Shangani Patrol

The Shangani Patrol, comprising 34 soldiers in the service of the British South Africa Company, was ambushed and annihilated by more than 3,000 Matabele warriors during the First Matabele War in 1893. Headed by Major Allan Wilson, the patrol, also referred to as Wilson's Patrol, was attacked just north of the Shangani River in Matabeleland in Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe). Its dramatic last stand, sometimes called Wilson's Last Stand, achieved a prominent place in the British public imagination and, subsequently, in Rhodesian national history, roughly mirroring events such as the Alamo massacre or Custer's Last Stand in the United States.

The patrol comprised elements of the Mashonaland Mounted Police and the Bechuanaland Border Police. Scouting ahead of Major Patrick Forbes' column attempting the capture of the Matabele King Lobengula (following his flight from his capital Bulawayo a month before), it crossed the Shangani late on 3 December 1893. It moved on Lobengula the next morning, but was ambushed by a host of Matabele riflemen and warriors near the king's wagon. Surrounded and outnumbered about a hundred-fold, the patrol made a last stand as three of its number broke out and rode back to the river to muster reinforcements from Forbes. However, the Shangani had risen significantly in flood, and Forbes was himself involved in a skirmish near the southern bank; Wilson and his men therefore remained isolated to the north. After fighting to the last cartridge, and killing over ten times their own number, they were annihilated.

The patrol's members, particularly Wilson and Captain Henry Borrow, were elevated in death to the status of national heroes, representing endeavour in the face of insurmountable odds. The anniversary of the battle on 4 December 1893 became an annual public holiday in Rhodesia two years later, and was an official non-work day until 1920. A historical war film depicting the episode, Shangani Patrol, was produced and released in 1970.

Controversy surrounds the breakout before the last stand—which various writers have posited might have actually been desertion—and a box of gold sovereigns, which a Matabele inDuna (leader) later claimed had been given to two unidentified men from Forbes' rear guard on 2 December, along with a message that Lobengula admitted defeat and wanted the column to stop pursuing him. Two batmen were initially found guilty of accepting the gold, keeping it for themselves and not passing on the message, but the evidence against them was inconclusive and largely circumstantial; the convictions were ultimately overturned.

Read more about Shangani Patrol:  Background, Prelude: Forbes' Pursuit of Lobengula, Men of The Shangani Patrol, Notes and References

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Shangani Patrol (film)
... Shangani Patrol is a war film based upon the non-fiction book A Time to Die by Robert Cary (1968), and the historical accounts of the Shangani Patrol, with Brian O'Shaughnessy as Major Allan Wilson and Will Hutchins ... Also includes the song "Shangani Patrol" by Nick Taylor (1966 recording) ... Under the command of Major Wilson, the patrol tracks the fleeing Ndebele King Lobengula across the Shangani River ...
Shangani Patrol (film) - Plot
... The horrific and ultimately unavoidable slaughter of the Patrol is included ... his warriors will kill them in the bush and not in the Shangani River so as not to dirty the water ... After much argument, Burnham complies and the Shangani Patrol is minus another volunteer ...
Frederick Russell Burnham - Military Career - First Matabele War - Shangani Patrol
... For more details on this topic, see Shangani Patrol ... Patrick Forbes, camped on the south bank of the Shangani River about 25 miles (40 km) north-east of the village of Lupane on the evening of December 3, 1893 ... Allan Wilson were sent across the river to patrol the area ...