The British Empire Library

Kariakor: The Carrier Corps: The Story of the Military Labour Forces in the Conquest of German East Africa, 1914-1918

by Geoffrey Hodges

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Dr. T. H. R. Cashmore (Colonial Administrative Service Kenya)
This is a tragic story. The inadequacies of mechanised and animal transport, and the prolonged battles with the wily von Lettow-Vorbeck in German East Africa, compelled the British military authorities to rely increasingly on porters recruited locally. Early deficiencies in organisation and medical support led to appalling casualties amongst the porters, particularly those recruited from the old East Africa Protectorate. Under the energetic efforts of John Ainsworth, Oscar Watkins, and others from late 1917, the working conditions of the porters were greatly, if belatedly, improved. But the price paid had been high. Some 163,000 Kenya Africans and 183,000 from Uganda were recruited into the Carrier Corps. But whereas Uganda losses were 3,870 dead and 4,650 missing (believed dead), the Kenya figures were 25,891 dead and 13,748 missing. Those tribes, particularly from Nyanza and the Kikuyu areas, who suffered most, were then visited by the terrible influenza epidemic immediately after the war. Yet Treasury rules held back some 67,000 pounds of the modest compensation due to the dependants who could not be traced due to inadequate records (the sum for Tanganyika was even greater - with 13,129 carriers dead, 94,000 pounds was still outstanding as unpaid in 1922). It is perhaps indicative of Treasury mentality that all efforts in Kenya to use the unpaid balances for welfare projects locally were blocked. The money was finally released in the 1930s, after the Carter Land Commission had reported, to pay for demarcation on the ground of the new boundaries of the African Land Units.

Geoffrey Hodges has given us a workmanlike and scholarly account of the whole sad episode. To do this he spent over 15 years working on the project. It is a pity that his publishers did not match his painstaking approach, not least in seeking to minimise typographical errors. Nevertheless, this is a serious monograph deserving to be studied. It also benefits from a concise but telling introduction by Elspeth Huxley. Of the war memorial in Nairobi, she observes that it consists of three larger-than-life bronze African figures; one a KAR rifleman, one a private from the Arab Rifles and the last a porter. "The third", she adds, "represents members of the Carrier Corps which, while non-combatant, suffered heavier casualties than all other units put together in the East Africa campaign." Perhaps that statue is the final irony?

British Empire Book
Geoffrey Hodges
Greenwood Press


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