- Beaver Shaw
- Nairobi, Kenya
- I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on email@example.com The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011
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08/23 - 08/30
- AK 47 ASSAULT RIFLE
- moreFROM CHOPPERTECH
- NOT LIKELY TO BE PIONEER DAY IN RHODESIA
- TIME ON DEVILS GORGE
- PUMA 164
- MATSAI PUNCH UP ON FIREFORCE RHODESIA
- CANADIAN TOURISTS SHOT AT VIC FALLS
- VIC FALLS BRIDGE FAILURE
- RHODESIA 1977
- HOUSE DEBATE ON RHODESIA 1978
- OP URIC REQUEST
- THE BUFFALO INCIDENT
- MONTE CASSINO ONE VIEW
- MIKE BORLACE AND MIKE UPTON
- ALAN LOCKE SHAW
- Seven Squadron Photos
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- ► 2008 (276)
Monday, August 24, 2009
ALAN LOCKE SHAW
ALAN LOCKE“OUBAAS” SHAW: 9th October 1928 – 19th August 2005
You’re worn in the barrel; you’re gone in the stock,
Your sights are deceptive and battered askew,
You’re foul in the breech and you’re crank in the lock,
Yet I love you far more than I loved you when new!
I’ve done a fair quotum of stalking and shooting
Old rifle, with you
Rhodesianna reprint library
I feel very privileged to have this opportunity of write a few words of reminiscence about an old friend and colleague from those incredible days when Alan Shaw and I worked together in Veterinary Department of the Ministry of Agriculture in the Rhodesian Government. We worked together, mainly controlling Foot and Mouth Disease from about 1969 until after Independence, until I “retired” to go farming in 1982 and Alan retired a few years later .Although most of our work we did together was in the Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) Province, I spent my last year in Bulawayo working with Alan, at his request.
In a few words how do I describe Alan? He was an absolute gentleman and mentor, or father figure to many, who was respected and loved by all. This is probably where he got the nickname “Oubaas”. One would never have thought that he started his career as a professional soldier in the Special Air Services (SAS), having served in Malaya during the insurrection there. In all the time I knew him I never witnessed any aggressive streak.
Alan was a very tall and imposing man who was almost bald with the remaining hair being grey and distinguished. His gait was very slow and graceful but his strides were very long so he actually moved faster than he appeared to.
Alan was married to Eileen and they produced five strapping sons, who I did not really get to, know that well because they were much younger than me. They are Owen, Bevis, Colin, Glenn and Grant – in that order. Owen and Bevis (Beaver) are in South Africa; Colin tragically drowned in Botswana; Glen is in Botswana; and Grant (“Huki”) is in Australia.
Huki was the “laat lametjie” who used to travel in the bush with Alan during school holidays, so I saw a bit of him. I got to know Beaver better after the war when he popped into the farm several times whilst on his way to service the Zimbabwean Air Force helicopters. Trouble is he and Linda never knew when to leave as they once stayed for over a week enjoying each other’s company on the farm.
Alan’s first love was farming and I am sure he always wanted to go farming fulltime like his bothers and cousins in the Gwelo (now Gweru) District. Farming was definitely in his blood and perhaps his work in the Veterinary Department was a good enough substitute. He loved working with both people and animals alike, although later in his career he was obviously in the more supervisory role with us juniors in the younger generation doing the manual work.
If anybody should be writing this article it should have been Alan himself because he was a fund of information and history. He was very knowledgeable on many across the board subjects, as well as being a recognized expert in many fields. His extensive library of stories used to keep us spellbound around the campfires at night on our bush trips.
During the course of our veterinary work in Victoria Province our main focus was Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) control thus we spent much more time on patrol on the farms and communal areas in the FMD prone districts. We used to spend very little time in the office at all.
When I was transferred to Victoria Province in 1969 my first station was Chiredzi. I was employed as a Learner Animal Health Inspector (L/AHI) at that time. My immediate boss there was Senior Animal Health Inspector (S/AHI) Ron Eardley. At provincial level Dr John Adamson was our Provincial Veterinary Officer (PVO) with Reg Brandt as our Chief Animal Health Inspector (C/AHI) and Alan as S/AHI.
Although in those days Rhodesia was under a sanctions regime to punish the Government of Ian Smith for the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) it was still our duty in the Veterinary Department to control FMD so that we could still export our Rhodesia’s Best beef to many European countries through an elaborate sanctions busting exercise.
“Where there is a will there is a way”, and we were proud to be part of it.
In 1970 I was transferred to a lonely outpost called Vila Salazar, which is situated on the Rhodesian border with Mozambique where the railway line exits the country to Lorenzo Marques (now Maputo). Vila Salazar itself consisted of a Police camp, Customs and Immigration accommodation and a small house for the AHI. It was also the home of many political detainees at that time, but they were housed some distance from the small village so I never even saw them or had anything to do with them.
The town on the Mozambique side of the border was where the railway station was as well as the accommodation for the Rhodesia Railways (RR) and CFM employees. There was also a club, a hotel and several businesses. Historically, when the railway was officially opened the town in Mozambique was called Malvernia after Lord Malvern who was the (British) Governor of Rhodesia at the time. The “town” in Rhodesia was named Villa Salazar after the President of Portugal.
VILA SALAZAR PHOTO ANTHONY SEAWARD
Since Independence the Zimbabwean town has been renamed as Sango.
The AHI’s duty at Villa Salazar consisted of supervising and monitoring patrols and constant repairs on the game fence, which was erected along the Rhodesia/Mozambique border to control movement of livestock and wildlife. In those days we had been successful in pushing back the Tsetse fly (and the deadly disease Trypanosomiasis) about 70 miles into Mozambique. This was done by an intensive spraying regime using DDT and the elimination of specified vector wildlife species from barrier corridors. Not a popular move at all with the conversationalists, but it worked and effectively freed that part of the country of the deadly disease, which is transmitted by the Tsetse fly.
The control fence was 108 miles long (decimalization only came out after I left Villa Salazar) and started at “Crooks’ Corner” at the Pafure/Limpopo River junction and ended at the Sabi/Lundi River junction. We had a team of 36 scouts who daily patrolled and repaired the 15-strand wooden fence. We used Tambuti for the posts and Mopani for the droppers.
The patrol teams, called “Fence Guards”, also had to be “rationed” and paid and it was the provincial staff that brought this down towards the end of every month. The meat was supplied on contract by Donnie van Eden of Rutenga butchery and was given in generous portions to remove the temptation of poaching wildlife in the Gonarezhou National Park of which our fence was the eastern boundary.
We also had to “wet smear” cattle from 8 test herd which we had scattered at various points in Gonarezhou. The herds went right up to Claredon Cliffs, Chitove Pools and Lesodo Pools as well as herds inside the Park at various pans and artificial drinking points watered from boreholes. The blood samples were examined on site under a microscope for Trypanosomiasis and any diseased animals were treated with Berenil.
On alternate weeks the AHI inspected cattle for FMD in the nearby Matibi II and Sengwe communal areas and we camped at the Malipati District Commissioner’s Camp on the Nuanetsi River. The camp was also situated in the Malipati Game Reserve, which was developed by District Commissioner Alan Wright in an early attempt to share the benefit of the natural resources with the occupants of the Communal Areas.
This bachelor life in the bush was probably the most enjoyable part of my life and whenever our bosses in Fort Victoria got tired of “pushing pens” they used to volunteer to bring out the pay and rations. There was always huge competition on who would make the trip, which would keep them out of the office and into the wildest, most remote, yet most beautiful part of the province.
I don’t know if they drew lots or what, but I was always the loser because I seldom got a trip to Fort Victoria during the year that I was stationed there. I almost forgot what female company was like!
