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.
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?
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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, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.