'Our Escape from'
'German South-West Africa'
Told by Corporal H. J. McElnea, late of the Imperial Light Horse, South Africa
Set down by J. Christie


Skipping Out on the Germans

a German camel-corps patrol


An echo of General Botha's brilliant campaign in German South-West Africa. Captured by the Germans during a skirmish, the author gleaned some information concerning the intentions of the enemy. Night and day he schemed to get away in order to give his superiors the news. Finally, with three companions, he essayed the task of escaping from the military prison at Franzfontein and making his way for over two hundred and fifty miles through a terrible region of uninhabited mountains and desert to Swakoptnund, where the British forces were in occupation. Lack of food and water, suffering of body and mind, blistering heat and extreme cold — the author experienced them all during his nightmare journey, which he related in the Wide World Magazine.


I — Story of the Imperial Light Horse

My squadron of the Imperial Light Horse, which had been operating for several months with Luderitzbucht, German South-West Africa, as a base, finally left on 13th December, 1914, with the Natal Carabiniers and two machine-guns. We went to Rooikop, where we camped for the night, and the following morning marched on to our advance camp at railhead. Here we found some infantry and mounted men belonging to the Kaffarian Rifles and Nesbitt's Horse. The force marched out from railhead at sundown, trekked all night, and arrived at Tchukaib at two o'clock in the morning. About half-past seven in the evening of the same day, after having watered our horses, we marched out, having left all spare kit, greatcoats, mess-tins, and so on, in camp. We travelled until about one o'clock in the morning, when we off-saddled, linked horses, and lay down to rest. In about two hours' time we got orders to up-saddle and move on. Strict orders were given not to strike matches, or make any unnecessary noise. We arrived within sight of Garub Station just before daylight on December 16th, 1914, and halted behind some kopjes for about half an hour or so.

During this halt most of us discarded our tunics and strapped them on our saddles. We then marched on, keeping to the north of the railway line, until about a mile beyond the railway station, where we passed the pumping-station, which had been completely destroyed by the enemy.

My troop (No. 2, D Squadron, Imperial Light Horse) now got orders to trot up in front of the column. We crossed the railway line and proceeded back towards the station, on the south of the line.

We were next instructed to march towards the kopjes to the southeast, and my section was sent in front, scouting. I rode on about six or seven hundred yards in front of the troop, and then I noticed some other men being sent forward, so I took the right flank with my section. We now crossed three sand-dunes. In crossing the third I noticed some fresh spoor, which indicated that the enemy had passed shortly before towards the kopjes in front. Just as we neared the top of the fourth dune a single shot rang out, and almost immediately after the Germans opened a murderous enfilading fire from rifles and machine-guns. I gave orders to my section to retire, and we galloped towards our troop, but had only covered about a hundred yards or so when my horse got hit and I fell heavily on my head.

How long I remained senseless I am unable to say, but when I regained consciousness I found I was not alone. Trooper Joyner, belonging to my section, lay about five yards from me, and nearer the enemy. I asked him if he was hit, but got no reply. I tried to raise myself, but felt a severe pain across the small of my back. My first thought was that I had been hit there, and I put my hand round, but could discover no indication of a wound. I then dragged myself forward towards Joyner, but when I got alongside him I saw that he was dying and quite beyond human aid. I decided the best thing to do was to get hold of my rifle, which was lying about seven yards to my rear.

Having secured the rifle, I banked up some sand with my hands and made a small sangar, behind which I took up my position. All this time heavy firing was going on, and bullets were continually dropping in the sand all around me. Our men had now got a Maxim in position immediately behind where I was lying, and there seemed to be a duel going on over my head between it and one of the enemy's machine-guns.

The Germans were very well concealed, and I could see little to shoot at, but I had an occasional "pot" at anything I thought was moving on the kopje. I afterwards found out that there were about two hundred Germans, some of whom were on the top of the sand-dune, which was only two hundred and fifty yards away. Some of the enemy must have seen me from their position, for presently I got a bullet right through my hat, which made me sit pretty tight. Needless to say I promptly removed the injured headgear and put it beside me.

The firing continued for nearly three hours, during which time I did not know what was happening, as I could not see our men. I then heard a loud cheer from the direction of the enemy's trenches, and soon afterwards the fire seemed to die away, and I could distinctly hear voices in front. Next I saw five men galloping towards me from my right flank. At first I thought they were my own men, but as they came closer I discovered they were the enemy. I then realized, for the first time, that our fellows had retired, and that I was surrounded. I lay where I was until the Germans came up to me, and they proceeded to disarm me by taking away my rifle, bayonet, and bandoleer, which they examined carefully for dum-dum bullets. They also took my haversack, which contained my rations, and my field-glasses. Two of them then assisted me towards the station, where I found a large number of the enemy off-saddled. These men were reinforcements from Aus, and it was their arrival that had caused our force to retire. They numbered about a thousand, with two Maxim guns. As I approached the station a German officer came riding past. He pulled up his horse and frowned at me. "You are Imperial Light Horse, D Squadron," he growled.

"You were at Kolmaaskop. You------dog!" Then he rode on.

