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101st Grenadiers defend Uganda Railway against German Demolition Patrols - May 1915

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

British troops had to defend the railway line running from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast to Kisumu on Lake Victoria. German patrols became proficient at patrolling from German East Africa (GEA - now Tanzania) through areas of bush in British East Africa (Kenya) to attack the railway by demolishing stretches of track or by shooting-up trains. The Germans would pre-dump stocks of water and hard rations in the bush so that future patrols could use them both on the journeys into BEA and the journeys out. On one occasion a German patrol fooled the British totally by living in camps on the east side of the line, near the Athi River, for weeks at a time - the British had not thought about searching the bush to the east.

Map showing the Uganda Railway (top unbroken black line) and its proximity to the German East African border (broken black line)

British defensive measures included techniques perfected during the recent war against Boer enemies in South Africa. At intervals along the line, and near important structures such as bridges, blockhouses were built that could withstand attacks from enemy patrols. British troops lived in the blockhouses and would send frequent patrols along the line to look for enemy tracks or for signs of demolition charges having been laid under the rails. The areas around the blockhouses and on each side of the line had to be regularly cleared of the scrub that quickly grows in a tropical climate. This ensured a good field of fire for the blockhouse defenders, and allowed smooth ground near the rails to be checked for enemy signs and tracks.

Sepoys of the 101st Grenadiers, Indian Army, were deployed on railway security duties in May 1915 when a German patrol appeared. What happened then is told in the citation for a gallantry award that was written for No. 811 Sepoy Sewaz Khan, 101st Grenadiers:

For conspicuous gallantry in action at Mtito Andei, East Africa, on the 15th May 1915. He was with a party of men clearing jungle when he discovered an enemy patrol. He at once led his men against them and pursued them. Being somewhat in advance of his comrades, he was wounded. He would allow no-one to attend him but insisted on their following the enemy, saying "Leave me alone; your business is to catch the enemy". On their return they found that he had bled to death. His gallant and dashing behaviour greatly inspired the men.

Brave Sewaz Khan was awarded a posthumous Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class.

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