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The EK1

Operartions in Central and North-Western Uganda

Uganda in 1902

At the start of 1902 the Uganda Protectorate was considerably larger than the state of Uganda is today, as the map of subsequent boundary changes illustrates.  In April 1902 Uganda’s large Eastern Province was transferred to British East Africa (now Kenya) with some border adjustments; however the railway line from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean to Kisumu on Lake Victoria, although now terminating in British East Africa, continued to be called The Uganda Railway.  Lake steamers sailed from Kisumu to ports on the Ugandan shore of the lake and the railway continued to be the lifeline of the Uganda Protectorate for imports and exports, as the alternative route down the River Nile from Egypt was long and difficult.  On Uganda’s south-western border was German East Africa (now Tanzania), and German troops, civilians and trade goods also began using the Uganda Railway to reach Kisumu.  The Germans then took steamers and landed at German ports on the southern and western shores of the lake. 

For a better overview, the corresponding maps can be found HERE

Right: Bagandan Askari in 4KAR

At midnight on 31st December 1901 the military force in the Protectorate, the Uganda Rifles, had ceased to exist; the formation of the King’s African Rifles (KAR) began a moment later.  Uganda then had two KAR battalions:

·        the 4th (Uganda) Battalion, consisting of 9 companies of African infantry

·        the 5th (Uganda) Battalion, consisting of 4 companies of Indian infantry, recruited with the permission of the Government of India.

In the early days of British colonial activity in Uganda Sudanese soldiers had been recruited, but after the suppression of a mutiny in 1897 recruits were obtained from other ethnic groups.  Bagandans from the kingdom on the shores of Lake Victoria were enlisted along with other local tribesmen.

  Politically Uganda had established borders with British and German East Africa, but the border with the Belgian Congo was disputed and the border with British Sudan needed surveying as a prelude to demarcation.  In the north of Uganda the course of the River Nile was occupied by British garrison posts and civilian administrators were being appointed.  However the remainder of the vast isolated area up to the assumed Sudan border was un-mapped and unknown, although illegal Swahili elephant hunters and Abyssinian rifle traders were very active there.  For the time being Britain did not wish to impose administrative procedures on the Africans living in the north, and these tribes carried on with their traditional pastoral way of life, which included raiding each others’ villages and herds of livestock.

  In 1902 Lieutenant Colonel James Hayes Sadler moved from being Consul General in Somaliland to become High Commissioner in Uganda.  On the instructions of the British Foreign Secretary in London, Lord Lansdowne, Hayes Sadler stated:

The policy of the Administration is rather to avoid conflict with the wilder tribes, such as those inhabiting the large tract of country to the north of Elgon and between the Nile and Lake Rudolf, and trust to the principles of our rule becoming known to them through the intervening tribes until such time as the permanent occupation of their country becomes a necessity.

Above: 4 KAR Askari strike a camp.

The Mount Elgon region, Central Province, 1902 – 1905

But in 1902 military action in support of the civil authority was needed to check the activities of recalcitrant tribes living in the forests and ravines that surrounded the 4,321-metre high Mount Elgon in the Central Province.   The belligerent tribesmen lived in small separate communities on the northern and western slopes of the mountain.  They did not combine to confront the British but they mounted small ambushes on traders’ caravans and government messengers before withdrawing onto the flanks of the mountain where there were many hiding places amongst the crags and gullies.

An irritant to the tribesmen was the presence of a Bagandan former administrator (appointed by the British after the mutiny), the Kakunguru. He, whilst at first doing a sound job for the British in fighting back the tribal raids, built up a following of his own Bagandans to whom he offered “free” land.  The land belonged to the Mount Elgon tribes and this resulted in a prolongation of the conflict.  The British solution was to appoint a European political officer to be stationed at Budaka and to settle the Bagandans near Mbale.  However the Kakunguru and his men were always welcome when British military expeditions went onto Mount Elgon, as the Bagandans were useful at locating hidden herds of cattle which were then seized as a punitive measure.

Below: The slopes of Mount Elgon.

Later in 1902 the British sub-commissioner at Jinja patrolled north from Mbale with half of No 3 Company, 4 KAR, under Lieutenant R.M. Tidmarsh (West Riding Regiment).  Initially opposition was light and the Kakunguru’s armed Bagandan levies seized several herds, but during the withdrawal Tidmarsh and his men had to fight hard against Chief Uguti’s men who attacked the British whilst they crossed the Malawa River.  

In January 1904 Mbale became an administrative station as it had developed into a thriving commercial centre.  In August two Indian traders were killed with spears and their caravan was plundered on the road from Mbale to Mbai.  The culprits were identified as a tribe living to the north of Jackson’s Falls that had been attacking intruders since the British moved into Uganda, and so the local acting sub commissioner, A.G. Boyle, decided to offer a sharp disciplinary lesson.  One of Boyle’s aims was to demonstrate to neighbouring tribal chiefs the advantages of accepting British administration.

Colonel A.H. Coles, formerly of the Buffs and the Egyptian Army, was Commandant of 4 KAR and his No 4 Company was based at Jinja.  Coles ordered an expedition to be mounted under Captain A.H.C. MacGregor (Royal Irish Fusiliers) that consisted of:

·     2 officers and 81 rifles from No 4 Company

·     40 armed policemen

·     1 Maxim gun and 16 gun porters, 7 of whom were armed

·     the Kakunguru and 150 armed Bagandans

·     a Medical Officer

·      A.G. Boyle as the Political Officer

·     locally recruited porters carrying supplies and reserve ammunition.  

This force left Jinja on 21st September and marched north-north-east through grassland and banana groves up into the Elgon foothills.  Around 1,000 warriors armed with spears and bows and arrows awaited the British.  War horns had been blown over the previous few days to assemble the fighting men.  During the next fortnight MacGregor and his men spent day after day, sometimes in pouring rain, climbing up to crests to find huts stripped and empty.  The tribesmen were always somewhere on the mountain slopes ahead of them.  The huts were burned and the Bagandans seized some cattle, but the tribes did not possess much stock, and that fact made the infliction of punishment more difficult.  On one occasion a hostile gathering was observed over a kilometre ahead but a few Maxim bursts dispersed it.  The rearguards covering the withdrawal of the seized livestock took the most punishment, as they were targeted by poisoned arrows from tribesmen following behind.  

Above: Ugandan Quiver and Arrows

On 4th October most of the local chiefs came into MacGregor’s camp to ask for peace.  Only 50 cattle and 692 sheep and goats had been seized but 25 warriors had been killed and that was enough.  The blame for the killing of the Indian traders was placed on a drunken chief named Songoro who was believed to be suffering from dementia.  Boyle decided to move the government boma (fortified compound) at Mbai nearer to the disaffected area.

Fighting the Yobos

Boyle had another task for MacGregor and that was to teach the belligerent Yobo tribe a sound lesson, and authority was received by telegraph for the mounting of a second operation.  On 18th October MacGregor marched out with roughly the same number of men, but this time it was estimated that 5,000 hostile warriors would confront the British.  The Yobos were ready and had boasted that they would kill at least one European.  When he had entered the Yobo heartland, which was enclosed by high cliffs and ridges on which the enemy could be seen until the Maxim gun reached out to them, MacGregor built a boma.  He then sent the Kakunguru and his men round the right flank whilst the Askari advanced towards an occupied ridge.  As the troops came up to an enormous banana plantation about 100 warriors emerged and charged whilst waving spears and chanting war cries.  The Askari were ordered into fire positions and a couple of volleys stopped the attack.  Another volley was needed to stop another assault when entering the plantation, and then the Askari advanced in extended line until they heard firing to their front signalling that the Bagandans were bringing in a herd of cattle. 

