The First World War was a truly global conflict, with some of the first and last actions of the war taking place in Africa.
In 1914 Tanzania was a German colony – part of what was known as German East Africa. When war broke out, Tanga’s sea port became strategically important to the British, who decided to capture it.
An Expeditionary Force, numbering some 8,000 men, was sent to East Africa from India. The majority of the force was made up of Indian troops.
On 2 November 1914 the British cruiser HMS Fox arrived at Tanga. Its captain went ashore to seek the German surrender. The Germans gladly entered into negotiations to buy time for reinforcements to arrive and used the delay to organise their defences.
The British began landing troops during the night of 2/3 November but it was not until 4 November that the order was given to advance. Almost immediately, the British and Indian troops came under heavy fire from the well prepared German positions.
Local conditions also played a part. Hanging from the branches of trees were bee hives that were disturbed by rifle and machine gun fire. The bees swarmed angrily and stung both friend and foe alike.
One British soldier is reported as saying afterwards, "We don't mind the German fire, but with most of our officers and NCOs down .... and bees stinging our backsides, things were a bit 'ard."
The British were forced to retreat – leaving behind their dead and huge quantities of arms and supplies.
British and Indian losses numbered nearly 400 killed, with a similar number wounded or taken prisoner. German casualties were believed to total less than 150.
Tanga was eventually occupied by a Commonwealth force, almost without opposition, on 7 July 1916.
After the Battle of Tanga in November 1914, the Germans buried the Commonwealth war dead on the battlefield where they had died.
By 1916, when Tanga was occupied by a Commonwealth force, many of the wooden grave markers erected by the Germans had been lost and no register of the burials could be found – so it was decided to collect all of the bodies and bury them in a single cemetery on the battlefield. The site chosen subsequently becoming the CWGC Tanga Memorial Cemetery.
In total, some 270 bodies were collected and reburied, although the site acts as the point of commemoration for all 394 casualties from the battle – including those with no known grave.
A temporary memorial, consisting of a large stone cairn, was made by local railway employees and erected in the cemetery around 1916-17.
After the war, the newly formed War Graves Commission looked at how to make the cemetery permanent and how best to commemorate those who had died.
A number of proposals were put forward until it was agreed that a memorial – in the form of a screen wall – be erected over the site. This was formally approved on 9 June 1926.
The new war memorial commemorates almost 400 Indian and British soldiers who died during the First World War in Tanzania, and has been completed by a team of craftsmen from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in time for Remembrance Day.
The new memorial will be unveiled by CWGC Director General Mrs Victoria Wallace, Mr Robert Shetkintong, Deputy High Commissioner for India to Tanzania, and British High Commissioner to Tanzania, Her Excellency Sarah Cooke on 11 November. His Excellency Mr Egon Kochanke Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Tanzania will also be present along with local dignitaries and school children.
The work to build the memorial was part of a global initiative by the CWGC to research war casualties whose names were potentially held in its records but did not appear on a grave or memorial. The names of 62 Indian soldiers were added to the new memorial – bringing the total names commemorated to 394.