Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My dad celebrated his birthday on 27 December... this is for him

30 Somers
30 winters
30 Kersfese
30 verjaarsdae
30 jaar..

Dis hoe lank ek jou mis Pappa

En sou ek nog 30 jaar lewe
Sal ek nooit ophou

Jy is op n beter plek
Verenig met Ons Ma
daar waar niks kan pla.
Hoop ons loop ook deur daai hek

Om eendag verenig met julle te wees
nie in liggaam, maar in gees.
Tot daardie dag kom
Bly klou julle aan my hart soos gom.

Beter ouers kon ek nie vra
Al voel dit soms julle was net hier vir n paar dae..
Op hartseer dae soos die
Weet ek julle vergeet ons ook nie.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Written by Evan Davies.

Halfway into April 1982 an incursion of 300 SWAPO fighters threaded their way through the dense vegetation of eastern Ovamboland and were predicted to be heading for the area around Tsumeb. They had passed 61 Mech to the east and were somewhere in the vast trackless wilds the north of the first row of private cattle farms.

Tsumeb was to be the HQ for operations, and many units were to be gathered there. We were informed briefly of the state of affairs, the number of terrorists, that they were well armed and still travelling in a single large group.

Alpha Company drove south to Tsumeb in the late afternoon. Ratpacks had been issued, the ratels loaded to capacity with ammunition, tons per vehicle, and we drove south through swarms of white ants in the low gold sunset. The company stretched for about 5Km along the road.

Now came a time of surprises; we found things out as they happened. At Tsumeb, a pleasant treed town with many jacarandas, we parked outside 61 Mech’s Tsumeb admin office. This was where our post was sent to. It was our known address. We were told of a variety concert to be given that evening by entertainers who travelled around the fighting units. It may have been a front for the mobilisation. Anyway, it was pretty terrible.

The hall was filled with officers and their wives. Kommandant De Vries Se Vrou was there in the front row, as well as Captain Malan’s wife. Sitting in their groups were also some clerks and some fighting units. All were as bored as each other. The show seemed to go on for hours. Finally there was an interval, during which we rudely scrambled for cooldrink and chips. After we were darkened the stage lights came on and three costumed lady dancers came on, as well as Captain Malan. They looked at him in surprise, and he announced that a group of SWAPOs had just been seen and their position confirmed. Alpha Company was to form up outside at their vehicles, and if anyone knew of someone missing they were to find them. “Word gereed vir orders in tien minute. Loop nou asseblief ordelik uit”.

Captain Malan was always impeccably polite… but we were terrified of him angry.

We filed past the enquiring faces of women and other troops and out into the darkness. The orders were simple. We were to drive to the Charlie Cutline at Tsintsabis. There we were to deploy along its south side, concealed over 6Km of its length until morning, in the path of the oncoming insurgents. If contact occurred at any point in the line, reinforcements would quickly arrive from either side and a battle would follow. It was hoped to contain them north of the cutline, and the bush there would be saturated with SADF units.

We organised ourselves at Tsintsabis, a small bermed fort, and from there drove slowly along the cutline, ratels at the back stopping one at a time every couple of hundred metres. The troops then disembarked and spread thinly between the vehicles and hid. We listened like bat eared foxes all night. The gunners and drivers stayed in their seats, the gunners scanning the opposing bush through their magnified optical sights.

We lay under bushes in the growing day and heat, waiting.

Finally an order came to group into platoons and move down the cutline to receive trackers, deploy separately, and search. But at about 10 a.m. an urgent message from Platoon 3 said they had landmine casualties and needed assistance. As Platoon 2 had found and was following tracks, we went. We drove west from our position in the centre of the three platoons until we came upon the distraught group. On seeing tracks on the cutline several troops had dismounted to loosen the game fence wires and cables for a follow up to the north. The detonation of a black widow had removed a troop’s leg entirely. 5 others had been less seriously wounded. We helped with bush clearing for a casevac, but when the puma came it accepted only 3 patients. Something serious had happened to Platoon 2 several kilometres away.

The Captain and Platoon 2 had joined up with a contingent of territorial force members and trackers, and the group of 5 ratels loaded with extra passengers had come upon a clear trail of debris on the cutline – empty cans, AK-47 rounds, sweet papers, as well as many footprints. This they followed for several hundred metres until it turned off north into the thick bush. The trackers led and it became obvious to those following that something was afoot, something not right. The insurgents made every attempt contrary to concealment.

I believe the intended plan was to put stopper groups in place to the north and flush the insurgents. “1-2-Alpha”, the Platoon Sergeant’s vehicle, was sent ahead with trackers to confirm the direction of the trail so that stoppers could be accurately placed. A radio message said that the tracks led across a wide shona. Such a feature was completely unexpected in this thick bush. It was unique there. The section was directed to follow across, enter the bush on the far side for not more than 100m to make sure there were no changes in the trail’s direction or composition, and return.

Across the shona they drove with extra people making 17 on board, into the dense growth, and then into a small open space. The tracker started running back to the ratel. An RPG-7 hit the ratel’s sight block. The driver, Lenny Hough, caught the blast on the back of his head. Before he lost consciousness, with marvellous grace he operated the pneumatic door opening levers to let the others escape the bruising noise – first left, then right. An older farmer who was standing in the command hatch and his son, Territorial Force members, and a bushman tracker, died immediately. The gunner, Cruywagen, was seriously wounded in head, neck and elsewhere. (On 13.11.82 I visited him in 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria. He couldn’t move or speak, but his hospital friends got him to open his eyes. Once as blue as the sky, they were now the colour of slate).

In the following seconds, 6 other RPGs exploded into both sides of the ratel. Petersen, killed outright, had red blotches all over his face and body from the searing copper droplets and screaming steel chips. Wolfvaard’s remains were collected later. It is easier to pick up bits of blackened, shattered bone than the fresh flesh sprayed over the inside of the ratel. An RPG-7 detonated on his chest as he emerged from the door. Corporal Van Jaersveld, who had trained us at 1 SAI, lost his legs, his arms, his lower torso, and his head.

A local woman, Tannie Pompie, who operated a radio relay in the area, reported the news and thus learned that she had lost a son and husband.

After the RPGs were done automatic fire intensified. With a shoulder wound, crawling through the long grass with bullets for a ceiling, Lance Corporal Scheepers found a remaining tracker, grabbed him, shook him out of his terror, saying, “Kry net die ratels, die ratels!” and forced him to backtrack. The others leopard crawled through the long pale grass of the clearing and in a loose group, found visual cover.

Pietie Pienaar had been sitting on the spare wheel when an RPG went into the edge of the engine covers. These blew open, hurling him unhurt to the ground, where instants later an exploding rifle grenade took a chunk from his backside. Piet Swarts, sleeping on the ratel floor and protected from serious hurt by the central seating console, escaped over the remains of Wolfvaard, but took two AK-47 bullets in the left arm once outside.

De Villiers escaped miraculously. An RPG was aimed at his middle. It went through the only solid towbar in the entire battalion (the rest being made from pipe sections; this towbar was well known for it was given as punishment during opfoks), though the ratel’s side and into the diesel tank whose far wall it failed to penetrate into the service passage where he sat. But his eardrums burst and he was deaf afterwards. Mostert was bleeding through many holes. Corporal Viljoen was also wounded by shrapnel.

The section leader Corporal Du Toit went back to the ratel under fire and collected a shirt-front of full magazines and brought them to Corporal Viljoen who fired 14 of them empty on automatic on the section’s only surviving rifle until it jammed. Its hand-protector had been blown off in the RPG attack.

Nearly 2Km away, the crews of the other four ratels clearly heard what sounded like a firefight between platoons. Deprived of radio comms with 1-2-Alpha, the Captain ordered an advance along the tyre tracks leading to the noise. Scheepers and a bushman presently appeared running towards them and blurted the worst news.

