ARG wounded at Yangwani, April 1917

ARG was seconded to the 1/2 KAR in October/November 1916, by which time they were fighting at Kibata, near the port of Kilwa, south of Dar-es-Salaam. He was promoted Temporary Captain on 10 November 1916:

Haccy Fecitt’s article on 1/2 KAR paints a useful background to the battalion’s movements:

The Battalion sailed from Tanga on 5 October 1916 and disembarked at Kilwa Kiswani, a harbour south of Dar Es Salaam, forty eight hours later.

Kibata

On 10 October 1/2KAR along with 250 sepoys from 129 Baluchis marched towards Kibata, a hilly region northwest of Kilwa, to seize the area from the German Schutztruppe who violently contested it. The fighting centred on Kibata Fort and the hills around it and most actions were fought from entrenched positions where artillery and machine guns dominated the battlefield.  The young Askari of 1/2KAR were often shaken by the ferocity of the fighting and enemy shelling but they took part in many of the operations and performed well under the direct leadership of their officers. The Kibata campaign ended in mid-January 1917 and 1/2KAR’s casualty figures were 3 officers killed or died of wounds, 2 officers wounded, 17 Askari killed, 46 wounded and 1 missing. Also 1 porter was killed and 16 were wounded. This new unit had come through its first serious trial by enemy fire but ominously the officer casualty figures had been high, and as yet the Askari had not encountered the savage and swift attacks that well-led German troops could mount through thick bush.

After minor operations inland the battalion was withdrawn to Kilwa during the last week of February 1917 and there re-equipped, with the old leather belt and pouches being replaced by webbing items.  Four new machines guns were issued. Lieutenant Colonel Soames had returned to Nyasaland to command the Depot and recruiting activities of 2KAR as a third battalion, 3/2KAR was to be formed, and Lieutenant Colonel Giffard became the new CO.

[1st/2nd King’s African Rifles at Yangwani and Schaeffer’s Farm: German East Africa, April and May 1917 ]

And according to ARG’s MOD service record and handwritten record, he was promoted full Captain on 23 February 1917. This promotion may have been for his participation in the operations at Kilwa and Kibata but I have found no mention of him in the Battalion History for this period. And he does not list Kibata in his handwritten record or cigarette case.

However, I have been lucky to discover mention of ARG in the Battalion War Diary and War History during the events around Yangwani & Lutende in April 1917 – near the port of Lindi where the battalion had moved in March – and where it is recorded that ARG was wounded in the thigh. Yangwani is mentioned in ARG’s cigarette case in which he recorded all his postings but he made no mention of being wounded, neither in his handwritten service record nor in subsequent conversation, and this discovery is news to the family. [Actually, I see that ARG’s handwritten service record does mention that he was wounded during his service in East Africa: here]

I have gathered together the various primary sources for the 1/2 KAR’s action at this time and set them out below, together with Harry Fecitt’s very readable summary.

I found this map in Moyse-Bartlett showing Yangwani and Lutende just to the north of the port town of Lindi,  on the coast in the south of Tanzania (then called German East Africa) close to the border with Mozambique (then called Portuguese East Africa (see here for a contemporary map).

Harry Fecitt sets the scene:

“Lindi

1/2KAR were now deployed by sea further south to Lindi, a major German trading harbour where a long tidal creek ran 15 miles inland.  Large agricultural estates and areas of bush surrounded Lindi town and the ground rose into ridgelines further inland.  The Germans had 600 men in the area and they intended to resist any British attempts to advance from the coast.  A 4.1-inch gun salvaged from the destroyed German cruiser Konigsberg was being fired at British ships in Lindi harbour with some success.

Lindi Force, the British garrison at Lindi that 1/2KAR joined on 5 March 1917, consisted of troops from the 2nd West India Regiment (2WIR), Indian sepoys from the 5th Light Infantry (5LI), the Arab Rifles – a unit recruited from Yemenis working on estates in British East Africa, and the Indian 27th Mountain Battery. More Schutztruppe units moved towards Lindi and they contained, as was the German practice, a high proportion of European officers and NCOs. By comparison 1/2KAR was suffering from wastage of its few European personnel and its present ratio was one European for every 70 Askari. At this time the battalion received a draft of 180 young Askari.”

