Stories Of Rhodesia: Part 7- War doesn’t stop for peace

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I finished my eighteen months
of national service towards the end of October 1977. I now found myself in a
quandary. Apart from a few months working in a bank before disappearing on my work-around-the
world tour, I had not worked at all in my homeland and the thought of looking
for work made me feel physically sick. Gone was the security the army offers
and now I had to fund my own way in life. I toyed with the idea of signing up
as a regular soldier and even went to the HQ of the Rhodesia Light Infantry in
Cranborne, Salisbury to look it over. After a few hours recoiling from all the
spit and polish and other bullshit I decided against it. But that decision has
come back to haunt me over the years; did I do the right thing? But in reality
it was my inability to keep up on road runs that worried me a lot; would I be
accepted by my men and officers’ alike if I came last in every run? Maybe I
should have tried as my heart was in it, but not my practical mind. So that was
that.

My churning guts was stilled
one day when my girlfriend walked in the door of our cottage at Victoria Falls
village, with some packets under her arm. Her eyes were all lit up.

‘Try these on,’ she said
flipping me a pair of long black trousers, an evening shirt and a matching
jacket. Although unsure what this meant I did her bidding and tried the suit
on, It fitted perfectly.

 ‘God you look so sexy,’ she said kissing me on
the lips.

 ‘What’s this all about Mal?’ I smiled back at
her.

 ‘I chatted to Fred and he said you can join
the casino as trainee croupier!’ She bounced up and down on her tip-toes and
clapped her hands like a five year old about to get a toy from mum and dad.

 ‘What?’ My heart did a sudden trip accelerating.
Me a croupier? A bead of sweat appeared on my brow. ‘I dunno Mal…’

 ‘It’s dead easy love and the money is good and
what’s more you can live with me legally here in the casino staff quarters!’
She smiled a wide smile, eyes full of expectation, ‘what say you?’

I thought about it for a few
seconds, my fear of looking for a civilian job was gone, I would remain at
Victoria Falls and life would carry on as before, less me being in uniform. I
nodded my head.

 ‘Okay,’ was all I could get out before she dragged
me through to the bedroom, her eyes glazed.

That began a period of great
happiness for me. I learned how to be a blackjack dealer and a very good, if I
may say so myself, roulette croupier. Very few people could take me on the
Roulette table. And the evenings were slow and easy as not too many tourists
holidayed in Rhodesia any more. In fact we closed most nights at midnight,
after opening at only eight pm in the evening. We would stay and have a free
sandwich and a subsidised drink before racing home to our huge double bed and
the delights it brought both of us. I will never forget the sound of the old
rickety air conditioner that rattled the heat away from both the atmosphere and
each other.

During the day we would go for
a swim or play tennis or go to the other casino to play on their slot machines.
Victoria Falls is a hot, sunny paradise with beautiful flowers everywhere and
the magnificent Victoria Falls, which we visited often, with tons of ‘rain’
falling on us from the spray as we wove on foot through the forest to the edge of
the mighty falls. It was just a breathtaking sight and I would often sit with
Mal in front of me with my arms wrapped around her while we stared silently at
the water boiling in front of us. The boiling water I nearly went into that
night long ago when the police boat I was in had an engine failure.

We would also take drives to
other hotels for a drink or a dance on our nights off or visit the Crocodile
farm to have a light meal before watching the hundreds of baby Crocs being bred
there for leather, get fed huge chunks of meat, which they fought viciously
over. In fact so viciously that one Croc had most of its upper jaw gone as a
big boy had taken this little fella’s piece of meat and upper jaw all in one
bite.

I worked with a great bunch of
people and our manager was Fred McGraw, who sadly died last year in 2018. The
other croupiers were mainly female and easy on the eye which caused a bit of
angst with Mally now and again but all was good fun really.

Towards Christmas 1977 there
was an upturn in terrorist activity and a few of the army guys I still knew
kept me in the loop. News travels fast and before long the village folk were
tense and started to carry side arms or Uzzis or Sten Guns around with them all
the time.

