A DOCTOR'S DIARY IN DAMARALAND
The first building, or, rather, block of buildings, we came to was flying the Red Cross. We congratulated ourselves on coming to such a fine hospital. It was only the native hospital, however, and still under German control. A smiling caretaker directed us to the military hospital. Not understanding him, but seeing another Red Cross in the centre of the town, we made for that. This was a large building near a church, and in a third building, which looked like a school, we could hear children at a singing class. A nun came to the door. This, she said, was the Catholic Hospital for Women and Children; but again we could not follow her directions, only gathering that the hospital was a long way off. Away to the west, on a hill well out of the town, there was another large building with a flag flying, and with the help of glasses we made out the Geneva Cross again. We charged at this hill like Burghers at a kopje. The building appeared to be a large private house, and a very neat nurse all in white gave us to understand that the soldiers were not here, as it was the Elizabeth Maternity and Nursing Home.
Utterly routed we again descended to the town, and for awhile wandered aimlessly about. Women and children there were in the streets in plenty, and not a few men, some of whom wore semi-military khaki; but they were all obviously Huns. At last we met a single ragged-looking man, carrying rifle and bandolier, and we assailed him with the Dutch and English languages simultaneously. He thought the hospital was away to the south end of the town, and directed us up a steep hill, at the top of which was a new stone church of the modified Noah's Ark type, taller than it was long, with a very high-pitched roof and a slender spire, a gilt clock-face reminding us that half-past three was well past our breakfasttime. A little beyond this church is the Feste, a sort of old fort with a splendid equestrian statue in front of it; and here we had the first and only proof that we were masters of the place---namely, a cheap little Union Jack about the size of a handkerchief, which was fluttering at the end of a sort of clothesprop.
The military hospital is at the south end of the town, and a new wing was in course of construction for fever patients. The German contractor was working away at this as usual---so convinced are they that the occupation of the place is only temporary. There is very little of modern construction about the hospital; the administrative block, built round a quadrangle in which are some small coniferous trees, seems to have been an old barracks. The two buildings used for the reception of patients are cold, dark, and cheerless, but the two operating theatres are quite new, and have every modern convenience, and there is a fine X-ray installation. Behind are several large buildings for stores and laboratories. There are good arrangements for sterilizing bedding, etc., and, what seems a little unusual to us, a large aerated-water plant.
We had heard there were vast stores of medical requirements here, but the things we found were not very useful. It seems that when the Germans decided not to defend the capital, the military removed all medical equipment likely to be useful to them; and after the soldiers had gone, civilians were allowed to come and take away anything they liked. Even after we had taken over, German ladies were in the habit of visiting the stores with baskets, and they always seemed to resent being told that everything in the hospital now belonged to His Majesty King George. Among the things in the pharmacy store were large quantities of hypodermic medicaments manufactured in Lisbon. These, the Germans said, had been captured at Naulella from the Portuguese, whom they claimed to have utterly defeated there.
We found nice quarters in the dispenser's house, within the hospital grounds; and having removed most of his mural decorations, which to us seemed a little depraved, we proceeded to make ourselves comfortable therein.
May 25.---To-day our section of the ambulance took over the charge of the hospital. Although the wards, beds, and patients, were very clean, the sanitation and general arrangements had been much neglected of late. A German matron is in charge with four German nurses. These are assisted by a few ladies belonging to the Red Cross Society. We find the trained nurses very capable and self-reliant, for it seems that much more is left to them by the doctors than is the case with us. One nurse told me that she was in the habit of doing minor operations, and that she gave all the anÊsthetics. When we had occasion to do an operation on a German to-day, this same nurse kept a careful watch upon the doctor giving the chloroform, feeling the patient's pulse and examining his eyes; but she subsided into her proper sphere when the administrator said to her in a loud voice, "I suppose you think that, not having succeeded in killing a German in battle, I am trying to do so on the operating-table?" After this she never questioned our ability to administer anÊsthetics, although she seemed to be a little apprehensive at times.
Until to-day a German doctor had been in charge of the German wounded and sick, about eighty in number. Fortunately for us, he has quarrelled with the matron, and has refused to continue to attend unless she is discharged. As the Major considered her the more useful of the two, he has been allowed to depart, and is now, we hear, spending his time accusing us and her of neglect of duty. Later in the day a petition comes in almost demanding the discharge of the matron and reinstatement of the doctor. We reply by running up the Union Jack and having sentries posted round the hospital. There are a good many German soldiers in the hospital suffering from typhoid, and they tell us it has been very prevalent among them, also that their inoculation against the disease has been a failure. Up till now, on the other hand, the disease has been practically non-existent in our army, and among the inoculated men no case has occurred. This result is a striking testimony to the efficacy of inoculation, for our men at Swakupmund and elsewhere often lived for weeks together under most insanitary conditions.
