Ice Cream Warrior
The First World War has been on my mind. I am trying to organise a street party in the summer with that as its theme. Already while most are up for it there have been one or two Guardinasta type protests. Very much like it was in l914.
In particular I got thinking about my maternal grandfather who before he ran Hilden Grange prep school near Tonbridge for twenty years was a Colonel in the Bombay Grenadiers. While his more illustrious brother(Douglas Gracey) was winning two MCs, grandfather fought in two lesser but interesting campaigns. If he had been sent to the Western Front, to put mildly my family history might have been very different.
As it was he started in 1914 in East Africa. Here egged on by the settlers in Kenya(see” Out of Africa”) the British mounted a concerted campaign to oust the Germans from their colonies of Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania. Neither side had many forces in the field but the British reinforced by South Africa and India easily outnumbered the Germans, who were led brilliantly by Von Lettow-Vorbeck. The initial pincer movement of two columns of 12000 against the German 3000 led to a crunching defeat for the good guys.
In fact the official British history of the war would describe the conflict in East Africa as one of the “most notable failures in British military history.” The wonderful naval battles on Lake Tanganyika inspired the film African Queen. But despite enormous superiority in men and material the Allies never captured or totally beat Von Lettow. His tactics were those of a good lightweight, move and jab.
My step father a good German boy post 1918 remembered being brought up learning of Von Lettow’s heroics against the massive odds.(Needless to say Hans’ father fought in the wrong side at Verdun) But of course as William Boyd in his Ice Cream War novel shows the whole East African campaign was a tiny sideshow to the mass slaughter on the Western Front.
By the end when the undefeated Germans agreed to the armistice the Germans had lost 2000 to the Allies 10000. It was estimated that for every battle field casualty there were 30 struck down by illness. On both sides the bulk of the fighting was done by African troops. By the end my grandfather had been seconded to Allenby in the Middle East and was with him at the liberation of Jerusalem from the Turkish Empire.
My grandfather was great sportsman(as were all his children), a fantastic shot always first on the maharajah’s list for tiger shoots and married three times. Although he and my socialist mother were never estranged they were never close. The fact that my grandmother divorced him and her lover died before they could marry created a bitterness.