On the positive side there was
a sudden influx of South African and other foreign tourists into Vic Falls and
the soon familiar agony of feet feeling like balls of meat from very long hours
were heralded in. We rarely got to bed before eight a.m.; our back muscles in
spasms from bending over tables. It was lovely to see different types of
clothes on the men and women rather than the drab and predictable stuff
Rhodesians wore and the smell of the foreign women, splashed in exotic perfumes
was heavenly. I felt almost embarrassed in our shabby little casino with one
lonely waiter whose Fezz was worn and full of holes. But money was flooding in
to the beleaguered casino owner’s bank account and before we knew it a second
waiter, properly attired, had joined his exhausted mate and the bar area was
upgraded almost overnight.

It was Christmas evening and
all week Fred, Danny and myself had been betting whether the village would be
attacked by gooks or mortared or invaded from neighbouring Zambia. The pit boss’s
desk was stuffed with guns of all calibres and belts full of ammo tried to
escape the desk’s lid. It was like the wild west!

Danny felt it the same time I
did, that an attack was coming. Towards midnight, a tiny rumble in the floor
and the rattle of a window alerted me. Fred had not picked the sign up as he
was, as usual, charming up a hotel guest but the half dozen army personnel had
felt it too. They exchanged quick glances at each other and were soon out the
door like a shot. After a closer rumble and thud I pulled Fred’s sleeve and
told him we were about to be mortared. Fred usually over-reacted to everything
and his eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open under a huge moustache. He
look jut like a fat Mexican, that’s the only way I can describe him.

 ‘What do you mean?’ he spat.

The words had barely left his
lips when there was a massive crash and thud that sent people diving under
roulette tables, eyes open wide in terror and jaws hanging slack, puzzlement in
their eyes. One or two tried to stuff their betting chips into pockets but as
for the staff we were arming ourselves and taking up defensive positions near
doors, lest some gooks stormed in with automatic weapons. Fred, a police
reservist, soon gathered his wits and amid the crashing noises, explosions,
thuds and rattling windows shouted at all to follow him. Everyone got up
slowly, nervously and followed Fred and Danny to a set of internal stairs. I
grabbed Mally and shouted at her to go with them all, ignoring her quizzical
look.

I passed the tail end of the
column of people, about a hundred and fifty strong and ducked into Fred’s
formal office. There was a very big safe there to hold cash and other goods
overnight as well as the Casino owner’s hunting rifle. Fred trusted me to know
where the key was and hands shaking like I had a neurological disease I fumbled
along to open the thick safe door, which I eventually managed. The fanlight
window off to my right was full of bright flashes like a photographer was
snapping pics of models at a catwalk event. It was terrifying!

I grabbed a heavy looking
rifle and a bandolier of ammo which I draped over my shoulder and ran after the
fast receding crowd of punters. I felt and no doubt looked like James Bond as I
sprinted along a corridor in my Tuxedo and bow tie, heavy rifle in one hand and
ammo bouncing on my chest and back. I very quickly reached the destination Fred
had headed for, a big basement in one of the hotel’s bedroom wings. I was
pleased to see one of the South African punters and a soldier stood at the head
of the steps, the former with an amazing looking rotary shotgun that riot
police would use and the latter an Uzi. The young soldier looked nervous as he
had missed the truck back to his fellow troops and would be in the cactus up to
his proverbial the next day. I flicked the overhead light off and after simply
saying ‘open fire if you see anything,’ I double-paced down the two flights of
stairs.

The interior of the basement
was heavy with smoke, laughter and nervous chatter with people either standing
or sitting on rolls of old carpeting or beer crates or a few deck chairs from
the nearby pool. People seemed quite relieved when they looked at me knowing at
least one person among them was armed and able to defend the group. I soon
found Mal sitting on a roll of carpets, her beautiful green eyes wide with a
mixture of fear and excitement. Danny and Fred were there too as was Linda,
another croup and the sexy Scot Elizabeth plus one or two others.