The German wounded, some forty in number, are now under my care. It seems they nearly all received their wounds in a battle they had with the Bastards near Rehoboth on May 8. The Germans claim to have defeated these people, but admit having lost a good many men. The Bastards, although for the most part armed with rifles of 1871 pattern, seem to have done some very good shooting, one man under cover killing five Germans by shooting them through the head, while another rendered a machine gun useless. The wounds of the Germans also point to accurate marksmanship. Three men have superficial wounds in the back received when lying on their faces, while in the act of raising themselves a little to alter their positions. Another was shot through the right hand, as he rolled over a little, the better to open the bolt of his rifle. Apart from their wounds, these men are in very good condition, and do not look at all like men who have been engaged in arduous guerrilla warfare. Their uniforms, boots, and hats, are quite new, clean, and untorn. Herein is found a cue to their ill-success in this campaign; for, unless they were compelled to do so, they did not leave the railways or roads, and never moved without ample transport and food. Whenever they attacked us, they came down the line or along the road. They prepared fortified positions, and built light railways up to them, and whenever we captured them they had transport and food and drink in abundance. General Botha's men had quite different ideas about fighting. They trekked without transport and without sufficient food or clothing; they crossed deserts and mountains irrespective of roads; and the last thing they thought of was to make a frontal attack or fight when the Germans expected them to.
I cannot say that I am very much impressed with the German methods of treating wounds in this hospital. The healing strength of nature has been given very little scope, the surgeon apparently taking full responsibility. The wounds are plugged to overflowing with gauze and various chemicals in what appears to the uninitiated an indiscriminate manner. To say the least of it, the patients themselves are very uncomfortable with these dressings on, for under our simpler methods the complaints of pain and discomfort were immediately fewer.
The German soldier at home may be a stoic, but he certainly is not one here, and the way he endures his hurts does not impress one. I found him nervous and excitable, taking a morbid interest in his wound and in the minutiae of treatment. For the most part he sleeps very badly, and demands and expects to get an hypnotic for the asking. He knows the names of these, and prefers veronal or chloral. He is quite familiar, too, with the hypodermic syringe, and both the patients and the nurses in charge were surprised when I ordered that morphia was not to be given without my consent. I talked the matter over with the matron, and she readily admitted that life in the colonies did not improve the physical and moral fibre of the men. She admired the way our wounded behaved, and especially the nonchalant manner in which they came up for anÊsthetic and operation.
I think it is not very far from the truth to say that the Germans here have lived in a constant state of dread and apprehension of the various native inhabitants, and this, together with every form of self-indulgence imaginable, has sapped their virility and confidence. "Poor man !" a nurse would say when a certain individual put up a very poor show during the dressing of his wound; "he is very nervous; he has been two years in the Kameruns, and has had fever. "One felt like replying: "Maybe; but he eats too much and drinks far too much; he indulges in tobacco, and possibly drugs; his licentiousness is unequalled; and no doubt the dying agonies of the natives he has witnessed worry him a bit, too."
I believe the Germans here are heavy drinkers, although I must say that since I have been in Windhuk I have never seen one the worse for liquor. But there is very conclusive indirect evidence to show that they drink a lot. A small place like Swakupmund had over thirty hotels and beershops. Breweries and distilleries abound; I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that it would not be safe to walk anywhere in the country with bare feet, because you would cut yourself with broken glass. On the mountain-tops, in the desert or bush, you find bottles; you see buildings and walls made of bottles and mud; garden paths and beds are ornamented with them; and where German troops have camped you see regular pyramids of them. Whenever we captured their convoys we found quantities of liquor, chiefly rum of good quality.
May 28.---There has been a good deal of talk about mines since we have been here. To delay our advance, the Germans relied almost entirely upon this mode of fighting. On the line of advance to Karibib, in the bed of the Swakup, and along the road from Riet to Otjimbingwe, dynamite was placed in great quantity. Not only were these mines put in places where we were likely to go, such as drifts in riverbeds, or near wells, but the Huns also laid traps for us. A favourite ruse was to put a mine in a riverbed, and then near it to put up a notice, such as "Wasser 3 kilos." In these places we never found the water, but generally the mine. Another trick was to place a stick of dynamite above a house door, so that when the door was opened an explosion occurred. As soon as our men discovered this kind of practical joke, everybody was to be seen entering houses by the windows.
