SOUTH AFRICAN SCHOOL OF INFANTRY 1986-87
Roy Mansfield completed his training as a teacher before reporting for National Service at School of Infantry, Outshoorn in January 1986. He remained as an instructor there in 1987, after having fetched a group of Officer and NCO training applicants from 5 SAI (Ladysmith).
Here are links toPhotos: School of Infantry - Bravo Coy - 1986, Photos: School of Infantry - Delta Coy - 1987, School of Infantry - Company Logos,
EXPECTATIONS PROIR TO REPORTING
I was quite fortunate in many ways that I'd done varsity, and I'd done the HDE so I was a teacher. Before that, all those interim callups that you get before you finally say; `Okay, I'm coming', had been to infantry camps - SAI plaases, as we called them. (Roy: Was this by any chance a pun on `saai' as in `to sew seed'?) Most were for Grahamstown, some were for Ladysmith, and I even had one to the Marines at one of the Naval bases down in the Cape. When I finally said; `Right, I'm ready to come now, and I let them know that I had done the HDE, I was automatically called up directly to Outshoorn. I knew that it was the Infantry School, we would be going on officers course, and because of that it was a whole year's training, rather than just six months basics that the ordinary infantry soldier would have. It was worth it in the end from what we had heard. We had heard that it was tough, but that you were treated more humanely than you would have been at the average SAI-plaas, because we were meant to be officer material. Generally we counted ourselves lucky to be in that situation, remembering that we had quite a few guys who did their HDE with us when it was a very real and - possibly threatening like I guess military service was to everybody. A looming thing on the horizon at the end of our HDE year. There were guys who had been with us who said that they knew that the guys who went off to Infantry school suffered for a year and then they had it cushy for another year. I could say that I knew what was coming to some extent. To some extent that allayed the fear of the unknown of what was coming up.
I had very ambivalent feelings towards it. To some extent I saw it as a right of passage, to some extent a necessary evil, to some extent `you do your duty to your country', to some extent the conflict was about disadvantaged people wanting to assert what they felt were their rights. It was a thing that came back to me several times while I was doing my national service. I went in with some apprehension. It never occurred to me that I should run away to England as one or two of the guys that I was at university with did. To some extent they were seen as traitors to some extent at that stage still. I think that the propaganda machine had been very effective in portraying people like the `End Conscription Campaign' as being almost communists; as part of the `Rooi Gevaar, Swart Gevaar' sort of thing. To some extent one went into it feeling; `I'm not sure that its necessarily the right thing, but it was the lesser of who knows how many evils.' Everybody else was doing it, so you would go and do your bit for the country. I also have a brother who had been through it straight after school; he had gone to Kimberley to Intelligence. He had a particularly rough time. I knew that it was an organisation that didn't take kindly to people who buck the system, but he certainly didn't cope with the system. When they listened to what he was saying and allowed him to contribute what he felt he could contribute, he was very successful at doing just that. I had this in the back of my mind as well. I was fortified by knowing that going down to Outshoorn, I knew what was coming.
LAST TEN DAYS
I spent as much time as possibly with family and friends and Vivien (then girlfriend, now wife). I remember us spending almost all of our time together, apart from saying goodnight at about twelve o'clock at night, and seeing Vivien as early as possible again the next morning. There was a lot of preparation in getting all the kit and katunda and the irons and everything ready, speaking to people who had been through it before and saying, where they had some item of required kit on the list; saying; `Don't worry to take that. Take this, or don't take ten of those. Take fifteen of those because you are going to need them. It was that sort of preparation., I don't remember being particularly nervous through those last few days. I was enjoying myself. It was a case of making the most of the time I had left. I remember trying to make an effort to get fit in advance, and I know from what transpired when I got to Outshoorn that I wasn't as fit as I could have been, but I wasn't nearly as unfit as some of the guys who got there. I was in reasonably good shape. I woke up in the morning knowing that maybe I should go for a run, but I would far rather spend the time doing something else, so I didn't get too excited trying to get super-fit. The impression we got was that whether you were fit or not, everybody was going to be made fit if you were capable of that, so it didn't concern me too much.
We reported to the drill hall in Pietermaritzburg. I remember that being quite a tense time. We had been warned that although we were going to Outshoorn, we would be travelling with other guys who were going to be dumped off at Ladysmith, and we weren't too sure what lay in store for us from that point of view. I think that the feeling amongst the guys that I was travelling with was that when we got to Outshoorn, things would be quite rational as far as they could be, but that there could be some up-hill before that. I can remember lining up and seeing the guys from varsity, the guys that I was used to mixing with, and also seeing a whole lot of young laaitjies. I remember saying a tearful `goodbye' to Vivien and family, and then going to stand in long lines where they did an inspection of our kit. They just walked up to some guys randomly and said; `Unpack all your kit', other guys they just said unpack this bag, other guys they just asked; `have you got anything with you?' and would check your papers. They didn't have the time to go through everyone with a fine-tooth comb, but we were told that booze and drugs and anything like that would be frowned upon heavily and would be a big no-no! Not a good way to start off your national service. I think that's when it actually hit me. I remember my mom making a nice big fancy supper, and I think that we had to be there at seven o'clock that night or something along those lines. That day wasn't a particularly pleasant day, but it wasn't an unpleasant day. I just remember being somewhat apprehensive about everything. I was prepared from a kit point of view. The worst was getting to the drill hall, and that was when you realised; `Now! You're off!'
The journey worked out to be two and three quarter days. I remember we spent at least two nights on the train. We stopped off at just about every possible stop along the way. Essentially - there were some private individuals on the train - it was the train that eventually became the Trans-Karoo. There were some private people on board, but we were told to keep totally separate from them. One or two of the guys ended up sneaking off to the dining carriage and chatting with the civvies, but we had been told to keep clear of the civvies. I can remember that when we arrived at the stations in-between there were guys getting on to the train who were off to national service as well. I remember thinking that they were lucky that their parents could be there because it was a small station and they could see them off , whereas our parents weren't allowed to go to the station. When we stopped at a station, everybody who was on the train to go and do national service had to close the curtains so that the ANC or the terrorists couldn't count how many boys were off to go and do national service. That was what we were told. I think it was more a case of not wanting us leaning out of the windows, and having some guys being obnoxious to civvies.
My feeling was `Keep your nose clean. Stay out of the pooh!' That was the best way to cope with it. That was the message that I got from (my brother) Richard and everybody else. Don't be seen to stand out. It didn't pay to be super-fit. Be in the middle third. The bottom end of the top third, the top of the middle third was a good place to be for anything, because then you were away from the bottom half and behaving yourself. Don't rock the boat. I was very much aware of; `You do this. It might not make any sense to you, but that is the way to survive.' I ended up in a carriage with five guys who had done their HDE with me, which was very nice. Two or three of them were guys who I had been at school with. One I had been at school with had always been `arty', he was very good at dramatics and so on, and I remember while I was travelling with him that he was very nervous. I was quite concerned about him. He didn't eat any of the food that was provided. He had brought his own, but I can remember him eating very little. He wasn't a particularly fit guy at school. He was always on the chubby side. I remember him having lost a lot of weight in the build up to the whole thing; him having been apprehensive in the HDE, and mentioning it. The sixth member of the compartment was a chap by the name of Pieter De Beer. I ended up in the platoon with him, after their platoon was disbanded when they started rationalising things as guys were withdrawn or withdrew themselves from the course. I can remember him making our trip an absolute nightmare because he had smuggled alcohol on to the train. He was a Durbanite, and he got on the train at Ladysmith, I think because his girlfriend was at Ladysmith. He got on with alcohol, having had enough alcohol so that having a few more beers would get him drunk. He wasn't under the influence enough for it to be noticeable for the guys to send him off home because he was drunk, as they would do under those circumstances. We expected him to get locked up, and that the military police would step in. I can remember him being totally obnoxious. All five of the rest of us were just wanting to get this over and done with, to keep our noses clean and let the two years pass as soon as possible. He was from an Afrikaans background and all the rest of us were from English backgrounds, and he was a real cocky arrogant swine, and he knew so many people and he could make life comfortable; `Ag, man! Have a beer with me!' and we were saying; `No, we don't want a beer with you.' Inevitably he got to the point where one of the corporals came and I can still remember this corporal storming in and this guy made a nervous giggle and stood to attention and because he knew that this was the way to react. One or two of us, because we were on our bunks or somewhere did not jump to attention, and we were severely reprimanded by this guy and him just standing there with a sock grin on his face when the corporal couldn't see it, and us just wanting to throw him out of the train carriage of we could, and him getting away with it. Eventually it got to the point where the guy came in and confiscated the booze from him, but they searched all of us, and it wasn't comfortable, because they said; `We're watching you. You're marked. We'll get you down there.' What we didn't realise at the time was that they were just transit NCOs and a transit officer, to fetch and carry, and the came from some reception battalion down in Durban, and this was just their way of keeping everybody in line. You realise that afterwards and have a good chuckle about it, but at the time I remember it being quite worrisome. I remember the continuous journey, and us just sitting there with nothing really to talk about, other than what we had left behind. Did we have enough stuff with us? I wonder what its going to be like there. I can remember the guy that I spoke about earlier being very very nervous. He was almost a recluse, and yet we were quite friendly with him at school, and doing HDE. He was cause for concern as far as I was concerned. We went via Bloemfontein and through the hot karoo. The meals were mass produced, I think in polythene tubs and then there were the black bin liner that was passed around and we had to throw what was left in there, and I can remember the chips were half cold and fairly oily, but sufficient to cope with, and of course we had all been given stuff by our families; we were all munching bilton and the odd chocolate. It wasn't that bad. When we stopped at the stations we weren't allowed to buy cool drinks, but by the last day of out trip there was invariable somebody selling canned coke, and we were buying them through the window in any case. The NCOs were turning a blind eye to that. They had realised that there weren't going to be too many serious problems on the way.
I remember arriving in Outshoorn in the middle of the night. Having been warned about a `roof-ride' we were expecting something like that but our first introduction to Outshoorn was that this was strictly verbooten! We found out afterwards that our drivers knew that they could get into severe trouble if there was any damage done to the `precious human cargo' in the back. It wasn't cold. It was January, but you'd been sleeping under a blanket. It was a cool Karoo night, and most of us were standing there in our T-shirts, shivering and feeling quite cold. We had coffee when we arrived, but it wasn't hot coffee. It was typical army - it had been standing for at least half an hour while waiting for the people to arrive. We formed up outside the Quartermasters on a big concrete slab at about 2 or 3 in the morning. I can remember being marched off to our lines, and being assigned to beds that just had the normal piss-poor mattress on. There was no bedding. We were told that we could grab about three quarters of an hour's sleep. We were woken up when it was just getting light, and we were marched off to breakfast and so on.
I remember going through this sausage machine of about three days. It was explained to us fairly well; some of us would be off to the medics, some of us would be off to the quartermasters. Some of us would be off to do these tests, and these tests, and those tests. There were three days that were just a blur in oblivion. We were told that we would get access to telephones, but not yet, and there was to be no noseying around anywhere until you got permission, and it was for our own good, and to talk about our bearings. They were very apprehensive times. I remember guys bailing out. I have clear memories of a guy with an M.A. - this distance from the quartermasters store to the lines was probably 350 m, and at 10 o'clock in the morning walking up to the quartermasters stores after you had been there from 5 collecting kit, with a trommel that had stuff just jammed into it, and stuff on your head and stuff on your back, and stuff on top of your trommel and you battled to juggle it all. This guy was quite a round portly chap, and he just baled over in the morning with heat-stroke. It was tremendously hot, and that was the last we saw of him. I remember having to carry his kit in, and half an hour later we were asked to hand in his kit, and we never saw him again. He was sent off.
The chap that I had been worried about in the train carriage; Andrew, was still with us, still in the same platoon at that stage. We were divided up into phantom platoons, knowing that everything would be reshuffled. I know that most of us didn't stay together. We were purposefully split up. We were apprehensive about this as well, because at least these were known individuals that you could deal with. Most people were in the same boat and you quickly ended up finding at least one soul mate - I remember ending up with another Afrikaans guy from Natal. We had that in common. I could speak Afrikaans, and he was from Natal.
This guy, Andrew, when we got to the medics, I remember him being taken off, and while we were having all our injections and tests and everything, he was suddenly called out of the line. I found out afterwards that he was borderline anorexic, and he was being RTU'd. (not G5'd??) No more national service for him, he was going home. I was conscious of the fact that he had "failed" but that he was lucky to have failed. That was the feeling that I had at the time. I think he went in wanting a way out. Chatting to him before he left, he was very relieved. He didn't even spent the rest of that night with us. He just came and collected his kit and then went off to sick bay, because they felt he was a risk of sorts, and he said that they had told him that he would be going home the next day, and that he shouldn't worry and that he must not do anything silly. I remember wishing him luck and just saying; `Don't worry about it. We can't all cope with it, and I'm very grateful for you that you're going, and I wish I could be in your shoes.' I can remember saying that to him, just wanting him to feel better. He was a buddy of mine. Not a particularly close buddy, but I knew him well enough to be concerned about him.
I can remember these long lines, waiting to be weighed, standing in queues comparing test strips after you had urinated on them; `How's mine different from yours?' `Did they say whether your feet were fine?' Just simple inane little things like that. It was just nervous chattering amongst ourselves.
[We didn't have corporals jumping on us and screaming at us at all!] We were being treated firmly, and we were told that we would be treated firmly. `We were at Infantry School. It was an honour and a privilege to be there, and that we must view it as that, and if we had a problem, we must voice it. We should not go and do anything stupid. We would be treated with strict discipline, but not unnecessarily harshly, unless we brought it upon ourselves.
I remember my brother telling me about going off to Kimberley and having to eat out of a vark-pan, and of having to wash a vark-pan in cold water. In my whole army career I never ate out of a vark-pan. The first time that I saw a vark-pan was in my second year when I went to Ladysmith to do JLs selections. Before then I didn't really know what they looked like. There wasn't a vark-pan to be seen at Infantry School. Except in the Detention Barracks; they had them there. I remember seeing them there in my second year, when I was a Platoon Commander. We didn't queue up to have our food dished up to us; we were marched in silence into a dining hall; there were about ten or twelve seated at each table. You stood behind your chair until everybody was in. You would stand while they said grace. Then the NCO on duty would say; `sit'. After that you could chat and talk. Later on in training, if they felt that we had been disobedient, or that we hadn't trained well enough, then we had to eat in silence. The later on in the year you got, the more you rebelled against that. Generally you had to keep a control on the volume. Three companies ate in one dining room. Bravo Company, which was the teachers company - although it wasn't exclusively teachers - was the largest. At the height of our strength we were eight or nine platoons of forty men per platoon. We shared with Charlie Company and Delta Company; they were three or four platoons each.
National Servicemen cooks used to put the food on the tables a large silver food server was put down at the head of the table, and then the two troops at the end of each table used to serve up, and they had to serve up fairly and pass it down the line. We had jugs of juice and milk and whatever on the table, knives and forks and plates. You never washed a plate. You had to stack them neatly at the end; whoever served had to do it at the end. Certainly, during the initial stages when you started getting fit and hungry, there was always lots of food; lots of bread. It was advantageous to be dishing up, not to short change your buddies, but to make sure that you scored by having to dish up. Towards the end of it all, nobody wanted to dish up. There was a slight vying to try and shuffle out of it. In general, I know that at some of the SAI camps eating times could be unpleasant, or could be made unpleasant.
That was just the one dining hall. We had `Alpha', Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Foxtrot Company were all January Intakes. Echo, Golf and Hotel were the July Intakes. Generally Hotel Company was an initial intake, and then it shrunk down and they eventually became absorbed into Echo and Gold companies. Generally we were much more than ordinary platoon strength, and more than the normal company strength. I was initially moved into Foxtrot Company, which was a sports company. When they reshuffled things they moved all the sportsmen together and they went off to Foxtrot Company, and we were changed over to Bravo Company. That happened within a week or two.
The whole catering line was excellent. We were given three meals a day. Sundays were slightly different. Once the proper routine had started, you got up. There was always coffee or milo. Normally there were rusks. It was very seldom that they slipped up and didn't have rusks for us, early in the morning. Generally whoever was on duty in the platoon that day would go down and collect the coffee and rusks and drop it off in the ironing area, which was next to the ablutions section. You would get up, and in your underpants rush through; get yourself a cup of coffee and dive back into bed. It was brought in at six. You had to be out of bed by 7.30 on a Sunday. You could have a bit of a ly-in. It was quite civilised from that point of view. That was unless you were out in the field training, which was a totally different situation. This happened from pretty early on. All you had to do was to go to your church parade in time to go to church, and then come back. Sunday lunches were always excellent. We always looked forward to Sunday lunches. It was normally a roast of sorts, and there would be a pudding. This also happened during basics. The food was always excellent when you were in the base. When you were out in the field training, then sometimes you got cold food, and that was a different scenario. Sundays were always looked forward to. We never ever got messed around on a Sunday that I can recall. It was always a time to ourselves. There were times when we had to prepare, but it was never under enforced preparation. A lot of the guys washed kit on the Sundays. I know that when I was at Ladysmith I ended up working on a Sunday which is something that I had never had to do at Infantry School. During conventional phase, things were slightly different. We viewed that as being slightly different, and we understood that.
