Novelist: Christen P Christensen

Finding out anything about this Danish author, Christen P Christensen is a real challenge. The personal information below requires confirmation as it might well apply to another person.

1904 – Born 24 December
1962 – Died 8 May, buried in Bregninge Cemetery, Syddanmark, Denmark

Books on WW1 Africa

Kock, Nis: Sønderjyder forsvarer Østafrika (1937)
Nordschleswiger verteidigen Deutsch-Ostafrica; Bericht uber die Fahrt des Blockadebrechers, Kronborg, und das Schicksal seiner Mannschaft in Deutsch-Ostafrike 1914-1918 (1938)
Blockade and Jungle: From the letters and diaries etc of Nis Kock (1940)

Sources
https://denstorekrig1914-1918.dk/11-april-1915-er-blokadebryderen-ss-kronborg-opdaget-af-englaenderne/Review
https://thesamsonsedhistorian.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/review-blockade-and-jungle-by-christen-p-christensen/
Bjarne Bendtsen in There came a Time
Find a Grave

Civil Servants in War

Samuel Prempeh in his thesis on The Basel and Bremen missions and their successors in the Gold Coast and Togoland, 1914-1926 : a study in Protestant missions and the First World War noted:

On 4 August 1914 the Administration had a European staff of 613 in the Colony and its dependencies but before the end of 1917 the staff capacity had been reduced to 531 of which no less than 91 were engaged in war service (24 were seconded for Togoland administration and 63 for military service with the Gold Coast Regiment). The largest reduction of staff necessitated similar reduction of major public works and the temporary suspension of other less important duties. Pressure of work partly accounted for lengthened periods of tours, sometimes for 18-24 months without leave…

The first impact of a 30 per cent reduction of staff was evidently the closure of a number of stations, even so heavier work and unbearable sacrifice characterised administrative life. Of the 613 officers no less than 223 served at one time or another in war service… Absence of officers and the Constabulary from the North made the maintenance of law and order a major problem…

This was not an issue which only affected the Gold Coast. Louis Botha banned enlistments and resignations from the South African civil service particularly in the Native Administration Department in order to ensure the basic functioning of state. Local councils made do as they could. Pietermaritzburg saw 107 municipal employees enlist in the war, 12 of whom died, and 15 were wounded. All widows and orphans, irrespective of background, were paid a war gratuity according to Julie Dyer. Interestingly, Pietermaritzburg saw a decrease in criminal arrests during the war years.

Others in East Africa, such as Oscar Watkins and John Anderson tended to take on more work including raising and managing the Carrier Corps whilst doctors such as Norman Parsons Jewell were responsible for military and civilian hospitals in areas such as Bukoba. Claude Oldfield, a District Administrator in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) combined his work with that of military service too.

There are many cases of the effect of civil servants joining the military if one looks, but also numerous on what was achieved by the few, including opportunities for some as I discovered in exploring the diversity of the East Africa campaign.

Review: White Hunters – Brian Herne

White Hunters: The Golden Age of African Safaris (1999) by Brian Herne is a useful book on background to hunters in East Africa.

Sadly, the chapter on World War 1 is rather inaccurate – Driscoll was not in East Africa as war broke out. He was in London. The 25th Royal Fusiliers were not the first of Kitchener’s Armies and the 26th Squadron was not the ‘army’s daredevil elite’. In short, Brian portrays a rather romantic view of the campaign. This is a pity as it contrasts with his more factual accounts of the hunters’ experiences. Also more hunters participated in the war than Brian acknowledges.

Herne acknowledges that the views of hunting today are not what they were 100+ years ago, some of these working to protect wildlife.

Cunninghame’s experience of being sent to the Western Front was indicative of the War Office to focus on that being the decisive theatre of the conflict. However, as the war in East Africa moved into the political spotlight as a potential bargaining tool, so more men were sent that way, especially with African experience.

Before the 26th Squadron arrived in East Africa, planes had been supplied by the RNAS.

Brian doesn’t say anything about hunters being used for intelligence, to lead carriers after or to even continue with hunting. Is this because information is scarce when compared with Mau Mau section. While Robert Ruark is mentioned earlier in the book when he went hunting, there is no mention of his book Uhuru on the Emergency, or as Luise White refers to it ‘the Kikuyu Civil War’.

