Day 17: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

KoosbygrafGochas
Standing in front of the memorial stones for the fallen German soldiers in the cemetery at Gochas, Namibia. In this blog I will explain why these stones were erected here, more than 100 km from where the soldiers were buried.

The last two days I have been blogging about the search for the Lost Battlefield in the Kalahari where on 16 March 1908 the final battle of the Nama war took place. In October I will once again go on an expedition to try and locate the battlefield and the graves of the fallen soldiers.

The battle took place on British soil, on 16 March 1908. To be more precise it took place in Bechuanaland, known today as Botswana. At the time Bechuanaland was a British colony as was South Africa. The pursuing Germans came from German South West Africa, known today as Namibia. As far as we know the German columns did not have the permission of the British government to enter either South Africa or Bechuanaland. It is possible that the transgression could have sparked an international incident but that is how it worked. The Germans felt obligated to do what they wanted to do and so they crossed over onto foreign lands, regardless of the consequences.

Naturally after the battle which left 55 Namas and 13 Germans including their leader Captain Friedrich von Erckert dead the Germans wanted to get back onto German soil as soon as possible. They hurriedly dug the graves and laid their men to rest, possibly intending to come back at a later stage to remove the corpses for reburial. That never happened because Germany and Britain were not on a friendly footing. It was 1908, six years before the outbreak of WW1 between these two countries. As time went by the already strained relationship only worsened.

Abandoning military graves is just not the style of any civilised government. It creates a very poor impression on their soldiers. Even today 111 years later Germany would like to erect proper memorials at the true site. Back then they did not have access to the area because of the political situation. The only thing they could do was to erect some or other memorial at the headquarters of the force which was Gochas. That is what they did and to this day the stones stand there, more than hundred kilometers from the graves.

I visited the cemetery in Gochas last year. It was locked. I had to drive to the municipal office and ask the official to come and open the gate. After a while the official arrived at the cemetery and simply cut off the lock with a bolt cutter. He said that he was unable to find the keys.

I strolled around the cemetery and soon found the stones with all the names of the fallen soldiers engraved on it. On it the inscription reads fallen somewhere “east of Paulsvolk”. It is assumed that it is a mistake and that it was intended to be Paulskolk but today nobody knows where Paulskolk or for that matter Paulsvolk is.

I asked around town about the story but nobody was aware of it. It is really strange that I have become so obsessed by the details but people who live so close to the site of the headquarters and the stones are not interested at all. I suppose that is the way of the world.

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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