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 – 7th October 1918

mahala hammock for transport in Africa

Portuguese East Africa WWIOn the Rovuma – 7th October 1918

I have not been able to get a letter off to you since August, when we started on a very long trek from the vicinity of Mozambique [the city]. We have now pulled up at our old friend, the river Rovuma, for a day or two to collect rations. After being in the wilderness for weeks we are back on our old lines of communication, with the port of Lindi as the base. From all this you will rightly conclude that von Lettow has succeeded in recrossing this river back into his old territory. We are presently at a point on the river about midway between the coast and Lake Nyasa where the river Lugenda joins it from the south. [Check the map to see where the Rovuma branches. The south branch is the Lugenda.] The Germans crossed over further to the west. It has been an interesting march, but the going has been a little too strenuous to be enjoyable. We have done well over 600 miles in five weeks and as we were a “flying column” we had to pick up our living as best we could.

mahala hammock for transport in AfricaBefore starting off I had done a long patrol with my company. The enemy had been reported to be on the banks of the Lugenda and I was set off post haste to verify this, only to find when I got there he had crossed over two days before and had gone further west. On the way I overtook a Portuguese tax collecting “safari” consisting of three officials and a fair lady (or rather a dark one) all being carried on “mahalas” – hammocks slung on a pole and carried by native porters. A string of porters carried their tents, beds, provisions and what looked to me like casks of wine. I cast a predatory eye on these things and never felt so near high-way robbery in my life, especially as they were not over courteous in returning my greeting. They blame us equally with the Germans for bringing the war into their colony and there were disagreeably surprised to find signs of it so near at hand.

I went ahead and as it was getting dark I camped down at the first water, for which of course our friends were also making. I was lucky to shoot a wildebeeste for the pot. I knew the noise would alarm our friends behind and so to play a trick on them for their discourtesy I got several askaris to blaze off their rifles. It had the desired effect as they turned tail and as far as I know they are still making for Mozambique. [Looks like Henry was rather annoyed!]

I reached the Lugenda on the seventh day and it was very impressive listening to the sound of its waters long before we came to it. I could hear nothing at first, although I knew we were getting near it by the gradual change in the look of the country, but the askaris were oddly excited and kept repeating the word “maji”, meaning water. I may say that by this time “maji”, generally speaking, had come to be the most important thing in life, more so than food or even the enemy, and the eye unconsciously scanned the country for any sign of its presence. We had halted about three miles from the river where I could get some sort of view of the surrounding country and by listening intently I could at last pick up a faint indescribable sound, which I was assured was the big river. It now behoved me to act cautiously and I sent scouts ahead and we gradually felt our way to the river.

We came on a village but there was not a soul to be seen. As usual the inhabitants were hiding. There was no sign of the enemy hereabouts but I wanted to get hold of some of the natives who could doubtless tell me something and I sent out search parties. Eventually they brought back an old fellow who was headman of the village. He told me the Germans crossed the river a few miles to the south two days before, where the river is fordable, and after a day’s halt had resumed their trek westward. I had been told to keep a look-out for one of our secret service scouts, a Dutch big game hunter, who was doing sort of spy work for us and keeping close track of the enemy. I enquired of the headman if he had seen anything of a single “mizungo” (white man) and he said there was one in hiding on the opposite bank of the river, with half-a-dozen natives. He knew quite a lot and when I asked him why he ran away from us, he said he wanted to make sure we were not the “Germani”. I asked him if he had a boat and he said he had and offered it to me. I took my orderly, a trusty Masai, and leaving the company in charge of the second in command and a white N.C.O., crossed the river in a dug-out with the head man. A native with a rifle appeared on the other side as we landed, and after some masonic [??] exchanges with my orderly, he bade us follow him. He took us to the lair of his master, a small brown tent you could just creep into, and there was the arch scout waiting for me. [Are you holding your breath? I am.]

It was a strange meeting, a Scotsman meeting a Boer in the depths of the bush in the pursuit of the wily German, with a Portuguese native chief in attendance. [I doubt the native chief considered himself Portuguese in any way.] Truly a war of the nations. He had not much more to tell me than the headman and I doubt if he relished being discovered so far our of touch with his quarry. They get good money these “intelligence” men and have a picked band of native trackers with them. On a previous occasion I came in touch with the great Pretorius, also a Dutch big game hunter, who had a big reputation for shadowing von Lettow and on whose head the Germans had put a price.

I took my friend’s report and started back on my week’s walk, with the more comfortable feeling that I knew where the water supplies were. About half-way however I met the advance guard of our Column, consisting of the E.A.M.R. (Mounted Rifles) in their optimistic quest of the foe. I made my report to the Colonel and as I knew the way, was attached to the advanced guard and given a mount, which was just what I wanted. We went back on my tracks to the Lugenda and the M.R. forded the river where the Germans did. The rest of the column kept to the eastern bank and we marched north following its course more or less until we came to this halt on the Rovuma. Other columns were operating to the west of the Lugenda and our beat was on this side.

We were travelling light, without our supply transport and had to live off the country. The fare for the Europeans consisted of game and sweet potatoes for the most part, while the askaris and the few porters we had were simply turned out to graze [not something anyone would say now!] at the halts and they filled themselves with nuts, green bananas, bread fruit and a share of the game if it went round. Buck, bush pig and zebra were fairly plentiful and kept us going. Elephant, rhino and hippo were also much in evidence but rarely caught sight of, and to see their traces in the muddy flats, which was their playground, reminded me of Flanders.

panga macheteI saw my first hippo while crossing a dry riverbed and if I had not been advance guard I would have bagged him for the pot, as the askaris would soon make a meal of him. He was grubbing along the bank and tried to run when he heard us. I watched him out of sight and carried on with the war, with a compass in one hand and a “panga” (meat chopper) in the other, with which I was blazing a trail for the column to follow. [Henry’s panga might have looked like this one.]

All this country is in undisputed possession of wild animals and for days on end there was no sign of human habitation. One of my askaris killed a lioness with a single shot entering through the nose and I have been carting about the skin but by this time it looks like nothing on earth. The Lugenda is full of hippo, but we did not waste any time on them. In his native element the big fellow can make himself pretty small and we heard more of him than what we saw. His sonorous grunt always told us where the river was, when that happened to be in doubt. We had often an escort of chattering monkeys who resented our intrusion, but the big dignified baboon would stalk alongside on all fours pretending to ignore us.

We marched chiefly by compass rather than follow the tortuous course of the river. We shall probably rest here for a spell but we are too far away from everybody to be of any use here. The news from Europe is great and we hear rumours of peace negotiations. Bulgaria’s surrender is surely the beginning of the end. We are all full of hope for an early and victorious peace.

The end is getting closer and Henry knows it. What a relief it will be when it comes.

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.