[1st/2nd King’s African Rifles at Yangwani and Schaeffer’s Farm: German East Africa, April and May 1917 ]

The official dispatches record the activities at Yangwani very briefly:

“Lindi Area.

At Lindi, Brig.-Gen. O’Grady carried out several local offensive enterprises. His patrols did well, and got the upper hand; the hills south of the harbour were secured; and a well executed surprise attack on a German post west of Nguru Mahamba on March llth [1917] resulted in the dispersion of the garrison and the capture of a pompom. The enemy had mounted a 4.1-in. gun in the neighbourhood of Mrveka, and with it they kept up an intermittent and comparatively harmless tire on our picquets on Kitulo Hill. On the 23rd April [1917] our troops surprised an enemy camp at Yangwani, the Germans retiring in confusion, and leaving many stores behind. On the 24th our small post at Sudi Bay was attacked by a couple of companies, who were driven off, leaving a dozen dead. On the 25th there was a smart engagement between the King’s African Rifles and an equal number of the enemy. The result was satisfactory, and but for the lack of white personnel might have been a decided success. By the end of April several fresh companies were reported in the Lindi area, and a considerable number, including Kraut’s command, were at or about T’unduru. The latter force had re-crossed the Portuguese border towards the end of March. Nothing further of importance took place in this, area until the 19th May, when a strong reconnaissance towards Mrveka met the enemy in considerable. force just west of Ngurumahamba.”

[13559-60 SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 27 DECEMBER, 1917

http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/30447/supplements/13559

http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/30447/supplements/13560]

The Battalion History written by Colonel Giffard gives a much better account:

[p11]

“IX.

                The whole battalion left Kibata for Kitambi, arriving there on the 7th [February 1917] where it remained until the 18th, resting and generally cleaning up. The Brigadier inspected the Battalion on the 14th, and on the 19th the until left for Kilwa. Kilwa was reached on the 23rd [February] and the whole Battalion was re-equipped. Here the old leather equipment was discarded and the battalion issued with web equipment. Four new machine guns were also drawn.

Orders were received on the 28th [February] that the battalion was to proceed to Lindi and on 3rd March, embarked on H.M.T’s “Barjora” and “Motrose”. Lindi was reached on the night of the 4th [March] and disembarkation took place on the 5th.

Lindi is situated at the mouth of the estuary formed by the Lukuledi and Mwreka Rivers, the creek formed being some 15 miles long. The camp was formed some 2 miles outside Lindi on the slopes of the Kitule Hills.

On the 9th [March] Lieut. Reymolds left and crossed the creek to garrison the Twin Hills at Nyanda, a position which overlooked Lindi completely. The German force was encamped roughly in the line Mkwaya–Mingoyo–Schaedel’s Farm–Schaeffer’s Farm, and no movement of any importance was made for some time after the Battalion’s arrival. The enemy, however, were soon shelling and the Battalion Camp and the village received much attention from another of the “Konigsberg” guns, which the enemy were able to move very easily, there being two trolley lines in this area, one running from near Lindi to Ntua, the other joining this line in the vicinity of Mingoyo, from Mkwaya. However, they never managed to do any damage with this gun, either to the camp or the village. On the 13th of the month [April] six men volunteered to endeavor to find the gun, but eventually returned having been unable to get through the enemy picquet line.

At this time the Battalion formed the nucleus of what afterwards became the Lindi Force, and all troops were now under the command of Brig. General O’Grady.

The nature of the country demanded the most extensive patrolling and these with the various posts fund by the Battalion continuously employed over the whole Company. Many roads led into this village and the district was of some importance before the war and was a source [p12] of much revenue to the German East Africa Company, who had a district manager there. The main road from Lindi to Massassi was one of the old slave routes used by the Arabs.

It was now decided to make some sort of demonstration against the enemy positions, and on the 20th [March] Lt.-Col. Giffard flew over the enemy lines in the hydroplane. Air reconnaissance in this neighborhood was, however, not of much use owing to the very thick bush which covered the whole district. Flights were only possible too in the early morning as with the close proximity of the sea, air currents and pockets were very dangerous and frequent.

Major Hardingham left on the 24th [March] to take over Mtanga Post from the West Indians. An enemy patrol was encountered on the 28th [March] and our men effected the capture of the German white leading this party.

A demonstration was made against the enemy position at Schaeffer’s Farm on the 1st April [1917] supported by our 4” naval gun and a 15-pounder. April continued quiet until the 22nd, when the Battalion, together with the West Indian Regiment and Light Infantry with one gun of the 27th Mountain Battery left for Yangwani arriving there after a night march in the heavy rain at dawn on the 23rd [April].  The enemy position was attacked at 10am and after half an hour’s engagement, the enemy retired. The battalion remained at Yangwani and patrols were sent out to reconnoiter the enemy’s ground and on the night of the 24th [April] the Column moved towards Lutende. The enemy were encountered at 6.50 am on the 25th [April] and were driven back slightly but bringing up strong reinforcements they counter attacked vigorously and a heavy engagement ensued and at 6.30 pm the column retired some 1,000 yards into the bush, the enemy being in strong force. At the time there were very few whites with the Battalion, and two days before the action a large draft of 180 recruits arrived, and it is undoubtedly due to the lack of white leaders that the men did not do at all as well as was expected. “A” Company had to be sent into action without an Officer at all, Lieut. Gray of this Company, having previously not returned when the Company retired. Captain A.R. Gill was wounded, and Lieut. W.J. Woods was so dangerously wounded that he died the following day in Lindi. It was useless remaining out in these conditions and the whole Column accordingly retired to Lindi marching on a compass bearing through the bush in torrents of rain, arriving in camp about 10 am on the 26th [April]. In addition to the European casualties the Battalion had 8 rank and file killed, 45 wounded and 6 missing. A follower was killed, 5 wounded and 1 missing. In the course the action we captured 10 German porters with medical stores and quantity of S.A.A.

This action was not as successful as it should have been though the enemy probably received casualties as heavy as our own.”

[War History – 1st/2nd King’s African Rifles, National Archives ref: WO 161/75 N484]

Harry Feccit summarises:

“Yangwani and Lutende

The British commander in Lindi, Brigadier General H de C O’Grady, heard of new German arrivals nearby at Yangwani and Lutende and, on 22 April, he dispatched Lieutenant Giffard with 4 machine guns of 5LI, 2 machine guns and 50 rifles of 2WIR,  2 Stokes Mortars and a section of 27th Mountain Battery  to attack the enemy positions that were manned by Abteilung Rothe. Lieutenant Colonel Giffard made a successful night march and drove the enemy troops off Yangwani on 23 April after an action lasting 30 minutes. Patrols then went out to locate the German base camp at Lutende. This was found after 24 hours of reconnaissance patrolling and Giffard again made a night march in heavy rain, attacking at 0630 hours on 25 April.  The Germans (4 Schutzen Kompagnie, a predominantly white unit) were prepared and after conceding some ground they vigorously counter-attacked with 400 men and 6 machine guns. 1/2KAR lost sight of Lieutenant C V Gray commanding “A” Company, and this left that company without an officer. Two other officers, Captain A R Gill and Lieutenant W J Woods were wounded and evacuated, the latter dying at Lindi the next day.

The remaining handful of officers could not now control the young Askari, confusion reigned due to lack of leaders, and the ability to manoeuvre was lost. Most men wanted to fight but did not know what to do. The battalion swiftly retreated 1,000 yards.  Out of contact with the enemy Giffard got a grip over his men and marched them back to Lindi having lost 8 Askari killed, 45 wounded and 6 missing. The transport detachment sustained 8 casualties. The enemy did take casualties, 1 German and 3 enemy Askari were seen bayoneted to death. Two bombers from 1/2KAR repeatedly crawled through the long grass to bomb enemy positions, and they also brought in the badly wounded Sergeant Njasa under heavy fire. These two Askari, 2864 Private Mataka and 2620 Private Makama, were awarded Military Medals for their gallant conduct.  Lieutenant Gray was taken prisoner and not released until 18 November 1918.”

[1st/2nd King’s African Rifles at Yangwani and Schaeffer’s Farm: German East Africa, April and May 1917 ]

The most detail is given in the Battalion War Diary (see below), which mentions that ARG arrived on the night of the 24th April. This must have been after the night march from Lindi and the subsequent skirmish at Yangwani. ARG arrived with two junior officers, the Medical Officer, 20 rank & file and rations – so I assume he arrived from Lindi. Was he joining the battalion for the first time, having spent the previous months training at the KAR depot at Nairobi? I have not found any mention of ARG in the Battalion War History prior to Yangwani, but ARG’s fishing diary written later in life mentions an incident with the KAR on the Rufigi river, which is up near Kibata.