We didn't get jumped on much during the first few days. We got the bos-bussies later on.
During those first few weeks of being processed, we were kept on edge knowing that the gear would change at any time. You were always apprehensive about it. Looking back on it now, it was actually a very easy time. We were treated very humanely. There was a sword of Damocles hanging over your head.
When basic training started, we weren't always that well informed about times of passes etc., although I thing that we were far better informed than anyone else in the normal infantry battalions at the various SAI camps. We knew what period of training was coming up. We were told what it would involve; we were told how long it would be, we were told what evaluation was concerned, and everything. By Saturday morning at the very latest you knew what the programme for the following week was going to be. You weren't in the dark as far as that was concerned. Towards the end of a phase you were always briefed as to what the next phase would entail. If not formally by the platoon commander, then certainly informally by the NCOs. I was very lucky; we had two very good NCOs. A chap by the name of Craig Daniels and Chris Groenewald. Craig Daniels was an English-speaking NCO from the reef - Joburg somewhere. He was a very young guy. Chris Groenewald was from the Cape. He was Afrikaans speaking and his nickname was `Groenies'. Craig Daniels was just `Daniels'. Groenies was a very nice guy. He had actually done two years of his teaching diploma, and then he had bombed out. He made it understood; `Co-operate with me and don't rock the boat, and then I won't rock your boat.' It didn't take him long to instil that in us, and it didn't take us long to realise that potentially we were on to an easy wicket. `Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours!' Not to the point of being obsequious or anything like that, but we had a very good relationship with him. Our platoon commander was a short little guy. They used to call him; `Mannetjies'. All the other platoon commanders referred to him as `mannetjies'. He had a couple of nicknames though. We used to call him the `akadis' (lizard) as well, because he lad lizard like eyes. He was a short little guy, and very paraat. Initially we thought that he was very paraat; he was always immaculately turned out. Chris Groenewald and Daniels quite happily spoke English to us; he didn't often speak English to us. He battled with English. He was a teacher like us, but from the Cape, and he was a year ahead of us. I was very fortunate in that I was very soon recognised - I guess you could say that I became his `platoon pet', but I never got flak from the other guys in the platoon with me about that, like you would get for `teachers pet'. I kept my nose clean, I worked hard for the tests, I worked bloody hard for the inspections. I didn't want to get into trouble, and that was the way that you kept your nose clean. My inspections were always highly rated. It worked to my benefit later on. He took me of as a kind of `platoon orderly'. I effectively became platoon orderly for that whole year. When we went to the border, during training for example, we had to rotate roles, so he had to take on another platoon orderly for certain training sessions, but when we came to deploy, I was platoon orderly. It was a comfortable billet in some cases, but in other cases, when the other guys were sleeping, I had to be preparing their maps for the next day. Certainly I was looked after from that point of view. I appreciated that. A lot of guys; there was a third of the platoon that didn't like him at all. A third liked him a lot, and a third were indifferent. I was one of those that like him, but I was very fortunate in the relationship that I had with him. We had `pinks' which had to be filled in, which were really the assessment forms of our progress; your fitness tests and all your other tests went on there, and I always filled those in for him. I learned that you don't volunteer. He made us write something out, and he said that we had to be careful and that it had to be neat because it was going somewhere; it was the first letter to our parents, or something like that. I can't remember what it was. Then he said; `Who are these three people?' and he read out three names. He had been looking for the three neatest handwritings. Then, when we came forward, he said; `Okay, you go and sit down' to a chap that was pretty slovenly looking, a guy that never got it right as far as gaining some form of military bearing - what the military were looking for. He took the two of us aside, and I became the main orderly and the other guy became the sidekick, but he eventually dropped out of the course, and that was it. He obviously selected us on the basis of; `I'm looking for someone who can assist me from an administrative point of view in running the platoon, but had to be presentable, so when I send him down to the company HQ, I'm not going to be seen to be in a bad light because I've got a troep that looks untidy.' I didn't feel that I was being used at all because it was to my benefit. There were times where, if he knew that I had been working late the night before, finishing off the pinks, and if my inspection wasn't quite what it should have been the next morning - I always made sure that it was better than 80% of the rest of the guys - I followed that rule of saying; `Don't be in the top ten, but be near the top. Keep your nose clean.' He would sometimes say; `Its not up to your standard,' but that's all that he would say, and I knew that he was taking into consideration that the pervious night I had been doing work for him. I employed exactly the same system the year that I was platoon commander; everybody did it. It was the way to survive. It certainly made your life a damn sight easier. You would have survived if you had had to do it yourself, but you would have got far less sleep. Instead of being in the lines until twelve o'clock at night, he and I (in our respective years) would have been in the lines until ten o'clock at night. That makes a difference if you have to be up at five the next morning. He was hard on the guys that gave him up-hill. That was the general impression of Infantry School; when you bucked the system, they would nail you. If you gave them reason to, but if you didn't buck the system, then it wasn't a problem. Just keep your nose clean and go with the flow. That was the Infantry School philosophy for me. I think a lot of guys at the SAI plaases got messed around unnecessarily; the typical rond-vok for the sake of rond-vok. We didn't often get rond-vokked. We had a lot of `Hurry up and wait', but not being messed around unnecessarily.
By the way, lots of the guys were going off to go and write supps. Etc. to finish off things during the first few months. That was very cushy for them, because they would be away for three of four days, and had a pass long before the rest of us had it. I remember, surprisingly enough, one guy going away on pass to go and play in the South African Yukskei championships. I think he had been there for about ten days at the time. I think they had just had time to give him a decent uniform, and he went off for ten days to go and play on the yukskei championship. While he was away he phoned one of his buddies who was in the platoon with us, who told him that we were battling to polish floors, and he came back with a polisher from his mother. It was brilliant! We were the first platoon to have a polisher, and we were allowed to. We got it earlier than we were allowed to, but we hid it in a cupboard and it wasn't a problem at all. We were always envious of the guys who could go off and write their supps.
The way it was explained to us is that generally; `You ouks are bright. You've all got degrees and diplomas. The first three months were very much what the normal rifleman would get at a SAI camp; the weapons training and so on. We did basics, and then we went into a platoon weapons phase. Those took us through the first five months. Those were the most physical times. I can remember being dead-tired. Whenever you sat down for a lecture, you battled to keep awake. We used to get up at 4 in the morning, and drill for an hour and a half before breakfast. After that there would be lectures or practical demonstrations to attend, or practical sessions with the firearms; the LMGs and everything. It was explained to us clearly that we had to know how to use every single weapon that a platoon could use, because you might have a troop who would be utilising one, so we did every single weapon; down to stripping it down to its smallest part. We were supposed to be able to do that in our sleep. I sat and thought about it the other day; if you gave me an R4 now I would be able to dismantle it. We were down to dismantling it and putting it back together again in less than 30 seconds. I could probably do it now, (11 years later) and put it together again in a minute and a half . With a little practise I would get back down to about thirty seconds in about four or five times. That was drilled into us. The physical side of it; we double timed everywhere. We did a lot or marching, we did a lot of running, we did a lot of PT. The worst part of an average day for me was PT. I was very apprehensive that a PT session could go into an op-vok session. Invariably we realised that it came down from higher than the platoon commanders. It wasn't often that a platoon commander decided that his platoon would stay on and do extra PT. It would come down from higher than them that `discipline was up to maggots'; nail these guys during PT.' We were never nailed to the point of blood and guts anywhere, but drill them hard physically. I didn't enjoy marble PT. Everyone of us had a marble - concrete block - I can't remember the weight it. Don't forget that a number of our infantry officers and NCOs went on and did the parabat course. Marble PT, pole PT, we had light PT or rifle PT. Rifle Pt wasn't a problem. Marble PT was the pits. I remember sweating particularly with that. I've never been a particularly physical person, and I just didn't like PT. The only thing I liked about PT was that generally it was the last thing formally to do that day, although often we had lectures in the evenings. At least those weren't formal training stuff. I can remember, certainly for the first four or five months, being very apprehensive every time we went out into the filed and to the range; concerned about when they were going to give us a bos-bus. In retrospect, I see that this was totally unnecessarily; I should have clicked to that very soon. Infantry School was more about producing Infantry Officers and Infantry NCOs than messing people around unnecessarily. Generally the cream of the crop was kept behind to run the scene. You didn't get the cocky little NCO with a chip on his shoulder wanting to show these guys who were going to become platoon commanders that he would tell and officer-to-be how to behave. In some of the companies where they had NCOs straight out of school that was the case, but our guys weren't that. Our corporal Daniels was straight out of school but he was very mature for his age, and he knew how to read these guys. He was also under Chris Groenewald's wing, and Chris would sometimes say; `Listen; watch it sometimes. These ouks are brainier than you, and you can't get through their skulls by being physical with them.'
PT I didn't enjoy, but on the whole it was fine. There were long sweaty runs. There would be times when we would be chased around the tree; `Sien jy daardie boom?' Particularly in the first two or three months there were some occasions where they pushed us. Once was the Company Sergeant-Major told the NCOs - he couldn't directly tell the platoon commander what to do. Because he was PF he told the NCOs what they should do, and then he suggested to the platoon commanders that they go along to keep an eye on their troops. He was telling them via the back door; `Listen. I'm PF. You're going to do this.' We didn't have a particularly unfair company sergeant-major, but particularly with the Permanent Force NCOs , there was a problem with dealing with the national servicemen looties; particularly the ones who had two pips and had a degree or something like that, who wasn't going to take nonsense from a Permanent Force NCO, whereas the average one pip platoon commander was a young whipper-snapper and who was scared of him because he was a more mature man. For a lot of us, a staff-sergeant could be two or three years older than us, and you weren't going to take nonsense from him, particularly if you had rank. I can remember one day running through the veld and having to leopard crawl, and then on your knees, and then rifle above your head, and running around this tree and then around that tree, and then leopard crawl here, and thinking that there were ant-bear holes there and it would be lovely to dive into one of those and wait for the whole platoon to come past again and fall into formation again, but I was too scared to be caught out at that, and suffer the consequences, so you just kept going.
We had a guy, Andrew Maintjies, in our platoon. He was a huge ouk. He lost about 40% of his body mass in about three weeks. I can remember him sweating great dollops; litres of sweat. But by the end of it all he was a very fit, lean-looking guy; we used to joke with him and call him a `lean mean fighting machine'. He was our `lean mean fighting machine'. The other thing that was impressed upon us was security. We had to keep the various parts of our rifle separate. The rifle went into your clothing cupboard, and the working parts and the magazine went into your trommel. The way they drilled it into us was that if they caught us with either one of the two open, they just took the number of your rifle down, or of your breech (sluit-stuk); if you knew that it was your number, then you owned up, and after PT you would have `gang PT' with the marble, and that was generally carried on for another three quarters of an hour. Passage Pt; that was within the bungalow the corporal (called the platoon sergeant) - in the normal conventional situation they would have sergeant ranks - you would have two or three guys carrying on with it. I did gang-PT once, I think, and after that I learned that you locked everything away. We had one guy, Godfrey Sibede - he got the nickname `sluit-stuk' Sibede, because five or six or seven times he left his trommel open, and the platoon sergeant would come out and say; `Mmmm. What have I got? Number (so-and-so)" and of course the first three times he didn't know what his rifle number was, and that was a big sin as well. That was even worse than leaving the parts lying around, so he got messed up. I remember once we had a particularly hard PT session - we had to do an obstacle course. Some of the guys had written a test and done badly; I'd done all right I had to do the obstacle course twice. There were probably ten of us out of the forty that only had to do it twice, and had to do it in a certain time and we would be fine. The rest of the guys had to do it another two times because they hadn't done well in their test, and then of course there was another whole lot of guys who hadn't locked stuff away or whose inspections had been bad, and they had to do it another two times. For me, two times was bad enough because it was a mean obstacle course. At the end Sibede came out of it, and I thought that he was going to drop down out of exhaustion. We were always well taken care of. If we were out on a day like that, there was always an ambulance around. There was an ambulance on call within three minutes of where you were, often within sight of us there was a medic sitting in an ambulance. Not that you could walk up to him, but he was there for heat stress and heat exhaustion. I can remember that we actually carried Sibede back; he was shivering and we asked to take him to the ambulance. `No!' I can remember opening up a big `bar-one' (Mars bar) when we got back and giving him that, and going to supper. One of the guys stayed behind, and afterwards we came back to see that his sugar levels had come back up. That was the bonding that was there. We looked after ourselves. He was just a bit of a `vaak seun' (Dozey Boy) he was a very nice guy, and he made a very good platoon commander after that, but he certainly learned the hard way to start with. There were others guys like that. We were a mixed platoon of English and Afrikaans guys; there was some animosity between what we would call the `Tame Dutchmen' and the `Dutchmen'. A `Tame Dutchman' was generally an Afrikaans guy from Natal or the Cape. There were one or two `Tame Dutchmen' from the Transvaal or the Orange Free State, but generally they were the `Dutchmen', and there was almost an Afrikaans `Mafia' in our platoon. I got on very well with him because I can speak Afrikaans, but there were one or two of the English guys who he was a bit obnoxious towards, but generally you just avoided him and carried on with your own life.
We were all graduates or diplomats. Without exception, to be in Bravo Company, you had to be one of those. The Company symbol was an R4 with an owl perched on it, with a graduate cap on it. That was our symbol. Some of them had a Dip. Ac. or something like that. I would say that 75% of us were teachers. Alpha Company was an officer company, Bravo was an Officer Company, Charlie was an NCO company, Delta, in my first year was an officer company, and I went into Delta Company as a platoon commander; depending on the army's requirement for NCOs; in my second year I was a platoon commander in an NCO company. Echo Company was a July Intake NCO company, Foxtrot was a sports company - Officers. Gold was a July Intake officer company, Hotel was a July Intake company that split up - some of the guys went into Officers Companies and some of the guys went into NCO companies. They were the ones who fizzled out. I was in Platoon Seven of Bravo Company; at one stage we were nine or ten platoons, and with the attrition that went on, they split platoon ten up into the others, and the platoon nine, and then platoon eight.
Apart from the differences between an officer and an NCO company; the reason that we were put together was that we would form the bulk of the people who would become involved in the cadet corps in schools. We were given extra in the Comops line in order to be good cadet teachers. We were given extra in the line of urban counter insurgency because we were likely to encounter problems in an urban environment. I remember we spent a whole week's course on being a cadet officer at a school; one day of that was `skool beveiliging', how to safeguard a school. We went into the Outshoorn area and went and saw how the various school cadet corps operated, and actually used those schools as dummies; how would we protect this if there was civil disobedience? You had to say how you would deploy your cadet corps to do that. And how would you protect it from a terrorist attack, and bomb drills at schools and that sort of stuff. The only time that I ever got involved afterwards when I was teaching for two years was to stand around and watch the cadet corps. NCOs drilling the guys around.
A week at infantry school - we had sport parade on a Thursday (elsewhere it was on a Wednesday), and then at some stage it changed over and then it changed back again. Obviously someone high us decided that we were bucking the system. On the day that we had sports parade, we generally had a relatively easy day, but this was not always the case. There was a Chaplains period and a Comops period; that was the day that you went to the Quartermasters and changed your laundry around - got new sheets and so on. We never had wash your own sheets; you took your bundle of sheets under your arm, and marched down to the QM and handed stuff in. Those were the days on which, if you had a shirt that was the wrong size, you could go and change it. Extra kit issues were done on those days. If you were given a study period it would be on those mornings. Generally there was an early lunch on those days, and then you went off and did sports parade. Those were the days that we looked forward to for two reasons; they were easy days; you had one more tough day and then you had a weekend which, depending on what phase of training you were in, meant at least Sunday to look forward to, if not Saturday afternoon to look forward to as well. If there was any base maintenance to be done, it was done on those days, or on Saturday mornings. This didn't involve mowing the lawns - there were people who did that - it was generally trimming the edges and weeding. I remember spending some Saturday ,mornings, and even some Saturday afternoons, which really pee'd us off, sitting on the rugby filed digging up clover. On my last trip to the Cape I showed Vivien the dams stuff because we found it all over the place. I remember sitting there with my pikstal having to dig this stuff up. That was the kind of stuff that it involved, or doing chicken parade. There were one or two times when it involved packing rocks to stabilise an embankment on the base perimeter. Generally they weren't bad times; it was an easy time. Evenings were often used for lectures. We wrote tests every second or third week; some of them were Compos tests. I can remember having to write out `Die Stem' for fourteen marks. You didn't have a choice of which language to write it in; you had to write it in Afrikaans. I remember being pee'd off about that. Just the first verse. There was a time when we ended up having to write it in English, and the English guys won all the way. You knew it in English, but you had to know it in Afrikaans as well. The Afrikaans guys squealed about that. The tests were generally done on Thursday mornings as well. Everyone traipsed into the dining room and sat there and write tests. Not necessarily all the companies, but, so that they could spread you out, a company at a time. At the end of every phase we wrote a big exam, which all the companies wrote at one; the synchronised the training from that point of view. Our training differed from the SAI-plaases in that point of view. Generally we were always told; `You guys are above the rest by virtue of the fact that you behave like that. See it as a privilege to be seen like that, and toe the line.' I remember doing inter-company competitions. They said to us; `These young guys should theoretically be able to drill better than you, but you can do better.' And then we did. Bravo Company had the band. We had the Infantry School band, which, traditionally was vested with us. Under exceptional circumstances they might take a trumpeter from Charlie Company and put him into the band. 80% of the band was Bravo Company.
