Rhodesian Defence Regiment and Holding Units

January 31, 2014

Ones memory is a strange thing. Working on my next post I realised that I had forgotten to mention an important unit that contributed greatly to our safety during Cordon Sanitaire operations.  It would therefore be unfair not to mention them as they may well have saved my life on more than one occasion. These were the men of the Reserve Holding Units and Protection Units of the Rhodesian Army.

Here is their badge and stable belt (rhodesianforces.org):



Their work was varied and important and it would be foolish of me in the extreme to try and write a better and more comprehensive account of these individuals than the one that follows.

I thank the author of ‘FIGHTING FORCES OF RHODESIA’ – VOL. 5, as posted in The New Rhodesian Forum.


THE dark green stable belts of the Protection Units have taken on a new significance in the continuing war against terrorism. Over the years the Re-enforcement Holding Units and the Protection Units have quietly grown, and their deployment has become increasingly important in the defence of Rhodesia’s borders.

On January 1st, 1978, these units were combined to form an official regiment and took their place proudly alongside longer serving regiments of the Rhodesian Army. The Regimental Depot at which servicemen will be trained for the Rhodesian Defence Regiment is at Inkomo, just outside of Salisbury.

The embryo from which the new regiment has grown existed for many years, in the form of the Re-enforcement Holding Units. These were originally purely paper units which were formed at the beginning of 1973 to take on theoretical strength those Coloured and Asian personnel who had completed their Territorial service with the Supply and Transport platoons. Also included were the members of “Dad’s Army”, comprising the older age-group White personnel who had completed Territorial service with the Rhodesia Regiment battalions.

For several years members of the Re-enforcement Holding Units were called up for a short period, once or twice a year, and deployed in non-combatant roles. However, as the war escalated, the need for protection and guard troops increased the task of these personnel, and extended it to a more active role. As a result, in 1974 the Protection Companies were formed on a small basis, embracing the Coloured and Asian members. These two Protection Companies had a more mobile role than the previous Holding Units, and acted as escorts for army convoys transporting supplies and equipment to operational areas. They also guarded encampments and machinery where necessary. The situation remained at this level for three years. During this time, however, the strength of the Protection Companies had been increasing, along with that of the Re-enforcement Holding Units as a growing number of men completed their service with the Territorial Forces.

When the combined strength of the units reached approximately 6 000 it became obvious that such a reservoir of manpower could be more profitably deployed than hitherto, and the suggestion of forming a new regiment was put forward.

Thus the Rhodesian Defence Regiment was born, placing the Protection Companies and Holding Units on a properly co-ordinated and recognised footing.

Two battalions have been formed: the Number 1 Mashonaland Battalion, based at Cranborne Barracks in Salisbury, and the Number 2 Matabeleland Battalion, based at Brady Barracks in Bulawayo. The new regiment has its own Depot at Inkomo, near Salisbury, where the Coloured and Asian National Servicemen are trained, and where older serving members receive pre-deployment training.

These battalions are made up from four different categories of servicemen.

Firstly, there are the National Servicemen from the Coloured and Asian ethnic groups, who are required to serve eighteen months, as are their White counterparts in other regiments.

Secondly, there is the “K” Intake, comprising the 25 to 38 year age group of Coloureds and Asians who had not previously been subject to call-up. This category are now required to serve for eighty-four days. Half this period is spent in training at Inkomo and the second half on deployment.

The third category are the continously embodied volunteers. These are Coloured and Asian members who volunteer for a year of continuous service. At the end of that year they are free to leave or to sign on again for a further year. This arrangement virtually makes them regular members of the regiment. At present there is some discrepancy between conditions of service these continuous volunteers and those of regular members of the Army, but it is hoped that these will be equalised before much longer. As a first step towards achieving this, the first Coloured officer has already been appointed. He is a medical officer, with the rank of Captain, and it is hoped that this will lead the way for future suitably qualified members of the Rhodesia Defence Regiment to be accepted into the permanent force. The Rhodesian Women’s Service, from it’s inception, accepted Coloured recruits as permanent members of the force, and at present there are six Coloured ladies serving their country, several of whom are deployed at Rhodesian Defence Regiment Headquarters at Cranborne.

