Category : Articles
A personal account by a Territorial Rhodesian Soldier…..
The Rhodesia Military and me
So where to start, possibly the best place is the beginning.
So this is it , I was born in Nkana Kitwe in Northern Rhodesia , a mining town where my father had journeyed to as a young Tradesman coming from his home in Durban SA and where he met and married my mother in 1943.
I was born 7 yrs later in 1950. Growing up in Rhodesia was Heaven on Earth for any adventurous boy. I had the wild African bush right on my doorstep.
We lived in a Mine house in 6 th Avenue, the Kafue river that had its origins in the Belgium Congo wound its way through the Copper Belt, past the massive white sandy mine dumps that often spilt over into the river creating white sandy beaches all along the normally muddy banks covered in vegetation, a beautiful and dangerous place patrolled by the ever present Hippo and big Nile Crocs.
The white sandy islands and beaches gave the illusion of a tropical Pacific island paradise but the dense jungle in other places soon reminded you, you were in Central Africa a short 20 miles from the Congo border where the jungle was so dense it was impossible to walk through. However most of this bush is now gone, burnt to make charcoal to earn a bit of money by the thousands of now unemployed miners. My young school days were spent fishing and hunting in this Eden in Africa.
Living in a Copperbelt town was heaven with cheap entertainment subsidised by the mine, there were bioscopes in all the towns with Olympic size swimming pools and sport fields all free to the mine workers. As a teenager we had great beach parties down at the river and dances at the numerous clubs where local bands played all the latest Beetle numbers, life was good. Then without warning it all came crashing down, I was too busy having fun to worry about politics and paid no attention to my father who however did see it coming. Britain was getting rid of her Colonies and just gave Northern Rhodesia to a bunch of thieving corrupt black politicians with a big baboon called Kaunda as the new man in charge.
I remember my father being devastated and predicting the chaos that was to follow but even he was taken back at how quick the rot set in. However by this time I was already well into my love of motorbike racing with my heart set on moving to Salisbury where the politicians led by Ian Smith had the courage to reject Britain’s policy of throwing her former colonies to the wolves , or in the Rhodesia to the baboons.
I arrived in Salisbury as a newly qualified electrician and got a job with a local contractor. Life in Salisbury was even better than life in Kitwe, there were even more clubs and the nightlife was fantastic add to this I was the proud new owner of an E Type Jag, bought at the tender age of 19, I won’t go into how I had so much money at such a young age except to say I had worked bloody hard for it, it was not stolen or given to me by my Dad as a lot of people thought.
I was soon back into racing enjoying the great Rhodesian circuits that had formed great riders like Jim Redman and Ray Amm and got to meet and befriend many great British and South African riders . All was however soon to change and put my life on a completely different course , I got my Army call up papers , this put an abrupt end to my racing but opened up a new and exciting time of my life . By the time I bordered the train in Salisbury to travel to Llewellyn Barracks and start my Military training I was stone broke, having lost everything in a Nightclub scam.
The train trip from Salisbury was an overnight journey and we arrived at Heaney Junction just outside Bulawayo at the crack of dawn to the biggest wake up of my life so far. After exiting or rather falling off the train, we were loaded into old Bedford trucks and driven the short hop to Llewellyn barracks, where half a dozen insane people in uniform were shouting at everyone including themselves, I remember thinking what the fuck is this, these guys are completely nuts. After queuing for hours to sign in and get our uniforms, mine were at least three sizes too big and when I tried to change them for a smaller size the fat guy who seemed to be in charge, had me down doing push-ups, what the fuck, how was that going to help?
There were about a hundred of us, we were divided up into three platoons and given barrack rooms with rows of steel beds to sleep on, or so I thought, I spent most nights on the bloody floor next to my bunk as it took far too long to remake the bloody thing to military spec each morning for inspection. However, that was the least of my problems, I was completely unfit having never been interested in any kind of physical sport, all was soon to change. We ran everywhere, then to top it all off, had to learn to March, shit that was even harder than running. After what seemed like months of running in circles, we got taken or rather marched to the armoury, taught how to strip and clean all types of rifles and machine guns, load magazines and belts and unload magazines and belts, attack sandbags with bayonets on our rifles, throw each other all over the place in some kind of bullshit unarmed combat, get into a ring and box each other with an insane barber as a referee.
