Updated: Feb 11, 2022
On 1st January 1916 the MI Company consisted of 5 officers, one .303-inch machine gun, 65 rifles from 2nd Loyal North Lancashires, 51 rifles from 25th Royal Fusiliers (RF), 25 Africans employed as scouts, grooms, batmen and general workers, 12 ponies and 148 mules. The MI Company war diary records that at any one time about 33% of the company were sick and unable to work; the relentless sun sometimes followed by drenching cold rain produced a debilitating climate for the men to work in. The regular soldiers of the Loyal North Lancashires were far fitter that the recent civilians of the Royal Fusiliers who were on average 10 years older and unused to army rations and routines. The men were also crowded in their tents, 16 men occupying a 160-pounder Indian tent; in comparison regulations for the British Askari in BEA stipulated that only 9 Askari could be housed in one such tent.
Reconnaissance patrolling continued whilst Indian Army Sappers & Miners steadily pushed the branch railway line westwards towards Taveta.
On 20th January during weapon cleaning routine a trooper from Belfield’s Scouts was accidentally killed by a shot to the head from a Private from 25 RF and the MI Company.
The 25th (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) had been shipped out to East Africa from England without the benefit of recruit and basic infantry training, and that training, including skill at arms lessons, had been hastily conducted on arrival in BEA. The next day eleven of the 25 RF troopers were returned to their unit for either being constantly sick or for expressing dissatisfaction; this reduced the average daily sick rate to around 20%.
The MI Company began to work closely with the Royal Naval Air Service Rolls Royce armoured cars that were armed with a single water-cooled .303-inch Vickers machine gun; this unit was named No. 10 Royal Naval Armoured Car Battery. On 22nd January both units worked together in a British advance that pushed the Germans off their Mbuyuni position, and a day later a similar operation further westwards attacked the enemy on the Serengeti position.
South of Serengeti 2nd Lieutenant Parker, 2nd Loyal North Lancashires, was seriously wounded by German machine gun fire; the MI Section in action there withdrew. Parker’s loose horse bolted and he was left in the field alone except for one man, No. 9671 Private W.R. Higgins, 2nd Loyal North Lancashires, who stayed to try and unsuccessfully mount Parker on a mule. Higgins then ran to the nearest armoured cars and requested assistance in evacuating Parker. This was courageously achieved despite heavy German fire from machine guns and a pom-pom (a quick-firing gun heavier than a machine gun).
William Higgins was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal:
“For conspicuous gallantry, under heavy machine gun and rifle fire, in going to the assistance of an officer. In endeavouring to place the officer on his mule the animal broke away. Private Higgins then ran some 600 yards, again under heavy fire, to the armoured cars which were in action, and warned them of the officer’s predicament which led to his rescue.”
The results of this successful British action were that 1 German white and 19 Askari were killed whilst 1 white and 7 Askari were captured; 2nd Lieutenant Parker was the only serious British casualty.
Three days later No. 8451 Private John Cunningham DCM, 2nd Loyal North Lancashires and the MI Company, died of pneumonia at Maktau. John was rated an excellent soldier and had been awarded his Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallant conduct at Tanga whilst operating under heavy enemy fire. He lies in Voi War Cemetery.