The fourth category is “Dads Army”, who are the older Whites of over 38 years.

Both battalions are structured to take into account the different tasks required of the companies. The National Servicemen, the “K” intake, and the continuously embodied volunteers are generally deployed on the higher priority tasks, whereas the over 38 year old category, who are liable for a shorter period of commitment than the younger men, are used for more sedentary tasks.

This does tend to result in the formation of companies of seperate ethnic groups, but plans are afoot to include an intake of over 38 years old Coloureds and Asians in the future, in order to create additional companies who would contribute effectively to the force. These intakes would be liable for the same commitment as their White counterparts and would be deployed on similar duties.

A recent innovation has been a pilot group of Coloured National Servicemen who have been given full combat training and then deployed in the field.

The Commander of the Rhodesia Defence Regiment, Lt. Col. Peter Grobbelaar, is extremely satisfied with the way in which the servicemen have adapted to training and given a good account of themselves.

Discipline is strict, as it should be with all effective forces, and Col. Grobbelaar pointed out that the Coloured soldier appears to have the natural aggression which is vital in all combat-troops. Other servicemen will undoubtedly follow along the same paths, taking on an increasing responsibility in the fight against encroaching communism. The step from defensive to combat role has not been particularly difficult since in recent years the members of the Protection Units were required to display a more aggressive role in the face of attacks by the enemy.

After a long period of semi-obscurity, the Protection Units and Dad’s Army have finally found their own identity in the Rhodesia Defence Regiment, with their own insignia and embellishments, and they are obviously bent on proving their worth.

Co-operation and consideration between the various ethnic groups have been excellent. On occassions where units of mixed ethnic groups have been deployed the members of this new and vital regiment have displayed a most responsible attitude in making allowances for the differences in diet and religious practice that must obviously exist. Problems have arisen on occasion, in supplying the required contents of ration packs (for example, a Moslem would require a different ratpack to a non-Moslem), but with the general spirit of co-operation that pervades the regiment, these difficulties have been ironed out.

There is no discrepancy in pay and general conditions between the different ethnic groups of the territorial strength of the new regiment.

Despite their newness, the Rhodesia Defence Regiment posses certain distinctive foibles, one being their own language. The RLI are famed for being incomprehensible to their ordinary listener, but the RDR certainly offer a challenge to the RLI superiority in this matter.

The story is told of the RDR private who, on seeing heavy artillery in the field for the first time, went and called his friend, saying, “Hey, Joe, just come outside and sight the size of this catie” (catapult).

The tale is also told of the radio operator who persisted in asking Control to “Bowl me the ages”. After a considerable pause and a great deal of head-scratching, Control finally realised that the operator was merely asking for a time check.

And, of course, all armies have their own clowns who never seem to quite know why they are there at all, and rather wish they were not. (No doubt the officers also wish they were not.) An RDR private appeared before an officer on a disciplinary offence. When he was given an opportunity to speak he proceeded to ramble on in such a vague and inconsequential manner that in the end the officer stopped him.

“Are you prepared to accept the punishment of the disciplinary officer, or do you elect to stand trial by court martial?” the troopie was asked.

To which the bewildered troopie replied, ‘I’d just like to stand down, sir.”

History does not relate his fate.


13 Responses to “Rhodesian Defence Regiment and Holding Units”

  1. David McGarry said

    Hi Mark,
    I’m an old retired Brit sqaddie. My father,RIP, Lt. Col John Edward McGarry , served with the Rhodesian Engineers. during your troubles. Shortly after retiring he was forced out of Rhodesia by Mugabe. He settled on the East Cape until 1995/6. I’m trying to research his life but not having any luck. Are there any records or ex sappers from my fathers era who you think could help ne at all.

