ARMY COOK (1988-1989)
Len Carter reported to 3 SAI Potchefstroom in 1988. After basics he was trained as a chef at Okahanja and served at Windhoek, and he was there when UNTAG arrived. After that he completed his national service at 5 SAI in Ladysmith.
We started in February. I did three months in Potchefstroom which was basic training. That was constant `hurry up and wait'. We were all together in a big group and there was always the buzz of `What's going to happen now? Are we going to get an `oppie' [punishment PT] or are we going somewhere?' The whole army things was so new. We also used to sit around and chat so I can't say that I was ever bored during basics.
We always had things to do during basics, we were constantly on the go. At 3 SAI, out of the whole battalion, there were five companies. One was Charlie company, which had six platoons. Alpha company were the guys who were going off to Outshoorne to do JLs and they left eventually. Bravo company was all the light duties, and G3K3s, Charlie was the chefs, Delta was the dog squad, Echo was the infantry, and I can't remember what Foxtrot was but they were eventually posted out to another camp, so we were eventually left with just the four companies; Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo. Echo, the infantry company, felt that they were the la-di-dah's, and that the chefs were just beneath them.
On our company we had five platoons of chefs and one platoon that was infantry, and they also thought that they were snooty, but that platoon was actually at the bottom of the rung, and their infantry corporal was reasonable, but he was English, so the staff hated him. Our Staff Sergeant always used to walk around with a long face because he had the chefs and every time we went up to the `Griffin', which was their club, he would get raked about this because he had the chefs. He was this pint sized guy with this huge voice. At the end we won the best platoon in the best company award.
My platoon had Corporal Shutte who was an incredible chap. He believed in discipline, but he also believed in Espre De Corps and getting the chaps to work with you, and so he did a good job; if we carried our end, he was happy and he carried his end, and he would look after us, and our Lieutenant was a two pip camper who was some sort of professional man, very quietly spoken, a very gentle man with a lot of integrity - a very nice guy. He impressed me because, on the night that we arrived, and we arrived late at night and we were put into his platoon. He marched us there and he had this huge big green rain coat on, and he had this radio and he had his beret and he looked like one of these tough marine-type chaps that you expect to go shooting. He walked into our bungalow and he called us all and he started opening the windows and he said; `Right! You are human beings. You need air to live, so you will sleep with your windows open.' I loved it. I though this is basics, this is army! Looking at the basic human needs - we need air. I loved it. I thought `This chap's a real army guy.' He was such a nice chap. He would push us hard, and he would discipline us, and he would make sure that we were up to standard, but at the same time he would carry his end to, and he wouldn't mistreat us, and if we did well, he would say; `That was good!' Not only did Charlie Company finish as the best company, but our platoon - platoon number four - we actually finished as best platoon in the company and the one chap from our platoon was the best in the battalion as far as inspections was concerned.
We finished on a very high note, and we were very chuffed with ourselves, but it was really due to the corporal and the lieutenant because they made sure that we were up to standard with discipline, but at the same time they built espre de corps. We could really look up to and respect them. One chap was a permanent force corporal. Our corporal was also a national serviceman, but this other was a permanent force corporal who had been in the army for yonks. He admitted himself that he was actually too dumb to get anywhere, and that was why he was still a corporal. He often used to make jokes about it. He would say; `I reach for a pen and I knock over my coke.' He would crumple a piece of paper and try and throw it in the bin and it would go out of the door. He was actually quite a vicious chap. I remember at one stage his platoon were actually beating everybody else in inspections. You could walk past their dormitory and the floor would actually look like glass - the floor would really look like a sea of glass.
One weekend while we were all busy washing our clothes and mellowing out, these guys were scrubbing it with steel wool to get all the black marks off the floors, and polishing them, and they had strips of blanket, and no-one was allowed to walk with their boots on the floor. They would have to step on to these bits of blankets [called `taxis'] and shuffle to their bed, and these guys were really doing well, but one time - when their inspection was perfect - the corporal pushed them too far. He said; `This inspection is sif!' [septic] which it was not, and he grabbed fire buckets full of soil, not the beech sand, he got soil, wet it, and he threw mud on to their floor, onto their beds, onto their trommels [trunks] and he also threw it up on to the roof, and you can't get those stains out, so he actually totally destroyed their bungalow. After that, the guys just lost motivation. They didn't keep it up. They now had to clean it and try and bring it back to standard and they couldn't get the stains off the roof. The floor was scratched again from all the soil. The guys actually lost motivation. From then on the platoon just went downhill. He broke their spirit. He broke any sense of morale they had. He totally lost it. He was a corporal, and he had been there for years. He didn't expect to make sergeant himself. I think that I recently heard that he made sergeant. He never expected to get to any higher rank. He never expected to be a staff sergeant of a company. He always knew that he would be in a support role, because he just didn't have the ability to make it, so he was totally unmotivated. What he did to his chaps was cruel. Those guys really gave their best and they were becoming the best platoon in the company and he just broke their morale totally, and they just went downhill from then on. They actually finished as the worst platoon in the company.
There was another chap, an Afrikaans NDP, who was also incredibly cruel. I remember what he did to Sean, Llewellen's friend. He made the guy run and fall down, run and fall down over rocks as part of an `oppie'. Eventually Sean's overalls were ripped to shreds and his knees were bleeding and his elbows were bleeding. Eventually he just fell down and said; `I can't do any more,' and the corporal said `Kan jy nie?' [Can't you?] and grabbed his whole harness and was pulling his head back, and Sean was in agony. The guy was almost breaking his back, pulling his whole helmet back. Sean eventually broke down and started crying, and the Staff Sergeant walked along. The corporal said; `Ja, Staff, die ou kan nie meer nie, maar ons gaan hom wys, ne, staff?' [Yes, staff, this guy can do no more, but we'll show him, hey?] The Staff looked at the corporal and said; `Nee, ons gaan nie. Laat hom gaan,' [No we will not. Let him go] and he told the guy to go. I remember at one time all the corporals from the company actually got an `oppie' from the Staff because of their behaviour. You did get the cruel chaps, you did get the guys who had no ambition whatsoever and wouldn't get anywhere. Their lot in life was to make their salary by also to make other people's lives a misery. They were the guys who pulled the army down. There were some good leaders; our staff pushed us hard and we almost felt that he hated us, and we hated him and he would make us do oppies endless times, but at the end when we graduated, I still remember, everybody had a lump in their throat when we finished.