Alan seemed to come down more often than John Adamson or Reg Brandt so it was down here that I got to know him more. Although the communal cattle sales were covered by the resident AHI in which area the cattle sales were held, it later seemed to become more Alan’s responsibility to attend the sales, particularly those held in this part of the world. Whenever the Malipati Sale was held the whole team of buyers
and graders, etc, would come through with Alan to Villa Salazar for a treat of the unique Portuguese cuisine.
I therefore got to see quite a lot of Alan and to get to know him better whilst down there in the “sticks” at Villa Salazar.
There were lots of interesting episodes and attractions in that year at Salazar. I remember once I went with Alan to Marumbini in my short-wheel-base diesel Land Rover. Firstly, he refused the adventure of going down the steep and rocky “crank-shaft hill”, which is the road along the fence which goes down the Sabi/Lunde Valley escarpment. Although an incredible view from the top you literally slid down and there were only a very few vehicles which ever made it to the top – hence the name!
Instead Alan insisted we took the more sensible long way around. I guess he didn’t trust my driving? Alan made friends easily with everybody and we visited the “Chef” of the Customs “post” there for a luncheon date. It was so hot in that small sweatbox of a house that heat fatigue overwhelmed me. I just could not eat this scrumptious meal, which the hospitable Portuguese man’s wife had laboured over. I was willing Alan to leave so I could get some cool air but the two just talked and talked. It was late afternoon when we finally left and the cool air of the open Land Rover was a welcome relief.
ALANS LANDY HF LISTENING WATCH FORT VICTORIA-PHOTO BEAVER SHAW
When doing the fence patrol with Alan we often stopped at the sawmills, which were situated along the fence line. It was amazing to see the size of some of the hardwood logs, and volume of timber, which were being carted along the road to the railway line at Malvernia. A lot of the timber was cut into railway sleepers but there were also some incredible carpenters. At the time Alan was building his house on a plot just outside Fort Victoria and he had quite a bit of furniture made to furnish his new home. I also appreciate good wood and carpentry, which I have done as a hobby, so I also bought some furniture, which I commissioned the carpenters to make.
Another attraction down there was the “Gonna-Stagga-Inn”, the pub that a group of us built at the Police mess in Villa Salazar. In those days beer came in “dumpy” bottles, the disposal of which seemed to develop a new game instead of the resultant arduous task. In the original pub on the verandah of the Police mess there were two shelves, on which we had to personally line up, and later balance, the empty bottles. There were various “down-down” penalties and clean-up duties for whoever caused the first and subsequent bottle to fall and break on the concrete floor below.
In the new Gonna-Stagga-Inn there was a hole in the wall behind the bar with a chute to deposit the empty in a drum outside. The hole was covered by a toilet seat and controlled by a string which went through a buffalo skull on the wall, which was pulled by whoever was on bar duty. More beer guzzling penalties for those who missed the hole! We also had great fun one afternoon when building the pub. We decided to build one wall with empty dumpy bottles but unfortunately the wall became uneven as we reached the top, in late afternoon, because we had to empty the bottles before we could build!
A further attraction to Malvernia, and one which Alan would probably not want me to mention, was the “blue movies” which old Chico at the station used to enthusiastically show. One could never understand why such an avowed Catholic could ever be involved in such disgusting “entertainment”. Although Alan was never interested in watching them one day he was tricked into watching one after he had indulged in far too much Cherverge. He had virtually passed out when he was put in a chair in the front row and was asleep for most of the time. However, some of the plotters eventually woke him up, and he was so shocked in what he saw he immediately staggered out in disgust to join me outside.
Whenever people joked about what had happened, even many months later he just rubbed his eyes and shook his head and said, “Sis… Sis.. I still feel sick. I don’t know how anyone can be so low to watch such disgusting stuff.”
At least he was a good example of a family man who kept his principles in life. For this I had huge respect.
Living and working in a game reserve on the Mozambique border was a unique experience so people like Alan used to bring down all sorts of visitors with him to introduce to “our man in Villa Salazar”. We became very good friends. One of his constant friends and great characters of the cattle sales was a private buyer called Jimmy Robinson.
I truly think that the only time Jimmy stopped laughing was the day he died. He turned everything into a great joke, including the time he went “missing” in the pub in Malvernia. As keeper of the fence and Villa Salazar resident I was allowed keys to some 5 entry points into Mozambique so when I took friends to the pub there was no need for the formalities, as I had the key. Yes, I was (just) over 21!
This particular day Alan and I gave up on Jimmy. On a previous occasion when he wanted to prove he could out drink us all he navigated his way home by crossing the border along the railway tracks. This time he was beyond reason to hear us that the Portuguese had recently closed that route with spikes embedded into teak railway sleepers. Jimmy arrived in his Peugeot at about 3am with all of his Michelin tyres shredded. We spent the rest of the night patching up his tyres whilst he spent time thoroughly inebriated and trying to convince us that they were only flat on the bottom!
In those days the bush was very thick and the roads were terrible. We were in constant fear of elephant whenever we left our base. The road was a single track, which developed a new route every day as the elephant kept blocking the road with fallen trees. We used to be on edge until we saw our first elephant – even if that was at a distance of 2km away in an open space!
Following my year long stint at Villa Salazar I was transferred to Nuanetsi. Again, there was an abundance of wildlife here, especially around the village. I used to take my Staffies for a walk in the evening and walk through herds of Impala numbering around 3000. My dogs seemed to have developed a mutual respect for the wildlife and the no-shooting ban agreed by the management of Nuanetsi Ranch and Alan Wright when he was District Commissioner here.
When cattle were bought at the communal sales in the Nuanetsi area they were first quarantined for 14 days before we re-inspected and released them to move to their various destinations. The most southern quarantine camp was called Gurungweni, near Mpagati and Chikombedzi. Quite often Alan used to come down and we released the cattle together until he felt I was properly qualified.
Trouble with FMD detection was that most of us had little experience with the disease and had never seen it due to the efficient controls in place. In fact the only FMD I had seen was right up at Kazungula on the Zambezi and another later on Humani Ranch in Chiredzi. It was therefore difficult to build up the trust and confidence of the bosses until you eventually proved your worth. It was only much later in my career that I developed the reputation of being the “chief FMD spotter in the country”.
In fact my memory has faded as to which was the first primary and secondary outbreaks I detected. I do remember though that a number of those detected were a single diseased animal out of herds of several hundred head of cattle. It eventually became like a sixth sense to me, which certainly assisted after a full day’s inspection of many thousand head of cattle. I liken it to long distance driving, when although your mind is wondering and the concentration is not there, let an obstacle appear you snap out immediately and take the appropriate action. The first could have been on Battlefields Ranch in Mateke Hills, Nuanetsi. It was at late evening and I had started work at 4.30am that particular day. In the last herd of the day I reacted and there was only a single diseased animal in the Stander Brothers’ herd.
I was so worried that night when I reported it to John Adamson because it was so serious that it seemed the whole of Veterinary Department were coming down – Director, Deputy Directors, PVOs, C/AHIs etc – and Alan. I sweated the whole of the next day until they arrived at about 10am and we went down to the herd. By then the virulent disease had spread and there were 5 fresh cases! I had passed the test.
That outbreak in Mateke Hills turned out to be a nightmare because much of the wildlife became infected and transmitted the disease from farm to farm. Whilst cattle could be separated and cordoned off within the normal farm fences, the wildlife was free to roam everywhere. If my memory serves me right I think we found in the region of 11 kudu bulls which had died from secondary infection and/or starvation after succumbing to the disease.
The disease seldom jumped over paddock fences but instead broke out in herds 10km to 30km away. We therefore had to carry out weekly inspections of all the cattle in Mateke Hills. We had quite a large contingent on AHIs working there. Over a period of 8 months I left the area for only a single weekend – OK another attraction there for me was in the form of one of the farmer’s daughters.
