13 April 1917
REPORT RE ARAGON and CAPE BOYS
I beg to submit my report on the voyage of HMT Aragon from Kilwa-Kisiwani to Durban. Acting under orders from Lieut-Colonel Manifold, SMO, Kilwa, I came aboard Aragon on 31 March 1917, and took over duties as Medical Officer in charge (p72) Troops. On the same afternoon, Lieut-Colonel Manifold, Chief Officer and myself inspected ship; the decks provided for the accommodation of the sick were ample and well ventilated. The latrines were sufficient for the number of troops aboard and were found in good working order. The troops on board consisted of officers, non-commissioned officers and men and natives (Capeboys).
The Capeboys were South African Natives whose health, by repeated attacks of fever, had been so completely undermined that a continuation of their services in German East Africa would have resulted in a very heavy mortality. They were all in a very weak state and their general physical condition could not have been worse; a very heavy percentage had enlarged spleens, and a large number suffered from phthisis.
Arrangements were made to collect all the fever cases into two compartments and the usual hospital accommodation was reserved for the dysentery cases. The deck space as far as practicable was reserved for exercise; this was not taken advantage of on account of the debilitated condition of the patients.
The ship was delayed ten days at Kilwa and this had a very depressing effect on the natives, which affected adversely their general health. During the stay in Kilwa seventy-four deaths took place, 46 being from malaria, 27 from dysentery, and one native jumped overboard. This occurrence formed the subject of an enquiry on board, conducted by Major Cunningham, Captain Dunbar and Captain Overbeck.
On 8 April, Captain Webb, SAVC, and seven conductors were disembarked.
This Officer and his men were of great assistance to me in the general supervision of the natives.
The HMT Aragon sailed from Kilwa on 9 April and it was hoped that the sea voyage would have a beneficial effect on the health of the natives. It improved the health of those who were convalescent, but had a harmful effect on those who were in hospital.
On 10 April, Pte Wilkinson, RAMC, and Pte Paine, RAMC, were confined to bed with fever. In answer to an appeal to the escort for assistance to replace my two orderlies it was arranged two officers and eight men from the Kinfauns Castle should be transferred to the Aragon. They came on board on the 12th and took up duties allotted to them. I made a strong representation to the Captain on 11 April that the voyage might be expedited as much as possible on account of the sickness on board.
The deaths on board occurred chiefly from malaria and dysentery. Several cases of sudden death occurred on deck due to the extreme debility and anaemia consequent on the frequent attacks of fever in the country.
In some cases only a few hours illness preceded the fatal termination. The patients received every care possible on board. The food was plentiful and of good quality and served at regular intervals.
No complaints were received on board. The Captain and Officers rendered every assistance in their power and readily acquiesced in any suggestion that was made relating to the care and comfort of the patients.
John Miller, Captain, RAMC
COPY OF A VOYAGE REPORT OF MEDICAL OFFICER IN CHARGE TROOPS ON HT ARAGON
Embarkation on board Aragon of 31/3/17 with Serjt Turton, RAMC, and Serjt Dimont, RAMC.
A sufficient supply of drugs were taken aboard for the voyage, but owing to the delay at Kisiwani this supply had to be augmented. Number of Cape boys on board on 31/3/17 would be about 1,200. Batches arrived during the next few days making a total of 1,407. The Cape boys were divided into two classes:-
1) Those working at the Animal Transport and Railways
2) Cape Boys attached to the 5th SAF Arty. All the deaths occurred amongst the first class. Serjt Dimont went down with fever and was transferred to Hospital ashore. Pte Paine and Pte Wilkinson, both RAMC, came aboard. Capt Webb, SAVC, with the assistance of Conductors took charge of the Natives.
The ship sailed from Kisiwani on 9/4/17.
In the harbour prior to sailing, 74 deaths took place, 46 from malaria, 27 from dysentery, and one Cape Boy jumped overboard.
Capt Webb and Conductors were transferred from the ship on the night before sailing. On the 10th, Ptes Paine and Wilkinson confined to bed with fever. I appealed to escort for assistance. On 12 April, two Medical Officers and 8 orderlies were transferred to Aragon from Kinfauns Castle. The total number of deaths during the voyage was 129.
The Cape Boys were suffering from extreme emaciation and debility. Sudden deaths aboard were of frequent occurrence, and in many instances only a few hours preceded the fatal termination.
Extra blankets, Medical comforts, and ship’s stores were drawn from the ship as required. The Cape Boys were 17 days aboard the Aragon.
1. In conclusion I am of the opinion that the high death rate was due to the extreme emaciation, probably due to inappropriate or deficient feeding coupled with the hardships of the campaign.
2. The percentage is the same, practically, as rules amongst Cape Boys on Hospital ships.
3. The prolonged detention of the ship at Kisiwani affected adversely their general health.
4. The Cape Boys received every care possible while on board.
J Miller, Capt, RAMC
MO i/c Troops Aragon