The Great Knolly: An African Adventure Part Three

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This is the first time that the Knolly Estate has allowed the great man's memoirs to be published. What follows is the third chapter of 'The African Adventure'.

Ship of Fools

We arrived in Hamburg under the cover of darkness, the Kaiser obviously not wanting any ceremony associated with his new hobby. We alighted from the train along with Turpitz and, leaving Bertie to sort out our baggage, I strolled to the front of the train with the Admiral hot on my heels to see His Majesty.

'Well, your Majesty' I shouted above the noise. 'It is here we go our
separate ways and put the plan into action. Once again, thank you for
the ride and your hospitality. I only hope I can repay you someday.'

'Just succeed Knolly, that's all I want to see.' He shouted back.
'Turpitz will accompany you to the dockside and ensure you have no
problems getting aboard. After that, as they say, you and Mr Harrison-Harrison are on your own.' He winked and shook my hand.

I bowed, clicked my heels and walked back to Bertie. Turpitz remained in conversation for a few minutes and then joined Bertie and myself. A horse drawn cab was waiting outside the station for us, but there was no longer any sign of the lancers. Bertie loaded our bags and then the three of us got in. It was a short and very quiet ride to the dockside, made very eerie by the incoming fog. We could just about make out the hulking ship there alongside, but I couldn't make out too many details - except that it seemed to be sitting low in the water.

Turpitz got out and asked us to wait whilst he sought out the captain.
Bertie and I unloaded our belongings and then tried to make out the
registration and name of the ship. Our attempts were thwarted by a cry from above. It was Turpitz:

'Gentlemen, would you please make your way up the gangplank. It would
appear you will be sailing earlier than anticipated.'
'Well that's a nuisance Knolly', said Bertie as he picked up his bags. 'No time for any shopping and things.'

'Deuced odd if you ask me. Still we are guests here and the sooner we
get to Africa, the better. Anyway, what's this about bloody shopping?'

Bertie shrugged. 'Wanted a gun... ', he mumbled. I might have known.

The pair of us tramped up the gangplank to the deck and were met by
Turpitz and another man who we correctly assumed to be the captain of
the tub.

'Allow me to introduce Kapitan Trublemacher. A fine sailor and one I
would trust with my life. It would seem he is anxious to leave with the
tide. So I must bid you farewell and good luck.'

'Glad to have you aboard,' said Trublemacher with a nod. 'I'll get some
men to show you to your quarters.'

Bertie and I shook hands with Turpitz and bade him a fond farewell then he was off down the gangplank like a rat up a drainpipe. Trublemacher turned away and left us in the care of two able-bodied hands. They picked up our bags and then bade us follow them with a guttural grunt or so. As we made our way along various companionways, through bulkhead doors and down to below decks we tried to find out a little more about the vessel. Our burly escorts , however, wouldn't let on anything. Now either they were under orders not to talk or just couldn't. Bertie tried most of the European languages and I tried Arabic and some Indian dialects but no luck.

Our quarters, once we reached them, were not White Star Line standards by any means but definitely serviceable and, although down with the rest of the crew, we at least had a cabin to ourselves. Once our escorts had deposited our bags and left, Bertie and I relaxed somewhat. We tossed a coin to sort out sleeping arrangements and I won top bunk.
'So, Knolly, here we are then. Turpitz didn't hang about long did he?' said Bertie as he started unpacking.

'No, very odd. Unless he knew much more about this ship than he was letting on. The captain didn't seem to bothered about two extra mouths to feed either.' Bertie made to quieten me.

I stopped and heard much shouting above us and then felt the floor begin to vibrate.

'Come on Bertie!' I said pulling on my oilskin trousers. 'The crew should be well and truly occupied with getting underway. Time for us to have a good poke around this tub and see why she's so low in the water. I mean a steam ship running cargo, not many of those on the high seas.'

Bertie stuck out his lower lip in a sulk.
'I still say it was heads and I should have top bunk.'

'Look old fella,' I replied 'we've been through this before. You know what happened the last time you were on top and before you say it, yes, I know you weren't alone.'
'Oh... all right, let me get changed before we go.'

As well as my aforementioned oilskins, I was now also wearing a heavy duty sweater and gum boots. Bertie, however, had also brought along his favourite yellow oilskin jacket and souwester which he placed on his head at a jaunty angle. He turned and faced me.
'Ow do I look... ahh hahahahah!' he laughed in a nautical voice obviously borrowed from the light operetta Pirates of Penzance and continued on. 'Right 'oh me 'arties lets pop up to the poop, ah hahahaah.' I raised my eyes to the heavens and sighed.

