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'The True Story of The African Queen' - REVIEW

Stratford sub Castle Guild - Wednesday 11 October 2023

Our scheduled meeting for October was unexpectedly changed at short notice, after Ruth Newman (our speaker) caught Covid a few days before the meeting. Luckily, the amazing Carrie Walsh, our speaker's secretary was able to arrange a date-swap with our January speaker, and so we enjoyed Keith Patience three months early!

He gave us a fascinating account of the true story behind the CS Forester's book “The African Queen” (and the subsequent film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn). CS Forester took two separate events in the first World War to create a single story of Derring Do and romance.

The first story involved the scuttling of a powerful German light cruiser – the Konisberg which was trapped in the Rufuji Deleta while repairs were carried out to her engine, and the presence of 3 British ships prevented escape. The main storyline contributor was the sinking of a different strong battleship by a British boat on Lake Tanganyika.

The most dramatic parts of the true events leading to the lake sinking, were that two boats were taken to Cape Town by steamer, but then transported to Lake Tanganyika by rail and by traction engines– a total distance of 9310 miles. As you might expect the journey was fraught with difficulties, including a half-mile gap between the end of the rail-line and the lake (so they built a new railway line); inadequate water levels to supply the traction engines (so they arranged for large numbers of local women to carry water in pots on their head, from various wells to the traction engines throughout the journey); a hill which was too steep for the traction engines to drag the boats up (so they added local cattle to the pulling power). Amazing ingenuity. When the two boats arrived at the lake they were fast enough to attack and sink the German boat that had been controlling the lake.

Far too much detail to report here, you had to be there!

Richard Death


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