Britain established a Protectorate over the Kingdom of Buganda in 1890 and extended it to cover the whole of Uganda in 1896. At the outbreak of war, the Protectorate had a population of approximately 3 million Africans, together with a few hundred Europeans and approximately 4,000 Asians.

Uganda was connected to the east coast of Africa by the railway which ran from Kisumu, on the coast of Lake Victoria, across British East Africa to the port of Mombasa. Uganda shared its southern border with German East Africa and the two colonies faced each other across Lake Victoria.

At the beginning of the war, the Governor was Sir Frederick Jackson. He retired at the end of 1917 and was replaced by Sir Robert Coryndon.

Armed forces

CO 685/2

Plan of Buganda Province, Uganda, 1915-1916. CO 685/2

In August 1914, the British military establishment in Uganda consisted of the 4th Regiment of the King’s African Rifles, a single battalion which was made up of several companies. When war broke out, these companies were in the north of the Protectorate on an expedition against the Turkana people of northwest British East Africa. This left the southern border with German East Africa unguarded.

Martial law was declared on 8 August 1914. The Europeans and many Indians in the Protectorate joined the Uganda Volunteer Reserve. In addition, the Protectorate’s police were organised into the Uganda Police Service Battalion. This small defence force was greatly increased by 3,000 African soldiers, mobilised by their chiefs, who formed the Baganda Rifles. They were later joined by an additional Asian battalion, the 13th Rajputs, and a battalion of the 4th King’s African Rifles.

In British East Africa, the Uganda Police and companies of the 4th King’s African Rifles defended the railway terminus at Kisumu in September 1914.  There were only small clashes along the southern border with German East Africa, although a German military base at Bukoba on the western shore of Lake Victoria was captured in June 1915.

After February 1916, Ugandan forces, organised into a unit to operate near Lake Victoria under the command of Lieutenant Colonel D R Adye, took part in the general attack on German East Africa. They advanced on both sides of the lake, capturing from the Germans the border posts, the port of Bukoba and the island of Ukerewe. By the end of July, they had cleared the Lake Victoria area and captured the German wireless station at the port of Mwanza at the south of the lake.

From early 1916, a military recruitment campaign resulted in a rapid expansion of the regiment, and Uganda contributed a further four battalions to the King’s African Rifles. They were deployed throughout the East Africa campaign, through to 1918.  Over the course of the war, approximately 7,000 Uganda soldiers served in the regiment (WO 95/5323, WO 95/5324, WO 95/5326, WO 95/5328, WO 95/5331).

Medics and porters

CO 685/3 (1)

Cases treated at hospitals in Uganda, 1916-1917. CO 685/3 (1)

A government medical service was already present in Uganda before the war and there were already civil hospitals at Kampala and Entebbe. There were also medical missionaries and researchers investigating tropical diseases such as sleeping sickness and malaria. They provided the basis for the Uganda Medical Service, established by Major Gerald Joseph Keane of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

The Bugandan Prime Minister, Sir Apolo Kaggwa, was a key influence in encouraging Africans to join the service. The manpower available was greatly increased by a company of African orderlies, the Uganda Native Medical Corps and 600 stretcher bearers. The Service made a great contribution to the war effort. It is estimated that the hospital at Kampala saw 44,000 cases in 1916 alone (CO 323/650/39, CO 685/2, CO 685/3).

Many Africans worked as porters during the war in the Uganda Transport Corps, established in April 1915. An estimated 180,000 Africans from the Protectorate served as porters in the course of the East Africa campaign, about two thirds of them assisting the Belgian advance on the German East Africa from the Congo. Death rates were sometimes high and many died from disease rather than injury, particularly in the unfamiliar climate and environment on the east coast (CAB 45/29). 

Key figures

Sir Robert Coryndon

Sir Robert Coryndon

Governor of Uganda (1918-1922)

Sir Apolo Kaggwa

Sir Apolo Kaggwa

Prime Minister of Buganda (1890-1926)

Sir Frederick John Jackson

Sir Frederick John Jackson

Governor of Uganda (1911-1918)

Major Gerald Joseph Keane

Major Gerald Joseph Keane

East African Expeditionary Force (1914-1919)

Key documents

CO 1069/189 pt2

Victoria Nyanza at Entebbe, Uganda, 1900-1920. CO 1069/189 pt2

  • War Diaries Lindi Force 2/4 and 2/4 Battalions King’s African Rifles, July – September 1917 WO 95/5323
  • War Diaries Lindi Force 3/4 Battalion King’s African Rifles, October – November 1917 WO 95/5324
  • War Diaries Pamforce 4/4 Battalion King’s African Rifles, January – June 1918 WO 95/5326
  • War Diaries Edforce 1/4 and 4/4 Battalion King’s African Rifles, April – September 1918 WO 95/5328
  • War Diaries Norforce 1/4 Battalion King’s African Rifles, April – August 1917 WO 95/5331
  • Uganda, sleeping sickness reports, January 1915 CO 323/650/39
  • Uganda Sessional Papers, Annual Medical Report, 1913-1916 CO 685/2
  • Uganda Sessional Papers, Annual Medical Reports 1917-1919 CO 685/3
  • The organisation of labour in a campaign in Tropical Africa, by Major General Giffard CAB 45/29

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