The Fly-Men of Cordon Sanitaire

January 10, 2014

Cordon Sanitaire Operations: Rhodesia-Wide

Before I go any further I want to mention some very special people, namely the Tsetse Fly Control crews who normally based up with us.

I had initially thought of including them in the previous post but I feel so strongly about the work these individuals carried out concurrent to our mine-laying operations that I have decided it would be an unforgivable injustice to water-down their sterling contribution to our work and decided to dedicate an entire post to them.

They deserve it.

The Tsetse Fly Teams (North Eastern Border Game Fence or NEBGF crews for Mukumbura operations) accompanied us to the Cordon on most days. These civilian elements were responsible for the construction/maintenance of the fences on the home and enemy sides of the minefield and normally consisted of a manager (Tsetse-Fly Officer) supported by a number of labourers working for him.  These teams needed to stay ahead of us at all times.  If there were no fences we could not lay mines.  It was as simple as that (unless we were carrying out a dodgy operation that was non-Cordon related.  Will discuss further down the line).  They were very good at their job, normally way ahead of us which was good in some ways, but a disadvantage for them at others.  The trick was to keep them within our protective boundary at all times as if they got too far ahead of us they could become too isolated and attacked by the gooks as indeed they were were on some occasions.  Although they were armed with the trusty 7,62 x 51 FN Rifle, it was only the single weapon that the Tsetse-Fly Officer carried that was available for the entire team.  Not very good odds when attacked by 5, 6 or maybe more gooks with evil intentions.  The fight would be very one-sided.

So what exactly is this Tstetse-Fly thing all about?  Have you ever heard of Sleeping-Sickness or Trypanosomiasis?  It is a tropical disease caused by parasitic protozoans (trypanosomes) which are transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly.  It causes fever, chills, pain in the limbs, and anaemia, and eventually affects the nervous system causing extreme lethargy and death.

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_trypanosomiasis.

The Tsetse-Fly is one of the root-causes of Africa’s poverty.  No other region of the world suffers the same animal health problems as the tsetse fly imposes on Africa.  The Tsetse-Fly thrives in an environment where there are large populations of wildlife providing an unlimited and year-round supply of essential mammalian blood on which they must feed to survive and reproduce.  There was an abundance of both game and cattle in the areas we worked in and the main idea of the fences being constructed by the Tsetse-Fly crews was to stop the migration of host animals from one area to the next.  It was quite a clever idea to use these fences as minefield perimeters as well.  It is pertinent to mention here that in some areas of Cordon Sanitaire operations the fences were  not necessarily there for Tsetse-Fly Control, but primarily as minefield fences.

Photos of the fences will be shown in later posts.

This is a Tsetse-Fly.  A nasty piece of work:

Tsetse-fly

This map shows the extent of the Tstetse-Fly problem in 1999 (Joe McDaniel-Africa Travel Diary):

tsetse_map500x448

Our NEBGF comrades (affectionately known as “The Fly-Men”) were well-loved and tremendously respected.  I have many fond memories of working with them (some of them joined the Sappers and vice-versa).  They also had permission to shoot game for the pot which was very useful and I recall eating Ron Levy’s kudu biltong and massive steaks many times at Deka Engineer Base which I commanded for some time.

Another memorable incident where I was present was when Keith “Prodder” Byng opened fire with his FN in his tent.  Apparently he had been surprised by a cobra that had taken up residence next to his bed and then slithered behind a deep-freeze.  Needless to say all hell broke loose as no-one knew where the firing was coming from at first.  Interesting days indeed!  Sadly Keith passed away some time back.  Rest In Peace Brother.

Here is a photo of Keith (right) and another Fly-Man, Stingray Reynolds.  Note the improvised hut made out of anti-personnel mine boxes and tarpaulin (John Arkley):

MARK0001b

Mostly forgotten it is sad that not much has been written about these brave souls and this small acknowledgment from me is my way of granting them their place in the history of the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers.  Without them we could not have done our work on Cordon Sanitaire. They were our family and our Brothers, sharing everyday hardships and dangers with us.

I salute them all and they will never be forgotten. Not by me in any case.

Here is a typical Tsetse-Fly Camp circa 1967 at Urungwe (non-Cordon Sanitaire and added to illustrate the environment).  Note the soft-skinned Land Rover.  These would later be changed to mine-resistant versions (Joe McDaniel-Africa Travel Diary):

005 Urungwe Tsetse Camp July67

And here is another (Joe McDaniel-Africa Travel Diary):

007 Camp shower

Here is a mine-resistant Land-Rover-note the roll-bars and weapon mount.  They had armour-plate inserts in key positions as well. (Tom King at the wheel, taken c. 1977-8 near Chipinga: New Rhodesian)

Mine resistant landrover_New Rhodesian

Here are some other vehicles used by amoung others, the Fly-Men.  Left to right a Puma, Isuzu soft-skin, and another mine-resistant Land-Rover.  These shown below in fact are Intaf (Internal Affairs) vehicles. (Nick Baalbergen):

Isuzu soft-skinned_Nick Baalbergen

3 Responses to “The Fly-Men of Cordon Sanitaire”

  1. Basil Preston said

    I knew Ron Levy very well. I was with Standard Bank Beit Bridge at the time and he was in the BSAP. He was in charge of the mess, (single quarters for the cops) and I moved in with them. He was full of real Rhodesian spirit indeed. I later bumped into him when I was with the Deka mine-field group (1978!!?). He had left the cops by then and was with the Tsetse fly people. I heard that he passed away from malaria he contracted during his fly days. A decent chap, so were all the other cops he served with, Reg Dawson, Ralph Hays and Charles Glass, (not the castle chap) and a couple more whose names I forget now

  2. Mark Bowler said

    Thanks for the great blog. I also knew Ron Levy well, I worked together with him in Tsestse Control in 1984/85. A really great fellow. I am sad to hear his passing, I have often wondered what had become of him, so just read on this site that he has died. We had a base at Wadze, south of Matusadona for two aerial spraying seasons, Ron organised the whole camp, he was an expert and I still remember the excellent meals we sat down to. Great memories.

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