Faith in Action

The basis of what follows is the introduction I gave at the MFest event for The Unknown Fallen on Allied Muslim involvement in World War 1.

I was told to ‘speak from the heart’, so I did, feeling a need to clear the air on a few matters.

Firstly, I recently watched an interview conducted by Yusuf Chambers and have to correct one point. He said it was the work of Allah who had brought us all together on this project. I disagree, it was God who guided me, but thankfully, God, Allah, Jehovah, Nkosi, Mungu are all names for the same being. Behind the differences, are many similarities – we need to scratch for them.

Secondly, this seems the perfect opportunity to say thank you to my students who helped me see the world differently. Time has erased many of their names from memory and due to data protection, I can’t refer back to notes I would have kept to remind me – I don’t envy the historians of the future. Significantly, back in November 2000, I was asked by two relocated Muslim brothers from the old City of Jerusalem what all the fighting was about. ‘We are all brothers and sisters’, they said, ‘all children of Abraham’. My world opened and I was to learn that Apartheid which I’d lived through and seen the end of was not just about colour. It extended to religion too and was really about economics and self preservation of specific groups. People who were not white or black, were likely to be Muslim or Hindu and they lived, as blacks and whites did, in separate spaces so we couldn’t mix although in my home town there was a Muslim Indian family who owned prime property in the city centre and who by decree of Boer Paul Kruger could not be moved even at the height of Apartheid – and they’re still there today. Lesson: don’t take things at face value.

Thirdly, I need to confess that had I come to The Unknown Fallen cold post-publication, it’s unlikely I would have bought the book. Why? It’s only on allied involvement, therefore biased. Islam is contentious within its own communities and more widely. Why, for example, am I told that the Aga Khan whom I understand, from the documents I’ve used, to be the Islamic leader in East Africa isn’t Muslim? And given the divide between north and sub-Sahara Africa, the latter would be ignored and left out, as it often has been in general overviews of the war published before 2014.

At a conference in June 2017, Luc, Vera and I met. The conference organised by Diversity House aimed to Break the Myths around World War 1 in Africa and as a result of my challenging a statement made about Britain being racist by not giving black porters shoes at the start of the war, I was invited to speak at an earlier event and invited back to this one. About three months later, Luc got in touch – I hadn’t put him off by my ranting about Africa being ignored in remembrance events in Britain and how Africa will remember its involvement if Britain gives due regard to the sacrifices its Empire made. For Africa, World War 1 was just another war in a string of many, this one differed in length and that now black men were instructed to shoot and kill white men.

Luc wanted information on Muslim involvement in sub-Sahara Africa during World War 1. Thankfully I’d been working on the topic for a journal article. The challenge was I couldn’t use the same material for copyright reasons and as I didn’t know when the article was being published, couldn’t cross-reference it. As it turned out, the article wasn’t published as I refused to discuss how the campaign in East Africa had influenced the development of Islam and I had stated that the German Governor had declared a jihad. This was not possible, I was told, as he had no authority. I couldn’t argue – Islam is not my specialism; World War 1 Africa based on documentary evidence is.

But isn’t life amazing? The day I met with Luc and Vera to discuss my contribution, researching at the British Library I came upon a telegram from the Muslim League of Southern Africa to the Governor General Lord Buxton. It expressed sympathy on the loss of his only son and gave reassurance that the Muslim community was fully behind the British war effort. There was the new information I required which could be built on.  But that was not enough.

Over the years, I have learnt to check assumptions and to do so carefully. For this I have my phd supervisors to thank. I challenged the view of Lord Kitchener which they would only accept with documentary evidence, which I found. What a pity he hadn’t been allowed to return to Egypt at the start of the war, although I also believe he was the best man to head Britain’s war effort but that’s all for another day. Lesson: Dig down, till you find the truth.

So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered the Cape Corps, comprising Cape Coloureds, were not Muslim. How did I get to that assumption? Dr Abdurahman of the African People’s Organisation had written something like 32 letters offering to raise a contingent of 500 Cape Corps for service in the war, and he was Muslim. Documentary evidence though pointed out that the Cape Corps was Christian – important for dietary provisioning. So, I learned only last year (2017) of the difference between the Cape Coloured and the Cape Malay – people of my own country. I now wonder how many Muslims renounced their faith in name to serve in the two Cape Corps. There’s no mention in the white officers’ memoirs of the two corps of any religious differences, or of religion being mentioned at all that I’m aware of.

