A soldier’s dedication to Pat Kerr

To the untrained eye this is a dull grey ‘government’ envelope, to the trained eye it is SO MUCH more.  This is a “SABC” envelope and it contains one simple thing, a message from a SADF troop serving on the Border to a loved one and a song request.  It has been through the army censor (see stamps) and is on its way to a true radio legend in her time – Pat Kerr, host of “Forces Favourites” on the SABC’s English Service to be read out on air.

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To the troop who penned the note, the request meant everything, cast your minds eye to solitary SADF soldier fighting on the Angolan border, exhausted, weary and writing a note of love to his sweetheart back home, hoping it would be read to the nation and that his girlfriend would be tuned in on her radio to the English Services at the allotted time.  It would certainly “make his day”.

The sad thing is that “Forces Favourites” was an iconic radio show in its time, it was the voice for English speaking national servicemen, and Patricia (Pat) Kerr was a leading radio personality, however her passing and the radio show she championed has slipped into obscurity.

1960098_10152055619561234_1409976751_nThen known as a voice of South Africa, Pat’s authoritative tones later echoed across Farnham in England when she settled there in 1992.

When 90-year-old Patricia Murray Chinnery – stated by a former colleague to be ‘an institution on South African radio’ passed away at her home at Headley Down on February 4th 2015, very few people were aware of her death – yet she was known by millions of radio listeners in the country of her birth – South Africa – and many more in Farnham.

Pat, who used her maiden surname of Kerr for broadcasting purposes as well as Scully and Chinnery surnames of her two husbands, both of whom pre-deceased her) had an unforgettable voice.

An actress, as well as a presenter of radio programmes, Pat Kerr was also a character voice (that of Enid Blyton’s Noddy) in countless episodes of Little Peoples Playtime on South Africa‘s English Service.

She was best be remembered for her programme Forces Favourites on South Africa’s English Service from 1962 to 1989.  Her service to the armed forces cannot be underestimated, Pat Kerr was even awarded The Order of the Star of South Africa Knights Cross (Civil Division), by the then State President, P.W. Botha. The award notification appeared in General Orders 177/81 dated 27 November 1981. This was awarded to civilians for outstanding service to the country.

Her obituary was covered in the local Farnham Newspaper in England, and other than actions by a close friend to notify the SABC, her passing would have gone absolutely unknown in South Africa, in fact this article will come as shocking news to many in the military veterans fraternity.

Her show “Forces Favourites” was disbanded at the end of hostilities on the South West African Border in 1989, and programming format changes at the SABC have left this unique part of South African broadcasting history slip.   A nationwide phenomenon which if you did a “Google Search” on it now would reveal very little.

To give some insight to her personality and love for the “troops” these are her words on compilation album called “Soldier Boy” which she worked on with The Johnson’s Group.

soldier_boy“It was with some trepidation that I approached the task given me by Brigadiers Records of selecting what I thought were the most popular tunes in “Forces Favourites” . Although I have been presenting this programme for a number of years on the English Service of the South African Broadcasting Corporation and have come to know the tastes of the young people who listen to this programme (which is broadcast to the young men doing their National Service, their families and girl-friends) it is always difficult to pick a short list of favourite songs …. The boys do their National Service every year, and there are so many men in the Permanent Defence Force, to whom these songs mean a great deal. I hope you will all enjoy the selection, whether you are in uniform, or not, and that my special friends in the Flying Squad, the Police Forces everywhere, the Army, Navy and Airforce personnel, and Top Brass, will remain listeners to this record “Soldier Boy, and other Forces’ Favourites” as long as the grooves last”.

Pat‘s funeral was held at the Guildford Crematorium in England, March 10th 2015. Well Pat, the “grooves” still stay with us veterans.  Thank you for your service and may you Rest In Peace in the full knowledge that you “made our day”.

