Robert Valentine Dolbey.

Sketches of the East Africa Campaign online

. (page 6 of 10)
Online LibraryRobert Valentine DolbeySketches of the East Africa Campaign → online text (page 6 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

houses, a tractable and well-disciplined native population.
Dar-es-Salaam in particular, seems to have been the apple of the German
colonial eye. There are fine mission stations in all the healthy regions
of the country, and great plantations of rubber, sisal, cotton, and corn
abound. The white women and children, though rather pasty and washed out
after at least two years' residence in the country, do not appear
debilitated after their long tropical sojourn. The planters have, as a
rule, invested all their belongings in their plantations, and make the
country more a home than our people in East Africa, who are of a more
wealthy and leisured class. Roads have been made and bridges built. In
fact, the pioneering and donkey work has all been done, and the country
only waits for us to step into our new inheritance.

To me it has been a source of surprise that the German, who consistently
drinks beer in huge quantities, takes little or no exercise, and
cohabits with the black women of the country extensively, should have
performed such prodigies of endurance on trek in this campaign. One
would have thought that the Englishman, who keeps his body fitter for
games, eschews beer for his liver's sake, and finds that intimacy with
the native population lowers his prestige, would have done far better in
this war than the German. That in all fairness he has not done so is due
to the fact that we, as an invading army, were unable to look after
ourselves or to care for ourselves in the same way as the German.

We have had to carry kit and heavy ammunition, to sleep with only a
ground sheet beneath us, through the tropic rains, to do without the
shelter and protection of mosquito nets. The German soldier, even a
private in a white or Schutzen Kompanie, as distinct from the
under-officer with an Askari regiment or Feld Kompanie, as it is called,
has had at least eight porters to carry all his kit, his food, his bed,
to have his food ready prepared at the halting-places, and his bed
erected, and mosquito curtains hung. Only on night patrols has he run
risk from the mosquito. "How can you ask your men to carry loads and
then fight as well, in Equatorial Africa?" they say to us. His captured
chop boxes, for each individual is a separate unit and has his own food
carried and prepared for him, have provided us, often, with the only
square meals our men have enjoyed. Never short of food or drink or
porters, ever marching toward his food supplies along a predetermined
line of retreat, the German walks toward his dinner, as our men have
marched away from theirs. Well paid too, five rupees a day pay and three
rupees a day ration money, he had had no stint of eggs and chickens and
the fruit of the country, that have been rarest of luxuries to us. "Far
better if you had had fewer men and done them properly in the matter of
food and hospitals and porters," captured German officers have often
said to me. "How your men can stand it and do such marches is incredible
to us." That is always the tenour of their remarks, their criticism, and
they are clearly right, had such a policy been a practicable one for us,
which it was not. At first the feeling between the soldiers of the two
countries was good and war was conducted, even by them, in a more or
less chivalrous manner. We thought the East African Hun a better fellow
than his European brother. But it was only because he knew the game was
up in East Africa, and thought that he had better behave properly, lest
the retribution, that would be sure to follow, would fall heavily upon
him. Later we found him to be the same old Hun, the identical savage
that we know in Europe; the fear of consequences only restrains him
here. It is his nature and the teaching of his schools and professors.

We have often been amazed at the disclosures from German officers'
pocket-books. In the same oiled silk wrapping we find photographs of his
wife and children, and cheek by jowl with them, the photographs of
abandoned women and filthy pictures, such as can be bought in low
quarters of big European cities. Their absence of taste in these matters
has been incomprehensible to us. When we have taxed them with it, they
are unashamed. "It is you who are hypocrites," they reply; "you like
looking at forbidden pictures, if no one is about to see, but you don't
carry them in your pocket-books. We, however, are natural, we like to
look at such things, why should we not carry them with us?" If this be
hypocrisy, I prefer the company of hypocrites. In their houses it was
the same; disgusting pictures, masquerading in the guise of art, adorned
the walls, evidences of corrupt taste and doubtful practices in every
drawer and cupboard. Even the Commandant of Bukoba, von Stuemer, and his
name did not belie his nature, though, before the war, quite popular
with the British officials and planters of Uganda, had a queer taste in
photography. In the big family album were evidences of his astonishing
domestic life; for there were photographs of him in full regimentals,
with medals and decorations, sitting on a sofa beside his wife, who was
in a state of nature. Others portrayed him without the conventionalities
of clothing, and his wife in evening dress.