In short, White Hunters gives an overview of hunting in Kenya and Tanzania – it’s a collection of recollections in rough chronological order rather than in-depth history of the hunters. To Brian’s credit, he covers hunters elsewhere in Africa providing they had a link with East Africa and also those who were not white but were professional hunters.

White Hunters shows how men moved between hunting and preservation, ending with the hunting ban in East Africa and a discussion concerning the poaching debate which touches on complexities through the Kenyan Emergency: loyal employees turning on employers, but also trackers putting their lives on the line to save a life. It purports to be an inclusive account covering geographic, gender, class, and culture but could have gone further on indigenous hunters – perhaps they were not classified ‘professional’? Some details need double checking but the book is a good place to start for background or overview of early East African white engagement with the wilds of Africa. Questions such as how relationships developed between hunter and tracker are no doubt yet to be written (or found), as well as the relationships between the hunters and wider communities – allusion is made only to a handful of professional hunters – what did they do the rest of the time? 

Review: Dr Abdullah Abdurahman – Martin Plaut

A biography on Dr Abdurahman has been a long time coming so it was with some keen anticipation that I was looking to get a copy of Dr Abdullah Abdurahman: South Africa’s First Elected Black Politician by Martin Plaut.

Abdurahman was one of the characters who has featured from quite early on in my research into South Africa’s involvement in the East Africa campaign of 1914-1918. Dr A was the man behind the formation of the Cape Corps which was to see two units serve in East Africa and later a contingent in Palestine. This in addition to the Cape Boys who provided labour in the various theatres where South Africans served. Dr A, leader of the African People’s Organisation, was a tenacious person – in a year he sent 32 letters to the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence encouraging them to employ the Cape Coloured in the war. Eventually writing to the Governor General, and a change in attitude to the war in Africa, the South African Union Government saw its way to recruit Cape Coloureds as Imperial troops. Martin touches on this but sadly from my perspective didn’t do more on Dr A and the Great War. Partly this is due to scarce material – finding out more about Dr A has been on my ‘to do’ list for 20+ years.

Martin’s book has therefore been welcome in putting the meat onto the bones of the man. This has been a challenge given the scarcity of material – as noted in the introduction, the late discovery of Dr A’s private papers yielded little as they were illegible. The focus of the book therefore falls into what has been available in the public domain resulting in a book which explores South Africa’s race relations and collaboration between cultural groups within South Africa, particularly those who were not white. This is a vital contribution in understanding or exploring the relationship between the ANC (formed 112 as the SANNC) and other political parties.

Apart from more on the First World War, there are two aspects of the book I felt a little challenged by – one being Dr A’s Muslim identity and the other the use of the term African. Dr A was a Muslim – his first wife, a Scot, was married under Islamic law in Britain. Martin mentions a second wife with no records being available. All indications are, given his continued relationship with Nellie, that his second marriage was also under Islamic law. This was acceptable in South Africa, although such marriages are still not legally accepted (despite the emphasis on human rights etc in the 1994 Constitution, 2000 legal comment; 2020 position). While perhaps not important for the question Martin was answering, for my work on WW1 in Africa, this is an important aspect. Research to date suggests that the rank and file enlisting in the Cape Corps had to renounce their Islamic faith – for dietary purposes. Yet, looking at medical registers of the time, patients note Islam under religion. How did they reconcile these positions? Dr A walked/lived life both as a Muslim and as a ‘Westerner’ achieving at the time what few others were able. How did he do this? What debates did he have with himself, friends, family etc in walking this tightrope of different cultures? And even more controversially at the time of the 1914 outbreak of war, how did he reconcile the British Empire being at war against the Ottoman Emperor of which by marriage he was linked? My quest continues… Few historians, if any, in South Africa are working on related topics making this a rich research field for anyone interested.

