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Have you seen a soldier die?

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

When a soldier dies in combat, all that is vital for his survival, and those precious possessions, lie with him. A combatant carries the necessities for life in the moment, primarily a weapon(s). In the webbing is carried ammunition, rations, water and a few additional personal treasures, such as a photo(s) of loved ones, lucky charms and identity tags known as “dog tags”. Special Forces would not carry items that give away their identity. This is all a soldier requires to survive. To my mind, that is the tragedy of witnessing a soldier killed in action; he carries with him his treasured possessions, his world. Few things in war are worse than witnessing the death and burial of a fellow soldier. The same can be said for any member of the security forces. Such are the veteran’s battle-scarred memories.


The harsh reality in our battle for Hurungwe was that, when we were deploying relatively inexperienced men into the battleground, the greater was the likelihood that some of them would not return home alive, therefore, as can be expected, we took every precaution possible to ensure their safety. Strange setting this world of war, especially where men trusted and placed their lives in one’s hands! In the brutality of war, men inextricably bonded, which made the death of a fellow soldier profoundly sorrowful. The safest mechanism of self-preservation was withdrawal to a position of non-attachment, a zone devoid of emotions, yet strangely secure in the boundaries of friendship among those immediately involved: those who covered one’s back, a place of mutual trust. Trust remains the unwritten code between soldiers on the war front, and veterans. One simply does not break that trust.


George Perkins recalls the agony of his brother's death:

"The story of my brother's death was a tragedy, I still grieve for him. Willy or Bill Perkins had completed two years national service, he was four years older than myself. He was married to Sue, with an 18 month old son, Zane and was doing his accounting articles with Deloitte in Umtali when his life was so tragically cut short. He was called up for 6 weeks in 1979 and was killed with Eddie Becking when the vehicle they were travelling in struck a boosted landmine outside Chipinga on 25 April 1979. Several others were injured. What a waste! He had already 'done his bit' - we were so angry, sad and depressed that he was killed "at the 11th hour", when I remember there was supposed to be a ceasefire for the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia elections. It nearly killed my mother - she never recovered from the loss, and his wife, Sue still misses him to this day. "


Here is our song, a tribute to those killed in action, "Have you seen a soldier'?


Gone, but not forgotten. As Major Henson (RLI) often stated in his book From Soup to Nuts: "But for what cause"?


THE POLITICIAN

To war they said, and so we went. We youth, yet again sent to fight for the rights of the nation, and sacrifice our lives in ultimate dedication.

No time to ask for what we fought, nor to think of families distraught. War, kill, maim...leave death and destruction on your trail,

we have tried all other means but to no avail.

Amongst our successes our own men fell.

Enraged, we no longer needed the politician

to tell us what he thought we fought for. We killed, maimed and revelled in death and gore.

And so they sat, smug, with no perturbation.

“Must raise our salaries to keep up with inflation.”

“Must cut down on foreign currency,” the Minister said whilst on a short vakansie....

But then the inevitable denouement, the meagre signing of a document, to bring peace to the land or so they said.

Forget about the bereaved and the dead.


But still the war goes on we fear.

We turn to love, sex and beer,

before we die for the politician.

John Padbury, Salisbury, Rhodesia, 11 June 1979.


Lest we forget.


Photos: (L-R): Willie Perkins (R) and friend at the start of their national service; Letter from Willy to his mother while training; Willy and his bride Sue; Willy's gravestone - Willy's and Sue's son Zane was 18 months at the time; Sgt. Ian Suttill (former SAS); Ian's gravestone; The Troopie - memorial for RLI soldiers killed in action; memorial stone for 6 Rhodesia Regiment KIA; British South Africa Police memorial -UK National Arboretum, Alrewas.




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Book Review Neil Petrie

Battle for Hurungwe, by John Padbury is essential reading for those interested in the Rhodesian conflict, irregular warfare and national strategy. It is a personal but professionally produced work cov

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