A DOCTOR'S DIARY IN DAMARALAND
July 13.---All last week rumours of peace, or rather of German surrender, were floating in the air, and now these rumours have merged into established fact. Seitz, Franke and Co., have surrendered. It seems that Franke, who met General Botha at Otavi, was quite unaware that he was totally surrounded when he went out to ask General Botha for an armistice. The General said he was quite willing to grant one, but he could not very well inform his wings about it, as they were far distant. Franke smiled in an incredulous manner, but he was soon to learn that he was shut in north-west and north-east as well as south, General Britz being on one side of him and General Myburg on the other. They had no option but to surrender. True to British traditions, General Botha has given them very good terms. The regular soldiers, about 3,000 in number, are to be interned, and the reservists, mostly farmers, are to be allowed to return to their homes, and trading facilities are to be granted to them.
The cessation of hostilities is, of course, the signal for a general exodus, almost a sauve qui peut, the Major and I having found substitutes among the foremost; and we are leaving for home to-day by train to Luderitzbucht, or possibly, if the line is open, we may go all the way to Cape Town by train through Upington.
A train leaves for the south each day now. It consists of a few ramshackle trucks, and possibly a van or two, generally drawn by a very unreliable German engine. A few days previously the Major, hoping for a quid pro quo, had given a sergeant of the Railway regiment some bedding which he was greatly in need of; but the best the sergeant could do for us was a capacious van, a sort of cross between a prison and a cattle truck, which we were to share with several other officers. At 3 p.m., just six hours late, we steamed leisurely out of the station, followed only by a few envious eyes.
Going south the railway has to climb a pass in the Auas Mountains. Railway and road, for the most part side by side, follow a most tortuous course between precipitous mountains until the top is reached, 7,000 feet up. Some day, when the roads are good, the railway reliable, and hotels and hydros are dotted about, the luxurious sightseer will come and spoil the primitive grandeur of this wonderful gorge. In the meantime let those who love Nature in her ruggedness hasten to Windhuk and walk or ride over the mountains to Rehoboth, the centre of the Bastard country, standing amidst waving grass and sharp kopjes. These Bastards, or, as they proudly call themselves, the Bastard Nation, have a history worthy of investigation and record. Some time during the nineteenth century, long before the German occupation, some Dutchmen and Scotchmen trekked across the Kalahari into this rich pastoral country, and, finding it very good, settled here. Many of them were men of good stock, Van Wyks and MacNabs. They built houses, framed laws, and finally took to themselves wives from among the neighbouring Hottentots. Instead of degenerating, as such people generally do, they have done much to maintain European ideals and customs. They have a law-book written in Dutch. The early entries in this book are in High Dutch, but the language used has been gradually simplified in subsequent entries, until the later ones have come to closely resemble the Taal. They have some very quaint laws with regard to property. A man has a right to demand his neighbour's oxen, plough, or anything that he may require; but there is a fixed tariff for the loan of such things, which must be adhered to. If a magistrate makes a decision in court, and the existing laws do not cover it, then the decision is added to the statute-book as law.
These people do not encourage intermarriage with the native races, but they are open to receive white men on the following terms: A probationary period of six months' residence is insisted upon; if the would-be colonist acquits himself creditably during this period, he is allowed to remain, on condition that he marries a Bastard girl. In this way they have reduced the percentage of African blood in their veins, and in Europe, where people are less critical in this matter, most of them would pass for Europeans. Some of the older men have very large possessions, or, rather, had until the recent trouble with the Germans. They are keen on education, and one hears of girls going to finishing schools in Europe, presumably in Germany, and they have returned with pianos and other signs of Kultur. The men occupy their time with pastoral pursuits and hunting. Each man carries a rifle, often of a modern pattern, and from all accounts they are marvellous marksmen. They have maintained their independence with great adroitness, and even the Germans have left them alone, or, rather, have only attempted their absorption by peaceful measures.
Whenever feuds or wars have been on, they have thrown in their lot with the stronger side. They assisted the Hottentots against the Hereros; they helped the Germans against both the Hottentots and the Hereros. Finally, they refused to fight against their compatriots from the Union. This led to misunderstandings between them and the Germans, until at last they came to blows. The Germans sent down a punitive expedition from Windhuk, but the Bastards more than held their own in a fight on May 8, near Rehoboth. They claim to have killed 140 Germans in this engagement, but, although this is an exaggeration, the number of German wounded in Windhuk hospital who admit that they were wounded in this fight shows that the Germans did not have it all their own way. After this reverse the Huns, as usual, destroyed everything they could lay their hands on, burning and shooting in all directions. An old Bastard chief said they destroyed all his cattle and waggons, and killed his children and grandchildren before his eyes. The Central Force on their trek up to Windhuk found ample evidence of these doings, such as the charred remains of waggons and effects, whole spans of oxen still in the yoke lying dead, to say nothing of women and children suffering from bullet wounds.
