H Troop ARU
The first commander of H Troop was Danie Scholtz. These are his stories.
My time with ARU Mat South had its ups and downs. There were days when we cried together and there were days when we laughed together. It is weird how the human brain opts to think of the good (funny??) days and file the sad dark days somewhere faraway and deep in your brain, days that will never be forgotten but should only be remembered but not relived.
More H Troop ARU stories - Danie Scholtz
I want to ask readers of these writings to please not get the idea that it was all “fun and games” in A.R.U. A.R.U. operations were serious and we had very difficult tasks given to us on every deployment. Difficult and dangerous – in my time as A.R.U. commander Mat South I lost 3 men K.I.A. and 1 murdered on R&R so yes- we appreciated the few lighter moments which I will gladly share with anybody willing to read about them.
Anybody that knows the Plumtree Area – especially South of Plumtree know that the topography is pretty flat and high “koppies” for relay positioning is scarce.
We were deployed to the Southern Area of Plumtree in the Mphoengs area on the Botswana border side and A76 radio communications were bad. There was one fairly high “koppie”/mountain/outcrop” in the area and I established a relay station and it was manned by 4 men at all times. The relay station made mobility and deployment of sticks possible as we always had good communication.
One weekday morning I got an urgent call on our SSB radio for an urgent redeployment to Beit Bridge area.
We packed up and were ready to go mobile in a couple of hours. We were well on our way towards Legion Mine when it dawned on me that we had brilliant radio communication – guess why?? – Because there was a relay station assisting us!! We forgot about our relay station!!!
I stopped the convoy and called my NCO’s for a quick “ask and task” When I asked my SM (Jemanus Ncube) if we were going to leave the relay station crew on the hill forever – I could see the shock and embarrassment on his face. There were no laughs and all the NCO’s were looking at me with that serious look on their faces and I could read the message in their eyes “You are in charge here so tell us now what to do??”
I think at that stage I was the only person who saw the “funny” side as to what happened.
Because we knew that the A76 network was not a safe network no mention of “redeployment” or such matters were discussed there, so the relay station crew were totally ignorant to the fact that we had been redeployed.
I sent two vehicles back to the relay station site to go pick up our “forgotten” comrades in arms and the rest of us stood down next to the road leading to Legion Mine.
We had a few good laughs between ourselves on our arrival in Beit Bridge about the “forgotten” relay station. I warned any unit member if they ever mentioned this incident outside the unit I would personally put a 9mm in between their eyes.
I can assure you all, we never ever forgot anybody anywhere ever again.
A.R.U. Mat. South
Call Sign : GypsyHotel
Commander : Danie Scholtz
Gwanda was the Home Base for A.R.U. Mat South. Someone somewhere thought it a good idea that the A.R.U. should give the PC, B.S.A.P. etc a demonstration parade before the next unit deployment.
As there were some serious senior officers (with red bands) in the crowd I decided that I would not be part of the parade but would let my SM (Jemanus Ncube) handle the parade.
Now before I tell you about the parade I have to admit to some very bad behaviour. When I had my unit on parade and any of the men made a mistake I would be very vocal in correcting mistakes on parade. I used some very choice words when screaming out my irritation with the mistake or mistakes made. My favourite was – “You ff idiot I’ll ff you up wake up you, damn you.”
Well the day arrived for A.R.U Mat South to entertain the world with a short flag raising ceremony in front of the office of the PC Mat South in Gwanda. All went well until one of the men made a small mistake when the command “Shoulder Arms” was given by SM Ncube.
SM Ncube then shouted at the top of his voice “you ff-en idiot I’ll ff you up you idiot” – I did not know where to hide my face as everybody, looked at me, as though they wanted an explanation. The parade continued with (thank God) no more mishaps and afterwards we went for cookies and tea.
Whilst having cookies and tea a Col from Bulawayo (I think it was Col Dup du Preez) came up to me and said “today I understood why officers are taught to be “officers & gentlemen” and NCO’S lack the training to be “gentlemen”, maybe you should teach your SM some parade etiquette” (He said it with a smile on his face)
All I could do was to salute him and say “I assure you sir that I have already spoken to my SM about the matter – it will not happen again.”
The Col then just answered “thank you for a very good parade and you have got one damn good SM, please relay that to him, from me”. He saluted me and we left it at that.
Everybody else that was at that parade, acted as though nothing weird happened – but I can assure you after we left on our deployment this parade was the talk of the town for some time. The birth of A.R.U Matabeleland South
The readers of these writings must remember that I am talking about incidents that happened ± 40 years ago and at my age my memory may at times have some facts a bit wrong. I apologise for that. SNAFU
I can’t remember exactly when it was, but it was before the ARU’s were officially formed, I was called to Salisbury HQ and I was requested to go to Plumtree and to assist the D.C there with COIN training of some DA’s. Well that is what I understood the request to be.
