1: Nature – and things that bite
The foregoing is a fragmentary sketch of many varied journeys and incidents during my Army career. Others could be added, but they are perhaps too uninteresting to interest the reader. To those who may have found interest in the foregoing I have since my return home thought it fitting to add a few afterthoughts about things not met with, in England.
In recording incidents of the outward voyage I omitted mention of shoals of flying fish: of whales spouting: an occasional shark: and large albatross, all of which helped to relieve the monotony. Of the livestock of Africa a book might be written. Lions, giraffes, crocodiles, hippopotami, monkeys, rats, vermin, and pests of the insect tribe. Lions I only heard roaring in the night: I never set eyes on one. Giraffes, the silly creatures pulled our telegraph wires down occasionally, with their long necks: crocodiles we gave a wide berth when near any water: monkeys laughed and cackled and scampered overhead in the branches during the night: rats ran round and even over us in the hours of darkness: snakes, scorpions and centipedes kept us alert and watchful and pests of mosquitos killed many and always annoyed us.
The pest of outstanding notice was of course the female mosquito. One hears them, sees them, feels them and occasionally, if lucky, catches them. Sometimes they advance in columns of sections: failing this they invade your particular locality either in fours, half-sections, or in single file. The mosquito is at all times pertinacious and bloodthirsty, and for its size has the biggest voice and longest nose of any known species of game. It is a knowing blighter too – watches you fix up your sleeping net, a derisive grin on its face, knowing perfectly well that there is a hole somewhere big enough for its entry: and, as soon as you settle, panting and perspiring, inside the net, the young lady begins her systematic and buzzing inspection – for all the world like a flapper outside a milliner’s window. I have known her sing some fellows to sleep, but such men have tough hides and were not average Tommies. I plead guilty to an average skin, and I always responded to their lullabies by, if possible, squeezing the life out of them. She sets her engine going when the “First post” goes, and at the inspiring sound of the “Last Post” she goes on her “visiting rounds” investigating for weak spots. When “Lights out” sounds she fixes bayonets and commences operations in earnest. He was no dullard who defined the mosquito as “A small insect designed by the Great Architect of the Universe to make us think better of flies and fleas”.
Other flies and fleas
Another diminutive little devil is the Jigger-flea. It is found wherever there is sand and its favourite haunt is under the skin of the great toe where it lays its eggs. When one becomes painfully aware of its presence a nigger and a needle are necessary. The niggers are, from long experience, expert at extracting the eggs without bursting them. Another pest is the Tsetse fly. It will bite pretty near every living thing, and everything it bites suffers in some way. Horses and cattle die from the effects of the tsetse bite: for which reason the natives were our only form of transport up-country. Hut bugs abound and these are prolific carriers of disease.
The Tsetse fly
From the hour one lands to the hour of departure, bites and stings are a daily ration in East Africa. Bugs, ticks, mosquitos, tsetse flies, ants, jiggers, gads, sand flies, wasps, scorpions, centipedes – these are a few of the pests we encountered. The Mosquito – curse her – sits on you, sucks her fill of your blood till she is drunk: then unscrews her gimlet and leaves it behind when she departs. The tsetse is not much larger than the common house fly, and is nearly the same brown colour as the common honey bee: the after part of the body has 3 or 4 yellow bars across it: it is remarkably alert, avoiding most dexterously all attempts to capture it with the hand. Its peculiar buzz is not easily forgotten. It is well known that the bite of this poisonous insect means death to the ox, horse or dog. Its bite is not harmful to man or wild animals. When an ox or a horse is bitten, the eye and nose begin to run; the jaws swell underneath; the muscles become flaccid; and being no longer able to feed the animal dies of exhaustion, staggering and blind. The mule, ass and goat are immune from the ill-effects of the bite of the tsetse. There is no known cure for the disease caused by the tsetse.