F u r t h e r I n l a n d
An army of ants -- The Battle of Wami River – Battles with rhinos and bees – A public execution – Fashions of the natives – Habits of the Boer soldiers – Difficulties moving during the rains – Shepherd’s Pass – Giving our ‘friends’ a warm time – Working with the guns
August 5th. 1916
t noon today we suddenly receive orders to move. By 2 o’clock the camp is empty, with the exception of the hospital. It appears we are going to try to get straight across the mountains. If we are successful, we shall easily get behind the enemy, if he stops in his present position. I know that it means we have some terrible work ahead.
August 6th. 1916
At 4 o’clock this morning we have a halt for two hours. What ground we covered I have no idea. I know that we have pulled up every vehicle we have to this place. We have had no food since we left camp yesterday mid-day. There was an issue of bully and biscuits when we halted but I believe everyone was too tired to eat. I know I was. I simply laid down where I was and slept for two hours. I felt sorry for the guard that had to be mounted. At day-break, we start again and have a full day hauling our guns and transport. If we found a stretch of 200 yards where the motors could manage by themselves, we thought ourselves very lucky. Even when we came to a down-gradient, it is so steep that we have to hang on to our drag ropes in the rear to steady our vehicles down. We halt at 5.00pm. This enables us to have a drink of hot coffee. No fires are allowed after dark, so if we are late in halting we have to do without a hot drink.
August 7th. 1916
We are at it again today. Although the work is so heavy, the spirits of the men are remarkable. I don’t think finer chaps could be found if the world were searched. An incident to illustrate what I mean happened today. A gunner of my detachment had been suffering from dysentery for some days. He got worse but would not give in. In the end he collapsed and the OC sent him back (on a wagon) to hospital. Would you believe that the chap was crying like a baby when he left us? Nevertheless, it is a fact.
We halt today at 5.00pm. Our water is done and we have to dig for it in the bed of a dried-up mountain stream. After three hours’ work, it begins to trickle into our cans. Our hearts go up, for thirst is an awful thing. We filled our cans at Lukigura River but we were only able to carry drinking water. We have not washed or shaved since we left and I don’t know when we shall enjoy that luxury again. By about midnight our tins were filled, so we laid down and slept the sleep of the just.
There was one thing which happened today which gave us pleasure. Just after we halted, a parade of all hands was ordered. We were addressed by the Commander of Royal Artillery (Colonel Forrestier Walker) who gave us the highest possible praise for our work. He said that, in his opinion, the task that we had been given was an impossible one, and that if he had not seen it done, he would not have believed it. Those who know Forrestier Walker know that he is not a man to waste words, so the praise was especially sweet.
August 8th. 1916
We are up and away again at day-break today. After travelling until midday, we receive orders to go no further. It is impossible for wheeled traffic to get any further. This is heartbreaking for us because we all felt sure that we could give the Hun a good basting if only we could have got within range of his position. Anyway, we must put our disappointment in our pockets for the time being.
August 9th. 1916
We are resting today. We find that during this trek of five days, we have travelled 26 miles into the mountains. I think this plainly shows how difficult the road has been. For 12 hours each day, roughly speaking, we have been hard at it, not even stopping for a bite of food and only made six and a half miles per day. Our cars, on decent roads in England, could take us on at 12 miles per hour with ease.
I don’t know what altitude we are at, but this morning we were above the clouds. It was rather striking to look down and see the clouds rolling as if it was the sea below. We are happier today. We have found a pool of water in the hollow of a rock. It is not fit to drink, for there are mules and trek oxen paddling and drinking in it, but we take our few rags off and have our first wash since last Saturday. Today is Wednesday so we have not used much soap since we left Lukigura River.
August 10th. 1916
We start our backward trek today, and it is a gruesome sight to see the dead mules and oxen strewn all along the way we have come. I have been talking to a sergeant of the Cornwall Battery who has charge of the ammunition column which is drawn by oxen. He tells me his losses average one ox per mile. Perhaps this may give you an idea of what the road was like for our return journey, if the average for other units was the same. The stench was awful. I’m afraid it will linger in my nostrils for a long time to come.
