Lewis Milton; including German West Africa (1907-15), Western Front (1916-17)

Lewis Milton

This post is about the life of my Great-Grandfather, Lewis Milton.

Lewis was always an intriguing, larger-than-life figure to me as I grew up.  I have an always had an interest in the history and geography of the British Empire and had always been fascinated by explorers and deepest darkest Africa.  And to hear the stories of Lewis as an African Trader in West Africa before the First World War was a huge stimulus to my childhood imagination.

I never met Lewis, but I heard many stories about his experiences from his daughter (my Granny) and his son (my Great Uncle John) and my mother (his Granddaughter), and from a young age I would ask my Granny to see the various photographs she had of her fathers time in Africa, and his collection of Ivory and African native wood work that she had in her possession.  I’ve used these stories, this family history, which has been passed down to me, and built on genealogical information about Lewis provided by my own father, and then researched Lewis’ life in official records and books to try to corroborate what we know and find out any evidence to fill in the gaps.

Before starting my research, I knew only limited information; that Lewis was an African Trader in Cameroon, and that he had been captured by the Germans at the start of World War I, that he had then been rescued by the Royal Navy.  After returning home, he had joined up into the British army, and been seriously wounded in the leg in the trenches of the Western Front, before losing this same wounded leg later in life.

Through research I have managed to fill in a lot of the gaps around his life in Cameroon, how and when he went there, the company he worked for, and the people he worked with.  I have found out about the military campaign in Cameroon and Lewis’ small part in it – the details of his capture and release.  And then I have found out about his life after joining up, and his posting to France and his being wounded on active service in the trenches on 30th January 1917.  I have also found out a lot of contextual information about the Cameroons, and its history of trading, which I have felt relevant to add to this post.

I have also found out about some related interesting characters, such as his friend and colleague, Duncan McCallum, who is a fascinating character in his own right.

It has been a fascinating journey.

In this post, I have tried, where possible, to document Lewis’ life in chronological order; this doesn’t always work where we are unsure of specific dates for events or photographs, and it occasionally doesn’t make sense when it breaks up information which logically fits together.

All photographs (unless stated) are scans of photographs from Lewis’ own collection; either taken by him of for him, and I retain the original hard copies.  [If you wish to use them, then please reference this site and acknowledge Lewis.]

Early Life and School

Lewis’ parents were Charles and Mary (called “Polly”) Milton, and they lived in the small North Somerset village of Wrington.  In the 1881 census, Charles described himself as a ‘Master Mason’ or builder.

Ada, the oldest daughter was born on 1st January 1882, and sometime after her birth, the family moved to the nearby growing Victorian seaside resort of Clevedon.  One can now surmise that he moved his family to Clevedon for work.  This was a period of large scale building and development in the town, and employment would have been plentiful.

Lewis was born on 1st December 1883 on Elton Road, in Clevedon.  The family then moved to a large Italianate house on the corner of Albert Road and Victoria Road.  Lewis’ younger sister, Eva, was born in Clevedon on 5th January 1886.

For some unknown reason, the family then moved from Clevedon to nearby Clifton in Bristol, purchasing two boarding houses in Pembroke Road.  Lewis’ youngest brother, Herbert, was born in Clifton on 12 May 1888.  Lewis would have been only 4 years old.

We lose track of Lewis for a number of years and know very little of his early life in Bristol or his early education.  We know Lewis went to ‘The Merchant Venturer’s School’ in Bristol, but have no dates for his attendance, although this would most likely have been through his teenage years.

This school had been founded in 1595 by the ‘Society of Merchant Venturers’, which was a descendant of the 13th century ‘Bristol Guild of Merchants’.  The Merchant Venturer’s have a proud history in Bristol; funding John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland in 1497, and being granted a Royal Charter in 1552, and being active in developing the American colonies and other trade routes to the ‘New World’.  To its great discredit, it was also tarnished by its profit from the slave trade.  It has since become a philanthropic and charitable organisation, improving Bristol and funding projects to benefit to people of the city.

It’s probable that the actual school building that Lewis attended was on Unity Street in Bristol, which had formerly been known as the ‘Trade School’.  In September 1885 the school 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”.  Also; “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).

We don’t know the exact curriculum that Lewis followed, but he must have had a good grounding in “trades and manufacture”, and this education helped shape his future career in selling iron-wares (used in agriculture, construction and engineering) and then in becoming an African trader, where he traded/exchanged modern European manufactured products for native African produce like palm oil, ivory and nuts.

Lewis next appears on the 1901 Census, where at 17 years old, Lewis he is described as an “Iron Trade Apprentice”.  He had almost certainly started work at Gardiners in Bristol by this date; at the time, an apprenticeship could last up to 7 years, so Lewis would have been several years into his by this point.

Gardiner Sons & Co Ltd was founded in 1825 as a specialist Blacksmith and Ironmongers, producing metal products for Bristol.  The company was formally registered in 1893, when it already had several factories producing various metal products, including door handles, iron gates and iron kitchen ranges.  One famous customer was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who purchased his drawing equipment from Gardiners, and commissioned them to build customised scale-dividers of his own design.  Gardiner’s went on to manufacture building ironworks for the famous ‘twin towers’ of Wembley Stadium (1923) and the Festival of Britain in the 1950’s.

Whilst at Gardiners, Lewis 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 they would ask for him by name and seek his advice on the correct products to meet their needs.

Lewis is below, photographed circa. 1900, when he would have been 18 years old and working at Gardiners.


In 1907, at the age of only 23, Lewis resigned from Gardiners and joined R. & W. King of Bristol, an African Trading company.  He took a job working for them in the West African German colony of Cameroon as their representative at a new trading station at the developing town of Edea.

West African Trade and the formation of the Cameroons

As Lewis was an African Trader, it seems important to summarise the development of trading in Cameroon, and the creation of the German colony.

From the early expansion of the Arab world, the northern parts of Cameroon were already an important source of slaves for the Arab slave trade throughout Africa.  Europeans first ‘discovered’ what became modern Cameroon in the 15th century, with the Portuguese arriving in 1472.  These early explorers combined exploration with informal trade.  Other European nations followed the Portuguese and primarily used the island of Fernando Po as a slave market, trading European goods for slaves who had been captured on the mainland by Arab slavers, rival African tribes or European slavers.  These slaves were then transported to plantations in the new world.

By the early 1800’s, vessels from the ‘Congo District Association’, an early British explorer’s association, were making regular contact with the coastal inhabitants of Cameroon for trading purposes.  They shipped European goods from British ports like Liverpool and Bristol, trading them for African goods and slaves.

Cameroon (along with other ports on the coast of West Africa) later formed part of the triangular trade of manufactured British goods being shipped to Africa where they were traded for slaves, who were then shipped to the plantations in North America and the Caribbean, where the slaves were used to grown cash crops like sugar and tobacco, which were then shipped back to Britain.  The vast profits of this appalling triangular system made the traders of Bristol and Liverpool very rich, until the trade was banned by the British in 1807.

In 1837, the German company, ‘Carl and Adolph Woermann’ was founded, and by 1849, it had entered the West Africa trade (particularly in what was to become the Cameroons), and it came to dominate the market.  Adolph went on to found the Woermann shipping line (Lewis would later travel regularly on their ships) to support his new trade business by transporting goods between Europe and Africa, as well as carrying passengers to meet the increasing European demand for business travel.

In 1858, missionaries founded the first permanent settlement at Victoria, in the Cameroons.  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.  This model of an initial trading station becoming a town or port continued as part of a growing commercialisation (and colonisation) of the Cameroons.

In 1875, Wilhelm Jantzen and Johannes Thormahlen, originally the local agents for the Woermann trading company, respectively in Liberia and Gabon, went on to open their own firm, ‘Jantzen and Thormahlen’.  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 by this time.

These companies traded European goods, including iron-wares, guns and alcohol, for African goods like palm products and ivory.  They initially had no interest in colonisation, their preference was to be able to act independently, and they opposed German colonial expansion, fearing increased interference in their trade.

Initially, trading company’s preferred to use local coastal based African traders to act as middle-men to the native producers; they knew the language, were readily available and cheaper to employ than Europeans.  European traders on the other hand were hard to recruit and once recruited, even harder to keep healthy and in post.

Permanent colonies were only supported by the German trading companies once the market for palm oil and other African products had collapsed in the early 1880’s, and trade became less profitable.  This led to a need to cut costs by bypassing the local African traders and other middle-men to go direct to the palm producers or to invest in developing European owned palm plantations.  To achieve this, traders needed direct routes into the interior of Cameroon, and once they had invested in developing new plantations, they needed military protection of their investments and an administration of the local workers to ensure that trade continued to flow.  Therefore the German trading companies became key advocates for German colonial expansion in the Cameroons.

At this time there were also 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, and 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)

[Notes: *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.  ***Kru Coast is modern Liberia].

By 1884, there were only an estimated fifty European traders and missionaries in Cameroon with a total estimated population of around 15,000 indigenous people within 50 miles of Douala. (The Cameroons, from Mandate to Independence, Victor Le Vine).  These numbers were to rapidly expand over the next 25 years.

On 12th 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 & Thormahlen, represented by the merchants Edward Schmidt and Johann Voss (more on them later).  This signing away of rights marked the de facto creation of the German colony of Cameroon – note that it was driven by the German trading firms, not the German state.  One wonders whether the Kings truly understood the full implications (colonisation) of what they had signed?

This formula or pattern of colonisation had been used by all the colonial and imperial European powers; Portugal, France, Britain and Germany used either commercialisation or military action to grow their own empires as part of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ (see Thomas Pakenham’s excellent book for more on this).

The German colonisation didn’t go down well with the British – and the following quote gives an indication of the extensive British commercial interests in Cameroon – focussed mainly on those two great trading cities, Liverpool and Bristol.

“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)

All these groups appear to have accepted the ‘realpolitik’ of the situation and reached an accommodation and way of working together with the German authorities.  By 1903, British trade accounted for 28% of the share of trade, with 71% being German.  By 1912, this had dropped to 15% and 81% respectively, as German control of the Cameroon trade increased and the British traders 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)

Missionaries in the Cameroons and the founding of Edea

We know Lewis spent the majority of his time in the small Cameroon town of Edea, so it seems important to explain why Edea was developed, and why Lewis was there.

In 1875, the Baptist Missionary Society sent Rev. George Grenfell to Cameroon.  He explored the Yabiang River up to Abo, and then discovered and navigated the Sanaga River to its highest navigable point at the ‘’Sanaga Falls.

In 1892, a temporary seasonal trading station was built at the falls, which would ultimately grow into the town of Edea.

617px-Karte_von_Camerun Baumwollkarte_Kamerun_1909

The 1888 map of Cameroon (above) shows the location of Edea, near Edea falls on the river Sanaga, about 30 miles up the river from the coast of West Africa, and approximately 55 miles from Douala.  Trading companies such as Woermann and J. Holt & Co. had their own river streamers to open up the interior – needing new markets and new producers to trade with, and as the highest navigable point (the Sanaga Falls stopped further upstream travel), this was an ideal location for a trading post.

Woermann were first to see the potential, opening a permanent trading station at Edea in 1892.  Woermann then persuaded Catholic missionaries to build a mission there (Germans in the Cameroons 1884-1914, Harry R. Rudin).  The twin strands of ‘European civilisation’ were brought to the people of the Edea region through trade and religion – backed up by German military force.  The missions opened schools and began to educate native children and to teach the word of god to the tribes; the traders began to trade European goods and bring employment to the tribes of the area.  The German administration provided security in the form of police and military protection.

