Service in the Royal Garrison Artillery 1916 - 1919
My grandfather, James Shaw, served in the Royal Garrison Artillery during the Great War, World War I. Fortunately his army discharge papers have survived and are held in the National Archives. During part of his service he kept a pocket diary in which he made brief notes about his travels and other events of interest to him.
Using this material and other published accounts of the war I have attempted to sketch out some of what he must have experienced in those times.
To give some sense of the passing of time the span of his war, from the date of declaration of war to his date of discharge is shown thus:
(Representing the whole of his war, August 1914 - February 1919)
For a given month the elapsed proportion of his war is shown thus:
(Example a quarter of the way through the war)
and the elapsed proportion of his wartime service thus:
(Example half-way through his service)
War is Declared
On 4th August 1914, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. At that time my grandfather, aged 26, was working as a teacher of handicrafts in Dundee. He was most likely living in digs with Mrs. Jessie McAndrew, a 66 year-old window, who took in some mangling and ironing work at 22 Kinloch Street, Dundee. He was quite well established in Dundee, having formed their first Boy Scout Troop in 1908 and was in a relationship with Agnes Murie Kay Scott, a tailoress, still living with her parents, nearby at 4 Isla Street, Dundee. He was most likely still riding his motorcycle to visit his parents who by now had retired from farming at Ramoan, Glenboig and were now living at 'Auchairn', Townhead Road, Coatbridge. They were both aged about 66.
Given his age, occupation and the fact that he was living away from his childhood peer group there was probably little to encourage him to volunteer for war service.
The Derby Scheme
Because voluntary recruitment was not producing the number of soldiers required the government introduced the 'Derby Scheme' in which local constituency committees interviewed all men on the electoral roll and tried to persuade them to volunteer for immediate service or attest that they would serve their country if called upon.
Men who 'attested' were paid a day's pay and assigned to a group based on their year of birth and marital status. They were assured that in the event of a 'call-up' all members of their group would be enlisted at the same time
My grandfather attested on Tuesday, 23rd November 1915 in Dundee. He was allocated to Group 11 and classed as being in employment group 43. At the time it might have seemed as if he was a long way down the queue, there being many younger men before him. For instance his brother Thomas was two and a half years younger and would have been put in Group 8. In the event the government proceeded to rapidly call-up men who had attested. (The rate of call-up was perhaps determined by the capacity to train and equip the new recruits?). Notice was given to Group 8 on 8 January 1916 and to Group 11 only a few weeks later, on 30 January 1916. He was being mobilised on 29 February 1916, and reported to 3 Depot, The Citadel, Plymouth, appearing on their roll two days later, on 2 March 1916.
Family legend has it that his mother put his slippers on a shelf, saying that no-one was to touch them until he returned home.
From my grandfather's discharge papers we can see that at the time he was mobilised he gave his age as 28. He was considered to have 'Good' physical development, to be 5' 6¾” tall, have a chest size of 41½” and an expansion of 5”. He weighed 188 lb. (With a BMI of nearly 30 he would nowadays be judged to be overweight). His eyesight was assessed as 6/9 for both eyes. He was recorded as having tattoo marks on his left hand and missing half of his right great toe. He was given the regimental service number 64996. His occupation was recorded as Teacher, Educational Hand Work, employment class 43, his religion as Presbyterian and his next-of-kin as his father, James Shaw, 'Auchairn', Townhead Road, Coatbridge. His family doctor was Dr. Moffat.
While in Plymouth he found time to get his photograph taken, no doubt getting several copies, one being sent to his newly-married sister, Barbara who was now living in Methven, near Perth.
Portsmouth and Gosport
At the end of the month, 27 March 2016, he was posted to 42 Company, responsible for coastal defences in the Portsmouth area and a month later, 21 April 1916, to 2 Depot, Fort Brockhurst, in nearby Gosport. Presumably he had been assessed as a suitable candidate to be trained as a telephonist or signaller, the training being carried out at Fort Brockhurst. (Sixty-six years later saw me involved in war preparations at the adjacent Royal Navy Armament Depots of Frater and Elson, fortunately as a civilian and never as enlisted personnel like my grandfather and father).
Passing Out and Assignment
Towards the end of June my grandfather completed his signalling exams and received the news that he has been selected to join the East African Expeditionary Force. He was issued his kit and given a leave pass before being sent to join the next draft for East Africa. It was then that he started his diary.
23 June 1916
Finish signalling exam. Sending on buzzer and flags. Weather very wet in forenoon. Parade 1:45 p.m. to battery. Chosen for East African draft,. Pack and stores kit bag and bedding at Browndown Parade 4:20 march to Brockhurst. Measured for men's rigout. Get pass and pay and march to Brockhurst station. Leave at 7:16 p.m. Leave London 11:15 p.m.
Arriving back in Scotland my grandfather sent telegrams to his girlfriend in Dundee and his sister in Methven. He then joined with his mother, elder brother Andrew and Andrew's girlfriend Mary to take a short visit to Draffan, near Lanark. This was where the girlfriend of his youngest brother, Thomas, lived. As Thomas wasn't mentioned I assume that he had joined the army too, at the end of January.
In the space of two days he had been able to see his father, mother, brother Andrew and girlfriend Mary, his sister Ettie, still living at home, and his brother Thomas' girlfriend. He had also gone to Ramoan Farm where he would have met with brother Joseph and his wife. It isn't clear if he had been able to see his married sisters Barbara and Agnes but his girlfriend 'Aggie' seems to have been able to travel over from Dundee. [Agnes is a common name within the family. 'Aggie' and Agnes crop up throughout the diary, the former being his girlfriend Agnes Murie Kay Scott and the later Agnes Fleming, his sister.]