At the end when we had had the parade and been declared as the winning company, just before we were going to be marched off to go and enjoy ourselves with our parents and that he said; `Manne, baie goed. Ek is trots op jou!' [Well done, men. I am proud of you.] We all had lumps in our throats, and when we marched up to our parents we marched like we had never marched before. We finished with a good note, and we could see that he was a genuine chap. You did have the bad guys who were vrot! [rotten] They are the exception rather than the rule, I suppose. I had a lot off respect for most of the rank in the army. For my staff sergeant, for my corporal, for my lieutenant, for the captain of our company, Captain Oberholtzer, an incredible chap. I had respect for all of them in basics.
There were six platoons in the company, and our turn had come around and we were standing the guard duty. I was actually in hospital at the time, but I heard the story. There was the 2IC and the 1IC on duty at the guard room, and there were these two chaps on duty at the transport depot. One chap's name was Llewellen and the other chap was Sean. These chaps were great mates. Llewelyn had these huge buck-teeth and he was a little bit slow. He was a nice chap but he was always making mess-ups and getting into trouble - he was quite a character. Sean was okay. Llewelyn was running along during one of the training things and he fell into the ground with his rifle and he didn't clean his rifle before the next day's inspection. So the corporal was going along, and checking down the guys' barrels and going `Waah! This thing's dirty, man! You didn't clean it properly,' and he makes the guy run, and he checks the next one; `This one's all right, but there is still dust.' He gets to Llewelyn's rifle; `I can't see anything. I still can't see anything.' In the nozzle - the silencer, [flash-hider] there was a huge plug of dirt. He jaaged [chased] him until tea time. Another time on the shooting range, we were shooting standing up and all the chaps were firing away. Now Llewelyn's gun jams, so he was trying to get his jam to come about, and he couldn't succeed, so he swings around. The Staff sergeant shouts `Stop! Stop.' I've never seen the staff sergeant so cross. He smacked him on the side of the helmet and said; `You're never to do that again.' Llewelyn then had an ammo box on his shoulders and off he went. Sean and Llewelyn were on guard duty at the transport depot. The idea was that there would be two guards at the transport deport. The one had to be in the tower and one had to patrol the perimeter. Sean was in the tower and Llewelyn was patrolling the perimeter. The chap on the perimeter is the one who has the full magazine of live bullets, and the chap in the tower has the radio. Llewelyn was walking around and half way through the guard duty they were going to switch around, so Sean climbs down the steel ladder in the concrete pipe from the tower and Llewelyn climbs up. Llewelyn didn't give Sean the magazine of live bullets, so he shouts up; `Llewelyn, throw down the magazine.' so Llewelyn throws it down. Sean catches it, but he thinks he hears something `clink', so he is convinced that something is missing. So he takes the bullets out and he counts them. There are supposed to be thirty and there's twenty nine, so there's one missing and they have to account for every single bullet. So Sean is in a panic because he knows that he is going to get into trouble for this. There was this high high grass all around the tower, so Sean starts parting the grass trying to find this bullet. Eventually he is pulling up all the grass, and by the time the guard duty had come to an end he had pulled out all the grass around the tower, but he finally found the bullet. Then the time came that Darren, the 1IC radioed to them to come in, saying `Were sending out the other chaps who will meet you half way.' Llewelyn left the radio on and starts climbing down the stairs, and Darren says he was sitting there with the radio on the table and all he hears is the `Dang dang dang dang!' Then they heard Sean's voice on the radio; `Darren, Darren, quick! Llewelyn's fallen down the tower!' Apparently he only had some bruises and sprains and that sort of thing.
This story was the cherry on the top of basics. Something that touched me. In the platoon we had such espre de corps. When the evaluation of our basics came to an end, you are supposed to be able to do so many push-ups, so many sit-ups and so many pull-ups. I couldn't even manage one pull-up. I was still very heavy, and I couldn't even do one pull-up. The chaps in my platoon all did their twelve, and they did one more saying `And one for Jimmy!'. I had the nickname `Jimmy' because my surname is Carter. That really touched me. All these guys did one for me, and the corporal counted, and passed me, so I didn't have to do basics again. That really touched me. Not only your personal experience is positive, but you learn to work together as a team, and you finish as really good friends. There was incredible team spirit. It was great. I still remember on our klaaring out day - klaaring out of basics, he was walking around with his chest sticking far out, and he was walking along next to this staff sergeant who was a huge seven foot chap, with a barrel chest who had Delta Company, and he said `Ah, dis my chefs daai!' [Those are My chefs!] He was quite chuffed about winning.
BEING POSTED AFTER BASICS
My friends and I were being held up with some sort of questioning and everybody else was standing in their lines and they were being allocated to the various parts of the country. Everybody was choosing the parts of the country that they wanted to go to. We were itching because we wanted to get Natal Command, but we missed it. That was taken up straight away by all the surfing boys, so when we finally got through and joined the lines there were only a couple of really outward places left, and we said `No ways are we taking these places' and we heard a rumour that there were still three positions open for Natal Command so we were going to stick out for these. All the South African positions were taken.
We were standing there, and they asked `Okay guys, exactly where do you want to go?' We said; `We want to go to Natal Command.' They said; `No, that place is taken. All that's left now is Grootfontein and Walvis Bay.' So we thought `Oh, great! Grootfontein is up on the border.' I said; `Chaps, that's okay, but I believe that Walvis Bay is nice because there's lots of sand dunes to run up, and you can play in the sea.' So we said; `We'll go to Walvis Bay.'
So we got sent on route, and at Windhoek we got stopped. We were going up to the HQ and one of the corporals in the kitchen spotted us and said `Oh, no no, I want these chaps here.' So he went running off, and organised that we would stay in Windhoek, and took us to a place about 50 ks away to Okahanja, to go and do our Chef's training there. We had this huge big loud speaker in the camp, and they used to play the reveille in at half past five every morning. There were houses across the road who would hear this every morning at the same time. I don't know why they didn't complain, because we thought; `If I was a civilian living in a house, to hear that at half past five every morning would drive us quite potty.'
The camp was on the outskirts of the town, so there were suburbs right next to it, which was quite amazing. The training was with the South West Africa Territorial Force. That was fun because that was a totally different way of doing things, a totally different culture. It had a different flavour to it - you can't actually put your finger on it. It was definitely more relaxed. I think a lot of the chaps were permanent force guys, but not with the Permanent Force attitude. In South Africa there was always friction between the national servicemen and the permanent force. In South West Africa they were professional soldiers who were quite relaxed about it. I think that quite a few were just doing it for the job. Even the professional chaps who enjoyed soldiering, they were interested in doing soldiering and getting on with the job, and if you stepped majorly out of line they would correct you but otherwise it was pretty much `just keep going, chaps!' It was very nice. I actually had a lot of respect for those guys.
The whole base at Okahanja was a training base for the different sections. The signallers had their own section, the medics had their section. We had our own kitchen set up, and two field kitchens, so we had to learn all the basics of spices and baking and cooking. We spent a lot of time just messing around, because there's only so much that you can teach. The corporal didn't go into much depth; we had a whole lot of eggs donated. We had piles of eggs, so we used to make the medics omelettes in the mornings. There was this really nice medic lieutenant, a lady, and she used to come for omelette's every morning. It was a lot of messing around. Our corporal was a really good chap. We actually went off for a weekend with him and our Lieutenant to Swakopmund. There were only seven or eight of us. That was the grand total of the chefs, plus about another four chaps from the SWA Territory Force. The eight of us went away for with the Lieutenant and the corporal for the weekend, and the other chaps went home. It was quite festive.
There were twelve of us, so it was a small group, and we were all good friends, and we spent a lot of the days messing around, and baking piles of food and giving it to the others sections, so everybody was friends with us. The signallers loved us. Even when we started working in the kitchens, you make good friends with the regimental police and with the store keepers because then you can get anything you want. They don't give you trouble with pass either. If you haven't got your putties on, that's okay. Go through. The Chef's Course lasted about six weeks.
About twenty k's away from Okahanja there was some sort of camp. I can't remember clearly what it was, and about five k's outside of it was an ammunition dump. We were on course at the time and for some reason most of the camp had gone on leave, and the whole camp about twenty k's away had also gone on leave, so they wanted to use some of us to guard their camp, so we were packed off there for just one night. We were put on to a roster and there were about three chaps guarding the main camp, and three were sent out to the ammunition dump. I was on guard duty with two other chaps out at the ammunition dump, and we were strictly forbidden to have fires - obviously with it being an ammunition dump. We were very cold so we decided to risk it. One guy would be on duty while the other two warmed themselves, and if they saw the lights of the sergeant major's bakkie we would have to quickly shuffle the fire out It was quite ironic - we were supposed to be guarding the ammunition dump, and the guys with me John and Phil actually broke into the ammunition dump and were raiding it. I was in a difficult situation, saying; `Chaps, you shouldn't be doing this, you know. This is not quite what we should be doing. We should be guarding the dump, not breaking into it.' They had these semi-circular corrugated iron buildings, and all the stuff was in there, and John was into the one, and into the other, and coming out with arm loads full of stuff; thunder flashes and smoke grenades and all sorts of things, and flares - the whole tuti! John was just the kind of guy who just liked to have that stuff. He did actually use a couple - apparently one Guy Faulkes he shot off a couple of flares and a thunder-flash one time. The smoke grenades he just kept. I don't think he had a particular use for them; it was just a fun thing to do. John was a bit of a rebel; he had to do things to prove himself.
Most chaps just like to have that sort of stuff; its like going to collect cartridges from the shooting range. What are you going to do with empty cartridges? But you polish them - you just like having the stuff. I remember John running backwards and forwards - just checking the shadows - running along with armloads of the stuff, and me running along to check on whether the sergeant major was coming.
I didn't see this myself, but this is what I heard. The Australians thought that they were going to land in battle conditions, and they had heard that all the bridges from the airport to Windhoek, which is about 30 k's, had been blown out, so they packed their plane full of bridge building equipment, because they expected that they would actually have to fight their way into Windhoek and build bridges on the way. So their plane lands with the chaps and all their bridge building equipment, and the back thing drops down and all these guys run out, surround the plane, with their guns set to rapid; full battle-kit, everything. Cammo cream, the whole lot; they've surrounded the plane and they're ready for a battle. And there's the major with his gold chain and all the delegates standing around waiting to welcome the Australian contingent. And these guys were ready for a full scale battle. They really expected to have to fight their way in to Windhoek. They drove in with a dazed look.
The Peruvians arrived late at night; about half past eleven at night, and I was on night duty in the kitchen, and I heard that these chaps had arrived, so I thought; `Let me make them some tea and cookies,' so I laid all these cookies nicely on to a plate and made them a big pot of tea. I just used to wear shorts and a T-shirt on night duty, and I had this huge big butchers apron, that came right down to my ankles, so I was wearing shorts, T-shirt and my apron on, and I took this huge tray of tea and cookies and I walked through to the officers' lounge which was where these chaps were. True as Bob! these chaps were on the floor. They had broken open an ammo crate, there was ammo around all over the place, and they were dishing out these bullets to each other, and they had their hand guns out and they were busy loading up magazines. I thought' `What's going on here?'
Apparently, they had heard the story that there were terrorists all around the camp, watching them and ready to snipe at anything that moved. Picture these chaps rushing off to bed, huddled against the wall with their weapons cocked, waiting for a sniper to take a pot shot at them, and Len comes trundling through in his huge apron with a big plate of tea and cookies. I got some surprised looks from them. It was so dramatic; these battled hardened chaps, with serious looks on their faces loading magazines, and I walk in with my tea and cookies. It was quite amazing, the impressions that they were under.
I should have sat down and had a chat with some of the chaps and asked them; `Exactly what do you think of the political situation? Who is the enemy?' They were staying at a SWATF base, which of course had SADF personnel too, so I don't think that they saw the SADF as the enemy, but I think that they realised that SWAPO or the guerrillas or someone were attacking the bases, or sniping at the bases or something. The Australians too - if they had been expecting a battle situation, I wonder who they expected they would be fighting against? Were they just going to plough into Windhoek building bridges and shooting at everything that moved? They referred very elusively to `these terrorists', whereas I think they worked more with the SWATF and SADF than they worked with chaps from SWAPO and the rest, but there was always this elusive `third force' called `the terrorists' who were the bad guys, and that's who they expected to fight. It was strange; these battled hardened veterans who had seen action all over the world, and they still had impressions in their mind of what they expected.
When the Canadians first arrived, we were cooking for them in the Officers' mess. To them, this just wasn't on. We tried our best for them; we gave them steaks and chips and jelly and chocolate pudding, but to them, this just wasn't on! Apparently in their messes overseas they were used to ala carte menus, and they could order what they wanted, and there was a pudding table of about thirteen different puddings, and they expected the same. They actually hired Fedics [a catering company] to take over the catering, so we were actually barred from that whole section. I remember one morning, when Fedics first started, they used to bring the food in in hot boxes and then lay it out, and I peeked in to the main area where the dishing out was done, and I got a really snooty look from the chef. To be honest, the food looked exactly the same as ours, but if the food is done by an outside catering company, and because they set the tables out nicely - they had these big horn-baskets with rolls tumbling out, and all the packed butters and cheeses and chocolates and fruit. That was what they were after. It was just amazing to hear that this was what the Canadian chaps expected.
There were the Australian chaps with their portable potties and their bridge building equipment and their ration packs expecting to fight, and the Canadian's come along and they want their thirteen different types of deserts. It was quite amazing.
We had a big Cape Coloured corporal with a big beer boep [belly], and he used to call me `Tubby'. This guy was humungous. He couldn't get any browns so he had to wear overalls. His apron was a black plastic rubbish bag - he would cut holes into it so he could put his arms out, and it would cover him. He only had one set of overalls, and he never washed them. He would go on duty and get bits of fat all over him, and he just wouldn't wash them, so he constantly smelled of rancid fat and all sorts of things. The guy drank himself silly, and he had a room in one of the bungalows - a separate room of his own - and one time we went in there; it was just his bed. No light; just a candle, and bottles strewn all over the place. He never made his bed, and he would get drunk out of his mind and fall asleep in his overalls, and then he would go into the kitchen and work in his overalls again. I would joke with the guys; I would say; `When I look at tubby, I actually get the desire to do push-ups because I realised that I also have quite a tire, and whenever I looked at this guy I wanted to loose weight. It was quite a good joke; every time Tubby came into the room, one of the guys would say; `Hey, Jimmy, push-ups!' Tubby never knew what was going on.
[Were you being supervised?] You would think so, but SWA was a different story. The locals didn't have a permanent force - they had permanent men, but they weren't considered `Permanent Force'. They had their national servicemen who would come for their two years, but then they would have their other chaps - their long-timers, but it was like extra duty. They weren't actually considered `Permanent Force'. Those guys were fine. They had no problem,. They used to live at home, or they had some sort of plan. They always had clean clothes, and they had fair standards of hygiene.
There was this one corporal who was also a Cape Coloured with an incredibly wrinkled face. His jaw stuck out and his lips were pursed, so he looked just like a cartoon character just out of a Giles magazine, and every afternoon at about half past four - this was Corporal Hendrik was the two-liner, and he used to say `Maak skoon. Maak skoon!' [Clean up] Corporal Blaau, this cartoon character was a one-stripe, and he would go rushing into the store room, get hold of a big 5 l can of soap which was always green, and he would walk out of the store room shaking it - you always had to shake it - and he would pour some of it into a bucket, get hot water out of the boilers and he would start throwing soapy water all over the floor, which really ticked us off because we were trying to get the guards' food out, so we were rushing about with hot-boxes and now the floor is covered with hot soapy water, which was very slippery. Its another story all the accidents that we had. This guy would then get a hard-bristle broom and start scrubbing the floors, and he would be telling us to get squeegees and pulling rank, and we were running around trying to get the guards food. What we did to him; we got hold of one of these 5 l cans and we poured just into the top of it a whole lot of bleach, because we had discovered that when bleach and the green soap mixed, it turned the soap blue. We just poured some in to the top and we closed it. The next day, eventually half past four comes along, and the corporal is going; `Maak skoon. Maak skoon!' Corporal Blaau goes running into the store room, grabs this 5 l can, and comes out walking, and swinging. We were all watching, and the next minute he looks down and says; `Wat gaan hier aan?' [What's going on here?] because the whole thing had gone blue. That was quite funny. You had to be there! The cabbage - this was Corporal Hendrik - this was also trying to get the guards food out, because they eat earlier than everybody else. Basically Corporal Hendrik got us to chop up some cabbage and put it into one of these big tilting pans, and he really did a good job on it - he really wanted to give these guys a big vegetable, so he had put margarine in, and he had put spices and herbs, and he had sorte'd it gently, and stirred it nicely, and it had come out nice and brown with all the spices and it smelt delicious. So he called me, he said`Tubby, gooi uit.' - meaning `Take it out and put it into pans and go and put it out for the guards.' He says; `Tubby, gooi uit.' (`Dish it up' and `put it out'!) I didn't have many Afrikaans skills. I had done it at school, but that was all theory Afrikaans. Now I was learning the practical sides of Afrikaans. When he said `Gooi uit', I naturally thought he meant `Throw it away.' So I threw this whole lot of sorte'd cabbage into the bin.
Lo and behold! about four o'clock-ish, the guards come rushing in for their food and they line up and Corporal Hendrik was supervising the dishing up, and the guys got their potatoes, they got their meat, and along comes the time for vegetables, and Corporal Hendrik is scratching his head. `Tubby, waar is die koel?' [Tubby, where is the cabbage?] `Ek het dit uitgegooi.' [I threw it out - meaning put it ouk - meaning served it] `Ja, ek weet, maar waar is die koel?' [Yes, I know, but where is the cabbage?] All his prised cabbage was in the bin. He actually had quite a good sense of humour, so he just started laughing. I don't think I ever remember him telling me to `gooi dit uit' again; from then on he would say; `Skep dit uit, tubby.' [Serve it up, tubby.]
We used to have bleach in black plastic bottles, and we had Worcestershire sauce in clear plastic bottles but it was a black liquid. We had this one chap - I don't know whether he would tell the difference, but he walked into the store and grabbed two black bottles and poured them into the beef stew, which was a 200 l boiler. The Corporal Hendrik comes along and says; `Wat het jy nou met hierdie een gemaak?' [What have you done with this one?] and he's holding this plastic bottle. `I threw it in the stew.' The corporal said; `That wasn't Worcestershire sauce. That was bleach.' He looked around, tasted it, and said `Gooi uit.', meaning `Dish out!' He would never have thrown away 200 l of beef stew. There was no way that Corporal Hendrik would have done that. The guys all ate stew with two bottles of bleach in it. There were no complaints.
When we first arrived, there were eight of us, and we were put into a military bungalow that had actually been condemned, and it was going to be torn down, but we were put into this place, so we didn't actually have a working toilet or a working bath. All we had were four beds with mattresses on, and their were eight of us. We just doubled up - one chap would be on night duty, so whoever he shared a bed with would get a good night's sleep that night, but the rest of us had to double up in the beds.
Now the chap I shared with was a chap called Rowan, and he drooled in his sleep, so up until about five o'clock in the morning - we each slept down one side and we slept cramped up. The great joy was when he was on morning shift, and he had to get up at five and go to the kitchen to work, because then from five to seven I could stretch out in the bed and sleep properly, but he used to drool right into the mattress, so I would roll over into a wet patch. That was quite a `fond' memory, looking back, but it wasn't fun at the time.
Evening on night duty - many of the chaps in the SWATF didn't want to be on night duty because they all had family, and they were all on day shift, and they put us white chaps from the SADF on to night duty. We were such a close bunch that whoever was on night duty - everybody else would go and join him in the kitchen, and we would have a big party in the kitchen together, sometimes until midnight, and just play around. And then everyone would go off to sleep and you would just do your night duty. I have some incredible memories of these parties that we used to have. You would start your night duty at about seven o'clock, and at about eight o'clock there was a knock on the door, and there were the chaps. There were about eight or ten of us, because there were another two SADF guys that we got friendly with who were there before us, so there were about ten of us, and we were a really festive band.
John, the chap who stole all the stuff from the ammo store, he had a motorbike and on one of his day duties, the key box was open and he grabbed the whole bunch of keys to all the stores and fridges in the whole place hopped on to his motorbike, shot into town, got a locksmith to quickly cut him keys and he shot back before anybody missed him or the keys, and so we had this huge bunch of keys for everything, not only our daily issue of stores and fridges, but to the long term storage fridges and everything. There was bulk stuff stored for months and months, and of course everybody was robbing the place blind anyway.
There would be times on night duty when one of the staffs would arrive, and he would come rushing into the kitchen and open up the main freezer, carry out about three boxes of T-bone streak saying `There's a function going on somewhere and were just taking these T-bones along to cook.' You would know that it was a farce because if there was a big function going on, the biggest kitchen in the whole city was Suiderhof - we were the biggest and virtually the only army kitchen around. All of the others were smaller Mickey-Mouse places, just catering for their small personnel, so if there was any function taking place in Windhoek, the catering took place at Suiderhof, and we would have heard about it - we would have cooked starches, we would have cooked vegetables, we would have cooked puddings. There would have been chaps going backwards and forwards, so when the staff comes rushing in at half past ten at night, grabs three boxes of T-bone steaks, and says; `There's some function going on,' you would know that he had a party up his sleeve. He was either selling the stuff or he was having a party with all of his buddies - having a braai and he wanted to come and get some more meat. They were robbing the place blind. We just wanted to enjoy our stay up there. I had many offers where I could have got hold of boxes of meat and sold them, but I just said; `No, forget it.' I didn't think that was nice.
We felt that, as chefs, and being out there, far away from home, that it would be all right for us to look after ourselves, but not make a profit!, so we would open up the fridges and open up huge big rolls of cheese, and we'd cut ourselves cheese, and we would use the deep fryer to cook ourselves whatever we wanted, from chips to fried fish. We would grab a huge chunk of frozen meat, cut steaks from it, put it through the tenderiser, and cook ourselves a whole pile of tenderised steak with tartar sauce. We had all this stuff late at night, so we used to have these fantastic parties. We used to get dried mangoes and dried pineapple and flavoured milks, and it was absolute feast time, the whole way through. We constantly had all the other chaps on guard duty, constantly coming and banging on the kitchen window wanting to get in as well.
Once there was a whole row of onions that I had to cut, and I was in absolute tears, and this chap comes up to the window and says; `Ag, please get me some food.' So I said, `Okay, wait here. I'll go and get you some rolls, and when I got back to him, he was also in tears.'
We had keys to the function store rooms; there were shrimps, muscles and all sorts there. John was determined to have a good standard of living while we were there. It was really probably the best year of my life in the army, and an incredible memory because we had such partnership. There were chaps from South Africa up there, and we were all in the same job.
The reason that John was so rebellious - maybe he felt that he wanted to get his own back on the army or whatever - was that he and three other chaps had been on officers course at Outshoorne and they were going to be infantry officers, and they had done the course well, but the one chap, Phil, had twisted his ankle a few weeks before, and then Robin and John were asked to leave the course for no valid reason. They weren't given any reason. They had done nothing wrong. They had passed everything that they had to, and they had maintained a good standard of discipline, and they were given no valid reason for why they were asked to leave the course. John was really tough - he saw himself as the infantry type - leading chaps into battle, and then he was told that he was being sent far away from home - not even close to home, he was getting sent to SWA. He said; `Right, fine!' And then they told him that he was going to be a chef, and that cracked him up, because he saw himself as an infantry chap. He phoned home, and he actually burst into tears on the phone. He said; `They're making me a chef!' John got a bit hardened against the army because of that - he had actually given his best - he had wanted to excel, become an officer and lead men, and they had done this to him. He didn't have a saak [`case', meaning `interest'] after that. He said; `I'm just going to make the best out of my national service. I'll do the job I have to do. I won't steal, but I will make myself comfortable.' We were all behind old John.
We were also supposed to be confined to our base. John got hold of a whole lot of those plastic sleeves that you iron down, and a whole lot of pass cards, and he wrote all our names out and write that we were staying in the officers quarters across town, so we had gate passes to go in and out. So we all had one of these plastic cards. I was in the youth group at the church down the road, so ethically I didn't feel that I could use them. I would just walk out to the gate, wave at one of the RPs and say; `Ek gaan uit.' [I'm going out] and the guy would let me through. I never had a problem. I could always get out to church and things like that. I supposed that I could go right back to - I was not supposed to - I shouldn't have. John had his card, and all the other chaps had their cards, and off they went. John was pretty young. I think he had done a little bit of mechanics or something out of school. I was eighteen at the time, and most of the chaps were about eighteen, but John and Phil were about twenty or twenty one.
I think that John was an amazing chap - he was such a rebel on his big motorbike, and making himself comfortable and that - but he was such a good friend. He kept us together - he lived for all of us, and even after we had finished with the army, it was John that kept in contact. None of us contacted each other but John was the one who would phone everybody and tell everybody each other's news. John was really a good friend, and incredible character.
We were the last ones to leave the base. Most of the guys had shipped out. I think the SWATF was being disbanded, so all those chaps had gone.. There was a skeleton staff in the kitchen, and virtually all the SADF chaps had pulled out, the intelligence, the counterintelligence - all those guys had pulled out, and there were only a couple of us chefs left. We actually had to catch the last bus out of town. The bus took us all the way up to Grootfontein where we were supposed to catch a plane, and we missed the plane or something - `The Last Plane Out' - but we got another one - another Flossie, and off we went - landed in Pretoria. That was an experience. Going home on pass we had flown on those big Jumbo jets with jet engines, and here was the high-pitched whine, and off you go.
In a Flossie you look out of the window and there's a propeller whirring. the thing's going down the runway - whurrr! - and you're getting near the end of the runway - and the pilot pulls back the joystick, and you find yourself climbing up. You're used to these jet engines and you just swoop up. In a Flossie you can feel it pulling itself up. Its when you turn to the side you realise that this is what's pulling you along - its quite frightening. It was okay when you got used to it - I was just used to seeing this nice case which I knew was a jet engine. When you see the propeller spinning, and at times when you looked at it, it looked as though it was turning slowly - in the opposite direction. I remember that there were the barest of necessities in the aircraft. There wasn't any padding or anything; you could see the wires. When the pilot adjusted the ailerons you would see some cable moving.
Then when I went to Windhoek I was with this incredible group of chaps; we loved each other's company and we were always doing things. We were always finding things to do. When we were on the course at Okahandja we were finding ways on weekends to get back to Windhoek and walk around. There were times of sitting around camp, but we were always doing something, and making a plan. On chefs course we used to practise baking, and we would bake and we would bake and we would bake, and we had all these lovely delicacies and we would go around with these huge boxes distributing them to the other guys in the camp. They brought in huge boxes and cartons of eggs, far more than we needed. I think they expected about fifty guys on the course and there were only eleven of us, so we had all these boxes of eggs that we didn't know what to use for. In the morning we would cook up omelettes for ourselves. We didn't bother going in to breakfast; we would cook up nice cheese omelettes for ourselves, and all these lovely Lieutenant ladies from the medics would come over and we would make omelettes for them. We became really good friends with the corporal and the Lieutenant and then over the weekends, when everybody was going on pass, it wasn't really worth while us going, so we said that we would go to Swakopmund and the corporal and the lieutenant took us to Swakop and we had a wonderful weekend messing about there, walking around in jeans, body surfing, and going to the arcades.
Back in Windhoek, between our late night parties on night duty and during the day on our off times we were going in to Windhoek to either play arcade games or go shopping or we would go to the movies, and we got to know a couple of people. Also with my church activities, we got to know a whole group of girls whom we used to go and visit, and sometimes over weekends the folks would invite us out for braais, so we would all go out there for braais and that.
In Windhoek it was almost like a civvy job. There was no army involved, and we always used to be able to get out of shooting and drilling and parades and shooting and all the rest, so it was just like working as a civilian chef on duty. We even forgot about discipline because when you are carrying a tray of food you don't bother to salute or strek [brace]. As far as the army was concerned, the only thing that showed that we were in the army was our uniforms. The rest was like a civilian job, and even though you call the corporal `Corporal', he was more like your boss. We had no boredom up in Windhoek.
I remember when all the guys went back to South Africa, our Lieutenants left their webbing behind, so I had three full sets of webbing, plus a whole lot of dixies and other things that I found in the kitchen that guys had left behind. I carried all this stuff with me on the Flossie back home, and my Mom knew when I walked in the door, and she said; `What did you have on the plane that was wrong? I was praying for you, and I felt that something was wrong.' I said; `Ach, mom, don't be silly.' I kept this stiff, and after coming home from church one night I actually felt terrible about the stuff because I realised that even though they had left it behind, and even though they are not using canvass webbing any more, it was still their property, so I laid all that stuff in a huge back pack, put it on my back, on my bicycle, cycling through town to the Natal Carbineers, dumped all the stuff on the table, and said very loudly; `Here. I'm returning all this stuff. I actually shouldn't have had it, but here it is, you can have it all back,.' The guy looked at it; `Ach, canvass. They'll probably burn it!' I loved that canvass stuff. Its brilliant. You can use it for all sorts of things; camping. You can distinctly tell the difference between the canvass stuff and the new nylon. They had all those worries of the guys passing themselves off as soldiers. I didn't see why they had to destroy it. They could have made a lovely profit. I believe that you can buy them through army surplus stores now.
5SAI AT LADYSMITH
Len Carter talks of when he was posted to 5 SAI he slept through at that station and only woke up when they reached Pietermaritzburg. He phoned them, to explain what had happened, and they seemed understanding and authorised him to travel back to 5 SAI. When he had arrived there, they did not seem to have expected him, and did not have a place for him to stay, so he lodged with a catering corporal and his wife.
I was sent down to Ladysmith. They hammered the Ou Manne there. Then I was suddenly brought back into discipline. We had three months to go before we klaared out, and they were having full scale inspections and things like that. Floors were expected to be like glass. We got the shock of our lives, because instead of having to practise for a normal pass out parade, which is just a little bit of extra drill, and that's it, at the end of the year, our colonel was handing over to another colonel, and there was this huge bug elaborate parade that is supposed to be done for a handing over. When one guy hands over to another there is an incredibly elaborate parade. They said; `The roofies can't do it because they've got duties.' That was also fun though. We had to do duties for the RSM, so we were no longer in our sections, so we would be sent off to go and throw blocks of concrete onto trucks and off load them at the dump, and go here and dig a big pit, and go here and go there, so we had a wonderful time, ou manne sitting on top of a truck driving through town, shouting `min dae, min dae'.
You actually have to make the best of it. Some chaps just sat around and said `The army is lousy and I'm bored'. If you wanted to, you could always find something to do, always find some activity to arrange, and you could make the best of any situation. Some chaps could see one of the RSM's tasks as - we're sitting on this truck, we've got to go and throw these blocks of concrete at the dump; `Hey, guys, we're going to the dump!' and off we went, we would throw the stuff off and then we would run along after the truck, and we would be slipping off while he was going. We actually made fun of it while we were going along.
I think a lot of it depends on your attitude and how you approach it. I'm speaking as the grand `we' here. At Ladysmith I was with a different group of chaps, but the main thing is that you make the best of it. We had a staff sergeant who came down on the chefs heave. He hated the chefs, so he made sure that we were at every parade, and we had to be at this and we had to be at that, so between doing parades and doing our duties we had virtually no free time. I remember one time I was coming off night duty and being woken up about three times by different corporals saying `What are you doing - still sleeping now.' `I was on night duty. Give men a break.'
I remember scrubbing my uniform, scrubbing my boots, scrubbing my web belt anywhere, and the staff called me out because my beret badge was a little bit grubby, which you can't help when you are in the kitchen, and I got CB drill for a grubby beret badge. CD Drill meant having to move your tent every four hours, and then stand inspection in it in the new site in between. I could have got pretty negative about things like that, but again, you just make the best of it. At inspections we had competitions with all of the other sections, in those huge big triple story bungalows, and we just made the best of it.
I remember going down to the QM. One of the other chefs had lost a whole lot of his kit, so he took along a whole lot of tins of condensed milk, and slipped it to the chaps who worked at the QM. He said; `You organise that stuff for me.' He had a sleeping bag that he had got legitimately, and the staff sergeant at the QM was walking around and screaming `Look at all this stuff' to an infantry instructor. `We used to have a whole lot of stuff. Where is the stuff disappearing to?'. He was walking along and the guys were walking behind him, grabbing gloves and throwing it to this chap who was putting it into his sleeping bag, and socks and web belts and sewing kits, walking behind the staff looking very concerned about all the stuff that's going missing, and the guy was screaming blue murder; `There's just too much stuff going missing.' I just stood there watching it.
At 5 SAI our Staff Sergeant was unfortunately rather a slimy sort of guy. He hated the chefs and he hated the ou manne, and he hated the company and he just wanted to make us pay. Nobody really respected him. We listened and we jumped when he called, but no-one really respected him, and the corporals were young eighteen year old chaps who were trying to prove themselves, so no one had respect for them either. The chaps in the kitchen too; the Sergeant Major never really knew what was going on. He was constantly running around pulling his hair out; `Wat gaan aan? Wat gaan aan?' He never knew what was cutting.
The corporal in the kitchen at 5 SAI - I stayed with him and his wife for the first couple of days when I arrived because there was no place for me. He was a nice chap, soft-hearted, who had dreams of going into his own business, but he didn't have ambition. He didn't have any back-bone, so he could never stand up to the sergeant major or anybody. He just got shunted around, and he managed to do what he had to, and he was actually into the bottle. He would come on to the weekend duty and you would see him sneak off and have a dop around the corner, and come back. He would sometimes stare and you could see his eyes swimming, and he didn't know what was going on. You would go up to him and say; `Look, corporal, we've run out of this. What must we do?' He would go; `Um... um ... er ... well.' You had to make do yourself.
There were the sad stories. There were the cruel chaps, there were the guys with no ambition, there were the guys who were as thick as planks.
There were also excellent leaders, chaps with character. At 5 SAI, the guy I respected the most was the RSM, because he was a genuine chap who had good discipline, and he knew how to treat men. He knew how to discipline us, but he also knew how to encourage and get the best. In the whole army you meet the dregs and you meet the cream. I think that's the case in the army. You've just got to discern what's going on and make the best of what you can, and just remember the cream; the chaps that you came into contact with who were the cream; your friends, your leaders - the ranks above you.
You remember those guys and you just put your memories of the other guys out of the way. You've got the PF chaps who are just in there because they can do nothing else, and who are trying to make their way through life. You've got the PFs who are cruel and who fancy themselves as Rambos. And you've got the PF chaps who are incredibly genuine, and you sit down and try to think out logically how could such a good chap join PF? My brother joined PF Navy, so I've got to say that!
ADJUSTMENT TO CIVVY LIFE
Because I had such a good time in the army and such an easy time, and at the same time looking forward to getting back to civvy street, I didn't have any problems. Possibly I lost contact with most of my friends. When you finish school, a lot of your school friendships dissipate. I only really had one friend from school. I had made all these good buddies in the army and suddenly they were sitting in Durban and Jo'burg. For a while there was a little bit of loneliness, because I was in my own flat in the centre of town without any transport. My one buddy from school; as I came out of the army, he went into the army, so he was in the army and all my army friends were sitting all over South Africa. There was a bit of loneliness for a while because I just didn't have any friends in the city, but I had a grand time on civvy street; I could cook whenever I wanted to. I could go and get videos.
If I had come straight from Windhoek there wouldn't have been much of a difference, but coming from 5 SAI where there was this incredible discipline on the Ou Manne, and having to practise for this parade where we had to be really sharp. We knew that we were soon going to be klaaring out after two years, and now I have to do all this sort of stuff. At the end it was actually good because we were on the parade ground. You could see the faces of the roofies when they were looking at our drilling - we were hammered with this drilling, and by the time the parade came along, every single move was synchronised. It was incredible to see everybody moving as one. The roofies had their mouths open wide; `We didn't know that the Ou Manne could drill like this!'
Right at the end, the RSM who hovered between opinions about the kind of person he was said; `I know as you walk out of the gate you are going to pull a rude sign at me, so I am going to get mine in first,' and he went and pulled this huge rude sign at us. He was actually a very good ouk. We ended on a positive note. We walked out of the camp gates feeling like disciplined soldiers who could actually do a good job of things. There were a whole lot of benefits to it. We enjoyed the civvy life.
In the army, I enjoyed the slackness of Windhoek, but even though I hated the discipline of having to do CB drill, I actually felt when I walked out that I had not walked out winding down, I had walked out as a disciplined soldier. If I look back, everything was positive. Because of the discipline of 5 SAI, and because I had been looking forward to going home, that's why I enjoyed it so much. I look at those things as blessings because if I had come straight out of Windhoek, then it wouldn't have been such a big deal, but coming out of 5 SAI with all the time tables and strict discipline schedules - `At this time you will be doing this' - coming home and suddenly being able to lie on the couch whenever I wanted to, to be able to cook whenever I wanted to, to go walking the streets, to go out to movies or whatever, I loved it. Of course I started making friends again, and I started getting back into church and I started getting acquainted with everybody, and from then on it was fine.
One of the biggest blows, just before klaaring out, we heard that National Service had been reduced to a year, and all the roofies who had a year to go, suddenly they had three months, so they were walking around telling us `min dae'. That was rather a blow for us! I said to my buddy from school; `Come to the army and get it over with. Then you can enjoy the rest of your life,' and he said `No' and he messed around here and he messed around there, and he was going into the army as I was coming out of the army, and he was saying `I should have listened to you, because [if I had] by now I would be klaaring out with you, and we could enjoy ourselves, and now I'm going in for a whole two years.' I was saying; `Ja, you see.'
Suddenly, when I saw him again, he said; `I'm only going in for a year!' I felt a little bit hard done by. There were a number of hard core bitter reactions. One guy who was quite a character was just working around the camp - there was something in the army called `schnaaied' - he was going; `Hey! We've been schnaaied! We've been schnaaied!' He would go up to people and shout; `We've been schnaaied!' There weren't many bitter reactions; there was just surprise, shock and horror. There was an under current of; `Goodness me. We've done two years, and now these chaps are only doing one.'
We shared the expectancy that our camps would be done away with. For us that was a benefit, so we weren't going to complain. To me, that was the biggest schlep coming. I don't mind doing two years national service, but then I wanted to get on with my life. I didn't want it to be interrupted by periodic camps. I think that everybody else felt that way too. We were looking forward to not having to do camps, which of course now is not the case. The guys do no army now, and the guys who have done it have to do the camps as well. Its just one of those things.
The army had strict control over kit. You had to give all your kit back at the end or pay for it. You wouldn't get your klaaring out form until you had paid for your kit. This was from 5 SAI - leaving 5 SAI, everybody was square. I can understand berets and things like that, but a SAMIL?
Windhoek was hard but those guys weren't really permanent force, so they were treating it as a joke. That is permanent force army - they were constantly drunk and constantly stealing from the army, but they had their own characters.
What I remember most of the army - with all the negative bits - was positive, a wonderful two years. Two years that I am glad that I went through because it built my character, put backbone into me, taught me to stand on my own two feet; being away in Windhoek for six months with no pass at all. If I still was tied to the apron strings, I actually cut them then, and I learned to stand on my own two feet as a young man; it gave me discipline. I made wonderful friends and my character developed.
I really don't understand the guys with bad attitudes because those guys would end up with their two years being absolutely miserable, hating every second of it and bucking the system constantly, plus they would take every single gap that they possibly could, and I think that when they walked out they would have minimal self respect, because even though in your own mind you are saying; `This is rubbish and I shouldn't be doing it,' at then end of the day when you come out you don't actually have much self respect because you've spent the whole two years trying to duck things. After all the experiences that I have told you of, I am probably speaking to myself. I didn't see it like that. It wasn't to get out of things, it was to get extra things. When we had to do things, we did it. We did it positively, and made the best of it. I feel that I walked out of the army with some self respect. I had done a good job as a chef, I had done a good job as an ou man, and it was positive.
I never saw action, but I heard horrific stories, so I know that there must be chaps who go through incredible stuff. Call me `blessed', but I had a good time. There were chaps who were totally negative about the whole experience, but I really loved it. Maybe not at the time, but now I look back with incredible memories. I'm glad I did it.
Published: 1 July 2000.
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