This process of ‘civilisation’ brought marked changes to the natives and their way of life.  By 1896, the German authorities had suppressed the slave trade around Edea, but acknowledged that it continued on a quiet basis within local tribes, which the German administrators largely ignored to avoid conflict.  The slave markets in Edea were permanently closed. (Germans in the Cameroons 1884-1914, Harry R. Rudin)

By 1902, the missionary review stated that: “Hostilities between the various tribes were of almost constant occurrence, while falsehood, vengefulness and lawless indulgence characterised 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 recognise 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 favourable 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 established agencies; while in military quarters the strategical importance of the place attracted attention.” (The Missionary Review 1912)

By 1902, German and British traders were fully active in Edea, trading European goods for African products like nuts, Ivory and Palm Oil, which in turn led to the further development of a new town to support this trade.  Lewis arrived in Edea in 1907 as R. & W. King developed their own trading post.  Lewis would later socialise with the German authorities, German and British traders and the Catholic Mission staff – see pictures and further information later in this post.

By 1912,‘The Missionary Review’ noted that advance upstream beyond the Sanaga Falls was difficult because of the dangerous falls and currents of the river and “further advance upstream involved personal danger as well, in consequence of the hostile attitude of the inland tribes”.

For more information on the Edea Mission, http://www.bmarchives.org/ has pictures and maps and construction plans, as well as images of Douala and elsewhere in Cameroon from the period that Lewis would have been there.

Lewis’s voyages to and from the Cameroons

When Lewis first left Britain to travel to Africa in 1907, he had either the British owned African Steamship Company, or the German Woermann Line to choose from.

The Woermann-Linie was founded by Adolph Woermann in 1885 (-1941).  His was the largest German trading company in West Africa at the time, and he formed a shipping line to support his growing business, and the burgeoning passenger demand to travel between Europe to West Africa.  His ships transported goods and passengers to and from Europe and Cameroon, Liberia, Nigeria and Spanish Guinea, and at the time made Woermann the largest private ship-owner in the world.

The British had a number of shipping lines supporting the West African coast; the ‘African Steamship Company’ was founded in 1852, focussing on the ports of Lagos and the River Niger, as well other West African ports transporting passengers and European goods to Africa and returning Palm Oil and other African goods on the return journey.  In the same year it was granted a Royal Charter as official mail carrier to the West African colonies.  The business was purchased by Elder Dempster and Company in 1891, who also owned the other British African shipping company, the ‘British and African Steam Navigation Company’.

The ‘Elder Dempster’ line was founded in 1868 to support trade between the Glasgow, Liverpool and the West African coast.  It had monthly steamers to “Sierra Leone, Cape Palmas, Cape Coast Castle, Accra, Lagos, Benin Bonny, Old Calabar and Fernando Po” using brand new steamers “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 outbound and return trips to Africa on the Elder Dempster line, and subsequently used the Woermann Line.  Some of the (undated) posters for these lines are below, with a sense of the timetables.

johns109 elderdempstertimetable elderdempster 429338ee7a

England to the Cameroons, on 19th October 1907

Lewis first sailed to Duoala in the Cameroons from Liverpool on the SS Fantee (image directly below), her Master was W. Griffiths, travelling 1st class with 25 other passengers, including 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 the Cameroons, the rest were heading to various ports along the West coast of Africa.

Built in 1899 by Barclay Curle in Glasgow for the African Steamship Company managed Liverpool / Elder Dempster & Co., SS Fantee was a combined passenger and cargo vessel of 3649 tonnes designed for the West African trade, she was 345ft long and 44ft wide.

[In 1915 she was sold to the ‘Ellerman Lines’ which went on to become one of the largest shipping companies in the world, and renamed SS Italian.  She was transferred to replace war losses in 1920 to Ellerman’s ‘Wilson Line’, and renamed SS Rollo.  She spent her final years on the Hull-Gothenburg service, but also made trips to Oslo and Danzig, but changes to US immigration laws in 1923 reduced the demand for these services.  The ship was laid up in 1928 and sold for breaking up in Denmark in 1932]


‘The Times’ newspaper ‘Mail and Shipping Intelligence’ from Thursday, Nov 07, 1907, details a report of this actual journey of the SS Fantee with Lewis on-board, travelling from Liverpool to Cameroon.  It had reached Sekondi (Takoradi, in modern day Ghana) by Monday 4th November 1907, taking 16 days to make the journey.  And leaving another approx. 750 miles, of coast before arriving at Douala – with a probable additional stop at Lagos in Nigeria.  This would have taken at least another 5-7 days journey.


The Cameroons 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 shipping company ‘Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes’ as part of war reparations and renamed ‘Aviateur Roland Garros’, and scrapped in 1931.]

England to the Cameroons, 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 must have been delayed from its timetable.


The Cameroons to England, arrived on 14th December 1912

Lewis came home from Douala to Southampton on the SS Lucie Woermann (as above).

England to the Cameroons, 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 wide, 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 captured by HMS Carnarvon of the Royal Navy at Cape Verde in 1914 and given to the Union-Castle Mail SS Co. to operate on the side of the allies and renamed the ‘Professor’.  In 1921 she was sold to Hugo Stainnes shipping company of Hamburg and renamed ‘Edmund Wagenknecht’ for the service to South America and became the first post-WW1 German cruise ship.  In 1926 she was sold to the Brazilian state shipping company and was only scrapped in 1958.]

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, including Sierra Leone, Sekondi, Gold Coast, Ivory Coast, Lagos (Nigeria) and Cameroons.



Interestingly Lewis 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?

The Cameroons 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:

The shipping calculator, searates.com, calculates the distance from Dover to Douala as 4,400 sea miles, and estimates that at a speed of 11 knots (normal travel speed for a steamer), would have taken 25 days to make this journey.  This roughly fits with the timescales we have from the Times newspaper for Lewis reaching Sekondi (modern day Takoradi) from Dover in 16 days with an additional 5-7 to travel on to Douala.

Additional time would need to be added for stops at other ports on the journey, with the delays that unloading/loading of passengers and any cargo would necessitate.  It seems safe to assume that it took Lewis between 3-5 weeks to make his journeys to and from Africa (depending on the schedule), so we can estimate that he could have spent up to six months at sea during his seven and a half years as an African trader.

Cameroon doesn’t have a deep-sea port (one is under construction), so ships needed to either ground themselves on the beach to unload – the image directly below is of the Lucie Woermann doing this off Douala.  Alternatively, they would have to stand-off on the river to be unloaded onto smaller boats for transport into the port.  The German authorities developed a floating dock, which was moored out in the river for this purpose – this was later scuttled by them during the 1914 campaign against Britain and France.


Why did Lewis go to Africa?

Having briefly covered the histories of Cameroon and the West African trade, and the founding of the town of Edea, I want to try to look at why on earth Lewis chose to go there?  Why did he leave a steady job at Gardiners in Bristol, and head off into the complete unknown?  Why did he go to a remote and potentially very dangerous and unhealthy new trading post in a location he probably didn’t even know existed and almost certainly knew next to nothing about?  And why did he choose to go to a German speaking, German run colony?

Being an African trader was a very unhealthy occupation; Dysentery, Malaria, sleeping sickness along with other ‘fevers’ were very common; Lewis ended up contracting Malaria in Africa and suffered from it for the rest of his life.  Records show that in 1893, 26 Europeans out of 204 in the colony died of disease, and by 1912/13, some 23 Europeans died of disease out of approximately 2000 Europeans in the colony (Germans in the Cameroons 1884-1914, Harry R. Rudin).  Lewis’ chance of survival had increased from 1 in 8 in 1893 to 1 in 87 by 1913, but to modern standards, this seems an unacceptably high chance of a premature death – why did he take the risk?

Cameroon still suffered from occasional inter-tribal violence, and occasional fighting between Europeans and hostile indigenous peoples.  In 1886, after the German authorities suppressed missionaries and killed a Christian Chief, the Woermann subagent, one Mr Pontanies, was removed from his factory by a mob, had his head cut off and stuck on a pole, which was then paraded around the town of Joss-town.  The Germans burnt the whole town down in reprisal.  (West London Standard, November 6, 1886)

When Lewis arrived in Cameroon in 1907, there was still a Mahdist inspired insurrection underway in Northern Cameroon.  And the 1912 Missionary Review highlighted the hostile tribes just upriver from Edea who were violently opposed to further European expansion.

The tribes around Douala were reluctant German subjects and did everything they could to thwart German control.  The German authorities were prone to taking extreme measures to retain control – they held the colony through force.  In 1914 they hanged the leader of the Douala people (King Bell) for ‘treason in plotting with other tribes against Germany‘.

Bearing all this in mind, it really is impossible to answer my initial questions.

Lewis’ trading post wasn’t even in the relatively well-connected Douala area of Cameroon, with its thriving ‘European’ colony and modern facilities, such as hospital and radio station and cable office (offering valuable communications with home).  Or even at the capital of Buea, where the high altitude offered a fairly pleasant temperate climate.

Lewis would be based at Edea, some 55 miles from Douala, only accessible via a relatively dangerous navigation of the Sanaga River, or via a 20 feet wide mud track cut through the dense jungle from Douala.  [A railway would later be built from Douala to Edea – more on this later in this post].  He would be isolated in a small community of Europeans, comprising other traders, missionaries and local German administrators (more on this later in this post).

One can only assume that the opportunity of working as a trader was too good to miss, the pay must have been good.  Perhaps Lewis had an adventurous streak and wanted the excitement of travelling to Africa – we will never know for sure, but it was a very big step for a 23-year-old to take.

Lewis had been at Gardiners for many years by the time he left for Africa, he must have wanted a change.  R. & W. King (his trading company) were Bristol based, so he must have seen a job advert in either the local newspaper, or in passing the premises of R. & W. King, who were based in the docks at Bristol.  He was single, in his early-20’s, and had an education of trading and a great knowledge of many of the products that would have been traded with natives in Africa, such as nails and other ironmongery.  He seems like an ideal candidate for becoming an African trader.

Lewis was educated (Merchant Venturer’s School) and conditioned to believe in Empire, probably with a sense of duty to King and Country, and almost certainly had the view that it was the destiny of the British to rule the world.  (The rise and fall of the British Empire, Lawrence James).

We know that Lewis was a non-resident fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute (RCI) between 1912 and 1916, his entry in the year book is below:

“1912. MILTON, LEWIS. Edea, Cameroons, West Africa.’

[Note. As a non-resident i.e. in Cameroon not the UK, he would have paid £1, 1 shilling per year, and would have been proposed by two other fellows.  This would have given him access to the Institute building on Northumberland Avenue, London (where the Royal Commonwealth Society now resides) including the ‘smoking room’ and extensive library, access to talks and dinners and a monthly journal called ‘United Empire’.  (Royal Colonial Institute, Yearbook 1912)]

Lewis was not alone at R. & W. King in Edea.  My Granny (Lewis’ daughter) told me that he and a colleague ran the trading station at Edea and covered for the other being on home leave after their tour.  There is an entry for one Duncan McCallum (shortened to ‘Mac’ in personal correspondences) who was also working for R. & W. King in Edea at the time (1912-1914).  Mac writes to Lewis in postcards and (I think) is in photographs – covered later in this post.