She lived on Malumba Ranch with her parents Hendrik and Marta Boshoff. The homestead on Malumba is situated just off the main Mateke Hills road, which had become the main point of call, which both visitors and residents of Mateke Hills passed without a social call. Hendrik had bought the farm from the late van der Merwe bothers, who had a lot of their own stories. I only met Troos as by then the other brother Hannes and the other whom I did not meet had already passed on.
First was their fencing, which was second to none. All their straining posts were made of huge dead Mswile logs. Probably the largest of these signify the boundary between Bubye Section of Nuanetsi Ranche and Benjani Ranch – probably about 2-foot in diameter! It amazes me on just how they managed to carry these hardwood trunks and then to lift then into the holes! I copied this practice when I went ranching, albeit with much more manageable pieces.
On the Mateke Hills road, just between Windmill dip and the Bubye Section homestead there were three massive Baobab trees right near the road on a ridge. The joke was always that they signified the three van der Merwe brothers, who were really huge fellows themselves! The irony was that the trees disintegrated and died following the deaths of each of the brothers.
When one talks of their hospitality it was second to none! When you arrived for a braai you were asked what you drank. If it was brandy a new bottle was taken out of storage and handed to you minus the top – which was taken off and thrown away, as an incitement to flatten the whole bottle!! If it were beer a whole crate was put down next to you and you were expected to flatten that! Mind you, a good way of replacing all the fluids you had sweated out in the very hot Mateke Hills!
Next morning breakfast should have been called “breakfeast!” Huge plate of porridge followed by literally a whole sheep on the table, complete with eggs, tomatoes and all the similar trappings that only the Afrikaans “Tannies” of the Mateke Hills know how to cook! Although they never went to university I am sure they are all more highly qualified and experienced than any cordon bleu!!
Our first camp was in an empty house on Ranch Louis, which belonged to Barney Jordaan. We then moved to the hunting camp on Valley Ranch, which was owned by “Ryktjie” Geldenhuis and managed by Piet Bouwer. The final move we made, as the disease pressed steadily westwards was at Sheba Ranch where bachelor Boytjie Bosman lived.
I will never forget the one night when “the crowd” decided to go to the Lion and Elephant Motel, about 70km away, for a drink, and I decided to stay at Sheba and catch up on my sleep. Long before the boys got back from the pub I was awoken by the sound of a dog killing a cat. My Staffies were always with my but Boytjie’s one stipulation was that should my dogs not live in harmony with the cats (of which he had plenty) and killed his favourite I would have to replace it.
So the fight was on and I could not save the cat. And yes it was his favourite. What was I going to tell Boytjie when he returned? I phoned everyone I knew had kittens, but nothing was available. By the time the boys got back I was asleep, and in fact faked sleep when their noise woke me up.
Next morning I approached Boytie to inform him the sad news. When I told him we debated which of his cats had been killed. Turned out all the cats were alive and it had been a wildcat which had been killed! In fact my dogs were heroes because they had killed a cat that had been responsible for killing a huge number of his bantams and chickens over a long period of time!
As a bachelor he had about 7 cats walking over the huge dining room table, who were continually trying to remove the food from our plates, which was most annoying. There were therefore many comments from the crew saying they wished my Staffies had got stuck into those instead!
This reminds me of another bachelor foray to the L & E Motel at the invitation to a meal there from our then Assistant Director Jock Hodgkin. He, like all former Onderstepoort students spoke Afrikaans fluently, which went down well with the predominantly Afrikaans community of the Mateke Hills. There was a huge group of us, which included Alan, Reg and John Adamson so we went in several vehicles to enjoy the free supper – and to experience some form of civilization! However, we worked very long and hard hours and the alcohol soon took its hold. Although I must say us juniors lasted much longer than the older generation.
I got a lift back to the camp on Valley Ranch with Tommy Herselman in his Peugeot 404 pickup. The next think I remember was waking up with the rising sun shining brightly into my eyes – which just increase the severe headache I was experiencing! Tommy’s car was stopped in the middle of the Mateke Hills Road which travels due east right into the rising sun! This was about 65km from where we were camping and the continuous glare of the sun did us no good at all. At least the bosses had a good sense of humour over our very late arrival, especially as they were also rather hung over from the evening before!
I remember Jock talking to old “Oom” Hendrik Boshoff one day. He asked him which university he was going to send his young son “Boet” to, to increase his knowledge about farming. The old man took it as a huge insult and said that there was absolutely nothing they could teach Boet at university that he could not teach him himself! The response was so heated that I thought poor Jock was going to be physically as well as verbally assaulted! Boet never went to university, but turned out to be an incredible, decorated soldier and is an extremely successful farmer and entrepreneur!
Shortly after that I went on Army call up, and not long afterwards was transferred to Fort Victoria with Alan. However, this did not mean I was away from Nuanetsi. It just changed my base, as we continued to spend a lot of our time working back in Nuanetsi.
This was the first time we had used FMD vaccine so extensively. We used a vaccine which was manufactured in Kenya but which unfortunately did not cover any of the subtypes of FMD, which we were fighting at that time. Although natural immunity, which is developed from an active infection, can last up to 18 months, and immunity developed from vaccination can last about 6 months, it only protects from a particular type, or subtype. The problem is that when the disease is introduced into the carrier buffalo it often mutates. It can go in as, say, SAT 1 (South African Type) and come out as SAT 3.
Despite the fact that we had vaccinated the cattle up to 12 times it was completely ineffective.
That particular outbreak slowly spread right into Matabeleland despite our attempt to halt the movement of the wildlife across the Fort Victoria Beitbridge main road. At about that time a rail link was being built to South Africa from Rutenga so we in fact had a double corridor to patrol. Alan Shaw came down with an extra team of hunters to try to enforce this double cordon. He based up at Nuanetsi village and we rented a house from “H P “Prinsloo to accommodate the team, which patrolled the road and railway corridors day and night. Although a lot of game was shot we did try frightening them away by first firing rounds over their heads. Any infected animals were burned on site and any meat from uninfected animals was distributed to staff for rations.
At about that time John Adamson decided that the quarantine camp situated just across the Nuanetsi River at the Nuanetsi village was impractical and swapped it for part of Mbizi Section of Nuanetsi Ranche on the railway line near Mbizi Station. There was a lot of work to be done in fencing the area, fencing and watering paddocks and building reservoirs, dip tank and staff accommodation. This became Alan’s baby and he spent a huge amount of time developing the project. It almost became a second home to him.
Whenever we were doing the inspection or vaccination patrols in the near vicinity we always stayed at “Alan’s” camp, which was immaculate and always very hospitable. We all enjoyed each other’s company especially around the campfire at night in the bush.
Not sure when Alan’s companion “Shorty” came onto the scene. Each AHI was accompanied at work by a “Cattle Guard” who was a multi-tasked personal assistant, and in some cases the cook and camp guard. Shorty and Alan were together for many years and his cooking got better and better. He was like a batman to an army officer and did almost everything for Alan and nearly always on the run!
On the cattle sale rounds the group used to have their meals together instead of each cooking his own meal. It eventually was accepted that one person would supply food and do the cooking for the whole camp for the entire week on a roster system. This obviously developed into a competition and boy did those guys eat like kings!
Alan and Reg Brandt used to camp together quite a bit and his right hand man was nicknamed “Skamprection”. In fact I cannot remember his real name. He was a true-blue Shangaan who in fact had to learn Shona from Reg, who spoke it fluently. His nickname came from a joke made about his attempted pronunciation of scrambled eggs. The stalwart of the Fort Victoria office was the widow Vi Brandt (not related to Reg). She always used to joke about how Reg and Alan were always together and called the “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum” – never sure which one Alan was though.
