Derek Franklin, police officer who led clandestine operations in Kenya against the Mau Mau – obituary
Derek Franklin, who has died aged 91, served undercover infiltrating the Mau Mau during the rebellion against British colonial rule in Kenya in the 1950s.
The Kikuyu people formed the Land and Freedom Army, an underground movement known as the Mau Mau. London had responded with military force, sending up to 150,000 Kikuyu into detention camps which became known as “Britain’s Gulag”.
As an inspector in the Kenya police special branch, Franklin led a group of 25 Somali bandits on a clandestine mission across the Kenyan border to attack a group of Somali shifta, heavily armed bands of cross-border raiders responsible for a series of incursions against civilian and security forces. The raid was successful, but Franklin received a flesh wound in the hip by a bullet.
This counter-insurgency operation was one of many against the Mau Mau by units known as Pseudo Gangs, former Mau Mau fighters who had been turned against their sometime comrades while deployed in the White Highlands and forests around Mount Kenya.
In 1957 he joined the Blue Doctor Pseudo team founded by Supt Ian Henderson in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, and helped in the search for the senior Mau Mau leader Stanley Mathenge, who was believed to have sought refuge in an underground hide-out called a dakki. Franklin and his unit were ambushed by a Kikuyu reception committee, who, having been tipped off by a Mau Mau spy, loosed off 50-odd rounds from their sub-machine guns at close range. Mathenge was never found, and was later reported to have been strangled by one of his own men.
The middle of three brothers, Derek Peter Franklin was born on March 8 1931 at Downham, between Bromley and Catford in south-east London. His father was a guard on the London Underground while his mother was a dressmaker. After Mallory School, he trained at the School of Engineering and Navigation in Poplar, and at 16 achieved his ambition of joining the Merchant Navy. Between 1951 and 1953 he undertook National Service with the 1st Commonwealth Division in Japan and Korea, before joining the Kenya police in 1954.
Posted to Nanyuki, a small town of European farmers in the White Highlands, where only whites were allowed to own land, Inspector Franklin commanded a unit repelling Mau Mau attacks, investigating the theft of livestock (“the national sport”) and dealing with murders, usually of Africans. Bestowed the nickname Yellowneck, after the francolin partridge, he led patrols tracking marauding Mau Mau through the bush, armed with a Second World War Sten gun.
Later, based at a police post some 7,000 feet up the southern slopes of Mount Kenya, Franklin and his men “accounted” for more than 40 Mau Mau before he took over a Special Force team scouring the forests for a notorious local gang leader. Camped in a wooden shack alive with vermin, Franklin strapped a torch to the barrel of his .22 rifle to take pot shots at rats infesting the rafters.
As the Mau Mau emergency drew to a close, Franklin acted as official food taster for a visit to Kenya by the Queen Mother in 1959. The following year he became a district Special Branch Officer occasionally working across borders in Ethiopia, and dined on goat stew washed down with whisky and 7-Up at celebrations to mark the birthday of the country’s ruler, Emperor Haile Selassie.
Later in the 1960s he worked for the Bahrain State Police special branch, and in 1971 he returned to Africa to work with the Lesotho Mounted Police, as deputy director of intelligence and later as deputy head of special branch. In 1976 Franklin took up his final post as a deputy head of special branch in Botswana.
When Franklin and his family returned to the UK he worked for the Civil Service, firstly for MI5 and latterly for MI6. He was appointed MBE in January 1975 for his work with the Colonial Police.
In his memoir A Pied Cloak (1996) Franklin wrote a graphic account of his Pseudo Gang’s activities in Kenya but made light of the harsh conditions under which they operated and of the sustained physical and mental efforts required to achieve success.
In 1966 he married Jenny Gray, a teacher he had met while working in Kenya. She and their two daughters survive him.
Derek Franklin, born March 8 1931 died February 3 2023