GP. 6 MTOKO


Protected Villages Duty

 

The majority of our ‘classroom’ training in military matters at Chikurubi seemed to centre around our upcoming responsibilities as Keep Commanders in the Protected Villages. Around 7/8s of the Europeans were to be ranked as KCs with the balance being Keep Deputies. I recall there were about 35/40 in our intake at that time (GF11). This was January 1978

The degree of ‘action’ seen in the various areas discussed invariably changed from day to day.

It went something like this;

In degrees of ‘heat’:  Beitbridge seemed to be the worst, Mount Darwin was reported to be the quietest, probably because it was the ‘oldest’ with the others anywhere in between.

The postings were usually determined within days of your call –up and you were advised not to contact HQ with a request to find out where the posting was to be until about a week before you reported for duty. I contacted HQ a few days before reporting and was told I was to be posted to GP6 Mtoko. I had no great pre-conceptions about this posting....I think initially I assumed that it would be relatively quiet as the ‘war’ had moved on from that area, of course time would prove me wrong.

I remember assembling at Chikurubi in early March of that year awaiting transport to Group HQ. It seemed to take an age to get going and as I recall we finally got on our way around 2pm (we had assembled at Chikurubi from Salisbury Rail Station at around 06.30hrs). We were transported in an open Nissan truck and arrived as I recall at around 8pm....it did not take us 6 hours to travel the 160kms to Mtoko. We were doing a supply run to various stations along the route....principally in the environs of Mtoko to Intaff and GF bases. Who knows what we were supplying I just wanted to get to the final destination. I do recall attending a sub-joc, en route but I couldn’t tell you where. We were debriefed by a SB and BSAP officers who advised us that the area was still very much ‘hot’ and that vigilance would be the key. This did come as a mild surprise.

Again we enbussed and left the sub-joc around 9pm and made our way to Mtoko GP6 HQ. We must have rolled in pretty late and before I knew it we were quartered up and bedded down.

Next morning very early we ‘new guys’ I guess there was about a dozen or fifteen of us formed up and had the welcome speech by the group CO....I couldn’t tell you his name then and I cannot remember it now.

 I was never impressed with Guard Force officers and an incident at GF 6 confirmed my low opinions. The only GF officers I had any respect for was John Radford 2iC at Group 5 Mrewa and another officer whom I served with at Gwanda....I believe his name was Hodgson. The rest to my mind were a waste of time and they had no time whatsoever for ‘territorials’. Rarely would they visit their troops ‘in the field’ and were more than content to remain back at base.  In general I seen my Commanders on day one and on the last day of call-up....never in between. (In hindsight of course they were only trying to do a very difficult job and perhaps I was just unlucky serving with ‘not the best’).

At some point the officers had obviously decided who was going where based upon who knows what and again we were on the road after ensuring we had all the kit we had arrived with. We visited a number of PVs on route and dropped off the various KC’s and if appropriate some Keep Deputies. Accompanying us of course were some Guards who were taking over as replacements at the various Keeps.

Eventually after various PV visits (I remember Suswe I think and perhaps Stephen) we arrived at the PV I was assigned to. Its name was Nyamande but frankly I only found this out a year or so ago as I had probably blotted it out of my mind. It seemed to be the last PV on the road (I now know that Makaha was the last drop off although Nyamande was further East).


I had to take over from the previous KC (name unknown) and although a formal and meaningful handover would have been preferred the guy couldn’t wait to get back to Civvy St (who could blame him?). By early evening on the first day (approx 3 March 1978), I had finally arrived and was responsible for 22 Guards, around 3 500 villagers and a collective area so large it had an airfield within its boundaries.....not bad for a 24 year old ‘pommie’ only ‘in country’ for about 2 years.

