There are hundreds of men lying in unmarked graves in African soil to-day who ought to be alive and well, others who have been done to death by the crass ignorance, the appalling stupidity, the damnable conceit which will brook no teaching. I have seen men die like dogs, men who left comfortable homes in the old land to go forth to uphold the power and prestige of our nation's flag. I have seen them gasping out their lives like stricken sheep, just in the springtide of their manhood, when the glory and the lust of life should have been strong upon them I have watched the Irish lad with the down upon his brave boyish face pass with the last deep-drawn quivering sob over the border line of life, into the shadows of the unsearchable beyond, a wasted sacrifice upon the grim altar of incapacity. I have seen the kilted Scottish laddie lie, with hollow cheeks and sunken eyes, waiting for the whisper of the wings of the Angel of Death. I have seen the death damp gather on his unlined brow, and watched the grey pallor creep upwards from throat to temple; until my very soul, wrung with anguish unutterable, has risen in hot revolt against the crimes of the incapable.
I have knelt by England's fair-faced sons, the child of the cities, the boy from the fens, the youth from the farm, and watched the shadows creeping over eyes that mothers loved to look upon. I have seen the wasted fingers, grown clawlike, plucking aimlessly at the rude blankets as if weaving the woof of the winding-sheet, and have listened with aching heart to the aimless babbling of the dying, in which home and friends were blended, until the tired voice, grown aweary with the weight of utterance, died out like the crooning of a lisping child, as the soul slipped through the golden gateway that leads to the glory beyond the grave. I have watched them pile the earth above the last home of Cambria's sons, the gallant children of the old Welsh hills. I have seen them laid to sleep, as harvest hands will lay the sheaves in undulating rows when the summer shower has passed; and over every shallow grave I have sent a curse for those whose brutish folly caused the flower of Britain's army to wither in the pride of their peerless boyhood.
For the men who fall in battle we can flush our tears with pride, and though our hearts may ache for those we love, yet is there an undercurrent of hot joy to know they fell as soldiers love to fall, face forward to the foe. But for those who die, as more than half of Britain's dead have died in this last war, stricken by pestilence brought about by ignorance and indolence, we have only sorrow and tears and prayers, blended with hate and contempt for the triple-dyed dandies and dunces who robbed us of those who should have been alive to-day to be the bulwark of the Empire, the pride of the nation, and the joy of many homes.
Why did they die, these strong young soldiers of our Queen? Was it because their hearts failed them in the presence of hardship and danger? I tell you, No. The hardships of the campaign only roused them to greater exertions. Bravely and uncomplainingly they answered every call of duty, ready by night or day to go anywhere, or do anything, if only they were led by men worthy of our Queen's commission, worthy of the cloth they wore. Why did they die? Was it because of poisoned or polluted water, left in their path by the enemy whom they were fighting? Not so. No, not so. The Boers left no death-traps in our path. Why did they die? Was it because the country through which we marched lent itself climatically to the propagation and dissemination of fever germs? No, England, no! In all the world there is no finer climate than that in which our gallant soldiers died like rotting sheep. Wherever else the blame may lie, no truthful man can lay the blame of those untimely graves upon the climate or the country of our enemies.
I will tell you why they died, and tell you in language so plain that a wayfaring man, even though a fool, cannot misunderstand me, for the time has arrived when the whole Empire should know the truth in all its native hideousness. Those men were done to death by wanton carelessness upon the part of men sent out by the British War Office. They were done to death through criminal neglect of the most simple laws of sanitation. Men were huddled together in camp after camp; they were allowed to turn the surrounding veldt and adjacent kopjes into cesspools and excreta camps. In some camps no latrines were dug, no supervision was exercised. The so-called Medical Staff looked on, and puffed their cigarettes and talked under their eye-glasses--the fools, the idle, empty-headed noodles. And whilst they smoked and talked twaddle, the grim, gaunt Shadow of Death chuckled in the watches of the night, thinking of the harvest that was to follow.
Then the careless soldiers passed onward, leaving their camp vacant, and later came another batch of soldiers. Perhaps the men in charge would be men of higher mental calibre; they would order latrines to be dug, and all garbage to be burnt or buried. But by this time the germs of fever were in the air, the men would sicken and die, just as I have seen them sicken and die upon a score of mining fields away in the Australian bush; and all for the want of a little honest care and attention, all for the want of a few grains of good, wholesome, everyday common sense. Had proper care been taken in regard to these matters, four-fifths of those who now fill fever graves in South Africa would be with us, hale and hearty men, to-day.
But, England, you must not complain. "Tommy" is a cheap article; he only costs a few pence per day, and if he dies there are plenty more ready and willing to take his place. Don't think of him as a human being. Don't think of him as some woman's husband and breadwinner. Don't think of him as some grey-haired widow's son, whose support he has been. Don't think of him as some foolish girl's heart's idol. But think of him as a part of the country's revenue. Think of him as "One-and-fourpence a day."