The number of mines the Germans laid was very great. In one place alone between seventy and eighty were taken out. At Tsaobis we slept within a few yards of a large one which was subsequently accidentally exploded by a native. It was cunningly placed between the well and the river, and hundreds of people must have walked over it. By putting down so many the enemy defeated their own object, for our men became very quick at finding and avoiding the places where they were. Later on, too, when so many failed to explode or did so little damage, we became more or less indifferent about them. In all only nine men lost their lives in this way, which was due in great measure to two causes, the first being the straggling, scattered way in which our troops moved, so that very few were near when a mine did explode; and, secondly, for some inexplicable reason, the mines generally failed to explode at all, or only exploded after nearly everybody had passed, as in the case already mentioned, where an artillery column passed over safely, and the harmless water-cart and its driver, following far behind, were blown up.
As far as I know, the well at Riet was the only place where the Germans might have done us real damage by mines. There after the fight, and when the Germans had evacuated the place, hundreds of men and horses crowded down to the water in spite of warnings. Had the large mine there gone off, 200 or 300 Burghers must have gone into the air, which would have had a most deterrent effect upon them; for it was their first experience of mines, which, until they became familiar with them, they held in great awe. As it was, they regarded the incident as a very good omen and evidence of Divine intervention, a point of view their astute leaders made the most of. As a matter of fact, somebody favouring our cause had tampered with the wires, unbeknown to a German who was vainly endeavouring to explode the mine when discovered; as, of course, the Burgher leaders very well knew, but they wisely allowed their men to think otherwise.
The Germans employed both contact and observation mines, using the latter only at very important points where they hoped to do great execution. I only heard of observation mines at two places, Riet being one; the other was the narrow neck of beach between the sand-dunes and the sea just south of Swakupmund, the only way our troops could approach the town from Walfisch. Contact mines were arranged in various ingenious ways, the commonest being exploded by connecting an innocent-looking peg or stump to a detonator consisting of sulphuric acid and a mixture of chlorate of potash and picric acid. These chemicals were in separate glass phials, and when the peg was touched the phials were broken and the resulting explosion fired the dynamite beneath. Another kind consisted of a small wooden box with a hinged lid, which was buried in the sand, with the lid propped open a little bit. As soon as any weight was placed on the sand-covered lid, the box closed and an electrical contact was made which fired the dynamite.
If anything, I think the mines encouraged our men to fight rather than the reverse. They considered it a very unsportsmanlike way of fighting. On one occasion in the Swakup, when the troops were very much done up and discouraged, a mine exploded, destroying the eyesight of one man and partially that of another. The effect on the troops was magical; every man forgot his fatigue and thought only of revenge. From the German point of view, too, the indiscriminate scattering of dynamite about could only be considered foolish; for it had no military significance, and only irritated their enemies. On one or two occasions our troops were made so angry by these pinpricks that they were with difficulty restrained from putting Germans to death who happened to be in their hands at the moment.
May 30.---The Germans were very wise when they made a capital at Windhuk. Perhaps I should have said "manufactured" a capital, for the town at once gives one the idea of having been placed here in a new and complete state, and not to have grown, as towns are generally expected to do. Of course, what primarily brought them here is the water-supply, which seems to be inexhaustible. Wherever a borehole is put down, there water seems to be, and, besides these, the hot water gushes out of the rocks in several places, just as at Barmen. At one of these springs is a bathing and washing house where a hot bath can be had for the asking. Then the site is splendid; for although there are mountains on every side, the outlook is not in any way restricted by them, and, as the bulk of the buildings are on the irregular slopes of a well-wooded hill, there has been no difficulty in making the place very picturesque. The streets run north and south, more or less parallel to the hill and at different levels, and the broken nature of the ground has prevented the place taking on that rectangular arrangement which spoils so many colonial towns.
The main street, known hitherto as the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Strasse, is just at the foot of the hill. In it are nearly all the shops, stores, and hotels, as well as the bank and post-office. This street alone is well paved, all the others being still in a very rough and stony condition. Below the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Strasse are what one might call the "slums," and at its lower or northern end it opens out into a sort of square where the station, gymnasium, and gaol are situated. I had occasion to visit this latter place several times. Outside it is not so bad, surrounded as it is with an attempt at a garden and pepper-trees, but inside a more dismal, dark, cold, forbidding place it is difficult to imagine. The gaoler told me that, when he took over, the place literally swarmed with bugs, and that it would be the refinement of cruelty to put prisoners in many of the cells. Yet it was here that many British subjects, military and civilian, were confined for many weeks.
