Novelist: Wilbur Smith

Wilbur Addison Smith was a prolific novelist focusing on Africa. Of the 49 novels published before his death, 4 concern the Great War in Africa.

1933 – born 9 January in Kabwe, Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia)
1940s – School in Natal, South Africa
1954 – graduated with degree in Commerce from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa
1963 – working for Inland Revenue in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)
1963 – published first story under the name Stephen Lawrence
1964 – first novel published, When the Lion Feeds
2021 – died 13 November in Cape Town, South Africa

Books on WW1 Africa
Shout at the Devil (1968) also a film (1976) – East Africa, Konigsberg
A Sparrow Falls (1977) – SA 1914 rebellion
The Burning Shore (1987) also a film (1991) – Europe, GSWA, East Africa
Assegai (2009) – East Africa, zeppelin

Wilbur Smith
see also

Review: They, said we could not do it – M Adeel Carelse

They, said we could not do it (based on the true story of the men of 1SACC who fought valiantly in German East Africa and in Palestine during WW1) by M Adeel Carelse is a book I have waited patiently to get. It is only available from the author in South Africa (copies will soon be available through the GWAA though), and after various hiccups the book was waiting for me on arrival after a 3.5 year gap.

In the book, Adeel imagines and describes his grandfather’s military experience in the First World War. With much information being scarce, he turned to the novel as the medium for telling his grandfather’s story. Because of this, the numerous editing and proofing issues can be forgiven. One of the most telling is the use of HMSAS – this is a World War 2 designation – in World War 1 South Africa was completely reliant on the British navy for its sea/coastal protection. Similarly reference to Task Force 344 on Durban beachfront – cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, gunboats and minesweepers and the German Surface Action Group are post-World War 1, although ships in the 1914-18 war were convoyed where possible.

At the end of the book, Adeel sets out what he used to compile the account: his own military naval experience. This explains the real sense of being there – the training and conditioning of soldiers to survive on the battlefield is palpable. So who is or was Adeel’s grandfather and why is his story important.
688 Sgt Charles Henry Carelse served in the 1st Cape Corps in the 1914-1918 war in East Africa, Palestine and Egypt. In addition to surviving the war,  young Carelse was awarded the DCM for bravery on the Rufigi Delta in December 1916.

His citation in the London Gazette of 3 October 1918 reads:
88 Pte. C. Carlse [sic], Cape Corps.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When severely wounded he remained with and kept in action hie machine gun until relieved, and when his comrades wanted to carry him out of action he refused their assistance, telling them to remain with the

The tale traces the family and social experiences of – Carelse, his brother and friends as they leave school and decide to enlist.

We join them on the training ground with all its harshness and deploy with them to the realities of war – death is and maiming are not avoided. How the families and friends, at home and on the battlefield, deal with the loss and home comings are raw – one reads so many clinical histories or accounts of war, that when one is brought face to face with the human element, it hits home – hard. This is one of the strengths of Adeel”s book.

There are numerous factual inaccuracies about the Cape Corps in the text, so for anyone wanting to find out more about the role of the Cape Corps, the following texts are the best to date.

Original documents can be accessed at:

  • The National Archives, London: (search on Cape Coloured)
  • SANDF Doc Centre, Irene

Personnel records. The following Carelse are listed at the SANDF Doc Centre, in Irene – CH Carelse’s card was not included in those I saw (must check the spelling given the London Gazette spelling and on his medal card WO 372/23/50401).

