The Old and the Bold

Thomas Foxley Norris

Our Frontiersmen in East Africa.

Lance-Corporal T. F. Norris, 25th Fusiliers, Legion of Frontiersmen, sends an interesting description of East African campaigning and a couple of amusing illustrations.

We have been away on trek for three weeks.  Now we are back again at the place we started from I will write as much as I am allowed without names of places, etc.  Up to date my diary has been kept every day, so I will copy parts of it.

24/7/15.  We (the Mounted Infantry) received orders to pack up and depart for a raid into German territory which would take at least weeks.  We were to travel as light as possible and leave by train to-morrow.

25/7/15.  Lieut. Ryan, Lieut. Darnell (sic.) and 15 Platoon came down on the train.  I was glad to see Ernie, Marshall, Young Forster and the boys again after nearly two months.  We loaded up the mules, kits, etc., and started off for ______.  It was a terribly hot place we arrived at near a soda lake.  We started off again about 7.30 p.m. with the infantry, Lieut. Ryan in command, Lieut. Darnell (sic.) did not go with us.  An Indian doctor, stretcher bearers, native carriers, and a few ammunition donkeys completed our party.  Also our dog called “Pig”.  It was a beautiful moonlight night when we started.  Going south a little way from ______ two donkeys got away and caused a stop.  The air is very hot and you get a nasty acid taste in the mouth caused by the soda lake.  We did not have enough carriers so most of the M.I. had to carry bags on their mules.  I had two bags of flour on “Jimmy” and had to walk.  For about eight miles we followed the lake. The moon shone on the white surface and it looked like ice.  At last we came to the edge of the lake.  Then there was a long felt want for porters, donkeys, etc. The track then ran along the edge and, as we marched along, cracked like ice.  More stops, usually caused by donkeys slipping loads.  We crossed over the lake, passing through streams of water (soda) running over the surface.  It is very black and smells like decayed seaweed.  My boots leak and I got wet-footed.  At last we got over, and crossed a desert covered with rocks and sand and thorn bushes.  Later we came to a plain covered with potash, passed round a ridge through long grass and bushes and arrived at 4.30 a.m. at a river.  it did not take me long to off-saddle, water the mule, wrap myself in the saddle blanket and go to sleep.  We did about 20 miles over very rough ground and many of the infantry were so tired that they did not even take off their equipment, but just lay down anywhere and snored.  At 7 a.m. we had coffee and a biscuit, a lot of the men had a bathe.  It is a pretty river with green grass and tall trees along the banks. About four in the afternoon we crossed the river.  I got my feet wet again, owing to “Jimmy” having his own ideas as to which was the shallowest part to cross. The infantry waded across and dressed on the other bank.  We lit fires, made tea, and at 5.30 proceeded on our journey.  It was moonlight when we started again, and I was on the left flank advance with T. R. Darling (from B.A.).  We marched until about 11 o’clock, stopping at a stream until 4 a.m.  Once we were stopped through a snake biting a carrier in the leg.  Darling was on my left and ran into a sleeping rhino.  The beast charged and the mule bolted.

*               *               *               *               *

We have been in this place two months and don’t like it any more than when we arrived.

The camp is on the slope of a hill and is surrounded by a boma; an enclosure to keep out wild animals, Huns, etc., etc.  Outside the boma there is a clearing, and beyond that, thorn trees and thorn bushes in every direction.  Inside the boma there are troops of various colours; white, brown and black.  We also have a fine collection of ticks, fleas (several varieties), ants (every kind), scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, and every other kind of insect.  Mosquitos are not here at present. We have had storms in the last few days, otherwise there would be clouds of red dust blowing all over the place.  It finds its way into everything.  Your bed is full of dust.  You eat bread and jam and dust.  Stew and dust.  In fact, if we stop here long enough we shall eat the damn Country.  I am writing this in the guard tent. There is a sad faced trek ox, with a hump on his back, and very big horns, over in the Indian lines, bellowing for some reason unknown to me.  Our mules are just outside, eating, biting and kicking.  There is a black-faced mule, with a walk like Charlie Chaplin, taking great interest in another mule’s feed, and every now and again they both turn round and “sock” one another.

