On behalf of Rooiplaas Paratroopers Community, we send our sincere condolences to the Kitching family and friends. He leaves a legacy. He was a true soldier, paratrooper and leader. Ex Alto Vincimus!
THE LAST JUMP FOR KITCHA!
Saturday 19 November 2022
Yesterday morning I heard news that shook me. My old Company Sergeant-Major (CSM) had died in the early hours. Gert Jacobus Kitching, aka “Kitcha”, aka “Bokkie” had stood in the door and done his last jump – from this life into eternity!
It was hard news to bear. He and I go back a long way. He was one of those people who seem to be indestructible. The sort of person one takes for granted will always be there. But we are all mortal and death comes to each of us.
I first met Kitch in 1967. He was a sergeant then, at 1 Parachute Battalion. I had just arrived from Oudtshoorn on a troop train with a lot of other hopeful soldier volunteers for the parachute course. I was a lowly rifleman – a “troep”! We were dropped outside an empty barrack room in the lines of 1 Para Bn in the dark and told to select our beds as this was our new home! Each man dragged his tin trunk to the foot of his bare new bed and dumped his black kit bag on the mattress.
We had scarcely done so when someone shouted “ATTENTION!” We snapped to attention next to our beds, just as we’d been taught to do during our basic training in Oudtshoorn. In walked a sergeant wearing a burgundy-coloured paratrooper beret. He was not a big man, but he sported an enormous moustache. He gazed around at us and at the floor of the barrack room. You could have heard a pin drop. He was the first paratrooper we had seen since our arrival.
“Troepe!” His voice was not loud; in fact, it was quite kindly. “Ek is sersant Kitching. Welkom by die Rooiplaas. Ek sien julle weer 5-uur more oggend. Dan sal hierdie vloer blink. Julle sal aangetrek wees vir LO.” (I am Sergeant Kitching. Welcome to the Red Farm. I will see you again at 5 o’clock tomorrow morning. This floor will be shining by then. You will be dressed for PT.) That was all. He turned back towards the door and walked out into the darkness.
And so it was! We slept very little that night. Instead, we spent the night rubbing out the dirty marks on the floor of the barrack room with Brasso!
Over the next few weeks, we developed a healthy respect for Sergeant Kitching. He was an outstanding instructor and he was super-fit! To this day, in my mind’s eye I can see him running beside us as he took us for a lengthy run in a squad along the Kimberley Road. We were wearing khaki field dress trousers and our ABR&F boots with anklets. He was dressed similarly, except that his feet were clad in heavy jumping boots. And he would run most of the way BACKWARDS, urging us on!
Kitcha loved singing and he taught us to sing the many bawdy ballads sung by paratroopers when they are doubling along in a squad. “Twenty Miles from My House to Your House”; “A Ringa-a-Rah-Roo”; “He ain’t Gonna Jump no More” and its chorus of “Gory, Gory, what a Helluva Way to Die”; and many others. His favourite was always the Paratrooper Battle Cry, “Ah di Hay, Ah di Ho!”.
Not only did we respect him, though. We also loved him! Unlike many other NCOs, he never swore at us, never belittled us and never humiliated us. Despite exercising iron discipline over us, he treated us with dignity. He made us feel that we mattered. And he was always looking out for us.
Eleven years later, I was appointed as the commander of B Company, 1 Para Bn. The same company that I had served in as a rifleman with Kitcha as my sergeant. It was my first formal command and I took over from one of the finest company commanders in the battalion, Major James Hills. Who should be my CSM, but WO2 “Kitcha” Kitching!
I was fortunate to have a man of his calibre and experience in that vital post. He tactfully and carefully guided this greenhorn company commander around many potholes, pitfalls and obstacles! But that does not mean it was all plain sailing for me. I soon realised that Kitcha’s greatest asset was also his greatest shortcoming (and my greatest headache!).
Just as I had known him when I was a private soldier, Kitcha’s priority was to care for his troops. He was like a father to them. He was always “organising” something for them, particularly when they were deployed on operations. Whether it was a few cases of beer, or steaks for a braai (BBQ), extra rations, better mattresses, new tents, refurbished vehicles or a flight home, Kitcha was behind it!
