The ‘Modern Galahad’ and the ‘Apostle of Kultur’: Representations of the East African Campaign and the Imperial Gendering of British War Culture, 1914-1918

Although Kiboriani and Buigiri were called “Women’s Camp,” the [German military] man placed in charge of them was quite unfit to have the charge of ladies. His morals were bad. He was habitually rude to everybody, and frequently shouted at ladies in an insulting manner as if they were natives. If going away on a journey, he would order some of the ladies to pack his boxes for him.

He constantly flogged natives (soldiers, boys, and others) in the concentration camp, right in front of the ladies, which caused them much mental distress.

He nearly always gave his orders to both men and ladies through a native soldier, which gave them the opportunity to be insolent to us, and degraded us in their eyes.

—Sworn Statement by former prisoner John H. Briggs (10 November 1916)

When the First World War broke out in the summer of 1914, a degree of genuine enthusiastic nationalism swept over Europe.[1] Throughout the belligerent nations, small handfuls of fervent urban crowds, while far from representing a majority view, essentially acted as a vanguard of an inchoate, but nonetheless capacious, emotional and psychological consensus of support for the war based on a perceived need to defend their respective nations.[2] In Great Britain, this consensus extended, broadly speaking, to the dominions as well, where a feeling of ethno-cultural unity and common cause with Britain overrode most other concerns.[3] But out of this vague feeling of national unity emerged something much more concrete, though still largely intangible: the meaning(s) of the struggle, just then in its infancy, which would ultimately endure through November 1918. During the early days of the war, a system of cultural interpretations solidified that defined the meaning of the war as a racial and religious “crusade” of civilization against barbarism, referred to by Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker as ‘war culture.’[4] It was this war culture, which enabled the emotional and psychological mobilization of 1914 to persist through four years of war, despite confirmation—early and often—of the true horror and destruction wrought by the conflict. In fact, Great Britain saw the single largest contingent of volunteers enlist in early September 1914, at precisely the moment when the war, in Adrien Gregory’s words, “turned serious” and volunteers were overtly aware the war would not be a “picnic stroll.”[5] Moreover, in Britain, even non-European campaigns in which the majority of the fighting and dying was disproportionately done by non-white troops were painted with the same war-cultural brush in representations published on the home front: a patriotically united, inherently moral, imperial Britain was at war, globally, with an innately barbaric, depraved and uncivilized German enemy.[6]

This concrete meaning of World War I as a civilizational crusade, however, did not emerge out of an ideational vacuum: it was built on pre-war definitions of the meaning of empire, what I have termed imperial culture—a cultural framework which gave (in this case the British) empire its deeper meaning(s) by defining British superiority through an imperial nationalism built on a combination of monarchism, militarism and Social Darwinism.[7] As Konrad Jarausch concisely states, prior to World War I “diffusion of imperialist sentiment infected wide circles with a powerful blend of nationalism, militarism and racism which would soon tear Europe itself apart.”[8]

This was particularly true in British representations of the East African campaign, which offer unique and important insights into both war culture and imperial culture. Not only was the campaign the longest of the war, lasting from August 1914 until two weeks after the official armistice in 1918, but it was fought almost entirely by African askaris—essentially mercenaries—led by white officers on the German side, and principally by colonial and dominion troops also led by white officers on the British side.[9] In the British case, many of those white officers were not British at all, but colonials or from the dominions—particularly South Africa.[10] Further, casualties were suffered above all by the African porters who were employed and often coerced to keep the soldiers supplied, and not by the actual soldiers. David Killingray estimates that over 100,000 porters died in East Africa, principally from the disease and starvation that resulted from official neglect and incompetence.[11] By contrast, Hew Strachan puts total British losses at 3,443 killed in action and 6,558 dead from disease.[12] Officially, out of the 126,972 British troops who served in the course of the East African campaign, 11,189 died—a mortality rate of 9%—with total casualties reaching around 22,000.[13] Moreover, at least from a numerical standpoint, it was African and Indian soldiers that the Germans primarily faced in the campaign,[14] a fact also reflected in the mortality rates: according to Edward Paice, at least 41,000 Africans conscripted by the British in occupied German East Africa had died by the end of the campaign.[15] That figure is particularly striking given that the British campaign to take German East Africa did not commence until the beginning of 1916, and the territory was not fully occupied until early the following year.

