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HOSPITAL NEGLECT., New Zealand Times, Volume LXXI, Issue 4453, 5 September 1901
THE CASE OF THE LATE TROVER SAXON. (By Alfred C. Morton.) Since returning from South Africa (where I had tho honour to represent the "New Zealand Times’’ -and ‘'Mail”), my attention has been drawn to a letter signed by “Joe Reginald Sommerville,” Lieut— Colonel, Fourth Contingent, which appeared in your issue of the 16th April last, re tho treatment of the late Trooper Saxon, who died at Beira in June of last year; and as the writer of the said letter practically denies every statement made by me concerning this case (“.Nov Zealand Times” August Ist, 1900), and thereby casts serious reflections on my veracity as a journalist and a man, I trust you will allow me space to defend myself. But I would have it distinctly understood at the outset that, apart from a determination to uphold the truth, and, at the same time, to respect the expressed wish of the unfortunate young man’s fatner to know “the truth,” I have no desire whatever to re-open this unpleasant subject, though I certainly feci that it is a matter which should receive serious attention.
It will be remembered that in a letter dated -Marandollas, 24th July. 1900, I stated that Saxon, a helpless invalid at the time, had neon shamefully neglected—that I found him alone and nigh unto death, on a bed of straw in an old shed (used as a military hospital), without food, attention or necessaries of any kiud, (he Fourth Contingent, to which he belonged, having entrained for Mar. andellas ; that I renorted the matter to the staff officers (Captain Hasler and Lieut. Andrews), who sent a message through mo to Quartermaster Mnsterman to detail some of his men to remove the invalid to the hospital ship Augur (which instructions wero carried out); that Saxon died a few days later, and that I was strongly of the opinion that tho unfortunate young fellow’s “death was largely, if not entirely, duo to neglect,” my reasons being stated. It is more than a year since I first made those statements, but neither time nor distance from the scene of poor Saxon’s sad fate will ever efface from my memory tho disgraceful circumstances associated with his death ; and with all the truth and force that is within mo, 1 reiterate the facts as related in my letter to the “Times” of July 24th, 1900. 1 do so, however, without wishing deliberately to cast reflections on anyone, for I don’t profess to know what was done by others in connection with the case; I only know whnt was not done, and those interested must draw tincir own conclusions from the facts before them. But as Colonel Sommerville has brought his own name, together with that of Captain-Surgeon Walt, into tho question, and has also mentioned that “one of the farriers” had something to do with tho case. I now feel at liberty to use these gentlemen’s names and to give a few additional particulars, necessitated by Colonel Sonimerville’s own statements.
lii his explication—which, to my mind, is a very muddled affair —this gentleman (Colonel Sommervillo) says:—l. “The young fellow had felt the fever coming on a day or two before we left, but would not report himself on the sick list. . - . On the evening before we left Saxon wont into hospital, and Dr Watt reported to him that he (Saxon) would not bo able to go with the Contingent to Marnndcllas.” 2. That he “visited tno hospital on the morning we (the contin. gent) left. . . . Saxon at that time was not very ill.” 3. That he “saw a case of lemonade and some bananas close to Saxon.” 4. That he “arranged with Captain-Snrgeon Watt to send Saxon to the hospital ship, and ho (Dr Watt) detailed someone to see him on board ” (the prosumptiotr. of course, being that as Saxon was “not very ill,* 5 and was able to walk on the previous evening, he would be able to walk to the hospital ship). 5. That he “arranged with Captain Hasler (staff officer) to send a trollv and four niggers to ‘take Saxon aboard’.’’ and he is “sure this was done.” 6. That he is “perfectly satisfied that poor Saxon was not neglected in any way, and that ho was sent (not taken) to the hospital ship a short time after the Contingent left the camp.” 7. That “it is a libel to say that the officers did not go over to see their men in the hospital.” 8. That he “saw that the men got every comfort that tho doctor thought good for them.” These are the only points in Colonel Sommervillo’s letter which call for attention, and I will deal with them in the order in which they occur.
