Aftermath of the First World War

Posted on March 10, 2015 by Cape Rebel

From Trekking On
by Deneys Reitz

We celebrated Hogmanay Nicht in the riotous fashion demanded by the regimental tradition of the Scots Fusiliers, and I was piped round the next morning with a terrible headache, to toast the New Year at the mess room of each of the four companies.

I spent the first fortnight of 1919 attending to my duties, and riding about the German countryside that lay all blanketed in snow.

The prospect, however, of spending the rest of the winter in these bleak surroundings was unattractive, and now that the excitement of war was gone, reaction had set in, and I was eager to return to South Africa. I applied for leave to proceed to London for the purpose of getting demobilised, and with the help of General Fisher my request was granted.

To me it had been terrible but not degrading, and I came away with a higher, not a lower, opinion of my fellow men. My chief memory is of great friendships, and of millions of men on both sides who did what they thought they had to do without becoming the brutes that some writers say they were.

I soon found that it was easier to get into the British Army than to get out of it, and I spent several weeks frequenting the corridors of the War Office with hundreds of others, all vainly trying to get their demobilisation papers.

During the intervals of importuning the higher powers, I made several visits to General Botha and General Smuts, who were making ready to attend the Peace Conference at Versailles.

General Botha had just arrived from the Union for the purpose. He looked ill and worn, for the long strain had told upon him, and the knowledge that so many of his own race misunderstood his actions, and looked upon him as an enemy, was breaking his heart.

He said to me that, remembering how we had tasted the bitterness of defeat in days gone by, and how the sting had been softened by magnanimous peace terms, he and General Smuts were opposed to a treaty that would leave the Germans a broken people.

Of the position in South Africa he spoke sadly. He said that narrow men were still conducting a relentless racial campaign that was dividing the people, and that a united nation was far off.

He died soon after his return to the Union, and I did not see him again. He was the most honourable and the most lovable man I ever knew.

From that night of the Spion Kop battle, eighteen years before, I had been his follower, and in South Africa we who hold his faith are still treading the road upon which he set us.

Posted in English