Archives November 2022

Eulogy for RSM Gert Kitching (Kitcha/Bokkie) by Genl McGill Alexander

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!

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 2022

Various Rooiplaas members joined hearts in honouring Remembrance Day. We traveled to Vryheid and linked up with the Rooiplaas Northern Natal Canopy, under the able guidance of Lukas Marais. The memorial service held at St Peter’s Anglican Church drew a sizeable crowd in the pouring rain … the dark somber clouds reflecting the seriousness in our hearts remembering those who had gone before. Eight veteran parabats and proud members of Rooiplaas stood at attention during the proceedings, which were organized by the local Moths.

The names of those from Vryheid who died during the wars were read out loud, accompanied in the background by the solo sound of a trumpet – it was quite touching. Their names and memories are forever engraved into the cenotaph. Andre van Ellinckhuyzen gave a short overview of the wars, its devastating emotional impact, and the scars that we carry … a poignant, but important message. (See his attached speech below).

Different groups and family members laid wreaths. It was heartwarming to see the local primary and high school student leaders, representing Lukas Meyer Primary School and Pionier High School respectively, honoring this memory and tradition. However, it was quite touching when the veteran bats as a group stepped forward and saluted as Nico placed a wreath on the steps. They are just breed apart. Brotherhood, Honour, Respect!

On Friday, 11 November, Chappies van Zyl and Fanie Botha represented Rooiplaas in Bloemfontein at the St Andrew’s Remembrance Day Service, where a wreath was placed against the school’s memorial wall. Joining Chappies and Fanie was Johan Raath, representing the Recces.

On Sunday, 13 November, representing Rooiplaas, Chappies van Zyl joined other military veteran groups such as 61Meg, other paratrooper veterans, and special forces at 1SDB, Tempe, for a special service and wreath laying. Rooiplaas Members further afield joined various Memorial Services – Pieter de Bruin of the Southern Cape Canopy (Mosselbay), Sakkie Mare from the Rustenburg Canopy, Derrick van Zyl representing the Rooiplaas Port Elizabeth Canopy and Sergeant Major Kitching representing us in Jeffreys Bay.

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them”

Remembrance Day Speech: Sunday, 13 November, 2022 by Andre van Ellinckhuyzen, Vryheid
Goeie more and Good morning. Onlangs kyk ek op Netflix na die epiese anti-oorlog rolprent “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Hierdie rolprent, met Edward Berger as Regisseur, en gebasseer op die 1929 novelle geskryf deur Erich Maria Remarque, volg die lewe van die sestien jarige jong Duitse soldaat, Paul Bäumer. As daar nou ooit ‘n wyse kon wees waarop enige mens die wreedheid en tragedie van oorlog visueel kon beskryf, dan is dit deur hierdie rolprent. U kan gerus ook tyd maak om na die rolprent “The Forgotten Battle” te kyk. Hierdie rolprent met Matthijs van Heijningen as regisseur, is gebasseer op “De slag van De Schelde”, ‘n geveg wat afgespeel het in die noorde van België en die suid weste van Nederland vanaf 2 Oktober tot 8 November 1944. En soos die bekende Suid Afrikaanse rolprent kritikus, Leon van Nierop, sê ek: “Hierdie rolprente is ‘n MOET KYK, en gee ek beide beslis ‘n 9 uit 10.

Some of us have been through things so traumatic which the human mind is not built to handle, but we fight and persevere every single day and night. If that is not strength, then I do not know what is.
For some veterans the war has never ended.
‘n Oorlog veteraan skryf: “Ek het baie op my hart. Hoe verduidelik jy dit vir iemand? Ek moet maar daarmee saam lewe. Gee my net daardie uitveër om my verstand skoon te kry.”
Nog ‘n veteraan skryf: “Ek is gebuig, maar nie stukkend nie. Ek is hartseer, maar nie hopeloos nie. Ek is moeg, maar nie leweloos nie. Ek is bang, maar nie magteloos nie. Ek wou al opgee, maar ek het nie.”
Yet another war veteran writes: Do not tell me that I will be okay, until you have seen the monsters I battle every time the sun goes down.”

