ThE WAR CAMPAIGNS OF THE BRITISH SOUTH AFRICA police
East Africa: 1915-18 - The
Regiment was conferred with the honour “E.Africa 1915-18”
by King George V on 4 May 1925 for the
Regiment's services in World War I. This was allowed as
elements of the Regiment had fought in that
conflict as a complete unit of battalion strength.
There is no evidence to show that an honour was bestowed
on the Regiment for their services in the Anglo Boer War.
No doubt one was earned, but the regulations
of the time did not allow the force to have battle
honour as they did not operate as a complete unit in
The BSA Police and its predecessor forces took part in a number of
campaigns in their capacity as a military regiment and later as a police
force in the true sense and as the country's first line of defence,
Matabele War 1893
There is doubt as whether the predecessor forces of the BSA
Police had any official role in the Matabele War, but evidently a good
number of attested men did in their personal capacity, including officers
and ranks. The Matabele War, as it came to be known, was sparked off by
what was to be called the 'Lendy Affair' during which two Matabele
impis (forces, ranging in size, deploy for a specific purpose),
were sent by Matabele King, Lobengula (1836-1894), to punish Chief Gomalla's
people for the theft of telegraph cables, which had resulted in the mistaken
impounding of the King's cattle as punishment by settlers.
The invading impi had refused to
cease their slaughtering of Shona tribes people in the immediate vicinity of
Fort Victoria, claiming Matabele sovereignty over Mashonaland, in the name of the King.
Skirmishes followed between a Mashonaland Mounted Police (MMP) force led by Lendy
and an impi on 18th July
in the area of the Shashe River, which flows into the Tokwe (not to be
mistaken with the Shashe River near Fort Tuli) just north-west of Fort
Victoria, . These
resulted in the deaths of some 30 Matabele warriors at Magamoli's Kraal.
Thus, in reacting to the cable theft, Lobengula had played into the hands of
the white settlers of Mashonaland and the occupation of Matabeleland quickly
became a conquest ambition of Dr Leander Jameson.
It took Jameson three months to put together an invading force, drawn
from volunteers and former members of the MMP, many
of whom were laid off at Jameson's instigation, to save BSA Company funds. Cecil Rhodes, at first reluctant to participate in such a gamble,
eventually backed Jameson's war aspirations and financed the occupation.
columns were quickly put together, one from Fort Victoria and the other from
Fort Salisbury. As the storm gathered, the Imperial Government
was persuaded into believing that a Matabele invasion of Mashonaland was
imminent and decided to send its own invasion column comprising Bechuanaland Mounted
Police (BMP) and the Raaff Rangers to Matabeleland. Raaffs Rangers met
with the BMP force at Macloutsie, but before this had travelled from the
Rand, in the Boer Republic via Fort Tuli to attest into the now almost
disbanded BSA Company Police. Two forces were thus thrust into a race
to hoist their flags in Gubulawayo.
The Fort Salisbury Column, led by Major Patrick Forbes, an
MMP Officer (or recently retired there-from) met up with the Fort Victoria
Column, under the command of Major Allan Wilson, at Iron Mine Hill before
advancing towards Bulawayo. There followed two battles, one in which Jameson's forces clashed with
Matabele amabuto (regiments) numbering some 6000 during the night of 24
October when they attacked the column in the ensuing 'Battle of Shangani'
near the river of that name. The attack was fought off with the
Matabele suffering large numbers of casualties. They had made a
fatal error in their offensive, attacking at night and doing so when the
column was already in laager. The nocturnal initiative lost the
Matabele their visual communication between regiments, critical for
successful light infantry tactics. Their disastrous experiences of
attacking the Boers in laager, 57 years earlier, had obviously faded through
generations of military inactivity against white settlers.
A week later Lobengula's
regiments engaged in a second attack against the column in the 'Battle of Bembezi'
(1 November) which saw the ultimate defeat of the Matabele, sadly, with great loss
of life to Lobengula's force. This battle remains an unexplained
tactical calamity for the Matabele army. Lobengula had
instructed his induna amabuto (regimental commanders) to allow the two
columns to commence the crossing of the Umguza River, before launching any
further offensive. The Umguza was a difficult river to cross on
account of its steep, boulder strewn, banks and such crossing could only be
done out of laager. The river was also within quick range of his
Apparent disunity within the Matabele force, arising from
accusations of cowardice arising from the previous battle, a change in
leadership to senior indunas who had not experienced the Shangani
confrontation and the fact that the two columns were an inviting 'sitting
duck' may have lead to the premature attack. The Matabele
outnumbered the column in manpower (6000 to 700) and firearms (2000 to 700).
