Somewhere in Africa – February 1917

RMS Walmer Castle – nearing Cape Town

This finds us completing the second part of our voyage and we should be in port again the day after tomorrow. I wrote you from Sierra Leone that we are doing the voyage in three stages. [That letter seems to be missing.] We have already been six weeks on board, so it is going to be ‘some’ journey. Apart from the life and incident on board there has been nothing very exciting to record, except on the day after we crossed the line [the equator] when we were all agog on account of the whole convoy and escort putting about and making for the port (S.L.) we had left a few days before. For 18 hours we were steaming in the wrong direction and then again put about and resumed our course. The reason for this manoeuvre was never divulged and we are still wondering what it was all about.

We were a full week at that West African port and as we were allowed ashore, it made for a pleasant break. The first thing I saw on dropping anchor was a big shark, about 12 feet long, which leisurely cruised round the ship. I was informed it was a sea-shark, hence its size, which had evidently followed us in and are seldom to be seen near shore, like the ground or sand shark. I saw another one the other morning which kept alongside for a little, just showing the tip of its dorsal fin. Flying fish are about as common as sparrows and lately we have run into big shoals of porpoises, hundreds of them.

It was much warmer north of the equator than what it has been south of it, which would appear to be the exception. The weather has been very fine but for the last few days we have been getting some heavy rollers coming up from the south, which may well get worse nearing the Cape.

The voyage has not been so tedious as it looked like being, thanks to an energetic programme of sports and entertainments for both the troops and passengers. There have been some very good boxing contests, in which soldiers, sailors and marines have taken part, but one, Gunner George, has so far been invincible. He is up against a tough proposition this afternoon however and the excitement is great.

The little bit of Africa I have seen so far was quite interesting and pretty in its way, but they tell me there is not another place like it on the whole West Coast. We rowed ashore in one of the ship’s boats and I tell you they take some handling in the little bit of sea that was running. I had the misfortune to break a fine pipe Uncle Fred gave me in the rather clumsy descent I made into the boat from the accommodation ladder. I took a hand at one of the oars but it seemed more like a telegraph pole. We landed at the river bank, which rises to a wooded hill. There were palm trees and other sorts of foliage which I shall never know the name of.

Freetown is spread along the shore and reaches some way up the hill side. It was very hot walking about and when we spied a local taxi – sort of a hammock slung on poles carried by natives – three of us made a sprint for it. I got there first but fell out of the contrivance in my hurry and the next man got it. We took a short railway ride up country and had a good look round. The natives are of a strong Mahommedam [sic] or Arab mixture, who originally trekked across the Sahara desert and have settled at various points along this coast.

Apparently we are only to be a day or so at Capetown, from where I will post this, with a P.C. [postcard?] or two.

Note: I found these images on Sierra-Leone.org.

As someone who can get seasick standing on the dock, Henry’s lengthy voyage would have been torture for me.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

2 thoughts on “Somewhere in Africa – February 1917”

  1. Mary,
    Fascinating (and alarming) how these European (or American) visitors experienced Africa during the early 1900s—often experiencing it as from a (somewhat) lavish safari participant.
    I loved this:”…I got there first but fell out of the contrivance in my hurry and the next man got it…” Much irony and humor are caged up in this single sentence. You captured it well.
    It accurately summarizes the dealings of all the overseas “powers” (e.g. Britain, France, Belgium, Germany & Portugal) who colonized large parts of Africa during the previous 150 years, doing exactly this—they all “noticed this contrivance (Africa) and “ran” to get a part of it. Some of the above mentioned European countries had to be satisfied with the “leftovers.”
    Having been born and raised in Zambia and then lived in Southern Africa for several decades (in the second half of the 1900s) I can totally relate.
    A hauntingly beautiful continent, with intriguing and colorful people—ravished by wars, famine, tribalism, colonialism & racism, and ethnic cleansing. And yet, also the source of much beauty and tales of hope and growth and dignity and overcoming.
    It is a fabulous tale you are telling here!
    Thanks for sharing.

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