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  1. #1
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006

    Default Africa's Commandos - new book on the RLI

    There is a popular, long-running thread 'Rhodesian COIN' and this thread will be merged in due course.

    Coming out in the summer is a privately published book 'Africa's Commandos', edited by a SWC member (JMA) and Chris Cocks; the publishers are the RLI Regimental association (RLIRA) and the main beneficiary is a linked charity.

    From the pre-publication circular:
    ...this book is a compilation of over 80 short stories, each told in the specific writer’s own style, in their own words and with their own emphasis. Whilst the nature and approach ranges from the sophisticated to raw, the sincerity and reflection of the writers is both honest and appealing. By taking personal stories and aligning them with well-chosen photographs, many of which have resided in personal collections, the editors have managed to capture the values, spirit, concerns, apprehensions, and emotional aftermath of people’s lives in the RLI. Through these stories, the reader gains a full understanding of the meaning of being an RLI commando.

    The book is 50 per cent pictorial, giving it a rich visual appeal. We have selected photographs not only to complement the stories but also to provide the emotional context of the moments.....with time we will all appreciate that there were not too many armies in the world where 30 years ago, or even today, you could spend the day out in Fire Force action returning in the afternoon for a hot shower and a plate of steak, egg and chips washed down by a few cold beers.
    The circular also has three short stories, on Fire Force, a Contact and Foreign Recruits; all worth reading.

    Details of ordering, price and delivery are provided. The print-run will be for 2k and the book can only be ordered direct.

    How much is the book?

    For Hard Cover South African Rand 459 (US$ 54.68, UK Pound 35.21) and Soft Cover R399 (US$47.50 and UK Pound 30.60).


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Durban, South Africa

    Default Book's cover

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Durban, South Africa

    Default Who wants this job?

    The duty of the Padre in armies where they are required to inform the NOK (next of kin) in the event of KIA (killed in action) is the worst duty in the world. Personally I had on occasion to inform an 18 year old troopie that both his mother and father had been killed in an attack on their farm homestead. He collapsed. Over the years I have role played those moments over and over in my mind to try to figure out how I could have broken that tragic news to him in such a way so as to soften the blow. The answer is simple you can't. I would rather run into a burning building than have to be the bearer of such tragic news again.

    In the book Africa's Commandos an extract from the battalion padre's own book is published which deals with just this most terrible of duties our army passed onto our padres.

    Baptism of Fire
    By Bill Dodgen

    Extract from 'Reflections of a God Botherer' by Lt-Col The Rev Bill Dodgen, Sigma Press (Pty) Ltd, Pretoria, 1991, pp 1-7

    I entered the Rhodesian Army as a chaplain at the start of the escalation of the bush war. If I had had any romantic thoughts when I was commissioned into the Rhodesian Army as Chaplain with the rank of Captain, my very first task on my very first day shattered them.

    Having been welcomed by the Chaplain General, Norman Wood, I had a feeling of intense pride as I sat in that (Norman’s) dingy office. At last a dream had come true - a dream of being a minister and a soldier, woven into one. A chaplain at last, and not in just any army, but in the ‘greatest little army in the world’ – the Rhodesian Army.

    Just then the sergeant from the Communications Centre arrived with the usual pile of notifications of injuries. Reading through them slowly, Norman’s face turned grey. He glanced at me over the signals in his hand.

    “This is bad news, Bill. There has been an ambush and four young men have been killed. Sorry to spring this on you like this, but the deep end is the best place to learn. Please inform the next of kin. Sergeant Thompson will drive you.”

    In that moment I was gripped by panic. My throat closed up, my mouth dried and I could feel the perspiration running down my arms as I gripped those notices. For the first time I read the words ‘killed in action’. I felt like I needed a life jacket.

    After praying together, Andy and I set out in his Land Rover. I began rehearsing what I would say, an exercise which later I was to learn was useless. The news I had was the worst kind, even if it was said in Shakespearean prose, or with the skill of a Demosthenes.

    After knocking at the door of the first home on my list, a young girl opened the door.

    “Ma, there’s an army bloke here! Something’s happened to Boetie!”

    Within a few seconds the mother was there, wringing her hands on her apron.

    “It’s not serious? Tell me it’s not serious,” she said.

