A gripping, personal account of one man’s journey through a border war that contributed to transforming a country from being the pariah of the world to a shining example of reconciliation, peace and hope.
From an idyllic childhood growing up on a sugar farm in Zululand, the story takes you through the realities of life as it was during the Apartheid days in South Africa and the resultant call up for National Military Service during the 1970’s and ‘80’s. On completing his training, Justin Taylor graduated as a Signals Officer and volunteered for Border Duty in the operational area of the Angolan – Namibian border. There he joined the ranks of the then secretive and little known 32 Battalion, the soldiers of whom were so feared by their enemies they were known as “OsTerriveis” … “The Terrible Ones”.
Drawn from the remnants of an Angolan rebel movement, the South African battalion mostly conducted secretive, clandestine operations into Angola launched from Namibia (South West Africa) … at a time when South Africa was not officially at war with Angola.Taylor takes you through his “baptism of fire” on arrival … being thrust into offensive operations as an inexperienced junior officer responsible for the entire battalions communications … his retraining in the operational area and subsequent deployment on combat operations … taking the reader with him into the bush in pursuit of elusive guerrilla fighters and the intricacies of Tactical Signals in support of anti-guerrilla operations in the harsh and unforgiving conditions of the African bush.
Most notable is his account of the Battle of Savate where, heavily outnumbered the battalion attacked an enemy brigade deep in enemy territory with the odds stacked against them. Told from the perspective of his role as a junior officer in the HQ, Taylor vividly recounts the horrors of battle. Wounded during the encounter, the turmoil of the killing and the loss of close friends and comrades are intertwined with the practicalities of the command and control difficulties of an HQ caught up in the heat of battle. His following deployments into the bush were as a seasoned Signals Officer, culminating with his training of the replacement troops at the end of his service, arming them with the skills they would needed to meet the standards required of a 32 Battalion Signaller. His subsequent difficulties in adjusting to civilian life back in South Africa were mired with the shackles of Apartheid made all the more difficult having returned from a unique army battalion that knew no colour … “When the shooting starts, it’s not about the colour of a man’s skin, but rather it’s about what he is capable of that really counts”.
And then with the disbanding of the battalion with South Africa’s transformation to a democratic society in 1994 and with it the promise of the birth of a Rainbow Nation, it was as if the batten of racial integration had been passed from the unit to the country.
First and foremost a soldier’s story, its told without self-aggrandisement and with a balance of sensitivity and the harsh realities of war. While the factual and detailed insights into the infamous 32 battalion are both intriguing and historically significant, it is in essence a human story that lays bare its soul that makes it so compelling. With the anguish and emotions experienced by the author laid bare coupled with his wry sense of humour, it is a story easy to identify with.
32 Battalion embraced racial and cultural diversity combined with a culture of mutual trust and respect. This enabled the unit to overcome insurmountable odds on the battlefield and resulted in the battalion being rated as being the South African Army’s best combat unit since World War II