Right: Ugandan Porters

For the next few days skirmishing and stock seizures continued until British scouts reported that the remaining herds were being moved eastwards out of the area.  MacGregor decided to repeat his previous tactic and sent the Kakunguru’s Bagandans and 30 police to outflank the herds and make a surprise attack.  Two hours later Lieutenant S.W.H. Rawlins (Royal Artillery) followed the same route to give support and collect stray cattle.  Before long Rawlins heard heavy firing to his front and observed the police fighting a steady withdrawal action over a spur, along with 110 cattle.  The previous owners of the cattle were agitated and in hot pursuit and were closing onto the police who were running short of ammunition.  Rawlins’ bugler signalled the Askari presence on the battlefield and the Yobos fell back, to the relief of the police.  These close-quarter fighting tactics were not usual as most of the time the Yobos preferred to stand well back under deep cover, firing poisoned arrows into the air to land on tracks that the British were using.  However losing cattle reduced a tribesman’s personal wealth and social standing, and so village herds were not surrendered easily.

More stock was collected over the next few days and MacGregor marched back to Mbale herding 1,027 cattle and 1,604 goats.  A portion of the animals would have been distributed amongst the levies, and the Askari and police would have been eating meat for some time.  The political officer would also have used the offer of a return of a percentage of the seized herds as an inducement for tribal leaders to accept British administration.   About 100 Yobo warriors had been killed whilst the British had suffered negligible losses.  British firepower had made a deep impression on tribesmen whose principal weapons were spears.

Useful experience was gained of the recently-issued KAR equipment, especially on the frog used to suspend the bayonet and scabbard from a soldier’s belt.  The frog was too long, resulting in the scabbard tripping the soldier when he ran.  Until the frog was shortened the Askari removed their bayonets and scabbards from the frogs and stuck the scabbards into their belts when running.  

Above: The Logire Hills in the background.

A punitive operation in Budama

In late 1905 Chief Bwino Kiko led an uprising in the Budama area south-west of Mount Elgon.  The government boma at Peta was destroyed and 40 Bagandans were massacred.  Captain L.E.S. Ward (Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry) led an expedition consisting of:

·        2 officers and 87 Askari from No 4 Company, 4 KAR

·        1 European police instructor and 71 armed police

·        40 armed Basoga levies

·        1 Maxim gun manned by 3 Indian sepoys

·        2 Political Officers

·        a Medical Officer

·        Locally recruited porters carrying supplies and reserve ammunition  

Ward marched from Jinja to Peta and established base camp there.  Then each day two columns went out into the disaffected area, each column splitting into three parties.  Huts and agricultural plots were destroyed and cattle and sheep seized.  Again the primitive tribal weapons were no match for British firepower and around 70 dissidents were killed at a cost of one Basoga levy wounded.  Bwino Kiko surrendered on 24th September after his own village had been destroyed.

The Political Officers then decided to break the power of Chief Eseme who had rejected British authority and was disturbing the nearby Kileu area.  Ward marched out on 4th October but he had to exercise more caution now as the dissidents were believed to have 300 rifles.  A British attempt at surprise failed when local guides on a night march proved unreliable.  Eseme’s and other villages were burned and stock was seized but Ward could not disperse his men too widely because of the threat of enemy rifle fire.  The Maxim gun was often in use clearing areas of vegetation where tribesmen lurked.  Eseme waited for an opportunity and when it came he, armed with a Mauser rifle, and about 15 of his men with Martini Henrys attacked a small group of police.  Askari had to move quickly to support the police who were hard pressed.  Eseme’s party then split up and withdrew leaving one corpse behind.

  The Political Officers had been presumptious in thinking that Eseme’s power could be easily broken, and when Ward was ordered to return to Jinja the tribe had not submitted and the warriors were still fighting against intrusions into their area.  A change in policies and tactics now occurred on both sides in the Central Province, doubtless helped by economic development.   British Political Officers became more acknowledged and respected by the tribal chiefs who were prepared to discuss matters before taking up arms.  Meanwhile the police became strong enough to mount small expeditions on their own.  

Above: Ugandan Sikhs and Belgian Congolese Askari on the disputed border.

