FIVE SOUTH AFRICAN INFANTRY BATTALION
I volunteered to be the psychologist to cover the February 1988 intake at 5 SAI (Ladysmith). This must have been a great relief to my colleagues, who lived in the Durban area, and wished to stay there as much as possible. Having arrived at Natal Command, and finding that the service was not being moved to Pietermaritzburg, where I had some roots, I was interested in seeing if it would be possible to get myself based at 5 SAI, which would be less 'Mickey Mouse' than the 'I want a sleep out pass and exemption from guard duty' we saw at Durban.
WAITING FOR THE RECRUITS TO ARRIVE
I arrived after an unofficial day's holiday in Pietermaritzburg to find that no recruits had arrived. There were four social workers, two psychologists and a psychiatrist with no-one to evaluate. The 5 SAI Officers Mess could not accommodate the number of Medical Officers present for the intake evaluation, so Captains and above were booked into a hotel in town. Standing orders were that we were to wear Combat Working Dress for the week of the evaluation - who were we trying to impress? The hotel dining room looked a little strange at breakfasts when a third of those present were wearing battle dress.
The psychiatrist was Commandant Marius Mathey, who I had worked happily under at 1 Mil. He was pleased to see me, and suggested that, rather than waste our time, we should spend that night at a hotel in the Drakensberg, and go hiking around the mountains for a day or so. I am not used to taking chances like this with the army, but I decided to go along. I felt duty bound to stay even if there was no work to be done, but Marius seemed to think it would all be in order and said that he would brief me on new management policies while we were in the mountains. I would be staying in a hotel in Ladysmith anyway, and he was sure the army would refund my hotel bill from the hotel in the mountains. Marius is a doting father and had brought his four year old daughter along for the intake - he was only scheduled to be there for a couple of days. We each drove our own car as he would be driving straight back to Pretoria the next day, while I would be returning to Ladysmith.
Marius is very militaristic and has a keen interest in military history. Many battles of the Anglo-Boer war were fought in the greater Ladysmith area, (Packenham, 1979, p. ) and he took me to Spioenkop. We wandered around it, and he told me about the savage battle that had taken place there 88 years previously. Our ancestors had fought on different sides in that war, and here we were good friends, both wearing South African army uniforms.
Marius's grandfather had been killed in the Anglo Boer war. The 'acre of massacre' was now just a hillside with a few gravestones and monuments - no blood, no craters, no echoing sound of gunfire. Cows grazed on it. Margo had more interest in avoiding the 'kooi - poeffies' [cow pats] than in the history of the area.
We had a very enjoyable evening, and did some fairly serious hiking the next day - hampered by carrying his daughter most of the way on our shoulders. We swam in rockpools, and eventually made our way back to the hotel. I had phoned 5SAI several times to find whether I was needed, but always the answer was the same - no-one has arrived yet! I drove back on the Friday to arrive just at closing time. The person nominally in charge of me asked me if I had had a pleasant time.
On Saturday afternoon - having been ready to work in the morning - two of the social workers and I explored Ladysmith. Looking at buildings of historical interest, we wandered into a mosque where we were pounced on by two Muslims who enthusiastically told us about their religion. On Sunday two psychologists and four social workers (Two of them women) spent the day at the Spioenkop Dam resort where we strolled around and relaxed, and had a braai [barbecue] for lunch. In the afternoon, John Crossley (the Camper Psychologist at 5 SAI for the intake) and Johan Jonker (the national service Social Worker who is permanently stationed at 5 SAI) decided that we had to demonstrate our masculinity by climbing up the Spioenkop mountain. We didn't actually climb straight up Spioenkop, but climbed up one of the other high points of the ridge, and walked along the top. John lead - he seemed to be at home with hiking. It was a pleasant climb - marred only by Johan having one of his contact lenses damaged by a blade of grass that gouged into his eye. We spent two hours getting to the top, but we had a sense of achievement. We were aware of dark thunderclouds massing overhead, as we watched and waited for our cars to arrive to collect us. We found an ablution block near to the 'acre of massacre', and drank water and sheltered there until Mike Scogings arrived in my car to fetch us.
When I arrived at 5SAI, a nursing Major told me that the wife of one of the unit staff has, or was busy with a psychology degree, and that she wanted to work with the psychologist - a proposal that the nursing major endorsed. I told her that there was no way that such an arrangement could take place.
Before we sighted the first new recruit - before they arrived at the base, we heard that a truck had rolled. That was all we heard, and we imagined an army Bedford truck crammed with new recruits, still civilians, injured and maybe killed. I felt angry that such an accident could happen on a straight forward run from the railway station to the base. What had the driver been playing at? We started to prepare to treat an unknown number of casualties, but the news was updated, and the Bedford that had rolled had only been carrying a driver and assistant, and they were shaken but not hurt.
THE 5 SAI SICK BAY
5 SAI had a brand new sick bay, about a year old when I arrived there. It must have been the pride of the unit, but the infantry must have been jealous that it was SAMS property. Interestingly, the second newest building were the three story recruits bungalows, which could only have been a couple of years older. The HQ buildings were prefabs.
OFFICER COMMANDING THE SICK BAY - CAPTAIN SCHOOMBIE
Captain Schoombie was a dentist who still saw patients. Its interesting to note how many dentists seemed to gravitate to being Medics Commanders; Commandant Potgieter in Sector 10, and Colonel Landman in Durban. Schoombie got himself quite worried about superiors, and would resort to hard work to keep out of trouble. I believe that he himself spend most of a night scrubbing floors prior to an inspection of the sick bay.
