T h e  F i g h t


Sickness strikes the camp – Meeting with a fellow Hull man – The elusive Von Lettow Vorbeck – The Rufiji River





October 13th. 1916


ast night we had a rum ration. This is the first time that rum has been issued to us. I found that it did me a lot of good although the ration was only two tablespoonfuls. Instead of turning in as limp as a wet dish-cloth, I felt quite vigorous. We left Tulo early this morning and we soon felt the power of the sun down on these plains. The South African corporal with us gives us a very dismal prospect concerning our new district. He tells us that malaria and dysentery are very bad here. Well, if it is any worse than some of the districts we have been in, it must be bad. We have had more than a little sickness since we have been in the country. Of the whole of the battery, there are only the OC, a bombardier and myself who have not been in hospital, sick with one or the other of the diseases peculiar to tropical climes. I am rather proud of this record, because I am not exactly a youngster.


I hope sincerely that I shall continue to have this luck. Today we reach Duthumi and are once again in the firing line.


October 14th. 1916

We find the ‘line’ here only very lightly held, no one being permanently in the trenches. Our front extends from Duthumi to a town named Kissaki, 16 miles away, both places being in our hands. There are not many troops here, and the ‘line’ itself is held by patrols of the various units which mount for 24 hours duty. Apparently the enemy hold their line by a similar procedure. When two opposing patrols bump into each other, then there is a bit of excitement until reinforcements arrive and drive the enemy back. The artillery here consist of one section of the 3rd. SAFA with two 18 pdr. guns, one section of the 7th. SAFA with two obsolete l5pdr. guns and our obsolete but useful 5 inch howitzer. The infantry are Col. ‘Jerry’ Driscoll’s 25th. battalion of the London Fusiliers (Frontiersmen), the 2nd. Rhodesian Regiment, which are all of the whites, the Jumna and Cashmere Rifles (Gurkhas) the 30th. Punjabis and a battalion of the Nigerian Rifles. All these units are down to about half strength, or even less brought down by fever, etc. I was speaking to one of ‘Driscoll’s boys’ today and he tells me that when all ranks are paraded, they muster about 200 men. Of course, the battalion came out a 1,000 strong, not counting a reserve company, so one may form a slight idea of the losses in this country.


We hear very doleful tales about the unhealthy climate here, but one must not think about such things. I notice that those who worry about their health usually go under first.


October 15th. 1916

We borrow a span of mules, and after travelling about a mile, we come into action and straafe the enemy by bombarding several of his positions, at 4.00pm., 7.00pm., and again at midnight.


October 16th. 1916

We have not been in the camp during the night so we awoke Fritz up by bombarding him at 5.00am. this morning. We then filled up with ammunition, which was carried from the camp by our boys, after which we went to another position in a village named Dakawa. This place is about eight miles from Duthumi. It is fearfully hot here, so our eight miles trek during the day time is somewhat fatiguing. We have an escort of 50 Nigerian Rifles under an English officer with us to defend us in case of a surprise attack. These chaps are fine men physically, but are awfully disfigured in the face, by having terrible designs cicatrized on that part of the body. Each one has a different design, and if the idea is to make themselves look fierce, they succeed admirably. The officer tells me that he would not wish for better fighters but that they cannot understand why they are held in check when an objective is achieved. The difficulty of leading them is to prevent them over-reaching themselves.


We come into action again at 5.00, 7.00 and 9.00pm. After which we partake of our bully and biscuits. Then we may sleep by the side of our gun. Our telephonists had rather an exciting time tonight. During the afternoon they ran the line out to a forward observing position, about a mile in front of the gun. After dark, they started to reel in and make their way back to the gun. As luck would have it, they bumped into an Indian patrol. They were promptly challenged. Our chaps knew no Hindustani, the Indians knew no English. An Indian usually wastes no time in these affairs. He has a habit of shooting first and challenging after. So our men were uncomfortable and tried to tell them that they were in the RGA. The Indians then felt for the numerals on the shoulder straps, but being only in their shirts, there were no numerals. It was certainly a lucky day for our men, for after much argument, the Indians decided to let them through, but an escort was sent along with them to see that all was correct. I need hardly say that they were very pleased when they arrived at the gun.


