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Addendum – “New” things seen in Africa (1918) – Part 1

1: Nature – and things that bite

The foregoing is a fragmentary sketch of many varied journeys and incidents during my Army career. Others could be added, but they are perhaps too uninteresting to interest the reader. To those who may have found interest in the foregoing I have since my return home thought it fitting to add a few afterthoughts about things not met with, in England.

In recording incidents of the outward voyage I omitted mention of shoals of flying fish: of whales spouting: an occasional shark: and large albatross, all of which helped to relieve the monotony. Of the livestock of Africa a book might be written. Lions, giraffes, crocodiles, hippopotami, monkeys, rats, vermin, and pests of the insect tribe. Lions I only heard roaring in the night: I never set eyes on one. Giraffes, the silly creatures pulled our telegraph wires down occasionally, with their long necks: crocodiles we gave a wide berth when near any water: monkeys laughed and cackled and scampered overhead in the branches during the night: rats ran round and even over us in the hours of darkness: snakes, scorpions and centipedes kept us alert and watchful and pests of mosquitos killed many and always annoyed us.

The Mosquito

The pest of outstanding notice was of course the female mosquito. One hears them, sees them, feels them and occasionally, if lucky, catches them. Sometimes they advance in columns of sections: failing this they invade your particular locality either in fours, half-sections, or in single file. The mosquito is at all times pertinacious and bloodthirsty, and for its size has the biggest voice and longest nose of any known species of game. It is a knowing blighter too – watches you fix up your sleeping net, a derisive grin on its face, knowing perfectly well that there is a hole somewhere big enough for its entry: and, as soon as you settle, panting and perspiring, inside the net, the young lady begins her systematic and buzzing inspection – for all the world like a flapper outside a milliner’s window. I have known her sing some fellows to sleep, but such men have tough hides and were not average Tommies. I plead guilty to an average skin, and I always responded to their lullabies by, if possible, squeezing the life out of them. She sets her engine going when the “First post” goes, and at the inspiring sound of the “Last Post” she goes on her “visiting rounds” investigating for weak spots. When “Lights out” sounds she fixes bayonets and commences operations in earnest. He was no dullard who defined the mosquito as “A small insect designed by the Great Architect of the Universe to make us think better of flies and fleas”.

Other flies and fleas

Another diminutive little devil is the Jigger-flea. It is found wherever there is sand and its favourite haunt is under the skin of the great toe where it lays its eggs. When one becomes painfully aware of its presence a nigger and a needle are necessary. The niggers are, from long experience, expert at extracting the eggs without bursting them. Another pest is the Tsetse fly. It will bite pretty near every living thing, and everything it bites suffers in some way. Horses and cattle die from the effects of the tsetse bite: for which reason the natives were our only form of transport up-country. Hut bugs abound and these are prolific carriers of disease.

The Tsetse fly

From the hour one lands to the hour of departure, bites and stings are a daily ration in East Africa. Bugs, ticks, mosquitos, tsetse flies, ants, jiggers, gads, sand flies, wasps, scorpions, centipedes – these are a few of the pests we encountered. The Mosquito – curse her – sits on you, sucks her fill of your blood till she is drunk: then unscrews her gimlet and leaves it behind when she departs. The tsetse is not much larger than the common house fly, and is nearly the same brown colour as the common honey bee: the after part of the body has 3 or 4 yellow bars across it: it is remarkably alert, avoiding most dexterously all attempts to capture it with the hand. Its peculiar buzz is not easily forgotten. It is well known that the bite of this poisonous insect means death to the ox, horse or dog. Its bite is not harmful to man or wild animals. When an ox or a horse is bitten, the eye and nose begin to run; the jaws swell underneath; the muscles become flaccid; and being no longer able to feed the animal dies of exhaustion, staggering and blind. The mule, ass and goat are immune from the ill-effects of the bite of the tsetse. There is no known cure for the disease caused by the tsetse.

The Dockray Diary 1914-1920s – Chapter 1a: Introduction

Green ink: typical page of the diary

Green ink: typical page of the diary

An introduction by Ernest Dockray

When I wrote the following pages or rather the bulk of them I lived in a ward of twelve beds in Mile End Hospital, London. There I spent about 7 months and had ample opportunity for thinking over the previous four years and the many incidents, some trivial, some important, which had so strangely altered the mode of my existence. At present I am a sojourner in a civilized life again. I should not obtrude my small affairs on any reader’s notice if enquiries had not been made by friends concerning my mode of life whilst in the Army – what I got to eat: did I feel lonesome: was I ever afraid: and the like. Moreover I found that the preparation of this book – cutting papers, arranging and binding them, together with the writing – served an useful purpose in taking my mind from my illness, and by awakening and stimulating a mentality which had grown rusty by long neglect. I will therefore ask those of my readers who feel no particular interest in me to pardon me if I undertake in these notes to answer some of the questions. I should not talk about myself if there were anyone else’s army experiences I knew as well. Unfortunately I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. Moreover I on my side require every writer, first or last, to give a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives: some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land. Perhaps these pages will appeal more particularly to those who, whilst generally interested in the great war were unfortunately, unable to take an active personal share in it. As for the rest they will accept such portions as apply to them.

All I trust is that opinion will not be too critical, as these fragments were strung together often under peculiar circumstances and many distractions, and at times when the writer was moved to write them as a relief from ennui or pain.

(signed) E. Dockray, London E. Sometime after 1919

Ernest Dockray, 1915

Ernest Dockray, 1915

Two quotes:

“When a soldier is hit by a shell

Rags are as becoming as purple”

“Our ends are as obscure as our beginnings;

The line of our days is drawn by night, and

The various effects therein by a pencil that is invisible.”

–        Sir Thomas Browne.

FOOTNOTE: Some of the pictures used in Ernest Dockray’s diary as illustrations are faded photographs, others are cut out from one or more publications. One of these publications has been identified as the book: “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures”, by Lt Col John Henry Patterson of the Royal Engineers. This is described as follows, on a LibriVox audio book page –

“In 1898, during the construction of a river-crossing bridge for the Uganda Railway at the Tsavo River, as many as 135 railway workers were attacked at night, dragged into the wilderness, and devoured by two male lions.

The Man-Eaters of Tsavo is the autobiographical account of Royal Engineer Lt. Col. J. H. Patterson’s African adventures. Among them, his hunt for the two man-eating lions.”

This book, first published by Macmillan in around 1907 according to the Preface, although I have only found a 1919 copy, was also the basis for the 1996 film ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’.

Whether Ernest’s descriptions of these extracted pictures are entirely accurate is unknown, there is possibly some element of ‘adapting available images that give the right impression’.

Nick Denbow, 2013 (Editor)