Ross's Scouts was a white mounted unit formed in British East Africa (BEA) after the declaration of the Great War.
Major Charles Joseph Ross DSO had been 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 DSO whilst riding with Roberts Horse & he later commanded the
then stayed in Africa trading in Bukoba &
buying land in German East Africa (GEA). He poached in the wilder parts of BEA
& GEA, & 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 Karonga. 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.
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 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.
Above: The medals of Charles Ross
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 (4KAR) established defended posts on the border south of Karungu & raided southwards towards Musoma in GEA with Ross. The opposition was minimal as the Schutztruppe (weak detachments of 7 Feldkompagnie & 14 Feldkompagnie) was 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, & the looting & 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.
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
However Ross & 4 KAR did not always win without loss. On 1st December a KAR & 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. 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.
On 13 January 1914 General 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, NCOs & 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 tribesmens' 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.
Neil Speed who wrote his biography "Born to Fight" (The Caps & Flints Press, Melbourne, 2002) believes that he may have joined his old pals Paddy Driscoll & Frederick Selous in 25th Royal Fusiliers (The Legion of Frontiersmen) & become involved in Intelligence duties. Certainly he was convalescing back in UK in 1917 when the remnants of 25th Royal Fusiliers also were.
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 photograph of Charles Ross and the one of his medals are from the dustcover 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 SpeedNG@bigpond.com