The Mbizi Quarantine Camp was almost a monument to Alan’s abilities and I will never forget the nostalgia when we had to strip it down and evacuate it during the War of Independence. By that time I had been promoted to S/AHI and was in charge of the evacuation. All out vehicles were mine-proofed and ambush protected and I used two teams of several light and heavy vehicles each. We had Police and Army escorts as usual but I also had to use an anti-ambush strategy because we had to make several trips. Tragedy struck on the last loads when a new “black” L/AHI disobeyed my instructions and went the “quick” route home only to have a vehicle blown up in a landmine and one of the occupants lose his legs. That mine was unusual because it went off under the centre of the back of the vehicle instead of under the wheel.
Apart from that we got everything to safety and the camp we only opened the camp well after the war when FAO financed a Heartwater Research project under Dr Japie Jackson’s now son-in-law, Dr Howard Andrews. Mickey Visage managed it and by that time I was already farming at Mwenezi.
Although the War of Liberation started many years before it was fought mainly in the Zambezi valley and escarpment so we were virtually left alone to carry out our veterinary duties without difficulties and keep the sanctions busting export markets open. In fact my introduction to the war was in Wankie (now Hwange) towards the end of my National Service in August 1967, when there was contact with a group of 80 fighters from the South African ANC.
In mid-1976 I received a radio message from Dr John Adamson to inform me that I would be exempted from all further military call-ups due to the escalation of the FMD. This was at a time that all freedom loving young Rhodesian’s blood was up with the handover of Mozambique by Portugal to FRELIMO forces. A new front was obviously going to open up in our beloved Lowveld, which we wanted to defend. We were all sitting drinking beer after work at the Lion and Elephant Motel at the time and despite my vigorous protestations John Adamson would neither lift the exemption nor accept my resignation! It was only Alan who managed to cool us all down.
Subsequently I can honestly say that I took more “flak” and had more contact with the opposing forces in the following years in Veterinary Department than I ever experienced on my Army call-ups!
The first incident in Mwenezi was the gunning down of a group of visiting motorcyclists on the Beitbridge Road on Alko Ranch. Before this Fred Reichard and I were driving around dip tanks in Sengwe near the Mozambique border checking for FMD following some reports which had come in. It was only when we spoke to the driver of a white Land Rover at Rutandare Dip tank, who turned out to be none other than Ant White, who was the Regimental Sergeant major of the Selous Scouts doing a reconnaissance mission in the area!
He told us we were mad to be in the area because it was swarming with terrorists and instructed us to get the hell out of there. Although both Fred and I were trained soldiers the only weapon we had to defend ourselves was my trusty .22 Brno rifle, which was certainly no match to an AK47!
I remember also driving in my “soft-skin” Peugeot on Minaarshof and Stelmarco Ranches when I heard a landmine go off. This was just after I had spotted a suspicious “lump” in the BJB Road on the way in. You know what it is like when you approach a rock or stump in the road you cannot avoid? You try to lift the whole vehicle through mental telepathy and levitation! I was driving like that until I arrived home safely!
Once the war was brought to our province we all had to change our comfortable Peugeot, Mazda and Datsun bakkies for Land Rovers which we had mine protected at S&S Engineering under the ownership of Keith Knowles. Benox was used to plate the underside of the vehicle except for above the wheels in the mudguards, which were fitted with thick conveyor belting to absorb the shock of the blast and the shrapnel. Thick amour plated glass was fitted to replace our windscreens.
Keith and others had very inventive minds and they also developed all sorts of gadgets to assist us during ambushes. There was the Persuader, which was a bank of tubes fitted on either side of the front of the vehicle. When ambushed a knob in the cab was pulled and they fell down one-by-one onto firing pins which set of the shotgun blasts at the attackers. I had a mounting on my Land Rover door made for my fully automatic SLR .762 rifle. Although I only had about a 45-degree firing angle it was extremely effective as it could be swiftly removed whilst jumping out of the vehicle when attacked.
We were issued with FN automatic rifles, Oozy sub-machine guns and an assortment of revolvers and pistols. I was issued with a Smith and Wesson .38 calibre revolver, which I never really used but sat on the dashboard of the Land Rover. This revolver had a bit of a history. I did not particularly like it because the trigger had a long hard pull to it, which tended to put me off my aim. I tried to kill a blind cow with it during an exercise in Mshawasha Native Purchase Area. Although shot at point blank range the animal merely shook its head and carried on stumbling along until I dropped it with a single shot of my rifle. Upon examination the .38 slug had not even pierced the cranium!
This became a joke with the staff, which came to a climax one day when my trusty Cattle Guard Sam played “Russian Roulette” with it whilst taking it without my permission to defend himself travelling in a different vehicle. He accidentally shot a fellow member of staff in the neck. He did instantly in an incident, which resulted in a court case and a huge amount of paperwork.
I was later issued with a Czechoslovakian CZ45 9mm pistol, because the .38 revolver was taken in as Police evidence during investigations. This pistol was top-of-the-range and extremely well balanced. The magazine held 15 cartridges and it fitted comfortably in a hip holster where it was permanently attached. I never was one of the “gung-ho” crowd who loved showing off walking around armed to the teeth, but after a nasty ambush in Mateke Hills during which I was pinned down with a weapon that jammed 11 times I felt I needed a backup – I also felt my luck just had to run out at some time. Fortunately it never did.
I think Alan had a Star pistol with an 8-shot magazine and an FN rifle for his protection.
I remember Alan’s Land Rover was dark green and Reg’s was dark blue. Before the war we used to go out in a single vehicle unless we were involved in a major vaccination campaign or something. But once the war started we went around in convoys and heavily armed escorts. We also employed extra AHIs as hired guns to travel with us.
The ingenuity of our engineers never ceased to amaze me, especially when it came to building mine and ambush protected vehicles for use by Army and civilians alike. A Volkswagen Kombi engine drove the first, which was built. The protected area was in a V-shape and a canvass roof. The engine was outside the armour-plated box at the back and the wheels were set away from the box. If the vehicle hit a mine the wheel would merely blow off and could be replaced, but the occupants of the “cocoon” were well protected from the blast. This was called a “Leopard”. Then another military version fitted with mine detecting equipment and soft wide tyres was called a “Pukie”.
Land Rovers and Ford F250s were also modified and heavily armoured and were called “Rhinos” and “Hippos” respectively. Our Toyota and Isuzu 7-ton Lorries had armour plated and mine protected cab fitted and were called “Crocodiles”. We also had our 7-tonners fully mine protected and armour-plated so we could use them to carry our military escorts and civilian assistants.
I always remember once when Rag Brandt and Alan were bringing ice and FMD vaccine supplies out to us once when we were working on Devuli Ranch. Whilst we had been ambushed and attacked by the opposing forces on many occasions, “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum” had been very lucky not to have had any lead thrown at them. However, they never let their guard down and were always ready for action.
When they were winding through the hills in a two-vehicle convoy approaching the Devuli Ranch turn-off Reg’s assistant “Skambrecktion” grabbed his FN and started shooting. He was seated next to Reg in the front of the mine-protected Land Rover and just pointed the rifle forward, shooting holes in the dashboard, before Reg managed to stop him. The escorts fired a few more shots before they stopped to assess what had happened.
Apart from the “self-inflicted” holes in Reg’s vehicle, which fortunately just missed any vital working parts in the engine, there was no other evidence of an “ambush”. After much discussion it was resolved that the “ambush” was the backfiring of Reg’s overloaded Land Rover as it struggled to climb the steep rise! They thought it was a great joke and were all still laughing when they arrived at our camp about an hour later. Needless to say, their 1st “ambush” dominated the conversation around the campfire that evening.
