British Empire Article

By John Lawrie Boyd-Wilson
Adjutant of the Northern Rhodesia Regiment at the time of this incident
When Northern Rhodesia invaded Tanganyika
Northern Rhodesia Regiment
The battalion went on training that year in the Luangwa River area and it was while we were out there under canvas that King Edward VIII, who had succeeded George V in January, abdicated.

The news reached us in the form of a telegram relayed to all British and Colonial Forces overseas. This telegram was sent by special messenger from the Chief Secretary in Lusaka and did not reach us until after dark one evening, when the troops were resting after a long hot day in the bush. It was marked "Immediate" and ended with an instruction that all troops were to have the circumstances explained to them without delay.

I was all for leaving it until the following morning. I realised that it would be difficult to make the askari understand the constitutional issues involved and it seemed to me that this would only be more difficult by turning out the battalion for a special parade after dark. Hoppy was Acting in Command at the time and being a stickler for immediate and unquestioning obedience in all things, insisted that the men be told. He thought I should do it as my Chinyanja was better than his! He did, however, agree that it might be better if I prepared the ground by holding a conference of the senior African N.C.Os beforehand.

So I sent for the African R.S.M. and all native Warrant Officers. They paraded in front of the grass hut that did duty for an Orderly Room and, in the light of a couple of hurricane lamps, I did my best to explain the situation.

They were dumbfounded and silent! R.S.M. Chisengaiumbwe eventually spoke for them.

He asked me to repeat what I had said, just in case they had not properly understood. I did so. He then reduced the whole thing to its simplest form by saying, "The Bwana King wants a certain woman but the people will not agree, so he has to leave the tnrone. Is that correct, Bwana?"

I said I supposed the whole thing boiled down to that.

"The King must be very foolish and weak. He has many soldiers. He can do what he likes. He can have any woman he wants."said Chisengaiumbwe.

I tried to explain that this might be the case, but that there was a difference between having any woman unofficially as it were and making one of them a queen to sit on the throne with him.

They looked at one another in bewilderment. Chisengalumbwe then asked if he and the other Warrant Officers could have a short time to discuss tne matter by themselves. I agreed they might go away for a quarter of an hour.

In about ten minutes Chisengaiumbwe returned by himself. He said they had talked it over and had decided that the Commanding Officer should send a message to King Edward saying that the askari of the Nortnern Rhodesia Regiment did not agree that he should leave the throne and that if the people were difficult about it he should call upon all his soldiers to come and fight for him.

The Author was still with the Regiment in Malaya and Borneo in the Post-War period
It took me some time to explain as tactfully as possible why a message of this nature could not be sent. Chisengalumbwe appeared to have an unshakable conviction that Hoppy and I had a close personal relationship with the Sovereign. However, he eventually accepted the fact that the king had decided to go and that the Regiment could do nothing to alter this decision. But he strongly advised against our having the battalion fallen in immediately and being told about it en masse. He said it might cause great consternation, particularly if it were done now, in the dark. He made the much more sensible suggestion that the Senior African N.C.Os should wait until daylight and then explain the affair quietly to their own units. I took him to Hoppy, who heard what ne had to say and, to my great relief, agreed.

The following morning tne battalion paraded after Chisengalumbwe had informed me that all the askari now understood what had happened. Hoppy asked them to give the new king, George VI, the same loyalty that had been given to his predecessor.

The troops agreed but Chisengalumbwe requested, on behalf of all the askari, to send a message to His Majesty assuring him that he would have their loyalty "provided he is a strong king and will not attempt to leave the throne for foolish reasons!"

This message, somewhat emasculated, was duly relayed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies by our Secretariat.

British Empire Map
Eastern Northern Rhodesia Map, 1959
Colony Profiles
Northern Rhodesia


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