 ‘You okay?’ I asked Mal as I squatted down next
to her. The fanlight high up the wall was still flashing away like a storm was
just out there and thuds and bangs rolled down the valley.

 ‘Am good,’ she said ‘and you?’

 ‘I’m fine just my nerves making me rattle a
bit!’ She smiled a beautiful smile, ‘listen I’m just popping up to the Summit
Bar to see if I can help them up there…’

 ‘Ok but be careful please Tony, see you just
now..’

I climbed the two flights up
to the foyer and then pushed an elevator button that would take me four floors
up to the Summit Bar, where I met Mally nearly a year ago. It was currently
being used as a forward observation post for our artillery as it had a
commanding view of Zambia and the Falls about a mile away. I was terrified
going up in that lift with all the explosions still going on and I couldn’t
wait to get out of its stuffy environs. A guard challenged me as the door
swished open, a look blended of disbelief, curiosity and humour etched across
his young, handsome face.

 ‘This place is out of bounds to civvies, Sir,’
he said firmly with his palm outstretched towards me.

 ‘It’s okay I’m an officer and have been based
up here for the last eighteen months or so, let me chat to your boss, I may
know a thing or two that may help him..’ I was waved forward with a shrug of the
guard’s shoulders. But my toes curled up as I walked towards three men bent
over a plotting board, there were explosions all around us, there was no
overhead cover and now that I was outside the building they were much louder
and darn threatening.

 ‘I’m Lieut Ballinger,’ I said rather self-consciously
to the man that looked the most senior, ‘I was based up here with 4 Indep for
this whole year, maybe I can help help?’

 He looked me up and down once before flicking
me away like an annoying fly, ‘we got it thanks’ and with that I was dismissed.

I strolled nervously over to a
railing and squatting behind a parapet wall I looked at what was going on
around me. The village to my left was like a ghost town and every now and then
a pop of light was followed by a thundering thud and the odd zing of shrapnel.
I felt really stupid being so exposed and was just about to turn away when I
saw a lot of flickering light on the horizon to my left, like a big storm was
approaching. Except this storm did not rumble, it shrieked, screamed and
whistled….it was our artillery returning fire at long last! I started to
giggle nervously and in no time it had turned into excited laughter, joined by
cheering troops around me and even the guy that had fobbed me off was smiling
and giving me a thumbs up. ‘Yes!’ I shouted. The shells from the old Brit 25
pounders up on the hill a few miles back were sailing overhead, making a
whistling sound just like in the movies, followed by a brilliant orange-red
flash over there in Zambia. I knew from my days here that all enemy positions
had been marked and noted on the plotting board. Each area in enemy territory
was getting a hell of a pasting and before long the incoming mortar shells
slowed down to a dribble and then stopped altogether. I was so fascinated by
the goings on that I had forgotten about Mally and was just about to head for
the lift when I saw Fred’s car bounce out the Casino Hotel’s grounds and scream
up the road to his home, where he would find and comfort his wife and two
children in a bunker that he had built for them; quite a hotel it was and very
safe from light artillery and mortars.

The lift clunked open and I
had just reached the bottom steps in the basement when I heard Ivor Ring, the
assistant casino manager, announce to a silenced crowd that they could all go
back to the casino and have one free drink on the house. The expense was worth
the returns as we worked darn hard that night and only got to bed at 9 a.m.;
our back and feet muscles screaming in agony, the rattle of the air conditioner
fading into a woollen cocoon of sleep.

When we woke up we did, as all
locals in the town, go around looking at the damage from the night before. The
Wimpy bar had had its big plate glass windows blown out but the savvy manager
had swept the glass away and now had a roaring trade going on while people ate
burgers and studied shrapnel marked sprayed across the walls. There was no
thought of health and safety in those heady days, we did what we thought was
right. We joined others on a crater and shrapnel inspection walk along the
shops, licking ice creams from Dairy Maid. It was a very festive feeling and I
just smiled at the guts of my countrymen. The post office had taken a direct
hit but the doors were open and people were being served. A few cars packed to
the hilt headed out of town but very few tourists left. We bumped into the
South African with the rotary shotgun and he said it was the best experience of
his life and wanted more!! My index finger circled my right ear and I rolled my
eyes when he wasn’t looking.