And then the term ‘African’. While Martin has gone some way to use terms interchangeably, namely black, Coloured, Indian, white, there is still an overwhelming tendency to refer to black South Africans as African. This is something I probably need to write a more considered paper on as the term (politically acceptable and promoted in Britain, the USA and Europe) encompasses so many cultural groups. The term Afrikaner translates to person of Africa aka African, the Coloured, Cape Coloured or Cape Malay (an accepted term in South Africa – interestingly even people born in the 1980s to mixed couples were officially registered as ‘Cape Coloured’) is African in origin culturally and ethnically. So while the term jars as a single group descriptor and gave me a roller-coaster of a read, Martin has gone some way to mediate the cultures he writes for and knows (South African and British) in mixing the terms.

I’ve noted the gaps above but these should not prevent you from exploring Dr Abdullah Abdurahman by Martin Plaut. A far greater window has been opened on the man which gave me the hook to explore Islamic marriages in SA (there are some very interesting legal papers on the issue for anyone interested in trawling the web). For anyone visiting Cape Town and District Six in particular, the book is definitely worth reading for background – and then visit the District Six Museum to experience some of the transformation of the area Dr A represented for so many years. A remarkable man with a remarkable wife and daughter to boot.

Correcting errors – Kitchener and Botha photograph

Typical, isn’t it…? One checks things and references appropriately, but there’s always a gremlin or two which creeps in to a book.
Although this one has been caught too late, ie the book has been published, it’s been picked up early enough in the book’s career and I’m not the only one to have missed it (recently Richard Steyn has the photo in his book on Smuts and it features in Rodney Atwood’s article on Kitchener in the Summer 2020 journal of the Victorian Military Society, Soldiers of the Queen.) Although with hindsight I should have listened to my gut – something just wasn’t right, but the title said it was what it was, the characters looked right …

Thankfully, Robin Smith who has a review of Kitchener: The Man not the Myth coming out in the next edition of the South African Military History Journal alerted me to the fact that the label on the photograph of Kitchener meeting with Louis Botha and the other Boer leaders was not at the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging but the earlier discussions in 1901. Annoyingly having searched on both these events, Robin’s write-up on the photograph on the SAHMS website did not come to light, and I’d not received my copy of the December 2019 copy of the SAMHS Journal by the time we were proofing Kitchener, so didn’t see this important article. The bottom line is my gut instinct was overridden through all the other experts who’d used the image.

In the article which Robin kindly sent me, he explains:

This is the original photo that appeared in “After Pretoria I” which was issued from 1901 until the war’s end in instalments. (A second volume “After Pretoria II” covered the last few months of the war). This is the original caption for the picture from After Pretoria I: “This reproduction has been made, by special and exclusive arrangement with Mr Barraud, the owner of the copyright, from the very fine guinea carbon print (size 15in by 12in) published by Messrs Mayall of 126 Piccadilly. The original negative was taken by permission of Lord Kitchener by Messrs Barraud and Pavey of Middelburg; it forms a unique record of a very interesting event. With their usual cunning some of the Boer leaders promulgated the report among their more ignorant followers that Lord Kitchener and his staff had been made prisoners by Botha and released only on parole, and they produced this photograph to prove their assertion.”

More on the individuals appearing in the photograph can be found in Robin’s article in the 2019 copy of the SAMHS Journal.

So, what was my gut saying? Robin’s extensive work on the 1899-1902 war resulted in him questioning the names attributed to individuals and having seen the photo in an early war publication was able to resolve the conundrum. I was wondering why the photo was so informal and the group so small given what I knew of the 1902 meeting and, more significantly, why Lord Milner was not present. Having been the British government’s representative at the May 1902 talks, he would have been the senior British figure present and with the tense relationship between Milner and Kitchener, I could not see Milner allowing such a photo to be taken without him being in it. Robin’s title fits more comfortably.

And finally, how did this slip through my pedantic checking of other facts? Well, simply, it’s a photo which is not my strong point to begin with and that annoying four-letter word – time. I’d left the images right to the end, and had it not been for the gentle cajoling of my editor, they probably would have been completely overlooked, if I’m honest. So thank you Chris – as both published reviewers to date have commented positively on the photos as have various readers who’ve told me so.

The lesson learnt: photos are important (thanks to all who have been reinforcing this point) and deserve as much time being interrogated as text does.

For anyone interested, an article by Robin’s including mention of the meeting between Kitchener and Botha et al can be found here, with some photos I hadn’t seen before of a later meeting by the Boer leaders.