Chapter 14 : Making History
In 1959, my dad was promoted to Commander of the enormous Federal Army.
The Federation comprised Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which are now the three countries of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia were British protectorates, but Southern Rhodesia was a self-governing colony. Because of the British Government’s interference, they’d all been formed into this loose thing called the Federation in 1952. They had a Federal Parliament and Federal MPs. They didn’t have a Foreign Office, because their foreign policy was actually dictated to them by the British, but everything else was looked after by the Federal Government. They had their own monetary policy and their own defence policy. And my dad commanded this huge army from all of the three different countries.
The Federation had been under the prime ministership of a famous man called Sir Roy Wellensky. He was a real man of the people was Roy Wellensky. He’d started off as a coal miner at Wankie, he’d worked on the railways, and he went on to be the Rhodesian Heavyweight boxing champion.
When the Federation broke up in 1962, elections were held throughout the different countries. Zambia had, by this time, become independent under Kenneth Kaunda. Hastings Banda had Nyassaland. And Rhodesia held an election. By some extraordinary twist of fate, the right wing got in. It was mainly because of the Belgians who had jumped out of the Congo, where there had been a war between Katanga and the Congolese. Tales of pillage, rape and murder were told by all the Belgian refugees who came flooding into Rhodesia, great tales of the terrible things that would happen when the black man took over Africa.
Almost literally overnight, the white Rhodesians suddenly went from being politically quite moderate to becoming extraordinarily right wing – because they all feared that there was going to be a terrible African backlash. ‘You mustn’t allow the black government to take over,’ came the whisperings from the Belgian refugees, ‘because then you’ll all be raped and you’ll lose everything, and that will be the end of you.’
A party was formed called the Rhodesian Front Party, and it won the election. A man called Sir Winston Field took over as Prime Minister and he asked my dad if he would stay on and command the Rhodesian Army. My dad said yes he would, provided that nothing unconstitutional was ever done. Jock then set about restructuring the whole of the Rhodesian Army. He’d already formed groups like the Special Air Service (C Squadron), the Selous Scouts, and a wonderful regiment called the Grey Scouts who were a completely mounted regiment. And he’d had brilliant ideas of how he would fight a terrorist war, if ever there should be one.
In 1963, Sir Winston Field was ousted by the right wing of the Rhodesian Front Party for being too moderate. And a man called Ian Douglas Smith arrived.
Now Ian Douglas Smith and my father never got on. In fact, Jock thought Smith was an ‘arsehole’. Smith’s Minister for Information – a man called P. K. van der Byl (who, despite his name, was frightfully, frightfully British) – had invented this great history of Ian Smith. He told how Ian Smith had tackled the Hun alone, and he alone had basically won the war in the skies for England – because he’d fought for the RAF. (He’d been a RRAF pilot, Royal Rhodesian Air Force pilot.) The real story, however, is that as a student Ian Smith (like Douglas Bader – who, when I met him, I found to be another prime ‘arsehole’) had crash-landed his plane on take-off. So he hadn’t actually been engaged with Spitfires at all. As a result of his crash landing, Ian Smith now had a badly scarred face and, the moment he was elected, all these pictures and copper plaques suddenly emerged in Woolworth’s and the OK Bazaars, on which Ian Smith was shown in his flying jacket with this slightly skew-whiff eye that had allegedly been damaged during the war, with Messerschmits and Spitfires locked in mortal combat. And he became this huge hero. But it was all absolute, utter bullshit. Thus, he and my father never got on, and Jock said that if this man ever did anything unconstitutional, he would arrest him.
If Jock had played his cards a little more closely to his chest, he might actually have prevailed. But he was too outspoken, and word got back that the General and Officer commanding the defence forces of Rhodesia (i.e. my dad, because he commanded both the air force and the army) was against Ian Smith.
One day – it was the 23rd October 1964, my 17th birthday – Ian Smith called Jock into his office and said, ‘General Anderson, certain charges have been laid against you: allegedly you said this on this day, you said that on that day, you said this on that day and you said that on this day. Is that so?
And my father said, ‘Yes, I did.’
‘Well,’ said Smith, ‘what would happen if I declared UDI?’
UDI would have been highly illegal and utterly unconstitutional. And my father said, ‘I’d arrest you if you declared UDI. I’d not only arrest you, but I’d arrest you and the whole bloody cabinet, and I’d throw you into gaol.’
Smith looked Jock in the eye and unblinkingly said, ‘I’ll have you out by lunchtime.’
And Jock replied equally unflinchingly, ‘Well, you know that you’re not going to be able to get me out. I’m the Queen’s man. And until the Governor General dismisses me, I shall remain in command of this army.’
‘We’ll see about that!’ said Smith, and he asked my father to leave.
Jock got into his staff car and drove back to his office.
In the time it took Jock to drive from Smith’s office to his own, Ian Smith had decided that he would get rid of my father on some trumped-up legality dreamed up by his Chief Justice, a man called Sir Hugh Beadle. (Beadle was renowned for shooting guinea fowl while they were still on the ground, so you can tell what sort of an ‘arsehole’ he was.) When Jock got back to his office, there was a letter waiting for him addressed to Major-General J. Anderson, CBE. It said:
‘Dear General Anderson,
‘I am directed to inform you that the Minister of Defence requires, in terms of the second proviso to subsection (3) of section 9 of the Defence (Regular Forces) (Officers) Regulations, 1960, that you retire from your employment in the Regular Force with effect from today, the 23rd October, 1964.’
The letter then went on to describe his pensionable status and was signed ironically, ‘Yours faithfully’ by the Secretary for External Affairs and Defence. Basically, they had dreamt up a charge whereby the head of the armed forces, if found to be ‘unfit for command’, (which really meant that he was a drunk or a drug addict or something like that) could be relieved of his office. Now, Jock liked a drink, but he was hardly what you’d call an alcoholic, and he was certainly never considered ‘unfit for command’.
Having read the letter, he left his office, got into his car and drove to Government House. There he went to see the Governor General, a man called Sir Humphrey Gibbs. Dad sought him out and said to him, ‘Look, this is what has happened,’ and he showed Gibbs the letter. ‘Now,’ he continued, ‘I have a regiment of troops waiting in Bulawayo. Give me the order and they will rise when I say, “Rise”. They will rise up and follow me.’
‘And what do you intend to do?’ asked Sir Humphrey. And apparently this is what Jock said:
‘Harold Hawkins [who was the Air Vice Marshall of the Rhodesian Air Force] is going to fly me in a helicopter 300 miles down to Bulawayo, Matabeleland. I’m going to raise the regiment. I’m going to put a company of them in a Dakota. We’re going to fly them over the RLI barracks. They’re going to parachute into the RLI barracks. They’re going to seize the armoury. Once they’ve seized the armoury, they’ll have secured the whole of Mashonaland and Salisbury – because apart from the Royal Rhodesian Regiment, who as you know are all territorials, there are no other standing regiments of regular soldiers within Salisbury.’
Jock believed such a coup would have lasted about a week. ‘We can gaol every single member of the cabinet and we can declare martial law. And the government will be taken over by you, Governor General.’
And the Governor General looked him in the eye and said, ‘You know there would be mass bloodshed.’
And Jock said, ‘If we do this, there’ll be a bit of a battle of course and a few shootings, but that will be the end of it. But, if you don’t do it – if you don’t allow this – there’ll be a war of unforeseen proportions and thousands will be killed.’
It didn’t take Sir Humphrey Gibbs long to decide that no, they weren’t going to do it. And at that point, my father realised there was nothing else for it, but to go back and execute Ian Smith. At least this would be one thing that he could do single-handedly.
He left Sir Humphrey Gibbs, and he drove from the Governor General’s office back to our house. He went into his dressing room and he drew his pistol out of a drawer in the top of his wardrobe. He went back out to the car and drove to Ian Smith’s office. On arriving at the Prime Minister’s office, he walked straight into the building, thinking, ‘Well, I’m going to shoot you, and that’s the end of it.’
As it happened, Smith had gone out to lunch. So my father sat down in the reception and he waited. And he waited. And he waited.
‘The Prime Minister’s not back yet,’ Smith’s secretary kept saying. ‘He won’t be back for a while… He’s meant to be back later…’
From time to time, she made some phone calls, and various phone calls came in to the office. It was obviously Ian Smith and his cronies asking, ‘Is Anderson still there?’ ‘Yes, he is still here, and he’s got a pistol with him.’
Jock made no attempt to hide his pistol. He was determined that he was going to shoot Smith and that would finish it all. ‘Carpe diem, boy.’