After a great lunch at the
hotel pool bar we relaxed, as a big group, on easy chairs in the shade,
drinking cocktails like ‘Landmine’ and ‘Ginger square’ and talked excitedly
about the events of the previous night. Nobody was downbeat about it, in fact
the opposite was true.

A pic of me leaning on the very parapet wall that screened me from shrapnel during the mortar attack roughly ten years earlier. You can see the ‘smoke’ from Victoria Falls in the background and Zambia in the distance.

The week between Christmas and
New Year saw one prominent development take place and that was the completion
of a double fence around the entire village of Victoria Falls, far enough away
to deny our enemy the ability to use their mortars against us, which was about
five odd kilometres. The two fences, each eight foot high, were set about
seventy metres apart and loads and loads of anti-personnel mines were spread
liberally all over the place as well as small ploughshares of explosives at
chest eight, attached to a taut trip wire that an upright human would trigger
by walking into it. Sadly, many birds saw the trip wire as a place to rest and
got blown to smithereens. This would attract carrion-eaters like vultures that
also sat on wires, only to be blown to bits as well. In the initial weeks the
army engineers had to go in time after time to replace the devices and the
explosions made the people in the village really tense. I remember trying to
sleep in the day with all these bangs going on and our only salvation was the
rattling air conditioner or a rain storm that sounded like millions of tiny
feet on the corrugated iron roof.

It was when the big animals
got hurt that I felt really sad, animals like Elephant that lost a leg or a
trunk and buck lost both front or rear legs, their bleating going on into the
night as they slowly died.

By the time New Year’s eve had
arrived we were worn out from stress, lack of sleep and loads of work. Fred had
set up a couple of fridges in the basement, well stocked with ice and drinks of
various kinds as well as having the fanlight windows covered with sandbags lest
some gook lob a grenade through the window. This was a very real threat to all
of us as a similar thing had happened in the Congo around 1960 when a group of
white Belgians were massacred in the basement of a building. Fred had also
persuaded the local army commander that the hotels must have at least four men
guarding the guests, which had been agreed to.

So, we nervously approached
New Year’s Eve, wondering what would happen. I was worried even more because
Mally had been given the night off, a decision I cannot fathom to this day as
we were so busy, but that’s what happened.

The Hotel and our casino in
particular were flooded from eight pm when the doors opened. We had no
opportunity to focus on threats, confident that we were under military
protection. The evening went well; my back was hurting like hell, not for the
first time I wondered whether the two landmines I had gone up in during my
national service had hurt my back in some way. Betting chips flowed back and
forth and since I was crushing the guests on Roulette Fred kept me there, with
a very alluring croupier by the name of Linda chipping up for me.

It wasn’t the clock that told
me we were about to get mortared, it was, once again, the vibration in the
carpet on concrete floor, a shiver from a distant bang. However I must admit I
wasn’t sure at first as the place was in full party mood with hats on, people
singing arm in arm, alcohol flowing, smiles and laughter in the crowded room.

Auld Lang Syne was just about
in full swing when the first massive detonation shook the building. Only the
staff, locals and guests from last week dived under the tables with a few noticeable
screams from nearby. The rest just stood there totally confused; was it a bolt
of thunder or what? A second, even louder explosion confirmed what was
happening and like a herd of buck people made for the door. The Hotel Manager,
Malcolm, had had the foresight to put a prominent notice up in every room in
the hotel, that in the event of an attack all guests must retire to the
basement in the west wing, with a sketch to that effect having been photocopied
off many times over. Either that or Fred shouting ‘follow me’ heralded a rapid
exit and run along an exposed corridor to the basement in question.