My mule is a brute for shying.  He shies at fallen trees and at heaps of stones, and, when he can’t see anything else, his own shadow will do.  When I am not looking he selects a tree with a branch he can just scrape under, and I am hung up in the thorns.  Then my helmet is pulled off.  He shies at that and I have a tug-of-war to recover it.

The next day we crossed some very wild country, all thorn bushes, rocks, cactus, stones, etc.  Saw large herds of animals; zebra, eland, hartebeasts, etc.  Arrived at a mountain range.  It was very steep and the infantry emptied their water-bottles in the morning.  Halted at top of first ridge and had coffee, etc.  When we started up again in the afternoon the men kept on dropping out, largely owing to heat and no water.

Had to take several up on the mules.  The carriers were all over the hill as well. Some of us took water-sacks down and helped our men into camp.  We stayed all next day at a Post on the Mountains.  Some of the King’s African Rifles are there. It was very cold at night, 6,000ft. above sea level.  The following day we descended the mountains, crossing the German border.  

We made for a village; on the way Lieut. Ryan shot three impala.  Three native guides, armed with bows and arrows accompanied us.  They led us along a well-made path and round a hill with thick forest on either side; we crossed a stream and some irrigated land and arrived at a big tree under which were a number of armed warriors with mud-smeared faces.  We were then taken to a camping ground near the village.  The Chief, an old white-haired, bleary eyed savage, came along and insisted on shaking hands with us.  They fetched water, and one lit my pipe with two pieces of stick.  The next day we moved on to another village.  It was not quite certain how the natives would receive us.  They would not let us enter the village, so we camped just inside the stockade.  During the day we saw plenty of rhino spoor.  In the morning we started off again.  Thirteen natives went with us carrying water and acting as guides.  We had to carry as much water as we could, as the next march was to be a long one and without water holes, etc.  Two water holes scratched by animals in a dry sandy river bed were found just on sunset.  We camped until moonrise, although the water was thick; like pea soup.  Saw giraffes, and someone shot a gazelle.  At 6 a.m. we arrived at a river, near a kopje of sandstone.  Saw extinct volcano from Kopje, also big lake and mountains.  Spent the day bathing, washing clothes, or cooking, until 3 p.m., when we started off again.  Saw a large herd of zebra, also lion spoor.  Camped about sunset, and moved off again at 2 a.m.  Only going for a few miles and halting again.

We were going to rush a small German Post at the end of the lake.  Just on day-break we set off on foot, with infantry, doctor and stretchers.  Came to thick bush near a river.  Suddenly we came upon the Post.  Lieut. Ryan gave the signal, and dashed into some Kraals; we followed.  The Post was quite empty.  Rotten luck!

Two zebras furnished us with meat; the flesh is rather stringy and sweet; some of the chaps don’t like it.  Think it’s like eating horse.

I went out with Dexter to try and get some fresh meat.  In thick bush we came upon a place where a rhino had been enjoying a sand bath.  We had no wish to meet the gentleman.  Next we came to a crowd of baboons sitting round a tree. They bolted.  Got within 100 yards of a herd of zebra.  D. went after a hartebeste. I looked after mules.  He could not get near enough to shoot as the zebs. kept on getting in the way.  So returned to camp.  

Started on our return journey next day, keeping to the edge of lake.  Saw swarms animals.  Mr. Ryan shot a waterbuck. One morning the mules “scoffed” our “Chupatties” and we had to go hungry.  At one place looking through the trees we thought we could see two boats on the Lake.  They turned out to be pelicans. We came upon thousands of flamingos, pelicans and cranes; some quite close near edge of the Lake.  A jackal wandered by, looking at us, with his ears cocked up. Next day we crossed the escarpment by a pass.  Came to very wild country, all mimosa, thorn or cactus.  Suddenly we came upon a rhino, his snout up trying to wind us, his ears stuck out and tail straight.  He was about eighty yards away, but there was a steep ravine in between, otherwise he might have charged.

Arrived back at Mountain Post in British territory.  They had pitched tents for us, and we remained there next day.

