The Selous Scouts were a special forces unit from Rhodesia fighting against the insurgency which led ultimately to the creation of the state of Zimbabwe in 1980. They were clearly a pretty rum bunch getting involved in all kinds of special and black ops against the enemy. Whatever your opinion on the politics of Africa at that time, it is good to get some idea how they operated and find out about the remarkable individuals doing that stuff. So, here we have this account by Tim Bax, and, I have to say, the bits on his time with the regiment are intriguing and quite entertaining. Similarly his earlier career with the Rhodesian Light Infantry from his enlistment onwards are often revealing.
The remainder of the book deals with his early life and the time after Zimbabwe was created which tend to be overly episodic and looking for direction. Without trying to be too clever, I think this more or less mirrors the life of the author, who seemed to struggle to find a place for himself both before and after his military career. He wouldn’t be the first there, would he? His wonderful wife has fun with his attempts to find a role for himself – farming, chicken breeding; career choices dull by comparison with his life in uniform – they all falter.
What I like about this book is the author’s inherent loyalty to his former comrades which shines through at all times. This is in clear contrast to any feelings he had for the Rhodesian state which we get to see in all the Ruritanian dottiness we would expect from a country trying to be a British colony without actually being a British colony. They did unilaterally declare independence after all! There is all that nonsense about manners and etiquette and the apparently futile censorship and much more that give the country something of a sinister feel from this distance. It’s like they desired to be a pastiche of what was then a fast vanishing Britain as my country changed dramatically from the old order, Perhaps it’s the attempt to keep a grip on European ascendancy that makes it all so discomfiting. The author navigates through all this by the simplest means – we don’t read anything about the racial aspect. Until, that is, he moves to Apartheid era South Africa, where there are none of these subtleties on view from some of the people he has the dubious pleasure of meeting.
I found the episodic nature of the book a bit tiresome and think the whole thing might have been punchier and shorter. It’s as if the author doesn’t quite like dwelling on some of the racier stuff – the momentous booze ups and partying – which to my mind sound like a hoot. Amorous married ladies slipping his mates their knickers at dinner parties trip over his sense of self-censored discretion. But there is a lot to take from the military bits and any old soldier will like the author’s reaction to some of the pointless bullshit which the Rhodesians inherited from the old British Army whose traditions were rigorously maintained, probably more than here in Britain. I also enjoyed his adventures as a young lad in Canada.
Ultimately, this is neither a very good or very bad book. There are bits to like and bits that grate. Maybe I am too fussy. I like the detail and I don’t like the times when it is lacking, which must be deliberate. Some of the stories tail off and I found it very difficult to feel truly engaged with all of the book. But I did read it all! The author is a brave bloke who suffered plenty of injuries in his time and was lucky to keep his leg after a nasty shooting incident. He must be as tough as old boots because he is still out there teaching his bush craft.
As he looks at Zimbabwe today I wonder what he makes of it all? Ultimately he has had a very interesting life and continues to do so. Fair play to him.
Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online
THREE SIPS OF GIN
Dominating the Battlespace With Rhodesia’s Elite Selous Scouts
By Tim Bax
ISBN: 978 1 909384 29 3