I was among the last to come
up from under a table when I noticed a shadowy figure come out of the gloom
with a handgun pointed at my forehead. A shock of fear ran down my spine and
sweat shot out of me. It was one of the male croupiers called Warren,
apparently an ex regular that had been discharged for what we know today as
PTSD. I know this sounds corny and more like a work of fiction but this event
really did happen and scared me to death. Warren’s eyes were not focused and
sweat poured off his upper lip and forehead. His hand was shaking wildly.

 ‘Warren, it’s me Tony, I blurted out, arms
outstretched, ‘it’s me buddy, all is okay…’

I had to repeat the call twice
before his eyes slowly started to focus and then he was back with us in the
casino and not some horror in the bush.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said licking
his lips, ‘I just freaked out there.’

‘Same here buddy, almost
filled my pants…let’s get out of here…go to the basement as arranged.

‘Okay,’ he swallowed and ran
off.

It was a repeat of last week.
In no time the safe was open, the ammo belt draped over me, the fanlight
flicking bright pops of light (which were very much closer this time) and within
a few seconds I was in the basement.

I could not believe what I saw
and heard when I went down the two flights of stairs. People were jostling at
the temporary bar for drinks (not free this time) while older folk sang out
‘it’s a long way to Tipperary’ and the walls rumbled and vibrated. I found my
circle of friends all drinking and smoking away with Linda looking half pissed
and Danny doing his best to move on an opportunity. Warren thrust a Brandy and
coke in my hand while silently mouthing ‘sorry’ but I just smiled and took a
big swig of the very welcome stiffener. My nerves were still jangling.

After about five minutes I got
worried about Mally’s safety. I asked Fred where Malcolm was and after a shrug
of his shoulders and a quick search of the basement I headed back to his office
on the ground floor near the main reception. The lights were mostly out but two
crazy people were standing next to a big plate glass window looking at all the
tracer and rocket trails in the sky with pop-flash-bangs going on again, this
time by the national Parks building.

 ‘Have you any idea what that glass will do to
you if a shell lands just outside the window?’ I shouted at them. They half
tuned in alarm and then gathering their wits headed for the basement, following
the direction of my outstretched arm and pointed index finger.

Malcolm was in his office,
quite pissed by this stage and sitting under his mahogany desk with a bottle in
one hand and a revolver in the other.

‘Tony, come on in, room for
one more,’ he chuckled.

‘Malc I need the keys to the
hotel Land Rover, Mally is over at the Falls hotel and I’m worried sick about
her.’

‘Och aye,’ he said in a fake
Scot accent, fumbling for the keys in his trouser pockets, ‘the reverse gear is
a bit tricky..’

‘Thanks bud,’ I said and made
for the kitchen which in turn led to the staff parking bay out the back. The
contrast of the abandoned, sparkling kitchen, an odd pot still steaming away,
under bright lights, was a contradiction to the storm out there.

My heart was in my throat when
I got outside. The hotel I was heading for, the luxurious Victoria Falls hotel,
was only six hundred metres away but there were explosions all over the place
and I didn’t fancy dancing with shrapnel. I felt very exposed sitting in the old
series 3 SWB Land Rover and after almost freaking out over the reverse gear was
eventually on my way, revving the engine to maximum.

I screeched to a halt and ran
into the lush reception area that was abandoned and in semi-darkness. I wasn’t
sure what to do but someone coughing to my right soon attracted me to a large
number of people sitting silently in the long, dark, curving corridor that led
to the eastern bedroom wing.

‘Mally!’ I shouted and when no
answer came I threaded my way along, stepping between feet and legs. ‘Mally!’ I
shouted again and this time there was a response. It was her coming towards me.
We briefly clutched each other. She was trembling. I had not seen any soldiers
protecting this hotel but that didn’t mean they were not here, but the place
was too exposed compared with the basement, so, tugging her hand I pulled her
along with me.

‘Where we going Tookie?’ (it
was my nickname).

