Pankhurst and Ethiopia

Some time ago I met a researcher working on Ethiopia who happened to mention a Pankhurst had links with that country. Then this came through, so I thought I’d dig a little more:

In 2016, the BBC reported on Sylvia Pankhurst becoming an honorary Ethiopian and in 2018 the LSE wrote an update. Martin Kettle provides some insight into how her reputation has been perceived over the years. You can see more about her here.

Her son Richard stayed in Ethiopia and became a historian of the country. He died in 2017, aged 89. He shed some light on her involvement in the Spanish Civil War, which Laurie Lee was also involved inor not – and wrote about in A Moment of War Listen to him on television in 1975 (16mins).

The Suffragettes and Suffragists have been on my radar for some time, not because of women’s rights but because of Kitchener – he met Millicent Fawcett whilst in South Africa to discuss the concentration camps and then in 1914 his niece Fanny Parker was arrested for trying to blow up Robbie Burns’ house in Scotland. She was later awarded an OBE for her wartime service having been granted amnesty for her 1914 actions in exchange for taking up war work.


Wide-awake hats, knickerbockers and sandals

Working through the East Africa General Routine Orders (GRO) for 1916 at The National Archives, I spotted a reference to ‘one wide awake hat’ – never having heard of a hat being awake, I thought it required investigating… here’s what I found

Also known as a Quaker hat or a wide-brimmed hat and it’s similar to what we refer to as a safari hat – well an old-fashioned one. There are modern day equivalents, not quite wide-awake but based on the same principle. And for variation, here’s an 1860s USA one.

Why it’s called a ‘wide-awake hat’ is explained here – it has no ‘nap’!

It also features in a few African related novels and histories: The Apostle of South Africa by Adalbert Ludwig Balling, 2015; A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion: Sources and contexts for Pynchon’s novel by Steven C. Weisenburger, 2011; James Hannington of East Africa – Bishop Martyred for Africa by Charles D. Michael, reprint on 1920 book; Across Africa vol 2 by Verney Lovett Cameron, reprint of 1877 journey.

So, in what context was it used in the GRO?

It featured on 17 April 1916 in GRO 263 regarding the Scale of Clothing to be issued, referring back to 4 April orders.

‘one “Wide-awake” hat per Cape Boy is authorised’, along with ‘1 pair of sandals for Nandi Scouts, Zanzibar African Rifles and Baganda Rifles’ and for Indian troops and followers – item 1 ‘Jackets, khaki, may be issued in lieu for Indian Officers and Civilian subordinates’
Item 20 – ‘or Knickerbockers in lieu’

Well, we now know about the wide-awak hat, but knickerbockers?

Wikipedia helps on that front to an extent, but the link to the Indian army and India is still obscure, although this image suggests the men might well be wearing knickerbockers tucked into their puttees and also the West Indian Regiment. And a collection in New Zealand has a pair dating to 1916 manufactured in India.

I wonder what the sandals were made of then? Today, the Masai and others tend to use old car tyres. Alas, no picture, although they may well have been similar to sandals Gandhi wore, but this article tells of the company which manufactured African sandals during the war and raises more questions: mosquito boots! and they’re required urgently for East Africa!

Who would have thought that a small mention in a GRO would lead to a lesson in fashion…

Walther Dobbertin raises questions

Walther Dobbertin was a German photographer who spent time in East Africa before and during World War 1. Many of the photos we know of German askari were taken by Dobbertin.

Suprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be a biography of Walther. He was born in 1882, emigrated to German East Africa in 1903, served with the German army in East Africa during World War One until his capture in 1916. After being released as a prisoner of war, he returned to Germany where he died in 1961. There is a lovely photo of him here.

What I find intriguing though, is that many of his war photos are dated 10/4/1918. I discovered this when completing the book Zambia: The end of the Great War in Africa 1918-2018. We were, and still are, trying to identify the British officer in a photo with von Lettow-Vorbeck and Georg Kraut. This particular photo is marked March 1918, although the commons licence notes March 1919, and to the credit of the Bundesarchiv, it does not identify the photographer.

The photo and date pose some challenges:

– in March 1918, von Lettow Vorbeck was in Portuguese East Africa, so highly unlikely he’d be posing in a relaxed photo with a British staff officer.
– it is most likely this photo was taken after the surrender/laying down of arms once the German officers had arrived in Dar es Salaam which places is between December 1918 and 5 February 1919. At this time, Dobbertin was in a prisoner of war camp somewhere having been taken prisoner in 1916.

