Unknown Togoland

On 8 October 1914, the Times Literary Supplement ran an article In unknown Togoland, which reviewed the book A camera actress in the wilds of Togoland by Miss M Gehrts which tells of her experiences in the filming of The white goddess of Wangora.

The review starts by pointing out that the territory under discussion is ‘the latest British possession’ and gives a view of the Kamina radio station which was the focus of the military expedition. Her description of what the radio station was to accomplish supports its recent destruction. While filming took place in some well-known spots such as the holiday resort at Aledjo, most of it was ‘at the back of beyond’. ‘Tribes were pressed into the service as “supers”, and Miss Gehrts as the “white goddess” of a sensational story.’ It was a ‘further tribute to the enterprise of cinematograph producers.’

The reviewer felt Miss Gehrts spent too much time on trivial matters and should have expanded on ‘the very curiously fortified villages of the Tshokossi’ which was ‘of real ethonological value.’ Her account did however, provide an insight into a ‘new and little-known possession, its people, its customs and its industries’. It ‘was certainly above the average of woman traveller’s adventures’, and the film was said to be successful too.

The director of the film was Hans Schomburgk and the film was released in German in 1910. The Bioscope which has an overview of the film has its filming as 1913/4. There seems to be some discrepancy when the film was made/released with the BFI having 1910, and Wolfgang Furhmann referring to 1917 in his 2015 book Imperial Projections: Screening the colonies.

I wonder if anyone has done a comparison between the films listed in Furhmann’s book with those in English identified by Neil Parsons in Black and White bioscope. I have a sneaky suspicion that German cinematographers were far more adventurous at the time than their British counterparts, given that more German settler women wrote about their experiences than British.

First shots of the war, 1914

It is generally accepted that Alhaji Grunshi (Gold Coast Regiment) fired the first shot of the war in Togoland. However, this needs clarification as two dates are generally offered – 7 August 1914 and 12 August 1914. An online search will invariably show that the same author has interchanged the dates in different articles, myself included.

Doing a final proofread of a chapter on the end(s) of the war in Africa, I thought it best to double check the date the first shot was fired only to discover that the author(s) I had relied on for an accurate date were ultimately in disagreement. The only thing to do was to go back to the original source material.*

The War Diaries provided no clue, although tended to suggest that of the two dates, 12 August would be the most likely. This was confirmed by Moberly in Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons (Official History p8). The shot was fired at Togblekove (near Lomé) in response to fire by a German police force in the area.

With this statment in mind, clarification of the first shot is needed. Alhaji Grunshi fired the first British shot of the war.

Accepting that 12 August was the date of the first British shot of the war, the next challenge is reconciling the bombardment of Dar es Salaam by HMS Astrea on 8 August 1914.

This leads to further clarification: Alhaji Grunshi fired the first British Rifle shot of the war.

There does not appear to be any challenge to HMS Astrea bombarding Dar es Salaam for claiming the British first shot of the war – at least in Africa. Globally, however, it is Australia which lays claim to the first British Empire shot fired of all kinds. This was against a German ship which happened to be leaving Fort Phillip Bay, Melbourne on 5 August.

So, we have a number of first shots clarified:
5 August – first shot by the British Empire (Australia) in the war (against a German target)
8 August – first shot by the British Empire against German territory (HMS Astrea against Dar es Salaam)
12 August – first British Empire rifle shot of the war (Alhaji Grunshi in Togoland), the day the British Expeditionary Force landed in Europe.
22 August – first British Empire rifle shot of the war in Europe by Corporal Ernest Thomas of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoons

Africa also lays claim to:

  • association with the capture and sinking of the first British Empire Merchant Ship of the war when the German cruiser Konigsberg sank the City of Winchester on 6 and 12 August 1914 respectively. The Konigsberg had been in Dar es Salaam at the start of the war and was eventually put out of action in the Rufigi Delta (TNA ref).
  • first naval victory on 13 August 1914 on Lake Nyasa.

* The chapter remains with the incorrect date of 7 August for the first shot as it would have been too complex a change to make at that stage of the proceedings – and that after having been confident of the date when I initially wrote the chapter. Hopefully this little gremlin can now be resolved for future authors.

Why worry about the firsts? I suppose it gives a timeline of how the war developed. What is not recorded here are the first deaths – you can find mention of the first white British and German officer deaths in Africa relatively easily, but not so the first rank and file of either. I’ve spent too many hours searching to be confident of this – but please put me right if you know otherwise.

What these firsts mark is the start of a prolonged period of struggle in which many men, women and children across the globe lost their lives and in remembering the first, we (should) remember them all.