T h e I n l a n d T r e k
Mombasa –- Volunteering for German East Africa – A call at the Cape Verde Islands – Hospitality in Durban – An Equatorial paradise – Meetings with Generals Botha and Smuts – On the march to Same – Retreat of the Germans – Costumes of the natives – A hard trek – Dodging the Germans – Attack of the fever
March 14th. 1916
fter being at sea, six days out of Durban, the ship arrives at Kilindini, our port of disembarkation. Needless to say, there will be no tears at parting from this old hooker. Since leaving Blighty, five weeks ago, I have not had a decent meal, with the exception of the two I had in Durban. I am not a fad over food but I do like it to be wholesome. The harbour here is a fine natural harbour, and a very tricky one to enter, but the arrangements for discharging are prehistoric. The ships lay-off in the harbour, and all discharging is done by lighters, the cargo being hoisted out of the lighters at a small jetty by hand cranes. And this is an English port that does a great trade with India and the Far East.
The port is more generally known as Mombasa, but that is really the name of the island. Ships of any size greater than local coasters are not able to get up to the town of Mombasa.
March 15th. 1916
Troops are being disembarked today and although we are ‘standing to’, it does not look as if we shall get ashore today.
March 16th. 1916.
Today we land with full equipment and carrying our kit bags. The heat of the sun is something terrific. After being in the full heat of the sun for a couple of hours in the lighter, we are landed where there are further delays. At long last we are off.
After leaving the quayside we are served with some liquid refreshment, provided and served by the English ladies of Mombasa. I don’t know what it was but it was very acceptable to us. We afterwards marched off again to the camp where we arrived pretty well ‘done up’.
We have another delay while we are being reported as having landed and while tents are being allotted to us. We are under the shade of trees, but we dare not sit down owing to the millions of ants which simply swarmed all over, but we very soon learned to think nothing of a few ants. At last we get our tents and soon make ourselves at home.
March 20th. 1916
We have been busy getting our guns, ammunition, stores, etc. ashore. One gun we have taken down to the camp for drill purposes. The rest we have loaded up on the railway, ready to go up-country.
Our food here is a great improvement to that which we had on the ‘Huntsgreen’, although there is one thing we miss very much and that is vegetables. All eatables are tinned, except the meat which we get every second or third day. We wait for the oxen to be killed and then it is whipped into the pot, for it goes putrid in two or three hours. The result of this is that we don't get much tender meat. We have plenty of jaw exercise in our efforts to masticate it. The whole of our food ration comes from India. The butter (tinned of course) is very decent stuff, especially after the vile stuff we have been having since we left England. Taking all things into consideration, we can’t grumble.
April 5th. 1916
We are still waiting for our mechanical transport. I expect it did not leave England until a fortnight after us, and coming with a much slower boat, so we shall not get away from here for a while. It will take some time to get it all ashore when it does arrive.
Although we are waiting, we are by no means idle. We do seven and eight hours drill each day except Sunday. At 6.00am. we have bathing parade. We march down to the harbour where there is a very nice bathing beach. Early morning is the only part of the day when a white man can bathe here. We have orders prohibiting all bathing between the hours of 7.00am. to 5.00pm. One of our chaps who disregarded this order was under the doctor for about three weeks. The rays of the sun are so powerful they badly burnt him, his back being one huge blister from his shoulders downward. Although a shark may occasionally come into the harbour, there is not much danger while there are a number of men in the water at one time.
At 8.30am. we parade for gun drill, fatigues, lectures, etc. which last till 12 noon. At 2.00pm. we have gun drill, squad and company drill, etc. which last until 4.00pm. At 6.00pm. we parade for orders, mount guard, etc., so you will see we have not much idle time.
Sunday we have Church Parade at 9.30am. The service is held under a tree in the camp and taken by the OC of the Brigade. Order Parade is at 6.00pm.
Afterwards, I go to the service in the Cathedral in Mombasa. One finds a very mixed congregation here. The greater part are Europeans, with a sprinkling of Indians, Swahilis and Portuguese, the Indians and Swahilis in their native dress. I imagine a congregation like this would cause a ripple of mild excitement to pass through a congregation in one of our churches at home. Afterwards, we visit a cafe for one or two iced soda waters, then back to camp, drenched with perspiration, because the nights are extremely hot without the least breeze.