If I can remember the main warfare type phases correctly; we went through basics, then platoon weapons, then we went through a conventional warfare phase (which was the trench warfare phase) then we went through to a rural counter insurgency phase before we went up to the border, then we went up to the border, and then we came back and did an urban counter insurgency phase, and then we did `vormingsopleiding' - we spent a lot of time doing etiquette; we did a wine tasting course then. It was a two-hour lecture. We weren't allowed to taste wines, but we were told - we had the formal dinners then, so that the first time we got to a formal dinner as an officer we knew how to behave. Towards the end of that year we became Cos. You started getting the pay of a CO while you were on the border. We only got the `kak-papier' when we got back - the white CO band. (Either it was `What is that bog-roll on your shoulder?' or you were a `shit-house officer'.) The NCOs got one line just before they went up to the border; they went to the border at the same time as us, or while they were up there. Their pay kicked in at the same time. I remember them wanting to try and enforce on us that we should `strek' them, and us telling them to fuck off! Because next year; `You're going to be polishing my boots if I feel like it' sort of things. It was their attempt to try and pip us to the post, but it was the closest that they ever came to it. I remember coming back from the border and we were allowed to put our white CO bands on. The NCOs always carried their stripe, and that was the big advantage for them. They probably had that for about two months wile we didn't have anything but the little CO band, and the only time that we were allowed to put on our rank was after the passing out parade, except the people who marched in the passing out parade as company commanders and platoon commanders in the parade, and I was chosen as a company commander for that, so I got to wear my pips before the general actually said; `Well done, Officers and NCOs, you've got your rank.' That was a matter of hours before the time.
They said to us; `You are not doing basics. Its a combination of basics and platoon weapons. There was so much extra in basics - the lead to the whole comops that the ordinary SAI-plaas riflemen didn't get that they called our first six months `JL's. During that time of JLs, towards the end of JLs we had a week of comops; we had had the comops period every week, and every company had a comops officer along with the admin. officer, the platoon commanders - they were all NCOs. There was also another general dogs-body type officer - Ops. Officer. The general Company stricture was the Company Commander who was a major or a PF captain who was about to become a major, a PF captain or a PF Lieutenant two-pipper who was about to become a captain, a company sergeant-major who was an AO1 or an AO2, or very seldom a staff-sergeant who was about to go up one rank. The second in charge of the company NCOs would also be a PF sergeant or a staff sergeant, depending on what the rank above him was. Then the rest of the structures were all NCOs. There was generally a clerk who started off being a one-liner and by the end of the year would be a two-liner. Bravo Company had two clerks because of our size. Every company had the various platoon commanders, and the Ops. Officer, a Comops officer, and an admin. officer. They were all national servicemen looties.
During the Comops period you either had one of the PF guys from the comops wing or your comops officer come in and spend time with you, and this was about the psychological aspects of warfare - the propaganda and that sort stuff. `are you guys all happy? Have any of you got social problems?' Those were the guys who gave us our addresses and told us what we could write home about and that sort of stuff. That was in the beginning.
We were given extra input into the psychological aspects of warfare. We spent about a week doing Comops. Only Bravo and Foxtrot companies went and did this comops course. I found out later that the guys who led the course were guys who worked in civvies for one of the quasi military things - I think that there were one or two companies set up by the government of by the SADF - who knows? - to infiltrate the civilian population and disseminate information that would lead to the general well-being of a nation under siege. Psychological warfare. During that week we went off into the training area - to a very pretty kloof. When we arrived there we were split up into tents which weren't with our normal platoons, so you mixed with other guys. each tent would get a name, and because of the preponderance of Afrikaans guys, we were Tent General de Wet. There was a Tent Louis Botha. General Jan Smuts didn't make the grade! We were in civvies for this time; slops and T-shirts and shorts. Our firearms were back in base. The only time that we saw our company commanders and company NCOs was when they came for PT, and that wasn't even every day. On some days we were just told to go for a run ourselves. Then they started what we called the `kop-smokkeling'. It really was a piss poor attempt at brainwashing, to put it crudely. They went through the `total onslaught'. We had had lectures on revolutionary warfare and counter-revolutionary warfare, but more the - this is how its done. This is the recipe. This was more; `This is the recipe. Did you know that your sister could be a victim of the recipe?' Those are the impressions that I had at the time, and the memory that I came away with. We had a snoepwinkel there, one of those refrigerated tricks that you could go and buy cokes and so on from. It was a cushy time. Obviously they wanted to make it as comfortable for us within the army situation, so that we were malleable and ductile. Most of the Afrikaans guys loved it. A lot of the guys who had been on veld-skool in the Transvaal, a system that I didn't know, saw it as an extension of veld-skool. Not that all veld-skools were like that, I found out afterwards. We had lectures. I remember one guy bible bashing, and using the bible to justify why we were fighting the onslaught, and I remember thinking to myself; `You are talking utter crap.' It was the classical case of quoting totally out of context, whether you are quoting from the bible, or a politicians speech, or a piece of legislation, but the classical case of quoting totally out of context. We were also told that it was a time for us to question, a time for us to explore, to reason. Very cynical. I can remember standing up at one stage; `Has this struck anybody that we are fighting this conflict, that we're calling a noble war, and the guy at the receiving end of our lead believes as much in his cause as we believe in ours?' This was during an open discussion when we were meant to be discussing it openly amongst ourselves. The instructor types were just standing around. I realised afterwards that they all had short haircuts; not quite military haircuts, but they definitely had a cushy job. They were coining it there with a covert operation. It was not an offensive covert operation, but an insidious covert operation. I can remember saying this, and I can remember these Dutchmen - some of the more ardent fanatical type Dutchmen jumping up in arms, and the facilitator saying; `Wait. We must consider this point.' Then the guys would stand up and try and rationalize this whole lot away. They said to me; `Why are you on this course?' I said; `I'm merely proposing a point of view. Lets discuss it.' They were totally oblivious to that, and I was shot down. This was on a day when our Officers and NCOs arrived and told us to go for a run up the hill and come back again. That was the PT. They were obviously having a naafi time, back in base. I remember running up with my best man, the two of us sitting behind a bush. He was from Grahamstown; he had been to Rhodes University. He said to me; `I thought you were going to get crucified in that discussion.' I said; `Ja. I think I'm just going to lie low and let this roll off, like water off a duck's back.' That's effectively what we did for the rest of the time. We would just sit there, and quietly think that to ourselves; `Its an easy time. Lets use it to our best advantage, and don't mess with it.' That was a very real part of our training. We had a whole week dedicated just to that, with follow-up from our own Comops officer.
The Comops officers were always considered to be lucky. It was a good billet to become a Comops officer. It was a cushy thing to be. It certainly was nothing that I ever had designs upon.
Why did people drop out? Certainly in the beginning guys dropped out for physical reasons. Guys that were G3K3 were RTU'd, and Andrew was a case in point. G2K2s were fine. If, during the course you progressed sufficiently to become a G3K3, they could utilise you as a Comops officer, or they would send you off to a different corps. If you were officer material and you had sufficient background they would send you off to a different corps, and send you off to the admin. corps or the Technical Services Corps. Personnel Services Corpse was a corps that such guys often went into. Towards the end it became that.
CONVENTIONAL WARFARE PHASE
Conventional phase at Outshoorn was in the middle of Winter. A Cape Winter is cold and wet. We packed our bags on a Sunday evening to leave at four o'clock on the Monday morning, to be marched out in the dark. It only got light much later in the day. We were marched out into the field somewhere, and ate breakfast in the dark. We had a lecture as soon as it was light, to be told what the philosophy of conventional warfare was all about. For `Conventional warfare' read `First World War trench warfare', with modern armour thrown in and the role of Pantser, the role of air support, and the role of whatever. They told us that they had to teach us this to prepare us in case the revolutionary warfare developed into conventional warfare, and revert back to revolutionary warfare, as the support for revolutionaries changed and as they mobilised differently. We had to be able to go between those two. The course was probably about seven weeks long, of which the first two weeks were in base preparing lecture-wise, and the last week was back in base writing the exams. The middle four weeks were out in the bush, in the cold and the wet. We had our rucksacks on our backs, which contained our spare pair of boots, and you had a bivvy and a ground sheet. Generally we slept in trenches. Quite often we started digging at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and in the morning you would be able to stand upright in it, like a foxhole. It was horrendous. It was wet and it was cold. I remember in the nights of the first four days sleeping in two different trenches that I had at least partly dug myself. It rained the whole time. I would sleep under just a space blanked with my army kit on. I didn't bother changing because it was just pointless. I would keep my kit as dry as possible, including my sleeping bag. Other guys dug trenches, put a ground-sheet at the bottom and a bivvy over the top, and half way through the night you would hear the water rushing, and the `Ag! Vok!' as the buckets of water got dumped on him in his sleeping bag. (This was from the bivvy collapsing, not maliciousness from your NCOs?) I decided that the way to do it was to wait until the sun rose, and then you would sleep dry after that. I think I had three or four nights of just sleeping under a space blanket. I got very little sleep, shivering in the freezing cold; trying to keep my bum dry, trying to keep my kit dry, trying to keep my rifle dry so that it didn't rust. You would go out on the Monday afternoon and you would come back on the Saturday afternoon, for the only shower that you would have all week, to clean you kit and to go to church parade the next day, to pack the Sunday night to be ready to go out the next day.
I remember thinking that I'd been to varsity, and all the stress of writing exams. I was a teacher and that was what I was going to be after two years of army. I didn't really need this in my life. To go through all of this just to get officer pips at the end of it wasn't my idea of fun. `Thank you very much; I'll bale out of this.' The first thing that you do is to tell the NCO, who says; `No, man! Its not as bad as that! Come on.' It was an early phase where he couldn't be too friendly. We are now talking about half way through the year, about July. We started conventional warfare probably in the last week in June. The second time you go to the platoon sergeant he says; `Okay,' he'll go to the platoon commander. A day later you ask the platoon sergeant; `Has he spoken to the platoon commander?' I didn't want to rock the system; I just wanted to make it known that I was wanting to bale out. He said that he had discussed it with the Lieutenant. Then you ask for an interview with the Lieutenant, and he says; `What's wrong.' You tell him; you go through the same story. He says; `Okay, I'll speak to the company commander.' A day or two later I asked him whether he had spoken to the company commander. No, he hadn't spoken to the company commander. He had to speak to the 2IC first, then he came back and says that the 2IC has said that I could make an appointment with the company commander. Three days later, if you're lucky, you get a reply saying; `When there's orders next week you can go to your company commander.' Things were dragging along. In the mean time I had started smoking. I just needed something. It was a misguided attempt to keep myself - under the circumstances - sane. In retrospect it wasn't as bad. I started smoking Gauloise plain. After three days my throat was so stuffed that I threw the cigarettes away. That was the end of that.
Eventually I got an interview with the company commander who said he would consider my request. Next thing, during training, I was called in to go and see the Dominee. The Dominee says; `What's wrong? Are you all right?' I said; `I'm fine. Thank you very much.' I explained the scenario to him. `I just don't see that this is my aim in life. Its not worth it me going through all this just to get two pips.' Then, two days later they called for sick reports, and the sick reports would travel into base, have a shower, and get taken to sickbay, and then by mid-morning or by lunch time they would be back in the field again, depending on what their problem was. Some guys did it just to go in and have a shower. I frowned upon that. I was out there with the rest of the guys. You didn't bullshit your way through a thing like that.
They said; `Any sick reports?' Two guys put up their hands. `Wat is verkeerd met jou?' `Nee, my enkel is seer. My kop is seer, my keel is seer.' They would say; `Have you been to the medic? `Yes I've been to the medic.' `Right, you can sick report.' Then they said; `Mansfield, waar's jy?' I said; `Korporaal?' He said; `Jy siekrapoorteer vandag.' I said `Huh?' He said; `Jy gaan basis toe.' I went back, had a shower, and then a psychologist wanted to see me. The psychologist was an English-speaking guy. I said to him; `There's nothing wrong with me. Don't worry. I'm not going to commit suicide. All I want is to bale out of this thing. I'm not happy doing this. I'm not a happy camper.' Off I go again. I get back and the Dominee says; `How did it go?' I said; `Dominee, I'm still feeling the same. I'm wasting my time here.' `No! You're not wasting your time here. We're concerned about you.' A day later you get told that you have to go in to base again, and you go and see the social worker, and the social worker says; `Is everything all right at home. Can I phone your parents to check up for you?' I said; `No. When I last spoke to my girl friend we were still going out and I had no suspicions that there is any problem.' I was just trying to say that I just wanted to bale out. I wasn't going to do anything stupid. I will continue to play wit my live ammunition, thank you., It was the one thing I can have fun doing.
Another week went by and the company commander called me in again. He says; `Are you all right?' `Ja, I'm fine thank you very much.' `Your case had been reviewed. Don't do anything silly. Your case is being reviewed.' `Okay, fine.' We were now starting to head to the end of the conventional phase. We now had about five days left of this kak and then we were going to go into the evaluation phase of it. After that there would be two or three weeks there preparing for border phase, and then we were going to go to the border. I started to think; `Hang on. It's almost going to be worth my while to stick this out, with these ouks taking so long. The kind of thing that happened on conventional phase. There was a Captain Barrie. I didn't like him. He was an arsehole as far as I was concerned. He was very arrogant. He had been in the infantry specialist wing or something like that; anti-tank warfare or something like that. He had been to France and he gave this marvellous lecture on APSFD, armour piercing fin stabilised discarding sabbart warheads that were fancy things; a hard chunk of steel was fired out and the casing and was fin-stabilised and threw bits off and hit the tank, and he could tell us marvellous stories about what it does to a tank. He was God's gift to the infantry because he had been on this course to France. It was very under-cover. We weren't supposed to know about it. He was probably four years older than us, but not older enough for us to have any respect for him. `In civvy life, what would you be, you wanker?' That was the kind of attitude we had. I remember him taking us through the conventional warfare phase; `I know how to do this. You must listen to me. I'm your father. I'm going to tell you how to do it.' Most of us were feeling; `Aw, please! Spare us this!'
We went through the drill in daylight of taking the high ground, to be dug in be the next morning, to be ready to repel the onslaught, so that the next night we could be ready to take the next high ground, and all the hoo-hah that happened with conventional warfare. We did the drill during the day, and he wasn't happy about it, so we did the drill again. He was telling us that it wasn't good enough, and if we didn't do it properly by that night, then we would go through to the next day and to the next day. So we went and took up our positions that night, and he showed us where the trenches should be. The soil there was sandy with succulents and thorns and stuff. It was sandy enough that if you dug a hole you could lie down on your back, you would be invisible. Below that you started to get a layer of kalk-steen, that has those white rocks in it; not a quartz, but a calcium carbonate deposit that hardened into a semi-concrete state. Guys were breaking picks and spades trying to break through this stuff. Someone else had had to do the same thing there, a few paces away from where he told you to dig your trench, and he had marked it with sticks. Three paces back was another trench that was half dug. You knew that someone had sweated. All you had to do was to clear the much out of it, and it would make a passable trench. So what happened that night was that everybody moved three paces back, moved their little sticks back that marked the arcs of fire and everything, and we baled into those. And of course the next morning he threw a vrot thrombie; `That bush was five paces away. I measured it before you guys even came here. You sneaky little bastards! You thought you'd get one past me?' During the day he made us fill those trenches in, and that night take up positions marked as he had originally specified. What he didn't realise, of course, was that, instead of digging the trenches in the new places, it was far easier for us to throw loose stones over the holes that we had just dug, and move the bushes that he used as marks, which is exactly what we did. The next morning; `Not quite good enough, but I'll let you have it.' If he'd gone back a day or two later he would have seen some very wilting looking bushes, because it was the easiest thing to do. Pick up the thorn bushes and move them back. Our platoon sergeants were very much in the know because they had probably used the same trick the year before. They were probably grudgingly admiring us for seeing the light. That was how you coped as a national serviceman in the army; therefore we were brothers, and therefore we won't squeal on you. That was it. This was the sort of thing that you had to put up with.