During the afternoon the engine was frequently in difficulties, and short stops were made to effect repairs to the injectors. Sleep on the floor of a bumping, thumping van was fitful and unrefreshing, and, besides, it was terribly cold. How the poor men in the open trucks managed, huddled together in little groups to keep warm, I cannot imagine. Daylight found us at Marienthal, a distance of only 150 miles from Windhuk, our magnificent German engine having dragged us at the rate of ten miles an hour.
July 14.---At Marienthal the country is flat, uninteresting, and rather barren. To the east, at some distance from the line, is a structure, interesting geologically, known as the Kalk Rand. This ridge runs parallel with the line from below Rehoboth for a distance of 100 miles or more. The face is vertical, and beyond is a level plateau, which, of course, being several miles away, cannot be seen from the line. The ridge does not vary in height; I should judge it to be about 200 feet. To the west of it is an absolutely level plain through which the railway runs.
This plain is a veritable sea of granite pebbles sparsely covered with a little scrub. Away to the west, and running a southerly course, is the Great Fish River. The direction of the river is roughly north and south, and it finally enters the Orange River about sixty miles from the sea. Unlike most of the rivers in the country, it generally has water in it, not running, but as large pools. The banks are lined with large trees, which in contrast to the arid plain form a very agreeable feature in the landscape.
After some delay the train moved on again, but at Orab, the next siding, we came to a final standstill, the engine being affected with incurable valvular disease. We were soon given to understand that we should have to wait here and chance our luck, hoping that an engine or train might turn up from somewhere. On the receipt of this news everybody bundled out on to the veldt, and those of us who had the wherewithal began culinary operations. In the next van to us were a number of Hottentots going to Keetmanshoop. There were so many of them---men, women, and children---that, had we not seen them emerge, we could not have believed that so many individuals and so much material could have been crowded into so small a space. The adult women of the party set to work with great expedition to prepare a meal. They made a diminutive fire of tiny twigs; so small was it that it might have lain on the palm of a hand. Over this they placed a large cauldron of mealie pap. The women then sat in a circle round the fire, and fed it so dexterously with little sticks that it burnt in a continuous flame like a spirit-lamp. Their pot was boiling as soon as our kettle, although we had a fire ten times the size and much less water to boil.
The porridge, when cooked, was served out in various receptacles---pots, pans, pan lids, meat-tins, cups, or saucers. They had several spoons, but they seemed to prefer to eat with their fingers, which they did in a rapid and complete manner. A little lady aged about two had her share in a pan lid, and the deft way she conveyed the hot porridge to her mouth was little short of conjuring. Whether a morsel stuck to her fingers, palm, wrist, or knuckles, it was unerringly carried to her mouth, and her tongue seemed to have the mobility of a chameleon's. In about twenty seconds she was finished, and her platter was handed in. They had an old patriarch with them who was too decrepit to walk or stand. He was provided with a chair, and ate a good meal with a spoon. He desired to wash it down with some milk from an immense calabash, but he was roughly choked off by word and look from an old hag who could only have been his wife, so connubial were her words and gestures. He relapsed into that futile muttering which even younger husbands are wont to resort to. His pitiable state greatly exercised the Major's tender heart until I suggested that she probably had her reasons and knew what was best for him. Feeding finished, the women alone smoked, using a pipe which looked like a large cigar-holder, and which had to be held vertically to prevent the tobacco falling out. They had only two of these instruments, one of wood and one of tin, and these were passed from mouth to mouth until all the ladies had had a few whiffs. To get the smoke through seemed to require great suctorial effort, and, judging from the salivation induced, the fumes were fairly pungent.
Smoking over, the ladies proceeded to wash up and to titivate. One washed her face in a cup of water by scooping, or, rather, throwing the water up with the tips of her fingers, without losing a drop. She then arranged her hair and duk, just as "my lady" does. Subsequently a little coffee was made, and the old man aforesaid was again doomed to disappointment, rolling his bleary eyes and mumbling as before, this time at his wife's relentless back, for she only put the lid firmly on the coffee-pot and removed it out of harm's way.
About noon a train arrived from the south, and the engine ran up close to ours on the same line in an inquiring sort of way. At first the driver of this train did not wish to help us. His boiler was dry, his something-or-other entirely inefficient. But he finally succumbed to the shrill pleadings of our driver, and agreed to take our engine only back to Marienthal, if he could pull it so far; and the plan was that our own driver was to come back at 7 p.m. with the engine repaired.
