Destruction of the Fuel Depot in Beira

After the mid-70’s Carnation Revolution when the socialists were voted in back home, the Portuguese ditched their foothold in Mozambique. They were sent packing in a panic, ending overnight almost five hundred years of presence.

The previous decade, their badly stretched military resources were faced with Soviet bankrolled Samora Machel -the useful proxy stooge- with his ever encroaching Frente de Libertacao de Mocambique, Frelimo – or Freds. The Portuguese saw a deteriorating internal security, which eventually spiraled out of control. Despite a military upper hand, politics eventually sapped a moral commitment. The result was a gradually laid back response, which in turn favored the spreading influence of the Freds.

For the landlocked Rhodesians, Mozambique, with its long beaches of fine sand and abundant sea food, until then a favorite family week-end destination became happy days to be remembered heaving silent sighs.

The Rhodesian Central Intel Organization had been monitoring with increasing alarm the developments next door, keeping tabs on the cargo deliveries of Soviet weaponry through the main ports.

Internationally shunned Rhodesia saw the marching spread of communism heading its way as an existential threat. And to a degree, so did South Africa.

In pursuance of this agenda, the Freds openly began to host and assist terror groups in staging their infiltration into Rhodesia. These self declared liberation movements were fueled by a hodge-podge of opportunistic, half baked Marxist ideology and organized corruption patronizingly sanctioned and funded by the sanctimonious deluded western pseudo intelligentsia. The same barely paid lip service to the setting up of re-education camps where tens of thousands of  dissidents were routinely butchered.

On the heels of the chaotic departure of the Portuguese, an anti-Frelimo movement was set up by the Rhodesians and the South Africans. They  incorporated the different rebel groups roaming the land. Tribal identities played a non negligible role. Labelled the ‘armed bandits’ by Samora Machel, the Resistancia Nacional Mocambicana -Renamo or MNR – was formed.

Despite not letting up and aggressively taking on the Freds, the results of their dispersed efforts were met with limited success.

Meanwhile, Com-Ops was seeking ways to bolster the MNR image among the local population and discredit the propaganda of the Freds. Bearing PR in mind, Com-ops began to actively support its actions in carrying out a sustained campaign of attacks.

Upping the antes, the Com-ops  conceived a particularly ambitious operation aimed at grabbing the headlines. An objective deep inside the Freds comfort zone thought by them to be out of the MNR access range was to be hit. Spooking the Freds  carried the perks of a substantial economic impact.

To ensure success, the operation demanded a proper organizational frame work. The snag was the doubtful ability of the MNR to carry it out satisfactorily. If its goodwill and bravery were not to be questioned, however, the same could not be said of its training and discipline. Being sons of the land alone was not quite enough.

The selected target was to be the oil storage facilities on the Indian Ocean port of Beira.

Captain Bob McKenzie’s ‘A’ Squadron from the Rhodesian SAS was tasked to pull it off. Credits for the success of the operation were to subsequently be chalked up to the MNR.

On a sunny winter morning at the Kabrit Barracks in Salisbury, the chosen twenty men team left the briefing room fired up for the upcoming job.

The operational readiness of the unit shortened the reaction time from the issue of order. The first training stage was rapidly covered, supplemented by honing skills on lock picking, vehicle hot wiring , extra incendiary techniques and lectures on petroleum related matters. Meanwhile Bob McKenzie, aboard a Canberra bomber, flew high altitude reconnaissance passes over the target.

The lid of secrecy as always was sealed tight. One of several unspoken rules within the Squadron was that the discussion of a job, any job, upcoming or past was strictly barred outside the group directly involved. Other members were never told and, for that matter, they never asked.

Three days later, at predawn, my girlfriend Leslie dropped me off outside the gates of the New Sarum Air Force Base. The RPD, webbing and kit bag I took home the night before left her possibly guessing. She knew never to ask.

On a first leg, an unmarked C130 flew our team and the equipment to Cape Town. Landing in a heavy downpour, it taxied on to the far end of the runway to a closed off military area where tarp covered trucks were waiting to drive us to Salamander the 4 Recces base up in the Saldanha Bay.

A yacht used for clandestine ops at the Saldanha Bay Recce base

Inconspicuously tucked away along the reddish desert rocky Atlantic shore, the camp offered all the facilities for special ops training. Invariably the considerate hosts the Recces catered to our smallest needs. The setting and architecture of the place somewhat elicited a Club Med atmosphere.

