Alistair’s “Random Rambles” (4)

Alistair’s “Random Rambles” (4)

KathyBy Kathy Martin…

Further rambles written by Alistair for initially the “The KibKom Times” then “The KibKom Forum

While on the subject of killing oneself rather than fall into the hands of the enemy the following is on similar lines. The war in Rhodesia was a “bush” war, so while we lived in either of the two main cities, Salisbury or Bulawayo, my wife endured little physical discomfort or danger, even while I was on “call-up”.

Air Rhodesia Boeing 720

Air Rhodesia Boeing 720

A few months before the birth of our daughter I was transferred to the village of Victoria Falls to work at the airport as a duty officer for Air Rhodesia. Victoria Falls had been designated a “hot” area. The airport was 14 kilometres from the village on a road through thick “bush” which had been cleared on each side for about 20 metres. Travel to and from the airport (and also to the coal mining town of Wankie (now Whange) – 80 kilometres away) was restricted to armed convoy travel.

9mm Sterling sub-machine gun

9mm Sterling sub-machine gun

At the head and rear of the convoy was a small pick-up truck, which had a .half- inch calibre machine gun mounted on the back. As a duty officer I might be required to travel either way outside the convoy timetable. As such, Air Rhodesia provided me with a 9mm Sterling sub-machine gun with two magazines, each containing 30 rounds.

Sasha with Irene, her nanny, soldier boyfriend and George the Avis driver at airport 1977-78

Sasha with Irene, her nanny, soldier boyfriend and George the Avis driver at airport 1977-78

After our daughter was born, my wife was asked by Avis Rent-a-Car (a company she had worked for prior to our daughter’s birth) to run the office at the airport, due to the emigration of the current manager. This suited us down to the ground, especially financially! She was able to take our baby to the airport, where the daughter of one of the porters acted as a nanny when my wife was busy. Avis provided her with a 7mm pistol with a magazine containing 9 rounds. Even more than my Sterling, in the event of a determined attack this would have been an irritant rather than a killing machine, except at point blank range! So the convoy chief told her that in the event of a major attack she was to “shoot 7 bullets in the direction of the terrorists, and then shoot your baby and then yourself”!

Fortunately this situation did not arise, as my wife and daughter, both still alive, can confirm!

During the three years that we lived in Victoria Falls there were only 2 incidents. The first (and especially to me), the most life threatening was a mortar attack using a number of Stalin Organs (Wikipedia – Katyusha multiple rocket launchers are a type of rocket artillery first built and fielded by the Soviet Union in World War II. Multiple rocket launchers such as these deliver a devastating amount of explosives to a target area more quickly than conventional artillery, but with lower accuracy and requiring a longer time to reload)!

A passenger on the morning flight from Salisbury arrived without his suitcase; on contacting Salisbury I got a promise that it would be on the afternoon flight, so I told him that I would deliver it to his hotel early in the evening.

Flat in Victoria Falls 1977

Flat in Victoria Falls 1977

After my shift ended I left my wife, daughter and weapon at our flat, which was in a block of 6 in which most of the Air Rhodesia staff lived. I then drove further on to the hotel and delivered the suitcase. The owner spotted me and invited me into the bar for a beer. I thought that it would be very rude not to! I had only taken a sip when there was a VERY LOUD BANG, shattering of glass and the lights went out! Bangs were repeated at short intervals and, as the emergency lights came on, the hotel guests were herded down towards a cellar.

However, I had a wife and baby at home a mile away, so I slipped through a side exit and drove home. It was somewhat entertaining driving past the open area of a campsite where some of the mortar bombs were exploding as well as seeing them on the road ahead and, of course, in the rear view mirror! At home my wife saw, through sun filter curtains, a figure running towards the door, picked up my Sterling and pulled the trigger! This was a casebook example of how to react, except, luckily for me, the weapon’s safety-catch was still on! We grabbed mattresses to put up against the window of the smallest bedroom (they were sprung mattresses, so wouldn’t have offered much protection, except psychologically) and spent a few hours there until there was complete silence for a long time.

At daylight, I went round the hotels to see if any tourists wanted to leave before their ticketed date. In the event, only two did, so mass air evacuation wasn’t required! When four young men from Johannesburg hired an Avis car, later that day, and were asked, by Kathy, the standard question “business or pleasure?” their reply was “experience a mortar attack!” And they were serious!

Our bunker 1977

Our bunker 1977

Air Rhodesia arranged for a reinforced concrete bunker to be built outside our flats. Then life returned to normal for a couple of weeks.

A couple of weeks after the first attack, a second one began. We all rushed to the bunker to wait the affair out. But then, to our surprise, BIG BANGS began from our side! On the blind side of a slope just outside the village the army had secretly placed a few 75mm field artillery pieces. I don’t know if they had any specific targets or not but the attack quickly ceased, and that was the last attack that we experienced until our emigration in 1978!

In Rhodesia (please don’t groan and switch off!), press censorship became apparent when gaps appeared in various articles in the newspapers. The paranoid white minority government had decided that no articles that were critical of it or the Rhodesian situation could be printed. For as long as possible the editors kept the gaps in the paper to show readers how much was being censored. Eventually the gaps disappeared, because the editors were threatened with legal action under The Law and Order Maintenance (Prevention of Terrorism) Act! Yes, this Act contained section 7 which said “no person shall say, do, write or act in any manner that might cause alarm or despondency

As the security of the country might be affected, Habeas Corpus was suspended, therefore, there was no time limitation on bringing an accused to court. In effect if I asked my neighbour “are you going to hold an outdoor barbeque on Saturday”? and if he replied “yes”, and then I said “according to the weather forecast it is going to rain”, I could be arrested under the above Act because I had caused my neighbour to be alarmed and despondent! A lawyer friend of mine confirmed that, although unlikely, technically this scenario could turn into reality!

Next blog will continue with Alistair’s rambles

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