Rescue at the Boma in Utete

Courtesy of OSPA

by Donald J G Fraser
Rescue at the Boma in Utete
Utete Boma
In September 1952 Police Headquarters received an urgent message from the District Commissioner at Utete on the Rufiji River about 150 miles south of Dar es Salaam. The DC wanted Police assistance to put down what he thought was turning into a riot. Politics had reared its ugly head, and some 'hot-heads' had threatened to nail him to the Boma gates if he didn't reduce their poll tax. Well, the DC couldn't allow this to occur so he sought help. I was ordered to take a Police contingent down there with another young ASP named Harbord and sort matters out. It took us a few hours to round up a sufficiently able force, kit them out, draw emergency rations, ammunition, fuel etc , scrounge the necessary transport and we set off in mid afternoon. Our little expeditionary force consisted of we two ASPs, 1 Sgt Major, 1 Sergeant, 1 Corporal, 1 bugler boy and 21 askaris. We were in 2 troop-carrier trucks and 2 short-wheelbase Landrovers.

Rescue at the Boma in Utete
Utete Boma Crossing
The track down the coast was pretty rough so we made slow progress, not reaching the ferry on the Rufiji River until well after nightfall. There we were met by a young District Officer who told us that the DC, Mr Young, was inside the Boma, which was surrounded by about 500 fairly angry Africans. The Boma was an old German Fort built prior to World War 1 and was a very substantial edifice so there was little risk that the locals could breach the walls, but they might be able to burn the gates down. We held a quick council of war and decided on guile rather than brute force, especially as we were only a small unit. We made a number of trips across the river on the cable pontoon. When we assembled on the Utete side of the river we fell the askaris in - in extended order formation lining both sides of the road. The askaris were dressed in their normal khaki uniform and were carrying .303 rifles at the high port. I led the unit with the bugler boy in the centre and the Sgt Major bringing up the rear. Behind the files of askaris came the 2 troop-carrier trucks and the Landrovers with their headlights full on. ASP Harbord had gone on ahead with the DO to explain to the DC what our strategy would be.

Rescue at the Boma in Utete
The vehicles' headlights full on illuminated the parade from the rear, and we proceeded at a smart pace up the track towards the Boma with the bugler boy playing every bugle call he knew, and when he paused for breath the askaris broke out Into one or two loud marching songs just to add to the noise! The DC told us later that the mob surrounding the Boma could hear the bugle calls and saw the flashing lights long before we reached the Boma, and they started to thin out rather quickly. When we reached the Boma we marched to attention straight through the crowd. The Boma gates were opened, we marched in with the vehicles behind us and the Boma gates were slammed shut behind us. I then ordered the askaris to put on their riot helmets, shields and batons, and creep out of the back door of the Boma and walk quietly through the bush towards the river, this time with ASP Harbord. The vehicles left via the front gate driving down towards the river where they picked up our askaris dressed in riot gear, and they repeated the march up towards the Boma with the bugler boy again performing his entire repertoire. They entered the Boma and the gates were shut once more. By this time the mob had thinned out considerably and with the aid of the DC's staff we marched out of the front gate, had the ringleaders identified to us, arrested them and took them inside the Boma. No bloodshed, not even a scuffle! By around 2.00 am the rest of the crowd had dispersed and had disappeared into the velvet night! When we recorded statements from witnesses the next day they all without exception firmly believed there were two companies of askaris not one!

British Empire Map
Map of Tanganyika, 1948
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 103: April 2012


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe