Poem written for my brother who was a Selous Scout killed in action in the Rhodesia war on 17th Feb 1978 [age 24]. UDI was unilateral declaration of independece declared by Ian Smith on 11/11/1965
Thoughts of a Troopie
Ten years old and four feet high
History and U.D.I.
"Today we've struck a blow", said he
"For Justice and Christianity,
For Principle we've made a stand,
Courageous people, splendid land
Civilized we stand or fall
God save the Queen, God bless you all."
And like the years, good friends have gone
Dave and Richard, Mike and John
Crash and ambush, mine and mortar
Cold and heat and dust and water
Freckled David, laughing Paul
and Pete my bravest friend of all.
Write their names on Rolls of Honour,
Scripted bold in golden splendour.
For us will be no victory day,
The dogs of war have gone astray.
Now Principle becomes surrender,
Expediency, the legal tender.
Is justice just for those who shout?
Is this what Christ is all about?
Will someone tell us why we fight?
What once was wrong is now what's right.
Where am I going? - where have I been?
Years of waste - and so I cried,
The day my good friend Johnny died. written by Russell MacDonald Drysdale (Selout Scout and friend of my brother Johnny) Pete Whitfield
Extract from Peter Baxter's book "Selous Scouts: Rhodesian Counter-Insurgency Specialists"
SELOUS SCOUTS TRAGEDY
We based ourselves at Shabani, some on hundred kilometers West of Fort Victoria, the largest town in the Repulse area. Unusually, we had been spared two Alhouette helicopters for our operations and there was therefore a small airforce presence at camp with us.
We had been deployed by chopper in O.P.’s and on clandestine patrols for about a week, and my platoon had just returned to camp to resupply, when a call came in from the JOC at Fort Victoria on 5th February 1978 that a small group of Selous Scouts had been ambushed in the infamous Nyajena TTL, near Fort Vic, and that they had suffered casualties and required urgent casevac and assistance.
Major Barry instructed me to assemble two ‘sticks’ for deployment by chopper to the ambush scene, and we quickly prepared ourselves to depart. It was about 16h00 when we left, and I anticipated that we would simply be assisting in the casevac and returning to camp before dark. On arrival, however, it quickly became clear that the situation was far worse, and more complicated than I had thought or anticipated. I saw a handful of Selous Scouts in a huddle next to two of their column vehicles and the dead bodies of four of their comrades. One of their number, Keith Moss, was critically wounded, and we immediately set about loading the fatalities and the wounded soldier onto the choppers.
It was getting dark and one of the chopper pilots passed on to me orders from JOC that we were to stay with the remaining seven Scouts, and accompany them by vehicle to Renco Tin Mine, some twenty kilometers away, at first light the next day. The survivors were all badly shaken and shocked, and in no condition to commence our journey in the remaining light anyway. I arranged for us to move a short distance away into better cover, whilst the choppers disappeared, presumably straight to .
I spoke to the Scouts’ leader, and as the shadows grew longer, he told me what had happened. It transpired that his group had been dispatched by their Commanding Officer Lt. Colonel Ron Reid Daly, by vehicle, to recover from a village in the Nyajena TTL, the wife of a Corporal Burundu, who had been with the Selous Scouts Regiment since its inception. Although Corporal Burundu had been kidnapped by terrorists during 1976, and was presumed dead, it was the policy of the Selous Scouts to look after their own, including their families, and it had apparently become known in the village that this woman was indeed the wife of a Rhodesian soldier, the equal of a death sentence in a community heavily under the control of and sympathetic to ZANLA.
Having fetched Corporal Burundi’s wife from her village, the group were compelled to use the same route back to Renco Mine, since this was the only road access. Their movements had been monitored by a very large group of ZANLA insurgents who, knowing full well that the Scouts would have to use the same dirt track to exit the TTL, established a highly effective ambush position in anticipation of the Scouts’ return.
He told me that they had been taken completely by surprise and that both column vehicles had been caught square in the ambush crossfire, which had lasted no more than a few seconds. He was adamant, however, that the ZANLA group was extremely large, and that they simply hadn’t stood a chance. This didn’t surprise me, since Nyajena TTL had for some time been a ‘frozen’ or ‘no go’ area, so-called because the locals had become so subverted that their loyalty lay firmly with the enemy. As a result, they couldn’t be relied upon to supply intelligence, unless under duress, and such areas were generally avoided both for this reason, and for the reason that their strategic importance was, by and large, not that great. What was clear, however, was that we were heavily outnumbered, and that the Gooks well knew that there was only one way out of the TTL by road.