April 6th. 1916
We have had our first mail today since leaving England and although the news is two months old, it gives us great satisfaction.
April 9th. 1916
Our transport has arrived but it will be some considerable time before we get it all landed. We have had a good look around the island now and we find many things of interest. Just coming out from the Old Country, everything seems so very strange to our eyes. The inhabitants number about 8,000 coloured people with about 300 whites, or I should say Europeans. The Germans have been interned in India. The Portuguese, who have been here for generations, are very difficult to recognise from Indians. The whole of the shop-keeping is in the hands of the Indians, with a few Portuguese and I must say that both races have their eyes open to the fact that ‘Tommy’ is easily fleeced. I don’t think any shop-keeper expects to be paid the sum he asks for the first time he quotes a price. He will usually come down to half the price before he will ‘lose’ you.
The whites live in one part of the island, the Indians and Arabs in the shopping district, while the Swahilis have a great village of their own, but even here the bazaars are all run by the Indians. The dress of all are also interesting. The Europeans of both sexes wear white drill clothing with sun topees. The Indians’ dress is more or less familiar to all Englishmen. The Arab looks rather picturesque in his long flowing white robes. They usually trade in fruit and one often sees them coming to the market, the Arab walking first, carrying nothing but a stick, followed by his five or six wives carrying baskets of fruit on their heads. These in turn are followed by Swahili ‘boys’, also loaded with baskets. The native women that one sees walking about are striking in their dress. They have several yards of gorgeously coloured calico, (the more glaring the colour, the better they like it) wound around them in such a manner that they leave both arms and one shoulder bare. They have imitation gold anklets, armlets, rings, bracelets, necklaces and rings on their toes with one large stud (about the size of a shilling) set with coloured stones fixed in each side of their nostrils. I expect these must be the upper class of the natives, because I have seen many of them in the villages dressed in very little else but a broad smile.
I don’t know much about botany but the most casual observer must notice the wonderful growth of trees and plants in this place. Some trees are absolutely covered with a white flower, whilst others are covered with a bright scarlet flower. Cactus trees grow to great height. I have seen a banyan tree near here. This is the first one I have seen outside a picture book, and it covers a considerable amount of ground. It grows horizontal branches which in turn, grow branches downwards which take root in the ground, and really start another tree. There are also trees which grow a tremendous girth. These are called baobab trees. They do not grow to a great height; perhaps 60 or 80 feet, but their great girth drowns their height. There is one in the native village here which I paced round one evening. It was 17 paces in circumference. I expect they live for thousands of years. Anyhow, they are a very striking growth.
Coconut palms are very plentiful. In the residential part of the island the flower beds before the houses are extremely beautiful, the mixture of the gorgeous colours being a very pretty sight. But of all these wonderful flowers, I never came across any that had the perfume of our English flowers.
There is an abundance of tropical fruit, but I eat very little of it. During a lecture we had on the ship by a MO, he advised us not to eat any; and dysentery is bad enough amongst us, without me trying to swell the number of patients
Although we have all these wonderful thing to see, this place is by no means the Garden of Eden. The situation of the island is within six degrees of the Equator. The sun is terrific in the power of its rays. After sundown we get no cooler, because there is an entire absence of breeze. Topees must be worn from 7.00am. to 5.00pm., even when we are in our tents, the canvas not being strong enough to entirely break the power of the sun.
I understand there is no rainy season here, but the rain falls at any time and when it does come! Gee! I have never seen anything like it before. It doesn’t come down in drops but in one huge sheet.
The soil is very sandy and I think it is the playground for everything that crawls and creeps. Lizards, centipedes, black, white and huge red ants, flying ants who shed their wings all over the place, and the common house fly which abound here in millions. At meal times, there is always an exciting race to see who gets the food out of the spoon first, you or the fly. I must have swallowed dozens of flies in trying to beat them.
After dark, the flies are not so troublesome, but the mosquito comes out in swarms, crickets are chirping, monkeys chattering, so that I believe the nights are noisier than the days. I expect we shall get used to it, but the difference between our quiet nights at home and these nights is startling.
