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The Deployment

At the end of 1914 British East Africa had been reinforced by Indian Expeditionary Forces “B” and “C”. These forces contained infantry, field and mountain artillery, pioneers, a machine gun company, and railway companies. In January 1915 Major General R. Wapshare, who had taken over command of the theatre from Major General A.E. Aitken, requested a cavalry squadron for use in the area south of Nairobi. This area, from Arusha and Longido mountain in German East Africa up to Kajiado in British East Africa, was a possible German invasion route. The area was also free from tsetse fly.

The 17th Cavalry was tasked and formed a composite Pathan squadron of 120 men chosen equally from ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadrons. Major R.C. Barry-Smith commanded and Captain V.C. Duberly and Second Lieutenant B.J.P Mawdsley were Squadron Officers. The Indian Officers in the squadron were: Resaldars Usman Khan and Sajid Gul, and Jemadars Wazir Khan and Wazir Mohamad. The squadron arrived at Mombasa on 4 February 1915 with all its horses and 66 mules. Effective mucking out and fitness exercises on the ship had prevented sickness amongst the mounts. The horses were slung off into lighters and then slung ashore. That afternoon the squadron entrained for Kajiado. Shortly afterwards a two-gun machine gun section was sent from the regiment to join the squadron.

For the first five months the squadron operated out of Kajiado and Bissil, sometimes patrolling alongside the East African Mounted Rifles who rode mules apart from the Scouts Section who had horses. Sometimes the immediate danger was from big game, and squadron members twice had to fire to halt charging rhinoceros. In this area the British had to use especially tall posts to carry signal cables so that giraffe could pass underneath without breaking the cables. In late July the squadron moved south across the border and based itself at a waterhole at Longido West, below the mountain. On 2 August 1915 a German mounted patrol seeking water rode into the Longido West position without making a proper reconnaissance and was greeted with British machine gun and rifle fire. Four German Europeans and two of their Askari surrendered whilst two Europeans and two Askari escaped. One of the squadron Sowars, Pir Dost, was severely wounded and later died. Two days later the squadron returned to the Kajiado-Bissil area.

On 21 September the squadron joined the East African Mounted Rifles and the King’s African Rifles in an attack on Longido West which had been occupied by a German force. The British failed to capture the enemy position and withdrew. The 17th Cavalry was not committed to the action, being retained for the pursuit that never happened, but three days later a squadron reconnaissance patrol established that the Germans had also withdrawn from Longido West.

The lancers were now patrolling out of Bissil and the War Diary records that in November 1915 Lieutenants A.C. Anstey and J.H.G. Knox were serving with the squadron, and that 86 remounts arrived from India and had to be trained. By this time a number of the original horses had succumbed to African Horse Sickness. Some patrols operated with the East African Mounted Rifles from Lone Hill, just north of the border. On 1st January 1916 the squadron held a Sports Day. Orders were then received to cross the border prior to a British advance and on 4 February 1916 Longido West was occupied again.

Operations North of Moshi

The following day Captain Duberly accompanied by Lieutenant Mawdesley and 48 men, plus two Europeans from the Intelligence Department and their Masai scouts, patrolled to the southeast towards Engare Nairobi which lies west of Kilimanjaro Mountain. The mission was to establish if there were any advanced German posts on the route. A German field company and a European mounted unit, altogether totalling about 200 men, were at Ngasserai, 30 Miles along the route, but they remained concealed and observed the British cavalry approaching. On 6 February, coming across the Nanjuki stream, Captain Duberly gave orders to dismount, unsaddle and feed and water horses.

The Germans made a concealed approach through long grass and charged the unsuspecting cavalrymen. Captain Duberly and Lieutenant Mawdesley both wore pith helmets and so were quickly recognised as officers and killed along with Dafadar Said Gul; three others were wounded. Jemadar Wazir Khan took charge and brought the patrol out of action skilfully despite the long grass which obscured vision; he was later awarded the Indian Order of Merit. Both parties then withdrew. Lance Dafadar Khan Sahib had been wounded and left in the grass but using a discarded lance he hobbled back towards Longido for six days with no food and practically no water, bringing with him his rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition. He also was awarded an Indian Order of Merit.

Captain D.Mc.L. Slater, 11th Rajputs attached to 17th Infantry, joined the squadron on 1st March and commanded the machine gun section. On 5 March an Advance of the British 1st Division, commanded by Brigadier General J.M. “Jimmie” Stewart, began from Longido following the Ngasserie – Engare Nairobi route towards Moshi, south of Kilimanjari Mountain. An almost simultaneous advance by the British 2nd Division was coming from the east also directed towards Moshi. The squadron was initially used for reconnaissance by 1st Division, Sowar Khalid Gul being killed by a German ambush on 9 March. As the advance continued through forest and bush the squadron’s tasks changed to rear and flank guards, and piqueting duties at night. On 11 March Dafadar Said Gul was killed by enemy machine gun fire whilst riding on Right Flank Guard duties. The squadron then moved forward into the reconnaissance role again, reaching the Arusha-Moshi road without incident and arriving at Moshi, which had been taken by the 2nd Division, on 16 March.

Two days later heavy infantry fighting started on the approaches to Kahe Station on the German Usambara Railway line that ran from Moshi to Tanga on the Indian Ocean coast. The ground was covered by bush too dense for successful mounted action and this became a mainly infantry battlefield. On 21 March the squadron acted as escort to South African Field Artillery that came into action 300 yards from the enemy’s trenches. Both sides suffered several casualties during this battle, but the Germans managed to break contact and withdraw cleanly – a tactic that the British were to get used to – and the enemy moved a few miles down the railway line.

