Hidden women

The extent to which women have been left out of history is a topic of great discussion, and not one I engage with. As far as I can tell, if women desired something they set out to achieve it, including publicising what they did. When it comes to African women and women from Africa, I’m regularly in awe of what pops up.

Most recently, having written on Natal in the First World War, I was looking up something on Cherry Kearton, who served in the East Africa campaign, only to have his wife’s place of birth stand out – Ada Forrest was born in Congella, Durban, on 17 July 1877. As she’s known most popularly as Ada Kearton, I was surprised to discover she had only married Cherry after the war so technically doesn’t fit into my WW1 focus except that it’s due to her diligence that we have additional information on what Cherry got up to. During the war, Ada was in London. She had made her debut as a classical soprano singer back in 1907 and performed at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts – that is The Proms – between 1909 and 1915. She retired from performing in 1922 when she married Cherry as she used to join him in the field and on safaris. More significant about Ada is that in 1908 she recorded her first album in London on which she sang in Afrikaans – one of the first South Africans to do so.

In 1908, another South African woman was to record an album in London, also in Afrikaans. She was Annie Visser born 8 August 1876 in Jagersfontein, Orange Free State (the place where the first SA diamond was identified). While Ada remained in London visiting South Africa on occasion, Annie returned to South Africa where the outbreak of war resulted in her career stalling. It is said this was due to her art form not being very popular, but it could also have been her politics. Annie is reported as having opened the first National Party Congress in 1915 in Bloemfontein.

And this article by Schalk van der Merwe has mention of another woman or two around the same time.

In related WW1 research, Luise White has a fascinating study on prostitution in Nairobi in a book called The comforts of home. Luise’s findings, based on interviews with women and men involved in the profession, align with the perceptions I have gleaned of empowered women through my own unrelated research. And for a fictional underpinning of how it all came to be… I can only turn to Doris Lessing‘s The Cleft (and more).

Review: Multilingual Environments in the Great War

Multilingual Environments in the Great War is an eclectic collection of essays around language edited by Julian Walker and Christophe Declercq published by Bloomsbury in 2021.

The aim of the publication is to explore ‘the differing ways in which language has been used to make sense of the Great War’ and in this it succeeds. There is likely to be something of interest for most people with an interest in aspects of language and war. The editors and section introductions deftly pull together the diverse articles finding commonalities to link them together within themselves and with the present. In particular, the introduction which was written during the early months of 2020 draws parallels between coping with war and the Covid-10 outbreak.

A range of territories, languages and texts are discussed. Africa, Eastern Europe, Australia feature, Kiswahili, Portuguese, Esperanto and Romanian are some of the languages which feature while discussions on books cover guide or tourism books, language guides, and the more traditional analyses of novels with an interesting assessment of swearing in The Mint by TE Lawrence (aka AC Ross). Another fascinating contribution was that on ‘genocide discourse’ looking at the Armenian massacres of the war.

Reading through the book, I was struck with how it complements other books to which I have contributed – The Global First World War; Propaganda and Public Relations in Military Recruitment What these books demonstrate, is how much more there is to still discover about the Great War of 1914-1918 and its impact on us a hundred years later. Kudos to all the editors for their foresight.

Gaia United

Trying to understand a linked phenomenon, it was suggested I have a look at Gaia theory which I did – by reading Gaia: The practical science of planetary medicine by James Lovelock (1991). It reminded me much of Smuts’ Holism and Evolution (1925), although more scientific, visual and practical, and much easier to follow.

Gaia Theory in case you don’t know, is the ‘present theory that sees the Earth as a system where the evolution of the organisms is tightly coupled to the evolution of their environment. Self-regulation of climate and chemical composition are emergent properties of the system. The theory has a mathematical basis in the model “Daisyworld”.’ (Lovelock, p188)

What has been striking is how Lovelock had to struggle to get his theories and hypotheses recognised as he was outside of traditional thinking. Predictions he was making at the time the book was published are now being evidenced, in particular climate change.

