second part of our series on the First
Liberation, the Nation Investigation Team
looks at events from June 1953 to May 1955,
including the setting up of a Kenya Gulag –
the notorious Village-isation programme –
the formation of a colonial war council,
Operation Anvil, when Nairobi was cleared of
Kikuyus, and the inexorable move towards the
horror of Hola Camp and its martyrs.
British Army machine gunner stands guard
over the city as troops cleared the
Kikuyu from Nairobi in fight against Mau
Mau. The move, called Operation Anvil,
simply shifted the battle from the city
to the camps.
The arrival of General Erskine in Nairobi on
June 1, 1953 profoundly affected the whole
course and outcome of the Emergency.
next two years he injected a solidly professional
approach to the purely military problems he and
Governor Baring faced, at the cost however of
creating a massive new problem in the detention
camps on Baring’s civilian front.
only resolved at the first 1960 Lancaster House
Conference by a constitutional settlement openly
and bitterly described as a "victory for Mau
Mau" by the European Settlers’ leader.
political side the next two years also produced a
change of colonial secretaries. Oliver Lyttelton (later
Lord Chandos), who had hacked out a fiddly new
constitution in early 1954, was succeeded in July
by Alan Lennox-Boyd, whose tenure was also to be
marked by yet another new constitution and a fancy
electoral franchise, especially designed to limit
African, and particularly Kikuyu, voters.
Erskine, at the beginning of his stint had
carefully kept out of the political limelight.
However, as early as September 1953 out of the
blue he publicly and provocatively announced,
without any apparent consultation with anyone who
mattered, that military measures alone would not
solve the country’s problems which were "purely
he cleverer and more devious than he seemed? After
all, no one could deny that the concentration
camps in which his strategy was dumping hundreds
of thousands of political detainees, were to
become a critical political, rather than a
military or religious, problem.
end of his time, Gen Erskine had still found no
rapport with the European Settlers, whose sleaze
and petty narrow-mindedness he privately, but
comprehensively, condemned in correspondence to
his friends, and particularly to his wife, in
week of assuming command, Gen Erskine had been
horrified at indiscriminate shooting which he had
found to be rampant in several British and King's
African Rifles (KAR) units, many of which were
keeping inter-unit competitive scoreboards
recording kills (but without evidence of the
nature of these kills).
practices included a £5 reward for the first
sub-unit to kill an insurgent. Mr Frank Kitson, a
member of Gen Erskine’s staff, artlessly
commented: "Soon after, three Africans
appeared walking down the track towards us: a
perfect target. Unfortunately they were policemen."
Michael Blundell, later a member of the war
council, had announced to the crowd of Europeans
threatening to storm Government House in January
1953: "I am glad to tell you that I now, at
long last, bring you your shooting orders."
article in an authoritative British newspaper in
December 1952 Mr Blundell pronounced that
"the problem" would not be cured "until
we make it much more painful and distasteful to be
a member of Mau Mau than it is to support the
notorious military personality of all was a
company commander of the 5th (Kenya) Battalion of
the KAR. The 43-year-old Captain Gerald Griffiths
was eventually taken to court for his atrocities.
The company sergeant-major gave evidence that he
was told "he could shoot anybody he liked as
long as they were black".
23 Erskine issued a strongly worded order
insisting on an immediate stamping out of all such
practices: "I most strongly disapprove of
beating up the inhabitants of this country just
because they are the inhabitants".
Waciuma, a schoolgirl at the time, had no doubts
where this attitude was leading. She wrote in
Daughter of Mumbi, her remarkable commentary on
those days, that "the Settlers wanted to kill
every Kikuyu, every living soul, and to be
finished with them and their land troubles for
to many Kikuyu the dark shadows of racist-based
genocide were becoming ever more obvious. Except,
initially, for the very few who were considered
the loyalest of the loyal, every Kikuyu was now
being screened, a process described by Blundell as
"– nothing more than intensive and
sustained interrogation, using every possible
known trick of the interrogator."
William Worley, however, Vice-President of the
Court of Appeal for East Africa, described
screening teams as using "unlawful and
criminal violence" which is "the
negation of the rule of law".
