Sunday, July 18, 2010

Night Raid – a true war story.

Last of the Rhodesians: Chronicles of a Colonial Anarchist
Night Raid – a true war story.
 (Somewhere in Rhodesia, Central Africa, early 1970’s)

We knew that the enemy we most dreaded had returned to plague us once again. Year after year, that ever grinding war of attrition - the same old battle of nerves. We had never been able to really to corner them, and end it in a final fire-fight. At most, we could take out a few of their leaders and leave them disorientated for a while, but there was always another to take their place, and the guerrilla war would start afresh.

For most of the year we held the upper hand. Our latest base was comparatively new and our designated area for patrols seemed relatively free of the menace. Daily our small unit pounded the now familiar routes with an ever weary eye open. It was our land and rightfully so and we sculptured it as we liked, because we had made it our home. But they dared to question this with audacity. They remained for the most part unseen and would spook us from a safe distance.
            The rainy season always changed the scenario.  It was almost as if both sides needed respite from the game of hide and seek; a status quo, an unspoken agreement between the antagonists. We hated to slog through soaked grass and the ever increasing quagmire of rich, venial-red mud. Legend has it that Africa’s soil is that colour because of all the blood that has been spilled fighting for it. There would be more blood spilled, but we hoped our superior intelligence and armaments would ensure it would only be their blood that would soak into the ground to blend with their forefathers’ life juices.
The enemy had slinked back into our territory with some primeval instinct, just as the first summer rains finally came to break that smell of parched earth and moisture- starved yellow grass.  The incredible majestic force of tropical storms normally kept us in base. Few dared to go outside when Mother Nature decided to throw her weight around, randomly spitting deadly bolts of lightning that killed hundreds each year. The enemy knew of our fear. Not far from where we slept in our fortified abode was a small isolated oasis with dense foliage - a perfect hide. They were happy to take time out and reorganise their forces during this time.

We had used an observation point on the small hill overlooking their recently re-occupied stomping ground, hoping to spot them, but with no success.  Team leader reckoned that we would get some tonight. The Old Man, as he was better known, was frustrated with the previous failures. The whole thing was getting on his nerves, and he was starting to take it personally. That morning he had approached me.
            ‘I have a job to do, but I will be back about 6.00 p.m. The weather report is for a big storm about that time. I will try and nail their leader then. Get everything ready, I am taking you with me on this one.’
            I felt honoured, as I was still in my teens. Any thoughts of ice cold, pre-meditated murder never entered my head.

The timing had to be impeccable. We picked up our fully prepared weapons. I had checked them over that day, to make sure they were working perfectly. The last thing we needed were faulty tools of war. Not only would it lead to failure, the Old Man would never forgive me.  There was still a hint of light from another stunning African sunset, touching the edges of the gathering storm clouds with hues of orange, and in the distance, bright flashes of lightning were followed by the soft growls of thunder. We needed to be in and out before the storm hit us.
            Night was their weakness; their soft underbelly. They always seemed a bit chatty as darkness approached, but for the last few days, their incomprehensible mutterings had been loud enough to be heard at base whenever a storm started to approach. They had got away with it for so long that they were becoming arrogant. Surely it would give them away at last!
            The other members of our team would stay back at base. They would know sooner or later if we were successful or not. As we prepared to move out, the Old Man addressed them,
            ‘Leave some of the lights showing, that way the enemy won’t expect our surprise attack.’ After a second thought, he grinned wickedly, ‘Turn the radio on, not too loud though!’
            I thought that was a very clever distraction. He turned to me,
            ‘Once we are outside, I don’t want to hear one peep from you. Keep that loud mouth of yours shut for a change. Stay behind me and look for my hand signals.’ I nodded my head with acknowledgement; my heart was already racing with nervous energy.

 As we moved out, heading for the watering hole they used, I could hear the soft melody of the Paper Lace hit, ‘Billy, Don’t be a Hero’. Somehow, it helped to settle my nerves.
We moved quietly from tree to tree, freezing if we thought we had been spotted, crouching low and silent on aching knees, and then breathing a soft sigh of relief, as their short suspicious silence would again be broken. They were so confident that nothing was going to happen to them. They threw caution to the rapidly increasing wind, as they used the opportunity to call others before the heavens opened up, cutting off all communications for both sides.
            Adrenaline pumped through my body, overcoming any fear of failure. I had an overwhelming feeling that this time we would get at least one of them. The wind was picking up rapidly, ruffling my sweat-soaked crew-cut.
            Just before we had reached our intended cover of a group of bulrushes, we heard a noise, about three feet to our right. In the darkness, we had almost stumbled on top of them.
            ‘Shit, shit, shit!’, I thought.
            The Old Man gave me the agreed signal, and I opened-up with all I had whilst simultaneously, he armed his huge weapon in one smooth stroke and brought it, on instinct, into play. We were in trouble; my heart was going ape-shit, my hands shaking from the suppressed excitement. If the Old Man missed, we were lost!

I will never forget, even till the day I finally croak it, the spectacle that hit my eyes, as the darkness was brutally ripped apart from a bolt of lightning, so close I could almost smell the ozone it created. For what seemed an eternity, I looked squarely into the shocked eyes of the enemy.
This one was the biggest bastard I had ever seen. His throat bulged, ready to let out a defiant roar. As he prepared to leap for safety, obscenely huge leg muscles visibly rippled under his almost perfectly camouflaged outer skin.
‘Get him, Dad!’ I screamed in involuntary excitement above the massive clap of thunder that hammered at our eardrums.
The powerful beam of my flash-light replaced the spent lightning and kept the Bufo gutturalis in full sight, squatting on a large lily pad. Before it could draw its next breath and start that damn raucous din all over again, or escape into the deeps, the Old Man, from way over his head, brought the massive spade down, and one African Guttural Toad became airborne.
            It must have risen six feet into the air, as the shock wave pounded through the fishpond. The force, powerful enough to create a miniature tsunami, broke over the concrete walls, soaking our feet and bellied-up a few unsuspecting goldfish. It’s a hard knock life; a few innocent citizens, caught in the crossfire.
            The exploded corpse, its guts hanging out of a surprised mouth, came down and lay spasmodically kicking, just like the one we dissected at Biology class, as it lay at my father’s feet. Except this one looked more like a flattened avocado pear with legs. With a deft swish, he scooped up terminated toady and flicked it neatly over the hedge into the next door neighbours’ garden.

We went back to the house and celebrated our success over a cup of tea with Mum. We were all able to get a decent night’s sleep for the first time in days.

I actually became quite deft at terminating toadies. The best bit was to see if you could whack them again as they came down. Like a baseball striker, if you connected well, you blast the bastard really far over the hedge.
            Many years later, I told this story to my kids, but they weren’t having it. Well, in the late ‘90s, I was down in Beira, Mozambique, and demonstrated the technique on a beached jelly fish. I flicked it up and connected it perfectly. One small problem - unlike the toad, which had a rather tough skin, jelly fish exploded! All this was filmed on VHS, so one day I might be able to convert it and make a multi-million virus hit YouTube.

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