Medical discoveries

My most recent trip to South Africa was significantly focused on medical things. Having fallen ill on arrival followed by three days in bed, I eventually visited a doctor as I was due to record an interview on the Versailles talks and SA with Classic FM with no voice. The day of the doctor visit, a colleague had commented that I was no longer sounding like a frog but rather like a bullfrog. Miraculously, having seen the doctor at 4.35pm on Wednesday, I was able to speak, and feel human, by 12.30pm the following day when the recording was scheduled.

Getting into the SANDF archive in its new location in Irene and delving into things medical made me wonder how the chaps out in the bush during WW1 suffering from malaria and pneumonia managed to get themselves to medical support as they did. How medical treatments have developed in so many ways(!), yet remain the same in others. A trip through a game park in Limpopo Province highlighted the use of the Buffalo Thorn for medicinal purposes and cleaning teeth.

On the last day of my last trip to the ‘old’ SANDF Doc Centre, we (myself and an archive colleague) discovered some medical files which apeared untouched since being filed in the 1970s. This trip we worked out how they linked together. I was able to discover some useful material on General Sir Jaap van Deventer for my talk (more in due course) and a young academic can develop some case studies for his MA dissertation on the Cape Corps as a result. This will also help provide supporting evidence and documentation for the GWAA Medical project which is focusing on the Pike Reports (context and composition added since last related post).

For those interested, the type of information contained on the Medical Cards can be seen here. Two records have additional information from the medical reports as an initial example of how the medical boards related for one person. A sample of information contained on the Death Registers for the EANLC (East African Native Labour Corps) recruited in South Africa promises further insights into those who supported the fighting forces. These records as well as the Catalogue listings will continue to be updated as time permits.

Oh for a doctor!

The topic of medicine in the First World War seems to be very popular in 2017, and it just happens to be a theme GWAA is focusing on too, although when a few of us started looking at it, there wasn’t so much happening generally – one of those interesting coincidences.

Something which struck me when reading Gregg Adams’ King’s African Rifles Soldier versus Schutztruppe Soldier: East Africa 1917-18 (Osprey 1916) was the role of fire and its impact on fighting. He quotes Mzee Ali (Bror McDonnel) in this regard which surprisingly passed me by when I read the book – I was focusing on other themes at the time. What is striking about the role of fire and the description given is that I don’t recall having read about doctors treating burns, or burns being listed on the catalogue of reasons men were evacuated by hospital ship to South Africa between 1916 and 1917 listed in the Appendices to the Pike Report (WO 141/31).

In On Call in Africa (NP Jewell), we read of an ammunition store catching fire but not the bush fires. There is also reference in some sources to Smuts and Lettow-Vorbeck using scorched earth policy as a military tactic but this implies controlled fire and the devastating effect of this in terms of famine and starvation is recorded. But, the fires caused by weapons firing and sudden sparks turning into flames is not a feature in memoirs and diaries. Snakes get more of a mention, as do attacks by bees.

Were many lives lost to these fires? If so, ow were they recorded and where? How did doctors deal with them especially when water was scarce? (Jewell mentions sterilizing hands with iodine as there was no water available). What was the impact of the hot African sun on the untreated burn injuries? (Pike notes that sunstroke/burn was not a major issue for the medical services). Why is there little record of burns in the medical records? I’m not sure we’ll get answers to many of these questions, but as noted by Adams, this was a significant difference of fighting in certain parts of Africa compared with the Western Front.

You can see the transcription of the Pike Report and other relevant medical links on the GWAA Medical Archive.

Misconception 4: Indian troops were not up to scratch

Doesn’t it strike you as odd, that if the Indians had really performed poorly in Africa they would have been withdrawn sooner rather than later?  The record of the Indian service in East Africa speaks for itself, and should not be compared with their experiences in Europe as the conditions and circumstances under which they served were different.

The Indian forces received a bad press for their perceived performance at Tanga as they were an easy scapegoat. This doesn’t mean that they were perfect. As JM ‘Jimmy’ Stewart who commanded IEF C (which fought at Longido) recorded about the attack on Tanga when he heard about it:

“Many of us who knew India had anticipated that the troops detailed were not good enough, but this was further complicated by a want of secrecy about their intentions, undue confidence and a lack of determination.” (Jimmie Stewart: Frontiersman, p69)

The Indian troops rapidly expelled all concerns in their abilities when they held their ground and showed the raw South Africans how to fight the Germans at the Battle for Salaita Hill on 12 February 1916.

The Indian forces served through most of the campaign, only being replaced in late 1917. Harry Fecitt has written short articles on a number of the Indian contingents involved. Apart from troops, India supplied sappers and miners (for example the Faridkots) and medical forces (incuding 250 Indian stretcher-bearers from South Africa). Doctors who have written about their work with the Indian Medical Services include Temple Harris in Seventeen Letters to Tatham, NP Jewell and the author Francis Brett Young in Marching on Tanga. Andrew Kerr has written about Jammu and Kashmir involvement.

