Horses of the BSA Police

BSA Police Coronation Contingent 1902

The BSA Police was first formed as a mounted infantry force and the regiment has always had an association with horses. The force can trace its equestrianmodus operandi back to the Bechuanaland Border Police, the Cape Mounted Police and the Cape Mounted Rifles. Some suggest we could take this back to the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police of the Cape Colony. All of these units required greater mobility in the open veldt and terrain of southern Africa and horses provide this to the troops.

The first occupation of Mashonaland was conducted with the assistance of the BSA Company Police working in mounted infantry columns. The Ordinance of the BSA Company makes specific reference to the company's police falling under the discipline regimes of the Cape Mounted Rifleman Act of the Colony. Up until the mid 1960's police officers conducted much of their patrol work on horseback and most district stations had horses and stables. Even in the last days of the BSA Police, it was a requirement for every recruit to learn how to manage and ride a horse, and many will recall wake-up calls before dawn, a dash to the stables to groom and ready their mounts for early morning parade.

Mounted Trooper 1907

Today, there are few mounted troops utilised in warfare. Classical cavalry units in their day had been classified as dragoons, light and heavy cavalry regiments. The dragoons took on the role of mounted infantry, with horses being used for transportation into battle, rather than used in actual combat. The dragoons evolved into scouting and mounted action troops and this is perhaps similar to the role of the early pioneers of policing in Rhodesia, particularly during the offensive against Lobengula, to occupy Matabeleland, and the subsequent rebellions. The effective use of mounted riflemen during the rebellions set in place the traditions of a mounted infantry regiment within the BSA Police.

With the disbanding of the BSA Company Police, the Mashonaland Mounted Police (MMP) was formed, and a number of volunteer units were organized, such as the Mashonaland Horse, by men who had not been absorbed into the new police force. The MMP inherited the style of its uniform from the Cape Mounted Rifles. The occupation of Matabeleland, following the Lendy Affair, was conducted by a large column of volunteers and policemen, mostly mounted on horseback.

Trooper on Horseback 1923

Subsequent to the occupation of Matabeleland a further police force, the Matabeleland Mounted Police was formed. In October 1896 both the Mashonaland and Matabeleland contingents of police were merged and formed into the Rhodesian Mounted Police (RMP), yet another unit following the mounted infantry formula. This was soon to be re-named the British South Africa Police. The BSA Police fought as mounted infantry alongside Imperial and Colonial Forces during the Boer War in South Africa.

Following the First World War, the BSA Police settled into its civilian police role in Rhodesia, but it maintained many of the traditions of a mounted infantry regiment. The function of police horses changed. Most district stations maintained their horses and stables for patrol work, although, in some areas this was not possible with tsetse fly, mostly in the lowveld regions, which is one of the reasons why camels had been introduced.

There was another use for the horses, and this use was maintained well beyond the days of the BSA Police, that being their use in ceremonial duties. The earliest escorts saw the introduction of the lance into the regalia of the BSA Police. The lance is most often associated with cavalry regiments, but Regimental Orders of 1900 indicated that the BSA Police were to carry lances on horseback, in place of rifles, when escorting the Administrator of the Colony. The lances of the BSA Police were of male bamboo, eight feet in length with chromed steel point and butt and bearing a blue of gold pennon, crimped after the fashion of the 16th Lancers.

BSA Police Mounted Escort on the Occasion of the Federal Governor General's Departure from the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland circa 1963

The first Royal Escort took place in August 1921 when the Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught visited Rhodesia. Perhaps the most notable of the Royal Escorts was that of HRH King George VI and Queen Elizabeth accompanied by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, when they visited Rhodesia in 1947. A unit of horses and mounted officers travelled to London and was in attendance at the Coronation of HRH Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. Aside from Royal Visits, the BSA Police provided regular escorts, with all the tradition, pomp and ceremony over the years, to successive Governors, Officers Administering Government and Presidents.

Male and Female Officers Participate in
Horse Jumping Event

Equestrian sports were a natural offshoot to police mounted operations. Much of the 'silverware' for police equestrian events was presented by eminent persons as early as 1915 indicating the longevity of police association with equestrian sports. It was not uncommon for police participants to take part in horse jumping and other equestrian events during the annual round of Agricultural shows in Rhodesia. During the mid 1950's Steve Stephens took RH Kingdom to a Rhodesian high jump record. The BSA Police held its own mounted sports event each year. This event was the forerunner of the Annual Police Display event which apparently originated in 1943, when police horses participated in a fete to support war time charities, much to the delight of the crowd. The annual event became such a huge draw to the general public that attendances thereat outstripped those of international rugby matches held at the Police Grounds.

Horses Return to War

The BSA Police must have one of the last forces to reverse the trend away from using mounted infantry tactics in warfare. A group of volunteers set up a mounted unit in Depot, which would be deployed in a counter-insurgency function, similar to the renowned Grey's Scouts Unit of the Rhodesian Army. The unit took the bold step of including black members of the force on horseback. Their first deployment was to the Plumtree area in a combat role, but the unit was also involve in anti-stock theft operations. By all accounts this was a success. As expected, troops on horseback were more stealthy and enjoyed greater mobility in counter-insurgency operations. The Support Unit, which had expanded significantly in the latter stages of the war, took over the Training Depot mounted infantry unit in May 1977. Mantle Mounted as it became to be known, deployed to many areas in Rhodesia, but as was so typical during the last days of the conflict, the initiative was too little and too late.