II — On a Prison Train in South Africa

I was now taken to a room at the back of the station, where there were a number of German officers and a German doctor sitting around smoking and laughing, apparently well pleased at having driven the British back. The doctor examined my back, and told me I was not seriously hurt, but that the muscles were strained. I remained in this room, under a guard, for several hours. All this time the enemy appeared to be blowing up the railway in the direction of Tchukaib, as I could hear the explosions. Presently one of the German officers came in and gave me some bread and water.

He could speak English, and was apparently seeking information, as he asked me how many men had come to Garub that morning, which question I refused to answer. After several further attempt to get information about our troops, and finding it useless, he left me. Towards evening I was taken from the station to a train which had arrived from Aus. On the way I was jeered at by several German soldiers. One, I remember, asked, "Well, how do you like the German-West, old chappie?" When I arrived at the train I found that I was not the only prisoner, as there was a Carabinier standing there under escort. Immediately I saw him I beckoned him to one side and told him, as I was an older soldier than he, that either that evening or the following morning we should be taken in front of the German intelligence officer, and that he was to be very careful what he said. This Carabinier was Trooper Martins, who was sent with a despatch to General McKenzie from his officer commanding. When within about two hundred yards of the kopje where he expected to find the general the enemy opened fire on him. He turned and galloped off, but his horse was shot before he had gone far, and he was unable to get away. Some Germans came down and took him up to their trenches. This man and I were close companions right up to the night of my escape.

We were now placed in a truck which contained two horses and a native, and two armed guards got in with us. After waiting for a couple of hours the train proceeded to Aus, where we arrived after dark. Here we were marched straight to the German guard-room. The guards placed us in a dark cell, measuring about ten feet by five, with a wooden bench to sleep on. The cell had small portholes for windows, and a heavy door, which was locked and barred. A sentry remained on guard all night.

Next morning one of the guards brought us some breakfast, which consisted of black coffee without sugar, some black bread, and a little fat. After we had eaten this food we were taken from the cell, and brought to a building where there seemed to be much military activity. My mate was taken inside a room, and I was sent away to the rear of the place with my guard. While I was waiting several German soldiers came out, and some of them asked me various questions.

After waiting for about an hour and a half the Carabinier was brought out, and I was taken inside. Here I found a German officer who could speak most perfect English. He sat with large rolls of paper in front of him, and started off by asking me my name, where I had come from, what my nationality was, my religion, and how long I had been in South Africa. I then told him that I had no objection to answering questions concerning myself or my people, but he must not ask me anything about the force I belonged to. He then reminded me curtly that I was a prisoner of war.

"Yes, I am a prisoner of war," I said, "and I expect to be treated as such." I added that, a short time previously, I had been one of a party who captured some Germans, including an officer, and I did not think our O.C. brought any undue pressure to bear on them. This seemed to cool the German down a bit, and he actually started to give me information — of a sort. He asked me if I knew that there were twenty-five thousand rebels in the Orange Free State under De Wet and Beyers, also if I was aware there was a rebellion in Egypt and India, and that numbers of our Dreadnoughts had been sunk by the German fleet? Fortunately I knew that all this was false, so I was not dispirited. He next proceeded to ask me questions concerning the forces, which, of course, I refused to answer. Finally, with my mate, I was sent back to the cell.

Here we were given some food, which consisted of boiled meat and greasy water, intended for soup. When we asked for knives and forks the guard said we could not have any, "as there was a danger sometimes of prisoners committing suicide." I happened to have a penknife, which I had managed to conceal from my guards the previous day when asked to turn out my pockets, and so we managed somehow.

My mate told me that he had been given to understand that if he would go back to his regiment and try to induce the Boers to go over to the Germans he could have his freedom. This he refused to do.

The morning following, after breakfast, we were allowed to use water to wash ourselves. Later on in the day we were taken separately in front of the German commandant at Aus, and questioned once more. I informed the commandant through the officer interpreter that I had nothing to add to what I had said the previous day. After several vain attempts to obtain information we were sent back to our cell, where we remained until the following day, when we were taken by a guard and put on the train in a cattle- truck going east.

All the way along the line, wherever the train stopped, German soldiers and women came and stared in at us. One soldier remarked amiably that it would have been better for us if we had been drowned before landing in that country.

We arrived at Keetmanshoop at about 9 p.m., and were met by a fresh guard, who took us to a military barracks. Here we were given some food and blankets, and obliged to sleep in a little room with a light burning all night. A German officer visited us through the night. During the time we were in Keetmanshoop several of the soldiers became very friendly, and some of them were inclined to talk a lot. From one of them we learnt what I considered to be very important information, of most vital interest to our forces, and that night I could not sleep, puzzling my brains as to the best way of getting this news to them. The following morning I suggested to my mate that if they made him the same offer as they did at Aus he had better accept it, so that he could carry this information. I also told him to tell the Germans they could hold me responsible for any breach of faith on his part. The offer, however, was not renewed. We remained at Keetmanshoop until December 24th, and were then taken under a strong guard to the railway station, and placed in the train going north.