A lot of our first work was centered in the Zaka/Bikita communal areas. Our main base was at Bikita where Alan spent a lot of time in the company of people like Alan (“Mazenk”) Leadbeater. At that time we had attached to us “Bright Bights” who were civilian Police Reservists from the Highveld like Rhodesian Rugby wing “Blondie Harris”. Some of them were farmers themselves and I remember some of the people from Sinoia and Lion’s Den like Gert Pretorius who became life-long friends with us.
The main task of the teams based at Bikita government village was to erect a cattle-proof fence either side of the Fort Victoria – Birchenough bridge Road. Once erected, their job was to patrol and maintain it. The purpose of the fence was to separate FMD infected cattle from the south of the road moving into and infecting the cattle to the north of the road. No cattle were allowed near the road and had to be kraaled overnight a few kilometers from the road. Any animals seen from the road were shot and burned to stop the spread of the disease into the vast communal areas of Buhera.
Should the virulent disease spread into Buhera control would be almost impossible to control as there were no more natural control barriers like the Masvingo – Birchenough Road, right through to Salisbury (now Harare). Farms north of the road were also situated in what we called the “Catchment Area” or “Export Zone from where cattle were eligible for direct export to Europe.
It should be realised that in those days Foot and Mouth Disease was regarded very seriously indeed and in a country where the disease occurred no agricultural products of any kind were accepted. This was a serious threat indeed for a country like Rhodesia whose economy was agriculture based and whose tobacco was in such high international demand. The control of this disease was therefore taken very seriously indeed.
Unfortunately most of the FMD outbreaks occurred in the communal areas during the war. Civil disorder was encouraged by the opposing forces, which made FMD control particularly difficult. We therefore decided to vaccinate all the cattle north of the road against FMD. However, as mentioned earlier the locals were encouraged not to cooperate with government officials, which made the logistics extremely difficult indeed.
The Zaka and Bikita communal areas are very hilly and mountainous. Whilst they are extremely beautiful to the eye they were extremely dangerous during a war situation. We therefore went around escorted by heavily armed military and paramilitary personnel. Our convoys usually consisted of about 10 vehicles of various descriptions.
The only way we could vaccinate the cattle was to use civilians, escorted by paramilitary forces from the District Commissioner, Guard Force and Police Reserve, to physically round up the cattle and bring them to the old communal dip tanks. By this time all government dip tanks and vaccination races had been destroyed so we devised a method to erect vaccination races with the use of metal portable races.
Our modus operandi was to work out a plan on a map to round up all cattle from kraals nearest to each dip tank. We would then arise at about 3am and drop of round up teams by vehicle to surround the decided area. We would then go to the rendezvous to erect the vaccination race and wait for the cattle to arrive.
On the very first day my team started in the Nyika area near our base camp. We had just started vaccinating the cattle when there was the sound of mortars and gunfire. As we dived for our weapons and cover, all the cattle just dispersed so quickly that the resultant silence was quite eerie. One minute the cattle were there bellowing and with bells jingling – and the next minute there was absolutely nothing.
By that time most of our teams were back but two teams were unaccounted for. We radioed back to camp and spoke to Lieutenant Passaportis, who headed our military escort and he sent some of his Rhodesia African Rifles (RAR) soldiers out on a search party. It was not long before they found our remaining teams. They had both bumped into the opposing forces and one of the District Commissioner’s staff had been threatened and held over a cliff face. He was very lucky to have talked his way out of it. The shots and mortars had been fired wildly at them to frighten them away from their territory.
The next morning we left with a larger escort led by an American Vietnam veteran officer who had joined the RAR. He decided that attack was the best form of defence so his soldiers adopted the tactic of emptying a few rounds of ammunition into any possible ambush site. He called it the Portuguese anti-ambush drill. His favourite “toy” was a hand held 2-inch mortar tube, which he used quite spectacularly from the back of a moving vehicle. He had little difficulty dispatching a mortar straight into a grass hut, or other suspected hideout, from the back of the moving vehicle.
When we arrived back at camp in the early afternoon the other team had not yet arrived back. We became concerned because their dip tank was closer to the camp than ours and we had expected fewer cattle to vaccinate there. Each AHI had a short-wave radio in our vehicles, which had a tremendous range. I went to our radio shack at the base and they had heard nothing, saying they thought the radio was on the blink. I put up my bipod aerial and turned my set on.
“Three killed, five wounded”, I heard Alan Forbes telling John Adamson in Fort Victoria. I immediately broke into the conversation to get a logstat and sitrep. Alan said they had been ambushed and the deaths and wounded were all soldiers. We discussed what was needed as I gathered up our “army” and we headed to their rescue. I then switched to the use of my mobile aerial and headed out at high speed.
We met the ambushed team at the rendezvous and were they glad to see us! They were towing one of the Army Mercedes 45 Lorries and had to leave our soft skin lorry where it had been ambushed. We escorted the wounded to the airstrip at Silveira Mission station where they were collected. One poor fellow had his guts zipped open and had it all wrapped up in his poncho for the doctor to push it back.
I linked up with Alan Shaw at Bikita who organised ambulances and aircraft to evacuate the wounded. He also linked up with John Adamson to reassure our families at home.
It was a Saturday afternoon so most of the Veterinary Department radios were off. We had base stations in most provincial and district offices but they were only manned during working hours. It later turned out that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the set at our Nyika base, the AHI left to monitor it had not connected it properly after he had been messing around with it! He was not the most popular guy for a few days and we were lucky John happened to turn his set on in his car at his house in Fort Victoria. These things happen I suppose.
An Army ambulance was waiting for us at Nyika to transfer the bodies of our dead comrades. We all returned to camp for debriefing. It was a very sad day indeed. Whilst John insisted we stopped the operation and come home Alan Forbes and I wanted revenge and refused to be intimidated. The next morning a smaller group of us went back to the ambush site and the stories of the ambush came out whilst our Army escorts left us in a “safe” open area when they went to clear the ambush area and do a follow up.
Alan (Forbes) had been driving behind the military vehicle, which took the brunt of the fire. He said he did not know what was happening because he heard a noise and all of a sudden there was a flood of red liquid pouring out the back of the vehicle in front. The attackers had been hidden in the rocks halfway up the side of a mountain and had opened up into the troops with an RPG machine gun. All hell let loose and our troops fought back and drove the attackers off. But one of our youngsters who had not yet been called for military service spoke of small pellets hitting the ground in front of him every time he put his head out from his position behind the wheel of a lorry. We later identified these “pellets” as the core of armour piercing rounds.
We were soon called to recover our vehicle, which had been left overnight. We replaced two tyres, which had been punctured by bullets and drove back to camp as the military had lost the spoor of the attackers.
Next day we headed back to Fort Victoria to discuss the situation with John Adamson. One problem we had to overcome was to find new drivers for the 7-tonners, which carried our cattle herders and portable races. Our drivers had either run away or refused to drive after the ambush. We spoke to Central Mechanical and Equipment Department (CMED) from whom the department hired the vehicles to get permission for me to drive one of the trucks. I had a military licence but not a civilian one. Les Reid referred us to their boss, a Mr. Williamson I think, who was unfortunately far too bureaucratic to understand any reason,
Those were the days when civil servants took their jobs very seriously. (30-odd years later, Les Reid befriended my mother-in-law in Pioneer Lodge and passed away early in 2007, at the grand old age of 92! He was still driving his old Morris Mini vanette until he sold it to my mother-in-law about 18 months before that for $1,000,000 – about US$15 at the time. I am sure that this well kept “antique or classic car would have fetched much more on the collector’s market.)
I eventually gave up with all the red tape and simply drove anyway! I just cannot handle petty bureaucracy, especially when there was a very serious job to be done. Alan and I headed back to camp that evening and following the support of the rest of the staff we continued with our vaccination campaign.
