Somewhere in Africa – 30th October 1917

Bully beef WWI

Henry is still on the move, his brigade heading south to keep on the tail of von Lettow.

I have just received a batch of your letters up to 19th July and this is a line to acknowledge same and report all well. We have been making good progress with the campaign but at the moment we are held up for lack of transport. We are hoping to give the Hun the knock-out any day now, but if we don’t it will have to be after the rains – six months hence at least – so here’s hoping.

Bully beef WWIThe country has improved a bit as we trek south but it is not much for all that, especially as the enemy has stripped it bare in his retreat and we have a hungry population on our hands, amongst our other troubles. Patrolling and traversing the country generally for our maps keeps us busy. [I wonder what he means here.] We shall resume our march when we have accumulated some food. We are subsisting on bully beef [see photo] and green bananas, which when boiled or fried make an excellent substitute for potatoes and occasionally we come on some small tomatoes to vary the menu. Game is conspicuous by its absence which is a pity, as it is always a welcome addition to the larder. It is possible to get a guinea fowl now and again, even with a rifle, as he is pretty slow in the take off, and he makes a fine meal.

We have had some pretty stiff marching and counter-marching lately. One evening we had just reached our camping place with that feeling of relief and anticipation, which we always associate with the evening halt, when we got orders to “carry on” and establish contact with the Gold Coast regiment, who were half a day’s march ahead. After a hasty uncooked meal we trailed off again into the blue. It was my turn for advance guard and I had to pick up a field telephone wire which had been laid through the bush and was my only guide. It has its comical side, which of course we only appreciated later.

Our C.O. (an acquisition from South Africa) is a worthy but fussy sort of man and certainly errs on the side of discretion. I was able to pick up the trail all right but the difficulty was for the rest of the battalion to keep in touch, while our baggage train, consisting for the most part of donkeys, was miles behind and was giving our transport officer something to think about. You can imagine the confusion of a night march in the bush; it can be bad enough in the daytime.

The C.O. has a whistle on which he signals all his commands. At one of the many halts while he was trying to close up the ever increasing gaps I had gone back to see what was doing. I met the adjutant and another captain and we were discussing the general hash we were making of things. The adjutant made a reference, more forcible than polite, to the Colonel, when out of the darkness the latter’s voice was heard. “Capt. —, you will rejoin your company and report to me in the morning. Another South African has got the vacant post.

The South Africans have a big pull in this show, for political reasons, and all promotions and decorations go their way. I have twice been recommended for the M.C. [I think this means Military Cross – a significant decoration] but that is as far as it has got. We got through the night somehow but as for making contact with the Gold Coast, we might as well have stayed in camp.

On another occasion when I was advance guard in a night march, this time to the whole column, or brigade, I came most unexpectedly on the tail of von Lettow’s main body. It was a stroke of luck and I got most urgent orders from the General to maintain contact until morning. This I did with the loss of six men. The telephone was run out to me and I had to report hourly to his nibs. Next day we forced him to a rearguard action, but it was only to cover his retreat. During the action I heard the German buglers sounding the “retreat” which I had never heard before in the war.

There are strong rumours that an air-ship has left Germany for these regions to pick up von Lettow and I am sure it is the best thing that could happen, as he will never surrender, and he will keep us chasing him all over Africa.

According to FirstWorldWar.com, “Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck (1870-1964) was remarkable among military commanders of the First World War in that he served for the entire period without ever having suffered defeat.”

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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.

Somewhere in Africa – February 1917

RMS Walmer Castle – nearing Cape Town

This finds us completing the second part of our voyage and we should be in port again the day after tomorrow. I wrote you from Sierra Leone that we are doing the voyage in three stages. [That letter seems to be missing.] We have already been six weeks on board, so it is going to be ‘some’ journey. Apart from the life and incident on board there has been nothing very exciting to record, except on the day after we crossed the line [the equator] when we were all agog on account of the whole convoy and escort putting about and making for the port (S.L.) we had left a few days before. For 18 hours we were steaming in the wrong direction and then again put about and resumed our course. The reason for this manoeuvre was never divulged and we are still wondering what it was all about.

We were a full week at that West African port and as we were allowed ashore, it made for a pleasant break. The first thing I saw on dropping anchor was a big shark, about 12 feet long, which leisurely cruised round the ship. I was informed it was a sea-shark, hence its size, which had evidently followed us in and are seldom to be seen near shore, like the ground or sand shark. I saw another one the other morning which kept alongside for a little, just showing the tip of its dorsal fin. Flying fish are about as common as sparrows and lately we have run into big shoals of porpoises, hundreds of them.

It was much warmer north of the equator than what it has been south of it, which would appear to be the exception. The weather has been very fine but for the last few days we have been getting some heavy rollers coming up from the south, which may well get worse nearing the Cape.

The voyage has not been so tedious as it looked like being, thanks to an energetic programme of sports and entertainments for both the troops and passengers. There have been some very good boxing contests, in which soldiers, sailors and marines have taken part, but one, Gunner George, has so far been invincible. He is up against a tough proposition this afternoon however and the excitement is great.

The little bit of Africa I have seen so far was quite interesting and pretty in its way, but they tell me there is not another place like it on the whole West Coast. We rowed ashore in one of the ship’s boats and I tell you they take some handling in the little bit of sea that was running. I had the misfortune to break a fine pipe Uncle Fred gave me in the rather clumsy descent I made into the boat from the accommodation ladder. I took a hand at one of the oars but it seemed more like a telegraph pole. We landed at the river bank, which rises to a wooded hill. There were palm trees and other sorts of foliage which I shall never know the name of.

Freetown is spread along the shore and reaches some way up the hill side. It was very hot walking about and when we spied a local taxi – sort of a hammock slung on poles carried by natives – three of us made a sprint for it. I got there first but fell out of the contrivance in my hurry and the next man got it. We took a short railway ride up country and had a good look round. The natives are of a strong Mahommedam [sic] or Arab mixture, who originally trekked across the Sahara desert and have settled at various points along this coast.

Apparently we are only to be a day or so at Capetown, from where I will post this, with a P.C. [postcard?] or two.

Note: I found these images on Sierra-Leone.org.

As someone who can get seasick standing on the dock, Henry’s lengthy voyage would have been torture for me.

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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.