Map study of the target photo HL

For a week after the daily morning parade, we carried out exercises in open water orientation, drills for embarkation and de-barkation on PC assimilated (South African Ship) S.A.S. Flamingo, and rehearsed raiding party drop-off and recovery with Mk5 inflatables till well into the night. From a painstakingly re-created 3D colored model accurately based on reconnaissance aerial photographs, precise instructions on timings and moves throughout the operation were analyzed and memorized ad-nauseam. Each of us was issued with a map to familiarize himself with the routes, escapes, emergency rv’s, positions and the layout of the target. The intricacies inherent to such ops with its ‘wheels within wheels’ imply a distinct modus operandi.

Andre S. James Sc. and HL going over details of the Op

For our last day, Dumpy L. and Gerry D. dived for lobsters while Steve B. and I prepared mussels in a cream, shallots and garlic white wine sauce. At sun down, we headed to the beach and indulged in a private firework by filling thick a crisp clear sky with multicolored tracers, RPG’s and exploding white-phos rifle grenades. Wholesome entertainment.

Recce Camp in Saldanha Bay. Training in open waters. From the right Gerry D. – Steve K. – Carl v.A. – Olli J. – James Sc. – John C. – Bill T. – Steve B. sitting on bed- and HL

The next leg involved another cloak’n dagger flight to Durban, Natal. Mini-buses, their windows smoked took us to the Bluff-the S.A.Navy Recces Base. We de-bussed, concealed in the twilight, keeping communications to brief whispers while we lugged our kit to the stone quay where the S.A.S. Frederick Creswell was berthed.

Andre S. HL and ‘Kiwi’ C. last evening before flying to Durban for the job

In silence we crossed the gangplank. The lines were cast and with low shudder the ship following the other Command ship smoothly pulled away.

Based on an original Israeli concept the S.A.S., Frederick Creswell is a fast strike craft built for coastal operations within 100Nm. It Bristled with armaments,’ Scorpion’ surface to surface missile, two 3 in. guns and anti-ship missiles. The works.

Adversely its design affords but crammed living quarters. Last to come on board, I was left to scout the narrow corridors for an elusive bunk. My peek into the cabins was met with smug grins. In the end, I content myself with some floor space in the ammunition magazine of the rear gun. The circular walls lined floor to ceiling with a railing holding 3 in. shells.

Marco Cinco, the late addition to the attack group and the MNR stand-in representative had been tagging along close behind also in search of sleeping space under the misguided impression that I knew something. Now with a smiling shrug, he put his gear down and laid his sleeping bag on the other side of the ammo feeding column. He would reveal himself a pleasantly humoured travel companion most exalted by the privilege to be part of the team. On several occasions with a thankful smile he would express his gratitude for the assistance we were providing to the MNR cause. He would not have given it another thought had sleeping on broken bottles been part of the job.

For a breath of fresh air from the smell of grease and gun powder, I go up on the deck. Locating nothing to hang on, I settle at the foot of one of the guns.

In the warm night sea breeze, the ship gently rolls on at a steady pace cutting into the ink black Indian Ocean.

A fleeting yearn for r&r as I watch the receding lights of Durban’s Marine Parade. The blinking coloured neons of the steakhouses, bars and discos glimmer on the water. If I am not mistaken, tonight is Ladies Night at Magoo’s. Cars cruise along the beach front. Some are ‘parked,’ their headlights shining on the ocean. The waves softly lapping on the sandy beach…

Moments later the ship bucked the throttles, abruptly opened on full. Caught off guard by the acceleration, I am sent skidding stern way in a wall of spray. In a hurried scramble, I manage to find the protruding handle of a latch to cling on.

We are now ‘sending it’ on a northerly course.

The following day is spent nonchalantly sailing the international waters whiling it under a cloudless blue sky a white sun shining the vessel riding upon an even keel on an open sea of deep green water. Taking a break from a restful sea staring, we put the weapons to a final firing test.

In the early evening after 800 nm, we reached the latitude of the target.

A light tea is served before everyone rejoins his quarters to make ready. We attired ourselves in the usual freds’ camo green garb. The webbings are checked for loose and clinking bits. The RPD is oiled, the muzzle taped, and the ritual gone over; strobe light, maps, binos, a length of paracord, field dressing, Sosegon, a prismatic compass, pen light, face veil, greased AK bayonet,.45 pistol with extra mags in its holster snug fit on the chest, a fistful of survival tablets, a couple of each M970 and M962 grenades, almost a thousand rounds of belts of tracers and incendiaries, mossie rep, spare socks, water bottles, an A76 radio set, a couple of RPG 7’s-with boosters…

In addition, several explosive bomb suitcases were divided among the callsigns, the brown rectangular fake leather type carried by school kids fitted with a delay mechanism and packed with PE 9.