What started out as fun running around an assault course ended with a mad bastard firing rounds over our heads, then when we didn’t do it fast enough, got sent to run around a rugby field carrying bloody great logs above our heads before finally getting to fire our rifles on a range. But even that was spoilt by the bloody arrogant corporals who after only letting us fire ten rounds, had us running up and down the steep sandy stop buts at the end of the range, holding our rifles over our heads. I can clearly remember being in a state of complete exhaustion and asking our platoon corporal what all this shit had to do with killing ters, unfortunately for me the sweat in my eyes had blurred my vision and I didn’t see the evil little Scotch RSM who was standing nearby, he immediately jumped on me, I thought he was having an epileptic fit, I can still smell his breath and feel his spit hitting my already watering sweat filled eyes as he screamed obscenities and had me back up running the stop buts long after the rest of the guys had gone back for lunch.
To be honest, I was a total fuck up as a recruit, constantly in the shit, I even ended up in the detention barracks for two weeks for coming back from R&R completely pissed and hitting a Sargent. After four and a half months of basic training we were passed out and proudly marched passed smiling proud families, well not my family, they were still living in Zambia and never bothered to make the trip to see their only son finely March like a man.
We were 127 intake and were sent to 2 Ind Company Kariba. It was 1972 and I was back at my old haunt having spent many months fishing in the dam and the Zambezi with my father while growing up. After possibly being the un-fittest recruit to ever arrive at Llewellyn, I was now one of the fittest soldiers in our company and would often run rather than drive from the camp on top of Kariba Heights the ten kilometres to change the guard down at the power station far below.
My time at Kariba was spent patrolling the Zambezi Valley, one of the most beautiful places on earth, teaming with game. When on patrol we would often have to dive out of the way of a blindly charging rhino or slowly back away from a heard of elephant or grazing buffalo. There were lion everywhere followed by hyena and the ever circling vultures. It was here that I first witnessed a leopard take her kill high up into a tree out of reach of the scavenging hyenas. Most of the time we were deployed by the South African choppers based at Churundu and at FAF2 the airfield at Kariba. We patrolled in five man sticks lead by an NCO who operated the radio and a MAG gunner and three troupies with FNs, as we were carrying a minimum amount of ammo all five of us would fit into the chopper even with five days of rat packs, later when doing fire-force our sticks were reduced to four as we would carry more ammo and the choppers were now fitted with guns.
It was glorious flying from Kariba sometimes following the river down from the dam wall with the high escarpments towering above us, then suddenly the hills would fall away and the flat open plane of the Zambezi valley would stretch out in front for as far as the eye could see. Flying over my old fishing grounds of Mana Pools teaming with game was always exciting and once we even landed and I shot a big buck for the chopper guys back at Churundu camp. This was fun, playing at war, something I can recommend for any young man looking to get his life back on track, however all good things do come to an end.
I have long forgotten the place names except for a few like Mount Darwin, so what follows won’t be of much use to historians looking for information on the Rhodesian bush war, it’s just my memories or rather what’s left of them of my eight years as a territorial forces soldier in the Rhodesian army. I’m not going to list a long winded report of every contact, though I do remember most of them, I’m only going to give the few most prominent in my mind, I’m also not going to talk about my friends killed in action, keeping away from some of the bad shit that went down its better left in the past or for another story that I’m sure I’ll never write.