He knew some tricks to make his life easier. At one stage we faced a 'surprise inspection' from Colonel Landman. Schoombie had the genius to phone the transport section at Natal Medical Command to find from them when an R-vehicle (Army car) had been signed out for a journey up to 5 SAI. That would give us at least two hours notice of the actual inspection. I really approved of this strategy, which is apparently widely practised. As a Captain, but not of as long standing as Schoombie, I was seen as Second in Command while I was there, but this did not involve me in much responsibility at all, and I was careful to emphasise the temporary nature of my posting. (As I understood it, it was pretty much up to me how long I wanted to stay there, an I had the option at any time of returning to 'Surfboard Command'.)
Schoombie was very friendly to me, but we spent little time together. He asked me to support him once, as a psychologist, when he read the 'riot act' to a national serviceman believed to use cannabis, to whose family Schoombie had some connection. Schoombie gave the youngster a speech that I had heard often before, about drugs being part of the Communist 'total onslaught' to subvert the high morality of the South African youth. Communism sounds fun!
There were three national service doctors based at 5 SAI. I think each of them had a family, who lived temporarily in Ladysmith while the doctors completed their national service. During tea one morning, one of the NSM doctors was visited by his wife and small daughter. The little girl found herself surrounded by the forest of nutria clad legs, but did not realise that there was more than one pair. She wrapped her arms around one of my legs and declared proudly, 'Dis my papa die!" ["This is my daddy!"] I got teased about that for a while.
I think that the doctors had a rough time while the recruits were doing basics, as there was much malingering, which wasted much of the doctors time. (See '1 Mil', p. 71.) In the tea room, doctors discussed questions that were apparently asked of them more than once; "Are you a qualified Doctor" and "What will you do when you have finished your National Service?" It seemed that some recruits actually thought that people were chosen after basics to become doctors as others were trained to be drivers or storemen or mortarists.
THE 'WELFARE' SECTION
CAPTAIN FOWLER (Me again!)
I CONFESS. I HAVE ALSO SINNED! I'm no angel either. A couple of pseudo-psychologists arrived from MPI to administer psychometric tests for the selection of junior leaders. (See 'Grensvegter', Chapter 5, pp.) I did not approve if this practise; the pseudo-psychologists from MPI were usually unqualified, except in the army's eyes, and the standard of administration of psychometric tests was abysmal. The use of such psychometric tests for officer candidate selection was, in itself, questionable. I had heard other pseudo-psychologists, wearing the psychology carducious sounding off about psychology, and getting an audience - okay - so I have my biases.
Walking to a 'Bevelvoerder's Tee' [OC's tea] with Johan Jonker, three of the pseudo-psychologists saw other medics and asked if they could join us. Military etiquette requires the senior officer to walk on the left. 'Yes,' I told them. 'If you walk on the correct side.' Cringe!
LIEUTENANT JOHN CROSSLEY
Camper Lieutenant John Crossley was one of the psychologists who gave people what they wanted, rather than be fair to all soldiers. He told me that if someone was stressed, then how he tried to help was to arrange the obvious things like having them taken off guard duty and given sleep out passes. I was fresh back from Angola, and within the previous six months had done a full tour of duty on the Border - my aggression levels were still high, and my sympathy with people trying to get a soft time at another national serviceman's expense was low.
The number of soldiers stationed at any command is finite, and the numbers of guards required is inflexible, so each person who is excused of guard duty, has his load divided up amongst those who were already doing as much as he was. That didn't seem fair to me.
John had apparently worked for the Railways for a couple of years before resigning without a job to go to. He lived on a yacht moored in Durban harbour. He was a very enigmatic figure, and preferred to remain so.
SOCIAL WORK OFFICERS
LIEUTENANT JOHAN JONKER
Lieutenant Johan Jonker was a national service social worker who was stationed at 5 SAI for the duration of his national service. Johan was small and blond, and looked a little like actor Ben Kingsley, who played 'Gandhi'. Johan came from a family of psychologists who apparently occupied significant positions in the Natal Education Department. I wonder why he opted to be a lower status occupation; which social work is often considered to be in relation to psychology.
Johan had apparently produced a thesis suggesting a sophisticated model for residential care of children in need of care (Childrens homes). This was based on a set up in America, where he might have gone to study it. Johan intended to work in the field of child care when he completed his national service.
Johan was a slow deliberate sort of chap, inclined to be laborious. He always seemed to be behind with his work, but this seemed to be due to his slowness rather than his workload. Johan subscribed to the stereotypal social work philosophy of no-one being responsible for their own misdemeanours, and that they were simply victims of their upbringings or the wider society. He referred one chap to me who had been 'busted' for possession of cannabis. I wrote one of my 'He's a criminal; hang the bastard!' reports, which worried Johan. In his inoffensive way, he approached me again; "He may be a criminal, but he needs help."
"What help do you want me to give him?" I asked.
"You're the psychologist," he replied the equivalent of. "You must know how to help him." I don't remember this specifically, but this might just be an illustration of Johan's attitude. I liked Johan, and we travelled home to Pietermaritzburg together on some occasions for weekends.
Johan once paid me the great compliment of saying that at first he had thought I was Afrikaans speaking; 'One of the Afrikaans speaking Fowlers!' I apparently gave myself away by forgetting to use the double negative when speaking Afrikaans. I spoke Afrikaans most of the time.
LIEUTENANT MIKE SCOGINGS
Camper Lieutenant Michael Scogings, like John Crossley, was called up for a month or six weeks to assist during the intake and initial weeks of basic training. I knew of Mike before I met him because his sister was a close friend of one of my close friends. Mike's normal job was with 'Tafta', a charity supporting the elderly in Durban. Mike had a great sense of humour when he was in the mood, and the two of us got on very well. Mike commented once that during his childhood his mother had been very interested in working out their family tree, and he described a childhood of exploring various graveyards as he helped his mother gather data.
