- Beaver Shaw
- Nairobi, Kenya
- I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on email@example.com The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009
FINDING HOTEL 4 PUMA IN MOZAMBIQUE
Under the cover of darkness, on the night of the 6th September 1979, I was flown out of the forward admin area of Op Uric, situated deep in the Mozambique bush, to our Operational Forward HQ situated at Chipinda Pools. I was the sole
passenger in the SAAF Puma that evening, and my task was to sort out notices for the casualties sustained earlier that day, when a SAAF Puma (See Photo 1) carrying elements of 1 Commando 1RLI and 2 Engineer Squadron had been shot down on the outskirts of Mapai (Rail) formerly known as Jorge de Limpopo, killing all 17 on board. During the 40 odd minute flight back to the Rhodesian border, I vowed that I would one day return to the crash site to honour my friends and comrades in arms who had made the supreme sacrifice that morning, but who, because of the expediency of the battle, had had to be left behind where they had died.
29 years later I was privileged enough to be invited to join Bob Manser's expedition to find the Donaldson Canberra lost over the Malvernia area in January 1977. It became plainly obvious during this search, that the local police, militia, and Mozambicans were more than willing to assist in the location of these war sites and bore absolutely no malice towards their former adversaries. It was then that I realised that it was possible to honour the pledge I had made in 1979.
Slowly over a period of 5 months I was able to assemble a ‘Team’ for the Mapai expedition by using the members of Bob’s Canberra party as the nucleus. Regrettably both Bob and Alistair Macrimmon were both unable to make it and so Neill Jackson ex Support Commando, ‘Stan’ Standish White ex SAS volunteered their services. Added to these ‘volunteers’ were Eastern District farmers Duff Odendaal and his son in law, Gareth Barry. The final search team was thus made up as follows:
Rick van Malsen
“Stan” Standish White
Nearly two hundred E mails were sent out globally as we planned, sourced information, obtained eye witness accounts, speculated on where the actual site was, made up introductory letters and catch phrases in Portuguese, sorted out admin and log etc. It finally all came together and on Thursday 11th April 2009 ‘The Team’, complete with wives, converged on Mabalahuta camp in the southern Gonarezhou National Park.
Friday 12th April was used as a rest day and was used to prepare ourselves for the trip to the search area. Later in the afternoon we held a final formal briefing of what to expect, where we were going etc.
Saturday 13th April 2009 we rose early and in two vehicles, left camp at 0500 hours so that we could be at the border at 0600 hours, the supposed opening time. True to form, the bleary-eyed border officials only arrived at 0645, which meant we only got through the border formalities at 0800 hours, 1 hour behind our planned timings. The road down to Mapai remains mostly unchanged over the last 30 years. Trains derailed by various SF operations that many years ago,
were still in evidence, as well as many shot out buildings. We all just hoped that Stan’s contribution to the road had been removed, as he couldn’t remember where he had buried them.
At 1030 hours we arrived in Mapai (Rail) and asked directions the police station.
This was a broken down 2 room building that could have passed for a toilet. Not an auspicious start! A young policeman read our letter of introduction and said that we needed to see the local military or garrison Commandant. He then went off to find him but returned to say he was not there. We were then taken to the head of FRELIMO party for the area. Arlindo Penicela Baloi, who, although unable to speak English, was able to read our letter of introduction. Thank heavens for Bob’s notes! He reiterated that we had to go back and get the Garrison Commandant’s permission. Back down the road again and fortunately the Commandant was now at home and after reading our letter cheerfully gave permission for us to go to the crash site, but insisted we had to get the local headman’s blessing first. Protocol reined supreme! Now accompanied by Arlindo we set off to site. Suddenly Arlindo stopped me and spoke to a portly gentleman on the side of the road who turned out was able to speak English. Wallah a translator! Solomone, the translator, climbed in and off we went. We followed a track leading directly East from the main road for about 3 kms when we stopped at a small village where, seated under a tree, was the local headman Araujo Chivite. After a brief discussion between my other two passengers and Araujo, he readily agreed to show us where the site was. With Araujo‘s 2ic also in tow, (now making 5 of us in a king cab!) we then continued down the track which gradually turned South where we intersected the main Mapai – Machaila road about 3.7 kms from Mapai (Rail)
We had only gone a few metres down the road when we were told to stop and on getting out of the vehicle, we were shown an area which we were told was the crash site. An initial search turned up a partially burnt SF water bottle and then we started finding the unmistakable signs of an aircraft crash.