194 John Carelse, B Coy, 1 Cape Corps, Oudtshoorn
798 C Yster Carelse, D Coy, Cape Corps EAEF, Robertson
916 James Errol Carelse, 2 Cape Corps (none religion), Tulbach
951 Mones Carelse, Cape Corps 20th Coy, EAEF, Vredesdorp
1215 Lawrence Carelse, Reinforce Coy, Cape Corps, 1 Cape Corps, Woodstock
2348 Hewuf Carelse, G Coy, Reinforce Cape Corps (C of E), Worcester
2389 Abel Carelse, G Coy, Reinforce Cape Corps (C of E), Belvue Estate, Cape Town
6051 Stephan Carelse, 2 Cape Corps (Dutch Reformed), Phillipstown
6198 Johannes Carelse, 2 Cape Corps (none religion), Tulbach
6468 Adrian Carelse, 2 Cape Corps (Dutch Reformed) Wynberg, Cape Province
6481 Raymond AG Carelse, 2 Cape Corps (C of E), Caledon

They, said we could not do it, is an important novel in that it highlights a population group in South Africa who are often neglected and ignored.

South Africa saw men serve in the two Cape Corps units in East Africa, Palestine and Egypt. In addition men served in the Cape Corps Labour Battalion in myriad roles, and in the Cape Auxiliary Horse Transport Company (see

457 lost their lives in East Africa (163) and Palestine, mainly at Square Hill (51 on 20 September 1918).
9 were awarded Distinguished Conduct Medals for bravery in East Africa and 1 Military Medal. 1 DSO and  6 Military Crosses to officers
1 Military Cross, 6 Distinguished Conduct Medals and 2 Military Medals for Palestine.
This out of a total ____ armed South Africans to serve in all capacities. The book contains the following lists:

  • 1SACC Roll of Honour (20 officers, 14 NCOs, 423 other ranks)
  • Decorations and awards, including Mentioned in Despatches for East Africa and Palestine

The role of the Cape Corps in the Middle East was recognised in early December 2022. Adeel unveiled the plaque commemorating the Cape Corps’ service.

Loadshedding – An African phenomenon

I recently returned from two months in South Africa where one of the dominating factors was ‘loadshedding’ – ‘Have you downloaded Eskom se push?’ I was regularly asked. ‘You need to plan your day around loadshedding, especially when visiting the archive.’ Well, it was easier said than done on many an occasion. I would leave one place in darkness (no electricity) only to arrive at the next place some half an hour’s drive away, to be in darkness there. Planning seemed pointless to a large extent. It was time to implement project ‘African Adventure’. This had stood us in good stead travelling elsewhere on the continent – effectively, it’s a go-with-the-flow approach and make-do, as the Afrikaans would say – ‘maak ‘n plan’ or make a plan. So, providing there was hot water for coffee, I wasn’t too perturbed. Watching and experiencing how people reacted to the situation and our African Adventure approach was insightful – and again highlights the wealth divides in the country. I should also point out that loadshedding is not unique to South Africa. We experienced it regularly in Tanzania, had it on our visit to Ghana years back and during 2021, I heard a previous President of Sierra Leone talk of it being common in that country too.

The reasons for loadshedding appear numerous: mismanagement (linked with corruption) often being touted as the main reason, selling electricity onto other countries to boost national income, theft of cables especially copper for sale on the illegal market, and sabotage to undermine the ruling party’s position. Take your pick.

While in the other countries mentions, there did not appear to be any distinguishing between who was loadshedded and who not, in South Africa, depending on one’s location, determined the extent to which one was loadshedded. The National Archive in Pretoria, being within the same grid as the Union Buildings (government administrative centre) and various other government buildings suffered no loadshedding, whilst the military archive in Irene, 20 minutes away, was regularly loadshedded. While there was sufficient light in the reading room to continue working, getting files out of the repositories was a challenge – staff being reliant on phone torches to locate the required document (budgets are extremely tight). Areas where police stations were found also seemed to escape loadshedding, although not hospitals – they were reliant on generators.

Visitors to the country were generally protected from the loadshedding experience – hotels used generators and apart from reduced wi-fi access when the towers did not have enough time to recharge or the hotel chose to limit the service during loadshedding, life continued as ‘normal’. Some archives, public buildings and businesses used generators too – darkness would descend for 20 seconds during which someone invariably announce ‘don’t panic, light will be back in 20 seconds.’