Mounted Officer circa 1965

The earliest uniforms of the BSA Police emphasized the need for clothing which was conducive to that of a mounted infantry unit, including breeches, puttees, boots and spurs. Leather leggings were introduced in the 1930's and breeches, boots, spurs and legging remained a part of the (No. 1) uniform until 1980. As the motor cycle replaced the horse in later years, the use of riding breeches continued as part of the cyclist's attire. This all changes as the police reverted to its role as mounted infantry within the Support Unit. Camouflage drab became the order of the day.

The official opening of the new Hampton Stables in Morris Depot, took place on 2 April 1971. These stables were named after Harold Cuthbert Hampton, BEM, who joined the BSA Police in 1919 as a qualified cavalry instructor (trained as a sergeant in the 5th Dragoon Guards Regiment, in Wiltshire). Hampton saw action, on horseback, during the First World War, and was wounded when his horse was shot out from under him in the Battle of the Somme. He served 20 years in the BSA Police, all his work associated with the regiment's horses.


Camels of the BSA Police

The use of camels within the BSA Police was a limited experience for the force. At the turn of the last century, Rhodesia continued to be plagued with horse sickness and substitute draft power, such as oxen, were limited in numbers due to the Rindepest. Donkey draft was considered inadequate and painfully slow. It was not only haulage that was of concern to police authorities. Colonel John 'Mad Jack' Flint, who was Commissioner of the Mashonaland Division of the BSA Police, and who had had previous experience in India with the use of camels in mounted infantry roles, proposed the importation of camels to Rhodesia.

Camels used by the BSA Police circa 1910

In 1903 Flint travelled to India to visit his brother-in-law, who was a senior army officer. In May Flint returned to Rhodesia with both draft and riding camels, the latter intended for the BSA Police, from Bikanir and Rawalpindi. He arrived back with Indian Sikh grooms and an Indian veterinary surgeon too. Railway trucks, usually used for coal cartage, were converted with tarpaulin covers to carry the camels by train from Beira, via Umtali, to Salisbury. The arrival of the camels in Salisbury caused a stir when those horses and mules, in the vicinity, smelt the camels and bolted. Apparently camels smell similar to lions.

According to Tanser ('A Sequence of Time') a Camel Branch was set up within the BSA Police with then Corporal Wane, DSO, in charge (Francis John 593, who was elevated later to the rank of Colonel and went on to serve with distinction in the Rhodesian African Rifles as its commanding officer). He was a great horseman, but knew nothing of camels. This branch incorporated a training school and was based at the Transport Camp, which was located on the site of the Belvedere Airport. There was a camel station adjacent to the Salisbury CMED site and one might only assume the Transport Camp could have been close by. Wane left the force, on transfer to the Native department, shortly after his appointment by Flint.

Tuli Camel

Lt. Colonel Chester-Master established a riding school at Sinoia in 1905. Patrols of four of five camels went from Sinoia into the Zambezi Valley and a number were sent out to various police stations in their twos and threes. These animals were prone to foot-and-mouth, mange, and even cirrhosis of the liver, the latter in common with a few troopers. The general terrain and soils of the lowveld and drier parts of Rhodesia were dissimilar to the sands of the Sahara. Most animals suffered problems with their feet, which needed special tar applications to the wounds.

When Flint retired from the BSA Police, he was appointed Government Inspector of Camels. He ended up in Fort Victoria, running a camel train between the town and Selukwe. This was short lived, for all but one of the beasts died after drinking from a cyanide pool (presumably residue to gold mining in the area).

Gwanda Camels

The BSA Police continued to use camels, but deployed them to drier parts of the country and where the soils were more inclined to sandy loams. Tanser mentions Tuli and Sipolilo (which Ludgater 271 recounts years later in Outpost magazine). Some believe that the CID offices at Gwanda station were at one time camel stables. Flint also deployed camels to Fort Victoria and these animals are also feature in the station history of Goromonzi.

Most officers associated with the 'camel brigade' agreed their lack of suitability for police patrol work. As an aside, the postal service also tried draft camels on the mail route Salisbury-Sipolilo-Feira to Fort Jameson. They were not successful. Riding camels were used on other postal routes. Some suggest the BSA Police camel contingent was phased out of service in about 1910. One camel remained at Tuli until the following year.


Dogs of The BSA Police

Unidentified Dog Handler with Bloodhound

The first use of police dogs within the BSA Police was believed to be shortly after the First World War. This was not sustained. Their re-appearance in service with the CID in 1946 came as a result of the successes by a member of the branch using his own dog, a Doberman Pinscher called 'Shumba' to track criminals. One of Shumba's first tasks was to track three escaped convicts, who stole a Prisons Department vehicle from Salisbury Prison, later recovered outside the city, from where tracking commenced. The three convicts were apprehended.

