Troopie

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  1. Of interest to old Rhodies...



    ‘TROOPIE’ REBORN
    PATRON’S APPEAL

    THE TROOPER’S EXODUS, TRAVELS and TRAVAILS
    ‘TROOPIE’ REBORN

    During the exodus and diaspora of many from what was once a magnificent Rhodesia and now has become the basket-case plaything of the brutal regime of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, one ‘Troopie’ of the Rhodesian Light Infantry made a ‘pimpernellian’-like escape that is worthy of telling and remembering. This is our Troopie’s story.

    ‘The Trooper’, or colloquially known to the men of the RLI as ‘Troopie’, or ‘the little troopie’, is a bronze statue to commemorate those of the RLI who lost their lives while fighting for what was Rhodesia. But it is more than that today; it is now a singular emotional and tangible representation of a once proud spirit and represents the sadly lost battle to maintain that splendid Rhodesian ethos; as do the many monuments to the fallen of other conflicts such as Gallipoli, Dunkirk, and Vietnam.

    Mythologically, The Trooper is cast from the brass doppies (spent cases) of ammunition expended by men of the RLI while on operations and training ranges, including some terrorist ammunition. Unfortunately, that cannot be so because bronze is an alloy of copper with one third tin, whereas brass is an alloy of copper and zinc—brass alone would be unlikely to withstand the weight of the upright, life-size statue resting on its ankles and a rifle butt. Also it seems unlikely that doppies would be collected after combat in the bush or anywhere. The RLI magazine Cheetah records, ‘A memorial statue is to be cast in bronze of a typical trooper of the crack airborne light infantry regiment, the RLI …’

    The Trooper was conceived by Lieutenant-Colonel Derry MacIntyre when he was commanding officer of 1RLI in 1970 and had a gestation period of nine years until his birth and unveiling under Lieutenant-Colonel Ian ‘Tufty’ Bate in February 1979. He depicts an RLI troopie at rest and his posture has raised some questions about his apparent attitude and poor rifle care with his sweaty hand resting over the muzzle of his 7.62 mm FN rifle. Nevertheless, as Tufty Bate wrote:

    ‘… not long after I took command of the battalion, I was scratching though my desk when I found a note by Lieutenant-Colonel Derry MacIntyre, a great CO of the battalion. He had doodled some thoughts on an RLI memorial. I got thinking about it and reckoned it was about time that we had a separate memorial to all the brave RLI men who had passed on to a higher service. I called in RSM Ken Reed and fielded the idea to him. His reaction was extremely positive and in no time we had a prototype picture of an RLI trooper resting on his rifle with his hands over the muzzle, strictly incorrect, but nevertheless true to his nature. … Army HQ also came to the party with the donation of empty cartridge cases from which the statue was cast; hence the mythology of doppies.’

    However, the rather sad demeanour of the statue is most appropriate to signify commemoration of the RLI men killed in action that Troopie represents. The statue was sculpted and cast by Fiorelli Fiorini of Salisbury from a photograph of Trooper Wayne Hannekom, at rest after combat, and funded by the Rhodesian Light Infantry Regimental Association (RLIRA) and generous donations from the Rhodesian public and from around the world.

    Troopie was unveiled and dedicated on a dramatic and memorable ceremonial parade in front of a large crowd, on the RLI ‘Holy Ground’ on the 18th birthday of the RLI on 1 February 1979.The statue was sited near the Battalion Chapel and faced north. The troopers of the guards representing each of the commandos swung smartly onto the specially prepared ‘Holy Ground’ to the thumping cadence of the band of the Rhodesian African Rifles. Major the Reverend Bill Blakeway dedicated the memorial and the names of the RLI dead were read from the Rolls of Honour by the company sergeants-major of the commandos.

    In his address, the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel ‘Tufty’ Bate said: “This statue, to be known as ‘The Trooper’ represents the courage and endurance of highly skilled men who fought our enemies with skill and professionalism … it will serve as a constant reminder to all who see it as their sacrifice … whilst there is so much as a single breath of life left in one RLI soldier, the statue will remain.”

