Civil Servants in War

Samuel Prempeh in his thesis on The Basel and Bremen missions and their successors in the Gold Coast and Togoland, 1914-1926 : a study in Protestant missions and the First World War noted:

On 4 August 1914 the Administration had a European staff of 613 in the Colony and its dependencies but before the end of 1917 the staff capacity had been reduced to 531 of which no less than 91 were engaged in war service (24 were seconded for Togoland administration and 63 for military service with the Gold Coast Regiment). The largest reduction of staff necessitated similar reduction of major public works and the temporary suspension of other less important duties. Pressure of work partly accounted for lengthened periods of tours, sometimes for 18-24 months without leave…

The first impact of a 30 per cent reduction of staff was evidently the closure of a number of stations, even so heavier work and unbearable sacrifice characterised administrative life. Of the 613 officers no less than 223 served at one time or another in war service… Absence of officers and the Constabulary from the North made the maintenance of law and order a major problem…

This was not an issue which only affected the Gold Coast. Louis Botha banned enlistments and resignations from the South African civil service particularly in the Native Administration Department in order to ensure the basic functioning of state. Local councils made do as they could. Pietermaritzburg saw 107 municipal employees enlist in the war, 12 of whom died, and 15 were wounded. All widows and orphans, irrespective of background, were paid a war gratuity according to Julie Dyer. Interestingly, Pietermaritzburg saw a decrease in criminal arrests during the war years.

Others in East Africa, such as Oscar Watkins and John Anderson tended to take on more work including raising and managing the Carrier Corps whilst doctors such as Norman Parsons Jewell were responsible for military and civilian hospitals in areas such as Bukoba. Claude Oldfield, a District Administrator in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) combined his work with that of military service too.

There are many cases of the effect of civil servants joining the military if one looks, but also numerous on what was achieved by the few, including opportunities for some as I discovered in exploring the diversity of the East Africa campaign.

War-time sanitation

At the start of the First World War, a review appeared in the Times Literary Supplement (27 August 1914) on two books dealing with sanitation in war.

The review provides some interesting figures on how since the Crimean War instances of dysentery had been reduced. The reviewer notes that while the idea of missiles and other weapons carry the imagination of the civilian as the main cause of death, the figures show it’s disease.

Going further back to Napoleon, in 1809 he apparently had 241,000 men in Spain and 58,000 in hospital.
A month before the battle of Corunna, Sir John Moore had 25,858 men available and 4,035 in hospital. He lost 800 in the battle.

Of the 52,584 men admitted to hospital in Crimea between 1 October 1854 and 31 March 1885 of which 3,806 were wounds, the remainder being due to illness.

The greater understanding of how disease spread and simple methods to hinder their extension went a long way to reduce the number of lives lost through disease. Preservation of health moved up the priority lists for the military authorities.

This was evident during the 1899-1902 war in Southern Africa where the deaths among NCOs and rank and file was 12,669 from disease against 7,010 from military action. Amongst officer ranks there were 716 deaths from military causes compared with 404 from disease.

The point of the article was to remind readers and in turn ‘young soldiers’ to not forget what they’d learned in training and that just one small drink from contaminated water could have dire results. Similarly, camps were to be kept as clean as possible and ‘filth’ as far away as possible. The review ends:

The recruit who masters the information which [the books] contain will not be likely, by a carelessness which would amount to criminality, to jeopardize either his own life or the lives of his comrades.

Although great strides were made to reduce the impact of disease in the war, it being the first where battlefield deaths exceeded disease deaths, in Africa it still accounted for all but 10% of deaths. Malaria, Blackwater Fever, Dysentery being the worst. Accounts by Norman Parsons Jewell, letters by Edward Harris and Francis Brett Young at the Cadbury Library, give insight into what doctors had to deal with while Gerald Keane explains how the African Native Medical Corps came into being and the work they did. The Pike report gives an overview of what conditions in Africa were like when an official investigation into the medical provision in East Africa was undertaken. None of this however, prepared the continent for what was to come in 1918.