But Smith didn’t come back and the clock ticked to half past two. And the longer Jock waited, the more he realised his mission was becoming increasingly futile and he was looking increasingly stupid. After an hour and a half, he left the Prime Minister’s office, got into his car and drove back home.
It was a Friday, and I’d been at cadets, where we’d been rehearsing for a ceremonial parade. I was the senior lieutenant and I was feeling so full of myself, especially as it was my 17th birthday. (I’d returned to school that September after passing enough of my O level resits to graduate to my Matric year, so things were going okay.) It was about half-past four when I rode down the drive on my Lambretta. I parked my scooter up and I sauntered into the courtyard of our house. I was still in my cadet uniform and, seeing my father standing in the courtyard, I walked up to him and I saluted him:
He turned his face towards me and I saw tears streaming down his cheeks. My father never cried.
‘Don’t ever call me General again.’ That’s all he said.
And I thought, ‘Christ Almighty, what’s the matter?’
I raced into the front door and my mum was sitting with her head in her arms on the dining room table.
‘What’s the matter?’ I asked. And she said, ‘Sit down, I’m going to tell you something.’
I sat down and I looked at her.
‘Your father’s been fired from the Rhodesian Army.’ That was all she said.
For hours and hours, my father remained silent. He simply couldn’t speak to any of us.
And then all hell broke loose. It was all over the news. We had BBC reporters coming to our house. Outside the front door, there were hordes of photographers waiting. And Jock tried desperately to play the whole thing down.
On the Sunday, he said to me, ‘Do you want to come and watch the Currie Cup cricket match with me? Rhodesia are playing Natal.’ He knew I loved cricket and of course I said, ‘Yes’. We drove to the cricket match and went to the Stragglers’ tent (Dad was a member of a group called The Stragglers). Inside the Stragglers’ tent was a guy called Clifford du Pont (who later became the officer administrating the government and took over the role of the Governor General) and a guy called Des Lardner-Burke (who was the Minister of Defence). They both came up to my dad and clapped him on the shoulder.
‘Ah, Jock! Really sorry about what’s happened.’
‘Oh, that’s all right,’ he shrugged. ‘Let’s go and have a drink.’ And they went off for a drink.
I was appalled.
When he came back, I said, ‘How could you do that? How could you go and have a drink with these people?’ And he just said, ‘Oh Miles, live and let live.’
John was at Sandhurst at the time, he’d been there a month. On the day it happened, he was summoned to Rhodesia House to be told before the press found out. He then read all about Dad’s fate in the English newspapers, and that evening he was found outside the Zimbabwe Club in Earl’s Court, sitting in the gutter and crying. In distanced anguish, he sent Jock a telegram saying, ‘DAD I ADMIRE YOUR COURAGE THANKS JOHN.’ Three days later, he wrote Dad a letter saying:
‘Well, I guess it’s happened at last – I hope you got my telegram – Desi [Passaportis] changed one word; “guts” to “courage”...
‘Every Newspaper in London brought out extra editions, with such headlines as “‘Queen’s Man’ Speaks”, “Rhodesian General: ‘I’d have disobeyed’”, “‘I have different ideas about the oath of allegiance”’, etc, plus a very good photo – at last you’ve had the chance to speak.
‘The feeling in most papers here is that you did the right thing, and you are constantly referred to as “the Queen’s Man”.
‘I’m a bit mixed up at the moment – my first thoughts when I heard the news were “I’m getting out of this army”, but I’ve cooled down since.
‘I joined the army to become a soldier, as you did, and I feel I want to remain one.
‘It’s funny – I’ve always been very proud of my father, and admired him, but now I feel I know you better than I ever have before, and I am, as I always have been, proud to be your son.
‘I hope that if ever I am faced with a decision as great as yours, that I have the courage and guts, both moral and physical to see it through.
‘Was it worth it? I say it was.
‘What happens now? I’ve still to see Gen. Mogg, and my Company Commander is being very helpful, as I had spoken to him about this possibility before.
‘I’ll finish this letter once I’ve seen everyone I have to see.’
The truth was that the whole series of events undermined our lives in Africa for ever. It was as if our existence as a family was put on hold after that day. It changed my father’s life beyond recognition, and when the full impact of what had happened dawned on him, he aged ten years. He became an absolute pariah because no one would speak to him. We were all considered traitors because of what my dad had done, and teachers at Prince Edward made mine and Colin’s lives unbearable.