There were two chaplains based at 5 SAI. One was a Permanent Force member, with honorary rank equivalent to the OC, and the other was a young National Service Lieutenant. I don't remember the names of either of them. I was rather wary of the PF Chaplain, after some harassment from senior chaplains at 1 Military Hospital. (See '1 Mil', p. 82 - 83, and p. 135 - 36.)
In spite of this, the senior Chaplain seemed to take a shine to me; possibly because I was English speaking, but spoke Afrikaans most of the time, and treated him with great respect. That often scored points! The junior chaplain was no problem. I never had any trouble with National Service chaplains.
After a hard morning of people who are unhappy being soldiers, and turning to me for help, or who feel they have no reason to go on living, I went for tea. "What is the name of that pill that gives you a purpose in life?" I joked with a doctor.
"Gospel," the younger chaplain suggested quickly.
A very interesting man was the younger chaplain - with a surprisingly broad mind and sense of humour. He was on site at a battle of 'us vs. them' 700 km into Angola, which he said was like the last half hour of 'Platoon' in real life. He reported walking along and seeing an enemy helmet. He kicked out over and saw brains fall out.
I don't know the details, but I believe that the younger chaplain went through a crisis of faith, and that he was considering leaving the church and joining 32 Battalion and becoming a professional soldier. This wasn't just an unsubstantiated rumour, but I think he decided against such a radical career change.
In the sick bay tea-room, someone reported that on his recent journey to Ladysmith he had passed through a thunderstorm. He saw eight different lightening strikes at once in front of his car. "God may be trying to tell you something?" I suggested.
"Yes," someone else agreed. "Stand in the ashtray."
THE WELFARE CLERKS
There were two clerks established in the Welfare Section of the sick bay; Marc Law and Patrick Crew. Marc was quite stroppy; he had been there for longer than Johan Jonker or me. He seemed to think he owned the place. Before Johan was sent to 5 SAI, there was a social worker stationed there called Graham Taute, who had apparently been very slack about disciplining his staff, and they expected to continue this tradition.
I considered it to be important for the Welfare Clerks to show military respect to me and the other officers, especially while there were recruits present. It didn't seem fair on the recruits to be grilled into snapping to attention when their training lieutenants were around, only to see the welfare clerks slouching around. I instructed the clerks that they were to stand up when I or any of the other officers walked into their office, and that they should get those recruits in the waiting area to stand as well. I also banned them from playing a radio when it once interfered with what I was trying to say. Patrick adapted, but I think Marc hated me for a while.
He tried to argue the toss; "Other clerical staff are allowed to listen to the radio during working hours. Why can't we?" I think I came down heavily on this, answering "Because I say so! If you want to transfer to another job, put in an application and I'll approve it for you." Marc sulked after that, but got used to me.
I wanted the welfare section to appear disciplined; it would help our credibility with the infantry training staff, and we needed that. It must seem petty now, but I believe I did the right thing. I didn't want the welfare section to be seen as a 'soft option'.
MARC THE CLERK
Marc did his basic training at Personnel Services School in Voortrekkerhoogte, and was very disappointed to find that his transfer to Natal placed him at Ladysmith, rather than Durban where he lived. He had a low medical classification, a G3 or G4, (A 'G-fucked up' as Aubrey Sonnenburg, also from PS School phrased it.), which amused him, as he had a photograph of himself waterskiing to show what he was capable of.
Marc was gay, and not very discrete about it. Once he dyed his hair, and something went wrong, and his hair went bright orange. His Personnel Services School background meant that he wore an orange belt with a white stripe in the middle. I had great delight in suggesting that he should bleach a Mohican stripe through the middle of his hair to match his belt, before reprimanding him for creating a bad impression of the department.
Actually, I pointed him out to one of the young Infantry Training Lieutenant I was friendly with, and asked him how he would deal with such a person. The Lieutenant took the cue that I wanted him to 'shit all over' Marc, which he proceeded to do, ordering Marc to report to him first thing the next morning with his hair looking respectable. The Lieutenant laid it on more heavily than I would have done, and I regretted having set him on Marc. Marc sulked against me for about a day after that. I still think that he shouldn't have taken chances like that when he was in the army.
Marc always seemed to chance his luck, and he would look all hurt and innocent when he was reprimanded. I arranged for one youngster to be admitted to the ward at the sick bay for observation. The lad was possibly gay, and definitely moved in gay circles in Durban, where Marc came from. I found out that Mark was bringing in messages from the young patient's male mentor (possibly 'lover'), and was asking for progress reports to tell the lover. I reprimanded him for this, and banned him from visiting the patient in the sick bay after hours. It is standard military procedure than during basics, recruits are not to mix with other national servicemen who are not directly involved with their training. Marc seemed to think the fact that he worked in the sick bay exempted him from this ruling, and he sulked with me, punishing me for banning him.
Eventually Marc seemed to recognise the limits that I would accept on his behaviour, and we got on fairly well after that. Marc organized a mini-barbecue for the Welfare Staff, for which he needed my authorisation. I was quite happy with this arrangement, after having established that such small 'span-bous' [Team building exercises] were acceptable at 5 SAI. (And that I wouldn't get into trouble!!) Marc was a vegetarian, so I took him in to town with me so that he could buy some veggie-burgers. The 'spanbou' went well, and afterwards I asked Marc to write a note on my behalf, thanking the catering staff for providing the meat and salads, which I signed and he delivered. Marc reported back to me that my note had been very well received by the catering NCO. It was the first such thank you note which he had received, and apparently he had it displayed prominently on the kitchen wall. I find it sad that I was the first person to say 'Thank You'.