Or had ARG just rejoined the Battalion after a short absence from sickness? His fishing diary, mentions time spent on sick leave at the KAR training camp at Mpagathi just outside Nairobi. But this could have been after he was wounded at Lutende. Or there could have been multiple periods of sick leave. From the accounts of the sickness that plagued the European officers and NCOs, this would make perfect sense.

Or had he been with the Battalion on arrival in Lindi and was merely re-joining the main force, bringing out a body of men who had not been able to leave immediately when Colonel Giffard had made the emergency night marches through the bush from Lindi to Yangwani on the nights of the 22nd and 23rd April?

I shall try to find out more on my next visit to the National Archive.

1/2 KAR Battalion War Diary

APRIL 1917

[p4]  …

14th         A coy takes over following picquets from 5th L.I.

GUN:                     35 rifles

NOTO ROAD:     16 rifles

BARE HILL:           20 rifles

15th         Enemy shell (20, 4 1/3) neighbourhood of camp between 16.30 & 17.30 less. No damage.

16th         Sgt Msusa’s patrol returned from MCHINGA. He encountered small German patrol which was driven out of RUAWA by him.  Two local natives acting as scouts for German patrol were shot by our patrol.

Practice embarkation on shore by B, C & MGs.

17th         B Coy taken over picquets from A Coy.

18th         Lieut Turner relieved at NYANDA by detachment 5th L.I.

Following patrols left

a.            1&6 to YANGWANGI- LUTENDE

b.            1&6 NGURUMAHAMBA-KATUTU-NGAPA

c.             1&6        DINANA-KIHANGA (S of LUKULEDI)

d.            1&3 (bombers) to back of Schaefer’s Farm

[p5]

19th         (d) patrol returned 10.15 hrs reported trenches at back of Schaefer’s w[?]ed.

G.O.C. inspected M.G. detachment at 7 hrs.

20th         Nil

21st         JANGWANI patrol returned reporting enemy (about 7&50) at that place.

Lt Woods & 75 rifles left for NAMEMBO at 6.30 hours.

22nd        Lt-Col Giffard with whole 1/2nd KAR, WIR TM Bty, 45th LI mgs + 1 gun 27th MB left for NAMEMBO at 2.30hrs. Reached NAMEMBO at 7.30hrs and moved off at 17.30 hrs.

23rd        Night marching, arrived close to YANGWANI at 5hrs. Patrols sent out reported at 8hrs. Attacked enemy 10 hrs. A Coy + 2 mgs from S, B Coy 4 mgs, 2TM’s from NWW. Enemy  fled after ½ hr, putting up negligible resistance: hence we were prevented from inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. The remainder of the force was in reserve. A few sniping shots in the afternoon, 1 white + 1 black seen.

Casualties            1/2 K.A.R.            Lieut W.J.Woods dangerously wounded

1 r&f killed, 9 wounded

[some comments in the margin – obscured in my copy]

Enemy              1 Askari & 3 porters killed, 4 porters captured

Wounded sent in at 14 hrs with M.O.

All quiet during night 23/24

24th         All quiet

Patrols to LUTENDE & RUAWA during day. Former failed to reach LUTENDE owing to enemy picquets.

Capt Gill’s party arrived 16hrs, consisting of Lts Longworth & Anderson, 1 M.O. 20 r&f  & rations.

[p6]

25th                         Patrol sent off 17 hrs to locate LUTENDE camp.     returned  8 hrs, having failed to locate camp. All quiet night 24/25.

Heavy rain; enemy 4.1”gun fired during night. Target [?]

At 16 ½ hrs advanced guard under Capt Wilson came into contact with the enemy and drove him back about 100x. Enemy, reinforced, vigorously attacked the right flank with 4 mgs; opposed by A Coy, 2 mgs & T.Ms. Capt Gill & C.S.M. Chibwana wounded; Lt Gray alone left to command 4 platoons. Touch impossible. Attack not driven home, “A” Coy outflanked at 17.30 hrs. Enemy now had at least 6 mgs in action; KAR mgs almost useless owing to being officerless and having many N.C.O.s hit. C Coy then withdrew 200x and [?] gun & 5th LI mgs swept the bush to our rt flank. Enemy moved more to our right & B Coy moved up to the right of the 5th LI mgs. Lieut. Gray, ordered to withdraw ‘A’ Coy, disappeared in bush & was not seen again

At 17.45 hrs firing opened on our left. “A” Coy was sent, without an officer, to protect our left. 18.30 hrs Battle over,  the column withdrew 1000x south and reorganized. B Coy acting as covering party.

A party under Lt Anderson, accompanied by the M.O. returned to YANGWANI camp, to find it occupied by men who had come back with wounded. The wounded with transport  & escort had already left for LINDI. The M.O. & 40 rifles followed them up along the YANGWANI-LINDI Road. The remainder returned with Lt Anderson to the [?] place of the column. B Coy was then [p7] recalled.

Owing to lack of officers,  medical arrangements, ammunition and transport, the column night marched through the bush on a compass bearing to the YANGWANI-LINDI Road. Excessively difficult march, pitch dark, torrents of rain, two land fords, water ankle to knee deep along whole line of march, mountain battery mules continuously in trouble.

26th                         Joined road 6 hrs 26th, Lead of column reached LINDI 10 hrs.

Presence of ample supply of officers & white N.C.O.s would undoubtedly have converted a drawn battle into a victory.

Casualties            1/2 KARifles

Capt A.R.Gill       Wounded in thigh (not serious)

Lt C.V. Gray        Missing

r&f                       8 killed  36 wounded       6 missing

followers             1              5                              1

Recommendations for award

2084 Pte Mataka & 2610 Pte Kamana were recommended for DCM on account of their gallant behavior in rescuing Sgt Njasa.

27th         C. Coy relieved the 5th L.I. at

NOTO Road        30 rifles

BARE HILL            20 rifles

A Coy relieved the 5th L.I. escort to the

4” Gun                  35 rifles.

28th         Draft posted to their companies.

Flag of Truce learns officially that Lt CV Gray is in enemy hands unwounded.

[Battalion War Diary 1/2 KAR, National Archives, ref: WO 95/5325, Lindi Column Mar-Jul 1917]

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1/2 Kings African Rifles

ARG’s wish to transfer from the Motor Machine Gun Corps to the KAR was soon granted and he was seconded to the First Battalion of the 2nd Regiment of the Kings African Rifles (“1/2 KAR”) in October/November 1916.

Lots of information on the KAR and their participation in the East Africa Campaign can be found in the various on-line articles of Harry Fecitt MBE TD here and here. The following background on 1/2 KAR is taken from one of these:

“The 1st Battalion of the 2nd Regiment of the King’s African Rifles (1/2KAR) was re-formed from Nyasaland soldiers on 1 April 1915 in Nairobi, British East Africa (the original 2KAR had been disbanded as an economy measure in 1911).  The experienced 335 Askari from the old “A”, “B”, “C” and “E” Companies of 1KAR were the hard core of the unit and they were joined by a draft of 1,115 Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and basically-trained Askari sent up from Nyasaland.  About 50% of this draft were Ayao tribesmen, 25% were Anyanja and the remaining 25% were either Awemba, Anguru, Achewa, Mpotola, Akokola, Asisya, Atonga, Alunga and Angoni.  Major L H Soames (The Buffs) was appointed Commanding Officer (CO), Captain G J Giffard (Queen’s Regiment) became the Second in Command (2IC) and Captain L G Murray (Gordon Highlanders) became the Adjutant.

During May it was decided to form a 2nd Battalion of 2KAR to be commanded by Lieutenant Colonel H S Filsell (Royal Warwickshire Regiment), and so 1/2KAR was divided and 2/2KAR formed primarily from the non-Ayao tribesmen.  On 4 August 1916 1/2KAR left Nairobi with a strength of 21 British officers, 2 British Warrant Officers, 511 African ranks, 4 machine guns and 8 horses. Transport porters had been recruited from the sturdy Kavirondo tribe that lived along the shores of Lake Victoria.  Major Giffard remained in Nairobi training 200 or so of the newly-joined Askari. 1/2KAR reached General Smuts’ advanced headquarters at Morogoro, German East Africa (GEA) on 28 August but was soon withdrawn and sent to the northern GEA port of Tanga, meeting up with Major Giffard and his draft on the way.  The Battalion sailed from Tanga on 5 October 1916 and disembarked at Kilwa Kiswani, a harbour south of Dar Es Salaam, forty eight hours later.” (from 1st/2nd King’s African Rifles at Yangwani and Schaeffer’s Farm: German East Africa, April and May 1917)

None of the miscellaneous collection of ARG’s photos seem to relate to his time with 1/2 KAR but Harry Fecitt has been very helpful by providing the following photos taken of the 2nd KAR during this period. Most of them date from March 1916, before ARG joined the KAR in October that year, and before the decision in May 1916 to split the 2nd KAR into two battalions.

