Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War
On the centenary of their death, we remember
Guy Christopher Ottley OLDFIELD
b. 17th September 1888 - Poona, India;
d. 6th September 1914 - Tsavo, British East Africa
The first casualty in the Kingsdown and Creekside communities gives us an early reminder of how the First World War was destined to bind and divide many nations across the globe. For this reason, we have drawn on early newspaper reports that set this death into the context of wider European Imperial ambitions around the globe.
Lieutenant Guy Christopher Ottley OLDFIELD of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, died on 6th September 1914 during intense guerrilla actions along the Tsavo River, Kenya (East African Protectorate). Tsavo sits about half way between Mombasa and Nairobi, now mostly known as a tourist destination for the wildlife. The date recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is recorded erroneously as 5th September 1914 – possibly because that date also appears on his medal card alongside the date, 6th September on the same card? He died leaving an estate of £797 11s. 11d. to his father, "Lieutenant Colonel Christopher George Oldfield of Doddington Place" (Probate 20th February 1915). He is buried and commemorated in the British & Indian Memorial, Nairobi (South) Cemetery and locally on the Newnham and Doddington War Memorial.
He was the only son of Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher George Oldfield, R.A. who served in India, where Guy was born. Consequently, with schooling in the UK, Guy spent a large part of his early years at Doddington Place, the home of his uncle Brigadier Jeffreys and his aunt, Maud Maynard Jeffreys (nee Oldfield). Brigadier-General Patrick Douglas Jeffreys later died at the age of 74, reported in the Evening Telegraph (12th April 1922), "A son of the late General E.R. Jeffreys, C.B., deceased was educated at Marlborough College, and entered the army in 1866. He served in Zululand in 1879 (medal with clasps), Burmah 1886-87 (despatches, medal with clasp). He commanded as Brigadier General operations on the Indian Frontier in 1897-98. He also commanded the East Group of the Kent Volunteer Regiment for four years from 1915. He was created C.B. in 1896, and presented with the O.B.E. in 1919."
Guy Oldfield died leaving an estate worth £19,319.
Brought up with these strong military family traditions, Guy started his own military life in 1908. In 1911 Census [Arabia, Cyprus, and Gibraltar Registration] he is placed "absent" in Spain - this suggests he may have been stationed in Gibraltar. Also "absent in Spain" from the 2nd Battalion, Queen's Regiment in this census were: Lieutenant-Colonel James Garwood King-King DSO and Major Morton Calverley Coles.
In 1914, Lieutenant Guy Oldfield was attached to the 4th Battalion King’s African Rifles and fought alongside Indian 29th Punjabi Infantry Regiment. This was the first Indian Army engagement in the First World War and the 29th Punjabi Infantry Regiment went on to serve with distinction in German East Africa and then Palestine where they fought against Turkish forces.
In the absence of surviving service or Pension War Records, De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour records the man:
OLDFIELD, GUY CHRISTOPHER OTTLEY, Lieut., 2nd Battalion, The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment, attached King’s African Rifles, only son of Lieut.-Col. Christopher George Oldfield, late Royal Artillery, by his wife, Margaret Elizabeth, daughter of the late Cortlandt J. Le Bailly, and grandson of Sir Richard Charles Oldfield; born in Poona, India, 17 September 1888; educated Clifton College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst; gazetted 2nd Lieutenant Royal West Surrey Regiment 19th September 1908, and promoted Lieutenant, 1 April, 1911; was seconded for service with [4th] Uganda Battalion of the King’s African Rifles, 3 December 1913; served in the Jubaland Expedition in the spring of 1914, and was killed in action at Tsavo, Mombasa, British East Africa, 6 September 1914, while defending the Nairobi Railway against a superior German force armed with maxim guns; unmarried. His body was recovered two days later and buried at Tsavo. A brother Officer wrote: “It is quite impossible for me to convey to you in words how we all loved the dear lad. Such a shining example of a true Christian gentleman and sportsman.”
The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, Saturday 19th September 1914, mistakenly state that in a short obituary that Guy Oldfield was “the brother-in-law to Brigadier General Jeffreys, of Doddington Place.”
The South Eastern Gazette, 22nd September 1914 makes clear Guy Oldfield’s strong links with Doddington Place and his appearance on the Newnham and Doddington Memorial:-
“BRITISH OFFICERS KILLED IN EAST AFRICA.
Lieutenant Guy Christopher Ottley Oldfield, of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment (attached to the 4th King’s African Rifles), who has been killed in action in East Africa, was the son of Colonel C.G. Oldfield, R.A. (retired), of Vicarage House, East Malling, a grandson of Sir Richard Oldfield, and a nephew of Brigadier-General and Mrs. Jeffreys, of Doddington Place. He was only 26 years of age.
The action in which the young lieutenant was killed took place on Sunday, September 6th, but there is very little information to hand respecting it. It was in the neighbourhood of Nairobi, a message from which place states that “our forces were subjected to the fiercest machine gun fire by the Germans on a gallant but unsuccessful attempt (by our men) to rush the machine guns by a bayonet charge.” It is conjectured that Lieut. Oldfield fell in leading this charge.