A Titanic connection

A little while ago I visited Northern Ireland – what a little gem of a territory. We spent most of our time out in the country, travelling the northern coast line which on a smaller scale and with no rain could rival Cape Town, and unbeknowingly, until I asked a police officer, caught the last of the season’s marches. I had wondered why there were so many flags with battle honours flying in so many places. The march reminded me of days in 1980s SA when the AWB used to strut their stuff in my home town. Another thing I found fascinating were the large wall paintings recording aspects of the past, memorials to fallen comrades or such like. I wonder if anyone has written about these? It would make a fascinating cultural-political study. Crossing the empty Garvaghy Road as we moved between areas contrasted with television images of years gone by – long may it still last. And then into Belfast where we saw the incredible Big Fish by John Kindness telling of Ireland’s past. Within walking distance on the other side of the river is the Titanic Museum, the building itself a work of art and quite moving outside, the dock where the ship was built now an outline of her size, where lifeboats were placed and the proportion of people who lived and died according to deck etc. I can’t say anything more about the museum as we didn’t go through – I wasn’t sure my interest would have been catered for: the Titanic’s link with South Africa.

Back in 2012, a century after the ship went down, the Mail and Guardian ran an article identifying South Africans who had been on board. It too did not contain the link I was interested in. Few people know that South Africa’s second Governor General, Sydney Buxton, had been the President of the Board of Trade which sanctioned the Titanic sailing with the few life vests and lifeboats it did. In his defence, his decision had been based on the expert reports he had been given – hindsight is always much wiser. After initial thoughts that his political career would survive the disaster, when Governor General Herbert Gladstone decided to resign his post in South Africa, it was decided Buxton should fill the role; especially as an election was looming. Buxton’s appointment at the time was, for South Africa, most fortuitous. He had been in the Colonial Office before the 1899-1902 southern Africa war so had a fair idea of what the challenges were. His hands-on pragmatic approach and personable attitude, although eliciting the odd exasperation from Louis Botha as his interference, was welcomed by the young Union government trying to find its way through rebellion and supporting a country it had fought against less than 15 years before all while creating its own armed force in spite of the UDF having been formed in 1912.

South African – Irish links extend beyond the Titanic. Irish men fought on both sides of the 1899-1902 war, in 1917/8 Jan Smuts visited Ireland and was involved in trying to prevent the territory splitting – it was believed that the British-Boer and British-Irish situations were similar and lessons could be learnt from how Botha and Smuts had worked to unite South Africans. And in more recent times, current President Cyril Ramaphosa was in the 1990s involved in the Irish arms decommissioning process. And in the East Africa campaign, at the ceremony where the Germans laid down their arms in 1918 there was at least one Irishman present – John ‘Jack’ Bannon of 1/4 KAR and while there is no known South African present, the man who negotiated with the German commander was none other than South African Jaap van Deventer. An Irish doctor, Norman Parsons Jewell saw most of the war in Africa – both Irishmen too were caught up in the Irish troubles of the time: Bannon having just enlisted, was involved in suppressing the Easter uprising before he left for Africa, while Jewell was warned about leaving his accomodation in 1922 as he was a targeted man for having served in World War 1. The result of the latter was that Kenya saw him return as a doctor until 1932.

Review: The Seychelles Islands and its first landowners – Julien Durup

Why? you might ask am I reading and reviewing a book on the Seychelles covering the period 1786-1833 when my specialism is World War 1 in Africa?
That precisely is the link.
I came across Julien’s work whilst editing On Call in Africa by Norman Parsons Jewell. In trying to find out more about the Seychelles when Norman served there in the Colonial Service from 1910-1914 and also some local background to the Seychelloise Labour Corps which saw service in the East Africa campaign, Julien’s name kept popping up. I managed to track him down with the result that I got a copy of this book, and some answers for On Call.
The Seychelles is often regarded as an extension of Africa, a point supported by the number of words and food adopted from the continent, so there is another fitting link.
The Seychelles Island is not a story nor a narrative. Rather, it is a collection of essays on specific topics charting the history of the islands – how they were colonised, trade, settlement, language and so forth. It is an incredibly rich source for people wanting to find out about family members, the origin of words, measurements and currencies.
In addition to all the lists and detailed descriptions, Julien explains some of the challenges he had in sourcing information – useful for knowing what is not available and the complexities around locating sources.
This short (142 pages of text) is testimony to the love and dedication of a historian to his country of origin and heritage, as well as a useful resource for family, social, cultural and political historians. One thing which really struck me, apart from all the failed opportunities to protect tortoises and other endangered animals and vegetation, is the diversity of peoples who made it to the Seychelles. It makes perfect sense, when you think about it, that Indians, Arabs and Chinese explorers made their way to The Seychelles Islands. It just didn’t cross my mind and neither did the extent of influence of West Africa.
Thank you Julien for extending my knowledge a bit more.