No.2 Company Officers Mess, 2nd KAR, M’Bagathi, B.E.A. July 1916

2nd KAR recruits, Machine Gun Class, KAR Lines, Nairobi, B.E.A., March 1916

KAR, Five Officers, (L-R) – Seth-Smith, Armstrong, Reynolds, Winderson and Keneally – July 1916

2nd K.A.R., Marching from Kahe to Taveta, March 1916

2nd K.A.R. Quarter Guard and a German sentry box, K.A.R. Lines, Nairobi, B.E.A., March 1916

Keneally and his Platoon, 1st, 2nd K.A.R., Nairobi, B.E.A., July 1916

2nd K.A.R. Camp, Ruwu River, G.E.A., March 1916

K.A.R. Military Camp, Simba’s Wells, December 1914

2nd K.A.R. Recruits, A Signalling Class with a Native Instructor, K.A.R. Lines, Nairobi, B.E.A., March 1916

There is also an interesting silent news reel film showing the KAR among other units in the East Africa Campaign here at this website: http://www.colonialfilm.org.uk/node/6218 Interestingly, the film also shows the activities of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and their participation in the Campaign, in which ARG’s cousin David Gill was playing his part.

ARG’s handwritten service record

Also just received from Tasmania – written by ARG.

Although these two separate documents only cover the dates up to 1932 and 1935 respectively, they provide a lot of detail on ARG’s movements in the EA and SDF and so very usefully complement his MOD service record and the one engraved on his cigarette case.

ARG handwritten service record to 1932 - pt1

ARG handwritten service record to 1932 - pt2

ARG handwritten service record to 1935 - incl. school pt1

ARG handwritten service record - incl. school pt2

ARG’s service record – on the inside of a cigarette case

Just received from Tasmania these photos of ARG’s cigarette case, in which he engraved his service record. This is extremely useful and adds many more names of places to the MOD service record, especially for his later career.

I understand the hallmark is dated 1930/31 but the engraving looks to be all in the same hand, so we assume all done at the same time, which would date the engraving to be post  the last entry of 1954.ARG cigarette case - frontARG cigarette case - inside left 2

ARG cigarette case - inside right 2

Employed with the King’s African Rifles

ARG was attached to King’s African Rifles (‘KAR’) for the rest of the First World War.

ARG’s service record just mentions “Employed with the King’s African Rifles  14.10.16  / Ceased to be employed with the King’s African Rifles 16.3.19” but does not mention the particular battalion to which he was attached. Similarly ARG’s medal card only records “K.A.R.”  As there were many different KAR battalions which fought in different parts of the East Africa Campaign throughout the vast area of British East Africa (Kenya), German East Africa (Tanzania), Nyasaland (Malawi) and Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique), I felt it was important to identify to which battalion ARG was attached so that I could trace his movements during the rest of the war.

On joining the KAR, ARG was promoted to temporary Captain on 10 November 1916 (Supplement to the London Gazette, 24 June 1918). But this too, only mentions the KAR and does not specify the battalion.

Due to the shortage of British Officers to staff the colonial regiments in Africa, they were given positions of greater responsibility than at home and held a higher temporary rank. A young Lieutenant seconded from the Western Front could find himself as Captain and a Company Commander. Rather daunting at first I imagine, but very attractive to those who relished responsibility.

ARG’s fishing diary written later in life gives the first indication of a battalion, mentioning the 2nd KAR:

“1917 (with 2nd KAR. Sick Leave. Nairobi.)
Many pleasant evenings spent fishing for local fish in a small river at Mpagathi, about 10 miles from Nairobi. Mpagathi was a training camp for K.A.R. where one was relegated to, after sick leave. We used to have organised shoots for partridge & pigeon, & rifle for smallbuck. Sometime in German East Africa, because we were short of food, we fired a stokes gun shell into a very large pool in the Rufigi River where we used to bathe. The idea being a fish diet for a change to local cereals. Result – shoals of fish came floating belly up & last but not least a large crocodile with its lower jaw blown off.   Bathing was off after that.”

