11th November 1978
A further big incursion of guerrillas had taken place from Mozambique and they were in the vicinity of Wedza. It was seen fit that forces be deployed in that district so off we went on another jolly ride in the sunshine. B Troop arrived at Wedza without mishap and reported to the DC for duty. Orders were given and we moved further southwards. My second in command, Damien Marshall, was on study leave at the time so he missed out on the trip. A recce was done and a suitable place was found to set up a Tac HQ and temporary base. The weather was rather rainy but in some respects helped us. On two occasions we picked up information of a group of about twenty guerrillas or more. One of the sections arrested two of the gang’s scouts (Mujibas). At one instance we were only minutes behind them but rain-washed away tracks and they were lost.
I interrogated the two Mujibas and obtained information that the one large gang was operating to the south in the Purchase Area. I decided that more accurate information was needed and planned to go to the Purchase Area and look around for myself. We were fortunate enough to also have elements of the BSAP in the area and I explained my plan. We set off in a two-vehicle convoy. I took the lead in my Land Rover with George Mupambwa, my machine gunner, next to me. In a Leopard armoured protected vehicle was the BSAP man, an Intaf colleague and two DAs. We drove southwards and entered the area where the Mujibas said the group was operating. On one farm I noticed a group of eight or nine young men sitting around doing nothing. It was suspicious to say the least. One never saw any young men, as they were either away working or training to be guerrillas. The atmosphere was eerie. I loaded five of the most suspicious looking men in the back of the Land Rover under the canopy so that they would not be seen by the locals and started on the return journey to the camp. The Leopard vehicle was leading this time.
The group of guerrillas we had been hunting found us instead. They had carefully chosen a long ridge parallel to the road with ample cover and waited for us to return. One might wonder why the same road was used. The answer is simple; it was the only one both into and out of the Purchase Area. I heard the crack of automatic fire and knew we were in trouble because there was lots of it. In the next instant I felt as if somebody had suddenly and violently pushed me backwards. There were several bullet holes in the windscreen right in front of me. I turned around to give George the order to open fire with his Bren. George had been hit approximately eight times in the head and chest. His face was a mess and blood and unidentifiable bits of human body covered the front of his shirt. He had died instantly. Things tended to happen in slow motion thereafter. I stopped the Land Rover, got out and returned fire. My head was not functioning properly and after firing approximately seven rounds I had an inexplicable need to change the magazine on my rifle. I then took off my cammo cap. The elastic had dammed up a quantity of blood, which now poured down all over me. Head wounds bleed copiously. Blood was everywhere on my shirt, webbing and rifle. I then realised that I had been shot in the head. Things were not so well. There were also minor shrapnel wounds to my arm and side from the splintered glass and metal of the vehicle. The adrenalin and good training had kept me going.
The four fellows in the Leopard ahead of me had heard the shooting and returned to render assistance. One of the young INTAF chaps gave chase on foot but ran out of ammunition; luckily for him, as there were too many for one person to take on. He then rejoined the group. The area was cleared and George and I were taken back to our Tac HQ from where an Allouette helicopter was brought in to casevac me to the nearest hospital. By then I was comatose and not really aware of what was going on around me. The medic put me onto a stretcher and the chaps loaded me into the helicopter. Being quite tall my head stuck out one end and my feet the other. I vaguely remember the medic trying to get another drip into my arm as we were flying but he was not successful, as the veins had collapsed! Umtali Hospital was geared up for casevacs.
I was taken into theatre and a Medical Corps captain (doctor type) sorted me out. I can vaguely remember the fact that he was an American and was calmly talking while sticking a giant needle into the scalp surrounding the bloody hole and gunge on my bonce. He took the round out and one of the nurses brought it to me a day later while in a ward recuperating. The doctor explained that the round had begun to split open as it had hit the windscreen first and then went through the front of my Cammo cap. He was unable to get three bits of the round out and they remain there to this day. They are a source of the odd painful headache but that is a fair price to pay for still being alive. After a few days I was transferred to the Andrew Fleming Hospital in Salisbury to be nearer to home. The irony of it all is that it was the eleventh of November 1978 - UDI day and also Armistice Day and a Sunday no less!! I was told that a section of the Greys Scouts followed the gang up and dispatched twelve of them. Not real compensation for the loss of a good man such as George but nevertheless it was something. My biggest concern was for the safety and well being of the chaps in the Troop. My secondary worry was my Browning pistol. It had been covered in blood and as it was my own personal property I wanted nobody to take it away from me. It really needed a thorough cleaning!
The government sent a senior fellow around to my parent’s home to inform them of my situation. My brother Tom was playing cricket at Oriel Boys High School at that moment and received the news on his return. Obviously my family were shocked at the news. I am sure that they thought “Not again!” or something to that effect. Each time I had hit a mine this routine was followed by the government. The family were getting used to it.
