Sunday, August 14, 2016

Gentlemen in Khaki 6


In 1900, the South African Constabulary was established somewhat optimistically to keep peace in the melting-pot which was then the Transvaal, Orange River Colony (Orange Free State) and Swaziland. Master-minded, under orders from Roberts, by Baden-Powell, fresh from his successful leadership of the garrison during the Siege of Mafeking, this was a military body disguised as a police force. It was recruited from British men in the Cape and Natal, as well as from further afield – Britain itself, Australia, New Zealand, India and Ceylon. In addition, over 1 200 Canadians were dispatched to swell the ranks of the SAC, and because these men were not recruited or paid by the Canadian government, their records are held mainly in South Africa rather than in their home country.

Baden-Powell, true to form, came up with a comfortable khaki uniform topped by a broad-brimmed American hat known as the ‘Boss of the Plains’ pattern. Since the term was usually shortened to ‘B.P.’, Baden-Powell remarked that this ‘brought about the mistaken notion that they had something to do with me.’ Later, when he established the scouting movement, the uniform echoed that of the SAC, including the now-famous hat.

Many members of the Constabulary, particularly Britons, made South Africa their permanent home. Records of Conduct and Service of the SAC held in the National Archives of South Africa provide remarkably comprehensive information. A typical record sheet offers a detailed physical description of the man, his date and place of birth, marital status, calling (occupation), religion, and name and address of his next-of kin, as well as a list of promotions or transfers. His Defaulter’s Sheet may reveal the odd blot on his career. Should an ancestor’s SAC file reference emerge on the NAAIRS index, the contents would take any family historian’s knowledge several leaps forward.  

The combined use of British and South African archival records, published sources, as well as information available online, can help in the search for a gentleman in khaki who was, in Kipling’s words, ‘out on active service, wiping something off a slate’.

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