On Call

With all the technology we have today, one feels ‘On Call’ 24/7 unless one purposefully switches off – pretty much as I did this past weekend. However, there are still professions where people are ‘On Call’ outside of ‘normal’ (what is ‘normal’ these days?) working hours. Plumbers, road side assistants and police are some of those who remain ‘On Call’ as do nurses, paramedics and doctors. All are unsung heroes. And it’s around a doctor ‘On Call’ that leads me to write today.

At the end of last week, a parcel arrived containing some copies of On Call in Africa in war and peace 1910-1932 by Dr Norman Parsons Jewell. This parcel marked the culmination of over a year’s work getting to know Norman Jewell; and what an honour.

Norman led an extraordinary life. He left for the Seychelles in 1910 serving in the Colonial Services as a doctor and where his soon to be wife, Sydney, joined him. With a young family, he asked to enlist in the armed forces and found himself in East Africa during December 1914. He remained in East Africa save for a few trips ‘home’ to Ireland (Bloody Sunday 1920) and the UK before being made redundant as a result of the 1932 austerity measures.

Norman was one of the few doctors to serve virtually all through the war in East Africa and more significantly, he served with the 3rd East Africa Field Ambulance (3EAFA) – responsible for black and Indian soldiers and carriers. As a result, his memoirs open up a whole new understanding of life during the war in East Africa. The memoirs were written a few years after the war, Norman’s original diaries having gone AWOL but the accuracy and sharpness of his recall was consistently reinforced as I looked up dates, names and events. I seem to recall only one instance where there was a minor misalignment of fact – the dates of death of Frederick Selous and his sons; easily done when news only arrives every six months…

But perhaps the highlight for me was the discovery at #UKNatArchives of the war diaries of 3EAFA written in Norman’s own hand. A study of the War Diaries involving Norman provide an interesting insight into diary and record keeping of the time. Norman did not keep (or the diaries were not retained) during the time that Norman reported into Temple-Harris of Seventeen Letters to Tatham fame (available), while there are two concurrent diaries maintained by Norman at the time he was in charge of 3EAFA and acting Senior Medical Officer in Lindi following South African Dr Laurie Girdwood’s capture by the Germans.

What this suggests, keeping in mind the AWOL personal diary is that Norman at one stage was keeping 3 diaries – all for different purposes about the same thing. The two in his official capacity are interesting to compare: little is duplicated showing how the gdound level 3EAFA fed into the Divisional level. Given the comments in Norman’s memoir, it would be fascinating to see what he had recorded in his personal diary at the time – did he contemplate then making aspects of it public? He clearly had a routine to his day, one which he maintained as well as circumstances would allow – virtually all diary entries are made at 6pm – half an hour before sun-down. This too, opens up questions and thoughts about life on campaign in East Africa…

Another outstanding feature of Norman’s memoir and war diaries is his recognition of others, especially Zorawar Singh, and the work they did, as well as the importance of friendship. He met many of the Legion of Frontiersmen and following his move back to London, remained in touch with many he had befriended in Africa. His memoir is more than ‘just’ a military account, it opens a window onto colonial life in the early part of the Twentieth Century, while his post-war work introduces us to the challenges the medical world faced in the tropics and busveld.

And, in keeping with his time, he protected his family – there is little mention of them in the memoir. BUT, they are not ignored in On Call – Part 3 of the book pays tribute to Norman’s wife Sydney – a remarkable woman in her own right: if only she had kept a diary!

I hope others who encounter On Call in Africa in War and Peace 1910-1932 find it as eye-opening, rewarding and enjoyable as I did working with the manuscript (and the family). The #WW1 #Africa jigsaw has had another piece fall into place…