During the First Matabele War, the Britsh South African Police destroyed the Ndebele capital of Bulawayo, forcing King Lobengula to flee. A BSAP column was dispatched in pursuit. They set up camp on the south bank of the Shangani river on 3 December 1893.
A dozen men, under the command of Major Allan Wilson, were sent across the river to reconnoitre. Shortly afterwards, Wilson sent a message back to say that he had located Lobengula and requested reinforcements. Twenty additional men were sent to join the Shangani Patrol.
At dawn on 4 December, the Ndebele attacked Wilson’s little force of men. The battle which followed between the thirty-four white men and ‘thousands’ of Lobengula’s warriors lasted all morning. Towards 11 o’clock the Ndebele called on the surviving patrol men to surrender, but they refused. About noon, the last of them died. The Ndebele, looking at the circle of bodies, stood for a moment and intoned words which were remembered with pride in Rhodesia: “They were men of men, and their fathers were men before them.”