    The statue was then unveiled by Corporal R. N. Phillips, winner of the Silver Cross of Rhodesia, one of the battalion’s most decorated men. Wreaths were laid, trumpeters of the RAR played the haunting strains of the Last Post and clarion call of Reveille and the commando guards marched off to the regimental march, When the saints go marching in.

    After the rigged, ZANU (PF)-dominated elections in early 1980 to decide the future of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe; won by Robert Mugabe’s ZAPU (PF); the Commanding Officer of the RLI at the time, Lieutenant-Colonel John ‘Charlie’ Aust, was summoned to Army HQ and told that the RLI must continue as part of the new Zimbabwean Defence Force. During the next seven months, a period of vigorous training was undertaken together with anti-poaching operations and parachute deployments. Then suddenly, in July 1980, Charlie Aust was called back and was told that the unit would, in fact, be disbanded. Among the many issues faced by the battalion was the safekeeping of many regimental items including the two sets of Colours and The Trooper statue.

    Charlie Aust, and his leadership team, realized that what the statue of the Trooper symbolized would have been an anathema to the Marxist Mugabe government and The Trooper would have been desecrated and scrapped by any supporters of the, now recently and totally disgraced, Mugabe. A large RLIRA meeting was then held in the RLI dining hall of all the officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers where an intense discussion and lengthy debate took place about what should be done with The Trooper, and other memorabilia, and to where they should be moved. The options were ‘to South Africa’ or ‘to the United Kingdom’. A vote was taken, raised hands were counted, resulting in a narrow vote in favour of a move to the South African War Museum in Johannesburg. Negotiations were then made with the South African military attaché in Zimbabwe, Colonel (later Major-General) Minaar Fourie for acceptance by the South African War Museum where secret and intricate plans were made with the South African Defence Force and within the RLI, and then put into action.

    Following the decision to disband the Battalion in July 1980, it was imperative that The Trooper be removed, thus a hastily put-together parade was held at 1100 hours on 25 July 1980 to bid farewell before it was dismantled and moved to a new resting place. In a simple but moving ceremony CSMs solemnly read the Rolls of Honour. Padre Bill Blakeway addressed the unit and read a final prayer. Then, to the mournful skirl of the pipes, the traditional wreaths were laid by the commanding officer, commando commanders and the president of the association, Colonel John Salt. The battalion then marched past The Trooper for the last time.

    The Commanding Officer Charlie Aust and the Regimental Sergeant-Major, Ken Reed, together with a small working party, then secretly and carefully dismantled the statue from its plinth in the RLI barracks in Cranborne with a crane and spirited The Trooper to a secret airfield near Hartley.

    A South African Air Force aircraft landed clandestinely and Trooper and two cases of RLI memorabilia, including some trophies and silver were loaded onto the plane, the doors closed and then Charlie Aust and his working party saluted as the plane and its cargo left the land of Rhodesia for the last time.

    Well done, those magnificent men! … We all, once of the RLI, salute you!

    On arrival at Waterkloof air force base near Pretoria, a working party of ex-RLI members were on hand to unload the cargo and transport it to the SA National Museum of Military History at Saxonwold, Johannesburg. At that time, the securing of these items was a most sensitive political issue and the Troopie was stored in an outbuilding and covered with blankets in order to keep anyone from seeing it.

    The Rhodesia Association of South Africa (RASA) got permission from the RLI Regimental Association (RLIRA), where ‘Tufty’ Bate was chairman at the time, to display the Troopie at the Rand Easter Show in 1985. Alan Lindner, who was on the RASA National Managing Committee, co-ordinated with Major-General Pretorius, Director of the Museum, to remove the Troopie to the showgrounds. The statue was displayed at the RASA stand, and it became a draw card for Rhodesians, many of whom wanted their photo taken standing next to it.

    After the show, it was returned to the museum, which then placed the statue at the end of ‘Artillery Way’ because it was now no longer considered a sensitive item. It was later moved again to a more conspicuous position in the grounds of the museum. One day Major-General Pretorius found two men cleaning the statue and asked what they were doing. “We’re cleaning our statue,” they answered. The general responded that the statue belonged to the museum, rebuked them and asked them to leave the premises.

