I wanted to write a post about my Great-Grandfather, Lewis Milton.
Lewis was always an intriguing and exciting figure to me, I have an interest in the history of the British Empire and had always been fascinated by explorers and deepest darkest Africa. I never met Lewis, but I had heard enough stories about him from his daughter (my Granny) and his son (my Great Uncle John) and my mother, and I would ask my Granny to see the various pictures she had of his time in Africa, and all the various pieces of Ivory and African native wood work that she had in her possession. I’ve used their stories – this family history which has been passed down to me, and built on the genealogical information that my father found out about Lewis, and then researched his life to try to corroborate what we know and find out any evidence to fill in the gaps of his life.
All photo’s (unless stated) are his own, and I have the originals.
Early Life and School
Lewis was born on 1st December 1883 in Elton Road, Clevedon in Somerset – he was the son of Charles and Mary (“Polly”) Ann Milton. Charles, described as a Master Mason on the 1881 Census, had moved to Clevedon after the birth of his firstborn child (Ada on 1st January 1882) from Wrington, a small village not far away. As a Master Mason there was a great deal of work in Clevedon, especially around Queen’s Road, Madiera Road, St John’s Avenue and Jesmond Road, as it was growing rapidly as a seaside resort.
Lewis’ younger sister, Eva, was also born in Clevedon on 5th January 1886, their address at that time was a large Italianate building on the corner of Albert Road and Victoria Road. At some point, the family moved from Clevedon into nearby Clifton in Bristol, purchasing two Boarding Houses in Pembroke Road. Charles and Polly’s next child was Herbert, born in Clifton on 12 May 1888, Lewis would have been 4 years old.
Although we don’t know much about his education, we know Lewis did attend ‘The Merchant Venturer’s School’ in Bristol. The Merchant Venturers’ School was founded in 1595 by the Society of Merchant Venturers, which was a development of the 13th century Bristol Guild of Merchants. It was fundamental to the town and port/dock administration of Bristol. It funded John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland in 1497 and was granted a Royal Charter in 1552. The Society was active in developing the American colonies, and other trade routes to the new world. It was also intimately concerned with the slave trade, but has since become a philanthropic and charitable organisation, improving Bristol and funding projects like The Great Western Railway, amongst many other things.
It’s probable that the actual school building that Lewis attended had been formerly known as the Trade School, which in September 1885 migrated from its “dingy premises in Nelson Street to the spacious buildings in Unity Street, adopting at the same time the name “Merchant Venturers’ School.” (The Merchant Venturers’ Technical College, Bristol, G. W Charles). It was set up with the guiding principal to teach “the scientific principles upon which trades and manufacture are based”.
“In the first session five new technological courses, including printing, joinery, brickwork, masonry and plumbing were introduced.” (The Merchant Venturers Technical College Bristol, G.W. Charles)
This education helped shape Lewis’ future career in selling iron-wares (used in construction and engineering) and then in becoming an African trader when he sold these products for native African goods.
We can next find Lewis on the 1901 Census, where at 17 years old, Lewis is described as an “Iron Trade Apprentice”, so he had probably already started work at Gardiners in Bristol. Apprenticeships could last up to 7 years, so Lewis would have been several years into his by 1901.
Gardiner Sons & Co Ltd was founded in 1825 as a blacksmith and Ironmonger, producing metal products for residents of Bristol. The company was formally registered in 1893, when it already had several factories producing various metal products, from door handles to large iron gates and even kitchen ranges. Apparently, Isambard Kingdom Brunel used Gardiners to purchase his drawing equipment and commissioned them to build scale-dividers of his own design. Gardiner’s went on to manufacture famous metal structures for the ‘twin towers’ of Wembley Stadium (1923) and the Festival of Britain in the 1950’s.
Great Uncle John stated that whilst at Gardiners, his father came into contact with many farmers and he was particularly knowledgeable about nuts, bolts screws, wire and metal fixings. He was well known for supplying local farmers with iron-wares and would be asked for by name to help them.
Lewis, circa. 1900, pictured below, when he would have been working at Gardiners.
In 1907, at the age of only 23, he made a career change and joined R. & W. King of Bristol, an African Trading company, and left to work in German Cameroon as their representative in the new trading station at Edea.
A short history of Cameroon Trading Companies
By the early 1800’s, vessels from the “Congo District Association,” a British explorers’ association were making regular contact with the coastal inhabitants of Cameroon for trading purposes.
In 1837, the German company, ‘Carl and Adolph Woermann’ was founded, and by 1849, entered the West Africa trade, and came to dominate the market. Adolph went on to found the Woermann shipping line (Lewis would later travel regularly on this line) to help support this new trade business and carry passengers.
In 1858, missionaries founded the first permanent settlement at Victoria, in Cameroon. Yaounde was founded in 1890 after the Germans set up a trading station there. This was followed by new trading stations at Douala, Edea, Batanga, kribi, Campo, Lolodorf and Nkongsamba. The pattern continued with an initial trading station becoming a town or port as part of a thriving commercial enterprise.
Wilhelm Jantzen and Johannes Thormahlen, originally the local agents for Woermann, respectively in Liberia and Gabon went on to open their own firm, ‘Jantzen and Thormahlen’ in 1875. Woermann, Jantzen & Thormahlen and other German traders controlled a network of trading posts in West Africa – about half the trade with Kamerun was German controlled at this date.
“The traders were mainly interested in selling goods including guns and liquor in return for palm products, and had no interest in permanent colonisation. In fact, they preferred to operate informally and without interference from German civil servants, and opposed annexation. Many felt that African traders working on credit produced better results at lower cost than European agents, who were hard to recruit and were prone to sickness.
The shift toward favouring permanent colonies was driven by two factors: a fall in the prices of African products created a demand to bypass the local African traders and establish direct routes to the interior; and once firms such as Jantzen & Thormählen had established bases and plantations they required military protection.” (Janzen and Thormahlen – Wikipedia)
There also appear to have been a number of British trading groups operating along the coast of West Africa. The “Liverpool Syndicate” (including J. Holt & Co.) and the “Bristol Merchants” (including Messrs King – Richard & William (or R & W) King) were competing with the Germans and French, but also each other. They had to work under the colonial authorities of the regions they wished to trade in – including the British, French and German regimes who were scrambling to control the interior of Africa and exploit the people and resources there.
“By March 1891 the Bristol merchants were said to be working fairly well with the French on the Quaqua coast, though Messrs King (who could exercise a certain amount of political influence through their MP, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) continued to complain about the loss of the Kru coast, and to press the Foreign Office for permanent guarantees against differential duties.” (West Africa Partitioned: Volume II The Elephants and the Grass, John D. Hargreaves)
[Note: Sir Michael was the MP for Bristol West, and Colonial Secretary in 1878 under Disraeli’s government and went on to become Chancellor of the Exchequer, Leader of the House of Commons, and President of the Board of Trade – clearly a very useful contact for an African trading company. Quaqua Coast is modern Ivory Coast, and Kru Coast is modern Liberia].
On 12 July 1884 the two kings of Cameroon King Ndumbe Lobe Bell and King Akwa signed sovereign rights to the firms of Carl Woermann and Jantzen & Thormählen, represented by the merchants Edward Schmidt and Johann Voss (more on them later), when Cameroon effectively became a German colony. One wonders whether the kings truly understood the full implications of what they had signed?
This process followed a successful formula taken by all the colonial powers, from Portugal, France, Britain and Germany, of imperial expansion and colonisation following either commercialisation or military action as part of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ (see Thomas Pakenham’s excellent book for more on this).
By 1884, there were an estimated fifty European trader and missionaries in Cameroon with a population of around 15,000 indigenous people within 50 miles of Douala. (The Cameroons, from Mandate to Independence, Victor Le Vine).
The German colonisation actions didn’t go down well with the British.
“Neither English traders nor missionaries in Duala accepted the fact of German control there as final. They persuaded interested groups in England to write formal protests to the Government. Consequently, protests came to London from the African Steamship Company of Liverpool, from a group in Bristol, from the African Association of Liverpool, from the London Chamber of Commerce, from the Chamber of Commerce and Shipping at Bristol, from the Congo District Association of Liverpool, from the African Trade Section of the Incorporated Chamber of Commerce of Liverpool, from the Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers of Glasgow, and from the two English trading firms of John Holt and R. & W. King.” (Germans in the Cameroons 1884-1914, Harry R. Rudin)
But they appear to have accepted the ‘realpolitik’ and reached an accommodation and way of working together. By 1903, British trade accounted for 28% of the share of trade, with 71% being German. In 1912, this had dropped to 15% and 81% respectively, as German control of Cameroon increased and the British were eased out. Although apparently, the British never had any reason to complain of unfair commercial treatment by the Germans. (Germans in the Cameroons 1884-1914, Harry R. Rudin)
It is into this context that Lewis travelled to Africa to work as an ‘African trader’, as he was recorded in the 1911 census.
Lewis’s voyages to and from Cameroon
There were a few options for travel to Africa in 1907 when Lewis first left Britain for Africa.
The ‘Woermann-Linie’, a Hamburg based German shipping line (1885-1941), was founded by Adolph Woermann, who was the largest German trader in West Africa, and the ‘Woermann Linie’ made him the largest private shipowner in the world. It transported passengers and goods to Cameroon, Liberia, Nigeria and Spanish Guinea – supporting his trading business and carrying goods from other traders and passengers to and from the colonies.
The African Steamship Company was founded in 1852, focussing first on the River Niger and other primary West African ports, transporting passengers and European products and trading goods outwards and palm oil and other African products on the return journey. In 1852 they were granted a Royal Charter to act as a mail carrier to African colonies. The business was purchased by Elder Dempster and Company in 1891, who also owned the other British African shipping company, ‘British and African Steam Navigation Company’.
Elder Dempster started operating in 1868 with the following strategy:
“I beg to inform you that this Company intend to dispatch, early in January next, the first of their line of Steamers, at present being constructed on the Clyde for trading between Glasgow, Liverpool and the West Coast of Africa.
“The Steamers are to sail monthly, and the ports which it is intended shall be called at are Sierra Leone, Cape Palmas, Cape Coast Castle, Accra, Lagos, Benin Bonny, Old Calabar and Fernando Po, but should sufficient inducement offer, arrangements will be made for their calling at other ports, either on the outward or homeward voyages. The Steamers are being specially built for the African Trade and, besides being comfortably fitted up for passengers, they will have extensive cargo space, which will enable them to carry rough goods at moderate rates.”
Lewis made his first trips to Africa on the Elder Dempster line, and subsequently used the Woermann Line, some of the posters for these lines are below with a sense of the timetables.
England to Cameroon, on 19th October 1907
Lewis sailed to Duoala in the Cameroons first from Liverpool on the SS Fantee (image directly below), her Master was W. Griffiths, travelling 1st class with 25 other passengers (17 1st class and 9 2nd class). Interestingly the passenger manifest highlights whether they were English, Scotch or Foreign! Lewis was the only one going to Cameroon, the rest were heading to various ports along the West coast of Africa.
Built in 1899 for the African Steamship Company Liverpool / Elder Dempster & Co., SS Fantee was a combined passenger and cargo vessel of 3649 tonnes, and 345ft long and 44ft in breadth.
Interestingly, ‘The Times’ newspaper ‘Mail and Shipping Intelligence’ from Thursday, Nov 07, 1907, details a report of the ship (SS FANTEE) that Lewis is actually travelling on, during its journey from Liverpool. It had reached Sekondi (in modern day Ghana) by Monday 4th November 1907, taking 16 days to make the journey. And leaving another 750 miles or so, of coast before arriving at Douala – with a probable additional stop in modern day Nigeria.
Cameroon to England, arrived on 29th May 1910
Lewis returned to UK, landing at Southampton from Douala, on the SS Lucie Woermann (image below). This ship was built in 1902 as part of the Woermann Line (Woermann Linie), who operated passenger and cargo services between Germany West African ports from 1890. She was 4630 tonnes. After World War I she was handed over to the French as part of war reparations.
