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stevebecker

East African Mounted Rifles

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stevebecker

Mates,

I have an AIF soldier who claims he was wounded serving with the EAMR at some time?

I must assume that was before he joined the aussie Army in Sept 1915, can you help with any details on how he was wounded?

The man was;

ALLEN Percy Devere 6 Pte 1 Remts 1 Sqn to APayC London UK 8-16 to 1 Entr Bn 3-17 to 25 D/US AASC 5-17 to Cpl 2-18 to A/Sgt 2-19 F&B to NME UK swahili language

(British East African MR WIA 1914/15) later Labourer Commissioner in Kenya OBE from 1920 to 1946 AKA Percy de Vere Allen brothers Victor 3 FAB, Floyd and Aubrey 9Bn

A mate sent me this ref to the unit but not much use?

The East African Mounted Rifles

Some order eventually developed out of the chaos as the East African Mounted Rifles became established and, not without some difficulty, absorbed the extraordinary collection of independent units into a single corps of mounted volunteers comprising six squadrons with maxim gun and signalling sections.

Formed in Nairobi on 5 August 1914 the East African Mounted Rifles comprised over 400 volunteers by the end of August. However, these men were regarded as far too valuable to be retained as troopers in a small mounted corps and the regiment did not survive the duration of the war Within a few months many were transferred to other units to satisfy the demand for men who knew the country, the natives, and the language, and wholesale transfers took place early in 1916 following the arrival of Lt.Gen. Smuts and the South African brigades when many EAMR men were appointed staff officers. As Captain Wilson proudly stated: ‘The record of the East African Mounted Rifles must be almost unequalled as regards the proportion of men who received commissions from the ranks.’9 The similarities between this experience and that of the Kenya Regiment in 1939-40 were to be considerable.

Most of the members of the EAMR were expert riders, crack shots and they had the immense advantage of knowing the country, the conditions and the lingua franca of the country, Swahili. They knew little and cared less about formal soldiering and they were somewhat taken aback when they found themselves being issued with regulation uniforms and expected to undergo formal training. Their rather cavalier attitude to army life is well reflected in the following commnt provided by Elspeth Huxley:

A camp was formed on the racecourse but most of the troopers lived either in one of the hotels, in the recently opened country club, with Nairobi friends or even at Government House.

“Where are troopers Ridley and Thompson?” enquired the second-in-command who was inspecting the camp one evening, observing that two of the sentries were missing ”Oh, they’re dining at Government House” the sergeant replied “but H.E.’s promised to send them home early in his car”10

As they prepared for war during the month of August, the EAMR developed into a more uniform and disciplined unit. The only concession to individuality being to allow the members of ‘Bowker’s Horse’ to retain the letters BH on their helmets. It is perhaps unfortunate that at the battle of Longido they suffered the indignity of having a German patrol creep up on them at night and rustle 57 of their horses; after that they were frequently called Bowker’s Foot.11

Another of the squadrons was commanded by an ex- Lancer who named it “Monica’s Own” after the Governor’s youngest daughter and then armed his squadron with lances which were steel-tipped bamboo spears made in the railway workshops and adorned with red and white pennons. However, the Regiment’s historian was to moved to comment: ‘It is to be recorded with thankfulness that in spite of the most desperate feats, entirely unintentional, not one of these gallant lancers succeeded in impaling himself, his horse or his comrade. Their lances, alas, were never blooded on the field of battle. They were soon discarded, to the sorrow of the Squadron Commander, but to the relief and safety of the troopers’12

Following the outbreak of hostilities, eight hundred Somalis met in the tin village near Muthaiga and marched down to Nairobi House in a body to offer their services to the Government. They were organised into a troop of mounted scouts under Lord Delamere’s brother-in-law, Berkeley Cole, who was a well-known settler and a younger son of the Earl of Enniskillen. This unit became known as Cole’s Scouts and it was not only the most unorthodox part of the EAMR, it was also the most aristocratic as the other officers included Lord Cranworth and Denys Finch-Hatton, whose father was the 13th Earl of Winchelsea.

In September, when the EAMR started patrolling, they soon discovered that the Germans were not their only problem. They were under-equipped and under-supplied and faced the perpetual threat of attack by wild animals, malaria, blackwater fever and dysentery. Mules and horses succumbed to tsetse fly, and shortage of water for both man and beast was a critical problem. Yet the EAMR were still able to operate effectively in this hostile environment. It is difficult to assess accurately the impact made by them during September and October 1914 but the views of various commentators on the beginnings of the East African Campaign are summarised by Edward Paice as follows: ‘yet for a crucial two months, the only period in the war when the Germans might realistically have been able to invade the Protectorate, the settler units succeeded in holding the border’.13

The whole conduct of the war in East African was soon to change with the disastrous defeat of the Indian Expeditionary Force who, under the blimpish General Aitken, attempted to take the German port of Tanga. After suffering 300 casualties, Aitken gave the command to retreat and the British left behind sixteen machine guns, 455 rifles and 600,000 rounds of ammunition. The strike force of 8000 men had been seen off by just 1000 mostly African German troops.

