15th July 2014

This really should have been Part 1 but was not.  My first wanderings with a Camera were really in Africa. I had been posted to the Mozambiquan BMATT in early 1986. The British Military Advisory and Training Teams have been deployed in a largely beneign fashion by the British Foreign Office for many years. They are overt deployments of British troops to support and train friendly nations.

The core training element of our team was three captains, one Infantry, one Cavalry and one Royal Marine. Our task was to train three platoons at a time of Mozambican officer cadets, the rudiments of basic soldiering over a three month period. The snag was that we had to do it in Zimbabwe (because of the full scale war between Samora Machel's Frelimo and the South African backed Renamo), We had to do it using Russian weapons (AK47 etc) and we had to do it in Portugese (through interpreters). And under the supervision of the political officer to ensure we did not infect them with bonhomie or ideology. 

Nine months in Africa is a brief and glorious love affair. It was an intriguing time to be in Zimbabwe. Still full of hope for the future, the White Zimbabweans universally feeling betrayed by Britain but providing the backbone to the economy and the Matabele knowing that their days were numbered. Samora Machel, the charismatic if eccentric leader of Mozambique (who was to die in a plane crash returning from South Africa just before we left), was still a benign influence on Mugabe, a man turning into a monster and whose soldiers universally hated and mistrusted him. 


It should have been more familiar than it was. I had/have family there. My mothers cousins farmed Sugar Cane, Watermelon and Cattle on the Sabe river and Coffee in the Chimanimani mountains; my other cousins worked in the giant Tobacco industry; my uncle and his family worked in Forestry. All lived and integrated their lives and their families there. Mugabe's Minister for Defence (and ex-commander of the Rhodesian Army), Peter Wall had been a good friend of my father's when the Rhodesian SAS were in Malaya in the 50's. Into what should have been familiar ground stepped I - utterly british with no british in sight. Like the Americans - all we had in common was the language. 

None of us were very street wise - in fact non of us were very wise. But we had a lot of fun. We did things we should not have done. We experienced things that changed our lives. Three mornings: Morning One - waking up to find that Smaora Machel had died and the whole nature of our role was under threat. Morning Two: waking up in the British Embassy in Maputo in Mozambique on New Years day to find that the British Ambassador had run off with his PA whilst we partied all night. Morning Three - about 2 am. In the bush on patrol. Post ambush practice. Looking up at the sky so full of stars that you could not sleep for wonder. 

I will always remember the size of the sky, the blood red earth and the baobab trees. There is lots and lots more. It is a wonderful place. 

In Memoriam: Charles Maitland-MakGill-Creighton