We would like to chronicle for posterity individual's service memories and experiences that otherwise
may never be recorded outside of commercial publications.
There are no restrictions and you may like to remember a time or place or a fallen mate, we owe it to
our children to pen our experiences and there is no greater honour we can give those that fell than
ongoing life in our memories.
This section may be accessed by young formative minds or old incurable ones and potential authors
are urged to omit detail or personal references that may shock or offend.
A degree of plausibility and fact, although although not essential, is encouraged and the insertion
of asterix where descriptive expletives are required would be appreciated.
In an effort to maintain the tellers flavour, editing will be limited to correcting outrageous spelling and
grammatical errors typical of soldiers narrative.
A Most Fortunate Day
Shall We, or Shan't We ?
The day in question occurred in April 1979 while I was serving with Support Commando, doing Fireforce out of Grand Reef near Umtali.
During the preceding weeks, Support Commando had been responding to call-outs virtually every day and sometimes, multiple times per day.
Whilst there was the odd "lemon", most were genuine with the majority of these involving heavy action.
As anyone who was serving with RLI during that time will testify, the March-April-May '79 period was one where RLI saw a lot of action, made a
heavy impact on the enemy and correspondingly, suffered a lot of casualties ourselves.
The day started off pretty much like any other day when on Fireforce with the usual early morning routine of a PT run by all of Support Commando
down the airstrip, followed by pokey drill.
After this exercise, first-wave sticks dropped their webbing off next the Operations Hut near the Air force chopper bays. The bays were created by
battered 44 gallon drums being filled with soil and staked several drums high, sandbag walls and, with a degree of overhead protection provided by
wire mess held up by tall timber poles.
The chopper bay and indeed all the rest of Grand Reef Base was plainly utilitarian in style however oddly enough, the Operations Hut was
surrounded by a quaint but distinctly out-of-place, low English cottage-garden type white- picket fence…..a very colonial touch!
Lunch time came and went with no callout and just when everyone was beginning to think that we were going to have a day off from combat, the
call-out siren started it's slow wail so, off we ran to the Operations Hut to kit-up, Cammo-up and, have a quick smoke or two while the stick leaders
were inside the hut getting a briefing.
As we had our Fireforce drill down pretty pat, stick leader briefings normally only took a few minutes however this time, it seemed ages before the
stick leaders came out to give their respective sticks a run-down on what was going to happen.
To the loud enveloping noise of choppers whining into life and a pervasive stench of kerosene in the air, we were advised that there had been an OP
siting of a group of 12 gooks who were all wearing a combination of green and blue denim clothing and armed mostly with AK-47's but also, with
an RPD and RPG-7 in the group.
The reason given for the long briefing was that flight time to the "scene" was long thus requiring a re-fuelling stop en-route and because of this,
there was concern that there would not be sufficient time to wrap the scene up and get back to Grand Reef before dark.
The significance of this being that the Rho AF Alloette III helicopter did not have night flight capability. In the end, it was decided to "Give it a Go" -
oh well, just another day at the office.
Being an MAG Gunner at the time, it was not necessary for me to know where we were going, so as per normal, I sat bilthly at the open door of the
chopper enjoying the African scenery flash by.
After a while I noticed that we were roughly travelling in a Northerly direction and as we were starting to climb over some pretty high rising ground,
I realized we were heading to the Inyanga highlands area.
Before the war really started hotting-up, Inyanga, with it's green mountain scenery, waterfalls and cool climate was considered a great holiday
location however in present circumstances, what it meant to me was broken country with lots of re-entrants and in places, close (near on rainforest)
type bush…all difficult ground to hunt gooks in.
After about 40 minutes or so, our Choppers descended and landed on a large sealed vehicle park area inside the compound of the 3rd Independent
The 3rd Indep Coy was a Territorial Army unit permenantly based in the Inyanga area which had responsibility for patrolling the immediate vicinity
and generally, inhibiting gook freedom of movement in the area.
The base had a tremendous view of the surrounding countryside which, was quite unique in that it consisted of a numerous steep-sided conical
shaped hills. Although covered in thick African bush, these conical hills looked for all the world like mini extinct volcanos.
Although the scenery was unquestionably striking, it crossed my mind that the mini-volcanos might also offer the gooks a good view of the 3 Indep
It was will little surprise I later learned that the base periodically found itself the focus of attention of gook mortar crews.
The arrival of Fireforce had attracted the interest of off-duty Indep Coy personnel who, wandered over and attempted to engage the RLI in
Perhaps due to pre-combat tensions or, simply because RLI tended to view chaps from most other units as lesser mortals, we did not encourage this
conversation….an act of snootiness which we would later have cause to regret.
In quick-time the choppers were re-fuelled and we were back in the air. After what seemed to be a very short flight, the choppers off-loaded us into a
wide dry creek-bed at the base of a long heavily treed ridgeline with numerous peaks and deep gullies.
