Let me be clear.

I was never unlucky enough to be ambushed traveling through Ambush Alley in the Mavuradonhas, but I know quite a few people who were. These encounters ranged from ineffectual pot-shots being taken at Rhodesian Security Force convoys to intense firefights, sometimes in the hours of darkness.  We had people killed and injured going through the mountains.  It was a main personnel and logistic route to the North-East Border with Mozambique.  The issue with traversing Ambush Alley was the steeply angled incline of the road and this resulted in straining engines and overheating vehicles.  Stopping in an ambush killing-ground is a dodgy business indeed and not for the faint-hearted. To help vehicles get up to the summit of the pass, concrete had been laid on the road surface to help during the heavy rains that could hit the area. Additionally one side of the road was a sheer drop and the other went straight up and so close to the vehicles in some places you could touch the trees. Perfect ambush terrein and the gooks could not be faulted for choosing it as a killing-ground. The photo below will give you a good idea what the terrein and contours were like although it does not do the challenges on the ground justice. The road is clearly visible:

Mavuradonha Mountains

Here is a map which shows the roads we traveled to get through the mountains.  As you can see any route you chose to Mukumbura had to go through the mountains called Mavuradonha:

Mavuradonha

Ambush Alley was still a long way down the road though.  Before we got there we would be in for a treat at a place called Mount Darwin.  Something to look forward to.

I settled back in my seat, tightening the straps on my harness, and counted the little white distance markers next to the road to keep my mind active.

The hypnotic whine of the water-filled tyres on the tarmac and the side-to-side roll of the heavy Rodef Troop Carrying Vehicle (TCV) lulled one to sleep in a surprisingly short period of time. The sun blazed down on us, burning our arms and faces. The matt-painted metal bodywork of the vehicle was hot enough to fry an egg on. We were meant to wear our webbing while traveling in case of an emergency de-bus but the majority of us took it off to gain some comfort. It gets quite irritating having a water- bottle stuck in each of your kidneys for 400 clicks. It would still be a few years before we progressed far enough to have chest-webbing, similar to that worn by the gooks.

Here are the different types of webbing I wore in Rhodesia

Standard Rhodesian Army Webbing complete with FN bayonet frog and bayonet (and kidney bruising water-bottles plus other paraphernalia):

Webbing complete front

More practical Chest Webbing came a little later and is shown below:

17583

Thanks to Military Photos for the items shown above

Normally I would try to get the seat facing the near-side and up front next to the cab.  This had two advantages from my perspective.  Firstly if one fell asleep you could use the vehicle cab as a pillow and secondly if a person stood up to stretch their legs they had something to grab onto as the front roll-bar was right next to this position.  The cab was also a pretty good wind-deflector.  On the Rodef 45 and 75 versions, the passenger side of the cab had a turret at the top and one of the nicest places to be was standing on the softish passenger seat with your head and upper body outside the vehicle.  I had many a conversation with blokes at the back from this position and vice-versa.

One of the most irritating things that could happen to you on the back of a TCV was getting hot cigarette ash in your eye.  This could be your own ash or someone else’s.  Boredom was a big problem on these journeys and smoking seemed to help a lot so plenty of ash flying through the air.  Not good for the lungs or the eyes.  Most of us smoked Madison, one of local equivalents as we could not get the international brands.  Not a bad cigarette though.

Madison_south_african_version_toastead_premium_quality_ks_20_h_zimbabwe_south_africa Thanks to cigarettespedia.com

I must have looked like one of those nodding dogs on the back shelf of a ’65 Ford Cortina.  As the miles slipped by my head bobbed sleepily up and down.  I felt the vehicle driver change down, the revs climbed, brakes coming on and the vehicle slowed.  My head banged into the cab with the changed momentum and I was wide awake.  It was time for a break and driver change.  It couldn’t have come at a better time as I was bursting for a piss.

