33. World War Looms
From Part 4 of Grey Steel by H.C. Armstrong

FOR Smuts it seemed that his dream of a united South Africa, of the birth of a new nation of all white men in South Africa, was already half destroyed, but he had little time for hesitation or regret.

In 1913 throughout the world there was a sensation of disaster near ahead. It may be that facts exist as facts before they become events within the consciousness of human beings. It may be that many minds thinking round one subject create the atmosphere out of which the events are conceived. The ordinary man had no vivid realisation of this sensation of coming disaster, but it existed at the back of all men's minds.

Everywhere there was a turbulence of spirit. Everywhere there were systems, loyalties, ideas, developed in a hundred years of peace, which were dead encumbrances and were fit only to be swept away. The workers restless and dissatisfied and distrusting their employers; socialism, syndicalism, and anarchism; underground upheavals in Russia stamped out brutally with Cossacks; in France sabotage and corruption; in Ireland threats of civil war, the English army being forced to take sides; in England suffragettes assaulting Cabinet ministers, workmen using the strike to fight the capitalists, who replied with the lock-out; the heaving of discontent in India, Arabia, Egypt; countries constantly snarling at their neighbours; two great empires, the Turkish and the Austro-Hungarian, utterly rotten, sagging to their fall, only buttressed up like ancient and decayed trees; Italy, Russia, France, England, Germany, intriguing for the best pieces when those empires should crash and eyeing each other in the meantime; Japan growing great in the Far East and America concerned and jealous; Italy and Turkey suddenly at war; Greece, Rumania, and Bulgaria equally suddenly in a general melee against Turkey, and then fighting each other.

Overshadowing all other troubles and quarrels a rivalry between England and Germany filled the whole world with its clamour: Germany, vigorous, overcrowded, full of men and energy, vital, domineering, needing land and colonies, and demanding to expand; England, owning half the surface of the globe, much of it immense tracts fit for cultivating but empty of men. As the Germans pushed out, they found the English in their way in all directions and refusing to give way to them, and the two quarrelled bitterly.

South Africa, though six thousand miles away from Europe, was involved in that quarrel. Germany, as well as her colony, German South West Africa on the Atlantic coast, had another, German East Africa, on the Indian Ocean. She planned to unite these two and create a German Central African Empire, and then press south, overrun South Africa, take possession of the goldfields, and fill all the fertile, rich land down to the Cape with millions of German colonists.

Botha and Smuts had long known the details of that plan, and they had realised that a European war was close at hand in which Germany would fight England for world domination. Botha had discussed it with Lord Haldane at the Imperial Conference in 1907. General Lord Methuen had come out from London to work out schemes with Smuts. When the South African leaders had visited England, taking with them the draft of the Act of Union for sanction, Botha and Smuts had both been called into the Imperial Defence Committee. Their private information from Holland and Germany made it clear to them that war was near. They decided that they must create a Defence Force at once, so that South Africa should be able to defend herself when the war came.

Smuts had his scheme ready, but it would take some time to get it working. He dissolved the old commando system. His defence force was to be a small regular army. Round this he would develop a citizen force of all males between seventeen and sixty to be trained by regular officers; boys under seventeen would be cadets. He created a headquarters staff with a commandant-general in command of the whole and made as Commandant-General, General Beyers, the guerilla leader in the Transvaal in the old war.

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