No Insignificant Part
The Rhodesia Native Regiment and the East Africa Campaign of the First World War
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$85.00 Hardcover, 200 pp.
No Insignificant Part: The Rhodesia Native Regiment and the East Africa Campaign of the First World War is the first history of the only primarily African military unit from Zimbabwe to fight in the First World War. Recruited from the migrant labour network, most African soldiers in the RNR were originally miners or farm workers from what are now Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi. Like others across the world, they joined the army for a variety of reason, chief among them a desire to escape low pay and horrible working conditions.
The RNR participated in some of the key engagements of the German East Africa campaign’s later phase, subsisting on extremely meager rations and suffering from tropical diseases and exhaustion. Because they were commanded by a small group of European officers, most of whom were seconded from the Native Affairs Department and the British South Africa Police, the regiment was dominated by racism. It was not unusual for black soldiers, but never white ones, to be publicly flogged for alleged theft or insubordination. Although it remained in the field longer than all-white units and some of its members received some of Britain’s highest decorations, the Rhodesia Native Regiment was quickly disbanded after the war and conveniently forgotten by the colonial establishment. Southern Rhodesias white settler minority, partly on the strength of its wartime sacrifice, was given political control of the territory through a racially exclusive form of self-government, but black RNR veterans received little support or recognition.
No Insignificant Part takes a new look at an old campaign and will appeal to scholars of African or military history interested in the First World War.
Timothy J. Stapleton has been a post-doctoral fellow at Rhodes University, a senior lecturer in history at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa, and a research associate at the University of Zimbabwe. He is currently associate professor and chair of history at Trent University, Ontario. He is the author of Faku: Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom, 1780-1867 (WLU Press, 2001).
“Authored by a respected historian of Africa, this well written and accessible book will be rewarding for anybody with an interest in World War One. In less than two hundred pages Stapleton successfully restores to history the forgotten (if not consciously ignored) record of African soldiers who served in the Rhodesia Native Regiment (RNR) in East Africa between 1916 and 1918.... Driven by genuine interest and concern, Stapleton has written an excellent jargon-free monograph. He has done the memory of the soldiers of the RNR an immeasurable service and it is to be hoped that his work will serve as an incentive to others.”
— Jan-Bart Gewald, African Studies Centre, University of Leiden, The Netherlands, Journal of Military History
“Stapleton has made the most of the fragmented sources to rescue the Rhodesia Native Regiment from undeserved neglect in the scholarly literature on Africa in the First World War. His account not only painstakingly reconstructs the RNR’s operations in the East Africa campaign but in the process throws a searching light on the nature of the racist Southern Rhodesian state that recruited the RNR, and empathetically probes what military service meant for the African soldiers themselves. This book contributes significantly to our understanding of the nature of the Great War in Africa.”
— John Laband, Wilfrid Laurier University, author of The Transvaal Rebellion: The First Boer War 1880-1881