Review: the global world and writing history

As a result of having to change my reading patterns, rather than review a single text this time, I thought it might be worth considering some of the positives and negatives that have come to light with regards source material.

Not too long ago, I was rather harsh on a new publication – my comments were not at the author but rather at the support systems around his book. One of the issues with the book was that I felt the author had paid lip service to a particular topic to meet certain requirements. This omission was not within keeping with what I know of the author, so I was over the moon to read an article by the same author, published before the book, which set out what was and was not available on the topic. My question therefore became, why did this not feature in the book?

Sadly, I think this is the result of current education policy where everything has to go through some sort of electronic plagiarism testing. This was coming in as I was moving out of education and already then I could tell what the implications were going to be. Gone are the days of students developing on their prior writing – thoughts have to be completely rewritten or fully references (to an undergrad essay?) in order to comply with computers determining how much is original. This view has been reinforced and brought to light on numerous occasions when I’ve been discussing historiographical or literature overviews with history students at different institutions – what they submit in their dissertation proposal can’t be copied and pasted into their dissertation. Where does this leave us then when those same documents come to be used in books and later publications? I’m not promoting self-plagiarism here but rather a more practical approach to developing student thinking and training that reflects the reality of writing for a wider audience who do not have access to separate publications, published or not.

This leads to the next issue – where material is available. The article referred to above is behind a pay-wall. Thankfully I have ways of accessing such articles including through the British Library, but what about other researchers who are not in an academic institution or close to a repository such as the British Library? (I’ll leave my gripe about new legal deposits, and many review copies, only being available in electronic form for another day, it’s not as effective as paper!) Yes, there might be an abstract, but in my experience an abstract doesn’t always tell me what the article contains in relation to what I’m looking for. A quick flick through does. You might then say, that’s why open-access has been put in place. That’s all well and good too, but unless one is in an academic institution again, invariably the author submitting an article to an open-access journal has to pay for the privilege. What all this is resulting in, is a skewing of access to source material and incomplete conclusions (in my own work as much as in others). And then there are the book titles – so many, including my own – do not reflect the true nature of the content. While some of this might be due to author ignorance of wider interest, experience suggests this is more to do with what marketing departments think will sell. The old adage of don’t choose a book by its cover seems very apt here (although change cover to title). No doubt I’ll have more to say on this in future reviews.

A related point in skewing source material is what is now available online. While the internet has revolutionised access and linking with people across the globe, it has also unwittingly (?) contributed to the skewing of information. Access to information is at the whim/fancy of the person putting it on the web – politics (certain cultural gender groups have no voice online), interest and what is perceived as topical, play a big part here. In days gone by, before the internet, researchers would visit archives in one or more countries. What was produced was therefore more local with, depending on what was being researched, an element of the other side’s version. Reviewers and readers generally had access to the same material. Little made it outside the country of origin, and where it did, has led to varied interpretations of other country events. Now, as a result of the web, it’s easier to access texts from other countries, and online translators allow texts in other languages to be accessed too. However, not all countries (and here I think especially of colleagues in Africa and Asia) have access to material online and if they do, it is filtered. Similarly, not all universities are able to access all journals as some are too expensive for the local budget. In the same way, some archives have made their catalogues available online while others are still very much paper-based. Accessing the archives in person, is another matter altogether. Popular material is digitised and made available online (generally for a fee, which in principle is acceptable but not always affordable depending on where researchers are). And not all archives allow photographs or copies being made of documents – to maintain copyright etc. This all impacts on the material researchers use in creating their historical jigsaw.

The result of this, together with researcher bias (which we need to own rather than dismiss), is a range of new histories which remain incomplete, despite our thinking otherwise. How one overcomes these challenges, I’m not sure, but they’re worth keeping in mind when writing and reviewing works of an historical nature. It would be remiss not to express my gratitude for the move by education institutions to put dissertations and theses online, and to do so for older papers too, free of charge (despite the implications). This has been revolutionary in terms of opening up access to new ideas and archival sources. Yes, these publications need to be treated with care, as do all writings. If there’s one thing I’ve come to learn over my years as an historian – one never gets the full story, there’s always something new coming to light. And as a significant historian told me when I started on my journey, critiquing one of the first academic historians to have written on East African campaign, ‘if someone was looking at my work 40 years after I’d written it, no matter what they said, I’d be more than satisfied’ – that piece of work is now over 60 years old.

Sailings Cape Town to England 1914

The following is extracted from WO 25/3696 (UK National Archives) being ships which sailed from Cape Town to England at the start of the war. Mostly they carried Imperial Garrison forces which had been relieved by the Union Government offering to take over defence of South Africa so the British forces could help the imperial power in its struggle. 

A few ‘indulgence’ names are recorded on the registers, invariably wives and children returning to England. However, it does not appear that South Africans travelling to Britain to enlist there were included in these lists, nor men those of the Royal Navy units being transported between ports. Where these names are recorded is yet to be identified.