Evans, a lawyer who was chased out of the country,
has documented in Law and Disorder some of Mr
Blundell’s interrogation tricks. They included
slicing off ears and boring holes in eardrums;
pouring paraffin over suspects who were then set
alight; flogging suspects until they died; and the
burning of eardrums with lighted cigarettes.
British Parliamentary Delegation to Kenya in 1954
was shocked and reported that "–brutality
and malpractices by the police have occurred on a
scale which constitutes a threat to public
confidence in the forces of law and order."
when the due process of the law did come into
play, cases were accelerated to a point where
sheer speed was more important than any of the
niceties of justice.
1953 Attorney-General Sir John Whyatt (no friend
of the Provincial Administration) reported a
possible breaking of the justice speed record. In
the last two months, he proclaimed, no fewer than
10,000 Mau Mau cases had been disposed of at an
average of one case every two minutes. Conviction
usually entailed seven years imprisonment.
through these two years Governor Baring and Gen
Erskine seemed to be taking it in ignominious
turns to plead the cases of the Provincial
Administration or the security forces with the
Erskine’s order of June 23 had concluded that he
would not "tolerate breaches of discipline
leading to unfair treatment of anybody". It
was the attitude of the forces raised locally Ð
the Kenya Regiment, the Kikuyu Guard and the Kenya
Police Reserve Ð that proved the most troublesome.
After Sir John Whyatt pressed some cases involving
members of the Kenya Regiment, Gen Erskine told
the commanding officer: "I am not going to
get any more of your men off a murder charge".
more often it was Sir Evelyn Baring who found
himself supporting the Provincial Administration,
sometimes even to the point of abuse of the
Governor’s Office, against Sir John Whyatt’s
insistence on CID inquiries and prosecutions.
illustrated an internal power problem which became
at one time the biggest obstacle to a speedy end
to the Emergency, perhaps even extending it by an
unnecessary four years or more. Sir Evelyn Baring
could not govern Kenya by British bayonets and
colonial policemen alone. The AG was forcing him
to choose between the rule of law and losing the
trust of the district officers and district
commissioners, the vital constituency through
which he had to govern the country. It was a
Catch-22 situation in which he eventually lost
everything. It was worse. Almost all his district
officers, in the face of much evidence to the
contrary, believed that they were fighting a just
cause and this adopted creed of theirs affirmed
that Mau Mau was an evil atavistic cult with no
political or economic objectives. It could only be
destroyed by forcing its members to confess, if
necessary by the use of illegal force that they
had taken the society’s oath of allegiance.
Erskine (centre), commander of the
colonial forces in Kenya, on a tour of
inspection at a detention camp.
Administration, almost to a man, believed that
this end justified almost any means. This was to
lead directly to the Hola carnage. However, so
strong was the Administration’s belief in the
creed and their emotional involvement in the
consequences that even Hola did not convince all
of them that they had been wrong. And Sir Evelyn
Baring’s technique of governance was dominated
by the axiom that once he began to destroy the
morale of his district officers by giving in to
the Whyatt demands, they would "cease to be
an effective force" and he would be unable to
govern. Simple as that. If necessary, the rule of
law would be trashed.
Parliamentary Delegation’s report unanimously
demanded action to bring to an end the brutality
it had found to be rampant. In early 1954 Mr
Lyttelton chose and appointed Colonel Arthur E.
Young to be Kenya’s new Commissioner of Police,
succeeding Mr M. S. O’Rourke who had held the
post since 1949. Most unusually Governor Baring
was not consulted. He was actually on a lengthy
sick leave at the time and there was considerable
doubt whether he would even return to Kenya.
