Perceptions of Identity

Some time ago I posted about beards and moustache wearing in the British Army. How we present ourselves is part of our identity, and that is determined by the situations within which we find ourselves. In searching for information about beards etc, I came across this fascinating insight into the Moroccan veil as it is presented in the French media.

It brought to mind Michelle Moyd’s work on the Askari in the Schutztruppe (Violent Intermediaries) and the various photographs we have of different communities in WW1 Africa. Soldiers, at least in the early days of campaigning were identifiable by their uniforms and badges. I’m constantly amazed at medal collectors being able to identify the campaign etc from black and white photos based on the stripe width, shade and order it’s worn. Then we have the photos of labour supporting the Lake Tanganyika expedition – the variety of dress suggesting levels of European/mission education and encounter. The photographer Dobbertin who accompanied the German forces also shows the differences in dress and relationship.

How individuals were identified determined how they were treated and the extent to which they were accepted. Kitchener only became tolerably accepted by the British establishment when he adopted more British ways; otherwise he remained an enigma and outsider. Jan Smuts did not follow British military ways and his reputation has suffered accordingly, while Jaap van Deventer accepted the fact that British officers had to do staff work behind the lines and was regarded as a better soldier despite his reluctance to speak English.

Yet, taking on others’ identities has led to accusations where cultural nuances have not been understood. The most obvious WW1 example is of the white South African forces taking on the Zulu impi tradition on the Western Front. As Bill Nasson points out, this was reflective of South Africa’s admiration for Chaka, the Zulu warrior and how the military tradition he forged has been assimilated into South Africa per se – not unlike the Haka the New Zealand rugby team performs.

Identity is tricky – both for the individual at the time in terms of how they perceive themselves and are accepted, but also for the historian trying to make sense of a different time and place. Memoirs, diaries, letters, photographs and other primary source documents all help in constucting the context to better understand an individual or group’s place within the wider community. My research into Kitchener has been a salutary lesson in identify and how myth and dominant cultural ideas can distort the person in question.

Review: Forged in the Great War by Jan-Bart Gewald

Forged in the Great War: People, transport and labour, the establishment of colonial rule in Zambia 1890-1920 is the second book regarding the Great War and Zambia’s role to have been published during 2015. The other is Ed Yorke’s Britain, Northern Rhodesia and the First World War: Forgotten Colonial Crisis.

I recommend both and although my intention is not to review Ed’s book here, I need to refer to it, not least because Jan-Bart does. Interestingly Jan-Bart feels that his argument contradicts that of Ed’s. However, I think the two compliment each other as they are looking at slightly different aspects of the same thing. Added together, we have a very rich new understanding of the politics behind Northern Rhodesia / Zambia’s involvement in World War 1.

I’ve more to say about Ed’s book elsewhere (still to be published) and as the heading of this blog indicates, I want to focus on Jan-Bart’s short expose (174 pages incl bibliography) of labour and the making of Zambia.

As with the recent studies coming out on the East Africa campaign, we are starting to get a deeper understanding of the subtle differences between the micro-nations involved in the conflict and how these interacted with each other and the dominating colonial power structures both locally and internationally. While Ed’s book has looked at the broader internatonal position with a greater focus on the role between te British South Africa Company’s (BSAC) relationship with Britain, Jan-Bart has tended to focus more internally and it is in this regard that the ‘difference’ in argument is perceived.

Jan-Bart claims that the reason the BSAC was able to take control of Zambia during the war was because they were given carte blanche on expenditure by the British government. Here I have to differ as this was not the case. The British War Office certainly (with Kitchener in the chair) believed that no expense should be spared to enable Britain to win the war. However, this is too superficial a reading of the situation. Kitchener was known for saving costs and being frugal but not at the expense of quality. He did not believe in throwing money at a problem and certainly not in a battle he did not think necessary (or where the final decision would be made at the peace table). In this he differed to the rest of his War Office staff and back in London there was a constant struggle between the War Office and Colonial Office about expenditure in Africa and who was paying for what in connection with the war. The Colonial Office was hesitant to incur costs it, or its territories, would have to pick up at the end of the war. The BSAC was responsible to the latter for its work in Zambia and a careful reading of Forged in the Great War points to this.

On p31 Jan-Bart states:

it was precisely on account of the war, and in particular the limitless funding made available to the BSAC by the War Office during the course of the war, that the BSAC was able to establish an effective administration in Northern Rhodesia

This is in line with my findings but what Jan-Bart hasn’t picked up on was the relationship with the Colonial Office where on occasion, I imagine, somewhat heated discussions took place over who was responsible for what costs. By 1917 Jameson is less eager to spend money in Zambia as he is aware that the company might not be reimbursed. And I would go so far as to say this is the reason the chiefs do not receive in full the rewards they were promised for recruiting labour.

