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And the death of Captain J.F.P. Butler VC DSO, Gold Coast Regiment

The British 1st Division commanded by Major General A.R. Hoskins, fighting down from the north, reached Morogoro on the German Central Railway on 26 August 1916. As usual the Germans had withdrawn ahead of the British and had moved south into the steep Uluguru mountain range. Despite having troops that were exhausted or sick plus a very extended supply line reaching back through Handeni to Korogwe on the Usambara Railway, the British theatre commander General Smuts ordered his men into and around the Uluguru Mountains. Torrential rain started falling.

The 57th Wilde’s Rifles (Indian Army) and the 3rd King’s African Rifles (3KAR), both units being in the 2nd East African Brigade commanded by Brigadier General J.A. Hannyngton, moved through the dense tropical forests north of the mountains fighting against German rear parties as they advanced. The rapid and breast-deep Pugu River was crossed by a rope being stretched across it for the Wilde’s Rifles Sepoys and the 3KAR Askari who followed them to hold on to. On 1 September the Sepoys started clearing the lower Uluguru slopes despite shelling from German field guns ahead of them. Two days later 3KAR surrounded and seized Matombo mission-station, capturing 24 Germans and four Askari.

Reconnaissance now established that the next German defences were sited on Kikarungu Hill which rose 3,000 feet above the road through the mountains. The German formation defending the hill was Abteilung Boemcken consisting of Landstrumabteilung Tanga, Abteilung Wilhelmstal and Abteilung Bahnschutz, all commanded by Major von Boemcken. At this point, on 4 August, the Gold Coast Regiment (GCR), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel R.A. de B. Rose, was moved forward from being Divisional Troops and was given the task of seizing Kikarungu Hill. The Gold Coasters had fought in Togo and the Cameroons but this was their first action in German East Africa. The GCR was a well-established unit 1,428 strong. It possessed 12 machine guns and two 2.95-inch mountain guns with 177 specially enlisted and trained gun carriers to carry these weapons.

Above: Majs Shaw MC, Wheeler MC and Read.

Captain Jack Butler (See HERE) was sent forward with his GCR Pioneer Company to reconnoitre the enemy positions. The Pioneer Company advanced up the road towards Kikarungu establishing itself on a kopje (small hill) to the left (east) of the road with an observation post on another kopje to the front. The range to the summit of Kikarungu Hill was about 1 mile. The enemy were in commanding higher positions and at 1700 hours they heavily engaged the Pioneer Company. Jack Butler went forward with an escort to see his men in the observation post. During his move forward up the road an enemy machine gunner successfully engaged the moving men and wounded Captain Butler.

‘B’ Company of the GCR under Captain Gerald Shaw now moved forward to reinforce the Pioneers and to dig in and secure their position. The wounded were evacuated, the more serious being taken back to Matombo Mission. The following morning Gerald Shaw’s ‘B’ Company and the Pioneer Company, now commanded by Lieutenant Percy Vaughan Russell Bray, fought forward from kopje to kopje, forcing the enemy back up the hill. In one of these encounters 4961 Acting Sergeant Bukare Kukawah of ‘B’ Company displayed conspicuous gallantry and was later awarded a Bar to the African Distinguished Conduct Medal that he had already won in the Cameroons. His citation read:

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He assumed command of and led his section with great courage and determination under very heavy fire. Later although wounded, he continued to remain at his post.”

Meanwhile 3KAR had been tasked with turning the German left flank. Supported by a section (two guns) of 27th Mountain Battery (Indian Army) 3KAR and the pack-battery mules moved well out to the right (west) to occupy Lusangale Hill. A GCR 2.95-inch gun (See Left)was brought into action to assist 3KAR in this move. During the night 3KAR continued their outflanking move whilst the GCR ‘A’ Company under Captain Edmund George Wheeler relieved ‘B’ Company which went into reserve.

The enemy had not been idle and had reinforced during the night. Shortly after dawn Abteilung Boemcken opened violent machine gun fire on ‘A’ Company, preventing movement forward. Both Gold Coast 2.95-inch guns heavily shelled the German positions assisted by two 13-pounder guns of the 5th South African Field Battery that had struggled forward along the muddy road. By noon the enemy fire slackened and 3KAR, now joined by ‘G’ Company of the GCR, began advancing to cut off the German retreat. This caused the enemy to start his usual withdrawal manoeuvre. At 1600 hours the Gold Coast Regiment assaulted and captured the summit of Kikarunga Hill where they found three dead Germans and three dead Askari plus abandoned rifles and ammunition.

In this its first battle in German East Africa the Gold Coast Regiment lost seven men killed and 28 wounded. One of the dead was Captain John Fitzhardinge Paul Butler VC DSO who had died of his wounds. To quote the Regimental History: “His death . . . was felt to be a specially malignant stroke of ill-fortune, and was mourned as a personal loss by his comrades of all ranks.” He is buried in Morogoro Cemetery, Tanzania.

Sadly whilst being evacuated on the long road to Korogwe Acting Sergeant Bukare Kukawah’s wounds were allowed to become septic and he died before he learned of the award of a Bar to his DCM. He is commemorated on the Kumasi Memorial in Ghana.

Above: Kumasi Memorial (CWGC Photograph)

For the action at Kikarunga Hill two Military Crosses were awarded:

Captain Gerald Shaw, South Lancashire Regiment, attached to the Gold Coast Regiment ,received one:

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led the advance with great courage and determination under heavy fire. He set a splendid example throughout.”
 
Temporary Captain Arthur John Rushton O’Brien, MB, African Medical Service, attached to the Gold Coast Regiment, received the other:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He repeatedly dressed and tended wounded men under very heavy fire. He set a splendid example of courage and coolness throughout.”


Sources:

Official History Military Operations East Africa August 1914 – September 1916 by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.
The Gold Coast Regiment in the East African Campaign by Sir Hugh Clifford KCMG.
The History of the Royal West African Frontier Force by Colonel A. Haywood CMG, CBE, DSO and Brigadier F.A.S. Clarke DSO.
Record of the 3rd Battalion The King’s African Rifles During The Great Campaign In East Africa 1914 – 1918.
Die Operationen in Ostafrika by Ludwig Boell.
The King’s African Rifles by Lieutenant Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett MBE.
The African DCM by John Arnold.
London Gazette Supplement dated 13 February 1917.
Medal Index Cards.

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