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During 1897 a serious rebellion developed in the Uganda Protectorate and the government of India was requested to send troops to support British military activities in East Africa. In response the 27th Bombay Light Infantry departed on 3rd December 1897 from Bombay aboard the transport Nowshera, arriving at Mombasa on 12th December. The battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel W.A. Broome. Fourteen British officers and 743 native ranks comprised the strength of the unit.

  At that time the Uganda Railway was under construction from Mombasa to Lake Victoria and the railhead had reached Ndi, 109 miles from Mombasa. Just southwest of Ndi the Taita Hills tower up above the plain to a height of over 7,000 feet. These wooded hills were a prominent landmark for travellers but were relatively unexplored. Local tribesmen who specialized in filing their front teeth into sharp points lived on the hills in caves and villages, and in 1893 a missionary station had been opened there. Five years later the Imperial British East Africa (IBEA) Company, a private chartered commercial organization that was developing trade in the region, made a treaty with the Taita chief in order to secure the land route that was being developed from Mombasa to Uganda.


Colonel Broome moved his battalion by rail up to Ndi by 8th January 1898 and dispatched several companies on foot up the long trail to Kampala, 687 miles away. More Indian reinforcements were requested from Uganda and the 4th Bombay Rifles arrived in Mombasa on 7th March. At Ndi transport problems were developing because the Taitas did not want to be recruited as porters to carry loads up the trail. The Indian troops needed special diets and this resulted in massive tonnages of food being imported, all of which needed carrying from Ndi onwards. Even coastal porters from Mombasa did not want the work and in March out of one group of 300 porters, 230 threw their loads down and vanished through the bush back to the coast. The porters did have valid concerns as, apart from the risk of stepping on snakes, thieves sometimes attacked them from the bush, and the railhead was approaching Tsavo where predatory lions hunted men as well as wilder animals. Eventually more porters and donkeys were brought up to carry loads, but this was a difficult time for British authority.

On 20th March Colonel Broome received a letter from Mr. Weaver, District Officer Ndi, who was at Bura in the Taita Hills (at this time all spare British East Africa (BEA) Protectorate troops had been sent up to Uganda). Weaver requested the help of Indian troops as the Magangi people in the hills had rejected peace terms offered by the BEA Protectorate authorities who had taken over the administration of the territory from the IBEA Company. The Magangis could produce around 1,000 bowmen firing poisoned arrows and carrying short swords. Broome marched at dawn the next day with three British and two Indian officers and 78 Indian sepoys (infantrymen). Each man carried 70 rounds of ammunition whilst closely-escorted porters carried rations to last for 10 days. Twenty eight hours later the British column reached Magangi’s valley, 23 miles from Ndi and 5,000 feet above sea level.

Above: The hut of the Taita Chief Mgogo

Mr. Weaver reported that the Magangi chief had attempted to murder him two days previously, but the chief had been shot in the attempt. Colonel Broome was requested to take steps to make the local people acknowledge the authority of the Government of the Protectorate. A reconnaissance patrol entered the Magangi area where the District Officer pointed out about 200 huts in four villages that were the centre of resistance. At 0430 hours the following morning Colonel Broome’s main body blocked exits from the villages whilst Lieutenant Hulseberg and an assault party of 35 men rushed the huts. Very few men were found in the huts as the warriors had withdrawn during the night. The British column now split into two groups and advanced up both sides of the valley where they contacted the tribesmen, killing 40 or 50 of them and capturing 60 head of cattle for the loss of one Indian officer slightly wounded.

Above: Taita Hills from the South

The villagers now submitted to the District Officer’s authority and by 25th March the Colonel and his column were back at Ndi. This had been a typical colonial punitive expedition (exactly how many natives had been killed didn’t really matter – a lesson had been delivered and learned) and it had been a stroke of luck for the BEA administration that Colonel Broome and his troops were camped only a few miles away. The tribesmen could not compete against the firepower of the sepoys and once the column showed that it was prepared to enter and fight in the hills then the tribesmen knew that they could not win. On 4th April Colonel Broome was ordered to proceed to Uganda to assume command in that Protectorate and he started marching; however because of the transport difficulties already mentioned it took his column four months to complete the journey to Kampala.

Left: Wa Taita Men

In Uganda the 27th Bombay Light Infantry fought in several engagements over the next eight months. This campaign resulted in the award of the East and Central Africa Medal with the clasp “Uganda 1897-98” to all ranks involved in operations. The members of Colonel Broome’s short expedition into the Taita Hills also qualified for this medal and clasp, despite the fact that the Taita Hills were located in British East Africa many weary Miles away from Uganda!

The group of medals shown here was awarded to Lieutenant Cyril Uvedale Price, 30th Bombay Light Infantry, who was attached to the 27th Bombay Light Infantry in Uganda. During the Great War Lieutenant Price returned to the Taita area as a Lieutenant Colonel commanding the 130th Baluchis. His battalion was in action securing a military railway line that was constructed westwards from Voi, a station ten miles south of Ndi, to and across the German East African border at Taveta just south of Kilimanjaro Mountain. During these operations the Taita Hills were a vital source of water both for the military railway line and for the thousands of Allied troops that camped alongside it, and many Taita tribesmen served as Intelligence Scouts or in other capacities for the British forces.

The hills themselves provided healthy locations for sanatoriums for white and Indian troops recovering from fevers contracted on the plains below.

Above: The medals of Colonel C.U. Price

(The medals shown are: East & Central Africa Medal with clasp 1897-98, China Medal 1900, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, British Victory Medal with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf emblem, Delhi Durbar Medal 1903, Delhi Durbar Medal 1911, Russian Order of St. Anne 3rd Class with swords. Not shown is an order of St. Michael & St. George C.M.G.)


This article recently appeared in "Durbar", the journal of The Indian Military Historical Society.


SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:
Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India Volume VI by Army Headquarters India. History of the Baloch Regiment 1820-1939 by Major General Rafiuddin Ahmed.
British Battles and Medals
from Spink.
Permanent Way Volume 1 by M.F. Hill.
The Exploitation of East Africa 1856-1890
by R. Coupland.
Kenya from Chartered Company to Crown Colony by C.W. Hobley.
The Man-eaters of Tsavo
by Lieut.-Col. J.H. Patterson DSO

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