TITLE: TERRIES VERSUS TERRS
By Fiona Dorothy Stevenson
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TERRIES VERSUS TERRS
We called them “terrs” – to rhyme with ‘furs’ – the terrorists, guerillas, freedom fighters: rebels who fought to bring down the colonial government of the time. Malcontents from within, mercenaries from without, they combined to attack the nation through remote farms and villages, solitary travelers.
In an early incident, a family returning home after taking the older children to boarding school was stopped on a lonely stretch of road. The wife, baby and four-year-old girl were dragged from the vehicle. They watched while the driver was beaten, slashed and stabbed, before he was thrown back into the vehicle. The Kombi was overturned and set alight, and the attackers faded back into the night, leaving the terrified woman to hold the children and watch while her husband burned to death. A doctor, returning from a late farm call-out, found them crouched beside the smoldering shell.
In a tiny village the headman was pulled from his home. They cut off his nose and lips, pushing them into his wife’s mouth, demanding that she eat them. The able bodied men were at work in the city. There were only old men, women and children with hoes and sticks, no defense against Kalishnikov and machete. The villagers denied having seen them before.
At first the incidents were few and far between. We viewed them with uneducated unbelief. But a pattern was emerging. Tiny scraps of evidence were collected and collated. Defense Force and Police saw the evidence of organized unrest. The Terries training was intensified.
The “Terries” were the school leaving youth, trained to form the basis of a Territorial Army should the need arise. These were the lads who would augment the country’s small Defense Force in time of war. We hoped the need would not arise. But it did.
Roddy struggled to maintain a balance between his training as a civvy street technician, and his call-ups as a medic. The civil war was now an established way of life. Eventually he gave up his technical training and joined the Light Infantry for a five-year period of service. Although he was attached to the barracks in his hometown, his parents grew accustomed to his frequent disappearances and disheveled, exhausted returns. There was a tacit understanding that no questions would be asked, no explanations given.
Other boys from the barracks visited his home. They came to break the monotony, the uncertainty, of war. To play cricket with the younger boys. To drink coffee, eat a home-cooked meal. To talk about their distant families. To sing the songs of Zion and to pray. Roddy’s father was a Pastor. From time to time the faces changed, but the routine of the visits remained the same. They were welcomed, fed and entertained. They were prayed with and for.
At this time the radio and telephone became focal points within the homes. In addition to the usual newscasts, the radio issued special warnings and advices of attacks. We became accustomed to listening for the call sign, just as we became accustomed to listening for the helicopters coming in. Prayer chains were formed, operated through radio networks and telephones.
It was late afternoon when Roddy walked in and started up the stairs, the clatter of his boots bringing his mother from the kitchen.
“Going to have a bath, Mom.” His voice was strained and tired.
As she turned to go back to the kitchen, the call sign sounded from the radio. They stopped to listen. His father joined his mother in the hall.
“…an attack on a farm in the Eastern Districts has now been contained. Several persons have been injured. Mark Bede was killed in the attack…”
Roddy’s protest was tight and harsh. “He was alive when I brought him in.” He continued up the stairs. His parents stayed briefly at the foot, listening to the bath water run. His father returned to the study. His mother took her tears and prayers to the kitchen.
From the bath, Roddy returned to the barracks, taking the horror of his day with him. He did not speak of it again.
It was a long time before his parents were able to piece together some of the details of the day.
Mark was born and grew up on the farm. He loved the land. He wanted nothing more than to continue the work that his grandfather had started and his father established.
Mark and Roddy were at school together. They were eighteen years of age. Now Mark was dead, and Roddy had begun to die.
The war dragged on for several years. It was neither lost nor won. The colonial government was dissolved; rule was given to one faction of the freedom fighters, of which there were two. For thirty years there has been no peace. Violence, bloodshed, starvation, have become the norm.
We are left with the everlasting tragedy of war: Mark stands for all the dead who died in vain. Roddy represents the ones who died although their bodes are alive.
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