The Northern Patrol, 1911

During 1910 the Uganda Government was forced to re-assess its policy of non-intervention in the north of the Protectorate.  One of the reasons cited for not getting involved had been the revenue that was collected from ivory brought out of the north by licenced traders; in other words the government was extracting revenue from the north without having to pay the administrative cost of occupying the area.  But by now a large number of firearms had been sold illegally in the north, and the tribes used these weapons to both raid each other and to decimate the vast herds of elephant that roamed in the area.  There was now far less potential ivory revenue for the Government to collect, and unlicensed Swahili and Abyssinian traders had become adept at exporting tusks in other directions to avoid the Ugandan authorities.  However the most critical factor affecting the north of Uganda was the discovery of Abyssinian troops in the Turkana and Karamoja regions in the north-east.  Abyssinia was staking a claim to tracts of land west of Lake Rudolph.

Below: River Nile near Nimule

In mid-1911 the civil authorities in the Nile Province wished to enforce the 1909 Collective Punishments Ordinance against two hill tribes, the Eiyerri and Gimorreh, who lived about 80 kilometres north-north-east of Nimule.  ‘A’ Company 4 KAR was sent up the Nile by steamer from Hoima to Nimule.  Lieutenant W.I. Webb-Bowen (Middlesex Regiment) was the company commander and he had with him Lieutenant W.P Baldock (York & Lancaster Regiment), 80 Askari carrying 100 rounds, 1 Maxim gun and 5 porters.  Captain P.S.H. Tanner, Uganda Police, and 35 men were to follow later when the supply situation at Nimule had been organised satisfactorily.  These troops were referred to as the Northern Patrol.  

‘A’ Company reached Nimule on 13th July and Webb-Bowen was briefed by the District Commissioner.  As the rains were coming a prompt start was made two days later, before the rivers in the region flooded.  The Askari marched through Lokai and Parajok, noting that most tribesman possessed a Snider or Le Gras rifle, and reached the Eiyerri country on 18th July.  The Eiyerri and Gimorreh villages were seen on the tops and sides of steep hills that were often covered with dense bush.  Caves and enormous boulders were dotted around the hills.  Outposts on high ground observed the Askari and swiftly reported the British movements to the villages.   

On July 20th ‘A’ Company reached the foot of a hill which was 600 metres high.  A forward screen of Askari ascended followed by the remainder of the company; shooting started when the troops were half way up the ascent, 10 of the dissidents were shot but the remaining warriors withdrew in good order.  At the summit Webb-Bowen burned the village, cut down the grain crops and drove off 100 sheep and goats.  The Eiyerri re-occupied the village when ‘A’ Company withdrew but the Maxim gun dispersed them.   

The following day a similar operation took place on another hill but this time there were no goats and sheep in the village when the Askari arrived.  For the next 48 hours ‘A’ Company searched caves and burned villages but could not come to grips with the Eiyerri and Gimorreh warriors.  Around 20 tribesmen were killed whilst 4 of ‘A’ Company’s porters were severely wounded by spear attacks in the tall grass that grew at the base of the hills. 

Above: Landscape near Nimule

Webb-Bowen then withdrew to Nimule and the rains fell.  Although not much impact seemed to have been made on the Eiyerri and Gimmorreh, the group of Lokoya tribes in the region had taken notice of the devastation that a Maxim gun could cause, and this group talked with the Uganda civil authorities and offered a voluntary fine in compensation for their own depredations. 

Right: Drummer Boy of 4KAR

Operations in the Opei and Nangiya Hills

Tanner and his policemen had now arrived and on 7th September the Northern Patrol went into the field again to operate in the Opei and Nangiya hills that lay due east of Nimule.  The aim was to clear the hills of illicit traders and to punish the tribesmen who had sheltered them, and who had acquired weapons to use in attacks on other tribes.  Sites were to be reconnoitred for military posts, as British garrisons were being planned for the region.

The Northern Patrol arrived at the 750 metre high heavily-wooded Mount Opei on 15th September.  Tanner and his police were left there with some Askari whilst Webb-Bowen marched straight on for 48 hours to Kiteng Hill, as he had been informed of the murder there of 14 Swahili traders.  A camp was established at Kiteng but a message arrived from Tanner at Akol Hill near Opei requesting support.  Tanner’s group had been confiscating cattle from the Madi tribe when attackers killed a KAR Askari and wounded another.  A camp was left at Kiteng and Webb-Bowen retraced his steps to Akol Hill where he found Tanner guarding 211 head of cattle.  Baldock was sent on in advance with 35 Askari to Mount Opei where the hostile Madi villages were located whilst a heliograph signalling link was established between Akol and Kiteng.  Webb-Bowen gained the assistance of a local friendly chief named Akowo who supplied porters to carry the supplies, but as these men had elaborate hair styles loads could not be carried on heads but were suspended on poles between the shoulders of two men. 