    This unfortunate incident was to influence poorly the good relationship between the RLIRA and the museum and it was so decided to move the Troopie and the Honour Boards to the UK and to ask the Rhodesian Army Association, RAA (UK), to undertake the custodianship on behalf of the RLIRA. Brigadier David Heppenstall, the chairman of the RAA (UK), agreed to this and the cargo was once more clandestinely flown out of South Africa to the UK. Arrangements were made by the RAA (UK) to store all the items in a hangar belonging to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm where it remained until negotiations were finalized to house the Troopie in the recently opened British Empire and Commonwealth Museum (BECM) in Bristol. Here it remained for two years—still under wraps—while a suitable site for it to be displayed was to be found and built by the BECM. Apart from its appearance as part of a RAA display for six months, which was opened on 9 December 2000, nothing was done by the BECM to display the statue with the dignity and respect that it deserved. In fact it was damaged badly (broken off completely at the ankles and rifle butt).


    Not surprisingly many other valuable and sensitive items were also spirited away out of Zimbabwe—RLI memorabilia and boxes of documents that could not be allowed to fall into the hands of a vindictive Marxist government, as were the Colours and some memorabilia of the Rhodesian African Rifles. The Colours of the RLI were ceremoniously laid up on the RLI’s final parade on 17 October 1980—they were put into their special flat wooden cases and taken by Chaplain Bill Blakeway to the Anglican Cathedral in Salisbury and put into storage. How they eventually were spirited though South Africa to the United Kingdom is unknown. These actions would make separate and interesting stories. Smaller items too were slipped out. Even I, serving in the Australian Army, was delighted and surprised to receive a sterling silver goblet that I had presented to the Officers’ Mess, 1RAR, in Malaya in 1956, suddenly presented back to me at my home in Duntroon, Australia in 1981 with a note from an old Rhodie friend stating that such things must not be allowed to disappear into Mugabe’s avaricious hands.

    Back at Cranborne Barracks, though the statue had now been spirited away, RLI troopies passing the empty plinth on which he had stood saluted the plinth in memory of their fallen comrades.

    With the rebirth of the defunct RLIRA in early 2006, its Executive Committee, after seeing the lack of appropriate action by the BECM, decided to look for a more appropriate site for Troopie then lying damaged, broken off at both feet and rifle butt, undignified and unseen, in a dusty storeroom. In late May 2007, an initial meeting, at the suggestion of Ian Buttenshaw, was held between Jerry Strong (the then chairman of the RLIRA) and Lord Salisbury to examine the possibility of re-erecting the Troopie in the superb grounds of Lord Salisbury’s residence at Hatfield House. Lord Salisbury’s forebears have had a long and positive relationship with Rhodesia (Lord Salisbury lost his brother, Richard Cecil, killed in action while reporting on the combat actions of the Rhodesian African Rifles on operations) and had offered his help through the Rhodesian Army Association (UK).


    This was followed by liaison with Lord Salisbury by Christopher Pearce and Shaun Ryan, and to avoid vandalism by disaffected Zimbabwean supporters, Lord Salisbury suggested two excellent, but more remote locations on his estate. He also requested that the statue not display vexatious words or inscriptions, because he still hopes that a détente with Zimbabwe will be established in the future, and would be happy if only the words ‘RHODESIA’ be simply inscribed on any plinth. In this way the statue would commemorate not only the RLI but also the nation for which they fought so bravely.

    In November 2007 Brigadier ‘Digger’ Essex-Clark, the RLIRA Patron, and then caretaker chairman of the RLIRA Executive Committee, with the UK President of the Branch and Chief Executive Officer of the Association, Martyn Hudson,; Shaun Ryan; Chris Pearce; and John Wynne-Hopkins (The Rhodesian Army Association [RAA] Museum Trust’s liaison officer to the BECM); followed up Jerry Strong’s preliminary arrangement with a visit to Lord and Lady Salisbury on their estate. Together with Lord and Lady Salisbury they explored the options and selected the site for the Troopies display on the River Lee. In addition they also gained lord Salisbury’s ‘in principle’ permission to lay up formally the RLI Colours, now still hidden in the BECM, within Lord Salisbury’s family chapel.

