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.