Rhodesia 'Bush War' Medals: a guide to naming issues

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In addition to the tens of thousands of general service medals awarded by Rhodesia’s security forces, Prison Service and Department of Internal Affairs, over 12,000 honours and decorations were awarded between 1970 and October 1981, when the Rhodesian honours system was replaced by that of Zimbabwe. This guide will give some brief points on issues around naming that collectors and dealers may encounter.

Rhodesian awards ranged from the Grand Cross of Valour—awarded just twice in the country’s history—to lesser decorations. These included honours for gallantry, such as the Bronze and Silver Cross of Rhodesia; for meritorious service, for example, different grades of the Legion of Merit; and for long service and good conduct, such as the Exemplary Service Medal.

Disparity

While the administration and publication of Rhodesian honours and awards was generally accurately recorded, the naming of awards to black recipients can sometimes cause confusion. To give an example, Kenneth Tovakare Chinyere’s Bronze Cross of Rhodesia was awarded in 1970 and gazetted as awarded to Private K. Tovakari. He received his Exemplary Service Medal ten years later, but it was gazetted to 642782 WO2 T. Chinyere—without knowing Chinyere’s full name, no casual observer would ever imagine that these two medals had been awarded to the same person.

Disparity in naming has several sources—sometimes white clerks simply confused black Rhodesians’ clan names and given names; transcribed names incorrectly or enlisted an individual under a ‘European’ name in preference to an African one. Traditional naming systems in southern Africa mean that someone may often be known by different names to different groups of people, and that people may change their names at different stages of their lives.

In addition, some black people who enlisted in the Rhodesian security forces may have used different names at different times in their career in order to minimise the likelihood that their families might face intimidation from opponents of the white minority government. In many cases awards may be positively identified as belonging to the same person through the recipient’s service number.

Award details

While practically all honours and decorations were published in the Government Gazette, the first concerted effort to collate and publish recipients’ details was not made until the publication of Contact, by John Lovett, in 1977, which contains an appendix of awards. Contact II, by the historian Paul Moorcraft, published in 1979, brought the list of recipients up to date, and dealers and collectors alike have relied on these books ever since to verify dates and details of Rhodesian medal awards.

1,700 unpublished medal awards now available

This brings its own pitfalls: most notably that the published list of recipients ends in late 1979. In fact, the Rhodesian—and even Zimbabwean!—government awarded an astonishing 1,700 further Rhodesian awards over the following two years.

The only book containing details of these 1,700 previously unpublished recipients—including five Silver Cross winners, three recipients of the Police Decoration for Gallantry and 19 Bronze Cross awards—is The Rhodesia Medal Roll: Honours and Decorations of the Rhodesian Conflict 1970-1981, published by Jeppestown Press and coming out in September 2006 (ISBN 0-9553936-0-4 ). A hefty 300+ pages, this authoritative work contains the full list of gazetted decorations from 1970 to the final awards in late 1981. Importantly, it also features an index of last names—invaluable if you are trying to trace a single recipient. However, it does not include details of General Service Medal awards, which were not gazetted.

On a related note, there is evidence that a tiny number of top-level Rhodesian gallantry awards may not in every single case have been gazetted, so that the fact that a named example exists but does not appear in a Government Gazette notice does not in every case mean that the medal is a fantasy piece. In this, as usual, let the buyer beware!

Naming of B.S.A.C. medals

One further word of warning relates to a hoard of un-issued British South Africa Company medals from the 1890s which were stolen, along with a large number of other military medals, from the National Museums of Zimbabwe at majority rule in 1980. Some of the B.S.A.C. medals were subsequently engraved with genuine names, often of casualties, and they trickled onto the market during the 1980s. Authentication and usually relies on knowledge of the whereabouts of the genuine medal, or close comparison of naming styles with a medal of the same issue known to be genuine.

Z.M.S.

For anyone interested in Rhodesian and Zimbabwean medals and military history, the Zimbabwe Medal Society in Harare accepts overseas members and publishes a brilliant Journal packed with information and research—membership is strongly recommended.

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