Novelist: Herbert Strang

Herbert Strang is a pseudonym for the writing partnership of George Herbert Ely and Charles James L’Estrange. The two men were too old to serve in World War One and continued their employment in the publishing world.

1866 – George Herbert Ely is born
1867 – Charles James L’Estrange is born
1904 – the men meet in Glasgow and are first published
1906 – move to London and change publisher to Hodder and Stoughton
1909 – start move to Oxford University Press which is finally accomplished in 1916
1942 – retire from writing
1947 – George Herbert Ely dies
1958 – Charles James L’Estrange dies

They had no experience of life in Africa which shows through their story which, like Westerman’s depiction of the German is stereotypical, in this story young Tom brings an end to German slavery. Siege and trench warfare are the dominant military experiences. The story is inspired by the victory of Kasama in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) with the central action taking place in a triangle of Bismarckburg (Kasanga), Neu Langenburg (Tukuyu) and Kasama. The distances between these locations are 10x what Herbert Strang make out but that doesn’t detract from the story and the insight it provides of how life in Africa was construed back in Britain. Presumably they drew on the news of the success at Kasama for their inspiration.

World War 1 Africa books by Herbert Strang

Tom Willoughby’s Scouts (1918)


Novelist: Percy F Westerman

Percy Westerman was a prolific author of ‘boy’s own’ stories publishing 174 during his lifetime. He wrote two concerning the war in East Africa. He had no direct link with the continent, basing his stories on what he heard from soldiers and others passing through Portsmouth Harbour where he was based during the conflict.

1876 – born
1900 – married Florence Wagner in Portsmouth
1908 – first book published
1914-1918 – Royal Navy coastal duties and navigation instructor for Royal Flying Corps
1959 – died

It is clear from the content of his stories that he hadn’t experienced the war in Africa as in Wilmshurst and the Frontier Force he has bombing and straffing as well as engagements that are more Western Front in nature than African. While his British forces are inclusive – Wilmshurst is an officer of a West African Frontier Force regiment, with South Africans and Indians participating, his view of the German colonial/soldier is stereotypical: ruthless, cruel, undermining. This contrasts with the British colonial who is kind, just and a has a sense of fair play. Rounding up a Raider is based on the destruction of the Konigsberg.

WW1 Africa books by Percy

Rounding up a Raider (1916)
Wilmshurst of the Frontier Force (1918)


Novelist: Gertrude Page

The first novelist/fiction writer of the war in Africa between 1914 and 1918 was Gertrude Page with two publications, one in 1915 and the other in 1918.

Gertrude had links with Rhodesia. She was there when war broke out in August 1914. She is known as the ‘Kipling of Rhodesia’.

1872 – born in Erdington, Warwick
1902 – married George Alexander Dobbin who had been an ambulance driver in the 1899-1902 war.
1904 – Arrived in Southern Rhodesia and eventually bought a farm
1922 – died in Salisbury, Rhodesia

By all accounts Gertrude left Rhodesia at the start of the war to assist with evacuating wounded from Belgium/France. Her collection of short stories and her novel concerning the war in Africa are set around the outbreak and the challenges settlers faced in determining whether to stay and develop their farms, protect their new country or go back to England to safeguard the motherland. Her insights are such that she had to have been there. For more about Gertrude and her war time experience, scroll down to the obituaries.

WW1 Africa Books by Gertrude

Follow After (1915)
Far From the Limelight and other tales (1918)


Novelists of World War 1 Africa

There have been various novels published over the years which touch on the First World War in Africa. A full list appears on the Great War in Africa Association bibliography. Some published more than one book covering the war – what I find interesting is their connection with Africa and what inspired them to write a work of fiction about the war. No promises, but my plan is to do a short exploration of each of the authors in chronological order, once a month.

The first known book to have a story of the war in Africa was published in 1915 by Gertrude Page. Two more publications occurred in 1916 – Joan Kennedy and Percy F Westerman – followed by four in 1918 – Francis Brett Young, Gertrude Page, Herbert Strang and again Percy Westerman.

At the time of writing this, I know of 59 novels or works of fiction published on the Great War in Africa, some having come to light this year and therefore do not feature in the two articles I wrote around the centenary based on the novels (Fictional accounts of the East Africa campaign (2014) ; The end of the war in Africa (2018))

Below is the list of books, authors and year in which the book was published. Many of the older books are available on Gutenberg or elsewhere. I’m not setting out to review the books unless something in particular grabs me (Distinguished Conduct, The Celebration Husband are examples) as I do not believe in retelling the tale which is what reviews today tend to do. What I will say is that I have really enjoyed the majority of the novels I’ve read (which is most of them) and between them they cover most of the major actions or events of the East Africa campaign with some linking to other theatres and the homefronts.

