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Medical Services in Togoland, Cameroons and South West Africa


athelstan

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Anyone interested in the campaigns in Togoland, Cameroons and German South West Africa may like to know of the Naval & Military Press recent reprint of the History of the Great War: Medical Services General History. Volume 1 by Major-General W.G. Macpherson includes the three African campaigns but not East Africa. Any suggestions as to why this is?

Included in the book are short descriptions of the campaigns followed by how the medical services were set up and run. The distances involved in evacuating wounded soldiers were often formidable. For the British column operating in the Northern Cameroons anyone unfortunate to go sick or get wounded faced a gruelling five day trek to Maiduguri in the extreme north of Nigeria.

To give a flavour of the book I thought it might be useful to make broad comparisons between the various campaigns. I've added in Tsingtau in China to provide an extra comparison. Unfortunately my attempt to paste in a table failed so the figures will be a little hard to follow.

South West Africa

Men who served 76,467

Killed in action 122 (1.)

Died of disease 115

Wounded 263 (2.)

Total 500

% casualties 0.7%

Cameroons

Men who served 18,632 (3.)

All casualties 3,472 (4.)

% casualties 18.6%

Togoland

Men who served 716

Killed 22 (5.)

Died of wounds1

Died of disease ?

Wounded 51

Total 74

% casualties 10.3%

Tsingtau

Men who served 24,500 (6.)

Killed 454

Died of wounds ?

Died of disease 29

Wounded 1525

Total 2008

% of casualties 8.2%

Notes

(1.) Includes died of wounds.

(2.) From Official History of the Great War, Campaign in German South West Africa by Brigadier General J.J. Collyer, 1937.

(3.) General Dobell's column 7,362, General Aymerich's column 7,270 and General Cunliffe's column 4,000.

(4.) Figure is for all casualties. Detailed figures only available for General Dobell's column of 474 killed and 1,206 wounded giving a casualty rate of 22.8%.

(5.) British (European and native) troops only.

(6.) Japanese 23,000, 2nd South Wales Borderers and 36th Sikhs 1,500.

Some figures are rounded and comparing like with like is not straightforward plus some of the figures in Medical Services differ from those in the relevant Official Histories. Despite this the figures are still a useful guide. Certainly if you were to volunteer to serve in one of the campaigns you really wouldn't want to be in the Cameroons.

For South West Africa the number of men killed in action more or less equals those who died of disease. The book makes a useful comparison with the Boer War where disease killed far more than Boer bullets. In the Boer War cases of enteric fever ran at 38.8 per 1,000 men compared to only 0.78 per 1,000 in the South West Africa campaign clearly demonstrating the value and effectiveness of inoculation.

On a less positive note the native (African) carriers widely employed in the Cameroons and German South West Africa were not immune to being killed in action or succumbing to disease as the table below shows.

South West Africa

Number 33,500

Killed 12 (a)

Died of disease 92

Total 104

Cameroons

Number 30,000

Killed 38

Died of disease 472

Total 510

Notes

(a) Includes 3 died of wounds

Sanitary arrangements were often the biggest challenge. There is a wonderful reference to the mounted troops in South West Africa using the wooden latrine seats for firewood and tethering their horses to the standpipes. At Lomé in Togoland the troops of the Gold Coast Regiment were simply marched into the sea when they needed the latrine.

A small army of trained sanitary inspectors was set up in South West Africa and in the words of Medical Services "did invaluable work." Must have been a popular job. They were aided and abetted by "a small and copiously illustrated handbook on field sanitation in English and Dutch." Has anyone ever come across a copy of this handbook?

Numerous accounts from the South West Africa campaign relate tales of the retreating Germans poisoning the water wells. In a country where water can be very scarce this was rightly viewed as a heinous crime. General Botha, in charge of the South Africa troops, referred to this flagrant breach of the Hague Convention and reserved to himself the right at any time to exact reprisals.

Medical Services has a contradictory position on the poisoning of wells. On the one hand it reports the Germans poisoning the wells at Swakopmund with arsenic but goes on later to say that the suspicion of wells being contaminated was never confirmed.

Has anyone come across a first hand account of a poisoned water well? I've found one account of an officer using his native servant to test the water first. Fortunately he lived.

In the event of finding a suspect well an appendix in the book gives a full description on Field Poison Testing Equipment – Directions for Use. Handy.

The section on the campaign in South West Africa is not as comprehensive as it might be. It finishes in August 1915 so deaths caused by the outbreak of Spanish Influenza in late 1918 are missing. The Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Aus on the road to Lüderitz contains several graves of South African troops, guarding the nearby prisoner of war camp, who died of influenza.

The history is largely uncritical. It is evident that changes are made as experience is gained but it would be useful to compare Medical Services with some first hand accounts of what it was like to be wounded and evacuated. Does anyone know of such accounts?