England to Cameroon, on 12th October 1910
Lewis went back to Douala from Dover 1st class (with 5 other 1st class, and 3 2nd class passengers – totalling 9) on the SS Lucie Woermann (image above). All passengers were English, and he was the only one disembarking at Douala.
The following from ‘The Times’ newspaper on Saturday, Oct 08, 1910, shows that the Lucie Woermann was scheduled to leave the day before on October 11th. It was clearly delayed, according to the ships record.
Cameroon to England, arrived on 14th December 1912
Lewis came home from Douala to Southampton on the SS Lucie Woermann (image above).
England to Cameroon, on 26th May 1913
Lewis left England from Dover to return to Douala on the SS Professor Woermann (image below). The Professor Woermann was built in 1903. She was a 5,638 tonnes and 403ft long and 49ft in breadth, with one funnel, two masts, a single screw and a top speed of 11 knots. She was sold to the Woermann Line in 1904 for use on the West Africa service. She could carry 1006 3rd class passengers, which she did to the USA in 1907. She was ceded to Great Britain after World War I as war reparations.
Below is the advertisement from ‘The Times’ newspaper on 13th May 1913 with the actual sailing that Lewis joined – next departure 26th May. It looks like Cameroon was the last stop with six prior stops along the West African Coast. – Sierra Leone, Sekondi, Gold Coast, Ivory Coast, Lagos (Nigeria) and Cameroons.
Interestingly he was sent a postcard – to the Professor Woermann at Dover on 25th May, which he would have received before sailing, from a group of people, stating “Good luck & pleasant voyage etc.” with a long list of names of those sending those good wishes – family or friends?
Cameroon to England, arrived on 26th April 1915
His last trip back from Africa was on the SS Nigeria (image below) from Douala, via Lagos, Accra and then Plymouth. Built in 1901 for the African Steamship Company Liverpool / Elder Dempster & Co., she was a passenger vessel of 3755 tonnes with accommodation for 108 1st class and 52 2nd class passengers. Her usual route was Liverpool to Sierra Leone, Accra and other West African ports. She was taken into service as an accommodation ship during World War 1 in 1916, and survived fire, scuttling and re-floating in Murmansk.
Some notes on the journey:
According to searates.com, the distance by sea from Dover to Duoala is 8194.4km / 4424.6 miles, which at a top speed of 11 knots (for the SS Professor Woermann), searates.com calculates would have taken 31 days 18 hours. Obviously you can add additional days for stops at other ports and unloading / loading, along with the fact it probably couldn’t run at maximum speed through the whole journey. I think it’s safe to assume it took 5-6 weeks for each of his six journeys to and from Africa. So at least seven months were spent at sea during his seven and a half years in Africa.
Cameroon doesn’t have a deep sea port (one is under construction), so ships needed to either ground themselves on the beach to unload – image directly below is of the Lucie Woermann, which Lewis travelled on, doing this at Duoala. Or else they would have to stand-off on the river to be unloaded onto smaller boats for taking into the port. The German authorities did develop a floating dock which was moored out in the river for this purpose – this was later scuttled by them during the 1914 campaign.
Missionaries in Cameroon and the founding of Edea
It’s clear from all evidence that along with commercial and imperial interests, the other main driving factor for the colonisation of Cameroon was bringing the word of God.
The Reverend George Grenfell was sent by the Baptist Missionary Society to Cameroon, arriving in January 1875. One of his earliest acts, was to explore the Yabiang River up to Abo, and then discovering and navigating the Sanaga River as far as Edea. A temporary trading station at Edea followed in 1892 at Sanaga/Edea falls where the town of Edea would later develop.
A 1888 map of German Camerun shows the location of Edea, near Edea falls on the river Sanaga, about 30 miles up the river from the coast of West Africa. Edea was the furthest navigable part of the river by steamboat (the falls stopped further upstream navigation), and its known that companies such as J. Holt & Co. had their own river steamers, making such locations ideal trading posts for exploiting the resources of the interiors of the colonies. The nearest town / port of Duala, or Duoala, or Dualla on the map is shown about 20 miles to the north west of Edea.
Interestingly ‘The Missionary Review’ of 1912 notes that advance upstream beyond the Sanaga Falls was dangerous because of the river itself and “further advance upstream involved personal danger as well, in consequence of the hostile attitude of the inland tribes”. The missionary outposts were seen as a dual strategy involving German military subjugation and follow-up missionary outposts – schools and churches – to bring ‘civilisation’. Following hot on their heels, were the traders.
In 1902 it was stated that:
“Hostilities between the various tribes were of almost constant occurrence, while falsehood, venegefulness and lawless indulgence characterized their private relations, and polygamy exhibited its baneful effects upon family life. They had dealings with the trader, or the crafty Duala as intermediary, but found themselves generally overreached. The aged people clung with stubborn obstinacy to the customs of their fathers, and to their superstitious fears, and could not be persuaded to listen to a talk about religion. But among the young a promising field presented itself, and as soon as the missionaries had gained entrance among the tribes and, to some extent, won their confidence, no obstacle was put in their way for bringing the children under instruction. The people began gradually to recognize the dawn of a new era, and altho it meant hard work at first, to bring those hitherto accustomed to lawless idleness into habits of order and obedience, the youngsters soon came to enjoy the hours at school, and the desire for improvement, once awakened, proved strong enough to fill the schools with eager learners. Meanwhile the favorable situation of Edea had been discovered by government and by commerce. Public buildings arose; a wide road was constructed across the wooded uplands ; trading firms estab- lished agencies ; while in military quarters the strategical importance of the place attracted attention.” (The Missionary Review 1912)
Woermann opened a trading station at Edea in 1892, and then persuaded Catholic missionaries to build a mission there (Germans in the Cameroons 1884-1914, Harry R. Rudin). A picture of this mission is below [this is not Lewis’ photo].
Slavery was only suppressed in 1896 in Edea and continued on a quiet basis in local tribes – which the German administrators largely ignored – although the slave markets in Cameroon were closed. (Germans in the Cameroons 1884-1914, Harry R. Rudin)
It took until 1902 for ‘commerce’ to start fully exploiting the area and leading to the further development of Edea. Lewis arrived in 1907, as German and British trading companies moved in to exploit the relatively new trading station at Edea – trading European good for native products like nuts, Ivory and Palm Oil. The twin strands of ‘European civilisation’ were brought to the people of Cameroon through trade and religion – backed up by military force.
Lewis would later socialise with the Catholic Mission people – see pictures later in this post
For more information on the Edea Mission, then this site has pictures and maps and construction plans for the buildings (http://www.bmarchives.org/).
Why did Lewis (amongst others) go to Africa?
We don’t know why Lewis left Gardiner’s in Bristol to head off into the unknown, remote, and potentially dangerous and very unhealthy Edea, in German administered Cameroon. Malaria and Sleeping Sickness along with other ‘fevers’ were very common – Lewis ended up contracting Malaria, and suffered from it for the rest of his life.
In 1893, 26 whites out of 204 in the colony died of disease. In 1912/13, 23 whites died of disease out of 2000 Europeans in the colony (Germans in the Cameroons 1884-1914, Harry R. Rudin). So whilst his chances of survival had increased from roughly 1 in 8 in 1893 to about 1 in 87 in 1913, these still aren’t great odds – why take the risk?
Added to that, Cameroon still had occasional fighting between Europeans and hostile indigenous peoples, in 1886, after the Germans suppressed the missionaries at Joss town in Cameroon, and killed one of the Christian chiefs. The Woermann subagent Mr Pontanies was removed from his factory just outside town by a mob, had his head cut off and stuck on a pole, before it was paraded around the town. (West London Standard, November 6, 1886). The Germans burnt the whole town down in retaliation. And the Missionary Review of 1912, whilst Lewis was there, highlighted the hostile attitudes of some tribes further upriver from Edea, and a Mahdist inspired insurrection was underway in Northern Cameroon during 1907 when Lewis arrived.
And its clear that the natives did not like German rule, and the Germans were prone to taking extreme measures to retain control – for example, in 1914 they hanged the leader of the Douala people (King Bell) for ‘treason in plotting with other tribes against Germany’. Even those natives in the German native army units seem to have been held there by force rather than desire. The Germans ruled Cameroon by force and brutality.
All in all, by modern standards, you have to question why Lewis ever went there?
Lewis’ trading post wasn’t even in the relatively connected Douala area of Cameroon, with a thriving ‘European’ colony, and the German administration and radio station (providing valuable contact to the outside world). He would be based some 30 miles away at Edea, with very poor communications before the railways were built later in his time there, and only rough trails through the jungle/bush to Douala or a dangerous river boat journey to link to the ocean to connect him to the outside world. And isolated with only a small community of Europeans – traders and missionaries, and some German administrators.
One can assume that the opportunity of working as a trader was too good to miss. Perhaps even the adventure of going to Africa helped make his mind up – we will never know for sure, but it was quite a step to make for a 23 year old. By then had been working at Gardiners for around 6 years – maybe he wanted a change? We don’t know whether or not on his way home from Gardiners towards Pembroke Road in Clifton, he saw an advert for R. W. King (who were based in the docks) that he might have passed on his way home? He was single, in his mid-20’s, with experience in many goods that would have been traded with natives in Africa, such as nails and ironmongery – perhaps he was an ideal candidate to go to Africa as a trader?
It’s interesting when you read book’s like ‘The rise and fall of the British Empire’, by Lawrence James, you get a strong sense of the social changes of the Edwardian era, and the education about Empire and commercialisation of the new colonies – perhaps his education at the Merchant Venturers also played a part? There is a real impression from reading contemporary reports that people of the time were impressed with a sense of duty to King and Country, and that it was the destiny of the British Empire to rule the world.
You get a sense of attitudes, when you research the Royal Colonial Institute (RCI), of which Lewis was a non-resident fellow from at least 1912 to 1916, his entry is as follows:
“1912. MILTON, LEWIS. Edea, Cameroons, West Africa.”
[As a non-resident i.e. in Cameroon not the UK, he would have paid 1 Guinea (£1, 1 shilling or 21 shillings) to join and 1 Guinea per year, and would have been proposed by two other fellows to join.]
Lewis was not alone at R. & W. King in Edea. Granny told me that he and a friend ran the trading station in his later trips to Cameroon. And there is an entry for one Duncan McCallum (nicknamed ‘Mac’) who was also working for R. & W. King in Edea at the time. Mac writes to Lewis in postcards and (I think) is shown in pictures, later in this post.
We know Mac was born in 1888 (not 1884 as implied by the passenger records), and he was English. And we know he travelled to Cameroon on 11th April 1912 (on the Lucie Woermann to Douala) and was there until around 3rd May 1914, when he sent a postcard to Lewis on his journey back to Britain. Lewis and Mac must they must have covered each others home leave – and shared time in Africa together.
Tying Mac back into the family history handed down to me is easy – his father was Charles Whitton McCallum, known by his stage name of Charles Coborn, who became famous for his 1892 song, ‘The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’. My great-uncle John (Lewis’ son) thought that his fathers partner in Edea was actually the son of the ‘man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo’, but it turns out he was just the son of the man who sang the song! But it is confirmation that I have identified the correct person.
[Note: Sir Duncan McCallum, would later return to Cameroon as ‘Intelligence Officer’ for the Allied Expeditionary Force, before serving on the Western Front – winning the Military Cross and being Mentioned in Dispatches. He then became Liaison Officer with French forces in Syria after the war – pioneering a crossing of the Syrian Desert in 1923 in three cars – the first such crossing by motor car. Before being transferred to China, and driving back to the UK from China in 1927 – 15,200 miles! He was a diplomat in the run up to the 2nd World War – before becoming MP for Argyll in 1940. He was knighted in 1955, and died in 1958.]