It was organised that Peter Donnelly (now deceased) – my best mate from Scouts would assist me. I think that was done to get us out of civilization together as we had been involved in some “happenings” that resulted in us paying fines for “riotous conduct” and facing some severe disciplinary action. I guess that war made us wild (well that is my excuse).
Back to ARU:
Well we received 50 DA’s from all over Matabeleland South at Plumtree and took them to a DC’s camp at Brunapeg. It took us a couple of days but we soon had the damp rigged out as a base where some COIN and defensive training could be done.
It soon became clear that somewhere some people were definitely not on the same page in fact they were not even in the same book. It seems as though some DC’s got some idea to get rid of all their rubbish and to send them to this circus to be trained for “something”.
I had a good meeting with the Plumtree DC (Mr Pete Butchard who soon was to become the PC for Matabeleland South) and only then the concept of ARU’s was explained to me. The DC realised that there was a hell of a communication gap here and that we had to start the process over. After consultation with the Supremo’s in Salisbury it was decided to RTU all the DA’s sent to us for training.
All the DC stations then went ahead and explained the ARU concept to their staff and then to asked for volunteers from their DA’s. These volunteers were then sent to Chikurubi where they would be inducted etc and where they would be trained. Problem solved – or so I thought.
Peter and I went back to playing Rambo’s in the bush but life was full of surprises. After some time I was once again paraded and had to attend a meeting at the Earle Grey building. I was introduced to several VIP’s who’s names titles or ranks I cannot remember, but was one big surprise. In the group was the new PC of Matabeleland South - Mr Pete Butchard.
The whole concept of the ARU was explained to me and it sounded very challenging and interesting. Then the post of Unit Commander ARU Matabeleland South was offered to me.
I had done my turn at School of Infantry - Gwelo and knew Cactus road well – combined with my experience in certain Crusader Units, plus the fact that Mr Butchard “promoted” me, got me the job offer and I accepted. At that time I was nursing a damaged hip from a bad fall after a “meeting” with Mother Earth and I thought being ARU Commander was an ideal move for me – hell guys and dolls I was so damn wrong.
Once I collected my “Unit” in Salisbury I based up at Tuli Breeding Station in Gwanda district, for further training and a final selection of men that would officially become ARU Matabeleland South.
Once final selection was done I had a Unit of men that knew me well and I knew them well and I was confident that we could do the job that was planned and set out for us to do.
I am sure most of the readers know why the ARU concept came to light. It must be highlighted that the ARU was deployed in areas where the gooks had dismantled civil administration or where the activity of the gooks made civil administration impossible. Basically it meant that the ARU was deployed into areas where the gooks had “taken over”. We were a self contained Unit and during the majority of our deployments we did not have the advantage of calling for backup when things got hot, or we operated in areas where Crusader or Bailiff just would not go.
On a few deployments we assisted SB contingents as well as doing our Intaf supporting role (basically doing their support unit job) - and yes that made life interesting.
There are many a days that I think back on my ARU days and every time I take one of these memory lane trips, I salute the men of ARU, I am so proud and lucky to have served with.
I also salute my “brother” Pete Donnelly who was called up for service in the sky I salute you brother – we can tell many stories.
Being ARU Commander of Matabeleland South was the best time of my life I do not want all over again. During my time with ARU Matabeleland South we lost 3 good men (K.I.A.) and 1 was murdered whilst on R&R. The Unit also creamed 3 biscuit tins of which I were in 2 of those vehicles (that’s why I insist my hearing problem has nothing to do with my advanced age I think……I hope..?
I also lost 2 fantastic dogs – Bush and Shilo. Bush was killed in an ambush and Shilo did not like the military nonsense of being in ARU and absconded to Roads Department.
We will remember them.
I have to add a footnote here. In my first writing about Filabuzi, I mention the incident with mortars. ARU’s were not issued or equipped with mortars but thanks to a certain captain in SADF (Beit Bridge) ARU Mat South was donated a tube and a few bombs. These were pretty up to date issues as they had the adjustable switch on the tip that you could set for air bursts.
ARU Matabeleland South
Call sign : GypsyHotel
Unit Commander: Danie Scholtz
Gwanda Deployment – Manama Mission
I can tell many stories about our deployment to Gwanda and whilst we were based at Manama Mission.
Whilst at Manama Mission we made use of a Crusader relay station on one of the many hills in the area. The Crusader detail that was in charge of the relay station was a guy I knew very well named Billy L. (I don’t have permission to use his full name).
Some of you guys might remember the goodie packs we received from the Southern Cross Fund in South Africa. These packs had all sorts of goodies in them and someone with a weird sense of humour used to put in the odd magazine like Femina and other “women’s” magazines. Sometimes we would receive story books – not that we always had time to read these books.
