Somewhere in Africa – 7th October 1918

mahala hammock for transport in Africa

Portuguese East Africa WWIOn the Rovuma – 7th October 1918

I have not been able to get a letter off to you since August, when we started on a very long trek from the vicinity of Mozambique [the city]. We have now pulled up at our old friend, the river Rovuma, for a day or two to collect rations. After being in the wilderness for weeks we are back on our old lines of communication, with the port of Lindi as the base. From all this you will rightly conclude that von Lettow has succeeded in recrossing this river back into his old territory. We are presently at a point on the river about midway between the coast and Lake Nyasa where the river Lugenda joins it from the south. [Check the map to see where the Rovuma branches. The south branch is the Lugenda.] The Germans crossed over further to the west. It has been an interesting march, but the going has been a little too strenuous to be enjoyable. We have done well over 600 miles in five weeks and as we were a “flying column” we had to pick up our living as best we could.

mahala hammock for transport in AfricaBefore starting off I had done a long patrol with my company. The enemy had been reported to be on the banks of the Lugenda and I was set off post haste to verify this, only to find when I got there he had crossed over two days before and had gone further west. On the way I overtook a Portuguese tax collecting “safari” consisting of three officials and a fair lady (or rather a dark one) all being carried on “mahalas” – hammocks slung on a pole and carried by native porters. A string of porters carried their tents, beds, provisions and what looked to me like casks of wine. I cast a predatory eye on these things and never felt so near high-way robbery in my life, especially as they were not over courteous in returning my greeting. They blame us equally with the Germans for bringing the war into their colony and there were disagreeably surprised to find signs of it so near at hand.

I went ahead and as it was getting dark I camped down at the first water, for which of course our friends were also making. I was lucky to shoot a wildebeeste for the pot. I knew the noise would alarm our friends behind and so to play a trick on them for their discourtesy I got several askaris to blaze off their rifles. It had the desired effect as they turned tail and as far as I know they are still making for Mozambique. [Looks like Henry was rather annoyed!]

I reached the Lugenda on the seventh day and it was very impressive listening to the sound of its waters long before we came to it. I could hear nothing at first, although I knew we were getting near it by the gradual change in the look of the country, but the askaris were oddly excited and kept repeating the word “maji”, meaning water. I may say that by this time “maji”, generally speaking, had come to be the most important thing in life, more so than food or even the enemy, and the eye unconsciously scanned the country for any sign of its presence. We had halted about three miles from the river where I could get some sort of view of the surrounding country and by listening intently I could at last pick up a faint indescribable sound, which I was assured was the big river. It now behoved me to act cautiously and I sent scouts ahead and we gradually felt our way to the river.

We came on a village but there was not a soul to be seen. As usual the inhabitants were hiding. There was no sign of the enemy hereabouts but I wanted to get hold of some of the natives who could doubtless tell me something and I sent out search parties. Eventually they brought back an old fellow who was headman of the village. He told me the Germans crossed the river a few miles to the south two days before, where the river is fordable, and after a day’s halt had resumed their trek westward. I had been told to keep a look-out for one of our secret service scouts, a Dutch big game hunter, who was doing sort of spy work for us and keeping close track of the enemy. I enquired of the headman if he had seen anything of a single “mizungo” (white man) and he said there was one in hiding on the opposite bank of the river, with half-a-dozen natives. He knew quite a lot and when I asked him why he ran away from us, he said he wanted to make sure we were not the “Germani”. I asked him if he had a boat and he said he had and offered it to me. I took my orderly, a trusty Masai, and leaving the company in charge of the second in command and a white N.C.O., crossed the river in a dug-out with the head man. A native with a rifle appeared on the other side as we landed, and after some masonic [??] exchanges with my orderly, he bade us follow him. He took us to the lair of his master, a small brown tent you could just creep into, and there was the arch scout waiting for me. [Are you holding your breath? I am.]

It was a strange meeting, a Scotsman meeting a Boer in the depths of the bush in the pursuit of the wily German, with a Portuguese native chief in attendance. [I doubt the native chief considered himself Portuguese in any way.] Truly a war of the nations. He had not much more to tell me than the headman and I doubt if he relished being discovered so far our of touch with his quarry. They get good money these “intelligence” men and have a picked band of native trackers with them. On a previous occasion I came in touch with the great Pretorius, also a Dutch big game hunter, who had a big reputation for shadowing von Lettow and on whose head the Germans had put a price.

I took my friend’s report and started back on my week’s walk, with the more comfortable feeling that I knew where the water supplies were. About half-way however I met the advance guard of our Column, consisting of the E.A.M.R. (Mounted Rifles) in their optimistic quest of the foe. I made my report to the Colonel and as I knew the way, was attached to the advanced guard and given a mount, which was just what I wanted. We went back on my tracks to the Lugenda and the M.R. forded the river where the Germans did. The rest of the column kept to the eastern bank and we marched north following its course more or less until we came to this halt on the Rovuma. Other columns were operating to the west of the Lugenda and our beat was on this side.

We were travelling light, without our supply transport and had to live off the country. The fare for the Europeans consisted of game and sweet potatoes for the most part, while the askaris and the few porters we had were simply turned out to graze [not something anyone would say now!] at the halts and they filled themselves with nuts, green bananas, bread fruit and a share of the game if it went round. Buck, bush pig and zebra were fairly plentiful and kept us going. Elephant, rhino and hippo were also much in evidence but rarely caught sight of, and to see their traces in the muddy flats, which was their playground, reminded me of Flanders.

panga macheteI saw my first hippo while crossing a dry riverbed and if I had not been advance guard I would have bagged him for the pot, as the askaris would soon make a meal of him. He was grubbing along the bank and tried to run when he heard us. I watched him out of sight and carried on with the war, with a compass in one hand and a “panga” (meat chopper) in the other, with which I was blazing a trail for the column to follow. [Henry’s panga might have looked like this one.]