Arrive Coatbridge 8:30 a.m. Wire Aggie and Barbara. Went to Draffan with Mother, Andrew and Mary with 2:15 p.m. train. Return 8:30. Met Aggie and Ettie with coats for us. A. and E. go into C. to look for A. and M. , find them at M’s gate.
Sunday, 25 June 1916
Go to Glenboig church with A, E and Father. Ramoan for dinner and tea. Go to New Monkland with A. and E. meet old friends on way. Service of song very good. Return to Ramoan for camera. Home to Auchairn about 11:15 p.m.
With his leave over my grandfather returned to Gosport to undergo further preparations for being sent to Africa, a medical inspection and the issue of kit and ammunition. He was then sent by train to Plymouth's Turnchapel station where an Army Supply Corps lorry took him to Fort Staddon.
Monday, 3 July 1916
Rose 5 a.m. Blankets in store 6 a.m. Parade 7 a.m. March to Brockhurst. Breakfast and medical inspection. Supplied with riding pants, spurs, bandolier, new boots, helmet and two suits drab khaki. 50 rounds ammunition. Leave Brockhurst at 1:17 p.m. Allowed 6 minutes for refreshments. Arrive Turnchapel Station at 9 p.m. met by ASC lorry. Put in charge of baggage. Arrive Fort Staddon about 10 p.m. Supplied straw bedding. Tents on ramparts. Get bed at about 11 p.m.
The next ten days are spent at Fort Staddon carrying out drills and fatigues. He was able to receive mail from home and visit the city of Plymouth.
My grandfather embarked on SS Suffolk on 14 July 1916 for Africa. This marked the official start of his African service. SS Suffolk, technically HMAT Suffolk, (HM Australian Transport), built in 1902 on Clydeside, was a 7,573 ton gross weight ship, 460' long, was leased to the Australian government to bring Australian troops to the Western Front.
Friday, 14 July 1916
Left Fort Staddon at 9:30 a.m. Embarked on SS Suffolk at Devonport at 11 a.m. Sent postcards to Mother, Aggie, Bab. and Agnes. Pay of £1-12s. Letter from Aggie and piece of bride's cake.
Saturday, 15 July 1916
Sailed at 5:45 weather fine and sea calm. Accompanied by two destroyers which left off at 7 p.m. French coast sighted afternoon of Sunday 16th.
His days were spent carrying out physical drill, lifebelt and fire drills. Two rounds were fired from the stern of the ship. Leisure activities included reading novels and attending concerts. As he travelled further south he was instructed not to wear socks any more and his nose was sore, (sunburn?).
Ten days out from Plymouth he arrived off Dakar, 2,264 nautical miles from Devonport, on 24 July 1916. The guns and their ammunition were offloaded to support the West African campaign and while the officers are able to go ashore the men had to stay on board. Enterprising locals come out to the ship to dive for money and to sell postcards and cigarettes. The first sight of Africa made a favourable impression on my grandfather.
Monday, 24 July 1916
Porpoises sighted along the starboard at 7 a.m. also flying fish. Nose burnt and is much easier. Weather very bright and warm sea fairly calm. One swallow seen. Land sighted ahead about 8 o’clock a.m. Arrive Dakar about 11 a.m. Guns and ammunition taken ashore. Natives dive for money, sell postcards and cigarettes. Officers go ashore. Leave Dakar about 4:30 p.m. Sea becomes rough, strong winds blowing. Dakar appeared to be a very nice place. Letters go ashore.
SS Suffolk continued to head south and physical drills were now augmented by various sports between the different corps on board. On the 28 July 1916 the ship crossed the equator and Father Neptune appeared in the evening and the usual rituals were carried out. (Father Neptune's proclamation was copied out and recorded at the back of the diary).
The Army Supply Corps was declared the winner of the tug o'war competition and was rewarded with beer provided by the officers. Concerts and reading novels continued to provide entertainment
Twenty-five days out and SS Suffolk arrived off Cape Town, the most southerly point on my grandfather's journey, on 8 August 1916. This time the men got a chance to go ashore for the day. As the ship was departing the following day two men fall overboard. [I wonder if they fell or if they jumped, preferring to take a chance rather than face the perils of East Africa?]
Tuesday, 8 August 1916
Weather fine. Parade at 11 a.m. Arrive at Cape Town and go ashore. Two men fall in water as boat leaves.
Four days later on 12 August 1916 my grandfather arrived at Durban where he disembarked. The arrival of the troops must have attracted the attention of the locals as they threw oranges and cigarettes to the soldiers embarking on the Comrie Castle. Some of them included their address with their gifts, no doubt hoping to become a pen-pal to a soldier a long way from home. (Comrie Castle was built in Glasgow in 1903, 5,173 tons gross weight and 419' in length).
Saturday, 12 August 1916
Disembark from SS Suffolk and embark on Comrie Castle. Durban people throw oranges and cigarettes to troops and are very kind.
The Women’s Patriotic League of Durban must have arranged for gifts to be delivered to the ship as three days later generous quantities of tobacco and oranges were handed out to the men. My grandfather enjoyed listening to the cornet and piano playing, but not that of the Royal Engineers' band!.