We completed our first round of vaccinations with no further interruptions – bar one, but this was from a member of our own team.
Whilst we were vaccinating cattle at the Nyika dip near our camp one youngster decided he wanted to be a “hero” because he had never experienced action and merely walked out of camp into the bush to look for it! It took us a while to realise he was missing as we were only alerted by a Fire Force helicopter pilot talking to his troops about the “white terrorist” in the vicinity of a contact (with opposing forces) he was involved in. From the description he gave we recognised who he was talking about and intervened to save his life. Those chopper techs were deadly accurate with their guns – ask Beaver!
I then took a few of our team and headed out to retrieve him in two Land Rovers. When I spotted him he was on the other side of the fence so I had to back off and locate a suitable vehicle crossing point. All this time he was running away from me – and into trouble! I eventually back tracked after crossing the fence and got out of the vehicle to try to talk to him. His response was to send a few rounds in my direction!
Well, anybody that has done that to me before would know exactly what my immediate reaction would be, but fortunately I managed to check myself from firing back, even if it was intended merely to be a warning shot! Young Ian Adamson and Fred Reichard were nearby and were concerned about my possible reaction and ran forward to also pull me off. I then tried to chase him through the bush in my Land Rover but I was not driving properly because my blood was up and got stuck in a ravine. After that we just let him go, as there was nothing more we could do. The area was swarming with military from both sides and we could not risk getting in the middle – for the sake of our own safety.
We went back to our camp some 30km away and left him to it. However, we monitored the security situation and then patrolled the tar road to cover the area from where he had disappeared. Alas, no sight of him and we expected the worst. What were we to tell his parents?
Later that evening, I was called to the radio to speak to Section Officer “Black Mac” Alistair McIntyre who was based at the Bikita Police Station. By that time John Adamson had already reported the incident to the youngster’s parents. I expected only bad news but Alistair said he had courageously patrolled the road in his own VW Beetle in the hope to lure him to a civilian vehicle, and had succeeded.
“What do you want me to do with him”, he said.
“Lock him up and charge him with attempted murder!!!” I replied in a more descriptive dialogue. He said he had already disarmed him and locked him in the cells and I thanked him sincerely for his efforts and courage of driving that dangerous road at night.
Next morning we had all simmered down and he was released on bail into my custody. I had packed up his gear at the camp and spoke a few home truths to him during the 100km back to Fort Victoria where I handed the youngster over to his parents. I withdrew the charges and never saw him again. On the way he was telling me horrific stories of noises and screaming in Moodie’s Pass during the late afternoon. This was later confirmed by security force reports of the murders and torture of headmen and villagers accused of being “sell outs” to the Rhodesian forces. The brutality and torture of these people was worse than barbaric, if that is possible, and the youngster just does not know how lucky he was to have survived his little escapade in the bush.
Unfortunately, he was a little fat boy who had been spoilt all his life and was sent to join Veterinary Department with brand new camping gear, which was the envy of our other team. He was obviously teased by some of the other guys who had to listen to his fantasies about he had won the war! When he was shown up and his stories disproved, he went out on his own as an untrained and untried soldier to take on an army of terrorists to prove them all wrong. Most of the others were well experienced, and even blooded, in the war. Rather sad.
Although I cannot remember the exact time, but when we came back to the Fort Victoria office from a bush patrol during the war, old Mrs. “B”, greeted me at the door as asked me what it was like to have my name in lights. I had not the foggiest idea of what she was talking about, and besides I was rather weary after a long hard week and could not wait to get to the Chevron to begin out Friday ritual of washing down the dust – notably disregarding the dust and filth of the convoy we had been travelling in the whole day! Had to get clean on the inside first and swap all our “war stories” of the week in the bush!!
I followed her into her office and she opened the newspaper to reveal my name on the national honours list. I had apparently been awarded a gong for my services to the country for my tenacity on continuing to fight livestock diseases during the war. My citation revealed that I had survived some 18 ambushes and attacks – boy, that many, I had never kept count!
I must admit that I was quite shattered but I am still proud to have served my country during those difficult circumstances and very humbled that it had been recognised by our Government. From what I remember John Adamson, Alan Shaw, Tony Coolican and Willie Landsburg were also later recipients of the honours. They were MSM (Civil Division) and Legion of Honour.
Whilst the others definitely deserved theirs I am not absolutely convinced that I was a worthy recipient of such an honour! I enjoyed my job tremendously and the intrusions of operating during a war were just another obstacle to be cleared whilst performing our duties.
Once that campaign was over we were “biding time” by carrying out reconnaissance for the southern spread of the disease (FMD). We were still pretty jumpy after our Bikita ambush and we saw what looked like a dozen or more terrorists moving into an ambush position in the distance.
We quickly stopped our convoy and raised my aerial. The bipod aerial was held up by a series of interlocking aluminium pipes, which formed a telescopic mast. The base was a metal pipe attached to the rear of the Land Rover and the centre of the wires was raised with the pipes, then one wire was thrown out in opposite directions. Although we had extremely good comms with this radio for some reason I cannot remember we could not get a clear signal. I therefore borrowed our military escort’s SSB radio and tuned into our frequency.
I spoke to John Adamson who spoke in “shackle” ordering me to get to the nearest airstrip with my toothbrush only and to leave my Land Rover to be brought back to Fort Victoria a day or two later. We were camped at the Tokwe Section homestead on Nuanetsi Ranch, which had been vacated. When I explained that there was a possible ambush waiting for us, between us and between Renco Mine airstrip, he said I should get to Buffalo Range airport and meet Tony Davy.
Many years later, whilst talking around the campfire it turned out that the “terrorists” ahead of us were in fact a patrol of Grey Scouts (A unit which was mounted on horseback.) Young Stuart Howie, who had been part of that group, related the incident to us, after he later joined us as an L/AHI once he had completed his national Service. I always remember that he had been severely affected by stress caused a close call when his mounted troupe was ambushed in Gonarezhou National Park, near Buffalo Bend. He was apparently separated from his unit during the heat of battle and had to fight his way through dense bush to locate the rest of the troupe some of whom had been badly wounded.
My first concern was that something was wrong with one of my parents in Salisbury. Anyway we arrived at Buffalo Range airport late afternoon and I met up with Tony. He introduced me to Major Brian de Woronin, but I was baffled. He said I was in charge of an operation to vaccinate cattle in the Zaka and Bikita communal areas and I had to brief the officers 5 companies of Army who were situated on the ground. How could I do this when I had no plan? He said the orders had come from John and I would know what to do!!
Well, we jumped in the plane and I had my first aerial view of the treacherous area we were destined to work in for the next three weeks. Being a “boy from the bush” with a love for the wide-open spaces I get claustrophobic in small aeroplanes and was happy to touch the ground at each of the company headquarters on the ground. The plan was to revaccinate the cattle, which we had previously done north of the road. We would then move to the south of the road and “virus” all the cattle there.
We finally hit the ground after dark at Fort Victoria Airport and not before time because the claustrophobia, stress, hunger and fear of flying had got the better of me. I was shaking like a leaf when I got out the plane. Who was there to meet me but Piet Kriek? He was one of our Fort Victoria “gang” and son of Cora Kriek from Barry Nell’s Chemist. He was doing National Service and had been assigned to get me home – via a few pubs of course!
This is a method of rapidly spreading infection by injecting 1mm of a sterile 5000 – 1 (or more) solution made up from the vesicular fluid drawn from a blister on a FMD animal. Dr John Adamson was the first to use this method many years ago. FMD is a non-fatal disease and animals that recover are immune to that specific strain of the disease for up to 18 months. The rapid mechanical spreading of this disease aids by reducing the risk factor. Although the incubation period of FMD is 24 hours or less in a herd it is necessary to spread the disease like this because some herds are isolated from others.
