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A First World War Soldier

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One of the features of German military life that fills one with horror and disgust is their brutality to the native. Nor do they make any attempt to cloak their atrocities. For they perpetuate them by photographs, many of which have fallen into our hands; and from these one sees a tendency to gloat over the ghastly exhibits. The pictures portray gallows with a large number of natives hanging side by side. In some, soldiers are drawn up in hollow square, one side of it open to the civil population, and there is little doubt that these are punitive and impressive official executions, carried out under "proper judicial conditions" as conceived by Germans. But what offends one's taste so much are the photographs of German officers and men standing with self-conscious and self-satisfied expressions beside the grim gallows on which their victims hang. From the great number of these pictures we have found, it is quite clear that not only are such executions very common, but that they are also not unpleasing to the sense of the German population; otherwise they would not bequeath to posterity their own smiling faces alongside the unhappy dead. With us it is so different. When we have to administer the capital penalty we do it, of course, openly, and after full judicial inquiry in open court. Nor do we rob it of its impressive character by excluding the native population. But such sentences in war are usually carried out by shooting, and photographs are not desired by any of the spectators. It is a vile business and absolutely revolting to us, nor do we hesitate to hurry away as soon as the official character of the parade is over. I well remember one such execution, in Morogoro, of a German Askari who assaulted a little German girl with a "kiboko" during the two days' interregnum that elapsed between Lettow's departure and our occupation of the town. To British troops the most unwelcome duty of all is to form a part of a firing party on such occasions. The firing party are handed their rifles, alternate weapons only loaded with ball cartridge, that their sense of decency may not be offended by the distasteful recollection of killing a man in cold blood. For this assures that no man knows whether his was the rifle that sped the living soul from that pitiful cringing body.

In the past the Germans have had constant trouble with the natives, not one tribe but has had to be visited by sword and flame and wholesale execution. That this is not entirely the fault of the natives is shown by the fact that we have not experienced in East Africa and Uganda a tenth part of the trouble with our natives, notoriously a most restless and warlike combination of races.

It was thought at one time that, if the Germans seriously weakened their hold on some of the more troublesome tribes and withdrew garrisons from localities where troops alone had kept the native in subjection, risings of a terrible and embarrassing character would be the result. That such fear entered also into the German mind is shown by the fact that for long they did not dare to withdraw certain administrative officials, and much-valued soldiers of the regular army, who would have been of great service as army commanders, from their police work. Notably is this the case at Songea, in the angle between Lake Nyasa and the Portuguese border. To the state of terror among the German women owing to the fear of a native rising during the intervening period between the retreat of their troops and the arrival of our own in Morogoro I myself can testify. For the German nursing sisters who worked with me told of the flight to this town of outlying families, and how the women were all supplied with tablets of prussic acid to swallow, if the dreadful end approached. For death from the swift cyanide would be gentler far than at the hands of a savage native. But the Germans have to admit that as they showed no mercy to the native in the past, so they could expect none at such a time as this. They told me of the glad relief with which they welcomed the coming of our troops, and how with tears of gratitude they threw swift death into the bushes, much indeed as they hated the humiliating spectacle of the gallant Rhodesians and Baluchis making their formal entry into the fair streets of Morogoro.

The German hold on the natives is, owing to severe repressive measures in the past and the unrelaxing discipline of the present war, most effective and likely to remain so, until our troops appear actually among them. Indeed, the fear of a native rising, and the butchery of German women and children has been ever on our minds, and we have had to impress upon the native that we desired or could countenance no such help upon their part. All we asked of the native population was to keep the peace and supply us with information, food and porters. We sent word among the restless tribes to warn them to keep quiet, saying that, if the Germans had chastised them with whips, we would, indeed, chastise them with scorpions in the event of their getting out of hand. And we must admit that, almost without exception, the natives of all tribes have proved most welcoming, most docile and most grateful for our arrival. Had it not been for the clandestine intrigues of the German planters and missionaries whom we returned to their homes and occupations of peace, there would have been no trouble. But the Hun may promise faithfully, may enter into the most solemn obligations not to take active or passive part further in the war; but, nevertheless, he seems unable to keep himself from betraying our trust. Such a born spy and intriguer is he that he cannot refrain from intimidating the native, of whose quietness he is now assured by the presence of our troops, by threats of what will befall him when the Germans return, if he, the native, so much as sells us food or enters our employment as a porter.

But the native is extraordinarily local in his knowledge, his world bounded for him by the borders of neighbouring and often hostile tribes. We are not at all certain that any but coast or border tribes can really appreciate the difference between British rule and the domination that has now been swept away.

Recent reports on all sides show the desire for peace and the end of the war; for war brings in its train forced labour, the requisition of food, and the curse of German Askaris wandering about among the native villages, satisfying their every want, often at the point of the bayonet. Preferable even to this are the piping times of peace, when the German administrator, with rare exceptions, singularly unhappy in his dealing with the chiefs, would not hesitate to thrash a chief before his villagers, and condemn him to labour in neck chains, on the roads among his own subjects. And this, mark you, for the failure of the chief to keep an appointment, when the fat-brained German failed to appreciate the difference in the natives' estimation of time. By Swahili time the day commences at 7 a.m. In the past, it was no wonder that chiefs, burning with a sense of wrong and the humiliation they had suffered, preferred to raise their tribe and perish by the sword than endure a life that bore such indignity and shame.

But our job has not been rendered any easier by the difficulty we have experienced in pacifying the simple blacks by attempts to dispel the fears of rapine and murder at the hands of our soldiers, with which the Germans have been at such pains to saturate the native mind. This, in conjunction with the suspicion which the native of German East Africa has for any European, and more especially his horror of war, has made us prepared to see the native bolt at our approach.

But if our task has succeeded, there has been striking ill success on the part of the Germans in organising and inducing, in spite of their many attempts and the obvious danger to their own women and children, these native tribes to oppose our advance. Fortunately for us, and for the white women of the country, tribes will not easily combine, and are loath to leave their tribal territory.

Many of us have looked with some concern upon the mere possibility of this German colony being returned to its former owners. We must remember that we shall inevitably lose the measure of respect the native holds for us, if we contemplate giving back this province once more to German ruling. Prestige alone is the factor in the future that will keep order among these savage races who have now learnt to use the rifle and machine-gun, and have money in plenty to provide themselves with ammunition. The war has done much to destroy the prestige that allows a white man to dominate thousands of the natives. For to the indigenous inhabitants of the country, the white man's ways are inexplicable; they cannot conceive a war conducted with such alternate savagery and chivalry. To those who look upon the women of the vanquished as the victors' special prize, the immunity from outrage that German women enjoy is beyond their comprehension. For that reason we shall welcome the day when an official announcement is made that the British Government have taken over the country. One would like to see big "indabas" held at every town and centre in the country, formal raising of the Union Jack, cannon salutes, bands playing and parades of soldiers.

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