OWING to the difficulty of getting suitable recruits, the Natal Police are at present quite a hundred and twenty men under strength, and there are fewer troopers at the barracks at Pietermaritzburg than there have been for a long time. The handsome building is on the top of a hill overlooking " Sleepy Hollow," as the town is sometimes called, and catches any breeze there may be on the hot summer days near Christmas. Here, for many years, the recruits have been enrolled and put through their early drills. No very hard-and-fast rules are laid down concerning recruits. They must be single men over 5 ft. 7 in. in height, and physically fit, because those who enter the corps must look forward not merely to the romance of being mounted soldier-policemen amongst the Zulus, but also to enduring hardships, and enduring them cheerfully. The recruit only remains at headquarters a few months as a rule before being drafted to an out-station. There, in times of peace, he has a life which a hard-working man in England would regard as a perpetual holiday on horseback. In times of war and rebellion, all the manliness that is in him is brought out ; he treks and rides and climbs until his powers of endurance are taxed to the limit. The corps can make no use of weaklings or shirkers, and it has been the making of hundreds of men who would in all probability have drifted through life aimlessly, without a suitable opportunity to develop the best part of their characters. There was a striking instance of this in a roving character who went out from England many years ago to join the Natal Police. He had been rather wild as a youth, but the idea of joining the force appealed to him, so he walked straight to headquarters on arriving at Pietermaritzburg and enlisted.
He had taken out with him a letter of introduction from his people to a Natal farmer who had lived near his home, but did not get an opportunity to pay the call. Years afterwards, when turning over his kit, he came upon the note, and, wondering what it was, read it. The letter was in the following terms :
" This is to introduce a young fellow who has never done any good for himself, and we are sending him out to join the Natal Police. If you think it advisable, you might like to see him. From what we know you had better not."
The point of the story is that the young wanderer afterwards became and still is one of the best and most highly respected Inspectors the corps has ever had.
There have been men in the corps from Oxford and Cambridge, and every public school of importance in England. For some reason Cheltenham boys have been particularly prominent in the police. Since the Union of South Africa was effected the recruits have consisted chiefly of young Dutchmen, and as trade has improved a number of well-educated men have left the corps to take up very good posts, for which their training has particularly fitted them.
The recruit is first taken on as a probationer for a month, and, unless he develops undesirable habits, is enlisted as a second-class trooper, drawing pay at the rate of 73. a day. He signs on for three years' service, being promoted to first-class trooper at the end of a year, his pay being raised to 8s. a day. If re-engaged after three years' service he draws 95. a day, and after six years he is paid 93. 6d. a day, in addition to any extra pay he may have qualified for. Some alterations will be made under the new regime, but in the past the troopers bought their own horses and kit, the payment being spread over the first three years of their work, and when they left the money they had paid for their horse was refunded, their kit also being put up for auction. At headquarters, messing and forage costs the trooper about 33. a day, but his expenses are considerably reduced when he gets to an out-station, where fishing-rod and gun generally provide welcome additions to the menu.
During the first few months the trooper goes through mounted and foot drill, and as he has lectures on law and other subjects to attend besides " stables " and other duties, his time is fairly well occupied. Life begins to grow sweet for him when he becomes a non-commissioned officer, though promotion has not been very rapid in recent years owing to the fact that the men who have held the good positions remained where they were in the hope of living to draw a pension. Lance-sergeants (there are no corporals) receive the same pay as a first-class trooper ; a man's salary is increased by a shilling a day when he becomes a second-class sergeant, and another shilling a day when he becomes a first-class sergeant. A sub-inspector receives £300 a year, this rising to £400. An inspector first receives £450, which rises to £550 a year.
The present strength, including all ranks, of white men is 680, the authorized strength being 800. There are also 1106 natives in the corps and 105 Indians.
The headquarters barracks will accommodate 200 men and the same number of horses, though there are rarely so many at Pietermaritzburg owing to the demands of the out-stations.
Nearly every trooper who has left England to join the corps cherishes the ambition to visit his own country, so he often saves both leave and pay for the first few years until he is entitled to a holiday consisting of three months on pay and then a month or two without pay.