While here we were joined by five other prisoners, one of whom had been in a hospital suffering from a wound. The other four were Dutchmen living in German South-West who had been arrested because they refused to fight for the Germans.

We arrived at Marintal about sundown, and here the train remained for the night. We were allowed to get out of the carriages and sleep on the ground, alongside the railway line. The following morning one of our guards "stood" us coffee in the hotel, as it was Christmas morning — a decidedly merry Christmas for us!

Ill — Behind the Bars in Windhuk Prison

Finally, after a tedious journey, we reached Windhuk, where we were taken straight to the jail, and all seven of us placed in a small cell. Immediately after entering it we heard voices calling us in English from surrounding cells, and, looking through the bars of the windows, we saw many anxious faces. All the men were shouting to us to know where we came from, what regiment we belonged to, and if we could give them any news how the war was going.

During our stay in Windhuk prison we were rather badly treated, not being allowed out of the cell for more than ten or fifteen minutes, morning and evening, and never allowed to communicate with the other prisoners. On the sly, when the warders were not watching us, we sometimes managed to get a few words with them through the windows, but that was all.

About a day or two after Christmas, while I was looking through the bars of my cell window into the jail yard, one of the political prisoners — a British subject taken in German South-West after the war broke out — whispered to me that there was great excitement amongst the Germans down town owing to the receipt of news that a British force had landed at Walfish Bay and had occupied Swakopmund. I might here explain that the political prisoner referred to enjoyed the privilege of going down town under escort for the purpose of making purchases for those prisoners who were fortunate enough to have money or banking accounts. His information was very useful to me, as this was how I first discovered our forces were at the northern German seaport.

The prison food here was very bad. It consisted of a quarter-loaf of bread (to last all day), a cup of black coffee in the morning, without sugar, and the same in the evening. At midday we got an enamel basin with some dirty-looking meat and mealie soup, and sometimes a little rice or macaroni. We were given to understand that this was the same food as the Kafir convicts got. There were from thirty to forty Britishers in the prison, mostly "politicals" — British subjects taken in German South-West Africa after the war broke out, the balance being soldiers belonging principally to the Union Defence Force. There was also in this prison a captain of the Royal Fusiliers named Limfrey, who had been on a shooting trip in the country, and who was arrested by the Germans as a spy. Not being able to prove anything against him, however, they kept him as a prisoner of war. On January 8th we were taken from the prison with fourteen other prisoners, making seventeeen in all (the four Dutchmen being left behind), and marched through Windhuk to another prison at the military barracks, where we remained for the night. The following morning we were given some kit, consisting of a shirt, blanket, mess tin, knife, fork, spoon, and towel, and then taken to the railway station, where there were a large number of people congregated to look at us.

From Windhuk we went to Karabib and Okanyande, and were then told to prepare for yet another journey.

On the day following — January 16th — all the soldier prisoners, forty-seven in all, including six officers, left in four ox-wagons for Franzfontein. We travelled by night, and slept by day. Water was very scarce en route, and was obtainable only from boreholes on the farms, which were few and far between.

The escort consisted of German soldiers on each wagon; also a mounted party under the charge of an officer.

We arrived at Outju, a large and important military post, on January 19th. Here we found nearly all of the officers of the Union Forces who were prisoners. We remained for a couple of hours, and I had the opportunity of speaking to several of them, and amongst them Captain Turner Jones. With him I discussed the possibility of the information which I had gleaned at Keetmanshoop being conveyed to our forces, but he told me that he did not think there was the least chance of anybody getting away. However, I gave him the information in case anybody managed it. We then proceeded on our journey, having left the six officers behind and taken up three men.

IV — Under a Guard of Hottentots

We arrived at our destination on the morning of the 24th. Franzfontein is a military post of some importance, in direct telegraphic and telephonic communication with Windhuk and about a hundred and fifty miles from the railway. On arrival here we were told off in messes of ten, one man being in charge of each mess. We were then marched into the barbed-wire enclosure, where we found two hundred and ninety-three other prisoners. They had all been there for about four months, and represented eighteen different regiments.

The first thing we did on arrival in the camp was to rig up a "bivvy" for shelter from the blazing sun, and to sleep in at night. This was done by fastening a blanket and waterproof sheet together, and with two sticks, and stones for anchors, we made a little tent large enough for two people. Cadman, of the S.A. Mounted Rifles, and myself were the inmates of our particular "bivvy." Martins and Lawford, our other mates, slept under a tree alongside. We then fixed up a fireplace. Most of the men had already built little ovens, so we were soon as comfortable as circumstances would permit.

The enclosure was of a triangular shape, about a quarter-acre in extent, and had a stream of water running right through from fence to fence. Outside the barbed wire there was a thick thorn-bush hedge built up to form a sort of stockade. We were obliged to parade each morning at 6 a.m., afternoon at four, and every evening at six, when the man in charge of each mess reported if his ten men were on parade. This report was conveyed through the sergeant-major to the German officer who was always present. Rations were drawn each morning by the men in charge of every mess. The only amusement in camp was bathing in a pool which the prisoners had constructed by widening the stream, with an occasional open-air concert at night-time, which always concluded with the National Anthem and "Rule Britannia," everyone present standing to attention. At the base of the triangle was the guard-house, which was fitted with a large alarm-bell. Two soldiers were always on sentry outside the triangle, night and day.