Already, fever and dysentery are attacking the troops. When anyone dies the body is not kept long here. I have seen a man on the 8.30am. parade and attended the funeral at 3.00pm. White people don’t seem to live for the ‘allotted span’ here. I have walked round the Cathedral, and and out of a score or two of memorial tablets, I find the oldest person was only 39 years. Pleasant reading, which makes one wonder whether the interior will be more healthy. It can’t be much worse.
There is one railway line here. A single line from Mombasa, through the country which is preserved for big game hunting to a place called Port Florence on the shores of Lake Victoria Nyanza. There is a magnificent railway bridge which connects the island with the mainland. All the station staff are Indians, while the engineers are British with Indian firemen. The fuel used is wood, which is sawn into suitable lengths and stacked in great heaps by the rail side by native ‘boys’.
During the initial advance by the Germans in this country, they reached a point within 14 miles of the aforementioned bridge but apparently reserved their energy for the capture of Nairobi, the capital of the country. [British East Africa].
See endnote 1.
They failed in this, and at the same time made no further advance on the railway, so we were left with a good port and base on the coast. This is one of the big blunders that the Germans made during this war.
May 3rd. 1916
At last we are all ready for going up the line. We have tested our mechanical transport on the sandy ground, apparently with success, but I can see work (with a capital W) in front of us. This morning came in wet, but by noon we have got the whole battery on the train. Of course, we are drenched through within two minutes of starting, but when rain ceases one’s clothing soon dries, between the heat of the body and the sun. We leave Kilindini at 2.00pm., the 158 Battery following in a few days time. At 11.00pm. we arrive at Voi, but stop in the train for the night.
See endnote 2.
May 4th. 1916
At daylight we started to unload our guns, motors etc., this being the rail-head.
See endnote 3.
We are all ready and off by 1.30pm. We camp at dusk by the roadside. This is our first experience of a night in the ‘wilds’ but the sound of wild beasts, etc., does not disturb me. I sleep like a top.
May 5th. 1916
We are away again and already experiencing ‘out drag ropes’ and hauling our motors and guns through the sand. We reach M’buyini at 4.00pm., this being at this time the advanced base camp. We are now in sight of Kilima N’jaro, a great snow-capped mountain 30 miles away, and in German East Africa. It stands 19,700 feet above sea-level. It is an awe-inspiring sight to see this great mountain standing all alone on this plateau, and snow-covered a great way down, while we are simply scorching in the sun. The natives are said to worship it as a great god….and no wonder.
This is a great camp, and we find it filled with Indians, Boers, South Africans, and a few English ASC (Supplies).
See endnote 4.
I see the Bengal Lancers for the first time, and one need wish to see no finer men, nor cleverer horsemen than these chaps. There are also two or three Indian Mountain Batteries, with several battalions of Punjabis, Gurkhas, etc., and we have a couple of batteries of South African Field Artillery, parties of Boer Mounted Infantry forming a nucleus of General Britts’ Flying Column. Indian ammunition columns are here with ox transport, the oxen skins scoured with fantastic designs, while at the other side of the camp is a big aerodrome. So you see, we have some variety in the camp.
The whole camp is surrounded by a ‘boma’ or stockade, 30 or 40 yards deep, with tricky paths through it to prevent being rushed by the Hun.
See endnote 5.
Water shortage is a serious problem here. It is brought up on a light railway and stored in tanks. Our daily ration is four pints per man. This covers all necessities: drinking, ablutions and washing of clothes. This issue makes us keep our eyes open for leakages.
May 16th. 1916
I have letters from home today. Our last mail was five weeks ago. Not too bad so far.
The 158 Battery has again joined us. Our battery has been broken up again. Now we are two batteries. The right section being the 11th. (Hull) Heavy Battery and the left section, the 13th. Heavy Battery.
The climate here is very much better than at Mombasa. The sun is excessively hot, but after sundown there is a nice breeze which reminds one of a hot summer’s night at home. Nevertheless, our men still suffer a lot from malaria, although dysentery does not seem so bad. Our altitude is 3,000 feet, so there should be an improvement.
May 19th. 1916
I am feeling a bit queer today, so I go to the doctor’s orderly and get a big dose of quinine.
May 20th. 1916
I am still shaky but I don’t want to report sick for fear of being put into ‘dock’, in other words, the hospital.
May 21st. 1916
I am fit again today. Our right section has left to join General Van de Venter’s column at Himo River, about 20 miles from here.
