Few soldiers have the occasion to be given an order that goes so much against the grain that there is no option but to refuse to execute it.  Most military men I have known had strong principles and abided by the Geneva Convention and the laid down Rules of Engagement of the day.  Unfortunately things can get confused on operations and in the heat of the moment, or post-contact when the adrenalin is still flowing through the veins like a burning fire, the rules can be intentionally or unintentionally broken.  To a certain degree, and speaking from my own experience it is easy to understand why these breaches take place.  What I cannot understand is when men use war to kill, bully and intimidate just because they can.

Sadly I had occasion to refuse an order that under the circumstances I believed then, and still believe to this day was unlawful.  I would like to share this story with you……a story of a humble African farmer and his family living in the harsh bush, struggling for survival in a war-torn country where they were mere pawns manipulated to serve whichever of the protagonists threatened them the most.  This is one of those missions where it would not be prudent of me to mention the names of any of the other personnel who took part, or the location where the event took place.  It is one of those experiences a man never forgets, and nor should he.

I was still on indefinite call-up and had been spending a few days at home when the call came in.  I was instructed to report to a specific point in the Bulawayo city centre the following evening.  No uniform or FN’s and the mission would be carried out in civilian dress.  To me that meant jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and a faded German Army jacket from the surplus store.  Veldskoens were the obvious footwear of choice.

On arrival at the RV point the next evening I was picked up by a civilian Land-Rover driven by someone I did not know.  I recognised the front-seat passenger who we will call Chris and we exchanged greetings.  He was a Senior NCO who I had not worked with before but had seen around the Squadron HQ on occasions.  As we got underway to wherever we were going, he reached back and handed me a Browning 9mm High Power auto, assuring me the weapon was safe.  Instinctively I removed the magazine, made sure the chamber was empty and replaced the magazine anyway.  Placing the weapon on safe I slipped it into one of the large pockets on my jacket.

We travelled in silence except for one remark from the driver informing me I would be briefed later.  He made no attempt to introduce himself but I guessed he was BSAP Special Branch.  I could smell them by now.

We drove West, leaving the lights of Bulawayo behind us.  It was suddenly very dark, the only light coming from the candle-like head-lamps of the Land-Rover.  One of the beams was way out of alignment and aimed at the top of the trees to our left.

We had been driving for about an hour when the lights of a small town came into view.  I figured this to be Figtree.  The driver slowed as we approached the town limits and continued on to what seemed the main business centre.  The familiar blue light that glowed outside police stations in Rhodesia was just ahead of us and we stopped in one of the reserved parking spaces outside.  Time to find out what this was all about.

We were sitting in a smoke-filled office.  Coffee and cheese sandwiches wrapped in tin-foil were offered and accepted.  A large man smoking a pipe sat behind a scarred desk, a map of what was probably the area of responsibility hung on the wall behind him, covered by clear plastic.  Different coloured map-pins were dotted here and there and a legend at the bottom indicated what they represented.  He too was dressed in civilian clothes and was definitely not from the uniform branch.  Again no names were offered.

A quick briefing took place.  Apparently there was a good indication that one of the locals living in the area was a gook sympathiser.  We would be taken as close as possible to the suspects kraal and dropped off, from where we would approach the kraal, get the suspect out of his hut and interrogate him for information.  What I did not understand was that only the Senior NCO and I would make the final approach to the kraal while Special Branch would provide covering fire if required.  We would move just after midnight and as it was still a few hours away, I found myself somewhere to catch some sleep and dozed off.

In the early hours of the morning it was bitterly cold and I was thankful for the jacket I had.  We had been dropped off about 2 kilometers from the kraal.  This time there were more people in the team.  Uniformed police armed with FN’s had joined up with us as fire-support if needed.

The Senior NCO and I made sure we knew where we were going and we set off towards the kraal.  The back-up group would follow us at a safe distance and move into a position 200 meters from the kraal and wait for us to return.  As we walked towards the target I was beginning to think more and more about what the fuck this had to do with Combat Engineers.  A bunch of policemen were going to sit around while two Sappers went into a possible killing-ground, dragged someone out of bed they never knew, and make use any method necessary to get him to tell them something he may know nothing about.  To be entirely honest, I was beginning to get a bad feeling about this whole mission.  Possibly AK’s against 9mm pistols.  Talk about taking a knife to a gunfight!

We were getting close now, the smell of burnt wood stronger.

And then the dogs started to bark and a shot went off behind us.

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:



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