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.

Somewhere in Africa – 20th May 1917 continued

Let’s see how things go now that Henry has arrived at his new location. It’s a long post and a continuation of yesterday’s.

Letters are more likely to fall into enemy hands here than anywhere else so I cannot tell you very much of our little post here and its garrison. It is one of a chain of similar posts extending from the coast to the Lakes, with plenty of room in between, but which we keep well patrolled. These patrols are continually “bumping” those of the enemy whom we are trying to contain in the territory to the south of us, and then there is a terrific fusillade of rifle fire without as a rule much material damage. The native soldier believes in noise if nothing else. At the moment, with the rains on, big operations have been suspended [this is consistent with yesterday’s extract from a thesis on WWI in German East Africa] but it will not be long before we resume our driving movement and clear the Germans out of the colony. They have a very well trained native force including one of the old K.A.R. regiments which was disbanded just before the war in the interests of economy.

I have had several “bumps” with the enemy but so far as I know there has been little blood spilled. My first was an attempt at laying an ambush on a track leading to a water-hole known to be used by the enemy some 5 miles from our camp. I was out all night with my patrol and had a guide to steer me through the bush to the spot. In the virgin bush you can be completely lost a few hundred yards from camp. It was pretty tough going but there was a moon and I was lucky enough to strike some elephant spoor going part of the way, which made things easier. Elephant are plentiful hereabout and it is a god-send to be able to get on their tracks. We disturbed a couple of fearsome looking brutes which sprang from practically under my feet, but I could not make out what they were. “Simba” said my orderly, which means lion, so I suppose they were.

elephant grass

We got to the spot just before dawn but it was a poor place for the job as the track here lay through elephant grass 8 to 10 feet high, and I wanted to see better what I was doing. I reconnoitred for a bit and came to a more open place, with a fat tree on the edge of the path. I got my black warriors into position in the scrub and I got behind the tree, hoping they wouldn’t plug me in the excitement. They could all see me and my strict orders were that no one was to fire before I did. The main idea was to get a live prisoner and I did not want any shooting and so give the show away.

I waited for three hours, by which time the sun was well up, and was wondering how much longer I would stick it out when I spied a couple of German askaris coming along. They were walking nicely into my trap when a fool of a corporal – a blood thirsty Abysinian – blazed at the leading one, hit him without bringing him down and they both vanished into the bush. We searched about in the hope of getting one or the other but I knew it was no good and as we were in the middle of the enemy country it wasn’t healthy to hand about now that the alarm had been given. We returned on our tracks, half expecting the tables to be turned on us, which is a common proceeding in these parts.

Another occasion was when we went out to reconnoitre in force with a view to ascertaining the enemy’s main position in that vicinity. We were about 100 strong with two machine guns. His [the enemy’s] location had always been a matter of mystery and our small patrols had always failed to penetrate his outlying picquets and defences. As a matter of fact we did not do much more, but we drew the fire of his main body and had to withdraw before becoming too heavily engaged. We were advancing warily through the thick country when fire was opened on us from the left. We got into extended formation and continued our advance in direction of the shooting, to be threatened almost immediately after from the opposite flank.

We then formed a rough square and returned the fire and soon we were involved on three sides. We could not see each other, although it was comparatively open here, but that did not prevent a very noisy battle from taking place, which lasted long enough for us to have achieved our object. We eventually got our lot to cease fire and discovered we were in some danger of being surrounded. We retired in battle order and got clear without much difficulty and without having sustained a single casualty! They may have been less lucky but I doubt if we shall ever know.

Don’t you love that term “bumping” with the enemy. More to follow … this is a very long letter home!

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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 – 21 March 1917

It occurs to me that November 11th will mark 100 years since the armistice ending World War One. And as such, it seems fitting for Henry Tod’s war experience to wrap up as well. So I plan to do a Somewhere in Africa blitz for the next while so we can find out how he fares and how his war ends. I hope you’ll continue to follow Henry’s experience.

source: Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis

3rd K.A.R. [Kings African Rifles for those who’ve forgotten], Nairobi, 21 March ’17

Here we are at last and I can sit me down in comfort and get a line off to you. I think I wrote you last from Dar-es-Salaam, with a post card or two in between. We left the latter port with little regret on the 9th on a coasting steamer, in company with about 100 German prisoners and a number of German women and children, all of whom we dumped at Tanga, another port in what used to be German East. We had a day ashore there and it is also showing the effects of the bombardment from our ships. Here again the enemy have sunk their ships in the harbour. It [I assume he means Tanga] is quite a pretty place and laid out in true German fashion.

We reached Mombasa on the evening of the 12th under escort of a small cruiser. We landed on the following morning and received instructions from the Commandant to entrain that afternoon for Nairobi, which gave us time to look round the place. The population seems to be a mixture of Indians, Arabs and Swahilis. There is an old fort which has changed hands many times between the Arabs and the Portuguese when they were fighting for this part of the country in the long ago. The native quarter is very quaint with its narrow tortuous streets, where you soon get lost. There are some fine buildings and shops in the European quarter.

The climate as in all these coast towns is pretty trying – blazing hot all day and sultry at night. We had a good lunch at the only hotel worth the name and were entertained on the veranda by an Indian snake charmer who chanted weird noises to a 12 foot python [!!] and did sundry other tricks for the consideration of a rupee or two, which is the currency of the country. Our ‘boys’ had meantime got our kit to the station and we found everything ready for entraining when we got there. The us rickshaws here, as in most of the places we stopped at, and there is also a miniature railway track along the main streets, on which a little bogey, complete with sunshade, is pushed by four runners. They invariably missed the points when they came to a junction, but time is no object in these Eastern parts. We found ample accommodation arranged for us on the train – twenty of us. The compartments have sleeping accommodation for four and are fine and roomy in the day time. I enclose a p.c. [post card?] which hits off the scene at entraining very well.

WWI campaigns in German East Africa
WWI German East Africa campaigns

The Uganda Railway runs from Mombasa to Lake Victoria Nyanza with Nairobi about midway between. It is a climb all the way to well beyond Nairobi, which is just under 6000 feet about sea level, and after touching about 9000 feet descends to the Lake level which is still a few thousand feet above the sea. The country near the coast is rich in tropical vegetation, with extensive cocoa-nut and rubber plantations and at the different stations we were offered fruit of every known variety. All this however did not appeal to us so much as the prospect of seeing the game country higher up, which we reached next morning. [sounds like he’s on holiday rather than at war]

Snow-clad Kilimanjaro, 19,000 feet, is seen to the south of the railway and makes a fine spectacle. We had dinner at a restaurant station and turned in fairly early to be up first thing in the morning to see what was to be seen. We were not disappointed. The whole aspect of the country had changed and we were now on the plains, as wide and rolling as in Canada with ranges of hills to be seen all round in the distance. It was not long before we came on the game, dotted all round us on all sides of the line. They were mostly hartebeeste, a big and rather ungainly looking specimen of the deer family. Soon we came to much larger herds which seemed to contain every known variety of deer, with a plentiful mixture of zebra and ostrich. The finest looking animal of the lot is the wildebeeste, which is very like a buffalo and probably bigger. I have since shot one. It was a veritable zoological gardens, except that we did not see any lion or other wild beast, although one fellow swore he saw one; however he is the sort of fellow who would see it.

This is a very lengthy letter, so I’ll finish it tomorrow and now, having peeked ahead, I can assure you that Henry soon returns to soldiering.

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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.