Hannes Wessels,

The parades, ceremonies and services that accompanied the recent coronation of King Charles, was by all accounts, a magnificent occasion, allowing the British to do something they still do, probably better than anyone in the world, and a day for most Britons to feel justifiably proud of their history and their heritage. But for the dwindling group of outcasts of which I am a proud member, it was also a potent reminder that behind the pageantry and splendour, there lies a legacy of deceit and ugly vindictiveness that we, who were born and bred in Rhodesia, will never be able to forgive or forget. As at the annual Remembrance Parade to honour the dead in the two world wars, no representation of fallen Rhodesians was allowed.

How many people know that in 1914, on receipt of the news of war, the colony’s governor, Sir William Milton, wired London with the message, “All Rhodesia ready to do its duty”. He meant what he said, 5,577 of the country’s adult white men, then totalling approximately 16,000 went to war in East Africa and Europe, almost bringing development in the country to a halt. Of that number nearly a third became commissioned officers. Because there was no plan for their mobilisation, many of the volunteers paid their own way to England. Most ended up on the Western Front where they became renowned for their leadership, resilience and marksmanship.

A member of a Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) patrol poses with a Vickers ‘K’ Gas-operated machine gun on a Chevrolet 30-cwt truck, May 1942.

In what was then known as German East Africa or Tanganyika, it was the Rhodesian troops, hardened frontiersman who had already seen combat, that proved most effective in the campaign against the Germans led by the formidable General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. Indeed it was in the course of this particular conflict that Courteney Selous, already something of a legendary figure, had his life ended by a bullet from a German sniper. 

In the air in Europe it was David Lewis, a Bulawayo-born flyer who, in an inferior aircraft, almost downed the great Baron von Richtofen the day before the Red Baron was killed. In recognition of Lewis’s courage and skill displayed in that action he was invited to attend a parade and dedication to Richtofen’s squadron in Germany just before the outbreak of WWII.

Per capita, Southern Rhodesia contributed more manpower to the Allied war effort in WWI than any other colony of the empire and far more than Britain itself. Almost a thousand died and many more were wounded.

Rhodesians were in the vanguard in opening hostilities against the Germans and Italians in East Africa in 1940. With the support of 237 Rhodesia Squadron they played a decisive role in the campaigns in Somaliland and Eritrea that brought about the Italian surrender in May 1941.

Rhodesians made a major contribution in the formation and eventual success of the Long Range Desert Group which provided the platform for the formation of the Special Air Service which also included Rhodesians. These two units were pivotal in the fight against Rommel’s Afrika Corps and played a major part in his eventual defeat.

At the same time Rhodesian pilots were flying in furious defence of Malta, one of them, John Plagis, shot down four German aircraft in one afternoon becoming the theatre’s first Spitfire Ace. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

During the decisive battle at El Alamein, a pocket of Rhodesian gunners distinguished themselves in repelling a heavy armour attack which forced a German retreat when they held their position. Had they succumbed the outcome may have different. Three members of the small battery were decorated.

‘R’ Patrol Chevrolet WB radio truck; the rod antenna can be seen on the right. The man at the rear is manning a Boys anti-tank rifle

In the Italian Campaign the Southern Rhodesia Reconnaissance Regiment, in tandem with the South African 6th Armoured Division made another important contribution to the eventual liberation of the country. Working behind the lines with Italian Partisans at the same time was future Prime Minister Ian Smith who had been shot down flying his Spitfire on a strafing run on a German train.

 Once again, proportional to the white population, the colony had contributed more manpower to the Allied cause than any other dominion or colony. In WWII, of the 9,187 men who went to war, 2,665 were commissioned. Over 60% of that total became officers or senior NCO’s. Six hundred and eighty-two of them were decorated. They fought in virtually every campaign in the course of the war. Back at home the Rhodesian Air Training Group instructed over 8,000 pilots, navigators and gunners. Just under a thousand of them died doing their duty a long way from home. Many of those who survived had to find their own way home.

The reason for the prohibition on attendance at official parades and ceremonies is retribution for the unilateral independence declared by Ian Smith on Armistice Day in 1965. Prior to the decision, Mr. Smith pleaded with the British government of the day led by Harold Wilson, to agree to a formula that would allow for a phased transition to black majority rule based on a qualified franchise. Mr. Wilson, who did not serve in WWII, was unable to accommodate Smith’s requests, took the matter to the United Nations and the country was turned into a pariah state, its citizenry into international outlaws.

Wilson and his successors prevailed and the nation that responded with courage and kindness to the motherland that spawned those Rhodesians is no more. Scattered by political events to all the corners of the world they will soon be forgotten and along with it, their heroic contribution to fighting for what they thought was right. Sadly, it looks like they sowed the seeds of their destruction by helping protect those who would destroy them.  

34 thoughts on “Forgotten Heroes”
  1. I am still proud to have been born and raised in Rhodesia. Only problem, where is my next life going to be? Is there somewhere in the world that will be the next Rhodesia? If so, maybe we can all meet up again.

  2. Outstanding Article Hannes. All Brits should hang their heads in shame That Rhodesian forces cannot honour there dead at the cenotaph on remembrance day, regardless of who made that decision. They gave their lives to save Britain in their time of need. Patrick Walsh.

  3. Excellent, Hannes. How quickly those contributions get ignored and forgotten. The David ‘Tommy’ Lewis you mentioned was the grandfather of my wife, Margie (nee Lewis). At the tender age of 19 he had his altercation with von Richthofen in his Sopwith Camel that he named ‘Rhodesia’ as he had no girlfriend at the time!