Now, (1) apart from Saxon’s own tcs_ timony, as well as that of many of his comrades (whom I interviewed irnme. diateiy afterwards), to my own personal knowledge he ras sick and in the hospital many days before the date stated, for I saw him mvself and f ; noke to him, too (it was my custom to visit the hospital dailv. often several times), and if necessary I can produce absolute (documentary) proof of this. (2.) If Saxon was “not very ill,” as stated, why was he not taken- on with the rest of the patients f (Thoro were quite a number; some were “not very ill,” but others, again, were very ill—-really too ill to travel, but any of them would have risked a good deal to get out of Beira, which was a most unhealthy place.) My answer to this querv is that ho was so ill that he could not bear his own weight, much less walk (he was the only one who could not do so), and consequently was left behind. Again, if he was in the “not very ill” condition described, where was the necessity for the “trolly and four niggers” mentioned (see paragraph 5)? Putting my own knowledge of the case aside, I have independent (documentary) evidence that Saxon was as “helpless a s a child” when taken on board the ship and that he was “delirious and uncoru scious” almost all the time from that hour till he died. Can it reasonable be contended that this condition, from “not very ill” to-helplessness, was induced in an hour or two ?
(3.) If Colonel Sommerville saw “a case of lemonade and some oananas” close to Saxon on this occasion, then I sav, thanks only to the man’s own efforts and ability to pay for them, for these luxuries were only suggested by the invalids’ own cravings, and were only provided bv themselves, and at their own expense (I myself several times acted as messenger for the patients); a nd the men frequently complained of the unfairness of having to provide necessary food for themselves, and as pay was not always forthcoming when due, some of them must have felt the pinch severelv. Twopence was all the money found with poor Smxon’s effects. Anyhow, there certainly was no sign of the luxuries mentioned when I visited Saxon on the occasion, in question; indeed, there was nothing in the shape of aliment except scraps of stale food —biscuit, • bread, and “bully beef,” empty -fish tins, etc.—scattered about with dirty utensils on the floor, and black with flies. The scene generally greatly impressed me, and poor Saxon assured me, idth what proved to be his dying breath, that he had not had any. thing whatever to eat since the previous day (it is immaterial to mention refreshments supplied just immediately before this by Hardham and mvself), when hifij££fc,and only meal consisted of a drop %
of tea and a piece of biscuit. He also said that he had been quite unable to eat the food (army rations) supplied; that when hunger forced him sometimes to eat a little, it always “mad© him worse,” and that it was this process of starvation that had made him so weak. (By the way, does starvation reduce a person to helplessness in a few hours?) "If,” he continued, "I had had food that I could have eaten, I wevuid have been strong enough to go away with the rest. But I hare been starved .'I was supposed to get becLte* and cornflour, but I only got it once or twice.” 1 asked him whv he did not complain, and be rejdied: "I did complain to the attendant once, but he told me to go to h—, and attend to myself if I was not satisfied.” I suppressed this language in my letter, but as I have been told that I “made too much of the case,” I think it just as well to uivo the actual facts. Those responsible for, this state of things really do not deserve any consideration, but I am deeply sorry to wound the feelings of the bereaved with such hard and cruel facts.
(4.) If Colonel Sommerville “arranged with Captain-Surgeon Watt to send Saxon to the hospital ship,” why was the poor follow nut sent straight away before the Contingent left ? Going back to paragraph 4. and accepting for the moment Colonel Sonunerville's statement that “Saxon went into the hospital on the evening before ' the Contingent left,” and remembering that bo (summerville) had been warned by Dr Watt j (paragraph 1) that the “not very ill” j patient would not be able to proceed to Marandellas, it, seems strange, *o say the least, that this was not done at once, that Upry evening; more especially in view of the fact that it was known then, and was actually issued in orders (usually out about 6 p.m.) that the camp would bo “struck,” and all would entrain for Marandellas on the following morning! It is true that “one of the farriers” (Far-rier-Sergeant Hardhum) was left behind, but, if this man’s own statements to me at the time were correct, he had received no instructions regarding Saxon. What he told me was that he and live others, whom 1 saw, had been left bohind to look after forty horses and aomo tons of camp equipment or stores, which had been unavoidably left behind by uie early train, there not being room; and I saw the horses in the “trucking yard” and the goods lying along the line packed up ready to place on the following train, which was to have