In this Topic page we will continue to tell some of the many stories about the 25th Bn Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) in East Africa, as far as possible in the words of the Frontiersmen who fought there. Lt.Col. Driscoll’s first hope for the Frontiersmen was to take them behind German lines in Belgium to cut and harry the German lines of communication. When this was politely and firmly refused, Driscoll turned his attention to East Africa in the knowledge that he could call on many men with African experience. The War Office did give this some thought as they really could not spare men from the Western Front, but the India Office then, according to men close to Driscoll, offered to send Indian troops at India’s own expense. This version does not always agree with the official one, but we do know that Driscoll was in constant communication with the War Office trying to persuade them to find a dedicated task for the Frontiersmen. This account comes from “Adjutant”, who we are now virtually certain was G.D. (later Major) Hazzledine. Hazzledine was a solicitor by profession who had served for a while around the turn of the century as a District Magistrate in Nigeria, later writing a book about his experiences¹. Although he had never been commissioned, he had impressed Driscoll greatly with his leadership and organisational skills with the Nottinghamshire Frontiersmen. He seems to have spent much of his time in the early days of the war at HQ office at Adam Street assisting Driscoll. The first picture here shows the Frontiersmen being inspected in September 1914 in response to Driscoll’s requests to the War Office to be allowed take his Frontiersmen into action as a unit.
I remember Colonel Driscoll standing up in the office at 6 Adam Street, it being in those days too full of recruiting staff to stride about in, and saying – There will be more honours and decorations than victories, and in the end we shall have to go and get them out of the mess.” Practically all the highly trained men we had ready for the screen of scouts on 3rd August, 1914, had joined Kitchener’s first 100,000. We maintained 125 men at each of the remount depots at Southampton and Avonmouth all the winter, though parties from those drifted into active service. It looked as if we were not indeed to be used as a unit, and we worked at getting our members out to the front in the force for which they were best fitted. We estimated that over 7,000 members joined up.
Then in January 1915, the War Office sent for Colonel Driscoll and asked him to raise an infantry battalion to go and stiffen the troops in British East [Africa], for things were not going well.
When Armageddon came, Colonel Driscoll immediately offered his battalions to Lord Kitchener and the Colonial Office. He was turned down with curt thanks. He had offered to clear the Germans out of East Africa in three months, but Mr. ‘Lulu’ Harcourt would have none of him ². “We are sending Imperial forces from India,” he said. Heaven and the Treasury alone know what that false move cost the country. “They were the wrong men for the job,” said Colonel Driscoll to me on Thursday. “You know what happened. They landed at Tanga, and met the askaris for the first time. Then they got back in their ships again as quickly as they could.”
It was not just the enemy that the men had to worry about: the wild life also caused many problems. In a letter Lt. Wilbur Dartnell, later to earn a posthumous V.C., wrote about the lions:
By the way, the lions around this part are altogether too numerous to be pleasant. In a little scrap a few days ago one of the mounted rifles was wounded and his horse shot. This happened just at dusk. When night came we could not find him, and he lay where he fell all night. During the time that he was lying there (about ten feet from the carcase of the horse) a lion and lioness happened along and, amid much manifestation of feline pleasure, cleaned up the horse, but left the man untouched. Some night – what!
Another instance. We have a picket consisting of three men and a non-com, about a mile or so from the camp in the hills. The other night, when the orderly officer went out, about 2 a.m. to inspect the picket, he found the four men on duty standing back to back with bayonets fixed, while four lions paced around them at a distance of about twenty feet. Our fellows couldn’t fire on them for two reasons – one, because they would alarm the camp; and the other (and vital) reason, that our .303 bullets will not stop a lion, only aggravate it. So they built a big fire and remained in its shelter all night, officer and all. ³
The wild life was one of the many subjects of conversation. Added to the complaints about lack of food and water were the climate and the shocking way the Frontiersmen perceived they were treated by the Staff officers, Colonel Kitchener excepted. A poem about the wild life reached them from General Beves’ South African lines. The author’s name is unknown:
“We’re fighting in a bally Zoo,”
The transport driver said;
“And what is more they never puts
The animals to bed.
And none of them is ever really
Tame until they’re dead.”