The RCI was all about the maximisation of colonial trade and produce within the British Empire and its colonies, and emigration of British subjects to the Empire. Basically to maintain and expand the British Empire and its commercial interests in the new colonies of all European imperial powers. As an African trader, you can see why this would have been of use to Lewis, providing information and trading/shipping contacts. Its Royal Charter was to:
“THE ROYAL COLONIAL INSTITUTE is established to provide a place of meeting for all gentlemen connected with the Colonies and British India, and others taking an interest in Colonial and Indian affair ; to establish a Reading-room and a Library, in which recent and authentic intelligence upon Colonial and Indian subjects may be constantly available, and a Museum for the collection and exhibition of Colonial and Indian productions; to facilitate inter-change of experiences amongst persons representing all the Dependencies of Great Britain ; to afford opportunities for the reading of Papers, and for holding discussions upon Colonial and Indian subjects generally; and to undertake scientific, literary, and statistical investigations in connection with the British Empire. But no Paper shall be read, nor any discussion be permitted to take place, tending to give to the Institute a party character.”
“The Institute has never ceased to emphasise the fact that the Overseas Dominions afford a national outlet for the surplus population and capital of the Mother Country, and committees now deal with the questions of emigration and Empire trade and industry, their special functions being set forth in a separate section of this work. The education of the people of the Motherland as to the resources, trade, history and development of the Empire has been taken in hand by a special committee, and lectures are now being given in various parts of the United Kingdom with excellent results.
In accordance with the objects for which the Institute was founded, it has for the past forty-four years taken a leading part in the national work of fostering and popularising the great principle of Imperial Solidarity throughout the length and breadth of the British Empire.“
The RCI yearbooks mention other activities at Edea and Duoala in the Cameroons, and certainly Lewis was not the only British person in his area. In 1912 the following RCI members were in Cameroon.
In 1914, this had expanded to the following businesses:
“Nyong Rubber Plantations, Ltd., Edea-Dehaner, via Duala, Cameroons
R.W. King, Edea, Cameroon*, West Africa
Bank of British West Africa, Duala, Cameroons
J. Holt & Co., Duala, Cameroons
King’s Naval Store, Duala, Cameroons, West Africa
Hatton da Cookson, Duala, Cameroons, West Africa”
There were a surprising number of RCI members in Cameroon between around 1914-16, including traders like James Cort (of King’s Naval Store, Douala), H Francis (of Hatton and Cookson – Douala), Herbert Jump and William Becker (both of the Bank of British West Africa – Douala), Andrew Christian (of J Holt & Co – Douala), Cecil Gilvey (of Mountain Plantations – Palm Oil presumably), Guido de Piro D’Amico (of the Douala Medical Department). And those who don’t specify an employer like Harry Obins (based in Jabassi), Alfred and Newport Wright (based in Jaunde), and finally Lewis would have had company nearby as there was a person called Edwin Osborne in Edea.
We know from contemporary reports at the beginning of hostilities, that in 1914, there were thirty British people in Cameroon, including two women and a baby – as they were interned by the Germans – Lewis was one of them.
R. & W. King
During the 1800’s, Henry King, a Bristol merchant, led a private individual initiative to take his merchant boats to the Cameroon for the purposes of trading. He was followed by his sons, Richard and William King, who founded a company for the purposes of African trading, which became R.& W. King.
In 1842, what is now R.& W. King of Bristol, launched the 176 ton merchant ship ‘Mohawk’ (number YM.42 #9). The purpose of the vessel was to trade between Bristol and British Africa. (Lloyds shipping registers).
By at least 1910, Richard and William King (R. & W. King) had premises in Bristol on Redcliffe Parade West, and from ‘Kelly’s Directory 1910‘, they were ‘African Merchants’. For those that don’t know Bristol, this location is right on the dock of the floating harbour at Redcliffe Back and Bathurst Basin – so it would have been ideal for loading and unloading trading boats.
According to ‘Commerce and Economic Change in West Africa: The Palm Oil Trade in the Nineteenth Century – Martin Lynn‘, R. & W. King (along with John Holt, Hatton and Cookson etc.) was primarily focussed on the export of Palm Oil to the UK. The Palm Oil import market to the UK collapsed during the 1880’s because of over supply and subsequent price drops, and left companies with the choice of folding or diversifying – R. & W. King went into other markets such as Ivory and nuts.
We know from records that R. & W. King definitely had a representative in Cameroon in 1883, one Captain Buchanan (more about him later). We don’t know much more about them until 1907 when Lewis arrived in Africa. Was Buchanan the direct predecessor of Lewis?
The photo above is of Lewis’s own trading post for R. & W. King of Bristol, and that they expanded into a new building (below) at a later date. Lewis is standing outside.
The above picture is of Lewis on a horse outside a more modern trading post for R. & W. King. Lewis was a Bristol man working for a Bristol based African trading company – this is confirmed by postcards to him at R. & W. King, which I take as conclusive evidence that he worked for them.
It appears R. & W. King went bankrupt in 1910, but continued to trade until at least 1918 before closing in their current form.
Interestingly, the name R. & W. King continues to prosper today – it still exists in the form of a shop in Duoala, Cameroon.
“R.W. King was one of the outposts of the European “comptoirs coloniaux,” trading outposts that have their roots all the way to the Phoenicians with Carthage, in North Africa. They were used to import fabrics and more to Sub-Saharan African countries, and exporting raw materials to Europe. It’s such an old-fashioned business that I couldn’t even find an R.W. King website.” (awayfromafrica.com)
J. Holt & Co. Liverpool Ltd.
J. Holt & Co was founded by John Holt, who first travelled to Fernando Po (now called Bioko), an island off the coast of Nigeria and Cameroon, in 1862. It has become a well-known colonial trading and shipping company with links primarily in Guinea and British Nigeria, and outposts in other German and French territories, including Douala (confirmed by the RCI).
“In 1897 the partnerships were absorbed into a new limited company, John Holt & Co. (Liverpool) Ltd. The company built up an extensive produce trade, in which palm oil, palm kernels, rubber and cocoa were exported from Nigeria to England. Imports included textiles from Lancashire and bicycles from Birmingham. A fleet of ships operated a fortnightly service from Liverpool to West Africa and the Company also had its own fleet of river craft.
Apart from produce and merchandise, these river craft also carried cash. Where banks did not exist, John Holt had strong rooms. Even after banks were established, many Nigerians preferred to deposit their cash with John Holt.” (Wikipedia)
Lewis leaves annotated photographic evidence (below) of J. Holt & Co. Liverpool Ltd., with the location as Edea. The cut off building to the left of the picture is annotated R W K and matches the right hand building in pictures of R. & W. King to show their proximity. The last image seems to be an earlier date than the other two pictures (as the building is missing a wing and walkway from the other pictures.
These pictures show trade with indigenous people, and there was clearly a lot of cooperation between J .Holt & Co. and R. & W. King.
Colonial life in Cameroon
Lewis’ photographic record
The following pictures are of Lewis (and friends) in Cameroon – he is pictured in archetypical ‘colonial’ dress of whites, and is generally very smartly presented. These pictures as a collection, give an insight into what life would have been like.
The pictures (above) show Lewis in his trading post, at his desk. The pictures on the desk are still within the family. The second picture shows Lewis with a group of friends – his is a group of Europeans at Edea, so they would be English and German. Note the bottles of alcohol – it looks like a whiskey bottle and a soda bottle. Lewis has a pipe, so also had access to tobacco. I suspect that Mac is in this picture.
Lewis is shown (above) sitting in a small man-pulled carriage. And the second picture appears to be Lewis in white’s outside his trading post.
Lewis (again in whites) in Edea. The second picture is (Granny told me) of the German administrative buildings in Edea – with the German staff outside – wearing pith helmets.
The left picture (above) shows Lewis (annotated) in whites with everyone else, at some kind of party/afternoon tea. The Father of the Catholic Missions in Edea is also annotated. The right hand picture shows Lewis with his dogs – Granny told me that he and his fellow R. & W. King representative kept dogs – and this shows a dog and presumably its puppies.
The left hand picture (above) shows Lewis (annotated) standing in whites, surrounded by Europeans on horses. The right hand picture (according to Granny) was of Lewis and the staff and servants at his trading mission. The other seated European was apparently his co-representative of R. & W. King Ltd, and close friend.
The last picture (above) is of one of the servants cleaning Lewis’ whites – in the pictures above, Lewis is conspicuous in wearing the whitest of white colonial clothes! Granny told me they used to be washed and scrubbed regularly to keep them clean.
According to Lawrence James in ‘The Rise and Fall of the British Empire’, West Africa was an “inhospitable region where a combination of humidity, heat and a febriferous coastline combined to give it the notorious reputation of ‘the white mans grave’“. Advances in medical science improved, to give Europeans an increased chance of survival, but on the Gold Coast officials were expected to do 12 months work before getting home leave. In northern Nigeria they were expected to do 18 months. Apparently they counted themselves unlucky if they had more than 3 bouts of fever or malaria.
We know Lewis roughly worked two-year cycles whilst trading in Africa – this seems very much longer than his contemporaries in British West Africa who worked between 12 and 18 months before home leave. Firstly he was in Africa (and travelling) for 2 years 7 months, then home for 19 weeks. Secondly he was in Africa (and travelling) for 2 years 2 months before being home for 23 weeks. Finally he spent 1 year 11 months in Africa (and travelling) before his work was cut short by the war and he returned home for the last time.
It sounded like a relatively unhealthy place down by the river where Lewis was based:
“Owing to the proximity of the sea and the numerous river-courses the climate is damp, and during the month of October a thick fog generally covers the land. As a rule, July is the coldest and February the warmest month. The low-lying marshy districts are covered with mangroves, while in the wooded uplands wine palms and oil palms abound.” (The Missionary Review 1912)
We know that Lewis caught Malaria, recurring bouts of which affected him for the rest of his life. This seemed an occupational hazard of working in West Africa. Quinine had been produced as a drug since 1820 and drugs with quinine in would have been used by Lewis to treat his fever. Health was clearly a very important topic to any European in Cameroon:
‘The high death rates among whites and the rapid turnover of officials and others by reason of ill health made the Government attentive to the needs of the European community. Health considerations caused the removal of the colony’s centre of administration from Duala to Buea on Mt. Cameroon, where the climate was favourable. Several hospitals were maintained in the colony by the Government as well as by missionaries. People looked forward to the completion of the railways into the interior in the belief that whites could settle on the high inner plateau.” (Germans in the Cameroons 1884-1914, Harry R. Rudin)
We know from statistics that in 1913 when Lewis was in Cameroon, 23 whites died of tropical diseases out of a total population of around 2000. This is around a 1% death rate.
Lewis socialised with other Europeans – we know there were other Britons in the area from records and we know from photographic evidence, they got together to socialise. He also developed friendships with the German colonial authorities and missions – which were to be tested at the outbreak of war. His photographs give an insight into Lewis’s life in Africa; some of the social events and local scenes. Pictures from Lewis’s desk are still possessions in the family.
We can get a flavour of relationships between whites and blacks from some of the photos – they reflect the conventions about such matters over 100 years ago. Lewis is pictured being pulled by a native, he is pictured seated where natives stand, they work whilst he oversees etc. It’s clear that there was segregation between the races:
“After 1911 the Government required building permits in Victoria, Duala, Kribi, and Edea in an effort to prevent the construction of native huts of straw in sections where whites resided. In times of epidemics the Government found it necessary to burn down native buildings, an act difficult for natives to understand.” (Germans in the Cameroons 1884-1914, Harry R. Rudin)
We don’t have any records of Lewis’s time in Africa, other than photographic (as throughout this article) and some postcards and letters which give an intriguing, but limited insight. We do however, have an account from a Swedish group from some 25 years before Lewis was in Africa. The reason I am mentioning it here, is because it specifically mentions R. & W. King, J. Holt & Co., Jantzen and Thormahlen and Woermann representatives all socialising. I have included it because it is revealing!