The H frame bergen is lumbered up on the deck where we wait to get in the canoes. I use the time to blacken up with streaks of camo cream on the face and the hands. Turning around I was about to pass on the small bottle only to see Marco Cinco’s beaming grin.

The ship remained stationary five nm from the shore. The inflatables were lowered by the crew. Making with the swell in a balancing act, we clamber onboard. I took a front right sitting position.

Russian spy satellites on a constant orbiting a time window was scheduled for the recovery to allow for the ship to be back in the international waters by daylight.

Under a moonless night sky, the muffled roar of the encased over-powered outboard engines sent the loose formation of the boats racing across the smooth surface on a trajectory to the mouth of the Pungwe river.

The scintillating tails of shooting stars mirror on the swift water. Above at an angle the Southern Cross and the Pointers. The other boats are barely visible skimming dark shapes their prows cutting a little foam. I dip a thoughtful hand in the pressured water. The Indian Ocean is clearly warmer than the Atlantic. It is also shark infested. I pull my hand out.

Holding on the mooring rope I face down the wind and dimly make the shapes of the other guys. The pilot cuts a black silhouette against the starry sky. To the right in the distance begin to appear the dots of lights from Beira.

The thin black line of the shore becomes discernible. Beira is kept to the right. Shifting to lower  gear we begin navigating the sand bars of the estuary. We are treated to an unexpected and eerie sight as we cut through a migrating shoal of millions of sardines. Nearing the beach the pilots scan the mangrove with their night visions. The rest of us visual purple mindful squint into the pitch blackness for signs.

In the air pervades a pungent whiff of decaying seaweeds.

I shake off the nagging paranoid tingle of being observed from the impenetrable mangrove. Bracing to see the beach at any moment turn into daylight by a welcome committee and us into sitting ducks.

The engines switched on idle, the canoe glides to the landing area. Beyond the soft gentle surf, we strain for sounds the temples throb from the stillness. A growing urge to get off. The rubber boat cushion bumps to a halt. Hastily,we assist each other loading off keeping the noise down not to wake up the crocs. We wade on with the bergen and RPD held aloft. I cover a few paces and sink knee deep in sucking mud. Wheezing grunts of hissed curses wearily, I reach the firm ground.

The whole team is finally assembled on the beach. We fall in.

I turn to watch the blurry shapes of our canoes soundlessly withdraw into the obscurity then realize I am being assaulted by a swarm of mosquitoes. A prompt splash of repellent, a camo cream touch up, the bergens are secured,the weapons made ready, a brief whispered roll call. The column is on the move.

We trundle on loaded with a breath knocking weight in virtual darkness. At interval unidentifiable black shapes rise to the sides. The dubious footing skids on patches of slimy mud when it does not trip on invisible obstacles. Over culverts and down to skirt paddy fields. With irritating regularity I bump into the guy in front who is also groping his way on and happens at times to de-materialize into a ditch.

We start at a sudden loud ruffling noise from the trees. A couple of startled big birds take off their huge wings outlined on the starry backdrop.

Every fall is met with muttered curses we keep on heaving one another back on his feet.Pauses for listening stops. In the prolonged hushed murkiness a stubbed rock resonates like a avalanche.

At last we leave the marshy terrain to enter the outskirts of the built up areas. The glow of Beira looking closer. From behind a black shed a dog barks. A reply comes from down the road.

We have reached a large junction of pipelines. The first suitcase charge is planted.

Stepping across the uneven ballast of the harbor railway tracks, we pass some unlit warehouses. It is almost 23:00 now entering the edge of a populated shanty town. Nearby the sounds of conversations. Many are still up enjoying the refreshing night.

In an undulating motion, the wraith like shadow of our column snakes on silently steering around patches of street lights.

In the deep shadows, further listening stops are marked while a scan of the surroundings is carried out. The finger weighs on the safety catch. The place is crawling with Freds. A challenge is anticipated at any moment.

We approach a low building. Loud music and laughter stream out. Pushbikes lean on the balustrade, a couple of Gaz jeeps are parked in the front. Our column swerves to the dark opposite side of the street.

A door swings open flooding the porch with a bright beam of light. In a reflex, I shut one eye to prevent night blindness. We watch a guy stagger out. He carries a pistol. Bill T. who has spontaneously left the file freezes in an aiming position the chunky cylinder of his silenced AK pointed directly at him.