Alan (Shaw’s) job was to ensure none of the infected cattle crossed the tar road to move north and then it was my next job to ensure none of the infected cattle crossed the Mutirikwe River to move west. I will come back to that later.
For the next three weeks we split up into three teams for both the vaccination and virus campaign. I have never been able to count exactly how many people were placed under “my new command”. There were about 25 L/AHI and AHIs; about 35 Guard Force; about 30 District Commissioner armed staff; about 75 Veterinary and casual labour; 1 company of RAR escorting us and another 5 companies of regular and national service Army personnel.
We started work at 3am every day and I never got to bed before 11pm every day for the entire 3 weeks without a weekend break. When we got back from our daily task we generally had to move or set up camp and then we had the “O Group” and planning, and then the briefing of the staff and troops in preparation for the next day.
We did our job well and we ended up with a party at the Zaka Club to celebrate. It was also the one and only time I every pilfered any Government money to pay for the drinks for the troops and staff. The boss new about it and covered for me, after I had nearly exposed the “plot” by making the request over an open radio channel! You have to use your own initiative in the bush, and besides my system was so exhausted that I only personally benefited in the form of 2 beers before I collapsed in a heap!
Bad news! The last dip tank had to be revisited because the turnout was too low and that particular dip was right on the Mutirikwe River so John insisted it had to be redone the next day. Bad move! We had developed various successful anti-ambush strategies during the exercise, which had been ambush free. Our group revisiting the dip walked into trouble and there was a bit of a firefight, but fortunately no casualties.
We all then dispersed home with a job well done. But it ended with me getting a nickname of “Colonel Klink”, which was taken from a character in the Hogan’s Heroes television programme. Fortunately it was only mainly Alan Leadbeater who favoured to use it, as I did not particularly approve of it. But who am I to say?
My next task was to set up patrols along the thick western banks of the Mutirikwe River. John had liased with Provincial Water Engineer Mike Lotter to release sufficient water from Kyle Dam to form a barrier that cattle could not cross. He asked me to check this physically, but I don’t know what I was thinking, because I went straight into the water, which was waist deep.
I sometimes travelled with my two Staffordshire Bull Terriers (Staffies), especially when I was alone for a week in the bush. I had set up two armed lookouts at strategic spots before I entered the water, in case of a terrorist attack. My two Staffies dived in the water to follow me when they disappeared one by one. They then came up very angry and proceeded to dive under again and attack whatever was down there. A raging battle ensued until finally each dog staggered out, blooded, on opposite banks. Fortunately they survived and fortunately I had a friendly veterinarian to patch them up for free because the wounds were extensive.
I asked the lookouts what was going on. They said a crocodile – “about two FNs long” (over 2 metres) had attacked them and they had won!! Crocodiles were the very last things on my mind, but I can assure you I exited that river with great speed indeed! So fast in fact, that I felt that I was walking on top of the water to avoid the ghastly creatures with their incredibly powerful jaws.
Trying to use the Mutirikwe River as a cordon line was a very bad idea and ultimately did not work. Working in that thick river line and using the same roads every other day was extremely dangerous and the only reason I am alive today is because of my sixth sense for which I am very grateful. They were laying in ambush for me all over the place but somehow I managed to evade them.
Then a great tragedy occurred. Whilst in Fort Victoria I received a message that my Cordon Guards had all run away because some had been either killed or abducted by terrorists, apparently in their frustration in being unable to get hold of me.
I reported the matter to the Police and went down in convoy with Patrol Officer Nigel Leakey, early the next morning. We searched everywhere and questioned the local people until we found the three badly mutilated bodies. They were scattered around and not in one place. There was more horror when we turned the bodies over to identify the victims. Apart from masses of maggot eggs on their naked torsos, dogs and maggots had chewed away their faces and other “meaty” parts of their bodies.
Unfortunately we only had a single stainless steel “body box” as the reports had been sketchy so all three decomposing bodies had to fit in there and were then tied to the roof of the Land Rover station wagon. The unhealthy stench unfortunately did not allow the dignity of placing them inside the closes vehicle. I followed in my vehicle but even though I stayed quite far back to avoid the dust the stench was overpowering.
I could never forgive the senseless torture and murder of such innocent, unarmed civilians in the war, by people who would later go on to become leaders in Zimbabwe. It was a sign of their barbarity and lack of compassion for their fellow human beings, which has never ceased and still continues so many decades after independence was achieved.
A few days later Fred Reichard and I set off in a 2-vehicle convoy to carry the bodies home to their homes in the Chipinga district. That whole trip was another story in itself, as is every day that you spend in the company of that mad, but lovable and charismatic Hollander, especially during his bachelor days. In fact Alan Shaw had recruited the long haired “hippie” after they were in Fort Victoria Hospital together. I don’t think the two “Bright Light” Police Reserve escorts will ever forget that trip, particularly the St Patrick’s Day party at the Chipinga Nurse’s Home!
At least we gave the three victims a decent and dignified funeral in coffins, which were supplied by our department.
The brutal war years continued for several more years and so did our dangerous work of controlling diseases in livestock in Rhodesia. There were FMD outbreaks all over the country as it became more and more difficult to control. With the lack of vaccinations and lack of control many other diseases spread completely out of control. And no we did not spread the deadly Anthrax amongst the indigenous herd as the new Zanu (PF) government’s incessant propaganda machine has often accused the Rhodesian forces of doing!
I was transferred back to Nuanetsi as Senior/AHI and was worried that my mine protected Land Rover modified with the 190D Mercedes engine was now too slow for the convoys and also that my luck just had to run out. I therefore bought Tony Coolican’s “Armadillo”, which was a converted Land Rover with an armour-plated cab! This vehicle was a real juice guzzler as it was petrol. The Mercedes modification on my old one gave me 36 miles to the gallon on the cheaper diesel fuel, but this one drank petrol with all the extra weight. The springs had to be reset and modified to carry all the extra weight of the armour plating.
It was rather ironic that I never saw any more military action in that vehicle. I will never know if it was still a good investment or not!
Most of us in Veterinary were seconded to the farcical elections in 1980 as Presiding Officers and it was an extremely interesting time riding around with the pink nosed, red faced and “rooinek” British Bobby’s. Very interesting people and a lot of friends made. However, I think we were all flawed with the results, especially as we submitted more affidavits complaining about intimidation, than we did votes, which we collected and put into the ballot boxes.
I was so stunned the day the “Enemy” became our leaders that I literally locked myself in my house at Nuanetsi for 3 days to meditate over my own future. I decided to stay and give it a go in the new Zimbabwe and was soon “summonsed” to Bulawayo by Alan to work with him there.
One thing I will never forget in my life was the first day of the end of the war. Overnight the brutality and threats ceased. There was a void left after so many years of violence and the readjustment took quite some time.
Just before Alan moved to Bulawayo we opened the first round of cattle sales in Nuanetsi communal areas with quite a fanfare. However, our “fanfare” was soon put out because it just poured with rain. Knowing the problems with flooded rivers in the area from previous experience, we jumped into our convoy of now civilian vehicles and tried to beat the first flooded river the Dinhe. Alas we were far too late and had to sleep in our vehicles without food, on the riverbank. The flooded torrent kept up all night and it was only early the next morning that we managed to get across.
Fortunately I had my Staffies with us to amuse us through the night. Once they got into water they never wanted to get out. One of their tricks was to remove sticks and stones from the bottom of the cattle water troughs on the ranches we visited. The river was one big “water trough” and once the cattle buyers started throwing in objects for them to retrieve from under water they just did not stop. By morning there was a huge pile of retrieved objects on the riverbank.
Alan also told some of his cattle sale stories, some of which I will relate below.