These figures reflect that the very nature of the campaign necessitated that any person undertaking to represent it was forced to confront the underlying relationship between the two interpretive systems of war culture and imperial culture: war, race and empire converged in a single campaign in which the Africans themselves bore the brunt of the hardship. Somewhat ironically, but perhaps unsurprisingly, in these representations of the East African campaign, race became an intra-European marker of the divide between friend and enemy, civilization and barbarism, and good and evil during the First World War through a reconstruction of the pre-war imperialist racial hierarchy, as was the case throughout Europe and in representations of the war in Europe.[16]

Clearly then, this racialization of war culture—particularly in representations of the East African campaign—was distinctly imperial. It was a discourse that on the one hand used a modified form of imperial culture to demonstrate the absolute need for the united nation to defeat the racially barbaric enemy, while on the other it maintained the second-class status of non-Europeans through the more concrete continuation of the imperial racial lens. Even those non-whites fighting and dying in European armies were never represented as equals, despite the war-cultural rhetoric of racially-transcendent unity, while the defense of civilization was clearly represented as necessitating the enlargement of the empire.[17]

But the broader point here is that in order to gain a true understanding of war culture—and hence how the meaning of the Great War was perceived by those who lived it—it remains essential to fully explore its imperial roots. While recent studies have taken steps in this direction by analyzing how war culture was imperially racialized, what has remained unaddressed—and ultimately is equally important—is the fact that war culture was imperially gendered as well.[18] Hence, this paper examines British representations of the East African campaign, focusing specifically on the way gender functioned within these representations: What work did gender do within war culture? What does that work tell us about British understandings of the meaning(s) of World War I?

Joan Wallach Scott famously argues that all discourse is gendered,[19] and the contention here is similar, but more particular: traditional imperial conceptions of gender were mobilized as rhetorical weapons of war culture. They not only reinforced notions of German racial barbarity, but were integral to demarcating the lines between civilization and barbarism more broadly, and thus to asserting and maintaining war-culture’s polarized meaning of the conflict. At the same time, that war-cultural polarization bifurcated gender along national lines, making nationality—not gender per se—the core metric for assessing morality. Ann Laura Stoler argues that “[t]he very categories ‘colonizer’ and ‘colonized’ were secured through forms of sexual control that defined the domestic arrangements of Europeans and the cultural investments by which they identified themselves.”[20] Similarly, in these representations sexual control (or lack thereof) and imperial gender norms were used to secure an additional categorical binary, and one which solidified the meaning of the First World War: ‘ally’ and ‘enemy.’

Women and the Boundaries of Civilization 

Atrocity stories were the most integral aspect of convincing Britons at home of the racial malignancy of their German enemy,[21] and sexual crimes and crimes against women—whether real or imagined—had a long history of emotional potency as rhetorical weapons, particularly in colonial contexts; one’s treatment of women was a, if not the, key marker of belonging to or separation from civilization dating back to the initial colonial conquests in the sixteenth century.[22] It is thus unsurprising that the German treatment of women functioned in this same way in representations of the East African campaign.

The most direct examples come from a September 1917 report to Parliament on the Germans’ treatment of prisoners in German East Africa. The report consists of sworn statements by former prisoners who attest to the German’s brutality, but focus especially on their malice towards women and non-whites, in addition to the prisoners being degraded in front of Africans. For example, according to the statement of Jas. Scott-Brown, an interned civilian, the female prisoners were “compelled to make underpants and socks for the Germans or their native soldiers, under threat of three days’ confinement on bread and water,” in addition to their normal duties which consisted of “sweeping out their rooms, washing their clothes, and periodical service in the kitchen, no native help being vouchsafed for them.” Not only that, but during an oft-cited incident in the report, where roughly 100 prisoners were forced to stand inside a small, overcrowded shed for over a full day while they were overseen by intoxicated African guards who threatened to shoot anyone who left that shed, female prisoners suffered disproportionately: “[a]part from the physical pain and discomfort the women suffered at not being allowed to visit the lavatory when the necessity arose, they endured great mental distress at the threats and orders issued by the guard.”[23]

Thus, according to Scott-Brown, Germans not only subjected women to threats of violence and to forced labor in assistance of the German military, but they also disregarded what were considered appropriate provisions for white women living in the colonies. It is striking that Scott-Brown mentioned the dearth of ‘native help’ allotted for the women working in the kitchen, a clear indication of the continuation of the pre-war assumption of females’ need for bourgeois surroundings and comforts in colonial settings.[24] It is also notable that the only female voice in any of the representations located during this study is an excerpt from the diary of a Miss. Dunforth, a missionary interned in the same camp as Scott-Brown, which was quoted in a second government report from 1918 (which summarized the testimonies found in the 1917 report) and recounts the incident in the shed. Her account is simply a more thorough version of Scott-Brown’s testimony and contains the same lurid details. But it seems clear that this incident resonated strongly with Parliament, as it warranted not only inclusion in their 1918 summary report, but also prolonged, direct quotation from a female perspective on the episode: the quotation from her diary takes up three full pages in a report of only twenty-eight pages total length, and it seems fair to assume that any incident which took up ten percent of the report resounded to at least some extent.[25]

