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A First World War Soldier

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We are camped for the present on the edge of a plateau, overlooking a vast plain that stretches a hundred miles or more to where Kilimanjaro lifts his snow peaks to the blue. All over this yellow expanse of grass, relieved in places by patches of dark bush, are great herds of wild game slowly moving as they graze. Antelope and wildebeests, zebra and hartebeests, there seems no end to them in this sportsman's paradise. At night, attracted by to-morrow's meat that hangs inside a strong and well-guarded hut, the hyaenas come to prowl and voice their hunger and disappointment on the evening air.

The general impression in England, you know, was that in coming to East Africa we had left the cold and damp misery of Flanders for a most enjoyable side-show. We were told that we should spend halcyon days among the preserves, return laden with honours and large stores of ivory, and in our spare moments enjoy a little campaigning of a picnic variety, against an enemy that only waited the excuse to make a graceful surrender. But how different the truth! To us with the advance there has been no shooting; to shoot a sable antelope (and, of course, we have trekked through the finest game preserves in the world, including the Crown Prince's special Elephant Forests) is to ask for trouble from the Askari patrol that is just waiting for the sound of a rifle shot to bring him hot foot after us. So the sable antelope might easily be bought by very unpleasant sacrifice. All shooting at game, even for food, except on most urgent occasions, is strictly forbidden, for a rifle shot may be as misleading to our own patrols and outposts as it would be inviting to the Hun.

This war had led us from the comparative civilisation of German plantations to the wildest, swampiest region of Equatorial Africa. After rain the roads tell the story of the wild game, for in the mud are the big slot marks of elephants and lions and all the denizens of the bush. But at the bases and back in British East Africa where there are no lurking German Askari patrols, many fellows have had the time of their lives with the big game. Afternoon excursions to the wide plains and their bush where the wild game hide and graze.

We are often asked how we manage to avoid the lions and the other wild beasts of the country that come to visit the thorn bomas that protect our transport cattle at night? Strange as it may seem, we do not have to avoid them, for they do not come for us or for the natives, nor yet for the live cattle so much as for the dead mules and oxen. I dare say there have never been so many white and black men in a country infested with lions who have suffered so little from the beasts of the field as we have.

In the first place, the advance of so great an army has frightened away a very large number of the wild game. All that have stayed are the larger carnivora, like the hyaena or the lion. And they are a positive Godsend to us. For instead of attacking our sentries and patrols at night, as you might imagine, they are the great scavengers and camp cleaners of the country. Of vultures there are too few in this land, probably because the blind bush robs them of the chance of spotting their prey. Were it not for lions and hyaenas, we should be in a bad way. For they come to eat all our dead animals, all the wastage of this army, the tribute our transport animals are paying to fly and to horse-sickness. For in spite of fairy tales about lions one must believe the unromantic truth that a lion prefers a dead ox to a man, and a black man to a white one. So you will not be surprised when I tell you that in this army of ours of at least 30,000 men I have only had two cases of mauling by the larger carnivora to deal with. And such cases as these would all pass through my hands. There was only one case of lion mauling, and that a Cape Boy who met a young half-grown cub on the road and unwisely ran from it. At first curiosity attracted this animal, and later the hunting instinct caused him to maul his prey. So they brought him in with the severe blood-poisoning that sets in in almost all cases of such a nature. For the teeth and claws of the larger carnivora are frightfully infectious. This Cape Boy died in forty-eight hours. Yet one other case was that of an officer who met a leopardess with cubs in the bush when out after guinea fowl. She charged him, and he gave her his left arm to chew to save his face and body. Then alarmed by his yells and the approach of his companion she left him, and he was brought one hundred miles to the railway. But he was in good hands at once, and when I saw him the danger of blood-poisoning had gone and he was well upon his way to health again.

The same experience have we had with snakes. The hot dry dusty roads and the torn scrub abound with snakes and most of them of a virulently poisonous quality. But one case only of snake-bite have I seen, and that a native. The fact that the wild denizens of the field and forest are much more afraid of us than we of them saves us from what might appear to be very serious menace. Even the wounded left out in the dense bush have not suffered from these animal pests, but the dead, of course, have often disappeared and their bleached bones alone are left to tell the story. One might think that the hyaena, the universal scavenger, would be as loathed by the native as he is by us whose dead he disinters at night, if we have been too tired or unable to bury our casualties deep enough. But, strange as it may seem, the hyaena is worshipped by one very large tribe in East Africa, the Kikuyu. For these strange people have an extraordinary aversion to touching dead people. So much so, that when their own relatives seem about to die they put them out in the bush with a small fire and a gourd of water, protected by a small erection of bush against the mid-day sun, and leave the hyaenas to do the rest. So it comes about that this beast is almost sacred, and a white man who kills one runs some danger of his life, if the crime is discovered. It is hardly to be wondered at that the hyaenas in the "Kikuyu" country are far bolder than in other parts. Elsewhere and by nature the hyaena is an arrant coward. Here, however, he will bite the face off a sleeping man lying in the open, or even pull down a woman or child, should they be alone; elsewhere he only lives on carrion.

