This article was written by Charles Hosking MSM who was the first Commanding Officer of E Troop ARU
Shortly after my arrival at District Commissioners office Nuanetsi in January 1977, a requested posting from District Commissioners office Chipinga, I was summonsed to the DC’s office. Peter Parsons informed me he had just received a call from the Provincial Commissioner, Dick Westcott, and that I was to report to Provincial Head office in Fort Victoria immediately.
I left Nuanetsi and was driven to Fort Victoria by Land Rover. On my arrival I was met by Mrs. Berry, principal private secretary to the Provincial Commissioner. She showed into the reception and asked to wait. It was not long before the Provincial Commissioner, Dick Westcott, appeared and ushered me into his office. He explained to me that he had been given instructions from the Secretary of Internal Affairs, Don Yardley, to select and train a unit of District Security Assistants (DSA’s) to be known as an Administration Reinforcement Unit (ARU), and asked if I would be interested to take command of this unit. I accepted without hesitation and looked forward to the challenge.
This unit was to be one of 8 to be recruited and trained, one unit per Province throughout the country. The primary purpose of these units was to operate within their Provinces in direct support of District Commissioners efforts to restore civil administration. The Provincial Commissioner briefed me on my terms of reference for the recruitment and training of the unit and wanted me to begin unit selection as soon as possible. He informed me he had already instructed all District Commissioners in the Province to give me their full support and to make their District Assistants available for selection. The unit was to be fully trained and ready for its first operational deployment in the Victoria Province by the end of June 1977.
I was to recruit from all Districts within the Victoria Province and once initial selection was complete, the unit would move to Chikurubi Training Depot in Salisbury and commence a rigorous 6 weeks training course to prepare for operational deployment. However, the PC informed me that before selection of the Unit could start, I, along with the other 8 ARU commanders would had to attend a 4 week training officer’s course conducted by the Rhodesian army at Llewellyn Barracks in Bulawayo . This course was designed to equip us with the skills necessary to plan a training syllabus. In addition to the ARU commanders, the course would also be attended by commissioned officers from the regular Rhodesian Army. This course would be run during February and on my return in early March I was to commence the selection process. By April I was to have recruited 40 District Assistants who would form the nucleus of the Victoria ARU. The PC wished me well, promised his full support and said that he would be taking a very personal interest in the progress of the Unit.
When I left his office I was taken to the office of the Provincial co-ordinator, Guy Faulkner, and issued with a new mine protected land rover, G-LL 1521. The co-ordinator told me that the remaining vehicles for the Unit, 2 Pumas, 1 logistics 5 tonner, and a Leopard mine protected vehicle would be delivered to CMED within 6 weeks. I was then shown a healthy stock of uniforms, boots, weapons and webbing that would be issued to the unit following selection. It was clear the Provincial Commissioner had done his homework and things were already falling into place.
Later that day I returned to Nuanetsi and on my arrival briefed Peter Parsons about my meeting with Dick Westcott. Peter Parsons assured me of his full support and in order for me to give my attention to the recruitment of the unit, relieved me of my office responsibilities so that I could begin planning my recruitment strategy. After studying the terms of reference and the composition of the ARU, it was clear the unit would be platoon strength, consisting of 3 sections and a platoon HQ. The unit’s primary function would be to support the DC’s efforts to restore civil administration, but in order to achieve this aim, the unit had to be strong enough to operate independently and trained and armed sufficiently to defend itself against terrorist attacks. For this purpose it was clear the unit would have to be better armed and equipped than DA’s at station level, and in addition members of the ARU were to receive an enhanced S and T allowance while on operations. These two aspects, armaments and pay were to have a very positive affect when looking for volunteers for recruitment.
With the authority of the Provincial Commissioner, I sent out a radio message to all District Commissioners in the Province asking for volunteers for the ARU and giving some information about the role and training of the unit. A date was set for early March when all volunteers from the Districts were to report to Provincial HQ for initial selection. The groundwork had been done and the ball was rolling. I then packed and headed off to Bulawayo to attend the training officer’s course. The 4 week course was conducted by Lt. Colonel Daines and was not only intensive and informative, but afforded the ARU commanders an opportunity to gain valuable insight on how to maximise the use of time and resources when preparing a training syllabus. The course was beneficial and fortunately all of us passed the written examination. I returned to the Province at the end of March knowing the real work was about to begin. I was excited and full of optimism about forming the ARU and on my drive back from Bulawayo began to wonder if there had been any response to my call for volunteers. Arriving back in Fort Victoria late on a Friday afternoon I reported direct to the PC. After briefing him on the success of the training officer’s course he asked me what I had said in my original signal asking for volunteers. I told him I had merely asked for those interested in joining the unit to come forward. He said his phone had not stopped ringing since the call went out and all the DC’s had called in saying every DA at station wanted to join. They had come forward in their hundreds.
