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When a rebellion breaks out in the capital of the newly-independent nation of Batasi, Colonel Deal is ordered to confine all British Army personnel to quarters and to turn over his command of a mixed Anglo-African regiment to a native African officer, Captain Abraham. Colonel Deal departs for the capital, and the second-ranking African officer, Lieutenant Boniface, quickly arrests Captain Abraham and assumes command of the regiment in the name of the rebels. Stranded at the airport because of the rebellion, British Private Wilkes and a Swedish United Nations employee, Karen Eriksson, go to the all-white sergeants' mess, administered by Regimental Sergeant Major Lauderdale, a staunch old-line British career soldier. Lauderdale is serving as host to Miss Barker-Wise, a leftwing Member of Parliament on a factfinding tour. Captain Abraham escapes from his guards and, seriously injured, finds refuge in the messhall. Overriding the protests of Miss Barker-Wise, who naively champions Boniface, Lauderdale refuses to surrender Abraham to the rebel leader. Boniface threatens to destroy the mess if Lauderdale does not comply with his demand. Deal returns from the capital, and as he announces the success of the revolt and British recognition of the new government, Wilkes and Lauderdale blow up the antitank guns positioned to raze the messhall. Boniface, now a colonel, orders Lauderdale out of the country, and Lauderdale complies, looking forward to the future wherever the army may take him.