11 November 1965
Many people have over the years asked the question “What were you doing on the day UDI was declared?”
For those of tender years and those ignorant of the affairs of the world some 52 years ago this refers to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence declared by the tiny country of Rhodesia in the face of the intractability and dissembling of the western powers and in particular the British government of the day. See the following links…
I had been in the Rhodesian Regular Army since the beginning of March 1965, having already completed national service between October 64 and end February 65. After an initial posting to Army Comcen I had been posted to K Troop, the signals unit for HQ 2 Brigade. The day had started as a normal warm early summer day in Africa. Another beautiful day.
In those days the concept of the brigade signals squadrons had not yet been discussed – certainly none of us in the rank and file had any idea of what was to come as far as our Corps was concerned or even how the composition of the Army itself was to change and grow.
We, the operators in K Troop, had been sent out in detachments to carry out a local signals exercise – sending and receiving messages and generally practicing our Corps of Signals role.
The exercise proceeded in desultory fashion for most of the morning. My detachment was at the balancing rocks about five or six kilometres from camp while others were variously spread around the suburbs – probably about six detachments in all I think.
At around 1100 we all received a message recalling us to base with immediate effect. We packed up and were back in camp by 1200 hours where we were told to immediately prepare our vehicles for possible deployment with the Brigade Headquarters. We were also told that there would be an important announcement made at 1300 hours and that we were ALL to attend in the Troop lecture room.
On entering the lecture room, we found a commercial radio had been set up and we were told to take our seats and be quiet for the Prime Minister’s announcement. At 1300 hours the Prime Minister, Ian Douglas Smith, came on the radio and the Unilateral Declaration of Independence was made.
I have often wondered about the timing of the declaration that coincided with armistice day in 1918 as at 1300 hours in Rhodesia it would have been 1100 in the morning in Britain. This is significant for those not familiar with the WHY of this…
There was a sense of relief mixed with foreboding – how would this now play out? Would we be invaded by the British forces or the United Nations. Would there be war, fighting in the streets?
Everyone in the Army was put on immediate alert and confined to barracks. HQ 2 Brigade only had single and married quarters for the African soldiers and the rest of us had to go home or to our barracks at KGVI and collect kit including our webbing and bush gear.
Accommodation was wherever you could find it and I think I ended up bunking down in the lecture room with several others. A field kitchen was set up to feed us and we were regularly briefed by our Officers – not that there was much to tell us of course. It was a sort of phoney war, this twilight period of uncertainty about what was to happen in the immediate future.
We soldiers – whether infantry, quartermaster, signals, engineers or whatever – grumbled at the confinement and inactivity, chafing for something, anything, to happen to relieve the tension.
After about ten days the emergency status was brought down a notch and we were allowed to go home or back to our normal accommodation barracks at night but still no leave was permitted.
The entire situation eventually sort of fizzled out and we got on with the day-to-day activities of a peace-time army although border patrol was under way and there were stirrings that, with hindsight, were portents of the dramatic events to come.
Our brave defiance was to end when our allies left us – the Portuguese capitulated in 1975 in both Angola and Mozambique leaving us totally dependent on South Africa for materiel and trade. When that country was driven to the wall financially they were forced (it is claimed) to withdraw all assistance from Rhodesia. The terrorists never won – financial interests and political expediency saw the country handed over to black majority rule and we all know how that turned out (if you do not then just google Zimbabwe economic history and Zimbabwe, atrocities).