Heavy rains now halted this British advance into German East Africa and the British commander, General Smuts, ordered a pause and a move into encampments. Three officer replacements arrived for the squadron from India: Captain H.S. Stewart and Second Lieutenants A.B. Knowles and A.W. Ibbotson. The squadron was withdrawn across the British East African border to Mbuyuni to the east, where there was both a military railway line branching from the main British Uganda Railway line, and a British airfield. Remounts now came from depots in British East Africa. On 7 May a draft of 13 reinforcements arrived from the Regiment in India. At Mbuyuni the squadron was tasked with searching for downed airmen and also with working alongside the Mounted Infantry Company that was manned by men from the 2nd Battalion of The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. This company was commanded by Captain George Atkinson MC whose brother served in the 17th Cavalry. Long joint patrols were sent towards the Pare Mountains south of Lake Jipe to reconnoitre a route that was later used by the 3rd King’s African Rifles.

The Advance down the Pangani River

On 21 May the squadron was back in German East Africa and patrolling forward of the British River Column (which in fact was most of the 1st East African Brigade under the command of Brigadier General S.H. Sheppard). The column advanced down the Pangani River cutting its own trail. Five days later a German picquet of one European, five Askari and five porters was captured. Lance Dafadar Musalli saw members of the picquet and fired from the saddle, inducing the surrender. The squadron cooperated again with the Mounted Infantry Company and the Scouts of the East African Mounted Rifles, mopping up enemy stragglers as the main enemy force steadily withdrew ahead of the British advance. On one occasion an enemy train was observed withdrawing and the cavalrymen tried to get ahead of it to block the line, but a German picquet thwarted the advance, wounding one Sowar and two horses. The Germans had mounted a field gun on their train and used it to harass the advancing British.

In early June the river column moved west of the railway line and entered thick bush alongside the Pangani River. In this terrain mounted scouting was not possible and the horses were led. At Mkalamo the infantry, principally the 130th Baluchis, had an extremely fierce fight in dense bush against a dug-in German force. The cavalry was not in action but was fired at by the enemy, but the density of the bush absorbed or deflected the vast majority of the enemy rounds.

Advancing to Morogoro

At Mkalamo a trolley line ran south to Handeni and the Germans withdrew down the line. The squadron and the 2nd Rhodesian Regiment were tasked with following up the enemy. The dismounted Sowars engaged the German rearguard in thick bush at short range. Lieutenant Knowles was leading from the front, and was in the act of firing at the enemy, when he was shot through the neck and killed.

The column advanced through Handeni and south to the Lukigura River where on 26 June a dug-in German force stood and fought until it was bayoneted out of its trenches by the infantry, principally the 25th Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) and the Kashmir Rifles, who had attacked from a flank. During this fight the squadron was tasked to demonstrate towards the enemy front as a diversion, and in doing this Sowars Hashim Ali Khan and Alam Khan were killed in action. Three horses were wounded.

By now the horses were emaciated due to lack of grain. The men also often went on short rations as the supply service, composed of African porters struggling through the bush and carrying loads on their heads, could not deliver sufficient quantities of supplies. (General Smuts, the British theatre commander and a former Boer guerrilla commando leader, could never be persuaded to discuss logistics seriously.) After the Lukigura fight the Mounted Infantry Company was disbanded due to sickness amongst both the remaining men and their mules, and Captain George Atkinson MC, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, was attached to the squadron. A column camp was made at Msiha but unfortunately it was within range of a German 4.1-inch gun recovered from the sunken cruiser Konigsberg, and the camp was intermittently shelled especially during the night. On 19 July one follower was killed by shell fire, one Sowar and eight followers wounded plus one horse and nine mules wounded. Five mules had to be destroyed. The following day a move was made to a safer camp. By the end of July, despite having received remounts, only 68 horses were left in the squadron, most of whom were quite unfit for prolonged work. A small amount of millet was purchased from villagers for feeding to the horses. The strength of the Sowars too was decreasing as the unhealthy climate took its toll and men died or were hospitalised with malaria and blackwater fever.

During August the brigade advanced to the Wami River, the squadron being tasked with patrols when the ground was suitable. Captain Stewart was posted out of the squadron to be Post Commandant at Makindu. During the fight on the Wami on 17 August when the 25th Punjabis and the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment forced the enemy out of its position, the squadron escorted the South African 5th field artillery battery. One mule was killed and two horses were wounded by enemy fire. A few days later 25 horses were either shot or handed over to the Mobile Veterinary Hospital because of debilitation due to lack of grain. The advance continued and Morogoro on the Central Railway was taken but the Germans withdrew further south into the Uluguru Mountains. On 31 August only 20 horses were fit for work and none were fit for more than 15 miles at a slow pace.

Pursuing the enemy south of the Central Railway

During the second week in September 100 remounts and 47 Rank and File, with three Indian Officers, caught up with the squadron. Despite these reinforcements the squadron’s effective strength was still under the War Establishment figure and it was decided to reduce the Machine Gun Section from two guns to one because of the shortage of animals. Captain George Atkinson MC was sent on attachment to the 3rd Kashmir Rifles on 16 August. Captain D. McL. Slater followed him five days later. The squadron continued marching south with the brigade and reached the Mgeta River but tsetse fly was killing the horses. On 16 October Major Barry-Smith reported to brigade headquarters that his squadron was unfit for further service. This was acknowledged and the squadron ordered to return to Morogoro. By now only about 30 fit but weak men remained and only 20 of them had horses. The unlucky ones walked back until some returning empty Ford supply cars overtook them and provided transport.

Return to India

After a month waiting in Morogoro for orders from India the squadron moved by train to Dar Es Salaam on 24 November and was re-clothed. Here the administrators took over and insisted on issuing a full complement of new saddlery. Despite Major Barry-Smith explaining repeatedly that this saddlery had just arrived from India and was urgently needed at the front and that the squadron was returning to India without horses, the administrators would not change their decision. The new saddlery was issued, re-loaded and shipped back to India, the squadron embarking on the transport Havildar on 17 December and arriving at Bombay in January 1917.

Major Raymond Coape Barry-Smith was Mentioned in Despatches. Second Lieutenant Archie William Ibbotson was awarded a Military Cross. Lieutenant Barton James Platt Mawdesley lies in Kajiado Cemetery and Lieutenant Andrew Brooks Knowles lies in Tanga European Cemetery.

These 18 men are commemorated on the Nairobi British and Indian Memorial in Kenya: Captain Vernon Conrad Duberly, 1974 Sowar Nazar Gull, Follower Jalal, 2255 Sowar Mian Gul, 2281 Sowar Pir Dost, 1385 Dafadar Said Gul, 2428 Sowar Kalid Gul, 1396 Dafadar Said Gul, 2209 Sowar Hashim Ali Khan, 1883 Sowar Alam Khan, 2712 Sowar Mir Gul, 2108 Sowar Muhammad Ibrahim, Follower Khuda Baksh, 247 Sowar Akbar Khan, 2464 Sowar Said Mir, 2225 Farrier Hikmat Shah, 2398 Sowar Jahan Dad Khan and 641 Follower Puran.

These two men are commemorated on the Dar Es Salaam British and Indian Memorial in Tanzania:

2446 Sowar Hazarat Gul and 2679 Sowar Sultan Khan.


Official History. Military Operations East Africa August 1914-September 1916 by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.

Star and Crescent: Being the Story of the 17th Cavalry from 1858 to 1922 by Francis Yeats-Brown.

War Diary 17th Cavalry East Africa Squadron 25 July 1915 to 17 December 1916. (WO 95 5336).

Commonwealth War Graves Commission Records.

The London Gazette.

(An edited version of this article appeared in a recent issue of Durbar, the Journal of the Indian Military Historical Society.)



British and German East Africa, December 1915 to April 1917


Two recent books describing the operational activities of the Rhodesia Native Regiment provide excellent information on the employment of Rhodesian African infantrymen during the Great War.  The Rhodesia Native Regiment operated in southern German East Africa and in Portuguese East Africa.  However Rhodesian Africans also served operationally in the northern sector of the theatre, operating as part of the 2nd Battalion The Rhodesia Regiment (2RR).

2RR, a white infantry unit, was recruited to a strength of 800 men in Rhodesia, now named Zimbabwe, to fight in British East Africa, now named Kenya.  Thanks to a journal written by the Commanding Officer of the unit, Lieutenant Colonel Algernan Essex Capell DSO, we have a comprehensive account of the Battalion’s actions during its short life.  2RR disembarked at Mombasa on 15th March 1915 and returned to Salisbury, Rhodesia, two years later to be disbanded.  A report in the Rhodesia Herald dated Monday 15th April 1917 mentioned:    Altogether 11 officers and 259 men returned, accompanied by 22 natives, who left with the Regiment and have done invaluable service as scouts.

Scouting in the British East African bush

2RR was first sent by train to Kajiado on the Magadi rail line south of Nairobi.  In mid-April the Battalion deployed back down to Voi, with one company moving west up the Tsavo Valley to Mzima Springs.  Soon all the companies were operating in or around the densely thorn-bushed valley, which was a useful route for German infiltration parties attacking the Uganda Railway line.  Effective scouting became a problem for the Rhodesians as narrow game tracks were often the only routes that could be followed in the thick bush.  This restricted the wider deployment of scouts which would have been possible in more open terrain.

Also the Rhodesians were not happy with the quality of African scouts provided locally by the East African Intelligence Department.  There would probably also have been a language difficulty when communicating with these local tribesmen.  Fortunately the Battalion contained several excellent former hunters and they were used for reconnaissance duties, but the decision was made to bring African scouts up from the home base.

The British advance

Colonel Capell recorded in December 1915:    About this time, ten native scouts are sent up from Rhodesia, and are placed under Corporal Guiney, a fearless scout himself; they remained, less two killed in action, until the last, doing invaluable work for the Regiment. It is probable that these men were the first group of scouts to be sent from Salisbury.

The first large operation involving the Rhodesians occurred on 12th February 1916 when a Divisional attack was launched on Salaita Hill, east of Taveta on the German East African border.  All movements were pre-ordered (until the enemy counter-attacked!) and infantry scouts had no useful function.  Mounted infantry was deployed on the flanks.  The attack was defeated when German Askari vigorously charged into the South African battalions on the right, causing them to panic, break and flee, often without their rifles.  2RR stayed firm on the left and withdrew tactically in a well-disciplined and controlled manner.  In the centre an Indian battalion, 130th (King George’s Own) Baluchis (Jacob’s Rifles), stood and fought fiercely, thereby preventing even more South African casualties.

The Battalion played a significant role in the next set-piece battle when the Latema-Reata Nek was attacked.  Initially the British attacks were repulsed, but then 2RR and the 3rd King’s African Rifles seized lengths of the Latema and Reata ridges and held them all night against fierce counter attacks.  Fifteen Rhodesians were killed and 43 others were wounded; two men were taken prisoner by the Germans.  Gradually South African cavalry outflanked the Nek to the north, causing the German commander to withdraw.  The British then encountered stiff resistance in the Kahe area of the upper Pangani Valley and several actions were fought, but the Rhodesians were not involved as they had been withdrawn to the Nairobi area for rest and recuperation.

The enemy commander, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, now began to display the successful tactics that he practised until his Schutztruppe entered Portuguese East Africa in the last year of the war.  The Germans withdrew down the Moshi to Tanga railway line, ripping up the track and fighting delaying actions.  The Schutztruppe fell back onto previously prepared defensive positions and supply dumps whilst the British continually extended their already overburdened supply chain.

The fight at German Bridge, 30th May 1916

The British advanced down the Pangani Valley with one brigade following the railway line, another following the river and a third force advancing east of the Usambara Mountains.  All three routes were contested and they converged in the area of Bwiko.  Just north of Bwiko, at Mikocheni, the Pangani River curved in to the mountains and restricted the ground available for manoeuvre.  Here the Germans were building a bridge, and they planned a delaying action.

2RR was following the river route.  The Battalion, like all other white units, was handicapped by the large number of men being treated for malaria and other tropical diseases.  However the Rhodesians possessed six machine guns and they now had an opportunity to use them.   Whilst 2RR assaulted forward over open ground with the river on its right, 130th Baluchis and the Indian 27th Mountain Battery seized higher ground on the left flank.  The Rhodesians displayed their high standard of training by using fire-and-movement skills whilst under erratic but constant rifle fire.  Finally the German Askari were ordered to withdraw from their trenches, and the Rhodesian machine gunners made the most of that opportunity.  The enemy position was taken but at a cost.  Ten men had been wounded, two dangerously and two seriously, and one killed.  The fatality was No. 10 Native Scout Levi.

Onwards to the Dutumi River

The main British pursuit now veered southwards down a trolley line running from Mombo to Handeni.  On 9th June the Rhodesians were in action again at Mkalamo, a crossing on the Pangani River, but the bush was so thick that few visual contacts were made with the withdrawing enemy.  A fortnight later, in the Mzima area, honey bees swarmed out of their disturbed tree-top bark hives and seriously disrupted 2RR’s advance.

From 7th July to 7th August the Battalion halted at Msiha whilst the British theatre commander, General Smuts, attempted one of his several doomed-to-failure envelopment movements.  During this period a 4.2-inch gun, recovered by the Germans from the sunk cruiser Konigsberg, constantly shelled the British position causing casualties.  The British artillery available did not possess the range for counter-battery fire.  By this time 2RR was reduced by sickness to one company of 120 men with four machine guns plus the Native Scouts.  Also nearly all the 1st Line transport mules had been lost to tsetse-fly sickness.  A supply column that arrived from Taveta in mid-August had lost 60 of its 76 oxen to the fly.

On the Wami River on 17th August the depleted Rhodesians lost five men killed and nine wounded when supporting the 29th Punjabis who ran into an enemy strong point.  Other Battalion casualties were one Machine Gun Porter killed and three wounded.  These East African porters had been an integral part of 2RR since the machine guns had been issued.  Their duties were to carry the disassembled guns and boxes of ammunition, and they were highly regarded for their physical ability and bravery under fire.

By 26th October the strength of 2RR was down to 30 men fit for operations, plus the Native Scouts and Machine Gun Porters.  The Battalion was employed on lines of communication duties until men discharged from hospital returned, however these weakened returnees soon succumbed again to tropical diseases.  At this time No. 17 Native Scout Corporal Chinanti was killed by a German land mine.  He was escorting a party of surrendered enemy Askari when the incident occurred.  Colonel Capell recorded that a Christian military funeral was held.

The return to Rhodesia

It was now apparent to the British military staff that 2RR was no longer viable as an infantry battalion due to debilitation caused by disease, climatic effects, and an inadequate diet.  On 11th January 1917 the Rhodesians, or what was left of them, marched out of the Rufiji Valley towards Morogoro.  At the end of March the Battalion moved by rail to Dar Es Salaam from where it was repatriated.

Several officers and Non-Commissioned Officers remained in East Africa to serve in the new battalions of the King’s African Rifles that were being quickly formed, or in the Intelligence or other military departments.  After trying to keep the theatre the preserve of white and Indian battalions for too long, the British now realised that only indigenous African units could stand up to the conditions satisfactorily.  The Germans had realised this well before the war began.

British military headquarters posted the Rhodesian Native Scouts elsewhere, but Colonell Capell insisted on their return to Salisbury with the Battalion.  The loyal and hard working Machine Gun Porters were granted leave for two months and posted together to a King’s African Rifles battalion.  Neither Native Scout Levi or Native Scout Chinanti appear to have been commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and their graves lie unmarked somewhere in the East African bush.

The last words on the Native Scouts come from Colonel Capell:  The scouts, recruited in Rhodesia, had done splendid work throughout – always, cheerful, always willing, accepting the risks that all scouts must, with a native’s sang-froid.  Thus they had endeared themselves and won the respect of a Regiment that throughout had known no colour bar, and that treated as comrades those that were brave.  I refused staunchly to leave them in a land of strangers.


The 2nd Rhodesia Regiment in East Africa by Lieutenant Colonel A.E. Capell.

Military History, East Africa, August 1914 to September 1916, the Official History.

(The books on the Rhodesia Native Regiment are: No Insignificant Part – The Rhodesia Native Regiment and the East African Campaign of the First World War by Timothy J. Stapleton, and Masodja – The history of The Rhodesian African Rifles and its forerunner, the Rhodesia Native Regiment by Alexandre Binda.)




