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The 1919 Soldier Settlement Scheme in Kenya


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‘MEN OF THE OFFICER CLASS’: THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE 1919 SOLDIER SETTLEMENT SCHEME IN KENYA.

African Afairs Journal (1993) by C. J. Duder

This article in an academic journal will be of interest to anyone, like me, researching a WWI soldier who moved to live in the Kenya colony after WWI. The Soldier Settlement Scheme of 1919 saw the allocation of land in the colony (then known as British East Africa) in an official attempt to increase the white population. This is put down to an attempt to bring economic development to the area whilst also seeking to address African unrest during WWI.

The Scheme applied to a small cross-section of the population who had to be of ‘pure European origin’ and have served in an officially recognised Imperial service unit in World War I. The requirement to have significant financial reserves thinned out the majority of applicants and insured that this remained very much a ‘public schoolboy colony par excellence’. The result was that the vast majority of participants were officers, with those of the rank of major and above disproportinate to their numbers in the army as a whole.

The article goes on to break down particpants by unit affiliations and also identifies aristocratic members as well as the predominance of those from a variety of British Public Schools (31 settlers came from Eton). In seeking to determine why the settlement occurred, the author concludes that WWI was pivotal in weakening the position of the middle class, with inflation and the decline of a servant population eroding their privileged position.

But it also goes on to analyse the rise of the ‘unemployed ex-officer’. The enormous expansion in the number of officers in WWI brought with it problems after the war when 173,955 of them had to be demobilised. As their commission automatically now made them a ‘gentleman’ in British society, this presented something of a challenge.

The flood of ex-officers back into civilian life proved problematic and by April 1919, the appointments branch had found work for only 4,415 out of 88,687 demobilised officers. Similarly by June 1920, 17,000 ex-officers were on the unemployment rolls. For those lucky enough to have financial security, agriculture in the Empire was a way out, with professional officers seeing an end to rapid promotion and also those disabled by the conflict. The description in a public school year-book of “Farmer in British East Africa” pressed all the right buttons in a class-conscious society.

1914-18 had also interupted the careers of a whole generation, with many soldier settlers going straight from school or university into the Forces and then finding themselves at something of a loss afterwards. And for those used to military adventure, settlement in Africa helped reduce the adjustment to peace-time again and a return to every-day lives.

It concludes by highlighting that the number one attraction to the settlers was a chance to retain an officer status that they had become used to. The life of an ex-officer in Kenya was a comfortable one, with status protected by the fact that it’s main pre-requisite: white skin, was still something of a rarity.

For most of the ex-officers, ‘migration to Kenya was but a change of location for the exercise of elite status……’

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I have not sought to provide a subjective view of the above, with my own lack of knowledge being a pretty good reason to hold back. I have however found that information on the Scheme is not easy to find and hope that for anyone else interested this is some help.

If anyone else is interested in this subject, please do contact me.

Mark.

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  • 7 years later...

Hello Mark

It is a long time since you posted on this topic and I have tried to contact you via your GWF postbox - I am very interested in the subject of resettlement in Kenya and would appreciate any help or advice on it and would gratefully take up your offer to contact you.

Regards ... Maricourt

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Hello fellas

While I can add nothing to your topic, which is most interesting, I can relate that the Soldier Settlement scheme that ran in Australia appears to have been rather different. I must admit to not knowing a great deal about it, although some soldiers (all ranks and I think mainly other ranks) did take up soldier blocks of land with varying success. In West Australia where there was much land available to farm, many took the opportunity to do so. Many failed and some complained bitterly that after their war service, their reward was a piece of land that was nigh on useless to farm.I will contact a local WA publisher and see if there is anything more comprehensive written about it. At the least it makes an interesting comparison with the Kenya relocation and officer class story.

Cheers

Ian

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One of my great heroes Eric Shipton, the mountaineer, who explored the Himalayas and was instrumental in discovering the route used successfully to finally climb Everest went to Kenya under this scheme after WW1. He worked his guts out creating a successful farm out of scrubland and practically bankrupted himself in the process. This was also true of an other soon to be famous Himalayan mountaineer Bill Tilman who served with the Royal Artillery I believe. There was a world of difference between the farming settlers and some of the third rate upper class types in Nairobi and little love between them.

Len

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Many thanks, Ian & Len for your interesting posts.

I did not know that a similar scheme was offered to ex-WW1 soldiers in Australia and I guess there may have been other resettlement schemes in parts of the world that came under the British flag, too. Any information on Australia very welcome, Ian.