In fact, the absence of any mention of religion in most memoirs suggests it was not an issue – remarkable when you know that the majority of Indian, Arab and black troops were likely to be Muslim based on where they were recruited from – tribes or micronations along the African coast and slave routes. We know there were Christians, Hindus,  Sikhs, men of Jewish faith and ‘pagan’ as they were referred to then, all serving together with Muslims – all suffering together from ration shortages and surviving on what got through and was scavenged. Yet, no one mentions religious requirements, and neither do they feature in the ration allocations recorded in the Pike report into medical conditions. In fact ration quotas are based on function and ethnicity, not religious.

Men served together, loyal to their commanding officer, the one who would ensure their safety and security, not ideals of right and wrong and this is why the jihad declared by the German Governor failed. Neither did his instructions to fly the crescent moon above the German bomas or forts attract British soldiers away from their fight. They had all confidence in their leaders. As a result, I had no issue writing about Muslim involvement on both sides of the war and had to have Luc explain the impact of doing so on the overall project. Entering the realms of politics would be messy – this together with the comments received on my article reconciled me to The Unknown Fallen being about the Allied involvement. We cannot run before we can walk and within one camp, that of the Allies, there is much to discover about the diversity of contribution and the humanity of man – that is mankind.

The book appears unbalanced. In all, there are at least 4 sections on Africa, three contributed by myself and I’m conscious I’ve not said anything today about West Africa – it’s in the book. Luc was addressing knowledge gaps, looking at what would entice people to become engaged. And it’s worked as I’ve subsequently been hearing from non-Muslim people I’ve introduced to the book.

We argued over the images which are meant to be ‘unique’ – I instantly recognised Juma, but none of Luc’s invisible (to me) experts had – everything was double and triple checked to ensure appropriateness of language and content. I’ve said on numerous occasions, this is the most thoroughly reviewed and rigorously checked book I know.

Now, looking at the book, it’s good to see Juma’s familiar face, those of the South African Native Labour Corps and the West African Frontier Force. It feels like home in some ways. But I’m constantly awed by the image of the Christian service taking place at the same time as Muslim prayers, the vast sky over Verdun and the regalness of some of the portraits.

Isn’t it sad though, that I felt I had to ask Luc to include a disclaimer that the original author was describing people as he saw them – with an artist’s eye – in admiration. I think he,  the artist, would be horrified to learn that what he’d written was seen as hurtful and derogatory by some today. We can’t apply today’s criteria to assessing the past. We need to understand the past as those who were there lived it and interpreted it – warts and all. Only in this way will we truly understand the sacrifices all made in their attempt to make our world slightly better.

It’s time to get rid of all this ‘colonial’ and ‘decolonising’ speak, recognising that the world view of Africans is different to that of Europeans and that within each group there are other differences. It undermines honest discussion of the war and its legacy. And I believe we have a lot to learn from Africa in this regard. There were no nationalist agendas impacting on the war in East Africa. Nationalist ideas came later evident in the Rwanda genocide,  Nigeria’s Biafran war, Idi Amin’s policies in Uganda and the current strife in Sudan amongst others. We can’t recreate the World War 1 context and in many ways I don’t think we want to, but I do believe we can learn a lot from how people worked together because of a common understanding and faith which was not nationalist or religious based, a situation where mankind realised the value of others because of who they were as individuals.*

I’m constantly reminded of this in my research and it’s what makes The Unknown Fallen a special book. It’s been, and remains, an honour. And I’m the proud owner of a copy of The Unknown Fallen – ask anyone who’s had to be subjected to me showing the book off.

Baraka Allahu fika (May God’s blessings be upon you). Shukran.

Reflecting on the talk, slightly changed above, and the huge interest the French instruction on Muslim burial received, I started thinking about the burials in Africa – I don’t know how many CWGC headstones there are representing the different religions, although we know there are cenotaphs for the Indian soldiers and Askari Monuments for the Carriers, Porters and local soldiers some of whom might have a headstone (if they were known to be of one of the major religions). So I did a simple search on the CWGC website and discovered the following ‘war dead records’ in WW1:

Christian  – 407 (19 cemeteries and memorials, both wars across the Empire)
Muslim – 7 (15 cemeteries and memorials, both wars across the Empire)
Jewish – 0 (90 cemeteries and memorials, both wars across the Empire)
Sikh – 2 (1 cemeteries and memorials, both wars across the Empire)
Further investigation proves that all relate to first or family names… It’s obviously going to take some more digging to identify the religious breakdowns as depicted on the headstones than a simple search. If anyone gets there before me, please share your findings.

