Pegasus wrecks

This post was inspired, not by the ship which was sunk in Zanzibar Harbour in 1914, but by an aeroplane in Antartica. The latter occurred in 1970, 56 years and nearly 1 month after the former. The former resulted in casualties and deaths, surprisingly the 80 crew on board the plane survived.

The former was HMS Pegasus, one of three cruisers responsible for the security of the African coast from Zanzibar to St Helena via Cape Town at the outbreak of World War 1. Having had to go into harbour for repairs during September 1914, the German Konigsberg took the opportunity to sneak out of its hide-away in the Rufigi Delta to sink the boat. It was the Konigsberg‘s last raid before eventually being put out of action following attacks by the monitors Severn and Mersey. For the full story on PegasusKevin Patience has the lowdown.

Both the guns of the Pegasus (6) and the Konigsberg (10) went on to do battle on land during the remainder of the war.

In addition to the wrecks of vessels called Pegasus, it appears there are various items which cause wrecks also called Pegasus:

A Singapore Lightweight Howitzer
William Powell Pegasus Shot Gun

And there was one Pegasus ship which didn’t end up a wreck having served through the French Revolutionary Wars – she was sold in 1816.


Goans vs Indians: African micro-nations

I recall being rather taken aback when looking at statistics for East Africa during World War 1 – apart from the usual black/white distinctions, there were Indians and Goans – I assume Goans were Indians, so why this distinction?

Asking the question in 2014 at a conference Margret Frenz replied that the Goans were Portuguese whereas Indians were part of the British empire. So, I should technically amend the number of micro-nations involved in the East Africa campaign to at least 179 as Goans were not included as separate groups (BEA and GEA) in the initial count. The result of this discovery has led to me keeping my eye open for any direct reference to Goan involvement in the First World War, as I do for specific African Indian mention. (A brief history of the Goans and Britain can be found in Britannica).

Now, Clifford Pereira has written a paper entitled East African Goans in World War 1. And what a fascinating insight this is. Apart from reminding us of women and children being evacuated by ships flying American flags (ref Farwell’s book), he identifies where Goans were serving – on ships such as Astrea which served in Cameroon in 1915 too (something I hadn’t realised) and railway clerks. Not surprisingly, discrimination was present – the Portuguese heritage of the Goans being ignored (which makes me think of the Chinese-Japanese difference in South Africa pre 1994).

One of the joys of a paper such as Clifford’s is that it moves away from the direct war experience to look at the homefront – here we discover the discontent amonst the local residents and how these were dealt with, as well as the attitudes of colonists and other settlers and immigrants. I’m purposefully being vague in my attempt to get you to read the paper yourself – it’s full of gems!

And one of them is an answer to a question I’ve been trying to find an answer to for some time – how many Indians living in Africa served during the war? 227 volunteered and 45 conscripted in Kenya. We have the start of an answer…

For information on South African Indian (Durban specifically) involvement in the First World War, Goolam Vahed has written the most definitive account (alternative access).



The times they are a changing…

Walking back from the SANDF Doc Centre in its last years in Visagie Street, Pretoria (it’s now in Irene – at the end of the road joining onto Pierre van Ryneveld at Nellmapius Drive) to Pretoria General Station on my first day back in Pretoria after a year, I couldn’t help ponder over all the warnings I’d been receiving about walking in Pretoria Central.

When I was a student in Pretoria (early 1990s), we used to walk the streets until quite late without a problem. Now, as on my previous trip, I was being warned against it. As usual this got me thinking – everyone who was warning me, except for the very last person, was white. I therefore tested out my views of walking the streets with a few people of colour and was told to ‘continue walking as though you own the place’.

The next day I set out as usual but on this occasion paid close attention to the car drivers travelling along the roads I walked – I was by now quite used to being the only white person on the pavements, but hadn’t really thought about the drivers. The blunt thought struck me: where have all the white folk gone? It was almost the complete reverse of my student days.

Pretoria used to heave with whites, now they are almost non-existent. My thoughts immediately equated this with the days gone by and the Bantustans – what do we call the still predominantly white enclaves behind huge walls, fences, prected by alarms and security guards?

