Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

an unenviable reputation as a slaver, to-day his attitude to wards mankind is most benign. Because of the immense political influence that he wields, the British Authorities were anxious at that time to keep very much on the right side of him, and he was treated with great respect. He lived with his several wives in a large house on the outskirts of the town. Included in a draft of soldiers recently sent out from home were a number of exMetropolitan policemen and one of these had been attached to the local A.P.M.'s staff for military police duties. The story goes that one night this

was walking his beat quite close to the Liwale's house, when suddenly he heard

Quickly

a woman's shrieks. his mind flew back to familiar and similar happenings down the Whitechapel Road, and without bothering to knock he rushed into the house, to find the Liwale engaged in the very ordinary Eastern practice of beating one of his wives. Very much to the dear old gentleman's surprise and disgust, he was promptly collared by the soruff of the neck and frog-marched off to the Boma. It was far too late to wake the A.P.M., so without ceremony he was thrown into a nasty unclean cell and left to ponder over the strange ways of the white man until day break. What the A.P.M. said when he discovered the identity of his prisoner is unrecorded history.

XIV. THE RUFIJI REVISITED.

As soon as the new aerodrome was ready the machines were wheeled up, and flying commenced once more. The Kibata garrison was reinforced a few days after Christmas, and the Germans slowly retired towards the Rufiji, abandoning most of their artillery on the way. Clowe and I on one occasion had the good fortune to discover a number of Hans trying to rescue one of their big 41's which had slipped over the edge of the road into a swamp. We had only one bomb, but Clowe dropped it with such good effect that the porters and cattle harnessed to the gun stampeded, and fled terrorstricken into the forest. This

VOL. COVII.—NO. MCCLI.

gun was found later by our infantry. Our reconnaissances now became much longer, and took us frequently as far north as the Rufiji. The whole of the country over which we had to fly was mountainous, and clad in impenetrable bush or forest. I usually flew with the Old 'Un on these occasions, and we had many thrilling experiences. Once when we were immediately over Utete, one of the largest German camps on the river, an exhaust valve snapped. The vibration was so terrifio that we prepared to land in an open space quite near to the camp, but my pilot had such an intense abhorrence of Hun prisons (he had had six months in Ger

E

many before he escaped) that he decided to push on and risk having to crash in the mountains. As a matter of fact we got back quite safely, but the mechanics found two cylinders seized up when they came to examine the engine.

In order that we might extend the range of our reconnaissances farther west it was decided to make an aerodrome at Tscheremo, a village nearly 40 miles up the Matandu river. The Old 'Un and I went out by car, selected a fairly good site, and left Sergeant Smith to prepare it. One morning & few days after, we packed our blankets into the machine and said farewell to the Flight for a few days. We had no difficulty in locating the new aerodrome, but on landing we found it very small, and the ground so soft and sandy that there seemed to be much doubt as to whether the machine would be able to get off the ground in sufficient time to clear the tall trees that fringed the open space. However, the reconnaissance was important, and we decided to risk it. That afternoon we climbed into our seats, Sergeant Smith swung the propeller, and a number of niggers held on to the planes and tail until the engine was running full out; then at a signal they let go and we started to move slowly -horribly slowly-forward. Gradually, however, our speed increased, and at last the wheels left the ground, but not until we had practically reached the extremity of the aerodrome. The trees were

not 50 yards away, their topmost branches high above our heads, and there was no gap between them through which we might pass. It was too late to turn back, and my heart came into my mouth as the machine suddenly shot upwards in a mighty zoom, leapt clean over a tall mango tree, the wheels actually clipping off several thin branches, and dived again just on the point of stalling. Luckily for us the forest was not continuous; beyond the trees was an open glade through which we flew until the machine had gathered sufficient speed to climb slowly into the free air. A bouquet of mango leaves still clung affectionately to the undercarriage, and we gasped with relief as we realised what a narrow squeak it had been.

own

We now turned north-west, taking a bee-line for Kitandi, a large village lying to the west of the Kibata Mountains and occupied by our troops. Half-way there we saw a magnificent bull sable antelope standing in the forest. The sight made us gnash our teeth with envy, for sable is one of the most greatly sought after of the East African antelopes. It watched us with a most bewildered air and did not attempt to move. Elephant tracks ran in all direotions, and it was quite easy to see what damage they do even to the largest trees, many of which were torn down.

From Kitandi a narrow track runs westwards towards Mahenge (then the German Headquarters), and with diffioulty we followed this through

Huns were evidently retiring, and they had set fire to their vast stores of flour and rice lest we should seize them. The view over the river was very fine; swollen with recent rains, it looked quite different from the Rufiji I had seen last November on my trip with Albu from Tulo. The Old 'Un had long since decided not to risk another landing at Tscheremo, and after I had completed my notes we turned for Kilwa, which we reached without further adventure as dusk

the almost impenetrable bush
for nearly 30 miles without
seeing any sign of the enemy.
Eventually we turned back in
disgust; negative information
frequently is more useful to
the Staff than positive infor-
mation, but the collecting of it
is a very uninteresting task
for the observer. The Old
'Un seemed very fed up, and
I was not at all surprised to
see him now turn the machine
in the direction of Utete on
the Rufiji river. We reached
this in due course and found
the whole camp ablaze. The was falling.

