by John H Marsh
ON the day that the Nerine took the second party of survivors
off the beach, the land convoy went through its worst ordeal so far.
Fog again prevented any activities until it lifted slightly about eight o'clock in the morning. It remained bitterly cold, however, for most of the morning, and the truck crews felt they were freezing even in their greatcoats. As soon as they could see a little distance Smith and Cogill set off to try and find a way out of the salt pans. Cogill was not by any means fit, but he persuaded the doctor to let him go, as the position was desperate and he was the only one who had been through this country before and he was thus more likely than anyone else to find a way of getting the trucks out of the morass.
The two policemen walked themselves to a standstill before they finally decided on the best route to take. This led to what looked like promising high ground in the distance. As fast as the trucks were hauled out of the bog, they sank in again, so Smith in the end ordered everyone to concentrate on one vehicle alone. Despite the united efforts of 22 men aided by steel ladders, wire netting, deflated tyres and its own motive power, the truck would crawl only a few yards before it got bogged and had to be dug out again. It was apparent that unless some additional assistance could be obtained the men and their trucks would still be stuck at Domesday. When, therefore, the usual supply and reconnaissance aircraft came over from Walvis Bay about the middle of the afternoon, some of the men wrote a message for her in huge letters in the sand, asking for four large tarpaulins and some spare front springs to be dropped to the convoy. The message was acknowledged and the plane flew on to drop another 125 gallons of water by parachute at the survivors' camp.
The convoy men struggled on until darkness made further
progress impossible. When they gave up that night, utterly tired
out and dispirited, they had moved one vehicle between one and two
miles, as the sum total of their day's progress. And, to add to their
misery, it began to rain.
After dropping the tarpaulins Uys flew on to the wreck and
delivered another 36 gallons of water by parachute container near the
camp. He also dropped a message asking the party on the beach
to indicate by strokes in the sand the number of days' food and water
supplies that they now had. They marked two sets of four strokes
each. The food position in the camp had been greatly eased that
morning through a visit to the wreck that had been made by Nicolay,
Leitch, Jimmy Thompson, the young fifth officer, and the ship's
cook, using the aircraft dinghy. They first tried to get across in the
surfboat but found it unseaworthy owing to the damage it had
sustained. It capsized before it had travelled more than a few yards,
and they abandoned it. The aircraft dinghy was difficult to manage,
but at least it was so light that it always rode on top of the waves. By
making use of the shelter that was provided by the wreck, lying like
a breakwater to seaward, the four men managed after an hour to bring
their unwieldy craft alongside it. As soon as they were on board
they scoured the pantries and cool chambers that were not under
water, for food, then made a fire on deck and cooked themselves the
best meal, they vowed, they had ever tasted. They put into one of
the lifeboats hanging in the davits all the food that was ready to hand
- potatoes, cabbages, pork and beans, and butter, not to mention a
quantity of Spanish wine, cigars, and cigarettes. There was plenty of
bully beef to be had, but they did not deign to touch it.
The aircraft, in the messages they dropped on their daily visits,
had been keeping the castaways informed of the progress of the
overland convoy. When news was received in this manner that the
convoy was only about 20 miles away but was held up in the salt pans,
the young husband of the woman who was pregnant, worried about
her condition, announced that he was going to walk to the convoy to
see if he could obtain there certain medical supplies. Naude and the
other South Africans knew that to attempt to do so would be inviting
serious trouble. They were well aware of the Kaokoveld's reputation
that no man ever traversed it on foot and survived. Once away from
the beach, one was certain to lose one's way and soon perish of thirst
or exposure, if one did not before that become the prey of wild
animals. After much persuasion, backed up by vivid tales about the
lions that were said to infest the neighbouring sand dunes, Naude and
his companions convinced the anxious husband that patience would
in the end bring better results than valour.
At about four-thirty in the afternoon Smith and his men had
got to a point only two miles from the wreck but they could not move
their vehicles a foot further. Between them and the camp were
dunes of loose sand which could only be negotiated by deflating the
tyres. They had found, however, that after running on deflated
tyres the tubes would not bear much strain upon being inflated again.
The valves simply pulled out and ruined the tubes. They had
exhausted their stock of spare tubes and dared not risk ruining the
last of them for fear of being completely stranded.
Copyright Michael Marsh(2020)
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