    1. Thanks Barry what a wonderful story. He obviously impressed the Germans in that dogfight before he went down.

  4. Every so often I just listen to Clem Thollet’s “Rhodesians never die….” Inspirational, we know we are right, always will be. As for the öthers”, You can take a horse to water….”

  5. Hannes well written and to the honest fact which Perfidious Albion and the liberals may not like or admit but you have recorded history which they can never change. We will continue to hold our heads high not in arrogance but in humbleness as we honour those that fought & toiled so bravely to what was morally right despite what unfolds today around the world of wokeness, greed, selfishness and wanting ‘their rights’.

  6. This from Doug McGibbon

    “ People seem to constantly blame the Pom government for not allowing Rhodesians to March on the remembrance day parade. But who marches has nothing to do with the British government, that is all handled by the British Legion. To the best of my knowledge no one has ever made representation to tue RBL to ask about Rhodesia marching on the parade. However, Zimbabwe doesn’t cop an invite because they were ousted and when they asked to rejoin and were told no, they withdrew from the commonwealth. So trying that avenue wouldn’t work. As Rhodesia ceased to exist, I am not sure they would okay a Rhodesian contingent now, especially in this seriously wokey world. But until someone tries the truth will never be known.

    As for the Germans marching in the London remembrance parade, no they don’t as they are not part of the commonwealth or allied forces. If someone has a photo to disprove this then I will put my hands up and apologies”

    1. I don’t know the exact details but I believe the British Foreign Office is behind this prohibition. The FO has a long history of being anti-Rhodesian and worked very effectively with the media (BBC) and the British Intelligence Services to undermine the government of the day and bring about the cession of power to a Mugabe led government. It was the FO with Douglas Hurd at the helm that motivated for the knighthood that President Mugabe received in 1994.

  7. Hannes, I am not Rhodesian but living in France due to the fear that the Republic of South Africa, land of my birth, would disappear into the same trough of disaster that overtook your fine country.

    Your most saddening article reminded me of a 19th Century newspaper reporter at the Cape diamond fields who wrote that Africa was not a place for the white man. His despatch struck me when I read it many years ago and subsequent events have reinforced that sentiment in my own mind.

    And now attempts are afoot to ensure that whites (colonisers and slavers) are terminated globally as a cohesive group. One day we shall all be in the same boat in which the Rhodesians found themselves.

    1. Yes I suppose we were destroyed by forces that overwhelmed us but some groups are destroying themselves

  8. Absolute magic, so proud to be Rhodesian, our youngsters have so much to live up to and I believe they are doing pretty well at that by all accounts. Makorokoto zambarara, mberi nekuzvikudza nerukudzo. Ukuhalalisela kuhlelekile, phambili ngokuziqhenya nesithunzi.

  9. When put, as you have done so well, as straight statistics it makes even sadder reading. What a let down! Well done.

  10. Hannes IF ONLY, the blinded left wingers would open their eyes and see the TRUTH staring them in the face…

    1. Thanks Mids. It made me a little sad writing this and realising we’ve been so badly let down so many times despite always trying to do what we thought was right?

      1. Great article as usual, Hannes. The Poms have a lot to answer for and will get their just desserts in due time as their country descends into a third world Globalist cess pit. The current Trotskyist Labor govt in Australia is on the same trajectory as they destroy power stations and demonise coal in their insane pursuit of unreliable renewable energy. Total idiots!!!!
        A reminder of what the former great country of Rhodesia has descended into…..

        The state of Milton School in Bulawayo, zimBOBwe….


  11. A good post Hannes..thank you . My old man was Reg McCullough who was part of S2 Patrol in the LRDG .
    He was involved in the initial training of the SAS and at times had Col. David Stirling and Major Paddy Mayne on his truck .

    1. Thanks Ian have you read “The Phoney Major”? Mayne was the main man; Stirling a bit of a poser and the Kiwis and Rhodesians were the grunts that made it such a success.

      1. Thank you for this post, Hannes. I have recently completed reading J.L. MacDonald’s 2 volumes, ‘Southern Rhodesia at War – 1938 to 1945’, covering the campaigns and theater’s of war that Rhodesian troops, airmen and sailors fought in during that conflict. First published in 1947 and re- published in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s, it is a superbly well written account of the part Rhodesia played in WW2, on the battlefields as well as back in Rhodesia. Certainly a ‘must read for anyone interested in the history of our country. My edition also comes with a forward by Ian Douglas Smith.

        1. Thanks Rob I must read it. Have you read ‘The Phoney Major’ about David Stirling and the LRDG/SAS?

    2. Thanks Ian. Have you read ‘The Phoney Major’ about Stirling and the SAS? Mayne the main man, and Stirling a bit of a poser. But the Kiwis and the Rhodesians were the grunts that really made the LRDG although few Brits want to admit it.

      1. After I left the Rhodesian Army I joined PATU as an instructor and did many outings with Reg Seekings ex LRDG. He came along to get out of Morris Depot. Great stories and if we felt a bit lazy we asked him a story and training came to a halt. I wish I had recorded them but hindsight is as elusive as honesty in ZANUPF

  12. The following generations had true, live, heroic, figures and pathways of defined Christian CHARACTER to develop a statement for the world to acknoledge and follow.
    God’s Blessings ALL…..Faith Hope Love…DFB

  13. Only one word H “ OUTSTANDING “
    Salute Bwana well done indeed!

    1. Thanks Al I know not many people care to know this but I feel better for getting it out there.

Comments are closed.