As the Great War started there were three Battalions of the King’s African Rifles in existence. 1KAR (Nyasaland) had eight companies of Askari, 3 KAR (British East Africa) had six companies and 4 KAR (Uganda) had seven companies. 2 KAR (Nyasaland) had been disbanded in 1911 on grounds of economy, and most of the redundant Askari had crossed over the German East African border to join the Schutztruppe, the German defence force. All the Indian contingents of mainly Sikh soldiers had been returned to India. The Committee of Imperial Defence had decided that “native levies” were not to be used in any defence plans for African Colonies in the early phases of any war, and so all the KAR Askari were only trained and equipped for internal security duties in remote locations in company-strength detachments.

1 KAR displayed some differences from 3 and 4 KAR. Nyasaland battalions were badged in English numerals as opposed to Arabic ones, the command language was Chinyanja and not Swahili and the fez colour was black and not red. 1 KAR had four companies on “foreign” service in British East Africa or Somaliland at any one time. Whilst 3 and 4 KAR preferred recruits from Sudan, the tribal constitution of 1 KAR was local: four companies of Yao, two companies of Atonga and two companies of Angoni.


On 1st August 1914 half of 1 King’s African Rifles (“A”, “B”, “C” and “E” Companies) was in Jubaland in northeastern British East Africa. The companies were at Yonti, Gobwen and Serenli, military posts on the Juba River that separated Italian and British East Africa. Each company was about 100 rifles strong, these companies having the “foreign service” establishment as opposed to the other four companies in Nyasaland that had the “home service” establishment of 85 rifles.
In Jubaland companies from 1 KAR, 3 KAR and 4 KAR, had just finished campaigning on the Marehan Patrol under the command of Lt Col B.R. Graham, Commanding Officer of 3 KAR. The Marehan tribe had been causing concern & although Graham’s operation had not seen any serious fighting the Marehan had been temporarily pacified. In due course an African General Service Medal with the clasp: “East Africa 1913-14” was issued for service on the Marehan Patrol and 305 members of 1 KAR qualified for the award.

When war was declared “B” Company of 1 KAR, ( Captain G.J. Giffard) at Gobwen and Yonti, was brought back from Kismayu to Mombasa by steamer disembarking at Mombasa on 9th August. “B” Company moved up the Uganda Railway to Voi, and after a pause travelled on to Nairobi.

The British East Africa administration was reluctant to withdraw too many troops from Jubaland, apparently fearing the activities of Marehan raiders more than the activities of the Schutztruppe across the western border in German East Africa. (At that time both the Governors of British & German East Africa hoped that they could avoid conflict with each other.)
However the KAR officers in Jubaland saw the German threat far more clearly than the administration did and a company-strength garrison from 3 KAR was left in Serenli whilst the remaining companies moved westwards to defend the Uganda Railway. Major L.H. Soames, the senior 1 KAR officer and the commander of the Serenli post, took matters into his own hands & organized the withdrawal from Jubaland.
“A” and “C” Companies of 1 KAR followed “B” Company back to the Uganda Railway but “E” Company was ordered to disembark at the Tana River because of the Giriama Uprising and that company was delayed there for lack of shipping until late September.


The Giriama tribe, 60,000 strong, had migrated from Somaliland in the 17th Century to occupy a stretch of the East African coast between Mombasa and Kilifi. Here they built a principal shrine, the Kaya Fungo. They then extended their territory northwards.

Whilst not directly opposing the British administration the Giriama, who were adept at both ivory trading and poisoning arrow-heads, successfully resisted both taxation and labour demands. When a Public Works team, in an effort to fully impose British authority, dynamited the Kaya Fungo in August 1914 a Giriama prophetess and her son-in-law incited Giriama warriors to resist.

A British East Africa policeman allegedly raped a Giriama woman and in retaliation a police party was attacked by arrows on August 16th. The following day the alleged rapist was killed by a poisoned arrow. About 150 warriors then attacked the District Commissioner’s camp and also a mission station. Companies from 3 KAR and 4 KAR under Major G.M.P Hawthorne, 1 KAR, were used to quickly subdue the belligerent southern Giriama.
“E” Company 1 KAR found the northern Giriama to be friendly & there were no hostile incidents in the company area.


The Schutztruppe started sending demolition teams from German East Africa down the Tsavo Valley where there was always water, to attack the Uganda Railway line which ran from Mombasa on the coast to Kisumu on Lake Victoria. Some teams also crossed the waterless 40 miles of bush from Taveta on the border (captured by the Schutztruppe on 15 August) towards Voi on the railway line, but this was a difficult route. A more southern route started at Gonja in German East Africa & went east to Kasigao Mountain (where there were good springs) just before the railway line.

Mounted Schutztruppe patrols also started penetrating into British East Africa from the Longido area north of Arusha in German East Africa. The enemy target was the private railway line that ran from Magadi Junction on the Uganda Railway to the Magadi Soda Company’s operations on Lake Magadi. Kajiado station on that line became an important British rail-head for troops defending the British East African border at Namanga, north of Longido.
Further north mounted Germans were crossing the Masai plain and entering British East Africa in the Nguruman Escarpment area north of Lake Natron. Here they levied taxes on the villagers, removing cattle and burning villages when they met resistance.
From October to December 1914 companies from 1 KAR were deployed in all these areas.


Voi on the Uganda Railway line, Bura at the southern foot of the Teita Hills, Maktau ten miles to the west towards Taveta and Mzima Springs just north in the Tsavo Valley were the initial deployment locations for 1 KAR companies as they arrived from Jubaland.

Other British troops in the area were companies from 3 and 4 KAR, the KAR Mounted Infantry Company (formed from within 3 KAR), the Uganda Railway Volunteers, the Somali Scouts, the motor-cyclists of the East African Mechanical Transport Corps, the two European companies and one Indian company of the East African Regiment, the East African Pioneers and the East African Artillery Volunteers with their 12-pounder naval gun. These last five units were newly raised from local volunteers. The Nairobi railway workshops produced an “armoured train” and this chugged up and down the line with a quick-reaction force of British troops.

When Indian Expeditionary Force “C” started to arrive in September under Brigadier General J.M. Stewart, units such as the 29th Punjabis, the 27th Mountain Battery, the Indian Volunteer Maxim Gun Company, the Calcutta Volunteer Artillery Battery and Imperial Service infantry contingents from Indian Princely States appeared and strengthened the British East African force. When Indian Expeditionary Force “B” arrived in November (after its failed amphibious assault on Tanga) under Major General A.E. Aitken there were far more troops to deploy in defence of the Uganda Railway, but some were of very poor quality as two Indian Carnatic battalions had refused to fight at Tanga.

“B” Company 1 KAR (Captain G.J. Giffard, Lieutenant C.G. Phillips, Lieutenant R.C. Hardingham) initially occupied positions at Bura and Maktau on the Taveta – Voi route and then sent a detachment north into the Tsavo Valley to hold a post at Campi Ya Marabu northwest of Mzima Springs. A patrol under Lieutenant Phillips tracked a German patrol for two days and on 3rd September assaulted the enemy base-camp with the bayonet, killing one and capturing two enemy Askari.
“A” Company 1 KAR (Captain W.T.H. Gregg) and “C” Company 1 KAR (Captain W.G. Stonor) were also deployed in the Voi – Tsavo area. Lieutenants L.G. Murray and H.E. Green are shown as working with “B” Company for a time, but as casualties mounted junior officers were deployed individually to whichever company needed them most.

Reading between the lines of the various histories it is apparent that the appearance of thousands of new troops from India provided a certain strength, but operational efficiency suffered as the officers from India outranked most of the KAR officers and therefore directed operational events. Until the Indian Army units learned the realities of bush warfare KAR companies subordinated to them were handicapped by the sometimes unrealistic tactical and logistic planning that preceded operations. The KAR companies were most productive when working on their own.


In late September 1914 Schutztruppe units from Tanga probed northwards up the British East Africa Coast, encountering the Arab Rifles (recruited from Adeni and Hadhramaut Arabs working on the British East African coast) under Lieutenant A.J.B. Wavell near Majoreni. Although the enemy advance was held Lt Wavell was seriously wounded & the Arab Rifles withdrew 20 miles back to Gazi, where the road from Mombasa ended.

As this enemy advance coincided with the sinking of HMS PEGASUS in Zanzibar Harbour on 20th September by the German cruiser KONIGSBERG, Mombasa was assumed to be threatened and the British defences at Gazi were strengthened. Major G.M.P. Hawthorne, 1 KAR, was placed in command of 850 men from the Arab Rifles, Reserve Company KAR, 29th Punjabis, Jind Infantry, and the Indian Volunteer Maxim Battery (a Territorial-type unit of Europeans and mixed-race Indians). “C” Coy 1 KAR under Captain W.G. Stonor also joined Hawthorne’s force.

On 6th October the Schutztruppe pushed north again in two parallel columns, the northern one under Captain Baumstark having 300 men & four machine guns (Field Companies 16 and 17) and the southern one under Captain Boemcken having 180 men and two machine guns (Field Company 15 plus irregulars). Baumstarck attacked Gazi at dawn on 7th October pushing Hawthorne’s outposts back in through the plantations towards Gazi village.

Towards noon “C” Company 1 KAR mounted a counter-attack that checked the enemy but further Schutztruppe pressure forced Hawthorne’s forward troops back inside their prepared perimeter. “C” Coy 1 KAR counter-attacked again but lost all its officers wounded. Colour Sergeant Sumani rallied the Company & maintained the counter-attack. He was joined by a company and a half of the Jind Infantry who came out of the main defensive position to join him. (The Jind Infantry was amongst the best of the Imperial Service troops supplied by the Rulers of the Princely States of India.)

This second counter-attack broke the enemy assault and before dusk Baumstarck’s troops were withdrawing. Boemcken’s troops do not appear to have been used aggressively and they also withdrew.
1 KAR officers seriously wounded were Captain W.G. Stonor, Lieutenant R.S.J. Faulknor, and Lieutenant J.M. Llewellyn. Major G.M.P. Hawthorne was slightly wounded.
Colour Sergeant Sumani was awarded the African Distinguished Conduct Medal. His citation read: “For leading his company in a charge after all his officers had been shot down and drawing off the enemy at the action at Gazi on 7th October 1914.”


Prior to 14th November 1914 Major L.H. Soames, 1 KAR, had been the Post Commandant at Lone Hill just north of Namanga on the German East African border. He had commanded two KAR companies in a “composite battalion” that defended the border area south of Nairobi. The British mounted troops in the area came from the newly-raised East African Mounted Rifles and the Magadi Defence Force. On 14th November a double- company of the 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment took over Lone Hill & Namanga & the KAR withdrew north to Kajiado and then back to Nairobi.

A company from 1 KAR under Lieutenant C.G. Phillips returned to the Lake Magadi area in December where it operated with Number 1 Double-Company of the Loyal North Lancashires commanded by Major H.A. Robinson. On 11th December the two companies marched west to the Ewaso Ngiro River. This was rugged country & on the first day’s march three porters and one donkey died from exhaustion.

On reaching the Nguruman Escarpment near Ol Doinyo Sambu Lord Delamere’s Masai Scouts & Agent Twigg of the Intelligence Department reported the presence of 30 Germans and 200 Schutztruppe Askari at Naidigidigo and Samunge, 20 miles to the west. Major Robinson hoped to use his combined force to confront the enemy but the Germans burned Naidigidigo & Samunge and withdrew south, doubtless with herds of confiscated cattle taken to feed the Schutztruppe concentrated around Mount Kilimanjaro.

The two companies stayed in the area until after Christmas, visiting villages with the Intelligence Department and Lord Delamere and his Masai Scouts until they were certain that the German threat had receded. On the return journey the troops marched by night to avoid the effects of day-time heat combined with salinity near the lake. On 29th December a train took the men from the Soda Works to Nairobi.

On 30 October 1914 the Royal Navy had ascertained that the German cruiser KONIGSBERG was in the Rufiji Delta south of Dar Es Salaam in German East Africa. Mafia Island at the mouth of the Rufiji was needed as a British base for operations against the KONIGSBERG and as the Schutztruppe garrison on Mafia was thought to be only 30 men strong plans were made to seize the island. On New Year’s Day 1915 all four 1 KAR companies were concentrated at Nairobi under Major L.M. Soames and were organized and refitted for this task.

The Askari were practiced in advancing under fire by squads in file at 20 paces interval with local supports and reserves. Thick bush was used for this training, which culminated in practicing attacks across open ground. Lt Col B.R. Graham, CO 3 KAR, lectured the four companies, a half-battalion photograph was taken, and on 7th January the troops departed by rail for Mombasa.

On 8th January the four 1 KAR Companies and a section (from 4 KAR) of the KAR Maxim Gun Battery embarked on the armed merchant cruiser KINFAUNS CASTLE along with a company of 101st Grenadiers. Lt Col L.E.S. Ward KAR commanded the force. At 0630 hours on 10th January the cruiser HMS FOX and the KINFAUNS CASTLE bombarded the Ras Kisimani area, the western tip of Mafia Island, whilst the troops were put ashore unopposed.

Reconnaissance patrols moved towards Ngombeni where the German defenders were thought to be positioned whilst a defensive perimeter was formed at Ras Kisimani. At 0630 hours on 11th January the British force advanced towards Ngombeni, Lt G.M. Dean’s 1 KAR scouts making contact at 0830 hours & identifying the enemy defensive position by 0900 hours.

The Schutztruppe defenders consisted of 15 Police Askari, 11 recruits & three Germans under Reserve Lieutenant Schiller. They vigorously opposed 1 KAR’s advance, Lt Schiller effectively using the branches of a mango tree to fire from. Major Soames ordered Captain Giffard to hold the enemy in front with “B” Coy and the machine-gun section whilst “E” Company under Lieutenant L.G. Murray moved round the enemy’s left flank. “A” and “C” Companies were initially held in reserve but as the hours passed both companies were sent to work round the enemy’s right flank.

“E” Company’s flank-move eventually forced the enemy to retire from Ngombeni Village across a valley, giving the KAR machine-guns and Askari a good shoot. Lieutenant Schiller was severely wounded, two defenders were killed and five others wounded and after resisting for three or four hours the enemy force surrendered. 1 KAR casualties were Major Soames and Lieutenant Joyce severely wounded, Captain Gifford slightly wounded, one Askari killed and seven wounded.
Lt Schiller’s wife tended to the British wounded before her husband was found. After being severely wounded Lt Schiller could not be easily seen and he had to fire shots from his pistol to attract attention from stretcher bearers. (Lt Schiller was taken to the British hospital in Zanzibar, and later he and Frau Schiller were released in return for the release on parole of the two British prisoners captured at Jasin – see below.)

“C” Company then proceeded to the main town Kilindoni and hoisted the British flag at 1423 hours. “”A”, “B” and “E” Companies marched to Chole Bay on the island’s southeast coast, meeting no opposition. The German civil authorities surrendered Mafia Island and “A” and “B” Companies returned to Ngombeni.

On 13th January a company of 63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry took over garrison duties on Mafia Island under Lt Col J.D. Mackay, an ex-KAR officer who had served 14 years in various parts of East Africa. The next day all 1 KAR troops moved to Mombasa via Zanzibar aboard SS ELLENGA. Arriving at Mombasa on 16th January all four companies were quickly trans-shipped to SS BARJORA which immediately sailed south along the British East African coast.


Jasin was the location of a German coconut and sisal plantation on the coast just south of the border with British East Africa. On Christmas Day 1914 two companies of 3 KAR and a company of 101st Grenadiers, all under the command of Captain T.O. Fitzgerald 3 KAR, had captured the Schutztruppe post at Jasin. The British commander, Brigadier General M.J. Tighe, decided to fortify Jasin and two defensive posts were constructed. Nearly 300 troops from the 101st Grenadiers and the 2nd Kashmir Rifles , supported by one gun of a KAR machine-gun section, occupied the main fort. Forty men of the 2nd Kashmir Rifles occupied a post in the sisal factory to the north.

The German commander Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck decided to attack the British at Jasin and he concentrated eight Field Companies (comprised of Askari) and two European companies at Tanga, these companies together had 16 machine guns and two field guns. Most of the German troops came down from the Kilimanjaro area on the Usambara Railway line that ran between Moshi and Tanga. The German plan was to assault the Jasin Position and to block British reinforcements moving southwards towards Jasin from British territory. After reconnoitering aggressively on 12th January the German attack commenced on 18th January and surprised the British.

The four companies of 1 KAR were steaming down the coast from Mombasa in order to relieve the Jind Infantry in a routine re-deployment, as the coastal area was very unhealthy and British troops, apart from the Arab Rifles, were only located there for short periods. “A” and “C” Companies 1 KAR disembarked at Mgoa just north of the border on 17th January and “B” and “E” Companies disembarked there the next morning at 0630 hours. The companies occupied the nearby Umba Camp.