Thankfully pure white enclaves are rare, Oranje being the most (in)famous. The traditionally white areas are becoming more diverse and although many white South Africans still tend to avoid the CBDs (Central Business Districts) for reasons of ‘safety’, they have far more character and warmth than the clinical streets of my youth.

Later in the week (2015), I accompanied my mother to the Whitney Houston show at the then Civic Theatre (now Mandela Theatre in the Joburg Theatre complex) where I’d last been a year before with my sister for Elvis (they both do first aid duty for the theatre). Again, the contrast between these two visits was remarkable, so refreshing – the Civic has clearly got its line-up right, presenting a programme which appeals to all the different cultural groups. How wonderful it was to see a previously ‘whites only’ theatre packed with ‘mocha skin’ [as per the star of the show] enthusiasts of all ages. And to top it off, it was a South African, Belinda Davids performing the tribute to Whitney (and much better in my humble opinion).

The perception of South Africa as being dangerous persists – I’ve written about this before and it’s interesting typing up this blog piece I wrote a few years back but didn’t get to post then as to how my views haven’t changed. I feel safer now than I did in the 80s and early 90s in Johannesburg and as with all cities, one has to remain vigilent.

The other complaint I often hear is that the country has deteriorated, it is no longer what it used to be. Well, no, it isn’t and neither should it be the same country. Wasn’t that the point of overthrowing apartheid? Has the country deteriorated? In some cases, yes (and we won’t go into the corruption of politicians and others here) and there is still a lot of work to do politically and economically. But in other ways, the country hasn’t deteriorated. It is on the cultural and social fronts that the country has undergone its most radical transformation and in humble opinion – for the best.

I typed this as the ANC leadership has changed and we wait to see what transpires – the implications are huge but I hope and pray that the social and cultural progress which has been made to date influences and impacts positively on the economic and political. And I can’t but help remember the words Winnie Mandela uttered back in the early 1990s – the new South Africa will ‘accommodate everybody’ (1:18:00).

PS: In 2017 I drove into Pretoria to visit the National Archives – too far too walk from the station – but I arrived from Johannesburg rather than Boksburg and duly got myself lost! Many of the street names have changed. Whilst at the National Archive the young reading room assistant tried to explain to a white woman how to get to the courts where she would likely find the info she was needing. To the relief of both, and my amusement, he, a Tswana (we’d had a very enlightening conversation about Swahili earlier), gave up on the new street names and reverted to the old. It was just too confusing. Perhaps the next generation not knowing of the old names will find it easier.


Letter to a soldier’s daughter

I write this (22/2/18) to a soldier’s daughter, 12 years old. Her dad is facing a death penalty verdict on 23 February 2018. I write because I know her, but this could be for so many others, sons as well.

No matter what, remember your dad loves you and always will. Make no mistake about it. He was so proud of you the day you and I met – 2014 – the first time I met him too. I only saw him once after that – a month or so before he was taken in 2016. We met by chance in Addis airport, he on his way to Juba to participate in peace talks, I on my way home from Rwanda. He was looking forward to a time he could get home to see you again. But as we know, to date that hasn’t happened yet and might not.

Mom and Gran have probably not told you much but you know something is going on – the tension is palpable. Anger, fear, frustration, worry, interspersed with moments of hope and determination dominate. You don’t know where you stand or what you’ve done. You’ve done nothing. The adults around you are all trying to protect you – because you are you!

Their emotions are directed at the situation they face, one created by your dad and his belief in doing what he believes is right. He is a professional soldier and from where I sit, they are a special breed of person. No matter how much they feel for an individual, there seems to be a higher calling – to make the world they know a slightly better place and to do so they fight those trying to suppress others.

A good soldier is trained not to get killed but he knows there is always the risk. Officers who care are often found in the front lines seeing and encouraging rather than staying in safety behind the lines. Often they survive. But when politics gets involved, the game changes and the rules of warfare are ignored. I am reminded of Lord Kitchener who did all he could to prevent Africa being caught up in World War 1 – only to be overridden by the politicians. The same with American Vinegar Joe Stilwell in Burma in World War 2. It happens to the best. Little short of miracles can stop the wheels of politics.

