iAfrica News Kenya Focus 

October 19 - 25, 2012


 Coastweek   Kenya

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Coastweek -- Cavalry of the East African Mounted Rifles on parade: one of many fascinating and historic photographs appearing in the new book 'Guerrillas of Tsavo' written and compiled by South Coast author and historian James Willson.


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



Coastweek -- On another occasion whilst sitting on a rocky kopje overlooking the Tsavo Serengeti Plains, plucking hundreds of pepper ticks off us and enjoying a rather well deserved cup of tea and Eileen’s famous chocolate cake, a young lioness decided to join us … we had to make a rather hasty retreat back to the car, just managing to save the cake for later.

Once exploring Tembo Fort on the Tsavo River I got our little group completely lost in the thick bush on the way back and took several hours to find our way out to the cars. Being in the high thick wait a bit thorn bush we had no horizon, so it was difficult to get our bearings.

This was a situation that troops of both sides had also experienced, often passing within meters of each other without even knowing it, and getting lost and seperated from the patrol; ever since then I have taken a GPS with me.

It was these and many more safaris that laid a firm foundation for me to work on over the years, but some time into the research, I realized that Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen’s ‘Army Diary’, was in fact way out of line.

I had the opportunity to retrace his reconnaissance route between Moshi and Kahe on the lower slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in very similar conditions, except he had done the trip in darkness with the area swarming with Germans.

It was physically impossible to accomplish what he claimed.

That safari resulted in the first of many and subsequent major re-writes of my book.

Coastweek -- German General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck.

Opportunities arose for me to attend various tourism marketing fairs in Europe and the UK, after which I often managed take time to explore and investigate the military museums in the neighborhoods.

Little mention on anything to do with the East Africa African campaign of 1914 -1918 was ever on display in these museums.

I therefore had to learn how to get access to their reading rooms and archives.

Being from overseas, I was viewed with great suspicion, even then, and was required to produce a University Student Research Reference, which of course I could not, this was a stumbling block, why and what was I doing researching the East African Campaign, I was obviously not a student.

Not deterred by this, Higher Authority was sought before permission was finally granted, and then passport, utility bills and goodness knows what else were required to get in to these areas.

Much of the information that I sought relating to the campaign had only recently come into the public domain, a lot of it still un cataloged and some of it is still under wraps and not available.

Was there something being hidden I wondered? I have my own theories on this.

Once I had overcome this sort of hostility towards my enquiries, a Pandora’s Box opened. I was in seventh heaven.

The Imperial War Museum, The National Army Museum, The Fusiliers Museum in the Tower of London and more recently the Lancashire Infantry Museum in Preston - and then the National Archives out beside the beautiful Kew Gardens, which of course also required close scrutiny and more time to visit as well.

It took me a while to figure out how to operate the various museum search engines so at first I had to wait for another year to pass, before I could follow up on my previous efforts for these primary and secondary source materials.

In the end it was fascinating delving into those boxes, some of which had not been opened for generations, and to be able to handle (with gloves on) and read documents, reports, private letters, photographs and hand drawn sketches from so long ago.

Many of these reports and letters were probably last handled by their authors during that Great War of Civilisation as it was referred to afterwards.

It left me profoundly moved and humbled.

At last, I was really able to get a grip on what was going on.

In between times back home, days off and short leave periods were spent exploring the battlefields, and forts, some of which even the rangers in Tsavo West National Park did not know about, or rather their origins and significance but were always keen to know more.



Coastweek -- ABOVE: Dedicated defenders and loyal North Lancashires manning a machine gun bunker at Mashoti Fort, 1915. BELOW: The team from Sarova Taita Hills Lodges and Lion's Bluff Camp who helped clear bush around the fort in 2011.


Since then we have done several field trips with hoteliers from the area, park rangers, sanctuary rangers and representatives of the nearby communities to foster a greater interest in the sites and the necessity for their preservation, they all have been so enthusiastic, willing and keen to learn more of their history of this era.

We also need to encourage the conservation of these sites and develop Battlefield and Heritage Tourism.

As interests and scope widened and expanded, more investigations were required, for instance, - what was the Royal Navy Air Service doing in Maktau 130 miles away from the ocean?

So a trip was required to the FAAM in Yoevil, Somerset, where they were super helpful as they had just started a collection of early material on East Africa.

It was in East Africa that the Fleet Air Arm owed its origins, during the blockading of the German cruiser the Konigsberg in the Rufiji Delta, those flimsy aircraft were used to find the ship and provide aiming and target location for the two monitors that could not see their target behind the immense mangrove forests of the delta.

The pilots used an early form of radio 'Morse Code' to give these instructions.

Newspaper articles were useful sources of information, and for this we visited the British Museum Newspaper Repository where they hold copies of virtually every newspaper and magazine ever printed in the UK and the former British Empire.

Copies of the East African Standard, and the Leader of East Africa were gleaned over and photocopies made, but before we could look at them I had to get permission from the British Museum director in London as the newspapers were still in their original state and had not been preserved and so not available to the public.

Sometimes, just trying to lift and turn the page carefully, the corners would disintegrate.

MacMillan Library in Nairobi holds some copies of these old news- papers too, which are available for inspection by prior appointment.

Coastweek -- South Coast author and historian James Willson signing his new book 'Guerrillas of Tsavo' at last Sunday's charity Diani Goat Derby.

We learnt about the origins of the library at Judy Aldrich’s book launch on "Northrop".

Northrop MacMillan served with dedication during the First World War in this sector and was Base Commandant at Mbuyuni for a while, he was honored for his efforts.

In the Nairobi Railway Museum, the Officers Dining Room furniture from the Konigsberg is on display, they also hold a large collection of loose photographs of the early days of the Lunatic Express.



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