Operational Medical Orderly
Operational Planning Officer
1985 - 1996
I like thousands of others in 1985 was caught up in the first real immigrant intake - I had been in South Africa a couple of years and received a nice letter from the department of Infernal (internal? I think not) affairs. Something along the lines of "You have been granted South African citizenship in terms of ........ , this of course includes all the privileges and responsibilities that being South African involves." I wasn't really sure as to the privilege bit but I sure as hell was sure what the responsibility bit meant when a week later I was called up for 7 SAI.
On the 2nd of July 1985 (my birthday) I reported for service at Sturrock Park. After a thorough search by MP's we boarded the trains to Phalabowa. We had to keep the shutters of the windows down while going through towns and we were guarded by what I know now as Campers (CF's). They had a great time on that trip organising inspections of compartments with each compartment then lining up in the train corridor and having to do press-ups.
Early the next morning after no real rest we arrived in Phalabowa. The traditional "roofie ride" in Samel 50's followed although there was not much the drivers could do as we were squeezed in so tight any bump or knock wasn't really felt. Early morning on the parade ground - another contributor has covered the base well enough for me but I vividly remember a few things about the first few days. The first was the size of the bloody place. An incredibly beautiful place with a parade ground so big that rumour had it you could land a Dak on it. Col. Swanepoel the OC of 7 SAI greeted us with the information that 7SAI normally won the best Training Infantry Unit of the Year and he planned to win it this year. Then our first lesson in singing the National Anthem in Afrikaans. After that a medical - "How do you feel?" "Fine, Sir!" (no idea of rank so I called everyone `Sir'). "Good! G1K1!" Then down a open passage wearing nothing but jocks into a dark tent. Before the eyes could adjust, sharp stabbing pains in both arms as two grinning medics did the usual tetanus and other jabs.
Then the barber. They were stationed in a small barber shop just opposite the main hall near the parade ground. Off with the hair. There was a competition to see who had the longest ponytail cut off. After 24 hours getting to know guys suddenly you recognise no one.
Again Basics at 7 SAI have been covered before. On day 5, I made the cardinal error of calling our company Captain "Sir!" He screamed in return; "Do I look like a school teacher to you?" and I spent a few hours getting to know how heavy a tromel (steel trunk) really can be.
I was placed in Oscar Company (heavy weapons support) in long bungalows that slept about 80. A wall down the middle separated two platoons of 40 with small rooms at one end for the Junior Leader group (lance corporals etc.) The rest of the leader group slept elsewhere.
Our CSM was a SGT Van der Mesche. He had been up and down the ranks, and at that time was SGT (again rumour had it that he had been bust down a few times for mistreatment of troops). He was a small thin man with very harsh features and blue eyes and an amazing voice. He warmed up first like a bagpipe with a MMMMMMMMMMMM sound building to a terrific crescendo MMMMMEDDDDDIC when he wanted the medic to come to him. We all called him FiFi (behind his back of course) as one of the guys said on first hearing him that his mother's poodle made the same barking sound.
Our platoon Sgt. was an NDP corporal just fresh from Oudtshoorne as was our Lt. My platoon was made up of about 50% Portuguese with the rest a mixed bag (even an American) with one single Afrikaner. This I think was a culture shock for us and our trainers. Most of us did not even have the first idea how to string together a sentence in Afrikaans and they couldn't really speak English very well.
The first day the Lt gives a whole speech in Afrikaans after our first (but not last) run up past the ammo dump to the training area. Then one "porra" (Portuguese chap) calmly informs him that we all haven't a clue what he just said and could he please repeat it in English? Of course a few runs to anthills and trees later we were perfectly bilingual.
My first real words in Afrikaans were (excuse the spelling but I really have no clue) "Tree aan - staaldak - webbing en geweer!" Followed by "Jy - roofie, kom hier!"
One character that stands out was a guy that arrived for basics with us in full ou man browns. We were really impressed when he grunted to us (he couldn't talk very well) that he had done basics 4 times and had been thrown out of the army every time for various serious offences.
He had again got in by sitting in the Chief of the Army's office in protest until they gave him call up papers. (The fact that the police wanted him for stabbing his girlfriend during a little tiff of course was not important!) The army was the only place were he was relatively safe from the long arm of the SAP.
He was a huge Neanderthal homicidal manic. He took the corporals' room at the end of the Bungalow (this is in basics remember) and turfed them all out so he could have the room to himself. If he didn't want the lights out, then he would slap the Lt around a little until the lights were turned back on. Thank God he was in another platoon but in 2.5 months he assaulted almost every JL in that company. The MPs were helpless because it would take 15 just to arrest him and he didn't seem to feel pain. They, however, did feel the pain (although to be honest my heart does not bleed for the pain felt by MPs.) After a few weeks in DB and he was out and the whole thing started again.
Eventually enough was enough and he was 'interviewed' by the Permanent Force members in the cells and nicely asked to sign a paper accepting G5K5. (Medical Discharge) Nobody knows exactly what happened but the sick bay treated a lot of cuts and bruises etc that night. He left the next day under guard in civies. Last heard he was petitioning the then Minister of Defence for re-instatement and promotion. I believe the SAP eventually caught up with him.
After three very hard months (and about 20 Kgs less) we got our first pass. At that stage we could wear berets with balkies and the bok kop but not the 7 SAI cross with rooi kat. That was only for when we had passed evaluation and were riflemen instead of recruits.
After basics and a short leave it was back to Phalabowa for second phase. Again this has been covered well enough. One interesting little exercise that our dear instructors thought up was during 2 weeks Urban Riot Training; they would form us up into the riot formation and then throw stones and cans filled with sand at us to train us to get used to the locals throwing things at us and to keep position. Lessons in weapons (mag, .50 browning, mortars, RPG etc.) followed. Other 7 SAI guys will also have intimate memories of Madimbu in the North and the shooting range.
One interesting thing that happened was our Lt. was sent away. He was an ex junior Springbok rugby player and had got his rank via aggression and brawn rather than brains. Barry will remember him as I am sure he treated him but I won't mention his name. We were fairly sure that he had badly damaged or killed one of our guys as one of the "porras" was quite windgat (crude equivalent of `a windbag') and the Lt. hated him. One day he took him for some "private training" and the next we heard he was critically ill at 1 Mil. Anyway one of the young girls in Phalabowa (6 females for every male ratio) was seeing a PF major and our Lt. Eventually the Lt. found out that he had competition and a small confrontation ensued to our absolute delight on the road in front of the mess near our bungalow.
The major was driving in his car when the Lt. ran into the road screaming. For a PF major this was a complete shock that a NDP Lt. could scream at him like this and he made the mistake of reaching for his 9mm. The Lt. grabbed his gun and OK Corral started. I think that neither one was in any state to aim, but it was great fun as they emptied their pistols at each other. Then of course the corporals had to join in the fun with R4's - it ended with our Lt. climbing the game fence like a baboon into the Kruger Park being chased by about 20 corporals with R4's who really did not like him.
He was found and taken away in a straight jacket to Ward 24 at old 1 Mil (Barry's haunt). Later I heard he was at Westkoppies. (Civilian Psychiatric Hospital outside Pretoria.)
During 2nd phase other units came to look for people (doggies (Dog Handlers) from Beukes Luck, the medics from Klipdrift, SP Wag (State Presidents Guard), etc.)
The 7SAI shooting range outside Phalabowa was about 1.5km long and about 500m wide with gravel and stone shooting points every 100m from the shooting backstop. Between the shooting points was just thorn scrub and grass that was cut down to about 6 inches deep. The entire company would live at the range for two to three weeks at a time. Not only shooting practice but also the obligatory opies and bush training. The idea was to get us so used to living in the bush that when we went to the Operational Area, we would not battle to adjust.
We had been on the shooting range for 2 weeks without a break (living in bivies etc.) and were filthy and had more scabs on our arms and knees than skin from all other "opies". To shoot hundreds of rounds a day while the rest of the company did opies behind us is not fun.
An average punishment session (op-f**** or opie) would consist of the company running in a line in full kit. The whistle would blow and everyone had to throw themselves to the ground in the approved manner that all ex-infantry will know; legs kicked high into the air as the front part of the body hammers into the ground.
Then leopard crawl until the next whistle then up and running again and on and on.... So either the stones on the shooting points would strip the skin from your arms or the thorns would.
One image that forever will live with me was one evening on the shooting range. One of my platoon had kept a round and after we finished fired it into the air for a joke. The PFs and JLs went completely ape-shit and the worst opie I have ever had followed. After a few hours of sheer and utter hell, I remember looking back down the range from the 100m mark to the 200m mark. The red sun was settling, and through the dust kicked up by the company I saw the faces of my friends, black from the congealed sweat and dust and cut by thorns and grass, eyes red from the strain and from the irritation of the dust kicked up by the guy in front of you. It was there that we saw that you can actually bleed through the fingernails. Not a good night!
Many of the stories I have read on `Bad Guys' are from basic intakes that are predominantly South African. Our intake was however was almost exclusively made up of immigrants and we were on average older than most intakes. The cut off for the intake law was 25 and we had some guys that were 24 when called up and were now 25. This caused all sorts of problems for the training personnel.
One particular Portuguese bunch of guys gave serious problems to our officer (the new replacement). The Lt. was from Pietersburg and was 18 years old when he finished at officers school. In particular a guy called De Abrio. He was 25 plus and really not interested. On the shooting range there were two poles at the end of the range; one called Peking and the other Saigon.
Punishment involved a run from the 100m shooting point to the pole on the left side (remember the range is about 1.5km long) across the width of the range, and then back to where the leader group was sitting while the other platoons were shooting.
One day the Lt. tells De Abrio to go to the poles. He slowly stands, grabs his R4 by the blitz breeker (flash hider) and, dragging his feet and the butt, walks slowly off. The Lt. goes berserk and starts shooting, but De Abrio just carries on walking ignoring the noise. He gets to Peking, sits down - has a smoke, and then starts his slow walk on to Saigon. There he stops, has a water break. and then walks back. Instead of running up to the Lt. saluting and reporting back (as per normal) he just walked over to where we were sitting and sat down.
