Alan Vaughan: A Premonition Of Death In The RLI
“Here’s the actual story. On the ground. I believe it should be told for all those that glory war, for those yet to fight in one on the front – the very front line of the spear of war.”
Rhodesian Light Infantry Alan Vaughan Rfn, Killed In Action 17th February 1977.
By Mark Hugh Derek Selby from Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, reposted with permission with minor formatting edits.
Wednesday evening, 16th February 1977
We are all having a few drinks at Christmas Pass Hotel and at about 10.30pm Alan seeks me out and draws me aside to tell me that he “knows” that tomorrow he will be killed in a contact. I responded saying:
We all feel that way sometimes Alan. It’s what we do. War’s hell. Don’t worry everything will be alright.
Anyway lightning never strikes twice! [He had taken light shrapnel wounds the bush trip before].
You will see, we will all be fine.
I will take care of you as always when we are together.
At 11am the next day back at the Grand Reef Fire Force base camp, the siren wails and we all scramble for our webbing and rifles. We run out onto the tarmac airstrip apron where the choppers and Push & Pull are winding up their engines. The smell of avgas fills the air as does the ever increasing whining pitch of the engines. We climb into our chopper, the blades engage and begin to rotate faster and faster. Stop 2 is us.
The callout is a police land rover having been ambushed in Wedza. Flight time is 60 minutes.
I lean over to Alan and tell him:
See everything is going to be OK. It’s just an ambush in Wedza.
By the time we are there the gooks will be long gone.
No worries for us.
40 minuets into the flight I hear over the inflight radio that Stop 1 will continue to the police ambush site. The balance of the Stops, including us, will proceed to a sighting in Soswe TTL south of Marandellas. I look up at Alan and just stare at him for a fleeting second with the night before’s silly conversation flashing into my head.
15 minuets later as our chopper comes flaring into land, K-Car is firing from a 500 meter tight circular orbit. The K-Car commander instructs us to move quickly to the contact zone 900 meters to our front. It’s on ground gently sloping up a hill feature topped by a huge granite rocky outcropping surrounded by bright green maturing maize plants. The terrain is different but the principal remains the same. We had all done this dozen and dozen of times before.
Forming up the sweep line I instruct Alan, a rifleman, to move to the right of me. This is where I can keep an eye on him. With Lance the mag gunner to my left and Tony, also carrying a rifle on my extreme left flank: “Spread out” I instruct everyone. When ready we slowly walk forward. Crouching under overhanging branches and straightening up having passed them. The bush is green from the rains and small to medium trees dot the sloping way forward. Knee height bush grass covers all the open ground between the trees.
K- Car calls up again and tells us to move along. We do but I tell everyone:
Keeping watching out to our front.
Move carefully… Gooks are about.
Soon we are passing a small insignificant granite rock with a tree growing up through it’s center. It’s about 400 meters from the orbiting and firing K-Car to our front.
I hear automatic fire on my right, it seemed to reverberate right in my ear. Turning to Alan to ask if he had shot a gook. I see him spinning around, magazine pouch on fire.
All in slow motion…
With green tracer all around both he and I leap automatically for cover. I find myself next to the rock. I can see the AK protruding from the edge of the rock firing.
Grabbing an M962 I pull the pin. Then release the clip in my hand. Slowly I count to myself… 1 and 2 and 3. Then I lob the grenade up and over the apex of the rock. It seems an age deciding which way to fall, our side or theirs.
It went the gooks side and exploded.
Turning to Alan I could see he was injured and exposed. I called for Lance and Tony to give covering fire whilst I ran over and dragged Alan into some dead ground. I was tingling with apprehension, of another deadly burst of gun fire. My back was fully exposed to the position the gook was hiding behind.
Once we were both in cover, I turned to Alan to see how badly he had been hit. His rifle magazine was bullet damaged. The double magazine pouch also burnt and damaged. Alan’s right elbow was blown off but this was not serious. I ask while franticly searching for bullet entry signs:
Alan where have you been hit?
Alan is having trouble breathing and speaks in short whispers Blood is trickling down the sides of his mouth. “OK calm down Alan you will be fine”. I then notice a little blood on his tee shirt right hand side. Pulling his webbing off, I lift the tee shirt up and see that a round has traveled from his mid torso, right to left exiting mid ribs with obvious lung damage. Holding back the urge to be sick, I tell Alan:
You will be fine Alan.
It’s just a scratch.
You’re real lucky.
Grabbing field dressings, plaster and the plastic from the field dressing I always kept in a kidney pouch, I begin to patch and seal the entry and exit wounds. Half way through Alan stops breathing.
I stop and give Alan mouth to mouth. Bits of damaged intestinal organs gets vomited up feebly by Alan into my mouth. I lean away from Alan and vomit.
I turn back and continue with mouth to mouth. Alan starts to breath again. “Alan!” I shout at him unnecessarily:
You must stay awake!
Fight for your life!”
Alan whispers, closing his eyes again :
Tell my wife I love her.
Tell her to start again.
I shout again:
No Alan! FIGHT!
For fucks sake, FIGHT!
Alan starts to drift again and I slap him hard. He comes round. I continue to patch. I can’t give morphine, it’s a chest wound. Shock takes the pain away anyway.
I grab my radio and inform K-Car we have critically wounded man. K-Car calmly informs me over the radio:
Change channel to 6 and Yellow 1 will pick up your wounded man.
Seconds…… minutes…. hours…. seem to pass. Alan requires mouth to mouth two or three more times. Trying to put in a drip is impossible, all his veins have collapsed.
In reality more likely 5-6 minutes from my urgent casavac radio call before the chopper comes in. Tony and I carry Alan to the chopper as gently as we possibly can. I tell the chopper tech “Keep him awake! Watch him!” He nods and keeps a close eye on Alan. The chopper throttles up and lifts off into the cloudy skies racing to Marandellas emergency mobile operating unit stationed there.
We three remaining souls are all numbed by the experience, but carry on with the task at hand. We hoped against hope that Alan is going to make it. An hour later K-Car informed us that they were really sorry but Alan died on the operating table.
We dispatched the gook that killed Allan earlier that day, but it made no difference. It did not change the facts. Alan was dead.
War Is Hell
What can you do? Life sucks. I wish it could have been different. Alan, I wish you had been wrong the night before. Yep, we were mortal after all. War chooses no sides, everyone pays the grim reaper. Eventually.
At Alan’s funeral a week later in Bulawayo I spoke to his young widow. I told her his dying remarks and wishes were for her and their new baby daughter to carry on. Find a new love and life. I sure hope she found utopia… RIP Alan.