“C” Company 1 KAR (Lieutenants R.C. Hardingham and E.B. Bevan) was ordered forward at 0530 hours 18th January with two 3 KAR Companies to reinforce Jasin as soon as the signal rockets fired by the defenders were seen. Captain G.J. Giffard 1 KAR was in overall command of these three companies. “A” and “B” Companies 1 KAR were ordered forward at 0930 hours whilst “E” Company was retained in reserve. Lieutenant G.M. Dean 1 KAR was attached to 3 KAR to command a company.

Captain Giffard split “C” Company 1 KAR, sending half the company under Lieutenant Hardingham forward with the two 3 KAR companies, whilst retaining the other half under Lieutenant Bevan as a reserve with himself. The forward companies crossed the River Suba and could see the Jasin sisal factory through the thick bush surrounding them, but they were continuously attacked and outflanked by Schutztruppe companies advancing towards them. Captain Giffard moved forward with his reserve half company to join the firing line and found it running low on ammunition, the troops having fired several squad and section volleys in order to clear the bush around them. The Germans used their superior number of machine guns efficiently to support their riflemen who charged forward to the sound of bugles and cheers, driving all the KAR troops back across the river.

As the 1 KAR troops withdrew with a total of ten wounded men some became involved in fierce hand-to-hand fighting with German Askari in the swampy river valley, but no wounded were left behind. Lieutenant Dean was wounded in the shoulder whilst commanding his 3 KAR company. On the north bank of the River Suba ammunition was replenished. “A” and “B” Companies 1 KAR arrived from Umba Camp, “B” Company was used to prolong the British line to the right (north) whilst “A” Company was placed in reserve to secure the bridge over the Umba River on the border.

A section of two 10-pounder “screw-guns” (so called because their barrels were transported in two pieces) from 28 Mountain Battery, Indian Army now came forward to the line being held north of the River Suba by all the KAR companies. The guns fired 40 rounds in five minutes, many of the rounds’ fuses being set at zero for instantaneous detonation, and at least two enemy machine-gun teams and a bayonet charge were destroyed. Having checked the enemy’s aggression the guns then withdrew to higher ground from where they could fire over the KAR heads.

In the afternoon another British assault was mounted, 3 KAR on the left crossing the Suba but being unable to progress further, the Jind Infantry in the centre crossing but losing many officers and men on the southern bank, and 1 KAR companies on the right being stopped on the northern bank. The Kashmiris in the sisal factory had run out of ammunition and made a bayonet charge that allowed about half of them to escape, and this then freed the Schutztruppe in the factory area to concentrate all their attention on stopping the assault of the 1 KAR companies across the Suba.

Brigadier-General Tighe believed that the British fort at Jasin could hold out for another day and so decided to rest his men north of the Suba and assault again the following morning. However the defenders of Jasin fort had lost the Kashmiri Commanding Officer killed in action, and they were nearly out of ammunition. The intensity of the incoming fire from six enemy machine guns had led to an over-rapid rate of return fire by the Kashmiri defenders, whilst many of the other defenders would not raise their heads to aim shots when firing out of the fort. The KAR machine gun had jammed and become inoperable after firing two rounds. The defenders also had to leave the fort perimeter to access a spring when they needed water, and whilst the German attackers also suffered from thirst they had the advantage of being able to drink coconut juice from the plantation crop that surrounded the fort.

At 0600 hours on the 19th January “B” Company 1 KAR took part in a British “reconnaissance in force” and reached Jasin ridge, the scene of much of the previous day’s fighting but the two British officers commanding Jasin fort had surrendered at 0700 hours. The two British officers were released on parole but the other surviving defenders including the British Sergeant and seven Askari of the KAR Machine Gun Section were sent to prisoner of war camps in German East Africa.

Jasin was a victory for the Schutztruppe commander Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck who, despite having taken a bullet through the shoulder during the action, had applied determination and decisive force and firepower at critical times. However this had been a costly battle for the Germans as one-seventh of their regular army officers had been lost. This influenced a change in German tactics and for the remainder of the campaign the Schutztruppe worked on containing British forces in East Africa and causing them steady attrition.

The four 1 KAR companies remained on the coast watching for signs of a German incursion towards Mombasa. African Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to three 1 KAR men: Corporal Matukuta, Private Bule and Private Tabu
“For conspicuous gallantry in rescuing wounded during the retirement from Jasin on 18th January 1915. They each in turn engaged the pursuing enemy in hand to hand combats, and succeeded in bringing off their wounded comrades, without the loss of a single rifle.”
(To be continued)

Sources referred to (in order of narrative):

Official History of the War Military Operations East Africa August 1914 to September 1916
The King’s African Rifles by H. Moyse-Bartlett
KAR by W. Lloyd-Jones
African General Service Medals by R.B. Magor
The Army List 1915
African Crossroads by Sir Charles Dundas
Small Wars & Skirmishes 1902 – 1918, Chapter 36 “The Giriama War in Kenya 1914-15” by Edwin Herbert
War Services 1922
The African DCM by John Arnold
VOI DISTRICT War Diary August 1914 to January 1915
My Reminiscences of East Africa by General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck
Post Commandant Lone Hill War Diary for December 1914
2nd Bn The Loyal North Lancashire War Diary for December 1914
Naval Operations Volume 1
1 KAR (Northern Half) War Diary for January 1915
NAIROBI AREA HQ War Diary January 1915
MOMBASA AREA HQ War Diary January 1915