PFP (now the DA) anti-SADF conscription poster

So here’s an interesting poster doing the rounds in military veteran social media groups, with all the South African veterans branding it as a ECC (End Conscription Campaign) poster with the usual ho-hum “they ran away to the UK” and “where are these liberals now that the country has dipped to junk status” rhetoric.

But again I despair as its NOT a ECC (End Conscription Campaign) poster. This time its a PFP (Progressive Federal Party) youth league i.e. “Young Progressives” poster. The PFP as many know is the predecessor (Grandfather) of the Democratic Alliance – the DA, the same organisation most these military veterans now vote for and strongly support … go figure!

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The Progressive Federal Party (PFP), formed in 1977 advocated power sharing in federal constitution in place of the National Party’s policy of Apartheid.  Its leader was Colin Eglin, who was succeeded by Frederick van Zyl Slabbert and then Zach de Beer.  It held out as the official political “white” opposition to Apartheid and the National Party for just over a decade and its best known parliamentarian was Helen Suzman.

The Democratic Party (DP) was formed on 8 April 1989, when the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) merged with the smaller Independent Party and National Democratic Movement.  The DP contested the 1994 elections as the mainstream democratic alternative to the ANC, the IFP and the National Party.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) was formed when additional parties were added to the Democratic Party (DP) in June 2000 to form a bigger alliance against the ANC.

For reference, these are “End Conscription Campaign” posters, note the ECC logo comprising symbolically of a broken chain:

Like the PFP’s “Young Progressives”, The End Conscription Campaign (ECC) was another organisation made up of primarily “white” anti-apartheid supporters.  The ECC was a university/student organisation allied to the United Democratic Front and composed of conscientious objectors and supporters in opposition to serving in SADF under the National Service Conscription regulations laid out for all “white male adults”.

The ECC served to undermine the SADF by finding loopholes in the laws which enabled legal objection to conscription and targeted South Africa’s “English” medium universities during the 1980’s.

The irony now, is that where the country’s “centre” democrats so dogmatically fought the Apartheid government they now fight the ANC government with the same veracity.  So to answer the old SADF military veterans questions of “where are all these ‘libtards’ (liberals) who refused army service now that the country is in the toilet after hitting junk status?” Well, many are still in South Africa in the form of the DA, still very active in anti-ruling party politics, still driving centre democratic political philosophy, still holding rather large “Anti-Apartheid” credentials (whether the ANC and EFF like it or not) and funnily if you regularly put a Big X next to the ‘DA’ in an election – you are now one of them.

Many of odd twists and turns of inconvenient South African history that makes it so very interesting.

So young and yet so old

Three members of the SADF’s 61 Mechanised Battalion Group take a rest during the fighting on the Lomba river in Angola in 1987.

These young SADF national servicemen – most of them having just written a High School matric a year or two before and barely 18 or 19 years old – have just shattered the Angolan/Cuban coalition’s mechanised offensive, turning the tide at the height of this “cold war” in what was arguably one of the fiercest and most decisive mechanised battles fought on African soil since the Second World War.

These men – fighting in Ratel Infantry fighting vehicles against Russian T 55 Tanks knew that victory would boil down to strategy, innovation, decisiveness, leadership, teamwork, discipline and training – and not superior equipment or numbers.

Notice the presence of the “thousand yard stare” brought about from fatigue and extensive exposure to combat, ageing them well beyond their years.

Thank you to the 61 Mechanised Battalion veteran fraternity for the image.

Winner of the Honoris Crux Gold – TWICE! One of a kind … Remembering Maj. Arthur Walker HCG & Bar SM

Remembering a true South African military hero – the highest decorated South African Defence Force member and the legend that was Major Arthur Walker HCG and bar SM. Sadly Arthur passed away in March 2016 after a long fight against cancer.

Major Arthur Walker HC and Bar SM was a South African military hero of which there will never be an equal, he was South African Air Force helicopter pilot who was awarded the, not once – but twice, during the South African Border War.

