The Night My Father Saved My Life By Killing Three Lions Hungry For Human Flesh

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  1. Hoas

    Hoas AH Enthusiast

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    By Wilbur Smith For The Daily Mail - April 27th 2018, 10:56:23 pm
    Author Wilbur Smith recalls how his action hero father saved him as an eight-year-old child by killing the beasts while they were staying in what was


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    The night my father saved my life by killing THREE lions hungry for human flesh: Author Wilbur Smith says true action heroes like his dad have been killed off by political correctness

    My father's three big trucks would be packed with tents and camping gear, pots and pans for my mother's outdoor kitchen, rifles and axes and racks for hanging meat.

    Travelling with my mother, my father and sister would be 20 or 30 of the best men from my family's vast cattle ranch in Northern Rhodesia [today's Zambia]. Crowded into the open backs of the trucks, their hunting songs would fill the air.

    'Is it them?' my sister asked as the roaring continued. The thought had entered my head as well. Four days ago, a runner from the District Commissioner's headquarters 50 miles away had arrived at our camp and presented my father with a letter warning us that a pride of lions was on the rampage.

    Turned man-eater, they had already killed over 20 villagers. My father's reputation as a good shot was well known, and the District Commissioner wanted him to eradicate this menace if he could. My father was about to get his chance to confront predators with a taste for human blood.

    Outside, our camp was encircled by a boma [livestock enclosure] of branches. In the middle sat our two tents — one for my parents and one I shared with my sister.

    On the edge of the barricade, labourers from the ranch slept out in the open, the darkness lit only by the faltering light of their fire. Through the men moved a monster in silhouette: a lion with a mane of black, his luminescent eyes focused on the rack of meat we had butchered that day.

    As I watched, the alpha lion hesitated. Something else had caught his attention. He turned, eyes dazzling in the firelight, and approached the camp retainers. This lion was no longer interested in meat left out to dry. It wanted the meat of man. It wanted to kill.

    The lion was almost on top of Peter Matoka, my father's foreman. In an instant Peter reached for an axe by his side. I held my breath.

    The lion roared as it sprang forward. Peter raised the axe high above his head and for a second the lion's jaws loomed above him, ready to savage him to pieces. But when they clamped shut, the demon had sunk its fangs into the heft of the axe itself.

    Pandemonium broke out. As screams drowned out the sounds of the bush, two other colossal silhouettes appeared. The lion pride had arrived in force. I slunk back into the tent, fear overcoming my excitement.

    Then my father appeared. From the opening of his tent, he staggered half-asleep out into the night, wearing only the shirt of his pyjamas. With one hand he seized his rifle, with the other his torch, but as he took his first stride his face smashed into the tent pole, breaking open his nose.

    Blinking back pouring blood, he turned towards the chaos. The alpha lion, Peter's axe still lodged in his jaws, lifted its head to meet his gaze. There was a grunting, a furious roar, and the lion charged.

    They say that time slows down, but that is not how it felt; instantly the alpha lion had crossed the camp, ready to tear my beloved father apart.

    Without trousers, displaying his masculinity to the world, blood streaming from his ruptured nose, my father stood his ground. In a heartbeat, he turned his torch on the charging lion. Holding his rifle in his other hand, he aimed it like a pistol along the beam of bright light — and fired.

    The deranged animal was arrested, mid-leap. The bullet had found the centre of its chest, cleaved through muscle and bone, and buried itself deep in the beast's heart. I watched, incredulous, as the great carcass dropped and, in a whirlwind of dust, rolled to my father's feet. There it lay still, blood pumping out of the hole in its breast.

    Dad dropped the torch to reload. The torch's beam fleetingly picked out the faces of the other two lions. My father lifted the rifle and released another two shots. At each, a lion dropped dead. Silence settled on the camp.

    I looked between the lions and my father. As I marvelled at the beautiful man-eaters spread out beneath me, I was hit by the feeling that there had been only one person standing between them and my sister and me becoming their next meal: my father, my hero, my god.

    Many lives were saved that night, and the local villagers would never forget it. Nor would I. It was my father who would be the inspiration for the heroes who eventually graced the pages of my books. My passion is to bring to life those heroes — and, if ever I need a model for one, all I have to do is remember that night when I was eight years old: my father, his Remington rifle, and three man-eating lions, rampaging in the night.

