Shot in Taveta that triggered First World War in East Africa

A memorial in honour of African soldiers who died during the First World War at Mwashoti area in Tsavo National Park, Taita Taveta County. PHOTO | LUCY MKANYIKA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Taita Taveta County became the epicentre of the war in the region between 1914 and 1918 when the British and German soldiers clashed.
  • A hundred years later, there are still remnants of that fierce battle in this area.

One early morning in August 1914, a shot was fired from a police station in Taveta. That gunshot is what triggered the First World War in East Africa.

Taita Taveta County would go on to become the epicentre of the war in the region between 1914 and 1918 when the British and German soldiers clashed.

A hundred years later, there are still remnants of that fierce battle in this area. Some of the notable historical artefacts of the war are the Commonwealth graves in Voi, Maktau and Taveta.

TRENCHES

Soldiers of different nationalities, but mostly British, were buried here.

At Mwashoti along the Voi-Taveta highway, overlooking Taita Hills to the East and Kilimanjaro mountains to the West, the trenches used by the British soldiers are still visible.

Salaita Hill where British and German soldiers fought during the First World War. PHOTO | LUCY MKANYIKA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The history here is rich, because it is also believed that the first flight in East and Central Africa took off in 1915 in an airfield in Maktau. The British built the airstrip during their campaign against the Germans during WWI.

The area also hosts a grave site where Indian soldiers were buried, as well as a railway station that was used to ferry food and weapons during the war.

BATTLEFIELD

Taveta hosts various remarkable sites such as the Salaita Hill, now a national monument, the last battlefield before the Germans withdrew and retreated to Tanzania. Here, there is also a baobab tree from which a German female sniper is said to have fired.

Other WWI sites include the old Taveta Police Station, which once served as a command post, and where on the evening of August 14, 1914, the gunshot that ignited the East African Campaign, a series of battles and guerrilla actions, were fired.

A plaque with names of soldiers buried at the Maktau Indian World War 1 memorial cemetery in Taita Taveta County. PHOTO | LUCY MKANYIKA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

At least two million Africans are believed to have been involved in the war, many of them as porters and craftsmen.

PORTERS

The porters carried food and ammunition for the soldiers who fought in the war.

Last year, the Sarova Group of Hotels erected a monument at Mwashoti in honour of the Africans who died during the war, but are not mentioned in WWI history in which their role was significant.

Sarova has also built a museum at its Taita Hills Game Lodge displaying World War I artefacts. They include spent cartridges and soldiers’ uniforms.

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