For archive and museum visitors looking to break away from the Western Front to other theatres where Britain was involved, The National Archives bookshop, Kew, is the best of those I’ve sampled.
Below follows a brief overview of what is available at The National Archives Bookshop.
For starters there is Hew Strachan’s World War 1 in Africa which provides an overview of all the campaigns in Africa: from Togoland which fell in August 1914, and neighbouring Cameroons which capitulated in March 1916 through to South West Africa which surrendered in July 1915 and that in East Africa.
The latter is a theatre growing in interest and with tales fit for Boys’ Own. This was the longest running campaign of World War One: the first shot was fired on 8 August 1914 against Dar es Salaam and the war ended there on 25 November 1918 when the German forces were forced to surrender as laid down in the European Armistice agreement. It was also the only area where the Germans occupied and invaded British territory.
Edward Paice’s Tip and run and Ross Anderson’s The Forgotten Front together provide a solid overview of most aspects of the campaign. The books are self-standing but are aimed at different audiences and have used different archives, although the material held at Kew provides the base.
If two complete campaign overviews is too big a bite to start with, Giles Foden’s Mimi and Toutou go forth: the bizarre battle of Lake Tanganyika is there to whet your appetite. This is one of the most well-known expeditions of the campaign being the feature of a number of novels, no less CS Forester’s The African Queen.
For a more personal account by someone who was there, there is Francis Brett Young’s Marching on Tanga which is his 1917 account of having served in East Africa and at the Battle of Tanga in November 1914. Not in the bookshop, but worth a read if you can find a second-hand copy is Jim Redlake, Brett Young’s novel of the same in which he is far more outspoken about certain aspects of his experiences.
For a more official account of the conflict, there is JHV Crowe’s General Smuts’s campaign in East Africa. This is not an official history but it was approved by Smuts who wrote the foreword. It reflects Smuts’s optimism during the relatively short time he was in the theatre (19 February 1916 – 7 January 1917) and the drive to push the German forces out.
If you’re interested in the politics and interplay between the various main players, there’s Anne Samson’s World War 1 in Africa: the forgotten conflict of the European powers. Don’t be misled by the title, the focus of the book is East, South and Central Africa. And, I should add, it’s not my reason for rating The National Archive bookshop the best; of the other significant institutions sampled, one had none, two had one book each of which one was the novel(!) by William Boyd, An Ice-cream War – incidentally also available at Kew.
Finally, all on its own, but supported by Strachan and Samson’s accounts is James Stejskal’s Horns of the beast: The Swakop River campaign and World War 1 in South West-Africa covering a part of the campaign which was fought over 1914 and 1915.
If after all (or some) of this the African bug has bitten, see what else is available by visiting the Great War in Africa Association at www.gweaa.com.
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