Once we had finished our theory phase of training it was time to get out into the field and find out exactly what we had taken on board.

Our explosives training was carried out at Khodwayo Bombing Range and this had been completed earlier on.  That had been extremely interesting and we had been taught a variety of demolition skills……steel cutting charges, destruction of landmines and other unexploded ordnance, cratering charges using camouflet sets which had a strange device called a “monkey” that weighed a ton, laying out of detonating cord ringmains and electrical ringmains, and most importantly explosive safety regulations.

There was no buggering about at Khodwayo.  The training was presented in a professional way and there was no running or stress situations.  This was serious stuff and our first exposure to things that would literally blow your head off if not treated with respect.  The instructors understood this and adapted their methods of instruction accordingly.  All in all one of the best phases of my training and probably the single most important subject I still use to this day in my chosen profession.

After demolition training it was back to Brady Barracks, unload the Bedfords of all the demolition kit, reload them with all sorts of other weird and wonderful Sapper stuff, most of which was bloody heavy and/or sharp,  and we were off to Mzingwane Dam……and this was really going to be fun.

Mzingwane dam

Mzingwane dam

Probably about August 1974……Brady Barracks (Bulawayo)-Headquarters,1 Engineer Squadron (1RhE)

“Come on Sapper Craig……up here!!….next to me…that’s it…..keep up with me at the front of the squad…don’t slow down now!”

This coming from an Aussie (maybe Kiwi) Staff Sergeant Engineer Instructor…..who also happened to be a marathon runner and took us for a daily 5 kilometer morning run down the road next to the barracks that would eventually get you to Salisbury.

Fuck me I thought to myself…..I really hoped I had finished with all this PT and running bollocks……how wrong I was.

But it was different here.  The instructors were just about all ex-(or possibly serving) Royal Engineers….great guys, and helped a person instead of taking the piss.  I was getting to enjoy my reasonable fitness and was looking forward to beginning specialist training.  It was my first awakening that the Engineers were different from the Infantry, in fact they bordered on being human.

The first night at Brady Barracks deserves mentioning.  There were about 30 of us (I think) from Intake 139 that had been accepted for Combat Engineer training and we were crammed into quite a small barrack-room as our initial accommodation.  Living space was scarce at the Squadron in those days.  In fact our accommodation was almost right next to the HQ building and the tiny parade ground.

It must have been about 2 am when all hell broke loose in the barrack-room…..lights came on blinding us and the doors were thrown open.  Two Corporals bought us all to attention next to our beds……all of us in our underwear and some of us who slept in the nick standing stark bollock naked.  From out of the darkness an apparition appeared…..no rank or badges on his uniform…..the only distinct characteristic about the man was the black eye-patch he wore over his left (maybe right) eye.

He walked slowly up and down our barrack-room…….giving each of us an evil one-eyed glance and grin.

“They call me Little ‘itler”…….up to now he had said nothing and those were his first words.  I took it he meant Little Hitler, but being a Cockney he couldn’t pronounce his H’s bless him.

“For your sniveling, rotten sins you have been blessed with me as one of your instructors…….beware the man that crosses me because you will wish you were never born etc, etc, etc”………we were meant to be shitting ourselves I think although I was starting to get the feeling this was a wind-up of some kind.  Anyway I thought it best to play along with the game or I might suffer one-eyes consequences.  Little ‘itler continued his briefing to us…emphasising again the terrible fate that would befall us if we pissed him around during training or any other time for that matter.  Threats of being fucked-up so badly our whole family would burst out in tears comes to mind.

And then he was gone…..taking the two Corporals with him.  We found out the next day that this was in fact some sort of tradition.  The new intake that arrives gets “initiated” by the intake that is about to complete their National Service……..and some of the regular instructors take part for good measure.  All good fun.  I was quite happy with that and in fact “Little ‘itler” and I became great friends.  He was a regular Engineer Instructor and his name is definitely worth mentioning here……Vic Hydes……one of the good guys, a highly skilled instructor and fantastic man to work with.  We had some great times together and he got me out the crap a few times when I “forgot” to pay my Hi-Fi installment.  Vic, if you ever get to read this….I salute you and hope that you and the family are well!!

