It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally worked my way through the three books John Masters wrote on World War 1. The series, Loss of Eden, was recommended to me by a friend from Tanzania despite there being little mention of the African campaigns. It was suggested that I ‘just have to read’ the books if I claim to be a specialist on World War 1.
I can’t say I was absolutely taken with the books, but thought them well constructed and written with a huge focus on social Britain and some of the big political issues of the day. For this the author needs to be commended. And to his credit, there was some mention of the conflict in Africa and these, although scarce, provide valuable insight into how people of the time saw the campaign.
Book 1: Now, God be thanked (1979), has five mentions of Africa in the war.
A white Kenyan enlists and serves in a traditional British regiment on the Western Front. His uncouth habits and behaviours being alien to those he serves alongside.
Two mentions of Smith-Dorrien having been sent to command East Africa having been sidelined on the Western Front, a move the author thinks was a mistake.
One comment about the Konigsberg having been sunk in the Rufigi Delta as part of the navy’s successes and one comment about fighting still continuing in Africa.
What is interesting is that when there is a discussion on the various theatres of the war, Africa is not included. It is almost as though this peripheral war will have no bearing on what happens in Europe at all. For those of us who study the campaign, this is not surprising, but what is noticeable is that the theatre is also not a drain on the activities in Europe and Mesopotamia. It’s as though what is happening in Africa is in complete isolation to the rest of the war. But yet, Masters feels it is included, otherwise he would not have had these five passing mentions.
Book 2: Heart of War (1980) focuses on 1916, and has two mentions of Africa.
Page one includes a reference to the war in the Africa theatre still continuing, whilst on around page 300 there is a newspaper summary dated 2 December 1916 reporting on the capture of Tabora and actions near Iringa from 19 October.
Book 3: By the Green of Spring (1981) brings the war to an end and takes us to the end of 1919. However, despite there being mention of the Indian troops being involved in the war, there is no mention of them at all in relation to their work in Africa. In fact, in this final volume, Africa does not feature – nothing about the war continuing after the armistice in Europe being concluded, nor anything to do with the peace discussions – the focus there being more on relations with the United States of America. As one of the leading characters points out in the book, the world was starting to import ideas and it would be good for those in Britain to see what was happening outside – that the focus was on the indigenous Indians in the USA and trade unions becoming ‘bolshie’ provides a clear indication of where Britain and the other leading power’s considered important – and it wasn’t Africa.