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A First World War Soldier

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Of the many aspects of this campaign none perhaps is more thrilling than life on the forward patrol. For the duty of these fellows is to go forward with armed native scouts far in advance of the columns, to find out what the Germans are up to, their strength, and the disposition of their troops. Their reports they send back by native runners, who not infrequently get captured. Like wolves in the forest they live, months often elapsing without their seeing a white face, and then it is the kind of white man that they do not want to see; every man's hand against them, native as well as German, unable to light fires at night for fear of discovery, sleeping on the ground, creeping up close, for in this bush one can only get information at close quarters; always out of food, forced to smoke pungent native tobacco. They have to live on the game they shoot, and it is a hundred chances to one that the shot that gives them dinner will bring a Hun patrol to disturb the feast. Theirs is without doubt the riskiest job in such a war as this.

Here is the story of a night surprise, as it was told me. The long trek had lasted all day, to be followed by the fireless supper (how one longs for the hot tea at night!), and the deep sleep that comes to exhausted man as soon as he gets into his blankets. Drowsy sentries failed to hear the rustling in the thicket until almost too late; the alarm is given, pickets run in to wake their sleeping "bwona," all mixed up with Germans. The intelligence party scattered to all points of the compass, leaving their camp kit behind them. There was no time to do aught but pick up their rifles (that is second nature) and fly for safety to the bush. Now this actual surprise party was led by one Laudr, an Oberleutnant who had lived for years in South Africa, and had married an English wife. Laudr had the reputation of being the best shot in German East, but he missed that night, and my friend escaped, unharmed, the five shots from his revolver. Next morning, cautiously approaching the scene of last night's encounter, he found a note pinned to a tree. In it Laudr thanked him for much good food and a pair of excellent blankets, and regretted that the light had been so bad for shooting. But he left a young goat tied up to the tree and my friend's own knife and fork and plate upon the ground.

Another story this resourceful fellow told me concerning an exploit which he and a fellow I.D. man, with twenty-five of their scouts, had brought off near Arusha. They had been sent out to get information as to the strength of an enemy post in a strongly fortified stone building--the kind of half fort, half castle that the Germans build in every district as an impregnable refuge in case of native risings. With watch towers and battlements, these forts are after the style of mediæval buildings. Equipped with food supplies and a well, they can resist any attack short of artillery. Learning from the natives that the force consisted of two German officers and about sixty Askaris, my friend determined not to send back for the column that was waiting to march from Arusha to invest the place. Between them they resolved to take the place by strategy and guile. Lying hid in the bush, they arranged with friendly natives to supply the guard with "pombe" the potent native drink. Late that night, judging from the sounds that the Kaffir beer had done its work, they crept up and disarmed the guard. Holding the outer gate they sent in word to the commandant, a Major Schneider, the administrator of the district, to surrender. He duly came from his quarters into the courtyard accompanied by his Lieutenant. "Before I consider surrender," he said, "tell me what force you've got?" "This fort is surrounded by my troops, that is enough for you," said our man. "In any case you see my men behind me, and, if you don't 'hands up,' they'll fire." And the "troops"--half-clad natives--stepped forward with levelled rifles.

The next morning the Major, still doubting, asked to see the rest of the English troops, and on being informed that these were all, would have rushed back to spring the mines that would have blown the place to pieces. But the Intelligence Officer had not wasted his time the previous night, and had very carefully cut the wires that led apparently so innocently from the central office of the fort. My friend brought this Major, a man of great importance in his district, to Dar-es-Salaam; and during the whole journey the German never ceased to complain that bluffing was a dishonourable means of warfare to employ.

On yet another occasion he had an experience that taxed his tact and strength to the utmost. In the course of his work he seized the meat-canning factory near Arusha that a certain Frau ----, in the absence of her husband, was carrying on. The enemy used to shoot wildebeest and preserve it by canning or by drying it in the sun as "biltong" for the use of the German troops. My friend was forced to burn the factory, and then it became his duty to escort this very practical lady back to our lines. This did not suit her book at all. With tears she implored him to send her to her own people. She would promise anything. Cunningly she suggested great stores of information she might impart. But he cared not for her weeping, and ordered her to pack for the long journey to Arusha. Then tears failing her she sulked, and refused to eat or leave her tent. But this found him adamant. Finally she tried the woman's wiles which should surely be irresistible to this man. But he was unmoved by all her blandishments. So surprised and indignant was he that he threatened to tell her husband of her behaviour, when he should catch him. But here it appears he made a false estimate of the value of honour and dishonour among the Huns. "A loyal German woman," she exclaimed, laughing, "is allowed to use any means to further the interests of her Fatherland. My husband will only think more highly of me when he knows." So this modern Galahad of ours turned away and ordered the lady's tent to be struck and marched her off, taking care that he himself was far removed from her presence in the caravan. "What fools you English are," she flung back at him, as he handed her into the custody that would safely hold this dangerous apostle of Kultur till the end of the war.

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