“Now I wish to give a sketch of how the people thirty years ago spent a Christmas Eve in the Cameroons. We four Swedes were together with all the English merchants on the Cameroon river, invited by Mr E. Schmidt, agent for a German firm, to his factory on the Bell beach for a Christmas Eve dinner. We had just arrived on the 23rd of December  at the said place and we were not attired in the white dress as the white men usually wear in West Africa. In our Swedish hunting suits and heavy boots we looked quite different to the other men present. We were invited at seven o’clock in the evening and we were twenty-nine people, fifteen Englishmen, ten Germans and the four Swedes. The dinner began with soup and some old port. We Swedes were very moderate about the drinks and [sometimes] we only put our lips to the glass but the Englishmen and the Germans drank very often. Captain Buchanan, the agent of the firm R.W. King of Bristol, proposed a toast for the German Emperor, the German Nation and our host Mr. Schmidt, which was followed by cheers. Then Mr Schmidt proposed a toast for the Queen of England, the English Nation, and for the oldest and most respected man on the river, Capt. Buchanan, followed by cheers. Champagne flowed in abundance and great animation prevailed. Mr Schmidt had the courtesy to propose a toast to the Swedish King and Nation and for us four Swedes especially, which was very kind of him. One of the gentlemen who was already drunk declared he wouldn’t empty his glass for the reason that he did not know either Sweden or us, and that he couldn’t understand what we had to do with the Cameroons. He was at once told by Mr Buchanan to shut up and behave himself as a gentleman, or Mr Schmidt would soon show him the door…”
“The agents for the European firms in Cameroon were at the time Captain Buchanan for R.W. King, Capt. Trotter, for Rider Son & Andrew, Mr Allen, agent for John Holt & co. Liverpool, Mr J. Hamilton, agent for some English firm, Mr Edward Schmidt, agent for C. Woermann Co., Capt. Johanes Voss from Lubeck was agent for the firm Jantzen & Thormahlen in Hamburg…”
(Swedish Ventures in Cameroon, 1833-1923: Trade and Travel, People and Politics – Knutson and Ardener).
The above description from 1883 gives real insight into what life was like. Clearly the Europeans (British and German) all socialised together on special occasions even if it meant travelling some distance – to Douala in this case. They had an abundance of, and fully enjoyed their luxuries – including Champagne, and were not above over-indulging!
Specific mention is made to the codes of dress for the Europeans – it looks like the Swedes didn’t follow the ‘white’ dress code, or join in with the full festivities – this seems to have gone down badly with another guest – by the sound of it an Englishman who had indulged too much. This dress was still very much vogue in Lewis’ time as you can see from his photographs.
All the companies mentioned above had settled presences by the 1900’s. Lewis’ company R. & W. King had a representative in Cameroon, Captain Buchanan, 24 years before Lewis arrived in 1907.
Also of note is that in July 1884, King Ndumbe Lobe Bell and King Akwa signed a treaty in which they assigned sovereign rights, legislation and administration of their country in full to the firms of Carl Woermann and Jantzen & Thormählen, represented by the merchants described in the piece above, Edward Schmidt and Johann Voss. They were responsible for the founding of the German colony of Cameroon. One wonders whether the two rival kings knew what they were signing was binding them into the German Empire as part of the general scramble for Africa.
The following pictures are from Lewis’ own collection, and are scenes around Edea – the river Sanaga, and the bridge over it at Edea, under construction, and then completed, with the Edea Falls also visible. The bridge, called the ‘Japoma bridge’, was completed in 1911, so this helps date the following pictures – when it was constructed, at 160m, it was the largest bridge in Africa. It still exists today as a relic of German Cameroon.
This last photograph (below) is of the German Administrative building in Jaunde (now Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon since 1922). Lewis must obviously have visited this newly developed trading post at times during his African trading. A trading post was founded there in 1889, becoming a military garrison in 1895 (because of unfriendly tribes threatening the palm oil and rubber plantations around the river Nyong). By 1913 it was an important town in German Cameroon (second only to Douala) with its own administrative area – organised from the building below. The town continued to develop after Lewis’ time in Cameroon until it became the capital and the railways was extended from Edea to Eseka to Jaunde in 1929.
Trading in Cameroon
Lewis is shown above, with Ivory he would have traded, and overseeing workers sorting nuts – presumably Cashew Nuts? Lewis traded empire goods for local products such as Ivory, coco, nuts and other local products. R. & W. King would ship goods to him which he would convert into African goods and ship back to Bristol.
Obviously Ivory is now considered a controversial trade, which has led to the steep decline in elephant populations in Africa, and is now banned. At the time ivory was an important and valuable commodity before modern materials such as plastics were available.
“In 1930 to acquire 40 tons of ivory required the killing of approximately 700 elephants”
“Consumption in Great Britain alone in 1831 amounted to the deaths of nearly 4,000 elephants.” (Wikipedia)
Lewis brought back his own personal African goods such as Ivory and wooden artefacts (which remain in the family – I have a number of pieces myself).
Uncle John (Lewis’ son) tells how, by the time Lewis went out to Africa, he had three false teeth on a plate. Apparently, if ever the local inhabitants became troublesome or uncooperative in his trading deals, Lewis would stand in front of them and take out his plate with the three teeth attached and wave it at the natives – this would frighten them and they would run off in terror! This ploy seemed to work every time there was a problem.
The next photographs are intriguing as they are clearly from Northern Cameroon or even sub-Saharan Africa. There were known trade routes from sub-Saharan Africa (Chad) to the coast on West Africa. Did Lewis head up the railway to Bare and beyond?
Letters and Postcards
I’ve tried to tie in any communications between Lewis and home into the general flow of this post, but there are a few that don’t fit, so this section covers those.
An undated postcard from Lewis shows the potential loneliness of being a colonial trader – he is clearly calling out for letters and any communication, and a clear sense of hurt that he hasn’t received any news. Although we don’t have a date, it seems he had another year to go on his tour before he could return home to meet up with this person.
‘How are you, Austin & the family – Have never heard from you -am very well & looking forward to next year this time – when I hope to see you! Love to all Lewis”
An undated postcard to Lewis in Edea is rather curious in its language – I can only assume it’s from some associate or person in Cameroon who is responsible for forwarding on Lewis’ mail. The picture is of Buea, and the back mentions Victoria (modern day Limbe in Cameroon), which was one of the entry ports to Cameroon. I can only assume that R. & W. King had some presence or forwarding operation there.
Dear Mr Milton, I am sending your mail to the post. Will the money to pay the postage & you must try to get the post people to send it to you as it is so hard for me to send it. I am always asking when can it go … the end it don’t get sent at all.
Front: Sept 13th 1913 P,L(?) is in the Sept steamer due here the 30th
Lewis had arrived in June 1913 for his final trading trip.
Lewis, who was in Edea, received a postcard from Sierra Leone, dated 3rd May 1914 from Duncan McCallum (or Mac) who had latterly been his partner at the R. & W. King trading station.
“Going grand. Am not quite such a skeleton now as I was when I came on board. Foot still hurts like the devil. How does trade in Edea. I tell you this is better than buying K (Cashew?) nuts in that rotten hot. Kind regards to ? Wicky, Shuttleworth, Yourself & Church. Mac”
Which is fascinating on several levels. One wonders whether Mac was recovering from illness – dysentery and fever were commonplace in Cameroon. Mac was clearly suffering from something as he was putting weight on again after leaving, and glad to be out of the rotten hot! One also wonders what he’d done to his foot. Mac is identified in the Royal Colonial Institute yearbook for 1912 as Duncan McCallum – also working for R. & W. King. I assume that he was at the end of his two year tour and was returning home.
I wonder how Lewis took all this, as he was due to spend at least another 9 months in the ‘rotten hot’ on his tour?
On 1st June 1914, Lewis, who was still in Edea, received another postcard from Mac, this one from Belfast.
Having a grand time here. W. wants to add a few words to this. Will write a letter as soon as I’ve come to town on 4th. Won’t forget about the Pathephone, footy(?) etc. People very much in earnest ??? about not having Home Rule. Church old man. ????? Mac. With Kind Regards W.S.S?
A Pathephone in 1914 would have been a record player – to play Pathe disks, and even possibly to make recordings (as-in the old Pathe newsreels you can still sometimes see on old history TV programs). So perhaps Lewis wanted one to help entertain him? This sender must have either been returning to Cameroon in the future, or else they would have been in a position to ship things to Lewis. The war obviously put an end to this? Did Lewis’ partner avoid being captured by the German’s, as Lewis was?
The letter talks about the people not wanting home rule – this would have been from a Unionist in Northern Ireland. The Protestants did not want Home Rule in Ireland, but government from the UK Westminster Parliament.
Railways in Cameroon
Lewis’ photographic record of the Railways
Through photographic records, Lewis shows us an interesting view on the early railways of Cameroon. For him, it would have opened up trade with sub-Saharan Africa, and it was clearly an important event for the German colony. A significant number of the photos that he took in Africa were of the railways.
“The topography of Cameroon was unfavourable for railway construction: mountains and a dense forest belt in the hinterland of the largest port, Douala, long prevented the entry of Cameroon into the railway era.” (Wikipedia)
The earliest railway ran from the colonial capital Buea to the port of Victoria which was a 600mm guage line – the pictures below clearly show the width between the tracks is more than 600mm. So this has to be one of the other two lines built by the time Lewis was in Cameroon.
“The second railway to be built in Cameroon was the 160 km (99 mi) long Douala–Nkongsamba railway, also known as the Northern Railway (Nordbahn), and the third was the Douala–Ngaoundere railway, also known as the Central Railway (Mittellandbahn). These two lines were built in 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge and set the standards for future railway construction in Cameroon.” (Wikipedia)
In 1909 the railway line Bonaberi-Nkongsamba (160 km) was inaugurated, in 1911, the railway line Douala-Edea was inaugurated and in 1913, the Eseka-Douala railway was constructed. Conceivably, the pictures which show what seems to be a ceremonial opening, could be on any of these dates that Lewis was in Africa. Whilst I can find many contemporary railway photos, none match the station here; it does not look like the station in Douala. It is perhaps the station near Edea, and this added communication to Duoala would have greatly speeded up Lewis’s travel to and from Douala. This must have been an invaluable new link for Lewis.
The Great War in West Africa – The Cameroons Campaign
Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914. Douala had a radio station, so would have known this news in short time. All the German shipping in the region had run for cover in Douala harbour – a large natural harbour. There were nine passenger liners in the estuary – including Woermann Linie ships.
Lewis was interned by the German authorities of Cameroon, and apparently was handed over by those Germans who he had worked with and considered friends for some years. Given the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and Germany, Granny Lamb told me that they refused to help him when he went to them for help. Lewis never forgot or forgave this – it must have been a real shock to him. He was apparently held on a boat on the river, and this account has always struck me as very limited. From early research, it was clear that you couldn’t go up the river from Edea because of the Edea falls – it was the highest navigable point. So my assessment is that Lewis was taken by train to Douala, and then placed into captivity on one of the Woermann ships, which had taken refuge in the harbour.
On 4th September naval forces of Britain and France anchored off the town of Victoria, north of Douala, but did not attempt a landing because of a lack of surprise.
The Allied combined fleet then sailed for the Wouri estuary leading to the port of Douala and utterly surprised the Germans. They had not expected an attack within a fortnight of the British forces arrival, and their plans for evacuating Douala had not been completed and guns and stores were still there and later had to be abandoned. As a defence, the Germans had mined and scuttled ‘block’ ships in the estuary mouth in defence.
This British force comprised some obsolete ships including ‘HMS Challenger’ (a 1902 2nd glass ‘protected’ Cruiser with 11 x 6 inch guns), ‘HMS Cumberland’ (a 1902 Monmouth class ‘armoured’ Cruiser with 14 x 6 inch guns) and a gunboat, the ‘Dwarf’ (a 1898 Bramble class Gunboat with 2 x 4 inch guns). [Gunboats were shallow draft, cheap, but powerful vessels that could project colonial force by patrolling coasts and navigating inland rivers]. The British under Major General Charles Dobell, had 5000 troops in the Cameroon campaign expeditionary force, of which, 4300 were native contingents, the rest being European troops. (“British Campaigns in Africa and the Pacific 1914-1918”, Edmund Dane)
Interestingly Lewis’ friend Mac (Duncan McCallum) was made Intelligence Officer to General Dobell as part of a 12 man Headquarters (HQ) staff. One would assume he was given a commission and this role as a Staff Officer, because of his detailed knowledge of Cameroon, after spending 2 years there travelling around the country and trading.
From 7th September, naval action began on Douala via the Wouri estuary with a series of ship to ship actions between allied armed cruisers and gunboats and the more limited German armed launches and steamers. The aim being to clear hostile shipping and mines, and remove obstacles from the estuary mouth to force a passage for the Cruisers.