‘Back to our basement.’

‘Out there?’ she said
nervously looking at the on-going flashes. Her image was indelibly imprinted in
my mind in one bright flash; her eyes wide open, mouth slightly ajar. I can
still see it 40 years later.

‘It’s okay’ I lied to her and
we were off in a flash in the Land Rover, back to the rear kitchen entrance and
a quick sprint along an open pathway to the head of the basement stairs. A
couple of troopies were crouching behind small parapet walls, all kitted out
and ready to kill anyone who tried to assault our position. The ever-smiling
South African with his rotary shotgun was there giving me a thumbs-up. I rolled
my eyes at Mally which made her burst out laughing.

I abandoned myself to Brandy
that night and went home with a very thick head at about ten in the morning. No
sooner had the enemy positions been silenced than the punters headed upstairs,
finished off Old Land Syne and carried on as if nothing had happened. I could
not believe it. It was a rowdy, rule free evening where we just let it all hang
out.

The result of this attack was
that many homesteads built bunkers at home, as I did, which took me hours and
hours and the collection of building materials in our little black Morris Minor
called ‘Miss Piggy’ was tiresome but rewarding. Mally would sit on a chair, her
legs crossed under her, her hair escaping a clip, tumbling down the side of her
head. It was a brilliant time of my life and I have never stopped thinking of
it. It still hurts my guts that it all ended. Parties exploded across the
village and people lived as they must have done in London in World War 2. Air
Rhodesia built a massive bunker for their staff and it got turned into a real
party zone, almost like something from a Vietnam war movie.

Casino Manager Fred McGraw, ‘the Mexican’, Vikki, Ivor Ring and Danny, October 1977. Taken just before I joined the casino.

The morning after the attack
we did the usual ‘walk around’ and this time the damage was more severe. A big
plate glass window at the Falls Hotel where Mally had been on her night off had
been demolished and an elderly lady had her left elbow seriously injured from
shrapnel. The laundry had received a direct hit with one staff member running
off to never be seen again. The head office of National Parks had a big hole in
front of it with shrapnel marks radiating up the wall. There was also a lot of other
superficial damage around the

 village.

Me at Vic Falls many years later. The window over my right shoulder was destroyed by a mortar shell, taking off the left elbow of an elderly woman.
A view of Victoria Falls bridge from the luxurious colonial hotel called Victoria Falls Hotel and the spray from the falls itself.

Sometime later an envelope
slid under our front door. I knew what it meant and my blood ran cold. I had
been called up for six weeks territorial service with A Coy, 2nd
Battalion Rhodesia Regiment. I closed my eyes and hoped it was a good posting.
When I finally read all of it I closed my eyes again and looking heavenwards
crumpled the paper into a tight ball before sighing heavily. I had been posted
to the ‘Russian Front.’

I will not go into that
posting in this blog but the border to the east of Rhodesia that fronted
Mozambique, was called the Russian front as Russian advisors were occasionally
killed in that theatre of war, even though it was essentially a front sponsored
by the Chinese. It was a place that made me quickly realise we were slowly but
surely losing the war and that front could easily be considered a ‘hot war’,
more conventional in nature, where infantry engagements took place, bombers and
jet fighters were used , para drops conducted as well as extensive use of
special forces to disrupt and sow mayhem among the enemy. At the end of the six
weeks I was promoted to full Lieutenant and I met Mally in Bulawayo, the second
biggest city of Rhodesia, at the Holiday Inn. It was an exquisite experience to
lie next to her and feel the softness of her, loosely covered by crisp, white
cotton sheets on a very comfortable bed. My body was covered in mosquito bites
and I had lost quite a bit of weight. It was perhaps the first and only time
that I told Mally I loved her and I’ve regretted that for over forty years.

We left Vic Falls and the
casino itself when we received no bonuses for our very hard Casino work at the
Bulawayo Trade Fair where we made hundreds of thousands of dollars for the
casino. I did not realise it then but the hotel was mortgaged up to its hilt
from the previous barren period. The owner of the Casino, Don Golden was sadly
killed in one of the civilian Viscount aircraft disasters and no doubt the place
would never be the same again.

