John Frewen - Arrival and horrendous scenes

Running time
5 min 51 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs


So we went over on a, in those days, it was very exciting. It was a US... from memory, I think it was some sort of national guard, huge aircraft. I think it was a Galaxy, A C5 Galaxy, one of these enormous cargo aircraft. And so we filed up into this thing that had this enormous cavern inside it. It was being filled with military equipment, and then we filed up into a sort of passenger area right up in the top of the plane. I'd never sort of been on one of these planes before. They were quite... we sort of seen them and sort of marvelled it in books and things, so that was all very exciting.

And then we stopped in Diego Garcia on the way, and that was of course fascinating, but there was nothing there. We got out and ran around and got back on the plane and then sort of headed on. But then when we landed in Rwanda, it was night-time. It was an airfield where there was visible signs of mortar bombs having gone off on the tarmac and the like. There was activity going on, we came off the plane, the gear was being marshalled off the plane.

I remember there were, I think, cameras and lights sort of looking at us as we came off the plane. So it was all a bit sort of a mix of excitement and disorientation. And then we were moved very quickly to an area where we got ammunition issued and all of that, so that got us very focused very quickly. And then we moved into the airport terminal and in the airport terminal, there was... And we had to be held there for some hours. And I think we were being held perhaps to be moved on to the area where we were going to be in camp, the former army barracks and the former...

Well, in fact, no. We were going to the former hospital at this stage. We were going straight into the hospital, but we then explored the airport for a couple of hours that night. And it was a scene of already of devastation and looting and ransacking. And there was pictures of the former leader that had been defaced and there were safes that had been broken open. It was complete sort of chaos, and again, all very exciting at the time.

We didn't encounter anything particularly grizzly and gruesome at that stage, but that was what the anticipation was. So we explored for a couple of hours. And then in the morning we were moved on to the hospital and I can remember driving. We were put onto this dilapidated old, beaten-up bus and we drove through the city. And again, the city, the streets had been largely cleaned up of human remains and those sorts of things. But there weren't a lot of people around and it was very, very hot. We'd watch the sort of spectacular sunrise from the airport. Yeah, hot, few people, signs of sort of carnage rolling through these streets over these hills. It's a very spectacular sort of town, Kigali.

And then we got to the hospital and then once we were into the hospital, we found our rooms. But once we were in the hospital, then straight away, we were starting to encounter all sorts of horrendous things that had been left as a result of the massacre the way the genocide had sort of rolled out through the city. So we came into a hospital. I think it was the Mary Celeste, the ship that they found that, tables were still set. It was like this, there were desks with paperwork where you could see they were halfway through a sentence and had dropped the pen, or people had clearly been in the course of their business and had to leave very quickly.

And then as we started to explore the hospital, we started to come across clearly places where people had been sort of corralled and then massacred. There were rooms where bloodied handprints all over the walls. And there were beds where people had obviously been sort of taken to in their beds. The patients, it seemed, even though the bodies were gone, the blood and gore was still around. But the toilet bowls, clearly the patients had been left to their own devices for a very long time because all of the toilet bowls in the hospital were filled to the top and had set hard with refuse, so there was no plumbing. And as we, over the weeks ahead, started to clean up the hospital to get it ready for our medicos to come and set it up and run it as a hospital, there was gruesome tasks like having to literally chip through all of the solid human faeces and stuff, trying to somehow avoid the smell of that with gas mask, which was pointless. But it was a bit of a psychological effect along the line.

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