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.