Right, well here goes. BUSH WAR RHODESIA 1966-1980 is part of the Africa@War series, volume 17, don’t you know? It all sounded very cliquey to me and for a very niche market, but I jumped in head first, so to speak, and gave it a go. Result? I Quite enjoyed, it actually.
The first thing that struck me was the A4 magazine format of the book. Its more of a text book to be fair at only sixty-four pages but its an ideal taster if you like and I think that’s a great concept. It saves you jumping into a subject that’s not too familiar and stops you spending a fortune on text. (Books aren’t cheap these days).
So what did this book hold for me? Now, being a child of the 70’s I grew up with many a conflict forced into my head from the news on an almost daily basis. Cambodia, Beirut, Northern Ireland, and a war that confused me somewhere in Southern Africa called Rhodesia. It confused me because depending on what news bulletin was on (Only three channels back then folks) it was sometimes called Rhodesia and sometimes called Zimbabwe. Also, to a seven year old boy, it was made even more confusing because The whites all had beards and wore t-shirts but fought alongside some Africans (no beards) whereas the guerrillas were also called terrorists or the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, Or ZANLA for short. Throw in a helpful dose of Communism and you have yourself a Bush War.
It was all very tiring to a young lad so I used to go back to my Action Man posse in the garden and try and recreate a Bush War amongst my mother’s roses and chrysanthemums Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? The Action man bit, not my botanical knowledge.
Well not really no, my Action Men were decked out in a mixed collection of khaki shorts and vests from ‘Burma Action Man’; the one and only figure with a beard, wearing Adidas trainers from the ‘Football Series’ and carrying his SLR (Wooden furniture of course). He made for a realistic ‘SelousScout’ Of course the Selous Scouts meant nothing to me by name other than that they were a special forces unit that liked to don sports shoes instead of army boots. The truth be told these hardened men, living off the bush, were utterly and totally fearless. For their entire existence 1973-1980 they were criticized globally for their techniques and somewhat controversial treatment of prisoners but being the hardened force they were they simply took it on the chin, or rather beard!
The conflict had a global interest for one reason or another and it echoed round the world in a time when Africa was in utter turmoil. So, what has this to do with Action Man?
Well its quite simple really. One Easter my brother opened his present and it was……an Action Man, shock horror. But there was a slight difference to this action figure. He was black and not only that he was wearing a bush camouflage battle dress and green beret very, very similar to that of the RAR, the Rhodesian African Rifles. He was armed with a Heckler & Koch MP5 rifle and he was called ‘Tom Stone’.
Now such was the likeness of this figure to a member of the RAR that Action Man or rather Palitoy claimed at the time their latest figure was based on South African actor John Kani’s character in the classic ripping yarn ‘The Wild Geese’ alongside Richard Burton and Richard Harris to name but a few. They claimed that this was the sole inspiration. Amazing really because not only was the film set in a state not a million miles from Rhodesia but the action figure was released in 1976, two years before the film hit the screens!
My point is this. In what was seen as a ‘dirty war’ by many there was simply no getting away from the conflict. It even leaked into the toy box, albeit covertly!
As with most conflicts there is always a huge political side to any war and the book goes into this but to just the right amount, I feel. It doesn’t bog the reader down with rights or wrongs or ethics it simply tells it as it is. That’s some feat as the conflict in Rhodesia was a political melting pot and there was only ever going to be one winner and that wasn’t to be decided on the battlefield! The book is crammed with maps and diagrams of ambushes and raids, has excellent graphics and is clear and easy to follow. There are some astonishing photos in there, too, which really show this unconventional war to the hilt.
I guarantee this book will leave you wanting more. My advice, go find it and be prepared to learn. You’ll be glad you did. Just don’t spend hours on Ebay looking at retro toys you once had as a child. The prices they fetch now will leave you with tears in your beard!
Reviewed by Phil Hodges for War History Online.
BUSH WAR RHODESIA 1966-1980
By Peter Baxter