HC Gallantry Award Recipient, a member of The South African Medical Corps
Operation Askari, launched on 6 December 1983, was the SADF's sixth large-scale cross-border operation into Angola and was intended to disrupt the logistical support and command and control capabilities of People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) the military wing of the South West Africa People's Organisation SWAPO, in order to suppress a large-scale incursion into South West Africa that was planned for the beginning of 1984. The People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the Angolan governing party, were targeted during this mission as PLAN bases were close to FAPLA bases and had been used as a place of refuge during SADF operations.
When the SADF launched Operation Askari, they found themselves opposed, not only by PLAN fighters, but by the more aggressive Cuban and FAPLA forces.
During Operation Askari Pte Matthew Fisher and Pte Ken Winn were members of 5 Medical Bn Group, attached to Combat Team 1 of Combat Group Delta. On the morning of 31 December1983, an attack was planned with the object of capturing Cuvelai. During the advance the force unexpectedly entered a well-prepared killing area and came under intense fire.
One man was severely wounded. Answering the request for medical help, the converted Ratel ambulance approached the wounded man. Despite being under intense and direct small-arms, machine-gun and mortar fire, and although the vehicle was hit repeatedly, Fisher and Winn got out to assist the man. The decision to get out, despite the enemy fire, was made by the two medical orderlies of their own accord.
They were then told by the medical officer, who had remained in the vehicle, that the patient was probably dead. Nevertheless Fisher, of his own accord, decided to continue on the ground under heavy fire and try to retrieve the body.
Not only did he do so, but he also recovered the wounded man’s weapons and returned to the Ratel ambulance, despite the fact that by then the infantry were withdrawing.
Such placing of their own lives in great danger in the face of direct enemy fire was an act in keeping with the highest ideals and traditions of service to the wounded in the South African Medical Service.
Acknowledgements: Ian Uys, Enduring Valour, (30 Degrees Publishers) & Paratus