From my studies of war – soldiers and statesmen – the best transcend nationalist ideals. They cross cultures, religions and most stereotypes. Invariably they are men of great faith – not necessarily a traditional one, but a faith formed through their encounters with so many others. They are humanitarians. They don’t set out to kill but will if they have to. They are by no means saints – they are human and have failings, particularly when judged by the acceptable norms of society.

Don’t be angry for too long. Remember the good times and later try to understand why your dad did what he did and does.

In life, one comes across people who make an impact. Your dad is one of those. He transcended the world he grew up in – the comments by men who served under him in so many places is testimony to this. Through his latest work as a soldier, he has been more of a humanitarian than what one would have anticipated.

The work he has put into his book on the South African forces in World War 1 – to be published in 2018, demonstrates his attention to detail and thoroughness. It kept him going in the tough times, no doubt because it gave him a link with home. In achieving this task, he has not been alone. Your mum has been a solid rock supporting both of you and herself as well as taking all the photos required. No soldier can achieve what they do without a solid support network behind the scenes – one they often take for granted.

As we wait tomorrow’s verdict and pray for a miracle, remember dad loves you, and his actions, although not obvious, have been to make your world a little better in the one way he knows.

To you and all the victims of conflict – keep strong. Focus on moving forward in faith and with a positive energy. But never forget.

The Caprivi Strip

The Caprivi Strip or Caprivi Zipfel, for those who don’t know of it, is a strip of land between Namibia, Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe. It was named after German Count Caprivi, the German colonial minister between 1890 and 1894.

This little strip has been a fascination since I started work on my thesis in the previous century and discovered a reference to it having been loaned by Britain to Germany: a statement which appeared in Silvestre’s edited volume on Namibia. It was also one of the first victories of the First World War for the Rhodesian forces – Schuckmannsberg surrendered to Major A Essex Capell on 21 September 1914 after a two-hour negotiation. The German commanders responsible for the German town were Hans Kaufmann and Viktor von Frankenberg. In 2013, Schuckmannsberg, named after the Governor of SWA Bruno von Schuckmann in 1909, was renamed Luhonono.

The contentious nature of the strip continues. In researching material for a paper on the end of the First World War, I discovered that a petition was put to the UN in 2014 objecting to the treatment of the territory by Namibia. The petition argues that in essence this little piece of land is still under control of Her Majesty’s Government. It had its own agreement at Versailles separate to the South West Africa mandate which meant that when Namibia gained its independence in 1990, it was only the South West Africa mandate which was affected, not the Caprivi mandate.

What is remarkable too, in this petition is a note (p4) which reads:

The eight objective of this legal document is to demonstrate that Caprivi Strip is
inhabited by a people as defined under general international law and that all peoples inhabiting mandated and trust territories and colonies (i.e. sacred trusts of civilization) are entitled to be enabled by administering States to freely and without interference from any quarter, whatsoever, to exercise their inalienable and universal right to self-determination, failing which they have the right, including by means of armed struggle, to fight for independence as a last resort* as envisaged under inter alia UNGA resolutions 2105 (XX) of December 20 1965; 3070 (XXVIII) of November 30 1973; 3382 (XXX) of November 10 1975.

* This doctrine is based on the provisions of paragraph 3 of the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads: “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”

I had never realised that today it is acceptable/legal for a micro-nation (peoples) to take up arms and fight for their independence.

Writing this post on 11 November 2017 seems appropriate – the end of the war to end all wars and to give the rights of determination to small nations is something some are still struggling for, more than 100 years later.

You can’t win

This tweet caught my eye:


I’m not an expert on Ngugi’s work and I haven’t read Maya Jasanoff’s book on Congo, but I have read Conrad’s Dark Heart of Africa and am still, if I’m honest, working out what all the fuss is about (I feel the same about JM Coetzee’s Disgrace). My apparent lack of sensitivity might well be due to my having grown up white during Apartheid South Africa so am immune to comments others might find inappropriate, but I do believe I’ve overcome that thanks to the values of equality and humanity instilled in me by my parents and reinforced in my work across and with different cultures both in Africa and the UK (it’s as much a ‘country’ as Africa is).

