image Collections in Focus: Mau Mau Pistol

The REME Museum cares for a large and fascinating weapons collection. You can see some of this collection in our Armourers Hall. In addition to lots of British Army issue firearms, we also hold some more unusual pieces, including this wood handle pistol.

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Improvised Mau Mau pistol, 1950s. A:1962.0533.01.

It was once owned by a member of the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. The KLFA, also known as Mau Mau, was a guerrilla army which resisted British rule in Kenya from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. The Mau Mau Uprising, sometimes called the Kenya Emergency, was the violent culmination of decades of resistance to British colonial rule. The conflict escalated over access to land, treatment of native Kenyan workers, lack of African political representation, and, latterly, large scale internment and massacres.

This improvised pistol was made to fire .303 ammunition. The design meant that the round was exposed, placing the user at considerable risk. Aside from stolen firearms, guns used by Mau Mau fighters were hand made. They were both ingenious and dangerous. Members of the KLFA also used traditional weapons like spears, clubs, knives and arrows.

REME personnel took part in the British response to the Mau Mau Uprising as combatant troops from the beginning of concerted military operations in 1952. With British forces travelling up to 4,000 miles a month on corrugated, unmade roads the need to chassis and transmission repair could exceed 200 vehicles a month. REME personnel also inspected and repaired about 100,000 weapons, degraded by intensive handling, fine dust and rusting. Additionally, REME provided vehicle, weapon and telecommunication repair support for British Kenyan police and public works departments, the native Kenyan staff of which had been dismissed.

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Members of 7 Infantry Workshop on patrol in Kenya, 1953-54. In this period, 7 Infantry Workshop was based near the town of Thika, Kenya. A:1964.0651.471. © Unknown. Prints of this photograph and many more can be purchased through our online image archive.

The pistol may have been confiscated by British forces, sometime before the uprising was effectively crushed in 1956. It was donated to the REME Museum by East Africa Command in 1962. This was shortly before Kenya attained independence from colonial rule in December 1963. Most REME personnel left Kenya in 1964 with a small contingent remaining behind as part of a British Army Training Team.

Find out more

Check out our blog on the Museum’s weapons collection, including this and other unusual weapons that we care for.

You can read more about the Mau Mau Uprising and see some similar improvised weapons in this article from the National Army Museum.

More information about a Mau Mau rifle, owned and displayed by Birmingham Museums Trust is available in this blog on the History Workshop Journal website, authored by Rachael Minnott.

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