IANS 4. Gerry van Tonder’s
story in brief.
Gerry van Tonder joined Intaf as a regular and had served a year before being called up to do military service at Chikurubi with IANS 4. He was allocated to C Squad and Paddy Gallagher was his instructor. After the completion of basic training Gerry was deployed to Sipolilo. Gerry also completed his BA Adminstration at the University of Rhodesia while serving with Intaf. Gerry’s brothers all served in the RLI.
After the bush war ended Gerry immigrated to Great Britain and has become a prolific author of excellent military history books and has had over twenty published. Gerry also does military history research and runs his own website. The link is on the appropriate page. It is well worth visiting.
Forced Interlude at Chikurubi - Gerry van Tonder
National conscription, or "call-up," was that institutional part of the make-up of life in Rhodesia that all young white, coloured and Asian men over the age of sixteen were obliged to subscribe to, regardless of political or religious persuasion. Compulsory national service seemed to have always been there, whereby traditionally, you would have to report to Brady or Llewellin military barracks in Bulawayo for nine months of initial basic training and peace-time army service. This was followed by periodic and infrequent call-up stints of four weeks at a time, maybe twice a year. As the national security situation deteriorated and the black-nationalist movements increased their insurgent activities, the demands on territorial call-up became greater and greater, and the net spread wider to encompass men up to the age of sixty.
Upon leaving school therefore, and for almost all of us, immediate "square-bashing" was inevitable. However, certain careers provided varying degrees of deferment, and in my case, by joining the then Ministry of Internal Affairs, I had a year as a civvie before giving the country my pound of flesh.
Towards the end of 1975 I received the brown envelope containing my call-up papers for a year, starting off with three months basic training. Ours was to be the fourth in-house call-up conducted by Internal Affairs (Intaf), but comprising mainly non-Intaf personnel, the purpose being the para-military training of staff to man the protected villages being established throughout the north eastern operational areas. Included in the envelope was a second class rail ticket, which I would use to travel from Gwelo to Salisbury, but beyond this we were told little else, except that transport would be provided from the station to the training facility at the Chikurubi Prison Farm on the outskirts of the capital. Chikurubi housed one of the nation's top maximum security detention units for non-political prisoners, in addition to the usual prison facilities, where less dangerous criminals were housed. The complex is spread over several hundred hectares, much of which being set aside for agricultural production, labour being readily available. Government had allocated Intaf spare space at Chikurubi to establish a training facility, which included barracks, armoury, drill square, clinic, admin, etc.
So it was then on a warm January night in 1976, I boarded the train in Gwelo at just after midnight, bound for an adventure largely unknown. Having had two brothers as regulars in the RLI and a third who was a territorial in the same battalion, I was perhaps not as naive as many of the others I would be spending the next three months with in very close proximity. I would certainly be less ignorant of what was actually happening in the “bush,” as the war was often referred to generically, and having already worked a year and having had a rifle as a constant companion, I was already proficient in weapons handling – a big advantage. My brothers provided a wealth of hints and tips to assist in the passage through what became the toughest part of my life to date. Most believed that basic training in Intaf would be a relatively easy number and, sadly, to some extent also yours truly, after all, we were not going to be trained as frontline combatants – mistaken assumption, or perhaps wish!
intake, IANS 4, comprised ninety six individuals, and as most had come by train
from all over the country, there was a fairly substantial gathering on
Salisbury station's main platform that morning, and what a colourful sight it
was. There was the usual smattering of shorts and vellies, but many must
have felt that it would be necessary to make a fashion statement, and were clad
in tight nut-crushing trousers and platform shoes – all very fashionable for
the average Rhodesian teenager at that time. The vast majority had only left
school, so were younger than I was, and in many cases sadly ignorant of what
We were met by some rather non-descript persons in khaki uniforms, who were to take us to Chikurubi on the back of 7-tonne Isuzu trucks and, if you are even slightly a conspiracy theorist, you would start becoming apprehensive. "Hurry up and wait" was already in evidence – that well-known but unspoken military adage employed to help you start shedding your identity as an individual, and adopting that of a team. At the gates to the sprawling Chikurubi complex, the trucks came to a halt in a cloud of dust, and the apparent leader of our escort, a Mr Louw, addressed the colourful and amorphous mob. He laid down a few preliminary but basic ground rules regarding smoking, talking, and following instructions, strutting around with an obvious element of "I am important." We were told that the gateway represented leaving the world behind for at least six weeks, so your mother and/or chick would have to console themselves that Johnny is, pro tem, out of circulation. As time went by, it quickly became obvious that this late middle-aged gent in khaki was a Vedette who lacked teeth, and really enjoyed the sound of his bark!