We know Mac was born in 1888 (not 1884 as implied by passenger records), and he was English.  He travelled from Dover to Douala in German Cameroon on 11th April 1912 on the Lucie Woermann (his name is incorrectly marked as McCallam in the ancestry.co.uk website search – its correct spelling is in the scan of the original passenger record), and was there until around 3rd May 1914, when he sent a postcard to Lewis on his journey back to Britain.  From this postcard, it seems clear that after nearly two years, his tour was finished, and he was suffering from tropical illnesses.

Tying Mac back into 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 father’s partner in Edea was actually the son of the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, but it turns out he was actually the son of the man who sang the song!  This is confirmation that I have identified the correct person as Lewis’ trading partner – Mac will appear later in this post on his return to Cameroon during the 1st World War.

[Note: Sir Duncan McCallum, would later return to the Cameroons 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 – a journey of over 15,200 miles by car!  He was a diplomat in the run up to the 2nd World War, before becoming the MP for Argyll in 1940.  He was knighted in 1955 and died in 1958.]

The Royal Colonial Institute aimed to maximise colonial trade and produce within the British Empire and its colonies and encourage the emigration of British subjects to the Empire.  Its purpose was colonialism; 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 is detailed; “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.”  And; “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 Douala 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 1914 and 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 (presumably Palm Oil)), Dr 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 friendly company nearby as there was a person called Edwin Osborne in Edea.

A history of R. & W. King of Bristol

Having identified R. &. W. King of Bristol as the company that Lewis worked for in Africa, I wanted to research them further.  The first records are of the early 1800’s when Henry King, a Bristol merchant, first took his ships to Cameroon for trade.  His two sons, Richard and William (Thomas Poole) King, founded their own company, R. & W. King, to trade with West Africa.

The first date recorded for this new business, is from Lloyds shipping register where in 1842, R. & W. King launched a new 176 ton merchant ship called the ‘Mohawk’ (number YM.42 #9), specifically built for the African trade.  The first record of their business location in Bristol is from ‘Kelly’s Directory’ of the 1900’s, an early address directory.  Richard and William King (R. & W. King) had premises in Bristol on Redcliffe Parade West and were recorded as being ‘African Merchants’.  This location is on the dockside of the floating harbour at Redcliffe Back and Bathurst Basin – so it would have been ideal for loading and unloading trading boats and storing in the many nearby warehouses.

In 1883, records show that R. & W. King had at least one European representative in Cameroon, a British man called Captain Buchanan (more on him later in this post) was their representative in the Douala region.  At the time, he would most likely have worked with local middle-men, who would do the actual trading with the native producers, for a commission.

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.) were 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 oversupply and subsequent price drops left traders with the choice of either folding or diversifying and to cut their costs.

R. & W. King went into other markets such as Ivory and palm kernels and nuts. As a way of reducing costs, they also began to reduce their reliance on Douala based local middle-men and developed their own trading posts or factory’s (establishment for ‘factors’ or traders/merchants to carry out business in a foreign country) around Cameroon to trade directly with the producers. Lewis would ultimately be recruited to meet this growing need for local European representatives, and from the later Royal Colonial Institute year books we know that Lewis was not alone.

By 1901, R. & W. King had ‘factory’s’ or trading stations, in the following locations in Cameroon; Akwadorf (Douala), Bane, Bassa, Batanga (Gross), Bonendale, Dibombari, Didodorf, Malimba, Mungo, Ngumba, Wurl and Yaunde. (Deutsches Kolonial-Handbuch – German Colonial Handbook, 1901, Dr R. Fitzner).   This is a surprising number of trading posts, although it’s unlikely that all would have European factors.

By 1904, R. & W. King had the following factories and factors (if named); Akwadorf (Duala), Batanga (Gross-) or Kribi – factor was H. C. Powel, Belldorf (Duala), Bimbia (Victoria), Bomono (Duala), Bonadalli (Duala), Bull (Kribi), Dibombari (Duala), Didodorf (Duala), Duala – factor was E. Holder, Jabassi (Duala), Komaka (Kribi) – factor was Mr Schoenenberger, Malimba, Mungo (Duala), Ndokopang (Duala), Ndoko Penda (Duala), Njanga (Duala), Plantation (Kribi), Wuri (Duala), and Yaunde – factor was Joseph Schaedel. (Deutsches Kolonial-Handbuch 1904, Dr R. Fitzner).

R. & W. King clearly expanded in the three years between 1901-1904.  We also have names of factors, I assume that where there is no name, then a native resident was in place acting as factor.  Four European factors appear to cover key areas like Douala, Kribi and Yaunde, I would assume they were responsible for a number of trading posts in their area; we can see that Mr E. Holder was responsible for 10 stations around Douala.  We can also see a new factory at Wuri, which was almost certainly a port facility on the Wuri estuary in Douala.

J. Holt & Co. had developed a new station in Edea by 1904, but R. & W. King were not yet operating from Edea. Lewis arrived in Africa in 1907 to take up his post at the Edea trading post, I think it is safe to assume that this was a new trading station. Unfortunately, the 1908 version of the German Colonial Handbook does not make reference to either J. Holt & Co. or R. & W. King (?), and yet we know that both companies were operating in Cameroon at the time.

The 1912 edition of ‘Deutsches Kolonial-Handbuch 1912, Dr R. Fitzner’, (online at http://sammlungen.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/kolonialbibliothek/periodical/pageview/7774874) provides a great deal of interesting information about the economy of the colony and the businesses operating there, it contains the following entry for Richard & William (R. & W.) King Ltd.

This confirms that R. & W. King were based on Redcliff Parade in Bristol, and that its local branch office in Douala was opened on 13th October 1911.  It had a capitalisation of 2,000,000 Marks – a very large sum of money for the time.  The ‘Board’ was named as three men; Mervyn K. King, son of William King, as a deputy Managing Director.  The practicing-Managing Director was named as one Duncan McPherson.  And the Managing Director was named as Edmund King, son of William King.  These would have been the men that Lewis worked for.

[Note: Mervyn Kersteman King (born 25 Sep 1845 in Bristol, died 15 Jun 1934) was a ‘African Merchant and Ship Company Owner’ on the census records, and son of William Thomas Poole King, son of Henry King.  Edmund Ambrose King (born 22 Jul 1850 in Bristol) was an ‘African Merchant’ on the census records, and also the son of William Thomas Poole King.]

The sum of 2,000,000 Marks is a considerable sum.  For comparison, the large Woermann Line, the largest private shipping line in the world – with its many large passenger and cargo ships, had a capitalisation of 8,106,000 Marks at the same period.  The total sum for R. & W. King is significant.

By 1912, R. & W. King had twenty trading posts; at Belldorf (Douala), Bomono (Douala), Bonaku (Douala), Bomambasi (Douala), Bonasama (Douala), Bonendale (Douala), Dibombari (Douala), Duala (Douala), Edea (where Lewis was based), Gros-Batanga (Kribi), Jabassi (Douala), Jabiang (Douala), Jaunde, Miang (Douala), Molle (Jaunde), Mundame, Ndogobenon (Edea), Plantation (Kribi), Tibati (Garua), and Wuri (Douala).

It seems to assume that Lewis was responsible for the post at Edea and also the trading post at nearby Ndogobenon.  He would have known the branch office in Douala, and the other trading posts around Douala and the Wuri estuary, as this would have been the export route for the goods that he had traded.  It also seems probable that he visited other R. & W. King trading posts to meet with his fellow factors, we have some pictures later in this post which are unidentified, which may relate to one such visit to another trading post.

The following photograph is of Lewis outside the R. & W. King of Bristol trading post – he is standing on the steps.  I have a recollection that this is an earlier construction of his trading post, from his first visit to Africa.


R. & W. King expanded into a new building (annotated below) at a later date.

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The above picture is of Lewis on a horse outside a more modern R. & W. King trading post – this must have been on his later trips to Africa.

We know from records that a branch office of R. & W. King was opened in Douala in October 1911, and Lewis must have used this facility later in his trips to Africa.  It is almost certain that he spent time here in 1914 after his rescue from captivity – more on this later in this post.

R. & W. King continued to trade until at least 1918 before finally closing in their current form. Given the large capitalisation in 1912, along with the growth to twenty trading posts (in Cameroon), let alone other assets in the West Africa colonies (Nigeria etc.) as well as assets in Bristol, one can only assume that the war had a catastrophic impact on the business.  There are no further records to say what actually happened, but the suspension of West African trade between 1914 and 1918 must have been shattering to the business.

Interestingly, the name R. & W. King continues to prosper today – it still exists in Cameroon in the form of a shop in Douala.

“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)

A history of J. Holt & Co. Liverpool Ltd.

I wanted to briefly cover the history of J. Holt & Co. Liverpool Ltd, because Lewis leaves photographic evidence of them, and also had a close working and social relationship with their local representatives.

In 1862 the Liverpool merchant, John Holt, travelled to Fernando Po (now called Bioko), an island off the coast of Nigeria and Cameroon.  In 1897, John Holt & Co. (Liverpool) Ltd. was formed to trade Lancashire textiles and Birmingham iron products to Nigeria where they were traded for palm oil, palm kernels, rubber and cocoa.  They ran a fortnightly shipping service between Liverpool and West Africa with a fleet of ships and owned their own river craft to travel into the interior of Africa.  John Holt trading stations, with their strong rooms, provided a basic banking service for the local populations.

Ultimately, J. Holt & Co. became a well-known and trusted colonial trading and shipping company with links primarily in Guinea and British Nigeria, and outposts in other German and French territories, including Cameroon.

By 1901, J. Holt & Co. had a ‘factory’ in the following locations in Cameroon; Bakundo, Bane, Bassa, Batanga (Gross-), Bomana, Bonendale, Bwadibo, Debeng, Didodorf, Engumbo, Hickory, Jekoba, Miang, Musoki, Ndokotunda, Njanga, Sacky, Yabiang, Yaunde (Deutsches Kolonial-Handbuch 1901, Dr R. Fitzner).  This is over a third more trading stations than R. & W. King at the same point in time.

By 1904, J. Holt & Co. had founded a trading post at Edea – the first non-German company to trade there.  They also had factories at Ebolova, Ebonjo (Duala), Gute (Duala), Hickory (Duala), Kribi – factor were Mr Drewett and Mr Siddall, Mbombo (Duala), Miang (Abo)(Duala), Mundame – factor Mr Felix Cohn, Mungo, Musoki, Ndolo (Duala), Njanga (Duala), Njanjedorf (Edea), Tinto, Yabiang, Yaunde – factor was Mr Richter. (Deutsches Kolonial-Handbuch 1904, Dr R. Fitzner).  In the three years since 1901, the business seems fairly static, having closed some trading posts and opened others, but having roughly the same number.

The 1912 edition of the ‘Deutsches Kolonial-Handbuch’  (Dr R. Fitzner) confirms that John Holt & Co. was founded in 1897, and was based in Liverpool at ‘Colonial House, 20 Water Street’.  It had a capitalisation of 6,000,000 Marks – so roughly three times the value of the R. & W. King business.