This is the only area I could see were the two text differ in their argument and hence the conclusions they draw.

What is more significant than differing conclusions is the information which has been brought to light  especially from the Zambian National Archives which few students of the Great War are likely to be able to visit.

Through Jan Bart’s account we get a chronological overview of how labour practices in Zamabia changed over 30 years and some of the reasons behind these changes. He looks at the slave trade and the changes end ending of that brought, how  farming practises changed and the impact of the introduction of cassava as a food source.

Of particular note is how the administration sought to find alternatives to using human carriers and the challenges introducing mechanical transport posed. Who would have thought using a truck wouldhave been so expensive to run when one thinks of the overcrowding on our roads today (p117/8):

In the course of 1916 a road was cut and bridges built from the railhead at Broken Hill to two points on the border. Up to 17 motorcars were obtained via South Africa and converted into lorries able to carry 700 lbs plus a driver and his kit. The road was an earthen track, with exception of approximately 80 miles of sand where, ‘wheel tracks in the sand were filled with soft stone and the cars ran on two slightly sunken ribbons of Macadam thus formed’.

Taking into account the amount of food carriers would need to survive a journey (p119):

Administrator Wallace wrote:
I hear from Colonel Masterman that he has asked Mr. Chaplin for authority to buy 10 more motor lorries and cars for the road Kashutu to Kasama, this will make a total of 26 cars with which he hopes to be able to deliver 2,000 lbs per day at Kasama. I estimated that three tons per day were needed and I am now informed that the amount required is nearer five tons per day. It is evident that if the motor transport had to be depended upon we should need a very large number of cars. The road will be a safeguard against failure but I hope that except for urgent stores we shall not have to use it much as the running costs alone cannot be less than £70 to £80 per ton.

Man power was still the most efficient, reliable and cost effective.

Another option which opened for the duration of the war, was river transport. The administrators, were despite today’s views, very conscious of the need to look after their labour as it was scarce and deaths or losses of any kind would have a major impact on the delivery of food – for all.

Goodall, based at Nsumbu Island, systematised and supervised the transport route through the numbering: ‘a numbered metal label nailed to each craft’, and registering of all craft. Canoes and paddlers were collected from all the river systems, and Goodall ‘soon had registered over 12,000 paddlers and 2,000 canoes’. The canoes were hired for whatever period they were needed and the owners received hire payment at the rate of 6d. per load per trip. Paddlers were engaged for two complete journeys and received 6s. pay and 2s. food allowance per journey. An extra shilling was paid to those who completed the journey in under one month. Canoes in need of repairs were dealt with at Kabunda, free of charge to owners. In this manner boats, ‘ranging from small ones of not more than 12 inches wide which with only one paddler carried 120 lbs, to large ones which with 5 or 6 paddlers would carry half a ton’, transported nearly 70,000 loads of an average 25 kilogram a piece between January 1916 and February 1917.

That the administraton was concerned is also evident in its reaction to the outbreak of the Spanish Flu and the lack of food availability. I can just imagine the confusion and anger there must have been with the government insisting that all farmers who had produce sell it to the government which then saw to it being distruibuted more fairly and widely to ensure that all had something rather than many having nothing. I’m not naive enough to ignore the ideas of misappropriation of goods and some getting more than others for various reasons (the same happened in the UK with rationing and in other countries), but it does serve to show that at least on a local level there were whites with a conscience.

Finally, it was also refreshing to see Jan-Bart’s take on The Lake Tanganyika Expedition. This is something I’ve been very aware of through the photographs of the expedition and as he notes, there is very little in the written documentation, but it is there if you look.

For May, I’m going to review Richard Smith’s Jamaican Volunteers in the First World War: Race, masculinity and the development of national consciousness. I mention this here as it provides a very insightful take on British attitudes to micro-nationalities outside of Britain.


The numbers game: how many men fought in Africa

Trying to work out how many men saw action in Africa during World War 1 has been rather a challenge as there is no one source which confidently covers this. The same goes for the number who were injured, fell ill or lost their lives. When an opportunity arose to concentrate on locating the various figures, I jumped at it and thought it worthwhile sharing with others.

