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by Brian Oliver

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Before joining the Military Intelligence Branch of CIO in 1973, later to become the RIC on 1st July 1975, I did a call-up with the second RHU unit to be sent into the field, the old "Dad's Army".

We were sent up to the Mocambique border, west of Mukers, to act as guards for the fencing gang which was building the cordon sanitaire. This RHU outfit was commanded by an ex-SAS corporal (wish I could remember his name!) who had been slung out of the SAS on medical grounds after breaking his leg in a parachute jump. When we first met him he was still quite bitter at his fate, despite the WO rank temporarily given him as our commander. However, by the time our call-up was over, he was reconciled to his lot, convinced that never again would he face such dangers as were posed by a bunch of World War II know-it-alls, eked out by a generous sprinkling of civil servants and company directors who had never handled a weapon in their lives before their one day of range training out on the Mount Hampden road.

He visibly paled every night as we set out our booby-traps of grenade necklaces and tripwires, while he was nowhere to be seen when we stood-to before first light in the morning - he was too busy taking cover from stray rounds set off by sleepy-eyed idiots who had forgotten which way to set the safety catch!

My own section was fairly typical:
Brian Rooke, the ex-tennis champion of Rhodesia and at that time a director of Tobaco Sales; civil servants Keith Chalmers of External Affairs, Steve Stephenson of the PM's Office, Ken White of Commerce and Industry (the decimalisaton and metrication expert who had to take a lot of stick from the rest of us); Geoff Churcher, a farmer from the Enterprise area; and about a dozen others.

With no previous training, of course, discipline was pretty appalling. One night, with chaps smoking and waving torches around under the bivvy, I became so fed up that I stripped off my sergeant's stripes, threw them on the ground and challenged the lot either to take things seriously or for one of them to pick up the stripes and take over the section. That did the trick! Actually, they were a good bunch of blokes who learnt very quickly by the end of our stint.

Talking of swopping rank: we were having real hassles with resupply back at Darwin, particularly with a certain O corporal. Our WO accordingly placed his badge of rank over the wrist of the aforesaid Geoff Churcher who was a super guy but who could put on an extremely surly and domineering act when it suited his purpose, and sent him off to Darwin in charge of the next resupply run. It worked like a charm. Geoff returned with all our requirements, plus, plus, plus, having done a marvellous rank-pulling job over the stroppy O character, from whom we had no more trouble thereafter.

For many of us, it was our first experience of the deep bush, mopani bees, searing heat, shortage of water (though plenty of Lion and Castle!). Our admiration for the men of the fencing gang who laboured hard but cheerfully in all this was quite intense. Laurie, the chap in charge, was an interesting character, very popular as he had what seemed to be an unending supply of Scotch. After doing about five years on this job, often in very hairy situations, he was decorated with, I think, the OLM, and very well-deserved it was.

As with all first experiences, this one made a deep impression on most of us and led some of us on into that state of bush-happiness well-known to many of you readers - though I have to say that the cold beer at Umvukwes Country Club on the way back tasted like nectar!

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