In 1979 Nick left public school in England and returned to his home of Rhodesia to enlist. Aged 16 he was just over the legal age for conscription – but he was a volunteer.
This is his story of how, having joined up, he had his leg amputated at the age of 17 and yet as an amputee continued in active service as a trained combat medic for the Rhodesian forces and latterly the new Zimbabwe National Army. While many of his brothers in arms left immediately after independence Nick stayed on and witnessed the Ndebele rebellion, Nkomo’s grab for power and the beginnings of Gukuharundi. He witnessed first-hand the medical impact of war as well as the common diseases of rural Africa. He was discharged aged 20 years old.
Although the first part of this book is about being a combat medic it is also about rediscovering a lost father, a new family, the influence of African mysticism and politics as well as the challenges of living in post-independence Zimbabwe. The second part of the book is his story of emigrating to South Africa and adjusting to life as a civilian. The trials of finding work, the challenges of setting up and running his own business and the murderous world of business that are more than equal to his combat medic experiences!
Nicholas (Nick) Skipworth-Michell was born in Salisbury (now Harare) on 25th August 1961, and was brought up by his recently divorced mother with his two brothers in a very middle class Rhodesian society. He had the usual upbringing insofar as attending Junior School where he achieved Prefect status, followed by one year in a Rhodesian High School before his mother decided that UK was a better bet for the future and he was shipped off to England to attend boarding School in the South West of England. His brother who was 5 years older attended the same School but as a senior had little to no contact and he fended for himself in this alien environment, all the while homesick for his Country of birth.
He left School after completing his O levels and worked as a Hall Porter in a local hotel while deciding his future. As if lead by the hand of fate, he decided one day to return to Rhodesia and join the Armed Forces as he had had a fixation on all news pertaining to the unfolding political situation and intensifying war in Rhodesia.
With his earnings he bought a ticket to Salisbury and packed up his meagre belongings into one “blue” suitcase arriving in Salisbury on 5th February 1979 aged 17 to enlist in the Rhodesian Army. Medicine had always been of interest so the Medical Corps seemed an obvious choice with his parent unit being assigned as the Rhodesian Light Infantry – an elite fighting battalion at the forefront of the conflict which had converted in recent years from a conventional Infantry Unit to a Commando Unit.
A short five months into his service a suspicious lump behind his knee was diagnosed as malignant, so 2 months before his 18th Birthday he had his left leg amputated above the knee.
Fully expecting to be medically discharged, he was surprisingly retained as an operational medic and served out the remaining two and a half years of his contract, serving at forward operational hospitals, rehabilitation centres and treating scores of enemy who came in over amnesty for the Zimbabwe elections.
The ultimate demise of Rhodesia to Zimbabwe is well recorded and the demobilisation of the Army with no counselling or debrief happened with scores of Rhodesians leaving for the greener pastures of South Africa to take up positions in Corporate Companies. Nick arrived in South Africa with the same blue suitcase plus a car in March 1984.
Having lost his leg at a relatively young age it became his identity, and be it within military or Civilian Street he has always tried to live his life as an able bodied person without using his disability as a reason for preference or favour.
Civilian/Corporate life gave him the best as well as the worst in his life, going from being a successful businessman, to losing it all, going insolvent and starting again with nothing.
In the last few years of his time in Johannesburg he was the victim crime that beleaguers the city three times, by being held up in his restaurant, being shot and finally enduring a home invasion by three armed intruders.
Nick now lives in Durban and has written two books.