'Fine, but before we go, no singing any ditties or doing the Sailor's Hornpipe.'
'Oh... Knolly!!'

Outside the cabin, it was as I'd surmised, quite empty with the only noise being the dull throb of the engine.

'This way Bertie.' I said and beckoned towards a ladder. 'Lets see what cargo she's got.'

Peering into the inky blackness Bertie fumbled in his voluminous jacket pockets and pulled out a police issue 'Bulls-eye' lantern. I shuddered to think what else he might have had in there.
'Always knew this would come in handy. Let there be light.' he quipped.

Down below, Bertie's light made some very interesting shadows and as we climbed down the ladder the engine sound grew much louder. Once down, Bertie played his light about and what a sight was before us. The hold was stacked floor to ceiling with wooden crates all stamped with the German Imperial Eagle. Bertie let out a low whistle.
'What do you think then, Knolly?' said Bertie as he moved towards the nearest stack and picked up a crowbar and hung his lantern on a hook. '... tea, coffee... er sugar?'

'Oh look, we know it's obviously ammo and guns - it says so here on this manifest!' I retorted.
'I know, I know, but don't forget I wasn't allowed to bring my Elephant gun, was I? Now help get this one down.' he said with much ooofing.

I reached up to give Bertie some assistance when suddenly there was a voice from the somewhere in the gloom.

'Quite correct gentlemen!' said the voice and into the light walked Kapitan Trublemacher - *Clang!* 'Got in Himmell... who put that there!' he yelled.
'Oh I say old chap did that hurt?' said Bertie and went to his aid leaving me alone with the crate.

'BERTIE... MY FINGERS!!' Bertie extricated my hands and then started to fuss around the captain.

'Yes, yes I'm fine - nothing a shot of schnapps won't put right. But, gentlemen, please come with me now and do not forget your lamp.' He got slowly to his feet and continued 'I had intended to give you a guided tour of my ship and, as you have found your way here, we may as well continue.'

As we made our way slowly back up the ladder the captain continued to inform us that he and his crew had nothing to hide especially as Turpitz had vouched for us, at this point I raised a question.

'If that is the case, Herr Kapitan, why did the admiral beat such a hasty retreat?' Trublemacher chuckled and explained.

'Despite her looks she's quite a new ship with a new untested boiler. Now if you had a choice of staying on board with all those munitions you saw down below...' He left at that and, from the looks Bertie and I had given him, knew that he had made his point. As we continued our tour we discovered that the ship (whose name we discovered was the Schwarzkopf ) was vast and obviously undermanned for this long voyage anyway. The captain also pointed out that, although she flew the flag of the Merchant Marine, she was often lately being used for Kriegsmarine matters. He pointed out, however, that we had nothing to fear as the Kaiser only wished to build a fleet just like our own Royal Navy so that both great nations could police the Worlds' oceans.

At this Bertie pulled me back, just as we were going up to the bridge.
'He really believes that guff about brother sin arms-patrolling the oceans, doesn't he!' whispered Bertie. I nodded and replied

'We can't let on that we know any different. Come on, it's rude to whisper.'

'Ah there you are and this, my friends, is where I spend most of my time.'

'Impressive, but what about all those munitions in the hold?' I asked. He smiled.

'Those will eventually be used by the Transvaal Police Force, but we Germans cannot be seen to be taking any direct involvement with a country that is not one of our colonies. So from Walvis Bay they will travel overland.' He then pointed to the bow at a large canvas shape. 'The cannon out there, however, is for our protection. Ha... the age of steam and we are still troubled by pirates.'

I glanced over at Bertie and could see he was thinking about breaking into song, so I gave him a kick. I yawned.

'Well thank you for the tour but, if you don't mind Herr Kapitan, I think my friend and I shall retire.'

'Of course, gentlemen. It's getting late and I have work to do. The ship is yours to roam but please be careful and, as my honoured guests, please dine with me whenever is convenient.'

With that we bade him good night and turned to leave.

'Mr Harrison-Harrison' said the captain and Bertie stopped short.
'Er... Yes?'

'Remind me tomorrow to break out one of those nice shiny Mauser rifles, you may as well get it clean before you bag your elephant. Goodnight.'

Bertie's face spilt into a huge grin and I laughed as we made our own way back to our quarters.

We eventually found our way back to our cabin, but not before finding the galley, heads and store rooms.
'Incredible!' said Bertie as he sat on his bunk taking off his boots and socks and wriggling his toes. 'Freedom of the ship and all those weapons - we could do all sorts of damage.'

