• Christina Drummond

Captain Frederick Courteney Selous, DSO,  25th (Frontiersman) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers


Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1917, Captain Frederick Courteney Selous, DSO, 25th (Frontiersman) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers, was killed by a German sniper during a minor engagement with the German colonial Schutztruppen on the banks of the Rufiji river in Tanzania.

He was a famous explorer, conservationist, hunter and writer, and his real-life adventures inspired Sir Henry Rider Haggard to create the fictional Allan Quatermain character. He has also been portrayed in television programmes, such as one about a young Indiana Jones. Captain Selous was educated at Bruce Castle School, Tottenham, at Rugby, and also in Germany and Austria. His parents’ dream was that he become a doctor, but he was strongly influenced by Dr. David Livingstone, and his love for natural history took him to Africa.

He took part in the First Matabele War of 1893 and was wounded during the advance on Bulawayo; he went home to England, married, and returned with his bride to Matabeleland in 1896. During the Second Matabele War he became involved in the fighting, serving as a leader in the Bulawayo Field Force, during which time he met and fought alongside Robert Baden-Powell, then a Major and newly appointed to the British Army headquarters staff in Matabeleland.

During the Great War Captain Selous rejoined the British Army and saw active service in the East Africa Campaign, with the uniquely composed 25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers; in September of 1916 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, “For conspicuous gallantry, resource and endurance. He has set a magnificent example to all ranks, and the value of his services with his battalion cannot be over-estimated.”

Upon receiving the news of his death, his close friend Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “He led a singularly adventurous and fascinating life, with just the right alternations between the wilderness and civilization. He helped spread the borders of his people's land. He added much to the sum of human knowledge and interest. He closed his life exactly as such a life ought to be closed, by dying in battle for his country while rendering her valiant and effective service. Who could wish a better life or a better death, or desire to leave a more honourable heritage to his family and his nation?” Captain Selous is buried under a tamarind tree close to the place of his death, in what is today the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania.

Frederick, from London, was 65 years old and married. He and his wife had three sons, one died when just five days old, another lived to be 56 years old, and exactly a year after his own death, his third son Captain Frederick Hatherley Bruce Selous MC, of the Royal Flying Corps, was killed in action during a flight over Menin Road in Belgium.

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