The dirt road meandered its way down a hill for a further couple of K's, and the trucks finally stopped on an embankment which had stairs leading down it to three parallel rows of buildings. We all got off with our luggage and the trucks moved away – silence hung in the air together with the dust from our transport. There stood four men, equally silent. They were in khakis and wore red berets. They just looked at us. We nervously looked back. A few shuffled their feet. What now?
the whole scene exploded into furious chaos! The four descended on us, swearing
and telling us to run – run up that road to the island in front of the admin
block, and run back. It was not a request. It was not polite. It was urgent. It
was a total shock. The process of destruction before rebuilding had made a
dramatic start. Suddenly we were all "f***pigs", and without a doubt,
the worst lot of f***pigs they had ever encountered. "What are you looking
at, f***pig – do you think I'm your goose – do you want to fuck me - RUN!"
"Run you fat f*** – how many pigs did you have for breakfast today – can
you find your **** when you have a piss?" As I made my way, the route was
littered with slops, shoes and other items of personal kit. I was so pleased I
was wearing sensible shoes, as the guys in platforms were really battling. As
we reached the starting point, we simply met up with further abuse and commands
to go again, and again, and again, and again. It went on for what seemed like
hours, and for those of us who were not straight from school, and had therefore
to a lesser or greater extent come under the influence of independent adult
life (alcohol and tobacco), were really starting to battle. Our unfortunate
portly friend with the alleged propensity for pork was a Mr Wessels, who had
already been in Intaf for several years and so had an added disadvantage of
age. Eventually we were all called to a halt and, by means of a roll call,
separated into A, B and C squads.
We grouped ourselves into these squads and met our tormentors. They were led by the most immaculate soldier imaginable – our Chief Training Officer, Robin Tarr, ex Regimental Sergeant Major, 1st Battalion, The Rhodesian Light Infantry. Any RSM in any regiment is regarded as a god in a military unit, revered by both rank and file alike and the only NCO referred to as Sir, but Tarr had also been an exceptional soldier in the nation's top regular unit - the Saints. He had a reputation for changing his uniform four times a day, his drill application and commands were excellent, and just for good measure, he was extremely fit and would also take us for PT. He stood and watched as the three squad trainers individually homed in on their respective wards for the next three months. Training Officer Terry Wilde was given A Squad – he had also been a Warrant Officer with the RLI. Squad B was placed under the control of Training Officer Bill Chalmers, an ex NCO with the RLI, and finally mine, Squad C, one Training Officer Paddy Gallagher, also an ex RLI NCO. How the hell did we end up with an RLI full-house?
Our hearts sank as we were faced with this "illustrious" group of soldiers. For Squad C though, it quickly became evident that we had drawn the short straw, as Gallagher was simply a very difficult person with known personal problems and issues – an individual who visited nightclubs in Salisbury with a .45 calibre revolver under his coat. He was not very articulate, and we soon saw how his unstable temperament led to the physical abuse of those who had been placed in his care.
Due to the fact that ours was an unusually large intake, our squad had to be barracked separately from the other two, away from the main complex. This would prove to work for and against us. On the down side, it meant we had much further to go to change or get our mess kit, as the dining room was adjacent to the dormitories of A and B squads. However, where we were we enjoyed a far better man to ablution ratio, and were not reliant on the wood-fuelled boilers that the others had. We had to stash our personal gear, and then form up again to be quick-marched up to the Quartermaster for our uniforms. At no time what so ever were we allowed to walk, but had to run in between places if not formed up in a squad. The immediate problem was to get each squad to "march" to the quartermaster, and needless to say, this was chaotic, aggravated by continual verbal abuse – we were totally shell-shocked, disorientated, and rapidly becoming fatigued with all the exercise.