August 11th. 1916
Last night we had to dig for our water again and we were rather unfortunate. About midnight we found some water after digging for six hours. In the neighbourhood, there was a great number of oxen fastened up to picketing lines. They smelled our water, went half frantic, broke the lines and rushed our ‘wells’, with the result that they trampled all our holes in again in about two minutes. If there is a recording angel, I am afraid he was kept busy during the next hour. After we had got them driven away and tied up, we started afresh and got our tins filled with drinking water. It was then time for starting off again. We arrived at Lukigura River at 7.00pm. I am dog tired but I am considerably brightened up by finding there is a mail in and I have a letter and photograph from my wife. This is the first news from home for many weeks, although my wife writes every week.
It appears that this outflanking movement has been successful. The Huns have had to beat a hurried retreat from the position they held in the ‘gap’. There has been no serious fighting, Fritz being in too big a hurry to stop and argue. We hoped that he would have stopped, but apparently he decided to give us another chase. I wonder where his next stand will be. He knows how to choose a good position anyhow. This move was under the orders of General Smuts in person. He has been with us during the last fortnight or so, so the two ‘great’ men have been opposing each other, because General Von Lettow Vorbeck was in charge of the enemy column.
August 12th. 1916
We are away again this morning and pass through the gap which the Germans have held for the last few weeks. We had not time to view the fortifications closely, but one could see at a glance the strength of the position. At some distance in front of the trenches there was a belt of pointed stakes driven into the ground. The points of the stakes were breast high and they were fixed in the ground at such an angle that any attacking force would have impaled themselves on them. The belt was from 30 to 40 yards deep. To my mind, barbed wire is but a cobweb compared with these things. The gap itself is only 20 or 25 yards wide with the mountains towering up on either side. The place gives one the impression that it never could be captured by a frontal attack. Yet Colonel ‘Jerry’ Driscoll (of Driscoll’s Scouts, famous in the South African War), now in command of the 25th. Battalion (Frontiersmen) of the London Fusiliers, volunteered to capture the position with all that he had left of his battalion, about 300 men, all told. His offer was not accepted.
The road is fairly good along here, but of course we are hampered by obstacles which the Germans have left behind them. Huge trees have been felled across the road, whilst in places, the road has been blown up with road mines. These are trifling incidents compared with what we have experienced lately, so we make progress. By evening we arrive at a place which is marked on the map as Kanga.
August 13th. 1916
We are away again this morning and encounter similar obstacles to yesterday, but we meet nothing to write home about, and in the evening we arrive at Turiana. We are hard on the heels of the enemy, and are making a lot of prisoners, who have not been able to keep up with the retreating column. This place is on a river, the name of which I do not know. It has been spanned by a large wooden bridge which has been burned down. In a case like this, all hands work to build a new bridge, working in reliefs, so that the work is continued night and day until the job is finished.
There is one consolation. If we are held up here for a few days, we have plenty of water so that we can wash, a luxury we have not enjoyed of late.
August 14th. 1916
We are busy bridge-building today. Splashing about in water waist high most of the day keeps one a little cooler than usual.
August 15th. 1916
Last night we had an experience which brought us in close touch with the insect world once more. A colony of ants had decide to emigrate and their line of march laid right across our little camping ground. I had turned in and was just dozing off to sleep when I felt something in my hair. I expected it was an ant or two, so simply rubbed the place and tried to get off to sleep again. However, I have some on my legs in a minute or so, and more in my hair, so I defy regulations and get a light.
What the light revealed, I am not likely to forget for a day or so. There are millions of black ants, all travelling like a huge army. Nothing seemed to stop them. They simply swarmed over every obstacle as if it did not exist. Our mosquito nets had been no protection to us. They had just come underneath them, through them and over the top in swarms. There were thousands of them in our clothing and on our bodies. Blankets, shirts, socks were full, while the ground was black with them. We had to pick up our things and make a dash for it until we got clear of the column. Then we had an hour or two at work, clearing ourselves of these little pests. Everyone in our outfit was treated the same, so the language was rather strong.
