24. THE ZULU 'REBELLION'
Even after I thought I
had settled down in Johannesburg, there was to be no settled life for me.
Just when I felt that I should be breathing in peace, an unexpected event
happened. The papers brought the news of the outbreak of the Zulu 'rebellion'
in Natal. I bore no grudge against the Zulus, they had harmed no Indian.
I had doubts about the 'rebellion' itself. But I then believed that the
British Empire existed for the welfare of the world. A genuine sense of
loyalty prevented me from even wishing ill to the Empire. The rightness
or otherwise of the 'rebellion' was therefore not likely to affect my decision.
Natal had a Volunteer Defence Force, and it was open to it to recruit more
men. I read that this force had already been mobilised to quell the 'rebellion'.
I considered myself a citizen
of Natal, being intimately connected with it. So I wrote to the Governor,
expressing my readiness, if necessary, to form an Indian Ambulance Corps.
He replied immediately, accepting the offer.
I had not expected such prompt
acceptance. Fortunately I had made all the necessary arrangements even
before writing the letter. If my offer was accepted, I had decided to break
up the Johannesburg home. Polak was to have a smaller house, and my wife
was to go and settle at Phoenix. I had her full consent to this decision.
I do not remember her having ever stood in my way in matters like this.
As soon, therefore, as I got the reply from the Governor, I gave the landlord
the usual month's notice of vacating the house, sent some of the things
to Phoenix, and left some with Polak.
I went to Durban and appealed
for men. A big contingent was not necessary. We were a party of twenty-four,
of whom, besides me, four were Gujaratis. The rest were ex-indentured men
from South India, excepting one who was a free Pathan.
In order to give me a status
and to facilitate work, as also in accordance with the existing convention,
the Chief Medical Officer appointed me to the temporary rank of Sergeant
Major, and three men selected by me to the rank of sergeants, and one to
that of corporal. We also received our uniforms from the Government. Our
Corps was 0n active service for nearly six weeks. On reaching the scene
of the 'rebellion', I saw that there was nothing there to justify the name
of 'rebellion'. There was no resistance that one could see. The reason
why the disturbance had been magnified into a rebellion was that a Zulu
chief had advised non-payment of a new tax imposed on his people, and had
assagaied [=speared] a sergeant who had gone to collect the tax. At any
rate my heart was with the Zulus, and I was delighted, on reaching headquarters,
to hear that our main work was to be nursing of the wounded Zulus. The
Medical Officer in charge welcomed us. He said the white people were not
willing nurses for the wounded Zulus, that their wounds were festering,
and that he was at his wits' end. He hailed our arrival as a godsend for
those innocent people, and he equipped us with bandages, disinfectants,
etc., and took us to the improvised hospital. The Zulus were delighted
to see us. The white soldiers used to peep through the railings that separated
us from them, and tried to dissuade us from attending to the wounds. And
as we would not heed them, they became enraged and poured unspeakable abuse
Gradually I came into closer
touch with these soldiers, and they ceased to interfere. Among the commanding
officers were Colonel Sparks and Colonel Wylie, who had bitterly opposed
me in 1896. They were surprised at my attitude, and specially called and
thanked me. They introduced me to General Mackenzie. Let not the reader
think that these were professional soldiers. Colonel Wylie was a well-known
Durban lawyer. Colonel Sparks was well-known as the owner of a butcher's
shop in Durban. General Mackenzie was a noted Natal farmer. All these gentlemen
were volunteers, and as such had received military training and experience.
The wounded in our charge were
not wounded in battle. A section of them had been taken prisoners as suspects.
The general had sentenced them to be flogged. The flogging had caused severe
sores. These, being unattended to, were festering. The others were Zulu
friendlies. Although these had badges given them to distinguish them from
the 'enemy', they had been shot at by the soldiers by mistake.
Besides this work, I had to
compound and dispense prescriptions for the white soldiers. This was easy
enough for me, as I had received a year's training in Dr. Booth's little
hospital. This work brought me in close contact with many Europeans.
We were attached to a swift-moving
column. It had orders to march wherever danger was reported. It was for
the most part mounted infantry. As soon as our camp was moved, we had to
follow on foot with our stretchers on our shoulders. Twice or thrice we
had to march forty miles a day. But wherever we went, I am thankful that
we had God's good work to do, having to carry to the camp on our stretchers
those Zulu friendlies who had been inadvertently wounded, and to attend
upon them as nurses.