Alhaji Grunshi – Gold Coast Regiment

Alhaji Grunshi, DCM, MiD
Gold Coast Regiment, West African Frontier Force (WAFF)

Hailed from the Kingdom of Dagbon in northern Ghana (Gold Coast). Grunshi is not Alhaji’s family name but rather an indication of the tribe or area he came from. The Grunshi people are and Burkino Faso, the people being split by the Imperial discussions formalised by the Berlin Congress of 1884/5. It is likely he either followed traditional beliefs or was a Sunni Muslim. He would have spoken Frafra or Gurensi.

He served in the Gold Coast Regiment from 1908-1924, seeing service in both the West and East African campaigns of World War One.

He is believed to have fired the first British rifle shot of the First World War on 12 August 1914 in Togoland at Togblekove (the day the British Expeditionary Force landed in Europe). This was in response to a German police force opening fire from a factory near Lomé. Paul Adamson records that

‘on 4 August 1914 a training patrol of the WAFF two days out from Tamale was fired on by a German fighting patrol of schutztruppen already pushing along the Yendi road. The Germans had a powerful wireless station at Kamina in Togo and knew the war had begun, the British didn’t.’ A verbal exchange took place between the two commanders who knew each other with the German responding, ‘OK Harry, we vait for you here for two days only, go get it quick.’ On the 6th ‘Harry returned with major reinforcements’.

Adamson has the date wrong as most sources suggest 7 or 12 August. A perusal of the War Diaries suggests that 12 August is most likely. This is supported by Moberly in the Official History and an article in The Times of 25 March 1940.

After Togoland surrendered on 28 August 1914 and German Kamerun in March 1916, Grunshi and his comrades after remaining in Kamerun until 11 April 1916 were sent to East Africa to support the Allied forces there against the Germans led by Paul von Lettow Vorbeck. The Gold Coasters had been on continuous active service for 20 months. Grunshi sailed with one of the first three contingents of the Gold Coast Regiment to East Africa: 402 rank and file sailed with 1 clerk and 4 officers on 25 November 1916. A further 503 sailed on 21 April 1917, 804 on 5 July 1917 (sailed SS Aenaes, commander Lieutenant Colonel AB de Rose), 401 and 500 on 6 October 1917 and 10 December 1917 respectively.

Whichever ship Grunshi was on, it is likely that he followed the same path as the Aenaes which sailed for Mombasa via Cape Town and Durban in July 1916. At Durban the men were allowed off the ship and taken to a movie before parading and being inspected by the mayor. They arrived at Kilindini harbour three weeks later, on 26 July 1917. Initially, the regiment joined with the 25th Royal Fusiliers (Legion of Frontiersmen) to form the Divisional Reserve of the 1st Division led by General Reginald Hoskins. Their goal was Morogoro.

During 5-6 September 1916, the Gold Coast Regiment took Kikirunga Hill near Matambo suffering 42 casualties. Later that month on 14 September Nkessa was occupied seeing four killed and 33 wounded. On 17 November 1916 the Gold Coasters arrived at Dar es Salaam to board the Ingoma for Kilwa Kisiwani further south where it would form the Reserve for General Hannyngton. By this time, there were 19 of the 36 British officers, 10 of the 15 British non-commissioned officers, and 715 of the 980 rank and file still in the field.

On 16 December the Gold Coast Regiment attacked a hill which was to be named in their honour at the cost of 140 men, of whom 32, including carriers, were killed. The loss equated to 15% of the total force engaged. On 21 December the regiment took position around Kibata.

On 26 January 1917, the contingent left Kitambi under command of Major Goodwin moving towards Utete and the Rufigi River. On 27 February they arrived at Mitole where they were allowed a period of rest and reorganisation, seven months after arriving in East Africa. They left on 3 April 1917 to Mnasi. By May 1917, Grunshi was one of 9 officers, 6 British non-commissioned officers, 7 clerks, 2 dressers, 786 rank and file, 381 carriers, 18 servants and 41 stretcher bearers (1,250 total), still in the field, including reinforcements which had arrived. On 15 June 1917, the Gold Coasters were joined by 987 Sierra Leonean carriers and on 28 June Captain Shaw took over command of the Gold Coast Regiment under General Beves who was now commanding the Division. With all the additional men, Shaw had a total of 2,156 men under his command.

