Review: The Road of Donkey Bones – Alison Cornell

The Road of Donkey Bones: Captain Llewellyn Wynne Jones MC, A diary from Britain’s WW1 East Africa Campaign was researched and compiled by his granddaughter Alison Cornell.

While the diary and the photographs are of great interest, I cannot say this was a book which grabbed me. Alison has entered into a conversation with her grandfather in relation to his diary entries. There is little context set for his time in East Africa which was focused on the Turkana expedition rather than the main military engagement against the Germans.

Wynne Jones provides an insight into the 5 and 6 KAR – he was to serve with 6 KAR and worked alongside 5 KAR. The diary covers from January 1918 when he left for East Africa and runs through to November 1918 when he was evacuated with an injury. The text is supplemented with early family history and some events leading to Wynne Jones’ death on 10 August 1922 following a riding accident with the Territorial Army in Wales. Between East Africa and death, he served with the British forces in Russia where he obtained a bar to his MC, the MC having been awarded for action in France before he left for East Africa.

What is striking about the diary is the almost haphazard approach to the campaign, the challenge of porters and moving herds of cattle, camels and mules across desert terrain. The issue of rations lasting is another theme.

On the issue of registering porters he wrote (p135): “I was busy today registering all the porters. I wish they would only get decent names instead of these awful substitutes they have. How they can ever say them beats me.” It took him all day to register 125 of 250 names. We don’t hear complaints about names on day 2 or for any other occasions when new porters are enlisted, although there are issues around using new porters as opposed to seasoned porters. This is an enlightening little statement. Porters recruited on route were generally recorded for administrative reasons. The challenge was spelling or recording the names in a manner they would be understood by others. The vowel sounds are different and the consonant combinations irregular when it comes to British English – one just needs to see the bilingual dictionaries of the day which missionaries and doctors were compiling. And even if Wynne Jones had passed his Kiswahili test (something he doesn’t record) not everyone would have spoken Kiswahili, making life a little challenging to say the least.

My other little spot of interest was his diary entry noting “dinner at Muhoroni” on 10 October 1918 on his way home. Muhoroni was the place where Lord Kitchener had bought his farm back in 1911 and had turned into a limited company the weekend before he lost his life on 5 June 1916. His brother, HEC Kitchener who was serving in East Africa at the time, responsible for railway aspects, had taken the title of Lord Kitchener (K2 as I refer to him). I wonder if he was at Muhoroni at the time and entertained Wynne Jones at dinner… we’ll probably never know.

For anyone interested in finding out more about the King’s African Rifles with whom Wynne Jones served:

  • Moyse-Bartlett in his mammoth The King’s African Rifles has a section (pp419-452) although there is no mention of Wynne Jones. 5 KAR was formed in early 1917 from units of 2 KAR and 3 KAR operating on the northern border of British East Africa. 1/6 KAR had been formed at the end of April 1917 from ex-German askaris and other recruits (p354). It therefore made sense to send them north where they would not have to fight against their former units.
  • Per Finsted has provided an overview of the Sudanese involved in the Turkana expedition and a history in an 18 page article.

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