Beyond the African campaigns Volume 1 covers Tsingtau, Bermuda, Jamaica, the Mediterranean garrisons, Hong Kong, the Straits Settlements, Ceylon, South Africa and the home front.

Overall this is a fascinating book on an often neglected aspect of the war in Africa. This is not intended to be an advert for the Naval & Military Press but more to highlight a potential research resource.

Indeed the main downside to the book is the price, £28 for a paperback, and the poor quality reproduction of the photographs. This is a great shame as there are many unusual photographs but alas nearly all Naval & Military Press reprints suffer from this. The photograph of the German Camel ambulance deserves better!

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For those without the 28 pounds a free download is available on the internet.

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Yesterday I happened to come across a gunners service record which noted that his service in West Africa counted 'double' towards his pension ,, with an explicit note that this gave him 21 years pensionable service while serving some years less in fact .. i presume this reflects the high mortality rate amongst West African postings...?

david

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For those without the 28 pounds a free download is available on the internet.

Is it possible to provide a link to this please?

Sue

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Does the book contain any references to medical officers who served in west africa, i have been researching a captain matthew william fraser, he served in colums operating in togoland, he later became chief medical officer of the gold coast, if there is any reference i would be greatful of any advice

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Volume 1 by Major-General W.G. Macpherson includes the three African campaigns but not East Africa. Any suggestions as to why this is?

Operations in East Africa are included in volume four.

Sue

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Does the book contain any references to medical officers who served in west africa, i have been researching a captain matthew william fraser, he served in colums operating in togoland, he later became chief medical officer of the gold coast, if there is any reference i would be greatful of any advice

There are certainly quite a few mentions of officers, but mainly the more senior ranks. The indexing is fairly minimal, although this first volume is rather better than some of the others, and there is no mention in the index of a Matthew Fraser. My query about an online version was really to see if a search would be made easier - I have to admit I haven't seen this online anywhere, but would be interested if it is.

Sue

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There are certainly quite a few mentions of officers, but mainly the more senior ranks. The indexing is fairly minimal, although this first volume is rather better than some of the others, and there is no mention in the index of a Matthew Fraser. My query about an online version was really to see if a search would be made easier - I have to admit I haven't seen this online anywhere, but would be interested if it is.

Sue

I've had another look through Medical Services and can find no reference to a Captain Fraser either. I also checked the Offical History Military Operations in Togoland and the Cameroon but to no avail.

The on-line version is a bit of a mystery. Plenty of online sites refer to it but none so as far I can see have downloadable versions.

Thanks Sue for pointing out East Africa is in Volume 4. The Naval & Military Press miss this key bit of info from their advert!

james w

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I downloaded it one day but did not keep the reference.

It is a University of Toronto version.

Sorry.

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  • 10 years later...
Super Trooper

Have been researching a Doctor Captain William Gordon Watt myself who was shown in his Medal Index Card as unit - Columns Serving in Togoland and then second regiment as Gold Coast Regiment, although I would like to find out what unit the columns were? Here is the research I have done so far https://ww1lives.com/captain-medical-officer-william-gordon-watt-m-b-d-p-h/

 

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You possibly may be able to locate him in the Monthly Army Lists on the National Library of Scotland website, and if so, there possibly may be further details, or perhaps not, but worth looking.

Access the NLS database through 1914-1940 - Monthly army lists. 

 

Cheers

Maureen

 

Edit: Online books mentioned in earlier posts are 

 

History of the Great War Based on Official Documents: Medical Services; General History by G W Macpherson Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3 , Volume 4 Published 1921-1924. Archive.org

 

History of the Great War based on Official Documents: Military Operations, Togoland and the Cameroons, 1914-1916 by Brig.-General F J Moberly. HMSO 1931. HathiTrust Digital Library. Lacks maps and illustrations.

 

Edited by Maureene
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  • 3 months later...

Hello

The following information might help you in your researches into Dr Watt.

 

From the ‘List of officers who have been sent to Togoland’ in WO32/5788 you will see Dr Watt is clearly listed.

 

image.png.b194e53ac7413d605fe375329487e52e.png

 

What is less clear is if ‘Probably with Gambaga and Kratchi Columns’ refers to just Dr Watt and/or Dr Ingram.   The two columns were many miles apart and it is very unlikely Dr Watt could have served with both with Gambaga in the north of the Gold Coast (360 miles from Accra on the coast) and Kratchi (also spelt Krachi) more towards the middle (150 miles from Accra).  The map below provides an indication of their locations.