Officers from the Cameroon have confirmed the filthy habits of the Huns
and Hunnesses, how they defiled the rooms in the hospital at Duala that
they occupied just before they were sent away; how disgusting were their
habits in the cabins of the fine Atlantic liner that took them back to
Europe. Not that it is their normal custom; it was merely to render the
rooms uninhabitable for us who were to follow, and their special way of
showing contempt and hatred for their foes. Do you wonder that the
stewards and crew of the Union Castle liner struck work rather than
convey and look after these beasts on the voyage to Europe? Our French
missionary padre tells me that it was just the same in Alsace. The
incident at Zabern after the manoeuvres was entirely due to the disgust
and indignation of the French people at the defiling of their beds and
bedrooms by the German soldiers, who had been billeted upon them.


Looting, although you may not know it, is the natural impulse of
primitive man. And in war we are very primitive. To take what does not
belong to one is very natural when a man is persuaded that he can be
absolved from the charge of theft by quoting military necessity. How
surely in war one sheds the conventions of society! It has the
attraction of buried treasure; the charm of getting something for
nothing. But there are different ways or degrees of looting.

Now there were a few of us in German East Africa who had been in the
Retreat from Mons and the subsequent advance to the Marne and beyond it
to the Aisne. Indelibly engraved upon our minds were the pictures of
French chateaux and farmhouses looted by the German troops in their
advance and abandoned to us in their retreat. All along the countless
roads the German transport had pressed, hurrying to the Aisne, were
evidences of the loot of German officers and men. In roadside ditches,
half buried in the late summer vegetation, were pictures and bronzes,
china and statuary, the loot the German officer had chosen to adorn the
walls of his ancestral Schloss. Marble figures leant drunkenly against
the wayside hedges, big brass clocks strewed the ditches. Long before,
of course, had the German rank and file been compelled to jettison their
prizes, for the transport horses were nearly foundered and only
officers' loot could be retained. Later, when the exhaustion of the
horses was complete, and capture of the waggons seemed imminent, the
regimental equipment and food supply, and, finally, the loot of high
officers had to be abandoned. The whole story of that retreat was to be
read in the discard by the roadside. The regimental butcher had clung to
his meat and the implements of his trade until the last; and when we
found the roads littered with carcases of oxen, sacks of pea flour and
sausage machines, we knew that we would shortly find the General's loot
beside the hedge.

In the houses, too, both the chateaux and the comfortable French
farmhouses, we saw what manner of man the Hun could be in the matter of
looting. Where the soldier could not loot he could not refrain from
destroying. Floors were knee-deep in women's gear, household goods,
private letters and all the treasures of French linen chests. Trampled
by muddy German boots were the fine whiteness of French bed-linen. Nor
had the German soldier refrained from the last exhibit of his
"_Kultur_," but left filthy evidences of his bestial habits behind him
to ensure that the bedrooms would be uninhabitable by us.

Remembering all these things we wondered how our men would behave now
that the tables were turned and they in a position to loot the treasures
of many German farms and plantation houses. Of course, divisional orders
against looting and wanton destruction were very strict. Where houses
were at the mercy of small patrols and bodies of our men under
non-commissioned officers, far from the path of the main advancing army,
the temptation to all must have been immense, and it speaks volumes for
the natural goodness of our men and their ingrained sense of order that
never in this whole country was looting done by any of our troops. True
many houses were plundered, and there was a certain amount of wanton
damage; but it was all done by the plundering native or by the Hun
himself in his retreat.

For our calculating enemy left no stone unturned to deprive us of any of
the useful booty of war. He deliberately destroyed and ravaged and burnt
the property of his fellow-countrymen, and mentally determined to send
in the claim for damage against us. A German will always complain and
send in a bill of costs to us, when he is once assured of the protection
of British troops.