Young, who was seconded from the City of London
police, where he was commissioner, arrived in
Nairobi on April 4, 1954. One of the reasons for
his appointment was that he had a reputation for
being a stickler for the rule of law and would not
stomach any suggestion of a culture of police
it was felt that he would work well with the AG,
Sir John Whyatt. The clincher, though, was that
quiet inquiries showed the Parliamentary
Delegation would approve the choice. The problems
that soon arose did so because neither Col Young
nor Sir John Whyatt could work with Governor
Baring (usually representing the Provincial
Administration) or the Settlers.
reason was that both the Governor and the Settlers
frequently needed to manipulate the law for their
usually illegal purposes. Sir John Whyatt was a
devout Roman Catholic and a deeply emotional
person who was never at ease with Governor Baring
and distrusted his eternal self-confidence.
resisted Settler pressure for summary justice and
for radically shortening the time between arrest
and sentence. He prosecuted both sides regardless
of their status or any excuse of "winning the
threatened to resign whenever he felt his
principles were about to be jeopardised. Short of
temper and hard of hearing, he openly accused the
Kenya War Council of being an illegal body, which
even Governor Baring had to admit might strictly
be the case. He went on leave in June and did not
return, as he was appointed Chief Justice of
Singapore. His successor, Mr Eric Griffith-Jones
was a considerable contrast, proving as bendable
as Sir John Whyatt was inflexible. He later became
a major figure in the Hola debacle.
Young never accepted that any member of the Kenya
Police Force, of whatever rank, was in any way
liable to accept the orders of anyone (even the
most senior members of the Administration) when a
crime had been committed. He wished to transfer to
Kenya the concept of the independence and power of
the constable as it existed in England.
Governor dismissed this as creating two centres of
power, which would confuse everyone, especially in
the middle of the Emergency and what Sir Evelyn
called "the enlightened dictatorship of a
argument continued, Col Young found that police
inquiries had unearthed a number of atrocities by
some chiefs and also several Europeans in the
Administration. The CID had prepared eight
cast-iron and well-substantiated case files for
Sir John Whyatt to prosecute. This put Governor
Baring in a serious fix. He had always backed the
Provincial Administration but, if he tried to
sweep the cases under the carpet, both Col Young
and Sir John Whyatt would definitely resign and
expose their reasons. This would ignite a major
political flare-up in Kenya and the UK.
governor cleverly solved it by linking a surrender
offer to the freedom fighters with an amnesty to
the Government officers involved in the cases.
However, Col Young continued to press on
relentlessly with persuading the Government to
accept his view of the role of the police force,
narrowly losing his case in the Executive Council
of Ministers by one vote only. It was a close
thing and Col Young’s opponents prevailed only
by setting the issue in the particular
circumstances of the Emergency.
A few weeks
later, Col Young resigned – on December 30 –
and returned a frustrated person to Britain,
intending to warn the Colonial Secretary (then
Alan Lennox-Boyd) about some very dangerous moves
towards a police state in Kenya. His resignation
letter was 30 paragraphs long and there was strong
pressure in Britain from prominent opposition MPs,
including Barbara Castle, to get it published.
Young told one journalist that when he got to
Kenya he found that he was subordinate to an
utterly useless Minister of Defence, that he was
not a member of the War Council or even invited to
its deliberations when police affairs were being
Hola, informed political opinion at the time felt
that, had Col Young’s letter of resignation been
published, both Governor Baring’s and Mr
Lennox-Boyd’s jobs would have been at risk. Mr
W. Robert Foran’s official history of the Kenya
Police, published in 1962, allots a mere seven
lines out of 237 pages to Col Young’s time in
the force, tactfully noting that his tenure was
brief but that he "instigated important
changes in police policy".
1954 Governor Baring’s stubborn support of the
Provincial Administration had had a visibly tonic
effect on the District Administration. The
uncertainty and confusion was replaced by a
misplaced but energetic hustle and bustle. As one
Provincial Commissioner remarked: "People
felt they were getting somewhere." But few
realised exactly where this ‘somewhere’ was
policy of closer administration reached its peak
in 1955 when there were 206 administration
officers in the field in Central Province, 35 in
the Settled Areas of the Rift Valley and 15 in
Nairobi. The increase came largely from the
recruitment of temporary District Officers (Kikuyu
Guard), mostly enrolled from the younger European
settlers who had been conscripted into the Kenya
district had also been divided into three or four
divisions, each staffed by a regular District
1953 the loyalists were reformed into the Kikuyu
Guard. A post was built in each location, manned
by 50 men, 10 of whom were armed with shotguns or
rifles and commanded by a D.O (Kikuyu Guard).