The Governor's palace, the public buildings, and the residences of Government officials and the well-to-do, are all built on the side of the hill. The palace is not much of a place, but it has beautiful gardens in which palms predominate, and is surrounded by trees. The houses in this part of the town are very nice, often perched on high rocks with winding paths leading up to them, and terraced gardens below. What strikes one about them is that no two houses are alike. Some of them have very fantastic shapes, especially as regards the roofs.
For a long time before Windhuk became the capital, it was a Rhenish mission-station, and the buildings belonging to this period can easily be distinguished from the more modern ones; for, instead of being plastered and of ornate design, they are built of plain red brick, and are of simple and severe pattern.
When Windhuk surrendered, not many able-bodied men were in the place; but there were a great number of women and children, mostly belonging to the poorer classes, who had come in from distant parts when the Union troops approached, or who feared to remain on the farms after their men-folk had left. Altogether there were about 3,000 young children in the place besides grown-ups, and the bulk of them were very badly off for provisions, and had to be fed by the Union Government. We were told that only those civilians who could provide themselves with three months' rations were allowed to retire north to Otavi and Grootfontein, which explains why so many people were left at Windhuk.
The shops are open from ten to twelve and from four to six, but, with the exception of the butchers, very little trade is going on, for the shopkeepers have little to sell and the people but little to spend. certain amount of trade is being done with the military at very exorbitant rates, the Provost-Marshal not having fixed any tariff. The inhabitants pretend to go about their ordinary avocations as if we were not here. They dress up in the afternoons, and parade the streets or drive about in their cumbersome spiders. Men are to be seen in the beer-gardens making shift with one mug of beer, the supply of which is very low on account of the shortage of grain. One cannot help but admire the way they brazen it out. The fact that they have been in a state of siege for ten months, the fact that we have taken their capital without a blow, and that their troops are scattering and fleeing before us, does not depress them; for they know that their Emperor's troops are on the way to relieve them. Meanwhile they kill us with looks or ignore us altogether, except a few dashing ladies whose duty it is to glean what information they can from our officers. In consequence of this sort of thing I hear, though how true it may be I do not know, that a general order has been issued forbidding all social intercourse with enemy subjects.
I am very much impressed by the German colonial woman. In spite of her somewhat flat feet, loose, rotund figure, and cold blue eye, she is a very fine animal, full-blooded, active, and self-reliant. In the absence of the men, many farmers' wives and daughters are managing estates, riding about among the natives, protected only by their own rifle or revolver, acting hostess and spy with a sang-froid which compels admiration. Her father, husband, brothers, and sons, are fugitives or prisoners, her larder and purse almost empty; but pride and determination alone are written on her countenance. She rears a goodly number of white-haired, sturdy little square-heads whom she will give to the Emperor without qualm or regret. Fortunately for us and for civilization, her mate is rarely her equal. Past middle life, he is debauched-looking, flabby, and dyspnúic; a Landsturm raised in Windhuk would be very small beer.
May 31.---To-day I visited the native location, situated on a rounded hill a little distance west of the town, where there are said to be about 10,000 natives, mostly Hereros with a sprinkling of Hottentots. The place is laid out in a very orderly manner. The streets all radiate from the summit of the hill, where there are benches, an ornamental pond, and a flag-pole, the sides of each street being lined with tins painted white, in each of which there is a tree, either a pepper or a eucalyptus. At present these trees are only small, but when they grow the place will be quite imposing. But the huts themselves are the most miserable habitations imaginable. In his natural state the Herero builds a circular hut about 10 feet in diameter, with a rounded roof, the whole thing having the shape of the upper end of an egg. These huts are normally built of long sticks bent over to form the roof, the intervening spaces being filled in with mud, and the roof thatched. Beaver-like, the Hereros have tried here to keep to this design, but, not having the necessary materials, they have attempted to make the huts with any material that came to hand, such as roofing iron, petrol tins flattened out, bits of plank and sacking. The effect is very bizarre, and to most of these dwellings wind and rain must find a ready entrance.
For the most part the people are well dressed and clean-looking. The women are much more comely than Bantus usually are, and have very peculiar and distinctive figures. They are tall and thin; at least, viewed from the front or back they look very thin, due to a narrowness across the shoulders, which approaches deformity. They make up from before backwards what they lack from side to side; thus, their figures give you the idea of having been compressed laterally. The dress they affect accentuates these peculiarities, for they wear their waists just under their armpits, and they fold a handkerchief, or duk, the shape of an ordinary flowerpot, and wear it on the head.
