Tag: Border War

Revisiting Bays Hill

One of my favourite memorials has to be the South African Air Force Memorial at Bays Hill in Pretoria. It is a magnificent structure that epitomises “those who mount up with wings as eagles”. 

 

I recall going there as a toddler with my parents and an uncle. In those days the Book of  Remembrance used to be in a recessed holder, and it was in there that we looked for the name of my uncle that died in Egypt during World War 2.

 
The memorial was opened on 1 September 1963 by President CR Swart. Other additions have been the Garden of Remembrance, the Walls of Remembrance, and the recent addition of the Potchefstroom AFB Memorial.
Wall of Remembrance and Roll of Honour.

Wall of Remembrance and Roll of Honour.

The futuristic and angular design of the building is unique and it does not have the heavy often morbid feel of a memorial, if anything it is light and airy, reminiscent of flight. 

Garden of Remembrance

Garden of Remembrance

The interior houses a small chapel as well as spaces for the Rolls of Honour and guest books, while not a large space still retains a aircraftlike feel with its angular windows. 
bays_hill48
 
On the day of our visit the national flag was at half mast, probably to honour Chief Justice Arthur Chaskelson who had died that week. However, little did we realise at the time that the Air Force would loose an aircraft and its crew and passengers on the next day. Those names will be added to the thousands already inscribed on the Roll of Honour. 
 
Korean War Roll of Honour.

Korean War Roll of Honour.

It is a sombre place to visit, and seeing the names inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance always leaves one feeling humble, and as you leave this small haven of peace you may hear the sound of an aircraft flying overhead, and know that it is a kindred spirit of those who are remembered here.
 
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016

The Air Force Museum

Due to an unplanned party, our usual Wednesday Pretoria trip took a detour, and one of the places I revisited was the South African Air Force Museum at Swartkops AFB. I had originally visited there in December 2008, and had been somewhat disappointed, but also enthralled by their collection of aircraft. Nothing I saw though would really compare to the collection I had seen at The National Museum of the  US Air Force in Dayton Ohio in 2000. That place was truly amazing.
 
As usual I did have an ulterior motive in my visit, I really wanted to see the P51 Mustang that had evaded me in 2008, and was hoping to spot a complete Vampire too, the last Vampire I had seen had been incomplete. The images in this blog post are really a mix from my 2008 visit and the 2012 visit, because there have been changes since I had first been here.  There are aircraft that I have not added images of, that is because I did not have a specific interest in them on this visit.
Inside the museum (2008)

Inside the museum (2008)

The main display area on the apron housed the larger aircraft, and my special favourite has to be the Shackleton. She had been moved from her original spot, and as usual was really worth seeing up close and personal. 
 
Also dominating the area was the SAAF Boeing 707,  I had never been lucky enough to see one of these up close and personal, and she is really the only one I have seen. 
 
Actually that is a fib because I have been on board the 707 at Wright Patterson AFB. That particular aircraft, Boeing VC-137C – SAM 26000 (Boeing 707) had served President John F Kennedy as the presidential aircraft (aka “Air Force One”) before it too was replaced by a 747. Personally I prefer Boeing aircraft, these new fangled Airbus aircraft don’t work for me.

Also on the apron is the DC4 Skymaster, She too had been moved from my last visit, and she is deteriorating rapidly, the fabric of her elevators and ailerons is falling apart and she really needs to be under cover and restored.

A new addition that had not been there on my previous visit was a Puma helicopter. There was another Puma (or Oryx?) doing circuits and bumps while we were visiting but I never got any decent footage of her. 

Most of the Mirage and Impala had been moved under cover which should protect them from the elements, but the larger aircraft are really in a precarious situation.  Even the sleek Canberra is looking somewhat faded.


I have not shown images of the C160 Transall or the Ventura or Super Frelon that are parked on the apron. Neither have I shown images of the aircraft parked under cover.

Moving indoors to the display hangers I was delighted to find my missing Mustang!

As well as the restored Vampire.

I was also hoping to get better images of the Sabre while I was there, and was delighted to find her in a much better position than previously.

Another addition that I had not seen previously was an SAAF trainer, I am not sure whether this is a Pilatus or the local derivative.

I was also hoping to get a better image of the Fieseler Storch but it lived in relative darkness so this is the best I could do…
There are a lot of other aircraft to view at the museum, like the wonderful Sikorsky S-51 which is a real blast from the past,

And the Communist Bloc era Mikoyan MiG21 BIS which ran out of fuel while on a flight over Northern South West Africa in 1988. (Returned to Angola in 2017)

 

Our own South African Air Force aircraft also feature strongly, and one of my personal favourites is the Mirage IIIBZ in her original delivery colours.

And, the Westland Wasp in her Naval colour scheme, hankering back to the days of our 3 frigates.

Unfortunately though the museum does not have a complete Harvard on display,  that stalwart trainer did our country very proud, and the snarl of their engines overhead is only a memory. Like most museums though, this one lacks funds and dedicated people to keep it going.  We are very fortunate to have this small collection available, and it would be tragic if we were to loose it. It is well worth the time and effort to go through to Pretoria for a visit, because if you are an air force and aviation buff, these are the machines that you may soon only read about.
 
A postscript. At the time of writing this, the Air Force had just lost a Turbo-Dak with all her crew and passengers in bad weather over the Drakensberg. This is the second Dakota that has been lost recently, maybe its time the museum acquired one for the collection before they too become extinct.  
 
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016

61 Mech AGM

It was August last year that I seem to have started this blog thang, and my fourth post dealt with the 2nd AGM of the 61 Mech veterans Association. I served with the unit from December 1980 till December 1981 and consider it to be my “home unit”. 

 

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

Guard of Honour

Placing the Standards

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 2012-2018. Images recreated 25/03/2016