Getting to Mukumbura was a pain in the arse……literally. If you have had the opportunity to sit on the steel benches in the back of a Bedford RL for 400 clicks you will understand exactly what I mean. Your arse goes numb and so does your scrotum for some reason. I have even had pins and needles in my dick during these trips, loosing all sensation and not knowing if it was still an appendage to my body. Here is a picture of a Bedford RL:

Bedford RL

Bedford RL

Secondly, and more irritating than numb-nuts was the fact we had to deploy through Salisbury. This involved having to accept the hospitality of either 2 or 3 Engineer Squadron (Rhodesian Corps of Engineers). These units were based at either King George the Sixth Barracks (KGVI), or Cranborne Barracks (also home of the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI)). It seemed to many of us from 1 Engineer Squadron (Brady Barracks, Bulawayo), that the Salisbury Squadrons had an air of superiority about them. This was probably a result of Engineer Directorate also being in Salisbury. I cannot say that I enjoyed any of my visits to these units and the sooner we had done what we had to do there and got on our way the better. Having said all of that there were some good men in the Salisbury Squadrons and I made a number of close friends from these units during my 7 years in the Rhodesian Army. Here is a picture of the entrance to Cranborne Barracks:

cranborne Barracksfront gate

Our normal stop over was about 2 or three days and during this time we would do retraining, load up any logistics that needed to get to Mukumbura (including anti-personnel mines), and get pissed in the many watering holes in Salisbury. One of these pubs was La Coq D’or which the RLI considered to be their personal domain and woe betide any other Unit that encroached on their territory. There have been a number of memorable punch ups there. Here is a picture of the place (courtesy of New Rhodesian Website):

5385561975_99d656b981

And a menu cover from way back when:

Le Coq D'Or Ad 1953

All good things come to an end however and we had to move on. We had a mission after all…..to lay mines and stop the gooks getting into Rhodesia. We climbed up into the Bedford’s, and with the stench of exhaust fumes polluting the air and stinging our eyes we were off. Wrapped up against the cold in my prickly grey army issue blanket I could still taste the bacon, eggs and coffee we had for breakfast as I settled in for another ball-numbing journey.

On-board Cyclone 7 Gunship………outbound to Sidindi area

The pilot tested and released the brakes on the Alo gunship and we slowly taxied down the runway at FAF1……I was on the back seat….a simple hard bench that could fold up when the chopper was in the casevac role.  On either side of me was an infantryman from 1 Indep.  The infantry section or “stick” leader sat in a rearwards facing seat next to the pilot.  This seat had an olive green cushion for your arse and the seat was armour-plated all round so that whoever sat in it never had his balls shot off by gooks firing from below.

Another troopie sat in the door opening, a position I was later to claim as my own on many chopper rides.  There is something pretty fascinating about sitting in a chopper door when the pilot hits a hard port or starboard roll and you literally hang out the machine but cannot fall…centrifugal force apparently….those of you who have experienced this will know what I am talking about.  The door gunner was a serious looking fellow who had a flying helmet on that had wires coming out of it that plugged into sockets on the bulkhead..these were his umbilical cord to the pilot….they spoke constantly without a sound coming our way.  The weapon on these gunships was the Belgium made 7,62 MAG (Metrallieur a Gas) mounted as twins on a swivel arrangement giving traverse and elevation movement.  There was also an optical sight on these weapons.  Ammunition was fed into from two ammo boxes attached to the gun mounting. 

This was my first chopper ride and as you all know I am shit scared of heights.  My arse was nipping at the thought of the lift off and me just inches from the open door….I didn’t know about the centrifugal force theory at this stage.

I watched the pilot closely…..how he gently pumped his feet on the pedals as we taxied…..and how he flicked mysterious buttons on the rather impressive dashboard that had red and green lights on it.  His left hand had been continuously holding what looked like a car handbrake between the seats and as I watched he slowly lifted this device and the chopper left the ground and began to gently gain height….I learned later this handbrake thing was called the “collective” and had something quite important to do with the up and down activity of all choppers.  Actually if this device broke the chopper was fucked and all aboard in severe shit.

As we climbed I watched as the runway fell away and the buildings below became smaller and smaller…..the cars on the roads looking like the Dinkies I had played with in the sand as a child…..as the pilot swung the machine to port we headed east…..into the rising sun…..and into my first taste of what this war was all about.


1974……Brady Barracks

Time to find out where we were getting posted to.

