Content warning: graphic discussion of violent prisoner abuse
Testimony uncovered by Declassified UK recorded the violent career of a colonial mercenary. Tape recordings and newspaper reports revealed, in his own words, the life of captain Thomas Stanley Baxendale as he policed the British Empire’s colonies. The material described the beating of civilians and the torture of captives. It also included details of Baxendale stripping, shaving, beating, and stabbing one prisoner in the throat with a bayonet.
Baxendale’s career was long, varied, and brutal. He served as a colonial policeman and contract officer – a colonial mercenary – in Palestine, Kenya, Cyprus, and Oman among others.
The testimony was discovered on old audio cassettes in the Imperial War Museum, and further details were found in newspapers from the period.
“I opened up with tear gas and that was adequate,” he reflected, referring to an incident in the Cypriot capital Nicosia. “I didn’t have to open fire but I would have done.” His conduct made the front page of the Daily Express, which said he “saved the day”.
Referring to his time as a policeman in Palestine on one tape, Baxendale said he supported the use of arbitrary courts:
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“It would be a good idea to use military courts in Northern Ireland,” he commented to the museum’s interviewer, referring to the IRA. “You probably have to delete that.”
After Palestine, Baxendale served in Eritrea and Libya before going to Kenya, where Mau Mau insurgents fought the British. He expressed an enthusiasm for force-feeding prisoners:
Baxendale was prepared to “put a tube down their throat” and force feed Kenyatta and his comrades if they went on hunger strike, a move which was averted.
Kenya was the scene of widespread prisoner abuse. Former prisoners and their families have brought cases against the British state in the years since.
After a few years away from colonial policing in the 1960s, Baxendale arrived in Oman where the British-allied Sultan was facing a nationalist rebellion. Now with the rank of captain, his roles included interrogations:
“Sometimes they’d be quite straightforward but nine times out of ten they weren’t,” he said with a laugh, in one of his last remarks to the tape recorder.
Stabbed in the throat
Medical reports from the period seen by Declassified UK suggested Baxendale may have been mentally ill during some of his worst actions. This included the alleged torture of a captured Oman nationalist named Mohammed al-Adid. After what were long periods of often-violent interrogation, during which Baxendale may have been drunk, the captain:
then “suddenly jumped up shouting at the prisoner” and stabbed al-Adid in the throat with a bayonet. The wound was an inch deep, puncturing his windpipe. One witness “looked up and saw a trickle of blood coming from the prisoner’s throat.” Baxendale supposedly said “I am sorry…I did not mean to do that.”
Baxendale appeared to have been charged and subject to a court martial. Even though it found him guilty, Baxendale did not serve jail time. By April 1966, he was back in the UK. Declassified UK reported that it could not contact Baxendale, and that he may have died given the passage of time.
Nevertheless, this is another chilling story of Britain’s legacy of torture and violence during the brutal period of decolonisation.Support us and go ad-free
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