Similar accounts abound throughout the rest of the 1917 report. The statement of Augustine Beal Hellier recounts how at the Kiboriani prison camp “guards would enter our rooms (even those of the ladies) and compel the occupants to leave their beds in the afternoon,” as well as several instances when “Dorrendorf [the German camp commandant] was grossly insolent to many of the ladies” by shouting at them, threatening them with “bread and water,” and denying them ‘native chairs’ when they were forced to travel. He concluded his testimony by stating that “we did fear that the ladies might be assaulted by Dorrendorf, and Padre White and myself had formed a plan of action in such an event.”[26] Hence, in addition to the numerous accounts of ‘mentally distressing’ threats to women and denials of ‘necessary’ comforts for their well-being in the colonies, in at least one instance there seems to have been a fear of a ‘German Peril’ led by the camp commandant, in a twist on and reconstruction of the widespread pre-war imperial fear of the ‘Black Peril,’ i.e. sexual assaults of white women by black men.[27]

Further, it was this atrocious behavior against those considered weak that assumed center-stage when reported directly to the public. An editorial in The Manchester Guardian from 25 September 1917 called the report “one of the most damning documents in the library of German dishonour” due to the “appalling evidence in these reports of malignance displayed by some of the German officers in command of prisoners.” One of the most incriminatory aspects was the treatment of women:

The unspeakable conduct of one German officer towards the women prisoners seems to have provoked an inquiry from his superiors, but there passed without remonstrance from headquarters a sequence of brutalities which neither fear nor ‘military necessity’ nor anything except savagery can explain. One is driven to conclude that, whereas the best type of Englishman is to be found even in the minor branches of colonial administration, the German colonies attract mainly the worst Germans. The treatment of native prisoners was even worse.[28]

The editorial clearly represents Dorrendorf’s conduct not as the exception, but as the rule: ‘the worst Germans’ were attracted to the colonies, and the threat of the ‘German Peril’ was unimpeded. The implication seems to be that it was at least tacitly condoned by the upper echelons of the German military and government. Hence, the editorial blames, at a minimum, the entire German military apparatus for the misbehavior of a single German officer, thus removing the incident and individual from their specific historical and personal contexts and reframing them as simply examples of group malfeasance. In this instance, a gendered discourse directly reinforced the notion of Germans as innately—i.e. racially—‘savage,’ whether they were actually perpetrating crimes against women or only tolerating those crimes.

But Germans’ brutality towards women was represented in more indirect forms as well. In a collection of autobiographical vignettes of his experiences during the 1916 campaign, published in mid-1918 as Sketches of the East African Campaign, Captain Robert Dolbey, a surgeon in the Royal Army Medical Corps, accused the Germans of attempting to unleash the ‘Black Peril’ onto the colony:

[T]here has been striking ill success on the part of the Germans in organising and inducing, in spite of their many attempts and the obvious danger to their own women and children, the native tribes to oppose our advance. Fortunately for us, and for the white women of the country, tribes will not easily combine, and are loath to leave their tribal territory.[29]

A racial lens is clearly employed: Dolbey did not feel the need to explain why black men were an ‘obvious’ threat to white women, likely because the trope (which is all it can be called, as there is little to no evidence of actual assaults) of the ‘Black Peril’ dated back to at least the 1890s.[30] Additionally, it is also clear that Africans are considered simple and uncivilized by what is implied to be their irrational attachment to their tribal territory, an illustration of their inferiority vis-à-vis the British. More striking, however, is the fact that one again it was the alleged (in this case potential) mistreatment of women which demonstrated the true malevolence—not just inferiority—of the Germans, although this time via a German-organized ‘Black Peril’ as opposed to a direct ‘German Peril.’

It is also worth pointing out that a Manchester Guardian editorial from 15 December 1915 made a comparable accusation, albeit in a subtler manner: “[German East Africa] had a force of some 7,000 whites at her disposal, and a native population of ten millions, whom she did not hesitate to arm with a recklessness that those who knew the native temper thought criminal.”[31] The startling similarity of these accusations suggests that this specific indictment against the Germans may have had some degree of resonance on the home front, or at least was perceived to by Dolbey at the time he was composing his book. Regardless, treatment of women clearly remained a key measure of civilization—at least symbolically—for the British during the war, and thus their need for defense by British forces from either the ‘German’ or ‘Black Peril’ acted to further buttress the war-cultural meaning of the conflict. Moreover, it should be noted that Dolbey takes the accusation a step further in his assertion that the ‘obvious’ danger was to the Germans’ own white women. Germans were thus represented as failing in their masculine duty to protect their white women, in addition to actively mistreating and threatening British women, a further indication of their distance from civilization.

