5 SAI 83 - Nurse Training at 1 Mil - Walvis Bay Sick Bay 87-88
Jonathan did basic training at 5 SAI starting in July 1983. He joined the Permanent Force and trained as a nurse at 1 Military Hospital, where he qualified in December 86, after which he was commissioned, and sent to the Walvis Bay Sick Bay where he served until klaaring out at the end of June 1988.
BASICS AT 5 SAI LADYSMITH (1983)
You'd done infantry basics...
My story of the sharing of the work load was to cut down on the cleaning. We had a Colonels parade, and they wanted us to believe that they were very sticky. Part of the whole thing was to make you rank conscious. The attitude they tried to engender was way out of perspective in military terms, but it was to teach the new boys the hierarchy. The whole bunch of us where just figuring out this little scam at 5SAI.
I can't remember all the details anymore but - we were up to all kinds of mischief but I think the case was that we weren't shooting in group, rather a case of limited amount of blank shooting during `fire and movement' training. I think it was more an excuse to make us run, to the shooting range and back. We'd swap rifles to keep as many barrels clean as we could. On several occasions we managed to keep the majority of weapons clean by organised chaos.
We had to leopard crawl half the way there and back, everyday, about 2km out and that was a fair bit of leopard crawling. We all had our weapons set in previous shoots and this was just a case of getting it over and done. There was no scoring being done, it was just to take a couple of crates of ammunition and you weren't to bring them back full. Most of the guys were quite happy just loading magazines and letting a few guys who were interested in shooting. The kind of masquerade: Smith stand up - and Jones would stand up, Dippenaar stand up, and Jones would stand up, `volgende' (next) stand up, and Jones would stand up. So Jones would shoot a lot. (The names are imagined). But there were a few of us who didn't want to waste time shooting. We kept it up as a group and in the whole platoon we would clean only about five rifles. But had the Corporal noticed he would probably have blown a fuse, but they just weren't interested. Every-time they would let us run five km, getting the exercise over so they could take us back.
Do you choose medics rather than to fight? My first choice was infantry school but my back ache was getting worse and worse and worse; to the extent that I couldn't take the pain any longer and insisted on seeing an Orthopaedic Surgeon. I was diagnosed eventually with Scheurmann's disease which is fortunately a regenerative back disorder. I had outgrown my spine, the vertebrae still had to harden. As a result the vertebral bodies had crumbled a bit and had to repair themselves with time. I was in a lot of pain for several months, and I went for physiotherapy and treatment. I started to come right to the extent that I decided to do the nursing course. So, that's the way I started it.
And moving from being National Serviceman to joining PF? I joined up from 5SAI. I got posted back to 5SAI at the end of physiotherapy, I had been on the Operational Medic course, I did a portion of the Ops course, (Mark Davies did this course too). I've done some of the time in Kalefong, and Tembisa. We'd call it `knitting', going in to a Casualty Department and literally stitching up 30 to 50 people a night. There were about a dozen medics there, so you're talking of about 300 - 350 people seen in the matter of 4 hours. High patient turn over and they were given relatively good treatment, because we were able to give them time to do proper stitching. The Ops Medics used to come in when there were new straight into repairing the Apache stuff. (Partial scalping)
Within one night I went from heavy handed stitching to fine stitching through to plastic surgery level in about 4 hours. For a while this was night after night, and at that stage and there were times that my platoon was doing nothing particularly the next day. I once joined my friend's platoon as they'd just threw us in the back of a truck and counted how many got out on the far side. As long as the same amount got in they weren't worried whether it was platoon 1, 2, 3, or 4. Some duty corporal ran the shift.
I did a lot of extra stuff because it was fascinating and it was some way I could make a difference. You know the patients were all non-military. People we were treating were like the businessman on his way home from work, who was stabbed through his car window. That old gentleman possibly got my best stitching ever. Somebody just tried to mug him at the stop street. They stabbed him twice in the arm, once in the lower arm, once in the upper arm. Quite high, just below the shoulder muscle, and then they cut him on the head and that basically tore quite a long gash on his face, quite visible. I saw him as a dignified old African gentleman and when I saw which of the Medics were going to receive him, I suggested it was time to take a smoke break. He would have done an adequate job but he was tired and not particular well disposed to the darker brethren; not that I was a liberal, but I did have a degree of good will and I thought that I could do something for the future. I don't know if he would remember it that now, but I remember it.