Page, GertrudeFollow after1915
Kennedy, JoanSun, sand and sin1916
Westerman, Percy FRounding up the raider: A naval story of the Great War1916
Brett Young, FrancisThe Crescent Moon1918
Page, GertrudeFar from the limelight1918
Strang, HerbertTom Willoughby’s Scouts1918
Westerman, Percy FWilhelmshurst of the Frontier Force: a story of the conquest of German East Africa1918
Wren, PC (Percival Christopher)Cupid in Africa: Or the making of Bertran in love and war – a character study1920
Lynn, EscottComrades Ever! etc1921
Olden, BalderKilimandsharo1922
Mader, Friedrich WilhelmDie Helden van Ost-Afrika: Am Kilimandjaro: Ubenteuer und kämpfe in Deutsch-Ostafrika (Die helden von Ostafrika, erfter Teil1927
Brett Young, FrancisJim Redlake1930
Olden, BalderOn virgin soil 1930
Funke, AlfredSchwarz-weiss-rot über Ostafrika : Roman1933
Forester, CSThe African Queen1935
Heuer, HansMalumba, Mutter aller mutter: Roman aus Deutsch Ost-Afrika1935
Christensen, Christen PSønderjyder forsvarer Østafrika 1914-181937
Mader, Friedrich WilhelmDie Schlacht bei Tanga Erzahlung aus dem Weltkrieg1938
Huxley, ElspethRed Strangers1939
Christensen, Christen PBlockade and Jungle: From the letters and diaries etc of Nis Kock1940
Josef, VieraDeutsch-Ostafrika unverloren! Erzählung aus den deutschen Kolonialkämpfen im Weltkrieg mit kartenskizze und Bildern nach Federzeichnungen von Willy Planck1943
Meissner, JanuzL-591958
Bee, DavidOur fatal shadows: A story of German East Africa and Tanganyika1964
McCann, Hugh WrayUtmost Fish1966
Smith, WilburShout at the devil1968
Cloete, StuartHow young they died1969
Scholefield, AlanLion in the evening1974
Scholefield, AlanThe alpha raid1976
Stevenson, WilliamThe Ghosts of Africa1980
Boyd, WilliamAn ice-cream war1982
Scholefield, AlanKanonenboot auf den Tanganjika-See1984
Smith, WilburThe Burning Shore1985
Vassanji, MGThe Gunny Sack1989
Hoeg, PeterJourney into a dark heart in Tales of the Night1990
Smith, WilburTentar al Diablo1993
Vassanji, MGThe book of secrets1994
Christie, AgathaWhile the Light Lasts1997
Margarite PolandIron Love1999
Ackermann, RolfDie weiße Jägerin2005
Wende, HamiltonThe King’s shilling: a novel2005
Bull, Bartle The White Rhino Hotel2006
Dow, ChristopherLord of the Loincloth: The Adventures of the Royal Naval African Expedition and its Intrepid leader, Commander Geoffrey Basil Spicer-Simson2007
Schnalke, ChristianAfrika! Mon amour2007
Capus, AlexA matter of time2009
Smith, WilburAssegai2009
Coelho, João Paulo Borges O Olho de Hertzog2010
Guillou, Jan  Brobyggarna 2011
Lee, JeremyWhere I’m bound I cannot tell2011
Penhaligon, JamesSpeak Swahili, dammit2011
Powell, WilliamChui and Sadaka2011
Ladha, AzmeenaLetter to an unknown soldier2014
Steenbeek, RoelofThe Black Knight: Loss of innocence2014
Alexandri, MayaThe celebration husband2015
Duncan, BrianThe lion and the leopard2016
Cotton, Eleni TratarisBertha: The Swiss trader’s daughter2017
Diop, DavidAt night all blood is black2018
Page, MelvinDistinguished Conduct: An African Life in Colonial Malawi2019
Gurnah, AbdulrazakAfterlives2020

Novelists who served in East Africa

For some time now, Leo Walmsley has been on my list of people to investigate – he was a flight observer in the East Africa campaign writing about his experiences in Flying and Sport in East Africa published in 1920 and later So Many Loves published in 1969.

After his stint in East Africa, Leo returned to Robin Hood Bay where he had grown up and there wrote various novels of which, until recently, I was unaware. It was looking up Turn of the Tide to check if there was a link to East Africa that I discovered there was so much more to Leo than initially thought. Despite all his adventures in Africa – apparently surviving 14 crashes, Leo chose rather to concentrate his novels on life on the water around Robin Hood Bay, not far from where Bram Stoker was inspired with Dracula as Michael Clegg explains.

I’m still to read Leo’s memoirs – there have been other priorities – but I was so taken with my discovery of him being a novelist, I had to share it.

And in common with the other novelist to come out of the East Africa campaign – in fact he was writing books whilst in the field – Francis Brett Young, both have societies in their names. The Walsmley Society and FBY Society respectively.

Brett Young actually wrote Marching on Tanga in East Africa, the first version being lost at sea when the ship it was on was torpedoed. His letters at the Cadbury Library in Birmingham are quite moving on this account. He was able to eventually rewrite it but could not recover the lost photographs. Unlike Walmsley, Brett Young who was a doctor with the Indian Army in the East Africa campaign, used the campaign for a couple of his books, notably Jim Redlake (1930) and Crescent Moon (1918), the first of which I have read.

A German writer, Balder Olden served as a transport rider at the start of the war, capturing his experiences in Kilimandsharo and On Virgin Soil (1930)

A final novelist to have been in theatre at the time is Gertrude Page who lived in Rhodesia. She wrote a book of short stories and a novel, Follow After (1915) and Into the Limelight (1918) about life on the Rhodesian front and the challenges of deciding whether to serve and, if so, where to serve.

Various other novels and stories involve the East African campaign in particular which were published during, or soon after, the war but these were based on news travelling to England.

More on the novels can be found in two papers I’ve had published – Fictional Accounts of the East Africa Campaign and The End of the 1914-1918 War in Africa (Anglica) whilst the Historical Association has an article on CS Forrester’s The African Queens.