'True,' I replied 'but he knows we won't. He knows we need to get to our destination as soon as possible, so why should he worry?'
'Hmmm, I hadn't though of that.' He looked up at me. 'Oh, are you turning in then... I thought we'd have a game of cards.'

I shook my head at this and continued to undress. Seeing my indifference Bertie piped up.
'Do you remember that Henley Regatta a few years back, the week you said that you were not going to drink every night and then we ended up being the only ones that could?' I nodded. 'Well I just had a flashback to then, the card games we endured with Big Edward and how he was always so serious and upset when you won when you didn't even take an interest in your hand. He used to get so angry with you.' I chuckled at sat down next to him.

'Yes he was like that with all sports - do you remember the games of billiards down at the club?'
'Oh the ones when you'd just slam the ball up the table and it would go bouncing off all the cushions? You were so lucky!'

'Luck, Bertie, had nothing to do with it just the application of Physics and Trigonometry. Now deal.'
'Hey, Knolly, guess what?'

'I'm getting a new rifle tomorrow. I've never had a new one.'



The voyage down to Africa passed very pleasantly. Bertie had his new gun to play with and the crew and Captain were very courteous and pretty much left us to ourselves. The food soon got a bit wearing but there was plenty of it... fish, and the cook wasn't very imaginative. The nights were either spent gambling with the crew or drinking with the captain, although, when the sky was clear, I tried to improve on my practical navigation skills. We put in at Lisbon to take on more coal. Bertie and I had a look about and brought some fairly decent wine, port and some olives. We also had a look at one of the monuments to Lord Wellington (such a hero of his time) and we decided there and then that, when we had time to ourselves, we would pay a visit to Portugal.

From Lisbon we headed South into the Atlantic. Here the weather turned against us and Bertie and I, not being the best of sailors, spent far too long below decks which did us no good at all. So much for the supplies we'd bought. Things became calmer once we struck a course Eastwards towards Africa itself and now you could feel the air temperature getting warmer. Even stranger fish began to appear on the menu, which was odd because, although we often looked, Bertie and I never actually saw anyone fishing. Along with the aforementioned fish we also noticed the odd school of dolphins tagging along and quite often they would steal whatever Bertie was using for target practice.

I must admit that it had been a long time since I'd spent this long at sea and I was rather impressed with her speed although I did miss the sound of the flapping sails or, as Bertie put it, the spank of the spinnaker and cut of the jib! I enquired from our host at supper one evening whether or not we would be putting into port before reaching our destination and he told us that we would be putting in at a trading station in Cameroon. He also let on that we would be taking on extra stores as well as coal so it would more than likely entail staying overnight due to the odd tides of the area. Bertie, of course, was overjoyed at this.
'Hooray.' he shouted making the pair of us almost jump out of our skin. 'Real targets to try out!'

That night Bertie could hardly sleep for excitement and, as the sun rose so did we. Without getting dressed we made our way up on deck, Bertie at a run and me at a yawning stroll field glasses hanging from my neck (deuced uncomfortable to sleep with but you never know when you'll need them) and there, before us, tinged with the colours of the new dawn, was our first sight of Africa, the Dark Continent.

I put my binoculars to my eyes and scanned the view and settled on the German Imperial flag flying amongst the trees. I handed them to Bertie.

'Here! Have a look.' Bertie adjusted the focus,
'Huh, not much to write home about is there?'

'No,' I replied, 'and I gather that our old chum Bismarck wasn't over keen either. Seems to have been the result of an impetuous youth. You know how it goes; "everyone's got colonies - even Belgium - so go and get me some".'
'Well, from my chats with the crew,' Bertie added 'this is a huge improvement on their protectorate in the South... Skeleton Coast they call it. Thank Heavens we own only Walvis Bay!'

At this we went below and changed into more fitting attire... Johnson's No 1 Tropical Kit. Ah, how wonderful we looked as we strolled to the galley for breakfast in our starched, buff knee-length shorts, long socks, gleaming brown ankle-boots and multipocketed shirts all topped off with a British Army issue pith helmet. Here we had the place to ourselves as the crew were all busy topsides making ready for port. Luckily enough the cook was still on duty and so neither Bertie or I had to resort to any of our own culinary masterpieces. By the time we sauntered back on deck, having gained many admiring glances from the crew, we were almost at the point of mooring. The dockside (for want of a better description) was now brimming with native workers, white overseers and, as Bertie pointed out, rather a conspicuous amount of German military types. The ship was soon tied up and everyone on board and at the dockside sprang into action with practised ease. The gangplank was lowered and loading and unloading operations began.