The column laagered at midday and sent their draft animals to forage and be
watered to the south. The Matabele army was sighted on a rise,
in full force, about 2 kilometres away, by the column, but well within 7
pounder artillery range. They were fired upon and as shells burst
about the amabuto the decision was made to their launch the attack proper.
Pure numbers are no match for firepower. The maxim machine gun created
havoc so great for the Matabele regiments, many perished, and remnant
attackers were forced to flee with mounted infantry hard on their heals.
Thus the Matabele army saw its death's knell.
The Salisbury and Fort Victoria columns marched into Bulawayo on 4
November 1893. The Imperial column from Bechuanaland was nowhere to be seen. They
had set march on 18 October heading north for Bulawayo and had encounter a
minor skirmish with the Matabele near Mphoengs on 2 November.They
finally reached Bulawayo on 15 November, a delay which probably saved the
Charter Company's then newly occupied territory being annexed to Imperial
King Lobengula had escaped capture and moved north, only to be pursued by
Major Allan Wilson's, now famous, Shangani Patrol, which met its eventual
fate on the edge of the flood swollen Shangani River. Seventeen (some
source suggest 34) men, surrounded by Lobengula's retreating regiments and
against insurmountable odds fought to the end in a legend which was to be
embellished by Rhodesians. King Lobengula died in the early part of the following
year, some suggesting by suicide others by disease.
Before the occupation of Matabeleland a revered Shona spirit medium, Chaminuka, from the Hartley area, had prophesized the occupation by
white people, 'people with no knees '. He had been put to death by Lobengula's raiding Imbizo
regiment (the King's first regiment) in about 1885 on account of such a
Matabele Rebellion 1896
To some, the Matabele Rebellion was a mere extension of the Matabele War of
1893, being unfinished business for surviving regiments of the Lobengula
dynasty, wishing to avenge their King's death, but the cause was a little
deeper. The territory had been ravaged by serious drought, a plague of
locusts had prevailed and a rinderpest endemic had seen the Matabele cattle
herds devastated. This, combined with the secular stirrings of
Makalanga Mlimo spirit
mediums, Mukwati and Mwanbani at Intaba zika Mambo east of Inyati, who promised rain for the
blood of the white man, set new ambitions for a then subjugated Matabele
nation. The uprising was premeditated to take advantage of the then scarce presence
of police following the Jameson Raid debacle, which had absorbed most of the
two mounted police forces.
Revolution had been intended for the March full moon of 1896, but events
were to overtake this following the attack upon a Native Police contingent
on 20 March at Umgorshlwini’s Kraal on the Umzingwane River, near Essexvale. The Native Police were then seen
at that time as an arrogant instrument of white
oppression. The violence spread quickly with attacks against unsuspecting
whites in Essexvale on 22 March and then to Insiza, further south west of
Bulawayo, where many more settlers were killed. Uncanningly, the rains began
to fall, uplifting Matabele faith in their spirit mediums, by the same time
creating havoc for the colonisers’, militarily. The whites withdrew
quickly into their Laagers, established in Bulawayo, Gwelo, Mangwe and
Belingwe. Within a matter of days some 140 whites had been massacred.
Police and voluntary (Bulawayo Field Force) personnel spend much of the
earlier part of the campaign with search and rescue operations into the
nearby farming and mining locations. The first Matabele Mounted Police
officer killed on active service appears to have been Sergeant John O’Leary
who was shot dead at Cummings Store, near Fort Rixon, on 27 March. Fourteen
other policemen died during the ensuing engagements. On 25 April
volunteer forces pursued a tactical change - a mounted rifle assault on the
Matabele, placing them on their defensive, perhaps for which they were
without tactics, and pushing them back to the
Umgusa River to the east of Bulawayo.
In turn a column under Colonel Napier, which left Bulawayo on 20 May (the
delay being to rebuild food and forage supplies) for Gwelo, engaged and
defeated a 4000 strong rebel detachment at Thabas Induna two days later. Shortly before this a relief column of some 600 men from Fort Salisbury
engaged with and defeated rebels in the Maven district, near Gwelo. It is
said that news of these defeats had discouraged Matabele Regiments, which
had amassed on the Shangani River to prevent the junction of the two
columns. The united force saw no further resistance after the columns had
met at Pongo’s Store on 24 May. The returning force split into three, one
moving to the north, another to the south into the, by then, thoroughly
pillaged Filabusi district, while the main column proceeded onto Bulawayo. The Fort Salisbury column had been accompanied by Cecil Rhodes who, despite
the inconclusive standoff that was to follow, did not wish to see imperial
intervention suppressing the rebellion.
Rhodes was not to have his way; Colonel Sir Richard Martin of the 6th
Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers) Regiment arrived in Rhodesia on 21 May (before
Rhodes arrived in Bulawayo) to exert imperial influence in the deteriorating
situation. By 3 June he had been appointed Commandant-General of the Police
Force in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and both Matabeleland and
Mashonaland Mounted Forces by a Cape Proclamation. Sir Richard was to
be followed by Major-General Sir Frederick Carrington just two weeks later
with a more substantial imperial force from the Cape, including the 7th
Hussars Cavalry Regiment and Mounted Infantry Battalion.
The BSA Company’s efforts to raise a Matabeleland Relief Force in Mafeking
was commandeered by the Imperial Government too and Lieutenant Colonel
Herbert Plumer (of the 2nd Battalion, the York and Lancaster Regiment and
later to become Field-Marshal Lord Plumer, Baron of Messines and Bilton) was
placed in command of this force. His column, which had been held back by the
rinderpest destruction of ox driven draft power and had had to revert to the
use of mules which would carry less weight and required grain rather than
grass forage for feeding. Plumer arrived in the territory in late May
and was immediately set on the offensive in the Khami area where he defeated
rebels in two engagements on 24 May.
Before contemplating offensive action in the Matopas, where the Matabele
Army had embedded itself, Carrington ordered the formation of three columns
and despatched one, on 4 June, to the west (Gwaai) under the command of
Plumer and a second to the north on 5th June under the command of Captain
Macfarlane, who had been active against the Matabele in the early stages of
the rebellion. The third was held back awaiting food supplies, but became
embroiled in an action against rebels once more in the Umgusa river area in
which a large impi was defeated. At this time news began to filter in about
the Mashonaland uprising and Carrington was force to further delay his
Matopas offensive and deploy part of his force immediately to Fort
At about the same time, news came in that Mukwati and a large force had
ensconced themselves in at Intaba zika Mambo. A column under the command of Plumer was despatched
on 30 June, but rather than ride in, wagons and all, Plumer decide to walk
his men in under cover of darkness and make a surprise, three pronged,
combined infantry and cavalry, attack at first light on 5 July. There
are opposing views as to the success of this battle, but BSA Company reports
on the rebellion suggest this resulted in the rebel positions being over
run, prisoners taken and a large amount of loot being recovered. The
well sought after medium, Mukwati, escaped and headed for the Umfuli area of
The Matopas mountain range, to the South of Bulawayo was the last bastion of
Matabele resistance. Carrington, confident on the heals of Intaba zika
stronghold being captured, sent the largest force he could gather to rout
the Matabele from their natural stronghold. Plumer commanded the main force
of some 800 troops and launched his attack in the dark hours of 20 July
managing to dislodge enemy forces, but at considerable loss to his own. A
simultaneous attack was launched from the east by Major Laing’s force.
Plumer made a final assault on the eastern Matopas against the Matabele
Regiments on 5th August, but with little success.
Contemporary writers suggest that the Matopas offensive was a failure, which
later influenced Carrington to submit to negotiation with the Matabele
Chiefs after he realised the impossible nature of a small conventional force
overrunning a large, enemy occupied, range of mountainous and bolder strewn
territory. To achieve this, in his estimation, Carrington needed a force far in
excess of 5000 troops at his disposal, and they would suffer a high casualty rate
most unacceptable to the Imperial power.
The Matabele, by this time, had grown weary of war and were only engaging
the enemy when they were forced to do so and thus a stale mate ensued. Rhodes was asked to open up negotiations
with the Matabele Chiefs and on 21 August rode, unarmed, into the Matopas
where he met up with the Matabele Inzinduna. Successive indabas were held on
9 September, and 13 October, at which Sikombo symbolically declared his
peace with the breaking of branches. The Rebellion was officially over by 22 October 1896, which saw the
disbandment of Colonel Plumer’s column.
Mashona Rebellion 1896-1897 - The First Shona 'Chimurenga'
The Mashona Rebellion came as a surprise to the BSA Company's authority in
Fort Salisbury, despite the ongoing Matabele crisis in the west of the
country. The settlers saw the Mashona as a pastoral/hunter
people, fragmented with no common organisation, owing allegiance to no single authority
and 'incapable of planning any combined or premeditated' military action as
a nation. The Mashona comprised a number of autonomous
chieftainships spread mostly through the eastern part of the occupied
territory which was to become Rhodesia. They were not respected in any
way as a military threat, nor were they organised in any way along the scale
of the Matabele regiments, but clearly their cunning and intelligence had
So too had their resentment at being subjugated by their newly imposed
had taken their land, coerced them into the workforce, introduced forms of taxation
(hut tax), which they had resisted, and had usurped the authority of their
Chiefs .Evidently, the same problems that afflicted the
Matabele, rinderpest, drought and locusts, played a role. These issues formed
the, anti-white/settler, secular melting pot of the spirit mediums. It is no
co-incidence that Muwkati, who had escaped arrest at Intaba zika Mambo,
found his way to Chief Matshayangombi's kraal, near Hartley, the hot bed of
the rebellion in Mashonaland. The Hartley area, too, was the
home of the late oracle Chaminuka and was the then abode of the spirit
medium Kaguvi, 'the Mondoro' or Gumbareshumba, 'The Lion's Paw', who
originated from Chief Chikwakwa's area (Goromonzi). It is common
knowledge that the mediums also sought to re-establish the powerful Rozwi
monarchy (which had succumbed in 1834), an accomplishment that would have, perhaps, unified the Shona.
The stage was set for a bloody uprising and thus on 15 June 1896 news of two
prospectors, Tate and Koefoet, who were captured, bound hand and foot, and
thrown to the crocodiles in the Umfuli River, filtered into Salisbury.
A Native Commissioner, Moonie, was slaughtered at a kraal in the Hartley
District on the same day. The following day Norton's Porta Farm was
attacked and his entire family was slaughtered along with two employees.
During the ensuing months some 119 settlers were murdered and attacks took
place on isolate mines and farms mostly in a broad crescent running rapidly
through from Hartley in the West, north to Mazoe and east to Makoni's area.
The Karanga Chiefs in the Victoria region were notable by their lack on
involvement in the rebellion, as were Chief Mutasa's people who remain
The white population followed the example of their beleaguered Bulawayo folk
and went into laagers established at Forts Salisbury and Charter and later
at Umtali, Fort Victoria and even Melsetter. A pattern of rescuing
settlers in the outlining areas, followed by mounted infantry resistance to
the rebellion, as utilised in Matabeleland, was to pursue. The laager
established at Hartley was attacked on the 18th June by rebels emanating
from Matshayangombi's Kraal during which it was apparent that Matabele
warriors had taken part. On the same day miners at Alice Mine
had sent a desperate message to Fort Salisbury seeking relief after being
attacked and besieged by rebels. More farm murders took place in
the Charter district, mostly of Boer farmers who had settled in the area.
Nesbitt's now famous 'Mazoe Patrol' reached the laager at Alice Mine on the
20th June and secured the relief of survivors against incredible odds, an
action which resulted in his award of the
Victoria Cross.Herbert Eyre and Trooper Arthur Young of the
MMP were murdered on 21 June in Umvukwes. Across to the east Chief Makoni's people launched attacks on a laager established at Headlands, which
had to be abandoned, the occupants who eventually made their way to Umtali.
Clearly, the rebel campaign was a concerted one, but notably lacking in the
conventional military strategies of the Matabele. A less
conventional hit and run, guerrilla war offensive which suited the Shona
domain had evolved.
On 25 June two
Mounted Infantry companies under the command of Colonel Edwin AH Alderson of
the Royal West Kent Regiment had arrived in Beira, originally destined for
Matabeleland. These companies were diverted to the Mashonaland
crisis where they pursued a 'commando' styled mounted campaign (which
appears to have it roots in southern Africa) against rebel strongholds,
relieving them of their grain and cattle.