The problem was that he rarely followed laid down procedures to do all this. I was constantly trying to ward off irate officers from other units who would storm into my little HQ at the Fire Force base at Ondangwa Airfield, accusing my company of stealing all sorts of things. I’d have to deflect these attacks and persuade them that my company of innocents would NEVER do such things (Knowing full-well that my CSM had instigated everything).
My Law lecturer at the Military Academy would have called my behaviour being an “accessory after the fact”. But I soothed my troubled conscience by reminding myself that Kitcha was doing these things “vir die troepe” (for the troops).
Our paths parted in later years as our military careers carried us to different units and HQs. Kitch rose to the rank of Warrant Officer Class 1 (WOI) and was appointed as an RSM with Special Forces, 44 Para Bde and a Group in the Transkei. Many years after I had last seen him, when I had retired to Port Elizabeth, I boarded a civilian aircraft to fly home after some business in Pretoria. Who should I encounter on that same flight, but Kitcha! He had been working as a private military contractor in Afghanistan and was returning home to where he and his wife Susan now lived in Jeffrey’s Bay.
After that we saw one another occasionally, and Kitcha and Susan would sometimes pay us a visit when they came through to PE to go to the military Sickbay or to see the oncologist. I was able to visit Kitch in hospital when he went in for a procedure.
He had also been the CSM of C Coy, 1 Para Bn. So, in 2016, when they held a reunion in Jeffrey’s Bay to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Kitcha and Susan, they very kindly invited Anne and me, with Ruthie, to join them. It was a wonderful occasion. In 2017 both Kitcha and I were able to attend a B Coy reunion on the banks of the Vaal River.
Just over a month ago, Kitcha and I travelled up to Paul Roux in the Free State with three of our former troops to attend a B Coy Reunion. Kitcha had long battled throat cancer and earlier this year he had to have his vocal cords removed surgically in Cape Town. It meant that he no longer had the ability to speak.
Nevertheless, he enjoyed the reunion immensely and I enjoyed being able to spend time with him. On our way back, we spent a night at the Gariep Dam and Kitcha and I shared a room. I guess I will always remember him reading his Bible before we turned in for the night. Kitcha, I believe, was ready to meet his Lord!
Annie and I offer our deepest condolences to Susan, a very special woman who has stood by her Bokkie through his many years of soldiering. A successful Army wife is an exceptional wife! We also extend our condolences to the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I am proud to have served with Sergeant-Major Kitching, a fellow paratrooper but also a great friend and comrade! It is hard to grasp the reality of his demise.
Written by McGill Alexander.
REMEMBRANCE DAY, observed annually on 11 November, is a Memorial Day to honour the members of the armed forces who died in the line of duty during the First World War. This day is also observed to recall the end of First World War hostilities, which formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when an armistice was signed. Two minutes of silence is observed and dedicated to those soldiers who died fighting to protect our freedom while a bugler plays the “Last Post.”
Military folklore indicates that the vivid red of the poppies symbolises their comrades’ blood soaking into the battleground, and the Poppy became a symbol of remembrance.
Join us in remembering our fallen brothers, bowing our heads and hearts, and honoring all those who had paid the ultimate price and given their lives, whether human or animal, in the top service to their country for our freedom and liberty.
This year Remembrance Day will be observed on Sunday, 13 November 2022
We will remember them – lest we forget.
Legendary Army Ranger, who fought in three wars, dies at 97 (militarytimes.com)
The soldier for whom the Army’s Best Ranger Competition is named passed away Sept. 11 at age 97.
Retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange, Jr. served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He enlisted in 1943 and commissioned in 1950 after attending Officer Candidate School.
During World War II, Grange served as a paratrooper with the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He played a role in the Rome-Arno, Southern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe campaigns. When the war ended, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division before going to OCS.
Upon commission as a 2nd lieutenant, Grange was sent to Korea as a rifle platoon leader with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment. After Korea, he was a Ranger instructor and served as an Army staff officer, according to the Association of the U.S. Army.