there were some 40 administrative Europeans in
each of the three Kikuyu districts. In Fort Hall (now
Murang’a and Maragua districts) by 1956 there
were some 80 Kikuyu Guard posts manned by 4,700
guards, armed with 467 rifles and 677 shotguns, as
well as 400 Tribal Police and 1700 Tribal Police
Reserve. There were also an average of 8 to 10
regular police stations with some 500 regular
police and one battalion of the KAR.
immense increase of administrative and military
power and the virtually complete isolation of
Central Province from the rest of Kenya was
described by one historian as bringing "a
degree of direct administration of the Kikuyu
unparalleled in the history of British colonial
final, crushing, policy decision remained. It was
made by Governor Baring personally, apparently
strongly influenced by the powerful and persuasive
arguments of Dr Louis Leakey, then in the Special
Branch; Kenya’s Rasputin who still retained
considerable personal influence on the governor's
was that the order went out from the War Council
in mid-1954 to concentrate the remaining mass of
the Kikuyu people into villages. Dr Leakey, an
ethnographer, should have known better than most
what this would come to mean in terms of
shattering social upheaval, mental and material
hardship, malnutrition, famine and victimisation.
the shadow of the sten gun", as one District
Commissioner put it, the process began.
the destruction of the original homesteads which,
now emptied of people, could not be left as
possible hide-outs for the fighters from the
building of the new houses on land confiscated
from guerrilla fighters, at a spot marked out by
the sub-chief, but land on which they had no
inevitably, the embarrassment of sharing that
house with another family or families as decreed
by the sub-chief.
digging a protective ditch right round the
stockaded and barbed wire village area.
surviving the unwelcome and often lusty attentions
of the Kikuyu Guards in their post and without
whose authority no one could move either in or out
of the village.
original idea of confining the population in
villages, apparently so successful in quelling the
Communist rebellion in Malaysia, arose from the
various attempts made in 1953 by administrators
seeking ways and means to recover control over the
Passive Wing in the Reserves. They needed to break
the lines of communication and the flow of
supplies to the forest fighters, as well as to
punish the disloyal general population.
October 1955 more than one million people had been
concentrated in 854 villages. The programme
achieved its basic military objectives of totally
controlling the lives and existence of those
Kikuyu not already either in the forest, the
detention camps, the Kikuyu Guard or prison, and
also of cutting off the forest fighters from their
support and families.
this was done at an unacceptable social cost, many
of whose consequences (as so vividly and
convincingly shown in the recent BBC2 documentary
White Terror) are still with us today.
the final battle for freedom and land would be
fought out man to man in Hola, a five-year
struggle for the survival of the Kikuyu as a
people and a culture was being fought out, almost
entirely by women and children, in these villages
of tragedy and despair.
Erskine’s overall military plan was to restore
the colonial government’s control over each
district in turn.
found that parts of Central Province, in or near
the forest, were firmly in the control of the
freedom fighters - "almost resembling small
the leaders of each area’s Mau Mau Passive Wing
support groups would be sent to one of the
detention camps already mushrooming across Kenya.
of the civilian population would then be forcibly
herded behind barbed wire in the guarded villages
under 23-hour curfews.
Erskine was thus able to claim success at the end
of his two-year stint. However, his plan
inevitably entailed a huge increase in the numbers
of political detainees in the over crowded camps
and led inescapably to the catastrophe at Hola.
in August 1953 the colonial government and Gen
Erskine felt confident enough to make their first
appeal to the forest fighters to surrender "waving
September 1953 Erskine asked for reinforcements
and he was sent a third brigade. This gave his
strategy the extra punch it needed to begin
aggressive operations against the carefully sited
and defended-in-depth positions of the freedom
fighters in the forests.
Royal Engineers began constructing roads cutting
through the bamboo areas of the forests to new
bases built near or on the moorlands.