* I don’t usually listen to recordings but this one by Ben Okri caught my eye and supports exactly what I feel about ‘colonising’ and ‘decolonising’. A legace of the British Empire is the British Commonwealth of Nations – something else Okri addresses and appropriate to be included here.

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The Kibaka of Buganda and World War 1

Looking up something on Uganda’s involvement in World War 1, I noticed the date 5 August 1914 and on closer investigation saw it was the day the Kibaka assumed full powers as ruler. This struck me as something to explore – it was the day after Britain declared war on Germany. Three days later, the Kibaka was made an Honorary Lieutenant of 4 King’s African Rifles.

This naturally led to questions and a bit of digging:
1. Did the Kabaka participate in the war other than in an official or honorary capacity?
2.If so, what did he do?
The following References helped piece together what we currently know about the Kibaka and Buganda’s involvement in the war:
TNA, Kew: WO 339/127215
Daudi-Chwa-II Buganda Royal Family
How Buganda Saved East Africa from German invasion London Evening Post
The Baganda Rifles Harry Fecitt

Daudi Chwa II, KCMG, KBE Kabaka of Buganda
Personal life
Born: 8 August 1896 (Mengo)
Died: 22 November 1939 (Kampala)
Education: King’s College, Budo, Uganda
Awarded CMG – 1 Jan 1918
Awarded KCMG – 16 Feb 1925

Marriage 1: St Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe, 19 September 1914 (Abakyala Irene Drusilla Namaganda)
Children conceived during war years. Had a total of 33 children
1. Eva Irini Alice Zalwango (15 December 1915)
2. Uniya Mary Namaalwa (28 August 1916)
3. Airini Dulusira Nga’nda Ndagire (31 October 1916)
4. Kasalina Namukaabya Nassimbwa (11 November 1918)
5. George William Mawanda (10 January 1919)
6. Kasalina Gertrude Tebattagwaabwe Nabanakulya (30 June 1919)

Kingship
Succeeded: father on 9 August 1897 (deposed);
Installed: 14 August 1897 with regency;
Assumed full powers: 5 August 1914;
Crowned: Budo 8 August 1914.

War Service
Honorary Lieut 4 KAR (Uganda) 8 Aug 1914
Honorary Captain with effect 22 September 1917

Baganda’s involvement in the war – What do we know?
The involvement of Uganda/Buganda in World War 1 is a little confusing because of the situation in the area before the war broke out.

In 1911, Britain had made some Kings’ African Rifle battalions redundant as part of a cost saving exercise. This resulted in men from Nyasaland (Malawi) joining the German Askari as they needed to earn a living. Allegiance to rulers was different in Africa to what it was/is in Europe.

Another complication is that Britain tended to use men from one area in another so that they were not having to fight or take action against their own people. The construction of the four King’s African Regiments in East Africa were made up of battalions which served in different places or were on leave while other battalions of the same regiment were serving.

When war broke out, it was the European summer holiday. The governments did not expect to go to war and so many officers and government officials were on holiday. In addition, the lack of communication from London (they were very busy sorting out what was happening in Europe), meant that local decisions were made which were uncoordinated. Over the first years of the war, these groups amalgamated or disbanded with many being a name in a book with little other known of what they did.

So, what do we know?
The following forces were raised or available from Uganda:
• 4 King’s African Rifles (KAR)
• Lieutenant AJB Wavell had two companies of Baganda employed in the coastal area. Wavell is most famously known for his command of the Arab Rifles. Was there a connection?
• Uganda Reserve Company about 90 strong of 4 KAR
• Auxiliary levies, such as the Maasai Scouts and a few
• Uganda European Volunteer Reserve
• Local units (Uganda Armed Levies) in southern Uganda later known as the Baganda Rifles to defend home territories against attack. Permission was given for 555 to be recruited.

First days of war:
Lieutenant-Colonel LES Ward – commanding officer 4 KAR, Officer Commanding Uganda was the most senior military officer in East Africa when war broke out (all his seniors on leave). In fact, Ward was on his way to Mombasa to leave on retirement for England when he heard that war had broken out. He therefore went to Nairobi to do what he could to help the Governor prepare.
Major LH Hickson of 3 KAR therefore took over as OC Uganda.
3 KAR had the most troops readily available. The battalions were split into Companies.
• B Company – based at Mumia
• F Company – based at Baringo
o B & F were on route to Turkana but instructed to go to Nairobi
• A Company – based at Bombo
• G Company – based at Entebbe
o A & G were sent to Kisumu. One was later sent to Nairobi.
To replace these troops in Western Uganda, 2 of the 3 companies were moved from Northern Uganda. They were based at Masaka with a contingent of armed police. There was an outpost at Sanje.

