Ndanda – 10th December 1917
I have received a batch of your letters, the last of which are dated August. I note Andy is at Shorncliffe and hope to get a letter from him before long. [Andy is one of Henry’s brothers who has been homesteading in western Canada.] You will have heard of the practical termination of the campaign in this country with the disappearance of the German force over the Portuguese border. [see map – source Kaisers Cross] Unfortunately von Lettow is still with this force and will have to be watched until accounted for. The Portuguese seem quite incapable of doing anything and we have received their tardy permission to send a force into their territory, while another force will garrison the frontier.
We chased the Hun right down to the river Rovuma, which is the boundary between German and Portuguese Africa. At the moment we have retired to Ndanda which is some 20 miles from Massasi, which with luck you might pick up on the map. It is only a mission station with a small settlement [a Benedictine mission] and I was detached here with my company on the way through to garrison the place. I had the privilege of breakfasting with no less than five generals while I was there.
Here’s an excerpt from the website Kaisers Cross describing the campaign:
“In late 1917 the British forces around Kilwa and Lindi were formed into columns, roughly corresponding to brigades, that were used to try and force Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck’s Schutztruppe out of this corner of German East Africa. On 27th September the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Regiment of the King’s African Rifles (1/3 KAR) and the 129th Baluchis were ordered to support No 1 Column whose principal units were the Gold Coast Regiment (GCR), the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Regiment of King’s African Rifles (2/2 KAR), and a section of the 27th Mountain Battery (Indian Army). The 25th Cavalry (Indian Army) was temporarily attached to No 1 Column but one squadron was deployed elsewhere with another column. Colonel G.M. Orr, Indian Army, was the No 1 Column commander and he had marched his men down from the Kilwa area; his mission was to disrupt enemy withdrawal routes by destroying German food depots and watering points. In this region good water holes were few and far between.”
We did some record marching in the latter stages but there was not a great deal of fighting for our column. In fact there was not much fight left in the Hun and his main strategy has been to give us all the trouble possible in trying to corner him. Operations for us have come more or less to a stand-still and we are fixing up a more or less permanent camp for the rainy season, but it is quite on the cards that we shall be sent into Portuguese territory at any moment. Meantime there are visions of leave for a month or so, which gives us something to look forward to. I have stuck it longer than any of the other of our crowd without a break. [tough guy our Henry]
The country has become a little more broken in these parts and there are some hills to look at, but for all that you are eternally lost in the bush and one pines for the sea and open spaces, and a respite from the sun which gets at one sooner or later. It is surprising how little shade there is in the “bush”, which consists of half dead trees of stunted growth, dead grass about as high as yourself and billions of ants and insects. One stumbles on a native village, usually deserted, and one wonders what on earth they live on. The river Rovuma was no great shakes, but it will be a different story when the rain starts. This place also boasts a mission (Catholic) with a respectable stone building, now used by us as a hospital. There is a trickling burn nearby – the first clear running water I have seen in the country.
I think Henry sounds a little down in this letter, don’t you? And pining for home. The contrast between the African bush and Scotland would have been quite something.
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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, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.