- The war was fought in Kenya between August 1914 and March 1916. It ended two years before the official end of WWI.
- Poorly trained and in a war they did not want to participate in, Africans who survived did not receive a hero’s welcome.
In a small room at the Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge in Taita Taveta County is a museum that captures rich World War 1 (WWI) history.
The museum is open to the public for free. Items on display include coins, spent cartridges, whiskey bottles, artillery and a 1914 gift box sent as a Christmas present to those serving the British Empire.
The box contains a variety of items such as tobacco and chocolate, and was donated to Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge by a tourist whose kin had served in East Africa during WW1.
There is also an HMS Pegasus plaque that tells the story of a ship from the British Royal Navy that was sank by the German Königsberg battleship during the Battle of Zanzibar.
Mr Willie Mwadilo, the manager of the lodge, told the Nation that a visitor once offered them Sh20 million for the plague, but they declined the offer.
So why was a war that was supposed to be waged in Europe partly fought in Taita Taveta?
Mr Mwadilo explained that the Germans aimed to sever key British supply lines, especially the Uganda railway.
Asked why the museum is at the hotel and not at a public space where locals can visit and learn about their history, he says the hotel has tried to donate the artefacts to the Taita Taveta County administration but officials are not interested.
“When they are ready we will donate everything to them,” he says.
Mr Dennis Onsarigo, the Taita Taveta County Director of Communications, did not respond to our queries on the issue.
The museum owes its existence largely to Mr James Wilson, an author and former manager of the lodge. Mr Wilson is a battlefield enthusiast and historian who lives in Diani.
He mapped the area’s history from early 1900 and wrote a book titled Guerrillas of Tsavo, which details the East African Campaign — the name given to the WWI in this region.
A copy of the book goes for Sh5,000 at the museum. It describes the first 22 months of WW1 in the Mombasa-Voi Command.
The book brings to light the extensive part played by East Africans — in particular communities in Taveta, Tsavo and the south coast — in shaping the course of Kenya’s history.
Over 250,000, about 25 per cent of Kenya’s population at that time, died in the war.