The garrison consisted of twenty-five to thirty soldiers, and a number of Hottentots. The Germans were also reputed to have several bloodhounds, and special native trackers. I also heard that they had a Maxim gun in the barracks.

From the time we left Keetmanshoop until we arrived at Franzfontein my sole thought was the best way of escape, and I discussed this matter with several men on the journey. My first idea was to go north towards Portuguese territory, through Ovamboland; but I found I should have to travel through a fever-stricken country inhabited by hostile natives. Immediately on my arrival at Franzfontein, one of the first things I noticed — which appeared to me to be rather extraordinary — was that most of the men appeared to be in possession of water-bottles. I could not understand why the Germans had not taken these away.

Soon after our arrival in camp I received a message from Dr. Dawson — a prisoner who acted as medical officer to the prisoners — stating that he would like to see me. I found him in a rather dilapidated house close to the base of the triangle. He told me that he had heard that I had been caught on the Luderitzbucht side recently, and wanted to know all the recent news.

After having talked with him for some time, I came to the conclusion that I was speaking to a man who could be a good friend, and whom I could trust, so I asked him what he thought of the chances of escaping. He told me that several men had been discussing it, but he was afraid it was hopeless, as he considered it a physical impossibility for anyone to carry sufficient water to maintain a human being during the time it would take to reach Swakopmund, the nearest point occupied by our forces.

Life in the camp during the next few days was very monotonous, and food appeared to be daily getting scarcer. They gave us flour, which we mixed with our mealie meal porridge to make it "pan out," as we found making bread not at all economical. Sometimes the meat was very bad, and once or twice the doctor ordered us not to eat it. We received firewood every evening, and of this there was no scarcity, on account of the surrounding country being composed of thick bush.

All the time the problem of escape worried me.

V — The Night Escape in the Storm

On February 3rd, about 2 p.m., I met Dunbar, of the Transvaal Horse Artillery, and asked him if he could introduce me to any man in camp who knew the road to Swakopmund. He told me that nobody had ever been in that part of the country before, so that no one knew the road. About an hour later he informed me the doctor wished to speak to me. On entering the room where Dr. Dawson was, he told me to close the door and sit down. Looking out of the window, to make sure that there were no German soldiers about, he said, "I am informed that you are anxious to escape. Why is that ?"

I told him I possessed what I considered to be valuable military information, which I was anxious to communicate to the authorities. He then asked me if I had thought of the difficulty of reaching Swakopmund across something like two hundred and fifty miles of mountainous desert country. I replied that I had seen a map, had a fair idea of the distance, and was prepared to take my chance. Dr. Dawson next inquired if I thought I was strong enough to stand the journey, as it could not possibly be done in less than seven days, and anyone attempting the task would have to carry at least four water- bottles and two water-bags.

"If you are going to escape," he added, "it must be to-night, between eight and nine o'clock. There are three other men going at that time, and you can join them."

He inquired what preparations I had made with regard to food and water on the road, and I told him none.

"I can supply flour to make fat cookies," he said, "but you will have to see to the water- bottles and water-bags yourself."

Then, in confidence, I told the doctor what I had heard at Keetmanshoop, and he agreed with me that the news was most important, and that I must go at all costs. Soon afterwards the doctor sent for the other men who were to be my companions in the attempt to escape. They were Sergeant Mackenzie, of the Upington commando, a Scotchman; Trooper Maritz, of the South African Mounted Rifles, a Boer; and Trooper Franzen, of the Veteran Signalling Corps, a Norwegian. When they entered the room he formally introduced me to them, and told them that I wanted to accompany them on the journey. After having discussed our plans for getting away from the camp, and the route we were to take, we parted, having arranged to meet again at 8.3O p.m. under a specified tree close to the fence. Needless to say, I was very excited, but I started to collect water-bottles and bags, and by 7 p.m. had everything prepared for the journey. One of my messmates, Trooper Cad-man, kindly gave me his boots, as he thought they were in better condition than my own for our long desert trek. Another, Trooper Martins, gave me his socks, water-bottle, and water-bags. Trooper Lawford gave me his haversack and tunic. The tunic I was not inclined to accept, as it was the only one he had, but the generous fellow pressed me to take it. Trooper Dunbar, of the Transvaal Horse Artillery, gave me his belt, containing a pair of wire-cutters, which he had concealed from the Germans. These were the only cutters in the camp, all others being taken away.

At about 8 p.m. I said good-bye to my own messmates, all of whom wished me the best of luck, and requested me to communicate with their relatives if I was fortunate enough to get through.

I then made my way to the appointed spot, where I met the other three men, also the doctor and a few of our comrades who were "in the know." Here I received fifteen or sixteen "fat cookies," which I placed in my haversack, together with a half-bottle of rum. The doctor had previously given us a small compass, and each of us had a "first field dressing" in case of wounds, also some boracic powder and a tin of ointment, which we found very useful on the journey.

