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The Nigerian Regiment in East Africa

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The Nigerian Regiment in East Africa
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Author(s): W. D. Downes
Date Published: 2008/05
Page Count: 324
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-463-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-464-5

The happy warriors in the green hats

This is the story of the Nigerian Regiment—an imperial regiment led by British officers and manned principally by Hausa tribesmen who formed part of the force that fought the Germans in East Africa during the First World War. The account, written by one of those British officers, describes the earliest activities of the regiment in West Africa before travelling with them, across the continent, to new challenges. The author's affection and pride in these troops shines through every page and they were in his estimation some of the finest troops the British Empire had to offer. The reader is shown their perpetual good humour and outstanding courage and skill as soldiers in the field. Distinguished by their green headdress and machete they became a force with whom the enemy admitted 'they would take no liberties.’ Their East African allies good humouredly hailed them with the call 'Yum Yum'—so convinced were they that they were cannibals! The pivotal battles of the campaign are described in detail together with many personable anecdotes making this an original and different view of the Great War.

Our point came in touch with the German position at 11 a.m., about 1 mile from the objective (the water holes at Ngwembe on the Nyandote Road); 15 Company of the 4th Nigeria Regiment had in the meantime moved over to the 3rd Nigeria Regiment camp at Kibongo and received orders at midday to reinforce Lieut.-Col. Archer’s force. <BR>
Capt. Milne-Home’s company of the 3rd Nigeria Regiment was advance guard. Soon after 11 a.m. this company was driven back from the line on which they had deployed when the action was opened, then 50 yards from the objective, and fell back about 200 yards. Major Gard’ner, second in command of the 3rd Nigeria Regiment, was ordered to take Capt. Cooke’s and Capt. Dudley’s companies and drive the enemy out of his position by making a left flank movement. After a heavy fight of one hour’s duration, they successfully captured two machine-guns and one European, having also inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, thirty dead being counted between the two gun positions. After this success Major Gard’ner was continuing with the advance when he was heavily counter-attacked. He himself was wounded, and both Capt. Cooke and Capt. Dudley, with Lieuts. Ewen and Harrison were killed. The two companies became disorganized and fell back in disorder, but managed to get back the two captured enemy machine-guns, but in the counter-attack these companies lost three of their own machine-guns. About the time that Major Gard’ner moved out to the left flank, the baggage and baggage-guard reached the main body. It was not long before the enemy realized that Major Gard’ner’s flank attack had failed and that his two companies had been disorganized, and they took every advantage of the occasion. They opened a heavy fire, and pressed on with their counter-attack. These disordered companies retired through the bush, and did not strike the road till far behind the main body. As soon as Col. Archer realized that his flank attack had been unsuccessful he wired back for reinforcements. 15 Company left to reinforce at 1.45 p.m., but they had a 7-mile march to complete before they could be of any use. They did not meet Col. Archer till 4.15 p.m. By this time he had commenced to withdraw. Capt. Maxwell, commanding 15 Company, was ordered to turn back the way he had come and dig in at a small stream 3 miles in rear. This movement was done so hurriedly that the company had no time to reform. After retiring for about ten minutes, the company carriers that were now in front of the company met the advanced guard of the 4th Nigeria Regiment under Lieut.-Col. Sargent, that was hurrying from Kibongo to reinforce the 3rd Nigeria Regiment. In the confusion that followed these carriers got out of hand and made for the bush; they were not seen again that day. Col. Sargent had with him most of the battalion baggage, but only one company. The remaining company of the 4th Battalion had to remain behind to help garrison Kibongo. At about 4.30 p.m. Col. Sargent met Col. Archer. The latter stated that he would take up a position with his battalion at the stream, already referred to, and would there dig in for the night. This, for some reason or other unknown to the writer, he never did, but continued his retirement to Kibongo.
On the 16th March a small patrol was sent out to the Kibongo neighbourhood by the 4th Battalion. The post had been withdrawn the day before. Company-Sergt.-Major Belo Akure was sent out in charge of this patrol, which included no Europeans.<BR>
This sergeant-major is a most remarkable native. He obtained the D.C.M. for extraordinary gallantry in a pagan expedition on the West Coast some years previous to the outbreak of the Great War. During the Cameroon campaign he obtained a bar to his D.C.M. He was most highly recommended by his captain and battalion commander for a second bar during the same campaign. He was awarded his bar for covering the retreat of a party of Nigerians by checking the enemy’s advance by himself. He was ordered to conduct the retirement of an advance post that was being heavily attacked. The post was separated from the main position by an unfordable river 35 yards in width. He got his men into the only available canoe, and finding that it would founder if he got in himself, he lay on the bank and covered their retirement, being all the time subjected to heavy fire himself, one bullet actually cutting his sleeve. When his men landed he ordered them into the trenches on the other side of the stream, and then swam the river himself under heavy fire to join them. I have several times seen this sergeant-major in action, and can honestly state that I have never seen a braver man. It makes one feel quite ashamed of oneself when that nasty feeling of fear catches one deep down inside and has to be expelled, for one realizes that this native does not know what the feeling of fear is. His one idea is that his officers must on no account run into unnecessary danger ; on no account will he let an officer go in front of him on a road. Any cover that is handy must be reserved to conceal his officers, even if he himself must lie down in the open. I have seen him deliberately get in front of a European so that if anyone should be hit it would be himself.<BR>
To return to the doings of Belo’s patrol. During the night the sergeant-major with three privates returned to the old perimeter at Kibongo. About 6.45 a.m. he saw a party of Germans approaching, which he estimated to be about fifty natives led by two Europeans. The enemy extended about 600 yards from the old Kibongo camp, and sent forward a few scouts. The two Europeans remained together in the centre of the extended line. They were marked down by the sergeant-major to be for his own private bag. He ordered the three privates on no account to fire till he had taken a deliberate and well-aimed shot at the fatter of the two Germans; the other he was not interested in, as he was only a thin man! From that moment poor Mai Tombi (the fat man) was as good as dead. The enemy’s scouts had now approached the sergeant-major’s position to within 100 yards. Mai Tombi was 50 yards in rear of the scouts. Belo Akure drew a careful bead on the poor fellow’s equator. As he afterwards explained the case—“I shoot him 6 o’clock for belly.” The German was seen to throw his arms up into the air and fall backwards. Immediately after the sergeant-major had fired his small party opened rapid fire into the crowd. A good deal of confusion took place, but when Belo saw that the enemy were fixing bayonets, he thought it about time that he and his friends got clear away, so he ordered the men to retire through the bush back into Mkindu, whilst he remained alone for another minute to cover their retreat, and to have one more shot at the Boche. Both he and his party got safely back to camp after a very pleasant morning’s shooting!
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