Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

LETTERS FROM THE FRONT: Lions in the night

A B.C. soldier wrote home about his experience on campaign in East Africa during the First World War

Harold Adelbert Dean (April 7, 1894 to Jan. 9, 1984) was a Canadian volunteer serving as a driver with the Mechanical Transport Army Service Corps, 648 Company, during the First World War.
Dean was from New Westminister, B.C. and his grandson, Gary Dean, now lives in Prince George. 
Dean left Vancouver on Jan. 15, 1916, and after a brief stay in England, shipped out to what was than the British protectorate of East Africa (now Kenya) and joined the campaign against German East Africa (present-day Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania).
During his time in Africa, Dean was hospitalized twice with malaria. He survived the war, and arrived back in Vancouver on April 2, 1919 – after more than three years away.
In other letters preserved by the Dean family, he mentioned that he couldn’t comment on the military aspects of his duties – including coming under sniper fire, and an attack on their camp in July 1916, facts disclosed to his family after the war. On Aug. 22, 1916, he took time to write a letter home to his family in B.C.:

Dear Mother,
As I am having a day’s rest I take the opportunity to of answering a few letters I have received during the last ten days. The mail took a jump during this period and I received thirty-two (32) letters and about 8 or 9 bundles of papers also 1 box of cake, nut-bars, pills, etc. We have been so busy lately I had to carry the letters on my car unread for a couple of days and that is going some for me. I was shifted from the Daimler car to a 5 ton Packard and the mate the sergeant gave me went sick, so being short of drivers I had to drive alone for two weeks and it is a very hard job on a heavy car in this country as the roads are so sandy and heavy going.
However the Packard was of that same of quality and I knew I could get through anything or up any hill anyone else could and that helped a little.
When I say that I might add that we have hills here a Ford can not climb so you can imagine us fellows on a big car with a heavy load getting along. Everybody gets out to push and they bring up a car at a time so you see driving isn’t the only exercise we get.
Well, on looking over these letters I see 8 from you and 6 from Mary, also an enclosure from Roberta. In one you mentioned the difference in time between home and here. Although I can not say exactly it is nearly four hours ahead of England, making it altogether about twelve hours ahead of home, and the hottest weather is at Christmas instead of June. Of course it is summer the year round, that is as warm as Canadian summer.
The fact of all the boys joining up at home is the same all over Canada. I am living mostly with a boy from Perth, Ont. and another from near London, Ont. and they say that all of the boys are joining in that district. Also they tell me every letter they receive, some of the young girls are getting married and from home news. N.W. is in the swim in that line also. It sure surprised me to hear about Jamie and Roy. I didn’t think it possible they were that foolish although I know some funny things do happen.
I am glad to know my money matters are fixed up at last. That news was one of discussion all the time among us Canadian boys, and most of them got results sooner than I did. However, that is fixed now so it is all right.
I see by your letters and the papers that a good many of the boys at the front will be missing at the last roll call. It seems so sad after a fight of so many months to be blotted out, but when a person thinks of the number of men engaged and the method used in this war it is a wonder that so many have lived this long.
I got a letter from Wally in this big bunch of mail and he reports things favourably. He mentioned some of the boys being wounded and killed, but said they came out all right in the scrap. He has been in good health all along and is still keeping it up.
Although I should cut this letter short and write one to Mary I think, as there only little news, it may as well all be in one envelope. But I must say here that it makes me feel proud of my sister for doing such a lot of splendid letter writing for my comfort. Mary’s letters are good and long and well written and there is a good time coming to her for the work she has done. She told me she got a new outfit on the strength of my salary, but I feel she has earned it so don’t be afraid of letting her have the money.
The time will not be long before Mary is earning her own and I am sure she will there to help any of us that happen to need it.
There are in your and Mary’s letters I have just received inquiries as to the country, climate and such things as these. I think I have explained most of it in previous letters. But if I haven’t I will tell you all about it when I get closer home. This portion we are working now is perhaps one of the most barren and uncivilized tracts in the world. The large animals you read about are all over it, but they can’t bother us much except by their noise. I have seen lots of monkeys here as big as a man and the lions got such a bass tone to their voice they often disturb the slumberers of the camp at night. But these things are all right as long as they don’t get too close. There are plenty of animals dying about the country and the lions don’t have to look to a man to appease their appetite.
Well, Mother, I think I will close for now. I don’t expect to stay in this country very long now, as the campaign looks as if it were drawing near a close. If we should get back to England in the next month or two I will wire and let you know. Well, I think I will close for now with lots of love to all.
Your travelling son, 
Harold
Dean would remain on duty in Africa until March 22, 1918 when he was put on medical leave during his second bout of malaria. He was transported by hospital ship to Cape Town, South Africa, before being sent back to England. It wouldn’t be until April 2, 1919 that he departed Liverpool aboard a ship headed back to Canada.