Captain Richard Meinertzhagen who had formerly served in campaigns against the Nandi and the Kikuyu with 3KAR and was now a member of Aitken’s staff, considered the assault ‘the best example I know, of how a battle should not be fought, not only in the events leading up to the fight but in its conduct from the General Officer Commanding to the rank and file who suffered’14 Aitken was reduced in rank and allowed to retire with the pay of a Colonel and he died, a bitter man, in 1924.

It is tempting to speculate that had the assault succeeded and von Lettow been captured, the war in East Africa would have been over by Christmas. Instead, the extraordinary humiliation of the British defeat at Tanga was to have an immeasurable effect on the conduct of the ensuing four year campaign. With the morale of his troops very high, von Lettow believed he had a chance of holding out almost indefinitely in the vast territory of German East Africa. He resolved to serve the Kaiser by tying down as many British Imperial troops as possible for as long as possible, thereby diverting them from Europe’s Western Front. In 1915 von Lettow’s strategy centred on the hundred mile section of the Uganda railway which skirted the German border within a one to three day marching distance of the Kilimanjaro foothills. He reasoned that if he could inflict sufficient damage, the British would be forced to divert more troops from other theatres of was in order to protect their main artery of transport and communications and then to drive him south.

The German efforts to sabotage the railway provoked an immediate response by the EAMR:

Detachments of the East African Mounted Rifles combed the frontier to flush our raiding parties, and they did their work no less methodically, perhaps even more skilfully, than von Lettow’s bushwackers. The Germans often made long detours, risking death from thirst or hunger, even for days, before an EAMR patrol vacated an area. If the EAMR could not halt the strikes against the railway, they could at least make the Germans sweat to reach that objective.

This was no band of tenderfeet. The EAMR trooper’s knowledge of the country, at least that on the British side of the border, was unmatched So too were his skills at bushcraft and concealment. German raiders could never be certain that a nearby family of grazing zebras were not in fact EAMR Somali mules or Abyssinian ponies with stripes painted on their bodies, that the grass which they ate did not conceal a large party or riflemen who might open up at any moment. In the saddle, moreover, the EAMR held an advantage of mobility denied to all but the few mounted units.15

In helping them counter German attacks, the EAMR received much valuable information from Captain Meinhertzhagen who, following the defeat at Tanga, had been charged with organising an Intelligence Corps. He recruited more than one hundred African and Swahili agents. These moved continually in and out of German East Africa gathering information on Schutztruppe operations. The main objective set for these agents in 1915 was the defence of the railway and they were able to provide Meinertzhagen with valuable details of raiding plans and patrol dispositions. Much of this effective espionage was the result of a paper shortage as explained by Charles Miller in Battle for the Bundu:

Schutztruppe officers improvised their toilet paper from copies of coded messages, orders and other secrets, and the British spies made a practice of visiting the officers latrines at night, to retrieve what Meinertzhagen called “a constant source of filthy though accurate information” Among other things, the DPM –dirty paper method –enabled Meinertzhagen to collect the signatures of nearly every high-ranking German and military official, including Governor Schnee and General von Lettow. These were invaluable in authenticating documents captured in the field.

But DPM’s most important results were effective countermeasures against raids on the railway. Their amorality would have done credit to the CIA. One can picture Meinertzhagen chuckling like a mad scientist as he made eighty miles of track invulnerable for some weeks by placing animal carcasses around the only waterhole in the area and putting up a large sign reading “Poison” next to the waterhole itself. “We know that the first German patrol to visit the area turned back without drinking and as they relied on the water, one member of the patrol perished of thirst on the homeward journey and we had an official complaint about international usage respecting poisoned water to which we have not replied…. It may be an offence to poison water, but surely there is nothing wrong in labelling water as poisoned when it is not so treated?”