In one conversation, I remember making the point to Marc that he was a member of my (personifying the Welfare Section) staff, and as such, I would not see him as a patient myself. If he needed treatment, then I would refer him, if I thought it appropriate, down to one of the psychologists at Natal Command. Sadly, Marc's earlier stroppiness came home to roost, as well as the fact that he had been so unwise as to annoy the senior chaplain. During my last days at 5 SAI, I attended one of the OC's order groups. At this meeting, the PF Chaplain raised the issue that Marc was `queer' and therefore could not be trusted with the sensitive medically confidential information he had access to as a welfare clerk. This would have been in late April, and Mark had been in post, in an office three doors away from the Chaplain's office for at least six months before that. I wonder why he waited so long before complaining?
I honestly tried to defend Marc, saying that he had been stroppy at first, but he now 'knew his place'. (Essentially I had 'tamed' him.) But my efforts were wasted. I was the one who had worked with Marc, and yet my opinion was ignored. The OC agreed with the senior dominee that Marc should be transferred to a less sensitive position, like the internal postal service.
I broke the news to Marc, saying that I had defended him, to no avail. He took it badly, and became tearful. I think he doubted that I had tried to defend him. He managed to take some leave down to Durban for a long weekend, and when this leave was over, and he was supposed to have reported back to 5SAI, instead he reported to the Psychology Department at Natal Command, complaining that he was going to have a nervous breakdown. I was furious about this, but Kevin Ducray (I think it was) thought that Mark was in a bad way. This was a couple of days before I finally left 5 SAI, so I don't remember how things worked out, but I would not have sheltered Marc if the unit had decided to charge him with AWOL. I might even have charged him myself.
Rifleman Patrick Crew was the other clerk. He was a lot less trouble than Marc. If he tried to chance his luck, he would be much more open about it, so I knew where I stood with him.
I lost a crate of beer in a bet with Patrick. I'd won it easily in a bet with my second cousin which took place at my sisters wedding, so I had the crate of beer to bet with, and was flushed with success. I searched for a file in my filing cabinet in the clerks' office, then checked my office, and then went to the clerks and demanded it. Patrick told me that it was in my filing cabinet. Having just checked, I contradicted him. He stood his ground, neglecting to tell me that he had just replaced it when I had been out of their room. I bet him a crate of beer that it wasn't in my filing cabinet, which delighted him, especially when he produced it. Manfully, I handed over the case, which Patrick distributed at the Welfare Department's barbecue, so I drank some of them myself.
Patrick volunteered to clean my rifle for me, when I drew it from stores. I appreciated that; it was an R4, and I'd only cleaned an R1 (FN) before, so it would have taken me a while. I warned him that I couldn't return any favours, but he didn't mind. He probably thought it would be worth the 'good will'.
We also had a very quiet corporal or lance corporal, who kept himself busy, most often with his UNISA (South African version of the Open University) studies of psychology. I think he was nominally the clerk for the Chaplains. He helped us out during the busy days of the intake.
I tried to organise points for the clerks, to reward them for the good work they had done during the intake. I had wanted to give them a day off as a reward, but I had a worried infantry captain phoning me to say that I was recommending such points far too leniently, and would disrupt the points system (Token economy) by so doing. I backed down before he refused to co-operate, but I did succeed in getting them some extra time off, which they seemed to appreciate.
Captain Schoombie had a clerk, an English lad, possibly from a wealthy family. He seemed very self confident, and was unruffled by Captain Schoombie shouting for him all the time. As did Joseph Heller's 'Ex-PFC Wintergreen', this lad, whose name I have forgotten, seemed to have influence far exceeding his rank. He was one of the late night inhabitants of the sick bay, and I would chat to him when I took evening coffee breaks from my psychology studies.
OTHER SICK BAY STAFF
The sick bay had a sergeant major, who I remembered from High School. He had been a year or two below me, and we recognised each other. He had been in the army since he left school, and I think had been in infantry or something special like Parabats until he had injured his leg or knees, and he had changed over to the SAMS.
There was a female PF nursing Lieutenant who was normally the Second in Command of the sick bay, an arrangement that I did not wish to disrupt in spite of being a higher rank than she was. Medics staff used to have morning coffee in her office before starting the day.
There was a female civilian nurse, somewhere in her late forties, who like Wintergreen, seemed to organise most of the things in the sick bay that needed to be organised. There was also a pharmacist and one or two dentists, and while I chatted with them at coffee breaks, I can't remember anything significant about them.
COLONEL SMUTS - OFFICER COMMANDING 5SAI TRAINING BATTALION
The Officer Commanding 5 South African Infantry Battalion was Colonel Smuts. I didn't have much to do with him, but I respected what I saw of him. He was someone I had confidence in, although we were on opposite sides of the great divide - me as a psychologist and him as an Infantry Training Camp commander.
His office was pleasantly furnished, but marred by the fact that it was a prefab. He had a thick stranded carpet, which was very difficult to do a military 'about turn' on without loosing one's balance. I would struggle to do my best 'Gung Ho!' departure; snap to attention, salute, about turn, and stride purposefully to his door. I doubt it was more than coincidence, but I would like to think that the shaggy carpet was inspired by a sly sense of humour on Colonel Smuts' part.
The second in command was Commandant Kok, a quiet person whom I only saw on one occasion.
Major Valentyne was the officer in charge of training, after the School of Infantry had creamed off the applicants for the Junior Leadership course. He was swarthy, and moustached, and looked like a thick-set Latin lover - of course his name fitted. He informed us that our seeing of his trainees was robbing him of valuable training time, and that the recruits we saw missed out on vital parts of their training. He suggested that we should start seeing patients at 6 am, before the rigors of his training days actually started. We didn't go along with this.