Here is an incident in the life of a gentleman trooper. An elder son, who chafed under the conventionalities of life at home, went to South Africa and joined the corps in its early days. Amongst his family acquaintances were the Governor of Natal and his wife. A day or two after the trooper had joined, a lady friend handed him a small parcel and asked him to give it to the Governor's wife. The trooper sent a note up to Government House, asking what he should do with the parcel, whereupon His Excellency wrote inviting him to luncheon. Having finished " stables " and his other morning duties, the trooper put on his best Bond Street clothes and, looking very spruce, started out. " Puffy " Stean, who was very regimental, and would like to have seen his men always in uniform, saw him leaving the barracks.
" Here, young Johnnie, where are you off to ? " he asked.
" I have obtained leave, sir. I'm going to Government House," replied the trooper.
" Ho ! Indeed ! And what might you be going to do there? " inquired the sergeant-major, bristling.
" I'm going to lunch with the Governor, sir."
" So ! " said " Puffy " quietly. " There's a drain here that needs cleaning out."
Knowing that it would be folly to kick against the pricks, the trooper put on overalls and, rolling up his immaculate linen, obeyed orders. " Puffy " had chosen the task well, for the only possible way of cleaning the mud away from this particular drain was to scoop it out with one's hands. " Puffy " watched him scornfully for a few moments and then walked away.
Having completed his task, the trooper took off his overalls, and, with the aid of sundry toilet requisites, removed all traces of his labour. Shortly afterwards the hand that had been dutifully scooping mud from the drain was shaking that of his Excellency the Governor and that of the Governor's wife. " Puffy " loved to see obedience, and the new trooper earned his everlasting respect that day under trying circumstances.
" Once upon a time " there was an officer in charge at headquarters who dearly loved a fight. It was not seemly that one in his position should take part in a game of fisticuffs, but he yearned to do the next best thing to be a spectator. The second-in-command knew of this, and, as he was equally interested, he privately arranged with the troopers that when there was to be a fight between two men they were to settle their dispute at a certain place where he could see all that happened without being seen himself. Many a fierce combat was waged at this place before the eyes of the officer in charge and his second-incommand, but one day a struggle was interrupted by a sergeant, who put the opponents under arrest, and next morning they were brought before the officer in charge, accused of fighting.
The contest had been a particularly interesting and exciting one, and the sergeant proceeded to relate, entirely incorrectly, how one man had struck the other. Impatiently the officer in charge listened for a while until he was unable to stand it any longer.
" It's an infernal lie, sir," he said angrily.
And then, realizing that he knew too much about the affair, he had to dismiss the combatants hastily before he got deeper into the mire.
" Puffy " Stean was a keen enthusiast, and the interests of his corps were next to his heart. This led to his being placed in an awkward position at headquarters on one occasion. An influential young farmer, who owned a large estate, vast herds of cattle, and a useful banking balance, called at the barracks. " Puffy," mistaking him for a prospective recruit, rushed at him, told him he would be perfectly satisfactory, ordered him to draw his preliminary kit consisting of a couple of blankets, a mess tin, and a combination knife, fork, and spoon and told him to visit the tailor to be measured.
Having a sense of humour, the farmer obeyed, and " Puffy " congratulated himself on having added a smart man to the ranks. After drawing his kit the farmer returned to " Puffy " and asked to see the Commandant.
" What the deuce do you want with him ? " asked " Puffy." " He's too busy this morning to be bothered with recruits."
" But I'm not a recruit," replied the farmer, " and Colonel Dartnell is a personal friend of mine whom I have called to see."
" Puffy " nearly exploded with wrath, and to make matters worse had to apologise profusely before he could get back his blankets.
There have been some changes in the personnel of the force during the last year or two, but as a corps the men are a splendid, abstemious body and a good fighting force, with intimate knowledge of a wild and mountainous country. They take a keen interest in their work, and with constant exercise under the most healthy circumstances possible, are as hard as any similar body of men in the world. The majority of them are magnificent horsemen, who in the course of a day's patrol cover country which stout-hearted hunting men in England would dread to travel over even in the heat of the chase. These patrols are made over kafir paths which lead over kopjes covered with crags smashed by lightning and intersected by dangerous dongas deep gullies quickly washed out by violent storms.
The members of the force are especially good at rifle shooting, and have won a great number of trophies. The one thing insisted on by the Chief Commissioner is that every man should be a good shot, not only at targets, but at field firing and unknown distances. The Government of Natal has always been liberal in the supply of ammunition, and there are no districts in which the men do not get practice, at least once a month.
Recruits are not now enlisted in England, but young men who are prepared to pay their passage out would be accepted, provided they could pass the medical examination