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Thread: Africa's Commandos - new book on the RLI

  1. #261
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    First contact, first kill

    A young Rhodesian troopie, who joined 2 Commando in May 1979, remembers some good times, and some bad:

    …The passing out parade went well. For me this meant that I managed not to pass out! A few days earlier an abscess had burst in my mouth and as a result I was as sick as a dog, having swallowed a whole lot of pus. I remember little of the parade, and nothing of what anyone said, except that as we left the parade ground and marched around the holy ground we passed Sergeant Hodgson BCR. He was looking rather pleased with himself and said, “Well done, girls!” High praise indeed! The sergeant had been Blue Squad’s instructor for most of the course—a rather terrifying one but a good one nonetheless (not one of this Blue Squad was killed over the next nine months). A few days’ leave and then we took up residence in 2 Commando, looking very raw and self-conscious with our new stable belts and silver badges on our berets.

    First contact: The next day we left for Grand Reef to join the rest of the commando. Once there the first few hours consisted of people having fun at our expense. ‘General’ Lovemore introduced himself very confidently. He turned out to be one of the batmen. Some corporal sent one of us to get some 12.7 chest webbing from the quartermaster—just making us feel welcome! Once settled in we were quickly allocated to sticks and did not have to wait long before the commando was called out by a Selous Scout call-sign (we would soon learn that these usually were not lemons). I was in a helicopter stick and nothing in life to that point had come near to the thrill of taxiing off down the runway to go to war. You could always tell the new troopies—they were the ones holding on in the helicopter, yet to realize that they could not fall out of an Alouette. (In time one came to trust this fact implicitly and sat with both hands on the rifle no matter what the pilot did.) So this day I held on—but it was still a glorious ride and my nervousness just made it all the more exciting. We touched down (all the way this time) and jumped out running to cover, eye on the corporal. He was quickly onto his radio and we then joined up with another stick and began to sweep down the side of a stream with the poor corporal desperately trying to stop us rookies from bunching.

    Suddenly all hell broke loose on our right flank (the one closest to the stream). We dropped down for a moment and then the corporal shouted at us to follow him and we wheeled right and headed for the noise. I have no idea how he knew to do this but we soon arrived on the edge of the stream and the corporal and other experienced troopies added their firing to the bedlam. I could see nothing to shoot at (or maybe I was just too scared to lift my head high enough). Eventually the firing stopped and we went down into the stream. About eight bodies lay there, most being terrorists. I stepped over the body of a young woman. She had no webbing—a civilian. For the first time I saw what destruction a 7.62 long round caused to a frail human body and smelt that smell which means violent death. As I approached a body on the far side of the stream I got the fright of my life as the terrorist sudden turned his head, sat up a bit and looked at me from about one metre. My rifle was pointed at him and I hate to think what expression he saw on my face. He tried to say something—begging for mercy I think. I will never know for the corporal shot him from right next to me before I had time to wonder about mercy in this new world of violence. I will never forget the terr’s body slowly sagging down to the ground again, his last breath hissing out of his lips—a welcome from him to me to men’s madness.

    “Take off his webbing!” ordered the corporal and left me to this grizzly task. I had never seen a dead person before and now I must remove webbing from a smashed body who just a moment before had looked at me with such pleading eyes? I must have gone about it too gently for someone told me, not so gently, to get on with it and came over and helped rip it off, caring nothing for what had been a human. One of our guys had been wounded in the contact. It was not serious, ‘just’ a flesh wound, but he was in a lot of pain and spitting mad! We sorted him out and then, gathering the weapons and ammunition (and any money, watches etc. going), left the bodies and made our way back to the LZ.

    As we flew out it was as if my world had changed forever. But I did not realize that that was still to come, for none of those bodies had my bullets in them.

  2. #262
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    Boys will be boys....

    Bruce McGregor:

    Women in commando lines

    Men are men. In the military services men are drilled, chased, moulded and turned into better men. The RLI was certainly no exception. Did it make us into better lovers? I doubt it - but nature delivers a broad average that guarantees our survival; there is a woman for every man and vice versa – so if a woman does not find you attractive, she may well find your friend so, even if you felt that he was so ugly that when he was born the doctors did not know which end to slap. Little wonder then that there were some women who were sufficiently drawn by the RLI manhood to venture into the barracks and (more than) fraternize with the men.