We spent the afternoon getting the sleep we did not get during the previous night. True to his word, the driver turned up before seven. As he passed us on the siding, he shouted, "I have only half an engine," and proceeded to ruthlessly turn out the occupants of the hindmost trucks. We, fortunately being near the engine, were left undisturbed. We started off at seven, and were making good time, congratulating ourselves that this driver was a man better than his word. "Dinner" was just over, and we were sitting on boxes round a large leather trunk which constituted the table, and drinking a liqueur of our own concoction, when, without any warning, all the movable things in the van seemed to race forward on their own account in three successive and rapid jerky bumps. One officer with his back to the engine outpaced his seat, coming in contact with the floor in a very undignified manner, and proceeded to attempt to jerk himself forward, while in a sitting posture, through the closed door at the end of the van. He was closely followed by the things off the table--- in fact, the contents of the coffee-pot finally overtook him. Nevertheless, with great presence of mind, he continued to hold a valuable wine-glass overhead after the fashion of Truth holding her lamp; the liqueur, however, mingled with the coffee grounds upon his nether garments. Then the train stopped and people ran to and fro shouting. We jumped out to the tune of "Engine's off the line; nobody's hurt," and stumbled forward in the darkness.
The engine was clean off the line towards the left, standing at a perilous angle on a small embankment. It appeared to be one mass of steam and flame, for the firemen were already drawing the fires and throwing the flaming coal and wood off in a very reckless manner. Hissing steam was emerging from all the usual and several unusual exits. The mangled remains of two oxen, the cause of the disaster, lay close to the line, bits of skin, flesh, and bone, were scattered about, and the intestines of one ox lay under our coach, the seventh in the line. The driver had gallantly stuck to his post, applied the brakes, and shut off steam. One of the firemen had jumped at the last moment, when he thought the engine was going to turn over, and he was the only man hurt. The driver said he had run bang into a whole herd of cattle. A search was made for the wounded, but none were found. The engine had dragged the three leading coaches off the line with it, and in the middle of the train two vans were also derailed. The one containing two soldiers was lying on its side. It seemed a bit of a mechanical puzzle why two of the middle coaches had turned over; but it appeared that the vacuum brake did not act beyond this point, so that, when the brake was applied suddenly, the train naturally buckled between the stopping front half and the oncoming back half.
Before one could properly take in the situation, our friends the Hottentots were busy at the mangled carcasses, cutting off meat, as if a railway accident were the most natural thing in the world. They lit fires, and, joined by other natives, started a regular orgie. The ingestion of large quantities of meat often seems to have a most stimulating effect upon the brain, and these people soon became garrulous and quarrelsome as the feast proceeded. Finally, when they settled down, the Hottentot babies took up the tune, imitating caterwauling very perfectly, their discomfort being no doubt due in part to parental neglect, and in part to an over-dose of tough beef. So that on the whole our second night in the train was little, if any, better than the first.
July 15.---Many of the men on the train were now beginning to feel rather hungry, for most of them had only two days' rations when they left Windhuk. Consequently, there were several visitors to the remains of the oxen as soon as it was light. They found little but the horns and the skin, for the Hottentots had taken everything; even the entrails under our van had been removed, and I noticed a woman preparing these for consumption, braying them a little in water, and then rolling them up. Cut into short lengths, these were cooked on the coals for breakfast. So that within twelve hours some forty or fifty people had consumed two oxen.
About 8 a.m. breakdown gangs arrived from Gibeon and Marienthal, and by dint of pushing some of the trucks off and levering others on to the line it was soon cleared. New lengths of line were put down with great expedition, and before noon all was ready for another start. Fortunately, the engine was so far away from the line that it did not interfere with traffic. The engineer who was in charge of the work told me that they had had great difficulties in getting the line into working order. In the first place, there was great shortage of material, and also of skilled labour. Many competent workmen had refused to come out on active service owing to the firm action the Government had taken with the strikers in Johannesburg and elsewhere. Between Luderitzbucht and Keetmanshoop it had been necessary to rebuild the line entirely, as the Germans had not left a single rail intact. Between Keetmanshoop and Gibeon they had blown up all the bridges, about twenty in number, and also destroyed the watertanks and pumps; but little harm had been done to the permanent way.
Where the bridges were blown up, our engineers had made deviations and carried the line into the river-bed on an embankment. This, of course, could be only a temporary measure, for as soon as a river was in flood the embankment and line would be washed away. Supplying the engines with water was the greatest difficulty of all, and had not yet been overcome. This was especially the case on the section between Keetmanshoop and Upington. The rolling stock, he said, was in a very bad condition, and the German engines were old and our drivers did not understand them.
During the morning a train arrived from the south. On board were Colonel Berrangé, his staff, and some S.A.M.R., all en route for Windhuk, where the Colonel was to take over the military administration. As it was only a single line, this train could not pass us, and during the afternoon we were dragged back again to Marienthal, where we were chagrined to see the train which left Windhuk twenty-four hours after us departing on its southward journey. Not until 7 p.m. did we again make an attempt to get on, this time with a S.A.R. engine provided with a cow-catcher. We went along intermittently, and woke up to find ourselves, not at Keetmanshoop, but only at Gibeon. Shortage of water, we were told, was the cause of the delay this time.