After 2 Ind coy I joined C coy 1 RR in Salisbury to start my three months out, six weeks in call-ups. I remember little of my first few uneventful deployments, they pretty much followed the routine of my time in Kariba only we were deployed by vehicle rather than the choppers. The vehicles were either Bedford or Mercedes trucks with a row of seats down the middle and heavily sandbagged for protection against mines and ambush. The bush roads were easy targets for the ter mines, I was eventually to hit one while travelling on a Mercedes 45, the blast was indescribable mainly because I was momentarily knocked unconscious, coming around while flying through the air so don’t really remember the actual blast. My buddies rifle had hit me in the face cutting my lip and cheek, not bad but enough to make me think I had been hit as blood was running down my cheek and onto my shirt, none of us could hear a thing, deafened by the blast but were soon running on instinct alone, maybe that training at Llewellyn was necessary after all, I first made my way to the driver who was miraculously unhurt as the mine had hit the passenger side front wheel, thank God there was no-one sitting in front with the driver as that side was almost completely blown off.
The driver was a tough body builder type and full of shit, he was fighting the air in front of him and trying to get up but his seatbelt was still on, I grabbed his arm and pointed to his seatbelt, this calmed him down and he stopped struggling, released the belt and started looking for his rifle that I seem to remember was completely destroyed and found lying in the bush some mtrs away. The rest of the guys had by now formed a perimeter guard assisted by the stick travelling in the 45 behind us and were already checking for booby traps and AP mines in the surrounding bush, looking back we were a pretty professional bunch walking down the tracks left by our 45 before circling back, all done without anyone having to give the command to do so. Many years later I was to meet the driver of the 45 behind us, it was at our holiday beach house in South Africa, our wives had met on the beach and had decided to take us to breakfast at a coffee shop in the town, it was only after breakfast when we were talking that we both realized we had briefly known each other and shared the memory of this landmine incident while serving in the army.
My first experience with dead terrorists was a real wake up, I was still in C coy and doing patrols out of a base camp in the Darwin area, one of our sticks had picked up tracks of what looked like a big group of ters and we were all called in to assist in the follow up. It soon became apparent we were onto a very large group and RLI fireforce were called in to take over on the follow up assisted by a parksboard tracker, my stick was uplifted and moved to a ambush position near a small village, we moved into cover and sat listening to the guys on the ground talking to the choppers flying overhead. It wasn’t long before all hell broke loose and the guys made contact, it all happened a very long time ago and I’m not clear on all that went down because I wasn’t directly involved in the initial contacts.
Our position was at the bottom of a small cliff about a kilometer away, we were still trying to follow the contact over the radio and in the distance could see a fixed wing aircraft firing into the cliff but it was too far away to really see what was going on. When it was all over we were told to remain in ambush until the following morning and then do a sweep in the direction of the cliff, it was a long night and none of us slept. The next morning we started our sweep towards the cliff face beneath the village, an RLI stick had got there before us and three or four dead ters from the day before’s contact were laying in the grass, one of the bastards had most of his head blown away with what was left of his brains splattered all over the place.
Later, we were taken up to the village and told to burn it down, the RLI commando suffered a big loss in this contact and named their pub The 28th in memory of this bad day. In all I think 3 RLI and 1 parks tracker were killed with over 30 dead ters, in military circles this would be considered a good contact but not in Rhodesia where we valued one troupie above a thousand ters. Soon after this, things got really hot and my company was put on continuous service for over a year. The war was now in full swing with the carefree Kariba days a very distant memory.
It was while on continuous service I had my first personal kill, still with C coy, we were doing a mini fire-force out of Karoi, a small town between Salisbury and Kariba, we had based up at the country club with our one and only chopper parked on the front lawn. Fire Force only operated in daylight so our nights were free to piss it up at the country club, bloody heaven for any red blooded Rhodesian, with the local ladies in their tennis skirts to keep us all awake and on form. We had been here for about a week with not much int coming in from the local SB, so the chopper got a daily clean and the odd joyride as we were by now good mates with the pilot and his TEC. However, the int soon started coming in with a report that a farm crop guard had been abducted, we were operating in four man sticks and deployed by chopper to the scene where we were met by a local police tracker, I was the MAG gunner and the tracker glued himself to me.
