AWARDS OF THE DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL FOR HEROISM DISPLAYED AT LATEMA-REATA NEK
Latema Hill from the Nek. The military railway line is in the foreground running from Voi to the right towards Kahe to the left.
FOR AN OVERALL DESCRIPTION OF THIS BATTLE PLEASE REFER TO THE ARTICLE "3rd (KENYA) KING'S AFRICAN RIFLES ATTACKS LATEMA-REATA NEK"
During the night of 11th - 12th March 1916 most of the British units in the attack were tasked against Latema Hill, as that feature was strongly held by German defenders (see sketch map below). Many brave deeds were performed during that night, and machine gunners, a signaller and an artilleryman were later awarded Distinguished Conduct Medals, as were Rhodesian and South African infantrymen.
Maintaining communications, laid by cable from a drum, was a vital task and and No. 10164 Private Joseph T. Williams, 2nd Battalion The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment attached to 'Z' Divisional Signals Company was awarded his Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for:
At REATA NEK, night 11th/12th March 1916. For coolness and resource when in command of a cable party. After his mule was shot, his two Indian Linesmen and a Cape Boy driver wounded, he volunteered to deliver messages from the firing line, and remained there all night.
Before the East African Campaign ended Joseph was to also receive a Mention in Despatches and a Russian Cross of St. George (2nd Class).
Sketch map of the action at Latema-Reata Nek
During the night small British Outposts, marked as circles on the above sketch map, held their ground against constant enemy harassment and attack. Three Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to members of the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment who held these outposts or machine gun positions supporting them:
No. 1127 Corporal William Henry Bellinger's DCM citation read:
At REATA NEK, night 11th/12th March 1916. For conspicuous gallantry in holding a peak of Latema Hill throughout the night, with a party of nine men, of which six were killed or wounded.
No. 633 Colour Sergeant George Green received his DCM for:
At REATA NEK, night 11th/12th March 1916. Who, with eight men and Corporal CONNOR, 2nd Bn Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, defeated a strong enemy counter attack, after the enemy had approached so close as to demand the surrender of this small party.
No. 1442 Private Harold Charles De Courcy Evans was awarded his DCM for:
At REATA NEK 11th/12th March 1916. When two maxims of the Rhodesia Regiment on the left flank of the reserve came under very heavy enemy rifle and maxim gun fire from three sides, and Private Seward was mortally wounded, Private Evans carried him out of the gun pit to a place of safety, returned, manned the gun, and also helped the other gun team to re-open fire. It was entirely owing to his presence of mind and coolness that the two guns were enabled to re-open fire, and thus prevented the reserve from being rushed by the enemy who were at close quarters.
Harold was later commissioned as an officer into 1st Battalion 2nd King's African Rifles where his bravery as a machine gun officer was recognised by the award of two Military Crosses.
No. 9507 Corporal William Connor, Loyal North Lancashires Machine Gun Company, was not a man to stand back when comrades on the battlefield needed support, and his DCM citation read:
At REATA NEK, night 11th/12th March 1916. For gallant conduct in the way in which he recovered his gun and drove off a superior body of the enemy, who were pursuing a small party of the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, and had called on them to surrender.
The Nek is in the dip on the ridgeline but obscured by sisal plants and bush. The sisal is growing on the area of the British artillery gun positions that can be seen on the sketch map above.
No. 8 Field Battery (Calcutta Volunteers) was an Indian Army unit of Volunteers (similar to the Territorial Army in the UK) that was equipped with field guns. Bombardier John Stirling Seivwright of that unit was well forward of the guns, accompanying the attacking infantry advancing on Latema. His DCM citation stated:
At LATEMA, 11th March 1916. Helped a wounded man out of range of hostile fire, having previously bandaged his wound, and did efficient work in taking ranges under heavy fire. He also went back across open space and under heavy fire for water for Forward Observation Staff.
The Calcutta Volunteer Battery in action
Another Indian Army Volunteer unit in action that night was the Indian Volunteer Maxim Gun Company, equipped with medium machine guns. No. 65 Lance Corporal Morley Fox of the unit was awarded a DCM for:
At REATA NEK, night 11th/12th March 1916. Was No 1 of his gun and although wounded in the foot early in the afternoon, continued to fight his gun, and when his Section and Gun Commanders were placed hors de combat, took command of the gun and helped to carry it each time it advanced or changed position. He did not leave the gun till 8 p.m., when he was ordered to go to the Dressing Station.
Looking over the Nek from Reata to Latema. The raised line of earth marks the German trench line that ran across the Nek.
South African infantry support arrived to join the battle for the Nek and made fresh attacks before either holding onto outposts on the ridgeline or withdrawing back down the slope. No. 3993 Sergeant Arthur Hassall, 5th South African Infantry, was not a quitter, and he received his DCM for:
At REATA NEK, night 11th/12th March 1916. At a critical juncture he took three ammunition mules through the bush to the firing line under a heavy fire, and single-handed distributed the ammunition. He then took back a badly wounded man. At about 3 a.m. on the 12th, he volunteered to try and establish communication with Major Thompson, but failed after a gallant attempt.
Taveta Military Cemetery, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, where many of the dead, including Germans, from the battle for Latema-Reata Nek lie buried.