Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Letter from the Cameroons

British gun firing at Fort Dachang, 1915 (Wikimedia)

Thursday 22nd April 1915: The impact of this World War extends far beyond the battlefields of northern France and Belgium, and there are Bedfordshire men involved in theatres of war very far from home. Mr. S. Wheatley, the Secretary of the Biggleswade Licensed Victuallers’ Association has received two letters from his son Reg Wheatley, a former Biggleswade cricketer now in the Cameroons (West Africa). It seems there has been some difficulty with mail as Reg had not yet received his Christmas parcel from home and these letters have taken some time to arrive. On March 3rd Reg wrote:

“At the present time I am at Victoria, but I am going back to Duala today.[1] I came here just for a trip, for we have had a very hard time of it the last few months, and I was pleased to get a spell. Things are about the same at Duala, but our troops are having some stiff fighting up country, and we are losing some very valuable officers. We lost a colonel, a captain, and two lieutenants last week”

“It seems the Germans have returned so far inland, and have got some good fortified positions, which they intend to hold; in fact, the Germans are very lively everywhere, much more than people at home realise. Two-thirds of the white men here are overdue to return home and no chance of getting away, unless a man is ill and no further use. A lot of our fellows are overdue, but the general refuses to let them go, for he cannot get relief for them, so it is impossible to say when anyone will get home. I am not going to look forward to getting home, then I shall not be disappointed. I do not mind if I keep good health, for we ahve all got to do our duty for good old England.”

“HMS --- is leaving here, and is to be relieved by another cruiser, which I think is quite right, for they have a lot of sickness among the sailors, and have also had a lot of deaths; they do not seem to realise what a dangerous country this is, and they will not take the necessary precautions. “

A couple of weeks later, the situation had not improved. On 18th March Reg Wheatley says:

“Things are about the same at Duala, plenty of work, etc., in fact, more than we can do. We have a lot more boats to fit with armour plate and guns, for we must get ready for the rainy season, when we shall have to do a lot more work up the rivers, etc. Since the rivers have fallen we cannot get up with our boats, and the Germans have come back to the places we captured last rainy season. I think it will take another twelve months here or even longer. We tried to shut the dock here last Sunday to get a day’s rest, but the General would not hear of it. We have orders to work every day.”

“My old boat, the M.S.Alligator, that myself and Captain Ford brought down here, which I was on until the New Year, has been in the thick of it. While patrolling one of the rivers it got three maxims turned on it, and it got absolutely ridded. I am sorry to say Captain Ford got seriously wounded. It’s a toss up if he recovers or not. He sent for me to see him last evening, and the poor fellow was in great pain, but very cheerful. The bullet entered his left lung, and until they get it out he will be in danger. We all hope he will recover.”

“I suppose Archie and Bert will go to France; good luck to them. I am proud to think my brothers have answered their country’s call, and even if we never meet again don’t worry, for you know it’s my wish, and I am sure it’s theirs too to do their duty to our country, and to protect our wives, mothers and fathers, and keep the old flag flying and say ‘Britons never shall be slaves’. We shall win, because that’s the spirit throughout the British Isles”.  

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 23rd April 1915

[1] The German colony of Kamerun was invaded by the British and French after the outbreak of war in 1914. The coastal city of Douala surrendered to the Allied forces on 27th September 1914. At the time Reg Wheatley was writing the Germans were still holding out in the interior. The campaign ended in Allied victory in February 1916.

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