Later today I shall make a little bit of history as the first Rhodesian (Yes I know I call myself Zimbabwean but it is the same country) former serviceman to officially march in an Armistice Day parade since UDI in 1965. I will be laying my wreath, probably with tears streaming down my face in Princetown, the highest town on Dartmoor and one of the highest in Britain.
For me, it will be a proud moment and I hope many others will be able to use it as a precedent in future years when they try and persuade their local parade committees to let them do the same.
I was born right at the end of the Second World War, but as the son of a soldier, war has always fascinated and repelled me. It is a horrible business that sees young men fighting and dying at the whim of politicians. That surely cannot be morally justified. Yet war brings a certain edge to life that is rarely present in normal everyday living. The soldier at war never really knows whether he will still be alive the next day and that adds a great deal of spice to daily routine. Since I fought through the bush war in my own country, I have often thought back on it and wondered why I miss it now that my life is relatively peaceful.
I saw some terrible things and did some terrible things. At times, my stomach churned with fear, but at the same time it was all incredibly exciting. I lost many friends and a few of my own men. I also attended many funerals and as a fighting policeman, brought death messages to many families with whom I cried.
I didn’t want to fight and although some people have a natural aptitude for warfare, I think most soldiers in a war go into battle somewhat reluctantly. We believe we are fighting for a just cause, but then, the young men we are making war against also believe that their cause is right.
None of it really makes sense, but I feel that each and every would-be politician should experience the horrors of it all before being allowed to make decisions condemning young men to death or to permanent injury, be it physical or mental. Civilians suffer too but do political leaders ever consider this? Personally I doubt it.
I was on the losing side in my war, but I fought for an ideal that went against what the rest of the world thought was right. Were we wrong to fight? I don’t know and will never know, but we were led and inspired by an honest politician – now there is a contradiction in terms – and if I had the choice again, I would still follow Ian Smith to war.
But was it worth it? Did all those soldiers, airmen, policemen and civilians achieve anything by giving their lives to a cause? That is definitely a more difficult question to answer but the answer must surely be a resounding no. Once again, the political leaders had their way and as a result, many, many more innocent people suffered and are suffering still. The proud little country that I fought for and would fight for still has been destroyed by political chicanery and corruption, while those politicians who smugly handed it over to its current crop of brutish oppressors live well-paid and comfortable lives in their own countries.
The current president of Zimbabwe promised that violent seizures of land would cease, but only a few days ago, the Hensman family of Chinhoyi were forcibly evicted from their farm and the land will languish and die away under the new owner, one Moses Mpofu who ‘has always wanted to be a farmer.’
The same thing has happened to countless other farms and like most expatriate Zimbabweans I have cried over the damage that independence has caused to my little country. I will cry again today and wonder again at the futility of it all. Why did we fight against the inevitable and what good has the sacrifice of so many achieved?
I really do not know but I will lay my wreath with a lot of pride.