Indian Troops in the KAR

Sikh Soldier by toy maker Comet

Before and during the First World War the KAR and its predecessor regiments contained contingents of troops from Britain’s imperial Indian Army.

The 5th (Uganda) Battalion claimed to be the senior KAR battalion because the Indian contingent of the Uganda Rifles was the first to be formed of the KAR’s predecessor regiments.

Indian soldiers have long been popular subjects for toy makers – and generic figures without the uniform details or equipment of specific regiments, like Comet’s marching Sikh or Authenticast’s superbly-modelled Indian soldier, could easily represent the early Indian contingents of the KAR.

Indian soldier by toy maker Authenticast

Britains’ Royal Indian Army Service Corps, below, would also be an authentic reinforcement for a KAR column marching on the Mad Mullah’s Dervishes or taking punitive action against tribesmen for cattle raiding in Kenya’s Northern Frontier District (now South Sudan) – although the white officer who came with this set would probably be out of place, because his metal helmet would have been unbearably hot in East Africa!

Britains’ Indian Army Mountain Battery, which used many of the same figures as the Service Corps but is much rarer, would also have seen action against the Mad Mullah.

Royal Indian Army Service Corps by toy maker Britains

As well as Indian soldiers being in the King’s African Rifles, units from Britain’s imperial Indian Army and from India’s Princely States also fought alongside the KAR in their own right during both World Wars and the Mad Mullah campaign in Somaliland (modern Somalia), where Indian units provided camel cavalry, artillery and logistics support for the KAR infantry.

Indian Army Mountain Battery in Khaki by toy maker Britains

One of the most well-known Indian units to fight alongside the KAR was the Bikanir Camel Corps, which was deployed to Somaliland between 1902 and 1904 to help suppress a major Dervish uprising.

Bikanir Camel Corps by toy maker Britains

The usefulness of camels in the arid Somali hinterland led to the formation of the Somaliland Camel Corps as a separate regiment within the King’s African Rifles.

Sowar (Trooper) of the Bikanir Camel Corps


KAR by Lone*Star

1. Officer

Lone*Star was the name used by British company Die Cast Metal Tools Ltd. for its toy products.  These started with die-cast metal toys in 1939 and extended after the Second World War to factory-painted plastic figures, which the company made from 1955 to 1976.

2. Radio Operator

The set of ten plastic KAR figures show an officer and nine askari in the Australian-style slouch hat which was adopted for undress and field headwear early in the Second World War.  In fact, the same toy soldiers were sold with white-painted faces as Australian infantry.

3. Marching

The first soldier in the set is a pistol-wielding officer; unfortunately, the officer’s black-painted face does not fit with his Second World War uniform, as it wasn’t until the last few years before independence in the 1960s that black officers were commissioned in the KAR.  Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin was one of the first black Africans to be made a commissioned officer, in preparation for the army of an independent Uganda in 1962.

4. Rifle at the Ready

The second toy soldier is an askari speaking into the microphone of a large radio that he carries on his back.

5. Standing with sten gun

The third soldier is marching with his Lee Enfield 0.303 SMLE rifle slung over his shoulder.  This is my favourite toy soldier depiction of a KAR askari.

The fourth soldier thrusts his rifle and bayonet forward in a ready position.

6. Kneeling with sten gun

The fifth and sixth soldiers carry sub-machine guns – almost certainly intended to be British 9mm sten guns – one askari stands and the other kneels on one knee.

7. Kneeling and Firing

The seventh soldier is also kneeling as he fires his 0.303 rifle.

The eighth soldiers is poised in the act of throwing a Mills hand grenade…

8. Throwing Grenade

…and the ninth has his hat slung on his back to keep it clear of the Bazooka he is firing.

9. Bazooka

The tenth and final soldier in the set is another very nice figure, crouching low over his Bren light machine gun to provide fire support for the rest of the platoon.

10. Bren Gunner

Dervishes and Arabs by Britains

Toy soldier collectors looking for opponents for their King’s African Rifles will almost certainly want figures to represent the Mad Mullah’s Dervishes (holy men).

Bedouin Arab by Britains

Bedouin Arab by Britains

There are a number of options and a mix is probably best as the brave and fanatical Dervishes knew no uniform.

My preference is Britains hollowcast Bedouin Arabs, which are common as they were produced in large numbers and different colours from 1913 to 1960. The Bedouin Arab figures could also serve as Arab slave traders who plagued the east coast of Africa and were a target of KAR patrols until well into the Twentieth Century.

Britains Abyssinian Tribesman can also serve as a dervish warrior or a slave trader.  This figure is a re-working of the Arab figure but bare-headed and with a fixed arm, and scarcer as it was produced in smaller numbers than its parent.

Abyssinian Tribesman by toy maker Britains

Britains Arab Warriors from the excellent “Deetail” series made in the 1970s are an alternative option for the collector looking for dervishes to oppose his King’s African Rifles.