The conclusion here is that someone other than Dobbertin must have taken this photo, a British soldier who gave a copy to von Lettow-Vorbeck? This seems the most likely explanation for how this got into the Bundesarchiv.

But what about the other photos Dobbertin took which are dated 4/1918? eg 1, 2, 3

  • Was Dobbertin part of a prisoner exchange which saw him return to Germany earlier than post-war?
  • Was he allowed to send his wife all these photos or negatives whilst a prisoner? Surely the British authorities would have wanted to see the photos themselves and possibly kept a copy – are these hidden away in an archive or private collection somwhere?
  • Did Dobbertin manage to give the negatives to one of the captains of a blockade runner who then was able to return to Germany via Portuguese East Africa?
  • Are these the dates the negatives were developed by Dobbertin in his prison camp, which were then later adopted by the Bundesarchiv when it catalogued the collection? eg 2 looks like it was taken at Tanga in 1914

Other questions which then come to mind:

  • Did Dobbertin only take photos for his own pursposes? or
  • were any of his photos used for intelligence purposes such as those taken by Cherry Kearton?

From the sample of photos available on the internet, it appears that none were taken for intelligence purposes, which begs the question, why?
And then, the German photos referred to in the Bohill collection at Hendon RAF Archive – who were they taken by? And what did they consist of? And where are they now?

A sample of Dobbertin’s photos was published in 1932, since reprinted, but with the advent of the internet, many can be found online thanks to the Bundesarchiv’s accessibility policy.

Perhaps one day someone will consider investigating this man who has provided us with a fascinating collection of photos from the German colonial period in East Africa.




I was so taken with this blog that I had to share it – the connection with Africa being that Indians served in Africa during World War 1 and that Kitchener and Barrow (mentioned in the blog) were at loggerheads determining where the Indian troops in 1914 were to go: Europe or Africa…

My initial reactions were mixed: from ‘the poor chaps – having to have their holidays organised and overseen when they’re about to become officers in the British Army’ to ‘it makes sense – London can be a big and frightful city, a guide would be helpful.’ Another interpretation is paternalism – in those days, it was believed that men from the colonies, especially men who were not white, needed looking after, but contrast this with 1963, when African officer cadets were being looked after by the KAR Club during the holidays – little had changed from 1920, to more recent personal visitors one might have, irrespective of background, from places which were previously colonies: how different has been all the guidance and offers to accompany them to certain places? I recently overheard a tube station employee advise a couple of white elderly ladies about how to keep safe at the station they were getting directions to – in the East End of London.

Another thought which crossed my mind is how many, if any, Indians who served in Africa during the war, were sent to Sandhurst in 1920 to train as officers? I hadn’t realised Indians were admitted to Sandhurst so early on. When were black Africans first admitted? A video from 1962 shows some Rhodesians on a junior leadership course, as does TJ Lovering, while Timothy Parsons (p174) has a date of 1957. It looks like more digging will be needed to answer these questions – and that will have to wait for another day, including more on Edmund Barrow. It looks like Sarah Stockwell might have some of the answers in The British End of the British Empire.

Sandhurst today is home to a memorial for the King’s African Rifles.

Talking at cross purposes

Out in Zambia for the end of war commemorations, local words were used with the assumption that all knew the meaning. Using powers of deduction and context one could generally do so but it was not always possible. The most notable being the word for the whip made of hippo hide. So I thought I’d share some – always helpful to historians and researchers of WW1 Africa…

Let’s start with the hippo hide whip:

  • Kiboko – Swahili
  • Khourbash or Shaaburg – Arabic / Soudanese
  • Shikote – Bemba
  • Sjambok, pronounced shambock – South African English/Afrikaans
  • Imvubu – Zulu
  • Mnigolo – Mandinka
  • Chicote – Portuguese Africa and Congo
  • Fimbo – Belgian Congo

Probably the most well known word, Safari which is journey in Swahili translates to Ulendo in Malawian Chichewa. The Peace Corps have helpfully provided a list of 12 commonly used words in Malawi – I recognised a few with my smattering of Swahili and other languages. I leave you to discover what you recognise.

