No Insignificant Part: The Rhodesia Native Regiment and the East Africa Campaign of the First World War is the first history of the only primarily African military unit from Zimbabwe to fight in the First World War. Recruited from the migrant labour network, most African soldiers in the RNR were originally miners or farm workers from what are now Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi. Like others across the world, they joined the army for a variety of reason, chief among them a desire to escape low pay and horrible working conditions.
The RNR participated in some of the key engagements of the German East Africa campaign’s later phase, subsisting on extremely meager rations and suffering from tropical diseases and exhaustion. Because they were commanded by a small group of European officers, most of whom were seconded from the Native Affairs Department and the British South Africa Police, the regiment was dominated by racism. It was not unusual for black soldiers, but never white ones, to be publicly flogged for alleged theft or insubordination. Although it remained in the field longer than all-white units and some of its members received some of Britain’s highest decorations, the Rhodesia Native Regiment was quickly disbanded after the war and conveniently forgotten by the colonial establishment. Southern Rhodesias white settler minority, partly on the strength of its wartime sacrifice, was given political control of the territory through a racially exclusive form of self-government, but black RNR veterans received little support or recognition.
No Insignificant Part takes a new look at an old campaign and will appeal to scholars of African or military history interested in the First World War.