Novelists who served in East Africa

For some time now, Leo Walmsley has been on my list of people to investigate – he was a flight observer in the East Africa campaign writing about his experiences in Flying and Sport in East Africa published in 1920 and later So Many Loves published in 1969.

After his stint in East Africa, Leo returned to Robin Hood Bay where he had grown up and there wrote various novels of which, until recently, I was unaware. It was looking up Turn of the Tide to check if there was a link to East Africa that I discovered there was so much more to Leo than initially thought. Despite all his adventures in Africa – apparently surviving 14 crashes, Leo chose rather to concentrate his novels on life on the water around Robin Hood Bay, not far from where Bram Stoker was inspired with Dracula as Michael Clegg explains.

I’m still to read Leo’s memoirs – there have been other priorities – but I was so taken with my discovery of him being a novelist, I had to share it.

And in common with the other novelist to come out of the East Africa campaign – in fact he was writing books whilst in the field – Francis Brett Young, both have societies in their names. The Walsmley Society and FBY Society respectively.

Brett Young actually wrote Marching on Tanga in East Africa, the first version being lost at sea when the ship it was on was torpedoed. His letters at the Cadbury Library in Birmingham are quite moving on this account. He was able to eventually rewrite it but could not recover the lost photographs. Unlike Walmsley, Brett Young who was a doctor with the Indian Army in the East Africa campaign, used the campaign for a couple of his books, notably Jim Redlake (1930) and Crescent Moon (1918), the first of which I have read.

A German writer, Balder Olden served as a transport rider at the start of the war, capturing his experiences in Kilimandsharo and On Virgin Soil (1930)

A final novelist to have been in theatre at the time is Gertrude Page who lived in Rhodesia. She wrote a book of short stories and a novel, Follow After (1915) and Into the Limelight (1918) about life on the Rhodesian front and the challenges of deciding whether to serve and, if so, where to serve.

Various other novels and stories involve the East African campaign in particular which were published during, or soon after, the war but these were based on news travelling to England.

More on the novels can be found in two papers I’ve had published – Fictional Accounts of the East Africa Campaign and The End of the 1914-1918 War in Africa (Anglica) whilst the Historical Association has an article on CS Forrester’s The African Queens.

 

An alternative take on a history talk

My sister-in-law attended the talk I gave on novels in August 2016. As someone not interested in history, she accompanied her husband who was listening to me present a history talk for the first time. Knowing the likely boredom levels, I provided a pen and paper for the inevitable doodling (she’s got an artistic streak) and this was the outcome:

A Review of Dr Anne Samson’s talk by Sr S… S… [that’s the young one]

Dr Samson is dressed in a minion-like suit complimented by yellow, black and blue and slight white. Other people at the talk were all old [she’s 32 – I’m old]. You don’t need to worry about being overdressed only if you are old!! The auditorium is dressed in carpet – that is on the wall.

If you give talks here you get wine – so worthwhile thinking of doing a talk here.

The being referred to as the GANG aka supporting party – are just known as the ‘medical party’.

Anne promises to only talk for 20 minutes – hope she keeps to her time. Also she needs more colours in her pencil bag. The other speaker hasn’t arrived yet. Maybe he doesn’t like wine – shame. With all these old people here, X and I might be at danger – lots of health risks. There is one other young person ere. Maybe I must introduce him to Y… The chairs aren’t very comfortable – not suitable for a movie theatre. The MC is clearly Afrikaans [so is she] The Boris guy sounds important [a book launch was being promoted]. Anne is almost coming up – Yeah! They have just turned off the lights. Eish difficult to make notes in the dark.

Anne looks kinda scary in that dim light – whooo she is talking about East AFrica.

Gertrude Page (Northern Rhodesians, protect, Britain) like JK Rowling now!! Wow!! and talks about some other dudes (dead ones). Gertrude was a farmer and used their car as an ambulance. They said tese books are novels, don’t sound very romantic.

These chairs are really not comfortable.

Anne starting to lose me now. Something about marching tangoes [Marching on Tanga] wonder if these people can even do the Tango? There were nurses there too – Yeah [she’s a nurse].

Anne seems to know her s*** ag I mean stuff desn’t look on her notes very often. People here think the history stuff is funny, maybe they must be introduced to a comedy bar. Lion King also came up [Simba – Cherry Kearton’s dog which went up in a plane]. Covers of the books look interesting – and something of ice-cream [An Ice-cream war by William Boyd]. King money or shilling [The King’s Shilling by Hamilton Wende] and Shidaka [Chui and Sadaka by William Powell] – must have eaten a lot of toffees.

