KING’S AFRICAN RIFLES ASKARI AND SOMALI SCOUTS IN ACTION IN THE TSAVO VALLEY
Thick bush in the Tsavo Valley
During August and September 1914 the Tsavo Valley was the scene of several actions between King’s African Rifles (KAR) Askari and German Askari who advanced down the valley from the west, under the command of German officers. The valley was difficult to march down as there were no roads, only game trails through the bush where sometimes angry rhinoceros would be met. But the valley did have one over-riding advantage – fresh water could always be obtained from the river.
A section (around 10 men) from ‘B’ Company of 1st (Nyasaland) KAR established a camp up the valley at Campi ya Marabu in late August, but the section had to withdraw quickly when a strong German force approached from Moshi across the German East African (Tanzanian) border.
This German intrusion resulted in the fighting that has been described in the article “The 29th Punjabis at Tsavo, 6th September 1914”. During this action one KAR senior non-commissioned officer of 3rd (British East Africa) KAR, No. 1925 Sergeant George Williams, a Swahili, twice displayed great bravery that resulted in the award of the African Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). His citation explains his actions:
For showing great courage and enterprise on the night of 5-6th September 1914, at the action at TSAVO. This non-commissioned officer twice, at risk, crept up to the German position and brought back information of the enemy’s disposition and strength.
Thirteen days later Captain Colin de Stuteville Isaacson commanding a group of the KAR Mounted Infantry Company, and Lieutenant A.C.H. Foster (Hampshire Regiment attached to 4th KAR) commanding a company of 4th (Ugandan) KAR Askari, re-occupied Campi ya Maribu and attacked and drove off a German raiding party about 100 strong. During the fighting Lieutenant Foster and six of his Askari were killed.
Upper Tsavo Valley landscape
Captain A.C. Saunders (Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry attached to 3rd KAR), the commander of British units in the Tsavo Valley, decided to withdraw his forward troops to a location where they could be more quickly supported when attacked. This new location, near the junction of the Mzima and Tsavo Rivers, had been reconnoitred and selected by Intelligence Agent H.E. Frost, and so it was named ‘Frost’s Castle’ although its official name was Mzima Post.
Defences were dug and barbed wire was laid around the perimeter (which can still be seen today). Colin Isaacson with ‘B’ Company 4th KAR plus a machine gun, a section of Mounted Infantry and some Somali Scouts, occupied and defended Frost’s Castle. On 25th September British scouts, probably the Somalis, operating covertly well forward of the new location reported that around three companies of German troops were approaching down the valley.
Defensive trench in Frost's Castle
Word was passed back to Captain Saunders at Bura and he quickly reinforced Frost’s Castle with 20 Askari and a machine gun. The regimental history of the KAR records:
The post was attacked a few minutes later. Owing to the thick bush it was difficult for the enemy to see the position, and also for Saunders to gain any idea of his opponents’ strength. For four hours the Germans maintained their fire, while they attempted to close on the British trenches. Several of the six enemy machine guns were silenced and abandoned in the bush.
When the attack was broken off Saunders thought it unwise to leave his trenches, but reconnaissance next day showed that the enemy had withdrawn in several parties and re- crossed the frontier. A blood-stained satchel belonging to Lieutenant Colonel von Bock was found in the bush, containing papers with details of the German force.
For some time thereafter the Tsavo River remained quiet, as the German commander had reported after the last attack that this line of approach was too difficult and too well- defended for penetration.
Lieutenant Archibald Courtenay Hayes Foster is commemorated on the Nairobi British and Indian Memorial in Nairobi South Cemetery. His dead Askari are commemorated by the Nairobi African Memorial on Kenyatta Avenue in central Nairobi. Both Memorials are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The remains of defensive structures in Frost's Castle