22 Aug 1914 – 21 Sep 1914 – Kenilworth Castle to Southampton

23 Aug 1914 – 19 Sep 1914 – RMS Brittan to Southampton (? Sailed 27 Aug 1914)

26 Aug 1914 – 19 Sep 1914 – Guilford Castle to Southampton

27 Aug 1914 – 19 Sep 1914 – Goorka with Reservists to Southampton

3 Sep 1914 – 28 Sep 1914 – SS Ingoma to Southampton

20 Sep 1914 – 1 Oct 1914 – Garth Castle to Southampton

28 Sep 1914 – 20 Oct 1914 – Dover Castle to Southampton

29 Sep 1914 – 30 Oct 1914 – Kinfaus Castle to Southampton

21 Oct 1914 – 20 Nov 1914 – Balmoral Castle to Southampton

24 Oct 1914 – 13 Nov 1914 – Llandovery Castle to Southampton

9 Nov 1914 – 27 Nov 1914 – SS Britain to Southampton

The Union Castle line starts using Tilbury instead of Southampton

14 Nov 1914 – 2 Dec 1914 – Walmer Castle to Tilbury

20 Nov 1914 – 10 Dec 1914 – Durham Castle to Tilbury

See more about Tilbury Docks at – and specifically about WW1at:

It is from Tilbury that the Sopworth planes to track down Konigsberg leave and in 1915, the crew of the Lake Tanganyika Expedition.

Union Castle Line made ships available to the British Government for transport, also hospital…

Galway Castle sunk by torpedo on route to SA in 1918

London Gazettes – what they say of the war in Africa, 1914-1915

Being curious as I am, I decided to see what the London Gazettes could tell me about the war in Africa. The following is a summary:

A search on “East Africa” between 4 August 1914 and 30 June 1919 gives 603 results, the first 4 August 1914 and the last 27 June 1919. I went to June 1919 because that seems to be the latest awards relating to the war were made. There might still be a few later mentions and then again no doubt for the peace talks.

While the start of the Gazette for 4 August 1914 explained what was happening about the outbreak of war, on page 11 following action by 3KAR around Lake Rudolf in April 1913, Lieutenant William Lloyd Jones was awarded the DSO. This was followed by Jones’ report on the action. There was also a summary of cotton sales for Egypt, East and West Africa.

14 August 1914 – company liquidation

11 September 1914 – cotton statistics

22 September 1914 – cotton statistics, BSAP promotion, Sudan and West African deceased effects, notice of an intended dividend

13 October 1914 – SA Prize court, army appointments, telegraph info, cotton statistics, company legal notices

16 October 1914 – prohibition of sugar exports from BEAP and West Africa

20 October 1914 – prohibition of sugar exports, West African deceased effects, cotton statistics

27 October 1914 – vessels detained/captured – Praesident in the Lindi River, GEA; company notices, cotton statistics

10 November 1914 – company notices, cotton statistics

13 November 1914 – sugar export prohibition, company notices

1 December 1914 – change in status of British possessions Companies Act, prize courts, cotton statistics

11 December 1914 – Ainsworth appointment to BEAP legislature, closing of ports, bullion and specie export accounts

22 December 1914 – military appointments, cotton statistics

8 January 1915 – company notices

12 January 1915 – land allocation in Swaziland, cotton statistics and company notices

5 February 1915 – Arms exports, company notices

16 February 1915 – EAP loan, cotton statistics

18 February 1915 supplement EL Musson MC citation (Uganda; 4 KAR)

23 February 1915 & supplement – EAP loan, cotton statistics, company notices

9 March 1915, company notices, cotton statistics, estate notice for Capt John O’Hara Moore (Royal Engineers) previously of Roberts Heights on 28 December 1914

12 March 1915 – Prize Court Heinz; HJM Buist (RAMC) appointment in SA

16 March 1915 – company notices, cotton statistics, Estate and Dividend payment notices

23 March 1915 – promotion (UDF/Worcester Rgt), company notices, Estate of George Smith Booth Grey (HM Prisons Nigeria) drowned Duala 21 October 1914

2 April 1915 – company notices, Estate notice

10 April 1915 – Victoria Cross award Henry Peel Ritchie (RN)

23 April 1915 – company notice

27 April 1915 – Uganda Railway/EAP Executive Council, cotton statistics, company notice

30 April 1915 – Estate notices, bullion info

4 May 1915 – Naturalisation Reyersbach, cotton statistics, company notices

14 May 1915 – company notices

18 May 1915 – USA Consul at Mombasa; military appointments

28 May 1915 – military promotions/appointments, company notices, change of name Albrecht to Albright

3 June 1915 supplement – Awards KCMG, CMG, DCMs for Tanga and Longido actions (November 1914)

8 June 1915 – legislation, Cotton statistics, promotion WAFF, cotton statistics, company notices

29 June 1915 – MC for Karonga action, cotton statistics, dividend notices

6 August 1915 – Bullion info, estate notices

11 August 1915 – military appointment (Cheetham, SA Force)

13 August 1915 – legislation, Edward Medal award 1913 action, bullion and specie notice

27 August 1915 – military appointment, legislation, company notices, dividend payments

6 September 1915 – DCM awards for East and West Africa actions

17 September 1915 – military appointment, bullion notice, company notices

20 September 1915 supplement – military appointment

1 October 1915 – promotions, unclaimed navy pay; EAP Loan

8, 9 & 12 October 1915 – appointments, company notices, cotton statistics, bullion notice

