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The Fighting Becs Part 5 – "Tsholetsang Montgomeri"

Jeff Ramsay
BUILDERS OF BOTSWANA

WE left off with the arrival of the seven companies of Batswana APC, some 2,500 troops altogether, Qasassin Pioneer Corps depot in Egypt, where they were initially assigned guard duties while receiving combat training.
 
The urgent motive behind the additional training became apparent in December 1941 when six of the companies, 1971-76, were dispatched to the then French League of Nations mandate territory of Lebanon-Syria, which had been occupied by other units of the British 9th army a few months earlier in fighting against Vichy French forces. Prior to this, the French collaborators had granted landing rights to the German Luftwaffe (Air Force), thus threatening the vital Suez Canal.
 
Similar considerations had also resulted in the British occupying both Iraq and Iran, then sovereign kingdoms, whose governments were alleged to have come under the control of military officers sympathetic to Nazi Germany. Then as now securing the oil from these two countries, and Saudi Arabia, was then seen as strategically vital.
 
Notwithstanding these interventions the British position in the Middle East remained vulnerable throughout 1942. There was in particular the fear of a German invasion of Lebanon-Syria through then neutral Turkey. Such a Blitzkrieg (lightening offensive) could capture the oil fields and doom the Suez, while opening the door to further German drives into Asia and Africa. If the invasion did come the Batswana would be called upon to fight, notwithstanding the APC’s initial status as a logistical support unit.
 
In the early months of 1942 the Batswana companies were kept busy building and upgrading defences in the Bekaa valley of Lebanon. One of the biggest projects was the construction of a large fortress at Majdaloun.
 
Others helped establish a rail link from Egypt to the Lebanese capital Beirut via Haifa (Palestine). In addition to hard work the Batswana had to adjust themselves to a winter environment of snow and icy winds.
 
Once the defensive infrastructure had been largely completed the Batswana troops were redeployed to undertake garrison duties along the potential invasion route. But the Germans never came.
 
The original companies were eventually transferred back to Egypt, but other Batswana came in their place. By the end of 1942 some 25 Batswana companies, totalling 10,027 men, had been mobilized. Of these all but one spent some time in Palestine, Lebanon and/or Syria.
 
While the first wave of Batswana were stationed in Lebanon, three companies, 1977, 1979, 1983, were posted along Suez Canal performing guard duties. A few Batswana were also detached to guard King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, while he was in Egypt.
 
Along the Suez sleep was often interrupted by Luftwaffe night-bombing. At one point there was some further excitement when the German commandos launched an unsuccessful paratroops’ assault in an attempt to sabotage the canal.
 
In January 1943 the veteran APC companies 1971-76 were transferred from Lebanon to the Royal Artillery Base Depot at Almaza, Egypt. There they underwent two months of intensive gunnery training before being assigned to man 3.7 inch Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) batteries.
 
Although 3.7 H.A.A had proved its worth in the Battle of Britain, it was known as a notoriously difficult weapon to master. The biggest Anti-Aircraft weapon in the British arsenal, to load, aim and fire one of the massive guns required the close cooperation of a half dozen men.
 
The calculations required to hit fast flying enemy aircraft were especially complex. Initially this task was left to experienced British gunners. But, to the surprise of many of their superior officers, Batswana soon proved capable of taking over the “no. 1” firing position.
 
At first many of the British had in fact openly wondered whether the “Becs” should be assigned to H.A.A. duties at all. Most of the Batswana had not been to school and thus had to be given a crash course in mathematics for artillery. But, any initial academic shortcomings were compensated for by superior teamwork and enthusiasm.
 
In February 1943 the Officer in Charge of Middle East Anti-Aircraft Defences, Major-General Pollock, came to Almaza to inspect the Batswana target practice. Impressed by their rapid progress, he immediately confirmed their transfer to full combat duties.
 
Thus, in March 1943, Batswana operating both mobile and static 3.7 H.A.A.s, became the first African gunners assigned to Montgomery's elite 8th Army. Having defeated the German General Rommel’s Afrika Corps at El Alamein the previous October, the "Desert Rats" of the 8th Army were then pushing steadily across the sands of the then Italian colony of Libya to link up with American and Free French forces in Tunisia.
 
At the time Batswana pride at being part of Monty’s team was manifested in songs such as “Tsholetsang Montgomeri”:
 
“Tsholetsang Montgomeri, Moetledi wa rona, E uta Modimo o ka thusa Moetledi Montgomeri, Phenyo ya ona ya gagwe, Huri!, Huri! Montgomeri.”
 
In June 1943 Batswana gunners providing air-cover for Tripoli, the Libyan capital, were honoured with a royal visit by King George VI. The monarch also met other Batswana then unloading ships and manning stores in Malta, which since 1941 had been subjugated to almost daily bombardment by Axis warplanes. They were thus present when the island’s residents were awarded an unprecedented collective Victoria Cross for their bravery under fire.

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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