Justifiably the British are accused of brutality in 1950s Kenya.
Justifiably the British are accused of brutality in 1950s Kenya.
But why aren’t the Mau Mau butchers also in the dock?
Darkness had fallen in the remote and beautiful Rift Valley, north of Nairobi, and the white farmer was in his pyjamas ready for bed.
But first he stepped outside his isolated house for his customary evening stroll in the garden with his pregnant wife, before checking the shutters on the windows and doors in case of intruders.
That was when the Mau Mau raiders struck; 30 of them, wielding their sharp pangas or machetes.
Thirty-eight-year-old Roger Ruck and his wife Esmee, a doctor who ran a dispensary for Africans, died in the vicious onslaught, their bodies slashed to ribbons by the mob and left on the veranda.
The same fate was meted out to one of the family’s African servants, who ran out to help them. But the horrific massacre didn’t stop there. The raiders rampaged through the house, looting its contents, then stormed upstairs.
Behind a locked bedroom door was the Rucks’ son, Michael, aged six. We will never know if he was still asleep or if the noise had woken him, in which case he must have lain in terror as the intruders sought him out.
They broke down the door, knives flashed — and in an instant the boy was dead.
Kenya’s rebels — today hailed as freedom fighters against a repressive colonial British administration — had claimed four more victims in their fight for independence.
It was late January 1953 — 58 years ago — when the Ruck family died their terrible deaths, just a few months into the eight-year state of emergency in which police, aided by several battalions of British soldiers, battled an elusive underground army of insurgents.
The British crackdown was brutal and almost certainly what today would be termed a disproportionate response. Thousands of Kenyans died in the guerrilla fighting. A thousand were convicted of capital offences and hanged.
Many more — perhaps up to 300,000 — suspected of being Mau Mau or even just associating with the insurgents were detained in camps where sanitation was rudimentary, food inadequate, and discipline often brutal and unrelenting. Beatings are said to have been a daily occurrence.
According to evidence in long-concealed official documents now being produced for a compensation court case in London, inmates were tortured, castrated and raped.
Much of this will be recounted, to our horror, as the case proceeds.
Yesterday, the Mail reported how a pensioner from Putney in South London appears to be the only living individual accused of human rights abuses relating to the Mau Mau uprising.
Former colonial civil servant Terence Gavaghan, 89, was awarded the MBE for his work in Kenya, but now has Alzheimer’s.
The four ageing claimants against him — who say they were tortured — are being represented by British lawyers on a no-win no-fee basis. If they are victorious, they could set a precedent for an avalanche of other claims from Kenyans which might cost British taxpayers millions.
Let’s be clear. Atrocities committed by the British against Kenyans are to be condemned. This was not a pretty war by any means and most definitely not Britain’s finest hour, any more than the concentration camps of the Boer War spoke well of British justice.
But in the finger-pointing — and at a time when the Prime Minister has taken to making grandstanding apologies for supposed misdeeds in our imperial past — it is well to remember the Rucks and their innocent six-year-old son slashed to death in his bed.
There is another side to the coin of British brutality — that of the horrors inflicted by the Mau Mau. Moreover, the vast majority of their victims were not British settlers, their supposed enemies, but Africans like themselves. The houseboy who died alongside the Rucks was not an isolated example.
Anyone who sided with the British — and there were many in what was, in part, a civil war between rival African factions — was subjected to savagery every bit as bad and often much worse than the British now stand accused of. Recruitment to the Mau Mau began with bloodshed as whole villages were forced to take an oath of allegiance.
Often goats were sacrificed and disembowelled as part of the process. Preying on the Kikuyu people’s religious superstitions in this way instilled dread. The burying alive of those who refused was a powerful incentive to any who doubted the cause or might be tempted to disobey.
Peter Mungai, an African Christian, was forced to watch as a Mau Mau gang slowly strangled his best friend before finishing him off with a machete. The dead man’s finger was sliced off and Mungai was forced to kiss it as part of his initiation ritual.
