Culture clash: Rules of war

One of the things that struck me when researching Kitchener: the man not the myth was Kitchener’s idea on what constituted a fair war. He was said to have exclaimed ‘It’s not war’ when he heard about the first use of gas on the Western Front, and felt at a distinct advantage when facing the Dervishes with his guns against their spears. It was also apparent that there were differences concerning women – Kitchener offered the Dervishes an opportunity to surrender to safeguard the women and children whilst the Dervishes did not see this as an option. The role of women as camp followers was a further difference between the British and Dervish forces although Kitchener allowed the Egyptian Army to have female camp followers, as did the German Army.

These cultural differences were brought home quite recently again reading Robin Smith’s history of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 Practically Over. During the 1899-1902 war in South Africa there were numerous instances where the Boers misused the white flag of surrender by firing on the British forces when they were in close proximity having been lured over by the white flag. Reading these accounts, I often have the question ‘how would the rural Boer have known what the rules of war were?’ and ‘how likely were they to know the decisions agreed at Geneva and the Hague about the conduct of war?’ Few of the Boers had any formal military training.

What prompted me to write this up was reading of an instance where the Boers in June/July 1900 asked Archibald Hunter for an armistice whilst they sorted out who was to be their new commandant following the departure of Christian de Wet. Hunter obviously refused the request and the Boers quickly resolved their differences by electing a leader who promptly surrendered (p52). This incident was either a cheeky ploy on the part of the Boers or more likely due to their take on what constituted a fair war. Reading the encounters Robin has included in his book bring home how little the Boers fired at men, rather killing the horses to reduce the British soldier’s mobility. A similar attitude was evident in the derailing of trains – enough explosive to derail the engine and cause delays rather than death.

In the East Africa campaign of 1914-18 we read of captured soldiers being given parole and the exchange of letters complaining about inappropriate action in contrast to medical supplies being left for prisoners of war, local truces or understandings to bury the dead etc.

We tend to object to the other side ‘playing unfair’ – but that’s according to our rules. What about their rules? We assume all countries and cultures follow the same basic principles – think of the outcry at the Japanese Kamikaze or suicide unit of World War Two. Their view of prisoners being similar to that of askari in the East Africa campaign. And the more recent terror attacks where attacking civilians is seen as fair game in their struggle. How we engage in war was brought to the fore again when reading about China sending observers to the Western Front to learn what they could to develop their military forces.

Retaliation seems to be the standard response as seen in the dropping of the atomic bombs and targeted air strikes etc. However, I can’t help but wonder whether our stepping back to consider and understand the ‘other’ culture would lead to a different outcome than we have seen in the past.

Review: The Road of Donkey Bones – Alison Cornell

The Road of Donkey Bones: Captain Llewellyn Wynne Jones MC, A diary from Britain’s WW1 East Africa Campaign was researched and compiled by his granddaughter Alison Cornell.

While the diary and the photographs are of great interest, I cannot say this was a book which grabbed me. Alison has entered into a conversation with her grandfather in relation to his diary entries. There is little context set for his time in East Africa which was focused on the Turkana expedition rather than the main military engagement against the Germans.

Wynne Jones provides an insight into the 5 and 6 KAR – he was to serve with 6 KAR and worked alongside 5 KAR. The diary covers from January 1918 when he left for East Africa and runs through to November 1918 when he was evacuated with an injury. The text is supplemented with early family history and some events leading to Wynne Jones’ death on 10 August 1922 following a riding accident with the Territorial Army in Wales. Between East Africa and death, he served with the British forces in Russia where he obtained a bar to his MC, the MC having been awarded for action in France before he left for East Africa.

What is striking about the diary is the almost haphazard approach to the campaign, the challenge of porters and moving herds of cattle, camels and mules across desert terrain. The issue of rations lasting is another theme.

On the issue of registering porters he wrote (p135): “I was busy today registering all the porters. I wish they would only get decent names instead of these awful substitutes they have. How they can ever say them beats me.” It took him all day to register 125 of 250 names. We don’t hear complaints about names on day 2 or for any other occasions when new porters are enlisted, although there are issues around using new porters as opposed to seasoned porters. This is an enlightening little statement. Porters recruited on route were generally recorded for administrative reasons. The challenge was spelling or recording the names in a manner they would be understood by others. The vowel sounds are different and the consonant combinations irregular when it comes to British English – one just needs to see the bilingual dictionaries of the day which missionaries and doctors were compiling. And even if Wynne Jones had passed his Kiswahili test (something he doesn’t record) not everyone would have spoken Kiswahili, making life a little challenging to say the least.

My other little spot of interest was his diary entry noting “dinner at Muhoroni” on 10 October 1918 on his way home. Muhoroni was the place where Lord Kitchener had bought his farm back in 1911 and had turned into a limited company the weekend before he lost his life on 5 June 1916. His brother, HEC Kitchener who was serving in East Africa at the time, responsible for railway aspects, had taken the title of Lord Kitchener (K2 as I refer to him). I wonder if he was at Muhoroni at the time and entertained Wynne Jones at dinner… we’ll probably never know.

For anyone interested in finding out more about the King’s African Rifles with whom Wynne Jones served:

  • Moyse-Bartlett in his mammoth The King’s African Rifles has a section (pp419-452) although there is no mention of Wynne Jones. 5 KAR was formed in early 1917 from units of 2 KAR and 3 KAR operating on the northern border of British East Africa. 1/6 KAR had been formed at the end of April 1917 from ex-German askaris and other recruits (p354). It therefore made sense to send them north where they would not have to fight against their former units.
  • Per Finsted has provided an overview of the Sudanese involved in the Turkana expedition and a history in an 18 page article.

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.