By now the platoon was in hysterics and the Lt. looked like he was suffering from a mix of epilepsy and rabies. He was foaming at the mouth and his eyes were rolling back. He screams for De Abrio, who shouts back; "Hey Lt. go play silly F**** games with someone else. I'm too old to listen to the screaming of a child." On the whole there was not much they could do other than make the guy a clerk or driver.
Anyway I decided to try for the medics. The training was first in Potch (Klipdrift) and then Pretoria. Being the usual horny teenager with a girlfriend in PTA (Pretoria) I really wanted to get away from Phalabowa for a while. Also during basics the sickbay was overloaded so I asked the corporal if he could get me some needles and syringes etc., with methiolate for blisters.
The doc at the sick bay showed me how to treat blisters and gave me a small medic bag. So even in basics I was the platoon medic.
I went in front of medic Keur-raad (Selection Board) to become an Operational Medical Orderly (Ops medic). I had also done a lot of first aid in the scouts and in the British Combined Cadets Force at School in the UK. The 7 SAI NDP (NDP - Nasionale Dienspligtige - National Serviceman) Doc and the corporal told them that I was already doing the work so away I went to Klipdrift.
KLIPDRIFT AND SAMS COLLEGEFor those readers that don't know, an Operational Medical Orderly is not a normal medic with a funny badge on his chest. The theory of an Ops Medic was I was told developed by the American Special Forces Units serving in Vietnam. He was a platoon or section medic but instead of being just a medic, he also carried arms. The Geneva Convention allows medics to carry weapons for `the protection of life of their patients and themselves'.
The indoctrination we received was that a medic is no good dead, as often snipers went first for the guy with the antenna, and then for the guy with the medic bag. So we were expected to look like soldiers, fight first, survive, treat and stabilise, and then Casevac. (Casualty Evacuation, usually by helicopter) Also, not only was there a shortage of doctors, but other than a few exceptions, most doctors were neither trained or able to go into a combat situation and still operate.
So the Ops Medic was a middleman between the platoon who used buddy aid and the doctor. In terms of military law, we had the power to administer medications and drugs on our own authority, to perform invasive therapy such as injections, IVs and intubation etc.. Plus perform minor surgical procedures such as stitching and cutting out ingrown toe-nails, thorns and other debris that enter the body that does not need a full surgical team.
The training was very intense both mentally and physically. We were trained by a mix of Physical Training Instructors (PTIs) and special force medics (spes med instructors). These were permanent force medics that served with the Recce units, the SAP, SWATF and Bats (Parachute Battalion) when needed. Specialist trauma doctors also taught us.
After a long trip on the train and then Samel we arrived in Klipdrift. I was horrified! I could not even conceive that a base could be so disgusting; especially the medics. After the 7 SAI base, Klipdrift would not even rate as a ghetto. An old girls school that could at the most handle 350 people had over 1500 men straining its limited facilities. My opinion of Fly Spy's (health officers) was formed at that base. Any officer or trainee officer who was a doctor or fly spy should have just told them to stuff it and close the base.
We were a 150 strong Foreign Legion (or `Smarties') because in a squad there were green berets from the infantry, maroon from the bats, brown from the signals etc. We looked like a moving box of smarties.
Of course we were the target of every medic JL that came by. They thought they were giving us a hard time (compared to the other medics) but after 5 months at 7 SAI it was a holiday. What was not a holiday was the bloody cold. I have never in my life been so cold as that 2 weeks. In Phalabowa it was cool at 25 degrees. In Klipdrift it was cold at minus 10. (Especially in a tent!) No good ablution facilities, no place to iron, and a mess hall that was an epidemic waiting to happen.
Our instructor there was a guy called Van Heerden (nickname `GV'). After 2 weeks in Klipdrift we were sent to SAMS college. That was better but again every medic with rank thought we needed a lesson. It became a competition between us and them. We were not going to crack to a bunch of Tampax tiffies so if they said run a Km, we would run double that. I must say that the bats (who had been in the mag (Army) 6 months longer than us and had first done jump course) were a great help.
Some of them were real vlies (meat) bombs (all brawn and very little brains) but most were really good guys that kept up the spirit during the long days and nights of almost constant abuse by the Spes Mag (Special Forces) instructors that we had. We were then joined after 2 weeks by 300 medic volunteers from Klipdrift.
After the first month or so the numbers started to drop as guys fell off the course and were RTU'd through injury from opies. We lost about 30 of our bunch with the medics losing far more in the first month. Again the newly healed skin disappeared to be replaced by the now familiar scabs and blood.
It was here that I had my first (but not last) run in with the Law. As we were not medics the JLs would enjoy giving us as much guard duty as possible. It was not unusual to do full training and still stand beat 4 nights out of every 7. One night (the third night of beat in a row) I was freezing cold, and my relief did not arrive. So I went over to an empty bungalow and sat down inside. Remember that this guard duty was during both physical and mental stress of Ops Medic training.
I fell asleep and woke about 10 minutes later to find that my rifle was missing. I had a complete heart attack and after making sure that it really was missing, I sprinted down to the guard room to report. There sat the officer on duty with my R4 on the desk and a DD1 (Charge form) already filled out.
Two days later I went before the RSM and Adjutant Officer of the College. I was scared Sh***less to say the least, but I had been given some good advice from an `ou man'. The Adj. asked me if I wished to enter a plea and I told them that I was guilty with extenuating circumstances.
I had been brought up in the UK where we are not so ingrained (brainwashed?) to accept authority without question. So I asked the RSM to look at the guard roster for the previous three nights. He told the adj. that I had stood beat four nights in a row. Also I was found asleep 40 minutes after 10 p.m. which, I pointed out, was after my beat had ended.
I argued (very politely) that the guard commander had not sent my relief and in fact a soldier cannot stand beat two nights in a row. They dismissed me and I never heard anymore about it.
One chap called Armstrong was arrested while we were doing lessons in the classroom. A knock on the door. The Doctor calls out; "Come in!" and three large MPs come in and ask for Armstrong. Poor guy stands up and the MPs announce that he is being arrested for failing to arrive for national service. The Doctor of course pointed out that in fact he did arrive as he was wearing the uniform, on a military base, doing a military course, etc. Armstrong even showed them his pay slip to show that he had even been paid by the army. But they were having none of this. Off he went only to return two days later with the situation sorted out. Remember that name as you will hear from him later.
We unfortunately also lost guys who physically took the punishment but mentally could not pass the exams. (80% pass rate with only one subject allowed to rewrite if you failed). We were taught by Trauma Doctors and pharmacists in military health, first aid, trauma etc. We had practical and theory lessons mixed in with Opies, pole PT, inspections and almost constant guard duty and abuse. Then a new dimension was added; training at township hospitals at night; Baragwanath , Natalspruit to name a few.
I think up to then I had not really committed to the idea of what I was doing. Zapping a guys blisters was one thing but this hospital training was in another league.
My first night at Tembisa hospital on the East Rand, a boy of 10 stabbed by his drunken father. "Put in a lung drain, medic!" "Doc, I don't know how!!" "Do it or he dies. I'm too busy on another critical patient." (woman with gunshot). For the first time I held a child's life in my hands. No time to panic or even get sick. I put the drain in and he made it. Next and old man so badly beaten that I couldn't even find his mouth to tube him for a ventilator. And on and on and on, faces, wounds, gunshot, burn, stab, Dog bite, car accident ..........................
That night I think I really started to grow up. We worked for 12 hours and then back to the college back to normality ??? We lost more guys at this stage, those who couldn't take the mental strain. One night standing after a 3 hour Oppie in the rain, we had only about 4 hours sleep in the last 2 days. One guy just started to cry. The instructor just tapped him on the shoulder and without saying a word he left the squad and RTUd.
By this time the 150 was down to 96. The last 6 to go were handling it but (how does one say this diplomatically?) were not attracted to girls. Towards the beginning of the course the bats decided that they would be isolated in another bungalow. They also decided that there was no way that they would pass the course and get the Ops Medic badge.
These poor guys were hounded by the bats and I am ashamed to say this by us. With 3 weeks to go all of the `men' went out on a Friday night and we got horribly drunk (those from Pretoria will remember the wet T shirt competitions at Daisy's in the Holiday Inn). We all got back at about 2 a.m. and more than 50 guys (blanket and boot party time) made sure that they would leave the next day.
In all 150 started and on the final day of the course 90 Smarties got the Ops Medic badge, and horror upon horror, we were told that due to the Medical and Dental Council requirements we had to change from our corp. to the medics and wear their beret.
This caused a near mutiny, especially with the bats, but in the end we were all forced to draw red berets. The bats promptly threw theirs away but we were still relatively new in the army and obeyed.
BACK TO 7 SAIBy now we were sure that we were definitely doomed. After months of abuse by the medics for wearing the green beret and Rooikat (7 SAI insignia), we now were being hounded at 7SAI for wearing the red medic beret.
I was re-assigned to Oscar Company and training continued. We were supposed to get a single stripe (lance corporal) but Col. Swanepoel was dammed if the medics were going to tell him to promote people in his base so we were the only Ops Medic riflemen in the defence force.
We spent time up in Madimbu near the Zimbabwe border playing games and also training against 5 Recce whose base was nearby. As a medic we got to see plenty of scorpion bites and dehydration.
Unknown to me, my platoon was made up of the 7SAI problem children. These were troops that had indicated on their in-klaar (Clearing in) questionnaires or been found to have substance abuse problems.
I arrived in the bungalow and after settling in, the corporal (7 SAI JL not the corporal who was trained in Oudshoorn and was the platoon SGT) asked to see my ops bag. I (the innocent) showed him as he was, after all, a corporal. He was delighted to see things like valium and sosegon and pethadine.
He then offered me R100 to lose the bag. I was stunned. (This was when the monthly pay of a troop was R142.50 before deductions.) It never occurred to me that someone with rank could have a problem. I refused and he upped his offer. Over the next few days his offers got higher and higher until he knew that I wasn't going to lose the bag for money.
Then he and some of his friends started the intimidation. In a few short months I was assaulted a number of times, stabbed (twice), had lighter fluid thrown on my face while sleeping and set alight. All my kit stolen (again twice). And finally while unloading my kit from a buffel at night I was shot at.
In that wonderful time of my life, we completed our training and were flown down to Uitenhague to Kwa-Nobulhe and Lange townships. In 1986 the townships were not a fun place to be. To put a couple of companies of aggressive young infantrymen there was not the smartest political move. The expression `trigger happy' I think only just describes the attitude.
