The Caprivi Strip

The Caprivi Strip or Caprivi Zipfel, for those who don’t know of it, is a strip of land between Namibia, Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe. It was named after German Count Caprivi, the German colonial minister between 1890 and 1894.

This little strip has been a fascination since I started work on my thesis in the previous century and discovered a reference to it having been loaned by Britain to Germany: a statement which appeared in Silvestre’s edited volume on Namibia. It was also one of the first victories of the First World War for the Rhodesian forces – Schuckmannsberg surrendered to Major A Essex Capell on 21 September 1914 after a two-hour negotiation. The German commanders responsible for the German town were Hans Kaufmann and Viktor von Frankenberg. In 2013, Schuckmannsberg, named after the Governor of SWA Bruno von Schuckmann in 1909, was renamed Luhonono.

The contentious nature of the strip continues. In researching material for a paper on the end of the First World War, I discovered that a petition was put to the UN in 2014 objecting to the treatment of the territory by Namibia. The petition argues that in essence this little piece of land is still under control of Her Majesty’s Government. It had its own agreement at Versailles separate to the South West Africa mandate which meant that when Namibia gained its independence in 1990, it was only the South West Africa mandate which was affected, not the Caprivi mandate.

What is remarkable too, in this petition is a note (p4) which reads:

The eight objective of this legal document is to demonstrate that Caprivi Strip is
inhabited by a people as defined under general international law and that all peoples inhabiting mandated and trust territories and colonies (i.e. sacred trusts of civilization) are entitled to be enabled by administering States to freely and without interference from any quarter, whatsoever, to exercise their inalienable and universal right to self-determination, failing which they have the right, including by means of armed struggle, to fight for independence as a last resort* as envisaged under inter alia UNGA resolutions 2105 (XX) of December 20 1965; 3070 (XXVIII) of November 30 1973; 3382 (XXX) of November 10 1975.

* This doctrine is based on the provisions of paragraph 3 of the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads: “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”

I had never realised that today it is acceptable/legal for a micro-nation (peoples) to take up arms and fight for their independence.

Writing this post on 11 November 2017 seems appropriate – the end of the war to end all wars and to give the rights of determination to small nations is something some are still struggling for, more than 100 years later.


You can’t win

This tweet caught my eye:


I’m not an expert on Ngugi’s work and I haven’t read Maya Jasanoff’s book on Congo, but I have read Conrad’s Dark Heart of Africa and am still, if I’m honest, working out what all the fuss is about (I feel the same about JM Coetzee’s Disgrace). My apparent lack of sensitivity might well be due to my having grown up white during Apartheid South Africa so am immune to comments others might find inappropriate, but I do believe I’ve overcome that thanks to the values of equality and humanity instilled in me by my parents and reinforced in my work across and with different cultures both in Africa and the UK (it’s as much a ‘country’ as Africa is).

I take my hat off to Ngugi for writing what he believed whatever his motivations. That his comments go against the mainstream view should be embraced as an opportunity to dig deeper. A point that’s been driven home more than most in 2017 is the differences across Africa. This particularly revolves around WW1 – reading the texts I have and working with Diversity House on their Breaking the Myths project has exposed me to life in West Africa in a way I hadn’t experienced it before: first hand from people who grew up there. And thanks to some West African historians who have managed to get heard outside of Africa (George Ngung in particular) it’s become clear that the West African experience, most studied by white Eurocentric historians (in Britain, America and Europe), has been the dominant one and coloured the reality of recruiting and military life in East Africa. I’ve got to this point the painful way – by assuming that experiences and reasons for things happening in East and Southern Africa are representative of what was happening in West Africa. Aikona! as we say in the south.

