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A First World War Soldier

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Lettow, the one-eyed, or to give him his full title, Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck, is the heart and soul of the German resistance in East Africa. Indomitable and ubiquitous, he has kept up the drooping spirits of his men by encouragement, by the example of great personal courage, and by threats that he can and will carry out. Wounded three times, he has never left his army, but has been carried about on a "machela" to prevent the half-resistance that leads to surrender. And now we hear he has had blackwater, and, recovering, has resumed his elusive journeys from one discouraged company to another all over the narrowing area of operations that alone is left to the Hun of his favourite colonial possessions. For to the fat shipping clerk of Tanga, whose soul lives only for beer and the leave that comes to reward two years of effort, the temptation to go sick or to get lost in the bush in front of our advancing armies is very great. He is not of the stuff that heroes are made of, and surrender is so safe and easy. A prison camp in Bombay is clearly preferable to this unending retreat. He has done enough for honour, he argues, he has proved his worth after two and a half years of resistance! This colony has put up the best fight of all, "and the Schwein Engländer holds the seas, so further resistance is hopeless." "We are not barbarians, are we Fritz?" But Fritz has ceased to care. "Ahmednagar for mine," says he, reverting to the language he learnt in the brewery at Milwaukee, in days that now seem to belong to some antenatal life. Soon he will look for some white face beneath the strange sun helmet the English wear, up will go his hands, and "Kamerad"--that magic word--will open the doors to sumptuous ease behind the prison bars.

But Lettow is going "all out." His black Askaris are not discouraged, and, in this war, the black man is keeping up the courage of the white. Had the native soldiers got their tails down the game was up as far as the Germans were concerned. But these faithful fellows see the "Bwona Kuba," as they call Lettow, here encouraging, everywhere inspiring them by his example, and they will stay with him until the end. Like many great soldiers, Lettow is singularly careless in his dress; and the tale is told at Moschi of a young German officer who stole a day's leave and discussed with a stranger at a shop window the chances of the ubiquitous Lettow arriving to spoil his afternoon. Nor did he know until he found the reprimand awaiting him in camp that he had been discussing the ethics of breaking out of camp with the "terror" himself.

A soldier of fortune is Lettow. His name is stained with the hideous massacres of the Hereros in South-West Africa. His was the order, transmitted through the German Governor's mouth, that thrust the Herero women and children into the deserts of Damaraland to die. Before the war in South Africa, rumour says, he was instructor to the "Staats Artillerie," which Kruger raised to stay the storm that he knew inevitably would overwhelm him. Serving, with Smuts and Botha themselves in the early months of the Boer war, he joined the inglorious procession of foreigners that fled across the bridge at Komati Poort after Pretoria fell, and left the Boer to fight it out unaided for two long and weary years more. No wonder that Lettow has sworn never to surrender to that "damned Dutchman Jan Smuts." Chary of giving praise for work well done, he yet is inexorable to failure. The tale is told that Lettow was furious when Fischer, the major in command at Moschi, was bluffed out of his impregnable position there by Vandeventer, evacuated the northern lines, and retired on Kahe, thus saving us the expense of taking a natural fortress that would have taxed all our energies. White with rage, he sent for Fischer and handed him one of his own revolvers. "Let me hear some interesting news about you in a day or two." And Fischer took the pistol and walked away to consider his death warrant. He looked at that grim message for two days before he could summon up his courage: then he shot himself, well below the heart, in a spot that he thought was fairly safe. But poor Fischer's knowledge of anatomy was as unsound as his strategy, for the bullet perforated his stomach. And it took him three days to die.

A tribe which has contributed largely to the German military forces is the Wanyamwezi. Of excellent physique, they long resisted German domination, but now they are entirely subdued. Hardy, brave and willing, they are the best fighters and porters, probably, in the whole of East Africa. Immigrant Wanyamwezi, enlisted in British East Africa into our King's African Rifles, do not hesitate to fight against their blood brothers. There is no stint to the faithful service they have given to the Germans. But for them our task would have been much easier. For drilling and parade the native mind shows great keenness and aptitude; little squads of men are drilled voluntarily by their own N.C.O.'s in their spare time; and often, just after an official drill is over, they drill one another again. Smart and well-disciplined they are most punctilious in all military services.

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