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The army’s success: Griffiths

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The army’s success: Griffiths

Griffiths and his company had been blooded in the early course of the Emergency in a series of operations in support of the civil power to move large numbers of Kikuyu out of the newly defined Prohibited Areas. These were part of a clear demarcation of operational responsibilities and increasingly tight guidelines on rules of engagement – in particular the type of challenge needed before opening fire.72 Civil law was never replaced by martial law in Kenya, and the military were always supposedly operating in support of the civil power. Prohibited Areas were free-fire zones, where anyone could be shot without a challenge being issued. Their introduction aroused protest in Britain, although Erskine cynically noted that if you were to call a Prohibited Area a bombing range “nobody would attempt to waste their time and sympathy with people who deliberately choose to live in a bombing range.”73 Outside, in designated Special Areas, challenges had to be issued. And the legal basis of security forces` operations was that under Common Law they were protecting the inhabitants from felony.

With such guidelines having been issued, for Griffiths to order at the briefing before the June 11th operations that anyone could be shot so long as they were black may be distasteful but it was not in itself illegal. The reasons lying behind it were more complex, however. More kills would help to raise the battalion’s score of Mau Mau dead to 50 before they embarked for Malaya. Griffiths claimed that he had been instructed by Evans, the commander of the Battalion that they had to beat 23 KAR before they left. Griffiths also admitted that he kept a personal scoreboard with columns reading ‘Prisoners’, ‘Wounded’, ‘Kills’, ‘Hide-outs’, ‘Care of Fenner Brockway’ and ‘Cock shot off’ and paid a relatively parsimonious 5/- bounty to his troops for kills.74 Such an element of competition was realised by GHQ to be dangerous, and it advised the exclusion of details of casualties from communiqués. The capture of arms, numbers of voluntary surrenders and above all a `more loyal and happy outlook` on the part of the Kikuyu were felt to be a better criterion of success.75

Griffiths obviously failed to share such an opinion. When he arrived at the stop-post in his jeep to find the three forestry workers detained, he allegedly swore at the 7KAR askari for their failure to shoot the already. He then checked the men’s passes, and told Gichui, the old man, that he was no longer needed – he was “so frightened that (he) hurried away and heard nothing”. The other two then started to leave. When they had gone some ten paces or so, Griffiths opened fire with the swivel-mounted Bren gun on the jeep. He claimed that he shouted at them to stop, although neither of the 7KAR askari remembered this. He fired some three or four bursts, emptying the magazine into their backs. Griffiths did not deny having shot the men, claiming they were trying to escape; all the prosecution witnesses stated that he had merely told them to proceed.

Griffiths also admitted that he had fired at least two shots to finish at least one of the men off when he returned to the scene half an hour later to find them still (barely) alive and calling out someone to kill them. He did, however, deny having remarked as the two men lay on the ground “You can scream, you bastards; when you killed my horse in Nanyuki he screamed a damn sight more than you will scream”. Griffiths said that was untrue, “as a horse cannot scream”.76

There was some disagreement over the identity of the one man Griffiths was charged with killing – 2Lt Innes-Walker claimed to have finished one of them off half an hour after their bodies had been taken away. The summing-up, however, seems to have led the verdict more than any disagreement over the identity of his victims. With a record of fourteen years of professional soldiering Griffiths was described as “no stripling in military life”, a soldier who “knew the form”. The panel of jurors was invited “to consider as soldiers – whether you think that a soldier of his experience could, or would have gone to work in that way”. In case that had not provided sufficient guidance to a not-guilty verdict, Amini, the askari who had been sitting in the back of the jeep and the only eyewitness to corroborate Griffith’s version of events was either “a mere creature of the accused, or do you think there is a real possibility he may be an independent honest witness?”77

