It seemed an involuntary action… the keyboard attracted my reluctant fingers without as much as the slightest hint of an invitation. So, what’s so strange about that Mr Writer-Man? I hear you ask. Isn’t writing what you’re supposed to be doing? Hemingway was known to say something about it being easy to write… just sit at the keyboard and bleed. Occasionally it’s not a few drops… it’s as if the coronary has been severed… with a jaggered, blunt bayonet.
Yes, eventually the story must out. Maybe it’ll go some way to easing memories I still carry with me all these years later. No, I won’t say I suffer from post combat stress syndrome or whatever they call the horrid affliction suffered by so many who have ever carried a weapon into action, for whatever cause on whatever bit of land in whatever backwater or headland on this bit of blue in the universe.
Every time I hear the Dire Straits song some emotion accompanies the music. When I’m alone I often stop whatever I’m doing to just allow the memories to roll over me… sometimes only gentle ripples but on the rare occasion stormy torrents wash across my mind’s internal workings. On those occasions it’s usually friendships lost that are the source of the stirrings.
This year is particularly special. It’s thirty years ago since I completed my Flight Engineers Course. On the 8th of December 1983 I stood on the parade ground together with my fellow engineers and a group of newly qualified pilots. Thirty years of memories brought into focus each time I hear a song from the Brothers in Arms album. Yes, I own the album… yes, I often take it out but don’t play it that often. Sometimes I need a bit of red grape juice to prod me into action. Then I can be a bit too introspective for those around me… that’s why I don’t really play the LP that often.
Thirsty years of loss… of joy… of sorrow, pain and on occasion of sheer terror or utter pleasure. Have you ever been blessed with the experience of flying in the Southern Drakensberg with a pair of Griffon Vultures flying formation on your port side? Have you been blessed to fly relatively low along South Africa’s wild coast and seeing the migration of the Blue Whales to their breeding grounds off Hermanus in the Western Cape? Have you ever had the privilege of flying to the aid of flood victims or folk cut off by snow falls so deep their vehicles were covered?
On the other hand… have you witnessed a landmine blowing the front off an armoured vehicle. Have you diverted to pick up the injured, all the while conscious that the place could still be under enemy surveillance… and oh boy, what a victory it would be for them if they downed a chopper! Have you said sad farewells to the remains of your squadron members who didn’t make it back? Or… did the news get back that your own flesh and blood family have suffered a loss?
I’ll leave you with the last verse of Mark Knoffler’s brilliant epic…
Now the sun’s gone to hell
And the moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We’re fools to make war
On our brothers in arms
I’ll leave you with a bit of Hemingway… this quote has stuck with me long… as a reminder of times past and the effect it can have on one’s psyche…
“There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.”
These photos are copies of the originals and are the real thing! They were mostly taken around Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape where 16 Squadron was based in the Eighties. Alo 111 620 is the aircraft I was in when we ditched at sea some miles off the Cape St Francis coast while out on a mercy mission. The injuries sustained in that crash affected quite a few lives. Anyway, do please click to enlarge and read the captions…
The photographer in all cases was a lad by the name of Marius van der Westhuizen… I wonder where he will find himself these days? The dates are accurate as each flight was recorded for posterity in our log books.