I must admit that I have never seen such a dispirited and demoralized group of soldiers, but given the intensity and ferocity of the fire fight that they had just been involved in, it was hardly surprising. I also learnt from one of the Scouts that his brother, Keith Moss, was the one Scout who had been casevaced, badly wounded. We settled down and spread ourselves out defensively in anticipation of a possible night attack, and endured a long, fairly cold and anxious night without sleeping bags or food, and took turns to keep guard.
At first light, a brief recce revealed that we weren’t under any immediate threat, and we prepared ourselves for the journey to Renco Mine. What followed was the longest twenty kilometers I have ever traveled. The two column vehicles we would be traveling in were modified open Land Rovers, one of which was fitted with a fifty caliber Browning, and the other twin 7.62 medium automatic guns, and both of which were otherwise troop carriers.
I split us up into two groups and traveled in the front vehicle, which was equipped with the twin 7.62’s, and took with me our most experienced ‘sparrow’. We were all extremely tense, since there emerged early signs, demonstrated by fresh spoor, that a large number of insurgents had recently been walking on either side of the track. Every three hundred metres or so, trees had been felled or other obstacles placed across the road to hinder our progress. On each occasion, we would all exit the vehicles, save for the drivers, and commence a slow sweep through likely ambush positions. There was a very keen sense that we were in ‘enemy territory’, and large pro-ZANLA slogans were painted on the walls of most of the kraals and small buildings which we passed.
The air was palpably thick with the anticipation of a contact, and it was now quite obvious from the spoor which our Sparrow was picking up, that the terrorist group was about fifty in number, and pretty close to us. There was no doubt that the insurgents were planning a further ambush along the road somewhere, and every bend in the track revealed a potential ambush position for them. The bush was very thick.
I gave orders for the gunners on both column vehicles to fire into likely cover, since this would obviously dampen the Gooks’ enthusiasm to lay a static ambush, and the Scouts had with them more than sufficient ammunition to allow us the luxury to do so. I also made radio contact with the JOC at , and asked whether they could afford us any air cover. Happily, they were well aware of our precarious position, and informed me that they would be making a Lynx available to assist us and, of course, to act as an additional deterrent to the ZANLA group.
I decided to stay put until the Lynx arrived, and it was overhead us within about half an hour. I cannot describe our collective relief when we heard the familiar drone of its engines, and somehow, for as long as the aircraft was with us, we felt that we held the psychological upper hand, despite our small numbers. I made contact with the Lynx pilot, and his voice was reassuring. He would be flying slow orbits ahead of us and would warn us when we were approaching spots which, aerially, looked like potential ambush positions.
Keith Moss’ brother, who was on my vehicle, asked me to enquire with the Lynx pilot as to Keith’s condition. The news, however, was not good, and it fell to me to inform Keith’s brother that Keith had succumbed to his injuries during the previous night. The bad news added to our anxiety as we continued along the track to Renco Mine, and it was coupled with a warning that we were approaching an area of dense bush. For the umpteenth time, we commenced a sweep, whilst the Lynx took a few strafing runs at the likely ambush spot.
As we moved through the dense bush, our Sparrow came upon the first of what turned out to be in excess of fifty recently abandoned and well-prepared individual ambush positions where foliage had been freshly cut to provide added cover. There was no question that the Gooks had gone to a great deal of time and effort to lay their ambush, and I am certain that the presence of the Lynx, and our ploy of firing into likely cover had made them skittish and caused them to abandon their plan,
The relief amongst us was tangible, since we were now probably no more than seven or eight kilometers from Renco, and it was most unlikely that the Gooks would be going to the effort, and risk, of laying a further ambush. The Lynx had been with us for several hours now, and needed to return to to refuel. In discussion with the Lynx pilot, he and I mutually agreed that the worst was almost undoubtedly over, and that he wouldn’t need to return after refueling. He assured me, in any event, that there was little in the way of dense vegetation alongside the track for the remainder of our journey.
Although still slow, the rest of our journey was nonetheless uneventful, and we arrived at Renco Mine at about 15h00 that day. It had taken us about nine hours to cover some twenty kilometers! The news of our arrival during the course of the day had obviously been communicated somehow to the Renco Mine staff, and we were treated to a slap-up meal by them.
Separate arrangements had been made for the Scouts to be taken back to their headquarters at Inkomo Barracks, just outside , and since the Choppers which had deployed us were otherwise engaged at the time, Major Barry had made arrangements for one of out Company vehicles to uplift us and transport us back to Shabani.
We bade farewell to an extremely grateful and relieved group of Selous Scouts and arrived at camp shortly after dark, after what had been probably the most harrowing and nerve-wracking experience I had ever had. Even today, I find it uncanny to think that, whilst we were operating within the borders of our own country, we may as well have been involved in an external in or Mocambique.