    The expression on my pale face must have given her no hope. Before I could tell her that her son was killed in ambush, she threw her arms up and began wailing and chanting “No! No! No! Not my boy. It’s all a mistake. Not my boy – my boy.” With a groan she collapsed into a chair, sobbing.

    Andy and I just stood there as if hypnotized by the scene that followed. The entire neighbourhood came running in and turned the place into a den of wailing. Andy and I slowly retreated with promises to come back later.

    By this time the news had travelled all over the suburb. Mothers whose sons were in the same unit were waiting on their doorsteps. The Land Rover pulled up outside the gate of the second home on the list and before I even got to the gate, the wailing began with masses of people being attracted to the source of the noise.

    Travelling to the third family, Andy requested to remain in the Land Rover as the trauma was too intense for him. At that home, I encountered an aggressive attitude and had to remove myself promptly for fear of physical harm.

    By the time the fourth family had been informed, it was almost 1400hrs.

    Returning to Army Headquarters I informed Norman that all the families had been notified. He then passed this information on to Army Public Relations for release on radio and TV. “Security Headquarters regrets to announce the death in action of four members of the security forces …”

    Behind that communiqué were hours of tears and torment. No one can fully appreciate the agony of soul experienced by chaplains who, called to be messengers of eternal life, find themselves to be messengers of death.

    Having received the necessary forms for funeral procedures, I returned to the homes of those poor grieving people. There I was bombarded with questions as to how, when and where he died. If he suffered. Was his death slow? Not knowing the details myself, I could merely state what was reported in the signals from the unit in the field.

    What a day! A day of such intense emotional stress. This was indeed a baptism of fire. The deep end could not have been any deeper.

    Who was sufficient for these things?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Durban, South Africa

    Default A poem from the book...

    1. jess = jesse bush = thorny bushwillow - Combretum celastroides
    2. ouen = troopie/mate/friend/comrade

    Death of a boy in thick jess
    by Chris Cocks

    An ouen took a round in the throat that day
    In the winter of ’77
    In single file he was leading the way
    On terrain that was rough and uneven

    The horse flies were biting, the jesse bush tore
    At our jump suits, our webbing and skin
    Our camo cream ran, the sweat was a whore
    In our eyes and our cuts it got in

    The point man was yanking at creepers and vines
    Visibility was down to a yard
    The air was so thick, ambush played on our minds
    Moving forward was so f###ing hard

    Gunfire erupted to the front and the side
    As we crashed to the earth seeking cover
    AKs were cracking, with nowhere to hide
    As a gunship came into the hover

    Then our gunner came up, a hundred-round belt
    On his gun he drummed out his tattoo
    He blasted those f###ers right back into Hell
    His aim straight and low and so true

    The gunship was firing, the dust and the smoke
    And the cordite were burning our eyes
    Our point man was down, feebly clutching his throat
    Blood gurgling and sputum and flies

    The gunship withdrew to the stick leader’s screams
    As the silence of death crept around
    Almost incidental, for that’s what it seems
    An ouen was now dead on the ground

    In single file he’d been leading the way
    On terrain that was rough and uneven
    A boy took a round in the throat that day
    In the winter of ’77


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Durban, South Africa

    Default Demystifying the Rhodesian Fire Force

    An extract from the comprehensive article on the Rhodesian Fire Force from the book:

    Note: The regimental march of the RLI is "The Saints" hence the references to 'the saints' (being the serving men of the regiment) and a word play on "when the saints go marching in...".



    Reflections and legacy

    The gain: The evolution of Fire Force as an infantry air-borne assault method and its widespread study by military academics and students in military learning institutions throughout the world bears testimony to its efficacy. However, the main lesson of Fire Force still probably has to be learned. Fire Force was the end product of a philosophy – a philosophy that ignored the inter-service rivalry, vested interests, convention, rank, petty rule books and personal agendas so prevalent in the behaviour of the modern military. Fire Force was a manifestation of an ethos that like-minded commanders of all ranks and of all arms needed to combine their considerate talents in a collective effort to constantly evaluate the battlefield, to be self-critical in all analyses, and to strive to work for the greater good.

