How Rhodesia Bush War Hero Mike Borlace Encountered Saintly American Missionary Surgeon Dave Drake
“There is a mission hospital at Karanda run by an American doctor, Drake, who is the nearest to a saint I have ever met.”Silver Cross recipient and helicopter pilot Mike Borlace
by Sally-Ann Lowe (info source: Spider Zero Seven by Mike Borlace)
When still a newcomer to the Rhodesian Bush War, Mike Borlace, ex-British Air Force, received yet another unexpected baptism of fire into the full reality of life for rural villagers caught in the middle. Then a G-Car pilot carrying troop sticks of 4 to fire-force counter-insurgency operations, his favourite and most rewarding actions were life-saving hot extractions, rescuing troops from sticky situations as well as evacuations of wounded soldiers.
These evacuations also included uplifting villagers tortured and maimed by gooks for being ‘sell-outs’. This could even be done against villagers for dipping their cattle to kill parasites in dips provided as aid by the government.
Mike’s first long deployment was to FAF 4 – Mount Darwin – in the Op Hurricane area, with Phil Tubbs as his chopper technician and gunner. Terrorist landmines were a daily fact of life in the region and at breakfast the camp would regularly hear the detonation of mines that had been laid during the night.
The Rhodesian security force casualties from the landmines were greatly reduced due to counter measures in place by this time. These included water-filled tyres which dissipated the energy, sandbags weighting their vehicles, conveyor belt material that absorbed shrapnel and blast, and eventually V-shaped chassis that deflected the blast. Not so fortunate were the civilians’ transport, and the rural villagers used anything from scotch carts, to tractors, cars and buses.
One morning a rural bus carrying mainly school children was blown up by a gook landmine, resulting in dead and very seriously injured youngsters. Mike Borlace and South African Neil Liddell were briefed to attend the tragedy and casevac the injured. A scene of utter carnage met their eyes. They immediately shut down the helicopters and gave first aid to the victims, regardless of possibility of ambush by the enemy.
Most of the casualties were aged between four and nine. Because the landmine victims were mainly infants, Mike and Neil could load 10 to 12 of these little victims into each of the alouettes at a time and headed straight for nearby Karanda Mission hospital. Referring to his first evacuation flight Mike states:
“I picked up one little girl of probably six, to carry her to the helicopter. She is in absolute shock and wraps her arms round my neck, hugging me in a death grip. When I get to the helicopter we can’t get her to let go so I don’t bother with strapping in and she sits on my lap for the flight, eventually being prised off by the nurses at the mission.”
He headed back to the scene of mayhem and collects the next group of injured for casevac. He carried in a little boy not old enough to walk. He was instructed by the nurses to take this child straight to the operating theatre. An incredible sight met his eyes:
“Dr Drake is operating simultaneously on three patients – whilst the assistant swabbed or stitched or whatever on one, he just carries on with one of the others for a minute or so and then comes back to the first. I am standing watching this with the kid in my arms when he stops breathing.”
Mike told the doctor and held out the child toward the doctor who looked up. As the doctor continued simultaneously with the three victims he called out to Mike, ‘Grab that needle there and shove it into his chest by the heart’.
‘What?’ I’m incredulous; I’m a pilot, holding a little child in a pair of filthy flying gloves, and he’s telling me to put a bloody great needle in his chest. ‘Do it quickly!’ and then a little more gently, ‘Look, if he’s already dead, you can’t do any harm. Go on, do it!’
Mike put the syringe in gingerly, and depressed the plunger. Soon he was amazed to see the child start snuffling, followed by a whimper. He’s alive!
In his past, Dr Drake had been a US Navy pilot. He next became a successful Californian neuro-surgeon. He then ran the missionary hospital in rural Rhodesia. He refused to become involved in the political situation and attended to all wounded in the Bush War who were brought to his door equally, regardless of sides and consequences.
Although it was known that he attended to wounded terrs as well as wounded Rhodesian soldiers a blind eye was turned for this ‘collaboration with the enemy’ because the doctor and the Karanda Mission Hospital were respected by the authorities, Mike states, as ‘an oasis of stability, genuine compassion and good in the nastiness of the operational area’.
Tragically, later in 1978 the hospital was burnt down by Mugabe’s gooks.
The good news is that after the war ended the Karanda Mission Hospital reopened and to this very day is still an oasis of stability, genuine compassion and good in the nastiness of the poverty stricken failed nation called Zimbabwe with its failed yet expensive medical system.