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):

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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 RHODESIA DEFENCE REGIMENT

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.

From ‘FIGHTING FORCES OF RHODESIA’ – VOL. 5.