Somewhere in German East – 20th May 1917

Henry sees a bit of action while travelling to his battalion’s destination.

Somewhere in German East – 20th May 1917

My last was by p.c. from Mombasa on 1st May and I have now joined my battalion in the field, or rather my company which has been detached from the main body and is encamped on a water-hole somewhere in the middle of Africa. In company with half-a-dozen other officers destined for their respective units in the field, I left Mombasa on a British India boat. There were also a draft of askaris and about 1000 native porters, to be distributed to different battalions.

We disembarked at the port of Kilwa, which is well down the German coast, on the 5th inst. [May 5th, I think]. The port is just a big inlet the northern shore of which is in our territory, while the Germans still hold the S. shore, and the units and stores were landed by lighters. There were 4 other of our ships there and that same morning, to the surprise and consternation of the local garrison, our shipping was shelled by a gun from a cruiser which they had run aground in one of the rivers to avoid capture and this they had dragged up through the bush to a point opposite Kilwa and had a pot at our ships. They had four hits out of thirty shots and no great damage was done. We hadn’t a gun about the place to return the fire, but a message to Zanzibar where we have a naval base, brought forth a monitor and a couple of small gun boats which arrived on the spot soon after we did. They proceeded to bombard the spot whence came the shots, but of course by this time the Germans had made off with their precious gun into the blue.

The map below shows a timeline for the Africa campaign. Red arrows are British movements, black arrows are German. You can see that the British made continuous gains on German positions. You can also see Kilwa, where Henry landed, on the southern coast. I found a summary of Germany’s objectives and the major battles that occurred on Wikipedia

By Mehmet Berker – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8740713

We landed later in the day and camped for the night not far from the landing stage. We were up betimes next morning ready for our march inland. Each one of our little party required 8 porters which made quite a “safari” by itself. This being the rainy season it rained, as it can only in Africa, and the going was heavy. Our first stage was to Kilwa Kiswani [I found this spelled Kisiwani] about 20 miles and still on the coast. We halted at midday for food and rest and let our clothes dry on the bushes in the sun, which had reappeared. We reached K.K. about sundown.

The Germans have been very active in this neighbourhood, as this corner of the country is all that is left to them, and they are trying to reestablish themselves on the coast. This is a sort of base with a hospital and here we were reinforced with a further batch of porters and a few details of my own battalion, who had been in hospital.

Native porters are our only means of transport in these parts and they make regular safaris from the coast along our lines of communication inland with a strong escort. These convoys snaking along through the bush and miles in length are of course very vulnerable and are not infrequently raided by strong enemy patrols and a lot of our valuable stores go west. [I assume he means into German hands.]

There was a road of sorts but the rains had made an awful mess of it and the porters, with their 60 pound loads on their heads, had a very thin time of it. [today we might say had a hard time of it] We had an escort of Pathans (Capt. Bonham-Carter) who formed the advance guard and flankers and I was in charge of the read guard of K.A.R., being the senior man of our lot, and was about half-a-day’s march behind the head of the line! We were three days on the march, bivouacking two nights, which brought us to our camp at Mnasi, where I am at present.

I find it difficult to understand the strategies deployed by the British and German generals in this part of WWI. From the little I’ve read, it seems that the German general von Lettow abandoned formal military tactics in 1916 in favour of guerrilla tactics and fought the remainder of the conflict in that manner. If you’re interested, I discovered a PhD thesis written by Ross Anderson of the University of Glasgow titled World War I in East Africa: 1916 to 1918. Below is a brief paragraph.

Planning for the Dry Season Offensive in 1917

“The halt imposed by the rains also provided an opportunity to formulate the operational plans for the dry season of 1917 which would not begin before late June. The difficulties of trying to advance and sustain operations across the Mgeti and Rufiji rivers had already been amply demonstrated. Fighting at the end of elongated lines of communication in primeval jungle magnified the British weakness in transport while giving few tangible advantages in return. However, by using Kilwa as a base of operations, [where Henry landed] the British could use their maritime supremacy to much better advantage while also shortening the overland supply lines. Movement by ship also made possible the rapid and large scale redeployment of troops, if only along the littoral [a coastal region – I had to look that up!].”

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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, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

 

RMS Walmer Castle – 14th January 1917

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, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

If by Rudyard Kipling

Long ago my father wrote out this well-known poem by Rudyard Kipling. My father died quite young at 58. I don’t have many things written in his hand, nor can I ask him why the poem was so important. But I can repeat it here – offering it up as inspiration for any in need of such and in memory of my beloved father.

I wonder if the poem helped him through a particular time in his life. One analysis suggests it offers “various ways in which the reader can rise above adversity that will almost certainly be thrown one’s way” at some point in one’s life.

My father’s name was John Kendal Bingham – Ken to everyone he knew except his mother who insisted on calling him Kendal. He was tall, good looking, and had the proverbial temper ascribed to those with red hair. As an only child, he was indulged by his mother – a woman who should have lived in Victorian times – and no doubt bewildered his mild-mannered father. He was smart, studied engineering at university and graduated in 1943 in the midst of World War Two.

Throughout university he trained in the ROTC – Royal Officer Training Corps – and afterwards served two years as a lieutenant training soldiers in signals work. Dad was scheduled to go to the Asian theatre of war and married my mother just before leaving for special training in the US. He never did go overseas and later had a successful career in the Canadian telephone and telecommunications industry.

Dad was a man of integrity. He worked and played with gusto, had a great sense of humour, loved his family, supported his friends, and was a dedicated man of faith. I miss him every day and often think of how intrigued he would have been with the way technology permeates every aspect of our life. In the mid-sixties he managed a research team that was looking at the concept of ‘picture-phones’ where instead of just hearing someone speak, you could also see the person. And now we have tools like FaceTime.

In today’s climate, we might take exception to the maleness of the poem, however, I believe we can take Kipling’s thoughts and interpret them to suit us all.

Dad – this one’s for you, with love.

PS – the word ‘loose’ should be ‘lose’.

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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, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.