Somewhere in Africa – 15th November 1918

Without any of your letters to acknowledge I am writing this on top of the news of the Armistice. Events of course had been leading up to it but it came, nonetheless, as a tremendously welcome piece of news. We are still at Ndanda, but under orders to proceed to Dar-es-Salaam. Our battalion is in sole possession of this post at present, but we made a determined effort to celebrate the occasion with the aid of the mission bell, of respectable dimensions, and much song and shouting. This despite the rather stiff-necked attitude of the C.O. (the fifth in my time and just arrived from Nairobi) who disapproved of it all and thought it necessary to warn us that is was only an armistice and not real peace, and that all rejoicing was unseemly. Well, chacun a son gout, as the native might say.

We learned the full terms of the armistice last night and if these do not amount to peace I don’t know what does. It seems to satisfy all the demands of the Allies and Germany knows that if she breaks the armistice she will be worse off than ever. There would be no lack of men willing to go on with the good work, under the able guidance of Monsieur Foch. One cannot help feeling that the Germans, as a people, have escaped punishment, escaped it for fifty years for that matter, and now that they have been brought to book they are getting off with little more than their claws being out. However everybody must be thankful it is over at last and one feels a good deal more about the occasion than one can write.

From Wikipedia: “The actual terms, largely written by the Allied Supreme Commander, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, included the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of German forces to behind the Rhine, Allied occupation of the Rhinelandand bridgeheads further east, the preservation of infrastructure, the surrender of aircraft, warships, and military materiel, the release of Allied prisoners of war and interned civilians, and eventual reparations. No release of German prisoners and no relaxation of the naval blockade of Germany was agreed to.” The agreement was signed in this railway coach.

I have no doubt we will be chained to this country for some months yet. I understand von Lettow is marching in to surrender with all his force. He was promptly advised of the terms of the armistice and he has intimated his compliance therewith. We have all a sneaking admiration for the redoubtable von Lettow and it must be a bitter pill to him to know that it has all been in vain. He was too hard a nut for the local military talent, and there is no doubt some truth in the adage that he who runs away lives to fight another day. I believe he has played the game pretty squarely, although some of his subordinates have been brought to book for cruelty to prisoners and it may be that he will be on the mat too. The German policy in East Africa was to poison the native mind against the British and foment racial trouble. They were in this part of the world on level terms with ourselves and it was a bad thing to go back on the common policy of upholding the prestige of the white man. [Interesting perspective.]

I see the terms of the armistice have for Russia what she could never have done for herself, but these people have such queer ideas that I do not suppose we shall be thanked for our pains. I have not yet decided whether I shall return to that country, except to try and realize what I left there. [Henry worked in Russia before the war.]

I have certainly had enough of these tropical regions to last me some time, but the highlands of B.E.A. may eventually see me trying to get a living out of coffee or flax. Land is none too cheap except at the back of beyond, but there has been some talk of special terms for K.A.R. and other officers who have taken part in this campaign.  Big land corporations have been early on the scene there and grabbed up the tit-bits. There is plenty of room for everybody of course but at present there is only the Uganda Railway running through the country  and I do not expect there will be very much done in the near future in the way of further development. There may be the alternative of remaining in the K.A.R. for a further period but there does not seem much of a future in that direction, as the establishment is bound to be cut down to normal in time. Latterly the South African element have had it all their own way in this force as a political sop to these zealous patriots.

The Spanish “flu” is sweeping over the continent, having come up here from the south, where it has taken a terrific toll of the natives. It has already gone through our battalion and for a time we were under quarter strength. The death rate however has not been excessive – under ten percent – considering the susceptibility of the African to lung trouble. We are all impatient to get back to Nairobi and I hope to date my next letter from there. I trust all is well with Andy.

Henry has survived the war. I’ve come to appreciate his character through these letters: tough-minded, a good leader, pragmatic, brave, and with a good sense of humour. One more letter which I will post tomorrow.

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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.

Somewhere in Africa – 12th February 1918

Grand National Hotel Johannesburg

Henry is on leave at last!

