Sketches of the East Africa Campaign

Sketches of the East Africa Campaign

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THIS ARMY OF OURS

Since Alexander of Macedon descended upon the plains of India, there can never have been so strange and heterogeneous an army as this, and a doctor must speak with the tongues of men and angels to arrive at an even approximate understanding of their varied ailments. The first division that came with Jan Smuts from the snows of Kilimanjaro to the torrid delta of the Rufigi contained them all.

The real history of the war begins with Smuts; for, prior to his coming, we were merely at war; but when he came we began to fight. A brief twenty-four hours in Nairobi, during which he avoided the public receptions and the dinners that a more social chief would have graced; then he was off into the bush. Wherever that rather short, but well-knit figure appeared, with his red beard, well streaked with grey, beneath the red Staff cap, confidence reigned in all our troops. And to the end this trust has remained unabated. Many disappointments have come his way, more from his own mounted troops than from any others; but we have felt that his tactics and strategy were never wrong. Thus it was that from this heterogeneous army, Imperial, East African, Indian and South African, he has had a loyalty most splendid all the time. He may have pushed us forward so that we marched far in advance of food or supplies, thrust us into advanced positions that to our military sense seemed very hazardous. But he meant "getting a move on," and we knew it; and all of us wished the war to be over. Jan Smuts suffered the same fever as we did, ate our food, and his personal courage in private and most risky reconnaissances filled us with admiration and fear, lest disaster from some German patrol might overtake him. To me the absence of criticism and the loyal co-operation of all troops have been most wonderful. For we are an incurably critical people, and here was a civilian, come to wrest victory from a series of disasters.

First in interest, perhaps, as they were ever first in fight, are the Rhodesians, those careless, graceful fellows that have been here a year before the big advance began. Straight from the bush country and fever of Northern Rhodesia, they were probably the best equipped of all white troops to meet the vicissitudes of this warfare. They knew the dangers of the native paths that wound their way through the thorn bush, and gave such opportunities for ambush to the lurking patrol. None knew as they how to avoid the inviting open space giving so good a field of fire for the machine-gun, that took such toll of all our enterprises. With them, too, they brought a liability to blackwater fever that laid them low, a legacy from Lake Nyasa that marked them out as the victims of this scourge in the first year of the big advance.

The Loyal North Lancashires, too, have borne the heat and burden of the day from the first disastrous landing at Tanga. Always exceedingly well disciplined, they yield to none in the amount of solid unrewarded work done in this campaign.

Of the most romantic interest probably are the 25th Royal Fusiliers, the Legion of Frontiersmen....