An even bigger coup that came from DPM information involved blowing the cover of an Arab spy in German employ who had performed invaluable service in reporting on unguarded sections of the railway. Meinertzhagen wrote this man a letter, thanking him for his assistance to British intelligence and enclosing fifteen hundred rupees. He then saw to it that the letter was intercepted with the result that the Germans promptly hanged the Arab and caused the British instigator a twinge of conscience16


During the closing months of 1915 the EAMR was employed in intensive field exercise in preparation for a general offensive and then moved to Longido early in 1916 where they were visited by General Smuts on 22 February 1916. On 4 March the Division started moving as the infantry battalions trickled out of Longido and, after experiencing some intensive action near Geraragua, at Store Camp and at the Soko River, the EAMR eventually arrived in Arusha on 24 March 1916. After several weeks spent preparing for the next push the EAMR entrained at Kajiado and arrived at Mbuyuni on 28 April ‘On the arrival of the EAMR at Mbuyuni the process of dissolution began in earnest and the Regiment as such ceased to exist. Officers, non-commissioned officers and men were scattered in every direction.17

What was left of the EAMR was now organised into a single Squadron under the command of Major Clifford Hill. Although now only a small unit in a large army, this Squadron became the advance guard of the column moving along the Usambara railway. ‘Behind us plodded the infantry, four battalions of them, and somewhere behind were two batteries of guns; so we knew that any enemy force we might meet would be satisfactorily dealt with. But we also knew that the first blow would fall on the advance guard, and that whatever the final issue the EAMR would probably take it in the neck.’18

On another occasion the escort comprised the Legion of Frontiersmen and the EAMR with one troop forming the advance guard and another was rearguard to the column. Some commentators on WWI have included the Legion of Frontiersmen as part of the EAMR and it is important to differentiate between them. Although known quasi-officially as the Frontiersmen this unit actually debarked at Mombasa from Plymouth on 4 May 1915. Officially gazetted as the 25th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers they were referred to by Grogan as the ‘Boozaliers’ and they were in his opinion ‘the most extraordinary military unit in British history’19
Its combatants included the twenty-seven stone Capt. Northrup (later Sir Northrup) Macmillan, an American whose sword-belt measured sixty four inches, the legendary big game hunter and naturalist, Lt Frederick Courtenay Selous, former members of the French Foreign Legion, Texan cowboys and American soldiers, seal-poachers from Canada as well as members of the North-west Mounted Police, a Buckingham House footman and a General in the Honduras army - who was given the rank of sergeant. Led by the South African Colonel Dan Driscoll DSO - the leader of ‘Driscoll’s Scouts’ in the Boer War - they proved themselves utterly fearless and lethal in battle but wholly undisciplined at other times as evidenced by their wild behaviour after capturing the town of Bukoba which involved ‘looting, boozing and consorting with local African girls’20 However, they were almost invariably in the front line and their outstanding courage cost them dear.

Nineteen months after their arrival only 60 of the original 1166 ‘Frontiersmen’ remained alive and Selous himself fell at Behobeho on 4 January 1917. One Frontiersman, Andrew Buchanan, who was elevated from private to lance corporal to sergeant to subaltern to lieutenant to captain in barely eighteen months, wrote a remarkable book about this extraordinary unit which ends thus:

On our side, there is one sorrowful disaster to record which touches this narrative deeply. In the final action which my unit undertook- the only one after my departure- the remnants of the band, steel-true men who had come through everything until then, were pitted against overwhelming odds, when covering a retirement, and fought till they were cut to pieces. It was a tragic ending.21

The EAMR Squadron continued to undertake the roles of advance and rearguarding these large infantry columns with considerable panache but their numbers were consistently depleted by malaria: ‘as each day’s march began there were some who had to be left behind to the tender mercies of the Field Ambulance.’22

By the end of 1916 the EAMR had dwindled to a major, a sergeant and two troopers. It was never disbanded. It simply faded away. It left no records; it appeared in no army lists. The only relic that remains is a list of names carved on the cavalry war memorial in Hyde Park among the Lancers and Hussars, an august company to which the regiment’s humble mules gave it entry.23

For almost two years the role of the EAMR was almost that of training corps for the specialised requirements of those units comprising the three Divisions conducting the East African campaign. As Captain Wilson lamented: ‘If it were only possible to record the subsequent histories of its individual members after their transfer to other units, an added glory would be reflected on the Regiment’24

It can thus be maintained that the EAMR and its members made an outstanding contribution to what was arguably the most bizarre campaign of WWI. The Allied casualty list was high: 976 officers and 17,650 men were killed and 44,571 porters died out of the total of 260,000 who had become involved in this extraordinary ‘white man’s war’ deep in the inhospitable African bush. When von Lettow finally signed the surrender papers three days after the Armistice his fighting strength was down to 155 Germans and 1,156 askari: 1300 soldiers remaining out of a force that had once been ten times that size but had proved itself more than a match for the quarter of a million troops who had tried in vain to capture them.

Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck had eventually surrendered to Lt. Col. E.B.B. Hawkins of 4KAR on 14 November 1918. On 29 June 1954, Guy Campbell was present27 when her Majesty the Queen presented new colours to the 4th battalion KAR at Jinja in Uganda (Major David Campbell, his twin brother, was with the battalion at the time). A telegram was received which read as follows: ‘Greetings to the old enemy’. It was signed ‘von Lettow-Vorbeck’

The Nominal Roll of those who served in the EAMR was included in Captain Wilson’s The Story of the East African Mounted Rifles and is reprinted in Appendix X. Over 750 names are listed and well over half that number of names re-appear on the Kenya Regiment Nominal Roll. Many of these names are unusual, and the similarity of Christian name initials suggests that at least a third of those who served in the EAMR had descendants who served in the Kenya Regiment.

