You can probably tell I’ve been doing some work with newspapers over the past while. There are some fascinating discoveries to be made, not least this one.
On 14 November 1918, the following was published in the Nyasaland Times:
In our last issue we published some facts in connection with the various War Funds. It was indicated then that the Native Red Cross Fund was in need of support and we confidently appeal to our readers to give it all the support necessary. During the last two years it has done all it could to send comforts – save the mark – to the men in the field. Comforts, a little sugar and tea, a few cigarettes, some snuff, a bit of tobacco, or a common calico bag to be stuffed wiht grass for a hospital pillow. But paltry though some of the comforts seem it is the presence or absence of these which makes all the difference. When a sick or wounded askari is told that the Azungu [white man] have sent him a ‘prize’ of, let us suppose, some of the above items, not only is the item welcome to him but it is doubly welcome because it is a present from the whitemen and it warms his heart to know he is not forgotten. The mere fact that the Azungu have sent these things to them is sufficient to give them a value apart altogether from their intrinsic value… Ask a soldier in the trenches after some time without cigarettes or tobacco what he would give you for a packet of ‘faggs’ and you would be surprised at the answer. It is the same with the native. After weeks of hard work on short commons to get anything in the nature of comforts is a delightful surprise and one which makes a distinct and favourable impression. Among notices we published some little time ago none striking than that told by a medical officer of the pleasure and expressions of gratitude with which a carrier dying from dysentery received his little daily present of cigarettes up to his last few hours of serving the white man. We are sure therefore that although the campaign is so near a close – and because it is so near a close – that the people of Nyasaland will see that the Native Red Cross has sufficient funds to continue its good work. All our military leaders speak in the highest terms of what the native soldiers and native carriers have done and it is only our duty to show them that we appreciate their work for their country and the Empire. Should there be any balance left over when the last sick and wounded have left hospital, we may be sure that the remains of the Fund will be judiciously used in helping those who have been disabled in the Empire’s service. As a sort of thank-offering for the good news from Europe let us open our heartstrings for this and other deserving funds and show our gratitude for the final ‘strafing of the Hun,’ to those natives who have served so well.
What a rich article. Despite some of the paternalistic language, there seems to have been a genuine sense of care and interest in the well-being of the men, from across the ethnic spectrum. It got me digging further…
The article the week before, 7 November 1918 notes that by the end of October, £719 17s had been raised. £178 12s 11d was spent in providing hospital necessities, and £330 for the regular native troops and carriers. £166 7s 7d was through special supplies such as tea, sugar, note paper, envelopes etc. This latter point suggesting there were European literate askari serving, so perhaps hidden in a corner of a house somewhere or in a trunk, we might find some crumbs of letters home?
A letter from General Hawthorn explained that every corner of the Empire supported the British Red Cross, but until the Native Red Cross was started, there was no source through which comforts for the Nyasaland native could be dispensed.
In one of the hospitals [the print is not very clear] there were between 120 and 130 carriers who had been very ill. The Officer in Charge was looking to make their hospital stay as comfortable as possible given all the hardship they’d had in the field and was grateful for the comforts. Various other officers and hospital officials wrote in to express their thanks for items sent to comfort the carrier and askari.
The Nyasaland Times of 17 October 1918 lists some of the financial donations received to the Native Red Cross: chiefs, local native police regiments and others all sent in what they could as well as white settlers and an article on 5 September 1918 suggests that black women were making items which when sold were supporting the British Red Cross. A month before the totals given above for the Native Red Cross, the British Red Cross in Nyasaland had raised £1,984 13 1. Regular updates including donors were noted from local churches and communities. On 1 November 1917, Colonel Hawthorn himself donated £10 to the Native Red Cross Fund. The fund was administered by Mrs Wylie and Baird at the Blantyre Mission with Miss Christie in Zomba assisting there. On 8 September the black women had held a bazaar which raised over £93 for supporting the askari and carriers. Although the two white Fund organisers had been behind the bazaar, it was noted that the day was run by the black women themselves with Lieutenant Colonel Barton opening the event.
From the newspaper records, it appears that the bazaar was the official opening of the Native Red Cross Fund, a point supported by Mel Page in the Chiwaya War. Before that, however, the askari had not been forgotten based on the report on 23 December 1915 which noted that at least 3 companies donated tobacco roles for both European and native troops.