given kit of sizes which approximated the quartermaster's assessment of one's
physical dimensions, so many of us ended up with items of uniform which were of
the wrong size – we were not permitted to challenge the issuer's decisions -
kit swapping would come later. Back in
our barracks we were instructed on the format for parade inspection. Your
personal turnout had to be perfect, with all seams aligned, pockets buttoned
up, and not a crease in sight. The line of your shirt buttons and those of your
denims, as combat trousers were referred to, had to match. No shirt tuck
creases were allowed above the belt line. You had to be clean-shaven and must
ensure you do not cut yourself when shaving – this constitutes damage to
government property and therefore punishable. We soon learnt to put on our
shirts last, so that you do not crease them leaning over when doing up your
Once dressed, you could not afford to sit down, so we made sure the barrack room and bed displays were spot-on before getting dressed. Fortunately, times have moved ahead, and we had far fewer items of uniform that required Brasso polishing. Our canvas combat belts and ancillary webbing all had plastic-covered buckles; earlier models were all made of brass. Our stable belts similarly lacked anything that required a shine, and in fact the very nature and name of this piece of dress was designed not to incorporate anything made of brass.
belts were first introduced many years ago by British horse-borne units, such
as the cavalry and the Hussars, initially just as something to wear over the
proper highly-shone leather and belt buckle, as protection from dirt and dust
when engaged in stable duties. As the wearing of stable belts became
formalised, they were colour coded to allow for unit identification, and with
time stable belts were introduced into all military units as standard day wear
when number one parade dress is not being worn. The belt is about four inches
wide, made of a very strong canvas-type material, and is usually secured with
two buckles. The traditional way of tying the belt has also survived, in that
the buckled part was worn off-centre half way towards the right hip, thus
avoiding scratching of the dress belt-buckle underneath. Our stable belts were
red, with a narrow grey band running down the middle and length of the belt;
RLI's was green with white bands; SAS solid blue with no bands, and so on. So,
with all those serving wearing the same camouflage kit, one could clearly
identify a battalion or regiment, even if they were walking away from you.
The bed displays were a nightmare, and something with which most failed to achieve the required standard. You were issued with two blankets, two sheets and two pillows. In the morning, these items had to be parcelled in a precise "sandwich" measuring about 60cm x 30cm x 30 cm, in such a manner that one folded blanket enveloped a layer of two sheets with the other blanket in between – when viewed from the front you would see a 50mm wide layer of each. My brother Jo' later told me that they used strips of hardboard placed on the inside to ensure crispness and uniformity of these layers. At the end of your bed you had to arrange your mess kit in the prescribed layout, and then ensure that these all lined up on everyone's beds, using a length of string to achieve this. Our black PT tackies were placed on top of our bedside lockers, our boots were clean, and we thought it all looked good!
We got up very early for 0600 inspection, confident of our efforts, until the tornado that is an inspection, struck. There you stood at attention, chin up, shoulders back, stomach pulled in, hands tightly clenched against the side-seams of your denims, and still trying to breath. When the officer reaches you as you are standing by your bed, you have to shout out your number, rank and surname at the top of your voice, and more often than not, you were told that your efforts were those of a chick, and you ended up repeatedly shouting "96193, Cadet van Tonder, Sir" until you were totally hoarse.
Different cadets would be picked-on for different things, so there was never any consistency in the inspection modus operandi. At the bed next to you, the officer doesn't even look at the bed layout that had taken so much effort to perfect, but simply upends the bed against the wall and finds cobwebs underneath. Cadet Mike Pratt opposite me looks as if has slept in his uniform, has not shaven properly, and has dirty boots. The officer picks up someone's tackies, and is not satisfied that the under-soles are clean. Another has not cleaned his aluminium mug adequately. And yet another has failed to do up a pocket button. And so on and so on. We are a total "shower of shit" and will be on Change Parade after dinner tonight, as a form a punishment. This became a nightly event for several weeks.
