Novelist: Escott Lynn

Escott Lynn was apparently the pseudonym of Christopher George Holman Lawrence. He also used Captain WC Metcalfe, Lawrence Abbott and Jackspur. There is not much publicly available about him, although a biographical note on a children’s author page notes that he spent many years as a volunteer in the armed forces. He was already an established author by the outbreak of war. Some of the blurbs promoting the book claim the author was on the spot in GEA. If this is the case, the only Lawrence/Laurence with a medal card linked with Africa during the war is George Lawrence who served with the Loyal North Lancashires and was later attached to the King’s African Rifles. The dates his various war related books were published however, suggests he was in England.

Clearly he was an elusive man.

1866 – born
1950 – died

Novels of WW1 Africa

Comrades ever! etc, 1921 (Illustrated by Percy Tarrant)

Hugh Crago, The Incorporative Mode in a Propaganda Novel of The Great War, 1979
Anne Samson, the end of the war in Africa
TJ Carty, A Dictionary of Literary Pseudonyms in the English Language
Biographical notes
Google book summary
Die Groote Oorlog

Books by Escott Lynn

Leopard Men

I came across the Leopard Men reading Hugo Pratt’s comic book The Ethiopian (1972 reprint 2019) which covers aspects of World War 1. Not having come across the Leopard Men before, I had to investigate…

It seems to have been mainly a west African secret society started in the 1700s, that moved into central and then east Africa, known as Ekpe or Mgbe in west Africa and Anyoto or Aniota in central Africa. It was active on the African continent in the early 20th century and seemed to have a cannibalistic trait. The members wore leopard skins and carried a leopard claw – how many leopards were killed in the lifetime of this group’s existence?

Apart from Hugo Pratt, the Leopard Men feature in tales of Tarzan, notably Tarzan and the Leopard Men, in Willard Price’s African Adventure and Tintin in Congo.

There are some interesting academic articles on the Leopard Men:

Jeremy Cyrier (2000) Putting a Paw on Power: Anioto Leopard Men of the Eastern Uplands, Belgian Congo, 1911-1936 in Ufahamu

Vicky L. M. Van Bockhaven completed a thesis on the group in 2013: The Leopard Men of the Eastern Congo (ca. 1890-1940): history and colonial representation . She also looks at their representation in literature in a 2009 article.

I wonder if it is the result of this group that there was rumour and concern about cannibalism amongst the Belgian Force Publique during the First World War.

Concerning west Africa, there’s a piece on Liberia, while D Burrows has written about the group Sierra Leone and David Pratten on their activities in Nigeria.

Review: Prisoners of Tsavo – Lalchand Sharma

I read Prisoners of Tsavo by Lalchand Sharma and Vishva Bandhu Lalchand Sharma with mixed reactions. Published by LifeRich, 2020

Lalchand Sharma’s experiences and recollections opened up many new windows on life in East Africa and Indian involvement in the First World War, not least his being found guilty and sentenced to death for espionage/assisting the enemy.

It was further fascinating to read about his return travels to India and how eventually Africa was to be regarded as home. Although he didn’t answer the question about when one’s cultural identity changes, the process of how it did was apparent. It was also clear to see how early experiences coloured later attitudes – Lalchand’s anti-British feelings were triggered by multiple events, both personal and historically passed on. One significant comment was his recognition that individuals from a country could be completely different to the national generic personality of that country.¬†

One of the challenges with the book was both authors’ assumptions that the reader would have a deeper understanding of the Sikh and Hindu faiths in terms of naming and caste systems and their relationships with one another. The early part of the book was in effect a written family tree with a few hazy diagrams at the end. At the request of his daughter, Lalchand had included the female connections as well as nicknames. This in itself is fascinating but it would have been more so had there been clearer explanations of Indian/Asian society at the time – especially as this book is aimed at an English speaking general readership.