To reinforce the point, dismembered bodies of opponents were left strung up for all to see. One of the young British soldiers sent to police Kenya, many of whom were conscripts doing their National Service, remembered walking along a forest path and finding the body of an African man impaled on the branches of a tree. British Police Guarding Mau-Mau Suspects
No Mau Mau veterans have been prosecuted for the ghastly torture and murders they inflicted on their fellow Kenyans
His killers had cut out his tongue as a warning to informers. Another Army patrol came on the butchered remains of an African hung in pieces on a fence. Africans working for the colonial government were the Mau Mau’s initial victims in 1952, when the uprising began.
One particular chief loyal to the Crown was badly wounded in an attack and taken to hospital. There, an assailant dressed as a porter slipped in and blew his brains out with a pistol.
Particularly at risk were the families of those who joined a 25,000-strong ‘Home Guard’ of Africans set up by the authorities.
Ninety women and children died when a Mau Mau gang descended on a village in the dead of night, sealed the people inside their homes, threw petrol on the thatch of the roof and set it alight. Those who didn’t die in the fire but managed to claw their way out were cut down with pangas and left to die a slow, lingering death.
The body of an elderly chief, an arch-enemy of the Mau Mau, was horribly mutilated. His feet and hands were hacked through at the wrists and ankles, his buttocks severed and his skull split.
A reporter who was taken to the site of the massacre described ‘children sliced to pieces, and pregnant women with their bellies ripped open, lying among the smouldering ashes of their homes’.
The first Europeans to die were two farmers who were dining together at home when a gang arrived and hacked them to death. The wounds on them were so terrible that the police refused to publish the photographs. After them came the Rucks, whose deaths sent the white community into a state of panic.
This led to demands for tough action in the firmly held belief that the settlers were fighting for their survival against a merciless enemy.
What upped the tension even more was that, in the case of the two farmers, the attackers had been let in by the cook. Something similar may also have happened with the Rucks.
The connivance of servants in the slaughter of their masters became a feature of the conflict, whether as a result of intimidation or sympathy with the cause.
Some could be flippant about it. The novelist Graham Greene, who reported from Kenya as a journalist, wrote: ‘To the English, it was like a revolt of the domestic staff. It was as though Jeeves had taken to the jungle and had sworn, however unwillingly, to kill Bertie Wooster.’
But the fear was real enough, and it was why, in the eyes of white settlers, the authorities and the Army, every black man was a suspect — in the same way that, a decade later, U.S. troops imagined every South Vietnamese villager was a Vietcong guerilla.
None of this excuses excesses on the part of the British authorities, but equally we must remember the context in which they happened.
One old Kenya hand, a former police reservist recalled how the Mau Mau rampage left him so scared he slept under his bed for a year. He had no regrets about fighting the insurgents in the bush. ‘They really got what they deserved,’ he said.
The number of Europeans who died was small. The Rucks were four out of just 32. About 90 white policemen and soldiers were killed by the Mau Mau, but, shockingly, more than 2,000 pro-British Africans deemed to be ‘collaborators’ died at the hands of their countrymen.
Mau Mau deaths were actually vastly greater as superior firepower eventually crushed the uprising.
Government figures put the number of Mau Mau killed at 11,000. But one expert, David Anderson, professor of African politics at Oxford, thinks 25,000 is nearer the mark. ‘In no other British territory in the 20th century was there such a death toll,’ he says.
He is highly critical of the way the authorities, the police and the soldiers acted. The gloves were off. ‘Everything that could happen did happen,’ he says. ‘Allegations about beatings and violence were widespread. Basically, you could get away with murder. It was systematic.’
But he also fully acknowledges Mau Mau atrocities. The examples cited above are from his dossier.
‘British behaviour during this dark period was questionable at best. Equally, there is no doubt that the Mau Mau’s atrocities against their own people were more barbaric than anything the British had encountered.’
