New Book – Matabele

Matabele_Ash_15

Matabele – The War of 1893 and the 1896 Rebellion
Chris Ash
Published by 30 Degrees South Publishers
ISBN: 978-1-928211-89-1

Publisher Dust Cover Review: This is the first history, which covers both wars in a single volume, allowing the reader to see how they flowed seamlessly into one another and how they impacted on the southern Africa. Written in Ash’s typical no-holds-barred style, the book thunders along rather than tiptoeing round modern political niceties. Special attention is given to the many outlandish characters of the period: old-school savage tyrant Chief Lobengula, the ambitious and ever-scheming Cecil Rhodes, and the rascally Dr Jameson, of course … but also men like Captain Lendy, one of very few men in history to have died from putting a shot, Frederick Selous, the archetypal great white hunter, Kagubi the infamous witchdoctor who whipped up so much trouble during the rebellion, not to mention the likes of Plumer, Forbes, Wilson, Colenbrander, Burnham, Baden-Powell, Gifford and the extraordinary ‘Maori’ Hamilton-Browne. Indeed, the cast is probably the most fascinating part of the tale: adventurous young Anglo-Saxons from every corner of the empire and a few old Indian fighters from the American West, who all found themselves thousands of miles from home facing a valiant and terrifying enemy.

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Book Review: Special Branch War by Ed Bird

SpecialBranchWar250pxSpecial Branch War
Ed Bird
Published by 30 Degrees South Publishers
ISBN: 978-1-920143-86-2

Having served in the same organisation and unit as Ed Bird, and indeed having visited him on several occasions at the border station where he served, I was obviously pleased to receive a copy of his book, Special Branch War. The Special Branch (SB) station in Beit Bridge would have been a popular posting during times of peace, but the advent of a bitter counter-insurgency campaign put paid to that. What’s more, the station was unique in that its area of responsibility fell within two operational areas, JOCs Repulse and Tangent.

Bird, twice decorated while in the force, joined the BSA Police in June 1964 and served as a District policeman in the then Victoria Province. With the 1972 escalation of insurgency agitation in the north east of Rhodesia, Ed soon found himself embroiled in intelligence work as an attaché to SB in the Zambezi Valley, as many of us did.

The author was eventually transferred to the plain clothes branch of the police and invited to join SB. He was involved in the early establishment of a section experimenting with pseudo-terrorist operations; a forerunner unit and indeed the SB origin of the Selous Scouts, later formed by the Rhodesian Army. Ed Bird was at one time an SB Selous Scouts Liaison officer.

Bird manages to describe life on an SB station in an operational area very well. He tells of the, hereto generally unknown and unsung, commitment, huge risks and sacrifices made during the ‘hondo’ by many dedicated members of SB. Exposed are the frustrations of intelligence gathering with counter-insurgency work, where useful information often fell on deaf ears, or where the clue-less, who should have known better, could never use the ‘int’ efficaciously. But there were exceptions, brave men who took to unconventional, if not dirty, tactics and with whom lifelong friendships endured.

One point will be clear to anyone who reads this book. That is the magnitude of ZANLA operations into the south east of Rhodesia, then on its last political legs after being sold out by foreign influence, including that of our then erstwhile neighbour, South Africa. The south east was a vital communication link for Rhodesians to the south and ZANLA’s strategy was for full scale conventional warfare in the south, aided by regular FRELIMO infantry. The pounding taken by those who plied the two major routes to Beit Bridge is ever evident as you page through this book; nauseatingly so.

Unfortunately there is criticism. While it is acknowledged that much of the source material for this book was an SB incident log, maintained by the station in Beit Bridge, its verbatim, SITREP like, extract in the book does tend to be repetitive. Personal issues aroused after being dropped for promotion detract from the real story that Bird has put together so well, but then personalities were all a part of it.

The book is a good read, especially for those who were involved in the fray. Ed Bird joins a list of former servicemen committing their experiences to paper for posterity, clearing the fog of political falsehoods with the truth. I recommend this book.
Andrew Field
6 November 2013

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Book Review: Three Sips of Gin by Timothy Bax

Three Sips of Gin
Timothy G Bax
Published by Masai Publisher, Inc.
ISBN:978-0-615-45552-5

I suppose when one settles into an autobiography in which many of those named are known to you, one acquires a sense of comfort. For Rhodesians who did any time in the military or associated services, the surroundings are familiar, you have been there before and you have stepped in the footsteps of the author. Three Sips of Gin goes a little further though, outlining a unique adventurer’s story of professional soldiering in Africa.