ASSESSING RECRUITS (INTAKE PATIENTS)
Recruits spent the first couple of days at 5 SAI going through medical examinations, haircuts (Which are always featured graphically in Army films which cover Basics), uniform issue, kit issue, etc. At some stage all of them went through a hall where we got them to fill in 'Welfare Questionnaires', which asked such basic questions as 'Do you have psychological problems?', 'Have you used drugs?' etc. I helped supervise the administration of some of these questionnaires - feeling quite Gung ho! in battledress and boots - being fairly fit at that time. I gave instructions in Afrikaans and English, and answered questions.
I have vivid memories of a French lad who had somehow managed to get himself called up - he battled with the English and didn't understand any Afrikaans. He was a very pleasant lad, tall in a rain dampened brown plastic army poncho.
The Social Workers then worked through all of the forms, and sent anyone who mentioned psychology problems or drug problems or 'other problems' to the psychologists. John or I would then do a psychological evaluation and decide whether to follow up the patient during basics, or possibly recommend a classification to G3.
One new recruit reported some psychological problems (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type) resulting from operational duty he had done while he was in the police. With widening eyes, I asked more, and it turned out that he had done a couple of years with the police, but his father was a fairly high ranking police officer, and as a result of this, the son had rather a rough time. He decided to leave the police before completing the four years that would exempt him from national service, and so he was called up. I brought this information to the attention of the authorities, thinking that he could be exempted from Army basics, but no such luck. They made him do basics again, not that this seemed to worry him unduly.
I saw one youngster, with a name similar to 'Glum', and I think he was well named. He was a rather pathetic figure, almost a 'walking drip'. He seemed to come from a rather pathetic family, and when he eventually got a weekend pass half way through basics, his home life didn't seem to be much pleasanter than basics. His training Lieutenant lived in the Officers Mess with me, and we had a chat about the lad's management in the corridor - I didn't disclose biographical information; we just discussed his management. The Lieutenant was enthusiastic, and reported to me proudly that 'Glum' had made a deal with him; or had challenged the Lieutenant to run with them, or do something with them, which the Lieutenant then did. Apparently this made for amazing team spirit, and Glum looked a lot more cheerful when I next saw him. He did better than I thought he would.
The person I was most worried about was a youngster called Stuart, who was a very isolated individual. It was to him that Marc the Clerk tried to bring messages to. He had a mentor who lived in Durban, who was probably gay. I don't know Stuart's sexual orientation - if any. His highest achievement seemed to have been that he had made money by selling leather sandals which he had crafted himself. What was worrying about his was that he didn't really seem to have a life outside, to look forward to returning to when he had completed basics or national service. I diagnosed him as having (at least) strong traits of an Avoidant Personality Disorder, which of itself was insufficient to get him medically discharged from the Army. I was summoned one day when Stuart refused to put on his uniform. I went with him to his bungalow, self consciously walking with him in front of a couple of platoons fallen in in front of the barracks. I tried to encourage him to start dressing into his uniform, one garment at a time. I almost tried to dress him, but he would shed garments as fast as I would try and coax him into them. I wasn't really impressed that he 'could not' wear his uniform, but his distress was obvious. At some stage he made a pseudo-suicide attempt. I took the controversial step of taking him to the Unit's 'kas' [military police cell], and asking the MPs there to keep an eye on him. ("Don't beat him up!") This move rather astounded the infantry personnel; "Aren't psychologists and other welfare staff all bleeding- hearted liberals?"
I didn't want to set a precedent that suicidal gestures would be admitted to a cushy ward, for fear of many others copying his example. Also, in the 'kas', the chaps were kept under constant observation - something that we could not provide in the sick bay ward. It was a dodgy practise; but I felt justified. I treated another para-suicide attempt in the same way. I did not think that either of them would kill themselves. I monitored their well being regularly, and Stuart, for one, seemed to be perfectly content there. I wonder what must have gone through the mind of his MP guards; to suddenly find themselves placed in a benevolent, caring role. Watch their brains seize!
We only had two or three attempted suicides at 5 SAI while I was there, in none of which was any lasting damage done. I saw the OC, Colonel Smuts, to ask him if he could give Stuart an administrative (dishonourable) discharge, as I felt sure that it was going to be a great struggle to keep him functioning if he were to return to training. Smuts listened sympathetically, but said he was unable to help me. This puzzled me, as I believed that OC's had the authority to get rid of very difficult people - maybe this could only be applied when the person was a disciplinary problem.
At last I referred him to 1 Mil (Psychiatry) for evaluation, and they kept him there for about a month. I phoned to ask for news, and spoke to Dr. Koos Engela, who said something like, "Oh, yes. Stuart --- ! We must make a decision about him." They decided to medically discharge him from the SADF; what I had wanted from the start.
He spent his last days hanging around the sick bay in civilian clothes, looking more cheerful, and totally immune to most of what was going on around him.
I saw a couple of lads with pregnant girlfriends, or who were worried about the damage to their relationships of being so far away from home - sometimes there were elements of homesickness involved, but surprisingly little of this got as far as me.
One lad was referred to me after he expressed a wish to sleep in a coffin. This might have worried the people who had heard him, but I saw him and after an hour felt that he was not depressed, and definitely not a suicide risk. He said he was just interested to know what it would feel like to sleep in a coffin. I think he might have just been attracting attention to himself.
Another chap was a big hulk, but with a much smaller personality. Because he was big, he was noticed, and possibly picked on. He was very scared, but few people seemed to have time for him. I taught him some relaxation exercises. I hope that helped. He was very grateful anyway.
A GAY 'RAMBO'
One of the recruits was a petite mincing queen, about 25, who had done some business administration/secretarial courses. The social worker and I unanimously agreed to try to transfer him to a softer unit. This possibly indicated a patronising attitude towards effeminate homosexuals - but we thought that this would be better because his administrative qualifications would mean that he could be seen to benefit the organisation positively if he was used in an administrative capacity. We motivated for him to be transferred as soon as possible, and I followed him up to see that he was coping.
He coped too well! There was some delay in the transfer to other units of recruits seen as unsuitable for infantry training, so he had just about finished basic training by the time his case was discussed at an OC's order group. At the order group, his platoon commander described him as the best infantry soldier in his platoon - better at the skills of soldiering than most of the straight guys.
They bought my point about his administrative skills being better utilised elsewhere, but I knew I hadn't a leg to stand on. In the eyes of the infantry instructors (psychologists' traditional enemies), they were in the process of 'making a man out of him', and by implication, curing him of his homosexuality. There was nothing I could do. I had to back down. I tried to save face by congratulating the instructors on their good work with him, and saying I was surprised at what they had achieved. With such PR they might give me the benefit of the doubt next time.
I had to explain to the 'Gay Rambo' that he was going to stay an infantry soldier, and that he had coped so well that I was not able to help him. He took it better than I expected; he didn't make any suicidal attempts. I wonder how he did?
THIS MAN WANTS TO LIVE BY HIS CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES! IS HE MAD?
A recruit was referred for refusing to bear arms for Christian reasons. He was referred to me by the Chaplains, but I could find nothing wrong with him psychiatrically. He seemed to be a thoroughly decent, well adjusted if somewhat naive person and I wasn't going to label him as having some mental disorder. The military were of the impression that when recruits were issued with rifles and felt how heavy they were, they then would decide to get out of using them if at all possible.
THE INEVITABLE CLASH BETWEEN TRAINING STAFF AND MEDICS
At the end of one hot day, seven soldiers were brought into the sick bay suffering severe exhaustion and dehydration. A sergeant told Dr. Brett Craig gloatingly, "We've fucked up three guys, and there's another three guys coming in now."
The sick bay went into emergency mode and Brett asked me to go and call the OC to come and see the condition of his troops himself. Brett said that the situation was serious and that some of them might die. I found the 2IC in the NCO's bar, starting drinking on the occasion of the departing RSM's farewell piss-up. On the way out I bumped into the OC and asked him to come along. He said that there was no need as he already knew that something had gone wrong. So while the medics worked hard running drips and sponging down semi-conscious teenagers, the officers and NCOs of 5SAI got drunk saying goodbye to the RSM.
Another conflict occurred when the soldiers went out to 'Boschoek' for their Counter Insurgency Operations (COIN Ops) training. I was following up patients on my return from Angola (no-one had followed them up while I had been away). My clerks could not get any response from the troops at Boschoek. At last I wrote a note to the boss there, Major Valentyn. Nothing happened. I tried to contact the OC who was away for a week.
Lieutenant Vorster, henchman to Major Valentyn, arrived a week after my note, asking that I come and see the patients at Boschoek as they could not be spared from training. Also I had to write a report on each patient I saw stating what the problem was. No way! Psychology, ethically must be practised in an office during normal working hours (except in emergencies, but three weeks at Boschoek, less than one hour's drive away does not constitute an emergency). I phoned the OC, but he was still not available. He had left a message saying 'If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain.' (Mohammed had come as far as fucking Ladysmith!) (Colonel Smuts had a sense of humour!)
I phoned my superiors in Durban, but they were all away until Monday. The highest rank available was a Lieutenant. I phoned on Monday. Commandant Fouche agreed with me, and said that they 5 SAI could contact him if they had difficulties with the arrangements. Next day at an order group, Colonel Landman apparently endorsed this by saying "Captain Fowler must put his foot down!" (This was reported to me by Quintin.)
5 SAI had one Social Worker, but seemed to want another one. The logic seemed to be: "We need two social workers so that with the work divided between them, they will both have time to attend P.T. sessions three times a week, battery tests, parades and so on."
It occurred to me that it would be a good idea to try to avoid the idea that our welfare section was there exclusively for the benefit of 5 SAI, and I arranged for Johan, Mike and I to visit the other units in the Natal Interior. We did pick up the occasional referral from these units, whom we saw at 5 SAI. We made a day of it, which we enjoyed, and met some interesting officers at remote outposts, who seemed to be very chuffed with our 'official visit'.
And there was time for some sight seeing; we went around some historic museums, including a grave yard for Mike's benefit. In one of the museums, on display, were medals which had been issued to my maternal grandfather, and his brother. That was interesting; I didn't know they were there. Nothing really came of our outing, except that I was found not to have had authorisation to have used my own car, so my petrol costs were not refunded. No big deal!
We established the principal that we had responsibilities to the Natal interior other than 5 SAI, but I didn't have cause to flex these muscles, and Johan probably just buried himself in paperwork to avoid PT sessions.
Let me not be too vocal in my criticism; I think that I fitted in quite well, and helped to grease the cogs in the machine!
THE 5 SAI OFFICERS MESS
When the initial crowding of the officers mess eased off at the end of the induction on the new recruits, I moved into the Infantry Officers mess. It wasn't as good as the SAMS Club in Voortrekkerhoogte, but it was definitely much better than my room in Durban.
Delta company was the company of would-be officers and NCOs, who spent their evenings getting messed around, while the other, less ambitious companies could relax while ironing clothes, make beds etc. I contemplated the irony of lying on my bed in my room fairly late one evening, listening to the sounds of distant recruits shouting out words, as they tried to sung while running in squad.
I would take myself jogging, going outside of the army base to do so. I must have been an unusual sight; wearing civilian T-shirt and shorts; as I jogged to the gate, and back again, I passed many short-haired overall-clad recruits, walking to the canteen. Some of them could have been my patients. When I reached the gate, I would hand in my Army Identity Card, so I could prove who I was when I returned, if the guards changed while I was out. Being an infantry camp, the guards would always salute me smartly. I liked the irony of asking the guards for my ID card, so I could prove to them who I was.
