Lest we for­get – 100 years on

The Sunday Independent - - NATION - MARK LEVINE of Hope and Glory. Land

THE out­break of war in Au­gust 1914 brought an out­pour­ing of pa­tri­o­tism in Dur­ban, and in Na­tal gen­er­ally.

Many of the schools had cadets as part of school life, in­still­ing in the boys a sense of duty to king and coun­try. Boys as young as 16 left school, lied about their age and joined up to fight.

There was no short­age of vol­un­teers for the first mil­i­tary cam­paign, in which the Union De­fence Force de­feated the Ger­man forces in Ger­man South West Africa (GSWA, to­day Namibia) in 1915, with the loss of only 266 men.

But there was an ugly side to that fer­vent pa­tri­o­tism – anti-Ger­man pro­pa­ganda which led to vi­o­lence.

Busi­nesses with Ger­man names were van­dalised or burnt down by an­gry mobs in Dur­ban. One of those was the bis­cuit fac­tory of the Bau­mann fam­ily. The irony was that one of their sons was loy­ally serv­ing with a Dur­ban reg­i­ment in GSWA. In one of the cap­tured Ger­man bake­houses, young Trooper Bau­mann was one of the men work­ing dou­ble shifts bak­ing bread for South Africans on the march.

For a while, Ger­man pris­on­ers were held at the city’s pre­mier sport­ing ground, Lord’s (in Old Fort Road), un­til they were moved to Fort Napier in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg.

Lord’s Ground it­self be­came the cen­tre of fund-rais­ing events for the war ef­fort: pa­tri­otic sport­ing events, dis­plays and fairs. Massed choirs drew large crowds which sang

Boy Scouts held ral­lies at Lord’s, with the Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral of South Africa in­spect­ing the troops him­self in 1917. By June that year, the con­tri­bu­tion from the greater Dur­ban area to the Gover­nor­Gen­eral’s War Fund had reached £160 000, a con­sid­er­able sum, espe­cially as the fund was only launched in Septem­ber 1915.

Re­turn­ing sol­diers faced many

dif­fi­cul­ties in re-ad­just­ing to civil­ian life. Some strug­gled to find em­ploy­ment or places to live. Oth­ers, dis­abled by dis­ease or wounds, re­quired much more help.

Those scarred by post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der – which was barely un­der­stood – strug­gled the most.

The dif­fi­cul­ties fac­ing the re­turned sol­diers, who had made such enor­mous sac­ri­fices, was al­ready recog­nised by 1916. The hor­rors of Delville Wood and the East Africa cam­paign brought those sac­ri­fices into sharp re­lief.

The neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity sur­round­ing the suf­fer­ing of men – black and white – in East Africa had a detri­men­tal ef­fect on re­cruit­ment.

In­ad­e­quate kit, ra­tions, medicines and trans­port re­duced the men to des­per­a­tion. So many re­turned to Dur­ban re­quir­ing med­i­cal care, that pri­vate homes were con­verted into con­va­les­cent homes.

Black re­cruits were needed for sup­port units. The Rev­erend John Dube (a founder of the ANC) sup­ported the war ef­fort, do­ing much to per­suade black men to vol­un­teer. Their con­tri­bu­tion, even af­ter the sink­ing of the Mendi in 1917, was never fully recog­nised.

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