October 17th. 1916.

We start our trek back to camp. After travelling about half the distance, we again come into action and give Fritz some hot stuff to hold. We arrive back in camp at about 5 o’clock and have a wash, the first we have had since the early morning of the 15th.


October 21st. 1916

The last few days we have been busy building bandas and otherwise making ourselves as comfortable as possible in our fresh camp.


The enemy occasionally sends us a ‘bit of stuff’ but on the whole, he does not worry us too much. General Smuts was around the other day and as far as we can gather we are just holding on here until he reorganises, so we are likely to be here some time unless the enemy drives us back. I imagine that is what would happen if Fritz only knew what a very slender force there is here.


Today we went out and gave our friends a warm time for a couple of hours. We were just ‘hooking in’ when they commenced to give us a reminder. They had located our position to a nicety. The first shell went about 50 yards over in a direct line. The next about 20 yards over and then the fun started with our borrowed mules. I don’t know where the rest of the shells dropped. The mules took up all our attention. At last we got hooked in and reached the camp whilst Fritz was still shelling our position. None of us had a scratch, so our good luck in that respect still sticks to us.


October 22nd. 1916

Our men continue to go down sick with fever, etc. We have now about 34% of our men away from the battery under medical attention, so we have not too many men.


October 23rd. 1916

I go out with the OC to find another position as he will not have the old one now that the Boche has found it.


October 24th. 1916

We come into action in our new position. By some means we disturbed a nest of bees. They attacked us in force. My detachment was driven away, but I did not like the idea of leaving the gun for such a cause. I was foolish because eventually things became too real and I had to clear it, followed by a host of bees. Afterwards a chap drew 45 stings out of my face and neck alone, while I drew a large number out of my hands and arms. We waited until dark, when the bees settled down. Then we got our gun out into the open. We did not return to camp tonight.


October 25th. 1916

I have difficulty in seeing today, my face being swollen so much with the stings. The OC and myself search for and find another position, which we take up. We have a good day's bombardment, the boys attached to us, assisted by boys from other units, carried up our ammunition from the camp about one and a half miles in our rear.


October 26th. 1916

There was to have been a big stunt on this morning but the weather interfered. We left camp early so that we should be able to open fire at dawn, as there was to be a general attack. I expect it was just to put the wind up the enemy but with the dawn came a torrential downpour of rain. For hours it came down in one sheet of water. The attack fizzled out, and at noon we were ordered back to camp. Our gun wheels cut into the sodden ground, so that in places they sank almost to the nave. We hooked on our drag-ropes and assisted the mules to get the gun back. If we had had our motor lorry it would have been useless on this ground today. When we reached our camp, we found our blankets and every rag we had, drenched.


October 27th. 1916

We have not been out today, so we have been drying our things. We had to sleep in wet shirts, wrapped in wet blankets last night, but tonight we are OK, having dried all up.


October 28th. 1916

We have a busy day sending compliments over to our friends. The 3rd. battery SAFA has gone back to Morogoro to reorganise and rest. That leaves us without any mules. So this morning we had 80 natives to haul our gun down to the position. Tomorrow night they will come to haul it back to camp.


October 29th. 1916

After finishing our series of shoots, the natives do the needful by taking our gun back.


When I arrive back to my banda I find that it is Sunday and a padre is waiting to see me. He has just come down to the line and he wants to hold a service tonight. I promise, and take him into the men’s banda where the whole lot promise to attend. After dinner (we ‘dine’ late here) we have the service. Quite a lot attended and I enjoyed the address very much.


October 30th. 1916

We are now getting up some good food, and what is more, plenty of it. The quality and variety is quite the best we have had since we have been in the country. We have fresh beef, oatmeal, flour, coffee, tea, milk, sugar, dried vegetables, etc., with a rum ration three times a week. We attribute this change to General Shepherd, who is the GOC of this column. He is a very popular man, besides being a capable leader. He will frequently pull up a man who is passing him and question him about his living. If that man makes a complaint, the Camp Quartermaster is ‘ for it’.


