NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Wartime letters from Aberdeen medic published online for first time

Letter Image copyright National Army Museum

Letters written by a World War One medical officer from Aberdeen who fought in East Africa are being published online for the first time.

Captain Alexander Wallace revealed to fiancée Ethel how the British army defeated German forces in the face of food shortages, disease and heat.

The letters tell how sickness killed far more men than battle itself.

His letters are being published online as part of the National Army Museum's Soldiers' Stories series.

Capt Wallace was born in 1885 in Aberdeen, and was educated at Robert Gordon's College and the University of Aberdeen, qualifying in medicine in 1906.

His letters, from the Abercorn area of Africa, detail how British and German soldiers alike pillaged food from the local population.

'Sad thing'

The men got "lots of queer food which we raid from the surrounding villages".

He wrote: "War is a sad thing for the native population. The troops occupy the country for a bit, take what food there is, leaving nothing for the natives."

Capt Wallace wrote that the medical camps were "filthy" and mosquitoes and flies were "simply swarming".

For every man lost in battle, 30 were said to have died from sickness.

One unit began the campaign with more than 1,000 men but - having hardly engaged with the enemy - was reduced to just over 100.

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Media captionCaptain Alexander Wallace was based in the Abercorn area of Africa

The letters to "my dear Ethel" include reassuring and positive messages, such as "our men are all doing well and we are quite hopeful of the result."

He was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 for his care of the wounded, after 67 of the 70 men he treated survived.

He returned to Scotland and married Ethel.

Capt Wallace died in December 1954.

'Special piece of history'

Dr Peter Johnston, collections content manager at the National Army Museum, said: "Wallace's letters remind us that Britain wasn't only at war in Europe.

"They vividly show what it was like to be a young man fighting far from home in an unfamiliar land.

"While today we often think of civilians affected by war, we don't tend to think about how the First World War affected those who lived in the conflict area.

"Wallace's detailed description of how local communities and natives suffered are rare, making this archive a very special piece of history."

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