Having removed all naval threats the allied fleet moved up to Douala and Major General Charles Dobell sent a surrender ultimatum to the German commander. On 26th September, having received no answer, they bombarded Douala from the sea with his Cruisers, forcing the German garrison to withdraw from the town.
“On my summons for the surrender of the Colony being refused, and after duly notifying the German Commandant of my intention, I ordered a bombardment of the town to commence early on 26th September; this in combination with a land demonstration, made by way of one of the neighbouring creeks, was sufficient to induce the Commandant, on 27th September, to surrender the towns of Duala and Bonaberi, with a small strip of land in their environs. The surrender of Duala secured us a safe and convenient base for the future absorption of German territory; further, the capture of stores, supplies, field guns, and the removal of over 400 German Europeans was a great loss to the German Field Force, whilst the seizure of the large amount of shipping and numerous small craft in the harbour, was an inestimable advantage to us.” (Major-General Sir Charles M. Dobell, K.C.B., Commanding the Allied Forces in the Cameroons, official dispatch)
[Note: For more information see the full dispatch https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/29604/supplement/5419]
On 27th September, 1000 Allied troops were landed, taking the town and occupying the port. They captured a large part of the Woermann shipping line in the harbour, which had moved further up the Cameroon River.
“The merchant ships lying in the port of Douala were seized by the British. This is essentially the ships of the Woermann Line.” (The raid against our colonies – The Daily Rundschau, Berlin 1915)
Once Douala had been taken, the allies moved inland along the Midland railway to Edea and the Northern railway to Maka to secure the Douala beach head. ‘The Times’ newspaper details these hostilities in these two articles from 1914.
We don’t know what happened to Lewis in captivity, but conditions may have been harsh. He is said to have been held by the Germans for around six weeks, before he was freed by the Royal Navy, and I was told my his daughter (my granny) that he was held on a ship on the river during this time. HMS Cumberland under Captain Cyril T. M. Fuller (who went on to be Second Sea Lord), is credited with capturing 10 merchantmen and liners in Duoala harbour – so it is sailors from this ship (below) that rescued Lewis.
The Admiralty report from the time is as follows:
“GREAT HAUL BY H.M.S. CUMBERLAND. The Secretary of the Admiralty announced on October 1, 1914, that H.M.S. Cumberland (Captain Cyril Fuller) had captured the following merchant steamers off the Cameroon River (West Africa):
Oirnfield (Hamburg- Amerika Line).
Total tonnage, 30,915.
All of the Woermann Line, Hamburg.
The vessels were in good order, most of them containing general outward and homeward cargoes and considerable quantities of coal.
The European crews have been removed as prisoners, the native engine-room ratings being retained.
It is also announced that the gunboat Soden was captured and has been commissioned, and it is expected that the floating dock and the Herzogin Elisabeth, which had been sunk, can be raised.
By this action the Cumberland added to its already great laurels, and Captain Fuller’s haul means a collection of the most valuable steamers to our credit. It was a sad blow to the owners, the Woermann Company, who have been particularly active, it is stated, at Las Palmas in extending their fuel depot, doubtless with an eye to the service of German pirate ships. The company by the loss of these merchant steamers stands at 25 per cent, lower on their list of ships. HMS Cumberland.”
From the start of the war on 4th August to the capture of shipping at Douala on 27th September by the Royal Navy is just over seven weeks which seems to fit the family story of Lewis being in captivity on a ship for around 6 weeks – especially when you add the time that it would have taken to get Lewis from Edea to Douala. There is no further mention of Royal Naval activity after the capture of Douala, German shipping ceased, and the Army took over military activities. So I believe that Lewis was moved to Douala with other allied nationals and held on one of the Woermann ships that remained in the harbour and then moved up River out of range of the British cruisers. All other German shipping, aside from a single gun boat (which was also captured), had been scuttled in the estuary mouth by the German authorities as block-ships, only the Woermann ships had been saved. Lewis’s release according the timelines we have, coincides with the fall of Douala.
And then I found this account dated from the 28th September, the day after the fall of Douala which seems to determine what actually happened to Lewis:
“At seven o’clock next morning about a hundred men were sent with a naval party in tugs and launches to seize the merchant steamers that had withdrawn up-river. The men loaded their rifles and prepared for action, since it was doubtful with what reception they would meet. At length the Hans Woermann, the largest of the steamers was approached. The British proceeded cautiously along. They were greeted, however not by bullets, but by British cheers. Some thirty English, including two women and a baby, had been kept prisoner on board and were overcome with delight at their release.” (Battle Sketches 1914-15, Neville A. Hilditch).
Lewis was one of these thirty Englishmen, and the ‘Hans Woermann’ (above) was the ship that he was held on for six weeks before rescue. Lewis and other prisoners apparently grabbed whatever they could on the ship when they were rescued, as a souvenirs – I have a rather nice metal holder for a glass teacup, brass with a small handle, which Lewis took from the ship he was held on. This is too nice an item to just have been on any old boat – its a status item which would have been on a passenger ship with first-class berths and lounges.
[The Hans Woermann was a passenger/cargo ship, 341.8ft long and 44.3ft wide with a depth of 26.7ft, and in all, 4059 tonnes. After capture it was condemned as a ‘prize’ in the Freetown Prize Court in 1915 and then bought into service as ‘SS Gold Coast’, a general cargo ship travelling between the West African ports and Liverpool. It was ultimately torpedoed and sunk by the UC-47 submarine of the Imperial German Navy on 19th April 1917, which was itself rammed and depth charged with the loss of all hands on 18th November 1917 by a British patrol boat.]
The 1st battle of Edea didn’t take place until 20th October, with the British finally occupying it on the 26th October, after a two pronged assault, one along the railway line from Douala, the other via a riverboat assault up the river Sanaga. The Germans withdrew, only to attack Edea again (2nd battle of Edea) on the 5th January 1915 which ultimately led to their defeat in Cameroon. The date for the 1st battle of Edea would be over 11 weeks after the start of the war, which makes it unlikely as the date of Lewis’s release.
Based on the dates given, I don’t believe Lewis was in Edea at the time. A family story that he was held upstream from his trading post at Edea on a ship seems unlikely. You couldn’t go upstream from Edea because of the waterfall at Edea which made upstream navigation impossible, and the Sanaga River was clearly dangerous to navigate as the British force lost lives whilst travelling up the river for the 1st battle of Edea. The town itself was clearly disputed with the Germans until January 1915 which doesn’t match the six weeks in captivity on a ship that he told his family.
After his rescue, because of his local knowledge, Lewis was offered the opportunity of scouting for the Allied Expeditionary Force, but apparently he declined, and chose to return to England.
Assuming, from previous calculations of the time taken to travel between Douala and Britain, it took around 6 weeks to do the journey – it could have taken longer because of war conditions, it would have left Lewis in a war zone between October 1914 and around March 1915. So he had around 5 months still left in Africa, or on his way home, after release from captivity.
“By this time approximately 1,000 male Europeans, only 32 of whom were incapable of bearing arms, had been deported for internment in Europe.” (Major-General Sir Charles M. Dobell, K.C.B., Commanding the Allied Forces in the Cameroons, official dispatch)
Perhaps German internees were prioritised for returning to Britain? They would have been perceived as a threat by the British victors – since the remaining German forces European contingent in Cameroon was made up of ‘civilians’ who had escaped from Douala. Whatever happened, it looked like Lewis had to wait his turn.
We do know that Lewis managed to recover at least some of his possessions, since photographs and items we know Lewis had in Africa with him (from photographic evidence – they were on his desk in his trading post) were brought back from Africa by him and are now in the family. We can assume that he returned to his trading post after the recapture of Edea by British forces, I would assume around November 1914 would be the earliest he could have returned there.
What he did between 27th September 1914 and his arrival back in Britain on 26th April 1915 is not clear, but this is quite a long time to be hanging around in a war zone. What is curious is that when he later joined the Inns of the Court Officer Training later in 1915 he put ‘German W.A.F’ (West African Force) on his record for prior experience. So did he in actual fact help out the British forces for a while before changing his mind and leaving?
We get some clue from one of Lewis’ own postcards. On 30th December 1914 a man called ‘Butler’ sent Lewis a (censor passed) message from Las Palmas, via Lagos, Nigeria, (presumably he was already on his way back home to the UK), c/o R&W King Ltd in Duala. I think its safe to assume Butler was one of the thirty English held captive by the Germans – being in close captivity with others would have created friendships, even if they hadn’t known each other well before. The comment ‘remember me to everybody’ suggests a group of friends or people who’ve been through such an experience together.
The message is:
Have had a splendid time so far, am though sorry to have left Duala as I am beginning to feel the cold. How are you getting on? Remember me to everybody. Regards Butler.
So we can infer that R. & W. King must have had an office or warehouse in Duala, and it seems clear that Lewis was still their representative. I doubt very much that he would have been able to continue his trading and commercial activities now that the war had begun, so I believe it’s highly likely that he would have been using this time to close up the business for the duration of the war.
It’s probable, given what he later put down for the Inn’s of the Court enlistment papers, that he combined R. & W. King activities with some help for the allied expeditionary force as it organised itself and started its campaign in Cameroon. One would hope that he met up again with his friend Mac, who was the Intelligence Officer for General Dobell, who he had worked with at R. & W. King.
Once there was nothing left to do for R. & W. King, and once he had decided not to join the Cameroon force full-time, but return home to enlist for European service instead, Lewis managed to get a berth on the SS Nigeria bound for home.
German Kamerun finally surrendered on 15th February 1916 after many further battles. The old German colony was divided between France and Britain with most of the territory going to the French, who ruled there until independence in 1960.
We know Lewis arrived home on the SS Nigeria on 26th April 1915, we don’t know what he did afterwards but I would imagine that he was rather relieved to be back in Britain.
The following picture of Lewis is dated 23rd July, 1915, so after his return to Britain, but before his marriage and before his joining up. He looks well, especially after the adventures of 1914.
We know he headed back to Bristol and that he married Helen ‘Nell’ Rand at St Paul’s Church, Clifton on 2nd October 1915. She was apparently already 3 months pregnant.
Lewis knew Nell from at least 1913, as we have a postcard that he sent to her dated 23rd August 1913 stating:
“Last mail only one letter from England. I think the [unclear] siffr(?) have been having a fire or something -!”
Clearly by that point, their relationship was one where he was expecting letters – he must have met her at least by May 1913 on his last home leave, and probably before. The tone is plaintive and slightly hurt at being ignored.
Interestingly, the picture of the postcard is of Douala with the Wouri estuary in the background where Lewis would later be held prisoner on the Hans Woermann. The inscription says:
“Duala with the colonial houses of the Woermann Linie (shipping company) and the Basel Missionary shop. Duala is a natural harbour due to the wide estuary of the Wuri River, a harbour which can accommodate a merchant fleet. In 1884 Dr Nachtigall hoisted the German flag on the Jossplatte [seems to be the place which was higher land where the European people were housed]. Duala is already one of the largest places in Africa.”
If you’re interested in more info on this, then this site (http://www.bmarchives.org/) contains pictures, plans and maps of Douala, and the Basel Mission.
The Great War – Europe
On 12th November 1915, Lewis enlisted at Lincoln’s Inn as Private No. 7405, in the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps (OTC), as a Cadet. At the start of the war, men either connected with the law courts or the London Territorial Force joined in this way, but later in the war, it became a general Officer Training Corps. The following picture is of Lewis wearing his cadet uniform – the cap badge he is wearing is that of the Inns of the Court, so this must be from his time in training.
Starting in September 1914, all troops joining ‘The Devil’s Own’, as they were known, were trained at Berkhamsted, until June 1919 when it closed. If successful, they would then become officers and head to units forming for service on the battlefields of Northern France or elsewhere in the Empire, or else as replacements directly to France.
During the course of WWI, around 14,000 troops passed through the training camp at Berkhamsted training Corps, with over 11,000 gaining commissions. 2,147 graduates lost their lives during the War, there is a memorial to the fallen on Berkhamsted Common.
