A University of Stirling cataloguing project

Tag: Southern Rhodesia

Peace Training

“The Defence Act amendment providing for the compulsory registration of the 18-50 age group applies only to Northern and Southern Rhodesia. Nyasaland residents are excluded… Needless to say I haven’t registered myself – this being a straightforward decision of principle – but the dilemma I’ve been pondering is the one you mention – to flaunt one’s refusal or quietly await the consequences. There is a lot to be said for both alternatives, but my inclination is to make an open gesture of defiance. I suppose really that one is duty bound to do so (fruitless though such a gesture would be) but I have not finally made up my mind.”

– personal correspondence, 25th March 1962

Section 28 of the Defence Act, No. 23, of 1955 as amended, as read with Federal Government Notice No. 278 of 1962 stipulated that all British or British protected males in between the ages of 17 and 50 (inclusive) who had lived in Northern and Southern Rhodesia for six months or longer had to register themselves for what was termed ‘peace training’. The Defence Act was a controversial piece of legislation – indeed, Mackay understood and noted in his personal correspondence that Sir Robert Tredgold resigned as Chief Justice in the early 1960’s in protest against it. Mackay himself was certainly not amenable to its contents, describing peace training as a ‘racially-contrived territorial force’.

Arrest warrant, 1st May 1963

As such, Mackay did not register for the training and when he was sent registration forms reminding him that his obligation was unfulfilled, he replied that he was unable to register for reasons of conscience.

I haven’t yet come across any evidence to suggest that Mackay did make the open show of defiance that was discussed in correspondence with his friends but nevertheless, his defiance was noted and the first warrant for his arrest we have in the archive was circulated on 1st May 1963. As a result he was fined £60 and given a suspended sentence of two months hard labour. But the offence was a continuous one, meaning that new papers for registration were sent out to Mackay and a second refusal to sign up would result in a second prosecution where the consequences would be more severe and the suspended sentence from his first offence would be activated.

“I have been trying very hard to find a reasonably honourable way out, but can’t.”

– personal correspondence, 9th May 1963 on discovering he had been sent new registration papers

In the end, the only honourable thing Mackay could see to do was to stick to the course his conscience had dictated to him and he sent another polite refusal to register which precipitated a second arrest and court hearing and a sentence of four months in prison.

Telegram wishing Mackay luck in court, 16th July 1963

As an automatic remission of 10 days for every month served was applied to those inmates who behaved well enough and didn’t have any of their kit stolen, Mackay was released on the 6th October 1963. During his time in prison, Mackay received much correspondence from friends, even if he could not write back to them and upon his release, he found catharsis in responding to one such friend with a lengthy description of what it had been like in prison, giving a colourful insight into then men who were there with him and the colour bar that was active even within the prison system.

“Even so soon after coming out it is difficult to realise how preoccupied one was with the passing of time. Serving time is a more appropriate phrase than it appears. Certainly time never serves prisoners. I used to cross the days off and work out absurd calculations about the proportion still to go” – personal correspondence 29th October 1963

Calendar kept to mark the passage of time in Salisbury prison

 Mackay claimed to have no regrets on serving his sentence, feeling that if nothing else, he now at least knew what to expect should he have to serve time again. A possibility which might have felt more probable than he would have liked when he received another set of registration papers shortly after his release. While the trail in his personal papers becomes muddled at this point, it is clear that Mackay continues to undergo appeals concerning the case well into 1964 with further prosecutions in 1965 – a lengthy and, as he predicted when he first received the phone call confirming the intent to prosecute, expensive process.

Throughout my perusal of Mackay’s personal papers, I have always been struck by the amount of correspondence he received asking for loans of money or the purchase of important items for acquaintances. They are often names that don’t crop up often in correspondence with Mackay but are still, nevertheless, people who knew that he was a man who would give all the help he could. And it is because of this that it’s so heartwarming to see that in Mackay’s own hour of need, help was at hand without his even asking for it. Aside from financial support from a close friend, Mackay’s lawyers also received anonymous donations of money from the ‘Mackay Defence Fund’ towards the cost of their services. Such must have been Mackay’s reputation for philanthropy that a note kept in his papers specified that another anonymous donation be used only for Mackay’s own personal use.


Mackay had ‘retreated’ to Malawi following his stint in prison in 1963, returning to Southern Rhodesia in 1965 in an attempt to resume his career there. When a warrant for his arrest was once more circulated, Mackay left and finally renounced his Rhodesian citizenship later that same year after Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence which was considered illegal by Britain, the Commonwealth, the United Nations and – more importantly for a man so driven by his own notions of what was and wasn’t conscionable and honourable – Mackay himself.

Introducing Peter Mackay

Letters of introduction kept by Mackay and a note of people to whom introductions were sent by the Queen’s personal secretary – on Buckingham Palace notepaper!

I had intended a different first post for this blog, one that started at the beginning of my cataloguing and would proceed as I did – that was until I stumbled across the letters of introduction written by friends of Peter Mackay on the occasion of his emigrating to Southern Rhodesia in 1948. Then I suddenly thought that perhaps I should introduce him too.