June 10th. 1916
We have news of going up with General Britts’ Column when the new offensive starts, which we expect will be shortly. We have had General Botha and General Smuts in the camp a few days ago, so that looks as if there is something doing. General Smuts is the GOC of all troops in this campaign, but perhaps Botha came up to see the lie of the land and offer advice. They both had a great reception with all the troops here. Botha is a great burly man, and a typical Boer in appearance, while Smuts is more dapper and could easily pass for an Englishman. I expect they are both thought a lot about by all classes in South Africa. If anyone had suggested to me 14 years ago that I should be pleased to fight under a Boer general, I would have led them to the nearest stable to have their brains kicked out. But this shows how events alter one’s opinions.
See endnote 6.
June 15th. 1916
I take all our spare stores, kit, etc. back to Maktua, a camp some distance to our rear. We are going with Britts and have to travel very light. Each man is allowed twelve and a half pounds of kit. That includes great-coat or blanket and one pair of spare boots, one spare shirt and one spare pair of socks. Mine weighed 15lbs., but I couldn’t go with less, so was allowed to take them.
June 16th. 1916
The column starts to leave here today. We go tomorrow. We are taking a route through the mountains, which I expect is only possible during three months of the year. Although we have been at M’buyuni for about six weeks we have not had a lazy time. We have had three parades a day, Schemes three or four times a week, calibrated our guns, fatigues, guards, etc., which have kept us from playing with our thumbs during the time we have been here. We have had 40 natives allotted to us as stretcher bearers, porters, etc. We have one detailed as cook for our mess. The head boy is named Juma Ambri and he is a very intelligent chap. He can speak four languages very well. They are English, Hindostani, his native Swahili and a language spoken in the far interior. He was with the party of natives, (as interpreter) which accompanied ex-President Roosevelt, during the latter’s big game hunting expedition in this country. During conversation with him, one is immediately struck by his masterly power over the English language. He can neither read nor write, but the expression of his thoughts and wishes in English is so cultured that it makes one fairly gasp.
June 17th. 1916
We left M’buyuni at 8.00am. and set off in a south-easterly direction, leaving Moshi on our right and skirting the shores of Lake Jipe on our left. After about 20 miles, we came to a plain which we have to cross. It is nothing but sand. There is not a tree, shrub, or blade of grass to be seen. It is easy to believe that this plain is a swamp for nine months of the year. A more desolate place I have never seen up to now. After a good deal of hauling, we reach the further side where our OC decides to outspan for the night. Our first job is to search for water. After our tins are filled, we sit down for our meal of bully beef and biscuits. These biscuits are ‘Hardman’s’, and I can truthfully say that they are most appropriately named. We ought to have had issued with our small kit, a hammer and chisel. That would have simplified the problem of how to break them. We estimate the distance travelled today at 30 miles. It has been dark for some time so we fix our mosquito nets and turn in, with millions of stars winking at us, until we lose them in sleep.
June 18th. 1916
We passed through N’gula Gap today and reached Same. The roads have been very bad, but being in the mountains, we have had consolation in the fact that the roads have been hard. Same is a small town on the railway which runs from Tanga on the coast to Moshi at the foot of Kilima N’jaro. This railway runs through a very fertile part of the country, with the idea of getting the products to the coast.
After the Boer War, many of the irreconcilable Boer farmers, preferring German government to ours, came out here and settled on the farms. Today, this part of the country is in our hands and the Boer once more comes under the rule of Great Britain. Such is the irony of fate.
June 19th. 1916
We are away this morning and. strike some very difficult roads. Some parts, having a gradient of 1 in 4, make it extremely hard for us. We have to unhook the guns, pull up the FWD lorries, then go back and haul up the guns. The same treatment for the Napier cars which carry our ammunition, stores, etc. In the evening we reach Makanga where we outspan by the roadside, near to a river. I do not know name of this river but I believe it is a tributary of the Pangani.
June 20th. 1916
Our OC decides to give us a rest today, after our hard work of the last few days. We spend the day in washing ourselves and clothing. It is quite a treat to have plenty of water at hand. One can wash one’s clothing and be wearing it again in two hours. That is a decided advantage on our own climate where sometimes nearly a week passes before we can wear newly washed clothes.
June 21st. 1916
This morning we are off again, and after a. rather easy day, we reached Bagamojo. These names are simply the names of native villages, and sometimes we don’t even see the village because it is hidden in the bush. Anyhow, one doesn’t miss much, by outward appearance at any rate.
June 22nd. 1916
Today we reach German Bridge on the Pangani River. The original bridge (a fine structure) has been destroyed by the Germans but a temporary one has been erected in a day or two, which enables our column to get over.
We camp on the further side of the river, and having an hour or so of daylight, we indulge in some bathing. I have my first view of crocodiles in their natural surroundings today, and I must say that they don’t make one feel too comfortable. But I expect there is not much danger to bathers if only a few will keep together.
The scenery here is simply wonderful. On either side of the river, the growth of shrubs and trees is so dense that paths have been cut down to the banks. The trees are covered with climbing plants which trail down to the ground again, the whole being smothered with the most gorgeous blooms imaginable.
In the centre of the river there are small islands which are covered with foliage and flowers, making a blaze of colour such as I have never seen before. It is simply astounding.
June 23rd. 1916
We continue our march today with the river a mile or so on our left. The country we are traversing is very barren. Nothing seems to grow on it but a very short coarse grass. This seems extraordinary, because on our left, only a mile or so away is the dense growth near the river. We camp at night at Palms. This is the name we give to the place because two or three coconut palms stand alone in their majesty.
June 24th. 1916
We leave Palms and having a somewhat easy day over this barren waste (we have now lost all signs of the river), and camp for the night at a spot which we mark on the map.
June 25th. 1916
We are away again this morning and after passing through more congenial country, we arrive at M’kalamo. This is only a place on the map; no sign of any human life but ourselves.
The retreat of the Germans is very rapid. We are advancing at anything from 12 to 20 miles per day but we never get a ‘slap’ at them, except running rear-guard actions, in which artillery is not required.
Whilst we have been passing through this open country during the last day or two, the Hun has suffered rather severely through not having cover. The dead, of course, have to be buried immediately. After burial, great stones have to be placed on the graves, if possible, to prevent the bodies being disturbed by vultures or animals. Vultures follow the column all the time. I really think the vulture is the most disgusting and loathsome thing I have seen. They never leave a body (unless disturbed) until the bones are picked absolutely clean. They are such gross feeders that they will eat until they can’t move. Their filthy habits and mangy appearance fill one with disgust.
June 26th. 1916
After a long and uneventful day we arrive at Luchomo. I understand we have out distanced our supplies and we shall have to stop here for some days. We have ‘found’ a piece of tarpaulin about eight feet long by six feet wide and this proves a blessing to us. We rig it up each evening and it keeps the heavy dews off us. The men use the gun covers for the same purpose, so we are more comfortable than we were.
June 27th. 1916
We are staying here until our supplies catch up to us. Our rations are not good so far as quantity and variety goes. Our drink is coffee or water and our food is biscuits, bully beef (eight men to a 12oz. tin), with a cup of mealy meal and an occasional ration of fresh meat, which is so hard and tough that one cannot eat it. No sugar, tea, milk, butter bread or bacon. Eatables which we once looked upon as necessities are now far beyond our reach. If only we had a few vegetables, it would be better. Mealy meal is Indian corn ground down. As the natives grind it, it is fairly good and might be compared with our cornflour, but the ration issue is simply split and not ground. Thus it is only chicken corn and not to be recommended to dyspeptic patients.
The natives here are a different people to those I saw in Mombasa. I have always been taught that human beings are the most beautiful of all God’s works. If so, He certainly made these niggers whilst He was an apprentice. I am sure I never saw anything that walked on two legs quite so ugly as these people.
The dress of the ‘ladies’, (when they are dressed), consists of a short, dried grass skirt which reaches midway between the thigh and knee. For ornamental purposes, they have thick copper wire wound around each leg, from ankle to knee, and around each arm from wrist to elbow. Fixed around their necks they have what looks like a huge watch spring. The diameter of this necklace is about two feet. They certainly do not look very comfortable in this finery. I imagine they must carry at least 40lbs. of metal about with them.
The men’s wearing apparel requires less describing, for the simple reason that they wear none. Their personal decoration consists usually of a thick piece of round wood stuck through the lobe of the ear. One may frequently see the lobes of these chaps’ ears stretched so that they will touch their shoulders. If they can get an empty ‘Globe’ metal polish tin as an ear ornament, their happiness is complete.