Western Uganda remained quiet despite concerns because the Germans had withdrawn from Bukoba after a heavy defeat by Sese islanders. The German forces settled at Mwanza.

5 days before war broke out, about 31 July, the troops in Nairobi were moved to Tsvao and Voi to defend the bridges in the area and to patrol the railway lines. Two vehicles were adapted to be armoured trains. The troops consisted of:

• Half ‘D’ Company led by Captain TO Fitzgerald with one officer and 84 rifles
• Lieutenant H Home Davies (Royal Welch Fusiliers) arrive later with 21 rank and file of the half-trained KAR Mounted Infantry. They were stationed at Voi with a small post at Bura, near a group of hills some twenty-two miles out along the old caravan route to Taveta, close to the German frontier.

When war was declared in August 1914 The Regent of Buganda wrote to the British on behalf of four other Chiefs requesting that the five Chiefs & 500 of their men be sent to England to join the British Army. Is this what resulted in the Kabaka assuming his role independently and being appointed Honorary Lieutenant of the KAR?

The Baganda Rifles
Commanding Officer was Captain E Tyrell Bruce of the Uganda Volunteer Reserve.
Captain HB Tucker (98th Infantry, Indian Army) became commander in July 1916 when the Indian Army assumed command of the Baganda Rifles.

1914 and 1915 – Baganda Rifles employed on the Kagera River Front just south of the border between Uganda and German East Africa. Patrolled and supported army units holding the line. Assisted in securing Sango Bay on Lake Victoria where the Royal Navy Lake Flotilla landed supplies and reinforcements.

1916 – Baganda Rifles formed part of Lake Force.
9 June 1916 the steamer Usoga landed the Baganda Rifles, East African Scouts and the machine-guns of the 98th Infantry, Indian Army, on the eastern end of the Ukerewe Island, north-east of Mwanza. The island was an important rice-growing area for the German Schutztruppe and a wood-fuelling station for Lake steamers.
A German garrison was moving onto Ukerewe Island from the Musoma area to secure the rice crop. The British force bayonet-charged the 50-strong German advance party, forcing it back onto the mainland. 4 KAR (Uganda) landed further to the west and the island was cleared of Schutztruppe. The rice was harvested for use by the British troops.
12th July 1916 the British moved to the mainland to attack the German garrison holding Mwanza, the largest German port on Lake Victoria. Half the Baganda Rifles landed with Force B at Senga Point while the rest landed with Force Reserve near Kaienzie Bay. The British advanced overland from two directions, brushing aside small piquets of Schutztruppe.
14 July 1916 Mwanza was captured from the Germans. The German garrison withdrew south but left behind a 4.1-inch gun from the battle-cruiser Konigsberg. This gun was on a traffic-island in Jinja, Uganda.

The British pursued the Germans south towards Tabora on the Central Railway. During this advance the Baganda Rifles performed excellent long-range patrolling duties, but also suffered from a meningitis epidemic that caused many fatalities within the ranks.

On reaching Tabora, which had been captured by the Belgians on 16 September 1916, before the British arrived, Lake Force was disbanded. The Baganda Rifles, although effective and well supported by the Kabaka and chiefs, moved back to Uganda.
8 November 1916 the Baganda Rifles was disbanded at Entebbe. Many joined the KAR to serve in German and Portuguese East Africa.

There are medal cards for 230 Baganda Riflemen in Kew and recorded on the In Memory list on GWAA

This information was presented at the Diversity House Micro-nations event on 27 October 2017.

I helped find their dead

My name is Maxie.

There isn’t a photograph of me but I am a WaTaveta who lives in Taita-Tsavo in what is today’s Kenya. One hundred years ago it was British East Africa and there had been some big fights between the white and Indian soldiers of the British king and the white and black soldiers of the German king.

We were told not to get involved as it was not our war, but some of us were paid to help with building the railway line, accommodation and other things that needed doing. Later on, when the fighting moved south and more labour was needed, men were sometimes forced or work for little pay. My work kept me near home.