    My father, Herbert Smith, meant everything to me. I loved him with every inch of my being. Every boy has a hero in his life — and my father was that man.


    I did a lot of stupid things in my youth, but my father was always there with a stern word and his belt in his hand to make sure I stuck to the right path. Not once did I resent it.

    He was a staunch Victorian with a strict code of discipline, but a sense of fairness as well. On our ranch there were all kinds of ways for a boy to get himself killed. His rules were the best way of ensuring I didn't fall prey to any of them.

    I was eight years old when he gave me my first rifle, a .22 Remington. 'It's yours now, Wilbur,' my father had said, 'but there's a code that goes with it. A system of honour. You fire safely. You shoot clean. You only kill that which you're going to eat.'

    I shot my first animal shortly afterwards and my father ritually smeared the animal's blood on my face. I was a new hunter, the blood the mark of emerging manhood. I refused to bathe for days.

    After that my friend Barry and I would roam the trails from one corner of the ranch to another, sometimes straying deep into the untamed bush. For a time we hunted only small game.

    But one bright summer's day when we were no more than 15 years old, Barry directed my gaze to the mountains that marked the horizon beyond the churning Kafue river, and whispered of a rumour he'd heard. 'There's a kudu bull roaming in the lowlands of that hill, Wilbur,' he said. 'We're going to hunt him.'

    Borrowing my father's old Jeep, Barry and I set out, fording the river and journeying into the forested hills. When the Jeep could go no further, we went on foot. The sun was sinking by the time we first saw the bull.

    The last glimpses of light were hovering over the mountaintops; soon they would be gone. We would have to head back to the Jeep, and get home, soon. We had found the bull and we'd find him again. I shouldered my rifle and began to tramp away.

    It was some time before I realised Barry hadn't followed. When I turned back, he went in the opposite direction. The realisation hit us both at the same time: we didn't know where we had left the Jeep.

    Worse still, we hadn't plotted our route back. Intent on taking the kudu before nightfall, we'd pushed on without a thought.

    'We're screwed,' said Barry.

    'It will look different in the morning,' I said, only half-believing it. First, we would have to endure a night in the bush, without fire, food or water.

    Sleep did not come that night. We clung to our rifles, backs braced against an outcrop of cold stone, and waited for the black sky to pale. When morning came, two hungry, bedraggled boys tried to follow their own spoor (or trail), hoping they could backtrack.

    But it was hopeless. By the time the sun was at its zenith, we had turned ourselves in yet more circles.

    When I heard a noise overhead, I couldn't be certain it wasn't the roar of anxiety in my febrile mind. I squinted into the cruel afternoon sun and saw a shape that lifted my heart. It was my father's little Tiger Moth biplane, sailing out of the blue.

    With energy I had not known we still had, we leapt up to grab his attention, screamed crazily and waved. There was a moment when I thought he had seen us. Then, he flew on. I had never felt so alone and helpless.

    It was as dawn broke on the third day that I heard the Tiger Moth again. Ripping off our shirts, Barry and I scrambled for higher ground and began waving them furiously back and forth. Then came the signal we had been praying for.

    Far above, my father tipped the aeroplane's wings back and forth to acknowledge us, extended his hand from the cockpit and banked around.

    There was no place for him to land in bush this thick, but he had located us and he knew we were alive. Barry and I settled down for a long wait.

    Time went by and another sound reached us through the bush. It was my father's truck, grinding its way towards us. At long last, it materialised out of the scrub.

    My father sat impassively behind the wheel and motioned for us to climb into the back. It wasn't until I saw the stony set of his face that I knew how much trouble we were in. The truck wheeled around and, at last, we were on our way home.

    We dropped Barry at his house first, to face the wrath of his parents. Outside our farmhouse, my father climbed out of the cab and came around to face me. Only now did I think of the panicked nights my mother had spent, the terrible calamities she must have imagined had happened to me.

    I watched as my father pulled the belt out of his trousers to give me a well-deserved thrashing.

    What we had done was reckless and foolish, and the guilt I felt at putting them through such worrisome times was overwhelming — but there was another part of me that revelled in the adventure. That night my father came into my room. I was wide awake, unable to sleep after the terrors of the last few days and my father's anger.