Apostles of Kultur

But Dolbey’s account is most striking in the way that he not only attacks German men as uncivilized and barbaric, but levels the same assertion towards German women, with arguably greater hostility and certainly more contempt. An anecdote entitled ‘A Typical Frau’ is perhaps the most illustrative in this regard:

In the course of his work, [an Intelligence officer] seized the meat-canning factory near Arusha that a certain Frau ——, in the absence of her husband, was carrying on. The enemy used to shoot wildebeeste and preserve it by canning or drying it in the sun as ‘biltong’ for the use of German troops. My friend was forced to burn the factory, and then it became his duty to escort this very practical lady back to our lines…. With tears she implored him to send her to her own people. She would promise anything. Cunningly she suggested great stores of information she might impart. But he cared not for her weeping, and ordered her to pack for the long journey to Arusha. Then tears failing her she sulked, and refused to eat or leave her tent. But this found him adamant. Finally she tried the woman’s wiles which should surely be irresistible to this man. But he was unmoved by all her blandishments. So surprised and indignant was he that he threatened to tell her husband of her behavior, when he should catch him. But here it appears he made a false estimate of the value of honour and dishonor among the Huns. ‘A loyal German woman,’ she exclaimed, laughing, ‘is allowed to use any means to further the interests of her Fatherland. My husband will only think more highly of me when he knows.’ So this modern Galahad of ours turned away and ordered the lady’s tent to be struck and marched her off, taking care that he himself was far removed from her presence in the caravan. ‘What fools you English are,’ she flung back at him, as he handed her into the custody that would safely hold this dangerous apostle of Kultur till the end of the war.[32]

The first thing to note is that while his friend, the British Intelligence officer, was ‘forced’ to burn down the factory, no direct explanation is given as to why. The implication seems to be that it was being used to supply German soldiers with food, but conspicuously the specific factory mentioned is implicated only by sentence-proximity. Dolbey describes the hunting and canning of meat for troops in abstracted terms, never making clear whether the Frau’s factory was part of this process. But most important is the highly gendered contrast between the completely un-ironic description of the British intelligence officer as a ‘modern Galahad’ and the Frau as an ‘apostle of Kultur,’ which is in many ways the most concise illustration of gender’s principal work within British war culture. On the one hand, the ‘modern Galahad’ is meant to serve as an illustration and archetype of the reserved, rational, sexually pure, but nonetheless tough, British soldier—the First World War variant of what Mrinalini Sinha termed the ‘Manly Englishman,’ the epitome of military masculinity.[33] Multiple anecdotes throughout the book, beginning with the introduction, emphasize the restraint and “natural goodness” of the British soldiers, often directly contrasted with the immoral behavior of the Germans in the same situations.[34] On the other hand, German women—as apostles of German Kultur—are presented as inherently immoral, as they behave in in the exact opposite manner expected of ‘civilized’ women: the Frau would ‘promise anything’ and attempted to use the ‘woman’s wiles’ which, far from being received with indignation (as was the case with the ‘modern Galahad’), would be greeted by her husband with pride for militarizing her sexuality in the interest of assisting the German war effort.

In fact, driving home precisely this contrast seems to be the primary goal of Dolbey’s book. He concluded his Sketches with a description of the British capture of the coastal city of Dar-es-Salaam, and an even more highly gendered war-cultural contrast:

Germans and their womenfolk crowd the streets; many of the former quite young and obvious deserters, the latter, thick of body and thicker of ankle, walk the town unmolested. Not one insult or injury has ever been offered to a German woman in this whole campaign. But these ‘victims of our bow and spear’ are not a bit pleased. The calm indifference our men display towards them leaves them hurt and chagrined. Better far to receive any kind of attention than to be ignored by these indifferent soldiers. What a tribute to their charms that the latest Hun fashion, latest in Dar-es-Salaam, but the latest by three years in Paris or London, should provoke no glance of interest on Sunday mornings! One feels that they long to pose as martyrs, and that our quixotic chivalry cuts them to the quick.[35]

Here, the characteristics of the British ‘modern Galahad’ are spelled out more directly. The British soldiers show ‘calm indifference’ to the German women—since of course they never offered a single insult to any of them during the entire campaign—and act only with restraint, rationality, and a total lack of emotion. It is also striking that Dolbey refers to British soldiers’ ‘quixotic chivalry,’ particularly given the romantic and gendered connotations of that noun. The implication is that not only had German women been treated with sexual indifference, but that British soldiers were inherently gallant, courteous and loyal men who treated their defeated enemy, particularly their women, honorably and graciously. This characterization is further driven home by the description of the German men left in the city as ‘obvious deserters.’ The young Germans were represented as blatant cowards in addition to being both vicious and callous—as he argued throughout the rest of his book—in direct contrast with the chivalric, male ideal embodied by the British.