Clearly the jury thought the latter. After seventy-five minutes they returned to pronounce Griffiths cleared of the charge. Having failed to convict him of murder, he was tried again for actions that had taken place only days after the shootings. Griffith had been on another sweep that began on June 14th. This time he commanded two platoons of B COY; 5 platoon, largely made up of Somalis under 2Lt Innes-Walker (late of the Royal Warwicks and the KR) and 4 Platoon, commanded by 2Lt Howard (a British National Serviceman). This sweep had gone badly wrong, with a total of 22 unauthorised killings having taken place. The Somali platoon had killed 12, 4 Platoon another 10. A Court of Inquiry was conveyed only two days after the operation had finished, sitting from June 22nd-30th. 10 askari were then taken by SIB to BN GQ at Nanyuki where they remained under open arrest until August 24th when they were put under close arrest. They were all released without charge after seven months. It appeared that this Inquiry had served to obscure Griffiths individual role in what had occurred at the very start of the patrol, and the charges against the men were dropped in order to catch a bigger fish.

On June 9th, two Africans had been arrested by a District Officer near Embu, one in possession of two rounds of ammunition, a capital offence. Handed over to Griffiths on June 14th, they were taken with the platoon to the base camp at the edge of the forest near Embu. With 2Lts Howard and Innes Walker, and a Somali askari named Ali Segat, Griffiths took both subjects to the edge of the encampment for questioning. Segat was ordered to beat them both with rifle butts. The smaller of the two, Njeru, then had his trousers removed by one or more of Segat, Howard and Innes Walker. Griffiths handed Segat a Somali knife, and ordered him to castrate the prisoner; he claimed in court this was only meant as a threat. He was clearly practised in such threats. Gardner, a Forestry Officer who was accompanying the patrol said that Griffiths had showed him a Somali knife and told him that if a Somali threatened a prisoner either by pulling down his trousers or holding it over his ear “prisoners could often be induced to talk” (my italics).78 Segat refused the order several times, instead cutting off Njeru’s left ear and throwing it to the ground. Griffiths failed to reprimand Segat at this time, arguing that this would have been detrimental to the success of the patrol. He was unable to come up with a convincing reason as to why he failed even to put Segat on a charge after the patrolhad finished. Griffiths continued questioning, to question the other man, before (he assertd) going to ask his Sgt-Major for the medical kit, although the Sgt-Major failed to remember this request. Griffiths ordered the prisoner shot, and Innes-Walker gave the task to two of his askari. Njeru was told to run and was shot a number of times. The next day Segat, under Griffiths` orders, bored a hole through the remaining detainee’s ear with his bayonet before he was lead away into the forest, Griffiths remaining behind at the camp. The other detainee was shot trying to escape three days later. Quite understandably, it seemed he was unwilling to remain in the company of such soldiers.

The closing speech for the defence adopted the usual tactic of decrying the bestiality of their enemy, before asking, understandably, why Griffiths was up on those charges when others clearly implicated – notably Innes-Walker – were not being charged with murder or other crimes. It took the court two hours to find Griffiths guilty. Gledhill, counsel for the defence, made a plea for mitigation. Griffiths had merely been “excessively keen” to end the Emergency, and the combination of Mau Mau killing his horse “of which he was very fond in a particularly revolting way” (sic) and having been on operations for a long time had left him temporarily unbalanced. Erskine had already noted that nine months on operations had left many in the Kenya Regiment `jittery` and in need of a rest.79 Accepting that Griffiths could no longer remain in the army, Gledhill asked for no further punishment. The judge gave a five year prison term. In 1973 Griffiths applied for a full pardon. He was refused.

The army seemed prepared to offer an amnesty for serious infractions in order to make a very serious point. A number of statements from askari were presented by Griffiths in his first petition to appeal against his conviction; they alleged intimidation by an unidentified European Sgt.Major in the SIB who had threatened they would be hung for murder unless they co-operated with the case against Griffiths. Other witnesses claimed during the trial that they had been instructed not to mention Innes-Walker’s name, even though Innes-Walker had ordered one of the prisoners shot. Although Major Walter Dawson, a Deputy Assistant Provost Marshall in the SIB had statements implicating Innes-Walker in this murder he neither interviewed nor investigated Innes-Walker as that was outside the very specific terms of reference he had been given by GHQ.80 The earlier Court of Inquiry into the patrol had found Innes-Walker guilty of perjury, and the panel was warned that his uncorroborated testimony could not be relied on. No further action was taken against him, although he quietly left the KAR. But it was not only Griffiths who became an example. The commanding officer, Lt-Col Evans, and the 2IC of 5Bn KAR, Major Dye, were both removed, the most senior casualties of Erskine’s campaign to enforce discipline. Far from attempting to cover-up such cases, Erskine made it clear that he welcomed the exposure, insisting that court-martial proceedings should remain open to the press and public.81


