Above: Photograph by kind permission of the orders and medals Research Society. This Photograph appeared in an article by Roland Hill MBE in the September 2005 issue of the Society's Journal.
Policemen mobilised against the Schutztruppe
the initial months of the Great War Uganda and British East Africa
(BEA) both formed Police Service Battalions and so quickly produced
more combat troops. Whilst the Ugandan Police Battalion was immediately
deployed to counter the military threat along the German East Africa
border, BEA had to also counter security problems in the northern
regions of Turkanaland, Jubaland and along the Abyssinian border.
the King's African Rifles (KAR) was deployed on northern frontier
security duties. However, until Indian Army troops arrived, the KAR was
needed to counter German Schutztruppe demolition patrols that were
targeting the Uganda Railway line and infiltrating across the border
from Lake Victoria down to Mombasa.
BEA Police selected 400 Askari for the Police Service Battalion plus
twelve European officers and two Warrant Officers. The Commanding
Officer was Brevet Major W.F.S. Edwards, DSO, Inspector General of the
East Africa and Uganda Police.
The Battalion went under canvas in the Nairobi Police Depot and commenced training on 1st December 1914. Four companies, each of around 75 Askari, were formed.
Major Edwards worked his men hard hoping to be deployed against the German threat, but on 11th
January 1915 he was ordered to move his Battalion north to deal with
Turkana raiders. 3,000 porters were used to carry stores and equipment
into the operational area near Lake Rudolf. The Turkana were herdsmen
who, along with their tribal neighbours, raided cattle in a
never-ending cycle of raid and counter-raid. Turkana warriors rarely
fought in formation, but ferociously picked off enemy stragglers or
covertly tunneled under enemy thorn-tree cattle enclosures, called zaribas,
to make surprise attacks on sentries. Turkana weapons were double-ended
"sword spears" about 6 feet long, and for close-combat circular
wrist-knives for disemboweling and curved finger-knives for eye-gouging
of BEA Police Askari with East Africa GSM and clasps.
proved decisive, and in a series of small engagements during which
Sudanese troops assisted from the north and Ugandan police joined in
from the west, the BEA Police Service Battalion subdued the Turkana
raiders, capturing over 150,000 head of cattle, camels, donkeys, goats
and sheep. Much of this stock was returned during the negotiations that
followed the end of the fighting. The Battalion returned to Nairobi to
rest and refit in June 1915, the East Africa General Service Medal with
Bar "East Africa 1915" being awarded to all ranks who had served in
Tukanaland. Major Edwards was Mentioned in Despatches and promoted to
The Kagera River east of Kyaka
Three Askari were awarded the African Distinguished Conduct Medal for Turkanaland operations, and their citations (LG 4 May 17) give an indication of their operational duties:
Corporal Hamisi Mohonza – “For coolness and gallantry
in extracting with the loss of but one man, a reconnoitering patrol when
completely surrounded by 200 to 300 of the enemy, and in spite of a determined
attack.” 1941 Sgt Mohamed Ahmed – "For
gallant conduct when he succeeded, while in charge of a party of 6 men,
in capturing large quantities of stock in spite of repeated and
determined efforts of large numbers of the enemy to recover the same."
3444 3/Constable Ndone Nzamba – "For
conspicuous gallantry during an enemy attack. Though severely wounded
he took the place of his Section Commander who was wounded and
continued to direct the fire of the section until the retirement of the
In early August
1915 the Battalion moved into southern Uganda and northwestern GEA to
take over positions on the Kagera River Line, Lt Col Edwards becoming
OC of this sector. Here the BEA Police Askari frequently swam or
silently canoed across the Kagera to raid Schutztruppe posts or burn
down vegetation that provided cover for enemy patrols. Lt Col Edwards
was now appointed Inspector General of Lines of Communication in East
Africa, with the rank of Brigadier General. Captain W. Rigby became CO
of the Battalion and was promoted to Major.
1916 saw the East Africa Police Service Battalion move from the Kagera
River up through BEA to Northern Frontier Province where the Aulihan
section of the Somalis was a threat. The Aulihan had over-run the
Jubaland Armed Constabulary post at Serenli, killing 65 Askari and the
British Post Commander, Lt F. Elliot. The Aulihan had seized all the
arms and ammunition in the post including a Maxim gun.
Battalion made a 450 mile march from the Thika railhead near Nairobi
into the operational area and re-occupied Wajir Fort, which the
District Commissioner had been ordered to evacuate after the Serenli
disaster. On this march locally-hired camels were used to transport
Patrols went out searching for the Aulihan
and their stock but were unsuccessful as the Somalis crossed the
Abyssinian border whenever they felt threatened. In September 1916 the
Battalion was ordered to leave one company at Wajir and to return to
Nairobi, where it was disbanded at the end of the year, most of the
Askari being returned to police duties. "D" Company, which had remained
at Wajir was incorporated into a new KAR battalion, 5th KAR, that had been re-formed on 1st June 1916 for service in Jubaland and along BEA's Abyssinian border.
1918 Brigadier Edwards commanded a column in Portuguese East Africa
named "Edforce". He was hot on von Lettow's trail in October and he
finally accepted the Schutztruppe surrender at Abercorn, Northern
Rhodesia on 25 November 1918. After receiving Lettow's sword Brigadier
Edwards returned it as a gesture of respect.
Rigby was Mentioned in Despatches and received a DSO. He then went to
Europe to command a Service Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry
until the Armistice.
Another interesting officer in the
East Africa Police Service Battalion was Geoffrey Le Blanc Smith. As a
Trooper in the East Africa Mounted Rifles he gained a DCM ("For
gallant conduct on 3rd November, 1914, during the engagement at Longido
(East Africa), when he assisted to carry a wounded comrade into cover,
whilst subjected to a very severe close range rifle fire.") during the abortive Tanga diversionary attack.
and appointed Adjutant and Quartermaster in the East Africa Police
Service Battalion Geoffrey received a MC for the Turkana operation. He
stayed on the Kagera Line as a staff officer when the Battalion went to
Wajir and was recommended for a DSO, but this was reduced to a bar to
his MC. He returned to Turkana as Supplies and Transport Officer
attached to the KAR during the Northern Turkana Expedition 1918, for
which he received a promotion to Brevet Major and the clasp "East Africa 1918" to his East Africa General Service Medal.
East Africa Police Service Battalion was a hasty war-time creation, as
many other local units were, but it served its purpose and pulled its
weight operationally. The decision to raise it was justified.