Cheers

S.B

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stevebecker

Mates,

Just to add another mate posted this from Wilson's book, but again no details on when or where it happened?

I managed to locate a copy of Captain Wilson’s The Story of the East African Mounted Rifles on Google Books. The copy is for sale at about $200 but the entry allows a selective look at the contents. Unfortunately I cannot examine the full nominal roll as those pages appear to show not only the names but also the date the men enlisted and from where they enlisted.
The way in which I can look at the book is limited so I cannot get access to the entry for Percy de Vere Allen on the nominal roll.
HOWEVER by putting in his name in the search section I came up with two entries within the book which name him directly.
On page 26 of the book there is apparently a photo of some men and officers of the unit. The photo is not visible but Trooper P. deV. Allen is shown as being seated in the front row of the photograph.
On Page 34 the following entry was shown.
“The wounded who got away included Sergeant B.E. A. O’Meara with his wrist shattered. Trooper W. Nesfield shot through the head AND TROOPER P. de V. ALLEN with a bullet through the ankle. Three others , including Lieut. B.F. Webb were slightly wounded.”
This confirms the presence of P. De Vere Allen in the unit and his wounding in action. This is consistent with his WWI file which records a scar on his ankle.
These entries appear to describe an action very early in the history of the unit but I cannot access enough of the pages to determine where the action took place.
On the top of the next page ,( I can only access at the first paragraph) it goes on to say “.... the satisfaction of knowing it acquitted itself well in its baptism of fire”. This would seem to indicate that P. De Vere Allen was wounded in the very first action in which his particular unit was involved. Accordingly that was probably during late August or early September 1914.
Hope this helps , interesting what can be found on the internet.
Can you fill in the details?
Cheers
S.B

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Old Owl

Hi Steve,

According to the roll in Wilson's book:

Allen, P de V, served in 'B' Squadron from 8/8/14 to 25/2/15 and was wounded on 3/11/14 at Longido. According to the roll of casualties for the action at Longido he is listed amongst those who were severely wounded.

The full list of casualties amounts to 1 officer and 9 o/rs killed, 1 officer and 3 o/rs severely wounded and 1 officer and 4 o/rs slightly wounded.

There is indeed a named group which includes Allen.

Hope this helps.

Robert

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stevebecker

Mate,

Many thanks for that.

Glad that this action can be confirmed.

Cheers

S.B

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Old Owl

I think that when it refers to their baptism of fire that this relates only to 'B' Squadron. Infact 'C' Squadron had been in action on the 25/9/14 at the Ngito Hills. Here they suffered 8 o/rs killed and 4 o/rs wounded.

Thus the latter was the units first action on 25th September.

Robert

PS There is a reprint of the book, IBSN 1-84677-059-9, available at: www.leonaur.com

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Jrmh

On eBay from about £13.

Any reference in the nominal roll for a Guy Symonds?

Thanks

Jim

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Old Owl

On eBay from about £13.

Any reference in the nominal roll for a Guy Symonds?

Thanks

Jim

Hi Jim,

Unfortunately there is no mention of Guy Symonds in the nominal roll, nor anyone of that surname. It does point out however that the roll was compiled from all records which were available from both Squadron and Regimental sources and that there may be some errors and omissions.

If Symonds was only with them on attachment for a short period then it is possible that his name was not recorded. Does he have a medal index card?

Robert

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Jrmh

Thanks Robert.

He does have a medal index card - East Africa Miscellaneous and Unattached list, Magadi Railway Volunteers which were either attached or amalgamated with the EAMR and subsequently the Kings African Rifles.

Thanks for looking.

Jim

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Rory Reynolds

Hi

Is there any reference to a Donald David Banks in Wilson's book?

I would be most appreciative if you would have a look.

Regards

Rory

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SteveE

Rory

He's listed in the Nominal Roll as serving with 'E' Squadron from 8th August 1914, later transferred to the East African Supply Corps.

Additionally the 1914/1915 Star Medal Roll (NA Ref. WO329/2939) states that he was #369 Pte. D. D. Bankes (sic.) when he entered theatre (4a) on 08/08/1914, it also shows he was transferred to the East African Supply Corps and discharged with the rank of Sergeant-Major.

The British War & Victory Medal Roll (NA Ref. WO329/2343) shows #369 W.O.1, Donald David Banks, served with East African Mounted Rifles, East African Unattached List and East African Supply Corps (all with service number 369).

Regards

Steve

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