At first glance Shadows of a Forgotten Past, with its action-filled cover image, glossy paper and large collection of colour and black-and-white photographs, begs the question as to why the author didn’t opt for a coffee table format rather that the standard 203-page publication. This question, however, becomes insignificant as the pages unfold and a wealth of information, much of it previously untold, is revealed to the reader.
Paul French’s military adventures saw him serve in 21 SAS (Territorial Army) during the late 1960s; C Squadron (Rhodesian) SAS and the Selous Scouts in the 1970s; and 6 Reconnaissance Commando in the South African Defence Force (SADF) in the early 1980s. Recollections of Angola and Iraq, where the author served in the private security industry, round off this informal memoir of excitement and derring-do.
As the title suggests the main thrust of the book details operations with the SAS and the Selous Scouts. The reader is treated to recollections of the author’s participation in a number of SAS operations, including an attack on ZANLA insurgents at Mavue in 1976, the raid on Joshua Nkomo’s home in Lusaka in 1979 and Operation Tepid, an attack on an entrenched ZANLA position in Zambia. Operation Cheese, the SAS operation 750 km into Zambia to sabotage the main road and rail link over the Chambeshi River between Zambia and Tanzania is undoubtedly one of the highlights of Paul French’s Rhodesian military career, as he reveals the vital contribution made by a South African Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft to the success of the operation.
The author, ever thirsty for adventure, then finds his way to the Selous Scouts and the reader is treated to insights into, and descriptions of Selous Scouts pseudo operations inside Rhodesia. Details on Selous Scouts operations inside Mozambique, which are already in the public domain through descriptions provided in Dennis Croucamp’s Only my Friends Call me Crouks and in Jake Harper-Ronald’s’ Sunday Bloody Sunday, are validated during this narrative. A set of short yet amusing and instructive anecdotes describing Paul French’s life in the special forces of Southern Africa supplement the main theme.
A delightful, unanchored chapter on the author’s visit to Cisco and Marianne Guerreiro together with a description of their exploits in the Rhodesian SAS and the military and signal intelligence world during the 1970s and 1980s in Southern Africa is testament to the adage that the truth is often stranger than fiction. While the exploits of this colourful couple are entertaining and informative, the real gem in this chapter is the almost hidden reference to the role played by Chilean Air Force pilots in eavesdropping on the radio messages of Cuban pilots in Angola during the South African bush war.
The author’s description of the origin of Renamo, the Mozambique Resistance Movement, and his own experiences, contact with early leaders of the movement, including Andrea Matsangaise and Luka Mhlanga, operations with these forces, SADF support to Renamo, together with his personal experiences while ‘handing over’ Renamo to members of the Reconnaissance Commando, will undoubtedly serve as a valuable addition to the primary source material on this organization.
Shadows of a Forgotten Past started out as the author’s recollections penned for the sole benefit of his family. With the decision to publish the memoir on the open market an expectation is created that the anonymous reader should now benefit from the ministrations of a judicious editor who would have provided editorial balance, corrected sequencing difficulties and ensured that a golden thread of continuity runs throughout the narrative. This expectation has unfortunately not been fulfilled. What the book lacks in terms of editorial interventions though is certainly exceeded by the content, the author’s credibility and his contribution to the existing body of knowledge on the exploits of the military units of which he was a member. The book deserves an equal place alongside similar contributions and I recommend it to those who wish to add to their existing collection of publications on the exploits of these famed units during the bush wars in Southern Africa.
Shadows of a Forgotten Past: To the Edge with the Rhodesian SAS and Selous Scouts
Co-published in 2012 by: Helion & Company Limited, Solihull and GG Books UK, Rugby