|History of World War 1
|The Western Front
|The Russian Front
|The Middle East
|War at Sea
THIS ARMY OF OURS
Since Alexander of Macedon descended upon the plains of India, there can never have been so strange and heterogeneous an army as this, and a doctor must speak with the tongues of men and angels to arrive at an even approximate understanding of their varied ailments. The first division that came with Jan Smuts from the snows of Kilimanjaro to the torrid delta of the Rufigi contained them all.
The real history of the war begins with Smuts; for, prior to his coming, we were merely at war; but when he came we began to fight. A brief twenty-four hours in Nairobi, during which he avoided the public receptions and the dinners that a more social chief would have graced; then he was off into the bush. Wherever that rather short, but well-knit figure appeared, with his red beard, well streaked with grey, beneath the red Staff cap, confidence reigned in all our troops. And to the end this trust has remained unabated. Many disappointments have come his way, more from his own mounted troops than from any others; but we have felt that his tactics and strategy were never wrong. Thus it was that from this heterogeneous army, Imperial, East African, Indian and South African, he has had a loyalty most splendid all the time. He may have pushed us forward so that we marched far in advance of food or supplies, thrust us into advanced positions that to our military sense seemed very hazardous. But he meant "getting a move on," and we knew it; and all of us wished the war to be over. Jan Smuts suffered the same fever as we did, ate our food, and his personal courage in private and most risky reconnaissances filled us with admiration and fear, lest disaster from some German patrol might overtake him. To me the absence of criticism and the loyal co-operation of all troops have been most wonderful. For we are an incurably critical people, and here was a civilian, come to wrest victory from a series of disasters.
First in interest, perhaps, as they were ever first in fight, are the Rhodesians, those careless, graceful fellows that have been here a year before the big advance began. Straight from the bush country and fever of Northern Rhodesia, they were probably the best equipped of all white troops to meet the vicissitudes of this warfare. They knew the dangers of the native paths that wound their way through the thorn bush, and gave such opportunities for ambush to the lurking patrol. None knew as they how to avoid the inviting open space giving so good a field of fire for the machine-gun, that took such toll of all our enterprises. With them, too, they brought a liability to blackwater fever that laid them low, a legacy from Lake Nyasa that marked them out as the victims of this scourge in the first year of the big advance.
The Loyal North Lancashires, too, have borne the heat and burden of the day from the first disastrous landing at Tanga. Always exceedingly well disciplined, they yield to none in the amount of solid unrewarded work done in this campaign.
Of the most romantic interest probably are the 25th Royal Fusiliers, the Legion of Frontiersmen. Volumes might be written of the varied careers and wild lives lived by these strange soldiers of fortune. They were led by Colonel Driscoll, who, for all his sixty years, has found no work too arduous and no climate too unhealthy for his brave spirit. I knew him in the Boer War when he commanded Driscoll's Scouts, of happy, though irregular memory; their badge in those days, the harp of Erin on the side of their slouch hats, and known throughout the country wherever there was fighting to be had. The 25th Fusiliers, too, were out here in the early days, and participated in the capture of Bukoba on the Lake. A hundred professions are represented in their ranks. Miners from Australia and the Congo, prospectors after the precious mineral earths of Siam and the Malay States, pearl-fishers and elephant poachers, actors and opera singers, jugglers, professional strong men, big-game hunters, sailors, all mingled with professions of peace, medicine, the law and the clerk's varied trade. Here two Englishmen, soldiers of fortune or misfortune, as the case might be, who had specialised in recent Mexican revolutions, till the fall of Huerta brought them, too, to unemployment; an Irishman there, for whom the President of Costa Rica had promised a swift death against a blank wall. Cunning in the art of gun-running, they were knowing in all the tides of the Caribbean Sea, and in every dodge to outwit the United States patrol. Nor must I forget one priceless fellow, a lion-tamer, who, strange to say, feared exceedingly the wild denizens of the scrub that sniffed around his patrol at night.
Of our Indian forces the most likeable and attractive were the Kashmiris, whom the patriot Rajah of Kashmir has given to the India Government. Recruited from the mountains of Nepal--for the native of Kashmir is no soldier--they meet one everywhere with their eager smiling faces. In hospital they are always professing to a recovery from fever that their pallid faces and enlarged spleens belie, and they take not kindly to any suggestion of invaliding.
These battalions of Kashmir Rifles, the Baluchis and the King's African Rifles have done more dirty bush fighting than any troops in this campaign. The Baluchis, in particular, have covered themselves with glory in many a fight.