While in Umtali hospital I received an unexpected visitor. Wendy Tulip was a nursing sister at the hospital and very kindly spent a bit of time to say hullo. She was the granddaughter of the couple who lived next door to us when we were living in Umtali. Wendy was an attractive blond girl and was enthusiastic about life and her work. Sadly, some years later, as our family crossed over the border to settle in South Africa, we were to receive the shocking news that the car in which Wendy was travelling (while also heading for South Africa for a well earned Easter holiday), had detonated a landmine buried in the tarred road and she was killed in the incident.
Charles Hosking and some of the other Troop commanders came to visit when I got home. It is really great to know that one has brothers in arms at a time like that. Recovery went well and after a while I was up and about. I was eager to get back to B Troop but there was no such luck. I had been transferred to Marandellas to take up a “less exacting task” as I was told I had now done my fair share. I must say that I disagreed and was somewhat disappointed.
11th NOVEMBER 2012
On the 11th November 2012 I marched in the annual Armistice Parade in Bedford, England. It was attended by a number of Intaf veterans including Quentin Kelly-Edwards who is living in Devon, England. This was the first time that I had seen him since that day of the ambush. Quentin is the bloke who was travelling in the Leopard in front of me when we were ambushed and came to my rescue. I owe my life to him. This is the explanation (in his own words) of how he experienced the ambush incident. I must say that it took me quite a while to register exactly what had happened all those years ago. Quentin is a brave man and I salute him and am in his debt.
Quote - My memories of the incident was we went to arrest suspected collaborators from the village & were ambushed on our return journey, the ambush site was a small kopjie on the left hand side of the dirt road, the terrorist who fired on your vehicle was behind a rock on the roadside merely two metres away. (I established this by finding the spent cartridge casings on our return to clear up and gather evidence etc.)
The gooks only opened fire on your Land Rover after I had passed through the kill zone in the Leopard. The BSAP (Special Branch) guy who was stationed at the BSAP camp midway between Wedza & Makamba. He was not pleased with me when I drove straight back into the ambush, and was very vocal, but he had no choice in the matter. One thing that is still such a vivid memory was as we approached, the gooks were firing at us yet I knew we were safe in the Leopard, it was how time seemed to stand still as this weird "green fluff" made a sort of haze inside the Leopard. (Afterwards, realising on inspection, it was from AK47 rounds going through the canvas roof of the Leopard, which was then full of holes). I debussed and returned fire at which point the gooks stopped firing & fled. After I made sure the area was clear, I got to you and your District Assistant who was already dead. We quickly loaded you into the Leopard and when we got back to the base camp (Makamba) you were barely conscious having lost so much blood.
Initially I was unaware of your other two wounds because there was so much blood from the head wound. It was only after putting the drip into you, found the other two wounds, cleaned you up put on compression bandages & placed the saline bag under your body to get the drip to feed. (I had to put the drip into your foot as all your veins had collapsed). Fortunately I had the radio frequencies for the JOC at Grand Reef so got on the radio and requested a chopper to casevac you out, and was so chuffed they responded immediately. The chopper arrived in about half an hour. I really believe that was critical in saving your life.
I only heard a few days later that you made it and was so happy. One thing that really hacked me off and I put in my report was that they sent you (ARU) to Wedza with a Landrover..... as far as I was concerned it was madness and as our support unit you should have been given a more suitable vehicle.
I requested permission to take punitive action which was authorised and carried out.
Not long after your ambush a group of about 30 CT's attacked us one night at Makamba (the third time I was attacked there) with a 75mm recoilless canon, mortars and small arms. They were only 300 metres from the camp on high ground and the battle was fierce. They did a lot of damage to the camp hitting the fuel tanks, buildings and seriously damaging one bunker including our Browning machine gun. On one of my rounds to resupply ammo I saw the flash from the recoilless gun and together with my sergeant who had a LMG and one DA with a G3, (me with FN) I showed them the position and after the next flash from the 75mm we emptied 3 magazines together on automatic double tap bursts. All went quiet; the attack was over. It was a long night, standing to, but in the morning the good news on doing a clearance sweep was that we found the dead gunner (a political commissar, no less, with a single bullet hole right between the eyes), together with our prize......the 75mm cannon, mortar tube & live shells. There was blood in three other positions and a follow up was done by the army, who followed the blood spoor, the group were engaged and eleven were killed.
I was ambushed again a few days after this on a patrol & after that was demobilised a bit shaken up & shell shocked but happy to be alive. That was my last call-up to Wedza & Intaf, in the new year I transferred to PATU as I was farming in Mtepatepa, Bindura.
DW and Quentin Kelly-Edwards at the Bedford Armistice Day parade 2011
Based on a Volkswagen chassis and engine.