And now came the business of the escape. One man was placed at the point of the triangle, as shown in the sketch, and another at the base, to signal to us when all was clear. The signal arranged was the striking of matches. All four of us, after having shaken hands with our benefactor, the doctor, crept down alongside the fence.

It was very dark, and there was a slight drizzle of rain. The other prisoners in camp were attending a concert which had been arranged by the doctor to avert suspicion. As we lay there, waiting breathlessly for the signal, we could hear the two German sentries talking outside the fence, only some ten yards away from where we lay. We had to remain motionless for about half an hour, and needless to say the suspense was very great. At last, however, the sentries moved, going in opposite directions around the triangle, and soon afterwards we saw the eagerly-awaited signal. Franzen, one of my three companions, immediately got out underneath the wire and through the bush on the outside. The dogs at the farmhouse about a hundred yards away promptly commenced to bark, and we had to remain where we were for about ten minutes, dreading discovery all the time. Maritz, another of my companions, then followed Franzen; Mackenzie went next, and I followed. Getting underneath the fence was a rather difficult task, as we had to lie flat on our bodies and drag ourselves through, each hand being fully occupied holding a water-bag. When I got outside the fence I rearranged the bushes to cover the gap we had made, and then made tracks in the direction of a large tree some fifty yards from the fence, going from here to an old kraal wall where we had arranged to meet. On arrival there, I found that I had lost one of my precious water-bottles and the half-bottle of rum in getting through the fence, but we decided we must go on without them.

"Well, this is the first part of the business finished," said someone, and then, shaking hands, we set out.

VI — Fleeing Across the African Wilds

We travelled all night over flat country covered with thick thorn-bush, going in a southwesterly direction until 6 a.m. the following morning, when we rested for an: hour. Then we pushed on again; we wished to put as great a distance as possible between us and the camp, as we thought there was a danger of the Germans finding the missing water-bottles and the half-bottle of rum at daylight. Even if they did, however, we knew the native trackers would have a difficulty in picking up our "spoor," as it had been raining during the night, and the rain would have obliterated our footprints.

About noon we saw a herd of whitish animals, like mules, which I understood were quagga. We also saw several herds of zebra. We halted again at 1 p.m., rested for another hour, and then walked on until 9 p.m. The country here was hilly, with patches of thorn-bush, and the veldt offered fair going. We rested until n p.m., walked on until three next morning (February 5th) and rested until five. From 5 a.m. we walked all day over sandy, flat country covered with thick bush. Here I got separated from the others for about two hours, but was in no danger, as I carried the compass at this time. I afterwards saw my companions about a mile away, and we exchanged signals and soon came together again. I then handed the compass back to Franzen, and between him and Mackenzie it was carried for the remainder of the journey.

About 7 p.m. we got some water to drink from crevices in the rocks, by sucking it up. It was a laborious business, but we wanted to conserve our scanty supply as much as possible. This was about 9 p.m. Soon after dark it commenced to rain very hard, and we got wet through, having no shelter and all being in shirt-sleeves (I had discarded the tunic given me by Trooper Lawford and buried it in the sand the previous day). We moved on again at midnight, but were only able to proceed slowly as it was still pitch dark, and the ground very rocky. However, we struggled along until 4 a.m.

We started off again at daybreak, feeling frightfully cold and miserable, our clothes being soaked through. We managed to fill four water-bags from pools in the rocks, crossed a sand flat, and halted about noon at a small kopje in the middle of it. While resting there we saw a Klip, Kafir coming from a north-westerly direction. He passed without seeing us, and returned at about 3 p.m. with a companion. We had to remain hidden until 5 p.m., owing to the proximity of these natives, as they would have been dangerous to us. They are quite uncivilized and wild, use poisoned arrows, and are generally shot by the Germans at sight. They had four dogs with them, and we were lucky the animals did not scent us.

We were obliged to sit tight for some time after these savages passed, as they disappeared down an old riverbed, and we were not sure whether they had remained there watching us or not. However, luckily for us, it was the last we saw of them, so at about 5 p.m. we resumed our journey, and continued walking until 7 a.m. the following morning (Saturday, February 6th). During the night we suddenly came upon a few native huts at the bottom of a cliff, close to an old river-bed, but we passed as quickly as possible and none of the inmates appeared to have heard us. Probably these huts belonged to the natives we had seen earlier in the day.

We had now arrived at the "Blue Mountains," which we could see so plainly from our prison camp at Franzfontein. We were obliged to keep to the north of this range, as we looked upon it as being one of our "danger-points." We had heard that the enemy had a signalling-post on the highest peak, which communicated with Omarura. Since then I have been informed that they not only had a signalling-post, but a whole company sta- tioned on top of these mountains, so our luck was again "in."

