be chosen for a rapid advance; for there is a more or less defined road, sometimes in the river-bed, but more often a few miles to one side of it. All along the river there are water-holes; and even a few miles from here, in the bed of the river, there is a certain amount of grazing for animals. If advances along the railways are attempted, the Germans will, of course, render them unpracticable as such; and any advance along them must be slow, and the positions consolidated at every step. Both these railways are only two-foot gauge, and the northern is the one more generally used. At present we are pushing on a wide-gauge railway along the upper line, and our outposts are now as far as Rossing.
Until a few days ago the Germans have been coming down to the very gates of Swakupmund almost every day, and there have been frequent little engagements. No attempt has been made to drive them back hitherto, and everything points to the conclusion that the General wishes to entice them down here as much as possible. It seems, however, that they are aware that we have a considerable force here now, for they are consolidating and fortifying a position at Jackalswater. Three days ago Botha with two mounted brigades (the first and second) left Swakupmund by the river route to attack this position. The 3rd Brigade (ours) has been advanced from Walfisch, and the 5th is expected any time. We have heard that these two brigades are intended for the rush upon Windhuk, and, although it is only rumour, we already feel that we are destined for something great.
The two infantry brigades are holding the line from Walfisch to Rossing, also the water-holes Nonidas, Goanikoutis, and Heiguinchab, along the Swakup. The I.L.H. are at Nonidas patrolling the line up towards Rossing, and along the Ehan River. This river on the map looks a promising line of advance, but in reality it has no military value, for the country on either side is impassable, and advancing up the sandy river-bed with high vertical banks would be courting disaster.
March 21.---To-day we went to church parade in a desolate sandy square in front of the Hotel Germania. About 800 men were drawn up on three sides of a square, harmonium and parson in the centre. It was an Anglican service attended only by the English-speaking men, for the Burghers have their own ministers and services. It was very impressive when a prayer for "our brethren now engaged in battle " was given out, especially as it was the first intimation we had that fighting was in progress. During the day various rumours of the fighting came through, stories of rapid advance and prisoners taken.
March 22.---To-day I was sent out with two motor ambulances and four ambulance waggons to bring in wounded from Nonidas, about ten miles east from Swakupmund, along the river. Fighting had been in progress during the two previous days in the neighbourhood of Riet, sixty miles farther on. The message said there were sixteen wounded men, and that they were expected at Nonidas about noon.
For two miles out of Swakupmund there is a high plateau where the sand is too heavy for motors, so they have to be towed out to a spot called Martin Luther, which consists of two derelict traction-engines, two tents, and a few extemporized shelters occupied by motor cyclists engaged as despatch riders between here and the front. From thence the road is well defined and quite hard, a thin layer of coarse flinty gravel or broken-up limestone overlying the rocks. To the south are the sand-dunes of Walfisch, to the north undulating hills, and away to the east there is a high mountain range, the Ha-Noas Berg. There is not a sign of vegetation except along the river-bed, to which the road runs roughly parallel. Nonidas is the spot where the road crosses over to the south bank of the river, and there is plenty of water, much superior to that of Swakupmund. The epicures are known to ride out to this camp to get a decent cup of tea, and anybody in Swakupmund who says he has a little "Nonidas water" is generally much sought after.
As we arrived we saw everybody running away to the left, towards a cloud of dust. Someone said it was German prisoners, and I hurried up to have a look. A detachment of the Rand Rifles was escorting 200 German prisoners to rail-head. Big burly fellows they were, marching slowly in rank, with their heads down, looking very dejected, dusty, and tired. They wear a long slouched hat of grey turned up on the right with a black rosette (centre red), stamped out of tin. Their khaki cord tunics and breeches are very nice, neat, and of good material; but the top-boots they wear give them a rather clumsy appearance--- at any rate when they are marching on foot.
We moved over the river to where the Motor Transport Corps had a depot, and outspanned our waggons on a gentle rise. After a while sixteen wounded arrived in charge of a sergeant. It was a most exhausted-looking procession that came in. The sergeant, his men, and the drivers of the four waggons were besmeared with a paste of dust and sweat. The waggons---of the type known as "general service," rather lighter than the ordinary farm waggon, and without tents---came on at a crawl, only a mule pulling here and there in spite of the liberal use of the whip. With every jolt of the wheels somebody groaned. For two days and nights the wounded had been exposed to the heat, cold, wind, and dust, with little water and less food, previous to which they had had forty-eight hours of trekking under most trying conditions, and the excitement of a fight thrown in.