Local experiences however, varied a bit more – some houses have generators or inverters to tide them over, others have turned to gas stoves which use gas cylinders or they have a single small cylinder big enough to boil a kettle or take a pot or pan. A few have turned to solar panels for generating power although this seems to be more expensive than the other options. Others have chosen to take a chance and plan around the likely hours of electricity being switched off – even hours seem to be the mark and unless there’s a major issue, power will be out for two hours, twice a day. A few days whilst we were there, we experienced 8 hours a day with no electricity – 2 x four hours. This was rather frustrating as computer batteries invariably ran out as did internet connection as wi-fi towers did not have sufficient time to charge and on occasion water too was switched off as reservoirs were unable to pump sufficient water for onward distribution. Generally, people were tolerant – annoyance was expressed at the 8-10pm slot which interfered with television watching.

What surprised me the most, was how insistent some groups were to continuing with electronic approaches when a return to good old paper would have removed many a frustration.The mad dash to find alternatives when electricity went down was something to behold.

This made me wonder how much easier some had it – most notably those who did not have the advantage of all the mod-cons. In my first week back in SA, we were launching a World War 1 project in KwaZulu-Natal where some semi-rural schools had little electricity to start with and few houses had access to the supply. Teachers were used to doing things the ‘old way’ with chalk and blackboard, and few textbooks (most definitely not something I expected to see 25 years after the end of apartheid). I heard of some using candles as opposed to the lights which could store electricity and come on when the power went off. I imagine fires for cooking are common in some areas too. Thankfully, South Africa is generally a warm country, so the need to keep warm are reduced.

There has been some suggestion that the UK is likely to suffer electricity outages. Given the huge reliance on technology and things electronic, I wonder how people will manage…especially with the move to store so much ‘in the cloud’. And all those who have migrated to escape the African loadshedding? While the existing inequalities are inexcusable, I somewhat suspect that those who are least well-off are coping better with the challenges posed by loadshedding, and provide a timely reminder that ‘progress’ is not always for the best. Here’s hoping the loadshedding can be sorted and not only for those in South Africa…and with it a reduction in the ever-widening gap between those who have and those who don’t.

Novelist: Hugh Wray McCann

Hugh Wray McCann was a science editor for The Detroit News with an interest in both world wars.

1928 – born 28 March in Kilkeel, County Down, Ireland
1946 – aged 18 spent 5 years in Johannesburg, South Africa, as a draughtsman
1951 – moved to the USA where he joined the USA Army and served in Korea
1967 – shared Pulitzer Prize for Detroit Free Press coverage of the Detroit Race Riots and awarded an Emmy for 6 Days in July
2014 – died 13 June

Books on WW1 Africa
Utmost Fish (1965) – on the Lake Tanganyika Expedition

Obituary – Pioneer Tribune
Obituary – Record Eagle

Novelist: David Bee

There is nothing online to give an insight to David Bee. However, in his book Curse of Magira, the author has provided the necessary information.

1931 – born John David Ashford Bee, Simonstown, South Africa
1959-1961 Labour Officer, Tanganyika

David’s “interest in the 1914-18 East African Campaign began as a child, for two of his uncles had served under General Smuts, and his father joined H.M.S. Hyacinth in 1917. Meetings with German settlers who remained in Tanganyika after Germany’s defeat convinced him that it was time to look at the period of the German Protectorate a little more closely; it seemed a pity that this dramatic piece of African and military history was less well-known than it deserved to be. Many of the incidents of the present-day plot are drawn from his own experience.” 

In the foreword to the book, Bee explains what is fiction and what is not, as well as supplying a list of references at the end.

Curse of Magira which was also published under the title Our Fatal Shadows was the second of three books David wrote. The other two are: Children of yesterday (1961) and The Victims (1971). The former about children of different races growing up together and the latter about a plague at the time of independence in East Africa. (listed on British Library catalogue)

WW1 Books by David Bee
Curse of Magira: A novel of East Africa (1964)