Of the various peoples in the country, the Germans can only claim to have subdued the Hereros, who seem to be a very docile and peace-loving race. What are left of them the Germans have reduced to a state of slavery by a very simple and efficient means. They do not allow the Hereros to own cattle or land except under conditions which make it next to impossible. In order to live, therefore, these people must work, their pay being about 10 marks a month; and this they must spend at the German storekeeper's, the only place where food is to be obtained. There is no doubt whatever that the Germans have treated these people systematically with the greatest cruelty.
Their lives are of little account; since we have been in Windhuk several bodies of murdered natives have been exhumed and their murderers brought to justice. One man readily admitted shooting a native. "But why make such a fuss about it ?" he queried.
I have several times seen the shackles used by the Germans; they are very heavy, and remind one of those used in the Middle Ages. A common practice was to chain five prisoners together---legs, arms, and necks---in such a manner that if one wanted to move it disturbed the others. I have also seen photographs of executions and floggings, all very barbarous. Natives are generally hanged to trees with their arms free, so that they linger a long time, preventing suffocation by holding on to the reins with their hands. Around may be seen a group of German soldiers apparently enjoying the proceedings. On one occasion our troops found some bodies hanging from a branch by means of barbed wire round the necks. Bodies, too, were found fastened together in graves, with every indication of having been buried alive. German soldiers and others had regular harems of Herero women, who, when they happened to have a child, were given a few goats and cut adrift.
An attempt was made by societies in Germany to prevent the obvious evil of colonizing the country with "Eurafricans," and large numbers of German girls have been sent out, ostensibly as barmaids, telephone clerks, and typists, but their fate is often little better than that of their African sisters. It is quite a common thing to find at the farms, not a frau, but a fraulein, living with the farmer. Her position, of course, is quite insecure, but the custom seems to receive social recognition, and nobody thinks any the worse of her.
June 1.---We have started an out-patient department at the hospital for the troops. Several units are here without medical officers, and in other cases the regimental doctors are engaged in chasing about the country doing post-mortems and attending exhumations of murdered natives. Every morning at nine the Burghers flock to the sick parade in great numbers. About 10 per cent. have toothache, 20 per cent. a skin complaint which we call veldt sores, another 20 per cent. have intestinal complaints resulting from improper food, and the remaining 50 per cent. are malingerers or attend for a little diversion.
The unwisdom of allowing men with slight defects to go on active service is now very apparent, for men who are desirous of getting home use these defects as a means to that end, and, although they may be suffering no inconvenience, we have to believe them. One ingenuous man wanted to get a sick discharge in order that he might, so he said, go to Europe to fight. Among the men who attend are many fine old backveldters, who nearly all fought against us in the Great War, as they call the Boer War. Most of them have wounds to show; one has eleven, with two British bullets still in him; yet he is now willing to extend the British Empire since General Botha is doing so. These men will stand rifle-fire all day at 1,000 yards or so, but they are nervous about the big guns, and don't quite like the machine guns since the experiences at Jackalswater. Many of them are now armed with Mausers, which they prefer to the Lee-Enfield. They think it inflicts a more deadly wound, and this is the view the Germans hold, too. A few days ago a German officer attempted to blow up the line, but was shot and captured. The first thing he said, when taken, was, "Was I shot with one of our rifles or one of yours?" On being told he was shot with a German rifle, he replied, "I am done for, then." One thing I have certainly noticed with regard to the Mauser bullets is that, if they meet with resistance, such as buttons or bones, they are very easily stripped of their nickel casing, and the lead, spreading or breaking up, makes a very large wound; sometimes, indeed, there are several exit wounds.
The Burghers never look like fighting men when off their horses, but now they look less like soldiers than ever. Much of their original clothing has been worn out, and the necessary substitutions have not always a military cut. Quite a number of men are entirely clothed in German uniforms, which may lead to complications if fighting should occur. A few days ago a motor-driver lost his life because he was wearing a German hat. He approached the farm of a Bastard, who, mistaking him for a German, shot him dead. The Rehoboth Bastards were much upset by this incident, and offered to shoot the man who had made the mistake, or hand him over to us for justice, so anxious are they to conciliate General Botha's armies.
The Germans about here are now broken up into small parties, which our men may be said to hunt. The present object of the enemy is to harass us by interfering with the train service between here and Karibib. Every few days they succeed in doing damage to the line; but it can only be slight, for the daily service of trains is rarely interfered with. We hear they nearly succeeded in blowing up the big suspension-bridge at Okahandya, a very fine effort, seeing that an infantry regiment was detailed to protect the bridge.