So then we got back, and we wrote this exam, and of course, keeping my nose clean, I do well in the exam. Next minute the company commander calls me in; `have you decided what you want to do?' I said to him; `I had decided what I wanted to do. I'm close to border phase now which I believe isn't as bad as this, and I've kind of reached a stage where I think that I'd rather see it through now, thank you very much!'
All he said to me was; I thought you'd see it that way.' I said to him; `Do you mean ...' and he said; `What I mean is that I knew what you were going through, and I decided that you had the guts to see it through without causing any nonsense.' He didn't say; `I strung you along,' but effectively he was saying `I kept you believing that you would succeed in your application, knowing that you would come through it and that you would see it this way.'
My initial reaction was of being totally pee'd off, but then thinking about it; you don't rock the boat. I decided to stick with it. I actually liked the guy. He was very nice. I remember earlier on in that year, probably during the build up to conventional warfare, that I got a message to go and see the company commander. He was standing there between the lines. I was thinking; `What the hell have I done now?' I rushed over there and went and saluted and everything. He said to me; `I've got bad news for you.' He told me that my uncle had died. He had just got the message, and I must go and phone my mother now. He said it was `Someone Thomas.' My initial reaction was `Commandant Thomas?' who was my grandfather, and he said; `Ja, I think so.' And I said; `Or Majoor Thomas' (Roy - you letting him know of all your PF connections - J ) who was my uncle. He said; `I'm sorry. I'm not really sure. I know it was a "Thomas" who had some rank in the army. It was a message that I got. Please go and phone your mother, and come back to me.' I went and phoned my mother and she told me that my uncle had been killed in a car crash. She asked me to phone back later when she would know what the funeral arrangements were going to be. I went along to him and he said to me; `Who was it?' I told him it was my uncle. He said that he was sorry to hear of what had happened, and I explained to him what had happened. He said; `Do you know when the funeral arrangements are?' I said; `No, I've got to phone my mother later.' He said; `I will tell the officer on duty that you are to be allowed to use the phone later tonight. If you want a pass to attend the funeral, the via your platoon commander route your request to me.'
When I phoned my mom that night we decided that it probably wasn't worth the schlep of me organising a pass just to fly to Pretoria to attend a funeral. It was up to me. The uncle lived in Pretoria. We didn't see him that often. I was very fond of him. He was my mom's younger brother. My mom said to me; `I will understand if you can't make it, but if you can make it; that would be nice,' At the end of the day, I decided that I wouldn't go. My platoon commander came to me that night and asked; `Do you know what the situation is. Are you fine?' It was on the Wednesday and there was a big test coming up. At that stage I wasn't contemplating getting off the course. I thought it would be to my disadvantage not to be around. The company commander explained it to me in this way as well. He was very nice. He said: `I'm not going to stop you going, but you must realise that its an important time. I said `Okay. Fine.' I spoke to my mom about it and it was fine. He made a point of asking for me afterwards, and saying; `Are you happy with your decision. Don't feel that I'm putting pressure on you.' I felt that I was being treated very fairly. Humanely. I had respect for him. I thought about it afterwards, grudgingly, he was a good judge of character. Had I been given the opportunity, I would have baled out. Possibly I would not have regretted it, but possibly I would have. In retrospect, looking back on it now, it wasn't as bad as I thought. Hats off to him. I never considered suicide or running away or anything stupid like that. I was under stress and tension then, but it wasn't particularly nasty. I was a coping with it. He was reading the situation exactly that way. He strung me out.
The instructors were sat upon to ensure that their style of presentation had to be right. That was part of our last phase as well; instruction methods. Before we went and fetched out troops we had to show our new company commander all the little cardboard strips that we stuck on the blackboard that highlighted the main points of the lecture. It was very much `training' rather than `education'. They made sure that it was good quality. My impression is that at other places in the SADF at that time there was piss-poor training on the go. The quality of our training was good. No expense was spared. All of us fried all of the weapons. The 40 mm grenade launcher, the `snotneus', I alone shot off a hundred rounds through that during my military service. Some guys shot one round off in an infantry platoon elsewhere. I knew what the effect was of shooting it high in a tree, low in a tree, or dropping a ground shot. When it came to throwing grenades, you threw five grenades from a concrete structure to protect you before you went into the training of how to do trench clearing operations, during which we used live grenades as well. I think I fired 3 RPG 7s while I was my first year of national service. They made sure that we knew the applications and limitations of those weapons.
I know that the skietbaltjies that people walked around with. I know for a fact that some of the was farcical. If you wanted to cheat, you could cheat. On my first attempt, I got the bronze skietbaltjie. I can't remember what score you had to shoot to earn it. That was a genuine. There were other guys who got silver skietbaltjies when I knew that my target shooting was better than theirs. They had a buddy in the pit with a bic pen; you would call it `a bic pen skietbaltjie'. In my second attempt, right at the end of my second year, I got the opportunity to shoot again, and I got the points for a silver skietbaltjie, but I was never awarded it. If I was particular about my uniform I would have made a hue-and-cry about it at the time. I remember being quite miffed about it at the time, thinking; `What's the point of walking around with a bronze one, when about 40% of the buys with the sliver ones have `bic pen skietbaltjies'?'
I remember that we had what was called a VTB kamer; `Vrye tyd's bestuur' (leisure time utilisation room). Our rooms in Outshoorn, at full capacity slept five during our first year. One of those rooms was designated as the VTB kamer; we could paint one wall in and design that we wanted to. It had to be passed by the Comops officer to made sure that it didn't have any lurid details or anything subversive in it. Some guys were into painting, and we had wonderful lunar landscapes and desert landscapes, and setting sun in the Savannah landscapes. It was frowned upon if you didn't change that wall during the course of the year. There were fairly comfortable cheap cinema type seats in that room, so that three quarters of the platoon could fit in there quite comfortably, with the rest of us on the floor, and there was a TV there. Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night there was a video on, passed by the Dominee, of course. One night I remember we were watching a movie with some woman dancing around nearly naked, and we may have had a flash of nipple at that stage - this was on the old South Africa, and the next minute it went blank. We found out later that the Dominee had walked in to the room where this was being played from, and he had decided that this was subversive. During basics the films were there, but we never got time to watch them. If you were lucky you got to watch ten minutes of it. While you were polishing the floor of the VTB kamer you go to watch some. I was quite surprised at that. Of course we had R5 deducted off our pay each month to pay for the video hire. At the end of the year we realised that the guys were coining it into the regimental fund.
I was surprised, of the guys who were married, and whose wives moved down to Outshoorn to be with them, how soon they got sleep out passes. They had to be there for all the training and everything, but they got sleep out passes after three months. Certainly they had to be there for the first six weeks, and then after that they would get passes to go home to their wives over the weekends, if there wasn't training over the weekend. Eventually they got sleep out passes. They had to have a bed in the dorm that they stood inspection with, but essentially they went home, which was a great benefit to them. That relieved them of a lot of the stress.
Considering what I had expected when I went in, and what I had heard from Richard and other people about how it had been for them in the SAI camps, the Infantry School really impressed me. They made a point of saying; `You are in a privileged situation as national servicemen. Enjoy it.'
There were aspects of the training that I knew was downright propaganda. I remember being totally pee'd off with the Dominee. Particularly during my second year it was an eye-opener to see him swearing and seeing him telling the filthiest jokes and getting as pissed as anyone else in the bar. I remember thinking; `This is a Dominee?' Having said that, he was an Afrikaans Dominee. The conventional church probably didn't want him, but they would tolerate him as a chaplain in the army. I had quite a lot of respect for our Methodist Chaplain, who was just the local guy from town. He wore army uniform. Towards the end of the year he explained to us that it was expected of him to wear army uniform. He did pitch in civvies once in a while. It was clear to us that he wasn't there doing that duty because he felt comfortable from a military point of view. He was doing it because he felt he was attending to the needs of his flock in that establishment, whereas the Dominee was `Vir Volk en Vaderland'. That was quite clear to me. I had the distinct impression that there was a large `us and them' wherever you were in the army. Us and them; NCOs and officers, us and Them; Rowwe and oumanne; us and them, PF and national servicemen, us and them, English and Afrikaans, or English and Tame Dutchmen versus Dutchmen. What we used to refer to as `tame Dutchmen' still used to refer to them as Dutchmen. It was that clear. Us and Them; the graduates vs. The non-graduates. Almost everywhere you went there was some form of division that was imposed in some way. Military sociologists, if there ever is such a beast, would love it; making studies of these various things, how your surroundings imposes roles upon you.
Most of the psychologists that I came across in my first year, or in my second year as an officer, were English speaking. Thinking about it afterwards, I don't know how many Afrikaans speaking people go into psychology, and I think that the Afrikaans doctors got far more comfortable billets. They ended up being posted where they wanted to be posted because they were Afrikaans.
In the earlier parts of our training, one of the lecture rooms that we used fairly informally. On the walls were pictures of guys who had done their vasbyt during the 70's. I remember them carrying trommels filled with concrete blocks and poles and everything. When we got to our vasbyt, we had to carry first line ammunition, I can't remember how many rounds it was, but it was heavy. We had to carry our extra pair of books and that sort of stuff. We never had any of those extra nasties with us. We certainly had the new style packs rather than the old style webbing. I remember thinking; `Are we getting a bit softer here now?' Then I remember being told somewhere that the point about being rugged and super-fit was less important; you want people who can fight, not people who can run and fight. You want people who can survive a fight physically and mentally rather than just physically. That sort of stuff was thrown at us.
We certainly had the MPI (Military Psychological Institute) guys early on in my first year, and we had a visit from them later on, and then towards the end of the year we had a visit from them again. I don't remember being tested at all those stages, but certainly at the first two visits there was some form of testing done. My impression was that they were there to be used. They were `kop-tiffies' but they certainly had some value. They weren't disregarded. There was; `Daai kop-tiffies gaan met julle vandag gesels.' (`Hier kom die manne met die dik brille en die wit jasse.') there was some sort of grudging acknowledgment that they had a role to play, without too much bickering about it.
Potential officers didn't have a tougher time than ordinary troepies?: The average bok kop at a SAI plaas would have a short sharp blow of intense physical training in basics. After that, depending on where they ended up, be it in an infantry camp or on the border or wherever, they could expect to get messed around to varying degrees. Then it depended on the guys' behaviour as well. It was enlightening for me to arrive at Ladysmith and to see some of the sorts of people that we saw. My impression of my training was that it was intense continuous hard rigorous but not irrational training. It was consistent rather than erratic. We had one or two lapses into irrational behaviour from one or two of the PF types, like from Captain Barrie and the company sergeant major. My impression of my national service was of relief that it was over, relief that I had come away unscathed from something that could have been potentially damaging; whether it was in stepping on a land mine or being separated from my family totally for two years, or coming back `bossies' or whatever. It went well. There was great camaraderie, particularly in my second year. I made some really excellent friends. Some of the bad parts were bad, but looking back on them now, never that bad that I couldn't cope with them. In general it was a character building if not totally worthwhile experience. There are some things that happen to you that you thing; `Gees! I really didn't need that.' It prepared me for anything that hit the fan afterwards. There was some sense of that bout it. Invariably when I look back, its more the positive things that come to mind rather than the big negatives. Generally I am an optimistic person; optimistic to realistic. If I had had a more pessimistic view of life, I might look back and think; `I'm flawed. I'm emotionally scarred.' Generally I feel that it wasn't a bad experience. If they said to me; `Would you do it again?' I'd say; `Thanks, but no thanks!' If they said; `There's some things that you're going to have to go back and do. If circumstances forced us to be called back now for another year's military service of some sort, I would feel that my previous military service had prepared me reasonably to very well for that. I suppose I feel quite positive about what I experienced, but I recognise that there were negatives, and that other people had very negative experiences of military service. I don't deny that one little bit.
Then we went off to the border. The border was great fun. I really enjoyed it. I went to the border each year, both at the same time of the year so it is rather difficult to separate the first year's trip form the second year. I remember in the first year flying from Outshoorn in a transall - the four engined one. There was the book `Shane' lying under the seat that the previous guy had left there. I remember picking that up and reading that all the way through to Grootfontein. I had done `Shane' as a school book in Standard Six or Seven, so it brought back memories. I remembered it having dragged at school, but in the aircraft it was over in no time. I was bored and the engines were just drumming away. It was not a pleasant aircraft to fly in. We had the webbing seats, which arch your back, and you can't get comfortable, and you can't just get up and go and have a leak or anything like that. The engines just moan and groan away. You can't see out, so the only way that you know whether you are ascending or descending is by the tone of the engines. Our platoon was part of the advance guard for our company. We were whisked through to Oshivello in buffels, and I can remember feeling quite sea-sick in those; at the speeds they were doing they did a slow rocking, like a ship of the desert, almost like how I imagine a camel would be. We ended up acting as perimeter security for all the other flights which didn't land at Grootfontein, but landed right a the gate to Oshivello. 61 Mech was slightly further up, about 13 ks. Oshivello Gate was right on the border of the Etosha Game reserve. We weren't actually in Oshivello base; they set up a temporary base for the time that we were there. Oshivello base itself was a standing base; there was a security fence. There were PF families; wives, kids and schools. 61 Mech also had permanent structures like concrete buildings, brick and mortar stuff, and proper fences. We were deployed in the perimeter around this lot; the whole of Infantry School, and everything that we had was temporary. The tents. We had to dig our own latrines, and trenches for stand to, every evening when the guys had to go out at dusk, and guard the perimeter at a likely time of attack. Our platoon had to go and secure the airfield at Oshivello when everybody else flew in.
Our training there was hard but very pleasant. By then we were very fit. The discipline side of things was certainly lightened up. We still had to stand inspection, but it was mainly just to make sure that things appeared to be neat. There wasn't detailed inspection, but our weaponry was still checked with a fine-tooth comb. We went through many cases of 5.56 rounds, shooting them. We all managed to get an empty case. We slept in tents bit on a ground sheet on the ground. We had no mattress or anything like that, because we had extra kit, everyone very soon buried one or two of those ammo cases beneath the bed, with a plank over it. Everyone did that as a place to keep your kos-pakkies from home, and extra stuff that you didn't need to carry with you every day. It was all the normal infantry training; foot patrols, vehicle movement, ambushes. We had lectures sitting out in the field. We had done some preparatory work down at Outshoorn in lecture format, but that was more to get us ready to go up there; what it was like up there, what we would have to expect. Who was SWAPO? Who were we fighting. The role of Koevoet and the SWAPOLTIN, and the South West African territorial Forces, and all those sorts of things, their ranks that were bars rather than the `v', a bit about the Owambo culture because we were going to Owamboland. Most of the stuff was done out in the bush there. Because we were doing officer training, we did a few days of the basic stuff that the troops would have to know; the different patrol formations and so on. There was a lot of emphasis places on us giving orders as though we were taking an infantry platoon out. We all had to draw up the orders as if we were platoon commanders taking an infantry platoon out on a vehicle movement or a foot patrol, or whatever the case may be. We had to build sand models and everything, and then they would say; `Mansfield. You do the warning order.' Half way through my warning order, they would swap to anther guy's warning order, and although my times might be different, it was looking at the principles. `You've forgotten to give the warning order to your company quartermaster that you needed this item.' That was the sort of detail that was drilled into us, which was quite tedious. You would do all that and then the platoon commander would give his orders, which would ostensibly be the correct one, and we would have to make corrections to our own, and then we would go out and do the movement. That was when I was the platoon orderly for most of the movement. He rotated me out which I quite enjoyed because it gave me a change of scene. It just so happened that I enjoyed that map work. I can remember walking in patrol, and 1600 paces with a pack on my back, we worked out was one kilometre. So as the platoon orderly, I would have to walk with one other guy that the Lootie would nominate, to walk and count, and at any stage he would say to me, `How far are you?' and I would have to convert in my mind the number of paces to the number of meters I had walked on that particular bearing. I did so much of it that I became so good at it that I could almost do it in my sleep. I would find myself rhythmically counting from one to a hundred, not necessarily knowing where I was in that sequence, but being able to convert it and say `856 pace, therefore 5??metres.' It was that kind of walking. I really enjoyed it.
You got back in the evening and there was PT. There was a `groot wit pad' (great white road) that used to run down from the base that used to go down from 61 Mech, and we used to run on that for PT and there was a fine white dust, and you would come back to have a shower and so on. We used to shower in those shower trucks; we would line up, and they would let in as many that would fit, and then they would turn on the water for a minute, and you would get wet and soap yourself down, and then they would turn the water on for another minute, and then you were out. That was quite fun, but it took a little getting used to; showering that quickly.
