“I am from the age when young, white, South African men were conscripted for compulsory military service. My time in ill-fitting, khaki uniform was brief, at a time of peace and thankfully for me, comparatively uneventful.
“I found everything about army life abhorrent and yet I remain fascinated by things military and particularly the people aspect of it.
“How do some seem to seamlessly slot in and cope? Luckily my sojourn left me unscarred physical and mentally while others were less fortunate.”
Norman McFarlane’s Across the Border is his account of “surviving the secret war in Angola”. Taking part in that war fought over 40 years ago was to have a profound affect on McFarlane.
The book’s dedication says much about its intent: “For all the Forgotten Soldiers who fought in the Secret War. You shall be remembered.
“‘We’re gonna kotch in Potch! Ja, we’re gonna kotch in Potch!’ With these words, Bennie Havenga –I learned his name only once we’d arrived in Potchefstroom and settled into our barracks at 42 Field Battery – predicted what we’d do frequently in the next twelve odd months.”
McFarlane sets the political context of those years and vividly and poignantly tells of his time “across the border”. From his point, one is taken into the heart of the Angolan war zone.
Across the Border is not a “how I won the war” memoir. (Are there any winners in war?) It is one man’s account of that war and what it took for him to survive it.
The chapters in which McFarlane deals with his scars are powerful, very moving, sad and, in impact, punch above the weight of all the preceding chapters.
McFarlane is courageous in not shying away from exposing his frailties and in so doing comes across as a real man. He tells it like it is, without bravado.
At the book’s Cavendish Square launch, McFarlane came across as a man of strength, eloquence, without pretence and with his story offers hope and encouragement to seek help to those carrying similar scars to those he does.
“In looking back, I have had to confront these moral and ethical questions, and while I choose not to flagellate myself for fighting, I have no desire to glorify my part in a conflict that resulted in so much suffering and death.
“Having said that, my time in the military is what it is. I am forever altered by its effects. It is what I do with this knowledge that is important.”
Across the Border is an astounding book and should be read by those who were there and their families.
Bravo, Norman McFarlane! His interests are many, but his passion is volunteer wildland firefighting.
Across the border by Norman McFarlane is available at www.loot.co.za (R235)