15 October 1915 – legislation, appointments, change of name – Haupt/Hope

19 October 1915 – appointments, EAP loan, cotton statistics

22 October 1915 – company notices

25, 26 October 1915 – appointments, obituary for CG Salmon (France/Nairobi)

2 November 1915 – appointments

9, 10, 12 November 1915 – company notices – EAP loan, Trading with the enemy in PEA, West Africa company notice, death notice not war related

16 November 1915 – Memorandum: Officers of the Union of South Africa Permanent Defence Force serving in the Oversea Contingent will rank with Officers of the Regular Army according to the dates of their commissions in that Force. appointment, EAP loan

23 November 1915 – EA & WA appointments; EAP loan

29 November 1915 – DCM EA action;

30 November 1915 – deceased soldier effects, EAP loan, obituary (not war related)

7 December 1915 – WAFF appointments, ex-SA appointment; EAP loan, obituary (not war related)

16 December 1915 – 3 rank changes EAP, WA

20 December 1915 – East Africa temporary rank appointments (numerous; including Northey promotion to Colonel)

21 December 1915 – EAP loan

23 December 1915 – appointments
23 December 1915 – Supplement – Awards (Dartnell)

28 December 1915 – appointments, EAP loan

Africans in Europe during the 14-18 war

That colonial forces of all colours served, to various degrees, in Europe during World War 1 is fairly well known. The French Tirailleurs, the white South Africans and SANLC on the Western Front. What is less well-known are accounts of black and Arab Africans who found themselves in Europe and Britain on the outbreak of war.

Four from British territories served in the armed forces – two from West Africa, one Zambian (Samson Jackson) and one Malawian (Frederick Njilima). There may well be others who still need to be identified. And also in the other European territories.

So it was with some intrigue that I approached Mtoro bin Mwinyi Bakari: Swahili Lecturer and Author in Germany by Ludger Wimmelbücker published in 2008. Ludger gives an overview of Mtora’s time in Germany, also mentioning two other East Africans: Mdachi bin Sharifu and Halidi bin Kirama. While Mtora refrained from political involvement, the other two did not. It also appears that the latter two were employed by the German colonial office during the war while Mtora had to fend for himself, especially after being returned from East Africa after eight days in 1914.

We discover more Africans in Europe in the prisoner of war records as Annette Hoffman explained in 2017. They came to be there for a variety of reasons. Some were serving in merchant ships which were captured, such as Ntwanambi who was taken prisoner in October 1915 when the ship he was serving on as a boilermaker was captured. Others were taken prisoner whilst working on the war front as hinted at in the article. Sadly, these records were destroyed years ago, and as one commentator points out, we are reliant on the information coming to light in other recorded forms such as diaries, and non-military records.

The records from the Half Moon Camp in Wunsdorf, where many recordings were done are proving a valuable source on this front, but only where the information has been accessed, translated, interpreted and presented in (academic) publications by researchers with specific music or other specialised interests.

Mebos and Biltong Fund

This is the heading of a SA Railways and Harbours article from September 1916. The Magazine Committee were looking to send gifts of Mebos and Biltong to their staff serving in East Africa and Overseas. They were expecting to send 4,000 parcels at a cost of 2/6. 6p was also known as a ‘tanner’ and a shilling was a bob (more on old currency here) – the purchasing power of 2/6 in 2017 was approximately £7.37 according to the currency converter. £1 in 1916 was the equivalent of £89.23 today.

A recent visit to a South African shop in Hertfordshire revealed 1kg of biltong cost £42 and a 250g bar of mebos is £6.50. I wonder therefore how much biltong and mebos SA Harbours and Railways expected to send to their ‘boys’. Perhaps the items were cheaper in 1916 due to production costs and the greater prevalence of home industry. And there are the shipping costs which someone would have had to account for.

While biltong is pretty well-known, similar to beef jerky, mebos is less so. It’s made of apricots soaked in salt and then dried and coated with sugar (see recipe). The one item missing is the South African rusk (according to wikipedia, there are a wide range of country specific varieties).

The other burning question is how many of these parcels actually got sent and how many arrived in intact? I imagine those heading to the Western Front arrived with their intended recipient, but am not so sure of those headed to East Africa given some of the accounts one reads of food parcels not arriving or being tampered with.

I presume we won’t know the answers to these questions – I’ll let you know if I discover a report on the matter. But what this little advert does go to show is that staff/colleagues were being thought of.

The December 1916 edition tells us what the men received: 1lb Mebos and dried fruit; 1lb biltong; 1 sprig of heather; 1 bag of comforts from the Ladies Committee. The parcels for Europe were being sent care of WP Schreiner. Regarding East Africa, it was recognised that transport difficulties were ‘so great that there is little likelihood of parcels (if sent) reaching the men in time for Christmas, if at all’ so that the funds which would have been spent on them will be kept until they return.

And if you’re into railway history – the SA Railways and Harbours Magazines for 1916-1918 are all on line and contain an amazing eclectic collection of articles on railways around the world, and during the war.