    He sat on the bed next to me. I was expecting a stern talk about lessons to be learned, cautions to be taken, but he didn't say a word. He stared beyond me for a while as if considering a difficult problem. Then he touched my forehead briefly and left the room.

    'That is a stupid idea!' my father had said. 'You'll starve to death. Go and get a real job!' From an early age, I wanted to be a writer. I loved telling stories. It was a skill I had been honing from the moment I could read.

    Now those dreams seemed to have come to nothing. In 1962, I was 29 years old and, sitting in the bedroom of the bachelor's mess where I lived, I stared at the 20th rejection letter I had received for the novel I considered was my masterwork. As I screwed it in my fist, I faced a troubling thought: my father might have been right.

    But I had a rebellious streak, and maybe it was time to show my father what I was made of. Disappointment can be an incredible spur, if it doesn't kill you.

    My father had encountered numerous knockdowns in his life and he'd risen to fight again another day. Slowly, over the next days and weeks, ideas began to unfold inside me. I began to look around me for material, within myself and back in time.

    The main thing was that I had my life to draw on. I had vivid memories of my childhood, living half-feral on my father's cattle ranch. I would write about the people I had known, the black and the white, about hunting and gold-mining and carousing and women.

    I would write about love and being loved, about hate and being hated. I would leave out all the immature philosophy, radical politics and rebellious posturing that had been the backbone of my past work, and write about the subjects and people I knew.

    I picked up my pen to begin, and an old memory returned. It was a story I had thought of often over many years, one that made me marvel even to this day. It was the memory of the time I had woken in the night and, crawling out of my tent, watched my father shoot three man-eating lions without breaking a sweat.

    My pen was already moving over the page. When The Lion Feeds were the words I had written. I had a title. That book would go on to be a bestseller, and begin the career that would bring me so many adventures in my long life.

    I know that my relationship with my father influenced the way I thought about the characters in my novels.

    Though we were dissimilar in many ways, we came to recognise the same qualities in each other — the desire to work for no man that had driven my father to build his business on the Copperbelt was the same one that had driven me to writing. We both wanted to dictate the paths of our own lives.

    My father had little interest in novels, not even mine, although my mother said he carried around a copy of When The Lion Feeds in the boot of his car to show his friends. He had always been reticent with praise. There is one moment, though, that will always stay with me.

    On my 50th birthday, he'd called me an idiot for the millionth time. I said, 'Dad, you can't call me that any more. I've proved you wrong. An idiot doesn't write bestsellers.'

    He grinned, looked at me keenly, and said, 'I guess you have!' And then he gave me a bear hug. Dad didn't hug much. It meant a lot to me.

    My father died on April 12, 1985. I stood at his grave, with tears rolling. A great man had gone and the yawning absence in my life would never go away.

    I loved him and admired him and the world was smaller now. Dad had stopped smoking 20 years before, but the damage had been done. In his last days, he had become frailer, slighter, though in my eyes his soul never diminished.

    When he passed away, my world changed for ever, leaving me with the regret that we had never been able to become true friends. Time, as it always does, had slipped through our fingers.

    I often wonder what my father would have made of the 21st century. He would have been a man out of time. When my first child was born, my father took me aside.

    'My boy,' he told me. 'They're going to bring that baby back from the hospital any day now. When they do, wait for it to soil its nappy. Then confidently announce to your wife: 'Stand back! This is my child as well!'

    'Then, undo the baby's nappy and stick the safety pin into the baby's bottom. The baby will squeal and your wife will never let you near a dirty nappy again!' He was being totally serious.

    In the end, I didn't take Dad's advice, but I had some sympathy with his view of a man's role in society. My father never bathed me, he never fed me, and he never changed my nappy.

    I think one of the worst inventions of our times is political correctness. It has forced a generation of men to keep their masculinity under wraps, made them too timid to admit their true views about the world. Today, even the concept of 'hero' is not politically correct.

    In my father's time, our heroes were served up to us directly from battle, commanding victorious armies or navies, like Nelson, Wellington and Churchill.

    Or they were performing amazing acts of derring-do, discovering hidden parts of the globe, like Livingstone, Stanley and Baker. But where are the titans in public life today? Where is Winston Churchill? Where is Franklin Roosevelt? Where is Nelson Mandela?

