The Home Front – Selous Scout Mission


Japanese war dead on Suri Ridge, Okinawa.

One of the major trepidations I have about writing on the Selous Scouts, and drawing analogies with Christian mission, is a deep sense of unworthiness.  Regardless of the books read, and even a sense of proximity of having lived through the Rhodesian bush war, how could I ever truly know what these men went through?  I was just a kid who went to bed each night in the far-flung outer suburbs of southern Bulawayo with a sense of security, while Selous Scouts and the rest of the Rhodesian Army made huge sacrifices and lived with constant deprivation attempting to protect our lifestyle.

I have often wondered what it must have been like for those guys, particularly Scouts, to return to “civilisation” for their R & R.  How was it to be air-lifted from deep within the tribal trust lands, dressed in the ragged, faded denim of the enemy, brandishing an AK-47 to find oneself hours later in one of the wild-west saloons of downtown Salisbury or Bulawayo?  With all they saw in the field, and were called on to do, was it possible to cast it aside as they returned to the “normality” of civilian life for a time or, more importantly, at the end of the war?
In the last couple of weeks I’ve had an insight into this, courtesy of E.B. Sledge‘s book “With the Old Breed” which is one of the books used to create the Pacific mini-series shown last year.  As part of the US Marine Corps Sledge fought and survived two horrific campaigns – Peleliu and Okinawa.  In Okinawa, through May 1944, in constant rain, the Marines faced an enemy dug in, fighting to the last man.  They survived in drenched craters strewn with the maggot-infested remains of enemy and Marine dead.  And amidst this hell letter came through from home.  Sledge reflected as follows:

On the frontline in Okinawa

Letters from guys (Marines) returned home “expressed themselves in different ways, but the gist of their disillusionment was a feeling of alienation from everyone but their old comrades.  Although there was gasoline and meat rationing back in the States, life was safe and easy.  But all the good life and luxury didn’t seem to take the place of old friendships forged in combat.”

“It was hard to believe that some of our old friends who had wanted so much to return home actually were writing us that they thought of volunteering again for overseas duty.  They had had enough war, but had greater difficulty adjusting to civilians or to comfortable Stateside military posts.  We were unable to understand their attitudes until we ourselves returned home and tried to comprehend people who griped because America wasn’t perfect, or their coffee wasn’t hot enough, or they had to stand in line and wait for a train or bus.”

“The folks back home didn’t, and in retrospect couldn’t have been expected to, understand what we had experienced, what in our minds seemed to set us apart from anyone who hadn’t been in combat.  We didn’t want to indulge in self-pity.  We just wished that people back home could understand how lucky they were and stop complaining about trivial inconveniences.”

“Siegfried Sassoon, and English combat infantry officer and poet in World War 1, experienced the same feeling when he returned home.  He summed it up in the following verse:

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.”

I think there are echoes of this stance amidst those with a fully committed missional mindset.  Some of the best pseudo mission operatives out there are often entirely alienated from mainstream church.  They are left cold by some of the preoccupations of congregational church – constitutions, rosters for the pulpit flowers, hours of practice from the ‘worship’ team to “perform” their Hillsong sandwich.  How much of what is required to stoke the fires of institutional church is necessary to the frontline?

I recently sat in a meeting of a local ministers fraternal where several of the pastors were bleeding from friendly fire from within their own congregation.  It seemed to me there were many in those pews who could take heed of Sledge – stop complaining about trivial inconveniences, get ready for combat.



4 Responses to The Home Front – Selous Scout Mission

  1. Ben Cann says:

    Very well said Andrew.

  2. MUM SAYS says:

    Whooo whooo whoo. that will set some conversations going!

  3. Morag Roy says:

    Good insights Andy…You know where I am at on this one….probably suffering from spiritual PTSD! Your comparison with Selous Scouts hit home with me….Thanks

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