is the largest online archive of world war 1 photographs and texts. the Archive of World War 1 Photographs and Texts
History of World War 1 The Western Front The Russian Front Italian Front The Middle East Air Warfare War at Sea
A First World War Soldier

Prev | Next | Contents


The missionaries and the Allied civilians released from Tabora have the usual tale to tell of German beastliness, of white men forced to dig roads and gardens, wheel barrows and other degrading work under the guard of native soldiers, insulted, humiliated, degraded before the native Askaris at the instance of German officers and N.C.O.s in charge. The Italian Consul-General working in the roads! We may forget all this: it is in keeping with our soft and sentimental ways. But will the French? Will Italy forgive? There will be no weakness there when the day of reckoning comes. All this we had from the Commission of Inquiry in Morogoro and Mombasa that sat to take evidence. Gentle nurses of the Universities' English Mission, missionary ladies who devoted a lifetime in the service of the Huns and the natives in German East, locked up behind barbed wire for two years, without privacy of any kind, constantly spied upon in their huts at night by the native guard, always in terror that the black man, now unrestrained, even encouraged by his German master, should do his worst. Can you wonder that they kept their poison tablets for ever in their pockets that they might have close at hand an end that was merciful indeed compared with what they would suffer at native hands? So with many tears of relief they cast friendly Death into the bushes as the Askaris fled before the dust of our approaching columns. Do you blame gentle Sister Mabel that she would never speak to any Hun in German, using only Swahili and precious little of that?

Far worse the story told by the broken Indian soldiers, prisoners since the fight at Jassin, left abandoned, half dead with dysentery and fever, by the Germans on their retreat to Mahenge. A commission of inquiry held by British officers of Native Indian regiments elicited the facts. The remains of two double companies, one Kashmiris, the other Bombay Grenadiers, to the number of 150, were brought to Morogoro and there farmed out to German contractors. Here they toiled on the railway, clearing the land, bringing in wood from the jungle building roads, half starved and savagely ill-treated. They might burn with fever or waste their feeble strength in dysentery, it made no difference to their brutal jailers. To be sick was to malinger in German eyes: so they got "Kiboko" and their rations reduced, because, forsooth, a man who could not work could also not eat. To "Kiboko" a prisoner of war and an Indian soldier is a flagrant offence against the laws of war. But to the contractor there were no laws but of his making, and he laid on thirty lashes with the rhinoceros hide Kiboko to teach these stiff-necked "coolies" not to sham again. And as these soldiers lay half dead with fever on the road, their German jailers gave orders that their mouths and faces be defiled with filth, a crime unspeakable to a Moslem. Will the Mohammedan world condone this? The fruit of this treatment was that eighty of these wretched soldiers died and were buried at Morogoro. But these prisoners, on their release, marching through the streets caught sight of two of their erstwhile jailers walking in freedom and security and going about then daily avocations as if there was no war. These Germans had, of course, told our Provost Marshal that they were civilians, and never had or intended to take part in the war. So these two men on their word, the word of a Prussian, mark you well, were allowed all the privileges of freedom in Morogoro. One of them, Dorn by name, a hangdog ruffian, owned the house we took over as a mess, and tried to get receipts from us for things we took for the hospital, that really belonged to other people.

But the Indian soldiers' evidence was the undoing of Dorn and his fellow-criminal. Arrested and put into jail, they were sent to Dar-es-Salaam for trial by court-martial on the evidence. How the guard hoped that an attempt to escape would be made, such an attempt as was so often the alleged reason for the shooting of so many of our English prisoners. The sense of discipline in the Indian troops was such that, no matter how great the temptation to avenge a thousand injuries and the unexampled opportunity offered by a long railway journey through dense bush, they delivered their prisoners safe in Dar-es-Salaam. It is said that nothing would persuade Dorn and his comrade to leave the safe shelter of the railway truck. No, they did not want to go for a walk in the bush, they would stay in the truck, thank you! No matter how great the invitation to flight was offered by an open door and the temporary disappearance of the guard. Do you think these two ruffians will get the rope? I wonder.

The other day at Kissaki the Germans sent back ten of our white prisoners, infantry captured at Salaita Hill, Marines from the Goliath. All these weary months the Huns had dragged these wretched prisoners all over the country. And yet there are some who tell us that the German is not such a Hun here as he is in Europe. The fact is he is worse, if possible, inconceivably arrogant and cruel at first, incredibly anxious to conciliate our prisoners when the tide had turned and vengeance was upon him. Burning by fever by day, chilled by tropic dews at night, these poor devils had been harried and kicked and cursed and ill-used by Askaris and insulted by native porters all that long retreat from Moschi to Kissaki and beyond. No "machelas" for them if they were ill, no native hammocks to carry them on when their poor brains cried out against the malaria that struck them down in the noonday sun. Kicked along the road or left to die in the bush, these the only two alternatives. And the beasts were kinder than the Huns: they at least took not so long to kill. Forced to do coolie labour, to dig latrines for native soldiers, incredibly humiliating, such was their lot! Many of them died by the roadside. Many died for want of medicine. There was no lack of drugs for Germans, but there was need for economy where prisoners were concerned. What more natural than that they should keep their drugs for their own troops? Who could tell their pressing need in months to come? But the indomitable ones they kept and keep them still. Only yesterday they released the naval surgeon captured on the pseudo-hospital ship Tabora in Dar-es-Salaam. Did he get the treatment that custom ordains an officer should have, or did he also dig latrines and cook his bit of dripping meat over a wood fire like a "shenzy" native? I leave that to you to answer. How could we tell he was a doctor? that is the Huns' excuse. "He only had a blue and red epaulet on his white drill tunic, there was no red cross on his arm." But apparently after twenty months they discovered this essential fact. And what was left of him struggled into our lines under a white flag the other day. But here, as in Germany, not all the Huns were Hunnish. Some there were who cursed Lettow and the war in speaking to the prisoners, and, in private talks, professed their tiredness of the whole beastly campaign. But these, our men noticed, were ever the quickest to "strafe," always the first to rail and upbraid and strike when a German officer was near.

Fed on native food, chewing manioc, mahoja for their flour, the ground their bed, so they existed; but ever in their captive hearts was the knowledge that we were coming on, behind them ever the thunder of our guns, the panic flights of their captors, timid advances from native soldiers, unabashed tokens of conciliation from the Europeans alternating with savage punishment. This was meat and drink indeed to them. Cheerfully they endured, for Nemesis was at hand. How they chuckled to see the German officer's heavy kit cut down to one chop box, native orderlies cut off, fat German doctors waddling and sweating along the road? Away and ever away to the south, for the hated "Beefs" were after them, coming down relentlessly from the north. Even a lay brother, "Brother John," they kept until the other day. And their stiff-necked prisoners refused to receive the conciliatory amelioration of their lot that would be offered one day, to be, for no apparent reason, withdrawn the next. "No, thank you, we don't want extra food now! We really don't need a native servant now, we will still do our own fatigues. No. We don't want to go for a walk. We've really been without all these things for so long that we don't miss them now. Anyhow it won't be for long," they said.

The German commandant turned away furiously after the rejection of his olive branch. For he knew now that his captives knew that the game was up, and it gave him food for thought indeed.

Prev | Next | Contents