Building bridges

A bridge I regularly cross in Tanzania is Himo Bridge near the Tanzania-Kenya border. This is the new Himo Bridge, an older one can be seen to the left if you are heading towards Kenya and a little further on is the original bridge/crossing  where a battle, or rather skirmish, was fought in 1916 when the British forces led by Jan Smuts pushed the Germans back on Moshi.

Bridges played a very important part in the campaign in East Africa as there were many ravines and rivers to cross. Apart from the bridges such as the one at Himo, the four major railway lines in East Africa at the time were feats of engineering as can be discovered in The man-eaters of Tsavo by JH Patterson. Harry Fecitt discusses some of the early struggles around bridges in his article The advance into German East Africa.

For the advance party, destroying a bridge once they were across meant that those chasing were delayed as they would either have to rebuild the bridge or find another way across. The other way across water usually meant wading across which was not something you did light-heartedly knowing crocodiles and hippos frequented the waters. Otherwise it was rope-type constructions.

On other occasions, such as with the Lake Tanganyika Naval Expedition, there was no option but to build bridges to get the motor boats across the dry ravines. Seeing some of the photos of bridges, I often wonder what they would have done today as the number of trees which had to be cut down to fill the ravine was astronomical – and some 200 ravines, of different depths and widths, had to be constructed. Apart from the trees being cut, the number of men and man-hours it would have taken is beyond comprehension (as far as I am concerned). Yet, they did it and within a record time too. The best told story of this expedition is that by Giles Foden, Mimi and Toutou go forth, although a more contextualised account can be found in Ed Paice’s Tip and run.

I think I’m rather pleased I’m able to travel on the bridges we can today, although they do have their own challenges, as many who travel in East Africa are aware.

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