Action man’s tales of life on the front line as a war correspondent
PUBLISHED: 09:16 16 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:16 16 January 2018
A war correspondent admits he was happy to take up a gun during his time in some of the world’s most dangerous places rather than flash his press card.
Al Venter, from Orpington, said it was a far more efficient way to stay alive.
He said: “I am one of those rare foreign correspondents who, if somebody was trying to use for target practice, I was not afraid to shoot back.
“I would go into battle with a firearm rather than attempt to flash a press card which, in hostile Third World environments usually proved pretty worthless.”
Now safely back home and reaching the age of 80, he has turned to writing books based on his military experiences.
He started out with International Defence Review covering military developments in the Middle East and Africa.
Portugal’s Guerrilla Wars in Africa was nominated in 2013 for New York’s Arthur Goodzeit military history book award.
Now two new books are out in his Cold War 1945-1991 series. It is more than 25 years since the end of the Cold War. It began over 75 years ago, in 1944 – long before the last shots of the Second World War had echoed across the wastelands of Eastern Europe – with the brutal Greek Civil War, said Al. He said the battle lingers on in Syria, Somalia, Ukraine and El Salvador.
Al told us: “For more than 30 years, I was linked to Jane’s Defence Weekly and others, reporting from Africa, the Middle East, Central America and the more recent war in the Balkans.
“I specialised on chemical, biological and nuclear warfare: four books deal with nuclear warfare and nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction ‘assets’ in the wrong hands.”
His two new books published by Pen & Sword Books deal with his exploits in Somalia and El Salvador. He told us: “I covered the first extensively over a decade or two, going in many times. The civil war in El Salvador ended in the early 1990s.”
After qualifying as a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers at the Baltic Exchange in London, he switched to reporting on wars for the BBC, NBC News, United Press International, plus Express newspapers. He said: “My first real conflict was Biafra, a tiny tribal enclave which fought to secede from Nigeria. Here I joined Frederick Forsyth who was reporting for the BBC.
“From there I covered Portugal’s colonial wars in its three African colonies, Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea.
“In-between, I spent several decades involved in my three other main areas of interest – the Rhodesian War, Lebanon’s civil war, which has proved as something of a template for what is going on today in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, plus South Africa’s 23-year-long so-called Border War because it was fought mainly along the frontiers of Angola. In the process I was wounded twice; once being blown up by a Soviet anti-tank landmine and which left me partially deaf.
“My other passion is free-diving with sharks, which I still do when I can afford it.
“There have been some close shaves – I regards sharks as generally quite timid, underscored by the fact that I have never been injured while in the water with them.
“These days I tends to spend as much time as possible at the Nuffield health and wellness club in Hayes Road, where I still manage 400 metres in the pool three times a week.”
He said: “The books are all personal experiences as I covered those wars. Obviously, I had to round everything off with historical background, major players and so on, some who I did not meet, but in today’s electronic world it’s all accessible.
“Bottom line, those are my experiences.”