May 2016 update incl Conference Report

A belated update for May.

New links
Abercornucopia hosted by Colin Carlin has a few articles relating to World War 1 Abercorn and Northern Rhodesia. Thanks to Tom Lawrence for introducing Colin.

A new article by Harry Fecitt on the 25th Cavalry’s experiences in GEA and PEA, 1917-1918 has been added to Books and Articles.

Archive news
The UK Ministry of Defence gave a talk at the UK National Archives regarding military records. As some of the material relates to discharges after 1920, I have included the link as some WW1 soldiers may fall into that category.

Other News
Andrew Kerr’s I can never say enough about the men has been accepted by the Defence College in India as required reading.

The promised first volume of The Lake Tanganyika Expedition, a Primary Source Chronology is now available for purchase. For the months of May and June, the price for GWAA members is £35 excl postage and packaging, after which the price will increase to £40. The book will only be available through GWAA direct or (It’s worth checking the Lulu homepage to see if there are discounts you can use). GWAA is really pleased that The National Archives have endorsed the book.

As this update is already long, I’ll add the details for the forthcoming 7 day Kilimanjaro Battlefield Tour to the 1 June update. But for those anxious to know the dates: The start date is 22 March 2017 with an optional 3 days in Tsavo from 19 March.

The June update will also have details about the West African Frontier Force project which is underway and a list of books for sale.

Conference Report
Thank you to everyone who attended and made the conference the great success it was. It was wonderful to meet new people and to hear such diverse papers – everyone I have spoken to has commented about how much they learnt.

The intention is to publish the papers in due course, but below is a summary of the two days.
Miguel Freire gave us an overview of Southern Angola’s involvement in the war. The first expedition arriving in October 1914 and the second in December. The commander only left Portugal in March 1915. The first expedition consisted of two detachments totalling 1,500 personnel whilst the second consisted of 6,747 men split between 4 detachments. Of the 200 days they were in Africa on the expedition from 12 August 1915 to 12 September 1915, they saw 4 days of combat. 89 days had been spent training. What is exciting is that the Portuguese ministry are working on compiling a unit database of all those involved in the two expeditions.

Antonio Duarte presented on the politics and policy of Portugual’s involvement. The main focus for Portugual was on how to support the Allies, not whether to do so. Portugal was a ‘small big power’ for whom colonies were important because of the status they carried, not because of the products and materials the colonies had. Two expeditions were sent to Mozambique. These were elites as the Portuguese did not believe in the martial abilities of the colonials. They recruited a very small number of black soldiers towards the end of the war. The role of the carrier and women in the Portuguese campaign will hopefully be shared in a future conference as Mozambiquan Maria Paula Meneses could not join us on this occasion.

Tony Jewell took us on a journey following his grandfather, a doctor, Norman Jewell through East Africa and was followed by Brad Faught on Karen Blixen’s war-time experience and how it compared with her brother’s involvement. Because Karen had met von Lettow-Vorbeck, she was believed to be a German spy – a situation not helped by the fact that she had sourced horses for him. This view persisted despite her brother wanting to do his bit against Germany. He enslisted with the Canadian forces as Denmark was neutral. He was to win the VC and Croix de Guerre. Unfortunately, Maya Alexandri could not present her views on Karen Blixen as circumstances required she remain in the US.

Steve Lau introduced us to the Chinese Labourers and the challenges of piecing together their involvement in East Africa. A total of 96,000 labourers took part. China had offered soldiers but Britain declined as they were not seen as a martial race. In addition to labour, China supplied food leading to stores being depleted and when the crops failed between 1918 and 1921, 500,000 died. The labour force for East Africa, known as the Chinese Contingent was recrited by the Indian Government. India also recruited those who served in Mesopotamia (Chinese Porter Corps) while Whitehall recruited those who served on the Western Front (Chinese Labour Corps). In East Africa, six Chinese graves have been identified. They were mainly from Hong Kong and Singapore. The contingent consisted of a total of 939 Labourers and 22 Porters but confirming this is a challege as the numbers are often combined with those who served in Mesopotamia.

James Hagerty then took us through the complexities of Catholic priests serving in East Africa. Some missionaries became soldiers, whilst the padres were temporarily commissioned by the War Office. There were 29 Catholic Chaplains, Mill Hill Missionaries and Jesuits. The White Fathers often acted as unpaid Chaplains. Some served with 9 SA Infantry, 40 % of the North Lancashires were thought to be Catholic and Catholics were also to be found in the Indian Regiments. In all 11 chaplains were invalided to South Africa and 200 died. 8 were Mentioned in Despatches.

Stewart Hawkins then took us on a whistle-stop tour of 1 Nigerian Battalion’s service in West AFrica. He had serv in the theatre in 1957 which allowed some comparison of how some things had changed but others were still as they had likely been in 1914.