  At Mount Opei Baldock found the Madi village running along the base of the hill for a kilometre.  The next morning he started burning the village but his Askari were fiercely attacked and he withdrew.  When the main body arrived with Webb-Bowen a group was sent up on the hill to cover the destruction of the village, but this group received a warm welcome from Madi rifle and spear men and from rock throwers.  The vegetation was very dense on the hill and the cliffs were honeycombed with concealed caves.  One Askari was shot through the chest.

  That night Webb-Bowen used his Maxim gun and war rockets (possibly 9-pounder Hale Mark VIIc rockets) against the Madi camp fires on the hill.  The use of these weapons at night turned the battle, and on 21st September Chief Aluru and one of his headmen approached the British camp asking for peace.  A rocket had killed three men sitting around a fire.  Although Aluru was detained the warriors on the hill remained defiant and would not surrender their fire arms, but the Askari could now complete the destruction of the village and standing crops.  The rockets were used again for a second night before Webb-Bowen marched his men and Chief Aluru back to Kiteng camp.

The Northern Patrol then based itself at Kiteng and started to establish British authority in the region.  Skirmishes were fought with recalcitrant tribes and rogue Abyssinians, and when necessary more villages were burned and livestock and caches of illegal ivory were seized.  At Mount Rom on 5th November aggressive Nangiya tribesmen attacked the Askari using accurate breech-loading rifles, but the warriors received a surprise when the Maxim gun was efficiently brought into action.  However it still took Webb-Bowen two days to disperse these Nangiya; he then burned six villages and destroyed their standing crops.  The KAR casualties were 1 Askari killed and 6 others wounded.   Meanwhile permanent posts were being constructed at Kiteng and Lokuta, and although ‘A’ Company continued patrolling the business of establishing garrisons in the north of Uganda had begun.

  In recognition of gallantry displayed during the operations of the Northern Patrol the African Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded to: Bimbashi (Major) Ali Mombur, 2842 Sergeant Salim Mustapha and 3189 Sergeant Mahomed Fadalla, all of the 4th Battalion the King’s African Rifles.  A year later a similar award was made to 1503 Lance Corporal Sanduku, also of 4 KAR.

  The Lango Detachment, 1911-1912

In 1911 it was decided to send ‘B’ Company 4 KAR into the Lango region north of Lake Kioga, where the Askari would support the authority of the District Commissioner (DC) there.  The company commander, Captain R.H. Johnston (Lincolnshire Regiment), marched his 125 men the 320 kilometres from Bombo accompanied by another 175 wives, children and porters.  The party arrived on 12th September.  The DC was extremely unhappy, complaining that far too many people had arrived for the food resources in the region, and he insisted on half the company returning to Bombo.  This example of a lack of effective communications between the civil and military authorities was all too prevalent at that time, straining relationships on the ground.  The unwanted half of the company returned to Bombo in October with its families and porters.  

At Ngetta Johnston’s men constructed grass-roofed huts with mud walls for accommodation and stores, and the Askari built a mosque in their after-duty hours.  As the local tribes were friendly Johnston wished to push further north to link up with the Northern Patrol, but he was forbidden from leaving the area administered by the DC.  He was also instructed to only patrol in the administered area after receiving the DC’s permission, and that his escort was limited to a maximum of 12 Askari.  On querying with his own HQ as to why he was in Lango, Johnston was told that he was there to be at the disposal of the DC.  

During the next few months tension eased between the DC and Johnston, who started patrolling further north and in due course opened up a good well-watered route to the Northern Patrol.  In mid-1912 a decision was made to send the Lango garrison, now commanded by Lieutenant H.A. Lilley (Yorkshire Regiment) and 58 Askari of ‘D’ Company, up to join the Kiteng garrison.  However sleeping sickness spread along the north bank of the River Nile west of Lango and the Askari were needed to deal with this situation.  Captain Tanner of the police had been depopulating the affected areas and cutting down the vegetation that harboured the tsetse fly, but he died of blackwater fever before the job was completed.  A detachment of the Lango Askari were now employed on this task.  

