The Old and the Bold

William Errol Glanville Watmough

First published in;

The Shipley Times and Express, Friday, 6th April, 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.




No. 7

Private W. Watmough, of Thackley, continues to send interesting accounts of his experiences as a soldier in German East Africa.  We print below further extracts from some of his on the lighter and non-military side of the campaign in the Kaiser’s only remaining, and practically captured, colony.

In the same battalion as Private Watmough – the Frontiersmen attached to the Royal Fusiliers – there are many men from this district, whose experience of a remarkable country and people may be taken as being somewhat similar to that which is related by Private Watmough.  For this reason we think the extracts from the latter’s letters which we publish will be of special interest to the families and friends of those who are “doing their bit” in a part of the world a portion of which General Smuts says is “the most malarious and deadly on the face of the globe.  Private Watmough went out to German East Africa last July.

We regret to say the Private Frank J. Connolly, second son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Connolly, 6 Gilpin Street, Bradford, referred to in one of Private Watmough’s letters published in the EXPRESS, is reported by cable to have died on March 25th of malaria fever at East London Hospital, Capetown.


We are now at an outlandish place some eighty miles further south than the place from where I wrote you last.  Myself, I am not present with the other chaps.  I am living in a tent with two Rhodesians.

You would probably get the “wind-up” a bit when you read of poor old Captain Selous being killed.  Particularly so, after what I had told you about Captain Selous and myself, and my saying that I had spent all the night with him in the bush prior to writing my last letter to you.  I am not at liberty to say much, but it was an affair of outposts - a very serious one, though.

Poor Captain Selous.  He was 65 years of age, and a very brave man, as I said in a former letter.  I saw a lot of him, and we often chatted about live-stock matters.  He had been a reader for many years of one of our papers - FUR AND FEATHER.  His death was deeply regretted by all who knew him.  But it was, perhaps, just the death he would himself have chosen.

Recently about a score of our lot left our last camp to go out to join the other boys at _____.  We had to come to this point by train, and then trek for most of a hundred miles.  We arrived here at daybreak, after one of those bone-breaking nights in a truck, which I have previously described, and than which there can be nothing more uncomfortable on earth.  We expected a few hours’ rest, and then away on our long journey.  It was not to be.  On our arrival we were at once told that this was as far as we had to go, as the Fusiliers up the line were coming back.  (The Fusiliers, by the way, are all over the country.)

So we bivouacked in the open - for we had no tents - and endeavoured to make ourselves reasonably happy.  The old Frontiersmen are marvels under circumstances like these.  Fires were lit, mess tins full of water were put on to boil, and bandas put up.  The latter are made from blankets and waterproof sheets.  They are to protect us from the sun.  And then we ate and drank to our hearts’ content, as we were all hungry, thirsty, and deucedly tired.


There were few other troops in the camp, which is right up on the hills, with native villages the only signs of humanity between us and the town from which we had come.  From our little bivouacking ground we could see nothing but towering mountains and bush, native kraals on the slopes of the hills, the tracks of big game, and the railway line which winds its way in and out amongst the mountains in the wake of Smuts’s advancing army – now mostly a black army, which has reached a part of the country where white men can hardly live.

On all sides we could see signs of game, for lions, panthers, jackals, hyenas, giraffes, zebras, and even elephants, inhabit the woods and the hills surrounding this lonely though not unhealthy camp.

We rigged up, as I have said, in the open, and slept hard and well, for we had had precious little sleep the night before.  We had only brought on with us just bare necessities, for if we had done the trek we set out to do, black porters would have carried our belongings, with the exception of rifle and equipment, which, of course, we should have carried ourselves.

Later, the boys went back, with the exception of the three of us previously named.  The two Rhodesians are good fellows.  We have a black boy to cook and generally “do” for us, and life is as pleasant as tent life for soldiers can be in such country as this.

We have to go a mile for water, and we are only allowed a limited quantity per man daily.  Water is scarce, but food we are not short of.  When I have nothing connected with my present position to do I fill in my time working for the Post Commandant.  Last night I was in charge of some Askari (prisoners who are made to work here), who were carrying kits across the valley.  The necessity of the rifle on these occasions is obvious, though the Askari appear only too pleased to be prisoners, and are usually tractable enough.