Most disappointing however were the contributions by Lalchand’s son, his co-author. The additional context and commentary needed much editing. Duplication of information and poor grammar, almost streams of consciousness, vied with my feelings of frustration at his use of biased source material and myth perpetuation to support his own anger at the treatment his father underwent. I persevered but was tempted to gloss over his inputs in order to focus more on his father’s incredible story – twists of fate and determination which resulted in a family that achieved remarkable heights against all odds.

The result of this read is a list of questions to be investigated and trails to follow as archives open and new pieces of the ever-growing jigsaw that is the East Africa campaign of the First World War fall into place.

German reinforcements to East Africa – really?

It is generally accepted that the German force which served in East Africa consisted of the small military force sent out to control the territory supplemented by reservists and colonial residents, totalling some 3,595 men according to Ludwig Boell. On occasion, men from the odd blockade runner or neutral ship would stop by too, so it was with some interest I came across this statement in a Colonial Office file (CO 533/147 47197) ostensibly from General Aitken who was the commanding officer through the Battle for Tanga:

It is certain that German details from China were landed in German East Africa, mostly petty officers, probably from steamer Ziethen, strength believed to be 400. Also believed that German reservists from Australia, strength unknown, are in German East Africa.

On 28 November 1914, the Army Council was requesting the Colonial Office to have its representatives in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Australia confirm the information.

A month later, a note implies no reply had been received from Australia although there is nothing to indicate anything had been received from the other territories either.

Was this rumour that Aitken was reporting, or had a significant number of German reinforcements managed to enter the German African colony? A closer analysis of the numbers at the start of the war will need to be undertaken.

Culture clash: Rules of war

One of the things that struck me when researching Kitchener: the man not the myth was Kitchener’s idea on what constituted a fair war. He was said to have exclaimed ‘It’s not war’ when he heard about the first use of gas on the Western Front, and felt at a distinct advantage when facing the Dervishes with his guns against their spears. It was also apparent that there were differences concerning women – Kitchener offered the Dervishes an opportunity to surrender to safeguard the women and children whilst the Dervishes did not see this as an option. The role of women as camp followers was a further difference between the British and Dervish forces although Kitchener allowed the Egyptian Army to have female camp followers, as did the German Army.

These cultural differences were brought home quite recently again reading Robin Smith’s history of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 Practically Over. During the 1899-1902 war in South Africa there were numerous instances where the Boers misused the white flag of surrender by firing on the British forces when they were in close proximity having been lured over by the white flag. Reading these accounts, I often have the question ‘how would the rural Boer have known what the rules of war were?’ and ‘how likely were they to know the decisions agreed at Geneva and the Hague about the conduct of war?’ Few of the Boers had any formal military training.

What prompted me to write this up was reading of an instance where the Boers in June/July 1900 asked Archibald Hunter for an armistice whilst they sorted out who was to be their new commandant following the departure of Christian de Wet. Hunter obviously refused the request and the Boers quickly resolved their differences by electing a leader who promptly surrendered (p52). This incident was either a cheeky ploy on the part of the Boers or more likely due to their take on what constituted a fair war. Reading the encounters Robin has included in his book bring home how little the Boers fired at men, rather killing the horses to reduce the British soldier’s mobility. A similar attitude was evident in the derailing of trains – enough explosive to derail the engine and cause delays rather than death.

In the East Africa campaign of 1914-18 we read of captured soldiers being given parole and the exchange of letters complaining about inappropriate action in contrast to medical supplies being left for prisoners of war, local truces or understandings to bury the dead etc.

We tend to object to the other side ‘playing unfair’ – but that’s according to our rules. What about their rules? We assume all countries and cultures follow the same basic principles – think of the outcry at the Japanese Kamikaze or suicide unit of World War Two. Their view of prisoners being similar to that of askari in the East Africa campaign. And the more recent terror attacks where attacking civilians is seen as fair game in their struggle. How we engage in war was brought to the fore again when reading about China sending observers to the Western Front to learn what they could to develop their military forces.

Retaliation seems to be the standard response as seen in the dropping of the atomic bombs and targeted air strikes etc. However, I can’t help but wonder whether our stepping back to consider and understand the ‘other’ culture would lead to a different outcome than we have seen in the past.