Whilst his youth speaks to a certain determination and propensity for hard work that Mackay would later devote to his political interests – he was head boy at Stowe School and the youngest soldier to be made Captain in the Brigade of Scots Guards – and his adult life was one of activism and philanthropism, I wanted to start with something less deterministic and perhaps more personal.


Over the coming weeks, the material in the collection will highlight the very rich involvement in the liberation movements of southern Africa of a remarkable man. But first, I’m going to focus on a  couple of gems I’ve unearthed that tell of the everyday Peter Mackay who kept two beautiful bull mastiffs, whose hero was Dr. Livingstone and who, no matter the political crisis, always managed to write home to his mother. The joy of this archive is that you get to learn about it all.

The earliest surviving information on Mackay’s emigration we have are some meticulous accounts of his journey – vivid and leisurely accounts that he wrote to his mother and practical information that was passed around the passengers on the plane concerning their flight.

Telegram home 1949 – ‘Cogitating deeply, writing soon’. I must remember to use that excuse…

From this moment on, Mackay wrote regularly to his family but none more so than his mother, whose replies are also contained within the personal papers files in the archive. His extensive correspondence provides a unique insight into his responses to the world in which he found himself and the reactions he had to it that would define his actions.




When Mackay moved to Southern Rhodesia in 1948, it was with an idea to take up tobacco farming. How he fell into journalism instead isn’t entirely clear, though the links between his intended profession and Rhodesian Farmer, the first journal he worked for, are apparent. The most obvious nod we have in Mackay’s own papers of this other life he might have lived are two newspaper cuttings that he kept detailing the drought that affected tobacco and maize farmers in 1951. A part of me wonders why he kept these newscuttings – was it his evidence that toboacco farming would never have worked out for him anyway?

Articles from The Bulawayo Chronicle and The Sunday Mail, March 1951

As I made a start on this archive, I was often in awe of Peter Mackay because of his intense involvement in the causes he believed in and so when I found some common ground between us in his archive, it leapt out at me: Peter Mackay was a dog man. In 1954, Mackay’s bull mastiffs Salima and Sir Accolon Pendragon (Sally and Nacky to their friends) had puppies and he kept all of the resultant media coverage one would hope that seven adorable puppies might inspire.

A Melee of Mastiffs – The Rhodesia Herald, June 29th 1959










In addition to this – and this is my favourite thing that I’ve found in Mackay’s personal papers – when Mackay returned to the UK for Christmas later in 1954, leaving Nacky and Sally with some friends, such was the bond between a man and his dog that Nacky wrote Mackay letters informing him of the antics of the humans and the latest developments with his many ladyfriends.

“Met a friend and discussed high politics – we sounded very learned and looked it as well – I wonder what he was talking about?”

Sir Accolon Pendragon

‘late of other places and now of Marlborough in Southern Rhodesia’


I always find it interesting to know the kinds of things that inspire remarkable people and so now to Peter Mackay’s own hero, Dr. Livingstone. Livingstone crops up in the Mackay archive from time to time in many forms – a postcard to Mackay’s mother of Victoria Falls or a letter to National Geographic suggesting that they tie in their coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s inaugurating of the Kariba hydro-electric project to the upcoming centenary of Livingstone’s expedition around the area. But no-where more so than in his own writing where he quotes passages from Expedition to the Zambezi and recounts stories that have already provided me, and I suspect will continue to do so as I delve deeper into the archive, with a beautiful context for items that I thought were simply incidental.

“The biggest, the flagship… was the m.v. Ilala II. The first Ilala had been built on the Thames at Tilbury and commissioned in 1875. It had been named after the place where Livingstone died and brought to the Lake of Stars [Lake Nyasa] in a journey epic even for a century of epic journeys.”

We Have Tomorrow


From the Voyage of the Ilala series, 1958

When my preliminary dig through Mackay’s own photographs produced this marvellous series of images entitled ‘Voyage of the Ilala’, I thought nothing further of them then that they were picturesque images from Mackay’s travels. But not only does the above extract show us the link between this boat and Mackay’s hero, suggesting that there was nothing incidental about Mackay being present to take these photos, but his own account of the story of the first Ilala goes to show just how much the ship’s voyage may have mirrored – or even inspired – Mackay’s own desire to provide aid:


“…the Ilala encountered a dhow plying to the eastern shore. On board were captives bound for the slave markets… on the poop [Lieutenant Young of the Ilala] had a two-pound gun, aggressive use of which was forbidden by the mission’s orders. One shot was sent across the bow of the dhow in the traditional and unmistakeable seafarer’s message. The sail came down, the slaver hove to, the captives were freed.”

We Have Tomorrow


Sunset from the Ilala, 1958


Finally, and just as a point of interest, all of Peter Mackay’s photographs, papers and correspondence are so meticulously filed and labelled that, dare I say it, he wouldn’t have made a bad archivist in another life, either.