Advance Guard Part 2

75 mm artillery gun

 

The rest of the Advance Guard stared at the dead carrier.

Chadwick could see the fear in their eyes.

West Africans had little appreciation for battle tactics and strategy.

They focused solely on survival.

Any British officer who threatened their survival was well respected.

The column resumed marching.

Chadwick worried that Davidson might report him to Heneker.

If Davidson did that, a court-martial awaited.

Chadwick dismissed the thought.

The need for experienced British army officers in West Africa was so great that Heneker would probably ignore Davidson’s report and take no action.

Chadwick noticed something blocking their march.

A stockade.

Stockades were long, sturdy tree logs buried in the path of an advancing enemy.

The obstructing logs were placed on village pathways, river crossings, sharp turns and even on top of hills.

Major Baden-Powell of Her Majesty’s Army had taught friendly tribes in Ashanti how to build stockades as the first line of defence.

The knowledge then spread throughout West Africa.

Now, enemy villages could build stockades to disrupt the march of expeditionary forces.

Muje muje,” Davidson shouted to the artillery team.

Five soldiers quickly assembled the 75-mm artillery gun.

“Common shell,” Davidson instructed.

The artillery officer loaded a shell in the field gun.

BOOM!

The cannon shot ripped out the centre of the stockade.

The artillery officer fired another shell.

The stockade crumbled.

Half a dozen soldiers used their rifle butts to disperse remnants of the stockade.

The Advance Guard continued its march.

Chadwick was on the alert.

Stockades usually meant that the enemy was close.

He decided to take precautions.

“Flankers out!” Chadwick ordered.

A group of soldiers detached from the marching column and disappeared into the bush.

They moved parallel to the Advance Guard, shielding the troops from ambush.

In previous expeditions, a marching column halted every hundred yards to fire volleys into the bush, hoping to deter would-be attackers but wasting ammunition.

Chadwick favoured flanking.

He heard birdcalls.

The flankers were signalling the approach of an unidentified person.

Moments later, he spotted a petite girl, about ten years old.

The girl saw him and backtracked.

Four soldiers quickly surrounded her, cutting off her escape route.

Lean and sprightly, she reminded him of the dockyard kids in Liverpool singing war songs as his regiment headed for West Africa:

We don’t want to fight, but by jingo if we do,

We’ve got the ships,

We’ve got the men,

We’ve got the money too.

Chadwick sensed that the girl loved her homeland as much as those dockyard kids.

He wondered why she was alone in the bush.

Was she looking for fruits?

The forests of the Southern Protectorate produced a delicious fruit known as udara.

Native kids loved it.

But Chadwick hadn’t seen the fruit since he disembarked at Azumini.

“She could be an enemy scout,” Chadwick said, “Tie her up.”

“She’s just a child lost in the bush,” Davidson objected.”She’s not a threat.”

Davidson’s naiveté irritated Chadwick.

Using European values to judge Africans was a futile exercise.

The girl was young, but in some tribes, she was old enough to be a man’s wife.

“I’m not arguing with you, Captain Davidson. I gave an order.”

Chadwick glared at Sergeant Musa, the highest-ranking native soldier in the Advance Guard. “Tie her up.”

Musa spoke in Hausa.

Two soldiers grabbed the girl.

The sergeant uncoiled a rope.

Davidson stepped in. “Don’t do that.”

Musa glanced at Chadwick.

“Step aside, Captain,” Chadwick barked.

“She’s not an enemy scout.”

“We don’t know that yet. Move!”

Davidson didn’t budge. He seemed determined.

Chadwick realized that he needed to act quickly, otherwise, his authority would be eroded and he would be unable to command the Advance Guard.

“Captain Davidson, you’re under arrest. Sergeant, put him in chains,” Chadwick commanded.

Musa hesitated.

“Do it quickly Sergeant.”

Native soldiers were in awe of British officers.

They stood up when a British officer walked into a room and didn’t look British officers in the eye.

Chadwick recognized the sergeant’s dilemma.

“Your actions have put the Advance Guard at risk of failure and mutiny. I’m assuming command,” Davidson said.

An uneasy feeling welled up in Chadwick.

Heneker’s words rang in his mind. “I won’t save you this time.”

This expedition was the first mission Chadwick could recall that had two British Captains commanding the Advance Guard.

Why would Heneker make such a peculiar arrangement?

Davidson followed the rules; Chadwick valued victory more than rules.

Davidson spoke Hausa, Chadwick despised native languages.

Davidson was sympathetic to the native troops, Chadwick didn’t care about them.

Given a choice between Davidson and Chadwick, the native troops would definitely prefer Davidson as their commander.

Chadwick’s heart beat faster.

He had been worried about a court-martial.

But something worse had taken place behind his back.

Apparently, Heneker had instructed Davidson to take command if Chadwick screwed up.

Chadwick knew he had a reputation for recklessness.

But he never thought it would get to the point where his authority would be undermined.

Anger surged through him.

He swung the butt of his rifle at Davidson.

Davidson ducked.

Chadwick was midway through another swing when something heavy hit his head.

He blacked out.

He opened his eyes slowly and realized he was on the ground.

He felt groggy. What hit me?

He heard the bugle sounding the G note, the screams and yells of his troops and the steady rattle of a Maxim machine gun.

What’s happening?

His head throbbed.

He felt the impact of another blow and passed out again.

When he regained consciousness, he saw himself naked, in a dark, smelly cavern.

An elderly native sat in a corner.

Chadwick felt vulnerable.

He quickly covered his genitals with his hands. “Where’s my uniform?”

The native ignored his question.

Was he a British ally or enemy? Chadwick thought.

With one hand cupped over his crotch, Chadwick sketched a British Army khaki uniform and helmet on the clay floor.

Then pointed to himself.

The native nodded, stood up and left.

The man returned with a second person who carried a roll of cloth.

The man offered the cloth to Chadwick. “Wear this.”

Chadwick was relieved to hear English.

“Where am I?”Chadwick asked the second man.

“Wear it.” The second native made circular motions with his hands, demonstrating how to wrap a cloth around the body.

Chadwick looked at the cloth.

It had strange designs.

He shook his head. “I can’t wear that. I need my uniform. Where is it?”

“Outside,” replied the second native.

“Get it,” Chadwick said in his most authoritative voice.

He guessed that the natives were allies of the British and would do whatever he told them.

“Wear the cloth,” the second man insisted.

Did these two savages realize that he was an officer in the world’s greatest army?

“I’m Captain James Chad–”

“We know who you are,” the second man interjected. “You don’t know who we are.”

Chadwick froze.

It crossed his mind that he could be in enemy territory.

“Who are you?”He asked the natives.

His voice had lost its assertiveness.

The second man stepped forward, picked up the cloth and wrapped it around Chadwick’s body.

He tied the ends of the cloth into a knot under Chadwick’s left armpit.

Chadwick wanted to protest but sensed he was better off going along with them.

The second man said, “We are the children of God.”