British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by R. E. N. Smith
The Centurion
Tea Estates, Shire
Having been married on my first leave from Nyasaland in November 1953, on our return two months later I was posted with my brand new wife to Land Settlement duties at Chingale in the Shire River valley near Zomba. Chingale Boma consisted of two "officer" level houses, one ours and the other unoccupied, a small office and even smaller dispensary, and a few junior staff houses. It was a fairly lonely but very happy life, with few strangers to bother our Eden.

However, one day an unusual visitor appeared in the sturdy shape of an old gentleman seeking employment - he was much too grand to be just looking for work. He was ex-Regimental Sergeant Major Magomero, DCM, once of the 1st King's African Rifles, with a record of service that would take some beating. By tribe he was a Henga from the far north, four hundred miles away, so he was a long way from home. As a young man he had enlisted in the Central Africa Regiment when it was raised in 1898 or 1899, and served with it for more than twenty years, rising to the rank of RSM and being awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for courage in battle. He retired in 1921, and immediately re-enlisted in the Nyasaland Police, which-was being raised on semi-military lines in that year. He served with the Police until 1939, retiring as Force Sergeant Major just before the war. In 1939 he promptly re-enlisted in the KAR even though he must have been well past 60 and served with them again until 1945. In 1952 we raised the Police Mobile Force as a rapid reaction force to deal with civil disturbance; guess who was first in the line to join up, like Job, smelling the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shouting.

The Centurion
King's African Rifles
Now he stood there in front of me, ramrod straight and impeccably turned out in a starched khaki bush jacket and shorts, puttees and polished boots, Sam Browne, bush hat emblazoned with the letters "RSM" and a row of medals long enough to make Goering envious, but he had not a penny in the world. Sadly, in the days of his service retirement carried a gratuity and not a pension, and though he had earned three gratuities, all had long been eaten up by his relatives and he was destitute. Fortunately the peculiar financial system of Land Settlement had sufficient leeway in it for me to be able to take him on as supernumerary Head Messenger, with no particular duties, other than to lend his fine presence and prestige to our little establishment.

The Centurion
Our Allies, The Colonies
The following year I came across the memoirs of Sir Philip Mitchell, Governor of Kenya (African Afterthoughts - Hutchinson 1954), and I quote;- "The fully trained regular African soldier, especially the warrant and non-commissioned officers, of forty years ago, when the whole region was so near in years to the dark and savage past, were by any criterion remarkable men. They . . . had been trained by selected British officers and regimental sergeant-majors in relatively small numbers and with great care. They were self-reliant, smart, efficient and wholly dependable and when, on mobilization in 1914, they had to adjust themselves to working with a large number of European volunteers, like myself, who were appointed section leaders, machine gunners and the like, most of us totally untrained and ignorant, they made an admirable job of a difficult situation. No-one, in those days, would say bluntly that these African warrant-officers were our superiors, but that was the fact; and they dealt with us, while they taught us our business, tactfully and sensibly, so that they were respected and obeyed... There were many striking personalities among these men... Magomero, who was Sergeant-Major of the 1st Battalion when I was Adjutant, as gallant and loyal - and competent - a soldier as ever held his rank, and some higher."

He remained at Chingale after we left, and the following year I tried to arrange for him to be the presenter of the country's gift to the Queen Mother at the state baraza during her visit, but alas, it was a heavy ivory affair, and too much for him. I do not know what his medals were, apart from the DCM, but in his time the 1st KAR (and its predecessor) campaigned against the Yao in Nyasaland itself, in the Ashanti War of 1900, against the Mad Mullah in Somaliland, in the Nandi Expedition of 1905 and of course throughout the 1914-18 war, with continual duels with the Mad Mullah - they were still dealing with him in 1921. Magomero must be long gone to the Valhalla of valiant warriors, but forty years since I last saw him he lives on in my memory as a gentleman (no other word will do) embodying the discipline, integrity and dignity that characterised so many African officers of his day.

Colonial Map
Central African Federation Map, 1960
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 71: April 1996


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