We lived in the township in the administration offices that had been converted into a strong point by bulldozing sand up into walls and laying barbed wire. Tents, no showers, basic toilets and food brought in using hot boxes. Also being winter it was cold and rained a hell of a lot.
The other problem was that the platoon was divided up into two. The Lt. took one group in three buffels and the platoon Sgt. took the other group when the first group got back. The problems was that there was only one Ops Medic and only one signaller. So we both climbed on the buffel in the early hours of the morning with the first group, and then stayed on when they changed for the second group.
As an Ops Medic, it was a busy time for me. A state of emergency was in force and the ROE were that if someone threw anything at us from within 30m we could use ball ammo. Plus the local self defence units were taking dear Winnie's injunction to use a tire and matches to heart.
To see a necklace on TV is one thing, but to be there and hear the noise and have the stench in your nostrils and clothing and to have to try and treat the victim or victims is another. I have no interest to relive those days or even to try and describe that time, but those memories will haunt me as long as I live.
Slowly the situation built up, with the platoon splitting into two groups; the druggies and those that were clean. Three guys could not take it and went AWOL, one guy (and as the medic and to my lasting shame I never spotted this coming even though we spoke earlier that night ) blew his head of with his R4. In his hand was a bar of chocolate. The SAP came and took photos as a docket would be opened. Then another medic and I had to do the `bag and tag' bit.
It sounds like bad times only, but there were also some good times. One platoon at a time was sent up to a citizen force base called the `Veesterrien' (Show ground?) (I think) This was for a week's rest and washing, etc. During my week off, I was asked to stand in for a medic at the sickbay. This was a tented affair and the Doctor was a camper from PE command. If memory serves he was Lebanese. He had this real surfer combi including the bed, a sound system and small bar fridge. At the same time we had a company of South African Cape Corps there and, as usual, they are masters at getting into trouble. The RSM (a huge CF Sgt major) would arrange a late afternoon Oppie. The SACC guys would all try and report sick and the Doc would disappear until all of them were on the parade ground. Then he would just park his combi on the grass, turn up the Hi Fi and pop a beer sit down and watch the fun.
One Sunday we ran out of beer so he sent another medic and me in a large (expensive) metro ambulance to a shebeen to get more. We drove into the township, found the place and parked outside. After loading the back with crates - the customers were so impressed with these two idiot white guys driving a soft skin ambulance into the township that they invited us for a beer. We had a few and then lay outside on the grass, took off our brown shirts to meditate the return journey.
We dozed off! Some time later I hear someone screaming. I look up and there peering over the front wall of the shebeen is a Lt. in a buffel. All of the troops inside it were laughing at these two medics sleeping on the grass in the middle of Lange township. We beat a hasty retreat in our metro. The doctor told us that PE command were looking for the metro that had been seen in the township.
On return to 7 SAI, we again went to the bush to train. It was at this time that I had enough of the abuse both physical and mental from the very people that I was supposed to save if there was a contact. I spoke to the Lt. and I was devastated when he started crying and told me that he was under the same threat of death as I was.
We eventually went to the authorities. The problem was that both the army and the unit did not really want to admit the extent of the problem and for some time we were messed around by the very people that were supposed to solve the problem. I will cut a long story short here and say only that the end result was Civil Jail for some, Detention Barracks and extra days for a few, rehabilitation treatment for others and transfers for safety reasons of the leader group of the platoon that was not involved including myself.
IN THE MEDICSAfter the whole story came out I was sent down to 1 Military hospital. There was a formal investigation and board and I was transferred out - the prime reason at that stage was to get me away from any possible backlash from the people who would eventually come out of detention barracks and have to carry on their service at 7 SAI. But also because right then I was so angry that I was ready to kill some of my own people. `Bagging and tagging' a suicide had made me really mad at the idiots that were doing this. I just couldn't face going to the border with a platoon that was more likely to ambush each other than the enemy.
I arrived at old 1 Mil for tests with Barry's colleague. (That's where I met Barry.) After a few days, I was pronounced as sane (Why, I don't know!) but dealing with a great deal of stress from the situation at 7 SAI and guilt from my work as an Ops Medic. At this stage let me say that it was diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress. (I defy anyone to have a number of people die on them and even be involved in those deaths and not have stress!)
Physically there was no stress effect on me but mentally I was in `Kill mode' (not a good frame of mind for a medic. My `post traumatic stress', was evidenced by a detachment from my feelings (I didn't give a shit for anything or anyone) and a very large anger at the system that had put me in the situation of dealing with druggies without giving me support and backing.
It was decided that for a short time I should have some help dealing with my anger although some of my ex platoon and me with a LMG would have been my solution. As I was an Ops Medic, I was not terribly suitable to work in an ordinary ward. I was sent up to work in Ward 15, the security ward.
I can remember the first day I was sent to klaar in at the NCO's mess at 1 Mil. This staff-sgt. took me up to the third floor and opened a door to a small room with one bed. I could just not believe after months in tents, bivvies and bungalows with 80 others that I had my own room. My first thought was (looking at the long passage and the room ) `Shit! That's a lot of floor to polish!'
Next I went up to the RSM's office. Walked in came to a real 7 SAI halt that must have echoed around the building. The RSM (Now Colonel Meyer) quite literally had a heart attack. Let us just say that the medics at 1 Mil were not known for their soldierly conduct and `paraatness'.
He was most impressed with my halt! I was in mortal fear, as the closest contact we ever had to a RSM at 7 SAI was when the leader group mentioned him like God. "The RSM has ordered that.........". He assigned me to Ward 15. This was the ward that was run by Military Intelligence and the state security police. Our patients were a mix of three groups; one was UNITA, the second were other forces (such as RENAMO) that were not direct enemies but needed a degree of confinement and control, and the last were direct enemies that were in need of medical treatment.
The ward had all of the windows sealed and painted over, all identifying markings removed (SABS stamps on the beds etc.). The door was guarded and a strict list of people who had access was controlled by BOSS I think.
I signed one hell of a document so I cannot and, to be honest, will not speak about the patients in that ward. However after the first 15 months of hell my time at 1 Mil was completely different.
Firstly we were not allowed to wear uniform. We wore either jeans with a white coat or surgical clothing. We could not speak Afrikaans (in fact there were no Afrikaans speaking medics), and, best of all, we could grow our hair a little longer than normal.
Rooms one to three of the ward were reserved for special cases - during normal times the rooms were reserved for Grade A patients (direct enemies) but one a few occasions we received a very special patient that needed high security treatment. We were then forbidden to even speak in the room. Room one and three were taken over by the security police and the walls closest to room two (in the middle was scrubbed down and then banks of small microphones were attached every 50cm from side to side top to bottom. These were all connected into banks of high quality tape decks. The same with the room's ceiling although, if memory serves, there were small speakers to pump `white sound' into the room to deaden any noise from outside.
The patient (normally badly wounded) would be brought in via the basement entrance using a lift that was locked using the master key. This would normally happen in the early hours of the morning. Once admitted and examined, we would bind his hands and strap the patient down. This also meant covering his eyes and ears with gauze to ensure that his terms of reference were confused. The light remained on all of the time.
There would always be a policeman in medic whites with him. Later, when the patient was feeling better, this 'medic' would chat with him (Yes, just chat). In the beginning, for obvious reasons, the patient would ignore him but as time went by the inane chatter would get more and more response as the poor guy imagined he was talking to a normal medic or male nurse.
Of course everything would be taped for later use during normal interrogation once the patient was fit enough. On a few occasions I had discussions with these guys with the permission of the colonel in charge as, of all the medics, I had the least South African accent. Nothing of importance was said but possibly the shrinks could get a feel for the patient's mental state for future use.
The RSM, funny enough, was not on the list of people who could get in, so we had the place to ourselves. Sometimes we would get a chance to go up to the operational area on a night flight in a small jet (a `Falcon', I think) to collect patients that were of interest. Other times we travelled up on the Flossie (C130 Hercules) and stayed a while. Ondangwa airforce base became a very familiar.
I managed to wangle that I was on permanent night duty, which meant that in terms of medical law I could only work for one week of nights, and then had the next full week off. It was nice to travel up to the border in a small jet wearing civvies because all of these Majors and Colonels were then convinced that you had some substantially high rank (or were part of BOSS and even they weren't going to irritate them) and treated us like kings. If only they knew that they were treating Lance Corporals to the full officers mess welcome they would have gone berserk.
I got to travel around many of the bases in Sector 10. At one stage one of the guys on Ops course with me hadn't had leave for a while so, during my week off, I flew up and got out to Oshigambo base. He caught the Buffel back and had a good week at home. I had a good week on patrol away from the Hospital (and the Pretoria cold) at the end of the week we swapped back The doctor at 53 knew what was going on but didn't mind as long as there was an Ops Medic to give cover.
Many of the Bok-koppe (infantry) rank would leave us alone because the medics are a separate Corps. Also normally the doctor would run interference for us. The Ops Medics also had certain limited powers to irritate the rank if needed.
The main power which I have used a few times was the power to stop an Op-F***** . By military law, a punishment or corrective training session could not take place without medical cover from either a Doctor or Ops Medic. An Ops Medic could be forced to join the session only if there was a doctor present.
So after a few minutes of punishment a troep would by arrangement collapse. The Ops Medic would evaluate the patient and then put him in the ambulance. A few minutes later the next guy would go down and the Ops Medic would nicely salute the officer in charge and politely suggest that the session should stop. If the officer did not stop then the medic would inform him that he was withdrawing medical cover and that any further medical problems would result in the officer being responsible.
Often though the Ops Medic was realistic enough to know when the officer was going over board or when a good dose of discipline was called for and he would use his own discretion.
We had a good doc at the sickbay at 53. Many a happy evening was spent there. Many soldiers get angry that medics always seem so well organised but the secret is that we always have something the others want. In most cases the cooks want Gill soap and persivate skin cream for their acne. (Some also wanted KY jelly but let's not go into that!) so a fair swap was always possible. Steaks and salad for soap.
The barman and other store and admin types have similar needs so bottles of rum, brandy etc. are no problem. So the only thing we did not have was wood for the nightly braai. (Barbecue) At the 53 sickbay we used to have a braai area around the back by the bunker where the Doc's used to sleep. Next to us was a long split pole fence that surrounded the South West African Police station.
