Book review: Blue and Old Gold


Blue and Old Gold is probably the definitive one-volume history of the British South Africa Police (BSAP) and it is unlikely to be trumped anytime soon.

The text is not exactly new – a strength as well as a weakness. While allowing for the re-publication of fine out-of-print material, it may have benefitted from a 21st Century refresh. Made up of the three parts, the first two are abridged versions of the late Peter Gibbs’ more comprehensive “First Line of Defence”, published in Salisbury, Rhodesia, in 1972 and “The Right of the Line” in 1974. These cover the years 1889 to 1939. And there the history of the BSAP languished until Australian publisher, Something of Value, commissioned Hugh Phillips to complete the trilogy started by Gibbs. Called “The End of the Line 1939-1980”, this was published in 2000.

Here, Volume I, the shortened “The First Line of Defence” covers the conquest of Matabele and Mashonaland, a period where the BSAP was the armed wing of Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSAC) that spearheaded white settlement in what later became Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe. It was both a chartered cavalry regiment and a private police; a combination that’s not unique in the British empire: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is another example.

In addition to accompanying the Pioneer Column, the company police’s role in the Jameson Raid of 1895/6, the suppression of the Matebele uprising and the South African War (1899-1902) is well recorded and superbly illustrated. Indeed, the sheer volume of photographs in this work is a highlight in itself and provided days of entertainment.
“The Right of the Line”, chronicles the period after the turn of the 20th Century until the outbreak of the Second World War. The main thrust during this time is the steady transformation of a paramilitary with cavalry traditions into a small but efficient civilian police under “responsible government” rather than BSAC control.

The End of the Line 1939-1980, Phillips documented the BSAP’s role during and after that global conflict, the immediate post-war years, the 1965 declaration of unilateral independence – that placed many police in a difficult moral position and finally the 1966-1980 Bush War. Of particular interest in regard to the latter are the chapters devoted to the Police Anti-Terrorist Unit (PATU) and the Support Unit, the famous “Black Boots”.

Clearly aimed at Rhodesiana enthusiasts and former BSAP troopers, it is an essential compliment to the similarly-formatted “The Saints: The Rhodesian Light Infantry” and “Masodja: The History of the Rhodesian African Rifles”. Blue and Old Gold includes a set of Richard Hamley colour plates depicting regimental uniforms over the years as well as a comprehensive male and female nominal roll and Roll of Honour.

Blue and Old Gold – The history of the British South Africa Police 1889-1980

Peter Gibbs, Hugh Phillips and Nick Russell
300 South Publishers