We are short of a few things, chief of which are soap and tobacco. We wash ourselves and our clothing with sand. It is not very pleasant to have to rub oneself with a few handsful of sand when bathing, but this is the best we can do. I never realised how sweet tobacco is until now, when we can’t get any. I have not had a ‘fag’ or a pipe for over three weeks now.


October 31st. 1916

We have had quite a big day, and earned great praise for our shooting from the General himself. He has been on the observation hill and observed the whole series. Afterwards he came down to the position and dished out such compliments that it made us all feel like blushing schoolgirls. At least, I am sure that I did.


November 3rd. 1916

We have had a couple of days rest, so we have been able to get all washed up again. We have plenty of good water here. The river is within a quarter of a mile of the camp, and here it is about 100 yards wide with a depth of three or four feet, but during the rains I expect it will rise very quickly. The name of the river is the M’geti. It is a tributary of the great Rufiji.


We have been out today with the usual stuff for Fritz.


 November 5th. 1916

We again arrive back to camp and find the padre waiting for us. It is Sunday and he wants to hold another service. He has made himself so popular with all the ranks that, tired as we are, we hasten to wash ourselves and hold our open-air service.


November 8th. 1916

The last few days I have been rather groggy. I have had a high temperature with vomiting and getting very little sleep at night. During last night, I have broken out in a rash which covers me from head to foot. There is only one way out of the difficulty and that is by reporting sick. After being examined by the doctor, or MO as we term them, I am detained in hospital. So the record I was getting proud of is broken.


November 9th. 1916

Last night I bumped into a temperature again, so I have to have a course of quinine injections.


November 12th. 1916

I am getting along all right, but the MO will not listen to me when I tell him I want to be out.


November 14th. 1916

I believe I have already mentioned that I did not like the field hospitals. My experience here has firmly fixed that dislike in my mind. There is very little comfort of any kind. There are no beds of course. Everyone lies on the ground, but the ground is not clean. The result is that one is continually taking one’s shirt off and having a ‘big game hunt’. Up to the present, I have been able to keep myself clear of vermin, but now I have got to put some energy into the business or I should be carried away.

Every night I am having a 15 grain of quinine injection. It is left to the patient to decide whether he will have it in his arms, buttocks or body. I am now in that state that I don’t know where to have mine. I am so sore that I can neither sit nor lie in comfort. We have an Indian on the staff here who carries the Sergeant Major’s crown. What position he holds in the hospital, I don’t know. He came the other night to give me my injection. But, oh no! I wasn’t having it from him. “The MO or no one” I said. If I have to be punctured, it shall be a white man to do it. He didn’t seem to like me a bit because I wouldn’t let him ‘stab’ me. It may be a childish whim, but there it is.


November 18th. 1916

I am successful in convincing the MO that I am well, so I pack my kit and get back to my battery tonight. I do know chaps who will ‘swing it’ to stay in hospital. Well, I don’t think much to their taste. I am jolly pleased to get out.


November 19th. 1916

The battery is out again this morning. The OC wants me to take things easy for a bit and tells me I had better stay in camp. I don’t care much for the idea so I ask permission to go up to the observation hill with him. He agrees, so when the gun leaves camp, I climb the steep hill to watch the shooting. From the post, one gets a wonderful view over the country for miles. We are in telephonic communication with the gun and I find it very interesting to see the results of our shooting. During the day General Shepherd came up. He would have a few shots at one target, and then a few at another. At last he finds a machine gun emplacement. He points it out to our OC “Give them a round there, Floyd”, he said. The OC in about two seconds, sends down to the gun the necessary angle, elevation, etc.


I am getting rather excited. In a very short time, the message comes, “No.1 ready, sir”. I have my glasses glued to my eyes. I want the boys to do their best now. Immediately the answer goes back, “Fire, No.1.” A few seconds pass by. I forget to breathe when up goes the whole lot. Fragments of timber and bodies go up with a cloud of lyddite fumes.


