As I enter the gate at the Abrahams house, a friendly smile greets me with a wave from the veranda and before I can properly introduce myself, she asks: “Have you ever seen a dog sing?” With my handbag still clutched under my arm, I say no, never. Tannie Mossie rushes into the house and comes out with a harmonica and a piece of paper with “Happy Birthday” printed on it. She starts playing and Sokkies, her Ridgeback, starts howling away.
“Now you have!” she says, walking into the house again. Just before she walks through the front door, she turns around and says: “I don’t have time for people that sit around all day, waiting to die.”
In those days, every school was incorporated into a military unit in the city. Oranje was paired up with the Parachute Brigade.
Tannie Mossie’s passion for life and the military is clearly visible in her home. There are memorabilia of soldiers whose lives she has influenced and who have influenced her life on the walls. On the door of one of her kitchen cupboards are the fingerprints and names of every soldier that has visited her in her Westdene home over the years. The names Wynand du Toit and Pieter Koen catch my eye. I look at her and she nods with a smile.
But where does her passion for the military come from? It all started with the so-called Parabats. She was still a young teacher in Physical Training and Life Orientation at Oranje School for Girls when she became involved in a fundraising effort at the school. “In those days, every school was incorporated into a military unit in the city. Oranje was paired up with the Parachute Brigade.
We celebrated Heroes Day on 10 October back then, and every year on that day all the pupils had to bring coins for the fundraiser. The silver coins went to child welfare and the brown ones were placed (with the sparrows facing up) all around the swimming pool at the school. These coins went to the heroes of Tempe.” Every soldier on his way to the Angolan Bush War was later sent off at Oranje with a sparrow coin, letters and even flowers, she tells.
Her dedication to these fundraising attempts earned Tannie Mossie her nickname, so named after the legendary group of women who requested government to put a sparrow on the ¼ cent coin, the smallest coin in South Africa’s currency denomination. The reference comes from the Bible (Matthew 10:29): “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”
Later, Tannie Mossie became an inspector of schools for Life Orientation in the province.During this time, she asked every child in the Free State to write to the troops at war. That was the beginning of the famous Bospos initiative.
She asked thousands of elementary school children to write letters to the Parabats, usually titled “Liewe Oom Dapper Soldaat (Dear Uncle Brave Soldier)”. She made the children write letters to the troops on the back of their exam papers.
“Well, I had to do something to motivate the children to study and what better way to do that than to make them write letters on their exam papers to strangers fighting for their country?” she laughs. “The children didn’t want to send bad marks to strangers, so they made sure that they studied. Some of the troops wrote back to the children and motivated them to study harder.”
The purpose of these letters, she tells, was to remind every soldier that God would protect them while “falling from the sky” with their parachutes. Every soldier was given a pendant, consisting of a half cent on a string of para-cord, before they were deployed for active duty, and they were told the story of Matthew 10:29. These letters made an impact on many soldiers, not only providing a face of the innocents that the soldiers were protecting, but also reminding them that people cared about them.
Some soldiers killed in action were found with their letters, tattered from repeated reading, folded inside their pocket Bibles. Lifelong friendships were formed and it motivated the troops to keep going under difficult circumstances. Apart from the letters, Tannie Mossie made sure that paratroopers regularly got other mail as well as food parcels.