I enjoyed mixing with the young Infantry Training Lieutenants, some of whom became friendly once they overcame the great divide of rank. The English ones, that was ... I wondered at the different way I saw them, from how they might be seen and feared by the recruits in their platoons. To me, they seemed mostly to be teenagers.
One, Sean Davies, admitted with some amusement that he was younger than any of the soldiers he had in his platoon; a previous intake platoon which had served in the townships in Pietermaritzburg. Sean was great! It didn't take him long to come and chat with me in my room; before I felt comfortable having him in there. He was intrigued at me being a psychologist, and insisted that I read a book of oriental philosophy called, "The Book of Five Rings", which he reckoned had changed his whole life. (That might be a bit strong!) I read it, but was not particularly impressed, which disappointed him.
I think it was Sean, who expressed his exasperation about training - maybe he took over a training platoon - of being told to have the troops ready to go out to Boshoek by 09H00. 09H00 came and went. So did 10H00. He allowed his troops off for a quick tea. Back at 10H30. 11H00 came and went. 12H00 followed. He sent his troops off for lunch. They came back to wait all afternoon. The transport failed to arrive. I have it in mind that this waiting continued for two or three days, but I doubt that it did.
Another young instructor complained to me that his platoon had given him no choice other than to punish them; they had done nothing to prepare for a scheduled inspection. They had not even swept the floor! That would have seemed to have been an obvious thing to do.
Another complained quite bitterly of the PF Adjutant Lieutenant taking the national service lieutenants (whom he only just outranked) for an 'opvok' [get 'fuck up'- PT session], supposedly to nurture 'Spangees!' [Team spirit]. The officers recreation block and dining room was pleasant; we were waited on, but the food wasn't as good as it had been at SAMS or Durban. There was a bar, and a TV lounge. The latter smelt of cat pee. Mike commented about 'Tafta Chairs' in reference to chairs which had been sat on by elderly incontinent clients.
Mike and I watched TV one evening, still wearing our uniforms for some reason. Two young national service Lieutenants, whom I had not seen before, walked in. They were having a satirical conversation, pretending to be gay lovers. "I faked every orgasm," said the younger one, who looked like a school boy. They continued this conversation for a while, ignoring us, until one commented; "There are people here who don't know us." There's no point to the story really. I just found it amusing that such a conversation could continue in the presence of a PF. I don't know if they knew we were English before we introduced ourselves.
There was a senior NCO who reported to me, on learning that there was a psychologist at 5 SAI. He was a very controlling sort of person, easily described as 'manipulative'. He was well tapped in to the unit 'grape vine', so he knew when I was at the unit, even down to the tea and coffee breaks. He presented with depression, and he had some reason to be. He had undergone surgery which had gone wrong, and he was left with medical problems which would interfere with the quality of his life for the rest of it. (To specify what they were would risk identifying the man.)
On top of this, he had not once, but twice lost his possessions when his house was flooded. He had been seen at the Department of Psychiatry, 1 Military Hospital, by one of the doctors I knew, Koos Engela. I phoned Koos to request a print out of his psychiatric history, but Koos told me that he was not allowed to send me a printout. Although it wasn't Koos's fault, I was annoyed by this, especially as I had worked there only months beforehand. I tried to help the man to develop interests in his life, but he found all sorts of reasons why he could not activate any of my suggestions, yet he would insist on coming back to see me, for more guidance which he would then not follow. Maybe he just wanted a shoulder to cry on? (I've since seen a lot of people like that in civilian life!)
He was in charge of a mini-department at 5 SAI, but was spending much time off sick, and his national service subordinates kept the department functional, which he appreciated. The point I recognised, but did not do anything with, was how redundant he actually was, much better paid than the national servicemen who did his job for him. I quite liked him as a person, but I wasn't truly sorry to say goodbye to him when I left 5 SAI.
There was a cannabis user, not a very bright lad, from a previous intake. He worked as a gardener, and his work involved mowing lawns all day, with minimal supervision. He and the others who did this as their full-time job were referred to as `Grasshoppers. Most people would prefer to do such repetitive boring activities while they were stoned. The lack of supervision also seemed to aid his 'substance abuse' by giving him ample opportunity to sneak off and get stoned! In spite of taking advantage of his opportunities, he kept getting caught in possession. His mother was one of the interfering sort, who maintained that he had been fine until he had started with the army. I think this was misfounded, because he had a suspended sentence for possession of cannabis before he reported for national service. I wrote one of my definitive letters to her, with a copy of the OC, whom she had also contacted. I think it was this lad whom Johan Jonker advocated; yes he was a criminal, but he needed help. (See above).
Marc the Clerk told me of one of his gay friends who was having emotional difficulties, and Marc had suggested that he should see me. I saw him a couple of times. He had a 'crush' on one of the other soldiers, whom he thought was straight, and he was very confused about these feelings. I worked with him on social skills, aware of how the army would cringe if they were to interpret this as my encouraging homosexuality. I didn't see it that way, but it could easily have been so construed. Nobody would tell them.
A doctor asked me if I couple help with a little girl of about six, dependent of military personnel, who had become the focus of attention at school for her habit of grabbing the genitals of the children she played with. I offered the mother an appointment (to see her with her daughter), but they never arrived. I followed them up to be told that the father had refused to allow them to see me. He was worried at the damage to his career that would be caused if a member of his family were to be seen by a psychologist. And no matter how much confidentiality I guaranteed, eyes would see them coming to see me. I don't think I thought of making a home visit, but the military personnel all tended to live in a ghetto, so that might have been just as unacceptable.
