Day 4: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

Due to the vagaries of the weather and the special brand of Namibian Wifi, I was not able to post blogs the past few days, but here goes. I wrote this blog on Thursday 12 April 2018:

Today I had the opportunity to visit Gochas and surroundings with the specific aim of seeing first hand the memorial stones erected in the honour of Captain Friedrich Von Erckert, Lieutenant Oskar Ebinger and the eleven other Schutztruppe who fell on the 16 March 1908 in what many regard as the final battle of the Nama war. This story is covered in a romanticized manner in “The Scourge of the Kaiserbird” my historical novel which was published last month. I have spent the past two weeks travelling “Namaland,” the south of Namibia, in a marketing tour that was a little more than that for me. To me it was once again an emotional pilgrimage of the places I came to revere and respect over the course of the past eleven years, the time it took me to write, publish and translate the book.

In Chapter 37 I tell how more than 300 German Schutztruppe, armed to the teeth, left Gochas and Aranos on 710 camels following the course of the Aoub and Nossob rivers into British territory and deep into Bechuanaland, hot on the heels of the fleeing Nama commando under the leadership of Simon Koper. The battle finally took place near Kaa on the Botswana side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Within minutes the leader of the German expeditionary corps, Captain Von Erckert was killed, along with Lieutenant Ebinger and the eleven soldiers, but Simon Koper, the “Füchs aller Füchse” (fox of all foxes) escaped and lived out the rest of his days a free man, even being paid an annual stipend by Germany.

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Captain Von Erckert’s grave left back and Lt Ebinger’s right back. In front is the mass grave of the troops. Today nobody knows exactly where this site is.

The amazing thing was that the battlefield and the graves of the 13 buried Germans have been lost. Nobody knows exactly where the site is. The herpetologist Wulf Haacke has led no less than five search expeditions to find the site. A German group has also done four searches and will do another one in November. I was on an official search five weeks ago. We have some idea but I cannot divulge the details yet. I have written another short book about the events including our recent search. It has become something of an obsession for me to find this site.

As a result of the battlefield and graves being lost, the German authorities decided somewhere around 1909-1914 to erect the headstones in Gochas, the original headquarters of the expedition, on German territory. I have long known about the headstones but today was the first time I could visit the graveyard myself. It was a stark reminder of the futility and irony of war. Germany won the battle and also the war, but not without losing face to the small group of Namas of Simon Koper.

Von-Erckert

“The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” will be available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from bestellings@kaiserbird.com

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