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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 Delamere.

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 Africa".  

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 Railway.  

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 & trained.  

(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 Company.  

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

SOURCES:

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 Commission Records.

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