The German Empire in Africa

While this blog is primarily about the British Empire I have recently come into possession of some amazing pictures of the German Empire in Africa.

For much of the last couple of decades of the 19th Century, the scramble for Africa had occupied the minds of British politicians and intelligence officers.

Britain had two main preoccupations in Northern Africa during the 1890’s. First off was the stability of Egypt, this was essential to the smooth running of the Suez Canal (lifeline of India) and the second was keeping foreign powers away from the headwaters of the Nile, this was to stop anyone from controlling the flood waters of the Nile.

Map of German East Africa 1906

Map of German East Africa 1906

With France pushing towards the Nile from the West and Italy and German pushing from the East, a nervous London authorized the re-Occupation off the Sudan in 1898 to keep these powers away from the Nile.

With Italy humiliated in Abyssinia and the France thwarted by the occupation of the Sudan, Germany suddenly became the main player in the scramble for territory.

In 1894 Uganda became a British protectorate in order to stop the Germans march up the west side of Lake Victoria and to further hem in the Germans, Britain created British East Africa to block an advance up the east side of the Lake.

Border clashes between native levies became the norm for the next 20 years and the region wasn’t settled until the defeat of  Germany in ww1.

The following pictures are from the collection of my friend Rob Schafer. A German Historian, Rob specializes in German Military history and I would highly recommend his blog ( He has kindly allowed me to share these pictures and my thanks go to him.

Memorial to Kaiser Wilhelm 1897German East Africa

Memorial to Kaiser Wilhelm 1897
German East Africa

Founder of the NationVon Bismarek

Founder of the Nation
Von Bismarek

African porters with the latest haul

African porters with the latest haul

German school for native children

German school for native children

Massai auxiliaries German East-Africa

Massai auxiliaries German East-Africa

The beauty of German East Africa 1900

The beauty of German East Africa 1900

Governors Palace 1901

Governors Palace 1901

German overseers with African workers 1900

German overseers with African workers 1900

Woman collecting water

Woman collecting water

A little bit of Germany in Africa 1900

A little bit of Germany in Africa 1900

African servants with the Imperial crest 1900

African servants with the Imperial crest 1900

African prisoners 1900

African prisoners 1900

African irregulars 1900

African irregulars 1900

I really hope you have enjoyed these brilliant photos which have shone a light on Imperial Africa at the turn of the century.

Fake or Real?


This is one of my favourite pictures from the Boer War. It is labelled Royal Munster Fusiliers fighting from behind redoubt at Honey Nest Kloof (Feb 16th 1900).

Now I have always wondered if this was real or staged for the photographer. A number of things have concerned me.

1) the Cameraman is very high up on the ramparts, It looks like his camera and head are above them (not a good idea as a battle is raging)

2) The two soldiers closest to the camera are bareheaded, would a NCO or officer allow this?

3) The soldier laying in the centre seems to be sitting up staring into the camera.

Then again, the treatment of the casualties seems to be real and the officers in the background look like they are directing the action.

This afternoon I was browsing the excellent and came across this picture.


Obviously, this picture is taken either just before or just after the first picture. The only really difference is the soldier on the left is now staring into the camera and the one of the medical orderlies is also looking into it.

Does this second picture confirm that it is a setup or a real action shot from the Boer War?

What do people think?

To be fair I’m not bothered either way…it is still a great picture.

‘Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain ’ by John Darwin

A book review in the Washington Post of John Darwin’s new book, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion  of Britain.

Washington Post link

Interesting piece and its a book I will be adding to the library!

The comments at the bottom of the carry the usual “I hate the British” and ” Britain made/saved the world” rubbish so ignore that section.

A great blog post from my friend Josh…It covers the British advance into Zululand and makes some interesting points.

Adventures In Historyland

Research is something I do. Sometimes for no reason. And that is the best way I can explain the following post. If you are interested in the Anglo Zulu War of 1879 then I’m sure you will be interested. If you’ve never heard of it, you will likley have more questions to ask than are answered.

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Director of Military Intelligence, Colonel Sir Francis Wingate and a group of army officers disembark from a train on the Sudan Military Railway, possibly near Atbara. The railway line had been constructed by the Royal Engineers.

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Director of Military Intelligence, Colonel Sir Francis Wingate and staff with Lord Edward Cecil (right). Major Cecil was one of General Kitchener’s ADCs. Colonel Wingate succeeded Kitchener as Sirdar of the Egyptian Army and Governor General of Sudan.

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The Italian attache and military observer, Count Calderari and the Director of Military Intelligence, Colonel Sir Francis Wingate standing in front of railway trucks on the Sudan Military Railway, possibly near Atbara.

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Soldiers inside a railway truck on the Sudan Military Railway, probably en route to Atbara. The truck is equipped with beds and personal equipment hangs from its walls. The original caption reads “First Class Sleeping Car”.

