One thing, 1903, leads to another…

or not… other than to be recorded in this post.

Looking up something completely unrelated other than having the year 1903 in common, I discovered this was the year South Africa adopted South African Standard Time which is 30 degrees east or two hours ahead of Greenwich. This was no doubt an outcome of the British having won the 1899-1902 war – 2nd Anglo-Boer or South African war, whichever you prefer. This led me to wonder what had been in place before 1903? Did each constituent territory have its own time which was different to its neighbour? If so, what determined this? If they were operating on different time zones, it raises interesting questions about railway schedules and even the expiration of ultimatums resulting in war… Today SA’s time varies to that of the UK by 1 hour in summer and 2 in winter as the UK changes its clocks but South Africa doesn’t. That one hour difference doesn’t seem to big a deal in the great scheme of things – until you want to phone someone.

***

From the same source, I also found these population figures rather interesting. ‘Coloured’ obviously being the inclusive term then for everyone who was not white. Does this mean there was a post-war census undertaken to obtain such specific (I hesitate to say accurate) figures for British South Africa? The size of the Cape vs Bechuanaland and GSWA is rather intriguing as are the population figures for Basutholand and Swaziland in particular. I wonder how these compare with the 1911 census figures? And how did Portugal manage to get figures? I’ve been struggling to find reliable data for how many locals from PEA served in the First World War, how many German businessmen were in the colony and and and… there must be official info lurking somewhere…

Population (1904).

Area in
sq. m.
White. Coloured. Total.
British South Africa:
Union of South Africa Cape of Good Hope 276,995 579,741 1,830,063 2,409,804
Natal (with Zululand) 35,371 97,109 1,011,645 1,108,754
Orange Free State 50,392 142,679 244,636 387,315
Transvaal 111,196 297,277 972,674 1,269,951
Southern Rhodesia 148,575 12,623 600,000¹ 612,623
Basutoland 10,293 895 347,953 348,848
Bechuanaland Protectorate 225,000¹ 1,004 119,772 120,776
Swaziland 6,536 898 84,586 85,484
Total British 864,358 1,132,226 5,211,329 6,343,555
German S.W. Africa 322,450 7,110² 200,000¹ 207,110
Portuguese East Africa (southern part of) 145,000¹ 10,000¹ 1,700,000¹ 1,710,000
Total South Africa 1,331,808 1,149,336 7,111,329 8,260,665

¹ Estimates.    ² 1907.

I decided to stop there as many researchers know, you can so easily get side-tracked. The relationship between territories and the peoples who constitute those territories form the basis of my research interest – trying to understand how they influence and impact on each other. Although this source isn’t the most reliable, it’s been tantalising enough to raise some questions which no doubt will be addressed more formally and with more credible sources at a later date.

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…

Lasts matter too

I was asked about this a little while ago in the context of Africa and WW1 and wrote about it in October 2018. In short, firsts allow the context of a situation to be set, they provide a point on the timeline that other events can be related to, but there is also the chance that the first is not the real first and in confirming what happened and when it did, other potentially valuable insights can come to light.

Similarly, lasts do the same. Specialists on the Western Front will be able, no doubt, to give the time of the last shot fired whether it was by rifle, machine gun, heavier artillery, unit and the last soldier killed will be known (Private George Ellison of the 5th Irish Lancers and George Price of the 28th Battalion Canadian Infantry). Answers will be dependent on the searcher’s context, eg American. And if you’re looking at Africa, each of the lasts meant something different depending on the area under discusion, with the final shots of the war fired on 13 November 1918 and the laying down of arms/surrender on 25 November 1918 in Abercorn.

As with the discussion on firsts, exploring lasts opens up the conflict in its diversity. It also necessitates clarification of terminology as fighting or rather civil war continued in Russia which withdrew from the Great War in 1917. Similarly, territories in Eastern Europe continued to experience conflict as different groups fought for their rights and independence. The lasts merge into something else.

Lasts, as with firsts, can give rise to myths, and ‘lessons’ – what is the significance between the first and last British soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict being buried 3 miles apart? In Africa, 1/4 King’s African Rifles from Uganda and the Northern Rhodesian Police, both involved from the outbreak of war, accepted the German arms in Zambia in November 1918 – what is not known (yet) is how many who started in 1914 were still there in 1918.

And then we have the veterans – as far as is known, there are no more veterans alive from the 1914-1918 war. There might still be a few alive who were born around the time but none who served. As the list grew smaller, historians and others became more aware of lost opportunities to find out first hand. (Last widow, Scottish) By all accounts this realisation has spurred families and researchers to capture accounts of minority groups who participated in World War 2 before they are lost forever. We might yet get a more comprehensive account of Africa’s involvement in WW2 Burma and other theatres than we so far have with WW1, as a result – I certainly hope so.