What excuse can or will be made by the authorities for the wholesale murder of our men I know not. Possibly those high and haughty personages will sniff contemptuously and decline to give any explanation at all. And you, who hold the remedy in your own hands, what will you do? Will you at election times put a stern question to every candidate for the Commons, and demand a straight and unqualified answer to your questions. Remember this: You supply the men who do the fighting; the nation at a pinch can do without a Roberts, a Duller, or a Kitchener, but, as my soul liveth, it cannot do without "Tommy."
If you want Army reform, you must commence with the "Press gang"; you must stand in one solid mass firmly behind those war correspondents who have not feared to speak out plainly. You must send men to the Commons pledged to stand behind them also, men who will not flinch and allow themselves to be flouted by every scion of some ancient house; for if you do not support the war correspondents of the great newspapers, how are you ever to know the real truth concerning the doings of our armies in the field? I tell you that you have not heard one-millionth part of the truth concerning this South African enterprise, and now you never will know the truth. Had the abominable practice of censorship been abolished prior to this war, most of the abuses which have made our Army the laughing stock of Europe would have been set right by the correspondents, for they would have pointed out the evils to the public through the medium of their journals, and an indignant people would have clamoured for reform in a voice which would brook no denial. As things are at present, the military people during the progress of the war have their heel upon the necks of the journalists, and the public are robbed of what is their just right, the right of knowledge of passing events; only that which suits the censor being allowed to filter over the wires. Had it been otherwise, hundreds of young widows in Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales would be proud and happy wives to-day.
But do not let me rouse your phlegmatic blood, my Britons; sit down, with your thumbs in your mouths, my masters, and allow a coterie to flout you at will, whilst the Frenchmen, the Germans, the Russians alternately laugh at and pity you. Pity you, the sons of the men who chased their fathers half over Europe at the point of the blood-red bayonet! Have you grown tame, have you waxed fat and foolish during these long years of peace? Is the spirit that swept the legions of France through the Pyrenees and carried the old flag up the heights of Inkerman in the teeth of Russian chivalry--is it dead, or only sleeping? If it but slumbers, let me cry, Sleeper, awake, for danger is at the gates! Not the danger due from foreign foes, but a greater danger--the danger of unjust government, for where evil is hidden injustice reigns.
Our military friends tell us that censorship of Press work is necessary for the welfare of the Army. They urge that if we correspondents had a free hand the enemy might gain valuable information regarding the movements of our troops. To us who for the greater portion of a year have been at the front there is grim irony in that assertion. Fancy the Boer scouts wanting information from us which might filter through London newspapers! That flimsy, paltry excuse can be dismissed with a contemptuous laugh. That is not why the military people want our work censored. The real reason is that their awful blunders, their farcical mistakes, and their criminal negligence may not reach the British public. Just try for one brief moment to remember some of the "censored" cables that have been sent home to you during the war, and then compare it with such a cable as this, which would have come if the Press men had a free hand:
"Kruger's Valley, Jan. 12.
"The ---- Division, under General ----, arrived at Kruger's Valley four days ago. No latrines have been dug ... weather terribly hot, with rain threatening. This Division moves out in about a week. Its place will be taken by troops just arrived at Durban from England. Should we have rain in the meantime half the new draft will be down with enteric fever before they are here a week, and the death rate will be simply awful. General ---- and staff will be responsible for those deaths."
The military folk would, doubtless, designate such a telegram "a piece of d----d impudence."
But the latrines would be dug, the camp would be kept free from foulness, and the new draft would not die untimely deaths, but would live to fight the enemies of their country.
Why the camps in South Africa were not models of cleanliness passes my comprehension. There was no need to harass "Tommy" by setting him to do the work. Every Division was accompanied by swarms of niggers, who drew from Government £4 10s. per month and their food. These niggers had a gentleman's life. They waxed fat, lazy, and cheeky. Four-fifths of them rode all day on transport wagons, and never earned a fourth of the wages they drew from a sweetly paternal Government. Why could not those men have been used in every camp to make things safe and comparatively comfortable for "Tommy," who had to march all day, with his fighting kit upon his back march and fight, and not only march and fight, but go on picket and sentry duty as well? Those niggers ought to have, been turned out to dig and fill in latrines for our soldiers, they ought to have been compelled to do all the menial work of the camps; but they never did anything of the sort "Tommy" was treated for the most part like a Kaffir dog, whilst the saucy niggers led the lives of fightingcocks, and to-day any ordinary Army Service nigger thinks himself a better man than "Tommy," and doesn't hesitate to tell you so. It would be instructive to know the name of the genius who fixed the scale of nigger wage at £ 4 10s. per month, with rations. Fully half that sum could with ease have been saved the British taxpayer, and the nigger would have taken it with delight, and jumped at the chance of getting it. As a matter of fact, the nigger has had a huge picnic, and has been well paid for attending it. He has never been kept short of food. He has never had to march until his feet were almost falling off him. He has not had to fight for the country that fed and clothed him. Poor "Tommy!"