    Standing orders prohibited the entertainment of women within the commando lines, without exception. But such is the hormonal magnetism between the sexes that this rule was broken time and again. One would hear the stories, most of them expanded upon. I remember one tale where there was a woman – with a dog – in the corporal’s room just before the Officer Commanding’s (OC’s) inspection and she threatened to let the dog loose on him if he left her to attend the inspection. There was another tale where a woman was pushed through the trap door in the ceiling to hide her from the officers during inspection. Apparently she stayed there for a week with food from the mess being brought to her daily. Maybe it was the same woman but where would they have put her dog? How about the woman who came into training troop line and went through the entire barracks? This woman would have to be deranged in some sick way to have a libido like that. On the other hand she may have come in with a man expecting something more private and romantic but received quite a surprise, but of one thing I am sure: no woman in her right mind could expect to go into an army barracks line at night and be guaranteed a quiet uninterrupted night with the man of her choice. There are more realistic stories like the woman who would be sneaked in and out by an arrangement with the guard at the front gate to ‘look the other way’ but this would really need to be a wholly nighttime operation.

    It was common knowledge that one particular woman would arrive at night and sleep with the base orderly sergeant. There was also the trooper who had a girl in the line and they overslept. He could not get her out through the gates because the sun had already driven the last shadows from the landscape and the Saturday was well under way. The only thing he could do was to throw a blanket over the fence at the back of the Base Group car park and lift her over into the veld beyond. Apparently, he was at the fence and about to give her the lift up when all his friends lent out the Base Group windows and shouted “Ah haaa!” and in a panic the lift became a shunt and she flew over the fence. Talk about an undignified exit.

    Certainly these clandestine intrigues would not go unnoticed by the powers that be and I remember one morning the entire group was mustered to parade before the Company Sergeant-Major (CSM) ‘Rockjaw’ Kirrane who proceeded to explain both the medical and future financial consequences (no doubt under the direction of the OC) of bringing women into the lines.

    Kirrane was also a bit of a legend. Some of us always used to joke that he would get up in the morning, do his ablutions, put on his uniform, and then get his wife to iron him before reporting for duty. But I digress.

    The tales were many but on a particular night I was the duty driver for the battalion. My duty was with a few non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who I knew were unforgiving about any woman within the lines – probably because they were not getting any action themselves.

    Back in 2Cdo lines Trooper (Tpr) Price was under open arrest. For what, I don’t remember. It was ironic, though, that his brother was in the Military Police and was notorious for his uncompromising attitude toward RLI drivers. But I digress … again.

    Tpr Price and I had become friends when I picked him up after he had reported to the guardroom for the evening and took him back to his lines. The commando was out in the bush at the time and there was nobody around the commando but him. He invited me to the barrack room promising to show me something really wild. I went with him and he opened the door and there in his bed was the girl well known by the battalion. No name, no pack drill – she was known by some of the men as ‘Psst!’ as this was the way she would attract attention when she wanted to come into the front gate. Well finally there was truth in the stories. He then asked me a favour. The next day was Monday, and some of the men would be returning from the weekend and he was under open arrest. If they caught her there, his short-term outlook on life would certainly go downhill. Could I sneak her out of the barracks and take her home to Avondale? How the hell would I do that? I was not allowed out of the battalion with an army vehicle unless I had been assigned a task – but I assured him that I would see what I could do.

    Fortunately I established that on my roster of duties there was an officer who had to get to KGVI Barracks (King George VI) early the next morning and I would have to take him. Perfect! Morning came and I took tea down to the guards in the magazine and then, on the pretext of taking the tea urn back to the kitchen, I raced down to pick up the girl. I pulled into 2Cdo lines and hooted quickly three times, a pre-arranged signal. Price brought her out and we stuck her under a tarpaulin in the back of the Land Rover. I then drove to the officers’ mess to pick up the officer. When I got there and presented myself as his driver, he informed me that I was no longer required because he had a lift with someone else. Oh my God! Here I am stuck with a girl in the back of my vehicle with no reason to leave the battalion. To compound matters, I was due to knock off in an hour and would have to return the vehicle back to the pool. Not good! She was not my problem, I figured, so I drove back to 2Cdo with every intention of giving her back only to find that the lines were now well represented with men and NCOs. Returning her to Tpr Price was not an option. Boy! What a pickle I was in. I remember thinking, “I did not get any sex last night but I’m still f---ed!”

