Somewhere in Africa – 20th May 1917 continued (2)

More about Henry Tod’s early experiences fighting the Germans in East Africa.

Last time I was out with a patrol we were ambushed less than a mile from camp and how they did not “scupper” the lot of us I don’t know. [I’m sure his mother was happy to read that!] At the first crack we dropped in our tracks, flat, and as we were in extended order there was not much for him to pot at. I got my askaris to return the fire by volleys and it was not long before we silenced them. They were on both sides of my track but made no attempt to close on me. I caught a glimpse of a couple  of a couple of them scuttling away for dear life and had a parting shot at them. I had one man hit in the shoulder and sent him back to camp with an escort of one. I followed up on our attackers and came on their lair, and what should I find but a perfectly good British made rain coat, which the officer in charge must have left in his hurry. There is no doubt that at one time it belonged to one of our fellows.

source: – a group of K.A.R. soldiers

I continued my patrol, the object of which was to reconnoitre a small conical hill in the enemy territory and where I was to spend the night. The hill is quite a landmark and known to be well patrolled by the enemy. We had no further “bumps” and when night fell we made ourselves as comfortable as possible occupying the slope facing both their country and ours. I cannot say I slept very well in the middle of my little band of a dozen, with a sentry up of one in three. It was not so much the enemy as the wild beasts I was thinking of, and they were there all right. We found we could hear something or other throughout the night sniffing around and we were all a bit scared that a lion would snatch up one of us and vanish, which is a habit they have. I was quite glad when 5 a.m. came (stand to hour at camp) when I was to send up a Very light as a signal and return.

I have been learning something of the battalion’s doings in the earlier stages of the campaign and they have had a pretty thin time. Our last C.O. (Colonel Edwards) was killed in a recent action, and apparently he is sadly missed. I have just met our new C.O. (Lathom) and Irishman and a cheery sort of bloke. He is at the next post with half the battalion and I have just been escorting a full blown general to there by motor car. Poor Wilson our water expert and engineer, was killed the other day doing the same trip. His car was held up by a rope stretched across the track and he and his orderly were shot. A note was pinned on his chest “regretting the necessity of such action”. There have been several similar mishaps. His job was to advise and report on the various water supplies in our territory, which took him about a good deal.

I have had my first bout of fever and it was pretty severe while it lasted, but I was well looked after by the doctor who told me I was babbling quite a lot in my sleep. Our camp is very busy now and there is every sign of a resumption of active operations. A battalion of South African Infantry have arrived and some Indian units and there is quite a babel of tongues – English, Dutch, Hindustani and Swahili.

I wonder when I will get a letter from you and live in hopes.

Wild animals, jungle fevers, and enemy fire! So much for Henry and his family to worry about.


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

Somewhere in France – 18th March 1916

Lewis Gun

Just a line to keep you going, although I have none of your meantime to acknowledge. When we went up to the trenches last time, I was fortunate enough, after a couple of days there, to be sent on a course of machine gun instruction some seven miles behind the line. Here I have been for nearly a week, the course finishing tomorrow with an exam. It has been interesting work and I can take the gun to bits and put it together again in quick time. The Lewis gun is particularly adaptable for the firing line as it is light and can be shifted about easily and does not require the cumbersome platform and stand of the Vickers. We had a few nasty knocks during my sojourn in the line, one shell accounting or 9 men, 4 of whom were killed. Sim, one of the Company officers, was hit in the head but I learn that it is not very serious.

Vickers gun

The battalion has been out for three days while I have been here [I think he means on the training course], and we go up again the day after tomorrow. After that spell is completed we should go on Divisional rest for about three weeks, if the general position permits.

The weather has turned much better and spring seems to have arrived at last. There is an aeroplane base close at hand and it is a pleasant diversion to watch them at work. They go on patrols of about three hours duration, both forenoon and afternoon, and it is interesting to see them all trooping home at dusk – perhaps one of their number absent. Relatively speaking their casualties will be pretty heavy but I envy them their comfortable quarters and independence of the muddy trenches.

We are all very bucked at the stand the French are making at Verdun and this ought to go a long way to bring home to Fritz the futility of the struggle, but that is probably too much to expect.

How right he was – the war lasted more than two and a half years after this letter.


Somewhere in France – 24th January 1916

In this letter, Alexander Henry Tod is in Glasgow on leave. Some readers might recall that much of his family emigrated to Canada around 1910, hence he’s still writing to them rather than visiting with them.

Glasgow – 24th January 1916

Source: Golf Quest International

Here I am back in the old country for a week’s leave, which expires on Saturday. [He’s writing on Monday.] The joyful news was sprung on me when I was in the front line and I did not stand long on the order of my going. I left the trenches at 2 o’clock on Friday afternoon and was in London the following afternoon about 5 o’clock. It was a horrible crossing and the boat was packed with those like myself going on leave. I was nearly nabbed for duty in Boulogne to look after some details going over but I successfully dodged it. There were generals and officers of every rank, plenty of red tabs (staff) and hundreds of tommies and a good few nurses, but the mal-de-mers caught everyone alike and the lee-rail presented a very interesting picture. I managed to keep all right but it was at the expense of a thorough wetting, as I stayed on the upper deck and got every other wave that came over.

I saw Rob Bell in London at the bank, but Aunt Jessie was out at Chorley Wood. I shall try to see her on my way back. Mr. G., my old chief in St. Petersburg, was also in the city and I saw a good deal of him and some other old friends during the two days I was there, and I was pretty well looked after. I then came up to Scotland and paid them a surprise visit at Stirling, where they were all very glad to see me. I only wished they had Cockburn there to welcome back. [In his October 9th 1915 letter, Henry writes of Cockburn’s death – Cockburn fell at the head of his men at the very beginning of the action (Loos).] They are all very well but the blow has been a heavy one and Uncle Fred and Aunt Alice will always feel it. Beatrice, Muriel [his sisters, I think] and I went to see a musical comedy in Glasgow and enjoyed it greatly. This morning Chris and I had a round at golf and I just managed to win by one hole [clearly there’s a long standing family interest in golf which explains my husband’s love for the sport]. It was very bad golf.

I go south again tomorrow and the time has flown all too quickly. It is a funny war – to think you can get off for a week’s holiday.

A ‘funny war’ indeed.

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