On 30th October 1912 Lilley marched the Lango garrison, minus the families who returned to Bombo, up to Madial where the Kiteng base had been re-located.  Lilley’s Askari had skirmished in Lango with a few tribesmen who had attacked government or military messengers, but it had been the presence of the Askari in Lango rather than their actions that had settled the area so that the DC and the police could administer it effectively.

Right: Hayes Sadler and Winston Churchill on the Uganda Railway

The Northern Garrison, 1912 – 1914

By the end of 1912 the Northern Patrol was being referred to as the Northern Garrison, as that title inferred permanence.  Major J.K. Clothier (West Yorkshire Regiment) was appointed to command the Garrison.  However the proposed Sudan-Uganda boundary line was being surveyed and Uganda was hopeful that its more troublesome mountainous regions in the north would be transferred to Sudan.  This resulted in a reluctance to spend money on punitive expeditions in those regions, as it was unlikely that a permanent Ugandan administration would be put in place afterwards.  However a ball was rolling now that could not be easily stopped.  As the Northern Garrison dealt with raiders, the tribes that had been the victims of those raiders now expected British protection to continue.  As this usually involved more operations to totally disarm the raiders, more territory then came under Ugandan administration with a consequent need for security.

The former administrative headquarters of the Nile District at Nimule was moved to a more central position in Gulu and a new post was opened at Kitgum.  In March 1912 the Northern Garrison seized 2,000 cattle from the Morongole tribe.  During the next two months 16 Nakwai villages were destroyed and punitive measures were also taken against the Lokoya. 

The Logire Mountains lay 30 kilometres north-east of the new base at Madial and the tribes living on the slopes of the mountains continually raided the herdsmen on the plains below.  ‘A’ Company 4 KAR operated against the raiders on the most easterly spur of the mountains from the 21st to 29th of October 1912, marching onto the hillside by night.  Initial surprise was gained and herds of goats and sheep were seized, but two Askari were killed by dissident spearmen.  Two sections of Askari then climbed to the summit where they were suddenly and fiercely attacked by Dongotono warriors.  Up to that moment it had not been known that the Dongotono existed.  Using only spears and poisoned arrows the warriors pushed the two sections back down the hill, killing one Askari and wounding two others.  ‘A’ Company withdrew but sporadic skirmishing continued against the various tribes in the Logire area for several months, with British firepower gradually convincing the recalcitrant tribes to discuss terms.

In early 1913 ‘A’ Company marched back to Bombo having been relieved by ‘E’ Company.  Clothier was replaced by Captain W.T. Brooks (Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry).  Meanwhile Lilley and 75 Askari were detached for a few months to accompany the Sudan-Uganda Boundary Commission that was commanded by Captain Harry Kelly, Royal Engineers.  The Commission was occasionally harassed by dissidents and although it had an escort of Sudanese Infantry and Camel Corps soldiers, Lilley and his Askari were welcomed.

The Didinga Expedition, 17th June to 7th August 1913

The Didinga tribe lived in the north of the Logire Hills; they were hostile to neighbours and they were accomplished raiders.  It was believed that they had never been visited by traders and so it was expected that they would not possess firearms.  The Dodo tribes around Morongole, now disarmed and under British protection, were suffering from Didinga depredations.  Strong warnings issued from Madial were met with Didinga taunts and jeers.  The Didinga territory lay north of the Boundary Commission line but the Sudanese Government gave permission for the Northern Garrison to mount an expedition.

Captain Brooks led the expedition which consisted of 190 Askari from ‘D’ and ‘E’ Companies divided into three columns:

No 1 Column  Lieutenant M.G.B. Copeman (Leicestershire Regiment) with 60 rifles and 1 Maxim Gun.
No 2 Column  Captain R.H. Leeke (Rifle Brigade) with 60 rifles.
No 3 Column  Captain Brooks with 70 rifles and 1 Maxim gun.