July 16.---It was just light when we arrived at Gibeon. The same Kalk Rand was to the east, the same sea of pebbles, the same dreary outlook, as at Marienthal. Near the station are the graves of the Natal Light Horse and the 2nd Imperial Light Horse who were killed on the line three miles to the north on April 27. There are about thirty graves in a single line, each with a little white wooden cross at its head. The name of each fallen soldier and his regiment are painted on the crosses in black letters. It all looked very simple, quiet, and pathetic, standing in the lonely desert. Major Watt and two other officers lie here. The Major was found shot through the head, neck, and chest, still grasping his revolver. The circumstances which led up to the fight I have learnt from various sources, and I may as well put them down here.
For many months the Central Force had been unable to dislodge the Germans from their strong position at Aus, which is situated at the edge of the desert on the Luderitz line. At the end of March, with Berrangé from the east and Van der Venter from the south threatening Keetmanshoop, the German position at Aus became untenable. Further, by this time General Botha with the Northern Force had seized Riet, and was threatening Karibib and Windhuk. If the Germans remained longer at Aus, they were in danger of being caught between all four forces. Aus was therefore evacuated, and the Germans had left it a week before General Mackenzie's scouts discovered the fact. The Central Army then moved up and occupied the place, with orders, so I believe, to remain there. They, however, with their mounted men moved on rapidly through Kuibis, Bethany, Beersheba, and along the Fish River, with the idea of cutting the Germans off at Gibeon.
The Germans had retired slowly to Keetmanshoop, destroying the line behind them, and were now engaged in blowing up the bridges, etc., between Keetmanshoop and Gibeon. It is said that Sir George Farrar, who was Assistant-Quartermaster-General to the force, was greatly opposed to this advance, holding that the troops could not possibly be fed. He was, however, overruled. About April 24 or 25 our scouts tapped the telephone line near Gibeon, and overheard a conversation between some Germans. They learnt that the Germans were well aware of Mackenzie's advance, but also that the Germans did not think it necessary to evacuate Gibeon yet.
It was therefore decided to cut the line north of Gibeon, and attempt to capture the Germans in the place, who were supposed to be 600 or 700 strong. Colonel Royston, of the N.L.H., was ordered to place his regiment across the line to prevent the Germans from escaping north. Our people blew up the line on the evening of the 27th, and this put the Germans on the alert. For some unexplained reason the N.L.H. were lined up, not across, but along the line, and quite unexpectedly they were enfiladed by two machine guns which the Germans had in a culvert. Disorder prevailed in the darkness, men making frantic efforts to dig themselves in with the butt ends of their rifles; but, no supports arriving, the bulk of the regiment laid down their arms. Here the Germans made their mistake, for, instead of making off with their prisoners towards the north, they remained, thinking they had captured our whole force. However, they were surprised to find themselves vigorously attacked. The Natal men chased them next morning, releasing the prisoners of the N.L.H., and also capturing a good many Germans. Unfortunately, in this action the captured N.L.H. were fired upon by our men, and several were wounded.
The Germans who were captured here declared that they would not have believed that men could ride so hard and fire so quickly as ours did, and they were sure the firing had been done without dismounting. I was told that some of our troopers got right in among the fleeing Germans, that two at least of the enemy lost their lives owing to inferior horsemanship; for when told to "hands up" they were not able to do so, as they were hanging on to reins and rifle to keep their seats, and were consequently shot with revolvers. A certain small pugilist was also said to have unhorsed two burly Germans with his fists.
The trek from Aus to Gibeon was a wonderful feat of pluck and endurance on the part of the men and horses, for over 200 miles of practically desert country had been traversed without transport. Roads there were next to none, and the men had hoped to live on the country; but there was little to live on save a few sheep and cattle, and dry scanty grass for the horses. Men and horses were utterly exhausted when they fought this fight, and they were yet to have two months of privation and exposure before they reached Windhuk. We of the Northern Force received most of the kudos for this campaign, but our sufferings never approached those of the Central Force, nor even, I believe, those of the Eastern or Southern forces who advanced to Keetmanshoop.
Among the passengers was a young Englishman who had been a political prisoner in the hands of the Germans. He told a pitiable tale of ill-usage, solitary confinement to gaol, and semi-starvation. One could see by his look that the iron had entered into his soul. He also told me that General Botha's attack at Riet was a great surprise to Franke, who that day was being entertained at a public luncheon in Windhuk, and that none of the staff were nearer the scene of action than Karibib. The bulk of the German supplies were at that time at Karibib; and had the Northern Force then pushed on, they would easily have captured the place and all it contained. After the reverse at Riet, the Germans were feverishly engaged for some days removing numerous supplies of all sorts farther north by rail.