We lifted them out of the waggons and arranged a bandage here and there. Only one or two of the wounds were very severe, but several of the men were in high fever due to the wounds going wrong. Two of the worst cases had died on the way in. They were all very hungry and thirsty, and were very grateful for the tea and bread we were able to give them. One was bound to admit that with the first strain, not a very great one at that, the medical transport had broken down; or rather, I should say, it was brought home to us that we were without adequate transport for dealing with wounded in warfare of this nature. The sergeant told me that a much larger number of wounded might be expected down soon. So we got this lot off to Swakupmund as quickly as possible, and instructed the waggons and motors to come out again immediately.
I gleaned a little disjointed information about the fight. The Burghers seem to have been most gallant at one point, and made a frontal attack without the aid of artillery; one of the commandoes was on the point of surrendering, but Britz and the guns had saved them. Subsequently the German rear-guard of 200 had been captured.
Save in the river-bed, where there is a little grass and scrub, there is nothing to see at Nonidas except an ocean of sand and rock; and soon after it is up the sun beats down in a merciless stinging way, so that all thoughts other than finding shelter from it are driven from the mind. At noon even the very flies, which abound, seem scorched.
The officer in charge of the motor transport kindly offered me the hospitality of his tent and mess. And here I waited all day for wounded who did not come. Just as we were sitting down to supper, a company of the Rand Rifles turned up. They had been marching all day with prisoners, and were now on their way back to a water-hole, twenty miles farther on, where they were stationed. They hoped to get motor lorries here to convey them to their destination, but none were starting until the morning. Their Captain, an old sport, called for volunteers to footslog it. One grizzled warrior only stepped out of the ranks. However, after they had had a little refreshment and rest, eighteen were found willing to proceed. Their officers behaved with childish glee when they saw the little loaf of bread I produced, for they had not tasted any for three weeks. After supper the Captain started off with the stalwart eighteen. I remember he said it was his birthday, so I gave him two tablets of "Ozo" to commemorate the event and cheer him through the long night-march before him.
It was a hot, stuffy night, and, although we were half a mile from the river-bed, mosquitoes were very bad. I had visions of malaria, which occurs in these parts a little, but when I had satisfied myself that they were the harmless Culex I went off to sleep.
March 23.---Our ambulance spent the day hanging about at Nonidas waiting for wounded, of whom we saw not a trace. I learnt a few details about transport and its difficulties from an officer in charge of eleven motor lorries, and whose base is here. These motor lorries are most serviceable, but, unfortunately, the condition of the roads limits their sphere of utility greatly. For although the general surface of the roads in these parts is hard if rough, and practicable for motors, sandy stretches or wide slutts occur every now and then, through which they are not able to go. Along this route, for instance, to get supplies up to the advanced base at Husab, the following procedure has to be gone through. Our new wide-gauge railway brings them to rail-head three miles from here; from rail-head to this depot mule waggons are employed, because it is too sandy for the motors across the bed of the Swakup. From here to a point called "42 Kilo" the lorries are able to work, but there another patch of sand intervenes, and mule transport is again requisitioned to complete the journey.
At the present time these eleven lorries are transporting everything for a force of 7,000 men over a distance of eighteen miles, and it means 500,000 pounds weight of stuff every week. As the lorries carry 6,000 pounds, each lorry has to make the journey eight or nine times a week. Some of the stronger ones are doing it twice a day. To drive a motor lorry eighty miles through a blazing desert in one day is a feat much greater than it may appear, but to continue to do so day after day and week after week, as these drivers are doing, without complaining, without kudos or reward, is a great test. While we were talking this over, one of the drivers came into the tent. He was filthy beyond description with grease, sand, and sweat, and his modest request was that he might be allowed to have to-morrow off to "clean himself up a bit," as he had had no opportunity to do so for a fortnight !