The East African Theatre
Following the declaration of war it was realised that German forces, port facilities and wireless stations in German East Africa, (present day Tanzania), represented a strategic threat to British interests in the region, particularly those in British East Africa, (Kenya) and Aden. An Indian Expeditionary Force attempted to take Tanga for the British but failed. German colonial forces mounted raids on adjoining British, Portuguese and Belgian colonies. The German cruiser SMS Königsberg, operating from Dar-es-Salaam, attempted to attack British and French commercial traffic. In September 1914 she sank HMS Pegasus, docked in Zanzibar, but had to retreat to the Rufiji river to effect repairs. The Royal Navy set up a blockade and brought in shallow-draft monitors that severely damaged her, causing the crew to scuttle her. The Germans managed to recover all ten of her 4.1” guns that later joined in the fighting on land.
This was a country unlike anything seen in Western Europe. The coastal regions were marked by mango swamps, the interior by dense bush interrupted by the cooler highlands. There were natural enemies, the crocodile, lion and hippopotamus, the mosquito, burrowing jigger flea and tsetse fly and bushes that, when rubbed against, produced a nasty rash. This was a war of mobility, defended positions attracted destruction by enemy artillery, a war of logistics, either living off the land or relying on supply chains 300 miles long, mostly dependent on native porters. There was limited motor transport and in any case the roads were poor. The lifetime of a horse was measured in weeks because of disease.
The human enemy, operating without supplies from Germany, took advantage of his local knowledge to fight a guerilla campaign. As the colonial master he could call upon natives for porterage and soldiers. Teams of 600 men hauled each of his heavy guns. His movements were as much about obtaining food and denying it to the British forces as in fighting.
At the start of 1916 ex-Boer leader General Jan Smuts was appointed to lead British operations and he assembled an army of 73,000 men, including 13,000 from South Africa and 7,000 from India. The main supply line was through the harbour of Kilindini, (Mombasa), and then by rail to Voi, in British East Africa. By August 2016 British forces had driven their way south to the heart of German East Africa, capturing Tanga on 7 July 1916. My grandfather was part of the reinforcements from the UK that took British troop numbers to a wartime peak of 58,000. He followed the route that Smuts had taken in February 1916.
Kilindini, Voi and Maktau
Comrie Castle arrived off Kilindini, the port of Mombasa, on Sunday 20 August 1916 but the men stayed onboard until the following day when they were provided with blankets, mosquito nets and groundsheets and put on a train to Voi, the train providing their overnight accomodation. The sight of two wrecked trains and the graves of men from the Loyal North Lancashire regiment provided visual evidence that they were entering a war zone. They continued by train to Maktau, a garrison town, where the new arrivals to Africa would become aclimatised and given training appropriate to the war theatre.
My grandfather spent over five weeks at Maktau, carrying out physical drills and route marches. Occasionally he was able to take walks outside of the camp and observe the wild life. There were several false alarms that he was to be sent up the line. He received pay in rupees, suggesting that it was already known that he would serve with the Indian Army.
Monday, 21 August 1916
Rise 5 a.m. Hand in hammocks. Leave Comrie Castle at 9:50 a.m. go ashore at Kilindini. Send for blankets, mosquito nets and groundsheets under McNaughton and have a row with him. Horse swims ashore from boat. Leave Kalindini at 1:40 p.m. and arrive at Voi at 11 p.m. and stay there in train all night.
Tuesday, 22 August 1916
Leave Voi station at 5 a.m. Pass two train wrecks. Had tea and wash 25 miles from Voi. Graveyard with some LNL men in it. Weather very fair. Arrive at Maktau.
Friday, 25 August 1916
Rise 6 a.m. Kit inspection 9 a.m. Fatigue, carrying wood in forenoon. Ramble in afternoon. Capture large spider. Warned for going up line at night. T. Robinson takes ill.
Saturday, 26 August 1916
Rise 6 a.m. Physical drill 7 a.m. Walk up mountainside and return again. Pack kit ready for moving and hang on all day afternoon.
Thursday, 31 August 1916
Rise 6 a.m. Physical drill 7 a.m. OC’s inspection 9 a.m. Squad drill 9:40-11. Fatigue, shifting kits to store 3 p.m.
Monday, 18 September 1916
Rise 6 a.m. Physical drill 6:30-7:20 a.m. Arms drill 9:30-10. Let out in afternoon to look for rhino. Leave at 1:40 return 7:15. Unsuccessful.
Thursday, 21 September 1916
Rise 6 a.m. Physical drill 6:20-7:30 OC’s parade 9. Pay of 30 Rupees. Very hot during the night.
A gap in the diary suggests that my grandfather might have been in transit during the period 24- 28 September 1916. Possibly he travelled south by train and the journey wasn't very eventful?
Korogwe, Tanga, Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar
On the 30 September 1916 my grandfather arrived at Korogwe, (suggesting that he arrived by train), and marched to the Calcutta Battery camp. This was manned with volunteers from Calcutta and was also described as the 8th Field Battery. They had arrived in Africa in October 1914 and were equipped with six 12-pounder, 6 cwt (672 lb. or 205 kg), breech loading guns, drawn by oxen. [Note: Neither my grandfather's discharge papers or his diary record which unit he actually served with, however one of his fellow gunners who died in Africa is recorded as serving with the 8th Battery, RGA.]
Saturday, 30 September 1916
Arrive Korogwe 12 noon. March to Calcutta Bty. Camp. Heated with riding breeches. Sleep under gun.
The next few days were spent with signalling practice. After that he proceeded to Korogwe 'with a pack mule and boy', presumably to catch a train to Tanga, where he arrived about midnight on 3 October 1916. Here he had the luxury of being billeted in the Hotel Deutscher Kaiser.
