Road Trip- Part Three – In Memoria

The second day of remembrance took us to Maktau Indian memorial Cemetery. This cemetery contains Indian soldiers who were killed when General Mallison was ambushed by the Germans. It was originally a British war cemetery but in 1922, those British graves were re-interned at Voi. There are 16 graves, 1 of which was unidentified.

Maktau was a railway station which was the last stop before the front line. There was at one point, around 20,000 troops stationed here along side 15,000 porters and over 100,000 horses and mules all waiting here in the build up to the Salaita Hill battle.

At Maktau, on 4th September 1915, a small British mounted force was ambushed and destroyed. It was later established as Maktau Fortified Camp which was a reinforcement depot and an Indian hospital. The railway at Maktau is now disused and has long since become derelict but it was with sadness that we were reminded of the purpose of this railway station. The remembrance service here was as moving as the service at Voi, and Mr Nomad had the privilege of laying a wreath to honour those who lay beneath us.

After taking some moments to appreciate the magnitude of our location, we moved onto Taveta Cemetery. Taveta was described as a border town, bordering Tanzania and was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the East African campaign. The weather had changed from the previous day and the heaven’s opened and we found ourselves drenched in a sudden down pour. This bore no reflection whatsoever to the suffering endured by those we were seeking to pay homage to.

It was incredibly tragic to learn that of the thousands of porters or carriers who assisted in the war, that only 1 in 25 ever made it to the front line. Most of those poor souls were killed not just by war, but from adverse conditions leading to ravaging diseases and malnutrition. Taveta Cemetery contains the graves of 29 Indian soldiers, of who only 1 is identified.

After this service, we strolled around to where the Old Taveta Police Station was located. This historical building has long since been abandoned and had fallen into disrepair, but was of extreme historical significance being the place where the first shots of the East African campaign were taken, sparking the start of the war in East Africa. Mr Nomad and I were fascinated by this derelict building, especially when it was apparent that there were still the remains of gun shots in the barren walls. It was somewhat eerie but intriguing all the same. It is hoped that this building will be preserved by the Kenyans but funding is always an issue.

After the solemn and rather melancholy morning, we had a marvellous lunch at Grogans Castle Hotel close to nearby Lake Jipe in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro which provided some much needed relief before we were to proceed onto Salaita Hill for sundowners. The hotel was high up perched on a hill and the views were spectacular. We tucked into a sumptuous feast to prepare ourselves mentally for what was to come, and the physical challenge of climbing the hill itself. The vista was stunning although different to that at Salt Lick Lodge. We couldn’t see much wild life although the bushy green landscape was fantastic, with splashes of vividly coloured flowers but we could see the magnificent Mount Kilimajaro although it was shrouded in mist.

Salaita Hill is a designated battle field and was the site of three significant battles on the Taveta front. The first large scale engagement of the East African campaign of the First World War involving British, Indian, Rhodesian and South African troops occurred here on this magnificent hill. It took place on 12th February 1916 and was part of a three pronged offensive against German East Africa. We clambered up this rather large hill in trepidation and although the rain had abated, the sky was clouded over and gloomy, perhaps a reflection of the sombre mood we found ourselves in.

This hill became a tactical look out point close to the border town of Taveta and was a significant vantage point on the route for Voi, Maktau, Taveta and Moshi. It was strategically located on the savannah plains between Mount Kilimanjaro and the Pare mountains and was considered the gate way into Taveta and to German East Africa. It was very heavily defended and had quickly been occupied by the Germans and became a strong defensive position. The hill was attacked three times by the British who sustained very heavy losses. It was finally liberated after a lengthy artillery bombardment on 8th March 1916, the German forces having swiftly evacuated the night before.

After enlightenment from the historians accompanying us on this journey, we were able to wander along the summit, taking in the remnants of the trenches dug out by the Germans to defend the hill to the bitter end, and the ruined emplacements where cannons and guns would have been mounted, awaiting the ensuing onslaught. All that remained was piles of bricks and rubble but they still had a story to tell, a story which should be told over and over to ensure that we never forget the sacrifices made by so many.

The mist failed to lift at the top of this hill but this only added to the atmosphere and made us truly appreciate how difficult the Great War had been. A real tragedy that continues to unfold was that many of those Africans who found themselves acting as porters or carriers who gave their lives have never been identified and the quest to properly acknowledge them and remember all of those who assisted in the East African campaign still goes on.

Mr Nomad and I had been humbled by this experience and it had been a privilege and an honour to be allowed to pay our respects to those who shall never be forgotten. We had learned so much from our surroundings and from those historians who accompanied us and imparted their knowledge so that such acts of remembrance can continue in the future.

We had always wished to embrace all that Kenya has to offer and this includes the bad things as well as the good, and we were glad to learn just a little bit more about this wonderful country and its people who historically, appear to have sacrificed so much. As we commenced the long journey home, the sun once more erupted, a salient reminder that for our tomorrow, they gave their today.

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