    • fatfox9 said

      Hi David,
      Thanks for the comments and dropping by. I was in the Rhodesian Engineers from 1974-1980. The name McGarry is very familiar to me, in fact one of my sisters once dated a certain “Scotch” McGarry in Bulawayo. Do you know him? Wouldnt it be a coincidence if this is family of yours? The name is not all that common. Please let me know and use my private e-mail fatfox9@gmail.com. This is very interesting stuff. I will also pass on the details of the good Colonel to some of the RhE legends and see what I come up with. Will let you know. And keep supporting the blog!
      All the very best,

  2. I was a driver on the Bulowayo convoys leaving in 1980 after Salisbury house agreement. Having lost an eye as a child I was considered unfit for front line service. I briefly knew a Scotch McGarry at our base in Bulawayo but I think after the ‘end’ he headed south towards Jo’burg, last I heard he was at Beitbridge.
    I have lost touch with all my old buddies with whom I spent many hours. If anyone knows what happened to Trish from The post office in Vic Falls I would be most grateful if they could help me regain contact. Also who was the police chief at the time; he and I had a small fallout for which I was reprimanded but we remained friends although again I have lost contact.

    • fatfox9 said

      Are you on FB Jonathon?

      • Jonathon Harrington said

        Sorry No I am NOT BUT I am on Linked In if this helps? The other person I would love to contact is the man who was chief of police at Vic Falls when I was there. 1979-80. I am getting terrible with names but EVERYONE on ops there knew him as from time to time he asked for our ‘assistance’. I was friendly with both him and his wife; Far Fox, do you have a better memory than me? Thanks for any help you can offer.

  3. Ashleigh Robertson said

    I’m trying to do some research on the role my late father,a Glaswegian by the name of David Robertson played in the RDR. I know absolutely nothing of his role as he never spoke about it. All I know is have his stable belt, and have researched it back to RDR. What tasks would they have carried out? We lived in Salisbury, so I’m guessing that’s where he was posted. I’m sad that he was in the “Dads Army”, he was my hero and my inspiration and I joined the British Army. The only thing he ever said was he worked in the armory, would that be true? Would that be at the barracks? He was an engineer to trade so that would make sense?
    I would also love to hear from anyone that remembers my dad, the chances are are slim though. His picture is:

    Many thanks,


    • fatfox9 said

      Hi Ashleigh,

      There is quite a bit about the RDR on the web. I cut and paste the following from the Rhodesianforces.org website. Have a look:

      Formation: 1 Janaury 1964


      The roles of Dep RDR are:

      a. To train CAE Phase 1 National Servicemen to a standard which will enable them to carry out defence/protection and semi-combat tasks efficiently.

      b. To conduct the pre-deployment training of European and CAE companies of the RDR.

      c. To conduct junior leader and other continuation training as required by the RDR.

      d. To undertake or assist in the training of specialists for employment in the RDR.

      e. To undertake such training within the capability of the Depot as required by lPOU.

      The roles of 1 and 2RDR are:

      a. To protect/defend designated installations and projects which are of strategic, economic or military importance to Rhodesia.

      b. To provide escort protection as directed.

      c. To act as a. reinforcement reserve for other Army units.

      Not sure from your mail if he was Depot or 1/2 RDR. Try to find out for me. I will also use my contacts to try and find out more for you.

      If he was an armourer he would have been an important component of the HQ/Log element and if with the deployed companies worked in support of making sure the weapons were spot on.

      For interest sake RDR elements supported Combat Engineer operations on Cordon Sanitaire and they were a good bunch of blokes. I will e-mail you if I find anything further of interest.

      Best regards,


  4. Ashleigh Robertson said

    Im the blonde one with the big ears, something I inherited from my dad!

  5. Paul Gray said

    Good day,
    I did a voluntary call up and was posted to the RDU, the Rhodesia Defence Unit, based at Brady barracks. I was posted to Op Tangent for the period in early 1977 as a sergeant (white) with platoon members all being African, some Shona others Matabele. I see no reference to principally Africans in this unit. At battle camp there were no Asian or coloured troopies, only African and a few Europeans. Just for information …

  6. Harry Keshav said

    I was there and i knew blokes who died for the Rhodesian way of life

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: