T h e R e t u r n
Journey to hospital – Delights of Cape Town – Return to Durban – Embarkation for Kilwa – The enemy falls back – Fever strikes – Leaving German East Africa – The journey home
June 13th. 1917
e have had three very rough days but today the sea is much quieter. What a terrible place a troopship is after the first three days in a wicked sea. If I could describe this ship as she is just now, I wouldn’t, but the memory of it will be in my mind for ever, I believe.
June 16th. 1917
This afternoon we arrive off Dar-es-Salaam. Alongside us lies one of the Canadian Pacific boats. It is a great ship and dwarfs ours to the size of a rowing boat.
June 17th. 1917
We entered the harbour this morning but cannot get alongside the wharf. This ship is able to discharge her passengers on to the wharf, when she can get a berth, owing to her not drawing a great deal of water.
I have spent the greater part of the day leaning over the ship’s rail, watching the fishes. The water is so clear that one can see down to a great depth. The fishes are wonderful, both in shape and colour, or rather I should say colours, for they are all the colours of the rainbow. The tropics are a wonderful place for colour. Nature seems to paint everything in gorgeous colours, except the human beings (and when they are dressed, they adorn themselves in garments of many hues). The birds, the flowers and the bloom on the trees are of all the colours imaginable. The rising of the sun, or the setting of the sun, paint the sky in such colours that it must be the despair of any artist to attempt to copy them. Even after dark, the diamond studded sky is being lit up every minute by vivid flashes of lightening. What a wonderful thing Nature is!
June 18th. 1917
Landed today and camped in the Imperial Detail Camp.
June 21st. 1917
The mosquitoes here are lively in the extreme. No matter how careful one is in fixing the mosquito net at night, you are sure to be worried by them all night long, and fleas run them a good second. I seem to be a happy hunting ground for both parties, and in the morning I have as many blisters on me as there are hairs on a dog’s back.
June 25th. 1917
Yesterday I received orders to hold myself in readiness to embark for Kilwa. Today it is cancelled. I am acting Sergeant Major of the camp, so I am assisting the OC in the office.
June 27th. 1917
This morning we received a wire from Captain Floyd (the OC of my battery), asking for details as to reinforcements. I draw up a list with my own name first and took it to the Camp Commandant for his signature. He fumed because I had put my own name down, but I pointed out to him that that was my place, so he signed. But what a chance if I had wanted to dodge the column!
June 28th. 1917
We embarked on the HMT Salamis, a cockle-shell affair. I sincerely hope we strike no bad weather.
June 29th. 1917
We left Dar-es-Salaam this morning, and arrived at Zanzibar at midday. I approached the OC of troops for a shore pass. Being in charge of 28 RGA details, I ‘click’ and proceed ashore at 1.30pm., due back at 6.00pm. I found this place to be a typical eastern city. I explored the bazaars and amongst other places I found a place for liquid refreshment. I had picked up four or five other servicemen on my travels, and being hot and thirsty (as usual) we went in. The place was owned by two Greek women who took us into a room where we indulged in some very decent English bottled beer, (Peter Walker’s, London). Of course, one is not supposed to drink beer in the tropics, but what can one do when it is there? The room was kept delightfully cool by a punkah but we had to keep making the punkah wallah put a jerk into it, for he kept falling asleep. We refreshed ourselves and went back to the ship, having had a very good afternoon ashore.
June 30th. 1917
We leave Zanzibar and pass the wreckage of HMS Pegasus which lay in the harbour. This cruiser had been sunk by the German cruiser ‘Koenigsberg’. The latter caught the ‘Peggy’ in harbour while she was having her boilers and engines overhauled. The English ship had no steam so, she was a dead target, with the result that she was soon sunk. The Koenigsberg was afterwards sunk in the Rufiji River by the English Monitors ‘Severn’ and ‘Mersey’.
July 1st. 1917
We arrive at Kilwa Kisiwani, the port of Kilwa Kivinji, commonly called Kilwa. This is another fine harbour with a very tricky entrance. There is no town, not even a village here. I expect the reason for this is that there is no fresh water, all water being carried here from Zanzibar.
The town of Kilwa lies on the coast, 16 miles north of this harbour, but Kilwa has no harbour. No ship, with the exception of native dhows can get within a mile of the beach, owing to the water being so shallow. That is the reason this harbour has been opened out, since this part of the country has been in our hands.
That the enemy is still in the neighbourhood is proved by the fact that two days ago he brought up his guns and shelled the ships in the harbour.
July 2nd. 1917
We disembark and I report to the MLO (Military Landing Officer). He at once pushes us off by fixing us up in cars for Kilwa, where we arrive about noon. I report to Lord Cranworth CRA. When told my name, he shakes hands and tells me that he is glad I have come back, because he is fed up with my OC making enquiries about me. Of course, I blow myself out like a frog after being told this.
There is some transport going up the line this evening, so myself and six others are to go up with it to my battery. I leave the remainder of the 28 NCOs and men here. I have a few hours’ liberty, so after having a mug of tea, I have a stroll around the town. The town is extremely old, and as far as I can gather it was built by the Arabs centuries ago. The doors of the buildings show some wonderful examples of wood carving. I have seen similar work in Mombasa, but I believe these are more interesting.
The chief industry of this place is slave dealing. I know the majority of people at home imagine that that trade was killed off years ago. Well, it was carried on here by the Arabs right up to the outbreak of the war, and if it was not encouraged by the Germans, they made no effort to stamp it out. This is a fact well known by all the settlers along this coast.
Whilst walking about this afternoon, I have been surprised by seeing quite a lot of cases of elephantiasis. This loathsome disease is common enough in the tropics, but in no place in which I have been have I seen so many cases as I have seen today. One poor woman I saw had one leg of normal size but the other one thicker than a man’s body. Still, she didn’t seem to have much pain, although it was difficult for her to walk.
I left Kilwa at 6.00pm. and after a 26 mile ride, I reached my battery at a place called Rombo. The OC seemed pleased to see me but not half so pleased as I was to get back among the old faces, many of which I had not seen for over 12 months. The battery has been reorganised, and all that is left of the 158 Battery, the 11th. Battery and the 13th. Battery are now all together and we are just strong enough in personnel to man two guns. We came out as a brigade, with its own ammunition column and we are now only a section, but we are still hoping to last long enough to see the finish out here.
July 3rd. 1917
What rotten luck! I have had another dose of fever during the night and have spent the night tossing about. I am a bit better this morning but possibly that is because I am knocking about a good deal. I have been given a gun, and am busy overhauling her as we anticipate ‘something doing’.
July 4th. 1917
We leave Rombo, and after dodging snipers during the whole of the run, we reach Beauman’s Post.
July 5th. 1917
My ‘dose’ is much worse today, but the excitement of the scrap we are in helps to keep me going. Whenever there is a ‘stand easy’ though, I am down and out.
July 6th. 1917
We have had a big fight today, and the enemy has been driven out of all his positions on our front. I am a little better.
July 9th. 1917
We are marking time here for the present, so I have been turned in. I am very shaky and I have a terrible head, but I still hope to shake it off.
July 11th. 1917
Yesterday we left Beauman’s Post and we are again among the infantry in the fighting, but strange to say, we are not brought into action. The name of this place is Kiwitama, and it is 26 miles from Beauman’s Post. I think I have shaken the fever off again. Yesterday and today I have felt much better
July 12th. 1917
The Germans have fallen further back, but according to our Intelligence reports, they have taken up a very strong position about four miles away.
July 16th. 1917
We leave Kiwitama before daybreak and after a short run to a place named M’Tchama, we come into action and have a full day of it. I don’t think I was ever so tired in my life as I am tonight. I must have lost my stamina.
July 17th. 1917
Once more the enemy has fallen back, and tonight we camp on his ground.
July 18th. 1917
Last night we received orders to move onto the other flank. This morning we left and I am not feeling well by any means. I had another bad night, with high temperature.
We had a splendid run until an hour before dark and then began a full chapter of accidents. We had reached a stretch of really good road and were travelling at about 16 an hour when the tail-pin of the lorry (to which my gun was fastened) broke. The connecting rod of the gun limber dropped to the ground and slid along until it met a small hole in the ground. The gun was travelling at such a rate that the limber was turned completely over with the trail of the gun resting on the top and smashing the limber boxes to match-wood. We had hoped to reach N’gere-gere by dusk but this put the tin hat on it.