    I was driving up the back of 1Cdo and noticed that the regimental police were already on duty at the back gate and on duty was a regimental policeman (RP) NCO that I was on good terms with, so I pulled up at the back gate and said, “Howzit? (no name no pack drill) I have ‘Psst!’ in the back of my vehicle and I have to dump her, please help me”. He thought I was bull$hitting of course and demanded to see the evidence. OK, why not? I lifted the tarpaulin and the RP saw for himself, not once, but a few times because he needed to get back to his post to raise the boom for personnel arriving to work in their cars. He said to her, “$hit! You’re an ugly bitch first thing in the morning” and then turned to me and asked me how I was able to get her for the night when I had to sleep at the guardroom. I explained to him that she was not with me but apart from the fact it was a sergeant, I could not tell him. He said, “OK! But if you are caught I will say that you lied to me that you had to pick up someone”. I said this was not an issue as my authority to travel had already been signed by the base orderly sergeant to drive an officer to KGVI. Without another word he turned and lifted the boom. I got into the vehicle and drove out of the battalion.

    I took her home and returned to Cranborne without further incident. The things friends do for friends.

  3. #263
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    The Mount darwin Fire Force Base:


  4. #264
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    Any word from JMA? Anyone heard from him since November? I hope nothing's happened, but fearing the worst...
    Brant
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  5. #265
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    Default JMA status

    Rest easy. JMA is working away from home into next month; we exchanged emails just before Xmas. I don't think he has time to view SWC, but does pick up emails.
    davidbfpo

  6. #266
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    That's great to hear. Thanks for the quick update. Given the nature of the work of many folks here, when someone drops off the 'net for a while, you're never sure what happened. I know JMA's operational days were quite some time ago, but you still wonder.

    Thanks again
    Brant
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    “their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’… and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.” Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers 1959

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  7. #267
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    I don't recall seeing it mentioned anywhere, but will there be an electronic copy of the book available?
    Brant
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  8. #268
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    I'd be surprised if the JMA team would go that far. Originally the project was envisaged as a book for ex-RLI members and families, hence the small print run and being sold privately.

    Anyway JMA will appear here one day to give the answer.
    davidbfpo

  9. #269
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    any updates on the book, or JMA?
    Brant
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    “their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’… and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.” Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers 1959

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  10. #270
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    Default JMA is OK

    JMA is alive and well I can report. He is working hard in security in a new place, not very new for him as he's been there for at least eight months IIRC. It appears he no longer checks in on SWC.

    Back to the book itself. Since the book is very much a photo gallery, with accompanying text, plus the size I doubt it will become an e-book.
    davidbfpo

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    Default Amazon has shipped my copy

    ... finally ... and it sits per USPS tracking in the Houghton post office, 2.5 miles away. So, I should get it Monday.

    Regards

    Mike

  12. #272
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    Quote Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
    ... finally ... and it sits per USPS tracking in the Houghton post office, 2.5 miles away. So, I should get it Monday.

    Regards

    Mike
    Mine should be in today or tomorrow
    Brant
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    “their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’… and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.” Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers 1959

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  13. #273
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    Book arrived yesterday. Hard to put it down - dammitall for having to work in the mornings!
    Brant
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    “their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’… and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.” Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers 1959

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  14. #274
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    review posted at GrogHeads.com

    http://grogheads.com/?p=2294

    Link to buy with Amazon, which means SWJ get a referral fee:http://smallwarsjournal.com/content/support
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 08-28-2013 at 07:11 PM. Reason: Link added by Moderator
    Brant
    Wargaming and Strategy Gaming at Armchair Dragoons
    Military news and views at GrogNews

    “their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’… and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.” Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers 1959

    Play more wargames!

  15. #275
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    Default In appreciation...

    I surface above the jungle canopy of West Africa to express my thanks for the review. As the 2nd edition of the book has now appeared as a mainstream publication the challenges of obtaining a copy should now be a thing of the past. The royalties still go to the regimental association where they are applied to serve an ageing membership, some with residual PTSD issues. Thank you for your support.

  16. #276
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    Hey Bro !

    While I have numerous pathetic excuses for not posting, I am indeed glad to see you are back and pesky as ever before

    I have enjoyed your posts and the unique look at your past in what we consider the dark continent.

    Welcome back !

    Regards, Stan
    If you want to blend in, take the bus

  17. #277
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    Default O. M. G.

    It's resurrected !! Presumably, it's still "rather serious" regardless of locale.

    I'll confine myself to a brief review of the literary genre.