Both of the above cases occurred when men were on active service, in positions of real stress and undoubted danger. In the third case, Hayward, the pressure on him came only from the volume of work he had to do. In October 1953 the Tanganyikan government initiated criminal proceedings against eleven members of a screening team who had been screening Kikuyu in Northern Tanganyika prior to their repatriation to Kenya. It was to emerge that he had no previous experience in screening, although the Tanganyikan government had been led to believe that he had. Hayward, a nineteen year old member of the Kenya Regiment pleaded guilty to 20 charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. This had entailed whipping suspects on the soles of their feet, burning their ear-drums with cigarettes and tying leather thongs around suspects’ necks.

It appears that the Tanganyikan Government was aware of the strong-arm methods common in Kenya, having agreed to the screening team going to Tanganyika purely on condition that the interrogation involved no violence.82 What appeared to be a simple case of individual brutality rapidly escalated into a slanging match between the Kenyan and Tanganyikan administrations in an attempt by Kenya to avoid culpability. The Kenyan administration did not condone Hayward’s actions, but it claimed that Tanganyikan supervision of Hayward was inadequate - although, presumably, such supervision would have been unnecessary if he were skilled aware of the need to avoid violence. Tanganyika stated that Griffiths had given repeated assurances that no violence was to be used, in meetings at the end of September in Nairobi and again, on his arrival in Tanganyika to the Provincial Commissioner of Northern Province. A liaison officer had been appointed from SB in Arusha, but there had been no agreement that Hayward and his team would be under permanent supervision. In view of his youth, the lack of supervision and his previous good record, the Kenya Government decided not to terminate his employment as a temporary DO. It was unclear to Baring what further action was necessary beyond a reiteration of the existing instructions.83 Twining disagreed with the argument that Hayward was too young for the responsibility, saying that he had similar responsibilities at the same age.84 The gulf between the two administrations rapidly widened, the Tanganyikan Attorney-General eventually travelling to Nairobi to discuss their divergent views on the matter with Crawford.85 Crawford admitted the next day that there had clearly been a misunderstanding, but maintained the Kenyan administration’s refusal to accept any culpability.86 Baring had seemed to be beginning to accept that there were serious problems with the police force in particular, noting the need for their quality to be drastically improved if they were to have any success in keeping the peace.87 Translating his words into actions was proving troublesome, however.

Hayward had arrived in Arusha on October 8th, and began screening work on the 12th. Initially DOs were present, but between the 14th and 16th he was totally unsupervised, visiting a number of European-owned farms. At 10am on October 17th, a Kikuyu went to the SB office in Arusha asking for a chit to say that Special Branch knew of him, as he had heard the screening team were being particularly rough. Hayward was brought in, and said he knew nothing of any problems. The first complaint to be taken seriously came from a Colonel Minnery, another European farmer, at 1pm that afternoon. Minnery came into the SB office, very upset, and said that he had heard that sixteen workers on a Polish settler’s farm had been taken back to the farm on a trailer as they had been so severely beaten that they were unable to walk. Albowicz, the Polish farmer had himself made no complaint as he assumed that it was standard behaviour for such teams and that the authorities must have been aware of it.88 Hayward was also to claim in court that despite the earlier meetings where the avoidance of violence had been stressed the Tanganyikan authorities must have been aware of the methods used in Kenya, and the team believed they were to perform along similar lines.

