Gertrude Bell

Having given a talk on Kitchener’s Ladies to the SA Military History Society, I received an email asking about Kitchener’s dealings with Gertrude Bell. Nothing significant had featured in my research to warrant a deeper search, she appeared to be a later generation than Kitchener although their paths did intersect. Gertrude’s name is more closely linked with Lawrence of Arabia and the peace discussions determining the fate of the Middle East after the 1914-18 war. To confirm my thinking, a quick online search brought to light the Gertrude Bell collection of letters and diaries at Newcastle University.

Kitchener’s name appears 7 times between 1900 and 1922 and each sheds some light on the great man while demonstrating that Gertrude moved in different, but overlapping circles.

2 March 1900 (letter) – On the relief of Ladysmith during the 1899-1902 war in southern Africa. The two men, Roberts and Kitchener had only been in southern Africa since early January and already their impact was being felt across the empire.

Roberts and Kitchener have done marvels and I fancy we have found a very able general in French.

18 March 1902 (diary) – The most likely of Kitchener’s brother, would be Walter Frederick, who served in the 1899-1902 war as a General, however it is recorded that he participated in a battle at Buschbult on 31 March 1902. His wife Carry (Caroline) had died on 1 November 1901 in Pretoria where she had gone to see her husband, knowing she was soon to die and although he had been given time off to spend with her, he was back on the battlefield about three months later. Walter died during his term as Governor of Bermuda in 1912. Kitchener’s other military brother and heir to the title, HEC, was by all accounts in Jamaica where he had retired from the army (to come back and serve in the East Africa campaign of 1914-18). A third brother, Arthur, an architect died in 1907. Little is known of his movements.

We walked halfway along this wall – magnificent view over Ephesus and the sea – and then scrambled down to the port and rode back to Karpouza’s where we lunched. Kitchener’s brother was there.

1 January 1903 (diary) – the next four mentions concern the coronation Durbar in Delhi soon after Kitchener arrived to take up his post as Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. Kitchener was quite particular about his camp as a few of his female friends were to record. It brought out his competitive nature.

Saw Kitchener arrive and then the Veterans – a crowd of old men, white and native together. The whole horseshoe stood up and shouted and the bands played See the conquering hero.

3 January 1903 (letter) –

The Tylers are in Kitchener’s camp, but it was not very amusing because Gen. Tyler, wasn’t there [at the lunch Gertrude was attending].

4 January 1903 (diary) – Kitchener was well known for not being a good public speaker.

On the other hand Arthur told me that the Sanscrit College at Benares [Varanasi] is a great failure and the hotbed of sedition. Lord P. made a fair speech and Sir M.H.B. an excellent one saying he spoke to them as Lord P. and Lord Kitchener (he had been there the day before) cd not, as a graduate of an English University.

25 February 1903 (letter) – An enlightening snippet which confirms Kitchener’s dislike of paperwork. Curzon complained about Kitchener’s floor being littered with papers, so it’s not surprising he would need to take time out to tidy things in order to find them.

After breakfast we drove out to see wood carvings and missions, and then we did no more till we caught our train at 6, except arrange our rooms, like Lord Kitchener – Captain Brooke says he works furiously for 2 days and then arranges his room for 2 days!

5 January 1922 (letter) –

I’ve just read Lord Esher’s book about Lord Kitchener which is a very interesting human document, isn’t it. What a very big figure he just failed to be. Yet he did play a great part and if ever I meet his shade I should make it a curtsey. He was a greater man than I knew – it’s a pity he didn’t have a better biographer than Sir George Arthur.

George Arthur was one of the newest members of Kitchener’s team, having joined him in 1914 and wrote the biography within six years of Kitchener’s death, so not surprising that it turned out as it did. With the benefit of hindsight and objectivity, John Pollock’s biography is probably the best all round account of the man. My own work on Kitchener is an attempt to understand the human side of Kitchener and how he developed as a leader.

But back to Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), whose name is most well known with regards the Middle East and defining the boundaries of Iraq. As with Kitchener, she had an interest in archeology, but where his was a hobby, hers was her work. During World War 1 she was eventually based in Cairo working for the Arab Bureau translating Arabic intelligence into English.

Once again, a ‘simple’ question has led to a network of other links involving Africa.

Behind a Tusker

A Tusker is a beautiful animal. It’s also the name of Kenya’s premier beer but how that rates I cannot say as I am teetotal.
I was however, intrigued to discover how the beer got its name especially as it has a World War 1 link.

