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First World War 1914-1918

The War In East Africa - 1914

Lieutenant E G M Thornycroft and the King’s African Rifles.

Lieutenant Edward Gerald Mytton Thornycroft was born on 7th July 1886 in Harrogate, Yorkshire, the son of John Mytton and Frances Anne Henrietta Thornycroft (nee Penrose).  His father was a Clerk in Holy Orders.  At the time of his death his mother is recorded as Mrs Morris, living in County Cork.  Thornycroft was commissioned into the King’s Own on 16th August 1905, and promoted Lieutenant in 1907.  In December 1909 he was employed with the 4th (Uganda) Battalion of the King’s African Rifles.  He was typical of many officers who were seconded from the British army for service in Africa, with Imperial Forces.

German East Africa, now Tanzania, and British East Africa, now Kenya, shared a common border from Lake Victoria to Mount Kilimanjaro.  Thornycroft was killed in action on the 13th/14th September 1914 at Kisii.  Kisii is a small town near the frontier, about 32 miles south of Kisumu in Kenya, and not far from Lake Victoria which is to its west.

A contemporary letter to Colonel T O Fitzgerald in Nairobi, Kenya, tells the story:

October 1914

Dear Fitzgerald,

In the absence of Mr Spencer KDG Kisii, I am writing you a few lines about Rekisii fight in which poor old Thorny was killed. I was present at the engagement.

Thornycroft was in command of the column consisting of about 280 4/KAR (3 Corps) and 40 GA Police, which came over from Uganda on the 11th September. We were en route for Nairobi, but on arrival at Kisinar, were switched off to Kisii to meet a German invading force which consisted of about 350-400 asharis, 40-50 Europeans, 3 Maxims and 1 Field Gun. We arrived at the hills surrounding Kisii station at about 10 am 12th September and took up position on them prior to attacking.

Re Gs were having a parade and had taken no precautions in the way of outposts and scouts, otherwise we should never have searched the hills without opposition.

Thorny took down the attack on our right personally, together with Grey (attached to KAR and wounded) and Mr Spencer, while a separate attack was made on the left under me.

Thorny got quite close to the station before being fired on, having advanced down the hill along the road which was rather hidden. He then turned into the bush, which was very thick indeed. (It was necessary to stand up to fire). They then found a European section of a bout 35 whiles apposed to them at about 30 range (Thorny's section was only about 20 strong). Thorny charged and drove them back, and then took up their old position (German). The Germans retreated about 50. He was standing up to Look when he was shot through the heart, death was instantaneous I believe.

His section eventually retired slowly, owing to shortage of ammunition, and the fact that they were enfiladed as well.

Eventually we all retired after dark owing to shortage of ammunition. The Germans retreated in a route in twos and threes that night, leaving all their kit, ammunition, wounded etc behind. When our troops went in next day, Thornycrofts body was found and we give him a military funeral at Kisii.

Thornycroft was a most popular officer amongst us in KAR and his loss is deeply deplored. Also an excellent soldier. Before the fight he was especially cool and collected and formed his plans well. During the fight, I hear he showed much gallantry, and was quite fearless. He is a great loss to us.

The German casualties I estimate at about 90 or 100 killed and wounded. Our casualties were 8 killed and 15 wounded.

I trust this will give you some idea of the part Thornycroft took in the fight.

M A Lilley, Captain 4/KAR

(Accession Number KO0867)

Edward Thornycroft  is buried in Kisii Boma Military Cemetery, Kenya.

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