Anne really likes the book A Matter of Time [Alex Capus] – came to Germany in a crate or something – something about Spies Simpson [Spicer Simson]. Ok there are more books. Annd did a lot of reading – a lot of boring reading. Note self: get Anne a stick to show people pictures on slide thing.

Anne – it’s not Kloetie – it is Cloete (pronounced Kloe-te) [Stuart Cloete – How young they died]. We on the last slide now with 4 books about Intelligence. Anne don’t worry bout spelling mistakes on slide. All the people here are clearly old and I don’t think they can see that far!

Karen Bliksem [Blixen] – shame having a vloekword [swearword] for her surname. They get excited about dogs named after a lion going up in planes. Yeah dog!!

Maybe the bee also featured. They keep going on about planes.

Anne uses novels to make people understand concepts. OK I thought we done but we are NOT! More boring questions. Now hiatuses…look at that page 9. Don’t feel like writing any more. I’m out!

I might try and convince her to attend a few others in the future – some interesting perceptions and an honest take. In its own way, a history of the evening and one which no doubt differs to many of the others of the same event if they were to be written.

Thanks Sussa! [Afrikaans term of endearment for sister]

WW1 East Africa: A new female novelist

For those of you who know me, I’m not one to play the gender card (except when I’m pleading ignorance on military hardware and hierarchy issues). But being one to promote the minority voice (of all kinds), I couldn’t help but notice the lack of female novelists writing about the campaign in East Africa during World War 1.

Talking of minority voices, there are no authors of colour who have written on the campaign and even more surprising, the campaign in East Africa seems to be the only one in Africa written about – I am yet to find a novel mentioning German South West Africa (other than Francis Brett Young’s Jim Redlake which covers East Africa too), Cameroon, Togo or Belgian Congo. Egypt features but in connection with the wider war in Europe, Gallipoli and the war on the sea.

I came across Maya Alexandri’s The Celebration Husband about three years ago when it was in draft form and I was writing an academic paper on Fictional Accounts of the East Africa campaign. For some reason, the editors didn’t like my original title of A Novel East Africa campaign (watch this space…). But it was only earlier this year that I managed to track a copy down and had the privilege of reading before it was published.

I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and was pleasantly surprised that the changed details didn’t result in the same reaction I had when I read my first ever novel of the campaign – Wilbur Smith’s Shout at the Devil. I won’t go into the reasons for my outburst, save to say I have not been the only one to have issues with Smith’s book. Maya has changed the order of battles around and although some characters are named and others purposefully identifiable, the situations and personalities described are such that they hold together for a good read.

I’d like to think I’ve also matured a bit in terms of seeing how historians and historical novelists approach their topic with the same seriousness but for different purposes. And in this regard I was pleased to come across a tweet by the Guardian about this very issue. Over the years, various people, now researching the East Africa campaign, have told me they discovered it through novels such as Wilbur Smith’s Shout at the Devil, but more often it’s William Boyd’s An Ice-cream War; so there’s got to be something in changing facts around under the auspices of literary licence.

Did you know?
Of the 43 novels on the campaign in East Africa, Maya is the third woman to produce one. She shares the stage with Gertrude Page, “The Kipling of Rhodesia” who published Follow After in 1915 and Far from the Limelight (and other tales) in 1918 and Elspeth Huxley whose novel Red Strangers (1939) contains a chapter dealing with the war.

Other novels covering related themes to The Celebration Husband:
William Stevenson The Ghosts of Africa (1994) – relationship between Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and Karen Blixen
Hamilton Wende The King’s Shilling: A novel (2005) – early days of the war in Kenya (British East Africa)
Balder Olden Kilimandsharo (1922) aka On Virgin Soil – A German transport rider caught up in the war on the border of British and German East Africa
Wilbur Smith Assegai (2009) – love, intrigue, intelligence and aeroplanes

In conclusion, I can honestly say that The Celebration Husband ranks amongst my top fiction reads of the East Africa campaign, and I’ve read nearly every one of the English novels. For those of you wondering, my others are CS Forester The African Queen (the book, the film is good too but it’s different), William Boyd An Ice-cream War, Alex Capus A Matter of Time, Francis Brett Young’s Jim Redlake and Balder Olden On Virgin Soil (the last two written by men who served in the East Africa campaign).

PS: Since writing this blog a month ago, I have discovered, thanks to Gerald Rilling, Marguerete Poland’s Iron Love: a novel (1999). I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it starts in South Africa in 1913 and involves the campaign in East Africa with at least a mention of South West Africa. This discovery makes Maya the 4th female novelist covering East Africa and 44 books. I’ll be sure to mention Iron Love in due course…