Book Review: Echoes of an African War

Chas Lotter was 22 when, in 1971, he enlisted as a field medic in the Rhodesian Army. He served until 1980, leaving as a Sergeant and emigrating to South Africa. His book, “Echoes of an African War” is a collection of poetry he wrote throughout his military service and in the years after. It shows the Rhodesian War not from a tactical or strategic or political perspective, but rather as a camera tuned inward on a single soldier and his psychological experience of the war. From basic training to combat engagements to the fury of retribution for comrades killed to the bitter pill of reconciliation and political cease-fire to the struggles of reintegration into civilian society in a new country and new city and the latter-year reminiscences that lose their edge or fear and horror.

This is a journey of a soldier’s experience that transcends the particular war he fought in and, I believe, shows a common set of experiences and emotions felt by men who have fought in every war, and on both sides. For what my opinion is worth having never experienced these things, Lotter’s work stands as a worthy companion to the soldier poets of World War One.

Available from Amazon:


  1. Excellent addition to Ian’s collection, this time from unlikely vantage point. Just looking at few pages, as on display in video, I am impressed with its artful form. From my perspective of distant place and part of history it is on first glance kind of foreign, but as Ian said, there is some universal concept behind it affecting us all. During my own service I often though what it would be like if war broke out. Very useful stuff to ponder.

    • No matter which war, the brutal truth is that war brings out the worst and best in all who participate. No advance in weaponry, strategy, or overall war doctrine has come without the shedding of blood.

      There is no glory in war. There is no lasting triumph, even if the battle is won. Today, our victory comes at the price of debts, debts that cannot be paid. What have we brought upon ourselves?

      • “There is no glory in war.”
        Did I guess rigth that this is quote from George S. Patton?

        “What have we brought upon ourselves?”
        Governments may think and say as they like, but force cannot be eliminated, and it is the only real and unanswerable power. We are told that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I know which of these weapons I would choose. – Adrian Carton de Wiart

        • I don’t know about your first point, but look up the quote from Silvia Cartwright.

          As for the second item, do not argue with a guy who survived three wars and has personally killed more than his fair share of enemies. “Good feelings” and “peaceful happiness” can’t stop bullets.

          • Funny thing is that animosities end often by the end of conflict; people just “smarten up”. From there one can assume that in fact war was unnecessary IF same level of mutual concerns awareness was reached beforehand.

          • @Denny:

            Yeah. Mutual concerns and awareness would have prevented unnecessary wars, but politicians generally didn’t get the point until lots of people started dying. Today, diplomacy is stressed for good reasons, but you still need preparations against those who refuse to follow the rules. I speak of armed gangs (including drug cartels and pirates) and pseudo-religious terror groups, neither of which respect international law.

        • About this character ACW – I do not know if all that is written is real, however in his resume rather ‘loosely’ written is said he “talked tough”. I always had impression that those who talked soft and acted tough were real heroes. Courage coming from talking tough cannot be genuine.

      • During one of field exercises I was on sentry duty near staff tent. They were planning how to be in 3 days in Nato headquarters. Then, something went wrong and U.S.Air B-52s destroyed dam 20km south of Prague. Resulting wave flushed over and obliterated city with its one million dweller. For short, talk stopped dead; following sobbing (yes, men have emotions too) was very realistic.

        • That sounds like a total tragedy: You’re on the way to winning the war when the other team sends out a swarm of bombers, spitefully blowing up your hometown amongst countless other cities as revenge, rendering your victory completely pointless as now your own country is in ruins, along with everyone you loved. War is certainly not anything to laugh about (unless you count the most pathetically short war in history, the Anglo-Zanzibar War, which lasted 38 minutes and ended with the would-be sultan fleeing for his life, since he expected the British to cower before him rather than shoot him). I could be wrong.

          • This was luckily fiction, but mind set of actors is a tragedy. The U.S. Airforce did not even scratch “communist” Czechoslovakia in spite of being enemy.

            But it is also fact Prague and Pilsen were bombed as late as in February of 1945, coincidentally couple days after conclusion of Allied Conference in Crimea.

            The hypothesis is that the objective was to substantially damage standing Czech industry which would inevitably serve new regime (mind you first government in 1945 was democratic). In concrete terms the targets were factory for building aircraft engines Walter in Prague suburb (with overspill elsewhere) and Skoda heavy industries in Pilsen.

          • “(…)fiction(…)”
            Keep calm, currently interesting documents are available on-line:
            which are answer what would by hit by U.S. strategic bombers with nuclear bombs, if full-scale war would erupt in 1950s. These materials were used to create this interactive map: so based on it, I am glad to inform you that Czechoslovak Prague would be hit with only 2 atomic bomb and 1 more would be drop at VODOCHODY which technically is not Prague, but ball-of-flame would reach it anyway. Keep in calm, with progress of time (and build-up of nuclear bombs stock) we could except increase in number of bombs.

  2. The British ‘War Poets’ of the First World War that people remember were all killed in action; but Rupert Brooke (‘..there is some corner of a foreign field That is forever England…) is dismissed or never shown. It rests behind the fog of half truth that gathers over the war that changed the world. Better poets may have written better poetry, but if nobody reads the poetry the poetry gas no life.

    I have very strong opinions about Rhodisia, and I really cannot stand Larry Vickers numb statements about a country even the South African’s abandoned, but the fact Chas Lotter has managed to create a book from what he wrote, combined with pictures and facts that puts the poetry into a historical context (something the modern poetry industry loves with dead poets, but despises with living ones, unless they’re famous) is something I genuinely applaud.

  3. Excellent review. I have long been an avid reader of first-hand accounts of men at war. From the British War poets of the Great War to German veterans of both world wars and many others. Heinrich Boll’s “A Soldier’s Legacy” (fiction, but draws from Boll’s wartime experiences) captures the emotional emptiness of a returning vet in a powerful way. Perhaps the best personal account of the Vietnam war, IMHO, is Boa Ninh’s “The Sorrow of War,” a heartbreaking account that shows even the victors can be left adrift and without meaning after a war.
    There are so many good books in this category, I could go on…but I won’t. Thanks for sharing one more consider.

  4. I recently read “Parachute Infantry” by Daniel Webster, one of the Band of Brothers, prominently featured in the HBO series. Webster wrote this book in the 1950’s, he died in the early 1960’s. Its a recounting of his days in the 101st Airborne. It really describes what life was like for an infantry grunt. He admits to being no hero, that being in combat for him was a daily struggle to survive. Highly recommend it. Webster was a talented writer.

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