Like everyone else, Lewis would have lived in a large tented camp near the station (see picture below), paraded on what is now called Kitchener’s Field, and trained on the local commons around the Chiltern Hills.
Training would have lasted for six months, building skills and character before he was commissioned into anther unit – this would have involved drilling, lectures, exercises, trench digging etc. Lewis would have lived in a tent for several months during the winter of 1915, and into early 1916, although apparently billets were made available in harsh weather, and for bathing.
We have his picture (below) of his unit training in the winter snows – Lewis is one of these troops.
As part of training, nearly 8 miles of trenches were dug on the nearby commons by the recruits. Lewis would have trained in the horrors of trench warfare in this complex – he probably dug some of it himself. You can visit around 500m of remaining trenches which have survived over the last 100 years – the area is just about visible on Google Maps, this would be quite an interesting thing to do in the future. From modern pictures, there are clear trenches, which have obviously degraded over time, they remind me of a trip I made with my family to the Western Front in Belgium where I saw old trench remains which look identical to those at Berkhamsted.
His record for his time is the Inns of the Court OTC is detailed in The Inns of the Court Officer Training Corps during the great war, Francis Henry Launcelot Errington, one of the officers in charge of training.
This is revealing about attitudes to the new class of officers coming through to training
“It may be expected that the men selected for officers will be of the only class now available. It has not had the same advantages, educational and otherwise, as the pre-war class, and therefore requires a more discriminating selection and a longer training. Men can only be successfully broken into habits of discipline, and to a sense of responsibility, before they become officers.”
“If one may believe the practically unanimous opinions of Commanding Officers who took officers from us, our men were well grounded, keen, and with plenty of backbone. Undoubtedly we had certain inevitable weaknesses. We had no means of teaching mess manners where they were wanted; on the other hand, the self-restraint, which Is at the root of good manners, we could and did teach. A real and a very damaging drawback in the eyes of authority was the Impossibility of giving our men a smart appearance.”
In addition each officer receives £50 outfit allowance, which is, of course, a great deal more than the cost of providing a private soldier’s uniform, and which is entirely lost to the country if the commissioned officer, who is in such cases not tested until he has received his commission, proves to be unsuitable.
All from The Inns of the Court Officer Training Corps during the great war, Francis Henry Launcelot Errington
This books details the gradual breaking down of the ‘exclusiveness’ of the recruitment of officer candidates – they were firstly from public schools and upper/upper-middle classes. Gradually they had to expand to bring in middle classes – Lewis would have been one of the latter intake. It’s clear that the officer classes weren’t altogether pleased with this – thus the comments about ‘mess manners’ etc. which is fascinating history on the social change during and after the First World War.
This book documents Lewis’ record as:
6/3/7405. 12/11/15, L/C; No. 11 O.C.B.. 16/5/16; Glouc. R.,
4/9/16; Germ.WA,F; 2/Lieut.; -.;
13 St. Ronans’s Avenue, Redland, Bristol.
So from this we know that his number, 6/3/7405, which is also on his military record. We have his date of joining up, as 12th November 1915, we knew it was after his marriage in October. We know he was promoted to L/C or Lance Corporal. We know he was went on to No. 11 O.C.B. for further training after the Inns. We know that he joined the Gloucestershire Regiment on 4th September 1916 – which matches his formal commission a day later. His previous experience (comparing against other records) is marked as Germ. WA,F, which I’m confident means German West Africa (or Cameroon) – the F probably stands for Force. So perhaps he did actually help out the British troops who rescued him for a few months before choosing not to stay on, but to come home and join up in Europe. We have his commission rank of 2nd Lieutenant. And we have his address in Bristol.
The following picture is curious – I was always told that it was a picture of Lewis in France in WWI. When you analyse the picture, this seems highly unlikely. It is a picture of Lewis (on the left), but he is wearing Puttee’s (wraps around his leg), carrying a rifle and isn’t wearing a Sam Browne belt – basically he is dressed as a private or Cadet and not as an officer and we know he received his commission before going to France. An officer would have at least had a pistol rather than a rifle.
All this leads me to conclude that this picture was also taken during training at Berkhamsted or in Surrey with 11 OCB, when he was training with rifles and trench warfare – or else training prior to his commission.
We know that Lewis was able to register the birth of his daughter (my Granny, Mary who was born on 10th April 1916), and he did this in person on 29th April 1916. His Wife Nell and the baby, my Granny, were living with her mother and sisters in Balham and that is where the birth was registered – the district of Streatham, Wandsworth in London.
He was promoted to Lance Corporal on 6th May 1916, and a week later he completed his application forms for a commission in the army – he was 5′ 8″ tall, 168lbs and had good physical development.
His training finished on 16th May 1916 (training took 6 months – although he would presumably have had leave to see his new daughter). His application for a commission was accepted and he was ordered to report to 11 Officer Cadet Battalion (OCB) at Camberley, Surrey on 17th May 1916 for further training. 11 OCB was actually based in nearby Pirbright – and he would have focussed on tactics etc. and training focussed on leading men as an infantry officer.
From early 1916, a temporary commission could only be granted if a man had been through an Officer Cadet Battalion (OCB). All entrants would have had to either have served as a other rank soldier, or been to an OTC like Lewis. Training usually lasted four and a half months – Lewis joined in mid May and was commissioned by early September (and apparently had leave during this period), so he was there only three and a half months. He would have been one of between 400-600 cadets training at any one time and more than 70,000 men passed through OTB’s to gain commissions.
The following photo also gives a clue as to what Lewis was doing for some of his leave before he received his commission:
The is apparently Lewis and two friends, all in uniform, visiting Combehead Farm, at the top of Brockley Combe in Somerset, near Bristol. Lewis’ mother “Polly” was sister to Louisa Merrick whose husband, Henry, ran the farm. And the Milton family regularly visited, especially when either Charles and Polly Milton were in their cottage at nearby Downside or later when Lewis and his wife Nell, rented their cottage at Downside for a few weeks each summer.
Lewis successfully completed his course at 11 OCB on 26th August 1916, so I would assumed he gained leave (with some friends) and they decided to work on the farm before their commissions to other units. This would date the photo to the last week of August or early September – which would fit with haymaking time.
On completion of the course at 11 Officer Cadet Battalion (OCB), Lewis requested to join either the Gloucestershire Regiment or the Somerset Light Infantry – as being the regiments close to where he was born. He was discharged to a commission in the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment on 5th September 1916, joining the Battalion in the Sittingbourne area ten days later. This was a ‘holding’ or ‘reserve’ Battalion for the Gloucestershire Regiment – basically troops would be transferred here until replacements were needed on the front lines in France – ‘drafts’ of men and officers would be shipped over to join the ‘fighting’ battalions of the Gloucestershire Regiment as replacements were needed. Lewis was in one of these replacement drafts.
Lewis gained his commission as a Second Lieutenant and was gazetted in the ‘SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 20 SEPTEMBER, 1916. 9179’, it was reported that
Glouc. R. Cadet Lewis Milton to be temp. 2nd Lt. (on prob.) (attd.). 5 Sept. 1916.
This was repeated in ‘The Times’ newspaper (London, England), on Thursday, Sep 21, 1916 (pg. 6; Issue 41278). He was commissioned on the 5th September 1916, that he was a 2nd Lieutenant on a temporary commission (and on a probationary basis) ‘attached’ to the Gloucester Regiment.
The following picture is of Lewis wearing his officers uniform – he wears the cap badge of the Gloucestershire Regiment, with the Sphinx from its Egypt battle honour on display. He is also wearing a Sam Browne belt, and has no shoulder pips, so would have had one ‘bath star’ pip on his sleeve cuff.
Lewis was a ‘Temporary Officers’ who were often referred to as ‘Temporary Gentlemen’ which became a term of derision for those who were not from the higher classes. The simple fact was that by 1916, a new officer Corps was needed from the middle and tradesmen classes, to replace casualties from the officer classes and public schools who had already been lost. The Temporary basis was an expediency to cover the urgent needs for more officers during wartime – the expectation was that they would relinquish their commission when the war ended – so they were temporary. Some were offered permanent commissions and stayed on in the army, but the majority left at the end of the conflict.
In November 1916 Lewis received a transfer to the 12th (Reserve) Battalion, the Gloucesters, nicknamed the ‘Bristol’s Own’ – a ‘fighting’ battalion already on the Western Front in France. They had been formed on 30th August 1914 by the ‘Bristol Citizens Recruiting Committee – permission was granted by the War Office to form a ‘special’ Bristol Battalion – which became ‘Bristol’s Own’ as part of Kitcheners ‘New Army’. They landed in France (with 990 officers and men) on 21st November 1915.
On 26th December 1915, 12th Glosters were transferred to the 95th Brigade of the 5th Division, and were engaged in all major battles in France and Flanders during 1916, including ‘The Attacks on High Wood’, ‘The Battle of Guillemont’, ‘The Battle of Flers-Courcelette’, ‘The Battle of Morval’, ‘The Battle of Le Transloy’. During 1917 they were involved in ‘The Battle of Vimy’, ‘The Attack on La Coulotte’, ‘The Battle of Polygon Wood’, ‘The Battle of Broodseinde’, ‘The Battle of Poelcapelle’, ‘The Second Battle of Passchendaele’. Before ending the war in Italy.
When Lewis was commissioned, the 12th Battalion Glosters, was part of the 95th Infantry Brigade of the 5th Infantry Division (the 95th Brigade transferred from 32nd Division on 26 December 1915). At the time, the 95th Infantry Brigade was made up of 12th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment, 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment, 1st Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and 95th Machine Gun Company. The Division was commanded by Major-General R. B. Stephens, the badge of the 5th Division during WWI is below.
In November 1916, Lewis sailed for France as part of a reinforcement draft, joining 12th (Bristol) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. Lewis apparently took a photograph of his new daughter with him in his pocket,
Looking at the history of the battle of the Somme, which was taking place between July and September 1916, before Lewis joined them, the 12th Glos were involved in heavy fighting at Longueval and Guillemont as part of the 5th Division. Between 22/23rd July they attacked strong points north of Delville Wood with some success but suffered heavy losses against German machine guns and artillery. On 3rd September they attacked towards Guillemont and stayed in the fighting until the 5th when they were relieved.
Records show that during these days, the 5th Division as a whole was losing up to 500 casualties for every day it was on the front line during the battle, and that from 26 August – 7 September the 5th Division lost a total of 4,233 casualties. That is a staggering number.
We know that the 12th Battalion Glosters, lost two 2nd Lieutenants running up to Lewis’ commission; 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Hosegood was Killed In Action on 23rd July 1916 in the (Sunken Road near Longueval) whilst attached to the Trench Mortar Battery. And 2nd Lieutenant Lionel Vincent with Killed In Action on 3rd September 1916 (Thiepval). There aren’t any other records of officers KIA from 12th Battalion, although its certain that others were wounded.
Lewis was one of the many replacements that would have been needed to make up for battle losses from the gruelling fighting since July.
My Granny thought the following picture was of her father in France. We don’t know when or where it was taken – the writing on the back is hard to decipher “From a snapshot taken at (unclear)? in France”
There is doubt about this being Lewis – it doesn’t look like him; he is not wearing usual officer dress (shirt, tie, officers tunic and Sam Browne) as in the portrait of him above. It wasn’t unheard of for officers to wear more utilitarian battle-dress, but this looks like a soldiers uniform. This person is wearing a service revolver – this looks like a Spanish copy of the Old Pattern No. 2 Mk.1, and carrying a gas mask – standard issue to all officers and men.
The sign above the door says ‘Machine Gun Co. HQ’. The machine gun company of Lewis’ 95th Infantry Brigade, was called the 95th MG Company, originally formed as 14th MG Company, and re-designated on 12 January 1916. Machine gun company team soldiers were all issued with a service revolver as standard, just like all officers would have been. Leading me to suspect that this is not Lewis – although the photo may have been taken by him.
We don’t know exactly when Lewis joined the 12th Battalion, it would only have taken a couple of days to train to the coast, join a troop transport in France and join up with his unit.
