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A First World War Soldier

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"What do I think of this country, and how does the Hun of East Africa compare with his European brother?" you ask me. Well, to begin with the Colony, as of the greater importance, I must confess to be very taken with it, and I hope most sincerely that our Government will never give it back. Though it is not so suited as British East Africa for European colonisation, there are yet great areas of sufficient elevation to allow of white women and children living, for years, without suffering much from the vertical sun and the fevers of the country. There are many places where one only sees a mosquito for three months of the year, the soil is very fertile, and labour not only willing and efficient, but also very cheap. The European, too, has learnt to live properly in this country, and to avoid the midday sun; all offices and works are closed from twelve to three. If only man would learn wisdom in the amount of beer he drinks, and the food he eats, the tale of disease would be much less.

The colony is fully developed with excellent railways, well-built 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.

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