Captain Harold Charles de Courcy Evans
Military Cross & Bar, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Russian Cross of St George 2nd Class, Mentioned in Despatches
2nd Battalion The Rhodesia Regiment & 1st Battalion The 2nd Regiment The King’s African Rifles, German East Africa 1915 to 1918
The 2nd Battalion the Rhodesia Regiment
Some men discover that they have certain aptitudes for aspects of the battlefield. Harold Charles de Courcy Evans was one such warrior, and over a period of three years hard fighting in East Africa during the Great War, he became a master of the techniques of bush warfare machine gunnery.
The 2nd Battalion The Rhodesia Regiment was manned by volunteer white settlers from Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in 1915. The unit was raised specifically for service in British East Africa, now Kenya, because raiding parties from German East Africa, now Tanzania, were crossing the British East Africa border. Harold was attested as a Private on 28th September 1915 and sent by rail and boat up the Indian Ocean coast to Mombasa from where he was railed to his unit which had been in theatre for 6 months.
Harold was trained and employed as a machine gunner. The first test of professional battlefield competency for the Rhodesians came on 11th March 1916 during the fight to seize Latema-Reata Nek, when General J. Smuts’ British force invaded German East Africa. The Nek was a low pass between the two hills of Latema and Reata, and its capture was necessary to enable a British military railway line to be pushed across the border.
The British attack was piece-meal and badly managed and the Rhodesians were committed to go in as dusk was approaching. The attack at first succeeded but was then pushed back by a strong German counter-attack, although pockets of Rhodesians did manage to obtain footholds on the Latema ridgeline. Near this ridgeline No 1442 Private Harold Charles de Courcy Evans, 2nd Battalion The Rhodesia Regiment, won a Distinguished Conduct Medal. The unit citation stated:
When two maxims of the Rhodesia Regiment on the left flank of the reserve came under very heavy enemy rifle and maxim gun fire from three sides, and Private Seward was mortally wounded, Private Evans carried him out of the gun pit to a place of safety, returned, manned the gun, and also helped the other gun team to re-open fire. It was entirely owing to his presence of mind and coolness that the two guns were enabled to re-open fire, and thus prevented the reserve from being rushed by the enemy who were at close quarters.
Next morning the Germans withdrew as they were being outflanked further to the north by South African mounted troops.
The 2nd Regiment of the King’s African Rifles
The original 2nd King’s African Rifles (2 KAR) had been disbanded as a cost-cutting exercise at the end of 1911; the majority of its Nyasaland, now Malawi, soldiers crossed into German East Africa to join the Schutztruppe, as the local German force was called. These well-trained and experienced Askari were now fighting against their former British comrades. 2 KAR was reformed at Nairobi in April 1916 with drafts of recruits coming up from Nyasaland, and officers were required. Many Rhodesians applied and were accepted, including Harold. 2KAR was then split into the 1st and 2nd Battalions; Lieutenant H.C. de Courcy Evans was commissioned on 1st June 1916 and was posted to the 1st Battalion, designated 1/2 KAR.
1/2 KAR’s first serious battlefield challenge came in December 1916 when the battalion was shipped to Kilwa, south of Dar Es Salaam, and then ordered to march into the Kibata hills alongside the 129th Baluchis, Indian Army. The German commander, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, had positioned the bulk of his Schutztruppe along the Mgeta and Rufiji Rivers, north of Kibata. The Germans were sitting-out the heavy rainy season and harvesting crops which would be consumed during the next few months. In comparison the British supply situation was always precarious, the men often being weakened and debilitated by hunger as General Smuts had little time for discussions about logistics – he always wanted but never achieved a quick kill. The British troops not only had half or quarter-rations to contend with, they were constantly suffering from malaria and other tropical diseases and ailments, such as jigger-fleas that burrowed under their toe nails.
The Germans had constructed a large stone fort at Kibata as a base for conducting operations against local tribesmen who had mounted a significant rebellion in 1905. But by 1916 the fort was redundant as modern artillery could demolish it, and so the German garrison had withdrawn temporarily from the area. The dominant feature overlooking Kibata was named Picquet Hill, and the British built two strong redoubts near the summit of the hill and stripped it of bush and vegetation.
On 6th December 1916 a strong German attack was mounted on Picquet Hill, supported by two heavy artillery guns that had each required 600 African labourers to drag them up from the Rufiji River. The Germans failed to take the hill but dug themselves in on its lower western slopes; this enemy position was named the Lodgement.
Three days later the Baluch attacked the Lodgement but failed to penetrate the defensive thickets of bamboo stakes that protected the enemy trenches. On 15th December the Baluch attacked the Lodgement again and seized it. As this fight raged the German guns in retaliation pounded No 2 Redoubt which was held by 1/2 KAR. Harold Evans, the battalion Machine Gun Officer, was in the redoubt at the time. For his conduct on that occasion Harold was awarded his first Military Cross, the official citation stating:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He took command of a platoon which was without an officer, and by his fine example of courage and determination rallied the men at a critical time. He has rendered invaluable service as a machine-gun officer.
The fighting at Kibata now resembled Western Front trench warfare. The distance between British and German trenches varied from 70 metres to 370 metres. Trench periscopes were used and saps dug to cover movements towards the Lodgement. Snipers on both sides had telescopic sights, the Germans having the advantage because they occupied much of the higher ground. Heavy rain fell necessitating constant trench repairs and revetting, the rain and the mud making working conditions difficult.