In comparison with Keates and Ruben’s case, Hayward was dealt with in almost unseemly haste. On October 19th an investigative team arrived in Arusha, and Hayward, having denied involvement, was officially cautioned after a number of those injured had pointed him out at an identity parade held for the African members of the screening team. All members of the team had been formally charged before the end of the month, and the case was heard between the 10th and 12th November. Before sentence was pronounced defence counsel – who had been appointed by the Kenyan government – cited the punishment of Keates and Rubens, claiming mitigation in view of Hayward’s youth and the fact that he had been one of the first on the scene the morning after the Lari massacre.89

Many Kenyan settlers – and many in Tanganyika for that matter, who subsequently boycotted Minery and government officials – found no fault in Hayward’s actions. A member of LegCo in Kenya asked whether the Kenyan government had paid the fine “and if not, why not?”90 Windley, Member for African Affairs replied that after full consideration of his case it had been decided not to terminate his employment. Days later political realities in Britain at last had an effect although a moral vacuum remained. Baring, in Londn, noted that reinstatement of Hayward would cause acute embarrassment to Lyttelton, ignoring the fact that neither the British public nor the House of Commons would have accepted Hayward’s continuing service. He suggested to his deputy that Hayward’s father be approached and asked whether his son could be persuaded to leave government service: “the one possible way out of this dilemma”.91 The same day Lyttelton also contacted Crawford. British public opinion, he said, was increasingly concerned at the behaviour of the Kenyan security forces. Hayward’s reinstatement “will inevitably be interpreted as confirming alleged lax attitude of Kenya authorities to behaviour of this kind.” Could Crawford reconcile the statement that “rigorous action” would be taken against such cases?92

Crawford could not, it seemed. He reported back that Hayward’s father maintained that it was a Mau Mau trap and was demanding compensation if his son was dismissed. Hayward’s father even wrote to Lyttelton claiming that Crawford had personally confirmed to him at their meeting that Brian would be able to continue as a DO. Six months after Erskine had made it clear that the army would not tolerate excesses, ten months after Baring issued his directive it was clear that the Kenyan administration had still not decided to stamp down on such cases.93


Even though there is little documentary evidence of other military atrocities committed in Kenya after Griffith’s court-martial, doubtless there were other incidents that went unreported. Some of the practises specifically outlawed by Erskine, continued; the Buffs maintained a scorecard of kills, if only for historical purposes; illegal ambush techniques which seemed to kill more British soldiers in `friendly fire` incidents than Mau Mau. That extreme lapses could be successfully covered up was demonstrated by the People`s February 1970 exposeee of the Scots Guards very own My Lai at Batanga Kali in Malaya in December 1948. 24 Chinese villagers were shot dead, supposedly trying to escape, but had in fact been massacred. High Commissioner Gurney joined the cover up, managing to prevent the Colonial Office from discovering what had actually occurred.94

But Algeria in particular demonstrated the impossibility of suppressing evidence of systemic torture and abuse of the civilian population. The `barrack-room lawyers`, those national servicemen who had as little time for the Kenyan settlers` position as Erskine did himself, made it unlikely that such evidence would not have emerged. This does not mean that isolated incidents did not occur, but Griffiths established a precedent, and it was clear that any members of the army who overstepped the rules of engagement would have to account for their actions. Even today Griffiths` case is remembered. In the most recent work on the KAR, a former officer in 5 KAR lists those officers who formed the Malay training team that attended the Jungle Warfare School in Johore Bahru in July 1952. All other officers ain the group are listed; Griffiths’ name is strangely absent.95

Griffiths` trial also offered more than merely setting an example. As Horne has noted of the French use of torture in Algeria, it is a dangerously double-edged, self-destructive weapon to employ, “it soils the honour of the army and the country.”96 As such, trials can be a cathartic experience for all concerned, a necessary part o a process of healing and reconciliation for all concerned – both victims and perpetrators, and an important part in the movement towards decolonisation.97

No such process was undergone by the police and KPR, who continued with business as usual. On October 16th 1953, 5 Kikuyu, about to start an oathing ceremony, were handed over to the police. Attempting to escape, all were shot dead.98 Only 15 rounds were fired to kill all five at a range of over thirty yards in poor light, quite remarkable shooting on the part of the African policemen (for once no Europeans were involved). Crawford was asked whether there would be a formal inquiry, how they had been allowed to escape and why, as usual, there were no wounded, but live, witnesses. The Colonial Office was beginning to wonder just how much Erskine and Baring’s directives had affected the trigger-happy attitudes that had earlier prevailed.99 Crawford replied that Erskine was now happy with the military’s conduct, and felt that arrangements to deal with complaints against soldiers – which, after June, and the issuing of his directive, had been “few and far between” were now good enough. The police, and KPR ”may have been excessively rough . . But while in no way condoning brutality, one has to consider the background . . . .” There was no need to take any further action against the five.100 The Kenyan Government still did not understand that, in cases like these, further action would always be necessary if they were to prevent a continuing culture of violence. It was this casual attitude which led, ultimately, to the Hola massacre in 1959 which provided the final catalyst in the decolonisation process.

