Somewhere in Africa – 20th May 1917 continued

Let’s see how things go now that Henry has arrived at his new location. It’s a long post and a continuation of yesterday’s.

Letters are more likely to fall into enemy hands here than anywhere else so I cannot tell you very much of our little post here and its garrison. It is one of a chain of similar posts extending from the coast to the Lakes, with plenty of room in between, but which we keep well patrolled. These patrols are continually “bumping” those of the enemy whom we are trying to contain in the territory to the south of us, and then there is a terrific fusillade of rifle fire without as a rule much material damage. The native soldier believes in noise if nothing else. At the moment, with the rains on, big operations have been suspended [this is consistent with yesterday’s extract from a thesis on WWI in German East Africa] but it will not be long before we resume our driving movement and clear the Germans out of the colony. They have a very well trained native force including one of the old K.A.R. regiments which was disbanded just before the war in the interests of economy.

I have had several “bumps” with the enemy but so far as I know there has been little blood spilled. My first was an attempt at laying an ambush on a track leading to a water-hole known to be used by the enemy some 5 miles from our camp. I was out all night with my patrol and had a guide to steer me through the bush to the spot. In the virgin bush you can be completely lost a few hundred yards from camp. It was pretty tough going but there was a moon and I was lucky enough to strike some elephant spoor going part of the way, which made things easier. Elephant are plentiful hereabout and it is a god-send to be able to get on their tracks. We disturbed a couple of fearsome looking brutes which sprang from practically under my feet, but I could not make out what they were. “Simba” said my orderly, which means lion, so I suppose they were.

elephant grass

We got to the spot just before dawn but it was a poor place for the job as the track here lay through elephant grass 8 to 10 feet high, and I wanted to see better what I was doing. I reconnoitred for a bit and came to a more open place, with a fat tree on the edge of the path. I got my black warriors into position in the scrub and I got behind the tree, hoping they wouldn’t plug me in the excitement. They could all see me and my strict orders were that no one was to fire before I did. The main idea was to get a live prisoner and I did not want any shooting and so give the show away.

I waited for three hours, by which time the sun was well up, and was wondering how much longer I would stick it out when I spied a couple of German askaris coming along. They were walking nicely into my trap when a fool of a corporal – a blood thirsty Abysinian – blazed at the leading one, hit him without bringing him down and they both vanished into the bush. We searched about in the hope of getting one or the other but I knew it was no good and as we were in the middle of the enemy country it wasn’t healthy to hand about now that the alarm had been given. We returned on our tracks, half expecting the tables to be turned on us, which is a common proceeding in these parts.

Another occasion was when we went out to reconnoitre in force with a view to ascertaining the enemy’s main position in that vicinity. We were about 100 strong with two machine guns. His [the enemy’s] location had always been a matter of mystery and our small patrols had always failed to penetrate his outlying picquets and defences. As a matter of fact we did not do much more, but we drew the fire of his main body and had to withdraw before becoming too heavily engaged. We were advancing warily through the thick country when fire was opened on us from the left. We got into extended formation and continued our advance in direction of the shooting, to be threatened almost immediately after from the opposite flank.

We then formed a rough square and returned the fire and soon we were involved on three sides. We could not see each other, although it was comparatively open here, but that did not prevent a very noisy battle from taking place, which lasted long enough for us to have achieved our object. We eventually got our lot to cease fire and discovered we were in some danger of being surrounded. We retired in battle order and got clear without much difficulty and without having sustained a single casualty! They may have been less lucky but I doubt if we shall ever know.

Don’t you love that term “bumping” with the enemy. More to follow … this is a very long letter home!


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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