The Honoris Crux Gold was the highest military award for bravery awarded to members of the South African Defence Force at that time – so his feat of obtaining two of them can never be repeated again.

Born 10 February 1953 in Johannesburg he matriculated from King Edward VII School in Johannesburg and went to the Army in 1971.

He obtained his pilot’s wings in 1977 and flew for 7 Squadron, Rhodesian Air Force, before re-joining the South African Air Force in 1980.

While flying Alouette III helicopters based at AFB Ondangwa in 1981 he was awarded the Honoris Crux Gold for risking his life during a night operation in Angola, by turning on the lights of his helicopter to draw enemy fire away from another helicopter.

The citation for the Honoris Crux Gold reads:

“During January 1981, two Alouettes, with Lieutenant Walker as flight leader, carried out close air support operations resulting in the Alouettes coming under intense enemy artillery and anti-aircraft fire. He only withdrew when ordered to do so. Later Lieutenant Walker returned to the contact area to provide top cover for a Puma helicopter assigned to casualty evacuation. Again he was subject to heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire. During the withdrawal the second helicopter developed difficulties and called for assistance. Yet again Captain Walker returned to provide top cover, drawing virtually all the anti-aircraft fire to his Alouette. His courageous act prevented the loss of an Alouette and crew.

Lieutenant Walker’s actions were not only an outstanding display of professionalism, devotion to duty and courage, but also constitutes exceptional deeds of bravery under enemy fire and makes him a worthy recipient of the Honoris Crux Gold”

In December 1981 he was cited for landing in enemy territory to search for and rescue the crew of a helicopter that had been shot down.
An Alouette III of the SAAF

The citation for the Bar to his Honoris Crux Gold reads:

“During December 1981 Captain Walker was again requested to provide top cover for the evacuation of a seriously wounded soldier. On take-off with the evacuee his number two helicopter was hit and crash-landed. Without hesitation and with total disregard for his personal safety, Captain Walker landed near the wrecked helicopter and immediately searched for the crew. Eventually the situation became suicidal, compelling Captain Walker and his crew to withdraw. When he was airborne he spotted the missing crew and yet again, without hesitation and despite the fact that virtually all enemy fire was now [aimed] in his direction, he landed and lifted the crew to safety.

Through this courageous deed he prevented the loss of two men. His distinguished actions, devotion to duty and courage make him a credit to the South African Defence Force in general, the South African Air Force in particular and makes him a worthy recipient of the Bar to the Honoris Crux Gold”

With sincere thanks to Arthur for sending us a full colour image of himself in uniform – Rest in Peace Arthur.  At the going down of the sun …we will remember you.

Conveniently ignored ‘Heroes of the struggle for Democracy’ … the ‘old’ SADF

Here is an unusual “hero of the struggle for democracy in South Africa”.  This is a South African Defence Force (SADF) former “whites only” National Service conscript turned “volunteer” holding a R4 assault rifle as he safely escorts the ballot boxes to a counting station during South Africa’s landmark 1994 election.

He, like thousands of other old SADF white “National Servicemen” literally volunteered over the transition between 1990 and 1994 to bring democracy to all South Africans and make the elections a reality.  For good reason to, even on the election day itself bomb attacks where still going on and lives were still under threat. Yet now these military “heroes” are conveniently forgotten or vanquished and rather inappropriately branded as “racists” by a brainwashed South African public that has lost perspective.

This is their story and it needs to be told. 1990 was a significant year – Apartheid in all its legal forms was removed from the law books, the system that had generated “the struggle” was dead. The African National Congress (ANC) was also officially unbanned in February 1990, unhindered to practice its politics. All that remained was a period of peaceful negotiation and reconciliation … the future looked bright.  But did that happen?

Unfortunately not, all hell broke out and the organisations that ultimately kept the peace were the statute armed forces of South Africa (SADF and SAP), who by default steered the country safely on the path to democracy in its final course up to and through the 1994 elections, and not the “struggle heroes” of the ANC, who it can really be said to have stumbled at the last hurdle.