I have seen ant treks before but never one like this. The instinct of these insects is remarkable. In fact it is uncanny. When they are trekking like this, they travel like an army. They have advance and rear guards and also screens to cover their flanks. They carry their eggs with them, so they don’t forget the future generations. They can cross a river, if the current is not too strong, with ease. When the head of a column reaches a river, they enter the river along the side of the bank, several files in width. Clutching each other, the head of the floating ants holding tightly to the bank side. When the length of this floating column is sufficiently long to reach the far bank (how they judge this, I don’t know), the head which is facing upstream lets go. Now the tail end has firm hold of the bank. The action of the current gently swings the head round until it reaches the far bank, when it seizes hold, thus making a living bridge for the rest to cross by. When all are over, the far or rear end of this bridge releases hold. The current swings the bridge until it is formed up alongside the far bank. Then the whole colony is across.
I imagine it must be an exceedingly interesting hobby to study the habits of these wonderful insects, but we have not time. Since we have been in East Africa we have seen many millions of ants, and these things that I have just mentioned are noticed by the most casual observer.
We are still working at the bridge. Wood is very plentiful in this country so it is not many days’ work to build a strong bridge.
August 16th. 1916
Our bridge is finished today. We pack up again at 10.00pm. and take to the road once more.
August 17th. 1916
We have been travelling all night but have made very little progress owing to the road being so congested. The infantry, of course, did not wait for the bridge but waded across at a ford. This leaves the road full up with vehicular traffic.
About noon, we get orders to travel ahead with all speed, as a battle is taking place some 15 miles ahead of us. Everybody has to stand to one side while we get through. The road is pretty good, so we soon make headway.
We now have abundant evidence of recent fighting, because dead askaris (native soldiers) are laid all the way along the road side. It is not a pleasing sight to see dead bodies a day or two after death in this climate. The stench is something that will cling for days.
At 2.45pm. we halt and prepare for action. Apparently this is interesting work to some ASC men who draw around to look on, but two of them stop a couple of bullets, so the others take cover pretty smartly under some cars near at hand. We are now ‘ready for action’ so go further ahead to take up our position.
It is rather ‘warm’ here, for bullets are flying all around from machine guns. There is a South African field battery somewhere on our left which has come by another route, and what with artillery, machine gun and rifle fire, the din is pretty heavy. Our chaps are in high glee, because now we are going to give them a bit of ‘hot stuff’ to hold. We take up our position in the midst of some elephant grass. This grass grows to a height of 10 or 12 feet. We are also camouflaged with grass tucked into our sun helmets. We are very short handed so some of our ASC drivers volunteer to run out our wire to the battery commander’s post and to the Forward Observing Officer, a very creditable offer, which is gladly accepted. Whilst we are coming into action, an Indian soldier comes up to me and pleads for a drink of magi (water). I hand him my water bottle, which is full. He doesn’t worry about his caste but drinks and hands me back the bottle which he has emptied. Poor devil. He says it is the first drink he has had for two days. I believe him. An Indian’s thirst has to be terrible for him to drink out of a white man’s bottle.
At last we ‘open out’ and give the enemy his first taste of Lyddite. A startling thing happens. After the first round, there is no reply from the enemy position. After six rounds we get ‘cease firing’. The range has been very short. Our elevation was only between 12 and 13 degrees or about 800 yards range. We stand by until dark, when we limber up and pull onto the roadside. It is midnight by the time we find our telephone wire and reel it in. We have a meal of the usual bully and biscuits and turn in under our guns.
August 18th. 1916
At dawn we take up our battery position again and stand by for orders. News is brought in later that the enemy has evacuated his position during the night. The report of the Intelligence Officer states that after our first round the German askaris got the wind up to such an extent that they broke from all control. The only alternative left to the white men was to clear out.
