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A First World War Soldier

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(The Haven of Peace)

This town is indeed a Haven of Peace for our weary soldiers. The only rest in a really civilised place that they have had after many hundreds of miles of road and forest and trackless thirsty bush. In the cool wards of the big South African Hospital many of them enjoy the only rest that they have known for months. Fever-stricken wrecks are they of the men that marched so eagerly to Kilimanjaro nine weary months before. Months of heat and thirst and tiredness, of malaria that left them burning under trees by the roadside till the questing ambulance could find them, of dysentery that robbed their nights of sleep, of dust and flies and savage bush fighting. And now they lie between cool sheets and watch the sisters as they flit among the shadows of cool, shaded wards. Only a short three months before and this was the "Kaiserhof," the first hotel on the East Coast of Africa, as the German manager, with loud boastfulness, proclaimed.

There had been a time when we doctors, then at Nairobi and living in comfortable mosquito-proof houses, had blamed the men for drinking unboiled water and for discarding their mosquito nets. But even doctors sometimes live and learn, and those of us who went right forward with the troops came to know how impracticable it was to carry out the Army Order that bade a man drink only boiled water and sleep beneath a net. Late in the night the infantryman staggers to the camp that lies among thorn bushes, hungry and tired and full of fever. How then could one expect him to put up a mosquito net in the pitch-black darkness in a country where every tree has got a thorn? Long ago the army's mosquito nets have adorned the prickly bushes of the waterless deserts. "Tuck your mosquito net well in at night," so runs the Army Order. But what does it profit him to tuck in the net when dysentery drags him from his blanket every hour at night?

From the verandah of the hospital the soldier sees the hospital ship all lighted up at night with red and green lights, the ship that's going to take him out of this infernal climate to where the mosquitoes are uninfected and tsetse flies bite no more. And there are no regrets that the rainy season is commencing, and this is no longer a campaign for the white soldier. On the sunlit slopes of Wynberg he will contemplate the white sands of Muizenberg and recover the strength that he will want again, in four months' time, in the swamps of the Rufigi. Now the time has come for the black troops to see through the rest of the rainy season, to sit upon the highlands and watch, across miles of intervening swamp, the tiny points of fire that are the camp fires of German Askaris.

Through the shady streets of this lovely town wander our soldier invalids in their blue and grey hospital uniforms, along the well-paved roads, neat boulevards, immaculate gardens and avenues of mangoes and feathery palm trees. Along the sea front at night in front of the big German hospital that now houses our surgical cases, you will find these invalids walking past the cemetery where the "good Huns" sleep, sitting on the beach, enjoying the cool sea breeze that sweeps into the town on the North-East Monsoon.

Imagine the loveliest little land-locked harbour in the world, a white strip of coral and of sand, groves of feathery palms, graceful shady mangoes, huge baobab trees that were here when Vasco da Gama's soldiers trod these native paths; and among them fine stone houses, soft red-tiled roofs, verandahs all screened with mosquito gauze and excellently well laid out, and you have Dar-es-Salaam.

Nothing is left of the old Arab village that was here for centuries before the German planted this garden-city. Sloping coral sands, where Arab dhows have beached themselves for ages past, are now supporting the newest and most modern of tropical warehouses and wharves, electric cranes, travelling cargo-carriers and a well-planned railway goods yard that takes the freights of Hamburg to the heart of Central Africa.

It must be pain and grief to the German men and women whom our clemency allows to occupy their houses, throng the streets and read the daily Reuter cablegram, to see this town, the apple of their eye, defiled by the "dirty English" the hated "beefs," as they call us from a mistaken idea of our fondness for that tinned delicacy.

But the soldiers' daily swim in the harbour is undisturbed by sharks, and the feel of the soft water is like satin to their bodies. Not for these spare and slender figures the prickly heat that torments fat and beery German bodies and makes sea-bathing anathema to the Hun. On German yachts the lucky few of officers and men are carried on soft breezes round the harbour and outside the harbour mouth in the evening coolness.

Arab dhows sail lazily over the blue sea from Zanzibar. If one could dream, one could picture the corsairs' red flag and the picturesque Arab figure standing high in the stern beside the tiller, and fancy would portray the freight of spices and cloves that they should bring from the plantations of Pemba and Zanzibar. But there are no dusky beauties now aboard these ships; and their freight is rations and other hum-drum prosaic things for our troops. The red pirate's flag has become the red ensign of our merchant marine.

