For details of the campaign of the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) in East Africa please consult chapter five of One Hundred Years of The Legion of Frontiersmen by Geoffrey A. Pocock.
The British Army has always had the reputation for putting square pegs into round holes, but in the First War, as Capt. Cherry Kearton said “There was certainly one unit, however, in which experts were employed in their proper place, and that was the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers…the credit for that belongs less to the War Office than to Colonel Daniel Patrick Driscoll.” His ideas of the men he wanted in the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen), were based on his Frontiersmen. He wanted a mixture of the Irregular Scout guerrillas of the Boer War and Commandos 30 years ahead of time. It is interesting that in East Africa they were often known as the Frontiersmen and The Times History of the War referred to them as the Legion of Frontiersmen. New Zealander Frontiersman Pedersen said that “The age limit was 25-48 years; but it was obvious that a few old-timers must have forgotten the year in which they were born…” Driscoll succeeded in getting a commission for the famous hunter F.C. Selous for his knowledge of the area, in spite of his 64 years. Other African hunters recruited by him were Martin Ryan, George Outram and Jock Richardson. 25th were the only Battalion of the B.E.F. to embark and enter the field without training.
Men who had joined other units were desperate to move to the 25th and a number even deserted to do so. When their train was leaving Waterloo, the R.S.M. went down it to warn that the Police were coming to search for deserters. A surprising number of men climbed out the other side of the train and hid until the Police had passed. They sailed on the “Neuralia” for Mombasa, arrived on 6th May, 1915, and were quickly in action.
The first major battle to involve the Frontiersmen was Bukoba in June. The main action involved the 25th and the Loyal North Lancs. After a fierce battle the enemy was cleared from the town, and the Frontiersmen captured the German flag which they still hold. In August at Maktau Lt. Wilbur Dartnell, an Australian, was awarded a posthumous V.C.
In that unhealthy climate, troops suffered badly from malaria and in January 1916 reinforcements arrived. After a long march chasing the Germans as part of General Stewart’s column the 25th arrived at Moschi. They were constantly in action through the Handeni area to Kwa Direma on the Lukigura. There two companies under Major White stormed an enemy position with fixed bayonets showing great bravery.
They then moved south to Makindu where they rested for a while, as numbers of fit men had dwindled from nearly 1200 to less than 200. The 25th then marched south to Kissaki. The morale of the 25th soared when their great hero Capt. Selous marched into camp with reinforcements. Although 65 and having returned to England for surgery, he had insisted on returning. The 25th moved towards Behobeho and then Selous was killed leading his company in action. The Frontiersmen fought like tigers to avenge him, not least his servant and friend Ramazani.. Behobeho and the banks of the Rufugi were occupied and the Frontiersmen were sent to the Cape for three months rest. This is one of the lesser-known and seldom seen accounts of the death of Selous taken from an unknown cutting by an unidentified writer “Flying in East Africa”.
In May 1917, the battalion left for Lindi. Fierce fighting at Ziwani and Tandamuti were followed in August by the battle at Narunyu. There the Frontiersmen showed their ability to use any style of fighting as, being attacked from all sides, they successfully formed a hollow square, as in the Victorian army, and defended themselves for five days until ordered to retire under darkness.
Before the end of the year the handful of the men of the 25th still left found their unit disbanded and the men returned home with great honour.
The following Battle Honours were awarded to the Royal Fusiliers in recognition of the active service of the 25th battalion in East Africa:
“East Africa 1915-17”
Although it has often been mistakenly claimed that the Battle Honours were awarded to the Frontiersmen, this could not be so, as Battle Honours are never awarded to individual battalions but to a Regiment as a whole.
We are regularly consulted by descendants of men who served with the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers in East Africa. They are researching the following men: Capt. G. Outram: Francis J. Schenkel: George Sample: Charles Beechey: F.W. Mills: Harry Bird: Frederick S. Flynn: C.Q.M.S. Walters: Charles E. Bryant: Capt. W.R. Richards: C.Q.M.S. J.A. Richards: Walter Richards: Sgt. W.G. Skeet: Thomas Weightman: L/Cpl Allan Harden.
If you are interested in any of these men or know anything about them or are researching any other men who served with this Battalion, please contact us (see contact information in the side bar to the right) and we will be pleased to publish brief details of your interest and/or put you into contact with others.
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.