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Rhodesians' Keen Interest in Military Matters...

Repeated Response to Empire's call to arms.

In The 50 years of Southern Rhodesia's history there are few things on which the people of the Colony can be more warmly commended than on the interest they have taken in military matters. In this century there has been little danger of a positive military character for inland Rhodesia, and the people of the Colony could have rested quite secure in the knowledge that the general needs of Empire strategy in Africa would have protected them from the danger of invasion. But rather than rest secure as they could have done while others were fighting, the Colonists have placed the measure of their duty right at the opposite end of the scale, have always insisted that their military contributions cannot be too great.

Pioneer Corps.
The story of the military activities of the Colony begins with the raising and equipping of the Pioneer Corps for the expedition to Mashonaland. The Company raised its own military force for the protection of the working party of pioneers. Thus there came into existence the British South Africa Company Police, who have played so great a part in the history of the Colony. They were commanded by officers from Imperial regiments, and were intended to keep military control until the territory had been decisively occupied. Their numbers varied in the first two years after the occupation, and their greatest strength was 650.
In 1892 it seemed to the Company that the Matabele had given up any intention of interfering, while the Mashona clans had settled down peacefully. In that year, therefore, considerable reductions were made in the police force. Less that 100 were retained for civil duties.
It was not a dangerous proceeding to cut expenses in this matter, because the great majority of those disbanded intended to settle in the country and most men in Mashonaland at that time had had military experience. Thus the raising of the first volunteer force in the Colony's history was a simple matter. It was called the Mashonaland Horse and consisted of 500 men most of them stationed at Salisbury and Fort Victoria. In addition, all able-bodied men were liable to serve in time of emergency, and the total number of which the Company could call upon in time of emergency was about 1,500.

Matabele War.
An interesting part of the defence organisation of that time was an artillery troop of 44 men stationed at Salisbury. It was under the command of Captain Charles F. Lendy who died in Bulawayo after the occupation of Matabeleland.
The opportunity to test out the defence organisation came in 1893 when the Matabele War broke out. The Company found no difficulty in raising a large number of European volunteers, and the total number of European in Salisbury, Victoria and Tuli Columns was 897.
After the Matabele War a volunteer force known as the Rhodesia Horse was formed. It was supposed to consist of 500 men for Matabeleland and 500 men for Salisbury, but it appears that the defences of Rhodesia then fell on lean times. Only about half of the 1,000 appear to have been mounted, and they were not too well organised.

Jameson Raid.
Then, suddenly, came the Jameson Raid. The description of the contemporary observer gives a vivid picture of how Rhodesia took the news. We quote from the "Bulawayo Chronicle" of January 4, 1896: "While the good people in the churches were singing 'Peace and goodwill toward men' the staff of this paper was preparing a special which was designed to turn Bulawayo into a seething mass of excited people, breaking the Sunday evening calm by patriotic songs and fervid speeches. The special contained a message from Dr. Jameson to Capt. Napier and Capt. Sprecley to prepare to take down 1,000 men of the Rhodesian Horse Volunteers for service in the Transvaal. the men were to be mounted and take down all the Maxim guns in town, and to travel via Mangwe to Macloutsie where provisions were all in readiness along the route. No sooner were the sheets out than the Club was a scene of great excitement which spread all over the town. Everywhere knots of men would be seen discussing the all-important news, and rumours of all kinds added to the intensity of the moment. At one time it was reported that 150 people had been shot down in the streets of Johannesburg and that the Rhodesia Horse would make forced marches down. The ruling feeling was that the call to arms must be responded to at all costs. As the night wore on, the crowds became larger and the strain more intense, and as the hour of midnight struck, a mass meeting was held in the Market Square, when the speeches were full of fire and evoked tumultuous cheers.
That gives a good idea of the manner in which the Rhodesian people of that time could turn from their ordinary persuits and rally to the call of arms. It has been so on three occasions since.

Field Forces.
Shortly afterwards came the Rebellion, when the disastrous results of lack of preparation were realised. The forces in the country could not be formed into a striking unit. In Bulawayo and Salisbury Field Forces named after the towns were formed, but the situation remained desperate until the arrival of the Matabeland Relief Force, which had assembled in Mafeking under Colonel Plumer - that great soldier who was much associated with Rhodesian forces in the Boer War and who afterwards did wonderful work as a General on the Western Front in the Great War.
After the Rebellion the Field Forces were disbanded, and there was reorganisation both of the police and military establishments. About 1,200 police were stationed in Matabeleland and Mashonaland.
In 1899 an Ordinance was passes providing for the formation of the Southern Rhodesia Volunteer, that regiment which never saw service as a regiment, but which all older Rhodesians remember with pride. The regiment was formed a few months before the outbreak of the Boer War with Colonel Spreckley as the commanding officer.
It was in the Boer War, that the name "Rhodesia Regiment" first occurred. It was a force of 450 men stationed at Tuli under Colonel Plumer. It included Southern Rhodesian B.S.A. Police. "There will not be much about you in the picture papers, but you have put in many months of splendid work in a bad country and a bad climate," Colonel Baden-Powell told them after Mafeking, in the relief of which they played a big part.