After that we did evaluation and we had officers and NCOs from various bases in the vicinity come in and evaluate us. Your platoon was drawn out of the hat to do whatever that particular evaluation was for. I can remember guys still being thrown off course at that stage. That was right towards the end. About five or six guys were thrown off when they were already receiving candidate Officers' pay. When you got off a buffel you had the drill of clearing your rifle and making sure it was safe, and they would fire a shot off, safely. If the guy was borderline, that was sufficient grounds to get him RTUd. We had had quite a few nights of being out and on long patrol; after hours patrols and so on. We were in a training area and we were told that there was the possibility of us bumping into terrs was remote, it was less likely than thirty or forty kilometres further north. We had to be careful. We working above the red line, and we were getting danger pay. When we slept at night we sometimes went to our temporary company base.
We did the training in two phases; an initial intense phase right at 61 Mech, and then the company went out and deployed in the training area, and there only two platoons slept in the base at any one time. Everyone else was out. At that stage I think that Bravo Company was down to six platoons. There were four platoons sleeping out every night. Platoons were still heading towards being forty people. A normal infantry platoon is 33. What we used to do was that the extra guys used to act the roles of support guys; trackers and mortars, intelligence and so on. When you did the movements, those guys were in the right places. I remember doing a lot of intensive fire and movement. We use ammo like you couldn't believe. That was where I fired most of the RPG 7s and 40 mil rifle grenades and so on. We weren't supposed to call a 40 mil grenade a `snotneus'. If you called it a `snotneus' down at Outshoorn, it was grounds for a little bit of extra PT. When you got to the border, everyone called t a `snotneus'. No problem at all. Even the platoon commander who had been trying to enforce that discipline down in Outshoorn. It was little things like that that made you very much aware that you were going into a real situation now. Discipline had been brought up to a point where they could let it slide, and it would be comfortable for everyone all the way around.
On the night which was to be the last time our platoon had the opportunity to do a night ambush as an exercise. The next time that we could do it was if our platoon's name was pulled out of a hat to go and do it for evaluation purposes, so they were being very strict. We had the company sergeant major as the PF guy who was evaluating us. I was acting platoon commander that night, with the real platoon commander shadowing me. What invariably happened during evaluation phase was that the staff members from outside gave some leeway to allow you to choose certain things from an evaluation point of view, but he would drop you in the dwang by saying; `That person must be LMG number 3.' It was for this reason that we all had to know all these roles. They were schooling me for that particular thing. If they were given any leeway, and asked; `Is there anyone you want as platoon commander?' they would say; `This is the man.' Because I had been the orderly, I knew a lot of the roles. It wasn't a difficult task. The main thing was co-ordinating and knowing who was to do what when, throughout all of these.
In an ambush, you get a killing group that lines up under cover of darkness. You have had reconnaissance earlier during the day, of just the platoon commander and the orderly, and the three section leaders. They withdraw and everyone else is preparing, and then after dark you move in to the killing ground and you set up your killing group. You have an early warning group and a stopper group. The drill is that you go in; everyone walking in single file, and you backtrack and make a loop over your own tracks so that if anyone is following your tracks for some reason, they end up directly behind you. If you're in the killing group, you can just swivel round. Its very involved. Lines go out. Everyone is connected by ropes. There's a sort of code, one tug means this, two tugs means that. Orders were given in this way. We were using claymore mines; all those had to be set up, pooitjievakkels, with all the trip wires that were involved and so on. A pooitjievakkel is a ground-based flare, a trip-flare. You normally lay an ambush like this based on intelligence, and there would be an expected direction, and the drill was that the stopper ground and the early warning group could swap roles as was required. Because of that the sergeant major kept it until the last minute before announcing; `that was where the evaluation was going to come from. In an ambush you collapse your sections into the killing group, and you send the section 2IC and two riflemen out into the stopper groups, and the rest of the platoon constitutes the killing group. They have between them just R4s, but they've got rifle grenades with them. Everything else is concentrated on your killing ground; your mortar and your 3 LMGs; you set up arcs of fire, and you do all that under cover of darkness. Its a case of the platoon commander going and standing over every man and taps him on the shoulder. He is lying on his belly. He hands him two sticks. The platoon commander puts the two sticks into the ground to indicate the arc of fire. There's a test to check that all the communications are working. You don't use radios with the stopper groups; you just click the handle. Two in quick succession, pause, two in quick succession, pause, two in quick succession means that one of the groups has picked up enemy. You listen, and he clicks once as they come through so that if ten were coming through, you would wait until all ten were in the killing ground. As the platoon commander you are lying directly in line behind the LMG, and you kick him and he initiates the ambush at the same time as the guy with the mortar does it. What happens is that as the firing goes up; the first round out of the mortar is an illumination round, and then subsequently you've got the live rounds. The stopper group and the cut off group, at that point they fire off their rifle grenades to the left and the right of the killing ground, and the mortar gives you covering fire behind the killing ground. All the other fire is deployed into the killing ground, along with the claymores and everything. You lie there for four or five hours, just waiting and there's nothing, and then all hell breaks loose for five to ten minutes! The theory is that you do that, and at a certain stage you give the signal, and then you do fire and movement through the killing ground, and you've got to go through all the drills after that of casevac and all that stuff, casualty reports etc.
I remember one guy in my platoon who had always been very safe and sound. This guy was lying on his stomach with his R4 and he fell asleep. At that stage everyone's rifle is on rapid fire as well; except the guys with the rifle grenades. You actually put a strip of plaster over the selector lever so that it doesn't make a click at night. Its the platoon commander's job to go and click every rifle on to `fire' so that he knows that everyone's rifle is on fire. In the early warning group and the stopper group, its the NCOs's job to do that before he goes and lies down. This was all done, and this guy fell asleep, and as his head nodded forward, he pulled his trigger, and of course the rifle grenade went off. The training is that if that happens, you fire in any case. Essentially you have been compromised, and you then have to fight your way out of it, and hope that you get whoever is out there. When this happened they had told us that we would be waiting there for a long time, to test this sort of thing. The company sergeant major is standing behind you, and if he hears any noise, then its big points off your evaluation. He is within meters of the group. Of course this happened after about two hours. It upset the whole exercise. We were meant to be lying in wait for at least four hours. The next day this guy got a sandbag. It was a Saturday night, and the next day was a Sunday. I can still remember; we were in a temporary base, in foxholes and I was called by the platoon commander. I went across to him, and he said; `Fetch Dippenaar and tell him to bring a sand-sak.' The guy's name was `Dippies' from `Dippenaar' and he was taken apart with a whistle. I still remember lying there in a grove of mopanis under the hot sun. Those little black flies were bothering us, and this guy was given sandsak Pt for about two hours. By the time he was finished he was close to dehydration. We were very short of water at that stage. I think we got about seven litres of water a day for bathing, for cooking, for everything. We generally didn't bath. Most of us donated at least a litre of our own water for him to drink. I also dug a hole for him and put a ground sheet in it, and I think we got about 4 l of water together so that he could bath in that. You know if you see a horse that's been running, and you see that white foam, but you also see the streaks of sweat that had dried into white salt. He was covered in that. His lips were thick and swollen. That was a relatively serious offence, more serious than getting off a buffel and doing a drill designed to avoid the accidental pulling off of a shot. He wasn't thrown off, though. We knew what a guy pulled off a shot like that, the thing that went through the back of you mind was; `Is he likely to be RTUd? Yes or no?' It was based on the guy's character as you had known him through the course. Dippenaar stayed on, and he got his pips and so on.
Another change from Outshoorn was that we were down to two meals a day. We would have coffee when we woke up, and then at about 10 we would start heading back towards the temporary base for breakfast, unless you were really far out and living on rat packs. A about twelve we used to send two guys back to camp to go and get a can of juice. It was quite unusual because you would get leechy juice and marula juice and mango juice that you didn't get in Outshoorn. The food was excellent. We had field kitchens. A lot of the food was fried because I think that was easiest for the cooks to do. We didn't get very much fresh fruit, but they made an effort to get as much as possible.
We had demonstrations from the Air Force coming in, and demonstrations with the Olifant tanks that they had at 61 Mech. I was most impressed with those things. They also brought in a couple of mirages in and a couple of Impalas in from Ondangwa. They were impressive, but disappointing to an extent. The mirages came in with rockets of sorts, and the area that they hit, they just destroyed. They were off target; they were meant to be hitting the shell of an old combi. I think their fire was called in from about two ks away, and they were slightly off. The combi still stood there after you had thought that it was going to be taken apart. Obviously, because we couldn't get close to it, we couldn't see the shrapnel that was in it. Then they brought the Impalas in and they just used their cannon. There again it was from quite far out, and then as a follow up they brought in one of those Alouette gunships with a 12,5 mm single barrel cannon mounted across the back so that it was pointing out of the side door. There was just the flight sergeant who was lying behind this thing. This chopper seemed to be spinning around on its own access; I remember seeing while he was firing that the chopper was being swung out at the back like this. He had to fire a short burst and let the chopper come back in again, and he was the most effective at taking that combi apart. We thought; `Yeah! We'll take the allouette any time!' We weren't likely to take taken out if we called it out, and we could see the results of this. That was a demo that was laid on for us.
When we were up there we also had a visit from the `Dankie Tannies' and their `Dankie Tannie sakkies'. They used to come up from Grootfontein for the day or something like that. I remember getting all the stuff that goes with it; bic razors and pens and everything. I think that training was about six weeks in total.
Then we deployed for about four weeks. Our deployment was to the area of that little town called Onesi, and the intelligence suggested that it was supposed to be Sam Njoma's grandmother's village, and that she was still living there. Effectively our task was just to go and be a presence there, and to try and pick up whatever we could. Our platoon was chuffed to hear that we were going to be doing vehicle movements rather than foot patrols. We would be moving around with vehicles. We thought that this would be quite cushy, but we reckoned without the person who was actually in charge of that part of the company, and that was the infamous Captain Barrie. We eventually worked out that, although we were assigned buffels for vehicle movement, ended up walking more than any of the platoons that was supposed to be doing foot patrols. His idea, which I don't know if it was right or not, was to drive to a point, find a secure place like a rise or something like that, leave the vehicles there, camouflage them and everything, and then just send endless foot patrols out from that point. I can remember on one night we were tasked to set out - two sections and our platoon commandeer because he kept one section back to safeguard the vehicles. We were tasked to move 5 km away, and then come back, so we moved away with only our battle jackets and 4 l of water, and part of a rat pack for food and that sort of stuff. It was supposed to be just a quick recce to see that the village that was supposed to be there was there, and to see what was going on there, and then to come back. When we got there, at about 3 in the afternoon, he sent us on for another four kilometres to another place, and then, just when we were thinking that we would have to start marching back about 10 ks right at the end of the day,, along with all the security that you go through. You don't move fast under those circumstances. He said that we should spend the night there. I remember our Lootie trying to get a radio message through to him that we were totally unprepared. He just wouldn't listen to that. I can remember spending that night in the freezing cold. This was in September; we had extremely hot dry days but at night the temperatures plummeted and we had nothing to sleep under; no bivvy, no ground-sheet or anything like that. I remember at about 10 o'clock that might my Lieutenant telling me to go and get everybody's battle jackets, and he and the corporal lay in the middle like spoons and I had to pile the battlejackets over them to keep them so that they could keep warm. A single battle jacket didn't mean much to you in any case. Some of the guys had packed bos-baaitjies with them, but I certainly hadn't. We thought that we were going out in the stinking heat and that we would then come back again. A battle jacket was a webbing type arrangement a bit like a waist coat; it wasn't a back-pack.. It was your gear of choice if you went in to a combat situation. You could carry a lot with it. the other option was the chest webbing, where all your magazines went into, and the big pack. Under those circumstances, the first drill was to drop the pack, and then go through and fight, whereas with a gevegs-baaitjie you were far more manoeuvrable, and yet you could carry grenades and smoke grenades and all the bits and pieces with it very easily. It was comfortable, but it was totally inadequate if you wanted it to keep you warm. You went through about 4 l of water a day there, just for drinking. By that night we were running short of water and we were told not to use any of the local wells or anything like that.
The rest of the guys lay around the perimeter. I was within the perimeter, close to the `HQ'. Myself and the guy who was carrying the mortar pipe lay close to each other like spoons. Its the closest I've ever slept to another man. You really snuggled up to his back, or you had him snuggling up to your back. When you were lying with your chest up against him, and when your back was getting freezing, then you would flip over so that the other side of you could get warm. We were so pleased to see the sun the next morning; it was fantastic. We didn't really get any sleep; we just dosed. You couldn't really sleep during the day, even when you were generally stationary during the heat of the day because the flies were all over the place. - We used to put dried cow-dung In the little tins from the rat-packs and light that so that you had a little bit of smoke, and that used to keep the flies at bay. The problem with them was that if you crushed one, then a million others would arrive because of the pheromone that was given off by that one.
Captain Barrie was very paraat. The other platoons ended up using wells for water whenever they needed it. They were dining on fresh meat every second or third day because they were buying goats off the locals and slaughtering the goats. They were going into the cucca shops and buying beers and so on. They were all notional servicemen, whether they were the officer or the NCO in charge, and they were just doing things their way, whereas because we had this PF handing around, we had no choice but to do it his way. We had one brief time of freedom when he was sent back to base; two buffels went through and one section for protection, and we were sent out to the far reaches, and of course we went and bought a goat. We took the grids off the buffels and used those to braai the goat meat on. When he got back he found that the grate of one buffel had been used, and the driver got hell, but he didn't squeal because he was part of the gang. That was the only bit of relief that we had. I was amazed at the logistical support that we had at that time. We were about 60 ks into the sticks. There were roads. There were F2 5o's driving around like crazy, but there were also wrecks of F2 50's where they had hit mines. We were not allowed to use the roads for walking or for anything. If you crossed a road you crossed it at 90o and there was a whole drill to cross the road with the vehicles going across. Kwevoels came in, ambulances came in. We had post and kos-pakkies. My mom used to buy standard corrugated cardboard boxes with food in them, and Vivien used to buy them to send to me. I got two of those in one delivery. There was biltong in it, there were all sorts of bits and pieces in it. I remember thinking; `What am I going to do with all of this?' because the only place because the only place you had to store things, because you were moving so much, was in your pack. So, with about four of my mates, we ate as much as we could in one sitting. I remember that in those packs, both my mom and Vivi had sent about ten rolls of Super-Cs. (To this day I have never eaten another Super-C.)
From a logistical point of view, whenever the canteen truck arrived, that brought your rat packs, but you got ice-cold cokes. There was a scurry the previous day to deliver the order by radio so that if you wanted six cokes and twenty Bar-Ones, you could get them. At the same time you were paid your danger pay in cash, so that you could pay for all your stuff. They would bring your letters and you could send off letters at that stage as well. I thought this was marvellous. Resupply was every three of four days. The medical backup was great as well.
We never saw any action, not once. We had Owambo tolke, interpretors. We didn't have any intelligence guys with us, or anything like that. These two Owambo guys with us used to make fires at night. We had been told not to make fires of to show any light at night. We used to use the fuel tabled; dig a whole and put your emma on top of that to heat anything. These guys just used to make a fire. This drove out lootie mad because he was trying to maintain discipline, or at least a show of it, and these guys were making fires to cook their rice and soup on. Twice they got into trouble for going off to the cucca shop and coming back pissed and compromising our security. We were following the drills; not 100%, but at least we were trying. When ever we came across people away from the villages; the odd male walking along by himself we would stop him and ask for his pass book, or ID document of sorts. One day we came across, separate from each other, two guys that didn't have ID documents on them. They made the one guy take his shirt off and they found that he had chafe scars. What generally happened, if a guy like that had scars from carrying something then he's either a terr whose carried a pack or he's been used by terrs to carry a pack. If he's a terr you're going to arrest him as a terr, if he's not a terr then you want the intelligence that comes from that. We nailed these two guys, and I remember that the tolke did a bit of their own interrogation while we were waiting. We had radioed ahead to HQ to find out what the next drill was. Was a chopper going to come and fetch them? Were we going to do it by vehicle? and so on. The tolke took these two guys and made them assume the press-up position, and putting down a cup of water in front of each of them, and dribbling a little bit of water in the sand, and sitting there with a little switch - a little stick, telling the guys to stay in the press-up position; not to do press-ups, but just to stay in that position. Whenever they moved their arms or wanted to relax or something like that, they used to smack them on the back of their hands with a switch. `No, no! You mustn't move now.' Of course there's this cup of water in front of them. About three hours these guys just had dollops of sweat pouring off them. Our platoon commander had been quite happy to tie these guys up and wait for somebody to come and take them away, and then they weren't his problem anymore. Captain Barrie heard about this and he gave our platoon commander instructions to use these two Owambos to try and extract information. `Nothing physical,' he said. `They'll know what to do. Let them at these guys.' Eventually one of the local headmen because involved, and he identified the one guy who didn't have the chafe marks as a cattle thief who had been in the village prison, which was essentially a corrugated iron long-drop type thing, sitting out in the baking sun, and he had escaped. He was a cattle thief, and the headman was quite happy to take him, thank you very much. We weren't going to be handing the guy over to him, under any circumstances, but the deal was that we would hand him over to the South West African Police, which was 15 km away, and they could sort it out. The guys with the scars was taken off at the same time. He maintained that he had worked in a mine in Angola, and they were able to verify that fact. That was the closest we came to any form of excitement. In some ways I suppose it was a bit disappointing.