March 24.---The sick and wounded whom we were waiting for turned up at dawn, about sixty in all, including twenty of the enemy. Although they had been hit on the 20th or 21st, and had undergone considerable privation, none of the wounded, with the exception of one German, were doing very badly. More than anything else they were suffering from hunger and thirst, and they put away tea and bread as fast as we could supply them. The prisoners were subdued and obedient. From them and from our men we learnt a little of the doings of the last few days. The Germans said that most of their troops had gone down to Aus to meet Mackenzie. The Germans held a very strong position along a ridge which they had fortified, and had guns in position. Two of our commandoes failed to carry out flanking movements, and Botha ordered a frontal attack partly because provisions and water were low and he could not delay. Albert's men were in a tight corner until relieved by artillery and Britz's advance. One battery of Germans was entirely destroyed---men, mules, and guns---by our artillery. In another place about a hundred of our horses were killed by maxim fire. They had been left in a kloof while the Burghers lined a neighbouring kopje. The Germans stalked them with a machine gun, stampeding the horses of a whole commando, and killing about a third of them. After their horses had gone, the Germans expected the men on the kopje would surrender; but they continued to hold the ridge until relieved.
Sunday and Monday our men followed up, occupying Jackalswater and Salem, the Germans offering little resistance, and retiring north after burning a lot of stores. Further advance for the present is not possible, owing to our long communications and the difficulty of getting up supplies. Infantry have been sent up to hold the positions won, and the tired Burghers are travelling back to Nonidas and Swakupmund. The Germans admit that they were very much surprised. They say they never expected such fighting, the Burghers riding at them in all directions, lying upon their horses' necks. Our losses were thirteen killed, thirty-eight wounded, and forty-three missing, mostly from Albert's brigade. I asked a German prisoner, "What about Maritz ?" " Yes, he is at Windhuk." "You have not shot him, then?" "No; we are leaving that for you."
A Dutchman among the prisoners said to one of his compatriots: "My wife and children are at Karibib. When you go there, you must look after them. But keep to the ridges; the road and river are mined the whole way."
March 25.---At a dinner of medicoes to-night we discussed the periodic descent of soles and other fish in a stupefied condition to Walfisch Bay. Every year just at Christmas a very large number of fish, chiefly soles, are found floating in the bay, dead or dying. There is no doubt that this windfall of fish happened this year, for a well-known surgeon in Cape Town told me that when he went down to bathe one morning they were so plentiful that he filled his pyjamas with them, though he did not relate how he got back to camp. It is difficult to explain this phenomenon. People talk glibly of "volcanic action" and "sulphurous smell." But such agencies might be expected to operate at other times besides Christmas. It is much more probable that the fish are stupefied by gases resulting from vegetable decomposition; for, walking about in the lagoons here, one noticed in some places that bubbles in great quantity were escaping to the surface, and that the dirty black mud had distinctly the odour of sewage.
March 26.---Our camp is really becoming very unpleasant and insanitary. The men are much too crowded. This, combined with the dust, number of horses and mules, want of cleanliness on the part of the Burghers, and the prevalence of flies, is a grave menace to the health of the troops. Almost everybody who comes to Swakupmund suffers more or less from dysentery for a while, due partly to the laxative properties of the water. But there is a good deal more in it than that, and there seems to be little doubt that the men's food is being contaminated by dust and flies; for the illness our men are suffering from is in many cases severe and accompanied by fever in many ways resembling typhoid.
To give some sort of idea of the circumstances under which the men are living, I might describe the camp occupied by the ------ M.B.F.A. It is on a small patch of manure-polluted sand. To the north, 20 yards from the tents, is a railway embankment 20 feet high. On the same level, immediately beyond, is a dusty road up and down which horses and vehicles go the whole day long. To the east, 30 yards from the tents, are our horses and mules, 200 in number, as well as the latrines for the brigade. Beyond the horse lines in this direction are camps similar to ours. To the south, 40 yards away, are washing-places and grease-pits, a road along which 3,000 men and horses are continually moving to and fro. Immediately beyond this is the camp of the 3rd Brigade, and for about eighteen hours out of the twenty-four a strong wind blows from this direction. On the west, within 5 yards of our kitchens, are the transport lines for the 3rd Brigade, with hundreds of mules and natives. Thus we are surrounded on all sides by things any one of which is sufficient to condemn a camp.
