Somewhere in Africa – 13th Feby 1917

Let’s see whether Henry Tod has had any harrowing experiences of late 🙂

Fern Villa Hotel, Marine Parade, Durban

From the above address you will see I am off the ship at last. We got in here and disembarked yesterday and are now waiting for another ship to take us on the last stage of the journey. We have not heard of any definite sailing yet and may be here for a week or more. I wouldn’t mind being stuck here for a month as it is without doubt one of the finest places I have ever been in. The military camp, which is close by, stretches along the beach where the big rollers come incessantly tumbling in. I like this place much better than Capetown, both as a place and the people in it. Natal is the most British of all our possessions in Africa and the people here are falling over themselves to welcome us and make us at home. One did not get that impression in Capetown where the population is rather mixed.

Round Capetown the mountain scenery is very fine and is as “stern and wild” as anything to be found in all Caledonia [a reference to Scotland]. There is an electric railway running eastwards along the mountain side, something like the Highland Railway. The famous Table Mountain, which almost invariably has its “cloth” on, rises just behind the town and makes a most effective background, especially coming in from the sea. We were only there a day and a half and as I was landed for picquet duty the first day I did not get around very much. The troops were disembarked and given a stiff route march, to harden them up a bit.

The convo resumed it voyage, less the White Star boat which was proceeding to Australia. Rounding Cape Agulhas, disaster overtook one of our company, the “Tindareus”, which sank from some mysterious internal explosion, as it could hardly be a submarine in these waters. [See this article for more information on SS Tyndareus, including the text of the King’s cable. As it turns out, the Tyndareus survived to sail on until 1960.]  It happened in the night in pretty dirty weather. Only 18 lives were lost out of some 2000, which was entirely due to the fine discipline of the troops and crew alike. The King cabled his congratulations to the commander and likened it to the “Birkenhead” tradition. The cause of the explosion is unknown, but there has been dirty work somewhere. The other ships carried on and the rescue work was effected by warships from Simonstown, which is a naval base. We put in there for the night.

17/2/17 I had a game of tennis yesterday with some people I met on board ship. They got on at Capetown where they were having a holiday and were returning to Durban, where they live. I am now casting around for a game of golf. It is summer time here and to hot for anything – even letter writing. I have had some fine surf bathing here and it is most exciting. There is a huge enclosure with a sort of iron grid to keep out the sharks and the only way to make any headway against the tremendous breakers is to pull yourself out on a rope attached to it. You then let go and the next thing you know you are bundled neck and crop [now there’s an expression] on the beach, with half the Indian Ocean inside you.

We move about here in rickshaws drawn by splendid looking Zulus, with a fearsome looking headgear of horns and feathers. They get along the smooth roads in great style but I don’t envy them their job in this heat.

Looks like Henry Tod continues to enjoy his voyage.


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

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7 Responses

    1. Hi … the letters aren’t from a book. They’re actual letters sent by my husband’s great uncle to his family during WWI. I find them fascinating and I haven’t read ahead so I don’t know what’s going to happen until I post them. Hope you’re enjoying Henry’s story. Are you a WWI enthusiast?

  1. Mary,

    Fascinating letters.

    The places in South Africa, Durban, and Cape Town alluded to in the letters, have changed somewhat over the last 100 years! And then some.
    Strange that he was so taken with Durban. Cape Town exceeds it in all aspects of nature, scenery, and natural beauty. The soldiers probably enjoyed the warm coastal waters in Durban—ideal for swimming. Although, in December one will literally cook. The Cape is far too cold for swimming, but its endless white beaches make it ideal for long walks or runs.
    We spent many happy summers visiting south of Durban. I had the privilege of visiting Cape Town in the middle of last year. Magnificent place—and the mountain.

    Yeah, those soldiers must have had an experience of a lifetime there.

    Are you not reworking these letters into a “new” story?
    It might be quite grand!

    1. Hi Danie … interesting thought about a new novel. I’m working hard on novel 5 right now which is set in Hong Kong. And then I have another two novels brewing in my head. So much to write!! I’m so pleased you’re enjoying these letters.

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