“The lion roars about at night
As beastly as a Hun;
The rhino charges from behind
And keeps you on the run;
This is a war in which a man
Ain’t safe without a gun.”
“This land is just the outer edge,
And what I wish to know
Is- why the Hun should fight so hard
To keep his bally zoo?
Perhaps he knows he is a beast,
And ought to live here too.”
Reported in the Yorkshire Evening News of June 20th 1917, Private Jenkin wrote of the weirdest Christmas he ever spent guarding a bridge:
Lions were roaring less than half a mile away as they went down to the river to drink. I was on the bank of the river, and just by me could hear the crocodiles splashing about in the water. In the darkness it seemed to me they were saying, “Mind you don’t slip in.” The night was as black as pitch and the elephant grass six, seven, and eight feet high around us, we couldn’t see a thing! All we could do was listen, and there were always the snakes to remember. They are not fancy snakes in these parts either. If you get bitten you haven’t much chance, but they don’t interfere with you unless you interfere with them. One darted between my legs one day as I was drinking a bottle of gingerbeer. The natives yelled, and it went into a shop. My pal killed it with a stick and we skinned it. It was 4½ feet long.
George Hazzledine told many stories of their problems, writing under the pseudonym of “Adjutant”, in memoirs that no publisher would accept because of his strong criticism of the Staff, They spent some time at a camp called by the men “Shell Camp” because of the constant although inaccurate shelling from the German Konigsberg guns. The Staff were very concerned to keep out spies who might pass on information to the Germans:
It was ordered that every native in the lines should carry a paper certificate. This was all very well at H.Q. Nairobi, where natives wore knickerbockers and shirts with pockets, but with us the problem was that many of them walked about stark naked, except for their tin identity disc on the wrist, and even when they wore a loin cloth, a piece of paper does not last long in that.
At Shell Camp they were looking to attack Ruhungu and General Smuts, who after the war joined the Legion in South Africa, was there. General Botha came from South Africa to see Smuts. He was escorted by Sir John Willoughby’s motor machine gun battery. The irony of this was not lost on the Frontiersmen:
Sir John Willoughby – the man who had been in prison over the Jameson Raid – and Colonel Driscoll, who, with his scouts, had been such a thorn in the side of the Boers in the old days – he was in command of Smuts’ bodyguard at the camp. Driscoll and Sir John sat in the same deep dugout that day, and yarned and drank tea and talked about it, while Botha and Smuts conferred on the hill a few hundred yards away. Does not Fate smile to herself when she does these things? One of our captains was A.W. Lloyd, the South African and “Punch” parliamentary caricaturist, and he drew a picture of Botha and Smuts talking. It is one of his ‘Jambo’ pictures now. ⁴ Botha sits on a three-legged chair with one splinter of its back left standing, and Smuts on an empty bully box. They are supping tea, or maybe ‘dop’ out of common tin dippers. Smuts says “Lettow has sent in an offer to surrender, but only on one condition. Very serious.” Botha asks, “Is that so, Jan?, and what then is the condition?” To which Smuts replies, “He wishes to stipulate that the country be never given back.” The troops were fed up with the country…. The men were fed up with it, from the cold wind at daybreak to the jigger fleas burrowing under their nails, from the stinking black cotton soil to the snakes, from the restless lion at night to the rushing rhino by day.
In a future “Topic” page we will continue with more stories by the men who served. The words of the men who experienced this extraordinary campaign tell us more than any second-hand account by a modern author.
¹ The White Man in Nigeria by G.D. Hazzledine.
² Colonial Secretary Lewis Harcourt, whose nickname was actually “LouLou”.
³ Sunday Dispatch, February 6th, 1916
⁴ Jambo, or with Jannie in the Jungle, by Captain Arthur Wynell Lloyd M.C. Most of the Frontiersmen who served in East Africa died either young or comparatively young. In spite of serving right through the campaign of the 25th Bn and being seriously wounded, Lloyd was one of the longest-lived of the Frontiersmen who served in East Africa. He died in May 1967 at the age of 84. The cartoons shown here are from this book, published in South Africa shortly after the war.
The article above was originally published on http://www.frontiersmenhistorian.info in October 2014 and has since been revised and updated.
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.