We’re yet to identify the last names in Africa – and probably never will. However, consideration of the task to do so allows other questions to be asked:

  • where is the line drawn? Where do those who died from influenza fit into the equation?
  • did the person still need to be enlisted to be counted as a war statistic?
  • where are the records? In the home country languishing in some basement? hidden amongst other papers in the old imperial archives?
  • how are those whose home front became a battle front fit accounted for?
  • was there a major sense of relief, sense of celebration linked with any of the cease fires in Africa or did life ‘go on’?

What is significant looking at diaries of the last days of those who served in East Africa, whether personal or official, is the lack of mention of the end of the war either on 11 November or the weeks after. Those who have tended to mention the date were directly impacted by the news such as officials managing the armistice and peace discussions, involved in the final fighting or some administrative/logistic role. This lack of mention prompts questions over how men got to learn of the end of the war and what it meant for them stuck out in the bush. The Commander in Chief, van Deventer was keen to get men home as quickly as possible, and later Jan Smuts and Louis Botha were putting pressure on Britain to get South Africans home fast – why?

And as a final consideration, lasts give an end, in the same way firsts give a start, in other words: periodisation…which in itself is useful and constraining, but that’s for another day.

 

 

Why remember?

I was asked this question at the 2018 Unisa conference on the legacy of World War 1 in Southern Africa. Specifically, the question had to do with why remember World War 1 and in particular those involved.

At heart, this is really asking ‘why remember the past?’ Simply put, our past made us who we are today, it’s part of our identity.

World War 1 was, for me, a pivotal point in our global past. It influenced, and still does, much of what we do today even if we aren’t aware of it. By remembering the individuals, their actions and the greater war we instil a better understanding of who we are and where we have come from.

I recall once (early 2000s) when I was teaching A Level History and Sociology, one of my white British students asked what British traditions there were. She was feeling rather left out with fellow students participating in Ramadan, Diwali, having foods or clothes they particularly associated with culturally, yet all seemed very comfortable socially in our diverse community. The other students had amalgamated British traditions into their own to the extent that what was traditionally British, was not seen as British. Once this was understood, my young thoughtful student felt able to engage with the others on a more level or equal footing.

More recently, the issue of British identity has come to the fore more overtly: Union Jacks flying where for years only the odd light had been placed at Christmas. I’m try hard not to read the alternative message being given to the ‘foreign’ shop owners in front of whose shops these flags had been placed. Whichever way one reads the placing of the Union Jack (which incidentally replaced the St George’s flag which appeared the Friday of St George’s Day), Britain is marking its identity and giving a message to Britons that they belong, they are important, they have a heritage. With this, I have no objection. As a foreigner-citizen in the UK, I have long felt that Britain hasn’t looked after itself. Its focus has been external to the detriment of itself. How often I hear ‘you can’t look after others unless you look after yourself’, ‘If you’re not well, how can you expect to look after xxx’. The same goes for a country. Britain’s external focus has resulted in more homeless children than for many a year, a drop in life expectancy and and and…

There’s a vacuum waiting to be filled as Britain redefines itself and creates a new identity. Remembering what was achieved socially and culturally during World War 1 with the support of Africans and other minorities, can only help create a Britain (or any other country identity) which feels inclusive and is tolerant of all.  As we bid farewell to 2018, my wish for 2019 is that through our shared humanity which crosses boundaries and divides of all kinds – we break down the growing silo identities and return to a state where all are welcomed, supported and united, simply, in being nice to each other. (And yes, I am an idealist at heart.)

Destroyed/Missing Archives

Proofreading a reprint edition of Cinderella’s Soldiers by Peter Charlton, it hit me that a number of archives concerning World War 1 in Africa have been damaged by fire or some other act of violence.

I thought is might therefore be helpful to collate what is known to date [August 2018]. Please let me know if you have other information to add.

  • Malawi (Nyasaland) – Zomba Secretariat suffered fire damage in 1919
  • Kenya (British East Africa) – the Nairobi archive burnt down in 1925
  • Britain – soldier records, mostly African, were destroyed in September 1940. What survives are known as ‘burnt documents
  • Nigeria – no national archive pre 1950 seems to exist. Current links

Belgian and German documents were removed to Russia at the end of the Second World War. The Belgian documents have since been returned and are in the Royal Military Archive, Brussels.
Do we know where the German documents are? Are they still in Russia or were they burnt/destroyed? I’ve heard both as explanations for why we cannot access German material on WW1 in Africa.

The GWAA has a list of archives together with access information as supplied by members.