31 July 2007

The National Army Museum in London has recently acquired the Victoria Cross awarded to Trooper ( later Lieutenant ) Herbert Henderson, a member of the Rhodesia Horse, South African Forces, part of the Bulawayo Field Force of 1896.

The two sons of Herbert Henderson, Mr A. Henderson and Mr I. Henderson, chose to donate their father's Victoria Cross to the National Army Museum to ensure his action remains in the nation's memory. On the 21st May 2007 Lieutenant Henderson's granddaughter escorted the Cross personally from South Africa to hand it over to the National Army Museum. ( The VC is unacompanied by Henderson's British South Africa Company Medal and King George VI Coronation Medal ).

Medal entitlement of Trooper Herbert Stephen Henderson - Rhodesia Horse ( Bulawayo Field Force )

  • Victoria Cross
  • British South Africa Company Medal ( 1890-97 )
    • inscribed on reverse: "Matabeleland 1893"
    • plus clasp: "Rhodesia 1896"
  • King George VI Coronation Medal ( 1937 )

In 1895 all the territories subject to the British South Africa Company were drawn together under the new name of Rhodesia. By the end of March 1896, conditions for the Matabele people in the new Rhodesia drove them to rise up in rebellion. The BSAC could not keep control, so a relief force - the Bulawayo Field Force - was raised, comprising one group under Major Herbert Plumer, which entered the chief town of Bulawayo in May, and additional imperial troops under Sir Frederick Carrington, who joined Plumer's men in June.

Included in the latter force was Robert Baden-Powell who was the chief of staff, and it was his prowess in scouting out and spying on the enemy that was responsible for much of its success. The Matabele tribesmen worked in small groups, using their knowledge of the terrain to set up mountain strongholds from which to carry out raids and ambushes. The campaign was one of small encounters, which were finally brought to and end when Baden-Powell's chief native scout, Jan Grootboom, managed to get the Matabele chiefs to attend a parley with Cecil Rhodes.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 7 May 1897 ], Matabeleland Rebellion, Bulawayo, Rhodesia, 30 March 1896, Trooper Herbert Stephen Henderson, Rhodesia Horse ( Bulawayo Field Force ), South African Forces.

On the morning of the 30th March 1896, just before light, Captain Macfarlane’s party was surprised by the natives. Troopers Celliers and Henderson, who formed part of the advanced guard, were cut off from the main body, and Celliers was shot through the knee. His horse also was badly wounded and eventually died.

Henderson then placed Celliers on his own horse, and made the best of his way to Bulawayo, The country between Campbell’s Store, where they were cut off, and Bulawayo, a distance of about thirty-five miles, was full of natives fully armed, and they had, therefore, to proceed principally by night, hiding in the bush in the daytime.

Celliers, who was weak from loss of blood, and in great agony, asked Henderson to leave him, but he would not, and brought him in, after passing two days and one night in the veldt without food.

Herbert Henderson was invested with his Victoria Cross by the Governor of Cape Colony, Lord Milner, in Bulawayo on the 14th November 1897.

Herbert Henderson died on the 10th August 1942, aged 72, at his home in Bulawayo, Rhodesia ( now Zimbabwe ) and was buried in the city's Centenary Park Cemetery, also known as Bulawayo Town Cemetery.


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Iain Stewart, 31 July 2007