Having rested from 7 to 11 a.m. we moved on once more. The country now became very broken and hard to walk over. Deep kloofs and huge boulders were much in evidence, and we had to do a lot of climbing. To make matters worse, my boots were giving way fast, and had it not been for the wirecutters given to me by Dunbar, I don't know what I should have done, as with them I managed to pull out the nails and repair the boots with a piece of wire I had in my pocket. My feet were now getting very sore, and the climbing began to tell, for each hill seemed to be steeper and higher than the previous one, and the ground got steadily worse and worse.

About 2 p.m. we suddenly came on some running water, which gave us great encouragement, as we thought it was the Omarura River, and we rested here for an hour. Our "fat cookies" were now running low, and we only dared eat half of one for each meal, when we could easily have demolished six or seven and still felt hungry. At 3 p.m. we resumed our journey for about two hours, but as we found the stream was bearing too much to the north-west we reluctantly decided to leave it. Filling up our water-bottles and sacks, and taking a good drink, we again struck off in a south-westerly course across a high mountain. The stream we had just left might only exist for a day, being caused by the recent rains in the mountains. It was the first running water I saw in German South-West, with the exception of the small stream at Franzfontein.

We continued walking until 7 P-m- and then waited for the moon to rise.

It made its appearance at 11 p.m. and we again resumed our wearisome tramp and continued marching until 5 a.m., passing through a broken, hilly region. We rested for about half an hour, and then "trekked" on once more, continuing the whole day until 6 p.m. over frightful country. I thought we should never come to the end of these terrible mountains, and my poor feet were not improving. We rested from 6 till 10 p.m. and moved on again till 1 a.m., when we halted for three hours, all of us feeding very tired and exhausted. This was Tuesday, February 9th. We started again at 4 a.m., got out of the hills about 7 a.m., and continued walking over fairly flat country until 11 a.m., when we were obliged to halt and rest, as the heat was unbearable. At 3 p.m. we "trekked" on. Our troubles seemed to be on the increase, for presently my boots gave out altogether. One of my comrades, Maritz, manufactured a pair of sandals for himself from my leggings, using his sheath knife, and gave me his own veldt schoons. His feet were in good hard condition, as he had been going without boots for some considerable time. The veldt schoons he made himself whilst a prisoner, from raw hide, and I found them very useful, although a little on the small side. I was obliged to cut a piece off the toe of each, which afterwards handicapped me, as the sand worked in and made blisters on my feet. I used the pugaree from my hat and the bandages from my "first field dressing" to prevent this, but with very little benefit.

We continued walking until 9 a.m., when we halted for two hours. Our food was now running out. I had one "fat cookie" and Mackenzie had a half of one. I shared mine between Franzen, Maritz, and myself. The two men at first seemed reluctant to accept their portion, but I insisted on it, saying that we might just as well all die together. At 11 p.m. we again resumed our interminable journey, and walked on till 3 a.m., when we rested for one hour, and continued until daybreak. We could now distinctly hear the roar of the sea, and also see the fog along the coast. This gave us great encouragement, and we went ahead with renewed energy. About 10.30 a.m. we struck some wheel- tracks leading south-west, which we decided to follow. This was Wednesday, February 10th.

VII — Left Behind to Die in the Desert

I now found it very difficult to keep up with the others, owing to my feet being so bad. The heat was terrific, and, to make matters worse, our precious water was almost finished. Early in the afternoon I found that I was unable to continue at the same pace as the rest, so I told them to go on. I would follow as best I could, I said, and if they reached Swakopmund they could send back assistance. My own idea was that it was better for one man to die than all four, as the others could not be of any assistance to me by remaining. As they moved on Franzen waved a cheery good-bye. "We will wait for you at Swakopmund," he shouted. I now took off my veldt schoons to attend to my blistered feet, and remained for a few hours resting until it got a bit cooler. I divested myself of all superfluous articles, left two of my water-bottles and the wirecutters behind, and walked on alone. By this time I could distinctly see the waves beating upon the shore and soon afterwards reached the beach, where I followed the coastline south.

Towards evening I sighted some buildings, which I thought were the outskirts of Swakopmund. This gave me great encouragement, so I continued as fast as circumstances would permit, and reached the buildings after dark. To my disappointment I found only several broken-down shanties, without any signs of life. I afterwards discovered that this was a sealing station, and the name of the spot Cape Cross. The buildings had been destroyed by the Germans, and the people who worked there, being mostly British, were taken prisoners. Cape Cross is ninety miles from Swakopmund, and had I known this fact then I should probably have thrown up the sponge. My only thoughts at the time were of our own pickets, whom I feared might shoot me. Several times I fancied I heard the challenge, "Halt! Who goes there ?" to which I replied "Friend!" in a loud voice; but each time the only answer I received was the mocking echo of my own voice. Presently I noticed a tram-line, which I followed for a mile or two, when suddenly I heard a peculiar noise, resembling pigs grunting and lambs bleating. I went in the direction of these animals, as I supposed, and suddenly found myself right in the thick of a herd of seals, some of them much bigger than myself, who started jumping all around me. I "cleared" for all I was worth, as I had nothing to protect myself with. This must have been about 11 p.m., and soon afterwards it began to rain heavily, so I dug a hole behind a mound to protect myself from the piercing wind. It was bitterly cold, and I was soaked to the skin in a very short space of time. My bags were empty, and here were tons of life-giving water going to waste, so I devised a plan to catch some of the precious liquid, by cutting the side and top seams of my water-bags, spreading them out on the sand, and then making an impression in the centre which formed a cup-shape. When the rain ceased I got out of my burrow, and had a good drink of the water which my sack had caught. This was the last fresh water I had until the following Saturday afternoon.

