Whilst we had enjoyed the epic drive to the Tsavo, and our accommodation at Salt Lick Lodge was outstanding, our concentration shifted to the actual purpose of our journey and after a leisurely morning, we rendezvoused at Tsavo House in Voi for lunch and a briefing of the events to follow.
We were introduced to two historians who were to accompany us on this mission to pay our respects and we were introduced firstly to James G Wilson. He is an historian who has recorded the actions and tribulations of the British Empire at war against what he describes as an enterprising and adventurous enemy in a book entitled “Guerillas of Tsavo.” He spoke eloquently of the sacrifices made by unsung heroes in the quest to overthrow the Germans. He was joined by Tom Lawrence, another historian who reminded us of his passion to identify all of those who gave their lives in the East African campaign of the First World War who to this very day, remain unidentified and unremembered but had fought and assisted the British so valiantly and paid the ultimate price.
The first visit was to Voi Cemetery. Voi is a town approximately 160 kilometres from Mombasa. The origins of the cemetery can be traced to the burial of a civilian engineer (Mr O’Hara) who in 1899, was killed by one of the famous maneaters. Voi was a hospital centre in 1916 but from August 1915 to December 1917, 100 burials were made and after Armistice, a further 37 graves were brought in from Bura Military Cemetery, Maktau Military Cemetery and Tsavo Military Cemetery. It now contains 137 commonwealth burials from the First World War, one of which remains unidentified.
It was a baking hot day but in the searing heat, we were able to listen intently to the humbling service performed by Kenyan clergy in the presence of many Kenyan and foreign dignitaries, soldiers and officers from the British Army and the Kenyan Defence Force, civilians including governors from the local counties and many others who wished to pay their respects. Wreaths were laid to honour the fallen. It was poignant and sombre, a salient reminder of those that we should never forget.
Following this ceremony, we made our way to Taita Hills Safari Resort, the sister resort to Salt Lick Lodge where we were staying for the duration of the trip. This lodge contains within it a small museum that displays World War One memorabilia as part of the rich history of Taita Taveta County and has made significant head way in identifying leads relating to the First World War battlefields and has actively endeavoured to remember the contribution made by Africans in that they have made their museum a start point for battle field tours.
This is an admirable attempt to ensure that those who lost their lives in the war effort will never be forgotten. The museum contained interesting artefacts including ammunition casings, items recovered from the war horses, clothing and taking centre stage was a model of the battle fields and the strategic positions adopted by the soldiers in battle.
Our visit to this location was to observe the lowering of the Kenyan national flag as the Last Post was played. Again, poignant moments of reflection. Whilst here at Taita Hills, we were able to view a memorial to the African soldiers never to be forgotten along side a monument to remember Lieutenant Darnell VC, an Australian volunteer who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for gallantry near to Maktau.
Maktau was one of our next destinations the following day and is the site of an Indian war cemetery, a now disused railway and was the scene of a bloody battle. We would also be visiting Taveta War Cemetery followed by the Old Police Station in Taveta, then onwards to Salaita Hill, the setting of fearsome fighting.
The first day of these remembrance services had been intense and emotional but undeniably enlightening and it was an absolute privilege to be able to attend such moving tributes.
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