In the town, Colonels and Majors of the medical and sanitary staff are falling over each other, and, in spite of our protests and entreaties, it seems to be nobody's business; for our camp is not even visited by those whose duty it is to attend to these matters. Nearly a quarter of our men parade sick every day, and, although the illnesses are not severe, the general health and moral will rapidly deteriorate if we stay here the month or so we expect to do. It is not very good for men to sit the greater part of the day and all the night in non-dustproof tents endeavouring to keep the flies off themselves and out of their food.
This evening we had a little diversion in the shape of a fire, a large store in one of the main streets making a fine blaze. The only explanation forthcoming to account for this outbreak was that it belonged to a firm of the name of Hertzog.
March 26.---The Burghers are a very peculiar army, wanting in discipline in camp, yet full of dash, energy, and endurance, in the field. I doubt whether any other troops would have made the sudden dash on Jackalswater and Riet as they did.
March 27.---I have learnt from a staff officer the real nature of the action at Jackalswater---how it succeeded, and where in part it failed. The Germans, about a thousand strong, occupied very good positions at Pforte, Jackalswater, and Riet, at the angles of an equilateral triangle nine or ten miles apart. Jackalswater, at the apex between the other two places, is connected to them by railway, and was their line of retreat. The position at Riet was particularly strong. The German right rested on the Swakup River, their fire enfilading its bed; the left was protected by a very steep mountain, Langer Heinrich, the foot-hills of which they had occupied and fortified. Between the river and the mountain an open space 800 yards long rendered a frontal attack very difficult. The Germans expected General Botha to attack at one or other of these points. His idea was to attack and outflank all three simultaneously, so that reinforcements could not reach one point from either of the other two. With this object in view, he concentrated the 1st Brigade (Britz), the 2nd Brigade (Albert's), and the Transvaal Horse Artillery, 6,000 men in all, at Husab, about twenty-five miles from the German positions, on Friday, the 19th. This was done quickly and secretly, the bulk of the men only leaving Swakupmund on the evening of the 18th.
On the night of the 19th the left wing of Albert's brigade (Collins) was sent round the north of the Pforteberg to cut the line above Jackalswater, and also to attack the place at dawn. It meant a night march of some forty or fifty miles through most difficult and puzzling country, and the guide may be pardoned for bringing them on to the line on the wrong side of Jackalswater, between that place and Pforte. Collins attacked Jackalswater, but was, of course, between two German positions. The right wing of Albert's brigade attacked Pforte as instructed, and the Germans, here between the two wings of the brigade, surrendered during the day. Britz's brigade was detailed to attack the position at Riet, and here also the flanking movement was not carried out. In fact, it was a complete failure, for Bezuidenhout's commando never got round the mountain Langer Heinrich vid Tinkas at all. It is not clear why this flanking movement was not carried out, because an officer who was there said there was a road, and that his sergeant went along it right down to Salem; but instead of doing so this commando returned to Husab and the river early in the afternoon. In consequence of these flanking movements not being carried out, the Germans at Riet and at Jackalswater were able to escape, which they did during the afternoon.
A German artilleryman taken prisoner in the recent fight paid a glowing tribute to the manner in which his battery was stalked. They were on an eminence, and he had just trained his gun on some horsemen advancing on his right front. "Don't fire there," said his officer. " Shoot at these men in our left rear. "While he was turning the gun round they were shot at by riflemen on their right rear, and the officer was slightly wounded. "What shall I do?" said the gunner. "Wait a moment," replied the officer. "I will be all right, and will direct your fire." Just as he spoke a shell fell on them, as if from the clouds. It decapitated the wounded officer and killed the mules. Another and another shell, and the gunner was the only living thing left in the vicinity. "I then crawled under the gun and took out my rifle. The battery never fired a shot," he concluded.
I have had conversations with a number of boys (most of them were little more) who took part in the fight and were wounded. In one bright little ward at the Antonius Hospital are three youths who were severely wounded. They are on the highroad to recovery, and are very cheerful and happy. They do not seem to realize in the slightest what they have gone through or what they have been doing; for they relate their experiences of killing and being killed in a flippant, cheerful manner that is rather terrible. One with the eyes of a cherub, and another child whose downy beard may or may not have experienced the razor, were with Collins in the attack upon Jackalswater. Early in the afternoon they found themselves on a small kopje with but little shelter, only 300 yards from some Germans who were sheltering in railway waggons and in one or two small houses.
Said the Child: "We could not see the Germans very well, but whenever we saw a little smoke our fellows let rip at it. They had a little black dog which stood in front and wagged his tail, but we did not shoot at it." "Men kept crawling up behind us," interrupted the Cherub, "and firing off their rifles close to our heads, at anything they could see. It made my head ache. Somebody put his rifle very near my ear. 'Don't shoot,' I said; 'there is nothing to aim at.' 'I'll let them have it through the windows, anyhow,' he said; and he put a bullet through each of the four windows of the little house. Just then M---hit a German, under a truck, in the leg. He got up and limped off to get behind a big stone. We didn't shoot at him while he was going; I don't know why. M------looked out to see where the man was, and I saw the pith fly out at the back of his helmet. I thought he was shot through the helmet, but he sank down dead without a sound. The German looked out, and I shot him. I know he was dead because he threw up his arms." "But the worst was," said the Child, "when we had to clear. We got on our horses, and bullets were falling all round. My arm was so painful I had to hold it with my other hand, and put the reins in my teeth. Twice my horse stumbled, but we got away. We came to a Scotch cart, and were put in, the Cherub and I. We lost our way all Sunday and till Monday. We had plenty of food, but no water. We tried to eat biscuits, but they came out of our mouths like powder. I shan't forget that drive ! But I'm going back if the guv'ner lets me."
March 28.---I took a snap of the house occupied by General Botha, a large place north of the jetty. The General's underclothing was drying in the yard, and his fowls were in the same place, acting up to their great responsibilities, with a cow or two as well standing about. We hear he has to be very careful about food, on account of health; hence the milk and eggs. We were all very depressed a little while ago when we heard of his ill-health. "Who else would be able to keep this heterogeneous crowd up to the scratch ?" was in everybody's mind. One hears many tales of his skill, humour, and kindness. There has been a good deal of feeling in certain regiments, caused by their not being employed in the recent fighting---a feeling which was quite unjustifiable, I should say. The Colonel of a certain mounted regiment was taking leave of the General. "Good-bye, sir; I hope you won't forget the regiment next time." Botha replied: "No, next time Briton and Boer shall bleed in the same field."
March 31.---To-day the whole brigade was reviewed on the flat to the east of the town by the Commander-in-Chief. Thirty squadrons of well-equipped horsemen made a gallant show. Our position was on the extreme left of the line. At 10.30 the General, on a white charger, appeared with a small staff. He passed us, looking well and bronzed, with a "Good-morning, Major !" He then went and stood under the Union Jack, this man of the Tugela, and his friends and old enemies marched past, we with the ambulance coming last. We felt rather idiotic, for our motors stuck in the sand under the General's very nose, where we tried not to see them. Three cheers for the General closed the proceedings. His only advice to the men was to look after their horses. Men with horses in poor condition were a menace to themselves and to him. To our O.C. he simply said: "How are your mules ?" Everything now depends on the energy of the transport to form other bases, the fighting units being in grand condition and high spirits. Four mounted brigades, 2,500 to 3,000 men each; two infantry brigades, 2,000 men each; besides a few units like the I.L.H., artillery, etc.---about 16,000 men altogether.
April 2.---During the night we had a very heavy thunderstorm---at least, tremendous thunder and lightning with a few points of rain. This is most unusual for Swakupmund. They say you might be here thirty years and never see another. So far we have not had a hot day on the coast. The highest the thermometer has been in my tent is 23 degrees C., and the lowest 15 degrees. The prevailing wind at this time of the year is south-west, and, judging from the direction of the sand-hills, it must be the prevailing one at all times. A typical twenty-four hours here is--- Six a.m. a cold mist, almost a drizzle. By 10 a.m. this has gradually cleared away, especially if a light breeze rises from the east. Then until three or four in the afternoon the day is bright and warm. Then a cool sea-breeze begins to blow, bringing up the mist which one can generally see during the day as a thick bank on the western horizon. This mist rarely extends inland more than five or six miles.
