The Wildgoose Chase

I met Chelsea Pensioner Walter Wildgoose in 1977 when he was 87 and I was 26. Through a series of letters written over the last year of his life, he passed along his life story - the workhouse children's home, a life in the British Army witnessing the opening battles of World War I and life in India, a remarkable family surviving the bombs of World War II London. This blog will document my research and progress on the novel I'm writing about this amazing man.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Khartoum 1929, Part I

Sennar Dam (Sudan), constructed 1925

By 1929 Walter's service years were coming to an end. May and the boys (Doug and Ron) sailed back to England to settle in before Walter's tour of duty was set to end in 1930. Walter's final posting was to Khartoum:

Khartoum was a sandy and hot place situated on the banks of the White and Blue Nile. Omdurman was on the opposite side of the river, but several miles away. We were plagued with locust swarms. They settle down on the ground, and eat anything they can see. When you walk on them it had not effect. The Kite Hawks used to have a good feed from them though.

The battalion was taken on a train journey to Sennar to see the wonderful Sennar Dams which supplied the cotton fields with water. We watched the Sudanese labourers threshing the raw cotton with their feet and sticks, until all the hard brown seeds fell away on the floor, which was gathered up for making of oil. The cotton fields looked just like a snow covered area. After the pulping, the cotton went through several processes, until at the end, it was pushed into a big hydraulic press, and made into bales of cotton ready for export. The locust raids were the danger. Aeroplanes used to go up and intercept the swarms of locusts with “killer spray,” and they used to disintegrate, thereby lessening the threat to the crops. It was a very interesting tour going around the Sennar Dam and the cotton factory to watch the cotton from its raw state to the finished article, in the form of bales of compressed cotton.

As I've mentioned before, Walter had a head for facts and one of the things that made him so interesting to me (besides just being a nice fellow) was that he never lost his intellectual curiosity about the world around him. Whenever I'd visit him at the Royal Hospital, he'd regale me with the history of the grounds or Sir Christopher Wren's chapel. His letters provide an accurate, unusual perspective on the world in which he travelled. I never doubted the facts in his letters - and my research via the internet and at various locations in England proved my trust well-placed.
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posted by MaryB @ 2:19 PM  


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