The Old and the Bold

William Errol Glanville Watmough

First published in;

The Shipley Times and Express, Friday, 9th March, 1917.


The following text contains words which are now considered offensive in the description of ethnic origin.  I in no way advocate the use of these words to describe ethnicity but as attitudes in 1914/1918 were completely different to those of the present day and in order to retain the historical accuracy and flow of the text I have transcribed the item as printed at the time.





We continue to give extracts from letters received from Private W. Watmough, of Fairfield, Thackley, who is in East Africa with the Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen).  The extracts we publish show the lighter and somewhat happier side of campaigning in a remote and tropical country.


(Continued from last week.)

One of the black boys here – Martini, a Kaffirander – is very interesting.  I can see that sometimes he would like to talk to me.  I encourage him.  He can speak English fairly well – better than most of them – and I can make myself understood in Swahili-cum-English if nothing else.  He is a queer customer.  He has come with a Motor Transport man from far up in British East Africa.  He claims to have shot seven lions.  His “boss” says he saw him shoot one.  He is as cunning as a box of monkeys.  He seems to have taken a fancy to some of us, and loves to have a chat.

To-night he has been telling me that he is a good Mohammedan, even reads the Koran – which not many natives out here do, and I doubt if he does, in spite of what he says.  He says Allah keeps him free from all disease, and that if he tells a lie it is recorded against him in a big book.

But the most astounding idea he has got is that when this “showerie” (army slang for “war”) is over, then it will be God’s “showerie,” and He, in his great goodness, will see that right is done to the blacks.  He goes on to point out that all the blacks who are “kibokoed” (flogged) will go to heaven, and the whites who “kiboko” them will go to hell.

This theory of God standing by the blacks and punishing the whites I have found simmers in the minds of many of many natives.  Such may be the nucleus of what will one day develop into the greatest rebellion of African blacks the world has ever seen!  The factor which has probably retarded this great rising in the past has been the animosity between the tribes – an animosity which always appears to have been fostered by the Germans, and – perhaps in a lesser degree – by the British.  As far as my observation goes, the missionaries try to break down these feuds – a Christian-like object, no doubt.  But I wonder if it is wise from the white man’s point of interest, for so long as these feuds exist there can be no united action.


Tea is a great institution in this country, as I believe it is in all the countries of the East.  I have had more tea since I came to Africa than I had in the whole of my life before!  I used to talk about certain friends of mine drinking tea.  I can now lick them their heads off – and, of course, the same may be said of all the men here.

Take my own average day here in _____.  I have a cup of tea at 6, another at 11, tea to lunch, a cup at 5, tea to dinner, and probably two to three cups during an evening.  And to each meal three or even four cups are not unusual.  The civilians living out here drink tea at similar times.  In camp it is the same – tea, tea, tea! In addition to the tea issued from the cookhouse, viz. at gun-fire (5.30 a.m.), lunch, and dinner, each soldier has a private store of dry tea, and he boils his water and makes himself a mess-tin full of “tanning” at all hours of the day.

Then at the Y.M.C.A. tents tea is always on tap, and the day long there is a line of men waiting their turn for “another ten cents worth.”  I have had tea without milk and without both milk and sugar.  I have had tea with treacle in lieu of sugar, and I have had it in the Russian fashion – with a lemon or a lime.  No method, however, that I have come across beats the old English way of preparing the beverage.

In the market place at Tanga there was an Indian Guard.  They prepared their meals in a corner of the market.  One of them asked me one day to have a cup of tea and a chipattie.  The chipattie was good.  It was the size of a pancake, thin, like oatcake.  In fact, they are similar to oatcake.  But the tea was like syrup itself.  Not only had they put about half a cupful of sugar to a cup of tea, but they had put ginger in it as well.  I didn’t wish to appear unkind, so I gulped down the concoction.  But I never went near the Indian Guard again!  I couldn’t stand another dose of that stuff!

Sometimes coffee takes the place of tea, but the latter is the firm favourite.  And tea does not appear to have the injurious effect that taken in such large quantities it would have in the old country.  This tea-drinking is a habit that will, I am thinking, take a lot of breaking off when we all get home.


Writing of tea reminds me of a great money-making scheme.  At Tanga two of our chaps – both well known in the Bradford trade – went into partnership as suppliers of tea to the Fusiliers.  At certain hours of the day, when tea was likely to be acceptable – early morning and late evening, for instance – their nigger made them a fire, they boiled a petrol tin full of water, and made a big brewing of tea.  When the “lush” was ready the two smart and enterprising Bradford men would stand up and acclaim in the voice of a showman:

“Tea is up, boys!  Tea is up!  Roll around and bring your pots!  Don’t forget the old firm!”

