Rhodesian Pioneer Day 2016


A well-kept secret that has been re-enacted in Norfolk every year for almost 30 years is finally revealed.


Report by Sgt.(ret’d) Graham Gillmore, 1RLI


Photos by Shirlie Blackwell


On Sunday 11th September 2016, the Union Flag was hoisted in brilliant sunshine in front of Southrepps Manor in Norfolk. A distinguished audience of 50 or so people had gathered to witness the occasion and sat in dignified silence as the flag was majestically raised. Many of those present had not met before but were linked by a love of their memories of Rhodesia.


The story of this annual ceremony begins in 1890 with the Pioneer Column sent by Cecil Rhodes to settle the wilderness north of the Limpopo River. The Pioneer Column was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Penefather and, guided by professional hunter Frederick Courtney Selous, it consisted of 180 colonists with 200 adventurous volunteers and 62 wagons. Another group soon joined the Column which added 110 men and 16 wagons. The volunteers were to be offered 3000 hectares of arable land and 15 mining claims as a reward for their services.



The Union Flag is raised at the beginning of the ceremony by descendants of the original Pioneers.


On 12th September 1890 the Column halted at the site they would name Fort Salisbury after the then British Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury. The next day, the 13th of September, a flagpole was erected and at a formal parade the Union Flag was solemnly raised. This ceremony has been re-enacted every year on the anniversary of the date of the arrival of the Column (12th of September) until 1979 in Cecil Square (also named after the Prime Minister), Salisbury, and other towns and cities around Rhodesia. Since then, it has been held at Southrepps Manor, Norfolk, England.


The Lord of the Manor of Southrepps is Peter Sladden. His family is one of those whose fortunes have been inexorably linked to the colony and they, like so many others, still remember the wonderful times and take satisfaction from the country they created from almost nothing.


A few days after the ceremony Mr.Sladden celebrated his 97th birthday and his one concern is that the event will continue to be held after he has gone.



Peter Sladden, the Lord of the Manor of Southrepps, with Rhodesian Army Association member Sgt. Graham Gillmore (1 RLI)


Promoted by the Rhodesian Christian Group and the Constitutional Monarchy Association, the ceremony began with the raising of the flag carried out by two descendants of those early settlers. The Rev. Jonathan Boston, the Chaplain to the Lord of the Manor, conducted the religious service following which Col. Bertram Cubitt , ex-BSAP, gave a talk on his many and varied experiences over a long and distinguished career. Alan Harvey, who has devoted a large part of his life to supporting the Rhodesian cause politically, gave a talk on Cecil Rhodes and his patriotic drive to bring all of Africa into the British family.


The British and the Rhodesian national anthems were sung with music by the Cromer and Sheringham Brass Band, and a Royal 21-gun salute was fired to complete the activities. A generous buffet and drinks were served prior to the main event, and teas and light refreshments afterwards, all courtesy of Mr.Sladden whose youth was spent in Southern Rhodesia but returned to the UK on inheriting the title Lord of the Manor.


The Southern Rhodesia Memorial Avenue is opposite Southrepps Hall. The trees, Tilia Cordata, a small-leaf lime, are grown as a Living Memory to those who helped to make up the Colony of Southern Rhodesia. Each tree has an identification marker showing its reference number and the planning records are kept in the Tree Archives at Southrepps Hall. The trees that have South African granite plaques bedded under them are a memorial to those who are remembered by that tree. Those that carry a cross on the plaque mark where their ashes were buried with due ceremony under the tree that carries their name. The plaque on the steps of Southrepps Hall reads: “The Southern Rhodesia Memorial Avenue was laid out in 1990 in memory of the loyal Self-Governing Crown Colony, (Southern) Rhodesia. The trees were planted in recognisance of those who Loved and made Southern Rhodesia. The Avenue runs from the flagstaff in front of Southrepps Hall proudly flying the Union Flag of Southern Rhodesia, symbolising their loyal support for the Crown and Empire with the 12th Century Church of St.James seen in the East honouring the continuity of their Faith and Inheritance.”



Guests mingling after the Ceremony and enjoying the hospitality. The tree-lined Southern Rhodesia Memorial Avenue can be seen leading away from the house (behind the camera).


I had the honour of being Parade Marshall for the ceremony, Rhodesian Army Association member Graham Gillmore served in the Grenadier Guards, before joining the Rhodesian Light Infantry, becoming the Signal Troop Sergeant. After tha fall of Rhodesia he carried on the anti-communist fight with other ex-Rhodesian Army veterans in the South African Defence Force.


The Angolan combat story is told in his book “The Philistines, Pathfinder Company, 44 Parachute Brigade”.