By 1912, John Holt had some thirty trading stations at Abongbang (Njong), Bassa (Douala), Bomono (Douala), Bonaberi (Douala), Bonamatake (Douala), Bonanka (Douala), Bonakule (Douala), Bonendale (Douala), Dibamba (Douala), Duala (Douala), Ebolowa, Edea, Ediki, Gros-Batanga (Kribi), Jabassi (Douala), Jabiang (Douala), Jaunde, Kumbe, Lolodorf (Kribi), Miang (Douala), Mundame, Mungo (Douala), Nanga-Eboko (Jaunde), Njanga (Douala), Plantation (Kribi), Sangmelima (Ebolowa), Soppo (Victoria), Tiko (Buea), and Wuri (Douala).(Deutsches Kolonial-Handbuch, 1912, Dr R. Fitzner’).

Lewis leaves annotated photographic evidence (below) of J. Holt & Co. Liverpool Ltd., and their Edea trading post.  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 (above).  This clearly shows the proximity of the two British trading posts in Edea.  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).

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These pictures show trade with indigenous people, and the fact that Lewis took them, shows there was clearly cooperation between J .Holt & Co. and R. & W. King.

John Holt & Co (Liverpool) PLC (http://www.jhplc.com/) is still in operation today and still has offices in Liverpool and Nigeria.

Colonial life in Cameroon

The following photographs are of Lewis (and friends) in Cameroon – he is pictured in archetypical ‘colonial’ dress of whites and is generally very smartly presented.  These photographs as a collection, give an insight into what life would have been like.

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The photographs (above) show Lewis at his desk in his trading post.  The pictures on the desk are still within the family.

The second photograph shows Lewis with a group of European friends, Granny told me they were both 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 (mentioned earlier) is in this picture.

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Lewis is shown (above) sitting in a small, man-pulled carriage.  And the second photograph appears to be Lewis in white’s outside his trading post.


The first photograph (above) shows Lewis (again in whites) in Edea.  The second photograph is, Granny told me, the German administrative buildings in Edea – with the German staff outside – wearing pith helmets.

Interestingly, some of the staff when Lewis was in Cameroon, may be detailed in the German Colony Handbook of 1908 (Fitzner), which shows that Edea had a relatively large German administration.  This included a ‘Bezirksamtmann’ or District Officer (much like the British Colonial Office ‘District Officer’) – this man (called Krucke) was the ruling authority in the area with wide ranging powers including ruling on disputes (as a magistrate) etc. he was also a ‘Regierungsrat’ or Councillor representing Edea on the German colonial council, with a “Sekretar’ or Secretary (called Lutz) to support him with administration.  There was a Police Chief (called Janson), a ‘Wegebauer’ or Road Infrastructure Officer/Engineer (called Behrens) and number of ‘Regierungs-Handwerker’ or Government Craftsmen (called Klemmt – a mason, and Hanke a gardener).  Edea also has a ‘Post und Telegraphenagentur’ – a Post Man (called Godecke).  All quite civilised!

At the same time, the Catholic Mission ‘Kongregation der Pallottiner’ was headed by Pastor Simon Rosenhuber (we may have a picture of him below), The Rector was Paster Sebold, and there were two ‘brothers’ and three ‘sisters’.  There was also an Protestant (evangelical) Mission ‘Basler Missions-Gesellschaft’ or Basel Mission (see other parts of this post), the mission leader was Missionary Georg Schurle, the school-boys Teacher was Christian Hauser and the school-girls Teacher was Lydia Oestreicher.

In 1912, the ‘Deutsches Kolonial-Handbuch 1912, Dr R. Fitzner’ book, the Edea section is detailed as below:

Mr Krucke was still the District Officer and a member of colony Council, and his staff had increased slightly.  There were two secretaries called Wittek and Meincke, a Construction Engineer called von Velsen, a Workers Commissioner called Muhling  and a Road (Infrastructure) Engineer called Behrens (who was in-post in 1908), and a Gardener called Mattner.  There was also now a railway (Midland Railway) at Edea, so there was a station master, who was titled ‘Government Builder'(?) called Mr Nast.  The Police Chief was called Ludemann.  The Post Master was called Dr. Ufer.

The missions had not changed much since 1908; the Catholic Mission paster/rector was called Johnannes Lettenbauer, the school-master was called Skolaster, and there were two ‘brothers’ and three ‘sisters’.  The Basel Evangelical Mission was now made up of the lead Missionary, Nathanael Lauffer, with Missionary Jak Erne.  The lead Missionary’s wife was a teacher along with Anna Schnetzer and Leiterinnen der Madchenschule.  The site www.bmarchives.org has images of the mission, school and new Edea Protestant church (built in 1911) and records of the missionary team mentioned above.

Some of the factors (or representatives) for the German businesses in Edea are named; Stillkraut, O. Weber, Theod. Zureich and E. Hoppmann.

Lewis undoubtedly knew most, if not all these people.  We know he socialised with the administration staff and the mission members as well as other traders in Edea.

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The left photograph (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 – is this Pastor Simon Rosenhuber, or Pastor Johnannes Lettenbauer (above)?

The right-hand photograph shows Lewis with his dogs – Granny told me that he and his fellow R. & W. King trader (Duncan McCallum?) kept dogs for company and entertainment – and this shows a dog and presumably her puppies.

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The left-hand photograph (above) shows Lewis (annotated) standing in whites, surrounded by Europeans on horses.  The right-hand photograph (according to Granny) was of Lewis and the staff and servants (and more dogs) at his trading mission.  The other seated European was apparently his co-representative of R. & W. King Ltd, and close friend – was this Duncan MacCallum?  Mac talks later of being like a skeleton in later postcards to Lewis, but it’s hard to match faces (especially an emaciated face) to an older Duncan McCallum from later photographs of him.

The last photograph (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.

Everyday life

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.  They apparently counted themselves unlucky if they had more than 3 bouts of fever or malaria during a tour.

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.  His work pattern from 1907 was to spend 2 years and 7 months in Africa (or travelling) before spending 19 weeks on home leave.  Next he spent a further 2 years and 2 months in Africa (or travelling) before spending 23 weeks on home leave.  And finally, he spent 1 year and 11 months in Africa (and travelling) before his work was cut short by the war and he returned home for the last time.

We know from contemporary reports that Douala and Edea were relatively unhealthy places – the Germans moved their capital to the altitude and improved climate at Buea to avoid the worst of the damp and rain and extreme heat.  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.

The following advert is from the‘Amtsblatt fur das Schutzgebiet Kamerun’, a fortnightly German newspaper in Cameroon (during his time there), advertising Quinine products; Chinin which were chocolate coated tablets, a soluble Hyrdochinin for injection, as well as Euchinin and Validol for adding to water supplies.  So we know these products were readily available to Lewis.

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.  And we know that everyone expected to suffer illness through fever or other tropical diseases.

The following trends for population (Deutsches Kolonial-Handbuch 1908, Dr R. Fitzner), show the number of Europeans up to 1907 when Lewis arrived – he was one of 38 English.  The figures seem fairly static at around 30-40 British and reductions towards 1914 are probably due to the drop in British trade with the Cameroon as the Germans took over the market.

We know Lewis socialised extensively with other Europeans – we have photographic evidence to support what I was told by Lewis’ children about his time there.  He also developed friendships with the German colonial authorities and missions – which were to be tested at the outbreak of war.

Aside from photographs and correspondences, and what family stories I can remember being told, there is a distinct lack of contemporary reports of what life would have been like for Lewis.  We do however, have a Swedish account from 1883 which interestingly mentions R. & W. King, J. Holt & Co., Jantzen and Thormahlen and Woermann representatives all socialising together.  “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 [1883] 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 account goes on “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 25 years before Lewis arrived, gives real insight into what life was like at the time.  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.

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.  These men were directly responsible for the founding of the German colony of Cameroon.

Whilst Lewis socialised with other Europeans, he did not socialise with the native population.  We can get a flavour of the complex relationships between whites and blacks in Cameroon from some of the photographs – they reflect the social conventions of the period (over 100 years ago).  Lewis is pictured being pulled by a native, he is pictured seated where natives stand, they work whilst he oversees, his black servant washes his clothes etc.

It’s clear that from documents, 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).  The German authorities, like in other European colonies, did pretty much what they wanted with little or no thought to the impact on the indigenous population.


The following photographs 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 photographs – 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.  A new trading post was founded in Yaounde 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 in size and economic importance 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 (rather than Buea) and the railway was extended from Edea to Eseka to Jaunde in 1929.

Trading in the Cameroons

Unfortunately, we don’t know much about Lewis’ actual trading work in Africa.  There are a few photographs (below), as well as some family anecdotes and stories.

One story was told by my Great Uncle John (Lewis’ son), of how Lewis had three false teeth set on a plate whilst he was in Africa.  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 apparently frighten them, and they would run off in terror!  He used this ploy every time he ran into trouble.

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Lewis is shown above, with Ivory he would have traded, and overseeing workers sorting nuts – presumably Cashew Nuts?  I know that Lewis traded British and Empire goods like iron-wares, for local products such as Ivory, coco, palm kernels, various nuts and other local produce.  R. & W. King would ship goods from Britain to him which he would convert into African goods and ship back to Bristol in a circular trade.

The Ivory trade is now accepted as abhorrent and controversial, it has led to the steep decline in elephant populations in Africa and is now rightly fully banned in the UK.  I didn’t write this piece as revisionist history, or to apologise in some way for Lewis’ actions; he was a product of his time, and at that time, Ivory use was de rigueur, and all African traders would have traded Ivory.  Along with Palm oil and nuts, Ivory was one of the key commodities exported from Africa during this period of history.  It was an important material used in the production of many products from knife and cutlery handles to billiard balls, and there was a huge demand for it in Europe where it fetched very high prices – because of this value it was traded freely.

Technological advances have meant that there are now man-made alternatives to all Ivory uses.  But the impact of the ivory trade has been truly appalling, in 1831 alone, Britain’s demand for ivory meant the deaths of nearly 4000 elephants.  By 1930, acquiring just 40 tons of Ivory required killing around 700 elephants.  Lewis brought back his own personal collection of African goods such as Ivory and wooden artefacts, these remain in various branches of his extended family.

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?  Or was he helping to set up a new trading post?  This looks to be a fairly formal presentation to the German authorities – but the reason for this ceremony is now lost.

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Letters and Postcards

Where dated, I’ve tried to tie any communications to/from Lewis into the general flow of this post, but there are a few that just don’t fit or don’t have dates, so this section covers these.

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 assume that English is not native to the writer, who must be some associate or colleague in Cameroon who is responsible for forwarding on Lewis’ mail.  The photograph is of Buea, and the back mentions Victoria (modern day Limbe in Cameroon), which was one of the key entry ports to Cameroon.  We know that R. & W. King had a ‘factory’ or trading post near Buea and in Victoria, and Lewis must have had a mail forwarding service there.  It is possible that British mail ships from Nigeria stopped at Victoria there rather than going all the way to Douala (some 25 miles away).

Back: “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”

[Note. 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 – a colleague of Lewis’ at R. & W. King.  I assume that he was at the end of his two year tour and was returning home, or returning home because of sickness.  I wonder how Lewis took all this, as he was due to spend at least another 9 months in the ‘rotten hot’ on his own tour?

On 1st June 1914, Lewis, who was still in Edea, received another postcard from Mac, this one from Belfast.  We know that Duncan McCallum’s mother was an Irish woman called Ellen Stockley, and that she had married his father (Charles Coborn – singer of the song ‘The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo) in Belfast, so it is probable that he was visiting family.

“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, forty(?) etc. People very much in earnest ??? about not having Home Rule.  Church old man.  Yours (?) Mac. With Kind Regards W.S.S?”