In 1963, he entered his third war as an adviser in Vietnam on his first of three tours to the country. Grange’s second and third tours were spent with the 506th Infantry Regiment and 101st Airborne Division, respectively. His last post was as commanding general of the Sixth U.S. Army.
He retired in 1984 with 41 years of service.
Grange is highly decorated, with awards including the “Defense Distinguished Service Medal; Army Distinguished Service Medal; Silver Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters; Legion of Merit with one Oak Leaf Cluster; Distinguished Flying Cross; Soldier’s Medal; 28 awards of the Air Medal with V; Bronze Star Medal with V and four Oak Leaf Clusters; Joint Service Commendation Medal with V; United States Army Commendation Medal with V and four Oak Leaf Clusters; Air Force Commendation Medal; and the Purple Heart,” reads the 506th Infantry’s unit history.
“France has awarded him the Legion of Honor in the degree of Officer,” the history adds. “Korea has awarded General Grange the Wharang Medal with Gold Star, the Kuksun Medal and the Cheonsu Medal. Vietnam awarded him the Gallantry Cross with two palms and Silver Star, and the Military Honor Medal, First Class.”
In 1984, the “LTG David E. Grange, Jr. Best Ranger Competition” was named in his honor.
About Sarah Sicard
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.
(Rooiplaas comment: Thank you for your service, Sir. Ex Alto Vincimus)
One of things Rooiplaas does is get guest speakers from across all walks of life – including those who once fought against us. What we don’t do is discuss or engage in party politics.
As many can remember, we had the Russian Defence Attaché address us last time despite the fact that he once fought against us in Angola. He spoke to us about the Russian involvement in the Boer War. Despite some initial reservations, he was warmly welcomed by everyone, and his talk was very informative and well received.
One of our guest speakers this Saturday is the controversial ex-head of our foreign secret service. Despite the fact that his great grandfather fought in the Boer War on the side of the Boere against the British, he ended up opposing us during our time in the SADF. He is known as someone who has, consistently spoken truth to power and has never been scared to criticize the government of the day.
When he was taken to task in parliament, he was defended by the opposition parties, proof that he does not practice partisan party politics in his job.
He will give a brief overview of his background, his role and training in the opposing force (ANC-MK), his time on death row, and then, more importantly, discuss the foreign threats against South Africa. This is NOT a political gathering but rather a gathering aimed at understanding what we as a nation are facing. This is something we all, regardless of our beliefs, ought to be aware of.
To those who view this askance, it must be asked why they chose to serve in the SANDF when the change of government occurred in 1994.
To understand where we came from is as important as understanding where we are going as a country and what threats and challenges we face.
This promises to be a talk no one should miss.
All paratrooper- and military veterans and their families are welcome at the Rooiplaas Reunion.
When: Saturday, 30 July 2022
Place: Faan se Plaas, Bronkhorstspruit
Time: 10h00 till late
Cost: R50 per person for day visitors.
Cash bar, beverages, and food for sale.
Parachutists to jump in at 14h00 with a parade and speeches thereafter. More information to follow.
Accommodation: Accommodation is available in the form of bungalows, caravan stands, and tents with minimal costs. R100 pp/pd for camping without electricity; R130 pp/pd for camping with electricity. Ensuite bedrooms R300 pp/pd sharing; (single R450). Bookings for two nights or more R100 discount on the second night. For any accommodation reservations contact Jan at 082 466 8077.
Programme: Seven parachutists from Skydive The Ranch Delmas Club, supported by owner Mr Johan Greyling, and Lt Col Japie Keet with a tandem display will perform at 14h00. Following this is a flag-hoisting parade, the General Salute will taken by Eeben Barlow, wreath laying and followed by a speech by RSM (ret) Koos Moorcroft, Recce Operator #3 and legend extraordinaire! Other activities to follow such as displays by The Ranch Skydiving Club, Rooiplaas, the Recce’s, and paratrooper memorabilia for sale.
Chappies van Zyl arranged a prayer meeting for Tannie Mossie, who is an icon and stalwart among the paratrooper fraternity. She is currently under sedation in a Bloemfontein hospital after suffering a stroke a few days ago. Rooiplaas paratrooper veterans, scholars, and friends attended, saying a special prayer for her.