    But, first off, my initial remarks apply to the hardcover version, which is a high quality production in both binding and paper quality. As such, it reminds one of the Sarpedon-Spellmount republications (1996 & 1997) of Rudyard Kipling's monumental histories of the two WWI Irish Guard battalions, "The Irish Guards in the Great War" (1st Bn and 2nd Bn). The color plates are very well done, for example; and text (as opposed to the illustrative photos) abounds. In short, this is not a coffeetable photo gallery book; it is very content oriented.

    Kipling's histories exemplify one way to approach unit histories - start at the beginning and write what, in essence, is an after action report. I find nothing wrong with that (the history of my dad's WWII battalion and its companies follows that method). It does, however, tend to an impersonal presentation.

    The other approach is to present a series of oral histories - e.g., Al Santoli's Vietnam books and Lyn Macdonald's WWI books. Many others of this genre could be listed. It seems the "modern" approach.

    It's use in unit histories, however, runs back at least to the 1930s. The earliest I have in unit histories (as opposed to autobios, bios and fiction) is Dunn's "The War the Infantry Knew 1914-1919", which supplements his own diary with numerous recollections written by members of the 2nd Batt., Royal Welch Fusiliers (including Sassoon and Graves). Africa's Commandos is a more polished product than Dunn's - e.g., compare Dunn's "plates" (quite primitive).

    So, all in all, an outstanding effort.

    Regards

    Mike
    Last edited by jmm99; 08-28-2013 at 09:08 PM.

  18. #278
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    Hi Stan good to hear from you.

    Will be in and out as not always online... yes there are still places in the world where the WWW has not reached.

    Interesting note on West Africa is that the wars here are seldom army against army but rather the winner is the side that butchers enough of the other side's civilians until they capitulate.

    More to talk about in due course.

    regards
    Mark


    Quote Originally Posted by Stan View Post
    Hey Bro !

    While I have numerous pathetic excuses for not posting, I am indeed glad to see you are back and pesky as ever before

    I have enjoyed your posts and the unique look at your past in what we consider the dark continent.

    Welcome back !

    Regards, Stan

  19. #279
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    Thanks Mike,

    Initially it was difficult to select the form the book should take. The initial idea was that I would request personal accounts far and wide and then write the narrative myself which would compliment a larger number of photos.

    Two things led to a change. One was that we did not have a sequence of photos that could merely be connected with text. Cameras were not allowed on ops and I continue to be surprised how many photos actually came out of the war.

    Secondly the contributions I received were very personal, sometimes emotional and always heartfelt. Who was I then to take those stories and put them in my words. We agreed that the text editor would use a light hand to retain as much of the original contribution's grammatical and emotional impact as possible. I hope that worked in that each of the 'stories' has a unique flavour to it. The reader be the judge.

    I am looking to do a follow up with perhaps emphasis upon tactical aspects of the war again drawing from those who knew best. We shall see.

    regards
    Mark


    Quote Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
    It's resurrected !! Presumably, it's still "rather serious" regardless of locale.

    I'll confine myself to a brief review of the literary genre.

    But, first off, my initial remarks apply to the hardcover version, which is a high quality production in both binding and paper quality. As such, it reminds one of the Sarpedon-Spellmount republications (1996 & 1997) of Rudyard Kipling's monumental histories of the two WWI Irish Guard battalions, "The Irish Guards in the Great War" (1st Bn and 2nd Bn). The color plates are very well done, for example; and text (as opposed to the illustrative photos) abounds. In short, this is not a coffeetable photo gallery book; it is very content oriented.

    Kipling's histories exemplify one way to approach unit histories - start at the beginning and write what, in essence, is an after action report. I find nothing wrong with that (the history of my dad's WWII battalion and its companies follows that method). It does, however, tend to an impersonal presentation.

    The other approach is to present a series of oral histories - e.g., Al Santoli's Vietnam books and Lyn Macdonald's WWI books. Many others of this genre could be listed. It seems the "modern" approach.

    It's use in unit histories, however, runs back at least to the 1930s. The earliest I have in unit histories (as opposed to autobios, bios and fiction) is Dunn's "The War the Infantry Knew 1914-1919", which supplements his own diary with numerous recollections written by members of the 2nd Batt., Royal Welch Fusiliers (including Sassoon and Graves). Africa's Commandos is a more polished product than Dunn's - e.g., compare Dunn's "plates" (quite primitive).

    So, all in all, an outstanding effort.

    Regards

    Mike

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    Default Amazon review

    Mike, sincere thanks for posting a review on Amazon.com. Much appreciated.
    Regards
    Mark

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