Arthur Aitken

Brigadier-General Arthur Edward Aitken (25 May 1861 – 29 March 1924) was a British military commander.

Arthur Edward Aitken
Born25 May 1861
Rochford, Essex, England[1]
Died29 March 1924 (aged 62)
Rome, Italy [2]
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branchWorcestershire Regiment
119th Infantry (The Mooltan Regiment)
Commands heldIndian Expeditionary Force


Born in Rochford[1] in Essex, by the time of the 1871 Census he was a 9-year old pupil at a school in Brighton, Sussex.[3]

Aitken was commissioned from RMC Sandhurst in 1880 and saw active service in the Sudan in 1885.[4] He was attached to the Indian Staff Corps, where he was promoted major on 14 January 1900.[5] While in India, he was promoted full colonel in 1911 and afterwards held the temporary rank of brigadier-general.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Aitken, as a temporary major-general, led the first notable incursion into German East Africa at the head of Indian Expeditionary Force B,[4] and was defeated at the Battle of Tanga in early November 1914.[6]

The battle is often known as the "Battle of the Bees" for the swarms of bees that repeatedly interrupted fighting,[7] with both sides fleeing for cover. Aitken was said to have been overconfident and not to have attempted any reconnaissance work in the area.

The German defence forces were led by Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck,[6] who held out until the end of the war.

Aitken's troops were routed and retreated.[6] There were delays in publishing the details in Britain. He was removed from his command and ultimately (in August 1915) reverted to the rank of colonel. Later it was felt he had been made a scapegoat for the defeat and in 1920 he was formally exonerated. In November 1921 the Secretary of State for India said in the House of Commons that Colonel Aitken had been retired on full pension with the rank of honorary brigadier-general, backdated to May 1918.

During his final years General Aitken was a prominent local figure in Bath. Because of poor health he spent his final months in Italy and died there suddenly of a heart attack.


  1. General Register Office index of births registered in April, May, June, 1861 - Name: Aitken, Arthur Edward District: Rochford Volume: 4A Page: 176.
  2. Death registered at the Consular Office in Rome - Consular Deaths 1921-1924 Volume 15 "Aitken, Arthur E" age 62
  3. 1871 Census of Brighton, RG10/1087, Folio 92, Page 50, Arthur E Aitken, pupil, 13, 14, 15 Sillwood Place, Brighton.
  4. Paice (2008), p. 40.
  5. "No. 27173". The London Gazette. 13 March 1900. p. 1714.
  6. Chappell (2005), p.12.
  7. Farwell (1989), p. 171.


  • Chappell, Mike (2005). The British Army in World War I: The Eastern Fronts. The British Army in World War I, Volume 3. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-401-9.
  • Farwell, Byron (1989). The Great War in Africa, 1914–1918. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-30564-3.
  • Paice, Edward (2008). Tip & Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa. London: Phoenix. ISBN 978-0-7538-2349-1.

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