Friday, 10 February 2017

From Luton to East Africa

Henry Bennett

Saturday 10th February 1917: Mrs. Daisy Bennett of 78 Russell Rise, Luton, has received an interesting letter from her husband. Sapper Henry Bennett, whowas employed in the Luton Post Office before the war, is now in East Africa with the motor air-line service of the Royal Engineers. He writes:
“Arriving at Mombasa last June, I was quickly sent up to Neutnoshi, which as at that time the Headquarters of the R.E.’s Signals. A couple of days in a rest camp here which, being situated on the hillside close to a splendid water supply, together with liberal rations, and an occasional fine view of the snow clad top of Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, led me to imagine that I was in for a good time. I was able to get a place on a draft for General Van De Venter’s division, then at Kondoa Irangi. I had no idea where this place was, and at that time cared still less, but was not long in discovering I had a motor trip of nearly 300 miles in front of me. This may not appear any great hardship, but it proved no ‘joy ride’. The vehicles were transport lorries, and we were carried as extra weight rather than as passengers. The road was simply a rough track through the bush or desert. The passengers on these cars were frequently obliged to dismount and help push through sand drifts, whilst at other times they were enveloped in a cloud of dust which caused difficulty in breathing. One portion of the track lay through a long fly belt. No animal could pass this way, and owing to their absence the tetse flies took full revenge on the unfortunate travellers. During this trip I went without a wash for three days, water being so scarce.
 The Germans have laid out something of a small town at Kondoa, and it was a treat to see a building again, although the telegraphic headquarters were housed under canvas. On one stretch of our line, giraffes were very troublesome, and frequently carried a mile or so of wires away into the bush, and after such periods we had to indulge in good hard ‘slogs’ in order to bring our work up to date. Having spent three weeks in this place, where mosquitoes were more numerous than rations, I moved further on towards Dodoma and took up duty at Cypherkuil. This was only a bush clearing with a supply dump where water was very scarce and lions plentiful, one fine specimen being shot an hour before sunset within 100 yards of camp.   I set off for Kilimatinde, which lies between Dodoma and Tabora. Part of this journey was covered by rail, but the last 50 miles by ox convoy. I shall not forget this trip, which I can scarcely describe in words, but it will suffice to say that some of the water I used resembled that running down the gutters in George Street after a heavy storm. My food consisted of a little rice, and ‘mealie meal’ per day, which had to be cooked whilst the oxen rested. Arriving at my destination, we relieved the men there and found ourselves with plenty of work. We were now feeling the effects of short rations, and even went so far as to partake of native beer and ground nuts in order to overcome hunger. On November 1st a good supply arrived, and so far has continued, although still many of the most common dishes at home would be luxuries here. Vegetables I have not seen for months.”
Source: Luton News, 15th February 1917

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