The Story of Rhodesia/Military & Involvement in the second Boers War, WWI

Policing south of the Zambezi edit

H Troop of the Bulawayo Field Force, commanded by Frederick Courteney Selous (front, seated), c. 1893

In line with the terms of its royal charter, the Company formed the British South Africa Company's Police (BSACP) in late 1889. A paramilitary, mounted infantry force, the BSACP initially boasted 650 men, but it proved so expensive to maintain that it was reduced to only 40 in 1892. This rump force was renamed the Mashonaland Mounted Police. With its size regularly fluctuating, it and other more irregular units—prominently the Bulawayo Field Force, including figures such as Selous and Burnham as commanders—proceeded to play a central role in the two Matabele Wars of the 1890s.[1]

Following the formation of the Matabeleland Mounted Police in 1895 with 150 members, it and the Mashonaland force were collectively referred to as the Rhodesia Mounted Police.[1] This was run directly by the Company until 1896, when it was reorganised into an independent entity called the British South Africa Police (BSAP). The word "Rhodesia" was omitted at the insistence of the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, because Britain did not yet formally consider that the country's name, despite the Company's official adoption of it the year before.[2] This anomaly was resolved in 1898 but the BSAP name remained.[3]

Police forces in Southern Rhodesia were initially all-white, but this changed over time: the Native Police Force, first raised in May 1895, was made up entirely of Matabele non-commissioned officers and men, many of whom were veterans of Lobengula's impis. Its 200 members, of whom 50 were posted to Mashonaland,[4] were trained in the Western manner, drilling and learning marksmanship. They were held in high regard by their white officers for their formidable soldiering ability, but they became hugely unpopular among the black civilian population for their perceived arrogance and abuse of the law they were supposed to uphold.[5] At the 1896 indaba with Rhodes in the Matopos Hills, the Matabele chief Somabhulana complained at length about the native police, saying they did not respect the traditional tribal structure and generally oppressed the populace, reportedly raping women on a regular basis. The parties agreed to abolish the native police in Matabeleland, and Rhodes promised not to reintroduce it.[4]

On its reconstitution in 1896, the BSAP was authorised to recruit 600 officers and men in Matabeleland—all of whom were white because of Rhodes's promise at the indaba—and 680 in Mashonaland, of whom 100 should be black. In practice, the "Native Contingent" in Mashonaland numbered 120.[2] The BSAP thereafter operated alongside the Southern Rhodesian Constabulary (SRC), a town police force covering Salisbury, Bulawayo, Fort Victoria, Gwelo and Umtali. The constabulary was far smaller than the BSAP—in 1898 it included only 156 officers and men, black and white—and it was run by local magistrates, as opposed to the paramilitary BSAP, which had a military-style structure.[6]

The commissioned ranks in the BSAP were entirely white, but the number of black constables in its ranks gradually rose, with many being recruited abroad. This kind of recruitment was not uncommon in colonial Africa, as many white officials of the day believed that blacks who policed their own communities were easily corruptible, and often not inclined to properly ensure the payment of colonial institutions such as hut tax. In Southern Rhodesia, many constables came from Barotseland, Zululand and Zanzibar. Locally sourced black policemen were officially reintroduced to Matabeleland in 1904; that year the force nominally contained 550 whites and 500 blacks. The SRC was merged into the BSAP in 1909, putting law enforcement in Southern Rhodesia into the hands of a single authority for the first time.[5] Following the end of Company rule in 1923, the BSAP endured as Southern Rhodesia's police force.[n 1]

Policing North of the Zambezi edit

North-Eastern Rhodesia was initially policed by locally recruited rank-and-filers, led by white officers from south of the river; the first force was raised in 1896. During its early years it busied itself eliminating the slave trade, in which foreign traders, mostly Arabs, captured villagers for sale as slaves overseas.[7] A more regular police force was then introduced by the Company in each of the northern territories. Because there were so few white immigrants to North-Eastern Rhodesia—and because most of them were men of the church or of business rather than potential recruits—the North-Eastern Rhodesia Constabulary was almost exclusively black, including all of its non-commissioned officers.[8]

North-Western Rhodesia attracted more white immigrants than its north-eastern counterpart, and its police force initially comprised an all-white detachment of Company police seconded from Southern Rhodesia. The unit proved expensive to maintain, however, and many of its constables fell victim to the unfamiliar tropical diseases of Barotseland.[8] Local black constables were introduced in 1900 after the Company unsuccessfully attempted to recruit more whites.[7] In 1902, the Barotse Native Police was formed, with Bemba, Ngoni and Ila recruits making up most of the ranks. Minor forces of white policemen were formed in the towns north of the Zambezi.[8]

