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Somalis are joined by Loyal North Lancashire's to form Cole's Scouts - 6 April 1915

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

Nairobi HQ planned to disband the Somali Scouts (see Somali Scouts article) and place Captain Berkeley Cole in command of a company of Loyal North Lancashire Mounted Infantry, but Lord Cranworth (who was in Kenya accompanying Colonel Kitchener, the Field Marshall's brother, on a fact-finding mission to British East Africa) made a suggestion. He offered to command 25 loyal Somalis in a mounted troop containing the Scouts' Machine Gun, alongside the Loyal North Lancashire mounted infantrymen, all to be under Cole's command and known as Cole's Scouts. The suggestion was adopted and the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion The Loyal North Lancashires (2 LNL) was told to train 50 men for mounted infantry (MI) work.

On 6th April the 2 LNL detachment moved to Kiu to be trained in MI duties, riding Somali ponies and using donkeys for transporting stores. The ponies were striped like zebras with iodene, which created an effective camouflage in the bush.

A pony camouflaged to look like a zebra

The 2 LNL War Diary for 7th May 1915 lists Cole's Scouts as on an operation with a strength of 5 officers, 98 other ranks and 1 Machine Gun. One of the officers and over 70 of the men were from the Loyal North Lancashires. A new unit had been formed & trained, and it patrolled the area east of Mount Kilimanjaro.

On 14th July 1915 a large British attack was mounted against German positions at Mbuyuni, which lay on the track leading to Taveta on the German East Africa border. The attack failed but Cole's Scouts' machine gun section came into action and engaged some of the enemy.

Sketch of the Mbuyuni action with the Coles' Scouts' location shown, on the front line

Up at the north end of the Mbuyuni west ridge the Scouts had an interesting time. Lord Cranworth, who commanded and fired the Cole's Scouts' .450-inch machine gun, had his mule wounded which made it bolt and career into the German lines. Luckily he careered out again unharmed, but he saw that the enemy defences were weakly held. The 4th (Uganda) King’s African Rifles (KAR) troops near him were ordered to fix bayonets and they started the deep-chested grunting that precedes a KAR charge. But no order to attack was received.

As some German troops fell back down the road to Taveta Lord Cranworth, who was about 400 yards away, emptied several machine gun belts into them. He also shot three Germans who appeared out of cover at about 150 yards range.

(He later wrote: "

More than a year later I found, or rather was shown, a captured German War Diary of this engagement, which interalia recorded the death of three officers in rear of the position from a concealed machine gun. Reading it gave me an unholy pleasure at the time, but every year I recall it with more repugnance."

– his sentiment will be understood by other now older & wiser former soldiers.)

Captain Berkeley Cole

After the Mbuyuni action Cole's Scouts resumed its patrols in the area east of Mount Kilimanjaro. The Loyal North Lancashires had attached one officer, a Subaltern (junior officer), to Cole's Scouts and he made a weekly report to his Battalion HQ about what was happening to himself and the 80 or so Loyal North Lancashire soldiers in the Scouts. But this report was sent directly, without passing through the hands of the Scouts' OC Captain Berkeley Cole, and the Subaltern, probably being inexperienced and over-zealous, would mention comments made in the Scouts' mess about 2 LNL senior officers.

One day in late June at Katetema The Honourable Dennis Finch Hatton, an officer in Cole's Scouts, found the Subaltern's diary containing copies of his reports. According to Lord Cranworth, who then appeared on the scene, Finch Hatton was "absolutely white with rage standing in front of the LNL officer who had been attached to us".

Lord Cranworth and other more mature officers were not particularly perturbed but Finch- Hatton persisted with his indignation until Berkeley Cole "sent in a fiery despatch to HQ".

After the fight at Mbuyuni various interviews were held by Nairobi HQ and the decision was made to disband Cole's Scouts.

Lord Cranworth greatly regretted the disbandment. He considered the 2 LNL Subaltern to be "both efficient and brave" and he concluded:

"I, for one, was particularly sorry for this ending, and not least because of my admiration for the men whom we had had the privilege to command. The Loyal North Lancs., whether in East Africa or in France, had a record which will bear comparison with any regiment in the British Army."

The Somalis were transferred to the King's African Rifles Mounted Infantry Company and the Loyal North Lancashires returned to their Battalion - but not for long as a new Mounted Infantry Company was soon to be formed.

Lord Cranworth, who could both command men well on the battlefield, and also write an interesting account later

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