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The death of Lieutenant Cyrus William Walser, 4th King's African Rifles

During June 1917 1/4 King's African Rifles, a Ugandan Battalion, concentrated at Fort Johnston, Nyasaland for a month's training under the CO Lt Col W.T. Shorthose.

Early in July Lt Col Shorthose was given command of a column consisting of his Battalion, a South African artillery battery & two machine guns. He was ordered to seize Mwembe in Portuguese East Africa. German troops under von Steumer were in the Mwembe area collecting food for the main Schutztruppe forces further north across the Rovuma River in GEA.

After a three-hour fight Mwembe was occupied on 06 July. On 14 July a plane piloted by Captain Hodgkinson with Lieutenant Leo Walmsley as observer made a precarious landing at Mwembe with fresh orders for Shorthose:
"You will march on Tunduru (in GEA) & ocupy it as soon as possible. You must live on the country for no other convoy can be sent after you."

The strategic importance of Tunduru was that it was the centre of a rich grain-growing region that was vital to the Schutztruppe's logistical plans.

The 1000-strong column packed up & marched north hoping to make a concealed crossing of the Rovuma. The first attempt to cross on 29 July failed because of the river's depth, width & strong current. Shorthose marched upstream seven miles & found a suitable crossing place only 80 yards wide.

Askari swimmers took a rope across & then the men, mules & guns crossed on rafts constructed from tents filled with grass. The only loss was one mule.

The column now marched for Tunduru, as anxious to find food for itself as it was to deny crops to the Schutztruppe.

On 02 August the column was at Kissengule, 17 miles downriver from the crossing point, & made contact with an enemy patrol. The following day the column bivouaced for the night on a ridge near Lipepo on the Tundura road. That night the Schutztruppe attacked with machine gun fire, but as the German gunners were firing uphill most rounds went over the British heads & only one man was wounded.

Above: A machine gunner in German East Afrika with his Askari protection

To quote from Shorthose:

"About 8.30 a.m. on the 4th our reconnoitring patrol, towards Tunduru, was fired on from a ridge. I strengthened this patrol, & desultory firing continued until 10 a.m., when heavy firing commenced, accompanied by the well-known rat-tat-tat of two enemy machine-guns. Owing to lack of information, I was at a loss to guage the enemy's strength, wherefore I increased our advanced force to 350 men with four machine-guns. The commander had orders to clear up the situation as soon as possible, & with this intention he boldly attacked the enemy, finally dispersing him.
In this action, Lt Walser, our much respected & capable Intelligence Officer was killed."


No doubt Lt Walser exposed himself to danger in trying to obtain information for his CO. He would first have been buried where he fell, then according to The Cross of Sacrifice details he was re-buried at Songea in GEA & when that cemetery was closed he was finally re-buried in Dar Es Salaam War Cemetery.

(Officers Died in the Great War spells him as Walsen. The Cross of Sacrifice Volume 1 offers both spellings. The KAR Memorial Tablet in Nairobi Cathedral shows him as Walser, as does Sport & Adventure in Africa by W.T. Shorthose DSO.)

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