We received high praise for our shooting. Evidently the Germans had not expected us getting our guns up so quickly. Well, we hope to give them some more before long. This scrap was named ‘The Battle of Wami River’ and was perhaps the biggest fought in German East Africa up to that time. The Germans held the south side of the swiftly flowing river about 30 yards wide and were entrenched right up to the river bank. Our chaps were several regiments of South African Horse, three or four battalions of South African Infantry, several battalions of Indian infantry and a regiment from the Gold Coast Rifles. The last were a fine body of niggers from the west coast. In physique, I think they equalled our Guards. They had already made a big reputation for themselves by work done in the Cameroons. The only artillery we had was the 3rd. Battery SAFA and our battery of two guns. When we arrived on the scene, fighting had been going on for about 50 hours. Our infantry had no water during that time, except what they had in their bottles when the fighting began.
August 19th. 1916
Of course, the bridge had been destroyed so crowds of us are building a new one. We seem to have been pretty hard hit, judging from the number of dead and wounded we have, but I think the Germans have lost very heavily. Today I saw Indians burning three great heaps of German niggers on the far side of the river.
We are still receiving praise from various Staff Officers who are here for our work on the 17th.
August 23rd. 1916
The bridge was finished yesterday, so we are away again this morning. We start another flanking movement to get in the rear of the retreating enemy. We travel through a path in the bush which is being cut as we go along. The ground is fairly level, but still progress is slow. We are in the midst of elephant grass and dwarf trees and although we can tear through the grass, we are constantly having to fell trees to make our way.
August 24th. 1916
This morning, the part of the camp occupied by the South African Infantry was charged by a family of rhinoceri, composed of a bull, cow and calf. The cow and the calf were killed, but the bull got away, carrying a few bullets I suppose.
These animals are by no means docile. If they cannot understand anything they see, they quickly make up their minds to do one thing, viz. charge. As they are of great weight and strength, and armed with two formidable horns down the centre of the head they are fine animals to keep away from, unless one is well prepared to give them combat. I heard tell of one at M’buyini who saw an engine on a light railway for the first time. He charged and derailed the engine but killed himself. His horns were driven into his skull by the impact. Some charge!
During the morning, we meet another obstacle. The bush has been fired, either wilfully or accidentally. Ahead of us, as far as the eye can see, is one huge cloud of smoke, with flames shooting up into it. It is certainly not a very pleasing picture. The roaring of the fire can be heard at a great distance while thousands of birds are flying before it in great alarm. We get out of the difficulty by firing the bush behind us. When a ground space large enough to accommodate us has been burnt, we take our convoy onto it.
We have been joined today by the Cornwall Battery so we required a good space. The fire passed by on each side of us with a terrible roar. We then went on but it was terribly hot. The ground was smudging, and was so hot we could hardly bear to keep our feet down. At dusk we outspan and sleep on ground which the fire had passed over. After dark we could see the glare of fires all around. I don’t think the climatic conditions of Hades itself can be any hotter than that which we have experienced today.
August 25th. 1916
We have had a short trek today. We camped at noon, but our misfortunes still cling to us. While starting to prepare dinner, our cooks by some means managed to disturb a nest of bees. They attacked the whole camp. Everybody was stung, more or less, while the poor mules went absolutely mad. We had all to clear out and leave everything standing. We could not get our guns or lorries, so we had to keep clear until night fell. It seems a ridiculous thing for everyone to be driven out of camp by bees, but if there is anything worse than being attacked by angry bees, I have yet to meet it. I was only stung four or five times but we had several men who had to be detained in hospital and others who were treated and returned to duty.
August 26th. 1916
We leave the ‘bee area’ this morning and after an uneventful day, we camp at dusk. I expect we are rushing to get astride the main railway in German East Africa. This is a line which runs from Dar-es-Salaam, a large sea-port, to Ujiji, a town on Lake Tanganyika. Once this railway comes into our hands, I cannot see any reason for the Germans to continue fighting in this country. If they decide to carry on a guerrilla war, then goodness alone knows when it will end. This is an immense country, larger than Germany and Austria put together, so if Von Lettow Vorbeck decides to play hide and seek, he has plenty of room to do so. He seems to be much too clever to walk into a trap. He has been the Military Director out here for some years before the outbreak of war, so he will know all about the country that is worth knowing from a military point of view.
August 27th. 1916
We have another day’s trek through the jungle, and outspan in the evening about six miles from Morogoro.
August 28th. 1916
We have a day’s rest. Yesterday the enemy evacuated Morogoro and our troops took possession.
August 29th. 1916
We enter Morogoro today at noon. We are the first battery in. I get leave for a look round the town, and find that it is the largest town we have struck since leaving Mombasa. The main streets are very wide with rows of coconut palms down each side. The shops and bazaars are mostly kept by Indians, though there seems to be a good number of Greeks and Portuguese about. When I reached the square, I found a big crowd there, so I went to see what was happening. It appears that a native had been caught looting. He had been condemned to death and after having dug his own grave, he had been brought here to be shot. The Provost Marshal was having his crime and sentence read out in the English, German, Dutch and native languages. The firing party was selected from a battalion of the King’s African Rifles. The culprit stood against a wall. After the volley was fired, he stood long enough for me to think that the whole party had missed him. Then his knees crumpled and he slowly collapsed. I thought this rather peculiar. I had seen men hit but if it was serious they went down in a hurry. Apparently it is not so in all cases.
During my saunter round, I met two of our South African motor drivers. They had ‘found’ a great heap of German tobacco, sufficient to fill a Ford car. This was a godsend to us, for we have had no tobacco for weeks. I had my pipe with me so I go on rejoicing and smoking. The railway station has been badly knocked about by our aircraft, but otherwise there is very little damage. The German ladies are walking about as if nothing has happened. No one molests them in any way. I think this speaks volumes for the good conduct of our troops, considering we had not seen a white woman for nearly four months. But of course, ours is not German ‘Kultur’.
August 30th. 1916
We expect to stay here for a few days. I imagine there will be some reorganising to do. Our column has melted away like a snowball in the sun. There are several brigades here who have arrived by different routes to that which we came by.
One gets a wonderfully picturesque view here. The town lies at the foot of a mountain range. The mountains are wooded part of the way up. Above the woods, the bare masses raise themselves to a great height, while one can see cascades of water tumbling down. I wish I could describe how beautiful these look in the tropical sun. But that is impossible for me.
The native population here seems to be very numerous, and from outward observation, they are very clean. When one sees very clean natives it is worth remarking. The women are very proud of their personal appearance. Yesterday I noticed a number of them dressing each other’s hair. A Negress cannot usually part her hair, so to be in the European style, they are shaving a parting through each other’s hair. But evidently they did not believe in only having one, so they had three. For ear ornaments they had coloured pieces of wood similar to our draught men. They wore three in each ear. (I have mentioned previously how natives of both sexes take a delight in piercing their ears, then stretching the holes to an enormous size.) One piece of wood was carried in the lobe of the ear, another in the top, whilst the last was carried in the edge of the ear between the other two.
As usual for the town ladies, their dress consisted of a few yards of gaudy material covered with crescents, stars and other designs which they imagine will enhance their personal beauty. Of course, the country ladies are not so particular so they dispense with the material. In the country, they are well dressed if they wear a short grass skirt.
August 31st. 1916
Last night we were attached to the 2nd. Infantry Brigade under General Breeves. Today we leave Morogoro and strike a particularly bad road. It is a banked up road and composed of loose sand. Every few yards we go, our wheels sink in the sand to the axles. It is heart-breaking to be hauling your guns and transport out of one hole, then sinking into another before you have travelled 20 yards. We toil on until dusk then lay down where we halt, after guards and picquets are mounted.
September 2nd. 1916
We are having another hard day but we make a little progress. We are once more well up in the mountains.
