The Ubonga Diary Volume #1
By Jim Wright
How it all started... Lt. Coghill Melville of the 132nd Sikh Infantry has been appointed commander of the newly formed outpost of Ubongo. Located on the Limponi River, Ubongo was a notorious slave base until captured by the British.
The village contains about a dozen families. They were held in servitude, working the land for the slave traders, but now they operate the farms for themselves. Having been held in slavery for so long, the population of Ubongo would be of little use as levies, but could do good service as laborers if needed.
Aside from the native village, Ubongo has but one other building. The small abandoned house belonged to a long forgotten missionary and was then used as a residence by the captains of slave ships awaiting their cargo. There is also small pier that juts out into the Limponi, facilitating the loading and unloading of supplies.
Inhabiting the surrounding countryside are the Mbeechi. Known as the "Ashanti of the east", the Mbeechi are ruthless slave traders who used Ubongo as their outlet. They are armed with firearms and have no love lost for the British. It is certain that the Mbeechi will attempt to recapture Ubongo because the Baluchi slave ships will be coming soon and there is no other near by port.
Beyond the Mbeechi country is the land of the Dinko. The Dinko people are the prime source of slaves for the Mbeechi and any other slaver that comes along. Because of the constant threat, the Dinko are fearful and potentially hostile to any stranger that enters their territory.
It is rumored that pygmies inhabit the far recesses of the jungle. Fearful of all outside contact, these tiny bushmen will use any means to protect their privacy.
To the north and west of Lt. Melville's command, the Germans are pushing hostile tribes into the area. Tensions are mounting as the tribes try to gain control of as much land as possible. Also, the Germans themselves are a threat. With the worsening situation in South Africa, who knows what they might do.
Of course it's not only the people that can wreak havoc on the region, the land itself can be a menace. Fire, famine, and flood, along with wild animals and disease await Melville and his men. And now begins the adventures of Lt. Coghill Melville in Darkest Africa.
How it actually happened...
Lieutenant Wheeler and his detachment of the 299th Foot (The Downwind Regiment of Foot) arrive at their base camp on July 1st. The small tired steam launch pulled slowly out into the middle of the Limponi River, leaving a bewildered inexperienced young Lieutenant standing uncertainly on the muddy shore. This was the last time he was seen alive. This following is his story as pieced together from fragments of Lieutenant Wheeler's personal diary and statements of Captain Hambleton, commanding officer of the Relief Column.
Start Lieutenant Wheeler's personal diary:
My detachment and I landed today at the village of Ubongo. It is called a village, but consists of a few simple huts of branches hopelessly covered with too few animal hides or too little mud. A ruin of a single building still stands. I have made it the stores building and my command post. I have put the men to work building their barracks and detailed a hunting party to supplement our rations.
The men worked hard in the heat today. Two were overcome with the heat and put in our hospital. This is a tent made from our best tarps. The men sleep under the rest or out in the open. The local villagers seem glad to see us and report that slavers have been active in the area and have carried off several of their fellows.
The heat grows more unbearable by the day. The men continue working on their barracks and make good progress considering the conditions under which they work. Two men passed out from the heat in the afternoon, but recovered and seemed fine by sundown. They were put in sentry duty for the night.
The first barracks building was completed. In the spirit of fairness, I let the men draw lots to see who got to sleep in it. This seemed great sport to the men and they enjoyed it to no end. Hunting around the camp has been good so far. Our supplies are holding up well.
The heat was extreme today. The men labored on. No rain in sight. Hunting was good. I shot my first gazelle today. A sizable beast the Sergeant told me, but it was tough eating.
How many times will I write the above. It was extremely hot again today. Six men came down with the heat. A seventh died from it. Work on the second barracks goes slowly due to the heat. The men's morale seems good. Excellent hunting today helped cheer the men with more fresh meat.
I did not think it could get hotter, but it has. The rains came. I thought this might cool us off, but the heat and humidity put two fellows in the hospital. I issued some of our meager medical stores to them. It seemed to help, but they remain in hospital. The rain was impressive. I noted with surprise that the local gullies became veritable torrents in which a man cannot stand. A villager was reported swept away into the river by the rains.
