The British Empire Library


The Kenya Police: A Living History Written By Those Who Served Volumes 1, 2 and 3

Edited by John Newton


Courtesy of OSPA


Review by Peter Fullerton (HMOCS Kenya 1953-62)
Volume 1 is a collection of brief memoirs by about 50 former Kenya Police Officers and a few of their wives. The memoirs are of their service in the 1950's when they were mostly youngish Inspectors or Chief Inspectors in charge of district police stations or out-stations. Many of their postings during the Emergency involved anti-Mau Mau operations, with some brave incidents recorded; some are memories of hard living in hot, remote and lonely stations; there are vivid accounts of mounted safaris in the NFD (on camels and ponies), and some good stories about murders, mysteries, stock theft, witchcraft, poisoned arrows, rescues on Mt. Kenya and how to deal with an angry settler. There are amusing incidents too, such as the British Tommy found in Nairobi walking back to barracks naked after being stripped by the Madame after a row in a brothel. There are also jokes at the expense of their senior officers, the "Aspols" and "Supols" who descended on them for nit-picking inspections.

A book composed by fifty different writers inevitably means that it is of uneven quality. The best chapters are about Police operations, especially those in the NFD against armed tribal raiding parties from Ethiopia in the course of which several police officers were killed. There are many tributes to the courage, loyalty and humour of the NCO's and askaris who served under their command.

John Newton has done his colleagues a service by persuading them to put pen to paper and provide us with a flavour of what it was like to be a Kenya Copper, and of the comradeship of those days.

Volume 2
The first volume was published in April 2015 and was so well received by Kenya readers that John Newton decided to invite his former colleagues to send in a further batch of stories about their service in Kenya. He has produced another highly readable account of their life and times.

Once again, there is a medley of personal experiences in eighty contributions ranging from tragedy to comedy. The range illustrates the variety of duties carried out by Kenya Police Officers in their role of maintaining law and order in an East African colony developing at an uneven pace. This meant policing in rapidly growing cities and in 26 Districts varying from densely populated tribal land to vast areas with nomadic or semi nomadic herdsmen, as well as the "White Highlands" of European settlers. Thus police duties became specialised in some places with units such as CID, Special Branch, GSU riot squads, camel-mounted section (known as Rakhoub), traffic officers and court prosecutors, while in others the Kenya Police commander in a District covered the whole spectrum of policing and interface with the public.

The Mau Mau Emergency features high on the list with accounts of horror and heroism in that long campaign, won by the joint efforts of Kenya Police and Kenya Police Reserve, British Army, Kenya Regiment, Tribal Police and Kikuyu Home Guard. Lives were lost and the casualty rate in the Kenya Police was high amongst both officers and askaris. Patrolling in the NFD and on the borders with Ethiopia and Somalia was both arduous and hazardous, where raiding tribes indulged in massacre and stock theft and Somali shifta after independence murdered the first African DC Isiolo. Other themes are hairy encounters with rhino, buffalo and elephant; curious tales of witchcraft; narrow escapes from death by snake bite; grizzly traffic accidents, and mass drownings at Likoni ferry and on Lake Victoria. The story of the Royal Wajir Yacht Club is told, that famed watering hole in the NFD. There are homely stories too of wives and houseboys, including one of an officer who safely delivered the baby daughter of his cook's wife and met her many years later, now a doctor in America.

There is much bizarre humour too in this book about offenders, drunks and eccentrics, and about pranks played on senior officers; and of course plenty of banter with NCO's and askaris, central to service life and morale. There is also some non-PC language which many readers will be quietly pleased to note.

The Kenya Police were one of the largest Colonial Police Forces with well over 700 European Officers in the 1961 Staff List. Some of the senior officers had come from other colonial police forces, in particular Palestine and Malaya; later intakes included many with previous service in UK Police Forces or the RMP. Recruitment peaked during the Emergency when many came in from civilian life in the UK or were Kenya-born. All went through the Kiganjo Police Training School where the standard of turnout of all ranks under legendary African Sergeant Majors was of a high order - a feature which was maintained in the service whenever and wherever on parade. It is pleasing to note in some of the stories in this book a high regard for several of the senior officers who shaped the Kenya Police, and for the NCO's who as in all uniformed services were the key to good discipline.

The Kenya Police Association has for over 50 years kept members in touch worldwide, especially in Australia where many officers later migrated. More than a third of those in the service at independence in 1963 are still living. They will enjoy reading this book about the comradeship of those times, and their families will like it too because it answers the question: "Daddy, what was it like to be a Copper in Kenya in those days?"

Volume 3
This is the third volume of memoirs of former Kenya Police officers. The first two volumes both sold over 500 copies and the third volume published earlier this year is already nearing that figure. John Newton, who compiled and edited them, has done well to provide us with this unique collection of several hundred brief Kenya colonial memoirs.

Once again, there is in volume 3 an intriguing variety of personal experiences of service in the Kenya Police, reflecting the many different kinds of police postings, from dealing with urban crime in Nairobi to armed incursions into the NFD from Ethiopia and the Sudan, feuds and stocks thefts amongst nomadic tribes, as well as more about the arduous campaign to defeat Mau Mau.

The seventy chapters of individual memoirs are mainly by officers who were of Inspector rank during their service. This is hardly surprising given the fact that even they are now in their seventies or eighties. Given the passage of time their memories are remarkably vivid, and the police humour in some of them comes across as if listening to anecdotes in a club bar. The transition made by young officers straight from "civvy street" into the rough and tough of their first postings in Kenya is well described. Footslogging and mounted safaris in the NFD, patrols rafting down the Tana River, digging vehicles out of deep mud, hairy encounters with big game, near death from snake bite, handling a violent psychopathic heavyweight drunk, rescue on Mt. Kenya, the Comet crash and the tense days of policing in Nairobi just before independence - all these descriptions as well as competitive sport and club life will bring back memories of their colonial service to readers. Also included is a fine tribute to Sir Richard Catling, Commissioner of Police 1954-63.

The fact that Kenya today is one of the more stable countries in Africa is to some extent due to the colonial years of policing and maintaining the rule of law; but it is also due to the standards in discipline, training and service set in those years and passed on to the Kenya Police after independence. There is one regrettable exception to this claim. In the colonial service corruption in Kenya Police ranks was virtually unheard of, and it is not even mentioned in any of the memoirs in this book. Corruption in the Kenya Police today at all levels is rife, from constables taking petty bribes at road barriers to the failure to prosecute high level corruption in government. The fine record of the Kenya Police in colonial times is not remembered in Kenya today, but it is one of which members of the Kenya Police Association can rightly share the credit.

British Empire Book
Editor
John Newton
Published
2015
Pages
308
Publisher
Next Century Books
ISBN
0957583850
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon
British Empire Book
Editor
John Newton
Published
2016
Pages
268
Publisher
Kenya Police Association
ISBN
0957583869
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon
British Empire Book
Editor
John Newton
Published
2017
Pages
268
Publisher
Kenya Police Association
ISBN
9780957583863
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon


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