It is estimated that at least 1,2 billion artillery shells were fired during WW1. Simply take one Guy Fawkes cherry bomb, times it by 1000, and perhaps you will get the idea of the impact of only one such artillery shell, then multiply it by 1,2 billion.
Gedurende die Tweede Wêreld Oorlog is meer as 11 miljoen ton se artilerie ammunisie deur die gealieerdes afgevuur, en meer as ‘n half miljoen soldate het gely aan psigiatriese ineenstorting as gevolg van die oorlog.

At the end of the Great War at least 80 000 cases of “Shell Shock” was documented for the British army alone, and what would the total sum then be if we knew the figures for all the other countries and civilians?
It is also known as ‘Shell Shock, Bossies, Old Sergeants Disease, Nostalgia, Soldiers heart, Bosbefok, Combat fatigue, Wounded minds, Combat stress reaction, aka Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’.
The Americans are here once again at the forefront. The term PTSD first came into use in the 1970’s after the diagnoses of US military veterans who served in the Vietnam war.
Die voormalige Amerikaanse President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy sê eenmaal: “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”
PTSD causes your brain to get stuck in DANGER MODE, and without treatment it will get worse over time, leading to severe depression, anxiety, anger management problems, substance abuse and even suicide.
When researching the life of Captain Moffett, a cousin of Ritchie Moffett, John Moffett, remarked: “The cruelty of war caught up with Ritchie at times, then he found his solace in “Fire Water”.

In 440 BC, Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian and geographer, described how an Athinian was suddenly stricken by blindness after seeing his comrade killed in battle, and Hippocrates, one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine, described soldiers who experienced frightening battle dreams.

Can you start to imagine how it is to for example fear sleeping with your back to a door, or to fear darkness, even after more than 30 years have lapsed after the experience of a life threatening event?

What are the symptoms of PTSD?
• Confrontation by sudden unwelcome memories of what happened;
• Nightmares;
• Avoidance;
• Memory Loss;
• Negative thoughts about the self and about the world;
• Self-Isolation and feeling distant;
• Anger and Irritability;
• Reduced interest in a favourite activity;
• Hypervigilance;
• Difficulty in concentrating;
• Insomnia;
• Vivid Flashbacks;
• Avoiding people and places related to the event;
• Casting blame or self-blame;
• Difficulty in feeling positive emotions;
• Exaggerated startle response; and
• Risky behaviours such as substance abuse.

In the darkest hour, when the demons come, call on me Brother and we will fight them together.

Without treatment the psychological symptoms of PTSD are likely to worsen over time, but here in South Africa we have mostly adopted the “Cowboys don’t cry, especially in front of their horses” stance.

Older war veterans might tell you that they suffer from PTSD symptoms even after more than 50 years of their wartime experience.

When interviewing a relative of a war veteran I often get the response: “My grandfather or my father never spoke of the war”.

Closer to home and recent times, several studies have shown that South Africans are exposed to high levels of violent trauma with many developing PTSD.

I will venture to claim that hardly any of the war veterans attending today’s parades in Vryheid and in all centres in South Africa, ever received any type of counselling or debriefing when they returned home after the war.

Post Traumatiese Stres Versteuring gaan nie weg nie, maar met effektiewe inligtings gebaseerde behandeling kan die simptome beheer word en vir jare dormant gehou word.

Another war veteran wrote: “I really hope that there is some kind of God out there, because I cannot forgive myself for the things I have done. I really hope he can.”

In September 1914, at the start of the Great War, so it is written in “The Times History of War”, a terrible rumour was started. It was said that during the Battle of the Marne, near Paris, soldiers on the front line had been discovered standing at their posts in all the dutiful military postures, but they were dead. Every normal attitude of life was imitated by these dead men, and the illusion was so complete that often the living would speak to the dead before realising the true state of affairs.

I truly hope that for you it is not like that with the veteran in your life.

So today let us remember those who paid the ultimate price in war, and with LOVE, embrace those who made it home by the Grace of God, alone.

Pie Jesu, Dominé, Dona eis Requiem.

Jesus, Merciful Lord, Let them rest in peace.

I thank you.

REMEMBRANCE DAY: 11 November 2022 A call to action! #Lest We Forget.

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.