Anvil, whose ambitious plan was to remove all
Kikuyu from Nairobi, aimed to cut off the lines of
communication between the forest fighters and the
city and to shatter the Mau Mau cells still
working in the capital.
was divided into sectors, each of which was
cordoned off in turn by the military and subjected
to an intensive search by the police. Five British
battalions were involved, supported by Police GSU
units and teams of Administration and Labour
operation of this type and magnitude was
completely outside the experience of the soldiers
and even the army staff. Gen Erskine would only
compare it with the attempt to clear Tel Aviv
before World War Two.
perhaps it is not surprising that the operation
was efficiently managed. Gen Erskine had two of
Britain’s most outstanding soldiers on his staff
in Kenya: (Lord) Michael Carver who was to rise to
the highest rank of all, Chief of the General
Staff; and Frank Kitson, author of 'Gangs and
Counter Gangs', later became the British Army’s
top expert on guerilla warfare.
a large number of innocent people suffered
grievously and family members were often
irrevocably, ruthlessly torn apart.
Anvil a new passbook system, for Kikuyu only,
tightened the ever more rigid and inflexible
colony-wide control over their increasingly harsh
and intolerable existence.
had profound consequences. Governor Baring’s
biographer says that 65,000 Kikuyu were cleared
out of the capital and at least half of these were
later detained. Others have different figures.
Another writer says 30,000 were arrested and
16,500 detained. A special screening camp was
built at Langata.
Road and Manyani, the huge detention camps being
constructed in Coast Province, were not ready in
time and caused protracted delays for the
operation. Special legal powers for temporary
evacuation and detention also had to be
built in four months and planned to hold 16,000
detainees, was later to be the centre of a major
scandal when hundreds of the inmates died in a
typhoid epidemic which was badly mishandled by the
medical and administration officials. Deliberately
concealed at the time, the scandal eventually
reached the House of Commons.
likely that typhoid as a cause of death was used
to cover up the guards beating uncooperative
detainees to death a disturbing prologue to events
at Hola five years later.
the month-long Anvil operation ensured was that
enormous numbers (by mid-1954 possibly 150,000) of
alleged Mau Mau adherents would now be in the
concentration camps Ð probably 10 times the
number that by then were still fighting from their
general view of Langata Detention Camp in
Anvil onwards most of the camps were used by the
Mau Mau leaders inside them most effectively to
politicise, organise and discipline the recruits
pouring into them as a result of Gen Erskine’s
camps soon became the new battleground and the
critical battles would no longer be between the
British army and the remaining Mau Mau forces in
the forest but between the mass of politicised and
united detainees and the Provincial Administration
(standing firmly by their false creed), assisted
by the Prisons Department and the Rehabilitation
final battle in that long drawn out campaign would
be staged five years later at Hola Camp in 1959.
Anvil, from December 1954 to April 1955, Gen
Erskine’s military strategists turned their
attention to a series of deep penetrations of the
forest, using especially selected tracker combat
teams to act as the spearhead of larger formations.
Kitson of the British Army and Ian Henderson of
the Kenya Police were part of the small team
developing the pseudo-gangster techniques to
counter the acknowledged bushcraft skills of the
surviving Mau Mau groups.
scholars often ask how the security forces managed
to turn some of the forest fighters round so
quickly to join the pseudo-gangs. Under the
Emergency laws any captured fighter could be taken
before a court and summarily sentenced to death. (Hardly
the spirit of the Geneva Convention).
European leader of the ‘turning’ section
concerned thus had the effective power of life and
death over him. At the same time in many cases the
"recruits" were simply beaten up and
agreed to cooperate to stop any further pain.
returning in a group to the forest their chances
of being shot by their former comrades were equal
to those of being shot by their new companions,
except for the fact that the pseudo-gangs had much
better equipment than the freedom fighters
possessed at this stage of the war. The choice was
stark. "Either you join us or you will be
charged with a capital offence".
over 1,000 executions had been carried out after
the accused had been sentenced to death in court.
Less than a third of these were for homicide. The
remaining two-thirds were for such offences as
"consorting with terrorists" and
"illegal possession of firearms".
psychology underlying the treatment prescribed by
Ian Henderson for the recruits for the
pseudo-gangs had its origins in the techniques
used in the Settler-run Screening Camps, as
graphically described above by Michael Blundell in
his book 'So Rough a Wind'. This was to trump the
fear of betrayal by an even more powerful fear of
instant death by hanging.