A few months after the big fight at the dusty hill we call Salaita, a man came looking for some bodies of men who had died in the battle. I was able to tell him about 21 graves I knew at Taveta, the local market town.

I told the man, an English soldier that “When the Germans were fighting in the direction of Mbuyuni they used to bring the wounded Englishmen into the District Officer’s house here, (which, at the time was used as a Hospital,) when these Englishmen died the Germans buried them in this place and fired guns over the graves.”

I then took him about 25 paces (20 yards) to the north of the 14 graves I had shown him to show him another 7 which the Germans carried from Mbuyuni. The man said they are going to dig up the graves and move the bodies. I don’t understand why but it seems important to them. He was also trying to find out which were the English or white man’s graves.

The burial practices I saw are strange. The wafu (dead) have a special power and we believe in the existence of Mlungu (High God). Here, the white men laid the bodies down flat. In our tradition, we stand them up in the ground and build a hut over the space. When our people die, we close their eyes so that the evil spirits cannot enter the body. I don’t know who did that for these poor soldiers. Many were lying on the ground for hours before someone found them. We then lie them on a bed. The body is washed and shaved by women past the child bearing age. The head was covered by a foot of soil. One year later we take the skull to the shrine.

At kuchumbua maridia (the end of mourning a year after the burial) we have an event where a goat is sacrificed and the remains scattered over the crops. There is a final day of wailing and shaving. A cow is slaughtered for those who dug the hole and the hut is either sold and dismantled for someone else to use, or if the surviving spouse is a woman, she lives in the hut until she dies.
The man wrote some things down and went away but I was still confused.

A few years later, another white man came along. I took him to a spot about 2000 steps (½ mile) in the direction the sun rises and 125 steps from the railway track near where they used to burn the Hindus who died. The grass was burnt a few times and the ground is swampy, but you can still see where 11 men were buried, about 18 moons ago, by the wire fence and the outlines of holes which were filled in. The fires had destroyed the fence posts and wooden markers saying who was in the ground.
Later in Voi, at the end of the railway line, I heard the man, Milner he said his name was, tell the church man Verbi and Major Layzell about what I had told him. He said that about 1 February 1916, 21 men were brought into the hospital by the Germans near Salaita Hill. They were badly wounded and died soon after. These were the graves I showed him. When other men died, they were buried next to first. There was a strange ceremony which accompanied the placing of the men in the grave. The Askari (black soldiers) fired their guns into the sky. This was strange as they usually only pointed them at people to shoot.

On 4 April 1923, this is what the man said the date was, this man asked me confusing questions which I didn’t understand, something about a Native Christian Cemetery. He then asked me where the camp was of the men who were working on the construction of the railway. He said something about a loose-leaf register, South African natives, South African Railway and Cape Corps being buried.

Oh, I knew where the graves of the railway workers were and also the South African natives. This was 2000 steps from the Taveta Station and 125 steps from the railway track. This was where the cemetery was made and was marked by barbed wire. There were 11 graves.

I also took Milner to the foot of the hills on which the Old Fort stands at Taveta, and showed him a place where I had dug a grave for the Germans to bury an Englishman in. The Englishman had been shot by the Germans for spying and brought into the building on the hill during the latter part of the day. The German Askaris carried him on a rough stretcher and the following morning my friends and I were told to dig this grave. The Germans brought a box which they placed in the grave and fired shots over.

Nineteen nights later (23 April) native minister of the Taveta CMS Mission named Johana Mbela who could talk English told the Englishman that he, Johana, was taken prisoner by the Germans and placed in the building on the hill close to where we were standing. This happened in August 1914. In early September 1914, he said the Germans brought in the man who had been caught spying with a Captain on a small hill towards Serengetti. The Captain was shot dead and the man the Germans brought in ran away to get his motor cycle and was shot in the leg. After the Germans had put this man in the next room to Johana, the Germans brought the man’s clothes and some papers into his room and asked him what was written on them, but he did not tell them. He tried to pronounce a name which sounded like Groarty. He remembered the man calling for water all night until early morning, and seemed to be in very great pain, then all was quiet.

I couldn’t believe it. Minister Johana Mbela had seen the man I had to dig a grave for. These Englishman kept saying ‘what a small world.’

References
Burial rights
Commonwealth War Grave archive, Maidenhead: CWGC 1/1/7/E/57 WG 122/8 pt 2; Verbi and Layzell who reside in the Voi District had both been Intelligence Officers during the campaign in the Taveta District.
This account was written for Diversity House Micro-nations event on 27 October 2017.