Reconciliation – Smuts’ answer to SA and the 1919 peace

Smuts was ‘very anxious that the name of South Africa shall not be tarnished with this peace [of 1919].’ With this in mind, he wrote to the Gilletts, his Quaker friends in England: ‘I am going to give our Germans good decent treatment in spite of the awful terms about their private property.’ (p8 – Jean van der Poel, Selections from the Smuts papers, Vol 5)

Smuts’ reaction was within keeping of Botha’s actions as well as those of Lord Kitchener towards the defeated. No doubt Smuts’ main aim concerned the Germans within the Union. Reconciling them would ease some  issues in the mining fraternity given the links between some mining magnates and Germany, while it would also keep those who had rebelled against going to war with Germany quiet. How successful he was needs to be explored.

Looking at SWA (Namibia) which South Africa obtained as a mandate, the situation is less clear – half the German population was repatriated, the other half retained to help maintain the white presence. Was this compromise an attempt at ‘decent treatment’ or were there alternative economic and political drivers? 

It’s not always easy discerning altruistic motives from others in such actions, but one would like to think humanitarian priorities dominate. Sadly, history seems to prove otherwise – if Smuts could reconcile the Germans and Botha the Boers (although unsuccessfully as it turned out), why did they not do the same with other South African groups? What got in the way? The same issues that ultimately prevented the Boer reconciliation? It takes two to tango so they say, it also takes two to keep/create peace. As Kitchener said about taking Africa into World War 1, why fight for something with all that loss when its future will be ultimately decided at the conference table. And as he planned for Egypt, reducing the wealth gap, bringing people closer together, would ultimately reduce conflict. Why it didn’t happen is ably explained by Wanagri Maathai in The Challenge for Africa…

From Abercorn to King Edward via Cairo

The town of Abercorn, better known today as Mbala, has the distinction of being the place where Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and his remaining German force laid down their arms on 25 November 1918. I was therefore intrigued to discover that the town had been envisaged by Harry Johnston back in 1890 who camped there on his travels through Central Africa. He named the farm after the Duke of Abercorn, then Chairman of the British South Africa Company which was part funding his work in Central Africa (p165)

It therefore made logical sense to discover that Fort Johnston in Malawi, today Mangochi Boma, was named after him, although it doesn’t appear that he named the place after himself. What is interesting about Johnston’s appointment to Nyasaland is that he had a hat band of white, yellow and black, colours which were later used for the police/military uniform as he was keen on showing the unity between white, black and Indian (pp197,207).

Johnston appears to have been a considerate administrator, confirming that land was unoccupied before having it ceded to the crown through treaty rather than the usual European claiming of land in the name of the crown (p220). This was to be his practice wherever he governed, although he was not scared to use force if needed such as in suppressing the slave trade.

When he got to Uganda in 1899, he looked to combine Uganda and today’s Kenya into one colonial administrative territory with the seat of administration at a new place along the Uganda Railway which he planned to call King Edward. Unlike Lugard’s uniting of the Nigerian territories, uniting those in East Africa at the time Johnston proposed would, some think, have been better for the region especially given Johnston’s sensitivities towards the local inhabitants – that the Kibaka of Uganda sent a tribute which appears on Johnston’s tombstone says much: His faithfulness to Buganda shows that England wishes all whom she protects to be free (p357). However, King Edward never materialised as Clement Hill of the Foreign Office Africa department apparently did not like Johnston and counteracted much of what Johnston proposed purely because it was suggested by Johnston.

Johnston’s is a name that features much in early colonial history, yet he remains an obscure character – for similar reasons that Kitchener was disregarded. He was not of the accepted ruling classes which meant his achievements were downplayed. Significantly both men were supported and owed their career progress to Lord Salisbury, Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. Kitchener and Johnston overlapped with the 1885 boundary commission in East Africa – Johnston’s work on Kilimanjaro and a treaty he arranged over Taveta playing a large part in the final boundary decision (pp86-87). Yet, it does not appear the two men met at that time. Later, in 1895 Johnston was to be Kitchener’s guest in Cairo (p257). Johnston commented that Kitchener thought it was “Nyasaland and not Uganda which abutted on the southern frontier of Sudan”. Oliver suggests this is evidence of the lack of general knowledge concerning Africa – however, given Kitchener’s own experiences of the continent and his mapping skills, as well as meeting with Stanley and others, this statement suggests to me that Kitchener was playing with his guest. He had a crafty sense of humour.

It was a chance conversation that led to me digging a bit more into Johnston – why was he not as well known as Lugard given that both men had huge influence in how colonial Africa developed? While Sir Harry Johnston and the Scramble for Africa by Roland Oliver has opened some windows onto the man, there is far more to discover – not least through his many books, fiction and non-fiction, on aspects of the continent.

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.