It quickly became evident that Change Parades were an integral part of that process to break us down, no matter how hard we tried – we never passed an inspection in those first four weeks, simply because we were not meant to. We soon learnt that barrack room inspection was a team effort, and pulled together – exactly what they wanted us to do. Even if one person failed inspection, we were all punished. This meant getting up very early, and within a few days, we were totally exhausted from all the non-stop activity which, combined with the mental strain, made most of us feel very despondent – there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
We gradually started understanding what was required, and more importantly what the potential pitfalls were. It was an impossibility to try and keep footwear clean and shiny in the middle of the rainy season, so we acquired spare tackies and boots just for inspection. A must was a can each of Dribrite and black PVA paint. The black paint was for the under-soles of tackies, and the Dribrite (a high-gloss shine for vinyl floors) for boots which had been "boned." Boning is a process by which a spoon, which has been heated over a candle, is rubbed in small circles over the toecap and heel of a boot, resulting in a mirror-smooth finish which, with hours of loving application of Kiwi polish and a final veneer of Dribrite, gave the most amazing shine. Every item of clothing had to be starched, including our floppy hats – we had to earn the red berets, so they only came later. We soon discovered that there were several orderlies employed by the prison services who were quite happy to polish boots and starch kit for a set fee, so for a small price we were spared a lot of arduous chores and were able to catch up on sleep.
Change Parades became a much-dreaded part of our training. As the name implies, the squad had to parade in certain uniform, as determined by your training officer, eg PT gear, dress uniform, combat, etc. After a brief inspection you would be dismissed and given an impossibly short space of time to run back to barracks, change into what had been commanded, and run back for parade and inspection. This would go on for hours, and on many occasions we just stood there on parade waiting and waiting, and just when it would appear that things were running smoothly, the officer would re-appear having been to the barracks. Of course, it would be totally upside down, which meant extra parades – we despaired! The officer then added a variance which allowed us to stay in one set of uniform, but we had to fetch the solid wood dining tables out of the mess, and with eight to a table, "run" with these held at arms length above our heads. Eventually, the odd individual started collapsing and after further abuse, we were dismissed late at night, only to go back to barracks to try and have everything spotless and ship-shape for the next morning – sleep was at a premium.
cadet had to undertake a 24-hour stint as duty cadet, which involved the
wearing of a red sash diagonally across the body, and performing added
laid-down duties such as morning roll call, liaison, and periodic night checks
on those on guard duty. One such night guard, a Cadet Eric Fry, had been found
one rainy night sleeping on duty. One can quite readily understand the
potential ramifications, especially in a war zone, of this serious dereliction
of duty. He was placed on orders, and later that day I was randomly selected to
be one of two cadets who would form the accused’s escort.
The hearing officer was the dreaded Robin Tarr, and although I wasn't on charge, I was extremely nervous as we lined up outside his door, ready to be marched in by one of the training officers, the accused sandwiched between his two course mates. Cadet Fry, as per normal practice, was not permitted to wear his stable belt, and gravity was already coaxing his denims down over his ramrod-thin physique. We were given a quick briefing, called to attention and, with the door being flung open, quick-marched in at a frantic pace – the officer could not spit out left-right-left-right-left-right fast enough. We were called to a halt within a few paces, and right-faced at the same impossible speed, leaving us all desperately trying to catch our breaths and compose ourselves. We remained at attention in front of a desk, the three of us staring straight ahead at the wall above the seated Tarr. The hearing was quick and professional, and in similar whirlwind manner, we were dismissed and marched out. Just before this though, Tarr complimented me personally on my appearance and conduct – coming from him, this was without a doubt a highlight of my basic training. Cadet Fry was fined, and sentenced to several weeks extra duties, which under the personal supervision of an officer, almost led to his physical and mental collapse – it is not advisable to sleep on duty!
Basic training was multi-facetted and included drill, field craft and tactics, weapons drill and shooting practice, PT, radio voice procedure, Shona language and customs lectures, and vehicle and helicopter drills. At any point during any programme an officer would pick on something or someone and fabricate a reason to send us running, another almost predictable aspect of the process of playing with one's mind, on the basis of instilling compliance without hesitation. About the only plus that drill presented was reduced running, but it brought with it fresh tirades of the vilest language, sometimes sprinkled with the physical venting of the officer's frustrations at our perceived lack of progress.