The postcard talks about the people not wanting home rule and the church – this would have been from a Unionist position in Northern Ireland.  The Protestants did not want Home Rule in Ireland, but preferred government from the UK based Westminster Parliament.

A Pathephone in 1914 would have been a record player for playing Pathe (as-in the old Pathe newsreels) disks, and some models could make.  So perhaps Lewis had asked Mac to send him one for entertainment?  Mac must have either been planning on 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.

The ‘town’ mentioned was usually a reference to London, so presumably the sender was journeying to London in the next few days – Mac’s father spent a lot of time in London, so perhaps this is to visit him.  And there was a promise to write – unfortunately we don’t have any follow up correspondence.

Railways in the Cameroons and Lewis’ photographic record

Lewis leaves an undated photographic record of the early railways of Cameroon, which are interesting from a historical perspective, although hard now to determine locations or dates or events that are recorded.

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Generally, Cameroon was not a suitable place for railway construction, it was mountainous and densely forested, and the largest port at Douala, was surrounded by the thick jungle.  The first railway ran from the original colonial capital Buea to the port of Victoria and was a 600mm gauge line – but Lewis’ photographs clearly show the width between the tracks is more than 600mm.  They must therefore be of one of the other two lines built by the time Lewis arrived in Cameroon.

The second Cameroon railway was the 160km long Douala-Nkongsamba railway, also known as the Northern Railway (or Nordbahn).  The third was the Douala–Ngaoundere railway, Central (or Mittellandbahn) railway.  Both lines were 1000mm or 3ft 2 2/4″ gauge, which became the standard for all future Cameroon railways.

In 1909 the Bonaberi-Nkongsamba railway (160 km) was inaugurated, and in 1911, the Douala-Edea railway 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 shown here; for instance, it is definitely not the station in Douala.  It is perhaps Edea station, but I can find no contemporary pictures to compare.

On balance, I believe the photographs show the 1911 inauguration of the Douala-Edea railway line – this would have been more directly important to Lewis and his trading business, and he would have wanted to be present at such a momentous occasion.  The improved communication to Douala would have greatly speeded up Lewis’ travel to and from Edea, reducing the time taken to less than a day – rather than days slogging through the jungle.  This would have changed the whole character (and isolation) of his remaining time in Africa.

The Great War in West Africa – The Cameroons Campaign

As a primary source for this section, I have used the “Official History of the Great War, Military Operations, Togoland and the Cameroons, 1914-1916”, by Brigadier-General F. J. Moberly, written using official dispatches, captured German documentation, as well as interviews with key personalities (including General Dobell and then Major Duncan McCallum).  I highly recommend this book if you are interested in this little-known campaign.  Because of the focus of this post on Edea and Douala, and Lewis, I have ignored the earlier northern campaign in Cameroon as well as French activities,  and cover a small relevant slice of the action.

On the 3rd August 1914, a special edition of the German language ‘Amtsblatt fur das Schutzgebiet Kamerun’ or the ‘Official Journal of the Protectorate of Cameroon‘ – basically the official fortnightly newspaper of the colony, issued an important notice that the Kaiser, ‘His Majesty the Emperor’, warned that there was an ‘imminent threat of a declaration of war, and that the colony would also be at war’.  In which event, ‘Martial Law‘ would be declared, the boarder forces would be placed at action stations, and states that ‘single instructions’ would be passed out to relevant authorities around the colony in the event of war.  Were the English traders part of one of these instructions?  [This newspaper is publicly available at the online Frankfurt University Colonial Library http://sammlungen.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/kolonialbibliothek), but is obviously in German, so takes a little translation].

Following its allies France and Russia, Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914.  Douala had a wireless/radio station and two physical telegraph cables to Europe (one British via Lagos, and one German via Lome), so would have known this news in short time. All the German shipping in the region had prior warning and had already run for the relative safety and protection of Douala harbour – a large natural harbour.  There were nine passenger liners, including Woermann Linie ships, as well as various other shipping in the Wuri estuary and Douala River.

The German administration set about militarising the colony – with its somewhat limited resources – incentivising German civilians to join the security forces through better pay, food and free lodging, as well as priority medical treatment.  And cajoling the native forces, which were generally of a low quality, into a coherent force to resist the expected attack by the allies.

On the 5th August 1914, a special edition of the ‘Amtsblatt fur das Schutzgebiet Kamerun’, detailed a long list of potential criminal charges and punishments as part of the declaration of martial law; including the death penalty for ‘treachery’, and either 10 years or whole-life imprisonment depending on the severity of the crime; one of the rules details a lifetime prison sentence for ‘assisting the enemy’ or ‘hiding the enemy’, or assisting ‘enemy spies’.  Lewis as an Englishman would almost certainly have been considered a potential threat or spy.

The ‘Amtsblatt fur das Schutzgebiet Kamerun‘ of 9th September 1914 documents the acts undertaken against the English in Cameroon at the outbreak of war; the ‘official closure of the English factor/trading posts and companies, including those run by coloured representatives‘.  And that ‘the goods and stocks and land of English and French factors / trade posts, were seized in the interest of the defence of the country’, and that no one was available to guard these empty sites.  And also that any British subjects would be treated as ‘enemy combatants‘ and ‘prisoners of war’, it does suggest that they would be given ‘parole‘ for their promise of good conduct.  The reality however, is that any English or French were rounded up and interned and not free to move around.

We know that Lewis was interned by the German authorities (date unknown), and that local Germans, who he considered friends for some years, handed him over to the government authorities when they came to look for him.  Granny Lamb told me that they refused to help him when he went to them for help.  This must have been devastating for Lewis, who never forgot or forgave this act –it must have been a real shock to him that his friends of many years turned on him.  Given the potential life-time imprisonment penalty for any German helping and ‘enemy’ (detailed above), they perhaps had no choice but to comply with the state of martial law.  I doubt Lewis appreciated this at the time.

Family history states that Lewis was then held on a boat on the river until rescued by the Royal Navy, but 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.  Based on the information available, my assessment is that Lewis was taken by train to Douala with all other British and French citizens, and then placed into captivity on one of the Woermann ships, which had taken refuge at Douala on the River Douala.  It might be that the ‘prisoners’ had a certain amount of freedom on the ships – rather than being locked up – perhaps this met the Germans concept of parole?

Back in Britain, a senior British officer, Major General Charles Dobell, was tasked by the British War Office and Colonial Office with leading an expeditionary force with the aim of capturing the German colony of Cameroon.  Interestingly, Duncan McCallum (Mac), Lewis’ recent colleague and friend, now returns to this story; he is described as ‘a Consular Assistant’ – so since leaving Cameroon in May, and following his trip to Belfast and travel to London on 4th of June, he must have joined the Colonial Office as an advisor.  He was obviously experienced in Cameroon affairs having spent 2 years working for R. & W. King and he must have offered his services at the start of the war in August.

On the 29th August General Dobell received information from Mr D. McCallum, a Consular Assistant, who had recently returned from the Cameroons, which showed him that the country between Victoria and Duala would be almost impractical for military operations during the next two months” (Official history of the Great War, Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons 1914-1916, Brig.-Gen. F. J. Moberly).  After their meeting, and after presumably showing his value to the General, Mac was asked to join the imminent expedition back to the Cameroons (which he had only left at the beginning of May) as ‘Intelligence Officer’ on the HQ staff, and he volunteered and was given an honorary commission as a Lieutenant.  Apparently “he sailed at forty-eight hours’ notice, and throughout the operations in the Cameroons performed invaluable services as an officer of the Intelligence Staff”. (Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons 1914-1916, Brig.-Gen. F. J. Moberly).  General Dobell, with Lieutenant McCallum, boarded the ss Appam with the rest of the HQ staff, and sailed on the 31st August 1914 for Lagos in Nigeria and were due to arrive there on the 15th September.

On the 4th September naval forces of Britain and France anchored off the town of Victoria, north of Douala, and marines landed and cut telegraph lines before withdrawing in the face of German reinforcements.

This British naval force comprised some obsolete warships 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 land forces under Major General Charles Dobell, had 4250 troops and 16 guns in the Cameroon campaign expeditionary force, of which, 2,400 men and 10 guns were ‘British’, the rest being French colonial troops with some companies of French European troops.  All the British troops were colonial / native troops, primarily from Nigeria And Sierra Leone, commanded by British NCO’s and British Officers.  The land forces were also be supported by naval Marines and detached Naval guns (either wheeled or fitted to smaller river steamers) manned by Navy personnel.  Reading about it now, you get a strong sense that this expeditionary force was scraped together from whatever forces were available – and sometimes of a dubious quality.

After leaving Victoria, 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 (8 steamers had been sunk in the channel with smaller lighter boats sunk and filled with concrete between the larger steamers) in the estuary mouth in defence.

From early September, the allied navies instigated a blockade of the German Cameroons, this was very successful except in the case of neutral Spanish Guinea, which acted as a route for low levels of contraband to enter the German colony.  The allies could stop this route without affecting Spanish neutrality.

The fortnightly German Cameroons newspaper in August 1914 detailed severe food shortages as the blockade took effect, and the commencement of rationing measures as supply ships failed to arrive from Germany.  Those Europeans serving with the German armed forces got the most rations with a daily allowance of 200g of fresh meat, 250g of potatoes, 150g of rice, 250g of legumes (peas/beans/lentils), 75g of butter or lard, 40g of coffee, 5g of tea, 100g of tinned milk, 250g of sugar and 175g of fruit.  Everyone had to supplement their diet with local produce, which also became short in supply; the natives fared worse than anyone else with food shortages, as the German’s prioritised Europeans and the war effort.  I doubt very much that European food was therefore wasted on the prisoners like Lewis, who would have been on a reduced diet of local produce like sweet potato and banana.

From the 7thth September, naval action against Douala via the Wouri estuary began, with a series of small scale ship to ship actions between allied armed guard-ships and gunboats, and the less powerful German armed launches and steamers (even though the Royal Navy ships were considered obsolete, they were far superior to anything the Germans had).  The aim of the British action was to clear hostile shipping, mines and remove obstacles/block ships from the estuary mouth to force a passage for the British Cruisers, who could then bring their larger guns into range of Douala.

General Dobell arrived in Lagos in Nigeria on the 17 September, and began to form his land forces, and arrange for its transport to Douala.  Navy divers completed the clearance of the channel to Douala by the 22nd September, and on the 23rd September, HMS Challenger arrived at the mouth of the estuary escorting 6 transport ships carrying the British contingent of the expeditionary force under Major-General Dobell.

On the 24th September, a small British team (including Lieutenant Duncan McCallum as Intelligence Staff) on a small picket-boat, surveyed a practicable landing place.  And then the main allied fleet, having removed all naval threats, moved up to Douala and Major General Charles Dobell sent a surrender ultimatum to the German commander.

On 26th September, having received no answer, the Royal Navy bombarded Douala with its Cruisers, forcing the German garrison to withdraw from the town.  The Germans destroyed the telegraph office and equipment but left much of their property under the belief that the war in France would soon be over, in Germany’s favour, and they would get all their property back.

On 27th September 1000 Allied troops were landed, taking the town and occupying the port and the merchant ships lying in the port were seized.  They captured a large part of the Woermann shipping line in the harbour, which had moved further up the Cameroon River.  All German and Austrian men were made prisoners of war – some four hundred were captured including seventy women and children.

“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]

‘The Times’ newspaper details the hostilities in these two articles from 1914.