Drawing up in a line the vehicles crashed through the dense bush and emerged on the wide, circular shona known as Olifantspan after the thousands of elephant footprints imprinted there in the dried mud. Crossing this at speed and reaching the bush on the far side the troops disembarked and firing high, the line advanced. The ambushing group vanished into the greenery but with the increase in noise the survivors cowered in an extremity of fear. The first thing Mostert saw was a tracker with an AK-47, an image of impending death.
Platoon Medic Piet Spreeuwenberg saved Cruywagen’s life while the Company Medics and all their frantic helpers struggled in vain wit the unrecognizable Lenny Hough. I am told they gave up when his brain fell out. The first puma to arrive contained badly wounded friends. No one amongst the troops knew clearly what was going on.

The trackers counted 42 shallow trenches arranged in L-formation and confirmed the presence of 42 ambushers from tracks and spent ammunition including that from 4 machine guns. The group split up immediately into individuals or groups of 2 or 3. Later in the day one fleeing ambusher was shot by a gunship above RPG height. Another of the trackers had run through the ambush and turned up that evening with an SADF unit far to the north.

The event ended in fire when the shot vehicle erupted in flames and explosions and glowed like a furnace for two days.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Letter to honor my Mother

Hello Riana,
Ek het terloops op jou blog afgekom waar mense praat van Tsinsabis en Tsumeb en dit het so n vloed herinneringe op my neergedaal dat ek vir n lang tyd net hier gesit het en gedink, waar is almal nou, waar is daardie klomp stout seuns. Ons was ook by Tsinsabis vir n lang ruk, as ek reg onthou omtrent 7 maande. Ons het vir Tannie Pompie se stem en roepsyn leer ken en sy was vir ons n 'local Ma', wat baie dinge betref. Ek het een aand op n skerpioen getrap en die ding het my tussen die tone gesteek, ek het amper gevrek van die pyn. Toe ons engelse synertjie vir Tannie Pompie op die lyn kry vir raad se sy vir ons van die ui wat gesny moet word en tussen die tone ingedruk word. Dit was amper soos n wonderwerk, hoe die pyn skielik verminder het en ek was weer die volgende oggend uit op die kaplyn. In Januarie/Februarie 1981 was dit my en Wessels se beurt om plaas op te pas by julle einste plek. Ek het begin grieperag word n dag voor die tyd en het die kaptein naderhand iemand in my plek gestuur saam met Wessie. Intussen het ek toe begin sporadies bewussyn verloor na twee dae en weer het Tannie Pompie vorendag gekom met raad (Wessie was ons Medic, nou juis by julle op die plaas terwyl ek le en vrek op Tsintsabis) - ek het swartwater koors en moet onmiddelik hospitaal toe in SA, die prognose is reg gewees en teen die tyd dat ek in 1 Mil beland het 4 dae later was dit al amper te laat. Ek het weggeraak vir 4 weke en toe ek wakker word hoor ek dat nog n dag in Tsinsabis My laaste sou gewees het. Ek het nooit weer vir Tsintsabis gesien nie en die rumours het dik gele dat ek omgekom het in die vliegtuig. Weer moes ek dankie se vir mense soos jou Ma hulle, hulle het sowaar my lewe gered.
Sedertdien is ek weer terug SWA toe elke jaar met RNT en 61Bn van Etale tot in die Kaokoveld, vir die volgende 6 jaar. Ons het intussen familie gebou, ek het geswat en meestersgraad bereik, ons het 5 kinders wat na Tsintsabis se dae gebore is en wat nou klaar groot is en wat bou aan n nuwe land.
Met Groot Dankie aan Tannie Pompie,
Rhodesier John, Oman