Grand National Hotel, Johannesburg – 12th February 1918

A line to inform you of my arrival in this well known town, where I propose spending the rest of my leave. The train journey up from Durban takes 24 hours and takes you through fine looking country. In Natal we passed through many of the battlefields of the Boer War, Ladysmith, Glencoe, Elandslaagte, Majuba, &c., which are now all peaceful pasture lands. The approach to Jo’burg is like coming into any mining town, except that the slag heaps are white instead of black. These are the gold mines, of which I had no idea there were so many. I am going to try to get down one of them and will let you know more about them.

This photo shows the Grand National Hotel around 1893. Source: Wikimedia

Grand National Hotel Johannesburg

We are very high up here and the climate much cooler than at the coast, with the result that I had a recurrence of the fever and had to spend a few valuable days in bed. It is a fine up-to-date town with palatial buildings and offices. Khaki is conspicuous by its absence … The old racial question is still in evidence, British and Boer, very much like the Irish question at home. We have been made honorary members of the Rand Club, which is a very swell place and apparently in complete ignorance that there is a war going on. I enclose a photograph taken in “German” East which I have just discovered among my possessions.

I found this map on Pinterest – original source isn’t shown. It shows the colonization of Africa by European countries as at 1914.

African colonization 1914

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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.

 

Somewhere in Africa – 10th December 1917

Ndanda – 10th December 1917

I have received a batch of your letters, the last of which are dated August. I note Andy is at Shorncliffe and hope to get a letter from him before long. [Andy is one of Henry’s brothers who has been homesteading in western Canada.] You will have heard of the practical termination of the campaign in this country with the disappearance of the German force over the Portuguese border. [see map – source Kaisers Cross] Unfortunately von Lettow is still with this force and will have to be watched until accounted for. The Portuguese seem quite incapable of doing anything and we have received their tardy permission to send a force into their territory, while another force will garrison the frontier.

We chased the Hun right down to the river Rovuma, which is the boundary between German and Portuguese Africa. At the moment we have retired to Ndanda which is some 20 miles from Massasi, which with luck you might pick up on the map. It is only a mission station with a small settlement [a Benedictine mission] and I was detached here with my company on the way through to garrison the place. I had the privilege of breakfasting with no less than five generals while I was there.

Here’s an excerpt from the website Kaisers Cross describing the campaign:

“In late 1917 the British forces around Kilwa and Lindi were formed into columns, roughly corresponding to brigades, that were used to try and force Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck’s Schutztruppe out of this corner of German East Africa.  On 27th September the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Regiment of the King’s African Rifles (1/3 KAR) and the 129th Baluchis were ordered to support No 1 Column whose principal units were the Gold Coast Regiment (GCR), the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Regiment of King’s African Rifles (2/2 KAR), and a section of the 27th Mountain Battery (Indian Army). The 25th Cavalry (Indian Army) was temporarily attached to No 1 Column but one squadron was deployed elsewhere with another column. Colonel G.M. Orr, Indian Army, was the No 1 Column commander and he had marched his men down from the Kilwa area; his mission was to disrupt enemy withdrawal routes by destroying German food depots and watering points.  In this region good water holes were few and far between.”

We did some record marching in the latter stages but there was not a great deal of fighting for our column. In fact there was not much fight left in the Hun and his main strategy has been to give us all the trouble possible in trying to corner him. Operations for us have come more or less to a stand-still and we are fixing up a more or less permanent camp for the rainy season, but it is quite on the cards that we shall be sent into Portuguese territory at any moment. Meantime there are visions of leave for a month or so, which gives us something to look forward to. I have stuck it longer than any of the other of our crowd without a break. [tough guy our Henry]

The country has become a little more broken in these parts and there are some hills to look at, but for all that you are eternally lost in the bush and one pines for the sea and open spaces, and a respite from the sun which gets at one sooner or later. It is surprising how little shade there is in the “bush”, which consists of half dead trees of stunted growth, dead grass about as high as yourself and billions of ants and insects. One stumbles on a native village, usually deserted, and one wonders what on earth they live on. The river Rovuma was no great shakes, but it will be a different story when the rain starts. This place also boasts a mission (Catholic) with a respectable stone building, now used by us as a hospital. There is a trickling burn nearby – the first clear running water I have seen in the country.

I think Henry sounds a little down in this letter, don’t you? And pining for home. The contrast between the African bush and Scotland would have been quite something.

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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.