picked them up. They, however, did not get away till late in the afternoon. I saw no reason whatever to doubt Jlardham’s statements —everything was quite in harmony with what ho and the others told me—and from my knowledge of the num and of the “boys” generally, I feel quite satisfied that if he, or any of the men that wore with him. had received instructions to remove Saxon, the order would have been carried out in the morning without delay. But, as a, matter of fact, they were quite unaware of the poor fellow’s presence in the shed, which stood a long distance away, in an isolated position at the hack of the paddock, till about 3 p.m., just before I interviewed them; and it was then too late to do anything, as the hospital ship was a long way off. even if thev had known what to do, and their train was momentarily expected. It was on this account that I remained behind, and undertook to attend to Saxon. When I last saw these men, they were “trucking” horses, and shortly afterwards their train passed me, hooked the trucks on and moved off. Saxon at this time was in the shed, or so-called hospital. I was therefore the last New Zealander to «eo him before his removal to the hospital .ship, and no one can deny this. As I have mentioned his name hero, I think it only fair to state that as soon as Hardham became aware of Saxon’s predicament be, at his own expense, provided the poor fellow with refreshments in the shape of ginger ale, biscuits, and a tin of preserved fruit, which latter, by the way, though it must have cost at least 3s, was about the worst thing he could have given the invalid, who was suffering from dysentery as well as fever, and, to further illustrate his condition, I may add that the fruit passed through him immediately, and without alteration. Hardham can hear me out in this.
Proceeding to the next paragraph (5), If Colonel Sommerville “arranged with Dr Watt to send Saxon on board the ship,” wherein lay the .necessity to “arrange with Captain Hasler” and trouble him with a matter so widely separated from the s taff officer's duties? .And surely ho (Sommerville) had enough white men at his command without calling unon four niggers to handle a sick man! This very act relieved Dr Watt of the responsibility alleged to have been cast upon him; but my only object is to show how inconsistent Colonel Sommerville’s statements are. And, as he must have been many miles away at the time, how can ho he “sure” that the “niggers” were sent, as requested? (6.) If Colonel Sommerville is “perfectly satisfied that poor Saxon was not neglected in any way,” all I can say is that I am sorry, very sorrv, indeed, that I cannot say “Amen” to this. And if I may not say that I am “perfectly satisfied” that he was neglected, then, the matter certainly resolves itself into the question, what constitutes neglect? Has this gentleman adduced any evidence to support this sweeping assertion ? And how can he bo “perfectly satisfied” Uiat the patiejit was sent to the hospital ship “a short” time after the Contingent left? As I was at Beira and Colonel Sommerville was not (ho must have been at Bamboo Creek, sixtv-one miles, away, at the time), I think I can, without presumption; claim to know more about tne hour Saxon was removed than this " en * tleman, and. unless the question what constitutes “a short time” in a case of sickness, be raised, I maintain that it was a long time after the Contingent loft. (7.) It may be “a libel” to say that the officers did not visit the sick men, but I can assure Colonel Sommerville that poor Saxon was not the only sick trooper who complained of the ’ndul -r----ence of tlie officers, though I only quoted his words; and although I am satisfied that a few of them took a real interest in their men, I am equally satisfied that others, again, we*) not at all attentive. These remarks, of course, apply more especially to Beira. but nudging hv my own experience of the effects of the climate there, it i s probable that they were not verv well themselves, or ma condition favourable to activity and the cultivation of sympathy. (8 ) If Colonel Sommerville saw that the sick men got every comfort that the doctor thought good for them, then all I can sav is that the doctor must hare thought'“no comforts” were “good for them,” for they got none at all—exeunt those they paid exorbitant prices for themselves —unless a drop of insipid beef tea or a cup of colourless, lumpy (and sometimes burnt) maizena occasionally mar be called such. I don’t think I ever once visited the hospital that I did not hear complaints about this; and I was often asked to “show this business up.” Indeed, the following plain language several times greeted my ears: “By , Morton, vou are no man if von don’t show this up. A nice way to treat sick men! ‘Bully beef’ and biscuits for sick men!” 'Tf you don’t show it up, bv -, I will.” “Wo have come to fight for our country, and
