Background to the book
I started writing this book over ten years ago and could probably write a book about writing this book. Suffice to say, if I had known what problems lay ahead I’m not sure I would have done it but it’s been a rocky and the journey is not over however I’m happy to say a measure of success may have been achieved. The original book was too long for the publishers so much of the original material has been excised to be used upon another day maybe.
Along the research road I bumped, almost unwittingly, into some rude awakenings as facts emerged that suggested all was not as it seemed in the Rhodesian security forces. I have touched carefully on some of these issues and left answers hanging because I don’t have them but sometimes history reveals itself quickly and this inquiry is a work in progress which I will attend to in another book at another time.
For a long time I wanted to try and tell the story of Rhodesia through the eyes of soldiers. I knew a political history on its own would not get much attention so I decided to try and blend the two. The book is therefore primarily the story of exemplary fighters but I have tried to keep the reader aware of what was happening in the various corridors of power in the capitals of the countries that played a role in this drama. In this sense I have used the protagonists as a platform to tell a bigger story that I hope will both give the reader some enjoyment along with a better understanding of what actually happened off the battlefield.
The book focuses on Darrell Watt who must surely rate as one of the great SAS operators since the inception of this regiment in 1941. For 12 years he found himself in the thick of the action and always able to get the better of the foe. It was not easy working with him. A man of extreme humility he was very reluctant to talk about himself initially and because he had done so much and seen so much his memory was often hazy which meant I had to do considerable research from other sources to clarify his recollections. In some cases events he could barely recall turned out to have been life-changing experiences for some of the men he led and invariably the seed of a story blossomed forth into an extraordinary event.
In the course of researching this book I did not find one man who had been to war with Darrell who did not hold him in awe. On the field of fire he was obviously a hard act to follow but some of the other operators reported on in this narrative were also exceptional and deserving of a place in history alongside great soldiers. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have the opportunity to work with them on this.
In writing this I tried to build a platform for the men and then let the men themselves talk the reader through what followed. This, I hope will give the book the authenticity and sense of reality that it deserves. At times collective memories were sketchy so some mistakes may have been made and I apologise but the war ended 35 years ago. We did the best we could and all the main protagonists have read this and agreed what is written here with regard to them is as they remember it.
While some insist the politics of the time should not be included in a book of this nature I felt differently. This was a very political war and it was political decisions that nearly always trumped the soldiers’ efforts. To this end I tried to explain to the reader how hard a soldier’s lot can be when he risks all only to be snookered by men in suits in sometimes faraway places. As the reader will learn the political arena was also a dangerous and treacherous place and looking back I don’t believe many of those political players could possibly be proud of what they made happen.
Rhodesia was an extraordinary country and it produced extraordinary people that gave it unusual strength and the capacity to punch above its weight in a variety of ways. As a keen reader of military history I feel confident in saying the men of the Rhodesian SAS took the ethos of the country to the highest level and performed their daunting tasks with courage, fortitude and daring that places them up with the best of the best in that rarefied space occupied by elite soldiers. I can only hope I have done justice to some great men who fought so hard for a great little country that is no more.