Mukumbura: Learning The Ropes (Part 1)

January 6, 2014

Life at Mukumbura could be a repetitive affair.  Our daily routine went something like this:

First Light: Reveille and Stand-to (see previous post for details).

A picture of typical first light in the bush……do not be taken in by the serenity.  This was a dangerous time of day. (Wild Eye)

zambezi_sunrise_1_2012_Wild Eye Photography

Shower/Shave: Hot water supplied by a heating “donkey”.  This was an oil-drum affair that got its heat from a wood fire underneath.  Water fed by gravity and worked very well.  Luxury really considering where we were.

Here is a typical “donkey” (


Breakfast: This would be a hearty ensemble of the good old pucker English type breakfast.  Porridge, cereals, eggs, bacon, fried tomato, baked beans, toast, butter/jam, sauces, tea and coffee.  There was always enough to eat except when we were getting near to rat-run day (ration run day).  This was indeed the most important meal for us and we enjoyed it immensely.  Most of us packed an egg and bacon sandwich for tea.

Depart for the minefield: The drive to the minefield (Cordon Sanitaire) was in a convoy consisting of personnel and mine/equipment carrying cargo vehicles (often the same vehicle which was much against the explosive regulations).  The journey could take anything from 30 minutes to some hours depending on how far we were working from the camp.  Obviously every day we traveled further as the minefield progressed, and thus our deployment time from the camp to work area was ever-increasing.

Lay mines: I will discuss in detail shortly.

Return to camp: Self explanatory.

Unload vehicles: Self explanatory.

Late lunch: This was great.  T-Bone steaks, eggs, chips, and pudding were a common feed for lunch or supper.  One thing the army could do was provide good meat to the men in the field and I am sure many of you who served will agree with me.  Some of these T-Bones were huge and we all looked forward to them with great delight.

Prepare mines for next day.  Load vehicles.

To save time we partly prepared our mines for the next days laying after lunch.  This would take the form of inserting booster charges but not removing any safety devices or inserting detonators.  The problem we had with some mines was that the boosters and detonators were combined and thus only the safety devices were keeping the mines in a neutral state (meaning that all elements are in place for the device to fire but the safety pin/plate is still to be removed).  In other mines the detonators were integral to the mine and this was also a dodgy situation.  Tragically, we were to lose 7 of our Sappers at Victoria Falls in a multi-mine uncontrolled detonation with this type of device.  Thinking back this pre-preparation was not always ideal or safe but time was the enemy and it was not possible to prepare 3,000 mines each morning before deploying and it needed to be done the day before.  Yes, the figure is correct, 3,000 mines per day was our normal laying target for Mukumbura, at least when I was there.

It is not the intent of this blog to teach the reader the mechanics of how mines work but I will be describing some of the items we used in some detail as part of follow-on posts as without this the dangers to us as the mine-layers cannot be fully understood.

Last Light: Stand-to (see previous post).

Again, don’t be fooled by the serenity.  These were dangerous times and the shadows played games with a mans eyes (


Supper: Evening meals could be a nice curry or thick beef stew with rice or mashed potatoes.  Whatever it was it kept ones tummy full.  Again the quality would diminish as we got closer to rat-run day.  It was easy to know when rations were due by the amount of bluish-green mould on the bread…….didn’t taste too bad if it was toasted and smothered in similarly decaying cheese though.

Leisure Time Utilisation:  This was just a fancy army term for socialising with your mates and enjoying the 2-beer limit we had at Mukumbura.  If you have never drunk out of a beer bottle that has been stored with meat that is going off in the fridge you have never lived.  Just thinking about it makes me all nostalgic.  There were dart boards, chess boards, checker boards, cards and dominoes available for us to while away the hours.  A lot of us used this time to simply write letters home and relax in preparation for the next days work.  A man also needed his solitude and quiet time.

Shower and sleep: As for Shower/Shave above.

In the upcoming posts we will look at the types of mines we used throughout Cordon Sanitaire operations country-wide as well as the main mine-laying methodology.

2 Responses to “Mukumbura: Learning The Ropes (Part 1)”

  1. Michelle said

    I’m a psychology student Interested in doing research on the South African veterans. I can fully relate to the difficulty in finding information and journals concerning data etc. as South African databases are not kept up to date.
    Please contact me

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: