Johari Windows and Historians

For readers who do not know about Johari, the theory of knowing what you know, knowing what you don’t know, not knowing what you know and not knowing what you don’t know. Although this is used for personal development, it is just as applicable (in my opinion) to other aspects of life. The first two are particularly helpful in planning contingencies and for working out where to start research, fill in gaps etc.

Not knowing what you know can be a bit challenging relying on triggers to remind you of what you know or read somewhere. The frustrating thing here is often that the evidence, confirmation or reference is invariably hidden in a pile of unsorted handwritten notes or amongst unsearchable electronic downloads or photographs waiting to be labelled and worked with. Trawling through some old papers I’d written I was rather surprised to see I’d looked at books I had no recollection of (sigh). What gems they held I will need to revisit.

More challenging though is what you don’t know you don’t know…this is where wider reading and an eclectic range of friends, colleagues and associates play a significant role, especially in cross-cultural/continental work. This is a huge thanks to them all.

Another huge contributor to discovering these unknown unknowns is the internet and the constant updating of information. As a result, having thought I had identified all (most) novels of World War 1 in Africa, in late 2021 it became obvious this only concerned English language books. German authors who had been hidden all of a sudden started coming to light and seem to have been more prolific in their writing. I had previously identified that more German women wrote about life in the colonies than British, but this hadn’t led to my recent novel discovery. What helped on this front is a German colleague mentioning a name/book in an English translation (book forthcoming) which effectively opened the floodgates – helped by more German author biographies featuring online – once one gets Google and other search engines to accept multi-lingual and diverse search terms. As a result, I need to revisit hypotheses and conclusions previously drawn. Some might stay the same but others are likely to change. Then there is the issue of bringing such developments to other researchers’ awareness, especially those who might not have access to paywall material or who conversely discount material not in “recognised academic” publications. This division is unwittingly (purposefully?) creating or rather perpetuating the gulf in knowledge transfer, sharing and development – adding to the ‘known unknowns’. That’s a challenge for another day.

Novelist: Hans Grimm

This has been one of those amazing yet frustrating finds. Having picked up on Der Ölsucher von Duala as being a World War One novel published in 1933 and slotted it into place, in researching about Hans, it materialised that he had at least three other books about the war published earlier. It’s frustrating as it throws my chronology of authors out of sync, but wonderful as more novels of the time have come to light. Now to brush up my German reading skills…

Hans Grimm had spent some time in Port Elizabeth and East London in about 1908 and then in 1910 was in German South West Africa as journalist for Tägliche Rundschau. George Danton mentions he served on the German front during the war before becoming an interpreter for the Foreign Office. He wrote numerous books based in Africa.

1875 – born in Wiesbaden, 22 March
1908 – Port Elizabeth and East London in South Africa
1910 – German South West Africa
1914 – War service in Germany
1917 – Writer for German Colonial Office
1920s – toured German South West Africa
1959 – died Lippoldsberg, 29 September

Books on World War 1

Der Gang durch den Sand (1916) – set in GSWA (summary)
Die Olewagen-Sagen (1918) – set in GSWA (summary and excerpt)
Volk ohne Raum (1926) – touches on East, West and South West Africa. For a breakdown of what is covered see Danton
Der Ölsucher von Duala. Ein afrikanisches Tagebuch (1933, although Namibiana suggests 1918 as his first commissioned book by the German Colonial Office.

Sources and other bits

Folk Dance and Safari – some thoughts on Hans Grimm’s photographs from South West Africa

Novelist: PC Wren

Percival Christopher Wren was another prolific writer, publishing over 33 novels and short story collections. Most have soldiering in Africa as a theme although only one concerns the Great War in Africa. He had a fascination for the French Foreign Legion although a recent researcher (Martin Windrow) suggests he never joined but knew people associated with the Legion. He was by all accounts secretive about his life.

1875 – 1 November, born in London
1903 – appointed headmaster to Karachi High School in India
1910 – 19 May, daughter died in India
1914 – 26 September, wife dies
1914 – 1 December, Reserve Officer of Indian Infantry Regiment, 101st Grenadiers
1915 – October, leaves reserves to join civil service
1917 – November, resigns from Indian Education service
1941 – 22 November, dies

Although Wren joined the 101st Grenadiers and that the Indian unit he was attached to served in East Africa during the war, it appears that he was recorded sick from 17 February 1915 until he left to join the civil service in October of that year. It is most likely that he never saw service in East Africa.

He published much on Indian education and related topics from 1910, his first collection of short stories being published in the UK in 1912.

Books on World War 1 in Africa

1920 – Cupid in Africa (Reading of Reading has a reader’s report on the book)


FictionDB for list of books by Wren
Fantastic Fiction
Wikipedia entry

Novelist: Francis Brett Young

Francis Brett Young was a prolific author. He had started writing before the outbreak of World War One in which he served as a medical officer in East Africa. However, on his return in 1918 he was not well enough to return to a medical practice and took to full time writing. Apart from his focus on Africa drawing mainly on his wartime experience, he also writes about the Black Country in which he grew up.

1884 – 29 June, born Hales Owen in Worcestershire
1907 – qualified as a doctor in Birmingham
1908 – secretly married Jessie Hankinson
1916 – medical officer in East Africa
1918 – discharged from military service
1945/6 – moved to Montagu, Cape Province
1956, 28 March – died in Cape Town, his ashes were returned to Britain

His novels, Pilgrim’s Rest (1922), They Seek a Country (1937), The City of Gold (1939) are set in South Africa but do not concern the Great War. The latter two are set pre-1900. In 1942 he published In South Africa being a description of the country (including Rhodesia) as he saw it.

Books on World War One in Africa

1917 – Marching on Tanga (with General Smuts in East Africa) – see Great War Fiction for a publication conundrum
1917 – Five Degrees South – war poetry
1918 – The Crescent Moon – a novel
1916-1918-1919 – Poetry (includes those from Five Degrees South)
1924 – Woodsmoke
1925 – Sea Horses
1930 – Jim Redlake

Tanga Letters to Jessie – his East Africa letters to Jessie published by the Francis Brett Young Society (2016)


Francis Brett Young Society in particular Michael Hall’s publication The World Went Mad: World War 1 in the Words of Francis Brett Young
Cadbury Research Library, Birmingham (TNA listing)
Medal card: TNA WO 372/22/120535
EG Twitchett – Francis Brett Young (1935)
Great War in Africa Association – medical project

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)