Newsletter 4 – August 2012


It’s been a month since our first conference and I’d hoped to be in touch sooner. However, having now achieved the deadlines I’d set myself, here we are. Hopefully, you will have received a notification into your email account that there is a new post on the website. I thought this happened automatically, but clearly not. Rest assured, I will not be bombarding your email account with correspondence – only when there’s a new newsletter or something significant.

Our first conference was a great success – many thanks to all our speakers and others who attended. Thanks are also due to Hugh Phillips of the British South Africa Police Association for suggesting the conference and to Christopher Hill of Dix Noonan Webb for sponsorship. As agreed with those who presented and attended, the audio files are now available whilst publication of the proceedings is explored. You will require a password to access these – this will have been emailed to you if you are a member who attended the conference.

For members who have consented, there is now a page with members’ email addresses so you can contact each other directly. Again, this is password protected and as above, this will have been emailed to you. If you haven’t yet given permission for your email details to be shared with other members, please do let me know so I can add these to the list and let you have the password. Also, if you haven’t yet provided a profile to add to the ‘open’ membership page, please do so as this helps to link people working on similar areas. You can change/update this at any time by emailing me.

Some of you may have noticed some more changes to the website – please do let me have your comments. The lists of books and articles have been updated and continues to be. If you have a publication which does not yet feature, please let me know (including how copies can be obtained). In addition, there is now an ‘In memory’ section which contains the names of men and women who were involved in the East Africa campaign – this has now reached 1,000 names and is in a searchable spreadsheet with references of where the names featured. Again, please let me have the details of those you come across or if you can fill in some of the gaps in the current list. Further, if you know of any museums or locations where the campaign features, please let me know. This includes any planned centenary events you may know of. The Forum has been restructured and includes reviews and new publications. A number of members have asked some questions – please have a look and see if you can assist.

As usual, ideas, comments and contributions are more than welcome.
Until next time, kindest regards

Mapping the Campaign

From Hugh McNair

I have for some time been impressed by the achievements of Von Lettow-Vorbeck and his schutztruppen in East Africa during the Great War.  It is an extraordinary tale of perseverance, military skill and leadership.  It is also confusing.  It is hard to follow and understand how Von Lettow-Vorbeck commanded and organised his disparate force, brought them together with substantial hostile forces pursing and attempting to surround them, yet time and again evaded those forces in the course of an epic journey.

I have, therefore, an aspiration to produce a comprehensive and interactive digital map and moving display that can be used to portray the whole campaign.  Such a map would have the following features:

  • It can be viewed at any scale, giving an overview of the whole campaign, but zoomable to reveal the detail of particular battles.
  • It moves over time.  It should be capable of being set to play automatically and to be manually shifted to find and display particular dates and periods.
  • It is interrogable.  Selecting units/formations on the map exposes details of the composition of that unit/formation.

The end result would be a software programme and data package that could be used on a tablet/laptop and used to illustrate key features of the campaign and their context.  I see it being usable in the field as well as indoors, and of value to tour operators, tourists and researchers.  It should be capable of producing paper maps, as well as being viewable on a screen, directly or projected.

The required elements of the project are:

  • Mapping.  The map would consist of a base topographic map showing the geographic features and places, holding both modern and early 20thC names.  Overlaid on this would be layers of two types: one layer would deal with time (one per day ideally), the other with detail.  The time layer would be manually navigable or capable of being played automatically at user-selected speeds.  The detail layer would allow greater detail of units to be visible as users zoom in, with only large independent units/formations visible at the smallest scales, but sub-units identified at larger scales.
  • A relational database.  I envisage a data base with two main elements:  One side that maps the organisation of both Allied and German forces against dates.  This would include details of individuals, definitely of leaders, but possibly could include broader nominal rolls where available.  The other side of the database would link map entries to units/formations and dates. This needs designing and data input.
  • Data.  This needs extensive historical research to plot the location and command relationships of individuals, units and formations over time.

I presently am equipped with Map Maker Pro and Global Mapper, and am quite capable of building the base topographic map.  However, neither have a built in system to play successive maps as a moving display.  While one could create images of maps, which can be brought into a moving display, this would lose the interrogability and zoomability of a digital map.  Does anyone know of some software that might be suitable for this?  Can ARC GIS do it?  Once a technological solution is found, then a substantial amount of work will be required to physically plot the action.  Is there anyone who might be prepared to help in this task?

Does anyone have the expertise to help design and build a suitable database?  And to help populate it with data?

Is there anyone who is well placed and willing to research and produce the data for input into the map and database?

Does anyone have any other bright suggestions on how this project might best be taken forward?


The attached article contains information on German and askari uniforms from East Africa. It was compiled by Matthias Schneider as part of an nvestigation into the possibility of a battle re-enactment at the request of Howard. The conclusion of the investigation/discussion is that a re-enactment at this time is inappropriate.

Cost and availability of Askari Uniform

Other places to look for information on uniforms (thanks to Leon):
“The German Colonial Troops,1889-1918″by Kraus and Mueller