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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: December 2012



Recently home from a two-year stint commanding the security forces in Kenya, General Sir George Erskine went to Camberley to lecture on the 1955 Army Staff Course. After a few introductory remarks, General Erskine turned to a problem faced by every commander-in-chief dealing with a major rebellion. Would it be necessary to declare martial law? Since the ‘unfortunate experiences’ under Oliver Cromwell, British officers have regarded martial law tentatively. Concerned about legal constraints on the army, Erskine found to his relief that:

the Government of Kenya were determined to use the very considerable powers at their disposal to the fullest extent. They could and did pass Emergency regulations of severity and entirely appropriate to the military requirements.

His former colleague and successor, Lieutenant-General Sir Gerald Lathbury, clashed with the Kenyan Attorney-General in November 1955. A roving police inspector discovered that the army were retaining prisoners for operational purposes beyond the time limits permitted. A senior staff officer in East Africa Command railed at these complaints, advocating a ‘first class show-down on the grounds that it is not possible to fight a war within the concepts of British Common Law’.