One of the things Lovelock mentions which fits with my historical outlook is Disseminated Primatemaia – a plague of people. This is referred to in a different way by Marthe Kiley-Worthington in Family are the Friends you Choose. The arrogance of mankind that Lovelock refers to with his plague of people and their attitude to the universe or gaia is clearly seen in the most recent colonisation actions by superpowers – no doubt the earlier colonisers – Rome, Greece, Ottomans, Austria-Hungarians, Armenians, Aksumite etc all had similar thoughts and views in seeing their way to dominate great swathes of people and land.

They were all for union and unity under one authority. The most recent colonisers having industrialisation behind them as none previously had. The result being the destruction of Africa’s climate and ecology (and here I think specifically of Tsavo area in Kenya and lands below Kilimanjaro in Tanzania) and that of gaia which Lovelock writes. (The same case can be put for South American deforestation etc).

Back to my historical outlook – we, mankind, are our own worst enemy as long as we look out for the individual (group) and not consider how that approach impacts on the wider community and gaia. Our diversity is our strength – if we work together for gaia.

Novelist: Hans Grimm

This has been one of those amazing yet frustrating finds. Having picked up on Der Ölsucher von Duala as being a World War One novel published in 1933 and slotted it into place, in researching about Hans, it materialised that he had at least three other books about the war published earlier. It’s frustrating as it throws my chronology of authors out of sync, but wonderful as more novels of the time have come to light. Now to brush up my German reading skills…

Hans Grimm had spent some time in Port Elizabeth and East London in about 1908 and then in 1910 was in German South West Africa as journalist for Tägliche Rundschau. George Danton mentions he served on the German front during the war before becoming an interpreter for the Foreign Office. He wrote numerous books based in Africa.

1875 – born in Wiesbaden, 22 March
1908 – Port Elizabeth and East London in South Africa
1910 – German South West Africa
1914 – War service in Germany
1917 – Writer for German Colonial Office
1920s – toured German South West Africa
1959 – died Lippoldsberg, 29 September

Books on World War 1

Der Gang durch den Sand (1916) – set in GSWA (summary)
Die Olewagen-Sagen (1918) – set in GSWA (summary and excerpt)
Volk ohne Raum (1926) – touches on East, West and South West Africa. For a breakdown of what is covered see Danton
Der Ölsucher von Duala. Ein afrikanisches Tagebuch (1933, although Namibiana suggests 1918 as his first commissioned book by the German Colonial Office.

Sources and other bits

Folk Dance and Safari – some thoughts on Hans Grimm’s photographs from South West Africa

Katherine Hepburn in Africa

The African Queen is one of my special films – the first of the East Africa campaign of World War 1. While the book(s) better cover the war itself, the film still holds its own.

I recently re-watched it after having seen White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) which deals with John Huston’s early departure for Africa before the cast and crew arrive. Both were then followed by my reading of Katherine Hepburn’s The Making of the African Queen or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind. There is also a 57 minute video of The Making of the African Queen.

Interestingly, Hepburn does not mention CS Forester being with them, and she dispels the myth of MV Liemba making an appearance in the film – the German ship was a reconstruction in London! How disappointing, but it goes to show, you can’t always believe everything you read – double checking and even more need to be done. This is something I’m discovering more and more as I continue to delve into World War 1 in Africa – well, not just WW1, given my Kitchener photograph faux pas.

Back to Hepburn though – her down to earth style of writing was refreshing. Her joy at the quality of the African water palpable (not to drink mind) as was her concern for people she’d met 30 years previously. When she wrote the book the wars of independence had taken place. The book also contains some fascinating photos – I’m really pleased I wasn’t in charge of the camera!

Now, all that’s left I think is to get the paper version of White Hunter, Black Heart written by screenwriter Peter Viertel.

And for anyone wondering – Lauren Bacall is called Betty Bogard in Katherine’s recollections. I had to look this up.