Just as a closer for this episode we got the outgoing intakes living quarters when they left about a week later……a much better arrangement with more space and nicer beds.

Our Combat Engineer (CEB 3) training was split into two phases, theory and practical.  All or most of the theory was carried out at Squadron HQ and consisted of the following subjects (if my memory serves me correctly): Demolitions, mine-warfare, improvised rafting and floatation, watermanship, field machines, knots and lashings, water supply and purification, bridge-building, field defences, obstacles, camouflage and concealment, roads and airfield, field geometry, survey, and a whole lot more Sapper stuff that I cannot recall right now.

I really want to get done and dusted with the training bollocks and get onto the real meat of my time as a soldier so forgive me if we move on to the practical phase of my Combat Engineer training in the next installment and be done with it.  I think you will find it interesting……I know I did.

It has been well recorded that the Rhodesian fighting man/woman were the finest counter-insurgency force in the world at the time and the training we received from day one was designed to ensure that this reputation was never sullied.  It was hard and relentless, both physically and mentally.  I must mention here that I have never been a small chap of politically correct weight.  Those who know me will understand what I mean.  I have had a lifelong battle with excess lard and this did not do me any favours during basic training.   I really suffered, as did many of my fellow trainees.

However I soon discovered that I had a high level of mental stamina and an above average walking endurance with extremely heavy loads.  This was to prove of great benefit to me in the future.

Walking anywhere was considered taboo during basic training and would immediately incur the wrath of our instructors, who appeared to take their greatest pleasure from grinding the less physically adept more than the rest.  There were three of them in A Company……and at the time were all evil men according to me.  I remember their names and faces to this day but I do not see any value to mention them here.  I fully understand they had a difficult  job to do but they did seem to wobble along that thin and somewhat blurry line between constructive battle competence/discipline training and sadistic bullying rather frequently.  Perhaps this was all part of the grand plan to make us survivors in combat…..I don’t know….. but apparently it worked as I am still here to tell the tale so I have forgiven them a long time ago and in some ways I probably owe them my life many times over.

Basic Training doctrine in the Rhodesian Army had one purpose……to train every recruit to be an infantry fighting platform as their primary function.  Even though many of us would later specialise in one of the many and diverse branches of the military machine, each and every one of us could therefore also form part of a fighting infantry section, or “stick” as we called them.  With this as the objective much of our time was spent carrying out weapon drills by day and night, days and days of musketry training on the range, section battle drills, bayonet fighting, grenade throwing, map-reading, bush-craft, and a myriad of other black arts and skills that we would need to see without being seen, and kill without being killed.

So between all the boot-polishing, beret shaping, uniform starching, parade ground work, bed-packs, barrack room inspections, guard duties, PT and vehicle debussing drills we actually did some interesting stuff too.

I am not going to spend much more time on the intricacies of Rhodesian Army basic training techniques.

One thing is for sure though and that is that I was extremely happy to have had my request for transfer after Phase One Basics to the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers approved.  The truth is that I did not see myself as an infantryman full-stop, and coming from an engineering background the Sappers seemed the way to go.  I have never regretted it to this day and my next installment will cover the 8 or so weeks that the Rhodesian Army spent turning me into a Combat Engineer.

Llewellyn Barracks
Llewellyn Barracks (Alan Roberts)
Llewellyn Barracks from 14,000 ft:

A) Main Entrance to Llewellyn

B) The parade ground: where many painful hours were spent

C) The sports ground: with rugby posts that we often had to run around during drill on the parade ground

D) The abandoned air strip: around which we had to run most mornings before breakfast

E) The rifle range: now abandoned….you can see the stop-butts just left of the “E”

F) Number Three Guard: where I also spent many painful hours

Passing-Out Parade-Depot, The Rhodesia Regiment
Passing-Out Parade-Depot, The Rhodesia Regiment