1950-1959 | Kenya

British general warns against prosecuting Kenyan militia for murder

Two detained suspect rebels © IWM (BF 10956)

9 June 1954

On 9 June 1954 ,  General Erskine, commanding British troops in Kenya, advised the War Council against prosecuting members of Kenya’s Home Guard for murder.

‘They do a very good job because they do it from the heart and with faith in the Kenya Government… I must warn the War Council that my opinion is that if these men are tried for murder they may be faced with a deterioration in morale and perhaps some desertion from the Kikuyu Guard.’

Two days later he again warned them that

‘the Kikuyu Guard….  were not a disciplined force in the normal sense of the term [and] should not be expected to come up to the same standard of conduct which was demanded from regular forces,’ adding that ‘where members of the Kikuyu Guard were proved to be in sympathy or league with Mau Mau, than extreme penalties were justifiable; but where breaches of discipline by the Kikuyu Guard were committed in good faith, the penalty might be dismissal.’1 Would the suspect Kikuyu rebels, who were the victims, or indeed their families, have considered such acts of extreme arbitrary violence and murder as being ‘committed in good faith’ ? That, however, was not a relevant question because winning hearts and minds was rarely a priority for the British Army in Kenya.


  1. Cited in ‘Witness Statement of Huw Charles Bennett,’ in Ndiku Mutua and Others V Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Claim no: HQ09X02666 p. 29 https://www.leighday.co.uk/LeighDay/media/LeighDay/documents/Mau%20Mau/Historian%20witness%20statements/Dr-Bennett-3rd-statement-FINAL.pdf?ext=.pdf

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