Day 16: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

erckert08
This picture was taken on the morning of 16 March 1908, hours after the battle which left 13 German soldiers and 55 Nama soldiers, women and children dead. The commanding officer Captain Friedrich von Erckert and one of his officers, lieutenant Oskar Ebinger were buried in the two graves at the back and  the 11 other soldiers in the mass grave in front. The site of the battle and the graves is lost. It has been the subject of numerous search expeditions. In October this year I will lead another expedition using specialised equipment.

I am back on the tracks of the Kaiserbird, blogging, researching and writing in order to quell the fire this story has unleashed in my bosom. In order to write sense and not repeat myself too much I was compelled to re-read earlier blog posts. I urge my readers to do the same. Allow me just this one sentence before we carry on: Everything I wrote about in this blog concerns the events I have chronicled in the historical novel The Scourge of the Kaiserbird, but for the next two months my focus will be on the story I told in Chapter 37, the story of Simon Koper and his tribe.

Towards the end of the Nama War, in 1907, there was still a group of Namas in the far north-east of German South-West Africa who fought back. They were the !Khara-geiKhoen, also KharaKhoen, otherwise known as the Fransmanne, under leadership of the legendary Simon Koper. To the aggravation of the German commander, Captain Friedrich von Erckert, they regularly took part in raids on farms and would then retreat back into the colonies of the Union of South Africa and Bechuanaland, thus rendering the Germans powerless.

After conducting a thorough study of the habits and movements of the Namas, and with the consent of the British, Von Erkert planned a major offensive for March 1908. He was practically obsessive in his planning.

On 4 March 1908 710 camels, hundreds of German soldiers armed with machine guns, and their support staff travelled from Gochas and Aranos to the designated area. They put up camp at Grootkolk, on South African soil inside what is today known as the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park. Von Erckert’s scouts followed the tracks of the Namas eastwards.

On the afternoon before the assault troops were due to follow the tracks, a small group of officers from the lower ranks approached Dr Ohlemann, the medical officer, and requested him to declare Von Erckert mentally incapacitated as they feared that he would lead them to their death. The doctor refused, and the expedition continued on its way. The battle took place three days later and Von Erckert was the first casualty, a victim of his own obsession. Twelve German soldiers and 55 Namas died with him. Simon Koper escaped and spent his last days in Bechuanaland, Botswana today, as a free man.

Germany even paid Koper an annual pension anonymously to prevent him from ever setting foot in German South West Africa again.

For various reasons the precise location of the battlefield, as well as the graves of Von Erckert and the other soldiers, is unkown today. It is strange considering the facts that there were so many German soldiers present and that they even took pictures including the one above of the actual site.

On 12 October 2019 I will lead another expedition to find this site.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is 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 kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

 

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