Once Douala had been taken, the allies secured the surrounding area over the next few days, including the nearby village of Bonaberi, where HMS Cumberland under Captain Cyril T. M. Fuller (who went on to be Second Sea Lord), is credited with capturing 10 merchantmen and liners.


The Admiralty report stats; “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): Max Brock, Renata eAmsinck, Paul Woermann, Erna Woermann, Henriette Woermann, Taliene Woermann, Hans Woermann, Jeannette Woermann, 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.” (Admiralty Report)

So how did Lewis fit into the story?

Lewis told the story that on the advent of war, he sought help from his German friends, but that these ‘friends’ betrayed him and turned him over to the authorities.  He was then apparently taken prisoner and held on a ship up the river for around six weeks before being rescued by the Royal Navy.  Unfortunately, whatever else he said is now lost, but by using German and allied reports it has been possible to fill in the gaps.

The period from the start of the war on 4thth August, to the capture of shipping at Douala on 27thth September by the Royal Navy, is just over seven weeks which fits the Lewis’ story of being in captivity on a ship for around six weeks – especially when you add in the time that it would have taken to capture Lewis and transport him from Edea to Douala.  The records show that no further ships were captured by the Royal Navy after this date – there was no more German shipping left in Cameroon.

Lewis was moved to Douala with other French and British nationals and held on one of the Woermann liners that remained in the harbour.  When the British Navy assaulted the Wuri estuary, these ships were moved up the Douala river to Bonaberi, out of the range of the British Cruisers.  All other German shipping, aside from a single gun boat (which was captured by the Royal Nacy), had been scuttled in the estuary mouth by the German authorities as block-ships, only the valuable Woermann ships had been saved.

The following account, dated 28th September (the day after the fall of Douala – and the day of the capture of Bonaberi), details 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).

This account was reported in the London Times on Thursday 5th November 1914:


The following account comes from official dispatches; “In the river off Duala and Bonaberi and in the neighbouring creeks, nine large sea going steamers, six smaller vessels, a trawler, four dredgers, nearly thirty steam or motor launches and about fifty lighters were captured.  These were in addition to the Kamerun and the seven steamers, dredger and steel lighters which had been sunk to obstruct the main channel.  The nine large steamers, of a tonnage ranging from 1,500 to 3,500, were all in full commission, ready for sea and with general or homeward cargoes of valuable produce; and on one of them were found thirty-two British and French prisoners of war.” (Official history of the Great War, Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons 1914-1916, Brig.-Gen. F. J. Moberly).  This official account pretty much matches the unofficial one, but clarifies that Lewis was considered a ‘Prisoner of War’ by the Germans, and that French subjects were held along with the British.

Lewis was one of these thirty-odd Englishmen and Frenchmen, and the ‘Hans Woermann’ (below) was the ship that he was interned on for six weeks before his rescue.


[The Hans Woermann was a passenger/cargo ship, built by David J. Dunlop & Co., Port Glasgow, she was 341.8ft long and 44.3ft wide with a depth of 26.7ft, and was 4059 tonnes.  After capture she 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.  She was 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.]

Lewis told the story that all the newly free ‘prisoners’ grabbed their belongings and anything else they could from the ship to keep as a souvenir and rushed to freedom.  I have a rather nice brass holder for a glass teacup which Lewis took from the Hans Woermann.  This is high-status item, clearly it would have been in one of the first-class berths or lounges.

What happened to Lewis after his release is harder to be certain of; although he didn’t speak of his captivity and its aftermath, we do have some records to help determine what probably happened to him.  Lewis himself said that he had the opportunity to stay with the West African expeditionary Force, but that he ultimately chose to return home, get married, and join up into the Army to fight on the Western Front in France (more on this later).  This has always seemed to me, a narrow and limited account of his remaining time in the Cameroons, especially as Lewis did not arrive back in Britain until the 26th April 1915.  He would have left the Cameroons in early April, which leaves us with up to six months in an active war-zone to account for.

The British sent German prisoners back to Britain and France, so that they could no longer pose a threat to the expeditionary force.  Major-General Dobell in his official dispatch talks of “By this time approximately 1,000 male Europeans, only 32 of whom were incapable of bearing arms, had been deported for internment in Europe.”.  Given that the British commissioned all the German shipping they had captured (including Hans Woermann, Anna Woermann and Lome) and used them as transport ships – there was plenty of capacity to transport passengers who wished to travel back to Britain.  I don’t think it likely that Lewis stayed in Cameroon because he couldn’t get home or wasn’t allowed to leave by the authorities.

One of his correspondences, a postcard to him on 30th December 1914, from a man called ‘Butler’ from Las Palmas, via Lagos, Nigeria, supports this view, as Butler was already on his way home.

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.”

I think it’s safe to assume Butler was one of the thirty-odd Englishmen held captive by the Germans – being in close captivity with others would have created friendships, even if they hadn’t known each other well beforehand.  The comment ‘remember me to everybody’ suggests a group of friends or people who’ve been through such a shared experience together.

This postcard was sent ‘c/o R. & W. King Ltd in Duala’, which is potentially key.  We know that R. & W. King had a branch office in Douala (since October 1911), and it seems clear that Lewis was still representing the business and could be reached via their office.  And the Germans had seized all the goods and stock owned by R. & W. King (along with all other British and French owned trading company’s) for their war effort in August 1914.  The ongoing conflict had stopped all further commercial trade within the Cameroons and between the Cameroons and Britain.

It seems clear that given these two facts, Lewis would not have been able to continue his trading and commercial activities with half the Cameroons still in German hands and the ongoing war in Europe.  It therefore seems likely that Lewis would have been using at least some of his remaining time in the Cameroons to save whatever R. & W. King assets that he could and close up the business for the duration of the war.  At this stage of the war, both sides still had hopes of a quick conclusion to hostilities, so perhaps R. & W. King had asked Lewis to wait and see what happened.

The most intriguing pieces of evidence for how Lewis spent his remaining time in the Cameroons, are from the attestation papers he submitted when he joined the Inns of the Court Officer Training Corps on 12th November 1915.  He put ‘German W.A.F’ (West Africa Force) on his record for prior military experience – this was the allied expeditionary force in Cameroon (a copy of this record is shown later in this post).  Additionally, on his attestation papers to join up to 11 Officer Cadet Battalion on 17th May 1916, he put down ‘West African Forces’ as past military experience.

Both these documents are formal attestations and therefore legal documents subject to the Army Act, with warnings on them stating that false answers to the questions were liable to punishment under the law.  This would have been a ‘Fraudulent Enlistment’ as defined by the Army Act, which “If a person knowing makes a false answer to any question contained in the attestation paper, which has been put to him by the direction of the justice before whom he appears for the purpose of being attested, he shall be liable on summary conviction to be imprisoned with or without hard labour for any period not exceeding three months” (Army Act 1906, section 99).

The only explanation is that Lewis volunteered for the allied expeditionary forces who had previously rescued him.  Unfortunately, Lewis is not mentioned in the official military history of the campaign book in any capacity (the only way that it may be possible to confirm his involvement would be to visit the National Archives at Kew to read any relevant war diary as they are not digitised and not online), but there was precedent for civilians acting as volunteers e.g. one British colonial called Guido de Piro D’Amico, acted in a combat role for a short period – he picked up a rifle during one battle.  Volunteers were not always afforded any rank and occasionally acted on an unofficial basis, so this perhaps explains the absence of a record so far.

As mentioned previously, Lewis’ good friend and fellow R. & W. King trader, Duncan ‘Mac’ McCallum, was the Intelligence Officer for General Dobell, the commander of the allied force.  It is unthinkable that Lewis would not have met up again with his close friend and colleague, ‘Mac’, once Lewis had been freed and once Mac had landed with General Dobell’s HQ in Douala.  Lewis and Mac had worked together and lived together for many months in Edea, they were close friends, as you can easily surmise from the warmth of their surviving correspondences.

[Temporary Lieutenant D. McCallum [Special Service] (read ‘Intelligence Officer’), was mentioned in dispatches on 31st May 1916 for his part in the campaign).  He didn’t get back to England until 26th Apr 1916, after departing Douala for Liverpool on the SS Abinsi.  Further confirmation – if needed, that this Duncan McCallum was Lewis’ R. & W. King colleague comes from his entry on the shipping register for this return to the UK.  He confirms that he is a Military Officer, but puts his address as ‘c/o Royal Colonial Institute, Northumberland Avenue, W.L’, and there was only one Duncan McCallum in the RCI, the same one who worked for R. W. King in Edea with Lewis (see earlier in this post).  Lewis was in England in May 1916, training to be an officer, so it’s nice to think he might have met up with Mac again back in Britain.]

After the landings in Douala, we know that Mac was busy interrogating prisoners of war and natives, to gather information on German intentions.  His intelligence reports supported the direction of the campaign, ‘the Force Headquarters war diary of the 16th October states that Lieutenant McCallum had formed the opinion from the information he had thus obtained, that the enemy intended to make Yaunde their point of final concentration and that, if they lost this, they would abandon the colony” (Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons 1914-1916, Brig.-Gen. F. J. Moberly).

The allies used Douala to bring in additional forces and heavy equipment like field guns and mounted naval guns, and then moved inland along the Midland railway to Edea and the Northern railway to Maka to secure the Douala beach head.  The allies next assaulted the town of Edea; the 1st battle of Edea took place on the 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 Cameroons.

Mac focussed on intelligence work for the capture of Edea and was seconded to the HQ of the attacking unit.  On the 27th October, Colonel Mayer (commanding the attack) requested that “Lieutenant McCallum of the British Intelligence Staff might remain with him” (Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons 1914-1916, Brig.-Gen. F. J. Moberly).

Lewis managed to recover some of his possessions from his trading post, since photographs and items we know Lewis had in Africa with him were brought back from Africa by him.  It is therefore safe to say that at some point he returned to his trading post after the recapture of Edea by British forces.  The earliest this would have been possible would be November 1914 after the 1st battle of Edea.

Duncan McCallum was still in Edea during January 1915, recruiting and organising ‘armed levies’ of the native tribes around Edea to defend their homes and villages against the hostile natives armed by the Germans – who were raiding villages and killing everyone.  The men were armed with captured German weapons and equipment and given a basic uniform – their ammunition was limited to stop them from ‘settling old scores against their neighbours’.  The men also acted as guides and intelligence agents and reported directly to Mac.  (Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons 1914-1916, Brig.-Gen. F. J. Moberly)

If Mac was in Edea between October 1914 and January 1915, then who was advising General Dobell, and acting as Intelligence Officer to the Expeditionary Forces HQ?  The General would have needed someone with thorough knowledge of the Cameroons, and this would seem the most likely role that Lewis could have fulfilled – perhaps Lewis temporarily filled the Intelligence role of his friend Mac?  He would have been able to provide up-to-date intelligence of Edea and the rest of the Cameroons for the British forces.  Lewis would perhaps have been a logical choice to provide additional intelligence, which the allies would have needed.

Why then did Lewis choose to leave the Cameroons in April 1915?  He had arrived for his third tour in May 1913, so had been in Cameroon for almost 2 years by the time he departed.  He had been held prisoner for 6 weeks in under difficult conditions – we know he probably with less food than he needed.  This would appear to be enough reason to want to return home.