We shrank back, not wanting to get in anyone's way.

'Come, Bertie, nothing for us to do here. Let's hop a-shore and have a shufti round before we get an official guided tour.'

'Hold up, Knolly, look who's coming.' said Bertie pointing towards the gangplank. I turned and looked in the direction Bertie was pointing. Coming towards us I saw a worried-looking Kapitan Trublemacher accompanied by a rather fat-looking official type dressed in a white tropical suit at least two sizes too small. As he got closer I also noticed that he was sweating far too much for this early in the morning and, although I'm always prepared to give my fellow man the benefit of the doubt, I must admit I took an instant dislike to the chap.

'Knolly, Mr Harrison-Harrison, permit me to present Herr Guttmann who looks after all our countries affairs here in Cameroon.' said Trublemacher as he came forward stressing the 'all' quite markedly. 'He has informed me,' he continued, 'that I'm not allowed to let you off the ship until we reach Walvis Bay.'

I could see that Trublemacher was unhappy about this and, looking to Bertie, could see that he was ready to boil over.

'Herr Guttmann. You may or may not be aware that we are guests on this ship; guests of your Kaiser, no less, which I would think take precedence over any other orders you may have.' I said looking him straight in the eye.

'Herr Knolly, I've already informed Herr Guttmann of your status but he tells me that it makes no difference. He has his orders and I'm sure you have noticed the troops on the quay. I'm sorry but my hands are tied.' Interjected Trublemacher.
'No, there nn... Ow!' said Bertie as I trod heavily on his foot. Guttmann smiled which was not a pleasant sight as he had no front teeth.

'So, Herr Guttmann, you serve the highest bidder do you, much like your Mistress, the Countess Von Kronenburg? So how much is she paying you? It must be in cash and certainly not in kind!' Both Guttmann and Bertie paled but for different reasons.
'She's not here surely...' whispered Bertie.

'Fear not, old bean. She cannot be here... yet. But, judging by Guttmann's reaction, I'm correct in my assumptions that she does not wish us to enjoy ourselves.' I turned towards the two Germans. 'So be it, Herr Guttmann. We'll stay on board but tell the Countess that I am most displeased. I'd not expected her to act like a spoilt child. Come along Bertie, let's see if we can help with the coaling. The sooner we are away from here the better... I find the smell rather distasteful.'

As we walked away trying hard not to laugh I shot a sideways glance at Kapitan Trublemacher who had tears rolling down his face as he too tried to hold any laughter at bay. Guttman, however, seemed totally at a loss and was speechless. I must admit that Bertie and I quite enjoyed a bit of manual labour even though we ended up filthy with coal dust which had run in rivulets of sweat all over our clothes. Thank goodness there was a breeze as this kept any threat of mosquitoes away as the evening drew in. It was well worth the toil as we set sail that night rather than waiting for the following tide. Bertie, for his part, put on a good face despite the fact I knew he was inwardly seething about not being able to use his rifle. I did point out that Cameroon was not well known for its elephants as they tended to prefer open grassland of forest rather than the deep jungle we'd seen whilst moored up. This, however, didn't really help. Once we were out of the coastal waters and heading further South I toyed with the idea of asking the Captain if I could have a go at sailing the ship into Walvis Bay until Bertie unkindly pointed out that, during the same aforementioned Henley week, I had succeeded in almost running our boat onto some old women's lawn. It wasn't my fault that I couldn't hear Bertie's instructions.


I cannot now remember how long we were actually at sea for except that, by the time the coast of South West Africa hove into view, the Cricket season was almost over. We chugged along with the coast well in view - a good move on the Captains part as there is nothing like the sight of land to cheer a chap up and everyone was getting rather tetchy and on each others' nerves. How we all laughed at the sight of seals and penguins frolicking in the surf. It was early morning when we put into port at Walvis Bay and Bertie and I were having our last shipboard meal. As we made our way back to our quarters to pack our bags the crew began swiftly unloading all the munitions from within the cargo hold. Obviously there was a tight schedule here to which we were not party. We sorted out our luggage and changed into more gentlemanly attire than we had been wearing throughout the voyage (this was mainly due to the fact everything else was now dirty). Then we made our way to the bridge to bid farewell and thank you to Kapitan Trublemacher. I must admit he seemed sad to see us go and told us we would be welcome on any ship he captained, then he gave us a bottle of his prize schnapps shook us by the hands and walked with us to the gangplank.

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