Aldeson's Mounted Infantry initiative was described as 'highly mobile and
pugnatious' comprising brisk scorched earth forays intent on
destroying pockets of rebel resistance and capturing their grain supplies
and livestock, obviously aimed at bringing their logistical support
structure crashing down.
One of Alderson's first major offensives, with two companies of Mounted
Infantry, was against Makoni's Kraal on 3 August - he established Fort
Haynes in the process. Makoni was only captured on 4 September,
during a second raid, tried by Court Martial, and summarily executed by
firing squad, an act which was not without its controversy.
Gatsi and Mangwende faced his force's wrath between 10 and 16 August.
A major skirmish took place at Simbanoot's Kraal between 8 and 14 September
and Alderson ventured against Matshayangombi's fortress on 5 October, but it
is doubtful that that stronghold was taken successfully. There
followed offensives against Chiefs Mapondera, Gatsi, Chikwakwa and Tandi's
Kraals during the ensuing month.
Inadvertently, the Mashona Rebellion had significant impact on the
re-formation of the police force in the territory, seriously depleted by
Jameson's raid, and following mounted infantry initiative during the first
five months of the campaign, the entire initiative was placed in the hands
of an almost newly recruited police force. Alderson had been
criticised because no 'thorough punishment' had been inflicted on the
rebels, those responsible for brutal murders had not been arrested, nor had
the rebel chiefs, except for Makoni, been deposed or brought to justice.
On 1 October the Mashonaland and Matabeleland Mounted Police forces came
under the auspices of the Rhodesian Mounted Police and a serious recruiting
programme followed. By the end of December establishments had
been set and the force became known as the British South Africa Police. Lt. Colonel the Honourable FRWE de Moleyns, DSO took over
from Alderson on 12 December.
Alderson left the territory on Christmas eve 1896 destined for Durban, with
Carrington, leaving control of the police in the hands of Colonel Sir
Richard Martin and the police force as the territory's 'first line of
defence'. Strategy changed too. The new offensive
concentrated on the establishment of forts in those areas where rebellion
still festered, rather than along principal communication routes. Fort
Martin was established near Matshayangombi's Kraal and Fort Harding
was set up near Chikwakwa's Kraal amongst others. The tactic of
using dynamite to blast cave fugitives into submission is increasingly
evident. In January police elements raided Manyese's Kraal, Sekki's
Kraal was overun and a Fort was established at Gondo's Kraal, which was
assaulted on 16 February. Chinamora and Makombi's Kraals
suffered similar fates on 1 March.
In early March there was an extraordinary expedition sent to the north east,
into the Mtoko area, to establish ties with Chief Gurupila of a sub-tribe
called the Budjga who were apparently in conflict their Shona neighbours.
It was considered that Gurupila could join forces with the colonial forces
and help with bringing the rebellion to a close. Gurupila did in fact
join forces with the expedition and provided some 500 men on the occasions,
but the combined force was enveloped in a Shona offensive between the
Inyagui and Nyadiri rivers and half Gurupila's men deserted. The
following day an unsuccessful attack by the force on Chief Shauangwe's Kraal
saw the sudden demise of Gurupila and the rest of his men deserted.
Most of the expedition's member fell victim to fever and eventually had to
On 17 March Matshayangombi launched an attack on Fort Martin (in the Charge
of Captain Nesbitt), but was beaten off after a fierce three hour battle.
On 1 April Chief Umzililemi apparently surrendered in the Charter area, but
at Svosve, in the same area, rebels attacked a patrol resulting in raids on
several kraals that were relieved of their food supplies. A Fort
was established at Lomagunda as the police influence spread.
Kunzwi's Kraal was attack on 19 June as was Mashanganika's Kraal.
On 24 July there had been a decisive attack on Matshayangombi's Kraal conducted
by the police, ably assisted by the 7 Hussars troop, left in the country
after Alderson's departure. During this offensive the Chief was
killed, although some sources indicate he may have escaped with Kaguvi and
Mukwati who travelled to the Makoli Mountains, then Chipolilo and eventually
sought refuge with Mbuya Nehanda, a powerful and influential female medium
in the Mazoe Valley. Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, as she was
known, was considered to be the female incarnation of the oracle spirit
Nyamhika Nehanda (daughter of Motota the first Monomatapa). Her role
in the rebellion was significant, if not more so, than that of Mukwati and
Kaguvi, 'blooding her spear' when she ordered the killing of Pollard, a
Native Commissioner. He had been resented by her people for having thrashed Chief Chiweshe who had failed to report an outbreak of Rinderpest.
Chief Zvimba surrendered on 21 August as did Chief Mangwende, of Mrewa,
on 2 September, he being the last significant Chief to succumb
to the authorities during the rebellion. The spirit
medium Kagubi also eventually surrendered to the Native Commissioner
at Mazoe on 27 October 1897. He had attempted to influence
Mbuya Nehanda to surrender with him, but she refused.
She was arrested before the year was out. What
became of of Mukwati is uncertain, but there is reference
to his having been murdered by the Shona during the latter
course of the rebellion. Kaguvi's arrest marked the
end of the rebellion, and for his part he faced trial with
his sister medium in 1898, both were sentenced to death by
hanging. And so ended what the Shona regard as their
South Africa: 1900-02
- Anglo Boer War
Just two years after settling the Mashona Rebellion the predecessor forces
were drawn into conflict yet again, this time with the Boer Republics of
Transvaal and the Orange Free State. This was not the first skirmish into
Boer territory by elements of the BSA Company’s police force, indeed the
ill-fated Jameson Raid into the Transvaal is seen by many contemporary
historians as the first action of the Boer War, if not a catalyst. At the
turn of the century, British imperialist ambitions were towards the Boer
Republics urged on by the plight of the Uitlanders, a large contingent of
foreign labour and expertise ensconced in mining development on the Rand in
the heart of Boer territory, and a scourge to the Boers. Jameson’s raid into
the Transvaal had supposedly been in support of the Uitlanders, who were
expected to arise against the Boers, but when the raiding party galloped
into the outskirts of Johannesburg, the Boer Army was waiting for them and
the Uitlanders were no where to be seen.
British interests in Southern Africa had encircled the Boer Republics,
there was a serious clash between the Boers and Britain’s imperialist
intentions towards these Republics. The foreign, and often unacceptable,
culture of the growing, mostly British, Uitlander population to the
Afrikaaner people and the concurrent build up of military hardware, and
eventually military forces in the region, by both the British and the Boers
was a certain recipe for a quarrel between the two, the second such conflict
within a decade. Orange Free State President, Marthinus Steyn, brought the
antagonist parties together in Bloemfontein, but due to the intransigence of
Sir Alfred Milner, High Commissioner and Governor of the Cape Colony, they
failed to make any concessions.
By September the Transvaal Boers threw in the towel with diplomacy, and
the Orange Free State committed its destiny to that of the Transvaal. The
Boers issued an ultimatum to the British on 9 September 1899 to withdraw her
forces back to the coast, divert those on the seas destined for South
Africa, and insisted that no favourable response from the British would be
tantamount to a declaration of war. On 11 October Boer commandos crossed
frontiers into Natal and the Cape, three days later they were laying siege
to Colonel Robert Kekewich’s force at Kimberley and Robert Baden-Powell’s at
Mafeking, they drew the British into the Battles of Talana (20 October);
Elandslaagte (21 October); and Reitfontein (24 October); and overcame
British forces in Ladysmith by 30 October.
Before the outbreak of war, there had been a mobilisation of forces in
Rhodesia, in anticipation of an offensive by the Boer Republics. On 25 July
regulations pertaining to the launch of the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers had
been published in Bulawayo and by 4 August Sergeant Robert McGee of the
Matabeleland Division police had been despatch with a force to Fort Tuli, an
area contended by the Boers, to re-establish their presence in the area and
renovate the Fort. This was followed by a further police deployment on 11
September, when Lieutenant-Colonel William Bodle marched out to Tuli with
100 men, include a third of them from Mashonaland under the commend of Major
Nesbit, VC. They were joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Plumer, of Matabele War
fame, and some 400 newly recruited men of the newly former Rhodesia
To be completed.....
East Africa: 1915-18 - The Great War
Rhodesia: 1968-79 - Rhodesian Civil War