I was near beat myself, but it was no use looking at it. We set about it and got the gun clear of the wreckage. Then we put the remains of the limber in another lorry, made fast the trail of the gun to the lorry and away we went. I had aches and pains all over me, with a thirst like a wooden god, but we would make N’gere-gere by 7 o’clock. What a hope! We had travelled some seven or eight miles and we came to a dry river bed. We were crossing by an old wooden bridge when both hind wheels of my three ton lorry went through, carrying most of the bridge with it. I had a rigor on me and although I had my great-coat on, my teeth were chattering, but this had to be got out.
We worked for hours, and at last got clear and crept into N’gere-gere at 12.30am. I had had nothing to eat all day and wanted nothing now but a drink. After I got that, I laid down and watched the stars all night, until they faded away at sunrise.
July 19th. 1917
We are away again at day break and find the going more difficult. The paths we are now travelling on are very sandy and we are frequently hauling our transport and guns over stretches of sand.
I was a little better until noon, when my temperature started to rise again, and I commenced vomiting. I don’t know where we stopped but I laid on the shells in my lorry all night.
July 20th. 1917
We have had another tiring day, but to speak the truth, I have not done much. I have laid in the lorry most of the day. We reach Karongo.
July 21st. 1917
We have reached M’tinda Wallah, our new position. Our OC came with his car, had me put in, and rushed away with me to the hospital.
July 22nd. 1917
I am sent back to Kilwa in a car. I am feeling pretty rotten and after my temperature is taken, I am douched with cold water (to knock it back), and put to bed. We have travelled 70 miles to reach here.
July 29th. 1917
I have had a week here and I believe that I am a little better, but every night my temperature rises. Then in the morning it drops quite a lot. If we had charts here, I am thinking mine would be a funny picture. I have been 105.4º in the evening, while in the morning it has dropped to 97º, only to jump up again at night.
We have an English sister here to three tents. Each tent has about 18 patients. She deserves a gold medal as big as the face of Big Ben for sticking it in a climate like this.
August 6th. 1917 and Bank Holiday
I am still here with very little improvement. The doctor has decided to send me to the hospital ship in Kilwa Kissiwani harbour, only my temperature will keep going up and he says that while that happens, he will not move me. I believe the country has got me groggy this time.
August 13th. 1917
I am now on my feet a bit, but very tottery.
August 20th. 1917
Another week has passed and I am still here. All the patients in this tent have been admitted since I came here. The others have either died or been sent away.
August 22nd. 1917
Corporal Winter, who took over my gun, has died here today. Poor Tom.
August 25th. 1917
I am transferred to the stationary Hospital Ship ‘Neuralia’ in Kisiwani harbour, although my temperature was 103.6º. This morning it was 96º.
August 28th. 1917
The MO will not keep me here, so I am transferred to the HS Ebani for Dar-es-Salaam. During the five weeks that I was in ‘dock’ at Kilwa, my appetite was very poor and during the four days that I have been on this ship, I have hardly tasted food, although it looked very nice.
August 29th. 1917
We arrived at Dar-es-Salaam this morning, and I am removed to No.2 South African General Hospital, formerly the Kaiseroff Hotel. I am now a stretcher case, so I don’t improve much. After being examined by the MO, I am marked for the south.
September 5th. 1917
I am carried on board HM Hospital Ship ‘Oxfordshire’. The ward I am in had been the 1st. Class Saloon in the ship’s pre-war days and it is a very beautiful place. I have had a very bad time during the seven or eight days that I was in Dar-es-Salaam. High temperatures accompanied by vomiting and dysentery the whole of the time has been my lot. I have not had a morsel of food through my lips since I landed, and I truly believe that the kindness of the ward sister was the only thing that kept me going. She always tried to coax me to take some nourishment, but I could not look at it. She would leave me and then bring back for me half a glass of brandy or whisky and soda. How that put new life in me! She also left instructions for the night nurse to do the same.
It is impossible for anyone to have done more for me than that lady did, and I am very grateful for it.
September 6th. 1917
We steam out of harbour today, and I saw the last of German East Africa as I was being hauled aboard on my stretcher.
I am examined by the MO and he expresses the opinion that he will have me on my feet by the time we get to the Cape. I hope he does, for I am fed up with this.
September 8th. 1917
I have had a little boiled chicken and some jelly today and I have to take a small bottle of stout every night. Things are improving!
September 11th. 1917
We arrive at Durban tonight. The last day or so, there has been a very heavy swell on.
September 13th. 1917
Last night we left Durban and ran into a terrific gale. All the ship’s hands were turned out and the hospital staff who were not on duty were paraded for emergencies. But I knew very little of this at the time. I believe that last night was the worst night I have had yet. My temperature started to climb soon after we left harbour until it reached 105.2º. I was delirious most of the night, so I did not know of the rough time the ship had. I am somewhat better now, but not normal.
September 16th. 1917
After four extremely rough days, we arrive at Cape Town. I am still a stretcher case. I am entrained for the Alexandra Hospital, Maitlands.
Whilst I am laid on the platform at Maitlands, awaiting removal, a kind-hearted old lady came and gave me a glass of milk. She made me as comfortable as possible on my stretcher, but the whole of the time she was weeping. This is another instance of the kindness of the people out here.
September 17th. 1917
My temperature is now 101º. The MO has examined me and told the sister to mark me for England with the first boat.
September 18th. 1917
This morning my temperature is normal and I am feeling a little better. I have eaten a few dainty bits, and what is more, I have kept them down.
September 21st. 1917
I am making good progress. I have had no further relapse, and my appetite is now quite keen. For breakfast, I have tea, bread and butter and an egg or two if I can eat them. Dinner consists of boiled chicken with vegetables. Tea is fish and bread and butter and supper, a bottle of stout and biscuits. One should do well on that.
September 22nd. 1917
Today I was allowed up from after dinner until teatime. I sat in a basket chair on the stoep or verandah. The sister packed me up with pillows and brought me an armful of magazines, etc. How good they all are!
September 26th. 1917
I am now up all day. Today was my first day. There is a boat for Blighty tomorrow, but the MO says that I am not fit to leave.
October 1st. 1917
Everyone who is able to go out today is out. It is a general holiday in Cape Town. I should have liked to be out but the MO says, “No, wait until you are stronger.”
October 7th. 1917
I have drawn serge clothing for home today. I have not told the wife that I am coming home. It would only unsettle her. I expect she would lie awake at nights, wondering whether the ship would be torpedoed or not. It is better for her to know nothing until I land.
October 8th. 1917
I sweethearted the sister to get me a pass through, to enable me to get into the town. It came off, but I was pleased to get back after a couple of hours.
October 10th. 1917
I am transferred to the Australian Hospital Ship ‘Karoola’. Although I am mighty pleased at the thought of seeing the dear ‘Old Country’ again, I shall always think kindly of South Africa. I met with nothing but kindness where ever I was in the country. English people who had settled in the country could not do enough for me. I am by no means good at making friends with strange people, but that counted for nothing here. They simply carried one away, and would not stop to listen to thanks. That’s how I found them. May they all prosper.
We left Cape Town today and again found a heavy sea, but the stern of the ship is pointing in the right direction. I shall soon have news from home now. The year is now well advanced and I have had no news from home since last February. This has worried me much more than I can say.
We are not going through with a convoy. We are going on our own, so let her rip so that I can get that long-looked-for letter.
October 15th. 1917
The sea has now settled again and we are having lovely weather. I am fixed up in a very comfortable ward. We have a library on board, so after the MO’s daily visit, I get my book and a deck chair, plant myself under an awning and there I stop, with the exception of meals, until dark.
October. 18th. 1917
We crossed the line again today. I am still improving. I feel myself getting stronger, but of course, I have had no test yet.
October 22nd. 1917
We arrive at Dakar today. I think that my geography must be very bad, because I have never heard of this place until now. It is a French coaling port, and a fine place too. There are electric and hydraulic coal hoists all round the fine harbour. The harbour is filled with ships and we cannot get a berth, so lighters laden with coal are towed alongside and we are coaled by the old-fashioned hand windlass.
October 24th. 1917
I am pleased we are leaving Dakar today. It is dreadfully hot here, without a sign of breeze, and I am not feeling too well again. I think the ‘Torrid Zone’ has got me all right.