Early in November, the 12th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, as part of 95th Brigade, were assigned to the Bethune area, near La Bassee, north of Arras. Lewis spent his time either in the trenches on the nearby front lines, or in billets behind the lines at, resting and training.
[Note: I have attached copies of various ‘trench maps’ to the following section, to help understand the movements of the Battalion, as well as the trench layout. These are all ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ (maps images website).
These maps show the British trenches in Blue, and the known German trenches in Red – opening the images above in a new window and zooming in on the image shows the detail of the trench networks. With the front battle-trenches running parallel facing the enemy, with support trenches behind them, and communication trenches running back away from each front line – to allow troops to move up to the fighting positions in relative safety. Redoubts, or strong points, are also marked.
These trenches all have designations e.g. A22-A28 etc. on this section to allow for identification, and some of these trenches are named e.g. High Street and Cromwell Road. The landscape would have been fairly featureless, so these would have been the only way to know how to get around. The enemy lines are in places only 50 yards away from the British trenches, and never more than 100 yards. Where the trenches join up in the rear of the systems would have been an entry to the trench network – some 400-500 yards behind the front lines.]
Between the 1st and 3rd November, the battalion was in reserve at Le Quesnoy, and at 8.30am on the 3rd November marched along the southern bank of the La Bassee canal to the front at Cuinchy and took up positions in the Cuinchy Left sector – the canal is visible on the map north of the town – this is a distance of just over 3 miles – so would have taken an hour to march. There were no casualties – this would have been the earliest that Lewis could have been in the front line.
At 2am on 4th November, a German raiding party stormed the battalion trench to the left of their position, ‘clubbing’ the men on watch and using bombs (grenades) to kill a Lewis machine-gunner, before withdrawing into ‘no man’s land’ when the alarm was raised, and then being fired on by another Lewis-gunner. One man was killed and three were missing, presumed taken prisoner by the Germans.
The battalion remained in the front line until 2pm on the 7th November, when the battalion was relieved from the front line by Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (D.C.L.I). They went into the support line, the ‘Village Trench’, just behind the ruins of Cuinchy Village. They moved from the front line trench to the relative safety of the support trenches and 100-250 yards to the rear.
At 2pm on the 11th November, the battalion relieved the D.C.L.I again, moving back into their former position in the front line. The diary talks of the poor wet weather, and the battalion work parties undertaking repair works on the trenches – but otherwise a lack of enemy activity.
At 9am on the 15th November, the battalion was relieved again by the D.C.L.I and marched out of the trenches and along the south bank of the La Bassee canal back to their reserve billets in Le Quesnoy. The spent the next three days training, drilling, and practicing ‘musketry’ and ‘gas drill’.
At 8.30 am on 19th November, the battalion again marched up the south bank of the La Bassee Canal to Cuinchy and relieved the D.C.L.I in their former positions on the Cuinchy Left (S Section).
On the 20th November, one Lt. Col. R. I. Rawson joined the battalion as Commanding Officer from the Sutherland and Argyll Highlanders. Lewis would have been introduced to this new C.O. as one of his new platoon commanders. The next two days were quiet, the comment was that ‘Enemy artillery and French mortar activity less than usual’.
On 23rd November, the battalion was relieved again by the D.C.L.I. and moved back to the support line of ‘Cuinchy Village’. At 2pm on the 25th November the battalion was relieved by the Sherwood Foresters of 6th Division and marched to rest billets at Essars, some 5 miles behind the line, just north of the town Bethune.
From the 26th November, the battalion, now at Essars, formed classes for training the men in anti-gas measures and musketry, and the officers performed inspections of their platoons. They stayed at Essars for a number of days – the 95th Brigade was the Division Reserve for this period.
On 5th December, the battalion marched 5 miles to Ferme du Bois, and relieved the Bedfordshire Regiment of 15th Brigade, in the Left S Section in the front line.
On the 9th December, the battalion was relieved again by the D.C.L.I and marched to support billets at Criox Barbee (from forums this is actually a B.E.F spelling for La Croix Barbet), some 8 miles away.
On 13th December at 9am, the battalion relieved the D.C.L.I in the Ferme du Bois Left S Sector again.
On the 14th December, a heavy Minenwerfer blast hit the parapet of the battalion trench and killed or wounded 5 men of a Lewis-gun team – two of the men were ‘blown completely out of the trench’ by the blast, and had to be recovered from no man’s land the RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major).
On 17th December, the battalion was again relieved by D.C.L.I. and moved to support billets at La Croix Barbet. Major Blennerhassett took command of the Battalion when Lt. Col. Rawson assumed temporary command of the Brigade. The Battalion undertook further training under their officers, so Lewis would have been responsible for drilling his men and taking them through further training.
On 21st December at 11am, the battalion was relieved by the 13th Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps, and marched about 5 miles to Croix Marmuse (La Croix Marmuse). The next day, they marched via Locon to Bethune, about 5 miles distant, and billeted in the ‘Ecole des Jeunes Filles’ (pictured below), the girls school in the town.
The battalion stayed in Bethune until the 29th December, and focussed on training, including ‘bayonet training’. They had Christmas day off – it’s nice to know that Lewis wasn’t in the trenches over Christmas. Two replacement officers joined the battalion on the 23rd December, and 51 Other Rank replacements joined on the 26th December.
On 29th December at 1pm, the battalion relieved 14th Royal Warwickshire Regiment in the trenches at Givenchy (directly north of the La Bassee Canal and the village of Cuinchy) in the Givenchy Left Sector. Lewis saw in the New Year of 1917 in the front line trenches.
On 2nd January 1917, the Battalion were relieved by the D.C.L.I. and marched to reserve billets at Gorre, just east of Bethune, 3 miles back from the front. On 6th January, they handed over these billets to the Devonshire Regiment and marched to Givenchy Left Sector on the front to relieve the D.C.L.I. On 10th January, they were again relieved by the D.C.L.I. and moved into the Givenchy support line trenches, one soldier was wounded.
On 14th January, the Battalion was relieved by the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and marched to Bethune, some 6 miles away. The Battalion spent until the 21st January in Bethune on platoon training, and giving the soldiers some recreational time off.
On the 22nd January, the Battalion moved the the Cuinchy Right Sector (La Bassee Canal) positions again, relieving the Norfolk Regiment. It was noted that enemy artillery and trench mortar attacks were fairly regular. On the 24th January, the Battalion positions were shelled by heavy enemy artillery, it was noted that ‘one heavy shell near the battalion HQ’. This must have been terrifying – although they had had sporadic German shelling since November, this would have been the first large scale artillery attack on Lewis in the trenches, from German heavy artillery.
On 26th January the Battalion were relieved by the D.C.L.I from the trenches, and placed as Brigade Reserve for 3 days at Le Quesnoy in their old billets.
On 30th January, the battalion moved back up to the Cuinchy ‘Right’ Sector, just south of the village and their previous positions – this can be seen on trench map 36c NW1, the relevant section of which is below.
The following pictures are not from Lewis, but show the trench system and view to the German lines at Cuinchy (view over the ‘Brickstacks’ from Cuinchy village). [As a rule, the British trenches were more basic than the German ones].
The 12th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment Diary states that on 30th January 1917:
“Bn. (Battalion) handed over reserve billets to 1/DEVONS (1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment) and marched to relieve 1/D.C.L.I (1st Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry) in CUINCHY RIGHT SECTOR. Weather cold and fine. 2nd Lt. L. Milton and 1OR (One Other Rank) wounded by MINENWERFER. Enemy quiet.” (12th Battalion War Diary)
This battalion report states that Lewis was seriously wounded with one other rank soldier, by a German Minenwerfer, or ‘mine-launcher’. This was a short range mortar used mainly by German engineers to clear barbed wire and fixed emplacements, and as a general ‘trench-mortar’. One of the designs of this weapon is pictured below:
It’s use tells us definitively that Lewis was in the front line trenches when he was injured – the Minenwefer had an effective range of no more than 325 yards. Looking at the maps of the trench systems, and knowing the range of the German weapon, and that it wouldn’t have been in the front fighting trench itself, we know that Lewis would almost certainly have been in the British fighting trench when he was injured.
He was seriously wounded by shrapnel, resulting in the loss of his right knee-cap, damage to his right knee joint and right thigh, and after surgery, a 1/2″ shortening of his right leg (allowing him to walk later on in his life by swinging his leg through). The damage from his wounds is much more extensive than I ever understood – the reports discuss his right thigh wasting over the next months, to the point that he could barely stand on it, and needed to wear a splint for support.
Lewis would have been carried out of the lines on a stretcher to a nearby ‘aid post’ and then onto a rear ‘dressing station’ in the rear support trenches. Once initial first aid had been completed he would have been carried or taken in an ambulance to a ‘Field Hospital’ nearby for triage and treatment to allow transport to a Casualty Clearing Station for onward transport to a Base Hospital.
It is possible now, rather morbidly, to track the locations of these Field Hospital’s down, because they are almost exclusively located next to Commonwealth War Graves. The two closest to Cuinchy active in January 1917 were Beuvry and Sailly-Labourse both near Bethune, and both about 4 miles from where Lewis was wounded. It is certain that Lewis would have been taken by ambulance to one of these two field hospitals to be patched up.
Over the next eight days, Lewis, was sent to a Casualty Clearing Station (C.C.S.) as part of his journey home. In his case, he was almost certainly sent to no. 33 Casualty Clearing Station, which was the closest, located at Bethune, some 5 miles from Cuinchy, where he had spent Christmas.
Bethune was an important railway junction and hospital site – it is possible that he had his surgery here. If the wounded could wait, then it was preferred to operate on them at a fully equipped Base Hospital where chances of a successful outcome were higher. Lewis would have been taken from the C.C.S. to Bethune Railway Station, and put on a hospital train to Boulogne.
The Times Newspaper reported his being wounded on Wednesday 7th February 1917 on page 4. (Issue 41396)
MILTON, Sec. Lieut. L. Gloucestershire Regiment
On arrival in Boulogne he would then have been transferred to a ‘Base Hospital’, a large medical facility either in an existing hospital or converted building like a hotel. This would have been either a ‘General’ or ‘Stationary’ hospital. Lewis may have had his major surgery here depending on how long it took him to get here. In February 1917, No. 7 Stationary, No. 13 General and No. 83 General Hospital’s were in Boulogne, and Lewis would have been in one of these.
Once stable, he would have waited here until a suitable hospital ship became available to transport him home to Britain. Lewis was evacuated to Britain on 8th February 1917, eight days after being wounded. He was embarked on the SS Princess Elizabeth Hospital Ship in Boulogne, bound for Dover.
It’s difficult to find out much about this ship – one source says she had 3 British Officers – presumably Army Surgeons and Doctors, 1 Warrant Officer, 3 Nurses and Sisters, 27 Royal Army Medical Corps soldiers – and all for only 30 cots for patients. She went into service as a hospital ship on 8th November 1916, and she is pictured below – she looks a small ship – but big enough to do the short English Channel crossing. She would probably have only carried officers – as casualties were segregated.
Once back in the UK, his records show that Lewis was sent to the Hospital for Wounded Officers (Harold Fink Memorial Hospital), a section of Queen Alexandra Military Hospital, located at 17 Park Lane, Mayfair, London. It had capacity for 20 seriously wounded officers. Mrs Fink brought the house in 1912 and converted it to a hospital, and she continued to fund the hospital during the whole of the war. By February 1917, over 1,300 officers had been treated – Lewis would have been one of them.
Granny said that Lewis was then held at Londonderry House, a large mansion also on Park Lane, which had been converted into a hospital. This was known as ‘The Auxiliary Hospital’. Records don’t support this, but it seems logical, since 17 Park Lane was for severe cases, and I presume he was moved to a nearby more general convalescence hospital – Londonderry House, once he had recovered sufficiently.
Pictures below are of Londonderry house exterior and interior, sourced from the internet – they are not from the family:
Apparently, the larger rooms, the ballroom and dining room were converted to treat wounded officers, with beds added for casualties – the last two pictures above are the dining room and ballroom respectively.