I remember being quite relaxed about three or four days after we deployed. You certainly felt that you were - not invincible, but confident that we would be able to put up a pretty good fight against anything that was thrown against us.
We were there at the wrong time of the year for action really. We were there during the dry season. Most of the SWAPO and PLAN incursions were during the wet season, and also when I was up there in 1986, the conflict was being fought in Angola. It wasn't filtering down. The wet season hadn't started. That was why we were there really; just to maintain the presence. I think that the most likely thing would have been to have compromised a guy who was lurking with the local community from a previous incursion. He might have started shooting if he felt that he had been compromised; I don't know. We certainly weren't expecting large forces; we were expecting two or three people at once, which was why when these two people popped up, fairly close to each other but independently of each other in suspicious circumstances with no ID, and no weapons with them or anything, one started to say; `Hang on! It aroused our suspicions.' But that was it.
The deployment was four or five weeks, following six weeks of training, and the evaluation. I can remember that I `bathed' once during that time. We had about four days of coolish, overcast weather where was hadn't moved around much, and we had managed to stockpile some water, and a resupply came through, and after dark we scraped a hole in the ground, a ground-sheet placed over it, lie in it and wash yourself in three or four litres of water. This was just myself, but a couple of other guys did the same. We knew that we would be moving off shortly after that. We had been wearing the same clothing and the same underpants; you just didn't bother changing. I used to wash my hands and my face at night; I used to save just enough water for that. I used to feel so much better for having been able to do that. We were so caked with dirt that I remember being able to write grid references and short messages on the outside thigh of your browns. Particularly where your hands rested, and the sweat stuck there. It was the ideal place to write something with a little stick, particularly if there was a little breeze blowing, and a notebook's page would flap around. You could write down a grid reference of a mills bearing there. On a normal compass you've got 360o; the accuracy there is not quite good enough for military precision, but 360o was converted into 2400 mils, or something like that. There were about 8 mills to 1 degree. Your compass was then graduated in mills. Instead of 270(1/2) degrees, you could split that half down to .2 (.5?) of a degree.
The external examiners were from all over Sector 10, and also from other companies within Infantry School. That would also count as an external evaluation. It would say that it was probably 50% of the external evaluators were from within Infantry School and the other 50% were from Sector 10. I think that we even had one or two Sector 20 guys there that were brought in for that purpose. Generally the ranks were staff sergeant and higher; I don't think we had any PF sergeants doing the evaluation.
(After deployment) We were then loaded on to the Wit Olifante and driven down to Grootfontein. We had to go through the ritual of being inspected for contraband, AK47s and everything. I can remember coming through apprehensively, but with a 300m flare, which I fired off at a New Year's celebration about three years after my military service, along with one or two others that I had been able to get during my second year at Infantry School, along with some smoke grenades. That was effectively what I brought through, and some Angolan money which I've still got stick in a cupboard somewhere. I was hoping to get hold of an AK47 round for my brother because he collected bullets, but I didn't manage to get anything like that. They ran a bit short of time with our guys coming through.
We were taken to Grootfontein Airport and we got on to a SAFAIR 737 and I can remember that the air hostesses were the first non-black women that we saw in that time. They were in their SAFAIR uniforms and we sat there and thought that we were going to get meals, but all we got was a sort of lucky-packet that had a packet of crisps and some peanuts and some sort of fruit juice in it. There were all these guys sat on the plane and the air hostesses just disappeared from sight; they were up front with the captain or whatever.
We landed in George and were then transported by vehicle back to Outshoorn, and very shortly after that we came back on pass with Candidate Officer tabs, and with step-outs for the first time. It was quite a momentous occasion.
Expectations of PLAN: There was a distinction between people who were conscripted in to SWAPO-PLAN, who would often be carrying food down, and so on, and the equivalent of our Recce types. Those Recce types were well equipped, and were psychologically strong, etc. They weren't to be taken lightly. Certainly I was aware that when it came to the Angolan forces, as opposed to SWAPO, the information that we were given was that they were generally a push-over. There were large elements of them that were pushovers. I remember getting briefings on the whole Sector 10, Sector 20, Sector 30; the SWAPO marines were here; they were guys who had been through some sort of marine training in Russia. We could envision on a map where certain known pockets of strength were based and were meant to be operating, in Angola and further down south. I am also aware that I was only ever there in the dry season, which was not the time for the incursions. The school of infantry training would have been during the dry season, and then they would have encountered contacts in the wet season; the guys up there as Officers and NCOs.
Koevoet: We generally had a healthy respect for them. We saw them and we had interactions with them, from the point of view of them driving past, or them coming along to weapons demonstrations. We had some of them come and talk to us. We noticed that lots of them had R1s rather than the R4s which were meant to be the better firearm for the kind of work that they were doing. Several of them were walking around with AK47s. We also saw the inside of their vehicles, which were stripped down to total utility. In terms of their uniforms and they attitudes; they didn't salute anybody. You could see that these were the real McCoy; the hardened ones. Certainly we didn't relish getting on the wrong side of them. We had a healthy respect for them. They had a reputation for generally going in and breaking things up. We heard stories of some people who had got involved with them in a bar-brawl or something like that, and that it had taken ten other guys to subdue two Koevoet guys. There was a bit of an aura about them. We certainly didn't try and dispute that aura. If you saw them, you didn't get the feeling that it was disputable.
My impression was that a lot of `good' that the regular troops were doing to try and keep the local population even neutral was being undone by Koevoet going in there and stuffing things up; driving through a village and running over a dog, and the odd rape. That was fed to us, not just via the grapevine, but from the top down; if Koevoet were known to be operating in an area, we were not to be seen to be operating in conjunction with them. We should just bale out.
END OF 1996 BORDER DUTY
All our training, right up until border phase, was done in overalls. On Thursdays, our sport parade day, you wore browns. Essentially it was overalls all the way through to the Border Phase. After border phase, it was all browns.
When we got back there was very little left to do. We did about three weeks of urban counter insurgency, riot drills with those horrible helmets with the visors and the gas-masks and all that sort of stuff; vehicle movements through open areas. Instead of having a strap that you could sling your R4 over your shoulder, you could now took the one end of the strap, undid it, and tied the loose end around your wrist so that the guy couldn't pull your R4 away - that sort of stuff. `Show of Force' and so on. There was a low-level command and control course, which was effectively looking at discipline, methods of instruction and stuff like that. I can remember that the aide memoir for that was a small A5 sheet. It was a fun course because it was low-key, and everybody was just waiting because after that was the two or three week preparation for the passing out parade, which., when I was there, was a huge thing. I was amazed at how much money was blown. During that time we practised the various marches. It was a whole long weekend.
[Etiquette classes - how to be an officer and a gentleman] Cigars were made available, and we were told the correct way to pass the port and so on. We often used to have port. I enjoyed port even before then. In my second year we probably had three of four formal dinners that didn't involve the troops. I also had to go to formal mess dinners as a platoon commander. By that stage they were divided up amongst the other platoons. We went through that as well.
WHY I STAYED BEHIND AT OUTSHOORN
I effectively dealt with the army by keeping my nose clean. Obviously I kept it clean to the extent that I became noticed. By the end of the year I had slid out of being at the top of the middle third to somewhere near the top of the top third. Having gone through the thing of wanting to get off the course, and `pulling though' or however they viewed it, I was nominated as the company's candidate for the unit's nomination of `Most Improved Junior Leader' - they didn't distinguish between NCOs and Candidate officers for that. I had to go through an interview. I didn't get it. An English-speaking corporal got it. We were the two that were short listed for that. I was also nominated for the `Neatest in the Company' or something like that, or my Lootie put me through for that. Another guy who was in the platoon with me was actually the Company's nominee. They got the unit RSM to come through and check the inspection, and I actually ended up giving some of my clothes pakkies from the cupboard to Johan Loots because his weren't up to the standard of mine, and that was on the instruction from our platoon sergeant. He came through and said to loots; `This you keep. This you keep. Go and get Mansfield's of this and Mansfield's of this.' I was tasked to help Johan set this up. He was a very good friend of mine, so it wasn't a problem. It was quite ironic; after me having wanted to get off the course, this is where you end up.
I was also fortunate that, as an English speaker, my Afrikaans is very good. I was often called in to translate a lot of stuff. I kind of got noticed, I guess. And I kept my nose clean. I wasn't physically good, but I kept my nose clean and my marks were good and so on. Towards the end I got the nickname `Minora' - after the razor blades, just within a few guys within the platoon with me. In fact one of the guys who was there with me is in the Parks Board, and he still calls me `Minora' once in a while.
We were called in at some stage and told that to a certain extent we could nominate where we would like to go. You could give your three choices, but there was no guarantee that you would get any one of those. They said to us that; `The situation is such that the Chief of the Army had said that most of us were required for border duty, and that we should brace ourselves that 70 to 80% of us were going to end up on the border for most of the next year.' Although I enjoyed border duty, I had done it under very different circumstances from what the normal operational duty was, so I wasn't keen to get involved in that. I also knew that I would have six month stints without any passes or anything like that. They called us in and said that this percentage would be going. They said that, because some of us had already gone and done the parabat course or the weapons course, we would go to that allied unit. Military intelligence came along and collected a whole lot of guys. I was told to go along for selection for military intelligence. We did some more psychometric testing. I was quite relieved that they didn't call me in. They said that they would take the best candidates out, and if they needed more they would approach people. They called me through as one of a group of the people they would approach. They started at one end and when they got as many candidates as they needed they sent the rest of us back. I was very relieved, although at that stage you were given the option to turn it down. They didn't want anybody who didn't want to be there. One has to draw a distinction between military intelligence, and what at that stage was getting into civic action. Some of those guys were going into civvy type roles in South West, covert operations. My doubts with normal military service just didn't permit me to go into that sort of stuff. It was more `subversive'.
They then said that they had selected people for Outshoorn, and they were going to call those people out, and effectively you had to have a very good reason for not staying behind. It was considered; `you are the cream of the crop, and we are going to keep you here.' I remember my name was called out, and I thought; `I don't want this"!' I was hoping to get to Ladysmith, but I also had it in the back of my mind that if I got to Ladysmith, on the same day I could get on a plane and go to the border because 5SAI had guys up on the border and often that was exactly what happened; as the guys came off from Outshoorn, they were sent up there so that the other guys could come back down to have their last pass before they were discharged. You could end up spending your Christmas up there.' I thought about how to play it. At least if I stayed in Outshoorn, I knew when my passes where, I knew I'd be home for Christmas for a good two to three week chunk. It was a home base, I didn't have to go and learn my way around other places. I knew it was very paraat. I knew there were lots of `side shows';. Things that were designed for image purposes, which didn't have real practical value. Any sort of military bullshit that was designed to make things look better or different from what they really were, were `side shows'. In the general conversation the term would come out. If a guy was reading a particularly intellectual book, for example, when everyone else was lying around reading Loius Lamour, they would rip him off and say; `Is that a side show?' It was an element of pretensciousness, but not always. In that context it was more of a friendly jibe. The weapons demonstration and the whole passing out show was all `side show'. We spent two weeks practising for side shows. It was a term we used fairly often.
They called us out, and we were given the option. I decided that I would stay. I worked it out later than only about 50% of the guys who left Outshoorn actually went to the border, on the sample size that I was able to gather. That was just a `side show' to get the people they wanted to stay behind at Outshoorn to say; `Yes. We'll stay behind.' I suppose that was quite sneaky. I must say that I felt quite proud to have been selected to be part of the crew selected to stay behind. It was an honour, but I knew that is wasn't going to be a particularly pleasant year. It was not as pleasant as it could have been elsewhere. But at least I knew what I was letting myself in for.
PASSING OUT PARADE
On the Friday morning the infantry school exercised their right to the freedom of Outshoorn, and the whole of Infantry School marched through town. I can remember that the practise for that was marching through the town three nights before that from about six in the evening. You set off at dusk and you got back after dark, and you did the whole march from the base, through town, and back out again. That march was also broken by going to the local sports stadium where we practised for the still drill demonstration, a whole lot of other things, the band was involved - that all took place at the stadium. On the weekend of the passing out parade, the morning was the exercising of the right to the freedom of the town, the marching through the town.
The Friday afternoon was a weapons demonstration in the training area. Those Milan anti-tank missiles - in those days we were quoted the prices. I remember one Milan missile cost the same as three baby 3-series BMWs. They fired off five or six of them; they fired them off during the practise and they also fired them off during the actual weapons demonstration. We were told that they were weapons that were close to their `sell by' date; that were spoon going to pass their shelf-life. They had tanks there, they had ratels there, they had the whole bang-shoot. They had phosphorous grenades. During my passing out parade, during the demonstration of the LMGs, they actually got one of the MG barrels so hot that it bent, and they had to throw the barrel away afterwards. It was amazing., They had the mortar guys there, the whole bang-shoot! It was really `Raah! Raah!' for all the parents to come and see the stuff. I've still got photos of every coloured smoke grenade being set off all at once so that it looked spectacular; rainbow colour or whatever.
Friday morning was march through town
Friday Afternoon was the weapons demonstration with some free time
Friday night started off with this thing at the Stadium.
Saturday morning was the passing out parade. I acted as company commander for the passing out parade, so I got to put my pip on early. That was very gung-ho! And everyone was looking smart.
Saturday afternoon was the weapons demonstration, at about 4 o'clock. I wasn't physically involved in that. Only certain people were physically involved in that. If you weren't physically involved, you were allowed to accompany your parents out to the weapons demonstration. If your parents weren't there, then you marched out to where the weapons demonstration was.
It was a weird feeling driving along in my dad's car, up a road that I was used to running up, or if we were very lucky, be driven up in a SAMIL, to this weapons demonstration.
Then you were given a couple of hours to go out with your parents, but you had to be back that night. We were told that there would be a church parade on the Saturday, and then, depending on where you were going to be sent from there; some guys were leaving already, and other guys could go away with their parents.
I knew that I was going to be staying behind at Outshoorn. I said to my folks that I would be free to leave at four on the Saturday afternoon - Vivi came down with them - they came down on the Thursday and were there for the Friday morning. We had an open visitors session on the Friday afternoon, and then they would spent the night in Outshoorn at some chalets, and leave at sparrow's on the Sunday morning and head through to Maritzburg. Then, suddenly, on the Thursday or the Friday, they changed the time of the church parade from 4 o'clock on the Saturday afternoon to 9 o'clock on the Sunday morning, and it was compulsory, so that just blew it. I went along to the company commander, and told him that we had been going to be leaving after the church parade on the Saturday, go as far as PE and stay with friend there, and then head on to Maritzburg, and that this was just going to blow all those plans; we had no accommodation in town. All the accommodation was fully booked; I remember that the army used to run around in circles trying to sort out all the accommodation for the parents. They made as much accommodation available in the officers' mess as possible. It was a silly season. Outshoorn just sat back and grinned. You booked weeks in advance for a place in a restaurant, which I had done. Then this whole church parade changed.
He said; `Okay. You can go on the Saturday afternoon after the weapons demonstration.' I thought; `Great! I can now go to town to the restaurant.' Then I thought to myself; `I can't do that anymore. What happens if he walks in, and I'm meant to be in PE? And I'm staying behind as an officer the following year.' Vivien and my folks went to have lunch on the Saturday lunch time, and then we just had a quiet braai there at the chalets that evening, and left at 4 o'clock the next morning to go home.
On the Tuesday or the Wednesday I flew back down to Outshoorn. The moment we got back we spent three nights in our own barracks, and we were allowed to go out at night, and do what we wanted to. They had cleared out our platoon commanders, discharged them and sent them home, and then we went into those rooms in the Officers Mess in Outshoorn. There was an overlap time when we could go and mix with them, where our platoon sergeants had to salute us. It was great; you could talk to the guy more on an even keel. The Officers mess was great. We lived like kings there. We didn't each have our own batmen, but you put your shoes outside the door and they got polished, and your washing went off and was washed and ironed. I didn't iron a shirt again. It was absolute bliss. We had under cover parking for our cars; we paid for it, but that cost about R 2 per month. Your laundry cost you R 12 a month. You paid mess fees - I can't remember how much - but that included videos, five course meals on a Sunday. I remember the guys bringing their wives, girl friends or parents to the Officers mess for Sunday lunch, which was a five course meal with excellent wine, for about R 3.75 per head. If you think of the resources that went into that lot, its amazing. It was very comfortable. The officers mess was quite a distance away from where my lines were in my second year because I had moved to Delta Company which was an NCO company. We weren't allowed to take our private vehicles into the base itself, so we had to walk up in the heat.