The billets consisted of block built rooms within a 6 foot high earth mound area. Better than most I must admit. My rooms consisted of a sleeping quarters big enough for 4 beds (but contained 2), and a kitchen/living area which was a reasonable size. The Guards fared worse and were on the whole more tightly cramped over 3 or 4 ‘blockhouses’. All this surrounded an open square that contained water tanks, a generator room, a radio room. In each corner of the wall was a protective firing area. The walls were patrolled continuously by 2 or 3 Guards.

I had a Keep corporal who was directly in charge of the Guards and did his best to maintain an orderly calm. Unfortunately I do not remember his name.

About a day or so after I arrived an Intaff member came to stay. His name was James Robertshaw and he was a very conscientious member of Intaff. As I recall he was only with us for about a week but was very worthwhile company. Many years later I was informed that he was killed I think 6 months later in an LM incident in the district. A very sad loss as he was a most popular young man with the local populace. RIP Jim......the country owes you a debt.

His place was taken by another Intaff member whose name I think was Antonio (surname). He was a Cape Coloured as I recall and was a very amiable chap. He was present in the Keep when we got a stonking on Easter Monday (more of that incident in a later piece).

Once or twice I played soccer with the locals on the ‘PV square’....these were very enjoyable but I soon got fed up with the locals taking the odd swipe at the ‘uMurungu’, and I subsequently gave it up.

Meals at the Keep (which was prepared by the cook/radio operator were a welcome respite but had no great variety. Alcohol was banned and I stuck to the rules diligently.

We did regular patrols within the village and a few outside.....but we never went beyond an hour or march from the PV. Inside patrols were generally much more interesting and it was only after being in the PV for a couple of weeks that I realised we had one or two Ground coverage guys in the PV. I was fortunate not to identify them by mistake.

Every morning at 6am the Guards would open the gate and log villagers in and out. This gate was manned by 3 or 4 Guards from 6am to 6pm. When the gates closed the guards would present me with a list of ‘missing’ and we would visit their Kraal and discuss this with the Headmen, it was a very serious incident if villagers did not return but gladly it was a rare occurrence.

One day we had a visit from the Red Cross. They flew in on a Cessna aircraft I think (quite unannounced). There were 4 of them and I think they were Austrian or Swiss medical people. They gave injections to the locals if required and I requested some Penicillin for my men as Venereal disease was common. They refused.....I pleaded with them saying that we would replenish them back at Mtoko and I also pointed out that they would provide medical treatment or supplies to the gooks....they said they would but could not give it to Rhodesian Govt. Troops. I have never been a supporter of the IRC since that day. I do understand their relative notion of ‘fairness’, but frankly they do not know the meaning of the phrase.

We rarely did ‘square-bashing’ but I got my men out on patrol as often as I could, always keeping at least 6 Guards in the Keep at all times.

We had a large diesel generator providing power for the Keep which would go on about 6pm and ran until around 10pm.....then total silence. The most dangerous time was just after the villagers returned up to just before dark. This was the time that an attack was most likely. Certainly never before dusk.

I made my cigarettes and food last the complete 6 weeks, although I always suspected that someone was pilfering the goods....but could never prove it.

We never had transport in the Keep and relied on HQ to bring supplies.....but they never visited the Keep (apart from the day after the stonking).

We had a visit from a stick of 2 Rhodesia Regiment (out of Salisbury I think). There were 2 Africans and 2 Europeans. They were in the Keep for no more than 3 hours and in that time managed to severely assault 2 women (broken jaw, and severe bruising) during an impromptu and public interrogation. If the villagers were onsides at the time they definitely were not after that incident.

I was relieved exactly 6 weeks later and spent an overnight at Kotwa Base prior to transport to Salisbury. I don’t think I visited the Regional HQ for any type of debrief. I was glad of the experience all round but was happy to see the back of Nyamande.

 

KC George Parker 118157 F (Feb 2015)

 

In GP6 Mtoko it was Comdt Joe Flanagan  who took the lead transforming his PV
soldiers into COIN Infantry during the transitional period leading to the
formal establishment of 1 BN.



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