    The pain: The years 1975-1979 were the years of the RLI Fire Forces. Whilst much is made of the valour and achievements and of course the casualties, one thing was certain: no combatant of either side exposed to Fire Force action was left unscarred by the experience. Those who were left physically unscathed did not escape varying degrees of trauma which still stalks those veterans today. After 30 years, perhaps this is yet to be acknowledged. In 1978 Rhodesian society, which was overwhelmingly masculine in orientation, little was known of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and even if its presence had been acknowledged, it cannot be said that its recognition would have found universal acceptance then. Commanders, however, remained sensitive. RLI soldiers subjected to sustained bouts of conflict and battle stress often displayed classic symptoms: irrational behaviour, fits of temper, depression and moodiness, and sensitivity was needed in their handling. There were many such young men in the RLI who were managed with great skill by young troop NCOs and officers. PTSD then was simply another problem for leaders who had a great capacity for problem solving. A casualty list compiled today would include many of those who served in the Fire Forces, an experience that would determine the behavioural pattern of many young lives from that time onwards for the rest of their lives.

    A final word

    The years 1975-1979 were momentous – only five years, a short span in the telling of things military. They were the years when a bushfire insurgency became a vicious regional conflict. The years when a fine fighting regiment and wonderful aircrew revolutionized counter–insurgency air assault doctrine. The years when RLI Fire Forces brought a nation to the cusp of victory. The years to which men would later return and say: “Yes, who could forget those stirring times - the RLI Fire Force years - when the ‘Saints’ found immortality; the years when ‘The Saints went marching in ....’”

    N D Henson
    September 2010
    Copyright vested in the Regimental Association of the Rhodesian Light Infantry.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Durban, South Africa


    From the book Africa's Commandos extracts from an article by the RMO (Regimental Medical Officer) on the use of an MRU:

    Mobile Resuscitation Unit – the RLI lifesaver
    By Cliff Webster

    ... The 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the then-recent Vietnam War had amply demonstrated the value of casualties receiving quick access to resuscitation and stabilization before transfer to major medical units for specialist attention. This required the medical personnel getting to the casualty in the field as soon as possible to commence resuscitation. The sooner the casualties received intravenous resuscitation fluids the better, whether in the field and/or on arrival at the MRU. During these years the international term ‘golden hour’ was coined. It referred to that critical hour after serious injury during which resuscitation should ideally commence to ensure a good outcome for the casualty. The MRU was frequently well within an hour’s helicopter flight from the battlefield. (both located in Salisbury, now Harare)...

    ... The MRU was often deployed next to a forward airfield so that fixed-wing aircraft could be made immediately available to transfer casualties back to a central hospital once they were stabilized in the MRU, usually to the Andrew Fleming Hospital via New Sarum Air Base. ...

    ... Injuries were broadly classified into the following groups (medevacs included):

    Injury Groups.....................Number.....Percentage
    Superficial injuries.................127.......... 39.1%
    Orthopaedic injuries..............100...........30.8%
    Multiple trauma......................24............7.4%
    Burns...................................16........ ....4.9%
    Head injuries.........................11............3.4 %
    Chest injuries........................11............3.4%
    Abdominal injuries..................11............3.4%
    Other (e.g. ENT).....................8............2.5%
    Medevacs............................17............ 5.1%

    Note: in the terminology of the time the term 'MEDEVAC' (medical evacuation) related to evacuations related to sickness and disease - as opposed to CASEVAC (casualty evacuation) which included all war wounds and related injuries.


    Of the 325 persons who were casevaced and medivaced through or from the MRU, two died en route to the MRU, two died as they arrived at the MRU and two died en route to a central hospital from the MRU. Three of these cases were multiple trauma cases, one was a gunshot wound (GSW) to the thigh with femoral artery severed, and two were GSWs through the base of the skull. This was a 1.8% death rate which emphasized the value of having such a unit in the forward area as there were clearly cases which would not have survived the long trip to a central hospital without stabilization. Sometimes the RLI MRU was close enough to a Fire Force contact to see and hear the K-Car over the contact. On a couple of occasions we received at the MRU, or were able to get to, critically injured troops within 7–10 minutes of them being hit.

    In conclusion it can be said that the RLI MRU more than paid for itself as a lifesaver and also as a morale booster.

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