Somewhere in Africa – 12th July 1918

Quilomane – 12th July 1918 [I’ve found this spelled Quelimane.]

I write this from hospital where I am just getting over a bad bout of fever. It took me just before disembarking and I was dumped here straightaway. We got very bad news on landing. The other half of the battalion which landed some days before us was rushed to a position some distance up the river, which was held by the Portuguese and threatened by an immediate attack by the main German force. The Portuguese held the key position, which was a bridge over the river and our lot took up an advanced position. The Germans, who were apparently fully informed of the disposition of our forces, outflanked our two companies and captured the bridge from our “allies” who fled without putting up anything of a fight.

Our lot were trapped and practically driven into the river, with very heavy loss. Gore-Brown and most of the officers were killed, with about half the men, a great number of whom were drowned.

It has been a thoroughly bad show and of course we have been too late to do anything with our half of the battalion, as we hear the Germans are streaking away north-west, with a good supply of Portuguese stores. I thought at the time the whole battalion should have sailed together, even though the accommodation was limited. The trouble was that Gore-Brown was not allowed to take full command in the action, as there was a Portuguese general on the spot, who disposed of the forces to his own way of thinking. The hospital is full as result of the fight, including some Germans whom von Lettow has cooly left on our hands.

15/7/18. I have rejoined the company and we are entrenched on the outskirts of the town, waiting for an attack that will never materialize.

This URL links to the text of an official despatch from Lieutenant-General Sir J. L. van Deventer, K.C.B., C.M.G., Commanding-in-Chief, East African Force. The despatch is an official record of British movements prior to and after the event Henry Tod mentions in his letter.

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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.

Somewhere in Africa – 2nd October 1917

It’s been months since Henry’s written to his family. I’m sure they were worried sick.

Nabungo, G.E.A. – 2nd October 1917

It is a long time since I had an opportunity of writing and I have only just heard that a mail if being made up. Here we have come to a halt at last, well down south. We have been keeping the Hun on the move continually and we have had several scraps – big and little. At Narangombe we had probably the biggest fight of the campaign and it lasted from early morning till late into the night, [I also found this spelled Narungombe which is about 100KM west of the coastal town of Lindi] but he still lives to fight another day. It was hoped at the previous encounter we would polish him off. We had three columns converging on him [curious how Henry refers to the German soldiers as ‘he’ and ‘him’ even though there would be many Germans involved] but one of them met with unexpected obstacles and delay (which cost the commander his job) and the plan of battle miscarried. We have however always been able to dislodge von Lettow, despite the fact that we have to fight on ground of his choosing and we have taken pretty heavy casualties in getting him where he is. [von Lettow was known as the Lion of Africa and was in charge of German troops there throughout WWI]

I am in command of a company with acting rank and pay of captain and as often as not I have been detached from the battalion, sitting on water holes and generally holding the fort on my own. At Naragombe my company was the only one of the battalion in action, the others being occupied elsewhere. I was detached as escort to an Indian Mountain Battery and they did good work in the big fight, getting a special mention from the General. I had been attached to them for some time previous and was quite pleased with the job. Being with the battery I was not exactly in the firing line; in fact I was not far from the General’s H.Q. if he can be said to have had one in a mobile action like this, and I constituted myself as a sort of bodyguard to him as well.

The tide of battle fluctuated and at one time there was a general move to the rear – but not for long. My protégées, the Indian battery, were soon up to their original position and towards the end of the day there was a general move forward. The bullets were chipping the trees all round us but there was not great damage being done in our area. At one period I had to round up a batch of porters who had discarded their loads of ammunition and were stampeding to the read.

Before finally retiring the Hun set fire to the grass, the wind being in his favour, and many of our wounded met a horrible fate. The best feature of the fight was the manoeuvre of the Gold Coast regiment, who had been detached before the action to harass the enemy’s retreat which had been taken for granted. The G.C. [Gold Coast] got across his path all right and had time to dig themselves in and although considerably outnumbered gave the Huns a tremendous jolt. The bayonet was used for the first time, I believe. Despite all this battering von Lettow has still got his force, more or less intact, and we are again after him.

from a UNDP document about Tanzania

We are now on the river Mbemkuru [you can see this river towards the bottom right of the map] which is about the last water supply left to the enemy until the rains, and he put up a bit of a show here before clearing out. I am back with the battalion and we were in action on the extreme flank, taking about a dozen casualties. We expected he would make his final stand here but he has made a further move south. We move on again tomorrow and I do not think anyone knows where we are going. Chasing the Hun in the bush is an endless job and you never know when and where he is lying up for you.

I am keeping very fit despite some stiff campaigning. We are in a rotten part of the country and there does not seem to be even any game about. Elephant seem to be the only inhabitants but I have not seen one yet. I heard them trumpeting in a swamp while on the march but the grass was too high to get a sight of them. Parraquets, doves and guinea fowl are frequently to be seen, but I have left my gun in Nairobi. We are still hoping to bring this show to an end before the rains which are expected very soon, but if he can stave us off till then we are in for another campaign next year.

Any guesses on whether Henry’s in for another year of campaigning?

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION – AND HENRY TOD’S WWI LETTERS – FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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.