For the next week my grandfather was involved in signalling practice, guarding the harbour and unloading and loading ships in preparation for moving the battery. My grandfather enjoyed himself with sea-bathing, trips by lorry to see natives dancing and displays of fireworks. He experienced his first bout of illness.
Tuesday, 3 October 1916
Breakfast of mealymeal and coffee at 6:30 a.m. Leave for Korogwe starting at 8:20 with pack mule and boy. Leave Korogwe at 6:30 p.m. Arrive at Tanga about 12 mid-night. Quartered in Hotel Deutscher Kaiser.
Sunday, 8 October 1916
Bathing parade at 7 a.m. Go for run on a truck with Joe Singleton and have a very exciting time. Go to see the native dances at night and have a great time.
Tuesday, 10 October 1916
Rise 6 a Go on guard at harbour from 9:30 a.m. Not feeling well at all. Guards 8 to 10 p.m. and 2 to 4 a.m. Wednesday guns go aboard SS Montrose at 10 a.m.
Friday, 13 October 1916
Rise 6 a.m. Fatigues till 10:30. Return to hotel at 11 a.m. and relieve Hoskins at harbour at 11:30. Also on board SS Montrose at 12 noon. Leave Tanga at 6:30 p.m.
At midday on 3 October 1916 the battery sailed for Dar-es-Salaam, a port which had now come under British control and was being developed to serve as a bridgehead and transhipment port as it was a lot nearer the fighting than Kilindini to the north. (According to the diary the ship was the SS Montrose but that must be an error as that ship was a wreck at that time. Perhaps it was her sister ship SS Montreal?). It was later discovered that Malaria was endemic in Dar-es-Salaam, something that was to badly effect replacement troops using it as a point of entry to East Africa.
The stay at Dar-es-Salaam was brief as they left the same day, arriving at Zanzibar the next day, 15th October 1916. Again the stay was brief, leaving that night, but not without consequences. Two men fell overboard and one down the hold. For one of the men it would prove fatal, making the first casualty of my grandfather's unit to be recorded in his diary.
Sunday, 15 October 1916
Arrive Zanzibar and leave at midnight. Ford and another fall overboard and Milligan down the hold.
Kilwa Kisiwani and Kilwa Kivinje
By this stage in the war the German forces had split into three groups, the most easterly operating in the Kilwa area. There was the possibility that the Germans might attack the coastal facilities or that they could move westward and join up with their other units.
The British plans changed many times at this period because of the uncertainties as to what the Germans might do, logistic difficulties as the supply lines became extended, sickness and the weather. Disease was having a great effect on the pack animals and though the number of motor vehicles available had increased greatly they were of limited use in what was the rainy season. Rivers that had been bridgeable were now six miles wide, greatly hampering movement and forcing plans to be changed. Both armies had to fall back on human porterage to move essential supplies.
The German strategy in the Kilwa area was generally one of mobility, seeking food and denying it to the British forces and causing as much difficulty to them as possible. This extended at times to abandoning the injured to be cared for by persuing British forces.
General Smuts put his faith in large encircling manoeuvres, perhaps involving marches of as much as 30 miles, to attack his enemy from the rear. This was a high-risk strategy, involving a lot of effort and having a high-probabilty of missing the enemy altogether. No doubt it had worked for him during the Boer war but German East Africa had a very different terrain.
Now, for the first time, my grandfather was sent into an active war zone, the Kilwa region. The next few weeks his battery remained near the coast, mostly carrying out training exercises. In part this would have been part of the build up of forces before setting off inland to engage with the Germans.
Three of his companions fell ill and as a result my grandfather took his turn at loading a gun. At the begining of November the battery began to move inland.
Monday, 16 October 1916
Arrive off Kilwa Kisiwani. Begin unloading materials.
Thursday, 19 October 1916
More stuff removed from hold including four guns.
Friday, 20 October 1916
Disembark and camp at Kilwa Kisiwani.
Saturday, 21 October 1916
Rise 5 a.m. Move out at 6:30 and travel about 10 miles. Have bath in small stream about ½ mile from camp.
Sunday, 22 October 1916
Rise 5. Move out 6:30 a.m. Arrive at Kilwa Kivinje. Ride good. Part of way on Sgt. Gibson’s mule. Fix up bivouac and am very comfortable. Macnaughton loses nail of left big toe.
Tuesday, 31 October 1916
Battery drill order at 6:30 a.m. Armstrong is ill and I take his place on BL (Breech Loading) with Spalding. Letters to Aggie and Mother despatched.
Friday, 3 November 1916
Battery drill order Hoskins attends 6:30 a.m. parade but is too ill to go out at 4. Wright becomes Sgt.
Saturday, 4 November 1916
Battery drill order. Reeves takes ill on parade and Hoskins is too ill to turn out.
Nangurukuru, Mitole, Njinjo and Tchemera Hill
For the next two months the battery moved about the Kilwa region, sometimes pausing briefly, sometimes setting up more permanent camps, camps that might be returned to later. Some days passed peacefully, at other times my grandfather reported their first engagements with the enemy and the taking of prisoners. The rain made it difficult for motor transport, meanwhile some of the pack animals managed to stray and he rode a pony, attempting to track them down. For the first time my grandfather talked of acting as a grazing guard, presumably to protect the pack animals as they fed and rested. He had seen a lion cross their path. Some of his fellows fell sick and they received confirmation that Gunner Ford, their first casualty of the war, had died following his fall into the water at Zanzibar. Food was short and they were on reduced rations. Christmas was celebrated with a holiday and gift of cigarettes. Once again the officers seemed to have all the alchoholic drinks!
