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 Alpine 44 club commemoration, lest we forget

Article and Photos by Amn Tebogo E. Kekana, AD ASTRA Magazine

The annual Alpine 44 family memorial service to commemorate the loss of six B24 Liberators of 31 and 34 SA Air Force Squadrons in the Italian Alps on 12 and 13 October 1944 was held at Bays’ Hill on 12 October 2008. Friends and families gathered to remember their loved ones. The theme of the day was brought forward as Build and Protect by Cpln Addie Burt (Air Command Chaplain).

The impetus of the association that is now called “Alpine 44 Club” owes its existence to the tragic events of a night over 60 years ago. 16 B24 Liberator heavy bombers of 31 Squadron and 4 of 34 Squadron from the SA Air Force were detailed to drop supplies to Italian partisans in North-West Italy on the night of 12 October 1944.

The weather unexpectedly turned very bad, with a change in the wind direction and very heavy clouds and rain. Of the 20 planes, only 3 located their drop zones and delivered their cargo successfully. 11 aborted the mission and returned to base safely and 6 were lost. 5 crashed into the Alps, and one was presumed lost off the Ligurian coast between Genoa and La Spezia. This was the single largest loss of aircraft and men in a single day in the history of the SAAF - there were 8 men per crew, with a total of 48 men who paid the highest sacrifice.

The members of the Alpine 44 Club are all surviving family members of men who died in October 1944, or ex members of 31 and 34 SAAF Squadrons. Their goal is to make sure that the men who died that night are not forgotten and that their sacrifice will continue to be appreciated in the future. This service has become a tradition, as 2008 marked the 7th service. The past two services were graced by the presence of Chief of the Air Force, Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano and Mrs Gagiano amongst others.

Due to the involvement of these 2 Squadrons in the heroic Warsaw supply missions; they have forged a firm friendship with the Warsaw Flights Commemoration committee. They have a close bond with members from the Zonderwater Block POW Association, the Associazione Nazionale Alpini and the Assciazione Nazionale Carabienieri.

AD ASTRA has to say that even though this gathering was so sentimental, one could just feel the tight bond of people who have come together because of one reason – the loss they suffered. Another highlight of the day was the Corale Valli Alpine (Alps Valley choir), when they sang Nkosi sikeleli Africa.



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