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The EK1

At the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914 there was another armed military unit in the British East Africa Protectorate as well as the King’s African Rifles.  This other unit was the Uganda Railway Volunteer Reserve.  

The Uganda Railway, running from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean Coast to Kisumu on Lake Victoria, had been opened for traffic in December 1901.  A few years before the Great War commenced a Uganda Railway Volunteer Reserve had been recruited from amongst the European employees of the railway.  The unit followed the lines of the Railway Volunteers in India & had been formed to guard the railway in the event of an emergency.  The strength was around 100 men & training had usually been rifle practice.

On 09 August 1914 the unit was mobilised & 60 men under the command of Captain H.V. Kershaw, an assistant accountant, left Nairobi by special train for Voi, along with a KAR patrol.  For the next four months the Uganda Railway Volunteers guarded the line & bridges along the 147 mile stretch of rail between Sultan Hamud (in between Kiu & Simba Stations) & Voi.  Meanwhile in the railway workshops improvised armoured trains were built for use when patrolling the line.

Above: British troops after their train has run over a German mine.

During late September the Germans sent two demolition patrols from German East Africa through the waterless region from Lake Jipe, south of Taveta, to Kasigau Mountain & on another 20 miles to the railway.  On 24 August a patrol of Uganda Railway Volunteers found one of the enemy patrols nearly dead from thirst & exhaustion - the map used by the Germans was inacurate - & captured the complete patrol.  These enemy prisoners, the first taken in British East Africa during the war, were despatched to Nairobi with justifiable satisfaction.  

However not every stretch of the line could be watched or patrolled simultaneously and some German demolition patrols succeeded in laying effective demolition charges.  An example of an enemy device is shown in the sketch at the bottom of the page.

By November 1914 reinforcements from Indian Expeditionary Forces "C" & "B" had arrived in British East Africa and so there were sufficient other troops for railway security duties & The Uganda Railway Volunteer Reserve was stood down, allowing the men to return to their vital war work of running the railway.  

The unit had been the only trained reserve available in British East Africa (probably because the Uganda Railway funded & organised it), & during the first weeks of August 1914, whilst Nairobi Racecourse Camp resounded to the greetings & backslappings of other European volunteers awaiting mobilisation, The Uganda Railway Volunteers had drawn their weapons & deployed immediately onto successful operational duties. The unit receives one very brief mention in the Official History (on page 52) but it deserves wider recognition for the military duties that it speedily carried out.
Above: British armored train after having driven over a mine.

During 1915 the Army took over the management of the Uganda Railway and organised it as a military unit.  A look through medal index cards shows that several of the Uganda Railway Indian staff, presumably those holding authority such as Stationmasters, were granted Indian Army ranks and entitlement to medals.      


Permanent Way Volume 1 by M.F. Hill.
Official History.  Military Operations East Africa August 1914 – September 1916 by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.
Record of the 3rd Bn The King’s African Rifles During the Great Campaign in East Africa 1914-1918.
Medal Index Cards.

Above: A bomb used on the Uganda Railways

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