Wars of Liberation, Wars of Decolonisation: The Rhodesian Army Archive Project

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac Creative Arts, Humanities & Education

Abstract

For over forty years the wars of liberation in southern Africa have had a profound impact on the region. A central player in Southern Rhodesia's struggle against African nationalism was the Rhodesian Army, mythologised as a formidable fighting machine. The recently acquired Rhodesian Army Archive, held by the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, offers for the first time an opportunity to test the folklore which surrounds this little understood force.

At present the archive is sitting in uncatalogued boxes in the Museum. A steady stream of researchers have plundered these boxes, finding gems almost at random - poignant and revealing photographs of soldiers on both sides of the war; intelligence reports that reveal the mindset of a beseiged white minority struggling to protect its privileges; operational instructions that illustrate the tactics of fighting a guerilla insurgency; policy debates that expose the strengths and weaknesses of a doomed but desperate government; rumours and counter-rumours about witches, spirits and poison.

However, despite this richness of material, there is no way of locating specific documents, and no organising principle behind the boxes. The project will produce a comprehensive catalogue to these unique materials, making them accessible for researchers and others interested in the Rhodesian military, their struggle to suppress African insurgency, and their ultimate failure. Both academic and lay researchers will be encouraged to discover what is in the collection. The project will put a priority on knowledge exchange, sharing its understanding of the materials with those who were involved in the events or have a specific interest in this key moment in the end of imperialism.

Once the catalogue and guide are completed, the collection will provide the foundation for important secondary output, including Masters and Doctoral theses, scholarly articles and books drawing on this material.

The production of the catalogue will also enable material from the archive to be included in the Aluka Struggles For Freedom in Southern Africa collection. This is an international project, supported by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, to digitise archival material documenting the liberation struggles in southern Africa since the end of World War II. The project has offered to digitise up to 10,000 pages of material, largely visual, from the collection, contingent upon this catalogue and database being produced.

Publications

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Lovering T (2010) The World in World Wars

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Lovering TJ (2009) Expatriate Archives in Archives: The Journal of the British Records Association

 
Description The project has produced the key to an extraordinary body of archival material that might otherwise have remained inaccessible. The 1200 or so boxes which have been catalogued are undoubtedly one of the most insightful collections in the history of 20th century counter-insurgency.
Indeed, the collection has touched on many other themes of interest to researchers interested in the history, politics, culture, civil-military relations and regional dynamics of southern Africa. There are discussions on African witchcraft, torture, white-black relations, international arms sales and weapons development (to name but a few topics).
Exploitation Route It was always our intention that this material should be readily available outside academia, and, not withstanding the
current uncertainty about the future of the BECM (which has now closed its doors), we remain committed to providing a catalogue and guide to a suitable museum or an archive with a strong outreach programme. One suggestion raised by me as PI to the Rhodesian Army Museum Trust (RAMT) was that if the BECM proved unable to deliver the reading room facilities as promised, that RAMT approach Rhodes House Library, Oxford, who could better provide the high quality preservation, conservation and access needed by this collection so that professional and lay researchers could gain regular access to it for their work. The location of this collection at Rhodes House makes excellent sense because of the numerous private collections held there, particularly those of Sir Roy Welensky, the prime minister of the Central African Federation between 1953 and 1963. Of course this is a decision for RAMT alone to take if it deems it necessary, for as we understand it they are the sole guardians of the collection.

The material is also, of course, of enormous significance to the dwindling band of former members of the Rhodesian military, their families and contacts of the regimental associations that collaborated with us when producing the catalogue and guide. Their assistance was invaluable. Nonetheless, like our colleagues on the AHRC-sponsored Rhodesian Oral
History Project (AH/F010354/1), we too recognise that the Rhodesian war has only limited interest in the world outside
academia, and we cannot therefore consider this material's importance to the wider world as more than 'moderate'.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

 
Description This Resources Enhancement Project, awarded in 2006, was to catalogue the 1200 boxes of the Rhodesian Army Archive then held at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol. This was indeed completed which was the priority all along. As to the question of findings, this is a tricky question to answer because of the demise of the BECM in 2011 and the retention of the archive by the RAMT. As outlined in the 'Aims and Objectives' section of the 2010 report, the original dissemination plans through a project web site either on the Faculty of Arts' web page at UWE or the History Department's web page was dependent on the successful relocation of the archive to a proper research facility to be negotiated by RAMT. This has not yet been accomplished. The demise of the BECM in 2011, meant that the RAMT was forced to relocate the archive which is still to find a home in a British University Library or Research Archive. Negotiations were near completion to move the entire collection to Rhodes House Library in Oxford, but for some unforeseen reason the move was halted at the eleventh hour. UWE still maintains the catalogue on a secure University server; and the RAMT are still in possession of the Rhodesian Army Archive. In short, our 'findings' (ie. the Catalogue) have not been used to date because of the unique circumstances of this project.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Title Rhodesian Army Archive catalogue 
Description In total 1200 boxes containing 5861 files were catalogued. Each file was entered on the electronic database which contains headings for both archival and research purposes. Crucial to any investigator are the fields which deal with file title, date range, name of the creator, scope and content, and authority file. The scope and content section provides a brief but detailed descriptor of the subject contained in each file. The authority file - of which there are approximately 80 - gives the researcher an idea of which department or organisation within the Rhodesian Army (or other government agency) created the material. A descriptor of each authority is also included in the catalogue's contents and acts as the spine from which researchers can cross-reference material using the search engine which is built in to the catalogue. The collection is made up of mostly primary documents such as operational reports and battle summaries, prisoner interrogations and debriefings, propaganda and psychological warfare strategies, synopses of intelligence activities, situation reports, evaluations of Rhodesian military units, debates over counterinsurgency strategy, and assessments of the guerrilla forces faced by Rhodesian forces. Many of the minutes and memoranda are classified as 'confidential', 'secret' and 'top secret'. In addition, the collection contains Rhodesian Chiefs of Staff papers, government assessments of African political leaders and their organisations, digests of security operations including assassinations, the establishment and training of paramilitary units, combined operations reports and civil defence strategies, including the construction of protected villages. The vast majority of the collection concentrates on the Rhodesian Army between 1962 and 1980. There is some material from both World Wars and from the Federal Army during the life of the Central African Federation (1953-63). However the bulk of the collection deals with the period after 1965 when Southern Rhodesia under Prime Minister Ian Smith declared UDI (unilateral declaration of independence). Included in the collection are photographs, targeting maps, scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings, regimental magazines, journals and other military paraphernalia. Material is not confined specifically to organisational branches or specific units of the Rhodesian Army; material from the Rhodesian Air Force is also listed in the collection, as well as captured documents obtained from African insurgents, and correspondence with South African military agencies. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact As explained in several other sections, the demise of the BECM has not allowed access to the collection for researchers. As the RAMT were forced to relocate its archive because it has been unable as yet to find a University Archive or Library to take the collection it still remains closed to researchers. 
 
Description Partnership was between UWE, Bristol, British Empire and Commonwealth Museum and the Rhodesian Army Military Trust 
Organisation British Empire and Commonwealth Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The contributions of myself as PI and the archiving team were to catalogue 1,200 boxes of material in the possession of the RAMT, which were housed at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol. This cataloguing and preservation work was successfully completed by the University of the West of England in August 2010.
Collaborator Contribution The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum folded in 2011 and is now a defunct organisation. The RAMT is still in existence but because of the closure of BECM they had to retrieve the collection and find private storage as the collection was unable to find a home in a British University Archive and/or Library. UWE is continuing to work with RAMT to solve this issue which unfortunately has become a sensitive political issue at higher governmental issues.
Impact UWE has an electronic catalogue lodged on a secure University server.
Start Year 2006
 
Description Partnership was between UWE, Bristol, British Empire and Commonwealth Museum and the Rhodesian Army Military Trust 
Organisation Natural History Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The contributions of myself as PI and the archiving team were to catalogue 1,200 boxes of material in the possession of the RAMT, which were housed at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol. This cataloguing and preservation work was successfully completed by the University of the West of England in August 2010.
Collaborator Contribution The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum folded in 2011 and is now a defunct organisation. The RAMT is still in existence but because of the closure of BECM they had to retrieve the collection and find private storage as the collection was unable to find a home in a British University Archive and/or Library. UWE is continuing to work with RAMT to solve this issue which unfortunately has become a sensitive political issue at higher governmental issues.
Impact UWE has an electronic catalogue lodged on a secure University server.
Start Year 2006