01 October 2010

War Heroes: Lt Col Ron Reid-Daly, RIP

The Telegraph has an excellent obituary on the former commander of the Selous Scouts.

As it was a secret unit answerable only to the commander of the security forces, the Selous Scouts earned a fearsome reputation for "dirty tricks" in its exploits against guerrillas, a reputation that Reid-Daly, a long-serving professional soldier, sought – unsuccessfully – to counter long after the war.
In fact it was a small highly-trained body of men (black and white) which had undergone the most stringent selection course. It operated in groups of two or three men who posed as guerrillas, infiltrating insurgent groups and calling in air strikes to destroy them, often in neighbouring countries where the insurgents were preparing to cross into Rhodesia.

It was, as Reid-Daly put it, "a good way of terrorising the terrorists" and it worked well, with the "Selousies" chalking up an impressive "kill rate". With the collapse of the Portuguese empire, Rhodesia's long border with Mozambique was exposed and the Selous Scouts were obliged to expand to include a territorial unit.

The resulting drop in standards and discipline gave some senior officers in the Rhodesian army, always jealous of Reid-Daly's independence, ammunition to discredit him and his unit. Scouts were accused of poaching ivory in the Zambezi Valley, and when Reid-Daly discovered his office had been bugged he confronted Lt-Gen John Hickman, then commander of the Rhodesian army.

The exchange in an officers' mess led to a court martial of Reid-Daly on a charge of insubordination. There was obvious sympathy for the Selous Scouts' commander during the hearing. He was convicted, but given the lightest possible sentence of a reprimand. Incensed by the blot on his army record, Reid-Daly fought the sentence in the civil courts. When that failed he resigned his commission and left the country.

Ronald Francis Reid-Daly was born in Salisbury, then capital of the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, on September 22 1928. At school he excelled, in his own words, "at nothing that was not on the rugby field". His early ambition to become a farmer gave way to his sense of adventure and he signed up for service in the Rhodesian contingent of the Far East Volunteer Unit.

This unit was destined for service in Korea but was diverted to Malaya to fight the Chinese communist insurgents. The Rhodesian contingent, led by a young Peter Walls, later to become commander-in-chief of the Rhodesian security forces, became "C" Squadron of the British Special Air Service regiment, highly skilled in counter-insurgency warfare.

After three years of active service in the Malayan jungles, Reid-Daly returned to Rhodesia "and a boring civilian life". Soldiering was now in his blood, and he joined the Southern Rhodesian Staff Corps, becoming an instructor at the School of Infantry. In 1961 he became the founder Regimental Sergeant Major of the newly formed Rhodesian Light Infantry.

He was commissioned in the RLI in 1964 and was appointed MBE after again seeing active service against the early insurgency by nationalist guerrillas crossing from Zambia. In 1975 Reid-Daly was on leave pending retirement. He was under pressure from his wife to "settle down and get a proper job" when he was summoned to see the army commander, Peter Walls, his old friend and colleague from the Malayan expedition.

Walls persuaded him to stay in the army to form and take charge of a new "combat and tracker" unit. The new formation would in reality be to recruit and train "pseudo terrorists" – preferably captured guerrillas who had been "turned" – to infiltrate their former comrades in the bush. The unit, said Walls, would be named the Selous Scouts after the legendary African hunter and tracker Frederick Courteney Selous.

By: Brant

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