On Saturday, 8th September 2007 in southern Afghanistan Johan Botha and Craig Brelsford were tragically killed in a firefight with the Taliban. A number of other soldiers were also injured in the incident, two were in a serious condition. They were all taking part in a pre-planned operation to disrupt Taliban activity, south of Garmsir, southern Helmand Province, when their patrol was attacked by enemy fighters shortly after 12.45am local time. Sadly Johan and Craig were both killed during the subsequent heavy firefight to repel the enemy. A number of Taliban were also killed.
Johan Botha was serving as a Private with 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters).
Private Johan Botha of A (Grenadier) Company, 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters), was born in South Africa and enlisted in his home country on 8 June 2005. From Pretoria, he joined 1st Battalion, Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment (29th/45th of Foot), in January 2006. This was his first operational deployment and his first deployment overseas with the Army.
Lieutenant Colonel Simon Banton, Commanding Officer 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, said:
"Private Botha was a mountain of a man; fit, strong and robust. He was a model soldier and a proud citizen of South Africa. A keen and talented rugby player, he was eagerly looking forward to this rugby world cup. Devoted to his wife and young daughter; our thoughts are with them at this terrible time."
Major Jamie Nowell, Officer Commanding A (Grenadier) Company, said:
"Private Botha was the archetypal South African – incredibly proud, strong, tough, robust and an excellent soldier. His natural talent for soldiering was obvious and I would have difficulty picturing him working in any other environment. On the flip side he was a devoted family man; the strong bond and sense of responsibility he held for his wife and daughter were humbling. Private Botha was fortunate enough to have two important families; the one he left at home and missed each and every day – and the one he lived and fought with in Afghanistan. He made incredible sacrifices for each of these family units and fought for them both with passion, pride and devotion.
"Private Botha was killed in action at the very front of an intense battle on the Taliban front line in southern Afghanistan. He had been amidst tenacious fighting on many occasions and was a courageous and brave soldier. He provided support and example to the younger soldiers around him; especially under fire where his calm, professional leadership and aggressive, robust response to enemy action were a testament to his character.
"Private Botha died as a soldier fighting with his friends. The loss of such a fine soldier, friend and colleague will live with the Company forever – he will not be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, daughter and family at this time of intense loss."
Lieutenant Simon Cupples, his Platoon Commander, said:
"Private Botha was a larger than life character. With a physically dominating frame and a loud personality he always had a presence wherever he was. He was a confident soldier who helped and guided the younger soldiers. Private Botha was South African and had moved to the UK with his wife four years ago. He joined the Battalion in September 2005 and soon became one of the main characters in the Platoon. He had a real passion for soldiering and nothing would faze him. He was looking forward to the Battalion moving to Northern Ireland as that would allow him more time for training, sport and family after two years of public duties. I had also just recommended him for a junior commander's cadre as it was clear that he was ready for promotion after his exceptional performance on operations.
"Private Botha's performance had been excellent throughout this tour. He always worked hard and was never afraid to get into a fight with the enemy. He was also a devoted family man and constantly thought and spoke of his wife and daughter back home. It was clear that even though he loved his job, they were the main priority in his life. He died a true soldier and our hearts are with his wife and baby girl."
Private Kevin Latham, friend and colleague, said:
"Private Botha was a well loved and energetic man who loved his family, his mates, his job and his South African heritage. Private Botha died the way a true soldier should. Our section was engaged heavily by an enemy position with intense and accurate fire used to pin us down. In the thick of this was Private Botha. Private Botha was injured and he went to ground. He continued to fight, although he was very seriously injured and despite his severe injuries he was still able to engage the enemy until the very end, ensuring the safety of all his mates. That's what Private Botha was like, always up for the scrap. Private Botha leaves behind a wife, a daughter and his mates. He will always be with us and his family in spirit and will never be forgotten."
Private Kyle Smith, friend and colleague, said:
"Private Botha was a hard working, professional bloke who always set a great example to his younger peers. He was a character that everyone respected and also loved. He would put his friends first in any situation. There will be so much that will be missed about Private Botha but he will never be forgotten."