The German is not a sportsman as we understand the term, though the modern young German who apes English ways, comes out to East Africa occasionally to make collections for his ancestral Schloss. That the Crown Prince should have reserved large areas for game preserves speaks for this modern tendency in young Germany. The average German is not keen on exercise in the tropics, he will be carried by sweating natives in a chair or hammock where Englishmen on similar errands will walk and shoot upon the way. This slothful habit leads us to the conviction that very much of the country is not explored as it should be, and I have been told by prospectors for precious minerals, who were serving in our army, of the wonderful store of mineral deposits in German East Africa. One noted prospector who fell into my hands at Handeni could so little forget his occupation of peace in this new reality of war, that he always took out his prospector's hammer on patrol with him, and chipped pieces of likely rock to bring back to camp in his haversack. He it was who told me of his discovery of a seam of anthracite coal in the bed of a river near the Tanga railway. On picket he had wandered to the edge of the ravine and fallen over. Struggling for life to save himself by the shrubs and growing plants on the face of this precipice, he eventually found his way to the bottom of the ravine, on the top of a small avalanche of earth. Judge, then, of his astonishment when, looking up, he saw that his fall had exposed a fine seam of coal. This discovery alone, in a country where the railway engines are forced to burn wood fuel or expensive imported coal from Durban, is of the greatest importance. The experience of most of us seemed to be that the Germans, in the piping days of peace, preferred elegant leisure in a hammock and the prospect of cold beer beneath a mango tree to the sterner delights of laborious days in thickly wooded and inaccessible mountains. One of the first results of this campaign will be to bring the enterprising prospector from Rhodesia and the Malay States to what was once the "Schöne Ost-Afrika" of the German colonial enthusiast.

But big game hunting, except a man hunts for a living, as do the elephant poachers in Mozambique or the Lado Enclave, soon loses its savour to white men after a time. It is not long before the rifle is discarded for the camera by men who really care for wild life in wilder countries. Herein the white man differs from the savage, who kills and kills until he can slay no longer. Strange it is to think that farmers and planters in East Africa so soon tire of big game hunting, that they do not trouble even to shoot for the pot or to get the meat that is the ration provided for their native labourers, but employs a native, armed with a rifle and a few cartridges, to shoot antelope for meat.

To one in whom the spirit of adventure and romance is not dead what more attractive than an elephant hunter's life? To work for six months and make two or three thousand pounds, and spend the proceeds in a riotous holiday, until the heavy tropic rains are over and the bush is dry again. But few realise the rare qualities that an elephant hunter must have. He must be extraordinarily tough, quite hardened to the toil and diseases of the country, knowing many native tongues, largely immune from the fever that lays a white man low many marches from civilisation and hospitals, of an endurance splendid, with hope to dare the risk, and courage to endure the toil. For the professional elephant hunter is now, by force of circumstance and white man's law, become a wolf of the forest, and the hands of all Governments are against him. He must mark his elephant down, be up with the first light and after him, must manoeuvre for light and wind and scent to pick the big bull from the sheltering herd of females. If the head shot is not possible, the lung shot or stomach shot alone is left. And six hours' march through waterless country before one comes up with the elephant resting with his herd is not the best preparation for a shot. If one misses, one may as well go home another eight hours back to water. But if you hit and follow the bull through the thorny bush, you do not even then know whether you will find the victim. If, however, you find traces three times in the first hour, or see the blood pouring from the trunk--not merely blown in spray upon the bushes--then the certain conviction comes that within an hour you will find your kill. Then the long march back to camp, all food and water and the precious tusks carried by natives, often too exhausted at the end to eat. A man who cannot march thirty miles a day, and fulfil all the other requirements, should relegate elephant hunting to the world of dreams. All the big successful elephant poachers are well known: most of them are English, some of them are Boers, a few only French or American; but seldom does a German attempt it or live to repeat his experience. Far better to shut his eyes to this illicit traffic and assist these strange soldiers of fortune to get their ivory to the coast, and then enjoy the due reward of this complaisant attitude.

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