Every platoon commander had a platoon office in the barracks, and we each put a bed in there on the pretence that there wasn't space for it anywhere else, and I just had a piss-poor mattress on it. If we were working there until twelve at night, and we knew that we had to be in the lines at 5 o'clock the next morning, we would go back to the mess for meals, and come back with our shaving kit, and then just change into our clothes the next day. You had a cupboard that was locked and that was never inspected, and you could put your spare set of browns in there. We weren't supposed to do that, but I think that I might have done that on four or five occasions.
THE SECOND YEAR
Generally the second year was the normal training all over again. You went through the same phases with your troop, but the exception was that none of the NCO companies deployed on the border. They came back early and did an instructors course, in drill instruction and so on. When they did that, it was an absolutely glorious time for the officers, because all the drilling was done by the NCOs. Where we got involved was in evaluation the presentation of their lectures and stuff like that, which could have been quite tedious and boring. By then I didn't have a platoon anymore either. Through attrition, my platoon was disbanded. I took my platoon through the border training phase. The border training was at Oshivello; the transport was slightly different in that we flew straight in to Oshivello.
SELECTIONS AT LADYSMITH
I floated around in the company. The company commander in the second year was Huston-Brown, ex-Rhodesian. He was in the Rhodesian Light Infantry as a lance-corporal medic. He's actually mentioned in one of the Selous Scouts books because he was on detached duty with them, and he got some medal for going out to assist a wounded comrade. He was a nice guy. I had a lot of respect for him. He was a totally professional soldier; not the Afrikaans PF type. He was a totally professional soldier. He left when the pooh hit the fan in Rhodesia, and came down to South Africa. He had done the Rhodesian Formative Officer Training, but he had to do our Officer Formative Training in South Africa, and he was then sent to Ladysmith. Every career infantry officer had, at some stage, to go through to headquarters, which was the Infantry School, to do a stint of duty there as part of being able to show that you had the mettle to carry on. For them it was very intense, those guys were nailed. They were nailed by the colonel who was under pressure; he was put there pending advancement to a brigadier. It was the opportunity to prove that you were capable of promotion; any PF going to Infantry School. This was why the side show paraatness came through. We nicknamed him `HB', we never called him HB to his face, but that was his nickname and all his compatriots and seniors called him HB; that was to his face, but not in front of troops or anything like that, but they would in front of us, the officers. In the pub they knew we would hear that. He wasn't into unnecessary side show stuff. He actually got rapped across the knuckled because from an appearance point of view, some things weren't flashy enough.
When we went up to the border with the NCOs there were never required to give orders, because they were never going to give orders. We just used to go through the drills with them. We had to give orders ad nauseum. He knew the drill; he'd been up there with 5 SAI. He had all the order pro formas Photostatted out so that all we had to do was to fill in the points and the bearings and the points and the numbers and the durations and the intelligence. Everything was done. We had two or three trommels that were filled with sawdust that had been coloured with dry powder paints, so that your models looked absolutely professional. These were side shows as far as we were concerned, but I must say that we scored highly in the evaluations because of that. In that sort of scenario, any company commander was always pitting his company against another company to see how they scored points wise. Whether they were an NCO or an officer company. He was fantastic. He backed us 100%. He took flak from the top and never passed it on down to us. He didn't hesitate to hand out extra duties. The officers that stayed behind to continue the second year at Outshoorn as platoon commanders; 80% of them were from Bravo Company. The ones that weren't were the exceptional ones from the other companies. You ended up mainly with guys who had degrees and diplomas, so who were all eligible, within a couple of months, to get their second pip. After that time you ended up with only a few one-pippers floating around. We had one one-pipper in our company. His name was Kotze - if you `kotze' in Afrikaans, you vomit. His nickname was `Vomit', or `Vommie' which used to drive him crazy. He was still a one pipper, very young. He was a good officer. I think that if he had stayed on PF he would have been very good. He was very young and had problems in dealing with those of us with more life experience, and of course we were able to wrap him around our little fingers. This guy got extras left right and centre because he just wouldn't learn. There was a time when you shut up and you didn't question what you were being told to do, and invariably he would question it, and he'd get told by HB; `Lieutenant, if you open your mouth again, you are going to get extras.' Vommie would say; `Ah, but Major ...' HB would say; `You've got two extras, Lieutenant.' We would just go `Raah! Raah! Raah!' because immediately we got less duties. He either got company extras, or he would get unit extras. We all got a turn to do unit Duties on a roster - it was quite tense. You had to parade around and you had to be awake the whole night, and invariably you had some bloody PF colonel or commandant traipsing around and looking for trouble. The base was never left to relax; there was always somebody checking up somewhere. You would have some captain coming in and giving you up-hill - this was at Outshoorn itself - or you would have parents pitching. It was a big base, and there was always something on the go. You could never have a quiet night. If you were on unit duties you had to go along to all of the companies and sign their incident books, and if there was somebody getting pissed at the canteen you would have to get the MPs in to go and sort it out. It was never the people doing training, it was invariably a driver or a cook or something like that that went along to the canteen and was causing trouble. It wasn't nice to do. It was great to hear that someone else had been given unit extras, especially when you knew that your turn was coming up. All that would happen would be that you would get a message from the captain's secretary saying that you didn't have to do duty that night. It wasn't transferred to another night, it just happened to be your luck that you didn't have to do that duty ever. So when old `Vommie' had to do unit extras. That was great! And if anything else happened, he would get company extras, so he would have to do six nights on the trot. We all ended up doing one night a week, and one weekend in however many. Invariably he would get six nights, and what he would do was to wait until the fourth morning, and then he would winge to the major about something, and the major would say; `Are you winging about doing extras?' And the first few times he would say; `Yes, Major. I am.' And the Major would say; `Okay, you've got two extras for doing that.' He just didn't learn. When he started learning, he said to us that he didn't know why he had been so stupid about it. He was quite a character.
There was one guy amongst us who was from an NCO company who had done a business management diploma of sorts, and he got into Bravo company and he got a second pip, also two or three months after we got ours. He was far more mature, though, and he was able to cope with the fact that there were a whole lot of officers who were two-pippers while he was a one-pipper. Because he reacted, we would nail him just to get that sort of reaction.
In general that second year was great. After I cam back from the border, I hung around. HB said to me, you carry a clip-board. If anyone asks you what you're doing, and you have something valid on that clip-board that I'm not going to get into trouble for. He made me the company loss control officer. He could justify that, and for three weeks I got everything correct. I went to the fire hydrant in the company and made sure that the red and white stripes were correct. I measured them all up and got them repainted if necessary. Effectively I was on call just to be there. He felt some sense of loyalty. He told me that I had a choice; he could probably wangle it for me to go to Ladysmith, but he said that if I got to Ladysmith, three days later I would be off to the border, and they would discharge me just before Christmas. This was in about September. He said; `You can do that, or you can krokadil - you can lie low here, and lets see how long we can play this game for.' We played that game for about two months, until the end of October, and then the unit commander picked up that we were over-strength for the number of platoons that we had. He said; `HB, why haven't you transferred the extra officer? There are other units that need him.' HB just ducked and dived, so I finished off there. I can remember at one stage, him sending me off to do research in the library, just so that I was doing something so if the colonel nailed him, he could say; `No, I haven't sent him off. I've left it another week because he's doing research for me.' I had to do a research paper in RMS (Correct method of writing) which was a bit tedious, but it was quite fun. We just hung around when our troops went off to do their passing out parade, and shortly after that we were discharged, and I was sent back home.
I had bought a car at the beginning of my second year at Outshoorn, and if I wasn't on duty over the weekend, I had a crate in the back of the car that had a grid in it and a gas bottle, and salt and pepper and that sort of stuff, and I would get up and go. It was just over to George and then you were on to the Garden Route, the wilderness area and Knysna. I did a lot of birding there. From that point of view it was very relaxing. I got to know the area like the back of my hand. I used to travel with one or two of the other guys, and it was good fun.
During my year in Bravo Company there were two guys who were teachers who swapped over to Charlie Company to become NCOs. We never got anyone from Charlie Company. If there was someone in an NCO company who was identified as being officer material, they weren't sent to Bravo Company because of our higher academic status. They were sent to another officer company. In my second year I identified one guy in my platoon who I felt was really of officer material, and I sent him off.
The WOII that was the company sergeant major in Delta Company was Afrikaans speaking. The problem I had with him was more that I was English speaking. There were elements in him of; `These national servicemen don't know a thing.' I do know that he felt very threatened because of the academic qualifications of the two-pip loots. He certainly treated one-pippers with less respect, but also seemed to be more accepting of him because he was younger and wasn't a threat to him. Whereas with us, even if he was just chatting informally in the conference room waiting for the company commander to arrive, it wasn't difficult for us to tie him in knots sometimes. Particularly Ian Cameron and myself who left to go to Grahamstown after about three months because of the attrition; his was the first platoon to be disbanded. He almost used to bait this guy. He kind of asked for it in some ways. I can't remember specific incidents. It was more an English - Afrikaans thing than the; `I'm a PF NCO and you're just a national serviceman lootie, and therefor rubbish.'
In about January of my second year we travelled up in the train with HB and all the NCOs and everything to Ladysmith. It was like a rerun of going to Outshoorn, but now we were going in the opposite direction, and sitting playing cards with our pips on. We went first class and going through to the dining carriage for meals and having to dress up for that, and sitting whiling our time away playing bridge and so on. We often had port, and I probably took a bottle of port along with me in the train. We ended up having port after dinner in the evenings.
We got to Ladysmith. It was HB's old turf. He knew everything there backwards. He knew the Quartermaster, he knew everybody there. During the time that we were there, he said to us officers and NCOs; `If there is any kit that you are short of, now's the time to get it.' We scored kit like you won't believe. I'm wearing army socks to this day that I scored from Ladysmith. Two years ago I took out a pair that were still brand new from Ladysmith. They are brilliant socks. I scored a grootjas, and extra balsak. I couldn't believe how that wastage occurred. Some of it was legally issued, but the vast majority was illegally issued to us. Of course the records just never got from Ladysmith to Outshoorn. We were never nailed for having too much kit issued to us or anything like that.
We worked extremely hard there. We assisted with the intake. I was absolutely flabbergasted by the type of people who came in to a SAI plaas. You could say that I had a sheltered existence until then. We had always lived in a middle class to upper middle class area, I went to a middle class to upper middle class school. I had been to varsity. I had never really had much contact with the bottom rung of society, and I got there to find that this is what we were dealing with. I remember my little group that I took through the sausage machine, having one guy who had a standard seven. He was about three or four years older than me. He was married and he had three kids. He wasn't to sure what his address was. He couldn't remember what his wife's telephone number at work was. He had to get his ID number from a piece of paper every time. He'd got in there late because he had avoided getting called up previously, but they had caught up with him. He couldn't remember what date he had been married. He wasn't on drugs or anything like that, he was just very slow. I expect he hadn't been properly processed when we all had to register when we were sixteen at school. I think that eventually one of his buddies must have told him that he should go along and volunteer. So he went in and they said; `You're far too old. You must have done it before.' Then the whole system started to work and at the age of twenty-seven they told him; `You're off to Ladysmith.' I expect he was a welfare case.
I remember seeing what we called the `sprinkaaners' (grasshoppers) at Ladysmith. We never had them at Outshoorn. At Outshoornthere were coloured gardeners and labourers who were doing that sort of thing, and yet here were these national servicemen walking around in bush hats and tackies and shorts and all they did was mow the whole time. It blew my mind to see that. I remember being on duty one night and having guys throwing epileptic fits and so on. I had never experienced that during my army career until then because they were selected out of the process. It was survival of the fittest. Some guys arrived at Outshoorn sporting long hair, and one of the first things that happened was that it got whipped off, but then there were great greasy globs of humanity. I remember being absolutely shattered by this.
Then we went through the whole selection process, the psychometric testing and so on. We did the basics training with them there. By the time that we left with them for Outshoorn, they were riflemen. They were no longer recruits. It was a very nice place because HB made it a very nice place. He knew the ins and outs. It was an incredible place to do training in. You would have a thunderstorm every afternoon at that time of the year, so invariably things would get wet. I had three or four raincoats because you would never be sure where you would need one. Would it be in the lines? Would it be up at the mess?
Officer material: I remember that, when it came to motivating why this guy should be moved from an NCO company to an Officer company, I couldn't really put my finger on it. It was more a gut feeling for me personally. Somewhere amongst my army stuff I have information of `The attributes of a good NCO' and `The attributes of a good Officer'. It wasn't something that particularly stayed with me. My perception was that, on the officer side, they were looking for planners and thinkers, which is different from what you get if you think about the Comops course that I've just described. The NCOs were more people who were able to carry out things practically; to follow instructions. It often seemed that the PF guys were trying to make the same distinction between a PF guy and a national serviceman., which is why I think there was often conflict between a national service officer and a PF NCO; `I've got to salute you, but I'm actually better than you because I'm PF.' Now, ten year after having finished my national service, its not something that I've got ingrained in me. Its not something that I'm able to pull out of the murky depths, like being able to take an R4 rifle apart and put it together again.
When we went on our JLs selections, they put a lot of value on being able to select the Officers and NCOs during which psychometric testing played a large part. They reckoned that the selection was done then. Certainly in our first few weeks of the sausage machine, we did those psychometric tests as well. I don't remember there being attrition as a result of the psychometric tests. I don't remember officer candidate being sent on the NCOs course; they were rather RTU'd (Returned to Unit) at that stage. RTU was a sword of Damocles that would be used against you. The further you were into the course, the more you had suffered, and the less you wanted to be RTU'd. They made a big point about the psychometric tests in the early days. When we went up to Ladysmith to do the JL selections; they did the psychometric tests, and when the results came back, they said; `NCO. Officer.' Of the people that I knew and felt that I could assess, I felt that they kind of had it right. Not that I was a boffin at psychometric testing, but we were seldom surprised at whether a person went to an Officer company or an NCO Company. When I say `we' I mean the national service guys; the officers and the NCOs.
You had that opportunity to screen, and within three months there was a further opportunity, and then after another three months there was a second opportunity. After that it became very difficult to switch. By that stage, rather than switch between being an officer or an NCO, they guy was just thrown off the course completely, if there was someone who just wasn't going to succeed at that stage.
I remember having the scores of the psychometric tests, and of PT tests and written tests available to me when it came to making recommendations, and when it came to the panel that decided on the borderline cases, we had to be on call; the platoon commanders, and that the panel included a Dominee, someone from MPI, someone from a different unit maybe, and the company commander, and then maybe the colonel from the Home Unit. It was quite a significant panel. I remember that my two platoon sergeants and I had to be there to come if necessary to speak about a particular person.
HB was trying to mould us together as an officer and NCO corps. We spent a couple of evenings where he got everyone together, when we were at the end of the training. He would say; `Gentlemen. Its five o'clock. At half past five you will all be dressed in civvies, showered and everything. We are going to town tonight. You will need money.' You had no choice. It was like the C's wish. So we would go in to town, and he would know all the restaurants in town, so we would go in to town and have a bit of a blitz in town. He did it a couple of times with the NCOs as well, and on another couple of times he let the Company Sergeant Major do his own thing, and he went off with the officers.
One memorable evening was when we were outside - not quite thrown out of a restaurant, but we had got to the stage where they had said that the kitchen was close, and would we leave. He ordered about three bottles of wine between eight of us but it was too late, so we walked out of there feeling a bit blotto. He had transport lined up. He was just phoning the orderly and saying; `Come and fetch us.' The duty driver would come and fetch us in a SAMIL or in one of those fish-tank type bakkies. In Outshoorn, that was never ever done. It was standing instructions that no military vehicle would be sent in to town to fetch any officer of any rank unless the paperwork had been done before the time. He just went in and organised it that way. The controls were far lighter at 5 SAI. We came out of the restaurant that night, and we were standing there in a parking bay, waiting for the vehicle to arrive. It was an empty parking bay with vehicles on either side, and we were all standing there milling around. A traffic cop came past and saw this bunch of inebriated guys standing around in civvies. He should have clicked that we all had short hair, and worked out what the situation was. The person that he almost bumped into when he tried to stop was HB, who proceeded to give him a bit of lip. So of course he started getting bolshy, and he said something stupid like; `Your talking up a parking bay.' Or something like that. HB just took 5c out of his pocket and put it in the parking meter and said; `I've paid for my parking.' He said to us all; `Come and stand here next to me.' The traffic cops just backed off and drove off.
