The British Empire Library

Seventeen Letters To Tatham - A WWI Surgeon In East Africa

by Ann Crichton-Harris

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Tim Tawney (Tanganyika 1958-64)
For a little known campaign in the Great War, in German East Africa, there is a substantial bibliography written by British, German and American authors. The earliest and perhaps only volume covering the experiences of medical officers is Francis Brett Young's Marching on Tanga, 1917. Now the granddaughter of one such officer has thrown further light on a fascinating and gruelling aspect of the war.

Ann Crichton-Harris has adopted a well-known technique, that of editing, annotating and linking a series of personal letters; but what makes her work stand out is the skill and objectivity with which she has researched and drawn upon many little known and often little used sources. She has read widely and quoted judiciously, and has balanced her own views with reference to the official history and other campaign material.

The genesis of this book was a rumour, in 1992, that a number of letters from Dr Edward Temple Harris, Captain, Indian Medical Service, to his family in India, had survived. The letters to Temple Harris' brother Tatham had indeed survived. Ann Crichton-Harris embarked on a seven year labour of love which took her deeper into East African and Great War history, culminating in a visit to Tanga to see for herself where her forebear had served.

The letters which in most cases evaded the attention of the censors, reveal the appalling incompetence of the British generals and the skill with which the German commander, Paul von Lettow Vorbeck, conducted a four-year guerrilla campaign in furtherance of his stated aim to divert allied men and material from the European theatre of operations.

Ann Crichton-Harris does not overlook other critical aspects of the campaign, such as the problems of horse-sickness and trypanosomiasis, the mistreatment and casualties among the carriers and the fascinating "side-issues" of the cruiser Koenigsberg and the Zeppelin L-59. Reference is also made to the ingenuity with which the German Schutztruppe utilized local artisans and indigenous materials.

Past members of HMOCS who served in Tanganyika, whether in the Administration, Agriculture, Veterinary Services or other departments, and ex-members of the King's African Rifles will all find much to bring back nostalgic memories of their service. Those who are unfamiliar with the Great War in "German East" and would like to know more about a strange and fascinating campaign of which little is spoken today, will find few better books as an introduction.

Ann Crichton-Harris has produced an affectionate and highly readable book which is to be thoroughly recommended.

British Empire Book
Ann Crichton-Harris
Keneggy West
0 9689142 0 9


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