Six men of Hunt's scouts captured twenty-four Germans the other night. It was very dark, and the scouts heard some waggons lumbering along the road, so they lined up in the bush close to where the waggons were to pass. The unsuspecting Huns were riding on the waggons, some being asleep, and were quite taken by surprise when our men appeared suddenly out of the bush. Pointing their rifles at the reposing foe, with a "Come down out of that!" the thing was accomplished. Having no bayonets, the scouts mounted guard with the weapons of the prisoners, whom they put in a cattle kraal for safety's sake until the morning. The prisoners' disgust was extreme, next morning, when they saw how few their captors were, and they were inclined to be truculent; but a few prods with their own bayonets quickly rendered them docile.
June 4.---The army is now "reorganizing"---that is, resting and getting fit for another dash northward. The headquarters of the various brigades extend from Karibib to Windhuk along the line; General Britz's brigade form the left wing. They are to advance left of the line towards Elosha Pan, and have perhaps the longest and most difficult march. Their horses have been sent down the line so that they can be more easily fed from Swakupmund. A large number of infantry are concentrating at Karibib: the Rhodesians and 2nd Kimberleys of Trekkoppi fame, also the 1st Durban Light Infantry. General Bere's brigade has been brought round from Luderitzbucht, consisting of the Pretoria Regiment, the Transvaal Scottish, and the Wit Rifles. General Lukin's brigade of the South African Mounted Rifles have also joined the Northern Army, and are at or near Karibib. The Free Staters, under Marnie Botha, have their headquarters at Johann-Albrechtshöhe. The right wing of our brigade, the 3rd, is at Wilhelmstaal under Colonel Jordaan; Colonel Albert's brigade, the 2nd, is at Okasisi. The Rand Rifles are at Okahandya, and we, the left wing of the 3rd Brigade, under Colonel Mentz, are at Windhuk, although the bulk of it is to go to Okahandya to take part in the advance. It will therefore appear that, if Grootfontein be the objective, General Britz, on the left, will have to go farther than anyone else. We at Windhuk will not get very far, I fear, but remain behind in case the Germans break back. Nominally, Colonel Mentz's troops remain the garrison of Windhuk, but they may be relieved by General Mackenzie's Natal Mounted regiments, who are advancing north along the line from Gibeon, and whose scouts have already entered Rehoboth.
Some of Colonel BerrangÈ's Eastern Army who have trekked across the Kalahari from Vryburg through Rietfontein are also on the way up through Keetmanshoop. General Van der Venter's Southern Army turned back at Keetmanshoop, and have been disbanded with the exception of the heavy artillery under Colonel Devine, who are very slowly coming up this way from Upington. Practically speaking, our front can now be said to extend from Karibib to Okahandya, a distance of about sixty miles. I cannot say now how many troops are taking part in the final advance, for the Burgher brigades are being very much reduced, men being allowed to return home on very trivial grounds. We of the left wing (3rd Brigade) were about 1,400 strong at Wynberg; now I don't suppose we have more than 500 effectives. I don't think any of the mounted brigades exceed 1,000 strong, and the infantry 500 to 600 in a regiment, which would give a total of about 9,000 men.
A good many officers, too, some of high rank, have been given their conge. Some, we are told, are burning to take part in the political campaign. There is, of course, a strong political vein running through the whole Burgher army. To some extent this is unavoidable, owing to the commando system. Naturally, the Government appoint a man as commandant in a district who is one of their supporters, and who is more trustworthy than the Parliamentary representative? Either the commandant has become M.L.A. or the M.L.A. has become commandant.
In some cases this arrangement has worked quite well. Young men who proved themselves in the Boer War, and subsequently entered Parliament, have in not a few cases proved themselves good leaders now; but in other cases, I regret to say, men have been put into high positions purely because of their political status or command of votes. Even in the medical corps there are several members of Parliament, all holding the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In fact, I never heard of an M.L.A. holding a lower rank than Major. We have yet to acquire that altruistic spirit which compels men of note to shoulder the rifle as the French senators are doing. In a scratch army like ours, soon to be disbanded, these soldier politicians can do little harm; but, unfortunately, the political element has been allowed to enter our permanent defence force. Beyers, the first Commandant-General, was a man belonging to a political party, and when the crisis arrived he abused his military position, with the disastrous results so well known. If recent happenings do not teach us that our defence force must be kept free from political bias, then many useful lives have been lost in vain.