The more traditional image of a police dog is that of enforcing order, in crowd control and during riots, but Southern Rhodesia's first police dogs were mostly used for tracking and searching for suspects and stolen property, or for evidence or victims of crime. Patrol dogs were introduced to accompany police officers on the 'beat' and guard dogs were also trained by the BSA Police. In later years, the BSA Police, with the assistance of the South African Police, introduced crossbreeds capable of tracking and having a more aggressive disposition, primarily for antiterrorist work. In later years the BSA Police introduced more specialist dogs for detection purposes, principally labrador dogs for drug control purposes.

Police Dog 211 Leon

A Dog Tracking Section was formed in 1948 and there is evidence of dogs PD Echo, PD Emil and PD Ranger being involved in tracking and successfully affecting arrests of accused persons involved in serious and petty crime in the late 1940's.

The first mention of the use of a Bloodhound came in 1953, when PD Sherlock was deployed and successfully tracked a murder accused. The CID Police Dog Tracking Section evolved in the mid 1950's and the Dog Section of the BSA Police was established in 1958, still under the control of the CID, but with Uniformed Branch personnel handling patrol dogs. Chief Inspector Davenport (3462) had played a role in this development.

The entire section was moved to Uniformed Branch in May 1962. Commissioner Spurling was singled out for his contribution to the advances made in the use of dogs for police work. Spurling indicated is his unpublished history of the BSA Police that patrol dogs had far outstripped tracker dogs in numbers and the continued control by CID had become unnecessary. There were 76 patrol dogs in use by the end of 1962. The section transferred to the the command of the Commandant Depot and a training school had been established.

Jurisprudence would never have allowed the evidence of a dog on the trail of an accused person, linking the accused to the scene of the crime, as evidence. The impact of the pursuit and the police dog's indication, to the accused, was as good as having left fingerprints at the scene of the crime. Confessions were not difficult in the circumstances. Evidently the use of tracking dogs was more successful in less densely populated rural areas, rather than urban centers.

Memorial Plaque at Police Dog Training Center

McLennan(8691) with Bloodhound

Police Dog Section units were established in most provinces and extended their function from a simple dog tracking unit to general patrol work, guard dogs, and crowd control, as nationalist fervour and political unrest developed in the country. The onset of guerilla incursions and counter terrorist operations saw the introduction of several breeds, including Bloodhounds, Bouvier des Flanders, and Doberman Pinschers and their cross breeds. Aggressive dogs, with endurance and a good nose which could survive in the bush were the objective.

One of the BSA Police's more famous dogs was PD 211 Leon who was deployed on counter terrorist operations in the Tjolotjo area of Matabeleland. During a skirmish with terrorists, Leon went missing. His handler, Patrol Officer Spencer Thomas (7009), was killed during the contact. PD Leon was located 5 weeks later, some 40 kilometers from the contact site. The dog had become very wary of humans and was difficult to encourage back into its new handler's control. PD Leon was trapped in a cage, borrowed from the SPCA, by Patrol Officer Bob Rankin (7004). During his 'absence without leave' this dog had lost 15 lbs. and suffered tick sores.

Howard (8604) with PD Caesar

Another incredible dog was PD Brutus, a Patrol and Tracking dog deployed by Dog Section in Salisbury. Credited with many successes in recovery of property and apprehension of common criminals, Brutus had also been deployed in a tracking role in counter terrorist operations in northern Mashonaland. During one such patrol PD Brutus was to lose his life in a volley of bullets fired by a terrorist. Brutus was roaming free ahead of a patrol and detected the presence of terrorists in a rocky outcrop. An engagement ensued with a group who had been lying in ambush. PD Brutus compromised this ambush and saved the lives of those on the patrol.

PD Caesar was yet another remarkable dog which lost its life when shot by terrorists fleeing from the a contact with security forces in January 1978. PD Caesar had a distinguished career in fighting crime alongside his handler Tim Howard (8604). This duo were responsible for the effective tracking of criminals and the recovery of stolen property, which received the attention of the national press on more than a few occasions. Counter-insurgency operations drew on the skills and experience of tracker dogs in combat zones. PD Caesar and Howard were involved in a fleeting contact with insurgents after a 13km track, when PD Caesar was released from his harness and attacked a group of terrorists. He was gunned down, but when found had the remnants of the terrorist's clothing still lodged in his jaws.

Memorial Plaque at Police Dog Training Center

Three members of the Dog Section are listed on the BSA Police Roll of Honour:

  • Lindani, Kiwa (22716 - Attested: Sep-1974) Constable - Duty Uniform - Dog Handler: KIA - anti personnel mine, 12-Nov-1977, Tjolotjo District (Operation Tangent);
  • Mutumhe, P (200452) Auxilliary Constable - Dog Section: KOAS, 12-Dec-1978; and
  • Thomas, Spencer Thomas Morgan (7009 - Attested: Oct-1963) Patrol Officer - Dog Section: KIA - attacked by insurgents, 23-Aug-1967, Tjolotjo District.

BSA Police Patrol Office in the Mounted Unit - Support Unit.

Images by Dick Hamley
author of
'The Regiment'