William Finaughty’s moustache

This article caught my eye for two reasons: died in 1917 and elephant hunter. Both key words when researching World War 1 in Africa. Although the feature of the article William Finaughty had nothing to do with World War 1 in Africa (he was 74 when he died in 1917), I was captivated by his moustache. It rivals the famous Kitchener moustache.

1917 was the first year the war against the Germans was fought in one African territory only. The war in Cameroon having ended in March 1916. The end of 1917 was also to see the East African conflict move into Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique), not far from Zimbabwe or Southern Rhodesia where William Finaughty was based.

And there are numerous elephant and other hunters who acted as scouts and soldiers in the East Africa campaign. The most famous being Frederick Selous (64 when he died in 1917) and PJ Pretorius. Selous too is mentioned in connection with Finaughty

Then there are the two cannon. I don’t recall the redundant cannon of Southern Rhodesia being called into action in the same way those in Malawi (Nyasaland) and Uganda were. The battle front was just that little bit further away with Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia (Zambia) in between. Within the article, we are reminded of the black smoke guns which the Germans used at the start of the war until they were able to replace the 1870 model with captured guns and those landed by the blockade runners Marie and Rubens.

The name Jan Lee conjours up thoughts of Lee who came up with the idea of taking the two boats Mimi and Toutou overland to Lake Tanganyika to defeat the German Gotzen (today MV Liemba). I don’t think this is the John Lee but there might be a link between the two men as to date no one seems to have been able to identify exactly who John Lee is.

All that taken from a fascinating article on William Finaughty who had dealings with Lobengula and nothing to do with World War 1, other than dying of old age during the war.

Back to nature

There’s been quite a bit lately about wild animals roaming residential streets and business areas alongside many sharing photos of what’s happening in their gardens or what they discover on walks. Bottom line – nature is important to us, it provides an out from our hectic and chaotic environments, a place of solace and peace. And, it’s nothing new…

Reading John Master’s Loss of Eden trilogy, there is quite a bit about poaching and animal tracking. One young man, the son of the local squire, Lawrence Cate, should never have been sent to the front and in book 3 he is eventually shot for cowardice and deserting his post during an attack. However, all in his regiment, including his CO, saw his actions as shell shock – in the period before it was recognised. This provides food for thought in other directions, but young Lawrence faces his friends who volunteered to form the shooting party unblindfolded telling them about the song of the blackbird and how sweet it is compared to other birds. His retreat to mental bird watching was his escape from the horrors of what he was to face causing him to become paralysed at a time he most needed to be active. In contrast, the unit’s ace sniper was another young man, Fletcher Gorse, whose grandfather had taught him to poach, Fletcher in turn having taught Lawrence all he knew about the wilds of Kent.

Birds feature too in the famous Sebastian Faulks war novel – Birdsong – while a butterfly provides a poignant moment towards the end of Erich Maria Marque’s All quiet on the Western Front. But what about in Africa?

There are all the accounts of big game hunters turned soldier and intelligence agent such as Frederick Selous, Arnold Wienholt etc, while others such as Cherry Kearton were renowned wildlife photographers and authors. More telling though are the letters, memoirs and diaries men wrote – there are sometimes long descriptions of the fauna and flora passed, Bruce Cairnie’s diary in particular giving observations of the landscape. WW Campbell (East Africa by Motor Lorry) describes the various bugs he and other mechanical/motor transport drivers encountered. Richard Meinertzhagen whose diaries (and published versions) have raised many questions about their validity provide a rich insight into the wildlife of Africa through the drawings and sketches he populated the text with. No doubt these descriptions of nature when compared with descriptions of mud and other horrors from the Western Front gave the idea that the men serving in Africa were on safari, having an easy time. But for the men themselves it was an outlet, a way to deflect attention from the horrors they did not want to concern family with. For many, in Africa, nature was both a solace and the source of their greatest fear – it had more stealth and impact than the human enemy; it had no allegiance to any superpower other than itself and the laws of nature.