I could have cheered. I turned my head and looked at the general. He was spotting through a telescope. He closed up the glass, stood upon his feet and said, “Damn it Floyd, you could hit a half-crown at 6,000 yards.” What the OC felt, I don’t know. I felt as if I was up in the skies. The old battery had upheld its reputation once more.


November 22nd. 1916

We have some more shooting today. I have been out with the gun again. I have already said that we have natives to haul our gun. I think it is a remarkable sight to see these ‘boys’ on the drag ropes. We usually have about 60 boys on the ropes, sometimes 80. Going out, they all start chanting a song. It is a most uncanny tune, one that gives you the creeps. Our head boy says that the native always sings it when going out to fight. On returning, they give a different exhibition. They have a head boy with them who, by the control he has over them, I presume is a native chief. As soon as we are ready to return to camp, we get the boys on the ropes. I give the order “Futa camba” (pull on the rope) and away we go. The old head boy starts to sing, the whole joining in. This tune is much livelier than the other but still it sounds very weird. When they get into full swing, the old man starts to run up one drag rope side, and down the other singing loudly and gesticulating wildly. This gradually works them all up into a frenzy. First one and then another will break from the rope, dash into the bush alongside the path and cut a branch about the length of a spear. He will then dance wildly. After this, he will hang on to the rope whilst another goes through the performance.


We are travelling along all the time. It is impossible for me to describe the show. The singing, the running, the gestures, the wild dancing and the frenzy of the whole crowd is too much for my pen. Our head boy tells us that this is their victory dance. Well, it is a sight of a lifetime to see it as these boys dance it.


November 24th. 1916

My section officer has gone sick. This leaves us with only one officer -- the OC, so for the time being I take over section officer’s duties. The OC always takes up his position on the observation hill, so I shall be in charge down at the battery. We have been out straafing again today. Our OC is always a stickler for rapid calculations, but I think my work has been satisfactory because he complimented me on returning to camp this evening.


November 28th. 1916

I am again battery leader today when we give the Huns a rather warm time this morning.


December 1st. 1916

Our lieutenant has returned to duty, so I resume my old work as No.1 on the gun. We have been out all day trying to give Fritz an unhealthy time.


December 6th. 1916

Our sergeant major has gone sick today. The general health of the battery is a little better now, although we have had reinforcements lately, we are still 30% below strength.


Our living continues to be good. We get a flour ration occasionally and then we manufacture a kind of bread. I don’t know what the home folks would think of it if they had it. I expect it would be thrown into the dust-bin as being unfit for human food, but we think a lot of it. It is a great change after eating Hardman’s biscuits for so many months. We are still without soap, tobacco, etc. The mails come up very badly too. It is sometimes 10 or 12 weeks between deliveries, and then one may receive three or four letters at once. If one gets a letter in good time, it is eight or ten weeks after being written. The delay causes us a lot of worry because when there is nothing doing, one’s thoughts at once turn to home. The postal arrangements are in the hands of the Indian Field Postal Authorities but I think it could be improved upon. A great number of letters never leave the base, I feel quite sure. I have one sent from home every week and occasional letters from friends, but after eight or ten weeks, I only get two or three, so they must go somewhere.


December 10th. 1916

Today we have used TNT for the first time. As far as we can tell, this explosive is very similar to Lyddite in its action.


December 13th. 1916

We have had some heavy rains during the last few days, and as fast as we dry our things, we have been drenched again.


Yesterday, Fritz came out of his shell, and by some means got his guns close up and gave us a warm time in camp. It is so long since we have heard him speak that this bombardment quite took us by surprise.


December 14th. 1916

Yes, the enemy is still very much alive. One of his patrols had got through ours yesterday and succeeded in capturing our convoy of rations and this was done not half a mile from our camp! Some cheek! I am thinking that if he knew how few of us are here we should be for it. It is very unkind of him.


December 15th. 1916

We have been out again today returning the compliments for what we received two days ago. I need hardly say that we were especially careful in posting our escorts. We don’t want to be the guests of the enemy if we can avoid it.