Because of the thick tree cover, the choppers were unable to provide their usual level of overhead observation and fire support and thus, after
shaking out into extended line, we cautiously started sweeping up towards the top of the ridge.
For a period of time it looked as though the gooks had managed to slip through the fireforce net however, about 2/3's of the way up the feature,
contact was initiated.
Most of the gooks had hold-up in very thickly bushed re-entrant positions which offered great cover & concealment and rather un-sportingly, despite
all K-Car and Lynx aircraft fire support enticements, remained content to wait for us to come in after them in person.
Weeding a stubborn enemy out of such positions is and exceedingly difficult & dangerous affair and thus, it took us much longer than hoped to
wrap-up the scene.
Our normal method of clearing a re-entrant was for the stick leader to cautiously advance down the centre of the gully, with riflemen and gunner up
on either bank to both protect his flanks and as required, provide fire support down into the gully.
During one sweep, I was up on the right bank with the MAG and came to where there was an extremely large tree growing on the very edge of the
bank with a big chunk of it's root structure hanging over the 5 metre or so vertical drop into the gully.
Being unable to otherwise get around this obstacle, I was forced to veer away from the bank and carefully negotiate a section of bush thick with
vines that continually snagged at my webbing, the MAG barrel and MAG belt.
I had just managed to regain the edge of the gully when virtually at my feet, there was a sudden eruption of movement and noise from what seemed
to be a ground level mat of vines & grass.
As I knew for certain that no one friendly was to my front, I immediately brought the barrel of my MAG to bear, and rapidly put a number of short
busts into the mat.
The end of my MAG barrel was only about one metre from target and so, the muzzle blast rapidly spread the mat allowing me a good view of a
gook armed with an AK-47 and chest webbing whom, just for good measure, I gave a few more squirts.
My stick leader called for me to get back and as from past experience I knew it was wise to immediately obey this instruction, I promptly took cover
near the big tree.
My stick leader then proceeded to re-kill this gook, plus another who I had not previously seen but, given they were both laying in the same small
hole, was likely taken out when I dispatched the other with 20 or so rounds of point blank MAG fire.
The two gooks had obviously been laying in ambush for anyone coming down the centre of the gully but, my sudden appearance at very close
quarters from an unexpected direction clearly gave them a nasty surprise and in their rush to bring their weapons to bear, made noise & movement
which alerted me to their presence.
Another fortunate aspect about this incident was that after having dragged the bodies out of the hole for the purpose of removing weapons and
webbing, we found a number of Chinese stick grenades which, despite the timber handles having been totally shattered by gunfire, had failed to
detonate either when initially struck or, when the bodies were moved……. could have been messy!
Almost a TV Star
After gingerly disposing of the shattered stick grenades, we continued to clear the gully, stopping just above were it joined into the dry creek bed
where we had originally been deposited by the Choppers.
It was here we received a radio message that a TV documentary film crew were being flow into our location to take footage of the contact scene.
My stick leader selected me to accompany him down to the dry creek bed to meet the film crew and escort them back up the gully to the site of our
Just as we came to the end of the gully and reached the edge of the creek bed, we saw a Chopper land about 80 metres away and after only a
momentary pause on the ground, took off and departed.
There was thick 2+ metre hight elephant grass growing in that part of the creek bed and although we could not actually see the film crew, we started
making our way to where they had obviously been dropped off.
Halfway there, we came across a previously unseen old timber cattle yard which took us some time to clamber over and continue on our way.
The sound of firefights from other nearby gullies could be clearly heard and by the time we reached the film crew, they were scared out of their wits
having thought they had been accidentally dropped off in a location with no one there to meet them.
Telling the film crew to stick close to us, we escorted them back up "our" gully where they duly took footage of our previous contact scene and
asked questions, which included a brief interview with myself.
What luck I thought, imagine the chances of appearing in TV footage taken at an actual battle scene.
My dreams of perpetual fame lasted only until I learned that the documentary was being made for a German language audience and thus, would
unlikely ever be seen by any of my friends or family…..….bugger!
Soon after the film crew departed and remaining pockets of enemy resistance eliminated, all sticks were up lifted and returned to the 3 Indep base at
Inyanga where by this time, the sun was rapidly setting and was obvious to all that this was not going to be a short re-fuelling stop but instead, we
would have to stay the night there.
While waiting by the choppers for our officers to return and advise us of meal and sleeping arrangements, we noticed that strangely, there were no
Indep chaps to be seen…….if we had only known what they were up to!
After what seemed to be ages but in reality was probably only 20 or 30 minutes, our Officers returned and intriguingly announced "Ouens'…..you
have a choice".
Our Officers then went on to advise that, there was a 10¢ Night on at the Montclair resort in nearby Juliasdale (40 km away), it was possible for the
Officers to get a cash loan from the Indep Officers mess and that, transport could be made available to take us to there and back.
