Thursday 17 March 2011

Rhodesian Navy Puts to Sea

A party of Rhodesian Sea Cadets left last week-end for a training voyage in the cruiser Euryalus, sailing from Durban. Here is an account of life in the Sea Cadets when they are not at sea, as told by one of them, a young Salisbury man.

Rhodesian Sailors
Sea Cadets packing in Salisbury last week for their training trip in the cruiser Euryalus.
Left to right: Petty officer D. L,Woods, Able seaman C. R. Morris, Leading seaman G, F.Strong,
Able seaman E. H. Armitage, Abie seaman R. J.Stevens and the stores clerk, Leading writer GL E. C. Collins.

Oh yes, Rhodesia has a navy - or perhaps it would be better to say the Colony has a flourishing Sea Cadet unit in which are the only active representatives of the Senior Service in this part of the world.

The First Division Rhodesia Sea Cadet Corps prides itself on carrying out a training programme in seamanship which is equal to that of the Royal Navy. Indeed, when Capt. R. Selby, R.N., captain of Her Majesty's Dockyards at Simonstown and during the war captain of Mashonaland's adopted ship, H.M.S. Mashona - saw the paper set for the able seaman's examination which the Unit held on May 13, 1952, he told the ratings that it was "well up to the Royal Navy standard." And 20 Rhodesian lads, many of whom had never seen the sea, passed the stiff examination with flying colours.


Who are the ratings of the First Division Rhodesia Sea Cadets Corps? Some are employed, some go to school; some are Territorials seconded to the Sea Cadets for further instruction; some are doing their school cadet training in the unit; some have definite ambitions to go to the Dartmouth Naval College or to the South Africa's nautical college - "General Botha". Others, older, are learning seamanship in case . There are 60 ratings, commanded by Lieutenant S. Burn, R.N.V.R. who re-organised the unit in 1950. The military aspect is not over looked; Staff Corps instructors take care of that. Square bashing and rifle drill are all part of the training for these future Rhodesian sailors.


The Sea Cadets become the envy of many Rhodesian youths when their annual training cruise comes along. They don't go to Inkomo Camp but to the South Atlantic for their training. Three or four weeks are spent annually by ten ratings aboard the flagship of the South Atlantic Fleet. In 1950 it was H.M.S. Nigeria and in 1951 it was H.M.S. Bermuda. Don't misunderstand that word "cruise". Their training is no pleasure trip - they literally work their passage. But these ratings return to the unit in a better position to understand the theoretical instructions which they receive and are more independent and responsible than before they went.


In the 1951 cruise aboard H.M.S. Bermuda it seems that Vice-Admiral (as he then was) Sir Herbert Packer took particular notice of the Rhodesian Sea Cadets who were aboard his flagship. For when he paid a goodwill visit to the Colony in 1951, he spoke to the Sea Cadets and told them of his real pleasure at the manner in which they had carried out their assorted duties aboard his ship. He was sufficiently impressed to grant the ratings who went on this Cruise permission to wear the cap tally of H.M.S. Bermuda in the future - the ratings had served in his ship and proved themselves worth representatives of that fine cruiser. On various occasions when a nautical air is required at any function the Sea Cadets assist.


They formed a guard of honour for Admiral Sir Herbert Packer when he opened the last agricultural show in Salisbury. They again presented a token guard of honour when the Governor, Major-General Sir John Kennedy, opened Lake Mcllwaine - he afterwards expressed his appreciation in writing. The practical side of the unit's activities has in the past been carried on at Mazoe Dam, where picnickers would see the white-capped ratings rowing or sailing and, seemingly, never satisfied with the strength of the breeze. Recently their activities have been transferred to Lake Mcllwaine, where a "base" has been obtained through the Defence Department.


And what sort of fleet has Rhodesia's navy? There is a 14ft. dinghy, a 27ft. Admiralty whaler and three sailing yachts. Now the unit wants another whaler, more yachts and a motor launch. Last month London saw some of the Rhodesian Sea Cadets in the Coronation celebrations. So even in Rhodesia, so far from the sea, it is still possible to join the Navy and see the world.

End of Article

Extracted by my daughter, Denise, from the newspaper "The Sunday Mail Magazine Section" , July 12, 1953) Thanks DeniseNo financial gain is intended from producing these memories.
Apologies for the low quality photograph.
Thanks to:-
My son, Paul Norris, for the ISP sponsorship.
Paul Mroz for the image hosting sponsorship.
Robb Ellis for his assistance.

Should you wish to contact Eddy Norris please mail me on


Tony Viegas Writes:-

 I read with interest the Article in the recent Newsletter about the "Rhodesian Navy".

 Attached are 2 photographs of me in Summer and Winter Uniform taken in 1967/68, at the tender age of 13 or 14, when I was a Sea Scout at HMS Matabele.

The Sea Scouts gathered on a Friday evening at Brady Barracks in Bulawayo. We were taught semaphore signalling, Morse code, the different types of rope knots, and many other Naval matters.

 The Sea Scouts were part of the annual Armistice Day Parades.


Further Information received from Craig Fourie

Fished out this old cap i found in a Bulawayo antique store in 1992


Thanks to Craig for sharing this information with ORAFs.

Rhodesian Navy - 1974A contingent of Rhodesian sea cadets recently visited Pretoria on a promotion course. All four are sons of railway men and from left to right they are:—

A. Soule, 15 years; A. de Barros, 15 years; E. van Staden, 16 years and J. Crilley, 13 years.
Source. Rhodesia Railways Magazine dated February 1974 which was made available to ORAFs by Craig Fourie. Thanks Craig.