A memorial service for the deceased lieutenant was held on Thursday afternoon [17th September] at Doddington Church, the deceased having spent a good deal of time with his relatives at Doddington Place. The clergy officiating at the service were Canon B. Oldfield (great uncle of deceased), and the Rev. H. Oldfield (cousin). There was a numerous congregation of relatives and friends, and some beautiful floral decorations.
Second-Lieutenant B.S. Smith-Masters, of the Essex Regiment, son of Mr. W.A. Smith-Masters, J.P., of Camer, Meopham, is included in the list of wounded officers of the Expeditionary Force.” Reported 19-9-1914, Southern Gazette, p3.
For a period, his body was lost but then recovered. In the Daily Express (10th September 1914, p5) this was covered in two adjacent items.
"OFFICER'S BODY FOUND. Nairobi, September 8th: The body of Lieutenant G.C.O. Oldfield, of the 4th King's African Rifles, who on Sunday was reported missing, was found yesterday.- Central News. Lieutenant Oldfield, of the Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, was attached to the King's African Rifles on December 3 last year, and was sent to British East Africa."
In 1914, the British military position in Kenya was vulnerable and, according to Official Reports quoted by Brigadier-General J.E. Edmonds in 1925, "There were under eight hundred men of the King's African Rifles, without artillery, available for the defence of British East Africa. These were at once supplemented by the raising of local volunteer forces of about a thousand men, but the 29th Punjabis reached Mombasa from India on 1st September in time to defeat on 6th September a German force evidently sent to destroy the railway bridge at Tsavo.”
Contemporary newspaper reports describe the engagements in some detail and promoted the image of poorly performing German forces, the heroics of British and Imperial forces that were many times outnumbered at the border crossings, and the importance of ‘impressing the natives’ (especially the Massai, an important Kenyan tribe in the border region). So, only one month after war was declared by Britain, her Protectorates were tested in Africa.
Early reports describe a number of incursions across the border between Kenya and what is now Tanzania. Those probing attacks took place along the border between the shores of Lake Victoria (Mohoru to Karangu), Tsavo (Usangi) and further east to Majoreni on the Indian Ocean coast. The purpose of these attacks was to test strength of European, Indian and native forces in defence of railway links with Uganda.
These probing actions were repulsed but with considerable losses among the 27th Punjabi Infantry Regiment when they attempted a bayonet charge on German maxim gun units, (probably) led by Lieut. Guy Oldfield. This was a very early lesson on the potency of machine gun units in modern warfare. Military resources were expanded with the mobilisation of volunteers and local militia made up of European farmers and traders.
An early account of the battle on 6th October is given by The Times.
GERMAN RAIDS IN EAST AFRICA. ALL ATTACKS REPULSED. FINE WORK BY THE KING'S AFRICAN RIFLES.
A HOT ENGAGEMENT On September 6 there was a hot engagement to the west of Tsavo between a British force composed partly of Indian troops and partly of King's African Rifles and a strong force of the enemy. The latter were severely handled and repulsed. During the following night they came in conflict with our flanking parties and suffered further losses. In this engagement LIEUTENANT G.C.O. OLDFIELD, the Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment), 4th Battalion, Kings African Rifles, and SUBADAR SHER BAZ, 29th Punjabis, were killed. It is understood that losses were sustained by our troops from heavy fire from maxim guns, which the Punjabis made a gallant effort to rush with the bayonet.
In reporting this engagement the Governor of the East Africa Protectorate stated that Captain J.A. Pottinger, Subadar Sher Baz [Subedar equates to Lieutenant rank], and Naick Gul Mahomed [Naick equates to corporal rank] showed conspicuous bravery, and that Lieutenant R.C. Hardingham, the Middlesex Regiment, 1st Battalion, King's African Rifles, had performed excellent work in keeping in touch with the enemy for six days. It appears that it was in the fighting in this neighbourhood on September 7 that Mr. R. McGROARTY, a cyclist scout, was wounded and captured, subsequently dying of his wounds.
On September 10 the scene of action changed to the western end of the Protectorate, which was invaded by a force from German East Africa estimated to be 400 strong, including 50 Europeans. This force occupied Kisii on September 11. On September 12 a British column engaged the enemy, but was compelled to retire. In the fighting which occurred on the 12th, LIEUTENANT (local Captain) E.G.M. THORNYCROFT, the Royal Lancashire Regiment, was killed; TEMPORARY LIEUTENANT CHARLES GREY severely wounded; and LIEUTENANT E.L. MUSSON, the Manchester Regiment, slightly wounded. All these officers were serving with the 4th Battalion, King's African Rifles.
