The battle for Tanga fought between 2 and 5 November 1914 is often referred to as the Battle of the Bees as so many were stung by bees who had been disturbed by the firing. The British/Indian forces believed the Germans had set the bees to attack them specifically, Francis Brett Young in Marching on Tanga writing ‘a man who had fought at Tanga […] told me how the outlying bush through which our men had passed had been full of these hives, and how the Germans had snared the pathways of the wood with cords which set them in motion, so that when our attack began the hives were roused, and the wild bees swarmed in their millions, doing more damage to one Indian regiment than the German maxims.’ (p57 in Arthur Loveridge’s Many happy days I’ve squandered). The German commander, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was amused at belief, as his men had suffered just as much from the angry bees as the British forces.
Bees seem to have played a fair part in this war, Loverage recounts that they were caught up in an attack by bees just outside Moshi where he was asked by Lieutenant Tryon to remove ‘a sting from just below his eye’ and that ‘these forceps were in great demand for the rest of day’ removing stings. Because ‘so many men were bung-eyed we remained under some nearby trees [near the German lines] until next morning.’ Loveridge goes on to explain how the African bee differs to the an English wasp. What triggered this attack remains unknown. On another occasion he recalled an Indian in Handeni being killed by bee stings in an isolated attack.
David Bee in his novel The Curse of Magira: A novel of German East Africa and Tanganyika refers to bee attacks in the southern theatre of the campaign. I wonder how many other bee attacks there were which were never written about or which feature in a lone diary – it’s not quite the same admitting that you’ve been defeated by bees as opposed to an enemy’s fire.
Similarly, Loveridge talks about the danger ants proved to the unwary – In a gruesome but fascinating account he describes how they killed a baby crocodile, amongst other creatures. This is not something you come across in many diaries at all. Spiders and scorpions get more of mention than ants – the former two creatures featuring regularly in Campbell’s East Africa by motor lorry.
Apart from the bees at Tanga, the next creature to share the limelight, is the tsetse fly which resulted in sleeping sickness. Loveridge doesn’t spend as much time on this creature as he does on others – perhaps because they feature in so many other accounts with such devastating impact on horse and cattle. A fly does get a mention in comparison with bees. ‘A cloud of flies […] had plastered the plugs and other parts of his [Ford Jigger] with their glutinous egg-masses’ to the extent that he couldn’t start his car. And talking of jiggers, these creatures get some rather unusual mentions when compared with other diaries – jiggers below the eye and in the ear because of men sleeping on the ground. This is definitely not for the feint-hearted if you’ve ever seen photos of jigger infestations. The anopheles mosquito which caused Malaria is all but glossed over by Loveridge, although he did suffer its effects.
It seems to be that our best understanding of the role insects played in rendering the campaign in East Africa one against nature is found in the memoirs of entomologists and doctors who either studied the creature for scientific purposes or the consequences of its attack on man and beast. Norman Jewell for example considers tick bite fever and Dr Max Taute was a sleeping sickness expert. More will no doubt come to light as the GWAA medical project develops.