May 13th 1918

Capt. Geoffrey Carpenter (Uganda Medical Service) writes from the Victoria Falls Hotel in Southern Rhodesia, where he is on leave, having been up country in Singida district of Tanganyika dealing with an outbreak of the plague.

16/4/18. “The inhabitants of this district, known as Wanyaturu, were having rather a poor time, for beside the plague there was smallpox in the country, and they had no grain, all their reserves having been used, and the crops not yet having come on, so they were living on grass seeds, meat and the blood of their cattle, which they obtain and drink after the custom of their northern neighbours, the Masai. 

The jugular vein of an ox is made to stand out prominently by pressure, and then a little arrow is shot into it from a few yards away. This is the time honoured procedure – but one wonders why such a round-about method is used instead of the knife! The warm blood is drunk fresh; though I am a medicine man myself, I could never bring myself to face this procedure, though my curiosity longed to be satisfied!

I am taking advantage of this leave to see one of the world’s wonders… viz., the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi, near Livingstone… 

Firstly, get it into your heads that the renowned Niagara falls are not in it with the Zambezi falls! The latter are twice as broad and two and a half times as high as the Niagara, but perhaps the word deep describes it better than high, seeing that the water drops into an immense chasm, for the level of the country is the same above as below the falls. The river, a mile and a quarter broad, suddenly falls over into a fissure deep set at right angles to its course, and very narrow, in some places less than 400 feet across…

The spray produced by the terrific impact of water at the bottom of the chasm rises high into the air above the surrounding country for some hundreds of feet, forming a white column which is visible from 25 miles away…

I also send one of the railway’s printed maps and a set of picture cards which I should like to be put up on the walls of the Museum, so that the falls may be somewhat more than an empty name on the map.”

December 31st 1915

Christmas for our gallant old boys, stationed in numerous theatres of war, has varied considerably.

Capt. Geoffrey Carpenter (Uganda Medical Service) is currently somewhere in the vicinity of Kabale in Uganda:

“Xmas Day passed without any excitement and our mess managed to put up quite a decent dinner. Tinned tomato soup, herrings and jugged hare, a guinea-fowl (shot with a rifle) to take turkey’s place – they are as good eating as any bird I know.”

Capt. Charlie Childe (Gloucestershire Regiment), in a billet near Richebourg St. Vaast, on the other hand, has had no relief from the day-to-day realities of the war:

Charlie Childe“From 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve till 5 p.m. on Christmas Day all our batteries had more or less carte blanche and all started blazing away at midnight.

I went in on Christmas Day after tea and there was a great deal of whizz-banging and salvoes of shrapnel all night. I was quite pleased when I got back to my dug-out, as it was rather a poor game wandering about over the open in the pitch dark, and wet, with all this hatred breaking out from time to time.”

Lieut. Jack Smyth (15th Ludhiana Sikhs) is now in Egypt, defending Alexandria from attack by the German-supported Sennussi tribe. No Christmas spirit to be found there either:

Jack Smyth“I spent the most exciting Christmas Day and the coldest Christmas night I have ever spent in my life; the whole day was spent in an attack on the Sennussi position. I was doing Adjutant duties and as I had only a few days before come out of hospital in Alexandria, I was almost dead, not counting the additional ‘almosts’ from bullets…

I should love to have been able to get back to Oxford for Xmas, but must not think of such things till the war is over…”

2nd Lieut. Maurice Jacks (King’s Royal Rifle Corps), whose location is given simply as “this dreary corner of North France” has ascertained that the Boche may be suffering somewhat worse than our troops:

“A deserter came in the other day and to his amazement the men gave him cigarettes and tea, and Headquarters a dinner; he was feted all round, but we could not let him off without displaying a little ‘frightfulness’ and the whole battalion having just had a Xmas dinner of goose and plum pudding, we asked him, ‘I suppose you had goose and plum pudding on Xmas Day. We all did!’

He threw up his hands in amazement and was green with envy; he apparently had not even had a sausage!”

Lastly, my daughter, Kit Marshall (St. Leonard’s School YMCA hut, Camp 18, Harfleur Valley, near Havre) has been helping entertain those Tommies behind the lines, who were able to celebrate in some style:

KIt Lynam portrait“This morning we were all taken to the Irishmen’s and RFA dining halls to see their Christmas dinner and the decorations. They had turkey, geese, plum puddings, some given by the Ulster women, and beer.

Then at 3 p.m. we went to their concert. The men from both dining halls crammed into one… and they all joined in the choruses – ‘The little Grey Home’, ‘The Sunshine of Your Smile’, ‘Ragtime Cowboy Joe’ etc.

The pianist was splendid, played anything in any key; the voices were somewhat husky, the result of a huge dinner and a very smoky atmosphere. They had been given churchwarden pipes, too, by the Ulster women and the scene was most picturesque – all these men standing and sitting under the elaborate wreaths of different coloured paper and evergreens, all singing lustily.

Now I am sitting in the pay-box, having a slack time, as most of the men are down dancing in the lower Hut. All those under 5 ft. 6 ins. are decorated with ribbons, which shows that they are ladies…”

For these men, Kit’s old school (after the OPS of course!), St Leonard’s, provided Christmas presents:

…The men came up to the platform, each in turn, and dipped into a huge bran-pie for a present… 1,465 presents were given away and still some did not get any. They were awfully pleased with the things they got: wallets, handkerchiefs, socks, pocket-books, knives, pipes, purses, cigarette cases, cases for matchboxes etc etc. The School and Seniors gave the money, about £68, and Miss Grant chose and sent all the presents.”