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Ross's Scouts raid across the German border into the Mara Valley

Traditional architecture in the Mara region

Ross's Scouts was a European mounted unit formed in British East Africa (BEA) after the declaration of World War I.

Major Charles Joseph Ross DSO was born in Australia in 1857. He ran away as a child to America where he lived with Indians, & then was a scout for the US Army in three Indian wars. He then joined the Canadian North West Mounted Police for six years & was Chief Scout during the Riel Rebellion. In the South African War he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) whilst riding with Roberts’ Horse; he later commanded the Canadian Scouts.

Map of the Kisumu - Musoma region

He then stayed in Africa trading in Bukoba & buying land in German East Africa (GEA). He poached in the wilder parts of BEA and GEA, and when the German authorities seized his land in retaliation he moved to the Kisii region of BEA, continuing his activities & selling his ivory to an Asian trader in Shirati, just across the GEA border from Karungu. Angry about the loss of his land Ross would sometimes raid across the GEA border to seize herds of native cattle, infuriating the German authorities.

Karungu village

To curtail these activities BEA appointed him an Assistant Game Ranger in 1907 & he gradually became respectable, guiding Theodore Rooseveldt's Smithsonian Institute Safari in 1909. A year later he guided another Safari for "Buffalo" Jones, a famous USA wild-life conserver who wished to lassoo animals & photograph them rather than shoot them dead. On this safari the photographer was Cherry Kearton who later served in East Africa in the 25th Royal Fusiliers before moving to photographic duties with flying units.

Charles Ross knew the bush on both sides of the border & he was a proven military leader. On the declaration of war he joined the East African Mounted Rifles and then was appointed to form his own unit of Scouts. In November 1914 the 40 men of Ross's Scouts were sent to secure the western end of the BEA-GEA border area.

Major Charles Ross DSO

Back on the ground he knew well Major Ross wasted no time in settling old scores. He is believed to have sent the male organs from a slaughtered goat across the GEA border to his old adversary District Commissioner (DC) Schultz, along with a note explaining that this was what the DC could look forward to.

'E' Company 4 King’s African Rifles (4 KAR) established defended posts on the border south of Karungu & raided southwards towards Musoma in GEA with Ross. The opposition was minimal as the local German army named the Schutztruppe only had weak detachments of 7 Feldkompagnie & 14 Feldkompagnie south of the Mara River.

Probably now things started to get out of hand, Ross's Scouts were a rough bunch of lads even by African frontier standards, and the looting and killing may have been "over the top" to spectators in Nairobi. Also, as was to happen elsewhere during the war, the temptation of seeing cash in the form of ivory ambling around the bush may not have been resisted.

The River Mara near Musoma

On 28 November 1914 Ross & his men rode into Shirati to find the Germans gone, but they had to ride quickly out when a passing British steamer shelled the town

The German post at Shirati

However Ross & 4 KAR did not always win without loss. On 1st December a KAR and BEA Police patrol about 50 strong had a sharp fight at Susini during which the British lost BEA Police Lieutenant C.E.L. Bowen & two Askari killed in action. This border area quietened down in December but flared up again in January 1915 resulting in a deployment of a company of the 2nd Loyal North Lancashires into the Lake area.

Looking north into the Mara Valley

On 13 January 1914 the British commander in Nairobi, General J.M. Stewart, interviewed both Major C.R. Ross & Lieutenant Paysant of Ross's Scouts at Kisumu. As a result of these interviews it was decided to disband Ross's Scouts. Ross's 40 men chose where next to go & some went on Intelligence duties. Lieutenant J.J. Drought & 18 other officers, non-commissioned officers & men, were posted to the East African Mounted Rifles on 15 January. They stayed in the eastern Lake area & were known as "Drought's Troop". They raised a force of tribesmen for cross-border patrolling known as the "Skin Corps" because of the tribesmen’s aversion to using clothing.

On the disbandment of Ross's Scouts Charles Ross dropped out of sight. The Official History states that he resigned his commission in December 1914, but his unit wasn't disbanded until mid-January 1915. He qualified for the 1914/15 Star, & for the War & Victory medals & his medal card lists him as a Major in Ross's Scouts, East African Mounted Rifles & East African Service Corps. The History of The East African Mounted Rifles does not list him as ever being on strength.

Charles Ross's medals

After the war Ross re-joined the BEA Game Department, working from his home in Eldama Ravine, Rift Valley Province in what is now Kenya. On 19 June 1922, just 15 days short of his 65th birthday, he died of double pneumonia caused by exposure after a fall whilst out on patrol.

The grave of Cuthbert Edward Latimer Bowen in Kisumu Cemetery

The photograph of Charles Ross and the one of his medals are from the dust cover of the book “Born to Fight” by kind permission of the author Neil G. Speed. Anyone wishing to purchase a copy of this excellent book should email Neil at

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