Sunday, 5 November 1916
Right-half battery leaves Kilwa Kivinje in very hot sunny weather for Nangurukuru and arrive about 2:30. Stay till next day. Fill box of mangos.
Monday, 6 November 1916
Leave Nangurukuru at 3 p.m. Arrive at next camp at 8:30. Do guard.
Tuesday, 7 November 1916
Leave at 6 a.m. and tramp all day till 2:15 p.m. with biscuit and tea at 1:15 Arrive at Mitole at 2:15 Sergeant Gibson feeling ill.
Wednesday, 8 November 1916
Leave Mitole at 3 a.m. and arrive at Njinjo at 9 a.m. Lion crossed our path. Guns taken inside and men sleep beside trenches.
Thursday, 9 November 1916
Leave Njingo at 9:30 a.m. and arrive at Tchemera Hill about 10:30. Pitch bivouac.
Friday, 10 November 1916
Begin digging gun pits. Do one hour piquet last night.
Monday, 20 November 1916
Supervising coolies cutting trees two miles from camp.
Wednesday, 22 November 1916
Do piquet at night. Get word of Ford’s death on Nov. 20th Park and May get word about commissions.
Thursday, 23 November 1916
Very heavy rain.
Friday, 1 December 1916
Very wet in morning. Prisoner (German) caught three men and NCO act as guard.
Saturday, 2 December 1916
Thatch bivouac. Do camp guard at night. Sgt. Gibson goes off to Kilwa [Kinije] with prisoner.
Sunday, 3 December 1916 1916
Chaplain distributes papers, cigarettes, note paper, games and books and candles.
Monday, 4 December 1916
In morning ride out on Maj. Browning’s pony to look for five lost mules. Raise a buck in the tall grass. Signalling practice at 3 p.m. Letters despatched to Mother and Aggie.
Tuesday, 5 December 1916
Flag drill, - semaphore and Morse – at 6 a.m. Test in sending semaphore. Go out and back by 3:30. Mend wire cut by officer’s orders. Sgt. Gibson returns from Kiliwa.
Thursday, 7 December 1916
Go out with waggon in morning to bring in bamboo for banda. Maj. Kinloch takes over post command and Maj. Browning leaves with mountain battery in afternoon. Battery has half holiday. Do guard at night.
Friday, 8 December 1916
Being on guard the previous night do nothing in forenoon. Do a little on the director in the afternoon.
Saturday, 9 December 1916
Clean gun and ammunition train in the morning for inspection. Leave Mitole at 3 p.m. and march to Tchemera Hill arriving at 9 p.m. Rain during night.
Monday, 11 December 1916
German prisoner brought in. Leave Tchemera Hill at 4:30 a.m. and march back to Mitole arrive at 9:30. Heavy rain during night causing us to seek shelter old banda. Lt. Young and Gnr. White join us on way from Tchemera. Letters to Mother and Aggie despatched.
Wednesday, 13 December 1916
Very heavy rain during day. Scottie takes to fever, very ill during night. Motor transport stuck because of bad roads.
Sunday, 17 December 1916 1916
Whitmill takes over mess orderly. 2/3rds. Rations for week issued.
Saturday, 23 December 1916
Do grazing guard in forenoon. Half-holiday in afternoon.
Monday, 25 December 1916
Holiday all day. Get 100 cigarettes from Lt. Young. Concert at night.
Sunday, 31 December 1916
Go out with Sgt. Gibson shooting. See a buck. Officers seem to have a good time at night.
1917, A New Year a new commander
General Smuts was recalled to London. Some thought that he had been too ambitious, going beyond the strategic goal and instead attempting to expand British overseas territories. He was replaced by General Hoskins, although British he was an experienced African campaigner.
Illness seriously depleted numbers on the British side. Units often existed in name only. The Indian and South African troops were just as susceptible as those from the UK. The Indian troops were not as effective as had been hoped, they had been trained to put down Indian native uprisings, not to face a European-trained army equipped with machine guns, rifles and artillery. Some South African and British units were withdrawn to recuperate but rapidly fall victim to illness and were redeployed to Egypt or the Western Front.
Communications and intelligence gathering on both sides became difficult and opposing sides stumbled upon each other by surprise, the advantage not necessarily being with those doing the surprising. Meanwhile it rained and rained and finding and supplying food became more difficult. Many West-East flowing rivers rose by as much as twelve feet, flooding valleys and creating islands. The mosquito numbers increased and they kept on biting.
Mitole,Tschemara Hill, Namatiwa, Ngarambi, Kitambe and MissionJanuary 1917
The New Year brought a day's holiday and news of promotion. The battery continued to operate in the Kilwa region, moving back over old ground. The camp was fired upon and one of the natives was hit. The battery responded with 16 rounds. Later it was found that they had engaged with the [40th] Pathans and that one of their men had been killed, a casualty of the confusion of war and 'friendly fire'. They were clearly close to the Germans as prisoners were taken, including the local German commander, Major von Boemken. The camp was again fired upon and Alex Spalding, from Dundee was shot in the head as he attempted to lay a telegraph wire to the front line. This must have brought the war very close to my grandfather as not only was Alex Spalding from Dundee too and a member of the same draft but it was only by chance that the task hadn't fallen to him instead.
Movements against the enemy became more secretive as no cooking fires were allowed. Mid-January the battery was skirmishing with the enemy again. Some time was spent in repairing the roads and shells for the guns were loaded onto sleds, presumably because of the mud. A mail delivery brought 19 letters for my grandfather and he took on the task of checking the 32 items sent to Alex Spalding for valuables before destroying them.