I visited the sand-dunes. This particular lot extend from Walfisch to the Swakup. Inland, at varying distances of several miles, they gradually merge into the desert. Imagine a hard gravelly substratum covered with a layer of fine sand 20 feet deep. By the action of the continual south-west wind this layer of sand is by degrees blown into irregular banks until the gravelly substratum is exposed, forming little intervening plains varying from a few feet up to many hundred yards in extent. The irregular banks are naturally raised like waves in lines running roughly at right angles to the direction of the wind---that is, their long axis is north-east. On the windward side the banks make an angle of 40 degrees with the horizontal, but on the lee side the sand is piled up at the highest angle at which it can stand, and this is, roughly, 60 degrees. The top edge of the banks is very well defined, and when the wind is strong it blows the sand away from the edge, whirling it about and giving one the idea of a miniature volcano in eruption, the sand always falling down on the lee side. Consequently, each dune must be slowly but surely travelling in a north-easterly direction. The sand on the lee side is smooth and loose, and it is very difficult to climb a dune on this side, both on account of the steepness and also because the sand comes tumbling down when the attempt is made. But on the windward side the surface is hard and firm, horses' hoofs making but little impression. On very close inspection you can generally see the surface sand slowly creeping up this side when it is blowing. The wind also causes the surface to be "ribbed," as is often seen on the seashore as the result of the waves. The wind soon obliterates footprints here, and the stillness and desolation are not to be described. A few bleached bones of seabirds here and there are the only signs of inhabitants, and, as one saw no sign of living birds, I presume they only come here to die in peace and alone.
April 4.---We explored the bed of the Swakup to-day for several miles from its mouth. At first it is very wide say half a mile or so---and there are only a few bushes in it. The river had been down recently, and had deposited a lot of shining mica-mud which had dried and cracked into laminated plates, giving the bed an odd crinkled appearance. Several miles farther up there is grass in the river, and a few pools of water, which, however, is too salt for the horses to drink. Hereabouts the bed of the river is more constricted and has high banks. On the right there is a beautiful reef of white marble scintillating in the bright sun, while the left is composed of loose sandstone. ~
Higher up is a farm-hotel known as the Egg Farm. It was a resort of pleasure-seeking Swakupmunders, and much in vogue for honeymoons. It is, however, only a third-rate country inn, and it had been practically destroyed, including a fine skittle-alley. We were much interested in the garden. Lilliputian beds planted with cabbages, etc., had been laid out with most elaborate care. Great pains had been taken to irrigate it, tiny concrete canals leading the water on, each bed having a little wooden sluice-gate. Cabbages must have been worth their weight in gold in Swakupmund to warrant such expenditure and labour on them.
April 7.---The Burghers are becoming restive, sitting among the dust and flies doing nothing, and getting not very good reports concerning farming operations at home. But to-day the General addressed the assembled brigade in a very masterful and tactful speech, and everybody seemed to go away pleased. Men who came scowling cheered, and went away smiling. Thus a few tactful words smoothed over what might have been a very awkward situation if roughly handled.
April 9.---We hear the Rehoboth Bastard Hottentots are favourably disposed towards us, and have offered help which the General has wisely declined. He has further warned them that German women and children are especially to be respected. Their chief Van Wyk has replied that it will be difficult to restrain his men, as the Germans had herded their women and children and shot them down during "rebellions."
April 10.---I went down to Walfisch by train on a little business. Very great improvement had taken place, and everything was being done in a much more systematic manner. The railway accommodation had been much increased, and there were new facilities for discharging vessels. A large aviation shed is in course of construction. It is shaped like the letter E, and is 90 yards long and 30 yards wide. The officer in charge hoped to be ready to begin operations at the end of the month. They were equipped with the very latest biplanes, but he feared their use would be limited in this difficult country. The bush would hamper observation, and alighting in positions unprepared would be fraught with danger. The absence of roads, too, would make it difficult for their motor-cars to follow up with supplies, and to effect repairs when necessary. Dropping bombs where you wanted to, he said, was most difficult, and greatly a matter of luck.