September 2nd. 1916
This morning we reach a village named M’kali. News is sent back to us that it is impossible for anything on wheels to get through. We have to wait for further orders. We outspan in the centre of the village. There is quite a large number of goats in the village. The Indians always eat goat flesh and I have never tried it so I send my ‘boy’ out to buy me one. He eventually arrives back with one which he bought for two rupees. We kill it and I have a leg cooked for my evening meal. That animal must have been one of the two that were in the Ark. I chewed at it but could make no impression. I have heard of an india rubber man, but I never thought that I should tackle an india rubber goat. I gave it up and handed it to the ‘boys’. They got outside of it somehow. How they did so will always be a mystery to me.
September 3rd. 1916
We are still here today. I shall not try to eat goat. Bully beef, biscuits and mealie meal will do for me.
Today a remarkable thing happened. We are about a quarter of a mile from a stream. I thought I would have a bathe, so I went down. During the time I was in the water, one of the village ladies came for water. She filled her jar on the up river side of me, then walked down the stream until she was four or five yards below me. Then she walked into the middle of the stream, and commenced to wash herself. Now this incident is worth remembering because I have always been under the impression that the natives did not wash themselves. They certainly don’t look as if they do. I have seen them rub themselves with grease often enough, but this gave me quite a shock. Of course, our niggers wash when they are near water, because they have to.
September 4th. 1916
We leave M’kali on the back trek to Morogoro. Although the roads are bad, it is easier travelling, because we are going downhill.
September 5th. 1916
We arrive at Morogoro and we are attached to the First Division under General Shepherd. We are more than pleased for several reasons. I am not at all impressed by the Boers as I have seen them. They have not the least discipline. Their habits in camp are filthy. No sanitary arrangements are made by them. Every night they will sing and pray for an hour or so, then they will gamble and blaspheme for hours. As soon as they are on active service, they never shave, very seldom wash or even think of putting a stitch in their clothing. It is easy to imagine that in a very short time, a more ragged or more disreputable crowd would be very hard to find.
There is one thing in which they excel. If there is any loot to be got, they will have it. I have seen examples of their handiwork. What they cannot carry away they will deliberately break up. What they did with all their loot, I have not the slightest idea. We had the greatest difficulty in carrying our necessary articles. This is a rough picture of the God-fearing Boer as I have seen him.
The South African troops which are composed of the British settlers in South Africa, are a different class altogether. They are an intelligent, well educated body of men who could and would fight. I could not say the same of the Boers. Yes, we are pleased to leave these Cape Dutchmen.
September 6th. 1916
We leave Morogoro in a south-easterly direction and strike the best road we have yet found in East Africa. The road has been made by the Germans with the intention of placing a railway on it, but the war had stopped the work. The gradient is very easy compared to what we have been used to and the road being even, we travel well and halt by the roadside, after doing a distance of 38 miles.
We find that, according to the map, there is a village about half a mile away in the bush. I have to find the village and search for any lurking German askaris. Night has now fallen, but I eventually find the village. It is not a very pleasant job searching these hovels. Some of them are crowded with several families, all living in the one room. The smell of a nigger is at no time pleasing, but under these conditions, it is simply overpowering. We search every ‘bando’ in the village but found only old men, women and children. All I could get from them was “Askari quenda hooko” (soldier gone that way). I was glad to get away from the village and breathe a bit of fresh air. After a cup of stewed bully, I fix up my mosquito net and turn in on the roadside.
After all was quiet, a huge monkey, as big as a retriever dog, went shambling by. He was so close that I could have touched him by stretching out my arm but he seemed to be in a deep study, so I did not molest him. He would have been an awkward customer if vexed.
September 7th. 1916
We continue along our good road, and just before mid-day, as beautiful view as one could wish to see was unfolded before us. Our road had been through the mountains, until at last a turn in the road showed us a beautiful valley with a wide river running through it, hundreds of feet below us. The road was cut out of the mountain side. On our left was the mountain rising hundreds of feet above us; on our right, a sheer drop of hundreds of feet to the river. The road itself was about 10 feet wide. I don’t mind admitting when we first turned onto this path, I clutched tight hold of the side of my car and hoped sincerely that nothing would happen to the steering gear. In a short time, we reached the bank of the river where it was spanned by a bridge, which we crossed. We now find that we can go no further. The road we have come by ends at the bridge.