July 5th. 1916
We leave Luchomo this morning and arrive at M’bagui, a distance of 22 miles. For some time now, one half of the battery has marched one day, while the other half has ridden. Today, I have had the dismounted party. Now today’s march has been a particularly trying one. The whole column has moved along the same path. This consisted of field batteries with mules, batteries with oxen, our battery with mechanical transport, thousands of Boer mounted infantry and I believe we were the only white troops ‘padding the hoof’. The thermometer registered 105 degrees in the shade before we left at 8.00am. What it would be at noon, I do not know. We had full equipment with 50 rounds of ammunition, two days rations, iron rations and one pint of water.
The path was ankle deep in sand, and the horses trotting and the motors rushing along raised so much dust that it blinded us. We took the puggarees off our topees and used them as veils to keep the sand out of our eyes and nostrils, but even then, it searched through. We halted at mid-day, and those of us who had any water left made a drink of coffee. After a short rest we were on again. When one has done 12 or 15 miles like this, for the remainder of the distance one becomes a machine, plodding on. It does not matter much what happens. You drag one weary leg after the other. There is a place somewhere ahead where you will rest. That is all you know, except that you have a raging thirst and no water. One keeps expecting that every turn of the path will show the column outspanned, but every turn of the path gives you another disappointment. At last you get there and break all regulations by having a good ‘swig’ at the first muddy water you see. I am told we have done 22 miles.
After the stragglers have arrived in camp, I report to the OC that all men are in. He asks me how they have finished. I tell him ‘all right’, but a number have blistered feet with the hot sand. He can’t understand it at all, but there is a big difference between ‘padding the hoof’ and riding in a Ford car! Although I don’t tell him so.
July 6th. 1916
Today we do 15 miles and outspan on the outskirts of Handeni. This district seems to be very fertile. We have passed through miles and miles of rubber and coffee plantations.
This town is the most important one we have seen since leaving Mombasa. There are a great number of houses built by European settlers and a large fort built on a hill in the centre of the town. It is quite a change to see houses or bungalows after seeing nothing but the grass ‘bandas’ built by the natives for so long.
July 7th. 1916
We are off again. I leave in the lorry with my gun. We no sooner get started than my driver does me a ‘kindness’ by overturning the lorry and gun over an embankment. I have 60 complete rounds of 40 pds. ammunition aboard and I am quite sure that 59 rounds are piled on the top of me. After being extricated, I find I have no bones broken, but a rather badly cut arm, a knee treated in the same way and ribs and back skinned and bruised. I am taken up to the fort which is being made into a hospital, and get my cuts etc., dressed. The MO desires me to stay in ‘dock’ but I decline with thanks. My OC (who has come up in the meantime) states that he will see that I have my ‘wounds’ dressed daily, so I am allowed to go. I don’t like the look of a field hospital. Everybody is laid on the floor and I am very much afraid that I may get ‘friends’ that I don’t like, if I stay. For the remainder of the day’s trek, I do the heavy by riding in the Ford car with the OC.
We finish the day by arriving at M’jimbwe, a distance of 16 miles.
July 8th. 1916
I am very sore and stiff this morning, so I am still an honoured occupant of the OC’s car. We have an easy day’s trek and reach Kangata, a distance of 18 miles from our last halt. Although the sun during the day is very hot, the nights, to us, are cold, the glass dropping to 55 degrees after sundown. Our blanket is now very acceptable.
July 9th. 1916
We continue the movement this morning and after 16 miles we arrive at the Lukigura River which is, I believe, a tributary of the great Wami [Pangani] River. The river is not formidable, being only about 20 to 25 yards wide, and having a depth of three or four feet here, but it will supply us with excellent water to drink
July 10th. 1916
By all we can gather, it seems that we have bumped into something hard here. All this time, it appears that the enemy, doing nothing but fight light rearguard action, has now taken up a previously prepared position. It certainly looks a very strong position. In front of us is a range of mountains. Apparently the only way through them is through a neck, or gap. This, the Germans hold in great strength, according to all intelligence reports. They have two or more 4.1 naval guns taken from the ‘Koenigsberg’ before it was destroyed by our navy in the Rufiji River. There are glowing reports in our home papers about the destruction of this ship, how she was spotted hidden in the river by the RNAS and how she was finally destroyed by our monitors. But they don’t say that she was dismantled, that all her guns, ammunition, stores, etc. had been removed previously, but that is so. All that was destroyed was the shell of the ship. We have no artillery that can look at these long range naval guns. Our howitzers have the longest range of any guns here, a range of 6,000 yards, but what is that against 14,000 yards or more?