    If you look hard enough, there are people to admire — but they are private heroes, quiet lionhearts. In South Africa we have the unsung former public protector, Thuli Madonsela, who, while raising her two children as a single parent, took on the ruling party and then President Zuma over spending on his private rural retreat.

    Yet, on the whole, there are no giants today, no role models in the public realm. We make our heroes out of ordinary people who have achieved prominence simply because their job puts them on the television or cinema screen, or they have become famous for being famous through ghastly reality television.

    Today's heroes are celebrities. Yes, they're different from the rest of us — they earn more, they visit more nightclubs, they may play better football — but Wayne Rooney is hardly Lawrence of Arabia, is he?

    Although there may be a shortage of real men on the covers of magazines today, these rules don't apply in my books. Like the heroes of my novels, my father lived life the way he wanted — in an era when a man could provide for his family with only his natural guile and the rifle over his shoulder.

    To me, he was the sun and the moon and the stars.



    Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/art...ed-life-killing-three-lions-hungry-flesh.html
     
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  2. dobber

    dobber AH Enthusiast

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    That was well worth the read, thanks
     
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  3. Red Leg

    Red Leg AH ENABLER GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    Truly greater writer - whether a novel or these remembrances.
     
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  4. GA Hunter

    GA Hunter AH Enthusiast

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    Good stuff
     
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  5. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN AH ENABLER SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR LIFETIME TITANIUM BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    He got the recipe right.
    That realization,to write about what you know, is integral to good stories.
    I'm glad he got to share his experiences through his books.
     
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  6. Wheels

    Wheels AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    A great story by a man with many great stories.

    Smith is possibly the best writer of historical African novels. If you haven't read any, you should.
     
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  7. cpr0312

    cpr0312 AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    Cool story, thanks for sharing!
     
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  8. PARA45

    PARA45 AH Fanatic

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    Awesome story, thank you!
     
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  9. cagkt3

    cagkt3 PLATINUM SUPPORTER AH Elite

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    What a great read! I'll have to check out some of his novels too
     
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  10. MMAL

    MMAL GOLD SUPPORTER AH Enthusiast

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    What a fun childhood, a tremendous read that i enjoyed. Thank you.
     
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  11. jasyblood

    jasyblood BRONZE SUPPORTER AH Fanatic

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    Great read! Thanks for sharing this!
     
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  12. CAustin

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    Thank yo for sharing.
     
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  13. 1dirthawker

    1dirthawker AH Veteran

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    Hoas,

    my dad died a little over a year ago. he was my hero as well, reminded me quite a bit of john wayne, another of my boyhood heroes. i miss him as well, your story was a great reminder to me of one of the great men in my life. well done.
     
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  14. smokepole

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    what a wonderful tribute.
     
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  15. Ragman

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    Love Wilbur Smith books. He is easily one of my very favourite authors.
     
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  16. Adrian

    Adrian AH Enthusiast

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    Thank you for posting this account.
    Wilbur Smith is the best author of African adventures bar none.
    I had always been intrigued by Namibia and wanted to visit there before I had read a Wilbur Smith book but - and I know it sounds weird - 'The Burning Shore' made me fall in love with a country I had never visited and knew little about.
    I wanted to see the places described within it's pages, bring the images of my imagination to life.
    Great, great author and can tell a story with effortless guile that makes you keep on reading.
    If his memoirs are told with half the craftsmanship of his fiction then his reality will be as much of an adventure as the creativity of his mind.
     
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  17. Witold Krzyżanowski

    Witold Krzyżanowski AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    Very good an article and African adventure. Congrats.
     
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  18. Pheroze

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    I told my wife I wanted my boys to be men - the kind of men who take responsibility for those in their sphere, and calls BS in life on what he sees as BS. I could not agree more with the comments about TV culture, it's a virus. Good to see this article.
     
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  19. Hmaxwell

    Hmaxwell AH Member

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    Great read!
     

  20. Delta5Cav

    Delta5Cav AH Senior Member

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    I enjoyed your story as I have enjoyed your novels. Your father reminds me of my father and the actions taken by yours mirror the ones taken by my father. Unfortunately my father and I drifted apart and I never reconnected with him. He passed away 20 years ago and I never got to say goodbye. Sometimes pride hurts the ones we love.
     
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