On 5 March 1918, Lance Corporal Grunshi was Mentioned in Despatches. This was for action on 19 July 1917. The Despatch noted that Grunshi ‘has on all occasions shown a fearless example in action. He particularly distinguished himself on July 19, 1917, by the manner in which he handled his section without immediate European supervision. A most reliable and pushing patrol leader.’

On 19 July 1917, the Gold Coast Regiment formed the centre of No 1 Column for an attack on Narungombe. At 8.15am, Lieutenant Elgon commanding, and later, Sergeant Major Awudu Bakano, B Company Gold Coast Regiment were killed, total Gold Coast casualties amounting to 20% of the combatant strength of the force. It is not clear whether Grunshi was in B Company but given the citation and the description of the events of the day, it is likely he was. [check WO 329/2329 at Kew]. Faced with bush fires encroaching, the HQ Diary notes: ‘The gallantry and staunchness of the Gold Coast Regiment and other units on the right flank in the face of these fires was beyond praise.’ On 21 July, Colonel Rose assumed command again.

On 18 September 1917, the Gold Coast Regiment left Narungombe for Mikikole, participating in various actions in the south of German East Africa. In November 1917 the Germans crossed into Portuguese East Africa and on 9 December 1917 the Gold Coast Regiment received orders that it was to be landed at Port Amelia in the Portuguese territory. On route their transport hit a sandbank which delayed their arrival until 7 January 1918. Here, as part of Pamforce, they continued to try and bring the Germans to book. However, on 3 June 1918, the Gold Coast Regiment left Pamforce in preparation for their return home. General WFS Edwards wrote a letter noting ‘I bid good-bye to the Regiment with deep regret, but nevertheless with confidence that, no matter in what other theatre of war the Regiment may be called on to serve, the Gold Coast Regiment will ever prove itself worthy both of the confidence of King and Country by upholding the highest traditions of British arms, and the sacred heritage of the Flag of Saint George.’

On 14 August 1918, the rank and file embarked on HMT Magdalena and set sail. They were joined by Colonel Rose in Durban on 18 August and took leave of officers remaining in Cape Town on 27 August before arriving back in Accra on 5 September 1918. Colonel Rose took his leave after the Governor welcomed all back and the ship sailed for Sekondi where the men disembarked on 6 September to travel to Kumasi station where they were met by family which they had not seen for two years and seven months.

Grunshi’s family was one of the ‘lucky’ ones. He came home. Two hundred men were killed, 263 died of disease, 522 were invalided, 693 wounded and 13 missing. These figures exclude 97 white officers and non-commissioned officers, of whom 15 were killed, 45 invalided, 7 died of disease and 30 wounded.

On 13 March 1919, 5655 Sergeant A Grunshi was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal. He was one of eight on that occasion (2 Gold Coast, 2 Nigerian, 4 King’s African Rifles).

Grunshi retired as a Regimental Sergeant Major in 1924.

For their service in East Africa, the Gold Coast Regiment received the following awards:
DCM: 20 and 2 Bars ; 5 and 1 Bar (whites)
Russian Cross St George (3rd class): 0 ; 1
Military Medals: 22
Meritorious Service Medal: 3
DSO: 0 ; 2 and 1 Bar
MC: 0 ; 11 and 4 Bars
Legion de Honneur, Croix d’Officier: 0 ; 1
Croix de Guerre: 0 ; 1
Italian Silver Medal: 0 ; 1
OBE: 0 ; 1

References:
Moberly, Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons (Official History), Moberly p8 (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015019366734)
Adamson, Paul: Still none the wiser: A mid-century passage, 1952-1967 (Author House, 2007)
Clifford, Hugh: The Gold Coast Regiment in the East African Campaign (1920) The total Gold Coast Expeditionary Force which assembled at Sekondi on 4 July 1916 consisted of four Double Companies (A,B,G,I), Pioneer Company, Battery of two 2.95 guns, 12 machine guns and carriers. There were 36 British officers, 15 British non-commissioned officers, 11 native clerks, 980 native rank and file, 177 specially trained carriers attached to the battery and machine guns, 1 storeman, 204 other carriers, 4 officers of Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), totalling 1,428 men. esp pp4, 292-293
Sierra Leone Weekly News, 19 October 1918, p8
WO 95/5321/2 Hanforce Column 1, 19 July 1917, note 34, p23
London Gazette https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/31227/
WO 372/24/595
WO 372/23/114246

Author: Dr Anne Samson
Date: 15 Aug 2018

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