My interest lies in what happened to soldiers "when the Boys came home" .

Bill Tilman is something of a local boy around here - when he did come back home he stayed with his sister at Barmouth and I had forgotten [he did so many things!] that he had spent some time in Kenya! "High Mountains & Cold Seas" by J R L Anderson devotes a chapter to this and I will now go and re-read it - many thanks for the tip, Len. I will search out a Shipton biography.

Regards ... Maricourt

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Hi Mark and Maricourt

I asked a local Perth publisher if he knew of any books on this and he said no, so I did a google search and Wikipedia came up with quite a bit of info on Soldier Settlement for WW1 Diggers in Australia. So far that is all I can put you on to for a read.

Cheers

Ian

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Thanks, Ian - I will start searching!

Best wishes ... Maricourt

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Maricourt,

I've posted this link before and it may be of some interest to you-

http://soldiersettlement.records.nsw.gov.au/index.php/about/

I was raised in a suburb that was originally a soldiers settlement and like many it was not successful as a farming venture. The case studies are worth reading.

Scott

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Hi Scott

Many thanks for the link - I have just had a quick look at the site and clearly it was a difficult time [almost impossible for some] for the settlers. Some of the accounts are heartbreaking and this seems a rather forgotten area about the aftermath of war.

I little bit of Googling also brought me to a document - BEADOC - British East Africa Disabled Officers' Colony in Kenya by C J D Duder - an interesting read.

Many thanks ... Maricourt

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Maricourt,

The Shipton autobiography you want is 'Upon That Mountain'. A great read. Incidentally I met Bill Tilman in Fort William in 1974. He was looking for possible crew members from amongst the mountaineering fraternity. I did not volunteer!

Len

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Thanks, Len - I will source this biography out - I am sure it will be a good read. A new book has just been published - Shipton & Tilman - The Great Decade of Himalayan Exploration by Jim Perrin - it's in hardback so I think I will pester the library for a copy!

I re-read the Kenya chapter last night and it is interesting that he actually made a success of his venture in Kenya - though he had backing from his father. A fascinating man, but I don't think I would have volunteered either!!

Regards ... Maricourt

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  • 1 month later...
Guest robindixon

When I lived in colonial Kenya in the 1950s I worked for a year on a cattle ranch at Rumuruti (Laikipia District). The ranch on which I worked was relatively small (30,000 acres) but was made up of several of the original soldier settlements. At one end of the ranch was a permanent river. There were also several watercourses which crossed the ranch but contained water for a few days or weeks per year, in the rainy season. Each of these watercourses marked the boundary to one of the original soldier settlements. I was told that the people in Whitehall who had drawn up the map of the settlements had intended to provide each soldier-settlker with a year-round water supply but had failed to distinguish watercourses from rivers, hence some of the settlements were not workable, until further investment in bore holes and dams, which presumably the ex-soldiers could not afford. A bit like the ground nuts scheme in Tanganyika, people thinking they know something, yet unaware of their own ignorance!

Robin Dixon

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Thanks Robin - you've hit the nail on the head - many of the soldier settlers spent their last pounds getting to Kenya and setting up the farms - having a major problem to solve that cost a lot of money was the end for many of them.

Regards ... Maricourt

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Ray Nestor's delightful AN AFRICAN SKETCHBOOK (Fountain Press 1988) contains a short but excellent description of the Kenyan scheme, which attracted men from the Dominions as well as Britain. There were A-farmers and B-farmers, depending on the capital that they possessed. B-farmers got up to 3,000 acres that they were expected to develop. A-farmers got about 160 acres of excellent proven land that needed no or little development. An early win in a raffle gave you an early choice on the land. Syndicates were also formed that could obtain up to 10,000 acres. But there was a lack of knowledge amongst both the new settlers and government officers, leading often to agricultural failure. Some B-farmers spent most of their capital on building palatial residences from which to shoot game. White settlers had to be the 'right type' by the arrogant colonial standards of the day. Harry

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Many thanks, Harry for the above information - I will try and seek out the book you mentioned.

Regards ... Maricourt

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  • 7 years later...

My father was a 1919 soldier settler so the above has made really interesting reading thanks to each of you. He wanted to return after a year but in the end made a go of it only for the MauMau uprising to uproot him - the farm today is a sad sight. Not sure if that is really progress, But perhaps returning to nature is good - all that is needed is for the natural wildlife to return.

 

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