Monday, 1 January 1917
Receive letters from Aggie. Holiday all day. Papers from Aggie
Saturday, 6 January 1917
Received word of promotion and do guard. No games at night.
Sunday, 7 January 1917
Leave Mitole with bullock transport in afternoon and march to Tschemara Hill arrive at 7:30. Leave at 10 and march till early next morning. Leave Harry Ingham sick at Tschemara.
Tuesday, 9 January 1917
Move on to Namatiwa arriving late at night. 52 miles from Mitole.
Wednesday, 10 January 1917
Go out with scouting party at 3 a.m. returning to camp about 9 a.m.
Thursday, 11 January 1917
Leave Namatiwa and march towards Ngarambi. Fired on by Germans. Return to camp at Ngarambi at night.
Friday, 12 January 1917 Being battery orderly am supervising boys cutting grass when camp is fired upon. Gun is brought into position and fires 16 rounds. One black boy hit. After quietness is established it is found to be the Pathans who have fired on the camp. They lost one man killed and another wounded. Major von Boemken brought in as prisoner.
Saturday, 13 January 1917
Camp is again fired on but no one is hit and gun doesn’t fire.
Sunday, 14 January 1917
Camp fired into and Alex Spalding is killed instantly from shot wound in head. He was laying wire to front line. He was buried in the afternoon.
Monday, 15 January 1917
All is quiet. German prisoner brought in wounded three places in the legs. John Marsden comes in and brings letters. I get 19 and thirty two come for Alex Spalding. I look through them for valuables and then burn them.
Tuesday, 16 January 1917
Leave camp with Pathans at 3:30 p.m. and march for 2½ hours. Camp in bush for night. Gun follows later. Rations for two days consists of 2½ chapattis. No fires allowed so we drink water. Sgt. Gibson leaves for Nairobi at 6.a.m. Letters despatched to Mother and Aggie.
Wednesday, 17 January 1917
Move on at 2 a.m. and bump into enemy about 10:30 a.m. Move again and have another scrap about 2:30 p.m. Capt. Thomson hit in the leg. We return to camp at N.J. [Ngarambi Junction] at 11:45 p.m.
Saturday, 20 January 1917
Leave camp with Pathans in afternoon and march out with gun. Camp in bush for night.
Sunday, 21 January 1917
Move on at 5:20 and bump into enemy about six miles from Mawa. Very heavy rain so get wet to skins. Return back to Ngarambi there at night!
Tuesday, 23 January 1917
Leave camp at 3:30 and march for seven miles towards Kitambe. Stuck at deep drift and camp there for that night.
Wednesday, 24 January 1917
Move at 6 a.m. without any Pathans and after a hard days work making roads passable arrive at Kitambe about seven p.m. Padre meets us there and each man gets three packets of [unclear] cigs. Heavy rain at night. Receive papers from Aggie.
Friday, 26 January 1917 Nothing doing all day except moving shells to sled.
Monday, 29 January 1917
Make preparations for removing camp further down hill.
Tuesday, 30 January 1917
Continue work on new camp. Gasper and Handlon leave for Zanzibar to bring others. McConkey goes to hospital.
Wednesday, 31 January 1917
Guard from 9 a.m. to 9a.m. next day on ammunition stores.
Sunday, 18 February 1917
Leave Kitambe at 6 a.m. and arrive at Mission about 5:30 p.m. Corp. Golding goes sick so I take over charge. Roads very bad. Niggers have to pull guns up heavy hills.
Kabata, Nama Kata, Moboro, Dar-es-Salaam and Morogoro
The bad weather and increasing sickness among the troops brought about a change in strategy. The numbers on the front line were reduced to a bare minimum, it being hoped that those withdrawn who were ill would have a chance to recuperate and the healthy to be reorganised.
As the battery prepared to move on my grandfather was too ill to accompany them and instead had to return to Kabata. The day after he and five others with fevers and dysentry were moved into the hospital where he stayed for five days. After being released from hospital he set of to rejoin the battery, camping overnight at Nama Kata and catching up with the battery at Moboro on the 28 February 1917.
The battery had been in the process of withdrawing to Dar-es-Salaam as part of a re-organisation. The next few days were spent moving stores and guns down to the Ngerengere river to be moved on a lighter down to the coast, to meet up with the Mafia, a small ship of 531 tons gross weight and 163' long. The battery departed on the Mafia on 5 March 1917 and arrived at Dar-es-Salaam early evening the next day. The following day the stores and guns were taken to shore on a lighter. Despite bad weather the guns were stripped down and cleaned ready to go into store. My grandfather prepared gifts and distributed them to the Indians, suggesting that he knew that 8th Field Battery and he were to part company. He suffered from a fever for the next five days but appeared to make a recovery.
On 26 March 1917 orders were received that the Royal Artillery men attached to the 8th Field artillery were now to join up with the 134th (Cornwall) Howitzer Battery the following day. That battery's reserves were located in Dar-es-Salaam and on joining it my grandfather was set to work breaking down their camp ready to move by train to Morogoro. The train left late that night and arrived early the next morning at Ngerengere, where the rails were washed out. As a result they were held up until the following day, 29 March 1917, when they moved on through Kisegese, arriving at Morogoro by dusk.
Monday, 19 February 1917
Leave Mission at 9:30 a.m. and have to leave the battery on account of fever and proceed to Kabata.
Wednesday, 21 February 1917
Scottie, Hessay, Knight, Walker, Alexander and I go into hospital with fevers and dysentery respectively. Battery moves on towards Namakata.