Equally striking, and considerably more disturbing, is the way in which Dolbey fleshed out his description of German women. First, they are described as physically ugly, being ‘thick of body and thicker of ankle,’ and thus being unable to live up to the aesthetic expected of women. Moreover, this physical ugliness further buttressed the notion of the Germans’ racial inferiority, their unsightliness being an indication of biological degeneracy and malignance.[36] This is further reinforced in Dobley’s complaint about German women wearing fashions that are out of date two years into a world war, both of which amount to assertions of Germans’ distance from civilization on a superficial but nonetheless easily recognizable level. But most striking of all is the way German women are characterized as not only overly sexual, but as actively courting rape by British soldiers: they don’t just want sex, but want to feel ‘martyred,’ a step beyond even tradition imperial notions of native ‘exotic’ sexuality.[37] By the end of his book, Dolbey had moved past characterizing German female sexuality as militarily instrumental in those women’s self-perception, as was the case in the ‘Typical Frau’ anecdote; it was now as immoral and uncivilized as possible, both masochistic and irrational, and actively courting the gravest defilement which could befall a civilized woman. Indeed, the use of the term ‘martyred’ suggests that those same women understood the sex they were courting as defiling, but still desired it anyway. Moreover, as ‘apostles of Kultur,’ not only German women, but (once again) all of German society is implicated in those women’s alleged sexual impropriety. Yet again, an imperially-gendered discourse was used to reinforce the notion of Germans’ racial difference and immorality while simultaneously fortifying the idea of Britain’s moral chivalry.

It should be noted that Dolbey held a low opinion of women generally. In describing jigger fleas (which would borrow into soldiers’ feet, incapacitating them, and were thus a common medical issue Dolbey dealt with), he stated that “[t]rue to her sex, it is the female of the species that causes all the trouble; the male is comparatively harmless,” a clear indication of his misogynistic worldview.[38] However, he does not describe English women with anything approaching the venom he reserved for the Germans; in fact, quite the opposite. His only specific discussion of British women came during a brief sketch about prisoners held by the Germans, which reads almost exactly like the two British government reports with their fear of both the ‘German’ and ‘Black Perils:’

Gentle nurses of the Universities’ English Mission, missionary ladies who devoted a lifetime in the service of the Huns and the natives in German East, locked up behind barbed wire for two years, without privacy of any kind, constantly spied upon in their huts at night by the native guard, always in terror that the black man, now unrestrained, even encouraged by his German master, should do his worst. Can you wonder that they kept their poison tablets for ever [sic] in their pockets that they might have close at hand an end that was merciful indeed compared with what they would suffer at native hands?[39]

Ultimately, Dolbey’s binary between the ‘modern Galahad’ and the ‘apostle of Kultur’ is more about national differences—i.e. the war-cultural division between ally and enemy—than it is about gender differences per se: imperial gender ideology was working in support of war culture.

Masculinity and the Sport of War

Not all representations were as extreme as Dobley’s, although it is important to note that one can imply a degree of support for his views from the fact that his book underwent two printings within two months in mid-1918 (the first in June, the second in August) despite the fact that Britain had been suffering from a severe paper shortage since the start of the war.[40] But even in less Germanophobic works, imperial gendering played a major role in solidifying the British ideal of masculinity, and thus in shoring up the definition of the ‘civilization’ side of the war-cultural binary. One of the best illustrations comes from the 1917 war memoir of Lt. Commander Whittall, leader of an armored car unit during the South West African and East African campaigns, in his description of the African troops:

In common with all who know him, I have a great respect and admiration for the native soldier; whether he be King’s African Rifleman or German Askari, he is as good a fighting man as you would ask to have beside you in a tight corner, or as worthy an enemy as the veriest fire-eater could desire as an opponent. He is first and last a soldier. He comes of stock whose business has been fighting for many generations, and he is thus rich in warlike tradition. Full of courage, he is as faithful as a dog to his officers, if these know how to handle him and humour his prejudices…. He cannot shoot, as a rule, and when you are opposed to him the safest place is usually in the firing-line….But if he is not much of a shot he is a magnificent bayonet fighter, as might be expected when it is remembered thathe is almost born with a spear in his hand. Let him once get to close quarters with the ‘white arm’ and he will give the best European troops as merry a scrimmage as they could want—and it will not be more than even money on the result…. Like all native troops, he requires understanding and thinking for all the time, but once you have got his confidence he is yours to lead to the nethermost pit if needs be. If it be necessary to send him to absolutely certain death it will never occur to him that he ought not to go—he will assume, if he bothers to think about it at all, that it is all in the game, and that the Bwana knows best, anyway. In the bush he is worth any two white men.[41]