Mucheke Township was the venue selected for the recruitment exercise. On my arrival there on the Monday morning, I was overwhelmed at the sight of so many DA’s, all keen to join the ARU. Such a healthy response was encouraging because it meant that competition for the limited vacancies within the unit was going to be fiercely contested. Once the men were all seated in the hall, I introduced myself and spoke to them about the reasons why the Secretary for Internal Affairs had issued instructions for the formation of the ARU. I went on to give them the general composition of the unit and its role and in addition the weaponry and allowances that would be available to members of the unit. I then posed the question – who would like to volunteer to join the ARU? The response was unbelievable, they all wanted to join!!!!! I could not take everyone so explained that because the response was so overwhelming, we would have to begin a process of selection and elimination. With the help of the senior District Assistant from Provincial HQ, Sergeant Major Mufanebadza and a panel of Sergeants from DC Victoria, I started to select the NCOs’ for the unit. First, and most important, was to find the right man for the post of platoon Sergeant. Personal files were checked, length of service, previous employment, discipline record, marital status and age, ending with a personal interview, were all part of the initial selection process. In the end, I settled for Sergeant Gibson Nkala as my platoon Sergeant. Ex RAR and from DC’s office Victoria , he impressed me with his bearing, knowledge and authority, and I knew in him I had selected the right man for the difficult job of Platoon Sergeant. Working late into the evening, Nkala and I went through the files of the junior NCOs’ and by the morning of the second day we had a short list of potential candidates. Personal interviews followed and by lunch time I had selected Corporal Ben Mashuro (Zaka), Corporal Shadrek Chauke (Nuanetsi) and Corporal Kainos Gwengo (Gutu) as my section commanders. Together with Sgt Nkala and the 3 section commanders we sat behind closed doors and discussed the selection criteria for the DA’s. I made it clear that while we were not recruiting members for the SAS, I wanted men who could pull together, be good team members, men who were strong physically, mentally and emotionally and above all, men who had a good disciplinary record.
On Wednesday the DA’s were tested physically with a road run, followed by a written test followed by interviews. In the afternoon we went to the range where the DA’s were tested in their weapon skills and shooting abilities. On our return from the range, the final selection was made for the members who would form the Victoria ARU and who would be leaving for Chikurubi in a few days time. The day ended with a braai, some drinks kindly sponsored by the PC and a final word of encouragement from Dick Westcott. I was very grateful to Dick Westcott who had supported my selection initiatives from the outset and who had shown keen interest in the whole selection process.
Those selected to join the ARU were returned to their stations to pack and say their farewells to family and friends and were to report back to the Chief’s hall in Mucheke Township by the weekend.
The new fleet of armoured vehicles had been delivered to DC Victoria. On Monday morning the vehicles were loaded with personal kit and equipment and with a final word of encouragement from the PC, the unit departed for Salisbury. Six weeks of drill, field craft, weapon training and physical fitness lay ahead. While at the training depot, the unit received additional weaponry in the form of 3 .303 Bren guns, 1 .303 Browning mounted machine gun, and a 60mm mortar. Each member of the unit was issued with a new G3 rifle complete with cleaning kits. Morale was sky high with the addition of this new firepower.
Training was hard and very physical and as the course progressed the men began to gel into a very cohesive, well drilled disciplined Unit. Esprit de corps grew stronger,
Morale was excellent and I was very proud of the progress being made. Time spent on the Cleveland shooting range was invaluable and shooting skills improved steadily. All members were given the opportunity to handle and fire the Bren guns and their practical ability in handling and firing the guns was constantly assessed. 6 members were eventually selected to train full time on the guns and were paired off to become No1 and No2’s per section. The Browning mounted machine gun was a fierce some weapon and its ability to let loose 1500 rounds per minute gave the unit members a lot of confidence. Lessons in fieldcraft, fire and movement, anti-ambush drills, radio communications, map reading and first aid were all covered during training. A few night firing exercises were also conducted. Most mornings started with a road run, the unit running in formation carrying an Intaf flag and the men singing. The runs would take us through the many tree lined roads of the Chikurubi Prison farm and past the BSAP Support Unit barracks. These runs and the songs sung by the men were to prove a vital form of team building and would go a long way to making the Victoria ARU a fantastic band of brothers to command and without doubt one of the highlights of my uniformed career.