We are now on a piece of land of oblong shape, about 500 yards long by 200 yards wide. We are surrounded by the mountains. There are two ways out, the road we have come by, and a road in a south-west direction, about six feet wide which has been blasted out of the rock. But this road is overhung by rocks so low that there is not enough height for our three ton lorries to get through. So here we are. For how long, I don’t know.
September 13th. 1916
We have a fresh rumour here every day. One day our chaps are still chasing Jerry. Another day they have been surrounded while still another day says Von Lettow Vorbeck has slipped through the net. One rumour says that we are going back to Blighty while another says we are for Mesopotamia. Anyhow, the Indian Engineers are busy blasting the rock away, so to my mind it looks as if it is intended that we go through.
We find this place is extremely hot, the shade temperature being anything about 115 degrees, so it is not necessary to double about to keep warm. The nights are not much cooler, because being as it were in the bottom of a basin, we get no breeze at all. The light rains are just commencing, so it looks as if we are in for a good thing here.
September 20th. 1916
The rains still continue, and although they are called ‘light’ rains, in reality they are about as heavy as a thunderstorm at home, lasting a few hours and then a break, then another ‘light’ shower. The result of this is that the roads are now impossible for wheeled traffic.
This is a serious matter for us. Our rail-head is at a place called Korogwe, a station on the Tanga-Mochi railway. This is the nearest railway point to us until the Dar-es-Salaam to Ujiji railway is repaired. As this place is 250 miles in our rear, it does not require much study to know that we are in for a ‘good thing’. They are already organising native porters to carry rations and ammunition through, but a native only carries 40 lbs. for a trek of 12 or 15 miles.
I cast my mind back to the ‘Old Country’ for a moment and think of an attacking force at Portsmouth, with the rail head at York and not a wheel to get supplies through with. It seems impossible. Let us hope things brighten up for us very shortly.
September 27th. 1916
We are still on the banks of the Ruvu River. The rains are still with us and the river which was a swiftly flowing river before the rains is now a raging torrent. The bridge was in danger of being carried away, but we saved it by dumping hundreds of tons of stone round the piers of the bridge, thus somewhat breaking the strength of the current. We are now living in a very frugal manner. We have been on quarter rations since the 13th. of this month. Our full rations since we left M’buyuni have been 8ozs. mealie meal (crushed Indian corn), 4ozs. flour (when we could get it), 4ozs. of bully beef and a quarter of an ounce of coffee, also 4ozs. biscuits. No milk, no sugar, unless we ‘found’ a bag which was intended for somewhere else. This does not give scope for much variety but we managed fairly well until now. Now we are cut down to a quarter of the above amount. We are not likely to be suffering from dyspepsia through overloading our stomachs.
We encouraged some natives from a village near at hand to bring us some food. They brought us some yams, sweet potatoes, mealie meal and occasionally some eggs, or an old fowl or two. Then we were in clover. I am sorry to say that our officers issued an order to the effect that the natives should be conducted to the officers’ quarters immediately on arrival in camp. This put the dampers on us, because there was nothing left worth eating when they left the officers’ quarters.
I don’t think this was a very sporting spirit, but there it is. A hungry stomach is not a good companion, so we soon found means to overcome this difficulty. A few of us used to go outside the camp boundary, meet the natives coming in, buy or barter according to our means, what we wanted without actually breaking the order that had been issued.
October 1st. 1916
The rains are gradually easing, but when they stop, it will take a little time before the roads will be fit to be used. We have used a back-water of this river for bathing since we have been here. The river is reported to be clear of crocodiles, but I have several times fancied that I smelled them. They smell very much like aniseed. I have mentioned it to whoever I have been with at the time, but they have never noticed it so I thought I may have been mistaken. The other day I was walking along the bank by myself when I got within 20 yards of one which was basking in the sun. It had not heard me approaching and I watched it for several minutes. I then made a noisy movement and he was in the river in a flash. I searched for him for some time but could not find him.