The country between Gibeon and Keetmanshoop is on the whole barren and uninteresting. Conspicuous on the plain to the west is a high flat-topped mountain, the Great Bruckkaros, which is visible both from Gibeon and also from the hills above Keetmanshoop. Journeying all day, we never seemed able to get away from the thing. About Tses, opposite the mountain, the Kalk Rand dies out, and is replaced by broken hills, which nearer Keetmanshoop are of an ironstone formation, kopjes being built up of great red boulders, which are often so arranged as to resemble ruined buildings on a giant scale.
Keetmanshoop itself is a clean little place surrounded by ironstone hills very bare of vegetation. Its only claim to existence is that the Germans saw fit to establish large railway workshops here, and no doubt it will continue to be a railway centre, especially since it has been linked up with the colony via Upington. Here we decided to return to Cape Town via Luderitzbucht, and not to attempt the very uncertain overland route.
July 17.---We travelled well during the night---that is to say, we jogged along intermittently at a little over ten miles an hour, and dawn found us at Schakalskuppe. A white frost lay on the ground, and it was terribly cold. Very few trees were to be seen, and very little growth of any kind. Sand, rocks, flat-topped kopjes looking like slag-heaps in the early dawn, all very desolate, surrounded us. Hereabouts the Germans had destroyed the line very thoroughly, for broken rails lay along the track in great profusion. Apart from the railway there was little sign of man or his handiwork. Here and there we saw heaps of bottles, sometimes large, sometimes small, where a German camp had been. Or, again, a collection of tins marked a spot where our men had rested and fed. Here, at any rate, beef had triumphed over beer.
Both from a scenic and strategic point of view Aus has a very fine position. It is placed in a gap in an inaccessible range of mountains running north and south. Advancing from Luderitz, you are bound to go over Aus Nek, for to the north and south of it is the interminable and waterless wilderness. There is quite a little town here, for there is water, and the place is a regular oasis. From here towards the coast there had been a very unseasonable fall of rain, and the young green grass and the white rocks glistening in the morning sun made a gallant show. From Aus the line winds down an ever-widening S-shaped funnel. Precipitous granite rocks bound this funnel on either side, and its floor is just sand, neither stick nor stone for men to take cover behind. Our advance from Garub could only take place into this winding, ever-narrowing funnel, in full view of the enemy. Further, the Germans reconnoitred our position every day by means of an armoured train or aeroplane.
Looking up towards Aus the view is sublime, and at the very apex of the funnel, where the mountains come together, is a great rock, the "Aus Needle," standing like a sentinel. It was here that De Meuillon, a reckless scout and a man known all over South Africa for his bravery, met his death. Several accounts of his last adventure are current, and I will merely give the story of his death as told to us by the Germans.
Between Garub and Aus, near the entrance to the funnel, a party of six German soldiers were engaged in destroying the line, when they noticed some horsemen advancing from Chankaib. They immediately hid in a trench they had dug near by, and the horsemen came on unsuspectingly. At close range the Germans fired a volley. De Meuillon fell at once, mortally wounded. Two natives were shot dead and three others were taken prisoners, while three white men escaped. De Meuillon died soon after, and they buried him on the northern side of the funnel and hanged the natives on a tree close to the grave. And here the grave and corpses were found when the advance to Aus was subsequently made.
There is hardly anything at Garub now to show that it had once been a large camp---just a few tin shanties, a tent or two, and a pumping plant. The places where the stacks of forage had been are now, after the rain, beautifully green little lawns of stunted oats. A handful of natives gather up the débris, and when they have finished no sign of the camp will be left.
The desert now has a tinge of green, as if it had received a very thin coat of paint of that colour, which gives it a charm not to be described. A beautiful little heliotrope flower is growing, too, in great profusion, and I even saw a few birds.
Near Chankaib is an extinct volcano, and a little nearer the coast a pale grey lava enters largely into the composition of the desert. At Rotkuppe, and thereafter, although there had been plenty of rain, there was no sign of vegetation. As we approached the coast the country became more and more wild and weird. About Grassplatz it is utter chaos. Tumbled rocks of all shapes and at all angles intermix with the sand blown up from the coast. Mountains, hills, valleys, precipices, escarpments, gorges, ravines, fissures, without arrangement or order, fill in the whole landscape. The rocks are a dull grey, unearthly colour; even the sky looks grey and sombre. One feels here as if the end of the world were coming or had already come.