The rains are more cursed than I first thought. Fever struck the camp in the night. Three men were sent to the hospital, one died. I, myself, write this as I lie shivering in the heat, racked by the fever like the men.
Again the heat soared. I cannot measure it, nor do I want to. I still shake with the fever. Two more men in the hospital. It seems for each one that comes out one goes in. Is this the way it is to be? The hunting detail was attacked by a water buffalo today. One of the men was knocked down and trampled. The Sergeant in charge drove off the beast. The man was carried back to camp and placed in the Hospital. Needless to say, the hunting party now takes their business more seriously.
I am feeling much better today. The second barracks was completed and I ordered the Hospital moved into it. This seemed to please the men as they worried about their mates and probably about their own chances if they became sick. Hunting has been poor lately. Morale is still good. I am proud of the men.
The men are becoming adjusted to the heat. The hospital list becomes smaller. Barracks three is coming along well. Hunting has been terrible. Still, supplies are still plentiful. I finally got up and spent most of the day attending to my duties about the camp.
This has been the hottest day I have ever seen. I canceled the work details and rotated the hunting party at noon. The men were kept busy with mending uniforms and tents, and cleaning their gear. The heat has driven the animals to ground. Hunting was poor.
Continued work on the next Barracks. The rains came, but the men worked through it. Hunting was poor. The local villagers have stayed away lately. I don't know why.
The heat continues to press us down. Three men dropped from exhaustion, one subsequently died. It was sad. The third barracks is nearly finished. That is all the good news. The Hunting detail was attacked by elephants today. Or so says the Sergeant in charge of it. No one was injured. I talked to my NCOs and reminded them to take care and keep the men alert while hunting. I will keep my eye on the Hunting details for slackness.
A native came into camp with stories of slavers massacuring villagers. Our local guide questioned the man and told me he didn't believe the stories and the man was just looking for favor. I dismissed the man. Barracks three was completed today.
I cancelled work today due to the heat. It rained all day. I feel like a great blanket is smothering me. The hunting detail could find no game today.
Weather: Extremely Hot
The men worked today, but three went to the hospital by the end of that day. Barracks four is coming along well. Hunting was again poor.
The best day we have had in a while weather-wise. The men worked hard on the Barracks. We noticed today that the village was deserted. Our guide did not know why. These are strange people. Hunting is still poor. Today the hunting detail was attacked by a water buffalo again. One man was injured before the brute could be driven off. He is recovering in the hospital. I again reminded the Sergeants to increase their watchfulness and not to take chances.
More rain today. One man in Hospital with fever. This made the whole camp nervous. Barracks Four was nearly completed today. The men are still doing well despite the weather.
No work today due to the heat. The hunting detail came back empty handed. Still no sign of the villagers.
Weather: Bearably Hot
Barracks Four was completed. Hunting remains very poor though the men try very hard to find game.
A native came in today and reported white slavers in the area. I questioned the man thoroughly and am convinced his story bears investigation. I sent a detail to scout out the slaver and report back before I send out the entire detachment. A Sergeant and five Other Ranks with ten porters from the now returned villagers were detailed. I hope the men are not gone too long. I cautioned the Sergeant not to get into a fight, just find out what was going on and report back. This activity stirred up the first real excitement in the camp since we have arrived.
Barracks five is progressing nicely. Hunting was good. It rained a little and cooled off the men a little. I questioned the village chief and he refuses to say why the villagers left or where they went. My guide says he does not know, but I'm not sure if I believe him or not.
Came down with the fever again. I must admit I was surprised to wake in the hospital. The Sergeant-in-Charge said I swooned while walking across the compound. I was carried to the hospital and there I have remained. I commended him on taking charge and keeping the men at their tasks. All barracks are completed. Work was started on a proper hospital. Some of the men volunteered to sleep under a tent till the hospital building is complete and the sick moved to it. I thanked them for their offer, but will rotate each section through the tent.
Moved to my hut today. Feeling very tired. No word from the scouting detail. Hunting was good. The men were excited to report seeing the first big cat in the area although they could not say what kind it was.