OTHER ANECDOTES ABOUT 5 SAI
There were serious floods in Ladysmith in February 1988, and some of the previous-intake soldiers from 5 SAI were roped in to help with the emergency. One of our soldiers was drowned while searching for the body of a local who had been washed away in the floods.
Early impressions of the intake at 5 SAI was of a woman - rumoured to be the wife of the Officer Commanding - being driven around the camp, selling cool drinks and sweets to the new recruits from the back of an obsolete Saracen armoured car.
The companies had the traditional phonetic alphabet names; Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot and HQ Companies. Alpha and Charlie were those undergoing basics. Bravo and Echo were from the previous year's intake, and were either deployed in Townships or else on the Border. Delta were the recruits who were trying to be selected for Officer Training, and they were shipped off to Outshoorne after about six weeks. HQ Company were all the people who helped to run the base; the admin. people, the drivers and stores etc. "All the 'Charlies' come here!" A corporal shouted. It sounded like something out of a 'Goon Show'.
A soldier became bored during guard duty and decided to sketch some of the buildings in the base. This was discovered and he was put into DB and charged with sabotage. I don't know how seriously this was taken, or if he was ever brought to trial.
I applied for permission to bring my computer on to the base, to use at the sick bay for my research. The request was sent to the OC, with a copy for info. to Colonel Landman. Colonel Smuts passed the request over to the security officer, a musclebound giant of an NCO who looked the part except that he was English speaking; probably an ex-Rhodesian. The NCO was quite happy to approve permission to be given to me. He told me, when I fetched a bolt cutter to get into my cupboard (keys padlocked inside) that he saw no risk, because the only way that I would be able to hack into their military computer network would be to break into their computer office, and that was well guarded. I wouldn't need my own computer to do that. What do they store on their high security computers?
THE INFAMOUS TELEPHONE STORY
Somehow I heard that we had to log our telephones, though the message arrived in some way as to make it a rumour rather than an instruction. The idea behind this was to cut down on the number of telephone calls made, and hence to save the unit money. ('Pro Patria, Chapter 11, p. 2.) I must have thought that official calls, like to Natal Command and Natal Medical Command were exempt from this ruling. I think the medics were annoyed with this arrangement, especially when we were told that we would have to pay for all calls made which we had not logged, even if they were obviously work calls. We joked about logging calls that we hadn't made, and wondered whether the telephone receptionist would end up having to pay for such calls.
I ended up having to pay the cost of all calls I made unlogged. I was called to discuss the matter with the Officer Commanding. He gave me a simple choice; pay up or admit disobeying a 'lawful command'. Apparently the number of calls made from the unit dropped substantially, but calls made from the Sick bay remained constant - indicating that we had not been the offenders.
People found other ways around this ruling; while I waited at the Transport Office as details were arranged for me to go to the Border/Angola, the PF lady clerk who arranged it spent a good few minutes speaking to a friend at the command; discussing the squash club and various surgical operations that various people had undergone. Eventually she came to the point, "Oh, by the way, I've got a Captain Fowler here and he wants to ..." It was to arrange my transport that she had made the call in the first place.
I was informally invited along to one of the OC's Order Groups. Johan seemed a little in awe of having a psychologist on site, and said that the OC was chuffed to have a unit psychologist. I was very interested in the order group. The OC went through the matters arising from the minutes of the last meeting - they were probably monthly. There was much averting of eyes, and if I remember correctly none of the people had done what they were supposed to have done. I gave definitive feedback on a task I had completed - sucking up gets you everywhere!
I felt sorry for the OC; he was respectable, but he had much dead-wood to work with. One of the training Lieutenants complained that one of his recruits had found a condom in his food. He had been disgusted by this, and had thrown his food away. A pity, because this would have been useful evidence - but could you trace who was responsible for it? The OC was angry at this, and conversation turned to a number of suspected homosexuals working in the kitchen. The matter would be investigated further; probably in the form of a witch hunt for homosexuals. I think conversation moved almost immediately to Marc the Welfare Clerk, as a result of which he was ousted. (See above) It certainly happened at the same meeting.
Social Workers (and psychologists dumb enough to be around) were called upon to conduct a series of lectures entitled 'Healthy lifestyle', essentially preaching about sensible use of alcohol, smoking etc. Johan was very pleased at the prospect of handing this chore over to me. Pity I didn't stay around long enough to give them? I could have taken them in my stride now.
There was a small crew of national servicemen who worked at the unit's media centre. I wanted them to do some work for me, but I had a great deal of difficulty finding them. They must have been on a cushy number. Striding around the unit on official business one day, I noticed an army VW Golf driving towards me. There was something familiar about the driver. I had to think for a moment before recognising Colonel Landman, and the two young National Service Intelligence Lieutenants sitting rigidly uncomfortably on the back seat. I was just in time to salute. I hadn't expected to see him there.
There was an anticipated inspection of kit of the HQ company personnel; which apparently indicated chaos. Some people, including my clerks, had virtually none of the kit they were supposed to have, while others were trying to hide surplus where it would not be discovered. Apparently many had taken kit home with them, not expecting that they would be made to account for it.
I remember one evening seeing several platoons worth of soldiers, wearing PT kit, waiting to be inoculated outside the sick bay. I had expected that all this would have been done during the first induction week, but apparently not.
MY PIETERMARITZBURG CLINIC
As the psychology problems of basics eased off, I arranged to offer a psychology service to the 5 SAI Company and Camper Company doing township duty in the Pietermaritzburg. I arranged this on Fridays, so I could spend the weekend in Pietermaritzburg without any eyebrows being raised. I was learning to work the system.
Published: 1 July 2000.
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