Is it true that a lot of these white young people helping in hospitals were actually military training for special military tasks? We always had our special military tasks - OPS medics? OPS medics were trained to assist on the sharp side, what we called "skerpkant" (Sharp End). They were trained so they could go into action with who ever they had trained with. if they had made muster for Parabats they would support Parabats, if they were originally artillery, mechanised infantry, armoured core infantry, mounted infantry, navy - they could go with navy guy, They really thought medics was bizarre and out of place, they didn't believe that medics should be separated from the Corps. The Navy believed you should have navy medics, no everyone agreed on this. They sent through according to the numbers needed. Infantry always preferred to have 2 Medics per platoon of 20 people. At least they'd have one medic and occasionally two in operational patrols. Especially the men who were sharp side. It sort of evolved that they had one medic at the base camp and one medic on patrol. So you had basically one man looking after the lives of 20 others because you had 19 men and an officer. And in the whole scheme of things you're medic, your cook and your signalman were very well treated by the others soldiers. Because that's where the comforts will come from. The Medic would look after your blisters at the end of the day so it really helped to look after him in patrols and especially in combat. I never went sharp side so I was lucky. But after being trained as a nursing officer I then got posted out to SWA Med Command.
I never really joined PF. I got light duty for my back and I really was in a bad way but I tried that I could my back just wouldn't keep, even with the light duty. Eventually I requested a posting back to my unit. The Ops Course Major wouldn't allow me to apply for a permanent post while I was light duty, so I requested a posting back to 5SAI and thinking that if that doesn't happen, at least I got a degree of comfort not too far from home. 2 and a half hours away from home - Durban.
What happened was that I got back to the camp and I quickly went to find out who was the recruiting officer in the camp, and found it was some staff sergeant with a not particularly high IQ holding this little bit of power. He was NAFI, seriously nafi. He also had a chip on his shoulder for National Serviceman. He was one of the guys who made National Service feel like a prison sentence. He said it will take six weeks and I would miss the course and you would have to start on the next one. This was about the end of November 1983.
I got posted out to 5SAI I had my first my pass and a few days leave extra because I had had almost no leave up to that stage after five months. I got into the recruiting office in Durban and I did all the initial stuff and then I got back, I didn't do all I needed to do and I had to think a bit for that decision.
At that stage I decided I would do the course, so I phoned my dad and he took the papers in and walked them through all the way. I got back to 5SAI camp and I waited for the interviews. I had to get myself to Pretoria for the preliminary interviews, had the interviews under `false pretences' (operating outside the military route) as I had been sent up for medical purposes. I then kind of went AWOL; I went into Pretoria and did these interviews at SAMS HQ, and then caught the train back to Natal. I was called back for the main interview officially, and the self-same staff sergeant who had stood in my way earlier had to give me my rail pass! And it grated him that any national serviceman got anything out of the military system - in his kind's mind it was wrong. I mean the whole attitude of the bulk of PF was that their job there was to make sure that national servicemen got nothing out of the 2 years they had to do and this boy really loathed that this `Engelsman' was joining his Organisation.
Your brother was already in PF at that stage, wasn't he, Phillip? No, my brother came in after me. I was permanent force as of the 1st of January 1984. My brother's intake was in January (the 7th or something) and he joined up at the end of his basics. In fact they mucked the whole bunch of the medical professionals around so their rank came through a few hours after the rank came through for the national serviceman, with the result the young NSM lieut gave the whole bunch of them a hard time.
In the end another officer intervened and resulted in the 5 or so new PF Captains being given their commissions just before the NSM commissioning parade, rather than after which had been the obvious intention of the Lieut over them.