There are also a good lot of wild boars around here but it requires a skilled hunter to get one. A South African who is attached to us took two or three of our chaps with him the other night and succeeded in shooting one that had come down to the river to drink. They brought it back to the camp, where it proved a valuable addition to our rations. There is also a very fine monkey here in large numbers. When it stands on its hind legs, it is about four and a half or five feet high. It has a beautiful black coat and a long flowing white beard which gives it a venerable appearance. It is called the Colobus monkey and is supposed to be very rare although there are plenty here. To shoot these, a hunter must get a special licence which costs £25. Armed with this, he is only allowed to shoot two of these monkeys. I am also given to understand that the skins realise a great sum of money in South Africa. I can quite believe it for they are beautiful things.
October 6th. 1916
We are not having so much rain now but the roads are bad. I shall be very glad when we get away from here. The health of the battery has been bad and we have been unable to get any medical attention. If a chap went down with malaria or dysentery, he stayed there till nature picked him up. We haven’t a grain of quinine, aspirin or phenacetin in the stores.
Some of the chaps have been delirious for days together, but we have not had a death since we have been here.
October 10th. 1916
The rains have stopped and now we are getting a few Ford cars through. Today we get the news that one of our guns has to go forward. The FWD lorries are still unable to get through. I expect it will be some time before the blasting is far enough advanced to allow the lorries to get through. We are to have two spans of oxen with Cape boy drivers for the gun, along with seven AT (ammunition transport) carts with oxen and Indian drivers for stores and ammunition. I wonder what kind of a sensation the people back home would have if they saw a turn out like this. We certainly do not stand on pomp out here. The other day a brigadier general stopped me to ask a question. He was wearing a pair of khaki drill riding breeches which had a leather patch on one knee, about six inches square. Some swell!
My gun is the one selected to go through. Our OC gives me permission to pick my own detachment while he picked the signallers and telephonists. This has brightened things up a lot here. Our chaps were getting very glum. Now they are holding an impromptu concert. All are happy, some because they are going, others because they hope to be following shortly. This is the spirit which has possessed our chaps right through. All past hardships are forgotten when there is any likelihood of having a go at Fritz.
October 11th. 1916
Our mules and Cape boys in the charge of a corporal of the 3rd. S.A.F.A and oxen with A.T. carts and Indians, under an Indian sergeant arrive at 8.30 this morning. While they are getting breakfast we load up and the whole party are away in an hour. After an unexciting day we halt at night at a place called Buka-Buka.
October 12th. 1916
Shortly after leaving Buka-Buka, we arrive at ‘Shepherd’s Pass’. This pass is named after General Shepherd and is really a fine piece of work which that general had done during the last three or four weeks. When first entering the pass, you see the plains covered with bush and jungle thousands of feet below you. The surprising part is that one has no idea that one is at such an altitude, until this view suddenly opens out before one. I can imagine that before this pass was cut, it was just like walking to the edge of a cliff, thousands of feet high and no means of getting down. But Shepherd cut a road out of the cliff side. It is very steep and about five miles long. Of course it winds about considerably, but this distance gives one an idea of the great height of the ‘cliff’.
When we went down, we had both brakes on the gun wheels, but the speed was such that it kept us on the trot all the time until we reached the bottom. When I say it took us an hour and a quarter, I think I am within bounds when I estimate the distance at five miles. It was a rather nerve-testing journey, because, if you are travelling a short distance with the brakes ‘easy’ and suddenly had occasion to apply them ‘hard’, if you applied them too hard in your excitement, in all probability the gun would skid over the side, taking mules and drivers with it. Or if not applied hard enough, and the gun got away, the result would be similar. The road was about eight to twelve feet wide, so there was not too much room to swerve about in. Anyway I heaved a sigh of relief when I got the gun down to the bottom ‘all correct’.
The rest of our journey for that day was comparatively easy and we arrived at Tulo shortly after midday. There is a deep, very swift-running river here, so after having a meal we went (as we usually do when there is any water about) and had a bath.