I remember, as a youngster, being glued to my grandfather’s lips when he told about his time as a child in the Anglo Boer War, running away from the British and ending up in a concentration camp in Natal. He told in detail how they hid under an overhang somewhere in the Magaliesberg after their farm house was blown up. He told about the Flag cigarettes that they bartered from the Tommies in the camp…
And that’s it. That’s about all I can remember. The rest is gone, forever. The details of the stories are lost and no-one else in the family is still alive to fill them in.
The same is about to happen with the stories of the border war generation if we don’t take action to record and preserve the experiences of the boys on the border.
From the 1960s to the early ‘90s, 600 000 white South African men were conscripted into military service. Many of them ended up in the “Operational Area”, some did not come back, some came back with broken bodies, most came back physically intact but psychologically damaged. Even those soldiers that never heard a shot fired in anger, had their lives irrevocably changed by their time in uniform.
It is often overlooked that military service was not confined to the initial year and then, from 1977 two years of National Service. The Citizen Force obligation of 10 camps subsequent to the first 2 years had a huge impact on families and careers.
This is an important part of our history and had a huge effect on our society and even more so on the individuals who reported for duty.
Each and every one of these former soldiers has a story to tell. Some had harrowing experiences in combat, others were spared the trauma of the sharp end but had their own challenges and unique experiences in the areas they served. All their stories deserve to be told, and preserved.