Novelist: PC Wren

Percival Christopher Wren was another prolific writer, publishing over 33 novels and short story collections. Most have soldiering in Africa as a theme although only one concerns the Great War in Africa. He had a fascination for the French Foreign Legion although a recent researcher (Martin Windrow) suggests he never joined but knew people associated with the Legion. He was by all accounts secretive about his life.

1875 – 1 November, born in London
1903 – appointed headmaster to Karachi High School in India
1910 – 19 May, daughter died in India
1914 – 26 September, wife dies
1914 – 1 December, Reserve Officer of Indian Infantry Regiment, 101st Grenadiers
1915 – October, leaves reserves to join civil service
1917 – November, resigns from Indian Education service
1941 – 22 November, dies

Although Wren joined the 101st Grenadiers and that the Indian unit he was attached to served in East Africa during the war, it appears that he was recorded sick from 17 February 1915 until he left to join the civil service in October of that year. It is most likely that he never saw service in East Africa.

He published much on Indian education and related topics from 1910, his first collection of short stories being published in the UK in 1912.

Books on World War 1 in Africa

1920 – Cupid in Africa (Reading of Reading has a reader’s report on the book)


FictionDB for list of books by Wren
Fantastic Fiction
Wikipedia entry

Review: For the Honour of My House – Tony McClenaghan

So much of what we hear or know of the EA campaign is that 75% manpower was lost with the majority being due to disease, 10% war related. Tony McClenaghan provides figures for the Jind Imperial Service Infantry which challenge these figures. On 5 December 1917 when the regiment returned to India after three and a half years:

“A total of 15 officers, 2 Sub Assistant Surgeons, 281 rank and file and 30 followers embarked for India.” An original draft, arriving September 1914, of 380 combatants and 52 followers had been sent with thirteen additional drafts totaling 678 combatants and 34 non-combatants, resulting in 1,144 men sent overseas.

The casualties were (p150):

23 killed in action (2 British officers, 2 Indian officers and 19 other ranks)
47 other ranks died of wounds
47 other ranks died of disease
81 wounded in action. 

This is the level of detail Tony McClenaghan gives in For the Honour of My House. It is a detailed account of Indian Imperial Service troops contribution to the First World War using sources from London and India – footnoted rather than end-noted (a huge plus in my books and appreciated by other researchers I’ve spoken with too). What is also refreshing is that Tony explains where he has not been able to verify information in official sources such as Watson’s mention of camels being sent to the African theatre of war (pp154-5) or how his information differs to that of others (he has 40 extra names compared with the CWGC listing – Appendix II; since Tony published his book, the CWGC report on Inequality in Commemoration has been published which sets out some reasons for these omissions and plans to address them.)

Although the reporting of military action as Tony has done is not my favourite style, this is a very welcome contribution to the history of the war in Africa. Tony’s attention to detail means that we now have access to where and when Indian Imperial Service troops were during the EA campaign, placing other units in context. He also very helpfully points out when Indian Imperial Service troops were not used which too is helpful. Until van Deventer took command of the EA theatre, it does not appear that Indian Imperial Service troops served in the Brigades commanded by South Africans. It doesn’t appear that Tony addresses this but the 1915 report that South Africans would not be comfortable serving with Indians seems to have played a part here. It is a book I will be revisiting for the detail.

What drew my attention to the book initially was an online appendix to the book – a role of honour (appendix II). There are two appendices online (Appendix II – awards) with others in the book. Scroll down on the Helion link to get the appendices. The officer lists can also be found at the British Library.

While I’ve focused on the Indian Imperial Service troops involvement in Africa for this review, the book considers with the same level of detail their involvement in all theatres they served, including an overview of how they came to be raised, the honours they received and how they are remembered.

For anyone wondering why I didn’t just refer to Imperial Service Troops, the South African forces were also Imperial Service troops, in their case the British government effectively paid for their service to overcome internal politics within the Union. The Indian Imperial Service Troops were raised and paid for by the Independent Indian Princes/Rajahas etc and served at Britain’s request alongside the Indian Army.