Arab Warriors by Britains Deetail

Another unusual alternative to Dervishes and Arab slave traders is the African witch doctor made by Lone*Star (below) which represents the KAR’s early years undertaking punitive expeditions and small campaigns to pacify African tribes raised to rebellion by witch doctors, shamans and tribal chieftains.

African witch doctor by toy maker Lone*Star

Toy Soldiers by Authenticast

French tirailleur by toy maker Authenticast

Authenticast was a product name used from the 1930s to the 1950s by the American toy maker Comet, to market a range of metal military toys and soldiers made using a centrifugal casting process that allowed more detail than earlier methods.

Authenticast toy soldiers are descendants of Comet’s earlier “Brigadiers” series and were made by a subsidiary of the Comet company set up in Ireland after the Second World War to take advantage of post-war economic regeneration initiatives.

The original moulds for Authenticast toy soldiers were made by talented Swedish designer Holger Eriksson, who may also have designed some of Comet’s earlier “Brigadiers” series; his initials “HE” and the country of origin “Eire” can often be found inscribed on the characteristic cross-shaped base of these figures.

Authenticast ceased production in 1953 after a fire destroyed the Irish factory.  Some of the moulds were taken over by a company called Swedish African Engineers (SAE) who manufactured toy soldiers in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s.

French tirailleur by toy maker Authenticast

The 1/32 (54mm) scale French tirailleur made by Authenticast is a superb figure, made as a toy over fifty years ago but superior in design and manufacture to many modern models.

Black infantryman in Khaki Tropical Dress by toy maker Authenticast

The word “tirailleur” meaning “skirmisher” has been used in the French army since Napoleonic times as a designation for light infantry.  In the 19th and 20th Centuries the term was particularly used for native infantry recruited in the French colonial territories of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal and Indochina. The black infantrymen (above and below left) in what looks like British field dress for the Second World War could represent askari from the KAR, although it is more likely that they were originally sold as West African Troopers.

There are other Authenticast figures that would enhance a KAR collection.  The Australian infantryman wearing a slouch hat could easily be a white British KAR officer.

Australian infantryman by toy maker Authenticast

Black infantryman in light tropical dress by toy maker Authenticast

The beret-wearing infantrymen (below) could be from any number of British regiments – I like to think of him as being from the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, which fought alongside the KAR in the East Africa Campaign of the First World War.  The soldier in a peaked cap could be from the army of the Republic of Ireland, but this does not explain why he is wearing tropical shorts.

Infantryman in beret and shorts by toy maker Authenticast

Soldier in peaked cap and shorts by toy maker Authenticast

Indian Soldier by toy maker Authenticast

The excellent figure of an Indian soldier could easily be from Britain’s imperial Indian Army which fought alongside the KAR before and during the First World War. Together I find these Authenticast figures, with their purposeful strides, strongly reminiscent of the famous Second World War recruiting poster showing the British Empire fighting together.

Regimental Colours of the KAR

The King’s African Rifles were not awarded Regimental Colours until 1923, as Colours were not traditionally carried by Rifle Regiments in the British Army, because of their evolution from light infantry skirmishers of the Napoleonic era.

Colours of the King’s African Rifles

1st Bn KAR Colour Party circa 1958 by modern model maker The Colonial Factor

After it was agreed the KAR should carry Colours, a common design was agreed for all six battalions.

The King’s Colour is a Union Flag, gold-fringed, with a crown, the words “King’s African Rifles” and the battalion numeral in a circle in the centre.

The Regimental Colour is royal blue, with a centre similar to the King’s Colour, except that a lion is in the centre and the battalion numeral on the fly.

The Colours carry the regiment’s Battle Honours.

All battalions are entitled to the same Honours, even though they have not all been at the same battles.

The Honours are:-

  • Ashanti 1900, British Somaliland 1901–04
  • Colour Party, 4th Bn KAR circa 1924

    The Great War: Kilimanjaro, Narungombe, Nyangao, East Africa 1914–18

  • The Second World War: Afodu, Moyale, Todenyang-Namuraputh, Soroppa, Juba, Beles Gugani, Awash, Fike, Colito, Omo, Gondar, Ambazzo, Kulkaber, Abyssinia 1940–41, Tug Argen, British Somaliland 1940, Madagascar, Middle East 1942, Mawlaik, Kalewa, Seikpyu, Letse, Arakan Beaches, Taungup, Burma 1944–45.

    KAR Colour Party by modern model maker Asset Soldiers

Colour Party 1st Bn KAR 1958

Medals of the KAR

Like the troops of all British and colonial army regiments, the officers and askari of the King’s African Rifles could receive a range of Campaign, Long Service and Gallantry Medals for their service.

This is a short summary of the medals most likely to be seen on the tunic of a KAR askari.

