S TROOP (RHODESIAN CORPS OF ENGINEERS): PREAMBLE TO OPERATION 1

November 15, 2015

The blue arc was mesmerising…….the smoke from the melting flux on the electrode filling my senses.  I was once again in my own world, listening to the gleeful crackling of electricity as I carefully married the two pieces of steel together, gritting my teeth when an errant spark found its way inside my overalls.

Those of you that have welded for long periods in claustrophobic spaces will know the feeling…….isolation and some level of apprehension of not knowing what was happening outside of your private bit of space.  You could hear the noises of a heavy workshop all around you but never really knew if they were about to impact your domain.  In many ways you had to trust the men around you.

Welder

What I found really annoying was when some clever asshole gave me a shove to get my attention while I was doing my very best to put down the perfect bead of molten metal.  That’s exactly what happened next and I swore into my welding helmet.  I broke the arc, executed a well-practiced 180 pirouette while lifting my visor, and ensured the red-hot tip of the electrode made contact with clever assholes skin.  The resulting smell of burning flesh and a curse indicated I had been successful.

I made a half-hearted apology to the man with a burnt arm as he informed me sullenly that Titch Tyzack, the Welding Foreman, wanted to see me.  As I made my way across the dozens of railway lines, inspection pits and other ambush spots that inhabit a major railway repair workshop floor, I wondered what my sins was this time.  I couldn’t think of anything.

As I remember him, Titch Tyzack was a true gentleman.  He was not a very big man, had a good heart and always treated me fairly no matter what I had done.  As I climbed the stairs to his office in the Welding Shop I decided that while I was here I may as well ask him for some of the new oxy-acetyline guages I had seen floating around.  Mine were knackered and this was an opportunity to get some shiny new kit.

As it was I would not be needing any welding kit for quite a while.

Titch had called me over to let me know I was to report to Brady Barracks that evening for a briefing and that he was giving me the rest of the day off to sort my things out.  He knew more but wasn’t saying anything else.  Without any further ado I went back to my workplace, and told my assistant to switch off all the kit and lock everything away.

The last thing to do before leaving was to let my journeyman know I was on my way.  The two of us sat down outside of the Wagon Shop, next to the locomotive graveyard and had a smoke and cup of tea.   It was a sad, lonely place and somehow I wanted to be on my way as quickly as I could.

Rhodesia Railways locomotive graveyard, Bulawayo

Rhodesia Railways locomotive graveyard, Bulawayo

There was not much more to say…..I stood up indicating I was ready to go.  We shook hands, said our goodbyes and I was on my way.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:

http://www.sasappers.net/forum/index.php

Copyright

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

6 Responses to “S TROOP (RHODESIAN CORPS OF ENGINEERS): PREAMBLE TO OPERATION 1”

  1. sjstevens5 said

    How was the rail infrastructure during the war? Were you all able to keep it serviceable despite the sanctions?

    • fatfox9 said

      The infrastructure was fine Samuel. We had our problems but even managed to get brand new diesel locos past the blocade. Rhodesians could improvise with anything. And sanctions only made us stronger. Rail lines were blown up and locos ambushed for sure but we lived with it and repaired where we could. A lot of canibalisation took place but also remember our main iron horse asset was the steam locomotive. We had plenty of spares and manufactured/refurbished many parts. I would also recommend you have a look at the books available on the Rhodesian Bush War. There is much to be found there. Have a look at this link too: http://www.rhodesiansoldier.com/hist-bush-war-railway-security.html

  2. Chris, California said

    As a kid in high school I often took to the track from Bulawayo to Salisbury while stopping in Gwelo. On Friday evening our high school boys sports teams would enter the station expecting the train to depart at 10 pm. The next morning we arrived at our destination at about 7am. Then we would do it all again on Saturday evening to return home.
    I shan’t forget the milk stops along the way. The train stopped so some guys could put milk urns on the train.
    We always rode 2nd class and always paid the attendant to lay out a bedroll for us. They were very good at that and cheerful people. I never saw a grumpy attendant.
    On one occasion, while the train was moving quite quickly, one of my class mates climbed out of the window because he wanted to access the compartment next door. Fortunately the window in the next compartment was open and he stirred up a lot of trouble with the younger boys.
    I never understood why the platforms in Bulawayo and Salisbury were so long. But, I remember the man sitting on the edge of the platform as the train rolled slowly to a stop. In one hand he held a very long shaft with a hammer attached which he used to tap every wheel as it rolled by. In the other hand another very long pole with a paint brush attached. If he didn’t like the sound of the wheel he would quickly paint a yellow mark indicating that the wheel needed attention.
    Looking back, it seemed to me that train was an excellent target for an attack, but I don’t believe it was ever attacked.

    One more thing, in the previous post there is mention of brand new diesel locos getting through the blockade: Recall showing up at Air Rhodesia on morning for my daily shift and there on the apron were three Boeing 720 aircraft. (That is correct, 720)

    I am looking forward to the next blog. What happened to S troop?

    • fatfox9 said

      Thanks for this Chris. Your recollections are highly appreciated and I too remember a few brave souls moving from compartment to compartment while the train was in full cry and belting down the tracks. How no one was hurt I will never know. You are quite right. The aircraft were Boeing 720’s. S Troop exploits will continue soon as I am under pressure from a number of you to get something uploaded. Have a great Christmas and New Year and thanks again for taking the journey with me.

  3. Harry said

    fatfox9 .. I’ve been reading parts of your blog, and have deciphered that steam locomotives were common in parts of Rhod/Zim during the 60s & 70s. But I never saw a single one while living in Rusape and Salisbury during those decades.
    But wait… when I come to think of it, as a five-year-old, I remember being taken to a place some miles out of Rusape on the Rusape to Inyanga road where I vaguely remember seeing a steam locomotive. Of course, there was never a rail line from Rusape to Inyanga (there still isn’t one), so that memory baffles me. I think the place where I saw this locomotive was the site of a mine, where a steam locomotive was in service on temporary rail tracks. Where and what was this place where I saw this steam locomotive where no rail line went? That was the one and only steam locomotive I ever saw (in real life) while living in Rhod/Zim. If anyone can answer this, they will have revealed something I’ve never been able to work out. — Thanks for a great blog!

    *PS I remember the place being “some miles” out of Rusape (and not tens of miles), and I also remember that the place was somewhere in the direction of Inyanga, from Rusape, because I had been left in the care of one of my father’s employees, a native African, with whom I walked part of the way, and was carried part of the way, along with some of his friends.

    • fatfox9 said

      Thanks for the great comment Harry. I will do my very best to get an answer to your very interesting question. However the loco could have been owned by the mine and used on a private track.
      I have some additional information Harry. Reply 1. Probably Dorowa minerals, the only biggish mine in that area. Reply 2. I lived in Rusape during the 60s and 70s and never came across or heard of a steam loco in the area other than those that ran on the Umtali to Salisbury line a decade earlier. Tobacco farmers in the area used vertical and horizontal steam boilers as part of the tobacco curing process, as I did on a farm just outside Rusape on the Salisbury road.
      Hope that helps a bit, not very difinitive though.

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