SCHOOL OF ENGINEERS, KROONSTAD
& CAMPS (1976 - 1986)
Arthur Skok did national service in 1976, doing 18 months initially and 11 camps, the last camp in 1986. He started at Genie Skool (School of Engineers) and he served with 11 Field Squadron.
My Dad had served the country fighting Rommel in North Africa during the Second World War.
I guess there are a lot of fellows out here in the Diaspora of the western world who can't forget the school of engineers. I did my National service back in 1976. My generation really had the crap kicked out of us. I also attended numerous camps in the most god-forsaken places. Sometimes I wish I could sue the SADF for an accident we where involved in and was injured because of one stupid corporal trying to show off. I have had to consult a chiropractor more than once.
Two weeks from the end we where coming back from the shooting range, and our corporal wanted to show us just how fast we could go in a Bedford. We where all sitting on the floor `PLAT OP JOU GAT' (`Flat on your arse') as the term was with our webbing staal dakke (helmets) and rifles of course, when he hits a pothole and it throws the truck right over, with about 20 of us in the back. I suffered broken ribs and my back has never been the same since. I am always at the Chiropractor.
I had also a huge black eye, from a fight with my buddy Jonny Goldberg, as we both liked the same girl in Civvy Street.
After the accident I was reclassified as a G2K1 and was put into the kitchen for the rest of my national service. It was then when we were sent to Pretoria for chefs training and I became an army chef and I knew those mobile kitchens back to front. I had a picture of myself with my buddy towing the rig on the border.
I did however do a brief stint of minesweeping and did a number of 5-day patrols deep into the bush. My favourite story about that, is when I got up for a piss, in the middle of an overcast night, which rarely happened and I lost my circle of guys and became disorientated. I had walked around in a circle for about 5 hours before the sun came up, totally lost.
Well I guess that's what happens when you take a nice Jewish boy out of a BMW and put him into Darkest Africa's Bush Veld. Can you just see me stalking around alone with my rifle in hand? It's funny when you see a Biker in the street, people say LOOK OUT STAY OUT OF HIS WAY !! When you see a Jew walking in the street, nobody says LOOKOUT THERE GOES AN ACCOUNTANT, but ...throw a rifle and a uniform at him.... LOOKOUT, look at the Israelis!!
Another story that I have is we had this guy who was a permanent force Chef who was the ugliest guy, with a huge Jaw. A lower mandible extraordinaire, the Afrikaners called him KAAKEBEEN (Chin). Poor bugger could not speak a word of English. One Sunday night after coming in late from weekend pass, the guys put the floor polish machine next to him while he was sleeping. We gently wound the cord around him and the whole bed and turned it on. Needless to say he woke up and pissed in the bed. We did this to him because the previous Sunday the stupid bugger was sitting in the barracks playing the fool with a hand grenade and pulled the pin out and it dropped through the floorboards. Needless to say we all scrambled underneath that floor looking for the damn thing as he sat holding the thing for at least an hour, until we found it.
Do you remember how we would set up camp in the bush, and we would drill holes and place toilet seats over the holes and add canvas around the perimeter for some privacy? I forget now what we called it. I think we called them `the plims'. Well there was this one guy that nobody liked. (His name was Neethling) He was taking a dump one day and one of the guys found a thunder flash and lifted up the canvas threw it in to the hole adjacent to his potty. Well I don't need to tell you that the poor guy nearly had a thrombosis.
I was on a type of mixed bag of courses to earn my officers 2nd Leut pip. It was study during the day and stand 4 hours guard duty. I had to go every Wednesday night to our HQ to help requisition the kitchen's Bedfords and help plan for next camps etc. That being said I did not get my rank during national service but only afterwards. They had to almost give me Rank because I was the only one who knew what was required and had to go to Pretoria to SSB etc etc.
