Lamb: From Psycho to Hero (Part 3 of 3)

The surprising conclusion to a miraculous story

On his way to Australia in October 1973, Lamb stopped off in South Africa and Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe), where he cut his travels short to enlist with the Rhodesian Security Forces. Rhodesia’s unrecognized government, which comprised almost entirely members of the country’s white minority, was at that time fighting a war against black communist guerrillas who were attempting to overthrow it and forcibly introduce majority rule. Like most of the hundreds of foreign volunteers joining the Rhodesian forces from across the world, Lamb mustered into the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), an all-white commando battalion engaged largely in counter-insurgency operations. “In many respects the RLI was a mirror of the French Foreign Legion, in that recruiters paid little heed as to a man’s past and asked no questions,” writes Chris Cocks, a veteran of the unit, “and like the Foreign Legion, once in the ranks, a man’s past was irrelevant.” So it proved for Lamb; keeping his past a secret, he became a highly regarded and popular member of 3 Commando, RLI.

While returning to his hometown in Windsor, Lamb went to see Barker and told him that serving in the Rhodesian forces had enriched him personally and made him respect himself for the first time. Because of this he wished to forget about his previous life in Canada. He expressed his concern that if he were killed or captured, the Canadian press might reveal his prior history and embarrass the Rhodesian Army, the Canadian government and the Penetanguishene mental hospital. However, he said, he felt great loyalty towards Rhodesia and would still go back to continue his service.

Lamb was “very professional … [and] very popular with all his fellow soldiers”, according to a profile maintained by the RLI Regimental Association,which fits with Barker’s unequivocal words to the Globe and Mail regarding his former patient’s competence to serve: “The Rhodesians thought he was a first-class soldier.” In late 1976, at the age of 28, he was promoted to lance-corporal and took command of a “stick” of four men from 12 Troop, 3 Commando on Fireforce duty on Operation Thrasher, which covered Rhodesia’s eastern highlands against guerrilla activity.

During an ensuing nighttime firefight, Lamb was killed by two errant shots fired from one of his squad members. When the battle was over, his men waited beside Lamb’s lifeless body all night until it could be evacuated by helicopter to the local hospital at Chipinga.The death was officially recorded as “killed in action”, with no reference to friendly fire.

Subsequently, Lamb was honored as a hero in Rhodesia while back in Canada his memory received a very different reaction. It is understandable in light of his still recent violent history that Lamb was not seen as a hero in his homeland but in Rhodesia he was a different figure free from his dark history.

The story of Mathew Charles Lamb is one filled with the darkest and brightest nature of man. It’s a true example of the powers of reformation and that some people can really make the world a better place despite coming from a violent and destructive past. Insanity is not always just an escape plea that criminals use to avoid death. There are really moments that people lose their grip on life and succumb to a suspended form of psychosis. In Lamb’s case, he was a troubled boy who at a moment of vulnerability committed a heinous act. However he showed genuine remorse for his mistakes and lived the rest of his short life making amends to all those around him showing that redemption can come from the least likely of places.

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Posted on January 17, 2012, in Random/Miscellaneous and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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