One Little Shot

alhaji grunshi

Although Gravillo Princip is credited with firing the single shot which sparked the Great War, the dubious distinction of being the first British Empire soldier to fire a shot in anger goes to Regimental Sergeant Major Alhaji Grunshi of the West African Frontier Force: on 12 August 1914 as his troop advanced on the wireless transmitter at Kamina in German Togoland (the actual combat took place at the German holding position of Nuatja).

Capable to transmitting messages to other colonies in Africa, as well as Berlin, its capture was considered essential as part of the rarely spoken about theatre of war in Africa which, at the Pan African Conference of 1919, William Du Bois concluded, “20 centuries after Christ, black Africa, prostate, raped and shamed lies at the feet of theconquering Philistines of Europe”.

There were no Schutztruppe (colonial troops under the command of the military governor) present in Togo, only lightly-armed Polezeitruppe (Police under the command of the colonial governor) (more here), which may explain why the ‘Battle of Kamina’ was little more than a skirmish in which the German commander surrendered a fortnight after Grunshi’s shot.   The day after Grunshi’s opening shot, the Polizeitruppe commander, Hauptmann Pfaeler was killed by further WAFF shots whilst sitting in a tree to observe their advance.

Initial attempts to bring charges against the German Governor, Major von Doring for the use of dum-dum bullets, in violation of the 1907 Hague Convention, were dropped when it was argued that these were simply lead-tipped hunting bullets (one non-German speaking British officer admitted to using an elephant gun against misunderstood surrendering Germans).  Although these could be argued as reasonable instances of using whatever tools were available in heavy fighting, the deliberate use of non-standard ammunition was commonplace amongst Belgian forces.

Another charge of arming native troops to fight against Europeans was dropped when it was observed that the British did the same (e.g. RSM Grunshi).

And that was just the beginning.


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