Naturally, of course, we requisitioned and gave receipts for any article
or property that might be of use to us for our hospitals or our
supplies. In fact, our scrupulous regard for enemy property will
probably result in very many fraudulent claims against our Government
when the war is over. How easy to add mythical articles of great value
to the list attested to by the signature of a British Staff officer. Who
could blame a Hun when the British were such fools and forgery of
receipts so easy?

But such was the regard we paid to German women and children that, if a
house were occupied, we took nothing and disturbed nothing. A German
farmhouse was an oasis of plenty amid a very hungry army. It made us
sometimes wonder whether it was quite right to leave German ducks and
fowls and sheep behind us, when we had to live on mealie meal and tough
trek-ox. But the women were so terrified, at first, that we gave such
farms a wide berth when scarcity of water did not force us to camp
within the enclosures. Shortly, however, as is the German custom, these
women would profit by their immunity and come to regimental headquarters
that listened so patiently and courteously to the tale of pawpaws or
mangoes - fruit that was really wild - vanished in the night. In no
campaign, I dare swear, has so much respect been given to occupied
houses, so much consideration to conquered people. The German Government
paid this compliment to our army, that they left their women and
children behind to our tender mercies.

At Handeni, ours being a Casualty Clearing Station, our equipment
included 200 stretchers, with little hospital equipment, beyond the
men's own blankets and their kit. No sooner did we come along and
install ourselves in the abandoned German fort than the 5th South
African Infantry were in action at Kangata to win 125 casualties. For us
they were to nurse and keep until convalescent; for there was no
stationary hospital behind us, and forty miles of the worst of bad roads
robbed us of the chance of transporting them to the railway.

So every afternoon I went to German planters' houses (empty, of course),
for forty miles around, in a swift Ford car. And back in triumph we bore
bedsteads and soft mattresses that heavy German bodies so lately had
impressed. Warm from the Hun, we brought them to our wounded. Down
pillows, soft eiderdown quilts for painful broken legs; mattresses for
pain-racked bodies. And one's reward the pleasure and appreciation our
men showed at these attempts to ameliorate _their_ lot. They were so
"bucked" to see us coming back at night laden with the treasures of
German linen chests. It would have done your heart good to see their
dirty, unwashed faces grinning at me from lace-edged pillows.
Silk-covered cushions from Hun drawing-rooms for painful amputation

So I had the double pleasure, all the expectancy and the delight of
seeing our men so pleased. Forty bedsteads and beds complete we found in
that district, until the bare white-washed walls of the jail were
transformed. White paint, too, we discovered in plenty, and soon our
wards were virginal in their whiteness. And when I tell you that at one
time I had no less than thirteen gunshot fractures of thigh and leg
alone and other wounds in proportion, in the hospital, you may judge how
necessary beds were.

But the natives had nearly always been before us, and the confusion was
indescribable, drawers turned out, the contents strewed upon the floors,
cupboards broken into, and all portable articles removed. Pathetic
traces everywhere of the happy family life before war's devastating
fingers rifled all their treasures. Photographs, private letters, a
doll's house, children's broken toys.

And from some letters one gathered that insight into the relations
between the plantation owner and the manager who lived there. At one
farm, apparently owned by an Englishman who paid his manager, a German
Dane from Flensburg, the princely sum of 200 rupees a month, we found
that one, at least, of our own people knew how to grind the uttermost
labour from his German employee. For there were letters from the manager
asking for leave after 2 ВЅ years' labour at this plantation, and
pointing out that the German Government had laid down the principle of
European leave every two years. To this came the cold reply that his
employer cared nothing for German Government regulations; the contract
was for three years, and he would see to it that this provision was
carried out. One later letter begged for financial assistance to tide
him over the coming months; for his wife and children had been ill and
he himself in hospital at Korogwe with blackwater fever for two months.
"And how shall I pay for food the next two months, if my pay is 200
rupees only, and hospital expenses 500?"