One of the most shocking things was that my dad suddenly lost any means of livelihood whatsoever. He couldn’t get another job, because no one would employ him, he was completely unemployable. He tried to commute a third of his pension, but it was immediately seized by the Rhodesian government, so we didn’t have any money. We lost our house; we lost our car, and it was then that our true friends started to show their true colours: good old Alec MacKay found us a house in Harvey Brown Avenue. And Jock started applying for absolutely any means of income. He was extraordinary, really. He just cut it all off, as if to say: ‘Right, okay. That’s finished, over. Cancelled. Continue. Move on.’ At one stage, he even applied for a job as a butcher’s assistant at Skeays Butchery in Borrowdale. But even they wouldn’t employ him. He foot-soldiered from place to place, asking, ‘Can I have a job doing something – anything?’
Finally, Lonrho – owned by Tiny Rowland – offered him employment. Lonrho (the London-Rhodesian Mining Company) was involved in mining and investments throughout Africa, owning sugar estates, textile mills, and a match factory, as well the main fuel pipe line between Mozambique and Rhodesia. It was Humphrey Whittick, who found Jock a position and he started as a tea-boy, literally making tea for the directors. There he was at 51 years old – the former General of the Rhodesian Army – making tea for the directors of Lonrho and now being a General Dogsbody.
Jock hadn’t met Tiny Rowland at that time, but within six months, Rowland realised who Jock was and what had happened, and he offered him a proper job.
‘I want you to start up Lonrho in Zambia,’ said Tiny.
To which Dad replied, ‘I know nothing about business.’
‘Well, you’re going to have to learn then, aren’t you?’ Tiny smiled.
So Tiny Rowland catapulted Jock right to the top, God bless him! Because if he hadn’t done that, we would have all starved to death.
It probably wouldn’t have made any difference if my father had shot Ian Smith. He would have been arrested for murder and that would have been the end of it. Some other ‘arsehole’ would have taken over from the Rhodesian Front. Des Lardner-Burke, the Minister of Justice with whom my father had played rugby as a kid, would have taken over and probably hanged my dad. So it would all have been frightfully messy.
But I can’t help wishing that Sir Humphrey Gibbs had had enough spine and enough backbone to let my father stage the coup. But Gibbs took advice from his Chief Justice, Hugh Beadle, and since it was Beadle coming up with the trumped-up charges in the first place and undermining my father at every turn, he was hardly going to authorise a coup.
Maybe the situation in Zimbabwe would have been completely different. Maybe it would never have reached the dimensions of monstrosity that it eventually did. 40,000 people were killed in a war which lasted ten years. A really ghastly, awful war, where limbs were hacked off, noses were hacked off, ears were hacked off. Murder, torture, mayhem. The whole birth of the notorious Zimbabwe Central Intelligence Organisation was a direct descendant of the Rhodesian Special Branch under a man called Ken Flower, who was also part of the whole Smith regime.
Maybe it would have been so, so different. Maybe it would have been a gradual transition into a stable African government, where you wouldn’t have had people like Robert Mugabe taking control of the country. Where there would have been moderate human beings – moderate Africans – with moderate ideas about what should happen. Maybe there would have been true partnership between black and white. Maybe…maybe…maybe…
But it never happened. It was never to be. And you could say it was all down to Humphrey Gibbs. If he’d only said yes. But we’ll never know. I guess history makes itself.
The Secretary of Defence, Barney Benoy, the man who’d actually written the dismissal letter to my father, was the only guy who resigned when Jock was kicked out. Which just goes to prove that his ‘Yours faithfully’ wasn’t ironic after all. In fact, Barney Benoy was a really good, moral guy. No one else resigned though. Some of the officers asked my father what they should do, and he just said, ‘Stay on in the army because otherwise this whole place will go to rack and ruin…’
They did stay on, but it went to rack and ruin anyway. A year later in 1965, Ian Smith declared independence just as he’d threatened. All Rhodesian troops, Rhodesian cadets and students were recalled from England. John was recalled from Sandhurst because he was a member of the Rhodesian Army, and so he resigned his commission in England. Jock flew over to London and, because he had friends in the British Army, he was able to secure John a place in the Gurkhas. But all the other poor students were sent back to Rhodesia.
Six months after UDI, we were to leave our homeland forever....
Yes, history surely makes itself. But all that was yet to come…