We met up in Voi on Saturday afternoon, August 23, 2014, with other members of our Old Africa group touring the World War I battlefield sites in Taita-Taveta. James Willson, author of the book Guerrillas of Tsavo, a richly illustrated volume of history focusing on the war in that area, met us and took us first to the Commonwealth Graves Cemetery in Voi. James explained about the beginning of the war and how the rail line, with a station at Voi, was vulnerable to sabotage from German forces coming in from neighbouring German East Africa. After wandering up and down the rows of white headstones and reading the names of the young men – so many young – the reality of the cost of war set in.
We stopped briefly at an open field where the tents for the Carrier Corps would have been set up for the thousands of African porters required to supply the British troops. These soldiers were stationed in the bush in Maktau and in other camps and forts to form a line of defense for the railway. Eventually a rail line would be put in to Maktau and all the way to Taveta, but at the beginning of the war in 1914 all supplies and much of the water went to the troops on the heads of African porters. Without their service, the soldiers on the front lines couldn’t have survived.