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German East Africa on 20th September 1915 and the award of a Military Cross to Lieutenant Thomas Wilson, 3rd King's African Rifles  


Longido Mountain lay 10 miles south of Namanga, the British East Africa post on the border with German East Africa, and the mountain was a familiar landmark on the road to Arusha. British forces had crossed the border to occupy the area in 1914 but anticipating supply difficulties during the long rains they had withdrawn back to Namanga in the Spring of 1915. This had allowed a small Schutztruppe force of 3 Europeans and 46 Askari from No. 8 Feldkompagnie and commanded by Oberleutnant Bauer to occupy the old British position at Longido West that overlooked the important water hole on the west side of the mountain.

In September 1915 a British force under Lieutenant Colonel F. Jollie, 28th Cavalry, Indian Army, was tasked with attacking the German post at Longido West. Jollie’s command consisted of:
the East African Mounted Rifles (EAMR) (135 men);
the East Africa Squadron of the 17th Cavalry, Indian Army (around 100 men);
the King’s African Rifles (KAR) Mounted Infantry (MI) Company (75 men and 4 officers);
A’ Company 3KAR (116 men and 5 officers) and
B’ Company 3KAR (141 men and 5 officers).

Temporary Lieutenant Thomas Wilson from Hawick in the Scottish Borders was in charge of the 3KAR machine gun. Thomas had joined 3KAR on 25th May 1915.

Above: Longido mountain seen from Namanga

On 19th September the EAMR reconnoitred the enemy position which was well-sited amidst rocks at the end a spur running down from the mountain. However no indication of enemy strength was obtained but it was known that the Germans had at least one machine gun. Lt Col Jollie’s plan was that the EAMR and KAR MI would provide fire support from a ridge to the north that overlooked the enemy. ‘A’ Company would climb the hill in the dark and attack eastwards down the ridge onto the enemy position at dawn. This attack was to be silent and with the bayonet. ‘B’ Company would move uphill from the south and provide more fire support. Meanwhile the cavalry squadron was to remain concealed on the plain below ready to cut down the fleeing Schutztruppe. Apart from the fatal error of having two friendly forces directly opposite each other there were no effective communications organized between the four different British groups.

Right: Stretcher bearers of the 3rd Battalion, King`s African Rifles

When darkness fell the force marched across the waterless plain to their start lines. ‘A’ Company had not been allocated sufficient time for its difficult climb up the hill and was not in-place to assault at dawn. ‘B’ Company climbed its slope on time but encountered lines of thorn-tree obstacles positioned there by the previous British defenders who had not recorded or reported them. In crashing through these obstacles, which channeled the company into small groups of men, the enemy was alerted and on reaching the top of the slope ‘B’ Company came under effective fire not only from the enemy but also from the EAMR and KAR MI facing it. It was still customary for 3 KAR Companies in action to carry unfurled flags and ‘B’ Company’s flag bearer was immediately shot down and killed followed by two more courageous Askari who took his place and were also killed.

‘A’ Company now came down the ridge but most men took a wrong turning and descended onto ‘B’ Company. Of the few ‘A’ Company men who descended correctly Lieutenant E.A.R. Gore-Browne was severely wounded in the thigh and was only extricated through the devotion of his orderly. Meanwhile 3KAR casualties were mounting and native officer Effendi Adam el Hashim suffered a shattered wrist. Lieutenant A.L. Purves was wounded early in the attack but stayed on the battlefield. Lieutenant E.H. Barrett, now commanding ‘B’ Company, brought his reserves forward and repeatedly attempted to advance but was always forced to retire by the heavy and accurate enemy fire. Meanwhile down on the plain the 17th Cavalry Sowars (horsemen), instead of remaining concealed, advertised their presence by moving and creating large clouds of dust. Amidst all this Thomas Wilson’s machine gun was put out of action by enemy fire. Undeterred by the carnage around him Thomas calmly and methodically repaired the gun and got it back into action.

Above: Sharpshooters of the East African Mounted Rifles.
At 1100 hours the KAR were astonished to see that the British mounted troops were all riding away from the battlefield back towards Namanga. The EAMR had lost two men killed, one wounded and four missing and had been granted permission to withdraw. The EAMR and KAR MI hoped to ride round to the west to support ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies but they discovered that the 17th Cavalry had already set off back to Namanga. One hour later a message was delivered ordering ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies to break contact and withdraw. The exhausted and thirsty Askari withdrew tactically to Namanga carrying their wounded. The combined 3KAR losses were 15 Askari killed and 32 officers and Askari wounded. The Schutztruppe detachment had all three Europeans and eleven Askari wounded and Oberleutnant Bauer withdrew that night from Longido West to re-locate at a position nearer to Arusha. The Germans had taken as prisoners all the EAMR missing men, three of them being seriously wounded. 3KAR discontinued the practice of carrying company flags unfurled when in action. British Military Headquarters hushed up details of the action at Longido West on 20 September 1915 in order not to damage morale.
Above: The view from the German positions

After another inadequate performance during 1st Division’s advance into German East Africa in March 1916 Lt Col Jollie was returned to India.

4078 Private Mulandi Wamwibi of 3KAR was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal: “For conspicuous gallantry in carrying a wounded British officer (Gore-Brown) to a place of safety under very heavy and accurate fire. This private had his clothes and equipment riddled with bullets in performing the above act of bravery.”  

A Supplement to the London Gazette dated 2nd February 1916 notified the award of the Military Cross to Temporary Lieutenant Thomas Wilson, 3rd Battalion, King’s African Rifles. A citation was not published.

Thomas was aged in his mid-thirties and perhaps because of the strenuous demands placed upon KAR Subalterns he transferred to the Royal Engineers but remained in-theatre. On 29th June 1917 he was constructing a military road near Kilwa in southern German East Africa when a Schutztruppe fighting patrol attacked his work party. Thomas was killed in action. He was first buried in Kilwa Kivinje Cemetery and then after the war his remains were moved and re-buried in Dar Es Salaam War Cemetery.

SOURCES:
Record of 3KAR During the Great Campaign in East Africa 1914-1918.
The King’s African Rifles
by H. Moyse-Bartlett.
The Official History, Military Operations, East Africa, August 1914-September 1916.
The Story of the East African Mounted Rifles by C.J. Wilson.
Operationen in Ostafrika by Ludwig Boell.
Tip & Run by Edward Paice.
The Cross of Sacrifice Volume I.
Medal Index Card for Lieutenant Thomas Wilson.
The African D.C.M. by John Arnold.


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