His wife visited Lewis here, arriving at a very opulent building – the door was opened by the old butler – before they were shown in to see Lewis. She took my Granny with her, so she could visit her father. [Granny herself was in London during the Zeppelin raids on London during 1916].
From his record, on 19th March 1917 he was assessed whilst still in ‘Officers Hospital’, I assume Londonderry House by this stage, that he was ‘Unfit for service for 6 months‘ and it was suggested he have 4 months home leave, followed by 3 months Light-Duty.
By May 1917, Lewis was out of hospital and back in Bristol, and was granted leave until 5th July 1917, Although it was actually requested that he be re-admitted to hospital and that leave ‘cannot be sanctioned‘, but it seems unclear that he was re-admitted. On 12th June 1917 he was assessed at the Prince of Wales’s Hospital For Officers on Marylebone Road, London, and the ‘Medical Board recommend that this Officer be discharged the service‘ – it was clear that Lewis was not going to recover sufficiently to serve again – he was assessed as being medically unfit to return to active service.
Lewis formally gave up his active temporary commission in the Army, in the ‘SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 14 JULY 1917. 7079’, it was reported that
Glouc Regiment. Temp. 2nd Lt. (attd.) L. Milton relinquishes his commission on account of ill-health caused by wounds, and is granted the hon. rank of 2nd Lt. 15 July 1917
He hadn’t recovered from his injuries enough to return to active service, and in 15th July 1917, he formally relinquished his temporary commission. Lewis was granted an honorary rank of full 2nd Lieutenant. It’s also clear that he was ‘honourably discharged’ from the army – he was awarded the Silver War Badge (detailed below), which is a clear sign of this as it was only awarded in such circumstances.
The British Army Lists from later in 1917 have the following entry under “Officers who held Temporary Commissions, Officers of the Special Reserve and Territorial Force, &c., in receipt of Non-Effective Pay (The War of 1914-17)-continued” to reflect his honourable discharge:
Name – Milton, L [Hn.2nd Lt. late Glouc.R.(attd)
Rank when last serving – Temp. 2nd Lt.
Regiment, &c., from which Retired and Date of Retired Pay. – Glouc. R. (attd.) … 15 July 1917
We can confirm the Gazette information about the Regiment and date of discharge and the honorary rank of 2nd Lieutenant. We also now know the Lewis would have received non-effective pay whilst he was recovering from his injuries and surgery.
Some of the documents and letters (written by his hand) in his record, cover his contesting the amounts he was given – he was given £104 3s 4d when he was expecting closer to £250 to cover his costs!
In the end he was awarded a £50 pension between 31st January 1918 for the following year, and then another £50 for the year from 31st January 1919 and so on for the next years – this was called a ‘wound grant‘ as part of his pension for being a wounded and honourably discharged officer.
His record is below:
He was subsequently awarded the ‘Silver War Badge’ with the following entry:
Rank, Name, Corps (if any), No of certificate, Address
2nd Lieut, Milton, L., Gloucestershire Regiment, 240,647, 24 Pembroke Road, Clifton, Bristol
According to Wikipedia”
“The Silver War Badge was issued in the United Kingdom and the British Empire to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness from military service in World War I. The badge, sometimes known as the “Discharge Badge”, the “Wound Badge” or “Services Rendered Badge”, was first issued in September 1916, along with an official certificate of entitlement.
The large sterling silver lapel badge was intended to be worn on civilian clothes. The decoration was introduced as an award of “King’s silver” for having received wounds or injury during loyal war service to the Crown’s authority. A secondary causation for its introduction was that a practice had developed in the early years of the war in the United Kingdom where some women took it upon themselves to confront and publicly embarrass men of fighting age they saw in public places who were not in military uniform, by ostentatiously presenting them with white feathers, as a suggestion of cowardice. As the war had developed substantial numbers of servicemen who had been discharged from His Majesty’s Forces with wounds that rendered them unfit for war service, but which were not obvious from their outward appearance, found themselves being harassed in such a manner and the badge, to be worn on the right breast while in civilian dress, was a means of discouraging such incidents being directed at ex-forces’ personnel. It was forbidden to wear the badge on a military uniform.”
And then from records, like many others who served he was awarded the following:
Military Year, Name, Rank, Medal Awarded, Regiment or Corps
1914-1920, L. Milton, 2nd Lieutenant, British War Medal and Victory Medal, Gloucestershire Regiment
The British War Medal according to Wikipedia:
The British War Medal is a campaign medal of the United Kingdom which was awarded to officers and men of British and Imperial forces for service in the First World War. Two versions of the medal were produced. About 6.5 million were struck in silver and 110,000 were struck in bronze, the latter for award to Chinese, Maltese and Indian Labour Corps.
And the Victory Medal according to Wikipedia:
The Victory Medal (also called the Inter-Allied Victory Medal) is a United Kingdom and British Empire First World War campaign medal. To qualify for the Victory Medal recipients had to be mobilised for war service in the United Kingdom or the British Empire, in any service, and to have entered a theatre of war between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918.
[My wife has all three of these medals from her relatives, also including a 1914-1915 medal which Lewis wasn’t entitled to – so its interesting to handle those medals that Lewis would have received.]
Lewis and Nell had a family house on Ronan’s Avenue, Redland, Bristol – it is mentioned in his Inns of the Court OTC record, so I assume they had this by May 1916. Although Nell clearly spent a lot of time in London with her family whilst Lewis was training and on active service and then in hospital in London.
Their son, John (my Great Uncle), was born on 30th January 1918 in Bristol (ironically exactly a year after he was badly wounded).
On 1st May 1918, Lewis bought a new splint for his knee, produced by Ferris & Company Ltd of Union St. Bristol for £1 1s. which he promptly sent to the War Office to reclaim the money.
In July 1918, Lewis was still chasing the army for backdated wound pension money and retired pay and expenses, as it was long overdue. With an addition to his young family, he clearly needed the money.
In January 1920, he was deemed to have finally recovered enough from his wounds to stop being paid a wound pension.
When Lewis had recovered sufficiently – although he still suffered from pain in his knee when it was cold, and had to wear a splint on his knee to provide support as the joint was weak, he returned to work for Gardiner’s (Bristol). He ultimately became Manager of the Country Department, selling fencing wire and other goods.
The family would continue to holiday in Downside, and help out on the farm, and Lewis would walk to the station at Backwell each day to commute to his job at Gardiners in Bristol. This was a long walk for a man with such a wounded leg.
In 1922/23 the family moved from Redland to 44 Charlton Park, Keynsham and he would walk to the station each week day to catch the 7.36am train to Bristol Temple Meads to continue working at Gardiners in Bristol.
Lewis continued to work at Gardiners throughout the 20’s and 30’s and into the 2nd World War. During the war, he fell from a bus and snapped his wounded leg at the knee joint – this on top of his previous injuries led to the amputation of his right leg above the knee. Lewis was about 60 years old at the time, and retired immediately on a pension of £4 per week.
Lewis and Nell would holiday for several weeks a year at Redcliffe Bay, Portishead, where they took a wooden bungalow overlooking the sea, and family would visit.
Throughout his life, Lewis was a devout man, my mum told me that on a Sunday he would go to church first thing in the morning to the early service, then again with the family in the late morning, and again in the evening if there was a late service.
On a visit to his sister-in-law, Annie Sawdon in Morden, Surrey, Lewis collapsed and died soon after getting out of the car. He died on 24th September 1951, he was 67 years old. His estate was valued at £1889 15s. 1d.
On reflection, Lewis had a interesting and although somewhat unlucky events happened to him, he came through it all – so perhaps he was not so unlucky after all? Being an African trader itself was a dangerous occupation with disease a rather high likelihood – we know he caught Malaria, and then being interned by the Germans was unfortunate, but he was then lucky to be rescued after six weeks. He survived nearly two months in the trenches of the western front, and whilst severely wounded, others who were hit by the same German weapon were killed outright.
I wish I had been able to talk to him about all this, it would have been fascinating, but researching this has at least given me the opportunity to find out all I can about him and get to know him indirectly.
Timeline – dates we know and can infer from Lewis’ life
1/12/1883 – Born in Clevedon
5/1/1886 – Eva (sister) born in Clevedon
12/5/1888 – Herbert (brother) born in Bristol, family live in Clifton
c. 1900 – Joined the Merchant Venturers School – ‘Technical College’
c. 1900 – Became an Iron Trade Apprentice, probably at Gardiners, Bristol – the term could be anything up to 7 years.
19/10/1907 – Boards the steamer SS Fantee at Liverpool, bound for Cameroon
c. 12/1907 – Arrives Douala, travels to Edea and works as a trader for R&W king Ltd. of Bristol
c. 4/1910 – Departs Douala, on steamer SS Lucie Woermann
29/5/1910 – Arrives Southampton from Cameroon
12/10/1910 – Boards steamer SS Lucie Woermann at Dover, bound for Cameroon
c. 12/1910 – Arrives Douala
c. 10/1912 – Departs Douala, on steamer Lucie Woermann
4/12/1912 – Arrives Southampton from Cameroon
1912 – Non-resident fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute
26/5/1913 – Boards steamer SS Professor Woermann at Dover, bound for Cameroon
c. 7/1913 – Arrives Douala
23/8/1913 – Postcard to Helen “Nell’ Rand from Cameroon
4/8/1914 – War with Germany declared
c. 11/8/1914 – Interned on the steamer SS Hans Woermann with 30 other English men, women and a child
26/9/1914 – Douala bombarded by British task force
27/9/1914 – Allied landings and capture of Douala
28/9/1914 – Lewis rescued by combined Navy/Army force in small boats who captured the Hans Woermann and released him and thirty English (including two women and a baby)
c. 10/1914 – Helps allied forces in Cameroon, but ultimately decides to return home, 1st Battle of Edea
c. 11/1914 – Highly likely that Lewis returned to Edea to recover his posessions
c. 12/1914 – Now based in Duala, still representing R&W king Ltd.
c. 1/1915 – 2nd Battle of Edea, Edea recaptured.
c. 3/1915 – Departs Douala, on steamer SS Nigera
26/4/1915 – Arrives Plymouth from Cameroon
23/7/1915 – Photographed (dated) looking fit and well in Britain
2/10/1915 – Marries Helen ‘Nell’ Rand, St. Paul’s Church, Clifton, Bristol.
12/11/1915 – Joins the Inns of the Court OTC as a cadet, moves to Berkhamsted for training – suspect Nell moved to London with family whilst he was training as she was pregnant
10/4/1916 – Mary (daughter and my Granny) born in London
29/4/1916 – Lewis registers the birth of his daughter in London
6/5/1915 – Becomes a Lance Corporal
16/5/1916 – Finished his 6 months training
17/5/1916 – 11 Officer Cadet Battalion, Camberley and Pirbright for 3 months
26/8/1916 – Completes OCB course – helps bring the hay harvest in – Downside, Somerset (nr. Bristol)
4/9/1916 – Joins the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment
5/9/1916 – Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, 3rd (Reserve) Battalion – Gazetted
11/1916 – Transferred to 12th (Service) Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment – travels to France with a draft of men
26/1/17 – In front line area around Cuinchy, France
30/1/17 – Lewis wounded and treated in a field hospital – transported to Boulogne
8/2/17 – Embarks Boulogne on SS Princesses Elizabeth, sailing to Dover
8/2/17 – Arrives Harold Fink Memorial Hospital – Hospital for Wounded Officers, London
c 3/17 – Transferred to Londonderry House Hospital – The Auxiliary Hospital for Wounded Officers, London, for convalescence – visited by Nell and his daughter Mary
2/6/1917 – Army Medical Board at Prince of Wales’s Hospital For Officers, London – assessed to be discharged the service for wounds
15/7/1917 – Lewis relinquishes his commission because of his wounds, becomes honorary 2nd Lieutenant
20/10/1917 – Awarded Silver War badge – usually took 3 months, but his record is dated
30/1/1918 – John (son and my Great Uncle) born in Bristol
c. 1918 – Awarded British War Medal and Victory Medal
c. 1922/23 – Moved to Keynsham
c. 1943 – Lewis has an accident leading to the amputation of his wounded right leg, Lewis retires
24/9/1951 – Collapses and dies suddenly