At the outbreak
of the Great War in August 1914 there was another armed military unit in the
British East Africa Protectorate as well as the King’s African Rifles. This
other unit was the Uganda Railway
Railway, running from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean Coast
to Kisumu on Lake Victoria, had been opened
for traffic in December 1901. A few years
before the Great War commenced a Uganda Railway Volunteer Reserve had been
recruited from amongst the European employees of the railway. The unit followed the lines of the Railway
Volunteers in India
& had been formed to guard the railway in the event of an emergency. The strength was around 100 men &
training had usually been rifle practice.
On 09 August 1914 the unit was mobilised & 60 men under the command
of Captain H.V. Kershaw, an assistant accountant, left Nairobi by special train for Voi, along with
a KAR patrol. For the next four months
the Uganda Railway Volunteers guarded the line & bridges along the 147 mile
stretch of rail between Sultan Hamud (in between Kiu & Simba Stations)
& Voi. Meanwhile in the railway
workshops improvised armoured trains were built for use when patrolling the
Above: British troops after their train has run over a German mine.
During late September the Germans sent two demolition patrols from
German East Africa through the waterless region from Lake
Jipe, south of Taveta, to Kasigau Mountain & on another 20 miles to
the railway. On 24 August a patrol of
Uganda Railway Volunteers found one of the enemy patrols nearly dead from
thirst & exhaustion - the map used by the Germans was inacurate - &
captured the complete patrol. These
enemy prisoners, the first taken in British East Africa during the war, were
despatched to Nairobi
with justifiable satisfaction.
However not every stretch of the line could be watched or patrolled
simultaneously and some German demolition patrols succeeded in laying effective
demolition charges. An example of an
enemy device is shown in the sketch at the bottom of the page.
By November 1914 reinforcements from Indian Expeditionary Forces
"C" & "B" had arrived in British East Africa and so
there were sufficient other troops for railway security duties & The Uganda
Railway Volunteer Reserve was stood down, allowing the men to return to their
vital war work of running the railway.
The unit had been the only trained reserve available in British East Africa
(probably because the Uganda Railway funded & organised it), & during
the first weeks of August 1914, whilst Nairobi Racecourse Camp resounded to the
greetings & backslappings of other European volunteers awaiting
mobilisation, The Uganda Railway Volunteers had drawn their weapons &
deployed immediately onto successful operational duties. The unit receives one
very brief mention in the Official History (on page 52) but it deserves wider
recognition for the military duties that it speedily carried out.
Above: British armored train after having driven over a mine.
During 1915 the Army took over the management of the Uganda Railway and
organised it as a military unit. A look
through medal index cards shows that several of the Uganda Railway Indian
staff, presumably those holding authority such as Stationmasters, were granted
Indian Army ranks and entitlement to medals.
Permanent Way Volume 1 by M.F. Hill.
Military Operations East Africa August
1914 – September 1916 by
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.
Record of the 3rd Bn The King’s African
Rifles During the Great Campaign in East Africa
1914-1918. Medal Index Cards.