Mureithi alleges in his recently republished book
'The War in the Forest' that on some occasions
there was simply overt bribery with money.
Henderson, known as the torturer-in-chief during
the Emergency, continued doing the same job in
Rhodesia and Bahrain after his deportation from
Kenya by the Kenyatta Government after
Independence. He was the prime mover in the
preparation of bogus evidence in the 1953 trial at
January 1955 a second surrender offer was prepared
to coincide with the major operations being
launched by Gen Erskine in the Aberdares and Mount
Kenya. The amnesty for crimes committed on the
government side was two-faced. Governor Baring
needed it more than anyone else in order to stop a
series of brutality, murder and torture cases that
were at last being prosecuted by the C.I.D against
the Security Forces and Administration officers.
Persuading forest fighters to come in from the
cold was always very much a secondary purpose in
this mind. The cases must somehow be kept out of
1955 peace talks that had started in the Aberdares
collapsed among recriminations from both sides.
The forest fighters had finally demanded that the
Colonial Secretary himself should fly out to meet
them in Nairobi if the negotiations were to have
1954 Gen Erskine confirmed his strong views about
the European Settlers in a letter to his wife:
"Kenya is the Mecca of the middle class, so I
have been told. I have coined a new phrase, a
sunny place for shady people... I hate the guts of
them all, they are all middle class sluts. I never
want to see another Kenya man or woman and I
dislike them all with few exceptions".
1955, his two-year tour of duty completed, he was
now gently eased out of his post. He was succeeded
by another typical professional soldier Ð
Lieutenant General Sir Gerald Lathbury.
Erskine had conducted his campaign in a unique
country among people he was forced to meet and
cooperate with but for whom he felt open contempt.
He coped with the military aspects of the war most
competently but was often at a loss with the
not alone. Ms Margery Perham, a leading British
scholar on colonial affairs, described Kenya at
this time as living in "a pathological
atmosphere" not only in the detention camps
but in society as a whole.
this ambience that Gen Erskine sensed and loathed.
The atmosphere was one in which to a European KPR
officer every Kikuyu was a Mau Mau and visiting
British critics of Kenya were all seen as
Communist agents, including even, or perhaps
especially, Mrs Barbara Castle, M.P. and future
British Cabinet minister.
It was a
topsy-turvy world in which the Christians hated
the Mau Mau but the demonised Mau Mau did not hate
the Christians and indeed borrowed many of their
most popular hymn tunes, while changing the words
It was a
milieu in which Sir Richard Woodley, a well-known
and long established Kenya Settler, could be
loudly applauded when, at a Nairobi dinner, he
years of slavery from dawn to dusk, on a ration
sufficient to keep him alive and working but no
more – powers to prison officials in charge to
cut rations, and inflict corporal punishment of a
severe nature for a misdemeanor are more likely to
be an effective deterrent than 10 or 20 years of
an ordinary sentence".
Erskine had even found himself arriving in the
country shortly after the local newspaper reported
that a Settler at a meeting in Nakuru seriously
proposed the shooting of 50,000 Kikuyu as a lesson.
Gen Erskine's departure marked around the half-way
point on the road to Hola, in many ways the
hardest, the most depressing and exhausting, part
of the journey is yet to come.
unexpectedly in view of the unevenly matched
military forces involved, by 1956 the freedom
fighters were being increasingly isolated in their
individual forest redoubts.
function now was at all costs to survive in their
sanctuary and from time to time to wrong-foot the
opposing forces. The strategy must now be
classical guerilla low-key, dispersed activities.
There would be no more pitched battles.
the centre-point of the real war would now be in
the camps and the barbed wire villages where what
was left of the Kikuyu community was held hostage
sides were grappling with the problem of hearts
and minds. The ideology of the Mau Mau military
was still as simple and directed as it always had
been - Land and Freedom.
Provincial Administration, however, had by now
been fighting for four years for a very different
creed. To them Kenyatta was Satan and the Oath
were prepared to use any means to chase this
"disease" out of Kenya once and for all.
struggle, as with all collisions between faiths,
would be titanic. There would be brutality and
torture, arrogance and deceit but from now on all
the roads would lead to and from Hola and its