The medical service is also undergoing reorganization, for it is now abundantly clear to the authorities that the field ambulances are not sufficiently mobile for this kind of warfare. Medical officers are to have more horses, and a greater number of the orderlies are to be mounted and attached directly to the commandoes. Most important of all, the O.C. of the medical unit is to be attached to the Brigadier's staff, instead of being with the tent subdivision of the ambulance, which is always in the rear. In this way it is hoped the ambulance will be kept in touch with the troops and get early advice of their movements. On the way up we generally had to fend for ourselves, and were left without escort or even orders. Or we would receive a belated order, such as this: "Follow the spoor of the ammunition waggons." We were always forgotten until a few men were hurt, and then there was considerable outcry if we were not on the spot. But this lack of cohesion is evident all through, and is due to one cause, and one cause only---namely, a dearth of properly trained staff officers.
I wish to goodness they would "reorganize" the ambulance waggons, which are of bad construction and worse design, being much too light and furnished with bad springs. Moreover each one only holds two severe cases, and it seems to be a great waste of energy for twelve mules to be engaged in transporting two wounded men. Even when one feels well and strong it is pain and grief to ride in these ambulances, and an officer suffering from severe lumbago, who was invalided down from Riet after the battle, told me that he preferred to walk rather than ride in them. Never shall I forget the agonized expressions of some German wounded whom I brought in from the Riet affair. Time was pressing, we made the mules trot a good deal, and the waggons bumped horribly. When these men write their memoirs, they won't forget to mention their experiences of the ambulance waggons of the South African Medical Corps.
June 6.---Away to the south-east runs a very impressive and inviting range of mountains, known as the Auas, culminating in a point known as the Moltkeblick, to which the maps give an elevation of 8,141 feet. Together with an Africander colleague, I rode out to-day to make a preliminary survey of this range with a view to climbing it on a future occasion. The road passes east over a ridge into the peaceful hamlet of Klein Windhuk, where the chief means of livelihood seems to be vine-growing. The soil is very full of lime, and the grape seems to do very well. Good local wine is to be had at a convent here, although the worthy Sisters tell you that selling to the military is "verboten." But in this as well as other matters here we do not respect the German "verboten," for everything is forbidden to everybody everywhere. You see this vile word on every public building, in streets and parks, on mountain-tops and in the bush. If the Prussian system withholds most of the things worth living for from its own adherents, what will it be like for us when "the day" arrives ?
Riding through this little village, where the younger Germans were attending Sunday-school and the older ones drinking beer, we arrived among the foot-hills of the Auas Mountains. It would have been the usual quiet Sunday afternoon but for the continuous reports of guns and rifles in the valleys around. It was as if an infantry battle were in progress, but in reality it was only Burghers shooting guinea-fowl and any other game that was not entirely scared away. Guinea-fowl literally swarm in these parts, and one sees whole acres of ground along the watercourses scratched up by them, and resembling the surface of the ordinary circumscribed fowl-run.
We climbed a neighbouring hill which goes by the name of the Kudu Berg. The view from the top was very extensive, except towards the south, where the Auas Mountains towered above everything. One could not help noticing the arrangement of all the mountains within sight, which were on a very definite plan. The mountains hereabout are composed largely of a mica-sandstone, or, rather, what geologists call a mica-schist, with a good deal of intrusive granite. The strata forming the mountains have all been tilted in one direction, and all at the same angle. The angle the strata make with the horizontal is something between 15 and 20 degrees, and the dip is towards the north-west. The ascent of any mountain here from the north is easy; you climb at an angle of 20 degrees or so, but without fail, as soon as you are on the crest, you encounter a precipitous jagged descent of 70 or 80 degrees towards the south. The whole thing gives one the impression of a gigantic incoming tide suddenly solidified. The great and small waves all have the same shape and direction, the gradual rise to the crest and then the sudden fall.
As I have said, there is a good deal of granite scattered about among the sandstone, which, being the harder, resists to a much greater extent the softening effects of the weather, so that the final result is that not only the mountains and the valleys, but also the streets of Windhuk, are covered with loose hard pebbles of granite, which make walking and riding very tedious.
On the way home we called at the farm of an Italian living in rather a poor way. At first he was not inclined to be very communicative. He was under the impression that things were going very badly with the Allies in Europe, and that we were about to be bundled out of German West. The Germans had told him that London was in flames, Calais and Warsaw taken, and that England, Russia, and France, were kaput, a word we hear frequently on German lips, and equivalent to utterly destroyed plus damned. We assured him that none of these things were so, and then he came down on our side of the fence without reserve. "The Germans call us Italians 'dirty pigs' now," he said, spitting on the ground with great emphasis, "and will crush us under foot like beetles; but we will show them !" and he destroyed several imaginary Germans in a very quixotic manner.
