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Colonial Cases

Germany, Army

Cambrian News, 13 April 1917


Towyn Man's Thrilling Story.


  Being further experiences of an internment with the Hun in "German'' East Africa. By the Rev. John T. Williams, U.M.C.A.



  Tabora is a large Arab and native town, with a big German population. There is a large fort there, and many thousands of soldiers were trained there during the later days of the Campaign. It is the centre of a great grain (native) growing district, where mealies, millet, and rice are grown in large quantities. Peanuts - the so-called 'monkey' nut - is also largely cultivated. Fruit grows abundantly, especially the splendid mango. Native potatoes and other vegetables are abundant. We got to this town on May 29th, 1915, and I was destined to remain there until April 23rd of 1916. During this time I left the precincts of the camp twice, and then it was to attend the funeral of two male prisoners who had died. The camp itself was some ninety yards square, two sides of which were bordered by corrugated iron buildings for the accommodation of the prisoners-the other two sides being protected by a high barbed-wire fence. Our guards con- sisted of four German privates and some twenty Askari. Towards the end of my stay there the total number of prisoners there numbered 117. Things were very strict here, and all the men except the officers and clergy were obliged to do all kinds of work. Skilled artisans were employed at their trades, others had to assist in the tanning of leather, men had to make wooden pegs for boot' making. The majority were employed on road making and draining-, etc. The men were kept at work in a blazing tropical sun from 7.0 a.m. to 12 mid-day, and from 2 to 5 p.m. doing work, which is the natives' job in Africa. Most disgusting of all was the fact that one man each day was told off to clean out the latrines of the prisoners, of the German guard, and worse than all, of the native soldiers! All this was a deliberate move of the Hun to lower British prestige-to put Europeans on jobs which a higher class native would refuse to do for any price. Our daily time-table was this :-

6.0 a.m. Rise and beds made and rooms swept out.

6.50 a.m. Breakfast, which consisted of a piece of bread (made of Cassava r!o-nr), 2 inches square, a slice of very tough beef.

7.0-12.0. Work.

12.0-2.0'Rest and lunch (rice and meat).

2-5 p.m.  Work.

6.0 Dinner (meat and rice).

9.0. Bed. You will notice that our lunch and dinner varied as the cook told us. "At lunch you get rice and meat, but at dinner meat and rice. Occasionally we had some native vegetables and once a week perhaps, a banana and when in season a mango. Not a very luxurious diet, but not "too hard" if eatable, and this is where it hit us. The rice was badly cleaned, full of grit and very badly cooked. The meat was the scraps which the contractor failed to sell in the native market in the town. At first this was all we got but when the British began their attack on the colony, we were allowed the request, so often made, that we might buy additional food- we did at exorbitant price, anything from 75 per cent. to 200 per cent. above town prices! And all this we must remember, occurred at Tabora - a land literally "flowing with milk and honey." Cattle and food of all kinds was abundant and we British prisoners could not even purchase it, and yet here in England. I under- stand that people are continually in the habit of neglecting their own poor and sending luxuries, etc., to Hun prisoners. What fools we British are! All our luggage had to be put, after examination, in a store room, and we were allowed to go there once every week for a change of clothing, etc. Our dwellings were divided into three parts. One was allotted to the civilians, another to the soldiers and sailors and called The Institute, and the third allotted to the Italians who were now interned-this was "Soho," of course. The general conditions of this camp were much better than at other camps. There were arranged for shower baths and washing stands erected, and a special place for wash- ing clothes, etc. Each morning squads of men have to go and carry the water for the use of the camp and two men bring sufficient quantities for drinking purposes. Each man takes two buckets apiete and goes under an armed escort to a well 440 yards away and bring back two 'full' buckets. I emphasize the full because a not full bucket seen by the German guard meant an extra journey for each such bucket. As many as ten journeys would be made in the morning. Later the water was carried in large cement drums on a lorry, which ten men drew to and fro from the well. I shall now quote my diary for any experiences worth noting down. MAY 31st.-At 2.0 a.m. we were all awakened by a visit of the guards, who walked through the dormitory.

June 1st.-The first batch of Italians to be interned arrived here to-day.

June 4th.-A squad of British soldiers and sailors was sent out to the town with a lorry to haul cement for native builders to work with. Wha.t the natives think of this one cannot quite tell, but goodbye to our prestige for the time being. Protests unavailing, and shooting threatened.

June llth.-Allowed to write one letter each to England-we can only say we are welI, but even this is more than we ever looked for.


June 16th.-A Belgian lieutenant was tried by courtmartial for a crime committed three months ago, since when he has been kept in cells, and allowed out once a day for an hour. His crime was that he was heard to whistle the Marseillaise!

  All the prisoners were measured, and the colour of our hair, etc., taken, and entered in a big book.


June 17th.-A Belgian lieutenant brought here today. He was captured on the Belgian Congo border in a fight.

June 19th.-Our guards had a swearing fit on today and we were called some very choice names!

June 24th.-Threatened with seven days'

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School