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 – 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


Somewhere in Africa – 12th March 1918

Durban Club Natal 1915

Durban Club Natal 1915Henry’s leave is up and he’s waiting for a ship to take him back. What do you think he’s feeling after two-and-a-half years of war?

Durban Club, Natal – 12th March 1918

Back in Durban waiting for a ship to take us to East Africa. I had an enjoyable three weeks in Johannesburg, whence I wrote you but the weather there could hardly have been worse. Rain and thunderstorms every other day. I got in a little golf and tennis and had a few motor runs round the country with some friends, to whom I had an introduction.

I went down a gold mine and got half drowned for my pains, owing to the rains almost flooding out the workings. We went down the Crown Mine, another lad and I, escorted by the manager. 2000 feet by hoist and we performed the journey to the next level on something like a water shute. There we saw them working at the “face” of the reef, drilling and blasting, and I took away a specimen of the quartz as a souvenir. There is no gold visible in it and it is quite a complicated process extracting it. There is only about 4% worth of gold in a ton of quartz. I saw it in various stages and finally in the form of gold bricks, each weighing 600 ounces and worth about £2500 when the bank takes possession of it. I was glad to get on terra firma again, pretty much the same feeling after I had been up in an aeroplane!

I am looking forward to finding a pile of letters from you when I get back to the battalion, as of course i have had nothing for months, likewise from Andy from whom I have not heard at all. I have resumed acquaintance with my fellow voyagers on the “Walmer Castle” [the ship that took him to Africa] who have a fine place up in the Berea [a ridge above Durban], and who have been very kind and hospitable.


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