December 20th. 1916

We have had quite a lot of sickness these last few days. I presume it has been caused by the continual drenchings we have had lately. Our OC and the lieutenant have now gone into dock, the one with fever, the other with dysentery. This leaves me as OC of the battery.


December 22nd. 1916

I have been looking through our records and I find we left M’buyuni with a full establishment of three officers and 45 NCOs and men for the two guns, not counting the ASC Mechanical Transport drivers who were attached to us. At Ruvu River, we were reinforced by 18 men. Now we have neither motors nor drivers, we borrowed mules and now we have none. As mentioned before, we have only one gun, and it is hauled into and out of action by natives. The gun we left behind at Ruvu River has been sent back to M’Kessi, the rail-head. The men have been sent up to us, but at the present moment we have no officers and 21 NCOs and men only out of a grand total of three officers and 63 NCOs and men.


A great number of people at home are under the impression that this affair is a sight seeing tour arranged by Cooks!


A few days ago I met a Captain Clark here. He is in charge of an ammunition column. He is a Hull man and hearing my dialect, he invited me over to his banda for a chat. He had not seen Hull for 15 years and would like to talk about the old place. I promised, and then did not like to ‘push’ myself.


Tonight he came to my banda and insisted on me going across to his. I went. He had a stock of ‘Johnny Walker’. We drank each other’s health and chatted. Then we repeated it, and again. I stayed about an hour and a half. We did in two bottles. This was the first drink of any intoxicant I had tasted since leaving England, except for the rum ration, but I was as sober as any judge. What I am puzzled about is how I could drink a bottle of whisky without being any the worse for it. In normal times I may drink beer in moderation, but spirits I hardly ever touch. Still, that bottle did not upset me. The climate may have something to do with it. I don't know.


December 24th. 1916

Both my officers are still in dock. I am invited across to Captain Clark’s banda again tonight. Being Xmas Eve, I suppose I must go or he will think that I am a poor example of what a Hull man should be.


All is life along this front now. Thousands of Indian and native troops are coming in daily.


We have had General Smuts and his staff here. Today I had the honour of showing him round my gun. He speaks English like an Englishman, but I believe he was educated at Oxford, so it is only what we can expect.

See endnote.


All this bustle and activity, with the GOC here, only points to one thing, and that is that there is a move on the board at any time now. We are all keen as we are convinced this will be the last scrap out here. At least our hopes are that way.


December 25th. 1916. Xmas Day.

At dawn this morning, I am awakened by an orderly and informed that General Crow, the GOC RA requests my attendance at General Headquarters at 8.30am. After the interview in which I gave him a statement of the establishment of the battery, personnel, ammunition, etc., I go back to our camp wondering whether we shall take part in the ‘big do’ or not. I have him to understand that although we were so short-handed, we had been fighting our gun up to the present, and could continue to do so. It would be an awful punch to our chaps if we couldn’t have a deal in this.


Being Christmas Day, I have had an unusual luxury for dinner. I have hung on to a tin of sardines since the last time I was in touch with a YMCA hut. That is so far back I fail to remember how long I have had it. But I have done it in today.


I have also been across to my old friend and had a tot of Johnny Walker. When crossing the camp on the way back to my banda, I met one of our chaps looking for me. I went with him to where two or three of our chaps were sitting round a candle. Another tot was handed to me. I drank it without asking any questions but I wondered where it had come from.


So ended this day of riotous living.


December 29th. 1916

Our section officer has now returned to duty but our strength has dropped to 18 men all told. Troops still come in by the thousand. The Cornwall Territorial Battery has also come up, after three months rest at Morogoro. There is also a marine battery of 2.4 inch naval guns. These have not been in action yet although they were at M’buyuni before we were. All these troops look spic and span, while we look and feel very much the worse for wear, but we are comforting ourselves with the thought that it will soon be over out here.


December 31st. 1916

Our OC came out of hospital last night. This morning we leave Duthumi to take up a new position at Dakawa. We have had a FWD lorry and 15 Ford cars detailed to us. The lorry had to haul the gun while the Fords have 800lbs. of ammunition each.