NURSE TRAINING AT 1 MILITARY HOSPITAL
So after qualifying you did a three year course in nursing? '84, '85 '86 I qualified in December '86. You were around hospitals all of '87? I had to wait for my results, as we got our commissions only after receiving our final results. I moved out in May 1987 to Walvis Bay. I was part of a group which where called to see the OC Nursing and congratulated for our commissions. There were about 20 or so out of a class of 33 called in and congratulated and given permission to wear our pips. Of course we all went to stores to draw our insignia on that authority. However there were twelve names that weren't on that list and these guys were still running around as Candidate Officers, who should have been commissioned with us but there had been a mistake in the data of the telegram order. Somebody had goofed at Head Quarters, our commission was supposed to be dated for another date and when the problem was realised, they asked us to take off our rank! And I was absolutely incensed by this although they apologised very profusely and they explained us what the error was.
I didn't like this at all, I had already been home, my family had seen me with my rank on. During this brief period when I'm was not allowed to wear my new rank, I wore a plain white CO band as a protest - a piece of paper, stuck over the two pips, so that you could see it. I was reprimanded on one occasion for not wearing the 3 band double red stripe, but and I obeyed orders, a remained a CO still.
And then you went out to Walvis and you stayed there for? Oh, dear old Walvis. I did some special weapons training, unofficially because I had to wait until I was an officer to do it. I was the most junior ranking officer there on account of that. They understood why, and they knew my brother too. I was trained to strip down and reassemble the full range of weaponry that was used up in Namibia. All the Russian, all the Chinese, all the South African, Israeli, European weapons. Because neither side ever used American arms in that war we didn't bother with them. Apparently their tolerance for African dust was the reason no one risked using them. The only thing I didn't have anything to do with the Russian RPG. I decided my favourite weapon at that stage was the Uzi sub-machine gun. I thought it was the best, although it had it's technical faults; if you jarred it hard enough you would cock itself and drop it's safety catch. If you had a gun smith who was willing to file a notch in it then the odds was generally that you could get that fixed.
You were trying to do casavac training?
It was just crowded, noisy. Basically you would have to straddle your patient, your knees cramped either side of the stretcher. Badly wounded men being taken out of combat meant if you had to, you would hang from the ceiling of the chopper and did what you have to do.
Do you recall what use that was? I never went live with it, only practised, mainly simulation in a rebuilt cabin. Much of it was just lectures and discussion. A lot of discussion about how you do this and how you do that. A lot of training about emergency drugs. What you can use and what you can't use, why you shouldn't use something, why you should use this or that. All a bit exhausting.
WALVIS BAY MILITARY AREA SICK BAY
The idea was kind of flattened as I didn't finish the course because somebody in the South West Africa Medical Command pulled strings and got a male nursing officer for their problem unit. The theory was a man would help instill discipline and they looked around and with only about six or eight guys available in the Military fitting their requirements and me going to South West Command anyway... I turned left at the next traffic lights down to the coast. I arrived there and I quickly discovered that this was really a nice place to be.
THE DOCTOR AND THE MICROLITE
I was posted from 1 Military Hospital to Walvis Bay Military Area in 1987, where I was 2-ICc of the Sickbay. One of the National Servicemen doctors posted out there, Dave, brought a Micro-light aircraft, which he kept stuffed in his VW Combi camper. He was always in search of a convenient place to take of and to land. He had driven all around to find a good level stretch without any telegraph poles and found such a place right down the road, beyond the salt pans, where there was a good hard road where you could take off and land safely. He accepted that that was going to be as good as it would get, however one night on-call, the Infantry Battalion RSM developed an acute pancreatitis. This is one of those diseases which when inflamed, you can diagnose from foot prints on the ceiling.
Dave knew the very fast acting treatment and within minutes produced relief for the RSM. The news had got about this small town that Dave was looking for a place to land his microlite - so Dave seized the moment of gratitude and asked if he could take off and land on the rugby field - about 40 yards away from where he garaged his Combi. The RSM said without hesitation, "certainly my boy, you can even take off and land on my parade ground!" - as you know, a parade ground is virtually sacred ground to an Army RSM! You don't even walk on a parade ground, you march or you run!
