Diverted by war – dinosaurs

A little sidetrack into the experiences of a district commissioner in British East Africa led to the discovery of a book by Gerhard Maier recording the experiences of an expedition to find a dinasour: African Dinosaurs unearthed: The Tendaguru Expeditions (2003). In this Gerhard touches on the impact of the war.

The expedition had gone out for the big National Exhibition German Governor Heinrich Schnee was organising. This exhibiton led to huge quantities of food and supplies being imported into the colony. An unexpected little supply for when the war broke out.

News of Britain’s declaration of war was received in Dar es Salaam at 6.15am on 5 August 1914.

Schnee had apparently started a small pox innoculation programme.
There were about 100 government schools for African blacks while missionaries had a total of 1,832. 115,000 were enrolled out of a population of 7 million.
These and other developments were undone by the war, exaccerbated by the movement of people across the country and then the influenza outbreak. Maier estimates between 50 000 and 60 000 died from illness in the German colony.

The geologists, scientists and others involved in the expedition served in different capactities, some armed, others looking after supply etc. A couple managed to source bones which they then lost along with their notes. Maier suggests some of the dinosaur bones were taken to South Africa, while after the war the British picked up researching the dinosaurs.

I haven’t read the rest of the book yet, which looks rather fascinating. It might be one to recommend to my nephew and commission a synopsis.

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Diversity in the military

Working through WO 132/21 on military intelligence from Delagoa Bay during the Anglo-Boer War, I came across the following figures of foreigners fighting for the Boers. The information, 19 July 1900, ‘was obtained from a well-informed foreigner recently arrived from Machadodorp; but judging by former information, it seems an overestimate.’

Germans and Hollanders – 5000
French – 2000
Russians – 1000
Scandinavians – 500
Italians – 600
Austrians – 600
Total – 9700

Diversity in war is nothing new and World War 1 in Africa was no different. In addition to the 177 micro-nations which participated in the East Africa campaign specifically there are references to Americans, Australians, Canadians, Scandinavians, Italians and Greeks. The numbers involved were not as great as those participating in 1900 but it reminds us that what might appear as a homogenous group invariably wasn’t.

Were these men mercenaries or professional soldiers? The definition of a mercenary is a person who is primarily concerned with making money at the expense of ethics, while a professional solider is hired to serve in a foreign army. Those who served in the Boer War and EA campaigns were professional soldiers although might not have received the training they needed to have.

Significantly, the Americans who served in the East African Forces and Legion of Frontiersmen did so at a time that the United States of America was neutral. The implications of this and the consequences at an international level do not appear to have been investigated. The Scandinavians generally were to be found in the Belgian Force Publique, many have been involved from before the outbreak of war. Many, however, were in the area enlisting to protect their territory or for the adventure. The numbers and extent of foreigners serving in the war in Africa is still to be fully determined.