Sunday, 9/8/15.  Left Post.  descended mountain; crossed large stretches of desert; country swarming with game and dust.  In the afternoon we managed to lose the track and got into thick bush owing to men going to right and left to try and find old camping ground.  Just as we were getting to the river there was a shout and going to see what was the matter I found young Forster (Claud) on the ground.  He had been charged by a buffalo with a calf.  It carried him about ten yards before knocking him off on a bush.  He had a nasty gash in the abdomen, but luckily it did not get him properly or he would have been killed.  The Doctor patched him up; we stood by ready.  We heard them rushing about in the bush, and expected another charge.  On the way out of the bush the beasts (herd of buffaloes; hundreds of them) charged through the column several times and many of the men and carriers had narrow squeaks of being gored or trampled.

One nigger got his head gashed and leg injured, another charged a mule, and the rider was chucked into a bush (not a thorny one) another of the infantry was knocked over.  The niggers dropped their loads and got up trees, and it took us some time to get them all out.  We lost some of our stores, biscuits, sugar, etc.  I can tell you we were not sorry to say good-bye to the buffaloes.  The Indian Doctor stuck by Forster and helped to carry him to safety.  We had to cross the river up to our waists and camped on far side.  At four o’clock the next afternoon, started back to lake.  The guide managed to go wrong again, and we remained on the soda all night.  Arrived back at Railway about mid-day and stayed two days.  We are now “home” again.

Thomas Foxley Norris

The Zodiac Vol. VIII, No. 95, May 1916 pp.318

Thomas Foxley Norris

The Zodiac Vol. VIII, No. 95, May 1916 pp.319

First published in;

“The Zodiac” Vol. VIII, No. 95, May 1916 pp.318-319.

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Thomas Foxley Norris

Thomas Foxley Norris was a New Zealander, born in 1881 in Christchurch.

By 1891, aged 10, he had moved to the UK and was living at 13 Alkham Road in Hackney, Middlesex with his parents Joseph and Elizabeth, younger brothers Harold and John, and sister Bertha.

He served in the Second Anglo-Boer War with the Imperial Yeomanry (#24629, 62nd (Middlesex) Company, 11th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry) where he earned the Queen’s South Africa Medal with five clasps Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal, South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902.

On 24th January 1908, as a 27 year old artist, he emigrated to Argentina aboard the “Amazon” and was there for six years before returning to the UK aboard the “Darro” on 22nd October 1914.  On his return he gave his occupation as clerk and an address of 6 Adam Street as intended residence, this address being the London headquarters of the Legion of Frontiersmen.

He attested at Scotland Yard, London on 13th February 1915 as a Private in the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) and was issued with the service number 12870.  On attestation he gave his age as 34 and occupation as Book Keeper for Enrique Moody & Cla. in Buenos Aires.  

Appointed Acting Lance Corporal on 12th March 1915 he proceeded overseas as such with the battalion on 10th April 1915 aboard the “Neuralia”.  An appointment to paid Lance Corporal (2nd September 1915) was followed later by promotion to Corporal (1st March 1916).  A reversion in rank followed before once again being promoted to Corporal (6th March 1917).  He proceeded to the UK with the battalion aboard the “Durham Castle” and disembarked 30th January 1918.  A further appointment to paid Acting Lance Sergeant (1st February 1918) was followed by a posting to the 29th Battalion London Regiment (27th May 1918) with service number 783303.  He was finally transferred to Class Z Army Reserve on 12th April 1919.  On discharge he gave his address as 9 Beresford Road, East Finchley where he was listed in the 1919 Electoral Registers along with a Wilfred Eric Stafford Norris.

For his service with the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers he earned the 1914/1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals.


British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920

British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920

WO 100/125 Queen’s South Africa Medal Roll, Imperial Yeomanry.

WO 329/2872: 1914/1915 Star, 29th London Regiment other ranks, Medal Roll

WO 329/1951: British War & Victory Medal, 29th London Regiment other ranks, Medal Roll.

1891 England Census

Passenger lists leaving UK 1890-1960

UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960

London, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1965.