Memories of the Rli
How an Army won the War but lost a Country
Hi all and welcome to my ramblings in the past. Any talk about Rhodesia will be controversial so don't get your panties in a twist and get all upset as these are my views and you can take it or leave it, no worry ... Language may be a little strange in places but try to not get to frustrated, I will try and translate as we go along but I apologize if I forget – most of the slang is pretty simple for example, to the garage attendant, " fill it up China and put some Sky in my Rounds". Now this might seam a little strange to some but think about it. Sky = Air – Rounds = Tyres – so, "put some air in my Tyres" – See simple ... Please remember this is the 70's, we had only just gotten a TV, the PC hadn't been made yet, you drank water out of a tap not a bottle, Milk had cream on the top, the police were respected, women were respected and Rhodesia produced some of the greatest sportsman in the world. We didn't have Cell Phones and communication was the written word. People actually knew how to talk to each other instead of SMS and children made up their own games. We didn't have "Malls" and the first Supermarkets had just been built. Cars were simple and because of sanctions very difficult to come by. Transport was moms car, a thumb or just walk there. (We got our drivers license at 16). Shoes were for school and special events and Shorts, T Shirt and Flip Flops were the dress of the day. Shit times have changed.
The development of the fighting style of the people of Rhodesian happened over a period of 2 very important years. That began in 1973 when the so called Patriotic front decided to escalate the war in to Rhodesia and started campaigns that disgusted the Nation but was quietly swept aside by the rest of the world. The worst of these were the Catholic Mission massacres and the attacks on outlying farms in remote areas. The response from the armed force was heroic and over this year and 1974 we developed what became Fire Force into a killing machine that the Patriotic front couldn't cope with. This Fire Force did not happen over night but was the result of some seriously clever men getting their heads together and developing a strategy that in the end nearly wiped out the Patriotic fronts forces. I was a part of this story from 1974 onwards and this story is from my perspective. The history and details are all written elsewhere and I will try and add a list of reading elsewhere. One of the best fiction books is John Gordon Davis book Hold My Hand I am Dying. A great read...
The Armies main units were – The Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) – Special Air Services (SAS) – Selous Scouts – The Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR).
The histories of all the units are written elsewhere so I will not delve in to them in depth but comments will be made about them.
When I joined the RLI in 1974 its ranks (as well as SAS) had been decimated. Not by disease or injury but by the formation of a new unit called SELOUS SCOUTS. Uncle Ron, the new Officer Commanding (OC) the new unit had gone through the army and the police and stolen the best of the best and formed one of the best and most clandestine units in world history. Uncle Ron, now a Major, was the RLI's RSM in the early days of the unit so he knew all the guys very well. Without the Selous Scouts our war would have gone no where at all – Their formation was the turning point of the war as now we had reliable information and we, the RLI, could get to work doing what we were best at, killing Gooks ... My story starts way before this point in time. To understand a Rhodesian you must remember that they were a very small community. Our parents all grew up before the Second World War and most of them served with distinction throughout all theatres of that war. Families were all connected through school and the war so that everyone knew each other. In our family my Moms side of the family consisted of a bunch of sisters and one brother. Mom dated a young Peter Walls at school who went on to marry her school chum. Peter (Tommy) went on to command the Rhodesian army. My Dad served with Uncle Ron who was instrumental in the formation of the Scouts.
In later years, the standing joke was, when my CO (Commanding Officer) wanted to know where I was he first phoned my Mom.
My Early Years
I left school with absolutely nothing except good memories of great sport and beautiful girl friends ... My old man wanted to kill me and my Mom wanted to disown me so I decided that I had to go to Cram College and at least get something on paper. So off to cram school in Feb 1973 – SHIT, I had to WORK!!!!! Damn that was definitely not a happy situation. I mean hell and damnation (a polite way of saying F•©k) I was getting a severe ear bashing from my parents, girl friend, buddies – shit everyone was ganging up on me, f•©k it I didn't want to work, water skiing and ice skating were better fun ... I even broke up with my girl friend over that and what shit I goy in to over that was beyond belief. Damn she was a great girl, wiped the floor with me at squash, mind you she was the countries number 1 Junior, and had great parents. Her Dad was a bit of a legal beagle and got me out of the shit a time or two (He also happened to be the Minister of Defense). So Alison & I made up and I worked my arse off till I could write my GCE "O" Level exams in June. Everybody happy, naaaa ... I had to do some pretty low flying but believe you me the fun never stopped. Man I was wasted – 2 hours sleep a night is not good for the body but being a happy go lucky 17 year old makes things easy. Study in the morning and classes till 12 – Ice skating till 2 – study till 4 – Squash at Salisbury Sports club at 5 with Alison, home & put in some swim training, party time till when ever and then a brief time on the pillow. What a life and what it was like to be young.
Many may ask where did I get the money for all this fun that I was having. Funny you should ask that as my parents asked that same question of me repeatedly!!! A simple answer is I worked and worked hard – I had a job on the Tote at the Local Horse Track (Borrodale) and made good money twice a week. Having a father who was a good mechanic and taught me a lot gave me the chance to pocket good money doing the repair here and there.
I wrote my exams in June of 73 and went to work for Bob White as a trainee car salesman. This was great, I was on my own, earning good money and having great fun. I was in for a very rude awakening. Long hours, sport, partying and no sleep caught up with me in a big way that nearly killed me. I was on my way to work early one morning when my brain finally said enough. I passed out driving a really nice Bellet GT and wandered off the road and had a head on with a concrete culvert – When shit happens believe me there is no way of avoiding it. My memories of the next month are nil as I woke up in hospital with a very serious Diff Whine (Headache) and a body that felt as though it had gone 10 rounds with Cassius Clay... (O come on you have to remember him – Heavy weight champ became known as Mohamed Ali). To top it all off in the mail that week I got my call up papers. In US terms I was drafted ... Shit I was not a happy little bunny. Well not so little as I was, before the accident, a very fit 190lb 5ft 10inch athletic 17 year old ... Well now an 18 year old as I had just had my birthday in bed that October. Brilliant ... Due to my head injury I wasn't allowed out and spent my time reading and swimming to try and get my battered and bruised body back in to shape. At a braai (Barbeque or Cookout) one Sunday my Uncle sat me down and had a serious man to man talk with me. Uncle Kieth (Brigadier KA Radford then Lt Cornel) read me the riot act, on how I was stuffing my parents around and what a disappointment I was and wara wara wara – you get it – I was dressed down by a professional and made to feel like a 5 year old wimp ... Shit my life was a mess ... time to grow up and do something – but what – Uncle Kieth then suggested that he send me to The school of Infantry to attend the Officer selection Board to see if I could make it in the Army – No contest – I had my call up papers so why not, I mean call up was now mandatory so I was going in anyway so why not make the choice first ... The next day I was on my way to the lovely city of Gwelo – Home to the School of infantry, Air force Training Base at Thornhill and Bata Shoe company...
This is where my army career started and almost finished – but that is for the next part of the story...