So almost nightly a section of the fence (far away from the sickbay) would disappear. The next morning, a very angry SWAPOL Staff Sgt. would come over to 53 to ask if we had seen anything suspicious during the night. Of course we didn't dare to let him see the remains and ashes in the braai area.
One week I decided that I would visit friends in Durban. The RSM had given me guard commander duties during that week to stop this kind of abuse of the week off that he was powerless to stop. I arrange a friend to stand my duties and a PF officer and I left to visit the coast.
I stayed with a friend who had somehow escaped the immigrant call up (although a few years later he ended up in the Grenadier Guards in the UK rather than be on the Dole). One night in a bar in Durban I was rather drunk and doing a fairly funny (well my audience thought so!) impression of RSM Meyer. One of the guys said at the end "So what does this real c**t look like?" I, in my state, pointed out a chap at the bar that looked dead like the RSM. I thought the likeness was unbelievable until he turned towards me and gave a cold hard little smile.
Instant sober up and bail out of the pub. By morning I had convinced myself that I was just imagining things but still I wondered. The next Monday I walked into the ward and asked one of the others medics; "Where was the RSM last week?" "Oh," he answered, to my horror, "Down at Natal Command for an RSM's conference."
There was also a polite note from the RSM in the ward for me to pay a call on him the next morning. My second brush with the law commenced with my by now famous 7 SAI halt in his office (flat sole boots really make a nice bang when you put all of your effort into it.). "Corporal, despite the fact that you signed the guard commanders book when you did duties last Friday night, where were you last week?" Faced with the choice of a lie or to throw my self on the mercy of the RSM. I chose to tell the truth (with a bit of bullshit about a friends 21st in Durban, of course). I got off with some extra duties and a suggestion that the next time I go AWOL in Durban, I should avoid the senior NCO's local watering hole.
One night I really did have a 21st in the mess. One of the guys invited us to his room for a party on Friday night. My girlfriend at that stage (now my wife), was also on night duty and in charge of Ward 8 which was for neurological patients. I had got to know a guy called Marnewick from 8 SAI that had been badly injured in a mortar attack while visiting her during the small hours of the morning. He couldn't talk and was in bad shape but knew what was going on around him. So I decided the poor guy needed a party. He was keen on the idea, so I slung him over my shoulder and went down the fire escape.
I got him into the mess in a wheelchair and then put him on the bed with a pillow on his chest and cold Castle in his mouth. Mother's milk it was. He polished of his first beer in record time and started on the second. By now things were getting a little jolly. There was enough alcohol to sink a ship with 10 medics in a tiny single room.
By midnight Marnewick was talking perfectly (or we were so drunk we could understand him) and we had invented a new game that involved an empty bottle, a three floor drop and a PFs car.
Unfortunately the car belonged to the NCO on duty and he, the RSM and four SAAF police (the medics don't actually have their own MPs so the SAAF military police do the honours) arrived. One of the guys (a chap called Holmes) was in the wheel chair and riding on the back legs. He was wearing a pair of Major's castles on a torn old brown shirt. He had a plastic gold crown on his head and was blowing a small party whistle that shoots out a roll of paper every time its blown.
He was facing the lift doors just as the list door opened. Inside were the unfriendly gate-crashers. They saw the major's rank in the dim light and came to attention and the RSM saluted. While this happened the doors of the lift closed. Holmes span the wheelchair and dashed down the passageway screaming into the party whistle, which of course sounded very funny with the little paper roll shooting out and back.
I grabbed Marnewick and slung him into my room under the bed with his beer. I then stripped to jocks swallowed half a tube of toothpaste and pretended to come out of my room as if I had just woken up. The RSM, of course, had by then collared the occupants of the room that were too drunk to run including Holmes (still in his wheelchair but now with silver handcuffs instead of a gold crown).
Of course the RSM was suspicious. Only an idiot could have been asleep through that awful noise from the party. But this time he had no proof and I was given a hard look and ordered back to my room. I got Marnewick back to the ward just before first light. Later his Mom told me that he had not had so much fun in a long time.
Extra duties and fines all round. Homes was lucky that he dumped the rank down the laundry chute because apparently you get a year's DB for every rank above your own you assume. Figure from a Private to a Major! But this reminds me of the downfall of Holmes. His sister invited him to a fancy dress party. He was tall, pale with really blond hair so he went as Billy Idol. He used food dye to give himself a punk look. He was told that the dye would just wash out.
It didn't. He arrived pale and shaking on Sunday night with a green left side, a red-maroon stripe in the middle and if I remember a blue right side. He had washed his hair about 20 times during the weekend and while the colour was starting to fade it was still very bright.
He was convinced that if he could avoid the RSM for a few days then he could wash back to normal. Unfortunately for him the RSM had arranged a compulsory lecture from the Pretoria fire department. Even permanent night duty medics had to attend.
We arrived in the auditorium and Homes managed to convince the medic in charge of the lights to dim them down except on the stage. We then sat as far back as possible in the auditorium in the darkness. The RSM walks in the guy from the fire dept. He introduces him. While doing so, his eyes are scanning the audience to ensure that everyone is present. His eyes fall upon Holmes, and in the dim light he cannot be sure that he is seeing this awful imitation of Billy Idol in a medic uniform.
The lecture and film start. The RSM moves into the same isle as us but at the other end trying to get a good look at Holmes. As the RSM leans back on the chair to check the hair. Holmes leans forward and we all move back to put our normal looking heads in the way. The RSM then leans forward; Holmes goes back etc. etc. we must have all looked like one of those plastic nodding head dogs in the back of Mercs from Bloem.
As the lecture comes to and end, the RSM is now sure that something is wrong. He bounds up to the front, thanks the fireman and then through clenched teeth says, "Holmes, my office NOW!" That same afternoon he was on a Flossie heading North.
Christmas was a time when many of the permanent staff at 1 Mil went on leave. Also routine procedures were not booked so the Hospital became like a mortuary (pun intended). At this time, the next batch of Candidate Officers nurses would arrive. The medics were merciless with them. With most of the wards empty, we would wind the young ladies up with ghost stories.
One night we got one of the medics to lie on the mortuary trolley. We covered him and then called to COs to take him down to the ground floor to put him in the fridge. As the lift doors closed the two young COs who had never seen a dead body before decided to take a peek and lifted the sheet. The medic opened his eyes and sat up. One CO collapsed completely. The other managed to get out of the lift (not bad considering she used her hands on the doors).
Major Van, the night matron, had to book them both off and the doctor had to prescribe sleeping tablets.The other fun thing was gippoing the telephone system. The phones were limited to the Pretoria area but if one hit the ward phone lever in the right way, then it would click over. We would phone a pay phone in the NCO mess hit it and the line would click free. Then any call was possible.
One night a guy dialed at random and got a sex line in the states that gave a minute of free sample before the operator asked for the credit card number. We put the call through to the matron's office and then hung up. There was a very puzzled P.F. wondering why this strange woman wanted to perform lewd acts with her.
I made a complete arse of myself one day. I stood beat for a mate and was on the lower boom for the staff entrance. At about 8 p.m. I saw a Ford Cortina screaming around the corner. It belonged to an old Staff Sgt. from the linen store and his favourite trick was to speed towards the boom and when the guard lifted it in panic charge him for not doing his job.
I, of course, being a `soutie' (Limey) and fairly stubborn, pushed the lever down. The boom came down and at the last moment this Staff Sgt. realised that I would not be opening it. He hit the brakes but the stop sign on the boom scraped a nice furrow up his bonnet. It then cracked his windscreen. His mood was not improved by me pointing an R1 at him and telling him to get out of the car. He got out and started to scream at me.
Unbeknown to us Brig Coetzee (O.C. of 1 Mil) and his wife were coming towards us from the other direction. I was asked ever so nicely what was going on. After some hasty explanations and intervention by the guard commander and officer on duty, I was given a weekend pass (not that it mattered as I was doing the AWOL bit most weeks anyway) and the staff was given a small lecture. He also had to pay for the repairs to the boom.
Two weeks later it was my turn to be in hot water. I took my car to go home (AWOL again). In the back was an Ops bag that I used when I traveled to the Border. I was stopped leaving Voortrekkerhoughte by the Military Police. They searched me and found ampoules of valium etc. in it. I was arrested and my car and I escorted to the SAAF police detention barracks. There I sat under interrogation for 18 hours until I could prove that I had the right to carry this medicine as an Ops Medic. I was released, a free man after 24 hours, but an uncomfortable feeling not to be in control of your own destiny for a day. Funny enough they never even asked to see a passbook or asked if I was AWOL.
In the last month of my service I was going out with one of the P.F. nurses (against standing orders). I had originally met her during Ops course and we had kept in touch. She broke of with her boyfriend and I with my girlfriend at around the same time. We decided, after going out for a few weeks (but had been good friends for about 18 month), to get engaged. This was one sure way to get the P.F. mad; to poach one of their nurses. Most permanent members saw the young nurses as a pool of potential girlfriend and marriage material. I was called in by the RSM and then by the Adj. of the hospital (a Major Human - no he was not a large human; his rank was major and his name Human). After a little bit of hassle from them, I got irritable that they were trying to stop us so I just arranged a quick wedding and married her. The P.F.s went crazy. My new wife was called in and threatened with loss of rank etc. etc. etc. so in the end she resigned. She went to a civilian hospital and tripled her pay.
I left national service as a Lance Corporal in July 1987. I was assigned to 2 Medical Bn. Gp. in Johannesburg.
CAMP NUMBER ONE 1988 - SECTOR 10 AND ANGOLA
Married and working, one minute single and in the army, the next in the bank serving customers. I was out for a grand total of 6 month and 1 week when a telegram arrived; 1 weeks notice for call up for three month in the Operational area.
My wife being from Pretoria and from a strict catholic Afrikaans family (yeah they were so happy that she had married a soutie protestant from JHB) believed that a fat husband is a happy husband. She had fed me up in the 6 months (plus the lack of regular exercise) and my weight had gone from 80kg to 110kg. The fat boy from hell. Plus I also had a nice beard. (This turned red in the sun on the Border until I looked like a damn pirate.)
So the day I klaared in I tried to get into my browns; no chance! So I went along in jeans and Browns shirt. They didn't even bother to give us a medical; just kit issue and on a Flossie.
