Amongst the new units formed in British East Africa after the start of
the Great War was a mounted unit raised by a well-known settler named Berkeley
Cole, a younger son of the Earl of Enniskillen & a brother-in law of Lord
The initiative for the unit came from Somali residents of British East Africa
who met on the outskirts of Nairobi at Muthaiga & marched down to Nairobi
House to offer their services to the Governor.
Captain R. Berkeley Cole (Right), formerly of the 9th Lancers, was tasked to
organise a company of these Somalis into mounted scouts. He did this with the assistance of other
settlers who joined him as officers, one of them being Lieutenant Denys G. Finch
Hatton, son of the Earl of Winchelsea, whose later death in an aviation incident
was depicted in the film "Out of
Initially the company was formed as a Mounted Infantry company & was
known as the Somali Scouts. The company was used in the area southwest of
Kiu Station to protect the Uganda Railway by patrolling the ground towards the
GEA border. On 05 January 1915 37 of the
58 Somalis refused to go out on an operation with Captain Cole but they changed
their minds the next day & then went out. Trouble persisted in the unit until late
February when the situation was regarded as a mutiny.
The reasons for the trouble are not clear & even Lord Cranworth
whose "Kenya Chronicles"
describe these times could not understand why Cole & his officers did not
contain this situation. (Somali troops
were never the easiest to command but King’s African Rifles officers did the
job satisfactorily, & soon Lord Cranworth would be doing it also.)
Anyway the officers of the Somali Scouts needed assistance & so on
22 February 1915 100 men of No 4 Company of the 2nd Battalion The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment left Nairobi by
train for Kiu, south of the junction point of the Magadi line with the Uganda
There they built a boma (an enclosure constructed of thorn branches)
& awaited the arrival of the Somali Scouts.
Three nights later the Scouts
arrived at Kiu, & when the Somalis were sat around their fire the Loyal
North Lancashires surrounded & surprised them. The Somalis then laid down their weapons on
the orders of their own officers & the mutineers were placed in the boma.
Above: Somali Scouts
Nairobi HQ planned to disband the Somali Scouts & place Cole in
command of a company of Loyal North Lancashires Mounted Infantry, but Lord
Cranworth (who was in British East Africa accompanying Colonel Kitchener, the
Field Marshall's brother, on a fact-finding mission) made a suggestion. He offered to command 25 loyal Somalis in a
mounted troop containing the unit Machine Gun, alongside Loyal North Lancashire
mounted infantrymen, all to be under Cole's command & known as Cole's Scouts. The suggestion was adopted & the Commanding
Officer of The Loyal North Lancashires, Lieutenant Colonel C.E.A. Jourdain DSO,
was ordered to prepare 50 men for mounted infantry work.
Three weeks later the mutinous Somalis were still in their Boma & it
was raining hard, so tarpaulins were obtained for them from the Uganda Railway. By 06 April 1915 the mutineers had been
discharged, No 4 Company returned to Nairobi & a Loyal North Lancashire
detachment moved to Kiu to be trained in mounted infantry duties, riding Somali
ponies & using donkeys for transporting stores. The ponies were striped like zebras with
iodene, which created an effective camouflage in the bush.
Left: A "Zebra" (Camouflaged Pony)
The 2nd Battalion The Loyal North Lancashire’s War Diary for
07 May 1915 lists Cole's Scouts as being on an operation with a strength of 5
officers, 98 other ranks & 1 Machine Gun.
One of the officers & over 70 of the men were Loyal North
Lancashires. A new unit had been formed &
(Lord Cranworth's description of how he imposed discipline is
interesting. One of the mutineers had
escaped detection & was in Cranworth's troop, so a plan was made in
conjunction with the Somali Company Sergeant Major, a steady disciplinarian. When
the former mutineer transgressed by being late on parade & striking the Non
Commissioned Officer who cautioned him, Cranworth offered the man a military or
a private punishment. The Somali opted
for the private measure & received 20 lashes, "They were laid on with a will, even I think with brutality. At the end he jumped up, stood at attention
& saluted. I had no more trouble
with him, or indeed with his comrades ....")
On 14th July 1915 Cole’s Scouts were in action at Mbuyuni, in
between Maktau and Taveta, leading a right-flanking column during the approach
to the German position that was to be attacked.
The British attack failed when the main column, making a frontal assault
against entrenched and higher enemy machine guns, bogged down when the
Commanding Officer of the 29th
Punjabis, Lieutenant Colonel H.A. Vallings was killed and his Adjutant
wounded. However on the right flank Lord
Cranworth had the Cole’s Scouts’ machine gun in action usefully, causing
casualties in the enemy rear area. The
British commander, Brigadier General W. Malleson, ordered a withdrawal, and the
German defence claimed the victory.
Thanks to the results of its machine gunnery Cole’s Scouts had proved to
be one of the most effective British units in the action.
Cole's Scouts Map
The end of Cole’s Scouts came about in August 1915 through a fit of
pique caused by Finch Hatton who intercepted a routine report from the Loyal
North Lancashires’ subaltern in the Scouts.
The report was going to Lieutenant Colonel Jourdain who doubtless
expected to receive regular reports from his officer in Cole’s Scouts. Although the other more mature officers saw
little wrong in the report, Finch Hatton indignantly objected to mess-table
chatter being reported and he persuaded Cole to send a fiery message to Army
Headquarters in Nairobi. But by this
time Nairobi had had enough of Cole’s Scouts and after conducting various
interviews ordered the disbandment of the unit.
Lord Cranworth greatly regretted the disbandment. He considered the Loyal North Lancashire’s
subaltern to be "both efficient & brave" & he
concluded: "I, for one, was particularly sorry for this ending, &
not least because of my admiration for the men whom we had had the privilege to
command. The Loyal North Lancashires,
whether in East Africa or in France, had a record which will bear comparison
with any regiment in the British Army."
Lord Cranworth’s Somalis very probably
transferred to the King’s African Rifles
Mounted Infantry Company which contained many Ethiopians and was sponsored
by 3rd King’s African Rifles. The Loyal North Lancashires and their mounts
returned to their battalion and soon combined with selected officers and men
from the 25th (Service) Battalion
Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) to form an all-white Mounted Infantry
Much credit is due to the initial Somali
Scouts for volunteering and patrolling between the railway and the German East
African border. When the unit was
reorganized into Cole’s Scouts it performed well at Mbuyuni, and the Somalis in
the unit at that time could be proud of their hard year’s operational service
in the field. Officers such as Lord
Cranworth understood the man-management skills and techniques that were
required when commanding very individual soldiers such as Somalis. Sadly not all of his brother officers had the
same understanding. Medal Index Cards
can be found for Somali members of both the Somali Scouts and Cole’s
Scouts. The Commonwealth War Graves
Commission records do not appear to list casualties from either unit.
Above: Berkeley Cole in the field
Kenya Chronicles by Lord
Cranworth. Official History. Military Operations East Africa August 1914 –
September 1916 by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern. The War Diary of The 2nd
Battalion The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Medal Index Cards. Commonwealth War Graves