The beer was the idea of two brothers, Charles and George Hurst. George had served in the East Africa during the war and at the end had stayed on and applied for a settler farm – he was an elephant hunter as well. After trying a few things such as coffee, Charles hit on the idea of beer and investment sought. In 1923 the first cases of beer were delivered to the Stanley Hotel.
Not long before the beer was delivered, George was out hunting when he was killed by a large male elephant – brother Charles decided to name the beer in memory and so Tusker Beer came into being. According to SDE, the tusks were kept as a memento of the tragedy – although where they are today I do not know. Brother Charles died in 1966.

During the war, George was awarded the Military Cross (LG 27 July 1918) for his services during the war. He was with the East African Mounted Rifles and then on the EA Special List.

Interestingly, if you go onto Kenya Breweries site, before you can look at anything you need to disclose your age…I understand the need for age restrictions on sales, but on information?
Another little interesting snippet, is that Kenya Breweries consume 6% of Nairobi’s water supply – for a brief history of the company’s development and owners, HapaKenya provides an overview for which you do not need to disclose you date of birth…

I wonder how many other institutions have their origins linking back to the First World War in Africa? For starters, alongside Tusker, there is the South African Comrade’s Marathon started by Vic Clapham in memory of those he served alongside in the East African bush…

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.

Pankhurst and Ethiopia

Some time ago I met a researcher working on Ethiopia who happened to mention a Pankhurst had links with that country. Then this came through, so I thought I’d dig a little more:

In 2016, the BBC reported on Sylvia Pankhurst becoming an honorary Ethiopian and in 2018 the LSE wrote an update. Martin Kettle provides some insight into how her reputation has been perceived over the years. You can see more about her here.

Her son Richard stayed in Ethiopia and became a historian of the country. He died in 2017, aged 89. He shed some light on her involvement in the Spanish Civil War, which Laurie Lee was also involved inor not – and wrote about in A Moment of War Listen to him on television in 1975 (16mins).

The Suffragettes and Suffragists have been on my radar for some time, not because of women’s rights but because of Kitchener – he met Millicent Fawcett whilst in South Africa to discuss the concentration camps and then in 1914 his niece Fanny Parker was arrested for trying to blow up Robbie Burns’ house in Scotland. She was later awarded an OBE for her wartime service having been granted amnesty for her 1914 actions in exchange for taking up war work.

South Africans in WW1 Egypt

At last, some dates have been discovered…most texts referring to the white South African contingent which served in Europe make vague references to the unit having been diverted to Egypt before participating in the battle of Delville Wood. Few specify dates. Working through EWC Sandes’ book on the Royal Engineers in Egypt and Sudan (94MB), I made some discoveries on pages 330-332 which I share below, along with a few other snippets.

Having completed the campaign in German South West Africa on 9 July 1915, white South African forces were demobilised by the end of August except for those remaining to garrison the German territory. Those demobilised were free to join another contigent. Some went Britain direct to enlist with regiments there, others waited to see what materialised in East Africa having heard rumour that action there was afoot, and others enlisted in the white South African contingent under Henry Timson Lukin to serve in Europe as Imperial trooops, paid for by Britain. On route, the contingent was diverted to Egypt to help contain the Senussi who were using the opportunity to assert their independence.

On 4 February 1916, Lukin and his brigade arrived at Mutrah. The whole force was under command of Major-General WE Peyton who took over from General Wallace on 10 February. Lukin with a column of 4 squadrons, 3 battalions and a battery set out and on 26 February defeated the Senussi at Agagir, 14 miles south-east of El Barrani. In this they were supported by the Dorset Yeomanry. El Barrani was occupied the next day. By 14 Marc,h, Sollum was occupied and Captain Gwatkin-Williams and 90 others of HMS Tara were released from the Senussi and the returned to Alexandria and the white South Africans continued to England

The white South Africans continued to England where they joined the 9th Scottish Division in Europe by 23 April. They remained in reserve until called on to defend Delville Wood on14 and 15 July 1916.

Later, in 1918, after serving in East Africa, coloured South Africans served with the Cape Corps in Palestine. On route, this Corps arrived in Egypt in April 1918 for two months’ training after which they the British 160th Brigade which formed part of the 53rd Welsh Division. On 18 September they participated in the Battle for Square Hill. They were withrawn to Alexandria until September 1919 when they returned to South Africa.