First half of 1974…..still in the Workshops…..but only just

It was around about this time that I discovered I had an extreme fear of heights and anything to do with ladders, scaffolding, or ropes that had to be climbed.  Previously I had worked at heights and although experiencing a feeling of being drawn to the edge of whatever I was on top of at the time I seemed to cope.  Suddenly that all changed and I began avoiding any task that involved taking my feet off the ground except to sit on a bar stool or get into bed .

I was to find that this phobia would haunt me many times in the years to come, but somehow I managed to defeat it through sheer single-mindedness to complete the mission or simply a sense of pride in front of my Muckers.

My last months before my National Service was due to begin were spent in the Diesel Shop (part of the Erecting Shop) where our diesel locomotives were repaired, serviced, and armoured-up against explosive devices placed on the tracks or a small arms ambush by the Gooks.  Many of these attacks occurred, especially down the Rutenga/Beit Bridge way.  The diesels were used in those areas where steam was not practical due to a lack of water for their ever thirsty boilers.  From my recollections I do not recall any steam locos being attacked by the Gooks…..they seemed to take great delight in shooting/blowing up our diesels though…….maybe because there was a lot of nice smoke and flames generated by the fuel firing up.

Working in the Diesel Shop was a kind of prestige job actually.  You didn’t just get posted to the Diesel Shop….oh no.  You had to graduate by serving time in the noisy-sooty-greasy-oily steam loco shop and dead meat wagon shop first.  I think that one of the reasons for this was that compared to other parts of the workshop complex the Diesel Shop was eerily semi-silent and clinical.  Sure there was a lot of noise and at times the strong smell of diesel fuel could be quite overpowering but nothing quite like the steam workshops.  It was like being in a different world all together.  It is worth mentioning that diesel locos also have cow-catchers and diesel fuel is inflammable so the old fire and burning meat scenario was extant.

Rhodesia Railways General Electric DE2 having a chat with a 15th Class Garrett

Rhodesia Railways DE2's in tandem-late 1950's

Rhodesia Railways DE2's in tandem-late 1950's

It was about this time we started to get involved with a strange device known as a Cougar.  The Cougar was designed to ride shotgun for sensitive freight loads and passenger trains.  I do not think they were very successful but a good try by the Rhodesians to save lives and property.

Cougar

Ocassionally we would get a real fuck-up arrive in the Diesel workshops……something that had resulted from a Garrett and a DE2 saying howzit to each other on the same piece of track.  Now its quite fine to greet one another if you are passing on different tracks.  However it is quite a different matter if you are travelling in opposite directions on the same track.  It normally results in blood and train-tickets being spread far and wide across the Rhodesian bushvelt with much wailing and screaming.  Unfortunately people normally also die in this type of incident.  Not very nice at all and blokes like me would end up cutting the wrecked iron horses into moveable bits for transportation to the the knackers yard.  The picture below shows a Garrett 15th Class and a DE2 having a close encounter that resulted in severe damage and injury.

15th Class saying howzit to a DE2

15th Class saying howzit to a DE2

It would soon be time for me to move on and there were a number of things that needed to be done before I took a few weeks off prior to National Service.  There was equipment to be handed in, documents to sign, wills to be made out, and a place was needed to store my few belongings.  All in all I was not looking forward to leaving my little room in the Single Quarters after all.  It had become my comfort zone in more ways than one.  There were the farewells to Joe and Bella…..and expending the last of my meal coupons.  I never seemed to have much cash so there were no lavish farewells.  Just a few beers with boys, handshakes, sincere farewells, and instructions to look after myself.

On my last day at work I went over to see Mr Tyzack, said goodbye and shook his hand.  He was such a nice person, always giving encouragement at just the right time.  He told me the time would fly and I would be back before I knew it.  He was right about time flying, but as far as coming back he couldnt have been more wrong.

I walked out of the welding shop and up to the main gate, passed the steam locos being prepped for stripping, and short-cutted through the fitting shop with its spinning lathes and milling machines.  I was concious of eyes on me as I passed by and I wondered if I would ever see this place or any of these people again.

At the main gate I took my clock-card out of the holder and punched myself out.  I looked up at the sky…….it was starting to rain.