Battle Honour

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 that conflict.


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, including:

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. Two 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 reserve regiments.

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 Bechuanaland.

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 treacherous foretelling.

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 Salisbury.

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 Mashonaland.

The Matopas mountain range, to the South of Bulawayo was the last bastion of Matabele resistance. Carrington, confident on the heals of Intaba zika Mambo’s 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 been under-rated.

So too had their resentment at being subjugated by their newly imposed rulers who 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 neutral throughout.

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 be rescued.

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 first Chimurenga.

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 Regiment.

To be completed.....

East Africa: 1915-18 - The Great War

Rhodesia: 1968-79 - Rhodesian Civil War