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hi Ross Thank you for your mail, I have posted it on the blog and on some of the SADF groups on facebook that I belong too. Thank you so much for writing to me. That is the nice thing about the blog, when you least expect it, you get a mail from some one.. that to me is very special. All the feedback I get from my blog is honestly very precious and dear to me. When I started the blog 7 years ago... it wasn't "cool" yet to talk about the army and what happened there. Since then quite a few books have been published and the media have also started to talk about it. Now people are talking about it openly. What really got me back then, was the stories of despair I got to hear. Men who was in such a state that they were not fit to work.. who could not live normal lives, all thanks to Border Duty. That made me realize that I could actually do some good with my blog.. but I ran myself into a brick wall over and over again with this topic. I am glad to say things have changed... guys are talking bout their experiences.. and they are catching up with other guys that were with them on the border. At least they are not bottling it all up no more.. they are venting.. talking... letting it all out. its not anymore something to be ashamed about, once again they can be proud of once being a member of the SADF 30 years ago. Due to my experiences as a child I was diagnosed at a PTSD sufferer. Like you, I started to write, as it was impossible to remember and relay in 30 minutes what i felt and experienced in a week. I started to write, and then read back to my psychologist in that 30 mins i had once a week. I of course kept my writings, and sometimes read it over again after a month or so I was astound at what i felt at that very moment when writing it. I realized later that the writing did me more good than the shrink. So that have been my advice to everyone who had problems.. WRITE. And that is how the blog started... but this was much better.. I GOT FEEDBACK. YAY!! The blog has given me a much better idea of exactly what happened that day my dad and Hendrik died. I was only a child of nearly 12 when they died, and I was told nothing. or only the bare essentials. It helped me to come to terms with what happened that day. But most of all, it made me very proud and extremely humble. Warm Greetings Riana v d Westhuizen
This was a letter to me I found under the comment segment of this blog today. I thank the writer for making my day. Dear Riana, I was the Signals NCO for Group 30, later Sector 30 in Otjiwarongo in 1978 and 1979. On the Ccommando radio network the Tsumeb Commando call-sign was 91, Outjo 81, Grootfontein 61 and so forth. Early in 78, returning from patrol near Etosha, one team's unimog crashed. The radio batteries were completely empty, so the signaller made a fire to warm up the batteries enough to get one whisper of a signal out to call for help. He sent out an sos which we picked up at our HQ, but the signal rapidly decreased in strength as the batteries burst of power faded, and the coordinates in slidex only your Mother could hear. And relayed to us, this was enough to find and recover the patrol. This alerted us to the unique atmospheric situation at your family farm, (We could sometimes even hear New York City taxi cabs! when we came over) So we cut several antennae for the different frequencies, and after testing various cuts and yagi's found that nothing beat the inverted "V" that mother used. We kept 91 as your Mother's call-sign for all networks, a large security risk, but really, your mother need no callsign, her voice and character were identification enough! Your family deserves a monument in stone, but let me assure you, you have a monument of memories based on all the warm recollections of your family and the gratefullness for all the lives and misery your family has spared. For this we thank you. Steffen Gentis October 2, 2012 11:11 AM
Hi Riana, I came across your blog today quite by accident. My name is Ross Hesom and I was a National Serviceman at 101 Workshop Unit in Grootfontein from July 1984 to December 1985. Although based at Grootfontein, I travelled extensively between Ruacana and Katima Mulilo to all the artillery bases and smaller mechanized camps to service the field guns and also Ratel and Eland 90mm guns and turrets. I also did some camps on the border during the SADF withdrawal. We were based at the gates of 61 Mech and I was tasked with looking after the Olifant tank guns and turrets since I was a "Gun Tiffie". I read your blog on PTSD and I also have a story to tell. In May 2006 I had a complete breakdown and ended up in therapy being treated for Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. What a shock after all that time back in divvy street to be given a diagnosis like that! Although I never saw actual combat, I was exposed to the trauma enough to carry the scars for 20 years before actually being able to deal with them. As a release for the stories and memories causing daily flashbacks over those 20 years, I started writing everything down exactly as I remembered them. I showed the transcripts to my therapist who asked if I had told any of this to my wife or family. The official secrets act forced us to bottle everything up and having shown the transcripts to my wife and parents, they were shocked at what I had written. My parents who waited and worried while I was on the border for 18 months as a NSM and then during the camps had no idea what we were doing. As a result of the reaction from my family and the lack of knowledge of what we went through, I cleaned up the transcripts and have had them published under the name "From Boys to Men" - by Ross Hesom - A Victim of Conscription. Writing the book was very easy as I remembered every incident in crisp, clear detail as if it had happened an hour ago. I now have to go back to the book to recall a lot of the stories. Writing is wonderful therapy and I recommend that every veteran sit down and write his stories. I know that this is not realistic to expect. The other reason for writing and publishing the book was to hopefully reach as many of the SADF veterans who 'Knew that they were different" when they returned home and "didn't know why". I put those two comments in inverted commas because there is a whole generation of South African men out there who are feeling the way I did for 20 years. It is not a lost or forgotten cause and recovery is possible with the right help. The book, "From Boys to Men" is available for download through Google Books as an e-book for Canadian $7,99 at If you would prefer, send me your address and I will mail you a paperback copy for free. Thank you for taking the time to create the blog. It is something that is sorely needed. Regards Ross Hesom

