I can remember walking past palm trees and what looked like sea sand as we followed Don back down to wherever he had come from…..the Zambezi flowing smoothly on my right hand side….gurgling on its merry journey to the mighty Kariba Dam…..many miles away.  Where it crashed over the countless rocks it foamed and sprayed a fine mist……the wind blowing it into our hot and sweaty faces…..cooling and refreshing.

A radio crackled near to me and the 1 Indep stick leader answered with his call-sign.  He had a short and sharp conversation with someone on the other end consisting of “copied”, “affirmative”, “say again”…..and finally “roger out”.  He moved up closer to me and let me know that a recovery vehicle had arrived but was standing off some distance from the mine victim until I gave the all clear on the road.

Don had diverted us onto a path that left the dirt road and led along the river bank……and it was then we saw a couple of soldiers up ahead….on guard and highly alert.  They let Don through and we entered a place of carnage……and what was until a few hours ago an SAS temporary base.

All around us were bits and pieces of kit..neatly piled up as if waiting for collection…webbing, weapons, eating utensils..some damaged by gunfire…the stuff that soldiers carry….and shockingly, a heap of bloody sleeping bags and Rhodesian uniforms….now tattered and ripped apart…blood stains mingling with the camouflage pattern…riddled with bullet holes.  There was indeed a certain smell about the place…..a smell I would get to know well……the smell of blood.  Nothing else like it.  Clearly something bad had happened here….you could feel and see the despair in the faces of the few grim men that were there.  Cartridge cases that were not familiar lay scattered all around, the wrappings of first field dressings and used inter-venal drips, some with their tubes still attached littered the ground……the bits and pieces of medical kit that were the signature that some serious shit had gone down not too long ago.

Don took us into a shady part of the camp and sat us down.  It was the measure of the man that although he wore the coveted wings of perhaps the finest special forces unit in the world, he treated us as equals at this time.  He proceeded to brief us on the events of the past hours…..not in too much detail to endanger security, but enough for us to understand the background as to why we were there, and the seriousness of the situation.

Apparently the SAS were on an external operation in Zambia doing what they do and had been over there for some time.  On their return to Rhodesian soil they were well and truly knackered and formed a temporary base at Sidindi Island so that they could rest before being picked up and returned to their main base.  They ate and they slept.  They had arranged their sleeping positions in two  lines close to each other with a narrow path between the two.  A  guard was posted and the rest slept.  Sometime in the early hours of the next morning when one sleeps the deepest a group of terrorists entered the camp and walked down the path between the two rows of sleeping men and machine-gunned them mercilessly as they lay in their sleeping bags.  I do not recall if anyone was killed but there were some severe injuries received.  Those that could managed to fight the gooks off but the damage was done.  They were understandably devastated….but also professionals…..and immediately began the task of helping the injured and getting them out.  The blown up Bedford was also part of the reaction force coming to assist them.  These gooks who attacked were definitely not the normal run of the mill banditos……they were very clever…they knew there was only one road where help would come from and they had mined it with a successful hit…..a tactic that I would encounter on more than one occasion.  They had also clearly observed the SAS go into a temporary base and had waited patiently for their chance to strike……showing great restraint before attacking.

We drank tea and offered what help we could and made our way back up to the road…..all of us deep in thought……and a lot more switched on than when we first arrived.  If those who had so audaciously attacked the SAS camp with so much success were still around we had a problem.  However we completed our mission without incident or more mines on the raod and the recovery vehicle was able to come in and take the sad old girl away to fight another day.

It was time to return to Wankie……and the gunship was summoned by TR48 radio carried in the recovery vehicle.  It was late when we boarded and the pilot informed us he would not be taking us back that evening but rather to the South African Police base at Sidindi (or it could have been Mapeta?) where we were destined to be treated to some real South African hospitality….good food…steaks and boerewors and cold Castle beers…we even had coffee bought to us in bed by the Padre after he had read us all an evening prayer.

I hoped that he was also praying for all the SAS boys we had just left behind.

Sometime later stories about the Sidindi incident began to circulate..some of it obvious bullshit…but the most plausible one was that the sentry, being exhausted just like the rest of them, had fallen asleep at his post and the gooks had simply walked past him and into the camp.  I have no proof that this is the case but the importance of an effective guard system remained with me for the rest of my military career.  A few years on and in a different country I was to see first hand the result of a sentry falling asleep……except this time I was one of those on the receiving end.  The result might not be what you expected.

There was not a sound as we remained in all-round defence..the smell of AVTUR and dry dust hanging in the air..although early morning the sweat trickled between my hand and the pistol grip on my FN…..running through the worry lines on my palm….partly from heat and partly because I was shit scared at this point.  If a landmine had been laid on the road (and the sad looking Bedford RL just 50 meters away was objective evidence there had been) there could be gooks about and the last thing I wanted was to get taken out on my first real mission by a lucky shot from an AK……I can imagine the inscription on my gravestone….here lies FatFox9, Brave Sapper Killed In Action on his first mission without firing a shot.  RIP.

Mopani flies….the little fuckers were in my eyes…..when you killed them they let off an atrocious smell that attracted more of their buddies who attacked any orifice they could get into.  Anyone who hasn’t snorted Mopani Fly in the morning hasn’t lived.

I was not too sure what I was meant to do at this stage so I just acted clever and copied the 1 Indep infantry boys and continued to look grimly into the bush remembering my training…..look through cover….not at it..shape, shine, silhouette and all the other esses I have forgotten…problem was the bush was so frigging thick and your eyes were so full of Mopanis you couldn’t see through it so what now?  I was thirsty…throat dry and the fried eggs and bacon I had for breakfast were repeating in my throat….should have stuck to corn flakes with toast and mixed fruit jam.  I wanted to get my water bottle out of the webbing holder on my belt but was too shit scared to move so worked up some saliva in my dry mouth as an interim measure.

The 1 Indep stick leader decided we had stayed under cover long enough and came over to me….saying I could carry on and do what I had to do.  Just as I was about to stand up the stick leader hit the ground and told me to stay where I was.  Someone was walking up the road that ran down towards the Zambezi River!…..and he was white…..and in full Rhodesian camouflage..long trousers that we called denims and a shirt with the sleeves rolled down fully…in this heat..not shorts and T shirt!

Remember that up to now all we knew was that a vehicle had hit a mine and that I was there to clear 2 kilometres either side of the victim with the infantry providing protection while I was exposed on the road.  The vehicle was in front of me and the road which ran north-south, obviously also in front of me.  This was now a dangerous time for us…..we had no idea there were any additional troops working in this area let alone friendly forces….a recipe for a blue on blue disaster……change lever to fire.

The person approaching us advanced alone and without fear..his weapon carried easily and in a position that we could see he came in peace and was no threat to us.  We relaxed and safety catches went back to “S” with a metalic click….he stopped next to the Bedford and urged us to approach him.  He wore the rank of a Staff Sergeant….he also wore the coveted dark blue SAS Wings on his shoulder.  And thus next to a sick, sad looking and evil smelling old Bedford troop carrier I met Don Kenny….one of the legends of the Rhodesian War….at least in my eyes he was and I don’t give a shit what anyone else says.

He led us back down the road from the direction he had approached from……..I was soon to learn the real reason why I was there….and to a young Sapper on his first mission it was both a shocking and sad revelation that would have a significant impact on my future career as a professional soldier.

FatFox9 with MMD1 Mine Detector

FatFox9 with MMD1 Mine Detector (probably the same one I used at Sidindi)