“Three Sips of Gin” is many things. Not simply a collection of war stories or the usual memoir, Tim Bax’s recounting of his own personal history reminded me more of James Corbett’s “Man Eaters of the Kumaon” or to some extent even Henning-Haslund Christensen’s “In Secret Mongolia“. This book was a pleasant surprise that, although taking place in contemporary times, reminded me of some of my favorite yarns written by the gentlemen adventurers of the past. Perhaps that is because of Tim’s unique background, his dry humor, or maybe it is his sense of the absurd.
Born in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in 1949, Tim Bax was born into a life of adventure in many ways. In the opening chapters he recounts an early affinity for Africa and doesn’t spare much detail recounting the decadence of the British colonists of the time. One thing you will notice is that Tim is rarely sober during many of his adventures, if you hadn’t guessed from the title of the book. Failing horribly at formal schooling, his mother eventually finds him a job as a lumberjack while living in Canada. Being a lumberjack seems to give Tim some sense of purpose but he knows that his future lays else where, yearning to return to Africa.
After initially traveling to find a job in South Africa, it is only quite my mistake and happenstance that Tim is recruited into the Rhodesian Light Infantry. The RLI was something of a killing machine in it’s heyday, culling terrorists from surrounding nations, sometimes conducting four call outs a night. Combat parachute jumps were a regular occurrence. Although it seems as something of a mystery to the author, he is selected to attend the Officer Candidate Course and is soon commissioned as a lieutenant.
Posted back to the RLI, Tim leads his troops in cross-border operations before being asked by Colonel Ron-Reid Daly to attended the Selous Scouts selection course. The Scouts were a military unit completely unique to Rhodesia. Trojan horse type attacks have been practiced throughout history but no army professionalized or implemented the concept of pseudo-operations as well as the Selous Scouts did. During this time we begin to learn where the three sips of gin comes into play. Tim is viciously wounded during numerous contacts with terrorist forces, each time utilizing the medicinal qualities to be found in copious amounts of gin.
However, this book isn’t the typical war memoir, it is much more than that. The author maintains a self deprecating and humorous attitude through out, poking fun at himself and the military, all through some very dangerous situations! More time is spent lamenting about the good times had with friends. Officers past out drunk outside the formal dinning hall, riding his motor cycle through the mess, detonating a flash bang in a bar as a distraction to steal someone else’s beer and much more is included. Tim perfectly captures what it is like to be a young man in the military, working hard, and playing harder.
Three Sips of Gin isn’t without it’s historical insights, some details are to be gleaned as to why the Rhodesian Bush War ended in defeat. Like many former Rhodesian soldiers, he is very suspicious of Ken Flower, the head of the Central Intelligence Office. One memorable moment takes place when the legendary Col. Daly stands up in a COMOPS meeting (the equivalent of America’s joint chiefs) and calls his fellow officers a bunch of gobshites who aren’t serious about winning the war. Good luck finding an American officer with that kind of brutal honesty!
Finding employment in South Africa’s Defense Forces in 1980, Tim describes how and why the South Africans failed to incorporate the former Selous Scouts into their ranks. When his contract is up at the end of the year he bolts to the private sector. The remainder of the book talks about the author’s experience working in the private security industry (and other ventures) and the drunken mishaps that happen throughout. I particularly liked one tactic he used during union negotiations!
There is much, much more in “Three Sips of Gin“, far to much to cover in a single book review, and besides, why would I want too? Tim tells the whole story exceptionally well in this unique memoir.