These photographs portray men who served for the British during the East Africa campaign, one of the longest campaigns of the First World War.

Throughout the war European powers exploited human and material resources from across their colonial empires. In the East Africa campaign the British mobilised approximately one million African people to serve in the Carrier Corps, a conscripted labour force. Losses were heavy and higher than those in other conflict zones; approximately 95,000 carriers died in East Africa.

The East Africa campaign

The East Africa campaign began as a British naval objective to capture German harbours and shipping, and destroy signalling stations across Germany’s African colonies.[1] It developed into one of the longest campaigns of the war when Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck’s small German force drew the British into a four-year guerrilla campaign, with the aim of drawing Allied resources away from the European theatre of war. Two weeks after the signing of the Armistice in France, the German army formally surrendered on 25 November 1918.

The majority of the British Army in East Africa were colonial divisions and regiments including men from the Indian Expeditionary Force and the King’s African Rifles, recruited from areas such as Nyasaland, British East Africa and British Somaliland. The German army relied on a colonial force or Schutztruppe made up of German officers and African soldiers.

Conditions and the role of the Carrier Corps

The environmental conditions in East Africa were extremely different to those on the Western Front. Outbreaks of disease were common, killing both animals and people,[2] and transportation was a major challenge due to the lack of sufficient railroad and road infrastructures. Without regular supplies, troops were soon living in unsanitary conditions. Increasingly, the European armies relied on local populations to work as carriers – roles that men, women and children were often pressed, and later conscripted, into taking.[3] Throughout the campaign the British recruited more than one million carriers,[4] who were tasked with transporting tons of supplies to the ever-changing battle fronts, in hazardous conditions. The Pike Report, written by Surgeon-General William Pike in 1918, concluded that not only were there extreme failings in providing medical care (the Carrier Corps received no medical access for the duration of the war), but those engaged in the campaign also received a poor, unsatisfactory diet. Malnutrition and unsanitary conditions had fatal consequences for thousands of combatants, and tens of thousands of military carriers.[5] Rare recordings made in the early 1980s feature Kenyan veterans of the King's African Rifles talking about their experiences of the war and the harsh conditions they endured.[6]

Death toll

On the British side, the campaign resulted in the deaths of over 11,000 British soldiers and over 100,000 African people recruited as carriers.[7] There were also hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties across occupied territories. German records of fatalities and casualities do not survive.[8]


[1] David Olusoga, The World’s War, (2014) p. 107

[2] David Olusoga, The World’s War, (2014)

[3] Edward Paice, Tip and Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa, (2007), p. 282.

[4] Edward Paice, Tip and Run, p. 393.

[5] W W Pike & A Balfour, Administration of medical services in German East Africa. (1918). [Report: WO 141/31] The National Archives; Edward Paice, ‘‘There came a darkness’: Keynote address’, in Journal of SCOLMA: African research and documentation, (128, 2015), pp. 6-8.

[6] Listen to the rare recordings made in the early 1980s feature Kenyan veterans of the King's African Rifles talking about their experiences of the war and the harsh conditions they endured here: <> [last accessed 07/11/2018]

[7] Edward Paice, Tip and Run, p. 392.

[8] Edward Paice, Tip and Run, (2007), p. 288.