Rock and Roll was over and we had all returned to the Squadron HQ at Brady Barracks (alias Headquarters 1 Brigade).  The Squadron HQ was a rather dilapidated collection of buildings not too far from the Brigades Warrant Officers and Sergeants Mess, which meant nothing to me but is worth mentioning.  Inside the HQ it always smelt of paper and stationery and chemicals used for the Gestetner roneo machine.  The ones that had some kind of red waxy paper to type on. This specific machine was hand operated and there was always someone there cranking the big black handle on the side that was the trigger to pick up paper, print, and spew out paper the other side.  It only printed on newsprint or at least that’s the quality we got with our precis.  In those days this was a very serious piece of kit.

Anyway I am getting side-tracked.

I had been informed that my first posting was going to be to a place called Wankie (yes there were some Wankers there)…..up the Victoria Falls road to an outfit named 1 Independent Company, Rhodesia Regiment (1 Indep Coy RR).  I was a little disappointed at first as all my mates or most of them anyway were going to Mukumbura in the North-Eastern border area to lay mines on Cordon Sanitaire.  I shouldn’t have worried for two reasons.  Firstly I would get more than enough tours to various parts of the Cordon, and secondly it was not too bad at 1 Indep once I got used to arrogant Infantry Officers who had more domestic scandals surrounding them than I care to remember.  It was really bad there at one stage and the extramarital shagging that went on in the background was the stuff that legends were made of.  Extramarital shagging is fine but not in front of the troops…….and no effort was made to be discrete.  One of these people doing the shagging actually had the temerity to call me a dude one day because he had sent me and my crew out as a stop group without the opportunity to get fully prepared…….knobber.

My specific job-title was “Mine-Standby”,a  really strange coincidence seeing that 1 Indep was based inside an old mine compound in those days.  Wankie was one of the biggest collieries in the world at the time and the army had taken over one of the disused compounds.  Dozens of little cottages……better than tents that’s for sure.  As the job title implied my mission was to stand-by and wait for a landmine to go off somewhere.  I would then be flown out by chopper to sweep the road 2 kilometers either side of whatever or whoever the victim was in case the evil gooks had laid additional mines…..a common tactic.

It was about this time (and before my first deployment) that I realised that our Squadron Quarter Master was a rather nasty piece of work and a tosser to boot.  He was a bully who seemed to think that everything in the store belonged to him and that all of the kit belonged on the shelf so he could show it off to the Squadron Commander when he was brown-nosing the boss.  There is no place in the field for these possessions of his either.  If one of us asked for a replacement first field dressing we were asked for the old one.  I could name this individual but I wont.  He knows who he is…..an infantry officer, not even a Sapper.  And I really hope he reads this because by now he realises that we only saluted his rank and not him.  There was actually talk of fragging him amoungst us……hope that woke him up.   The other ranks in the stores were OK but he needed shooting.  The only time I saw him in the bush was to come and count knives and forks……I jest not with you.  Woe betide the Troop Sergeant who was a fork down on his camp inventory when the Major came calling.  This was tantamount to treason and equaled the loss of the entire vehicle fleet of the Rhodesian Engineer Corps……including all the Pookies!!  I saw his name on an e-mail distribution list the other day so he survived the war staying out the combat zone……brave bugger you have to be to survive in the stores.  I think he was impotent too.

Anyway enough slagging off the officers for now……but to be honest some of them really deserve it as you will find out later.

And now it was time to draw my weapon and first-line ammo, pack my kit, and depart on some of the greatest adventures of my life.

 

A much thinner FatFox9 testing the MMD1...1974 Wankie

A much thinner FatFox9 testing the MMD1...1974 Wankie

 

1974…..Octoberish

Once we had finished our theory phase of training it was time to get out into the field and find out exactly what we had taken on board.

Our explosives training was carried out at Khodwayo Bombing Range and this had been completed earlier on.  That had been extremely interesting and we had been taught a variety of demolition skills……steel cutting charges, destruction of landmines and other unexploded ordnance, cratering charges using camouflet sets which had a strange device called a “monkey” that weighed a ton, laying out of detonating cord ringmains and electrical ringmains, and most importantly explosive safety regulations.

There was no buggering about at Khodwayo.  The training was presented in a professional way and there was no running or stress situations.  This was serious stuff and our first exposure to things that would literally blow your head off if not treated with respect.  The instructors understood this and adapted their methods of instruction accordingly.  All in all one of the best phases of my training and probably the single most important subject I still use to this day in my chosen profession.

After demolition training it was back to Brady Barracks, unload the Bedfords of all the demolition kit, reload them with all sorts of other weird and wonderful Sapper stuff, most of which was bloody heavy and/or sharp,  and we were off to Mzingwane Dam……and this was really going to be fun.

