Military History

“Three Sips of Gin” – Tim Bax’s Experience in the Selous Scouts

Tim Bax’s autobiography, Three Sips of Gin, focuses mostly on his military career in the service of Rhodesia, especially his time as a member of the famed Selous Scouts. It is an engaging story, one that provides a valuable glimpse into the bush war and most of Tim Bax’s life, who doesn’t even begin his book in Rhodesia.

Tim Bax
Tim Bax.

Bax begins with his early life, his childhood spent in East Africa, and after spending time in Canada after the decolonization of his birthplace, returns to Africa, South Africa in particular, in hopes of becoming an architect. Everything lines up, but a drinking trip to Rhodesia with an Australian friend leaves both of them stranded in the country after their car breaks down. Unable to repair it in time for his interview at the architectural firm, both Bax and his friend enlist in the Rhodesian Light Infantry. How amazing it is that the breakdown of a car is the catalyst for Bax’s astounding military career – an officer born out of a chance engine failure.

That is a reoccurring theme in Tim’s life. Unexpected events and chance circumstances are pivotal. Another example – after being shot severely in the legs, “my legs felt as though they were being pulled through a giant grinding machine,” Bax nearly had one of his legs amputated, an apparent necessity to save his life, according to both the field medic and the surgeon at the hospital tasked with insuring his survival. “By a stroke of good fortune,” Bax got to keep his leg, only because the Senior Matron of the hospital, Shirley Tucker, was the aunt of his girlfriend. Bax’s soon-to-be fiance and wife, Carol, wouldn’t authorize the amputation. “The surgeon sighed. ‘OK, but I must warn you, it’s a long shot.’ It’s a credit to the doctor’s work, to Matron Shirley Tucker and to Carol’s insistence that my leg not be amputated that a few years later I was chosen to be a member of the Selous Scouts’ soccer team. We were playing against an African schoolboys’ side. It was with that leg I scored the winning goal.”

Tim Bax provides both an engaging, entertaining and true story, alongside valuable insights into the bush war. It could very easily and effectively be made into a movie. Numerous moments throughout the book seem like the work of a brilliant writer, perfect for cinema or the fiction section, yet all of what Bax has to say really happened. His life plays out like the kind of adventure we’d expect to see on the big screen. Unfortunately, it is unlikely a movie will ever be made based on Three Sips of Gin, as it’d provide the reality of the Rhodesian bush war, a reality that mainstream media is not interested in whatsoever.

three sips of gin

I highly recommend anyone interested in Rhodesia or just a good life story check out Three Sips of Gin. You can order it from Amazon as either an e-book or a print copy. It’s well worth the cost. Not only will you be entertained, you will also learn a lot about the bush war and the Selous Scouts in particular. Three Sips of Gin will be often cited in my future articles about Rhodesia, as will other memoirs written by those who served in the Rhodesian military, which are always valuable resources when examining military history.


Here is an especially lighthearted, humorous excerpt from early on in the book, a scene that unfolds after Tim and George, an RLI troopie, get kicked out of one bar and are forced to head to another:

“We sprinted down a long narrow passageway that led from the bar into the relative obscurity of a loud, dark discotheque that adjoined the Round Bar. Shafts of bright light stabbed through the darkness allowing momentary glimpses of throngs of gyrating couples dancing to the raucous beat of Creedence Clearwater Revival. We groped our way slowly to the bar.

George reached into his pocket. ‘Do you have any start, ek se?’ ‘Do I have any what?’

‘Start’ was RLI slang for money. I had very little left from the drinks I had bought in the Round Bar so suggested to George that we call it a day.

‘We can’t go back without a couple of dops to calm the nerves, ek se. That chick spooked me more than the gooks.’

‘Well, we can’t hang around here without the money. Let’s head off back to the barracks.’

‘Don’t worry, my china, in the RLI we always make a plan.’ George quickly scanned the dark interior of the nightclub before reaching into his top pocket to surreptitiously extract the thunder flash he was carrying.

‘You see that table over there will all the civvies? They’ve just ordered more drinks. Hang around their table and when you hear the thunder flash detonate and the lights go off, grab their beers and meet me back here in a hurry, ek se.’

I looked around. At a table not far from us sat three civilians with half a dozen recently ordered beers.

‘What do you have in mind?’ I’d had enough of George’s shenanigans for one day.

‘Normally, I’d just pull the main switch of the electric breaker box. It’s situated just outside the men’s toilet. But they’ve become wise now and have put a lock on the cover.’ Seemingly this was a modus operandi that RLI troopies were quite familiar with when they ran short of money for a drink. ‘I’m going to place this thunder flash on top of the breaker box. When it explodes it should trip the switches and the place will be plunged into darkness, ek se. That’s when we act.’

Before I could say anything George had slipped off in the direction of the toilets. I sighed, wondering whether I should do the right thing and head out the door and back to the barracks, or stick around to do what George was expecting of me. I quickly realized I didn’t have any option. Now was not the time to desert a fellow comrade.

I walked toward the table where our free beers were waiting, trying to look inconspicuous. Just as I came close to the table, a thunderous explosion ripped through the nightclub sending concussion waves slamming through the cavernous room. The lights flicked and then died. So did the music. There was a deathly silence followed by the sound of women screaming as the room filled with smoke and the acrid, pungent smell of cordite. Patrons started stumbling towards the exits.

Coming to my senses, I grabbed as many beers as I could and stumbled my way back through the inky blackness to the bar. It wasn’t long before the lights flickered back on again and the figure of George emerged from the throngs of people still milling around the entrance. Before long the music started, the throngs returned to their tables, and George and I had enough beer to sustain us through the evening.”

If I were to continue providing memorable excerpts from Three Sips of Gin, this article would end up about as half as long as the actual book, as it’s almost entirely made up of moments and scenes that will stick with you.



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