New Zealand Tablet, Rōrahi XXIX, Putanga 25, 20 Pipiri 1901, Page 1
Realities of Campaigning. Arm-chair heroes and the unthinking mob have a senseless habit of tossing up their caps and huzzaing when the band begins to play for war, and again as they go forth with clamorous throats and waving flags when Johnny comes marching home. The thoughtless wights are caught by the short-lived pomp and circumstances of glorious war — by the cheap tinsel and the gew-gaws that hang as a glistening fringe to
. . . That noble trade That demi-goda and heroes made — Slaughter and knocking on the head. There is but little thought for the grim realities of war — the march, the sodden bed of rain-soaked earth upon the open veldt, dysentery, camp-fever, festering wounds, raging thirst and hunger, hall-nakedness, and the thousand-and-one hardships and discomforts attendant upon campaigning in our day. The most realistic picture we have seen oi the men on the march is from the pen of Dr. Andersen, an Australian surgeon who, fired with military enthusiasm, threw up his practice, joined the Yeomanry, and served with Rundle's Division, otherwise known as the 'Starving Kighth.' His description of the battles, sieges, fortunes through which his Division passed appeared in one of the latest issues to hand of the London Times. It has somewhat of the realism of a kinematographic picture, and has attracted considerable notice in the English press. We extract from it the following black-on-white picture of the men on the march.
* 'The day's march,' says Dr. Andersen, 'begins when the stars are still winking in a cold, keen sky, and with a whitefaced moon doing sentry-go in the cloud-gaps. Clatter, clatter, clatter ! and the yeomen are moving through the camp to the front to take up their position as advance-guard. With the dawn the advance-guard breaks up like a swarm of ants when the precocious schoolboy heaves a stone among them. Away they go, dotting the yellow veldt, skirting kopjes, and searching dongas, at any moment liable to be swept into eternity by the spiteful bullet of the sniper. Up in the front the going is comparatively pleasant, for there you miss the convoy dust, and you have, in addition, the musical tss, tss, tss, of the guns to cheer you on your way. Down in the rear it is awful. It is Hades all the way to the rearguard ; dust and the stench of dead bullocks ! The heat is terrible.
* 1 The little ragged men from Manchester,' he continues, ' look no longer to heaven for help. They hang their heads and drag their lagging feet across the dusty leagues of veldt. It is like following a funeral in Inferno. Not one of these haggard men utter a word ; each is a machine, a poor wornout, broken-down affair, trailing in the dust of 500 waggons and countless trek-oxen. They are creeping along at the rate of two miles an hour and hoping to catch De Wet. Yesterday the mail arrived. It was full of legends about tons of clothing for the troops and countless comfortable boots. The day's
march reveals the truth. Half the Manchesters have no soles ; dozens have no boots at all, and are limping along bare-footed or with a puttee wrapped round the bleeding sole. Clothing! Go and ask the Staffords about the clothing. Ask that man with the hole in his trousers large enough for a church window. There are seven devils in that man's stomach, and they will answer for him and make his tongue red-hot with oaths. Ask that man with the tattered sack round his loins. Clothing, forsooth ! Ask yet another ! — that poor devil trailing along in the dust and the blinding glare of a noonday sun. He is good enough. He wears a thick army cloak all the way because he has no trousers at all. Kind, gentle, civilised, British public ! Your sons are down in South Africa tramping the red leagues with bleeding feet, and clothed like an Italian organ-grinder's monkey in prehistoric times. Well . . . the little ragged yellow men are.dumb and silent through it all.
' The men,' says the doctor- trooper, ' have had nothing to drink so far. Four hours' marching, and no water ! Six hours, and still no water ! Not because there was none in the land. Oh, no ! Two hours ago the convoy crossed a clear, limpid stream ; but the commanding officer, crop-full with a good breakfast, did not think it wise to halt. No one was allowed to fall out. The officer had whisky and water in his bottle. The private's tongue was dry and swollen, his lips cracked — too cracked for speech. And so he still tramps on, dumb and silent through it all. Here is a yeoman struggling to keep in his saddle. The day's march has its troubles and its trials for him also. He has lost a lot of blood lately: he suffers from dysentery. Yesterday he went to the Yeomanry medico, who advised the yeoman to take brandy and milk . The doctor knew very well that there was a drop of neither in the land, save in the officers' mess. And so the yeoman went back to his lines to lose more blood— a flesh-offering to the great, pious British public. But he, too, has learnt to be dumb and silent. For Tommy Atkins has taught him how to suffer. And Tommy has no horse.' Thus far Dr. Andersen. Samuel Butler has it that A. skilful leech ia better far Than half a hundred men of war. And so, in effect, Homer sang long before, when he told of the wounds of the warrior-surgeon Machaon. But even in war an army doctor needs a human heart within his bosom, and a well filled medicine-chest within his reach. And the Yeomanry medico's callous a<fvice to the suffering trooper recalls the mocking charity of those who — in St. James's Epistle— say to the naked and the hungry : ' " Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled " ; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body.' War gives some men the heart of a Sister of Charity. It turns others into Frankensteins.
Here is a parting extract from Dr. Andersen's narrative, which rounds off the story of one section of the march by telling something of the first halt. • Then comes the halt,' he writes, ' and the little ragged men drop down on the burning veldt like weary cattle. By and by, fifty yards from the camp, the halting place is dotted with bare backs bent over blue shirts. Continuous inspection of one's garments on active
service is the only way to keep them on your back. Biscuit and water is the mid-day feast on the march, the regular sacrament of the war-god.'