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The defeated leader of the Sudanese (Dervish) forces at the Battle of Atbara, Emir Mahmoud, is interrogated by Director of Military Intelligence, Colonel Sir Francis Wingate after being captured. Note the camera mounted on a tripod in the background.

anglo 6Soldiers of the Cameron Highlanders and Seaforth Highlanders dig graves in order to bury their dead after the Battle of Atbara. The British Brigade (composed of Royal Warwicks, Lincolns, Seaforths and Camerons) lost five officers and 21 men in the action while the Egyptian Brigade lost 57. The losses of the Sudanese (Dervish) forces led by Emir Mahmoud were estimated at 3000 or more.

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Men of the 21st Lancers entrain at Wadi Halfa in preparation for the journey south to join Kitchener’s forces.

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Men of the 21st Lancers entrain their horses at Wadi Halfa in preparation for the journey south to join Kitchener’s force

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Captain E A Bainbridge, East Kent Regiment, interrogates an Arab civilian, possibly at Berber.

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General Kitchener, Sirdar (Commander) of the Egyptian Army (centre right) in discussion with the Commander of the British Brigade on the Nile, Major General Sir William Gatacre. Also with the group are General Gatacre’s orderly, Lieutenant Ronald…

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The Queen’s own Cameron Highlanders, wearing kilts and pith helmets, prepare to leave Darmali for Atbara in Sudan during the march of the British Brigade from Abu Dis to confront Mahdi forces at Atbara. The Special Army Order issued by the Horse Guards at the end of the campaign noted: “The march of the British Brigade to the Atbara, when in six days—for one of which it was halted—it covered 140 miles in a most trying climate, shows what British troops can do when called upon.”

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Men of 1st Grenadier Guards board a train at Cairo Station.

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A group of soldiers of 1st Grenadier Guards wait outside their tent for a kit inspection, Cairo.

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A group of soldiers of 1st Grenadier Guards wait outside their tent for a kit inspection, Cairo.

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Brigade Major C A’Court, 2nd Rifle Brigade (on horseback left) and the commander of !st Grenadier Guards, Colonel Villiers Hatton (riding a donkey centre) on the parade ground during a field day at Atbara Camp. The Colonel’s Bugler stands in the foreground.


I first heard about the Arracan Expedition while researching my last blog about the events at Rorke’s Drift.

I was reading about the events leading up to the battle, and discovered that a private of the 24th Regiment killed at Isandlwana had been awarded the Victoria Cross. It stated that Private William Griffiths had been awarded the Victoria Cross while serving with the 24th Regiment on the Arracan Expedition in the Andaman Islands 1867. Now, I read a lot about the British Empire and the various wars and battles of the time but I had never heard of the Accacan Expedition or the fact that five VCs had been awarded during the expedition. Intrigued, I set out to find more information about the event and try to discover how a Private of the 24th Regiment, who died on the dusty slopes of Isandlwana won his VC in the balmy Indian…

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While researching my  last blog, I discovered that one of the soliders mentioned was buried in a cemetery not far from were I live. So, this morning, despite the freezing weather I set off to find the grave of Private David Bell VC.

Private Bell is buried in Woodlands Cemetery, Chatham Kent. In fact, three VC winners are buried there. Private Bell, Claude Congreve Dobson who won his VC in Russia 1919 and Eugene Esmonde who won his in WWII.

It is a lovely Cemetery, very well maintained and with a large Military section for men and officers stationed at Chatham. It didn’t take very long to find Bell’s grave and as you can see from the picture,  it is still looked after.  Walking around a military cemetery is a very sobering experience, seeing the rows of headstones all denoting a person who died while in service for their…

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Zulu, if I’m honest, is one of my favourite movies of all time. The 1964 film depicting the Battle of Rorke’s Drift is now rightly thought of as a classic. Who could forget Michael Caine as the posh officer, Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead or Stanley Baker as the pragmatic engineer officer, Lieutenant John Chard and Nigel Green as the calm Colour Sgt Bourne. The film was beautifully shot and the soundtrack evoked all the splendor of Southern Africa. While the film was a box office and critical success, it did have a number of historical flaws in it. Now normally, I’m not the sort of person who sits in the cinema picking holes in movies but some of the flaws in Zulu are quite major and unfair to some of the participants

A Welsh Regiment?

In the movie, the 24th Regiment of Foot described as a Welsh Regiment. A famous scene…

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At the end of Part One we had left John Nicholson profoundly changed after the Afghan war. His treatment while a prisoner and then the murder and mutilation of his brother had left him with a intense hated of the Natives of the sub-continent and also a sense of divine right. With the end of the war came a period of intense boredom for Nicholson as he had to endure two years of garrison duty. Never a man for the social side of soldiering this period must of been one of intense frustration to him. It was during this time that he passed his exam in Urdu which would enable him to apply for a staff position.

John NicholsonFor the most ambitious officers of the EIC the only way to relieve the boredom of garrison life was to try and be posted as a Political officer. These men would be posted…

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