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Sunday 6 March 2011

Theatre Came With First Wagons

By Adrienne Gibbs

Two weeks after the British flag was raised in Fort Salisbury in 1890, the first theatrical event in Rhodesia was staged in the newly completed fort — a play described as a "knock- about farce" in which the only female role was played by a 17-year- old boy.

A year later, the first theatrical society was formed, but there were several false starts before Salisbury managed to establish a regular society.

The first opera was in 1895 at the Royal Hotel, Umtali. It was Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury". As there was a serious shortage of young women, members of the British South Africa Company Police played the bridesmaids. Unfortunately, the appearance of their large boots beneath full skirts detracted from the play and caused the first few rows of the audience to collapse with laughter.

At this time, hotel dining rooms were used as theatres and it was not until 1896 that the first real "theatre" was built in Bulawayo. The Bulawayo Theatre of Varieties was a wood and iron shed with a flat earth floor and a small raised stage. Its construction was delayed by the Matabele Rebellion, but the Grand

Opening on October 31st 1896, made up for the delay with guest artistes from the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and other leading music halls.

Although the building was improved and proper seating put in, the front curtain was a green baize roller curtain suspended from a gum pole, and it stayed that way for several years.

During the Matabele Rebellion, a series of recitals was given in Bulawayo. The programme described the Bulawayo Siege Recitals as an offering to the "ladies of Bulawayo in appreciation of their patient endurance during the present trying crisis".

The first theatre in Salisbury was the Empire, which was later turned into a dress shop and was only recently pulled down. The Palace Theatre was first built in 1911, rebuilt in 1931, renovated a few years ago and finally pulled down recently to make way for a modern office block. It was also used for silent films, so that at times, rehearsals were conducted in dressing rooms behind the screen while the films were showing. In many cases, costumes for these shows were hired from companies in Johannesburg, 1 136 km away in South Africa.

There was also the Grand, built in 1913 and the Prince's Hall which was originally an hotel ballroom but was renamed in 1925 when a ball was given in honour of the Prince of Wales.

The Prince's Hall was used for everything from theatricals and fancy dress balls, to the first session of the Southern Rhodesian Legislative Assembly in May, 1925. Soon afterwards "Hay Fever" was produced by Lady Rodwell, wife of the Governor, who had been a musical comedienne before her marriage.

During the late twenties and early thirties, some famous show people visited Rhodesia, including Clara Butt, Galli-Curci, Sybil Thorndyke and Lewis Casson.

During the war years, shows were put on for the troops with many well-known stars including Noel Coward, who was guest artist in 1944.

Early theatre in Salisbury involved a number of people who later became well known—but not in theatre. One became a Governor, another a High Commissioner, a third a Mayor and quite a few became Members of Parliament.

Today, amateur theatre is so popular that there are over 35 groups throughout the country presenting regular productions — the war notwithstanding. In the heart of farming country it is not unusual to find modern, flourishing theatres, some with thatched roofs, which more often than not, have actually been built by the farmers themselves.

Photo 1
Members of a theatre company leaving the Cecil Hotel, Umtali, by ox-cart in 1898. They had played in the dining room to enthusiastic audiences.

Salisbury has two modern superbly equipped theatres. One is a 500-seat intimate theatre owned by an amateur society which employs a resident professional director, a paid staff of 25 and has assets worth half a million dollars. The luxurious bar, in keeping with the Rhodesian tradition, has contributed tremendously towards the cost of the theatre.

This particular group has incorporated an opera group and also has a junior section which meets regularly and stages one show a year. A second opera group and several other theatrical societies use this theatre, but hotels are once more "getting in on the act" with the introduction of Candlelight Theatre at one of the leading hotels.

There is also a much larger theatre, part of a cinema complex with a stage big enough to accommodate large-scale productions. The company specializes in bringing out professionals who are sometimes joined by local actors and actresses.

There have been a few local professional companies, but because of the small white population the players usually find that they can only work on a part-time basis and tend to emigrate to South Africa where there is sufficient work. Although theatre is completely multi-racial and there have been several promising black and coloured actors and actresses, generally European theatre does not appeal to the African population.

Because of the many groups dotted around the country, the National Theatre Organization was formed to look after the collective, as well as individual, needs of all the amateur societies. It organizes two festivals a year, one for adults and one for schools, as well as seminars and lectures. It also has a library service and runs the business side of obtaining rights and scripts.

There is also a Play of the Year contest, sponsored by a local building society to encourage the writing of full-length plays. It is open to people of all races throughout the country. Cash prizes are only the first incentive, because any of the societies may then wish to produce it. The final achievement is in having a box office hit.

Salisbury is very proud of its Childrens Theatre—a large group of enthusiastic youngsters who meet one a week to learn all aspects of stagecraft. The age limit is 14 and they do not pay subscriptions. Adults teach them, act with them and manage their shows voluntarily. They produce one show a year and all profits go to charity.

Rhodesian theatre has come a long way from those first days in Fort Salisbury, and with all the work being put into it now, it is assured of a thriving future.

Photo 2
The modern, well-equipped Charles Austin Theatre at Fort Victoria — a far cry from the early days when players used any available building to present their shows.

End of Article

Pictures by National Archives

Extracted and recompiled by, Eddy Norris for use on ORAFs, from Pages 4 and 5 of the publication Focus on Rhodesia 1978, which was made available by Iain Harper. Thanks Iain.
No financial gain is intended from producing these memories

Thanks to:-
My son, Paul Norris, for the ISP sponsorship.
Paul Mroz for the image hosting sponsorship.
Robb Ellis for his assistance.

Should you wish to contact Eddy Norris please mail me on

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