@WW1EACampaign is responsible for this post following a tweet on 1 April 2016 which read ‘Getting a proper perspective on nos & names of Africans who participated in
#WW1 EastAfrica may be a whole project on its own!’
Yes, it is a whole project and one which I started on behalf of GWAA. I don’t think we’ll ever get a complete picture of the numbers who served in the East Africa Campaign, although I think we should for the other African campaigns as they were ‘cleaner’ in terms of force differentiation.
The East Africa campaign was ‘messy’ – from a logistical and organisational perspective, if nothing else. In 2014 I attempted to gather the existing information on numbers in one place but wasn’t happy with this as it was confusing and didn’t give a clear overview. @WW1EACampaign has prompted my latest attempt to clarify the position – which I’ve done in the attached. In this approach, I’ve used the map of Africa (you’ll have to stretch the imagination a bit here) and looked at the number of men (and women) each territory supplied. For some, you’ll see there are different numbers provided for the same country which raises the question of how were men counted? At what stage of the war? The German author Boell notes that although there were about 18,000 German forces, they were at their peak in early 1916 with approximately 16,000 in the field. He also has a number of 40,000 KAR which were British forces. However, we don’t know how many of these were recruited from German territory. The KAR position is further complicated from before the outbreak of war as KAR forces from Nyasaland were serving in Uganda and BEA whilst KAR from Uganda could be found in Nyasaland. This situation applies to other forces too, especially as the war dragged on and white soldiers were transferred and commissioned into the KAR from the 2nd Loyal North Lancashires and 25th Royal Fusiliers. The East African Mounted Rifles was an amalgamation of various Scouting bodies and never officially discharged although its members too were absorbed into other contingents.
The only way I think we’re going to be able to unravel all these movements and get some accurate idea of how many served and in what capacities is to try and gather all the names we can and then analyse the data. Having captured nearly 20,000 names for the East Africa campaign, 250 for the West and North African campaigns and just over 4,000 for the Southern African theatres, the complications become apparent:
- How do you account for men who served in different theatres?
- How do you work out what nationality (or micro-nationality) people were?
- How do you account for men who found their own way to a theatre to enlist?
- Where do you find the records when at least 6 different administrative bodies were involved in managing the campaign with the ability to pay for forces?
Let’s start with answering question 4 as this relates directly to @WW1EACampaign’s tweet.
In short, whichever administration paid for the force enlisted will hold the records. So, for East Africa, we have lists (in theory) held by Britain’s War Office (Imperial Service Troops such as the South Africans who served in EA) and India Office. Those recruited for purposes of labour would have been through the Colonial Office representatives so British East Africa, the British South Africa Company for the Rhodesias, Nyasaland, South Africa for labour from the Union, Swaziland, Basotholand and Bechuanaland.
So far, so good. However, fate has worked against us: During WW2 when London was bombed, the records for most South Africans who served in WW1 were destroyed, as were about 1,000 Indian Office files (those dealing with EA). In addition, we lost some of the East African files when, in 1924 the archive in Nairobi caught fire. So, we are left to rely on what we have available. On the link above, I’ve provided references for some of the Medal lists which are available in Kew. Transcribing all these names onto the spreadsheets takes time so progress will be slow, but the info is available and will in time become more widely so. In addition, there is a fantastic project underway in South Africa where tw researchers are painstakingly capturing all the details on the SANLC attestation cards which they stumbled upon in the SANDF Doc Centre. When I met them on my previous visit to SA, they believed they had every attestation card and were all already able to trace some individuals who had served in GSWA, Europe, EA and then went onto Palestine – all by choice! I can’t wait for this project to be completed.
The War Diaries (kept @UKNatArchives) contain some nominal rolls – incuding gun carriers, special porters and camp followers. This is hit and miss – as is the general quality of the War Diary – as it depended on the meticulousness of the recorder and presumably the challenges they faced in the field. This means that the recording of casual labour is less likely to be recorded as is comandeered labour – this is the position facing us particularly with regards German and Portuguese records.The other challenge is getting into the local National African archives to see what they hold and hoping that the records are in a usable state (record preservation doesn’t address housing, health and education issues which have greater priority for governments).
There is much more to be said – and at least another 3 questions to answer, but this post is already long enough and I think/hope gives an overview of what is available which for various reasons hasn’t before made it into the public domain.