January 1st. 1917  New Year’s Day

All the news that we can gather is that Von Lettow-Vorbeck and the whole of his crowd are in the net, this time for good. Everybody has it so, so we are sure that it must be right. We man the gun three hours before dawn. The attack commences in earnest just as day is breaking. The rattle of rifle and machine gun fire is very heavy till mid-day. The artillery is also busy, so we have a noisy forenoon.


During the afternoon the firing becomes fainter and we were out of action, but still standing by. The heat of today has been terrific, and by nightfall we are pretty well done up.


January 2nd. 1917

We can get no reliable news, but one thing is certain, and that is that the enemy has once more slipped out of our clutches. There have been a few prisoners, but if things had been as successful as we had hoped, there would have been thousands of them. We are awaiting orders.


January 7th. 1917

Our loses seem to have been fairly heavy, but I expect the enemy will have suffered still more. Perhaps the most notable amongst our killed was Captain F.C. Salous of the 25th. Fusiliers. This man had a world-wide reputation as a big game hunter and explorer in Africa. His loss is keenly felt by all ranks of the Fusiliers. He was brave even to the point of rashness, and I am told he refused to take cover, with the result that he was mown down by machine gun fire.


The latest news we have is that the Hun is now racing pell-mell for the Rufiji River. Our transport did not stop with us. As soon as they got us here they went away on other work, so we are once again on our own.


January 8th. 1917

Transport has been sent for us this afternoon, so we hook in and take part in the chase once more. We arrive at Kissaki by sun-down.


January 9th. 1917

We are away before dawn, and after a hard day we arrive at Kimbambwe on the bank of the Rufiji River. On the way we passed a lake which seemed to be swarming with hippopotami. When one has only seen these huge animals in a zoo, it is something of an eye-opener to see them frisking about like kittens.


We met a formidable obstacle today. We had a desert of some six or seven miles wide to cross. The heat was terrible, and the sand was so hot that one could not hold it in the hand. Our gun and transport were continually sinking up to the axles in it, and we had a lot of trouble digging them out. Even so, we did about 35 miles, which under the circumstances was very good.


January 10th. 1917

We found our old friend, the enemy, holding the south bank of the river, while we come into action on the north bank. The river here is about 700 yards wide, so there is not a great distance between us. We are in position behind a bank. Jerry searches for us with his artillery but does not meet with any success. There has been heavy fighting all day. We again receive praise from General Shepherd.


January 13th. 1917

Our section officer is again in hospital. I believe this is the most deadly place we have yet struck. We are having some ‘light’ rains. After half an hour’s rain our gun stands in water up to its axle. The heat during the day absolutely burns one up, while at night one swelters in it.


Mosquitoes, tsetse fly and all other crawling insects are here by the million. At night the yelping and howling of wild beasts keep us awake half the night through. We are having a bad time with fever. While we have been here, we have received six men as reinforcements, but our total strength has fallen to 15 NCOs and men, all told. Out of this number, we have found men to connect up all the batteries here with the observation post. We also keep the telephone communications in repair. There are six men to work the gun. This includes the men’s cook, the OC’s cook and the OC’s servant. We are quite ready for a rest when we can snatch one.


We have obtained a footing on the south side of the river. A detachment from both the Fusiliers and the 2nd. Rhodesians have been left behind to row the Indian and native troops across the river at night. The remainder of these regiments have been sent back, to leave the country as soon as possible as they are dead beat with fever and other tropical diseases.


I have not been well lately, being troubled a lot with high temperatures, a splitting head, no appetite and restless nights. I am being attended to by the doctor who is attached to the naval battery, but I have no improvement up to the present. There is only one field hospital here and they have no accommodation for white troops.


January 18th. 1917

Yesterday we had the mail in. With my letters, I received a box from my mother with an Xmas pudding in it. This had been posted during the first week in October, so it gives one some idea how long it takes to get news from home. I smoked the fags but the other chaps ate the duff. I had to take their word for it that it was good.


We have now driven the Huns from their hold on the river bank and they are out of our range.




 In fact, General Smuts attended Christ’s College, Cambridge, England.