 

564783565_Togolandsituation12August1914.jpg.41c6b576d610709b45b8a839a5c71de8.jpg

Map adapted from Haywood and Clarke 1964 by JJW 2019

 

The Gambaga column was under the command of Lt Charles Christopher Grattan-Bellew (Kings Royal Rifle Corp) attached to the Gold Coast Regiment.  With 104 men (42 from the Northern Territories Constabulary) the column crossed into German Togoland and reached Sansane Mangu on 18 August 1914.  The French had already arrived there on 14 August 1914.  The remaining men must have been from ‘B’ Company Gold Coast Regiment as the Official History refers to them being ordered to move from Zouaragou to Gambaga on 31 July 1914.  They get as far as Sokode on 28 August 1914 by which time the campaign is over.

 

The Krachi column under Captain P.E.L. Elgee (Royal Berkshire Regiment) eventually comprises 20 Europeans and 350 rank and file of A, D and F Companies of the Gold Coast Regiment.  Initially under a Captain O.H. Warne who was an Assistant District Commissioner (Captain Elgee doesn’t arrive until 16 August 1914) the column crosses over the border on 8 August 1914 to find German Kete-Krachi had been abandoned the previous night by its occupants - 3 German Europeans and 40 native troops.  On 19 August 1914 the column advances south down the Kpandu Road towards Lome meeting very little resistance.  WO32/5789 in the National Archive contains a report of the Krachi column which may well include references to Dr Watt if he was with it but alas back in 2019 I ran out of time to read it and didn’t make a copy.  It has not yet been digitalized.

 

So still a bit up in the air as to which column Dr Watt was with but I hope all the above is of interest.

 

james

 

Sources

Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons by Brig-General F.J. Moberly, 1931

National Archive WO32/5788 Operations in Togoland

The History of the West African Frontier Force by Colonel A. Haywood and Brigadier F. A.S. Clarke 1964

 

Edited by athelstan
Correction to place name.
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See below for a photo of the German outpost at Sansane Mangu circa 1912 which the Gambaga column under Lt Charles Christopher Grattan-Bellew and his men reached on 18 August 1914.  A fairly modest structure reflecting the remoteness of the location and the German colony's deliberate policy of protecting the north of Togo from development.  It is little more than a local police station.

 

 

2048131518_SansaneMangostationsNorthTogo1912.jpg.5a68a185a83d048c36c95a90e29ef25d.jpg

Edited by athelstan
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Another photo - this time of Kete-Krachi circa 1910.    Assistant District Commissioner Captain O.H. Warne arrives here on 8 August 1914 to find the German garrison of 3 German Europeans and 40 native troops had fled in the night.  I count three Europeans and 18 native members of the Polieztruppe at the time this photo was taken.  Again note the very basic structure.

 

869055552_KeteKrachigovernmentsubstationfounded1894.jpg.53d612516fa1e1cf0e232d94e64522c3.jpg

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Very nice photo; - thanks for this.

 

How he know that´s were 3 Officers and 40 native soldiers, when they aren´t there?

(By the way;- Kete Kratchi exists up today, but of course at another position,

because of the dam for Lake Volta.

https://www.google.de/maps/place/Kete+Krachi,+Ghana/@7.7937408,-0.0641157,14z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0xfd7ff64d3aeb25d:0x2af727bb23ef053!8m2!3d7.8014452!4d-0.0513246 )

 

Cheers Holger

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Thanks for the map link Holger.  Good point about how does Captain Warne know there were 3 officers and 40 native soldiers when they aren't there!  The figures comes from the Official History which says Captain Warne learns of them on his arrival at British Krachi where there was a customs post and a small detachment of Preventative Service men and police (Gold Coast Constabulary).  So presumably these men at the Custom Post had a reasonable idea of how many Germans were opposite them on the German side at Kete Krachi before they ran off!

 

regards

James

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  • 4 weeks later...

Returning to Dr Watt and which column he was with, his medal card (WO 372-21-43496) records his ‘Date of entry therein’ (i.e. into enemy territory) as 12 August 1914.  Given that the Gambaga column crossed the frontier on 16 August 1914 and the Krachi column on 8 August 1914 it appears as if Dr Watt was with neither column.  The date of 12 August 1914 implies he was one of the 34 British civil officials or volunteers with the main force which landed, unopposed, at Lomé on that day.  It is conceivable that the date is a co-incidence and that Dr Watt joined the Kratchi column overland from the Gold Coast on the same day.  Less probably he could have made his way back to the Gold Coast from Lomé to join the column at a later date.  What is highly unlikely, given the distance and terrain, is joining the Gambaga column from Lomé before the campaign ended.  Still as it says in the ‘List of officers who have been sent to Togoland’ in WO32/5788 Dr Watt is stated as ‘Probably with Gambaga and Kratchi Columns.’  One suspects there is more to this story.

 

James W

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