In April 1915 Captain Derek Wetherall Pawle, 2nd Battalion The Border Regiment, was aged 27 and serving on secondment with the 2nd Battalion of The Nigeria Regiment, West African Frontier Force. At that time British, French and Belgian allied forces had invaded the Cameroons, Germany’s largest West African colony. The Germans put up a spirited resistance with their local troops and a number of European officers and NCOs.
Most of the fighting was concentrated in the jungle country between Douala, the main port on the coast, and Yaounde, a German administrative centre further inland. However the Germans maintained garrisons in the drier and more open northern Cameroons, and the British and French forces in the vicinity tried to contain these German garrisons. But as most Allied troops were required further south for the advance on Yaounde there were never enough troops to spare for the north, and the Germans could usually exercise freedom of movement.
The Nigerian border town of Gurin contained a small circular fort with loopholed walls and a good field of fire. The fort’s garrison was 42 Nigerian soldiers and policemen commanded by Derek Pawle. About 50 miles across the border to the northeast was the large German garrison town of Garua, commanded by Captain von Crailsheim. In late April 1915 von Crailsheim took 250 riflemen and machinegunners to deliver ammunition to a smaller German post at Chamba, about 35 miles south of Gurin. At Chamba a party of troops under Captain Schipper joined up with von Crailsheim and an attack on Gurin was mounted.
At daybreak on 29 April the German attackers, who numbered around 300 riflemen with five machine guns, surrounded Gurin fort and opened fire. The German machine guns were particularly useful at firing through the loopholes, causing several head wounds to the defenders. Concentrated machine gun fire also cut away sections of the top of the fort wall. An early British casualty was the fort commander, Captain Derek Pawle who was killed in action, and command then devolved on the only other officer present, Lieutenant J.F.J. Fitzpatrick of the Intelligence Staff. Fitzpatrick commanded well and the defenders continued manning their posts and returning fire steadily. By noon von Crailsheim had taken around 30 casualties and had failed to make the fort surrender, so he broke off the action and withdrew.
Whilst Captain Schipper moved south to Banyo with the German troops who were seriously wounded, von Crailsheim returned to Garua despite strenuous British attempts to intercept his force. Von Crailsheim may have failed to take Gurin fort but he had successfully mounted a daring raid into Nigeria that the British had not expected. In Gurin the Nigerians claimed victory for a successful defence, but at a price. Thirteen men had been hit by enemy fire. Casualty details have not been recorded but one of the British wounded was Colour Sergeant J.H. Fraser.
Captain Derek Wetherall Pawle, 2nd Bn The Border Regiment attached to 2nd Bn The Nigeria Regiment, lies in the lonely Yola Station Cemetery in northern Nigeria. He had commanded his men bravely and he died doing his duty in a minor engagement in a minor campaign that few people knew the details of.
Official History. Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons by Brigadier General F.J. Moberley.
The History of the Royal West African Frontier Force by Colonel A. Haywood and Brigadier F.A.S. Clarke.
The Cross of Sacrifice Volume 1.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission records.