Born in Tanzania and raised partly in East Africa and Canada, Bax ends up on the receiving end of a vicious insurgency in the heart of Africa. The author was weaned on danger and yearned much for the adventure of Africa, receiving his fair share of it. He suffered serious wounds during conflict with terrorist gangs mostly on foreign soil.

Bax introduces you to the rugged life of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, as a miserable, non entity recruit, and then, following an abrupt metamorphosis, his status as a proud and highly respected trooper in an elite commando unit at which he apparently excelled. Tim soon finds himself on officer selection and on the hallowed parade grounds of the Rhodesian School of Infantry.

The book presents the reader with more than just ‘war stories’ and Bax blends in many light hearted and humorous anecdotes of his life in the services, in which he pokes fun at military establishment, the espirit de corp and merriment of the Officers Mess, not to mention himself, if not in a slightly self-deprecating way. There is no conformity here and this rather explains Bax’s penchant for the unconventional and, perhaps, why he eventually lands up on selection for a place in the highly esteemed Selous Scouts Regiment.

Readers will follow Tim Bax into the shadowy, top secret world of the pseudo-terrorist operations and thoroughly unconventional warfare. The Selous Scouts blends soldiers and captured nationalist terrorists into small effective units, trained to survive in an uncompromising and abrasive African bush, while delivering subterfuge, death and destruction to their foes in war.

This book is a pleasant and easy read. It will bring particularly more delight to those who were there, but will provide an interesting perspective for those who were not. This is not some boring personal history, it is a well narrated, captivating, all absorbing read, and a must have for anyone interested in Rhodesia’s explosive counter-insurgency history. Bax should be complimented for adding to the ever expanding military book genre on southern Africa, particularly Rhodesia, about which much of the truth is fogged.
Andrew Field
14 December 2011

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Book Review: Lost in Africa by Stu Taylor

Lost in Africa
Stu Taylor
Published by 30° South Publishers: Johannesburg
ISBN: 978-1920143-16-9

Stu Taylor, perhaps not surprisingly, is still living in Zimbabwe.  His book describes the life, abuse and hardships of a regular Rhodesian army soldier in the ranks and then Taylor’s struggle with civilian life, in newly independent Zimbabwe, after ‘de-mobbing’.  It is a somewhat capricious account, which many of his contemporaries will find both amusing and tragic as he reflects, in his own humble, often belittling way, a seemingly superfluous, sometimes bacchanal, existence entirely beyond his control.  Despite this he keeps soldiering on, facing hurdles and obstacles, which most mere mortals will never meet.  This is hardly a trumpet blowing account either, despite Taylor having served in the Rhodesian Light Infantry, a crack airborne unit, for thirteen years.  His stories of combat hardly scratch the surface of what it was really like in the thick of battle, yet he captures the hard knocks shared by so many of his ilk during war, political transition and a peace which never really endured.
Andrew Field
9 November 2009

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Book Review: All for Nothing by CG Tracey

All for Nothing
C.G. Tracey
Published by Weaver Press, Avondale 2009
ISBN: 978 1 77922 079 0

Tracey’s autobiography is a noteworthy insight into the life of an apolitical, but prominent, ‘Rhodesian’ farmer, from humble beginnings and limited education to one of the most influential and committed men in Zimbabwean agriculture. Tracey dedicated his years to farming and business, but more than anything he was notable in contributing to and promoting a nation through its political upheavals, trade sanctions, an insurgency and the subsequent peace and reconciliation. He was thoroughly dedicated to the new Zimbabwe, guiding many of its nouveau politicians. Tracey was a highly respected man of great ethical standing who knew no colour bar. Yet, all this was no getaway from the greed and ravages of Robert Mugabe’s destructive land reform policy, during which Tracey saw members of his family murdered, and he too being forced off the land by none other than a High Court judge and a senior army officer. Compelling reading for those who need to learn of the racial injustices perpetrated for a very select pecuniary cause.
Andrew Field
3 October 2009

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