Review: Honour & Fidelity – Amarinder Singh

I was looking forward to this read – HOnour and Fidelity: India’s military contribution to the Great War 1914-1918, but less than a third of the way in, I was to be more than disappointed.

The chapter on East Africa (chapter 4) was short – very short: pages 64-71 of which at least 1/3 of a page was a map, and 1/2 a page on Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck’s life after the war.

Given a book on the Indian Army published in 2014, this can only be called a poor show. Errors abound in the chapter which readings of general accounts of the campaign would show. The focus is on Tanga and Longido – both November 1914 – nothing of the Indian Army at Salaita or its incredible longevity in the East African theatre.

Apart from supplying manpower, the Indian Army was in control of the military aspect of the theatre to 22 November 1914 when the War Office took over, but continued to supply material for the remainder of the war. Nothing is said about the Faridkot Sappers or any other Pioneer unit and the work they did in keeping the forces moving. I can’t comment on the other theatres Amarinder covers but given his research on East Africa would hesitate to recommend this.

The positives of the book are:

  • coverage of all the Expeditionary Forces in alphabetical order resulting in commentary on the Western Front, East Africa, Mesopotamia (by far the longest chapter), Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Gallipoli
  • lists of units involved at different times of the war
  • Awards made
  • some maps
  • diverse photographs, including one of Lenin. There are more photographs of the East Africa campaign than information on Indian involvement in the theatre.

The Epilogue provides a summary of India’s contribution to the war:

  • 104 Labour Corps each with 1,150 men
  • 1013 Porter Corps each with 576 men
  • 15 Syce Companies consisting of 210 men each
  • Followers/non combatants (shoesmiths, bakers, carpenters, cooks et) = 4.,737
  • 7 Expeditionary Forces with a total of 1,338,620 men serving.
  • Princely States supplied 26,099 combatants for overseas and 115,891 to the regular army
  • donations and monetary contributions totalling £146,356 million

If you are interested in discovering more about India’s involvement in the East Africa campaign, I recommend:

Review: Sideshows of the Indian Army in World War 1 – Harry Fecitt

Sideshows in the Indian Army in World War 1 by Harry Fecitt was published in India in 2017.
For those who know Harry’s writing, the 28 chapters or essays in this publication follow the same style and format as his web and other articles. Harry assumes his reader knows the military terms and structures as well as the basic context in which the action is taking place, so anyone new to the Indian Army and its role in World War 1 would do well to read a little more widely of the theatres concerned to obtain some context.

These are accounts for the military-oriented person, but are of use to social, cultural and other historians and students for a quick overview, a list of significant people involved and those who received awards.

The book for me felt a little disjointed, a random set of essays thrown together. However, a close look at the dates in the titles, suggests the book follows a broadly chronological approach. However, given that the Indian Army was active on so many fronts simultaneously, I wonder whether a regional chronological approach would have made it a more coherent read – especially for those of us who prefer to read a book cover to cover rather than to dip in, as I imagine was the logic behind this publication’s structure. Operations cover Aden, the North West Frontier, Somaliland, China, Suez and Egypt, Persia, Macedonia, East Africa, the Bolsheviks, Sinai, Kamerun, Senussi and Burma.

Some might take umbrage at the use of the term ‘sideshows’. As with the African ‘sideshow’, the fighting and experiences of those caught up in the conflict was as intense as for those in the main theatres. Although some might not have known what they were fighting for, they knew who they were fighting for and had their reasons for doing so. One could even argue that India’s involvement on the Western Front was for India a sideshow, while the actions on the North West Frontier were not… nomenclature when dealing with the wider war has its own challenges. Similarly, others might be annoyed at the use of World War 1 rather than First World War – for those working cross culturally either is acceptable. Those who seem to have issue with the use of World War 1 seem to be mainly British military historians looking at conflict from a British perspective.

At the end of the day, Harry’s book covers a wide range of actions and is a start at drawing attention to India’s wider involvement in the war in a way which George Morton-Jack’s Army of Empire: The untold story of the Indian Army in World War 1 or The Indian Empire at War: From Jihad to victory, the untold story of the Indian Army in World War 1 (both 2018) and Alan Jeffreys’ The Indian Army in the First World War: New perspectives (2018) don’t. While Ian Cordoza in The Indian Army in World War 1, 1914-1918 (2019) gives a basic overview of the various theatres, Kaushik Roy’s Indian Army and the First World War, 1914-18 (2018), a more academic text, covers the same theatres Harry does providing a greater context and understanding of the Indian Army in the war and is probably the best current complementary text.