What was the name of the doctor? Dave. No idea of his surname, we were on first name terms and I was the senior lieutenant. I had four officers: Doctors David and Johan, a dentist Cobus and Dirk the health inspector. It's a while back.
Other stories about this Dave: his micro-light was a single-seater so it was kind of lonely up there. But he'd came back with stories about what he has seen when he flew over town. Couple of remote beaches where he had flown to see what the surfing was like. Occasionally he would come back with more interesting stories than just surfing.
One particular day he was out, he went out quite far down the coast - and he usually knew what his limits were, however the wind changed and picked up, leaving him in a pickle. The best time he could do was to fly in over the desert where the wind would not be as strong, however when he tried to come back into town, the sea mist had sprung up.
He landed out on the desert road and decided to drive in. He took off his wings, and hid them behind couple of landmark rocks on the roadside, and he drove in on his remaining fuel, on the trike, with the `fan' blowing up dust like mad! He ran out of juice just as he got to the Rooikop Air Force Base outside Walvis. With much amusement, they filled him up with fuel and he breezed into town. The following morning he went out and collected his wings. It made the local newspaper; everything he did made the local newspaper. It stinted his style a bit.
Was he a National serviceman or a camper? National Serviceman. He had done his housemanship in South West Africa and had volunteered to be posted back and luckily he got Walvis Bay.
Sharp side? As far as `sharp side' or seeing combat; I got nothing of real interest that could be called `sharp'. At Walvis Bay we where support and training: Infantry Battalion, Artillery training, a small Air Force Base, Navy Base, nothing too exciting, militarily. We would go with the infantry after basic training for `fire and movement' and assorted live test firing range work. During the time I was there they closed the range down to do a comprehensive mine and `rouge' ordinance sweep. They'd invite the dignitaries from town to watch the detonation of recovered live ordinance. Periodically all the unexploded shells recovered would be stockpiled in an existing crater, and at some distance from it in sand bunkers, they would detonate it. On some occasions the whole town shook because there is about three metres of sand over bedrock or granite inland around Walvis Bay. The thump would get transferred into town and all the windows would rattle and things would fall off shelves... the town was very indulgent.
It was 2SAI's which had a training camp as well. Would you have any dealings with those guys? Oh yes, we had a lot of dealings with them. The 2SAI guys: that wasn't exactly a cushy camp, although more because of dust and sand, more than anything else. National Serviceman were there doing `diensstraf' - for being white, I don't know?
The things that you got up to in sick bay - the life and times in the ..
Well I got there in May, I quickly made friends with the guys and the first bunch of them, including my three lance corporals `klaar-ed out' in the June.
We were limited to three stripes for the sickbay, they would only give three stripes out and none of the guys were really that calibre to take two or three stripes and as we had three good guys there, each of them had one line.
These were ops medics? Well no, normal medics. I think one of the guys was an Ops Medic but he had not been send to the border and sat in a office. We had quite a few of the guys transferred in as problem cases. Young guys who were constantly AWOL, in instances where there wasn't domestic reason. We had a couple of guys who had just run foul of the military disciplinary code.
These were all medics? Medics, all Medical Corps. Assorted NSM drafted into Medics.
We had a rather interesting Colonel out there. He was the military area commander, the senior officer of all the five or six bases we had there. We had Air Force, Navy, Medics, Infantry, Military Police and Artillery Armoured Division. The colonel woke up one morning with Bells Palsy; half his face was sagging. From being a very public person he suddenly disappeared from view entirely. Parade was taken by the 2IC, everything was basically taken over by the 2IC. The commanding officer disappeared. Palsy resolves quite fast if it's treated correctly, I believe. He was coming right quite fast with this thing but he had discovered a bit of a predilection for fishing. He subsequently relinquished most of the function of a commanding officer. He'd head out fishing every day. The Warrant Officer in charge of the kitchens or some other senior NCO or other officer would get roped into coming to assist him with his fishing. We were rather under officered in the senior staff in the camp were a bit thin on the ground for some months. It was great fun. It didn't really effect the functioning of it. Such is the military that they are horrendously over-staffed anyway in peacetime.