Monday, August 13, 2012

This is a photo of my parents, middle and 2nd from right.. far right you will find Roland de Vries.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

15 April 2012, 30 years later.

Vandag is dit presies 30 jaar later. Op 15 April 1982 het my held gesterf. Die feit dat hy vir baie ander mense n held was het nooit by my opgekom toe nie. Al wat ek geweet het, was dat my kaartehuise inmekaar getuimel het. Dit wat ek altyd meer as enigeiets op aarde gevrees het, het nou gebeur. My Pa is dood.

Ek wou dit eenvoudig nie glo nie. Toe ek agter kom hier kom nou slegte nuus het ek hulle dadelik voorgespring met die vraag of Hendrik ( my swaer) iets oorgekom het. Dit sou ek nog kon hanteer... maar toe ek hoor ons het altwee verloor was ek in stukke op die grond.

Vra enige iemand wat so n beproewing deurgegaan het, en hulle sal jou se jy sou sekondes voor dit nog nie eers kon droom in jou wildste drome dat jy sal kan staan met sulke skokkende nuus nie.. tog... HY gee krag. Op daai oomblik... en in die dae .. jare wat kom.

Nooit sou ek kon droom in watse from ek oral krag vandaan sou kry nie... en vandag is dit 30 jaar later .. en ek kry dit steeds... van mense soos JULLE!!

Baie dankie vir die mense wat oor die jare vir my die lig op my donkerste uur gewerp het.. wat my opgelig het, gedra het, met hulle pragtige woorde oor my ouers, PA!!

Most of all, for keeping the memory alive. Not for me, but his grand children, their children and children to come. When i started my blog 6 years ago I would never have imagined for the wonderful responses, stories, and just general outpoor of love and admiration i received from strangers, people I will never meet, but we have a strong unseen bond for ever, for the simple reason that two wonderful human beings have touched our lives.

On this day I think of all the families who lost a loved one on 15 April '82. I honestly hope you found the closure I did. And once again I want to thank every one who made a contribution towards my healing.

They lived to INSPIRE, let us never forget.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


The soldier stood and faced God,
Which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining,
Just as brightly as his brass.

"Step forward now, you soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To my Church have you been true?"

The soldier squared his soldiers and said,
"No, Lord, I guess I ain't.
Because those of us who carry guns,
Can't always be a saint.

I've had to work most Sundays,
And at times my talk was tough.
And sometimes I've been violent,
Because the world is awfully rough.

But, I never took a penny,
That wasn't mine to keep...
Though I worked a lot of overtime,
When the bills just got too steep.

And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear.
And sometimes, God, forgive me,
I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place,
Among the people here.
They never wanted me around,
Except to calm their fears.

If you've a place for me here, Lord,
It needn't be so grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don't, I'll understand."

There was a silence all around the throne,
Where the saints had often trod.
As the soldier waited quietly,
For the judgement of his God.

"Step forward now, you soldier,
You've borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,
You've done your time in Hell."

"They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them..... "

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Letter that took my breath away...