Review: The Corfield Papers – Kim Leslie

I was given a copy of The Corfield Papers in West Sussex Record Office: An illustrated catalogue and family history by Kim Leslie, the author of the book.

This might seem a bit of an odd thing to do but there is an African connection in none other than Daniel Patrick Driscoll of Driscoll’s Scouts in the 1899-1902 war and of 25th Royal Fusiliers (Legion of Frontiersmen) fame in the East Africa campaign of World War 1.

Driscoll has a reputation something Kim touches on as an illegitimate daughter of Driscoll’s, conceived in South Africa, was adopted by Carruthers Corfield and his wife Betty in 1903 in England. More will be coming on this in due course as I am currently editing a biography on Driscoll written by Peter Lovatt (a family connection), to be published through the Great War in Africa Association.

The book is a publication format I hadn’t come across before – a catalogue of family papers as one used to dealing with paper catalogues would understand, supplemented with background to the various contributors to the archive providing a valuable family history with select family trees and a range of illustrations from the collection. All in one publication – an absolute labour of love and for researchers interested in social history of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, this looks a rich and varied source of data.

While there wasn’t much on Driscoll for obvious reasons, some things caught my eye which gives a flavour of what can be found in the book and collection.

It was a timely reminder of how apparently official documents can have inaccuracies – names, dates of birth/death can differ, all through human error – supporting the need to corroborate evidence. This is a family with some tricky pasts linking into Japan, the USA and Australia. I wonder if such situations are as prevalent today in our technologically linked up world? Is it as easy today as it was then for a person to marry someone else whilst still married to another or to believe one is married only to find out it wasn’t legal for some technical reason? These are questions posed by some family experiences.

I’ve already mentioned the Inspector of Nuisances in a previous post. Another interesting discover is ‘snowbird communities’. This seems to be a United States of American thing where people find winter hideaways – in this case it was Lake Alfred in Florida.

There is also a fascinatingly sad story about Carruthers and Betty’s daughter who set herself alight aged 18 months. That this happened in a doctor’s house and so rapidly suggested the matches concerned were not what we know as ‘safety’ matches. An article published in May 2020 explains the difference and sets out that although they were invented in about 1893, they only became legal in 1910. How many other children lost their lives due to this seemingly innocuous little piece of wood. For anyone interested there is a website called History of Matches.

There is much (relatively speaking) being published or said about the difference in burial or treatment between black and white in Africa (interestingly little attention is given to the demise of the local Arab, Indian or Chinese in these discussions). So I was intrigued to read in The Corfield Papers of a letter dated 1859 (p113) in which it referred to a death in Jamaica as follows: “…it is the custom of the Country for every Estate to have a burial ground on it, one for the white, another for the black people”. Without debating the rights and wrongs or reasons for the difference in treatment, it was clearly a practice of long standing.

And finally, I discovered another link with Kitchener: Carruthers Corfield was a trustee of the Kitchener Benevolent Society with correspondence or information predating 1918 suggesting Corruthers was there from the start and there is reference to a 1918 letter regarding tensions with Frances Parker otherwise known as Millie, Kitchener’s sister. The other related Frances Parker is Fanny Parker the suffragette.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to get this book, but can see the value for family, social, cultural and medical historians/researchers. It was a real bonus to discover some of these links and all compliments to Kim on a labour of love – it’s a useful catalogue, fascinating family history and beautiful book.

Drawing the line

One of the things that struck me whilst working on Kitchener: the man not the myth was his distinction between faith and religion. A man of faith himself, he saw how religions were used to control people, especially in illiterate or oral tradition communities. Realising that those being suppressed would eventually try to have their shackles overthrown, he looked to alleviate inequalities through education, improving health and work conditions. To do this he encouraged British control (as he saw this as the most liberal at the time) however, he refused to allow Christian missionaries to set up in places where Islam was successfully embedded. He also learnt Turkish or Islamic law to address inequalities whilst he was in Egypt recognising that to tackle the issue from a British or Christian approach would not work as the cultures and underpinning values were different.

So, it was with interest that I came across the following quote by Jinnah in March 1940. In declaring the Muslim League’s decision to call for a separate state of Pakistan, Jinnah observed that: the real nature of Islam and of Hinduism [are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but they are in fact, different and distinct social orders, and it is a dream that the Hindus and the Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality.

More significantly, he noted that they derive inspiration from different sources of history. They have different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other… (in Gandhi: A life by Yogesh Chadha, p368)

Lord Wavell, one time Viceroy of united India, on hearing of Gandhi’s death wrote: but who am I to judge, and how can an Englishman estimate a Hindu? Our standards are poles apart; and by Hindu standards Gandhi may have been a saint; but by any standards he was a very remarkable man. (in Gandhi: A life by Yogesh Chadha, p468)

For these men, the recognition was difference, not inequality. The challenge was how to reconcile these differences in a way that would not lead to conflict but to peace. Where does the give and take lie?

Gandhi in 1942 observed that: Whether my master of yesterday becomes my equal and lives in my house on my own terms, surely his presence cannot detract from my freedom. Nay, I may profit by his presence which I have permitted. (in Gandhi: a life by Yogesh Chadha, p379)

This brings us back to migrations and people moving in and settling into new territories as discussed in Journey to the Mayflower, and many other instances of cultures meeting and mixing, sometimes successfully and living in harmony whilst on other occasions friction and conflict eventually erupt. Perhaps the latter as a result of not being genuine or fair in striving for equality as Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse tried to explain in his 5-hour explanation of his actions. The history of the African continent (and no doubt others too) is riddled with such examples.

In this political time, I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from the above. For myself, I think there’s a clue to how we can move forward to live together in peace and harmony.