Kenya pressed to document its role in two world wars

Operation Pilgrimage Group Austarlia Allan Miles and Co-founder and Deputy President Tsavo Heritage Foundation Wanjala Sio during the start of planning for the Commemoration of the End of the war during the East African Campaign of the First World War as annual event in Tsavo. [David Gichuru/Standard]
On August 8, 1914, The East African Standard carried a banner headline in bold, black ink - THE WAR.

It was the beginning of the coverage of the First World War (WWI), which broke out in Europe. The war was pitting German East Africa in then Tanzania against the British East Africa in Kenya started in August 1914 at the border town of Taita.

It would be known as the East African Campaign of the First World War.

And more than 100 years later, on Tuesday, representatives from Tsavo Battlefields Development Committee, the Australian High Commission, the Sarova Group of Hotels, and The Standard Group PLC gathered in Nairobi in an event to mark the end of the war, which will be observed annually in Tsavo.

It was also the launch of the Heritage Tour at the Sarova Stanley Hotel that was themed "Retracing the footprints of Kenya’s heritage and culture over the last 100 years".

Tsavo Heritage Foundation deputy president Wanjala Sio said there was rich history surrounding the fighting grounds in Taita Taveta that was yet to be properly told.

“The war in East Africa at Tsavo battlefields forms a critical part of history of WW1 and WW2 in Kenya. However, the history of these sites and related events has yawning gaps in its narration, documentation and publication,” Ms Wanjala said.

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She revealed that many Kenyans were recruited and fought in the war, while others were involved indirectly.

“Many Kenyans died as a result of the fighting while others succumbed to dehydration following the harsh conditions of Taita Taveta. Others were overworked, walked long distances yet were denied food, and were attacked by mosquitoes."

She said there was need to research and identify historical sites, events and participants to help reconstruct and document this period of the country's history.

The trenches of Salaita Hill, she observed, were neglected and almost disappearing, yet they had been the scenes of one of the fiercest battles in WW1.

Similarly, the "Kambi ya Bibi" site has remained incognito, yet, according to local history, this was the place where a German woman had hidden inside a baobab tree and caused havoc among British soldiers.

Australian Deputy High Commissioner Jonathan Ball reiterated the fact that Kenya had a rich WW1 history that needed to be told.

While commending the efforts of foreign and local fighters, Mr Ball singled out the efforts of Lieutenant William Thomas Dartnell for his bravery in various wars, including the Second Boer War, Bambatha Rebellion, East African Campaign and Battle of Bukoba.

Lt Dartnell was born in Australia in 1885 and died on September 3, 1915, aged 30. He was buried at the War Grave Cemetery in Voi.

Sarova Hotels Managing Director Jimi Kariuki said the Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge stood next to a battleground. “Sarova Hotels in Kenya have taken the lead in East Africa by identifying all these leads. We have come up with an exciting historical journey told in pictures, and an artifacts museum at Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge,” he said.

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The East African StandardTHE WAREast African Campaign