Dear Riana,

I don't normally comment on Facebook pages, but after reading your
story and the story related about how your father died in a SWAPO
ambush, I feel I should share something with you. Back in early 1979 I
was commanding a company of paratroopers from 1 Para Bn. B-Company had
been doing operations almost continuously since early 1978, and in
March 1979 we were flown up from Bloemfontein to take over the Fire
Force at Ondangwa. My soldiers were weary after more than a year of
repeated deployments and we had been back in Tempe for less than a
week since our previous deployment in the Rundu area. They had just
been presented with their Pro Patria medals when we were sent back to
SWA, but they were as anxious as ever to get to grips with the enemy
again. When we landed, we realised that we were at Grootfontein, not
Ondangwa! We had been diverted. I was immediately sent up to the HQ
and briefed by Brig Bosman and Col Eddie Webb from SWA Command in
Windhoek. There had been a big infiltration by SWAPO and they had
penetrated into the so-called "White Farmlands" south of the old Red
Line. It was the start of Operation CARROT, which was to continue for
several years. There were elements of SWAPO known to be in the
mountains within a triangle formed by Tsumeb, Grootfontein and Otavi.
The Ghaub Mission Station in the mountains was suspected of providing
them with support. My company was tasked with searching for these
elements and flushing them out of the mountains. I had to find a way
to enter the mountains unobserved with my company, and settled for a
plan whereby we were infiltrated in the cattle-trucks of local
farmers, who would drop off sections at various points at night,
without stopping, so that they could climb different peaks and
establish temporary bases from which to operate. The plan was
presented to the big shots and they approved it. All went well and the
next day all nine sections of the company were in place and the Coy HQ
was hidden near the top of one of the highest peaks, where we hoped to
establish good radio communications. It was a very demanding time that
we spent in those mountains, and the stories of what happened before
the terrs were finally driven out of their hiding places and we were
able to continue the hunt in the flat farmlands do not belong here.
Suffice to say we had blisteringly hot days to contend with in the
mountains, freezing nights, howling winds, mopani flies and a severe
shortage of water. But our biggest problem throughout was to maintain
radio communications!

The terrain and the atmospheric conditions played havoc with our
signals, and we struggled to keep in touch with our sections on VHF,
but lost all contact with our higher HQ on HF. Then 91 came on the
air! It was like a ray of light to us! This woman with the most
beautiful voice who seemed to be able to make contact with us at all
times! She was in contact with our higher HQ and she was able to relay
messages for us. We made contact with her at scheduled times and were
able to send our SITREPS and to receive fresh instructions. We could
hear her talking to our higher HQ, but could not hear them, and she
always relayed every message meticulously accurately. But she did far
more than that. During the extended period that we operated in those
dry, bush-covered, densely forested and rocky mountains we needed
resupply, and she arranged that for us, with surreptitious deliveries
at predetermined spots at night by local farmers from the Commando. I
made a note in the Company Diary at the time: "There is a woman
signaller on one of the relay stations who really is good! She grasps
situations rapidly and relays messages accurately - in sharp contrast
to many of the men manning sets!!" The barren rocks that the troops
had to clamber across were razor sharp and cut their boots to ribbons.
We had to request new boots and the Quartermaster at Grootfontein was
reluctant to comply to our request. But he had not bargained on Tannie
Pompie! We heard her sort him out on the radio in no uncertain terms
and we rolled around laughing at the way she put him in his place and
reminded him that we were the ones doing the fighting while he sat in
his comfortable, air-conditioned store! She spoke to our senior
officers about "My seuns daar bo in die berge", told them she would
not allow them to neglect us and she adopted a motherly ownership of
us. My paratroopers adored her and thought she was the greatest! A
real angel from heaven with their interests at heart. If you had asked
any one of them over that period who was the best chick in the world,
there is no doubt that 91 would have carried away the prize. Sadly,
none of those soldiers ever met her, as we went from the mountains
straight into the hunt on the plains and those brave men cleared out
of the Army at the end of their National Service in June of that year.
It was only in 1982 that I was able to meet Tannie Pompie - your
wonderful mother. Unfortunately, it was a sad time, as it was during
Operation YAHOO and your father had just been killed in that terrible
ambush. At the time I was commanding E-Company, 1 Parachute Battalion
and we were attached to 61 Mechanised Battalion Group. My own Company
2IC, Captain Leon van Wyk, was also killed in a contact with SWAPO
during that operation. Your dear mother will not remember me, as she
was understandably very emotional when I spoke to her, but I want you
to know what a wonderful job she did and how deeply she crept into the
hearts of the paratroopers she helped so very long ago.

God bless you.

McGill Alexander