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Airborne Soldiers by Winston Forde – Chapter 1

Airborne Soldiers by Winston Forde – Chapter 1

During the civil war in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002, the population became sensitized to regular helicopter activity over Freetown and elsewhere, by the visiting forces. The author has written Airborne Soldiers to develop the vision of a future Helicopter Squadron, attached to the Sierra Leone Army, and based across the river in the region of the International airport at Lungi.

Crews are trained to fly the new Crab helicopter, and the reader shares in their operational flying and personal lives. He has attempted to link this vision with the Mape Project planned for this area, in his dedication.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

To our grandchildren for their greater awareness A special Salute to the Mape Project Board who have embarked on the most ambitious vision1 to develop that area on the northern shores of the lower Rokel River over which the Airborne Soldiers fly in their Crab helicopters, wishing members every success for the future. – Winston Forde, author


The rotor of a helicopter is very similar to the propeller of a fixed wing aircraft. A propeller faces forwards, and drags the aircraft along behind it. A helicopter rotor faces upwards, and drags the helicopter upwards.

Whereas an aircraft propeller is fixed firmly to the front of the aircraft, a helicopter rotor can be tilted forwards, backwards, and sideways. The tilting causes the helicopter to move in the direction of the tilt. This is shown in the diagrams below.

Author about to take off in a chipmunk aircraft in 1960 on a training sortie at The RAF College Cranwell in Lincolnshire UK

Chapter 1 – Range Practice

The tropical dawn is almost as abrupt as the tropical dusk and already at this early hour, the buildings of Goderich Barracks were bathed in the warm morning rays as the sun started its rapid climb into the sky. It was January, the harmattan still blew lightly and the dry season was still a long way from ending. As the rays touched the petals of the hibiscus bushes, extra colour was added to the scene, with the cloudless azure sky above, and the rich blue sea that stretched away from the white beach at the bottom of the cliff at Goderich.

Captain Kargbo filled his lungs with the fresh air as he drove along the coast road towards Goderich. He had left the officers’ mess at Wilberforce Barracks, where he was stationed as a company commander in the infantry, early as he was due for his annual range practice with the sten machine gun. As an infantry officer he was required to practice with this weapon.

Range practice at Goderich was carried out immediately after breakfast to take advantage of the cooler hours of the morning. He drove straight past the main entrance to the Barracks, and continued along the coast road to the range.

Captain Kargbo belonged to the first detail of six officers, and soldiers, and as soon as all were ready, they proceeded to the actual range stopping to 14 Winston Forde collect magazines, each with 25 rounds, from the rough ammunition shed made out of sticks covered with palm fronds. Each of these was carefully booked out by the ammunition orderly, as a strict control was kept on all military expenditure. As soon as the six men were standing at ease by their

carbines, range practice started.

The Sergeant’s first command rang out in the stillness of the morning.

‘Take up carbines and magazines—detail load!’

They had all used this weapon before and there was no need to tell them what to do, but the Sergeant still had to remind them about their safety drill.

‘Use the heel of your hand to tap the magazine into place.

Number two, I said the heel of your hand. Number three, wake up and think what you’re doing!’ he barked.

Watching them closely and taking one or two paces backwards, the Sergeant, now satisfied, gave his next order.

‘Ready position.’

The detail took one walking pace forward with the left foot and all cocking studs were pulled out, each soldier taking care to use the finger and thumb of the left hand. The weapons were ready to fire.

‘From the shoulder—using sights—five single shots—fire!’

The Sergeant’s eyes flashed from left to right watching their actions.

‘Number two, lean forward and get control of that weapon—it’s not a toy you know—answer me!’

‘Sergeant!’ replied the soldier second from the left.

On completion the weapons were brought down to the waist individually.

There was no time to waste and as soon as the whole detail was standing still again, they proceeded to the trial run. The Sergeant snapped out the orders.

‘Stand by—up—left, right—down. Now, using your left hand, move lever to automatic. From the shoulder, firing short service bursts and re-aiming after each burst, in your own time—fire!’

Captain Kargbo always looked forward to this stage when he could aim at his target for what seemed like a long time, and fire until the remaining twenty rounds of ammunition in his magazine were expended. As the staccato echoes died down from the surrounding hills, the weapons were simultaneously turned through 90 degrees and both magazines and chambers were carefully checked. The final order was then given.


There was no problem here; in fact, there was a distinct eagerness to get through this stage, and then find out the truth from the targets. Magazine catches were quickly depressed, and with the magazines deposited in battle dress pockets, the rest of the drill was completed after the Sergeant’s final order.

‘Ground carbines. Examine targets.’

Captain Kargbo had not done too badly and had scored, a hit on his target seventeen times. Coloured chalk was rubbed into each hole to cancel it for the next detail, and as soon as the empty shells had been collected, they made their way to the ammunition orderly to deposit their empty magazines for re-filling.

Captain Kargbo had some time to spare so he drove down through the camp towards the sea as far as he could go, and then walked to the edge of the cliffs. Down below, he could see the white sand and grey rocks, lashed by the waves as they broke into white foam. Soldiers who swam in this area had to be very careful as there were strong currents, and quicksand where the nearby river joined the sea.