All our guns are obsolete. They include 9 pdrs, 15 pdrs, 4.5 howitzers and our 5 inch howitzers. Just fancy our comic opera artillery against modern naval guns. It reminds one of a pea-shooter against a revolver.
July 11th. 1916
We are having rather a warm time here. We have dug trenches, and every night all hands man them and form listening posts. The latter is perhaps the most unthankful job a soldier has to perform. At dusk, a party of three is pushed forward about 200 yards in front of the trenches. Their duty is to listen for movements in the direction of the enemy’s lines. No word is to be spoken. One listens while two rest. When one estimates that his time is up, if the others are asleep, he awakens them by giving them a kick. Anyone who has been in the bush will agree that this is a very trying task.
In the event of an attack, their position is much worse. They are between two fires and in equal danger from both sides. Their own pals cannot recognise them in the dark so the chance of them regaining their own lines is very small. There is nothing cushy about a job like this.
July 13th. 1916
Every night the Germans get behind our lines, and dodging the patrols, mine the road, with the result that the first car over in the morning usually goes up. Sometimes the mine is found and is removed without doing any damage. During the day there is continual sniping going on but we don’t seem to have much luck in finding them.
July 15th. 1916
I finish up the day by having a sharp attack of fever, my temperature going up to 104.3.
July 16th. 1916
After being heaped up with blankets during the night and having 30 grains of quinine, I am much better this morning, but have a terrible head. The field hospital in the camp is a terrible place, so to avoid it I won’t report sick.
July 19th. 1916
Our OC has allowed me to take things easily these last few days but although I still have a thick head, I return to duty today. One must not give way to fever if it is possible to hold on. I think the chaps who give in first are the ones to hand in their cheques first.
July 24th. 1916
We have Botha and Smuts here today so that looks as if there is another move on. They received a great reception.
This place is proving to be a very unhealthy one. At the present time we have 34% of our chaps in dock with fever and dysentery. This makes it extremely hard work for the chaps that are left, but it can’t be helped.
July 26th. 1916
We have had some excitement today. A German force of 4,000 was reported to be advancing from the west. The whole camp was turned into the trenches. We receive a terrible blow at night when we get orders to prepare for a retreat. We are ‘hooked in’ and standing by for a couple of hours, when a further message comes in to say that we stop. We unpack and turn in.
July 29th. 1916
There is still the usual mining and sniping going on but we never hear anything definite as to what happened to the force that caused all the excitement the other day. Of course there are plenty of rumours, but Dame Rumour is a lying jade, so I attach no importance to them.
July 31st. 1916
We are getting a great number of troops in the camp now. It would be quite interesting to the people at home to see them reach camp in the evening. There are white men, Indians, Cape boys, which embraces all shades from almost black to almost white. There is no pomp or ceremony here. No bright buttons or polished equipment. Everyone is dog tired when they reach camp and covered with sand so that it is difficult to recognise the European from the coloured man, if it were not for the head-dress.
As soon as a halt is called, there is no dressing of the ranks. The greater part are so beat that they drop down for a rest. The transport is as varied as it is possible to be. There are mechanical transport, mules in spans of ten with Cape boys as drivers, oxen in spans of 16 with Indians, Cape boys and natives as drivers. The oxen are not driven with reins but with the whip. A driver with his long whip can reach any one of his team. No horses are seen because they cannot live here. The average life of the mules here is 14 days. Britts’ Mounted Men which left M’buyini in all their glory are no longer mounted, because all their horses are dead. It is indeed an extraordinary sight to see a column on the march here.
August 4th. 1916
We have no general improvement in our health here. As soon as one gets about, another goes down. We shall be pleased to move from here. It is not a health resort.
Notes by Denis Fewster Hopkin, grandson of the author.
1. The Germans had moved up from German East Africa, better known as Tanganyika and at the time of this journal they had been driven back into their own territory.
