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Baganda Rifles - The Ugandan unit that offered to send 505 spearmen to fight in France

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

The Baganda are Ugandans who inhabit the north & west shores of Lake Victoria & the hinterland behind those shores. They were ruled by a King, the Kabaka, & the British colonial authorities encouraged the Kabaka to run a centralised beaurocratic Kingdom.

The Baganda people had told the British that they would assist militarily, with warriors bearing spears & shields, if military emergencies arose. When war was declared in August 1914 The Regent of Buganda wrote to the British on behalf of four other Chiefs requesting that the five Chiefs & 500 of their men be sent to England to join the British Army.

The British were grateful but diverted this Bagandan enthusiasm into the formation of a unit titled the Uganda Armed Levies, armed with rifles.The Levies were recruited entirely from among the Baganda & the unit was re-titled The Baganda Rifles & an establishment of 555 all ranks was sanctioned.

European officers mostly came from the Uganda Volunteer Reserve. Kabaka Daudi Chwa served as a Captain and qualified for his three war medals. His photograph and awards were displayed in the Kasubi Tombs in Kampala, burial place of Kabakas, before a fire there in 2010 caused considerable damage.

The display of photographs, medals and weapons before the fire.

The first Commanding Officer of the Baganda Rifles was Captain E. Tyrell Bruce (Uganda Volunteer Reserve). When Captain Bruce was transferred in July 1916 Captain H.B. Tucker (98th Infantry, Indian Army) was given command of the unit.

For the first two years of the war the Baganda Rifles was employed on the Kagera River Front just south of the border between Uganda & German East Africa (GEA). Here it patrolled and worked in support of army units holding the line, and assisted in securing Sango Bay on Lake Victoria where the Royal Navy Lake Flotilla landed supplies and reinforcements.

In 1916 the Baganda Rifles took part in the advance into GEA as part of Lake Force, starting with an amphibious landing on Ukerewe Island which was an important rice-growing area for the local German army named the Schutztruppe, and a wood-fuelling station for Lake steamers. On 9th June 1916 the steamer Usoga landed the Baganda Rifles, East African Scouts and the machine-guns of the 98th Infantry, Indian Army, on the eastern end of the island, which lies north-east of Mwanza.

The photograph of Captain Daudi Chwa (before the fire)

At the same time a German garrison was moving onto the island from the Musoma area to secure the rice crop. The British force immediately bayonet-charged the 50-strong German advance party, forcing it back onto the mainland. 4th King’s African Rifles, the Uganda Battalion, had meanwhile landed further to the west and the island was soon cleared of Schutztruppe, the rice being harvested for British troops to consume.

On 12th July 1916 the British moved onto the mainland to attack the German garrison holding Mwanza, the largest German port on Lake Victoria. Half the Baganda Rifles landed with Force ‘B’ at Senga Point and the remainder landed with Force Reserve near Kaienzie Bay. The British now advanced overland on two axes, brushing aside small piquets of Schutztruppe, and capturing Mwanza on 14 July. The German garrison withdrew south but left behind a 4.1-inch gun from the battle-cruiser Konigsberg (this gun was last seen mounted on a traffic-island in Jinja, Uganda).

The British Lake Force then pursued the Germans south towards Tabora on the Central Railway.

During this advance the Baganda Rifles performed excellent long-range patrolling duties, but also suffered from a meningitis epidemic that caused many fatalities within the ranks.

The medals of Captain Daudi Chwa (before the fire)

On reaching Tabora, which had been taken by the Belgians before the British arrived, Lake Force was disbanded. The Baganda Rifles, although effective & well supported by the Kabaka & Chiefs, moved back to Uganda & disbanded at Entebbe on 08 November 1916.

Many Askari of the disbanded unit then joined the King's African Rifles & continued their active service in German & Portuguese East Africa. Sadly it appears as though the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has not yet commemorated the deaths of any members of this fine volunteer unit. However over 230 Medal Index Cards for Baganda Riflemen can be found in the Public Record Office, Kew, England.

The Medal Index Card of Captain Daudi Chwa, Kabaka of Buganda

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