A common inquiry put to doctors is, "What do you think of the alcohol
question in a tropical campaign?" Do we not think that it is a good
thing that our army is, by force of circumstances, a teetotal one? Much
as we regret to depart from an attitude that is on the whole hostile to
alcohol, I must say that it is our conviction that in the tropics a
certain amount of diffusible stimulant is very beneficial and quite free
from harm. And the cheapest and most reliable stimulant of that nature
one can obtain commercially is, of course, whiskey. This whole campaign
has been almost entirely a teetotal one for reasons of transport and
inability to get drink. Not for any other reason, I can assure you. But
where the absence of alcohol has been no doubt responsible for a
wonderful degree of excellent behaviour among our troops, I yet know
that the few who were able to get a drink at night felt all the better
for it. At the end of the day here, when the sun has set and darkness,
swiftly falling, sends us to our tents and bivouacs, there comes a
feeling of intense exhaustion, especially if any exercise has been
taken. And exercise in some form, as you have heard, is absolutely
essential to health after the sun has descended toward the west about
four o'clock in the afternoon. For men and officers go sick in standing
camp more than on trek, and, often, the more and the longer the men are
left in camp to rest, with the intention of recuperation, the more they
go down with malaria and dysentery.

It is no sudden conclusion we have come to as to the value of alcohol,
but we certainly feel that a drink or two at night does no one any harm.
But the drink for tropics must not be fermented liquor: beer and wine
are headachy and livery things. Whisky and particularly vermouth are far
the best. And vermouth is really such a pleasant wholesome drink too.
The idea of vermouth alone is attractive. For it is made from the dried
flowers of camomile to which the later pressings of the grape have been
added. One has only to smell dried camomile flowers to find that their
fragrance is that of hay meadows in an English June! Camomile
preparations, too, are now so largely used in medicine and still keep
their reputation for wholesome and soothing qualities that it has
enjoyed for generations. How could one think that harm could lurk in the
tincture of such fragrant things as the flowers of English meadows? No
little reputation as a cure and preventive for blackwater fever does
vermouth enjoy! We know that we must always, if we would be wise, be
guided by local experience and local custom, and it is told of the
Anglo-German boundary Commission in East Africa, that the frontier
between the two protectorates can still be traced by the empty vermouth
bottles! But there were no cases of blackwater. I am told, on that very
long and trying expedition.

In the survey of the whole question of Prohibition in the future, the
essential difference of the requirements of humanity in tropical
countries must be taken into consideration. There is no doubt, and in
this all medical men of long tropical experience will agree, that some
stimulant is needed by blond humanity living out of his geographical
environment and debilitated by the adverse influence of his lack of
pigment, the vertical sun and a tropical heat. It is more than probable
that a proviso will have to be added to any world-wide scheme of
prohibition. The cocktail, the universal "sherry and bitters" and
"sundowner" will have to be retained. To expect a man, so exhausted that
the very idea of food is distasteful, to digest his dinner, is to ask
too much of one's digestive apparatus. And this we must all admit, that
if a man in the tropics does not eat, then certainty he may not live.


Toiling behind the column on march is the long and ragged line of native
porters, the human cattle that are, after all, the most reliable form of
transport in Equatorial Africa. Clad in red blankets or loin cloths or
in kilts made of reeds and straw, they struggle on singing through the
heat. Grass rings temper the weight of the loads to their heads, each
man carrying his forty pounds for the regulation ten miles, the
prescribed day's march in the tropics. Winding snake-like along the
native paths, they go chanting a weird refrain that keeps their interest
and makes the miles slip by. Here are some low-browed and primitive
porters from the mountains, "Shenzies," as the superior Swahili call
them, and clad only in the native kilt of grass or reeds. Good porters
these, though ugly in form, and lacking the grace of the Wanyamwezi or
the Wahehe.