April 11.---The train was timed to leave Walfisch at 6 a.m. It was pitch black at that time, cold, and raining. We stumbled about among all sorts of obstacles, looking for the train. Finally I ran up against a man carrying a lamp in an aimless sort of way, and asked him where the train for Swakupmund was. He replied rather snappily: "Can't you see I'm the guard and I'm looking for it myself ?" At last we found some loaded trucks, and, arguing that these would probably belong to the train, we climbed into one in which there was a motor-car with the tent up. Here we were comfortably out of the wind and rain. It was a strange experience, bumping along the coast in the pale grey dawn seated in a motor-car on a goods-train.
April 17.---While we have been idle the transport and engineers have been busy. The wide-gauge railway is being pushed rapidly up towards Karibib, and the narrow-gauge from Rossing towards Riet nears completion. Lately many men have volunteered for this work, including some medicals who are working like navvies. The Burghers are also employed unloading lighters and putting the bales of lucerne, etc., into railway trucks, but they prefer to sit on the pier dangling their legs and fishing. Gangs of men are also employed tearing up the narrow-gauge railway in the town to be used on the Riet line. We are short of everything for this light railway, not only rails, but rolling stock, and particularly engines, only having two of the latter, I believe, and no chance of getting more. A Herero and his wife came to-day. They say all the German women and children have left the farms, and are flocking into the towns, particularly Windhuk. Very few troops are left at Windhuk, and they don't think the Germans will defend it. The Deutschers are "plenty frightened," " cannot sleep at night," etc. But we put little faith in what they say, because we know very well that a Bantu will always tell you what he thinks you would like to hear.
Our scouts tell us the Germans are concentrating along a front from Karibib to Tsaobis. They know we have over 30,000 men, but they say we are not to be feared, for our men are only "dissipated farmers and swineful fat-bellies." The Burghers certainly treated the prisoners with scant ceremony. They were not long, either, in finding out that a German's water-bottle generally contained rum. In fact, there is very little doubt that a lot of the courage of our present enemies is of the variety known as "Dutch."
April 22.---There are several Ovampos working in the camp. They belong to a wild Bantu tribe inhabiting the Portuguese border, and have not been subdued by the Germans. Our authorities are alive to the fact that these men, who have offered their services as drivers, may be German spies, although they profess to have a great hatred for them. These Ovampos have a peculiar custom of extracting the central incisor teeth top and bottom. The lateral incisors are then filed to a point, which gives them a very uncanny and ferocious expression.
To-day we have received definite orders to move out from Swakupmund on the 26th. This is very good news, for the place and delay have got on a good many nerves. Sand has blown into the wheels of the army, with resulting friction, and there has been a good deal of petty quarrelling, in which the medical service has figured largely.
April 23.---One of our recreations is to visit the well-kept cemetery and read the inscriptions on the graves. All people seem to die young in Swakupmund. Very many young men in the twenties are lying here, the victims of enteric and malaria. Babies seem to have no chance at all. Most of them die within the first few months from intestinal complaints, I hear. Walking about in this depressing place, I met a very disconsolate-looking Burgher. I thought perhaps he was looking for the last resting-place of a near and dear friend. I started a sympathetic conversation. He was very depressed, rather wild-looking, and said he could not sleep. He was perfectly certain he would shortly be killed by a mine. He had seen much fighting, but the idea of mines was terrifying to him, and he considered it a very unfair and unsportsmanlike way of fighting. I tried to cheer him by telling him of our latest idea for saving the men from these explosions---namely, driving a large flock of goats in front of the advancing troops. He replied he knew about it, and had seen the goats. He thought it might have worked, but the natives had discovered the duties of these animals, and none of them at any price would undertake the work of driving the goats forward. So that the plan would have to be abandoned.
Beyond the European cemetery is what is said to be the native burial-place. Rows and rows of little heaps of sand occupy about a thousand yards of desert. Some of these heaps have rude little crosses of sticks placed on them. It was very puzzling to explain why so many natives were buried near Swakupmund, in a place that was not even enclosed I decided to ask permission to open one or two of these graves, for it seemed possible that, if I did not find a fine specimen of a bushman skull, I might discover valuables that Swakupmunders had placed underground for safety's sake. Unfortunately, we were moved out of Swakupmund before I could get leave to do this.
Doctor's Diary in Damaraland index