Most of us could not understand the real purpose behind drill, other than it being a further instrument of optimising discipline. In hindsight though, drill provides the means to achieve that element of pomp and ceremony integral to a British-modelled military such as Rhodesia's. One of my barrack mates, Roy O'Shaunessy , could not march, a shortcoming which earned the squad continued extra punishment. We tried encouraging him by saying that marching was only formalised walking, but the moment he started to try and march, his brain deserted his arms and legs, and his left arm and left leg would come forward at the same time and so would the right pair! He did eventually come right, especially after he was threatened with back-squading so far that he would be "throwing stones at dinosaurs."
Drill with firearms added another unpleasant dimension as it could be used by the officer to help get his message across by trying to crack your skull with the weapon. Or try running with a 10-pound rifle held above your head, or stand with it held on rigid arms in front of you. The biggest mistake, albeit one with light-hearted consequences, was to call a rifle a gun. The guilty individual would have to stand in front of the parade and shout at the top of his voice, while alternately pointing first at his rifle and then his crutch, "This is a rifle, this is a gun...this is for shooting, this is for fun!" Sadly, we were not allowed to laugh or even grin, as this would also result in punishment.
Drill is basically
the performance of given formal movements by a group of soldiers on parade,
executed upon shouted, and sometimes incoherent, commands from that person
conducting the parade. All this takes place on a Hard Square, a large tarred
area which can accommodate the formalised manoeuvres of groups of soldiers
accompanied by a military band. Whilst the latter may be perceived as a means
to stir up regimental fervour, we were only interested in the steady boom-boom-boom
of the band's base drum, which determined the marching pace, each boom
representing a footfall.
A command would always start off with an address stating who the command is intended for, eg "SQUAD" when it is just the squad, and "PARADE" when the whole battalion, or in our case the full intake, was drilling together. The instruction would then follow, eg "SQUAD, SQUAAAAAAD....SHUN!"- in this case calling from the at-ease position, to attention. The "at-ease" position was where you would stand with your legs comfortably spaced, your left arm neatly tucked behind your back, and your right arm fully extended to the front, your hand grasping the rifle around the foresight. The rifle butt would be resting on the ground against you right foot. As you come to attention, you stomp your feet together to form a "V" and tuck the rifle into your side, whilst leaving the butt on the ground. You simultaneously snap your left hand to the side of your body, fist clenched and thumb resting on the seam of your denims. This had to happen "...in a flash, like greased lightning," so, needless to say, this movement, together with all the others, was performed over and over until the officer was reasonably satisfied.
The next progressive movement would be "shoulder arms" where, on command and still holding the rifle around the foresight, you swing the rifle up towards your left shoulder, at the same time grasping the pistol grip in your left hand. To ensure that this happened in unison, you call "...two- three-up..." and then tucking your right arm away to the right side of your body with "...two-three-down." Obviously we had to call out these timing aids during training, but when on proper parade, only to yourself. A favourite trick was for the officer to call "stand at ease" when you are at the shoulder arms position, purposefully missing out the bridging command necessary to get you to the at-ease position, i.e. the to-attention position. Initially we almost all fell for it, thereby incurring the mandatory running punishment. You can only salute with your rifle in the shoulder-arms position, and is performed by rapidly cocking your right arm at the elbow across your stomach, and slapping the stock of the rifle with your right palm, fingers pointed.
from the shoulder-arms to present-arms positions is very tricky and a lot
harder to learn. Upon the appropriate command, you swing the rifle into a
position in the front and middle of your body, ensuring that it stays
perpendicular, at the same time grasping the stock with your right hand, done
to the same timing of "two-three-up..." This is followed, still
covered by the same single command, by two simultaneous movements. The rifle is
drawn sharply into your body so that the barrel touches your nose, and at the
same time you stomp your right foot behind your left, so that the instep of the
right pushes against your left heel – done to the second part of the timing
chant "...two-three-move." Fortunately you only present arms once
during a parade, but we certainly had to practice this movement endlessly. Albeit
a heavy rifle at ten pounds, the FN is quite long at forty inches, making it
ideal for our type of rifle drill.