When the other fellows reach here we shall go back to our old camp.  I am still in the best of health, and eagerly looking forward to meeting the other boys, who are north, south, east, and west.


I am now with the boys again.  It was a treat to get back to my pals after our long separation.  We have managed to get into one tent, and we are a very happy little party.  We have had heaps to tell each other, as all of us have had interesting experiences.

In our tent there are Frank Hammond, Billie Cannan, and myself – and all three are quite fit and cheery.  We have also Archie Gardner (a man about 45, and the father of the tent), Walter Dyson (who was with me in Dar-es-Salaam), Joe Bracknell (late of the “Yorkshire Observer”), Hal Owens (one of the nicest chaps in the battalion, who did eleven months in France before joining the 25th), Dan Spicer (another good fellow, who has also been in Flanders), Jack Senior (he was in the Boer War) and Jimmy Drake (a farmer’s son and a very quaint lad).

We came to this place a week ago.  It is only a good-sized village, further north than where I was last stationed.  The long wet season is at hand.  Our camp is at the foot of a magnificent range of hills.  In the valley facing us is the town or village of _____, and beyond another range of hills.  We are more comfortable here.  There is a refreshing breeze at times, and generally it feels much healthier than some of our past camps.  We are getting decent grub, and there is no scarcity of water.

We have Lieutenant Joe Brooke’s coachman, Briggs, with us.  he has been out here from the start, and is a really excellent chap.  He has a bantam which he takes with him wherever he goes.  He keeps it fastened to a stake by means of a piece of string, and it lays him an egg for his breakfast every morning - and missings.  It is one of the regimental pets, and we have all sorts - monkeys, mongeese (very useful in a tent, because they keep the rats and snakes out), lemurs, parrots, dogs, etc.

But it is getting towards “scoff” time.  Stew, beans, potatoes, race pudding, and tea to-night.  Our black boy is sitting in front of the tent, cross-legged, and smoking bad cigarettes which we have given him.  They were gifts, and had gone mouldy.  He only started working for us this morning.  We unintentionally sacked the other one last night.  We must have said something to him which gave him the impression that we didn’t want him to come again.  We have heard that from another boy this morning.  Anyway, these black boys are the limit.

We had a good lad at the last place I was at.  He could cook splendidly.  When I came away I left very early in the morning.  I told him the night before that I should be away at 6 a.m. (that is 1 o’clock according to Swahili time).  The little beggar got up long before daybreak and actually cooked me some bacon and an egg for breakfast.  Where he got the egg from I did not enquire.  That kid thought the world of me, and tears were in his eyes when I left.  I have always got on very well with the natives.

I was pleased to leave _____ and come here, for I was, I admit, lonely up there in the hills away from the other boys.


East Africa is a country the climate of which affects some men from the very day on which they land.  It is impossible to say whether you are one of this kind or not until you have been in the country several weeks and tested yourself in the fever zones.  We have been in some very unhealthy quarters, and the fever has touched many of us.  But just now we are in the healthy village of _____.

The heavy rains, as I have said, are just commencing.  On account of the situation of our present camp we get it thick and heavy.  The other night we had just got curled up in our blankets - the eight of us in our tent - when it started to thunder and lighten in such a manner as never obtains in England.  The thunder was like ten artillery bombardments, and the play of the lightning was most vivid and picturesque.  And then the rain came - came in torrents, hammering on our tent like 10,000 kettledrum sticks.  The tent began to tighten until it was like a drum.  We all knew what that would mean if someone didn’t go out and slacken the tent ropes.  It would mean that the tent would come down wallop, as an officer’s tent had already done.

No one volunteered.  But ultimately some bright youth suggested cutting a pack of cards, the lowest to go out, get wet through, and save us all from a night in the mud.  We lit the candle, sat up in bed - what a sight! - and, full of suspense, cut the cards.  Walter Dyson, of Bradford, cut the ace, and out he had to go!  He stripped for the job, and went out absolutely with no clothing on but his shorts.  If ever a chap got a cold bath he did!