Monday, 26 February 1917
Discharged hospital and pack up in readiness to move next day. Hessay and Alexander left behind.
Tuesday, 27 February 1917
Leave Kabata and march to Nama Kata and camp for the night. Roads are very bad.
Wednesday, 28 February 1917
Leave Nama Kata and arrive Moboro and join the battery about midday in heavy rain. Have a very cold welcome.
Friday, 2 March 1917
Load two guns on a small lighters after dismantling.
Saturday, 3 March 1917
Carry signalling and other gear down to the riverside ready for loading. Load limbers and stores on lighter in afternoon.
Sunday, 4 March 1917
Leave Moboro and march about 8 miles and board lighters. Lie there until afternoon and are towed down river and arrive aboard “Mafia”, London, just before dark. Stay there all night. Very wet during night.
Monday, 5 March 1917
“Mafia” leaves after midday. Fair weather.
Tuesday, 6 March 1917
Still on “Mafia” arriving in Dar-es-Salaam about dark.
Wednesday, 7 March 1917
Unload limbers, guns and other stores from “Mafia” into lighter and come ashore and march to camp and don’t feel too braw. No room in tents so sleep outside. Take over duties of battery orderly for week. Receive letters and papers from Mother, Joe, Agnes and Aggie and Mr Plenderleith and Mrs McAndrew
Saturday, 10 March 1917
Guns and other gear cleaned ready to go into ordnance. Indian gifts sorted out. Gifts distributed in afternoon.
Sunday, 11 March 1917
Have to lie down with fever in the afternoon.
Thursday, 15 March 1917
Nearly all right again.
Monday, 26 March 1917
Orders that all RA men attached to 8th Field Battery will join the 134th (Cornwall) Howitzer Battery tomorrow at 2 p.m.
Tuesday, 27 March 1917
Pack up kit in forenoon join 134th battery at 2 p.m. and immediately set to work to take down and pack officers mess tent. Proceed to station. Train leaves about 10.
Wednesday, 28 March 1917
Arrive Ngerengere at 4:30 a.m. and stay all day and night. Rails washed away by rain.
Thursday, 29 March 1917
Move on, passing Kisegese and arrive at Morogoro just at dusk. Tramp to camp. Roads awful.
Morogoro - Reserve Forces
Morogoro was being used as a centre to re-organise and train reserve forces for when the weather and supply conditions improved. Hardly had my grandfather arrived there though on 29 March 1917 than he felt unwell and was excused service the next day. He then appeared to have struggled on for a week or so before being admitted to the field hospital in Morogoro on 10 April 1917. During the next week he had sometimes felt better but by mid-April his condition had worsened and he was put on a hospital train back to Dar-es-Salaam, arriving on 19 April 1917.
Friday, 30 March 1917
Report sick and have to walk down town to see doctor. Paper marked Mex, 1 day, duty.
Saturday, 31 March 1917
Go on parade but get leave to fall out. Do no more this day.
Tuesday, 10 April 1917
Go into hospital at Morogoro, feeling very sick.
Wednesday, 11 April 1917
Not feeling much better and eat practically nothing all day.
Thursday, 12 April 1917
Feel a little better and shift into a ward beside more patients. A little cluster here.
Friday, 13 April 1917
Still improving but not very braw. Sister says, “You must eat”.
Wednesday, 18 April 1917
Leave Morogoro hospital at 4 p.m. and join hospital train for Dar-es-Salaam. Transfer paper marked ‘Has had a very severe attack of Malaria. Now wasting rapidly’.
Thursday, 19 April 1917
Arrive in Dar-es-Salaam and am put in Ward 8.
Saturday, 21 April 1917
Another man takes my bed and I go out to the verandah. Have bad pain in chest on account of rain.
Dar-es-Salaam Detail Camp
By mid-May my grandfather was considered well enough to be released to the Detail Camp, a holding camp for discharged patients. Experience had no doubt taught the army that malarial patients often relapsed very quickly so it was better to hold them near the hospital where they could carry out useful work, rather than send them back to their unit immediately and run the risk that they might fall ill again soon.
Wednesday, 16 May 1917
Leave hospital and go into Detail Camp Dar-es-Salaam.
Thursday, 17 May 1917
Attend as pall-bearer of RE Private in afternoon.
Monday, 28 May 1917
Come off piquet . Take over hospital guard from Carey.
By mid-June my grandfather takes ill again and was eventually sent back into the hospital
Monday, 18 June 1917
Feeling sick and have to take to bed with ague.
Tuesday, 19 June 1917
Still feeling unwell. Another attack of ague.
Wednesday, 20 June 1917
Still feeling sick.
Thursday, 21 June 1917
Go into 2nd SAG Hospital with Malaria.
Friday, 22 June 1917
Confined to bed with malaria. Temp 100º a.m. 104º pm.
Saturday, 23 June 1917
Temp drops to 97.2º Letters from Mother dated March 19th Copy of Tom’s letter enclosed. Hills and Jones go to Morogoro.
Sunday, 24 June 1917
Sunday, 1 July 1917
My grandfather was released from hospital on 2 July 1917 and set to work on rebuilding the cookhouse before being returned to his unit.
Monday, 2 July 1917
Discharged from hospital. See Reg. Reid.
Tuesday, 3 July 1917
Wednesday, 4 July 1917
Working on cookhouse.
Return to Morogoro
Having apparently recovered from Malaria my grandfather was sent back to the reserve camp at Morogoro. very little of note seemed to have happened, the diary only recording letters received, a football match result and having been given a vaccination. In all he seems to have spent three months there.