A nearby village has been affected by some disease. The chief is sick. They have asked for help. I have sent a Corporal and two men with a small amount of medicine to the village.
Rain today. The men continued working on the hospital. We could hear native drums or something like them in the evening. Our guide could not make them out.
No work today. Held an inspection in honor of our one-month anniversary. The men did a good job of putting the camp in proper order. The hunting detail lost a man to what we think was a lion attack. The beast was fired on, but no blood was found and the animal disappeared into the tall grass that covers the area. The men are much agitated over this. I will increase the hunting detail size to allow several men to hunt while other guard them.
No word from the Scouting detail or the party dispatched with the medicine. Our guide told me not to worry, yet. Hunting was good today. I had some sort of small deer-like animal for supper. Quite delicious. Running low on brandy.
Hospital completed. All men now sleep inside off the ground. A watchtower and guardhouse are next. Two men to hospital. Both died in the night. Cause unknown. This caused a sensation through the men. I tried to calm them down. No word from either detail outside the camp.
The Corporal and detail returned from the native village. The Chief recovered and much to my surprise sent 5 head of stringy cattle back with the Corporal. The men were pleased to have some civilized meat to eat. I ordered one head per day to be slaughtered. It was tough, but a welcome change.
Today a native war party attacked our water detail as it was returned from the river. Two men were killed, one wounded. Eight natives were killed before they were driven off. The number of native wounded is unknown. There were none left we could find. I double the sentries. Work on the Watchtower continued with much gusto. No word from the scouting detail. Publicly I keep an unconcerned air, privately I am worried.
Watchtower completed. Work on the Guardhouse continues. I am considering what kind of defensive wall to build. It is likely we will be attacked again since the size of the detachment is small. The local slavers and raiders will surely try our strength again.
Today we were attacked by a huge native warband. The men were warned by the sentry in the watchtower, but the natives closed rapidly on the unprotected camp. Four men building the guardhouse were killed. The rest barricaded themselves in the structure and defended themselves with shovels, axes, and other such tools. We drove off the natives without further loss. I have resolved to build a stockade of some sort around the camp. The Sergeants agree and say it will be no problem getting the men to work at it.
Outlined the fort perimeter today and assigned details to start work tomorrow. Assigned one section to be formed and armed at all times. This will reduce our work force, but I see no other way to protect our meager camp. No word from the scouting party. Hunting was poor.
Weather: Hot Extremely hot.
Stopped work details at mid-day. A native came into camp today saying he had seem more white-men in uniforms far to the north of the camp. After much questioning and many gestures, I determined he had seen German Troops. Their direction of movement seemed to be west to east. Their intentions are completely unknown. I cannot spare any men to scout for the Germans and only hope they are passing by.
Work progresses slowly on the stockade. Finding suitable tree is a problem. I fear this will be a slow process. Hunting was good today. One man in hospital.
A very agitated woman from a nearby village reported seeing "the ape-man". Our guide says this is a local fantasy and to think nothing of it. But I have sent a Sergeant and four men to investigate. If this is true, what a chance to capture this thing! Hunting was good today. The stockade progress is slow though the men work long and hard.
We are under attack by a huge native force. The men are defending the barracks and guardhouse. This native force include men with firearms. Our casualties were heavy when first attacked, but we are holding out now. Tonight I will send a runner down-river for help.
End Lieutenant Wheeler's personal diary. Parts of Captain Hambleton's Report
We reached the Ubongo detachment camp early in the day. The entire camp and village have been burned to the ground. It appears the fires were used to drive the detachment out of their buildings. The entire detachment appears to have been wiped out. Several men appear to have captured and tortured. Lieutenant Wheeler's body was found outside his command post. It was returned to the Capitol for burial. The rest of the detachment were buried on the site of the engagement.
No local villagers were found alive. All firearms and supplies had been removed from the camp. The loss of the rifles will undoubtedly cause us more trouble in the hands of whoever attacked the camp. It could not be determined if the attack was by slavers or a native warlord. Although with the number of gunshot wounds I observed, I suspect slavers.
Further operations in this area will require a larger force. I leave it to Your Lordship to decide if this land is worth the effort.
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