All this country is in undisputed possession of wild animals and for days on end there was no sign of human habitation. One of my askaris killed a lioness with a single shot entering through the nose and I have been carting about the skin but by this time it looks like nothing on earth. The Lugenda is full of hippo, but we did not waste any time on them. In his native element the big fellow can make himself pretty small and we heard more of him than what we saw. His sonorous grunt always told us where the river was, when that happened to be in doubt. We had often an escort of chattering monkeys who resented our intrusion, but the big dignified baboon would stalk alongside on all fours pretending to ignore us.

We marched chiefly by compass rather than follow the tortuous course of the river. We shall probably rest here for a spell but we are too far away from everybody to be of any use here. The news from Europe is great and we hear rumours of peace negotiations. Bulgaria’s surrender is surely the beginning of the end. We are all full of hope for an early and victorious peace.

The end is getting closer and Henry knows it. What a relief it will be when it comes.


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

Somewhere in Africa – 5th July 1918

Portuguese East Africa WWI

Vapor “Luabo” – Empress Nacional de Navegacao – 5th July 1918

Portuguese East Africa WWIOn the high seas once more on the good ship (Portuguese) “Luabo”. We are making for a point not a thousand miles from the mouth of the Zambesi! Von Lettow’s object is apparently to get across this river and get clean away south and we are going round by the coast to try and cut him off. We have called at Port Amelia and Mozambique [city] on the way. The latter is an interesting sort of place, with quite a history dating from the earliest Portuguese settlement, when their great pioneer and navigator, Vasco de Game, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and discovered the African continent in 1498. Before him again were the Arabs, Persians and Phoenicians, whoever they may be, and the ancient forts were a scene of many a tidy scrap.

I’m showing the above map again so you can see the coastal city of Mozambique and the Zambesi River at the bottom – so you can see why Henry’s battalion is taking a ship to cut off Von Lettow.

One does not associate this part of the world with historic romance, but this coast is full of it. I would like to delve into some book on the subject and get to know more about it.

Portuguese East Africa WWIMozambique is a long way behind Lorenzo Marques the principal port of Portuguese E.A., but it does quite a big trade both coastal and inland and in the bazaars you can buy almost anything besides native wares and produce. The bay is full of dhows of all sizes and to see them coming in reminds one of the herring fleet on the Clyde. They tell us it is not unlike Zanzibar, a place I have just missed on two occasions. The last time our ship went between the islands and Pemba but did not call. [You can see Lorenzo Marques much further south of Mozambique city.]

It has been fairly rough coming down and most of the askaris are sea sick, to say nothing of some of the other passengers. There are several Portuguese officers on board, with whom we swear eternal friendship nightly at dinner, but I do not think they are altogether pleased at our invasion of their country in the common cause. We shall doubtless have a busy time on landing but we have had no news while at sea. We are only half the battalion on board, under the Colonel; the other half proceeded us in another ship under the second in command Major Gore-Brown. We should land tomorrow.


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

Somewhere in Africa – 10/4/1918

Askari soldiers WWI East Africa

Askari soldiers WWI East AfricaHenry is back with his battalion after several weeks leave.

2/3rd K.A.R. – East Africa – 10/4/18

I got back to the battalion a week ago and found a most welcome pile of letters from you, covering the period from July [it’s now April] to December. I have thoroughly digested these and note all your news. I am feeling much the better of my furlough in South Africa and found plenty of work waiting for me on return to duty.

We have been at Ndanda for the last three and a half months, training for the operations pending in the Portuguese territory. The rains are drawing to a close and we expect to be on the move within the next ten days or so. It will be entirely a K.A.R. show and you probably won’t read much about it in the papers. The German force of about 300 Whites and about 3000 askaris is roaming about the Portuguese country and doing pretty much as they like. They are a hardened crew, well led, and they will doubtless give us plenty of leg exercise if nothing worse.

There is not much sport here with the gun but football is now in full swing. Each battalion has now got a complement of white N.C.O.s which enables us to make up a team, [I guess officers were excluded] and a good one at that. There is a big camp here now, with 3 battalions of K.A.R., a Pioneer corps, Signalling corps, Carrier Corps, &c. and each has its team. I have managed to squeeze into our team as goalkeeper and I think I have made my place secure by stopping a penalty kick the other evening. The askaris have also taken up the game and the inter-battalion matches which are really inter-tribal, provide great excitement and amusement. [If only all inter-tribal affairs could be handled through a football match.]

The African native is the most cheerful individual on earth and has a keen sense of humour and even more so of the ludicrous. He starts the game with boots on, as the proper thing to do, but sooner or later these are discarded as a handicap to speed. The native sergeant major constitutes himself as captain, merely by virtue of rank, and he orders the players about as he does on parade.

We had a general sports day and our battalion did well in the various events. I entered for the hen race, and thereby lost a valuable fowl belonging to the company mess, but the stakes were high and I might have won a round dozen of them. Each competitor had a hen attached to a piece of string and the course was the length of the football field. The first to shepherd his hen through the opposite goal won all the other fowls. No coercion was allowed and it had all to be done by kindness. I barely got mine half was while others went directly  in the opposite direction, and I should think driving a pig is child’s play to this.

We have built a theatre of grass and bamboo and on Saturday evenings there is a first class variety show, and generally we are making the most of our stay here. Our only grouse is the rations which are very much below par, considering we are more or less a fixture here. It is “bully” all the time and we cannot get any vegetables. Eggs are as scarce as diamonds and just about as big, but I suppose everybody is on short commons these days.

Perhaps Henry will soon be in the thick of it again.


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