To turn the conversation into a quieter channel, I asked him if an urchin standing by eating a tomato, and whose colour and hair suggested Bantu blood diluted with a paler mixture, belonged to him. "Yes, but my two sons at home are soldats fighting for Italy now." "Your wife is dead, of course?" "Oh no, she is in Italy, too." And then, with a laugh, he told us he had also a wife in Brazil, one in Buenos Ayres, two in Cape Town, one in Okahandya; "and this one," pointing to a Herero woman standing by, holding a squalling brat. "The Herero is the best of the lot," concluded this polygamous father of thirty-three children. "Hadn't we better be going?" gasped the astonished and faithful Africander.
June 10.---Every morning at nine the able-bodied Windhukers turn up at the Feste for roll-call, and this morning all were there as usual. The Provost-Marshal called out the names of fifty-five prominent citizens, asking them to step forward. "Gentlemen, the train for Cape Town leaves at eleven. You have two hours to prepare yourselves." What a shock! Protestations, remonstrations, all in vain. One, a medical, pleaded a weak heart. "You, a doctor," replied the inexorable Provost, "ought to know that heart disease does better at the coast." Another pleaded: "I live at Klein Windhuk, and have only this thin overmantle." "We will lend you some blankets," was all the satisfaction he got.
They were all at the station at eleven, their women folk seeing them off, a special guard of fifty soldiers and a Maxim looking on. An account of each man's offence went down, too, most being guilty of attempting to communicate with the enemy. On the whole it was a very well-managed affair, reminiscent of the Government's seizure of the strike leaders.
Standing about Windhuk Station are a lot of derelict locomotives; but there are some besides which are quite in good condition, but we cannot work them because the Germans have removed some of the essential parts and hidden them. Some genius hit on the following plan to recover the parts: German engineers were offered a pound a day if they would work the engines. Money being scarce, the lost parts were soon forthcoming, and the engines put into working order, when the services of the would-be drivers were dispensed with.
June 12.---Our military politicians are employing their best endeavours to find out what share the Germans took in the rebellion; for it will obviously be a powerful weapon in the hands of the Government if it can be proved that the rebel leaders were in league with the Germans. Judging from what leaks out, there seems to be little doubt that Beyers was plotting with the Kaiser as early as 1913. The Kaiser sent wireless messages to Beyers after the war broke out, which were conveyed to him through Maritz and a certain De Wet who was resident in the country. When matters seemed ripe, Dr. Seitz went down to Warmbad to discuss things with Beyers, but the latter did not turn up owing to the shooting of Delarey. A German in Windhuk who is in the know admitted that a certain well-known Africander was to have been President of the new republic, but "now we are in the mud he knows nothing about it." Unfortunately for truth, the wireless tapes at the Telefunken relating to these transactions are not forthcoming, although those interested have used every effort to find them.
There is every reason to believe that the Union Government knew well enough about Beyers' little game; but the evidence against him was too indefinite, and his seizure would, no doubt,- have precipitated the rebellion.
Now, although the Germans fostered the rebellion, there does not seem to be very much evidence pointing to their having made preparations for invasion of the Union. There are people who say that the Herero Rebellion was a very much overrated affair, that the Germans kept it going so that they might introduce large quantities of stores and munitions into the country without exciting suspicion. The country is certainly very well stocked with war material; besides what we have found, the Germans have destroyed a lot, and probably hidden a lot more. In Windhuk, for instance, there was a tremendous quantity of horseshoes, sufficient to shoe all the horses in South Africa for four years, as one man put it.
Speaking generally, the roads in the country are very poor, often mere tracks following the lines of least resistance. But there is one road running east and west through Windhuk which, from the excellence of its construction, at once made us think that it had been made for a special purpose. It is very wide, and could accommodate four vehicles abreast; embankments and cuttings have been freely used, and the surface is well metalled. From Windhuk it runs east through Seeis out towards Gobabis, near the Bechuanaland border, and westward it passes through Hensis towards Otjimbingwe. Of course, there is no reason why the Germans should not make good roads, but this one neither links up important places nor taps populous districts, and the conclusion which comes naturally to the mind is that the Germans had the idea of using it as a military route for the invasion of the Union. When the Germans were questioned as to what this road was for, the reason given was not very satisfactory. They said that when Herr Dernburg visited the country he expressed a desire to go in the direction of Gobabis, so they had the road put in order for him!
Doctor's Diary in Damaraland index