We arrived at Ondaguwa transit camp on Friday Morning. I was with 25 other so called Ops medics, although as time went by I began to realise that some of these guys had only bullshitted themselves onto this camp. I began to suspect this when one guy wasn't even sure how to open his Ops bag, another was to clued up on the narcotic effect of the contents when mixed with other substances that it was clear that his bag would soon be empty and he would be stoned.
A staff Sgt (who I later found out was a clerk) had no idea that when you get an ops bag you need to check and re-pack it in a certain way (one side emergency, the other for treatment of mundane complaints). He also had no idea how to strip clean etc his R5.
For the first weekend we sat in the Deurgangs camp at Ondangwa. The tents were made with concrete floors and wooden poles with tent sides and roof. Next to us was a tent of SACC guys and boy was that an experience. Firstly we had to post a permanent guard on our tent to stop the liberation of our goods.
That Saturday night a couple of the SACC got completely drunk and as usual started fighting. One grabbed his R4 and ran down to the bottom of the tent while his friends ran out of the tent screaming. No shots were fired but it was fairly tense. A Cape Coloured LT arrived, looked at the situation and lost his temper. He grabbed a web belt and wet it. He then walked into the now empty tent with a small fortress of beds and trommels at the end with the barrel of a R4 peeping out.
He started screaming and insulting the troep at the end as he walked down the tent. I thought we would get our first work even before we were deployed. He yelled his way closer and closer to the troep until he was standing about 4m away. Surprisingly the troep handed him the weapon. That was the last coherent action he would remember for a while because the wet web belt hit him around the side of the head. By now the MPs were running up and the LT told them to piss off. They took this troep into the showers and the LT gave him a solid beating with the web belt. This seemed to be the normal way of dealing with things as none of the other SACC guys seemed to feel this was bad. I asked a Sgt. and he told me that if every incident with SACC troeps was dealt with by the official Military police then the MP's could just work for the Coloured corp.
We also had our dubious characters among us. One guy from the Cape was complaining that he had no money to drink with. Next day he had cash and his kit was missing ("stolen") . He was also really happy to be there. We could not understand this happiness until that night he told us over a few beers that some scoundrel in the Cape area was breaking into homes and stealing electronic goods and had the same finger-prints as him. Apparently this unknown was framing him up as he was completely innocent. The SAP was hoping that he "could assist them with their enquires" but he had received his call up to the Border and hopefully by the time the 3 months was up the heat would have died down a little.
On Monday morning we were officially taken on strength one guy decided to promote himself from private to full corporal on Sunday night so that he could claim higher danger pay. We were given our MM numbers (these were in lieu of dogtags) that had to be written inside your boots, web belt and under the flap of your pockets. The group was then split up with the guys with kids going to sickbays etc and those without or single to combat units - I along with a few others was sent to 53 Bn.
For me it was like coming home after a short holiday. Some of the guys there were getting ready to klaar out but were from the bunch that I still knew when I was there during national service. The wooden fence was still getting stripped down when there was a braai, so all was well.
The Doc told me that 21 Bn from Lenz would need Ops medics so we prepared to go out with them . You can imagine a rather fat medic, with R5 and chest webbing inc 6 filled mags, H frame with 4 times 2l water bottles, 4 x 61mm patmor bombs, 12kg plus ops bag, 14 rat packs, spare socks, jocks and ammo. Plus other personal kit. I loaded all up and got on the scales in the sickbay. All the guys had this theory that not only would I set off a normal AP mine which is set for human weight and more. But also for vehicle mines which normally were set not to detonate unless a vehicle went over them.
I staggered out and got slowly onto a Buffel and away we went. First to Oshigambo base where they were. I settled in there an immediately made Contacts. In Black units the one great currency was an acne cream called Persivate. This cream had a strange side effect it made black skin go pale. I took a large box from the sickbay (the Doc was puzzled as hell) so as soon as the troops found out I was stocked up I had no problems.
A few words of background information for the reader who was never up in the operational area. Camps were set up normally by bulldozers pushing sand up into walls. The main access road had a zig zag wall to prevent people driving straight in or shooting from the road. There was normally a large water tower which doubled up as an OP (observation post). In the base the building would normally be made from tin warehouse style roofing with cinder brick walls.
The fixed building would normally be the kitchens and two mess halls in one long building. And a sick bay. There were bunkers around the walls and normally the Ops room would also be in a bunker. At Oshigambo there was a dirt road running past the camp. From Ondanguwa you turned left into the camp along about 100m of dirt road that was supposed to be a kill zone for the gate bunkers to track approaching vehicles. Next to the turn was a dead tree.
The two mess's were divided up into leader group and others. In theory all ranks of Sgt. and above were in this mess (there was not enough facilities for three messes;officers, NCOs and other ranks) and Corporals and below were in the bigger mess.
In practice however it was often along racial lines for the NCOs with most black NCOs choosing to rather eat with the troops than with the predominantly white officers. In the company of 21Bn this situation was encouraged by the Major. Coming to them was the first time I heard the words "wit leier element" (white leadership). This was a strange set-up where I as a medic corporal was eating in the leader group mess and attending order groups and the black platoon sergeants were eating with the troops. The major and his other officers had very firm views that their black troops were like children and needed the control of the white man in all things irrespective of the rank involved.
This carried over into the platoon set up in the bush where I was unofficially looking after 2 of the four sections and the white LT the other two. I had a black Sgt. obeying my orders in the bush. Strange but true.
The day would normally start with Klaarstaan this was when the entire camp would greet the dawn on the walls. There are traditionally two peak times for ambushes as sun rises and sets. This is because in that half light the eyes battle to adjust and the biorhythms are at their lowest.
Also if the base was hit at evening the terrs normally had most of the night to run north and go to ground. After Klaarstaan a fire bucket of coffee and a rusk, parade and then tasks for the day.
Brunch (breakfast and lunch) at about 10 - 11am and on with the day. Evening klaarstand then dinner.
While we were there (21BN), there was a nice hole drilled in the wall above the bar in the leader group mess. In the late afternoon the guards on the Mag on the gate bunker saw movement by the dead tree near the road. A man walked out from behind the tree, lifted a RPG 7 to his shoulder, settled into position like a golfer about to tee off. All the time the Mag team were staring at this guy in complete disbelief. He fired and they hit the deck as the rocket screamed towards them.
It clipped the top of the bunker, shot over and went into the wall of the leader group mess where it stopped (failing to explode). Let's just say that after the dust had cleared there were a good few nervous laughs and the bar bill was pretty high that night. The terr was never caught but one can only admire the mans balls.
The medic at the base spent most of his time in a compete drug induced haze. His tent was almost exactly in the middle of the base. He was alone and one night the base was revved (slang for a mortar attack). Over 15 82mm rounds dropped within 30m of his tent. He did not even wake up. In the morning his tent looked like a sieve but not a scratch. He must have connections in very high places.
After not being in the bush for a while I found the nights sleeping in the wall bunker next to the sickbay hard to adjust to so I had a storeman "issue" me with a sniper night sight and dustcover with mounting for the R4 (which fitted the R5). Cheap at only three tubes of persivate. So while all the others were peering into the night wondering what was moving I could see it was a donkey not a Terr. Of course the PF infantry major did his nut after seeing me walking around with a nice stubby easy to carry R5 with night-sights.
Let's just say we did not get on. He really did not like this overweight, soutie medic and I didn't really enjoy him. This was a source of ongoing battles throughout my time with them.
A few days later (spent shooting coke cans all day) we moved up to Alpha tower on the cut line and into Angola. It was quite funny to see the major who had given me days of shit about my weight and the fact that I would shit in Angola suddenly come down with a old rugby injury. It was the second time I had come across thus phenomenon; the first was in school where the most keen guy to give us immigrants shit about national service (you f***ng souties us real manne will go and fight etc. etc.) managed to find many reasons not to do national service.
One day in 1995 I was walking through a mall in JHB after a medal parade in stepouts and I saw him. I couldn't resist going over to him and greeting him, all smart with shiny gold Pips and 6 medals, and ask him what he did in the army (never was accepted). "Ja well," I said. "You F**ing boere, us real manne had to go and fight etc. etc." That was the last I ever saw of him. Who said revenge is best served cold?
Even the black troops had a good laugh at the majors little speech. Along the line of "I would love to go but my back, foot, head (delete that which is non-applicable) will not stand up to it."
Anyway, off we went into sunny Angola. On the first day we hit a contact and blew away a great deal of ammo but with little result. The major could hear the contact from Alpha tower where he had moved into one of the bunkers ("The heat, you know! Not because I need the protection!") and was yelling on the radio encouragement every time he heard the mag.
We had a few confrontations with the other chaps in the area, and spent a lot of time following spoor but on the whole 21 Bn was not very good in the bush. Most of them had done most of their service in the townships and really hated being in the bush. They told me that in the township they could get all the comforts of home (beer, women etc) and hated the bush.
One night all 5 platoons met about 35km North of the Line to meet a supply convoy. After getting fresh rats, ammo and post we moved off. The vehicles went back and we went down for the night. The other side had unfortunately followed us and at 1am in the morning they hit us.
I was lying in my little pit near the patmor team when the bombs started to come down. Tracers were coming in from the north and it was not a happy time. The Lt. made us all lie and not shoot while our mortar returned fire. The Lt. was reporting on the radio and it was decided to move South for a couple of Km and come around and try and cut off the terrs retreat.
Good Plan! However by the time we got about 2km away, some guys were missing. By morning we had found one corporal up a tree crying and a "union" meeting was held by the platoon without the leader group. By 8 a.m. that morning our platoon and all of the other platoons troops were walking back to the cut line without their leader group.
I was shocked! In 7 SAI that was called mutiny or desertion or both. Here the corporals, lance corporals and riflemen just said goodbye and all got up and walked South. Not one but almost every man in the entire company. The Lt.s got on the radios and reported in. They were ordered to go after them and stop them. Eventually the entire company met on the Ongiva cutline (Santa clara) road and held a mass meeting.
I (along with the other leader group) was very unhappy but the major (on the radio) said that some general and the OC of 21 Bn was coming by flossie) so the whole company walked South.