KAR Askari by modern model maker Franklin Mint

When the askari of the earlier regiments that preceeded the KAR transferred to the newly-formed regiment in 1902, they might have already received the Central Africa Medal, the East and West Africa Medal, the Central and East Africa Medal or the Ashanti Medal for numerous punitive expeditions and small campaigns to pacify rebellious African tribes and suppress Arab slave traders between 1891 and 1900.

In the same year that the KAR were formed, these earlier Campaign Medals were replaced with the Africa General Service Medal (GSM) which was awarded to British and colonial forces for small wars and campaigns in Africa for fifty-four years, until 1956.

Africa GSM with clasp “Kenya”

Forty-five different clasps were awarded with this medal for particular campaigns.  Most of these clasps were awarded for actions in the longest campaign of the KAR’s history, against Mohammed Abdullah Hassan – known to the British as the “Mad Mullah”– an Islamic fundamentalist who fought a twenty-year, anti-imperialist war in Somaliland (modern Somalia) and for campaigns and expeditions in Nigeria, Nyasaland (modern Malawi) and the Northern Frontier District of Kenya (now South Sudan) in the years up to 1920.

After a gap of thirty-six years, the last and most-widely awarded clasp for the Africa General Service Medal was “Kenya” for the Mau-Mau Uprising between 1952 and 1956.

This superb photograph shows a Sergeant of the KAR around 1905 – he probably served with the Central African Rifles prior to 1902 because he wears the Central Africa Medal with clasp “Central Africa 1894-98” the East and West Africa Medal, the Ashanti Medal and the Africa General Service Medal with unknown clasp.

First World War

KAR askari in First World War uniform by modern model maker King & Country

The Africa General Service Medal was reserved for small wars and campaigns – including those during the First World War but against local opposition rather than German forces; it was not awarded for the campaign to capture German East Africa (later Tanganyika, now Tanzania) and defeat the German East African equivalent of the KAR, called the Schutztruppe.  For this campaign, askari were eligible for the 1914-15 Star, if they served between August 1914 and December 1915, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal – as were all troops who fought in the First World War.

Players cigarette card – hover your mouse over the image for medal details or click to enlarge the picture

Between 1907 and 1942, an African askari completing a period of unblemished service would receive the King’s African Rifles Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.  Until 1932 the qualifying period for this medal was eighteen years.  This meant that it was issued on the day of discharge when the recipient had no opportunity to wear it.  After 1932 the qualifying period was reduced to sixteen years.

Second World War and After

During the Second World War African askari qualified for the War Medal wherever they served and the Africa and Burma Stars if they fought in these theatres.

War Medal 1939 – 1945 (left) and KAR Long Service and Good Conduct Medal

After the war, in the early 1950s, the 1st and 2nd (Nyasaland) Battalions and the 3rd (Kenya) Battalion of the KAR were deployed to fight Chinese communist insurgents in Malaya (modern Malaysia).

Officers and askari who served in this campaign were eligible for the British and Commonwealth General Service Medal – which is different to the Africa General Service Medal – with the clasp “Malaya”.

General Service Medal with clasp “Malaya”

Gallantry Medals

British officers received a wide range of Gallantry Medals for their service with the KAR – including the Victoria Cross, the highest award “For Valour”.  The medal most frequently awarded to African askari for gallantry in the face of the enemy was the African Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).

Cap Badges of the KAR

Cap badge of 1st (Nyasaland) Bn. with King’s Crown

The KAR wore the ‘bugle horn and string’ cap badge derived from the signalling horns of German light infantry skirmishers of the Eighteenth Century and worn by Light Companies and Rifle regiments of the British Army since the Napoleonic wars.

Initially when the KAR were formed in 1902 the cap badge carried the number of each battalion in European numerals between the strings of the horn.

However, by the First World War some battalions had either replaced or supplemented the European numbers with Arabic numerals, possibly reflecting an increase in the number of Muslim askari.

Cap badge of 2nd (Nyasaland) Bn. with Queen’s Crown

The 1st and 2nd (Nyasaland) Battalions always wore European numbered cap badges and never adopted Arabic numerals.

Earlier badges have the King’s Crown above the strings of the horn, while badges from the last decade of the regiment, after the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 bear the Queen’s Crown.

The other four battalions of the regular peacetime establishment of the KAR wore their European number or the Arabic equivalent, with or without a surmounting Crown.

When further battalions were raised at times of war or civil unrest, this was often done by using a company from one battalion as a cadre for forming the new battalion.  The new battalion was then numbered after it’s parent battalion.

Arabic Numeral Badge of 4th Battalion with King’s Crown

So a new battalion raised from a company cadre of the 3rd (East African) Battalion would become 2/3rd (East African) Battalion and therefore wore the Arabic 3 or ‘Thalata’ of its parent.  During the Second World War the numbering of offspring battalions was simplified so 2/3rd Battalion became 23rd Battalion.

Arabic Numeral Badge of 3rd Bn.