This rather amusing anecdote highlights a number of serious features of the soldiers’ experience in the East Africa Campaign. A great source of background information on the Campaign is the highly readable history Tip and Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa by Edward Paice. This book expertly explains the great problems faced by the troops in the campaign:  the sickness and disease that plagued all but the indigenous soldiers in Africa, and killed all the transport horses and mules; which meant that all supplies had to be carried on the heads of local porters, often press ganged into service against their will; the incredible endurance of the troops and porters who marched huge distances, in columns operating far from their base, with very little food and water; and their vulnerability to the wild animals and insects which surrounded them in the inhospitable bush.  Many soldiers who were seconded to the East Africa Campaign from the horrors of the Western Front wished that they were back in the trenches in Flanders!

“Much might be written here if space permitted of all the hardships encountered by white troops in a tropical climate. Before this campaign many men that took part in it did not know what it was to be ill. After a few weeks thousands of these once healthy men returned to the Union [South Africa] broken in health, not to know for months after leaving East Africa what it was to be really healthy and free from pain. Many never will get over their experiences, whilst again many a strong and healthy man never returned to his native land, but fell a victim to malaria, dysentery, black water, or enteric contracted in German East Africa. I do not know a more pitiable sight than a man that one has known as once a strong and powerful athlete, brought by sickness and privation to a poor and wretched thing of skin and bone — Fate’s caricature of a man. Malaria takes many forms. Sometimes just a shiver ; next a splitting head and feverish body ; other times severe vomiting followed by aches and pains all over the body, and burning heat. Thus in the East African campaign, where sickness was as bad an enemy as the Germans to the soldier, the hospitals played a most important part. Malaria was at all times the chief enemy of the white soldier and the Indian. However, the ration question had much to do with the poor condition of many, thus making them an easy prey to malaria. I have talked to several men who were with Gen. van Deventer during his advance, and all tell me that frequently they had to go all day without any rations, and depended entirely on mealy cobs picked from local farms through which they passed. In these early days of the campaign the white soldier carried his pack and full kit — the same as if he were in Europe — but mosquito nets were an unknown part of the men’s equipment, whilst the daily dose of five grains of quinine was not thought to be as necessary a daily ration as bully beef and biscuits. Much had to be gone through first before the soldier’s condition was to any great extent improved. I do not think that any army could have suffered more than the first white troops that arrived in East Africa early in 1916. About 80 per cent, of the regiments was, after a few months, no longer fit for active service.” from With the Nigerians In German East Africa by Captain W. D. Pownes. M.G. Royal Sussex Regiment and Nigeria Regiment (Methuen & Co, Ltd. 1919)

But even within the 2nd KAR there were a number of separate battalions which often operated in different places.

Finally, I have found two mentions of ARG with the first battalion of the 2nd KAR (1/2 KAR).  One is in the London Gazette in 1919 which will be posted in more detail later and the other is in the War History of the 1/2 KAR  which will also feature in future posts as I track their movements during the campaign.

Embarked to East Africa – June 1916

Sometime in 1915 / 1916 ARG was seconded to the King’s African Rifles (‘KAR’) based in Nairobi, British East Africa (now Kenya).

It is not clear to me exactly how and when ARG came to join the KAR. His service record states ‘Embarked to East Africa 25.5.16 / Employed with King’s African Rifles  14.10.16’.  The London Gazette records: “Hamps. R. – Capt. A.R.Gill is secd. for service under the Colonial Office. 14th October 1916” (Supplement to the London Gazette 10 November 1917).

It seems rather a long journey if he left England in May and only arrived with the regiment in October. I believe that he would probably have travelled by ship via the Cape and to Mombasa but doubt that it would have taken five months.

The following photo was in the miscellaneous collection of ARG’s photographs:

An idea of what the journey may have been like, can be found from an interesting diary of another young British officer, Lieutenant John Bruce Cairnie of 5th Seaforth Highlanders, who was also attached to the KAR and who travelled out by ship to Mombasa in late 1917 –  Diary of Lieut. John Bruce Cairnie