Next day there was a meeting at Alpha tower with the big wigs; many threats, lots of promises etc. etc. but in the end the troops had made the point that they were not happy in the bush and wanted to go home to the townships where they could act like they wanted to.
For the few weeks that, remained patrols were limited to 20km North of the Line. The whole issue was hushed up but the fact remains 21 Bn showed that they were not soldiers and the leadership showed that politically they could not allow a scandal like this to get into the press. The company leader group had nothing but contempt for both sides after that.
The big problem in my life right then was that I was wearing a set of canvas boots that I had from some time I spent with 101Bn. They were really GV and I was very proud of them. However to wear canvas boots when you spend most of your time in a caspir is one thing. To do a forced march with full kit is another. The boots just did not give enough support for my feet and I got a nasty infection of the muscles of the feet. I trained one of the troeps to give me voltaren injections in the butt and limped on. The pain was terrible and I was walking like John Wayne with a hernia and piles. The major thought this was very funny to see that bloody soutie medic suffering. He never realised that behind his back the troops were laughing at him for his so called rugby injury.
By then the powers that be had decided to lull 21Bn out after the little protest march and send them home. I left them and spent some time replacing a medic who was on days leave with a Alpha team of 101Bn. I had had some dealings with this unit during national service. They were made up of local Ovambo men. Most were ex terrorists that had for one reason or another changed side. We rode in Casspir vehicles and we went hunting. Most times we would be on the top of the vehicles rather than inside for a couple of reasons. Firstly the heat in the vehicles; above there was a nice wind from the movement of the K-Car (slang for Kill car). Also the guys had the theory that if you hit a boosted mine then the casspir was stuffed. The guys inside were not going to be happy but the chaps on top would be thrown off by the blast.
The vehicles normally had a .50 browning on the co drivers window, either twin Brownings or a single 20mm on a top mount between and slightly back of the driver. SOP was that three or four cars (with 8 to 10 guys in each) would roam around or go to an area where there would be a report. The trackers would get down and hunt around or we would go to the local Kraal (a group of huts of a couple of families surrounded by a wooden stake wall) and "chat" to the headman.
These chats could be nice or nasty depending on the situation. I mean when one follows terr spoor (tracks) right into the Kraal and the headman then claims he never has heard of SWAPO let alone seen terrorists. So the chat then tended to be a little more stressful than normal. We were normally out for 2 weeks at a time, travelling from base to base to get fuel and rations as we needed.
When we got fresh spoor then the cars would split; three would stay on the spoor and one would run about 5 to 10km ahead in the general direction that the spoor was going as a backstop. One car could go left of the spoor (about 50 to 100m out) and the other right. The third car would travel up but slightly off the spoor in case of mines. The two outer cars would be about 100m in front of the middle car to act as protection walls for the tracker that would be running up the spoor by foot.
All of the guys on the car were expected to run the spoor in relays. One or two guys would track on foot usually with a pistol or R5. the others would sit in the car. After a time depending on the speed of the vehicles a guy would jump out of the back of the moving car - run up the spoor take the pistol from the front guy and carry on up the spoor. The other guy would slow down and the casspir would pass him and he would jump on the back.
Hunting was frightening and exciting. As I had a R5 the guys really liked me and borrowed it to run the spoor so I adopted the .50. I also ran the spoor (but not alone as to be honest I often could not see what these guys were following) as protection for the tracker. The camaraderie was great but it helped that I was a camper rather than NDP as the accepted me as I was older.
In fact we had a couple of days break at Etali base which really was the first time I had had a chance to wash clothing or myself since going out. More than a month's ingrained dirt came off and it was nice to hear shorts and a tee shirt. That night a black Sgt. who claimed he was of Zulu not Ovambo decent decided to initiate myself and another medic into the team. We had to go to the bar and then the other guys on the team "took us Travelling".
This involved the Sgt. explaining (while everyone else grinned at us) that as we were in SWA we must start with a Windhoek lager. Then were going to travel to the "states" (slang for South Africa). That meant drinking a Castle lager. Then he asked me where I would like to visit. I said the UK so they poured out a double Gin which we had to drink. Then as we were South African (and flying SAA) we had to have another Castle, then the other medic wanted to go to the USA, so a double Jack Daniels (then of course back to SAA) with a Castle. Etc. etc. etc.
I don't remember much after the third or forth place we "visited", but we were told the next day that while the base was being revved that night (only a couple of rounds) two stupid medics were pissing on the 81mm mortar sandbag wall and calling for sick parade.
The next day back in a casspir with the mother of all hangovers and the entire back of my neck bare to the skin where some Bast***d had shaved us.
One funny thing that happened; the guy from the Cape that was being framed - well the medics were having a little get together with a Belleville briefcase (that's a 5l box of cheap party wine) near the dam wall by Caluegue. A buffel pulls up and the driver asks "Hey, one of you guys. Cpl. ........" Thinking it was post, our friend gets up. "Yeah?" he says "That's me." And a huge policeman in blue gets off and arrests him. His camp came to a sudden end.
Normally during the day we were on the spoor the terr or group would run like hell the sound of our diesel engines could not be pinpointed. However by evening they knew that they had to delay us as at night with vehicles and lights we had the benefit. So towards sundown we knew that they would set up an ambush for us. This for me was the most exciting time. You could feel the hairs on your neck and arms stand up as things got quiet in the tem. Normally we would pick up the pace and get ready.
Then the crack of rounds going by followed by that tinny bang that only a AK can make. Then noise, dust, shouting your ears so full of sound that the only way you know you are firing is from the sight of the cocking lever moving in your peripheral vision. Even the recoil of the weapon seemed to disappear. Then seemingly slowly the wall of sound would die until there was just the occasional bang as our guys slowed down the rate of fire.
Then for me the fun was over (well it seemed like fun due to the adrenaline rush) and the real work began. A cry of "medic!!", grab my green bag and run over to where the cry came from. One of ours down - blood and the white of bone showing. At that point the training kicks in and you just go onto autopilot. Gloves out of pocket onto hands - ABC - check Airway, is he Breathing, stop the Bleeding - get a line up and a ringers lactate running fast in - check his mental state - if no head injury then give pethadine or Sosegon.
Meanwhile the rest of the guys are securing the area. Searching for AP mines and cutting back bush for a chopper if I made the decision that we were to far away to go by road or he was critical and going to fade out on me . Then onto the next patient until everyone is stable or getting there or sometimes when I can do no more except make sure that he is in no pain and that he has someone with him when he dies.
Then onto checking the bodies. Get bags from the casspir and strip the body of kit and weapons (transporting a body in a bag by chopper while he has webbing filled with grenades is not a way to make friends with the Air force). Bag and tag the guy; if ours then get him ready by the wounded to go on the chopper back to Ondanguwa. One of theirs then if there was no space on the chopper then over the mud guard of the casspir for dropping of at the nearest base the next day or so.
At that time both sides (us and the Cubans) were moving people around like chess to complement the tough negotiations that were going on right then. This meant a number of clashes in sector 10, so it was a bad time for most of the guys on the ground. We lost a major from 53 (Intelligence Corps, I think) when his casspir was ambushed. A round missed him and hit the back plate of the turret in which he was standing. It ricocheted up and hit him in the back of the head.
Around this time I brought back some cassevacs to Ondaguwa and the Doc took one look at me, wearing filthy stinking browns, old (and fresh) cammo cream, a great big untrimmed and filthy red beard, covered in blood and God only knows what else. A couple of 60mm mortar bombs in my H frame, frag grenades etc. He just told me to write down my details in the medic ops room and get on the Flossie with the cassevacs.
He told me that I could fly down with the guys (this was Thursday night) and come back on Monday. They gave me a route authorisation form and away I went. I phoned my wife from 1 Mil. It was really strange to see colours other than brown and green. All the women smelled to beautiful (you could smell perfume a mile away after months in the bush) but obviously they did not think I smelt beautiful at all. Everyone avoided me like I had the plague. (I was not surprised. I stank and looked like an animal.)
My wife arrived at 1 Mil (her first time since she left there) and walked right past me without recognising me. I was upset but when I called her back she could not believe that the 110kg guy that she last saw 2 month ago was now less that 75kg. I spent a great weekend at home (What do you think? I was 2 months without a woman and was a newly wed.)
On Monday night I got back to the border and travelled to 101 Bn (only a few Km away) the teams had been pulled back into base due to the negotiations between Pik Botha and the Cubans. The medics were sent back to the sickbay at 53 and Ondanguwa. I was sorry to leave 101Bn but I had been doing the soldier thing for just over 2 month without a break (I had those 2 days off at Etali base) and was happy to be at Ondaguwa where I could at least phone my new wife.
Remember Armstrong from part one? Well bugger me with a cucumber if he didn't walk up an greet me when I got to the sickbay - "Nice to see you," I Said. "Doing a camp like me?" "No," answered Armstrong. "I have been here all along." I thought he was joking but in fact what happened was that he was deployed at a base in Sector 10 and they forgot about him. They only woke up three months after he was supposed to finish. What is even more incredible is that he didn't even mind or complain. So as he was there and the paperwork was now screwed up they offered him a promotion, a short service contract including a `sign on' bonus and there he remained.
I went on the cassevac teams that flew out of Ondanguwa air force base. Normally 8 teams comprising either an Ops medic and a Doc or two Ops medics. It was a good time; to be able to shower and eat properly and then go out do the Ops medic thing and then be able to wash the blood and all the other shit off in the showers back at base instead of stinking for weeks.
One cassevac I did was in the Koakoland (please excuse the spelling) Mountains. There was a SAP base on top of a mountain and one of the policemen was wounded. The chopper pilot was brilliant. He only had space for the rotors and from landing wheel of the chopper on the side of the mountain near the top so he placed the front wheel on the narrow ledge and we jumped from the side door of the hovering chopper onto the ledge to get to the patient.
Normally we would also sit with our feet out of the door on steel plates (fall platte from the shooting range) as sometimes Terrs would shoot as we went over and the bottom of the chopper really didn't stop a round. Having your balls blown off was not a way to go so we stole plates and used them to sit on.
It was lovely sitting out the door with your R5 listening to the comms on the head phones. Sometimes the MIGs would come looking for us and we would hide down in the gullies and valleys, looking at the wall of rock screaming past with the rotors just seeming to miss.
