Mackenzie-Hoy’s exploits

20th August 2021 By: Terry Mackenzie-hoy

No, no, not me. Benito Mussolini, who died in 1945, was an Italian political leader who became a dictator of Italy from 1925 to 1945. On June 11, 1940, he declared war on Britain and France and, as a first step, on September 13, the Italians invaded Egypt from their colony, Libya.

The British troops in Egypt were greatly outnumbered by the Italian army. In 1940, Britain was fighting off German invasion. The British asked its colonies for assistance and to send supplies and troops. My father, Eric Mackenzie-Hoy, had in 1939 volunteered to join the Rhodesian (now Zimbabwean) army as a reservist. It was widely believed this was because drinks in the sergeants' mess were cheap. His sidekick was Scotty Wishart, an expat who came from Inverness, Scotland. Then Italy declared war. At the request of the Brits, the South Africans marshalled some troops and, under the command of one Captain Plodder (with Lieutenant Whicket as second-in-command), 52 trucks, mobile kitchens and other vehicles with stores, supplies and ammunition set off to drive to Cairo. They left Johannesburg and arrived in Gaborone, in Botswana, (collecting Rhodesian troops en route) and proceeded to Zambia and onwards.

It was not easygoing. The bridges were poor and the dust bad. Come October, the rains started. When they reached Tanganyika (now Tanzania), they had other trouble. Plodder asked the Tanganyika authorities to assist with some labourers to help get the vehicles through the rivers, of which there were many. The labourers did a good job (so I was told) until the captain messed things up. Plodder was old school: he treated the labourers as he treated the workers on his farm. Which is to say, very badly. They stopped working. A complaint was made to the British district commissioner. Plodder was recalled and Whicket was put in command. At the time, he was 25 years old. But the convoy was stalled.

Sergeants Wishart and Mackenzie-Hoy approached the lieutenant and said they had a solution. They said all they had to do was to drive to the next river and the convoy to set camp. The two sergeants would then visit the local chief and ask for assistance. “Would the chief assist?” asked Whicket. Wishart looked coy. Yes, the chief would . . . if given a small present. “What present?” Wordlessly, Wishart led the lieutenant to one of the trucks. The load in the back was eighty cases of Scotch whiskey destined for the Cairo officers’ mess. Wishart cleared his throat and pointed: “We’re goin’ tey need a few cases o’ that sir.” The lieutenant was torn. He’d be responsible for “pilfering stores”. My father reassured him. Nobody would ever find out – they had a plan. Then Whicket offered to go with my father and Wishart to reason with the chief. But, the pair said, not a good idea. The lieutenant would lose face.

The following day, the pair removed a few cases of the ‘water of life’ and transferred the liquid into borrowed army water bottles. They then placed the now empty glass bottles back in the packing in the cases and broke them. They nailed the wooden lid shut. “Ouch,” said Wishart, “damaged in transit. What a pity.” They had kept back 12 bottles for the various chiefs.

Meeting the chief, my father spoke in Swahili, explaining that his friend, Wishart, had a blessing which would help the tribe in times of trouble. The friend also had a present of a bottle of alcohol if the chief would help crossing a few rivers. Naturally, the chief bargained up to two bottles. Wishart said the blessing and all was good. The ceremony was repeated all the way through Africa to Cairo. All the sergeants and corporals were greatly cheered by having a drink from the army water bottles. The lieutenant was commended in dispatches. And the blessing? Coming from Inverness, Scotty Wishart grew up speaking Gaelic language. The blessing was the Lord’s Prayer . . . said, to the confusion of the chief, in Gaelic language.