8th December 1895.
On arrival at Grand Canary on the 1st inst., Sir Francis found little news awaiting him beyond the disappointing fact that his advance party, owing to stress of weather, was now but four days ahead of him instead of at least a week. The threatened extra delay will probably be got over by extra exertion on the part of all concerned; but extra exertion is above all things to be avoided in the Coast climate if sustained working power is to be maintained. The main duties of the advance party and of the officers already on the spot are:
In order duly to appreciate the great importance of these two services, it is necessary to consider the nature of the road from Cape Coast Castle to Kumassi.
In the first place, the so-called road is merely a narrow pathway—the best part of it, from Cape Coast to the Prah, is only sufficiently wide for two men moving abreast; beyond the river it has yet to be cleared. It leads for the greater part of its 150 miles through heavy primeval forest. The thick foliage of the trees, interlaced high overhead, causes a deep, dank gloom, through which the sun seldom penetrates. The path winds among the tree stems and bush, now through mud and morass, now over steep ascent or deep ravine. The heavy dews and mists that come with night are laden with malaria for men, while the tsetse fly and horse-sickness infest the forest, and bar it as a death-trap to all beasts of burden.
To plunge a force of white troops at once into this forest, to set them to march and fight and bivouac in the usual way, would be to lay them low at one stroke with sickness. For the first 70 miles of its course, from Cape Coast Castle to the Prah river, the road lies in our own territory, and it is this portion which is now being fully prepared beforehand for the ultimate rapid and unhindered advance of the British troops when they arrive a fortnight or three weeks later. Since baggage animals cannot be employed owing to the " fly " and absence of forage, and Decauville or other mechanical means of transport are impossible by reason of the nature of the ground, it is necessary to use the ordinary system of the country, namely, porters.
For mere regimental transport, that is, conveyance of men’s kits, regimental ammunition, sick, etc., the number has to be computed at one carrier per head, which will entail close upon 2000 of them. In addition to these, an army of porters will be required for transport of ordnance, commissariat, hospital, engineer, and other stores. Large supplies and reserve stores of ammunition, arms, food, not only for the fighting men, but also for the host of carriers themselves, stretchers for sick, medicines, telegraph and bridge-making equipment, and a hundred other necessary items, have all to be moved up beforehand to the ultimate base, at the Prah, at Prahsu.
For the whole of this work, then, it is estimated that some 10,000 or 12,000 carriers will be required. The work of collecting these men will in itself be no small task; for although there is not the drain on the local manhood that there was in the last campaign, to serve as armed levies, yet their natural laziness, timidity, and general disregard of their engagements, make it extremely difficult to get them even to come to the scratch. In fact, it is only possible by means of bribes and rewards to the various chiefs—awarded in proportion to the number of men supplied. Then, when they have been assembled and registered, there is a great deal to be done in organising them into proper gangs under responsible men, and in assigning the gangs to their various duties under white officers, and in providing for their punctual rationing and payment, and for their discipline and sanitation.
All this has to be done before the stores can be moved from the landing-place at Cape Coast Castle. Then the limit of work of which a carrier is capable is to carry a 50-lb. load for ten miles, with one day’s rest in every five. The relay posts will, therefore, be established at every ten miles, and will include standing camps for the reception of the troops as they march up. But these stations have all to be prepared, bush being cleared, huts erected, water supply perfected, fuel collected, and rations and supplies stored before they can be pronounced ready for use; and furthermore, the advanced base at Prahsu has to be completed with all the bulk of supplies necessary for carrying the troops on beyond the Prah up to Kumassi and back. This means the transport of hundreds of tons over 70 miles of narrow bush path in 50-lb. packages. To help matters, the path has to be "corduroyed" over bogs, 200 bridges built, and telegraph set up. Then the standing camps, to be effective for preserving the health of the men, have to be prepared in a very thorough manner. Huts are built with wattled walls and palm-thatched roofs, 60 ft. long by 20 ft. wide, with a raised platform along each side to serve as a bed. These will accommodate fifty men each. Eight of such huts, together with others for officers, hospital and supply stores, will constitute a station. Of these stations there will be seven between the coast and Prahsu, near the following points Jakuma, Akroful, Dunkwa, Mansu, Suta, Assin Yankummassi, Baracu.
Huts are essential to the health of the troops, as the only protection against the ordinary heavy dews of night and the frequent thunderstorms and tornadoes that sweep over this region. And although thus sheltered overhead, it is of equal importance that the men be protected against the natural poisonous exhalations of the ground; and the best means to this end is the provision of bed places standing at least two feet above the floor level. Plenty of fuel is to be provided at each station, not only for cooking purposes, but also for drying the air inside the huts. The supply of abundance of good filtered water forms another important item in the preparation of each station. The comfort and well-being of the men, healthy as well as sick, is being catered for in a most thorough manner, even down to the daily supply of fresh oranges and bananas. Camp police have to be organised to ensure the due observance by the large detachments of carriers of the orders regarding sanitation and discipline laid down for them. Thus it will be seen that there is much to be done before troops need, or should be, landed. Lying idle at the coast while waiting for the road to be completed would inevitably lay them low with fever. Pushing forward before the supplies and camps are ready, would equally mean unnecessary hardships and consequent sickness. And with so very small a force every man is wanted for the fray, especially if Samory, with his mounted braves, should try to pass our flank in the open valley of the Volta. The Ashantis will not move away; our target is a fixed one, and in preparing to shoot at it we should be mad to fire before we have got into the best position for doing so. As our chief is acting on this principle, we may hope, with all confidence, that there will in this case be no repetition of the French campaign in Madagascar—an instance of a fine expedition nearly wrecked by want of sufficient forethought and preparation.