These were the main stationary drills, but there were also a multitude of commands used when forming up and when on the march. Even though we did not possess regimental colours, bayonet-fixing drill was occasionally included, as were some very intricate diagonal marching patterns. The latter were absolutely dreaded by all, as they were very difficult to do right, and were understandably not included in our passing out parade.
After a few weeks, things started to fall into place, we became very fit, and there seemed to be a subtle easing in the intensity and frantic pace of all our activities – we were still regularly subjected to collective punishment, but less frequently so. Friday night was compulsory "Prayer Meeting," which constituted enforced attendance in the pub, with the evening being supervised by a duty officer. Only right at the end did these become raucous occasions – we were simply too tired to really enjoy such "social" gatherings, and would prefer to relax out of uniform in the barracks. We therefore did try to leave as soon as possible, but seeing as one had to go up to the duty officer and ask his permission to retire, it was a bit hit and miss, and in the case of Gallagher, entirely dependent on his mood at the time.
obviously an under-statement to say that we looked forward to many of the
non-physical activities, if only to sit and relax, and in the case of our Shona
lessons which were conducted by a civilian, a time to steal a bit of illicit
shut-eye. Tutorials in voice procedure, theoretical aspects of bush craft, and
basic elements of counter insurgency tactics would later on in our training also
provide welcome respite from the physical aspects of our training.
training was mainly made up of dry-land drills. This involved calling in
Cyclone 7, as the Air Force helicopter squadron was referred to throughout the
military, to your loc, and then in-bussing with your rifle pointing away
from the craft. Our "craft" during such exercises was a group of
chairs emulating a chopper's seating configuration. One poor individual had to
stand on a chair in the middle and swing a broom around his head, mimicking
rotor blades. Prior to getting the pilot's approval to come on board, weapons
had to be made safe – remove the magazine and cock the weapon to remove a round
which may still be "up the spout," i.e. in the breech. As we complied
with this instruction, we would hold our breaths waiting to see if some idiot,
upon carrying out the next command, had not released his rifle's trigger. The
unmistakeable click from somewhere would result in that inevitable bit of
enforced exercise – running.
Towards the end of our basic training, and therefore not long before our passing out parade, we were one day treated to the real thing whilst out on patrol exercises. Two choppers came in, these being the incredibly versatile Aerospatiale Alouette III – arguably, the war may not have been sustained as long as it had without these fine but aging aircraft. They were the mainstay of the so-called Fire force rapid deployment of troops to a reported sighting of terrorists, which would result in immediate contact being made with the enemy as soon as the troops landed. Their support role in combat engagement also included that of added firepower, with either twin machineguns (.303 or 7.62 calibre) or a 20mm cannon – the so-called K-Car. In addition to this, they often provided a command platform from where troop movements could be coordinated and enemy positions monitored. Their role in "casevacing" was equally important, providing swift extraction of the wounded for urgent medical attention.
Gradually, in groups of four, this being the standard stick or call-sign size, we all had a turn at boarding, closely followed by debussing. As the chopper disgorges its occupants in a hovering position just above the ground, it would lift further in to the air as its load got lighter. You could only hope that you were not the last out, but for one group on this particular day, the pilot decided to give the order to debus, while he was still an uncomfortable height above the ground. The first two out had awkward but safe landings and the third a nasty fall. The last however, and by this time the height had increased, came out with his legs pedalling fresh air. We all gazed up in stunned amazement as this unfortunate cadet, in seeming slow motion, slammed in to the ground, shattering both ankles. We never saw him again, and there was much speculation that someone would be in serious trouble for allowing this to happen – we all hoped it would be one of our officers!
Shooting practice was without a doubt very key to our training and could not be construed as another nuisance element of our training. As indicated earlier, I had an advantage over most of the others in that I had already had a year of becoming familiar with the FN, including extensive shooting practice. The Cleveland rifle range was a few miles from our barracks, so provided an ideal opportunity for us to be given exercise in the form of alternating spells of marching and running as a squad, the latter being referred to as marching "at the double." Ironically, marching at the double like this is a relatively easy task, as the combined left-right footfalls provide a rhythm which allows for a far greater level of sustainability.
