XXIV. THE ZULU
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 out break 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 mobilized to quell the
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
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
on 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 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 the 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 railing 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 on the
Gradually I came into closer touch with these
soldiers, and they ceased to interfere. Among the
commanding officers were Col. Sparks and Col. 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. Col. Wylie
was a well-known Durban lawyer. Col. Sparks was well
known as the owner of a butcher's shop in Durban. Gereral
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
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.