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Baden Powell’s Fighting Police – The SAC (Hardback)

The Boer War unit that inspired the Scouts

Military P&S History > By Century > 20th Century

By Hamish Ross
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 224
ISBN: 9781399083621
Published: 17th May 2022



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This work begins in August 1900 during the war in South Africa, when mounted Boer commandos ranging across the veldt superseded pitched battles of massed armies and heavy weaponry. Thanks to his flair for organisation, Baden-Powell is asked to create a mounted force with a combined military and police role, and will be answerable to the Commander-in-Chief and the civil High Commissioner.

Rejecting Army models of command, Baden-Powell creates the South African Constabulary (SAC) with a small number of officers, dividing it into Troops of 100 men, then sub-dividing again into sections and the key working unit – the squad of six men under a corporal. To get the calibre of recruit he wants, the SAC will be better paid than the Army and he expects the men to be motivated by a code of honour, to be self-reliant and ‘handy men’ able to tackle any kind of work. Most recruits come from the UK, but in Canada, however, the Governor General intervenes and botches selection.

The SAC’s effectiveness comes to light in this book – the first that deals with its creation and development; its wartime achievements and its peace-time transition into a community support helping local people returning to their homes. This work also highlights what Baden-Powell brought from the SAC and gave anew to the Scouts.

Based on research using archive material in the UK, South Africa and Canada, it also includes images that have not previously appeared before in the public domain.

Dr. Hamish Ross has produced another special forces centric history of the British Empire worth reading. The Boer War of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is a fascinating subject for historians as well as social scientists and this adds a new needed perspective of the events.


The book details the creation and development of the SAC, its wartime achievements, and its transition into a community support role helping local people returning to their homes. It also highlights the influence of the SAC on Baden Powell’s later establishment of the scouting movement. The author, Hamish Ross, uses archival material and includes previously unpublished images in this well-researched history.

Read the Full Review Here

Medieval Sword School

An excellent, well-researched history of Baden-Powell and his remarkable and successful establishment of the South African Constabulary. Lauded by many as the hero of the siege of Mafeking during the Boer War, Baden-Powell’s exploits became well known in Britain and South Africa. He was felt to be the most capable for the job of putting together men to form an armed and mounted police force in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony. The book is an in-depth look at exactly what Baden-Powell went through in his efforts to get the job done. Moving away from traditional (at the time) Army models, Baden-Powell wanted a force that would have as its smallest unit, a squad of 6 men under the command of a corporal. He expected his force to be made up of men of good honor, efficient, and able to handle anything thrown at them. While the book focuses on its subject of the SAC, it also touches upon Baden-Powell’s establishment of the Scouting movement. He took many of his ideas and thoughts on how the SAC worked and created the worldwide Scouting program. The book contains several very interesting photographs. Using archival material, the author, Hamish Ross, does a very good job of highlighting the history of the development of the South African Constabulary, and Baden-Powell’s singular efforts to bring it to fruition.

NetGalley, Sue McNelly

I found the book enjoyable and an easy read. It stands as an adjunct to the life of one of Britain's more colourful characters and is an important part of his biography.

ARRSE (Army Rumour Service)
 Hamish Ross

About Hamish Ross

Hamish Ross’s previous books are: Paddy Mayne, a lauded biography of the SAS hero; Freedom in the Air, for which the Czech Republic awarded him the Commemorative Medal; From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars, with the legendary Fred Marafono; and Archie Bowman, a Princeton professor who became a POW in the First World War and came out of the prison camps a strong supporter of the League of Nations.
Hamish lives in Scotland with his wife.

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