Templer in Malaya was always willing to take strong measures – harsh communal punishments imposed on villages and settlements – to punish non-co-operation with the security forces. His remark in 1953 that ‘the shooting side of the business is only 25% of the trouble, and the other 75% lies in getting the country behind us`101 reflects the realisation that a purely military solution to what was at root an essentially military problem was neither acceptable nor viable. One of the African members of LegCo rightly questioned the effectiveness of Baring’s `two-pronged` attack on Mau Mau – law and order, coupled with improvement of conditions in the reserves- when all that was ever debated was law and order.102 There had been worry over placing the reins of both civil and military administration in Templer’s hands, fearing that he would become too absorbed in political issues to effectively prosecute the military arm of the campaign. In Kenya, the clear division between the two continued. Although Erskine had requested, and been refused, overall command on a similar basis, he was given a letter allowing him to impose martial law if necessary; perhaps if this had been done he could have succeeded in controlling the police force. The military certainly had little confidence in Baring, seen as indecisive, “a `good-wicket Governor`, but this is not a good wicket.”103 In turn, the perception remained that the military were operating in water-tight compartments, cut off from political realities of the situation and suggesting unacceptable solutions.104

But it was this separation – especially in terms of the disciplinary structure – that allowed Erskime to impose and maintain discipline over the army. He could never succeed in doing this to the police s long as he had no more than operational control over them, a point strongly made to Whyatt at the end of a heated LegCo debate on controlling the behaviour of the security forces.105 So long as Kenyan Police Reservists were being tried in front of a jury of their peers there was no hope that a reasonable punishment could be imposed – if, indeed, a guilty verdict could be obtained. It made a mockery of the justice system that a KPR member could be found guilty of torturing suspects, only for a settler sitting at the back of the court to write a cheque out and hand it to defending council.106 Peter Poole, a former KPR officer hanged in 1960 was by no means the first European to have murdered an African in Kenya. He was, however, the first to be properly punished for such a crime.

Colonel Arthur Young, brought in from Malaya to reform the police service in Kenya, concluded that the police command system should be entirely independent of the district administration. This was not only a matter of operational advantage; he also felt that offered the only workable solution to the serious disciplinary problems in the police force by making the maintenance of discipline an internal police matter. Having successfully reformed the police in Malaya, and greatly increased popular support for them with Operation Service in 1952 in which the role of the police as servants of the community was stressed, he faced widespread opposition from the Kenyan Administration. He asked whether Kenya wanted a police force or a police service.107 Turnbull, the new Member for African Affairs responded that the lack of confidence among the African population was due to the innate talent of African policemen “for corruption and petty tyranny . . . bullying and extortion”.108 The lack of understanding of the root of the problem clearly remained, with a refusal to acknowledge that where African policemen did exceed their powers it was generally under European leadership and guidance. When it was that the KRR should return to civilian life, it was less due to the organisation being terminally flawed than the need for economic life in the colony to return to normal.109 Like Erskine, Young was a man of high principle. He resigned in disgust.

Anthony Kirk-Greene notes in his foreword to the Radcliffe Press series of first-hand accounts by colonial servants that in 2066, a century after the final termination of the Colonial Office, more people might read about the British Empire through such sources than through the archives at Kew and Rhodes House. In view of some of the assertions made in these books historians might be forgiven for sincerely hoping this does not happen. Chevenix-Trench, one of those colonial servants, served in Kenya throughout the Emergency period. He admits that although there were some abuses by the security forces, and by screeners, “Never by a nod or a wink did the administration connive at them”.110 A visit to the archives in Kew might refresh his memory.


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