The forces are split into where they originate from and then the theatre served.  The figures have been listed to provide a more coherent picture of what information is available. If you have different numbers for any of the campaigns or forces, please share them as we know that accurate records were not kept by all administrations. It is hoped that in time these figures will be supported by the names on the ‘In Memory‘ lists which are being compiled by the Great War in Africa Association.

Overall totals are still to be determined, although a rough calculation using the figures below suggests that the British Empire contributed 846,026 men to (and from) the East and Central African theatres. An analysis of the results below will highlight some gaps such as female non-combatants (nurses, camp followers), medical staff and other non-combatant support services (YMCA) and naval forces other than those who served in the German Army in East Africa. Another group missing is the Chinese who were contracted and paid for their labour in East Africa. A clearer picture of the extent of the forces and numbers involved in the African theatres is definitely starting to materialise.

Brief references are included – it is assumed that most readers will know that Paice refers to Ed Paice’s Tip and Run, etc. However, “Statistics” refers to Charles Lucas; Statistics of the Military effort of the British Empire during the Great War 1914-1920 (available online)

British Forces serving in East Africa
Jamaica – total = 507
from the British West Indian Regiment which went to Egypt, 500 men and officers (300 1st battalion, 100 2nd battalion, 100 3rd battalion) were sent to East Africa. They joined the 2nd battalion West Indian Regiment of the Regular Army. In addition to the men above, there were 7 officers. They returned to Egypt in 1917.
Reference: With the Jamaicans in East Africa

Nyasaland (Malawi)
population at outbreak of war:
approx 1,150,000 natives (male and female),
799 Europeans (540 male, 259 female)
Fighting force:
267,060 natives (70% of population of military age):
9,819 soldiers,
125,194 carriers,
132,047 non-combatants eg labourers but not carriers
Losses: 3,001 combatants including
1,256 dead,
1,745 wounded ;
3,360 non-combatant dead mostly in the carrier corps due to disease and exhaustion
Reference: Sir HL Duff memoirs at IWM

195,652 – Porters/carriers/bearers
1,262 – Labourers
5,000 approx – special porters
15,000 troops were recruited
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges Carrier Corps

Nyasaland Field Force
455 – Total
158 – armed forces
180 – various capacities along lines of communication
51 – commissioned into KAR/NFF
Reference: Peter Charlton

British East Africa (Kenya)
Total population on outbreak of war:
25,000 Indians
5,000 whites
4,083,000 blacks

145,967 – Porters/carriers
16,611 – special porters
10,961 – casual labourers
14.6% = death rate
10,500 approx – Black Troops
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges

Zanzibar & Mafia
1,000 – troops
3,542 – total non-combatants
4 – gun porters
107 – medical staff
3,404 – carriers
27 – casual labourers
Reference: Hodges Manpower statistics

182,014 and approx 120,000 for Belgian service – Porters/carriers
989 – special porters
1,243 – casual labourers
10,000 approx – Black Troops
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges

776 – carriers (Hodges)
1/3 did not return home (Paice)

Sierra Leone
5,005 – carriers
9 – casual labour
Reference: Hodges

6,216 – troops
812 – gun porters
3,087 – carriers
Reference: Hodges

380 – troops
37 – carriers
Reference: Hodges

Gold Coast
3,976 – troops
177 – gun porters
204 – carriers
Reference: Hodges

population at outbreak of war – 315 million (Charles Lucas, Empire at war)
77,000 British and 159,000 Indians in Army at outbreak of war
1,500 British and 10,250 Indians went to East Africa in 1914
928 British officers
4,681 British other ranks
848 Indian officers
33,835 Indian other ranks
13,021 Indian non-combatants
Reference: Lucas (Statistics)

South Africa
population in 1911 (census): Total 8,973,394
white population 1,276,242

1,065 white officers to East Africa
29,558 white other ranks
18,845 coloured other ranks
Reference: Statistics

103 white officers to Central Africa
1,970 white other ranks
Reference: Statistics

South Africans to Egypt
76 white officers
1,244 white other ranks
1,962 coloured other ranks
Reference: Statistics

White South Africans to Egypt in 1916:
160 officers
5,648 other ranks
Reference: SA Official History of the war

Total South African losses for Africa (East, Central and Egypt)
2,361 whites died
211 coloureds died
1,374 whites wounded
10 whites missing
1 white prisoner
99 Union Imperial Service details (it’s not clear who these are as they should be included in the numbers above and France as all, other than GSWA, were Imperial service troops)
Reference: Statistics

South Africans served in German South West Africa 1914-1915
43,402 whites including 3,397 in administrative roles
295 whites died
318 whites wounded
Reference: statistics and Official History