It’s a pity as without this stumble the ANC could truly claim the mantle of  the “liberators” who brought democracy to all South Africans but now, rather inconveniently for them, they have to share it with the SADF – and in addition to SADF professional soldiers a huge debt gratitude is owed by the country to the old “white” SADF National Servicemen.

In 1990, once unbanned the ANC immediately went into armed conflict with all the other South Africans who did not favourably agree with them – especially the Zulu ’s political representation at the time – the Inkata Freedom Party (IFP), but also other “Black” liberation movements such as AZAPO (Azanian Peoples Organisation) and the old “homeland” governments and their supporters.  Instead of taking up a role of actively peacekeeping to keep the country on the peace negotiation track, they nearly drew South Africa into full-blown war.

From 1990 to 1994 South Africa saw more violence than the entire preceding period of actual “Apartheid”. There was extensive violence and thousands of deaths in the run-up to the first non-racial elections in South Africa in April 1994 – and to be fair it was not just the ANC , the violence was driven by a number of political parties left and right of the political spectrum as they jostled for political power in the power vacuum created by CODESA negotiations.

To deal with this escalation of all out political violence, the SADF called out for an urgent boost in resources, however conscription was unravelling and numbers dropping off rapidly from the “national service” pool.  Luckily however, tens of thousands of “white” ex National servicemen were now serving out “camp commitments” in various Citizen Force units, SADF Regiments and in the Regional Commando structures who heeded the call and volunteered to stay on – fully dedicated to serving the country above all else, and fully committed to keep the country on the peace process track and stop the country sliding into civil war.

In an odd sense, if you really think about it, these “white conscripts” are the real “heroes” that paved the way for peace. For four full years of political vacuum they literally risked their lives by getting into harms way between the various warring protagonists, left/right white/black – ANC, IFP, PAC and even the AWB – and it cannot be underestimated the degree to which they prevented an all out war from 1991 to 1994 whilst keeping the peace negotiations on track to a fully democratic settlement.

That South Africa enjoys the fruits of the CODESA democratic process, without plunging itself into civil war whilst democracy was negotiated is very much directly attributed to the men and women in the SADF.

In 1991, the armed insurrection in South Africa became more complex when far right-wing “white supremacist” break-away groups such as the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) began to increasing turn to armed violence to further their cause. South Africa’s Defence Force and Police structures and personnel now also had to deal with this added, rather violent, dynamic to an already feuding and violent ethnic and political landscape.

“White” loyalties where quickly cleared up between white right wingers and white members of the statute forces when the issue came to a head at ‘The battle of Ventersdorp’ on 9 August 1991.  The statute force maintained the upper hand and in all, 3 AWB members and 1 passer-by were killed. 6 policemen, 13 AWB members and 29 civilians were injured in the clash.

In addition to Pretoria and surrounds, this right wing “revolution” also focused  on Bophuthatswana in 1994,  The AWB attempted an armed Coup d’état (takeover by force of arms) after Bophuthatswana homeland’s President Mangope was overthrown by a popular revolt.  In addition to the SADF, this uprising was also foiled by what remained of the statute forces of Bophuthatswana, and was to cumulate in the infamous shooting of 3 surrendered AWB members in front of the world’s media by a policeman.

Luckily not part of this particular controversy, the SADF ‘national service’ soldiers were deployed into the region to quell the uprising and arrested looters in the chaos of the revolt stabilising the situation – as the below famous image taken in Mmabatho by Greg Marinovich shows.

The net result of all this is recorded as a “SADF victory, removal and abolition of Lucas Mangope’s regime, disestablishment of Bantustan”.  In all, Volksfront: 1 killed, AWB: 4 killed, 3 wounded and Bophuthatswana’s mutineers suffered 50 dead, 285 wounded.

To get an idea of this low-level war between the ANC and IFP for political control in Kwa-Zulu Natal alone, The Human Rights Committee (HRC) estimated that, between July 1990 and June 1993, an average of 101 people died per month in politically related incidents – a total of 3 653 deaths. In the period July 1993 to April 1994, conflict steadily intensified, so that by election month it was 2.5 times its previous levels. Here SADF soldiers conduct a search through bush veld in KwaZulu Natal 1994 and keep a close eye on protesters with “traditional weapons” – Section A KwaMashu Hostel, an Inkatha stronghold.

Moreover, political violence in this period extended to the PWV (Pretoria– Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) region in the Transvaal. The HRC estimated that between July 1990 and June 1993, some 4 756 people were killed in politically related violence in the PWV area. In the period immediately following the announcement of an election date, the death toll in the PWV region rose to four times its previous levels. Here are SADF National Service soldiers on patrol in Soweto, South Africa, 1991/2 and keeping the peace in Bekkersdal in 1994.

Much of this climaxed into famous incident when the IFP chose to march in Johannesburg brandishing “traditional weapons” in 1994.  Outside the African National Congress (ANC) headquarters at ‘Shell House’  a shootout in downtown Johannesburg between the ANC and IFP supporters erupted. Here in a famous photo taken by Greg Marinovich is a member of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) who lies dead, his shoes are taken off for the journey to the next life. These three SADF soldiers have come forward into the line of fire – strait between the two warring factions and are keeping the ANC gunmen at Shell House at bay preventing further loss of life, the another image shows a SADF medic coming to the assistance of a wounded IFP member at Shell House – the degree of the life changing injury of a bullet shattering his leg quite graphically evident.

Another good example is also seen here at Bekkersdal township, Transvaal, South Africa 1994. AZAPO supporters fire at ANC supporters in armed clashes between these two groups of the “liberation struggle”.  The SADF again suppressed the clash, the next image shows heavy armed SADF National Servicemen in support by driving into the middle of the fray and keeping the belligerents apart – in effect saving lives.

Bigger clashes took place in KaZulu Natal – an example is seen here at KwaMashu in 1994. ANC militants with a home-made gun or ‘kwash’ do battle with Inkatha Freedom party supporters across the valley at Richmond Farm.  Again SADF personnel were moved in to separate the protagonists, here 61 Mech National Servicemen in a SADF “Ratel” IFV patrol Section A, KwaMashu Hostel, an Inkatha stronghold.

In an even stranger twist, a blame game ensured with the ANC not blaming itself and instead accusing a “third force” of guiding the violence and laid the blame on FW de Klerk.  Funnily no evidence of a “third force” has ever been found and the TRC hearings rejected the idea after a long investigation.

In the lead-up to the elections in April 1994, on 24 August 1993 Minister of Defence Kobie Coetsee announced the end of “whites only” conscription. In 1994 there would be no more call-ups for the one-year initial training. Although conscription was suspended it was not entirely abandoned, as the SADF Citizen Force and SADF Commando ‘camps’ system for fully trained conscripts remained place. Due to priorities facing the country, especially in stabilising the country ahead of the 1994 General Elections and the Peace Progress negotiations, the SADF still needed more strength to guard election booths and secure key installations.

So in 1994, the SADF “called-up” up even more “white” SADF Civilian force members, SADF Commando and SADF National Reservists to serve again, and despite the unravelling of conscription laws the response was highly positive with thousands of more national servicemen ‘voluntarily’ returning to service in order to safeguard the country into it’s new epoch.

National Reserve members were mustered at Group 18 outside Soweto in January 1994, some even arriving without uniform.  As part of this mustering I even have the personal experience of asking one of them what happened to his equipment and uniform to which the reply was “burnt it after my camps, but for this I am prepared to serve my country again.”  This comment says a lot as to devotion and commitment of someone making a difference at a turning point of history.

