We must remember the Kenyans who fought for Britain during the War

African soldiers of the King's African Rifles train in Kenya, 1944.

Every November, we remember those who lost their lives fighting for Britain. But it is easy to become very insular and only think of those British soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.

All too often, we forget the sacrifice citizens from other countries made, and so on this Remembrance Sunday, we should ensure that we never forget those who have fought alongside Britain in major conflicts, including Kenya’s support during World War 2.

Kenya was a British Colony during the Second World War (Vita Kuu ya Pili ya Dunia in Swahili), joining the conflict when the British Empire declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939.

While only a minimal amount of fighting with Italian troops took place in Kenya itself (from  June 1940 to February 1941), it was an important economic asset for the Allies throughout the conflict, as well as contributing and a significant number of soldiers to fight in the British Army.

Kenya was one of the single most important recruiting grounds for the British Army in Africa with a total of 98,240 Kenyans recruited as Askaris into the King’s African Rifles (KAR). In fact, Kenyans accounted for 30% of the unit’s total strength.

Kenyan soldiers served in the successful East African Campaign against the Italians, as well as the invasion of Vichy-held Madagascar and the Burma Campaign against the Japanese, alongside troops from west Africa.

The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force also had Kenyan soldiers in their ranks.

Kenyan sailors aboard a British Royal Navy minesweeper
Kenyan sailors aboard a British Royal Navy minesweeper, 1945 (Photo: The National Archives UK)

A significant numbers of Italian soldiers captured during the East African Campaign were interned in Kenya and put to work on civil infrastructure projects.

Amongst those detained in Kenya was the Italian writer, Felice Benuzzi, who attempted to escape in 1943 by climbing Mount Kenya. Although he subsequently re-surrendered to the British, he detailed his experiences in his popular 1947 book, No Picnic on Mount Kenya.

Kenya also gave its name to a British cruiser which served during the conflict, although the country did not directly contribute to its crew.

In 1942, the entire British Eastern Fleet transferred from Ceylon to Kilindini near Mombasa, after its base came under threat from the Japanese.

The Far East Combined Bureau, an outpost of the British codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park, was also moved to a former school in Kilindini in 1942, where it worked on deciphering Japanese naval codes.

South African troops in Kenya
South African troops in Moyale, Kenya pose with an Italian flag captured after retaking the town from Italian forces in early 1941

Additionally, Kenya was an important source of agricultural products in the British Empire during the conflict, supplying significant quantities of Tea and Tobacco.

So on this Remembrance Sunday, let’s ensure we remember the sacrifice made by Kenya for Britain during the Second World War.


Comments are closed.