Throughout colonial times the
administration of the vast Northern Frontier District of the British East
Africa Protectorate, later named Kenya, was not a priority. Administrative attention and commercial
development were concentrated in the highland regions that were populated by
white settlers, and at a few locations on the Uganda Railway that ran from Mombasa to Lake Victoria.
In 1963 the Earl of Lytton in an
address to the British House of Lords made the following comment:
Northern Frontier district is half Kenya. It is twice the size of England. It is
virtually a desert. It is inhabited by one-thirtieth of the population.
One-thirtieth of the population inhabit half the country, and nine-tenths of
the population occupy one-fifth. That is not a sign of maldistribution, because
one is desert and the other is well-watered Highlands.
This desert is so poor and so unimportant that it is called a District
only. It is not even a Province. The
Province of which it is a part is so unimportant that it is not given a
separate map in the Kenya
atlas. The whole population is regarded as of such small account that it is not
summarised in the main tribes in the Kenya Statistical Abstract of 1960. It is
one of the poorest places that people have ever quarrelled about.’
Above: A KAR party on trek near the Abyssinian border
Pastoral tribes traditionally
inhabited this arid land and their herds of livestock were always a target for
both neighbouring tribes and rapacious raiders from Abyssinia to the north,
Somaliland to the east and from Uganda
to the west and north-west. Illegal
gangs of ivory hunters crossed the unmarked borders at will.
In 1908 a survey of the border
between British East Africa and Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia) was
conducted, leading to a British decision the following year to administer the
tribes in the District. At that time
much of the land to the west of Lake Rudolf was Ugandan territory so the Nairobi based
administrators moved into the area east of the lake. The first post was established at the
mountain oasis of Marsabit by the Political Officer F.J.E. Archer, formerly
Norfolk Regiment and 4th King’s African Rifles (4 KAR).
A second was built on an escarpment at Moyale
on the Abyssinian border by Lieutenant L. Aylmer, King’s Royal Rifle Corps and
3 KAR. Each post was garrisoned by half
a rifle company of KAR Askari whose initial tasks were to observe tribal
practices and movements. It was soon
noted that whilst the tribes people in the District were innoffensive, they
were frequently disturbed by raiders from Ethiopia
and also by herdsmen from Somalia
seeking fresh pastures and access to wells.
Above: The post at Loiyangalani
After an Abyssinian raid on the
Samburu and Rendile tribes near Lake Rudolf a new post was constructed in 1910
at Loiyangolani near Mount
Kulal. Providing logistical support to these
outposts was not easy. Marsabit was 13
days’ march from Nairobi,
and the trek on to Moyale took a further 10 days or more. It took three weeks of marching to move
and Loiyangolani. Life was tough for the
garrisons, as it was for the nomadic inhabitants of the district. Any illness or injury had to be treated on
the spot by a medical assistant or a willing infantry officer. The Askari patrolled countless miles on foot,
knowing that they might suddenly encounter well-armed raiders or poaching
The KAR officers had cash ‘floats’
and rolls of Americani cloth to purchase or trade for meat, eggs and milk. A sheep cost four hands of cloth or about one
Indian rupee (worth about one old British shilling and four pence – severn
modern pence - in the currency of the day).
One sheep would feed a half-company for a day, whilst a camel, costing
20 rupees, would feed the Askari for five or six days. However the tribes people often preferred to
keep hold of their stock rather than have cash or trade items that were of
little practical use to them.
Loiyangolani was perhaps the best located post for self-provision as
fish and hippo could be taken from Lake Rudolf
and waterfowl, sand grouse, guinea fowl, partridge and gazelle could be culled.
Exploration of Mount Kulal
proved that there was permanent water and good grazing there, but that raiders
and poachers had driven nearly all the local Samburu away. In 1912 a post was established on Mount Kulal
and the Askari soon had to discourage Abyssinian predators with bursts of Maxim
machine gun fire. Another post was
opened at Wajir, inbetween Marsabit and the Somali border, where Abyssinian
raiders had allied with the local Garre tribe to take 2,000 camels from the
Yaben tribesmen’s herds.
Left: Leycester Aylmer's memorial tablet
On 1st May 1913
now a Political Officer, with ten Askari of ‘D’ Company 3 KAR came across 13
armed Abyssinian outlaws amongst a rocky outcrop at Gudderh near Moyale. Aylmer
attempted to parley with the intruders but when they refused to talk Aylmer ordered his Askari
to open fire at around 200 metres range.
The Abyssinians returned fire and one of them shot Aylmer through the chest, killing him. KAR Askari 2719 Private Matata bin Kupass was
hit badly and died later; three others were wounded. One of the wounded, 1670 Private Amri bin Juma,
probably crawled off into the bush as he
was never seen again. The other
casualties, Privates 2792 Abdalla bin Athman and 2816 Kirumbwo, received flesh
wounds and quickly recovered.
Lance Corporal Hamis bin Juma took
command of the patrol, sent a warning to the pack camels in the rear, and
body until the Abyssinians withdrew. For
this action he was immediately promoted to Sergeant and awarded an African
Distinguished Conduct Medal with the citation:
No 64 Lance Corporal (now Sergeant) Hamis Bin Juma 3 KAR.