We finally left with a few
possessions packed to the hilt in ‘Miss Piggy’, our eyes swimming with tears as
we drove out the village, turning our backs on the most intense and incredible
two years of my life. We moved to Gwelo, a town in the centre of Rhodesia,
where Mally’s mom and dad were. I got a job as a shift operator at the local
Sable chemical fertilizer factory, which I hated.

Another envelope arrived one
day and the destination was once again the Russian Front. I nearly died from
shock getting that letter and I remember standing on a cold, wet railway platform
at midnight with not a sole about, mist everywhere, waiting for the troop train
to arrive and I wondered about my future. That call-up was horrendous and I
came back trigger happy and stressed out like never before. Mally and I started
to argue and one night when I got back from early night shift I saw her sitting
in a car parked outside the pub she worked in, kissing a guy. My blood ran cold
and I physically vomited. The anger built up in me and I know I should have
confronted her but never did. After one afternoon shift I came home and found
her out, so I went to her mother’s house to find her, as that’s where she
usually hung out. To my horror the guy from the other night was sitting there
next to her. Her parents were there too and they were all laughing at a comedy
on TV. I felt as if they were laughing at me.

I have heard of stories where
people see red but this literally happened to me and without really knowing
what I was doing I pulled out my handgun and blasted the TV to pieces. I then
turned it towards ‘couch man’ (I never found out his name) and aimed at his
forehead. I was not sure what I should do. Mally had gone white while her dad
ran off to my left. I was still aiming the gun at ‘couch man’ when I sensed
Mally’s dad behind me. He was trying to make it out the front door of the house
to go call for help. I swivelled and kicked a hole straight through the glass
door, which left me with a terrible cut and scar to this day but he made it out
so I turned back to the three of them sat frozen there like white statues. I
was rapidly coming to my senses, with horror and bile rising up in me and at
that moment I heard the voice of a young man behind me. It was the next door
neighbour and he had a rifle pointed at my face.

‘Take it easy, Tony’ he said calmly.
I looked at the floor for a long time with my arms down by my sides and then
simply threw the gun out the window onto the grass.

By this time the carpet was
full of my blood and I hobbled the mile back to our home. It was the last time
I saw Mally for over fifteen years and I learned that she had a total nervous
breakdown a short while after I left and I believe her when she said the
collapse was over me and not the gun ‘incident.’ It was the most horrible event
of my life. I have no idea what Mally was doing with ‘couch man’ but she
insisted she was comforting him over the death of his sister and as they had
always liked each other, they got a bit hot and started kissing. She said it
was nothing at all, a silly accident, but it destroyed us. I remain devastated
to this day.

The reason I have included
this very private affair is to demonstrate to the reader the stress men and
women feel in war, certainly our type of war where men went to war for six
weeks and then returned home to take up their plumbing or accountancy jobs. It
was sheer hell for many. It led to a total abandonment of morals in thousands
of cases and many wild parties took place all over the cities. ‘Key’ parties
were common where men would put their keys in an ashtray for the women folk to
try and fish one out with a small pole, fishing line and  hook. Divorce and abandonment of person and
property was rife. Some took their own lives and for readers familiar with PTSD
this was our Vietnam syndrome. I hated what it did to my country; it cost us
our innocence and we were an innocent and conservative people.

My love for Vic Falls went on into the future. Here I am on a booze cruise on the Zambezi river just upstream from the village. The boy is looking at me because, in my inebriated state, I had just poured half my drink over me ‘cos I missed my mouth!
My first wife Dianne on the same stretch of river.
My second and current wife – guess where??
Yours truly, guess where? Many years later.

Yours truly, guess where?
Many years later.

This is where we were headed for in the boat that had lost engine power, which you can read about in an earlier blog. The water plummets a couple of hundred feet here!

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