All the caravan routes from Central Africa debouch upon this place and Bagamoyo. Bismarck looks out from the big avenue that bears his name across the harbour to where the D.O.A.L. ship Tabora lies on her side; further on he looks at the sunken dry dock and a stranded German Imperial Yacht. It would seem as if a little "blood and iron" had come home to roost; even as the sea birds do upon his forehead. The grim mouth, that once told Thiers that he would leave the women of France nothing but their eyes to weep with, is mud-splashed by our passing motor lorries.

The more I see of this place the more I like it. Everything to admire but the water supply, the sanitation, the Huns and Hunnesses and a few other beastlinesses. One can admire even the statue of Wissmann, the great explorer, that looks with fixed eyes to the Congo in the eye of the setting sun. He is symbolical of everything that a boastful Germany can pretend to. For at his feet is a native Askari looking upward, with adoring eye, to the "Bwona Kuba" who has given him the priceless boon of militarism, while with both hands the soldier lays a flag--the imperial flag of Germany--across a prostrate lion at his feet. "Putting it acrost the British lion," as I heard one of our soldiers remark.

"Si monumentum requiris circumspice" as the Latins say; or, as Tommy would translate, "If you want to see a bit of orl-right, look at what the Navy has done to this 'ere blinking town." The Governor's palace, where is it? The bats now roost in the roofless timbers that the 12-inch shells have left. What of the three big German liners that fled to this harbour for protection and painted their upper works green to harmonise with the tops of the palm trees and thus to escape observation of our cruisers? Ask the statue of Bismarck. He'll know, for he has been looking at them for a year now. The Tabora lies on her side half submerged in water; the König lies beached at the harbour mouth in a vain attempt to block the narrow entrance and keep us out; the Feldmarschal now on her way upon the high seas, to carry valuable food for us and maybe to be torpedoed by her late owners. The crowning insult, that this ship should have recently been towed by the ex-Professor Woermann--another captured prize.

What of the two dry docks that were to make Dar-es-Salaam the only ship-repairing station on the East Coast? One lies sunk at the harbour mouth, shortly, however, to be raised and utilised by us; the other in the harbour, sunk too soon, an ineffectual sacrifice.

Germans and their womenfolk crowd the streets; many of the former quite young and obvious deserters, the latter, thick of body and thicker of ankle, walk the town unmolested. Not one insult or injury has ever been offered to a German woman in this whole campaign. But these "victims of our bow and spear" are not a bit pleased. The calm indifference that our men display towards them leaves them hurt and chagrined. Better far to receive any kind of attention than to be ignored by these indifferent soldiers. What a tribute to their charms that the latest Hun fashion, latest in Dar-es-Salaam, but latest by three years in Paris or London, should provoke no glance of interest on Sunday mornings! One feels that they long to pose as martyrs, and that our quixotic chivalry cuts them to the quick.

There have been many bombardments of the forts of this town, and huge dugouts for the whole population have been constructed. Great underground towns, twenty feet below the surface, all roofed in with steel railway sleepers. No wonder that many of the inhabitants fled to Morogoro and Tabora. What a wicked thing of the Englander to shell an "undefended" town! The search-lights and the huge gun positions and the maze of trenches, barbed wire and machine-gun emplacements hewn out of the living rock, of course, to the Teuton mind, do not constitute defence.

But you must not think that we have had it all our own way in this sea-warfare here. For in Zanzibar harbour the masts of H.M.S. Pegasus peep above the water--a mute reminder of the 20th September, 1914. For on that fatal day, attested to by sixteen graves in the cemetery, and more on an island near, a traitor betrayed the fact that our ship was anchored and under repairs in harbour and the rest of the fleet away. Up sailed the Königsberg and opened fire; and soon our poor ship was adrift and half destroyed. A gallant attempt to beach her was foiled by the worst bit of bad luck--she slipped off the edge of the bank into deep water. But even this incident was not without its splendid side; for the little patrol tug originally captured from the enemy, threw itself into the line of fire in a vain attempt to gain time for the Pegasus to clear. But the cruiser's sharp stern cut her to the water-line and sank her; and as her commander swam away, the Königsberg passed, hailed and threw a lifebuoy. "Can we give you a hand?" said the very chivalrous commander of this German ship. "No; go to Hamburg," said our hero, as he swam to shore to save himself to fight again, on many a day, upon another ship.

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