The First World War in Africa: A Bibliography

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The First World War In Africa: A Bibliography, by Justin Corfield. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008, xx+ 181 pp. ISBNlO 0-7734-5132-3, ISBN13 9780-7734-5132-2. $109.95/ £69.95

The best and most extensive bibliographical work on the First World War in Africa produced to date is that by John W East. Extracted from his much longer 1987 thesis for Fellowship of the Library Association, The German Administration in East Africa: A select annotated bibliography of the German colonial administration in Tanganyika, Rwanda and Burundi from 1884-1918 focused on the East Africa campaign and included 305 informatively annotated entries organised in the following sections: Bibliographies, The Campaign In General, August 1914 - March 1916, March 1916 - November 1917, November 1917 November 1918, Naval Engagements, Aerial Operations, Medical and Veterinary Services, Effects on Non-Combatants, and Economic Aspects. Thomas P Ofcansky has also produced useful work in this field, including A Bibliography of the East African Campaign, 1914-1918 (Africana, Vol 12 (1981) pp.338-351), The East African Campaign in the Rhodesian Herald (History in Africa, Vol 13 (1986) pp.283-93) and British Medical Administration during the East African Campaign 1914-18 (Adler Museum Bulletin, Vol 12/2 (1986) pp.12-17. Among the 300+ listings in the bibliography to Ross Anderson's The Forgotten Front: The East African Campaign (Tempus, 2004), and the 800+ listings in the reviewer's own Tip & Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2007) there were also many which added to the established bibliographical 'canon'.

Given that the prime focus of all the above was the campaign in Eastern Africa one would expect - even though this was by far the largest, longest and most important of the African campaigns - that any catalogue for the whole of Africa would be considerably more extensive. Indeed, the bibliography in Professor Hew Strachan's The First World War In Africa (OUP, 2004) lists more than 500 items despite its being a succinct extract of fewer than two hundred pages from his outstanding first volume to a new history of the Great War. It is therefore encouraging that a quick first glance at the number of entries in this new work by Dr Justin Corfield, a history and international studies teacher at Geelong Grammar School, shows a total of 1,767. 1 felt certain that on closer examination such an inventory was bound to include dozens of books and articles with which I was not familiar even after spending five years researching in this field. In particular, I hoped that it might make valuable additions to the record of relevant German, Portuguese and Belgian material.

Unfortunately alarm bells start to ring as early as the Introduction. It may be subjective, and even uncharitable, to say that Dr. Corfield's attempt to set the scene would have benefited from greater familiarity with (or understanding of) the political and strategic observations on the whole African theatre made in Strachan's The First World War In Africa and in Tip & Run. But there is the distinct sense of an author grappling with a theme of which he is not master, which might prove too large for him to tame. More objectively, and far more worrying, the German commander Paul von Lettow- Vorbeck appears in this introduction as 'Lettow von Vorbeck' and 'von Vorbeck'; leadership of the 1915 uprising in Nyasaland is credited to 'John Chelembe' instead of 'John Chilembwe' (even though the correct spelling is indicated in entries 324 and 1472); and we are told that the fighting "occasionally spilled over from German East Africa [to Portuguese East Africa]", when in fact almost all the fighting in 1918 in Eastern Africa took place in Portuguese territory. …