A DEATH IN THE DUNES
There was only one tragedy. We had a young guy with a drug problem who couldn't cope with the stress and he shot himself out in the sand dunes during one of the exercises. It wasn't even a live round exercise. He had either stolen or smuggled out a live round. The guys were using the screw in thing that you put into the flash arrester that gives just enough back pressure to re-load your rifle on semi-automatic. They were using their R4 weapons and firing blank ammunition in the exercise, playing war games as part of their training in stalking and ambushing. Everyone was lining up for lunch on that day, and my medic, Mike Burke, (a nice guy - he eventually got two stripes - it was well worth it, but then he nearly duffed it because of a girl) - he had the day shift out there, with the good garry (SWB Landrover).
(We also had a very dicey land rover with a gearbox that would only work in first and fourth - it would work in second and third, but you couldn't change it from second down or up. You could start it off in second, and go everywhere at a fair speed, or you could start in first and get it up to a good high whine and then kick it through to four. You would struggle to start up in third gear. It took a lot of patience with the clutch. These were all options. I learned the first & fourth manoeuvre.) Mike had the good garry out there - the one with all the gears. They always parked it on the hard facing outwards with all the equipment so they could get it where they had to in a hurry.
This young guy went off and his buddies thought he was going off to take a leak or go for a smoke break behind the dune. Everyone heard the gun shot while everyone was supposed to be waiting in line for lunch. Of course all the NCO's responded immediately and got everyone mustered, and some men went off searching. Of course they started doing ID parades - getting the guys into platoons, into sections and counting. They had identified him before he was brought in.
He had put his rifle under his chin and shot his head open through the middle of his brain and slushed one half. It didn't kill him. He was unconscious but he was still breathing. They wrapped him up and Mike Burke did some low flying. They reckoned that you couldn't do that road in more than 35 k per hour. He did it at top speed.
We got the guy in to the Town Casualties, onto a Casevac aircraft that happened to be close enough to detour past us, but he was DOA. They flew him to 1 Mil because 1 Mil was best prepared. It was the same kind of mileage. It was 2000 km to Pretoria and 2000 km to Cape Town from that point. Cape Town would have taken a lot longer from Youngsfield to 2 Mil, than from Waterkloof to 1 Mil.
I didn't actually know the boy. I would have seen him in the camp. We didn't have a particularly large intake. We had just over a thousand. It was one of the smallest intakes they had had. They were busy phasing out 2 SAI. That was the tragedy of it.
We had the occasional motorbike and car accident that left people a bit worse for wear. The occasional battered husband or wife. Never really exciting things happened.
THE GUY WITH THE SOCK IN HIS UNDERPANTS
We had one little guy who was always getting into trouble: A short little lad - `kleinmannetjie' . He was the only person I nearly hit in my whole army career. I didn't because he wasn't worth the trouble. I had rank, he didn't have rank. I had a lot to lose. The name Webster comes to mind, but I don't know if that's right. This lad was full of nonsense. He had some relative who was a Colonel somewhere, and so he felt that because of his Uncle being a Colonel, he had some pull in the military, but that serious pull he had in the military didn't stop him from being sent to Walvis Bay.
When we'd call his bluff he said that he chose to be transferred to this place. That wasn't the military way. He gave everyone a hard time. He was like five foot nothing and spoke like he's a big boy. One night he was full of himself, telling stories and bull shit - the other Medics decided that they had had enough. He had put a sock in his underpants to show off a serious bulge. That night they locked him in his bungalow, in his underpants, complete with sock. Walvis Bay can get quite brisk, about 13 degrees C was our average night temperature. He started making a noise to get back into the bungalow, and was caught by the Infantry guards.
