1950-1959 | Kenya | Prisoners murdered

British captain tortures and executes suspect rebels

Soldiers from a different regiment search suspect Mau Mau rebels during an unrelated operation in 1954. All photos on this website for illustrative purposes only. © IWM (MAU 865).

14 June 1953

At around 6 pm on 14 June 1953, Captain Gerald Griffiths began to interrogate two forestry workers suspected of taking up arms against British rule in Kenya. Earlier that day, as Griffiths had been leading a company of the King’s African Rifles into the Chuka region of Kenya to flush out Mau Mau rebels hiding in the forests, the two suspects, Njeru Ndwega and Kavenji Njoka, had been handed over by local police.1 Griffiths had a fearsome reputation. He had already advised one of his white sergeants that he could ‘shoot anyone you like as long as they’re black,’ kept a scoreboard of kills in the officers’ mess and had offered a reward of five shillings for each insurgent slaughtered.1

The newly detained suspects proved unable or unwilling to inform on the whereabouts of rebel positions, so Griffiths ordered one of his soldiers to threaten Ndwega with castration and then to amputate his right ear. When the terrified man still failed to reveal any useful information, he was shot dead. Meanwhile one of Njoka’s ears was bayoneted and threaded with signal wire, which was then used as a leash to lead him through the forest. When he too was unable to provide the hoped for intelligence, he was also summarily killed and his body left without even any attempt at burial.2

Griffiths later explained in court that Njoka had been shot while attempting to escape and while he had not ordered his ear to be bayonetted, once it had been done he felt it was ‘proper’ for a suspect Mau Mau prisoner to be led on a leash threaded through his ear. ‘It would not cause pain,’ he argued, explaining that ‘these men have holes made in their ears when they are very young.’  He also insisted that he had only ever ordered a soldier to threaten Ndwega with castration, after his pants had been pulled down, but argued that a mere threat caused the prisoner ‘no harm,’ and that one of his soldiers had amputated the prisoner’s ear so quickly that he couldn’t stop it.3

Griffiths was acquitted of murder at his first trial, partially on a legal technicality since the prosecution failed to establish the victim’s identity in one of the killings, while in the other there was supposedly insufficient evidence.4 An internal memo from Kenya’s Deputy Governor to the Governor noted that evidence on the first victim’s identity had been improperly excluded from the trial.5 At a subsequent court hearing the following year Griffiths was found guilty on four lesser charges of ‘cruelty to Africans’ and sentenced to five years imprisonment.  His Defence Counsel argued for mitigating circumstances, explaining that shortly before the incident, his beloved horse had been brutally treated by Mau Mau rebels.5 One witness, Sergeant-Major William Lleyellyn, had earlier testified that as Griffiths fired so many bullets at one of the prisoners that they ‘practically poured out of the man’s stomach,’ he yelled ‘When the Mau Mau killed my horse, it screamed longer than you will scream.’6

FOOTNOTES

  1. ‘Charges Against Captain Griffiths,’ The Times, 9 March 1954, p. 5.
  2. ‘What is Going on in Our Colonies ?’ the Daily Mirror, 30 November 1953, p. 1, ‘Foreign News,’ Jet: The Weekly Negro News Magazine, 10 December 1953, p. 12, and Robert B. Edgerton, Mau Mau: African Crucible, The Free Press, New York and London, 1989, p. 169.
  3. David Anderson, ‘A Very British Massacre,’ History Today – ahttps://historyslc.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/a-very-british-massacre.pdf and also http://allafrica.com/stories/200607170327.html
  4. “3 Witnesses Lied Says Griffiths,” The Daily Herald, 11 March 1954 p. 2
  5. David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire, Phoenix, London, 2006, p. 259 and ‘Captain is Found Not Guilty of Murdering an African,’ The Daily Mirror, 28 November 1953, p. 8.
  6. Huw Bennett, Fighting the Mau Mau: The British Army and Counter-Insurgency in the Kenya Emergency, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2013, pp. 116-117.
  7. “Cruelty To Africans,” The Aberdeen Evening Express,  11 March 1954, p. 16 and “British Captain Gets Five Years For Cruelty To Mau Mau,” Jet, The Weekly Negro News Magazine“, 25 March 1954, p. 12.
  8. Cited in Robert. B. Edgerton, op. cit., p. 169.

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