A Chapter from the novel Sing the unsung heroes
“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Woody Allen
I was a bit tatty on arrival back at the area army headquarters, but apparently no one could tell the difference so I was called before someone whose job escapes me and didn’t really care as I thought I was heading for another bollocking for sitting in a pub rather than clean up the mess I had created by closing off the border minefield.
That issue apparently was all forgiven, which is an advantage of being the only engineer in the area but was probably more because they had a job for me to do.
The vehicle convoy that traveled daily from Chipinga via Birchenough Bridge, the same as the one I was on when I sorted, for want of a better word, the mortar at Nyanyadzi, had spotted a landmine in the tar road near Nyanyadzi town. My bloody ongoing nemesis
It was getting late in the day and travel on your own was not advisable if you were adverse to a few new holes in your backside so there was a light aircraft laid on for me, all warmed up waiting on the runway.
These aircraft were not air force planes but belonged to civilian pilots who had formed something called PRAW which stood for Police Reserve Air Wing and if anyone deserved enough medals to weigh the aircraft down it was these fellows.
There was nothing special about any of these planes involved with PRAW, they were just privately owned aircarft and they were armed, for want of a better word by some reluctant volunteer hanging out the gap where the door used to be with just his rifle as a baddie deterrent.
There was no armour plating, I’m reliably informed that the pilots and “gunner” put on two pairs of underpants as body armour, ok lets call it for that purpose, I used that kind of body armour every time someone sends me on idiotic errands like this one.
In fairness, there was a mine in the road and it had to be gotten rid of and more than my need for body armour a little more substantial than two pairs of underpants was at stake.
The problem was that the baddies around about this time were putting mines in the road and making them very obvious and then when some poor unsuspecting sod like me with my two pairs of body armour on pitched up to remove it they, sitting safely some distance away on a kopje, (small hill) detonated them remotely which was a tad inconvenient.
This mine was by all accounts quite obvious and a police guard had been put on it while the convoy diverted around it and went on it’s way.
So I and the medaless pilot took off in his very shabby very overused and under serviced Cessna 182 with no doors. Now airplane doors may not be very thick and not high on anyone’s list of splendid bullet deflecting material but I’m sure had they been there they would have given a lot more peace of mind than the uninterrupted view between my eyeballs and any baddies on the ground. The ground because of potential rockets and missiles was not very far away. I still swear that on the one occasion I opened my eyes and we were swerving around a giraffe’s head.
It was an uneventful short drop out of the mountains to a grass airstrip just outside the rural town and after being assured by radio from the police contingent guarding the airstrip that it was all clear of landmines on the runway, how the bloody hell would they know, we landed.
Actually after we landed I found out how they knew there were no landmines Every morning they all sat around drinking their morning coffee and drawing straws, the one with the shortest one jumped in the land rover that had a bit of armour plating bolted to it in strategic positions and a couple of sand bags tossed in the back for good measure, strapped himself in, put on his two pieces of body armour and then drove up and down the runway for a while. Depending on karma and his luck or otherwise then declared the runway mine free for the day. And all that for the equivalent of about £100 a month!
We had to have been very patriotic or very stupid, my leanings are towards the latter.
So after a safe and very short landing me and my demolition kit departed with a policeman to the landmine site.
It was quite worrying, firstly because it was indeed a landmine and secondly was very badly concealed which did not do much for my twitchy bits.
Now normally I would just lay a coil of det cord over the top and detonate the bloody thing. Discretion being the better part of valour as usual.
This unfortunately would have left an enormous hole in the tar road and which would have to be filled in, so bone idleness overtaking discretion and of course valour I decided to lift it.
I peered at it from some distance and figured it didn’t look like it had any means of remote detonation so snuck up on it and cleared all the topsoil and found a mine I have never seen before nor of course had any training on.
So like a prat I lifted the bloody thing and put it in the back of the cops land rover and the look on his face was the best part of the day so far and about as good as it was going to get.
We drove off to the infamous police station where I phoned the squadron headquarters to announce my find.
Informing them was not routine, if we lifted or blew up a mine it was just reported in the daily sitrep as was not a big deal, but this mine was something new.
As it turned out the squadron second in command had just returned from Salisbury, this was the capital city of Rhodesia and not the same place where some aliens stuck some rocks in the ground.
Besides whatever else he had gone there for he was told by those that know that they had got some info that these particular mines may appear in the country at some stage.
He was given a rudimentary briefing on how to disarm them and a “how to” pamphlet in case anyone in his squadron should happen to find one. Someone in Salisbury wanted one to dismantle and do whatever with it that boffins do with these things.
It was probably “Dad” from my training days? Dad was called that as being 23 he was considered very old.
Now these mines were quite simple affairs and involved unscrewing the top and removing what was effectively an anti personnel mine underneath the top. Quite clever this as it could double up as an anti personnel mine too although this seemed a little like killing a mosquito with a shotgun.
The 2ic with his pamphlet of sorts on disarming the mine was a little unclear on matters pertaining to all the methods of making it safe. Adding to th problem the pilot had stated quite vociferously that the mine was not going into his plane still armed. A sentiment I was quite happy with but did mean that I would have to disarm the bloody thing.
The pamphlet apparently said that you had to get someone to support the mine between their legs while the person doing the disarming gently unscrewed the big screwy thing on the top of the mine, this insured, I was told, that no pressure would be applied inadvertently to the bit that made it all go bang.
Simple really and all I needed was a volunteer.
Now if anyone has ever had a problem with too many policemen around being annoying then I have an absolutely foolproof way of getting rid of them.
On hearing how the mine was to be disarmed all the volunteers were suddenly very busy and the place looked like the bloody Marie Celeste about three seconds after my request for said volunteer.
So there I was banished back behind the blast wall, on the other side to the side I was on when blowing up the mortar. This time I had a landmine between my legs and no policeman’s legs to put it between within shouting distance .
It was rather a bum tingling, bollock sweaty moment but I departed shortly after back to the runway and the doorless airplane with a monumental sulk directed at the policemen in particular but also to the bloody village as a whole and hoped that this would be the last time I had anything to do with the place. It was indeed a long time after the war was over when I, for some God awful reason, found myself back at the police station getting drunk at someone’s 21st birthday party.
I never did find out what the Major did or didn’t do with his poxy bloody mine or even if it got to him, I left it with the pilot and headed back to the pub.