Under orders to head south from Alto Molocue to Mutarara on the Zambezi in Mozambique, Norman Trevor-Jones and I loaded our Land Rovers and left for Mocuba to spend the night there.
Mocuba is the seat of the Mocuba district in the province of Zambezia; a town with a population of about 30,000, back then in 1971, with a large Army Barracks. Looking for a room at a small hotel, we came across an English family that Norman had briefly met in Milange in Malawi where the man, Bob Smith worked. He and his wife Sandy and two kids were on their way to Quelimane for a seaside holiday. For us, there was no room in the inn, so we found a pensão just down the road.
Bob was determined to paint the town red, so insisted we attend the Saturday night dance at the Mocuba town hall. We were allowed into the bar outside the main hall, but not to the dance as we had no jacket and tie. After some time in the bar, we tried to sneak into the dance but were thrown out again and Norman got quite belligerent. A little tubby man tried to kick us out and a fight ensued. It turned out that he was the major of police, effectively the most important man in town, with the army on call.
I lost sight of him as I defended myself against a horde of troops. Not making much headway, I ran for it, but they eventually cornered me. I rounded on them and berated them for treating visitors to their beautiful country so shamefully. I said that I had become used to friendliness and warm hospitality; so, was this the way to treat strangers?
The lieutenant in charge apologised and admitted that the major was a twit. He put himself and his army jeep at my disposal!
Norman had disappeared. We eventually found him at the pensão lying on the ground covered in blood. We got him to bed then went searching for Bob. His wife said that he had staggered in to find a necktie and then returned to the dance. The lieutenant and I eventually found him passed out asleep in a chair, sopping wet. Someone had thrown a bucket of water over him. We took him back to his wife. Only then did I release my poor kind assistant and go to bed myself. Thank you, Lieutenant.
What a night!
Norman awoke that morning with a black eye, bleeding from one ear, with numerous cuts on his head. The major’s policemen had had a lot of baton practice. But he was chirpy! He hauled me out of bed for a steak and eggs breakfast, the thought of which made me queasy, but I felt a lot better afterwards.
We went to see the Smith family and slowly pieced together our night’s adventures.
In their hotel lounge we met an Indian fellow, a tea-planter by trade, who insisted in reading our palms. On mine, whatever it was that he saw made him quite agitated. I was impressed when he accurately pinpointed some near death experiences (like malfunctioning parachutes) but he insisted that I should never get married as it would be a disaster. I scoffed and told him that I was engaged to Liza Theunissen at the time, but he shook his head dismissively. I would not be a good husband, he said, even though it appeared that I would have two children.
Forty years later, I can admit that he was pretty accurate.
We gave the Smiths a lift to Quelimane and spent a couple of days in a beach-side chalet not far from the city before heading for Mutarara, 400km away, to join the gathering Loxton, Hunting and Associates team under the leadership of Frank Merryweather.
Here was an example of the Bush Telegraph at work: Frank said, “So, I hear that you guys beat up the Major of Police in Mocuba!”