Records show that the Cameroons campaign soon became bogged down, as sickness and disease spread through the allied forces and the rainy season took hold.  Between February and June 1915, General Dobell became increasingly concerned about the fitness and wellbeing of his command, particularly his Officers and NCO’s.  He described “few of his European officers were capable of sustained effort” and that “Unless Europeans and Africans were sent home on leave to their homes to recuperate he considered that few would be fit for active service in November” (Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons 1914-1916, Brig.-Gen. F. J. Moberly).  Perhaps Lewis was one of those deemed to be in need of recuperation at home after his 2 two years residence?

Whilst we may never know for sure, the evidence suggests that Lewis combined working for R. & W. King with volunteering for the allied expeditionary force as it organised itself and started its campaign in Cameroon and captured Edea.

It then appears that once Lewis had done what he could for R. & W. King – it would soon have become obvious that he could not continue his African Trader job, and once he had finished being useful to the army, he decided to leave the Cameroons and return to Britain.  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.


Lewis arrived home from the Cameroons on the SS Nigeria on 26th April 1915, he must have been relieved to be back in Britain.  The following picture of Lewis is dated 23rd July 1915, after his return to Britain but before his marriage and before he joined the army.  He looks well, especially after his African adventures.


Lewis went back to Bristol and married Helen ‘Nell’ Rand at St Paul’s Church, Clifton on 2nd October 1915.  She was apparently already 3 months pregnant.  Lewis had known 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 post office(?) have been having a fire or something -!”

Clearly by that point, their relationship was one where he was expecting regular letters – his tone is plaintive and slightly hurt at being ignored.  He must have met her at least by May 1913 on his last home leave, and probably sometime before.  Perhaps his intent to get married also played a part in his desire to get back to the UK.

img005 img006

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

I have widely used the book ‘Six Weeks – The short and gallant life of the British Officer in the First World War’ by John Lewis-Stempel, has provided some good background information on the life of a commissioned officer through training and in France.  The title, ‘Six weeks’, was the average time that a subaltern or junior officer like Lewis lasted in the trenches before being killed or wounded.  Lewis lasted around 8 weeks.

Inns of the Court Officer Training Corps (OTC), 1915-1916

On 12th November 1915, after six months recovering from his experiences in Africa and getting married, Lewis enlisted as a Cadet at Lincoln’s Inn, in London, as Private No. 7405, in the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps (OTC).  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 be sent to and Officer Cadet Battalion for final training to become officers, and then 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 – and would have involved drilling, lectures, live 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 on the Chilton Hills by the recruits.  Lewis would have trained in the horrors of trench warfare in this complex, and 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 the remains of old trench systems which look identical to those at Berkhamsted.

The record for his time in 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.”, and “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.”. And, “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.” (The Inns of the Court Officer Training Corps during the great war, Francis Henry Launcelot Errington).

This book details the gradual breaking down of the exclusiveness of the recruitment of officer candidates.  At the outbreak of war, they were taken were public and grammar schools and upper/upper-middle classes.  Gradually recruitment was expanded to bring in middle classes (either existing NCO’s or direct recruitment) – 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 is marked as Germ. WA,F, which means German West Africa (or Cameroons Force) – the F stands for Force.  So as previously stated, this does directly imply he helped out the British Expeditionary Force after his rescue, before choosing to come home and join up and fight 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 soldier of ‘Other Rank’ 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.


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 which would have been a reflection that he had done well in training.  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.

11 Officer Cadet Battalion (OCB) 1916

Lewis’ OCT officially 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.

He confirms his education at Merchant Venturers College Bristol, his past career as a West African Merchant, and his part military experience as ‘West African Forces’.  And that he was able to ride a horse.

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 an ‘Other Rank’ soldier or NCO and been recommended for promotion, or been to an OTC like Lewis.  Public school-boys who had attended their school OTC could skip straight into an OCB, or via a shortened 2 month OTC course at the Inns of the Court or Artists’ Rifles (Lewis’ course was 6 months).

A typical OTC curriculum covered parade drilling and marching, musketry and target practice, physical training – including marathon-length route marches (physical fitness was crucial to ensure that officers could lead by example), military tactics and infantry regulations, how to give orders, military law and military history.  Almost as importantly, cadets were taught how to behave like officers and gentlemen with lessons in etiquette and table manners, sportsmanship (even including drill on the correct way to carry a swagger stick!).  Cadets from lower and middle classes were combined with those straight from public schools, to create a more gentlemanly environment.

An ethos of duty and responsibility to the men that they would command, was drilled into the cadets, with instructors urging a close relationship between subaltern and their platoon.  Some officers were also taught to ride horses, as this was a requirement for promotion – Lewis could already ride, as noted on his officer training application.

Training usually lasted four months – Lewis joined mid-May and was commissioned by early September (and apparently had leave during this period), so he was there for only three and a half months.  He would have been one of between 400-600 cadets training at any one time; in total, more than 70,000 men passed through OTBs to gain commissions.

A final stage to the OCB would have been to pass the army exam to qualify for a commission, for this, the officer “must know, or have good knowledge of: DISCIPLINE; DRILL; MUSKETRY; TACTICS AND FIELD WARFARE; TOPOGRAPHY; BILLETING; MACHINE GUNS; INTERIOR ECONOMY AND MILITARY LAW; PHYSICAL DRILL; SIGNALLING; TRENCH WARFARE;”.  Each section was then full of further sub sections, so TRENCH WARFARE required knowledge of “Handling of commonest Bombs and Explosives; Telling off a working party and allotting a task; Loopholing and revetting; Common types of Trenches and Dug-Outs; Entanglements; Obstacles; The relief and handing over of a Platoon in the Trenches by day and night (We know Lewis did this in real life); Construction, repair, holding and capture of Trenches; Duties of a leader of a Grenade party; Methods of training and employment of Grenadiers” (Six Weeks, J. Lewis-Stempel).  Lewis would have needed to demonstrate detailed knowledge of all these things, as well as being assessed on his ‘fit’ for a commission.

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 assume 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.

England, 3rd (Special Reserve) Bn., Glous. Reg. 1916

Lewis 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 on the 15th September 1916.  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 would be sent to France in one of these replacement drafts, replacing a dead or wounded officer.

Lewis’ commission 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, as a 2nd Lieutenant on a temporary commission (and on a probationary basis) ‘attached’ to the Gloucester Regiment.

Prior to joining the 3rd Battalion, Lewis would have received his uniform allowance (between £30 and £60, but usually £50) and he would have been expected to look the part.  It was the responsibility of all new subalterns to purchase their own uniforms and equipment; John Lewis-Stempel, in his book ‘Six Weeks – The short and gallant life of a British Officer in the First World War‘, notes the experience of a new subaltern, who found that the £50 allowance was enough to buy a sword, revolver, greatcoat, two service-dress uniforms as well as all the accessories that he needed to go to France.

There was no standard officer uniform at the time – uniforms varied from dark green through khaki to brown in colour and were of varying fits and styles – often regiments would have their preferred tailors to provide some standardisation.  But most tailors adapted to the new demand for uniforms and made service-dress, greatcoats and trench-coats.  New officers on a budget could even buy off-the-shelf uniforms from shops like Moss Bros (still a high street store today).

As well as uniforms, new officers could purchase revolvers from shops like the Army and Navy, Selfridges and even Harrods – the new Colt service revolver cost 90 shillings in Harrods.  When the allowance ran out, many officers used donated equipment or put advertisements in newspapers seeking equipment that they needed 2nd hand.  Some officers even purchased body armour (made from steel plating) if they could afford it.  The other vital need was for boots – many officers wore knee high leather boots in the trenches, or service boots and puttees.

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 Officer’ who were often referred to as ‘Temporary Gentlemen’ which became a term of derision for those who were not from the higher classes.  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.  In 1914, only 2 percent of officers came from middle and lower classes, by 1918, this figure had increased to 40 percent – Lewis being one of the middle class entrants – this was a massive social change to the army.

The Temporary basis of these new commissions 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 really were temporary.  Some were offered permanent commissions and stayed on in the army, but the majority of officers left at the end of the conflict.

Lewis would have received around 7s 6d a day in pay, along with 1s 6d mess allowance, a billeting allowance, and once he was in France he would have received an additional special field allowance of half a crown a day.  A 2nd Lieutenant could earn £210 a year in salary and allowances, and most officers were paid through ‘Cox & Co.’ Bank in Charing Cross, London.  As an officer Lewis would have been liable to pay mess bills – he would have been expected to act the part of an officer and gentleman and join in with toasts etc.  For a regiment like the Glosters, this could have meant a daily mess bill of 7s to cover wining and dining!  It is not surprising that many junior officers lived beyond their means, unless they were independently wealthy (which Lewis was not).

It’s not clear what Lewis did for the 8 (or so) weeks that he was with the 3rd Battalion, but from contemporary reports many officers struggled with the tedium and delay in waiting for the call to France – not knowing when the telegram from the war office would arrive.  Officers like Lewis would have continued training, drilling their men and undertaking a regular routine to keep the men fit and motivated and ready to join the battle.

France, 12th (Reserve) Bn., Glous Reg. 1916-1917

In November 1916 Lewis received a transfer to the 12th (Reserve) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment (Glosters), nicknamed the ‘Bristol’s Own’.  This was a ‘fighting’ battalion already on the Western Front in France.

This 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 Kitchener’s ‘New Army’.  They landed in France (with 990 officers and men) on 21st November 1915.

When Lewis joined the 12th Battalion Glosters, it was part of the 95th Infantry Brigade of the 5th Infantry Division.  The 95th Infantry Brigade formation included the 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 95th Brigade were engaged in all major battles in France and Flanders; including in 1916, ‘The Attacks on High Wood’, ‘The Battle of Guillemont’, ‘The Battle of Flers-Courcelette’, ‘The Battle of Morval’, ‘The Battle of Le Transloy’, in 1917, ‘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’, ending the war in Italy.

During the battle of the Somme, the 5th Division lost up to 500 casualties for every day it was on the front line; between 26 August – 7 September alone, the 5th Division lost a total of 4,233 casualties – a staggeringly large number.  Lewis was one of the many replacements that would have been needed to make up for battle losses from the gruelling fighting.


In November 1916 (precise date unknown), Lewis sailed for France as part of a reinforcement draft, joining 12th (Bristol) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment.  We know that Lewis later returned to the UK on the 8th February 1917, and that from his ‘Medical Board Report on a Disabled Officer – Army Form A.45’ that Lewis was on overseas service for only 2 months and 12 days.  We can therefore deduce that Lewis arrived in France on or about the 27th November 1916 and was there for around 73 days before being wounded.  The 12th battalion would have been in billets at Essars, just North or Bethune, at the time (from 27th November to the 4th December), so I think it likely that he joined it there.

Lewis would have entrained at Sittingborne, Kent, and made the slow journey by rail to the coast, Folkestone was the most likely embarkation port from his location.  Once at the port, he would have reported to the Maritime Loading Officer, and waited for an available grey-painted steamer to make the crossing, and may have been delayed by weather or U-boat activity.  We don’t know which ship he embarked on, but troop transports and smaller commandeered steamers were used.

A Police Officer would have checked his papers before he boarded a vessel to make the crossing to France.  And like every other officer and man, he would have been given Lord Kitchener’s message to troops heading on active service (http://www.epitaphsofthegreatwar.com/):

The journey itself would have had a few destroyers (and possibly Naval airships) from the Navy as escorts.  Apparently, sea sickness was common – Lewis was probably a good sailor, given his many long journeys to and from West Africa.