After North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia merged into Northern Rhodesia in 1911, the police forces were amalgamated as the Northern Rhodesia Police (NRP). Like the BSAP, the NRP was effectively a paramilitary rather than civil organisation, with its armed constables receiving martial training under military command. Because they were not trained in the civil manner considered normal in a more developed country, most of them were illiterate. The main purpose of the force during the early 1910s was not to police Northern Rhodesia's towns, but rather to prevent and combat potential uprisings. The constables were also considered suitable for use as soldiers in the bush. It was not a large force; just before the outbreak of the World War I in 1914, it had only 800 personnel.[9]

Second Boer war edit

The BSAP served in the Second Boer War of 1899–1902 in its paramilitary capacity, with the newly formed Rhodesia Regiment also taking part, drawing most of its men from the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers. Rhodesia contributed approximately 1,000 men in all,[10] about 20% of the white male population at the time.[11] Rhodesia contributed part of the British garrison at the Battle of the Elands River in August 1900, during which a 500-man force made up principally of Australians and Rhodesians held off attacks from a far larger Boer army under General Koos de la Rey, and repeatedly refused offers of safe passage in return for surrender. Captain "Sandy" Butters, the Rhodesian commanding officer, encouraged his men with shouts towards the Boers that "Rhodesians never surrender!"[12] The Rhodesia Regiment was disbanded later that year, shortly after the relief of Mafeking.[10]

World War I edit

The original King's Royal Rifle Corps Rhodesian Platoon, pictured at Sheerness, England in November 1914. In the centre of the second row sit Captain J B Brady and the Marquess of Winchester.

With its fledgling White population largely characterised by youth, hardiness and Imperial patriotism, Southern Rhodesia proved a bountiful source of volunteers during World War I, in which about 40% of Southern Rhodesian White males of service age fought.[13] The majority of Southern Rhodesian personnel served with British, South African and other regiments on the Western Front (in Belgium and France). The Company raised exclusively Rhodesian units for African service.[14]

Following the start of the war in August 1914, the Rhodesia Regiment was reformed in October, initially comprising 20 officers and 500 men, mostly Southern Rhodesians. This force, which became called the 1st Rhodesia Regiment, was sent to the Cape to fight alongside the South Africans in South-West Africa. The 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, raised a month later, was sent to the East African Front.[15] Following the end of the South-West African Campaign in 1915, the 1st Rhodesia Regiment was dissolved; most of its men travelled to England to volunteer for the Western Front,[16] while others joined the 2nd in East Africa.[15] Boasting an effective strength of about 800 for the rest of its tour of duty,[17] the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment returned home in April 1917, and disbanded in October.[18]

Influenced by South Africa's reluctance to use Black soldiers in what was widely considered a "White man's war", Southern Rhodesia did not recruit Blacks in large numbers until 1916, when the number of potential White volunteers not already in uniform became too small to merit further drafts. The Rhodesia Native Regiment (RNR) was formed in that year to join the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment in East Africa, and included 2,507 men by 1918. Organisers expected that most Black volunteers would come from the Matabele people, famous for its martial tradition, and therefore originally named the unit the "Matabele Regiment";[19] however, when the ranks proved to be ethnically diverse, the name was changed.[20] Led by White officers, the Black soldiers served with distinction in East Africa, soon becoming regarded as formidable bush fighters. Pitted against the German Generalmajor Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck—who was mounting a successful guerrilla campaign against the far larger Allied forces—they remained in East Africa for the rest of the war, returning home only in December 1918, soon after von Lettow-Vorbeck surrendered at Abercorn in Northern Rhodesia on 25 November. The RNR was thereupon dissolved.[21]

References edit

  1. a b Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 428–429
  2. a b Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 512
  3. a b Gibbs, Phillips & Russell 2009, p. 3
  4. a b Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 408–410
  5. a b Stapleton 2011, p. 4
  6. Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 578
  7. a b Gann 1958, p. 69
  8. a b c Gann 1958, p. 74
  9. Gann 1958, p. 75
  10. a b Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 590–599
  11. Walker 1963, p. 663
  12. Davitt 1902, p. 443
  13. Strachan 2003, p. 498
  14. McLaughlin 1980, p. 49
  15. a b Cox 1982, p. 134
  16. McLaughlin 1980, pp. 15–18
  17. Strachan 2003, p. 501
  18. Stapleton 2006, p. 19
  19. Stapleton 2006, pp. 20–22
  20. Stapleton 2006, pp. 31–40
  21. Binda 2007, pp. 17–25