It was a warm summer evening on the 13th of December 2011 when nine SAMVOA Veterans sat around a table in the RSL club in Belmont, Perth, each with a beer in hand, discussing plans for the inaugural SAMVOA WA formal mess dinner. The date was set, the venue booked, and the objective clear. But the answer to one question eluded them – most importantly of all, who would be the guest of honour?
After mulling through a few suggestions, Veteran Kevin van der Mescht, in a flash of brilliance asked: “Why don’t we bring Colonel Jan Breytenbach over as our Guest of Honour…?”
For a few seconds there was stunned silence among the nine men, all gazing at each other as the question that had just been asked of them echoed through their minds. And for the next 5 minutes the debate among the nine continued with much enamour and excitement. The seed had been sown. Everyone agreed. It was the one man whom they all wanted as guest of honour at the SAMVOA WA formal mess dinner.
And so they drew their plans…
Nine months later, on the 22nd of September 2012, the legendary Colonel Jan Breytenbach and his wife, Rosalind, landed at Perth International Airport for a three week visit to Australia as SAMVOA guests of honour!
Ask any one of the former 600 000 South African Defence Force soldiers who left a boot print in the sun baked sands of Namibia about Jan Breytenbach, and they will tell you about one of the country’s most highly decorated combat soldiers.
Ask the 370 paratroopers who jumped at Cassinga on May the 4th 1978 about Jan Breytenbach, and they will tell you about a combat commander who led the battle from the front, and who went on to win that battle against all odds.
Ask the Buffalo Soldiers from 32 Battalion about ‘Carpenter’ or ‘The Brown Man’, and they will tell you about the founder of 32 Battalion, acknowledged as the best fighting battalion in the SADF, and possibly in the world at the time.
Ask any South African Special Forces Operator about Jan Breytenbach, and he will tell you about the father of the Recce’s and founding officer commanding of the elite 1 Reconnaissance Commando – a qualified Special Forces Operator and combat diver himself.
Not many men have the privilege of writing Recce, 32 Battalion, and 44 Parachute brigade next to their name. Colonel Jan Breytenbach is one of the few men who can. A proud paratrooper, a humble soldier, and a combat commander who led his men from the sharp end of the battle. This is Colonel Jan Breytenbach.
Colonel Breytenbach was the guest speaker at the monthly SAMVOA WA meeting held at the RSL Club in Belmont, and captivated his audience as he described in detail how he led the South African Parabats into battle during the attack on Cassinga, deep within Angola; an attack recognised as the largest and most daring airborne assault since WWII. He paid homage to those who fought the battle alongside him, spoke about the courage of the pilots from the South African Airforce who flew on the day, and remembered those who, at the call of duty, made the supreme sacrifice.
SAMVOA Western Australia’s inaugural Formal Mess Dinner was held on Saturday, 29th September 2012 and was attended by 88 guests, including the WA State President of the RSL, Mr Bill Gaynor who was accompanied by his wife, Joan. A most enjoyable evening was had by all, during which Mr Gaynor was presented with a framed photograph depicting South African ‘Springboks’ and ‘Australian “Diggers’ playing cards in a gun pit somewhere in North Africa during the Second World War. A South African Defence Force Commemorative Sword was also presented to a very surprised and delighted Colonel Breytenbach, with sword number 00032 in honour and in memory of that magnificent unit that he founded and commanded.
Awards for distinguished service were also presented to the following attendees:
- Veteran Darrel Herbert
- Mr Alan Richardson (RSL Belmont)
- Mr Michael Sutherland (MP Liberal Party – Mount Lawley)
- Mrs Erika von Kasche from “Oppiestasie”
- Veteran Riaan de Villiers
- Veteran Alfred Naude
- Veteran Donovan Roets
After a very successful visit in Perth, Colonel & Mrs Breytenbach flew to Melbourne where they were hosted, for the duration of their stay in Melbourne, on Victoria Chairman Karl Brown’s beautiful estate. The evening of the 5th October SAMVOA held its 7th Formal Mess Dinner, with the legendary Colonel Jan and Mrs Breytenbach as our Guests of Honour. They we joined at the main table by our other Honoured guest of the evening, namely our esteemed WWII Veteran, Cliff Everson and his dear wife Josie. Once again a fantastic evening with just short of 80 people attending, including a smattering of “Oom Jan’s beloved Airborne and 32 Buffalo Battalion Veterans, as well as some representation from the Australian Veteran Associations, including the local RSL President.
