Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Black African Troops In World War One Struggle For Africa.

No Insignificant Part: The Rhodesia Native Regiment in the East African Campaign of the First World War, Tim Stapleton, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, 188 pages, photos, maps, index, glossary, bibliography.
This book presents rare insights about a little-known aspect of the 1914-1918 conflict. It is the first history of the only primarily black African military unit raised by the British in Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) to fight in World War One. Like their German opponents, the British recruited “native” troops in various regions of Southern Africa. Typical RNR volunteers were ex-miners or farm workers living in what are now Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi. They were commanded by European officers, mostly British settlers or frontiersmen seconded from the British South Africa Police. Despite tropical heat, meagre food, and fatal diseases, the RNR fought well in a gruelling campaign for two years against German and African forces led by the wily General Paul von Lettow Vorbeck.
Stapleton’s researches into unit war diaries, personal reminiscences, previously unpublished manuscripts, and Zimbabwean National Archives formed the basis of this unique military history. Sad to say, even though some of its members received British medals for bravery, the Rhodesia Native Regiment was quickly disbanded after the war and soon forgotten. He found it was also ill-served by the current Zimbabwean government’s anti-colonial policy that led to the destruction of all local monuments to these valiant but unheralded Africans who died in white men’s wars.
-- Sidney Allinson.

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