2. There was, during the Second World War and just after, an important branch line from Voi down to Arusha in Tanganyika as I was RTO at Voi for a period of time. I presume the route taken by the writer would be roughly through the country that the later line took, assuming that it had not been built at that time.
3. I give a brief account of my own movements during the latter part of World War II and the immediate post-war period because of the coincidence which it contains.
I enlisted in 1943 aged 18 and after about a year’s training in the artillery, was posted overseas as a gunner / specialist in Field Artillery. My draft overseas sailed for, to us, an unknown destination, having been issued with tropical kit. Bearing in mind this kit, we were sure we were going to somewhere like Iceland! However, we went south and turned left at Gibraltar and docked in Alexandria, still in ignorance. We ended up in a transit camp near Suez for about a month and during that time received our first mail. It was marked as having been returned from Athi River. Where that was we did not know, but presumably, that was where we were going. We sailed south from Suez and ended up at Kilindini, history repeating itself. We entrained for Nairobi and of course, passed through Voi on the way. We ended up in another camp in the Athi River Game Reserve. There we underwent a several weeks’ Africanisation course, the purpose of which was to adapt to the altitude, learn some basic Swahili and instruction in ‘the way of life’ of the people. A group of us were then posted to join the 307 Field Regiment, East African Artillery at Naivasha on the side of the lake of that name. We then formed the regimental survey party. This was a black regiment with a core of whites to fill the senior and more technical core. I was with the regiment until just after the end of the war. We had been due to go to fellow other E.A. units to Burma in September 1945 but much to our delight, something happened to Japan that made it unnecessary!
Stagnation set in, in the regiment as there was no longer any purpose for our existence. Eventually a request was made to the regiment for any volunteers to go draft conducting to assist in the demobilisation of the black troops by returning them to their tribal areas. All the eight of us in the survey party volunteered, as we were tired of hanging about. We moved to Nairobi and started the job. Without any by-your-leave, we found ourselves transferred to the Royal Engineers’ Transportation and were boosted up to sergeant.
Later, I was posted to Mombasa and immediately despatched to take over as RTO (Rail Transport Officer) to Voi. There is a small native village at Voi but the main element in the place is the station at the junction of the Voi to Moshi line with the main Kenya Uganda Railway (KUR). In Dan’s time, as he says, it was the railhead for the troops going south to the Moshi area. Apart from the station, there was a post office and a small loco repair workshop. Originally it was a crew change over point as the train crews were changed over here for the second leg of the KUR run up to Nairobi. The crew that was being relieved would spend a rest period in a banda near to the station. Later, when cabooses were attached to the train, the banda went out of use. This banda was in my quarters. It had five rooms, all leading off one verandah. This was going to be a lonely posting as the nearest white troops were about a hundred miles away in Mombasa. I had two black policemen, one a corporal to assist me in doing next to nothing. My only friends were the Mauritian postmaster, the Pathan station master, a local Sikh doctor and a Eurasian locomotive engineer.
At my banda, I slept in the middle one of the five rooms. The rest of the rooms were empty. One day, when in conversation with one of the Eurasian loco drivers, he asked me where I slept. When I told him, he expressed amazement that I did not know that this room was haunted because it had been the mortuary during the First War when the banda had been used as a transit hospital on the route down to Mombasa. A short while after this, I came across a small, fenced off group of graves, some way behind the banda. It contained three graves, one was for somebody who had been killed by a lion, the second I forget about, but the third was that of a Gunner Clayton, Siege Artillery. I mentioned this to Dan in a letter I wrote and he told me that this chap was from his battery, (11th. Hull), and they never knew what happened to him after he was sent back sick. It is a small world but it contains some strange coincidences.
As an afterthought, it is amazing the difference between the hardships of the life he led in this part of Africa and the comparatively wholesome life we led. In the intervening 30 years, the improvements in hygiene and medication must have been colossal. Admittedly I spent most of my time at higher altitudes, but I was also in Mombasa. I do not recall anyone going down with the sort of diseases that plagued the battery in 1916/17.
4. There seems to be a designation for South African people of British stock as opposed to Boers.
5. This would be a much larger version of the normal boma round a native settlement to keep out wild animals and made from thorn-bush branches.
6. Dan had tried to enlist for the Boer War but had been rejected as being too young.