Bearing my journey in mind, I can only begin to imagine what Ngugi is/was thinking of when he wrote the review. It shouldn’t be discounted because he approves of what is currently regarded as ‘unfashionable’. It should rather be an inspiration to dig for the truth. Juxtapose this with Peter Hoeg’s short story Journey into a Dark Heart in Tales of the Night (which includes von Lettow Vorbeck visiting Congo in 1929) and both Conrad and Lettow Vorbeck are not the men one might have thought…

A book for Ouma Smuts

HJ Wolstenholme, Smuts’ Cambridge friend, wrote to him in April 1906 including a book he thought Mrs Smuts might enjoy – the Life of Mrs Lynn Linton. Unfortunately he didn’t say who the author was but he indicated he’d bought the book as a ‘cheap remainder’ it having been published a few years before.

My curiosity was piqued. Who was Mrs Linton that Wolstenholme was recommending Ouma read? Thanks to the digitisation of old books, below are some relevant links.

Mrs Lynn Linton: her life, letters and opinions by George Somes Layard (1901)
Chapter 5 in Literary Celebrities of the English Lake District by Frederick Sessions
My Literary Life by Elizabeth Lynn Linton

For a brief overview, read on:

Elizabeth Lynn Linton was born in 1822 and died in 1898. She was born and buried at Crosthwaithe, Keswick, the daughter of a vicar. She was one of 12 children, their mother having died when Elizbeth was five months old. Her oldest sibling, a brother, was 16 when she was born.

At the age of 23 she went to London where she joined the Morning Chronicle becoming the first woman employed by a newspaper to draw a salary. After two years she visited Italy and then lived in Paris working for another newspaper. She was known to Charles Dickens who introduced her to other literary figures of the day. She sold Gad’s Hill in Kent [now a museum] to Dickens, a place he had loved since childhood.

She married in 1858, the artist WJ Linton. He already had 6 children. They split soon after, she finding country life tedious and WJ not enjoying city life. He moved to the USA and she remained in London.

In 1873 she anonymously published the True History of Joshua Davidson, Communist. She claimed she was the closest friend Davidison had and felt the record needed to be put straight.

In 1898 at the age of 76, nearly blind, she died. During her life she wrote about 40 novels, and a range of articles including “Are good women characterless” and “Wild women: as politicians” (titles which caught my eye).

On religion, she wrote: “We are all, all, all His children, and He does not speak to us apart, but to us all in our own language, equally according to our age – that is our knowledge and civilization. To Him I live, and in Him I believe, but all the rest is dark” (Sessions, p55)

On feminism: “At all events, the phase of women’s rights has to be worked through to its ultimate. If found impracticable, delusive, subversive, in the working, it will have to be put down again. It is all a question of power, both in the getting and in the using.” (Ourselves in Sessions, p56)

And of her books, Frederick Sessions notes that the ‘topsy turveyest book that ever was written is Mrs Linton’s Christopher Kirkland (book) which her biographer takes as autobiographical although she swopped the genders of her characters.

There is clearly much more to this woman than meets the eye and one day I might have time to revisit her in more detail. But what is intriguing is that Wolstenholme believes that Issy Smuts will enjoy the book. There are some clear overlaps but also differences. Ouma was intelligent and educated at university which is where she met Smuts, Elizabeth had little formal education but was clearly an intelligent woman. Both ignored the fads of the day and both knew their mind. They were also supported by the men in their lives (Issie by Smuts and Elizabeth by her father and colleagues).

And her apparent anti-feminst stance makes me think of the other female author with a southern African connection: Doris Lessing. All three powerful individuals who in their own way have influenced the world we know today.

Favourably disposed – a Groote Schuur link

I couldn’t help but wonder if Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the War Cabinet during the First World War, was favourably disposed towards Smuts because of a South Africa link.
This thought crossed my mind whilst browsing through the Cambridge College archive catalogue (Janus) for material on Africa during World War 1. Hankey’s wife’s name popped up and further investigation revealed that she had been born in South Africa

Adeline de Smidt was born in South Africa in 1882, the daughter of Abraham de Smidt and Gertrude de Smidt (née Overbeek). The de Smidt family (originally from Antwerp and Middelburg) owned the estates of Groote Schuur (Great Barn) and Westbrook under Table Mountain.