The Kibaka of Buganda and World War 1

Looking up something on Uganda’s involvement in World War 1, I noticed the date 5 August 1914 and on closer investigation saw it was the day the Kibaka assumed full powers as ruler. This struck me as something to explore – it was the day after Britain declared war on Germany. Three days later, the Kibaka was made an Honorary Lieutenant of 4 King’s African Rifles.

This naturally led to questions and a bit of digging:
1. Did the Kabaka participate in the war other than in an official or honorary capacity?
2.If so, what did he do?
The following References helped piece together what we currently know about the Kibaka and Buganda’s involvement in the war:
TNA, Kew: WO 339/127215
Daudi-Chwa-II Buganda Royal Family
How Buganda Saved East Africa from German invasion London Evening Post
The Baganda Rifles Harry Fecitt

Daudi Chwa II, KCMG, KBE Kabaka of Buganda
Personal life
Born: 8 August 1896 (Mengo)
Died: 22 November 1939 (Kampala)
Education: King’s College, Budo, Uganda
Awarded CMG – 1 Jan 1918
Awarded KCMG – 16 Feb 1925

Marriage 1: St Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe, 19 September 1914 (Abakyala Irene Drusilla Namaganda)
Children conceived during war years. Had a total of 33 children
1. Eva Irini Alice Zalwango (15 December 1915)
2. Uniya Mary Namaalwa (28 August 1916)
3. Airini Dulusira Nga’nda Ndagire (31 October 1916)
4. Kasalina Namukaabya Nassimbwa (11 November 1918)
5. George William Mawanda (10 January 1919)
6. Kasalina Gertrude Tebattagwaabwe Nabanakulya (30 June 1919)

Succeeded: father on 9 August 1897 (deposed);
Installed: 14 August 1897 with regency;
Assumed full powers: 5 August 1914;
Crowned: Budo 8 August 1914.

War Service
Honorary Lieut 4 KAR (Uganda) 8 Aug 1914
Honorary Captain with effect 22 September 1917

Baganda’s involvement in the war – What do we know?
The involvement of Uganda/Buganda in World War 1 is a little confusing because of the situation in the area before the war broke out.

In 1911, Britain had made some Kings’ African Rifle battalions redundant as part of a cost saving exercise. This resulted in men from Nyasaland (Malawi) joining the German Askari as they needed to earn a living. Allegiance to rulers was different in Africa to what it was/is in Europe.

Another complication is that Britain tended to use men from one area in another so that they were not having to fight or take action against their own people. The construction of the four King’s African Regiments in East Africa were made up of battalions which served in different places or were on leave while other battalions of the same regiment were serving.

When war broke out, it was the European summer holiday. The governments did not expect to go to war and so many officers and government officials were on holiday. In addition, the lack of communication from London (they were very busy sorting out what was happening in Europe), meant that local decisions were made which were uncoordinated. Over the first years of the war, these groups amalgamated or disbanded with many being a name in a book with little other known of what they did.

So, what do we know?
The following forces were raised or available from Uganda:
• 4 King’s African Rifles (KAR)
• Lieutenant AJB Wavell had two companies of Baganda employed in the coastal area. Wavell is most famously known for his command of the Arab Rifles. Was there a connection?
• Uganda Reserve Company about 90 strong of 4 KAR
• Auxiliary levies, such as the Maasai Scouts and a few
• Uganda European Volunteer Reserve
• Local units (Uganda Armed Levies) in southern Uganda later known as the Baganda Rifles to defend home territories against attack. Permission was given for 555 to be recruited.

