HOLDING THE LEFT FLANK. 1st KAR AND THE KAR MOUNTED INFANTRY PAY A PRICE IN BLOOD AT MBUYUNI
Updated: Feb 23, 2020
The Mbuyuni battlefield from the German positions. The German machine guns dominated the ground. The KAR advanced on the British left flank - the right of the road as we look at it.
The previous article on Coles' Scouts gave a taste of what happened at Mbuyuni on 14th July 1915 - in the British centre and on the right the advance was stalled by German firepower and the indecision of Brigadier General Wilfred Malleson. But on the British left flank were the most experienced British troops on the battlefield - two companies of 1st (Nyasaland) King's African Rifles (KAR), under Captain C.G. Phillips, and the King's African Rifles Mounted Infantry Company under Lieutenant W.S Wedd.
Sketch map of the Mbuyuni action
When Brigadier Malleson decided to throw in the towel and withdraw he used the KAR troops to the south of the road to take on the German defenders so that the British, Rhodesian and Indian troops north of the road could get back to safety.
Captain Phillips and his Nyasaland Askari advanced as ordered, Phillips liked to avoid open spaces and instead to move undetected through bush, but Malleson wanted him to move faster. A German attack came in from the British left and soon the KAR Askari were being shot down. Two KAR officers were badly wounded, Captain L.G. Murray (Gordon Highlanders) and Lieutenant L.C. Collings-Wells. Both Phillips and his Colour Sergeant Juma kept a tight grip on the situation and maintained control.
On Phillips' left the KAR mounted Infantry skirmished with the enemy and Lieutenant Wedd was killed; Sergeant Gabre Michael Tigre immediately took command supported by Lance Corporal Zileka Hileh.
The grave of Lieutenant Walter Stockbridge Wedd in Taveta Military Cemetery.
Whilst Phillips did his job and diverted the enemy fire onto his own advance, the troops north of the road withdrew, some in total disorder. Phillips then conducted a fighting withdrawal during which he received enemy bullets through his hat and haversack whilst a third hit his rifle.
Later Captain Charles George Phillips, 1st KAR, was awarded a Military Cross. His citation from Brigadier Malleson read:
“This officer was in command of the advance guard. Subsequently he led the attack and was the last to come out of action. Of the other three officers with him one was killed and two were wounded, one severely. His gallantry throughout was most marked.”
No. 103 Colour Sergeant Juma, 1st KAR, was awarded an African Distinguished Conduct Medal. Brigadier Malleson commented:
"For gallant leading of the vanguard under heavy fire, and continuing to command his men after being severely wounded."
Colour Sergeant Juma's medals with his Distinguished Conduct Medal on the left.
Other men commended by the Brigadier were:
No. 157 Sergeant John Ali, 1st KAR: "For leading his section with great gallantry, and having it under complete fire control throughout the engagement."
No. 121 Sergeant Longolora, 1st KAR and No. 286 Corporal KAISA, 1st KAR: "Distinguished themselves for coolness and bravery, after their British officers had been disabled."
No. 2768 Sergeant Gabre Michael Tigre and No. 2542 Lance Coporal Zileka Hileh (both KAR Mounted Infantry): "For skill and bravery in commanding their men after Lieutenant Wedd had been killed."
1st KAR Askari casualties were 3 Killed, 31 wounded and 1 Missing, with 4 Carriers (Porters) also wounded.
Apparently Lieutenant Leonard Collings Collings-Wells had been an accomplished classical pianist in British East Africa (Kenya) before the war, but as he had been hit badly in the hand by a bullet he could never again repeat his pre-war skill on the piano.
Captain Louis Gerald Murray recovered from his wounds and two years later was awarded a Military Cross.
The KAR Mounted Infantry lost 1 Askari killed and 1 wounded.
The King's African Rifles had proved its worth on the battlefield. Whilst a Brigadier dithered and some other troops hastily left the scene, the 1st KAR and the KAR Mounted Infantry had advanced into effective enemy fire and held their ground until ordered to withdraw with their dead and wounded, which they did courageously and professionally - they were King's African Rifles Askari!
Colour Sergeant Juma in 1905 - an African hero.
The photographs of Colour Sergeant Juma and his medals are owned by Christopher Hill of Dix, Noonan Webb, and are shown as a result of his kindness.