South Africans who rebelled in 1914 = 11,472 of which some 52 joined the German forces
190 rebels were killed
300-350 rebels wounded
30,000 loyal South Africans, of which
132 loyal South Africans killed or died of wounds
242 loyal South Africans wounded
Reference: SA Official History of the war

7,267 coloured South African troops remained in South Africa
Reference: Statistics

Southern Rhodesia
30,000 approx – white population
750,000 approx – black population
550 whites
600 Black
850 – European reserve
525 white men served in South West Africa
500 white men served in East Africa

Northern Rhodesia
2,000 approx – white population on outbreak of war
850,000 approx – black population on outbreak of war

Total British troops – 126,972 (Reference: Paice)
Deaths: 11,189
total including deaths, missing, wounded etc = over 22,000
Total British carriers – over 1million of whom no fewer than 95,000 died (includes 41,000 carriers recruited in GEA) (Paice)

187,369 non-combatants (excluding black and Indian)
397 white officers and 9,051 white other ranks killed/died
480 white officers and 7,294 white other ranks wounded
30 white officers and 911 white other ranks missing and prisoner
286 Indians killed
Other numbers should be visible in an original copy
Reference: Statistics

1,297 white officers in King’s African Rifles
1,916 white NCOs in King’s African Rifles
29,137 black soldiers in King’s African Rifles
Reference: Statistics

Belgian Congo
West Africa
570 Congolese soldiers support French troops against Cameroons

East Africa
1,415 Congolese
55 Europeans
support the British in Katanga from June to November 1915

719 officers
11,698 soldiers
invade Rwanda in 1916

over 260,000 bearers are recruited over the course of the war of which 20,000 accompany the soldiers all the way of which 6,600 lose their lives
no numbers are kept of the other bearers who lost their lives
Reference: Belgian Royal Military Museum Lisolo na Bisu 1885-1960: our history – the Congolese soldier of the Force Publique (2010)

over 260,000 bearers are recruited over the course of the war
of which 20,000 accompany the soldiers all the way of which 6,600 lose their lives
no numbers are kept of the other bearers who lost their lives

East Africa – before Portugal declared war in 1917, the country sent out 1,527 men from Portugal to protect the colony.
3,000 approx – 10 native companies each with 250 native soldiers and at least 4 Europeans and 3 batteries (no numbers quoted. These consisted of black and white)
Reference: Peter Abbott Armies in East Africa 1914-1918

19,438 – Total number of men and officers sent from Portugal to East Africa during the war
Deaths – suggests 1/2 the number Correira does below; Correira’s breakdown is more recent
8,000 approx – Levies
60,000 approx – Carriers service Portuguese troops and approx 30,000 service British forces = 90,000
Paice notes that records were not kept
Reference: Edward Paice

13,872 – Total losses East Africa
4,811 – dead
1,600 – disabled
5,500 – missing
1,283 – injured
678 – prisoners
2,133 – Total losses Angola
818 – dead
683 – disabled
200 – missing
372 – injured
68 – prisoners
Reference: Sylvia Correira
The Germans who fought in Angola invaded from GSWA whilst the South African rebellion was under way.

German East Africa
3,526 – white males on the 1913 census
At start of war:
218 – European and German NCO (130 combatants)
55 – European officers and NCO paramilitary police
1670 – European reservists and sailors in port
192 marines from Mowe,
322 marines from Konigsberg

Total served:
2,700 approx Europeans
12,000 approx askari soldiers
losses: 20% died, killed, missing in action

2,542 – Askari (Schutztruppe)
2,160 – Askari paramilitary police at start of the war

6,308 Schutztruppe (soldiers) died, killed or missing in action
References: Boell & Edward Paice Tip and Run

Porters/carriers/bearers – 191,719
special porter – 44,031
casual labourer – 125,817
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges

8 – casual labourers serving in British forces (Hodges)

German South West Africa
Population in 1912 = 14,816 Europeans of whom 9,046 were of military age
Native population = 80,900

Germans surrendered: 204 officers and 3,166 other ranks
Reference: Official History

West Africa
Combined West African force: 4,300 black troops (Gold Coast/Ghana = 800 civil police, 320 Northern Province constabulary, 400 Customs Preventative Service, 900 volunteer corps)
increased to 9,700 including Indian troops
roughly equal French and British split
2,000 carriers and labourers
150 Senegalese
Reference: &

See above for West African forces who served in East Africa

German forces in Togoland
800 armed police
200 German civilians

German forces in Cameroon
200 German soldiers
3,200 Black soldiers