There was an AHI called “Niggley” Wilson, who insisted on carrying an iron bed on the roof of his vehicle whenever he camped. This was completely different to the rest of us who used fold up camp beds. Anyway, as the story went, he had the habit of keeping a large jam tin under the bed at night for use as a potty. Part of his habit was to get into bed and then urinate into it before placing it under his bed! The one night, after a few drinks around the campfire, one of the cattle buyers punched a few holes in his tin, with the expected result. He was furious and I leave the rest to your own imagination, as it is not printable!!
The other story was about old Gert Nel who was a cattle buyer and local icon from Chatsworth. Although he was stinking rich and even built the local junior school, which was named after him, he was reputed to be as tight as a d… (Shall we say Scrooge instead!?) He is said to have never brought either food or drink to the cattle sales and sponged of everyone else instead! I remember meeting him at the Chikombedzi District Commissioner’s camp on the Nuanetsi River. He was the only person in camp and immediately went to the fridge and offered me a beer or two. It was only much later that I learned that this was what he did. The rest of the buyers (whose beer it was) had been for a walk down the river and were looking forward to a cold beer on their return, only to find the fridge had been empties by Oom Gert and myself!
Most of the other buyers were much younger than him and out of respect they just put up with it until one day! One evening whilst camping at Chigwedziwa DC’s camp, one buyer had enough of the old man’s antics and brought some Jeksen Pills (a laxative) with him. He crushed them and put them on the old man’s food and more in his coffee the next morning. There were stinking “skid marks” all over the place and he even soiled his clothes on his way to the distant outside long-drop on the hill. The persistent medicine even affected his attempts to bid for cattle the next day, and that was the last cattle sale round in Nuanetsi that he ever attended!
Alan summonsed me to work with him in Bulawayo during the second year of independence. There was a huge amount of work to be done in training new staff as well as administering the new funding which had come in from the European Union to assist us with disease control to open up our Lome export market again. My new beat covered the area from Beitbridge in the south, right up to Hwange and Victoria Falls.
Alan called a lot of his old Fort Victoria team to help him in his newly promoted position as Chief Animal Health Inspector Matabeleland. Alan Forbes and I both came to his call.
I actually spent my first month or so house sitting for Alan and Sheila Forbes who went on leave.
The two Alan’s and I were responsible for virtually rebuilding Veterinary Department in its new role which meant we had to rebuild all the damaged dip tanks in the communal areas and to take over that responsibility completely from the Ministry of Local Government. We also had to recruit and train new personnel and to open up Veterinary advisory centres located all through the communal areas.
This obviously required us to enroll more administrative staff as well as building workshops at our Bulawayo office. Fortunately the office was situated on the edge of the industrial sites and the area had previously housed a Veterinary Quarantine centre, so there was adequate land available to us. It was an incredible project, which was financed by the European Union, and Alan and I became very sought after by traders around town as we had a huge amount of money to spend.
Keeping tabs on all this spending was quite a job – especially for untrained “accountants” like myself, but we were all extremely proud of comments handed down to us by the EU audit team that spent two weeks checking on our work around the Matabeleland Province. According to their assessment our books and our assets balanced right down to the last cent and they had never experienced such incredible control over donor finance in their entire careers! I wish I could say the same for my own business’s books! Anyway it was a tremendous compliment. I must say we had been extremely worried during the build up to their inspection. But it was all credit to Alan and the team he had brought in from Masvingo – even if I say so myself!!
It was during that time that we introduced the branding of cattle with specific brands, which identified disease or vaccination status as well as provincial, and Foot and Mouth Disease zone brands. When we discussed it the whole idea sounded impossible to manage but we had to do something to curb the uncontrolled movement of cattle if we were going to keep out vital export contracts to the EU open. We therefore had thousands of branding irons made and distributed amongst our staff and this exercise has continued even until today.
Alan was more at home in Bulawayo because it was closer to his Gweru home and also he was more fluent in Ndebele than in the Shona language. The province also has its own crop of memorable characters like George Parkin and Ernie (“My boy”) Stock – both cattlemen of course except George peddled and speculated in absolutely anything and seemed to just revel in the raw power of dominating any kind of auction. Consequently he had huge piles of junk scattered all over the place, but seemed to resell most of it in his shop in town.
Every Friday evening, and sometimes during the week, after work it became a “tradition” for us all to go for a drink at Skittle Inn, near the railway Station. Although it was in a rough part of town it had real character and our constant companion there was Jimmy Corker, who owned Metfab, who did a lot of work for us making anything from cattle neck clamps to brick moulds. He had a loud Cockney accent and a raucous laugh to go with it. He was married to a Czechoslovakian lady who he was always “complaining” about and often repeated the story of how she once tried to kill him with a pitchfork! His also, often repeated joke, which stuck in my mind was, “My wife said she wanted to go on holiday and I said she could. When she asked where he recommended she should go he said, the Valley of a Thousand Hills – and spend a month on each!” Of course all tongue in cheek but his constant joking (albeit repetitive) helped us wash the dust and stress of work away with a few beers.
In 1982 I left Veterinary to take up an opportunity to farm in Nuanetsi. I will never forget the evening which I said farewell to Alan and all my mates. It started at the Skittle Inn and ended up at BAC.
Although I had put Bulawayo and Veterinary behind me Alan and Eileen were the only two people who kept in touch with me. They could not keep away from the bush and drove down to see me on the ranch several times after their retirement. They used to stay for several days and I enjoyed their company tremendously, especially when Alan and I were alone around the fire trading stories of the past.
Many years later, after Alan and Eileen had returned from working at a feedlot in South Africa they stayed in a cottage on Peter Locke’s property in Bulawayo. Our daughter Karen was at Girl’s College then so we managed to pop in quite regularly, who they really appreciated – and so did we!
As described in son Owen’s poem of tribute below, the loss of his son Colin “blew out his candles”. Like all the elderly in Zimbabwe the value of his pension was also adversely affected by the incredible hyperinflation. I visited him once or twice in hospital but he had tremendous difficulty in breathing. He just wasted away and was a shadow of his former self the last time we met. He then moved to South Africa to be under the care of his loving children and I never saw him again.
Sadly only some of my memories of Alan are included above. All of them are happy memories and of a loving family man of whom I will always have tremendous respect and love.
He was a gentleman of gentlemen.
POEM FOR ALAN
I was not there
On Saturday evening
When you left us
No time to say farewell
Nothing but silence
You have let us go
Now we have to find the strength
To let you go
Into everlasting peace
Close to Colin …..
I was deprived of
Just one more time
To say thank you
For loving me
And believing in me
You were always so strong
Tall, lean and skin kissed by the golden African sun
Handsome in your bush jacket
You were a great hunter
And a skilled fisherman
A wonderful father
A dedicated husband
You loved to have fun with us
Make us squeal when you teased us
And sit with huge round eyes
Listening in awe to your recollections
Of events long gone
You were a treasure of knowledge
So proud of your great ancestor
Who I am sure
Is proud of the wonderful way
His great grandson conducted his life
You were a master
Of the tongues of Africa
Zulu, Xhosa, Shangane, Mashona
You respected their culture
And those that worked with you
Had the greatest admiration
Long before the winds of change blew
You loved your grandchildren
And they all have a special place
Reserved in their hearts
For you Dad
You always wanted to have a little girl
After the fifth boy arrived you gave up
Then when we brought the girls
That became our wives
You spoiled them with love
They were your special daughters
Ma has always meant so much to you
We will take care of her Dad
Us brothers have all been special to you
Each in our own unique way
You understood our differences
Your fire died
When Colin left us
I saw your candles burn out
All of them at the same time
What has happened to you and Ma
Is so cruel
You were tested so harshly
And came through scarred
But with flying colours
Hamba Kahle Inkulu!
You were the best!