"Roughing It in Africa" in World War 2, by Newton Fink

(actualisé le ) by Newton Fink

This colourful account by our uncle Newton Fink of the progression of his "Suicide Squad" up through wild country and deserts in East Africa in late 1940 to encounter the Italians in North Africa was published in the South African journal "PM’s Weekly" on March 2,1941.

The photo of Newton in the article bears the following caption: "This picture of Newton Fink—author of the letters on this page—in his hot, one-piece battledress was taken in Johannesburg last fall. The whole tank corps wears black hats.


British ’Suicide Squad’ Enjoys the Wilds of Africa

Newton Fink, 20, son of Mr. and Mrs. Salo Fink of London Terrace, Manhattan, is with the British forces in Africa. He is in a “suicide squad” of motorcyclists that precedes tanks. In the letters below, written to his parents, he describes the country through which British forces approached the Italians from the South.
After six months training in South Africa, his squad went to Kenya by boat, then on to the front. He receives mail in care of the Army postoffice at Nairobi. His father was an antique dealer in London and Johannesburg before coming to New York and wants Newton to come to America after the war, but Newton thinks he will stay in Africa to farm land which the government has promised to British soldiers.

Nairobi, Dec. 23, 1940.

Dear Folks;

The British War Office’s caption to this photograph says "The German Army is not the only one to know how to operate motorcycles." The British motorcyclist who wrote the letters on this page from eastern Africa adds: "We all know how ’to handle’ through anything and everything now".

I am writing to you from our camp near Nairobi. We came up from the coast by train. The natives picked up cocoanuts by the side of the railway and came selling them to the troops. The country varied from open to dense bush. We saw some giraffes and a few buck, and passed through some plains where vast herds of buck, wildbeeste and zebra roamed.
We arrived at this camp late at night and were welcomed by hot coffee and the band of another regiment. The climate here is very good and fairly hot during the day, beautifully fresh during the evening, later getting cold. We are nearly 8000 feet above sea level in bush country with a lot of game.
I have been having a jolly good time. Our officers asked us very nicely not to write long letters as they have a tremendous amount of correspondence to censor. However, seeing that I do not write to you very often, I do not think they will mind too much in my case.
There is a river three miles from here where we fish for trout. We are naturally not allowed to shoot at game. The result is that the animals get very tame and come right up to camp.
We have been buying bows and arrows from the natives. Archery is quite a good sport.
The Italians and their bands are a pretty useless crowd of fighters. I should not be surprised if Abyssinia had fallen before you receive this letter.
Tomorrow night is Christmas eve. We shall be celebrating it many thousands of miles apart but the same spirit prevails. I certainly am not sorry that I joined up and I am confident that democracy will eventually triumph over the Fascist tyranny. The Italians seem to realize this already; it is only a matter of time before the Germans do so themselves.
NEWTON

A Christmas Eve Spree

December 31, 1940

Dear Folks;
I forgot my abstinence from liquor for one night on Christmas eve. What a night! There was not a sober man in camp. Out tent drank beer and a mixture of sherry, vermouth and gin. More than one man cursed it the next day. On Christmas afternoon we went for a ten-mile walk through the bush and down the river. We passed some buck at close quarters and discovered a beautiful lily pond and waterfall.
We left for this camp at the end of last week and the journey took us (censored) days on our motor-bykes.
The road the first day was not too bad although somewhat dusty. We arrived at a very nice camp in the afternoon. There was a swimming pool in the river there fed from the waters of Mount Kenya and you can imagine how welcome it was. Although on guard I managed to get a few hours of good sleep. The camp was situated in fairly thick bush. Tall trees, large bushes and long grass. We passed buck, giraffes and elephants, buffalo and ostriches on the road.

In the Lion Country

We rode on the second day and encountered dust and more dust and still more dust. The country, although always bushy, was continually changing. Sometimes you get extremely thick bush; at others giraffe country. Fairly tall trees, grass and few bushes. The trees throughout are nearly all umbrella shaped.
We came into camp in the afternoon in the heart of the lion country. Lots of bushes and trees, thorny and otherwise, and the ground sandy. There were tracks of lions, leopards, zebras, camels, hyenas, jackals, buck, etc., etc., in our camp. We lay our beds and mosquito nets over 20-minutes-old lion spoor. During the night we heard the hyenas the whole time and a zebra walked within a few feet of us.
One thing to remember is that animals keep shy of a crowd of men in a camp. This one, however, was just improvised for the night. There was a river where we went to wash, but there was no bathing.
We always had tea and a biscuit in the morning before starting; the same with bully beef for lunch and a decent meal in the evening–rations with which everybody was satisfied. The next day we started off early again and went through the worst “roads” it is possible to conceive.

The Natives Flee

All you could see was one huge cloud of dust, bykes skidding all over the place when you could see at all, but everybody riding marvelously. This continued for some miles. There were just ridges of sand and deep ruts everywhere. The motor bykes really ran well through it. I stalled a few times in the sand, but never came off during the whole ride. When we finished with the desert we came onto hard ground again. Here everything was wild. The bush was wild, the animals were wild and the natives went about armed with assagais (spears).
The road for the next few miles was a mass of boulders and potholes. We were so used to rough work by this time that we hit the breeze and did some fast traveling. The whole time we travel a safe distance apart, not as we used to go in South Africa.
At one time the natives—some natives by the road—looked a bit suspicious. A few of us stopped and they made a dive for the bush. The road gradually improved and was good for quite long stretches at a time.
Not a single man got hurt and not a single byke was damaged during the whole journey. Accidents should now be a thing of the past as far as we are concerned.

Camping in Jungle

To continue: we gradually began to see more signs of life and stopped a bit more often. The usual was 10 minutes every two hours. We passed lorries and troops. At last we were directed down a deviation to the right through the bush. Big trees banked the sides of the road and I thought we were near a river bed. Soon, however, I realized that we were in the middle of a big forest and this is where our camp is.
We are in the middle of wild, tropical virgin forest. You can only see the sky in parts and little sun shines through. The trees grow to over 150 feet and it is thick but not impenetrable. Thousands of butterflies flutter everywhere and there are many beautiful birds in the trees.
It is warm during the day and cool at night. Could you wish for a more pleasant climate? There are very few mosquitoes but we have all erected small structures with poles and tied our mosquito nets to them.
The four of us who shared a tent in our other camp and another very nice fellow have got a small glade in the forest in which we have made our little camp. The ground is covered with grass. Water, although not at all scarce, is rationed to prevent wastage. The food in this camp is really good, far better than I had expected. Each day we have arrived in camp about three hours ahead of schedule. I was put on guard last night and am still on today. My two pals have gone off to a crater to see the baboons and elephants.
This is the finest camp any of us have ever been in. We lead a wonderful out-of-door life here roughing it in Africa.
Best love to you all.
NEWTON

Newton Maxwell Fink