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ABOUT THE BOOK

 
Colonel Jan Breytenbach has written about a period in our military history. He starts at one end and works his way systematically
through a series of events to arrive at another point. He succeeds masterfully in refraining from a cold and impersonal discussion
of this segment of history. With material like this, an author can easily fall into the trap of ‘and then this happened, and then that happened’. The birth and growth of 32 Battalion is reported clearly and factually without it ever reading like a history textbook.

The excellent way in which the author uses the language lends finesse to the book, yet every now and then Jan Breytenbach does
surface, and it is as if one is sitting under a camelthorn tree listening to interesting stories told by this extraordinary and
sometimes controversial man.
His humour and distinctive style often gives one an insight into the extremely human soul of the Jan Breytenbach masked behind the
rough and almost frightening exterior of the hardened soldier.
In writing this foreword I consulted my friend and brother officer, Colonel Delville Linford who was very much part of the whole story.
He said:
“It is difficult to prevent your objectivity from being coloured either by your own experience of the situation or by a measure of
hero-worship for the author, especially if one was intensely involved in the events and knows the author personally”.
“Jan has an eye for detail and he must have an excellent memory. I have never seen him taking notes and am not aware of him keeping
a diary at all, but the precise detail with which he describes the circumstances, environment and incidents is almost unbelievable.
This becomes even more stunning if one bears in mind that many of these incidents took place under severe pressure, leaving little
time for taking notes down for a book. When one reads the book, however, it is amazing how vividly one is able to remember the
actual scenes and events”.

Jan Breytenbach is almost poignantly just in the handling of the characters in his book. Those who have made an impression on him,
receive the necessary praise without him ever being “soppy”, while those unfortunate enough to find themselves on the wrong side of
him are hammered, but still in such a way that the reader is able to digest it and the unfortunate individual concerned cannot sue
him for libel. He does not only evaluate others, but he also has the ability to analyse his own actions, and to even judge them
almost objectively.
It goes without saying that the birth of a unit such as 32 Battalion has to be accompanied by inevitable birth pangs. In Beytenbach’s book the wretchedness accompanying these pains is often visible, but always sketched with a smile through the tears, and the reader is never confronted with the absolutely sordid.

To create an effective war machine out of an untrained, undisciplined group of men is no mean feat. One is always aware of the
pleasure he takes in his work and that he is proud of the result he has produced. This he does simply, and without being ostentatious. One never gets the impression of ‘I did this and I did that’, but one still clearly notes what he has achieved.
This is emphasised best by the often modest way in which he tells his story.
To conclude, here is Delville again: “I am proud to have served part of my life with Jan Breytenbach and to have been influenced by
his professionalism. He is a man of stature who has written a part of our country’s history. He built a monument of which the South
African Defence Force and the past, present and future members of 32 Battalion can be justly proud