There was a large mound in the centre of the site and this, we were told, was where the soldiers killed in the crash were buried. We had brought a prefabricated cross complete with a base with us and asked permission to erect this on the site. Araujo immediately agreed but only on condition the site was cleaned up first, which they insisted on doing themselves!
These were recovered and brought back with us.
Once the cross had been erected, a brief service was held, using the exact format as Bob had used at the other sites, and the Roll of Honour read out. This is repeated below for those who have not seen it.
“With thanksgiving, let us remember those who sacrificed their lives so that we may live on in peace, and in appreciation, we now dedicate this cross to their memories. Help us to keep them in our thoughts, and never forget what they gave for us."
CAPT JOHANNES MATHEUS DU PLOOY 1 RLI
CAPT CHARLES DAVID SMALL ENG
2ND LT BRUCE FRASER BURNS ENG
SGT MICHAEL ALAN JONES ENG
CPL LEROY DUBERLEY ENG
CPL GORDON HUGH FRY 1 RLI
L/CPL PETER FOX ENG
TPR JACOBUS ALWYN BRIEL 1 RLI
TPR AIDEN JAMES COLEMAN 1 RLI
TPR MARK JEREMY CROW 1 RLI
TPR BRIAN LOUIS ENSLIN 1 RLI
TPR STEVEN ERIC KING 1 RLI
TPR COLIN GRAHAM NEASHAM 1 RLI
TPR DAVID REX PROSSER 1 RLI
CAPT PAUL VELLERMAN SAAF
LT NIGEL OSBORNE SAAF
F/SGT DICK RETIEF SAAF
"They shall not grow old
As we that are left, grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor do the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them"
Neill then repeated the words of the service in Afrikaans in memory the South African crew. Finally the ‘Last Post’ was played. At all stages of the service the Mozambique contingent were actively involved which we all found very humbling and magnanimous.
At the end of the proceedings headman Araujo called a woman called Lydia, who was farming the surrounding fields, and instructed her to build a fence around the site so that the war graves can be looked after properly in the future.
After leaving an appropriate reward with the headman for this to be done, we packed up and left the site, each in our own thoughts.
After dropping off Araujo at his village, we returned to Mapai (Rail) and then decided to go down to the old Mapai airfield and Mapai (River) both targets of the Scouts column raid in June 1977. Arlindo and Solomone both accompanied us on this leg, which rather inhibited us from scouting around too much for old military positions. At Mapai (River) we were shown a mass grave, covered by a concrete slab, which we were told held the civilian victims of this raid. Expedition members showed the appropriate respect at this site.
We then returned to Mapai (Rail), dropped off our two passengers and headed off back towards the border.
Our next task was to return to the site of the Donaldson Canberra crash site in order to place a more permanent memorial to the airmen lost in this crash. Time was running short, so we dispensed with protocol and just drove direct to the site.
After placing the cross, we sounded the “Last Post” which was particularly fitting as the sun was starting to set as the sound of bugles rang out hauntingly through the silent bush.
We then had to rush for the border before it closed, which we got through without
any problems and headed for home, arriving at 20 00 hours. We had travelled a
total of 360 kms in 15 hours.
There are many people involved in making a trip, such as this, the success it
was. My grateful thanks go to the following:
First and foremost to Bob Manser, who pioneered searching for these forgotten
sites. Bob gave us all his notes to use, offered invaluable advice and
Prop Geldenhuys for all the help, encouragement and research done on our
Eyewitness accounts from Gavin Wehlburg, Jono Lane and Keith Dell all helped
to get an overall picture of approximately where we had to look.
To the ex Rhodesians of Francistown, who fabricated the crosses, galvanised
them and then painted them all at no cost. They looked magnificent.
To the 5 wonderful Mozambicans who took the time out to guide us and asked
for nothing in return. You were a wonderful example of what true reconciliation
should be. There is absolutely no doubt that this war memorial will be looked
after by these people.
And lastly to the most wonderful “team “without whom, none of this would have
happened. All rallied to the call, and freely gave up their valuable time and at
personal cost, to be there. “Thank you” is not enough.
RICK VAN MALSEN