As Captain Kargbo stood gazing into the blue distance, he found himself reflecting on recent happenings. He deplored the way in which the army seemed to go about everything in strict secrecy, leaving the people most actively affected in the dark. During the past few weeks he had been ordered to report for several thorough medical tests at the Army Hospital. His chest had been X-rayed and his eyes rigorously tested Then there were the two days last week on which he was taken to the Army Selection Centre at Wilberforce Barracks, and made to perform several tasks to test his initiative.  He had had to lead his team from one end of a course to the other across simulated explosive dangers and pitfalls. He could not remember having to go through anything like that to join the army. Perhaps the meeting he had been called to with Colonel Bindi later that afternoon might provide an answer to his questions. It wasn’t very often he had anything to do with the Deputy Force Commander.

He also reflected on his forthcoming wedding. In a few weeks’ time he would be married. No doubt things would be different then. He had started courting Sampa long before her father had won the elections, and become the Executive President of the country, and now he just could not wait to make her his wife.

Captain Kargbo had promised to collect a dress from one of the street tailors in the city who specialised in dressmaking, before returning to Wilberforce. So from Goderich Barracks he drove quickly through Lumley village and on to the peninsula highway. As he approached the city suburbs, he slowed down. The area was swarming with boys and girls who were taking part in the athletic trials at the national stadium near the highway. There was a nest of schools in this area, and the pupils did not have to travel far to the stadium. He nosed his way along St John’s Hill, across the bridge and on to City Road. Once again he had to travel slowly as he passed through the large open market at the west end of the city. Most of the vegetables were locally grown and looked fresh and delicious. The local people were successful market traders but somehow still fought shy of big, commercial business, leaving the management of most of the large shops and supermarkets to Indian and Lebanese settler merchants and businessmen. City Road took him into the city centre.

The city of Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, nestles on the northern side of a peninsula with the estuary of the River Rokel forming its northern seaboard and natural harbour. The chain of mountains which form a solid core to the peninsula serve as a picturesque and sheltering background.

In a matter of a few minutes Captain Kargbo was driving past the massive silk cotton tree whose spreading branches are within touching distance of the windows at the western side of the Central Law Courts building. Apart from being enshrined in superstition and legend, this tree is a landmark to sailors at sea as they sail into the habour and no doubt would prove useful to anyone having to fly low over the city.

Captain Kargbo collected Sampa’s dress and drove back up the hill to Wilberforce. He had been only briefly in his office before it was time for lunch. He felt apprehensive as the time for the Colonel’s meeting drew closer.

They had his favourite dish on the menu in the dining room—dried okra sauce and rice—but he was not to enjoy it because, just as he was about to start eating, he was called by the duty receptionist.

‘Captain Kargbo, sir.’

‘Yes, can I help you orderly?’

‘You are wanted on the telephone at reception, sir.’

‘Who is it?’

‘The caller didn’t give a name, sir, but it was a young lady.’

Captain Kargbo excused himself from the other officers who were having lunch with him and rushed into one of the telephone booths in the mess reception, and picked up the receiver.

 ‘Hello—hello—it’s you, darling. I hoped it would be. I’ve got your dress, Sampa, but I’m afraid I can’t bring it until late this evening—there is no but, darling. I know that we are engaged but you must remember that the army comes first. I’ve got a very important meeting with the Deputy Force Commander this afternoon and I must attend that. Don’t be silly, Sampa, of course I love you, but you might as well get used to hard facts now. I’m surprised at you! You know that with your father his government comes first in all he thinks, and does. You should be used to a man’s commitment to his work. Listen, I promise you I’ll be with you this evening as soon as I can. OK? Cheerio till then.’

Captain Kargbo replaced the receiver gently and returned to the dining room to finish his lunch. He was sitting next to Captain Jones who was in the Armoured Corps.

‘You’re eating early, Kevin,’ he said.

‘I have to attend a meeting with the Colonel this afternoon,’ replied

Captain Jones.

‘So have I! Have you been having these mysterious tests as well?’


‘So have I.’ Lieutenant Frazer had overheard their conversation from across the table and joined in.

‘That makes two of us infantrymen,’ said Captain Kargbo. ‘I wonder what it’s all about.’

‘I’m sure we’ll soon find out, John,’ replied Captain Jones.




  1. What weather can you associate with the month of January in the tropics?
  2. Where is Goderich—along the coast or in the hinterland? Explain why you know where it is?
  3. What do soldiers do at annual range practice and why?
  4. What were the things upon which Captain Kargbo was reflecting?
  5. Who is Sampa?
  6. Who is the Deputy Force Commander?
  7. Define the following words within the context in which they are used in the story:
(a) ammunition orderly
(b) staccato
(c) detail
(d) sights
(e) chambers
(f ) carbines
(g) magazines
(h) infantry


Look out for Chapter 2 next week!


by Winston Forde http://www.winstonfordebooks.com

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