We followed a clear spore for most of the morning using the chopper to leapfrog thereby helping us to catch up to the ters now heading for Zambia. The tracker who I guess was in his fifties, a real madala compared to us youngsters but as fit as hell. We had just been dropped off by the chopper for the umpteenth time and were starting to tire, the tracks had now left the path and were heading down to a small dry river bed where the bush was much thicker. We were walking in a sweep formation with Roy on the far right, two troopies and then me and the tracker to the far left and a bit in front. The tracker was starting to get very nervous and moved behind me as we started to climb the bank on the other side of the small river bed, once up the bank, I turned to look for the tracker, he was by now quite far behind and indicated to me that we were very close to contact, at that moment the chopper flew over and Roy broke the silence as he started talking on his radio, Roy was about three quarters of the way up the river bank when I saw the ters, they were only five or six mtrs in front of me but had not heard or seen me, possibly distracted by the chopper and Roy on the radio.
They had obviously planned to ambush us and it must of been their movement bringing up their AK’s to fire that had caught my eye as they were laying in very thick bush, my MAG was pointing right at them, all I had to do was squeeze the trigger. I fired a full belt killing them both instantly before they could get off a round, as I bent to reload another belt, I saw the already wounded crop guard break cover, he was armed with a shotgun and attempted to fire it at Roy who was by now starting to return fire but the shotgun round was a dud and never went off. The crop guard started fumbling with his gun, still standing in the open, by now I had another belt in and all four of us opened up on the crop guard who turned and took off at a run but was flopping in mid-air as three FN’s and a MAG laid into him.
He somehow managed to run about twenty mtrs before falling, we were soon on top of him, he looked like mincemeat but was still alive, Mike one of the troopies shouted “let me kill him” and took a bead on him but was out of ammo and still full of adrenaline, started fumbling with his webbing trying to get out another magazine. I still had a few rounds left in my second belt so took his head off, Mike was pissed off but all I could say was “too fucking slow china” and that was it, over in minutes, with two dead ters in full rice fleck uniform. I got one of the AK bayonets but the SB guys wouldn’t let me have one of the ter rice fleck jackets. The chopper made a great landing in the thick bush, blades clipping the leaves as we loaded the dead ters and the turned ter crop guard in with the help of a PATU stick who was patrolling nearby. Later that night we all got very pissed back at the country club and I accidently pissed on a chinas sleeping bag, not realising he was sleeping next to my favourite tree. He was so pissed off and as I am a gentleman, I gave him my sleeping bag and spent the night in his wet one, to be honest, I didn’t even feel the wet patch.
Soon after this, I got transferred to Support coy where I trained on the anti-tank 106 recoiless rifles at the School of Inf in Gwelo. However, not before I nailed a few more ters with my MAG. It was on a trip to Mt Darwin, scouts had spotted 5 ters enter a village and called Fire Force who were busy elsewhere. We had just arrived at Darwin, I seem to remember we were escorting a rations pick-up but can’t really remember, anyway we put together a temporary four-man stick that consisted of two captains, myself with the MAG and a RLI troopie called Louis. We deployed to the contact area with the still loaded 25 and a fixed wing armed with Frantam and Sneb rockets as our air cover. The scouts who were high up on an OP were directing the contact, we deployed from our 25 on the road above a recently cut mielie field and literally charged down to the ter position that was in a stream covered by very thick bush and straight into an RPG manned by a very aggressive ter who was firing all over the place, we charged on like the bloody light brigade, I don’t know if we were trying to impress the scouts or if we had finally lost the plot but just in time the fixed wing came in low and dropped Frantam right in front of us, directly into the ter position, instantly frying the bloody RPG gunner who I’m sure would have eventually hit one of us.
I can still remember the heat from the Frantam that had us flat on the ground for what seemed like ages until it finally went out enough to allow us to continue down the mielie field, however not before we had to take cover a second time, as the now highly motivated pilot put a couple of Sneb rockets into the still smoldering bush. With the all clear from the pilot, we made our way into the contact area, I nearly stepped on the completely burnt ter with the RPG, and he was burnt white with only a few pieces of black skin still on his smoldering body and was very dead. We carried on sweeping through the thick bush as the scouts reported siting 5 ters, where were the other 4, I was out in front with the MAG and firing bursts into anything that looked suspicious, when suddenly two naked black bodies jumped up right in front of me, I got such a bloody skrik, I took them both out before realising they were unarmed, having left their AK’s in the bush where they were taking cover. Three down, two to go, we swept up and down that bloody place until I was so exhausted I couldn’t carry the bloody MAG another inch and swopped Louis for his FN to give my aching back a break. We never found the other two ters but fuck it, you can’t win them all. In all, I had 5 personal kills during my time as a MAG gunner and certainly had a hand in killing a lot more with the G cars and K cars help as well as my chinas when we were all firing at bomb shelling ters in a fire-force deployment.
I did good on the 106 course and got promoted to full Corporal, all good or so I thought at the time. On our first deployment with the 106 guns, we were sent to join the armoured cars at Churundu Bridge over the Zambezi river bordering Zambia. I was hoping this would be a skive as I was tired of running around after bloody ters, our first night was however interrupted by the bloody Zambian army who started to mortar our position while firing on the armoured cars down at the bridge with a 12.7. We had stationed ourselves up at the now deserted BSAP camp overlooking Mana Pools so moved our two 106 guns back out of range and settled into our new lekker camp that had barrack rooms and showers, looking forward to six weeks of leisure, our only duty was to man an OP from the DC’s old house overlooking the bridge and river. But it was not to be, soon after the arsehole Zambian soldiers started having a full go at the armoured cars and even managed to pin down their OC who called us to help. I was now in charge of the 106’s as our OC became ill and had to be casavaced back to Salisbury, it was already dark but we moved our two guns to our OP position and put a few of the guns 12.7 spotting rounds into the Zambians soldiers position to bring our big guns on target. We were hoping the phosphorus tipped spotting rounds would be sufficient to close the Zambian soldiers down but there’s nothing more stupid than a drunk munt on a 12.7 machine gun. To cut a long story short, the armoured cars OC told me over the radio, to “waste the mother fuckers”, he was from the USA. So we fired the 106, the round fell just short of the bunker but we were now very motivated to take the bloody Zambians out so adjusted the gun and put the next round into the bunker, ending our little war with Zambia, Rhodesia 1, Zambia 0.
I’ve no idea what the brass back in Salisbury said to the armoured car officer but I got told if the 106 rounds hadn’t exploded, I would have been sent over the bridge to get them back, the 106 guns being top secret at the time. The next day we were told to report with our 106 guns to 2 IND Coy Kariba and put under the command of the OC there. After this disaster for the Zambian soldiers and me as I was hoping to have landed a cushy job with the 106’s protecting Rhodesia from the non-existing Zambian T54 tanks, I was sent to do all my remaining camps with RLI Fireforce Echo, without my trusty MAG and as a reluctant FF stick leader. However, I managed nearly two years with RLI FF Echo and never lost a troopie in my stick, thank God, as I was nowhere near as good a soldier as the other RLI stick leaders I operated with.
I had lots of contacts with RLI Fire Force, mostly very successful with very few lemons but it’s one of these lemons that I remember the most, we had int of ter activity at a village situated between open farm land and thick bush covered koppies. We took off from our base with the usual K car and four G cars in formation, I was stop one, not because I was hot, it was simply my turn. Once near the village, the K car went high and the G cars flew at tree top level so as to give the ters on the ground as little warning as possible, somehow the K car got too far ahead and the villagers spotted it before the G cars arrived on the scene, by the time we got there the K car was already firing its 20mm canon. My G car dropped us on the edge of the village and we started to sweep through, there were only a few huts, all empty and we cleared out the other side in a very short time, the other sticks were all in position, dropped as stop groups to nail any ters flushed out of the village. I was in contact with the K car the whole time and he made me go back and sweep the village a second time, still nothing. The OC then told me his gunner had fired on ters running out of the village but was very high and couldn’t be sure if he had hit any. We then did a sweep of the area where the K car had fired and found two dead children, they were both little girls about 7 or 8 years old, instantly killed by shrapnel from the 20mm rounds. I could clearly see the telltale little bumps caused by the shrapnel covering their tiny bodies. Soon after, we came across three more children and two women laying in the mielie field. The women had been hit by shrapnel but were still alive, the children were unhurt but were afraid to leave their mothers, both women also had babies on their backs. I shared my morphine between the two and taped the empty syringes onto their arms so the medics at the hospital could see what I had given them and radioed the K car still high overhead, reporting what I had found.