Captain Aylmer, Political Officer
on the Abyssinian Frontier, who was on his way from Derkali to Moyali with an
escort of ten KARs came across a party of twenty five Abyssinian outlaws. Aylmer called on these men to surrender, but
they refused to do so, and accordingly directions were given for fire to be
opened. The Abyssinians occupied an
almost impregnable position among some rocks which completely commanded the
ground over which Captain Aylmer had to advance. When he first opened fire Captain Aylmer was
200 yards away from the position, and was killed soon after the firing
commenced. In holding his ground and
keeping his men together in exceptionally difficult circumstances, Lance Corporal
Hamis Bin Juma prevented the Abyssinians from taking possession of Captain
Aylmer’s body, which was undoubtedly their object for it is an Abyssinian
custom to mutilate corpses. Eventually
the Abyssinians were driven off after twelve of them had been killed.
Leycester Aylward’s body was taken
by camel to Kuffa where he was buried. A
large brass memorial plate in Nairobi’s
Protestant Cathedral commemorates his death.
Private Matata bin Kupass was a single man and so his personal effects
and balance of pay were handed over to his brother and fellow Askari 2725
Private Lhanga Lhanga Mybiamwezi. The
family of Private Amri bin Juma would have been given his balance of pay.
Four months later, on 3rd
September, another contact occurred.
Half of ‘A’ Company 3 KAR was garrisoning the post on Mount Kulal. The commander, Lieutenant William
Lloyd-Jones, Middlesex Regiment and 3 KAR, accompanied by a Political Officer
took out a patrol of 25 men along the eastern shore of Lake
Rudolf. Whilst searching
for raiders about 60 kilometres north of Mount Kulal one of Lloyd-Jones’
scounts discovered an occupied zareba (defensive circle of cut thorn trees)
hidden in a valley.
Lloyd-Jones approached the
entrance to the 2.5 metre high zareba with four Abyssinian and twelve Wakamba
Askari, and through one of his Abyssinian non commissioned officers he called
on the raiders to surrender. There was
no response so the KAR Askari fired volleys into the zareba. Lloyd-Jones saw the entrance being closed and
decided to attack; his bugler sounded the charge. The enemy, shouted ‘Shoot the white man!’,
and a bullet from a Le Gras-1874 rifle shattered Lloyd-Jones’ left ankle. The bugler and another Askari were also down
with wounds. The Wakamba members of the
patrol were newly-joined and they took cover and fired into the zareba. However three Abyssinian Askari up with
Lloyd-Jones charged into the zareba shouting the name of their Coptic Church
Lloyd-Jones heard shots, shouts
and groans from within the zareba and feared the worst for his men. Preparing to shoot himself rather than be
taken he was then surprised and gratified to see his three men stumble out
dragging a raider with them. Identifying
the raider as the one who had shot their officer, the Askari finished the
culprit off with a rifle butt. All the
other raiders were already dead.
knowing if other outlaws were in the vicinity Lloyd-Jones directed his Askari
to picquet the area until the Political Officer returned from a survey patrol
and took command.
Lloyd-Jones (Left) now began a
nightmare-journey back to Nairobi,
being carried on a stretcher for the first 43 days. He survived but was not fit enough to serve
operationally in Africa again.
William Lloyd-Jones received the
last Distinguished Service Order to be awarded before the Great War broke out,
his citation reading:
. . in recognition of his services
whilst in command of a party of 25 rank and file of the 3rd Battalion
, King’s African Rifles, on the occasion of a reconnaissance on the 3rd
of September, 1913, on the East shore of Lake Rudolph, East Africa
2537 Sergeant Gizau Walde Marium,
2574 Private Abdul Gadir and 2596 Private Dasalin Walde each received an
African Distinguished Conduct Medal with the citation:
Lieutenant Lloyd-Jones and his
party charged a thorn Zariba containing a party of Abyssinian outlaws who had
refused to surrender. Lieutenant
Lloyd-Jones fell severely wounded at the first volley, the two men next to him
were shot down; the three Abyssinians then rushed the gate alone and killed all
the defenders, and afterwards carried their officer to a place of safety.
Right: Askari Abdul Gadir DCM
Life in the early days of the
Northern Frontier District was a rugged experience for everyone located
there. Military leadership needed to be
delivered from the front and that exposed the leaders to great risks. Swift decisions had to be taken, particularly
about whether to talk or shoot first.
Unless they had served in the District the military headquarters staff
in Nairobi had
little concept of the conditions under which the garrisons of their outposts
operated. (It appears that it was not until
the introduction of the motor car in the late 1920s, and the construction of
roads to drive it on, that regular inspection visits were made to outposts –
see Sandy Curle’s Letters from the Horn
of Africa 1923-42.)
In August 1914 William Lloyd-Jones
DSO was transferred from KAR convalescence to duties in the War Office. In March 1917 he was deployed to France where
he received a Brevet promotion to major, the French Legion of Honour 5th
Class, the Order of the Crown of Italy 5th Class, the Order of the
Crown of Roumania 4th Class with swords, and the Serbian Order of
the White Eagle 5th Class with swords.
The King’s African Rifles by
Lieutenant Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett.
Havash and K.A.R., two booksby W.
3rd Battalion King’s African Rifles Historical Records
1895-1928 (National Archives file WO
Report and Enquiry into the death of Captain L. Aylmer (National Archives file CO 534/18).
The African D.C.M. compiled by John
London Gazette dated 4 August
1914 pp 6071-72.
Hansard 3 April 1963.
War Services 1922.