Mzingwane dam

Mzingwane dam

It has been well recorded that the Rhodesian fighting man/woman were the finest counter-insurgency force in the world at the time and the training we received from day one was designed to ensure that this reputation was never sullied.  It was hard and relentless, both physically and mentally.  I must mention here that I have never been a small chap of politically correct weight.  Those who know me will understand what I mean.  I have had a lifelong battle with excess lard and this did not do me any favours during basic training.   I really suffered, as did many of my fellow trainees.

However I soon discovered that I had a high level of mental stamina and an above average walking endurance with extremely heavy loads.  This was to prove of great benefit to me in the future.

Walking anywhere was considered taboo during basic training and would immediately incur the wrath of our instructors, who appeared to take their greatest pleasure from grinding the less physically adept more than the rest.  There were three of them in A Company……and at the time were all evil men according to me.  I remember their names and faces to this day but I do not see any value to mention them here.  I fully understand they had a difficult  job to do but they did seem to wobble along that thin and somewhat blurry line between constructive battle competence/discipline training and sadistic bullying rather frequently.  Perhaps this was all part of the grand plan to make us survivors in combat…..I don’t know….. but apparently it worked as I am still here to tell the tale so I have forgiven them a long time ago and in some ways I probably owe them my life many times over.

Basic Training doctrine in the Rhodesian Army had one purpose……to train every recruit to be an infantry fighting platform as their primary function.  Even though many of us would later specialise in one of the many and diverse branches of the military machine, each and every one of us could therefore also form part of a fighting infantry section, or “stick” as we called them.  With this as the objective much of our time was spent carrying out weapon drills by day and night, days and days of musketry training on the range, section battle drills, bayonet fighting, grenade throwing, map-reading, bush-craft, and a myriad of other black arts and skills that we would need to see without being seen, and kill without being killed.

So between all the boot-polishing, beret shaping, uniform starching, parade ground work, bed-packs, barrack room inspections, guard duties, PT and vehicle debussing drills we actually did some interesting stuff too.

I am not going to spend much more time on the intricacies of Rhodesian Army basic training techniques.

One thing is for sure though and that is that I was extremely happy to have had my request for transfer after Phase One Basics to the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers approved.  The truth is that I did not see myself as an infantryman full-stop, and coming from an engineering background the Sappers seemed the way to go.  I have never regretted it to this day and my next installment will cover the 8 or so weeks that the Rhodesian Army spent turning me into a Combat Engineer.

Llewellyn Barracks
Llewellyn Barracks (Alan Roberts)
Llewellyn Barracks from 14,000 ft:

A) Main Entrance to Llewellyn

B) The parade ground: where many painful hours were spent

C) The sports ground: with rugby posts that we often had to run around during drill on the parade ground

D) The abandoned air strip: around which we had to run most mornings before breakfast

E) The rifle range: now abandoned….you can see the stop-butts just left of the “E”

F) Number Three Guard: where I also spent many painful hours

Passing-Out Parade-Depot, The Rhodesia Regiment
Passing-Out Parade-Depot, The Rhodesia Regiment

Falling-In

February 7, 2010

6-6-1974

The evil smelling little Renault 4 taxi dropped me off at the main bus-stop next to the car-park behind the Bulawayo City Hall….our mustering point.  There were a few sad-looking individuals there already, many of them saying their goodbyes to family and friends.

We were mostly eager to get on our way, away from the city.  Wanted to get it all over with so we could go home again.

They had come to fetch us in that old stalwart of the Rhodesian Army vehicle fleet, Bedford RL’s…..the ones with the big bubble-like noses.  There were also what seemed far too many grim-looking people in uniform shouting and ushering us onto the vehicles.  The tailgates were down and we chucked our few belongings on board as ordered and clambered up into the wet cargo areas of the trucks like robots, heads banging on overhead frameworks, feet slipping on wet metal.

Two stone-faced and extremely well turned out Corporals accompanied each vehicle.  For some reason they were in their drill kit, hobnail boots with gleaming toe-caps and putties.   The creases on their twill shirts and shorts starched and ironed to razor like sharpness.

The rain had eased a little but the old tarpaulins that covered the back of the trucks were full of holes or in some cases ripped……this ensured most of us had a second shower, or in some cases probably the first for the day.  There was no way to escape from the dripping …..it only made the mood more depressing.

As if on cue, the drivers and escort, who up to then had stood at the back of thier idling vehicles, now lifted up the heavy tailgates and slammed them shut, making sure the two locking latches were in place……not easy as most of them were bent out of shape and alignment.  They then climbed into the doorless cabs, the driver double clutched and slipped the RL into first gear……and our convoy began to move off.