At night they drop their loads beside the water-holes that mark the
stages in the long march, and seek the nearest derelict ox or horse and
prepare their meals, with relish, from the still warm entrails. This,
with their "pocha," the allowance of mealie meal or mahoga, keeps them
fat, their stomachs distended, bodies shiny and spirits of the highest.
Round their camp fires they chatter far into the night, relieved, by the
number of the troops and the plentiful supply of dead horses in the
bush, from the ever-present fear of the lion that, in other days, would
lift them at night, yelling, from their dying fires. One wonders that
their spirits are so high, for they would get short shrift and little
mercy from German raiding parties behind our advance. For the porter is
fan-game, and is as liable to destruction as any other means of
transport. Nor would the Germans hesitate a moment to kill them as they
would our horses. But the bush is the porters' safeguard, and at the
first scattering volley of the raiding party, they drop their loads and
plunge into the undergrowth. Later, when we have driven off the raiders,
it is often most difficult to collect the porters again. Naturally the
British attitude to the porter _genus_ differs from that of the Hun. Our
aim, indeed, is to break up an enemy convoy, but we seek to capture the
hostile porters that we may use them in our turn, all the more welcome
to us for the increased usefulness that German porter discipline has
given them.

Porters are the sole means of transport of the German armies; to these
latter are denied the mule transport and the motor lorries that eat up
the miles when roads are good. So they take infinite pains to train
their beasts of burden. Often they are chained together in little groups
to prevent them discarding their loads and plunging into the jungle when
our pursuit draws near. The German knows the value of song to help the
weary miles to pass, and makes the porters chant the songs and choruses
dear to the native heart. Increasingly important these carriers become
as the rains draw near, and the time approaches when no wheels can move
in the soft wet cotton soil of the roads. Nor are the porters altogether
easy to deal with. Very delicate they often are when moved from their
own district and deprived of their accustomed food. Dysentery plays
havoc in their ranks. For the banana-eating Baganda find the rough grain
flour much too coarse and irritating for their stomachs. So our great
endeavour is to get the greatest supply of local labour. Strange to say,
it is here that our misplaced leniency to the German meets its due

It is not easy to tell the combatant, unless he be caught red-handed.
They all wear khaki, the only difference being that a civilian wears
pearl buttons, the soldiers the metal military button with the Imperial
Crown stamped on it. When it is borne in mind that the buttons are
hooked on, one can imagine how simple it is to transform and change
identity. Nor are the helmets different in any way, save that a
soldier's bears the coloured button in the front; but as this also
unscrews, the recognition is still more difficult.

With these people, it has been our habit to send them back to their
alleged civil occupations after extracting an undertaking that they will
take no further active or passive part in the war. But, to our surprise,
when we sought for labour or supplies in their country districts, we
found that we could obtain neither. Upon inquiry of the natives we learn
that our late prisoners are conducting a campaign of intimidation.
"Soon - in a year - we shall all return, and the English will be driven
out. If you labour or sell eggs, woe betide you in the day of
reckoning." What can the native do? As they say to us, "We see the
Germans returning to their farms just as they were before; the
missionaries installed in their mission stations again. What are we to


How often, in this war, has not one pitied the Army Chaplain! As a
visitor to hospital, as a dispenser of charity, as the bearer of
hospital comforts and gifts to sick men, as an indefatigable organiser
of concerts, as the cheerful friend of lonely men, he is doing a real
good work. But that is not his job, it is not what he came out to do.

And the padre, willing, earnest, good fellow that he is, is conscious
that he is often up against a brick wall, a reserve in the soldier that
he cannot penetrate. The fact is, that he has rank, and that robs him of
much of his power to reach the private soldier. But he must have rank,
just as much as a doctor. Executive authority must be his, in order to
assert and keep up discipline. And yet there is the constant barrier
between the officer and the man. Doctors know and feel it: feel that, in
the officer, they are no longer the doctor. Now, however, great changes
have been wrought and the medical officer likes to be called "doc," just
as much as the chaplain values the name "padre." There's something so
intimate about it. Such a tribute to our job and our responsibility and
the trust and confidence they have in us.

The soldier is not concerned about his latter end; all that troubles him
about his future, is the billet he yearns for, the food he hopes to get,

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10

Online LibraryRobert Valentine DolbeySketches of the East Africa Campaign → online text (page 6 of 10)