Shooting practice included firing at targets over various distances, in standing, sitting and prone (lying on your stomach) positions. Those not shooting would be on stop-butt duty, where you would be responsible for target maintenance, being positioned in a bunker which housed the so-called figure-eleven targets. These were mounted on metal frames which were winched up and down on pulleys. We had pointers to indicate strikes, and after a bout of shooting, would repair the targets with pieces of gummed paper.
A rifle is very personal to one individual, simply because each person tends to shoot in a given manner. The FN's foresight is an upright pin, protected by v-shaped shoulders, and the rear sight, an aperture or peep-sight. When aiming, the top of the pin must be visually aligned in the centre of the circle that is the peep-sight. The process of "zeroing" one's rifle is therefore very important, as this compensates for any physical or shooting idiosyncrasies an individual may have, and therefore ensures accuracy. At 100 yards, you fire off five rounds in a determined and controlled manner, and if you are consistent in this, the target reveals a "grouping" or nest of strikes, which are in close proximity to each other, i.e. a five-inch grouping , which is considered as good. However, even though you may have been aiming at the centre of the target, your grouping may be off-centre. This is then overcome by adjusting the rear- and/or foresights to compensate, and over a period of successive shooting and adjusting, and as long as your grouping remains good, you get closer to the centre of the target.
We all looked forward to our shooting exercises, not only for providing welcome breaks from the tedium of much of the other training, but I believe mainly because we enjoyed the thrill of discharging firearms – the kick of the recoil into your shoulder, the loud crack accompanied by a buzz in one's ears (we never wore ear protection), the smell of oil and gunpowder. Boys and their toys, perhaps! One cadet, however, did not enjoy his particular day out, as he became separated from his water bottle – a perceived crime. Unfortunately, the plastic bottle was recovered by one of the officers, who promptly picked up a rifle and left the bottle in a state incapable of retaining even a single drop of water!
Our training was often brutal, sometimes sadistic, and on occasion downright bullying. It was, however, all acceptable in the process of making you a "man." Today's health and safety and risk assessors would probably have cancelled large chunks of the course had they been there, but we also did not see any of it as unfair – just a transient phase to be endured. The whole affair passed quickly, we started getting the odd weekend out, and more and more were we treated as normal people with needs and feelings. We still had to run everywhere, but a passable jog became the norm. We were given our red berets, and proud of them we were too. The passing out parade was a spectacle of pomp as we quick and slow marched, wheeled, presented arms, and performed the general salute. No-one fainted on parade, and that evening the officers joined us in getting thoroughly drunk in our mess, and indeed, as the rough and tumble games that inebriated men seem to revel in took place, the premises did become a mess.
So it was then that we left on one week's R'n'R, prior to returning to camp to be deployed to the various administrative districts throughout the north and east of the country, where we would be assigned to Protective Village duties.
IANS 4 - Gordon Poultney's Story
The national service call up system provided manpower for all of the services, including Intaf. Each of the intakes was numbered from IANS 1 onwards. The information and photos on this page belong to Gordon Poultney who did his national service in 1976 with IANS4 (intake 150). He also maintains a web site where his story may be found at http://poultney.rhodesiana.com/family/gkp/gkp5.html#gkp5
Gordon’s story is an excellent illustration of life in Intaf during the war and specifically in the Mount Darwin district which was acknowledged as one of the more active war zones of Rhodesia. All copyright belongs to Gordon and grateful thanks are extended to him for the use of the information and images.
Gordon Poultney was instructed to report to Chikurubi Barracks where he did his basic training, as did all other national servicemen. Basic training consisted of a number of subjects including drill, field craft, weapon handling, anti-ambush drills, the basics of an African language and an introduction to customary law. When basic training was completed Gordon was deployed to Mount Darwin. This is a summary of his experiences.
In March 1976 I was posted to Mount Darwin for the remainder of the year. I was initially sent to a relatively new Keep at Pachanza which was on the road to Mukumbura and situated just before the road headed around the "Bull's Nose" on the end of the Mavuradonha Range and headed down into the valley floor. The District Officer in charge of Pachanza was Dave Dodds who was a great Bisley shooter so we used to have lots of rifle practice. There was no Protected Village (PV) at Pachanza at that time so we spent our time patrolling the area on foot trying to gather information on the terrs and supervising the weekly cattle dipping at the nearby tank - 1,400 head. We also had to pick up the local Chief, Dotito, and bring him into the Keep every evening to "protect" him from the terrs. Of course it wasn't too long before the gooks caught onto this and were waiting in ambush for Dave one afternoon. He got a very bad wound in the leg and buttock and had to be casevaced to Salisbury. He never was completely right and walked with a limp thereafter. (The DA with him got several bullets in the chest and abdomen and I am still amazed, to this day, that he survived too.)
