Commonwealth War Graves Commission have been busy in Mombasa rebuilding the damaged Cross of Sacrifice at the CWGC Cemetery at Mbaraki and scanning the African Memorial to the Missing at Mwembe Tayari.
“The African Memorials to the Missing,” says David McDonald, Technical Manager (Works) Africa at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGW), “which are also known by other names such as “the Askari Memorials” or “African War Memorials”, were constructed after the First World War to commemorate all African soldiers and carriers who had died and whose final resting place was unknown.”
McDonald was in Mombasa this week with Luke Abbott and Ben Williams from 3D Scanners UK Ltd, for the first phase of an exciting conservation project to record and preserve the Memorials in perpetuity. Starting at the African Memorial in Dar es Salaam and finishing in Nairobi, the team have been using specialist equipment and extreme expertise, to create 3D digital replicas, accurate to within 1mm. of each memorial.
In addition to allowing CWGC to preserve a permanent record of the memorials appearance, the 3D Scanning process will allow for the accurate manufacture of pieces that have been broken over past 100 years. “Visitors to the Memorial will notice for example that the Carrier no longer has the staff which he was leaning on,” McDonald continues “we would very much like to restore this to make him look more comfortable.” Specialist cleaning and repairs are expected to begin in June this year to bring all the Memorials back to their former pristine glory.
This project is particularly important as it offers us all the opportunity to remember those Kenyans who lost their lives in East African Campaign of the First World War.
Although Europe is where the majority of the ‘Great War’ was fought, the people of Africa and the then Colonies of Britain, Germany, Belgium, France and Portugal were not spared from the four years of conflict. It was inevitable that the German and British colonies which shared common frontiers would clash.
British East Africa, today Kenya, and neighboring German East Africa now Tanzania, both had similar numbers of European settlers, who quickly formed and organised themselves into field companies. 10 days after Britain declared War on Germany and her Allies, the German colonial forces; under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, invaded British East Africa through Taveta pitting 16,000 German Colonial troops against nearly 300,000 British Colonial Troops. In Kenya nearly 25% of the then African population of 4 million was recruited to service with the forces in some form.
Four years and 3 months after War was declared, an Armistice was signed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 bringing the ‘Great War’ to an end. Statistics for the number of military and civilian casualties as a result of the war vary greatly, but an estimated 18 million died and 23 million wounded across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, making it the deadliest conflict in history at that time.
Approximately 34,000 East African combatant troops and around 600,000 non-combatant porters, stevedores and followers of the Military Labour Corps were lost, killed in action, died of sickness or wounds. James G Willson, Author of “Guerrillas of Tsavo” states that “this is why the memorials located in Mombasa, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam are so important in helping us all to remember the service and hardships endured by so many during 4 long years of bitter fighting in the dense bush, forests, mountains and plains of East Africa”.
In 1917 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) was formed through a Royal Charter to help us honour the men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First World War (and later the Second World War) and to ensure their sacrifice would never be forgotten. The CWGC in Kenya are now responsible for First and Second World War commemorations to 8,282 named individuals at 37 beautifully kept cemeteries and memorials throughout Kenya.
On 25th November 2018 the final centenary event, commemorating the end of the First World War will take place at Mbala, Northern Zambia, where it is hoped that contingents from the African countries involved in the conflict, will come together to commemorate the sacrifices made by their troops. Why Mbala and why the 25th and not the 11th November? Willson explains that “By November 1918 the German forces that had been chased through East Africa and Mozambique were in Northern Zambia but without any radio communications with Berlin. When the Armistice was signed on 11th November, von Lettow-Vorbeck did not believe the British claims that the war was over until some days later when using a British wireless set to get confirmation from the German High Command in Berlin. von Lettow-Vorbeck was then ordered by the British to march his troops up to Mbala (then called Abercorn) where the official laying down of arms was arranged for the 25th November 1918, 14 days after the Armistice.” This made the East African Campaign the longest campaign of the First World War.
The CWGC Kenya team are also investigating plans to install a visitor’s interpretation centre near the monuments, to showcase the important history of the memorials and the people they commemorate.
For more information:
Visit the CWGC comprehensive website www.cwgc.org where you can learn about what and how they do their work, explore their archives, and find the locations and backgrounds to the cemeteries and memorials that they maintain.
Combine a trip to the First World War exhibition at the Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge with an exciting historical adventure through some of the forts, battlefields and memorials in the area.
Buy a copy of “Guerrillas of Tsavo”, James G Willson’s illustrated diary recording the actions and tribulations of the East African Campaign in East Africa. Books are available from Paper Connections in Nyali; Kant’s Stationers, opposite Mombasa Law Courts and online at www.guerrillasoftsavo.com