Book Review: Never Quite a Soldier


David Lemon’s Never Quite a Soldier – A Rhodesian Policeman’s War 1971-1982 shows why Robert Mugabe is the tyrant he is today – he is merely being consistent.

Mugabe defeated Rhodesia – Lemon makes no bones of the fact that Ian Smith was military and politically defeated – because he was ruthless enough. He employed the same ruthlessness to destroy Joshua Nkomo`s incompetent ZIPRA and crush the Ndebele during the War of the Gukurahundi when the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade used counterinsurgency techniques that would have impressed Timur Lang (1336-1405, aka “Timur the Lame” or Tamerlane), the Turkoman Mongol conqueror who established an empire extending from India to the Mediterranean Sea. (In 1398 Tamerlane massacred the inhabitants of Delhi, India and in 1401 he slaughtered the population of Baghdad. It is said the city has not recovered to this day.)

In passing Lemon also shows the tenacity and intelligence of the foe they were up against. In an incident, at the Chimurenga`s end, when ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army cadres go on a rampage in Enkeldoorn; order is restored when a commander steps forward. “One man stood apart from the rest… he stepped through the unruly throng and walked across to me. ‘Do you want my help, Mr Lemon?”

The copper then realised he was facing “Sachiweshe”, his enemy for several years in the Wiltshire of whom he knew next to nothing, not even his real name. The reverse, however, was not true. “Sachiweshe” knew his name, his call sign in the BSAP Support Unit (Charlie Nine), his nickname among his troops (magirazi – one with spectacles), where he was based, where he lived and where his children went to school. “… in spite of all my research, he obviously knew a great deal more about me than I knew about him,” said an abashed Lemon.               

In contrast with Mugabe and “Sachiweshe”, the Rhodesian war effort was marked by a lack of seriousness. “Two days before the [1980] election, I was called to Enkeldoorn for a meeting with General [Peter] Walls [the Rhodesian joint commander]. Discussing the likely election result, Walls told Lemon and his colleagues the Wiltshire was “probably a borderline case” and “could still be won by Bishop Abel Muzorewa, whom Lemon considered incompetent and inept. “I listened to this drivel with mounting incredulity. This was the man leading the fighting forces of my country… This was the man I would have died for and he was lying through his teeth. I knew he was lying. We all knew he was lying and he must have known we knew. His lies were totally pointless in the circumstances and he lost my respect at that moment.”          

Lemon spins a highly readable yarn, using good humour to describe his career from 1971, when he returned home to Rhodesia from Britain to 1982 when he resigned from the Zimbabwe Republic Police in disgust. Much of the story involves Lemon overcoming his aversion to soldiering as the Chimurenga intensifies around him. At first he was so averse to things military that he refused to become involved with his station`s reservist Police Anti-Terrorist Unit (PATU). Gradually he finds he enjoys soldiering and musketry and joins in the war all the less reluctantly, eventually taking a transfer to the Support Unit (the “Black Boots”) a 12-company counterinsurgency unit within the BSAP. As commander of Charlie Company (the companies were named Alpha to Lima). In this capacity he served from 1978 to the war`s end and beyond.       

Never Quite a Soldier – A Rhodesian Policeman`s War 1971-1982

David Lemon



August 2006