Troopies were still getting over the shock of hearing the "Choice" word, when the Officers further announced that there were some conditions, these
being to go to the Montclair, we would have to forfeit getting an evening meal at the Indep Coy. and, be washed and ready to move within 30
Beside the use of the "Choice" word the other highly unusual aspect to this affair was that RLI only ever allowed troopies to go on liberty runs to
nearby towns if the we properly attired in their best freshly laundered No. 4 Cammos complete with stable belt & beret, boots were appropriately
polished and, each individual had been inspected to ensure they were cleanly shaved and hair not too long.
As it was normal RLI practice that when going out on a fireforce call out to wear whatever configuration of uniform best suited each individual, not
one of us came even close to the normal liberty run standard of presentation and accordingly, this simply added to the novelty of having been given
In response to the Officer's question, there was an immediate & unanimous shout of 10¢ Night, we rushed off to find the ablutions block.
By this time nightfall had descended and when we eventually located the showers, we discovered that as a precaution against enemy mortar fire, all
unnecessary lights at the base were disconnected and much to our chagrin, this included the ablutions block
It was now that we discovered the reason for absence of Indep chaps - having heard that we were staying the night and obviously still miffed at our
earlier ill-advised snobbery, they had got into the showers and used up ALL the hot water.
As if showering in darkness with cold water was not bad enough, it now also dawned on us that we had neither soap or towels and as a
consequence, far from being able to wash-off our cammo-cream, all we managed to do was smear it to a slightly lighter shade than it had been prior
to entering the shower.
Being the ever resilient RLI, undaunted we used our combat grimed jumpsuits and t-shirts as towels, re-donned our heavily soiled clothing, and with
full combat weaponry in hand, climbed aboard the Indep Coy supplied truck and headed off to the Montclair.
Upon de-buss in the Montclair carpark, the enjoyment generated by the sheer novelty of the occasion failed to be dampened when we found that the
generosity of the 3 Indep Officer's Mess loan only extended as far as enabling each tropia to be issued $2.00 with which to gamble and make merry
for the evening.
Having been loaded up with this grand sum, we enthusiastically swung open the large double doors to the Montclair's casino (gambling room) only
to be greeted with by all the other patrons staring at us open-mouthed in stunned silence.
Although we of the RLI were we no unaccustomed to being viewed with a certain degree of "reservation", and admittedly we were pretty scruffy &
rough looking but this immediate en-mass display of effrontery was in a league all of it's own.
Ruffled feathers were soon smoothed when we learned that the shocked behaviour was because of a case of mistaken identity…….apparently, some
months earlier the Montclair had been attacked by the gooks and the sudden appearance of a large group of heavily armed and blackened faced
men had momentarily put the fear of God into the Montclair's patrons & staff.
As I was desperately hungry, after we had dumped our weapons & webbing in a pile in the corner of the gaming room, I collared a waiter and after
finding out that a tasted sandwich and beer were only 50¢ each, ordered same.
While devouring the sandwich, I checked out the gambling options and found they consisted of Roulette, Poker Machines and, a Black-Jack Table.
As I knew nothing of Roulette and felt that my remaining $1.00 would not last long on Poker Machines, I decided to give the Black-Jack table a go,
resolving to play cautiously to eek out my $1.00 as long as possible.
Accordingly I went up and took a seat at the Black-Jack table, put down my money and asked for $1.00 in chips and, I was promptly given a single
When I queried about the 10c night, the croupier confirmed this was the case, but only for roulette and poker machines. Being too embarrassed to
ask for my money back I pushed my chip forward and accepted a deal of cards.
Resigned to the words, much to my astonishment I won the hand, and the next, and the next and the next and so on.
Needless to say, the windfall enabled me to keep buying drinks and my last clear memories of the evening was, sitting at the Black-Jack table,
playing multiple positions with a crowd of RLI hanging over my shoulder watching the action and the next morning, awoke to find my pockets
bulging with a modest, but given the circumstances, very respectable quantity of cash and casino chips.
As fireforce had to be back in operation at Grand Reef ASAP, we lifted off from the Indep base at the crack of dawn. It was bitterly cold in the
door-less choppers and of course, I had a monstrous hang-over.
Regardless of this discomfort, through bleary & bloodshot eyes I was still able to appreciate the breathtaking scenery as we departed - mist filled
valleys with the tips of the conical hills poking island like through the sea of fog……for rest of the flight, my focus of attention was on how horrible
my bubbloss was.
As a postscript to the evening, for few weeks afterwards various ouens would come up and hand a small amount of cash over to me saying "thanks
for the loan at the casino".
It is said that everyone is destined to have one special day where everything goes just right for them. On so many different levels, that was certainly a
most fortunate day for me.
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