Swakopmund leads to …

A chance encounter at the OMRS Medal Convention in Nottingham, led me to see what was available online about Swakopmund and World War 1 museum displays. On a visit to the town in 2016, David had spotted some military uniforms and medals in the local museum. We had not picked up on this when we visited a few years before, leading to the thought that this might have been added for the centenary commemorations. It’s not clear whether this is the case or not, but a new exhibition was opened in 2015 in Windhoek.

Swakopmund has a rather interesting history dating back to 1892 and a rather interesting/unusual war memorial. Having been the launch spot, once captured, for the South African forces arriving by sea in 1914, the troops eventually moved inland, with Aus becoming a main focus. Gordon McGregor’s co-authored book on the campaign has some informative photos. In time, Luderitzbucht was to become the base port. The South Africans continued to use their base at Walvis Bay – according to the South African gazette of 1916 never to be called Walfish Bay.

The Museums Association of Namibia has information on a range of exhibitions linked to the German colonial period – scroll down past all the vacancy adverts.

And for some other books on the First World War in South West Africa, see Antonio Garcia’s useful military commentary in The First Campaign Victory and Jan Stejskal’s Horns of the Beast.

Review: The First World War in Namibia 1914-1915 by Gordon McGregor & Mannfred Goldbeck

Many regard the East Africa campaign as the ‘forgotten’ campaign. Relatively speaking, it is no longer forgotten. And in any event there are other more forgotten, if that is possible, or rather ‘ignored’ or ‘invisible’ campaigns. Here, I think of Cameroon and Togo, the Senusi in Egypt and German South West Africa (today’s Namibia).

That South African forces captured GSWA in what is, mistakenly, believed to be the first Allied victory of the war completed in six months, is generally well known. So much so, that scholars do not think there is any reason to revisit the theatre as they do East Africa leading to my reference to it as the ‘Done’ campaign at the recent SCOLMA conference.

However, a few of us know differently and none more so than people who reside or have lived in Namibia. This is leading to more becoming known about this ‘little’ campaign which will hopefully inspire more detailed research to be undertaken.

After some struggles with South African post, I finally got a copy of Gordon McGregor and Mannfred Goldbeck’s The First World War in Namibia, 1914-1915 (published by Gondwana History in 2014).

This is a slim book, and as with James Stejskal’s Horns of the Beast has numerous photos from the Namibia Archive. Of particular note is the Battle Calendar of the campaign from mobilisation to the surrender of the German forces at Kilometre 500 and a chronology of the war as it affected Namibia. The bibliography, whilst using various known texts in South Africa lists some less well-known German and Namibian publications. Disappointing, however, is a reference to Wikipedia – various articles (not listed). Whilst it’s important to list all sources used, the inclusion of Wikipedia in the Bibliography confirmed that there is not much new in this overview of the First World War in Namibia.

The value of this little publication is that it takes a holistic approach to the campaign – this in my experience is unusual. It covers the SA Rebellion of 1914 (no account of the GSWA campaign can exclude that) but more significantly it covers the role of the Rehoboth at various stages, the Cameroon company and Vrei Korps (SA forces which fought on the German side). Logistics too are covered in terms of a chapter on animals and another on insignia/badges provides insight into how the territory operated once cut off from the motherland.

I’m sure this is a little book I’m going to be dipping into a fair bit as I continue investigating the chaos of SA going to war (unlike that of Adam Cruise’s Louis Botha’s War).

Details on how to obtain a copy are on the Great War in Africa Forum