I take my hat off to Ngugi for writing what he believed whatever his motivations. That his comments go against the mainstream view should be embraced as an opportunity to dig deeper. A point that’s been driven home more than most in 2017 is the differences across Africa. This particularly revolves around WW1 – reading the texts I have and working with Diversity House on their Breaking the Myths project has exposed me to life in West Africa in a way I hadn’t experienced it before: first hand from people who grew up there. And thanks to some West African historians who have managed to get heard outside of Africa (George Ngung in particular) it’s become clear that the West African experience, most studied by white Eurocentric historians (in Britain, America and Europe), has been the dominant one and coloured the reality of recruiting and military life in East Africa. I’ve got to this point the painful way – by assuming that experiences and reasons for things happening in East and Southern Africa are representative of what was happening in West Africa. Aikona! as we say in the south.

Bearing my journey in mind, I can only begin to imagine what Ngugi is/was thinking of when he wrote the review. It shouldn’t be discounted because he approves of what is currently regarded as ‘unfashionable’. It should rather be an inspiration to dig for the truth. Juxtapose this with Peter Hoeg’s short story Journey into a Dark Heart in Tales of the Night (which includes von Lettow Vorbeck visiting Congo in 1929) and both Conrad and Lettow Vorbeck are not the men one might have thought…

A book for Ouma Smuts

HJ Wolstenholme, Smuts’ Cambridge friend, wrote to him in April 1906 including a book he thought Mrs Smuts might enjoy – the Life of Mrs Lynn Linton. Unfortunately he didn’t say who the author was but he indicated he’d bought the book as a ‘cheap remainder’ it having been published a few years before.

My curiosity was piqued. Who was Mrs Linton that Wolstenholme was recommending Ouma read? Thanks to the digitisation of old books, below are some relevant links.

Mrs Lynn Linton: her life, letters and opinions by George Somes Layard (1901)
Chapter 5 in Literary Celebrities of the English Lake District by Frederick Sessions
My Literary Life by Elizabeth Lynn Linton

For a brief overview, read on:

Elizabeth Lynn Linton was born in 1822 and died in 1898. She was born and buried at Crosthwaithe, Keswick, the daughter of a vicar. She was one of 12 children, their mother having died when Elizbeth was five months old. Her oldest sibling, a brother, was 16 when she was born.

At the age of 23 she went to London where she joined the Morning Chronicle becoming the first woman employed by a newspaper to draw a salary. After two years she visited Italy and then lived in Paris working for another newspaper. She was known to Charles Dickens who introduced her to other literary figures of the day. She sold Gad’s Hill in Kent [now a museum] to Dickens, a place he had loved since childhood.

She married in 1858, the artist WJ Linton. He already had 6 children. They split soon after, she finding country life tedious and WJ not enjoying city life. He moved to the USA and she remained in London.

In 1873 she anonymously published the True History of Joshua Davidson, Communist. She claimed she was the closest friend Davidison had and felt the record needed to be put straight.

In 1898 at the age of 76, nearly blind, she died. During her life she wrote about 40 novels, and a range of articles including “Are good women characterless” and “Wild women: as politicians” (titles which caught my eye).

On religion, she wrote: “We are all, all, all His children, and He does not speak to us apart, but to us all in our own language, equally according to our age – that is our knowledge and civilization. To Him I live, and in Him I believe, but all the rest is dark” (Sessions, p55)

On feminism: “At all events, the phase of women’s rights has to be worked through to its ultimate. If found impracticable, delusive, subversive, in the working, it will have to be put down again. It is all a question of power, both in the getting and in the using.” (Ourselves in Sessions, p56)

And of her books, Frederick Sessions notes that the ‘topsy turveyest book that ever was written is Mrs Linton’s Christopher Kirkland (book) which her biographer takes as autobiographical although she swopped the genders of her characters.

There is clearly much more to this woman than meets the eye and one day I might have time to revisit her in more detail. But what is intriguing is that Wolstenholme believes that Issy Smuts will enjoy the book. There are some clear overlaps but also differences. Ouma was intelligent and educated at university which is where she met Smuts, Elizabeth had little formal education but was clearly an intelligent woman. Both ignored the fads of the day and both knew their mind. They were also supported by the men in their lives (Issie by Smuts and Elizabeth by her father and colleagues).

And her apparent anti-feminst stance makes me think of the other female author with a southern African connection: Doris Lessing. All three powerful individuals who in their own way have influenced the world we know today.