In addition to the Indians who came over from India, there were Indians resident in East Africa who played their part. Mention has already been made of the South African Stretcher Bearers. Those from British East Africa served on the railways whilst others served in a military capacity (Uganda Railway Corps). The diversity of role of the East African Goans during the War is explored by Clifford Pereira.

The centenary of the war and the focus on India has given impetus to students of the war to find out more. Watch this space as there are sure to be more accounts of Indian bravery and steadfastness. A summary of Sikh involvement has recently been published and work is being done on the Muslim contribution. India and the Great War has a few articles which mention East Africa. The most definitive publication to date, The Indian Army in East Africa by SD Pradhan (1991) is unfortunately no longer in print although limited copies can be found in the second-hand market.

Indians had served in Africa before, particularly during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), for which their services are commemorated with a memorial in Observatory, Johannesburg.

 

No time for peace

Going through some medical war diaries at The National Archives, London (WO 95/5324& WO 95/5325) a little while ago, I was shocked to see there was no indication that the war in Europe had come to an end. I didn’t really expect to see anything for 11 November but I did expect some sort of mention between 11 and 25 November 1918 – the latter date being when German commander Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck officially surrendered at Abercorn (in today’s Zambia).

What this does tell us, is that for the medical services, it was business as usual. Reading through the entries, there was no remarkable difference between the diary entries before or after these dates, other than that the diaries seemed to end at the end of November 1918.

We know the Great War in Africa was quite different to the war in Europe. Trenches were scarce, so were rations and news. Where the men on the Western Front received news regularly, there are accounts of 2-4 months between letters being received. In fact, looking through a diary at RAC Hendon soon after the War Diaries, I was surprised to read that young Brown (the diary author) recorded in his flight log that he ‘dropped letters’ on 27 July 1916 at Lolkisale. This was the only time he dropped something other than bombs during his year in East Africa.

Although there were regular communications (telegrams) between London and GHQ East Africa, when the Armistice was agreed in Europe, a two-week window was included for getting the message through to the forces in East Africa. News of the Armistice arrived on 11 November and was delivered to the Germans on 13 November the day a battle (in East African terms) was fought at Kasama.

As I recounted in WW1 in Africa: the forgotten conflict of the European powers:

Major Hawkins recalled the story of the last days in The Times:
On the morning of November 11th (Armistice Day) the column was still forty-one miles from the road junction at Malima River, where we hoped to cut off at least the German rear-guard. Twenty-one miles were covered on the 11th, and touch with the enemy obtained one mile from the cross roads after marching eighteen miles on the 12th.

The position of the force on this day was a peculiar one. The column, consisting of 750 rifles, was probably considerably inferior to the total number of the enemy should he stand at bay. Further, our column had far outstripped all communications, and it would be impossible to pursue beyond Kasama without waiting for food. It was therefore determined to deal as heavy a blow as possible at the enemy before he got out of reach.

There turned out to be six enemy companies on the Malima, who, being attacked unexpectedly in the rear, hastily retired with loss to the north side of the open valley of the Malima, across which a hot fight raged till dark … 9.30pm … when fighting ceased.

Nearby, on 13 November, a German advance party arrived south of Kasama and fired at British defenders occupying a rubber factory. A British farmer also joined the defence firing an elephant gun from inside the roof of the factory, leading the Germans to believe that they faced an artillery piece.

News of the armistice was received in Livingstone on the 11th, but owing to a fault in the telegraph did not reach the Chambeshi (Chambezi) till two days later. Croad heard of the armistice at ‘about 1 o’clock’ when a Mr F Rumsey brought him a wire from the administrator in Livingstone ‘[…] saying that we were to carry on till General van Deventer wired me instructions.’

At 11.30am on November 13th one of our KAR native patrol posted on the main road reported that two motor cyclists carrying white flags and with white bands at their helmets passed from the direction of Abercorn going towards the enemy at Kasama. The native patrol shouted to them and tried to stop them, but they took no notice and passed on towards Kasama and the enemy.

This news caused great excitement in the column as no home news had been received for over a week. It was decided to advance slowly and await events.

At 2.45pm, when four miles from Kasama, the advance point reported two German askaris coming in under a large white flag, with a letter for the column commander. This proved to be a telegram received by von Lettow from our motor cyclists announcing the Armistice.

Lettow-Vorbeck formally handed in his agreement to surrender on 16 November 1918 and the formal surrender took place at Abercorn on 25 November 1918.

Of the 863 deaths recorded for 11 November 1918, 12 took place in East Africa
7 in Tanzania/German East Africa,
3 in Kenya/British East Africa,
1 in Malawi/Nyasaland,
1 in Zimbabwe/Southern Rhodesia
2 in Mozambique/Portuguese East Africa

Other war related deaths in Africa included:
2 in Nambibia/South West Africa
3 in Ghana/Gold Coast
5 in South Africa
18 in Egypt
(Unfortunately I cannot find a reference for these figures – I came across them in Tanzania or Kenya in 2011 in a travel magazine and accidently deleted the photo containing the publication details – if anyone can help confirm the breakdown, it would be greatly appreciated).

@UKNatArchives @RAFMUSEUM #WW1