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.

RMS Walmer Castle – 14th January 1917

I began this series as Somewhere in France – it looks like I’ll soon have to call it Somewhere in Africa.

This is our tenth day out and as I hear we are putting in at a place en route on the West Coast and I am taking this opportunity of writing. We eventually got away on the 5th inst., after many delays, a goodly fleet in all, comprising eight big ships with some well known liners amongst them, and a strong escort. We scattered during the first night out but reassembled on the third morning on the escorting cruiser, whose flashing signals we picked up in the haze.

We are in two columns with the cruiser ahead and a couple of destroyers in the offing. We occupy pride of place at the end of the starboard column, which honour I believe is due to the rank of our commander, who looks to be nothing less than an admiral with all his gold braid.

We have had very fair weather, although a bit blowy at first, and I had some anxious moments as to the fate of my first breakfast at sea – but all is well; and now in these warmer and calmer waters I feel a seasoned old mariner. There is a big muster of troops on board, drawn from every conceivable unit, and a sprinkling of passengers for South Africa. There is a regular program of sports, concerts and dances which helps to pass the day, but like all voyages it gets a little monotonous at times.

We are on full duty however and the K.A.R. officers [King’s African Rifles] have been attached to other units on board who are bound for other fields of service. Tonight for instance I am on guard duty from 12 to 4 a.m. and again for the same hours tomorrow afternoon.

It gets dark extraordinarily quickly and completely at night in these latitudes and one gets many a barked shin prowling round the ship, visiting the different guards, in the dead of night as of course all lights are forbidden. The men moreover are allowed to sleep on deck, which is an added snare to the unwary. We have not yet crossed the line, but do so soon after our port of call. Any smoke on the horizon is immediately hailed as a raider, but no luck so far! [Perhaps he’s jesting?] We had quite a good joke over the wireless yesterday, which was the British Admiralty repudiating a claim made by the Germans to have sunk in December the cruiser which is at present escorting us.

Letters addressed King’s African Rifles, Base Post Office, Mombasa will find me sooner or later. I will let you have a line from any port we touch at. I am feeling very fit and our physical jerks in the early morning is just what is wanted on board ship to counteract the tendency to eat your head off. You would be greatly entertained seeing a multi-coloured array of pyjama clad figures doing weird contortions by numbers and the final sprint on being dismissed to be first for the limited bath accommodation.

From what I can discover, it seems that many British officers were sent out to Africa in 1917 to augment the leadership of forces there. Henry Tod might have been in this category. We’ll see if subsequent letters support this assumption.

Mombasa is in present day Kenya. As you can see from the map, RMS Walmer Castle would have had to sail around the bottom of Africa to get to Mombasa and British East Africa. 

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION 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.