Our passing out parade was scheduled for the third week of May, 1977, and along with the Victoria ARU, Units from the other Provinces all passed out together. The parade was reviewed by the Secretary of Internal Affairs, Mr. Don Yardley and was attended by Provincial and District Commissioners alike, and many family members of all the units. In his speech the Secretary expressed his delight at the immaculate show of both foot and arms drill displayed and praised the men on parade on the successful completion of their 6 weeks intensive training. He wished the units well for their operational tasks ahead and said that while each Province had different security problems, the one common denominator in respect of all the unit’s activities would be their support of District Commissioner’s efforts to reinforce civil administration. After the parade the men were treated to a party with plenty to eat and drink.
During the Unit’s training at Chikurubi a new office block, including an armoury, had been built to accommodate the unit at DC’s office Gutu. This was to become our new home and headquarters on our return to the Province. In addition the unit was allocated 20 new houses in the Township of Gutu thus allowing members to move their families to join them. Needless to say this was a tremendous morale boost, especially to the married men of the unit. On our return to Gutu, the Provincial Commissioner granted the Unit 10 days R and R, with strict instructions to regroup on 2nd July and prepare for their first operational deployment to the District of Chibi.
In the two and a half years I commanded the Victoria ARU, the unit operated both inside and outside the Province in support of District Commissioner’s efforts to restore civil administration and in support of the Veterinary Service in foot and mouth operations. During operational deployments to the Districts in the Victoria Province, the unit was responsible for assisting District Commissioners and their staff in collecting outstanding council and Government taxes in excess of a quarter of a million dollars and helped rebuild many dip tanks destroyed by terrorist activity. The unit also helped to reintroduce regular dipping services and supervised the reconstruction of many schools burnt down by terrorists. However, our activities did not go by unnoticed by the enemy and we had to defend ourselves on more than one occasion. In all, we made contact with the enemy 8 times, a breakdown of these punch-ups as follows;
Chibi – July 17th 1977 – early morning contact with estimated group of 10 terrorists. DSA Joel Mapenduka wounded in the head from grenade shrapnel. No terrorist casualties.
Zaka – October 8th 1978 – midday vehicle ambush by estimated 7 terrorists. DSA Weston Vhudzijena shot and killed in action. 1 terrorist killed and 1 SKS assault rifle recovered.
Zaka – October 22nd 1978 – late afternoon vehicle ambush by estimated 15 terrorists. DSA James Maramba shot in the left forearm. DSA Christopher Mpofu gunshot wound to the hand. No terrorist casualties.
Zaka – October 25th 1978 – late afternoon land mine detonation. Puma troop carrying vehicle destroyed. No unit casualties. No terrorist casualties.
GUTU – Gutu African Purchase Area – December 16th 1978 – estimated 10 terrorists ambushed by ARU section early hours of the morning following all night “pungwe”. 3 terrorists killed and 1 captured. 2 AK47 assault rifles, 1 RPD machine gun, several magazines and terrorist propaganda recovered. No unit casualties
Nuanetsi (Matibi 1 TTL) – January 14th 1979 – early morning vehicle ambush and landmine detonation. Puma troop carrying vehicle badly damaged. DO Charles Hosking suffered severe head injuries and DSA James Maramba shot in the right forearm (second gunshot injury). No terrorist casualties.
Nuanetsi (Matibi 1 TTL) – January 15th 1979 – early morning contact on foot patrol with estimated 7 terrorists. Cpl Shadreck Chauke shot in the jaw and suffered severe facial injuries. No terrorist casualties.
Victoria (Nyajena TTL) – March 9th 1979 – midday vehicle ambush. DSA Phillip Magama suffered gunshot wound to the chest. Cas-a-vaced to 1 Military Hospital Fort Victoria and recovered. 1 terrorist wounded and captured. 1 SKS assault rifle and communist webbing recovered.
Late in July 1979, and with the political landscape of Rhodesia being determined at the Lancaster House talks, I was called to the Provincial Commissioners office. There, he explained to me that he had received instructions from Head Office stating that there was no longer a need for the ARU in the Province and that the Unit was to be disbanded with immediate effect. All the members of the Unit were to be returned to the respective Districts.
Disbanding the Unit was a very low key affair. No parades, no fanfare and above all no regrets. Command of this Unit was one of the highlights of my uniformed service. The Unit had performed its duties with pride, loyalty and distinction and done everything it had been called upon to do. I was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for my command of the ARU, but this award was not because of my performance alone. This award was a direct result of the magnificent performance of every member of the ARU who made my command responsibility so enjoyable. Their conduct while on operations was second to none and because of their exceptional spirit of aggression, discipline and loyalty to both the Department and their Country, they were a band of brothers I will never forget.
On July 22nd 1979, the Victoria ARU disbanded, its members quietly slipping away back to their Districts. I resigned from Internal Affairs in August 1979 and was accepted with a direct commission into the Rhodesian Army as a Lieutenant. I was posted to the 2nd Battalion Rhodesian African Rifles in Fort Victoria.