On the way the Corporals said very little.  They too were obviously pissed off with the wet journey and were more than likely plotting their revenge against us civvies……seeming to look in my direction more than what I deemed necessary.

The trip out to Llewellyn was fairly uneventful except for the whipping one would get from the madly flapping canvas and loose ropes that were meant to hold the tarpaulins in place.  The seats were hard cold steel, and my arse was soon numb and my feet went to sleep……the exhaust fumes from the Bedford 6 cylinder being sucked into the back of the vehicle by the vacuum caused by our forward movement……stinging our eyes and throats.  The whirring of the wheels on the road and differential whine on an RL are somewhat hypnotic, and this having been well mixed with an overdose of carbon monoxide caused my head to start nodding like one of those dogs my mate had in the back his Cortina GT.

We  tried to make small talk with one another to stay awake, fear of the unknown making it difficult to forge any kind of friendship for now.  The best one could expect to get was someones name and a shivvery, cold, wet handshake.

Rhodesian Army Bedford RL

Rhodesian Army Bedford RL

6th June 1974.

The above date and the month (6/6) are probably quite well-known to most people, especially the sad bastards like me who read military history.

The year however will not mean too much at this time…….but read on and all will be revealed.

30 years to the day a combination of the date, month and year was extremely significant to a few hundred young men who were  part of Rhodesian Army Intake 139, destined for their National Service with the Rhodesia Regiment at Llewelyn Barracks near Heaney Junction outside Bulawayo.

I was part of Intake 139, and I don’t think my fear was any different to any of those brave men who were going to land on the beaches of  Normandy……..the ones with the unforgettable names….Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.  On a different level I was just as shit scared as those brave men must have been……..and Llewelyn Barracks was also to become an unforgettable name.

There is no argument that the scale of the threat in 1944 was different, but the knowledge that certain death from an enemy bullet could be around the corner must have been very much the same.

There was the sound of a car horn from downstairs……the taxi had arrived to take me to the pick-up point.  I was on my way……it was a cold and gloomy day outside.  And it was raining again……”guti“…..a soft mist of refreshing happiness from the sky.

My first Cap-Badge-The Rhodesia Regiment

My first Cap-Badge: The Rhodesia Regiment

D-Day……Part 1

December 8, 2009

6th June 1944:

In November, 1943, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met together in Teheran, Iran, to discuss military strategy and post-war Europe. Ever since the Soviet Union had entered the war, Stalin had been demanding that the Allies open-up a second front in Europe. Churchill and Roosevelt argued that any attempt to land troops in Western Europe would result in heavy casualties. Until the Soviet’s victory at Stalingrad in January, 1943, Stalin had feared that without a second front, Germany would defeat them.

Stalin, who always favoured an offensive strategy, believed that there were political, as well as military reasons for the Allies’ failure to open up a second front in Europe. Stalin was still highly suspicious of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt and was worried about them signing a peace agreement with Adolf Hitler. The foreign policies of the capitalist countries since the October Revolution had convinced Stalin that their main objective was the destruction of the communist system in the Soviet Union. Stalin was fully aware that if Britain and the USA withdrew from the war, the Red Army would have great difficulty in dealing with Germany on its own.

At Teheran, Joseph Stalin reminded Churchill and Roosevelt of a previous promise of landing troops in Western Europe in 1942. Later they postponed it to the spring of 1943. Stalin complained that it was now November and there was still no sign of an allied invasion of France. After lengthy discussions it was agreed that the Allies would mount a major offensive in the spring of 1944.

General Dwight Eisenhower was put in charge of what became known as Operation Overlord. Eisenhower had the task of organizing around a million combat troops and two million men involved in providing support services.

The plan, drawn up by George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, Bernard Montgomery, Omar Bradley, Bertram Ramsay, Walter Bedell-Smith, Arthur Tedder and Trafford Leigh-Mallory, involved assaults on five beaches west of the Orne River near Caen (codenamed Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah) by the British 2nd Army and the American 1st Army. Follow-up forces included the Canadian 1st Army and the American 3rd Army under Lt. General George Patton.

Juno was assigned to the Canadian Army. Canada contributed 110 ships to the invading force, 14,000 troops, including paratroopers, and 15 RCAF squadrons of fighters and fighter-bombers. It is estimated that Canada contributed about 10 percent of the D-Day invading force.

The invasion was preceded by a massive aerial bombardment of German communications. This resulted in the destruction of virtually every bridge over the Seine.

