Cinderella’s Soldiers: The Nyasaland Volunteer Reserve – Peter Charlton

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The Nyasaland Volunteer Reserve fought with distinction against the Germans in the First World War in East and Central Africa. The N.V.R. defended the country after an initial invasion from German East Africa and later pursued the German forces down into Portuguese East Africa and then back north.

Some were still in action two weeks after the Armistice was declared. The N.V.R. suffered many hardships and losses during this arduous virtually unknown campaign.

2nd Edition, Only available in Paperback.

About the author

Peter Charlton was born in London in 1946 but spent his formative years in the Nyasaland Protectorate (now Malawi) and is keenly interested in the military history of Eastern Africa.

1 review for Cinderella’s Soldiers: The Nyasaland Volunteer Reserve – Peter Charlton

  1. Michael J. Hunt

    CINDERELLA’S SOLDIERS – The Nyasaland Volunteer Reserve in WW1 – by Peter Charlton
    REVIEW – by Michael J Hunt
    Peter Charlton has written what must be the definitive and, quite probably, the only, book devoted primarily to this relatively small body of men who, in 1914, recognizing their country’s vulnerability from a German invasion from the north, volunteered to augment the regular resident forces (the KAR) together with those who were later introduced from South Africa and other British African Colonies. The German East Africa force, comprising askaris (Schutztruppe) trained according to Prussian military principles by white officers, was led by a highly competent and respected commanding officer – Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck.
    The Nyasaland volunteers came from a variety of professions and trades, some had seen service in the South African War, while others were adventurers who had travelled the world, were adept at shooting and bush-craft and were familiar with rough living. However, they received only rudimentary training and most would have been unaware of how difficult the task they were asked to undertake would be.
    The author, while setting the context for the East Africa conflict, offers an account of what proved to be the second naval action of the war (on the 13th August – and it did not take place in the North Atlantic). He also describes an impoverished country with very few roads and virtually no vehicles, which meant that military equipment and stores had to be transported by river and lake over large distances and man-handled thereafter. Furthermore, the isolated bush country was often low-lying with all its associated health-hazards, such as malaria, dysentry and bilharzia.
    Regarding his scholarship, Peter Charlton, who was brought up in the country, has proved to be an expert military historian. His narrative of the campaign makes very exciting, and often harrowing, reading, occasionally leavened with humour, as the determined Germans, under the expert command of von Lettow-Vorbeck, being grossly out-numbered, used guerrilla tactics to wrestle for ascendancy in a huge and isolated area of savannah, over most difficult terrain and often in appalling heat and rain.
    The author’s meticulous research involved combing every available record, acquiring maps – both military and civil – listing awards and medals, examining official documents, following up newspaper accounts, contacting descendants, obtaining personal diaries, private papers and letters, and visiting war memorials and graves. Most commendably, he has also recorded the names of every individual volunteer, identified their units, roles and actions, and wherever possible, given their previous occupations, the dates of their service and many other identifying features. He also describes the major actions and many skirmishes, providing, where appropriate, diagrams; also, by way of illustration, he has brought together some 160 photographs of ships, actions, weaponry, combatants, and terrain, from both the British and the German sides.
    Peter Charlton pays due attention to the tenga-tenga (carriers) who were widely recruited from around Nyasaland. In some instances, these men were treated appallingly and suffered exceptionally. Indeed, General Northey, the overall military commander declared them to have been absolutely integral to the success of the campaign. Peter also gives a graphic account of the 1915 Chilembwe Uprising and its horrific consequences. This was a very early sign of the desire in Nyasaland for self-government. Few protagonists on the government side emerged with any great distinction, since in times of war, emotions run high, fear becomes uppermost and a widely scattered settler community is at its most vulnerable; also, some of the rebels exceeded the bounds of decency by murdering several civilians, and attempting to murder others.
    Peter Charlton has produced an invaluable history of the Nyasaland Volunteers’ service to their country in WW1, of the East Africa Campaign as a whole, and of their redoubtable foe, General von Letow-Vorbeck and his Schuttztruppe Askaris. His research and attention to detail are impeccable and he maintains a high level of objectivity throughout. This book, which ought to take its place in the Imperial War Museum, is essential reading for all students of WW1 in general, of the East Africa Campaign in particular, and for anyone interested in the history of German East and British Central Africa.

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