XV. THE TOLL OF THE TROPICS.

The rains were now becoming heavier and more frequent, and the toll in sickness increased accordingly. Most of us, too, were suffering from prickly heat, a most diabolical form of irritant rash that attacks one's back and the most inaccessible regions of one's anatomy. There was no eure for it, apparently, except a change of climate, and the only way to obtain temporary relief was to lie in one's bed while Maganga operated with Taleum powder. Before long the Old 'Un, Clowe, and myself were the only officers left in the Flight, and the Squadron could hold out no promise of reinforcements, as conditions were very much the same in the other Flights.

One extra pilot, Botterel, arrived eventually, and at the first opportunity I went out with him in order to show him round, as he had not previously flown in East Africa.

One always felt very superior to all people who had just come out, although this man had flown for a year on the Western Front. I was therefore anxious that we should have a successful reconnaissance. We had.

After dedging the most terrifie thunderstorms for nearly an hour, I spotted the enemy camp many miles west of Tscheremo, of which the Staff desired to have sketch. The trench line was particularly clear, and I was prised to notice the askaris working away upon it quite unperturbed by our presence. Unluckily (?) we had no bombs, or

sur

perhaps we might have disturbed their tranquillity of mind somewhat. At the end of ten minutes I congratulated myself on having made decent map, and feeling very satisfied I gave the signal to make for home. Five minutes later, when I examined my

official map with the usual liberal allowance for inaceuracies, it suddenly dawned on me with a cold shudder that the camp I had reconnoitred successfully was one of our own. I felt myself blushing with shame, and the fact that it would have been impossible on account of the elouds to have proceeded farther was no consolation at all.

For the next few days the rain put an effective stop to all flying operations. The heat and the mosquitoes became worse and worse. There was not a man in the Flight who was not down with malaria for at least three days in each week. Flight-Sergeant Grant did the work of half

[ocr errors]

dozen men, and A. M. Miles, in charge of photography, had to carry out the duties of engineman, rigger, sailmaker, and cook, in addition to his own work. Ser

geant Smith W&8 still in charge of the aerodrome at Tscheremo, and there he was likely to remain for some time, as all road transport had broken down. The difficulties of carrying on the campaign under such conditions may well be imagined. News filtered through that the Germans had been driven from the Mgeta river down to the Rufiji, and that our troops had actually crossed the latter. But it soon became patent to us all that General Smuts's Great Push, from which we had all expected so much, had failed. The German Army was still intact; compared with ourselves they were in a favourable position. Their latest

retirement had merely meant the shortening of their lines of communication, with no corresponding shortening of our own front. It was now too late to organise a fresh offensive, and it was doubtful if we could make good our recent territorial gains, for in another fortnight the whole of the unhealthy Rufiji valley would be flooded.

One day Mossop arrived by air from Tulo, a very creditable piece of cross-country flying. He had come for General Hoskins, who was now to take over the command of the Expeditionary Force from General Smuts. They left the next morning, and we were very relieved to hear by wire of their safe arrival a few hours later.

General Hoskins from the first had been very enthusiastic about aeroplanes, and there can be no doubt that had he had his way we should have been able to carry out operations on tions on a far grander and more successful scale. The task which lay before him now was a hopeless one. Without big reinforcements to replace the recent heavy casualties in the Rufiji valley, it was doubtful if we should be able to hold on to our gains. Men were dying like flies from malaria and dysentery, transport had broken down, and the hospital accommodation was far from being adequate. And this was only the beginning of the heaviest and longest rainy season East Africa had experienced for over twenty years!

Owing to the intense heat

one

the aerodrome was about as Kissiwani. There was far as could walk in other patient, Captain Gmoderate comfort, and even of the K.A.R., suffering from when clad in the flimsiest malaria and dysentery, and the attire one always returned terrific jolting of the car on wet through with perspiration. the bumpy road caused him Never by any chance was one's dreadful agonies. Poor chap, skin dry day or night, and the he died in the next cot to enervating effect of these con- my own the first night out ditions may be imagined. to sea. Just before noon the At last the dreaded symp- ship's engines were stopped, toms of malaria made their apand his emaciated body, pearance. Without a moment's sewn in a sailor's hammock, notice, immediately after lunch was dropped into the olear one day I commenced to shiver. blue depths of the Indian A strong tot of whisky, a hot- Ocean. He had been fighting water bottle, and six blankets since the beginning of the war made no difference at all, until in Flanders, as well as East late in the afternoon when the Africa, and it was hard to reaction set in, and then I think that he should die like seemed to melt. When my that. I heard the "Last temperature reached 105° I Post" sound on the deck above, thought that I'd better get and I thought of that terse down to hospital, and that's sad message already speeding where I woke up two days its way home to Englandlater. Malaria, at any rate, helps one to forget one's other troubles.

At the end of the week I was vastly surprised to see the Old 'Un himself stagger into the ward, for he had sworn a mighty oath that he would never get fever. However, he did not stay longer than a couple of days, and he was soon busy flying again.

"Died-on active service !" The engines started again, and the work of the ship and the medical staff went on as before. A nurse was smiling as she dressed an officer's wounds; in the next ward a gramophone commenced 8 selection from the latest musical comedy; through an open port-hole I could see the little blue waves dancing in the sunshine, and never before had I felt such a conscientious objection to war.

Personally I was feeling very played out, and was not exceedingly grieved when I was told that I should be transferred to Daresalam. I shall never forget that journey in a Ford ambulance to Kilwa hospital.

Two days later we arrived at Daresalam, and I was carried immediately into into the base

(To be continued.)

« AnteriorContinuar »