What made the evening particularly memorable was a very moving, but passionate speech to Colonel Breytenbach by Veteran Stephen Clarke, and ex- SADF Paratrooper, who flew in from Tasmania to attend the event.
SADF Paratrooper and SAMVOA Veteran Stephen Clarke’s address to the Colonel during the Victoria Formal Mess dinner in Melbourne:
“One of the proudest moments of my life was when General Constand Viljoen pinned my wings on my chest. On that day I joined a stern Brotherhood, of which I am the least. At that time I was led to believe that there were only three units in the South African Army who did all the work: the Recces, Buffalo Battalion and the Parabats, while a vast horde of lorry drivers, tea-drinkers, paper shufflers and oxygen thieves looked on. After all these years I must concede, reluctantly, that I was wrong and realise that the battles were waged and won by one formidable Defence Force fighting together as a team.
The Paratroopers, to a man, have an undying love for you as the finest combat commander in the SADF, “Our” Colonel Jan, and one hell of a fellow. As every soldier in this room knows to be true, you must love soldiers in order to understand them, and understand them in order to lead them. Behind the image of the warrior lies the essence of what makes a soldier fight – love. The glamour, mystique and symbols of elitism do not tell of the sacrifice, the desperately hard training or the suffering and death your men were willing to visit on their own perishable flesh. They do not tell of the blood and wounds suffered in distant places, nor of the graves over which the Last Post has sounded. When it comes to the fundamental motivating value behind military leadership, it is a deep abiding love and respect for one’s comrades that matters most.
There is a stone near the parade ground at the home of 1 Parachute Battalion, Tempe. It bears your words, Sir (though I never had a chance to read when I was there) and I quote,
“…the Unit is to become all important: a living, breathing, fighting, reasoning, loving, hating compound creature, into which all of us, whether black or white, have to sink our individualism, ambitions, loyalties, energy, talents and expertise, to make a fighting machine par excellence”
I have discovered another Unit and Brotherhood. Ordinary men from all walks of life with tales of quiet heroism. Who did their duty and in doing so, joined the ranks of those who have served South Africa with pride and distinction throughout her history, representing something far bigger than the individual. Who played their part in winning the battles. Who wanted to live their life to the full and with some satisfaction and usefulness. Who could stand the loss of leaving, of amputating themselves and starting again in a new country. Who still grieve over lost hopes and dreams. Who have pioneered and taken risks and adapted. Whose families now prosper and thrive in this wide brown land.
In the words of Veteran Dirk Ballot of the 6th Armoured Division in Italy, Eastern Free State Boer and latterly Tasmanian dairy farmer, whose ashes are now scattered on the Maluti mountains, “Africa is our Mother, we will always love her. Australia is our Wife, we have chosen her, we also love her.”
Sir, when you go back to the beloved country South Africa, tell them there are some soldiers from South Africa living down-under…and that the spirit is strong and the fire still burns.”
Veteran Stephen Clarke
Furthermore, two Veterans were awarded medals and a Decoration – and who more fitting to award it to the recipients than the Colonel himself. In a moving ceremony, Veteran Fanie Etsebeth received his long overdue Pro Patria, Southern Africa and General Service Medals from Colonel Breytenbach. Next to be called upon was Veteran Andrew Tully, to be awarded The Order of the Star of Ethiopia at the grade of Commander – Awarded to Andrew by the Royal House of Ethiopia for services rendered to His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie and for contributions to the Arts in Africa (Heraldry) in particular.
It was heart-warming to see, and feel, the vibe and spirit of camaraderie that prevailed during the course of the evening, which continued into the next day with the SAMVOA Executive meeting, and planning sessions being conducted.
The feedback we have received from Veterans, and in particular from our Australian Guests was consistent in their praise and approval of both events, well organised and well versed.
A big THANK YOU to all who made this event such a success, and here we wish to include the Belmont RSL in Perth WA, and the Glen Waverly RSL in Melbourne, Victoria and their teams.
(Click on the image to view the gallery)