Matchbox full of diamonds

Matchboxes are wonderful things. You can build towers and other buildings with them and once the matches inside have been removed, they can be used for storing all sorts of things – tiny things. Someone’s even created a museum of matchboxes.

David Kramer, a South African musical social commentator has a song with the same title as this blog. In the song, he tells the story of men who leave the mines in South West Africa (now Namibia) with diamonds hidden in matchboxes. No doubt these diamonds are later sold in the illegal markets for additional income.

Diamonds in Namibia were discovered in the years preceeding the outbreak of World War 1 and as a result of what today could be regarded as insider trading, but then looking out for national interests, the MP Hull set in motion the formation of Anglo-American which was to obtain the rights to these mines soon after South African received the German colony as a C-type Mandate at the Treaty of Versailles. It was in the setting up of Anglo-American that Sir Ernest Oppenheimer was invited by Deputy Prime Minister Jan Smuts to be an observer at the Peace Talks.

At the outbreak of war, there were 1500 Coloured South African citizens working in German territory who had to be brought back to the Union. They had presumably been working either on the mines or on farms. The difficulty they faced was that the German bank notes they’d been paid with were not accepted by South African banks. This was because the banks weren’t sure whether they would recoup the money from Germany. The Government had to step in and help make decisions to ensure these men were fairly compensated.

And here’s a place you can go and get your own diamonds: Diamond Crater

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Review: The First World War in Namibia 1914-1915 by Gordon McGregor & Mannfred Goldbeck

Many regard the East Africa campaign as the ‘forgotten’ campaign. Relatively speaking, it is no longer forgotten. And in any event there are other more forgotten, if that is possible, or rather ‘ignored’ or ‘invisible’ campaigns. Here, I think of Cameroon and Togo, the Senusi in Egypt and German South West Africa (today’s Namibia).

That South African forces captured GSWA in what is, mistakenly, believed to be the first Allied victory of the war completed in six months, is generally well known. So much so, that scholars do not think there is any reason to revisit the theatre as they do East Africa leading to my reference to it as the ‘Done’ campaign at the recent SCOLMA conference.

However, a few of us know differently and none more so than people who reside or have lived in Namibia. This is leading to more becoming known about this ‘little’ campaign which will hopefully inspire more detailed research to be undertaken.

After some struggles with South African post, I finally got a copy of Gordon McGregor and Mannfred Goldbeck’s The First World War in Namibia, 1914-1915 (published by Gondwana History in 2014).

This is a slim book, and as with James Stejskal’s Horns of the Beast has numerous photos from the Namibia Archive. Of particular note is the Battle Calendar of the campaign from mobilisation to the surrender of the German forces at Kilometre 500 and a chronology of the war as it affected Namibia. The bibliography, whilst using various known texts in South Africa lists some less well-known German and Namibian publications. Disappointing, however, is a reference to Wikipedia – various articles (not listed). Whilst it’s important to list all sources used, the inclusion of Wikipedia in the Bibliography confirmed that there is not much new in this overview of the First World War in Namibia.

The value of this little publication is that it takes a holistic approach to the campaign – this in my experience is unusual. It covers the SA Rebellion of 1914 (no account of the GSWA campaign can exclude that) but more significantly it covers the role of the Rehoboth at various stages, the Cameroon company and Vrei Korps (SA forces which fought on the German side). Logistics too are covered in terms of a chapter on animals and another on insignia/badges provides insight into how the territory operated once cut off from the motherland.

I’m sure this is a little book I’m going to be dipping into a fair bit as I continue investigating the chaos of SA going to war (unlike that of Adam Cruise’s Louis Botha’s War).

Details on how to obtain a copy are on the Great War in Africa Forum