Ettienne Louis Bell. Delta Coy 78-79

Vryheid’s parabat leaped into conflict (Shortened article –

Etienne Louis Bell was born on July 1, 1958 in Vryheid. He was the son of Louis Botha Bell – a qualified pharmacist who practiced his trade at the Melman’s Pharmacy on Church Street (in those years owned by Mrs Colley) – and Louise Francine Suzette ‘Dolla’ Stoffberg.
Louis and Dolla both grew up in Vryheid, and both were educated at Vryheid High School. Dolla, the great-granddaughter of General Lucas Johannes Meyer, became head girl of the school in 1947 as a matric learner and after matriculating, qualified as a teacher, and taught at her alma mater for a number of years. Louis and Dolla were later divorced, and Louis married again in 1989, and passed away in Bloemfontein in 2004. In January 1964, Etienne was enrolled into Grade 1 at Nuwe Republiek Skool (NRS) in Vryheid. He was an exemplary learner during his junior school years and at the end of 1970, was elected as head boy of NRS for the year 1971, alongside head girl, Elna le Roux, now Elna Terblanche. Elna’s brother, Anton le Roux is the current Principal of VHS.

Etienne and his family lived at number 206 Deputation Street in Vryheid, and at the end of 1971, the family relocated to Durban North, where Etienne was enrolled at the Afrikaanse Hoërskool Durban-Noord (now Durban North College). He matriculated in 1977 from Stanger High School. Dolla Bell lived in Glenwood, Durban for many years, and she is now a long-retired Schools Inspector, who lives in Durbanville in the Western Cape. Etienne had a brother, Leon, an advocate who lives somewhere in the Western Cape, and a sister, Kari, who lives in Australasia.

After graduating from High School Etienne joined up with the SADF, and after “Basics” he was sent to the Tempe Military Base in Bloemfontein where, after he passed the gruelling selection phase, he was trained as a paratrooper.

Corporal Etienne Louis Bell of the SADF No.1 Parachute Battalion, was killed in action on 6 July 1979 at the age of 21 years, during a contact with the enemy.

A school friend, who did not want to be named, and who was with Etienne in the Parachute Battalion, recalls his death as follows: “It was during Operation “Safraan” in 1979. Delta Company received instruction to attack an enemy target in Zambia. The target was attacked and some of the enemy force managed to get away and formed splinter groups. During the night our company retreated in a typical “U” formation on our own tracks, with the purpose of forming a “TB” (Temporary Base) for the night. At that time one of the enemy splinter groups was conducting its own reconnaissance, and had surprised our forces. The enemy fired at us and one bullet hit Etienne in the head. The wound to Etienne’s head was fatal. Early on the following morning Etienne’s body was transported to the military base at M’pacha in South West Africa by helicopter. This was early July 1979, if I recall correctly”.

Hilton Way wrote that he had crossed paths with Etienne Bell during basic training at 1 Parachute Battalion. “D-Company was walking at night and Etienne was at point. Terrorists were hiding in a bush, and they shot Etienne from behind in the head. It was dark and they could not get choppers in, and Etienne succumbed of his wounds a few hours later”.

Lieutenant H.D. MacMillan wrote: “Corporal Bell was the LMG group leader on the left flank that was spread out in a line of the box formation. This was at about 18:45 on 6 July 1979. I was on the left flank of the box formation and we had moved up to go through a gap in bushes in front of us. Louis Bell was about three metres ahead of myself, and as Louis stepped over a fallen tree stump, shots rang out, and I could see tracer rounds making contact with Etienne. I responded and was able to shoot one of the enemy. This incident probably was the low-light of my entire life, and I continue to pray for, and remember Etienne Bell”.

Corporal Etienne Louis Bell was laid to rest with full Military Honours, and his remains were placed at the Stellawood Crematorium in Durban. His name is marked on the Fort Klapperkop wall with a * (star), indicating that he had died during operations or in combat. His name is also engraved on the War Memorial in Vryheid.

Ex Alto Vincimus – We Conquer from Above

Lest we forget.