“Camp” call-ups and the call-up of ex-conscript SADF members on the National Reserve reached record proportions over the period of the April 1994 elections, and for the first time in history, in a strange twist of fate, the “End Conscription Campaign”( ECC) called these conscripts to consider these “election” call-ups to be different from previous call-ups and attend to their military duties.

It is highly ironic that even the ECC could see the necessity of security to deliver South Africa to democracy in this period – it was not going to come from the “liberation” movements or any “cadres” as they were part of the problem perpetuating the violent cycle in the power vacuum – it had to come from these SADF conscripts and statutory force members committed to their primary role of serving the country (and not a political ideology or party).

The threats on election day where very real – here South African Defence Force personnel cordon off a bomb blast area and South African police personnel inspect the bombing near the air terminals at Jan Smuts International Airport (now OR Tambo International).  This was the final Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) cell attack on April 27, 1994 in response to the landmark election day held the same day.

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While campaigning for the Presidency, even Nelson Mandela, seen here in traditional dress, made sure to stop and thank citizen force members of the SADF for their support and duty during South Africa’s first fully democratic election in 1994.

These ordinary South African servicemen showed what they are really made of by putting themselves in harm’s way to bring about the democracy that South Africans share today – they where literally the unsung heroes, and all respect to Nelson Mandela, he knew that and took  time in his campaigning to recognise it – these men did not ask for much in return and this small recognition would have been enough.

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Here a SADF member keeps a guarding and secure eye whilst fellow South Africans are queuing to vote in the historic first democratic election on April 27, 1994. This election poll was in Lindelani, Kwa Zulu Natal. Nelson Mandela voted here at 6am and his car passed by as these youngsters sang to honour him.  Another image shows a SADF National Serviceman guarding the election booths in Johannesburg, whilst a newly enfranchised South African eagerly points the way to the voting polls.

It was not just National Servicemen, all the uniformed men and women of the SADF and the SAP, of all ethnic groups in South Africa, paved the way for real peace when the country really stood at the edge and about to fall into the abyss of violence and destruction from 1990 to 1994.

This is an inconvenient truth – something kept away from the contemporary narrative of South Africa’s “Liberation” and “Struggle” – as it does not play to the current ANC political narrative. These men and women are now openly branded by lessor Politicians in sweeping statements as “Apartheid Forces” – demonised and vanquished – whereas, in reality nothing can be further from the truth. South Africans today – whether they realise it or not, owe these SADF Professionals and especially the former “whites only” national service conscripts a deep debt of gratitude for their current democracy, civil rights and freedom.

If you had to summarise the military involvement in the transition period, it was the SADF – not the “Liberation” armies of the ANC and PAC, who brought down civil revolts in all the ex-“Bantustans”, it was the SADF that suppressed an armed right-wing revolutionary takeover in South Africa , it was the SADF that put itself into harms way between all the warring political parties in the townships all over the country and literally saved thousands of lives for 4 long years and it was the SADF who stood guard and secured the 94 election itself.

The SADF veterans by far make up the majority of South Africa’s military veteran community, they also fought for liberation and peace, and as they say whenever current South African politicians idealise the MK veterans and demonise the old pre 94 SADF veterans – “please don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

Article researched and written by Peter Dickens.

Photo copyrights to Greg Marinovich and Ian Berry.  Feature image photograph copyright Paul Weinberg

A little cheeky military humour

A little bit of “cheeky” military humour to see out the old year – please excuse the brashness but this is typical of military humour.

Here a South African Air Force Alouette III helicopter’s Flight Engineer/Gunner gives a typical response to fellow crew members flying alongside.

Not found in the Public Relations photographs in the SADF at the time. However in the light of combatants fighting  far away from home, and in need of some light banter to alleviate the seriousness of combat on the Angolan border, who can blame them  … “boys will be boys”.

Photo courtesy of the SAAF Alouette crew veterans fraternity.