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Protecting Railways from German Attack

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Railway Security duties for the Loyal North Lancashires

The Mombasa to Kisumu (on Lake Victoria) railway line had been constructed between 1896 and 1902, and over 36,000 workers had been recruited in India to build it. During the construction man-eating lions preyed on the workers in the Tsavo region, and indignant local tribes sometimes physically attempted to stop the work.

After the war started in 1914 the British decided that they must have a branch railway line built in order to invade German East Africa (Tanzania), and specialized Indian Army troops (Railway Construction Companies of the Indian Sappers & Miners) were shipped from India along with railway lines and apparatus, engines and rolling stock.

Defensive measures at Voi station.

They started constructing the line westwards from Voi on the main line towards Taveta on the German East Africa border.

Tsavo River railway bridge - a target for the Germans.

The branch railway line went through thick bush, and large parties of local African men and ladies were hired to clear the bush and to prepare regularly spaced stockpiles of wood to be fuel for the railway engines.

The branch line was constructed quickly, but each mile that was laid made it easier and more convenient for German patrols to lay mines under the track or to position themselves to fire at the trains.

The Railway Workshops in Nairobi constructed an Armoured Train that was protected by iron sheeting that hopefully deflected rifle bullets.

Waggons were often pushed ahead of the train to explode mines.

As a history of the East African railways states:

“Between April 1915 and May 1916, the Railway was attacked 56 times, derailing engines and rolling stock on 17 occasions.”

The Loyal North Lancashires nearly always had men employed on railway security duties.

A detachment would be aboard the main line trains, which were targeted by groups of Germans who sometimes based themselves in bush camps to the east of the line.

Blockhouses, as used in the South African War, were built on both lines at regular intervals and at vulnerable points such as bridges; but these needed garrisoning and each morning patrols from the garrisons had to inspect the line for enemy footprints that could indicate mine-laying.

British 1913 railway equipment at Maktau.

But one of the compensations for soldiers aboard the trains, either as passengers or guards, was that at a stop or halt the train crew would release boiling water for men wanting a brew of tea!

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