EPILOGUE1

FROM the beginning of hostilities in 1939, the Tswana chiefs constantly offered the services of their men, and their own, if required, in any capacity. At first these could not be utilized, but as the Middle East campaign developed and drew near its darkest days, the need of a reliable force of military labour in the Middle East became pressing, and East African and High Commission Territories labour companies were called for.

A training depot was set up at Lobatsi at the end of June 1941 under the command of Lt.-Col. R. C. Boothby, M.C. Officers of the Royal Pioneer Corps were sent from England and were joined by six Administrative Officers released by the Government. No extended training was given to the companies, who began to arrive from all tribes in July and whose personnel were enrolled in the African Pioneer Corps of the British Army. They were taught rudimentary parade ground work, simple arms drill and discipline, and in each case, after about two months' training, were sent to the Middle East, where they were to embark on more advanced training in intervals while being rested from the many heavy labour commitments for which their presence was urgently required.

The first group of six companies, 64 Group of the Royal Pioneer Corps, left in September 1941, under the command of Lt.-Col. J. H. M. Edye, D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C., and went to Syria, where defensive lines and bases were being constructed against a possible new front which might be opened by a German thrust through Turkey towards the Middle East, and Iran and Iraq, and indeed India. Other companies followed to the Middle East as they completed their initial training and by the end of December 1941 there were thirteen labour companies of 340 men each, a total of over 4,400 Tswana, in the Middle East.

All except three of the companies went to Syria and were centred on Baalbek in the Lebanon. They undertook all types of military labour, including the construction of defences, road making, the establishment of engineer dumps, the handling of supplies and incidental guards. Despite the cold and snow of the Lebanon, they maintained an astonishing freedom from sickness and earned an excellent reputation for their energy and discipline. The other three companies became garrison guard companies and remained in Egypt on guard duties. Early in 1942 two further companies arrived and joined the others in Syria and Haifa.

____________________
1
This account of the Tswana at war is contributed by Mr. R. A. R. Bent.

-213-

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