General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck was a German general in the First World War. In fact he led the only colonial campaign that remained undefeated during that conflict. He was the leader of the German troops in what was German East Africa which of course became Tanganyka and then Tanzania. At the start of the war he commanded a garrison of 3,000 german soldiers and 12 companies of local Askaris. He realised that the war in East Africa would be nothing other than a side show to the main carnage that was taking place in Flanders, so decided to make life as difficult as possible for the British. He mounted a guerilla campaign against British targets in Kenya and Rhodesia including forts, railways and communictions. This diverted manpower away from the western front in Europe.

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He returned to what was Tanganyka in 1953 to a hero’s welcome from the veteran soldiers. A lovely final flourish to this story concerns the askaris – or local soldiers. In 1964 the German government decided that the old soldiers could claim a pension. Three hundred old men turned up at the temporary cashier’s office to claim that they were in fact askaris from the Great War. A few had discharge papers but most had nothing to prove their former service. Finally, they were all handed broom handles and then drilled in German. Every single one passed this test and got his money.

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