Even after I thought I had settled down in Johannesburg, there was to be no settled life for me. Just when I felt that I should be breathing in peace, an unexpected event happened. The papers brought the news of the out break of the Zulu 'rebellion' in Natal. I bore no grudge against the Zulus, they had harmed no Indian. I had doubts about the 'rebellion' itself. But I then believed that the British Empire existed for the welfare of the world. A genuine sense of loyalty prevented me from even wishing ill to the Empire. The rightness or otherwise of the 'rebellion' was therefore not likely to affect my decision. Natal had a Volunteer Defence Force, and it was open to it to recruit more men. I read that this force had already been mobilized to quell the 'rebellion'.
I considered myself a citizen of Natal, being intimately connected
with it. So I wrote to the Governor, expressing my readiness, if
necessary, to form an Indian Ambulance Corps. He replied immediately
accepting the offer.
I had not expected such prompt acceptance. Fortunately I had made
all the necessary arrangements even before writing the letter. If my
offer was accepted, I had decided to break up the Johannesburg home.
Polak was to have a smaller house, and my wife was to go and settle
at Phoenix. I had her full consent to this decision. I do not
remember her having ever stood in my way in matters like this. As
soon, therefore, as I got the reply from the Governor, I gave the
landlord the usual month's notice of vacating the house, sent some
of the things to Phoenix and left some with Polak.
I went to Durban and appealed for men. A big contingent was not
necessary. We were a party of twenty-four, of whom, besides me, four
were Gujaratis. The rest were ex-indentured men from South India,
excepting one who was a free Pathan.
In order to give me a status and to facilitate work, as also in
accordance with the existing convention, the Chief Medical Officer
appointed me to the temporary rank of Sergeant Major and three men
selected by me to the rank of sergeants and one to that of corporal.
We also received our uniforms from the Government. Our Corps was on
active service for nearly six weeks. On reaching the scene of the
'rebellion', I saw that there was nothing there to justify the name
of 'rebellion'. There was no resistance that one could see. The
reason why the disturbance had been magnified into a rebellion was
that a Zulu chief had advised non-payment of a new tax imposed on
his people, and had assagaied a sergeant who had gone to collect the
tax. At any rate my heart was with the Zulus, and I was delighted,
on reaching headquarters, to hear that our main work was to be the
nursing of the wounded Zulus. The Medical Officer in charge welcomed
us. He said the white people were not willing nurses for the wounded
Zulus, that their wounds were festering, and that he was at his
wits' end. He hailed our arrival as a godsend for those innocent
people, and he equipped us with bandages, disinfectants, etc., and
took us to the improvised hospital. The Zulus were delighted to see
us. The white soldiers used to peep through the railings that
separated us from them and tried to dissuade us from attending to
the wounds. And as we would not heed them, they became enraged and
poured unspeakable abuse on the Zulus.
Gradually I came into closer touch with these soldiers, and they
ceased to interfere. Among the commanding officers were Colonel Sparks
and Colonel Wylie, who had bitterly opposed me in 1896. They were
surprised at my attitude and specially called and thanked me. They
introduced me to General Mackenzie. Let not the reader think that
these were professional soldiers. Colonel Wylie was a well-known Durban
lawyer. Colonel Sparks was well-known as the owner of a butcher's shop
in Durban. General Mackenzie was a noted Natal farmer. All these
gentlemen were volunteers, and as such had received military
training and experience.
The wounded in our charge were not wounded in battle. A section of
them had been taken prisoners as suspects. The General had sentenced
them to be flogged. The flogging had caused severe sores. These,
being unattended to, were festering. The others were Zulu friendlies.
Although these had badges given them to distinguish them from the
'enemy', they had been shot at by the soldiers by mistake.
Besides this work I had to compound and dispense prescriptions for
the white soldiers. This was easy enough for me as I had received a
year's training in Dr. Booth's little hospital. This work brought me
in close contact with many Europeans.
We were attached to a swift-moving column. It had orders to march
wherever danger was reported. It was for the most part mounted
infantry. As soon as our camp was moved, we had to follow on foot
with our stretchers on our shoulders. Twice or thrice we had to
march forty miles a day. But wherever we went, I am thankful that we
had God's good work to do, having to carry to the camp on our
stretchers those Zulu friendlies who had been inadvertently wounded,
and to attend upon them as nurses.