No time for peace

Going through some medical war diaries at The National Archives, London (WO 95/5324& WO 95/5325) a little while ago, I was shocked to see there was no indication that the war in Europe had come to an end. I didn’t really expect to see anything for 11 November but I did expect some sort of mention between 11 and 25 November 1918 – the latter date being when German commander Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck officially surrendered at Abercorn (in today’s Zambia).

What this does tell us, is that for the medical services, it was business as usual. Reading through the entries, there was no remarkable difference between the diary entries before or after these dates, other than that the diaries seemed to end at the end of November 1918.

We know the Great War in Africa was quite different to the war in Europe. Trenches were scarce, so were rations and news. Where the men on the Western Front received news regularly, there are accounts of 2-4 months between letters being received. In fact, looking through a diary at RAC Hendon soon after the War Diaries, I was surprised to read that young Brown (the diary author) recorded in his flight log that he ‘dropped letters’ on 27 July 1916 at Lolkisale. This was the only time he dropped something other than bombs during his year in East Africa.

Although there were regular communications (telegrams) between London and GHQ East Africa, when the Armistice was agreed in Europe, a two-week window was included for getting the message through to the forces in East Africa. News of the Armistice arrived on 11 November and was delivered to the Germans on 13 November the day a battle (in East African terms) was fought at Kasama.

As I recounted in WW1 in Africa: the forgotten conflict of the European powers:

Major Hawkins recalled the story of the last days in The Times:
On the morning of November 11th (Armistice Day) the column was still forty-one miles from the road junction at Malima River, where we hoped to cut off at least the German rear-guard. Twenty-one miles were covered on the 11th, and touch with the enemy obtained one mile from the cross roads after marching eighteen miles on the 12th.

The position of the force on this day was a peculiar one. The column, consisting of 750 rifles, was probably considerably inferior to the total number of the enemy should he stand at bay. Further, our column had far outstripped all communications, and it would be impossible to pursue beyond Kasama without waiting for food. It was therefore determined to deal as heavy a blow as possible at the enemy before he got out of reach.

There turned out to be six enemy companies on the Malima, who, being attacked unexpectedly in the rear, hastily retired with loss to the north side of the open valley of the Malima, across which a hot fight raged till dark … 9.30pm … when fighting ceased.

Nearby, on 13 November, a German advance party arrived south of Kasama and fired at British defenders occupying a rubber factory. A British farmer also joined the defence firing an elephant gun from inside the roof of the factory, leading the Germans to believe that they faced an artillery piece.

News of the armistice was received in Livingstone on the 11th, but owing to a fault in the telegraph did not reach the Chambeshi (Chambezi) till two days later. Croad heard of the armistice at ‘about 1 o’clock’ when a Mr F Rumsey brought him a wire from the administrator in Livingstone ‘[…] saying that we were to carry on till General van Deventer wired me instructions.’

At 11.30am on November 13th one of our KAR native patrol posted on the main road reported that two motor cyclists carrying white flags and with white bands at their helmets passed from the direction of Abercorn going towards the enemy at Kasama. The native patrol shouted to them and tried to stop them, but they took no notice and passed on towards Kasama and the enemy.

This news caused great excitement in the column as no home news had been received for over a week. It was decided to advance slowly and await events.

At 2.45pm, when four miles from Kasama, the advance point reported two German askaris coming in under a large white flag, with a letter for the column commander. This proved to be a telegram received by von Lettow from our motor cyclists announcing the Armistice.

Lettow-Vorbeck formally handed in his agreement to surrender on 16 November 1918 and the formal surrender took place at Abercorn on 25 November 1918.

Of the 863 deaths recorded for 11 November 1918, 12 took place in East Africa
7 in Tanzania/German East Africa,
3 in Kenya/British East Africa,
1 in Malawi/Nyasaland,
1 in Zimbabwe/Southern Rhodesia
2 in Mozambique/Portuguese East Africa

Other war related deaths in Africa included:
2 in Nambibia/South West Africa
3 in Ghana/Gold Coast
5 in South Africa
18 in Egypt
(Unfortunately I cannot find a reference for these figures – I came across them in Tanzania or Kenya in 2011 in a travel magazine and accidently deleted the photo containing the publication details – if anyone can help confirm the breakdown, it would be greatly appreciated).

@UKNatArchives @RAFMUSEUM #WW1

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