Adeline moved to the UK in 1890 – the year before Cecil Rhodes took out a lease on Groote Schuur (he bought it in 1893) and six years before the fire which gave rise to the current building designed by Sir Herbert Baker who was also involved in designing the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the Delville Wood memorial, Sir George Farrar’s house Bedford (now St Andrew’s School for Girls) and many of the old mine houses in Plantation, Boksburg which have now been destroyed.
After Rhodes’ death in 1902, Groote Schuur was bequeathed to the country as the leader’s residence which it remained until Nelson Mandela moved it to Westbrooke, now Genadendal. Another name associated with Groote Schuur, the war and London Society was Rudyard Kipling. Having befriended Rhodes, he was later to forge a working relationship with Baker designing war memorials.
Returning to Adeline, I’m not sure how much her South African connection influenced Maurice Hankey when it came to understanding or supporting Smuts – there was a great respect between the two men – but it does appear that Groote Schuur played an important part in bringing people together over time, and for that its architect is partly responsible for.

Egypt and World War 1

Writing a paper on the end of World War 1 in Africa, I thought it only appropriate to include something on Egypt having discovered through a paper presented by Lanver Mak that there’d been ‘homefront’ involvement there too.

Further investigation led to a litttle book by Stuart Hadawayon the events at Qatia in 1916 – a note in the front explaining that a “battle” needs one or more Army Corps and an “action” one or more divisions. Anything else is an “affair”. Put like that, there were no battles in East Africa – perhaps an action or two. I wonder where skirmishes fit? But I digress…

Blood on the Sand: The Affair at Qatia, Sinai Desert 23 April 1916 is simply told through official accounts and diaries – a military outline which for the novice provides an overview but one which is also jam-packed with detail for the more seasoned historian or student of the theatre to follow through. Numerous maps and some photos help to shed further light on this ‘more forgotten’ campaign of World War 1, Africa. (review)

And of course, one book leads to another…
Chris Vaughan’s book on Darfur: Colonial Violence, Sultanic Legacies and Local Politics, 1916–1956 explores British occupation of the territory from 1916-1956. This links with the Egyptian campaigns as Darfur was brought into the Anglo-Sudanese condominium as a result of the actions taken in 1916. (review)

Where Stuart’s account is military, Chris’ is political and you have to dig a little for the military. It’s richness is showing how colonial policy and ignorance impacted on decisions with sometimes disastrous consequences for future generations. Threading its way through both accounts is that of the Senussi – a group which tends to be better known than many of the others mentioned in both books.

Myfanwy Hoskins – sad tale of a General’s wife

Myfanwy Hoskins, then Williams born 15 June 1882, became a military nurse in May 1913 after passing a 6 month probation. Her initial training and work as a nurse had been in Leamington between 1905 and 1911.

Having been in a military nurse since 1913, she attempted to resign her commission in July 1914 as she was due to marry Arthur Reginald Hoskins, North Staffordshire Regiment, at the end of August 1914. This accounts for why Hoskins was on leave in England when war broke out and was not with 3 King’s African Rifles of which he was Inspector-General. With the war looming, Myfanwy’s resignation was not accepted pending further developments. On the same day this decision was being made, 6 August 1914, she married AR, as is recorded on her file (TNA, WO 399/4006).

On 28 October Myfanwy asked to resign her commission in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service which was accepted. Her work seemed to be satisfactory however, there are records of her not being well, depression being the main issue. Her resignation was accepted in early November, the military officials finding her ‘unfit for service’ due to ‘overstrain’.

On 12 June 1915 she was accepted into the QAIMNS Reserve as a Staff Nurse for Lady Hadfield’s Anglo-American Hospital, Wimereux, Bolougne. At this time, AR was with 8th Brigade, 3rd Division.