First days of war:
Lieutenant-Colonel LES Ward – commanding officer 4 KAR, Officer Commanding Uganda was the most senior military officer in East Africa when war broke out (all his seniors on leave). In fact, Ward was on his way to Mombasa to leave on retirement for England when he heard that war had broken out. He therefore went to Nairobi to do what he could to help the Governor prepare.
Major LH Hickson of 3 KAR therefore took over as OC Uganda.
3 KAR had the most troops readily available. The battalions were split into Companies.
• B Company – based at Mumia
• F Company – based at Baringo
o B & F were on route to Turkana but instructed to go to Nairobi
• A Company – based at Bombo
• G Company – based at Entebbe
o A & G were sent to Kisumu. One was later sent to Nairobi.
To replace these troops in Western Uganda, 2 of the 3 companies were moved from Northern Uganda. They were based at Masaka with a contingent of armed police. There was an outpost at Sanje.

Western Uganda remained quiet despite concerns because the Germans had withdrawn from Bukoba after a heavy defeat by Sese islanders. The German forces settled at Mwanza.

5 days before war broke out, about 31 July, the troops in Nairobi were moved to Tsvao and Voi to defend the bridges in the area and to patrol the railway lines. Two vehicles were adapted to be armoured trains. The troops consisted of:

• Half ‘D’ Company led by Captain TO Fitzgerald with one officer and 84 rifles
• Lieutenant H Home Davies (Royal Welch Fusiliers) arrive later with 21 rank and file of the half-trained KAR Mounted Infantry. They were stationed at Voi with a small post at Bura, near a group of hills some twenty-two miles out along the old caravan route to Taveta, close to the German frontier.

When war was declared in August 1914 The Regent of Buganda wrote to the British on behalf of four other Chiefs requesting that the five Chiefs & 500 of their men be sent to England to join the British Army. Is this what resulted in the Kabaka assuming his role independently and being appointed Honorary Lieutenant of the KAR?

The Baganda Rifles
Commanding Officer was Captain E Tyrell Bruce of the Uganda Volunteer Reserve.
Captain HB Tucker (98th Infantry, Indian Army) became commander in July 1916 when the Indian Army assumed command of the Baganda Rifles.

1914 and 1915 – Baganda Rifles employed on the Kagera River Front just south of the border between Uganda and German East Africa. Patrolled and supported army units holding the line. Assisted in securing Sango Bay on Lake Victoria where the Royal Navy Lake Flotilla landed supplies and reinforcements.

1916 – Baganda Rifles formed part of Lake Force.
9 June 1916 the steamer Usoga landed the Baganda Rifles, East African Scouts and the machine-guns of the 98th Infantry, Indian Army, on the eastern end of the Ukerewe Island, north-east of Mwanza. The island was an important rice-growing area for the German Schutztruppe and a wood-fuelling station for Lake steamers.
A German garrison was moving onto Ukerewe Island from the Musoma area to secure the rice crop. The British force bayonet-charged the 50-strong German advance party, forcing it back onto the mainland. 4 KAR (Uganda) landed further to the west and the island was cleared of Schutztruppe. The rice was harvested for use by the British troops.
12th July 1916 the British moved to the mainland to attack the German garrison holding Mwanza, the largest German port on Lake Victoria. Half the Baganda Rifles landed with Force B at Senga Point while the rest landed with Force Reserve near Kaienzie Bay. The British advanced overland from two directions, brushing aside small piquets of Schutztruppe.
14 July 1916 Mwanza was captured from the Germans. The German garrison withdrew south but left behind a 4.1-inch gun from the battle-cruiser Konigsberg. This gun was on a traffic-island in Jinja, Uganda.

The British pursued the Germans south towards Tabora on the Central Railway. During this advance the Baganda Rifles performed excellent long-range patrolling duties, but also suffered from a meningitis epidemic that caused many fatalities within the ranks.

On reaching Tabora, which had been captured by the Belgians on 16 September 1916, before the British arrived, Lake Force was disbanded. The Baganda Rifles, although effective and well supported by the Kabaka and chiefs, moved back to Uganda.
8 November 1916 the Baganda Rifles was disbanded at Entebbe. Many joined the KAR to serve in German and Portuguese East Africa.

There are medal cards for 230 Baganda Riflemen in Kew and recorded on the In Memory list on GWAA

This information was presented at the Diversity House Micro-nations event on 27 October 2017.