Somewhere in Africa – 30th October 1917

Henry is still on the move, his brigade heading south to keep on the tail of von Lettow.

I have just received a batch of your letters up to 19th July and this is a line to acknowledge same and report all well. We have been making good progress with the campaign but at the moment we are held up for lack of transport. We are hoping to give the Hun the knock-out any day now, but if we don’t it will have to be after the rains – six months hence at least – so here’s hoping.

Bully beef WWIThe country has improved a bit as we trek south but it is not much for all that, especially as the enemy has stripped it bare in his retreat and we have a hungry population on our hands, amongst our other troubles. Patrolling and traversing the country generally for our maps keeps us busy. [I wonder what he means here.] We shall resume our march when we have accumulated some food. We are subsisting on bully beef [see photo] and green bananas, which when boiled or fried make an excellent substitute for potatoes and occasionally we come on some small tomatoes to vary the menu. Game is conspicuous by its absence which is a pity, as it is always a welcome addition to the larder. It is possible to get a guinea fowl now and again, even with a rifle, as he is pretty slow in the take off, and he makes a fine meal.

We have had some pretty stiff marching and counter-marching lately. One evening we had just reached our camping place with that feeling of relief and anticipation, which we always associate with the evening halt, when we got orders to “carry on” and establish contact with the Gold Coast regiment, who were half a day’s march ahead. After a hasty uncooked meal we trailed off again into the blue. It was my turn for advance guard and I had to pick up a field telephone wire which had been laid through the bush and was my only guide. It has its comical side, which of course we only appreciated later.

Our C.O. (an acquisition from South Africa) is a worthy but fussy sort of man and certainly errs on the side of discretion. I was able to pick up the trail all right but the difficulty was for the rest of the battalion to keep in touch, while our baggage train, consisting for the most part of donkeys, was miles behind and was giving our transport officer something to think about. You can imagine the confusion of a night march in the bush; it can be bad enough in the daytime.

The C.O. has a whistle on which he signals all his commands. At one of the many halts while he was trying to close up the ever increasing gaps I had gone back to see what was doing. I met the adjutant and another captain and we were discussing the general hash we were making of things. The adjutant made a reference, more forcible than polite, to the Colonel, when out of the darkness the latter’s voice was heard. “Capt. —, you will rejoin your company and report to me in the morning. Another South African has got the vacant post.

The South Africans have a big pull in this show, for political reasons, and all promotions and decorations go their way. I have twice been recommended for the M.C. [I think this means Military Cross – a significant decoration] but that is as far as it has got. We got through the night somehow but as for making contact with the Gold Coast, we might as well have stayed in camp.

On another occasion when I was advance guard in a night march, this time to the whole column, or brigade, I came most unexpectedly on the tail of von Lettow’s main body. It was a stroke of luck and I got most urgent orders from the General to maintain contact until morning. This I did with the loss of six men. The telephone was run out to me and I had to report hourly to his nibs. Next day we forced him to a rearguard action, but it was only to cover his retreat. During the action I heard the German buglers sounding the “retreat” which I had never heard before in the war.

There are strong rumours that an air-ship has left Germany for these regions to pick up von Lettow and I am sure it is the best thing that could happen, as he will never surrender, and he will keep us chasing him all over Africa.

According to, “Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck (1870-1964) was remarkable among military commanders of the First World War in that he served for the entire period without ever having suffered defeat.”


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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2 Responses

  1. I wonder if the “green bananas” Henry is referring to as “an excellent substitute for potatoes” was actually matoke. These are a specific variety–the East African Highland Banana–which is steamed or boiled and then mashed. It’s a staple in Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania. I ate quite a lot of it on a business trip to Uganda 20 years ago–it tastes very much like sticky, mash potatoes.

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