Cinderella’s Soldiers – The Nyasaland Volunteer Reserve
By Peter Roger Charlton
Published privately and available from the Author at 41 Wyndarra St., Kenmore, QLD 4069, Australia
Every once in while I come across a book that changes the way I think about the British & Commonwealth Armies. This is one such book and it tells the story of the Nyasaland Volunteer Reserve (NVR) during the First World War. Nyasaland Protectorate is now called Malawi (in southern Africa) and it was the scene of a campaign in 1915. It has always been overshadowed by the mass horrors of trench warfare on the Western Front and it has received very little attention except for the occasional mention in the Government Gazette. Realistically it deserves more focus and this publication seeks to rectify this. In 1914 when war was declared the total European population of Nyasaland was a mere 799 (males numbering 540). Of these 143 were already enlisted in the NVR. At its zenith the NVR numbered a staggering 542. These individuals offered all they could to the service of the Empire and gave up their livelihoods, careers, health and often their lives. These men should be remembered with the pride that they deserve. The conditions of the Nyasaland campaign were equally as terrible as those on the trenches - if not worse. Disease was much more prevalent in Africa (malaria and dysentery being particularly endemic), food supplies were limited and often of poor nutritional quality, their personal clothing was worn out, the communication equipment was lacking, man-eating animals native to Africa were a constant threat (especially to the wounded who may be eaten alive), the medical supplies and support were virtually non-existent etc. The book details how these brave men struggled through the unforgiving and inhospitable terrain. It shows that often action with the enemy was one of their lesser fears. The climatic and local conditions were against them. Also they had significant equipment and supply problems. Their fire-power consisted of a few artillery pieces and some of these guns were mounted on wooden carriages and wheels. In a situation probably unique to Nyasaland the spokes of the gun carriages shrank due to the extreme heat so that they fell out of the rims! As a result of this they had to locally manufacture their own carriages and other transport / support equipment. This just indicates how the NVR had “specialities” unique to this campaign. This text seeks to enlighten the population about this “forgotten” campaign and to show how this brave band, numbering just a few hundred, fought inhospitable conditions to ensure that this part of the British Empire was not acceded to German control and annexation. The campaign was near 100 years ago and there are few, if any, prime sources of data on it. The fire at the Zomba Secretariat in 1919 is likely to have exacerbated this lack of primary materials. Even so Volunteer units were well known for their lack of secretarial abilities. The author has conducted an excellent study and produced a first class account of the NVR. I don’t often find this, but this book has ignited in me an interest of the Nyasaland Campaign such that I want to discover more about this unknown Volunteer force. The author deserves recognition for his scholarly work and congratulations are due.