Staying in West Africa, Nigel Browne-Davis provided us with a political overview of West African involvemet – how the coastal areas were oriented towards the West (the colony), whilst inland (the protectorates) was still conservative. Much recriting was therefore done inland. He touched on the role of the press, mixed race families in Ghana, the elites fearing they would lose their position if they supported the war. Nigel highlighted the challenges of doing research as names were linked with villages and were often not real names which makes tracing individuals difficult. There were approximately 1,500 West African soldiers who served in the West African Regiment, 14,200 of the West African carrier corps saw service in East Africa. 17 members of the European medical staff served in the Cameroon campaign as West African doctors were not allowed to serve as Medical Staff.

We then moved to Egypt where Lanver Mak focused on the 9,000 British residents in Egypt. The Army of Occupation returned to Britain to serve in Europe leaving the Egyptian Army to look after the Sudan and Sinai. They were led by British officers. 1,000 British women volunteered to look after 32,000 hospital beds of which 870 were allocated to officers. The large number of beds was required for the Gallipoli campaign. Nurses in Egypt were paid £20 per year compared to house servants in England who received £25 per year. Lanver touched on some of the contentious areas such as the Gazera Club not being requisitioned for service whilst the Victoria College was. There were also issues around the purchase of War Bonds. Despite this, the Egyptian economy was saved by the spending power of the ANZAC soldiers who survived Gallipoli.

From Egypt we moved south to the Congo where Kris Quanten gave us an overview of the Belgian Force Publique. The Belgians mobilised against 11,367 Askaris and 2,712 Germans in German East Africa. They had a border 800km to protect. Belgian policy concerning Africa changed from defensive to offensive when the Belgian Government approved in the hope of effecting a triangular territorial exchange (which never materialised). The Belgian campaign in East Africa saw 28 Belgians and 625 Congolese die in combat while 30 Belgians and 1,270 died from disease. An estimated 260,000 porters participated of which 27,000 died.

Day two saw the focus turn to southern Africa. Gavan Duffy explained South African policies towards German South West Africa. During the war there was an attempt to repatriate 223 Germans to Germany but this was eventually reduced to 7 women and 3 children. The rest choosing to remain with their families. The role of the US in supporting prisoners of war was touched on as were the issues surrounding the employment of Cameroonians in Aus. The Cameroonians were returned to North-West Africa in 1917 following an agreement between Britain and France. The German prisoners in Aus suffered far more than German prisoners elsewhere in the territory which is attributed to the extra-harsh conditions which prevailed in Aus. Life was tough for all.

Neil Parsons provided a fascinating insight into the role of film in South Africa and the reasons why none of them survive today (burning the film provided silver). The African Mirror provided the longest running news real, starting in 1913 and ending in the 1980s. During the war, attendance at film showings increased despite the introduction of martial law. Some film featured aspects of the war in East Africa – we can see some through stills which were published by Slessinger who owned the major film companies. The range of film was wide – including feature film, documentary and cartoon. Racial stereotypes featured and often the villans were Portuguese Catholics.

Jacob Ogunniyi couldn’t join us from Nigeria but his paper was read out for him. He gave an insight into the 5 shilling uprising in South Africa.

This was followed by a return to East Africa as David Boyd explored the role of Smuts as a commander. Despite the belief that Smuts replaced the General Staff with his own men, he left all of Smith-Dorrien’s appointments in place adding only two South Africans. David touched on Smuts relationship with the different members of the General Staff noting that of them all, the one Smuts snubbed most was Brigadier JA Dealy of the Royal Engineers. However, they all left the theatre when they fell ill.

Dan Gilfoyle of The National Archives gave us an inisght into the War Diaries and the kinds of information they can hold in addition to the military movements. Depending on the compiler, one can ascertain how local inhabitants were treated, what the landscape and water availability was like. Environmental issue and how illness impacted on military life. It is hoped that the diaries will be available on line in September. Dan also highlighted other series at The National Archives with an Africa focus: CO 96 for Ghana, CO 583 Nigeria, CO 445 WAFF, CO 534 KAR, WO 32/5820 regarding Intelligence at Salaita and FO files.

Colleague Martin Willis then took us through the lifestories of some men he’d traced using the archival sources. This highlighted some of the challenges faced but also how the archives can be used to piece together an individual’s story.

After a minor technical hiccup, we were able to link through Skype with Celia Reis in Portugal. She told us about the role of St Vincent, Cape Verde in the war: the German ships which were captured and interred and the challenges of protecting the island with limited man power.

Another change in focus saw Bamidele Aly explain the impact of money and currency during war. How paper conflicted with iron and brass rods and cowries. The use of images on the notes and the differences between the English and Yoruba texts found on the notes.

Finally, George Njung ended the conference by explaining the impact of the Cameroon campaign on women and children. How the war became a guerrilla war and that more civilians were killed than soliders, nearly 500 of them. Over 100,000 became refugees in Spanish Guinea.

Best wishes

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  1. Pingback: Jan Smuts and the Chinese | Anne Samson - Historian

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