Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Old Bedfordian in East Africa

Jan Smuts c.1914 [Wikimedia]

Wednesday 12th April 1916: An Old Bedfordian has written describing his part in the advance of General Smuts in East Africa and the Battle of Latema-Reata [1]:

“I am awfully sorry I have not been able to get a letter off for at least a month. I did write two at different times, but I was not able to get either off. One was written during a most ferocious battle. They both got soaked through in my haversack. I got detached from my regiment with my ‘army’, so I saw and was in General Smuts’ big advance – Saleito, Taveta, and the big action at Latema and Reata. That was the biggest scrap I have been in out here. We began at 9.30 a.m, and by 5 p.m. we had made good about a fifth of their position on the two hills, and then we did a big assault which carried us a little way further, but not as far as we hoped. At 7.30 we had another biff, but were pushed out again, except about 200 men who dug themselves in on the crest. At 9.30 we had another dig, and again got pushed out, except another 200 or 300, who dug in. Then on and off all night the line were attacking or being counter attacked until about 3.30 a.m. At dawn we advanced to have another dig, but found the enemy had evacuated, leaving their dead, one gun , and three machine guns. My ‘army’ was awfully lucky – one officer and two men wounded – but I had two of my guns put out of action (one with seven bullet hits). I had also a mule killed, and one porter killed and two wounded. I had not the luck to go on any further with the advance, stopping then, and rejoining my regiment.”

Since that time our officer had suffered a frustrating time, suffering from a bout of fever which had caused him to be transferred to hospital in Nairobi: “I hope to be up and about in a couple of days as my fever was apparently not malaria proper, but just the result of being run down after a couple of months of pretty strenuous work. I had a very comfortable run up in a hospital train. Our arrival at Nairobi was quite amusing. There were hordes of females with cups of tea, bread and butter and rusks, expecting wounded heroes; but fully 99 per cent of our trainload were prosaic malaria. All the same the tea was very comforting.”

Source: The Ousel, 24th May 1916 [Z447/23]

[1] The Battle of Latema-Reata took place on 11th and 12th March, 1916 and resulted in a German withdrawal at the cost of 270 British casualties.

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