Each Askari carried 100 rounds of ammunition and 6 days’ rations.  An equal amount of ammunition was carried in reserve.  

Not much was known about the Didinga country and a reconnaissance would have compromised the expedition.  The first day’s activity, on 19th June 1913, consisted of a night march by No 1 Column to block the Laroma valley followed by the other two columns sweeping through the area from different sides.  Surprise was achieved, 20 tribesmen were killed and 623 head of cattle seized.  An assessment could now be made of Didinga territory which was found to cover about 40 square kilometres.  The country was fertile and well wooded, with villages positioned on heights and accessible only by steep and narrow paths.  All three columns now began to sweep areas of the hills.  

After a week or so of watching the British tactics the Didinga began to respond aggressively and effectively.  Observation posts gave warnings of British advances that were met by short-range ambushes in the dense cover.  Each tribesman carried up to six spears.  One ambush at five metres range was delivered by up to 200 warriors who killed three Askari and wounded four others.  At night the Didinga would raid the KAR cattle bomas to try and release the stock.  In the thick vegetation the columns could sometimes advance less than a kilometre in an hour as patrols had to be constantly clearing the bush to the front and the flanks.  

On 7th July Brooks decided to halt the operations as he had secured enough stock to compensate the Dodo.  But withdrawal was tricky as there were 2,000 cattle and 11 badly wounded men to be got out of the steep narrow valleys.  Teams of up to 8 men struggled with each stretcher, and in the end the wounded were carried in blankets.  The Didinga continued to aggressively attack the withdrawal, causing more Askari casualties.  Finally the expedition was concentrated in the Laroma valley by 28th July, and was back in Madial by 7th August.  Three Askari had been killed and 11 badly wounded.  Several porters were also wounded.  Seizures amounted to 2,037 cattle, 1,660 goats, 62 donkeys and 7 tusks of ivory.  The Didinga were not subdued, and Brooks believed that if the Madial garrison was withdrawn then the Didinga would raid again and re-take the stock.  But British attention was now focussing on the Turkana territory in the north-east of the Protectorate.  

Campaign medal

As a recognition of service on the Didinga Expedition a clasp titled EAST AFRICA 1913 was issued to the African General Service Medal.  The medal roll lists 265 officers and men of the 4th Battalion the King’s African Rifles. 

Comments on punitive expeditions

Many colonial officials thought that punitive measures were unpleasant but nevertheless necessary.  These men appreciated that it was impossible to quickly break down the conventions and traditions that had been accumulated by tribesmen over centuries of internecine conflict.  In contrast a few officials considered that punitive measures were pointless as they “create a situation which is far worse than that existing prior to Government intervention.  The punished parties have a habit of inflicting reprisals in the absence of visible signs of permanent government”.

The military officers who were the men at the sharp end, operating in uncharted, remote and rugged territory, had few doubts about the necessity of punishing recalcitrants.  They understood that the Government’s prestige and authority rested upon its military superiority, and that above all else the tribes that had submitted had to be protected.    When operating in a harsh and unforgiving environment kindness could easily be interpreted as weakness.  Captain Leeke writing from Madial stated that the local tribes “were undoubtedly of an opinion that we were afraid of fighting the Didinga and, now that we had done so, are much easier to deal with”.

But times were changing and the Great War was imminent.  That war would bring with it advances in technology, particularly in military aviation, that would change the style of colonial campaigning for ever. 

(Operations against the Turkana tribes will be described in a future article.)


·        The King’s African Rifles by Lieutenant Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett MBE MA PhD.
·        Imperial Frontier by James Barber.
·        Imperial Boundary Making edited by G.H. Blake.
·        The Uganda Protectorate by Sir Harry Johnston GCMG KCB.
·        Kenya.  Select Historical Documents by G.H. Mungeam.
·        My African Journey by The Right Honourable Winston Spencer Churchill MP.
·        African General Service Medals by R.G. Magor.
·        The African D.C.M. compiled by John Arnold.

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Above: The medals of Lieutenant Martin George Byard Copeman