Fighter pilot from Prieska, 95, humbled by French award
'My life was quite eventful,' says the sprightly General Albert Richard Götze
The Nazis couldn’t get him. Not in Normandy, not in England nor over the English Channel, where he was once forced to fly home sideways in a stuttering Spitfire after being hit by a tracer bullet.
Then two days ago South Africa’s last surviving D-Day fighter pilot fell down a flight of stairs and nearly missed out on a Cape Town award ceremony in his honour on Tuesday.
But General Albert Richard Götze, born in Prieska in the Northern Cape, is not easily defeated: sporting a bandaged arm and forehead, and eyes overflowing with 95 years, he received the Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur (Knight in the Legion of Honour) with a firm handshake on Tuesday from the French ambassador to South Africa, Christophe Farnaud.In response, Götze looked up at Farnaud and said: “I just want to say, merci beaucoup [thank you very much].”
Götze did cover-flying during the D-Day landing in Normandy, when allied forces invaded Nazi-occupied mainland Europe. He also flew patrols and bomber escorts; flew around-the-clock supply flights during the Berlin Airlift in 1949; completed a combat tour to Korea; rose to the rank of brigadier-general in the South African Air Force; and served as private secretary to State President Nico Diederichs in the 1970s.“It was quite eventful,” Götze said of his life so far, relaxing after the ceremony with his son and assorted South African dignitaries. “I’m now the only [D-Day] fighter pilot still alive in South Africa. It’s like Last of the Mohicans.”
Götze joins an elite group of South Africans to receive the French decoration. The others are Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mamphela Ramphele, Ahmed Kathrada, Miriam Makeba, Andre Brink and Nadine Gordimer. In 2014 France decided to extend the honour to all foreign veterans of World War 2.Reflecting on his wartime duty, Götze said he had often been afraid – but never while flying. “Only afterwards when you see what there was, then you do get scared. You think: ‘How the hell did I get out of that?’
“But when you get into the aircraft you have a job and off you go.”
He said the threat of nuclear annihilation appeared to be keeping the world in check – and he hoped another world war would never materialise.
“In my estimation there is so much toing and froing with nuclear threats that I think everybody realises that if a war did take place we would wipe ourselves out.”Does he miss flying? “No. I’ve had my time” Götze said, adding that he had recently received a new pacemaker for his heart. “The doctor told me the pacemaker will last another 13 years, but that I’m so healthy and strong he has ordered me another one.
“I asked him if he would still be alive to put it in.”
Asked about his bruised appearance after falling down 13 steps earlier this week, Götze just smiled: “You should see the other guy,” he said.