However once we were out of the mountains then there was no cover so the chopper would go as low as possible over the pans. This meant that the MIGs couldn't get us on radar, plus going so fast so low reduced the chance of a terr shooting at us and the pilot told me that due to the ground effect it reduced the fuel consumption.
Then tragedy struck. One morning sometime in June we were told that cassevac team 1 to 3 must kit up and climb on choppers as there had been a battle near Caluegue (again the spelling is bad). Apparently the Cubans had advanced down towards the dam wall with tanks and our Ratel 90s had met them.
There were a number of wounded and dead so we lifted off and headed for the area. We stopped at Rucana to fuel up and pick up some reaction force troops and then took off again. On our way in we heard that there were MIGs in the area. There were a few guys to treat but I only remember 2 in particular one was a Major who had been hit in the neck and then hit in the finger (he was holding the handle of a .50 when a bullet hit it). There was I think a Lt. dead and another guy (a ratel driver I think) one ratel was definitely out and there were a number of dead FAPLA and Cubans.
Next thing a buffel parked near the dam with guys inside just blew. A MIG had dropped a 300kg bomb on it. We were up to our arses in bits of buffel and bodies and wounded. I was working on a 32 guy who had been flash burned very badly.
Ondaguwa sickbay was made up of a three-sided area of prefab buildings with large suspended anti mortar nets over them. On one side was two treatment rooms and a small lab for bloods, the other was wards and the last was emergency theatres. One the forth side was a gap and then the medics Ops room. The central area had large cabinets with emergency gear in and space for stretchers this was the main treatment area.
We traveled back to Ondaguwa and the whole sick bay team worked almost through the night. I had my patient on a stretcher in the open area and was putting up drips all over him. With burns there are two huge killers; the first is shock as the burn leaks plasma from the system. This puts the guy into severe and fast hypovolemic shock. Next comes infection. He was very critical and was crying something. Another problem from flash or blast burns is that the natural reaction in a blast is to gasp in - this means that superheated hear goes into the lungs and burns them.
I turned around to get another drip and he was gone. I just stared at this empty bloody stretcher in complete disbelief. I mean I must have been not looking at him for 30 seconds and he had gone. I looked in the area (no sign) then went to look in the toilets. There was my super critical patient trailing drips and bandages (most of the drips had pulled into the tissue due to this) having a piss.
I got him back on the stretcher and doped him up. We gave him a drug that completely paralyses him including and especially his breathing and I intubated him. (This involves the introduction of a direct tube through the mouth into the lungs.) In lung burns this is done for a number of reasons. The respirator machine can filter the air of particles that could cause infection (our second big killer) , dry the air out (the burnt tissue in the throat and lungs also weeps plasma and can cause the patient to drown. The dry air helps to remove this. And lastly to up the O2 content in the air to help the damaged lungs provide for the needs of the body. Lecture over - he made it. It took a few days until we could stabilise him for transport but he was okay in the end.
Bagging the bits of 11 guys was not a highlight of my life. Just a small piece of meat in each coffin and onto the Flossie.
A few days later we had our next casualty. The Bats had a dog (large brown and mean) that apparently had been chucked out of an aircraft with a chute once (static line - goes without saying) and loved it. The dog was supposed to be a regular jumper. Anyway a PF Staff hit it with a car and split the skin on its head open. They brought it to us and the dog was taken into a treatment room. The Doc (who was not a small chap) went in, a minute or so later the dog barked once. The Doc flew through the window with two bit marks on his arse.
I had a brain wave and we gave the dog 2 Valium in milk. After 30 minutes he was relaxed and we stitched him up.
A few days later the Staff was assaulted by unknown assailants on the other side of the runway as he was coming out of a bar near the missile control system. A number of Bats were seen running back to their base but nothing could be proved.
I finished my first camp at the end of June 1988 as the negotiations were being concluded.
1989 - 1990
After the tough three month first camp I came home to the usual contradictions, my new wife had just spent three months as a single girl with two salaries - visiting friends and family as she wanted - suddenly I was back. The first few days were terrible - I flew in to Waterkloof and she picked me up and we went home. I was to `klaar-uit' on the Monday (this was Friday) - I had just spent 3,5 weeks in the bush and had left the border with the same browns, dirty and smelly - my R5 was filthy from the previous few contacts and I even had someone's dried blood in my beard. We drove home with all of the car windows wide open.
Home, shower, browns in a plastic bag for a heavy-duty laundry and nervously getting to know each other again. On Saturday Morning and she had to pop into the hospital for a 7 - 13:00 shift. I was sitting in the lounge of our flat in my shorts cleaning the R5 and the front door opened. Instinctively I lifted the weapon and clipped a mag on and cycled back the bolt.
There stood this large black woman faced with a half naked, bearded savage with an assault rifle. She screamed and ran, needless to say! My wife came home and asked if the maid (which I knew nothing about) had come. We never saw her again, she never even phoned my wife for her pay.
Monday - Klaar - uit and a few days off and back to work.
In the three months in Angola I had spent about 3 weeks in SWA and the rest out on Ops - I had lost 35kg in weight and needed a good overhaul medically.(and dental!) I was suffering from severe back pain and my wife (a nurse) got me X rayed. It was then that the doctor found small pieces of shrapnel in my back and skull.
Apparently (I only put this together later) I had been hit in the back by shrapnel from a 81 (or 82mm Not sure) mortar bomb. I had been kneeling over one of our guys (101BN) that had been hit in the stomach with an AK round. And I was putting a moist bomb bandage over the wound (to keep the intestines wet is important) and a mortar had gone off in the deep sand behind me.
I had been thrown (and deafened) but I thought nothing more about it. (I still have the photo of the crater from where I had been standing). But in the noise and adrenaline rush I didn't notice that I some of the blood on my uniform was from the back of my neck. The pieces were very small and most come out of my back by themselves over a few months. However I still have a couple of small pieces that the bone has grown over.
Another major aspect of the homecoming was the profound changes that one has to go through adjusting back to `normal' life. One day in a contact, the next day at work. I had a period of very bad nights, when many of the things I had done or seen during my time on Ops (and hadn't really bothered me too much at the time) came back and were replayed in all their glory in my head, over and over again.
Again this is not a subject that I particularly want to get into - taking photo's of the bush and mates etc were always better than taking of bodies and other horrors (plus if the camera had been found then there were no `Hot' photos inside). As previously mentioned, the principle of an Ops medic is to be in the Hot area. We are no good in sickbays when the dead and wounded are in the field. For a few years there were nights where I did not rest well.
One particular phenomena is what I call the `flashback' - this last happened to me as late as October of last year at a time of incredible stress in my life. It's an instantaneous sudden waking. You can smell and feel the bush around you. Every hair on your body stands up and you `hear' the incoming rounds, `feel' the thud, thud of the mortar base plates sending the bombs high into the air to crash down among you. You seem to see the lazy curving of the tracer rounds as they hunt and twist towards you, the slow motion speeding up as the rounds approach; the cracking sound as they whip by, followed by the distinctive, metallic banging of the AK.
The last time it happened I freaked my wife out completely as I screamed, leapt straight up into the air, shot sideways towards `cover'. I hit the bedroom wall (in my mind there was only bush around me - I didn't see any walls) with a hell of a bang, bounced, hit the floor with both knees, then flipped back onto the bed. Next morning I was puzzled to see both knees black and bruised and I had absolutely no clue what caused this bruising.
In 1989 I did a number of duties at the Old Witwatersrand medical command building near the Liberty Life building in Braamfontein. The function of the citizen force was to provide night guards for the building. The building has two sides facing the street - on the corner there was a large movable camera suspended. The 2 guards on the main road, had standing orders to move constantly (to reduce the exposure of a drive by shooting) and not to eat, drink, speak, smoke etc.
Of course in the quiet of the night all of the above would happen. The duel would be for the NCO on duty (sometimes me) to track the offenders with the camera (using the joy stick and monitor in the guardroom) and the offenders to try and avoid the camera. Good fun all round when it's cold and boring. (Unless there was a PF NCO on duty, of course).
Things got a little stricter when the ANC planted and exploded a limpet mine next to the window of the Brig. Then the game wasn't so funny.
By this time I had been bitten by the Citizen Force bug - I started to attend the monthly meeting at the unit and joined the NCO mess and functions. The RSM was an older Afrikaans store-man from Ventersdorp (home of the AWB) that somehow had made it to RSM (by accident in the opinion of many!) Certainly there was commitment, but unfortunately little else. He depended very much on his NCO clique of Afrikaans members of similar mustering (loggies, drivers etc.) and had little time for English or Ops medics. While, for example, drivers that in National Service had a string of DD 1's on file became senior NCO's (despite no promotion courses) the medics that had been in Angola and SWA were basically ignored.
Our Officer commanding, a colonel, (and rumor had it he held a similar rank in the AWB), was a well-known doctor up in Rustenburg. And also a member of the town council and was a close friend of the Prime Minster of Bophuthatswana), decided to arrange for the unit the freedom of Rustenburg.
The entire unit was called up for a 2 week camp for this affair - over 800 men actually arrived (many figuring that rather 2 weeks in Rustenburg than longer in Angola) - we were housed in a boarding school (holidays for the kids) next to the show grounds. 800 men in a school dorm that normal took 500 boys. Squeezed into rooms like sardines.
The first real day after Klaar-in was a real wake up for those that thought it would be a holiday. Up at 5:30, the usual ablutions and a poor breakfast. March to the show grounds, drill on the show grounds with R 1 rifles from 8 - 10:00, tea for half an hour. Drill again until 12:30 then one hour for lunch (again an overload kitchen producing poor food) - and guess what? Back again for the full afternoon drilling.
By early evening there were 800 very tired, dusty sore armed and footed grumpy men. Dinner was nothing to write home about. Then the whole unit had to go to the hall - many thought it would be a quick welcoming function and then the pub would be open and guys could relax or go to sleep, etc.
Instead the leader group took the opportunity to show Total Onslaught propaganda movies - and sing patriotic `kill communist' songs. Then came lectures from officers and senior NCO's that are more comfortable wearing khaki and three 7 - red and black badges than browns. These do not go down well with a grumpy audience of mainly older, better educated and more liberal troops than those found in NDP or in citizen force units in Rustenburg or Ventersdorp.