One of the highlights of my stay at Pachanza was attending a traditional beer drink and rain-making dance held by the famous spirit medium, Parangeta, at Chief Dotito's kraal. It was quite the experience to be in the middle of such an affair and to see the old medium become possessed in the form of a lion, dancing on all fours. Other notable events - the Keep got revved by terrs with mortars and small arms twice while I was there, there were several contacts in the area involving RLI Fire Force and Canberra bombers after terrs had attacked villages at night and I had close shaves with landmines on the road to Darwin. In fact Pachanza Keep was the turn around point for the Engineers who used the clear the road each day using the "Pookie" landmine detection vehicle (that was AFTER I had nearly been blown up a couple of times !) Another vivid memory was a doctor flying in from Karanda Mission to pick up a local who had been shot in the chest by terrs at least six times. I could hardly believe my eyes when the old madala wandered back to his village two weeks later !
In July 1976 I was transferred to the Kaitano Keep with two PV's, situated West of Mukumbura along the "border" road, but not very close to the Mozambique border itself. After a few weeks I took over from Ant Fynn, the DO, who was moved into Darwin HO. Whilst a lot of travel between Kaitano and Darwin was done by planes of the ADF fleet, we did occasionally drive through. One of my memorable trips was along the border road, stopping to visit the Hoya Keep in the Centenary district, then through Mazarabani and up the incredible Alpha Trail. Another one was flying back from Darwin and "gliding" low over one of the army O.P.'s on top of the Mavuradonha so that we could drop them their mail and newspapers ! Then swooping down the side of the escarpment into the valley below and game viewing along the way. The one pilot I remember well was Russell Kilner who often allowed us to "fly" the plane on some trips.
We saw a lot of "action" in the Kaitano area as it was one of the major infiltration routes up to the escarpment. We had several large Fire Force contacts around us and I still remember the sight of 33 body bags (terrs) on our landing strip after one day's kill. (Unfortunately that day the RAR lost one - a tracker called Jeremy Fisher, who was actually at Plumtree a couple of years ahead of me.) Fortunately we had no landmine incidents - they were kept more for the "landmine alley" between Pachanza and Darwin on the highveldt.
Of course many an hour was spent over cold chiboolies at both the Mukumbura Surf Club and the Changamire Arms (Intaf's pub in Darwin) with the inevitable games of Bezant. Every time I eat egg and bacon rolls I am taken back in time to the Forces Canteen in Darwin where we would always stop for some graze; and also to eye any "young" ladies who were volunteering there!
Intaf Staff in the Mount Darwin District at that time were:
Jim Latham - D.C.
Rob Walker - ADC (later DC of Kezi)
Ant Fyn - DO Kaitano and HQ
John Connelly - DO Mukumbura
Barry Mulder - DO Ops Room
Andy Olver - DO Dotito & Bveke
Rob Carruthers - DO Bveke & Kaitano
Colin Bird - DO Nhembire
Pete Skott - DO Nhembire
Steve Cloete - DO Chiswite
Cameron Clarke - DO HQ
Rob Rawson - DO Chigango
Dave Dodds - DO Pachanza
Ken Tuckey - DO Horse Troop
Mike Blake - DO Chesa
Mike Bellis - Agricultural Officer
Allan Nichols - Agricultural Officer
Jim Porter - Primary Development Officer, ADF (African Development Fund)
Ian McFarlane - Field Assistant, ADF
Bill Coowie (Sp?) - Field Assistant, ADF
Geordie - Mechanic, ADF
Reg Lawson - HQ Paymaster (No 2 Jack West)
Daphne Whitehead, DC's Secretary
Mrs Hoad - HQ Assistant
Brenda Tuckey - HQ Assistant