Most of the British defensive positions around Kibata were overlooked by enemy observers, and machine gun fire had been constantly hitting parties of British troops collecting water. Harold Evans studied the problem and on 2nd January 1917 successfully used his own machine guns to permanently silence the offending German gun and its crew. Utilising cover provided by the hilly ground around Kibata Fort to conceal a deployment, the enemy gun was neutralised by concentrated 1/2 KAR machine gun fire.
By 6th January patrols had reported that the Germans were definitely thinning-out and a British general advance was ordered. 1/2 KAR attacked Observation Hill the following day supported by the Loyal North Lancashire Machine Gun Company that had marched in to reinforce Kibata. But Harold Evans was there as well, intimately supporting his battalion, and once again he used his skill and dedication to silence a troublesome enemy machine gun that was impeding the advance.
The Germans then marched away from Kibata; Harold and his gunners featured prominently in the British follow-up until contact was broken. During February 1917 the London Gazette announced that Harold had been awarded the Russian Cross of St George 2nd Class, and that he had been Mentioned in Despatches.
Harold remained as battalion Machine Gun Officer and he was occupying that post when the battle of Mahiwa, south-west of Lindi on the southern German East African coast, commenced in October 1917. By now General Smuts was long-gone to a senior post in London, and military logistics were being taken seriously by the current British theatre commander, General J.L. van Deventer. At Mahiwa a trial of strength developed between the Schutztruppe and the British forces, which resulted in the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the campaign when both sides repeatedly attacked each other in thick bush.
On 17th October 1/2 KAR was heavily attacked and all of its 8 machine guns were put out of action, most of the crews being killed or wounded. Captain Harold Evans was re-deployed to be battalion second-in-command as British officer casualties were heavy, but then quickly moved to command “C” Company when that sub-unit became leaderless. Seeing a machine gun in between his and the German lines, Harold led a “C” Company charge and retrieved the gun. It was a battalion gun and its crew, led by Serjeant J. Burgum (Machine Gun Corps Motors attached to 1/2 KAR) lay around the gun, all dead.
Although over half the officers and men in his battalion were wounded, dying or dead Harold survived the battle of Mahiwa, which neither side won. Six weeks later a Bar was awarded to Harold’s Military Cross. This was a Birthday Honours List award, and a citation was not published. 1/2 KAR was temporarily amalgamated with 3/2 KAR, Harold becoming the commander of 8 machine guns and 12 Lewis guns.
Portuguese East Africa
The amalgamated KAR battalion pursued the remains of the Schutztruppe towards the border with Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, now a General, led his severely slimmed-down army into Portuguese territory whilst the British re-organised their forces and opened a base at Port Amelia, now Pemba, on the coast south of the border. As reinforcements arrived the amalgamated battalion split back into being 1/2 and 3/2 KAR.
The Schutztruppe broke up into groups which lived off the land in areas of Portuguese East Africa. The British sent columns from both Port Amelia and Nyasaland in attempts to intercept and defeat the Germans. 1/2 KAR was prominent in the actions fought westwards from Port Amelia, and the battalion marched over 3,200 kilometres through Portuguese East Africa. As usual General von Lettow-Vorbeck retained the initiative and although battles were fought during 1918, the British could never concentrate sufficient columns at the correct locations at the correct times, and the Schutztruppe always marched away undefeated.
The Armistice and afterwards
In November 1918 the Schutztruppe had marched back into German East Africa, turned west around Lake Nyasa, now more commonly known as Lake Malawi, and was penetrating deep into Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. There were few British forces in the area and General von Lettow-Vorbeck was probably heading for Portuguese West Africa, now Angola. There he could have continued rampaging through the bush whilst the British would have had to mount a massive re-location effort without having the necessary shipping to do that satisfactorily.
Finally news of the Armistice was delivered by the British to the Schutztruppe, and although most of his European officers and senior ranks wished to continue marching and fighting, the German General surrendered at Abercorn in Northern Rhodesia on 25th November. The disarmed Schutztruppe marched to Bismarckburg on Lake Tanganyika where 1/2 KAR were then located. Captain Harold Charles de Courcy Evans MC, DCM and 20 men of 1/2 KAR formed part of the guard over the surrendered Schutztruppe which was disbanded, the Europeans being returned to Germany or to the new countries in central Europe to which they now belonged.
1/2 KAR, one of the most effective fighting units in the British East African forces, was itself disbanded without ceremony on 1st April 1919 at Fort Johnston in Nyasaland. The war-time officers and men were no longer needed for peace-time duties.
What befell Harold is not clear, but it obviously was unpleasant and unfortunate, the London Gazette of 4th December 1923 making these announcements:
4th December, 1923.
His Majesty the KING has directed that the Military Cross and Bar to the Military Cross, which were awarded to Harold Charles de Courcy Evans (late temporary Captain, King’s African Rifles), and gazetted on the 17th April 1917 and 1st January 1918 respectively, shall be cancelled, and that his name shall be erased from the Register in consequence
of his having been convicted by the Civil Power.
The award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal to Harold Charles de Courcy Evans (late temporary Captain, King’s African Rifles), when serving as No: 1442 Private, 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, which was gazetted on the 31st May 1916, is forfeited, under the terms of the Royal Warrant of the medal dated 6th November 1920.
Harold’s Medal Index Card shows that his other British war medals were forfeited.
The 2nd Rhodesia Regiment in East Africa by Lieutenant Colonel A.E. Capell.
War History 1st/2nd King’s African Rifles (WO 161/75).
The King’s African Rifles by Lieutenant Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett MBE, MA, PhD.
Official History. East Africa Part I, August 1914 to September 1916 compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.
Draft chapters of the unpublished Official History East Africa Part II (CAB 44 series).
East Africa General Routine Orders (WO 123/288).