Neither side emerges with glory, he states emphatically.
And this is a vital point to remember as this unedifying chapter in our history goes under the microscope again. There are two sides — at least — to every story, and this is no exception.
As British misdeeds against Kenyans in the 1950s are put to the test, we surely are entitled to ask why no Mau Mau veterans have been prosecuted for the ghastly torture and murders they inflicted on their fellow Kenyans.
Why should it be that, in the fashionable hue and cry against our colonial past, we British are the only ones who are ever called to account?
It must be accepted as a principle that the rifle, effective as it is, cannot replace the devastation produced on the enemy by the speed of the horse, the magnetism of the charge, and the terror of cold steel. - British Army Cavalry training manual 1907
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I’ve done a fair bit of reading about the Mau Mau uprising. Anyone who has read what those blood crazed animals did to innocent men, women & children will agree with the treatment dished out to them. My only complaint is we didn’t kill enough of them, the more painful & protracted the better.
I believe when the Black Watch was out there, there was complaints about about cruelty towards Mau Mau prisoners that came into their hands. The farmers and Europeans armed themselves and took lessons on different types of guns,women also carried weapons to protect themselves against the Mau Mau
I`ve been trying to find a book on the Mau Mau UPRISING but so far I have been unlucky, maybe Scouse could point me in that direction.
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Well well, a subject after my heart! I have very fond memories of Kenya, because I lived there for two and half years from 1958-1960 on my first ever posting out of training. I had my 19th and 20th birthdays in Kenya.I loved every minute of that two and half years, and came to appreciate more who I was.
I also came to appreciate who I wasn’t, and more importantly, who I didn’t aspire to be, and that was some of the British ex-pats who lorded it over their African servants despite themselves never previously having been in a position to afford them in the stockbroker belts they had come from in the UK. They were complete and utter snobs with very little to be snobbish about, and I disliked them intensely! They, for their part, tried to avoid any contact whatsoever with the British servicemen posted to Kenya. In fact they looked down their noses at us, a response to which I gladly and ably returned in spades! I would have been ashamed as a Brit for anyone to compare myself with the likes of them.In my experience, these people had sweet bugger all to be snobbish about, and treated the Africans, and those that worked for them in particular, abominably.
The genuine Kenya hands, however, those that had been born there, or had been offered opportunities to farm there after the war, were a very different bunch indeed. They were tough, friendly and hospitable. I recall a very attractive woman arriving at the gate at RAF Eastleigh [near Nairobi] one day with a couple of small boys in tow, and me been rousted out by the Snowdrops asking if one of us could give her an escorted tour! So I took them up to the airfield, and showed them a few aircraft, and into the hangars etc, and on the way back to their car, she asked me would I like to take my next leave and spend it with them on their farm up-country near the town of Eldoret. So I did, and what fantastic people they were.
They were the sort of people murdered so indiscriminately by the Mau Mau terrorists, and let’s call them that because that’s what they were. Cold-blooded murderers. They killed relatively few White people, mainly because of moves made by the British Government to counter them, but they killed literally thousand of their own people for no other reason than they didn’t agree with them.
I recall one story however the Mau Mau came off worst, and it involved two elderly women, sisters, clearly cast in the mold of those doughty English women who helped shape the world. Their home was attacked one night, and both turned out to be very good shots, and with the pistols they carried at all time, they managed to dispose of their attackers and carry on baking!
In 1958, the Mau Mau uprising was largely over, but it was still quite normal to see women In Nairobi packing a dinky little .32 Beretta pistol , and the men something a little more potent! A bit Wild West-ish perhaps, but very real.
It comes as no surprise to me that these compensation claims are driven by British lawyers, those who have come up through the ’compensation culture" which exists in Britain today. They see money in it, and that has nothing to do with the law. I hope they lose and it costs them megabucks!