Into the second hour the guys were close to mutiny - then came the cream on the pudding - a song to learn - written by some half-wit in Afrikaans to sing - while… (Wait for it) on the march past the podium of the Surgeon General and the VIP's because the SG's wife was the head of the SAMS choral society and like to hear men singing.
That was it! - almost en masse nearly 800 guys got up and walked out of the hall while the leader group at the front of the hall slowly stopped singing (alone) and started shouting that this was mutiny. The opportunity for a good span-bou, some pub talk etc. to motivate 800 CF members to become more involved in the unit had been had just been seriously bollocked up by the AWB - Store-man team of the OC and the RSM.
The spirit of the camp was destroyed - from then on there was a bad feeling between the leader group and the masses. Force and abuse rather than teamwork became the norm - threats of DB, extending the camp, closing the tuck shop (no cigarettes guys) etc., were then the only ways that they could move 800 men to drill and sing like idiots.
Came the day and we marched past the podium singing the stupid song - 10 years later I can remember it was called `Die Karroo se lied'. The leader group went away with a smile - thinking that the camp was a great success - most of the guys vowed that if they heard from 2 Medical Bn again that it would be 100 years too soon.
One of the things about doing camps was the fact that you could meet the strangest of characters that one never got to deal with during normal life. In the room in the dormitory (6 beds instead of the usual 4) there was a whole cross section of South African society. A friend from the Border had just qualified as a minister of the church, there was an underground mine supervisor, some others and one strange character. This chap was a full card carrying member of the AWB leader's (Terrblanche) personal guard.
His place of employment was a follower's farm, but in reality his job was on the security detail to protect their leader. This was the same time that Barend Strydom walked through Church Square in Pretoria and randomly shot blacks for no apparent reason. We were discussing this and he mentioned that his only problem was that Strydom was stupid enough to get caught and his disgust that the SAP had arrested and charged him.
There was a stunned silence and Mike the Church minister asked him; "What about the sin of murder?" This chap explained (a long convoluted explanation) that the Black man was Satan's sin (that caused him to be cast out - see Genesis) God made the white man and was pleased, then Satan made the Black man as competition to God. That's why they have no soul (only God can dispense Souls) and killing them is not a sin.
Even the hard core Afrikaners from the Platteland and the mines sat there with open mouths while this guy pontificated. The disgust in the room was unanimous. This guy was not the brightest match in the box. It brought home in graphic detail that there were elements in our Land that were not dealing in Logic.
Anyway, some months later we repeated the same type of parade exercising for the last time the right to the freedom of Johannesburg. Far fewer 2 Med members arrived even though it was only one and half day camp with the members being able to sleep at home and still get a camp credit for the year.
By then a power struggle had taken place - the Colonel had realized that despite the right (I mean correct, I think) political view that the RSM had outlived his usefulness. He was forced to resign and a younger NCO was appointed as RSM. This guy was English speaking and an ex PF instructor. Despite the reputation he had from his training days he turned out to be a progressive, open minded, fair but strict RSM.
He had been involved in the unit for a while so he immediately sidelined the right wing old boy network and promoted many junior NCO's with combat or operational experience. I was promoted to Sergeant in the first batch of promotions. He involved many of the NCO's wives in functions and brought in a lot of new guys that trusted him. He gave you real tasks to do and then let you do it - no stuffing around.
Our unit in 1990 was tasked to prepare for Exercise Vinciti - to be held at the Army Battle School - Lohatla in 1991. I, as the most English NCO was asked by the RSM to go as the Platoon medical commander for 1 Battalion Transvaal Scottish. I began by attending the first planning meeting at the `Jocks' headquarters in Braamfontein.
Part Four - 1990
Within a few months of the new RSM's appointment the old boy network had kicked in. Sidelined right wing personnel used the backdoor and went directly to SAMS HQ and other senior members that shared their politics. The Colonel was placed under a great deal of pressure to re-appoint the old RSM and I am sure that many threats and appeals were made from the right wing network.
The new RSM was put aside and the old boy network was back - all of the promotions made were overturned and we found ourselves back as Corporals. The new ideas that had started were stopped despite the fact that NCO attendance and participation had well over doubled in the few months that the old RSM had been away.
I stopped going to the unit but continued to attend the `Jocks' meetings wearing my sergeant rank even though I was a corporal as I was too ashamed to admit that our medic unit was in the grip of the right wing and their petty politics.
For me the `jocks' were an eye opener - my previous experience with infantry units had been colored by my time at 7 SAI. The position to which I was appointed with the `jocks' was normally an officer's post. The commanding officer Lt. Col. Stevens accepted me not as just a sergeant but with the respect that the post held. Having been brought up on a diet of David Niven characterizations of what an officer and a gentleman should be I was delighted to find at last an officer in the SADF that lived up to that standard and appearance.
To say I was in Awe of Col. Stevens (as I think was the rest of the Jocks) would be accurate. He, for me will always embody the true meaning of how an officer must act. This is not to say he was perfect - just damn closer to perfect than any other officer I had met. His briefing sessions were a true test of how long you could sit still - they never seemed to end - but when they did you knew exactly what was expected of you and the rest of the team.
The RSM was a true character indeed but most of my dealing was with a Sargent Major Sharman. Again a man who embodied the saying `a professional soldier in a part time capacity.' This man had `houding'. Even just wearing shorts his very attitude and bearing demanded respect as a senior NCO.
I was introduced not only to the unit but also to the `View' the Jocks house up near the JHB Gen hospital. This was an experience - the Old Cullinham diamond house, the top floors had been made into a museum for the Jock history and the bottom into the Warrants and Sergeants mess and the officers mess.
To stand in that old house - with it's sense of history was incredible. But even stranger was the introduction to the Mess downstairs - seeing old British MOTHS (a veterans association) drinking beer on a Friday afternoon with men that could be their grandsons. One day some German veterans from the Desert campaign were visiting - the atmosphere was amazing with lots of beers, schnapps and stories being swapped. Difficult to believe that these guys fought against each other when you felt the spirit in the mess that night.
Just before the camp we heard that instead of the usual rubbish we normally got the medics would be getting the new armored ambulance the Mfezi (Zulu for Cobra) The older rinkhals was being replaced. This was a 16-18 ton vehicle that had originally been designed as a mine proof armored personnel carrier. However the vehicle had turned out to be a bit big and heavy and expensive to carry 10 troops so they redesigned the interior - put hydraulic powered doors on the back and gave it to the medics
In the back of the vehicle was a 300l water tank with a basin, 4 proper car seats for sitting wounded or medical staff and 4 stretchers. The total value of the vehicle with the equipment and medicines was well over a million Rand. The rear interior actually looked like the inside of a civilian caravan - there were proper lights as well as the red combat lights, three radios etc. This was the Rolls-Royce of Bush vehicles for us.
2 Medical Bn gathered at SAMS college to be issued with the equipment and to convert the drivers license from Samil to Mfezi (the rinkhals only was 11 tons so the samil 16.5 ton license was the closest). The old RSM spent the first day pissing on everybody until almost all the NCO's that were to support 7 Div in the field (the RSM's little club were not going to live in the bush - they stayed in nice warm barracks) went en masse to the Colonel and complained.
We all then said that we wanted to go in front of the deferment board. The RSM was called off and all demotions stopped so we went on camp as full sergeants.
There is a saying in the military that I whole-heartedly subscribe to "only a fool is uncomfortable" - As platoon Sgt. for the Jocks I had three Mfezi's and 9 medics (and one innocent MilDent student). I had called and got to know `my medics' before the camp (I held a Braai with them and their wives etc.) and I told all of my guys beforehand what to bring so that each one had a box of extra food. I alone had a full army trommel of extras.
We were set up for a good camp.
Next section to follow -
Part Five Exercise Vinnciti - 1991
First stop the large mobilization area at `die Brugge' outside Bloemfontien ...
THE BOMBING AT JAN SMUTS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (JOHANNESBURG)
Unfortunately what happened is this - Jan Smuts - the bomb went off and the entire top deck of the international area was on fire, glass and the ceiling collapsing etc. etc.
I was OC for that area and we had just warmed up our vehicles at Atlas Command (the other side of the run way). We heard the explosion and went around the runway and up the main ramp - there was no-one there yet from the emergency service so I ordered in Mfezi about 100m away from the burning cars where I presumed the explosion had been and a second about 100 m further away. By then the SAP had arrived and as I was the senior officer I had command of the scene - We were warned by the copy that the had been tipped off that there was a second bomb set to go off in the same area but because of the smell of the smoke and explosive the couldn't use the dogs and would have to do a manual check. My Sgt/major and I gave the 10 other ops medics the option of staying by the vehicles and we grabbed our bags and moved into the area.
Not one of my guys opted to stay back so 12 of us went in. The place was still burning and the metal strips that made up the ceiling we still coming down - we treated 38 patients - including a pregnant woman that had been thrown about 20m by the blast. A Swissair pilot that was standing next to the bomb that had his arm hanging on by a small piece of skin and a femoral artery in the process of going.
My Sgt/Major and I treated him and by the time the area was clear and the civvies had moved in they only had to load patients and transport them to Arwyp. hospital. By then the station commander of Kempton Fire and the SAP bomb squad was sorting the place out so my guys went to Arwyp and took over the casualty room and carried on treating 'our' Patients. One of the doctors was an old buddy from Angola so I scrubbed with him and we worked on the pilot - I got to work inside his face removing bits of car and the others on his leg repairing the artery - we then worked in teams for 7 hours to re-attach his arm - us doing the muscle and others doing the micro.
The whole time at the airport I had this bloody CNN and SABC camera in my face - so Gen.. Knobel saw this and told my OC to put us forward for the SAMS cross for going into the area to save lives while the area was still burning/dangerous and there was good info of a second bomb.
My OC did 12 citations (He gave me a copy when he resigned) - however they were never heard of again once they got to SAMS HQ. in 1995. I heard via a friend in SAMS HQ that the new command felt that giving 12 SAMS Cross's to us (12 white CF guys) in a time of 'amalgamation' with the non-stat forces would not go down well.
I still have the copy in official format of the original citation for the SAMS Cross but unfortunately we 12 are white and hence not brave enough to get it.
That's all I have so far, but the author has promised that he is working on more, so I will post it when I receive it. Please post comments and related material to the open forum of Army-Talk where at all possible.
Published: 1 July 2000.
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