In one of these goodie packs that found it’s way to the relay station were a few Noddy books. Now the relay station only operated during daylight hours and “signed off” when the sun set. Well Billy started on this where he would read a page out of the Noddy book when the relay station shut down – he used to shut down with the following message once he had read a page from the Noddy book – This is Romeo Lima One signing off and if you are still with us tomorrow morning you will hear the next episode of Noddy – be safe.”
During the time Billy was on the relay station we actually looked forward to hearing a page from the Noddy book every evening and could not wait to hear the reading of the next page the next evening and so it continued until the last page was read.
One day the R.I.C. contingent at Manama Mission captured a 82 mm mortar tube plus a few bombs. There was great excitement and cheers as R.I.C. was going to give us a mortar demonstration with their spoils of war. I did not interfere as I assumed the people involved were well versed with operating mortars.
When I saw the elevation of the tube I became a bit worried that there could be far too much elevation and removed myself from the “observation group” and left and stood by the house we used for accommodation.
Well the bomb was thrown down the tube and then the majority of “ous” realized that here was a “sports event” that was going to take place. In front of Manama Mission was a very good recently upgraded dirt road and Roads Department did an excellent job. Well this bomb landed smack in the middle of this great piece of road and left a crater big enough to park a vehicle in. Can you imagine how impressed the Roads Department guys were – I thought it was quite comical. What was even worse, was the fact that Grey Scouts were also based at the Mission. The blast of the bomb detonating so close to the Mission it caused havoc with some of the horses. This incident caused a massive cold war between R.I.C. and S.B. on the one side and Grey Scouts on the other side. Because of the fact that I was not part of the demo crew or the observer crew the ARU was not part of the cold war.
In the Church of the mission there was an electric Lowrey organ. The organ was removed from there and installed in the operating theatre at the clinic which served as the “combined forces” pub.
Graham H from Bailiff was the entertainer and we had many a sing song with Graham playing the organ. The evening after Graham and his group left Manama we realised that Graham had “taken” the organ on R&R with him. I never ever saw Graham after Manama and sometimes wonder where that organ ended up.
When I think back on those days I am surprised that we never realised how lucky we were to have had Manama as a base. We had comfortable safe accommodation as well as electricity. I have no idea who paid the electricity bill but that was not my problem to worry about.
ARU Matabeleland South
Call sign: GypsyHotel
Unit Commander: Danie Scholtz
When I took the job as commander of ARU Matabeleland South I had 2 dogs with me who also “joined” the unit. They were “Bush” and “Shilo”, brothers from the same mother. Bush looked like a black Labrador and Shilo looked like a brown Alsatian. They went with me wherever we were deployed. On a deployment to Gwanda area we were based at the abandoned Manama Mission. We were deployed as a “Support Unit” for Special Branch ops in the area.
Manama Mission became an administration base with various units using the complex as a base. At the time a roads department crowd also made themselves “at home” in the Manama Mission Complex. Although about 60km from Gwanda, our accommodation was great.
ARU occupied one of the “priest’s” houses whilst our neighbours were S.B - who occupied the “Head Master’s” house. The clinic was our recreation area with the operating theatre being our pub. Manama was the best base I ever had the privilege to have been in.
The morning after roads department pulled out Shilo went missing. We looked everywhere but no Shilo was found.
A week or two after Shilo went missing we were on our way to Gwanda for a re-supply and briefing when we passed a roads department convoy head on. I was driving my Kudu and suddenly I heard Sgt Donald Ndlovu (our Medic) on the radio calling the convoy to stop and heard him say Shilo is here, Shilo is here. Our back vehicle stopped the roads department vehicle and lo and behold if Shilo was not proudly on top of one of the roads department “crocodiles.” Shilo and Bush “greeted” each other and that was that. Shilo looked as though he recognized us but he was not moving from his position on the roads department “crocodile. “ That is when I realised that Shilo had absconded from ARU and joined roads department. Both us (ARU) and roads department thought it funny and left it at that. I bid Shilo and his road department buddies a safe trip and we carried on our way to Gwanda.
Sadly on our next deployment to Plumtree area Bush was on the back of one of the Crocodiles, standing on the driver cab “flap” – when we were ambushed and he was shot and killed.
The men of ARU Matabeleland South gave Bush a full military funeral at Dombadema mission north of Plumtree. The funeral was a mixture of a military and customary Ndebele funeral. Most of the hardened soldiers at that funeral cried silent tears and said a sad farewell to a damn good dog – we will remember Bush. R.I.P.
I must just add a few more words about Bush. Bush was not alarmed by the sound of rifle fire. This dog used to go on ambush with me and never barked on an ambush but if Bush lifted his head you could bet there was something there. Bush was my soul mate, we had (one way only) conversations and Bush knew all my secrets. Bush was an exceptional unbelievable dog and would have been lost in Civvy Street.