Somewhere in Africa – 12th June and 5th July 1918

Today we have two of Henry’s letters.

Paw-Paw Papaya2/3rd K.A.R. – E.A. 2/5/18

Have none of your letters to acknowledge since my last. We are still well away from the seat of trouble and my company has moved still further away to a post not far from the coast. We are now in the land of plenty, with lots of fruits and vegetables, and generally speaking I am having the softest time of it since striking the country. I am 70 miles from the battalion, which is something in itself, and quite on my own. [I think he means his company is on its own.]

Fine fat bananas and mangoes and paw-paws (native melons) [papaya – see photo]. For vegetables we have pumpkins chiefly, besides cucumbers and a root (called mahogo) which is the nearest thing to a potato I have ever tasted.

We have been busy building a new camp about three miles away. We are on an old German rubber plantation and we are using the trees for building our huts. It is near a big swamp and is the worst place for mosquitos I have ever been in. They are a positive plague and you cannot even keep them outside your sleeping net, with results to be imagined. [Wonder if this is a make work project.]

There is no immediate sign of our moving down into Portuguese territory, where there have been several scraps. A mail is expected up any day and I hope to get something from you. Meantime I am keeping very fit and hope you are all likewise.

12th June 1918

Four of your letters have just arrived in one lot, the last being dated 7th February. I am glad that you are all keeping well and that Andy has got his commission and is over in France. You do not give me his address but suppose I will be getting a letter from him some day.

Portuguese East Africa WWIThis finds us under orders to move at last. The enemy has been steadily making south while in Portuguese territory and we are again after him, and after the long inaction the new is indeed welcome, although we may soon change our tune, as is the way in war.

Von Lettow the German leader, has shown wonderful skill and endurance but his force is steadily diminishing. I doubt however if we will ever capture him alive, or dead for that matter. Africa is a big place and we cannot be everywhere at once. [Map shows the movement of Von Lettow and his troops.]

As I write another of your letters, dated 19th December, has come in and I am glad to see all is well with you and the rest of the clan. It is your turn now to complain of the irregularity of my letters, but when we are on the move, there is little or no opportunity of getting letters away. This is still the “dark continent” where transport is primitive and mostly on your flat feet. Good news you know is slow, while the other kind gets there quick enough.

We are under canvas again which is a pleasant change after the grass huts, although the latter give better protection from the sun. You write of being frozen up all winter, but it sounds quite pleasant to me. We have managed to collect a few hens and enjoy the luxury of an egg now and again.

Here’s a bit from Wikipedia on Von Lettow’s circumstances at the end of 1917 and early 1918.

After suffering heavy casualties throughout 1917 and being unable to hold territory in German East Africa any longer, Lettow-Vorbeck decided to invade Portuguese East Africa in hopes of acquiring sufficient supplies to continue the war. In this he was successful: While the German troops were able to forage food by plundering the countryside, the Schutztruppe defeated the Portuguese colonial and metropolitan forces several times, most notably during the Battle of Ngomano, thereby capturing large quantities of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies from the enemy. Historian Gregg Adams even comments that the Portuguese became “the unwilling quartermasters for the Schutztruppe”. With the Portuguese proving unable to defeat the German forces, the British had to bear the brunt of the fighting in Mozambique, and thus began to aggressively pursue Lettow-Vorbeck’s small army …

As mentioned earlier, I’m keen to finish posting Henry Tod’s WWI letters before November 11, 2018 which marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice.


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. Mary,
    This fascinating history for various reasons.
    Most of us, even those born there, know little about these “earlier” exploits and conflicts between the Germans, Portuguese, & British, during the early 20th century.
    The lake to the left side of the map is Lake Njasa, with Njasaland, later called Malawi, to its west. We swam as young children in the lake, growing up in Zambia.
    Thirty-five years later, Britain would form the British Federation of Njasaland, North- and South Rhodesia, later Zambia & Zimbabwe. (1953-1963)
    Yes, those were treacherous days for the poor soldiers—if the Germans or Portuguese didn’t get you, the large predators would, and if you survived that, the mosquitos had a feast!
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Danie .. I’m delighted to hear your personal connection to Henry’s war story. As I read these later letters, I’m struck by the colonialism that devoured Africa during these and earlier times.

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