Amazing Grace in 1RAR, the Rhodesian African Rifles
Are graves always silent or can they ‘speak’ out?
One of our American Rhodesian soldiers, U.S. Green Beret, Captain Joe Columbus Smith related this unique story as a memory of his time over 40 years ago in 1RAR in the Rhodesian Bush War. He was tasked to lead a dozen fine RAR soldiers on a mission with very specific orders from Captain Lionel Dyck, Company Commander C Company 1RAR.
Written by Sally-Ann Lowe (source: Chibaya Moyo 2: The Rhodesian African Rifles: An anthology of Anecdotes, 2019, Capt. Andrew Telfer SCR & Capt. Russell Fulton)
He was to deploy with his soldiers under cover of darkness into an adjoining Tribal Trust Land (TTL), seek out a pre-selected gomo (little mountain) marked on the map and by dawn be bunkered down, unseen, at its summit. From this hidden observation post they were to scour the landscape for signs of armed communist terrorists (CTs); all a normal practice, so far so good – not!
The patrol very soon found itself surrounded by an oppressive, thick, damp mist referred to locally as ‘guti’. Captain Smith could not see further than 20 feet and to add to the confusion, there were numerous cone shaped gomos all over the terrain but only those over 49 feet were actually marked on the map. The night march was taking double the expected time because they had bypassed their selected gomo in the blinding ‘guti’.
A much dejected Captain Smith who had eventually called a halt for the night to the relief of the exhausted patrol members, was mortified to wake up and realize it was now a clear sunny morning and they were perfectly exposed!
Yet Captain Smith had no intention of calling Captain Dyck and admitting he had failed his assignment to find that gomo observation post in the guti – not just yet. He called over his very able African platoon sergeant Wilson, got out the map and they tried to figure out where exactly they were. He then had an idea. He knew from previous experience that sergeant Wilson had an exceptional memory and asked him if he could remember any old terrorist base camps in the vicinity. He did!
“Well off we went but with a plan. I picked out stop group positions on the back side of the terror camp, and then led the remaining troops in an assault line right over the top. We assaulted through the old camp but found no-one. I then sent out a patrol to do a complete 360 around the old camp. Within a minute I heard a crackle on my radio. ‘Sunray 2. I hear voices from the ground!’ “
Captain Smith rushed to join him, looked about and found the soldiers circled near a giant ant hill, staring at a large bed of rocks. Emanating out of the ground below the rocks was a very faint, distressed muffled voice calling for help.
“It was a very spooky moment and for a moment we all stepped back!”
Reality soon prevailed and he quickly ordered the men to remove the rocks.
An Old Man Buried Alive By the Terrorists
“The rocks were as large as grapefruits and, after three feet of digging, we found an old man very much alive. He was slightly bloodied but otherwise okay.”
The old African man was overjoyed and very relieved at his astonishing rescue! Captain Smith:
“The Communist terrorists, trained by the red Chinese, had captured him, accused him of being a ‘sell-out’ (anyone assisting the Government), dug a hole and threw him in it. They threw the large stones on top of him and, by some miracle, the rocks were just big enough to let air reach him.”
Captain Dyck was stunned and thrilled to hear the news. His troops had done him proud and he ‘forgot’ to ask what they were doing away from that gomo in the first place. It was never ever mentioned by either of them. Naturally, the troops and their Captain Smith were chuffed too to have been a part of this miracle. The BSA Police collected the old man who had been buried alive in the middle of nowhere and left to die a lonely slow death, and took good care of him.
Captain Smith has the final say:
“And, YES, I have often wondered if God’s hand swept that guti blackout over my long night patrol, preventing me from seeing the OP gomo. Did he make me ask the platoon sergeant about old terror camps? God only knows! This subbie and that unearthed old man were the two luckiest guys in Rhodesia that day.”
Above: American Rhodesian Bush War Captain Joe Columbus Smith discussing Rhodesian Bush War tactics, weaponry and some accurate historic, social and political information on Rhodesia. Such recordings are treasures of recent Rhodesian history to be savoured and appreciated by all.
/// Response by Capt. Joe C. Smith, 1RAR, Ret. to author Sally-Ann Lowe’s wonderful telling of a fascinating patrol of trial and error that culminated in a near miracle…or perhaps a real one. “After my initially botched patrol ,so accurately exposed by author Lowe, we ended up with the discovery of an innocent old man buried under rocks and left to die by Chinese armed & trained Communist Terrorists( CT’s) trying then( and now ) to dominate ALL of Africa.
Author Lowe, like no other reviewer, exposed the odds of the old man ever being found Without God’s Hand. Had I NOT bungled the mission he would have died an agonizing death under five feet of rock. Author Lowe captures the strange serendipitous ( OR God guided ) nature of counterinsurgency warfare when a “miss” can turn into “hit”… with a Happy Ending. I particularly appreciate the bigger picture aim of Sally-Ann Lowe to hi-lite the many wonderful military and civilian achievements of Rhodesia. She is beautifully RECLAIMING all of that and I for one couldn’t be more pleased. The experience of mine she recounts was first published in NHOHO, Regimental Magazine of The Rhodesian African Rifles, after selection by Brigadier David Heppenstall,Ret, Rhodesian Army, in about 2009, under the title( I think ) “Voices From The Grave.” Only this morning, thanks to reading Sally-Ann Lowe’s article, did I learn my story of discovery and redemption( mine) was re-published on Page 186, of CHIBAYA MOYO 2, marvelously assembled by Captains Andrew Telfer( Silver Cross of Rhodesia ) and Captain Russell Fulton. In their tome my story( just one of hundreds ) is titled “A Voice From The Grave.” So thanks Sally-Ann Lowe for telling me. You deserve praise from us all for your “illumination” of Rhodesia’s greatness.
/// Contextual notes. The astounding memories of African Soldiers were the ‘secret weapon’ to many RAR successes in the field..like this one. While officers came and went African soldiers stayed, patrolled all of the Tribal Trust Lands, year after year and remembered…everything. Every curve on the the path, every dimple in the terrain, every borehole, and in this case, every old terrorist camp. Credit all to that sensational African memory. Remember also that from 1977 onward The Rhodesian African Rifles also had black officers commanding platoons as competently as white one. One, a pal of mine, Lt. Percy Chiyanike had the Bronze Cross of Rhodesia. Rhodesia made this happen. )
Thank you Joseph, your wonderful comment was very much appreciated by myself and Sally-Ann Lowe.
I hope one day you write the story of your pal Lt. Percy Chiyanike. We’d very much like to include it on Reclaiming Rhodesia, and any other stories you wish to share. I am very proud of my country and my people who fought so hard and for so long side by side. In so many ways the RAR and your service with them, points to the Rhodesian Spirit – and why, Rhodesians Never Die.
To the Editor and all associated with the Reclaiming Rhodesia initiative, a big THANK YOU. You have done us all proud. A very worthwhile publication which I send far and wide.
Thank you! We do ourselves proud by educating our children and grandchildren. The story of Rhodesia and our betrayal is more relevant than ever in 2022.