Several times we witnessed a native festival. The natives usually shew their joy and work off their excitement in dance and song. The dance consists of men and women standing in a circle, almost in their birthday suits, with legs, arms, faces, breasts, white-washed: pom-poms in the centre of the circle kicking up a frightful din, each shouting and chanting while simultaneously lifting one leg, stamping heavily twice: then the other leg, again stamping; laughing all the time. The arms are thrown about in every direction with the utmost vigour, everyone smelling strongly of perspiration.
The fighting in columns, and daily trekking were features of the East African campaign; chasing the Germans one day and maybe chased by them the next with an occasional set-to and then a few days for rest and recuperation. The naked earth where it shews between the clumps of grass or bush, is either baked plaster-hard, or consists of glaring hot sand which burns like hot slag: and, except for a panting lizard, here and there, nothing animate is to be seen for miles and miles except our moving column of troops and porters comprising mountain batteries, Indian, Nigerian, and South African troops, British troops (Res, Fusiliers etc)., machine gun corps, SAI, KARs, RAMC, and trench mortar battery, forming a motley string of brown, black and white men extending for miles. As night falls out of the still air issue metallic insect cries and the croak, croak of the frogs with occasional jackal cries or lion’s roar. Somewhere ahead lies water and towards that we march, feeling somewhat top-heavy from the glare of the tropical sun.
The Sun and the Rain
Occasional knolls or hills lift us to vantage points where the eye leaps to great distances to the horizon miles away. One begins to feel dizzy after 10 or 20 miles of this and the mind becomes slightly unbalanced by the heat, and the distant view swims as footsteps waver. One’s throat aches from the drought, the water bottle having been drained long hours ago. It is then when a tropical shower is welcomed. It acts as a tonic and clarifies the atmosphere for a while. But weeks and months pass without one drop of rain. When it does come it falls like shot dropping on tin; in a sharp patter. Then with a crash the whole sky bursts. There is a roaring as if the earth had split in two, and down comes the water as if the sky had broken in bits. It is a blinding rain: one cannot face it: its force is staggering. And the thunder daunts one. The racket and the glare appear as bad as shell-fire. But afterwards one is thankful that the air is cooler.
Day and Night at Work
Darkness falls with surprising suddenness, and lights, speech, fires and noise – if we are near to the enemy – are strictly forbidden. Pickets are posted and the remainder lie down anywhere, when on the march, as moves are often made at midnight when the moon rises. No sound, save that of a lion roaring in the distance, is to be heard, with perhaps the cry of a jackal, and the monotonous crescendo and diminuendo of the mosquito-cries coming out of the nowhere. Mosquito nets of course are not in use except maybe as a pillow. Rolled in a blanket one soon, from sheer exhaustion, loses oneself in unconsciousness, ‘till the call is made for advance, when off we go again reeling out mile upon mile of cable in the glare of the sun. And so we spent most of our time ‘till we bumped the Germani.
Struggling through the bush with heavy cable, soaked with perspiration or rain; dirty torn and bleeding from thorns etc, sharing bully, biscuits, water, duty, or eve clothes, brings men very closely to understand each others qualities and weaknesses. There is a wonder in it all which, in spite of the hardships, I am glad to have experienced: tho’ some of us have wandered far in the ‘Dark Continent’ and looked in vain for things recorded by former travellers. Indeed there is not much to see, after a vast boundless bush, and forest land, with little variety: and only occasional traces of the “magic east”: for animals have fled before the oncoming troops, and even many a native village is demolished or deserted.
The Use of the White Flag
It should be recorded that on two occasions I was interested in the use of the white flag, the traditions of which were faithfully observed. The first occasion was when our columns were pressing and harassing the retreating Bosche, and they, having numerous sick and no medical comforts, sent in under the white flag for quinine, bandage etc. Hostilities ceased for 2 hours and supplies were given them.
On the second occasion the Bosche retreat was so precipitate that they were obliged to send in – under the white flag – their women who were unable to keep up with the pace and the hardships. After being fed and given medical attention they were carried back to our Base.
Yet a third time I heard of the Germani sending in to our OC (Col Taylor) that Captain Logan, the Boer Scout attached to our column, who I had often seen, had been caught, shot and buried on the summit of Tandamuti Hill.