Picture this scrawny little lad Webster getting dragged off, in the cold, but with sock still in situ, having kind of forgotten about that issue. The guards, of course, recognised who he was, but they were rather officious about it. The medics were perceived as having a cushy time. The guards dragged this lad in and he was presented in front of the Officer-of-the-Watch, who happened at that stage to be having a cup of coffee with Dirk, one of the medics who was sitting out of line of sight. (Dirk was our health inspector, from Malmesbury in the Cape and he could make amazing potjiekos.) Dirk was slouched on an easy chair, out of sight, and the Officer-of-the-Watch, an infantry officer, was having a good rib at this incident.
This young, snotty little medic shivering with the cold in his scants with a sock in place. He was standing there at attention being barked at by an infantry officer and eventually he became aware of the sock, and he began making surreptitious moves to take it out. The infantry officer had attracted a crowd around him by this stage, the guard hut had emptied because they could hear shouting, and they were all peering around the door and listening from outside and laughing. This guy was aware that there was a huge audience and he couldn't turn around and face away from this guy because he was at `attention'.
He was trying to get this sock out of the way while being they ribbed him about wanting to play with himself. Eventually they had him virtually in tears. He needed to be brought down a notch. Eventually he got the sock out, but I think for quite a while afterwards the name Willie Webster for `willie warmer' was used. All the medics got to hear about this and enjoyed it immensely.
I have a strong mental picture of this lad. He was the only guy in the military that I actually nearly hit. I would have liked to have dealt a couple of `regmakers' to several people along the line. The term `dom astrand' (Dumb insolence) term in Afrikaans is almost - just short of wilfully arrogant. `mistant' (astrant) I guess is `otherwise'. This boy had just the attitude that he was a colonel's nephew, and he could do what he wanted to do because the colonel would get you. This was some arbitrary colonel, probably in the prisons services on the far side of the country, and totally powerless and probably wouldn't have lifted a finger short of for real reason.
Eventually I got him dealt with - sorted out. We had a posting out to the DB. Every morning a medic was sent out to the detention barracks. They would spend the whole morning there and two or three afternoons a week we'll get a Doctor out there. It was quite a comprehensive cover considering that we were so close. We could run there if we had to. It was about two kilometres away. It was considered the cushy posting because the guy who was doing it had such an easy life, because he was so well organised. When the regular DB Medic cleared out, everyone wanted his position. Webster said; `I'm one of the senior guys here. I should get to do it for my last six months. We had a look at the situation, and decided that it was quite a waste of resources to continue to fetch and carry him considering that he had breakfast, lunch and supper there, to bring him in to sleep in the bungalow, so we made him a day border. He had to sleep at the prison, and was most upset about this. We said that we would do a two-week rotation. He said; `Don't worry. I'll do it. I'll do it.' At the end of his two week rotation, he said; `Two week rotation is almost up, isn't it?' After that we kind of changed the rules back to normal. He made sure that he never got back to the prison.
The time I nearly hit him, was for insolent arrogance. The problem was that he was classified G4K4. He was a hollow chest weed. He just grated everyone. He knew that he could grate you because you couldn't punish him in any physical way. The fact that he brought himself down to size was a plus.
How long were you there for? Thirteen months leaving there end of June '88 and basically I cleared out of Walvis Bay and I drove straight through to the far side of the country. I took my cat and half of my belongings and half of my bicycle which I should have sold .
Were you finished with the Military at the time? At the time yeah - the military. I expected them to come looking for me to do camps. But I got two theories. One, my buddy PJ was a computer programmer, one of a very few national servicemen who ever worked on the main frame computer and he jokingly suggested a virtual sex change, in that way they would never call me up. I joke about it but I didn't think that he ever did it, but maybe he had. The other theory is maybe that the clerks saw Nursing Officer or assumed I was a woman - skipped calling me because of the presumption. I did get seconded to a Medical Reserve Battalion which was based in Cape Town. I never queried why I was never bothered by camp commitments.
What did you do after that in June '88. You cleared out in June '88? June '88 I then got back to Durban and picked up I did a couple of Unisa subjects and a couple of other courses. There were two Unisa subjects and three matric rewrite subjects.
Published: 9 February 2002.
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