”You drank my milk”
This ANZAC Day, we share a special story of our wonderful resident, Warren Hill, who recalls his experience on active service in Somalia whilst on a UN Peacekeeping Mission known as (Unisom 11).
We were deployed to the South East Region of Somalia in August 1994 I was there for six months, I was a field engineer with the 23 company of the Royal Australian Army Engineers or RAE. (UNISOM 11). Our main role whilst I was there was to escort red cross supplies to a shanty town known as Biadao this is where the Australians had set up base HQ and Camp. Just a little way from this town, death lurked around each and every housing shack within it.
It all began with a simple escort from the northern region on our way back from Mogadishu which was overtaken by gorillas and rebels that would do anything to stop the vital supplies reaching those in need in the South.
On route to Baidao we had to cross the land in between and there was a little place known as Buur Hakaba where we stopped for a brief moment to clear the dust from our eyes. It was here when I first met a little man with a weather worn face, very short tight ringlets in his hair, and of very small stature, little did I know he was going to become a man I would become to admire, not only for his kindness but of his will to survive against all the odds against him and his family.
Whilst we only pulled up momentarily at this point, I got down off our escort vehicle small arm holster, unclipped in case it was required to be used, and my gunner with the 50 caliber browning point in my direction as covering fire, should weapons be drawn against us, this was our show of intent to harm if need be, I also had the rest of my crew armed and on stand by as well should we get into a fire fight, or ambush situation.
I approached this little man and said hello, we are here to help, we will not hurt you or your family. At that moment the little man produced a small urban made pottery bowl with milk in it, he put it up wanting me to take it from him, possibly as a token of friendship, I took the little man up on his offer and drank the milk, which was most likely from a sheep as he had a couple, rather thin though, due to lack of feed for them. I then handed the bowl back to the little man thanked him and we were on our way again.
The following day we came by the little man again and his wife and two children, I once again stopped the clear the dust from my eyes, I approached the little man again, and asked how he was, he replied “You Drank My Milk” I replied so you speak English, he replied “Yes I Do and you can call me Albert”, so we chatted for a little while, I discovered that Albert had learned about our western culture when he was young, as well as learnt to speak English, mind you he spoke it very well.
He then went onto say, ‘how do I feed my family now you have drunk my milk’, I said, ‘but you offered it to me’. He said, ‘yes but one good turn deserves another does it not’, I replied, ‘yes it does’. I went back to the escort vehicle and asked the boys to give up some of their ration packs for these people, to which they did quite willingly. I then went back to Albert and said, ‘this may be of some help to you’. This he was very grateful for, and you could tell that this act of generosity brought such I wonderful smile to their faces.
This was to go on for sometime whilst we were here, Albert even had to build a storage area for the supplies we had given him, upon leaving this place of aridness and red dust, I bid him farewell, known that I would miss him and our wonderful conversations we would have about our lives and the things we had done and seen.
I then returned to Australia, where I would be sent back overseas not long after again on a another peacekeeping mission known as UNIMUR (Rwanda). Many years later, I had been out of the Army since early 1996, being discharged at Victoria Barracks in Melbourne, I became a Security Officer and had been for some years.
I began corporate security duty at 8 Exhibition Street in Melbourne and this is where I met my wife Kate. I had worked in many buildings after this. The current building I work in is 140 William Street Melbourne, where I am a Dock Master, and was to work along the side of a security officer by the name of Sutueal Bokele Althe. We had been there since October 2014 and our jobs were cut out for us we had to turn the state of play with security around, and we did.
One day I was up at the front desk attending to a courier who wasn’t playing the game and behind me was Sutueal with one of his relatives over seeing his son who was studying in Melbourne. The person I leant was Royston, the son of Albert, and it is interesting to ready how he found out who I was. He said to Sutueal ‘I think I know this man, and if I say something to him it will determine if I am right’.
The gentleman approached me and said “You Drank My Milk”and I said, ‘there is only one person who has ever said that to me, and his name is Albert Althe’, the gentleman said, ‘yes Albert is my father, I am Royston Althe, I was a little boy the last time you saw me, all those years ago, but unfortunately Albert passed away some time ago. I remember growing up and the praise he would give the Australian Soldiers and how they could have possibly died of starvation if their generosity were not given to us’. ‘At the time of Albert’s death the last words he said were “A Few Good Men” and as I remember you were one of them’.
But more surprising to me Royston produced from his pocket a 9 mm Browning which had been carved out of wood, it was given to him as a present by one of the boys in my company. Royston was fascinated by guns, but wasn’t aware of the dangers of the real ones if placed in the wrong hands like accidents, so we gave him a wooden one, of which he had kept all these years. I said to him, ‘why do you still have this Royston’ and he replied ‘it is one of my most prized possessions that I have, and I cherish the memories of those who gave it to me’.