REPORT ON THE CAPE BOY (SOUTH AFRICAN NATIVE) QUESTION BY CAPTAIN RDA DOUGLAS, LATE MEDICAL OFFICER, KISIWANI, FROM 18 JANUARY 1917 TO 19 APRIL 1917
11 November 1917
To: Surgeon-General Pike
As MO at Kisiwani from 18 January to 19 April 1917, I had charge of the South African (Cape Boys) employed on Railway Construction work. I frequently visited their camps at Kisiwani and Mpara and held a sick parade daily. Their total strength in these two areas would be about 230 to 250. Like the Seychelles porters they were not a strong body of men and were not physically fit to endure the trials of a tropical climate especially during the heavy summer rains. On two separate occasions I had to examine drafts of reserves from the Union to fill the vacancies of those I had repatriated early in February. The majority went up to railhead which at that time was near Ngeringeri. Prior to disembarking I examined 353 SA natives on the HT Glencluny, rejecting 13, on 29 January 1917, and on 2 February I examined 388 SA natives on the HT Huntscliffe rejecting 11. Most of my rejections were due to under age limits.
At the time of my arrival at Kisiwani my morning parades were comparatively light, averaging 30 to 40, but they rapidly increased to 70 and 80 before the end of the month.
I repatriated about 50 as early as 15 February and they were kept in detail camp, doing no work pending evacuation to the Union. These repatriated men were seen daily and given extra milk and comforts. The Cape Boy has not the physique nor the stamina to battle with malaria. One severe attack was quite sufficient to render him useless for further service. Judging from the behaviour of the repatriated cases, extra comforts in the way of food and clothing, no work, and the knowledge of their soon returning to their homes and families, did not cheer them up. They became hopelessly depressed (probably accentuated by perpetual rains and misery of seeing a comrade die from fever) and a fair percentage died before they could be evacuated.
During February the sick parades kept up to average of 70 and 80, but early in March they were well over 100 and before they were repatriated on 28 March they exceeded 200.
Mortality – the total number of porters (Railway Cape Boys) who died at Kisiwani were – 34.
4 in February
24 in March, and
6 in April, including 4 repatriated cases from Kilwa-Kivinji.
About the middle of March I was asked to get my nominal rolls ready for the Aragon which was evacuating all the Cape Boys in the Union. I naturally decided to evacuate (p74) every Cape Boy who had attended the morning sick parade frequently. They were not all in a feeble condition; still I thought it wiser to evacuate the entire batch knowing their incapacity to fight either fever or dysentery. Approximately 200 Cape Boys joined the Aragon who were employed either at Kisiwani or Mpara.
The Aragon arrived at Kisiwani on 28 March 1917, and owing to unforeseen naval trouble was detained in harbour until 8 April. The 200 repatriated cases from Kisiwani area embarked on the 29th. A very big percentage of cases were sent down from Kilwa Kivinji by dhows and as these dhows sailed up to the side of the Aragon these cases did not pass through Kisiwani at all and as the Aragon had a MO on board it was not necessary for me to supervise the embarkation. The SMO and Officer Commanding South African Native Labour Bureau, Kilwa, were on board daily during the embarkation. Whilst the MO on board was incapacitated for two days during the Aragon’s detention I went on board to conduct the sick parades and attend all sick in Hospital area of ship. This only lasted two days. The Aragon sailed for Durban on 8 April 1917, being detained 10 days. During this period I had 64 dead bodies brought ashore for burial and they all passed through the Hospital mortuary. A number of repatriated cases came down by rail to join the Aragon. Of these I detained 12 in Hospital deeming them unfit to travel. Of these 6 died at Kisiwani. When the remaining 6 were fit to travel they were finally sent back to 19 Stationary Hospital, Kilwa.
The OC, South African Labour Bureau gave me every assistance and endeavoured frequently to hurry on the evacuation scheme. The mortality at Kisiwani was small compared to Kilwa and the majority of the Kisiwani cases died from acute dysentery or pernicious malaria. All the cases that were admitted to hospital died within the first seven days after their admission. A fair percentage of the malarial cases developed cerebral symptoms.
RDA Douglas, Captain, SAMC
4 SA Field Ambulance