How the railway finds its way through this tangled mass is a mystery. It is nothing but curve and gradient, and you cannot see 20 yards ahead. It is here that they have such difficulty in keeping the line clear of sand, and to prevent it from blowing about somebody has hit on the novel idea of covering sandhills near the line with canvas. One sees whole acres of dunes treated in this way, long strips of canvas several yards wide being sewn together, stretched tightly over the sand, and pegged down at intervals. Large gangs of natives are also engaged in constantly shovelling away the sand into small trucks run on light rails up to the line. It all seems a hopeless task, for the sand seems to come on in endless avalanches as fast as it is removed.
Kolmanskop, where the diamonds are, is a dreary waste of sand and rock. The diamondiferous gravel is collected into little heaps arranged in long regular lines waiting to be sifted. All this work is now at a standstill. The German Government had recently put down a lot of machinery here for working the mines, which is worked by electricity generated at the power-station in Luderitzbucht. There are a good many houses and offices for the workers, all well built and of large size; but it seems very incongruous to see human habitations in such a place, and I cannot imagine sane men living here even for the sake of getting rich.
The diamonds from this area are, generally speaking, small and of inferior quality, but they seem to be very numerous. I told a resident of Luderitz that I had heard of a soldier in a certain blockhouse having collected a pickle-bottleful of diamonds. "That's nothing," he retorted; "if he'd been energetic, he might have got a petrol-tinful." I hear, too, that attempts are being made in a systematic manner to get unregistered diamonds from Kimberley passed through as having come from Kolmanskop, but the difference between the diamonds from the two places ought to make the detection of such little tricks easy.
It is five in the afternoon by the time we get to Luderitz. Everybody is exhausted and disinclined for further effort. Our batman heaved our belongings on to the platform, where they constituted a respectable-looking mountain. For a while we sat and looked at it, and finally decided that some efforts must be made to find food and shelter, as it was cold and windy and getting dark. We set out to look for a place where we might lodge, but found the various places full.
At last a Good Samaritan appears in the shape of a sergeant mechanic known to me, and he shows us an empty house, of which, having put to flight many feline tenants, we take possession. There is some difficulty in getting water, for, although water is laid on to the houses, it all has to be condensed; consequently the supply is very limited, and the authorities cut it off at once from empty houses. However, we finally got a jugful from a shop still open. Furniture there was none in the house worth considering, but with the help of a few broken-down old bedsteads and our blankets we should have had a comfortable night if the cats had not made determined efforts at short intervals to recover the position.
July 18.---I don't suppose there is a more desolate, dreary, God-forsaken site for a town in the whole world than this, and nobody except extreme optimists like the Germans would ever have dreamed of trying to establish one here. There is not a drop of fresh water anywhere near, nor a plant nor tree of any description except seaweed. There is not even a flat space where buildings can be erected, and many are perched on pinnacles or in fissures in the rocks. Its only natural advantages are the sun, sea, rocks, sand, and wind. The town is at the foot of a great tumbled mass of volcanic rock which juts northward into the sea, and this mass is obviously continued in three islands with small shallow channels between them. In this way a bay is produced. Dias, who visited the place, but did not stay, called it Angra dos Ilheos---the Bay of Islets. Later it was renamed Angra Pequeña---Little Bay. Finally the Germans changed the name to Luderitzbucht, after an explorer of theirs, Luderitz by name. All the rocks about are of the dull grey colour of pumice, and everything, including sea and sky, seems to reflect the same leaden hue.
The island nearest the town is now joined to the mainland by a causeway about 170 yards long, which the Germans built in 1907. The reasons for this causeway are two. In the first place it improves the harbour, and in the second it joins the island to the mainland. While an island it belonged to the Union, as all the other islands do along the coast; but when they joined it up to the mainland the German sophists argued that it was part of the mainland, and accordingly began to build upon it, erecting a fine hospital there and a lighthouse. Appropriately enough they named it Halfisch Insel---i.e., Shark Island. One can hardly blame the Germans for jumping this island, for it is one of the few places where a road could be constructed so that the inhabitants of Luderitzbucht might stretch their legs a little. It is upon this island that the Germans are said to have marooned a number of refractory Hottentots, where they might choose from among the following deaths--- hunger, thirst, drowning, sharks, or a bullet.
The streets are sandy and rough, but are not to be compared with those of Swakupmund in this respect. Little railway lines run in all the streets, and in some places into private yards. The foreshore is utterly spoilt by base mercantile constructions---wharfs, yards, stores, fences, and sidings---all begrimed with coal-dust. There are four or five broken-down little jetties running out a few yards into the bay, but nothing in the way of a pier or landing-stage comparable to that at Swakupmund. The bulk of the buildings are substantial and well built, with granite foundations. Cement, bricks, and reinforced concrete, have been freely used. Most of the houses are of two stories. The bank, the Woermann Linie offices, the railway-station, and the hospital, are all good buildings, but there are a great many shanties and makeshifts. The house we are living in is a most inconvenient structure. There are seven rooms in parallel opening on to a stoep. There is nothing resembling a passage or a hall, and all the windows and doors look the one way. In front---that is, on the side where the doors and windows are---is a small yard surrounded by high walls and outhouses, so that both ventilation and view are not of the best.
