I began this series as Somewhere in France – it looks like I’ll soon have to call it Somewhere in Africa.
This is our tenth day out and as I hear we are putting in at a place en route on the West Coast and I am taking this opportunity of writing. We eventually got away on the 5th inst., after many delays, a goodly fleet in all, comprising eight big ships with some well known liners amongst them, and a strong escort. We scattered during the first night out but reassembled on the third morning on the escorting cruiser, whose flashing signals we picked up in the haze.
We are in two columns with the cruiser ahead and a couple of destroyers in the offing. We occupy pride of place at the end of the starboard column, which honour I believe is due to the rank of our commander, who looks to be nothing less than an admiral with all his gold braid.
We have had very fair weather, although a bit blowy at first, and I had some anxious moments as to the fate of my first breakfast at sea – but all is well; and now in these warmer and calmer waters I feel a seasoned old mariner. There is a big muster of troops on board, drawn from every conceivable unit, and a sprinkling of passengers for South Africa. There is a regular program of sports, concerts and dances which helps to pass the day, but like all voyages it gets a little monotonous at times.
We are on full duty however and the K.A.R. officers [King’s African Rifles] have been attached to other units on board who are bound for other fields of service. Tonight for instance I am on guard duty from 12 to 4 a.m. and again for the same hours tomorrow afternoon.
It gets dark extraordinarily quickly and completely at night in these latitudes and one gets many a barked shin prowling round the ship, visiting the different guards, in the dead of night as of course all lights are forbidden. The men moreover are allowed to sleep on deck, which is an added snare to the unwary. We have not yet crossed the line, but do so soon after our port of call. Any smoke on the horizon is immediately hailed as a raider, but no luck so far! [Perhaps he’s jesting?] We had quite a good joke over the wireless yesterday, which was the British Admiralty repudiating a claim made by the Germans to have sunk in December the cruiser which is at present escorting us.
Letters addressed King’s African Rifles, Base Post Office, Mombasa will find me sooner or later. I will let you have a line from any port we touch at. I am feeling very fit and our physical jerks in the early morning is just what is wanted on board ship to counteract the tendency to eat your head off. You would be greatly entertained seeing a multi-coloured array of pyjama clad figures doing weird contortions by numbers and the final sprint on being dismissed to be first for the limited bath accommodation.
From what I can discover, it seems that many British officers were sent out to Africa in 1917 to augment the leadership of forces there. Henry Tod might have been in this category. We’ll see if subsequent letters support this assumption.
Mombasa is in present day Kenya. As you can see from the map, RMS Walmer Castle would have had to sail around the bottom of Africa to get to Mombasa and British East Africa.
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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.