The guy struggles to steady himself against one of the pillar of the veranda intent it seems on taking a leak on the flowerbed below. After some convulsive arms flapping he loses his balance and vanishes over the railing in a mumble of curses.

As I pass him, Bill is still in a statue like position. The pace of our file has not slackened. Seconds later he trots up and returns to his position.

We pass dimly lit dwellings with unseeing faces in the windows. People squat on doorsteps chatting. Others stand about. The ghostly figures of our fast moving single file appear invisible to them.

Our route takes us deeper along the populated areas. A thought, this is also our exit route after the pandemonium will have broken out.

Another halt to allow for the planting of delayed charges in the transformers at the base of the pylons supplying power to the town.

A few more steps then on the left the fuel facilities spring in full view.

The realization of its dwarfing dimensions instills a momentary giddiness. Never mind the hours long study of those aerial photographs. These tanks are huge.

The different callsigns now split each to march to its respective position. We proceed on for almost half a mile parallel along the brick wall enclosing the depot by negotiating a succession of paths hedging the rice paddies.

We discover with satisfaction that indeed all the security lights have been set to shine inwards, presenting the targets as if we were on a shooting stand at the funfair.

A bino check on the watch towers. Only Zzzd’s floating out.

While advancing, I make a mental note of the limited possible escape routes. These bottleneck all the way to the buildup of the city. Becoming a case of hoping for the best should it hit the fan.

We have reached the far end of the oil depot, also our firing location. A breather at last.

Wet fields lay between us and the towering squat circular fuel tanks. All around reigns an almost complete silence but for the faint sound of diesel generators ebbing over the wall. To our right, less than a mile away, dump trucks can be faintly heard on their unloading runs. Behind us, the shanty suburbs are quiet. To the left the warehouse we just walked by.

So far all matches up with the recon photos.

Lined up facing the depot we make ready. RPG boosters are screwed on, rear sights set. With the belts of ammos neatly laid out, I shoulder my RPD the bi-pod resting for now on the ground the left hand on the dust cover. Standing behind with the receiver to his ear Andre S. waits for the word. A dim crackling voice announces some delays. A hold-up as the last bombs are being placed. Synchronization of the essence.

Each is absorbed in momentary meditation while contemplating the gigantic static target. A tinge of anticipation at the experience and the inescapable thought of what will come next when those first rounds perforate the tanks.

The fuel experts back home cautioned us about some sodium gas reservoirs best left alone if we were to see another day. These are out of sight within the rows sitting somewhere to the left. The words I know are echoing at this very instant in everyone’s head. The entire installation seems so tight it is hard to imagine how they could be remain untouched.

The unnerving wait drags on. A line from the Bard came to mind, ‘If it were done when ’tis done, then t’were well if it were done quickly’. I grab a bottle and take a long swig of warm liquid. Screwing the top back on, I marvel at how we succeeded in making our long approach undetected.

We are seconds away from unleashing mayhem. No unringing of that bell. Having tiptoed to the far end of a cage we are about to wack the rump of a sleeping lion with a short bit of four-by-two.

Fire control orders “Rifle group 100, sights down, target front, FIRE!”

The serene obscurity is rent asunder by the simultaneous deafening racket from shafts of tracers and RPG trails streaming into the oil storage.

In sustained hails of fire tracers bounce into the night sky, a succession of flashes and sparks from thousands of rounds tearing into the steel tanks .

Thirty seconds into the shooting in a shared puzzlement our group gradually eases the firing to watch incredulously for signs from the depot. The acrid smell from a transparent blueish spreading sheet of smoke of burnt powder hangs about. The barrels of the weapons smoulder.

Furtive shadows are seen hightailing into the night out of the nearby sheds and watch towers.

We exchange quizzical glances having the same gradually looming thought . What if this was not combustible material…

In different places feeble flames flicker uncertainly others just puff out. The incendiaries rounds seem simply to travel through as if not being given enough time to set anything alight.

I grab my binos. Everywhere the black crude is clearly spewing out from the sieve like tanks. The smell of crude now noticeable.

Unfazed we are about to double down on the efforts when with an earth tremor like rumble a giant blinding orange ball engulfs our entire side of the complex followed by a chest thumping shock wave of searing hot air. We are sent tottering.

The elated relief is marred by the sudden rise of eyebrow singeing temperature. We collect our gear precipitately to put some distance from the flames.

