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The EK1

In September 1914 two companies of the Gold Coast Regiment, West African Frontier Force (WAFF), landed as part of a British force that captured Duala in the German Cameroons.  These two companies were placed along with two companies of the Sierra Leone Battalion, WAFF, in a composite battalion.  This battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel R.A. de Burgh Rose, Commandant of the Gold Coast Regiment.

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Cameroon Mountain.

After taking part in minor operations near Duala the composite battalion was nominated as part of a force tasked with capturing Buea, a German administrative centre 3,000 feet (915 metres) above sea level on Cameroon Mountain. 

Approximately 400 German troops were thought to be on Cameroon Mountain and the Allies wished to capture them.  The force was split into two columns.  One column, the Tiko column, contained Nigerian and French Senegalese infantry supported by Royal Navy and Nigerian gun detachments.  The second column, the Mbonjo column, contained the composite battalion supported by a section of Gold Coast Artillery. 

Each column contained half a company of Gold Coast pioneers, cable-laying and medical detachments and several hundred porters.  Lieutenant Colonel Rose commanded the Mbonjo column.  Simultaneously a detachment of the Royal Marine Light Infantry under Captain C.L. Hall was to capture Victoria from the sea, and another column under Lieutenant Colonel A.H.W. Hayward, 2nd Nigerian Regiment, was to advance up the Northern Railway line to seize Muyuka.

Right: 2nd Nigerians at Muyuka

The Tiko column, commanded by Colonel E.H. Gorges, moved by water transport from Duala to Tiko on 12th November 1914 and two days later it was advancing on foot towards Buea.  At Dibamba Heights enemy outposts were driven in and an entrenched position was attacked by the Nigerians, supporting fire being provided by the Nigerian mountain guns. 

The defenders, 4 Germans and 50 soldiers, fled in haste sometimes discarding boots and equipment.  The Germans were eventually captured, whilst the Allies suffered two casualties.  Just before reaching Molyko Colonel Gorges halted his column for the night; climbing up through thick forest for nine hours on a contested route had been tiring for all ranks, and especially the porters. 

On the 15th November the advance continued into Buea, which was surrendered by the German District Commissioner to Colonel Gorges at 1345 hours.

Meanwhile Colonel Rose’s column had concentrated at Mbonjo on 11th November.  Two days later the column advanced westwards on both banks of the River Mungo, fire support being provided by a naval flotilla of shallow-draught vessels.  After exchanging fire the enemy evacuated Mpundu as the British arrived.  Colonel Rose pushed on for three miles but found the ground difficult as many cocoa and rubber plantations were encountered.  Plantation roads and light railway lines were plentiful and had to be crossed with caution as they provided good fields of fire for possible enemy ambushers.

 During the 14th December as Colonel Rose’s men advanced to Ekona they were repeatedly confronted by a small enemy group of one or two Germans and 30 soldiers.  This enemy party used its local knowledge to keep withdrawing safely to prepared positions.  German troops were not the only hazard as a British patrol was forced to flee when it disturbed an elephant and bees attacked another British group, severely stinging some soldiers. Ekona was reached with the loss of two British casualties and a detachment was sent to hold Lisoka.  Possible German escape routes to the north were now blocked by the composite battalion.

Above: The "other enemy"

The following day Colonel Rose sent out several patrols, one of them  making contact with Colonel Gorge’s column. Another patrol captured the local German commandant, Captain Gaisser, whilst a different patrol returned with the official German mail bag from Yaunde in the interior. 

On the 16th November Colonel Rose marched into Buea but left Lieutenant J.F.P. Butler, Gold Coast Regiment, with 30 men and a machine gun near Lisoka.  Lieutenant Butler’s task was to attempt the capture of enemy groups reported to be sheltering in the neighbouring forest.

The next day, whilst patrolling the forest with 13 soldiers, Lieutenant Butler and his men surprised the rearguard of a strong German detachment with a machine gun.  Initially the enemy fled, abandoning stores and ammunition, but further up the forest trail a stand was made.  Lieutenant Butler had followed up so fast that he had left about half of his men behind when he came under enemy machine gun fire at a range of 30 yards (27 metres). 

The British troops with him immediately returned fire whilst Lieutenant Butler shouted orders to imaginary rifle companies to fix bayonets and attack.  The bluff worked and the enemy withdrew again, leaving three German corpses and the machine gun behind.

Above: Captain Butler in action

The destruction of Chang Fort.