Lewis was only entitled to take 35 lbs of personal luggage, but also carried standard kit, which weighed over 50 lbs, and most officers also carried a revolver (with 24 rounds of ammunition) and probably a rifle (with 120 rounds of ammunition).  Lewis apparently took a photograph of his new daughter (my granny) with him in his pocket.

Lewis probably landed at Boulogne (given his likely departure point of Folkestone – Havre with the other major port or entry for troops from Southampton), but may have landed at Calais (which was a more minor port).  He would have spent his first night in France in one of the many transit camps outside the port.  Most men commented that realisation they were in a foreign country first came when they saw all the signs in French.

If he had orders to report to his battalion, Lewis would have then started the journey directly to the front line.  Otherwise, he would have made the journey to Etaples and the huge 100,000 man British tented base depot (built in the sand dunes outside town), where regiments organised and trained their drafts before sending them to the front (Etaples base depot had a brutal reputation – the instructors were widely despised, and it was the site of a mutiny in 1917).

There is nothing the records about Lewis being in Etaples and there is no mention of a new draft of men joining his battalion in its war diary.  The last draft (before Lewis joined) was around mid September, and included 4 subalterns and 112 other ranks.  The last ‘independently’ joining replacement officer mentioned (without a draft) was on 27th September.  On balance, I think it likely that Lewis went direct to his battalion as a much needed replacement and without a draft of replacement men.

Lewis would have been given a destination voucher which he would have taken to the station to present to the Railway Transport Officer.  He would then have entrained on the next available train and headed to the front.

All the accounts I have read talk of the slow speed of the trains – often the officers disembarked and walked alongside to stretch their legs.  A journey of 50 miles could take 24 hours.  The men were put in cattle trucks (+40 to a truck), the officers travelled in passenger carriages – but these carriages were often overcrowded, dirty and cold.  Food was severely limited, and the officers would buy food from stalls alongside the tracks – the men were given tins of bully beef.  The officers nicknamed the French trains ‘bone-shakers’.

Lewis would have arrived at the railhead, almost certainly at the town of Bethune in his case, and would have seen the first sign of warfare – and heard the artillery guns in the distance.  He would have then had to use his own ingenuity to find and join his own battalion.  Officers travelling on their own were known to beg lifts on transports or ambulances, or borrow horses to get to their positions.  Lewis would have been responsible for carrying his own kit (actually carrying more than an ‘other rank’ soldier including his personal kit).  Young subalterns were actually nicknamed ‘Christmas Tree’s’; wearing their Sam Browns, with revolver, binoculars, map-case, water-bottle and gas mask all hanging from it, over their khaki uniform.

On arrival at his battalion, Lewis would have presented himself to his new Commanding Officer (CO).  Often the outcome of this first meeting would set the tone of an officers time with a battalion.  Most CO’s tried to make new subalterns welcome – but some regiments had customs like calling new subalterns ‘warts’.  Lewis would then have been introduced to his mess – the other officers in the battalion, his company commander (usually a Captain), as well as fellow platoon commanders and the second in command (usually a Major).  For a new subaltern, the experience was often described as like being back at the first day at school again!

Lewis would have been introduced to his own NCOs and men – the men of his platoon that he would command.  It would then have been Lewis’ job to build a rapport with his new platoon, and a mutual trust which they would need for them to follow him into battle.  He was almost certainly replacing a killed or wounded subaltern, so would have to had to fill the shoes of someone else who may have been well liked by the platoon.  This could have been a daunting situation.

Trench life

Once Lewis got into the trenches, he would have found irregular depths and widths of trench, with a range of wooden boarding and wattle holding the trench sides together.  The floor would have had wooden duck-boards to provide a raised walkway to keep the soldiers feet out of the inevitable mud and water, and occasional deep sumps to drain water away.  The British trenches were generally basic and constantly in need of repair work – this was a frequent role for the battalions occupying them.  Flooding was a constant problem, and the weak pumps often failed, making trenches and dug-outs uninhabitable.

An ideal trench would have been six feet deep and three feet wide, and would have zig-zagged along to stop enfilading fire (along the trench), and to stop any blasts from clearing a trench.  There was a fire-step to enable soldiers to shoot at the Germans, and a parapet to provide some additional protection.  Periscopes were used to observe the enemy in relative safety.  Small shallow trenches (or saps) ran towards the German lines (into no-mans-land) to allow observation, machine gun posts and so on.

The landscape of no-mans land would have been like the archetypical First World War battlefield – the German trenches were often only 40 yards away.  The space between and around had been blasted empty of vegetation, it was mud with water-filled crater holes from bomb blasts and barbed wire.  The scene would change with each artillery barrage as more craters were made.  And although bodies were regularly cleared or hidden by mud, there was an ongoing stench of death – often bomb blasts or trench repairs would uncover bodies of those who had previously died and been lost.

Whilst in the trenches, Lewis would have lived in an officers dug-out, literally a space dug out of the side of a trench wall and braced with wooden supports; most commonly, they were around 8ft x 8 ft wide and deep and perhaps only 4 ft in height and built of whatever materials were available – they were not usually bomb-proof.  This would have been living quarters and office for the officers of a particular company in the position – so perhaps for 4 officers.

Lewis’ battalion would have spent roughly three days in the line before going into reserve again.  These three days would have been characterised for him by a lack of sleep; a subaltern would have only been able to snatch a few hours here and there amongst many other duties.

Lewis would have been responsible for a section of the trench which he would have had to organise and regularly inspect.  He would have ‘stood his men to’ an hour before dawn and dusk to prepare for potential German attacks – this was routine.  He would have dolled out the men’s daily allowance of rum (1/16th pint of Navy Rum), he would have inspected all his mens feet for trench rot (and prescribed whale oil if necessary) and he would have checked the iron rations supplies (hard-tack and bully beef).  He would have regularly inspected his troops to ensure their rifles were clean, he would have received reports from each of his section NCO’s and distributed his men to observation or trench repair working parties or other jobs, and he would have had to report to his company commander and attend battalion meetings.  He would have had a small mountain of paperwork to complete on a daily basis – including reading all the letters and postcards written by his men to censor them.  He may also have had to lead patrols out into no mans land, or visit listening posts at the end of saps.  Most officers were swamped with work and got rest and food when they could – all the accounts I have read talk of near exhaustion once back in reserve.

Out of the trenches and in-reserve, Lewis would have been responsible for billeting of his men



12th Gloucestershire Bn. War Diary Nov 1916 – Feb 1917

The 12th Gloucestershire Battalion war diary has been invaluable in determining the movements and actions of Lewis’ unit over the period he was with them.  It is available for download from the National Archives (WO.95.1580).

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, 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 fire-trenches running parallel facing the enemy, with support and reserve 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 – it was very easy to get lost in the maze.  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.]

Diary entries

On 23rd November, the battalion, then at Cuinchy, France, was relieved 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.  It is during this period in billets, that I calculate Lewis joined the battalion – although there is no date in the war diary for his joining.

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 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 (draft) 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, relieving the Norfolk Regiment.  It was noted that enemy artillery and trench mortar attacks were fairly regular – this was nicknamed a ‘hate’ by the British troops.  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 wounded by MINENWERFER.  Enemy quiet.” (12th Battalion War Diary)

This battalion report (original above) states that Lewis was seriously wounded with 1OR or one other rank, soldier or non-officer, 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:

The only contemporary description I can find is from Graham Greenwell, a young subaltern, who wrote “The Huns had turned on to the spot at which we had to pass their most appalling of all engines – the minenwerfer or mine-thrower.  As I was about to go across I saw a blinding flash in front of me … the concussion hurled me backwards into a deep German dug-out” (G. Greenwell, An infant in arms).

The Minenwerfer 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 definitively that Lewis would have been in the British fighting trench when he was injured.

Lewis 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 that he needed to wear a splint for support.

Lewis would have been carried out of the lines on a stretcher to a nearby ‘aid post’ or ‘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 down the locations of these Field Hospital’s, 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 before transfer to a Casualty Clearing Station (C.C.S.).  In his case, he was almost certainly sent to no. 33 Casualty Clearing Station, located at Bethune (where he had spent Christmas), as this was the closed CCS and only around 5 miles from Cuinchy.

Bethune was an important railway junction and hospital site – he would almost certainly have been stabilised here, and given that his injuries were not immediately life-threatening, I doubt that major surgery was undertaken here.  If the wounded could wait, then the preferred course was 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 almost certainly had his surgery here.  In February 1917, No. 7 Stationary, No. 13 General and No. 83 General Hospitals were in Boulogne, and Lewis would have been in one of these locations.  Once he was stable and once a suitable hospital ship became available to transport him home to Britain, Lewis would have been sent back home.

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.  This vessel had 3 British Officers (presumably Army Surgeons and Doctors), 1 Warrant Officer, 3 Nurses and Sisters, 27 Royal Army Medical Corps orderlies.  She had only 30 cots for wounded officers -Officer and Other Rank casualties were segregated at all points of their treatment.  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.

UK Hospitalisation and discharge from the army, 1917

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’.  Lewis’ records don’t support this, but it seems logical, since 17 Park Lane was only 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:

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-13-00-28 screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-13-03-27 screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-13-09-07screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-14-49-10

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 apparently opened by the old butler – before they were shown in to see Lewis.  Granny with also taken to see her dad in Londonderry House [Granny herself was in London during the Zeppelin raids on London during 1916].

On 19th March 1917, Lewis 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

On 15th July 1917, he formally relinquished his temporary commission, he had held his commission for less than a year.  He had not recovered sufficiently from his injuries enough to return to active service, and in the view of the medics, he was unlikely to ever do so.  Lewis was granted an honorary rank of full 2nd Lieutenant.  He was ‘honourably discharged’ from the army – he was awarded the Silver War Badge (detailed below), which was only awarded in these circumstances – to prove than a civilian had done their bit.

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 and confirm the date:

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!  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:

Lewis 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

The Silver War Badge was issued to those who had been honourably discharged from military service because of wounds or sickness.  It could only be worn only on the right breast of civilian clothes and was worn by men to prove that they had served and done their bit in the war.  Unfortunately, there were many occasions when men who had been wounded and discharged honourably, were confronted by women and elderly men (who could not fight) and accused of cowardice.  This badge was an attempt to discourage these kinds of incidents.  Lewis was entitled to wear his from 20th October 1917.

After the war, like many others who served, Lewis 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 was awarded to all officers and men who had fought in the First World War – Lewis’ version would have been in Silver – some 6.5 million of these were made.  The Victory Medal was awarded to all officers and men who had been mobilised for war service and who had entered a theatre of war between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918.

We don’t know where Lewis’ medals are, but my wife has all three of these medals (that Lewis was also given) from her relatives, also including a 1914-1915 medal which Lewis wasn’t entitled to, so it is interesting to see these medals.

Later Life, 1917 onwards

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 Lewis 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



3 Replies to “Lewis Milton; including German West Africa (1907-15), Western Front (1916-17)”

  1. Great investigation job!!
    I also have a blog in wich I investigate about my German grandfather in Camerun.
    Can I use some of your photos on my blog?
    Thank you so much


    1. Hi Maria,

      I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you, I’ve been away.

      Yes, you can use my photos, but can I please ask you to put in a link to my blog post, and credit ‘Lewis Milton’ with the photos.
      I hope that’s ok?

      I’d be interested in reading anything you come up with.

      Kind regards,


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