Some @thesamsonsed Twitter followers may have noticed a change of name on my account. This happened towards the end of June 2021 when someone decided that hacking my account was a good idea. Following various messages to Twitter to get the account returned to me and a perusal of what others have said about getting my original account back, it seems the best thing to do is make a change, so for anyone interested, my new Twitter account is @thesamsonsed-historian and my image, no longer one of my endearing views of Marangu Mtoni on Kilimanjaro, is now of a Rwandan Royal cow which I had the pleasure of meeting some years back. Standing with the senior cow is one of her carers – he tenderly brushes and sings to the cows every day…amongst other bovine responsibilities. It’s a job part of me envies…
Reflecting on the potential loss of my Twitter account, operational since May 2010, got me thinking of all those letters and records which were lost when ships were sunk during World War 1. While this thankfully didn’t happen too frequently, one instance stands out – the loss of Francis Brett Young‘s first draft of Marching on Tanga. We know of this loss as he writes about it, rather matter of factly, to his wife Jessie. Given that Marching on Tanga was subsequently published, he had found the time and energy to rewrite the account. But I wonder to what extent it mirrored the first draft – to what extent did his later experiences cloud those initial thoughts? What events and details had time erased? How did the tone of the two versions differ? What phrases remained exactly the same? Was the second version more objective? Did the rewrite provide an opportunity to unsay those things he said in the heat of the moment – an opportunity for a clear-out? It makes me wonder how re-reading Marching on Tanga will feel knowing it was not the original version. What will I read into his published account with this additional knowledge?
At the end of the day, the loss of a manuscript or Twitter account is minuscule in the big scheme of things – yes it makes the historian’s task a little more challenging but there are invariably other sources available to help put an account together (eventually). More significantly, when those ships went down there was invariably loss of life which had a far greater impact on the lives of family and friends: emotionally, economically and physically (positive or negative depending on circumstances).
It’s impossible to compare the loss of an object or possession with the loss of life, but both in their own way require a mental readjustment, picking up the pieces and carrying on. In many ways, when the going gets tough, it’s to the resilience of those who served in the First World War particularly in Africa whom I encounter through surviving records be they official documents, diaries, memoirs, lists, or works of fiction, that I turn. And although a Twitter name change is smaller than small, it’s given me the opportunity of sharing some thoughts on the re-writing of Marching on Tanga and not least, articulating some questions about how context impacts on how we approach historical sources.