On 6th June, 1944, 2,727 ships sailed to the Normandy coast and on the first day landed 156,000 men on a front of thirty miles. It was the largest and most powerful armada that has ever sailed.

The Allied invasion was faced by 50 divisions of the German Army under General Erwin Rommel. At Omaha, steep cliffs favoured the defenders and the US Army suffered 2,500 casualties.

The Allies also sent in three airborne divisions, two American and one British, to prepare for the main assault by taking certain strategic points and by disrupting German communications. Of the 23,000 airborne troops, 15,500 were Americans and of these, 6,000 were killed or seriously wounded.

Over the next couple of days 156,215 troops were landed from sea and air in Normandy, at a cost of some 10,300 casualties.

Soldiers waiting to be parachuted in France (6th June, 1944)

Soldiers waiting to be parachuted in France (6th June, 1944)

And the rest is history……..listen closely to the words of “Say Goodbye To It All” by Chris de Burgh……study the photo above closely, imagine what they imagine……think their thoughts……. and it will bring a tear to your eye……if it doesn’t you are a sad, lost, and empty soul…..Fox.

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.

First half of 1974…..

It was after one of my trips to PomPom that Joe Le Roux called me into his office as I walked through the entrance to the single quarters.

I was knackered and didn’t feel like an ear-bending session which this was probably going to become.  Joe was the quarters Chief Warden and his job was to make sure the accommodation and environs were kept in pristine condition and seemingly ready for a higher beings inspection.  I wondered what I had fucked-up.

Highly polished (and dangerous when wet) red verandas fronted all the rooms, fallen jacaranda blooms were raked only in one direction, and window panes glinted black in the moonlight, reflecting ghostly images.  Ornamental stones were white-washed monthly and tended to blind one during the day.  There was an army of labourers working for him and they earned their pay twice over.  Trees and shrubs were trimmed as to look like topiary works of art, grass was cut with edges trimmed to perfection, and the ablution blocks always smelled of Dettol and moth-balls.  None of the taps leaked.

He was on night shift this specific occasion and as was his custom he was outside polishing his immaculate light green Vauxhall Victor.  I am sure he had more feeling for this car than he had for his wife, at least it probably got more rubbing on its body-work than she did.   Joe and I were great friends and often when I finished work at a reasonable time I would take a shower and go into Joes office.  We would play cards till midnight while he recalled tales of his rather interesting life on the rails.  It helped to pass the time for both of us and Bella would also join us now and again when Keith was working away firing the beasts up to Victoria Falls.  We were a happy trio in those days.  He often bought goodies from home to snack on and which he always shared with me.

Joe was a good man and I will always have fond memories of him.  There are not many like him.

Vauxhall Victor similar to Joes

Vauxhall Victor similar to Joes

Railway Workshop Complex, Bulawayo

The image above shows the close proximity of the single quarters to the workshops………I never seemed far from the noise and smells of where I worked and I am reminded of that Dire Straits classic, Industrial Disease.  Pretty grim really now that I think about it, and not very helpful to ones social development.

Joe took me into the office and handed me an official looking brown envelope that was addressed to me.  It had been rubber stamped with something to do with Rhodesian Army Headquarters.  I sat down next to Joes desk and wearily opened the envelope.  He made some tea in a pot for us and opened the faded Tupperware containers that held his supply of sugar and powdered milk.  Joe poured the hot liquid into immaculate white porcelain Rhodesia Railways cups, and stirred the steaming dark brown mixture with a brightly shining Rhodesia Railways teaspoon.  He sat watching me quietly as I read.  There was no need to tell him what the letter contained…..he had seen them too many times before from my predecessors.  I folded it neatly and placed it back in the envelope.

As I sipped the sweet milky tea there was a brief moment when I knew that my life as I knew it was never going to be the same again, and how much I would miss Joe……and yes, perhaps all of this that surrounded me too.  It had become my comfort zone.   All young men awaited this type of correspondence…..at least those of us who had the will to fight for what we believed in and had not run off to some cushy South African University using their parent’s money and connections.

I dipped a Marie biscuit into my tea and the soggy piece broke off as I tried to take a bite.

There was no time for reflection now, only the knowledge that I was to report to Llewellyn Barracks (Depot, The Rhodesia Regiment) for twelve months National Service as part of Intake 139 later in the year.  There was no fear….nor any great surprise.  It was the way things were in Rhodesia in those days you see, as if it was the natural progression of a young mans tertiary education.

Except the only thing they were going to teach where I was heading was how to kill the enemy…..and hopefully how to be one of those who survived.

I asked Joe for the cards and dealt us two hands…….clinging to normality but somehow sensing I had discovered my destiny.