Our unit, 11 Field Squadron of Engineers, was called up to do many different types of tasks. One Saturday morning at a camp at number one ammunition depot in Jan Kemp Dorp, I was patrolling the fence of number one Ammo Depot. It was required that when you finished walking your 1 km stretch of fence, that you would pick up the Phone call your call sigh `ALPHA or CHARLIE all clear' and so you would continue for 4 hours until you stood down and the Garri would come and pick you up and your relief would take over.
Well a nice midday storm was brewing overhead, and as I picked up the phone, the lightning struck the lines, threw me off my feet and I landed on my back in the mud. I was out cold for at least 4 to five minutes because all I remember was the guys taking out of the Garri into the Hospital. My ear still rings to this day. Could only happen to me!
I got home once after a three month camp in LOHATLA, only to find my fiance in bed with another man. I came home three days earlier than expected at 5.00am in the morning.
The last Camp I did in 1986 my brother had me flown to the camp with his light plane and I arrived like a king, as at that time, I was a full Lieutenant. It was great fun. It was at Jan Kemp Dorp, Number one Ammunition Depot. The runway was right next to the Barracks and was a civilian aerodrome, oh what fun that was. However, I had a very bad stand up fight with another Afrikaans Lieutenant as I said that within 10 years, there would be a black government, and of course that did not go over very well. Even at that stage I found that the Afrikaners where splintered in what they believed would happen, as lets face it the country had to change. Anybody with a half a brain in their head could figure that out, even at that time.
I so hated those camps, but there was nothing one could do. You know as well as I you had to go whether you wanted to or not. The things that hurt me the most now are the sights I saw on the cleanup operations in Angola where I saw a lot of dead bodies and how cruel the FNLA had been and booby trapped kids with explosives so that if a soldier felt pity on them, they would pick the kids up only to be killed or maimed by an explosive. I saw the mess of that. Then later on, having to do township duties was lousy. Having to watch tear gas being used one day in Alexander township knowing that my Parents lived about 10km away.
NOW, LOOKING BACK
I live in Canada now and am 47 years old. So as I sit here today on a very cold January (2004) morning typing this. Let us be grateful for the countries that have adopted us. I will however always be a Boertjie at heart and am balded yes, but I am fit and still running like I did in the days of the MMI runs in basics. Looking at those pictures on your web site bring back the warmth of the sunshine and even the smell of Africa.
However the one thing the Army thought me is how to hang in. When you think you have run out of steam, that's when you really get going. I went on to run many marathons including the Comrades in 1986 before I left for Canada. The most disturbing thing for me was the BAD GUY section of [Sentinel] web page as I still find myself affected by the stigma of being one who held up the regime, when in fact I spent days in the townships keeping the peace. Please add me to your list of people if you wish. I still have my step out uniform but have lost my PRO PATRIA medal. When I looked at the pic of the guys sweeping the roads for mines I felt that old feeling and could even smell those old smells of Africa the bush and the cordite from the thunderflashes.
I have no photos, because all I had was lost in a basement flood about 4 years ago. The only things I have left are my full uniform, and my original intake ID card with my army number on it.
The Army was an experience I would have willingly done without, but one that in a way I'm pleased I had. Like I said on the positive side, it made me a man very young, but it caused me many long term problems. I am very bitter about South Africa. No one can point a figure at me and say I ran away. I paid my dues. 18 months service and 11 camps. I did my last camp in 1986 and left for Canada in 1987, as I could not get my career off the ground, as the Army never left me alone.
South Africa for me is a tragedy. I so much miss the sunshine the food the sense of humour, but is a closed book for me now after being away for 16 years, a lot has changed there. On my last visit in 2002 I found it to be a very different place with some very large social problems. Needless to say AIDS is a problem that is so large, that I heard of a class of medical students who are half way through university, that won't live long enough to see their own graduation. These where probably the little kids we where trying to protect back in those years. My parents where going to stay in South Africa, but my Mom got mugged and had her car and purse stolen back in 1989. They landed in Canada 9 months later.
Published: 22 February 2004.
Here is a shortcut back to theSentinel Projects Home Page.