Feeling miserably cold and weak, I moved stiffly on through the darkness. At daybreak, to my concern, I found that I was nearly surrounded by the sea, but the water on my left was not very deep. Here I saw thousands of pelicans and other birds, so I looked for eggs, but could not find any. Taking off my schoons, socks, and riding pants, I waded across the water to dry land. Here I noticed a few wagon tracks going north and south, so I decided to follow them, wherever they led. After wandering along for some hours I saw some rocky ground on my left and went towards it in search of fresh water. I found a little in the crevices in the rocks, but unfortunately it was brackish. However, I filled my remaining water-bottles, as it was better than nothing, and continued on my journey along the sea coast until the heat became unbearable. I then halted and took off my shirt, and with the assistance of some large whale-bones, with which the beach was strewn, and the remains of an old deck-chair which had been washed up on the shore, I rigged up a shade and remained under it until it got cool, when I again moved on. This time I walked until it got quite dark, when I dug a hole in the sand behind a mound and got into it. By this time my hopes of reaching Swakopmund had almost completely vanished, and I wondered if I should ever wake again. I felt quite indifferent to my fate; in fact, as I scooped out the hole, the thought occurred to me that I was digging my own grave. After getting into it I saw two wolves, or wild dogs — I don't know which — but they only looked at me and trotted off. If they had attacked me I should have fallen an easy victim.

I slept well that night, and did not awake until daybreak, when I again got on the move. Several times during the day I must have been quite delirious, for once I found myself sitting on a rock cleaning out the salty sand from a hole, so that when it rained again the water there would not be salty, and some poor traveller might get a drink! About noon I crossed a riverbed, and found some more water, which was also brackish. Later on I crossed yet another channel, which, I understand, was the Amuroro River. There was a little vegetation here, but no water. However, I found a large wild-fig tree laden with green figs, so I thought I was in clover; but to my dismay found the inside of them perfectly dry, and full of insects. I did manage to eat some of the outside peel; then I lay down under the tree and slept for a couple of hours. When I awoke I found four arrows quite close to me, and tied them together with a piece of calico. Looking around the tree, I found four more. They were all cleverly made, with feathers at the end, and I took them with me and moved on.

I have no recollection of what happened during the night of that day, but I must have been wandering on all the time. The following day I saw a mountain away on my left, so I thought of going towards it, as there might be a chance of getting water. I went about a mile, but finally decided it was no good going any farther. I then commenced turning up all the stones I could find, so that if it rained I might catch a little water to drink.

The fluid in my bottles was now getting putrid. I had been taking a mouthful at a time, not allowing any to get down my throat, as I feared that if I swallowed the awful stuff it would drive me mad. I was now asking myself which was the best and easiest way of putting an end to my misery; I had no hope of getting out alive.

I believe if it had not been for the valuable information which I possessed, and which first prompted me to attempt to escape, I should have committed suicide, but a reluctance to let my news die with me kept me going. I now seemed to be having recurrent spasms of delirium, for once I remember suddenly coming to my senses and finding I was laughing. I imagined then my end was pretty near. It did not seem to worry me; in fact, I felt a sort of happy feeling, and thought to myself, "Well, I am going to meet my old friends who are dead."

VIII — Digging My Own Grave — The Reunion

I tied my water-sack to a piece of the deck-chair which I had been using for a walking- stick, to represent a flag, and propped it up in the hope that it might be seen by some passing ship or a patrol. It would also mark the place where my body would be found. I then lay down and went to sleep for a couple of hours. Soon after I awoke I noticed three figures walking along the beach, about half a mile from me. I stood up and signalled to them, and they stopped, looked towards me, and then moved on.

"Whoever you are," I thought, "I am going to follow you." So I picked up my flag, arrows, and water-bottles — I must have looked a regular Robinson Crusoe — and went towards them. They sat down and waited for me. When I got up to them I thought they were natives, as they appeared to be black, and it was only after Mackenzie spoke that I recognized his voice, and knew that they were my own mates, whom I had lost three days previously.

"Good heavens, Pat!" cried Mackenzie. "How have you lived? Where did you get water?"

By way of reply I handed him my water-bottles. He took the cork out of one, smelt it, and threw both away; they smelt horrible. He then gave me some water, and I may say that I never tasted anything so sweet in my life before. I only took a little at a time, but each mouthful seemed to give me fresh life, and my tongue, which was swollen, got back to its normal size, and the horrid dry feeling in my throat went away. We remained here about an hour, during which time my mates and I compared notes as to what had happened since we parted on the Wednesday.