And then that most wonderful of African trees, the Baobab, which I discovered in Sandes’ book on the Royal Engineers in Egypt and the Sudan is called the Tebaldi. Sandes explains on p336 (96MB) how the tree was used to obtain water in desert terrain. Apparently there are 9 varieties of Baobab – you live and learn. In Swahili, it is the Mbuyu and in Yoruba, the Oshe. It’s ‘monkey bread’ fruit is also proving something of a fad. Apart from being a water storage facility, in the early phase of the East African campaign of 1914/5, a baobab in Tsavo was used to house a sniper, apparently a woman, who took potshots at those trying to sneak up on Salaita Hill. And then just as you think you’ve grasped where Mbuyuni is, thinking it’s in Tsavo, you discover there are numerous places called Mbuyuni throughout East Africa – it simply translates as ‘Place of the Baobab’.

Which leads to the different names settlements had during World War 1 – local, English and German. A list of some of these can be found on the Great War in Africa, In Memory list for East Africa.

So to prevent any miscommunication and talking at cross purposes, it’s worth discovering the multiple words used for the same thing if you’re working with different cultural groups or micro-nations. My mind is reelling at the thought of having to juggle 177 different words for one item – 177 is the number of micro-nations I estimate participated in the East Africa campaign of WW1- but thankfully a number spoke the same language and regional langauges such as Swahili and Fanagalo were developed.



South Africans in WW1 Egypt

At last, some dates have been discovered…most texts referring to the white South African contingent which served in Europe make vague references to the unit having been diverted to Egypt before participating in the battle of Delville Wood. Few specify dates. Working through EWC Sandes’ book on the Royal Engineers in Egypt and Sudan (94MB), I made some discoveries on pages 330-332 which I share below, along with a few other snippets.

Having completed the campaign in German South West Africa on 9 July 1915, white South African forces were demobilised by the end of August except for those remaining to garrison the German territory. Those demobilised were free to join another contigent. Some went Britain direct to enlist with regiments there, others waited to see what materialised in East Africa having heard rumour that action there was afoot, and others enlisted in the white South African contingent under Henry Timson Lukin to serve in Europe as Imperial trooops, paid for by Britain. On route, the contingent was diverted to Egypt to help contain the Senussi who were using the opportunity to assert their independence.

On 4 February 1916, Lukin and his brigade arrived at Mutrah. The whole force was under command of Major-General WE Peyton who took over from General Wallace on 10 February. Lukin with a column of 4 squadrons, 3 battalions and a battery set out and on 26 February defeated the Senussi at Agagir, 14 miles south-east of El Barrani. In this they were supported by the Dorset Yeomanry. El Barrani was occupied the next day. By 14 Marc,h, Sollum was occupied and Captain Gwatkin-Williams and 90 others of HMS Tara were released from the Senussi and the returned to Alexandria and the white South Africans continued to England

The white South Africans continued to England where they joined the 9th Scottish Division in Europe by 23 April. They remained in reserve until called on to defend Delville Wood on14 and 15 July 1916.

Later, in 1918, after serving in East Africa, coloured South Africans served with the Cape Corps in Palestine. On route, this Corps arrived in Egypt in April 1918 for two months’ training after which they the British 160th Brigade which formed part of the 53rd Welsh Division. On 18 September they participated in the Battle for Square Hill. They were withrawn to Alexandria until September 1919 when they returned to South Africa.


Companion of the Imperial Service Order

Editing a book recently, I discovered the award Companion of the Imperial Service Order. It was done away with during John Major’s time as Prime Minister, 1993, although the London Gazette of 11 January 2019 lists the award and its order of significance and in 2018 there were a few people who received the Imperial Service Medal – you’re not alone if you’re now confused…

Here are some people who received the Companion, but it was Maurice Gallagher who led me to this award, a man who had served in East Africa during World War 1 where he obtained the Distinguished Service Order for his work on the Uganda Railway. Having survived the Great War, he retired in 1923 and remained in Kenya where he died on 1 October 1926. A year later, his widow appealed to the Kenya National Assembly for a compassionate pension – the debate highlighting some of the financial challenges pensioners and others faced at the time. Intriguingly, in the discussion about whether to award his wife a pension or not, the award of the Imperial Service Order did not feature whilst his DSO did – at least in the heading.

An overview of British civil honours and those currently available was compiled in 2001 whilst the Military awards are overseen by the Ministry of Defence, and specifically here for World War 1 gallantry and bravery awards.