Last month the world commemorated the Armistice Day. In France, western world leaders converged to commemorate 100 years since the First World War ended. Unfortunately, European leaders as well as the western media said that the Armistice Day was the day when the “First World War guns fell silent”.
This was not only confusing but also wrong – because, the warring factions did not all stop fighting on one day. From the speeches delivered by the world leaders at the function, it was as if there was a whistle that was blown ordering all the commanders in different battlefields to unanimously stop fighting which was not the case.
The fact is, the Armistice Day was when the world leaders signed the truce, that “Never Again” should such a catastrophe befall the world. So the Armistice Day was when an armistice was signed as a formal instrument to end the war.
Ugandan soldiers in the war
More than 17,000 Ugandan soldiers of the King’s African Rifles (KAR) participated in the First World War, according to war records in Uganda.
They were in different sections which included transport corps, medical corps, porters, cooks and of course the fighters. Ugandan soldiers the Germans in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Rwanda-Urundi which is now the territory of the republics of Rwanda and Burundi respectively.
Kabali sent to the front line
When the First World War suddenly broke out, the British asked Kabaka Daudi Chwa of Buganda to join the war as an ally again the enemy, German. Besides providing soldiers, the Kabaka went to the frontline in the then German,ruled Tanganyika.
During the war, on March 23, 1916, Kabaka Chwa appointed Ezera Kabali to replace Kiyingi, an army commander. Kabali was in charge of three hundred carriers and other troops . They left Kampala to join Kiyimba in Mbarara. Each man carried a bag (debe), a cooking pot, 60 pounds of maize, a 10 pound sleeping bag, and money (Rupees 1.50) as they headed for the frontline in Tanganyika.
“The night of March 26 was spent at Mitala Maria; 40 of Kabali’s men spent the night drinking and were rewarded next day with five strokes of the kiboko” Kabali writes. The 1,565-miles journey that started in Kampala, saw us walk through Ankole, into Rwanda and finally to Tanzania. Ugandan troops fought alongside the Belgian forces against the German enemy.
When the Ugandan and the Belgian forces entered Rwandan territory, Kabali pens that: “At Kakoma, we found that people had surrendered; and soldiers were ordered neither to take property nor to damage fields… On June 1, the Belgian flag was hoisted at Kigali and we moved to attack the Germans at Kagera…. On June 20, we crossed the Kagera in Canoes… We marched through Karagwe to Bihamuro.”
He continues to relate that: “we marched through Karagwe to Biharamuro.” Kabali says that from September 13 to 19, 1916, there was a battle, extending over a front of 15 miles at Bujubi. After that battle, on September 20, they captured Tabora. The troops returned to Uganda in November 1916 from Mwanza in Tanganyika by ship and docked at Munyonyo.
Ex-soldier tells war experience
Kabali, documented his story and in 1918, after the war, submitted it to Sir Daudi Chwa II, King of Buganda and three special ministers. Kabali was from the Transport Corps of the Buganda Rifles (BR), the scantly documented forces from Buganda Kingdom that fought alongside the KAR during the First World War.
Kabali’s report was reproduced in September 1963 by Anglican Reverend F.B. Welbourn in commemoration of 45 years since the First World War ended. Originally, the report was in Luganda but Welbourn translated it into English and it was reproduced under the title: Ezera Kabali’s dairy of the 1918 war.
Addressing it to the Kabaka, Kabali wrote:“The British did their best to prevent the Belgians from ill-treating the Baganda, in particular in regard to giving loads which were too heavy. The Belgians were very strong and brave.”
“But they were brutal in treatment of African soldiers, whom they beat; and they would rob the tribes through whose country they passed. A Buganda army would not long survive if left entirely in charge. Kiyimba, the Muganda leader whom I succeeded, was good and kind. He was an admirable organiser and urged his troops to serve whole heartedly.”
Kabali recommends Baganda chiefs
The seven other Gombolola chiefs, who served under him, were commended for their hard work and suitability for command. Of the chiefs, Kabali wrote: “Your Highness, your chiefs were all hard-working and endured all hardships for the sake of their Kabaka and country. If they had considered their own welfare they would have run away from the unmerited hardships with which we met. They were very brave throughout.”
Recoginising Ugandan soldiers
About other soldiers of the KAR, Kabali narrates: “The other ranks were to be praised for their strength in carrying heavy loads and for their endurance. Daily they had to climb steep hills and walk long distances.
The Belgians were most impressed that they never lost their loads. I, therefore, ask Your Highness to instruct, the chiefs to remit their normal duties for a time, in reward for the service to a foreign power.
The Banyankole served longer than the Baganda and deserve the same praise. The Banyoro joined them only at Mwanza and, being very prone to sickness, saw little active service.” Kabali also recommended to the Kabaka that, “in any future war, a Saza chief chosen as a commander should be recognised as an officer and allowed to wear a uniform by which his rank could be distinguished.”
Ugandan soldiers returns
“The Ugandan soldiers of the King’s African Rifles returned to Uganda on September 18, 1918. The first batch of the Ugandan soldiers returned by ship from Tanzania and docked at Bugongo in Entebbe.
They were received by the governor of Uganda, Kabaka Daudi Chwa II of Buganda, Stanislaus Mugwanya and other dignitaries amidst jubilations especially from the crowd,” The Uganda Herald of September 25, 1918 reported.