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Map showing Jubaland

FORGOTTEN EDGES OF EMPIRE

Marched over by men of the The Royal Lancaster Regiment

Introducing some little-known campaigns where men of the King's Own served.

Compiled by Major Harry Fecitt MBE TD

Number 2

JUBALAND

Jubaland was a generally dry and arid country covered by bushes which lay in the northeast of British East Africa (now named Kenya). The main physical feature was the Juba River which ran south into the Indian Ocean near Kismayu. The Juba River formed the boundary between British East Africa to the west and Italian Somaliland (now named Somalia) to the east. A few lakes and swamps occurred where the river overflowed its banks. Kismayu, located in British territory 12 miles southwest of the River Juba's mouth, had an all-weather harbour. The river mouth was closed by a sandbar with a depth of only one fathom at high water, but once the bar was crossed shallow-draught steamers enjoyed a fine navigable waterway up to rapids at Bardera, 150 miles from the sea.

The Imperial British East Africa Company, a commercial association founded to develop African trade in the area, began administering Jubaland in 1891 from a base at Kismayu. On 1st July 1895 the British Foreign Office took over the company's administrative responsibilities.

The hinterland was sparsely populated by fiercely independent Somali tribes who made nomadic migrations with their flocks between water sources. The tribes regularly raided each other . When the King's African Rifles arrived as British garrison troops the tribes accepted these intruders because of their firepower, but attempts at taxation by the British were fiercely resisted. Whenever any fighting took place the tactics of both sides were planned around securing and holding water supplies.

In June 1910 the British established a defensive post at Serenli, four miles north of Bardera. The local Marehan tribe was truculent and had to be treated as a threat, so the post was built on a small hill overlooking the river. An outer zareba (a perimeter hedge constructed from thorny bushes and branches) with machine-gun emplacements built into it surrounded the post. An inner fortification of barbed wire and breastworks enclosed the living and storage areas. All the bush around the post was cut down to provide good fields of fire. The proximity to Bardera, which lay on the Italian side of the river, was not accidental as the Italian military maintained a regional HQ at Bardera. The traders in Bardera were very helpful to the British troops across the river, often selling them food and goods when the British resupply system failed.

A small steamer re-supplied the Serenli base during the latter six months of each year when the river contained sufficient water. It took between 14 and 20 days to move up-river to Serenli from a post established at Gobwen near the river mouth, but when travelling downstream the time was halved. In May 1911 Captain T.O. FitzGerald, The Royal Lancaster Regiment, was sent to command the garrison at Serenli with troops from 3 King's African Rifles.

Captain FitzGerald wrote: "It is a very pleasant, if somewhat slow, journey up the Juba River. Owing to the number of snags in the river bed the steamer ties up to the bank every evening, when it is possible to get some very good duck shooting before nightfall. The river is infested with crocodiles, and during a fourteen days' journey up the river the writer and another officer shot 78 of these rapacious brutes. It is a wonderful sight to see hundreds of these reptiles lying on the sand banks basking in the sun and when disturbed by the crack of a rifle to watch them scuttle away into the water. It is significant to note that the natives when drawing water from the river do so with cup-shaped gourds, tied to the end of a long pole. Many of these natives have been taken by crocodiles when bailing out water, by hand, from the river. It is quite a common thing for a crocodile to seize a camel by the nose when drinking water and pull it into the river, where it is soon torn to pieces by these ravenous creatures. To give some idea of the variety of food these beasts indulge in; the contents of the stomach of one that had been shot was as follows : an askari's blue jersey and puttees, various trinkets worn round the necks of native women, and an undigested leg bone of an ox, with various other bits and pieces."

At Serenli Captain Fitzgerald commanded two British Officers, two Native Officers and 121 Askari (African soldiers). For a time he also held the post of Acting District Commissioner. However the major threat that developed against Captain FitzGerald's force was not the local Marehan tribesmen but sickness. In late 1911 and early 1912 a serious epidemic of beri-beri broke out amongst the Sudanese Askari (3 KAR recruited Sudanese soldiers whenever possible, but this race was said to be very susceptible to beri-beri) and their families at Serenli. Of 87 Askari, 25 women and two "followers" (civilians working for the military) affected, 41 Askari and three women died. This was a severe blow to the garrison strength. At that time the only means of communication out of Serenli was by runner to Gobwen, 150 miles away, and so it took fifteen days before a doctor arrived to treat the sick.

The Medical Board of Inquiry that followed this incident determined that the causes of the disease were an inferior type of rice supplied that was deficient in mineral salts, the lack of green vegetables, which were unobtainable in Serenli, the general lack of variety in diet, the exceptionally hot climate of the station and the fact that the troops spent too long in a static location. (The Inspector-General of the King's African Rifles had recently passed through Serenli and his later report observed that static posts served no useful purpose, and that more camels were needed to make the Askari mobile and capable of accompanying civil officers on their visits to the tribes.) However the Medical Board of Inquiry paid a warm tribute to the way in which Captain FitzGerald handled a very trying situation.

Another administrative problem for Captain Fitzgerald was provided by the accountants back at Nairobi HQ. The Askari at Serenli could select to be paid in "americani" cloth (bolts of material for clothing and general use), Indian Rupees (the currency of British East Africa) or Thalers (Austrian Maria Theresa Dollars). The men's pay accounts had to be kept in so many yards of "americani", rupees or dollars.

Captain FitzGerald wrote: ". . . and as the value of the latter (Thalers) fluctuated considerably the Treasurer in Nairobi, who received the accounts about three months later, usually got frightfully perturbed and demanded an explanation as to why Mohamed Ferjalla was paid dollars at the rate of two shillings and sixpence when the value was only two shillings. The obvious reply was that one was not in touch with the money market by telephone or wireless and it was impossible to get the latest quotation."

In July 1912 Captain Fitzgerald's Askari were relieved at Serenli and they returned to Nairobi. For superstitious reasons "C" Company 3 KAR, which had lost the beri-beri victims, was disbanded and its men posted to "B" Company. "C" Company was not reformed. Between December 1913 and May 1914 a large operation named the Marehan Patrol was mounted against the Marehan tribe in Jubaland. Companies from 1 KAR (from Nyasaland, now named Malawi), 3 KAR and 4 KAR (from Uganda) took part but there was no decisive outcome. The Marehan took advantage of weak British garrisons in Jubaland during the Great War to overrun and capture Serenli in 1916, killing the British garrison commander and 35 of his Askari. A punitive expedition between July 1917 and March 1918 recaptured Serenli, tracked down the Marehan responsible for the British deaths in 1916 and hanged eight of the leading perpetrators. Over 4,200 Marehan camels and goats were captured and slaughtered as a reprisal against the malcontents in the tribe.

In July 1925 Jubaland ceased to exist when the districts of Juba River and Kismayu (a total of 33,000 square miles) were ceded by Britain to Italy to become part of Italian Somaliland.

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Yes, keep it coming Harry, what you're posting in interesting, it looks like the rest of us don't know enough to add to your threads though.

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