It was now February 13th, and a Saturday afternoon. They told me that on arrival at the sealing station, the evening we separated, they turned into a house and fixed up a lamp with some seal oil which they found. They left the lamp burning at the window so that I could see it, and being very tired, all of them went to sleep. The lamp, however, must have gone out. In the morning, finding that I had not turned up, Franzen and Maritz went back to see if they could find me. In the meantime Mackenzie hunted for shellfish among the rocks, and managed to find enough for two meals. There was a plentiful supply of water, as the previous night's rain had half-filled several old tanks. After going back a few miles Maritz and Franzen found the lid of a small tin box which they knew I had been carrying in my haversack. From this they realized that I had passed their sleeping-place during the night, and was probably somewhere in front. To make quite sure, however, they waited all that day, and resumed the journey on Friday morning. They noticed my "spoor," but had lost it some hours previously.

Mackenzie advised me to throw away the arrows I had been carrying, as one of us might easily get scratched and poisoned with them. I was now feeling much refreshed, so we all "trekked" on together. We had not gone very far when we saw a white sea-bird, with red on its bill, standing on the sand. It looked sick, so we gathered round it, and I gave Maritz my piece of deck-chair to kill it with.

We then set about collecting firewood, there being any amount of driftwood scattered about the beach, and with the aid of flint and steel, which Mackenzie carried with him, we lit a great blazing fire. In the meantime Maritz had skinned the bird, and Franzen had got some salt water in a kettle they had picked up at Cape Cross.

"After boiling our bird for about fifteen minutes we tackled it, my share being the liver and one of the legs. It did not taste at all bad. We then sat by the fire for some little time, feeling a good deal better, and again resumed our journey. We walked until 3 a.m., and then tried to sleep, but found it too cold. At daybreak we resumed our tramp. It began to drizzle, and about nine o'clock we came to some flat, rocky ground, where I borrowed a water-bottle from Franzen, and managed to fill it. We walked on until about 3 p.m., when we sighted what appeared to be tall chimney-stacks in the distance. Franzen asked me what I thought they were, and I said, "Perhaps some abandoned place, like the one we passed up the coast."

"I think it's Swakopmund," he said.

This I ridiculed, for I had quite given up hopes of seeing the town. I was feeling very weak now, and my feet were frightfully sore on account of the sand getting through my schoons. The others decided to push on as fast as possible, and, if the place turned out to be Swa-kopmund, to send back help. Before long they were out of sight, and I was alone once more. However, I "trekked" on, and just as the sun was going down I saw, to my huge delight, smoke emerging from a chimney-stack. I knew then that it must be the place we were looking for, and this made me plod on with fresh energy.

IX — Saved And Ready for the Fray Again

When I was about a mile and a half from the smoking chimney I saw three men coming towards me leading a horse. I signalled to them, and sat down to await their arrival. They turned out to be men of my own regiment, attached to the police of Swakopmund. They had been ordered out to meet me, my mates having reported that I was following on behind them. I was put on the horse, and on the way into Swakopmund was met by hundreds of men of the garrison. Some brought brandy and others tea, and one party had a stretcher. They let me have a little brandy, and removed me from the horse to the stretcher, and in this I was conveyed to the hospital.

The men of the garrison cheered again and again, and all of them seemed greatly excited. I suppose our arrival was something new for them, as I understand that duty at Swakopmund had been very uneventful.

I was taken to the Antonios Hospital, which was under the charge of Major Moffatt, and he and everybody else was most kind and attentive. My pulse on arrival read thirty-eight, and the nursing sister put me on the scales the following day, when I found, to my great surprise, that I had lost twenty-nine pounds in weight. Very soon, however, I began to regain strength, and in a few days could move around. After spending ten days in hospital I was brought before a board of officers, who inquired into the cause of my capture, and returned a verdict "that I became a prisoner through the fortunes of war, and through no fault of my own."

The same day I was sent to Walfish Bay, and the following morning joined the S.S. City of Athens for Cape Town, on a month's sick leave.

There were seven or eight Germans on board who had been made prisoners. I was told that they refused to believe that four men had escaped from Franzfontein Camp. They said that such a thing was quite impossible.

I have since been informed on good authority that we were almost recaptured within a few miles of Swakopmund. Since the surrender of German South-West I have ascertained from a released prisoner from Franzfontein Camp that our escape was "given away" by one of our fellow-prisoners just three days after we left. The Germans promptly gave chase, and must have been very close behind us at Cape Cross.

The Germans, however, returned and reported us dead, and as proof of their statement they produced my hat, which I had lost on the night of my encounter with the seals, south of Cape Cross. Some of our men had little difficulty in identifying the hat, as it was punctured by a bullet in the action at Garub, and had an "I.L.H." badge on it, which they knew by sight. When the officer commanding the camp first heard of our escape he laughed and said we could not get through, and that we were mad to try it. We did pull through, however, by the mercy of Providence, and are now again ready for the fray.

In conclusion I would like to state that I am quite convinced that, if they had had the chance, there were many other men amongst the prisoners at Franzfontein who would have accompanied our party. My own part in escaping from the enemy and bringing what I believed to be important information to our own forces I consider was nothing more or less than my duty, and what nine out of every ten soldiers would have done in similar circumstances.


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