Colonel Hayward’s 2nd Nigerian Regiment seized Muyuka on the 13th November.  Major General C.M. Dobell, the Allied commander in the Cameroons, then ordered Colonel Gorges to clear the Northern Railway, and a force was assembled at Muyuka on 2nd December 1914. 

Colonel Gorges was allocated a 12-pounder gun and two machine gun teams from the Royal Navy, the Nigerian artillery battery and a section of the Gold Coast Artillery, a Field Section Royal Engineers, the 1st and 2nd Nigeria Regiments, half of the Gold Coast Pioneer Company and various administrative detachments. Captain Butler was serving with the Gold Coast pioneers.

With supporting troop movements on either side of them, the 1st Nigerians moved up the railway line to Lum.  On the 5th December a Nigerian reconnaissance party found that the Nlohe railway bridge over the Dibombe River had been demolished and that the river appeared to be unfordable.  The Germans had prepared an ambush and sprung it as the reconnaissance took place, killing Lieutenant H.H. Schneider, Royal Engineers, and a soldier.

Above: Nlohe bridge demolished

During the next four days the British built a temporary footbridge at Nlohe and reached Manengole.  German snipers were always active.  The night of 7th December saw the Germans rolling a truck load of explosives down the railway line towards the British, but rails had been removed ahead of the British forward position and the truck de-railed and exploded harmlessly.  On the 10th December the Germans sent an officer under a white flag to see Colonel Gorges with a message from Lieutenant von Engelbrechten, the local German commander.  This led to the railhead, Nkongsamba, and all the surrounding countryside up to Bare being surrendered to the British.  Bare was occupied on the following day and amongst the stores found here were two uncrated German aeroplanes, the first to arrive in West Africa.  Colonel Gorges was ordered to pursue the enemy northwards but he first needed to build up his supplies, so depots were stocked at Bare and Melong.

On Christmas Day the British advanced on Chang with two columns.  The main column followed the direct route via the Nkam valley whilst a smaller column under Colonel Haywood advanced via Mbo.  On Boxing Day Colonel Haywood encountered serious opposition but drove the Germans back, losing twelve men in the process.  One of those killed was Colour Sergeant J.J. Winter, East Yorkshire Regiment and Nigeria Regiment, WAFF.

Right: The naval 12-pounder in action near Chang

Meanwhile on the direct route Captain Butler was sent out with a patrol to disperse a German detachment which had been harassing the main column.  Captain Butler achieved his mission, during which he swam alone across an unfordable river under fire to make a reconnaissance.  Two of his men were wounded during the action.

Both columns now had to force parties of German soldiers out of entrenched positions in steep and often heavily wooded locations.  Sound British scouting and picqueting skills were important factors in the advance.  Elephants kept British linesmen busy by destroying telephone lines in the rear.  On the 2nd January 1915 both columns met at the road junction southwest of Chang and pushed on at once.  The British artillery had to suppress enemy fire from the surrounding hills but by 1700 hours the town was occupied and Chang Fort, the main objective, in British hands.  The Germans had been surprised at the speed of the British advance over difficult country and they had not stayed to fight.

Generall Dobell did not want the British force to remain in an exposed position for too long and so Colonel Gorges was ordered to destroy Chang Fort and then withdraw speedily to the railhead. 

The Nigerians pursued the withdrawing Germans down the Bamenda road whilst the brick and cement fort was being demolished by the pioneers.  Then all the British troops marched south, reaching Nkongsamba on the 10th January.  The operation had been a success but the British withdrawal from Chang was seen by the Germans and local Africans as a sign of weakness.  

An announcement in the London Gazette dated 23rd August 1915 awarded the Victoria Cross to:

Captain John Fitzhardinge Paul Butler, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, attached Pioneer Company, Gold Coast Regiment, West African Frontier Force.  

For most conspicuous bravery in the Cameroons, West Africa.  

On 17th November 1914, with a party of 13 men, he went into the thick bush and at once attacked the enemy, in strength about 100, including several Europeans, defeated them, and captured their machine gun and several loads of ammunition.  

On 27th December 1914, when on patrol duty, with a few men, he swam the Ekam River, alone and in the face of a brisk fire, completed his reconnaissance on the further bank, and returned in safety.  Two of his men were wounded while he was actually in the water.  

Captain Butler was also awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his service in the Cameroons.  Sadly he did not survive the war, as a subsequent article will show.    


Official History.  Military Operations, Togoland and the Cameroons
by Brigadier General F.J. Moberly.  

The Great War in West Africa by Brigadier General E. Howard Gorges.  

The History of the Royal West African Frontier Force by Colonel A. Hayward and Brigadier F.A.S. Clark. 

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