The town was full of petty craftsmen living under conditions similar to those which their ancestors must have enjoyed in the Middle Ages. You find watchmakers, tinkers, dyers, cleaners, and sweet-makers carrying on a diminutive business in a small dark building which also serves as a dwelling-place for the artisan and his family. Next door to us a small ironmonger and tinker must have plied his trade. In front he had a little shop; behind was his dwelling and workshop, which was really one room divided into four, two bedrooms at the back with no light or ventilation except when the door was open. These bedrooms opened into the living-room-workshop and off this room, to one side, was the kitchen, size 8 by 4 feet, as dark as night, with a modern cooking range at the far end. Imagine what it must have been like on a hot summer's evening, the thermometer at 110 degrees, with Mr. Tinker tinkering in the parlour, and poor Mrs. Tinker frying the evening meal in the kitchen, and several little Tinkers rebreathing the foul air in the fussy bedrooms, to say nothing of the guests who no doubt were often there, judging from the number of wineglasses and other utensils, in the cupboard, for drinking and eating.
Indeed, Luderitz seemed to have relapsed into a state of medieval feudalism. Above were the great castles, not of Baron this or that, but of the haughty Woermann Shipping Company and Diamond Company, while below in their wretched hovels cowered Mr. Tinker and his equally submerged confrères.
Not only have the Germans a lot of wretched dwelling-houses in their towns, but altogether I was surprised to see how little attention was paid to sanitation. In Windhuk when we arrived there were epidemics of typhoid and diphtheria, yet no precautions had been taken to limit their spreading. We appointed a medical officer for the town, but he could get no help from the municipal authorities or from the local doctors. The sanitary condition of the hospital was distinctly bad when we took it over, and the gaol was also in a dirty state. A sanitary officer remarked to me that the Germans are clean in front and dirty behind, and this certainly applies to their dwellings and shops. A butcher's shop, for instance, would be scrupulously tidy, but his backyard would be the very reverse, skins, offal, and other filth, lying about. I remember going to inspect the back premises of one of the crack hotels in Windhuk, and finding a cesspool and a well side by side, the fusion of the contents being facilitated by other means as well as mere proximity.
July 24.---You can see all there is to be seen in Luderitz in twenty-four hours, or less. From the barren land we have turned our attention to the apparently equally barren sea, and for the last few days some of our party have been trying their luck at fishing, with very indifferent success. Seaweed is easily caught, and besides this the Major has bagged a few dogfish and young sharks. Crayfish are very numerous and large all along this coast. They are very voracious and easily caught on a bait tied to the end of a string. Curiously enough, although so plentiful on the west coast of Africa, they are not found on either the south or east coast.
July 26.---We have now been ten days in Luderitz, waiting for a boat, and I think we have exhausted its pleasures. With the town deserted, it is most dreary here, and, like those of marooned sailors, our eyes are ever on the horizon. To-day we expected our boat to arrive. Another boat is in, but, as it is bound for Swakupmund, we regard it with impatience and loathing. For several days a tall thin man in white trousers, a black coat, and long-footed German boots has attracted my attention. To-day he spoke to me in unmistakable English while I was scanning the bay for the boat. "You are going home ?" he said. "Yes," I replied; "I have been out six months." His tired eyes searched my face, and I could see his form was spare and his gestures languid. -"I have been a prisoner eleven months, and they are brutes!" he almost hissed. "I had been engaged in business in Luderitz for eight years. At the beginning of the war I was taken to Windhuk. There I had three months' solitary confinement, with half an hour's exercise twice a day in the prison yard. Food was scarce and the place overrun with bugs. When they moved us north, we were kept in a large kraal, and given very little and bad food. Two days before we were released the officer in charge said he could not take us with him, as he had neither food nor transport for us. Next morning there was not a German on the job. Fortunately for us, the Burghers turned up next day." "What are you going to do ?" I queried. "I don't know," he said; "my place here has been looted, and there is no chance of getting my money out of the German Bank."
He also said that, when the Germans saw how things were likely to go, the Governor took all the available money and paid it out to the soldiers, giving three and six months' pay in advance. He then issued notes on his own responsibility, which, of course, nobody, not even the German Government, would honour. Seitz also advised the people to bring all their savings to him, and he credited them in Berlin by wireless. That is how the German settler prevented his savings from falling into the hands of the rapacious "English." A good many of them already realize that they were somewhat ill-advised in this matter.
