The Rhodesia Regiment

The Old Drill Hall

Nowadays serving as an Interior Ministry building along Leopold Takawira Street more or less opposite the Harare Gardens. The Lion & Tusk is still in evidence. This is a reproduction of an historic publication reproduced by the Orafs, otherwise known as Old Rhodesian Air Force Sods

'Passing sweet are the domains of tender memory', said William Wordsworth in 1817. 'Not bleeding likely' said the Rhodesian soldier from 1914 to 1974.

How many thousands of soldiers have passed through (and sweated in and around) Salisbury’s Drill Hall In the past 60 years? And how many have staggered or been removed from the adjacent “Rat Pit?” It was in the Drill Hall that “Bomber” Harris, of Royal Air Force fame, after World War Two blew again a bugle which he had sounded when he served with the Regiment In World War One. To this military establishment in the heart of Salisbury came King George VI in 1947. Other famous men have been there — Wavell, Montgomery, Mountbatten… The word “Royal” has been removed from above the lion guarding the main entrance.

The historical background of the Rhodesia Regiment is traced from Cecil Rhodes’s Pioneer Column.

This Corps, formed with Major Frank Johnson as Unit Commander, occupied Mashonaland and arrived at what is now Salisbury on 12 September, 1890. Later, the citizen-soldiers were formed into various volunteer units, the first of which was the Mashonaland Horse.

During the Matabele War of 1893, the Mashonaland Horse was replaced by local volunteer units, such as the Victoria Rangers, the Salisbury Horse and Raaff’s Rangers from Tuli. These units were actively engaged in putting a stop to the Matabele raids into Mashonaland. The occupation of Matabeleland and the amalgamation of the two provinces resulted in the formation of Southern Rhodesia and proclamation of the name “Rhodesia” on 3 May, 1895. The defence of Matabeleland was entrusted to a new Regular military unit, the Matabeleland Mounted Police, which was disbanded as a result of its deployment on the Jameson Raid.

The Bulawayo Field Force was formed at the time of the Matabele Rebellion in 1896, and two of its members, H. S. Henderson and F. M. Baxter, were awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in action.

Other volunteer units raised during the 1895-96 period of the Mashonaland Rebellion were the Rhodesia Horse Volunteers, the Salisbury Rifles and the Umtali Rifles. All these units combined in 1898 to form the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers (S.R.V.). This Regiment remained in being until 1926, when it was embodied into the Rhodesia Regiment in terms of the provisions of the Defence Act, 1926.

The first unit to bear the title “Rhodesia Regiment” was formed for service and commanded by Lt.-Col. Plumer, in the South African War, 1899-1902, at the instance of Col. Robert Baden-Powell, then Commander in-Chief, Rhodesia Frontier Force. The Rhodesia Regiment was engaged in the Relief of Mafeking and the Battle of Eland’s River.

In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, the 1st and 2nd Rhodesia Regiments were formed from the S.R.V. and civilian volunteers. The 1st Rhodesians saw service in German South West Africa alongside the South African forces, and in 1915 embarked at Cape Town for the United Kingdom, where members of the Regiment were subsequently dispersed to O.C.T.U.s and the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. The 2nd Rhodesians were forced to return to Rhodesia in 1917, due to the high ratio of casualties suffered in action in German East Africa. The unit was disbanded in Salisbury for lack of reinforcements from Rhodesia’s small male white population at that time. Many 2nd Rhodesians, however, re-enlisted into British units and saw further service in France.

In 1929, King George V approved the transfer of the Colours of the 1st and 2nd Rhodesia Regiments of World War I, together with the Great War Honours, to the Rhodesia Regiment of today. These Colours are now safeguarded in the Anglican Cathedral in Salisbury.

In 1926 the 1st Battalion, the Rhodesia Regiment, was formed in Salisbury with a detached Company in Umtali and, at the same time, 2nd Battalion, the Rhodesia Regiment, was formed in Bulawayo with a detached Company in Gwelo. Both these units saw service in Nyasaland during the emergency in 1958-59.

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, by arrangement with the Government of the United Kingdom and in order to avoid casualties (the small youth population of Rhodesia being a limiting factor) and also in order to make the best use of the high leadership qualities of Rhodesians, some 4 000 members of the Rhodesia Regiment saw service, many with distinction, in every theatre of the war in various British and Commonwealth Forces. Two Battalions were retained, however, for the defence of Southern Rhodesia.

In 1955, National Service was introduced to Rhodesia by the establishment of a training depot at Llewellin Barracks, under the command of Lt.-Col. R. Stone. The Depot, Rhodesia Regiment, puts a recruit through his basic military training and thence on to extended National Service in the form of specialist training and border control duties. On leaving the Depot, the citizen-soldiers are then drafted initially into the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 10th Battalions.

Between 1956 and I960, during the Federation, the 3rd and 7th Battalions, the Royal Rhodesia Regiment, were formed. These units, based in Northern Rhodesia, were disbanded on the break-up of the Federation in 1963. (The prefix “Royal” had been granted to the Rhodesia Regiment by King George VI during the Royal Visit in 1947 but was dropped after Rhodesia had declared Independence in November 1965.)

In I960, the 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions, the Royal Rhodesia Regiment were formed. During 1961, the 8th and 9th Battalions were formed, and in 1964 the 10th Battalion was formed.

Today, the Rhodesia Regiment operates mainly in the Zambezi Valley on border control duties and in counter-insurgency operations against terrorists. Their task: the internal security of Rhodesia.

The history of the Rhodesia Regiment, it has been seen, is closely interwoven with that of the country from the earliest days. In recognition of this, the 1st Battalion has received the Freedom of the City of Salisbury, the 2nd Battalion has been honoured with the Freedom of the City of Bulawayo, and the 4th Battalion has been granted the Freedom of Umtali.

The new badge of the Rhodesia Regiment is a Maltese Cross (a link with former affiliation with the Sixtieth Rifles), surmounted by the Rhodesian Heraldic Lion supporting an ivory tusk, with the centre of the cross depicted by a crown, a reminder of the honour “Royal”.

The colours of the Regiment arc black, red and green. Baltic Honours arc ‘The Great War. 1914-15’, ‘South West Africa. 1914-15’, ‘Kilimanjaro’. ‘Behoheho’, ‘East Africa, 1915-17’ and ‘The Second World War’.

Thanks to the Orafs

  • Nathan Sadowitz

    will there be any writings about the rhodesian regiments role dedicated only to our bush war after independence.do you have a complete list of all rhodesian regiment soldiers who lost their lives in the bush war and also a lis of rhodesian regiment soldiers who were awarded medals for bravery.as i have mentioned in the past we played just as an important role as regular soldiers in the various regular units.i.e.rli,selou scouts airforce or wherever they were posted.cheers nathan sadowitz

  • john mays

    Hi I am lookimg for a photo of Gweru Drill Hall ?