Among the fracas of the thundering inferno giant tanks begin to wilt and buckle with a clamorous metallic groan. Others collapse in a crumple shooting out incandescent lumps of gas. Greasy volutes of solid black smoke pulsate inflamed fumes and billow high up the sky blotting out the starry night.

An illustration of the blaze by Henri Lepetit

Faced with the increasing heat we heave our packs on the back, shoulder the sling of the RPD and start to make our way back.

Silhouetted against a two hundred foot high fire we now stand uncomfortably out. We could be parading in front of the stage lights of a theater.

As we move new vantage points are revealed. These are immediately put to use by shooting more incendiaries and RPG’s into the gaps.

On the side of the path, I stop at a warehouse. Peering through a window, it is chock full with drums. Calling out for any occupant I yell a couple of warning in Portuguese. After a short wait I lob in a white-phos and a few steps further top it with an M962 frag. I trot on to catch up with the end of the file already going out of sight. Five seconds, and I turn around to watch the roof lifts above an orange and black flash. On the backdrop the monstrous furnace goes on unabated.

The whole area is thrown in turmoil with people startled out of their sleep.

Further up the confusion is punctuated by random suppressive automatic fire from our procession. The sounds of a brief and brutal firefight flares out ahead.

Amid the agitated civilian population some remain unconcerned squatting on their haunches they take in the show. With a friendly wave, we greet the few who happen to notice our presence.

The music from a bar we passed by earlier on is still blaring out the revelers impervious to the general commotion.

This is the moment the Freds rattled out of their torpor have chosen to add to the pandemonium. Their anti-aircraft batteries open up wildly from the outskirts of Beira. Apparently thinking an air attack is taking place, they furiously fill the peaceful high night sky thick with 23 mil,37 mil and 14,5 ZUP green, pink and yellow tracers.

Delicate for any aircraft found flying within that height.

We plod on connecting along with the other callsigns.

As we approach a denser populated part of our way out, some vehicles their headlights on dart from driveways and visibly in panic attempt to cut through our column with the risk of running someone over. We are left with no choice. Short automatic bursts into the engines and above the heads are enough to temper things down.

Throughout our call we remain watchful not to hurt any civilians and the detrimental effects it would carry. Though it is doubtful after the stunt we pulled tonight the populace would find it easy  to warm up to the MNR . Sort of a two edged upshot.

The Freds are wisening up. Past the initial knee jerk reaction the word must have made the round. The elevation on their guns are now being frantically cranked down. Their firing gradually directed closer to the ground. Rounds are whizzing and cracking at head level ripping the air close past my ears. Some ricochet further off the road others are seen exploding right into the shanty town. News would later report eighteen killed.

The feeling of relative safety enjoyed until now evaporates to be replaced by the usual gut wrenching alertness.

At one point in the strobe light of ongoing gun fires Carl v. A., and I find us progressing together. Carl is one of several experienced South African nationals who threw their lot in the Rhodesian bush war and went the whole hog by coming off through the selection course. Their exceptional soldiering skills were a valuable asset to the Squadron.

Alluding at the accumulating delays slowing us down on our way to the rv, he shrewdly remarks in hushed tones with his signature South African accent:

‘Henri, time is rrrunning few !…’

In the past he had also genially conceded :’My English is not so delicious,…’

We are forced to engage more converging vehicles. Likely to be Freds on their way to find out about the situation.

In a never-before-occurence, my RPD has a stoppage. The circumstances preclude for the time being reaching for the ramrod to clear it. The momentum of the move is kept up. With the backup pistol on occasions arising, I squeeze aimed rounds in the direction of direct close threats.

We are filing out of the lit up areas re-entering darkness. A couple of miles behind us a burst from the detonation of a suitcase bomb briefly illuminates the rucksack of the guy in front of me.

The Freds seem to have calmed down. Or run out of ammos. I turn to look back at the intense throbbing orange sky. A ‘wow’ sensation.

Making it back to the beach to the rv involves crossing again the swamps with more skidding in the mud, tripping and falling over. With the job behind us, these nuisances are taken in the stride.

An exchange of pre-arranged click signals and the boats materialize out of the darkness. The crews lend a helping hand as we struggle to climb on the inflatables. They welcome us with excited whispered greetings and congratulatory taps on the shoulder.

I sit on my pack with my back resting against the floater. We pull away under low throttle.

I contemplate the contrast a few hours made. We arrived in the quiet of nightfall to a town preparing for sleep. Thanks to the Freds, we leave the place an infernal chaotic din.

Having cleared the sand bars of the estuary at a controlled pace, the boats rapidly accelerate towards to the open sea.