are treated like dogs.” Not wishing to create uneasiness among the young men’s relatives, and feeling that it would d 0 no good to “show it up,” as they would all be in healthier country long before my letter could be published. I did not mention these facts, and I only do so now to prove that I have strong ground to stand on, and at the same time to rebut the preposterous rumour which. I have been informed, is being circulated in private to the effect that I was actuated by ulterior motives in ‘'making this case up,” as it has been put. ’Without a perfectly clear conscience, I should hope to bo shot or drummed out of the country, for no man could bo guilty of a more despicable and cowardly act than that hinted at. The suggestion is so absurd, indeed, that I would not discuss it at all but for the seriousness of the accusation, and I dial, lenge anyone to come forward with one jot or tittle of evidence to justify such a conclusion. I was always on the best of terms with those in authority. In fact, I had to put something in the way of friendship aside to do what I conceived to be my duty; and remembering Colonel Sommorville’s many acts of kindness to me, I deeply regret to be at variance with him now. I may also state that during my illness at Beira Dr Watt was most attentive to me, and no man in the whole regiment holds a hielier place in my estimation than this gentleman. Though at times lie was somewhat inclined to laziness, which was probably induced by the olimato, and lacked firmness in giving his orders. Dr Watt, as far ns I could see, was always kind and attentive to those under his care. 1 think I should add, however, that my experience otherwise was similar to poor Saxon’s, inasmuch ns I did not got much “beet tea and cWn flour” dur. ing my illness, though Dr AVatfc on three different occasions gave orders, in my presence, that I was to get. these “comforts.” I only got “beef tea” twice—once when X sent my servant for it, and oa another occasion when I went for it myself ; and “cornflour” was supplied once. Someone came to my tent with a bucket half-full of it. A cup was dipped into the paste-like mixture and placed besido me, with almost as muoh sticking to the outside of the vessel as there was m it. and altogether it was not very palat. able. I only mention these facts because they bear poor Saxon’s n wn statements out. But I am digressing.
The very fact that 1 did not mention a word about the hospital management in any of my letters from lieiia', and remained silent for over six weeks—till some time after I heard of his death—proves in itself, if proof were needed, that I was most reluctant to move in the matter. I may say, however, that I did not intend t 0 let the matter pass unnoticed ; but Saxon especially request, od me not to mention his name, saying: “It would kill my poor old mother if she know how I am being treated,” and this placed me in a very awkward post, tion, for I could not disregard his request, and yet I knew that if I did not mention his name every mother who had a son in either regiment would picture her own “boy” in the condition describ. ed. So, as the unfortunate young man expressed his determination to make his case known himself, if ho recovered and got back safely to Now Zealand, I decided to let the matter stand over, hoping he would recover, hut the poor fel, low’s untimely end made my duty doubly clear, and I could no longer i%main silent. I sincerelv regret to say that I have been persecuted in various ways since thp publication of m.y letter, but I hope it was more through misunderstanding than anything else. I was even told that I would be “arrested” on arrival in New Zealand! I am here nevertheless, still at liberty, and quite prepared to face anyone—even those gentlemanly (!) officers who got others to do their ‘‘dirty work” for them, and if they have 'ay now I hope it will bo above thex,- own signatures. There are no “Star Chambers” in New Zealand, and I am not afraid of “the truth.”
Colonel Sommerville has in no way disproved my statements, but I would rather conclude that (having no particu. lar reason to mentally note the facts) he has got “muddled” than doubt his veracity (his ago demands some consideration); and I think it very probable that poor Saxon was forgotten in the hurry and excitement occasioned by the prospect of a long-looked-for and welcome change of scene. There is always a great deal of excitement in “striking” camp, and I know many things are forgotten. But the sad fact that someone has suffered still remains. Nor is it for me to say who is to blame. In conclusion, Ist me say that although Colonel Sommerville bore the hardships of the campaign like a soL dier and a man, and certainly set a good example to many%»iltfger men, the late Trooper Saxon was a brave, honest young fellow, and bore his illness manfully to the last. When I asked him how he felt he said ; “Oh, I am all right, thank you, Mr Morton; but I feel so dreadfully weak. I have a terrible pain in my head, too, but I would not mind that if I could only walk.” I consider ho was really in a dying condition at the time, and it is a libel to say that ha “gave way.” His very last _ words wore: “Give" me ray rifle and let ma shoot some of those Boers.”
HOSPITAL NEGLECT., New Zealand Times, Volume LXXI, Issue 4453, 5 September 1901
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