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October 19 - 25, 2012


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Coastweek -- New book 'Guerrillas of Tsavo' records the actions, tribulations and mismanagement of a British Empire army at war against an inferior and more adventurous enemy. Following the military operations, as well as the personal endeavors of the troops, porters and their followers, author James Willson describes the first 22 months of the First World War in the Mombasa-Voi Command in British East Africa.


James Willson launches his epic
history guide 'Guerillas of Tsavo'



Coastweek -- Twenty five years' years years ago, the then chairperson of Friends of Fort Jesus (FFJ) - Judy Aldrick launched her famous Old Town walk in this beautiful and historic setting of Fort Jesus.

As the evening drew to a close, Judy called for suggestions and ideas for a FFJ outing, my wife Eileen immediately suggested a weekend at the Taita Hills and Salt Lick Lodges Lodges as I was then the Acting Manager there and we had also just ‘discovered’ in the Sanctuary; the ruins of Mashoti Fort that had been built by the Loyal North Lancashire Regt in late 1915.

The Friends of Fort Jesus took up the idea and reservations were duly made.

The theme for this first trip was to be around my historical curiosity in the area, and the activities of the First World War, an interest that was already deeply rooted after listening with keen interest to William Boyd’s ‘An Ice Cream War’, which was aired in 1984 on the BBC radio, every morning before I went to work.

In between all the other blabber of the story was another story, developed around a sisal farmer in Taveta during 1914, and his tales of woe with his German neighbour across the border as the war started - we were living right there in the middle of Boyd’s story.

Coastweek -- 'Guerrillas of Tsavo'. Bound Hardback with dust jacket, 380 pages and 530 B/W illustrations. Book Size - A4.

I don’t recall how many came for that FFJ Battlefields weekend, but those that did, must of enjoyed the exercise and the outing, as we have since enjoyed many more trips into this interesting area with members of the Friends.

On this first outing we did a comprehensive walk around the Mashoti fort and the old military camp site, where we identified the Smithy with dozens of discarded horse shoes found beside the overgrown fire pit.

In a dig a few weekends previously, Eileen and I unearthed a meerschaum smoking pipe from Dublin, a clay Ginger Beer Bottle, a silver fork and what looked like glass bullets.

We then stumbled upon numerous little piles of broken glass bottles.

Many of the shards were interesting as they were so thick with raised embellishments, obviously made for rough transportation.

After some difficulty we put some of them together like a jig saw puzzle and discovered they were Roses Lime Juice bottles.

I guess most people today realize how important Vitamin C is against scurvy.

Thicker dark glass bottles turned out to be one pint Beer bottles, the more complete ones had Property of South African Breweries embossed on them.

Scotch whisky bottle bases, 'Lee and Perrings' shaped bottles and wine bottles all started being found, although I don’t think we ever found any complete ones.

After further finds we realized the ‘glass bullet like’ objects were actually broken bottle top plugs for the lime juice bottles, held down in a similar way as a Champaign cork is today.

We walked and scrambled over Maktau Hill, the British base where up 20,000 troops were accommodated, and inspected the dry stone wall defenses on the crest of Picket Hill, where we picked up several rounds of unused British 303 ammunition, and several cartridge cases.

I started to ask my self:

Where did these come from?

What final tragedy do those cartridge cases conceal?

Who were the soldiers?

Where did they come from?

How were they fed?

What happened to casualties?

What became of prisoners of both sides?

Coastweek -- An attentive gathering listens to the author presentation at the book launch of 'Guerrillas of Tsavo' in the main courtyard of Mombasa's historic Fort Jesus Museum.

What were the personal stories behind those commemorated at the beautifully kept Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in the area?

How did 15,000 undefeated German and colonial troops survive, under one Commander in Chief Colonel von Lettow Vorbeck, survive four years with virtually no supplies from the Fatherland while holding up 300,000 British Empire and allied troops from 21 countries under the command of a total of 137 Generals.

It was always a temptation to speculate.

All these questions needed answers and an explanation … Some of the answers are elaborated in 'Guerrillas of Tsavo'.

In Judy’s absence, I have to blame her entirely, with her deep interest in East African history she told me that she had not come across much written information about the FWW in East Africa, so, she urged me to write down and document what we were finding and discovering about those early days of the GW in East Africa.

This was when the battle was actually favouring the Germans and their Schutztruppen, as it did throughout that long campaign, rather than the British.

Years later my book here, is the result.

After leaving Taita to work at the coast, my interest grew deeper as we were unearthing and finding all sorts of information and stories as more and more people knew of my interest.

We have sallied forth periodically into the depths of Tsavo West and the Shimba Hills and elsewhere looking for any location with a mention in the Official History of the East African Campaign.

We have so far found and identified nearly 50 sites of interest.

Certainly, Important for Mombasa, are the Wavell Gardens and the obelisk, erected by the grateful towns people of Mombasa to commemorate Major Arthur Wavell M.C. - a sisal farmer from Nyali Sisal Estates, and his company of Arab Rifles.

Also in the Gardens and standing side by side as Gate Guards and Sentries to the entrance of Fort Jesus, are the guns from H.M.S. Pegasus and the German Cruiser S.M.S. Konigsberg, which is partially hidden by that hideous red soft drink kiosk.

H.M.S. Pegasus, was the first British Warship to be sunk in action during the First World War in the Zanzibar Harbour on 20th September 1914 after being shelled by the Konigsberg.

The Konigsberg then became a target after many months of being stalked by the Royal Navy, and destroyed in the Rufiji Delta way down down in mangrove forests of Southern Tanzania.


Coastweek -- German Cruiser S.M.S. Konigsberg [top] off Dar es Salaam and the British Warship H.M.S. Pegasus [below]


After having fought at sea, the guns from both ships were recovered and converted to field artillery pieces to again fight against each other in several land battles of the East African Campaign, the only guns ever to do so.

During a very memorable FFJ trip to Zanzibar, I managed to obtain the brass name plate for the HMS Pegasus.

It took us three attempts to climb Mount Kasigau, before we located the Signal Post high up on one of the mountain spurs.

The second time we got hit by a torrential rainstorm, and had a truly frightening experience trying to descend the 1000 feet down a virtual rock precipice in the wet.

(Looking back, it could almost feature on DSTVs ‘I shouldn’t be alive’ series.)



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