Something odd then happens.

We notice in the direction of the harbour the navigation lights of a fast craft in all evidence bearing straight onto our wake. Mystified at first as to whether we had been spotted and, given the surrounding blackness how it managed to do it night visions of the necessary generation being rare and few about. For several minutes as it appeared to close in we go over how best to deal with it. When suddenly it veers off away on a north-easterly course.

The day is into its break by the time the last canoe is winched on board. We are greeted to an effusion of congratulations. Moments later the vessel is heading back to the international waters. Knackered but not sleepy, I sit on the deck and watch the illuminated sky over Beira. I am soon joined by members of the boat crew. All watch with open mouths the bright glow of the distant blaze punctuated at irregular interval by bursts from timed explosions. Overwhelmed, one of the guys grabs my hand to shake it.

Marco Cinco MNR -Renamo- photo HL

Sitting in the galley for a much desired cup of tea, I learn Marco Cinco is missing. Enquiring on the circumstances, I am told by different people several confusing runs of events. Based on our short lived acquaintance, I retain the most likely one for memory.

The guys in the lead of the file were busy pinning MNR leaflets on telegraph poles when they were approached by a couple of vehicles packed with Freds. A protracted firefight ensued. Marco Cinco was seen rushing one of the jeeps with his AK blazing. Unheeding the calls to get back, he went on to assault the other vehicle further out and following an explosion disappeared.

From my side of the floor of the gun turret I lay in my sleeping bag. I see his gear.

Two guys pop in the doorway with cold drinks for a celebration. All our faces still smudged with traces of camo cream. Bob McKenzie, true to his customary solicitude for the guys under his command also drops by. The operation has been successfully carried off though it is marred by a casualty. A guy has also been shot through the hand and another tore a ligament on the walk back.

After job beer treat courtesy of the Recces photo HL

In a tribute to the dead a toast is proposed.

As a souvenir memento we are offered a cloth badge of the ship bearing a Scorpion. (the very one I have included in the illustration I made of the attack)

Before boarding the Transall C160 for the last leg home each one is kindly presented with the personal request we had been asked to list before embarking on the job.

Steve B. and SAAF Transall photo HL
Flight home in the C160 Bill T. and James S. photo HL

I receive a bag filled with Cadbury Flakes, Turkish Delights, Mars bars all much prized back home where the economic sanctions make us do with substitutes. Also a ‘luxury’ a few packs of Gillette razor blades and Kiwi shoe polish-the locally produced Nugget brand of acceptable quality but not quite.

Sqn SSM Kutz L.- HL before flight home

A couple of afternoon later I find myself comfortably sitting on the terrace at Leslie’s parents in a tranquil suburb of Salisbury. Serenely enjoying the view on a vast garden of Bougainvillers, Leopard orchids and Flame Lillies. Some toppies frolic in a bird bath.

She has invited a couple of girlfriends to the ritual Saturday afternoon tea -Tanganda tea. Scones accompanied by clotted cream and strawberry jam served fresh from the oven are piled on a silver tray.

In crystal bowl are displayed the chocolates bars.

Moments of blissful relaxation. The lark’s on the wing and the snail’s on the thorn. The young ladies conduct an animated chat. Leslie’s step mother oversees the maids serving the tea. Her father sits on his favorite armchair reading the paper.

When in a conducive mood her Dad could tell great stories of his times when a BSAP mounted constable and accompanied by a detail of native trackers he patrolled the far flung reaches of the bush country of Southern Rhodesia. In a voice ringing with justified pride he would recount his services to the British Empire when during the second world war he was posted at the Victoria Falls. Behind sand bags he manned with a small platoon the first line of defense to block any German attempt from crossing the bridge over the Zambezi. He had many other tales.

During the critical stages soon after I was introduced to him by his beautiful daughter I was put through tests which lead to an exchange of ill chosen words. Thus convincing him as to my unsuitability to the eventual position of future son-in-law. From then on should an occasion presents itself he would not let it pass without sending my way some well aimed piques. He considered my military contribution to the current war effort inconsequential being under the impression I was skiving somewhere behind a desk job.

I am pulled out my reveries when he shares with us a comment on an article he is reading. This is when I notice the headline across the front page.

In large letters it reads :’BEIRA BURNS’.

‘A jolly good show…’ He chuckles.”these MNR chaps put up with that fuel depot job! I am sure some of our brave boys had a hand in it! ‘

As I help myself to a scone, I can feel Leslie’s side glance directed at me.

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