Boer War.
During the Boer War about 1,500 Rhodesians served. The Chartered Company initiated their scheme for increasing the Volunteers and Cecil Rhodes, on his visit to Bulawayo in 1901, laid the foundation stone of the Drill Hall, which still plays a vital part in the defence organisation in the town.
The hey-day of the Volunteer movement in Southern Rhodesia was between the Boer War and the Great War. At one time the defence forces of the Colony numbered well over 2,000 men, three-quarters of whom had seen active service. The success of rifle teams which were sent overseas testified to the zeal which Volunteers put into this most important part of their training.
On the outbreak of the Great War the B.S.A. Company asked the Imperial Government for instructions. There was delay, which apparently annoyed the people of the Colony considerably. But eventually the 1st Rhodesian Regiment was raised at Salisbury and 500 men left the Colony in November, 1914 for the Union. After helping in the crush the Rebellion they embarked for South West Africa. That regiment was disbanded after General Botha's victory, and most of its members found service in East Africa and on the Western Front.

In East Africa.
Immediately after the departure of the 1st Rhodesia Regiment, the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment was raised. This regiments served in East Africa and was 1,000 strong. They were associated in numerous actions, for which hey earned high praise. The regiment suffered incredibly from malaria, blackwater and other illnesses. At one time, a report stated, it was doubtful if there were 100 of the 1,000 men of the Rhodesia Regiment fit to take the field. In 1917 the Regiment was disbanded and the members went off as reinforcements to the South African Brigade overseas.
There was also a Rhodesian platoon attached to the King's Royal Rifles. Other units which carried the name of the Colony in African service were the Southern Rhodesian Column and the Rhodesia Native Regiment. Both these units faced the troops of Von Lettow from the Northern Rhodesian side of the theatre of war and penetrated far into enemy territory, where they operated for considerable time. The Southern Rhodesia Column composed of Volunteers and Police left for the North-East in 1915. In 1916 the recruitment of natives was sanctioned. The value of natives for police work had been appreciated in the last century when ex-member of Lobengula's regiments had been employed by the Company, but the successes of Von Lettow with his native troops invited a bigger effort in that direction by the Allied authorities in Africa. The 1st Rhodesia native Regiment of 500 men, included 54 European officers and non commissioned officers, distinguished themselves in the East African campaign and on one occasion firmly withstood attack by much superior German forces.

Meanwhile, the Volunteers had been functioning steadily in the Colony. As there is a war on now, the mind tends naturally towards comparisons, and although too many of these are not wanted, the opinion of an old hand is interesting. He says that while the S.R.V., and the Town Guard in Bulawayo , could have moved out in 12 hours s an efficient column consisting of mounted infantry, infantry, cyclists, artillery, machine-guns, ambulance, signallers and so forth, yet it cannot be said the whole unit was as well trained as a column from No 2 Training Camp in 1940. He thinks however, that the 1914 men were as well trained for conditions of warfare then, especially in the then essential necessity of rapid and accurate rifle shooting.
After the Great War the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers were disbanded. Under the new system rifle companies were responsible for local defence, and there were permanent regimental establishments so organised that citizens with active service experience could be rapidly called up. It was not a spectacular system, and military activities were quiet for a period.
After the grand of Responsible Government the Defence Act was passed, providing for compulsory military service. Under the aegis of that Act came into existence the Territorial Active Force, the Territorial Force Reserve and the General Reserve, which were familiar features of the Colony's military organisational until the outbreak of the present war.

Picture one - E Squadron of the Rhodesia Regiment ready to march out of Bulawayo to meet the other squadrons at Tuli, August 1899.
Picture two - Two officers of the Pioneer Column; Captain J.J. Roach (left) and Lieut. E.C. Tyndale-Biscoe (right), who hoisted the flag at the Occupation ceremony in Salisbury.
Picture three - Photo of the original newspaper article.

Article retyped by D. Taylor. Article extracted from the 'The Rhodesia Herald Jubilee Supplement, Friday, September 5, 1940.

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