Then we had a terrible calamity last night.  Frank Hammond, of Undercliffe, upset the rum ration!  That may not sound very serious to you, but it was a serious matter to us!  We get about six large spoonsful of rum per week, and for this to be spilled is enough to cause the death of the spiller!  The rum we get - it is spoken of as Kaffir dope - keeps the cold out these wet days, and the fever away.

I must congratulate _____ upon being made a corporal in the City Volunteers.  I can quite imagine his feelings when he was told to drill a company.  Putting a company through all its formations is no joke.  I think I have forgotten all my company drill, as we do none of that sort of thing out here.  If our chaps now were put through company drill on the square I am afraid they would make a sorry mess of it.

So far as I can see, the most that is required out here by a soldier is a strong constitution, proper clothes and boots, a good shooting eye, and a temperament that will put up cheerfully with all manner of conditions and hardships, coupled with being able to eat and thrive on any kind of food and drink, sometimes, perforce, taken at very irregular times.  On the parade ground, I am sure, taking our battalion as a whole, the City Volunteers would leave us standing.  But if it came to making camp fires, bivouacking under the most wretched conditions, marching with heavy loads through exceedingly difficult bush country, sleeping in the open on lumpy ground, combating all kinds of insects and other wild life - well, I venture to say that no regiment from the old country could hold a candle to our fellows!


I have been asked several times by angling friends in Idle who have written me as to what fish-life I have seen since I came to Africa.  I have had practically no experience of fish and fishing out here, only having camped once close to a big river - the Pangani.  The fish caught there were mostly whopping big eels and a silver scale fish something like a chub and averaging about three-quarters of a pound.  But these fish were never angled for properly.  I have no doubt the river contains some absolute monsters, and that if a man had the time and opportunity, and used the right tackle, he could obtain some good sport.  There is, of course, the danger of fever arising from sitting fishing on the river bank.  Several of our chaps have suffered in this way.

Just above our present camp there is a beautiful brook which comes from the mountain sides and passes through a small ravine.  Here we strip and bathe, and every time I have visited the place I have kept my eyes open for fish life, but I have seen nothing of the kind.  If that stream were in the Isle of Man or in a country district in Yorkshire it would be filled with merry brown trout.

As to big game, we have not had an opportunity for sport in that direction.  We see the game, and we see the possibilities, but there it ends.  It requires big-monied men with a staff of native bearers and guides to make the best of the mountains, forests, and streams amidst which we live, and which teem with wild life of all descriptions.


A lion nine and a half feet long was recently shot by a Rhodesian about a couple of miles from here.  They have been after the lioness ever since.  The Rhodesians, who are great sports and good fellows, can be taught nothing about big game shooting.  In fact, they are acknowledged to be the best in the world with a sporting rifle.  The Rhodesians get more privileges in the way of game shooting than any of us have ever had.  I rather imagine that our fellows “dirtied their tickets” in this respect before our draft came out.  I have only had one chance of shooting anything on four legs, and that was at _____.  The Post Staff Officer there said that I might take my rifle out into the surrounding woods whenever I cared to.  And then, unfortunately for me, the Post Commandant gave me such a huge amount of work to do that I never had an hour to spare all the time I was there.  The absence of game shooting has been a keen disappointment to all of us.  it is, I think, entirely because of the human weakness of being given an inch and taking a yard.  Still, I have hopes of getting a day’s shooting after buck at least - but it is only a hope.

As to the domesticated live stock, I have not seen a pure-bred fowl or a pure-bred pigeon since I came to this country, and the only dogs I have seen that were not mongrels were a few fox-terriers at Tanga and Dar-es-Salaam - and they were not worth kennel room.  They must have been introduced into the country by some enthusiastic German some time before the war.

One morning when I was at Dar-es-Salaam and when I was sharing a tent with Percy Moorhouse, of Baildon, I felt when I awoke in the night something snuggling alongside me.  I was startled for a moment, because you never know what you are going to get into your tent next.  It was a poor little fox-terrier which had evidently been joining of my blanket most of the night.  It had actually worked its way underneath my mosquito net.  That little dog and I were great friends as long as I remained at the place.  It was a most affectionate creature.  And little friendships of this sort out here, even with the dumb creation, strangely appeal to us.

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