War passes like a scorching brand over the land, and one is apt to forget the singed and squirming creatures left in its wake. The chief sufferers are, naturally, the weak---women, children, and the aged. In Windhuk several thousand women and children were left behind. Many of the women were young, earning a living as typists, teachers, telephonists, and barmaids. Their means of livelihood suddenly cut off, and the wages due to them in many cases unpaid, their position has become desperate. Not a few poor girls have been driven into misfortune, and some have sold themselves for soldiers' rations.
Of course, lots of people, especially farmers who deserted their homes for the towns, have lost all their belongings---stock, furniture, and clothes---and they have been hard pressed to obtain sufficient food, although the Government have been dispensing rations freely. Without work and assets, the prospects of the German community in the near future are gloomy indeed. All this suffering has come to a people who have only experienced the irreducible minimum of the evils of war. Its real horrors have been spared them. The behaviour of our armies towards them has been most exemplary, and everything has been done that could be done both by the authorities and by individuals to mitigate the sufferings of the civil population. The inhabitants of Luderitz are now flocking back to empty houses and empty shops, and the so-called "reservists" are in great evidence. They don't look a bit conquered, are rather jaunty, and not a little impudent. Many wiseacres are shaking their heads and prognosticating "trouble."
The German nature is bitter and unrelenting. To show mercy is not in their creed. The German nurses who stayed on at Windhuk, mainly to take care of their own wounded, were quite ostracized by their compatriots, and were almost afraid to leave the hospital. Even the matron's children came in for abuse. "Your mother is 'English,' and we won't play with you," said their former companions. I heard of a case of two women who tried to make the lot of some prisoners a little easier, and when our hungry troops arrived sold them some little things. One of them was a wife of three months' standing; her husband threatened her life, and finally gave her a revolver, telling her to go out and shoot an Englishman and then herself, as it was the only course left to her. These women dared not leave the house, and had to seek our protection.
One feels one is at grips with a madman, a madman stimulated by egoism and hate. It is most uncanny living among them. So sure are they of their superiority, their omnipotence, their Divine right almost, that one is at times almost persuaded and doubts one's own sanity. To-day groups of their ex-soldiers parade the streets of Luderitz. "You scum!" "You filth!" flashes from their eyes. Comic enough this, behind the iron cage of defeat, terribly tragic were the circumstances otherwise. Intelligence without wisdom, strength without restraint, purpose without pity, egoism naked and unabashed---these are the forces civilization is up against. It is the subconscious realization of this cardinal danger which, as nothing else, has united the white, the yellow, and the black, to destroy the ogre in their midst.
July 29.---Our boat has come, and we are to embark to-day at noon; two or three hundred men of all ranks, regiments, and callings, somewhat disparagingly known as "details." There are besides 700 or 800 natives and a lot of horses, mules, and donkeys. For the last day or two, while the boat has been in the bay, we have behaved very like people unused to travelling, constantly running down to find out when the boat sails, to look if she has sailed, or to make arrangements for our kit. But the embarkation authorities know their work now, and everything is done in order: officers to embark at noon, men at ten; servants and luggage went yesterday. 11.30 finds us on the jetty, which is high. The tide is out, so it is a big drop into the waiting, wobbling barge below. One by one we brave it, and punctually a tug takes us out to the ship, followed by the feeble cheers of twenty men or so there to see us off and wish themselves off too, no doubt.
Getting out of the barge is ten times worse than getting into it. The lowest rung of the gangway towers above us. The barge sways up and down, to and fro. A stalwart sergeant-major comes down the gangway to help us up. An officer whispers in my ear: "If you fall between the barge and ship, dive at once." "Take your chances, gentlemen !" shouts the sergeant-major to the hesitating group below, as the barge swings up within reach. My turn comes too soon. My left hand seizes the ladder, the sergeant seizes my right; we pull simultaneously. For a sickening moment I am suspended in space, and then I am awaked to consciousness by my shins scraping on the ladder.
I shall not dilate on the pleasures of the trip to Cape Town, for they were discounted by several circumstances. The boat was slow, high in the water, and the decks crowded with superstructures for men and animals; the weather was cold and windy. Above all, we were all thinking of home, and the appearance of Table Mountain on the horizon was the thing we lived for. When it did appear, we watched it grow into form from a shadowy ghost. The greenness of Robbin Island was almost painful to eyes inured to sand and rock. About three girls were on the quay to meet us---that is, some of us. We were only details, the Cinderellas left behind to do the washing up, and a civic or other reception would have been out of place for such. And no doubt Cape Town was not a little tired of welcoming khaki. War had not scared the noble city. The same undersized, anæmic seminuts were in the streets; the same pleasure-seeking girls, bedecked a little differently, perhaps; the same intolerable hoot and clang of motor conveyances; the same tempting shops: all were there as when we left. And, thank goodness, above the turmoil, din, and smoke, the same glorious mountain raised its scornful head.
Doctor's Diary in Damaraland index