Then the fellows would gather round.  One partner took the money and the other baled out the tea.  When all the customers around the “stall” had been supplied and business seemed at a standstill, one of the partners would go through the lines with the tea which remained unsold, and at each tent flap yell out:

“Any tea to-night?  Any tea?”

This was in order to catch the stragglers who had been too lazy to walk across to the place where the two B’s daily brewed.  The charge was six cents (1d.) per cup, thus cutting out the Y.M.C.A., which charged ten cents.  To hear my two good friends discussing between themselves in the true manner of the Bradford trade what were the minimum quantities of tea, sugar, and milk that could be used without leaving the tea undrinkable was an object lesson.

Whenever I saw them making this tea, one of the partners who claimed the position of managing director – I leave you to guess which it was – always railed the other for giving the chaps “too much for their brass.”  They have been chaffed unmercifully over their enterprise.  One of them now glories in the sobriquet of “Daviestine.”  But they continued the business at the next place we were sent to, and I imagine that now at _____ they are still calling:

“Tea up, boys!  Come while it’s hot and good!”

Is there any wonder that Bradford contains so much wealth?


I am writing from a big town just now.  That is, a big town for East Africa.  And what makes it rather more attractive is that there are white women here.  They are Germans, Greeks, etc.  But it is a nice change to see something in petticoats with a white skin after nothing but dusky maidens smelling like a polecat! Where the husbands of the Hun ladies are God alone knows.  But they seem to be happy enough in their husbands’ absence, and at nights on the verandahs some of them can be seen dining and wining in style.

In some of the hotels the meals are served by natives who have been taught by the Germans who formerly occupied the place.  I have noticed many peculiarities, which, I suppose, are German.  Here is one.  If you are to have, say, five courses, when you sit down you find five plates, piled up in front of you. The first course is placed on the top plate.  Subsequent courses follow in due order, the diner thus eating from the plate which remains on the top of those unused.  It is not until you reach dessert that you have only one plate in front of you.

But please do not for one moment run away with the idea that we often dine in this way.  About four meals of this sort cover all I have had since coming to Africa.  Most of the time – and it will be the same again for me in a few days – it has been stew, bully-beef and biscuits, mealy meal, and sugarless and milkless coffee, with a mess-tin lid, an enamelled pot, and a jack-knife as utensils.  I am afraid the little holiday we are having here will spoil us for bush life again.

Socks here, by the way, are great things.  Frontiersmen’s families at home might like to know this.  “You can’t have too many pairs of socks,” says Captain Selous.  I keep six pairs going.  They get very “boardy,” through lack of hot water, just as we get greasy!  I haven’t had a hot bath since I was at Hounslow – but plenty of cold ‘uns.  So there isn’t much chance for clothes to see hot water.


Those of us who get back home will have a lot to tell about much that I dare not tell you now.  I once paid a visit, out of curiosity, to the lowest quarter of a native village.  You may not believe me, but I came away feeling absolutely sick.  I have never seen anything so repulsive in my life, and never want to see anything like it again.  I honestly mean what I say.  The native, the uncivilised native of the country, is often a fine, genuine, human being.  The so-called “civilised” native of the town is as full of vice as he can be, and the women – most of them; there are exceptions – are female animals.

As I have before stated, this part of the world is not healthy.  It hasn’t suited all our fellows.  Some have been ill, mostly the boys of 18 up to 22.  Men of 25 and upwards generally do all right.  Those who are below that age should not – unless they are compelled – come out.  Six months’ service out here counts double.

We had a red-letter day yesterday, for Percy Moorhouse received a parcel, and so did I.  Charley Wood, of Idle, brought them up to us.  We had a buster of a feed last night – meat pie, plum pudding, cheese, etc.  We shall have another to-night, and another tomorrow night.  It is to be tinned pheasant, etc., to-day. Dining at the Midland is nothing to it!  I boiled my home-made Christmas plum pudding myself.  I would not think of allowing anyone else to do it.  It savoured of dear old Thackley; and the opinion of the tent was that it was absolutely topping.  The parcel arrived in perfect order.  Tins, with the lids soldered on, and stitched up in strong calico, with the address written on the calico in marking ink, should always be used in sending parcels out here for soldiers.  There is, of course, great excitement in the tents when parcels are opened.  Those at home can hardly realise what parcels mean to us.

Besides Percy Moorhouse, Fred McKay, of Bradford, and Jack Storrey are in my tent.  Tent-life is quite a pleasant change again.

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