Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mortar Firegroup Rescues 32 Battalion element

 Some stories didn't make the book.  I had enough material to contextualise my bicycle ride.  Here's a story that was left out.

The battle group has laagered in some hilly terrain.  Again it amazes me how a big formation of armoured vehicles seems to melt away into the bush.  Once the camouflage nets are pulled over the Ratels it becomes difficult to see them and often I have walked close to a platoon’s position without noticing their vehicles until I was quite close.  Our Ratel 81s  are lined up twenty metres apart and facing in the same direction in case we have to come into defensive action but this seems unlikely.  The corporal tells us to relax.  I stand for a while looking out at the hills.  Rounded and lush with thick,  green -forested slopes they offer us some protection from the enemy.  Perhaps it is the novelty of seeing hills after so much time spent in the relatively flat and densely wooded bush that gives me this good feeling.  Maybe it is because it may be more difficult for the MiGs to find us here.  The rainy season has started and there are clouds hanging low over this high ground and for some reason it reminds me of a scene from a Vietnam War movie.  I saw Platoon last year.  I went with my friend Steve while we were home on rare long pass.  We were about to be sent to the Border.   My Dad came with us and wanted to know our thoughts, now that we were soldiers.  But I couldn’t relate to these celluloid soldiers and I had no experience of war.

I don’t muse on this for long.  This war that I’m in is so far removed from war in the movies that I don’t even try to find a connection.  Instead I walk over to my number three’s seat and dig out today’s open rat-pack from the storage bin in the door.  I want to have a snack:  a dog biscuit and cheesy.  Before I can bite a hole in the cheesy there’s a shout from the corporal’s vehicle:  “Kom by jou wapens!”  But the other men have wandered off to catch up with friends in the other platoons.  “Morris, Andersen!  Fetch the other manne, we’re coming into action!”  He gives no explanation and the urgency of his order is enough to get me running in the direction some of the missing crews walked in.  There’re not far away and soon we are all running over the uneven ground and back to our vehicles.

The four crews quickly align mortar barrels and bearing and elevation is put on the sites and there’s no need for me to remove charges because we are firing just within our four and a half kilometre range.  I don’t have time to dwell on the nature of the danger, though the thought flashes through my mind that maybe our laager is being advanced upon.  Our bombs are quickly in the air and they must be on target because there are no corrections and we’re told to keep launching those bombs as fast as we can.  Then it’s over.  As suddenly as we came into action we’ve been stood down.

There was no warning.  The target was so far away that I heard no shots or engine sounds.  For a while the action is a mystery.  Later, at a briefing, we find out that an element of 32 Battalion had been surprised by some FAPLA tanks.  They wanted support from heavy artillery but the G5s were engaged in bombarding a more important target.  An 81mm mortar is useless against a tank but we were the only support available so we were brought into action.  The FAPLA force was on top of the 32 element so our bombs were landing amongst our own troops but the situation was so desperate that their commander insisted that we continue the bombardment.  The FAPLA soldiers were so surprised by the sudden deluge of our high explosives that they stopped advancing long enough for the 32 Battalion soldiers to make good their escape.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Artu and Lourenso: Did you survive the war?

The two boys couldn’t have been much older than 17.  Perhaps they were younger.  Their uniforms were shiny-black in places where sweat had mixed with dirt.  Our uniforms were dirty too, with fear -soaked dust.
They patrolled around our defensive laager.
Some of the guys examined the AK47s the two UNITA men carried and found them to be rusting.  The rains had started and there was no oil for their rifles.  Our guys took out their cleaning kits and scrubbed off the rust and polished the barrels and oiled those AKs. 
We laughed with them and shared food from our rat-packs.  I took a photograph of our scruffy, dirty little band.  Just boys deep in the bush and out of our depth.  Frightened.
Artu and Lorenzo, did you survive the war?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Back to Angola reviewed in The Witness by Anthony Stidolph

An excerpt from the review:


"There are fine passages describing his travels. The crazy driving along rough, potholed roads, the still-threatening minefields, the rusting monuments to the war, the occasional feelings of isolation and loneliness in a country where few speak English —all these should be wonderfully recognisable to readers, whether they have made a similar journey or not.  

Morris seems to have encountered nothing but friendliness and kindness, even from the war veterans he once fought against, on his 1 500-kilometre journey. Indeed, the only really sour note he hit is when he crossed back over the border and found himself being lectured by a recalcitrant old white in a bar.
Full of action and adrenalin, anger and compassion, philosophy and humour, Back to Angola is an honest and affecting account of one man’s search for resolution and meaning."

To read the full review click here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review of Back to Angola

Here is a snippet from the review of Back to Angola by Jenny de Klerk.  It appeared in the Johannesburg newspaper the Saturday Star (3 May 2014).  It is available online on the Artslink website.

Click here for the full review:  http://www.artlink.co.za/news_article.htm?contentID=35372

"As he cycles, Paul muses, recollecting those days in the bush, telling vivid stories of his time in basics, his training, his mates, life on the front line, the terror of the battle on the Lomba River. These are interspersed with his roadtrip experiences, the places, the people, the isolation of being alone with only a few words of Portuguese, battling to share and be understood.

This is a personal account, honest, intelligent, thoughtful and extremely well written. Paul, a psychotherapist by training, brings insight and context to his journey, reflecting on childhood, the moulding of society, expectations of manhood, trauma and the consequences of war."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Voices of Africa website features an extract from Back to Angola

The Mail and Guardian's Voices of Africa website features an extract from Back to Angola today.  Click on the link to read a little about the hospitality I received deep in the Angolan bush. Here's a taster:

"As I move further into the floodplain, I come to the first of several river crossings. A series of channels cut the road. If I were on an unloaded bike I would simply ride across, but I don’t want to risk a soaking, especially because of my camera equipment. A more critical consideration is that a fall could result in injury. I get off the bike and take off my shoes and socks. The water is cold and clear and I can see what I’m placing my bare feet on as I wheel the bike across. On the other side I lay the bike down and put my shoes and socks back on. I repeat the process again at the next crossing.
The road to Cuchi. (Pic: Paul Morris)
The road to Cuchi. (Pic: Paul Morris)
There’s a man walking next to the road as I put on my shoes after a third crossing. As we talk I realise how weak I am. I struggle to form words and can’t seem to think straight. I’m in worse shape than I thought I was. I sit for a while on the side of the road, feeling frustrated at my slow progress. Hauling myself to my feet, I walk over to a little ford and kneel next to the river to splash my face. I feel like lying in that cold water and letting it wash away whatever poison is debilitating me.
The sun is lowering in the west. I’ve long resigned myself to the fact that I won’t make Cuchi. I’ve been pushing myself, but I can’t go on like this for much longer. It looks like I’m going to be spending the night in the bush. I start riding again and as I crawl along the broken gravel I scan the bush for a potential campsite. I haven’t seen many landmine signs on this road, but the lack of red-and-white warning signs doesn’t mean that there aren’t mines."