As was the case with Dobley’s description of German attempts at unleashing the ‘Black Peril,’ one is first struck by Whittall’s racialized lens. It should be noted, however, that Whittall’s praise seems quite genuine, especially when read as part of his entire work. Throughout, he allotted praise and criticism wherever he thought it necessary, including to the Germans, and although his assessment was still in line with war culture—he contended, for instance, that “the German mind apparently is incapable of appreciating higher values”—by contrast with the rest of the representations he is quite moderate.[42] Thus it is all the more revealing that even his honest praise is laced with racial denigration. While highly lauded as fine soldiers to the point that he considered them twice as good as whites when it came to jungle warfare, Whittall nonetheless characterized all African soldiers as child-like and simple; they could not handle the mildly-complicated task of aiming a rifle properly, let alone any higher-level thinking. The comparison to a dog is in many ways a synecdoche for his entire assessment: while African soldiers embody what Whittall considered the positive qualities of blind devotion, loyalty, courage, and ferocity, they are nonetheless little more than animals, and animals which one must have particular knowledge and patience to train.[43] Thus, it is clear that Africans—even those fighting and dying for the crown—were in no way considered part of the civilization they were defending.

Nonetheless, what is equally if not more striking is the nature of the positive characteristics ascribed to native soldiers—courage, loyalty to officers, willingness to sacrifice for their units, (suicidal) deference to military authority—all of which show a direct parallel with the pre-war imperialist masculine values inculcated in British public schools and through team sports in the late nineteenth century. What these institutions taught was, in Robert MacDonald’s words, “[t]he metaphor of war as sport—and its corollary, sport as war:” for men to value ‘playing the game.’ This meant was that one should “conduct the game in its ‘true’ spirit, that is, with vigour, good temper, dash; to play fairly, selflessly; to honour courage, and to lose cheerfully. ‘To play the game’ in war was, in effect, to behave as though the battlefield was an extension of the playing field, requiring the same attitudes and spirit.”[44] And this ideal of ‘playing the game’ served a distinctly imperial purpose prior to the war. As John Tosh points out, British men were experiencing a dual anxiety in the latter years of the nineteenth century, as they felt that both their manhood and empire were under an increasing number of threats from feminists, colonial activists, and the working class. The solution to these anxieties was to implement changes in masculine education to better outfit British men for maintenance of the empire, service in which would then finish the process of making them true men.[45] ‘Playing the game’ was the behavioral and attitudinal embodiment of that new imperial masculinity.

This imperial-masculine valorization of ‘war as sport’ is clearly at the heart of Whittall’s positive appraisal of native troops, as well as being implied in Dolbey’s archetypal ‘modern Galahad:’ the Askaris can give the ‘veriest fire-eater’ a ‘merry scrimmage,’ as if bush fighting were simply a game of football or cricket. More importantly, the implication is that a true European man wants just such a ‘scrimmage,’ and thus it is this gamesman’s quality of masculinity which was at the heart of their military success. Indeed, in Whittall’s final analysis, this is exactly the case: “German East Africa had been rested from a resourceful enemy by a series of operations as brilliantly conceived and carried out as any in the annals of tropical war, consummated by the genius of a great soldier and the magnificent qualities of the troops.”[46]

Whittall was not the only author to make such an assessment. H. C. O’Neill’s military history of the extra-European theatres, The War in Africa, 1914-1917, and in the Far East, 1914, likely published in late 1918,[47] concludes with a similar assessment, stating that it was “the will to exact the persistent advance when the intellect has measured its necessity” that was the deciding factor in the campaign.[48] In both cases, it was Britain’s willingness and ability to ‘play the game’ that allowed their imperial masculinity to triumph in the sport of war, while that same masculine conception provided the metaphors and language through which to address the new existential anxiety brought on by the global conflict. Thus, these sentiments embody the same masculine ideals as Dolbey’s ‘modern Galahad,’ and similarly represent the British cause—along with its ultimate triumph—as both innately moral and righteous.

Imperial Gendering in a World at War

Taken together, then, these works illustrate that British war culture as it appeared in representations of the East African campaign was imperially gendered. The treatment of women remained the standard by which civilization was measured, but ‘proper’ treatment was defined by the terms of the pre-war discourse of cultural imperialism: protecting white women from the ‘Black Peril,’ providing for their more effusive needs when living in the colonies, and respecting their privacy (and thus maintaining them in their ‘proper’ sphere) in all situations. By representing the Germans as failing to meet and more often directly subverting these ‘civilized’ standards, imperial gendering reinforced the notion of the Germans as uncivilized and brutal, and thus as an enemy that one had a moral duty to totally defeat. These war-cultural binary divisions between civilization and barbarity, ally and enemy, and British and German were then further buttressed by positive gendered notions without and within. By representing German women as ‘apostles of Kultur,’ the imperial racialization of the Germans and their demonization as the lowest race in the hierarchy was bolstered further, as their women were indicted as being just as uncivilized as their men through their flagrant flouting of ‘civilized’ norms, which those same men—it was asserted—condoned and encouraged: all Germans were implicated in the creation of these apostles. On the other hand, by discussing British military endeavors with the metaphor of ‘war as sport,’ the pre-war imperial definition of masculinity remained solidified, and the internal definition of British soldiers as ‘modern Galahads’ was strengthened, thus demonstrating the intrinsic morality of the British cause.

Between 1914 and 1918, the culture of the First World War meant that the binaries of ‘colonizer’ and ‘colonized,’ and even of ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ took a back-seat to those of ‘ally’ and ‘enemy,’ ‘British’ and ‘German.’ What was most important for assessing the ‘civilization’—and hence the morality—of a person and their conduct was not whether one was a man or woman, but whether one was a German man or a German woman: constructions of gender were bifurcated by war culture, while at the same time the imperially-gendered nature of that war culture ensured the continuing stability and emotional salience of the racialized meaning it applied to the war. Gender was another lens through which one could view the justice of one’s cause and the injustice the enemy’s, and thus it acted as an essential rhetorical weapon for the empire at war.

Matthew Hershey (’15) attends the University of Chicago as a graduate student.


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[1] See Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker, 14-18: Understanding the Great War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000): 94-100; Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914 (New York: Vintage, 1987): 161; Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (New York: Ballantine Books, 1962):310-311. The collapse of the socialist Second International into its national components provides good illustration. See Marc Ferro, The Great War: 1914-1918 (New York: Routledge, 1973): 38-43; James Joll, The Second International, 1889-1914 (New York: Praeger, 1956).

[2] Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker, 14-18, 94-95. See also: J. M. Bourne, Britain and the Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Edward Arnold, 1989): 227; Jeffrey Verhey, The Spirit of 1914: Militarism, Myth, and Mobilization in Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Benjamin Ziemann, War Experiences in Rural Germany, 1914-1923 (New York: Berg, 2007): 15-28.

[3] Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker, 14-18, 97.

[4] For an explication of the ‘crusade’ theme and war culture, see Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker, 14-18, 92-174.

[5]Adrian Gregory, “British ‘War Enthusiasm’ in 1914: A Reassessment” in Evidence, History, and the Great War: Historians and the Impact of 1914-18 ed. Gail Braybon (New York: Berghahn Books, 2003): 80. Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker make identical points: Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker, 14-18, 98. See also: Ibid., 94-104; Bourne, Britain and the Great War, 227-229; Ferro, The Great War, 29-37.

[6] Matthew Hershey, “Imperial Legitimation in a World at War: The British Empire, War Culture, and the East African Campaign, 1914-1918” (Master’s Thesis, University of Chicago, 2014): 12-33.

[7] John MacKenzie, Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880-1960 (New York: Manchester University Press, 1984): 2-8, 253-256; Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914 (New York: Vintage, 1987): 70.

[8] Konrad H. Jarausch, Taming Modernity: European Experiences in the Twentieth Century (Forthcoming): 92. Volker Berghahn makes a comparable point: Volker R. Berghahn, Europe in the Era of Two World Wars: From Militarism and Genocide to Civil Society (New York: Princeton University Press, 2006): 6. See also: Isabel V. Hull, Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005): 3.

[9] The British also utilized East African askaris during the campaign; many askaris fought for both sides by the end of the war. Hew Strachan, The First World War Volume I: To Arms (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001): 642.

[10] There is a large body of military-historical literature about the war in Africa, particularly about the East African campaign. See: John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Vintage, 1998): 205-211; Strachan, First World War, 569-643; Ross Anderson, The Forgotten Front: The East African Campaign, 1914-1918 (Stroud: Tempus Publishing Limited, 2004); Edward Paice, Tip and Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007); Anne Samson, World War I in Africa: The Forgotten Conflict Among the European Powers (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2013); Anne Samson, Britain, South Africa, and the East Africa Campaign, 1914-1918: The Union Comes of Age (New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 2006).

[11] David Killingray, “The War in Africa” in The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, ed.; Strachan, First World War, 642; Paice, Tip and Run, 392.

[12] Strachan, First World War, 641.

[13] Paice, Tip and Run, 392.

[14] Strachan, First World War, 642.

[15] Paice, Tip and Run, 392.

[16] Hershey, “Imperial Legitimation,” 12-33; Berghahn, Europe in the Era of Two World Wars; Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker, 14-18, 102-104.

[17] Hershey, “Imperial Legitimation,” see especially 33-41.

[18]See Berghahn, Europe in the Era of Two World Wars; Jarasuch, Taming Modernity, 69-92; Hull, Absolute Destruction. For an overview of the trend of studies of war and imperial cultures, see Hershey, “Imperial Legitimation,” 4-6. In my earlier analysis of the war and imperial cultures relationship, gender entered marginally.

[19] See Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, Revised Edition (New York: Colombia University Press, 1999): 28-50.

[20] Ann Laura Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002): 42.

[21] Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker, 14-18, 100-104. See also: John Horne and Alan Kramer, German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001): 175-261.

[22] See Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly Englishman’ and the ‘Effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century (New York: Manchester University Press, 1995): 44-45. For the 16th century context see Louis Montrose, “The Work of Gender in the Discourse of Discovery,” Representations 33 (Winter, 1991): 18.

[23] British Government, Reports on the Treatment by the Germans of British Prisoners and Natives in German East Africa (London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1917): 14.

[24] On this assumption, see Stoler, Carnal Knowledge, 62-67. Anna Davin also discussed these assumptions in regard to the cult of imperial motherhood: Anna Davin, “Imperialism and Motherhood” History Workshop No. 5 (Spring, 1978): 9-65.

[25] The Government Committee on the Treatment by the Enemy of British Prisoners of War. British Civilian Prisoners in German East Africa (London: Alabaster, Passmore & Sons LTD, 1918): 16-19.

[26] Treatment by the Germans, 30-31. Emphasis added.

[27] For a summary of imperial fears of the ‘Black Peril,’ see Stoler, Carnal Knowledge, 58-61.

[28] “Prisoners in German East Africa.” Editorial, The Manchester Guardian, 25 September 1917.

[29] Robert V. Dolbey, Sketches of the East Africa Campaign (London: John Murray, 1918): 42.

[30] Stoler, Carnal Knowledge, 58-61. See also Carina E. Ray, “Decrying White Peril: Interracial Sex and the Rise of Anticolonial Nationalism in the Gold Coast” The American Historical Review Vol. 119 No. 1 (February 2014): 85-86.

[31] “The East African Campaign,” Editorial, The Manchester Guardian, 15 December 1915.

[32] Dolbey, Sketches, 179-180.

[33] See Sinha, Colonial Masculinity.

[34] Dolbey, Sketches, xviii-xix. Another example: Ibid., 35-36.

[35] Ibid., 217.

[36] For a discussion of fears of racial degeneration in Britain, see Davin, “Imperial Motherhood;” See Stoler’s discussion of women, eugenics, and race: Stoler, Carnal Knowledge, 61-70. Scientists rallied to the national cause, as when a French doctor asserted German bodies smelled different than French ones: Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker, 14-18, 103-104.

[37]The trope of the overly-sexualized exotic female has a history that goes back to the age of discovery. See Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context (New York: Routledge, 1998): 21-31; Jennifer Morgan, Laboring women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004): 12-49.

[38] Dolbey, Sketches, 165.

[39] Ibid., 134-135.

[40] Alan G.V. Simmonds, Britain and World War One (New York: Routledge, 2012): 265.

[41] W. W. Whittall, With Botha and Smuts in Africa (London: Cassell and Company, Ltd, 1917): 184-185. Emphasis added.

[42] Ibid., 143.

[43] Ibid., 186.

[44] Robert H. MacDonald, The Language of Empire: Myths and Metaphors of Popular Imperialism, 1880-1918 (New York: Manchester University Press, 1994): 20. See also John Tosh, Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Essay on gender, family and empire (New York: Pearson Longman, 2005): 196-198.

[45] Tosh, Manliness and Masculinities, 208-209.

[46] Whittall, With Botha and Smuts, 277-278.

[47] The University of Chicago catalogues the publication date as 1919, but O’Neill’s foreword is dated March, 1918—and judging by other books analyzed, and the fact that O’Neill covers until 1917, it is likely it was published in 1918. See H. C. O’Neill, The War in Africa and the Far East (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1919).

[48] O’Neill, War in Africa, 114.