    Troopie, after vigorous and continuous pressure by the RAA Museum Trust led by Pat Lawless, with David Heppenstall and John Wynne-Hopkins, has now been repaired by the BECM, and will soon be transported to its final quiet and dignified resting place on a new plinth at the edge of a forest close to and overlooking the River Lee in the Hatfield House Estate of Lord Salisbury. ‘Troopie’ will be sited in a superb picnic spot that will enable ex-members and their families, and all Rhodesians, to reflect and commemorate service in the Rhodesian Light Infantry, or in Rhodesia; and remember those lost in action while fighting for the ethos and glory of that now gone, but once grand nation.

    The UK Branch of the Rhodesian Light Infantry Regimental Association under the guidance of the President of the RLIRA, Ian Buttenshaw, are now planning the task of re-erecting and re-dedicating and celebrating Troopie’s re-birth, and laying up the RLI Colours in the chapel of Hatfield House estate, where they can be viewed by any wishing to commemorate service in the Rhodesian Army or their Rhodesian heritage.

    Therefore the worldwide, intricate and sensitive task of garnering those funds needed for finalizing the repair, delicate move to, and celebrating the re-erection of Troopie in his final resting place is in the busy and capable hands of Martyn Hudson, and his UK Branch team, with the invaluable and experienced assistance of John Wynne-Hopkins This task is in addition to the colossal and complicated task of planning, co-ordinating and implementing the first international reunion of the RLIRA and celebration of Troopie’s rebirth, 28 years after he last stood proudly, but in pensive commemoration, on his plinth in Cranborne Barracks. Troopie will be soon transported to Bedford where he will be attached to his new Lance Hollanby-designed plinth.

    The aim of this article is to alert all Rhodesians to the importance and emotional significance of The Trooper to both the RLI and Rhodesia.

    The solemn and prescient words of Tufty Bate: “… whilst there is so much as a single breath of life left in one RLI soldier, the statue will remain …” have been acknowledged by the Rhodesian Light Infantry Regimental Association who have fully accepted its responsibility, duty and honour, to the RLI and to Rhodesia, to ensure that the Troopie and RLI Colours are displayed permanently with proper reverence and dignity. The Association is seeking donations to enable this. It also accepted that these donations would be used for the refurbishment, relocation, commemoration and celebration of the re-erection of the Trooper statue, and also the formal re-laying up of the hermetically sealed and framed Colours of the RLI within the Hatfield House estate chapel. The Association has also vowed that any surplus funds will be used to maintain the dignity and presentation of the Troopie and the Colours, to replace the honour panels on which those killed are inscribed, and to refurbish and maintain RLI memorabilia that will be on display at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum after it has moved to its new location in London.

    The Trooper may well be the only existing significant monument representing Rhodesia’s herculean military efforts in the Rhodesian Bush War. The dead whom the memorial commemorates represent that nation’s fight for its existence and dignity against predatory and rampant communism and a megalomaniacal dictatorship. That is its real significance and importance to the diaspora of all Rhodesians, and the free world in general.

    †

    Please help us to ensure all remember

    those who served for Rhodesia

    As previously mentioned, the UK Branch of the RLIRA is currently seeking donations for this worthy project: You can help by

    Sending donations in the form of cheques, postal orders or international money orders which will all be gratefully accepted and acknowledged. Please make out cheques and money orders to ‘Rhodesian Light Infantry Regimental Association’ (the bank will accept the abbreviation ‘RLIRA’) and send them to:

    NatWest Bank plc

    Account number: 62234145

    Sort code: 60-02-13

    Address: 81 High Street, Bedford, MK40 1YN, UK

    Every proudly donated penny will help, so please raid your piggy banks or money-boxes and kindly post any cheques, notes, or coins to:

    Martyn Hudson

    Cornerview

    1 School Lane

    Bolnhurst

    Bedford

    MK44 2EN

    UK

    or if you live in the UK, you can put them straight into the bank account. Please would you also email Martyn Hudson at martyn.hudson2@btinternet.com with information about your pledge or donation and he will acknowledge its arrival.

    Brigadier John ‘Digger’ Essex-Clark

    Patron

    The Executive Council of The Rhodesian light Infantry Regimental Association

    We thank you for taking the trouble and time to read this plea

    for further details check out our website at

    www.therli.com