Correspondence in January 1916 shortly before AR was posted to East Africa to support the relaunch of the campaign there, suggests that Myfanwy was depressed at not being near her husband. (War Diary Jan 1916, TNA, Kew WO95/3989 available Scarletfinders, 6-10 January 1916). At this time Myfanwy initially based at 6 General Hospital Rouen, was sent to 8 General Hospital to the Sick Sisters Division before being sent home on the Copenhagen. Issues of Confidentiality and Data Protection were clearly different in those days as the Nursing Commander:

Wrote General Hoskins re his wife expressing regret that she was unhappy at No.6 as Miss Reid was one of our best Matrons and I did not think she would permit anyone willingly to be unhappy under her. Said that his wife had already approached the DMS with a view to getting on a train so that she might be nearer to him and emphasising the fact at the same time that her only cause of unhappiness was her separation.

In April 1916, after being on sick leave from the end January to 30 April, she was serving in Brighton before being transferred to Clipstone Camp, Mansfield. (Ada Young served at Clipstone 1917)

How would she cope with AR in Africa? She didn’t, unfortunately, and was eventually found ‘unfit for service’ with neurosthemia in October 1916 being granted leave from 28 October to 17 November of that year. She was serving at Clipstone Camp, Northern Command. On 25 October, CA Stevens in charge of QAIMNS at Clipstone wrote to Lieut Hewitt at Northern Command headquarters noting the Myfanwy had arrived on 21 October and that despite working well and being fuly occupied, ‘her state of depression increases and that she states that she fears a nervous breakdown if left at such a quiet desolate spot at Clipstone Camp Hospital.’ As a result of this, she was given leave and attempts were made to find her a posting closer to friends.

On 8 December 1916 she resigned, having been encouraged to do so for reasons of ill-health.

Myfanwy’s QAIMNS wartime service is recorded as Temporary, 21 June 1915 to 8 December 1916, at the time resident in Brixton Hill, London. Her prior service had been permanent with QAIMNS from 1913 to November 1914.

I can’t help but think that Myfanwy left civilian nursing for QAIMNS in May 1913 in anticipation of her marriage to Hoskins, who had been appointed to 3KAR in August 1913, although she would have likely still had to resign after her marriage. Given her apparent separation anxieties, it seems quite remarkable that their relationship lasted for them to get married in August 1914. AR’s being posted to Africa in 1916 must certainly have increased her anxities above anything they had been when he was in Europe and I can only imagine her state with him then being posted to Palestine in 1917 when he was replaced by van Deventer. I also wonder what additional pressure this placed on Hoskins who, no doubt because of his correspondence with the Chief Matron in 1916, was aware of his wife’s separation anxiety. Did she expect that as the wife of a general (career soldier) she would be posted to the nearest town/city from where her husband would issue instructions?

How many other couples suffered in this way? And what happened in the long term?

Selous and a Housewife on the battlefield

You’d be forgiven for thinking this post was about a woman who looks after a house, but as you’ve guessed from this opening sentence, it’s not.

In a list of FC Selous’ possessions being recorded after his death (TNA WO 339/24672), I came across Housewife. This seemed rather odd given the items were surrendered by men and that the item was listed between weapons and other non-living things (including a Matabele war medal ribbon). Asking a few people of a generation I thought might know yielded confused looks and a shake of heads. Reverting to the Internet, I finally discovered what a Housewife is.
You can either see the picture or read on.

A housewife is a portable sewing kit, something I always take with me on trips today. Little did I realise that soldiers serving in Africa had a similar little pack, although one wonders what uniforms the men had which could still be repaired given some of the comments and the sketches by AW Lloyd(p43, 49).

I also wonder, given the labour/gender divide of the day, who (if anyone) had taught the men to use the items in the housewife. During South Africa’s years of conscription mothers would often show their sons how to sew buttons on and do other basic repairs. Was Selous one of a limited number of men to have such kit, or was it standard uniform allocation of the day? Perhaps there were sewing classes on board ship as the men were being transported between home and their allocated port for military service? Or was it that working class men were quite comfortable with a needle and thread?

Frederick Selous was killed by a sniper bullet on 4 January 1917 at Beho-Beho in southern German East Africa. The spot today is in the Selous National Park in Tanzania. Selous was 64 years of age when he was killed and a year later to the day his son Frederick Hatherley Bruce Selous died after his plane was shot down on the Western Front. near Pas de Calais. Some interesting snippets on the 1914-18 Forum.