As in previous years, the AGM was held at the Ditsong National Museum of Military History in Saxonwold, Johannesburg. The museum is home to the 61 Mech Memorial as well as a display room dedicated to the unit and it’s exploits. The weather was turning to summer on the day of the AGM, and it was reasonably well attended, although I had seen more members in previous years.
First on the agenda was the AGM which was quickly dispensed with, and it was good to hear that the definitive 61 Mech book is still on track. It is long overdue, and should be a good read when it appears, possibly in 2014. From there we held the Memorial Parade with all the pomp and ceremony that goes with it.
Guard of Honour
Placing the Standards
The message was delivered by the former commander of the unit during my era: Gen Maj Roland de Vries (SD, SM, MMM, SA, st C).
If anything, a memorial parade is always an occasion for reflection, I knew 3 of the men who names on the memorial, and while we who are left behind get older, they will always be young. My old company “Bravo Company” is reasonably well represented, although there are always people that you wish you could see once again.
Following the service by Chaplin Pieter Bezuidenhout it was time for the two minute silence and the laying of wreaths.
Once the wreath laying was completed, we all attended a briefing on Operations Makro, Meebos and Yahoo in the Lemmer Auditorium. I always find it interesting to hear the many stories that get told. This year Jan Malan spoke about the loss of a Ratel in an ambush during Ops Yahoo. And, as a war grave photographer many of those names are familiar to me, but understanding the way that they died is a different story altogether when it is told by somebody that was there.
Our South African War Graves Project Border War List
only provides the following information on these casualties: “Whilst on patrol the Lt sent out a section (1 Ratel) to follow a couple a tracks that the tracker had picked up. The Ratel hit an ambush just after 10am. By the time backup had formed up and went to their aid a group of soldiers had been killed.
We were also given a briefing on the logistical side of some of the operations, and two things came out of it: 61 Mech was extremely efficient when it came to logistical support, and that our Tiffies were the best on the border!
For the first time though, Roland De Vries was not able to complete his words, when he described the death of one of the men involved. We all forget how the deaths of so many of these men have stayed with those who were in command of them, and how the deaths affected the families and futures of those left behind. It was a poignant moment, and one that will stick with me for a long time.
Then it was over, and after some quick photography I was heading back home. On the way I remembered what the national co-ordinator of SAWGP had said about 61 Mech; “While we were at war 61 Mech was a fighting unit, but during peace it lost it’s reason for existence”
The unit was disbanded in March 2005, today it is part of history, but what a proud history it has.
© DRW 2012-2017. Images recreated 25/03/2016