The most efficient soldiers in East Africa are the King's African Rifles; unaffected by the fever and the dysentery of the country, and led by picked white officers, they are in their element in the thorn jungle in which the Germans have conducted their rearguard actions. Known at first as the "Suicides Club," the King's African Rifles lost a far greater proportion of officers than any other regiment. Nor is it a little that they owe to the gallant leader of one battalion, Colonel Graham, who lost his life early in the advance on Moschi. These regiments are recruited from Nyasaland in the south to Nubia and Abyssinia in the north. Yaos, known by the three vertical slits in their cheeks; slim Nandi, with perforated lobes to their ears; ebony Kavirondo; Sudanese of an excellent quality; Wanyamwezi from the country between Tabora and Lake Tanganyika, the very tribe from whom the German Askaris are recruited, and all the dusky tribes that stretch far north to Lake Rudolph and the Nile. Nor should one forget the Arab Rifles, raised by that wonderful fellow Wavell, whose brother was a prisoner with me in Germany. A professing Mohammedan, he was one of very few white men who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca. He harried the Huns along the unhealthy districts of the coast, until a patrol, in ambush, laid him low near Gazi.
Last, and most important, the army of South Africans, whose coming spelt for us the big advance and the swift move that made us master of the whole country from Kilimanjaro to the Rufigi. A great political experiment and a most wonderfully successful one was this Africander army, English and Boers, under a Boer General. For the first time since the Great War in South Africa, the Boers made common cause with us, definitely aligned themselves with us in a joint campaign and provided the greatest object lesson of this World War. If the campaign of German East Africa was worth while, its value has been abundantly proved in this welding of the races that, despite local disagreements, has occurred. The South African troops have found the country ill adapted to their peculiar genius in war, and the blind bush has robbed the mounted arm of much of its efficiency. Not here the wide distances to favour their enveloping tactics. Much have they suffered from fever, hardships and privation, and to their credit lies the greatest of all marches in this campaign, the 250 mile march to Kondoa Irangi in the height of the rainy season. The South African Infantry arrived in Kondoa starved and worn and bootless after this forced march to extricate the mounted troops, whose impetuous ardour had thrust them far beyond the possibility of supplies, into the heart of the enemy's country. We cannot sufficiently praise the apparently reckless tactics that made this wonderful march towards the Central Railway, or the uncomplaining fortitude of troops who lived in this fever-stricken country, on hippopotamus meat, wild game and native meal. To the Boer, as to all of us, this campaign must have taught a wonderful lesson, for many prejudices have been modified, and it has been learnt that "coolies" (as only too often the ignorant style all natives of India) and "Kaffirs," can fight with the best.
This campaign would have been largely impossible, were it not for the Cape Boys and other natives from the Union, who have come to run our mule and ox transport. Their peculiar genius is the management of horses, mules and cattle. Different from other primitive and negro people, they are very kind to animals, infinitely knowledgeable in the lore of mule and ox, they can be depended upon to exact the most from animal transport with the least cruelty. Wonderful riders these; I have seen them sit bucking horses in a way that a Texas cowboy or a Mexican might envy.
One should not leave the subject of this army without reference to the Cape Corps--that experiment in military recruiting which many of us were at first inclined to condemn. But from the moment the Cape Boy enlisted in the ranks of the Cape Corps his status was raised, and he adopted, together with his regulation khaki uniform and helmet, a higher responsibility towards the army than did his brother who helped to run the transport. They have been well officered, they have been a lesson to all of us in the essential matters of discipline and smartness, they have done much of the dirty work entailed by guarding lines of communication, and now, when given their longed-for chance of actual fighting on the Rufigi, they have covered themselves with distinction. For my part, as a doctor, I found they had too much ego in their cosmos, as is commonly the fault of half-bred races, and a sick Cape Corps soldier seemed always very sick indeed; yet, as the campaign progressed, we came to like and to admire these troops the more, so that their distinction won in the Rufigi fighting was welcomed very gladly by all of us.
Later in the campaign arrived the Gold Coast Regiment; and now the Nigerian Brigade are here. Very, very smart and soldier-like these Hausa and Fulani troops; Mohammedan, largely, in religion, and bearded where the East Coast native is smooth-faced, they will stay to finish this guerilla fighting, for which their experience in the Cameroon has so well fitted them. The Gold Coast Regiment has always been where there has been the hardest fighting, their green woollen caps and leather sandals marking them out from other negroid soldiers. And their impetuous courage has won them many captured enemy guns, and, alas! a very long list of casualties. But in hospital they are the merriest of happy people, always joking and smiling, and are quite a contrast to our much more serious East Coast native; they have earned from their white sergeants and officers very great admiration and devotion. By far the best equipped of any unit in the field, they had, as a regiment, no less than eight machine-guns and a regimental mountain battery.