We went to the Moths there one night. I remember eating pickled eggs at the Moths at about ten at night after we had had too many beers. Braais as well; he would just say; `We are not eating in the mess tonight. We are braaiing here, around the pool.' He made marvellous pepper&mustard sauces for steak. When everybody else was eating whatever in the mess, we would have steaks outside that he had organised from the kitchen. Nobody else would be eating steaks that night. Nobody else had steaks for the next three nights, so he has the sort of muscle to get in there and organise exactly what he wanted. He had lived there before, but his wife was now living down in Outshoorn, waiting for him to get back, so he was effectively almost returning to a bachelor state. He took every opportunity. He was very fair then. Ian Cameron and I were both from Maritzburg; he organised our duties up there so that we could get home as many weekends as possible during that time. I think we were up there for five or six weeks. He said to the other guts; `You guys are going to carry the can now for duties, but when we get down to Outshoorn, they will pay you back.' We didn't have to ask him for that. He just did it off his own bat. He was very perceptive of the guys below him.
While we were up there I had what was probably the most unpleasant experience of my army career. Right at the end of my time there they gave the guys a pass. We were due to leave the following Wednesday so they gave the weekend as the pass because lots of the guys were from Natal, so they could go home. We had some guys in the company with us who were from the Cape, and they wanted to go home. We tried to persuade them not to because it took a lot of administration to guy the guys down to Durban to fly. They were only going to go down to Outshoorn, and then they were going to get a pass down there six weeks later. Some of the guys insisted on going, and on the way back, the SAMIL 100 that they were travelling in - a PF NCO was with us at the time, but he didn't last long after that - HB got him out - he was driving back. There was a bit of alcohol involved. The driver hadn't had alcohol, but the Nco in charge was under the weather. On the stretch of road between Colenso and Ladysmith - I never heard the final details -but apparently there was some mechanical fault involved, the diff locked, the brakes were applied and they locked up and the vehicle skidded in an appalling thunderstorm. It hit the side to the road and went over, and landed on top of everybody. We had just got back from a pass. We had to be back by 8 o'clock that Sunday evening. At 10 o'clock HB came rushing through. I was asleep at that stage. He came rushing through and said; `Come!' and off we went. He took one of those fish-tank bakkies and drove like the clappers to this place. I thought that we were going to have an accident. It was still pouring with rain. By then one of those big civilian ambulance busses had arrived and they were hauling ouks out. There were military ambulances there as well. There were two guys killed; both from my platoon. I had known them about six weeks. Both of them were on site. The one guy was still alive when I got there. He died five minutes later. That was traumatic. We carried the bodies through to the police mortuary van. I didn't get much sleep that night.
The next day I had to go to the cop shop to identify the bodies again; to confirm their identities and so on. There were also guys in the hospital and I had to go and check who was there and who was missing, who was just late from a pass, and all that sort of thing had to be sorted out. I knew by then that it was these two guys. I recognised them straight away. I pulled my files with all their details; they next of kin and everything.
I had to go and identify the bodies, and when I got there, they has swapped the labels for the two. I had to go all the way back to get my two platoon sergeants, so that they could certify in addition. The cops weren't happy to swap toe-tags at that stage. We had to go through the whole thing of affidavits about swapping them around and that sort of thing.
The one guy, apart from a little blood around the nose, there wasn't a mark on him. The other guy had the back of his head bashed in. He was the guy who was dead when I got there so I didn't see too much of him. They had cleaned him up by the time that I got to see him again.
We then travelled down to Outshoorn on the Tuesday or the Wednesday by bus; those big Alwierda busses. Off we went. We got down there. There was no time for anyone from our company to be involved in the from the military funeral point of view. The parents of both those two boys had decided to opt for military funerals. I attended the military funeral with a black armband. It was an eye-opener for me. I just attended. I wasn't part of the whole parade; the gun carriage and the slow marching. Of course while we were travelling down, another platoon down at Outshoorn was being trained up to be able to perform this duty. I had to attend, and I had to go and draw leather gloves, a black armband, the whole bang-shoot! I was called in by the adjutant and he told me what would be happening and what my role was. I wasn't instructed to go, but they asked if I would go, having been their Officer Commanding. HB wasn't going to go because things were hectic for him at that stage. I think that the highest ranking officer who attended was a brigadier, on behalf of the South African Defence Force. I was the Company's representative going through. I was there for both funerals, and each time I took one of my platoon sergeants with me.
In a military funeral they bring the coffin and the body in to church. You then go off to the cemetery, slow marching, the whole bang-shoot! I was involved in that. Then, at the grave, after the civilian part of it is done, the coffin is lowered into the grave, and, starting with the most senior officer, and working down, you march up to the foot of the grave and salute. Once all of the officers have gone, then all the NCOs present go. The one wasn't as traumatic as the other one.
The chap's surname was `Marlow'. I think it was Johan Marlow. It was on the Saturday morning that I went through. His brother was in the SAP, just as a constable. He had to wait until all the officers and NCOs had gone. He had been standing next to his parents, and when he marched around, he got halfway to the grave, he just burst into tears and threw his police hat into the grave, and then he ran off to where the cars were. That was hell of a distressing.
I then went along afterwards to the church where the teas and eats were being served. Both times I went up to the parents, introduced myself and told them who I was etc. Its difficult. What do you say to a parent like that? You haven't even got to the stage where you can say; `I spent eight months with him. He died bravely in the face of enemy fire' or anything like that. You just go along and say; `This is who I am. I knew him such a short time. I just want to tell you that he had been selected for JLs , and was on his way to becoming a fine NCO' That's about as much as you can do. They were very appreciative about that.
At that stage the Marlow boy's parents said to me; `His watch. Could that please be given to one of his friends in the platoon.' They said to me; `You'll know who they are.' They had given it to him for Christmas, and that was what they had wanted. I said that I would go and check up on that.
Thinking back I couldn't remember seeing a watch amongst his persona; possessions. You must imagine; all these guys were travelling back with extra kit and stuff. All of their stuff had been scattered. We had had to go back the next day during daylight hours. We had posted guards there, and we went back to collect all of the stuff. It was horrendous. There was kit scattered everywhere in the velt. Then you had to come back and try to put all of the kit back together, and a lot of the stuff was unidentifiable, and then the guys would come and claim, and then what was left, you would get the guys who were close friends, and say; `Do you recognise this as being this guy's stuff.' That was all packaged and sent down.
I went back to HB and I said; `This has been requested.' He said; `Sure. Its not a problem.' We couldn't find the watch. In the meantime, his beret had been handed to his mother. She flipped. It came through on the Monday. She had flipped because it wasn't his beret. His beret had been muddy or bloody or whatever, so they had taken another beret, a clean one, but a bok-kop badge on it for the coffin. She had, on that pass, sewn it so it pretended to form. So she knew that it wasn't his, and she wasn't happy with that at all. To this day I still do not know whether his actual beret was found. I think they may have explained the circumstances, and that may have placated her. I didn't get too involved.
Then the SAP ended up laying a charge of theft against HB. This was for the theft of the watch because he was the commanding officer, and responsible for that. Of course, when this happened, we had to go back to Ladysmith. I remember having carried Marlow's body to the mortuary there. I wasn't too sure about whether the watch had been on his arm or not. I wouldn't have been paying attention. My affidavit was that as far as I could remember there had been a watch on his wrist, but, words to the effect that I hadn't been paying enough attention to be absolutely certain about it. To the best of my knowledge, that watch had never been in our possession, at all. It had never come out with any stuff. I had been involved in collecting the stuff (his personal effects?) and the only time that Huston-Brown could have been involved with it, would have been at the point when all the stuff had been collated and was in boxes. So certainly, he wasn't responsible. I think that this eventually went to court, so he could explain - don't know how much `pull' this chap's father had. This all made it very distasteful.
That was the worst unpleasantness that I had to deal with as far as loosing troops was concerned. There was a guy who ended up doing chemistry honours at the same time that I was doing zoo. Honours here. He did the Infantry Officer training course, and then he went and did a Company weapons course which involved the mortars and everything. He ended up being deployed on the border in charge of the mortar section, and in one case I think he lost eight or nine troops in one fell swoop during a mortar attack. He never spoke about it and we were very close. He had done HDE with me. He wasn't one of the guys who travelled down on the train with me, but I knew him from then. I just heard about it via the grape vine. He's never been able to talk about it to me. I count myself lucky at not having had to cope with that sort of grief.
SECOND YEAR AS A PLATOON COMMANDER
I came across some NCOs that thought that an officer out of Officer school didn't know anything, but not from the NCOs who ended up at Outshoorn. They were the ones at Ladysmith or on the border or places like that. At Outshoorn they made the distinction between someone who had done hard time on the border and a national serviceman. One guy springs to mind who was a sergeant. He had been about to be promoted to from a staff sergeant to a WOII. He was one of those that wore cammo berets, 32 Battalion, and he had taken a thousand foot flare and had hit a troop over the head with it. It went off and injured both him and the troepie. He ended up being demoted to sergeant. Then he came to Outshoorn to redeem himself so that he could work his way back up again. I remember him being a first class soldier as well. He was Afrikaans speaking. You could see he was battle-hardened. There were no side shows about him. He was a great one for ripping off the side shows. His attitude was; `This is a side show that we've got to put up with. Lets get it over and done with.' Then he would say; `This is a side-show, and this is how we would really do it if we were up on the border.' He had that sort of attitude.
How well prepared were you to command in a combat situation? I was conscious of the fact that I had been through training that said; `This is how you do things.' That would be changed by what I received on the border. I know that it I had got to the border, one of my first tasks would have been to find out which side shows I could leave behind, and that I should forget about. I was also conscious of the fact that if I went to the border, I would end up having to deal with a totally different class of troop from what I was used to, who after all were going to become NCOs. I didn't feel that my training had adequately prepared me to cope with that sort of stuff. With us, discipline was rammed down your throat. You had to be disciplined in order to get through the course. That was a very strong motivation to keep your nose clean. I was concerned about how I was going to deal with someone who was just going to go out and get pissed regardless of the consequences. I didn't know how I would deal with that sort of scenario. I wouldn't look forward to that with great relish.
From the military operations point of view, I think, apart from wanting to drop the side-show issue, I felt reasonably confident that I would be able to handle most situations.
PLATOON COMMANDER OF TROOPS DOING BORDER DUTY
Something that does come to mind is that when I was up in my second year, our NCOs went through exactly the same training as we did, and we also had to do night ambushes and all that with them. After you had done the night ambush, you withdrew to a rendezvous point about 2 ks away , which was left guarded with two or three troops. There was a specific challenge procedure, and you had to know the password, so the guys who were waiting there, if the saw dark figures appearing in the night, they could know that they were on your side. I had a platoon orderly who I had appointed who was supposed to be walking in front of me, then the platoon commander, and then the rest of the platoon behind you, and then right at the back the platoon sergeant coming through to bring everyone home. My orderly was useless. His night vision was pathetic. The guys were rotated through being orderly. Eventually I said; `Ag! Get behind me.' and I tool over. I could see that I was approaching a clump of bushes with the correct features, and as I got closer I didn't hear him challenging as he was supposed to. All I heard was a firearm being clicked from safety into fire position. That was not meant to happen. I soiled myself. In my second year there had been some activity between the two times that I was up there, and there was rumoured to be someone out there. You just didn't take chances. When this guy realised what was happening, he called; `Dis ek, Leiutenant!' I was on the ground, rifle on `fire', ready to shoot, when he realised just that. If I had fired, the dark patch that I was going to shoot at was him. Needless to say, I grilled him the next day. He got a sandbag of note! In full view of the rest of the platoon. I didn't have a problem with that afterwards, because the guys behind me had also been starting to react, and knew the consequences. This guy was very contrite about it. You had done so many of the drills so often that I felt confident in myself that a lot of that stuff would have happened almost automatically. Once you hit the situation, I think a lot of that would have happened automatically, in terms of going through the drill.
It was also instilled in us during the whole thing that the South African Defence Force had the upper hand. They certainly had at that stage from a conventional point of view. There was no doubt about that. I think they suffered more losses up there than we were ever told about, but I think at that point, things were looking good. That keeps you going as well. I think I was fairly well prepared.
ADAPTATION TO CIVILIAN LIFE
I certainly felt relief at having done it, and leaving. I think we were discharged on about the 20th of December. By the 17th of January I was due to go teaching at Greytown. My life was sorted out for me. I didn't have to try to organise anything. I just used that time to touch base and make contact with everybody. I spent time with the family and got things ready for Greytown. I didn't find myself at a loose end.
I got a couple of callups while I was teaching at Greytown, but because of my teaching commitments, I got off those. They were deferred. This was when I was doing environmental education for the Department of Education and Culture.
I was credited with having done two camps, although one was just a three-day camp. I arrived on the Friday afternoon. We went to Natalia and were lectured on - there was some committee that was designed to co-ordinate the activities of the police, the army, the emergency services, the provincial governments. It included civil defence. I know that when I went to the department of Education and Culture afterwards, my boss there was still involved in those committees. It was really just co-ordinating the civvies with the military, so that if anything happened from a revolutionary warfare point, there was some sort of co-ordinated structure in place. Some guys involved in that updated us on the latest developments. It was dealing with settlement patterns in Natal. We were then sent home for the Friday night. On Saturday morning we had to go back, and there was kit issue. On Saturday afternoon we had to get back at Natalia regiment at 5 for drinks, which our wives could attend if they wished to.
Then we were bussed up to the Hilton Hotel and we had a formal dinner. The formal dinner was far more the type of informal dinner that I imagine it would have been in the British Army. At Outshoorn it was very formal and very stiff upper-lip. There was always a guest speaker who was always an honorary colonel from some other regiment or some other military high up who was attending in uniform. There was a tradition at the Natalia regiment that a junior officer had to go in and in the course of the evening tie his shoe laces together by the time he got up to speak. I can remember being very lucky being a two-pip loot because all the one-pip loots names were put in a hat. Whoever it was knew that they would be disciplined if they were caught. It was one of those rights of passage things that had to be done. There was a church parade on the Sunday Morning that was `compulsory'. I don't think anyone attended because they were still suffering from the after effects of the formal dinner.
Then I got another one, a month long camp to Group 9 headquarters in Pietermaritzburg, as Ops. Officer. We got there and we spent three days there; there was myself and two other national service campers. One of them was a lawyer who had done all the law stuff and then gone off to the army. He was old and he was starting to get grey hair already. At that stage it was still three years since I had done army service. None of the guys my age were starting to show grey hair, so it was quite strange to have such an `ou man' on this camp with us. That was very rustig. You were one of the few officers around. At Outshoorn my experience was that there were so many officers around that you were the equivalent of a one liner anywhere else. There was a short service lootie, a one-pipper who was actually the ops officer for the group. Our role was to act in support oif him to provide after hours ops officer functions. After three days we knew all the drills, and knew what was involved with all the stats and all the reports that had to be sent off. The SA Operations called us in. He was a major, and he said; `There are four of you. I don't care how you do it, but daytime or night time, if I walk into this ops. Room, one of you is there. Go out, talk about it, draw up a plan about how you are going to deal with it. Present me with the plan, and then get on with it. We decided that we would, for a week, and then be off for a week, then do twenty-four hours on, twenty-four hours off again. He said; `That's fine.' But we were not to sleep there. We swapped over duties at seven in the morning. In the first week I did three days, and then I went home for a week - I was off for military service duties so it was like a holiday. The only proviso was that if they needed extra manpower, they knew where to contact us. So if I wanted to go to Midmar for the day I would just phone and say; `I'm not contactable by phone, but I'm up at Midmar.' Then I went back for a week and I did four days, and then you went home for a week again. That was a camp. Beautiful! Fantastic! During that time there was a rat-pack for you, so you didn't need to worry about food. I would have had breakfast before seven in the morning, and Vivien used to bring me supper there, or she would go and buy Kentucky Fried Chicken and come and eat Kentucky Fried Chicken with me.
We slept as well. Behind the Ops. Office desk, I just rolled out a blanket and I had a pillow there. You had to go through the signals room to get to the ops office; there was a one-liner or a two-liner there, and you would say to him; `You're in trouble if I'm sleeping and anybody above the rank of a two-pip loot walks in.' So generally we sat there and handled the radios and the phone calls until tenish at night, watched a bit of TV and there would be a video there, and then I went and kipped until four the next morning, and then I got up in case the OC came in. That was it.
I've had a letter
saying that we are no longer required to do military service, but would I
consider doing voluntary military service. I enquired as to what our
involvement would be. It would be keeping the ANC apart from the IFP so I
turned that down, thank you very much.
Published: 11 August 2001.
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