The OC then informed me he had also seen a group of about four ters running passed the mielie field and into the very thick bush covering a koppie, he then directed us to where he had lost sight of the ters. I could clearly see tracks coming out of the mielie field onto a path but there were so many other tracks in the area of the path, I couldn’t be sure where they went, the other sticks had by now moved from their ambush positions and were assisting the wounded women who were being loaded into the G cars for casavac. The OC told me to sweep the koppie, the koppie wasn’t that big and ten minutes later we emerged from the other side. The OC was furious and told me to go back and not come out unless I had the dead ters with me, we were all taking strain but had a job to do so back in we went, this time I told my stick to randomly fire into thick bush knowing there were no stop groups on the other side of the koppie that could come under our friendly fire.
We had got about halfway over when four little girls suddenly jumped out in front of us, at that moment, my finger was on the trigger, aiming right at them, I was fully fired up and can clearly remember thinking, “I am going to kill these bastards”, then in that same second sanity kicked in and I lowered my rifle and escorted the four girls out to a waiting chopper. The OC never said anything to me and at the time I didn’t expect him to, however looking back, I think we should of had a de-brief. We were all feeling like shit, I never spoke to the K car gunner afterwards but can imagine how he must have been feeling. Not all lemons end like this, most were just bad int where we found the ters long gone and did not end with civilians paying the price.
I also had my share of missing running ters sometimes from as close as 50mtrs who got clean away to continue terrorising the locals, it was sometimes so easy and other times so bloody impossible, on one of my last deployments, when I thought I knew it all, I lost sight of my objective and the ters got away. We were acting on int that a group of ters were moving into an area at night, my stick was deployed to ambush a track leading up from a river bed onto a road. We had been in the bush for nearly six weeks, our camp was coming to an end and we were tired, the ambush was uneventful and on the day of our pickup I made the mistake of taking the claymore down and moving down to the road to wait for our pickup, two of us had gone down to the river to get water and while down there a group of ters walked straight passed our ambush position, the two guys up on the road saw them but were too far away. They had a go anyway and the ters took off, we were looking up in the direction of the shots when we saw two of the ters run out of the bush and into the river bed before disappearing up the other bank, I also had a go at them but they were too far away. I radioed the contact in giving our original ambush position, anyway the whole thing went bad and our OC told us to follow up on the ters, however none of us having any real tracking skills, we soon lost tracks and bedded down for the night.
Our OC in the meantime had packed up camp and gone back to Salisbury leaving us to link up with a TF coy in the area, it took another week before we could get a lift back to Salisbury and demob. Back in Salisbury at 1RR a TF Major had a real go at me, I wouldn’t have minded but this bloody jam stealer had sat on his arse in TF base camps his whole time in the army, never ever doing an ambush or following up on ters himself, anyway my next bush trip was my last, with the British monitoring forces at Darwin. After seven years, 8 months it was all over and Mugabe, an even bigger baboon than Kaunda set about destroying Rhodesia. I haven’t spoken about my mates KIA or the times I was guard of honour at their funerals watching their wives, mothers, fathers and children cry.
I never cried then and haven’t yet, maybe one day I will but I don’t think so, it was just too long ago. I recently got offered the opportunity of meeting with an ex ter but turned it down flat, I never respected them then and certainly don’t now, having seen what they are still doing to Zimbabwe thirty plus years later. To sit down with them now over a cup of tea or a beer would be accepting them as equals and that they don’t come close to being, they are murdering cowards and I am a soldier.