On the following day, however, the enemy abandoned Kisii, retiring towards Karungu, and the British force pushed forward and re-occupied Kisii, retiring towards Karungu, and the British force pushed forward and re-occupied Kisii, where they found 10 European Germans dead and captured six others who had been wounded. A few days later shots were exchanged on Victoria Nyanza between the Winifred and the Kavirondo steamers belonging to the Uganda Railway Marine and the German steamer Muanza. One German who was captured, but sank while being towed to Kisumu, and one other was destroyed by shell fire from Kavirondo. It was ascertained that the Germans had evacuated Karungu.
On September 20 the Governor reported that activities had recommenced in the Tsavo region. A German force attacked at dawn on September 19 the British post of King's African Rifles at Campi ya Marabu; but after two hours' rifle fire they were beaten back and retired in scattered parties towards their own territory, leaving 13 dead on the field. LIEUTENANT A.C.H. FOSTER, the Hampshire Regiment, 4th Battalion, King's African Rifles, who was in command of the post, was killed in this action. The officer who took over command reported that in this engagement the conduct of the King’s African Rifles was splendid, and that the success gained by the British force had materially encouraged the Masai who live in that neighbourhood.
On September 23 the Germans, about 100 strong, attacked the British outposts at Majoreni. In this encounter the enemy were again repulsed, and retired across the Mwena River. LIEUTENANT A.J.B. WAVELL, Special Reserve, the Welsh Regiment, who was in command, was severely wounded, and Mr. L.J. INNES, late Royal Marines, was slightly wounded."
The Straits Times reported on 13th September:
"On September 6 there was a hot engagement to the west of Tsavo between a British force composed partly of Indian troops and partly of King's African Rifles and a strong force of the enemy. The latter were severely handled and repulsed. During the following night they came in conflict with our flanking parties and suffered further losses. In this engagement Lieut. G.C.O. Oldfield, ... and Subadar Sher Baz ...were killed."
A very helpful account of the engagements in the region can be found in a Forum under “The Long Long Trail” web resources.
“At the start of September 1914 the Schutztruppe pushed down the Tsavo Valley (because of the bulge of Kilima Njaro into BEA territory this route was the shortest, & also guaranteed water) to recce the ground and see if an attack on the Uganda Railway was possible.
Captain Schulz commanded a German force of around 210 officers and men in his force when he began probing Kenyan defences along the Tsavo River from 3rd September. On hearing of this incursion the 29th Punjabi Officer Commanding at Voi, Major A.A. James, concentrated most of his half Battalion at Tsavo & sent "B" Company 4 King’s African Rifles (KAR) 30 miles to the northwest to block any enemy movement in that direction.
On 05 September two companies of 29th Punjabis with around 85 Askari [native soldiers] from 1 & 3 KAR, under Captain H.T. Skinner of the Punjabis, advanced west towards Schulz up the Tsavo. The KAR [King's African Rifles] units to the north and south were ordered to close in on the Tsavo Valley.
Skinner failed to make contact by nightfall and assumed that Schulz's troops had come past him in the thick bush and were now east of him, so James told Skinner to turn around on 6 September and drive the Schutztruppe towards James' ambush near Tsavo.
Skinner attempted to do this but in fact Schulz was still west of him and the Schutztruppe caught up with Skinner, occupied a ridge of higher ground and shot down Skinner's rearguard at short range. Some of the Punjabis now became disorientated and lost in the thick bush.
James sent forward reinforcements under Captain G.C.O. Oldfield, 4 Kings African Rifles. This party immediately joined the battle but took casualties & Oldfield was killed.
Skinner & his reinforcements finally outflanked Schulz who withdrew to the west. In this encounter the British lost:
KIA: 1 Indian Officer & 1 Sepoy from 29 Punjabis; 1 Officer from 4 KAR.
WIA: 9 Sepoys [Indian 'privates'] & 8 Askari ['native soldiers']
The Times, 17th November, p7, featured a letter that reported actions in British East Africa. That letter featured in a House of Commons Debate the following day. The 'deleted names' in publication makes firm identification with Guy Oldfield's action problematic but plausible if the letter was written on 11th October covering a period of six weeks prior.... the numbers mentioned does suggest the writer is reporting on the early September battles.
"NEWS FROM NAIROBI. The following are extracts from a letter written from Nairobi on October 11:- I have been away at the front for six weeks fighting. I volunteered in the E.A. Rifles as a trooper. They then said that they wanted to form a Somali troop to go to the front at once, so ________ applied for me. So I went with him down to the Tsavo as a corporal acting as an officer. We had one quite big fight, when we were attached to one company of the King's African Rifles. The Germans, about 150 of them, very nearly surrounded us at dawn. __________ , who was in command of the K.A.R., got killed in the first ten minutes, but we drove the Germans back and made them absolutely run. We got 15 of them and wounded eight, and the Germans got six of our soldiers, seven of our mules, and wounded four. We then had to hold the place for two days until we were relieved by No.2 Company of the K.A.R. People don't seem to realize at home what a big thing this is out here. The Germans have got anything from 6,000 to 12,000 troops and lots of guns."