Thursday, 5 July 1917
Leave Dar-es-Salaam for Morogoro.
Friday, 6 July 1917
Saturday, 7 July 1917
Friday, 20 July 1917
Saturday, 21 July 1917
Football Arty - RFC, 0 – 2.
Dar-es-Salaam, Kilwa Kisiwani, Reinforcing Lindi
Meanwhile the Lindi Column of the Cornwall Battery had been engaged in fighting at the Battle of Mahiwa, one of the bloodiest actions of the whole campaign, between 15-18 October 1917. The following day my grandfather left Morogoro, the reserve camp, for the detail camp at Dar-es-Salaam where he stayed for a week, perhaps awaiting a suitable ship to move him south? (He had been posted to the Cornwall Battery back in March 1917).
Friday, 19 October 1917
Leave Morogoro at 9:30 a.m. for Dar-es-Salaam and arrive the same night.
Saturday, 20 October 1917
DSM detail camp.
Saturday, 27 October 1917
Go on board “Hymettus” for Kilwa
Kilwa Kisiwani, Kilwa Kivinje and Red Hill
My grandfather arrived at the anchorage of Kilwa Kisiwani on the 28 October 1917 and was then taken by motor vehicle, north, to Kilwa Kivinje and the holding camp at Red Hill where he stayed for a couple of days. Then his orders must have been changed as he set of to join the 1st Hull Heavy Battery instead of the Cornwall Battery.
Sunday, 28 October 1917
Arrive Kilwa Kisiwani and motor to Kilwa Kivinje. Camp at Red Hill near old camp of last year.
Monday, 29 October 1917
Detail camp Red Hill
Tuesday, 30 October 1917
Detail camp Red Hill
Wednesday, 31 October 1917
Leave Kilwa Kivinje and travel to Mitandi Wala to join Hull Battery instead of Kilwa Battery
Thursday, 1 November 1917
Continue on tractor to Nanganache and then by autocar to Lewale. Meet Andrew Porter who was coachman and chauffeur to Laird Rankin
Friday, 2 November 1917
Continue on AP’s autocar to Nahungo
Saturday, 3 November 1917
Still in Nahungo and see A. P. again
Sunday, 4 November 1917
Still in Nahungo
Monday, 5 November 1917
Still in Nahungo and see AP on his way to Minera Mission
Tuesday, 6 November 1917
Leave Nahungo and proceed to Minera Mission. Pass AP on road.
Wednesday, 7 November 1917
Leave Minera and proceed to Ruangwa and see Bdr. Spender. Leave and proceed to Ngaga, walking the last 5 miles and join the Hull Battery.
Thursday, 8 November 1917
Go on in FWD lorry. No fighting.
Friday, 9 November 1917
Go on again. Doing Piquet by the way.
Saturday, 10 November 1917
Proceed in FWD no scrap. Join Kilwa Battery at night in Nanga Massai.
Sunday, 11 November 1917
Go out as escort to FO Party. Some scrapping guns fire six rounds and Hull Battery ten rounds. Don’t see effect of shells, being short of wire. Return to camp at night. Guns have moved up about one mile.
Monday, 12 November 1917
Infantry scrapping in distance. Do guard at night. Wire is broken between battery and Hill 6 and Joe Armstrong comes back to repair it and is lost for a time in the bush.
Tuesday, 13 November 1917
Infantry scrapping throughout day. Hull battery go forward a little and with one gun about 5:30 p.m. and fire two rounds.
Wednesday, 14 November 1917
Still in Nanga Massai. [This is the last entry in the diary.]
Heavy Batteries withdraw to Dar-es-Salaam via Lindi
Cape Town and return to England
The day before the Hull Battery left Cape Town for England, 3 January 1918 my grandfather's medical record shows that he was admitted to No. 2 General Hospital, Maitland, Cape Town, suffering from Malaria. It was recorded that he had served one year, five months in East Africa. The medical officer, Capt. Hopkins authorised the transfer to England for convalescence.
My grandfather was repatriated on A72 Beltana but fell ill again on board with malaria from Sunday, 17 February through Tuesday, 19 February 1918. On arrival in the UK he was admitted to Bermondsey Military Hospital, London from Thursday, 21 March 1918 through Saturday, 24 May 1918. During this time his temperature reached 102 ºF on 24 and 26 March and his spleen was described as being 'slightly tender'. The official policy was now not to return malaria sufferers to 'theatres of war where malaria is prevalent'. He was discharged from hospital with downgraded medical status and posted for a few weeks to the HQ at Winchester and then to the 3rd Reserve Battery and passed as medically fit at the end of June 1918.
Anti-Aircraft, Plumstead, London
On 28 June 1918 my grandfather was posted to No. 8 Anti-Aircraft Battery, Plumstead, London, where he was to remain until he was discharged on 6 February 1919.
This little elephant has been in the family as long as I can remember. It is simply stamped 'Mahogany' on the underside. Elephants live, and mahogany grows, in Senegal, could it be that it was bought in 1916 when HMAT Suffolk called at Dakar?
1. A good account of the East African Campaign: World War 1 in East Africa; Anderson, Ross. PhD Thesis 2001.
2. The personal diary of Dan Frewster who served with the Hull Heavy Battery in East Africa.:The Journals of Dan Frewster; Frewster, D.
3. The life of a medical officer in East Africa: Marching On Tanga (With General Smuts in East Africa)>; Young, Francis Brett.
4. The account of the war by the German commander: My Reminicences Of East Africa; von Lettow-Vorbeck, General.