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Conductor W. Preston‘s gallantry suffers 300 bee stings in the head at Tanga - 4 November 1914

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

An African farmer's beehive

Sub Conductor W. Preston of the India Army Telegraph Department landed at Tanga in early November 1914 as a member of Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’ (see article on the Loyal North Lancashires at Tanga).

As a European member of the Indian Army he was eligible for the award of the Imperial Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). On 3rd June 1915 a brief announcement in the London Gazette notified the public that he had been awarded the DCM with the citation:

For gallant conduct on 4th November, 1914, during the attack at Tanga (East Africa), and for general good work performed under heavy fire.

But there is much more to be mentioned about this incident as it affected several other units. The problem arose when gun fire from both the German and British sides of the battlefield broke open small bee-hives that local farmers had suspended from trees. The enraged bees then attacked everyone on the battlefield indiscriminately.

The British Official History in a footnote on page 87 states:

All units, British and German alike, were thus attacked at various times during the day. One machine gun of the 2nd Loyal North Lancashires and several German machine guns were temporarily put out of action by bees. The 3rd Kashmir Rifles suffered severely, but used their puggarees (cloth bands wound around head dress) as protection and remained in action. Conductor Preston, Signals, who continued taking in a message when attacked, and afterwards in hospital had over 300 stings removed from his head, was awarded the DCM.

The battle continued, the bees finally went back to their shattered homes and doubtless found somewhere else to take shelter. The British retreated to Mombasa and the Germans won.


A puggaree before being wound around a sun-helmet

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