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A First World War Soldier

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"Jambo bwona," and the sycophantic Ali would leap to his feet and raise the dirty red fez that adorned his head. "Jambo," said Nazoro, the senior boy, standing to attention. For Nazoro was a Wanyamwezi from Lake Tanganyika and disdained any of Ali's dodges to conciliate me. Graceful as a deer was Nazoro, and a good Askari lost in a better operating-room boy. This was my morning greeting as I peeped in before breakfast to see that the operating theatre was swept and garnished for the day's work. "Good morning," said Elizabeth, looking up from the steriliser where she was preparing instruments for the morning operations.

Educated partly in England and speaking the language perfectly, she hated us only a little less than the other Germans. But she was good at her job and conscientious, and a very great help to us. Always as cheerful as one could expect a woman to be who worked for the English soldiers and dressed the wounds of men to fit them to return to the field to fight against her people again. Who knows that the tall Rhodesian, from whose feet she so skilfully removed the "jiggers" and cleansed the wounds of a long trek, would not, all the sooner for her care, perhaps be drawing a bead upon her husband in the near future? Very proud was Elizabeth of her husband's Iron Cross that the Kaiser had sent by wireless only last week; news of which was told to her by a wounded prisoner just brought in. For her husband, who, to judge from his wife's description, must have been quite a good fellow for a Hun, was in command of one of the "Schutzen" companies down near the Rufigi. He, too, had lived long in England to learn the ways of English shipping companies that would prove of such value to the Deutsch Ost-Afrika Line. So jubilant was she at the news that I had to give her a half-holiday to recover; twice only in the four months we worked together was Elizabeth as happy: once when she got a letter, by the infinite kindness of General Smuts, from her husband, and another time when a letter came from Switzerland to tell her of her baby in Hamburg, her mother, and the two brothers that were in the cavalry in the advance into Russia. At first, I must confess, I thought that this charming and intelligent lady had offered to work for us, especially as she refused our pay, in order to get information of the regiments and the prevailing diseases and sick rate of our army. Soon I had reason to know that she played the game, and stayed only in order to work to help the prisoners of her own people, and our wounded too. For any day her husband might want help from us or might be brought in wounded to our hospital, where she could nurse and tend to him herself. Our men liked to be attended by her, for she was gentler far than I and never short-tempered with them.

Nazoro we found in chains on our arrival for the offence of having attacked a German, and only his usefulness in the operating theatre saved him from the prison. In spite of the disapproval of Elizabeth and other Germans, I struck off the chains, feeling that he very probably had good excuse for his offence. But the Germans never failed to point out what a dangerous man he was. Once indeed he was slack and casual, so I promptly ordered him to be "kibokoed," and thereafter I could find no fault in his work and behaviour. Possessed of three wives, for he was passing rich on sixteen rupees a month, he asked one day for leave to celebrate the arrival of his first son. This I granted, only to be assailed a fortnight later by requests for leave to attend his grandmother's funeral, and to see a sick friend. But these had a familiar ring about them, and were not successful in procuring the lazy day that is so beloved by African humanity.

But Ali was of a different mould; small and slight and anxious to please, he was nevertheless swift to leave his work when once my back was turned. Forsaken in love--for he had been deserted by his wife--he had forsworn the sex and buried his sorrows in "Pombe," the Kaffir beer that effectually deprived him of what little intelligence he had. He was a "fundi" at taking out jiggers, and sat for hours at the feet of our foot-soldiers; quickly adopting an air of authority that occasionally brought him swift blows from East African troopers, who do not tolerate easily such airs in a native, he produced the unbroken jigger flea with unfailing regularity and prescribed the pail of disinfectant in which the tortured feet were soaked. Another long suit of his was the bandage machine, and the hours he could steal away from real work were spent in endless windings of washed though much stained bandages.

The German women hated us far more even than did the men; nor did those who, like Elizabeth, knew England, fail to believe any the less the German stories of English wickedness. When I told her of Portugal's entry into the war, and how our ancient and hereditary ally had handed over to England sixty out of the seventy-one German ships she had taken in her ports, Elizabeth snorted with rage and said that England, of course, forced all the little nations to fight against Germany.

One of my friends, and not the least welcome, was Corporal Nel. A Boer, he had come up from the Union with Brits. Tiring of war, he chose the nobler part played by the guard that cherishes German captured cattle. Swiftly losing his job owing to an outbreak of East Coast fever among his herd, he took to a vagabond's life. Wanted by the police in the Union, I am told, he avoided his regiment and lived with the natives. Forced to come to me one night with an attack of angina pectoris, he was grateful for the ease from suffering that amyl-nitrite, morphia and brandy gave in that exquisitely painful affliction. Accordingly he consented to organise some natives who should be armed with passes signed by me, and illuminated with Red Crosses and other impressive signs, and collect eggs and chickens and fruit for my patients in hospital. So impressed were the natives with the Ju-Ju conferred by my illumination of these passes with coloured chalks, that they brought me a daily and most welcome supply of these necessaries for our men. But the arm of the Law is long, and it sought out Corporal Nel within the native hut in which he made his home. And soon, to my sorrow and the infinite grief of our lambs in hospital, for whom those eggs, chickens, mangoes, and bananas spelt so much in the way of change of food, the Provost Sergeant had this wanderer in his chitches.

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